Sunday, July 12, 2009

It Takes a Cosmos: My Evolving Thoughts on Evolution

This is a continuation of yesterday's post, originally published two years ago. I wanted to revisit it to see if my thinking on the subject of cosmic evolution has evolved. There is quite a bit of added material.

The fundamental evil that besets us... is our incapacity to see the whole. --Teilhard de Chardin

An anonymous commenter yesterday criticized me for lowering myself to the level of a mainstream, "exoteric" Christian, N.T. Wright. First, no esoterist considers himself superior to those with a more traditional, exoteric point of view. In fact, of the two of us, they are the more important, because they preserve the embattled vertical message through the ravages of horizontal time. Without them, it is very unlikely that we'd be here talking about the Christian vision. The same is especially true of Judaism. Imagine the moral courage of the many generations of Jews who kept the traditions alive and in tact, so that they can be studied esoterically. Unlike the ungrateful tenured, we know that bullets come before poetry and guns before academic freedom.

Secondly, I thought my larger point was obvious -- that mainstream Christianity is an esoterism; in fact, as Schuon has remarked, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. In the absence of the "esoteric key," it scarcely makes any sense at all. My point is that it is not as if the esoterism is "hidden" or "secret." Rather, it is right out in the open. It is full of mystery, and mystery is a mode of God.

Perhaps some definitions would be helpful. What do we mean by "esoterism?" Let's begin with a little metaphysics: there are two realities; or, more precisely, one reality with two faces, the Absolute and the relative. As Schuon writes, "the idea that the Absolute has made itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute" is the fundamental mystery of revelation. Revelation must address itself to the "average" mentality, taking into consideration its needs and limitations. Nevertheless, it contains "layers" of meaning that are more or less inexhaustible, while its deepest dimension conveys a universal teaching, or message, about existence.

It is not that the message of pure metaphysics can only be decoded by "special" people. Rather, to paraphrase Schuon, man by definition has two subjectivities, the ego and intellect: "the ego follows the divine attraction within the limits of its nature -- it can do nothing else -- whereas the intellect, also in accordance with its nature, opens itself to the [universal] Principle and realizes it; both ways combine while remaining independent of each other."

The ego is constrained by small-r reason, and cannot transcend its relatively narrow horizons, which are limited to assumptions and conclusions. But the esoteric perspective is rooted in intellectual intuition, which is our means of access to universal principles, or to "the nature of things." It extends from thinking to being -- or perhaps generative "thinking about being," what I call O-->(n). Thus, esoterism is simply the deep contemplation, comprehension, and assimilation of the religious message, which is Truth itself. You might say that it is the "metabolism of truth."

The fundamental mystery of revelation is that the Absolute has made itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute. How does this accord with what we were discussing yesterday?

From the spiritual perspective, evolution can only be evolution toward divinity. In fact, that is the title of a book by Beatrice Bruteau which outlines the parallels between Teilhard de Chardin's "Christian evolutionism" and Sri Aurobindo's neo-Vedantic view. Interestingly, in his own lifetime, Teilhard was unaware of the parallels, and even thought that his theology was incompatible with the latter.

Bruteau writes that one of the purposes of her book was "to point out the irony of this situation by refuting Teilhard's criticisms and by showing how, on the contrary," the Vedantic contribution to world thought "could have been most advantageous to him if he had studied it with care." Evidently, Teilhard's slight knowledge of Vedanta caused him to characterize it as "a simplistic monism in which all multiplicity disappeared without leaving a trace."

Bruteau writes that Fr. Teilhard's "intellectual odyssey centered around his lifelong struggle to reconcile in his thought and in his career two attractions which he seems to have experienced equally strongly and which he initially felt to be divergent: the love of God, on the one hand, and, on the other, the love of the earth together with knowledge of the earth, which is science." In one of his early journals, he wrote of his struggle "to reconcile progress and detachment, a passionate and legitimate love of the earth's highest development and the exclusive quest for the kingdom of heaven. How can one be as much a Christian as any other man, and yet more a man than anyone?"

Clearly, Teilhard was attempting to reconcile the vertical and horizontal at their highest levels. While the Creator surely exists, "our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended." In a way, Teilhard was a "priest of the Cosmos" rather than just the earth. In fact, he said as much: "I should wish, Lord, in my very humble way, to be the apostle and, if I may ask so much, the evangelist of your Christ in the Universe." Later he wrote that he had "felt passing through me, in particularly exhilarating and varied conditions, the double stream of human and divine forces."

For Teilhard, true mysticism was "the great science and the great art, the only power capable of synthesizing the riches accumulated by other forms of human activity." Thus, he is naturally dismissed by ego-bound materialists, since they are generally incapable of comprehending the mystical experience at the heart of his cosmic vision.

For example, how is the common intellectual laborer to understand an observation such as, "God is at work within life. He helps it, raises it up, gives it the impulse that drives it along, the appetite that attracts it, the growth that transforms it. I can feel God, touch Him, 'live' Him in the deep biological current that runs through my soul and carries it with it." Or, "Everything in the universe is made by union and generation -- by the coming together of elements that seek out one another, melt together two by two, and are born again in a third." These mystical intuitions of Teilhard's are not "thought" but "seen" or even "felt": "The world, the whole world, is God's body in its fullest extension."

And, just like a body, it has an exterior and an interior horizon -- it is not possible to have the one without the other. Schuon and the traditionalists are quite harsh on both Teilhard and Aurobindo, and I do understand and appreciate where they're coming from. Let me also add that I am not arguing for "Teilhardism" or "Aurobindoism," since I believe both approaches have their flaws. Rather, I consider them to be early explorers simply doing their best to reconcile world and spirit, consciousness and matter, science and religion, temporal horizontal evolution and timeless vertical truth.

We can, like the traditionalists, simply dismiss scientific truth on a priori grounds, but I reject that approach for both tactical and epistemological/ontological reasons. That is, to reject the modern world will simply seal the irrelevance of religion, and therefore man's doom. And I am not prepared to give up on man. If you idealize the Dark Ages and want to live like a medieval man, no one is stopping you. Go for it! Start by turning off your computer so I don't have to deal with you. If I make you vomit, what are you doing here?

But more fundamentally, I firmly believe that "all truth comes from God." If it doesn't look like it on the surface, then that's our problem, not God's. We have to find a way to reconcile them. Which I don't think is all that difficult, really, so long as you're not thoroughly brainwashed by postmodern materialism. After all, humans are the living link between every possible mode and dimension of reality. We are matter, life, mind, and spirit.

As a matter of fact, Teilhard's idea of the "divine milieu" is quite similar -- gasp! -- to the traditionalist notion of the "cosmic ray" that extends from the divine ontological center of being to the periphery of the cosmos.

In an excellent biography of Teilhard, Spirit of Fire, (from which some of the above quotes are taken), King writes that Teilhard chose this expression "to describe the diffuse presence and influence of God at all levels of created reality, in all areas of human experience.... One can think of it as a field of divine energy that has one central focus -- God -- from which everything flows, is animated, and directed." As Teilhard wrote, "in no case could the cosmos be conceived, and realized, without a supreme center of spiritual consistence."

In my own book -- which you might say is my first approach at a comprehensive solution to the problems discussed in this post -- I wrote that human beings are "facts of the universe" which must be analyzed and evaluated cosmologically, for "discovering what a human being is is the key to fathoming the implacable mystery of the cosmos itself."

Along these lines, Teilhard observed that "There is a science of the universe without man. There is also a science of man as marginal to the universe; but there is not yet a science of the universe that embraces man as such. Present-day physics... does not yet give a place to thought; which means that it still exists in complete independence of the most remarkable phenomenon exposed by nature to our observation."

The question is, what is the place of Man in the cosmos? Science cannot help but dismiss man as a random and irrelevant side effect of impersonal cosmic forces, when I am quite convinced that the presence of the human dimension is the key to the whole existentialada. For Teilhard, the "big bang" of human consciousness is not a meaningless anomaly, but "a fundamental phenomenon -- the supreme phenomenon of nature," through which "universal evolution is not only experienced but lived by us." For no matter how "coldly and objectively we may study things, we must still conclude that humanity constitutes a front along which the cosmos advances."

I suppose this is a good place to leave off for today. See you at the front!

When all is said and done, I can see this: I managed to climb up to the point where the Universe became apparent to me as a great rising surge, [converging] ahead into into a single dazzling spearhead -- now, at the end of my life I can stand at the peak I have scaled and continue to look more closely into the future, and there, with ever more assurance, see the ascent of God. --Teilhard

17 Comments:

Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Sorry LT -- trolls are not permitted to go off topic.

7/12/2009 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Theofilia:

I realize it's difficult, but would you mind confining your ravings to your head, or at least your blog? No one here is interested.

7/12/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous theofilia said...

Bob writes, "The question is, what is the place of Man in the cosmos?"

The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe.
The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars;
fire and lightning and winds are there;
and all that now is in Him and He dwells within our heart,

Upanishads

7/12/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

What a gorgeous recording: Changing Places, by the Tord Gustavsen Trio (I have all three of their CDs, and they're all great). Not only do you hear the space between his notes, but the larger space from which music emerges from the Void. It is "implicitly" religious, for those with ears to hear.

I love the whole philosophy of the ECM label, which doesn't record a project for commercial reasons, but simply because it "ought to exist." But they are obviously quite successful, with 700 or 800 titles in their catalogue. I probably have about fifty....

7/12/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Sean said...

Bob said:
"An anonymous commenter yesterday criticized me for lowering myself to the level of a mainstream, "exoteric" Christian, N.T. Wright. First, no esoterist considers himself superior to those with a more traditional, exoteric point of view. In fact, of the two of us, they are the more important, because they preserve the embattled vertical message through the ravages of horizontal time. Without them, it is very unlikely that we'd be here talking about the Christian vision."

Talk about synchronicity... reading this article this morning over at American Thinker...

"God and Sarah Palin
Stuart Schwartz
Sarah Palin loves God. God loves Sarah Palin. And that is why they hate her...and Him.".....

made me realize exactly what Bob has alluded to. The resumption of our Country's earlier clear moral purpose can only be accomplished, in the trenches if you will, by the 70% of Americans who make up the exoteric Christian base in this country. The more esoteric of us seem to have a hard enough time being perceived as Christians but that does not make us any less important to the overall clause.
The engagement now seems to be one between good and evil and none of us can afford to sit it out.

As my West Point Cadet son would say...
Fix bayonets!

7/12/2009 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I thought the same thing in reading that article this morning. Thank God for exoterists! In a past post I addressed the uselessness of Coons (although, in reality, as Will often points out, we do have our hidden usefulness that radiates to the susceptible and puts a little fiber into the world soul, as it were).

7/12/2009 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In other words, the church needs Peter and John....

7/12/2009 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

Ironically enough, much earlier in my life, it was the exoteric Christian message that I ran away from. During my sojourn in the eastern 'spiritual'realms (so much more sophisticated don't ya know)I mocked with wild abandon the likes of the Moral Majority and she of the heavy face paint and mascara.

Thank you Bob for helping me see the back door and helping me regain entry into the most authentic spiritual path!

7/12/2009 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

My point is that it is not as if the esoterism is "hidden" or "secret." Rather, it is right out in the open. It is full of mystery, and mystery is a mode of God.

Yes, it takes a willful refusal to see his tracks, a decisive act of negation, to pretend He does not walk right here among us.

I have maybe 10 ECM LPs, all from decades ago, and they are still fresh and open as ever. The original "Big Sky" music. I pull out Terje Rydpal now and again to transport me along Scandinavian fjords.

7/12/2009 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, their motto is "the most beautiful sound next to silence." They've put together a series of 20 "best ofs" from some of their long-time key artists, called rarum, remastered in state-of-the-magic 24 bit/96kHz. There are a few that don't do anything for me, but most of them are great.

7/12/2009 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The ones I really enjoy seem to combine American jazz, European classical, ambient, and world music into one tidy package....

7/12/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

That's as good a definition of the genre as I've seen - try to fit that on a rack tag though. ;-)

The rarum titles include all my old faves - thanks for the heads up. Heck, I must own at least 20 ECM LPs - now I have to go excavate the closets to count them. And get them on the iPod. It's been way too long since I've spun most of 'em.

7/12/2009 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"First, no esoterist considers himself superior to those with a more traditional, exoteric point of view. In fact, of the two of us, they are the more important, because they preserve the embattled vertical message through the ravages of horizontal time. Without them, it is very unlikely that we'd be here talking about the Christian vision. The same is especially true of Judaism. Imagine the moral courage of the many generations of Jews who kept the traditions alive and in tact, so that they can be studied esoterically. Unlike the ungrateful tenured, we know that bullets come before poetry and guns before academic freedom."

Speaking of syncoonisity, I watched the execrable Maher's 'Religulous' today. And aside from just wanting to slap him silly... I noticed something disturbing, from the start - not in the movie, but in me. For awhile... a sense akin to pleasure in seeing the more literalistic fundies skewered by his flat world 'wit', especially the poseurs and politico's parading themselves in the colors of faith... but there were a couple of exceptions. In about the first scene, one biter clinger stands up and says "I don't know what your documentary is about, but you disrespect my God and we've got a problem. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm outta here.", and I thought 'Yesss!'. Here was someone who knew what they believed, and felt no need to win the approval of a fool by debating the worth of his own belief to himself, on the fools false field of play. And there was another, a middle aged lady refused to engage in his snide doubtectomy, and as he tries to bait her with 'you seriously believe that...' she eyes him like he's the idiot he is, and says something like 'Yep! And I'll rise up on a white horse in that end time with the lord!'.

And I had a very similar thought to what you said above. While he had been trying to say how he couldn't understand how smart people could be so stupid to believe in talking talking snake stories, I was first thinking "Then ask yourself why they do you moron! There's something more to it than that! There is a deeper meaning!", and then I was struck by the thought that 'Who in the heck would bother passing down pedantic stories of deeper meaning, but devoid of poetic fire and sturdy belief? And if some did, who would spread them? Struggle for them? Be inspired by them? On a much lesser level, could you imagine going to see Star Wars, and see Darth Vader discussing with Luke, "Now, understand, this helmet, these mechanical limbs I have, are really only trivial symbols of material power, the actually show more of how empty a shell of a man I have become'... who the heck would watch that? Who would tell anyone else about it? What kids would ever see themselves as Luke Skywalker battling the forces of evil? Magnify that a gajillion times, and it approaches this here. Thank God for those allow the 'tales' to live and give life and be passed on.

It is at least a case of the 80/20 rule. It requires a large number of people who enjoy and believe the (pardon the term) tale, and repeat the tale, spread the tale, and somewhere among them, a few might find deeper meaning within them, and they may be able to help those who, content with the tale, at times may need help in applying it to an issue in their lives... but nothing happens without those tales first giving and receiving life for what they fully are, being fruitful and multiplying.

And in those moments of comfortable superiority, enjoying the discomfort of the 'lesser' being tweaked, it is good to remember that for all the depth I may flatter myself for grasping, it is in a comparatively narrow sense, and the person who truly accepts and revels in the entire tale, encompasses it All, and though they may not grasp what I might consider to be as much intellectually, they grasp the complete tale in its entirety, which I suspect is far more fulfilling than my deep slice.

7/12/2009 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks Bob.
I got more outta this post the second helping.
All worthy of requoting, but this really stood out:

But more fundamentally, I firmly believe that "all truth comes from God." If it doesn't look like it on the surface, then that's our problem, not God's.

Yes indeedy. Affirmamendo, as they say in Argentina. Or at least according to what Skully says they say in Argentina. :^)

7/13/2009 06:35:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Van-

Thanks for that very apropos analogy. It's like adding cool whip to the pie (the regular cool whip not the diet). Not that there's anything wrong with the diet cool whip.

Of course, now they have chocolate and strawbwerry cool whip but I prefer the original flavor. Not that it it really matters.
It's all good, cool whippy goodness.
Maybe you might like all the flavors at the same time, kinda like mixin' Schuon and Teilhard.

Just think of them as cosmic cool whip flavors but magically delicious, and without the "bad" calories.

Okay, I dunno how Van's analogy got me started on cool whip but just go with it, okay? It still works...in a sense.

7/13/2009 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Perhaps a nice way to start the day (considering the recent discussions):

(I Cor 1:18-31)
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written,
"I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
so that no man may boast before God.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

7/13/2009 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Nomo said "(I Cor 1:18-31)"

Nomo, I took my medicine. Every drop.

7/13/2009 09:30:00 PM  

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