To the Editors of Scientific American:
Re: "SA Perspectives", "Skeptic" and "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense", Vol. 287, No. 1, July 2002, pp. 3, 21 and 62-69.
It is very important to realize that at the root of this controversy lies a fundamental question (which I call "the fundamental existential question"): Are there just physical and chemical processes in the universe or are there also non-physical processes (or, in other words, is there a non-physical universe "behind" the physical one)? Let us call materialists the people that assume the first hypothesis, and spiritualists those that assume the second. Unfortunately, it is not possible to prove or disprove either one; this maybe related to the mystery that everyone must choose his preferred hypothesis in complete freedom. The Editors', Shermer's and Rennie's positions clearly classify them as materialists. Probably most of modern scientists are materialists, as well as, in my opinion, are most of those who consider themselves to be spiritualists - in particular, all religious fundamentalists. It is not enough to keep talking about some mysterious God, if the reasoning and attitudes are those of materialists. I think that humanity is not anymore in the position of accepting faith and dogmas; that's why I've used the word "hypothesis" - an assumption that should be the subject of constant verification and revision. I consider the evidences for adopting the spiritualist hypothesis (SH) overwhelming. I'll cite just two of them. 1. From a materialistic point of view, the origin and boundaries of the physical universe do not make sense. 2. Everyone may experience that it is possible to self-determine, at least for some seconds, one's next thoughts. A purely physical system, thus subjected to physical laws, cannot be self-determined: at most it could show some random behavior, due to non-determinism., but this is not our inner experience when we concentrate on our thinking.
There are four important considerations to be made. Firstly, the adoption of the SH does not contradict any scientific fact. It may obviously contradict some scientific judgments, such as Darwinian Evolution (DE). The fundamental difference in this field is very simple: materialists consider evolution as an outcome of random mutations (plus natural selection) and spiritualists may also consider, for example, some intentional mutations - and investigate them under this assumption. This example shows that the SH may lead to a proper superset of materialistic science. Thus, secondly, the adoption of the SH enlarges scientific research, and should not restrict it. For instance, one could investigate what are the evidences of intentional mutations, instead of discarding this possibility from the outset and thus restricting research. Another case would be to investigate how non-physical models (concepts in the Platonic world of ideas) may interact with genes, as well as growth and regeneration processes, and manifest themselves in the forms of plants and animals, for instance producing and preserving symmetry. This could explain that part of what Harvard biologist R. Lewontin called "developmental noise" is not random at all. Still another case is assuming the hypothesis that thinking is non-physical, and thus is not produced by the brain activity, but the latter is a consequence of the former. This would enormously expand present research on thinking - and would explain its self-determination. Thirdly, it is of fundamental importance that materialists realize that the adoption of the SH does not necessarily lead to "bad" science, on the contrary: it may enlarge scientific research. Furthermore, if modern scientific spirit is kept, the adoption of the SH does not inevitably lead to faith, mysticism or obscurantism. So there should be no fear of falling into these attitudes, which I consider not adequate for modern man. Fourthly, materialists have to admit that their hypothesis exclude human freedom (which everyone may experience through the self-determination of one's own thoughts). Freedom cannot be the outcome of physical processes, because physical laws are inexorable. Without freedom, there can be no human dignity, responsibility, purpose in life or unselfish love. So, if someone has the inclination of admitting human freedom, dignity and ideals, s/he should better move to the spiritualist side.
Just a few words about education. Teaching biblical creationism is absolutely correct at the first grades, because at that age children still need images, fantasy, and not intellectual theories. A critical study of DE is absolutely correct at high school grades, as a theory but not as truth, as part of the study of biology and philosophy.
Finally, it is important to recognize that DE has been an essential part of the effort to convince humanity that materialism is correct and may explain everything. At its bottom lies the idea that humans are just animals. Nowadays, there is another important field of science that has joined the battle against spiritualism: Artificial Intelligence. But here the main purpose is to prove that humans are just machines. For more details and criticisms of this point of view, which I consider much more dangerous to humanity and nature than DE, please refer to the paper on this subject on my web site.
Valdemar W. Sezter
Dept. of Computer Science, University of São Paulo, Brazil
June 27, 2002