Monday, May 21, 2012

Owen Barfield on Design

I've been trying to put my finger on why books like The Grand Design by Steven Hawking seem to be talking past many theists like myself. Hawking goes to great lengths to pin the origin of the universe on M-theory and some sort of fluctuations at the quantum level, so that so "trigger" or external agent is required for the beginning of it all:

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

And my reaction is, "So what? It still began." Whether it began externally or internally seems beside the question, at least at the level of mechanism. In other words, if God set it up that a fertile field of nothingness (or false vacuum) according to the rules of M-theory and it underwent a fluctuation producing light, and such a mechanism meant "Let there be light," then I don't have a problem with that. It's kind of cool, actually. Hawking is objecting to an external mechanism as opposed to an internal one, and I don't have a problem with either, for this event at least.

Then I was reading Owen Barfield (there I go again) in an essay titled "Science and Quality" and see this:

"What is important is to distinguish the two principles [of mechanism and organism], not to condemn one and exalt the other. What is important is to distinguish two active principles -- of free life and confining form -- while perceiving their interpenetration at all points. And if we do so we find, once more, that the ultimate distinction lies between 'inward' and 'outward.' Coleridge, as usual, formulated acutely when he defined as follows: 'Whatever is organized from without, is a product of mechanism; whatever is mechanized from within, is a product of organization.' It would be along these lines, I think, that one would reply to those who mistakenly identify organicism, or holism, with the so-called argument from design and reject it for that reason; since 'design' is essentially a pattern imposed from without rather than emerging from within. And as such it is applicable to the products of mechanism rather than to products of organization."

The Big Bang as a pattern emerging from within seems just as wondrous, if not more so, than a pattern imposed from without. And both seem designed in the way that's important. So the main argument of The Grand Design, in my opinion, misses the point. Would Hawking ever read Barfield?

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