A Synthetic Universe

Edward Holloway FAITH Magazine January – February 2012

To mark FAITH movement's fortieth year we publish an extract from a 1950 book written by Fr Edward Holloway, "Matter and Mind: A Christian Synthesis", of which only a dozen copies were made. He brings out the meaning of his use of the word "synthesis" (see also our July/August 2011 Editorial, "Science and Religion: Is Synthesis Possible?"). He also begins to show how his vision of the unity of the cosmos can found an understanding of scientific law which takes account of both its predictive power and its apparent provisionality. This extract is from the beginning of Chapter Four, "Absolute and Relative: The Existence of God." For other extracts see our November 2009 and July 2008 issues.

When a man tries to understand the Universe which modern knowledge has revealed to us, he can easily become fascinated and mentally confused. This is true of the non-scientific layman in particular, but even the expert often loses his way. We begin to lose our grip upon those threads of thought which enable us to interpret the cosmos as a whole. The danger of mental incoherence is the greater because we must take our stand in the present and work backwards; a process necessary for analysis, but one which often retards the opposite requirement which is the synthesis of partial truths. The process of working backwards oversimplifies the reality we study. It is easy to take a radio to pieces and to work out the function of each relative part when you can begin from the radio as a goingconcern. It would be quite another thing to build a radio from its raw materials if you knew what a radio did but had no idea how the mechanism was related. We are all the time retracing in the Universe what has happened and what does happen in a highly complex "going concern", and we can rest too complacently upon the discovery and mathematical expression of laws which are only the reduction of a general equation of relatives to its specific terms. We can fail to realise the quite different aspect the Universe bears when we try to think of it as a process and a progress upwards from primitive beginnings; some scientists consistently ignore this much more important mental process which is synthesis rather than analysis. In this way most important clues to the nature of materialbeing are overlooked. Analysis is always more easy than synthesis: it is easy to break down and relate, difficult to build a complex relativity from more elementary relative entities.

A Synthetic Perspective on the Evolution of the Cosmos

A proper interpretation of the Universe however must consider it as an evolution upwards, and examine the conditions necessary for the eduction of the highly complex from the elemental ultimates. This way alone lies a true understanding of those philosophical issues which lie behind the natures of material entities. Man has learned how to resolve uranium into a fierce flash of radiant energy; that is analysis, exciting, full of newly realised truth. He is not yet able to harness radiant energy back within the compass of the same fragment of uranium; that is synthesis, even more exciting, and much more difficult. Synthesis calls for more effort than analysis, and requires a far more complete understanding of every factor relative to the construction of the complex from the simple; analysisdoes not. Synthesis forces the mind to pose more objectively the question of finality and purpose in the coming to be of things, the relation of a result produced to "whys" and "wherefores" that define the thing produced. A man has to work purposively to invent the complex upon the basis of the antecedent simple; he requires also a unity, the concept of the nature to be produced, which controls and directs the purposive work of his hands. We must ask ourselves whether this law that defines the complex inventions of man does not underlie also the evolutionary development of a complex Universe from an elemental Universe.

The Universe in which we live and to which our being is organically relative, is a synthesis. The Universe has been "made" in the sense in which "making" denotes continuous and harmonious development from the simple to the complex. The vindication of the atomic theory is the greatest of modern scientific triumphs and the foundation of all scientific achievement that may follow in this new era of human history. We know that this hard and concrete world is not the sort of continuous solid our fathers thought. We are aware that all material beings are composite, composed of atoms, that these particles are discrete within the continuity they integrate, that in themselves even they are miniature solar systems, and that these orbits are wide open spaces in relation to the miniature elementswhich are bound within them: bound and determined by the fixed laws that define the still mysterious phenomena of centrifugal and centripetal force. Every year we read more of the unimaginably minute particles such as electrons, protons, positrons, mesons, and others named and described in quick succession as science advances, which form the outer particles and the inner nuclei of the atom. The scientist tells us much, though much of it is still tentative, and we read of the positive or negative electric charge carried by different particles, and the manner of their operation within the atom because of this relationship. We read and we marvel, and often as unspecialised and amateur students of science we get hopelessly lost. Nevertheless we understand well enough that the explosion whichcan overwhelm a city in an instant is retracing in that unit of time the synthetic processes built up over long ages of evolution. We cannot doubt today that across the leagues of time the whole cosmos was akin to a vast nebula, a universe of such elemental forces, as yet unsynthesised, but already the fecundated seed out of which has developed the universe we know today. It is not this insight, breathtaking though it is, which constitutes the significance of the atomic theory for us here, but the need there is to link that Universe of Physics with the Universe of Biology and of many other sub-divisions of Science.

Purposive Inter-Relation of Scientific Laws

There is no need to elaborate upon the existence of laws in the Universe, because every science of matter rests upon them. Perhaps nothing is more impressive, when read at length in the context of some definite medical case, than the intimate relation discovered between the psychological and the physical in man himself, and the detailed tracing of the organisation and operations of every organ of the body to the brain as their centre and control tower for stimuli both incoming and outgoing. The main effort of science today consists in the striving to relate a multiplicity of local "laws" to one governing key principle which explains a multiplicity of phenomena. In every science more exact relations of cause and effect are today known, codified, and compared with the phenomena of otherrelated sciences. The only things that admit of expression in coded formulae, and equations are those inferences of cause and effect we know as laws.

We are forced today to interpret the whole Universe in terms of one process of evolutionary development. The evolution of the living thing is only an aspect of a process traceable over the whole order of material being. In the face of the tremendous elaboration of compound and complex being that can be traced from the primordial beginnings of the Cosmos, is there any one principle, any one certainty on which we can lay hold in our efforts to interpret rightly ourselves and our Universe, and to formulate a true philosophy of existence? There is a principle, one too often ignored in its philosophical value, which underlies the research of all the sciences, and the interpretation, especially the mathematical interpretation, of all knowledge gathered by the "exact sciences". This principle isthe postulation, fundamental to all exact material knowledge, of the definition of a substance in terms of the causal relationships of law. There can be no "exact science" without law, order of cause and effect, action and reaction. The scientist seeks to discover these causal relations, and to determine with utter exactitude what it is in the entity of a cause which produces an effect, and what in the effect is partially or entirely determined by a given cause.

Law of Final Determination - Purposiveness

Physics is sufficiently advanced today to define many substances very perfectly, in their very essence, in terms of those causes which constitute them, and in this we see that the active relationship by which, let us say, oxygen and hydrogen are defined as causes of water in a given relativity, is an active potency in those causes of dynamic finality with respect to the composite substance which is water. They are naturally and intrinsically defined as causes of water in a given relationship, and that constitutes a purposiveness, something which is identified with their very natures, and is contained in their definition as substances.

It is interesting to notice that this dynamic finality, the definition of a complex thing in terms of the active natures of its components, is something which while taken for granted in physics, causes a panic stampede among a large class of biologists. They are very concerned not to allow this notion of purposiveness, finality, determinism to a pre-set end, to enter the field of the living, they are far more concerned with denying the possibility than with studying the evidence for the possibility, which is prejudice not reason. Anything which even reminds them of an "élan vital" drives them to a fury of dissent. We are no Vitalist or Animist, we do not say the postulate of an "élan vital" drives them to dissent, but anything that reminds them of a principle of purpose in any way. Yetthe very valencies of the ultimate elements themselves, by which men can make and transmute substances has some similarity to an élan vital. Atoms themselves have affinities and repulsions, even as some biologists have an affinity for a theory of most pure and orthodox Natural Selection, and a repulsion to anything that smells of Lamarck. If biologists of this temperament were only given rein to their dislike for Animist and Vitalist theories of the living being, there would be some excuse for this panic, because Animism and Vitalism do finally destroy the rational basis of the sciences, but taken by itself their attitude makes as much nonsense of the Universe as any form of Animism does. Natural Selection of random mutations is not a Fairy Godmother who can be waved in at everymoment; the "environment" which "selects" is the total impact of other being upon one being, and the selection is the better "survival value" of the new mutant.

The application of such a test to the elements of physics would be laughable. Many elements have a very primitive "survival level" and the new compounds and syntheses which could have formed only in a cool and stable condition of our planet and its atmosphere are much inferior in stability, i.e. in "survival value", to the elements out of which they are composed. We should then expect either a condition of "no change" beyond simple elements, surviving very nicely as principles of intense energy, or else a riot of physical "mutations" having neither "survival value" nor any principle of control by "survival value", a Universe in which so stable and inelastic a thing as complex life could not survive. There is no place for "Natural Selection" in the evolution of the azoic elementsthemselves from their own primordial origins: you cannot, as we will see in more detail again, explain the Environment by the Environment any more than we can all live by taking in each other's washing. The process of synthesis by which azoic elements have reached their present multiplicity and complexity is an evolution, the same process entirely as the biologist traces in the order of living things, and the synthetic chemical compound embodies in itself a complex relativity capable of being expressed in most exact laws, which reflect the evolutionary emergence of its substance as much as do the organs of an animal explained in terms of evolutionary development. The science of genetics which is beginning to dominate the study of living forms depends upon very exact laws capable ofmathematical expression, and usually so expressed in advanced technical works. These laws express the determination to a certain condition of the living entity, a condition contained within the relations of its genetic facts. This is once more an intrinsic finality, a purposiveness or relation to a pre-determined end. The laws of genetics today are so complex that the Mendelian formulae from which the science began has been reduced to its alphabet.

There is no doubt either of the purposive nature of the urges and impulses of anything that lives. Every organ has a definite function, is framed to that function and performs no other function. Every instinct and impulse of life, the urges of self-conservation, and reproduction, are purposive; they are directed to an end, and the living thing seeks the function to which it is relative. There is law of birth, growth, and decline, the whole order of nature from the ultimate particles to the body of man is a relativity built upon finality and purposiveness.

The reader must bear in mind that this finalism and purposiveness in being, and of being, does not imply any conscious striving or conscious knowledge at all: nor any principle of being existent within the material order distinct from matter. We have already stated that we are not preaching a theory of Vitalism or Animism, this purposiveness means that in the first place every substance is defined by laws and causal relationships that explain and define its substance, and secondly this finalism implies a Relative Universe in which the purposiveness and relativity that goes through all being, non-living and living, means the ultimate postulation of an Absolute Intellect, the control, direction, and planning centre of a Universe of evolving relative entities. This last, the existence ofGod, we now foreshadow, the proof consists in the more detailed analysis of data already given, and perhaps already sufficiently indicated for the keen mind.

Towards the Existence of God

These relative entities have evolved in a cosmic totality which is our serial Universe; they represent a process of coming to be in which the composite is built up on the simple; and the process is a continuum; it progresses on and on, from the particles of matter to the most complex synthesis of elements, from these to life, from life to the anthropoids. This continuum is truly a progression, and one worked upwards: a synthesis. It is a progression which we can analyse, which is traceable backwards also, and we can trace it backwards as a "history" because neither the "environment" nor the natures under our consideration are found to be arbitrary and chaotic, even though they are part of a transformist order of being.

If there is an intrinsic finality which defines the substance of a living entity, and the purpose within itself of its component parts, if there is also an external relation of such cause and effect between the entity and the environment which inhibits and stimulates and if there are instincts that rule the life cycle of the living, then clearly we cannot dismiss the possibility that there may be a finality so substantial to an evolving entity and its environmental relationships, that the future specific evolution of the living is pre-determinedly contained in the relativity of its present. This means that the future can be regarded, on such an hypothesis, as a value implicit and potential in a cosmic equation, a value yet to be educed, a value the eduction of which involves a universalrearrangement of the more generalised value, just as the eduction of a new value in an equation is a value relationship in a total relativity of values. This concept would not allow of any sort of "random mutation" or random chance of any sort in a mechanistic and determinist order of matter. The future of evolving material beings, both non-living elements and compounds, and living forms, would be completely defined, determined and inevitable: as blind and as pre-fashioned as the multitudinous parts and functions that define a complex electronic machine. These relative entities do not possess within themselves their own explanation. They do not have, anywhere in the Universe of matter, any possible absolute as their overall control and direction to an evolutionary end.

So they must ultimately imply an absolute outside their order, even as the most delicate and wonderful relativities made by man, the new electronic calculators and reactors, are not explicable except in terms of an absolute not contained in the inter-relativity of their integral parts.

It may be, if finalism should be at the very heart of this relative Universe that the future, in the determinist order of matter, is as much contained in the definition of the present as the future adult is contained in the fertilised ovum of the parent animal. In a Universe so shot through with laws that are expressions of the intrinsic causal relativity of being, we cannot ignore this possibility even as a purely a priori hypothesis. Careful reflection will demonstrate that it is more than an hypothesis, it is something that must be so.

Orientation of the Whole Order of Being to a Purposive End

Whatever the superiority of the living over the non-living in the order of existence, which is too strictly philosophical a matter to detain us here, there is no doubt that both orders are conditioned by intrinsic finality and that both orders are synthesised in one totality. The animal body, containing everything from the ultimate elements to the highest perfection of material entity as a unity in itself, sums up in itself all that the material Universe is. It points to the unity and oneness behind the cosmic law of the relative evolution of matter. Every one of the so-called "natural" elements and their recently understood isotopes can be expressed by a formula that is the law of their synthesis. The atoms, the elements of the elements, are likewise distinguished, and then below theatom, to particles that mark the present limits of human knowledge. The practical ability of man to change and even to transmute elements by the separation or addition of a given particle or number of particles demonstrates forcibly enough how law governs the constitution of matter, and how the law of the synthesis of at least non-living matter, contains implicitly also the finalism by which the substance is defined as "this element" with "these fixed properties".

The laws of astronomy and cosmology too, even those now relegated after correction to the rank of aspects of a more general law of relativity such as Einstein's formulation, all point to the same fact; progress in science is achieved by the presumption of definite, fixed, and determinate relations of cause and effect between material entities. It is presumed that things have a definite specific cycle of function, or purposiveness. It is presumed that there is finalism in being and the operations of being. On this supposition alone has science made progress, and in science the results achieved are the supreme test of the accuracy of a theory.

The rule of fixed law, reliable because its subject matter is mechanistically determined, and specific in its reaction, not possessed of free-will nor subject to unpredictable changes of reaction or property, is the foundation of the exact sciences, and by derivation the foundation also of our modern civilised life. We presume such a relation of cause and effect every time we switch on the radio; sometimes even more emphatically when we switch it off. We continue to believe that finalism and purposive relativity exists, but that the conditions of its relation to effect are not being fulfilled every time we flounce out of the car and throw up the bonnet to see what has gone wrong this time. We do not leave the body by the wayside and trudge home philosophising upon the fickle chances whichare the rules of Nature's Comic Opera.

Faith Magazine

January - February 2012