Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Bone of Contention

Unlike most of us perhaps, art has never been a strong point of mine, except for poetry and music, because apart from a degree in philosophy I have spent all of my life working in the design and repair of electronic and mechanical devices, chiefly as an electronics technician or "fault finder." This is very much an analytical activity, and to do it well one must first fully understand what such complex devices are designed to do, and how they are intended to operate, then by analysis determine what has gone wrong and what must be done to repair them, or to build them correctly. In such a task no amount of theorizing will help, because "the proof of the pudding is always in the eating"; if your analysis is correct and you do your work well, then the mechanism will operate as it should. Otherwise it will continue to be defective or dysfunctional despite all your attempts to correct it.
There has been something seriously wrong for a century or more now within the Anthroposophical Society. It has to do with the adherence on the part of many (perhaps even of most) anthroposophists, to a false (materialistic) theoryof "origins" (Darwinism), and with the far-reaching consequences that this must have for our movement's future credibility, and to its claim to be a "scientific" rather than a religious worldview, a problem that must inevitably come to a head soon, once it begins to be widely understood that Darwinism is not science at all, but rather it is the materialistic equivalent of a religion.
This problem first arose from Rudolf Steiner's early relationship with Ernst Haeckel, but before giving you my analysis I must stress this relationship was most probably a karmic necessity, and was certainly not in any sense a matter for "blame". However, the fact remains that it has had serious consequences for our movement, and that to "repair" it requires first and foremost a correct philosophical analysis of causes, without which it could continue for another hundred or more years. For this reason I have made it the focus of many years of questioning and personal research, and for any member who would like to look more deeply at this whole matter, I have prepared just such an analysis under the heading "The Riddle of Epistemology" and can make it available to anyone who contacts me. (Email address below.)
In trying to get to the root of this problem, I have been aided by my study of the works of Owen Barfield, who was a very thorough anti-Darwinist, and also by the two months that I spent in Dornach in 1962 with the late Norman Macbeth, the gifted author of Darwin Retried: An Appeal to Reason, whose later encouragement has caused me to make a nearly continuous study of both Darwinism and its philosophical underpinnings, a study in which I have been joined in recent years by two other anthroposophists, Robert Zimmer in Edmonton, and Paul Carline in Scotland. Robert and I co-authored a book seven years ago "Evolution and the New Gnosis," to which Paul also made an important contribution. We are now planning a second book, to be published hopefully later this year, in which these matters will be further examined, and also a video discussion on the same subject, hopefully with a philosophy professor friend acting as devil's advocate.
Ernst Haeckel
Haeckel was 27 years Steiner's senior, and when they first met in the late1890's he was an established scientist and author, and also the German-speaking world's leading Darwinist; indeed he may have been Steiner's chief introduction to Darwinism. This was at a time in Steiner's own life when he was intent on establishing his spiritual worldview (not yet called anthroposophy) as a "science of the spirit," and since Haeckel had first presented himself both as a monist and as a theist (pantheist) this had allowed Steiner to reasonably assume that they shared the same monist worldview, which may then have appeared to offer what Steiner very muchwanted - a way of further establishing his spiritual worldview as "scientific."
But when Haeckel later declared himself to be an atheist, it would have begun to make clear to Steiner that what Haeckel and Darwin represented was,in fact, the exact opposite to Steiner's own epistemological "monism of thought." Whereupon their friendship ended, and Steiner later went on to describe him as having been "philosophically naïve," but did this reassessment include Darwin also? I must contend that it did, because when Haeckel was later found guilty of fraud by an academic court in Jena,Austria, he became only one of a very large number of fraudulent claims that have been made in the name of Darwinism (see Icons of Evolution, by Johnaton Wells). But Steiner's immense literary output then became a considerable problem, in that he had praised Haeckel so highly in so many of his early works, including the Philosophy of Freedom, that it must have been difficult indeed for him to contemplate making the alterations that this realization would have called for. However, there are hints in different places, including the 1918 Addendums to Chapters 10 and 11 of The Philosophy of Freedom, where he tells us first that during the nineteenth century materialism was "open" (as perhaps in the work of Auguste Compte) but that in the twentieth it had become "veiled" as he himself had experienced it in Ernst Haeckel.
Earlier, in Chapter 10 itself, Steiner had taken Robert Hammerling to task for claiming that nature was "purposeful," stating that this was an error, but here it must be remembered that "purposelessness" is perhaps the principal hallmark of Darwinism, which he was then still trying to accommodate, whereas in his later works he makes it very clear that the Spiritual Hierarchies do indeed work together in what must be a highly-purposeful manner, as for example:
"Now think of a group of spiritual Beings who have passed through the evolution of [ancient] Saturn, [ancient] Sun and [ancient] Moon, each one of whom has a specific ability, and who all ­ at the moment I have indicated ­make the decision - We will combine our activities for a common end, we will all work in the same direction. - And the picture of this goal arose before each of them. What was this goal? It was man, earthly man!"
It is arguable, therefore, that the distinction he further develops inChapter 11, concerning the uses of the word "purpose" is chiefly there to accommodate Darwinism. This became clearer when in the 1918 Addendum he writes that what exists in nature is not Darwinian purposelessness, but rather "something higher than purpose" which is in fact a complete reversal of his earlier stance, made necessary by the realization that Darwinism is a theory whose materialistic character was "veiled" in the works of Haeckel. Towards the end of his life Steiner further set anthroposophy apart from Darwinism with the following words:
"There is no need to accept the theories advanced by Darwin, Huxley,Spencer, Copernicus, Galileo and the rest. Let others theorize about the universe as they will; we have no intention of being drawn into their arguments. But we must recognize the tremendous impetus given by these men to the detailed, factual study of specific organs in man, animals and plants, or of some particular problem relating to the mineral kingdom." (taken 'from: True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation P. 27, 1924).
In the 21st century the time has arrived, I must contend, for anthroposophy to now go further than this, and to completely disassociate itself from Darwinism, as was done in the works of Owen Barfield and Norman Macbeth, to whom I and perhaps "we" owe a deep debt of gratitude. It should now be widely understood among us, that important as Darwinism is in the history of human thought, it does not represent the future, and that Goethe's evolutionary thought based upon "archetypal Ideas", when supplemented and strengthened by the development of "higher knowledge," must now entirely replace Darwinism within our movement, and then within the world at large.
I cordially invite anyone who thinks differently on this subject, to now clearly state their case.
Don Cruse, Edmonton, Alberta, email

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