I have absolutely no interest in initiating yet another debate about Intelligent Design vs Science, largely because I would have nothing in common with the majority of its proponents. This actually reaches back to an ancient discussion in many ways. It was debated by various classical philosophers and amounts to the question of whether intelligible things are more true than their essence or source. The locus classicus of the argument for the primacy of essence is Plato, but is virtually universal from the earliest known cultures.
Plato would use the term Form. A Navajo Shaman might call it Spirit or Great Spirit. The most salient point here is an unshakable belief in the “spirit world” and it’s relationship to physical reality. Among the most powerful conveyors of these truths is art, from the most eloquent cave paintings to Tibetan Sand Mandalas. These works can stretch our language into other dimensions.
The term “intelligent design” found its way to my door when a neighbour, curious to know about astrology, brought back what he borrowed with the simple write off “it’s just intelligent design for planets.’ It wasn’t meant in a positive sense. The term has become a byword for the nonsense spouted by ignorant theists with no scientific understanding who want to make the study of evolution illegal. Yet both words are entirely apt with regard to astrology, maintaining the most positive connotations.
Science is defined as “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.” That could have come from Pythagoras or Plato, showing how ignorant the critics of design really are. The currency of this idea of some form of intelligent design is earlier than the earliest Vedas and understood by oral cultures , such as the early Celts or Siberian Shamans who left their expression and understanding of divine cosmos in structures and other artifacts that affirm a sophisticated level of understanding.
I admire Richard Dawkins. He’s a brilliant scientist and I think he does almost everyone a favour by asking difficult questions of the Abrahamic religions in particular. Challenging unexamined articles of faith, particularly when they lead to human oppression or environmental irresponsibility, is healthy. I was therefore shocked and disappointed when he clipped the daily horoscope from The Manchester Guardian and asked a total of twenty people in an awkward situation if the horoscope for Capricorn sounded right to them all, even though they were of various Sun Signs.
Even though he got ‘could be’ or might be’ answers. in his mind, this was enough to discredit a science which has been practised continually for 5,ooo years. Everyone with a nodding acquaintance with real astrology knows that newspaper horoscopes have a similar status to fortune cookies: deliberately vague and generalized. If this is the quality of our critics, it’s a sad state of affairs
This is insulting to astrology, but should also be a source of great shame for Dawkins. When it came to something he prejudged as being beneath him, his ‘science’ became more like a childish parlour game. Dawkins couldn’t have spent more than a few minutes planning his ‘scientific experiment.’ If a student used this in first year college or even high school, he would be lucky to get an F if not put on academic probation. Based on this fluffy piece of silliness, Dawkins warns us all of the so called dangers of astrology.
He lauds the “reason” of Galileo and David Hume, but neglects to mention that Galileo and Isaac Newton were astrologers as well as mathematicians, physicists and astronomers. He even claims, falsely, that Claudius Ptolemy invented astrology in the second cenury A.D. Yes he claims astrologers are arrogant.
Again, I’m not arguing against evolutionary theory and those who are have co opted this term for their own ends. The term Science however fit perfectly with the theory and practise of astrology. Issac Newton would have had no difficulties with this. We have a science of light that manifests in countless forms. Hinduism address this with the concept of millions of gods. From the point of view of Gnostics, Neo Platonists and Hermeticists we are made of light and vibrating in the frequency of matter. This isn’t a far fetched philosophy dreamed up by less intelligent minds. We are literally made of star dust. Light becoming material has been called the “fall” – boundless spirit suspended in matter.
Depending on the culture this was seen in a more less positive framework. Einstein would have had no problems with the essence of all this. In fact he used similar imagery of light and vibration. By the time of the European Enlightenment, tangible, rational beliefs eclipsed an earlier world view, where one could apprehend the unintelligible through higher faculties. There was a realm of the Intellect in the Platonic sense. Something didn’t have to be seen by the senses to be true. The great irony is that the word ‘enlightenment’ meant the denial of our spirit natures.
It seems to me that this is at he core of the battle between scientists who will only admit to the tangible and to proponents of Intelligent Design who argue that there must be a guiding hand, that it cannot be all about blind chance. The Intelligent Design hypothesis states that there wouldn’t even be been enough time to account for such variance and multiplicity of species. More to the point, it looks for meaning. Intelligent Design is teleological:
The word ‘Telos’ is Greek for purpose. The Teleological argument thus argues that the universe is being directed towards a telos, an end purpose, and the a posteriori evidence of an apparent intelligent design in the world implies the existence of an intelligent designer Usually the definition includes God, but the belief need not be theistic. If we say feathers or fins serve a purpose designed by anything other than random mutation or happy accidents, we have parted with what we might call hard core evolutionists. As Richard Dawkins will tell you, any change, including the animation of inanimate elements, is purely by chance mutation and that most mutations will lead to species failure. This fits the very Deistic title of his book, The Blind Watchmaker
Everything that exists is a totally random event with no purpose or intelligence. This is a belied if you recognize that existence is primarily spiritual and divinely intelligent Aristotle is credited as being the one who divided the various arts and sciences, so that that differing areas of interest where more clearly defined and segregated. The result is something like what we see in modern universities. We find a faculty of medicine and a faculty of physics.
These are further broken down into nuclear or internal medicine, for example, or astrophysics and molecular physics. Aristotle was a great pragmatist and at first glance these ideas seem fair enough and I would be the first to say they have their place. The most glaring disadvantage, however, is that it becomes difficult or impossible for the various disciplines to learn much from one another. Ideas can crystallize into dogma and yet not be seen as such because their transcendent nature has been lost.
This does have pragmatic advantages but can only result in some form of entropy or reductionism. Any idea that smacks of the divine or worse still, God, is rejected in almost all cases outside schools of theology. The reductionist conclusion is almost impossible to escape if you accept that all reality is material, subject to disinterested forces and only knowable through the five senses
I should think that this all went far beyond anything Aristotle could imagine. He ranged from discussing the anatomy of elephants, to ethics, divination in sleep, metaphysics, rhetoric, plants, respiration, meteorology, the Universe, the soul, memory, physics and much more. Holding it all together ultimately was the Prime Mover in a highly coherent metaphysic capable of embracing all things.
It allowed for the practise of medicine and astrology. There was no confusion or contradiction in doing so. It does need to be said however, that Plato and his student had different ideas regarding the Form, but that is for another essay.
This was true until the European Enlightenment, a phases in our history that brought many advances in virtually all areas of material life, but at a very high spiritual price. The Universe had an absentee god or none at all. It was no longer acceptable to discuss divine origins in physics, biology or any other science. In an age of madness, it seems, Reality and God couldn’t coexist This is why astrology is attacked militantly, ignored or trivialized in newspaper columns.
It speaks to and of a reality that is deeply unsettling to materialists. Modern or Theosophical astrology is a weak target because it doesn’t stand on firm ground. But an astrology that reaches back to the dawn of time is another matter. The Human Being as a Microcosm of the Universe is a very ancient idea and is central to astrological theory. Its s the essence of the dictum “What is Above, Is Below.” Astrologers read light and the interaction of heavenly bodies to determine the nature or outcome of a given reading.
We are heirs to the wisdom of the ages, inheriting a metaphysical system along with considerations from our predecessors Astrology demands great humility of its practitioners.
Thank you for this fine article. I would further say that the conception of the human being as microcosm is one of the key principles underlying the perennial philosophy as such. Correspondingly, the visible cosmos is a sign of the invisible (but intelligible) macrocosm as it is revealed in time.
Hi Philemon, I pleased that you liked it. Your second sentence in particular is brilliantly phrased. Thanks for dropping by – Peter
Thank you for this wonderful article. It seems to me that the scientific “world view” has become a bit of a religion, with its own dogma and fundamentalists, with an unshakable belief in chaos, rather than order.