Sunday, August 13, 2006
At Home in the World
At Home in the World At last some rest, time to relax and unwind. Too many people demanding attention during the last week have drained my resources. Back to the centre now to restore energy, find my centre of gravity, some point from which I will be able to engage in battle again at a later date. This is the trough after the peak of the week, and indeed life is a cycle. It is time now to sit down and do a little writing, watch words form and shape themselves on paper before me. It is my on-going miracle, the one thing I never cease to marvel at. Now read about the intricacies of science from Darwin to Dawkins. 'Natural Selection' or evolution - a marvellous, wonderful and wondrous hypothesis, never disproved and one which probably never will be. It amazes and astounds me. It is another miracle, in-built in the very universe itself, encoded in our very genes. Today all falls under the ambit of evolution - the universe, the earth, our bodies, our behaviour and even our morals. In other words all the great questions of life are now being subsumed under its remit. I love the names from Darwin and his first great champion T.H. Huxley to Dawkins and Dennett. All are evangelists for their creed, a solid belief in the centrality of 'the selfish gene'. They are as surely convinced of their opinions and beliefs as are the Creationists who believe that God created the world from nothing, 'creatio ex nihilo', as it is put in the classic theological texts. All the protagonists in the modern debate have long since done with talk of nature's purpose and design. These debates were exhausted in the late nineteenth century. While practically all modern writers on the subject are evolutionary rationalists there is at least one of their number, Stephen Jay Gould (also a rationalist), who questions the all-sufficiency of natural selection and decries this new 'uncompromising ideology'. He questions the all-pervasiveness of selection. He sees life as messy and make-do and loves exceptions and puzzles. He is enchanted with the whole of nature, culture and history, and especially with the richness of Darwin's thought. It is always nice to come across an author who poses and raises new questions, does not quite swallow everything. Still, I love the clarity of Dawkins's writing, the play of his words, the sharpness and clarity of his mind, his ability to explain and popularize. The only thing in his work that I find off-putting is his evangelizing tone. Not alone he is striving to convince us of his view-point, but at times I feel he is trying to convince us of our wrongs, disabuse our minds of our mistaken ideas. But perhaps, that's what all strong believers in anything do? Or is it? I'm not really totally convinced. I hate fundamentalism from whatever science, natural or otherwise. I always like those authors who leave room for questioning their own presuppositions, who leave room for questions to push deeper and deeper. A true humility must be the main trait of any scientist or scholar. Arrogance is out because it destroys the innocence of the question which is able to push the frontiers of knowledge further out. Most people of any culture would not accept the absolutism of T.H. Huxley's famous dictum which demanded science's 'domination over the whole realm of the intellect' or indeed the absolutism of any other branch of knowledge. Indeed theology as a reflection on religious experience is a legitimate area of exploration, though there are those who would dismiss it as playing with unrealities. Yet, religion has persisted for as long as mankind has lived in communities. Today, above all, there has been a huge turn to alternative beliefs, to alternative therapies of all sorts, to spirituality, to meditation, to philosophies of the East, to holistic treatments of physical and psychological illnesses, to the New Age Movement. In short, there is a new openness to things of the spirit, a new acceptance of anything that can possibly help us as we journey through life. This openness is refreshing and encouraging. It is the very opposite of arrogance. It is an admission that we don't know everything. Of course, any sham, superstitious or questionable practice must be dismissed. The whole area of alternative medicine and New Age is a very uneven territory with many good things and equally many bad among its offerings, but to dismiss it all is to be cavalier and arrogant in the extreme. I seem to dwell in a rather cloudy land where the sun occasionally shines. It is a land that knows little clarity, though it is full of colours, shapes and designs. It is full of bright and dark mysteries with a host of others of varying hues in between. This landscape has moulded me into a being who abhors certainties of any hue. There are too many variables in the climate where I live. In any one day I can be assailed by all four seasons, the sun can be clouded in an instance, colours can disappear, swamped by another one or obliterated by the dark. Like Heraclitus said of his experience of life, 'all is flux and change' in my world. However, I do know that there is solid ground under my feet - I am no flat-earthist. I am a grain of sand on a rock in the sea on a greater spherical rock which in turn is just a grain of sand in an infinite expanding space. I marvel at the mystery of these great infinite spaces and the littleness of this speck who types these words which write from some centre seeking meaning. I rejoice in the Darwins, Dawkinses and Goulds of this world who push the frontiers forward. I delight in the Joyces, Yeatses and Banvilles of this world who forge words like ancient blacksmiths. They too expand the frontiers of our knowledge. I celebrate the Nietzsches, Freuds and Jungs of this world. They have plumbed the depths of the personality. I praise the mystics, the Eckharts, the Susoes and the Blakes of this world. They have deepened the mysteries. Poets, philosophers, scientists, theologians, artists, architects, engineers, doctors, writers, singers, musicians and all who play with the wonders of this life, all co-operate in the furtherance of knowledge, in promoting concern for the whole of life as we know it from this small blue orb spinning in the middle of nowhere. This is our home, our resting place, the ground from which we grow. It is at this spring that we refresh our spirits and revitalize our energies. It is truly good to be at home on this earth, to be an intimate part of its very clay.