DARWINISM, GNOSIS & THE CHRISTIAN PREDICAMENT
A Primer on the Evolution of Consciousness
by Don Cruse
Christianity today is confronted by the resurgence of a movement that was suppressed as a heresy by the early Roman church, and has since then existed as a kind of spiritual underground, only now beginning to come again to the surface. I refer, of course, to Christian Gnosis, which was that dimension of early Christian thought most closely connected with the mystery religions of the ancient world, in which the emphasis was placed on a direct experience of the spiritual rather than on faith in authority. This resurgence is perhaps one of the reasons that authority of all kinds is becoming increasingly suspect today. Another is the widespread influence of science, because the modern mind wants more to ‘know’ than it does to ‘believe,’ and ‘gnosis’ is the Greek word for knowledge. The resurgence of Christian Gnosis, therefore, appeals to a very deep-seated need in the modern human soul, the need to be an individual in charge if his or her own destiny, independent of any kind of authority, but particularly of religious authority, and it is not hard to discern that this need stands behind the gradual decline of orthodox Christianity in so many parts of the world, particularly of the developed world. During the twentieth century many events have contributed to this resurgence, not least among them being the discovery, at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, of the long-buried Gnostic Gospels, and the scholarly analysis that followed from this discovery by writers like Elaine Pagels, Andrew Welburn and Dan Burstein.
At the start of the twenty-first century, the mind of the reading public has been captured by such best-selling works as the novel The DaVinci Code, by the consummate mystery writer Dan Brown, in which the return of the Goddess element in Christian thought becomes a major focus. His earlier novel Angels & Demons, is also indicative of this, and it contains the following remarkable public declaration by the dead Pope’s secretary, the Camerlengo, a Catholic priest who is one of the work’s principal protagonists:
“The ancient war between science and religion is over. You have won. But you have not won fairly….You have not won by providing answers. You have won by so radically reorienting our society that the truths we once saw as signposts now seem inapplicable. Religion cannot keep up. Scientific growth is exponential. It feeds on itself like a virus. Every new breakthrough opens doors for new breakthroughs. Mankind took thousands of years to progress from the wheel to the car. Yet only decades from the car into space. Now we measure scientific progress in weeks. We are spinning out of control. The rift between us grows deeper and deeper, and as religion is left behind, people find themselves in a spiritual void. We cry out for meaning. And believe me we do cry out. We see UFOs, engage in channelling, spirit contact, out-of-body experiences, mindquests—all these eccentric ideas have a scientific veneer, but they are unashamedly irrational. They are the desperate cry of the modern soul, lonely and tormented, crippled by its own enlightenment and its inability to accept meaning in anything removed from technology.”
This, I think, is a fair assessment of Christianity’s predicament, if not now then in the not too distant future, and it brings strongly to the fore our growing dependence upon empirical science.
Darwinism and Religion
Nowhere is the conflict between science and religion more pronounced today that on the matter of Darwinism. In America especially this is the case. Here a battle continues to rage between Darwin’s now well-established theory of evolution, and an anti-evolutionary Christian Creationism, based upon a literal reading of Genesis. Very many Christian thinkers, however, support Darwin—not biblical Creationism. This fact is in itself problematic, because for the most part Christianity is still based only upon faith in the bible, and faith, in and of itself, can give us no reason to exclude the book of Genesis. It is the influence of science that has given us the reason for this exclusion, and having accepted it one can no longer make such a big issue out of ‘faith’. If it claims to be a Christian virtue then faith in the bible is all or nothing, it does not give us leave to pick and choose.
Many Christian thinkers who are also scientists—notable among them the North American biologists Kenneth Miller, Richard Colling and Denis Lamoureux—sincerely believe that their fellow Christians do not take the physical world seriously enough; and that when they do take it seriously, Darwinism becomes their only rational choice “because it works” In reaching that conclusion, however, they themselves must be willing to overlook at least one truly enormous though long-hidden problem with Darwin’s great theory—great because it has played a vital role in the evolution of human consciousness—a problem so serious that on grounds of simple logic it must eventually lead to its complete demise. I refer to the easily discernable fact that from the very outset this theory has been couched in the language of human creative activity, i.e. that entire sub-set of language that is termed ‘intentional,’ and that it is ultimately this and only this that makes the theory appear to work. Because by this simple error the divine creativity that the theory specifically seeks to deny, has simply been unconsciously replaced by human creativity. This is what the late Colin Patterson, Senior Palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History meant when he stated in a 1981 talk (taking his cue from Neal C. Gillespie's Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, Chicago University Press), that Darwinism is "not a research-governing theory, since its power to explain is only verbal, but an anti-theory, a void that has the function of knowledge, but conveys none.” He then added that his twenty years of Darwinian study had taught him “not one thing.” Why is it that intelligent thinkers reach such diametrically opposite conclusions where this theory is concerned, the majority believing that they are dealing with one of the greatest achievements of modern science, while a small minority, who have brought themselves to think about its claims and its inner logic more deeply, contend that the theory is almost entirely without merit?
The reason for this dissension seems to be that while the theory works well in the mind, it does not work anywhere near as well in nature. It works in the mind because of its unintentionally deceptive use of intentional and volitional language, whereas in nature, as has recently been pointed out, there is a greater likelihood that ‘a tornado passing through a junk yard could assemble a Boeing 747,’ than that this theory can account for life’s incredible complexity. Human creativity, obviously, did not create the natural world, and if one takes the descriptive language of human creative activity out of the Darwinian theory, as simple logic demands, then the theory no longer ‘works’ even in the human mind. One may not claim that the use of such language is merely expedient—or as Darwin put it, “a form of shorthand”—because if that were the case the theory would not collapse without it, as it most assuredly does. Also, the claim of ‘shorthand’ requires that there be an equivalent but more convincing non-intentional ’longhand’, and there is not.
Paterson will in time prove to be right, because the error in simple logic upon which the theory is based, invisible though it has been, must finally be recognized for what it is. This will, of course, be a very painful pill for science to swallow. Christians will also feel it, and not just those who have embraced Darwinism, because after the rejection of gnosis, Christianity completely lost the possibility of developing an evolutionary content of its own. The first symptom of a recovery from this will be the realization that an ‘evolution of human consciousness’ is everywhere taking place. The resurgence of Gnosis, once its implications are fully understood, will give Christianity back that which it has lost, but now in a new and critical form, as befits this age of individualism.
Professors Miller, Colling and Lamoureux, and the many others who try to combine Christianity and Darwinism, will try to get around the highly awkward fact of logic referred to above, by claiming that the Darwinian theory is empirically based, and that the “scientific evidence for it is overwhelming.” This claim, however, only appears to work if one insists that empirical evidence has only one possible interpretation—the materialistic one—which claim is entirely untrue, a fact that Darwin himself well understood. The exact same empirical evidence, without changing it in any way or doing it any injustice, can be used to justify the very opposite worldview. This means that only the interpretation, not the evidence itself, needs to be changed to give us an empirically based spiritual worldview. However, for more than a century now, and without the slightest philosophical or scientific justification, science has insisted that the causal interpretation that is placed upon all empirical evidence must be a purely physical one, in part because it is claimed that no other kind is ‘testable,’ but also because no other kind is permitted (see Owen Barfield’s ‘Great Tabu’). Testing the Darwinian theory, we should note, has long been a major problem for science, because every so-called test is based upon the same entirely unproven set of presuppositions, perhaps the most dubious of which is the rarely questioned assumption that thinking is always the product of a stimulated organism. If this premise alone is shown to be false, as the scholastic Realists once held to be the case, then Ideas will again become a part of nature, and Darwinian ‘natural selection,’ which was at best a substitute for ‘Ideas’ in nature, will no longer be needed. Much then must depend on a true solution to the epistemological riddle ‘what is the nature of thought?’ a solution to which has existed now for more than a century in the works of Rudolf Steiner, but because of the ‘great tabu’ science has tried very hard to ignore it.
Gnosis and Empiricism
What it is crucial to understand here is that Gnosis has from the outset been based upon a higher form of empiricism, one that was cultivated for thousands of years within the ancient mystery religions, but at a time when human consciousness itself was markedly different from what it is now. To begin with that ancient consciousness was not an individual attainment. It was racially based, and its possessors did not feel themselves to be individuals as we now do, but the representatives of a racial bloodline.
One of the chief barriers between Gnosis and orthodox Christianity is the latter’s rejection of the idea of reincarnation. This was made clear fairly recently when the question of reincarnation was put before England’s Archbishop of Canterbury, who reportedly passed it on to his theological advisors. Their answer was that Christians could not accept reincarnation, because if they did they would not know in what body to present themselves at the Final Judgement. There is hope, however, because the Canadian theologian Tom Harpur, who had argued strongly against reincarnation in his best-selling book Life After Death, is apparently beginning to have doubts. In researching his latest book he discovered that many of the important figures of the early church firmly believed in reincarnation, and that it was first declared a heresy (along with gnosis) by the established Roman church, because it did not meet the requirements of an authoritarian belief system (see The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur, Thomas Allen, Publishers, Toronto 2004, p193). It should also be noted that C.S. Lewis—in what has been called his ‘Barfieldian streak’—also supported reincarnation, because, logical as always, he saw that the ideal of Christian perfection required more than just one life (see In Search of Salt, by Raymond P. Tripp Jr., Society for New Language Study, 2004, p43).
A much deeper question, of course, is whether or not spiritual knowledge is even possible, because if it is not, if there are definable limits to human knowledge as Immanuel Kant has argued, then an evolution of consciousness is impossible and where spiritual matters are concerned we are condemned to go no further than belief. The answer to this question is tied closely to that mentioned earlier concerning the nature of human thought itself, and it was given in the work Truth and Science, the 1892 doctoral thesis of the Austrian seer/scientist Rudolf Steiner, whose later strivings provide us with what must be the modern world’s best example of what Christian Gnosis is capable of. In his presentation Steiner is entirely non-dogmatic, but in the course of fifty written works and the shorthand-recorded text of some six thousand lectures, he opens for us a truly tremendous vista of knowledge. This is why the late Russell Davenport, former Managing Editor of Fortune Magazine, said of him in his book The Dignity of Man:
“That the academic world has managed to dismiss Rudolf Steiner’s works as inconsequential and irrelevant, is one of the intellectual wonders of the twentieth century. Anyone who is willing to study these vast works with an open mind (let us say a hundred of his titles) will find themselves confronted with one of the greatest thinkers of all time, whose grasp of modern science is equalled only by his profound learning in the ancient ones. Steiner was no more of a mystic than Albert Einstein; he was a scientist, rather—but a scientist who dared enter into the mysteries of life.”
The “intellectual wonder” of which Davenport speaks, has been created by the workings of ‘the great tabu’ an insight that we owe to Owen Barfield, who is perhaps best known as C.S. Lewis’s “second” friend. Our second friend, so Lewis tells us, is the one who disagrees with us about just about everything—who “has read all the right books but got the wrong thing out of every one of them.” Wrong, that is, from the viewpoint of orthodox Christianity. Owen Barfield, like Russell Davenport, was an ardent admirer of the life’s work of Rudolf Steiner, to which Steiner had given the name ‘anthroposophy’ (anthropos sophia). It is in these vast works, perhaps more than in any other, that Christian Gnosis comes again to the surface in modern thought. Because of this, as Owen Barfield well understood, anthroposophy is capable of fully rescuing Christianity from its present predicament, if only it is taken seriously. The late Rev. A.P.Shepard D.D., Cannon of England’s Worchester Cathedral, superbly expressed this view of Steiner’s Trinitarian Christology in his book Scientist of the Invisible. The beginnings of the answers that the Camerlengo could not find in science, are there in Rudolf Steiner’s science of the spirit, in his ‘anthroposophy’.
The ‘great tabu’, Barfield tells us, is the irrational precept that forbids science from even considering the possibility of spiritual causation in nature, because it has not yet understood either the need for or the manner in which empiricism can be expanded into a spiritual as well as a physical discipline. This tabu is one that orthodox religion also supports, because it does not want the objects of its ‘belief’ to be made into the subject of scientific enquiry, a willingness towards which is something that Rudolf Steiner’s work especially requires of us. The Jesus Seminar has made some attempt at this, but only where the interpretation of biblical text is concerned, they have not begun to address the deeper epistemological issues. There is today, therefore, what amounts to an unholy alliance between materialistic science and religion, to resist the resurgence of Gnosis, and one way that we seek to accomplish this, is to combine religion and science in such a manner that neither is changed in any significant way. Stephen Jay Gould’s book Rock of Ages, here comes first to mind. This solution, however, depends upon the acceptance of an epistemological dualism, and it is therefore, fully irrational from the very outset. In contrast Rudolf Steiner’s work rests upon a “monism of thought” in which thought itself is seen as a vital part of nature’s reality, i.e. that thought is nature’s ‘inside;’ which answers the question that so puzzled Albert Einstein—why is it that thought maps so well onto the world’s reality? The answer is, as gnosis has always known, that thought is the spiritual inside of outer physical reality. It is the inner part of that reality that can be perceived only by the mind, just as the outer part is perceived only by the senses. When we come to grips with this truth, science and religion will once again become one, but without any dualistic compromise. In Barfield’s words “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.”
© 2004 Don Cruse
Don Cruse was born in 1933 in London, England, grew up there during the war years and now lives in retirement on a farm in central-Alberta, Canada. He is married with four adult children and two grandchildren, with one more on the way. He has been a student of anthroposophy now for nearly fifty years, and considers 'The Philosophy of Freedom' to be Rudolf Steiner's most important single work.
By Don Cruse: 'Evolution and the New Gnosis, Anti-establishment Essays on Knowledge Science, Religion and Causal Logic' (ISBN 0-595-22445-8)
Why Darwinism is the result of a serious error in verbal logic. (essays 3,4,8,19, 11 & 21).
Why 'goodness'‹ not 'truth'‹ should be the principal concern of religion. (essay 16)
Democracy is often defined as the 'rule of law', but if the law itself is unjust it is tyranny that rules. How may we ensure that only just laws can exist? What constitutes a sufficient 'theory of legal obligation?' (essay 18). Many of these essays have been published by Southern Cross Review and may be found in our archives (back issues).