Tim Dunkin
August 28, 2009
Evolutionism, environmentalism, and cosmic sympathy
By Tim Dunkin

I have an idea that I've tossed around in my head for a while now. It's part eschatology and part theory of history. Basically, it goes like this as we approach the end of this present age, much of the underlying substructure of our world system (especially as it is defined by the overwhelming dominance of Western civilization) is reverting back to conditions that are not unlike those that existed at the beginning of our current eschatological age. It's almost as if the last two millennia are recapitulating themselves in the reverse direction, philosophically and religiously, in a number of ways. Obviously, the case cannot be pressed too far Rome has not risen again, nor has democracy given way to officially-sanctioned imperial malfeasance (yet), and certainly we cannot isolate the Western experience from the rest of the world a world vastly different from that which existed 2,000 years ago.

However, there do seem to be some trends to support my theory. It should be obvious to the observer of the past few centuries of history that the world system is slowly but surely aiming for a return to the sort of unified Western superstate that was epitomized by Rome in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. I'm not just referring to overtly globalist entities like the United Nations or the League of Nations. Even further back, we see scattered across European history various attempts to counteract the decentralization that was left in the wake of the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and the disintegration of the European portion of the Eastern Empire a few centuries later. The movement toward empire by the Austrians, the Prussians, the French, and others had a tendency to counter and reverse the forces of nationalism and decentralization present in 17th-18th century Europe. Even the Congress of Vienna in 1815, with its practical effect of crystallizing Europe's ruling parties in power, acted both as brake on nationalistic devolution of the imperial state and as a move towards the federation of Europe that is currently nearing completion via the European Union.

Economically, the Western world seems to be returning to its authoritarian roots as well. Having reached the high point of economic (and correspondingly, personal) freedom, our civilization is returning to the controls on the market and production that political and social decentralization had made more or less impossible. Communism and fascism twin monsters that sought to establish state control over the economic and personal lives of their subjects are really nothing new. After all, one need only look to the late Roman Empire with its record of price controls, wage controls, production controls, prohibitions on the movements of individuals from one province to another, and laws that required Imperial subjects to remain in the trade or profession of their forefathers to see a command system in action.

Religiously, this recapitulation appears to be apparent as well. In Rome, Christianity started out as a small but pure spiritual movement. As it became more widespread, it had a great effect on Roman society, but in the process its purity and spiritual power were diluted by an increasing conformity to the world. From partial toleration punctuated by periods of intensely violent persecution, the faith eventually progressed to the status of official toleration, and then official state religion. Much of the pagan population of the late Empire was brought into the fold, after a fashion, but their adherence to the new faith could be qualified as formal and superficial only, and there is little evidence, either theological or historical, to suggest that this "Christianity" was truly capable of regenerating the hearts and lives of men. At this point, the coupling of Christendom and the world system was completely, and remained that way until the decoupling that began to occur during the Enlightenment era.

The trend has progressed in the opposite direction since then. Following the breakup of the church-state relationship in Western Europe and America, Christendom regained some of its spiritual power to change lives and instill holiness in its followers, and we saw a return to the great missionary efforts of a bygone era. With that return, however, society also began to see a regression to some of the pagan philosophical idea that had existed concurrently with Christianity in the later Empire. We are currently entering a period in the West where much of what you might call "formal" Christianity has been rejected by an increasingly pagan population. The threat of persecution looms on the horizon, even in supposedly "tolerant" and enlightened Western nations a legal, and eventually a physical, persecution that will be enacted as those remaining faithful to biblical Christianity (an increasingly smaller minority) refuse to compromise with the increasingly pagan and hostile world system. In the first centuries of Christianity, the "anti-social" nature of Christianity was manifested in a refusal to burn incense to Caesar as a god. In our day and age, it will be a refusal to accept a pagan social system that tolerates and promotes homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, evolutionism, etc. As time progresses, we will see smaller and smaller minorities of Christians, whose churches and lives will be increasingly purified by the trial of fire, holding fast until we return to circumstances very much like those that existed at the beginning of the faith.

Ontology Recapitulates Phylohistory

One way in which we see this return to paganism is the way in which the concept of cosmic sympathy has returned to the forefront of so much of our civilization's intellectual currency. In the later Hellenistic era (to which the "Empire" portion of the history of Rome would belong), philosophy and theology were increasingly convergent but this involved a theology that would not be generally recognized as such by Christians today for it was pantheistic and monistic, not monotheistic. In a nutshell, the entire order of existence, called the cosmos by the Greeks, was a well-ordered machine, completely self-contained, perfectly arranged, and indeed (to some thinkers) it was divinity that was supremely worthy of man's devotion and worship. It was also understood to be in perfect sympatheia with itself, each part depending on every other part through underlying causal means that depended upon the compact wholeness of cosmic existence. Cosmic sympathy could allow a person to understand and influence the events around them.

For the ancients, this sympathy worked itself out in a number of ways. Many of these we would consider ludicrous or charlatanous by today's standards. Magic the ability to control the physical or psychological realm in ways not normally accessible to mankind was believed to operate on the principle that finding out the right way to cast a spell or use a token (the "cause") would result in another part of the cosmos responding the way you were trying to induce it to (the "effect"). A "rational" explanation of this is provided by Plotinus, the 3rd-century Neoplatonist,

    "But how do magic spells work? By sympathy and by the fact that there is a natural concord of things that are alike and opposition of things that are different, and by the rich variety of the many powers which go to make up the life of the one living creature." (Enniads, IV,4,40)

The "one living creature" he speaks of is nothing less than the divine living Oneness of the cosmos. Likewise, astrology was very important to the people of this era because the heavenly bodies were believed to exert effects on the lives of humans through discernable laws and patterns another sympathetic effect. Discovering these laws would enable a person to be able forecast (via primitive horoscopes) what effects the fateful workings of the heavenly bodies would have next on him or her. Astrology and other methods of divination relied upon sympathetic effects between man and the greater cosmos (see Martin's discussion of this in Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction, pp. 42-50)

This concept of cosmic sympathy wasn't reserved merely for love potions and horoscopes. It was the central concept behind one of the most pervasive ancient philosophies prior to the establishment of Christianity Stoicism. By the time of the imperial stage of Rome's existence, Stoicism had become well-regarded and quite sophisticated as a belief system. This is because Stoicism was in such harmony with the tendencies and ideas that pervaded late Hellenistic thought. In turn, this harmony occurred because Stoicism was so facile in its application that it could be easily tailored to any pagan system that depended upon some form of cosmic sympathy. In short, just about anything could be adapted as an adjunct of Stoic thought.

Stoicism in its expanded form, as expressed most succinctly by Cicero, taught that the cosmos itself was endowed with intelligence, and that man's purpose as a part of the cosmos, was to find his place in it, yield himself to it, and endured whatever illusory hardships were necessary to fulfill his duty to the universal whole. The cosmos WAS divine perfection, and man was to subordinate himself to it and take whatever comes his way, good or bad (where our use of the term "stoic" comes from), since ultimately, nothing that happens is truly "bad" since the divine cosmos willed it to happen. Man's purpose was to imitate the divine cosmos (understood to mean both in its order and in its indifference to individual sufferings). Cicero expressed it this way,

    "Seeing that men and beasts are quickened by this warmth and that by its agency they move and feel, it is absurd to say that the cosmos is devoid of sensibility, he who is quickened by a warmth that is whole and free and pure and also most keen and agile....Since that heat is moved not by an external impulse but spontaneously of itself, the conclusion is that the cosmos is animate....Chrysippus aptly observes that, as the shield-casing exists only for the shield and the scabbard for the sword, so everything save the universe was brought into being for the sake of something else....Man himself, however, was born to contemplate the cosmos and to imitate it; he is far from being perfect, but he is a little part of the perfect." (De Natura Deorum, II, 11-14)

Stoic cosmology was generally in line with the run of ancient pagan cosmologies in which material existence was viewed as being eternal in both ancient myth and rational philosophy there was no "starting point" at which the universe came into existence. It was just always there, pre-history existing "once upon a time," the in illo tempore described by Mircea Eliade as pertaining to the view of mythological sacred time for the ancients (see especially Eliade's Myth of the Eternal Return for a discussion of this concept). Indeed, the Greek myths, as with most other ancient myths, viewed the present arrangement of the world as having originated from the coupling of Ouranos (heaven) and Gaia (earth), both of whom pre-existed for eternity and themselves had no discernable starting point. This pagan view of the origin of the cosmos is, of course, markedly different from the uniquely Judeo-Christian view which posited a Creator God, standing outside of material existence and even time itself, bring the cosmos into existence ex nihilo, and arranging it according to His will and purposes. For the Jews and Christians, God is not a part of the cosmos, but stands above and outside of it, and hence is not subject to the process of sympatheia.

It is this theological idea that of our atemporal and acosmic Creator which has been under assault as Western civilization regresses to its initial, pre-Christian substratum. Two areas where this assault has been most readily apparent are in the advancement of the philosophical speculations of evolutionism and environmentalism.

Both of these movements implicitly depend upon the same sort of notions of cosmic sympathy and a divinized universe that ancient Stoicism did, even though many of their adherents would not be willing to accept this overtly.

Cosmic Sympathy in the Post-Darwin Era

I'll start with evolutionism, and that by defining my use of the term. When I refer to "evolutionism," I am not referring strictly to the principles of biological evolution natural selection and what have you some of which I have no fundamental issue with when speaking of adaptation at the sub-orderial level (i.e. microevolution). Rather, I am referring to the philosophical underpinning that is used to interpret our observations of the material world, and which posits that "change" in the physical world is completely naturalistic, that there is no supernatural, there is no outside Being who created or interferes in the operation of things in this universe. As such, the term "evolutionism" encompasses everything from cosmology to biology (via the unsubstantiated suppositions of macroevolution) and the philosophical hand-waving that is used to support non-theistic arguments in these areas.

Evolutionism starts from essentially the same pagan first principle as did the ancient mythologies that of the eternal pre-existence of the cosmos as a self-contained (even if not yet in finished form) whole. To the ancients, it was an eternally pre-existent heaven and earth whose pre-existence was never rationally explained, and rarely addressed. Today, it manifests itself as a variety of competing cosmological theories, the most prominent of which are the steady-state theory of Fred Hoyle (which has fallen out of favor) and the more well-known Big Bang theory. Both theories implicitly rest on the premise of eternal pre-existence without an initiatory Creator. The steady state theory suggested that the universe has no beginning and will have no end, and will always appear to us to be the same (on an extremely large cosmological scale, of course, change and greater order are accounted for at lower levels like, say, the galactic). The Big Bang, which has largely supplanted the steady state theory, while appearing to suggest that the universe has a beginning (the singular point from which everything "banged"), nevertheless fails to explain where that point came from meaning once again the rejection of a Creator and the positing of an eternally pre-existing cosmos in some form or another.

The further evolution of the universe is presented in largely random terms that are nevertheless perfectly in accord with the principles of cosmic sympathy. Matter coalesces into planets, stars, galaxies, and superclusters in ways that enabled the evolution of life. Despite the ridiculousness of the supposition that an explosion resulted in more order and less entropy in the cosmos, this is exactly what is claimed, and it had an end in view. While specifically rejecting the Anthropic Principle (which suggests that the universe was perfectly balanced to provide the best possible cradle for mankind, thereby obviously containing unacceptable overtones pointing to creationism), "life" as a principle was nevertheless teleologically provided for by the evolving and increasing organization of the universe.

This is shown even further when we specifically focus on the application of evolutionism to biology. Again, the origin of life on this earth is presented in an entirely naturalistic manner a part of the cosmos, reacting to another part of the cosmos, self-organizes to give birth to "life," even though every theory proposed to date for how this supposedly happened fails the test of actual, empirical science. Yet, it just did and without a Creator. In essence, the origin of life is presented as an outflowing of cosmic sympathy not unlike the magic practiced by the Hellenistics while it may not be immediately apparent how it happened in light of chemical and biochemical laws, we "know" that it did, somehow, through the interplay of one part of the universe with another. I should note that evolutionists become aggravated with me when I tell them that evolutionary explanations for the origin of life necessarily involve the universe playing magic tricks on itself. They think I'm merely being polemical, but actually I'm not.

Macroevolutionary explanations for biological evolution correspond to the Stoic sympathetic vision for the universe as well. Remember the cosmos according to the Hellenistics was a well-ordered divine machine, perfect in its order, and which obtained this order through its own interplay with itself. Macroevolution, via naturalistic mechanism, essentially says the same thing with regard to life. Via the purely naturalistic means of adaptation to local environments via the mechanism of beneficial mutations, living organisms that endure the "survival of the fittest" crucible evolve to become most suited to their surroundings. Each part approaches a more well-ordered and suitable ability to integrate with the rest of the cosmos encompassing it, the culmination of gradual but extensive adaptation. Despite the naturalism (or more properly, the anti-theism) of this principle, evolutionists often seem to speak of this process teleologically. It is not unusual to hear or read about evolutionists describing some evolutionary process as if the end result of the adaptation had been the goal all along. Whose goal? Nature's goal, of course, which inadvertently suggests that nature has wisdom and intelligence that directed its own internal evolution towards a "better" and more suitable ordering of itself. This is, of course, exactly the view of the cosmos held by the Stoics and others in their Hellenistic philosophical milieu.

If Gaia Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy

Now, on to the question of environmentalism. Despite the charges made by some conservatives, most environmentalists are not explicitly "earth worshippers" (though, I might add, a few actually are). However, this does not mean that the same pagan approach to the environment as cosmos is not in play in the underlying philosophies of the "Green movement."

Most prominent in this regard is James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis. The Gaia Hypothesis posits that the earth as a whole atmosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere is a closely integrated and complex interactive system. Indeed, many proponents of this theory regard the Earth as a single organism. Evolutionism fits into this, as the interplay of biosphere with local environment in the Earth organism is what stimulates the many and varied forms of life on the earth as anyone who has ever played the PC game SimEarth, which is explicitly modeled on Lovelock's theory, will be familiar with. Life is teleologically adapted through the wisdom of "Gaia" to prosper and fill its proper role in its proper biome. Though Lovelock himself sought to reject the teleological implications of his theory, the obvious association still remains.

Man himself, far from being a special creation of God, is merely another part of this Earth organism a cog in the great cosmic machine whose local manifestation is the order and perfection of our natural environment. It is in this context, then, that radical environmentalists view the place of man. As just one part of the great cosmic sympathy, everything that man does has an effect on every other part of the sympathetic system and since things like "industry" and "manufacturing" are not "natural," then when man performs these activities, he is introducing an unnatural effect into the Gaia system that is contrary to his place as just another part of the system (which begs the question of why this should be if man, as an intelligent creature, is predisposed to make material changes to his surroundings that benefit him). This unnatural effect harms the system as a whole. When man cuts down a tree, mines for metals, or builds a city, he is harming his brother life, and by extension, the whole divine world-system. As such, to restore the perfection and balance in the cosmic system, man should cease the activities that cause the perfection and order of the cosmos to be reduced. According to some of the more rabid environmentalists, if man doesn't do this himself, then Gaia will do it for him.

I can certainly sympathize (no pun intended) with the need to preserve a healthy and useful living space for humanity. Indeed, this is implicit in the commandment in Genesis to "....replenish the earth and subdue it." The subduing part involves bringing it into subjection and using it (which is what the environmentalists don't like), but the replenishing part involves bringing it to "fullness" and "abundance." Hence, the biblical command is not a call for raping and pillaging the earth, as environmentalist critics misrepresent. Instead, it is a command to improve the earth by making it more prosperous and livable for God's highest creation man. It is a command to take the raw materials of earth, and give them order and purpose (since the Judeo-Christian worldview rejects any internally teleological purpose in nature), and to imitate the Creator by bringing order from chaos. Biblical conservationism rejects the philosophical principles upon which naturalistic environmentalism is based. When I look at a tree, I do not see a fellow spirit-brother, I see building material.

Both worldviews emulate their motivators. Those holding to Judeo-Christian principles believe in preserving the beauty and usefulness of God's creation, and in approaching it (as an essentially outside force) so as to increase its order and usefulness. This is what God Himself did with the initially chaotic material He created out of nothing. The Genesis account is one of architecture and manufacture.

The environmentalist who holds to the essentially pagan philosophy of cosmic sympathy views man as a part of nature, not as an outside force. Indeed, for the one grounded in cosmic sympathy, there is no outside force. All that exists has been there from eternity past, never had a starting point, and is merely changing its internal form, function, and order so as to approach a higher perfection within itself. Thus, the cosmic sympathist does not see the value or goodness in man's material improvement of the world around him, but views it as a deed that runs contrary to the principle of nature acting to guiding itself sympathetically. To the environmentalist, uppity man just doesn't know his place he's acting like he has a Creator to imitate, when he really doesn't.

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, we must understand that there are two competing worldviews are odds with each other in our modern Western civilization. As we approach the end of our age, we are seeing a return to the essentially pagan worldview that characterized the pre-Christian philosophies of the Hellenistic era. The two primary means in which this philosophy expressed itself are evolutionism and environmentalism, both of which have the commonality of rejecting special creation, rejecting man's exalted status as the highest creation of God, and of placing man without God into a sympathetic cosmic system in which he is merely to play a part, like a tree, a dumb animal, or an ocean current. The Judeo-Christian worldview which views man as the special and highest creation of a loving and orderly God who stands outside of and apart from His creation is becoming less prevalent as our society repaganizes.

Unfortunately, it is just this understanding of man distinct from the rest of creation, possessing a special place that makes him rightly to be treated differently from the rest of the "stuff" that God made that enables man to enjoy liberty and the right to be free from arbitrarity. If man is merely another "thing" that exists in the divine cosmos that has no outside God, then man's ultimate fate really doesn't matter. We can all die horribly, and it's still "good" in the eyes of the cosmic system, since it's just a part of progressing onward and upward the Stoic's "duty," so to speak. What man does to fellow man doesn't matter all morality and ethical concern becomes moot. Hitler and Stalin become just another dutiful link in the chain, like the meteorite that many evolutionists believe killed off the dinosaurs. But, if man is a special creation, valuable in the eyes of a God who is outside and above the material cosmos, and has been endowed by his Creator with both liberty and moral worth, then we have a proper basis by which we can understand the value of our liberty, the right that we have to that liberty, and the moral right and obligation to preserve life, liberty, and respect towards each other.

© Tim Dunkin

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Tim Dunkin

Tim Dunkin is a pharmaceutical chemist by day, and a freelance author by night, writing about a wide range of topics on religion and politics. He is the author of an online book about Islam entitled Ten Myths About Islam, and is the founder and editor of Conservative Underground, a bi-weekly email newsletter focusing on foundational conservative worldview and philosophy. He is a born-again Christian, and a member of a local, New Testament Baptist church in North Carolina. He can be contacted at tqcincinnatus@yahoo.com

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