Don Cruse


In his lectures on the Gospel of St. John, given in Kassel (1909), Rudolf Steiner tells us that the Hebrew words mephiz-topfel, refer to mephiz, the corrupter and topfel, the liar, and that Mephistopheles is "merely another name for Ahriman" whose task it was "to prevent man from discerning the spiritual basis of the world, tricking him instead with a mere illusion of it" and inducing in men the belief that "there is no such thing as spirit underlying and permeating all material substance." He continues: "Only when we know that in every tiniest particle of matter there is spirit and that the idea of matter [as presented by modern science] is a lie; only when we recognize Mephistopheles as that spirit in the world who vitiates our conceptions - only then can the outer world appear to us as it really is."1

Is "tricking" just a turn of phrase on Steiner's part, or does he refer to an identifiable act of misdirection on Ahriman's part?  For reasons that I will try to explain, I suspect the later. Consider the full import of the following passage, taken from Chapter 11 of his Philosophy of Freedom. After clearly  rejecting the concept of 'purpose' in relation to the natural world, Steiner writes the following:

 "I construct a machine purposefully if I connect its parts together in a way that is not given in nature. The purposefulness of the arrangement consists in just this, that I embody the working principle of the machine, as its idea, in the machine itself. The machine becomes thereby an object of perception with the idea corresponding to it. Natural objects are entities of this kind. Whoever calls a thing purposeful simply because it is formed according to a law, may, if he wish, apply the same term to the objects of nature." (p, 160)2

From this we learn that both natural objects and machines have indwelling (purposeful) ideas which have become the laws of their existence. Human ideas in the case of machines, non-human in that of natural objects. Natural objects, therefore, have indwelling non-human ideas (laws), and in this respect may be likened to man-made machinery. Both are 'law-abiding.'

For Steiner, of course, as the author of a Monism of thought, the law-abidingness in nature has to do with ideas directly accessible to us by means of thought, not with creative forces to which our minds are denied access, such as Kant's "thing in itself" or the 'God' of dualistic theology. If we study the workings of a machine, we can come to comprehend the creative thought processes of its human designer, and if we study a natural object we can become aware of the past workings of what he elsewhere calls the Cosmic Intelligence.  The phrase 'Natural Law' in Steiner's cosmology, therefore, includes creative ideas that have the character of laws indwelling in natural objects. 

Materialism, however, has no such interpretation of the phrase 'natural law.' In this case, there is no question of ideas indwelling in nature, which are a complete anathema. It is only the laws of physics and chemistry that are being referred to, and these, where a Monism of matter are concerned, are seen to be purely accidental in origin.

It should be understood that Steiner's concept of 'natural law' includes the working of higher, spiritual realms, not just of the physical, and that the indwelling ideas he refers to have their origin in these higher realms. In The Philosophy of Freedom the universal nature of thinking is everywhere stressed, however, in Chapters 11 and 12, where he deals directly with the Darwinian theory, Steiner does not reemphasize this, and if we are not very careful in reading these chapters we can come away with the impression that the meaning of the phrase 'natural law' is identical for both Steiner and materialism (Darwinism). It is important that we not do this, because if we do we become unable to take the next step, in understanding what I have called 'The Great Mechanistic Deception'. 

The Great Mechanistic Deception

Natural law, in the materialistic sense, means only those laws which apply to the physical (mineral)  world, i.e. the laws of physics and chemistry, and in a materialistic theory of origins (Darwinism) these are held to be the sole causal elements at work within the organic realm also, because for materialism there is no question of 'indwelling ideas.' But such ideas are as necessary for Darwinism (a Monism of matter) as they are for any off-shoot of Cartesian dualism, because without them the theory cannot be made to work. So where do they come from if not from God?

They come from the realm of man-made machinery, but without it ever being admitted that this step is in any way invalid. This was made possible because three centuries ago the idea of 'mechanism' had been given universality by Rene Descartes. The 17th century was preoccupied with the potential of machinery and particularly with the idea of 'clockwork,' and Descartes had used this preoccupation to explain God's role in the scheme of things. In his work God is presented as the Great Designer of Machinery, the Great Watchmaker. Materialism, however, did away with God the Designer, but retained the idea that the universe consisted of machines, and with it retained all of the language of design. The fact that these 'natural' machines no longer had a Designer, was not regarded as an important issue.

If Mephistopheles' intention was to cause us all, as scientists, to believe that matter was self-sufficient, what better way to do it than to have us remove 'God,' but retain all of His mechanistic handiwork, the origin of which henceforth would be simply attributed to the realm of 'natural law.'  The concept of natural law was not well defined at that time, and it was easy to include the concept of 'mechanism' as a sort of over-arching idea, a kind of unintended gift from Cartesian dualism that was pressed into service to underlie and support the new Monism of matter. This served to confuse the realm of natural objects with that of man-made machinery, and made it possible, henceforth, to smuggle human creative ideas into explanations of the way the natural world was supposed to work, but without our realizing that by doing so we were in fact universalizing human creativity and unconsciously putting it in the place of divine creativity; thereby giving a totally unjustified credence to the idea of materialism.

But in reality, now that God had been done away with, it was human creativity and human ideas that gradually had taken on the status of natural law. When we used the word 'design' in connection with the natural world, it was no longer God's capacity to design that was being referred to, but Man's. In order to make materialism appear to work, our creativity was being universalized as a substitute for God's. This switch was profoundly irrational, because man did not and could not have created the natural world, but it was insanely easy to accomplish. In order that this switch not be irrational, it would have been necessary for nature to include real indwelling 'ideas' (as Steiner had argued was the case). But in materialism God's ideas had been done away with, and nature as a result was seen to be devoid of purpose. This lack of purpose was and still is the very essence of materialism, and it came to its highest level of expression in 1859, with the publication of Darwin's theory of origins. This theory depended for its propagation on the use of mechanistic imagery, and on what is called 'intentional language,' defined by the psychologist Brentano as 'the mark of the mental,' so it can easily be shown that Darwinism's entire credibility depends upon our willingness to allow human creativity and human intentionality to be substituted for God's.

In an age dominated by the idea of clockwork it might have been hard for this not to have happened.  It might not have been obvious to anyone that by dismissing Descartes' concept of God the Great Clock maker and turning nature herself, with the aid of human creativity, into a 'natural' clock maker, we had committed a grievous and far-reaching error in causal logic, an error which could lay hidden for centuries, and without which the age of natural science, so essential  as Steiner tells us for human development, could never even have begun. This suggests a new level of meaning to the description that Mephistopheles gives of himself in Goethe's Faust: "I am a part of that power which strives for evil, but accomplishes the good."  What I am saying is, that it took a lie, working on down through the centuries, to free science from the grip of theism (dualism). Put another way, to prepare the way for a Monism of Mind or thought, a Science of the Spirit, we first had to experience materialism with all its consequences, and then learn to overcome it.

Steiner and Darwinism

With this situation in mind, what can we say about Steiner's own relationship to the Darwinian theory? His youthful friendship with Ernst Haeckel is well known, and it is clear that he strongly supported 'evolution' as a concept essential to science.

But there is also an ambivalence in his work. For example, in Chapter 12 of The Philosophy of Freedom, he states: In the organic world, evolution is understood to mean that the later (more perfect) organic forms are real descendants of the earlier (imperfect) forms, and have developed from them in accordance with natural laws. I cannot speak for Steiner's time, but today it is all but universally understood that the Darwinian theory of evolution does not imply any movement whatever towards perfection in nature, because there is nothing in a materialistic theory that can justify such a claim. Perhaps this is why Steiner placed the words 'more perfect' and 'imperfect' in brackets, i.e. to make it plain to the careful reader that this was his own addition to the theory. It is certain, however, that in making that addition he was effectively reversing the direction of the theory's causal logic. The only  way in which evolution can move towards increasing perfection, is if it is primarily based upon ' indwelling ideas,' which in turn are the product of a Mind or Spirit. That Steiner does base his view of evolution on such ideas, is clear both from the quotation above and from the entire argument in his Philosophy of Freedom, but in doing so he explicitly rules out the concept of "an absolute cosmic Being - never experienced but only hypothetically inferred"(p. 160). Whatever Mind or Spirit is the source of nature's indwelling ideas, therefore, it is one which is within reach of direct human experience, and to discover it we will need to turn to the rest of Steiner's work, to anthroposophy.


A Monism of thought, as described by Steiner in The Philosophy of Freedom, rejects the notion of an absolute cosmic Being lying beyond the reach of human experience, and it rejects also the concept of 'purpose' when it is used in relation to natural creativity, replacing it simply with 'law-abidingness'. Thus far, Steiner is in full agreement with Darwinism, but not for the reasons cited in Darwin's theory. The concept of law-abidingness which he shares with Darwin, results in Steiner's view from the working of 'indwelling ideas' which, as with the idea of nature evolving towards ever greater perfection, is a proposition totally contrary to the materialistic view that 'natural law' = 'physical law.' For 'ideas' to be a causal element in nature, the concept of natural law must be expanded to include the law abiding workings of the spiritual, and for this to be true in evolution the direction of causal logic in the Darwinian theory must be reversed. This, I believe, is what Steiner does in The Philosophy of Freedom, but without making that reversal explicit. In my article 'Causal Logic: Dualism and the Two Monisms' I have, I think, made it clear that a Monism of thought and a Monism of matter embody totally opposite directions in causal logic, so that either one or the other is true, not both, and that not one shred or iota of middle ground exists between them that is not of necessity dualistic. This theme I have again explored in my latest article 'Post-Cartesian Dualism.'

Darwinism, finds its 'law-abidingness' entirely in the concept of 'natural law,' but, as I have shown, taking its cue from materialism it has unconsciously and illegitimately added purposeful human creativity to its concept of natural law, by incorporating the idea of 'mechanism' and  other forms of human intentionality into its arguments. This step, fatal to rationality in science, first happened more than two centuries ago, but has not yet been rectified. It leads, as I have shown now in numerous papers, to the concept of Designer-less-design, and thence to the irrational formula of purposeless-purpose.3 This, I suspect, was and still is Mephistopheles' gift to materialistic science. It made the very concept of materialism possible, but exacted a very high price in that science's rationality, its highest possession, was unknowingly made forfeit, a transaction upon which the bill of payment is about to fall due. This will lead inevitably to what Owen Barfield described as 'The Coming Trauma of Materialism,'4 and those of us who are already proponents of a Monism of Mind or thought, will face this prospect aright only if we combine our insistence upon the truth, where the direction of causal logic is concerned, with the highest regard for what science has already accomplished.  

1  Rudolf Steiner, The Gospel of St. John, Anthroposophic Press, New York, 1948, p. 75.

2  Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1972.

3  My two most recent papers on this subject are entitled 'Evolution as a Property of Mind' and 'Post-Cartesian Dualism', they are available on the scholarship page of the Owen Barfield web site at www.owen.barfield.com. Previously published articles on this same basic issue include 'Five Critical Points in the Logic of Evolutionary Theory' in Biodynamics, May/June 1999; 'Design in Nature and Purpose in Language' in Elemente der Natur Wissenschaft. Vol. 71, 1999; 'Causal Logic: Dualism and the Two Monisms' in Trans-Intelligence #8, 2000, and in Southern Cross Review, Nov/Dec 2000. Forthcoming publications include 'Materialism is NOT a Mechanistic World View. in Elemente der Natur Wissenschaft Vol. 73; and 'Noam Chomsky and the Universal Grammar' in Trans-Intelligence #10, 2001. This article appeared in SouthernCross Review, Jan/Feb 2001.

4 See  Owen Barfield, The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays, Wesleyan University Press, 1977, p. 187

© 2001 Don Cruse