Monday, 16 June 2014

Religion and Evolution Debate

I think the best approach is to let the great traditional authorities say what exactly is the religious position with regard to evolution

Is there a way for untangling confusions and controversies on the question of Religion and Evolution? Let us ask those who are best informed on religious position – traditionalist scholars – today.
There are all kinds of theses like Islam accepts evolutionary account or is silent about it or categorically rejects it. Even big names take one of the theses and students can’t be faulted for confusion. From Harun Yaha to Zakir Naik, there is an opposition based on theological reading and from Iqbal to Azad and amongst the more recent Western scholars often quoted by Muslims, Maurice Boucaille there is certain  degree of acceptance of mainstream evolutionary thesis. I think the best approach is to let the great traditional authorities say what exactly is the religious position with regard to it. But unfortunately such authorities use difficult language not because they want to impress the reader but because every science has its own technical language that needs to be mastered for properly understanding or discussing it. Amongst the best known traditional authorities are traditionalist scholars like Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy. Let us read Coomaraswamy today and try to understand him and if we don’t try that we don’t have moral and intellectual right to issue fatwas one or the other way on evolution. One can quote verses for or against one’s position on evolution as we see different scholars doing? So what is the scriptural position? As intellectual content of religion is described as metaphysics, we must ask a metaphysician to clarify the meaning of religious statements or doctrines.  As quantum mechanics or cybernetics or molecular biology have their own technical language that one needs to understand to really comprehend the issue at stake, so have religion, theology and metaphysics.
Have we ever asked ourselves what does it mean that God created the world or different species? Did He do it instantly or gradually? Does he do anything without mediation, as if by magic? Is God to be understood as some carpenter or engineer in heavens? Is God a being in the first place who needs to think, to calculate, plan, to design as humans do? Do the terms cosmos, heavens, or life as terms used by scripture mean what we ordinarily mean by them? What do Amr or Kun mean? I don’t intend to indulge in any controversy or elaborate a new thesis today but just refer to those who are best qualified to explain traditional religious point of view in proper terms that modern mind may understand.
Perennialists though uncompromising critics of Darwinism as an ideology (as they are critical of philosophical and not methodological naturalism) also ask us to drop insisting on literalist theological view which in fact had been the target of evolutionists. Interpreting the story of creation metaphysically though foregrounding the supernatural dimension in the narrative avoids the historical/literalist reading that clashes with the data that evolutionary biology has gathered. Metaphysical conception of God is not an entity who encounters the world as other, a capricious power acts whimsically and as if from a distance. According to perennialists the story of genesis need not be literally interpreted. At the level of mediate causes evolutionary theses need not be questioned on religious grounds, special creation and evolution are not irreconcilable alternatives if the doctrine of special creation is metaphysically read and as interpreted by Christian and other traditional philosophers. The two concepts of special creation and evolution are incompatible only if mythical account is historically interpreted and theologians defending special creation have usually defended it historically. We need to distinguish between the First Cause and mediate Causes. As Coomaraswamy explains in an essay in What is Civilization?:
The First Cause whether philosophically absolute or ‘mythically personified,’ is the direct cause of being of things but only indirectly of the manner of their being. The manner of their being is determined by the Mediate Causes. The category of Mediate Causes doesn’t exclude any of those forces or tendencies or determining accidents on which the evolutionist relies as explanations of the observed series; if he differs from the philosopher in ignoring the First Cause it is because he is not discussing the origin of life but only its variety.
This is how the data describing the variability in species is explainable from its approach:
In traditional doctrine of evolution, every one of the forms, every phenomenon, represents one of the ‘possibilities of manifestation’ of an ‘ever productive nature’ which may be called either the God, the Spirit, Natura Naturans or, as in the present context, the ‘Life’ according to which we speak of the forms of life as ‘living.’ This Life is the First Cause of lives, but the forms which these lives take  is actually determined by the ‘Second’ or ‘Mediate Causes.’ That are nowadays often called ‘forces’ or ‘laws’ notably that of heredity. No difficulty is presented here by the variability of the species; the shape that appears at any given time or place in the history of a ‘genus’, ‘species’, or ‘individuals is always changing. All the definitions of these categories are really, like ‘round numbers’ indefinite, because the reference is to ‘things’ that are always becoming and never stop to be, and can only be called ‘things’ that are always becoming and never stop to be, and that can only be called ‘things’ by a generalization that ignores their variation over some longer or shorter, but always relatively short ‘present.’
Another passage further clarifies:
‘Life’ being one of the names of God, according to his ‘ever productive nature’ seeks ‘experience.’ Outward the Self existent pierced the eyes, therefore creatures see, which is to say that eyes have ‘evolved’ because the immanent Life desired to see, and so for all other powers of sensation, thought and action, which are all the names of his acts, rather than ‘ours.’
The following metaphysical claims can’t be contested by evolutionists and thus conflict is avoided. Scientists as scientists can bypass such metaphysical roots of empirically observable entities in their investigations. “Every one of these transient forms of species and individuals reflects an archetypal possibility or pattern (pater, father) subsistent in what is called the ‘intelligible’ as distinguished from our ‘sensible’ world or locus (Skr. Loka) of compossibles.”For him what Gradation states sub species aeterntatis, the Myth relates sub species aeviternitatis, and History sub species temporis. For him creation “is apprehended by ourselves as a temporal sequence and as if cause and effect could be separated from one another by sensible periods The phrase in the beginning” in the genesis is logical rather than temporal priority.”http://greaterkashmir.com/news/2014/Jun/12/religion-and-evolution-debate-9.asp

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