This is the latest in a series of posts¹. Here is a brief summary of the earlier ones for readers not familiar with them.
I’ve been discussing Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Creationism, and the possibility of an alternative. The problem with Darwinism is that it is driven by an atheistic agenda, and tends to ignore the evidence, which is that there appears to be intelligence and purpose in organisms. The problem with Intelligent Design (even though the idea has some merit) is that it is often derived from unproven Christian theology, namely monotheism and a Personal God. The question, therefore, is whether we can find an alternative understanding which does justice to the evidence. In the previous article I introduced the term Creative Evolution, which is the title of books by the physicist Amit Goswami, the philosopher Henri Bergson; it is also implied by the thinking of the biologist Stephen Talbott.
I am now going on to discuss the issue from a spiritual perspective, offering speculations and hypotheses, which will hopefully throw some light on this difficult issue, beginning with some necessary preamble. There are two sections, the first considering the nature of God and the cosmos.
Spiritual traditions, in contrast to Christianity with its Personal God, consider the ultimate Ground of Being to be impersonal, beyond all description, attribution — a kind of nothingness. In Hinduism this is called Brahman, and in the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah it is called Ayin. Thus Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi says: “God the Transcendent is called in Kabbalah AYIN. AYIN means No-Thing. AYIN is beyond Existence, separate from any-thing. AYIN is Absolute Nothing… There is nowhere where AYIN is, for AYIN is not”².
Hard though this is to understand, out of this nothingness emerges a creative principle, a unity of being, a Oneness. In Hinduism this is called Brahma, which should be considered neither personal nor masculine, even though it is sometimes called the creator God. (If it is the source of everything, it must contain everything feminine.) In Kabbalah, it is called the En Sof. Halevi says that “out of the no-thingness comes the one of EN SOF… As the One to the Zero of AYIN, EN SOF is the Absolute All to AYIN’s Absolute Nothing… Both Nothing and All are the same”³.
Carl Jung, the influential ‘mystical’ psychologist, opens his so-called Gnostic treatise The Seven Sermons to the Dead⁴ with very similar statements: “I begin with nothingness. Nothingness is the same as fullness… Nothingness is both empty and full… A thing that is infinite and eternal hath no qualities, since it hath all qualities”. “This nothingness or fullness we name the PLEROMA. Therein both thinking and being cease, since the eternal and infinite possess no qualities. In it no being is, for he then would be distinct from the pleroma, and would possess qualities which would distinguish him as something distinct from the pleroma”. In this last sentence Jung is explicitly saying that any being with personhood, for example the Christian personal deity, would be lower in the hierarchy of emanations, and should not therefore be considered God the Absolute.
These spiritual traditions therefore replace the idea of a personal Creator God with an impersonal creative principle, which can reasonably be called the Divine Mind.
Those introductory remarks were necessary in order to provide a background to what follows. The idea most frequently encountered in spiritual literature, relevant to the question of Intelligent Design, is that from this Oneness various levels of being emanate, one of which is a realm of ideas, which might be called the thoughts of the Divine Mind. Jung calls them archetypes, which means blueprints. In ancient Egyptian religion these were called neter. Something similar was expressed by the philosopher Plato, who is widely believed to have been initiated into the Egyptian esoteric tradition; he wrote about a world of Ideal Forms, so that we now talk about Platonic ideas.
Amber Jayanti, writer on the Qabalah (a later spelling of Kabbalah), while discussing the creative process of four worlds according to that system, says: “The first world is called the World of Archetypes, or Atziluth in Hebrew. This is the divine world of the Universal Mind which generates the seed ideas after which things are then patterned by people and nature… This world is symbolized by the divine spark that causes the outward and downward flow of emanation or the life force from above”⁵. She also talks about “the invisible framework or structure beneath all physical forms, and upon which these are built”, and “the blueprints for what we have been planning to manifest in the physical world”.
In passing, I’ll just note that, before Darwin, archetypes were thought to be the explanation for the forms of creatures.
My second section addresses the question of the nature of organisms. Spiritual traditions often talk about a hierarchy of levels of existence, seven in number, of which the material universe is the lowest. For example, Amber Jayanti, even though Qabalah refers to the four worlds of creation, thus apparently four levels, talks about “the metaphysical system of the seven planes of existence and seven bodies” (p73). Thus spirit, before it manifests as a physical human being, descends through these levels and acquires several bodies appropriate to each one. The six bodies below pure spirit have been called soul, causal, mental, astral, etheric, and physical⁶, sometimes with variations, according to the various traditions.
In spiritual literature this idea is usually applied to humans. It is an interesting question, therefore, whether the same idea, or something similar, can be applied to other organisms — animals, or even plants. I’ll briefly discuss the latter, assuming that, if this is true of plants, then it would surely also be true of animals.
We know what Darwinian biologists will say about plants, that they have evolved through a process of natural selection, end of story.
It would once have been absurd to think of plants as sentient, let alone having some form of consciousness. Times are changing, however, and new research is being done. Some books which offer alternative ideas, from a reasonably scientific perspective, are:
- Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees, What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World⁷
- Daniel Chamovitz, What a Plant Knows⁸
Others, which would seem more outrageous to an orthodox scientist, are:
- John Whitman, The Psychic Power of Plants⁹
- Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants¹⁰.
I’ll briefly discuss the latter. Having presented over 300 pages of material, describing many scientific experiments, on their concluding page the authors refer to:
- “(Gustav) Fechner’s animistic vision of plants being ensouled”
- “Goethe’s concept of a prototype plant” (does prototype = archetype?)
- “the world of the devas and nature spirits”
- two spiritual traditions:
1) Theosophy: “The ancient wisdom, as detailed by seers like Mesdames Helena P. Blavatsky and Alice A. Bailey, throws quite another light on the energy of bodies, both of humans and of plants, as well as the relation of individual cells to the entire cosmos”.
2) “Steiner’s anthroposophy, or Spiritual Science, throws such a light on plant life and agriculture as to make scientists root in their tracks”.
It’s worth mentioning that the conclusions made by these spiritual traditions are sometimes obtained by clairvoyance, psychic investigation. The authors quote Dr. Aubrey Westlake: (who describes our imprisoned state, we are locked in a) “valley of materialistic concepts, refusing to believe there is anything other than the physical-material world of our five senses. For we, like the inhabitants of the country of the blind, reject those who claim to have ‘seen’ with their spiritual vision the greater supersensible world in which we are immersed, dismissing such claims as ‘idle fancies’ and advancing far ‘saner’ scientific explanations”. The authors continue: “The attraction of the seer’s supersensible world, or worlds within worlds, is too great to forgo, and the stakes too high, for they may include survival for the planet. Where the modern scientist is baffled by the secrets of the life of plants, the seer offers solutions which, however incredible, make more sense than the dusty mouthings of academicians”.
There may be much more to plants, therefore, than is apparent. They may have other invisible, immaterial aspects — the higher bodies and levels that I was discussing above.
If these other bodies do exist, this opens up two intriguing possibilities:
- evolution and development might take place at levels different from the physical before emerging into physical form
- physical processes might be directed from higher levels.
Such suggestions might seem strange and far-fetched, and are of course impossible from a materialist perspective. In the next post, I’ll begin to explore whether there is any scientific evidence in support of such ideas.
1. Earlier articles were: 1) Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Creationism — or Something Else? 2) Reasons to Doubt Darwinism — the Problem of Natural Selection 3) Reasons to Doubt Darwinism — Intuition, part 1 4) Reasons to Doubt Darwinism – Creative Evolution, part 1
2. A Kabbalistic Universe, Rider & Company, 1977, p7
3. In this context, a wonderful symbol for God is a turtle. I have discussed this in a previous article, The Problem of Literalism.
4. Robinson & Watkins Books, 1967, p7. The circumstances around the creation of this text were extraordinary. For details see book 10 of my article, 10 Books Which Changed My Life.
5. Principles of Qabalah, Thorsons, 1999, p78
6. Although it is often expressed in those terms, it is also possible, and perhaps closer to the truth, to see this process as one of progressive densification, these bodies being superimposed upon each other and integrated. They coexist but the ‘higher’ bodies are merely more subtle, more rarefied than the physical.
7. William Collins, 2017
8. Oneworld, 2012
9. Starbooks, 1975
10. Penguin, 1975, p318