“Nature may well manifest its own forms of knowledge, apart from the knowledge that human beings lay claim to. For instance, we use the principle of evolution to map out the history of life on earth, but could there be patterns and cycles in the dynamic of time that go beyond evolution, that account in a more satisfying way for how life evolved?” Tarthang Tulku, “Challenging Journey, Creative Journey”, Dharma Publishing, 2017, page 153.
One of the more visible differences of world view in recent decades has been the “debate” between “Creationism” and “Evolution”. However, “debate” hardly describes the chasm between these two ways of accounting for our presence in this world. The uncompromising confidence with which these two views are held by their proponents feeds a growing intolerance in our society.
There’s a strange side effect to this combative stance between a God-centric view and a rationality-centric view of experience. It makes it hard to recognize that both these views are human-centric. Not humanity as a God-given perspective from which to view “Creation”, but a self-centered one.
These two philosophies are not so different from one another. One defines the world as an act of Creation on the part of an all-powerful Being. The other as a physical realm—sufficient unto itself—that is open to rational (scientific) exploration. But both these theories—especially when they close ranks against one another—rob Nature of her ancient voice in the conversation. Instead the mystery of life is tamed down to fit with the definitions that a group of humans assigns to it.
Kafka observed: “from a true opponent, boundless courage flows into us.” This seems to be the case for limited viewpoints. Having an apparently irreconcilable alternative allows the proponents of both scientific evolution and fundamentalist creation to point to the limitations of the other—as if another’s limitations could have the power to whitewash our own.
This dynamic makes some sense. After all, when you can point to an alternative that systematically rules out sacred mystery, how can you be wrong when your beliefs pay homage to that mystery? And when you can point to an alternative that systematically denies organic growth and spontaneous change, how can you be wrong when your view celebrates an ongoing well-spring of life?
This philosophic/spiritual dichotomy makes it clear: the cosmos in which we discover ourselves–so mysteriously endowed with a desire and capacity to explore and understand—can’t be fully accounted for either as a gigantic, clock-work mechanism randomly mutating its way through evolution, nor as an immense created artifact set in place by a Being whose power and authority is discontinuous with our own.
Neither of these theories involves a coherent field of knowing that includes its inhabitants as full-fledged participants. Both leave human beings out in the cold: by-standers to the burgeoning energies of what might be called, in a non-sectarian way, an on-going “Creation”—within which our individual lives are unfolding.
Enter stage right, “Nature”. Nature may be just another concept, and so have its own limitations, but at least they are not the self-reflecting limitations of our present polarization between a one-time Creation, in which humans are like orphans begging for another crust of spiritual bread, and an evolving process, to be fathomed by a scientific method that remains so chronically unable to heal our suffering world.
Nature, as source and beneficiary of a fundamental knowing that is not tied to an absentee Creator, and not a construct in which human intelligence is alone in the cockpit, offers us an opportunity to enjoy the company of a larger harmony in which our species is free to discover its rightful place.
If a big sister, who knows the ropes, shows up–as we embark on our own first steps into an unfamiliar world—wouldn’t we listen, take notes, and record in our own curious being, her knowledge about all those vistas that are new to us? And if we listened, without thinking we already know everything that is important, perhaps we would learn something.
Whether we point to our own monkey minds
As the key to the treasure chest
Of cosmic vastness
Or bow before the power
Of a Great Creator God
On whose majesty we depend
When it comes to the nature world
We’re all recent arrivals
Immigrants in an ancient land
Realizing we are prodigals in the land of our birth
We could know that right here and now
We are at home where we belong.