268 Flight from the Absolute

Philosophers and educators routinely refer to the importance of one’s Weltanschauung—the philosophy of life or worldview that provides meaning for life.  To be fully human means addressing the “big questions,” wrestling with “ultimate concerns,” finding a unifying belief system.  (Such was the argument of Victor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning.)  Though often assumed rather than embraced and frequently absorbed from dubious “authorities” or misperceptions, one’s worldview significantly directs (and at times dictates) much that orders his days.  Thus Paul Gosselin’s two volume set—Flight from the Absolute:  Cynical Observations on the Postmodern West (Samizdat, V. I, c. 2006, 2013; V. II, c. 2014)—provides much to ponder when evaluating current intellectual currents.  While he makes no personal professions, his frequent citations of C.S. Lewis and other Christian scholars indicate his ties to the Christian tradition, and his critique of naturalistic evolution carries with it a defense of  Intelligent Design or Creationism (though not necessarily of the young earth variety).  

Written originally in French by a Canadian scholar with a strong interest in anthropology, literature, music, science, popular culture and philosophy—who apparently works independently rather than within a university—these two volumes are more a series of tantalizing explorations (laced with interesting insights and quotations, reflecting considerable learning) than a systematic treatise.  Thus there are diversions and digressions, repetitions and ruminations that might have been screened out by careful editorial work.  Even the tables of contents (e.g. “vivisecting the Patient,” The Phantom Creed,” “Cannibals”) reveal the impressionistic rather than systematic nature of the books.  But if read patiently—and with serious attention to the lengthy quotations and extensive footnotes—much can be learned from them.    

Gosselin particularly stresses the significant changes, during the past century, wrought by the loss of Christianity’s intellectual clout.  A materialistic secularism has come to dominate schools and media in the West.  This worldview emerged in the Enlightenment and (though kept at bay for a century or more) has gained control of the modern mind.  Portentously, several European countries recently refused to even recognize Christianity’s historical role in shaping Europe!  More particularly, the materialist cosmology decreed by scientists now provides the underlying structure for most every intellectual pursuit.  Though rarely acknowledged as such, this materialist worldview (best understood as an “ideology” of some sort) is as fully religious or mythical as the Christian faith it displaced.  (Importantly, “myth” to Gosselin means a story which may very well be absolutely true.)  Anthropologists generally define “religion” as the effort to answer questions regarding:  1) origins (“where do we come from?”); 2) anthropology (“who am I”); 3) law (“why obey certain authorities, whether human or divine?”); and 4) purposes (“why live?”  “what are man’s proper ends?”).  Once the magisterial authority of Science was established and revered as the source of truth, a series of 18th and 19th century thinkers, culminating in Charles Darwin, discarded the Judeo-Christian cosmology which had shaped the West.  

              Consequently, by assuming and insisting that evolution is true, thinkers such as Jacques Monod and Richard Dawkins confidently reduce human beings to sophisticated animals interacting with an ever-changing physical world.  “Man is, at most, a garbage bag-full of pompous molecules interacting in a universe totally indifferent to his existence” (V. I, Kindle #302).  As one of the characters in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles said:  “‘That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up.  We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles.  And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix.  Or at least we didn’t think they did.  We were fools.  We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud.  They wouldn’t move very well.  So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.  We succeeded pretty well.  We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for.  If art was no more than a frustrated outfling of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life?  Faith had always given us answers to all things.  But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin.  We were and still are a lost people’” (#314).  So we find distinguished scientists, such as Steven Weinberg, declaring:  “‘The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless’” (#1325).  To which Alfred North Whitehead wisely decreed:    “‘Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study’” (#4898). 

                  Then quite quickly, at the close of the 20th century, a repudiation of many key tenets of the Enlightenment project sallied forth under the banner of Postmodernism, which may be best understood as yet another religious endeavor (or, perhaps more correctly, a variety of religious expressions) best evident in popular culture and public education.    Turning away from collective social structures, Postmoderns focus on individuals “and ask:  ‘What’s in it for me?’  Political parties have become self-serve institutions.  Postmodern religion is custom-fitted to the client’s preferences” (#1363).  “The twentieth-century buried the grand collective political projects.  All that remains is the individual and his sexual, artistic, ideological and professional impulses and ambitions.  His salvation is found in self-fulfillment.  Anything that constrains the individual finds itself opposed to the postmodern perspective.  This is the perfect worldview for eternal teenagers” (#2522).  But despite the clear differences between Postmodernism and Modernism one thing remains constant:  a dogmatic allegiance to Darwinian Evolution.  Postmoderns regularly “deconstruct” ethical and aesthetic standards, patriarchy and colonialism; they proudly dismiss all “truths” as mere opinions and weigh in regularly against all forms of “intolerance”; they reject all prescribed principles or traditional authorities; they consider male/female sexual distinctions “out-dated” and celebrate self-fulfilling same-sex unions; but they remain totally committed to “the West’s own dominant metanarrative, the theory of evolution, as it constitutes the logical  basis for postmodern relativism” (#2446).  

Thus Gosselin regularly returns to his central theme:  evolution through natural selection lacks bona fide scientific standing and, as a worldview, has gravely harmed the world.  Rightly defined, “science deals with observable and reproducible processes.  The rest is outside the domain of science (or should be)” (#1524). When dealing with past events (and especially the origins of the universe or life or human consciousness) we “have left the field of empirical science and have begun to navigate the world and wonderful world of myth and cosmology” (#1533).   Without empirical evidence, we have “little more than nice ‘scientific’ stories framed in the context of the dominant materialistic origins myth.  This is the best we can expect” (1543).  Though Darwinists are determined to maintain their status as “scientists” and insist evolution through natural selection is a “fact” rather than a theory, they do so only by denying the proper constraints of their discipline.  

Even more egregiously, they often don the mantles of religious prophets or wise men, as is evident in the works of Carl Sagan, Jacques Monod, E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, who provide reasons and recipes—worldviews and philosophies of life—allegedly rooted in their scientific knowledge.  Cornell University biology professor William Provine recently summed up the stark components of this evolutionary view:  “‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear—and these are basically Darwin’s views.  There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal directed forces of any kind.  There is no life after death.  When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead.  That’s the end of me.  There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.  What an unintelligible idea’” (#5166).  Nota bene:  none of Provine’s assertions are empirically evident—all are barefaced assertions of a biologist pontificating on philosophical ideas.  

Yet such efforts have generated a host of problem for their devotees, in part because “those who accept the materialist worldview must also accept that all their cultural and intellectual production is just as rigidly predetermined as the trajectory of a ball falling from the tower of Pisa.  And if that is the case, why should such works be considered significantly or taken seriously?” (#1918).  Necessarily, materialists such as Professor Provine must insist that everything comes into being as a result of natural causes, there is no such thing as free will (whereby man, particularly insofar as he thinks, stands apart from the purely material chain of events).  As C.S. Lewis pointed out quite clearly decades ago:  “‘We do not need . . . to refute naturalism.  It refutes itself’” (#1928).  In more detail, Lewis further explained (in “They Asked for a Paper,” a powerful passage I wish I had successfully instilled in every one of my students):  “‘Long before I believed Theology to be true I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false.  One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it; . . . .  The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts.  Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears.  Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought-laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory—in other words, unless Reason is an absolute—all is in ruins.  Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming.  Here is flat contradiction.  They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.  The difficulty is to me a fatal one; and the fact that when you put it to may scientists, far from having an answer, they seem not to even to understand what the difficulty is, assures me that I have not found a mare’s nest but detected a radical disease in their whole mode of thought from the very beginning.  The man who has once understood the situation is compelled henceforth to regard the scientific cosmology as being, in principle, a myth; thought no doubt a great many true particulars have been worked into it’” (#7956).

Equally impossible is the discovery of any moral code since “Evolutionary cosmology tells modern man:  ‘You are the culmination of processes that have taken place for billions of years.  Chance is your Father.  Chaos is your mother.  You are alone in the universe.  Your destiny is to establish order as you see fit” (#3958).  Moral values cannot be scientifically proven, so following ones feelings (emotivism) is the only rationale for behavior.  If it feels good, do it!  Most materialistic secularists evade the nihilistic moral message embedded in their worldview, but the Marquis de Sade saw it clearly.  “‘What is man and what difference is there between him and other plants, between him and all the other animals of the world?  None, obviously’” (#4009). So it logically follows that killing a man is no worse than killing any other animal!  Whatever pleases you, whatever gives you pleasure, is allowed.  De Sade himself found pleasure in abusing women since men, the stronger sex, have the natural right to “‘indiscriminately express our wishes to all women, . . . to compel their submission’” and force any available “‘woman to yield to the flames of him who would have her; violence itself being one of that right’s effects, he can employ it lawfully  Indeed!  Has Nature not proven that we have the right by bestowing upon us the strength needed to bend women to our will?’” (#5001).  

Though more mild-mannered and restrained in his rhetoric, Charles Darwin said much the same, lauding the triumph of Caucasians over “lower races” around the world, eliminating them in the “struggle for existence” (#4021).  We must never forget that the subtitle to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species reads:  By means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  A contemporary of Darwin, Dostoyevsky discerned the “difficulties involved with developing ethics in the context of a materialistic cosmology” (#4387), for empirical science inevitably proposes solutions “based on brute force” (e.g. the survival of the fittest).  So within decades of the publication of Darwin’s On the Evolution of Species through Natural Selection (1859) an elite corps of scholars had proposed ways to purify the race (eugenics) and justify ruthless behaviors (Social Darwinism).  Particularly in Germany distinguished evolutionary scientists were proposing, by the turn of the century, ways to eliminate criminals and handicapped persons.  The path from Darwin’s devotees (such as Ernst Haeckel) to the Nazis is well-marked and inescapable.  

Darwinists such as Haeckel and Adolph Hitler denied any meaningful difference between human beings and other animals.  “Hitler was not crazy, a ‘deranged’ individual, but was rather the logical progeny of a dysfunctional civilization developed on the basis of a flawed cosmology” (#7327).  He simply worked out his most compelling conviction, recorded in his Tishegesprache/Table-Talks:  “If I can accept a divine commandment, it’s this one:  ‘Thou shalt preserve the species.”  Haeckel and Hitler discarded the traditional Christian beliefs that man is a spiritual being, made in the image of God, possessing an immortal soul, free to embrace or reject personal responsibilities, to live choose between good and evil.  “These men represented the theoretical, logical culmination of mankind’s humanist rebellion against God.  They declared ‘our innate moral consciousness’ to be self-deception, noxious illusion, fiction—as demanded by a rationally ordered consciousness.  This century’s totalitarianism, trampling the human personality and all its rights, rhinocerouoslike, underfoot, is only the application of this theory to life, or humanism put into practice” (#6511).  

From a strictly materialistic perspective, ethical and moral nihilism (denying there are any values) inevitably results.  As he does recurrently, Gosselin cites C.S. Lewis, who wrote, in The Abolition of Man:  “We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways; to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it.  It is impossible.  Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new  shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural impulses.  Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-reach rulers and ruled alike.  A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”  

Absent such an Absolute—the Natural Law or what Lewis calls the Tao—“ultimately the only real moral absolute left is mere survival” (V. II, #541).  Disciples of Darwinism, such as Steven J. Gould, try to evade the ethical implications of their cosmology—Gould simply posited two utterly separate realms of reality, the tough-hewed materialistic world revealed to scientists and the tender-hearted ethical world indwelt by kindly biologists such as himself who support the basic moral standards of Western Christian Culture.  But other biologists and philosophers (notably Peter Singer) are not quite so tender-hearted and scour for evidence of purely material bases for ethical instincts.  Animals, including man they say, have an altruistic urge (as well as a sexual urge) simply because it enables them to survive.  They animalized humans and humanized animals—energetically defending animal rights (PETA spokesmen) or denying human dignity (pro-abortion or active euthanasia activists) as the moment required, without pausing to consider to the incoherence of their position.  

Though deeply problematic as a basis for ethics, the theory of evolution enjoys an exalted status within the 21st century intelligentsia.  Both politicians and professors soon discover that opposing it can easily cost one his career.  Yet unlike the theory of gravity, which can be routinely demonstrated through observations and experiments, the theory of evolution, when applied to critical events such as the origin of life requires considerable faith and imagination.  Properly understood, “science” deals only with the observable natural world.  Events in the distant past, whether the “Big Bang” or the origin of life on planet earth can never be observed or tested in a laboratory.  Incoherently, evolutionary theorists insist the process they revere is both unobservable and empirical!  It’s like saying something is both invisible and visible!  And, indeed, lauded Nobel Prize winners and Harvard professors such as George Wald baldly declare “that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible.  Yet, here we are—as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation’” (#1923).  Faith in spontaneous generation is endorsed while faith in any Designing Intelligence is rejected as unacceptable!  

Interestingly enough, the evolutionary myth also invokes the “Peter Pan Effect.”  Asked how he could fly so easily, Peter Pan declared:  “You just think wonderful thoughts and they lift you up in the air.”  When the fossil record remains filled with “gaps,” you simply invoke “Chance” (the materialistic deus ex machina that takes on the role of the theistic God who intervenes and intelligently fills in the gaps).  Or you insist that in time Science will explain everything (precisely as do theists when relying on an Omniscient Mind to unveil creation’s inexplicable mysteries).  Acknowledging “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record” as the “trade secret of paleontology,” a discipline relying on data “so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study,” Steven J. Gould momentarily wondered if an indiscerrnable “punctuated equilibrium” evolutionary process theory was better than orthodox Darwinism.  And so it goes—endless “scientific” proposals designed to finally explain why Evolution is the “theory of everything” we long for.  

Surely, Gosselin insists, there’s a better way to conceptualize our cosmos.  Challenging and departing from the entrenched evolutionary paradigm demands courage and a willingness to suffer for the truth—but such has ever been the lot of dissidents and pathfinders.  Thus a distinguished American geneticist, Richard Sternberg, was demoted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History because he published an article questioning some evolutionary dogma in a journal he edited.  “Never forget, Malcolm Muggeridge said, that only dead fish swim with the stream.”  What’s needed is thinkers such as George Orwell, whose prophetic 1984 warned against the “Newspeak” and “Crimestop” designed by “Big Brother” to stifle freedom of thought and speech.    

Now there’s ample reason to begin seriously questioning the claims of naturalistic evolution if we begin to think rigorously and understand all the available evidence.  Much Darwinism is obviously ideological rather than scientific, mythical rather than empirical.  Many (if not most) scientists simply accept the theory of evolution because it’s what they’re taught rather than seriously thinking through its presuppositions and ramifications.   But in truth they are enraptured by a modern origins myth—providing the story primeval history that provides a raison d’être for all that is, telling them why we’re here, who we are, where we’re headed.   When compared with various other origins myths—carefully chronicled by astute anthropologists cited by Gosselin—Darwinism (or Evolution, personified and portrayed as an Agent working its will everywhere) certainly seems to be more mythical than scientific.  That’s because it:  “necessarily involves events in the past; . . . involves a story, a narrative; . . . provides modern man with an answer to the ‘why’ question; . . . deals with metamorphosis theme; . . . providing meaning for society and its activities at diverse levels” (#3209).  But just maybe there’s a better myth!  Just maybe the ancient Judeo-Christian cosmology is really true—and should re reestablished as our culture’s guiding light.

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