A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the 20th Century

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 29 Comments

First of all I want to thank everyone for keeping the level of this virtual conversation so high and so philosophically minded. Now that we have opened up a discussion about Science and Spirituality I would like to add a little more historical context to frame it.

During the time of the Middle Ages Christianity grew and fought to become the dominant worldview in the Western World.  That means that the vast majority of people believed that the Bible contained an infallible recording of the Truth as God presented it to humanity. No matter what you felt about it, no matter what you thought about it, the fact always remained that what the Bible said was the ultimate Truth that described Reality.

Then in the 17th Century the Western Enlightenment erupted. The scientific and philosophical thinkers of that age began to realize that the human mind had the power to understand reality. These great thinkers began to uncover a natural order that was governed by unchangeable laws and their success led to miraculous discoveries and achievements.

Still, during this time and on into the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the Enlightenment thinkers still believed in God, but the nature of that belief changed and gave birth to Liberal Theology. The Bible was increasingly seen not as the literal word of God flawlessly recorded by the prophets (Old Testament) and the Apostles (New Testament), but now was seen as an interpretation of God’s word as created by these great figures. The Bible was then not something to be taken literally, but to be continually studied and reinterpreted so that the essential wisdom contained in the words could be distilled out.

As Science continued to triumph another interpretation of traditional religious views took a strong hold. This was Natural Theology. In Natural Theology there remained a belief in God, but now God was seen as the initiator of a mechanical process. God was the clock-maker, but once he/she wound the clock up it continued to operate with no need of further intervention. Deism was an 18th century form of faith that held this view, and most of America’s founders were Deists. What Natural Theology allowed for was a belief in God that could be completely severed from Christian dogma.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the 20th Century – Charles Darwin published ”On the Origin of Species.” Evolution was discussed long before Darwin, but it never threatened the belief in God like it did afterward. Prior to Darwin, no matter how cleverly science could explain the workings of natural law there remained a need for a Creator that had created this miraculous world.  If you look at the vast complexity and interconnectivity of our living world – not to mention our own human form – there is no way to imagine that it just appeared here this way. Just like if you pick up a wristwatch on the beach, you would never assume that it just appeared there, someone obviously made it. So to with our world, someone obviously made it and that someone was God.

But Darwin punched a big hole in that idea because he devised an understanding of the mechanism of evolution through Natural Selection that could explain how we and our world could have been created as a consequence of the need to survive and the occurrence of chance variations in Nature. This explanation was based only on simple observable “natural laws” that required no outside intelligence to guide them – and it has held up (with some modification) for over 150 years!

In our modern times Darwin’s theory of evolution frames the Science vs. Spirituality debate. In 1925 the “Scope’s Monkey Trial” pitted believers against evolutionists and although the believers won the trial, the debate cranked up the argument into high gear. American Fundamentalism with its insistence on a literal interpretation of the Bible galvanized around the issue of evolution. And in response many in the scientific community veered steadily toward an increasingly materialistic and deterministic worldview.

Is there a higher intelligence than the human ability to reason in the Universe? Is there a purpose driving the process of cosmic evolution? To my mind these are the questions upon which the debate of Science vs. Spirituality rests today. Spirituality if it means anything means a belief and alignment with a universal purpose. Whether it be in a traditional religious context or not, spirituality is an appeal to some higher intelligence, not necessarily one that is separate and apart from human intelligence, but one at least that transcends (while including) our normal faculty for reason and understanding.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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Brian
Brian
11 years ago

The imagination dreams of a transcendental reality. Time and again this transcendence appeals to the hungry soul; it feeds the creative imagination, soothes life’s suffering, eases death’s unknowns, promises meaning in the face of indifference. There must be something beyond this actual world, beyond space and time, which we cannot detect with our senses. There must be a deeper world, which the intellect ponders and the emotions crave. Here is the opening for the transcendental temptation. Yes, says the imagination, these things are possible. It then takes one leap beyond mere possibility to actuality.

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Last semester I had a Humanities class. In our Humanity book, it clearly says that a counsel of 70 men called Nicene came together to decide how to portray Jesus of Nazareth to the people. They decided to make him come from an immaculate birth and say he is the Son of God. There were people preaching his teachings throughout the country causing the Roman army to loose control of its people. In 313 ad, Catholicism became a legal religion. The Roman army set out to make everyone in the world convert over to Catholicism and denounce any other belief… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

Given our earlier discussions, you might guess I would add that there has been an additional step beyond Darwin, who provided a way to understand the evolution of biological species, the process of unfolding through selection by consequences that eliminated the need for Clockmaker or an Uncaused Cause that had everything in Mind prior to creation. That next step came in the form of behavior science, a set of experimental procedures and discoveries that demonstrated how individuals learn following the very same principles that Darwin applied to species: selection by consequences. This science eliminated the need to understand humans as… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

Great Carl! But then we again stumble into the questions of “responsibility” , dont we? “The chooser” or rather “the self” – what is that?’ If the self is identified with the structures in the mind – can that self be any more responsible than a computerprogram for it self? Can it be more responsible than a flower can be responsible for its way of living… But if we identify with a much deeper (and quite mystical) self, the Self that is something like an ever present awareness shared with all being since time began, then yes, that self is… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Jeff, you wrote that there must be something that created this vast complexity that life and the universe is, that there’s no way it just appeared here that way, and that’s the way I sensed it would have had to have happened also. How could such an amazingly intricate and vast web of life have just happened so randomly? However you also mentioned Darwin, how he came along and punched a hole in that theory, he explained creation and natural selection as a way to understand how evolution works. Even if the big bang was a random combustion of events,… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Jeff—thanks for coming back to the project here. You were missed, but we knew you were doing good work. (Warning—I wander off topic–not sure why.) I find that the way you frame the questions in the last paragraph leads me to difficult choices relative to whether there is a “higher” intelligence or “higher” purpose. Part of me wants to respond, “Of course”, we cannot be so narcissistic to think the we here are the ultimate purpose of the universe–even if we are an important expression and instrument of the purpose. We are a discovery/invention/event along the way. We are part… Read more »

Mary
11 years ago

Note: the above anonymous comment is from Mary P. I changed browsers and it lost my identity. Hopefully the browser, if not myself, will have recovered it. M

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

After reading Lisa & Jeff’s”transformation pill” issue(Science VS.Spirituality),I can see myself that I ‘m one of them “Believe & adapt the culturally held view without realizing it” In spite of getting inspired by the glimpse of evolution though Jeff’s blog which fit in the picture like the excerpt from Francis Collins describe”We need to bring all the power of both scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen,” =Seek the truth(my interptation),Majority of time and life(let’s say 90% of time) I live according to the culturally held belief as norm. Then I had the… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

Taking responsibility is itself a product of evolution, as self-awareness, cognition, and ethical behavior evolved, the complex repertoire of prompting and managing one’s own behavior to achieve a desired consequence — be it personal or greater than personal — becomes a responsibility. And in that context, culture in the form of others especially mentors, teachers, parents, and leaders becomes a source that causes more and more of the repertoire of responsibility to arise. It is God evolving to the point where It can talk to Itself, act in relation to Itself, guide Itself. Not THAT’s evolution! 🙂

Joanna
Joanna
11 years ago

The first anoynmous above is me, I hit the submit button before typing my name.

Carl
11 years ago

Mary, the thing that occurs to me in response to your intriguing last post is that when our actions are more “coherent” or aligned with what is happening here and now, aren’t we in some way more likely to be aware in a bigger way? Seems like most of the things that go against alignment or coherence — fixed ideas, self-obsession, already knowing, attachment to fears and desires, etc. — limit the clarity and expanse or scope of our awareness. In that sense, if we use the metaphor of awareness as some sort of orb, then coherence might be associated… Read more »

Mary
11 years ago

Carl, I agree that alignment does mean that we are more aware and that helps. Even as I wrote it, I knew that there was more there—more awareness, more capacity. So higher isn’t a bad term. I may have more of an issue with “intelligence” because of some of the ways it can be used to limited our thinking to “being smart” in a very left-brain or even just human way. I think that the universe is aware and capable of movement and change in ways that overwhelm our sense of “intelligence” and on other dimensions. We get a small… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

I hear people saying that we are either going to evolve or die.

Maybe this is exactly what is happening to the consciousness that created this universe. It is counting on humans to come together to feel peace within them in order to keep it alive.

The fear thoughts are going to make it explode/die, and the only way to counteract fear is peace. This consciousness’ just cannot take any more fear. Humans have to decide if they want life or forever death.

Life really is very simple to live.

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Hello to all, it is going fast and it is becoming a delightful challenge to catch up with you guys ! I was fascinated by the discussion about the differences between intelligence and consciousness what does it mean to be “aligned”. I see Intelligence, human Intelligence, as a fundamental spiritual asset of our species. At the retreat, while meditating on the Ground of Being I tried to figure out what function , in my brain, was aligned and what was to be dropped as serving the Ego. It first appeared that the part of my mind which was carrying this… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

I think some of what happens as “intelligence” or “intuition” in us, or in nature, or in the universe as a whole, happens so fast that we can’t see the mechanism. “Intelligence” might be a good word for it, but as Mary says, it seems a little too anchored to the verbal/cognitive part of our mechanism that is a tiny subset of the entire process that goes on around and with us. That’s important because we’re mostly looking at the amazing outputs, might have some idea what the inputs or factors were that went into it, but somehow our brains,… Read more »

Mary
11 years ago

I agree that understanding the mechanisms of the universe changing moment by moment from potentials generated by those very mechanisms is vastly difficult. During Darwin’s time, nothing was understood of quantum physics. It’s only in the last 20 years that we’ve started to understand complexity theory—and these things are core to how the universe evolves. I think that we may learn about those kinds of mechanisms that mesh with our kind of intelligence. But it seems to me that there are likely mechanisms that will be so foreign to our brains that we may never see them to understand them.… Read more »

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

How about “receives directly some Intuition” define as “the experience new way of reality,unmediated reality,look from the inside out” what Stuart discribed on July18 comment?

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

There is ancient art work dated back to 15,000-10,000 BCE in the caves of Lascaux, in Dordogne, France that are believed to be part of a ceremony the tribes performed before going hunting. Hunting tribes such as the Pygmies of the African Congo enacted the hunt prior to the actual event. They drew and then symbolically “killed” the animal by shooting arrows into the drawing. The ritual included chant, mime, and dance in hope to secure the actual hunt. “Landmarks In Humanities.” pg 3. It is a good thing these ancient tribes and those tribes that still use this method… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

The James quote on dogs and cats is cool. But dogs and cats really live in the presence of more intelligent beings. Do we?

“Men became superstitious not because they had too much imagination, but because they were not aware that they had any.” Santayana

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

I agree with what Lisa say “Consciousnessis counting on humans to come together to feel peace within them in order to keep it alive. ”
How come us humans have hard time to say”Yes”to life? Indeed,mew;)

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Jeff – does your stated belief in ‘higherness’ include an obligation to live in accordance with it? If so, what does that look like?

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

There seems inherent principles toward wholeness and perfection in the universe to be seen. For example, Barbra Max Hubbard excerpt Jeff posted previously We see the earth herself as a whole system. We are being integrated into one interactive, interfeeling body by the same force of evolution that drew atom to atom and cell to cell. Every tendency in us toward greater wholeness, unity and connectedness is reinforced by nature’s tendency toward holism. Integration is inherent in the process of evolution. Other example,Excerpt from “Work the system” by Sam Carpenter Because the universe’s overwhelming inclination is toward stability and efficiency,the… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

To tell you the Truth I am not convinced that the mechanism of Evolution is too complex or too fast. My view is that we simply don’t understand it yet, that’s why it looks complex to us. I am very cautious before stating that some part of the Reality is too complex or too fast. For example I don’t believe at all in complexity in science. In Science when a theory is established it is simple. Let’s put it that way: under the “right” perspective, things simplify. For me it is a universal law, which is at the core of… Read more »

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