Man: Miracle or Monster?
I read Chesterton's The Everlasting Man several weeks ago, and remember being impressed at how he was able to apprehend certain ideas of mine before I was even born. Later we will get into the metaphysics of clairvoyant plagiarism and eschatological theft, but right now I want to set my bitterness aside and review what I discovered. I'll even be magnanimous and say "co-discovered."
Readers who have been with me from the beginning will recall one of our central principles -- that our cosmos has not been subject to just one bang, but several. And indeed, the later bangs are even more inexplicable than the first, since it is always possible to imagine that there was something prior to that initial one -- a big suck, for example.
What I mean is that the Big Bang of cosmology is not necessarily a case of creation from nothing, whereas this is not true of the subsequent bangs. They truly are creatio ex nihilo -- or, to be precise, there is nothing from the past that can explain them. They are cases of radical novelty that can in no way be reduced to their antecedent conditions.
Specifically, there is nothing we know about matter per se that allows us to entertain the notion that it might suddenly come alive, or play host to life. Frankly, it is the last thing in the world we would expect of matter, which is, after all, material. That's why we call it matter: because it is dead. You could stare at a pile of dirt and wait for it to start moving around of its own accord, but this is like watching paint dry and expecting it to turn into a painter.
Likewise -- and this will be the main subject of our post -- there is nothing about living (subhuman) animals that would permit us to see in them a budding Mozart, or an Aquinas struggling to get out. Nothing.
To the extent that scientistic types do see something, that constitutes literary backshadowing of the most naively childish kind -- similar to (as in yesterday's comments) foolish progressives who look at Christopher Columbus and see Josef Stalin. In short, we cannot understand a past reality with knowledge that was unavailable at the time. We cannot look at animals from the perspective of a reality totally unknown and unknowable to them. Truly, we have no idea what it is like to be a bat (or any other animal, for that matter), nor they us.
In other words -- and this is the nub of the gist -- there is not a line between animals and man, but an infinite and unbridgeable gap. To be sure, we may discern some some horizontal/material lines, but the gap between Bach and birdsong is as wide as the one between matter and life. No one with knowledge of birds only would anticipate symphonies.
If we are honest with ourselves, we see that "man is not an evolution, but a revolution" (Azar, from the introduction). Take those paleolithic cave-paintings, for example: "Nowhere do we find pictures of dogs drawn by cats," nor paintings of men produced by monkeys. Thus, "art is the signature of man." If we see it, we know without question that a man produced it.
But this self-evident observation has profound implications, first, "that man is not only a creature, but a creator as well" (ibid). And ultimately -- and I would say self-evidently, if we follow the logic to its end -- this is because man is in the image of the Creator.
In other words, man does not create creativity, so you can stop pondering how all the novelty got here, and forget about trying to shoehorn it all back into matter and necessity. Truly, doing so is precisely analogous to shoving the cosmos back into the singularity of 13.7 billion years ago and saying "that's all it is." Or, it is to equate the oak and the acorn and insist that only the latter is really real.
The game is easy to play, and is a favorite pastime of the progressive ignorantsia: for example, a human being is just selfish genes, the global economy is just the white man's greed, human nature is a war on women, etc. Each case involves the weird compulsion to auto-castrate and render oneself spiritually and intellectually infertile. True, it makes the mystery of man go away, but at the cost of genocide. And make no mistake: the real genocides of this world wouldn't have been possible without first making man less than what he is. Doing so isn't a sufficient condition for genocide, but it is a necessary one.
The attributes that define man are not to be found in the past, in antecedents. We alluded to one of them above, creativity. Others include freedom, speech, love, objectivity, and the apprehension of beauty.
To paraphrase Chesterton, Man either stands among the living as a miracle or a monster. For the left, man is a monster that they propose to "cure" or reform through state-sponsored coercion. For us, man is a kind of fallen miracle who may heal and elevate himself through a living relationship with what surpasses him, with his vertical source. In other words, man is the measure of things to the extent that he is in turn measured by something above and beyond, not down and back (otherwise he has unexplained himself and therefore his measurements).
Returning to the question of real creativity: again, it always has an element of appearing "from nothing." For example, there is no reason to believe that Shakespeare's plays would have come into existence in the absence of Shakespeare. And where he got 'em, no one knows. But this is true of all genuine creativity. As Chesterton writes,
"Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something." And more to the point, "Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else." Do you see the point? We can well understand decay. We can also understand lateral translation, like a Marxist into a global warmist. But creative transformation from one thing to another -- like a progressive into a conservative? To call this "evolution" is to beg the question entirely, the question being "how is this even possible?" How does the higher emerge from the lower?
For something to occur -- and this is a truism -- it must first be possible to occur. And if something is possible, then we must say that its principle is somehow implicated in its antecedents.
Thus, for example, we now know that life is implicit in matter, but this knowledge also happens to undermine everything we think we know about matter, or at least reorders it. For as far as I am concerned, the most important property of matter is that it is susceptible to this weird thing called "living," and you can't get to life from physics. Man explains physics, not vice versa.
One can, of course, choose to go from life to matter, but that's what we call suicide.
To be continued...