I see the Theory of Evolution as established beyond reasonable doubt.
I see the human race as the product of that process.
In a world generated and maintained by evolution there is only one indicator of success for an individual living being: to survive and reproduce.
The characteristics that assist or enable a living being to survive and reproduce are not absolute or constant for that being or for that species: they vary according to time and place.
There is no such thing in evolutionary terms as progress. The only reason any living being exists is that the characteristics of its immediate parent(s) enabled it to survive and reproduce in the environment they found themselves in. This says nothing about the characteristics of the survivor, only of its parents. This is sometimes less than obvious, given that evolution has tended to generate successively more complex life forms. (Modern complexity theory attempts to address some aspects of this.)
In a world generated and maintained by evolution, concepts of absolute good and evil are meaningless, except insofar as they contribute to or detract from the possibility that an individual being will survive and reproduce, and the details of that criterion will change according to circumstances
In evolutionary terms, there is no long term view, no room for concepts such as "management of resources". If "not managing resources" contributes to immediate survival and reproductive success, resources will not be managed, regardless of the possibility that the next generation will not survive or reproduce in consequence.
Social groups exist to the extent and in the form that maximises the immediate opportunities for their members to survive and reproduce more effectively than members of the same species that do not form such social groups.
There is no absolute value in any system of social organisation beyond its immediate capacity for helping to maximise the survival and reproduction of its present members.
Morality and ethics are ways of organising behaviour and relationships inside a social group. To the extent that they forward the goals of immediate survival and reproduction they have value for the members of that group.
To the extent that an environment is supportive, a species has the opportunity to vary more widely in its characteristics and behaviour. To the extent that an environment is hostile, species characteristics and behaviour will be more uniformly directed to the specific demands of that environment as they affect survival and reproduction. Human beings are no different from other species in this respect.
"Purpose" is usually discerned, post facto.
Differentiation and Distinction: Language and Signs
When we give something a name, we are identifying it as something separate, something in its own right, something distinct from the rest of creation. This applies whether the item is concrete or abstract, substantive or imaginary, whether it is a thing, an action, a quality, whatever.
By this alone it is obvious that we cannot use language to record the properties of a state in which there is no separation experienced.
Law, logic and ethics, science itself, all depend on some concept of separate elements. Each orders the relationships between various separate elements of a multiplicity. None of these can apply in an experience where there is no separation.
None of the above is to deny that any one or more of law, logic, ethics, science, or language, has any proper place in a culture, merely to state that they are functions of cultures of separation, post-Fall cultures if you like, non-mystical cultures, in other words, of "normal" cultures.
Good and evil are functions of a "separate" culture in which positive value is perceived in some elements of that culture and negative value in other elements of that culture, and these values tend to be determined by the elements in that society which are dominant, and these values are usually such as contribute to the continued dominance of those elements.
Scientific method provides us with our knowledge of this multiplicity. Mystical experience provides us with an awareness of a different kind, a "holistic" awareness. And even though the mystical state forms a relatively small part of the lives of even the great mystics—there are great mystics as there are great scientists—what they bring back from that experience into the ordinary separate world tends to transform the way in which they live their lives. The need for and pursuit of dominance, power, control, influence, as such, become much less important in defining their way of being in the world.
Recording The Unitive Experience
In something of a paradox, we state that a unitive, or mystical, experience is ineffable: it cannot be conveyed using language. It cannot be examined by any scientific method, etc. Yet, undoubtedly, there are whole libraries of texts which have been written by mystics about their experience. What gives?
As I have said before, even the great mystics spend relatively little time in that unitive state. When they are experiencing it, there is no language to contain it or convey it. Even the effort to do so will terminate the experience. Every mystic I have found, Christ included, lives their lives for the most part as do other human beings, as a separate being who is part of a multiplicity. In this state the mystical experience exists, separate from other states and distinguishable to some extent from other ways of being.
There is no absolute truth to be had in Darwin's world. No statement of "truth" has any value save in its contribution to one's ability to procreate.
The attempts of philosophers to establish a non-circular absolute foundation for knowledge have foundered. The world just is. Our cognition of that Darwinian world is based on signs. We cannot bypass that system of signs to check on their accuracy
A statement of "truth" that contributes positively to its holders' ability to procreate may cause them to behave directly or incidentally in such a way that the environment, the culture, in which they live changes, and the ability of the statement of "truth" to contribute positively to subsequent procreation opportunities may lessen or disappear.
"Truth" in this sense is recognised post facto as the belief of the most recently successful at procreation. What was true for one generation, that helped it to procreate, may no longer be true one or several generations down the line.
"Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of humans—cannot." (Richard Rorty)
(As far as we have been able to determine, beliefs are not genetically determined, though they may contribute to the survival or otherwise of those who hold them in any given circumstances. To this extent they can be a significant factor in evolution. Daniel Dennett, however, has suggested that recent evidence points to there being no "mind" separate from physical events within the brain. There is no "I" sitting watching a movie screen which shows the world outside as constructed by our senses and our memories and our needs, and making decisions on the basis of this information. If an "I" exists, according to Dennett, then it is a function of the screen, not separate from it. A susceptibility to beliefs of one kind or another may well in the future be understood as genetically determined.)
The factors which influence survival and procreation from one generation to the next are not constant, are not absolute. Conventional "truth" is nearly always that set of beliefs which assisted the previous generation to survive and procreate. The "truths" that brought the survivors of my father's generation through World War II were not the one's that made for success in a western world in which "teenagers" had just emerged as a visible social group. "Truth" will always be challenged by the requirements of the present as they affect survival and procreation.
Mysticism, as I understand it, is the only alternative to such a continuously "relative" world. (It is of considerable interest that mystics typically, and for no obvious reason, describe the universe they experience in this way as a "more real" one than they normally have access to.) In this sense, the closest thing to an absolute value, if there is one, is the "love" which it calls forth in us.
On Right and Left Wing Politics
It is ironical that those persons who, on "religious grounds", most vehemently oppose the idea of evolution—the Christian fundamentalist right, for example—are frequently at the same time those who behave in most obvious accord with its principles—the survival of the fittest. It is a typical right wing political position that a person is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in his life and should bear the consequences of that alone—ie, he should not be bailed out of his poverty or illness by a welfare program financed by taxing his wealthier fellow citizens, who should be left in peace to employ their wealth according to their own lights.
That is of course, not to suggest that right wing political sympathies indicate a total absence of charity, merely that the charity is required to be of a voluntary nature and not by way of a government or community levy or tax. The notion of a universally shared duty of care for all needy citizens for which the government—local, state or federal—is responsible on our behalf, remains anathema.
The notion of voluntary charity, however, suggests that there is an element of choice to be legitimately made between competing needs, and that this choice can best be made by a citizen personally. George Bernard Shaw takes up this problem in "Pygmalion" (aka My Fair Lady) in the person of Alfred Doolittle the refuse collector who discourses on the subject of the "deserving poor". J.B. Priestley addresses the problem in "An Inspector Calls" as the question of responsibility for a girl's death is teased out.
I have written elsewhere about the parable of the good Samaritan and the question Christ posed to all of us: "Who is my neighbour?". It is an observable fact of politics that the further to the right one looks, the smaller by and large is the group of "neighbours"—those to whom one has a duty of care; and the further to the left one looks, by and large, the larger is the group of "neighbours". One might suggest that on these grounds, we are more "Christian"—ie, behaving as Christ taught us to do—as our group of neighbours enlarges, that we do, indeed, have a duty of care to our fellows.
God and Pantheism
Pantheism maintains that God is no more and no less than the manifest universe. I prefer to believe that while He is manifest as the universe, I have no knowledge that His existence is limited to what is manifest. Certainly, God alone exists and nothing exists outside of God, but that is not to say that there are not aspects, modes, of God which are not manifest. The manifest universe reduces His Reality to practically nothing by imposing upon it the limitations of form.
There are difficulties here in my contention that God is manifest and experienced directly only as far as the buddhic level of the universe...
Who Is My Neighbour?
There is an old saying that goes as follows:—
The population of the world can be divided into two kinds of people: those who believe the population of the world can be divided into two kinds of people, and those who don't.
We approach a similar kind of paradox when we ask ourselves the question that is the title of this jotting. Christ asked the question in his parable of the good Samaritan, with the implication that, properly speaking, "our neighbour" consists of everybody, and, quite possibly, everything. In other words, we should extend the privileges accorded to "our neighbour" to all of creation. This is something that a mystic might easily comprehend, although the concept of "neighbour" might possibly cease to be meaningful in an experience in which there were no others to be classified as either "neighbour" or "not-neighbour".
On the other hand, even outside the experience of the mystic, the notion of "neighbour" gains a good deal of its meaning from the existence of a separate group who are "not-neighbours", who do not enjoy those privileges for whatever reason. When we universalise "neighbour-ness" the concept loses any descriptive value.
In the development of language, logic, law, science and ethics, etc man has evolved for himself tools which enable him to describe, locate, and organise the various elements of his world and thereby take charge of that environment, and to organise his relationships with the world around him to his immediate advantage, but these tools reflect and work only in a perceived world of separate objects, a multiplicity. That is what language, logic, law etc have evolved to do: organise discrete objects and events.
Knowledge of a unitive existence eludes him while he persists in trying to access or formulate it using language, logic, etc. There are no separate elements to organise. Knowledge arrives and is contained non-verbally, preverbally, and one must learn to access it and store it in ways that are totally unprecedented in the rest of our experience.
We must give away pretty much our entire experience of the world as we have it, and of ourselves in that separate world—we must, perhaps, be born again—if we are to grow in mystical knowledge as we have previously grown in knowledge of our world of multiplicity. And as with "ordinary" language, the more use we make of it, the more subtle becomes the quality of the information available.
A Hands Off Guide to Spiritual Healing
Our freedom, in the very movements in which it asserts itself, creates budding habits which will stifle it, if it does not renew itself by constant effort.
The Man on the Cross
Frying Pan's Theology
In a time of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, heatwaves, freezes, and tsunamis....
Beyond Darwin - which is even further out than back of Bourke
It all started...
Back of Beyond
Mysticism and Magic
At the House of Simon the Leper
Angels and Ministers of Grace
The Word of God
The Word of God II
The Word of God III
Scientists are Sinners
Why Can't a Woman
'Tis the Season