Last week we saw how religious and scientific perspectives on morals are very orthogonal to religion. Where traditional religion insists on an absolute basis of morals, science proposes one which is relative to our understanding of science’s key agency of evolution: ‘survival’. Today we will take a look at how these two perspectives can be brought into coherence.
From Our Secular Viewpoint
There are many ways in which these two perspectives can be seen to align. As we have seen many times in this blog, both religion and science are rife with ‘dualisms’ which choose a viewpoint from the many shades of belief on any subject. Our secular approach seeks to bring the opposing sides into confluence by applying the techniques of reinterpretation that we have proposed. The subject of ‘morals’ is no exception.
One way to effect such confluence is to return to Teilhard’s treatment of the two seemingly contrary positions:
“So as long as our conceptions of the universe remained static, the basis of duty (moral standards) remained extremely obscure. To account for this mysterious law (the energy of evolution which effects increasing complexity) which weighs fundamentally on our liberty, man had recourse to all sorts of explanations, from that of an explicit command issued from outside to that of an irrational but categorical instinct.” (parenthetical statements and italics mine)
Teilhard proposes the same principle of reinterpretation that was previously suggested by Blondel: to understand that human persons are products of an evolutionary process, as science teaches, requires the acknowledgment of the existence of a principle which effects our ‘becoming’, as religion teaches. This suggests common ground between the materialist and theist perspectives:
– The materialists are correct in asserting that the basis of morals can be found in the principles of evolution. However, it is necessary to expand the understanding of evolution from terrestrial biological phenomena and understand evolution in its universal perspective. In doing so evolution can be seen in three distinct phases which are united by a continuing increase of complexity in its products. In this integrated perspective, there are indeed ‘articulations of the noosphere’ which foster our continued evolution, and these can be expressed in terms such as sacraments, values and morals.
– The theists are correct in asserting that these morals are indeed, at their basis, absolute. The absolute nature of these standards of behavior are, as the materialists assert, intelligible, but require our continued search for a more complete understanding of them.
So the materialistic approach to morals needs to be placed in the full picture of evolution and take into account the presence of the agent of evolution in each personal life. By the same token, the theist approach needs to be shorn of its premature dogmatism and be open to both the intelligibility of the universe and our part in it as we continue to evolve.
Science, with its grasp of the universe as ‘becoming’ can bring new life to religion. As Blondel and Teilhard understood, recognizing that the human is a product of a continuously evolving universe permits a deeper understand of God as the universal principle of such evolution. By the same token, their fresh approach to religion also serves to expand science’s understanding of this process to include the human as not only a product of evolution, but one able to respond to a new mode of evolutive energy which goes beyond the Darwinian principles of ‘chance and necessity’.
The question can then be asked, how can humans employ their new-found capacity of being aware of their consciousness in service to their continued evolution? How do they effect their own ‘complexification’?
The answer that I have proposed in this blog involves developing the skill of the neocortex brain in modulating the instinctive stimuli of the lower limbic and reptilian brains. Examples of practices and beliefs that develop and strengthen this skill abound in every religious and philosophical school of thought that has emerged in human history. The down side, of course, is that they are enmeshed, deeply entangled, in hierarchies, mysticism, sentimentality, and supernaturalism that can undermine their validity as ‘articulations of the noosphere’.
So, in order to be able to (paraphrasing Richard Dawkins) “explicitly divest religious belief of all the baggage that it carries in the minds of most religious believers”, it is necessary to reinterpret these beliefs in terms of human ‘complexification’ (human growth) so that their relevancy to human life and continued evolution can be more fully understood.
In simpler terms: in the human, the mechanism of evolution transforms from ‘evolutionary selection of entities’ to ‘entities which select their evolution’.
The Next Post
This week we have contrasted the ‘materialistic’ (‘athiest’) position with that of the ‘theists’ on ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’, and saw how a holistic perspective on evolution offers a common ground of belief that seems more consistent with both our general religious and scientific understanding not only of the universe but in our part in it.
Assuming that there are indeed ‘articulations of the noosphere’ that when observed, lead on to, as Teilhard put it, “being carried by a current to the open sea”, what do we do with them? How can we orient ourselves to these ‘currents’?
Next week we will take our explanation of sacraments, values and morality to the next level and explore an approach to evolution which finds common ground between these seemingly orthogonal approaches to understanding human evolution.