Saturday, February 18, 2012

No Instant Adults in Theistically Driven Evolution

Many people wonder why God does not immediately create humans and other creatures, instead of going through the long-winded process of birth and growth. The earth has been the basis for life for a very long time, but the processes of making species, people, societies and democracies all seem to take longer than we think they should. The reason, according to theism, comes from the nature of God, as Life Itself. That life cannot be given immediately, but we have to grow a foundation which can receive, retain and reuse that life, if we are to be at all satisfied with living.

That is, God cannot create robust theistically-sustained organisms immediately. By ‘theistically sustained’, I mean like us (humans, animals, and plants), sustained by reception of all the discrete degrees of life according to theistic science. By robust, I mean organisms that can fend for themselves in the physical world. For this, the organisms must be sufficiently ‘thick skinned’, rather than ‘thin skinned’ and overly susceptible to contrary influences from outside. 

Suppose someone creates a new spiritual affection or a new mental idea. This can be done rather easily, and then we may have that affection or idea in our mind. But be careful, lest we forget it!  Forgetting can done even more easily than formation. Forgetfulness is common if we do not constantly pay attention and if we do not make some memory to remind us in the future. Memories make a permanent physical trace that is caused by the idea. New content in the mind is evanescent and disappears quickly if there is no physical effect either from producing an outward action or from an internal memory trace. This would not construct robust individuals with an apparent life of their own. To be created immediately like this is to have no ‘skin’ at all. A lack of skin is the condition which corresponds to having no physical basis for the permanence of one’s spiritual life.

Some religious people ask, but did not God create Adam rather quickly, and was he not a whole person?  In reply, I first note that I believe that the first 11 chapters of Genesis have only a meaning based on correspondences and not a literal or historical sense. Still, let us examine the story of the creation of Adam and Eve for its spiritual meaning. In that story, God did create Adam almost immediately. Adam (and Eve) were ‘very good’ and lived full of innocent, unashamed and wonderful love in the Garden of Eden. But look what happened next: there was a ‘fall’ within the first generation!  This was hardly a robust life. Adam and Eve were thin-skinned rather than thick-skinned individuals. And look what prompted their fall in this story: it was the desire of Eve to ‘be as gods, knowing good and evil’. To want to ‘be as a god’ is to fail to realize that one can not be a god. It is to argue from appearance and to forget that one has life only ‘as if’ from God. These newly created individuals lacked a robust intellectual discrimination concerning even a fundamental truth of theism. They were therefore easily led astray by superficial and erroneous conclusions.*

To create permanent and robust individuals, they must be developed so that, at every stage of their life, they are thick-skinned, which is to have a substantial history of physical actions in the past and mental and spiritual lives built on that. Since not even God can create history, this means that a longer and slower process of creation is needed if a race of people is to be developed who have fully-developed and long-lasting characters to be loved and to love in return.

The creation of such people must be gradual, by means of a series of beings that themselves have their own personal histories. The process may only start by some simpler physical action by God if one could be found that did not require a history of its own. Once such an ab initio physical event has occurred, all subsequent actions must be gradual and by means of successive modifications of what already exists. This is what we (should) call evolution. It is needed by God. Not Darwinian evolution of course, but something different that we might call theistically driven evolution, a subject for further discussion. There can be no immediate creation of new beings, neither plants, nor animals, nor humans. There are no instant adults. There can only be gradual internal modifications of already-existing beings. God has to be patient.

These arguments concerning biological evolution may hardly be widespread among religious people or theologians today, but surely they can see the same logic at work in the development of individual spiritual lives and in the creation of new religions or churches. When developing our spiritual life, God works with what we are and tries to improve that. Such changes cannot be sudden, or we would lose our sense of individual existence. That certainly could not be permitted. Some will argue that the influx of grace may have a sudden effect and that the creation of a new religion by revelation or incarnation is surely a sudden process. My answer is that gratuitous grace has indeed dramatic influence, but the real task of religion is afterwards, when we return to our original lives and diligently seek to modify our previous habits into the new pattern that was briefly glimpsed. With Paul, the well-known recipient of grace, the assimilation took more than ten years, probably fourteen years!  It is similar with new religions. Miracles do convert quickly. Jesus always asked beforehand whether the person was prepared: whether he or she ‘had faith’. That meant there would be some continuity even in these miraculous cases. It is well known that the receivers of a new religion are often recalcitrant in keeping their old rituals that are supposed to be given up. The greatest number of religious conversions are by assimilation rather than by replacement precisely because of the need for continuity in our most permanent biological and spiritual lives.

Such superficial conclusions are those reached on the basis of only appearance and external knowledge and not on understanding or wisdom. To conclude on the basis of only appearance is to have eyes not looking up but only at ground level, like a snake.

1 comment:

  1. No instant adulthood? Tang.

    The original scriptures of most religions are poetical and unsystematic. Theology, which generally takes the form of a reasoned commentary on the parables and aphorisms of the scriptures, tends to make its appearance at a later stage of religious history. -- Aldous Huxley

    When it first begins every Church knows only the general aspects of doctrine, for at that time it is in a state of simplicity and so to speak in childhood. With the passage of time it adds particular aspects, which in part are confirmations of general aspects, in part are additions which do not however conflict with what is general, and also explanations which resolve manifest contradictions but do not in any way offend the dictates of common sense. -- Emanuel Swedenborg

    It is known that a man learns many things in infancy and childhood for the sole use that by them as means he may learn those which are more useful; and successively by these such as are still more useful, until at last he learns those of eternal life; and when he learns these, the former are almost blotted out. In like manner when a man is being born anew by the Lord, he is led by various affections of good and truth which are not affections of genuine good and truth, but are of use merely to enable us to apprehend these, and then to enable us to become imbued with them; and when this has been done the previous affections are forgotten and left behind, because they had served merely as means. -- ibid