Thursday, 21 April 2016

Dialogue with Evolutionists

To oppose or not to oppose Darwin.
Religion that can’t withstand scrutiny of unbiased reason and experience must go and we should welcome Dawkins and other critics of religion from Marx to Freud to Russell  and their modern disciples for sifting the ideological, superstitious and other problematic elements that have been associated with religion by lesser minds and professionals of vested interest – Mullacracy. For those who reduce religion to an insurance deal whose premium is paid here or those who worship words and don’t taste God and those who invoke God to throttle free inquiry – who have deep down anxiety to silence philosophers, scientists, mystics and even children asking awkward questions regarding higher things they imagine at their own level, modernity has made things difficult. Religion has to offer arguments too strong to resist any criticism and must have enough humility to acknowledge that it doesn’t deal with the truth pure and simple but filtered, tailored truths that take into consideration both needs and weaknesses of its heterogeneous addressees and is more interested in living with mystery than imposing any special knowledge claims. It has to be catholic enough to accommodate every sincere seeker in its ambit. It has to be ready for debate and discussion with anyone on any issue. It has nothing to fear from any new development of thought as long as the later is in turn ready to be appraised in terms of the best available evidence. Let us state what religion’s doctrine of creation (not creationism/intelligent design promulgated as scientific hypothesis) is and see if the criticisms of creationism/intelligent design from the influential evolutionists from Dawkins to Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution is True) to Stephen J Gould and scores of other critics apply. Since it is the best minds – sages – who have the right to speak in the name of religion and explain its subtle symbolism and its background of penetrating metaphysics we will let them only speak and not quote from popular press and preachers who are taken to be authorities by the laity. Amongst those who were best qualified to explicate religion in an idiom that the highest academic seats would better comprehend or appreciate and the acknowledged authorities of different disciplines take seriously, is Ananda Coomaraswamy whose prodigious knowledge of scores of languages and religious, artistic, philosophical traditions across civilizations besides extremely careful and meticulous scholarship has been recognized by the academic elite. The fact that he was also trained as a geologist (and made a name in that field) – like his friend Rene Guenon (Abdul Wahid Yaha) who was a mathematician – makes his knowledge about science and especially scientific method first hand and this means he willn’t build fantastic notions that modern scientist could dismiss away without giving due consideration.
      He has been emphasizing time and again that inferior thinkers shouldn’t be heeded at all. And it isn’t difficult to identify these inferior minds when one reads the best from Plato to Nagarjuna to Sankara to Lao Tzu to Aquinas to Eckhart to  Ibn Arabi to Mulla Sadra to Shah Waliullalah.
      What world religions collectively have to teach us regarding doctrine of creation (not to be too readily contrasted with evolutionary thesis) is what Commaraswamy is able to present thanks to the masterly understanding of hermeneutical tools provided by respective traditions.  According to him, 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. 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:

  • 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.
      Another lengthy passage needs to be quoted:
  • 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 remark that “there are no delimited and monads or egos, but only one unlimited” shows how resistance to the idea of distinct species closed to further change is critiqued by him.
      The following description of the Life of Supreme Ego, to use Iqbalian expression, in relation to the world of manifestation by A.K. Coomaraswamy seems to be echoed in Iqbal’s Asrari Khudi. “‘Life’ being one of the names of God, according to his ‘ever productive nature’ seeks ‘experience.’”
      The following metaphysical claims can’t be contested by evolutionists and thus conflict is avoided. Scientists qua 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…It is only to the extent that we can think and speak of distinct ‘species’ and ‘individuals’ that we must also speak of their separate archetypal ideas; in reality, everything that flows is represented there in all its variety, although not in a temporal succession, but so that all can be seen at once.
  • Coomaraswamy observes that what Gradation states sub species aeterntatis, the Myth relates sub species aeviternitatis, and History sub species temporis.  (For those vocal  people who want to take strong positions for and against evolution or religion’s doctrine of creation need to take a pause and meditate on these terms to understand the nuances and complexity  in traditional position that is shared by all traditional religions and traditional philosopher-sages. The beauty of Coomaraswamy and Guenon and their likes is they don’t advocate personal opinions but  attempt their best to present what has been traditionally received and affirmed by Revelation and traditional authorities of religion). Coomaraswamy approvingly quotes Prof. Keith’s statement that according to The Rig Veda “This creation cannot be regarded as a single definite act: it is regarded as ever proceeding.” And comments: “this doesn’t mean it is unfinished in principio and ex tempore, but that it 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.”
      Let us not forget that man, traditionally, is body, soul and spirit. We need not contest evolution of body. And we must state fundamental differences with evolutionist naturalism and materialism on soul and spirit. And we can show how indefensible is the latter’s position on soul and spirit later while acknowledging problems in fundamentalist creationist account of body’s separateness and autonomy from other forms.

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