The Big Picture: The Case
For Poetic Naturalism vs. The Need For A Supreme Being

By

Leonard Zwelling

         The Big
Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself
is a long and elaborate book, but worth the effort in
every way.

         Sean Carroll’s treatise on reality is a guide to quantum
mechanics, biodiversity and the stuff of the universe. So you can imagine this
is quite a wide-ranging book.

         On p. 3 he defines his basic belief system, poetic
naturalism. Essentially, there is one world and one only. There are many ways
to talk about that world from the subatomic to the cosmologic. And they all
have to fit. Carroll spends the better part of 400 pages convincing the reader
that this is not only possible, but likely and, most critically, that you don’t
need to invoke God to get there. The latter may be off-putting to many, but
it’s his book and his case is that the miraculous and spiritual have no place
in describing the universe, the stars, the atom or DNA. Reality does not
require a Supreme Being according to Carroll. This is not going to endear him
to the evangelical crowd, the Catholic Church or Lubavitch Judaism.

         Eventually, Carroll gets around to discussing right and
wrong and whether or not ethics or something like ethics is consistent with the
rules of physics. In other words, if you can define a human up from the
sub-atomic to the whole organism, how do you explain the concept of the soul?
Where is it? What is it made of? How will you know for sure?

         Obviously, the answer is that you can’t know for sure. Rene
DesCartes was convinced that the non-physical soul could move the physical
body. Really? How does that work?

         You get my drift and this is not my book.

         On page 406 Carroll makes an important distinction between
consequentialism and deontology. In the first, moral implications of behavior
are determined by the consequences of the action taken. In the second, there
are known right and wrong. He describes this as “the greatest good for the
greatest number” vs. the Golden Rule. He also notes the existence of virtue ethics
which has to do with the intrinsic properties of the person that leads to a
course of virtuous action. Like courage.

         What Carroll is trying to do is convince the reader that
there is no need for God in this universe and that good behavior can emerge
from the basic laws of physics that govern the synapses of our brains.

         Obviously, he’s not a fan of the Ten Commandments. He
instead supplants them with Ten Considerations:

1. Life Isn’t Forever-Life is finite and it is not a
dress rehearsal.

2. Desire Is Built Into Life-We are always on the move
even when we sit still and the ATP is just spinning in our brains. We move. We
want.

3. What Matters Is What Matters To People-We make value
by making value for others.

4. We Can Always Do Better-We learn from our errors.

5. It Pays To Listen-That’s how we learn.

6. There Is No Natural Way To Be-We are born one way and we can change.

7. It Takes All Kinds-We shape our lives the way we
decide to do so.

8. The Universe Is In Our Hands-We make the choices that
matter to humans.

9. We Can Do Better Than Happiness-At the end of the day,
is happiness what counts to a life well-lived?

10.            
Reality
Guides Us-Eliminate illusions. Be honest with yourself.

I
believe that this book should be essential reading for all leaders—political or
otherwise. It is going to upset most religious people, which means a lot of
Americans. It is not that it convinces the reader that there is no God, but
that there is no need for one to explain reality.

I
really do understand that this will be off-putting. Read the book anyway. You
will be glad you did even if it doesn’t change your mind about anything.

And
it won’t help you decide who to vote for. On that score it will first make you
depressed because your choice is so bad and then make you elated. These two shall
pass.

Leonard Zwelling