Tuesday, June 30, 2015
EVOLUTIONARY RELIGION and DEEP TIME
So let me tell you about how Evolutionary Religion led me back into the land of Hope. My last post on hope, “Letting Go of Honest Hope,” grounded me in the biblical hope that was at the core of the still-incomplete Quaker renewal of Christianity. Evolutionary Religion moves that hope from the heavenly kingdom to the vast prospect of a billion years of religious evolution, many of whose basic tenets have already been addressed by Friends' peculiar spirituality.
Evolutionary Religion comes back to the spiritually modest, materially expansive proposition that though development of a mature religious perspective on this Earth is still quite rudimentary, “we” still have a very long time in which to make more progress, even if we destroy much of the gift we were given in terms of the 63 million year bloom of the Cenozoic. That destruction would involve ecological and civilizational collapse, including an epochal number of extinctions, perhaps including our own. It is quite possible that positive feedback cycles will become so severe that the earth becomes uninhabitable for higher life, in which case Schellenberg's thesis would be moot. But if the conditions for higher life remain after the ongoing series of shocks we have already started have reached equilibrium, then “we” may survive the bottleneck industrial humans have created. The referent for this “we” is intelligent life on this planet with a thirst for ultimate meaning, necessitating a deep religious faith. Homo sapiens can suicide, yet Berry's intuitive proposition about the self-reflective quality of the universe can survive! This is crucial to the possibility of meaning in this universe, which Schellenberg sees, without reference to Berry, as crucial, even as a religious skeptic. And it cognitively restores the grounds for my faith and hope.
Something in me knows to be uncomfortable with the idea that the universe is about me and that our extinction will serve as evidence of the Creator’s failure, though I am barely able to say why. Knowing we have the power to make this planet uninhabitable is excruciatingly painful, but perhaps I mistake the meaning of this power. I find hope in the act of Creation, and in the idea that life and consciousness may not be solely relegated to humans. And I find that hope reflected in wild places, where I know I must take myself. In wild places, I get the idea that perhaps the universe was not purposefully built to increase complexity, but instead to spawn life and consciousness without instruction. I only suspect this; I don’t know it, and I don’t always want to believe it. But perhaps we will not be here, and that will be an expression of the beauty of wildness, and nothing more. Blessings to you.
This is as troubling-- and possibly as enlightening-- a post as I have read coming from your 'pen' and I'm trying to organize my thoughts to be able to offer my own perspective.
The 'Evolutionary Religion' part of the title immediately brought to mind the recent (in the past 50 years) rise of the discipline (?) of Evolutionary Psychology (EP). I suspect this association was intentional on your part, but that's not really important.
The issues of spirituality and religion have taken a good deal my mental energy through most of my life, as I surmise they have in your life also. I encountered EP maybe 30 years ago and it has been a source of both intrigue and vexation, especially as many intelligent folks who I have encountered in the blogosphere seem totally taken by it. It also seems that the issue of determinism goes hand-in-hand with EP. People who are enamored of EP almost inevitably declare themselves to be determinists and one can easily extend that monicker to 'scientific determinist.'
From a religious point of view, contemplating such a strictly science-based, deterministic view of our own little human universe is, to my mind equivalent to staring into the abyss. It harkens back to the raw, unadorned existentialism that I flirted with in my more idealistic youth. I, like most of humanity I suppose, feel the need for a spiritual basis for life and our anchor in the world, but where and how to find it is the question.
To make a point in a small enough screed to fit in your comments section...
The spiritual basis for life in the universe is there, but ungodly (pun intended) hard to realize. The best analogy I can come up with is the quantum physics weirdness of the collapsing wave function. The spiritual energy in our world can be perceived only through our peripheral vision, and tends to disappear when we look straight at it. This definitely mitigates against our being able to discover our spiritual basis via science.
Lots more to say, especially about how human exceptionalism makes me very uncomfortable. But I'll leave that for another time.
Good to be in conversation . You must meet my friend the building inspector from Nashville, Ran. He comments on the Pope post.
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