Re: [asa] Nothing_in_Biology_Makes_Sense_Except_in_the_Light_of_Evolution

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Aug 14 2009 - 14:55:18 EDT

Bill wrote:
"If Everything is process and "evolution," why not God, man, life, cosmos, and memes (Hegel or Marx take your pick)?/ Today's mind set has difficulty with the static, the absolute, the Beginning, the End. We can only imagine unending change and development. It seems to me that this is a fairly new mindset."

Well said, Bill! This is indeed an issue once one turns the telescope around and turns 'the scientific method' upon human beings. It is by practicing a 'reflexive science' rather than a 'positive science' that some things can be seen or heard or touched or felt that are eternal and unchanging, sometimes approached by natural science and yet never within its grasp. In such cases, being a 'scientist' is no better than being a 'poet,' and sometimes it is a greater handicap to clarity of self-understanding.

It is helpful to untangle (or unpack) the meanings of 'evolution' and 'change' and 'process' so that evolution is not seen as the master category. In evolution 'change' is necessary, but in change 'evolution' is not necessary. I've repeated this prioritisation at ASA-listserve countess times and have never received a response to it. And even if 'evolution' may be posited as a master category by biologists or botanists or other natural-physical scientists, there is no inevitability to it being or becoming a master category elsewhere. The fact remains that evolution is simply *not* a master category in human-social disciplines, however, this is not a discussable topic (perhaps it is even seen as uninteresting or pointless) for many involved in this conversation. Sometimes I get the feeling that wrestling about these interdisciplinary issues involves grappling with the ideas of people not in one's weight class and the light-heavyweights don't want to lose
 to a welterweight. It would be curious to hear from across the university who thinks their discipline is a heavyweight and who thinks their discipline is a lightweight - might surprise some people about who is most confident in the human worth of their fields.

Some people treat 'evolution' as a general master category in the Academy. Unfortunately most TEs aid those who suggest this by perpetuating the myth because evolution is tightly tied into their theologies. They want to spread their theological knowledge, and thus they want to spread evolution too (and that in the most scientifically-developed nation in the world!). They think they have found the best balance, the best way to bridge or to compare or to integrate or synthesize or to bring into dialogue or to avoid the warfare model between science and religion/theology/faith.

And yet all the while the humanitarian realm is predominantly absent from any part of their conversation. This is a GAP for TE. It is called 'silencing' in human-social thought, or instead it is about an unbalanced view of action and purpose in the universe. Sometimes the humanitarian realm is brought in through theology's inevitable connections with the human-social disciplines. This is indeed a strange situation of reality in a nation where state and science are not separate, but state and church are supposedly separate, though the lack of connection between human-social scientists and natural-physical scientists is not all that surprising.

It appears that TEs, along with other natural-physical scientists who have accepted *evolutionary ideology* as their dominant worldview, cannot imagine a day when 'evolutionism' as a Grand Theory could be upset from its control of ideas (or call this: the dominant paradigm) about change and transformations (to speak nothing of its hold on 'origins' in some peoples minds), that it is just one idea among many others about how complexity and simplicity and other types of change occur 'over time'. Would that another could come along and dislocate it, to reclaim some of the territorial advantage over static and unchanging or eternal and absolute things.

Evolution as an idea has so much philosophical-spiritual baggage that someday people will choose to jettison it in trade for another way of looking at the same 'facts' and 'phenomena.' Let the evidence speak through interpreters who have followed it where it leads and found the best explanation for it. There is no need that popularizers of science who invoke atheism should be given any more attention than popularizers of science who invoke theism or religion as coexisting sources of knowledge about truths. Science has won no uncontested victory over the language that is used to describe reality for most people on Earth. Likewise, the ambiguous language of TE may be a bandage to stop the bleeding from 20th century creationism in American, but few people think it offers a real solution to balance science with philosophy and religion (TE is missing far too much philosophy to have a significant stake in the balancing process).

Teilhard writes: “Broadly understood, as it should be, transformism is now a hypothesis no longer. It has become the form of thought without which no scientific explanation is possible. That is why, even in an absolutely unexpected form, it will inevitably continue to direct and animate the morphology of the future.” (The Vision of the Past. NY: Harper and Row, 1966: 87)

Here is an example of Teilhard going too far, saying 'no scientific explanation' is possible without 'transformism'. Evolution is fundamentally against what Bill mentions in the static and unchanging. Teilhard calls this mindset 'transformism,' but one could substitute the pejorative term 'evolutionism' as a related term, and more critically contested is 'evolve' than 'transform' or 'evolution' than 'transformation'. The static and the unchanging falls on deaf ears with such people (i.e. those who forgot what A. Comte said in the early-mid 20th century about balancing 'statics' and 'dynamics,' and worshipping a 'religion of humanity' in which the dead are just as important as the living). All is flux, all is motion, nothing is unchanged or unmoved, still, silent.

'Restlessness' is a fitting metaphor to imagine the impact of evolutionism for such sciences of flux and process and endless movement and change. Darwin's idea was indeed dangerous when applied in such a way - a generalisation that was beyond the intellectual reach of Darwin's mind (as he admitted himself, lacking philosophical training). What it really signifies is that the new philosophies of Time (e.g. Heidegger) have crept into evolutionism and held it hostage to a chaotic determinism. Such is the state of affairs, while a tiny little discipline within one corner of the natural sciences spouts out triumphantly about its Grand Unified Theory called 'evolutionism,' by applying it to other fields liberally (e.g. ethnology, psychology). Yet those fields have their own views of Time and Space which the evolutionary naturalists want to disallow on grounds that divide and fragment the Academy; 'higher,' more complex academic fields (e.g. anthropology) are
 supposed to adjust their language and perspectives of the world based on 'lower,' less complex fields (e.g. physics and geology) that do not deal with agency, choice, teleology or purpose, yet which claim (esp. evo psych and ethnology) to understand altruism better than the most pious monk or nun in a monastery. There are great ironies and tragedies here.

Thank God Theodosius was only speaking about 'Biology' when he wrote 'nothing...except...evolution'!! Too bad, however, that Dobzhansky was just as guilty as J. Huxley and E.O. Wilson of shoe-horning the idea of 'evolution' into the context of 'culture.' Here there are much deeper and wider paths to walk regarding human-social change and 'laws of development' than what either Wilson (or D.S. Wilson) or Dobzhansky have to offer.

George wrote: "I suspect, though I've never checked this out, that Bergson had some influence on him [Teilhard]."

From H. James Birx's "Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Philosophy of Evolution.” (Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1972): “Teilhard [had] read Henri Bergon’s Creative Evolution (1907). The work had a profound influence on Teilhard’s thought. No longer able to hold to the orthodox Biblical account of Genesis , he adopted an evolutionary perspective. Within a scientific and religious framework, Teilhard now viewed the entire universe as an evolutionary process, referring to it as a cosmogenesis." (5)

Birx follows this up, saying: “After Bergson’s profound influence on Teilhard, the latter accepted an evolutionary perspective.” (57)

Hope that helps, George! At least that is Birx's view. The connections between Bergson and Teilhard seem obvious in several ways, though they differed significantly due to worldviews.

But I keep waiting for you to write an article about Teilhard de Chardin (and perhaps Dobzhansky too) in the context of 'process theology' and how it is not as bad as some make it out to be, as you are fond of saying. Do you think something like this could be on your agenda anytime soon? I know you don't take the label TE or perhaps many other labels. Still this would help to set some things clear which remain obscure. And writing about Chardin would allow you to address the topic of processes alongside origins, which to me is a duo that is almost entirely confused (it even seems almost purposefully so) in the language of 'theistic evolution.'

If this happens I'll meet you there, George, with the views of process philosopy and A.N. Whitehead. And hopefully others could enlighten us about Henri Bergson's role in the forming of TE as well, since it sometimes seems that non-TEs know much more about the 'originality' of TE as a perspective than do TEs themselves (e.g. so rarely do they discuss Dobzhansky, Chardin, Bergson, Whitehead, et al.). Vladimir Solovyov is an excellent addition to this company as well and one of the most significant Christian writers of the 20th century, no dispute. But I don't suppose his views are widely circulated or known in ASA. They should be. Reference: "The Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge." (Eerdmans 2008 [1877]) He has some important things to say about 'development' in the context of western rationalism and scientism and the mystic gifts of Eastern thought in the Christian world.


p.s. I'd pick Hegel over Marx, but the sociologists in North America are still much busier with Marx than they are with Hegel. In Russia, of course, it is the other way around.

--- On Tue, 8/4/09, Bill Powers <> wrote:

> From: Bill Powers <>
> Subject: Re: [asa] Nothing_in_Biology_Makes_Sense_Except_in_the_Light_of_Evolution
> To: "David Clounch" <>
> Cc: "David Campbell" <>,
> Received: Tuesday, August 4, 2009, 5:20 PM
> David:
> I know next to nothing (maybe nothing would be closer) to what de Chardin believed, but construed broadly, I'd say that he is "correct."
> The notion that the world evolves or develops according to some process, dare I say, physical process is taken today as a truism.  We can almost not think otherwise.  This is as true for biology as it is for cosmology.  The primitive "data" of biology as well as that of cosmology need not be interpreted as the product of a dynamic (physical) process. Yet we are (almost) unable to think otherwise today.
> We ought to remember that de Chardin lived (I believe) in a time when process theology was all the rage, and why not?  If Everything is process and "evolution," why not God, man, life, cosmos, and memes (Hegel or Marx take your pick)?
> Today's mind set has difficulty with the static, the absolute, the Beginning, the End.  We can only imagine unending change and development.  It seems to me that this is a fairly new mindset.
> bill

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Received on Fri, 14 Aug 2009 11:55:18 -0700 (PDT)

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