Clash of two worlds
Birnbaum’s Potentialism vs. Atkin’s Randomness/Atheism
There are two worldviews currently prominent in the academic fields of science and philosophy: private scholar David Birnbaum’s Potentialism Theory and the well-entrenched Randomness Theory of the atheist academic community.
In one corner we have quintessential ‘outsider’ David Birnbaum, of Manhattan, the yeshiva-educated and Harvard -educated metaphysicist who developed Potentialism Theory. Over a dozen journals have featured Birnbaum’s Summa Metaphysica and its Theory of Potential in the 2013-2014 period alone.
‘Outsider’ Birnbaum’s intellectual counter-party is ultimate ‘insider’ Peter Atkins of England, a retired Oxford don and chemist, champion of Randomness Theory and of Atheism. These two protagonists have been at loggerheads since Atkins presented his point of view at the April 2012 Bard College (Upstate NY) 4-day international academic conference which focused on Birnbaum’s philosophical treatise Summa Metaphysica.
A point-by-point analysis shows their differences to be many and varied:
Birnbaum’s universe has a defined eternal origin – Infinite Potential;
Atkins’s schema does not handle cosmic origins.
Birnbaum’s universe has goal – it seeks the most extraordinary Potential;
Atkins’s universe is directionless/aimless/clueless.
Birnbaum’s universe-view is optimistic;
Atkins’s universe-view is pessimistic.
Birnbaum’s universe is organic and full of potential;
Atkins’s universe is non-organic, barren, nihilistic.
Birnbaum’s universe contains an overarching dynamic – Infinite Potential.
Atkins’s universe has no place for transcendence in any shape or form.
Atkins’s Randomness theory is neither structured nor codified.
Birnbaum’s model has room for a spectrum of views ranging from Religious to Spiritual to Secular (encompassing ~99% of the global population);
Atkins’s model only has room for hard-line atheism (thus embracing ~1% of the global population).
Birnbaum’s universe values the aesthetic, the spiritual and the individual;
Atkins’s universe treats these three as insignificant cosmic accidents, at best.
Birnbaum’s model of Potentialism is elegant and well-designed;
Atkins’s model of Randomness is chaotic.
Birnbaum’s theory end-point is advancement and growth;
Atkins’s theory end-point is decay and reduction.
Birnbaum keeps ideology (institutionalized religion) and metaphysics separate;
Atkins (dangerously) mixes ideology (hardline atheism) with metaphysics.
Birnbaum believes that religious thought and spirituality can be elegant and metaphysically anchored to the very core of the cosmic order;
Atkins believes that religion and spirituality are voodoo and unworthy of discussion.
[Note that many believe that Randomness Theory itself is voodoo and hocus pocus at best.]
Birnbaum views hardline Fundamentalists in either camp (be it hard-line Creationists or hardline Atheists) as in conflict with real understanding of the universe. Ideologies, when mixed with metaphysics, tend to influence research and objectivity, and can move the conversation from out of the realm of rigorous intellectual pursuit, where it should remain.
After months of research Oliver Burkeman, erudite journalist for The Guardian, called Birnbaum’s theory “not unscientific” and cited iconolclast scientist and anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (2006) who hailed Birnbaum’s theory as “remarkable and profound”; meanwhile, Guardian’s science writer Colin Tudge labeled noted chemist Peter Atkins (the standard bearer for Randomness/ atheism) as “non-scientific.”
In his book On Being (Oxford University Press, 2011) Atkins points out that there are questions which his model, the entrenched academic model, has not answered:
“The first great question of being is one that has probably entertained us all at one time or another: Where did it, the universe, all come from? How did it begin?” (p. 1)
“As a result of their intrinsic caution, almost every scientist is wisely unwilling to express a view about the events accompanying the inception of the universe. Quite honestly, they haven’t a clue….” (p. 5)
“The task before science in this connection will be to show how something can come from nothing without intervention. No one has the slightest idea whether that can happen and, if so, how it can come about….” (p. 11)
“I promised to return to the question of why there is a universe. What is its purpose? Something so big, complex, and all embracing some hold, must be there for a reason….” (p. 18)
Yet in spite of Atkins’s very own and published list of unanswered questions, when presented with an elegant and innovative proposal that incorporates scientific and philosophical answers to these same questions, he chose not to engage and debate the issues. Instead, he and others who support Randomness/atheism pivoted and attacked the Bard conference itself; Atkins himself had been a studious full-fledged participant and panelist at the conference 3 months earlier). Atkins’s Randomness/atheist compatriots then aggressively targeted the conference chairs for apparently being guilty of the cardinal sin of giving a major international platform – and traction/legitimacy to Birnbaum’s Summa Metaphysica.
Birnbaum’s paradigm challenge as personified in his Theory of Potential provides an intriguing resolution of the classic metaphysics questions hitherto assumed to be unanswerable – with an elegant, bold and straightforward solution. As University of Maine Associate Professor of Biology and Ecology, Andrei Alyokhin wrote in November, 2012 “Summa represents a bold attempt to formulate a unifying concept of the universe…it is reasonable to propose the Quest for Potential as a working hypothesis for explaining the impetus behind the cosmic dynamic”. Atkins continues to snub Potentialism and, to-date, refuses to debate this issue face-to-face with Birnbaum.
Why are the supporters of Randomness Theory so threatened by Birnbaum’s Theory of Potential? Because the Theory of Potential doesn’t just offer a new paradigm, but a far superior one – with an elegant and simple core theory capable of knocking Randomness Theory off of its perch?
Potentialism can satisfy the religious and the spiritualist and the secularist. Potentialism Theory resolves that classic list of seemingly unanswerable questions which Randomness simply cannot explain. By proclaiming everything meaningless, Randomness essentially admits intellectual defeat, declaring that those unanswered questions are simply beyond its ken.
It was once believed that the planets moved at random; but science and philosophy continue to advance and show that what offhand seems random, is actually orderly. Albert Einstein, in his book The World As I See It, stated that the harmony of natural law “reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”
Birnbaum’s Summa Metaphysica challenges us to either (a) remain trapped in the past and quiescent in the face of the nihilistic wasteland of randomness, or (b) consider Birnbaum’s vibrant 21st Century theory – and reach out to a rich universe of direction and Infinite Potential. That is Summa’s paradigm challenge.