Saturday, October 18, 2008

#46. Convergence?

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My previous eight posts have been about Divine Wisdom. That's a lot. But I think it's worth the time and effort because even though it's relatively unfamiliar to most thoughtful persons, the understanding of the anthropos-theos relationship presented in the Hebrew Bible's wisdom literature lies at the heart of our western religious tradition.

The fact that it's unfamiliar is an advantage. It allows us to hear what the wisdom tradition is saying without too much interference by a carry-over of the prejudices that have built up over the centuries in western culture with regard to religion. Those prejudices include fundamentalist dualism and scientific rationalism. Along with patriarchy-- and its exploitation of just about everything-- they are baggage left over from the static worldview of classical Greek thought.

In contrast, the worldview of the wisdom literature is dynamic. It sees Sophia delighting in the creation of the Earth and the world of human persons-- guiding us, directing us, providing for us, and calling us to participate in her creative work in the world.

Jesus was born into that dynamic worldview of Divine Wisdom and it is the context in which the first communities of his followers were formed. In the next two posts I hope to describe what the appearance of Jesus and those early Christian communities looks like when we see it in the dynamic context of the Bible's wisdom tradition.

In this post I want to share some specific thoughts about the significance of the contemporary convergence of those dynamic religious perspectives and the evolutionary perspectives of modern science.

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One of my main reasons for starting this blog back in December 2006 was to share my understanding of the fact that the modern scientific perspectives have their roots in the very same dynamic perspectives that underlie the western religious tradition.

I've noted repeatedly that the evolutionary worldview began with the history of the Hebrew people at the time of the Exodus and that it was a quite different outlook on life than the static worldview that previously had prevailed for many thousands of years.

I've often quoted Teilhard de Chardin's statement that the change from a static to a dynamic worldview is the most significant change in human consciousness since consciousness first appeared on the Earth several million years ago.

So, I'm calling this post "Convergence?"-- with emphasis on the question mark-- because I want to talk here about why that convergence isn't clear to most people.

If the evolutionary perspective is at the core of both western science and western religion, what happened? Why is religion still considered to be opposed to science? If the Judeo-Christian tradition and modern science share the same worldview, why does the scientific perspective seem to be in such contradiction to the western world's religious tradition?

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It's important to note that I am not asking "Are science and religion compatible?" I'm asking "Why is it that so many people still think that science and religion are incompatible?"

It's also important to note that when I talk about the convergence of science and religion, I don't mean that science and religion somehow are merging into the one same thing. They are clearly two very different aspects of human life.

The best way I know how to describe the distinction is to say that science is about the anthropos-cosmos relationship, while religion is about the anthropos-theos relationship. And, as I've spelled out in many previous posts, I find the quaternary perspectives of our four-fold mind to be especially helpful tools for understanding that difference.

One way to express the difference, for example, is to use the imagery of the four directions on the Medicine Wheel. Science is a primarily a Gold Eagle and White Buffalo expression of our conscious minds, while religion is primarily a Black Bear and Green Mouse activity.

In Jungian language, both science and religion operate from one perception function and one judgment function, something like the old "one from column A and one from column B" idea.

Science operates by way of the perception function called Sensation and the judgment function called Thinking. Science looks at fact and details; it's always questioning and trying to formulate conceptual explanations of what it sees. It is concerned with the physical universe of matter, life and mind. Science focuses on understanding the world we live in.

Religion, in contrast, operates by way of the perception function called Intuition and the judgment function called Feeling. When it looks at the big picture of the world, it strongly values and wants to hold on to the many good things it sees, and is especially concerned with the connections between things and their significance for us. And in major contrast to our scientific effort, religion expresses its insights in images rather than concepts.

The basic Medicine Wheel teaching is that we need to make use of all four activities of our personal consciousness. If we don't, if we get stuck at one place on the circle of life, we become lopsided, out of balance-- out of harmony, not at peace.

Another helpful tool for understanding the difference between religion and science is Karl Rahner's existential analysis of human experience. I've mentioned Rahner in many posts and spelled out his existential views in post #34 (Talking About Us). At our deepest level of personal experience, says Rahner, we experience ourselves as aware, free, open and blessed.

Using this experiential language we can say that religion comes from (and at its best emphasizes) the human experience of being open and related to the things of the world, while science, in contrast, comes from (and at its best emphasizes) our experience of being free participants in the life of the world.

From these various perspectives of personal experience and four-fold consciousness, it's obvious that there's no reason for us to become lopsided. We don't have to choose between religion and science. So, once again, What happened? How did two large groups of mostly good-willed people in our culture get so out of balance with one another? How did they get stuck at such different places on the circle of life?

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To understand what happened, we need a few facts about the history behind the opposition between religion and science.

I need first to point out that it's not quite correct to say that the Judeo-Christian tradition began in the context of the dynamic-evolutionary worldview. More accurately, the dynamic worldview is the very essence of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

That may seem like a strange claim, but that's because we're still not yet comfortable with the idea of a dynamic-- in contrast to a static-- worldview.

In Greek, dynamis means power and energy. It's the origin of words like "dynamo" and "dynamite." The Latin spiritus is a synonym. It goes back to a Sanskrit word used to describe the movement of the wind and air. It's this spirit-- air, wind, energy-- in us that makes us alive. And it's the same divine spiritus, "the dynamis of God," that's described in the first chapter of Genesis as "hovering over the surface of the waters" and which, in the psalms, is said to "fill the whole world" and "give life to all living creatures."

The Psalms and the book of Genesis were written long after the Hebrew experience of the Exodus. Those stories and poems are part of the wisdom perspective that pervades the Hebrew Bible. The entire wisdom tradition speaks of the dynamis-- the energy or power-- of God bringing us to be, guiding us, gathering us, providing for us. The whole history of the Jewish people is understood as being brought about by this holy spiritus.

In the gospel stories, the same divine dynamis shows itself in Jesus. It specifically appears in the unique story of his baptism when it leads him into the dessert in preparation for his life's work. At the last supper, this same divine power is promised to his followers, and the earliest Christian communities saw themselves called together by the same spiritus of God at the feast of Pentecost

This dynamis-and-Sophia perspective, so unfamiliar to us today, prevailed for roughly the first thousand years of Christianity. So, again, What happened?

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We have to keep in mind that western culture includes not only the heritage of the Hebrews but also that of the Greeks, and the Greeks had a static worldview. What happened was that after the Dark Ages, the dynamic perspective of the Judeo-Christian tradition was lost to western culture when the static-dualistic worldview took over.

And in that static worldview, it's difficult to understand the human spirit except as something separate from the world. Dualism sees the human spiritus as alien to the Earth; it has a negative view of the spirit/soul as something trapped in a body and needing to escape from the material world. The static worldview and dualism go together.

The key to understanding the opposition of religion to science is the fact that, as a human enterprise, modern science began during the time when static dualism prevailed in western culture.

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Once again, the quaternary understanding of the four-fold mind is helpful. Because science comes from our White Buffalo and Gold Eagle functions, it is especially concerned with the details of the world we live in and is continually asking questions about it. Science begins with awe and wonder-- with amazement at the world we live in-- and with the desire to know and understand it. So from the start science stood in opposition to that dualism which had come to pervade western culture and which sees the world as an evil place we need to escape from.

And because of its efforts to understand the world, science quickly discovered the fact that the world isn't static. Long before the time of Charles Darwin, early scientists working in what today we would call the fields of astronomy, geology and biology recognized that the world we live in is an always-changing, always-developing-- indeed, evolutionary-- world.

So science found itself in opposition to the religious dualism of western culture in two specific ways: not only because it values the world which religious dualism distains, but also because it recognizes what western religion forgot-- that that world is not static but dynamic.

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As I mentioned in post #33 (Talking About God), around the time of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species the western religious tradition also begin to recover its dynamic-evolutionary roots. But because religion is far less concerned with questioning than is science, religion moved much more slowly in recovering its own dynamic worldview.

Most people have yet to become aware of this century-and-a-half movement in western religion. They are still focused on what they see as the opposition of science and religion.

Although since the late 1800s some religious thinkers have been trying to show that religion and science aren't incompatible, progress has been slow. Even today we still hear the question, "Are science and religion compatible?" as if it was a brand new idea.

The loss of the Bible's dynamic worldview has been so thorough that many people today still can ask and mean it sincerely, "Can a Christian believe in evolution?" And they are simply bewildered by the thought that the idea of evolution not only comes from the Bible, that it is what the Judeo-Christian tradition is all about.

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There has been progress, however. Five hundred years ago religious authorities told people not to believe the finding of scientists that the Earth revolved around the sun. Today, that's no longer an issue.

Two hundred years ago, religious authorities told people not to believe the finding of scientists that life emerged out of the pre-existing matter of the Earth or that it evolved by the natural selection process into the life-forms we know today. That's still an issue, to be sure, but for the most part, it's no longer the central issue-- even though the media still talks about it as if it is.

In our day the issue that continues to cause people to think religion and science are incompatible is nothing less than ourselves. Not planets or plants and animals but the uniqueness of human consciousness is what makes people still think we have to choose between science and religion.

The problem is commonly expressed by religious fundamentalists as, "I can see that it's possible that some animals may have evolved from lower animals-forms, but I can't believe that humans came from monkeys." They say, in brief, that "humans have a soul-- and animals don't."

This is where neurological science-- the study of the human brain and nervous system-- comes in. The main issue now isn't how the planets are arranged around the sun, or how life first emerged on Earth, but how the human brain can give rise to the human spirit.

The difficulty is that, in a static perspective, it can't. There is no way that the emergence of mind from matter can happen in a static worldview. In a static world, nothing new emerges.

So the real problem is the idea of emergence. I used the word "emergence" several times in what I've had to say so far in the post. It probably didn't stand out, but it's the key to understanding the incompatibility of the static and dynamic worldviews.

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In a dynamic context, we can see patterns that we miss in a static worldview.

We can see, for example, that the chemical elements emerged from the nuclear processes in the hearts of stars; we can see that when that the stardust of chemical elements and compounds is collected by gravity it forms into planets; and we can see that living cells emerge from the interaction and combination of the complex chemicals of those planets.

The pattern is clear enough: when the material of the world reaches a certain level of complexity, something new emerges. That-- as we Earthlings experience it-- is the underlying structure to the entire cosmic process. In a static worldview, we just don't see this pattern, but in a dynamic context, it's obvious: at higher levels of complexity, something new emerges.

And it's this pattern which continues in the emergence of mind from the combination and interactions of our living brain cells.

The best elementary example I can give of emergence is one that's familiar to almost everyone nowadays: the fact that the when the two elements, hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, are combined chemically-- not just mixed-- the result is the emergence of a new compound, water, with totally different characteristic properties from its chemical components.

If we say that water is "only" hydrogen and oxygen, we miss the point that something new emerged. Water can do things that oxygen atoms and hydrogen atoms can't. The idea is even more clear if we try to reduce a complex chemical compound like DNA to "only" carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms. DNA can do things that the atoms of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen can't. Among other things, DNA can replicate itself, and self-replication is one of the basic characteristics of living things.

"Emergence" is the term used to describe the appearance of this more than-- this "newness"-- that results from increasingly complex combinations of things. The idea of "emergence" simply doesn't make sense in a static perspective. If there's no developmental change, there can be no emergence of anything.

But, as in the dynamic perspective we can see that water is something more than its chemical components, and living cells are something more than chemical matter, so the human mind and spirit is something more than just the activity of brain cells. Persons are more-- much more-- than brain cells, but it is the brain cells out of which consciousness emerges.

It's the level of complexity that makes all the difference. Two atoms combining to form a molecule is one thing. The billions of cells in our brain-- in touch with both the outside world through our senses and in touch with one another via electrochemical links-- is something else.

Scientists have been studying that complexity for more than a century; it is beyond anything else known in the whole universe.

So, in the static worldview, there is "no way that human beings could have evolved from monkeys." But when we recognize the pattern of emergence in the dynamic worldview, we can see that it takes nothing away from our human dignity and uniqueness to understand that our personal awareness emerges from the activity of those extremely complex structures.

Indeed, just the opposite.

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Because the idea of emergence is the key to understanding the difference between the static and dynamic worldviews, it's also the key to understanding why it is not religion but the static worldview that is in opposition to science's evolutionary perspectives.

My main idea in this post is that it's not science which contradicts religion. Rather, it is the dynamic worldview of science that contradicts the old static perspective of dualistic religion.

And it is the understanding of reality as a dynamic process that's at the core of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. It is precisely this evolutionary view that makes the western religious tradition different from all the other religious traditions of the Earth. As I said earlier, I hope to spell out that idea in a future post.

I have one final point to make in this post. When we see that the real world is a process, and that the emergence of new things from previous things is the basic pattern to the process, we can see that the convergence of science and religion in the dynamic worldview of western science frees western religion from the centuries-old prison of static dualism.

In the dynamic perspective it's clear that the world isn't a prison; indeed, thinking that the world is a prison is a prison. When we look at the world from the dynamic perspective, we see that far from being in opposition to religion, contemporary science is serving the religion of the western world by rescuing it from its thousand-year prison.

The evolutionary perspective helps western religion re-discover its own dynamic heart and soul. Modern science greatly enriches western culture's religious tradition.

That's what I mean by "convergence."

sam@macspeno.com

1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.