Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Natural Evolution vs. Supernatural Revolution

This post brings up a self-important point, one where I differ from the so-called "evolutionist," "integralist," "evolutionary enlightenment" type thinkers (although I once would have counted myself among their number).

These folks think of our humanness as a sort of inevitable development in an evolutionary chain that extends not only back to the dawn of life, but to the origins of the cosmos itself. It has been most thoroughly explicated by Ken Wilber, probably most comprehensively in his weirdly titled Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. I read it back when it came out in 1995, and it may even have had a hand in inspiraling me to come up with my own "comprehensive paradigm," so to speak.

No, I would say it definitely did, since Wilber was pretty much the only guy, or at least the most famous, who was attempting this sort of total synthesis of science, religion, philosophy, psychology, and everything else. However, once I plunged more deeply into the primary literature, it led me in different directions that are still being worked out, one post at a time, here in blogsville.

The above three paragraphs were provoked by a statement by Berdyaev, to the effect that human consciousness is a revolutionary development "which cannot be arrived at by means of either logic or evolution." This revolution is outside and beyond the boundaries of all science and all philosophy, for it represents a radical discontinuity with all that has come before.

Yes, there are continuities, obviously; but in its essence, human consciousness is absolutely unlike anything else in all of creation. Evolution doesn't really have room for true creative novelty, since its apparent novelty is just an illusory result of random accidents, not any conscious intent.

Furthermore, evolution does not, and cannot, confer meaning on existence. Rather, it is only humans who decipher meaning in an evolutionary process that cannot account for it. Humanly speaking, there can be nothing "higher" than the love of truth. It is not as if we will "evolve" beyond such love; rather, one can only progress backward, as in deconstruction, multiculturalism, leftism, etc.

The only thing we can really compare ourselves to is God, for only God could have such godlike faculties. Certainly animals don't, no matter how hard sociobiologists try to straighten the squeer.

In short, the gap between man and animal is infinite, which is one of the things that gives rise to an intuition of the infinite (no animal contemplates the infinite). Likewise, the distinction between truth and untruth is absolute, which testifies to our conformity to the Absolute.

Wilber posits a kind of implicate cosmic ladder upon which existence ascends on its way back to being. He wouldn't put it that way, but one of his main principles is that evolution is ontologically preceded by involution, so evolution is essentially a recovery of what is implicate in existence.

This is too neat, too linear, too rationalistic for my taste. It especially overlooks the role of freedom and of creativity, each of which is the very essence of nonlinearity, and irreducible to anything else.

In fact, it can be said that discontinuity as such is a function of freedom and creativity, which are after all the opposite of determinism and reductionism. No great work of art can be predicted by its antecedents or reduced to its particulars. Rather, it is an entirely new Cosmic Fact, not any kind of predictable evolutionary advance.

So, "Man's creative act is accomplished on a plane of being over which the competence of science does not extend..." And "only he who is free, creates," just as creativity is one of the highest expressions of freedom lived. For "true creativity is theurgy, God-activity, activity together with God." It is a reflection of the original "creation from nothing" that characterizes God's own creativity:

"Creativity is the supreme mystery of life, the mystery of the appearance of something new, hitherto unknown, derived from nothing, proceeding from nothing, born of nothing other.... Man's creation of something from nothing must be understood as his creativity out of freedom" (Berdyaev) -- again implying that freedom is "nothing" until it meets with the creative response. Thus, in the end, we can truly say that the human world is "made of nothing," otherwise we would be like animals, who essentially have only preprogrammed responses to environmental stimuli.

Man can continue to be "creative" in the absence of God, but this eventually fades with distance from the animating divine principle. Thus, "When natural man creates, not for God but for himself, he creates non-being." This would also be the other kind of "nothingness" of the existentialists, i.e., radical non-determination in the absence of any orienting telos.

At its extreme, this approach attempts to make man into a god, e.g., as in Nietzsche, or Nazism, or certain New Age trends. "But once you have denied God and deified man, man falls to a level lower than the human, since man remains at the height of dignity only as image and likeness of a higher divine being; he is true only when he has sonship with God."

So there is a radical discontinuity with nature, a discontinuity that places us precisely "nowhere" in the absence of the continuity, or lineage, of divine sonship. In other words, either we are a relative of the absolute, or else existential orphans pleading for mercy on the grounds that we have killed God.

We must note the distinction between evolution and progress. Evolution is a naturalistic category, while progress is a spiritual category: it predicates evaluation from a viewpoint of a higher principle than the natural process of change. The idea of progress is of [Judeo-]Christian origin... --Berdyaev

15 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

This is too neat, too linear, too rationalistic for my taste. It especially overlooks the role of freedom and of creativity, each of which is the very essence of nonlinearity, and irreducible to anything else.

That's true. But from a teleological perspective, you could call it involution. The grand design. I think we'll eventually find a sort of end-from-the-beginning in DNA.

12/18/2013 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

No great work of art can be predicted by its antecedents or reduced to its particulars.

How appropriate. I've been listening to Howlin' Wolf this week.

Merry Christmas to everyone.


I'm on vacation through the end of the year. I might be able to stop by, but if I get any halfway decent weather, the closest I'll be to a computer will be the chip under my butt on the Enterprise.

Jesus is the Reason. Happy New Year, too.

12/18/2013 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Re the design -- I have a feeling that it's more like jazz, in that God provides the chords, the comping, while we produce the melody.

12/18/2013 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Remember what Sam Philips said when he first heard the Wolf in his studio at Sun? This is where the soul of man never dies.

Testify!

12/18/2013 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Great post, and I wonder if Wilber would disagree. While his model does synergize evolution with involution (and I don't think that's a bad thing as it allows for a reverence with traditional/high modern ideals), he does allow for discontinuities also. I just agree that it won't play out the way he foresees with an Integral worldview leading culture. I think they're a lot of problems with that current ilk.

12/18/2013 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

The biggest problem with Wilber's model is the respect he gives to postmodernism. That is more an illness of modernism than a discontinuous teleological truism.

12/18/2013 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Great post.

And that great quote not to forget:

"We must note the distinction between evolution and progress. Evolution is a naturalistic category, while progress is a spiritual category: it predicates evaluation from a viewpoint of a higher principle than the natural process of change. The idea of progress is of [Judeo-]Christian origin..."

12/18/2013 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

Words & Music: Will­iam M. Gold­en, 1914 (MI­DI, score).

To Canaan’s land I’m on my way,
Where the soul of man never dies;
My darkest night will turn to day,
Where the soul of man never dies.

Dear friends, there’ll be no sad farewells,
There’ll be no tear dimmed eyes,
Where all is peace and joy and love,
And the soul of man never dies.

A rose is blooming there for me,
Where the soul of man never dies;
And I will spend eternity,
Where the soul of man never dies.

A love light beams across the foam,
Where the soul of man never dies;
It shines to light the shores of home,
Where the soul of man never dies.

My life will end in deathless sleep,
Where the soul of man never dies;
And everlasting joys I’ll reap,
Where the soul of man never dies.

I’m on my way to that fair land,
Where the soul of man never dies;
Where there will be no parting hand,
Where the soul of man never dies.

12/18/2013 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ted:

In giving it some thought, I think someone other than myself would be better at explaining if or how I differ from those other guys. Maybe I just want to nurture delusions of uniqueness.

12/18/2013 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or maybe it's all a matter of different sensibilities.

12/18/2013 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Well Bob, you are the only one of the guys who isn't on the left. So you have some grounding in principles that don't necessarily "evolve with culture." But this is nuanced stuff... is it not? If freedom is irreducible, and being is informed from beyond-being, it does leave the question of necessity and absoluteness open. Still, those guys are different as they do have an new age existential bent to the idea that it's all up to us (man "grounded in being" deified to some extent without the image and likeness of a higher divine being). And to me, this lacks the divine grace you alluded to a few posts back.

12/18/2013 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Basically I'm just lazy. I'd rather God do the heavy lifting.

12/18/2013 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Well the blog lifts a few of us. I can't even bring myself to tweet.

12/18/2013 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Drudge: Why the NSA whistleblower wants to leave Russia for Brazil
.
.
.
.
He doesnt want to be...
Snowden

12/18/2013 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

GB: And "only he who is free, creates," just as creativity is one of the highest expressions of freedom lived.

GG: [Greenwald is among those that advocate and articulate the value of privacy and the threat the surveillance state imposes not just on civil liberties, but on creativity and non-conformity.]

“But what’s important about a surveillance state is that it creates the recognition that your behavior is susceptible to being watched at any time,” Greenwald said. “What that does is radically alter your behavior, because if we can act without other people watching us, we can test all kinds of boundaries, we can explore all kinds of creativity, we can transgress pretty much every limit that we want because nobody’s going to know that we’re doing it. That’s why privacy is so vital to human freedom.”

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/12/06/greenwald-talks-journalism-surveillance-and-why-privacy-is-so-vital-to-human-freedom/#ixzz2ntkojwDN

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/snowden-and-greenwald-the-men-who-leaked-the-secrets-20131204

12/18/2013 10:11:00 PM  

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