The Story of Cosmic Evolution, or This One Goes Out To Pachuco and Lil' Smokey in Rio Linda!
3:45AM and I can't sleep anymore, so here I am, wide awake, thinking about the cosmos and my own strange journey through its hidden arteries.
Way before I had ever conceived the idea of becoming a coonical pslackologist, I worked briefly in radio. Well, not exactly "worked," but I did have an internship. This was back when I was a film major for my undergraduate work -- a Radio-TV-Film major, to be exact. As a requirement for the program, everyone had to go through a semester-long internship. In my case, it was at KRLA radio in Pasadena.
At the time, I actually thought that radio would be much more suitable than film for my temperament and meager skills. I was especially intrigued by the free-form, underground FM deejays of my youth, who worked a three or four hour shift charged with the awesome responsibility of playing records of their own choosing while not even hiding the fact that they were often inebriated. I can do that!
Actually, I didn't really think I could ever be lucky enough to completely beat the system and become a deejay. That was too much to ask. But I thought that perhaps I could be a programmer. Luckily, my first assignment was as a go-fer to the assistant programmer.
Now at the time, KRLA was an oldies station that catered to the Hispanic population. To be honest, it catered to the gang population, but of course, the gangs were not nearly as vicious in those days (this was back in about 1980). This was way before rap and hippity hop. For some reason, these old school gang veteranos just loved listening to their oldies -- pre-Beatles stuff like doo-wop and early Motown -- while harmlessly cruising in their low-riders, drinking Colt 45, and spray painting their ubiquitous graffiti all over East Los Angeles.
Anyway, the assistant programmer didn't have much for me to do, but one day she asked me to man the "dedication line," on which listeners would call in and request particular songs for their novias. Without even thinking about it, I cheerfully responded, "Sure. Do I have to speak spray can?"
Ha! A little ethnic joke to lighten things up... you know, graffiti and all that...
The word "political correctness" didn't yet exist, so I didn't know what to call the distinctly hostile Nameless Presence that now dwelled between us. In any event, she looked at me as if, to paraphrase Bertie Wooster, I were a snake egg in the process of hatching. After that I was given the permanent assignment of monitoring the police scanner for traffic information.
Well, speaking of requests, today we have a request in the Cosmos! Trad-coon reader Joseph has asked me how I manage to reconcile the anti-evolutionary view of the traditionalist Guenon/Schuon school with my own belief in evolution. Upon superficial consideration, it seems like an either/or proposition -- either creation or evolution -- but I don't see it this way. Or at least I have tried to explain how the two can harmoniously coexist. In fact, I would go so far as to say that evolution must be a fact, not for scientific reasons but for a priori metaphysical ones.
Clearly, this was one of the main points of my book. When I use the word "evolution" I am not necessarily referring only to biology but to the phenomenon of progressive change itself. The local phenomenon of natural selection must be placed in the much wider context of cosmic evolution. This is not a static or mechanistic universe, but a dynamic and organismic one, as Whitehead so thoroughly articulated. This much is obvious. On every level we see cycles within cycles, from the subatomic to the cellular to the neurological and psychological to the spiritual.
Having said that, I do not believe that evolution is an open-ended process that starts from nothing and proceeds in a random way. Frankly, I think that such an idea is equally metaphysically absurd as the notion that the universe was created all at once in a static way. Rather, I share Sri Aurobindo's view that the existence of evolution must imply a prior involution. This is essentially what I was trying to convey in the opening passage of my book, using the idea of the Big Bang as a metaphor for God's simultaneous involution and creation of the cosmos. For example:
How Lo can he Go? How about all the way inside-out and upside-down, a vidy long descent indeed to the farthest reaches of sorrow and ignorance.... A self-willed division, expulsion & exile, and badda-bing, badda-BANG! a wondrous thunder rends it all asunder.... The molten infinite pours forth a blazen torrent of incandescent finitude, as light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow and F-A-L-L-S in love with the productions of time, hurtling higgledy-piggledy into jivass godlings and samskara monsters all the way down.
What does this nonsense mean? Simply that God, through the perpetual act of creation, involves himself in the cosmos like a seed in the womb of time. Evolution on a cosmic scale is the reverse of this, as the cosmos gradually awakens to its own divinity, what I call "cosmotheosis." Importantly, this is not to reduce God to the physical cosmos -- in other words, this is in no way pantheism. Rather, this fully comports with the Orthodox Christian doctrine of panentheism. Since I'm suffering from this virus and cannot think that clearly, I will just quote from the Wikipedia article on the subject, which seems to get it basically right (although my Orthodox readers may want to correct any errors).
Panentheism describes "the relationship between the Uncreated God (who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation." This bears superficial similarities to pantheism, but maintains a critical distinction. That is, this doctrine does not teach that God is merely the deistic "watchmaker God" of the Enlightenment, nor "the 'stage magician God' who only shows up when performing miracles."
Rather, the idea is that "God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all." Specifically, God's energies "maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence," which would end existence altogether.
Importantly, Orthodox Christian panentheism is distinct from the fundamentalist view, in that "it maintains an ontological gulf or distance between the created and the Uncreated." Creation is paradoxically not a "part" of God, and "the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is 'within' all creation...."
Now, I find this view to be entirely compatible with the traditionalist doctrine of the cosmos as a "ray of creation" that emanates from the Creator outward, like a series of concentric circles, each circle representing another "world" -- say, matter, life, or mind. At the farthest reach of the divine ray -- i.e., the most distant from the "cosmic center" -- would be dead matter. Or at least dead matter is the last "congealed" aspect of the cosmos. There are presumably realms even beyond that, as the involutionary ray fades into darkness and obscurity. Sri Aurobindo called this the "unconscient"-- the seeming absence of conscousness which is actually a necessary result of the divine ray deploying itself infinitely into time and space.
In Orthodox Christianity, there is the idea of "kenosis," which refers both to God's "sacrifice" or "self-emptying" in creating the universe, as well has his sacrifice in becoming man. It is said that "God became man so that man might become God." Do you see how it all fits together? God becomes man -- i.e., he is involved in humanness -- so that humans might evolve to God, or achieve theosis. For me, this dovetails perfectly with the perennial doctrine that the One became many so that the many might become One, or Brahman became maya so that maya might become Brahman. Just substitute "evolved back to" for "became," and any odious implications of evolution are removed -- i.e., "the One involved itself in the many so that the many might evolve back to God."
Now, how does this apply to man per se? Is he evolving? Or is he an exception to the cosmic rule, a static entity created by God? The Bible teaches that man is the image and likeness of God. However, in Orthodoxy there is a clear distinction between image and likeness. They are not the same thing. The image is more like a seed; it is our divine potential, the spark of divinity involved in the core of our being. It is only a mirror in the way that an acorn mirrors the oak tree.
The purpose of life is to "actualize" the potential implicit in the mirror in order to become the image. Here again, simply substitute "evolve into" for "become," and any objections to evolution are eliminated. Naturally, we wish to "evolve" from fallen man and achieve our divine potential, do we not? Obviously this is not a reduction to mere Darwinian evolution, which it includes but clearly transcends. Again, the evolution of life itself can only mean that life was already "involved" in matter prior to its outward appearance -- as was mind and spirit. Thus, evolution is the ultimate cosmic reclamation project.
I could say a lot more, but I think l'll stop for now and see if there are any questions. In the mean time, Guadalupe would like to send out Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals to Flaco in San Quentin. Little Flaco misses his daddy!
Hey, it's a joke, people!