Creationism’s Tool Chest
By Don Cruse
From the viewpoint of science, of disciplined causal enquiry and the acquisition of reliable knowledge, Christian creationism in its most basic manifestation does not have a great deal to offer. Its criticism of Darwinism can often be quite sophisticated (much of it being taken from the ongoing debate within the scientific community itself), but it has little to offer in its place, based as it mainly is upon faith in the literal truth of the book of Genesis, often combined with a belief in miracles, which are anathema to science.
When creationism takes on a more scientific stance, as it does in Darwin’s Black Box’ the insightful work of the American biologist Michael Behe, it becomes a very sophisticated critical argument in favour of ‘intelligent design.’ I.D., as it is now widely called, is not yet a developed theory, although it could be the beginning of one. It also focuses its critique upon the many shortcomings of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism, but does not have much to put in its place. Until it does, it is not likely to be very successful beyond the level of intellectual protest. Many of I.D.’s fiercest critics are themselves Christians, but they prefer Darwin’s theory, however inadequate, to the lack of any convincing answers arising out of creationist thought. Francis Collins, who represents the ‘God’ camp in the November Time magazine debate with materialist Richard Dawkins, is among this group who seek to simply add God to an otherwise materialistic account of the universe, a stance that Dawkins claims is unnecessary; and to simply add God to the universe in this way, without significantly changing the way in which science sees itself and its task, does seem rather superfluous. The faith-based approach to science is, moreover, permanently saddled with the Cartesian dichotomy, a worldview in which natural law is seen to work only from the bottom upwards, and miracles alone are seen to work in the other direction, but miracles are not the stuff of science and relying on them would put an end to science.
The only hope for a spiritual worldview, therefore, is for science to avail itself of a philosophical outlook in which natural law is itself seen to work in the opposite direction, i.e. from the top down and not from the bottom up. This is far from being impossible, especially since science knows almost nothing about the origins of natural law. But even the possibility that this might be true must raise questions that put the long-neglected science of epistemology back onto the front burner where much of human knowledge is concerned. Where may we look for an existing theory of knowledge that shows this reversal to be in fact the case, i.e. one that replaces the Cartesian dichotomy, and monist materialism, with a monism of Mind or spirit?
The work of the Austrian seer/scientist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) appears to offer a solution to this quandary. It is strongly developmental in character and so often makes demands that are not easy for us to live up to, and it does have some interesting internal inconsistencies of its own, although these are not insurmountable. Because of the need to end a futile debate, however, a solution to which otherwise seems to be out of reach either for science or for religion, it is well worth taking a critical look at what Steiner has to offer. If he is right, then humanity stands at the threshold of a new scientific revolution, one in which knowledge of spiritual realities comes, theoretically at least, within the reach of science, and so within reach of us all.
Steiner’s thought is largely based upon the scientific work of the great German poet/dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), but also, and more directly, upon his own experiences of spiritual realities that began for him in early childhood and continued throughout his life — and which he made the subject of an intense and ongoing critical enquiry. The youthful phase of this enquiry terminated with the publication, in 1892, of his doctorial thesis Warheit und Wissenschaft (Truth and Science) given at the University of Rostock. It bears the sub-title Vorspeil einer Philosophie der Freiheit (Introduction to a Philosophy of Freedom). Freedom of thought and enquiry then becomes the ‘leitmotiv’ of anthroposophy (centred at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland), today a vast body of work, including some fifty written volumes and the texts of six thousand lectures. Steiner was always open-minded, and despite his own ceaseless productivity he refused to promote a dogma of any kind. What then do Steiner’s works have to offer that have a direct bearing on the riddle of origins, on the inner realities surrounding the creation of the universe?
In his later work Steiner is deeply imbued with the influence of Christianity (see his Christianity as a Mystical Fact. There is also a very interesting connection between anthroposophy and the thought of Thomas Aquinas (see The Redemption of Thinking). Yet there is much in anthroposophy that departs from Christian orthodoxy, both Catholic and Protestant. Reincarnation, for example, is a tenant of Steiner’s teaching upon which he lays a strong emphasis, and his insistence that human consciousness is itself evolving, and that knowledge of the spirit is essential to humanity’s future development, all of which places his thought outside of any non-evolutionary faith-based form of Christian orthodoxy. In fact it represents a return, but in a much more disciplined manner, to the views that were held by the early Christian Gnostics. It is perhaps not an accident; therefore, that Gnosticism has resurfaced so strongly at this time in history, due to the discoveries at Nag Hammadi in Egypt (see Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels. Anthroposophy, therefore, may well be thought of as representing a New Gnosis, one that is better suited to this age of science. This transition, from the old to the new, is one that begins in the realm of epistemology with the development of what Steiner called a ‘monism of thought,’ i.e. a critical worldview that overcomes both the Cartesian dichotomy and scientific materialism at one stroke, and replaces them with a critical ‘monism of Mind or spirit’. Before Descartes this was the dominant worldview, but one held on the basis of faith, not of critical understanding. Steiner’s epistemological thesis is anti-Kantian, to the degree that where Kant tells us, “I had to limit knowledge to leave room for faith,” Steiner tells us the exact opposite. In short, and though still not widely recognized, he has given science the potential for a completely new cognitive foundation, one that does not deny empiricism but makes it secondary to critical thinking. This is why he always insisted that anthroposophy is not a religion, but “a path of knowledge to connect the spirit in man to the spiritual in the universe.”
What bearing does all this have on evolution?
The central thesis of Goethean science (and of anthroposophy), is that archetypes (Ideas) are a part of nature, its spiritual part, and that human thought itself derives directly from nature’s inner being, so that given sufficient discipline it is possible for us as knowers to distinguish between that which is objective in the realm of ideas and that which is subjective, or the product of our own thinking. Nearly a thousand years ago this was the thesis pursued by the scholastic realists in their centuries-long debate with scholastic nominalism. The nominalists won that debate, at least temporarily, which helped to lay the foundation for what later became natural science. The nominalist contention was that there are no Ideas in nature herself (i.e. that nature has no internal spiritual reality), and that ideas were simply human creations, ‘names’ that we gave to things. This quickly translated into the view that ideas are merely the outcome of sensory stimulation, which premise has become the bedrock of modern materialism, subject to what Owen Barfield called ‘the great tabu’.
Darwinism, therefore, as a materialistic (nominalist) theory, insists that there are no ideas in nature. But science has been unable to prove the truth of this claim, because it has been impossible to show by means of epistemological argument that consciousness can arise out of matter (see The Undiscovered Mind, by John Horgan). The alternative, of course, is that matter arises out of Consciousness, and here, as Rudolf Steiner was the first to clearly show, epistemological argument can be both rational and very persuasive.
If nature is the creation of the Ideas that work within her, then Darwinism, which maintains the opposite, is quite simply untrue (see my article Darwin’s Devious Metaphors. But it is futile to try to combat this untruth by means of faith — a knowledge claim can only be combated with an alternative knowledge claim, and in this case accompanied by a growing understanding of the way in which spiritual Ideas have in the past, and still do, work to create and sustain the natural world. This understanding is present in the work of Rudolf Steiner, though it requires further development, which takes us to the developmental task with which Rudolf Steiner’s work confronts us, because spiritual knowledge, like any other form of knowledge, can only arise out of intense human striving, and in this case a much greater inner or meditative dimension is added to what hitherto has been only an outwardly directed striving. It is the activity of ‘thinking about thought’ which, when conducted in a disciplined manner can lead, Steiner tells us, to a level of objectivity that can justify the use of the word ‘science’ just as surely as can the activity of ‘thinking about the world.’ In both cases it is the quality and disciplined character of thinking that ensures a truthful outcome. Where knowledge is concerned, any kind of knowledge, thought (mind) must come before biology, meaning that the mind is an entity separate from and prior to the brain, and the assumption that matters work the other way around is only that, a groundless assumption. For cognition, therefore, mind must necessarily come before matter, which raises the legitimate question — might this not also be true for biological evolution? Steiner’s book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, How it is Attained, provides us with the key to the kind of disciplined inner development that we shall need in order to tackle this as the central problem of knowledge, and anyone who reads it is likely to come away with the conviction that Steiner is not writing metaphysically, but from direct experience.
What creationism needs in its tool chest, therefore, is a growing commitment to the Goethean and anthroposophical approach to science, because without it the current struggle between science and religion over Darwin’s theory will continue indefinitely and with no end in sight. If science is genuinely concerned with truth, then it can demonstrate that concern today by looking very seriously at Steiner’s approach to the epistemological question, and the same may also be said for religion. We need increasingly to move beyond faith to a renewed interest in and concern about the problem of knowledge. What better place to start than with the article ‘Rudolf Steiner’s Concept of Mind’ written by Owen Barfield, ‘first and last of the inklings,’ who was a lifelong close friend of C.S. Lewis: www.difficulttruths.com
Healthy human development now requires that science be extended into the realm of the spirit. It was Steiner’s great accomplishment to begin to make this possible, which is why Owen Barfield, in his many works, so strongly supported Steiner, and sought to show how crucial is his contribution is to modern thought. Surely we have sufficiently scraped the bottom of the Cartesian barrel to justify our now looking farther a-field. If Darwinian materialism, which unavoidably leads to a socially destructive denial of any spiritual worth to humanity, is ever to be overcome, it will be because we have begun gradually to understand that faith alone cannot accomplish this. And that what the creationist worldview desperately needs in its tool chest is an approach to science that derives no longer from the scholastic nominalism inspired by Aristotle, but from the more Platonically oriented scholastic realism. This thousand-year-old unfinished debate needs to be begun anew, and in a modern setting, so that our best philosophical and scientific minds can again become involved in a search, but deeper this time, for the real truth about human cognition.
© Don Cruse