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The Philosopher's Stone
Newsletter - 2013

New Year’s Day 2013

Interlude: The Golden Key—Process New Thought Style

New Thought minister Emmet Fox’s Golden Key is one of the best-known New Thought techniques for dealing with any circumstances one finds oneself in.  The Philosopher and I have said repeatedly that New Thought is all about what you say to yourself when things go wrong, not some rosy view of life.  Yes, we have a right to expect the best, we have a right to prosper, and we have a right to an abundance consciousness that includes “peace of mind, health of body, harmonious relationships, and all the cash you can spend”, as Unity minister Edwene Gaines puts it.  But in a world in which the highest-level creatures have free will, even though evil is unsubstantial and God did not create it, interactions are bound to occur that are definitely not what we desire, but rather what we would consider evil; and we need to learn how to deal with them and get our lives back on track as rapidly as possible.  One of the best—if not the best—ways of doing this is the Golden Key.  

Frequently printed as a pamphlet, the Golden Key is also included in Power Through Constructive Thinking.  Fox says, “It is not intended to be an instructional treatise, but a practical recipe for getting out of trouble.  Study and research are well in their own time and place, but no amount of either will get you out of a concrete difficulty.  Nothing but practical work in your own consciousness will do that.”  Scientific prayer, he states, is the Golden Key to harmony and happiness.”  What’s nice about it is that “in Scientific Prayer it is God who works, and not you, and so your particular limitations or weaknesses are of no account in the process.  You are only the channel through which the Divine action takes place, and your treatment will really be just the getting of yourself out of the way.”  What is this simple method?  “Stop thinking about the difficulty, whatever it is, and think about God instead.  This is the complete rule, and if only you will do this, the trouble, whatever it is, will presently disappear.”

Fox admits that it is “impossible” to form a picture of God, so don’t try.  “Work by rehearsing anything or everything that you know about God.”  Whether or not you think you understand these things, keep going over them, “but you must stop thinking of the trouble whatever it is.  The rule is to think about God, and if you are thinking about your difficulty you are not thinking about God.”  To “Golden Key” a person is not to influence his or her conduct, but it prevents the person from harming you and does nothing but good.  You may have to do this several times a day, dropping all thought of the situation until the next time you Golden Key it.  This is simple, but Fox warns that the key “is not always easy to turn.”

One of my favorite definitions of New Thought is one I cobbled together myself: "habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline”, and that’s definitely what the Golden Key is.  When your thoughts drift back to your difficulty, you must discipline them back into line with a very conscious choice as to what you intend to think about.  It’s when your thoughts get stuck in a negative and repetitious groove that you are unable to do constructive thinking.  Whether someone else is out of integrity or you simply lack the wisdom to deal with a particular problem, you need the clearest head and calmest mental state you can muster, so you have to break that negative cycle.  Over the years, when we had had what appeared to be a bad day for some reason or other, I would snuggle up close to the Philosopher and say, “Tell me about God.”  Here is a composite of the sorts of things that he would say to me:

God is the Creator; we are the creatures, yet all creation is co-creation.  God’s job is to offer us perfect possibilities for each occasion of experience, and life is experiences.  Our job is to say yes or no to God’s possibilities.  The more we are able to say yes, the better things go for us and the world.  Process philosophy is also known as process-relational philosophy, and what matters most is our relationship with God.  The more we are open to God’s loving wisdom, the easier it is to pick it up and act intuitively in positive ways.  We are not robots, we have free will, and we need to use our reason to carry us as far as possible in order to make the leap of faith in God’s leading easier.  We listen for God’s still small voice, and then we act on what we learn from him.

The highest thing we have any concept of is personhood.  Any creator, even a child making a kindergarten drawing, must be greater than the creation.  Therefore, if we are persons, and a person is more complex and valuable than a thing, then God as Creator must be at least that.  Personhood is a floor, not a ceiling; God may also be more than we can even imagine, but God must be the Ultimate Person.  All human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings.  God is definitely not a giant human being, particularly not a capricious and ill-tempered Oriental potentate who hurls thunderbolts or has his finger poised on the Smite button.  Not to consider God a person is to limit God to a thing, an it; and an it cannot love.  Too many people make God into an abstraction; God is real, not abstract.  Not being a human, God is genderless, but it gets tiresome to repeat God, God all the time, so we use the masculine pronoun, as Jesus did in referring to God as his heavenly Father.  A feminine pronoun would be no more accurate and would bring in some images that are less useful for our purposes.   Since all human beings are androgynous, we don’t have to go off into considering women inferior just because we use masculine pronouns for God. 

Since God is everywhere present and available, we are never separate from God, but we are clearly distinct from God.  He is the Creator; we are the creatures.  To describe the process of feeling the feelings of others, process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead came up with the term prehension.  You know apprehend, comprehend, and even prehensile, so you can understand that to prehend is somehow to grasp, to feel on a nonphysical basis.  We and God interact through prehension.  

God is all-sufficient, but God does not have all the power that there is, because we have free will, and free will is a power.  God is entirely good, the only moral power in the world; there is no organized power of evil, but events that we would consider evil happen because created entities can say no to God.  God orchestrates and mitigates events through constantly offering his perfect possibilities, but we can still say no to them.  But because God sees farther than we do, he can see the big picture and the most probable future (the future hasn’t happened yet, so even God cannot know it with 100 percent certainty).  He can also understand that good things later may balance bad things now, world without end.  God’s power is persuasive, never coercive, but his “arm is not shortened that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy, that it cannot hear”.  And God has “ways we know not of”, so we must be careful not to outline, which is to limit God to one or two methods, when something we hadn’t thought of might be a better choice.  God has all the power that it makes any common sense for him to have, whether we are yet familiar with it or not.  In order to give us free will, the universe has to be a level playing field and operate lawfully and consistently, so it’s going to rain on the just as well as the unjust.  God sees us suffer, and God suffers right along with us, just as he rejoices with us when things turn out well.  God knows, God cares, and God has a finger in every pie.  As the Philosopher liked to say, “What God can do, God is already doing”.  We don’t have to beg or plead; we just have to take our foot off the hose and be open to letting God in.

British minister Leslie Weatherhead, a Whitehead admirer who shepherded a large London church through the Blitz during World War II and who certainly saw and felt more than his share of misery in connection with it, wrote a set of four sermons published under the title The Will of God.  He describes first God’s intentional will, which is God’s goals for us.  God’s intentional will can be temporarily defeated by circumstances, in which case God’s circumstantial will takes over.  Eventually, God always gets the last word, and that becomes God’s ultimate will, which involves getting his intentional will in the long run but modified to accommodate circumstances.  The ultimate result is something that is better than the original intention might have been.  As Weatherhead puts it:

I believe . . . that the Cross was not the intention of God for Jesus.  God’s intention was that Jesus should be followed, not crucified.  But when evil men thrust the Cross upon him, he accepted God’s will in those circumstances and so reacted to them that he made his Cross an instrument of power by which the ultimate will of God could be done.  (page 74)

God’s loving, consistent, dependable character does not change, and God does not violate his own laws, although we are a long way from being familiar with all of them.  A law is simply a description of how things work; it does nothing of itself.  It is God who acts, and his action always consists of offering perfect possibilities.  So God starts things but also finishes them by lovingly preserving each experience for posterity after its momentary career.  We can draw on that huge archive of wisdom by being open to God’s leading.  God is never at a loss, never surprised, never ultimately defeated.  God is the Ultimate Gamesman, gambling that eventually everyone will turn to him of their own free will and be “saved”,  not because a puppeteer is pulling their strings.  This has to involve a lot of short-term defeats and messes.

C. Robert Mesle, in Process Theology: A Basic Introduction, states:

Some might complain that a God who lacks the power to part the Red Sea, or overcome the oppressors’ thugs, or suddenly give pure hearts to the powerful cannot be a liberating God.  It is true that the God of process theism cannot wave a magic wand and end the suffering.  Process theology is for those who have given up belief in a picture of God whose only virtue is unused power, or power used selectively for a lucky few.  Instead, process theology calls us to accept a world in which we must bear responsibility.  God can work in the world, but God can work in our world most effectively, most quickly, through us. . . . God’s primary avenue to liberation is through responsive human hearts.  We can wait for supernatural miracles or we can roll up our sleeves with God and get to work.”  (page 79) 

This is why New Thought and process thought teach that all creation is co-creation.  God is our Senior Partner, but we have to hold up our end of the log.  When we do, it is amazing how well even bad things turn out.  For more on this, see Chapter 3, “The Presence of God”, in our  Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes.  Next week, we’ll go back to Drummond.     

Lagniappe: Two more papers have surfaced for your reading pleasure: my “Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes: Balance”, a sneak preview of our second book presented at the SSMR session held at the INTA Expo in 1997, is online at .  Alan’s “Metaphysics in the Metaphysical Movement”, presented at the Regional SSMR Conference in 1999, is online at .


January 8, 2013

Natural Law in the Spiritual World


Having made it through Death and Mortification all the way to Eternal Life, we are now going to take a deep breath and look at a bit more science and how it segues into spirituality.  Drummond gives us a quick review of biography, which covers a person’s family, then various external influences.  He mentions that Darwin “pointed out that there are two main factors in all Evolution—the nature of the organism and the nature of the conditions”.  Mapped back over to biography, we call parental influences what biology would call Heredity, and “the action of external circumstances and surroundings—the naturalist would include under the single term Environment.  These two, Heredity and Environment, are the master influences of the organic world.  These have made all of us what we are.”  He continues, “To seize continuously the opportunity of more and more perfect adjustment to better and higher conditions , to balance some inward evil with some purer influence acting from without, in a word to make our Environment at the same time that it is making us,—these are the secrets of a well-ordered and successful life.”  Sounds like the warm-up for one of today’s success books.  But wait:

In the spiritual world, also, the subtle influences which form and transform the soul are Heredity and Environment.  And here especially where all is invisible, where much that we feel to be real is yet so ill-defined, it becomes of vital practical moment to clarify the atmosphere as far as possible with conceptions borrowed from the natural life. . . . The distressing incompetence of which most of us are conscious in trying to work out our spiritual experience is due perhaps less to the diseased will which we commonly blame for it than to imperfect knowledge of the right conditions.  It does not occur to us how natural the spiritual is.  We still strive for some strange transcendent thing; we seek to promote life by methods as unnatural as they prove unsuccessful; and only the utter incomprehensibility of the whole region prevents us seeing fully . . . how completely we are missing the road.  Living in the spiritual world, nevertheless, is just as simple as living in the natural world, and it is the same kind of simplicity.  It is the same kind of simplicity for it is the same kind of world—there are not two kinds of worlds.  The conditions of life in the one are the conditions of life in the other.  And till these conditions are sensibly grasped, as the conditions of all life, it is impossible that the personal effort after the highest life should be other than a blind struggle carried on in fruitless sorrow and humiliation.  (pages 256-7)

Even though at the time, emphasis was still mainly on Heredity, Drummond says that in practice “we are chiefly concerned with [Environment]”.  Why?  “What Heredity has to do for us is determined outside ourselves. . . . But every man to some extent can choose his own Environment.  His relation to it, however largely determined by Heredity . . . is always open to alteration.”

The hot topic back then was how Environment could induce Variation, physical changes—such as color—created by such factors as diet.  Nearly all animals adapt to their habitat (think polar bear).  But Drummond wants to go back to a previous question: Yes, Environment has modifying influence, but its great function “is not to modify but to sustain. . . . Our Environment is that in which we live and move and have our being.  Without it we should neither live nor move nor have any being.”  He elaborates:

An organism in itself is but a part; Nature is its complement.  Alone, cut off from its surroundings, it is not. . . . I am, only as I am sustained.  I continue only as I receive.  My Environment may modify me, but it has first to keep me.  And all the time its secret transforming power is indirectly moulding body and mind it is directly active in the more open task of ministering to my myriad wants and from hour to hour sustaining life itself.  (page 261)

We need air, light, heat, water, and food.  Food comes solely from the Environment.  Likewise in chemistry, when coal burns, the energy comes “partly from the coal and partly from the Environment”.  Coal and Environment are mutually dependent, since neither alone could produce heat.  Drummond wants us to be aware of the obvious truth “that without Environment there can be no life”:

For what does this amount to in the spiritual world?  Is it not merely the scientific re-statement of the reiterated aphorism of Christ, “Without Me ye can do nothing”?  There is in the spiritual organism a principle of life; but that is not self-existent.  It requires a second factor, a something in which to live and move and have its being, an Environment.  Without this it cannot live or move or have any being. . . . And what is the spiritual Environment?  It is God.  Without this . . . there is no life, no thought, no energy, nothing—“without me ye can do nothing.”  The cardinal error in the religious life is to attempt to live without an Environment.  (pages 264-5)
faith—forgetting that faith is but an attitude, an empty hand for grasping an environing Presence.  And when we feel the need of a power by which to overcome the world, how often do we not seek to generate it within ourselves by some forced process, some fresh girding of the will, some strained activity which only leaves the soul in further exhaustion?  To examine ourselves is good; but useless unless we also examine Environment.  To bewail our weakness is right, but not remedial.  The cause must be investigated as well as the result.  And yet, because we never see the other half of the problem, our failures even fail to instruct us.  After each new collapse we begin our life anew, but on the old conditions; and the attempt ends as usual in the repetition—in the circumstances the inevitable repetition—of the old disaster.  (pages 265-6)

Sounds like the fate of the typical New Year’s resolution.  In the spiritual realm, we begin to perish with hunger for spiritual nourishment.  Our spiritual Environment isn’t sustaining us.  Why do we do this?

Why this unscientific attempt to sustain life for weeks at a time without an Environment?  It is because we have never truly seen the necessity for an Environment.  We are told to “wait only upon God,” but we do not know why.  It has never been as clear to us that without God the soul will die as that without food the body will perish. In short, we have never comprehended the doctrine of the Persistence of Force.  Instead of being content to transform energy we have tried to create it.  (pages 266-7)

Drummond adds, “We are not Creators, but creatures; God is our refuge and strength.  Communion with God . . . is a scientific necessity.”  We know all about this in the natural world, “but in the spiritual world we have all this to learn.”  We must learn to live naturally, remembering that “the organism contains within itself only one-half of what is essential to life; the second is that the other half is contained in the Environment; . . . the condition of receptivity is simple union between the organism and the Environment”.  He sums up: “Powerlessness is the normal state not only of this but of every organism—of every organism apart from its Environment.”  This is no great mystery, “it is the law of all Nature”.  It’s not that God made the religious life hard.  “The arrangements for the spiritual life are the same as for the natural life.”  He alludes to “a modern school which protests against the doctrine of man’s inability as the heartless fiction of a past theology”.  Such people “credit the organism with the properties of Environment.  All true theology . . . has remained loyal to at least the root-idea in this truth. . . . Christ’s first beatitude is to the poor in spirit.”  We are to enter the kingdom of heaven with the spirit of a little child, profoundly helpless and dependent: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in Me.”  Note the word cannot.  

Once we understand our helplessness, we stop wasting time trying to manufacture energy for ourselves; no more attempts at perpetual motion machines.  We turn to Environment for a new source of energy.  Again, the Environment of the spiritual life is God, and “Nature is not more natural to my body than God is to my soul.”  Drummond elaborates:

It is not a strange thing . . . for the soul to find its life in God.  This is its native air.  God as the Environment of the soul has been from the remotest age the doctrine of all the deepest thinkers in religion.  How profoundly Hebrew poetry is saturated with this high thought will appear when we try to conceive of it with this left out.  True poetry is only science in another form. . . . “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God”. . . . As the water-brooks are fitly designed to meet the natural wants, so fitly does God implement the spiritual need of man. . . . How joyous a thing it was to the Hebrews to seek their God!  How artlessly they call upon Him to entertain them in His pavilion, to cover them with His feathers, to hide them in His secret place, to hold them in the hollow of His hand or stretch around them the everlasting arms!  These men were true children of Nature. (pages 274-5)

This is all expressed in traditional terms, but it is not far from here to Whitehead’s God as “the great companion—the fellow sufferer who understands.”  The main difference in process thought is in how God goes about providing for our needs, which involves co-creation, with less emphasis on our helplessness than Drummond has: 

All that has been said since from Marcus Aurelius to Swedenborg, from Augustine to Schleiermacher of a besetting God as the final complement of humanity is but a repetition of the Hebrew poets’ faith.  And even the New Testament has nothing higher to offer man than this.  The psalmist’s “God is our refuge and strength” is only the earlier form, less defined, less practicable, but not less noble, of Christ’s “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.”  (page 276)

Drummond goes on to point out that mainly in “the higher departments” does the incompleteness of our life appear.  “The lower departments of Nature are already complete enough.  The world itself is about as good a world as might be.”  The planet and “the lower organic life of the world” are in pretty good shape.  It’s when we get to “the dawn of the intellectual life” that the trouble appears:  “The alternatives of the intellectual life are Christianity or Agnosticism.  The Agnostic is right when he trumpets his incompleteness.  He who is not complete in Him must be for ever incomplete.”  We must choose between Christianity and Pessimism, but when we try to go higher, “without Environment, the darkness is unutterable.”  Whitehead doesn’t even go there; he stresses God offering us a steady stream of initial aims, all the light we need if we accept them.

We ask the Environment three questions: 1. What is Truth? “Learn of me, says the philosopher, and you shall find Restlessness.  Learn of Me, says Christ, and ye shall find Rest.”  

2. Who will show us any good?  Science or Philosophy refer us to Evolution, saying that the struggle for Life “is steadily eliminating imperfect forms . . . . But it must be an Evolution which includes all the factors. . . . The most perfect civilization would leave the best part of us still incomplete.  Men will have to give up the experiment of attempting to live in half an Environment. . . How long will it take Science to believe its own creed, that the material universe we see around us is only a fragment of the universe we do not see?  The very retention of the phrase “Material Universe,” we are told, is the confession of our unbelief and ignorance; since “matter is the less important half of the material of the physical universe.” [Drummond is quoting The Unseen Universe.]  (pages 281-2)

The Life of the body, the Life of the senses, and the Life of thought may complete or perfect themselves, “But the higher thought, and the conscience, and the religious Life, can only perfect themselves in God. . . . For the soul, like the body, can never perfect itself in isolation.  The law for both is to be complete in the appropriate Environment.  And the perfection to be sought in the spiritual world is a perfection of relation . . . .”  What a perfect setup for process-relational thought!  And so the chapter ends with the third question: Where do organism and Environment meet?  The answer is “simple receptivity”.  The Philosopher would say “saying yes to God’s perfect possibilities”.  Drummond concludes:  

It is so simple that we will not act upon it.  But there is no other condition.  Christ has condensed the whole truth into one memorable sentence, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in Me.”  And on the positive side, “He that abideth in Me the same bringeth forth much fruit.”  (page 273)


January 15, 2013

Natural Law in the Spiritual World

Conformity to Type

If you have somehow suddenly been plopped onto this page, you deserve a few landmarks to indicate to you where you are. This "newsletter" is a way of keeping you up to date with ideas that the late Philosopher (Alan, not Aristotle) and I are pursuing relative to the mid-nineteenth-century Christian/Universalist taproot of New Thought, which Alan’s life’s work was to place on a solid foundation of constructive postmodern process philosophy. Don’t worry; I’m not a philosopher, but after 22 years of following one around, I can qualify to outline for philosophers a treasure map with lots of x’s showing them where to dig deeper and where to explore the New Thought approaches and techniques (reinforced by later research in psychology) for deepening one’s spirituality without losing touch with the cutting edge of science. Our nineteenth-century precursors would have rejoiced to see the day of quantum physics and process philosophy.

We have been examining the first of two sets of lectures by Henry Drummond (1851-1897), who was much esteemed by our Henry (Henry Wood (1834-1909). These concerned (gasp!) evolution, which attracted for Drummond much flak from evangelicals, of which he was one. But that was just on Sundays; during the week he pursued his other lifelong passion of biology. In short, he wore two hats, and he couldn’t seem to keep them separate. That was a gift of God, because he did much to permanently unite science and religion by approaching evolution from the bottom (science) up, rather than from the top down. We resume our study of the first set of lectures.

Drummond begins this chapter by pointing out in detail that in the early stages of development, one cannot tell a worm from an eagle from an elephant from a man: "The apple which fell in Newton’s Garden, Newton’s dog Diamond, and Newton himself, began life at the same point." This point is something called protoplasm, the clay of the potter. The Potter determines the difference, but there are a bunch of different potters, and Drummond quotes at length from Huxley’s Lay Sermons to make this point. We are to note that "the artist is distinct from the ‘semi-fluid globule’ of protoplasm in which he works" and that "the artist is not working at random, but according to law. He has ‘his plans before him’." Different potters make all the dogs, or birds, or men, each confined "exclusively to working out his own plan". Drummond explains, "The Scientific Law by which this takes place is the Law of Conformity to Type. It is contained, to a large extent, in the ordinary Law of Inheritance; or it may be considered as simply another way of stating what Darwin calls the Law of Unity of Type." He adds, "According to this law every living thing that comes into the world is compelled to stamp upon its offspring this image of itself. The dog, according to its type, produces a dog; the bird a bird. The Artist who operates upon matter in this subtle way and carries out this law is Life." But, "all life is not the same life." We have all the various kinds of animal life: birds, reptiles, etc. Hold on to your hat; here we go:

Now we are nearing the point where the spiritual analogy appears. . . . These lower phenomena of life, [Nature] says, are but an allegory. There is another kind of Life of which Science as yet has taken little cognisance. It obeys the same laws. It builds up an organism into its own form. It is the Christ-Life. As the Bird-Life builds up a bird, the image of itself, so the Christ-Life builds up a Christ, the image of Himself, in the inward nature of man. (page 293)

Drummond with his two hats now starts to pull things together:

The Christian Life is not a vague effort after righteousness—an ill-defined pointless struggle for an ill-defined pointless end. Religion is no dishevelled mass of aspiration, prayer, and faith. There is no more mystery in Religion as to its processes than in Biology. There is much mystery in Biology. We know all but nothing of Life yet, nothing of development. There is the same mystery in the spiritual Life. But the great lines are the same, as decided, as luminous; and the laws of natural and spiritual are the same, as unerring, as simple. Will everything else in the natural world unfold its order, and yield to Science more and more a vision of harmony, and Religion, which should complement and perfect all, remain a chaos? From the standpoint of Revelation no truth is more obscure than Conformity to Type. If Science can furnish a companion phenomenon from an every-day process of the natural life, it may at least throw this most mystical doctrine of Christianity into thinkable form. (pages 294-5)

The New Testament, Drummond tells us, describes the life processes in terms of biology:

It was a biological question. So they struck out unhesitatingly into the new field of words, and, with an originality which commands both reverence and surprise, stated their truth with such light, or darkness, as they had. They did not mean to be scientific, only to be accurate, and their fearless accuracy has made them scientific. (page 295)

After citing quotations from Paul, Peter, and John, he continues:

One must confess that the originality of this entire New Testament conception is most startling. Even for the nineteenth century it is most startling. But when one remembers that such an idea took form in the first, he cannot fail to be impressed with a deepening wonder at the system which begat and cherished it. Men seek the origin of Christianity among the philosophies of that age. Scholars contrast it still with these philosophies, and scheme to fit it in to those of later growth. Has it never occurred to them how much more it is than a philosophy, that it includes a science, a Biology pure and simple? As well might naturalists contrast zoology with chemistry, or seek to incorporate geology with botany—the living with the dead—as try to explain the spiritual life in terms of mind alone. When will it be seen that the characteristic of the Christian Religion is its Life, that a true theology must begin with a Biology? Theology is the Science of God. Why will men treat God as inorganic? (page 297)

So much for the people who strive to strip God out of New Thought and retain only get-rich-quick schemes or magic formulas for healing. "In the beginning, God . . . ." And if you are still feeling a gap between the late nineteenth century and the twenty-first, read medical professor and research scientist Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, in which he describes how he was dragged kicking and screaming from his specialty of cell biology into quantum physics.

Drummond want to find answers to at least three questions:

1. "What corresponds to the protoplasm in the spiritual sphere?"

2. "What is the Life, the Hidden Artist who fashions it?"

3. "What do we know of the process and the plan?"

For the first, he reminds us, "Nothing can be made out of nothing. Matter is uncreatable and indestructible; Nature and man can only form and transform. . . . Life merely enters into already existing matter, assimilates more of the same sort and rebuilds it. The spiritual Artist works in the same way. He must have a peculiar kind of protoplasm, a basis of life, and that must be already existing." We work our way up from mineral to vegetable to animal, each using the material from the lower to build with. "The only thing to be insisted upon is that in the natural man this mental and moral substance or basis is spiritually lifeless. . . . It has not yet been ‘born of the Spirit’." So what makes our protoplasm different from that of a dog or an ant?

The protoplasm in man has a something in addition to its instincts or its habits. It has a capacity for God. In this capacity for God lies its receptivity; it is the very protoplasm that was necessary. The chamber is not only ready to receive the new Life, but the Guest is expected, and till He comes, is missed. . . . In every land and in every age there have been altars to the Known or Unknown God. It is now agreed as a mere question of anthropology that the universal language of the human soul has always been "I perish with hunger." This is what fits it for Christ. (page 300)

Drummond stresses the plasticity of the soul: "Now plasticity is not only a marked characteristic of all forms of life, but in a special sense of the highest forms. . . . This marvelous plasticity of mind contains at once the possibility and prophecy of its transformation. The soul, in a word, is made to be converted."

On to Question 2:

The main reason for giving the Life, the agent of this change, a separate treatment, is to emphasize the distinction between it and the natural man on the one hand, and the spiritual man on the other. The natural man is its basis, the spiritual man is its product, the Life itself is something different. Just as in an organism we have these three things—formative matter, formed matter, and the forming principle or life; so in the soul we have the old nature, the renewed nature, and the transforming Life. (page 302)

Drummond rounds it out: "Let not Science, knowing nothing of its own life, go further than to say it knows nothing of this Life. We shall not dissent from its silence. But till it tells us what it is, we wait for evidence that it is not this."

Question 3, Drummond tells us, is "a question of morphology rather than of physiology". He says that we must "for the moment, part company with zoology. That element is the conscious power of choice. The animal in following the type is blind. It does not only follow the type involuntarily and compulsorily, but does not know that it is following it." But at our level, "the mind should have an adequate knowledge of what it is to choose. Some revelation of the Type, that is to say, is necessary. And as that revelation can only come from the Type, we must look there for it." The Type must be an Ideal: "It is this which first deflects the will from what is base, and turns the wayward life to what is holy. So much is true as mere philosophy. But philosophy failed to present men with their ideal." As G. K. Chesterton observed years later, it is not that Christianity has failed, it is that it has never been tried. Drummond continues, "Believers and unbelievers have been compelled to acknowledge that Christianity holds up to the world the missing Type, the Perfect Man."

So how do we get there?

Is man, then, out of the arena altogether? Is he mere clay in the hands of the potter, a machine, a tool, an automaton? Yes and No. If he were a tool he would not be a man. If he were a man he would have something to do. One need not seek to balance what God does here, and what man does. But we shall attain to a sufficient measure of truth on a most delicate problem if we make a final appeal to the natural life. We find that in maintaining this natural life Nature has a share and man has a share. (page 311)

Drummond goes on to explain the consciously controlled work of taking in food with the autonomous operations that digest it, which may or may not be exactly analogous to the corresponding processes in the soul. We can continue to choose Life, which process Drummond sees as "Christianity at its most mystical point. Mark here once more its absolute naturalness. . . . And this is our life—to pursue the Type, to populate the world with it." A world populated with people who, like Jesus, want to heal and love:

Our religion is not all a mistake. We are not visionaries. We are not "unpractical," as men pronounce us, when we worship. To try to follow Christ is not to be "righteous overmuch." True men are not rhapsodizing when they preach; nor do those waste their lives who waste themselves in striving to extend the Kingdom of God on earth. This is what life is for. The Christian in his life-aim is in strict line with Nature. What men call his supernatural is quite natural. (page 312)

Salvation, Drummond concludes, is not merely final "safety" or "to get to heaven":

It is to be conformed to the Image of the Son. It is for these poor elements to attain to the Supreme Beauty. The organizing Life being Eternal, so must this Beauty be immortal. . . . not Beauty alone but Unity is secured by the Type—Unity of man and man, God and man, God and Christ and man, till "all shall be one." (page 313)

Here is

the missing point in Evolution, the climax to which all Creation tends. Hitherto, Evolution had no future. It was a pillar with marvellous carving, growing richer and finer towards the top, but without a capital; a pyramid, the vast base buried in the inorganic, towering higher and higher, tier above tier, life above life, mind above mind, ever more perfect in its workmanship, more noble in its symmetry, and yet withal so much the more mysterious in its aspiration. . . . The work begun by Nature is finished by the Supernatural—as we are wont to call the higher natural. And as the veil is lifted by Christianity it strikes men dumb with wonder. For, the goal of Evolution is Jesus Christ. (pages 313-14)

Whitehead was in college, and Teilhard de Chardin not long out of diapers, when those words were first spoken.

Lagniappe: Three more of my old papers have surfaced and are now available on this site at the "Writings-Deb" tab: (My links builder is still haywire; sorry). The most recently added papers are on top; they are not in chronological order. Meanwhile, the specialists who cleaned out King Tut’s tomb will be heading to any day now.


 January 22, 2013

Natural Law in the Spiritual World


Reviewing last week’s post, I came across a typo (mad should be made), and the realization that I should have mentioned that one of the foundations of Whitehead’s work was to move from nature lifeless to nature alive, at whatever level one is contemplating it. Drummond could not have been expected to have that understanding, but it waits in the future.

Today’s text—and next week’s—could be said to be Philippians 2:12: "work out your own salvation" (Paul never said we are saved by faith alone, although we don’t buy or earn our way to heaven). The bottom line is that if we truly believe—trust—in what Jesus taught and demonstrated, it will be apparent to everyone else from our actions, our works; we won’t just sit there complacently waiting for the sweet chariot to swing low or continuing to act in an unloving manner. But that’s just the starting point. What this chapter is about is that it’s not spiritually healthy for humans—or healthy for other animals, for that matter—to sit around having everything handed to them on a platter, with no sort of life’s work. I don’t think this means that it isn’t appropriate to develop labor-saving devices so that humans are freed from drudgery in order to use mostly their minds to create bigger and better things, provided that they are actually using their minds to good ends and not just devoting their lives to empty pastimes.

In nature, I associate parasitism with things like the Christmas mistletoe, which gets shot down from the top of a tall tree with a good Second Amendment rifle; or the Spanish moss that festoons things here in Florida and in other parts of the south. Drummond doesn’t think much of parasites:

Parasites are the paupers of Nature. They are forms of life which will not take the trouble to find their own food, but borrow or steal it from the more industrious. So deep-rooted is this tendency in Nature, that plants may become parasitic—it is an acquired habit—as well as animals; and both are found in every state of beggary, some doing a little for themselves, while others, more abject, refuse even to prepare their own food. (page 318)

Why is it considered so terrible?

It is a breach of the Law of Evolution. Thou shalt evolve, thou shalt develop all thy faculties to the full, thou shalt attain to the highest conceivable perfection of thy race—and so perfect thy race—this is the first and greatest commandment of Nature. But the parasite has no thought for its race, or for perfection in any shape or form. It wants two things—food and shelter. How it gets them is of no moment. Each member lives exclusively on its own account, an isolated, indolent, selfish, and backsliding life. (page 319)

One of my favorite books is the award-winning children’s book, The Twenty-One Balloons. In it the self-selected inhabitants of a tropical island only work one day a month, each family operating a restaurant to which the other inhabitants come to eat on that family’s day. The rest of the time they goof off, but on that one day, they work hard; and the whole system depends on everyone’s participating.

Parasites are consumers "which produce nothing for their own or the general good, but live, and live luxuriously, at the expense of others". Nature, says Drummond, argues that the parasite "not only injures itself, but wrongs others. It disobeys the fundamental law of its own being, and taxes the innocent to contribute to its disgrace." This punishment takes the form of atrophy of whatever portions of its anatomy are not put to work: use it or lose it. The hermit crab, for example, gains safety by appropriating another creature’s dwelling instead of creating its own, but parts of its body deteriorate, "several vital organs are partially or wholly atrophied", "its sphere of life also is now seriously limited; and by a cheap expedient to secure safety, it has fatally lost its independence". Drummond sums up, "In dealing with the Hermit-crab, in short, we are dealing with a case of physiological backsliding." It forfeits its place in the animal scale:

An animal is classed as low or high according as it is adapted to less or more complex conditions of life. . . . Were perfection merely a matter of continual eating and drinking, the Amoeba—the lowest known organism—might take rank with the highest, Man, for the one nourishes itself and saves its skin almost as completely as the other. But judged by the higher standard of complexity, that is, by greater or lesser adaptation to more or less complex conditions, the gulf between them is infinite. (pages 324-5)

But the Hermit-crab is a semi-parasite; we’ve just gone over "the essential principles involved in parasitism". As you might have imagined, we’re headed for "the correlative in the moral and spiritual spheres. . . . The difference between the Hermit-crab and a true parasite is, that the former has acquired a semi-parasitic habit only with reference to safety." The true parasite is much more degraded. Meanwhile, here is the spiritual principle: "Any principle which secures the safety of the individual without personal effort or the vital exercise of faculty is disastrous to moral character." We’re back to the Grasshopper and the Ants: the world doesn’t owe me a living.

Here Drummond segues into a discussion of the Parasitic Doctrine of Salvation, for which he sketches "two of its leading types": the Church of Rome and "the narrower Evangelical Religion", of which Drummond is a part. But he hastens to add:

We take these religions . . . not in their ideal form, with which possibly we should have little quarrel, but in their practical working, or in the form in which they are held especially by the rank and file of those who belong respectively to these communions. For the strength or weakness of any religious system is best judged from the form in which it presents itself to, and influences the common mind. No more perfect or more sad example of semi-parasitism exists than in the case of those illiterate thousands who, scattered everywhere throughout the habitable globe, swell the lower ranks of the Church of Rome [offering] to the masses a molluscan shell. They have simply to shelter themselves within its pale, and they are "safe". But what is this "safe"? It is an external safety—the safety of an institution. It is a salvation recommended to men by all that appeals to the motives in most common use with the vulgar and the superstitious, but which has as little vital connection with the individual soul as the dead whelk’s shell with the living Hermit. Salvation is a relation at once vital, personal, and spiritual. This is mechanical and purely external. (pages 326-7)

Drummond goes on at length: "So, as the Hermit into the molluscan shell, creeps the poor soul within the pale of Rome, seeking, like Adam in the garden, to hide its nakedness from God." Why so harsh? "Because it ministers falsely to the deepest need of man, reduces the end of religion to selfishness, and offers safety without spirituality."

But don’t worry; Drummond is an equal-opportunity gadfly: he now takes on

a certain section of the narrower Evangelical school . . . . The parasite in this case seeks its shelter, not in a Church, but in a Doctrine or a Creed. . . . We are not dealing with the Evangelical Religion, but only with one of its parasitic forms—a form which will at once be recognised by all who know the popular Protestantism of this country. We confine ourselves also at present to that form which finds its encouragement in a single doctrine, that doctrine being the Doctrine of the Atonement—let us say, rather, a perverted form of this central truth. (page 330)

Drummond describes this perversion as a syllogism: "You believe Christ died for sinners; you are a sinner; therefore Christ died for you; and hence you are saved. . . . Now what is this but another species of molluscan shell? Could any trap for a benighted soul be more ingeniously planned? It is not superstition that is appealed to this time; it is reason."

Drummond admits:

It is possible, too, up to a certain point, to defend this Salvation by Formula. Are these not the very words of Scripture? Did not Christ Himself say, "It is finished"? And is it not written, "By grace are ye saved through faith," "Not of works, lest any man should boast," and "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life"? To which, however, one might also answer in the words of Scripture, "The Devils also believe," and "Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God." But without seeming to make text refute text, let us ask rather what the supposed convert possesses at the end of the process. That Christ saves sinners, even blackguards from the streets, is a great fact; and that the simple words of the street evangelist do sometimes being this home to man with convincing power is also a fact. But in ordinary circumstances, when the inquirer’s mind is rapidly urged through the various stages of the above piece of logic, he is left to face the future and blot out the past with a formula of words. (pages 331-2)

Drummond amplifies:

The doctrine plays too well into the hands of the parasitic tendency to make it possible that in more than a minority of cases the result is anything but disastrous. And it is disastrous not in that, sooner or later, after losing half their lives, those who rely on the naked syllogism come to see their mistake, but in that thousands never come to see it all. Are there not men who can prove to you and to the world, by the irresistible logic of texts, that they are saved, whom you know to be not only unworthy of the Kingdom of God—which we all are—but absolutely incapable of entering it? The condition of membership in the Kingdom of God is well known; who fulfil this condition and who do not, is not well known. And yet the moral test, in spite of the difficulty of its applications, will always, and rightly, be preferred by the world to the theological. Nevertheless, in spite of the world’s verdict, the parasite is content. He is "safe." . . . He took out, in short, an insurance policy, by which he was infallibly secured eternal life at death. . . . [Members of the Narrow Church] in some cases at least have nothing more to show for their religion than a formula, a syllogism, a cant phrase or an experience of some kind which happened long ago, and which men told them at the time was called Salvation. Need we proceed to formulate objections to the parasitism of Evangelicalism? Between it and the Religion of the Church of Rome there is an affinity as real as it is unsuspected. For one thing these religions are spiritually disastrous as well as theologically erroneous in propagating a false conception of Christianity. The fundamental idea alike of the extreme Roman Catholic and extreme Evangelical Religions is Escape. (pages 332-4)

This makes God a "Great Lawyer" or the "Almighty Enemy"; Jesus is "the One who gets us off":

The Church in the one instance is a kind of conveyancing office where the transaction is duly concluded, each party accepting the other’s terms; in the other case, a species of sheep-pen where the flock awaits impatiently and indolently the final consummation. Generally, the means are mistaken for the end, and the opening-up of the possibility of spiritual growth becomes the signal to stop growing. (page 334)

"Cheap religions" lead to a "cheap life". "Safety being guaranteed from the first, there remains nothing else to be done"; the unjust or unholy remain so. "Thus the whole scheme ministers to the Degeneration of Organs.

Just as much as the organism borrows mechanically from an external source, by so much exactly does it lose in its own organization. Whatever rest is provided by Christianity for the children of God, it is certainly never contemplated that it should supersede personal effort. And any rest which ministers to indifference is immoral and unreal—it makes parasites and not men. (page 335)

So, is the parasite saved?

If by salvation is meant, a trusting in Christ in order to likeness to Christ, in order to that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, the reply is that the parasite’s hope is absolutely vain. So far from ministering to growth, parasitism ministers to decay. . . . One by one the spiritual faculties droop and die, one by one from lack of exercise the muscles of the soul grow weak and flaccid, one by one the moral activities cease. So from him that hath not, is taken away that which he hath, and after a few years of parasitism there is nothing left to save. (pages 335-6)

Drummond winds up by stating that in protesting parasitism he is not opposing Free Grace, but he is still insisting that it involves "consequent action": "With the central doctrines of grace the whole scientific argument is in too wonderful harmony to be found wanting here. The natural life, not less than the eternal, is the gift of God. But life in either case is the beginning of growth and not the end of grace." We today might wish to rethink the traditional idea of salvation, to reject the whole concept of vicarious atonement, or to consider Christ as a title that we all can earn, but we cannot duck the responsibility for "showing forth [our] praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives". And this was only "semi-parasitism"; there is more to come!

Lagniappe: Here is another lost thread from the past, which turns out to have been authored and presented by moi for vous to enjoy: Lost Threads in New Thought, a presentation to the SSMR in 1999: .


January 29, 2013

Natural Law in the Spiritual World


Drummond has finally gotten to where he was headed in the last chapter. He is still starting with observable facts of nature in order to get at the spiritual, and he explained just what was wrong with the Hermit crab’s expropriation of another creature’s house: we must work (one way or another) to mature spiritually and physically. Unused parts eventually atrophy, so use it or lose it, as the Hermit crab illustrated in the last chapter. Well, if that’s only a semi-parasite, what does the whole thing look like? On board the Hermit-crab, meet the Sacculina.

Drummond then tells us more than I really wanted to know about the Sacculina, "a typical parasite. By means of its twining and theftuous roots it imbibes automatically its nourishment ready-prepared from the body of the crab. It boards indeed entirely at the expense of its host, who supplies it liberally with food and shelter and everything else it wants" (presumably including even a cell phone). When it was a baby, it was known as a Nauplius, and if it hadn’t degenerated into "an entire dependant", it could have grown up to be a Crustacean. But backsliding, in crabs or in people, seems to have physiological consequences, and "parasitism is always and indissolubly accompanied by degeneration". In biology, there are two main inducements to "the parasitic habit": 1) "the temptation to secure safety without the vital exercise of faculties", and 2) "the disposition to find food without earning it". The second is the more serious, because "without food exercise is impossible, but without exercise food is useless". It’s the discipline involved that "is infinitely more valuable than the food itself". Why? "What an organism is depends upon what it does; its activities make it." We have seen this at work in the politics that shape a society, and so we segue again into the spiritual.

This continues the discussion that Drummond began in the last chapter, showing how either pole of the orthodox Christian continuum can foster parasitism: "One of the things in the religious world which tends most strongly to induce the parasitic habit is Going to Church." Whaaat?! Give Scottish Henry a chance:

One man [not many lady preachers back then] is set apart to prepare a certain amount of spiritual truth for the rest. He, if he is a true man, gets all the benefits of original work. He finds the truth, digests it, is nourished and enriched by it before he offers it to his flock. To a large extent it will nourish and enrich in turn a number of his hearers. But still they will lack something. The faculty of selecting truth at first hand and appropriating it for one’s self is a lawful possession to every Christian. Rightly exercised it conveys to him truth in its freshest form; it offers him the opportunity of verifying doctrines for himself; it makes religion personal; it deepens and intensifies the only convictions that are worth deepening, those, namely, which are honest; and it supplies the mind with a basis of certainty in religion. But if all one’s truth is derived by imbibition from the Church, the faculties for receiving truth are not only undeveloped but one’s whole view of truth becomes distorted. He who abandons the personal search for truth, under whatever pretext, abandons truth. The very word truth, by becoming the limited possession of a guild, ceases to have any meaning; and faith, which can only be founded on truth, gives way to credulity, resting on mere opinion. (pages 351-2)

This applies in New Thought, too. He who hath ears to hear, let him hear. But don’t worry; liturgical religions are next. The problem here is that the services "supplant his individual faith", and he degenerates into "the listless, useless, pampered parasite of the pew". He is nurtured by the ceremony and the music, but "his character [is] untouched, his will unbraced, his crude soul unquickened and unimproved". In short, he has become a consumer, "the clergyman being the faithful Hermit-crab who is to be depended on every Sunday for at least a week’s supply". The Philosopher and I used to speak frequently at a New Thought church that Alan had been instrumental in founding. Half of the congregation liked to have a minister; the other half didn’t. When there was no minister, everyone fell to and got things done themselves. When there was a minister, everyone sat back and let the minister do everything, right down to arranging chairs.

Drummond also believes that "the children of church-going parents often break away as they grow in intelligence, not only from church-connection but from the whole system of family religion. In some cases this is doubtless due to natural perversity, but in others it certainly arises from the hollowness of the outward forms which pass current in society and at home for vital Christianity." This in turn leads to scepticism. "A formal religion can never hold its own in the nineteenth century. It is better that it should not. We must either be real or cease to be. We must either give up our Parasitism or our sons." And it’s only worse in the twenty-first century.

But we aren’t through yet. Drummond now warns against "the Parasitism induced by certain abuses of Systems of Theology". Yes, we have to have theology:

In every perfect religious system three great departments must always be represented—criticism, dogmatism, and evangelism. Without the first there is no guarantee of truth, without the second no defence of truth, and without the third no propagation of truth. But when these departments become mixed up, when their separate functions are forgotten, when one is made to do duty for another, or where either is developed by the church or the individual at the expense of the rest, the result is fatal. (pages 358-9)

New Thoughters, there is always an implied theology, even if there is no formal creed. We can’t wiggle off the hook. But Drummond is mainly concerned about "the tendency in orthodox communities, first to exalt orthodoxy above all other elements in religion, and secondly to make the possession of sound beliefs equivalent to the possession of truth". We still have to be careful, because the problem is that if so many great minds "formulated as with one voice a system of doctrine, why should the humble inquirer not gratefully accept it? Why go over the ground again?" Do you see it coming?

Just because it is ready-made. Just because it lies there in reliable, convenient and logical propositions. The moment you appropriate truth in such a shape you appropriate a form. You cannot cut and dry truth. You cannot accept truth ready-made without it ceasing to nourish the soul as truth. You cannot live on theological forms without becoming a Parasite and ceasing to be a man. (page 360)

Scottish Henry may have been reading some of the new-at-the-time pragmatic philosophy, which says that everything should be put to the test. What also comes to my mind is a famous quotation from Gloria Steinem back when she was a fashion reporter: "Don’t borrow; steal. Make it yours!"

The effect of a doctrinal theology is the effect of Infallibility. And the wholesale belief in such a system, however accurate it may be—grant even that it were infallible—is not Faith though it always gets that name. It is mere Credulity. It is a complacent and idle rest upon authority, not a hard-earned, self-obtained, personal possession. The moral responsibility here . . . is reduced to nothing. Those who framed the Thirty-nine Articles or the Westminster Confession are responsible. And anything which destroys responsibility, or transfers it, cannot be other than injurious in its moral tendency and useless in itself. (pages 361-2)

But what about the Bible? There is a big difference between the forms of truth in the Bible and in theology, says Drummond:

In theology truth is propositional—tied up in neat parcels, systematized, and arranged in logical order. . . . There is no necessary connection between these doctrines and the life of him who holds them. They make him orthodox, not necessarily righteous. They satisfy the intellect but need not touch the heart. It does not, in short, take a religious man to be a theologian. It simply takes a man with fair reasoning powers. . . . But truth in the Bible is a fountain. It is a diffused nutriment, so diffused that no one can put himself off with the form. It is reached, not by thinking but by doing. . . . It cannot be bolted whole, but must be slowly absorbed into the system. (pages 362-3)

There is just no substitute for doing the work in consciousness, with the help of those who have gone before.

Drummond then begins to sum things up:

Nature never provides for man’s wants in any direction, bodily, mental, or spiritual, in such a form as that he can simply accept her gifts automatically. She puts all the mechanical powers at his disposal—but he must grind it. She elaborates coal, but he must dig for it. Corn is perfect, all the products of Nature are perfect, but he has everything to do to them before he can use them. So with truth; it is perfect, infallible. But he cannot use it as it stands. He must work, think, separate, dissolve, absorb, digest; and most of these he must do for himself and within himself. . . . [This] is exactly what [theology] does not. It simply does what the greengrocer does when he arranges his apples and plums in his shop window. . . . His information is useful, and for scientific horticulture essential. Should a sceptical pomologist deny that there was such a thing as a Baldwin, or mistake it for a Newtown Pippin, we should be glad to refer to him; but if we were hungry, and an orchard were handy, we should not trouble him. Truth in the Bible is an orchard rather than a museum. Dogmatism will be very valuable to us when scientific necessity makes us go to the museum. Criticism will be very useful in seeing that only fruit-bearers grow in the orchard. But truth in the doctrinal form is not natural, proper, assimilable food for the soul of man. (pages 363-4)

Then, with shades of Descartes, and foreshadowing Leslie Weatherhead’s wonderful The Christian Agnostic, Drummond crescendoes to a conclusion:

Is this a plea then for doubt? Yes, for that philosophic doubt which is the evidence of a faculty doing its own work. It is more necessary for us to be active than to be orthodox. To be orthodox is what we wish to be, but we can only truly reach it by being honest, by being original, by seeing with our own eyes, by believing with our own heart. "An idle life," says Goethe, "is death anticipated." Better far be burned at the stake of Public Opinion than die the living death of Parasitism. Better an aberrant theology than a suppressed organization. Better a little faith dearly won, better launched alone on the infinite bewilderment of Truth, than perish on the splendid plenty of the richest creeds. Such Doubt . . . aims at a lifelong learning, prepared for any sacrifice of will yet for none of independence; at that high progressive education which yields rest in work and work in rest, and the development of immortal faculties in both; at that deeper faith which believes in the vastness and variety of the revelations of God, and their accessibility to all obedient hearts. (pages 364-5)

Now that starts to sound a lot like New Thought! Next week, Drummond winds up his entire first lecture series with a giant chapter, "Classification".

Lagniappe: Here is Alan the punster in high gear, in a paper given at the 1999 SSMR session. Hope you’re old enough to remember some of these products.


February 5, 2013

Natural Law in the Spiritual World


This last chapter in the first collection of lectures is where Drummond really hits it over the centerfield fence. The second set of lectures, delivered in America, is the set that our Henry (Henry Wood (1834-1909) got excited about, but it is necessary to see what Drummond was building on in order to really appreciate them. As a reminder, Drummond was uniquely qualified to bring together science and religion by using evolution in this fashion because he taught natural science during the week and functioned as a clergyman on Sundays, but found that he constantly went back and forth from one of his disciplines to the other to make his points. He is famous and beloved as the author of The Greatest Thing in the World, a talk he extemporized for Dwight L. Moody on I Cor. 13; but to the consternation of the evangelicals, in these lectures he defends evolution and a bottom-up approach, building from science upward to religion rather than the other way around.

As a great communicator, Drummond starts out with a hook that I can’t bear to shorten:

On one of the shelves in a certain museum lie two small boxes filled with earth. A low mountain in Arran has furnished the first; the contents of the second came from the Island of Barbadoes. When examined with a pocket lens, the Arran earth is found to be full of small objects, clear as crystal, fashioned by some mysterious geometry into forms of exquisite symmetry. The substance is silica, a natural glass; and the prevailing shape is a six-sided prism capped at either end by little pyramids modelled with consummate grace.
When the second specimen is examined, the revelation is, if possible, more surprising. Here, also, is a vast assemblage of small glassy or percellanous objects built up into curious forms. The material, chemically , remains the same, but the angles of pyramid and prism have given place to curved lines, so that the contour is entirely different. The appearance is that of a vast collection of microscopic urns, goblets, and vases, each richly ornamented . . . . Each tiny urn is chiselled into the most faultless proportion, and the whole presents a vision of magic beauty.
Judged by the standard of their loveliness there is little to choose between these two sets of objects. Yet there is one cardinal difference between them. They belong to different worlds. The last belong to the living world, the former to the dead. The first are crystals, the last are shells. (pages 369-70)

Drummond goes on to explain that only Life can make these tiny urns, yet "chemistry has no difficulty in making these crystals". The force that modelled the shell was Vital; the force that built the crystal was "only Molecular". Both are beautiful: "Aesthetically, the Law of Crystallization is probably as useful in ministering to natural beauty as Vitality"; and Drummond launches into a romantic description of natural beauty, concluding, "So far as beauty goes the organic world and the inorganic are one." But, he points out, "to the man of science . . . this identity of beauty signifies nothing. His concern, in the first instance, is not with the forms but with the natures of things." (Remember that Drummond wears his scientist hat all week long.) "For no fundamental distinction in Science depends upon beauty. He wants an answer in terms of chemistry, are they organic or inorganic? or in terms of biology, are they living or dead? . . . however much they may possess in common of material substance and beauty, they are separated from one another by a wide and unbridged gulf."

Here’s the drift:

We propose to inquire whether among men, clothed apparently with a common beauty of character, there may not yet be distinctions as radical as between the crystal and the shell; and, further, whether the current classification of men, based upon Moral Beauty, is wholly satisfactory either from the standpoint of Science or of Christianity. (page 371)

In other words, are there differences "between the Christian and the not-a-Christian as fundamental as that between the organic and the inorganic", the shell and the crystal?

Drummond has been around this block:

With the great majority of people religion is regarded as essentially one with morality. Whole schools of philosophy have treated the Christian Religion as a question of beauty, and discussed its place among other systems of ethic. Even those systems of theology which profess to draw a deeper distinction have rarely succeeded in establishing it upon any valid basis, or seem even to have made that distinction perceptible to others. So little . . . has the rationale of the science of religion been understood that there is still no more unsatisfactory province in theology than where morality and religion are contrasted, and the adjustment attempted between moral philosophy and what are known as the doctrines of grace. Examples of this confusion are so numerous that if one were to proceed to proof he would have to cite almost the entire European philosophy of the last three hundred years. From Spinoza downward through the whole naturalistic school, Moral Beauty is persistently regarded as synonymous with religion and the spiritual life. The most earnest thinking of the present day is steeped in the same confusion. (pages 374-5)

And it got worse in the next hundred years, alleviated only by the one constructive postmodern philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which came nearly half a century after Drummond gave these lectures. He points out, "If this is really a scientific question, if it is a question not of moral philosophy only, but of biology, we are compelled to repudiate beauty as the criterion of spirituality." Of course, "spirituality must be morally very beautiful" and morality is a criterion, but not the criterion. "Only, having chosen his standpoint, he is bound to frame his classification in terms of it." We aren’t ditching beauty or spirituality, but "it is a principle in science that classification should rest on the most basal characteristics." We may have to remodel Theology the way we had to remodel other sciences: Bats are not birds, and the Whale is not a fish, as was thought in early attempts at classification. What’s remarkable:

The favourite classification of the Old Testament was into "the nations which knew God" and "the nations which knew not God"— a distinction which we have formerly seen to be, at bottom, biological. In the New Testament again the ethical characters are more prominent, but the cardinal distinctions based on regeneration, if not always actually referred to, are throughout kept in view, both in the sayings of Christ and in the Epistles. (pages 379-80)

"What then", asks Drummond,

is the essential difference between the Christian and the not-a-Christian, between the spiritual beauty and the moral beauty? It is the distinction between the Organic and the Inorganic. Moral beauty is the product of the natural man, spiritual beauty of the spiritual man. And these two, according to the law of Biogenesis, are separated from one another by the deepest line known to Science. This Law is at once the foundation of Biology and of Spiritual religion. And the whole fabric of Christianity falls into confusion if we attempt to ignore it. The Law of Biogenesis, in fact, is to be regarded as the equivalent in biology of the First Law of Motion in Physics. (page 380)

And here’s where the fun begins:

The peril of the illustration from the law of motion will not be felt at least by those who appreciate the distinction between Physics and biology, between Energy and Life. The change of state here is not as in physics a mere change of direction, the affections directed to a new object, the will into a new channel. [Remember that this is all written before quantum physics came along, before the scientific and philosophical understanding that all is energy, and in Whiteheadian terms, not lifeless energy, but "Nature alive". In Newtonian terms, Drummond is right on the mark.] The change involves all this, but is something deeper. It is a change of nature, a regeneration, a passing from death into life. Hence relatively to this higher life the natural life is no longer Life, but Death, and the natural man from the standpoint of Christianity is dead. . . . it is certain that the Founder of the Christian religion intended this to be the keystone of Christianity. In the proposition That which is flesh is flesh, and that which is spirit is spirit, Christ formulates the first law of biological religion, and lays the basis for a final classification. He divides men into two classes, the living and the not-living. (page 381)

Drummond notes that Paul "carries out the classification consistently", and that even though "the character of the not-a-Christian is as beautiful as that of the Christian" this just says that "the crystal is as beautiful as the organism. One is quite entitled to hold this; but what he is not entitled to hold is that both in the same sense are living. He that hath the Son hath Life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not Life." One can be perfectly moral, but one cannot

call himself a Christian, or . . . claim to discharge the functions peculiar to the Christian life. His mortality is mere crystallisation, the crystallising forces having had fair play in his development. But these forces have no more touched the sphere of Christianity than the frost on the window-pane can do more than simulate the external forms of life. (page 383)

Whether you attack the scientific or the spiritual, you shoot yourself in the foot on this one. Drummond discusses embryology and then beauty:

The crystal has reached its ultimate stage of development. It can never be more beautiful than it is now. Take it to pieces and give it the opportunity to beautify itself afresh, and it will just do the same thing over again. It will form itself into a six-sided pyramid, and go on repeating this same form ad infinitum as often as it is dissolved, and without ever improving by a hairsbreadth. . . . In dealing with the crystal . . . we are dealing with the maximum beauty of the inorganic world. But in dealing with the shell, we are not dealing with the maximum achievement of the organic world. (page 385)

This is where process thought is so helpful in bridging the gap: God offers perfect possibilities for each occasion of experience, whether it be part of a steel bar, part of a philodendron, or part of a human being (or, presumably, angel) . God is, as Whitehead put it, "the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness." (And you thought Whitehead was a cold, prickly physicist!) Process thought has always had a challenge in reaching out to the evangelicals, but Henry Drummond laid out the welcome mat more than a century ago! As he puts it:

In dealing with a man of fine moral character . . . we are dealing with the highest achievement of the organic kingdom. But in dealing with a spiritual man we are dealing with the lowest form of life in the spiritual world. To contrast the two . . . and marvel that the one is apparently so little better than the other, is unscientific and unjust. The spiritual man is a mere unformed embryo, hidden as yet in his earthly chrysalis-case, while the natural man has the breeding and evolution of ages represented in his character. . . . The natural character finds its limits within the organic sphere. But who is to define the limits of the spiritual? . . . it doth not yet appear what it shall be. (pages 385-6)

Drummond then goes on to describe two tests for Life, the first proposed by Jesus in the Parable of the Tares: "Let both grow together," He said, "until the harvest." This, says Drummond, "is a thoroughly scientific test." The second test is to use biology’s four characteristics of Life: Assimilation, Waste, Reproduction, and Spontaneous Action. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . . But "the best test for Life is just living. And living consists . . . in corresponding with Environment. Those therefore who find within themselves, and regularly exercise, the faculties for corresponding with the Divine Environment, may be said to live the Spiritual Life."

This is just too juicy a chapter to rush through, so we will conclude it, and this lecture series, next week. Then it’s on to the Boston lectures that so excited our Henry.


February 12, 2013

Natural Law in the Spiritual World

Classification (2)

In this chapter, Drummond has had us comparing beautiful shells with beautiful crystals, noting that beauty will not help us classify them; they are both beautiful. What distinguishes them is that one is living; the other is not. Likewise, what distinguishes the Christian from the not-a-Christian is not whether the person is moral, but whether there is correspondence between the person and God. Drummond has spent a lot of time showing us that in nature, the Kingdom below is "dead" to the Kingdom above; something from above must pull what is below upward. This is also true of the spiritual man above as contrasted with the natural man below:

The best test for Life is just living. And living consists, as we have formerly seen, in corresponding with Environment. Those therefore who find within themselves, and regularly exercise, the faculties for corresponding with the Divine Environment, may be said to live the Spiritual Life.
That this Life also, even in the embryonic organism, ought already to betray itself to others, is certainly what one would expect. Every organism has its own reaction upon Nature, and the reaction of the spiritual organism upon the community must be looked for. In the absence of any such reaction in the absence of any token that it lived for a higher purpose, or that its real interests were those of the Kingdom to which it professed to belong, we should be entitled to question its being in that Kingdom. . . . there ought to be no difficulty in deciding whether they are living for the Organic or for the Spiritual; . . . for the world or for God. (pages 390-91)

Drummond then discusses Mimicry, organisms that cleverly disguise themselves:

It is a startling result of the indirect influence of Christianity, or of a spurious Christianity, that the religious world has come to be populated—how largely one can scarce venture to think—with mimetic species. In few cases, probably, is this a conscious deception. In many doubtless it is induced . . . by the desire for safety. But in a majority of instances it is the natural effect of the prestige of a great system upon those who, coveting its benedictions, yet fail to understand its true nature, or decline to bear its profounder responsibilities. It is here that the test of Life becomes of supreme importance. No classification on the ground of form can exclude mimetic species, or discover them to themselves. But if a man’s place among the Kingdoms is determined by his functions, a careful estimate of his life in itself and in its reaction upon surrounding lives, ought at once to betray his real position. No matter what may be the moral uprightness of his life, the honourableness of his career, or the orthodoxy of his creed, if he exercises the function of loving the world, that defines his world—he belongs to the Organic Kingdom. He cannot in that case belong to the higher Kingdom. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (pages 392-3)

He sums this up: "Christianity marks the advent of what is simply a new Kingdom"; we must seek first the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, "probably most of the difficulties of trying to live the Christian life arise from attempting to half-live it." We aren’t just playing with the word kingdom, for in science, if something does not fit into any previously existing class, we must construct a new one. "Or rather we must include in the programme of Science a Kingdom already constructed but the place of which in science has not yet been recognized. That Kingdom is the Kingdom of God. So we have from the bottom up the Inorganic Kingdom, the Organic Kingdom, and the Spiritual Kingdom, "or the Kingdom of Heaven". Whether you hold to Biogenesis or to Regeneration, "there is no escape from a Third Kingdom."

Drummond charges resolutely ahead:

If any further defence is needed for the idea of a Third Kingdom it may be found in the singular harmony of the whole conception with this great modern truth. It might even be asked whether a complete and consistent theory of Evolution does not really demand such a conception? Why should Evolution stop with the Organic? It is surely obvious that the complement of Evolution is Advolution, and the inquiry, Whence has all this system of things come, is, after all, of minor importance compared with the question, Whither does all this tend? (pages 400-01)

You won’t get much from Science on this question; "it has been given to Christianity to disclose the lines of a further Evolution". And Teilhard de Chardin, when Drummond was lecturing, was still learning to tie his shoes and do multiplication. "The inward nature must develop out according to its Type, until the consummation of oneness with God is reached." Sounds like a foreshadowing of Teilhard’s idea that we are now evolving upward towards the Omega point. Michael Murray, in The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin, asks, "Has evolution ceased? On the basis of the principles we have described, Teilhard replies with a firm negative: evolution has not ceased. On the contrary, by entering a new phase, it is accelerating." (page 18) We know that Teilhard had a book by Whitehead on his nightstand at the time of his death; had he also read these lectures by Drummond?

Drummond continues:

These proposals of the Spiritual Kingdom in the direction of Evolution are at least entitled to be carefully considered by Science. Christianity defines the highest conceivable future for mankind. It satisfies the Law of continuity. It guarantees the necessary conditions for carrying on the organism successfully, from stage to stage. It provides against the tendency to Degeneration. And finally, instead of limiting the yearning hope of final perfection to the organisms of a future age,—an age so remote that the hope for thousands of years must still be hopeless,—instead of inflicting this cruelty on intelligences mature enough to know perfection and earnest enough to wish it, Christianity puts the prize within immediate reach of man. (page 404)

Then he raises "what seems at first sight a fatal objection. So far from the idea of a Spiritual Kingdom being in harmony with the doctrine of Evolution, it may be said that it is violently opposed to it." The barrier, says Drummond, is interposed by theology between the natural and the spiritual, "and insists that the evolutionary process must begin again at the beginning. At this point . . . Nature acts per saltum. This is no Evolution, but a Catastrophe—such a Catastrophe as must be fatal to any consistent development hypothesis."

Not to worry; this objection "is only on the surface. It arises from taking a too narrow view of what Evolution is. It takes evolution in zoology for Evolution as a whole." And what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander:

A sudden and hopeless barrier—the barrier between the Inorganic and the Organic—interposes, and the process has to begin again at the beginning with the creation of Life. Here then is a barrier placed by Science at the close of the Inorganic similar to the barrier placed by Theology at the close of the Organic. Science has used every effort to abolish this first barrier, but there it still stands challenging the attention of the modern world, and no consistent theory of Evolution can fail to reckon with it. Any objection, then, to the Catastrophe introduced by Christianity between the Natural and Spiritual Kingdoms applies with equal force against the barrier which Science places between the Inorganic and the Organic. The reserve of Life in either case is a fact, and a fact of exceptional significance. (pages 405-6)

So these barriers "make it necessary to frame a larger doctrine"; they do not destroy Evolution. Rather, it "gains immeasurably by such an enlargement". Drummond restates the case:

Evolution, in harmony with its own law that progress is from the simple to the complex, begins itself to pass towards the complex. The materialistic Evolution, so to speak, is a straight line. Making all else complex, it alone remains simple—unscientifically simple. [Einstein famously said, "Make things as simple as possible but no simpler."] But as Evolution unfolds everything else, it is now seen to be itself slowly unfolding. The straight line is coming out gradually in curves. . . . these forces are not unrelated forces. The arrangement is still harmonious, and the development throughout obeys the evolutionary law in being from the general to the special, from the lower to the higher. What we are reaching, in short, is nothing less than the evolution of Evolution. (pages 406-7)

Paradoxically, explains Drummond, "two barriers are more easy to understand than one . . . . For it requires two to constitute a harmony". It takes two to tango. "The overthrow of Spontaneous Generation has left a break in Continuity which continues to put Science to confusion. Alone, it is as abnormal and perplexing to the intellect as the first eclipse. But if the Spiritual Kingdom can supply Science with a companion-phenomenon, the most exceptional thing in the scientific sphere falls within the domain of Law." Science is stumped about the origin of Life itself, but in the higher Kingdom, "it will be disputed by none that the source of Life in the Spiritual World is God". Under the Law of Biogenesis, "the origin of life [in both spheres] has been the same".

One other objection remains, "certain to be raised by those who fail to appreciate the distinctions of Biology. Those whose sympathies are rather with Philosophy than with Science [Alan, where are you when I need you?] may incline to dispute the allocation of so high an organism as man to the merely vegetal and animal Kingdom." Here comes a third barrier: do we need to classify man in a separate Kingdom? Science says no, since it knows only the two Kingdoms of the Inorganic and the Organic. Another Kingdom would be interposed between the Organic and the Spiritual, which would make no difference in terms of this question. This is the order that Biology demands; "Philosophy of course may propose another arrangement of the Kingdoms if it chooses." Process philosophy, happily, comes at this from a different direction: the basic building blocks of the universe are experiences, not matter, be you man, mouse, mango, or mineral.

Drummond then moves from quality to quantity, and the Philosopher already has an answer ready on that one: the universe is qualitatively monistic but quantitatively pluralistic: all is mind/experience, many minds/experiences. But Drummond is concerned with "many are called, but few are chosen". There are many analogies "from the waste of seed, of pollen, of human lives". Other "wider and more just" analogies reveal that "the circle of the chosen slowly contracts as we rise in the scale of being". It’s a sort of cone: "Quantity decreases as quality increases." The whole system of Nature gravitates towards quality, notes Drummond. He concludes:

This is the final triumph of continuity, the heart-secret of Creation, the unspoken prophecy of Christianity. To Science, defining it as a working principle, this mighty process of amelioration is simply Evolution. To Christianity, discerning the end through the means, it is Redemption. These silent and patient processes, elaborating, eliminating developing all from the first of time, conducting the evolution from millennium to millennium with unaltering purpose and unfaltering power, are the early stages in the redemptive work—the unseen approach of that Kingdom whose strange mark is that it "cometh without observation". . . . "the Kingdom of God is at hand." (pages 413-14)

After completing this series of lectures, Drummond took a few years before he delivered his second series of lectures, The Ascent of Man, another bottom-up approach that does not drag man down to the level of the animals, but shows his rise:

So far as the general scheme of Evolution is introduced—and in the Introduction and elsewhere this is done at length—the object is the important one of pointing out how its nature has been misconceived, indeed how its greatest factor has been overlooked in almost all contemporary scientific thinking. Evolution was given to the modern world out of focus, was first seen by it out of focus, and has remained out of focus to the present hour. (The Ascent of Man, page vi)

We shall begin our ascent next week.


February 19, 2013

The Ascent of Man


Quick recap: Henry Drummond (1851-1897), lifelong lover of and professor of natural science, was also an ordained minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He traveled for a while with Dwight L. Moody, who thought very highly of him. Wearing these two hats, Drummond was a scientist during the week and an inspiration to aspiring missionaries on weekends. He is best known for a sermon, "The Greatest Thing in the World"; but he wrote two books based on two sets of lectures that he delivered at the height of the furor over evolution, lectures in which he gave a sound basis for uniting science and religion by means of a fresh perspective on evolution. This is of course of interest to New Thoughters, and it becomes even more so when we learn that Henry Wood (1834-1909), one of the authors most influential in developing the early New Thought movement, was a great admirer of Drummond. "Our Henry" almost certainly would have gone to hear "Scottish Henry" deliver the second set of lectures in Boston. We have spent the past couple of months looking at the first, Natural Law in the Spiritual World (1883), which led to Drummond’s promotion to full professor. We now turn to the second set with the same eagerness that our Henry must have felt.

We shall quickly learn that Drummond, although a great admirer of Darwin, had some stern corrections for Darwin’s work: Drummond felt that half of it was missing. He has told us in the first book that starting at the top with theology (as everyone else had) was absolutely backwards: we need to start from the bottom with biology, for it is the way things develop at the bottom that gives us insight into what is going to carry us through the top. Now he is going to tell us about the half of Darwinism that is missing.

Drummond sets the stage in his Preface:

Though its stand-point is Evolution and its subject Man, this book is far from being designed to prove that Man has relations, compromising or otherwise, with lower animals. Its theme is Ascent, not Descent, It is a Story, not an Argument. And Evolution, in the narrow sense in which it is often used when applied to Man, plays little part in the drama outlined here. . . . Evolution was given to the modern world out of focus, was first seen by it out of focus, and has remained out of focus to the present hour. (pages v-vi)

He warns us: "There is nothing here for the specialist . . . . Nor, apart from Teleology, is there anything for the theologian." This is the Big Picture, from a man who wore the hat of a specialist along with the hat of a theologian.

The Ascent begins with a Victorian banquet: a 57-page Introduction, with four headings (soup, fish . . .) as a bit of a reader’s guide:

I. Evolution in General

II. The Missing Factor in Current Theories

III. Why Was Evolution the Method Chosen

IV. Evolution and Sociology


I. Evolution in General

"The last romance of Science, the most daring it has ever tried to pen, is the Story of the Ascent of Man. . . . Each footprint discovered in the Ascent of Man is a guide to the step to be taken next. . . . Evolution is seen to be neither more nor less than the story of creation as told by those who know it best." Drummond supposedly rewrote this entire Introduction at least once in response to a criticism by a friend.

After all the blood spilt, Evolution is simply "history," a "history of steps," a "general name," for the history of the steps by which the world has come to be what it is. According to this general definition, the story of Evolution is narrative. It may be wrongly told; it may be colored, exaggerated, over or understated like the record of any other set of Facts; it may be told with a theological bias or with an anti-theological bias; theories of the process may be added by this thinker or by that; but these are not of the substance of the story. . . . A historian dare not have a prejudice, but he cannot escape a purpose—the purpose, conscious or unconscious, of unfolding the purpose which lies behind the facts which he narrates. (pages 3-4)

Drummond adds, "It is the greatest compliment to Darwinism that it should have survived to deserve this era of criticism [Dale Carnegie once wrote, "No one kicks a dead dog."]. No one asks more of Evolution at present than permission to use it as a working theory." He points out, "Without some hypothesis no work can ever be done, and, as every one knows, many of the greatest contributions to human knowledge have been made by the use of theories either seriously imperfect or demonstrably false. This is the age of the evolution of Evolution." Evolution, as a vision, "has done for Time what Astronomy has done for Space." It involves "not so much a change of opinion as a change in man’s whole view of the world and of life. It is not the statement of a mathematical proposition which men are called upon to declare true or false. It is a method of looking upon Nature."

After all the specialization, it was time for a unifying theory to—um—evolve.

Such being the scope of the theory, it is essential that for its interpretation this universal character be recognized, and no phenomenon in nature or in human nature be left out of the final reckoning. It is equally clear that in making that interpretation we must begin with the final product, Man. If Evolution can be proved to include Man, the whole course of Evolution and the whole scheme of Nature from that moment assume a new significance. The beginning must then be interpreted from the end, not the end from the beginning. An engineering workshop in unintelligible until we reach the room where the completed engine stands. . . . The whole mistake of naturalism has been to interpret Nature from the stand-point of the atom—to study the machinery which drives this great moving world simply as machinery, forgetting that the ship has any passengers, or the passengers any captain, or the captain any course. It is as great a mistake, on the other hand, for the theologian to separate off the ship from the passengers as for the naturalist to separate off the passengers from the ship. It is he who cannot include Man among the links of Evolution who has greatly to fear the theory of development. (page 9)

Drummond then speaks just as sternly to the scientists about including "the whole Man" in his "scheme of Evolution". In today’s sorry excuse for philosophy, which is trying its best to trash the entire metaphysics section, a heroic band of constructive postmodern philosophers is fighting to retain the importance of Whitehead’s systematic metaphysics, working to understand how things have to be in order to be at all. "Systematic" means it has to work across all disciplines and still, as Religious Science founder Ernest Holmes famously said, be "open at the top". As Drummond puts it, "When the specialist proceeds to reconstruct the universe from his little corner of it, and especially from his level of it, he not only injures science and philosophy, but may fatally mislead his neighbors." He concludes this first section by stating, "You cannot describe the life of kings, or arrange their kingdoms, from the cellar beneath the palace." I guess Drummond never read the wonderful children’s book by his fellow Scottish divine, Charles MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie, in which a stalwart band of persons of integrity retake a kingdom that has become utterly corrupt by infiltrating the king’s palace through the cellars. Well, they did come in from outside, where they had had a much broader view.

II. The Missing Factor in Current Theories

"But it is not so much in ignoring Man that evolutionary philosophy has gone astray; . . . it has misread Nature herself." It has fixed on a non-vital part, and is therefore "wholly out of focus". Drummond lays the error indirectly "with Mr. Darwin". Everything has been centered around the "Struggle for Life". But that is "‘the Villain’ of the piece". There is a second form of Struggle that has "all but . . . escaped the notice of Evolutionists", but also arises "out of those [two] fundamental functions of living organisms which it is the main business of biological science to investigate": Nutrition and Reproduction. "The first is the basis of the Struggle for Life; the second of the Struggle for the Life of Others." This second basis, linked with Reproduction, is Altruism. "Life to an animal or to a Man is not a random series of efforts. Its course is set as rigidly as the courses of the stars. . . . What controls it are its functions." This goes beyond physiology: "the whole course of [man’s] development has been conducted on this fundamental basis. Life, all life, higher or lower, is an organic unity."

The Struggle for Life has been covered to a fare-thee-well, but that alone won’t get us far. "One’s first and natural association with the Struggle for the Life of Others is with something done for posterity". This is the beginnings of Altruism, starting with plants producing seeds, and evolving into mothers (and later, fathers) protecting their young. "Without some rudimentary maternal solicitude for the egg in the humblest forms of life, or for the young among higher forms, the living world would not only suffer, but would cease." Think of seahorses and penguins, if you want to include the male at this stage. Paternal altruism kicks in later in more familiar ways. The Struggle for Life "develops the active virtues of strength and courage"; the Struggle for the Life of Others "lays the basis for the passive virtues, sympathy, and love. . . . One begets competition, self-assertion, war; the other unselfishness, self-effacement, peace. One is Individualism, the other, Altruism." Both are necessary; together they create balance. But both can be carried to inappropriate extremes. Drummond elaborates:

The Struggle for the Life of Others is sunk as deep in the "cosmic process" as the Struggle for Life; the Struggle for Life has a share in the "ethical process" as much as the Struggle for the Life of Others. Both are cosmic processes; both are ethical processes; both are both cosmical and ethical processes. Nothing but confusion can arise from a cross-classification which does justice to neither half of Nature. (pages 23-24)

Here is what Drummond intends to show:

The moral order is a continuous line from the beginning . . . it has had throughout . . . a basis in the cosmos . . . upon this, as a trellis-work it has climbed upwards to the top. The one—the trellis-work—is to be conceived of as an incarnation’ the other—the manifestation—as a revelation; the one is an Evolution from below, the other an Involution from above. Philosophy has long since assured us of the last, but because it was never able to show us the completeness of the first, science refused to believe it. The defaulter nevertheless was not philosophy but science. Its business was with the trellis-work. And it gave us a broken trellis-work, a ladder with only one side, and every step on the other side resting on air. When science tried to climb the ladder it failed; the steps refused to bear any weight. What did men of science do? They condemned the ladder and, balancing themselves on the side that was secure, proclaimed their Agnosticism to Philosophy. And what did philosophy do? It stood on the other half of the ladder, the half that was not there, and rated them. (pages 26-27)

He adds, "Seldom has there been an instance on so large a scale of a biological error corrupting a whole philosophy." The Struggle for Life can be reconciled with ethical ends only when "viewed in continuous reaction with the Struggle for the Life of Others. . . . Without the Struggle for the Life of Others, obviously there would have been no Others. . . . Unless there had been a Struggle for the Life of Others, the Struggle for Life could not have been kept up." And—perhaps rather tartly—"Thus it happens that while there are many scientific men, there are few scientific thinkers."

He winds up the section:

The path of progress and the path of Altruism are one. Evolution is nothing but the Involution of Love, the revelation of Infinite Spirit, the Eternal Life returning to Itself. Even the great shadow of Egoism which darkens the past is revealed as shadow only because we are compelled to read it by the higher light which has come. In the very act of judging it to be shadow, we assume and vindicate the light. And in every vision of the light, contrariwise, we resolve the shadow, and perceive the end for which both light and dark are given. (page 36)

Lagniappe: Here is a link to a 1966 paper by Alan, A New Thought Centennial: Events of a century ago which helped mold the New Thought movement of today, that Ron Hughes has put online for the first time. It was first published in the New Thought Quarterly.


February 26, 2013

The Ascent of Man

Introduction (2)

III. Why Was Evolution the Method Chosen?

Short answer from "modern natural theology": "The evolutionary method is the infinitely nobler scheme." Drummond thinks that God planned for us humans to eventually take over all along: "A spectator of the drama for ages, too ignorant to see that it was a drama, and too impotent to do more than play his little part, the discovery must sooner or later break upon him that Nature meant him to become a partner in her task, and share the responsibility of the closing acts." But this is "a far grander sphere" than making wind and waves obey him: "In larger part he holds the dominion of the world of lower life. . . . For, by the same decree, he finds himself the guardian and the arbiter of his personal destiny, and that of his fellow-men." He creates institutions and thereby "shapes the path of progress for his country and his time", combating evils, staying passions, redressing wrongs, directing "energies for good or evil". Many people give their lives for others. "Who", Drummond asks, "is to help these Practical Evolutionists . . . in their tremendous task? There is the will—where is the wisdom? Where but in Nature herself. Nature may have entrusted the further building to Mankind, but the plan has never left her hands." He elaborates:

When a business is transferred, or a partner assumed, the books are shown, the methods of the business explained, its future developments pointed out. All this is now done for the Evolution of Mankind. In Evolution Creation has shown her hand. To have kept the secret from man would have imperilled the further evolution. To have revealed it sooner had been premature. Love must come before knowledge, for knowledge is the instrument of Love, and useless till it arrives. But now that there is Altruism enough in the world to begin the new era, there must be wisdom enough to direct it. (pages 39-40)

He claims that Descartes and Leibniz "already foresaw the adumbration of the evolutionary process" and that Descartes saw in another context "the intellectual value of a slow development of things". He adds, "The past of Nature is a working-model of how worlds can be made", and whether or not we can do it any better, [Man] "can only begin where Nature left off, and work with such tools as are put into his hands. . . . As a child set to complete some fine embroidery is shown the stitches, the colors, and the outline traced upon the canvas, so the great Mother in setting their difficult task to her later children provides them with one superb part finished to show the pattern." We read about medieval scholars who in their arrogance refused to go out to the stable and count the teeth in a horse’s mouth, but chose to sit inside and try to deduce them. Perhaps it is just as foolish to try to theologize a view of how creation was/is accomplished, at least at this stage of things. Science always begins by just observing. Drummond deserves a hearing.

IV. Evolution and Sociology

To me as a psychologist who occasionally slid over the border into social psychology but didn’t really get involved much with sociology, this comes as a bit of a surprise. "Evolution is the natural directory of the sociologist", says Drummond. If you go from the bottom up, from, say, paleontology, to anthropology, to sociology, it starts to make sense. Here is Drummond’s explanation:

From the failure to get at the heart of the first principles of Evolution the old call to "follow Nature" has all but become a heresy. Nature, as a moral teacher, thanks to the Darwinian interpretation, was never more discredited than at this hour; and friend and foe alike agree in warning us against her. But a further reading of Nature may decide not that we must discharge the teacher but beg her mutinous pupils to try another term at school. With Nature studied in the light of a true biology . . . it must become once more the watchword of personal and social progress. (pages 42-43)

Once again I am reminded of process philosopher David Ray Griffin’s description of three views of naturalism with three sets of subscripts (which I lack the courage to attempt with the word processing conversions I have to contend with): ns, for non-supernatural; sam, for sensationist-atheist-materialist; and ppp, for prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism. Plain naturalism should really be naturalism ns and nothing more. Older views of God put him outside of nature, or supernatural, which pretty much disses science. Equally extreme are the postmodern views that lack God altogether, the sam views. The process thought that David and we embrace is naturalism ppp, of which all of the p’s have been discussed elsewhere.

Drummond’s "first step in the reconstruction of Sociology" is to add to the Darwinian Struggle for Life "a second factor which will turn its darkness into light". How?

The method of Sociology must be the method of all the natural sciences. It also must go and see the world making, not where the conditions are already abnormal beyond recall, or where Man, by irregular action, has already obscured everything but the conditions of failure; but in lower Nature which makes no mistakes, and in those fairer reaches of a higher world where the quality and the stability of the progress are guarantees that the eternal order of Nature has had her uncorrupted way. (page 45)

Drummond then distinguishes between Nature in horizontal section and Nature in vertical section. The horizontal is "broken up into strata" whereas the vertical "offers no break, or pause, or flaw". To study the first is to study a hundred unrelated sciences, sciences of atoms, sciences of cells, sciences of Souls, sciences of Societies; to study the second is to deal with one science—Evolution." The vertical view of Nature is "the one science which resolves them all, and the confusions and contradictions of Evolution are reconciled." We are to see what the Struggle for Life and the Struggle for the Life of Others mean in Nature: "More than ever the method of Sociology must be biological."

We next have a discussion of the ideas of Benjamin Kidd. Drummond concludes it:

What Mr. Kidd has succeeded, and splendidly succeeded, in doing is to show that Nature as interpreted in terms of the Struggle for Life contains no sanction either for morality or for social progress. But instead of giving up Nature and Reason at this point, he should have given up Darwin. The Struggle for Life is not ‘the supreme fact up to which biology has slowly advanced.’ It is the fact to which Darwin advanced; but if biology had been thoroughly consulted it could not have given so maimed an account of itself. . . . All that Mr. Kidd desires is really to be found in Nature. (pages 52-53)

And we have made it all the way to God:

With an Environment which widens and enriches until it includes—or consciously includes, for it has never been absent—the divine; and with Man so evolving as to become more and more conscious that that Divine is there, and above all that it is in himself, all the materials and all the sanctions for a moral progress are forever secure. None of the sanctions of religion are withdrawn by adding to them the sanctions of Nature. . . . When Evolution comes to be worked out along its great natural lines, it may be found to provide for all that religion assumes, all that philosophy requires, and all that science proves. (pages 53-54)

So Drummond disagrees with

"theological minds, with premature approval, [that] have hailed Mr. Kidd’s solution as a vindication of their supreme position". . . . One cannot . . . think oneself out of a difficulty of this kind; it can only be lived out. . . . Only by bringing theology into harmony with Nature and into line with the rest of our knowledge can the noble interests given it to conserve retain their vitality in a scientific age. The first essential of a working religion is that it shall be congruous with Man; the second that it shall be congruous with Nature. Whatever its sanctions, its forces must not be abnormal, but reinforcements and higher potentialities of those forces which, from eternity, have shaped the progress of the world. (pages 54-55)

But, he insists, the "fund of altruistic feeling" that Kidd refers to "has been slowly funded in the race by Nature, or through Nature, and as the direct and inevitable result of that Struggle for the Life of Others, which has been from all time a condition of existence."

For nothing can ever be gained by setting one half of Nature against the other, or the rational against the ultra-rational. To affirm that Altruism is a peculiar product of religion is to excommunicate Nature from the moral order, and religion from the rational order. If science is to begin to recognize religion, religion must at least end by recognizing science. . . . The present danger is not in applying Evolution as a method, but only in not carrying it far enough. . . . But we dare not rob Nature of its due. We dare not say that Nature played the prodigal for ages, and reformed at the eleventh hour. If Nature is the garment of God, it is woven without seam throughout; if a revelation of God, it is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; if the expression of His Will, there is in it no variableness nor shadow of turning. . . . For to break up Nature is to break up Reason, and with it God and Man. (pages 56-57)

And he’s just getting warmed up! Having told us what he is going to tell us, he will now proceed to tell us. Next week we shall begin chapter 1, "The Ascent of the Body".

Lagniappe: I have just rekeyed Alan’s long-lost paper, "Serial Selfhood". It’s one of his most important, and a simple introduction to process thought. But I cannot make a direct link to that page, so click on the link provided and then click on "Writings-Alan". The new paper will be on top.


February 26, 2013

The Ascent of Man

Introduction (2)

III. Why Was Evolution the Method Chosen?

Short answer from "modern natural theology": "The evolutionary method is the infinitely nobler scheme." Drummond thinks that God planned for us humans to eventually take over all along: "A spectator of the drama for ages, too ignorant to see that it was a drama, and too impotent to do more than play his little part, the discovery must sooner or later break upon him that Nature meant him to become a partner in her task, and share the responsibility of the closing acts." But this is "a far grander sphere" than making wind and waves obey him: "In larger part he holds the dominion of the world of lower life. . . . For, by the same decree, he finds himself the guardian and the arbiter of his personal destiny, and that of his fellow-men." He creates institutions and thereby "shapes the path of progress for his country and his time", combating evils, staying passions, redressing wrongs, directing "energies for good or evil". Many people give their lives for others. "Who", Drummond asks, "is to help these Practical Evolutionists . . . in their tremendous task? There is the will—where is the wisdom? Where but in Nature herself. Nature may have entrusted the further building to Mankind, but the plan has never left her hands." He elaborates:

When a business is transferred, or a partner assumed, the books are shown, the methods of the business explained, its future developments pointed out. All this is now done for the Evolution of Mankind. In Evolution Creation has shown her hand. To have kept the secret from man would have imperilled the further evolution. To have revealed it sooner had been premature. Love must come before knowledge, for knowledge is the instrument of Love, and useless till it arrives. But now that there is Altruism enough in the world to begin the new era, there must be wisdom enough to direct it. (pages 39-40)

He claims that Descartes and Leibniz "already foresaw the adumbration of the evolutionary process" and that Descartes saw in another context "the intellectual value of a slow development of things". He adds, "The past of Nature is a working-model of how worlds can be made", and whether or not we can do it any better, [Man] "can only begin where Nature left off, and work with such tools as are put into his hands. . . . As a child set to complete some fine embroidery is shown the stitches, the colors, and the outline traced upon the canvas, so the great Mother in setting their difficult task to her later children provides them with one superb part finished to show the pattern." We read about medieval scholars who in their arrogance refused to go out to the stable and count the teeth in a horse’s mouth, but chose to sit inside and try to deduce them. Perhaps it is just as foolish to try to theologize a view of how creation was/is accomplished, at least at this stage of things. Science always begins by just observing. Drummond deserves a hearing.

IV. Evolution and Sociology

To me as a psychologist who occasionally slid over the border into social psychology but didn’t really get involved much with sociology, this comes as a bit of a surprise. "Evolution is the natural directory of the sociologist", says Drummond. If you go from the bottom up, from, say, paleontology, to anthropology, to sociology, it starts to make sense. Here is Drummond’s explanation:

From the failure to get at the heart of the first principles of Evolution the old call to "follow Nature" has all but become a heresy. Nature, as a moral teacher, thanks to the Darwinian interpretation, was never more discredited than at this hour; and friend and foe alike agree in warning us against her. But a further reading of Nature may decide not that we must discharge the teacher but beg her mutinous pupils to try another term at school. With Nature studied in the light of a true biology . . . it must become once more the watchword of personal and social progress. (pages 42-43)

Once again I am reminded of process philosopher David Ray Griffin’s description of three views of naturalism with three sets of subscripts (which I lack the courage to attempt with the word processing conversions I have to contend with): ns, for non-supernatural; sam, for sensationist-atheist-materialist; and ppp, for prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism. Plain naturalism should really be naturalism ns and nothing more. Older views of God put him outside of nature, or supernatural, which pretty much disses science. Equally extreme are the postmodern views that lack God altogether, the sam views. The process thought that David and we embrace is naturalism ppp, of which all of the p’s have been discussed elsewhere.

Drummond’s "first step in the reconstruction of Sociology" is to add to the Darwinian Struggle for Life "a second factor which will turn its darkness into light". How?

The method of Sociology must be the method of all the natural sciences. It also must go and see the world making, not where the conditions are already abnormal beyond recall, or where Man, by irregular action, has already obscured everything but the conditions of failure; but in lower Nature which makes no mistakes, and in those fairer reaches of a higher world where the quality and the stability of the progress are guarantees that the eternal order of Nature has had her uncorrupted way. (page 45)

Drummond then distinguishes between Nature in horizontal section and Nature in vertical section. The horizontal is "broken up into strata" whereas the vertical "offers no break, or pause, or flaw". To study the first is to study a hundred unrelated sciences, sciences of atoms, sciences of cells, sciences of Souls, sciences of Societies; to study the second is to deal with one science—Evolution." The vertical view of Nature is "the one science which resolves them all, and the confusions and contradictions of Evolution are reconciled." We are to see what the Struggle for Life and the Struggle for the Life of Others mean in Nature: "More than ever the method of Sociology must be biological."

We next have a discussion of the ideas of Benjamin Kidd. Drummond concludes it:

What Mr. Kidd has succeeded, and splendidly succeeded, in doing is to show that Nature as interpreted in terms of the Struggle for Life contains no sanction either for morality or for social progress. But instead of giving up Nature and Reason at this point, he should have given up Darwin. The Struggle for Life is not ‘the supreme fact up to which biology has slowly advanced.’ It is the fact to which Darwin advanced; but if biology had been thoroughly consulted it could not have given so maimed an account of itself. . . . All that Mr. Kidd desires is really to be found in Nature. (pages 52-53)

And we have made it all the way to God:

With an Environment which widens and enriches until it includes—or consciously includes, for it has never been absent—the divine; and with Man so evolving as to become more and more conscious that that Divine is there, and above all that it is in himself, all the materials and all the sanctions for a moral progress are forever secure. None of the sanctions of religion are withdrawn by adding to them the sanctions of Nature. . . . When Evolution comes to be worked out along its great natural lines, it may be found to provide for all that religion assumes, all that philosophy requires, and all that science proves. (pages 53-54)

So Drummond disagrees with

"theological minds, with premature approval, [that] have hailed Mr. Kidd’s solution as a vindication of their supreme position". . . . One cannot . . . think oneself out of a difficulty of this kind; it can only be lived out. . . . Only by bringing theology into harmony with Nature and into line with the rest of our knowledge can the noble interests given it to conserve retain their vitality in a scientific age. The first essential of a working religion is that it shall be congruous with Man; the second that it shall be congruous with Nature. Whatever its sanctions, its forces must not be abnormal, but reinforcements and higher potentialities of those forces which, from eternity, have shaped the progress of the world. (pages 54-55)

But, he insists, the "fund of altruistic feeling" that Kidd refers to "has been slowly funded in the race by Nature, or through Nature, and as the direct and inevitable result of that Struggle for the Life of Others, which has been from all time a condition of existence."

For nothing can ever be gained by setting one half of Nature against the other, or the rational against the ultra-rational. To affirm that Altruism is a peculiar product of religion is to excommunicate Nature from the moral order, and religion from the rational order. If science is to begin to recognize religion, religion must at least end by recognizing science. . . . The present danger is not in applying Evolution as a method, but only in not carrying it far enough. . . . But we dare not rob Nature of its due. We dare not say that Nature played the prodigal for ages, and reformed at the eleventh hour. If Nature is the garment of God, it is woven without seam throughout; if a revelation of God, it is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; if the expression of His Will, there is in it no variableness nor shadow of turning. . . . For to break up Nature is to break up Reason, and with it God and Man. (pages 56-57)

And he’s just getting warmed up! Having told us what he is going to tell us, he will now proceed to tell us. Next week we shall begin chapter 1, "The Ascent of the Body".

Lagniappe: I have just rekeyed Alan’s long-lost paper, "Serial Selfhood". It’s one of his most important, and a simple introduction to process thought. But I cannot make a direct link to that page, so click on "Writings-Alan".  You will have to scroll back up near the top in order to see the tabs on your left.


March 5, 2013

The Ascent of Man

I. The Ascent of the Body

Drummond begins with Primitive Man’s simple cave dwelling. From there Man evolved into the hut, then a group of huts, multi-roomed huts, "and finally to the many chambered lodge of the Head-Chief or King . . . . and a similar development may be traced in the domestic architecture of all civilized societies". Cottage to castle, the steps are the same.

In this evolution of a human habitation we have an almost perfect type of the evolution of that more August habitation, the complex tenement of clay in which Man’s mysterious being has its home. . . . And the history of the unborn babe is, in the first instance, a history of addition, of room being added to room, of organ to organ, of faculty to faculty. The general process . . . by which this takes place is almost as clear to modern science as in the case of material buildings. (page 60)

We are then treated to a crash course in Embryology:

We are dealing now not with phylogeny—the history of the race—but with ontogeny—the problem of Man’s Ascent from his own earlier self. . . . The embryo of the future man begins life, like the primitive savage, in a one-roomed hut, a single simple cell. . . . In form, in size, in composition there is no apparent difference between this human cell and that of any other mammal. . . . It is one of the most astounding facts of modern science that the first embryonic abodes of moss and fern and pine, of shark and crab and coral polyp, of lizard, leopard, monkey, and Man are so exactly similar that the highest powers of mind and microscope fail to trace the smallest distinction between them. (pages 61-62)

In Nature, as in architecture, one can build entirely new rooms or partition old ones. New (gemmation or budding) "is common among the lower forms of life. . . . Partition, or segmentation, is the approved method among higher animals, and is that adopted in the case of Man." And here it gets interesting:

Were these forms not different as well as definite we should hardly call it an evolution, nor should we characterize the resulting aggregation as a higher organism. A hundred cottages placed in a row would never form a castle. What makes the castle superior to the hundred cottages is not the number of its rooms, for they are possibly fewer; nor their difference in shape, for that is immaterial. It lies in the number and nature and variety of useful purposes to which the rooms are put, the perfection with which each is adapted to its end, and the harmonious co-operation among them with reference to some common work. . . . The fact that any growing embryo is passing through a real development is decided by the new complexity of structure, by the more perfect division of labor, and of better kinds of labor, and by the increase in range and efficiency of the correlated functions discharged by the whole. . . . But the beauty of this development is not the significant thing to the student of Evolution; nor is it the occultness of the process nor the perfection of the result that fill him with awe as he surveys the finished work. It is the immense distance Man has come. . . . Hitherto we have been taught to look among the fossiliferous formations of Geology for the buried lives of the earth’s past. But Embryology has startled the world by declaring that the ancient life of the earth is not dead. It is risen. It exists to-day in the embryos of still-living things, and some of the most archaic types find again a resurrection and a life in the frame of man himself. (pages 64-66)

So in looking at an embryo, we are looking at a recapitulation of "some of the main chapters in the Natural History of the world." But "these lower animals, each at its successive stage, have stopped short in their development; Man has gone on." We are now looking at a "very complex embryo".

As the Walter printing-press contains the rude hand-machine of Gutenberg, and all the best in all the machines that followed it; as the modern locomotive of to-day contains the engine of Watt, the locomotive of Hedley, and most of the improvements of succeeding years, so Man contains the embryonic bodies of earlier and humbler and clumsier forms of life. Yet in making the Walter press in a modern workshop, the artificer does not begin by building again the press of Gothenberg, nor in constructing the locomotive does the engineer first make a Watt’s machine and then incorporate the Hedley, and then the Stephenson, and so on through all the improving types of engines that have led up to this. But the astonishing thing is that, in making a Man, Nature does introduce the framework of these earlier types, displaying each crude pattern by itself before incorporating it in the finished work. (pages 67-68)

Drummond points out what an amazing thing it is for the embryo to rise at all:

The single cell, the first definite stage which the human embryo attains, is still the adult form of countless millions both of animals and plants. Just as in modern England [last half of the XIX century] the millionaire’s mansion—the evolved form—is surrounded by laborers’ cottages—the simple form—so in Nature, living side by side with the many-celled higher animals, is an immense democracy of unicellular artizans. . . . stopped short in the ascent of life. And long as evolution has worked upon the earth, the vast numerical majority of plants and animals are still at this low stage of being. . . . See, therefore, the meaning of Evolution from the want of it. In a single hour or second the human embryo attains the platform which represents the whole life-achievement of myriads of generations of created things, and the next day or hour is immeasurable centuries beyond them. (pages 68-69)

We acquire a spinal cord, then a backbone:

Even with this addition . . . the human infant is but a first rough draft, an almost formless lump of clay. As yet there is no distinct head, no brain, no jaws, no limbs; the heart is imperfect, the higher visceral organs are feebly developed, everything is elementary. But gradually new organs loom in sight, old ones increase in complexity. By a magic which has never yet been fathomed the hidden Potter shapes and re-shapes the clay. . . . Whatever views be held of the doctrine of Evolution, whatever theories of its cause, these facts of Embryology are proved. (pages 71-72)

Drummond then compares the human body to the Cathedral of St. Mark’s in Venice: "the patient hands of centuries and centuries of workers"; "every quarter of the globe has been spoiled of its treasures to dignify this single shrine". Yet, amazing as this is, how much more amazing is the human body! "The architects and builders of this mighty temple are not anonymous. Their names, and the work they did, are graven forever on the walls and arches of the Human Embryo." Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. (If you require a monument, look around you), is inscribed next to the tomb of Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, of which he was the architect. States Drummond, "The Descent of Man from the Animal Kingdom is sometimes spoken of as a degradation. It is an unspeakable exaltation."

To wind up the chapter and to pull science and religion together, Drummond turns to the Bible:

From the lips of the Prophet another version, an old and beautiful story, was told to the childhood of the earth, of how God made Man; how with His own hands He gathered the Bactrian dust, modelled it, breathed upon it, and it became a living soul. Later, the insight of the Hebrew Poet taught Man a deeper lesson. He saw that there was more in Creation than mechanical production. He saw that the Creator had different kinds of Hands and different ways of modeling. How it was done he knew not, but it was not the surface thing his forefathers taught him. The higher divinity and mystery of the process broke upon him. Man was a fearful and wonderful thing. He was modelled in secret. He was curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. When Science came in, it was not to contradict the older versions. It but gave them content and a still richer meaning. What the Prophet said, and the Poet saw, and Science proved, all and equally will abide forever. For all alike are voices of the Unseen, commissioned to different peoples and for different ends to declare the mystery of the Ascent of Man. (pages 75-76)

Next week, we learn that the scaffolding has been left in the body.


March 12, 2013

The Ascent of Man

II. The Scaffolding Left in the Body

I hope that those of you hanging in with me can see slowly emerging the magnificent view of a Creator with infinite intelligence, infinite love, and infinite patience to wait things out until his greatest creations turned to him of their own free will instead of being coerced. This is "a God worthy of worship", yet not one pressed upon us.

We begin this chapter with the reminder, "Embryology works in the dark." This means that Drummond is going to have to get to what is more obvious:

If this Embryo in every changing feature of its growth contains some reminiscence of an animal ancestry, the succeeding stages of its development may be trusted to carry on the proof. And though here the evidence is neither so beautiful nor so exact, we shall find that there is in the adult frame, and even in the very life and movement of the new-born babe, a continuous witness to the ancient animal strain. (page 77)

But, as Drummond goes on to explain, man is not a "reformed monkey":

The statement is no nearer the truth itself than if one were to say that a gun is an adult form of the pistol. The connection, if any, between Man and Ape is simply that the most Man-like thing in creation is the Ape, and that, in his Ascent, Man probably passed through a stage when he more nearly resembled the Ape than any other known animal. Apart from that accident Evolution owed no more to the Ape than to any other creature. (page 78)

We then review some of the efforts to test the man-ape link by seeing whether newborn human babies have the grip that a young monkey begins with. Drummond comments, "Now although most people have some time or other been seized in the awful grasp of a baby, few have any idea of the abnormal power locked up in the tentacles of this human octopus." Bottom line: yes, human babies do have awesome ability to grasp and continue to hold on.

But there is other "material scaffolding itself—of the animal past." Lots of evidence ties us to the sea: "all the simplest forms of life at the present day are inhabitants of the water." Drummond singles out "the molluscs, the sea-faring animals par excellence of the past. A snail wandering over the earth with a sea-shell on its back is one of the most anomalous sights in nature—as preposterous as the spectacle of a Red Indian perambulating Paris with a birch canoe on his head." You get the idea. But, Drummond points out, man stayed in the water until "he evolved into something like a fish; so that when, after an amphibian interlude, he finally left it, many ‘ancient and fish-like’ characters remained in his body to tell the tale." We are then treated to a description of how some humans have vestigial gills. But "Nature is exceedingly economical, and could not throw all this mechanism away." She doesn’t really come up with much new; she recycles. So gills got recycled into ears, which on dry land were necessary for hearing. Drummond goes over the development of the ear, and then notes: "The power of twitching the ear is not wholly lost, and every school-boy can point to some one in his class who retains the capacity, and is apt to revive it in irrelevant circumstances." From there we progress to "twitching the skin", formerly for shaking off flies, now for raising the eyebrows. We also have a coccyx, "the relic of the tail", along with the muscles for wagging it! "That a distinct external tail should not still be found in Man may seem disappointing to the evolutionist. But the want of a tail argues more for the theory of Evolution than its presence would have done. For all the anthropoids allied to Man have long since also parted with theirs."

Some vestigial structures "are not only useless to Man but worse than useless." The best example of this is "the Vermiform Appendix of the Caecum", a.k.a. the appendix. It used to be quite important, and I think I remember reading of research more recent than Drummond indicating that it may still be of value; but foreign bodies get lodged in it, "which set up inflammation, and in various ways cause death".

It seems that "conditions which are pathological in one animal are natural in others of a lower species. When any eccentricity appears in a human body the anatomist no longer sets it down as a freak of Nature. He proceeds to match it lower down." For example, club-foot is actually gorilla-foot.

Drummond winds this up:

With such facts before us, it is mocking human intelligence to assure us that Man has not some connection with the rest of the animal creation, or that the processes of his development stand unrelated to the other ways of Nature. That Providence, in making a new being, should deliberately have inserted these eccentricities, without their having any real connection with the things they so well imitate, or any working relation to the rest of his body is, with our present knowledge, simple irreverence. 
Were it the present object to complete a proof of the descent of Man, one might go on to select from other departments of science, evidence not less striking than that from vestigial structures. From the side of palaeontology it might be shown that Man appears in the earth’s crust like any other fossil, and in the exact place where science would expect to find him. When born, he is ushered into life like any other animal; he is subject to the same diseases; he yields to the same treatment. When fully grown there is almost nothing in his anatomy to distinguish him from his nearest allies among other animals. . . . (pages 97-98)

But that’s trying to reconcile the creationists with science. "It is the Ascent of Man that concerns us and not the Descent. And these amazing facts about the past are cited for a larger purpose than to produce conviction on a point which, after all, is of importance only in its higher implications." We’re climbing up both halves of Drummond’s trellis, and it is going to get us to heaven as surely as Jacob’s ladder. Next, we will encounter "The Arrest of the Body".


March 19, 2013

The Ascent of Man

III. The Arrest of the Body

This chapter reveals the heart of the issue. It demolishes forevermore the notion that anything just happens by accident rather than by divine design, and it shows us clearly what God had in mind all along, not by contemplating our navels, but by looking at the world with the eye of the scientist.

Drummond begins by quoting a brochure by Fiske: "‘On the Earth there will never be a higher Creature than Man.’ It is a daring prophecy, but every probability of Science attests the likelihood of its fulfilment. The goal looked forward to from the beginning of time has been attained. Nature has succeeded in making a Man; she can go no further; Organic Evolution has done its work." Daring, indeed! It sounds like a sweeping statement. But let’s give Drummond a chance:

This is not a conceit of Science, nor a reminiscence of the pre-Copernican idea that the centre of the universe is the world, and the centre of the world Man. It is the sober scientific probability that with the body of Man the final fruit of the tree of Organic Evolution has appeared; that the highest possibilities open to flesh and bone and nerve and muscle have now been realized; that in whatever direction, and with whatever materials, Evolution still may work, it will never produce any material thing more perfect in design or workmanship; that in Man, in short, about this time in history, we are confronted with a stupendous crisis in Nature,—the Arrest of the animal. (page 99)

He is now going to defend this argument: "The Man, the Animal Man, the Man of Organic Evolution . . . will not go on. It is . . . a Man within this Man; and that he may go on the first Man must stop." Exhibit A is the hand, "one of the most perfect pieces of mechanism in the human body". It has taken eons to develop, and we trace it from the amoeba to the Sea-Anemone to assorted monkeys and apes, ending with the Chimpanzee "in which the Hand is in all essentials identical with Man’s." So how do we know it won’t evolve more? "Because the causes which up to this point have furthered the evolution of the Hand have begun to cease to act." Necessity being the mother of invention, "the fatal day for the Hand" came with "the discovery of Tools. . . . If anything new arose to be done, or to be better done, it was not a better Hand that was now made but a better tool. Tools are external Hands." And here’s the main point: "Tools are not made with the Hand. They are made with the Brain." But notice: it took eons to evolve as far as the human hand did. "Evolution has taken a new departure. For the Arrest of the Hand is not the cessation of Evolution but its immense acceleration, and the redirection of its energies into higher channels."

Drummond then repeats the argument, looking at Sight, as man puts on a pince-nez, buys a microscope, and invents the telescope. "Organic Evolution has not even a chance." Then we go to automatic photographic apparatus: "How long would it take Organic Evolution to arrive at an Eye of such amazing quality and power?" Are you willing to wait that long? Smell, hearing, skin, teeth—the list goes on. "Vigor of limb is not to be found in common life, we look for it in the Gymnasium; agility is relegated to the Hippodrome. Once all men were athletes; now you have to pay to see them." And do we get upset to hear all this? Nah.

The fact is, in one aspect, the body, to Intelligence, is all but an absurdity. One is almost ashamed to have one. The idea of having to feed it, and exercise it, and humor it, and put it away in the dark to sleep, to carry it about with one everywhere, and not only it but its wardrobe—other material things to make this material thing warm or keep it cool—the whole situation is a comedy. (page 108)

If this organism, already so complicated, kept on evolving, "one shrinks from contemplating a future race having to keep in repair an apparatus more involved and delicate." But don’t jump to the wrong conclusion:

The first thing to be learned from these facts is not that the Body is nothing and must now decay, but that it is most of all and more than ever worthy to be preserved. The moment our care of it slackens, the Body asserts itself. It come out from under arrest—which is the one thing to be avoided. Its true place by the ordained appointment of Nature is where it can be ignored; if through disease, neglect or injury it returns to consciousness, the effect of Evolution is undone. Sickness is degeneration; pain the signal to resume the evolution. On the one hand, one must "reckon the Body dead"; on the other, one must think of it in order not to think of it. (page 109)

Remember our Henry’s 19th Suggestion: I RULE THE BODY. But those lucky denizens of the nineteenth century didn’t have toxic GM Frankenfoods tempting them at every turn.

Drummond then turns to a discussion of the constancy of structure, which "reveals a conservatism in Nature, as unexpected as it is wide-spread. Does it mean that the architecture of living things has a limit beyond which development cannot go?" He quotes Ruskin as saying "that there are only three possible forms of good architecture in the world; Greek, the architecture of the Lintel; Romanesque, the architecture of the Rounded Arch; and Gothic, the architecture of the Gable." Architects may modify those slightly, but that does not add to "the generic form". The same principle holds for the architecture of animals. "When the plan of the world was made . . . these types of life were assigned their place and limit, and there they have remained. . . . Even as there is a plan in the parts, there is a plan in the whole." With the body of Man, "the series comes to an end. Man is not only the highest branch, but the highest possible branch." Furthermore, according to Professor J. Cleland, M.D., there is just no room in the human skull for the brain to grow any larger. Cleland further states, "I believe, not that Man is the highest possible intelligence, but that the human body is the highest form of human life possible, subject to the conditions of matter on the surface of the globe, and that the structure completes the design of the animal kingdom."

Drummond resumes:

From this pinnacle of matter is seen at last what matter is for, and all the lower lives that ever lived appear as but the scaffolding for this final work. The whole sub-human universe finds its reason for existence in its last creation, its final justification in the new immaterial order which opened with its close. Cut off Man from Nature, and metaphysical necessity apart, there remains in Nature no divinity. To include Man in Evolution is not to lower Man to the level of Nature but to raise Nature to his high estate. . . . Plant and animal have each their end, but Man is the end of all the ends. . . . The moment an organism was reached through which Thought was possible, nothing more was required of matter. (pages 114-15)

Here’s the crossover: "Science is charged, be it once more recalled, with numbering Man among the beasts, and levelling his body with the dust. But he who reads for himself the history of creation as it is written by the hand of Evolution will be overwhelmed by the glory and honor heaped upon this creature."

What does this mean?

Not only that an order of higher animals has appeared upon the earth, but that an altogether new page in the history of the universe has begun to be written. It means nothing less than that the working of Evolution has changed its course. Once it was a physical universe, now it is a psychical universe. . . . One hand, and only one, has carried out these transformations . . . one principle, and only one, has controlled each subsidiary plot and circumstance . . . the same great patient unobtrusive law has guided and shaped the whole from its beginnings in bewilderment and chaos to its end in order, harmony, and beauty. . . . Mental Evolution has succeeded Organic. . . . And Man stands alone in the foreground, and a new thing, Spirit, strives within him.  (pages 117-118)

Teilhard de Chardin was 12 years old when these words were first uttered. Alfred North Whitehead had not yet turned his attention to philosophy. Here is surely one of the precursors to so much great work yet to come.

Lagniappe: Ta da! We are proud to announce the debut of Alan’s famous "dog" book, A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, in a new Kindle edition. . The Publisher is Ron Hughes ( The meltingly beautiful dog art on the cover is by Mary Hughes ( If you are looking for a simple way to think through your own all-important views about God, this is your lucky day.


March 26, 2013

The Ascent of Man

IV. The Dawn of Mind

Coming as I do from a psychology background, this chapter seems more familiar than those about the sea anemone and the hermit crab.  Drummond is asking the question:

Is the Mind a new or an old thing in the world?  Is it an Evolution from beneath or an original gift from heaven?  Did the Mind, in short, come down the ages like the Body, and does the mother’s faith in the intellectual unfolding of her babe include a remoter origin for all human faculty?  Let the mother look at her child and answer, “It is the very breath of God,” she says; “this Child-Life is divine.”  (page 119)

He then covers some the arguments made: the mother notices that the child has borrowed all sorts of things from her that she in turn received from an earlier mother, on back to a “savage-mother in the woods”.  But linking intellect and consciousness with the animal kingdom

is not to identify them with the animal-body.  Electricity is linked with metal rods, it is not therefore metallic. . . . As we rise in the scale of Nature we encounter new orders of phenomena, Matter, Life, Mind, each higher than that before it, each totally and forever different, yet each using that beneath it as the pedestal for its further progress.  (page 120)

The idea of mental evolution is first met with laughter or contempt.  Well, “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round; They all laughed when Edison recorded sound”, even if that song had not yet been written in Drummond’s day.  Nobody knows the origin of Mind any more than anyone knows the origin of Life.  A. R. Wallace “attacks in Mr. Darwin’s theory of mental evolution . . . not the development itself, but only the supposition that it could have been due to Natural Selection.”

The present thesis is simply that Man has ascended.  After all, little depends on whether the slope is abrupt or gentle, whether Man reaches the top by a uniform flight or has here and there by invisible hands to be carried across a bridgeless space.  In any event it is Nature’s staircase.  (page 126)

The differences between man and mimosa or mammal are “qualitative as well as quantitative”:

Earlier phases of life exhibit imperfect manifestations of principles which in the higher structure and widened environment of later forms are more fully manifested and expressed, yet are neither contained in the earlier phases nor explained by them.  At the same time, everything that enters into Man, every sensation, emotion, volition, enters with a difference, a difference due to the fact that he is a rational and self-conscious being, a difference therefore which no emphasis of language can exaggerate.  The music varies with the ear; varies with the soul behind the ear; relates itself with all the music that ear has ever heard before; with the mere fact that what that ear hears, it hears as music; that it hears at all; that it knows that it hears.  Man differs from every other product of the evolutionary process in being able to see that it is a process, in sharing and rejoicing in its unity, and in voluntarily working through the process himself.  If he is part of it he is also more than part of it, since he is at once its spectator, its director, and its critic.   (page 127)

Here Drummond seems to anticipate the later discovery that the act of observing changes what is observed.

Now we trace the eons during which what happened could not be recorded, when Mind first “emerged from the animal state”.  Drummond elaborates, “Mind cannot be exhumed by Palaeontology or fully embalmed in unwritten history, and apart from the analogies of Embryology we have nothing but inference to guide us until the time came when it was advanced enough to leave some tangible register behind.”  

We do have “mainly five sources of information with regard to the past of Mind”: first, the Mind of a little child; second, the Mind of lower animals; third, material witnesses” such as flint or pottery; fourth, “the Mind of a Savage”; and fifth, Language.  “The Mind of a child not only grows, but grows in a certain order.  And the astonishing fact about that order is that it is the probable order of evolution of mental faculty as a whole”, much like an unfolding embryo.  “No one now disputes” that animals have minds.  “The old protest that animals have no Mind but only instinct has lost its point.”  They have intelligence, emotions, memories, but not to the extent that Man does.  “An Evolutionist would no more expect to find the higher rational characteristics in a wolf or a bear than to unearth the modern turbine from a Roman aqueduct.”

Drummond then cites “Mr. Romanes” concerning a list of emotions in “an arranged catalogue, a more or less definite psychological scale.  These emotions did not only appear in animals, but they appeared in this order.  Now to find out order in Evolution is of first importance.  For order of events is history, and Evolution is history.”  Then it gets really interesting, because by studying a little child, we learn that “there are almost no emotions in the child which are not here . . . . These emotions, as already hinted appear in the Mind of the growing child in the same order as they appear on the animal scale.”  Drummond elaborates on this, then asks, “Why should the Mind thus recapitulate in its development the psychic life of animals unless some vital link connected them?”  Further, in mental pathology and sometimes even in old age, the mind does not collapse like a house of cards, but goes down gradually.  “The order of descent . . . is the inverse of the order of ascent.”  This is what one would have expected: the last to come is the first to go, for it has had less time to get established.  “Devolution is thus assumed to be a co-relative of Evolution.”

Museums are now full of “relics of pre-historic Man”:

Evolution is constantly confronted with statements as to the former glory of now decadent nations, as if that were an argument against the theory.  Granting that nations have degenerated, it still remains to account for that from which they degenerated.  That Egypt has fallen from a great height is certain; but the real problem is how it got to that height.  When a boy’s kite descends in our garden, we do not assume that it came from the clouds.  That it went up before it came down is obvious from all that we know of kite-making.  And that nations went up before they came down is obvious, from all that we know of nation-making. . . . The degeneration and extinction of the unfit are as infallibly brought about by natural laws as the survival of the fit.  Evolution is by no means synonymous with uninterrupted progress, but at every turn means relapse, extinction, and decay.  (pages 138-9)

There won’t be many prehistoric sticks left, but there are stones everywhere.  “If a child playing with a toy spade is a proof that it is a child, a nation working with stone axes is proved to be a child-nation. . . . A Stone Age, thus, was the natural beginning.  In the nature of things there could have been no earlier.  If Mind really grew by infinitely gradual ascents, the exact situation the theory requires is here provided in actual fact.”  Then we progress to “a better Stone Age”, with smooth stones instead of rough.  It took a while before the idea “dawned that a smooth stone made a better axe than a rough one”.  “[Man’s] inspiration probably came from Nature. The first lapidary was the sea; the smoothed pebble on the beach, or the rounded stone of the mountain stream, supplied the pattern.”  Which brings us to our fourth source of information, the mind of the Savage. Drummond then describes some of the people in the South Pacific:  “On these Tropical islands Nature is disastrously kind.  All that her children need is provided for them ready-made”, so that they do not have much of a Struggle for Life as motivation to develop.  “It is a question of a gradually evolving environment.  Every infinitesimal enrichment of the soil for Mind to grow in meant an infinitesimal enrichment of the Mind itself. . . . [Primitive man’s] progress was retarded by the absence of capacities which only progress could bring.”

This brings us to Language.  “Flints and arrow-heads” are

fossil intelligence; the remains of primitive arts and industries are petrified Mind.  But there is one mould into which Mind has run more large and beautiful than any of these. . . . That mould is Language. . . . An old word, like an ancient coin, speaks to us of a former currency of thought, and by its image and superscription reveals the mental life and aspiration of those who minted it.  “Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embalmed and preserved.  It is the embodiment, the incarnation, of the feelings and thoughts and experiences of a nation. . . .” (Trench)  (pages 147-48)

Drummond then treats us to a description of “primeval Man’s” first efforts to communicate.  “Man had even no word for himself, for he had not yet discovered himself. . . . He knew himself, not as subject, but like a little child, as one of the objects of the external world.”  So what gave Man such a “rapid and vast” growth, compared to the animals?  Here “there is a wonderful unanimity among men of science as to the answer: Man acquired the power to express his mind, to speak:

With the discovery of language there arose a new method of passing on a step in progress.  Instead of sowing the gain on the wind of heredity, it was fastened on the wings of words.  The way to make money is not only to accumulate small gains steadily, but to put them out at a good rate of interest.  Animals did the first with their mental acquisitions: Man did the second.  At a comparatively early date, he found out a first-rate and permanent investment for his money, so that he could not only keep his savings and put them out at the highest rate of interest, but have a share in all the gain that was made by other men.  That discovery was Language.  (page 150-51)

This meant that learning could now be passed on.  “So one man lent his mind to another.  The loans became larger and larger, the interest greater and greater; Man’s fortune was secured, In the mere Struggle for Life, his wits were sharpened up to a point; but unless he had learned to talk, he could never have passed very far beyond the animal.”  This also meant “a saving of brain”, because a word is rather like a poker chip for a thought: “To use language is to make thinking easy.  Hence the release of brain energy for further developments in new directions. . . . Language formed the trellis on which Mind climbed upward, which continuously sustained the ripening fruits of knowledge for later minds to pluck.”  A son by the time he reached his teens “was equipped for the Struggle for Life as his forefathers had never been even in old age.  The son, in short, started to evolve where his father left off.”

So we’re picking up steam.  With what subtlety Drummond the clergyman is pointing us toward God without ever mentioning God!  But that trellis is taking us straight to the teleological arguments for the existence of God.  Heard those before?  Well, process philosopher Charles Hartshorne has a mathematical proof for the existence of God, if you’re into math.

A blessed Easter to you all.

Lagniappe: I can’t resist passing this on; it’s from Mark Forster’s brilliant website, : “We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare.  Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.”  —Robert Wilensky


April 2, 2013

The Ascent of Man

V. The Evolution of Language

We are probably more familiar with this material than Drummond’s audience was over a century ago. He finds it necessary to point out that it is improbable "that Language should be outside a law whose universality is being established with every step of progress". He adds, "Evolution enters no region—dull, neglected, or remote—of the temple of knowledge without transforming it." But his real point is that "to make Speech and fit it into a man, after all is said, is less miraculous than to fit a man to make Speech". He then traces its evolution, beginning with the principle of co-operation or gregariousness, "one of the earliest devices hit upon". Yes, there is physical strength in numbers, but more important is "the mental strength of a combination". He gives deer as an example: 

What deer have to arm themselves most against is surprise. When it comes to an actual fight, comrades are of little use. At that crisis the others run away and leave the victims to their fate. But in helping one another to avert that crisis, the value of this mutual aid is so great that gregarious animals, for the most part timid and defenceless as individuals, have survived to occupy in untold multitudes the highest places in Nature. (pages 155-56)

But for this to succeed, "the members of the herd must be able to communicate with one another". There has to be some signalling system. These signs are Language: "Any means by which information is conveyed from one mind to another is Language. And Language existed on the earth from the day that animals began to live together." You get where this is going: howls, bleats, stamps, neighs, and other cacophany evolved into three elements "by minute, slow and insensible degrees". These elements are gestures/grimaces, words, and intonation, "emphasis or inflection of the voice". We can trace the development of these by studying deaf mutes, who with difficulty now can be taught to speak but who can tell stories very well with a sort of pantomime; savage Man, who also uses pantomime to communicate; and a little child, who communicates with movements and sounds naturally but must be taught words, much of the time by imitating caregivers’ facial expressions. "The higher levels of thought were reached when the purer forms of spoken Language had become the vehicle of expression", using fewer and fewer gestures, until "in the case of abstract thought, it is untranslatable into gesture-speech." Drummond quotes "Mr. Romanes" again: "No sign talker with any amount of time at his disposal, could translate into the language of gesture a page of Kant." Both the Philosopher and I had to pass reading examinations in German as part of our respective doctoral programs. I was allowed to use a German dictionary; Alan was not, but they gave him to translate a passage of Kant that he already knew cold!

The next stage beyond signs is sounds:

 A sign Language is of no use when one savage is at one end of a wood and his wife at the other. He must now roar; and to make his roar explicit, he must have a vocabulary of roars, and of all shades of roars. In the darkness of night also, his signs are useless, and he must now whisper and have a vocabulary of whispers. Nor is it difficult to conceive where he got his first brief list of words. Instead of drawing things in the air with his finger, he would now try to imitate their sounds. (page 166)

This brings us to onomatopoeia, which opens another whole can of worms because "there are infinitely more words than sounds", which keeps philologists busy. Then another complication appears: imagine a primitive family with the parents—separated from the rest of their tribe— somehow killed. How would the children survive? Their only hope was each other and the communication skills they had begun to develop. "In ancient Europe, after the present climatal conditions were established, it is doubtful if a family of children under ten years of age could have lived through a single winter." As a result, there or only four or five linguistic stocks in Europe, or in eastern North America. In California and Oregon, the climate was more forgiving, and there we find far more linguistic stocks.

So we move beyond onomatopoeia and build up words by the tens of thousands. Now Drummond wants 

to place in the witness-box the words themselves. A chemist has two methods of determining the composition of any body, analysis and synthesis. Having seen how words may be built up, it remains for us to see whether on analysis they bear trace of having been built up in the way, and from the elements, suggested. . . . The first fact to interest us in this new region is that every student of Language seems to have been compelled to give in his adherence to the general theory of Evolution. . . . [quoting Max Muller] "no student of the science of Language can be anything but an evolutionist, for, wherever he looks, he sees nothing but evolution going on all around him." (pages 178-79)

Muller, analyzing Sanskrit, reduced it to 121 roots. What this shows, says Drummond, is that "words, like everything else, have followed the universal law, and that Languages, starting from small beginnings, have grown in volume, intricacy, and richness, as time rolled on." Writing, when fully evolved, "was only the starting-point for some new development. Every summit in Evolution is the base of some grander peak." We are starting to see, in the midst of all this science, the divine vector yet again. It just gets better: 

Man learned to speak at first because he could not convey his thoughts to his wife at the other side of the wood. It was Space that made him speak. He now learns to speak better because he cannot convey his thoughts to the other end of the world. This new distance-language began again at the beginning, just as all Language does, by employing signs. (page 182)

And we’re off to the telegraph and the telephone. Drummond keeps current. Now he plugs us back into his overall ascent: 

Is this the end? It is by no means likely. The mind is feeling about already for more perfect forms of human intercourse than telegraphed or telephoned words. As there was a stage in the ascent of Man at which the body was laid aside as a finished product, and made to give way to Mind, there may be a stage in the Evolution of Mind when its material achievements—its body—shall be laid aside and give place to a higher form of Mind. Telepathy has already become a word, not a word for thought-reading or muscle-reading, but a scientific word. It means "the ability of one mind to impress, or to be impressed by another mind otherwise than through the recognized channels of sense." . . . However little we know of it, however remote we are from it, whether it ever be realized or not, telepathy is theoretically the next stage in the Evolution of Language. . . . What delayed the gesture-language of the telegraph was not that electricity was not in Nature, but the want of the instrument. When that came, the gesture-language came, and both were perfected together. What delayed the telephone was not that its principle was not in Nature, but that the instrument was not ready. . . . May it not be that that which delays the power to transport and drive one’s thought as thought to whatever spot one wills, is not the fact that the possibility is withheld by Nature, but that the hour is not quite come—that the instrument is not yet fully ripe? . . . What strikes one most in running the eye up this graduated ascent is that the movement is in the direction of what one can only call spirituality. . . . If Evolution reveals anything, if science itself proves anything, it is that Man is a spiritual being and that the direction of his long career is towards an ever larger, richer, and more exalted life . . . Perhaps, after all, Victor Hugo is right: "I am the tadpole of an archangel." (pages 183-85)

New Thought minister and author Emmet Fox remarked many years later that the Romans could have had the telephone; all the raw materials were available. But they weren’t ready.

Drummond winds up the chapter by noting that it doesn’t take much intellect "compared with other contemporary animals" to take "the initial step from which all the others might follow in rapid succession". So, "if the connection between Mind and Language is so vital, why do not Birds, many of which apparently speak, emulate Man in mental power?" How come the parrot isn’t as intelligent as the sailor or detective whose shoulder he rides on? Here’s the real answer: "to make animals human required a conspiracy of circumstances which neither Birds nor any other animal fell heir to", so "Man was left alone during the later aeons of his ascent": 

The progenitors of Birds and the progenitors of Man at a very remote period were probably one. But at a certain point they parted company and diverged hopelessly and forever. . . . the Vertebrates kept to the ground, the Birds took to the air. The consequences of this expedient in the case of the Birds were fatal. They forever forfeited the possibility of becoming human. For observe the cost to them of the aerial mode of life. The wing was made at the expense of the hand". . . . To one organism only was it given to keep on the path of progress from the beginning to the end, and so fulfil without deviation or relapse the final purpose of Evolution. (pages 187-88)

How can anyone exposed to this miss either the divine teleology or the spirituality of evolution?


April 9, 2013

The Ascent of Man

VI. The Struggle for Life

If this doesn’t sound typically New Thought, hang in there. You will gradually come to see a view of God that will put you more at peace with the world, with science, and with your Creator than you might have dreamed possible. Our roots are firmly Biblical, but we—mercifully— don’t view the Bible as a science textbook! A little common sense is always in order. For a brief refresher course, scroll back down to the Lagniappe for February 21, 2012.

Drummond opens the chapter with a description of fifty "breakfastless birds" struggling to survive. "This is how the early savage lived, and this is how he was made. The first practical problem in the Ascent of Man was to get him started on his upward path." What had to be built into the system was that "the very act of living contains within it the principles of progress. An animal cannot be without becoming."

Principle 1 is the Struggle for Life, according to Darwin. We need to trace "how, under the pressures of this great necessity to work for a living, the Ascent of Man has gone on." How did he get from being a brute to "that further height where, to the unconscious compulsions of a lower environment, there were added those high incitements of conscious ideals which completed the work of creating him a Man". We start with a savage, sitting in the sun rather like A. A. Milne’s The Old Sailor My Grandfather Knew:

That savage is the victim of a conspiracy. Nature has designs upon him, wants to do something to him. That something is to move him. Why does it wish to move him? Because movement is work, and work is exercise, and exercise may mean a further evolution of the part of him that is exercised. How does it set about moving him? By moving itself. Everything else being in motion, it is impossible for him to resist. (page 191)

Bottom line: "The first law of Evolution is simply the first law of motion." It all starts with Hunger, "the stimulus of Environment—that which necessitates Man to struggle for life". First, we have "inorganic nature", meaning "heat and cold, climate and weather, earth air, water—the material world". Second, "the world of life, comprehending all plants and animals, and especially those animals against whom primitive man has always to struggle most—other primitive men. All that Man is, all the arts of life, all the gifts of civilization, all the happiness and joy and progress of the world, owe much of their existence to that double war."

Going back a bit farther, we find primitive Man making use of the broken branch of a tree as the first weapon, "the father of all clubs." The next step, club in hand, was to stand erect. This results in his "heaven-erected face". We still can’t maintain it long: "when slightly sick or faint, Man cannot stand at all."

Having invented something, we need to improve upon it, which takes us from blunt sticks to pointed sticks: "Man became a tool-using animal, and the foundations of the Arts were laid." We go from bow, boomerang, throwing-stick, and sling, to the invention of gunpowder. "All our modern weapons of precision, from the rifle to the long range gun, are evolutions from the missiles of the savage." From offense we proceed to defense: shields from bark, wood, or skins, evolve into "baskets, cradles, and, in an evolved form, coracles or boats." Eventually we get to musical instruments and even fire. But note:

they are implements of self-preservation; they entered the world not from hate of Man but for love of life. Why was the spear invented, and the sling, and the bow? In the first instance because Man needed the bird and the deer for food. Why from implements of the chase did they change into implements of war? Because other men wanted the bird and the deer, and the first possessor, as populations multiplied, must protect his food-supply. The parent of all industries is Hunger: the creator of civilization in its earlier forms is the Struggle for Life. (page 197)

With the evolution of tools, even lifestyle evolved. From trapping fish or opening mollusks, he went to "digging for roots with his pointed stick": agriculture, then gardening, settling down, possessing an estate, and "that more settled life in which all the arts of industry must increase." So Man’s mind was "tamed, and strengthened, and brightened, and heightened; so the sense of power grew strong, and so virtus, which is to say virtue, was born". Different circumstances produced different kinds of men, with different "bodies, minds, characters, and dispositions", from fisherman along the shore (maritime region), farmers along the plains, and shepherds in the highlands. The precarious life of a fisherman makes him "hardy, resolute, self-reliant". It’s interesting in that context to think that Jesus picked fishermen as his first followers. The farmer is the tame, settled homebody; and the wandering shepherd, protecting his flock, becomes the man of war. Change is constant. Intermarriage provides still more variety.

Evolution began by using Hunger to drive people, and the function of Nutrition is interrupted only by Death, or "interference with the function of Nutrition". Drummond here points out that the very name given by Darwin has misled people: they emphasize "struggle" and ignore "Life". The stone is distinguished from the animal because "the animal eats, the stone does not". But something had to keep putting man in the machine and holding his feet to the fire.

To say that man evolved himself. . . is as absurd as to say that a newspaper prints itself. To say even that the machinery evolved him is a preposterous as to say of a poem that the printing-press made it. The ultimate problem is, Who made the machine? And Who thought the poem that was to be printed? (page 202)

Drummond reminds us, "It is a principle in the study of history to suspend judgment both of the meaning and of the value of a policy until the chain of sequences it sets in motion should be worked out to its last fulfilment." Then and only then should we pass judgement on moral value. "But Evolution is a study in history, and its results are largely known."

We shouldn’t read too much into the term Struggle, which is "little more than a metaphor. When it is said that an animal struggles, all that is really meant is that it lives. . . . It is Life itself which is the Struggle". There is less pain and fear in the struggle at the lower levels: "as a rule there is no hate in it but only Hunger." Yes, "a price in pain . . . has been paid for the evolution of the world....but the thing which was bought with it was none too dear. For that thing was nothing less than the present progress of the world."

"Another side to this principle", Drummond now tells us, is that "those animals which struggle most successfully will prosper, while the less successful will disappear—hence the well-known principle of Natural Selection or the Survival of the Fittest". But its object is "to produce fitness. And it does so both negatively and positively. In the first place it produces fitness by killing off the unfit. . . . To make a fit world, the unfit at every stage must be made to disappear. . . . " In this way, Natural Selection discourages imperfection. And so, "the Law of the Struggle for Life is elevated to a unique place in Nature as a first necessity of progress." This does not mean that the weak lost out to the strong; it means the Survival of the Adapted: "the survival of the most fitted to the circumstances which surround it."

A fish survives in water when a leaking ironclad goes to the bottom, not because it is stronger but because it is better adapted to the element in which it lives. A Texas bull is stronger than a mosquito, but in an autumn drought the bull dies, the mosquito lives. Fitness to survive is simple fittedness, and has nothing to do with strength or courage, or intelligence or cunning as such, but only with adjustments as fit or unfit to the world around." (page 209)

What we start to understand is that War and Industry are the "lineal descendants " of this struggle. They are "simply the primitive Struggle continued on the social and political plane. Through all these struggles, progress still continues:

The eternal law, as we shall presently see, is unselfishness. But even the selfishness of early Nature loses its sting with time; the self that is in it becomes a higher self; and the world in which it acts is so much a better world that if self gave full rein to the animal it would be instantly extinguished. The amelioration of the Struggle for Life is the most certain prophecy of Science." Drummond looks ahead optimistically to a time when there is no more Struggle for Food because science will have figured out how to synthesize it.

But don’t stop there:

there is a higher hope than Science. Attacked from below by Man’s intellect, the final blow will be struck from a deeper source. It is impossible to conceive that the Ascent of Man should always depend upon his appetites, that in God’s world there should be nothing better to attract him than food and raiment, that he should take no single step towards a higher life except when driven to it. As there comes a time in a child’s life when coercion gives place to free and conscious choice. The day comes to the world when the aspirations of the spirit begin to compete with, to neutralize, and to supplant the compulsions of the body. (pages 213-14)

And we start to recognize the scope of the Grand Design, and are in awe.

Lagniappe: The long-lost article, The Character Ethic: Then and Now, has been rekeyed by yours truly and is now available under Writings-Deb.


April 16, 2013

The Ascent of Man

VII. The Struggle for the Life of Others

What this chapter is all about is love. In a way, only the author of the sermon, "The Greatest Thing in the World" could have written it. Drummond jumps right in:

We now open a wholly new, and by far the most important, chapter in the Evolution of Man. Up to this time we have found for him a Body, and the rudiments of Mind. But Man is not a Body, nor a Mind. The temple still awaits its final tenant—the higher human Soul. With a Body alone, Man is an animal . . . . Add a Mind to that and the advance is infinite. The Struggle for Life assumes the august form of a struggle for light. . . . Experience tells us that Man’s true life is neither lived in the material tracts of the body, nor in the higher altitudes of the intellect, but in the warm world of the affections. Till he is equipped with these Man is not human. He reaches his full height only when Love becomes to him the breath of life, the energy of will, the summit of desire. There at last lies all happiness, and goodness, and truth and divinity. . . . (page 215)

He then continues to wax poetic in order to emphasize that everything in evolution thus far has been pointing in this direction: "Love is not a late arrival, an after-thought, with Creation. . . . For the Evolution of Love is a piece of pure Science." But the evolution story is not usually told that way; "almost the whole emphasis of science has fallen upon the opposite—the animal Struggle fo Life." He sets out "to correct this misconception", stating:

To interpret the whole course of Nature by the Struggle for Life is as absurd as if one were to define the character of St. Francis by the tempers of his childhood. Worlds grow up as well as infants; their tempers change, the better nature opens out, new objects of desire appear, higher activities are added to the lower. The first chapter or two of the story of Evolution may be headed the Struggle for Life; but take the book as a whole and it is not a tale of battle. It is a Love-story. (pages 217-18)

Drummond goes on to explain that the world "mistook Darwinism for Evolution . . . and it misunderstood Mr. Darwin himself." In short, the world missed the point: "The truth is there are two Struggles for Life in every living thing—the Struggle for Life, and the Struggle for the Life of Others." It all boils down to Nutrition and Reproduction: Nutrition secures the life of the individual; Reproduction secures the life of the Species, ensuring that there will be Others in the future.

The function of Reproduction is as much greater than the function of Nutrition as the Man is greater than the Animal, as the Soul is higher than the Body, as Co-operation is stronger than Competition, as Love is stronger than Hate. If it were ever to be charged against Nature that she was wholly selfish, here is the refutation at the very start. (page 222)

Drummond hastens to assure us that this has nothing to do with sex: "They are the fruits of Reproduction—the egg, the seed, the nestling, the little child . . . . It is in the care and nurture of the young . . . that Altruism finds its main expression." The cell must divide, or die. Dividing, or self-sacrifice, saves its life: "By giving up its life as an individual, it has brought forth two individuals and these will one day repeat the surrender." He draws our attention to the flower on a tree, which sacrifices its beauty and sheds its petals to reveal the cluster of seeds within. On through the animal kingdom, this "culminates in its most consummate expression—a human mother." Flower heralds Fruit cradles Seed:

All animals in the long run depend for food upon Fruits and Seeds, or upon lesser creatures which have utilized Fruits and Seeds. . . . The Seed is the tithe of Love, the tithe which Nature renders to Man. When Man lives upon Seeds he lives upon Love. Literally, scientifically, Love is Life. If the Struggle for Life has made Man, braced and disciplined him, it is the Struggle for Love that sustains him. (pages 230-31)

Closely related to Reproduction is Co-operation, which shows "how the very selfish side of life has had to pay its debt to the larger law—but in multitudes more it is directly allied with the Struggle for the Life of Others." Even in the plant and insect worlds, we go from a single cell to a colony, and as with spreading pollen, the bee and the butterfly assist other colonies. Flowers in turn make themselves attractive and noticeable to the insect. This mutual aid makes those colonies "the fittest to survive". If we question this, Drummond gives us a question to ask Nature: "‘Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?’ We at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest." He adds, "In the large economy of Nature . . . the inter-dependence of part with part is unalterably established." And he doesn’t let up: "No animal has the power to satisfy one single impulse of hunger without the Co-operation of the vegetable world. . . . Remove the vegetable kingdom, or interrupt the flow of its unconscious benefactions, and the whole higher life of the world ends."

Next, we are treated to an observation by Herodotus of "a remarkable custom in Egypt", in which the people went into the desert and cut wild palm branches, which they brought home to their gardens and waved over the flowers of their date-palms. They didn’t know why they did it, just that the crop was poor if they didn’t. You have probably guessed the reason: "Palm-trees, like human beings, are male and female. The garden plants, the date-bearers, were females, the desert plants were males; and the waving of the branches over the females meant the transference of the fertilizing pollen dust from the one to the other." Drummond, who never married, adds, "Sex is a paradox; it is that which separates in order to unite. The same mysterious mesh which Nature threw over the two separate palms, she threw over the few and scattered units which were to form the nucleus of Mankind. . . . The solitary animal must die, and can leave no successor." Apparently God wants us to be sociable.

If you’re ready for more sex, we segue into "The Ethical Significance of Sex", beginning with a dissertation on "one of the humblest water weeds—the Spirogyra. It consists of waving threads or necklaces of cells, each plant to the eye the exact duplicate of the other. Yet externally alike as they seem, the one has the physiological value of the male, the other of the female." Sexy seaweed? Who’d’a thunkit! "When we reach the higher plants the differences of sex become as marked as among the higher animals." From a brief detour into Parthenogenesis, we learn that although sex may not be a necessity, in a physical universe it "had physiological advantages". Is Drummond foreshadowing the Purity movement in New Thought? He admits, "Sexual reproduction is so universal in all classes of multicellular organisms, and nature deviates so rarely from it, that it must necessarily be of preeminent importance. . . . The development of the whole organic world depends on these processes." I think I’ll skip the amphigony and move on: we were trying to differentiate Mankind by clear differences between the sexes. "To the blending, or to the mosaics, of the different characteristics of father and mother, and of many previous fathers and mothers under the subtle wand of heredity, all the varied interests of the human world is due. . . . Had sex done nothing more than make an interesting world, the debt of Evolution to Reproduction had been incalculable."

We next take up "The Ethical Significance of Maternity", even though it feels as if we skipped something somewhere. In a masterpiece of understatement, Drummond comments, "What exactly maleness is, and what femaleness, has been one of the problems of the world. . . . Sex has remained almost to the present hour an ultimate mystery of creation, and men seem to know as little what it is as whence it came." Drummond seems to have learned that with abundant food, one produces more females; with restricted rations, more males, so the guys have to get out and struggle. He thinks that at least in the animal world, this leads to more passive females and more freedom and activity for the males (he is quoting Rolph). This leads us to another magnificent truism: "Male and female never have been and never will be the same." Vive la difference! Drummond died about two decades too soon for a lesson in equity feminism, but it does take two parents to raise a child, so that one can get off the nest and stretch now and then, and maybe let Horton hatch the egg. Man represents the Struggle for Life; Woman, the Struggle for the Life of Others. "Man’s life . . . is determined chiefly by the function of Nutrition; Woman’s by the function of Reproduction." So who stuck her in the kitchen? My favorite thing to make for dinner is Reservations.

Anyway, selfishness kept individualism alive; unselfishness kept Altruism alive:

Blended in the children, thee two master-principles from this their starting-point acted and re-acted all through history, seeking that mean in which true life lies. Thus by a Division of Labor appointed by the will of Nature, the conditions for the Ascent of Man were laid. (page 258)

Now Drummond buckles down:

We have next to observe how this bears directly on the theme we set out to explore—the Evolution of Love. The passage from mere Other-ism, in the physiological sense, to Altruism in the moral sense, occurs as a rigid consequence of the due performance of her natural task by her to whom the Struggle for the Life of Others is assigned. That task . . . is Maternity—which is nothing but the Struggle for the Life of Others transfigured, transferred to the moral sphere. (page 258)

Maternity, to cut to the chase, is not the mother of children, or affection between female and male, but of Love itself: "Of Love as Love, of Love as Life, of Love as Humanity, of Love as the pure and undefiled fountain of all that is eternal in the world."

More than a hundred years later, we can still accept this, along with the understanding that things are still evolving. But to recapitulate:

The work of Reproduction being to Struggle for the Life of the Species, its task is only complete when it secures that the child, representing the Species, shall live. If the child dies, Reproduction has failed; the Species, so far as this effort is concerned, comes to an end. Now, can Reproduction as a merely physiological function, complete this process? It cannot. What can? Only the Mother’s Care and Love. Without these, in a few hours or days, the new life must perish; the earlier achievement of Reproduction is in vain. Hence there comes a moment when these two functions meet, when they act as complements to each other; when Physiology hands over its unfinished task to Ethics; when Evolution—if for once one may use a false distinction—depends upon the "moral" process to complete the work the "cosmic" process has begun. (page 260)

This is important: "The emphasis which Nature puts on this process may be judged of by the fact that one-half the human race had to be set apart to sustain and perfect it."

We’re starting to wind this up:

According to evolutional philosophy there are three great marks or necessities of all true development—Aggregation, or the massing of things; Differentiation, or the varying of things; and Integration, or the re-uniting of things into higher wholes. All these processes are brought about by sex more perfectly than by any other factor known. From a careful study of this one phenomenon, science could almost decide that Evolution was the object of Nature, and that Altruism was the object of Evolution. (page 263)

"First that which is natural, then that which is spiritual." We see it as Evolution:

Because the spiritual to our vision emerges from the natural, or . . . is convoyed upwards by the natural for the first stretches of its ascent, it is not necessarily contained in that natural, nor is it to be defined in terms of it. What comes "first" is not the criterion of what comes last. Few things are more forgotten in criticism of Evolution than that the nature of a thing is not dependent on its origin. . . . (page 263)

A little more explanation: Before Altruism was strong enough to take its own initiative, necessity had to be laid upon all mothers, animal and human, to act in the way required:

A mother who did not care for her children would have feeble and sickly children. Their children’s children would be feeble and sickly children. And the day of reckoning would come when they would be driven off the field by a hardier, that is a better-mothered, race. Hence the premium of Nature upon better mothers. Hence, the elimination of all the reproductive failures, of all the mothers who fell short of completing the process to the last detail. And hence, by the law of the Survival of the Fittest, Altruism, which at this stage means good-motherism, is forced upon the world. (page 265)

And so we have the two "great in Nature" forces, "one continually looking to its own things, the other to the things of Others. Both are great in Nature—but "the greatest of these is Love."

That fifty-page chapter has temporarily exhausted my supply of Altruism. Next week, we examine "The Evolution of a Mother".

Lagniappe: The Winter 2013 Editorial from New Thought is now available for your reading pleasure at .


April 23, 2013

The Ascent of Man

VIII. The Evolution of a Mother

This chapter is one of those things that we all know but probably aren’t aware of knowing. Drummond calls the evolution of a mother "in spite of its half-humorous, half-sacrilegious sound . . . a serious study in Biology. . . . It began when the first bud burst from the first plant-cell, and was only completed when the last and most elaborately wrought pinnacle of the temple of Nature crowned the animal creation." He then takes us "up the scale of animal life" from Protozoa to "Mammalia, THE MOTHERS. There the series stops. Nature has never made anything since." Apparently that was where Nature was heading all along.

Drummond then outlines how Nature got there: "In the vegetable kingdom, from the motherlessness of the early Cryptogams [I just love to do the ones in the newspaper], we rise to find a first maternity foreshadowed in the flowering tree", which has the seed or nut carefully protected in its "blossom and crown". We continue on to the orphan elementary animals, past the "Invertebrate half of Nature", and on up to the two highest classes of Vertebrates. There is, however, "care for eggs", even though "Nature so made animals in the early days that they did not need Mothers. . . . It is good to realize how heartless Nature was till [Mothers] arrived." It isn’t that "Mother ignores, but that she never sees her child". They lay their eggs with great care, but Mom is dead or elsewhere when they hatch. Also, the lower animals hatch young by the zillions, and how are they ever going to keep their names all straight? We need at least four great changes: 1) fewer young produced at birth, 2) in recognizable outward form (how are you going to love an embryo?), 3) helpless, so they need a mother to survive; and 4) made physically necessary to the mother so as "to compel her to attend to them". Nature is parsimonious, so she didn’t renege on her previous work, or even make new embryos; she just kept them hidden in the mother’s body for a while until they were good looking, so to speak. But it’s no good if the kid leaves home immediately, abandoning Mom, so we have to "teach the youth of the world the Fifth Commandment".

Here Drummond detours into a possible objection: "If early Nature could turn out ready-made animals in a single hour, is it not a retrograde move to have to take so long about it later on?" Compare the "free-swimming embryo of a Medusa" with "the helpless kitten or the sightless pup". But Nature has an ulterior motive: "Brilliance is not her object. Her object is ethical as well as physiological . . . . By curbing them she is educating them, taming them, rescuing them from a wild and lawless life. These roving embryos are mere bandits; their nature and habits must be changed; not a sterner race but a gentler race must be born."

Which brings us to the fourth change: "No young of any Mammal can nourish itself. There is that in it therefore at this stage which compels it to seek its Mother . . . . On the physiological side, the name of this impelling power is lactation; on the ethical side, it is Love. . . . Break this new bond and the Mammalia become extinct." This is a huge advantage: "Under the new system it is launched into the battle already nourished and strong, and passed scatheless through the first vicissitudes of youth. In the higher Mammalia . . . the young have a double chance of a successful start." From here we segue into "Man . . . a wanderer on the earth, Woman makes a Home. . . . the first great school-room of the human race." Fortunately, the resulting vastly superior mammals invented labor-saving devices and eventually got around to giving women the vote, but that was after Drummond’s time. Remember that a reputable historian judges people by the light they had to walk by, not by the present day; and that includes our assessment of Drummond or— for that matter—Henry Wood (1834-1909). Anyhow, now Evolution must "lengthen out these school days, and give affection time to grow. No animal except Man was permitted to have his education thus prolonged." Drummond then cites John Fiske for recognizing that this delay was necessary for "moral training that the human child should have the longest possible time by its Mother’s side". Physically, this is determined by "an extra piece of machinery" that the baby man possesses and the baby monkey does not. Both have brains, to be sure, but the monkey brain "is only required to do the life-work of an Animal; the other has to do the life-work of a Man. Mental Evolution . . . here steps in, and makes an unexpected contribution to the ethical development of the world." This necessitates "a considerable interval of adjustment and elaboration". Infancy means "the fitting up of this extra machinery within the brain . . . . A sailing vessel may put to sea the moment the rigging is in; a steamer must wait for the engines. And the compensation to the steamer for the longer time in dock is discovered . . . in its vastly greater usefulness, its power of varying its course at will, and in its superior safety in time of war or storm." Too bad we didn’t come with attached instruction manuals.

Drummond then launches into an amazing description of how thoughts wear passages through the brain, for which the research to support came much later: "Each new Thought is therefore a pioneer, a road-maker, or road-chooser, through the brain; and the exhaustless possibilities of continuous development may be judged from the endlessness of the possible combinations." Well, we have to get some of these routes established "before the babe can be trusted from its Mother’s side", until " in the case of the most highly educated man . . . the age of tutelage extends for almost a quarter of a century". Animal mothers may fight for their babies briefly, but not long afterwards contend to the death with the teenagers:

Among the Carnivora it is instructive to observe that while the brief span of infancy admits of the Mother learning a little Love, the father, for want of even so brief a lesson, remains untouched, so wholly untouched indeed that the Mother has often to hide her offspring from him lest they be devoured. Love then had no chance till the Human Mother came. (page 288)

Cue the violins, but he’s right.

Then, of course, this still being the Romantic era, we must "recall the fact of woman’s passive strain. A tendency to passivity means, among other things a capacity to sit still." (Remember that Drummond never married. Who brought him his tea when he needed a break from all this writing, lecturing, and fossil analysis?) We are about to be treated to Patience on a monument—followed by Sympathy, Carefulness, and Tenderness, as Mom gradually evolved all these virtues. But Drummond does make the point:

unselfishness has scored; its child has proved itself fitter to survive than the child of Selfishness. It does not follow that in all circumstances the nobler will be always victorious: but it has a great chance. A few score more of centuries, a few more millions of Mothers, and the germs of Patience, Carefulness, Tenderness, Sympathy, and Self-Sacrifice will have rooted themselves in Humanity. (page 290)

I have been informed by a reputable source (the Philosopher himself) that the Philosopher was one of the first of his sex to assume some of the duties of motherhood and babysit his young son by taking him to work with him while the mother was pursuing her career. Clearly the human race has continued to evolve ethically.

Despite the sugar, Drummond has it right. He ends with a quotation from Fiske:

Without the circumstances of Infancy, we might have become formidable among animals through sheer force of sharp-wittedness. But except for these circumstances we should never have comprehended the meaning of such phrases as "self-sacrifice" or "devotion." The phenomena of social life would have been omitted from the history of the world, and with them the phenomena of ethics and religion. (pages 290-291)

So let’s all "stand for motherhood, America, and a hot lunch for orphans" (which you won’t find in Drummond!). Next week, it’s on to the Evolution of a Father, the following week Involution, and then God and Drummond rest from their labors; and I’ll have to think of some other mischief to get into.


April 30, 2013

The Ascent of Man

IX. The Evolution of a Father

Drummond labels the evolution of a Father Nature’s "crowning task", which at first blush might seem sexist on his part. But give him a chance: "The world was now beginning to fill with Mothers, but there were no Fathers. During all this long process, the Father has not even been named. Nothing that has been done has touched or concerned him almost in the least degree." Even though "while Nature has succeeded in moulding a human Mother and a human child", Dad "still wanders in the forest a savage and unblessed soul". Drummond explains that this is not time lost, because Dad, too is "also at school, and learning lessons which will one day be equally needed by humanity":

The acquisitions of the manly life are as necessary to human character as the virtues which gather their sweetness by the cradle; and these robuster elements—strength, courage, manliness, endurance, self-reliance—could only have been secured away from domestic cares. Apart from that, it was not necessary to put the Father through the same mill as the Mother. Whatever the Mother gained would be handed on to her boys as well as to her girls, and with the law of heredity to square accounts, it was unnecessary for each of the two great sides of humanity to make the same investments. (page 293)

But Dad had some bad habits that would "squander the hereditary gains as fast as he received them", so Nature has "to make the savage Father a reformed character". This isn’t as beautiful as the Evolution of a Mother, but it’s "almost as formidable a problem to attack". Apart from a bit of egg-sitting, we have to get up to the level of birds to find Father "bringing in moss and twigs, while the more trusty Mother does the actual work", then "takes his turn at incubation; supplies food and protection; and lingers round the place of birth to defend the fledglings to the last". With the Mammals, "the Fathers are nearly all backsliders. Many are not only indifferent to their young, but hostile: and among the Carnivora the Mothers have frequently to hide their little ones in case the father eats them." And heaven help the Mothers: "The affection between husband and wife is, of all the immeasurable forms of Love, the most beautiful, the most lasting, and the most divine. Yet up to this time we have not been able even to record its existence." So let’s give Nature some credit for a great deal of problem solving:

During the long ages which preceded historic times, conjugal love was probably all but unknown. Now here is a very pretty problem for Evolution. She has at once to make good Husbands and good Fathers out of lawless savages. Unless this problem is solved the higher progress of the world is at an end. It is the mature opinion of every one who has thought upon the history of the world, that the thing of highest importance for all times and to all nations is Family Life. When the Family was instituted, and not till then, the higher Evolution of the world was secured. Hence the exceptional value of the Father’s development. As the other half of the arch on which the whole higher world is built, his taming, his domestication, his moral discipline, are vital; and in the nature of things this was the next great operation undertaken by Evolution. (pages 295-96)

First step:

relate him, definitely and permanently, to the Mother. And here a formidable initial obstacle had to be encountered. The apathy and estrangement between husband and wife in the animal world is radical and universal. There is almost no such thing there as married life. Marriage, in anthropology, is not a word for an occasion, but for a state; it is not . . . a wedding, but a dwelling together throughout life of husband and wife. Now when Man emerged from the animal creation this institution of conjugal life had not been arrived at. Marriage like everything else has been slowly evolved, and until it was evolved, until they learned to dwell continually together, there was no chance for mutual love to spring up between male and female. In Nature the pairing season is usually but an incident. (page 296)

In this brief period, the father can’t develop real affection. "If he is to run away a few days after the young are born he will miss all the discipline of the home, and as this discipline is essential, as this is the only way in which love can be acquired . . . some method must be adopted . . . to extend the period of home life during which it can act."

How was this done? By lengthening "the time in which husband and wife should stay together". Animals mate in the time of year such that the young will be born when they have the best chance of surviving: "when the climate is mildest, food most abundant, and the prospects of life on the whole most favorable". Skipping the dormouse and the young deer, we note that "when Man’s Evolution made a certain progress . . . . the parents could now make provision for any weather and for any dearth. . . . One could not find a simpler instance of the growing sovereignty of Mind over the powers of Nature."

Then "the hypothesis of promiscuity" rears its ugly head, its supporters trying to show that "children in primitive times belonged rather to the tribe." Not likely. Drummond quotes Westermarck’s History of Human Marriage, somewhere in pages 42-50:

Everywhere we find the tribes of clans composed of several families, the members of each family being more closely connected with one another than with the rest of the tribe. The Family, consisting of parents, children, and often also their next descendants, is a universal institution among existing people. . . . in all probability there has been no stage of human development where marriage has not existed, and that the father has always been, as a rule, the protector of his Family. (pages 299-300)

We’re not quite there yet. "With the longer time together husband and wife may get to know and lean upon one another a little, but the time is still too short for deep affection, and there remain one or two serious obstacles to remove." Abolishing the pairing season helped. "An animal mother could not truly love in the early days because she had a hundred or a thousand young. Man could not love in the early days because he had a dozen wives." The Evolutionist would point out that even for the polygamist there is usually one favorite wife. The physiologist would note that "the transition to monogamy and the rise of the Family was a likely if not an inevitable result." And certainly "during those later stages of social Evolution in which Monogamy has prevailed, the change has been in the best physical interests alike of the parents, the offspring, and of society".

But we still aren’t there. Not only does there have to be time after marriage for "mutual knowledge and affection"; it must be deepened "by extending it to the time before marriage". No more semi-barbarous capture or purchase, treating the bride like a chattel, which renders impossible "that preliminary courtship which leads to mutual knowledge and intelligent love". Drummond gives high marks to America for proving how well this works out "without any sacrifice of man’s reverence for woman, or woman’s reverence for herself": "springing out of these naturally mingled lives, there must more and more come those sacred and happy homes which are the surest guarantees for the moral progress of a nation". However, "love . . . is no necessary ingredient of the sex relation; it is not an outgrowth of passion. Love is love, and has always been love, and has never been anything lower." So where did it come from? "A Little Child"; "one day, in the love of a little child, Father and Mother met". Drummond adds,

Had the institution of the Family depended on Sex and not on affection it would probably never have endured for any time. Love is eternal; Sex, transient. . . . The only thing that could bear the heavy burden of social order and adapt itself to every change and fresh demand was the indestructibly solid yet elastic, strength of love. The care and culture of love therefore became thenceforth the first great charge of Evolution, and every obstruction to its path began to be swept away. (pages 306-7)

Natural Selection took care of "a prolonged and protective Fatherhood . . . . The Children who had fathers to fight for them grew up; those which had not, were killed or starved." Father and Mother’s being together longer "meant double protection for the little ones". With Mom not free to hunt for food, Dad must be "not only protector but food-provider". With love as "a winning force",

ethical factors now determined extinction or survival. Bad parents mean starved children, and starved children will be replaced in the Struggle for Life by full-fed children, and ere a few generations parents without love will exist no more. The child, on the other hand which has drunk most deeply of its Father’s or its Mother’s love lives to hand on that which has spared it to a succeeding race. (page 308)

The human Family, with "the new forces of Sympathy, Brotherhood, Self-denial, or Love", began to work among the isolated units which made up primitive Man", and "the whole composition and character of the aggregate began to change". Now we see the final needed elements of physical strength: "He who formerly stood alone in the Struggle for Life now found himself backed on occasion by an inner circle"; the Family has his back. Families became "the recognized piers of the social structure and gave a first stability to the race of men".

Now we move from physical advantages to ethical uses. "For the Family is not only [Evolution’s] greatest creation, but its greatest instrument for further creation." In the Struggle for Life, "the Family as a whole must sometimes fight, but the responsibility and the duty are now distributed, and those who were once solely pre-occupied with the personal struggle will have respites, during which other things will occupy their minds." Family members find that

new relations among them will spring up, new adjustments to one another’s presence and to one another’s needs, and hitherto unknown elements of character will be gradually called to the surface. That unselfishness, in some rude form, should now grow up is a necessity of living together. A man cannot be a member of a Family and remain an utter egoist. (pages 310-11)

Drummond goes on to explain that at times a particular Family has grown so powerful that "the more desirable spread of Altruism to the Nation was threatened, and wider interest so much forgotten that the Family became the enemy of the State", which then had to take action to crush and break up that particular Family. But we also see the beginnings of the development of a sense of duty. The Mother’s gift to the world is Love; the Father’s is Righteousness, and we see the development of a moral order, with the children getting at least six of the ten commandments from their parents. Father was the role model of authority, although today both parents share this responsibility more fully as women have begun to come to equality status with men.

It took a long time for all this to fully blossom, but

We have reached a stage in Evolution at which physiological gains are guarded and accentuated, if not in an ethical interest, at least by ethical factors becoming utilized by natural selection. Henceforth affection becomes a power in the world; and whatever physiological adjustments continue to go on beneath the surface, the most attached Families will have a better chance of surviving and of transmitting their moral characteristics to succeeding generations. The completion of the arch of Family Life forms one of the great, if not the greatest of the landmarks of history. If the crowning work of Organic Evolution was the Mammalia; the consummation of the Mammalia is the Family. Physically, psychically, ethically, the Family is the masterpiece of Evolution. The creation of Evolution, it was destined to become the most active instrument and ally which Evolution has ever had. . . . It is the generator and the repository of the forces which alone can carry out the social and moral progress of the world. (page 316)

And here’s Drummond’s grand finale to the chapter:

Looking at the mere dynamics of the question, the Family contains all the machinery, and nearly all the power, for the moral education of mankind. Feebly, but adequately, in the early chapters of Man’s history it fulfilled its function of nursing Love, the Mother of all morality; and Righteousness, the Father of all morality, so preparing a parentage for all the beautiful spiritual children which in later years should spring from them. If life henceforth is to go on at all, it must be a better life, a more loving life, a more abundant life; and this premium upon Love means—if it means anything—that Evolution is taking henceforth an ethical direction. It is no more possible to interpret Nature physically from this point than to interpret a "Holy Family" of Raphael’s in terms of the material structure of canvas or the qualities of pigments. . . . Not for centuries but for millenniums the Family has survived. Time has not tarnished it; no later art has improved upon it; nor genius discovered anything more lovely; nor religion anything more divine. From the bee’s cell and the butterfly’s wing men draw what they call the Argument from Design; but it is in the kingdoms which come without observation, in these great immaterial orderings which Science is but beginning to perceive, that the purposes of Creation are revealed. (pages 316-18)

Next week, we will Involute and sum up Drummond’s great accomplishment.


May 7, 2013

The Ascent of Man

X. Involution

Drummond begins this final chapter with a story, as he so often does. It seems that there is clay under beds of coal everywhere. In this clay is an abundant fossil, named Stigmaria, originally thought to be an extinct variety of water-weed. Then another fossil turns up in the coal itself, "almost as abundant but far more beautiful, and from the exquisite carving which ornamented its fluted stem it received the name of Sigillaria". Then, guess what:

One day a Canadian geologist, studying Sigillaria in the field, made a new discovery. Finding the trunk of a Sigillaria standing erect in a bed of coal, he traced the column downwards to the clay beneath. To his surprise he found it ended in Stigmaria. This branching fossil in the clay was no longer a water-weed. It was the root of which Sigillaria was the stem, and the clay was the soil in which the great coal-plant grew.
Through many chapters, often in the dark, everywhere hampered by the clay, we have been working among roots. Of what are they the roots? To what order do they belong? By what process have they grown? What connection have they with the realm above, or the realm beneath? Is it a Stigmaria or a Sigillaria world? (pages 319-20)

Drummond continues his analogy, making his point that we didn’t know of an organic connection "between lower Nature and that wholly separate and all but antagonistic realm, the higher world of Man". The higher world seemed to be "a system by itself", rising out of nothing, resting on nothing. "What fellowship had light with darkness?" But the biologist working upward and the psychologist, moralist, and socialist working downward have come across "the things they had counted a peculiar possession of the upper kingdom, burying themselves in ever attenuating forms in the clay beneath". So, "is it a Stigmaria or a Sigillaria world? Is the biologist to give up his clay or the moralist his higher kingdom? Are Mind, Morals, Men, to be interpreted in terms of roots, or are atoms and cells to be judged by the flowers and fruits of the tree?"

First, says Drummond, we must each "explore with new respect the other’s world", concentrating on harmonies rather than contrasts. Despite our longstanding feelings that the universe was one, the separate disciplines saw only separation:

It was reserved for Evolution to make the final revelation of the unity of the world, to comprehend everything under one generalization, to explain everything by one great end. . . . It gathered all that is and has been into one last whole—a whole whose very perfection consists in the all but infinite distinctions of the things which it unites. (page 321)

Yet there is no danger of "obliterating distinctions that are vital. . . . Stigmaria can never be anything more than root, and Sigillaria can never be anything less than stem. To show their connection is not to transpose their properties." This is not mere sameness of material, but rather, as the Duke of Argyll puts it, "what the Mind recognizes as the result of operations similar to its own". But how do we "escape from the crassest materialism" if Mind somehow evolved out of Matter? Drummond says that this "unreflecting inference" arises from "a total misconception of what a root is. Because a thing is seen to have roots, it is assumed that it has grown out of these roots, and must therefore belong to the root-order. But neither of these things is true in Nature." He asks, "Are the stem, branch, leaf, flower, fruit of a tree roots? Do they belong to the root-order? They do not. Their whole morphology is different; their whole physiology is different; their reactions upon the world around are different." And furthermore, no single one of them is contained in either the root or the clay. "They do not grow out of clay, and they are not made out of clay." Drummond’s mild exasperation with ignorance comes through:

Fill a flower-pot with clay, and drop into it a seed. At the end of four years it has become a small tree; it is six feet high; it weighs ten pounds. But the clay in the pot is still there? A moiety of it has gone, but it is not appreciably diminished; it has not, except the moiety, passed into the tree; the tree does not live on clay nor on any force contained in the clay. It cannot have grown out of the seed, for the seed contained but a grain for every pound contained in the tree. In cannot have grown from the root, because the root is there now, has lost nothing to the tree, has itself gained from the tree, and at first was no more there than the tree. (page 323)

Are you beginning to see why materialists and other reductionists have ignored Drummond from that time to the present? He has used the findings of evolution itself to refute those approaches. And many Evangelicals, like the people who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, still refuse to look at evolution through Drummond’s eyes.

After telling us a bit more about roots, Drummond reveals the secret of Evolution, which, he says, lies with the Environment:

in that in which things live and move and have their being [Acts 17:28], is found the secret of their being, and especially of their becoming. . . . It is Nature, the world, the cosmos—and something more, some One more, an Eternal Intelligence and an Eternal Will. Everything that lives, lives in virtue of its correspondences with this Environment. Evolution is not to unfold from within; it is to infold from without. Growth is no mere extension from a root but a taking possession of, or a being possessed by, an ever widening Environment, a continuous process of assimilation of the seen or Unseen, a ceaseless re-distribution of energies flowing into the evolving organism from the Universe around it. The supreme factor in all development is Environment. Half the confusions which reign round the process of Evolution, and half the objections to it, arise from considering the evolving object as a self-sufficient whole. (page 324)

Nothing evolves in a vacuum: "If an organism is to be judged in terms of the immediate Environment of its roots, the tree is a clay tree; but if it is to be judged by stem, leaves, fruit, it is not a clay tree." Similarly, the moral and social organism must be judged in terms of the higher influences in its environment, and

the Environment itself rises with every evolution of any form of life. To regard the Environment as a fixed quantity and a fixed quality is, next to ignoring the altruistic factor, the cardinal error of evolutional philosophy. With every step a climber rises up a mountain side his Environment must change. (page 325)

And if you aren’t clear about the Environment of the Social tree, "it is all the things, and all the persons, and all the influences, and all the forces with which, at each successive stage of progress, it enters into correspondence. And this Environment inevitably expands as the Social tree expands and extends its correspondences." But in the plant the higher principles are "physical, in Man spiritual. . . . To call the things in the physical world ‘material’ takes us no nearer the natural, no further away from the spiritual." And here’s "the fallacy of the merely quantitative theory of Evolution":

To interpret any organism in terms of the organism solely is to omit reference to the main instrument of its Evolution, and therefore to leave the process, scientifically and philosophically, unexplained. It is as if one were to construct a theory of the career of a millionaire in terms of the pocket-money allowed him when a schoolboy. (pages 329-30)

Drummond adds support for his point by quoting at length from "the Master of Balliol", Edward Caird; and from James Martineau, an English philosopher who was a Unitarian and a Trancendentalist.

Then comes the piece de resistance (sorry to omit the accents), which actually made it into Wikipedia and is credited to Drummond, the original quotation about the God of the gaps:

There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps—gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God’s writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If by the accumulation of irresistible evidence we are driven—may not one say permitted—to accept Evolution as God’s method in creation, it is a mistaken policy to glory in what it cannot account for. The reason why men grudge to Evolution each of its fresh claims to show how things have been made is the groundless fear that if we discover how they are made, we minimize their divinity. (pages 333-34)

It reminds me of the wonderful folks who got all bent out of shape when oil was first taken out of the ground, because clearly God had put it there for the purpose of blowing up the world at the Last Judgement, and His plans were going to be all messed up. Their theology needed a little work.

Next, we get a bit on miracles:

The daily miracle of a flower, the courses of the stars, the upholding and sustaining day by day of this great palpitating world, need a living Will as much as the creation of atoms at the first. . . . Those cases which we do not know to be growths, we do not know to be anything else. . . . Nor are they any the less miraculous because they appear to us as growths. A miracle is not something quick. The doings of these things may seem to us no miracle, nevertheless it is a miracle that they have been done. But, after all, the miracle of Evolution is not the process, but the product. Beside the wonder of the result, the problem of the process is a mere curiosity of Science. For what is the product? . . . It is that which of all other things in the universe commends itself, with increasing sureness as time goes on, to the reason and to the heart of Humanity—Love. Love is the net result of Evolution. This is what stands out in Nature as the supreme creation. Matter cannot progress. It is a progress in spirit, in that which is limitless, in that which is at once most human, most rational, and most divine. (pages 334-35)

Drummond then recapitulates what he has told us in the previous nine chapters, tracing the evolution of love. And so, on to the critics:

The sceptic, we are sometimes reminded, has presented crucial difficulties to the theist founded on the doctrine of Evolution. Here is a problem which the theist may leave with the sceptic. That that which has emerged has the qualities it has, that even the Mammalia should have emerged, that that class should stand related to the life of Man in the way it does, that Man has lived because he loved, and that he lives to love—these, on any theory but one, are insoluble problems. (pages 336-37)

Now he begins his conclusion:

Read from the root, we define this age-long process by a word borrowed from the science of roots—a word from the clay—Evolution. But read from the top, Evolution is an impossible word to describe it. The word is Involution. It is not a Stigmaria world, but a Sigillaria world; a spiritual, not a material universe. Evolution is Advolution; better, it is Revelation—the phenomenal expression of the Divine, the progressive realization of the Ideal, the Ascent of Love. Evolution is a doctrine of unimaginable grandeur. (page 339)

He continues:

Evolution has ushered a new hope into the world. The supreme message of science to this age is that all nature is on the side of the man who tries to rise. [Note yet another famous quotation from Drummond.] Evolution, development, progress are not only on her programme, these are her programme. . . . The aspiration in the human mind and heart is but the evolutionary tendency of the universe becoming conscious. Darwin’s great discovery, or the discovery which he brought into prominence, is the same as Galileo’s—that the world moves. The Italian prophet said it moves from west to east; the English philosopher said it moves from low to high. And this is the last and most splendid contribution of science to the faith of the world. (page 340)

And here comes his commercial for Christianity:

If all men could see the inner meaning and aspiration of the natural order should we not find at last a universal religion—a religion congruous with the whole past of Man, at one with Nature, and with a working creed which science could accept? The answer is a simple one: We have it already. . . . Up to this time no word has been spoken to reconcile Christianity with Evolution, or Evolution with Christianity. And why? Because the two are one. What is Evolution? A method of creation. What is its object? To make more perfect living beings. What is Christianity? A method of creation. What is its object? To make more perfect living beings. Through what does Evolution work? Through Love. Through what does Christianity work? Through Love. Evolution and Christianity have the same Author, the same end, the same spirit. . . . No man can run up the natural lines of Evolution without coming to Christianity at the top. (pages 341-42)

We can now see clearly why our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909) was so enthusiastic about Scottish Henry, interested as our Henry was in the power of the God-aligned mind to heal body, pocketbook, and relationship. Beyond even the beauty of Drummond’s sermons, there is no better way to combine science and religion than what Drummond has demonstrated. Whitehead might continue it, or build it up in physics as Drummond has done in biology. Teilhard de Chardin might concentrate on the evolving upward instead of outward. But they are all standing on Drummond’s gigantic shoulders. Here is his ending:

Evolution always attains; always rounds off its work. It spent an eternity over the earth, but finished it. It struggled for millenniums to bring the Vegetable Kingdom up to the Flowering Plants, and succeeded. In the Animal Kingdom it never paused till it exhausted the possibilities of matter in the creation of the Mammalia. Kindled even by this past, Man may surely say, "I shall arrive." The Further Evolution must go on, the Higher Kingdom come—first the blade, where we are to-day; then the ear, where we shall be to-morrow; then the full corn in the ear [Mark 4:28], which awaits our children’s children, and which we live to hasten. (page 346)

Lagniappe: Here is a quotation from the book Is God For Real? (1971) by one of Alan’s favorite professors, Boston University personalist philosopher Peter Bertocci:

I suggested in the last chapter that God is a Creator-Person, whose mind is at work in his world. Nature is tremendously complex; yet its events fit into a pattern that makes more sense if it can be seen not as the result of aimless movements but as the work of a cosmic Planner. What we are saying when we explore a world that we believe to be orderly is that there is a mind-like quality about nature, and that is one aspect of God. To put it differently, the indomitable faith of the scientist that the world he studies is a world that reveals itself to him is evidence for belief in a cosmic Mind. In science we live in the faith that this world we know is one order of events to which our minds are not alien. Is this not a beginning of belief in one knowing Person at the heart of things? A beginning, yes. (page 33)


May 14, 2013

Back to the Stable

Our Henry, Henry Wood (1834-1909) and his Margaret sedately clip-clop home, their minds reeling with the exciting and powerful ideas that they have learned from the Henry Drummond lecture series on evolution. Our Henry’s flagship volume, Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography was copyrighted in 1893, the same year that the second set of Drummond lectures were delivered in Boston: the same Lowell lecture series that Alfred North Whitehead later delivered in 1925. Not knowing what month our Henry’s book came out, we cannot know whether it was influenced by the second Drummond series, or even indeed whether it hit the bookstores in 1893; but the influence of Natural Law in the Spiritual World, the first set of Drummond lectures on evolution, is apparent. Those were delivered to "his artisan audiences in Possilpark, Glasgow" in the late 1870s and first published in book form in 1883, selling some 120,000 copies and leading to Drummond’s promotion from lecturer to professor.

Whether our Henry takes his horse and carriage back to the stable himself or turns it over to his coachman or at least a general factotum, we can try to imagine what daily life was like in his day and how it differed from ours more than a century later. There were precious few labor-saving devices back then, merely as many servants as one could afford. Air and water pollution came from different sources from ours today but was present. The United States had just been through a terrible civil war that had threatened to split the nation, and wounds were far from healed. But all the technological advances based on science, particularly the steam locomotive and the expansion of the railroads linking the country from east to west, gave people hope of a bright future.

What wasn’t going so well was the attempt to unite science and religion. Such efforts, particularly the New Thought movement, met with scornful resistance from both sides: scientists, with evolution as a new tool, sought to discredit religion altogether; and conservative churchmen, particularly various Calvinists, attempted to discredit the theory of evolution itself. In the midst of the fray were Wood and Drummond, both seeking a rational approach to both sides of the argument. They sought to start at the bottom with the evidence from the physical universe and see how high that would take them. As we now know, it took them to the feet of God, viewed in a fresh new way, still firmly rooted in the Bible. Wood, who had suffered for years from what New Thought historian Horatio W. Dresser called a nervous breakdown that caused him to retire early from a successful business career, had mastered the principles of mental healing for himself and now sought to share them with others. Like Unity co-founder Myrtle Fillmore, Wood was deeply spiritual, and he saw the importance of remaining God-centered, even though others in New Thought as the movement grew sought to apply some sort of scientific formula and leave out the God part.

So things weren’t so very different back then. At times, we seem to have traveled still farther in the wrong direction, despite the optimism prevailing in the Mauve Decade, well ahead of the world wars. We need New Thought, what I have called habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline, just as much as they did. And, with the set-up given us by Drummond and Wood, we need it on the sounder metaphysical foundation furnished by Whitehead. Dresser in A History of the New Thought Movement quotes at length from a paper read by Wood before the Metaphysical Club, "To What Extent is Self-Healing Practicable?". The quotation begins, "A thought in any direction makes it easier for the next one to follow it." What better, simpler description could there be of what the Philosopher liked to call "building up the pattern of the past", the essence of process thought? In each moment, we choose to accept God’s initial aim, a. k. a. "the mind of Christ". As those moments pile up in the past, the background out of which the next moment, the next experience, grows, changes in the direction we desire. Or, as you can readily see, habitual negative thoughts about what we don’t want also pile up. Somehow we are always more ready to believe in the operation of the negative than the positive, but the principle is exactly the same.

So where does going back to the stable get us? There’s not much point in wanting to go back to the nineteenth century; despite prosperity, society’s worldview had already started to deteriorate by its end. For answer, let’s turn to Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, who authored the famous Narnia series of books for children, and the best children’s books always have much to say to adults. The Philosopher and I used to take turns reading aloud to each other, frequently from children’s literature. It’s a very inefficient way to get through a book but an excellent way to share quality time. The last book in the Narnia series is The Last Battle, at the end of which Narnia as the children had known it goes out of existence. It is the scariest of the lot because evil seems to be holding sway so completely that there is no means for good to recover, and a false god is deceiving even the Narnians loyal to Aslan, the Christ figure. Finally the action centers on an old tumbledown stable, into which people go one at a time and mostly against their will. A bit of dialogue makes the point:

"It seems, then," said Tirian, smiling himself, "that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places."
"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."
"Yes," said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world." (From chapter 13)

We don’t have to agree with all of Lewis to enjoy his work and grow spiritually from it.


May 21, 2013

Process New Thought

No matter what you may have read or heard elsewhere, there is only one Process New Thought, and that is what we offer here on our web site. Process New Thought (a. k. a. "Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion", with apologies to Garrison Keillor), consists of what the late Alan Anderson and I believe and teach. If you want to adopt parts of it and change parts of it, be our guest, but you’ll have to call it something else.

The word process has a special meaning in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (and Charles Hartshorne and other followers), whose specialty was systematic metaphysics. To some extent it overlaps the common definition of process as opposed to outcome, but it also reflects the idea that change is the only constant in the universe, that life is more like the frames of a movie than like a series of still photographs. On that metaphysical basis, Whitehead comes up with a very different view of God from the traditional Christian notions of an omnipotent, coercive potentate whose mind could be changed with overwhelming petitions, and who then might suspend the laws of the universe for the benefit of some person or group. Whitehead’s all-sufficient God persuades rather than coerces; and although God’s loving, dependable character never changes, God is influenced by the world in that God grows as we grow. However, this is a universe that operates lawfully, and God does not violate God’s own laws, which would be inconsistent.

In process thought, each occasion of experience (the basic building blocks of the universe) has some tiny degree of free will for its brief life span. "God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God’s will." God contains the universe but is not identical with it, a view known as panentheism. This is different from New Thought’s pantheism, since pantheism negates any notion of free will and hence violates what process philosopher David Ray Griffin calls hard-core common sense. This refers to things we cannot deny without what Griffin calls "performative self-contradiction", shooting oneself in the foot. Since New Thought concerns the power of the God-aligned mind, process thought provides a much more satisfactory metaphysical underpinning for its principles and practices.

Alan, the Philosopher, came up with a formula for describing how process thought operates: "Past plus possible plus choice equals new creation". All of the experiences of the past impinge on the presently developing experience. To those influences, God adds perfect possibilities (God’s initial aims, "the mind of Christ"), tailor-made for each occasion of experience. The developing occasion of experience is free to accept or reject those possibilities in part or in whole. This is why Alan and I say we are new every moment, literally. Each of us is a series of occasions of experience—or actually, many such strings, a self or soul consisting of such a series, rather like the Buddhist notion of one candle lighting another. But although there is much to admire in Buddhism, and Whitehead and other process thinkers make use of it, it is not a part of Process New Thought, which is strictly Christian although not traditionally so, for we represent the original basis of New Thought as universalist and unitarian, as those ideas appeared in the mid-nineteenth century rather than what they resemble today. Nor do we hold with the Hinduism that crept into New Thought early in its history , although Alan used to say that you could prove anything you wanted through Hinduism because there were so many varieties.

Alan’s doctoral dissertation for his Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University was "Horatio W. Dresser and the Philosophy of New Thought". Dresser was the first baby born in the movement later known as New Thought, as his parents had met in Quimby’s offices as Quimby patients and later married. He was also New Thought’s first historian. He had earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard. Alan’s professors included Boston personalists, one of whom had actually studied with Whitehead. So Process New Thought holds, as most New Thoughters do not, that since the highest thing of which we humans have any knowledge is the person, and since God as our creator must exceed us in every way, then God must be—at a minimum—personal. Personhood, then, is a floor rather than a ceiling. All humans are persons, but not all persons are human; if there be angels, they are persons, and dolphins may be persons, person being defined as one who is self-aware, purposive, and rational.

With one exception, the New Thought founders came from Christian backgrounds, and most were thoroughly Bible based. Symbolic interpretation of the Bible is one of the glories of New Thought. Process New Thought is similarly Bible based.

In both process thought and New Thought, there are many views and approaches, and they may all have value, but they are not all part of Process New Thought, which was Alan’s original creation. At the conclusion of a paper titled New Thought and Process Thought as Complementary Aspects of the Revolution of Spiritual Power (1989), Alan wrote:

On the one hand, process thought has paid little attention to what I call direct application of thought (and feeling and willing) without resorting to indirect application accomplished by conscious directing of muscles—in healing and other forms of paranormal action and awareness. On the other hand, New Thought has not availed itself of the resources of process thought. The combination of the two will produce an unparalleled stage of the spiritual revolution.

Although we are happy to see others looking into the two disciplines, we were there first in terms of combining them. Please do not confound the popular and philosophical definitions of process, nor New Thought and New Age, New Thought being about a century older and in some ways, wiser.


May 28, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality

Ground Rules

Welcome to Evolving New Thought Worldviews, an encounter with a metaphysics that is capable of joining science and spirituality. You can’t just jam them together like two wads of Silly Putty; they must fit with each other and take each other’s needs into account. This new series of newsletters is an attempt to give a broad outline of such a metaphysics, not to get into all the details of the philosophical arguments involved, although the Philosopher vetted the original version of these ideas.

Any organization must periodically go through its underlying philosophy and practices and update what has ceased to serve it well; otherwise, it stagnates and slowly dies. The New Thought movement, loosely organized though it may be, is no exception. We do a creditable job of updating our practices as new ideas and information become available, especially from research in psychology, but we generally fail to examine the worldview that has been handed down to us, never questioning whether it is the best available to aid us in unifying our currently diverging worlds of science and spirituality into a single world and a single worldview that serves both.

In today’s world, known as postmodern for lack of a better name, science and religion are either at loggerheads or else run parallel to each other, basically ignoring each other. If we believe that we are somehow all interconnected, that this is one world, that’s not acceptable. We need a worldview that explains and includes both science and religion, accounting for known facts in each without dissing the other.

The two main traditional worldviews are both inadequate for today’s world, both in terms of science and of religion; and as we know, spirituality is the raw material from which religions are made. It is philosophy’s job to develop a worldview that can unite science and religion in a way that honors both. Most postmodern philosophy is destructive, as we shall soon see. However, there is one constructive postmodern philosophy that takes into account the findings of quantum physics and other recent science, at the same time explaining and accommodating the principles that have served New Thought well from its earliest days.

In seeking a constructive postmodern philosophy to underlie our worldview, we as New Thoughters are reaching out to the rest of the world, helping them to understand that they, too, can be New Thoughters, many of them right where they are now spiritually.

There are two divisions of logic: formal and informal. Formal logic is the stuff with all the funny symbols. Informal logic is sometimes called critical thinking. In the careful, logical, critical thinking that is the hallmark of philosophy, there are three ground rules.

The first ground rule is "Thou shalt be true to thyself lest thou shootest thyself in the foot." This is known as internal consistency. You can’t say one thing in the first half of a sentence or paragraph and contradict yourself in the second half. Jesus—and later Abraham Lincoln—reminded us of what happens when a house is divided against itself: "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." —Mark 3:25

The second ground rule has to do with truth. Truth is the property of a proposition, which is the meaning of a statement. A statement is true if it corresponds to what really is. We seek ever-closer approximations of truth. Process philosopher Charles Hartshorne said, "Truth is what God knows".

The third ground rule is that what we hold to be true must stick together. Our ideas must fit with each other to produce a meaningful whole. This is known as coherence, for our ideas must cohere.

These rules mean that we can’t just stick any old group of ideas together and call them our worldview. Our ideas must fit with each other consistently and coherently, and they must correspond to the true state of affairs.

Without a well-established relationship with God, all this is straw, as St. Thomas Aquinas observed. But it is a lot easier to throw ourselves into the arms of God in total trust when we have already done the careful rational thinking about our world and the God who created it.


June 4, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

What Worldview Do We Choose?

Here we are still early in the 21st century, and we find ourselves at a crossroads. We must choose whether to go forward or backward in our thinking, and then choose between two alternatives in either direction. We’ll be seeing more about these choices as we go along.

As New Thoughters, our choice of worldview should be one that encompasses both science and spirituality, for we have always prized them both, referring to our movement as scientific Christianity, Divine Science, Religious Science, and other such names that indicate our respect for the scientific method of systematically collecting and analyzing data, forming a theory, developing hypotheses and testing them, and reaching conclusions. Most of us believe that the physical world is real, even though we may explain it as being a special instance of mind rather than matter. To accept it as real is to agree to work with it and its laws, not ignore it. However, we deal with this physical world as spiritual beings centered on universal principles. To achieve ever closer approximations of truth, we are always ready to discard outworn theories and practices of science as well as toxic or ineffective spiritual beliefs and practices.

Science is systematized knowledge as opposed to ignorance. Originally, wise men studied religion, philosophy, and science; later, science as applied research split off from philosophy, which remained what Alan the Philosopher describes as "an armchair occupation, one that requires no heavy lifting". At the same time, religion distanced itself from science for reasons that we shall see later. Meanwhile, let’s zero in on philosophy.

Philosophy is traditionally divided into three main areas, with logic braided through all of them. The first area is the study of first things, metaphysics, which concerns itself with the theory of reality. One’s metaphysical position underlies one’s worldview. Ignoring metaphysics leaves one susceptible to self-contradictions and other logical traps, and one becomes "a house divided against itself". To bring science and religion together, one needs to be a metaphysician and discover what the common ground of science and religion is, a ground apart from which neither of them could exist at all.

We need to pause here and note that the term metaphysics is also employed to describe anything outside of physics, anything spiritual. This corruption of the philosophical term has wormed its way into the dictionary. We talk of metaphysical poets and metaphysical religions, but all religions are metaphysical in that they all have views about the nature of reality and the place of God in the scheme of things. One of the Boston personalist philosophers has defined religion as "a set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality", a. k. a. God, to most people. Philosophical metaphysics, the true, original metaphysics, considers physics along with everything else in the universe, including the nonphysical.

The second area is epistemology, from the Greek word episteme, knowledge. We can’t get far in determining what is real without determining how we know and what is true.

The third area of philosophy is axiology, the study of values, which concerns itself with deciding what is good and beautiful. Ethics, our set of moral principles, also comes under the heading of axiology.

We will have a lot more to say about philosophy, but for now, just get these three main divisions (four, if you include logic as braided through the other three) straight. The great American philosopher and psychologist, William James, defined metaphysics (sometimes misquoted as philosophy) thus: "Metaphysics is nothing but an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly." (Principles of Psychology, v.1, page 145) It has gone out of fashion with destructive postmodern philosophers but remains highly popular with the only constructive postmodern philosophers: the process thinkers, headed by Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne and their spiritual heirs, including David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, and of course, Alan Anderson.


June 11, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

More About Metaphysics

Let’s look more closely at metaphysics, where there are three main theories about what the basic building blocks of the universe are; i.e., what is real? To the materialist, those basic building blocks are material stuff, now considered lifeless energy by many physicists. This worldview can’t account for any of the qualities that we as humans specially prize.

To the dualist, mind and matter are equally real. At first blush, for those on the spiritual path, this might seem like an improvement over materialism, but in hundreds of years of pondering the problem, philosophers have utterly failed to explain how—if they are equally real but two different sorts of things—mind and matter can interact with each other. There are other big philosophical problems with both materialism and dualism, but these are the principal ones.

Idealists believe that the basic building blocks of the universe are mental or spiritual in nature (philosophers use the terms interchangeably, even though one can make worthwhile distinctions between them). There are some problems with the old Berkeleyan version of idealism (remember the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear?), but there is a newer, updated form of idealism known as panexperientialism or panpsychism. This form holds that the basic building blocks of the universe are experiences, nature alive instead of lifeless energy. Now, we hasten to add that this does not mean tree sprites or the great god Pan or anything like that; it comes from the findings of quantum physics. The world is made up of bursts of energy known as quanta, coming in a series like the frames of a movie, each lasting about a tenth of a second, each based on the one preceding but having freedom to choose to change—a lot or a little—from that previous experience. Each of us is a series of selves, a notion that Alan refers to as serial selfhood (which has nothing to do with Wheaties or Cheerios!) Rather, we are literally new every moment. New Thought is traditionally idealist, so it is not a huge conceptual leap to embrace this updated version of idealism that makes us in sync with science as well as saturated with spirituality.

There’s one more aspect of metaphysics that we need to look at carefully, and that’s the issue of quality and quantity: what kind and how many building blocks are there in the universe? Monism says that there is only one kind of building block; dualism says that there are two kinds. Kind refers to quality. Materialists say, "All is matter." Dualists say, "Mind and matter are equally real." Idealists say, "All is mind." But there is also the issue of quantity. QUANtitative monism says there is ONLY ONE building block: "All is ONE mind". QUALitative monism says there is only one KIND of building block, but there could be many of them: "All is mind (or experience), MANY minds." So QUALITATIVE MONISM can be QUANTITATIVE PLURALISM. Now, hang on and see if you understand: Materialism is QUALitatively monist and QUANtitatively pluralist. Panexperientialism (that’s the updated form of idealism) is also QUALitatively monist and QUANtitatively pluralist. The materialist would say that all is matter, lots of it; the panexperientialist says, again, "All is mind, many minds." We will see in future weeks why this qualitative idealistic monism/quantitative pluralism is a better choice than the old quantitative monism that sees the world as a giant monolithic block, even if it’s a block of mind.


June 18, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

A Side Trip Into Epistemology

Now we need to take a side trip into epistemology (the study of how we know), because today’s philosophers begin there. To unite science and religion, we need systematic metaphysics (a system that takes into account all disciplines), but a touch of epistemology will show us the relationship between religion, science, and philosophy.

The material that I am using for this comes from a book by scholar Ken Wilber titled Eye to Eye. The notion of the three eyes comes from mystics Nicholas of Cusa and Adam of St. Victor, but similar categories appear in most disciplines. The idea is that all of us have three eyes, three ways of taking in knowledge: the Eye of Flesh, or empirical knowing, used by scientists; the Eye of Reason, used by philosophers; and the Eye of Revelation or Intuition, used by mystics and other deeply religious people. In the 16th and 17th centuries, in early modern times, the empirical approach separated out from the rest of philosophy, and thereby modern science came into existence. So you have those who go out into the field to measure and observe and perform experiments, and you have those who sit in the philosopher’s armchair and think about the findings. The Eye of Revelation is sometimes pictured as higher than the other two eyes, in the middle of the forehead, because it sees farther; but that does not mean that it is more important than the other two eyes.

We need all three eyes, because they are equally important and have different functions. If one eye usurps the function of another, the result is blurred vision. "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed king can still goof up." We saw this when religion tried to close the Eye of Flesh in the Middle Ages by clamping down on Galileo and others, and it also tried to dominate philosophy. Then in modern times, science, buying in to the materialist worldview, tried to close the Eye of Revelation by dismissing religion as superstition. More recently, destructive postmodern philosophy fell on its own sword by embalming its powers to reason about metaphysics, reducing itself to Humpty Dumpty word games. Scholar Huston Smith has observed that it is not unusual for philosophers to disagree about which worldview is best, but to agree that none is, is really unusual!

Now let’s go back to metaphysics: the nature of God is one of its concerns, as one’s philosophy of religion depends on one’s view of God. Here we find that the views arrange themselves on a continuum, with pantheism at one extreme and traditional theism at the other. Pantheism is primarily identified with Eastern religions and traditional theism with the West, but not exclusively. Pantheism centers on the notion of God as immanent, identifying God with the world or the world with God. Traditional theism, on the other hand, views God as transcendent, outside the world and intervening in it—or not—to varying degrees as viewed by various religions. Around the 17th century, feeling threatened by practitioners of magic and by mechanical philosophies, the Christian church kicked God upstairs (for his own protection, you understand!) by declaring that only God could work miracles, which he did by suspending the laws of the universe. This led to deism, the notion that God created the world and then went off and left it to run on its own, with no intervention by God at all; and later, to atheism, because if God wasn’t going to intervene, who needed him?

Pantheism’s great strength is that it unifies God and the world; its weaknesses are that it reduces free will to an illusion, it shortchanges God’s power to make a difference in the world, and it violates hard-core common sense (we’ll discuss that in a minute). Traditional theism’s strengths are that by contrast, it does allow for our free will, plus it views God as omnipotent (a word that comes from omnipotens, all-powerful, which is a bad Latin translation of the good Greek word pantocrator, which means all-sufficient). This is traditional theism’s first weakness: it is self-contradictory, because free will is a power, and it holds that we have free will. Other weaknesses include anthropomorphism (that means seeing God as a giant human being like an ill-tempered Oriental potentate who is capricious, unreliable, and must be placated). Such a view is at odds with science, if miracles mean the interruption of natural laws. Further, Scripture describes God as being in the midst of us and very much involved with nature, upholding its laws rather than violating them.

Now back to hard-core common sense. There are two kinds of common sense: hard-core and soft-core. Soft-core common sense involves things that "everybody knows" but that get periodically revised by the findings of science, ideas such as the flat earth and the geocentric universe. "Everybody knew" that the sun revolved around the earth, until they learned that it didn’t. Hard-core common sense, on the other hand, involves principles found in every time and culture, things we can’t deny even if we say we don’t believe in them. Even if we really don’t believe in them, our behavior contradicts what we say. David Ray Griffin calls these performative self-contradictions. We simply can’t avoid hard-core presuppositions.

Pantheism violates hard-core common sense. People who say, "All there is, is God," or "God is all there is", say something a while later that shows that they are not operating that way, that they clearly experience a distinction between themselves and God. It may be marvelous to be in a God-is-all-there-is state of consciousness, but back in normal waking consciousness, our behavior shows that our deep beliefs differentiate—though never need separate—us and God. For more about hard-core common sense, see my paper on hard-core common sense by clicking on the "Writings-Deb" tab.


June 25, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

Combining the Contrasting Views of the Nature of God

Philosophy of religion, as we have said, must of course consider, among other things, the nature of God. We have seen two views, pantheism and traditional theism, as on opposite ends of a continuum. If we drop out the major philosophical errors from both and combine their good points, we create a synthesis known as panENtheism, the idea that all is IN God (Acts 17:28 "In him we live and move and have our being."). So we can say that all is IN God and God is IN all, that God is both immanent AND transcendent, everywhere present and available in the world ("There is no spot where God is not"). Yet God is not simply identified with the world; the universe is God’s body, AND God has—or is—a mind of God’s own; God is more than the world (so we lose the major error of pantheism). We have free will: God offers us perfect possibilities, and we are free to say yes or no to them, whereupon God does not smite us, but leads, persuades, and inspires us, never coercing us (so we lose the anthropomorphism of traditional theism). God has, however, seen to it that the universe operates lawfully, and our violation of the laws has automatic consequences; we are punished by our sins, not for them. Panentheism corrects the errors in both theism and pantheism while preserving their strengths. You can find more details about the contrasting views of God in our book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003), available in paperback and in Kindle from Amazon (my apologies that the link doesn’t seem to want to form). Chapter 6 is almost entirely Alan’s writing, and he explains there that the term panentheism was devised by German philosopher Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832), whose writing, I gather, was difficult going, so that his German colleagues felt the need to translate his work into German! Scholars are well advised to eschew obfuscation.

Here is a bit of a summary of what I have just covered, which is a bit demanding to digest:

Pantheism ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Traditional Theism

 Antithesis -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Thesis




* God is immanent and transcendent.

* God is everywhere present and available in the world.

* The universe is God’s body, and

* God has/is a mind of God’s own (God is more than the world).

* Free will: God offers perfect possibilities; we are free to say yes or no to them.

* God leads, persuades, inspires, but never coerces.

Panentheism corrects the errors in both theism and pantheism while preserving their strengths.

This gives us a commonsensical, rational place to stand while viewing God, yet still allowing for what our dear friend, process theologian Russell Pregeant, calls "mystery without magic", which is also the title of one of his books.

If you think that a God who never coerces is a wimpy God, consider what best-selling author Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is New Thought writ large), has to say about principles, which from his definition, are like the laws of the universe, descriptions of how things work:

Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural [the Philosopher prefers moral] laws that cannot be broken. As Cecil B. DeMille observed of the principles contained in his monumental movie, The Ten Commandments, "It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law." (page 33)

Covey precedes this with a delightful humorous story, reprinted from a Naval Institute magazine, about a big-ego Navy commander trying to convince a lighthouse to change course because his ship was on a collision course with it. Guess who changed course.

Don’t mess with lighthouses. Begin with appropriate humility (even for a child of God, a child of the King) to learn where the lighthouses are. They can get you through the worst of storms.


July 9, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

Synergy: Process New Thought

Although process thought and New Thought are not poles of a continuum, we can still synthesize them into Process New Thought. Better still, we can use Stephen Covey’s Sixth Habit: "Synergize", (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Covey describes synergy thus: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. . . . the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part." The resulting new combination is better than either part could have been on its own. In the case of New Thought and process thought, it is rather like setting a magnificent old mansion on a new, non-rotting foundation, one that in turn rests on rock. This gives us a set of beliefs that should be a comfortable fit for most New Thoughters: all creation is co-creation (between God, presenting possibilities; and us, accepting or rejecting them).

God is the Ultimate Person but not a human being; a person is defined as one who is self-aware, rational, and values oriented. Person cannot rise out of the impersonal, and the creator must by definition be better than the creation, even if it’s a child creating a kindergarten drawing. We creatures can love, can be kind and merciful, so God can scarcely be less; for an "it", a thing, cannot love. God orchestrates and mitigates, rejoices and suffers with us. God’s power is all-sufficient, and God is good; God is not to blame for evil, and evil can be defined as accepting less than God’s perfect possibilities. None of this is to dictate how we are to relate to God, whether personally or impersonally.

Let’s look a little more closely at the notion of God as personal or impersonal. We all agree that any description of God is limiting (Emmet Fox compared it to looking at only one facade of the Capitol building in Washington), but both personal and impersonal metaphors are useful. How you decide to relate to God is up to you and God; however, the underlying philosophy is another matter. The views of pantheism and traditional theism do tend to correct each other, but we must shake out the old errors from each before we combine them.

In metaphysics, the philosophy of religion relies exclusively on reason; most theology, on the other hand, accepts the truth of revelation. There is, of course, Christian theology, Islamic theology, etc., depending on what view of God you have decided to embrace before you philosophize about it. Remaining strictly in the category of philosophy of religion, we would call this natural theology or rational theology. Here we look at our definition of a person, who may or may not be a human being. Human beings are persons. Angels are persons. Dolphins are quite possibly persons. We need to note once more that only a person can love (well, maybe golden retrievers, who are not persons by definition). Furthermore, God is actual, not abstract. People who talk about God as Goodness or Love have just reduced him to an abstraction. We have already pointed out that the creator needs to be ahead of the creation. It is important to note that from a philosophical standpoint, God is the Ultimate Person, but that does not mean that you are required to use the metaphors of personhood or expect God as a person to walk and talk with you, unless you want to.

Here are lists of some of the principal ideas from traditional New Thought and from process thought:

Traditional New Thought

* Meditation

* Affirmations

* Visualization

* God-oriented attitudes

* Habitual approach

* Optimism

* Abundance consciousness

—but commonly pantheistic

Process Thought

* Panexperientialism

* Panentheism

* Reality is active/developing

* God originates and permanently preserves all experiences

* We accept or reject God’s perfect possibilities

* Nonsensory awareness is basic

* God prehends us; we prehend God (Acts 17:28)


Next week, we shall put them together.


July 2, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

An Ancient Antecedent of Process Thought

Where does the notion of process thought, this idea that reality comes in bursts of living energy called experiences, come from? For starters, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus held that all is ordered change: "You can’t step into the same river twice", he remarked. Other Greeks known as the Eleatics held that there was no change; they were atomists, believing that the building blocks known as atoms don’t change but merely rearrange themselves. Their views were adopted, and everybody forgot about Heraclitus. Unfortunately for the Eleatics, their theory fell apart when the atom was split. Heraclitus also held that reality is processive; he explained that fire symbolizes ordered flux by flaring up and then dying down, yet continuing to be fire. Not a bad start. He also stated that logos, (the Greek word for order, word, or reason) underlies and creates order in change. Hmm, "In the beginning was the Word ...."

Now let’s compare process thought, this system of metaphysics that we have been examining, with traditional New Thought. Process thought, as we have seen, takes into account quantum physics and other findings of science. It provides enough detail for the scientist as well as meeting the needs of the philosopher and the mystic. It is cleaned-up idealism, panentheistic (synergizing pantheism with traditional theism). It holds that reality is active rather than static, and that God is Alpha and Omega, originating and permanently preserving all experiences. We have free will to accept or reject God’s perfect possibilities offered tailor-made for each experience. Nonsensory awareness, rather than our physical senses, is basic; this allows for such New Thought concepts as healing at a distance. It explains how God is in us and we are in God with the word prehension, which means to feel, to grasp, to take in (think of apprehend, comprehend, or prehensile). This is, of course, nonsensory awareness.

Lovely though this is, it provides no tools for daily living. New Thought offers meditation, affirmation, visualization, habitual God-oriented attitudes, optimism, and an abundance consciousness, all of which are coherent and consistent with process thought. One of our definitions of New Thought is "the practice of the Presence of God for practical purposes". New Thought, unfortunately, has commonly been pantheistic, which leads to the philosophical problems that we have examined. Notice how nicely New Thought and process thought complement each other, each supplying what is missing and urgently needed in the other. One of the best ways to prehend God— or anyone or anything else that might need prehending—is to go into the silence, often called meditating. One can kick things off with a bit of Bible or other spiritual reading, then allow one’s thoughts to succeed one another in a general direction, looking at various aspects of a subject, making sure to stay positive and consider whatever good may be present in it. The worse the mess things may seem to be in, the more important it is to take this quiet time to realign ourselves with God and God’s perfect possibilities, which we know will take into account current reality. Sometimes your dreams just need a bit of tweaking; at other times, they must be drastically revised. We need to listen for a while in order to learn which it really is. Then the divine updraft comes, and we find—often to our surprise—that we are soaring again. "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." (Isa. 42:16)

Although bits of both disciplines have ancient roots, they are as new as tomorrow, for they incorporate quantum physics and the latest findings in psychology. Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is to resurrect old ideas that have been unjustifiably lost, such as not stepping into the same river twice. Other times, we need to fine-tune old knowledge on the basis of new research. Have you heard? The earth isn’t flat! Change may be the only constant, but we can govern its rate and make sure that nothing vital gets lost. And sometimes "new", "progressive" ideas turn out to be tired old wheezes that have repeatedly failed no matter how much they have been revised or disguised. In the final book of the C. S. Lewis Narnia series, The Last Battle, a very out-of-integrity ape bamboozles a rather simple-minded donkey into donning a lion-skin costume and impersonating the great lion, Aslan, the Jesus Christ figure; fooling most of the populace into behaviors that just don’t work out at all well. Eventually, things all do work out in divine order. As Robert H. Schuller puts it, "God will have the last word—and it will be good."


July 16, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:


Before we unite Traditional New Thought and process thought to form Process New Thought, we need to take one more side trip into the concept of naturalism. We have mentioned that in early modern times, God got kicked upstairs into supernaturalism, thought of as having little or no involvement with the world. The result of this attempt to protect the idea of God backfired and led to atheism. To explain what comes next, in postmodern philosophy, process philosopher David Ray Griffin talks about plain and simple naturalism, which he calls naturalism with the subscript "ns" standing for non-supernatural. Late modernity has distorted this bare-bones naturalism, in which God is somehow involved in nature, into what Griffin calls naturalism with the subscript "sam", standing for sensationist/atheist/materialist. This view holds that physical senses are the only avenue for gaining knowledge (forget about intuition or revelation, for there is no God); and the underlying metaphysical position is materialism, the notion that the basic building blocks of the universe are material stuff. Any ideas or thoughts are merely squeaks in the machinery of the physical brain. This is a pretty reductive, destructive worldview.

Process thought—and Griffin is one of its chief standard-bearers—offers a constructive naturalist worldview: naturalism with the subscript "ppp", standing for prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism. Let’s review these jawbreaker terms. Prehension is the term that philosopher Alfred North Whitehead coined to describe in philosophical terms how we are in God and God is in us. It holds that nonsensory perception is the basic perception, and perception with the five senses is more limited. Panentheism is the synthesis of pantheism with traditional theism, also holding that we are in God and God is in us. And panexperientialism is the updated version of idealism that holds that the basic building blocks of the universe are experiences or minds; in other words, nonphysical in nature.

So the history of naturalism goes from supernaturalism (kicking God upstairs) to naturalism to atheism:


naturalism ns (non-supernatural)

naturalism sam (sensationist/atheist/materialist)

unless you are willing to go with Griffin along the one constructive postmodern route:

naturalism ppp (prehension/panentheism/panexperientialism)

Here is our new metaphysics (theory of reality), a synergy of Process Thought with traditional New Thought:

Process New Thought

* All creation is co-creation.

* God is the Ultimate Person (but not human being).

Person = self-aware


values oriented

* God persuades, never coerces.

* God orchestrates and mitigates.

* God rejoices/suffers with us.

* God’s power is all-sufficient.

* God is good.

* We are literally new every moment, given in each momentary experience the opportunity to say yes or no to all or part of God’s perfect possibilities for us in that moment, altering the pattern of the past a little or a lot, with each experience lovingly preserved by God.

* All of this gives us reason to be optimistic and to work to use the power of mind in the manner outlined and demonstrated by Jesus, our Way-Shower, to lead a happy, healthy, and abundant life and to help others to do so as well, with the aid of the instruction manual known as the Bible.


July 23, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

Philosophy Through the Ages

(Some of It)

Now let’s back up a little for perspective. Here is a sort of map of philosophy through the ages—at least some of philosophy through the ages—we’re just hitting the high spots here, and the Philosopher was always a stickler for precision.

Times                               Dates or Ages

Ancient                             476 Fall of Rome

Medieval                           1440 Invention of Printing

                                           1453 Fall of Constantinople


(Early)                               1500 Renaissance/Reformation

                                            XVIII Century: Age of Enlightenment

(Late)                                 XIX Century: Age of Romanticism

Postmodern                     XX Century: Age of Anxiety




On the left, you see the divisions into ancient, medieval, early and late modern, and postmodern times. On the right, I have put a few major dates or ages just to orient you. This is supposed to be like the map you see in malls, where they show you where everything is located and tell you where you are with the words "YOU ARE HERE".

Next, here is our map with the addition of some of the big names from each historical period along with some of the main philosophical concepts. You’ll notice the rise of traditional Christian dualism in medieval times and the appearance of supernaturalism in early modern times. In late modern times, we have telescoped three important philosophers and two important ideas just for space considerations; Henri Bergson, Charles Peirce, and William James were all idealists and aware of our developing or evolving, so they were probably all naturalists rather than supernaturalists. In late modernity, as we have noted, we have an increase in atheism and scientism (that means treating science as a religion). Today, in postmodern times, we have scientific naturalism, with which we can put any one of the three subscripts that Griffin has given us last week: plain non-supernatural, sensationist-atheist-materialist; or embracing prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism.

Times                               Big Names                                 Main Philosophical Concepts

Ancient                             Greeks & Romans







Medieval                           Aquinas


                                                                                                        (Traditional Christian)


(Early)                              Bacon                                                dualism

                                         Galileo                                                   (God transcendent)




(Late)                              Bergson                                                naturalism

                                        Peirce                                                     idealism








Postmodern                                                  scientific naturalism





Why did all this happen? We’ll find out next week.


July 30, 2013

Evolving New Thought Worldviews

Joining Science and Spirituality:

Philosophy Through the Ages

(Some More of It)

We have been looking at a sort of map of philosophy through the ages, showing human progress—or lack of it—from ancient through medieval, modern, and postmodern times, noting the transition from supernaturalism to the various kinds of naturalism that David Ray Griffin has outlined for us. Now we are going to find out why all this happened. For explanation, we are going to see a blowup of the middle section of medieval and modern times, giving us more detail.


   Late XV Century 


                                          Hermes Trismegistus

                                          Piccolo Della Mirandola



                                                                                               Three-way battle:



Early                                                                                             mechanical philosophies


XVII Century                                                                                 magic






What they didn’t teach when I was in school, and maybe not when you were in school, because it wasn’t well known, was that by the late 15th century, in addition to the influence of the Christian church, there was also influence from neoPlatonists, magicians, and spiritualists. By the 17th century, this had turned into a three-way battle between the Aristotelian philosophy underlying Christian teaching from Thomas Aquinas onward, the mechanical philosophies of the Enlightenment that had already broken with Christian teaching, and the magicians and spiritualists, who were at odds with traditional Christian teaching to varying degrees. In an effort to safeguard their beliefs about God and to defend the authority of the church against these perceived attacks, the Christian philosophers kicked God upstairs into the supernatural position that we have seen, in which only God was thought to work miracles, discounting the seemingly miraculous results sometimes obtained from these other sources.

Moving on into the postmodern period, we have a comparison of destructive and constructive postmodernism. These worldviews are at opposite poles of a continuum. Destructive postmodernism promised to rebuild after first destroying what it considered to be erroneous views, but it never kept its promise. It leaves us sitting in the ashes of a world in which every view is as good as every other (moral relativism), a world in which there is not much left of hope or help. We are told that there are none of the things that most humans hold dear: no self, no purpose or meaning to life, no real world; indeed, no truth as correspondence, for truth is merely what each person says it is; and certainly there is no divinity, no higher power, no ultimate reality. Because of my word processing conversion limitations, I am going to give you what should be two parallel columns sequentially, beginning with destructive postmodernism:














-real world

-truth as correspondence (proposition and what it refers to)


Constructive postmodernism, better known as process thought, on the other hand, seeks to revise and restore the things of value that seem to have been lost with the correction of the traditional worldviews. Like New Thought, it is a form of idealism acknowledging mind power. Like New Thought, it is ethically non-dualist (meaning that there is no evil personified as the devil). God is everywhere present and available, and worthy of worship (worth the effort of loving and respecting). With process thought, again we have a self, one who is literally new every moment; we have historical and cosmic meaning, reason instead of absurdity, truth as correspondence, an enchanted nature of mystery without magic (magic is defined as working one’s will on the world without regard to ultimate morality), a synergy in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and nonsensory perception or action at a distance. Only this view out of the four worldviews that we have looked at, can unite religion and science rather than ignoring one or the other.



                                                          creation from chaos


                                                           God immanent and transcendent






                                                                                          historical meaning

                                                                                          cosmic meaning


                                                                                          truth as correspondence

                                                                                          enchanted nature



                                                                                           nonsensory perception

                                                                                           (action at a distance)


                                                      unite religion and science





It’s your choice which of these worldviews you choose to embrace. If you fail to choose, you will be jerked around by the choices of others.



(1) Pantheism                                                                                         (2) Traditional theism


21st Century





(3) Destructive postmodernism                                             (4) Constructive postmodernism


Here endeth the lecture. Next week, on to new adventures.


August 6, 2013

Some Introductory Notes on Metaphysics

by Alan Anderson

I thought I would have the Philosopher do a guest appearance this week. This brief article, undated, almost certainly predates the computer era, since it is in purple type and not proportionally spaced. It is unclear what excerpts from his dissertation Alan refers to. His dissertation appeared in 1963. It was later published by Garland under the title Healing Hypotheses, with numerous appendices added. It is now available online at .


I. What metaphysics is not: the exploration of only what is beyond the physical. The name metaphysics means what comes after physics, but this refers to the order in which Andronicus of Rhodes arranged Aristotle’s works, so that the writings which Aristotle called first philosophy or theology came after the writings on physics.

II. What metaphysics is: the branch of philosophy (which branch sometimes is called the science of being) which attempts to discover what properties anything (visible, invisible, ordinary, extraordinary) must have in order to be at all. This knowledge is sought by putting all evidence from all sources together as consistently and completely as possible.

Square brackets below are the Philosopher’s.

For positivism [an outlook which denies the significance of metaphysics], the true is the sensory or the analytically necessary.. For idealism [and various other metaphysical views], the true is inclusive experience systematically and synoptically interpreted. [Metaphysics attempts] to see all things together. (Edgar Sheffield Brightman, Person and Reality: An Introduction to Metaphysics, ed. Peter A. Bertocci et al. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1958, p. 11.)

III. Some key questions for metaphysics:

If all minds, finite and infinite, were to cease to be, would anything be left? If you answer ‘yes," you are a materialist, naturalist, or dualist. If you answer "no," you are an idealist.
If there is only one type of reality (qualitative monism) such as mind (or spirit), is there only one unit of it (quantitative monism) or more (quantitative pluralism)?

IV. Idealism (ideaism might be better): the metaphysical school of thought (containing several differing outlooks) which holds that reality is in the nature of mind, spirit, or consciousness.

Some arguments for idealism (largely adapted and quoted from E. S. Brightman’s An Introduction to Philosophy, except that the last two are adapted from writings of Charles Hartshorne):

1. Man and the universe are akin.

2. All data of knowledge are personal experiences.

3. Our only direct experience of causation is will, which idealism sees all energy as being. Idealism gives the best account of interaction of mind and body, of self and the world, and of parts of the world with each other. Only mental interaction is known directly, and it requires no unprovable entities to explain it. Unity in diversity is meaningful only on the model of mind. Reality is unintelligible if it is nonmental.

4. The objectivity of norms points to idealism.

5. The argument from intrinsic value: all interest in anything implies that the object of interest is a living self having value to share.

6. The primacy of feeling: it may well be that all qualities are qualities of feeling, a form of consciousness.

V. Metaphysical religion.

All religion is metaphysical in the sense of having metaphysical views, but the term "metaphysical religion," "the metaphysical movement," and sometimes simply "metaphysics" in a special sense are applied to New Thought, Christian Science, and sometimes such other outlooks as Theosophy. In this sense "metaphysics" includes a practical application of idealism to the problem of living. The term "metaphysical engineering" has been used in this connection. It is held that since everything is mental or spiritual, the mind has the ability to bring about results beyond the scope usually attributed to it. Some major themes in terms of forerunners are Platonic, Neoplatonic, and modern recognition that reality and materiality are not synonymous, Stoic self-control, in accordance with the nature of reality, Christian emphasis on love, and the practical example of such people as Quimby. Unlike the forms of idealism which consider matter unreal, New Thought considers matter real, not as a self-existent entity, but as the form by which we know spirit in one phase of its activity.

VI. Updating the excerpts from my dissertation:

Unity again considers itself part of New Thought.
All Quimby and Evans manuscript materials referred to now are in libraries.
Significant books published since the writing of the dissertation:
Braden, Charles S. Spirits in Rebellion: The Rise and Development of New Thought. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963. The most complete history of New Thought.
Judah, J. Stillson. The History and Philosophy of [the] Metaphysical Movements in America. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967. Broader coverage than New Thought, of interest partly because of its treatment of Andrew Jackson Davis, "the first of the American metaphysical philosophers" (p. 39), as a possible source of Quimby’s philosophy. However, my excerpts show the importance of Quimby’s own experience as the major source of his thought, and they also show something of the more conventional philosophical background of Quimby.


August 13, 2013

What New Thought Is

by Alan Anderson

Another guest appearance by the Philosopher. This one is dated 5/89 and was produced on one of his early computers.

New Thought is a collection of related ways of attaining fuller living in all dimensions, including health, prosperity, and deep happiness. New Thought works by means of helping people to become liberated from limiting notions of what God is like and by teaching them ways of using their minds to practice the presence of God in daily living. God is experienced as the universal love-intelligence constantly active in everyone’s life. New Thought realizes that God provides us with everything that we could want and that we need only train ourselves to be fully receptive to the divine abundance in order to enjoy the greatest degree of satisfaction as significant expressions of reality.

The "Father of New Thought" was a Maine clockmaker-inventor, turned mesmerist, turned spiritual healer, Phineas Parkhurst ("Park" Quimby (1802-1866), who influenced some, who influenced others, who started the organizational aspects of New Thought. Quimby substituted belief in, and experience of, divine Wisdom, for belief in the stern, anthropomorphic God of Calvinism. Before the name New Thought became prominent in the 1890's, the outlook was known by such names as Mental Science and Mind-Cure.

New Thought’s affinity with the Transcendentalism of Emerson and the great metaphysical idealisms of all times fairly soon became apparent. As a result of this linking, New Thought itself often is called "metaphysics," although its emphasis is not confined to speculation on the nature of all visible and invisible reality, as is the case in conventional philosophical metaphysics; New Thought emphasizes the practical use of a metaphysical position affirming the allness of divine spirit. This outlook is joined with affirmation of positive states of living and meditation to promote mystical awareness of unity with God. Unlike some Eastern and Western forms of thought which deny the reality of the world, New Thought affirms that the universe is real, as God’s body. Dis-ease of all sorts is real as an appearance and temporary expression of human use of creativity, but the greater reality is the all-encompassing divine presence, wholehearted identification with which replaces negative conditions with the positive ones constantly offered to us by God.

New Thought is not magic, which attempts to impose one’s own will on whatever powers may be (white magic if intended for good, black magic if intended for evil); New Thought is for aligning oneself with the divine will for good in one’s own life and for all that is.

New Thought is not what has come to be called the New Age outlook, which largely emphasizes the intermediate range of reality explored by traditional occultism and current parapsychology. This is an area investigated by Quimby before turning to his decidedly spiritual stage of activity. It is worthy of study, and can be of positive as well as negative value, as medicine can be; New Thoughters are free to explore whatever they like and to make use of whatever they find helpful. But New Thought considers such use of one’s time to be less productive than turning directly to the presence of God in oneself. New Thought practice is essentially applied mysticism, which is personal awareness of God as all-sufficient love. One who has this is likely to give little attention to such hallmarks of the so-called New Age as crystals and mediumistic channeling. New Thought and New Age overlap, as in emphasis on meditation, but they remain distinct.

New Thought is not religion in any narrowly ecclesiastical or dogmatic sense. New Thought recognizes that spirit cannot be confined to any fixed creed or organization, and it recognizes worth in all religions. While various forms of New Thought, such as Divine Science, Religious Science, and Unity, use church forms of organization, New Thought never has been confined exclusively to such forms. New Thought is open and free, and it strives to surpass itself in its understanding and formulation of the truths on which it is based. It recognizes the infinity of divinity and the endlessness of opportunities for expressing it, and rejoices in the perpetual task and privilege of exploring God and ways of allowing God to transform lives. New Thought is rich in diversity of views on such topics as ultimate personality or impersonality, process or substance, concreteness and abstractness, love and law, becoming and being, reincarnation and ultimate state of existence. But New Thought is united in dedication to maximizing practical use of divine creativity, however it may be understood. New Thought emphasizes present attainment, but looks to the future, and in terms of some recent theorizing, New Thought has the capacity to be constructively postmodern, rather than deconstructively postmodern, as much of current thought is.

New Thought welcomes all people and imposes no tests of belief; it asks only that people try for themselves what it teaches and invites them to improve on the teachings and practices, if possible. New Thought is an open, loving group of free spirits dedicated to allowing God to renew themselves, civilization, and environment. It produces tentative formulations of truth, but makes no final pronouncements; it welcomes endless growth, guided by God, in this world and in whatever lies beyond earthly existence.


August 20, 2013

Ways Ye Know Not Of

If New Thought has a weakness, it springs from one of its strengths: the emphasis we lay on the importance of one’s habitual beliefs, attention, and expectancy of good. If, then, we find ourselves unable to muster upbeat beliefs, attention, and expectancy, we tend to sink even further into discouragement and give up.

Discouragement has been described as one of the devil’s most powerful weapons (I am tempted to leave the d off of devil, the way New Thought author Henry Wood sometimes did), and this is why. New Thought author Emmet Fox has pointed out that the gates of hell are swinging doors, since hell is a state of consciousness; and we put ourselves in and get ourselves out. But what if we are—at least for the present—unable to ride herd on our consciousness? What if we are physically ill to a degree that affects our thinking, or overwhelmed with financial difficulties or relationship challenges? Too many New Thought leaders have blamed the victim with statements such as, "What’s wrong with your consciousness?" All that does is make people feel worse and even less empowered to help themselves. Quite apart from the question of how we got into this pickle is the openness to what will get us out.

Process thought concentrates on philosophy rather than practices, and its contribution here is the notion that God persuades rather than coerces. God, whom Whitehead described as "the poet of the universe" and "the fellow sufferer who understands", who leads and lures us on "with tender patience", is not going to be boxed in by our limitations. He is all-sufficient. On the other hand, he doesn’t need to operate on a might-makes-right basis, either. He waits for the right moment for working with us through whoever or whatever is at hand and willing.

Televangelist Joel Osteen recently illustrated this with the story of the man blind from birth (John 9). Unlike most of the other people whom Jesus healed, he was doing nothing to help himself or to try to get Jesus’s attention; he had given up. Jesus’s disciples asked, "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" This is a typically Jewish question, an attempt to reason out the cause of someone’s predicament and see which law has been broken. But Jesus, a good Jew, habitually kicked questions up to a higher level than had been intended by the questioner. His answer: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." In a world with free will, things are going to go awry at times, and it is oversimplification to refer to it as sin, "missing the mark". God orchestrates, and God mitigates. "Behold, I am the Lord . . . Is there anything too hard for me?" (Jer. 32:27) God’s will can be temporarily defeated, but in the long run, good triumphs.

The gospel goes on to tell of the clay put on the blind man’s eyes. This certainly got his attention, and he was willing to follow the Master’s orders and go wash it off. For the first time in his life, he was then able to see. The authorities wanted to know how it happened, and neither the blind man nor his parents were able to tell them. Furious, they "cast him out". Then, as is so often the case, Jesus went and found him. From then on, the formerly blind man had no difficulty with mustering his beliefs and expectations!

The lesson for us, then, is never to despair. If we are unable to pray for ourselves, others can and do pray for us. God specializes in doing things in unusual ways. "I will lead the blind by a way they knew not" (Isa. 42:16). Process thought teaches that God is the source of all novelty: "Without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3), for God’s initial aim is present in each occasion of experience. And we can enjoy the joke, the novelty, the off-the-wall ways that God comes up with. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was too old to have a baby, but God told her that it would happen (Gen. 18:14). She laughed, but God had the last laugh. She named the baby Isaac, which means laughter.


August 27, 2013

What Is Applied Mysticism?

In one of the long-lost treasures of the Philosopher’s writing, revealed to the world a week or two ago by moi, he made this statement: "New Thought practice is essentially applied mysticism, which is personal awareness of God as all-sufficient love." If we are interested in joining science and spirituality, which supplies a nice alliteration that we can’t get with "science and religion", this is an amazing definition because of who is saying it and from whence he is saying it.

Alan liked to describe philosophy as an armchair occupation, one that requires no heavy lifting. He would add, "It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it." He was only partially being facetious. His favorite part of philosophy was metaphysics, the study of how things have to be in order to be at all. William James defined metaphysics as "an unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly". Most serious professional thinkers do their thinking in a comfortable chair.

Philosophers studiously attempt to avoid poetic language and altered states of consciousness, so they tend to get off the train right at the point where mystics board it. What train? you may ask. Why, one’s train of thought, of course! Mysticism is commonly defined as direct experience of God, and if philosophers are doing that, they are not tending to business. Philosophy and mysticism are both fine things, but never the twains shall meet, as the little boy remarked when he saw the railroad worker throw the switch. So what is my household philosopher, a good New Thoughter and process thinker, getting at with his definition of applied mysticism as "personal awareness of God as all-sufficient love?"

Many people have defined New Thought as "the practice of the presence of God", borrowing from Brother Lawrence. Alan and I added "for practical purposes" to create the title of our second jointly authored book. Practice implies something that is habitually and regularly repeated in an effort to improve performance. Philosophy is the practice of this obstinate attempt to think clearly, and you can’t do it while you are rapt in the heavenly vision any more than you can edit a document while in Read Only mode. Brother Lawrence was definitely practicing the presence of God in his daily life, habitually and regularly, to the amazement and wonder of all who encountered him and sought to learn the secret of his happy life of service to others. But Brother Lawrence wasn’t practicing philosophy, at least, not very often.

In today’s world, religion is all too often forced off the road by people who are trying to make a religion out of science. Let us not forget that the first scientists were philosophers, who were interested in the study of anything and everything. Science later split off, with scientists interested only in experimentation, learning more and more about less and less while neglecting the theory that should drive research and the coherence and consistency that are necessary for a complete and balanced worldview. But it is an equally serious mistake to take an anti-intellectual stance that refuses to make room for the philosophical analysis of one’s collection of beliefs, attitudes, and actions with respect to Ultimate Reality. The result is either blurred vision, fuzzy thinking, or both.

The Philosopher and I, on the lecture circuit, used to explain that religion and science meet in the lap of philosophy, and proceed to demonstrate it! You could wake Alan out of a sound sleep and he would be wearing his philosopher’s hat, but he also had a quiet mystical streak born of his constant efforts to live out his well-thought-through beliefs in a good God and an abundant universe. If those beliefs are true in good times, they are also there to help us through the challenging times. Both philosophy and religion have roles to play in assisting us, and they need to be harmonized and balanced.


September 3, 2013

I Shall Not Want

This line from the twenty-third Psalm is also translated, "I shall lack nothing." What’s interesting is that this statement at the beginning of such a beautiful picture of abundance is stated as a negative. All but two of the Ten Commandments are stated in the negative. We are given a long list of things not to do or be. That’s why the title of a book by an orthodox rabbi, Daniel Lapin, caught my eye: Thou Shall Prosper (second edition, 2010, Wiley).

Christianity began as a cult of Judaism, and Judaism has great insight to supply for Christians of all varieties. The apostle Paul, a Jew so zealous in his devotion to the law that he persecuted Christians until he saw the light and fell off his high horse, continued to ply his trade as a tentmaker even while he was going around spreading the word about Christianity. Jews are well known for observing the letter of the law. Jesus was faithful to the law, but there were times when he placed the needs of human beings above overscrupulosity in one’s observance, for which he frequently criticized the Pharisees. He did say that "not one jot or tittle" should pass from the law, meaning that they were not to bend the laws to suit their whims; but he defended his disciples’ husking corn in the field to eat (considered to be doing work on the Sabbath) because they were hungry, reminding his critics that King David on one occasion ate the showbread that was reserved for the priests. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."

Well, here is a devout Jewish rabbi, one who—like Paul—pursued various business activities along with shepherding his flock, one who observed all the laws about being generous, taking care of strangers, and not stealing; telling us to prosper, stated in the affirmative rather than the negative. He has divided his book into ten prosperity commandments, all but two of which are stated positively. It’s a lot easier to follow a positive guideline, which one can picture, than a negative prescription, which is harder to visualize. If you’re curious, here are the rabbi’s prosperity commandments:

Believe in the Dignity and Morality of Business

Extend the Network of Your Connectedness to Many People

Get to Know Yourself

Do Not Pursue Perfection

Lead Consistently and Constantly

Constantly Change the Changeable, While Steadfastly Clinging to the Unchangeable

Learn to Foretell the Future

Know Your Money

Act Rich: Give Away 10 Percent of Your After-Tax Income

Never Retire

There is much good advice in the book, some already familiar to anyone who has been involved with business and with business literature or success literature; but there are also some parts that made me blink with amazement. My favorite is his description of the meaning behind the famous Jewish six-pointed Star of David, which is also used by the British. Americans switched to the five-pointed star, but as Emmet Fox has pointed out, there is tremendous symbolism in the Great Seal of the United States and other images used by the founders, much of it Masonic, much going back to the ancient Hebrews. The rabbi reminds us that there is a Star of David

above the eagle’s head on the reverse side of the one-dollar bill. . . . This often-used Star of David symbol actually represents the Jewish goal of maintaining an exquisite balance between eagerly embracing the new and, at the same time, remaining anchored to those things that don’t change. This balance lies at the heart of effectively utilizing change as an ally in your quest for wealth. (Page 207)

In Process New Thought terms, God’s loving, dependable character does not change, but God grows as we grow, new every moment and changing to some extent every moment. The process thinkers discuss this in terms of the primordial and consequent nature of God. So we have the balance between changing and not changing.

Rabbi Lapin goes on to explain that the star is "one equilateral triangle superimposed upon another just like it but displaced by 180 degrees." The second triangle is upside down to the first. "Within that simple shape lies a clue to the way humans should function." A triangle is a very strong shape in engineering terms, very sturdy. But there is another shape that is also "three lines attached to one another, but this time in the weakest imaginable configuration": the swastika. "Both symbols are intrinsically powerful and accurately represent a worldview. . . . The three lines, in turn, represent the three fundamental entities of existence: God, human beings, and the tangible, material world. Thus it is as if each triangle were telling Jews that strength lies in unifying these three fundamental elements." You cannot leave out any one of these three elements and still have "an effective and durable union". On Page 211 is a pair of diagrams showing the two triangles separately, then together as "six lines of strength and unity". With God at the top of the triangle and human beings and the spiritual world as the two bottom corners, we see that "Time yields diminished spiritual knowledge along with a reassuring sense that some things should never change." With God at the bottom, the triangle standing on its point, "Time yields increasing material knowledge along with a disquieting sense of constant change." That’s quite a lesson in a single image. In contrast, the swastika is "six lines of fragility and fragmentation". The only intersection point is the center, providing "an illusion of superman in a world where nothing else meets, unites, or makes sense." That’s also quite a lesson. "Not surprisingly the ‘Thousand-year Reich’ only lasted 12 years and 4 months."

Not only art thou expected to prosper, but thou hast been given fantastic guidelines for doing so, and for helping others to prosper. It’s all right there in the Bible, which is where the New Thought founders got it. We can certainly afford to turn to our Jewish brethren for additional insight into its wisdom.


September 10, 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven

Recently I have been rereading Unity author Dana Gatlin’s God Is the Answer, one of the few books that I have brought with me to my temporary exile in between the sale of one house and the building of a new one. Gatlin, a journalist who used Unity principles and teachings to overcome a serious health challenge, wrote an article in answer to a letter from a friend who asked her, "What is the kingdom of God? Of what is it constituted? Is it found in being kind, loving, generous? . . . How are we to know when we have attained that blessing?"

Gatlin tells us that she, too, found the idea of the kingdom puzzling and uncertain,

Very vague, mystical, and mysterious. Then one day it broke upon me with startling clearness: "Why, ‘the kingdom’ is simply the state of my own mind and heart toward God—the most intimate inmost state in which I know Him and live with Him! It is being receptive to Him, the altered mood and feeling of awareness of Him in and through all the vicissitudes of my daily life. (Pages 37-38)

Since at the moment my own life is one giant vicissitude, I really resonate to that definition. By extension, it becomes clear that I am in and out of the kingdom repeatedly in the course of a day, depending on how I manage to respond to whatever comes up. I think of the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times!" Admittedly, there is an optimum level of interest for keeping life going without going on overload. But the Chinese writing of our word crisis is the combination of two characters: danger and opportunity. Only in the challenge implied by danger do we find our opportunities, and it has been said that opportunities usually come dressed in work clothes. I find more and more often that if I can manage to do whatsoever my hand findeth to do, usually the danger passes, and I ask myself what I was so upset or concerned about. The key to the kingdom is to drop the upset and get busy doing just about anything. But I do it with all the calm I can muster; it is not a frantic "Don’t just stand there; do something!" It’s more like "Don’t just do something; stand there, at least until you are endued with power from on high!" Being endued with power from on high often feels like falling through an unexpectedly unlocked door. New Thought author Emmet Fox says that the gates of hell are swinging doors; I wonder whether the same may not be true of the gates of heaven.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is within (also translated among) you. Gatlin explains:

God’s kingdom is simply the matter of our awareness of Him as ever present. We must be "born anew" into this spiritual awareness. My individual "kingdom" is simply a matter of how much, how widely, and how intimately I believe in God. A matter of how much of Him I give credence to, how much power I yield Him to guide and mold and control my thoughts and feelings, and every experience of my life. It is determined by my conviction of God’s never-failing presence, regardless of what may be happening in the world about me. (Page 39)

For me, this process began with a conscious decision to work to develop the habit of Emmet Fox’s Golden Key: to think of God in place of the problem. As I persist in this, it seems that with increasing frequency, the shift comes more quickly, and I fall through those swinging doors into the kingdom state of mind, into the everlasting arms. God is my Source of wisdom, love, poise, peace, and power; of the shift from tears to laughter, to a debonair nonchalance that appreciates the divine sense of humor. Gatlin affirms, "With God, it is easy." With increasing frequency, it is.


September 17, 2013

What Do You Choose?

One of the all-time blockbuster best-selling how-to books was written by a business school professor. Book stores had difficulty figuring out where to shelve it because it wasn’t a standard business text; it was more of a get-your-life-together book based on the idea that if you get the big things right, the little things will fall in line. It also made much of the developmental idea that you have to work your way up from the dependence of a newborn baby to the independence of a young person to the interdependence of the fully independent person who can then become an enormously successful member of an enormously successful team.

The book, of course, was Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It was such a success because it kept its promise for those with the self-discipline to develop the habits in their own personal—and then, business—lives. Something about it all sounded suspiciously familiar, so I sent for a copy of his doctoral dissertation. Sure enough, there in the bibliography, was evidence of very strong New Thought influence, even though I knew that Covey was a Mormon rather than a New Thoughter.

For Easter in 1998, the Philosopher gave me a copy of Daily Reflections for Highly Effective People, a collection of daily tidbits from the bigger book. One of my favorites is August 23:

Do we have the power to choose our responses?
As a woman in one of my audiences shared, "When I finally realized that I do have that power, when I swallowed that bitter pill and realized that I had chosen to be miserable, I also realized that I could choose not to be miserable." [7 Habits, p. 73]

Process thought tells us that occasions of experience all the way down to those constituting a steel bar, have at least some tiny bit of freedom to choose to say yes or no to God’s perfect possibilities for them. This of course scandalizes determinists, religious or irreligious.

But in any choice, what you are really choosing is what you are going to give your attention to and how much attention you are going to give it. That holds for us societies of occasions of experience just as much as some insentient occasion somewhere. So, yes, you can and do choose to be miserable, even though you might not word it that way or think of it that way. And you don’t have to take every word of the Bible literally—as its human authors never intended for you to do—to understand the kernel of truth in God’s telling Adam that whatever name he gave the animals, that was what they would be. How you label things, as good or as bad, is what for you they become. That’s a choice. Happily, process thought also tells us that all those momentary choices are taking us somewhere, and we are determining that somewhere; so if we don’t like where we’re heading, we can choose to change course.

New Thought’s favorite Bible texts about choosing are Joshua 24:15, "If it seem evil unto you to serve the lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"; and Deuteronomy 30:19, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." The first refers to not getting off course and allowing ourselves to get sucked into worshiping someone else’s gods, once we understand the power and blessing of our God. Serving the Lord means to stay within the guidelines God gave us for happy and successful lives. The second states it as a forced choice, but the point is much the same: "Keep on the beam", as Emmet Fox once put it. Notice where your momentary choices are taking you.

Unity author Dana Gatlin puts it this way: "The imperative thing for you to do is to choose the kind of mental abode in which you want to live, and then with every ounce of your resolution begin building it." She adds:

Every thought you think, every belief you entertain, every emotion you foster is leaving its brand upon your spirit, either to constrict, enfeeble, and mar, or to enlarge, strengthen, ennoble, and bless. Which choice are you making? Which way are you building? (page 139)

She concludes, "You have the power of choice—every moment of every day you have that power!" Was she a Whitehead/Hartshorne fan? Or is this how God pulls us all along?

Next week we shall look at ways to make better choices.


September 24, 2013

How to Make Better Choices

Like it or not, life is an endless succession of momentary choices, each carrying us in a particular direction. You chose it; you’re stuck with it—at least until the next moment of now, when you get another opportunity to choose. One of the powerful unifying concepts that brought the Philosopher and me together was the idea that all behavior is chosen. As I explained last week, this is one of the foundation stones of New Thought. Alan got into the choice bit through process philosophy: the idea that we are choosing, moment by moment, how much of the past to unite with how much of the possible—God’s perfect possibilities, tailor-made for us in each developing occasion of experience—to form the present moment of now. I got into it through psychology, specifically, the blending of psychiatrist William Glasser’s Reality Therapy with physicist William Powers’ take on systems theory, or more precisely, input control systems theory. Glasser and Powers teamed up, at least briefly, to develop this theory a bit more fully. Powers had written a very influential book, Behavior: The Control of Perception (1973). Glasser then wrote Stations of the Mind (1981) in consultation with Powers, whose work provided a theoretical basis for explaining the success of Reality Therapy, which is essentially about helping people take a look at their behavior, notice whether or not it is working to get them what they want, and if they decide it isn’t, coming up with a plan to do better (get more of what they want). At first, Powers and Glasser referred to this as BCP theory, but Glasser later changed the name to Choice Theory, to remind people that they always have choices.

Both Glasser and the process thinkers are quick to point out that although all behavior is chosen, most of it is not consciously chosen. This is for two reasons: 1) process thought holds that everything down to the smallest particle’s occasion of experience has some degree of freedom to choose, but you have to get up to the level of sentient beings before you find consciousness. 2) Psychology—not to mention the process thinkers—pretty much accepts the notion of the conscious and unconscious aspects of mind, except for a few die-hard behaviorists living in caves somewhere.

The Philosopher, who was quite the Stoic except for the pantheism, liked to quote Epictetus: "Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be borne, the other by which it may not." It matters which handle you choose to use, which viewpoint you choose to take.

Process thought is helpful in explaining how the totality of the past impinges upon the present, i.e., on the developing occasion of experience. That occasion gets its opportunity to choose, and then it becomes part of the past, to impinge on every future occasion. Psychology in the form of William James explains that most of what goes on must necessarily be unconscious or we would be overwhelmed by "one great blooming, buzzing confusion". Later psychologists such as Martin Seligman have built on this understanding to show that since nearly all behavior is chosen (infants arrive in the world with very few behaviors), nearly all behavior is learned, and can therefore be unlearned. Hooray, we get a chance to make better choices! Seligman was dragged kicking and screaming into this in his own life when, although he had been a rather gloomy Gus, his five-year-old daughter shamed him into becoming a reluctant optimist, a story he recounts in his book, Learned Optimism.

But how specifically do we do this? The way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. This is the process part: our momentary choices are taking us somewhere. Once we notice where they are taking us and decide whether that is where we want to go, we can make more appropriate choices, one moment at a time. What this necessitates is what New Thought author Emmet Fox calls a mental equivalent of what we want. Fox was an engineer, and, as he explains, "Engineers constantly have to work out the [mechanical] equivalent of one kind of energy in another kind of energy. . . . In like manner, there is a mental equivalent of every object or occurrence on the physical plane." To build that mental equivalent, we must have clarity of thought and feeling. Clarity of thought is simply the knowledge of what you really want. Feeling is the emotion that you feel in connection with something, which, as Fox explains, is why we may recite affirmations and get no results: we don’t feel any sort of emotional charge from them. We have to get interested in them. "To think clearly and with feeling leads to demonstration, because you have then built a mental equivalent." Feeling is not excitement; it is interest. Just as one overwrites old data on a computer disk, one must displace the old unwanted thoughts with new ones, clear and charged with feeling. Uncertainty won’t get the job done, nor will staying stuck in old undesired feeling states. We must deliberately substitute one thought for another, choose to look in one direction instead of another, calmly, without force. Dwelling on past mistakes and failures—our own or others’—isn’t going to take us where we want to go, because it isn’t clearly in line with what we want, nor does it have the right feeling.

So if your attention goes off in the wrong direction, patiently bring it back again, over and over, until you form a new habit of looking in the direction you want to go. That’s the way the world works, so we might as well use it to our advantage. It doesn’t have to be chirpy cheerful, just quietly deliberate. But laughter definitely helps. Have you heard the one about the young lady who was making a career choice? She decided to become a mortician because she liked working with people.


October 1, 2013

How to Get Yourself to Follow Through on Your Intention to Make Better Choices

There’s an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Philosopher never let me get away with saying it without adding, "Also, the road to heaven." Be that as it may, anyone who has ever broken a New Year’s resolution (and we are Legion) is aware that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the resol--ve and the exec--ution.

One of my favorite people is Mark Forster, a business consultant and time management expert from across the Pond. He has written three delightful and useful books, but the real fun is his ongoing effort to develop the easiest and most foolproof method for getting things done both efficiently and effectively and still having time to enjoy life. In this endeavor, he is now up to not the antipenultimate, nor the penultimate, but the ultimate version, known as the Final Version. In addition to using himself as his principal guinea pig, he is assisted in this effort by a consort of bloggers who provide constant feedback on their efforts to apply his latest method. Occasionally, someone prefers to stick with one of the earlier versions, but most people seem to run into whatever Mark has run into that has generated another approach, so they welcome the new solutions. The blog and the instructions for the Final Version are at .

The Final Version consists of exciting changes that Mark has rung on his previous versions, so it really helps to read his books and become familiar with his overall approach. His most popular book is titled Do It Tomorrow, which sounds like a great way to never get around to doing anything, but it is surprisingly useful and defensible. You can find an outline of this basic approach on Mark Forster’s Wikipedia page.

What appeals to me as an old psychologist is The Rest of the Story. Mark states that underlying all his work are two basic psychological principles: Colley’s Rule and Structured Procrastination. Rather than get into them, he airily suggests that you google them, which is a marvelous way to avoid doing whatever you are supposed to be doing at the moment, such as writing a column on the relationship between New Thought and process thought and how to use them to assist them with your spiritual growth.

Mark was wrestling with the question, What am I resisting the most overall in my life? He found that he had to work off of a tasks list, and then he could use an adaptation of Colley’s Rule. Research reveals that Colley was a XIX Century mathematician who came up with a method for making decisions that is still keeping mathematicians busy when they are looking for ways to procrastinate on whatever they are supposed to be doing. Colley’s idea was that one should set parameters for what one wants, such as a new house. Use the first house you come to as a benchmark, noting its qualities, but don’t buy it. Buy the next house you come to that is better than the first one. On Mark’s task list, the top item on the list is the benchmark, and you go from there. In so doing, you increase the chance of making the best choice and minimize the chance of making the worst one. There’s more to it than that: you build a little chain of three tasks, which you do in reverse order from the choosing, so that you do the one you are resisting the most last, after you have knocked off a couple of easier ones and are more psychologically ready to eat the frog.

Others recommend Nobel prize-winning scientist Richard Feynman’s approach to choosing from the dessert menu: always choose the chocolate option. His rationale was that other choices might or might not be better, but chocolate is always pretty acceptable. I’m not sure that he got the Nobel prize for that one, but I agree with his reasoning.

The second principle on which Mark based his method, structured procrastination, won an IgNobel prize, but I am going to put off telling you about that one until next week.


October 8, 2013

Structured Procrastination as an Aid to Choosing

We have learned from process philosophy that life is all about choosing a blend of the past and the possible in each moment of now. We have learned from New Thought that the direction in which we choose to look—towards happiness or towards misery—makes all the difference. We see that our momentary choices are all carrying us somewhere, and we see the wisdom of determining the direction in which we wish to go and making the momentary choices that will carry us in that direction. We have seen the first of two principles around which life coach Mark Forster has built the long-awaited Final Version of his time management system. Now that you are thoroughly ready for it and poised to hear it, here is the second: structured procrastination. No, procrastination isn’t evil; it’s a fact of human life. You just have to learn to use it to your advantage.

The father of structured procrastination is philosophy professor John R. Perry, who has his own web site, It includes articles, a link to his new book, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing (2012), and yes, a t-shirt. All this sprang from an article he wrote in 1995, which earned him the coveted IgNobel Prize, which they appropriately didn’t get around to awarding him until 2011. The web site was designed by Perry’s granddaughter, who was putting off studying for a literature exam at the time. As Perry puts it (borrowing from Robert Benchley), "To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that’s even more important."

Previous versions of his system taught Forster the importance of being able to work on both easy and challenging tasks, and that they don’t necessarily have to be done in the order of importance. You are able to deal with urgency: add a task to the end of the little list at any time. You simply capture all your tasks in one long list and begin with the first unactioned task. You ask yourself, "What do I want to do before I do X?" You continue down the list until you come to something you feel less resistant to doing, then repeat the process, so that you now have a list of three tasks, which you proceed to do in reverse order. If your first task can’t be done, or can’t be done now for some reason, cross it off the list and re-enter it at the end. If a task is no longer relevant, delete it.

Your little list of three tasks is finite: it has a beginning and an end, which is important because it softens up your brain towards the task, based on what you want. You keep repeating the process of making a list of three tasks to be done in reverse order, on through the work day. You resume the next working day. There is no stigma attached to not doing everything on your entire list, nor to crossing out tasks that you decide don’t need doing, or don’t need doing right now, so you re-enter them at the end of the list.

But there is another spiritual secret to the whole process, one which Forster reveals off-handedly in another place. He has found that reading the list over occasionally means that your other-than-conscious mind is constantly at work on it, and it will nudge you at appropriate intervals. Surprisingly, things get done in a timely yet almost casual way. Here is how Forster describes it, in a way that I liked so much that I copied it down to use in my morning quiet time:

My life is fantastically spontaneous and purposeful because I have no resistance to what God/my mind is telling me to do. I simply know [prehend] what is the best thing to do next and do it, without even the slightest gap between hearing and starting to do. The result is that I live a life of absolute freedom and spontaneity, which at the same time is unbelievably well ordered. Because I am so sensitive to God’s leading, I am incredibly intuitive [italics mine], and opportunities present themselves to me all the time.

Mildred Mann, one of the Philosopher’s early mentors, has this to say about intuition:

Intuition does not originate in the subconscious mind. It comes from the superconscious mind, and it travels from the superconscious along the highway of the subconscious into the conscious mind. Intuition is really the voice of God, and it manifests in most people in the form of what is popularly called a hunch. You get a strong, quiet, definite, knowing feeling about yourself , or about the course of action to take. That is its most common form. When it is developed, it will not only guide you, but it will enable you to utilize your basic instincts constructively. It will teach you to use the drive for life, and really live, not just exist, in a beautiful, not a fearful, world. . . . The most important thing we can do is to develop the intuitive faculty. We do that by listening and following the "still small voice" within us. The more we rely on it, the stronger it becomes, and the more it will guide us and teach us how to accomplish everything we desire. And—most important of all, it will bring us to God. —Become What You Believe


October 15, 2013

Surviving Horrible Ordeals and Laughing About It Later

Nick Hall, Ph.D. is a psychoneuroimmunologist, one of whose specialties is health problems with inflammation as a common denominator, one of the editors of a book titled Mind-Body Interactions and Disease. This book was commissioned by the National Institute of Health "to provide a record of the seminal studies that defined the field of psychoneuroimmunology". Before you fall asleep, Nick is also a world-class public speaker who conducts training in overcoming fear (and the number-one fear for most people is public speaking!) for business groups in teamwork, using ropes courses at Saddlebrook, a facility near my part of the world, although you’d never catch me anywhere near a ropes course! But I’m fine with public speaking. I own a couple of Nick’s Nightingale-Conant cd albums, which are fascinating, instructive, and hilarious, but they are in storage at the moment with most of the rest of my life for what appears to be another six weeks. One of these albums is on beliefs, the other is I Know What to Do, So Why Don’t I Do It? That is also available in book form along with a number of other books (see his web site, ).

Nick’s life is basically a history of brinksmanship. He earned his way through college wrestling alligators and milking rattlesnakes. He was an intelligence operative for the U.S. Government, and one of the business trainings that he does is to teach companies and their key executives how to deal with terrorist attacks (speaking of stressful situations!). He competes in grueling ordeals such as the 1200-mile nautical race in a sea-kayak, involving a 40-mile portage.

I am a firm believer in the idea that we teach what we most need to learn, along with the idea that the best way to find holes in one’s knowledge of a topic is to attempt to teach it. Living at the moment in what for me are stressful conditions for a number of reasons, I have fallen back on my repertoire of techniques picked up all over the place for many years. Most of them (surprise, surprise!) relate back to New Thought principles in some way, and one of my theme songs is about the link between religion and psychology. Seeking God in the silence, all sorts of interesting things flash into one’s mind, and what flashed into my mind recently was one of Nick’s techniques for getting through gruesome ordeals. As I recall the story, he and his family annually put themselves through a gruesome ordeal involving travel from Florida to some place in Iowa and back by motorcycle, where the ladies’ room en route is the cornfield on one side of the road, and the men’s room is the cornfield on the other side. He also describes the difficulties one gets into in the nautical races, which are not unlike the Iron Man Marathons or the Iditarod in the requirement for endurance through unexpected difficulties and unpleasantness. When his family or his business clients or even he himself start complaining about the difficulties they face, he reminds them of an even worse ordeal that the family went through in the past, something involving a motel with cheap polyester curtains and other non-amenities that awaited them upon arrival at a long-anticipated vacation (I told you I can’t get to the narrative to check the details). At any rate, it rained on their parade. All were in agreement that this was indeed the worst ordeal any of them had endured. The survival technique, then, is to admit grudgingly that whatever one is enduring at present isn’t as bad as the one that all can remember. You begin to compare hardships, and it starts to get a little silly.

Now, maybe that doesn’t sound so hot to you; it seems a bit depressing in itself. All I can say is, the next time you find yourself undergoing an ordeal, try it. Mentally compare what you are enduring with the all-time pinnacle of your misery index. And if you don’t have an all-time pinnacle to your misery index to compare with, then what are you complaining about? Now you have a hardship to tell your grandchildren about. And you haven’t had to wrestle alligators, do a ropes course, spy for the U. S. Government, or compete in legendary sports challenges.

Let’s see: my computer is up and running well, the heat pump is working fine, and I have indoor plumbing. And only one lizard has gotten in under the missing half of the weatherstripping on the front door.


October 22, 2013

Change Mental Habits and Keep The Change

The other day I was brushing up on early New Thought author Henry Wood (1834-1909). I did a whole series of weekly columns on him and his work, still available if you scroll down far enough. One of these years I will edit them into book form, but meanwhile, I need to stay up to speed on his principles. One of the small collection of books that I have with me here in my temporary quarters is his flagship volume, Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography (1893). You can download it free of charge in a PDF file. If you search our Henry online, be sure to include his dates (1834-1909), because the Woods are full of Henrys. Links to online Henry’s PDF book files are on our Henry Wood page; click on the link to the left.

Henry was a highly successful and prosperous businessman who found himself in a state of physical decline so serious that he had to retire prematurely from his wholesale dry goods business geared to the carriage trade. He sought everywhere for cures, traveled all over Europe to spas and healers, but continued to fail. Then back home in Boston, he somehow learned of mental healing principles (before they became known as New Thought), and that turned the tide for him. Reared and educated as a devout Christian, he had a hard time abandoning old habits of thought for new habits that were considered somewhat strange and unorthodox. But he persevered, and came roaring back for another twenty years of sharing this amazing method with the world through nearly a dozen bestselling books and the Boston Metaphysical Club, of which he was one of the founders and presidents. He also presented at one of the New Thought Alliance (later INTA) annual Congresses. He was neither a minister nor a healer, which gave him a certain credibility on the basis of if-I-can-do-it-so-can-you. And he was, as Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore characterized himself a bit later, "a hard-headed businessman", respected for his clear thinking and praised in writing by William James and other luminaries of the day.

Our Henry captured some of his approach and the difficulties he had in his novel, Edward Burton (1890). It is a delicious Victorian valentine of a story, in which its eponymous hero, a ministerial student, is helped as Henry himself was to learn to apply the mental science principles to heal himself of what was later to be called a nervous breakdown. There is also a love story, in which the hero finds his moral standards sorely tested when a friend appears to be his rival for his ladylove. Most of this is set in a beautiful Maine summer vacation spot.

What it all boils down to is that there really are no short cuts. There is no substitute for making up your mind to change your mind and keep the change. Like a toddler learning to walk, you just keep doing it over and over until you get it right. Usually—and I speak from vast experience—when some obstacle suddenly looms on our horizon, we either run in circles, scream, and shout; or we go into opossum mode and huddle in a helpless heap. Even if our thinking had been clear and our interest in our project high, as suggested by Emmet Fox in The Mental Equivalent, things rapidly get out of focus. At first, it takes quite a bit of effort to get the mental train of thought back on track and out of the chasm, or at least the prospect of a catastrophic chasm. It is anything but intuitive at such moments to restore the mental picture of our dreams and plans, which means that we really have to let go and trust God to do the rest, the parts that are out of our hands. "How is none of our business", as New Thought minister Terry Cole-Whittaker puts it. We can’t afford to get angry, or frightened, or even phlegmatic and pessimistic. If any of those were our habit in the past, we will get into it a bit, but we can work to shorten the duration and try to chew a little less of the scenery. There are many good role models for us in the Bible and in New Thought literature.

This is the point where our Henry introduces his cistern metaphor, a bit more everyday in his day than today. If we have a muddy cistern, and we steadily introduce into it a stream of clear, pure water and keep it up, eventually that cistern will again be pure and clear. But Henry makes it quite clear that it is "the Father within" that doeth the works, and not we ourselves, although we must cooperate in the work of co-creation. God has bet the universe on us, his highest creation, by setting up a world in which we always have the opportunity to say yes or no to his plans for us. With such free will, the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. God’s will can be temporarily frustrated, but in the long run, things go his way, and we can count on him to come through for us if we continue to hold the picture clear.


October 29, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

One of my projects while I am wandering in the mental wilderness waiting to get into the Promised House has been to read Alfred North Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas. It was undoubtedly the Philosopher’s favorite Whitehead work, and when people would ask him how to begin learning process thought, he would always recommend it, to my horror. For Alan, it was a walk in the park; not so for most of the rest of us, who need a primer or six before we are even partially ready to tackle the easier Whitehead writings. Even after more than twenty years of reading philosophy while securely seated in the Philosopher’s lap, I have found it enormously challenging. But I have been meaning to try to understand for myself just what it was that Alan found so appealing about Adventures, and then to try to convey a bit of that to those of you who may not quite be ready for whitewater rafting through systematic metaphysics. So don your life jacket and goggles, and let’s go!

Whitehead gets us off to a good start with the opening paragraph of his Preface:

The title of this book, Adventures of Ideas, bears two meanings, both applicable to the subject-matter. One meaning is the effect of certain ideas in promoting the slow drift of mankind towards civilization. This is the Adventures of Ideas in the history of mankind. The other meaning is the author’s adventure in framing a speculative scheme of ideas which shall be explanatory of the historical adventure. (Page vii)

So he’s going to paddle along and check the ideas floating like buoys in the stream of mankind’s history, and then he’s going to do a sort of flyover to come up with his "speculative scheme of ideas" to explain the history and how it went the way it did. He adds:

The book is in fact a study of the concept of civilization, and an endeavour to understand how it is that civilized beings arise. One point, emphasized throughout, is the importance of Adventure for the promotion and preservation of civilization.

When I read the daily news, I find myself wondering how civilized we really are, but Adventures was written in 1933, before World War II, when people still believed that the Great War— as they called World War I— had been the war to end all wars. Whitehead drew on Gibbon’s multi-volume Decline and Fall and other great works, but Toynbee’s massive A Study of History hadn’t been written yet, nor had Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking People. Whitehead continues:

The three books—Science and the Modern World, Process and Reality, Adventures of Ideas—are an endeavour to express a way of understanding the nature of things, and to point out how that way of understanding is illustrated by a survey of the mutations of human experience. Each book can be read separately; but they supplement each other’s omissions or compressions.

Whitehead also explains that large chunks of Adventures had been delivered previously as lectures at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Bryn Mawr College, some later published. He concludes his Preface by acknowledging his debt to his wife "for many ideas fundamental to the discussion; and also for the great labour of revision of the successive drafts of the various chapters". Clearly Evelyn, whose discipline was French, was no intellectual slouch!

Happily, we do have a trail to follow in the form of Alan’s pencil marks in his copy of Adventures, which he acquired in 1974. He made copious notations in his ectoplasmic handwriting, which has me resorting to a magnifying glass. He used a characteristic squiggle to mark passages he considered important, a symbol that he claimed came from naval architecture, another passion of his. Personally, I have always believed that it represented his inability to draw a five-pointed star. Just as soon as they finish with the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are going to tackle Alan’s handwriting! Large sections of the book are unmarked; other sections are peppered with marks and underlinings. He had obviously gone through the book more than once, carrying it around with him "for a bit of light reading", like Harry Potter’s Hermione.

The book is divided into four large parts: Sociological, Cosmological, Philosophical, and Civilization. I intend to stay at the flyover level and just dip down where I find evidence of particular interest on the part of the Philosopher, whose passion for history was second only to his passion for philosophy and for how religion interacted with both. Many times I added my own markings in pink highlighter when I came across a particularly quotable quote or definition, and I want to pick up some of those and present them for your enjoyment. We will begin with chapter 1, Introduction, in which Whitehead says that his title might be taken as a synonym for "The History of the Human Race, in respect to its wide variety of mental experiences. In this sense of the title, the Human Race must experience its own history. It cannot be written in its total variety." He explains, "Also for our purpose in the book the notion of History includes the present and the future together with the past, affording a mutual elucidation and wrapped in common interest." This interests me as a psychologist, reminding me of a technique from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in which one in imagination sees oneself on a time line stretching back into the past and forward into the future, and one goes up in the air and flies over it forward or backward.

One of Whitehead’s main points, which he first makes here, concerns

"pure history", according to the faith of the school of history prevalent in the latter part of the nineteenth century. This notion of historians, of history devoid of aesthetic prejudice, of history devoid of any reliance on metaphysical principles and cosmological generalizations, is a figment of the imagination. The belief in it can only occur to minds steeped in provinciality,—the provinciality of an epoch, of a race, of a school of learning, of a trend of interest—, minds unable to divine their own unspoken limitations. The historian in his description of the past depends on his own judgment as to what constitutes the importance of human life. . . . You cannot consider wisdom or folly, progress or decadence, except in relation to some standard of judgment, some end in view. Such standards, such ends, when widely diffused, constitute the driving force of ideas in the history of mankind. They also guide the composition of historical narrative. In considering the history of ideas, I maintain that the notion of "mere knowledge" is a high abstraction which we should dismiss from our minds. Knowledge is always accompanied with accessories of emotion and purpose. (Page 4)

(If you are wondering what this has to do with New Thought, compare "accessories of emotion and purpose" with Emmet Fox’s The Mental Equivalent: "In the building up of thought the two poles are clarity of thought and warmth of feeling: the knowledge and the feeling.")

In Gibbon’s history, for example, "it is Gibbon who speaks". This reminds me of a comment by anthropologist Ruth Benedict: "We do not see the lens through which we are looking", or the rhetorical question by physicist William Powers, concerning so-called objective perception: "Whose retinas would you use?"

A second point made here in the Introduction is:

The history of ideas is dominated by a dichotomy which is illustrated by this comparison of Steam and Democracy in recent times to Barbarians and Christians in the classical civilization. Steam and Barbarians, each in their own age, were the senseless agencies driving their respective civilizations away from inherited modes of order. (Page 5)

Whitehead continues:

The well-marked transition from one age into another can always be traced to some analogues to Steam and Democracy, or—if you prefer it—to some analogues to Barbarians and Christians. Senseless agencies and formulated aspirations cooperate in the work of driving mankind from its old anchorage. Sometimes the period of change is an age of hope, sometimes it is an age of despair. When mankind has slipped its cables, sometimes it is bent on the discovery of a New World, and sometimes it is haunted by the dim sound of the breakers dashing on the rocks ahead. The fall of the Roman Empire occurred in a prolonged age of despair: Steam and Democracy belong to an age of hope. (Page 6)

So where are we going with this?

The whole point of the present enquiry is to demonstrate those factors in Western civilization which jointly constitute a new element in the history of culture. Of course no novelty is wholly novel. . . . The question is to understand how the shift of emphasis happened, and to recognize the effects of this shift upon the sociology of the Western World. In this way we obtain some presuppositions of thought which the detailed criticism of modern sociological development requires. (Page 8)

Whitehead is first going to deal with "the most general aspect of the sociological functions arising from, and issuing into, ideas concerning the human race." He will then continue with "modern cosmological principles which also are the outcome of ancient Greek and Hebrew thought. A simple-minded interest in ideas with one or other of these two types of generality is the main source from which mankind acquires novelty of outlook."

To be continued.


November 5, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

2. The Human Soul

In this section of the book, we are "occupied with the most general aspect of the sociological functions arising from, and issuing into, ideas concerning the human race". Whitehead now wants us to consider the status of individual members of any human society. In the earlier stages, these are more or less "matters of course", but in the later phases, when civilization has reached its modern height and "thinkers have now arisen", people are beginning to consider the notion of duty and the notion of a psyche or mind. A sense of criticism has emerged, "founded upon appreciations of beauty, and of intellectual distinction, and of duty. The moral element is derivative from the other factors in experience. For otherwise there is no content for duty to operate upon. There can be no mere morality in a vacuum." Whitehead will have much more to say later about truth and beauty. For now, he notes, "For European thought, the effective expression of this critical discontent, which is the gadfly of civilization, has been provided by Hebrew and Greek thought", notably Plato’s dialogues. Plato didn’t think much of the gods of the poets, or even of the poets:

The religion of Plato is founded on his conception of what a God can be, with gaze fixed upon forms of eternal beauty; and his sociology is derived from his conception of what man can be, in virtue of a nature, which for its full description requires terms applicable to the nature of gods. Between them, the Hebrews and the Greeks provided a program for discontent. But the value of their discontent lies in the hope which never deserted their glimpses of perfection. (Page 12)

Whitehead then states, "The intellectual agencies involved in the modification of epochs are the proper subject of this book." They are divided into "general ideas" and "highly specialized notions". Ages with high activity culminate in "some profound cosmological outlook, implicitly accepted, impressing its own type upon the current springs of action". Strife springs up from "these latter questions of secondary generality" about which there is pretty general agreement. One of the biggest examples of this is that throughout classical civilization, "it was universally assumed that a large slave population was required to perform services which were unworthy to engage the activities of a fully civilized man. In other words in that epoch a civilized community could not be self-sustaining." All the political problems discussed by Plato are still around today, but

we differ from the ancients on the one premise on which they were all agreed. Slavery was the presupposition of political theorists then; Freedom is the presupposition of political theorists now. . . . For both sets of thinkers God has been a great resource: a lot of things, which won’t work on Earth, can be conceived as true in his sight. Ancients and Moderns in respect to this question face in directly opposite directions. (Page 13)

Slavery culminated at the height of the Roman Empire "in necessity, in quantity, in horror, and in danger". Whitehead adds, "But for a thousand years of the classical civilization to be civilized was to be a slave-owner. Some slave-owners were kind, some were brutal: probably, they were mostly mediocre."

Furthermore, the classical period "was the first period which introduced moral principles forming an effective criticism of the whole system". Both Plato and the Stoic lawyers of the Roman Empire were motivated by "the principle that human nature has essential rights", but they didn’t do anything about it. This is how change gets going:

We see here the first stage of the introduction of great ideas. They start as speculative suggestions in the minds of a small, gifted group. They acquire a limited application to human life at the hands of various sets of leaders with special functions in the social structure. A whole literature arises which explains how inspiring is the general idea, and how slight need be its effect in disturbing a comfortable society. Some transition has been produced by the agency of the new idea. But on the whole the social system has been inoculated against the full infection of the new principle. It takes its place among the interesting notions which have a restricted application. But a general idea is always a danger to the existing order. (Page 15)

This idea of "the dignity of human nature" did lead to "somewhat better government and nerving men like Marcus Aurelius to rise to the height of their appointed task." (Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius was one of the Philosopher’s heroes. In an era when philosophers had to moonlight to make ends meet, his day job was Roman emperor.) It would take another six hundred years for this idea to "close with the basic weakness of the civilization in which it flourished. It was the faint light of the dawn of a new order of life."

In the midst of all this, Christianity arose:

In its early form it was a religion of fierce enthusiasm and of impracticable moral ideals. Luckily these ideals have been preserved for us in a literature which is almost contemporary with the origin of the religion. They have constituted an unrivalled program for reform, which has been one element in the evolution of Western civilization. The progress of humanity can be defined as the process of transforming society so as to make the original Christian ideals increasingly practicable for its individual members.

Whitehead then notes:

Christianity rapidly assimilated the Platonic doctrine of the human soul. The philosophy and the religion were very congenial to each other in their respective teachings; although, as was natural, the religious version was much more specialized than the philosophic version. We have here an example of the principle that dominates the history of ideas. (Page 16)

The early Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent and that society was inevitably about to crash. Whitehead comments:

The Galilean peasantry, having regard to their climate and simplicity of life, were neither rich nor poor: they were unusually intellectual for a peasantry, by reason of their habits of study of historical and religious records: they were protected from disturbance, from within or from without, by the guardian structure of the Roman Empire. . . . the tone of life of this peasantry provided an ideal environment in which concepts of ideal relations between rational beings could be formulated—concepts devoid of ferocity, concepts gracious, kindly, and shrewd, concepts in which mercy prevailed over judicial classification. . . . A gracious, simple mode of life, combined with a fortunate ignorance, endowed mankind with its most precious instrument of progress—the impracticable ethics of Christianity. (Page 17)

Whitehead contrasts such gadfly ideas with "senseless forces, floods, barbarians, and mechanical devices. The great transitions are due to a coincidence of forces derived from both sides of the world, its physical and its spiritual natures. Mere physical nature lets loose a flood, but it requires intelligence to provide a system of irrigation." Unfortunately, institutional Christianity in the Middle Ages "adapted itself to its environment" (as do all big businesses and institutions to this day. Nobody wants to stick his neck out and be the guy who lost the company.) "It became an instrument of conservation instead of an instrument of progress. After a short period of progressive energy, the Reformation Churches again accepted the same idolatrous role." We resume "the next resurgence of the notion of the essential greatness of the human soul" with "the sceptical humanitarianism of the eighteenth century. We have arrived at the Age of Reason and the Rights of Man." Whitehead credits the great French thinkers of that era with having derived their ideas from

the English thought of the seventeenth century, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke", and he notes that it was the British government that first made "two decisive steps in the abolition of slavery. Two parliaments determined the new policies. They were composed of aristocratic landowners and evangelical bankers and merchants, one parliament Tory and the other Whig. The first step was the abolition of the British slave-trade in 1808, and the second step was the purchase and freeing of all slaves in the British Dominions in the year 1833. (Page 19)

It had taken two thousand years since Plato, the Stoic lawyers, and the Gospels. But there are always unintended consequences:

It may be impossible to conceive a reorganization of society adequate for the removal of some admitted evil without destroying the social organization and the civilization which depends on it. . . . there is no known way of removing the evil without the introduction of worse evils of some other type. . . . Human nature is so complex that papers plans for society are to the statesman not worth even the price of the defaced paper. Successful progress creeps from point to point, testing each step. (Page 20)

Whitehead does not mention the enormous differences between the American Revolution and the French debacle that some scholars say should not be referred to as a revolution, but that is a clear illustration of his point. Nor does he mention the struggles that the American founders had in order to continue to make gradual progress toward the eventual ending of slavery. Some of their actions have been misinterpreted as showing that they were in favor of slavery. And as Stephen Covey later pointed out, if you kill the goose, you no longer get all those nice golden eggs. But Whitehead does give credit to religion in general and Wesleyan Protestants in particular. He adds, "More recently scientists and critical philosophers have followed the Methodist example. . . . They made the conception of the brotherhood of man and of the importance of men, a vivid reality." May their tribe increase! And remember that man means humankind, and the best man for the job may be a woman.

Moving right along, Whitehead gives credit to "the heroism of the Catholic missionaries", but he reserves the laurel wreath for the Quakers, especially John Woolman. (George Fox is regarded as one of New Thought’s "Friends in High Places" by Unity author Thomas Shepherd.) Still, "the intellectual origin of the movement is to be traced back for more than two thousand years to the speculations of the philosophical Greeks upon functions of the human soul, and its status in the world of flux."

Winding things up, Whitehead states his intention to "consider in more detail some nineteenth century criticisms of this whole movement towards Democracy and Freedom. He mentions the Carthaginians, "a great civilized trading nation", who nonetheless "sacrificed their children to Moloch as an act of religious propitiation". He thought "such savagery impossible" today, but check the headlines about people going around beheading innocent people in the name of religion. He concludes:

Religion lends a driving force to philosophy. But in its turn, Speculative philosophy guards our higher intuitions from base alliances by its suggestions of ultimate meanings, disengaged from the facts of current modes of behaviour. The history of ideas is a history of mistakes. But through all mistakes it is also the history of the gradual purification of conduct. . . . The creation of the world—that is to say, the world of civilized order—is the victory of persuasion over force.  (page 25)

The Philosopher did not make many marks in this chapter, which I am sure he regarded as overall background for what Whitehead was about in this book.

To be continued.


November 12, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

3. The Humanitarian Ideal

Whitehead begins this chapter by telling us where we’ve been:

We considered the combined influence of philosophy, law, and religion upon the evolution from the notion of society based upon servitude to that of society based upon individual freedom. To this transformation philosophy contributed its generality, law contributed the constructive ability, religion the moral energy. (Page 26)

He goes on to remind us that the religions derived from Western Asia "conceived the universe in terms of despots and slaves", but fortunately, Plato’s influence on Christianity provided "a beautiful sociological ideal, intellectually expressed, and closely allied with intermittent bursts of emotional energy. Not so fortunately, "there has survived through history the older concept of a Divine Despot and a slavish Universe, each with the morals of its kind". We have looked at the effect these ideals have had on the transformation of society. Now we are going to "glance at accessory causes, and then proceed to the criticism of the humanitarian ideal", which has continued to snowball since it got started in the nineteenth century. Whitehead will conclude the chapter by sketching a bit of a reply to these criticisms.

The principal accessory cause for lessening the need for slavery was the growth of technology. At least in England, beginning with William the Conqueror, "the slave trade shocked the conscience of those times". But attachment to the land protected as well as restricted one, and as Whitehead points out, "The modern evolution of big business involves a closer analogy to feudalism, than does feudalism to slavery". Such organization is necessary in modern society, at least when a business reaches a certain size. "Individualists and socialists are merely debating over the details of the neo-feudalism which modern industry requires." (I would note that the price of freedom is said to be eternal vigilance, and power does corrupt businesses and governments alike. In 1933, the world had not yet seen the worst of this.) Still, "the humanitarian movement of the eighteenth century, combined with a religious sense of the kinship of men, has issued in the settled policy of the great civilized governments to extirpate slavery from the world."

But the serpent was about to appear in this humanitarian paradise in the form of "several strands of thought":

At the moment when the ‘brotherhood of man’ triumphed, the intellectual world was meditating on political economy conceived in terms of unrestrained competition, on Malthus’ iron law that the mass of the population must always press on the limits of bare subsistence, and on the zoological law of natural selection by which an iron environment crushed out the less favoured species, and on Hume’s criticism of the notion of the soul. (Page 28)

The result, both for these primarily British ideas and for the previous Methodist preachers who intended to save souls rather than transform society, was unintended consequences. Whitehead notes that Hume and Adam Smith

are two of the last great Scotchmen who mark the tradition [sic] affiliation of Scotland with France, which had survived from the earlier centuries of joint antagonism to England. . . . Indeed, one of the reasons for the separation of America from England was that the particular circumstances of English life were not applicable to America. . . . English influence survived, it is true, in the Common Law; but apart from that exception, the mentality of men like Jefferson and Franklin was French. . . . In order to understand the intellectual history of Europe, it is essential to remember the collapse of Germany during and after the Thirty Years’ War . . . the collapse of Italy owing to the supersession of the Mediterranean trade route to the East . . . and to remember the collapse of England owing to absorption in the commercial expansion of the eighteenth century. (Page 29)

Our gallop through history continues: "In the Middle Ages of Europe the keynote of sociological theory is coordination." The Feudal System was successful at coordinating things, just as the Roman system of government had been. "The Church, as an agent of large-scale political organization, was more successful than the Empire. . . . But on the whole, the attempts at large-scale organization of Europe were a failure." As a result:

Finally in the nineteenth century, amid the triumph of humanitarian principles, the basic positions of the social theories derived from Platonism and Christianity were questioned. Previously, they had never been fully acted on. They were impracticable. But they had not been questioned as a social ideal. (Page 31)

Now we have a revolt against coordination and its replacement by competition. As usual, somebody always comes along and takes things too far on either side. And yet "a much needed corrective to an unqualified, sentimental humanitarianism is here being supplied. Strife is at least as real a fact in the world as Harmony." Later research in psychology has shown that what we give our attention to grows, so attention to strife, competition, and later, the idea of "nature red in tooth and claw" led to predictable results. Therefore mystical religion turns its back on this evil world:

The mystical religion which most whole-heartedly adopts this attitude is Buddhism. In it despair of this world is conjoined with a program for the world’s abolition by a mystic tranquillity. Christianity has wavered between Buddhistic renunciation, and its own impracticable ideals culminating in a crude Millennium within the temporal flux. The difference between the two consists in the difference between a program for reform and a program for abolition. (Page 33)

And so, "the political, liberal faith of the nineteenth century was a compromise between the individualistic, competitive doctrine of strife and the optimistic doctrine of harmony." But the industrial system did not work well. We have all heard the Dickensian stories about children laboring in factories, the workhouses, and other misery. "The mere doctrines of freedom, individualism, and competition, had produced a resurgence of something very like industrial slavery at the base of society. . . . The pure doctrine of nineteenth-century liberalism failed." Efforts to modify these positions were met grudgingly. And so we have the rise of Marxism and continuing efforts to tweak the system. In 1859, we have Darwin’s doctrine of Natural Selection: "The contrast between the dominant theories of Lamarck and Darwin made all the difference. Instead of dwelling on the brotherhood of man, we are now directed to procure the extermination of the unfit." (Here I would urge you to take a side excursion into the writings of another Scot, Henry Drummond, who basically baptized Darwinism and showed an entirely different picture of things that has endeared him to New Thought. I did a quick flyover of his two books of lectures some months ago, and they are still available below.)

These doctrines, along with the work of Galton, Mendel, and others

have all weakened the Stoic-Christian ideal of democratic brotherhood. Religion by itself has always wavered between that conception and the despot-slaves conception of God and his creatures. But the democratic liberalism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the triumph of the Stoic-Christian strain of thought. . . . In the concurrence of all these strands of thought the liberalism of the early nineteenth century lost its security of intellectual justification. (Page 36)

"On the other side of the account", Whitehead sets Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarian Principle of "The greatest happiness of the greatest number" and August Comte’s "Religion of Humanity": Positivism, stating flatly:

Most of what has been practically effective, in morals, in religion, or in political theory, from their day to this has derived strength from one or other of these men. Their doctrines have been largely repudiated as theoretical foundations, but as practical working principles they dominate the world." 

Please note that this classical liberalism bears little or no resemblance to what is labeled liberalism today. The real point here is that all these ideas must be taken in the context in which they arose and what conditions were at that time. The great depth psychologist Alfred Adler referred to himself as an Idealistic Positivist, repudiating Comte’s extremes while retaining what he saw as worthwhile.

Whitehead explains:

For two thousand years philosophy and religion had held up before Western Europe the ideal figure of man, as man, and had claimed for it a supreme worth. . . . These Jesuits, these Quakers, and these Freethinkers differed among themselves. But they owed their emotions towards men, as men, to the generalization of feeling produced by the joint influence of philosophy and religion. Jeremy Bentham and Auguste Comte accepted these generalized emotions as ultimate moral intuitions, clear matter of fact. . . . They discarded metaphysics. In so doing, they effected an immense service to democratic liberalism. For they produced a practicable program of reform, and practicable modes of expression which served to unite men whose ultimate notions differed vastly. (Pages 37-38)
But it didn’t work:
Bentham and Comte were mistaken in thinking that they had found a clear foundation for morals, religion, and legislation, to the exclusion of all ultimate cosmological principles. On the surface, their pet doctrines are just as liable to sceptical attack as metaphysical dogmas ever were. They have gained nothing in the way of certainty by dropping Plato and religion.

The moral of that story is: Do not discard metaphysics, or you might end up like Bentham, whose body, stuffed, in a wheeled chair, is brought out to join annual meetings of philosophical societies!

Whitehead then doubles back to tell us that Comte

founded his Positivism on the assured results of science, the physical and moral science of his own day." He died two years before Darwin published Origins of Species. "We have already discussed some of the difficulties for the Religion of Humanity introduced by the subsequent phases of the Evolution theory. . . . But certainly this adequacy does not arise from any adequate clarity of the point of view. Many a worshipper obtains his purpose of spiritual consolation by bowing towards the sunrise and muttering an incantation; but he may be totally unable to render any coherent account of the grounds, metaphysical or pragmatic, which render his procedure effective. (Pages 38-39)

He goes on to supply a very good discussion of physical science, in four parts, then tells us that he is not going to "plunge into a metaphysical discussion at the close of a chapter, already sufficiently complex", just so you know it isn’t me. He does explain that these two chapters have traced the history of "three very different types of thought", but people want to reduce the complexities to accusations of poaching from one discipline to another. Sorry, Charlie, but that won’t work: "It is fatal to oscillate uncritically from the things which endure to the things which occur, and from the things which occur to the things which recur. Discussions based on no metaphysical clarity in the discrimination of endurance, occurrence, recurrence, can be made sophistically to prove anything." And I learned early on from the Philosopher that sophistry is a dirty word in philosophy. Second-year college students are called sophomores because they think they know a lot after one year in college. But we love them, as God does, because of their potential for learning a lot of things, including humility.

Does Science provide us with "any clear notions, independently of a metaphysical discussion. [?] Science is founded on the notion of Law,—the Laws of Nature. . . . recurrences which never fail to recur." But when we dig deeper, "we have to stop our regression, merely because our penetration has come to an end." Still, "the laws are the outcome of the environment of electromagnetic occasions. This whole process or regression suggests an inversion of ideas. . . . The whole environment participates in the nature of each of its occasions."

Whitehead now closes his circle:

But we are now drawing close to the impracticable ethics of Christianity. The ideals cherished in the souls of men enter into the character of their actions. . . . Impracticable ideals are a program for reform. Such a program is not to be criticized by immediate possibilities. Progress consists in modifying the laws of nature so that the Republic on Earth may conform to that Society to be discerned ideally by the divination of Wisdom. (Page 42)

And he winds up:

In these two chapters, we have been considering the adventures in the history of Europe of a great idea. Plato conceived the notion of the ideal relations between men based upon a conception of the intrinsic possibilities of human character. . . . [This ideal] ever recurs. It is criticized, and it is also a critic. Force is always against it. Its victory is the victory of persuasion over force. The force is the sheer fact of what the antecedent volume of world in fact contains. The idea is a prophecy which procures its own fulfillment.

Plato’s republic was the first of a long line of Utopias to fail. But the underlying idea lives on. And here we have one of the main principles of process theology: God persuades rather than coerces, forever separating himself from the anthropomorphic notion of an ill-tempered Oriental potentate with his finger hovering over the SMITE button. He is indeed a God of love, but he hedges his bets by supplying a lawful, dependable universe. We are punished by our sins, not for them.

The Philosopher did not mark this chapter, and I see why: it is a panoramic background for what is to come. Disagreements with this sweep of history would be nitpicking. Whitehead would be thrilled to read what has been written more recently, to put earlier events into better perspective.

To be continued.


November 19, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

4. Aspects of Freedom

This very interesting chapter is difficult to boil down into a few sound bites, and the only thing in the whole chapter that the Philosopher marked is the definition of Platonic Eros as "the soul stirring itself to life and motion", which doesn’t exactly sum things up. Or does it? There is a richness of ideas and details that make me reluctant to skip anything, but I can’t very well paste the whole chapter here. All I can do is tantalize at least a few of you into reading it on your own. So here goes:

There are various ways to look at the cultural history of western civilization. One is to note economic progressions followed by economic collapses, usually involving technology and/or economic organization. Another way is to note the oscillations between emphasizing the worldly and the other-worldly, truth and error, greed and virtue. Religion, morality, and contemplative habits lead to generalizations of thought. One of the most important of these generalizations is the continuum with individual absoluteness at one pole (emphasizing the freedom and welfare of the individual) and individual relativity at the other pole (emphasizing social organization and the welfare of the state rather than of the individuals composing it). As in nearly any continuum, the poles represent extremes, and balanced moderation turns up somewhere in the middle. But repression in one direction means freedom in the other direction, for better or for worse.

There is always a reason for these shifts, these revolts from the past. Dogmas held the responsibility for inherited failures (we always did it that way, but this time it didn’t work). Power shifts from one class to another, one good example being the rise of the trading/professional class in the Middle Ages. This group sought personal freedom to develop their skills and prosper. As their power grew, rulers had to pay increasing attention to their demands. Periods such as Imperial Rome, or England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had a balance of individual freedom and sufficient state rule to maintain good order, and such periods are regarded as relatively happy.

Whitehead next explains:

Men are driven by their thoughts as well as by the molecules in their bodies, by intelligence and by senseless forces. Social history, however, concentrates on modes of human experience prevalent at different periods. The physical conditions are merely the background which partially controls the flux of modes and of moods. . . . we must not over-intellectualize the various types of human experience. Mankind is the animal at the head of the Primates, and cannot escape habits of mind which cling closely to habits of body. (Page 46)

Where he is going with this is "Our consciousness does not initiate our modes of functioning. We awake to find ourselves engaged in process...." It’s coming in from elsewhere, and Whitehead calls this Instinct. Then "after instinct and intellectual ferment have done their work", a decision "determines the mode of coalescence of instinct with intelligence". He calls this Wisdom. Even way back in recorded history, we are still way ahead of "animal savagery". Our predecessors at first adjusted to inherited institutions instinctively, "they discovered what we have inherited. But there was a naivete about the discovery, a surprise. . . . Probably [the Egyptians] were nearer in their thoughts to the political philosophy prevalent in an anthill." In earlier stages, "freedom is almost a meaningless notion":

Action and mood both spring from an instinct based upon ancestral coordination. In such societies, whatever is not the outcome of inherited relativity . . . is sheer destructive chaos. Alien groups are then evil groups. (Page 49)

Episodes in the discovery of freedom appear to us as "flashes of free thought. . . . Bees and ants have diverse social organizations; but, so far as we know, neither species is in any sense civilized". Whitehead cites Egyptian king Akhnaton, who exercised freedom but failed, and there was a reaction. "But reactions never restore with minute accuracy." Eight or nine hundred years later, the Hebrew prophets were more successful, says Whitehead. "Spurred by the evils of their times they exercised a freedom in the expression of moral intuition, and fitted out the character of Jehovah with the results of their thoughts. Our civilization owes to them more than we can express." They produced

a change for the better, yet the conception of freedom never entered into the point of view of the Jehovah of the prophets. Intolerance is the besetting sin of moral fervour. The first important pronouncement in which tolerance is associated with moral fervour, is in the Parable of the Tares and the Wheat, some centuries later. (Page 50)

Speaking of "intolerance supervening upon the exercise of freedom" brings us to

the Christian church after its establishment by Constantine, and by the Protestants under the guidance of Luther and Calvin. . . . All advanced thinkers, sceptical or otherwise, are apt to be intolerant, in the past and also now. On the whole, tolerance is more often found in connection with a genial orthodoxy. (Page 50)

Whitehead then names Erasmus, the Quakers, and John Locke "the apostles of modern tolerance", but they did not originate "their admirable ideas". Those go back to two Athenians, Pericles and Plato. Pericles stressed "the activities of the individual citizens":

A Barbarian speaks in terms of power. He dreams of the superman with the mailed fist. . . . But ultimately his final good is conceived as one will imposing itself upon other wills. This is intellectual barbarism. The Periclean ideal is action weaving itself into a texture of persuasive beauty analogous to the delicate splendor of nature. (Page 51)

Plato was interested in freedom of thought: "he exhibited the tone of mind which alone can maintain a free society, and he expressed the reasons justifying that tone":

[A]ll points of view, reasonably coherent and in some sense with an application, have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe. . . . the duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight. (Page 52)

But Whitehead says we must exclude scepticism and intolerance from the effective promotion of freedom, because they are self-defeating. Pagans were tolerant about creeds: they didn’t care what you were thinking provided that you behaved yourself. "Creeds are at once the outcome of speculation and efforts to curb speculation. But they are always relevant to it. Antecedently to speculation there can be no creeds. Wherever there is a creed, there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave."

The Greeks recognized and pursued speculation and discovered its modes and methods. Having inherited this from Hellenic culture, "the Roman Empire was more self-conscious than its predecessors in its treatment of the problem of liberty and of the allied problem of social institutions." We then waltz on: "Latin literature is the translation of Hellenic culture into the mediaeval modes of thought, extending that period to end with the French Revolution. Throughout that whole period culture was backward looking." In the West, however, we find "a new grade of intelligence exhibited in the development of a variety of social institutions. It is this last factor which has saved the progress of mankind." However, "Social philosophy has not grasped the relevant principles . . . . But the problem of liberty has been transformed by it."

Next, we speculate on the analogies and differences between the deaths of Socrates and of Paul. Both were martyrs. Socrates died because his speculative opinions were held to be subversive of the communal life." Others had ideas "as unorthodox as Paul’s". But Paul’s journeying "left behind him organized groups, indulging in activities uncoordinated with any purposes of state." This created a problem for the state. "Modern political history, from that day to this, is the confused story of the strenuous resistance of the State, and of its partial concessions."

There’s the rub:

Political philosophy can claim no exemption from the doctrine of the golden mean. Unrestricted liberty means complete absence of any compulsory coordination. Human society in the absence of any compulsion is trusting to the happy coordination of individual emotions, purposes, affections, and actions. Civilization can only exist amid a population which in the mass does exhibit this fortunate mutual adaptation. Unfortunately a minority of adverse individual instances, when unchecked, are sufficient to upset the social structure. A few men in the whole caste of their character, and most men in some of their actions, are anti-social in respect to the peculiar type of any society possible in their time. There can be no evasion of the plain fact that compulsion is necessary and that compulsion is the restriction of liberty. It follows that a doctrine as to the social mingling of liberty and compulsion is required. (Page 56)

For Whitehead, the key to this doctrine of balance is the Profession: "an avocation whose activities are subjected to the theoretical analysis, and are modified by theoretical conclusions derived from that analysis. . . . thus foresight based upon theory, and theory based upon understanding of the nature of things, are essential to a profession." What is the antithesis to a profession? "An avocation based upon customary activities and modified by the trial and error of individual practice. Such an avocation is a Craft, or at a lower level of individual skill it is merely a customary direction of muscular labour. The ancient civilizations were dominated by crafts. Modern life ever to a greater extent is grouping itself into professions." But Whitehead admits that the distinction between professions and crafts "is not clear-cut" , noting that "a due proportion of craftsmanship seems to breed the finer types". He adds, "Pure mentality easily becomes trivial in its grasp of fact." Then the plot thickens: "The organization of professions by means of self-governing institutions places the problem of liberty at a new angle. For now it is the institution which claims liberty and also exercises control." The very word liberty "did not then mean a general freedom, but a special license to a particular group to organize itself within a special field of action. For this reason "liberties were sometimes a general nuisance." By the Middle Ages "the church so towered above other institutions that it out-rivalled the state itself." Its universality was also "of priceless value". Before the Renaissance "there were no European nations in the modern sense. But the Church transcended all governmental boundaries, all racial divisions and all geographic divisions. It was a standing challenge to any form of communal despotism, a universal ‘liberty’."

Then comes the giant upheaval:

From the beginning of the sixteenth century this first form of institutional civilization, with its feudalism, its guilds, its universities, its Catholic Church, was in full decay. The new middle classes, whether scholars or traders, would have none of it. They were individualists. (Page 59)

To them, universities were secondary, and the other institutions were nuisances. They needed governmental patronage or protection. "What finally emerged was the modern national organization of Europe with the sovereign state dictating every form of institutional organization, as subordinate elements for its own purposes." But, as we have seen, nothing is ever restored; they couldn’t go back, "because mankind has outgrown the simplicities of the earlier form of civilization."

So we see a tug of war in "a civilization in which men owed a divided allegiance to many intersecting institutions pursuing diverse ends", the triumph of science, the advance of scholarship transforming the professions but often leading to some very wrong theories.

For the great professional organizations, so long as they are efficient, should be able to demonstrate the dangers of extravagant notions. . . . Individual freedom, standing apart from organization, has now its indispensable role. For all organizations are liable to decay, and license for outside criticism is the best safeguard for the professions." (Page 61)

But now we have fictitious persons, commercial corporations, "exempt from physical death", complicating things. "In the end nothing is effective except massively coordinated inheritance. Sporadic spontaneity is composed of flashes mutually diffused, and coordinated with the background." We aren’t as far from the ancients as we might think.

"But wherever ideas are effective, there is freedom. Unfortunately the notion of freedom has been eviscerated by the literary treatment devoted to it." We think of "freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom for religious opinions. Then the limitations to freedom are conceived as wholly arising from the antagonisms of our fellow men. This is a thorough mistake. . . . The essence of freedom is the practicability of purpose." But "the literary exposition of freedom deals mainly with the frills. The Greek myth was more to the point. Prometheus did not bring to mankind freedom of the press. He procured fire, which obediently to human purpose cooks and gives warmth. In fact, freedom of action is a primary human need." Satisfied needs do not motivate, and most of the literary world is made up of people whose basic wants are satisfied, not artists starving in garrets. So the motives are more aesthetic. Still, the masses require at least a minimum of satisfaction with their lives. "Thus, even when the minority is dominant, the plain economic facts of life must be the governing force in social development." So around we go: the trades must be free to do their thing and develop better methods and products.

Whitehead appears to be somewhat more towards the statist pole than either the Philosopher or I would be comfortable with, partly because he was writing before the worst recent examples of the dangers and damage of excessive statism had appeared, or before some of the truths about the era in which he was living had been written. But his conclusion for this chapter is outstanding:

There is a freedom lying beyond circumstance, derived from the direct intuition that life can be grounded upon its absorption in what is changeless amid change. This is the freedom at which Plato was groping, the freedom which Stoics and Christians obtained as the gift of Hellenism. It is the freedom of that virtue directly derived from the source of all harmony. For it is conditioned only by its adequacy of understanding. And understanding has this quality that, however it be led up to, it issues in the soul freely conforming its nature to the supremacy of insight. It is the reconciliation of freedom with the compulsion of the truth. In this sense the captive can be free, taking as his own the supreme insight, the indwelling persuasion towards the harmony which is the height of existence. (Pages 67-68)

Next week, on to force vs. persuasion.


November 26, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

5. From Force to Persuasion

The idea that God’s power is persuasive rather than coercive is one of the central tenets of process thought. In this chapter, Whitehead shows us how we went from bashing each other over the head with clubs to saying "If you please". It took a while:

The gradual development of Persuasive Agencies in the communal life of mankind was not wholly due to the energizing of ideas. Indeed the very habit of intellectual activity was promoted by the slow natural development of persuasive intercourse within the social life of each community, and between different communities. Evidently the existence of each family group involves a mixture of love, dependence, sympathy, persuasion, and compulsion. There can never have been any period when the gentler modes of human relations were wholly absent. Indeed the ferocity may have been the later development, due to the increase of intelligent self-interest. It may easily have arisen as a strain of character necessary for preservation, and have developed into an overgrowth checking upward evolution beyond a low level of life. (Page 69)

He then goes on to explain what later became known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: "natural necessities, such as food, warmth, and shelter", and "the necessities for a coordination of social activities. Although others in the community exert some pressure, "as the area of reasonable persuasion widens, an environment has been provided within which the higher mental activities and the subtler feelings can find their use and enjoyment. But with the growth of intellect the range of necessities diminishes", and the more we rely on persuasion, the more we are able to evolve upward. One of the biggest contributors to the growth of persuasion was commerce and related activities for meeting needs, which in turn led to "various types of restlessness". All of this drove the Hebrew prophets and the Greek philosophers for centuries.

When Whitehead uses the term commerce, he includes in it the manufacture and interchange of material commodities, the management of currency, and really "every species of interchange which proceeds by way of mutual persuasion. All commercial values are psychological", which means that they are driven by desire to acquire, but if we aren’t starving at the moment and really just want "the possibility of renewed exchange", we’re talking about currency founded on credit. One great example is gold, which is usually prized in its own right. But governments may prefer currencies based on paper, with which they can create all sorts of metaphorical paper airplanes. Still, if people value gold, then it is wealth. This sort of "dependence on habits of mankind" also applies to producers and retail traders, in such things as religious emblems, which vary with the religion and the climate. Dress may be necessary, but fashion varies greatly. Also food, though even more necessary, "includes an abundance of alternatives".

The upshot of all these considerations is that the doctrines of Commerce have to be founded upon assumptions concerning necessities, habits, technology, and prevalent knowledge. But habits, technology, and knowledge are variable from epoch to epoch, and even in any one epoch differ in different sections of humanity. Thus any theory of Commerce depends upon presuppositions as to the populations concerned, and cannot be extended beyond these limits apart from a direct investigation of the wider populations. (Page 71)

Technology certainly makes huge differences, which mean that the economic theories need to shift, but that often fails to happen:

The development of economics was, in truth, affected by the moralizing tendency of the class mainly concerned. Their ideal of commercial activity as the main occupation of perfected civilization led to the consideration of economic laws which should hold, and to the neglect of economic procedures which in fact did hold. (Page 72)

Folks, he could have written that today. Compare Keynesian economic theory (popular during the Great Depression) with the Austrian school of economics. You can find online a free course in Economics 101 that covers exactly that. Whitehead continues:

In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember, that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions. (Page 72)

Whitehead then takes us through a sort of Malthusian drill, describing the Malthusian Law of Population as "ill-judged simplification". (Remember Einstein’s famous dictum, "Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.") The Malthusian Law is based on faulty assumptions:

China and India both afford examples of societies which illustrate [Malthus’s] law. They contain large populations whose standard of life is perilously near to the margin of subsistence. We must conclude, therefore, that for nearly half of the human race, Malthus has provided an interpretation for some of the dominant facts of history occurring within the last few centuries, and perhaps stretching into a longer period. Now India and China are instances of civilized societies which for a long period in their later history maintained themselves with arrested technology and with fixed geographical location. They provided the exact conditions required for the importance of the Malthusian Law.
When we turn to the European races the evidence is more perplexing. The superficial fact is that during the eleven centuries from the age of Charlemagne to the present day a persistently increasing population has been accompanied by an equally persistent rise in the general standard of life. Thus any simple-minded Malthusian correlation of density of population with deficiency in the necessaries of life does not apply. (Page 74)

I think I’ll skip the discussion of the Black Death, which had nothing to do with the birth rate, but rather the lack of "soap, water, and drains". Misery in Europe? Plenty of it, but none of it related to the Malthusian law.

Instead, "the history of Europe has been decisively influenced by its reactions with the Near East", by which Whitehead means the region bounded by

Constantinople, Mesopotamia, and the Delta of the Nile, and also including the Arabian Desert with its fertile fringes, and the plateaus and mountains of Asia Minor. The history of civilization in the Old World is the history of the internal development of the four continental regions fringing Asia, namely, China, India, The Near East, and Europe . . . . and how European civilization asserted its independence of the social system to which it owed its nurture. The subsequent collapse of the older civilization is the tragedy of history, foreshadowed by the decline of the Roman Empire whose imperial system had reverted to Eastern ideals. (Page 75)

Whitehead boils all this down to four categories: Malthus, Religion, Technology, and Commerce. He reminds us, "all the major crises in the story were precipitated by a concurrence of many causes", and continues, " It is a mistake in sociological theory to link impulse towards activity with abject destitution. In fact, when a population has sunk its standard of life to the marginal level for subsistence, the poverty of life weakens the impulse towards adventure." And adventure is what it’s all about. Three interconnected causes trump the Malthusian Law in Europe: Expansion of Commerce, Development of Technology, and Discovery of Empty Continents, all of which sound pretty adventuresome. "The central activity from which the other two developed was Commerce. . . . In the wide sense of the term, commerce covers all three conditions. Thus Commerce is one central factor, essential for a prosperous civilization." Also, "some main interests of the epoch" , such as "the Catholic church, the scholastic controversies, the holy Roman Empire, architecture, the artistic and literary interests of the Renaissance, the Reformation, had no direct bearing on the evasion of Malthusian consequences". Technology enables mankind to transcend the limits of unguided nature, where by the end of the eighteenth century, even letting fields lie fallow wasn’t enough.

Now we have reached the point in this chapter where the Philosopher got excited enough to mark passages with squiggles. He underlines the first three words and adds a couple of squiggles to mark particularly appealing sentences:

Nature is plastic, although to every prevalent state of mind there corresponds iron nature setting its bounds to life. Modern history begins when Europeans passed into a new phase of understanding which enabled them to introduce new selective agencies, unguessed by the older civilizations. It is a false dichotomy to think of Nature and Man. Mankind is that factor in Nature which exhibits in its most intense form the plasticity of nature. Plasticity is the introduction of novel law. The doctrine of the Uniformity of Nature is to be ranked with the contrasted doctrine of magic and miracle, as an expression of partial truth, unguarded and uncoordinated with the immensities of the Universe. Our interpretation of experience determine the limits of what we can do with the world. (Page 78)

Wow! It is easy to see what appealed to Alan. He even stuck a 1983 calendar page in to mark the place. Here philosophy, science, and religion begin to come back together. We humans can be proud and humble at the same time. "If it’s going to be, it’s up to me." The ball is in our court, and we are all children of God, trained for this moment.

Whitehead wants us to "recapture the attitude towards Commerce prevalent in various epochs. I do not mean records of trade, but records of the kinds of mentality governing commercial relations. We can only understand a society by knowing what sort of people undertook what sort of functions in that society." In many ways China and Bagdad "at the height of their prosperity’ were way ahead of the West. "But they became arrested, and the arrest is the point of our enquiry." China and the Near East showed "ample evidence of active Commerce". My grandfather was one of the first Caucasians to go down the Euphrates river on a raft, and he returned from his expedition with bricks in Cuneiform writing, business records (laundry lists!). He used to come to our classes in elementary school, give lantern slide lectures, and let us handle those bricks.

Whitehead goes on to emphasize that "the boldness of the Phoenician sailors and the enterprise of their traders at least equals that in any of the later feats. . . . The Greeks were bold sailors, but the Phoenicians led the way." Ah, but Whitehead has been holding out on us:

In the last few hundred years, European races have been apt to forget the greatness of the Near East, whose populations, with no predecessors to guide them, carried mankind from the stage of semi-barbarism only half-erect from the soil, to peaks of civilized life, in art, in religion, and in adventure, which remain unsurpassed. Their civilization in its prime was founded on Expanding Commerce, Development of Technology, and Discovery of Empty Continents. But in this list one item has been omitted, The Souls of Men. (Page 80)

Whitehead then chronicles the attempts of the West to expand, but "in the year 600 A.D., Western Europe was less civilized than in the year 100 A.D." He explains why:

Unfortunately, life is an offensive, directed against the repetitious mechanism of the Universe. It is the thesis of this discussion that a policy of sociological defence is doomed to failure. We are analysing those types of social functioning which provide that expansion and novelty which life demands. Life can only be understood as an aim at that perfection which the conditions of its environment allow. . . . In the Western Empire there was no pursuit. Its remnants of irritability were devoid of transcendent aim. (Pages 80-81)

The Souls of Men? "Christianity was a tremendous exception. But on the whole, in its immediate effect it was a destructive agency." Early Christians were sure that the world was about to end. A few centuries later, "it began to acquire a fortunate worldliness". But ideals became too abstract:

They had lost their practical application. The notion arose that the man of culture and the man of ideal aim was a stranger in the busy world. It is true that such a notion haunted Plato. But it dominated Augustine. . . . The obstinate survival of the present World was upsetting the unworldly tactics of the early Christians. (Page 81)

After that tease about The Souls of Men, Whitehead is about to shift gears and get to it:

At the close of the Dark Ages Europe started in its second effort after civilization with three main advantages: its Christian ethics: its instinct for legal organization transcending local boundaries, derived from the Church and the reminiscence of the Empire: and thirdly its wider inheritance of antecedent thought, gradually disclosing itself as Hebrew, Greek, and Roman literatures. The total effect was the increased sense of the dignity of man, as man. There has been a growth, slow and wavering, of respect for the preciousness of human life. This is the humanitarian spirit, gradually emerging in the slow sunrise of a thousand years. (Pages 82-83)

Finally, the point of the chapter:

The creation of the world—said Plato—is the victory of persuasion over force. The worth of men consists in their liability to persuasion. They can persuade and be persuaded by the disclosure of alternatives, the better and the worse. Civilization is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative. The recourse to force, however, unavoidable, is a disclosure of the failure of civilization, either in the general society or in a remnant of individuals. Thus in a live civilization there is always an element of unrest. For sensitiveness to ideas means curiosity, adventure, change. Civilized order survives on its merits, and is transformed by its power of recognizing its imperfections. . . . Commerce is the great example of intercourse in the way of persuasion. War, slavery, and governmental compulsion exemplify the reign of force. The weakness of the Near Eastern civilizations consisted in their large reliance upon force. (Page 83)

This halted the growth of persuasion, and they continued to have the dominance of master over slave and men over women.

Commerce required travel, and therefore open country "free from forest barriers, or the navigation of rivers and seas". Arriving in small groups, traders are "under no temptation to dominate, and excite no fear". Yet it is unstable in that brings together people with "different modes of life, different technologies, and different ways of thought. Apart from Commerce, the mariners’ compass, with the vast theory which it has suggested, would never have reached the shores of the Atlantic, and printing would not have spread from Peking to Cairo." Europe inherited Roman roads, the improving art of navigation, and "the sense of unity promoted by the Catholic Church and Christian ethics. Yes, there were feuds and "sporadic disorder. But men from different regions, of different races, and of different occupation were meeting together on the basis of free persuasion. Even the feudal castle, though it often harboured men with the mentality of gangsters, was more apt for defence than for offence." Also, "the art of clear thinking . . . has often been disastrously misused." Still, "mankind was now armed intellectually as well as physically. Curiosity was now progressive. The static wisdom of the proverbs of Solomon, and of the wisdom Books of the Bible, has been supplanted by Euclid’s Elements, by Newton’s physics, by the modern epoch in industry." And Whitehead was one of the guys who later supplanted Euclid and Newton! "[The Near East] finally sank under the barren criticism of disillusioned sensualists. It is the nemesis of the reign of force, of the worship of power, that the ideals of the semi-divine rulers centre upon some variant of Solomon’s magnificent harem . . . . Christianity has only escaped from the Near East with scars upon it."

Whitehead then recapitulates, and I can’t boil down the boiling-down:

In this rapid survey of the rise and fall of civilizations, we have noted four factors which decisively govern the fate of social groups. First, there stands the inexorable law that apart from some transcendent aim the civilized life either wallows in pleasure or relapses slowly into a barren repetition with waning intensities of feeling. Secondly, there stands the iron compulsion of nature that the bodily necessities of food, clothing, and shelter be provided. The rigid limits which are thereby set to modes of social existence can only be mitigated by the growth of an understanding by which the interplay between man and the rest of nature can be adjusted. Thirdly, the compulsory dominion of men over men has a double significance. It has a benign effect so far as it secures the coordination of behaviour necessary for social welfare. But it is fatal to extend this dominion beyond the barest limits necessary for this coordination. The progressive societies are those which most decisively have trusted themselves to the fourth factor which is the way of persuasion. Amidst all the activities of mankind there are three which chiefly have promoted this last factor in human life. They are family affections aroused in sex relations and in the nurture of children, intellectual curiosity leading to enjoyment in the interchange of ideas, and—as soon as large-scale societies arose—the practice of Commerce. But beyond these special activities a greater bond of sympathy has arisen. This bond is the growth of reverence for that power in virtue of which nature harbours ideal ends, and produces individual beings capable of conscious discrimination of such ends. This reverence is the foundation of the respect for man as man. It thereby secures that liberty of thought and action, required for the upward adventure of life on this Earth. (Pages 85-86)

Any great military strategist will tell you that the greatest victory is the one you don’t have to fight.

Next week, "Foresight", and the chapters get somewhat shorter.


December 3, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

6. Foresight

This chapter (plus a brief Epilogue, printed below in its entirety) completes the Sociological part of the book. Although the Philosopher didn’t mark much, all of this part is essential background for what comes next. Systematic anything flies high and wide, and although it hasn’t been easy reading, we understand the importance of the points that Whitehead is making from a high and wide perspective on history that we don’t often see. He shows an insight into business that one might not expect from a philosopher, and I will be interested at some point to go back and compare this to what Henry Wood (1834-1909), successful businessman and New Thought author, has to say.

Whitehead sets the stage:

By the phrase Historical Foresight, I mean something quite different from the accurate exercise of Scientific Induction. Science is concerned with generalities. The generalities apply, but they do not determine the course of history apart from some anchorage in fact. There might have been many alternative courses of history conditioned by the same laws. (Page 87)

He goes on to explain that our knowledge of scientific laws constitutes "a catalogue of ignorances", but "our ignorance is suffused with Foresight". The trick is "collecting and selecting the facts relevant to the particular type of forecast which we wish to make." He adds:

Discussions on the method of science wander off onto the topic of experiment. But experiment is nothing else than a mode of cooking the facts for the sake of exemplifying the law. Unfortunately the facts of history, even those of private individual history, are on too large a scale. They surge forward beyond control. (Page 88)

Historical foresight, according to Whitehead, is "faced with two sources of difficulty, where science has only one. Science seeks the laws only, but foresight requires in addition due emphasis on the relevant facts from which the future is to emerge". This is well-nigh impossible. "But what can be done is to confine attention to one field of human activity, and to describe the type of mentality which seems requisite for the attainment of Foresight within that field." He proposes the field of Commercial relations "to illustrate the function of ideas in the provision of anticipation and purpose". He hastens to add, "There is no substitute for first-hand practice." We "depend on a direct knowledge of the relevant reactions of men and women composing that society . . . within which the specific business in question is to flourish." And the unquestioned element within "the general type of mentality" is Foresight. We will discuss the conditions for its development and its successful exercise". Human aptitudes "can easily remain latent unless they are elicited into activity by fortunate circumstances". Since Understanding can be taught, "the training of foresight is by the medium of Understanding. Foresight is the product of Insight."

What we need to understand

is the entire internal functioning of human society, including its technologies, the biological and physical laws on which these technologies depend, and including the sociological reactions of humans depending on fundamental psychological principles. In fact, the general topic is sociology in the broadest sense of the term, including its auxiliary sciences. (Page 89)

No one person can grasp this; it is "a cooperative enterprise; and a business community maintains its success for long periods so far as its average foresight is dominated by some approach to such general understanding." In other words, it requires teamwork.

Whitehead then goes on to contrast understanding and routine: "Routine is the god of every social system; it is the seventh heaven of business, the essential component in the success of every factory, the ideal of every statesman. The social machine should run like clockwork." When it does, "understanding can be eliminated, except such minor flashes of intelligence as are required to deal with familiar accidents . . . . A system will be the product of intelligence" that is "maintained by a coordination of conditioned reflexes." Nobody needs to understand the whole system. So far, so good: "it is the beginning of wisdom to understand that social life is founded upon routine. Unless society is permeated, through and through, with routine, civilization vanishes. . . . But there are limits to routine, and it is for the discernment of these limits, and for the provision of the consequent action, that foresight is required." We never realize either extreme of complete understanding or of complete routine. "But of the two, routine is more fundamental than understanding." He uses as an example insect societies, "astoundingly successful, so far as concerns survival power" for thousands or perhaps millions of years. "It is the greatest of mistakes to believe that it has required the high-grade intelligence of mankind to construct an elaborate social organization." However, these insect societies "have one great characteristic in common. They are not progressive. It is exactly this characteristic that discriminates communities of mankind from communities of insects."

Now we move into a discussion of "the recent shortening of the time-span between notable changes in social customs" from thousands of years, to hundreds of years, to mere decades or less as technology grew by leaps and bounds. We can see where this is headed: the long time-spans meant well-developed routines and very slow changes:

The conclusion to be drawn from this survey is a momentous one. Our sociological theories, our political philosophy, our practical maxims of business, our political economy, and our doctrines of education, are derived from an unbroken tradition of great thinkers and of practical examples, from the age of Plato in the fifth century before Christ to the end of the last century. The whole of this tradition is warped by the vicious assumption that each generation will substantially live amid the conditions governing the lives of its fathers and will transmit those conditions to mould with equal force the lives of its children. We are living in the first period of human history for which this assumption is false. . . . The point is that in the past the time-span of important change was considerably longer than that of a single human life. Thus mankind was trained to adapt itself to fixed conditions. Today this time-span is considerably shorter than that of human life, and accordingly our training must prepare individuals to face a novelty of conditions. But there can be no preparation for the unknown. (Pages 92-93)

Here is where Foresight comes into the picture. Yes, we need routine, but "at the same time the sorts of novelty just entering into social effectiveness have got to be weighed against the old routine. In this way the type of modification and the type of persistence exhibited in the immediate future may be foreseen."

Next, Whitehead proposes to illustrate

assertions already made. Consider our main conclusions that our traditional doctrines of sociology, of political philosophy, of the practical conduct of large business, and of political economy are largely warped and vitiated by the implicit assumption of a stable unchanging social system. (Page 93)

We then take off on another quick trip through history contrasting the periods of slow change and well-established routine with the present:

In the present age, the element of novelty which life affords is too prominent to be omitted from our calculations. A deeper knowledge of the varieties of human nature is required to determine the reaction, in its character and its strength, to those elements of novelty which each decade of years introduces into social life. The possibility of this deeper knowledge constitutes the Foresight under discussion. (Pages 94-95)

Whitehead’s second point concerns cities: "the growth of condensed aggregates of humans, which we call cities, has been an inseparable accompaniment of the growth of civilization", but one with advantages and disadvantages. The reasons for the choice of sites for cities have changed with the times, but Whitehead guesses "that those who are reasonably fortunate in this foresight will make their fortunes, and that others will be ruined by mistakes in calculation". In other words, the buggy whip manufacturers lacked the foresight to realize that they were in the transportation business and adapt accordingly, so they aren’t around any more.

Whitehead then "sketches the Business Mind of the future", and what may interest many New Thoughters is that Foresight vs. Routine really boils down to best-selling author Stephen Covey’s (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) later distinction between Leadership (Foresight) and Management (Routine). As Whitehead puts it:

Details of relevant knowledge cannot be foreseen. . . . An unspecialized aptitude for eliciting generalizations from particulars and for seeing the divergent illustration of generalities in diverse circumstances is required. Such a reflective power is essentially a philosophic habit. . . . This habit of general thought, undaunted by novelty, is the gift of philosophy, in the widest sense of that term. . . . The behaviour of the community is largely dominated by the business mind. . . . the Greek philosopher who laid the foundation of all our finer thoughts ended his most marvellous dialogue with the reflection that the ideal state could never arrive till philosophers are kings. Today, in an age of democracy, the kings are the plain citizens pursuing their various avocations. There can be no successful democratic society till general education conveys a philosophic outlook.
Philosophy is not a mere collection of noble sentiments. A deluge of such sentiments does more harm than good. Philosophy is at once general and concrete, critical and appreciative of direct intuition. It is not—or, at least, should not be—a ferocious debate between irritable professors. It is a survey of possibilities and their comparison with actualities. In philosophy, the fact, the theory, the alternatives, and the ideal, are weighed together. Its gifts are insight and foresight . . . . Mankind can flourish in the lower stages of life with merely barbaric flashes of thought. But when civilization culminates, the absence of a coordinating philosophy of life, spread throughout the community, spells decadence, boredom, and the slackening of effort. (Pages 97-98)

Winding up: "Philosophy is an attempt to clarify those fundamental beliefs which finally determine the emphasis of attention that lies at the base of character." The subtitle of Covey’s book is Restoring the Character Ethic. And in case you hadn’t noticed, "Our discussion has insensibly generalized itself. It has passed beyond the topic of Commercial Relations to the function of a properly concrete philosophy in guiding the purposes of mankind."


At this stage we conclude the consideration of that group of ideas that most directly contributed to the civilization of the behaviour-systems of human beings in their intercourse with each other. This improvement depended on the slow growth of mutual respect, sympathy, and general kindliness. All these feelings can exist with the minimum of intellectuality. Their basis is emotional, and humanity acquired these emotions by reason of its unthinking activities amid the course of nature.
But mentality as it emerges into coordinated activity has a tremendous effect in selecting, emphasizing, and disintegrating. We have been considering the emergence of ideas from activities, and the effect of ideas in modifying the activities from which they emerge. Ideas arise as explanatory of customs and they end by founding novel methods and novel institutions. In the preceding chapters we have watched instances of their transition from one to other of these two modes of functioning. (Page 100)

Next week, on to the Cosmological section.


December 10, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

Part II. Cosmological

7. Laws of Nature

We are now moving from "the influence exerted by the Platonic and Christian doctrines of the human soul upon the sociological development of the European races" to "the influence of scientific ideas upon European culture, and with the more general cosmological ideas thus generated and presupposed".

Since he can’t do an entire history of science here, Whitehead proposes to stick to "the concepts of Speculation and of Scholarship, and the various notions of the Order of Nature, and of Nature itself. In short, my topic is ‘Cosmologies, Ancient and Modern’, together with the variety of methods, speculative and scholarly, employed in their production." He begins by explaining, "Modern Europe and America have derived their civilization from the races whose countries border the Eastern Mediterranean." That boils down to Greece, Palestine (this was 1933, and the modern state of Israel did not yet exist), and Egypt.

Of these countries, Egypt provided the mature technology, arising from three thousand years of secure civilization, Palestine provided the final religious cosmology, Greece provided the clear-cut generalizations leading to philosophy and science. This logical lucidity also tinges the remaining legacy from Greece, its art and imaginative literature. Every Greek statue expresses the welding of beauty to regularity of geometrical form: every Greek play investigates the interweaving of physical circumstances arising from the Order of Nature with states of mind which issue from the urge of the Moral Order. (Page 104)

He continues to point out, "Plato and Aristotle defined the complex of general ideas forming the imperishable origin of Western thought" in the nick of time before the downfall of Greece.

It is important for us to understand the distinction between "the bright Hellenic age, whose final period was centred in Athens", and "the Hellenistic age, with Alexandria as its intellectual capital". Alexandria represents

a new direction of constructive genius. The special sciences were founded. Their principles were defined, their methods were determined, appropriate deductions were elicited. Learning was stabilized. It was furnished with methodologies, and was handed over to University professors of the modern type. . . . Theologians, for more than six hundred years dominated the schools of Alexandria, issuing textbooks, treatises, controversies, and dogmatic definitions. Literature was replaced by Grammar, and Speculation by the Learned Tradition. (Pages 104-105)

By now you should be able to figure out that Athens (Hellenic) and Alexandria (Hellenistic) represent the difference between "understanding" (speculation) and "routine" (scholarship), both necessary, but in balance:

The note of Hellenism is delight, speculation, discoursive literature: the note of Hellenistic Alexandria is concentration, thoroughness, investigation of the special types of order appertaining to special topics. The great Alexandrians were either right or wrong. . . . The nearest analogues to the Alexandrian theological debates are the modern debates among mathematical physicists on the nature of the atom. The special topics differ slightly; but the methods and the men are identical. . . . I am not alluding to the mere fact that men change their opinions with the advance of age, or with the advance or decay of knowledge. The important point is the way in which opinions are held, and the weight attached to particular modes of statement. (Pages 105-106)

Whitehead elaborates:

The modern world is primarily Alexandrian. . . . The difference between . . . the Hellenic and the Hellenistic types of mentality, may be roughly described as that between speculation and scholarship. For progress, both are necessary. But, in fact, on the stage of history they are apt to appear as antagonists. Speculation, by entertaining alternative theories, is superficially sceptical, disturbing to established modes of prejudice. But it obtains its urge from a deep ultimate faith, that through and through the nature of things is penetrable by reason. Scholarship, by its strict attention to accepted methodologies, is superficially conservative of belief. But its tone of mind leans towards a fundamental negation. . . . Pure speculation, undisciplined by the scholarship of detailed fact or the scholarship of exact logic, is on the whole more useless than pure scholarship, unrelieved by speculation. The proper balance of the two factors in progressive learning depends on the character of the epoch in question and on the capacities of particular individuals. Also it is a curious fact, somewhat lost sight of in Greek thought, that, notwithstanding the law of the Golden Mean between contrasted components, yet a certain excessiveness seems a necessary element in all greatness. (Pages 108-109)

As the Dowager Countess of Grantham once remarked, "Nothing succeeds like excess." (I believe she was quoting Oscar Wilde.)

Which finally brings us to the subject of this chapter:

The notion of Law, that is to say, of some measure of regularity or of persistence or of recurrence, is an essential element in the urge towards technology, methodology, scholarship, and speculation. Apart from a certain smoothness in the nature of things, there can be no knowledge, no useful method, no intelligent purpose. Lacking an element of Law, there remains a mere welter of details with no foothold for comparison with any other such welter . . . . But the expression of this notion of Law with due accuracy, and with due regard to what in fact is presupposed in human purposes, is a matter of extreme difficulty. (Page 109)

Our attention, Whitehead explains, always goes to novelty, "news", rather than to what is "matter of course". There is good reason for this: it has survival value. The law, of course, represents routine. Animal habits "are mainly based on the massive recurrence of the seasons" and the rituals connected with them. Once agriculture appears, it "must be given a high place for its effectiveness in quickening progress". People had to deal with "the capriciousness of the weather" or "the mystery of germination", along with "active interest in the details. It led to a search for precautions, and discovery requires understanding.". He adds:

We inherit legends, weird, horrible, beautiful, expressing in curious, specialized ways the interweaving of law and capriciousness in the mystery of things. It is the problem of good and evil. Sometimes the law is good and the capriciousness evil; sometimes the law is iron and evil and the capriciousness is merciful and good. . . . Science and technology are based upon law. Human behaviour exhibits custom mitigated by impulse. (Page 111)

Well, then, Whitehead asks, "What exactly do we mean by the notion of the Laws of Nature?"

He supplies four main doctrines: "Law as immanent", "Law as imposed", "Law as observed order of succession, in other words, Law as mere description, and lastly the later doctrine of Law as conventional interpretation". He proposes "to discuss these four alternative doctrines from the standpoint of today".

Law as immanent means "that the order of nature expresses the character of the real things which jointly compose the existences to be found in nature" so that if we know their essences, we also know how they are related to each other. "These identities of pattern in the mutual relations are the Laws of Nature". This doctrine "presupposes the essential interdependence of things", which is a very important point in process thought. Whitehead then lists five "consequences" of this doctrine and notes, "the doctrine of Immanence is through and through a rationalistic doctrine".

Imposed law, on the other hand, "adopts the alternative metaphysical doctrine of External Relations between the existences which are the ultimate constituents of nature", so each existent "requires nothing but itself in order to exist", but it still has to somehow relate to "the other constituents of nature. These imposed behaviour patterns are the Laws of Nature. But it does you no good to study the Laws, nor can you discover them by inspecting the natures. This "suggests a certain type of Deism, and conversely it is the outcome of such a Deistic belief if already entertained. "Newton was certainly right . . . that the whole doctrine of Imposition is without interest apart from the correlative doctrine of a transcendent imposing Deity. This is also a Cartesian doctrine." He adds, "If in the past men had believed thus, today there would be no science." And the doctrine of Immanence "provides absolutely no reason why the universe should not be steadily relapsing into lawless chaos." So we aren’t getting very far with either of these. Here, we have the one sentence that my household Philosopher marked in the chapter: "The Platonic ‘persuasion’ is required." We are back at persuasion vs. coercion.

The third doctrine, Law as mere description, Whitehead characterizes as "a Positivist doctrine . . . that a Law of Nature is merely an observed persistence of pattern in the observed succession of natural things". This doctrine has more appeal than the two preceding in that it evades "the dubieties of metaphysics". Science

is the great Positivist doctrine. . . . It tells us to keep to things observed, and to describe them as simply as we can. . . . without the shadow of a doubt, all science bases itself upon this procedure. . . . The scholastics had trusted to metaphysical dialectic giving them secure knowledge about the nature of things, including the physical world, the spiritual world, and the existence of God. Thence they deduced the various laws, immanent and imposed, which reigned throughout Nature. (Pages 116-117)

Whitehead winds up the chapter:

Fortunately the scholastic age of Alexandrian scholarship dominated Europe for centuries . . . . A scholarly age works within rigid limitations. Fortunately, a revival of Hellenism overwhelmed the Hellenistic unity of the Middle Age. Plato arose as if from his tomb. Vagrant speculation and direct observation broke up the scholarly system. New interests, new facts, directly observed, directly employed. . . . The modern historian appeared, the modern critical literature appeared. The old Egyptian metallurgists, the Semitic mathematicians and the mediaeval scholastics were avenged.
But modern scholarship and modern science reproduce the same limitations as dominated the bygone Hellenistic epoch, and the bygone Scholastic epoch. They canalize thought and observation within predetermined limits, based upon inadequate metaphysical assumptions dogmatically assumed. (Page 118)

And so we arrive at—wait for it—the only constructive postmodern system of metaphysics: process thought. "The world will again sink into the boredom of a drab detail of rational thought, unless we retain in the sky some reflection of light from the sun of Hellenism." Whitehead famously said elsewhere that Western history was a series of footnotes to Plato.

Next week, we have a whole chapter on Cosmologies, and the Philosopher starts to get really excited.


December 17, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

8. Cosmologies

In the last chapter, Whitehead gave us four doctrines concerning the Laws of Nature and discussed three of them. The first two, Law as immanent and Law as imposed, are seeming opposites. The third, Law as observed order of succession (mere description), is the basis for Positivism, which underlies all of modern science. In this chapter, he will discuss the fourth doctrine and elaborate on all of this. Each of these schools of thought thinks it’s the grandest tiger in all the jungle.

With cosmology, we have started to move away from history and sociology toward metaphysics, still painting on a huge canvas with a broad brush. Welcome to the fourth notion of Law, the School of Conventional Interpretation. Remember that we are interested in persuasion rather than coercion, and the Philosopher underlined "The Platonic ‘persuasion’ is required". But first, Whitehead sets the pace:

There is no greater hindrance to the progress of thought than an attitude of irritated party-spirit. Urbanity, the urbanity of Plato and, if we may trust his Dialogues, the urbanity of Athenian society, were part of the intellectual genius of those times. The vicious antagonisms of subsequent theologians, some centuries later, hid from them considerations which they ought never to have forgotten, and have hidden from us the metaphysical genius of their own contributions to thought.
We will recommence by scanning the history of these doctrines of Natural Law, with the view of determining their exact points of divergence, and the measure of conciliation of which they are capable. (Page 119)

Process thought, like Stephen Covey later, is always working for some sort of synergy.

Whitehead repeats a quotation from Plato: "[A]nything which possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another even for a moment . . . has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply power." Whitehead adds, "[A]ccording to Plato, the distinguishing mark of the Philosopher in contrast to the Sophist is his resolute attempt to reconcile conflicting doctrines, each with its own solid ground of support. In the history of ideas the doctrine of Speculation is at least as important as the doctrines for Speculation." He then repeats Plato, "and I hold that the definition of being is simply power", and our Philosopher has underlined it for us. There are many kinds of power besides the mailed fist, and power is absolutely essential to life. Whitehead here comments that both the Law of imposition and the Law of immanence are to be found in this notion of Plato’s. "Notice that in this argument, that which is not acted upon is a fixture." Plato stated, "[B]eing, as being known, is acted on by knowledge and is therefore in motion, for that which is in a state of rest cannot be acted upon as we affirm. . . . Can we imagine being to be devoid of life and mind, and to remain in awful unmeaningness an everlasting fixture?" Even God can’t steer a parked car. But for now, Whitehead just wants to emphasize Plato’s "clear enunciation of the doctrine of Law as immanent".

Whitehead then states:

The early, naive trend of Semitic monotheism, Jewish and Mahometan, is towards the notion of Law imposed by the fiat of the One God. Subsequent speculation wavers between these two extremes, seeking their reconciliation. In this, as in most other matters, the history of Western thought consists in the attempted fusion of ideas which in their origin are predominantly Semitic. The modern scholar, with his tinge of speculation, is an Egyptian employing his wisdom upon his Hellenic and Semitic heritage.
In this instance, the extremes of the two doctrines of Law lead on the one hand to the extreme monotheistic doctrine of God, as essentially transcendent and only accidentally immanent, and on the other hand to the pantheistic doctrine of God, as essentially immanent and in no way transcendent. . . .
We have here been examining the basic notion of the initial cosmology which dominated the world, Pagan, Christian, and Mahometan, before the rise of the modern period. It was modified by Aristotle, by the Alexandrians, by the Scholastics. But this fusion of the doctrines of Imposition and Immanence, with adjustments this way or that way, is the great conception which reigned supreme till the beginning of the seventeenth century. (Page 121)

So we start to see where he’s going with this: We now have a continuum with classical theism at one pole and pantheism at the other. If you want to see how it finally goes together, you have to jump ahead a few centuries to a German philosopher named Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, who coined the term panentheism.

Pencil marks by the Philosopher are beginning to appear as Whitehead now tells us, "But Greek thought provided a rival cosmology, in the shape of the Atomic theory, as adumbrated by Democritus, systematized by Epicurus, and as finally explained in Epic shape by Lucretius." These guys were atomists, who believed that the building blocks of the universe were tiny atoms, which could get rearranged as needed. Their theory won the day and continued to dominate until the era of quantum physics, when the Greek rival to the atomists, Heraclitus, once more came into fashion with his notion that you cannot step into the same river twice. He was one of the Philosopher’s heroes, but Whitehead doesn’t go there now. Instead, he explains:

Plato’s cosmology tends to a fusion of the doctrines of Imposition and Immanence; the Atomic Theory of Epicurus lends itself readily to a fusion of the doctrines of Imposition and of Description. . . . the modern wave-theory of the atom sides with Plato rather than with Democritus: Newtonian dynamics sides with Democritus against Plato. Some passages of Lucretius surreptitiously introduce the doctrine of immanence. What Lucretius mainly cared about was the reign of law as opposed to the capricious intervention of demons and gods, to be coaxed by superstition. (Page 122)

Next, Whitehead outlines the two possible views about the paths of the atoms:

One theory can conceive them as imposed, and imposition requires a transcendent God as imposer. . . .This point of view was the working formula of the eighteenth century. God made his appearance in religion under the frigid title of the First Cause, and was appropriately worshipped in white-washed churches.
Another theory as to the paths can be adopted by the Positivist School of Mere Description. For this reason, the atomic theory, of the Lucretian type, has always been a favorite first principle of cosmology with this School of Thought. The paths of the molecules can be ascribed to mere chance. They are random distributions . . . . Thus the world, as we know it, exhibits for our confused perception an involution of paths and a concatenation of circumstances which have arisen entirely by chance. We can describe what has happened, but with that description all possibility of knowledge ends. (Pages 122-123)

Lucretius "wavers between the notion of imposed law and the notion of chance" but "rigidly limits his suggestion of chance". Whitehead shoots it all down at once: "The objection to the extreme Positivist doctrine at once suggests itself, that the enormous aspect of regular evolution through vast regions embracing the remotest star-galaxies, and through vast periods of time, is an unlikely product of mere chance." Woof! Whitehead then shoots down both answers to this objection and concludes, "The Positivist has no foothold on which he can rely for speculation beyond the region of direct observation." In other words, he is hoist on his own petard. Positivism aims to confine itself to fact, but "it is the one which can least bear confrontation with the facts." He adds a few other jabs at the Positivists, and mentions that they, having adopted atomism, have dissed metaphysics in favor of epistemology: How do we know? in place of What do we know?

Whitehead the mathematician also explodes the notion that "somehow the mathematical mysteries of Statistics help Positivism to evade its proper limitation to the observed past". He then gets into the discovery of Pluto, which delighted the Positivists with its approach. However, "this narrative, framed according to the strictest requirements of the Positivist Theory, is a travesty of the plain facts." He adds, "Metaphysical understanding guides imagination and justifies purpose. Apart from metaphysical presupposition there can be no civilization." The approach used by the Positivists has slowed the development of science at times. Plato is concentrating on cosmology, and ends up in "an intermediate position between the doctrines of Immanent Law, and of Imposed Law." His definition of being as "simply power", says Whitehead, "is the charter of the doctrine of Immanent Law."

We then jump 4-600 years forward to the theological Alexandrians. Whitehead comments, "It is customary to under-value theology in a secular history of philosophical thought. This is a mistake, since for a period of about thirteen hundred years the ablest thinkers were mostly theologians." The ones in Alexandria "were greatly exercised over the immanence of God in the world. In some sense he is a component in the natures of all fugitive things. . . . this doctrine effects an important reconciliation between the doctrines of Imposed Law and Immanent Law." St. Augustine’s doctrine of Grace and "Calvin’s rigid version of the same doctrine suggests the Manichean doctrine of a wholly evil material world partially rescued by God’s arbitrary selection." So we enter "the first phase of the modern world in the sixteenth century with the unquestioning presupposition that there is an order of nature which lies open in every detail to human understanding."

By the conclusion of the seventeenth century, "For the moment, the extreme Positivistic doctrine was eliminated. But, curiously enough, the three great figures, Newton, Leibniz, Locke, then dominating the world of thought, gave three diverse interpretations of the Platonic and Lucretian problems." Of Newton, whose position "was the more useful as a justification of the methodology required for the state of science", Whitehead observes, "His cosmology is very easy to understand and very hard to believe." He adds, "The monads of Leibniz constitute another version of an atomic doctrine of the universe." Also, "he explained what it must be like to be an atom." This "beautifully simple" answer "entirely leaves out of account the interconnections between real things". Also, "Leibniz was the first, and by far the greatest philosopher, who both accepted the modern doctrine and frankly faced its difficulty. He boldly excepted God from the scope of the doctrine. God and each individual monad were in communication." This, says Whitehead, "is an extreme example of the doctrine of imposition, capable in some ways of being mitigated by the notion of the immanence of God." But there are still difficulties. Our Philosopher found interesting the notion that "Plato’s doctrine of the real Receptacle . . . and Epicurus’ doctrine of the real Void . . . differ in some details. But both doctrines are emphatic assertions of a real communication between ultimate realities. This communication is not accidental." Whitehead continues:

Thus finally we can understand that the Receptacle, according to Plato, the Void, according to Lucretius, and God, according to Leibniz, play the same part in cosmological theory. Also in his general scholium, Newton definitely connects the Lucretian Void with the Leibnizian God. . . . The modern cosmologies are all detailed variations of the great types which we have discussed. . . . This more special problem of cosmological theory was the theme of the former part of this book. (Page 135)

Here the Philosopher again gets quite interested:

But it must not be thought that the more general problem of cosmology lies outside the scope of practical interest. The directions of human activities in various epochs, and the clashings of such directions in the same epoch, are the outcome of rough and ready solutions of the problem of cosmology, popularized throughout masses of mankind. . . . [T]he restless modern search for increased accuracy of observation and for increased detailed explanation is based upon unquestioning faith in the reign of Law. Apart from such faith, the enterprise of science is foolish, hopeless. (Page 135)

Now at last we finally arrive at "the most recent of the four doctrines of the Laws of Nature"—

the Doctrine of Conventional Interpretation. This doctrine certainly expresses the procedure by which free speculation passes into an interpretation of Nature. We elaborate a system of ideas, in detachment from any direct, detailed observation of matter of fact. . . . The conclusion seems to be, that Nature is patient of interpretation in terms of Laws which happen to interest us. (Page 136)

After a jolly excursion through mathematics and geometry, Whitehead winds up:

It follows that there are an indefinite number of purely abstract sciences, with their laws, their regularities, and their complexities of theorems—all as yet undeveloped. We can hardly avoid the conclusion that Nature in her procedures illustrates many such sciences. We are blind to such illustration because we are ignorant of the type of familiarity attached to novel circumstances, without any notion how to proceed in the analysis of the vague feeling.
There is thus a certain amount of convention as to the emergence into human consciousness of sorts of Laws of Natures. The order of emergence depends upon the abstract sciences which civilized mankind have in fact chosen to develop.
But such ‘convention’ should not be twisted to mean that any facts of nature can be interpreted as illustrating any laws that we like to assign. (Page 138)

He concludes the chapter by drawing our attention to "a three-fold distinction which it is important to keep in mind during philosophic discussion". This consists of "our direct intuitions which we enjoy prior to all verbalization", "our literary modes of verbal expression of such intuitions, together with the dialectic deductions from such verbal formulae", and "the set of purely deductive sciences, which have been developed so that the network of possible relations with which they deal are familiar in civilized consciousness". Finally, he warns:

The chief danger in philosophy is that the dialectic deductions from inadequate formulae should exclude direct intuitions from explicit attentions. In fact the abstract sciences tend to correct the evil effects of the inadequacy of language, and the consequent dangers of a logic which presupposes linguistic adequacy. (Page 139)

So don’t build your dialectic deductions on sand, keep listening for the still, small voice of God in your head, respect abstract science for its linguistic precision, and beware of logic built on the unwarranted assumption that somebody knows what he’s talking about. Garbage in, garbage out.

Next week, "Science and Philosophy".


December 24, 2013

Interlude: Alan on Power

Here is a collection of thoughts on the subject of power. They constitute a sort of essay, which the Philosopher evidently intended to make into an article. It has turned up on my computer, and I found it while looking for something else. It appears to have been written sometime within the years 2009-2012. I have left it as he wrote it, possibly in bits assembled from elsewhere, and have only done very light editing, mostly to remove typos. It is particularly relevant at this point, coming right after the chapter in which Whitehead quotes Plato as saying that the definition of being is simply power, a phrase that Alan had marked. Enjoy it as a Christmas present from the Philosopher and me.

Absolutisms and Alternatives in Metaphysics and Politics

by Alan Anderson

To be absolute means to be loosened from limitations.

To be relative is to be one among others, having some sort of dependence of others. Relativism can be summed up by saying that to be is to be related, thereby being limited, for only the utterly isolated could be in no way related-dependent.

In other words, since to be is to have some degree of some sort of power over other actual entities (as distinguished from potential ones or abstractions), to be absolute is to be free from any limitation on power, since there is no other entity on which to have any power.

Omnipotence refers to metaphysical absolutism; sovereignty refers to absolute political power.

Sovereignty goes back only to Jean Bodin, in the sixteenth century.

The big question in this article is whether either alleged divine omnipotence or total worldly power can be divided. Bodin and his followers believed sovereignty to be indivisible, but our American Founders divided it anyway, producing the greatest system of government ever seen, and always in danger of being lost.

There never really was any literal omnipotence (which, among other things is merely an abstraction), so the reality to which it pointed didn't need to be divided; it needed only to be recognized. It took many centuries to think out the elements for a satisfactory metaphysical pluralism (many units of only one type of reality— mind, ideas, experience— ,but as I claimed in my article in a recent issue of New Thought, Quimby understood part of it, expressed simply as mind acts directly on mind, and minds mingle. The more or less final metaphysical step was taken early in the twentieth century by Alfred North Whitehead, in his "process philosophy,"and was refined by his followers, most notably Charles Hartshorne. Deb and I have combined those philosophical insights with the practices of New Thought, calling the product Process New Thought.


Any ism is an abstraction. Abstractions are generalizations, universals applying to the many particularities from which they are abstracted (extracted), drawn out from. Although an abstraction, the entities to which they point are particulars, and it seems appropriate

to consider the abstraction as a stand in. Very often we refer to groups as singulars, at least in American English, in which Congress is, while Parliament are. So we should have no hesitation to apply absolutism to any one or more people constituting it. I suppose that application of an abstraction is just the other side of making it originally. In still other words, making an abstraction is a process (induction)of moving from the many to the one, the other face of which is deduction, applying the one abstraction to the many particulars covered by it.

All definitions are putting a particular into the context of the general. We’ve seen enough about the particular and the general (the concrete to the abstract). Let’s look at the particulars. In doing this it is appropriate to introduce an analogy from the world of economics and politics: monopolies. Whether in government or in metaphysics, absolutism refers to a monopoly of power in one entity. That entity can be one person or a relatively small group of people.

All of us are at least somewhat familiar with absolutisms or tyrannies from the pharaohs of ancient Egypt through the divine-right kings of the early modern world and concluding with the worst of all, the dictatorships of the twentieth century, not to mention similar ones continuing today and enjoying some admiration by some in the present American presidential administration. Add sovereignty and its divisions and separation of powers, and Charles Hartshorne’s analogy of cells and central mind.

The history of political and metaphysical enlightenment has been the history of limitation of power, whether coercive power assumed in government or the possibility in metaphysics that all power underlying appearance is persuasive power, some forms of it being called love, lure, or charm. To explain this with any semblance of completeness would require at least a sketch of the process-relational philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and his successors, especially Charles Hartshorne .


Absolutism refers to a monopoly of power, a centering of all power in one entity. Power is the ability to accomplish something, to make a difference. It is ability to bring about some change in what would have been different otherwise, to make a difference, to turn potentiality into actuality.

Philosophy, especially its branch known as metaphysics, comes into play here. Thus far, we have been discussing coercive power, power that forces one contrary to his or her preferences. But my main purpose is to suggest that at bottom the only basic power is persuasive, rather than coercive. Despite blood-curdling tales of God’s punishing people individually or collectively, the basic truth is that God only lovingly, persuasively leads, guides, charms people (and other actualities) through a persuasive something that followers of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) call prehension.

Most of us may take for granted that even a philosophically-founded article would be concerned almost exclusively with power only in the sense of coercive power, but that’s only partly the case with this article. It is true with respect to politics, but it raises the possibility that behind even the obviousness of coercive power is the reality of persuasive power, the power of love, of lure, of charm. God is so charming with entities only dimly aware and choosing, bits of matter and of plants, that they, unlike certain higher animals, especially human beings, virtually never exercise the veto power that we possess in the creative process. They just go along with divine suggestion because it feels good. These mini-hedonists seem to be the models for huge collections of them, known as human beings.

Politics is almost exclusively concerned with what people have done and could do when gathered into groups having power to decide some very important things about what other people are to be allowed to do.

Political power is the power of people acting together, whether (1), as in the Declaration of Independence, recognized as having certain inherent God-given rights exercised in such a way that the power of the people is entrusted to a government for such period of time as the government satisfies the people who entrusted it with power, or (2) as in many ancient and modern societies imposed on most of the people by a few people or even one person. Such monopolization of power in politics is known as absolutism. Monopolization of all power whatever is what also is called in metaphysics absolutism. Same name, different applications, but both are dealing with monopolies of power.

The political history of humankind is largely the history of limitations of power. Some landmarks along the way are substitution of "an eye for an eye" for total retaliation; embodiments of social and other rules into codifications of Hammurabi and Moses, among others, Magna Carta, various enactments of Parliament, the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (often called the first written constitution), the Declaration of Independence , the U.S. Constitution, especially its Preamble and Tenth Amendment; and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Second Inaugural Address.

In discussing divine power, the very term omnipotence deserves attention. Ordinarily we think of God as being omnipotent (the result of an inadequate Latin translation of the Greek pantokrator, meaning all-sufficient. To view God as all-powerful leads led to the problem of how God can be both all-good and all-powerful.

One of the reasons why many of us have been attracted to the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) is that it abandons the notion of God as dictator and adopts the view of God as ultimate encourager.

In common with physics, politics deals almost exclusively with coercive power, whereas the God of Whiteheadian process-relational philosophy presents us with the God who is the ultimate endlessly patient persuader.

Throughout political history there have been instances of one ruler over many people, and in a more democratic context many people acting collectively against any offender, generally in law, but less fortunately in legally unenforced public opinion.

With or without those titles, I am much concerned with monopolistic concentration of power in both politics and metaphysics.

To say that God is all or that All is God, or that that is the only presence and only power, is to commit oneself to what is more commonly in metaphysics called absolutism and, in more clearly religious circles, pantheism.

Perhaps the most impressive relatively short examination of pantheism is the of Edgar Sheffield Brightman in his classic 1940 A Philosophy of Religion. The essence of it is that to ask the deity to be both perfect God and imperfect people at the same time is to ask the rationally impossible.

Metaphysical absolutism asks exactly that. Political absolutism asks only that one tyrant, emperor, dictator, or state hold all human power and be sovereign over everyone in a given geographical territory. That power is known as sovereignty. From Jean Bodin onward it was considered indivisible.

Great as the drafters of the Declaration of Independence were, they problematically declared what they were creating to be "free and independent states." Note the plural. It took about a century to change, in effect, are to is. It took the 1787 Constitution of the United States, some Amendments, and subsequent Supreme Court decisions first to clarify the situation, and over the past century to mess the situation up again, although this time not in the decentralizing direction of the Articles of Confederation, but in the direction of centralization of power. Some celebrate this as evidence of a "living Constitution," while others lament it as largely a loss of the original intent of the federal system, in which the division of power between states and central ("Federal") government was clear, with the Federal government having only those powers specifically delegated to it, and those powers certainly not extending to the point of replacing private philanthropy. One early President reportedly vetoed some piece of legislation with an observation to the effect that the Constitution did not give the central government the power to be generous.

In other words, the Founders feared governmental power and sought to restrict it as far as possible. Jefferson is famous for saying that the best government is the one that governs least. Certainly the trend is one of limitation of governmental power from Magna Carta through various English Parliamentary enactments and such American documents as the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and all fifty state constitutions, as well as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, especially its Tenth Amendment.

Swinging back to metaphysics, the greatest universal division of power is that between God and every one of the unimaginably many units of reality, called by Alfred North Whitehead actual entity, actual occasion, and occasion of experience, more or less interchangeably.

An alternative to pantheism, panentheism, solves the problem of all power monopolized by one entity, by affirming not that God is all, but that God is in all, and all is in God.

None of the elements of co-creation could be omitted, but in some sense it might be said that choice is the most important, or at least noticed by most people in the most seemingly insignificant bits of actuality. Obviously, people make choices, and at least some sub-human animals apparently do, but what about the atoms in a rock or steel bar?

Power seems to be more a matter of feeling and choosing than a brute force. In other words, basic power is persuasive, rather than coercive. Coercion is a practical "powerful" expression, but deep within it lurks what could be called the divine secret of God’s own power (which no other kind could override), persuasive, leading, encouraging, loving power. It is in this sense that we meaningfully can call God Love, although love literally is an abstraction characterizing some actual entities.

One of Alfred North Whitehead’s most memorable contributions was his recognition of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness; in other words, don’t mistake either the abstract for the concrete or the concrete for the actual. This might seem to be obvious, but New Thoughters are forever committing that fallacy, whenever they say that God is goodness, or love, or beauty. The major trouble with this in relation to power is that only an actuality has an power to influence any other actuality. Abstractions such as goodness, love, and beauty are abstracted (extracted) from the particulars that possess these characteristics, these generalities, these universals. Nothing can be described except by placing it into the context of the supremely general, which is applicable to innumerable particulars. In Whiteheadian terminology, each basic unit of reality is an actual entity, actual occasion, occasion of experience, which terms are more or less synonymous.


December 31, 2013

Adventures in Adventures

9. Science and Philosophy

Philosophers were the first scientists, and it is only comparatively recently that science split off from philosophy to become (alas!) a separate discipline. Whitehead sets the stage by telling us, "In one sense, Science and Philosophy are merely different aspects of one great enterprise of the human mind." Animals may display "flashes of aesthetic insight, of technological attainment, of sociological organization, of affectionate feeling", but humans carry them "to an immeasurably higher level". He adds, "Science and Philosophy belong to men alone." He further explains, "[M]odern science, urged onward by the curiosity of the human spirit, permeated with criticism, and divorced from heredity superstitions, had its birth with the Greeks; and among the Greeks Thales was the earliest exponent known to us." The Philosopher loved to recount the early notions of Thales and add that Thales met an untimely end when, while studying the stars, he fell down a well. Even scientists at times must learn to leave well enough alone.

Whitehead continues, "The first step in science and philosophy has been made when it is grasped that every routine exemplifies a principle which is capable of statement in abstraction from its particular exemplifications." Curiosity "is this desire to state the principles in their abstraction." Aristotle, he explains,

has given to Science and Philosophy its first sweeping analysis of the facts of physical nature. . . . In the place of an uninterpreted swamp, pestilential with mystery and magic, he sets before our understanding a majestic, coordinated scheme, lucid to the understanding and based upon the obvious, persistent facts of our experience. . . . With Aristotle and Epicurus, the science of modern civilization reached adolescence. (Page 142)

Much as he loves Plato, and even acknowledging that "neither Plato, nor Aristotle, originated his own particular line of thought", Whitehead tells us, "There is a clear-cut obviousness about Aristotle’s doctrines which is entirely lacking to Plato’s cosmology". But when Alexandria gained the ascendance:

prophets were superseded by professors. In other words, as the movement has penetrated into habits of thought, intuitive conviction has wilted in the face of criticism. But amid all the limitations of humanity, wandering dazed in the abundant universe, knowledge has reconditioned human life, and has made possible that virtue which requires such measure of intellectual analysis. (Page 143)

What are "the chief connections between science and philosophy"? As Plato and Aristotle illustrated:

The emphasis of science is upon observation of particular occurrences, and upon inductive generalization, issuing in wide classifications of things according to their modes of functioning, in other words according to the laws of nature which they illustrate. The emphasis of philosophy is upon generalizations which almost fail to classify by reason of their universal application. (Page 143)

With Aristotle, "we can see in the labours of his life, the first clear example of a philosophic intuition passing into a scientific method. This transition from philosophic intuition to scientific methods is in fact the whole topic of this chapter." Even for the special sciences, "philosophic systems . . . . are the way in which the human spirit cultivates its deeper intuitions. Such systems give life and motion to detached thoughts."

Whitehead then describes what he terms "The Dogmatic Fallacy", "the persuasion that we are capable of producing notions which are adequately defined in respect to the complexity of relationship required for their illustration in the real world". He amplifies:

During the mediaeval epoch in Europe, the theologians were the chief sinners in respect to dogmatic finality. During the last three centuries, their bad preeminence in this habit passed to the men of science. Our task is to understand how in fact the human mind can successfully set to work for the gradual definition of its habitual ideas. . . . Undiscovered limitations are the topics for philosophic research. (Page 145)

Don’t worry; religion gets its credit in the next chapter. Still,

in this action, and reaction, between science and philosophy either helps the other. It is the task of philosophy to work at the concordance of ideas conceived as illustrated in the concrete facts of the real world. . . . But science makes the abstraction, and is content to understand the complete fact in respect to only some of its essential aspects. Science and Philosophy mutually criticize each other, and provide imaginative material for each other. A philosophical system should present an elucidation of concrete fact from which the sciences abstract. Also, the sciences should find their principles in the concrete facts which a philosophic system presents. The history of thought is the story of the measure of failure and success in this joint enterprise. (Page 146)

Next, Whitehead compares and contrasts the contributions of Plato and Aristotle, whose virtues are "entirely different" but "of equal use for the progress of thought". You have to have a black belt in philosophy to get through this, and if you do, go read the original! Whitehead paraphrases Plato as saying "that the determinations of compatibilities and incompatibilities are the key to coherent thought, and to the understanding of the world in its function as the theatre for the temporal realization of ideas. The Aristotelian Logic is only a specialized derivative from this general notion." Whitehead winds up this section by stating:

Thus with Plato and Aristotle, a new epoch commences. Science acquires the cleansing of logical and mathematical lucidity. Aristotle established the importance of scientific classification into species and genera; Plato divined the future scope of applied mathematics. Unfortunately, later on, the explicit development of Plato’s doctrines has been exclusively in the hands of religious mystics, of literary scholars, and of literary artists. Plato, the mathematician, for long intervals disappeared from the explicit Platonic tradition. (Page 149)

And remember that Whitehead was the co-author of Principia Mathematica!

Whitehead then continues to compare and contrast Plato and Aristotle:

Although the Timaeus was widely influential, yet for about eighteen hundred years after their epoch, it seemed that Aristotle was right and Plato wrong. Some mathematical formulae were interwoven with scientific ideas, but no more than would have been perfectly familiar to Aristotle apart from what were in his day the latest refinements. The cosmological scheme of the active scientists was in fact that of Aristotle. But Plato’s divination exemplifies another important function for philosophy. . . . Plato’s mathematical speculations have been treated as sheer mysticism by scholars who follow the literary traditions of the Italian Renaissance. In truth, they are the products of genius brooding on the future of intellect exploring a world of mystery. . . . Among the Christians mathematics and magic were confused. The Pope himself hardly escaped. (Page 152)

He sums up, "The real point is that the essential connectedness of things can never be safely omitted. This is the doctrine of the thoroughgoing relativity which infects the universe and which makes the totality of things as it were a Receptacle uniting all that happens." He adds:

[A]ll science suffers from the vice that it may be combining various propositions which tacitly presuppose inconsistent backgrounds. No science can be more secure than the unconscious metaphysics which tacitly it presupposes [italics mine]. The individual thing is necessarily a modification of its environment, and cannot be understood in disjunction. All reasoning, apart from some metaphysical reference, is vicious. (Page 154)

In other words, as cell biologist Bruce Lipton would say, "It’s the environment, Stupid!"

Then we come to another section that the Philosopher has marked. He underlines, "Thus the Certainties of Science are a delusion. They are hedged around with unexplored limitations." He also marked:

Our coordinated knowledge, which in the general sense of the term is Science, is formed by the meeting of two orders of experience. One order is constituted by the direct, immediate discriminations of particular observations. The other order is constituted by our general way of conceiving the Universe. They will be called, the Observational Order, and the Conceptual Order. The first point to remember is that the observational order is invariably interpreted in terms of the concepts supplied by the conceptual order. The question as to the priority of one or the other is, for the purpose of this discussion, academic. We inherit an observational order, namely types of things which we do, in fact discriminate; and we inherit a conceptual order, namely a rough system of ideas in terms of which we do in fact interpret. We can point to no epoch in human history, or even in animal history, at which this interplay began. Also it is true that novel observations modify the conceptual order. But equally, novel concepts suggest novel possibilities of observational discrimination. The history of thought cannot be understood unless we take account of a grave weakness in the observational order. (Pages 154-155, italics Alan’s underlinings)

The section ends:

We can now briefly characterize the history of the transformation of mediaeval cosmology into our modern standpoint. The effective agency in this transformation has a history of about eighteen hundred years entirely divorced from physical observation. It is a history of abstract thought, namely, of the development of mathematics. The interest, which was the motive in its development, was the interest in the coordination of theoretical notions and in the theoretical constructions arising from the domination of such notions. Yet, if many modern philosophers and men of science could have had their way, they would have been dissuading Greeks, Jews, and Mahommedans from such useless studies, from such pure abstractions for which no foresight could divine the ghost of an application. Luckily they could not get at their ancestors. (Pages155-156)

Whitehead next tells us, "The services to mankind rendered by the Newtonian System of Nature are incalculable. . . . But at last the Newton cosmology has broken down." It took over a century, as new ideas accumulated "into a body of thought inconsistent with the Newtonian ideas dominating their thoughts and shaping their modes of expression". This is basically what is later described in Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. "The story in detail is the history of modern physics . . . ." Whitehead elaborates, "We have to discover a doctrine of nature which expresses the concrete relatedness of physical functionings and mental functionings, of the past with the present, and also expresses the concrete composition of physical realities which are individually diverse." Which, of course, is what process thought does. He adds, "Modern physics has abandoned the doctrine of Simple Location." Change is the only constant, and we can only say where a particle has been or is heading, but by the time you pinpoint where it is now, it is somewhere else.

In the final section of the chapter, Whitehead states, "The final problem is to conceive a complete fact. We can only form such a conception in terms of fundamental notions concerning the nature of reality. We are thrown back upon philosophy." He then lists Plato’s "seven main factors interwoven in fact", and tell us, "All philosophical systems are endeavours to express the interweaving of these components. Of course, it is most unscholarly to identify our modern notions with these archaic thoughts of Plato." And he winds it all up:

The transitions to new fruitfulness of understanding are achieved by recurrence to the utmost depths of intuition for the refreshment of imagination. In the end—although there is no end—what is being achieved, is width of view, issuing in greater opportunities. But opportunity leads upwards or downwards. In unthinking Nature ‘natural selection’ is a synonym for ‘waste’. Philosophy should now perform its final service. It should seek the insight, dim though it be, to escape the wide wreckage of a race of beings sensitive to values beyond those of mere animal enjoyment. (Page 159)

Next week, "The New Reformation".