Is nature purposeless? (chapter six of The Science Delusion)

In chapter six of The Science Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake asks “is nature purposeless?” For Rupert Sheldrake, the materialist world-view situates us in a universe driven from the past.

The mechanistic revolution in seventeenth-century science abolished ends, purposes, goals and final causes. Everything was to be explained mechanically, by matter being pushed from the past, as in billiard ball physics, or by forces acting in the present, as in gravitation. This four hundred year old doctrine is still an article of faith.

He then goes on to illustrate examples of purpose in the plant and animal kingdoms. Gravity is cited as a force that attracts to a future state, rather than driven from the past. In this sense it works backwards from the future. Gravity and its countervailing force of dark energy maintains the universe in an ideal equilibrium.

Here is a video explaining the relationship between dark energy and gravity.

Our collective universal history has been one of ever-increasing diversity. According to Rupert Sheldrake:

One essential feature of the universe seems to be fertility, multiplicity and creativity. Yet at the moment of the big bang there was none of this diversity. Multiplicity and diversity have increased through time, and so have complexities of organisation.

Human social constructions have also increased in diversity and complexity.

Quantum leap of purpose

Rupert Sheldrake states that the “all religions assume that human consciousness plays an essential role in the world and in human destiny”. Here is where the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh have created a massive acceleration of the realisation of our purpose. Before the Bábi and Bahá’í Faiths began in 1844, the religions considered themselves to be the main custodians and arbiters of truth and all competing religions as in error, or even satanic. Bahá’u’lláh taught us that there is one God, one religion and one human family. The concept of progressive revelation links all of the religions together as a part of human social evolution. Any differences between the essential beliefs of the great religions can be attributed to the context in which they were born, human interpretation and the ossification of doctrine and the usurpation of religion for selfish purposes.

With the guidance of their divinely inspired Teachers the great religions over time guided mankind to a greater maturity, to more complex social systems and the adoption of wider loyalties. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that our purpose, in this dispensation, is the unification of mankind.

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.[1]

Individual and social purpose

Ideally our lives are an expression of both social and individual purpose. Our social purpose is to advance civilisation. Individually our purpose is to know and love our Creator. The intersection of these two purposes set us up for a beautifully balanced life. We are destined neither to be ant-like components of some grand social order, nor monk-like aesthetics withdrawn from the world. Baha`u’llah’s Teachings impel us to live a rich purposeful life.

This quote is from The Hidden Words by Baha`u’llah. This short book, revealed while he was in exile in Baghdad offers clear guidance about our individual purpose.

O Son of Spirit!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.[2]

When the self is stripped away, only consciousness remains.

[1] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 214

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words no. 13