Moving beyond modern biology

In rejecting the claims for privilege for ‘competition between individuals of the same species’  – and of ‘evolution’ as conceived of an ‘animal’ key – we are not forced back into the outmoded forms of creationism and spurious notions of intelligent design of a single-minded form of monotheism which sustained previous European modes of living.

Rather, we embrace with both hands the new insights which life has achieved and seek to rewrite them in a non-privileging manner. Or, if that is an impossible objective, to redistribute the privileges for the benefit of the whole of life, and not merely a small part of it.

All things considered, we can state:

“Life is a text generated by a cosmic context.”

That allows for all manner of ‘messages’ to be inscribed on Being as it eternally recycles.

Some of those messages may be regarded as ‘favourable’ and some ‘unfavourable’ when viewed from a particular set of values.

One of the advantages in jettisoning Darwin’s early 1800s view of life – with its ‘artificial selection’ way of thinking – is that our minds can be freed from privileging a ‘bodily’ basis for reproduction.

While Darwin himself lacked a model for this privileged bodily form of reproduction, subsequent genetic models have developed a powerful tool to explain biological basis of life. This model has dominated modern thinking in the 20th century, and fits well with the corresponding historically peculiar notions of ownership which empower modern corporations.

In refashioning our understanding of life by removing the privileges which make up the “Darwinian” social universe, and by returning a degree of balance by insisting that “Life is a text generated by a cosmic context”, we turn attention away from the narrow ‘biological’ focus and open up epistemological spaces for proper consideration of all those factors which are systematically sidelined by modern thinking.

What is a “cosmic context”?

In must include such local fields which, in modern language, we know as ‘culture ‘ and ‘ecosystem’.

Rejecting the ‘nature-culture’ split – and rejecting claims for a privileged access to ‘nature’ – requires us to reconceptualise.

Certainly, in the case of ecosystems,  there is a growing appreciation that – for example – our form of life is formed by virtue of its place in a vast configuration of life (“the web of life”).

When we move away from a fixation on the genetic means of reproduction, we are able to better appreciate that we serve our own best interests when we direct our surplus energy to ensuring the well-being of the rest of life (and not by trying to force the rest of life to serve our own narrowly defined notions of  what is our interest).

Language shifts a gear here – we can begin to talk about care of our eternal soul – that which generates us.

We have never been mere individuals of the kind necessary for Darwin’s competition to work upon.

How life is drawn back into life is a function of a much larger totality.


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Darwin as a secular symbol – and naturalism lacking life’s higher messages.

“ Not many men would read The Origin,  or understand it if they read it. The secularizing force was not Darwin the author of the book, or of several books. It was Darwin the symbol, Darwin the name which stood for a process, the name which was hurled from one side to the other in the polemics of secularist platforms or journals, an imaginary Darwin, a vague Darwin, without the comfortable homely substantial outlines of the real naturalist of a Kentish village, but however imaginary and however vague still bearing a direct relationship to a scientific achievement, which few quite understood, the truth of which many doubted but everyone, without knowing quite what it was, knew to be a scientific achievement of the first magnitude.” (Chadwick page 174)

“Darwin was not so much cause as occasion. He coincided with the years when the full implications of new knowledge, in crude form and apprehended simply, reached the middle classes of western Europe and America.” (Chadwick 170)

Owen Chadwick "The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century" CUP 1975

This  process is still very much alive at the start of the 21st century, as can be seen on the various television programs which have been part of the Darwin 200 celebrations (Andrew Marr’s Darwin’s “Dangerous Idea” –  presently showing –  is a good example.)

The new episteme represented by Darwin contrasted itself with a world-view, fundamental to the processes of subjection necessary for the former ruling class, which made great use of organised religion.  Even today some still use the word “religion” to mean those organised social formations of European origin (Roman Catholic, Protestantism and other varieties of Christianity –extending at a stretch to other forms of monotheism).

There can be little doubt that the process of secularisation of the the European mind in the 19th century (building on the new understanding of the heliocentric character of our solar system, and the notion of linear time) can be compared to the process of in which a new life form breaks free of the constricting ‘shell’ and ‘membrane’ of its period of incubation – and of discovery of new and less cramped dimensions to life.

But this process has been arrested – and arrested for far too long.

The new elites in European life – new money, not relying on superior birth for their social position – only needed enough ‘new episteme’ to suit their own claims to key positions in life. Their greatest risk was the new episteme would proceed too far and undermine their positions.

The process of carrying through with this new episteme now pushes on into new areas – new cosmologies are to be fashioned which overcome the shortcomings of ‘naturalism’ and which insist that we fully factor in the sum total of existential factors when we fashion representations of life’s image.

The ‘secular’ of naturalism is incomplete – and what it lacks is of vital importance.

And what it lacks can be glossed as “life’s higher messages”.

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