The story I am about to tell you is not all that new. It has been emerging for quite a long time, probably since the 1920s, when quantum physics arrived on the scene. Although some parts of the story are already established, it has still not entered the consciousness of the general public, and it is actively rejected by academia and mainstream media. It is rejected because it contradicts the “science story” – the account given by science of the nature and history of the universe and the human being. Although you may have never heard the science story in its entirety, some of it will be familiar to you. If we want to know what the new story is, there is probably no better place to start than the science story. What follows does not claim to be comprehensive, but I believe that I have captured the essentials. I should add that, although this is this is still the prevailing view in science, an increasing number of individual scientists are warming to the new story. The science story is as follows…
The universe began from nothing. To be fair, science tells us that it was not exactly nothing. It was a “singularity”, which existed before space time. In other words, it had no dimensions. Difficult to imagine? Yes. And difficult believe that the vast universe, including this planet with its myriad forms of life, came effectively from nothing? Sure. But let’s get on with the story.
The “laws of nature”, such as the laws of physics and chemistry, all came into existence in the first few nanoseconds of the life of the universe. This is what scientists seem to agree on. Clearly, it begs some big questions. For example, how do they know this? And how did it happen? How is it possible for a large set of complex principles, which did not exist a nanosecond earlier, suddenly to come into being? Although I can just about stretch my mind to imagine a singularity, I have to say that this part of the science story takes us into the realms of fantasy. This is by no means to suggest that I know how or when the laws of nature came into being, but I am reasonably sure that it did not happen this way. I will say more about this when we come to the new story.
The universe has no intrinsic meaning. It began for no apparent reason. If this is true, then we have to wonder why it bothered coming into being in the first place. In any event, presumably this absence of meaning applies to us too, because we are surely products of the universe. It is little comfort to tell ourselves that if everything is basically meaningless, then this statement must be meaningless too! In any event, is meaning a purely human construct? If so, are we sole exceptions in the universe? Highly unlikely, I would have thought.
Everything is physical. Although scientists do not define the word “physical”, we know what it means. According to science, the whole universe is physical, and everything in it, including us. We are nothing more than our bodies. This implies that we do not exist before conception or after the death of our bodies. It also means that anything that, at first, appears not to be physical – such as consciousness – will eventually be shown to be physical in nature. It should be self-evident, but perhaps it needs to be stated that scientists believe everything is physical because they use only the physical mode of perception to explore the world and the human being. In other words, they rely only on their five physical senses, and on extensions to these senses, such as telescopes and microscopes. When we think about it, we realise that all scientific instruments are, ultimately, extensions to one or more of our five senses. If scientists used other, “non-physical” modes of perception to explore the world, the world would respond accordingly, by appearing to non-physical. This is a central feature of the new story. Meanwhile, the next part of the story follows naturally from this part.
Matter is primary, and consciousness is secondary. In other words, consciousness is believed a product of matter. This is why scientists say that consciousness is an “epiphenomenon of the brain”. This, too, has some far-reaching implications, such as the belief that consciousness can exist only within the brain. As we shall see, when we look at the new story, there is a lot of compelling evidence that consciousness can exist well beyond the brain.
Science’s emphasis of the physical and the material leads it to believe that the world and the human being can best be understood as “mechanisms”. This suggests that, if you really want to understand something, you take it apart, and see how its parts fit together and interact with each other – just like a machine. This “mechanistic worldview” is very evident in medicine and in pharmacology.
Science also wants us to believe that the universe contains disorder, chance and randomness. They tell us that some things happen by chance – such as life on this planet – and that some things lack order. The important point of this part of the science story is the claim that disorder and chance are inherent characteristics of the universe. This means that some things can never be explained. They just happen!
Science’s focus on mechanisms and parts takes us to the next part of its story – that the primary reality is to be found at the level of the very small – at the level of particles, waves and quanta. From this, it is a short step to the belief that causality is upwards. In other words, “prime causes” take place at the sub-atomic level. Everything else is secondary, a consequence of primary causes.
We are almost there! Although this may be obvious by now, it is worth stating explicitly that science believes that things are basically separate from each other, and connected only by physical forces, such as gravity and electromagnetism. This belief persists, despite long-standing evidence of “quantum entanglement”, which strongly suggests that things are anything but separate. This belief is separateness runs deep in our lives. It may, for example, be at the root of the loneliness and isolation many of us feel from time to time.
Human evolution happened more or less as Darwin described it. I might agree with this, if we were talking only about the evolution of our physical body. For scientists, this is all we are, our physical body. For me, and for the new story, we are much more than that. T If we are much more than that, this puts the whole of evolutionary biology into question.
Finally, and although this is not a formal part of the science story, it is implied that, while some religious and spiritual traditions can offer useful moral guidance, they cannot give us facts. Only science can give us facts! Yet, when we stop to think about it, we realise that most of the facts of our own lives come not from science. They come from our personal experience. The new story differs from the science story in many respects. Most importantly, it places us – human beings – right at the centre of the story.
Many scientists – indeed many people in general – think that the science story is a set of facts. As such, they are beyond argument. This is very evident when you hear Richard Dawkins speaking! The reality is that the science story is merely a set of beliefs. While it is true that some of these are based on careful observations and complex calculations, they are still beliefs. This is because science is always provisional. Its “facts” are not set in stone. They are not eternal truths. All of them are subject to change. Thus, the science story is believed to be true. This is significant, because it means that, as a set of beliefs, the science story is a worldview – a worldview that profoundly influences all aspects of our lives.
It influences our lives more than you might imagine. Most obviously, it is the basis of our knowledge. This, in turn, makes it the basis for our education. This is because a worldview tells us what is true and what is possible. The untrue and the impossible is very unlikely to be taught in our schools and our universities. Bu it goes much deeper than this. The science story is at the root of our values – what we believe to be important – and our behaviour. It follows that if we change our worldview, our core beliefs, then everything else changes. This is why the new story so important. It is because it will change our core beliefs, our values and our behaviour. Few will deny that the planet is crying out for us to change.