That some observations in physics can be explained as inferences from the
Principle of Minimum Assumption does not prove that all can. The
principle has been justified in this book by a few examples only and it is at
least arguable that others would not have justified it. The principle may
not be valid for the whole of physics; its unifying power may be incomplete;
there may be laws of physics that are not implicit in it; these would be of
the statute book kind. Some of the cosmic constants and some of the
constituent parts of the material universe, again, may have to be attributed
to a Cosmic Specification and not to mere randomness. Statute Book and
Specification would then appear to be the works of a Creator in the respective capacities of Legislator and Architect of the material universe.
Many do take this view and regard any other as robbing our very
existence of all meaning and purpose. At least some of the laws of physics,
they feel impelled to believe, must have been devised with the purpose
of creating order out of chaos. Some principle of design must have
inspired the structure of the firmament. A building, they argue, has no
beauty, not even coherence, if it has not been constructed to the specific
requirements of its architect; unless one assumes that a Cosmic Specification has been imposed on the physical universe, one cannot explain the
regularities that physicists tell us about; in a physical world that resulted
from mere randomness nothing would be predictable.
Arguments can be urged both for and against this view, but nothing
that has been said in this book can prove those wrong who hold it. It is,
nevertheless, worthwhile to point out that those irreducibles with which
the physicist of today is left are not of the kind that seems to support a
teleological view of the physical world or to justify an idealization of
matter. To the physicist they are immensely basic and important; from the
point of view of religion, ethics and aesthetics they must look rather trivial.
It would not be easy to argue that our existence would have either more or
less purpose and meaning if the velocity of light had a different value.
The question whether the charge on the electron, the quantum of action
and the mass of the neutron are independent constants or implicit
in each other can have no ethical significance, interesting though it
is to science. The first law of thermodynamics has a very great value
in the methodology of physics, but it does not belong to the same
universe of discourse as those things that may be the fount of inspiration for an architect. What is today left in the Cosmic Statute Book
and the Cosmic Specification has been listed in Appendix A. It is too
meagre to provide a means of ensuring purpose, order, beauty, coherence, or even, I think, predictability. Those who hope to justify an idealistic
view of the material universe have already lost so much that there is not
much more for them to lose. They should be able to contemplate without
any regret the prospect that the list of irreducibles may become ever
shorter as science progresses.
Does this conclusion lead to a materialistic philosophy?
The question is not relevant here, but I have found it to be too insistent
to be disregarded. It is not in human nature to reach conclusions about
cosmological problems without considering their wider implications. So
let me say that the method employed in this book, when applied consistently to the whole of reality, does not lead towards but away from
materialism. As I have already written three books on this theme 1, 2, 3
very few words of explanation will suffice here.
A decision is called for between the materialist assertion that all events
are the consequence of the unaided action of matter on matter and the
opposed claim that some events are the consequence of the action, direct
or indirect, of non-material influences on matter. It is this latter claim that I
have defended in my previous books. In the present book I have gone no
further than to discuss some of those events that do have to be attributed
to the unaided action of matter on matter. They all belong to the physicist's
universe of discourse and I should be prepared to place all other events
that belong to the same universe of discourse in this category. This leaves
the question open whether the physicists' universe of discourse is concerned
with the whole of reality. It is my contention that it is not.
My reason for opposing materialism is simply that I have been led to
the conclusion that the structure and behaviour of plants and animals,
as also the works of man, have to be attributed to non-material influences.
In other words I claim that reality has two aspects and I have discussed
only one of these in the present book.
To judge between the two opposed schools one has to find the answer
to a pivotal question concerning the nature of matter. Can the laws that
govern the action of one material system on another - can, in other words,
the laws of physics account for all the observations that we observe in the
organic world and the works that result from man's activity?
There are other ways of asking the same question. Is the kind of order
that we observe in the organic world imposed on matter by other matter
or is it imposed on matter by non-material influences? Is this kind of order
the consequence of what matter does or of what is done to it?
Here I have only discussed structures in the rough untouched world of
lifeless things. I have attributed these to the unaided action of matter on
matter. But in doing so I have also shown that they can be accounted for
without attributing to matter anything in the nature of a capacity for
creating order, for selection, guidance, control, co-ordination. Therewith I
have implied that it is erroneous to idealize matter as is done in the various
The true inference from what has been said here is that the kind oi
order observable wherever things are touched by life must be attributed
to the action of non-material influences.
1. Science versus Materialism, Methuen, 1940.
2. Mind, Life and Body, Constable, 1945.
3. Facts and Faith, Oxford University Press, 1955.
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© Reginald 0. Kapp 1960