Dynamic Materialism

Dynamic Materialism:  The Root of Evolution and History

http://darwiniana.com/2011/06/11/chopra-on-evolution/

Chopra on evolution Posted in General at 1:43 pm by nemo

Is Evolution Ready to Evolve?

I respect Chopra’s honesty in challenging Darwinism, and his interesting suggestions for a better theory. But I think that his suggestions, unless taken as usefully heuristic, are based on the fallacy of a ‘conscious universe’, which makes no more sense than the fallacies of a mechanical universe. To brave the issues with this kind of assertion is nonetheless a provocative way to stimulate thought, and break out of the mindframe of scientism.  More commentary later on this, let Chopra speak for himself, with or without my endorsement.

**********

AN OPEN QUESTION:  Besides “mechanism” or “consciousness” what alternatives do we have to account for nature’s unique workings in natural history and evolution? … For myself, I like the ideas put forward in complexity theory about dynamical systems, self-organization, and emergence; but still this begs the question about telic ‘design’ versus reductionist ‘mechanisms’ of change in the history of the physical universe.

Neither concept is satisfactory, but how do you possibly get around either of these alternatives? …

“Consciousness” is a good explanation in that it explains the unique formatting of natural systems to their environments and settings in the world; but in the end, it forces us to concede either a GAIA in physical entities driving them along to their natural outcomes or an outside spiritual or supernatural agency directing them to their ends.  … This is untenable … Therefore, we’re forced to scrap the consciousness idea.  It just doesn’t work in our science and theoria-based world.  Philosophy has shown this (in the classic rationalist, tradition of the West as well as in the overall history of human thought) and Science has demonstrated it, empirically and theoretically, in Modern times.

But, ‘mechanism’ falls short too in explaining the basic phenomena and natural principles of our universe.  “Machines” in this instance “requires” (a machine maker or agency) behind the rise of a mechanically-based reality … even if it is a purely physical or non-Intentional, non-Directing, and non-conscious agency responsible for producing the ‘machinery’ in question.

Worse yet, the only example we have to work from is an analogy to ‘humanmachine-making for explaining how the world operates.  That, in itself, projects an aspect of human experience onto nature that’s unwarranted – namely our propensity for technological creation and understanding, which may or may not actually be applicable to the reality of the universe as it stands.  Just because, machinery works for us in the world and our science has built for us a technology and a culture constructed on that mechanical understanding, doesn’t mean the cosmos itself is necessarily framed around that mechanical principle in its basic terms.  It could be  – in part – but not wholly because the explanation can only be carried so far as those kinds of phenomena that are uniquely suited to it (i.e. mechanically-representable kinds)

Anything else – which is pretty much everything that doesn’t fit into the standard framework of Newtonian-based physical science – is left hanging in lieu of this mechanical explanation not applying to it.  That means a sizable portion of natural phenomena is left unaccounted-for and/or unexplained by this mechanical model of scientific knowledge.

Even more, though, the appeal-to-mechanism itself can’t even realistically address the appearance of mechanically-geared phenomena in the world (in its own right), without holding such as being axiomatic, since to many it seems almost self-evident that the idea of ‘machinery’ recreates the material underpinnings of the physical order of reality.  In other words, the argument is that mechanistic models work because they supposedly mirror the fundamental material order of reality.

But do they really? … Do they actually re-create the order of nature or merely shadow it in their approximation of physical principles? …

It’s readily obvious they imperfectly shadow it because real-world phenomena is much more complex in its elements and its interrelations than mechanical science can reproduce. The world of molecular reality, atomic, and subatomic phenomena all showcase the absolute fallibility of clockwork-science, but even the phenomena of Classical Newtonian science do not completely work by its rules either.  They demonstrate the fact that something “more” is at play here in nature than just mechanical principles like we might see in an old fashioned clock, a simple engine, or similar devices.  Nature, in other words, is more than just a ‘mechanism.’

So what is it then that we see at work in evolution and natural systems? …

It’s clear that it’s some sort of dynamic principle … but one that’s multifaceted enough to replicate (1) the features of machinery (2) what we believe we see in conscious action and determination, as well as (3) preserve the basic laws of material reality as they’ve been drawn out by Modern Science.

That is to say, this is a kind of dynamic materialism or hylomorphism we see at play in natural systems and processes in the universe. Materialism, normally, isn’t thought of in this manner, but if material structure patterns itself dialectically on formalization and
substantialization, then we have a way in which matter, by definition, can mirror both the contingencies of conscious choice and mechanistic modeling.

Matter, from such a point, cannot only format itself to whatever conditions best optimize its  state and functions, but can self-regulate its form to fit its required niches.  The result: the nature-based equivalent of “smart matter” (i.e., material systems which, from the most elementary levels of material reality upward, can fundamentally program themselves to fill a given need in the physical environment).  Hence, by way of such dialectic up from the very roots of matter itself at the subatomic level and of material existence in the cosmos to begin with, space-constraints and time-constraints coupled with the nascent laws of physics would have predisposed material forms to build and fashion themselves into whatever they needed to be.

The very roots of “sentience” and “life” would have been patterned into matter from the beginning; all that needed to happen from that point was for natural progression in cosmological history to proceed apace; no magic touches, no ‘deus-ex-machina’ moments; just growing time and space for material interactions to produce their eventual outcomes.  It was inevitable, then, from that point that “biology” and “history” would have arisen from “matter.” These results were already ‘in the cards’, so to speak.  All they ‘needed to do’ was ‘to be played.’

That’s how this natural history/evolution paradox can be addressed … Not by consciousness, not by a homage to purely mechanistic and reductionist interpretations of natural phenomena … but by an enhanced understanding that materialism itself can – and did – create for us the ‘miracles’ of life and thought over the normal course of time.

To say anything less belittles nature and our material world.

Posted in From the Web, Science and Scientia, What's New | Leave a comment

Periodization in World History

Periodization in World History:  A Look at the Eonic Effect

http://darwiniana.com/2011/06/09/an-exercise-for-buddhists-following-the-eonic-effect-i-e-an-evolutionaryhistorical-periodization/

 **********

06.09.11  An exercise for buddhists:
following the ‘eonic effect’ (i.e. an evolutionary/historical
periodization)  Posted in General at 12:07 pm by nemo

Climbing Mt. Improbable: The Eonic Effect.  Buddhists, and anyone else who wants a more realistic sense of the meaning of evolution, should sit down and consider the eonic effect, both in itself, and as a falsifying tactic against Darwin[ist] nonsense. The ‘eonic effect’ is not a theory, but a periodization of world history that shows conclusively that a non-[random] pattern is visible to the naked eye, with all the implications of that surprising fact. The demonstration is ultra simple: every Table of Contents in a book on world history must show it, perhaps in disguise.

********************

A great invitation to look at the Eonic Effect again and lead-into reflections on historical periodization in human events.

At the outset, let’s think about “theory” and “periods” in world history, shall we? … It makes sense, after all, that the EE isn’t a theory.  That’s understood!  But, what about this notion of “periodization” … ?  That’s a balancing act.

Most histories acknowledge strict-periodization to be an intellectual abstraction and construction of the historian/ student of history organizing the narrative of events in question.  In other words, it a social convention and mental construction in order to assist us in making sense of the past.

But here we have something different.

Not a real “periodization” so-called but a “periodic” of human experience; one in which we’re not so much arranging history around our made-up ‘periods’, but considering how the events, flow, and conglomeration of trends in history form their own patterns and periodical structures.

That’s an entirely different project from the one usually classified by historians as being “periodization.”

Take a browse of the following pieces and you’ll see this.

  1. http://www.learner.org/courses/worldhistory/support/whatis_reading_2.pdf
  2. http://www.hudson-ny.org/323/the-periodization-of-history—excerpts
  3. http://www.jahsonic.com/Period.html
  4. http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5000485790

The Eonic Effect I’d argue isn’t ‘periodization”, but something more.  As to the tables of contents in world history … Many of these still can’t get out of the mold of Western Civilization in their frameworks.

Still, I’ll grant this about such contents’ tables.  Implicitly and deep-structurally, they do demonstrate – even in an offhand way – that there is something to human events that we’re missing if we only concentrate on the surface phenomena of human experience and our usual conceptualization/ perceptions of them alone.

Look deeper, and amongst them, and you can see the Eonic Effect in action.

Well, that’s my own observation on ‘periods’ in world history.  I hope it helps people better scrutinize history as a subject and think about its material in a more critical, in-depth way.

Posted in From the Web, Historical Dynamics, Sketches in Historical Theory, What's New | Leave a comment

Looking at the Deep Structure of Reality

Looking at the “Deep Structure of Reality”:  Science on the Edge of “Scientia”

http://www.youtube.com/watchv=ECkG_JdodMA&feature=related

This piece on the “deep structure of reality” is really quite fascinating.  I hope you take a moment to look at it, and then think about just what it is he’s saying here … We usually think about reality as what we perceive right in front of nose, eyes, and ears – the solid, substantial, positive, and empirical world of our modern lives.  But, what if there’s something more to it? …  What if it’s under-lied by a deeper world that’s, at once, weirder than metaphysical-idealism & yet is more weight-able actually than the classical phenomena of Newtonian science?

It’s a neat point Frank Wilczek’s making in this video presentation.

I just wonder if we realize how revolutionary something like this truly is!  In my mind, not only does this piece touch on the classic debate over positivism versus metaphysics; but it also forces us to revisit the whole notion of what normal, ordinary REALITY is to begin with, even if we don’t subscribe to supernatural agencies and so forth operating in the world.

More than that, it calls to mind the claims of the Post-modernists, psychologists, and Anthropologists. … The ‘real world’ as we’ve always looked at it and seen it is a function of our social and cultural perspective.  It’s a construct of the mind, and it’s our way of making sense of a world, that fundamentally, makes no sense to our standard way of thinking about and perceiving things.  Is this, then, what the world “looks like” when we remove such a culturally-conditioned, socially-construct[ed]  ‘curtain’ of (apperceived) ‘reality?’ … A lava lamp? … An interesting, albeit, slightly unsettling idea.

What, then, should we conclude about our world based on this science?  What does this all mean?  Is this, then, the Flux of Heraclitus that we’re witnessing play out before us in mathematical and physical scientific terms? Is this what Aristotle actually was driving at in his distinctions about (prime) matter and form, substance and accidents, and essence?

These are points to ponder as Quantum Mechanics uncovers more and more about the basics of our universe in its material constituency.

Science is great!  But I wonder sometimes if we really have the necessary Ontology and Epistemology to keep up with all its instrumental sophistication and empirical advancements? …

Posted in From the Web, Science and Scientia, What's New | Leave a comment

Big History Project/K-Web videos

Two Great Videos discussing the Big History Project and James Burke’s Knowledge Web

David Christian gives another great introduction to Big History and lead-in to the Big History Project (“pop-up guide”) … plus James Burke discussing the Knowledge Web online.  Both wonderful videos. Be sure to watch and tell your friends!

  1. http://www.bighistoryproject.com/
  2. http://www.k-web.org/public_html/video.htm
Posted in From the Web, What's New | Leave a comment

An Open Question on Complexity

An Open Question on Complexity

http://www.bighistoryproject.com/The-Latest-Word/BHP-TED-photo-gallery

David Christian’s TED Talk on Big History was wonderful, but there’s a question I’ve been rolling my head about since I saw it.  He was discussing complexity, the Second Law of Thermo-dynamics, and the development of natural systems (leading up, of course, into life systems and human life).   He cited an example (a scrambled egg unscrambling itself) to show the how complexity develops, and how this is set against how reality actually works in nature.  The egg forming is complexity, the egg scrambling (into “mush”) is entropy, ala the Second Law.

So here’s my question for the scientific community, including the complexity theorists …

Is complexity in nature more about the whole, unbroken egg or about the scramble itself, or to use another metaphor the grown garden or the tilled-up soil from whence it came? … Or are the products of order – what life produces, what we manufacture as humans through our technology, and the material world’s dynamics that produce ordered phenomena – themselves the real outcome of complexity in the world?

Just wondering; because if the “scramble” itself is the seedbed from which nature’s complexification comes, then aren’t we missing the point of things when we insist on seeing the “egg”, the “grown plant” … or in human terms, the ‘watch’ and the ‘airplane’ of design theories … as being the true effects and typifying examples of complexity?

That what I’d like people’s feedback on.  As always, thanks for commenting.  And, if you know of other people who’d be willing to take on this question, be sure to pass this post onto them.  Thanks.

Posted in From the Web, Science and Scientia, What's New | Leave a comment

A Look at Pattern and Contingency in History

A Look at Contingency (and Patterns of History)

“Free Agency” doesn’t occur in a vacuum as we all well know.  But what, besides the large-scale dynamic of world history itself and smaller-scale individual actions actually goes into it?

David Christian’s paper “Contingency, Pattern and the S-curve in Human History” delves into some of these dynamics. Starting out with a consideration of “contingency” in the subject of history, Christian begins to show how both the natural sciences and history address the concept; but too often due to historians’ unease with the idea of determinism, there’s a reluctance to study the determinable patterns of historical change.

But in nature, such pattern and contingency  is interwoven.  Hence, proceeding from one of Immanuel Kant’s driving theses in Idea for a Universal History, Christian draws out the necessity of understanding these dynamical patterns in history.

Concentrating on the principle of the S-Curve of population change, it’s shown how humankind varied on the usual workings of this process as it occurs in the biological realm.  In three basic sweeps, moving from the “Paleolithic regime,” the “Agrarian,” and the “Modern,” Christian demonstrates how humans (advancing from a unique starting point of “symbolic language/collective learning” in their evolutionary background) utilized technology, social understanding, their material culture, etc. to transform their world and build society as we know it today.

And from there, we see many of these mediate modalities of historical change operating in human events.

David Christian’s paper here is a great read.  Be sure to take a look!

http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/6.3/christian.html

**********

Here’s the bibliographic record in case you want to reference it

Christian, David. Contingency, Pattern and the S-curve in Human History, Forum on Big History.  Vol. 6, No. 8, October 2009.

Posted in Sketches in Historical Theory, What's New | Leave a comment

Free Agency

The Eonic Effect and the Ontology of Free Agency – A Problem in the Metaphysical Structure of Reality Regarding “Freedom”

http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/30/luke-link-and-systems-versus-free-agents/

Luke link, and systems versus free agents

John Landon writes:

<I don’t know why this set of distinctions creates so much trouble.>

Just a quick guess why … Because, even more than the problem with Darwinism, this material is forcing us to take a look back at the rest of natural history and cosmology as well!  It shouldn’t perhaps have anything to do with it, but in positing “freedom” and “free will” for man in “history,” it’s also positing it for man in “evolution.”

But, if it’s for man in “evolution”, then it must also be a principle of the larger dynamic of evolution and cosmogonic change.

Care to have that principle posited for other living things and nonliving things?  Because, if it’s done, it forces us to re-think the way the world works, and not in very comfortable ways either.  Vitalism, the Anthropic PrincipleRewriting the
Laws of Physics, Nature, and Classical Ontology
? …

It forces you into a double-take of History/Nature and then you’re head starts spinning!  Free agency is fine for human beings, but what happens when that consideration starts being applied to the structure of matter and energy itself, as it almost must be by logical deduction from such premises?  That’s the possible trouble with this stuff if these concepts aren’t properly framed.

… The problem though with such a line of reasoning, not to mention the starting points we’re proceeding from;; the world doesn’t work this way and we know from the basic Laws of Physics, not to mention traditionally-inspired, logos-centered philosophy, that it doesn’t. …

No!  Something else has to be going on here.  We’re not dealing with Plato’s FORMS but something a little more subtle and complex than what seems to be taking place here from our first glance into big history.  It’s not “consciousness” humanly-speaking or ‘“self”-organization’, but a strange property perhaps of “quantum chaos” that we’re not used to with regard to natural systems, one that almost mirrors what we think we know about ourselves and about “consciousness” so-called.

That, more than these other possibilities, is more likely the reason why the physical world seems to be working along these lines, rather than matter being ‘living’ and ‘intelligent’ in a human way.

But it all comes upon us re:- the understanding of “freedom” and “free will” as drawn out into the dynamic of larger-scale evolution.  So, as was asked in a comment vis-a-vis the Eonic Model, maybe the original terms here (as much as I appreciate them) do need revisiting.  Or to put it this way, how do “free action scripts” map back onto the domain of the natural world in order to preserve the integrity of “evolution”, without pulling the proverbial rabbit [of “sapience”] out of the hat of inanimate material systems and form? … That’s what needs to be answered here.

Now maybe this isn’t a problem …; maybe having “conscious”, ‘living” matter is a road down which people want to go? … I doubt it’s the real intention here.  But from my angle it isn’t all that good a road to go down on!  It just plays too well into the hands of the gurus who are looking for any excuse to rope people into their new age ideologies.  I’d hate to have something as worthwhile as the Eonic Effect/Eonic Model getting roped into this stuff, by virtue of a misconstruing of its terms vis-a-vis “Freedom”, “Free Action”, System-based action, and so on.  It’s too good a model, too good a conceptual system to let that happen.

That’s my view.

Posted in What's New | Leave a comment

An Apologia for Penrose

An Apologia for Roger Penrose & Company – Per Contra the “Positivists” and “Idealists”

  1. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576317072124312488.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
  2. http://trinitybook.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/penroses-cycles-of-time/
  3. http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/29/penrose-cycles-of-time/

I found this piece vis-a-vis Penrose and the issue of “time” to be quite thought provoking.  Penrose’s work, Kauffman’s, et al, usually is. … But what can I say? … I like it a lot; but it ends up creating more puzzles than it solves I think.  There may be no way around it.  Every time, this sort of thing is brought up, it ends up either vaulting us over into New Age type ideas or else it’s played down in such a way by the dominant voices of the scientific, and greater intellectual communities, that any original merit it had to begin with gets completely lost. …

That’s no way to get-on intellectually or progress in the market of ideas.

To tell you the truth, I’ve almost had it with this sort of Reductionist-Transcendentalist dialectic between Big Science (more at “empiricism” and “instrumentalism
than any real science, and more at the “conventionalist” worldview of individuals who posit a so-called normal or ordinary material world over the one that’s actually been shown by science to exist) and {Science} Mysticism.  This back-and-forth between these two camps isn’t productive, academically or communicatively.

But there may be no means of navigating through it.

The ‘positivists’ here won’t give an inch, even refusing attempts by the chaos theorists to work out a system of bridging the two domains and the ‘idealists’ keep pressing on the notion that all this new science readily confirms their original theses about the world … ‘See we told you there was a World-Soul!’  ‘See we told you matter was living and intelligent’ (in the distinctly anthropic or human sense of being ‘conscious)!

There you have it.  Deadlock! … and Deadlock again!  But as I’ve said, I don’t think this tangle can stand for long … not if we expect to have any real intellectual progress in Science and Letters.

Here’s my own challenge to many of the ‘positivist’ science types out there and to their fans.  Put forward a better alternative to Stuart Kauffman’s, Penrose’s, et al, considerations on these epistemological matters, or cease-and-desist preaching to people about ‘how the world actually is,’ how people suggesting alternatives are ‘living in a dreamworld’, etc.  If you have a better, more satisfying answer or alternative to these old intellectual questions than Erwin Laszlo, Kauffman, Penrose, [or others who raise them], then please bring them up!  Otherwise, quit haranguing those-who-do over the supposedly far-fetched-nature-of or non-reality-of their ideas.  The point is: “reality” isn’t actually that normal, ordinary world you think you’re perceiving right in front of your nose; there’s something a bit more to it than that, nor is it actually that which is most easily grasped through simple mensuration.   The methods of science can take us in the right direction, and lead us to the heart of “the real world.”  I’ll grant that. … But, it’s a mistake to think that the world, we believe we perceive around us, IS that “reality” or that the world we’ve produced through modern technology is that “reality” either.  It may be rooted in it, yes; but it can’t be equated with it ontologically.  For a better consideration of these metaphysical-epistemological issues, I recommend the following article by Eduard Prugovecki of the University of Toronto.  His article here on philosophy and science is a much needed corrective to current paradigms re: empiricism and scientism.  It can be found at
http://individual.utoronto.ca/prugovecki/EpistemicPerspectives.html.

As for the ‘idealists’, try this out for size.  Instead of trying to co-opt cutting-edge science and its research into mysticism or religious-style metaphysics, try working on this thought experiment.

You have this world of science and nature around you.  It has certain laws and principles that govern it.  Yet if the chaos and complexity theorists are correct, there’s a way of bridging this domain with what was traditionally looked at in classic philosophy.  Rather than trying to disprove or, more, to co-opt science as you’ve been attempting to do (ala quantum mysticism/new age), try working towards the models of CDSR (Complex Dynamic Systems Research) from the vantage point of your metaphysics.  The goal is simple.  What best bridges the gulf between your systems of thought and science, in a specific, empirical and conceptual way?  Once you’ve identified this in terms of  “X” number of examples – showing a clear, concise connection between the two domains AND one that is intrinsically consistent between the two areas, minding the distinct “rules” of each –then, you’re left with a set of questions:  (1)  Why, in a world of metaphysics and physics, are the laws of science preserved, instead of being overshadowed by higher-order principles?  (2)  what sets of parameters would have to exist in order to preserve the integrity of each domain (i.e., the world of “science” and your metaphysical system) while keeping intact the laws of nature/science as we know them? … If the ‘idealists’ could
honestly address that query vis-a-vis their current projects, I’d be much more open-minded about their ventures into science mysticism than I am.  As it is, I find it about as useful as I do the volleys of the ‘positivists.’

Proceeding from that, I think the work of Roger Penrose, Kauffman, & Co. carry us forward when it comes to discussions like these.  They give us a better way of navigating
through this kind of ontological-epistemological terrain than we would have in lieu of their models.  Without that, it’s too easy to get lost in the bog of ‘positivism’ and ‘idealism.’

Posted in From the Web, Science and Scientia, What's New | Leave a comment

A Critique of Freedom, Free Will, and Soul

Analytics of History:  A Critique of
Freedom, Free Will, and Soul

  1. http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/28/assumptions-of-freedom-are-reflected-in-the-data-of-world-history/
  2. http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/28/the-onset-of-human-nature/

FREEDOM, FREE WILL, & SOUL – They’re not completely bad as concepts, but their utility as analytical terms is up for debate.  The dilemma is, this value-based language is precarious; it’s like a metaphysical trap-door.  You never know when it’s going to spring open and pull you into the realm of transcendentalism.  It can be good as an instrument of the humanities; a tool of self-reflection and a gauge of human expression and experience.  But every time we use it to critically study either history or nature, we’re pulled into the world of spiritualism once again & the province of religionism.

My recommendation for preventing this → Get straight on what’s occurring at the level of higher-order natural phenomena and noumenal principles.  If VALUE-related, then how is it differentiated from the transcendent, the spiritual, and
otherwise supernatural? … If not, then what’s occurring at this
level
that we’re identifying it with such concepts? … That’s
the question!

Vis-a-vis the Eonic Effect, I have to say I preferred the old terminology better.  “Free Action Scripts” is a lot less tenuous a unit of systems-modeling than concepts like “Freedom” and Free Will.”  They carry too much ideological baggage with them to be helpful to us in modeling history and analyzing human events over historical time.  As for anything like “vitalism” or “dialectic” here actually assisting us in
dealing with these issues; they can’t … because heretofore, they’ve
never been able to show us why ‘for the rest-of-the-natural-world-down-here’ one group of operating principles exist, while supposedly for the ‘higher’ level, a much-more soulfully-based one is said to hold sway.

If, in fact VALUE and PHILOS-SOPHIA, is the real name of the game in nature and the universe, then  why is the rest of reality and its laws apparently laden in material, logos-centric, non-idealist terms?  This leads me to believe that, rather than VALUE having any intrinsic, metaphysic or ontological significance of itself, it is rather human psychology’s way of coping with aspects of our world that (up- to-this-point) have been imperceptible to us except on anthropomorphic and “meaning”-based terms of consideration.

In other words, VALUE would be a projection of the human psyche onto the world.  In such case, “Freedom” and “Free Will” aren’t real analytics of history and natural-sequences of time, but instead self-reflecting human terms whereby we’d be understanding ourselves through history and the natural structures of historical procession.  Furthermore, to arrive at a real analytic of history itself, we’d have to
determine the true qualitative nature of such principles, rather than just our moralistic approximations of them via the traditional language of value-oriented concepts.

That may be a tall order to do.  But I remain confident it’s possible …

Posted in From the Web, Sketches in Historical Theory, What's New | 4 Comments

Critiquing Lewis/Lewis on Evolution and Design

Critiquing Lewis:  Reconsidering his Literary Thought, in Light of the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien … Toward a new Literary Foundation of the Evolution Question and Design Considerations

  1. http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/19/c-s-lewis-on-evolution-and-intelligent-design/
  2. http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF12-10Peterson.pdf

05.19.11 – C. S. Lewis on Evolution and Intelligent Design

So C.S. Lewis has become a new masthead for the consideration of Intelligent Design?  Interesting!  Lewis was a good literary thinker and his ideas were good too.   However, be aware Lewis’ ideas, while certainly passable for as far as they went, weren’t always as good for getting at the roots of critical principles as they might have been.  Lewis’ notions of the world and human experience, in some sense, were often far too dependent on concepts of literary allegory and direct, simplified religious expression (i.e., “mere christianity”) to drive at the heart of human issues via the media of his writing.   In fact, this penchant for presenting simplistic religious explanations of life at the expense of dealing with finer theological/religious understandings of the world was often a problem with Lewis … who, while he was certainly a popular religiously-based thinker in his day, often could go no further than that as he had become “everyman’s theologian” (to apply the designation of Lewis’ friend and colleague Professor J.R.R. Tolkien).

Therefore, if we’re expecting Lewis in this instance to be able to handle the subtleties and nuances of evolutionary change and the fabric of reality (i.e., through a consideration of ‘design’), please understand the framework of his major thought here might not be solid enough in-and-of-itself to do it alone.

In that case, I’d recommend supplementing Lewis’ notions with the further thought and ideas of Tolkien, who was also an outstanding literary thinker and writer in his own right.  Tolkien understood there was much more to the telling and the expression of stories (especially fantasy stories or Faerie) than the mere recounting of ‘fables’ in order to give the reader a message or teach some particular lesson. Tolkien’s work on “mythopoeia” and ‘epic mythology’ emphasized the fact that stories tell themselves and relay their own message regardless of the intent of the storyteller to express this truth or that through them.  Furthermore, “myth” was not just a secondary device in the conveying of literary truth, but a unique vehicle for it or means to that end.  Therefore, rather than just being an accessory to storytelling, myth-making was truly another tier to that expression of truth through story. It allowed the writer to show – and the reader to see – the inner truth of a literary narrative and the inner reality of the world in its many layers of meaning, subtleties of form, and nuances of apperception.  Hence, works like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Silmarilion can reveal a more in-depth view of the world (via this delving into the spirit of epic “myth”) than would other stories that do not (be such Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, which is albeit a series for children, or Perelandra) …

Again, this is not so much to belittle Lewis or his ideas, as to suggest that in order to get the full literary benefit of what he has to say through them, they should be considered alongside the works of Tolkien and/or other fictional writers and literary scholars of his time.  That is, they should be dealt with in tandem with GK Chesterton’s ideas, Belloc’s, Sayers’, and so forth, in the full rounding-out of Lewis’ literary framework.

Only then, will such ideas be sufficient for dealing with discussions of “design” & “evolutionary change.”

**********

For more information on Tolkien’s relationship with Lewis, his own ideas, etc., please see the following websites/commentaries on the Internet:

  1. http://atheism.about.com/od/cslewisnarnia/a/jrrtolkein.htm
  2. http://www.thestonetable.com/articles/220%2C1.html
  3. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2008/03/13/did-tolkien-object-to-narnia-on-doctrinal-grounds/
  4. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-171579958.html
  5. http://www.tolkien-online.com/tolkiens-sources.html
  6. http://www.tolkien-online.com/on-fairy-stories.html
  7. http://www.tolkien-online.com/tolkien-and-mythology.html
  8. http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/cslewis/downing_theology.htm
  9. http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/lord_of_the_rings_return_essay.htm
Posted in From the Web, Literary Sketches and Analogies, What's New | Leave a comment