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Evolution, Big History, and the Pro-Con Dialectical Maps Inherent Within
by Luke Rondinaro
23 August 2002 01:40 UTC
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Evolution, Big History, and the Pro-Con Dialectical Maps Inherent Within The Stream of Human Events and Its Scholarship

World History and World Systems Analysis cannot get very far in the long view without some reference to “evolution” and/or various models of metahistory, universal history, “big history.”  Yet these bigger picture perspectives themselves are equally rooted in a host of periodic intellectual debates that act as highlight events in human history.


The Hegel Issue, etc.


When it comes down to it, there’s nothing seriously wrong with Hegel or his philosophy.  Even his theory of history has its definite merits.  Although, I do see how the Eonic effect can go Hegel one better in a larger perspective of human events.  I did like the explanation in previous postings of using Kant to sidestep the problems of Hegel.  Very good!


From a bird’s eye point of view, Hegel (in retrospect) along with Kant (and others - like Leibnitz, Schopenhauer, A.N Whitehead, etc. ) will probably be judged to be among the best thinkers in world history ten or more centuries down the road.  And these intellectuals don’t have the problematic hang-ups in their thought systems that people like Nietzche, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Rousseau, Freud, and Hobbes do.  The latter seemed to have carried too much personal baggage into their intellectual theories; and at least from my own point of view the former managed to get around and go beyond such in their work.  Or maybe they just knew how to better synthesize their commitment to issues that concerned them with principles of the bigger picture.  [Marx is an interesting case, on the one hand I’ve seen him portrayed as the quintessential social analyst; on the other hand, I’ve also seen him portrayed as being equally committed to social issues activism (in a complete, all out, all-around way)(the first interpretation seems to say Marx was more fully a theorist, the second says he was more fully a praxiologist).  I expect the complete Marx was probably really a bit of both.]


Still, I’d be misleading everybody if I said that my own favorites in the pantheon of intellectual greats were only the post-1500 moderns.  The Renaissance Humanists (esp. Petrarch and Erasmus) are good; the Classical Greeks from Parmenides, to Heraclitus, down to Aristotle are quite good.  Cicero and others from the Imperial/Pre-Imperial Roman tradition are interesting, and I’m always fascinated by Indian and Chinese thinkers from Ancient times through the Middle Ages (among my favorites here are Laotse, Confucius, and Gautama).


As odd as it may seem, I also hold the Scholastic philosophers/theologians of Late Medieval Europe high on my list of favorite thinkers also (especially Aquinas and Duns Scotus).  Among the Neo-Scholastics in the Twentieth Century who I’m most interested in are Maritain and Gilson.  The Catholic philosopher/sociologist of history Christopher Dawson also has his good points too.  The problem I see all too often with thinkers in this tradition (and then with Christian thought in general) is that, (with the exception of Aquinas and Scotus who had good sharp, theoretically broad yet detailed and practical approach to their subject matter and original thought), there’s a tendency in Catholic scholarship and the scholarship of other Christian denominations to reify the thought systems of historic Christian thinkers to the point where “toeing the line” is sacrosanct and any alteration is considered blasphemous; although the thought systems are good in Scholasticism/Neo-Scholasticism, they are never framed broad enough or applied with enough rigor to circumstantial details.


With Aquinas and his “contemporaries” their scholarship was quite good and cutting edge for its time; and subsequent Scholasticism and Neo-Scholasticism (as practiced by the “students” of Aquinas, Scotus, etc.) was good as far as it went.  But the students of Scholasticism never managed to stretch their Aristotelian or Platonist base far enough, and as a result they were outclassed by philosophers, scientists, and literary thinkers/writers from differing traditions who came afterward during the Renaissance and onward to modern times.   I think Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus would have been in their intellectual element among Hegel and Kant.  I’m not so sure their “students” on through the centuries up to the Neo-Scholastic Revival in the late 19th century were in that same league.


There are many other thinkers and historical figures I could mention here in this posting, but am not doing so for lack of likely interest in such things.  Still, how can one go wrong and be thrown intellectually off-course when we have such intellectual “heroes” as some of the favorites listed above, or like Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, or a scientist like Albert Einstein?  These guys (the dreamers, inventors, artists, architects, writers, philosophers, and scientists) more than the Pattons, the MacArthurs, the Caesars of the world are the real heroes of world history.  (They – with the traders/merchants - are the real makers of world systemic integration and the long cycle upswings, not the upstart generals and political rulers who only know how ride the waves of history, consolidate power bases, pull their empires together, and then be the “spoilers” of these integrated social complexes when such world systemic structures collapse and down cycles come into play.)  Hence, we can tell oftentimes the state of a historical period by the brand of thinkers its produces; but we can also tell a lot about the thinkers and what shaped their intellectual ideals by that same historical period in question [along with (and actually by means of) its socioeconomic dynamics, communicative-cultural processes, and even by the social psychological states (“group fantasy structures”) of people at that time by way of their group symbols and other psycho-historical indicators].


Evolution Debates


I’m always fascinated by evolution debates, particularly as they manifest a number of different sides on the issue all trying to lump everybody else in one group -> “our side” vs. the “other side” no matter how varied the so-called other side may be.  The Darwinians like to shove everybody off into either into wacky pseudoscience corner or the equally wacky fundamentalist, creationist, Bible corner.  The Bible creationists like to characterize all evolutionists as being Darwinists and religiously-minded people who have even an inkling as thinkers toward an evolutionary perspective as being apostates to Judeo-Christian teaching.  And, the Intelligent Design theorists seem always ready to insist that science proves their religious conclusions about the well-tuned structure of material things in our world (as showing that Divine Providence constructed them that way) (saying that evolution couldn’t have achieved it, the fossil record is questionable, & that it’s enough to see the complexity of material substances and organisms as being evidence that a Higher Power (God) designed them that way).


I’ve been thinking about that last argument lately; there’s a flaw in it that can be illustrated theologically-philosophically [it does in fact help sometimes to think of these issues we discuss/debate in terms of other knowledge maps even if they’re the maps of those people we may disagree with].  Aside from the standard use of Augustine (and sometimes Aquinas) to put the caution light on some of these design theories, an argument can be made that, other than by religious doctrine and scriptures (aka “revelation”), one can’t merely trace the complexity or organization principles in a thing back to a spiritual source (God, geist, angels, or whatever).  It doesn’t work because even if you manage to trace a causal sequence back (either vertically by means of simultaneous agency acting on a patient or horizontally in a historical line) to a primary material subject being acted upon [presumably by spiritual means] there’s no way to tell that it is happening or how and why it’s happening.  According to the theology and philosophy of this subject matter, spirit acts in place and not in space.  This means you can’t even, by examining the primary material subject, really tell that a material thing is being acted upon by a spiritual force [because since spirits are where they act their effects would on the whole material subject “in place” and not in terms of the physical extensions of the material subject. 


It’s like if you had a stick sitting on a table with parts A, B, C.  Say the stick is facing North-South and then by way of a heavy gust of wind blowing through the window or by means of spiritual agency [say there’s been no wind at all that day outside and other people can confirm that no wind was outside even at the threshold of the window] the stick shifts position suddenly to East-West with A in the western position and C in the eastern position.  Well, even if you attached special devices to the stick to measure changes in the position shift, it would not be able to show anything other that natural happenings in the shifting of the stick.  The spirit which really did move the stick (for this reason or that) acted in such a way that its complete action would have been completely on the whole stick and completely in its parts contemporaneously.  Yet the act itself was even simultaneous in its duration for 30 seconds since this fractional shift is contemporaneous with the spirit acting and so on for the whole time of the phenomenon.  The spirit made a complete action, but the way it did so or would have done so was only in terms of the place and the subject acted upon, not in terms of the space and material extensions of the stick; according to the theology-philosophy here given, spirits are where they act, are in place not in space, & therefore, are only where they place their presence in terms of.  They act like “singularities” of sorts, but this type of stuff is way beyond Quantum because it allows for “being” completely in a number of difference places – and even being located at (but not in) these spaces all at the same time.  It also means that – even admittedly from the standpoint of the classical theological scholarship {which forms the basis from which the Catholic ID theorists draw their premises and conclusions} - there’s no definite way to establish a causal sequence from a spiritual agent to a physical line of causes and effects.  Aside from religious doctrine, there is no way to establish this linkage because spiritual agency acting in the physical world works only in a manner in which physical changes (effects) are manifest and work according to physical parameters; but the spiritual agency can’t be so easily figured into that sequence of events because its effects in the physical world are in terms of simultaneity, contemporaneous action, and localized situatedness in place; they can’t be discerned (“fingerprinted” as it were in the physical world because our physical world operates by far different principles (even in the framework of this theological map or model).  The effects of spiritual agency would thus be ‘muted’ in a way such that a person wouldn’t be able to make the unequivocal determination that “a spirit did this!”  This means the sequence can’t be directly connected between the spiritual agent and the chain of physical effects caused by that agent; two planes of reality are being talked about here that work by different rules; because they work by different rules a simple connection between X and Y can’t be drawn in terms of a causal operation.  The “cause” in this case cannot be mirrored in the “effect”; in other words there’s no way – aside from revelation in religious teaching and scripture, according to this argument – to see the fingerprint of the spiritual cause in the material effect (and this is even from a more traditional theological-philosophical point of view; one more reason why ID theory is problematic).




In case you’ve time I invite your comment on the following sources.  Three are from a Catholic priest who’s also a [theistic] evolutionist, Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, who has some interesting ideas on the subject of human evolution, another is a fairly interesting evolution/design debates page, and finally a link to a very interesting work on the Philosophy of History by the Thomistic philosopher at Notre Dame’s JM Center; true it may be too religiously oriented and bound up in the standard fare of Scholastic intellectual devices – but, overall, it does have some good points that I invite you to take a look at.  Feel free to agree or disagree with it as you wish.  There are some parts of these sources that I like and other parts that I don’t; however please judge these things for yourself.  I hope you find the material at least somewhat useful and enlightening.










All the best!


Luke R.

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