James F. Salmon: "Secular and Biblical Freedom in an Evolutionary Context"
One of the themes constantly discussed in newspapers and on television programs is lack of freedom in the world. But the question can be asked, what does one mean by “freedom”? This paper interprets natural phenomena that portray the emergence of relative degrees of freedom in creation, from simplest particles to human beings. It goes on to describe both secular and biblical interpretations of the meanings of freedom within their own specific contexts. Besides offering a description of the evolution of freedom the paper proposes a distinction in meanings of freedom that can be overlooked. Common contemporary views of what is called political freedom like the recent popular book, Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class – And What We Can Do About It, are not considered. The concept of secular freedom discussed here is more concerned with its philosophical roots.
Philosophers and scientists have gradually moved away from a Cartesian tradition of consideration of animals as machines. The tradition was dominated by a philosophy of reductionism and determinism. In that tradition humans manifested the only known real freedom in the universe. The tradition, based on motivation, was dominated by analysis of relative behavioral forces. However Buridan’s donkey was a simple example of the hypothetical impasse that existed. Buridan argued that if one places a hungry donkey between two exactly equal heaps of hay at exactly the same distance, the donkey will not be able to make up its mind which way to go and will starve because the motivational forces to go one way or the other are the same. Fascinating experiments by the group at Brussels, and described by Prigogine, shows this impasse to be false in the animal kingdom.
Some authors, including religionists, seem to imply forms of dualism that ultimately imply a Cartesian tradition. The emphasis is to show how human beings are different, rather than to understand where they stand in continuity with the rest of an evolutionary cosmos. Freedom seems to escape a serious scientific approach because of its inability to predict future outcomes. Outside of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in which, for diagnostic purposes, a magnetic field and radio waves can provide computerized images of internal body tissues that include the brain, there has been relatively little scientific interest in freedom. That is expected since it is generally agreed with Viktor Frankl’s and Walter Ciszek’s respective experiences in concentration camps during two different periods of the twentieth century, and with other commonsense data, that it is impossible with absolute certainty to predict accurately and measure future activities of human beings.
5 June 2007