Flatman rising

We live in flatworld; we are the grandes horizontales. I would almost advance this as the ground condition for Enlightened man. It can be experienced in the flatworm existence of contemporary conurbative life, or it can be expressed as a dogma. Richard Lewontin has expressed it well:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

The quote fell out of some article in the New York Review of Books, from nearly twenty years ago. The author has elsewhere made the same point in other words, and with formidable consistency. He is a (self-styled) Marxist and a Darwinist. I like him, because he puts his premisses plainly, and because he acknowledges the facts. This is exactly why the great unwashed — the plurality of the demographic atoms that Lewontin has so profitably studied in relation to evolutionary biology — accept “science” so naïvely. It is because they are all Marxists and Darwinists, on the surface or a little under the skin. This would include, of course, the Libertarians, and most proponents of “Intelligent Design.” They are indoctrinaires of evolutionary materialism. Most of them don’t even know it.

There is another considerable group, however, into which that group smears. It consists of evolutionary theologians. These buy into all the same rubbish, but from a slightly different premiss. They “believe in God.” They think that God works through evolution. Few feel any need to think this through. At the highest, “theoretical” level, they have Teilhard de Chardin: the ingenious Jesuit charlatan whose works had such a powerful hold on the minds of liberal churchmen around the time of Vatican II, and contributed mightily to the post-conciliar “spirit.” (For them, Church doctrine was necessarily “evolving.”) In Teilhard’s tendentious philosophy, Christ did not create us, so much as we are creating Him: for God works through evolution. We might offer more detail on another day, for I’ve noticed Teilhard has come back into fashion; and in my humble if rather caustic opinion, we are getting him now through Rome.

We are, tragically one might say, both on the “scientific” side of the divide, and on the “religious,” dealing with intellectual flatulence. Forced hypothetically to choose only between Teilhard and Lewontin, I would pick Lewontin. Why? Less deceit, less guile, less stupidity, less evil. But what they have in common is imprisonment in Time.

This is only the squib for a squib. (I’ve been quite busy: no time to write long Idlepostulations.) It is a note as much to myself to get back to this, in light of remarks by Saint Augustine. We all know what they are: the passages in Book XI of the Confessions, which touch on being, time, the creation, and eternity. They provide an unforgettable depiction of a man of extraordinary genius, and total sincerity, reasoning as his life depends on it, with ideas passing beyond the far edge of human comprehension. It is a place where all Catholic (and most Protestant) thought pauses, in fascination with the outcome.

And in a sentence, for our present purposes: God does not create through evolution, and could not possibly do so, for that would mean creating in time. God, who created time, cannot be confined (except by His own kenosis) within what He has created. Rather, God creates through time.

To begin to understand this is to begin to understand, among many other things, the inerrancy of the Bible. The account of the creation in Genesis has truly nothing to do with any popular, or unpopular conception we may have of “evolutionary processes.” It is not in itself “primitive,” in any sense. It is as “advanced,” conceptually, as anything ever written. In its penetration and exposition of “how things really are in this world,” it is downright miraculous — incomparable with any other “creation narrative.”

Moreover, the observed “material” features of that creation — including the irreducible complexity of living creatures, and their unmistakably hierachical division into radically separated classes, orders, genera, species — are compatible with Genesis, but not with evolution.

I can easily understand if people do not get this: I have had so hard a time getting it myself. I look back, here, on a paper I wrote, and delivered to an “International Conference on Space and Time,” a quarter-century ago. It was a “keynote speech,” meant to be cute and entertaining, and mischievously speculative — but also to pass before a sophisticated audience of specialists (physicists chiefly, but also chemists, biologists, historians of science, even space engineers from NASA) without sounding cheap, foolish, or poorly informed. It cost me a lot of effort, and I see now that the effort was wasted. And this was because, throughout, I accepted the evolutionary premiss. That is to say, I expressed everything in implicitly evolutionary terms, as if no others were available. (Evolutionary, not Darwinist, I must specify. Even when an atheist, I was never a Darwinian.)

But here’s the rub: “evolution” does not explain anything; and cannot. It can’t even serve as a “working hypothesis.” It is an empty concept, a vacant shell. Whether or not it may look that way, there is not one particle of proof that any species ever descended from another, and there is no prospect of any such a proof. It is not fact, but the purest imposition upon the facts. On the question of the “origin of species” we can say, with assurance, absolutely nothing.

The world Augustine describes is not flat. That is why man has such trouble understanding it. It has a vertical dimension as well as a horizontal. In slices, it makes pretty patterns, but we cannot understand it in that way. Nor can any line drawn through that plane lead anywhere, but ultimately in a circle, back to itself. Evolution is the snake eating its own tail.

Indeed, in this human condition, we cannot honestly begin to consider what scientism proposes as the task of “science”: which is to understand, on explicitly material terms, how we came to be. The very existence of this universe and of ourselves is a bottomless Mystery that cannot be “solved.” Reason may worm about, and make its observations on our plane, but Revelation provides the only possible access to that vertical dimension. It offers the only way we could ever comprehend, within the limits of our faculties, what was in the beginning, is now, and ever will be — not flat.