Wednesday, 5 April 2017


"...a wheel had to be round. Evolution and design turned up similarities all the time..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Twelve, p. 307.

I think that wheels have to be circular but I still do not understand what is going on in Poul Anderson's "The Three-Cornered Wheel" (see here).

When starting University, I still did not understand natural selection. I thought that a biological organ could perform a function only if it had been designed to do so. Evolution and design are different and intelligent organisms had to evolve before they became able to design anything.

Sight and flight are so useful that they have evolved separately several times on Earth and are bound to exist elsewhere - assuming that there is indeed multi-cellular life elsewhere.

"...the Change shot scientific rationalism through the head." (ibid.)

Did it? The Change is a new datum that is not yet understood. A scientific approach is the only way to comprehend such data.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

But if you can't even use the knowledge amassed by scientific research, assuming something like the Change, then "scientific rationalism" will simply not be of much practical value.

Also, I think existential despair might become a problem. I recall an incident where Lord Bear summoned one of his hitherto most competent A Listers to berate him for becoming fat, slack, slovenly, abusive of his powers and privileges. The other man told Lord Bear that once the immediate problems of survival and living had been solved, he started THINKING. That is, in ONE moment everything mankind had painfully learned and built over centuries was GONE. And there was no guarantee that another Change would not occur. So, why not eat, drink, and have some fun NOW? Existential despair.


David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
There was no visible REASON why things no longer worked after the Change. Why should ANYONE believe, any longer, in rationality or cause-and-effect?

Bad things happened, and might happen again, to good people, JUST BECAUSE. Chaos. Frankly, I'm surprised that ANY religions survived such an inexplicable catastrophe.

Paul Shackley said...

I am only on Vol III. I understand that there is at least a hint at an explanation later? And Havel's father-in-law tried earlier to get some scientific grasp of what has happened?
Theistic religions have to face the Problem of Evil in any case. I believe that the one reality becomes conscious of itself through us and that, in the beginning, it was as yet unconscious. Thus, it was not an intelligent conscious designer.

Paul Shackley said...

Although I don't defend polytheism philosophically, it could survive a major catastrophe because it doesn't claim that its gods are omnipotent.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID and Paul!

David. Your first paragraph, exactly! The stunning shock of the Change had grim philosophical implication once people had the time to stop and think about them. It can easily lead to people disbelieving in rationality and causes/effects.

Not sure I agree entirely with your second paragraph. I think it would be possible that the shock of the Change might encourage people to turn to faith and belief in God or "gods."

Paul, it's difficult to talk about what caused the Change without bringing in spoilers. So I will simply say some did wonder in the early Change books if hostile "alien space bats" from other stars had wiped out most of the human race.

And I do recall how Lord Bear's father in law, an engineer by profession, I think, tried to study and analyze the effects of the Change. Problem, the data made no sense to him!

You mentioned the problem of evil. To keep this discussion somewhat on tangent with a blog dedicated to Poul Anderson, I'll quote what one of the characers in his "The Problem of Pain" said about that. Peter Berg said: "I've studied these matters these past years: read theology, argued with priests, the whole route. Why does God, if He is a loving and personal God, allow evil? Well, there is a perfectly good Christian answer to that. Man--intelligence everywhere--must have free will. Otherwise we're puppets and have no reason to exist. Free will necessarily includes the capability of doing wrong. We're here, in this cosmos, to learn how to be good of our unforced choice" (page 53 of the hardcover edition of THE EARTH BOOK OF STORMGAGTE).

Hmmm, it might interesting what a Zoroastrian might say about the problem of evil. Perhaps he would argue evil exists because the evil god, Ahriman, introduced evil in opposition to the good god, Ahura Mazda.

And I do believe God played a role in the evolution of the human race, and all other intelligent races.

And one reason why I can't take polytheism seriously is because pagan "gods" are not truly GODS if they are not omniscient and omnipotent. No, monotheism makes far more sense.