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Introduction to ‘Was Darwin Wrong?’
My article below was written in reply to the cover article ‘Was Darwin Wrong?’ in the National Geographic for November 2004, a question that they answered inside with a very big ‘No’. Receipt was acknowledged, but predictably no mention was ever made of it in the magazine itself. I would like to comment here on this omission from an anthroposophical perspective, because it directly concerns what Owen Barfield termed “The Great Tabu” — a prohibition that, like it or not, is still very much alive.
As all will doubtless know, a battle royale has been and is going on, in the United States especially, between Christian Creationism and Darwinism. This battle is actually between two opposing and scientifically unproductive monisms, a non-critical Luciferic ‘monism of spirit’ on the one hand, and an illusionary Ahrimanic ‘monism of matter’ on the other. The Luciferic monism (Creationism) is based upon a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, whereas its Ahrimanic counterpart is based, as my article will clearly demonstrate, chiefly upon a kind of trick, a seriously mistaken piece of verbal logic. At the moment there appears to be very little room for any middle ground in this conflict, but eventually there will be a recognition of these failings and anthroposophists need to be prepared for it.
There is a brave attempt being made at developing a dualist middle ground, which goes under the name of Intelligent Design theory, but it is rooted in conventional religious thought and as most anthroposophists will realize this is ultimately not the solution. It is a middle ground to be sure, and we should be thankful for it, but helpful though this is it cannot lead to a strengthening of the ‘science of the spirit’ that Rudolf Steiner bequeathed us, and so, without being at all negative we need to make this difference clear to ourselves and to others. A science of the spirit can only arise out of a monism, never out of a dualism, Christian or otherwise, but it must arise from a monism of spirit that is the product of critical thought, not one that, like Creationism, is based upon a non-critical belief in holy writ.
A ‘monism of thought’ was the name that Rudolf Steiner gave to a logically sound epistemological argument that he made in support of a genuinely critical monism of spirit. Steiner’s ‘monism of thought’ is simply an intellectual argument. It is not in itself a separate kind of monism, because there are only two possible monisms, one of matter and the other of spirit, only one of which can be true (i.e. the true source of all natural creativity) But there exist a vast number of religious and philosophical arguments that have been made in favour of them both. Steiner’s argument — his “monism of thought”— is in my view, and in the view of many, the most convincing to have appeared anywhere, thereby filling a need that monist materialism has completely failed to fill. We must not, however, confuse an epistemological argument with a ‘monism in itself’, i.e. with the force that created the universe. An argument can point to the truth of a given monism and encourage a critical approach to it, but can never replace it. A spiritual monism and an argument concerning it are two totally different things, and we mix them up at our peril, because this leads, like Darwinism itself, to an unconscious dualism (see the essay ‘Post Cartesian Dualism’ in my book). Anthroposophy cannot (must not) be based upon a dualism, because then it ceases to be a ‘science of the spirit’ and becomes just another religion, and a rather weird one at that — which is how most people see it today.
That with the advent of anthroposophy there now exist two opposing critical monisms is undeniable, as is the fact that ultimately only one of them can be true. However, neither science nor religion really want to know this, because it puts both of them in a philosophically untenable position in contrast to anthroposophy. But this cannot be helped, it is not a popularity contest that we are engaged in. If we are motivated by the seeming need to make anthroposophy popular, or scientifically respectable where material monists are concerned, and are willing to gloss over the opposing monisms issue in order to do this, then surely we are on the wrong track — this is not what the future of anthroposophy requires of us.
In the conversation that is going on today between science and religion, many of the participants are trying to ignore this inevitable clash between monisms. They do this by discounting Descartes, whose famous dualism is built out of the same two incompatible monisms. But all that they accomplish by this is to push the issue underground. It is still there in every problem that science must confront, more so in some perhaps than in others. Take the origin of consciousness, for example, here there are two clear options: (i) consciousness is created by the brain — monism of matter (2) the brain is created by consciousness — monism of Mind, and where ‘origins’ are concerned there is no dualist middle ground whatever. Science has so far failed to explain consciousness as product of matter, and anthroposophy has yet to explain the creative workings of consciousness in this realm either; it is one of the many problems that Steiner left for us to solve. There have been some brave attempts, like Robert Zimmer’s essay ‘A New (Platonic) Theory of Perception and Mental Activity’ (http://www.difficulttruths.com) but we still have a long way to go as genuine monists to accomplish this. After all, did Steiner not tells us (in the lecture series ‘From Jesus to Christ’) that as anthroposophists today we must be prepared to swim or row against the current if we are ever to reach our destination?
Rudolf Steiner’s ‘science of the spirit’ is based upon a critical approach to a monism of spirit, which in turn rests on the epistemological argument that he termed a ‘monism of thought’—that which Owen Barfield called ‘Rudolf Steiner’s Concept of Mind’ (http://www.difficulttruths.com) At the level of intellectual theory this is what ensures anthroposophy’s status as a science. In actual practise, however, it is a very difficult path indeed that Steiner has offered us, because its success as a science is dependent on the gradually maturing cognitive development of each would-be scientist. If we do not in course of time develop the ability to cognize the spirit that Steiner himself so clearly possessed, and that he asks of each of us, then no amount of logical argument is going to help.
Nearly one hundred years have passed since Steiner lived among us. And humanity as a whole is now far more likely to want to take seriously and to develop these cognitive abilities, if it first comes to clearly understand what is wrong with science’s materialistic status quo. Steiner made it very clear that materialism was a “sadly mistaken worldview”, but for reasons of his own he did not point the finger at logic. As I have already argued, in my article ‘The Great Impulse’ (also to be found on my web site), this may have been because it was then too early for him to do this, because scientific materialism had not yet completed its essential task. I suggest that now it has completed that task, and the article below is offered as my contribution to showing exactly where and how the scientific status quo falls short in the realm of verbal logic. It is not in any way meant as a substitute for, or to minimise in any way, the difficult developmental task that Steiner asks of each of us.
Comments and critiques are welcome.
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