May 17, 2020

1. Cells and Viruses

The current pandemic has prompted discussions of cells, viruses, DNA, etc. In an earlier issue, I argued that science can’t explain the evolution of the cell, because the parts of a cell have no survival advantage until the other parts are in place. Darwinian reasoning can’t explain cell-evolution.

The parts of a cell are analogous to the parts of a mouse-trap. The spring of the trap is useless unless the hammer is in place, the hammer is useless unless the spring is in place. As Michael Behe wrote, “You can’t catch a mouse with just the platform and then catch a few more by adding the spring. All the pieces have to be in place before you catch any mice.” As I wrote elsewhere, “How can there be proteins without DNA, but what would be the purpose of DNA if proteins didn’t yet exist? And how can you have DNA, proteins, etc. without a cell membrane around them, but how can you have a cell membrane unless DNA and proteins already exist?”

Science can’t explain cell-evolution: “Darwin’s theory encounters its greatest difficulties,” Behe wrote, “when it comes to explaining the development of the cell. Many cellular systems are what I term ‘irreducibly complex.’ That means the system needs several components before it can work properly.” Of course, scientists would never admit that they can’t explain the evolution of a cell, just as English professors won’t admit that there’s a mystery concerning who wrote Hamlet.

Behe and others argue that science can’t explain cell-evolution because it’s the result of Intelligent Design. In other words, they use cell-evolution as an argument for the existence of God. But what about viruses? If God designed cells, why would He design viruses, which destroy cells? And if He didn’t design viruses, who did? Must we posit a Devil who’s adept at micro-biology? Are we going to posit a new super-being whenever we encounter a mystery?

In my view, it’s more plausible to argue that both cells and viruses developed via a Jungian mechanism, via synchronicity, via the intelligence that suffuses the universe. I don’t deny that Darwinian reasoning is valid, up to a point, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, it must be supplemented by Jungian reasoning, or by the ancient idea of Final Cause.

Intelligence is in matter, not above matter, and this intelligence lacks a moral purpose, hence it can both produce the human body, and also destroy it with a virus. The intelligence in the universe is a “bottom-up” intelligence, not a “top-down” intelligence. The universe has no architect or “over-arching plan” or moral purpose, but it has energy and intelligence throughout.

Evolution is nothing short of miraculous. The intelligence of the universe, the connectedness of the universe, is itself miraculous, and is capable of accomplishing the miracle of evolution. On the other hand, the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation is too stupid, too passive, too listless, to drive evolution.

We might compare the Darwinian mechanism to a person hired for minimum wage to flip a coin 100,000 times, and keep a record of the results. The person is bored, listless, he has no passion or enthusiasm. On the other hand, we might compare the Jungian mechanism to a person in a basketball game, a person who has five seconds to score before the game ends, a person who has practiced for years for just this moment, a person filled with passion, enthusiasm.

The Darwinian mechanism emphasizes chance, the Jungian mechanism emphasizes will. When Darwin first published his theory, several leading philosophers, including Nietzsche, took issue with Darwin, because Darwin left out the important element of will. Schopenhauer had made will the key element in the universe in his World As Will and Idea.

Why does a giraffe have a long neck? Darwin would say that one of the giraffe’s ancestors had a mutation, a random mutation, and this mutation, this longer neck, had a survival advantage, and enabled the long-necked animal to survive, reproduce, and pass his mutation to the next generation.

Jung would say that a giraffe has a long neck, not because of a random mutation, not because of blind chance, but because one of its ancestors was under enormous pressure, pressure to survive the dangers and challenges that surrounded it, and this pressure called forth all its will/passion/enthusiasm, like the basketball player who has five seconds to score. Will has a mysterious power to change the external world, change an animal’s body. Will plays a key role, but will is a mystery — it can’t be seen, touched, or counted — so scientists are uncomfortable with it, they ignore it, and they put their faith in blind chance.

When people discuss viruses, they often say that a virus isn’t a living thing — it doesn’t have the DNA, the cell structure, of living things. But viruses have developed clever ways to reproduce, to multiply, perhaps even to adapt. How did these clever ways arise? How did viruses arise? Did they arise by blind chance? Did they arise by will, or does will only exist in living things?

Schopenhauer argued that will is in the entire universe, not just in living things. There’s a mysterious intelligence/consciousness/will that suffuses the universe; Jungian synchronicity operates with inanimate matter as well as living things. Whether viruses are alive or not doesn’t matter; even inanimate “stuff” has a kind of intelligence, even the subatomic particles studied by quantum physics have a mysterious “consciousness.”

* * * * *

If a philosopher criticizes traditional religion, monotheistic religion, some people may wonder, “Why? Why criticize something that brings comfort to many people, something that inspires moral conduct in many people?” Perhaps the best answer is Mill’s answer: we need a new worldview, a worldview in which everyone can really believe, and these old religions obstruct the development of a new worldview:

The old opinions [Mill wrote] in religion, morals, and politics, are so much discredited in the more intellectual minds as to have lost the greater part of their efficacy for good, while they have still life enough in them to be a powerful obstacle to the growing up of any better opinions on those subjects.

2. Lord of the Flies

I’ve often felt that the violence and perversity in modern culture, especially modern film, was exaggerated. And one of the most violent works of all is Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s 1954 novel. Lord of the Flies is such a perfect expression of modern taste that it has been turned into a movie numerous times.

A Dutch writer named Rutger Bregman found, in an “obscure blog,” a real-life episode similar to the setting of Lord of the Flies: six boys were stranded on a Polynesian island for 15 months, beginning in 1965. The boys cooperated and survived; they even entertained each other with homemade musical instruments. There was none of the savagery that we find in Lord of the Flies.

I’m not suggesting that people are always cooperative, or would be cooperative in a “state of nature.” There are probably real-life examples of both cooperation and combat. Those who were stranded on Pitcairn Island in 1789 fought so fiercely that almost all of them were killed.1 The positive and negative forces in human nature are equally strong. It’s a mistake, in my view, for modern film to emphasize the negative, as if only violence is true and profound. It would also be a mistake for Bregman to emphasize the positive, and overlook man’s dark side.

Bregman takes a sanguine view of human nature. He recently published Humankind: A Hopeful History. He agrees with Rousseau that, in a state of nature, people are peaceful and cooperative. So the 1965 episode that he found dovetails with his view of human nature. Did some mysterious power, some “library angel,” draw him to this forgotten episode? Is this a case of will/enthusiasm shaping events, like the basketball player who makes a winning shot — a shot that he couldn’t make in practice, a shot that he couldn’t make without intense passion?

Bregman attributes his find to “a stroke of luck.... I typed a year incorrectly and there it was.” Bregman attributes his find to blind chance, as Darwin’s followers attribute the giraffe’s long neck to blind chance, random mutation. But perhaps will plays a role, perhaps synchronicity plays a role, perhaps chance is the servant of will/synchronicity/fate, perhaps the universe is more mysterious, more inter-connected, more occult than we think.

3. Social Class

Social class is complicated, especially in a society like the U.S. Tocqueville poked fun at the way Americans often claim descent from a Mayflower passenger, and often say that one of their pieces of furniture came over on the Mayflower. It’s assumed that Mayflower means upper-class. But was there a single aristocrat on the Mayflower? Weren’t the Mayflower passengers bourgeoisie, or lower? Is a person’s social class determined by his class in the “mother country,” or by his class in American society? Is a person whose ancestors have been in the U.S. for 400 years in a higher class than a person whose family came to the U.S. 40 years ago?

Consider the Kennedy family: to which social class do the Kennedys belong? Most people would say, without hesitation, “the upper class — they have all sorts of economic and political clout, one of them was President, they have a big house in Hyannis, etc.” But when the Kennedys arrived in the U.S., the WASP establishment would have looked down on them. John F. Kennedy’s grandfather started working on the docks in Boston when he was 14, he was from the lowest class of American society — Irish Catholic laborers.

Some people might say, “the Kennedys started in the lowest class, but rose, in two generations, to the highest class.” But can social class change that rapidly? Economic class can change in a day, but doesn’t social class need at least a century to change? Years ago, when I wrote about class, I said, “Class depends only on family background; the grandson of a king is from the highest class in society, though he may be penniless, uneducated and crude.” Family background can’t change in a generation; living in the White House doesn’t change your family background.

If class depends on family background, to which social class do the Kennedys belong? In order to answer this question, wouldn’t we need to study the Irish society to which the Kennedys belonged? What was their position in Ireland, before they came to the U.S.? Bernard Berenson said that he always felt he was the social equal of anyone he met, not because his family was from the “upper crust” in Boston, but because they had been from the upper crust of their Jewish village in Lithuania.2

4. Perry Miller on the Puritans:
The National Covenant

The Puritan view of history resembles my view of history:

The branch of history that most interested the Puritans was Jewish history; they felt that their situation resembled the situation of the Jews. The Puritans felt that they had a covenant with God, as the Jews did, and therefore God had a special interest in them, as he had a special interest in the Jews. In addition to a personal covenant with God (the Covenant of Grace), New Englanders (like the Jews before them) had a national covenant with God.

Leaving Europe and traveling to New England was analogous to the Jews leaving Egypt and traveling to The Promised Land. New Englanders had a special destiny, a special mission; they were a Chosen People. The Puritans believed that, if they kept the covenant, God would bless them with success of every kind, but if they violated the covenant, and forgot their duty to God, they would suffer every kind of affliction.

An individual can be rewarded or punished in the after-life, but a nation has no after-life, so a nation receives its just deserts here and now. An individual can be justified by faith, but a nation can only be justified by conduct. History was managed by God, and the key to success was winning God’s favor. The Puritans had a

cyclical theory of history... a concept of mankind as perpetually alternating between eras of widespread corruption and periods of reform, with each extreme followed by a turn in the contrary direction. Successive oscillations between phases of degeneracy and of righteousness were abundantly illustrated by the history of the Jews.3

The Spanish writer Saavedra Fajardo chose as his emblem an arrow, with the caption “It either rises or falls.” A state, a civilization, never stays on a level, it either rises or falls. If New England fulfilled the will of God, and attained the Christian ideal, wasn’t it destined to decline?

New England being settled in the flood tide of reformation, by men aiming in state and church at the highest perfection to which men had aspired since the Apostles, was it not inevitable that immediately thereafter a decline should set in? Was there a further level of holiness to which the children could progress beyond that attained by the first settlers, and if there were none, could the later generations conceivably remain poised at the same pitch of virtue?4

The Puritans viewed their arrival in New England as one of history’s most significant events, as the apex of the Reformation, as the last best hope of earth. They felt that Christianity had begun declining in antiquity, in the time of Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion. The Middle Ages, according to the Puritans, were one long night of barbarism.

“The great event of modern history, second in importance in all of history only to the appearance of Christ and perhaps to the Puritan mind really more engrossing, was the Reformation.” The Reformation didn’t begin, according to the Puritans, with Luther in 1517, it was a gradual process, beginning around 1200 with Peter Waldo, and continuing with Wycliff, Huss, Savonarola, etc. The Puritans felt that the Reformation culminated with them, they were the first to put all the pieces together, including that most important piece, Congregationalism. Furthermore, they had a unique opportunity to build a Christian society, since they were settling in a wilderness. So they felt that the eyes of the world were upon them; “we shall be as a city upon a hill”; posterity would have a keen interest in them, and God Himself was watching them with special interest.

“With the erection of the New England way it seemed that truth had made the last disclosure conceivable within the frame of time. New England was the ne plus ultra. Any further discovery would surpass the possibilities of earth and commence the reign of eternity.”5 Was the day of judgement at hand?

But it wasn’t long before the first signs of decadence appeared in The Promised Land, in the New Canaan. Around 1640, John Cotton noticed that young people kept their hats on in church, and the older folks weren’t as pious as they once were.

In the 1640s there commenced in the sermons of New England a lament over the waning of primitive zeal and the consequent atrophy of public morals, which swelled to an incessant chant within forty years. By 1680 there seems to have been hardly any other theme for discourse, and the pulpits rang week after week with lengthening jeremiads.... Horror was piled upon horror when the people wished, like dogs returning to their vomit, to celebrate Christmas, when fortune-tellers could make a living in New England, and when at last there were rumors of a brothel in Boston.6

When I started writing philosophy 35 years ago, I complained that modern man “tries to make as much money as he can, instead of trying to make as much as he needs.” Puritan preachers made the same complaint: “In wares, merchandise, and trading, a gaining what they can possibly, as if justice had set them no bounds.”7 Puritan preachers complained that, as New Englanders became more comfortable and prosperous, their thoughts turned to worldly matters, their piety cooled, they forgot why New England was founded, they became just like other “plantations,” they became as worldly as Virginia.

On the other hand, the preachers had to admit that it was God Himself who had brought them safely to this bounteous new land, God Himself who had made them prosperous. So the preachers were ambivalent about prosperity, as they were ambivalent about so many things. Some preachers said, “Prosperity is one of the promises of the covenant, and we may pray for it.”8 As long as their hearts were in the right place, “they could grow wealthy without endangering their souls.” And if their hearts weren’t in the right place, if their hearts were set on worldly things, wasn’t that because God had withheld his grace?

Theology is filled with ambivalence, with contrary tendencies. For example, while the Puritans had a mania for covenants, for reducing God to a bourgeois shopkeeper, they still retained much of the old piety, which viewed God as an awesome and unknowable power.

From the very authors [Miller writes] who most clearly voiced the commercialism of the national covenant... could also be extracted a series of quotations freely and truthfully expressing the piety without a mention of the covenants. We have seen on almost every point that there were latent oppositions among ideas entertained simultaneously and often successfully by the Puritan mind, oppositions that appear obvious to our critique because we know that some of the inherited ideas had formerly been in serious conflict, or else that other tensions were to develop into open hostilities in the next century. The contrast between the strictly theological conception of God and the God of the covenant is to our eyes probably the most striking of these implicit antagonisms in the whole range of New England thought.9

During the 1600s, the covenant God became more prominent than the hidden God; God the shopkeeper and dealmaker was becoming more prominent than “the arbitrary Jehovah... the God of the whirlwind.”10 The new science was able to explain many natural phenomena without having recourse to God. As a result of economic development, man was no longer at the mercy of Nature/God for bare subsistence. Man could manage his life, and explain his world, without continually turning to God. “As the created universe yielded its secrets to Boyles and Newtons, while trade flourished and banks arose, while God was becoming more genial and more remote [the] urgencies that produced Puritan theology [were] relaxed.”11

Religion was becoming less important, a secular worldview was growing. But as the Age of Reason was elbowing aside the old piety, a reaction was brewing, an emotional approach to religion known as The Great Awakening. Calvin was not dead yet. Man still needed an emotional connection to a personal God. American society oscillated between revivalism and secularism.

That concludes my discussion of Perry Miller’s The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century, which I began five months ago. It’s a dense, heavy book that requires much effort from the reader. It can teach one much about theology in general, and about the Puritans in particular. It’s not surprising that Miller has a high reputation among scholars, but is rarely read by laymen.

5. Seven Poetry Readings

John Masefield Sea Fever2:18
Alan SeegerRendezvous With Death (text here)1:26
W. H. AudenFuneral Blues1:28
Edna St. Vincent
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed0:56
Wilfred OwenFutility0:54
Wilfred OwenThe Parable of the Old Man
and The Young

© L. James Hammond 2020
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1. The PitcairnIsland group was made up of 9 English, 17 Tahitian. Did this contribute to discord? There were 15 men on Pitcairn Island, 11 women. Did this create rivalry? The 6 boys stranded in 1965 may have been all Polynesian, I’m not sure of their ethnicity. back
2. “My family was among the first if not the first,” Berenson wrote, “and from earliest awareness I was encouraged to regard myself as its future head.... I knew from infancy that I was to be the first in my village, and it bred in me a sense of being anybody’s social equal that I have never lost.” back
3. Ch. 16, p. 465. In an earlier issue, I quoted Peter Folger, Ben Franklin’s maternal grandfather:

New England they are like the Jews,
as like as like can be.

One Puritan said, “Let Israel be the evidence of the doctrine [i.e. Federal Theology], and our glass to view our faces in.”(p. 475) back

4. p. 466 back
5. p. 471. In 1630, John Winthrop had delivered an oration on board the ship Arbella; it was called “A Model of Christian Charity.” In this oration, Winthrop said “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” Winthrop said that by traveling to New England, the Arbella passengers were making a covenant with God, and “if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this covenant and sealed our commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it.”

There was no end to the making of covenants. “The intellectual history of the seventeenth-century colonies,” Miller writes, “might be said to consist primarily of a luxurious foliation of the federal theory.”(p. 478) back

6. pp. 471, 472 back
7. p. 473 back
8. p. 481 back
9. p. 485. Miller says that the Puritans didn’t share the views of contemporary philosophers: “They could not separate theology from life, as did Bacon... they could not reduce the universe to extension and movement with Descartes, or share without reservations in Locke’s confidence that the world was constructed on the principles of a rational, uniform, and smoothly running machine.”(p. 486) The idea of universe-as-machine reminds me of Newton. Did Newton influence Locke?

The Puritans felt that life could never be completely tamed, that God could never be reduced to a bourgeois shopkeeper; Puritans “could never banish from their minds the consciousness of something mysterious and terrible in life, of something that leaped when least expected, that upset all the regularities of technologia and circumvented the laws of logic, that cut across the rules of justice, of something behind appearances that could not be tamed and brought to heel.”(p. 487) back

10. p. 486 back
11. pp. 490, 491 back