Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Michael Polanyi built on the work of Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin

Viewed as a scientific system, Darwinism has some attractive features. Its great advantage is its simplicity. Ignoring the specific differences between different types of being and the purposes for which they act, Darwinism of this type reduces the whole process of evolution to matter and motion. On its own level it produces plausible explanations that seem to satisfy many practicing scientists.
Notwithstanding these advantages, Darwinism has not entirely triumphed, even in the scientific field. An important school of scientists supports a theory known as Intelligent Design. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, contends that certain organs of living beings are “irreducibly complex.” Their formation could not take place by small random mutations, because something that had only some but not all the features of the new organ would have no reason for existence and no advantage for survival. It would make no sense, for example, for the pupil of the eye to evolve if there were no retina to accompany it, and it would be nonsensical for there to be a retina with no pupil. As a showcase example of a complex organ all of whose parts are interdependent, Behe proposes the bacterial flagellum, a marvelous swimming device used by some bacteria.
At this point we get into a technical dispute among microbiologists that I will not attempt to adjudicate. In favor of Behe and his school, we may say that the possibility of sudden major changes effected by a higher intelligence should not be antecedently ruled out. But we may take it as a sound principle that God does not intervene in the created order without necessity. If the production of organs such as the bacterial flagellum can be explained by the gradual accumulation of minor random variations, the Darwinist explanation should be preferred. As a matter of policy, it is imprudent to build one’s case for faith on what science has not yet explained, because tomorrow it may be able to explain what it cannot explain today. History teaches us that the “God of the gaps” often proves to be an illusion.
Darwinism is criticized by yet a third school of critics, one which includes philosophers such as Michael Polanyi, who build on the work of Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin. Philosophers of this orientation, notwithstanding their mutual differences, agree that biological organisms cannot be understood by the laws of mechanics alone. The laws of biology, without in any way contradicting those of physics and chemistry, are more complex. The behavior of living organisms cannot be explained without taking into account their striving for life and growth. Plants, by reaching out for sunlight and nourishment, betray an intrinsic aspiration to live and grow. This internal finality makes them capable of success and failure in ways that stones and minerals are not. Because of the ontological gap that separates the living from the nonliving, the emergence of life cannot be accounted for on the basis of purely mechanical principles.
In tune with this school of thought, the English mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne holds that Darwinism is incapable of explaining why multicellular plants and animals arise when single cellular organisms seem to cope with the environment quite successfully. There must be in the universe a thrust toward higher and more-complex forms. The Georgetown professor John F. Haught, in a recent defense of the same point of view, notes that natural science achieves exact results by restricting itself to measurable phenomena, ignoring deeper questions about meaning and purpose. By its method, it filters out subjectivity, feeling, and striving, all of which are essential to a full theory of cognition. Materialistic Darwinism is incapable of explaining why the universe gives rise to subjectivity, feeling, and striving.
The Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson vigorously contended in his 1971 book From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again that Francis Bacon and others perpetrated a philosophical error when they eliminated two of Aristotle’s four causes from the purview of science. They sought to explain everything in mechanistic terms, referring only to material and efficient causes and discarding formal and final causality.
Without the form, or the formal cause, it would be impossible to account for the unity and specific identity of any substance. In the human composite the form is the spiritual soul, which makes the organism a single entity and gives it its human character. Once the form is lost, the material elements decompose, and the body ceases to be human. It would be futile, therefore, to try to define human beings in terms of their bodily components alone.
Final causality is particularly important in the realm of living organisms. The organs of the animal or human body are not intelligible except in terms of their purpose or finality. The brain is not intelligible without reference to the faculty of thinking that is its purpose, nor is the eye intelligible without reference to the function of seeing.
These three schools of thought are all sustainable in a Christian philosophy of nature. Although I incline toward the third, I recognize that some well-qualified experts profess theistic Darwinism and Intelligent Design. All three of these Christian perspectives on evolution affirm that God plays an essential role in the process, but they conceive of God’s role in different ways. According to theistic Darwinism, God initiates the process by producing from the first instant of creation (the Big Bang) the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life on this earth and perhaps elsewhere. According to Intelligent Design, the development does not occur without divine intervention at certain stages, producing irreducibly complex organs. According to the teleological view, the forward thrust of evolution and its breakthroughs into higher grades of being depend upon the dynamic presence of God to his creation. Many adherents of this school would say that the transition from physicochemical existence to biological life, and the further transitions to animal and human life, require an additional input of divine creative energy.
Much of the scientific community seems to be fiercely opposed to any theory that would bring God actively into the process of evolution, as the second and third theories do. Christian Darwinists run the risk of conceding too much to their atheistic colleagues. They may be over-inclined to grant that the whole process of emergence takes place without the involvement of any higher agency. Theologians must ask whether it is acceptable to banish God from his creation in this ­fashion.
Several centuries ago, a group of philosophers known as Deists held the theory that God had created the universe and ceased at that point to have any further influence. Most Christians firmly disagreed, holding that God continues to act in history. In the course of centuries, he gave revelations to his prophets; he worked miracles; he sent his own Son to become a man; he raised Jesus from the dead. If God is so active in the supernatural order, producing effects that are publicly observable, it is difficult to rule out on principle all interventions in the process of evolution. Why should God be capable of creating the world from nothing but incapable of acting within the world he has made? The tendency today is to say that creation was not complete at the origins of the universe but continues as the universe develops in complexity.
Phillip E. Johnson, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement, has accused the Christian Darwinists of falling into an updated Deism, exiling God “to the shadowy realm before the Big Bang,” where he “must do nothing that might cause trouble between theists and scientific naturalists.”
The Catholic Church has consistently maintained that the human soul is not a product of any biological cause but is immediately created by God. This doctrine raises the question whether God is not necessarily involved in the fashioning of the human body, since the human body comes to be when the soul is infused. The advent of the human soul makes the body correlative with it and therefore human. Even though it may be difficult for the scientist to detect the point at which the evolving body passes from the anthropoid to the human, it would be absurd for a brute animal—say, a chimpanzee—to possess a body perfectly identical with the human.
Atheistic scientists often write as though the only valid manner of reasoning is that current in modern science: to make precise observations and measurements of phenomena, to frame hypotheses to account for the evidence, and to confirm or disconfirm the hypotheses by experiments. I find it hard to imagine anyone coming to belief in God by this route.
It is true, of course, that the beauty and order of nature has often moved people to believe in God as creator. The eternal power and majesty of God, says St. Paul, is manifest to all from the things God has made. To the people of Lystra, Paul proclaimed that God has never left himself without witness, “for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Christian philosophers have fashioned rigorous proofs based on these spontaneous insights. But these deductive proofs do not rely upon modern scientific method.
It may be of interest that the scientist Francis Collins came to believe in God not so much from contemplating the beauty and order of creation—impressive though it is—but as the result of moral and religious experience. His reading of C.S. Lewis convinced him that there is a higher moral law to which we are unconditionally subject and that the only possible source of that law is a personal God. Lewis also taught him to trust the natural instinct by which the human heart reaches out ineluctably to the infinite and the divine. Every other natural appetite—such as those for food, sex, and knowledge—has a real object. Why, then, should the yearning for God be the exception?
To believe in God is natural, and the belief can be confirmed by philosophical proofs. Yet Christians generally believe in God, I suspect, not because of these proofs but rather because they revere the person of Jesus, who teaches us about God by his words and actions. It would not be possible to be a follower of Jesus and be an atheist.
Scientists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Stenger seem to know very little of the spiritual experience of believers. As Terry Eagleton wrote in his review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge is The Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. . . . If card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins [were asked] to pass judgment on the geopolitics of South Africa, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.”
Some contemporary scientific atheists are so caught up in the methodology of their discipline that they imagine it must be the only method for solving every problem. But other methods are needed for grappling with questions of another order. Science and technology (science’s offspring) are totally inadequate in the field of morality. While science and technology vastly increase human power, power is ambivalent. It can accomplish good or evil; the same inventions can be constructive or destructive.
The tendency of science, when it gains the upper hand, is to do whatever lies within its capacity, without regard for moral constraints. As we have experienced in recent generations, technology uncontrolled by moral standards has visited untold horrors on the world. To distinguish between the right and wrong use of power, and to motivate human beings to do what is right even when it does not suit their convenience, requires recourse to moral and religious norms. The biddings of conscience make it clear that we are inescapably under a higher law that requires us to behave in certain ways and that judges us guilty if we disobey it. We would turn in vain to scientists to inform us about this higher law.
Some evolutionists contend that morality and religion arise, evolve, and persist according to Darwinian principles. Religion, they say, has survival value for individuals and communities. But this alleged survival value, even if it be real, tells us nothing about the truth or falsity of any moral or religious system. Since questions of this higher order cannot be answered by science, philosophy and theology still have an essential role to play.
Justin Barrett, an evolutionary psychologist now at Oxford, is also a practicing Christian. He believes that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God crafted human beings to be in loving relationship with him and with one another. “Why wouldn’t God,” he asks, “design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Even if these mental phenomena can be explained scientifically, the psychological explanation does not mean that we should stop believing. “Suppose that science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me,” he writes. “Should I then stop believing that she does?”
A metaphysics of knowledge can take us further in the quest for religious truth. It can give reasons for thinking that the natural tendency to believe in God, manifest among all peoples, does not exist in vain. Biology and psychology can examine the phenomena from below. But theology sees them from above, as the work of God calling us to himself in the depths of our being. We are, so to speak, programmed to seek eternal life in union with God, the personal source and goal of everything that is true and good. This natural desire to gaze upon him, while it may be suppressed for a time, cannot be eradicated.
Science can cast a brilliant light on the processes of nature and can vastly increase human power over the environment. Rightly used, it can notably improve the conditions of life here on earth. Future scientific discoveries about evolution will presumably enrich religion and theology, since God reveals himself through the book of nature as well as through redemptive history. Science, however, performs a disservice when it claims to be the only valid form of knowledge, displacing the aesthetic, the interpersonal, the philosophical, and the religious.
The recent outburst of atheistic scientism is an ominous sign. If unchecked, this arrogance could lead to a resumption of the senseless warfare that raged in the nineteenth century, thus undermining the harmony of different levels of knowledge that has been foundational to our Western civilization. By contrast, the kind of dialogue between evolutionary science and theology proposed by John Paul II can overcome the alienation and lead to authentic progress both for science and for religion.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. Contact Subscribe Advertise Privacy Policy © First Things 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved. (x)


  1. In an earlier edition of the same magazine the writer claims that "his church" is the ONLY means of "salvation" for all of Humankind.

    Which is of course garbage. Especially as there is no Truth with a capital T to be found in "his church".

    The author is one of those god-botherers in "high" places that gives his "authority" to the well organized and increasingly powerful "true believers" armed with the "certanity" of Total Truth--the title of an influential book, the author of which is regularly featured at earnest talk-fests organised by outfits closely associated with FT Magazine.

    Talk-fests which promote the heresy of the "church" being the vehicle of Total Truth. Talk-fests which aim to energize the "true-believers" to re-"christianize" Amerika, and by extension the entire world.

    As though a self-possessed ego or collective of ego's could in any way possess the "truth". The ego by its very nature is infinitely godless and always, in every moment at war with the Divine Radiance.

    Such claims are inherently totalitarian in their consequences--- INHERENTLY.

  2. The best that these authors could really offer was a theoretical and speculative model/idea of what all of THIS (manifest "creation") IS.

    They were all trapped in the complications of the third stage of live and as such had no way or understanding what a truly Spiritual understanding of "creation" could even begin to look like.

    So too with the author of this essay. There is no evidence whatsoever of a Spiritually informed religious consciousness in his writings. Just the usual dogmatic religiosity.


    They were all operating within the already culturally dominant left-brained anti-spiritual mind-set of materialism that had banished the Divine Radiance and the possibility of Divine Life from European culture.

    These essays provide an ILLUMINATED Understanding of the relation between reductionist scientism and reductionist exoteric religion-ISM.

    They are written from the perspective of The Divine Conscious Light.

    1. www.dabase.org/broken.htm
    2. www.dabase.org/dht6.htm
    3. www.dabase.org/christmc2.htm
    4. www.dabase.org/dht7.htm

  3. Notice too that the author doesnt even mention the words Consciousness, Energy or Light.

    Consciousness and Light/Energy/Form
    being the two irreducible characteristics of existence-being.