THEOSOPHY, Vol. 91, Spring 2003
(Pages 4-10; Size: 13K)
FACETS OF INQUIRY
[Article number (22) in this Department]
What does the theosophical philosophy have to offer concerning the ongoing debate between the religious creationists and the Darwinian evolutionists?
People have long challenged the premise of creation, scientific or religious, in efforts to define who we are and why we are here. After all, the self cannot be what it appears to be. Surely, these mysteries are only eluding our grasp momentarily, we tell ourselves. Even now, the divided forces of the intelligent-design advocates add fuel to the fiery debate (but at least the debate moves forward again). We want to be consistent in religious beliefs and scientific uncertainty, and the debate will not go away because collectively we have not managed to sort through heaps of well-meaning scholarship to grasp what's missing.
Any one side continually pushes back the boundaries of others' explanations to shake rigid truths held dear. "Our scientific temper is devout," philosopher William James (Pragmatism, 1907) reminded us. Origin theories need to be squared with nature and with logic, since empiric science will abandon them. Creation myths remain powerful visions that seem to offer competing scientific realities. We can ask then, are we indulging in circular reasoning that defies the light of day? When science offers probability, the religionists can counter, is someone playing fast and loose with facts?
As a scientific religion and a religious science (according to William Q. Judge, "What is Theosophy?"), theosophy lies solidly in the thick of this debate. If there is no religion higher than truth, as the maxim promulgates, then we must always remain open to the changes that truth brings. Will it be borne out that faith and reason are antagonists? "On the contrary," author Milton Steinberg (As a Driven Leaf, 1940) told us, "salvation is through the commingling of the two, the former to establish first premises, the latter to purify them of confusion and to draw the fullness of their implications." Several students of theosophy now pursue the question asked about the debate between these two adversaries, the religious creationists and the scientific evolutionists, seeking resolve along theosophical facets of inquiry.
EMANATIONS AND ARCHITECTS
From the first pages of the Proem in HPB's Secret Doctrine, the ultimate source of life is elucidated as an eternal, immutable, boundless and omnipresent principle. Though changeless in itself, it is the source of all change; though formless in itself, it is the source of all forms; though without thought, it is the cause of all thought; though it acts not, it is the cause of all action.
Life emanates from this one, divine, eternal source. And that source remains at the deepest core of everything that emanates from it: every atom, molecule, mineral, plant, animal, human being, and god. The divine source is the highest deity, and that same deity resides in the heart of every being in the universe. As the poet Rumi wrote, "That source is within you/And this whole world is springing up from it."
The implications of this one, pre-eminent idea are extraordinary. It means that everything in life is essentially divine, essentially sacred, essentially God. It means that each apparently discrete entity is at root joined with every other entity in one vast and seamless unity. We are more than brothers and sisters. We are one.
It means also that there is a hidden, invisible (to us now) spiritual realm to life -- that divine core, and an overt, visible material realm to life, i.e., the tangible world of the physical senses. This duality pervades all the manifested universe.
The creationists and the evolutionists are both in part right and both in part wrong. The creationists are right in pointing to an eternal power beyond the evanescent material world as the source of life. They err when they say an insurmountable gulf exists between the creator and his creation, between god and man, when they forget, that is, the all-important doctrine of emanations, that there is an unbroken continuity between the two -- like the sun and its rays, the fire and its sparks, the spider and its web.
The evolutionists are right in pointing to an amazingly complex web of life that is constantly mutating, constantly striving towards improvement of its condition. They err when they limit their purview to the physical world alone and leave out of consideration the many realms of existence beyond the physical and, most importantly, the divine source itself. With extraordinary zeal, talent and resourcefulness they are studying the many wonderful aspects of the house, but ignoring the reality of, the necessity of, the builders, the blueprints and the architect.
Creationist and Darwinian proponents have produced an impasse by forming a pair of opposites that, when taken literally, are beyond resolution. Various theories are suggested by science for the activity of life and its purpose. The Darwinian explains the activity in matter as an evolutionary process that begins with the very lowest forms of matter and proceeds upward by natural selection and the survival of the fittest. This seems to be the accepted mode for the majority of people at this point in time. On the creationist end: If we subscribe to the notion that each birth produces a new soul, we tacitly accept the personal God idea as being the cause of each soul's birth.
Neither the religious nor the current scientific explanations are complete in themselves. From the point of view of their being a pair of opposites, there is a glaring need for a link to explain the activity on the material plane as being more than a "fortuitous concurrence of atoms" and why there is a need for creation.
The ancient teaching found in theosophy proposes several links that would seem to appeal to our logical sense. First, all of life has absolute potential. This suggests the equality of life as contrasted with the birth of individuals by special privilege through the agency of an all-powerful super-being. Second, the presence of the emanation of life waves or energy (which we refer to as a periods of evolution) is commonly accepted and easily witnessed as the law of cycles or periodicity. Third, the progression of a spiritual life force (referred to as the monad) is seen in all manifested life forms, from the elemental to the fully awakened and self-conscious individual. Why the need for all this activity? To raise all matter to conscious godhood and a conscious realization of the unity of the whole of life.
In his book The Great Chain of Life (1956), Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), the literary naturalist, describes the dependency and common links each kingdom shares in the evolutionary process:Literally nothing is wasted. Everything nourishes something else until the bacteria finally get hold of it and return it to the soil after breaking it down once more into inorganic compounds ... which plants can again transform into protein.Likewise, Darwin in describing natural selection and the survival of the fittest presented a description of evolution through material forms -- he did not include the spiritual impulse needed to produce the interaction of spirit and matter. In theosophy, a simultaneous involution of spirit progresses alongside the evolution of matter.
At a far distant evolutionary period, the human stage is reached when there is a lighting of mind by those fully awakened beings that have made the journey before. From this point on, humans are responsible for their own evolution as manifested through the law of karma. Once a self-conscious, thinking being, the individual Ego is responsible for its own evolutionary progress through self-induced and self-devised efforts. Free will, which is often relinquished in creationist and Darwinian views, is essential to the human spirit. To understand the teaching more fully, a study of the laws of reincarnation and karma can be applied to the individual and the universal level equally.
SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE DICHOTOMY
The great divide between Darwinists and religious creationists is artificial at best. It expresses a dichotomy caused by a lack of holistic thinking. Even within the scientific camp, there is a growing realization that it is only through interdisciplinary exploration that any real light will illuminate the great mysteries of life concerning our origin, essence, and ultimate purpose. It is interesting how the scientific community praises the mathematical genius of a Pythagoras but dismisses his mystical views as overheated imagination. It is the same with Plato, Paracelsus, and many other noted minds. Why is it so difficult to entertain the possibility that these beings knew more, not less, than many of our present day scientists whose knowledge all comes from the same handful of textbooks?
Religion represents the spiritual self while science the physical. Until rather recently, a few centuries ago, this dichotomy did not exist. Somehow we have polarized the physical and spiritual aspects of life and we are the worse off for it. This polarization is the prime cause for the feeling of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and alienation that is so prevalent in modern culture. Not only have we cut ourselves off from the vital pulse of nature by paving it over but also we've cut ourselves off from the real spiritual wellspring within by caving into simplistic and anthropomorphized theologies that are inconsistent and don't reflect the real potentials within us. For example, the idea of one short lifetime and then judgment for eternity without any chance of even scratching the surface of our capacities to learn, love, create, or express our real essence does not allow for true human evolution to go forward and goes against the general pattern of great nature. Both science and orthodox religion turn a blind eye to millenniums of phenomena that neither science nor religion in their present states can adequately account for.
In theosophy, the physical universe reflects the spiritual universe: "as above so below." The interdependence of the kingdoms of nature, the intricate balance and reciprocity seen in ecosystems, is a wonderful expression of the spiritual identity of all beings that is at the heart of religious teachings of all civilizations.
No contradiction exists between many scientific principles and the spiritual principles expressed through the world's religious traditions. Only when scientists cross the borders of their research and knowledge with haughty judgments about the invisible side, the transcendental side of life, do they cease to be scientists and become ideologues attempting to foist their personal opinions and pet theories as "God's Truth." Likewise, why is it that many religious creationists are so resistant to scientific discoveries or breakthroughs that seem to contradict their cherished interpretations of their particular bible or holy book? They should rejoice in the growth of human understanding on every level, for if "God" is truly in all things, then the more we know about all aspects of life, the closer we are to our source.
Theosophy, by leaving no department of nature out of the equation of life, allows us to unlock the mysteries of the physical as well as the metaphysical world and traverse both subjective and objective space in order to attain a true perspective on reality. Each of us must accomplish this for ourselves.
FACETS OF INQUIRY
[Article number (23) in this Department]
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