Monday, October 17, 2011
Creationism and Evolution Theory: Both are flawed
The philosopher Eric Voegelin proposed a third way to look at the problem of Creationism vs. Evolution Theory; a problem which has become a sociopolitical and philodoxic dilemma over the last century. This third way is necessary because neither of the two paradigms behind the two opposing camps suffice, philosophically. Unfortunately, Voegelin never wrote a full monograph on the subject. The best that can be cited is this excerpt of remarks by him. Beyond that, I have found a remarkable and very lengthy essay comprehensively refuting Darwinism from a purely philosophical standpoint (laced, to be sure, with considerable theological baggage which, nevertheless, can be weeded out without doing much damage to the central argument). While that essay was written in 1861 by an anonymous author obviously biased in favor of Christianity, amazingly this seems to leave his philosophical excellence unencumbered, and he follows, and extrapolates from, Voegelin's argument (which, being classic, is not time-bound by the 20th century in which he, Voegelin, wrote). The interested reader would wish to consult both of those before reading my two-part essay.
A discursus is in order before we commence, concerning the differences between science and philosophy. This will be Part One. In Part Two, in a separate essay, we will get into the meat and potatoes of the actual dilemma between Creationism vs. Evolution Theory.
The Nature of Pre-Modern and Modern Science:
Modern science has developed historically in the West as an application of reason upon what the ancient Greeks called ta onta—which may be translated as “things”. Specifically, what “things” are comprises the data of material reality. Modern science evolved as a focus on the What and the How of material data—their nature and their interrelations—where at least initially, during its rise in the High Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, the tendency was not to delve into the Why, the Whence and the Wherefore, since these latter types of questions already had their proper framework in mythology, philosophy and theology. Theology, also comprising philosophy and mythology, was deemed to be the “queen of the sciences”.
The historical development is not so simplistic, though, as to presume that the West for a thousand years kept these two spheres apart neatly—the sphere of the immanent structure on the one hand, and the sphere of the transcendent on the other hand (what problematically was bifurcated into Physics and Metaphysics). The whole point of the Western development of modern science was a protracted, fascinating, fruitful and contentious process whereby the two spheres after being elegantly distinguished initially, then became confused over a long period of time, then had their order inverted such that material/natural science became the “queen”—and then at last, succumbed to the modernist coup de grace: the elimination of the transcendent altogether from the halls of knowledge (except, of course, at best as a subtopic of quaintly archaic interest).
This modernist coup d’etat has been, in essence, what Voegelin terms an immanentization of transcendence. In this sense, there is never really an elimination of transcendence, since it won’t go away just because a society decides it wants to eliminate it: it simply becomes suppressed and finds its outlet in other ways.
This modernist process involving the aggrandizement of the scope of natural science—whereby it came to swallow up the existential questions previously the province of Mythology, Philosophy and Theology—was part of the overarching process of the modernization and secularization of the West as a whole: the epochal paradigm shift from a theocratic Christendom to a secular Modernity. This paradigm shift not only affected Philosophy and Science, but also Politics, Laws and Culture.
In the larger context of the nature of modern natural science, the major divisions into Biology, Physics, and Cosmology do not presume those divisions to pertain ultimately to the objective reality being studied and theoretically illuminated. Modern natural science presumes a Whole governed by the same laws throughout. The “life” (Greek bios) that is the fundamental phenomenon behind all the complex variegations studied in Biology must follow the overarching logic of etiology which, in turn, derives its meaning from the immanentization of transcendence: according to this logic, the phenomenon called “life” cannot be an ultimate reality, but must have a source in a phenomenon more fundamental and less sophisticated: thus, animate matter (= “life”) has its source in inanimate matter. And, as inanimate matter, or the matter/energy complex, is presumed to be the sum of all reality, the source of it becomes the source of all reality. The transition from a science of things, to a philosophy or theology or mythology of crypto-transcendence, is thus seamless, and has become the province of that division of modern natural science known as Cosmology in the framework of Physics. However, under the strict guidelines of this paradigm and of the hyper-secularist culture of modern science, it is not permitted to speak of transcendence as relevant to science. Transcendence remains as a factor and a vector in modern scientific pursuits, but is suppressed through reconfigurations-in-denial.
Thus, modern natural scientists, when they speculate through Cosmology about this ultimate origin of all reality, are in fact doing mythology—what used to be called Cosmogony as well as Theogony—even as they remain in denial about what they are doing. The etiological logic, as it has been pushed back in Cosmology to its aboriginal breaking point, so to speak, in its drive to find something more elemental than matter, reduces to a secular materialist version of the theological Creatio ex nihilo in the Big Bang Theory. In the framework of Physics, this same reduction becomes preoccupied in the never-ending search for the true “atom”—the Greek word meaning literally “unable to be divided further”: i.e., the Holy Grail of Physics is the search for the smallest particle that will be the first building block before which there is none other. One cannot help notice that this ultimate particle is never found, and with every latest supposed Ur-particle discovered, there comes along another, even smaller one, in due time, as physicists subdivide matter into infinity trying, in effect (though steadfastly denied, of course), to locate the Creator at the bottom stratum—or, more precisely, as the bottom stratum—of Creation. And meanwhile, as this pursuit continues endlessly, end runs are attempted through elaborate parallel mythologies either as adjuncts or alternatives; e.g., "string theory". Thus, here too we see modern natural science pursuing its fascination of the What and the How past the point of reason, until it embarks upon the project of transgressing its limits in order to try to plumb the mystery of the Why and the Whence.
This project of transgression of rational limits finds its analogy again in Biology with DNA research, analogous to the search for the true atom in Particle Physics in its focus on the building blocks of Life, while Evolution Theory would be analogous to the search for the ultimate beginning (even as, ostensibly, it presumes only to be explaining structure)—except that the analogy fails even internal to the paradigm of natural science since, as we noted above, animate matter is never presumed to be ultimate anyway: Life is not presumed to be eternal, or infinite, and certainly cannot be the source of all other reality. The logic of the immanentization of transcendence leads to the inversion of causation: the simpler more elemental reality must precede the more complex and sophisticated levels of reality; whereas, in pre-modern Mythology, Philosophy and Theology, it was the precise opposite—or at least in some systems it was a paradoxical symbiosis of the two realms, not the ruthless reductionism of modern natural science.
Biology, even if it delves into the origin of life itself beyond the scope of the “origin of the species”, still does not concern questions of ultimate origin, for that is the proper province of Particle Physics and Cosmology. Biologists therefore operate within a self-delimited sphere, assuming axiomatically that the life they are studying has its material source, but leaving the nuts and bolts of that etiology to other scientists outside their particular division. For, the biota of Biology are just one type of the ta onta out there within a universe of data where all data are part of the matter/energy complex. Living things are reducible, ultimately, to things in general: and things in general all derive back in time from the nihilum of the Big Bang, or down in space to the irreducible atom, or on an incomprehensible, quasi-mystical tangent spiraling out of "strings".
Thus, an elementary adumbration of the new Cosmogony:
1) A conceptual nihilum gives rise to inanimate matter.
2) Inanimate matter gives rise to animate matter.
3) Animate matter gives rise to human being.
4) Human beings give rise to scientists who reveal and illuminate to the rest of Mankind the preceding Cosmology.
In this cosmogonic scheme, as with what Voegelin termed the “compact consciousness” of pre-monotheistic polytheistic mythology, there is no formal eschatology: there is no ultimate destiny of reality. While the Why and the Whence are included in the preoccupation of modern scientific fascination, the Wherefore seems bracketed out. Or perhaps it could be said that modern science brackets out both the Why and the Wherefore, by precisely integrating the Whence—the question of ultimate origin—and that this Whence, as it acquires the irrational limitations imposed by the modern science paradigm, particularly the inversion adumbrated above, demands the bracketing-out of transcendence at the vector of the Wherefore, and in terms of the question of meaning—the Why—that would endow the entire structure of reality with purpose (even if that purpose remains unknown in mystery). It is easy to see the logic of bracketing out a Wherefore and a Why from a system that axiomatically assumes no guiding intelligence or purpose to the structure of reality. It should be remembered that the Wherefore concerns ultimate destiny, not merely an indefinite extrapolation of cyclic repetitions unto temporal infinity. Modern scientists could have also extended this prohibition to the Whence, as well. What disinclines them to do so is the temptation to pursue the trail of data, and with Cosmology there is a powerfully seductive trail of data seeming to go back into the ultimate origin. In this context, there seems to be, in the psychology of the modern scientist, a semi-conscious resistance to surrendering to a scheme of temporal infinity, to what some Hindus call the beginninglessness and the endlessness of reality. This semi-conscious resistance reflects an internal tension in the mind of the modern scientist:
1) he cannot permit ultimate meaning, which in turn requires a Why, a Whence and a Wherefore;
2) he cannot resist the orectic imperative of his fundamental scientific curiosity, by which the What and the How, progressively illuminated by following the clues of data and applying reason to their complexity, become a field of infinite research extending outward, forward and backward—and thus lead inexorably and naturally to the frontiers of transcendence in the existential questions that point to the ultimate sense that would endow the total collection of data with order, as opposed to chaos.
The sense of order, however, cannot stand without ultimates. It is irrational to artificially delimit the field of the Whole, and then to presume—even if only by implication—any ultimate meaning thereof. It is all well and good if the modern scientist explicitly delimits his research and theorizing only to the order he can detect, and brackets out any probes into questions of meaning beyond that delimitation. The problem comes in where the modern scientist treads past that reasonable boundary, and in the divisions of Cosmology and Physics, the temptation is often too great because the actual reality they are researching seems itself to extend beyond those boundaries and thus to present to the scientific curiosity a trail of clues leading from the sphere of Matter to the sphere of the ultimate origin of Matter. Since the modern scientist axiomatically assumes that there is no transcendence and that all former symbolizations of transcendence were misguided and erroneous misunderstandings of reality, he is then compelled to force this trail of clues that resembles a vector toward transcendence into the paradigm where transcendence and the tension toward transcendence are impossible and unreal. This would be the Cosmological and Physics version of the same tendency, under the configuration of a different discipline, seen in modern Psychology, whereby all the existential experiences, questions and responses one finds in Religion are to be explained, one way or another, by reducing them to neurochemical activities in the brain (with other explanations offered by Sociology and Anthropology concerned less with ultimate origin and more with the phenomenological dimension). As with Biology and the question of the ultimate origin of Life, in Psychology the question of the ultimate origin of the existential data of Religion defers to their colleagues the Physicists and the Cosmologists, since even after Religion is reduced down to neurochemical activities in the brain, there still remains the question of the origin of neurochemicals and the brain, which leads back to the inanimate matter that gave rise to animate matter, and so on.
The problem here, of course, is that while the compact consciousness was workable before the epoch of eschatological differentiation, and while it remains one facet that perdures as one pole of the new paradox that has been differentiated with eschatological revelation, it is not meant to be a state toward which consciousness regresses—and yet, this is what modern scientific cosmogony does, collapsing all eschatology back into the closed system of eternal cycles. This eschatological destiny would be the meaning from above, to so speak, which has been lopped off; just as the meaning from below, the ultimate beginning, has been deprived of its transcendent substance, even if its structural function, as ultimate, remains.
The fundamental tension in modern science we mentioned above has aroused elaborate strategies to circumvent its inexorable incoherence—particularly in the idea of “multiple universes” and the crypto-metaphysical “string theory”; both being chimerically doomed endeavors, for they are just putting off, through obfuscatory complexity, the ultimate questions of Why, Whence and Wherefore.
Continued in Part Two...