HPP Talk: 7th May, Michael Heller

On the 7th of May Michael Heller spoke on the topic 'From the Big Bang to the Gulag: How to Justify the History of the Universe' at the ongoing seminar series organised by the Humane Philosophy Project and the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.

Footage of this seminar is available on the media page.

The laws of physics not only allow for, but also enforce, in a sense, the origin of structures, even of such complex structures as living organisms. And they mercilessly govern the balance of such structures: all processes must agree with the second law of thermodynamics—everything has to tend to thermodynamical equilibrium, that is to say to thermal death. Even the most stable structures must finally surrender to statistical chaos. Physical evil: suffering, death, decay, find they raison d’etre in the structure of the Universe. They are a price for the very possibility of life.

But what about moral evil when, for instance, a human being, making use of a physical evil, destroys another human being? Moral evil appeared in the history of the Universe together with a being able to choose between good and bad. Before that there existed physical evil but the Universe was morally innocent. The existence of moral evil does not find its raison d’etre in physical laws. It transcends physics.

Among various attempts to answer Leibniz’s question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” there is one, especially rich in consequences. It claims that something exists because it is good. This is an echo of Plato’s “the good and right… hold and bring things together” (Phaedo). In this perspective, existence and goodness are interchangeable (esse and bonum convertuntur).

If goodness justifies existence then it also justifies rationality since everything that exists is implacably rational. It follows that evil is irrational and as such it cannot be rationally justified. This gap in rationality is tolerated since the Universe with evil and freedom (to do evil) is supposedly better than the Universe without evil and without freedom.

This story is told against the background of cosmology.

Michael Heller, born in 1936, is a professor at the Philosophical Faculty of the John Paul II University in Cracow. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences in Rome, and an adjoint member of the Vatican Astronomical Observatory (Specola Vaticana). He is a laureate of the Templeton Prize and the founder of the Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. His scientific interests cover the fields of relativistic physics, especially relativistic cosmology, mathematical methods in physics, history and philosophy of science, and relations between science and theology. He is an author of several books and many research papers, and also a member of many international societies.

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