Evolutionary Influences: A Brief History of Evolutionary …

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A Brief History of Evolutionary Spiritualityby Tom Huston

Has creation a final goal? And if so, why was it not reached at once? Why was the consummation not realized from the beginning? To these questions there is but one answer: Because God isLife, and not merely Being.

F.W.J. Schelling, 1809

Charles Darwin did not invent the concept of evolution. In fact, he himself acknowledged that the idea, however loosely defined, had a history dating back to Aristotle. And despite the general impression offered by most scientists today, it wasnt always a materialistic notion either. In its modern incarnation, the concept of evolution can be traced directly to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who viewed the evolutionary process as an act of God.

A renowned German philosopher, scientist, lawyer, linguist, mathematician, and inventor of both calculus (independent of Newton) and the binary system (the basis of computer technology), Leibniz was a man ahead of his time. Writing on The Ultimate Origin of Things in the year 1697six years after speculating in hisProtogaeathat over the vast course of the earths history even the species of animals have many times been transformedhe stated that a cumulative increase of the beauty and universal perfection of the works of God, a perpetual and unrestrictedprogressof the universe as a whole must be recognized, such that it advances to a higher state of development. Although the idea that Gods creation was evolving in a ceaseless ascent toward perfection had already been profoundly intuited over seventy years earlier by the German mystic Jakob Bhme, it was Leibniz who first placed it in a scientific context. And to him, clearly, it was still a novel concept. I flatter myself that I have some ideas of these truths, he wrote to a friend in 1707, but this age is not prepared to receive them.

Over the next few decades, an increasing number of Europes brightest minds began to finally catch Leibnizs evolutionary drift. Among those illumined ranks were names such as Diderot, Maupertuis, Buffon, and Voltaire, who all wrote about the topic of evolution but, like any self-respecting champions of the Age of Enlightenment, rarely felt compelled to inject divinity into their more scientific speculations. Indeed, by upholding the liberating power of rationality to subvert the ancient myths and dogma of the Church, many of them actively sought to draw a firm line between science and spirituality, reason and religion, bringing to sharper contrast the divide that began with Galileos confrontation with the religious authorities two centuries earlier. In this context, through much of the eighteenth century, the many musings about the idea of evolution frequently took on a strictly naturalistic or materialistic tone.

It was only around 1799, ten years after the storming of the Bastille, which ignited the French Revolution and cemented the success of the rational Enlightenment in the chronicles of the Western mind, that these varied intimations of evolution finally congealed into a cohesive new model of reality. Arising, once again, from the fertile depths of the German zeitgeist, it was a cosmological and metaphysical paradigm that seamlessly united science and spiritualityan evolutionary vision that stretched from the simplest atoms of the distant past to a sacred future in which human society would perfectly reflect the transcendent unity of the Divine.

On any given evening during the fall and winter of 1799, in the pastoral college town of Jena, Germany, at least one candlelit home could likely be found abuzz with the excited voices of some remarkable men and women. Meeting over fine food and wine in the home of local literary critic Wilhelm Schlegel and his brilliant wife, Caroline, an eclectic band of young artists, intellectuals, and self-styled scientists would symphilosophize and sympoetize late into the night, absorbed in a seemingly endless swirl of radically unconventional ideas. They called themselves Romantics: revolutionaries of the human spirit determined to infuse the Enlightenments increasing trend toward dry materialism with some much-needed passion and poetry. Troubled by the rational minds tendency to brusquely reduce the full grandeur and beauty of life to stale scientific abstractiondissecting nature atomistically like a dead corpse, in the words of one of their early proponentsthey strove to steer Western society in a more holistic, spiritual direction. And perhaps no individual better fulfilled that dream than the youngest member of Jenas Romantic inner circlethe charming twenty-four-year-old wunderkind and idealist philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling.

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November 11th, 2014 at 6:47 am