Thursday, 31 March 2016

Primary thinking is the bottom line for human evaluation, so why do people reject it?

I have been reading William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rudolf Steiner and William Arkle recently, and one thing upon which they are all clear and in agreement is that all evaluation rests upon primary thinking - that is intuition, or the thinking of my true and essential self; thinking which has nothing behind or beneath it (and that is how we know it).

This comes before even spiritual and religious thinking, because it is what validates spiritual and religious thinking; and without the validation of primary thinking we are merely responding to external stimulation, compulsion or habit. In the end, everything must be tested and confirmed by primary thinking - this is a task of mortal life.

Why then do we doubt this? Because we have been confused, and have been sold an incoherent alternative. At various times people have been indoctrinated with the notion that some abstraction like religion, politics or science is or ought to be the bottom line - but this is simply nonsense as well as being alienating. How can such labile, diffuse, imprecise and undefined things be the bottom line for anything?

Since all finally rests on the base of intuition, then primary thinking can and should be used to validate all general and specific knowledge claims; life indeed becomes a succession of such evaluations - a building of certainties concerning purpose, meaning, relation, structures and processes and everything else.

Thus intuition is (or should be) how we choose our religion (a necessary choice), and then what is authoritative within that religion as such matters arise and become urgent. It is how we appropriate to ourselves all essential aspects of that religion, and deal with uncertainties, and also evaluate our own (always somewhat imprecise, incomplete and distorted) previous answers.

This ability to clear away superficial thinking and plumb our own depths, to commune with the divine in ourselves and outside ourselves (as seems to be the explanation for this validity - which itself may be validated by prior intuitions) -- this becomes an essential activity in life.

And how to achieve this becomes a vital project for each of us, as we seek the best method for our unique self, in our unique circumstances - e.g. prayer of some type or another, some kind of meditation, some kind of artistic practice, some kind of conversation or consultation... whatever it may be.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Why were people made so weak?

People ask this about God - why did he create us so weak, feeble, easily swayed, prone to wickedness and self-indulgence?

The question cannot be answered until we have an understanding of our metaphysics, our own basic assumptions about the structure and purpose of reality. Once we know that, the question can be answered.

From my assumptions, humans were not made or created to be weak but that is what each of us is intrinsically and necessarily. We start-out weak. We had a pre-mortal spirit existence before we chose to be born into mortal incarnate (embodied) life; and during this pre-mortal life some became stronger than others such that some are born stronger, others weaker.

Some people have more to learn. Presumably the weakest are among those who have the most to learn, and that is why they are here, and why they wanted to be here - if you are weak, you are among those who stand to benefit most from the experience of life (i.e. benefit most in terms of strength and goodness).

(Think of someone whose innate weakness was in terms of proneness to addiction, and who by great effort overcomes it by choice, through faith in God and Alcoholics Anonymous - what an amazing and spiritually-valuable amount that person has learned from the experience of mortal life.)

Mortal life is part of the process of experience and learning by which we may (if we choose well) become stronger persons (stronger in love, goodness, resolve etc - and stronger as individual and unique persons participating in relationships).

It is not possible for God to make mature and strong persons as a finished product, because an essential part of that maturity and strength is a consequence of living, choosing, experiencing.

Mortal life is a tough school, but it is a school for divinization; God´s love is tough love - because that is what most of us require, because we are weak.

So God did not make us deliberately to be weak, instead that was how we began - how God ´found us´; and this world and this  mortal life is one of the ways in which we may become stronger, in preparation for the next stage of post-mortal resurrected life.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Jacob Bronowski interview - the utopia of work?

This is a fascinating interview from 1973 with Jacob ´Ascent of Man´ Bronowski, who was at the time and for many years afterwards a great hero of mine. I watched and rewatched Ascent of Man many times, read and re-read his books many times -- indeed in about 1997 I even contacted his daughter offering to write a proper biography (she rebuffed me and said there was already somebody on the job; although a biography still has not appeared).

Bronowski was a man with great qualities as is, I think, apparent here - also a man of rather significant limitations as is also apparent. But the interview itself is remarkable. This is prime Saturday evening TV with Britain´s best known ´chat show´host ever, and the pace and depth of the discussion is remarkable. Partly this was how things used to be, partly it was due to the way that Bronowski, by strength of character and natural authority, was able to impose his own agenda on mere ´entertainment´.

It can also be seen how the scope of public discourse has been shut-down since - in relation to the discussion of race and intelligence (and bearing in mind, as is obvious enough, that Bronowski was a man of the left - close to being a pacifist and a communist or communist sympathizer like the great scientists JD Bernal and JBS Haldane, both of whom he mentions).

What you get from this is some real Old Left philosophy, based on atheism and an ingrained radicalism such that history is seen as a prolonged conflict between progressive enlightened forces, and theocratic dogma. For instance Bronowski wrote an influential book about the poet William Blake, which paints him in highly political terms and essentially ignores Blake´s blatantly obvious and in-your-face incandescent, visionary, mystical, heretical Christianity´.

For whatever reason, in the discussion of artistic bohemianism and how it contrasts with his image as a scinetist, Bronowski doesn´t mention his time on Mallorca in the 1930s living as a young poet with Robert Graves and Laura Riding, and with a mistress Eirlys Roberts (who later founded The Consumer Association) -- a life of fairly extreme bohemianism by the standards of that time. A touch of the whitewash there, perhaps?

But most telling is the near-final remark on his idea of utopia. Bronowski amplifies his point that he deeply believes that people want to work rather than be idle but are thwarted by the lack of meaningful work - so his utopia is a world where everybody has a satisfying job which he or she is good-at. This absurdity is a view which I shared as a teenager (under the influence of people from Bronowski´s generation) but by the time I was twenty had had thoroughly purged out of me by a crushing avalanche of counter examples from personal experience.

I continued to hold modified versions of this view for quite a while longer but was forced to abandon it when I realized that I was actually talking about myself and a tiny minority of others who are creatively motivated - and in fact hardly anybody is self-motivated, even under ideal conditions. Nearly everybody would prefer not to work. At the very least, most people need a strong social ethos of work to ´want´to do it, nearly everyone does work for rewards or to avoid punishments; and not for intrinsic satisfactions.

But the idea that such would be any kind of utopia is quite extraordinary now! - yet in 1973 was not unusual (as evidenced by the round of applause from the audience) and indeed the ecology (EF Schumacher) and self-sufficiency (John Seymour) movements added a considerable boost to this idea from around the time of this interview and for several years (Andre Gorz was another proponent). I mean the idea that the main political imperative ought to be the provision of Good Work. I think the idea came from the early socialists, reformers, and builders of model communities - perhaps especially William Morris.

I think this view was possible because that generation had been brought-up religiously, so their aethism carried a strong residue of belief in transcendental goods such as beauty, virtue, and honesty - values which Bronowski mentions specifically. And indeed he did indeed adhere to them and defend them strongly; furthermore he developed an integrated philosophy of life based around transcendentals which he expressed powerfully in his books and The Ascent of Man.

The trouble was, the next generation of cradle atheists abandoned all transcendental goods, and became selfish, short-termist and expedient in their actions. They knew about the transcendentals - in theory they approved of them - but lacking any deity could see no reason why they should adhere to them when it was inconvenient or risky. Thus we get the current world of lying careerist bureaucrats and lying public relations pundits which has swallowed-up professional science and the arts (and everything else large scale) until almost nothing remains.

They (we) became unprincipled cowards and slackers - and why not?... When God is dead and was never alive, religion a manipulative lie or a pathetic delusion, and fanatical religiousness (in practice, specifically Christianity) is seen the primary source of all evil through history and continuing (as Bronowski, and his like, taught us most thoroughly).

Anyway - I recommend this interview as containing a great deal of good material, and also revealing the seeds of error and pride which have led to such a pathetic collapse of art, science, politics and all serious human endeavour - in a way which would certainly have appalled Bronowski; although he would most likely have misdiagnosed its cause.

Monday, 28 March 2016

William Arkle´s Foreword to

I very nearly called this web site 'The Play of William Arkle', and then I felt that it would sound rather too casual for most people and even an insult to the endeavour that is brought to the resolving of the mysteries of life.
The reason that the word 'play' suggested itself is that the journey of understanding seems to lead from the level of human survival as a personality in this world, through to a spiritual view that takes survival of our spiritual self for granted and then on again into the appreciation of the all encompassing smile of our Divine Creator.
This Divine Smile says a very simple thing, which is that the everlasting nature of its Spirit can have only two options, either it remains in its Absolute condition of Blissful non-action or it can engage in action through the creation of play grounds. This means creating theatres of time, space and lots of things from a condition of no action or time or space or things.
Our Creator felt that the first choice of no action could becoming boring because there was no adventure, surprise or growth involved. The livingness of The Spirit felt itself to be in need of such adventure as an expression of joyful love and fun. So the second choice came about purely for the exercise of joy and love and fun.
The only word I could find to cover the activity of joy and love and fun was the word play, but unless it is approached in the right way the word does not carry the correct significance. And thus the whole of this web site is a journey into the understanding of The Creators view of the word play.
You will find that my own earlier understandings moved gradually into this way of talking about our reality. It seemed to become more and more light hearted while being able to sympathise with all the conditions of growth which can feel to be the conditions of fear and anxiety. Thus the big game of life at play has conditions within it which can descend to the very opposites of its initial intention.
These opposite conditions are the result of our Creator deciding to give us the Gift of being able to become real players in our own right at this adventure which is being undertaken. This is why the picture book was called The Great Gift and why the writings in it referred to God as being our friend in this one life endeavour. Later on this was changed to the expression God, The Player Friend'.
As for me, I have kept the name William Arkle. I like the name because it implies that my will is doing its best to be a small expression of the Ark of Life, The Heart of the Creator Friend. However my close associates now find me calling myself Billy The Kid.

The above short piece was written a few months before William Arkle died at the age of  about 76. It is an extraordinarily luminous, joyous, and apparently naive piece of writing - life-affirming and without a trace of bitterness.

How many people who have lived to 76, in the twentieth century - serving in the 39-45 war - and who have worked as an obscure and almost unknown artist, philosopher, painter and a religious visionary and teacher - could write in such an uncompromising fashion at the end of their lives? I have read many biographies and autobiographies and I cannot think of any other example.

At the end of his life the commonplace word ´play´has - for Arkle - become charged with such a depth of meaning that it has become central; earlier the same thing happened for ´friend´ (becoming a friend of the creator as the ultimate goal not just of mortal life but the principle for the organization of the universe and all reality).

Arkle makes little concession to the prevalent pessimism and despair. He all but laughs in the face of horror and suffering.

We have much to learn from him.

Why is a change of consciousness necessary for modern Christians?

Because too many people are operating from false selves - that are merely automatic processes built by our interactions. Only the true self is free.

The true self is free, and nothing else is free. It is unique, thus all free thought is unique - it is also a child of divinity so the true self is godlike and in relationship with deity and all other true selves among our siblings (men and women, also angels and demons).

If we are not thinking from our true selves, we are just responding robots - we are automatic and we are existentially isolated.

There is a chosen state of unfreedom that is the entombing of the true self within automatic responses, stimulations. Such a person is a true slave - such a person has enslaved himself to the environment. (True slavery is a mental choice - a physical slave may have complete freedom in thinking from his true self.)

Another state is to choose freedom but deny relation - to cut-off the divine relation with deity. This is a complete freedom without meaning - it is total isolation.

To accept unfreedom is either mental slavery or isolation.

(We are born free, but from our freedom choose unfreedom - this is usual, it happens sometime in childhood, adolescence, or as young adults. There is temptation, and mostly people choose to succumb. And they know it. They could escape - but pretend they cannot, that there is no escape -- or that there is nowhere to escape to...)

It is our task to live in freedom and in relation, live in thinking located in the true self. The enemies are confusion, hedonism, cowardice, dishonesty... pride. Freedom is a state of simplicity and clarity - unique and potentially universal. And there are no shortcuts to it, no standard methods, no single or safe path.

We must reach our unique freedom from our unique circumstances - this is a quest, an adventure, it is happening now.

Only from a condition of freedom can we be Christian.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Sporadic blogging for a while...

I currently have rather poor and infrequent internet access, so blogging and comment approving will be sporadic for a while.

Sorry to my regulars.

Back soon!

Friday, 25 March 2016

The dopey complacency of modern Man - Nobody who is truly ignorant of sin can protest their ignorance

Nobody can protest their ignorance of sin - because to say it is to mean the opposite. Yet modern people are continually using this excuse (often on behalf of others, but we know what they really mean)!

The main problem in modernity is related to the sexual revolution - that is where the assault has been focused. Sexual sins are not the most important sins of themselves - but in our civilization they are the most significant sins because they are taught as virtues.

There is a moral inversion evident in the sexual arena - and it has now become illegal, against employment rules, and a matter for social ostracism to argue in favour of Christian sexual ethics: to state that these ethics are true.

The profound spiritual sickness of modernity is evident in our passive, zombie-like acceptance of morally outrageous teachings and behaviours in the sexual domain - of lies, evasions, inversions and the rest of it - these are matters of daily, hourly, experience going up to the top level of all major organizations.

Clearly, those who teach and lead are most deeply at fault, but we are all born with a moral compass (what CS Lewis called The Tao) which is why all past societies had very similar moral intuitions - so when such matters are systematically violated (for the first time in human history) then we all know what is going-on, we don't need to be told; and our protestations of ignorance or innocence merely compound the morass, and add dishonesty to the account of our corruption.

We are not talking about subtle hair-splitting here! We are talking about the fact that we live in a society which first lost its moral compass, then reinstalled it with the North and South reversed.

The fact that we placidly stumble through daily life - numbed by distractions and distracted by intoxications - being kind here and there, and feeling compassionate about things the mass media tells us to feel compassionate about... well, all this is sleepwalking into oblivion.

But it is more like the intoxication of drug addiction than sleepwalking, because we are culpable for our state - we choose to live in this un-responsible way. 

Instead of our life being theosis, towards divinity - trial and error, repentance and striving - life is an incremental degeneration which we have renamed progress. Well, it doesn't fool anyone - most importantly it does not fool ourselves - as can be seen by the objective evidence of demotivated nihilistic despair all around - the evident (although feebly-denied) self-hating, self-destroying, suicidal conviction which has gripped the whole developed world and which is being implemented, daily, by the elites - with barely a glimmer of protest, because - after all - what is worth saving?

True enough. That is not the problem - the problem is that those who make the world so meaningless and despair inducing that it is not worth saving, prevent (to the best of their power) Christians from doing anything about it - they focused their declining powers on enforcing their nihilism, and on hunting out and extirpating or else subverting and corrupting all residual Christianity, and nearly all that remains of virtue.

(Specifically, they use one or two virtues to destroy the others, by a kind of rotation - compassion to destroy justice; kindness to destroy faith etc.  After all, it is the good in evil which allows evil to prosper. But in each cycle - each turn of the wheel - there is more evil, less good.) 

The dopey complacency of modern man is hard to tolerate: 'Oh, we aren't really that bad - our intentions are good.' - This is a hopelessness which spells the end of hope; because intentions are not good - there are indeed no intentions at all in any sense of a goal to life. How could there be intentions when a Man's life is seen to be, taught to be, an accidental and meaningless blip terminated by oblivion?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

There can be no divine revelations for modern Man...

Because Modern Man knows that there can be no divine revelations.

Anything which might seem like a communication from the divine, or evidence of the divine, is therefore a mistake. For sure. It is either wishful thinking which is the basis of religion, or a product of terror - which is also (somehow) the basis of religion, or because of ignorance of science and statistics, or because of manipulation of public opinion, or...

Well we know it can't be true; so if there are a lot of people who insist it is true then they must be evil lying manipulators, ignornant fools, or mentally ill. Probably mentally ill - because delusions.

So if Modern Man is sure that divine revelations are not true, then he cannot be convinced otherwise by any 'evidence' at all - no matter how much evidence or of what type: he will deny that it is evidence.

The big question is, where did Modern Man get the fixed conviction that there can be no divine revelations? - because there never could be any evidence for that - yet he is absolutely sure about it.

Depsite that most people in the world today, and everybody in history (and himelf when he was a child) believes otherwise... (i.e. that there can be divine revelations) 

Why then does Modern Man believe with 100 percent confidence it is incomprehensible outrageous nonsense?

Now that is very strange indeed.

Why is there a Brotherhood of Man?

1. Because we are all God's children, and brothers and sisters in our divine potential?

2. Because there are no real differences between people - everybody is equal?

The Genius Famine (my recent book) reviewed on

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Sacred Monarchy as a third way - a guest post from John Fitzgerald

C.S Lewis in 'That Hideous Strength' comes close, in my view, to the heart of the matter in the Company's discussion on the rivalry between 'Logres' and 'Britain': 

'It all began,' Dimble says, 'when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the sixth century when something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it.' 

'Something we may call Britain,' he goes on, 'is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell; a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers; the home of Sidney - and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.' 

In terms of our country at least, it's the current domination of 'Logres' by 'Britain' that's impeding the change in consciousness and metaphysical understanding that is so badly needed. Is this state of affairs necessarily permanent? By no means. 

You have written before about England's rocks and mountains and the stones of its great Cathedrals possessing a formidable latent power, and I think there's real truth in that. It's worth remembering as well that the course of History is a very deep and mysterious thing. Who in late 1941, for instance, would have predicted that the all-conquering Nazi hegemon would be (literally) dust and ashes a mere three and a half years later? Similarly, no-one in the late-80s, as far as I can remember, apart from the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn, predicated the downfall of Soviet Communism. Things can change very quickly. 

That's my point. But there needs to be a catalyst. A spark. Something to fire the imagination. Something that connects with the mythopoeic vision and understanding we all have deep within us of the true pattern and relationship between the Divine and the human. You have also written about the urgent need for a Christian revival. 

My sense (and I could be very wrong of course) is that this won't come about without a revival and return of what we might call Sacred Monarchy. The three great European Regicides of the last four hundred years - Charles I (1649), Louis XVI (1793), and Nicholas II (1918), each represented huge steps towards the current void our civilisation totters above today. 

Some sort of restoration, I feel, whether on the practical or on the imaginative level, is absolutely essential, I feel, as a first collective step towards the reanimaton of a truly Christ-centred political and social body. The Shakespeare scholar G. Wilson Knight puts it brilliantly here: 'If we cannot resolve our conflicts, we must at least imagine a dimension in which they are, or might be, resolved; which perhaps means, in Christian terms, looking forward, or up, to the advent of Christ in glory. 

Such then, is the symbolic function of the Crown, not only itself dramatic, but also signifying the resolution and purpose of the drama within and beyond which it exists.' 

 It would be a mistake, I think, to focus on things on a too-worldly level - be that on existing Royal Houses like the House of Windsor or on 'hidden bloodlines' and so forth. Monarchy is essentially a spiritual quality. 

Lewis knew this well. I quote from memory: 'A man's attitude to monarchy reveals the extent to which his tap root to Eden remains.' 

No-one showed this better, for example, than J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, a work which has had a deeper impact on the popular consciousness and sown more potential seeds than any number of sermons or political campaigns. 

 I think the proof of all this can be seen in the huge crowds (of all creeds and races, it should be noted) that turned out in Leicester last year in silence to watch the procession and reburial of King Richard III. There was something truly deep and meaningful there which was able to connect with people at the deepest level and cut through everything that divides and trivialises. 

It illustrates that, faced with our current challenges, there is a 'third way' between aimless acquiescence in our own suicide and a repressive, equally godless dictatorship. The King sleeps in his cave still, as in the stories, but he will wake when the time comes around, in both the inner and the outer worlds. Of that I am sure.

Locating the problem? - Don't do it!

I had one of those sudden recognitions the other day about how I had been wasting a lot of life over many years in trying to locate the source of problems - specifically the source of the mainstream of bad things the results of which we see everywhere but the source of which is so elusive. I have written many blog posts on this theme, and a couple of books.

But when something is so real yet so hard to pin down, the cause is likely to be spiritual rather than perceptual - its causes apparent to 'the imagination' (if at all)  - the imagination being our organ of perception of the spiritual - rather than to the five senses.


It is not that we cannot know such matters - probably we can in principle know almost anything (over time, across a vast timescale, with properly directed effort) - it is rather than the causes, once known cannot be pointed-at - and people (me too) are driven to wild abstractions in order to try and express insights.

We don't know the source, but the problem itself is (more or less) that metaphysical assumption of materialism, of denial of God, of spiritual factors being unreal... of focusing on the perceptual world and the goings-on in it as if they were the only things that exist or that matter. 

The civilization has turned away so decisively from the spiritual world that even among the people, groups, religions who make the most of not turning away; whatever they may say, we can see that they have turned away - and are actually in thrall to materialism, secularism, and the dominant ideology. This is one way of understanding why secular Leftism, political correctness, progressivism and their companions of statism and bureaucracy are so utterly dominant everywhere... in the New Age, the counter-culture, ultra-radicalism and nearly all people in nearly all religions (including Christianity). 

This is a much deeper matter than people making the wrong political choices - this is a flaw deep in our own souls - this is something which poisons each of us right inside.


There is a world of meaning around us, we used to know this (as children, and in earlier eras) and a world of divine communications directed at us; and we are walled-off from it so completely that we are unaware of it and deny it in our lives even (perhaps especially) when we refer to it with our mouths - those few who become aware of it nearly always explain it away (delusions, hallucnations, imaginations, wishful thinkings or pathological dreads) and (by their behaviour and stance) trivialize it.

There is a selective blindness, deafness and general insensibility at work here. It goes further than ('mere') atheism - but poisons our ability to be religious in any way, or spiritual in any way - everything is reduced to lifestyle options and stimuli - including all spiritual discourse.

The extent to which this is the case is truly terrifying when glimpsed - there are vast and primary forces at work around us and in us, and yet we are (both as individuals and more so as cultures) almost entirely unaware of them; yet we perceive them, implicitly and in horribly distorted forms, in the tidal movements of our era.


Nobody has satisfactorily explained the insanity which emerged to general visibility in the later 1960s, apparently at a very specific time in between 1966 and 1968. Something happened, something good tried to get-out; and something went horribly wrong.

Everyone senses that there were some good and important impulses or insights buried in all that - but the outcome in terms of understanding and human behaviour has been appalling: people became dead-eyed sleepwalkers, zombies, cyborgs... cut-off from the primary currents of reality, and whose every effort to comprehend and transform and improve was poisoned at source by gross distortion of perspective based on gross insensibility.

All attempts to do something positive are poisoned at source - either by the mainstream distortion, or else by the distortion of denying the irreversible significance of these tidal forces of good which have emerged in such distorted ways.

We cannot, it seems, go back - because to go back requires denying the destiny of the underlying forces; but we (obviously!) cannot go forward in the ways that we are doing.  


Well, where it came from is not really the point - because it is now everywhere - I can feel it swirling in myself as I write, as if like a toxic fog!

This goes beyond cyclical theories of civilization - this is not part of a cycle, it has not happened before.

It goes beyond a mere failure to do what ought to be done (of course we fail, people always fail) - it is something new, this kind of blindness to what should be done and also to the fact that we are not doing it, and also to the fact that we are not trying to do it, and also to the fact that our attempts to make matters better are actually making them much worse.


So what then? What am I asking myself to do instead - what should I be striving for?

Two things: perception and clarity.

I need to perceive reality, including all the important 'spiritual' things which are there and active but excluded from awareness. And secondly I need clarity about these spiritual things - what is needed is not something passive, vague, dreamy, partially-glimpsed - nor something abstract, detached, observed; but instead an active, purpsive, willed, clear headed and fully-conscious and heart-felt kind of perception.

This is not easy to do, it is not clear how to do it, it is not obvious how to maintain this psychological-&-spiritual state once achieved - but that is what is required. It is what we are supposed to do, destined to do - indeed, it is something we ought to have done some time ago (generations ago); and it was our complete failure to do it, which is the ultimate source of the all-pervading problem. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Mormon economics

A fascinating post on a subject I didn't know very much about:

What is interesting is the idea of an economic system which is subordinated to Christianity, and in accordance with Christian principle - which is how things should be in a well-ordered society.

The other example of Christian economics, which I know much better, is Distributism in relation to Roman Catholicism - this was a system devised by Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton, made popular again in the 1970s by EF Schumacher (from whom I discovered it), and which still has its modern advocates - such as Joseph Pearce.

People often get confused by analysing these Christian economic systems using Right/ Left secular economic comparisons - which leave out the essential and primary religious superstructure.

But Christian and secular economics are as different as chalk and cheese, because the aim is different: Christian economics is ultimately aimed at assisting (or at least not harming) the salvation of the people, and all proximate economic aims should ideally be in harmony with this. 

Owen Barfield as Christian and theologian - some ideas for essays

Two book chapter abstracts:

Here are a couple of book chapter synopses that I have written for a proposed volume of essays on Owen Barfield:

Mis/ Understanding Barfield as therapeutic: the role of Christianity in Owen Barfield’s metaphysical system
Barfield explicitly stated that ‘Idolatry’ (or ‘literalism’) was the besetting sin of the modern era, and that the ‘one thing needful’ was therefore a symbolic apprehension of life. Much less emphasized and infrequently mentioned was Barfield’s (unorthodox) Christianity – which provides a mostly implicit framework for his writings. This essay will suggest that there are two levels of understanding Owen Barfield’s work – one with, and the other without, this Christian framework. Barfield’s greatest impact so far has probably been among non-Christians with an eclectic range of ‘Perennial philosophy’ approaches to spirituality, Anthroposophists, and those with a broadly ‘post-modernist’ attitude to objective reality such as post-Jungians. These thinkers have been crucial in supporting Barfield’s work during his life, maintaining his reputation since his death, and elucidating and clarifying Barfield’s distinctive ideas. But in setting aside his Christianity, a degree of misrepresentation is inevitable and the resulting understanding of Barfield’s achievement ends-up as being broadly psychological, sociological and ‘therapeutic’. In other words, Barfield is seen as essentially providing a kind of therapy, which has the potential to heal modern Man’s alienation. I will argue that this interpretation is correct but incomplete; and that when Barfield’s ideas are restored to their original Christian context he can be seen as essentially a theologian rather than a healer.

Examining the nature of evidence for Barfield’s Evolution of Consciousness

Barfield often stated that his core idea was the evolution of consciousness, and also that he arrived at this idea as a consequence of his study of the changing meaning of English words (as described in his earliest books Poetic Diction and History in English Words); this insight being later being confirmed by the work of Rudolf Steiner. In later works, Barfield made further logical arguments to support a ‘developmental’ model of evolution, beginning with a generalized consciousness and only later becoming focused into solid bodies and discrete selves. I will argue that in his life’s work, Barfield was in reality working at the most fundamental philosophical level of providing a new metaphysical basis for human life – and that therefore the ‘evidence’ he provided in support of the evolution of consciousness was not truly ‘evidence’ – because metaphysics is the framework that controls the nature of evidence; therefore there cannot be any empirical or observational evidence either to support or to refute a metaphysical system. What Barfield was instead doing was to provide an historical personal account of the development of his metaphysics, a variety of illustrations of the consequences of his metaphysics, and an examination of the completeness and coherence of his new metaphysics of evolution as contrasted with mainstream Darwinian Natural Selection. This clarifies the metaphysical scope and nature of both Darwin’s and Barfield’s evolutionary theories, and the comparison between them is therefore primarily to be seen as a life choice, rather than being a matter of evaluating the balance of evidence. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Does God consider justice more important than love?

What is the point of God? What does God explain? A personal view

When I was an atheist, I thought of God as a God-of-the-gaps, and a philosopher's God - an explanatory hypothesis - and indeed a grossly over-explanatory hypothesis: a cop-out.

I got the idea tha Christians (and others) saw God as so totally powerful that he could do anything; therefore, anything you wanted explained at any time, you could just say 'God did it' - which was so generally applicable that it left you pretty much where you started-out.

I didn't understand the concept of revelation - that what is known about God is a product not just of reason, of philosophical argument - but mainly of God revealing himself to Men. But if I had grasped the importance of revelation, I would have dismissed it as purely subjective, because there are so many different claims about what God has revealed. I would have wondered why this all powerful God could not do a better job of communicating unambiguously and clearly with Men - or better still, why he had not built-in all the knowledge that Man needed, so communication by revelation was not required.

Also, although I knew that the Christian God was a God-of-Love, I didn't realize that this contrasted with other concepts of God - or that this business of Love actually placed constraints upon what God could or would do (and the reason for his doing it).

The problem was, perhaps, teleology - purpose and goal - what was the purpose of 'reality' and how did that purpose relate to Man? I had never heard that there was anything in Christianity about each Man becoming a (small g) god as his ultimate goal beyond death - I knew nothing about divinization, theosis, sanctification, spiritual progression (except in non-Christian sources which assumed that this was supposed to happen on earth, during mortal life).

My only understanding of what was supposed to be going on in the Christian scheme of things was that God made Man the way he is, then Man fell into original sin, and then God set things back the way they had started out - which seemed a pretty pointless exercise, overall.

If I had known about the theme of divinization or theosis (eg from Eastern Orthodoxy or Mormonism) I would probably have wondered why this all powerful God didn't just make things as he wanted them to be from the very beginning - why bother with a process of incremental progress? And why would this totally powerful and autonomous 'omni' God bother with creating Men - what could he possibly gain from the exercise - given that he had everything and needed nothing?

Therefore, for me personally, the constraints of a limited God - the idea of God conceptualized in very concrete and personal terms as an actual being - spatio-temporally bounded - with a body, parts and passions God wrestling with the stuff of reality to create order, Goodness and raise Men to gods - a limited God who starts with chaos and must create step-by-step what he aims for - a God whose nature of Love also sets limits on what he can do... all these limitations and constraints are vital to me making sense of God, and of Christianity generally: including the need for Jesus Christ.

And this God is not a God of the philosophers, not a God created to explain - he is a God who is a person above all; a person who must become known by ourselves as Men who - as potential and partial gods ourselves, but true embryonic gods - are also very constrained and also liberated (for ill and good) by our own natures. The key concept is God as heavenly Father - with (in an ideal and complete way) relates to us a Father to beloved children; and I see no limt to this understanding - God as loving Father is not just a metaphor to be dropped at some point in the analysis by sophisticated thinkers, but an understanding which goes all the way through.

Strangely, it s the constraints on God which enable me to recognize him as true; whereas the abstract God described as being everywhere all the time and outside of time, the God of infinite power and knowledge... well, such a God makes no deep sense to me: not just because the concepts are beyond human comprehension, but mainly because he is such a total explanation for everything, that in practice he explains nothing.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

New wine and new bottle - consciousness and metaphysics - both needed, together, simultaneously. Either alone will achieve nothing: be a dead end

The reason why nothing seems to make a difference to the overall wrongness of 'things' is that the system we inhabit is buffered against change - We need new wine and a new bottle: both - if the wine is new but the bottle is old, the wine will be imbued with toxin; if the bottle is new and the wine is old we still drink the same poison.

The wine is consciousness - the mode of thinking; the bottle is metaphysics - the system of thought. Both need replacing.

If we try to attained higher, fuller consciousness with without a Christian metaphysics - as do the New Age, Perennial philosophers - we become just spiritualized, political, 'healing-orientated' mainstream Leftists. And if we try to be Christians without a new consciousness - like some evangelicals who achieve numerically impressive conversions - then we will express all the right beliefs but they will make no difference to the texture of our daily living we will be normal alienated, stultified 21st century bureaucrats.

To speak with harsh honesty, when it comes to the deep malaise of our time and our persons: Either wine alone or bottle alone is useless. 

The fact that we need to change both is why our civilization is winding-down and indeed actively destroying itself - and nothing seems to make a difference. The best spiritual teachers of modern times recognize this (I am thinking, from my personal pantheon, of Steiner, Barfield, Arkle and - currently - Naydler) they recognize that we need to be Christians and we also need to be mystics: we need both.

We need to be mystics in the sense that we cannot be 'normal' in our thought processes - we cannot think 'like other people'. Many Christians are resistant to this fact; but it is a fact nonetheless. If we are to live by the spirit in a spirit-denying and spirit-mocking world, Christians are necessarily going to appear weird, are going to think strangely and incomprehensibly to the mainstream masses. 

Our evidences, the perspective on things, cannot be mundane - we must (and I mean must) be open to the imagination and to non-perceptual communications - open, that is, to those matters which are directly-communicated to our inmost spirits. .

But also we must be Christian - our metaphysics must be Christ-centred; in this respect theological heresy seems to matter little or nothing* - it is the presence of Christ uniquely at the focus of life and the world which matters, not how we make detailed theological explanations of the nature and operations of Christ.

The necessity of Christianity is true for reasons given by revelation and indeed philosophy - but the evidence is easily seen in the ineffectuality or counter-productiveness - the chaotic and prideful lives of a multitude of non-Christian (or pseudo-Christian) spiritual thinkers. These are resistant to the necessity of Christianity and have 1001 reasons why they cannot allow such 'exclusive' claims - ultimately these reasons are secular, materialist, and anti-intuitive; they are excuses by which people cling to 'respectability' in the secular Left establishment.

But reality is exclusive. Christianity is true - so saying it isn't uniquely valid is unreal, untruthful, mistaken. A life based on such a gross error as the failure to recognize the centrality of that which just is central will be flawed deeply and fatally.

This is why being effective as a full Christian in the modern world is so difficult - we have born-into a false, nonsensical self-refuting metaphysics of anti-Christian materialist relativity which undercuts and renders pointless, meaningless and purposeless all the good things in our experience; and we (also) inhabit a profoundly alienated thought world - where we are trained-into a nihilist isolation and exile of our deepest selves - so life is unreal, people are unreal, and the situation is so unbearable that life is spent trying not to think about life (escaping into distraction, insensibility and intoxication).

The way out is therefore difficult - because we must simultaneously have new wine and new bottles- there can be no gentle and incremental process of piecemeal replacement - at any rate we must transform both together or neither will lead to the change we so much need and wish for.

We must have a different consciousness and we must understand ourselves in the world differently at the same time and in a mutually reinforcing way. Both. Together.

Difficult - but at least we know what we must do. And know that doing just the one or the other is - sooner or later and usually very quickly - a waste of time and effort: a dead-end.

* Note on heresy. Christians may be alarmed by my apparently casual attitude towards heresy; but, negatively, a focus on the necessity of the 'correct' set of beliefs about Christ has been massively counter-productive in the history of Christianity (causing schism, hatred, and with each side excluding innumerable exceptionally good and valid Christians from their definitions); while positively, if Christ is the centre of a belief system - and Christ is minimally understood as the Jesus of the Gospels who is son of the loving creator god - then this will surely suffice to exclude the bad-and-non-Christian heresies.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

When therapy and healing become the bottom-line, the ultimate in life... More on Steiner's 1918 prophecy

It is noticeable that modern spirituality, especially New Age themed practices - including Western versions of Eastern religions, almost always focus on 'healing' and the practice of therapy.

This is also, substantially, the case for many types of self-identified Christianity - that the main focus is healing, and Christian practice is seen as a form of healing.

Government, too, is seen as a kind of healing - it puts itself forward as a mass-healing process ('the therapuetic state').

It seems everyone, all the time, is talking about healing. Of course they seldom achieve it and typically do the reverse - but healing is the prime justification for... everything.  


What this means is that spiritual life, religious life, ends-up being about human psychology - and more exactly about human psychology as it is now.

There is no doubt that the human psyche needs healing - that people are alienated, and their very selves feel cut-off from the world (that is when people are not simply lacking in consciousness and self-awareness, in sleep, intoxicated, or just distracted e.g. by the mass media and social interactions).

This lapsing of religion and spirituality into therapy is pervasive. And it is inevitable - so long as there is no external divine locus towards which we are orientated.

Therefore, religions or spiritualities which emphasize, almost-exclusively, the 'immanence' or indwelling of the divine (God in us, God in the world, in nature...), also become (before long) just another kind of therapy.

It is only when the divine is located elsewhere and when we are personally orientated towards the divine (and, preferably, on a path to the divine) that we can avoid having therapy as the main thing in life.


Because: therapy for what? We want to be healthy, happy, energetic - for what? What are we supposed to do if or when we are fortunate enough to be in this state?

Plus of course, life always end in death (usually preceded by some sickness and pain) - so if therapy is the focus of life, success is very temporary, and then life is always and for everyone an inevitable failure.

So why bother? hence the modern fascination with and esire for suicide (euthanasia, chosen reproductive sterility, anti-natalism, national self-annihiliation, fetchization of 'the other' etc.)


If we revisit Rudolf Steiner's prophecy from 1918:

Then I think we can see that this situation we are in, this situation in which therapy (healing the body, healing the mind) is exactly the situation that Steiner described as the working of angels during 'sleep' - in 'Steinerese' this refers to the body becoming primary and consciousness being ruled out of consideration.

This is exactly the seismic change in Western society since the 1960s with the take-over of the sexual revolution and identity politics (it began earlier, but became mainstream in the 60s).

It has, of course, been staggeringly un-successful in terms of its objective of healing! But that was also to be anticipated, since there is no foresight, no order, no prudence, no consciousness about the Leftist revolution including the sexual revolution - which is now the mainstream, official, mass media driven and state enforced ideology.


That is the point that Steiner was making. When The West turned away from religion in favour of 'therapy' - of sexual and individual license ('freedom'), short-term happiness and avoidance of suffering - it also sabotaged the attainment of those goals which are not true goals, and cannot function as goals - but are actually means to the external end which is divinization - becoming more like God, who is 'other', another personage - as well as permeating the world

So - we should not neglect the necessity for evolution of consciousness, in Man and in ourselves - the need for theois, for maturation towards becoming adults in faith; but consciousness, therapy, healing only make sense and can only be achieved in the ultimate framework of the external divine.

Striving fof higher consciousness in the absence of religion is just another kind of lethal. (Just look at the people who try it!)

God is the First Thing; and absolutely essential - not an 'option' but a necessity.

(I mean psycho-socio-culturally essential - not philosophically.)

Or else... What-is-happening, as prophesied by Steiner.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Reconceptualizing the metaphysical basis of biology

Charlton, BG. Reconceptualizing the metaphysical basis of biology: a new definition based on deistic teleology and an hierarchy of organizing entities(2016) The Winnower.
DOI: 10.15200/winn.145830.07350

This is the final, archived, version of my 10,000 word paper on the nature of biology. (It has several significant differences from the draft version I published a few weeks ago.)

For ease of reading, I suggest downloading and printing the PDF file version of the journal article:

Reconceptualizing the metaphysical basis of biology: a new definition based on deistic teleology and an hierarchy of organizing entities

Bruce G Charlton

School of Psychology, Newcastle University, NE1 7RU, England


Modern biology was initially established by Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 and fully implemented by the Neo-Darwinian synthesis of natural selection with genetics that solidified in the middle twentieth century. I will argue that this ‘paradigm’ is based upon fundamental metaphysical assumptions that render formally-insoluble some of the most important theoretical problems of biology. These problems include the origin of life, the major transitions of evolution, the origins of sexual reproduction and of species, and the basic mechanism behind ‘group selection’. The fundamental deficit of the current metaphysics of biology is that it lacks a unified and coordinated teleology (direction, purpose, goals). I advocate a new teleological and metaphysical basis for biology that is minimally based on a ‘deist’ conception of reality: i.e. that everything is governed by a unified principle of purpose, order and meaning. Such a teleology suggests a definition of biology around the concept of development – that is the growth, differentiation, coordination and interactions of entities; unfolding through time through the lifespan and across generations. The local and specific implementation of teleology is suggested to be accomplished by a hierarchy of cognitive organizing entities that are located outwith biological systems. These putative organizing entities work on biological entities primarily through building-in purposiveness during development. A deistic system directed by organizing entities is, of course, not a 'biological' theory; but then, neither is natural selection a biological theory: both are metaphysical frameworks for the science of biology. 


Fundamental unsolved problems of biology

From more than two decades of theoretical consideration of biology, especially evolutionary biology, I have concluded that there are no satisfactory answers to some of the most important and most fundamental questions of biology. I will argue that the fundamental reason for this is the lack of any teleology (purpose) in natural selection, which is the current dominant biological paradigm. Therefore, I propose a new teleological metaphysics for biology. 

Biology (including medical research and psychology) has, since the 1950s, become the most ‘successful’ – that is, by far the largest and most heavily-funded and most status-rewarded of the sciences (Charlton & Andras, 2005). However, it is striking that this progress has been at the proximate level of mechanisms and technologies, and not at the level of fundamental understanding.

Indeed, the triumph of biology was preceded and accompanied by a major act of redefinition of the subject itself. A little book called What is Life? by the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1944) served as a catalyst for this change, and was accompanied by an influx of physicists and chemists into biology, leading to the triumphant discovery of the structure of DNA and of the coding and transcription mechanisms by which genes make proteins (Judson, 1979).

But in paving the way for these discoveries, the definition of biology was implicitly changed from ‘The science of living things’ to ‘The science of things that reproduce and are subject to natural selection’. This move away from the livingness of biology was what allowed non-biologists to take-over the subject at the very highest level; and since then biology has been dominated by researchers who use physics, chemistry, engineering (i.e. big, expensive  machines of various types), computers, statistics, economic theory and a range of other non-biological perspectives and technologies.

As I say, the triumphs are well known – but the major unsolved problems of biology from 1950 remain unsolved; however, mainstream attention has simply shifted elsewhere and there is currently perhaps less interest in these matters than at any time since before biology became a separate science.

Such lack of interest – and of knowledge – has meant that most people are not even aware, have not even noticed, that these problems are unsolved. Because, so long as an ‘answer’ to such problems is good enough to survive a couple of minutes semi-attentive and unfocused consideration by a narrowly-trained micro-specialist who is not really a biologist, and is adequate to support and sustain a program of publication and grant-getting (which are regarded as sole and the necessary requirements of modern science), then this is regarded by modern biological researchers as sufficient proof of that answer’s validity (Charlton, 2012). 

But the problems remain – and they are so fundamental as to cast doubt on the whole basis of the ‘paradigm’ that defines, controls and validates modern biology (Kuhn -1970 - popularized the idea of a paradigm governing science – but at bottom, ‘paradigm’ is just a new, and confusion-generating, name for metaphysical assumptions).


Origins of life

An example is the question: What is life? – which is the title of that influential book by Schroedinger (1944). The current answer is, implicitly: that is ‘life’ which reproduces or replicates and is subject to natural selection.

But this answer includes viruses, phages and prions – which hardly seem to be ‘alive’ in that they lack a dynamic metabolism; and also some forms of crystal – which are usually regarded as certainly not-alive (Cairns-Smith, 1990). Furthermore, some economic theories and computational programmes explicitly use the mechanisms of natural selection - and these are not regarded as part of biology.

Strikingly, there has been no success in the attempts over sixty-plus years to create life in the laboratory under plausible ancestral earth conditions – not even the complex bio-molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. It has, indeed, been well-argued that this is impossible; and that ‘living life’ must therefore have evolved from an intermediate stage (or stages) of non-living but evolvable molecules such as crystals – perhaps clays (Cairns-Smith, 1987). But nobody has succeeded in doing that in the lab either, despite that artificial selection can be orders of magnitude faster than natural selection.

Since there is no acknowledged boundary dividing biology and not-biology, then it would seem that biology as currently understood has zero validity as a subject. What are the implications of our failure to divide the living from the non-living world: the failure to draw a line around the subject? Well, since there is no coherent boundary, then common sense leads us to infer in that case either everything is not-alive or everything is-alive. If nothing is-alive, not even ourselves, there seems to be no coherent possibility of us knowing that we ourselves are not-alive, or indeed of anything knowing anything – which, I take it, means we should reject that possibility as a reductio ad absurdum.

Alternatively, the implication is that if anything is-alive, then everything is-alive, including the mineral world – so we dwell in a wholly animated universe, all that there is being alive but – presumably – alive in very different degrees and with different qualities of life. This inference I intend to regard as valid: it will be my working metaphysical assumption, and is one to which we will return later.

So; if life is to be regarded as universal, it seems that the presence of ‘life’ can no longer be used as definitive of biology; and since reproduction/ replication is also inadequate, then we need a new basis or principle around-which may be made a different definition of the subject ‘biology’. I will argue, below, why this new principle should be ‘development’.


Sexual reproduction and the major transitions of life

What of sexual reproduction? How did such a massively inefficient reproductive mechanism arise in the face of its immediate short-term damage to reproductive success? The great evolutionary theorist William D Hamilton recognized sexual reproduction as a major unsolved problem, and worked on it for decades (2001) – but neither this recognition, nor his attempted solutions in terms of ways to combat parasites and pathogens, has attracted much interest or acceptance.

And indeed, even if he was correct, Hamilton did not really solve the problem of how sexual reproduction arose – but only clarified its advantages (mainly in terms of resistance to infection) once sexual reproduction had already arisen, and already become established. The mechanism of how natural selection managed to cross the formidable short-to-medium-term barrier of vastly reduced reproductive success (caused by the need to find a suitable member of the opposite sex with whom to reproduce, and the approximate halving of potential reproductive units) remains utterly unclear.

The same problem of short-term disadvantage tending to undermine long-term advantage also applies to the ‘Major Transitions’ of evolutionary history – which include sexual reproduction but also the evolution of the simple (prokaryotic) cell, the complex (eukaryotic) cell, multicellular organisms, and social organisms (Maynard Smith & Szathmary, 1997). Each of these transitions requires overcoming the fact that natural selection operates much more powerfully and directly upon the lower, simpler and smaller levels of organization that replicate more rapidly; so that there is a constant pressure and tendency for these lower levels to become parasitic upon higher levels (Charlton, 1996).

In sum; natural selection is much more rapidly and powerfully dis-integrative than integrative. Yet, nonetheless, these transitions did actually occur in evolutionary history. For example, in a multi-cellular organism, the dividing component cells are constantly being naturally-selected for neoplastic (e.g. cancerous) change – such that they cease to cooperate with and contribute to the organism, and instead exploit it as a ‘host’ environment (Charlton, 1996a). How, then, did multicellular organisms evolve the many integrative systems (e.g. nervous, paracrine, hormonal and immune systems) designed to impose cooperation of specialized cells and suppress non-functional and actively parasitic (e.g. mutated) cell variants; bearing in mind that all such integrative systems are themselves intrinsically subject to neoplastic evolution (as well as loss of function from cumulative damage)?

The same phenomenon and problem must (according to the theory of natural selection) apply to the genetic organelles of the complex cell (such as chloroplasts and mitochondria; Charlton et al, 1998); and also to the individual organisms in a social organization (such as human society). Yet eukaryotic cells actually did arise – despite their innate and intractable tendency to self-destruct; and there are numerous highly evolutionarily-successful social animals among (for instance) insects, birds and mammals. Indeed, it has been calculated that ants and humans are the two groups with the greatest biomass among animals on earth, with ants dominating the tropics and humans the temperate zones – termites are also highly numerous in the tropics (Ridley, 1996).

The general problem is therefore that the net effect of natural selection is to break down the major transitions of evolution before they can be established – unless (as I will argue later) this tendency is overcome by some as-yet-unknown purposive (and indeed cognitive) long-termist, integrating and complexity-increasing tendency.


The nature of species

Darwin’s first great evolution book was termed On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection… (1859); and that is a clue to the next unsolved problem – which is: ‘what is a species?’

Darwin was trying to explain how ‘species’ (in a very general sense of the major, as well as minor, sub-divisions of living things) originated. To do this he already had to assume that he knew, more or less, what species were.

In other words, natural selection was proposed as a historical mechanism (in practice the only mechanism) which led to modern species. In yet other words; natural selection was supposed to explain species – and species was the thing that was explained (Panchen, 1993). Unsurprisingly, therefore, there has never been a principled explanation that was based on natural selection of what species actually are and how they are divided (Hull, 1988). At root, my understanding is that impasse happens because species are being used both as that which explains, and as that which is explained – which is circular reasoning.

And, in practice as well as in theory, all possible suggestions for such a definition are refuted by data. For example, the idea that species cannot interbreed to yield fertile offspring is untrue with numerous exceptions - some natural and some artificially generated. And the systems of differentiating and classifying species on the grounds of ‘homologous’ anatomy, physiology and genetics do not map-onto the classification of species in terms of their inferred lineage (e.g. cladistics) – and the identification of homology has itself (like species) never been objectively defined (Horder, 1993).   

Furthermore, there is no more evidence now than there was in 1859 that natural selection is capable of being the sole and sufficient ‘explanation’ for the diversity of life upon earth. I put ‘explanation’ in quotation marks, because it is debateable whether natural selection – being based upon contingent and variable selection acting upon undirected (a.k.a.‘random’) variation (Hull, 2001) - is actually a real explanation; because then the ultimate explanation is apparently that there is no explanation. Natural selection does not say ‘why’, but instead ‘how’ evolution occurs. The nature of change is contingent upon undirected events shaped by contingent processes, and therefore is essentially non-predictable in its specifics. In some senses, therefore, natural selection does not genuinely ‘explain’.

In effect, with natural selection, at most one can only say: Many things might have happened for many reasons, but as an historical fact ‘this’ is what actually happened.

Certainly natural selection can coherently describe the historical situations leading to relatively small differences between organisms – perhaps up to the level of creating new and related species. This was already known to Darwin and was indeed the basis of his evidential argument – e.g. he described the nature and scale of effects of artificial selection done by animal breeders, plus some effects on the shape and size of beaks among Galapagos finches. To this, modern biologists could add observations on the modification of microorganisms under laboratory conditions, for instance the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. And there are also human racial differences of skeleton, teeth, skin and hair, brains and behaviours and many others – probably amounting to sub-species levels of differentiation – again these were (approximately) noted by Darwin (for instance in the mention of ‘favoured races’ in the subtitle of his 1859 book).

But all these are quantitative, not qualitative, changes; changes in magnitude but not in form. Neither natural selection, nor indeed artificial selection done by Man, has been observed creating a new genus, nor any taxonomic rank more fundamental such as a new family or phylum. There is no observational or experimental evidence which has emerged since 1859 of natural selection leading to major, qualitative changes in form – nor the originating of a novel form. Nobody has, by selection, changed a cat into a dog, let alone a sea anemone into a mouse (or the opposite); nobody has bred a dinosaur from a bird, nor retraced, by selective breeding, a modern species to its assumed ancestral form. There have, at most, been attempts to explain why such things are impossible in practice – why, for instance, the linear sequence of evolution cannot be ‘rewound’.  


The problem of group selection

The final example concerns group selection. My impression is that the most thoughtful and perceptive evolutionary theorists intuitively recognized that group selection was an anomalous residue in the post-teleological paradigm of Neo-Darwinism; because true group selection (when properly understood) entails a purposive cognitive mechanism that can predict, can ‘look ahead’ several generations, and infer what is likely to be good for the survival and reproduction of the species (i.e. future descendants) rather than for the specific individual organism under here-and-now selection – and can therefore impose this long-term groupish direction to evolutionary change, in the face of evolution that benefits the individual in the short-term (Hamilton, 1998).

Whether or not it is due to the built-in ‘spooky-spiritual’ aspects of group selection, there has been and is a powerful and almost moralistic desire within biology utterly to purge group selection from Neo-Darwinian theory (Dawkins, 1976). However, it should be noted that Hamilton himself did not reject the significance of group selection; on the contrary, he continued to believe it was real throughout his later career as is apparent from his essays and commentaries in the Narrow Roads of Gene Land collections (1998, 2002). However, so far as I know, he did not suggest a distinctive mechanism for group selection.

Group selection is most often discussed in relation to ‘altruism’. Altruism is behaving such as to increase the reproductive success of others at the expense of one’s own reproductive success (for example, sacrificing a young and potentially fertile life for the benefit of the group – perhaps in defence against a predator). Altruism indeed calls-out for explanation, since it is very frequently, almost universally, observed – e.g. multicellular animals depend on it for continued existence, social animals depend upon it for the continuation of sociality. But the proposed solutions – inclusive fitness/ kin selection and various types of reciprocal benefit (Ridley, 1996) – do not explain the origin of altruism, but instead explain why altruism – once established, may be advantageous to sustain.

The problems are at root the same as the previous examples – favouring the long term over the short term: in this instance imposing cohesion and cooperation that benefits the whole against the tendency of natural selection to favour the part at the expense of the whole. For example, preventing the amplification of selfish, short-termist, parasitic variants and lineages (which are immediately advantageous, and much more strongly selected-for), so as to pursue the long-term cohesion, survival and reproduction of the group. Lacking such a mechanism or tendency, any groupishness and long-termism would continually be undermined, and would tend rapidly to be undone by the strong selection pressure for individuals to exploit and parasitize the group (Maynard Smith & Szathmary, 1997).

Hence, despite half a century of exclusively selfish gene theorizing in mainstream evolutionary biology; the apparent need for some kind of longer-termist and group-favouring process remains.   


The necessity for teleology in the metaphysics of biology

Natural selection is an inadequate metaphysical basis for biology because it lacks teleology - a goal, direction or purpose.

This lack of teleology means that the potential for meaning - for knowledge - is excluded from the system of biology, and from any other system which depends upon it.

Thus natural selection is radically too small a metaphysical frame - it leaves out so much that is so important, that what remains is not even a coherent subject. This is revealed in the un-definability of biology and the incapability of biology to understand the meaning of life and its origins, major transitions and categories. Without teleology, biology is self-destroying.

Indeed - without teleology we cannot know. I mean we cannot explain how humans could have valid knowledge about anything. No knowledge of any kind is possible. If Natural Selection is regarded as the bottom-line explanation - the fundamental metaphysical reality (as it is for biology, and often is with respect to the human condition) then this has radically nihilistic consequences. And this is a paradox – if natural selection was the only mechanism by which consciousness and intelligence arose then we could have no confidence that the human discovery of natural selection was anything more than a (currently, but contingently) fitness-enhancing delusion.

The reason is that natural selection is at best – and when correctly applied - merely descriptive of what-happened-to-happen. Since tThere was no reason why things had-to-be as they actually were, and there is no reason why the present situation should stay the same, then there will be no reason to suppose that the future outcome is predictable. There is no greater validity to what-happened-to-happen compared with an infinite number of possible other things that might have happened - so there is no reason to defer to what-happened-to-happen, no reason why what-happened-to-happen is good, true, just, powerful or anything else - what-happened-to-happen is just what led to greater differential reproductive success for some length of time under historical (and contingent) circumstances. Nothing more.

Therefore - if humans are nothing more nor other than naturally-selected organisms - then there is zero validity to: cognition, emotions, intelligence, intuitions, morality, art, or science - including that there is no validity to the theory of evolution by natural selection. None of the above have any validity - because they all are merely products of what-happened-to-happen (and are open-endedly liable to further change).

In sum - Without teleology, there can be no possibility of knowledge. 

(This is not some kind of a clever paradox - it is an unavoidable rational conclusion.)

If, and only if, biology includes direction and purpose, is the subject compatible with the reality of knowledge. A new and better metaphysics of biology must therefore include teleology.


A deistic and teleological metaphysics

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with basic assumptions – descriptive of the fundamental nature of reality. Science takes place within metaphysics, and therefore the results of science (any possible results of science) can neither prove nor refute any metaphysical description – although some metaphysical systems will more clearly and simply make sense of (or ‘explain’) science than others.

For example, the ‘evidence’ that these fundamental problems are unsolved amounts only to the fact that they are as yet unsolved – failure to explain can never ‘prove’ that an explanation is impossible. Only that nobody has yet come up with a satisfactory explanation. Therefore, the ‘proof’ that these biological problems are insoluble is not any empirical finding but philosophical reasoning.

In this sense metaphysics (which is to say a ‘paradigm’) is not ‘testable’ by science. This is because metaphysics itself underpins the definition of science (or a specific science such as biology); metaphysics determines what counts as a test, what observations to make and also how to interpret observations. For instance, no amount of biological research can ever decide whether biology is 1. the science of alive things or 2. the science of replicating things. This is not possible since definition 1 leads to one kind of biology using one type of expertise and methods; but definition 2 to another kind of biology with very different personnel and methods, as we have seen emerge over the past 70 years.

I therefore suggest that a new paradigm – or, more strictly, a new metaphysical basis or frame - for biology is required to address these and other fundamental defects and deficiencies in modern biology; and to place biology honestly, accurately and fruitfully in context of the total field of human discourse in general. In a nutshell, I will be arguing that the overall shape of evolution across history is best explained as a directional process of development – somewhat like the metamorphic unfolding of a fertilized egg via an embryo towards sexually mature adult and parenthood. Processes of selection occur within this teleological development – but are subordinated to the overall goal and contributory, coordinated sub-goals.

Furthermore, I will suggest that a teleology of biology having the required properties entails ‘deism’; deism being belief in a single, overall, unifying - but potentially abstract and impersonal - source of order and meaning for reality.

Deism here refers to the assumption of some kind of deity; but theism refers more specifically to the reality of gods or God.  It is necessary, therefore, to distinguish between on the one hand the general idea of deism, which I regard as essential for a coherent and viable definition of biology; and on the other hand the idea of theism, with theism being a particular sub-category of deism, and more specific than is required for the practice of biology.

Deism and theism may seem superficially to be identical-in practice; and perhaps both equally absurd! – at least to the usual atheistic professional biologist; but the distinction is both significant and important. I personally believe in the reality of the Christian God; but such a specific belief is not necessary for there to be a useful and potentially fruitful teleology of biology, as is demonstrated by the many historical examples of non-Christian biologists. (However, as a generalization, the long-term success of science as a social system, in particular its adherence to the principle and habit of truthfulness, may depend rather more specifically upon scientists having been - at least - raised in a Christian or Jewish milieu, with their somewhat distinctive doctrinal emphasis on honesty; Charlton, 2012.)

So, the adoption of deism as an assumption could be seen as constituting a cost entailed by providing a coherent teleology of biology; a cost which explains the sustained resistance to such a thing and which may explain why teleology has been for so long and so stubbornly resisted within professional biology. Because teleology at the price of deism is a cost that most modern biologists would utterly refuse to pay; since they are, as a strong generalization, the most materialistic and positivistic and anti-spiritual, militantly un-religious people the world has yet known! (Indeed, I know of only two practicing Christians among evolutionary biologists - one of them being myself; and that only for the past seven years.)

It is no coincidence that so many of the best known and most effective public dissenters from Christianity and promoters of atheism since Darwin have been recruited from a tiny minority of eminent evolutionary theorists – past examples include Darwin’s ‘bulldog’, the early agnostic TH Huxley; and his grandson, the humanist and an architect of the Modern Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, Julian Huxley; current examples include the campaigning anti-religion activists Richard Dawkins and Daniel C Dennett.

But militant atheism is not merely a product of being a scientist: biologists are typically much less spiritual than mathematicians and physicists, who often espouse deistic ideas. As examples; Einstein saw reality in this ‘deist’ way with an abstract, impersonal, but unifying ‘God’; Roger Penrose has stated he is a Platonist; the theoretical physicist Paul Davies won the Templeton Prize for his many writings from a deistic perspective; and Freeman Dyson, also a Templeton Prizeman, is a Christian, as was Kurt Gödel.  

In sum – even if I can show that deism is what biology most needs, and even though there is nothing ‘unscientific’ about such an assertion, deism seems very unlikely to be welcomed or accepted by the mass of currently active and dominant professional biologists.


Why deism specifically?

So, I will assume that deism is the necessary intellectual ‘cost’ that must be paid to restore purpose and cohesion to biology; it is minimally-necessary to restore ‘a spiritual dimension’ to biology; not indeed within biology – but as the framing metaphysic of biology. That is, the spiritual dimension is located outside of biology to give it shape and bounds, meaning, and direction. Biologists needs not adopt deism as a ‘religion’; but they must at least accept it as a working-hypothesis.  

But the concept of deism is unfamiliar, as is its distinction from theism. I should therefore clarify that although this deistic perspective of the primacy of consciousness, purpose and ubiquitous life is indeed spiritual, it is not necessarily religious in the sense of associated with belief in any actual religion. A deist regarding ultimate reality as having the cognitive property of purpose does not need to take the further step of a belief in ‘theism’, theism being the belief in a specific God or gods.

The deism that is entailed by a belief in teleology includes many possible forms of theism, including belief in a ‘god’ who originally created everything (and is therefore the source of ultimate cohesion); but the deity of a non-theistic deist is not necessarily the creator, does not necessarily intervene in the ‘running’ of the universe, and may be a wholly impersonal and abstract god that has no specific interest in Men or specific people. Deism therefore may mean any assumption of any ultimate, but perhaps abstract, rationality, order, or overall organizing tendency.

Nonetheless, honesty compels me to suggest that abstract deism has historically, and in the lives of many individual scientists and other intellectuals, been a metastable state which sooner-or-later falls one way or the other: either into atheism or theism (belief in a God or gods). And in that case, I am suggesting that, in the end, an adequate metaphysics of biology must be compatible-with (if not contiguous with) theistic religion. However, this move into theism is not a formal philosophical necessity, but rather a matter of probabilistic human psychology.  

At any rate, it may be useful, at this point, further to clarify why a teleology for biology entails deism. The reason is that teleology (purpose) in biology is based on, requires that, reality be coherent, cooperative and complementary because reality as-a-whole must have purpose. This, in turn, requires that there is a single and unifying organizing entity to enforce coherence, cooperation and complementarity. So, for life, for reality, to have purpose, it must hang-together - and for reality to hang-together requires some unifying conception of deity.

Deism is the assumption that the universe has just such an organizing principle or entity - which may be a personal supreme creator god among other lower gods, or one God – which is theism; or the organizing principle may be something impersonal - a 'god of the philosophers': in other words an hypothesis which is inferred and assumed (rather than believed as a matter of faith). An example would be the ‘Platonic’ hypothesis that there is a coherent primary reality outside of time where dwell objective and eternal values and archetypal forms – in comparison to which the earthly reality we observe is only a derived, time-bound, approximate, partial, and more-or-less corrupt version.

Biology needs a teleology, and indeed the more specific is that teleology, the more can be inferred from it. However, if biology is to be a coherent and general science, then its teleology cannot be more specific than what can be agreed-on by deism. Therefore, scientists can, and indeed must, minimally agree on a general concept of deity. But beyond that agreement, there will very probably be disagreement concerning the attributes, nature and specific purposes of deity. In sum, the teleology of biology as-a-whole seems to be based on a general and hypothetical deity, but not on any specific God.

Therefore, deism supplies teleology, but only to a limited degree. So we need to distinguish between the implications of the fact of teleology and the specific direction of teleology. The fact of teleology includes the consequences of there being an ultimate unity and an expectation of a primary and significant degree of coherence, cooperativeness and complementarity. I think the acknowledgment of teleology may also provide the basis for a coherent definition of the essential nature of biology as a subject – which I will discuss below. But what exactly is the specific aimed-at destination of teleology may be a subject of disagreement and theorizing; e.g. there will probably be different ideas of what the direction and purpose of 'everything' as a whole, and at lower levels. And there will also surely be scientific disagreement over the specific mechanisms by which teleology is implemented at the various levels and instances of biological organization.  

There remains much that requires debate and investigation, plenty for biologists to do; but all biologists ought to, and need to, be able to agree that there is an ultimate teleology, hence coherence, to biology.


The nature and essence of biology as a subject: Development

When biology is defined in terms of teleology it gives an indication of how the subject may fruitfully be defined in terms of its focus; because teleology concerns direction. Teleology, as described above, entails the emergence and coordination of multiple elements over time in pursuit of purpose. In simple terms, therefore, the essence of biology as a subject has to do with development; that is with growth and form, with differentiation and cooperation.

In sum, the core of biology is ‘life as history’ – meaning here the unfolding through time, including functional interactions - of entities such as cells, organisms, groups and ecosystems. I would argue that this understanding of biology has priority over reproduction in general and gene replication specifically – which have been made the focus of biology for the past seventy-odd years. 

Such a re-definition of biology around the theme of development would also serve to reconnect the subject with its deepest intellectual roots in natural history; to rebuild the subject around a core that is distinct from chemistry and physics on one hand, and medical research on the other; with organisms being of interest primarily in terms of their structure, function and interactions over their lifespan. This would surely be preferable to modern biology which has become so narrowly focused that it sometimes seems as if the only scientifically-interesting things that organisms do is replicate or die!

(I will suggest a further reason why biology might beneficially be defined in terms of development below when I discuss the causal relationship between phylogeny (evolutionary history) and ontogeny (development.)

The history of definitions of biology can be described as beginning with the subject conceptualized as ‘the study of living things’; then changing from about 1944 to ‘the study of reproducing things’; and I now propose that in future biology should become ‘the study of developing things’. 


Statement of the new teleological metaphysics: The hierarchy of organizing entities

The chronological sequence of the new metaphysics is the reverse of the usual posited in biology. Current biology usually assumes that matter precedes life; life precedes the brain; the brain precedes cognition – in other words that a solid brain comes before cognition (thinking) - including purposiveness - emerged. 

By contrast, I suggest that consciousness and purpose are the starting point – and that consciousness, with its ultimate teleology, therefore operates upon matter with the proximate goal of sustaining and developing itself via instantiations in matter - instantiation here meaning the specific and actual realization of an abstraction: building of abstraction into solid form. Therefore, (baldly-stated) consciousness ‘organized’ brains.

(The above conceptualization owes much to the work of Owen Barfield, who was himself expressing ideas of Rudolf Steiner, who was in turn JW von Goethe’s scientific editor for the standard collected works – so this theory has its ultimate roots in Goethe’s biology; see for example Barfield, 1982; Naydler, 1996).

So that (to put things simply); initially consciousness sufficed to organize undifferentiated matter into ‘physics’, ‘physics’ into ‘chemistry’, and ‘chemistry’ into what we recognize as the emergence of biological entities in their most basic forms. And the directing consciousness which drove biological evolution was further subdivided and specialized; for example regulating the basic transitions and divisions of life, and beyond them the further groupings down to species, then particular human groups. 

This system of consciousnesses can be imagined as an hierarchy of organizing entities – an hierarchy with its apex in deity. These organizing entities operate to shape and frame the structure of reality, including biological reality – these entities all being, ultimately, coordinated and unified by the deity. These organizing entities are inferred to have various properties including the ability cognitively to model future possibilities (i.e. to have foresight, to make conjectural predictions) and choose between possibilities on the basis of innate purpose. In essence, organizing entities can understand (to some limited but significant extent) the current situation, and look-ahead towards probable outcomes – and then organize biology to reach the preferred possible outcome.

These organizing entities are assumed to have the same kind of role as the human mind does in relation to the human body; or as a good, wise and competent human leader has in relation to the society he rules. That is, the ability to infer that if X continues then Y will probably result – which means the decline or demise of the cell/ organism/ group/ society; but that if instead we do A we should arrive at B – which offers a much better prospect of survival and continued or enhanced reproduction (and, importantly, progress towards ultimate teleology) than does Y; and then the organizing entity has significant (but not absolute) power to impose A upon the system.

What then, actually, are these organizing entities – how can we imagine them? I suggest that different people may picture them in different ways which suit the workings of their own minds. Some may understand them in a mathematical or computational way; some see them as akin to ‘laws of nature’; some may understand them to be fields of force – like Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields (Sheldrake, 1981 & 1988) but with a primary role in imposing purpose rather than form; some may understand them as immaterial but personalized entities – rather like the medieval astrological model of angels who inhabited (or rather actually were) the planets and stars – but in a realm beyond and with different properties from worldly (‘sublunar’) place, and outside of Time, and who influenced from this realm all manner of events on earth and inside Time (Lewis, 1966).

I personally have a very literal, simple mind; and cannot for long refrain from anthropomorphic representations of any cognitive and purposive entity – in other words, I imagine these organizing entities as both personalized and material entities, localized in space and time - although imperceptible and undetectable (at least, by normal sensory observation). This is of course a child-like way of thinking about causality (although not really child-ish) – but perhaps not so uncommon as may superficially appear. After all, neuroscientists are always accusing each other of treating the brain as if it was inhabited by a ‘homunculus’ (little man) which is meant to be an error both irrational and shameful – and indeed the accusers are usually correct in this accusation; because avoiding this ‘anthropomorphism’ while yet retaining a firm and imaginative grasp of science, is all-but impossible.

Famously, Einstein reasoned about relativity by imagining a man (a homunculus perhaps!) riding in a tramcar away from the medieval clock in the Swiss city of Berne at speeds approaching the speed of light (Hoffman, 1972). If Einstein apparently needed (or, at least wanted) to do the most advanced and abstract theoretical physics by anthropomorphic metaphors, then maybe biologists should not be ashamed to follow his example?


The proximate implementation of teleology

In summary - starting from some large scale purposive, conscious and unified deity (perhaps envisaged as the sun, or the earth/ Gaia; Lovelock, 1989) - organizing entities direct and shape the first and most basic forms of life, prokaryotic then eukaryotic cells, followed by the major divisions or classifications of living things down to (real) species, sexual reproduction, individual organisms and social groups. (The evolution of Man may, or may not, be assumed to require a further level of organizing entity – or else the direct intervention of the deity.)

Organizing entities are located functionally-external to the biological entities that they govern – they are not a part of biology. Organizing entities are an external focus for biological entities – thus can be imagined as a point of reference: both monitoring and shaping biology. The main role of an organizing entity is to impose goals, direction, purpose – in a word: teleology. This entails imposition of form, cohesion, cooperation – and identity. Identity is the process by which the group is defined – the choice of inclusion and exclusion, the drawing of a boundary.

It is the organizing entity that make a group a real group in the true sense of the word ‘group’– and not merely an arbitrary, temporary or expedient line drawn around a collection of autonomous entities: it is the organizing entity which makes the group a unit. Biological unity therefore derives from teleological unity.

A group of many entities (such as a collection of components in a cell, of cells in an organism, or organisms in a society) is itself a real and objective unified entity only when it has been organized by a single purposive, conscious entity.

If this is accepted, and some kind of general mechanism for teleology is assumed - such as the hierarchy of organizing entities - then the question arises as to how teleology is imposed? There seem to be two possibilities - purpose could be continuously imposed from outside a biological entity by the continuous or intermittent operation of some kind of field, force or form; or else purpose could be built-in.

While I think it likely that external forms/ fields/ forms have a role, especially in terms of organizing the simpler and more basic (physics and chemistry) levels of evolution (Sheldrake 1981 & 1988); something additional, more detailed and generative of autonomy seems to be required for biological entities. Biological purpose seems most likely to be built-in; specifically that, as an entity is formed and develops, its purposive nature is built-into the structure and organization (by the action of its organizing entity) such that there is a degree of agency and self-regulation which is also coordinated with the overall teleology (probably by means of in-built complementarity of function).

For example, in multicellular organisms there may be the mechanisms of cell-suicide or apoptosis - such that if a cell experiences a mutation that may endanger the organism - perhaps by a neoplasm such as cancer - then the cell destroys itself (for the good of the whole organism). There is, in general, considerable altruism built-in at the cellular level of a multicellular organism such that the existence of multicellular organisms is essentially an exercise in mutual altruism. Some types of motile white blood cells such as macrophages (which resemble free living amoebae) will kill themselves in the process of defending the organism against microorganism invasion (these dead warriors are found in pus): and this purpose is apparently built-into them in terms of their core functionality.   

The primary reliance upon built-in teleology also makes it easy to understand the existence, indeed often at high rates, of the opposite - of behaviours which are non-functional, free-riding, and parasitic. This is explicable in the sense that teleology - including traits that are long-termist, altruistic, cooperative and coordinated – is built-into the organism during normal development, but is nonetheless vulnerable to disruption by abnormal development and subsequent, later events that disrupt or destroy these built-in mechanisms. For example, genetic damage or mutations during the lifespan of the entity: mutant mitochondria in a eukaryotic cell, cancer in a multicellular organism, the effects of mental illness in human society. 

Therefore, I think it most likely that organizing entities work to impose teleology during development at the point where entities are being formed - either originally and/ or when being reproduced. The teleological behaviours are part of the design specification built into the entity. Short-term selfishness can, and does, arise in or after development – and then it is typically dealt with by built-in regulatory mechanisms found in those ‘normal’ entities who have experienced undisrupted development and avoided subsequent damage.


The coherence of everything

It is the hierarchy of organizing entities which ensures that overall and in the long run, all directions of all sub-entities are coordinated and integrated. This can be imagined on the lines of a military hierarchy of orders coming down from a General (i.e. deity) through the branching ranks of Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, and Sergeants to the foot soldiers (i.e. the layers of organizing entities).

Vertical, multi-level coordination therefore comes from the teleology branching-out from a single locus. And horizontal coordination within-hierarchical-levels comes from the mutual reciprocity and complementarity of functions – imposed on groups of biological entities by organizing entities.

This is the organizing principle which enables groups under direction from organizing entities to be recognized and understood (to some significant extent); it is what roughly corresponds to intuitions that there is an underlying order to the world: notions such as ‘the balance of nature’, ‘the circle of life’, the principle of ‘compensation’, or the earth conceptualized in terms of a goddess or organism termed Gaia (Lovelock, 1981).  

Thus the universe of reality broadly hangs-together, as we observe it does; and does not utterly collapse into a chaos of ever-smaller and faster-replicating, more mutually-exploiting purposeless entities, as we observe it does not. There is a background tendency to homoeostasis and elaborated specialization and coordination – and there is, both overall and at each level and each individual unit of organization – organizing purpose and direction.  

Of course, in particular times and places, natural selection may be amplified, may become powerful enough to overcome the cohesive and integrative influence of conscious, purposive entities; and consciousness diminishes, and cooperation, complexity and order begin to break down. The purpose is then not attained but instead thwarted.

It can happen at any level. Ultra-selfish genes (such as transposons or segregation distorters) may potentially lead to intra-genomic conflict with loss of informational-identity, functional corruption and cell death; rogue malignant (or selfishly non-functional) mitochondria may kill their symbiotic host cells; connective tissues may be naturally-selected to become sarcomas and kill the organism; or successful psychopaths may exploit, parasitize and lead to the destruction of their social group.

But the fact of life persisting; and the observations relating to evolutionary history; entails that the background reality is teleological and cooperative.


Explaining the necessity for an intermediating hierarchy of organizing entities

A teleology of biology can be accepted merely on the basis of deity, and without the kind of complex, intermediate system of organizing entities which I have proposed – and leaving aside any speculations on the more detailed way in which teleology I implemented in practice. In other words, it can be asserted that once a presiding deity has been invoked as our working hypothesis – then everything significant that happens in biology can be attributed directly to that deity.

Such a view is possible and coherent, albeit such a tactic might reasonably be characterised in terms of vague ‘hand-waving’; so why do I take the further step of inferring the existence of a hierarchy of organizing entities; and attributing to them the role of implementing teleology in a much more direct, specific, and proximate fashion? 

Essentially, the reason for introducing intermediary causes of teleology, adding to the overall deist unity as the cause of teleology, is firstly in order to explain the phenomena of development of the organism; which is also termed ontogeny or within-organism change through the life span: growth, change of form, selective cell death, differentiation and maturation. And also secondly to explain phylogeny; that is between-generation, within-lineage evolutionary change: the history of extinctions, and of new and changing species.

In different words, the hierarchy of organizing entities is intended to account for the dynamic aspects of biology: to explain why biology is full of change; creating, adapting and failing.

Ontogeny and phylogeny (as types of ‘changing’), happening through time, imply that deity either cannot or will-not achieve biological form directly and finally; but either must or chooses to attain form by incremental steps from an initially very simple situations – one stage building-upon the preceding. To me, this suggests that deity works by means of intermediary causes.

Furthermore, biology itself seems to have a hierarchical and multi-branching organization – both ontogeny and phylogeny display this – that is evident both within organisms and other coherent entities in the form of development, and also across the range of biological organisms and other coherent entities in terms of the systems of biological classification. This suggests that the organization of biological teleology also has a hierarchical and multi-branching structure analogous to the taxonomy of living things (the ‘tree of life’).

If this is assumed, then it seems necessary that the hierarchy of organizing entities must pre-exist the structure of actual biological entities, in order that it is already in-place to organize each cumulative step in phylogeny.

If so, then the broad-brush resemblance between ontogeny and phylogeny (Horder, 2008) which was noted more than a century ago by Haeckel – may have its basis not in Haeckel’s formulation of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, with the history of evolutionary change (supposedly) being recorded in developmental sequences, nor by any modification of that idea; but the opposite. I suggest it is a matter of phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny, in the sense of evolutionary change being driven by developmental processes.

That is, the organizing entities work primarily to affect ontogeny, to build-in teleology by shaping the process of development; and thereby, as a consequence, these same organizing entities are also setting-up mature biological entities in evolutionary sequences and relationships. By affecting development, the organizing entities impose teleology on evolution.

To be even more specific, the first member of a new species (or level of biological complexity) has been shaped by the ordering entities – including by changing its various heritable structural features (such as genes, and non-genetic cellular structural formal features such as cytoplasmic structures and constituents, or cell membrane attributes). Thus ontogenetic change comes first, and then this is transmitted via heritability first to initiate, then establish, the step-wise phylogenetic changes that mark evolutionary history.


Conclusions and implications

In sum, the new deistic teleological metaphysics of biology enables the subject to re-defined around the concept of development. The scheme would not affect the perspective of biology in terms of the study of evolution specifically by natural selection, nor in terms of the day-to-day activities of most biological researchers. But metaphysics is nonetheless vitally-relevant insofar as natural selection would henceforth be assumed to operate within purposive cognitive processes that have foresight and are able to organize, coordinate, and either counteract or use natural selection, as means to the overall teleology. This background would be assumed – and we would not suppose that natural selection ‘has the last word’.

Perhaps most importantly, the new metaphysics of biology escapes the self-refuting paradox of natural selection; because it can explain how it is that humans could have valid knowledge of biology itself – as the most relevant example: how humans might have validly discovered a true theory such as natural selection. If humans had been merely contingently evolved to optimize reproductive success, it is not formally impossible but it is vastly improbable that we could have valid knowledge of anything - including natural selection; since a mechanism for discovering valid knowledge could only have happened by undirected chance and when it also happened to optimize reproductive success in the immediate short term of generations. However, if by an astonishing coincidence, it happened-to-happen that humans had had naturally-selected the ability to have valid knowledge – knowledge for instance of the theory of natural selection; then we could not know we knew this this for a fact, without a further astonishing coincidence of knowing that we had happened to evolve this way!

But - if our metaphysics posits the existence of purposively-unified, conscious, organizing entities outwith the boundaries of biology, and to that extent independent of (controlling of) the vicissitudes of natural selection; then valid knowledge might be assumed to originate from that external source. In other words, we can know about natural selection and that it is true, only because we ourselves are something more than merely naturally selected. In sum, the suggestion is that humans have been cognitively-organized via our built-in teleology such that objective knowledge is possible for us.

I am, of course, fully aware that the above purposive metaphysics of biology sounds bizarre, supernatural and indeed just plain absurd from the perspective of modern biology! I have, after all, been thoroughly educated-in and acclimatized-to that world, and have worked within it for several decades, both teaching the subject of natural selection and publishing many papers; including many which metaphysically-assumed that natural selection was indeed the last word on things – the exact framing assumptions that I am here and now criticizing as radically incomplete; for example my books Charlton, 2000 and Charlton & Andras, 2003 - especially the Appendix to 2003.

However, stepping outside of that professional ghetto, I am also aware that this general type and nature of metaphysical explanation that I am now proposing has a long and continuing pedigree among mathematicians and physicists – and indeed within a strand of theoretical biologists which includes such diverse figures as JW von Goethe and his scientific editor Rudolf Steiner, D’Arcy Thompson, AN Whitehead, Conrad Waddington (and other members of the prestigious, albeit heterodox, Theoretical Biology Club of Cambridge University), and in recent years Brian Goodwin, Stuart Kauffman and Rupert Sheldrake.

Such individuals (to a variable degree) have recognized that – if it is to be coherent - the subject and methods of biology must be conceptualized within a larger (and, as I term it, metaphysical) framework or paradigm which lies outside the discipline of biology; however the above-named biologists were primarily concerned with integration, organization and the development of form – while my focus here is on the need for an externally imposed purpose. However, I would note that there is a sometimes explicit, but more often unstated and unacknowledged, teleological assumption behind much of the work in this idealist, mathematical-geometric and morphological tradition.

The axiomatic assumptions of this paradigmatic purposive framework are the basis for all scientific work. Science is always and necessarily subordinated to philosophy, even when that philosophy is unacknowledged - or even when it is denied. Many clever and successful - but unreflective - modern scientists believe themselves to be superior to metaphysics, to have transcended and replaced it with ‘solid’ empirical scientific ‘proof’. All this really means is that they do not understand, and do not want to know about, their own metaphysical assumptions – because they want to believe that these are just-plain-true, rather than the consequence of non-scientific but instead philosophical choices made by actual people at some particular time and place. 

But different choices yield different consequences; and the choice of natural selection as the bottom-line explanation of biology has had an intellectually stunting and transcendentally crippling effect on the discipline – has indeed destroyed the cohesion and identity of biology, and made it a self-refuting paradox.

My hope is that this new, teleological metaphysics of biology will provide a framework within-which biology can operate in a coherent and contextualized fashion; rather than, as in recent decades, simply ignoring its major problems and deluding itself with assertions that its partial and incomplete explanations - based on the dogmatic assumption that natural selection is the one and only true mechanism of evolution and the bottom line reality of everything - have universal applicability and eternal validity. However, I think I have demonstrated that this is merely an assertion, and indeed an arrogant, uninformed, arbitrary and indeed utterly absurd assertion! Let us then acknowledge that there are metaphysical choices that have-been and must-be made – and try to evaluate and compare these choices.

It is necessary to recognize and make clear that the above metaphysics of hierarchical, purposive and conscious, organizing entities is not a 'biological' theory. But then, neither is natural selection a biological theory. Instead, both of these are potential metaphysical frameworks for biology. Biology cannot exist without a metaphysical framework – and the current one may not be the best, since it has so many, such serious, failures to its name.

In conclusion, I suggest that biology requires wholesale reconceptualization based on a new set of deistic and teleological metaphysical assumptions.


Acknowledgement. I thank Rupert Sheldrake for pointing-out that my suggested hierarchy of organizing entities bears resemblance to the scheme proposed by Alfred Russel Wallace in The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose (1910). (Wallace was – with Darwin – the co-discoverer of Natural Selection.) Rupert also asked me a couple of pertinent questions concerning the original draft; in the process of addressing which, I (by stages) ended-up significantly expanding and refocusing this paper.



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