You may talk about survival of the fittest, but what if this entire earth planet is actually food for some gigantic space being that is far beyond human contemplation and only makes its appearance once a day according to its lifespan; a routine that coincides with the great mass extinction events throughout the course of global history. Who knows? Why not?
The point is, we cannot know. Therefore, what of lasting value is to be gained by the knowledge borne from the ascending process of scientific inquiry? The answer is absolutely nothing, and it is for two prime reasons.
First, the sad and oft ignored fact is that knowledge acquired via the standard scientific method can never be conclusively verified. Why can’t it be verified? Because there will always be phenomenon which exist beyond the scope of human sensory perception. Even as instruments and techniques advance, they will never become capable of experiencing all phenomenon; the senses and their extensions can never be omniscient. Therefore, new data beyond the limits of our senses and instruments can swoop in at any moment and blow up the established consensus.
Due to this limitation, we can never be certain that what we understand currently is the final word in any particular field of study. The history of any pursuit of knowledge is littered with examples of knowledge heralded as truth, only to be relegated to the rubbish bin of scientific thought six months, a decade, or a century later. What this means is that there is always the possibility that any conclusion based on science – based on empirical sense perception – is wrong, and perhaps not merely wrong, but completely and utterly wrong.
This is problematic because in addition to the possibility that the fact of a given conclusion might be wrong, we have the compounded problem of having no means to ascertain the consequences of following the prescriptions of such “conclusions”. In other words, we don’t know how our actions will reverberate as individuals, as a society, or as one species on a planet full of other species – think global warming, Thalidomide, Chernobyl.
The second problem with such knowledge is perhaps more devastating because it destroys the foundation of peaceful coexistence with each other and with our external environment. The pursuit of knowledge through a reducible, or ascending mechanistic approach, condemns society to an unavoidably pessimistic view of reality because – taken to its only logical conclusion – it means that all phenomenon are predetermined by complex but quantifiable interactions of matter. In this view, reality is nothing more than a choreographed dance of constituent components whose outcome is determined by the mathematics inherent to the system. Put simply, everything that exists is nothing more than a complex computer program.
Any serious thinker, who champions the mechanistic view of reality, must come to this conclusion. If they do not, it means that they have introduced some non-material element into their model of objective reality. Almost no such thinker will do this. The heart of the philosophy borne of atheistic, scientific thought is that all reality is predetermined.
Why is this important? Because it means that individual choice and free will do not exist in any form. The mechanistic approach leads to this conclusion because we can understand that any “decision” we make is the process of brain chemistry at a given instant. But that particular arrangement of brain chemistry exists at this moment because of conditions in the previous moment, and those conditions exist because of the conditions of a prior moment. Each progression occurs due to the interactions of matter based on physical laws that are not subject to deviation. Therefore, according to this line of thinking, we can trace all current events, back to some original event, which then advance exactly according to the laws of the physical world. This includes our decisions and actions.
Even physical processes that are seemingly random – or contain a random element (think electron position within an atomic orbital) – still lead to this conclusion, because this randomness is not subject to any non-material control. Therefore it is merely an unpredictable, but constant factor in the algorithm of existence. Assuming one reality, there is no free will. Even if you posit multiple realities, it makes no difference to the existence of free will in this one. The one we cohabit.
If this is so, what hope is there? This line of thinking may lead us to soaring technological achievements, but even as it does it creates a gaping hole in the fabric of our very humanness. How can a people or a society that thoroughly believes all processes are determined by the interactions of reducible matter, exist with any lawfulness, compassion, or truth?
The answer is that it cannot. In this view, all human interactions are subject to the laws of icy materialism, the mere products of chemistry. As this philosophy continues to exclude non-material explanations for the phenomena we experience, the space for such virtues in human existence become smaller, and must ultimately vanish. We are beginning to see such erosion, and as time progresses, it will continue relentlessly. After all, how can we argue with the cold mechanical workings of predetermined nature? A criminal is destined to be a criminal; a poor man is bound to his poverty; a racist is hardwired to hate. These ideas are as unpalatable as they are disturbing. Our visceral urge to rebel against this rigid view of reality is de facto evidence that our emotions, thoughts, and feelings are not governed solely by the predetermination of matter.
So what is the use of this knowledge? We understand that it can never be definitively verified; the consequences are always unknowable, and the result of such thinking leads to despair and hopelessness. Why waste time with this sort of thinking? Better to contemplate deeply and try to understand the rational and prudent case for introducing non-material elements into our understanding of reality. The particulars… are another discussion.
For now, let us think carefully about how the mechanistic view of reality leads to an incomplete and wanting explanation of our existence and our future. It ultimately has no permanent value – but then again, it does lead to cars, flat panel TV’s, and the Internet. The question is, is this a fair bargain?