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Dobzhansky, Theodosius. The Biology of Ultimate Concern


A Book Review: Dobzhansky, The Biology of Ultimate Concern

Part Two: Other Issues between Science and Religion


Peter Krey

This essay begins with a review of Th. Dobzhansky’s book. Then in the second part, it launches into other issues between science and the religion through Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God and Karl Heim’s Christian Faith and Natural Science. Teilhard de Chardin’s Future of Man and Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Luminous Web also play a role, but are more in the background of my arguments.

Theodosius Grygorovich Dobzhansky, The Biology of Ultimate Concern, (London: Rapp + Whiting, 1967, 1969), 152 pages including a full bibliography and index.

Th. Dobzhansky (1900-1975) celebrates the synthesis of genetics and evolution in his work, The Biology of Ultimate Concern. He begins with the significance of human beings in “Humanism and Humanity” and continues with essays on the “Gods of the Gaps,” “Evolution and Transcendence,” “Self-Awareness and Death-Awareness,” “Search for Meaning,” ending with his essay on “The Teilhardian Synthesis.” The foregoing are, respectively, his chapter headings. The title of his book, deriving from Paul Tillich’s conception of “religion” as ultimate concern, is apt because Dobzhansky moves from biology and genetics to the evolutionary theological vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). However, a critique is present alongside his admiration for the great Jesuit paleontologist.

Although Dobzhansky criticizes the “gods of the gaps,” his theorizing that transcendent events occur during the course of evolution aligns rather well with God’s continuous creation.[1] For Dobzhansky these transcendent events ascend with life and then with the emergence of self-conscious humans, who are distinct from animals in many ways, but especially in the awareness of having to die.[2] He argues that no animal buries its dead, (71) nor places weapons, food offerings (70), and decorations in the grave for the afterlife.[3]

For Teilhard the transcendent points in evolution, to use Dobzhansky’s language, are the birth of life and the birth of thought. (I would add the birth of love in the new human being, Jesus Christ.) Teilhard then awaits the crossing of the collective threshold of thought on the way to the new human species formed in the image of Christ, the Omega Point of evolution.[4] Dobzhansky, although a thoroughgoing evolutionary biologist, remained a faithful son of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He witnesses to Christ at the very end of his book by means of a citation from Teilhard:

“To the Christian, for whom the whole process of hominization is merely paving the way for the ultimate Parousia [Christ’s second coming], it is above all Christ who invests Himself with the whole reality of the Universe; but at the same time it is the Universe which is illuminated with all the warmth and immortality of Christ”[5] (pages 136-137).

Before expanding further on Dobzhansky and Teilhard, it is important to show the way the former makes his way through his argument which ends up engulfing biological evolution in the spiritually divine.

Dobzhansky’s preface is named “Ad Hominem,” but he is not referring to the fallacy in argumentation. Instead, he is arguing for the evolutionary transcendence of the [human being].[6] He pleads for a new Weltanschauung that integrates religious beliefs and biological evolution. He feels that the German word Weltanschauung is best understood by the Latin word, credo. He writes as a biologist and not as a philosopher or theologian, but he feels that “a coherent credo can neither be derived from science nor [be] arrived at without science” (page 9).

According to Dobzhansky, having an intellectual life with evolution and religion in isolated compartments can lead to ideological schizophrenia (115), which can rob our lives of their meaning.”[7] “The significance and meaning of life and death have been among the principal problems of philosophy.” (79) Dobzhansky castigates logical positivism, the so-called “science influenced,” modern school of logical analysis which declared these questions meaningless (79-80). “Although science cannot claim to solve [these questions], it can perhaps furnish some information relevant to the speculation of philosophers,” (80) and, he writes, it can help inform a theology esthetically satisfying and rationally persuasive as well (109).

After Copernicus, who was shown to be right by Kepler in 1609 and 1619 and by Galileo in 1610 and 1632, (95) the universe could no longer be considered geocentric, but for Dobzhansky, it could well be argued to be anthropocentric (page 7). He writes: “[The human being], this mysterious product of the world’s evolution, may also be a protagonist and eventually its pilot. In any case, the world is not fixed, not finished, and not unchangeable. Everything in it is engaged in evolutionary flow and development” (page 7). The question comes to mind, could God be the pilot of evolution?[8]

Dobzhansky surprisingly claims that evolution is uplifting for human beings and feels sorry that Darwin used the term “Descent of Man” in the title of one of his two most important books, because evolution is really about the ascent of the human being and human transcendence from the animal state (page 3). He quotes Dostoevsky concerning the honor it does human beings that the existence of God and the idea of the necessity of God could be conceived by such dumb and irrational human beings during their long toilsome ascent from animality to humanity[9] (page 3).

In his chapter “Gods of the Gaps,” Dobzhansky criticizes various attempts by those who look for gaps between natural events to accommodate God (23). What scientists cannot yet explain, he holds, will one day be explained, making it so much the worse for such a theology. Dobzhansky’s argument proceeds by tracing the history of evolutionary science, leading him toward Teilhard’s alternative theology. His discussion moves from mechanism to vitalism to the mind inside all things, variously called, hylopsychism, panpsychism, and panentheism[10] (27). He notes that vitalism emerged as a reaction to Cartesian mechanism. No longer were the universe and the body thought to be machines, (pace Descartes and Newton); a living force, even a divine force, was now thought to direct the development of organisms and hence evolution. Not yet aware of genetics, vitalists proved that no little human (Homunculus) was already preformed in the spermatozoa, but they posited a vital force that developed the embryo (16-17).

In continuing Dobzhansky’s argument, some definitions become necessary. Ontogeny refers to the development of an individual organism, while phylogeny refers to the sustained change over a succession of generations of evolutionary development (36).[11] Epigenesis holds that a new body forms which was not present earlier as an individual (29).[12] The term “epigenesis” is used for ontogeny, while the term “genotype,” the emergence of new genotypes, holds for phylogeny. A genotype can be defined as a group or class sharing a specific genetic endowment.

Thus ontogeny and phylogeny need to be kept distinct. For ontogeny, when the embryo is inside the mother, an individual does precede the new one and the genetic code operates like a blueprint replicating the body of the mother in the evolving baby. Dobzhansky theorizes that there are three steps working together in synthetic evolution for phylogeny. “[Natural selection] brings into existence real novelties – genotypes, which never existed before.” (60-61) The position of finalism conceives God or Christ in eternity, preceding even the new human genotype. But Dobzhansky argues that complete novelty arises through the groping of evolution without the eternal God or Christ in whom human beings emerged, because ontogeny (the embryo in the mother) is not analogous with phylogeny (genotype endowed genetically for a new environment).

Dobzhansky argues against vitalism, the belief in an immaterial vital force at work in life (21-27). It was a position held when the work of genes and chromosomes was not yet understood.  Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), who reported his ground-breaking experiments in 1865, founding the science of Genetics, was ignored until 1900. Dobzhansky argues that pan-psychism is an unconvincing approach for the problems involved in theorizing the origination of mind. He tries to face the difficult philosophical challenges for the position that the mind developed de nove (29). Everything in the universe, he continues, did not have to be infused with mind in order for mind to have come into existence. He states that we all know how our own minds were not what they are now. The first flickers arose sometime during childhood; it grew and took its present form by stages and gradations in the process of living (32).

Dobzhansky’s resolution of the gods of the gaps proceeds by considering it wiser to view the all, as parts of the mysterium tremendum (25) e.g., Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life,” the [human] conscience, the existence of life, and indeed of the universe itself. “If we cannot bring God in at the end of science, God must be there at the very start, and right through it” (quoting C. H. Coulson p. 25). The question arises, If God must be there from the very start, why does he argue that complete novelty emerges by means of natural selection?  Then Dobzhansky continues, (quoting Karl Heim)[13] “For faith gives us the strength which we need in everyday life, not when it is sustained by miraculous occurrences breaking through the order of nature…but only when one and the same occurrence, an occurrence of which we fully understand the natural causes…at the same time in itself appears to us as an act of God, which we receive directly from God’s hands” (25).[14] With the latter resolution, Dobzhansky concludes “The Gods of the Gaps” with the words of the theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), “Every event, even the most natural and usual, becomes a miracle, as soon as the religious view of it can be the dominant” (34).[15]

Darwin did not integrate genetics with his theory of evolution. In Dobzhansky’s synthesis of genetics with biological evolution he presents three stages or steps that have to be considered as operating together. 1/ the production of genetic raw materials through mutations, 2/ the formation through natural selection and Mendelian recombination of genetic endowments adapted to survive and reproduce in certain environments, and 3/ the establishment of species barriers by reproductive isolation (page 121). Dobzhansky argues against orthogenesis, defined as evolution proceeding straight toward a fixed objective such as the human being (pages 117-118).[16] He also argues against finalism, which represents the position that God is directing evolution. Evolution is groping its way forward. (“Groping” is a term he borrows from Teilhard.) Dobzhansky continues that mutations in the first stage can be mostly detrimental to a species, while only the very few turn out to be helpful. Considering these stages of evolution, one could argue against Dobzhansky that all three working systematically together could add up to God’s continuous creation. Through this groping and Teilhard’s directed chance (see below) “God, the Creator of space, time, chance, and indeterminacy, would exercise exactly the degree of control that [God] chooses.” to quote Kenneth R. Miller.[17]

Dobzhansky notes that the metaphor of a sieve through which mutations are sorted out for natural selection to fit a certain environment is not apt, unless it is seen as a regulatory mechanism of a cybernetic system (page 122). The definition that Webster gives for cybernetics brings to mind the idea of some intelligence at work, which is hidden in the term cybernetics. The definition of “cybernetics” is that human control functions are replaced by mechanical and electrical functions assigned to replace them. The question arises, How do these thoughtless and lifeless mechanical and electrical functions replace the human ones that have not yet come into existence? Cybernetics is a human invention. How could it have taken place before human intelligence devised these functions?

Dobzhansky argues that “Hereditary continuity makes organisms time-binding contrivances; the adaptations achieved in the past are not easily squandered. And yet, variation permits the accumulation of new information about the environments in which the species lives at present. This information is ordered and stored in the genes by means of natural selection; natural selection is a cybernetic process which responds to the challenges of the environments and transfers the responses to the genetic endowment of the species” (24). It is hard not to conclude, opposing Dobzhansky, that some intelligence ascends within the ascent of the species that is hidden in the concept of cybernetics.

Dobzhansky argues that natural selection produces creative acts and counters the random and chance nature of the mutations operating in the first stage. Natural selection has a cybernetic quality with feedback loops from the genetic endowments achieved, making these biological novelties possible (60-61). He writes that “In evolution chance is bridled by an anti-chance agency, which is natural selection responding to environmental challenges” (126).  Whole organisms or individuals, according to Dobzhansky, select each other as natural selection moves into the third, sexual, reproductive stage (122).

Here a question arises about the distinction between natural selection as taking place “without having a will, intention, or foresight” (60) and whole organisms or individuals, who do have these dispositions, selecting each other. Perhaps two levels of description are involved, so the level for ontogeny has to be distinguished from that of phylogeny. Strengthening his argument for a gradual progression of intelligence in natural selection, Dobzhansky cites Teilhard who believed that higher organisms had discernible elements of creativity and freedom (126) and that Teilhard described the groping of evolution as directed chance (128).

These arguments of Dobzhansky that bring some intelligence, creativity and freedom — rather than pure chance — into natural selection seem to anticipate the arguments for intelligent design that have arisen from probability theory. L. Stafford Betty, with Bruce Cordell in their essay, “The Anthropic-Teleological Argument,” propose a law that “the significantly greater cannot come from the significantly less.”[18] Dobzhansky opposes this thesis again and again, for example, writing: “the point so central that it must be pressed is that natural selection is in a very real sense creative. It brings into existence real novelties – genotypes which never existed before.” (60-61) Because Betty and Cordell only consider chance at work and leave out the second and third steps of evolution, they calculate that it is overwhelmingly improbable that complex organs like the eye could develop from simple forms of life. Kenneth R. Miller, also a biologist who believes in God, demonstrates how earlier forms of the eye developed into more complex ones, refuting Betty and Cordell’s argument.[19]

Thus Dobzhansky guarded against such arguments based on pure chance and probability theory alone. But transcendent events like the birth of life, the advent of the self-conscious human beings, as well as the origination of the universe with the Big Bang theory are marvelous breakthroughs that make the God who creates from nothing (ex nihilo) come to mind. They justify the wonder, awe, and faith of believers, when the religious view becomes dominant, to echo Schleiermacher; when the ultimate concern is the focus, to echo Tillich.

In the last chapter of his book, Dobzhansky uses Teilhard to arrive at his ultimate biological concern. Dobzhansky argues that Teilhard remains true to evolution, extending it prophetically and poetically. Thus the Christian mysticism of Teilhard takes evolution into the reaches of Christian spirituality.

Dobzhansky writes that “it is the totality of evolution that occupies Teilhard’s attention almost exclusively.” (119) He quotes Teilhard: “[Human beings are] the only form of life which need not accept the direction of evolutionary forces acting upon them, but can direct their evolution,” (136) especially when spiritually matured after having crossed the threshold of collective thought. Teilhard envisions the entire living world as a single organism (119); the totality of living substance on earth or the unity of life as a supra-organism (119 and 131). The “thinking envelope,” which he named the noosphere, “emerged from the biosphere, and it emerged earlier from the hydrosphere,” (131) [meaning that all life emerged from the water] and “The noosphere is connected with other envelopes by feedback relationships” (131). Teilhard believed that this supra-organism would in turn become a new “organic superaggregation of souls” (131). Perhaps that is what Teilhard meant by crossing the threshold of collective thought.

According to Dobzhansky, because the position of orthogenesis, the theory that variations in evolution proceeded in a straight direction to the human being, is all about the causes of evolution — which do not concern Teilhard — it puts Dobzhansky into “the peculiar position of having to argue that, in spite of himself, Teilhard was not an exponent of orthogenesis.” (119-120) There are other reasons that support Dobzhansky’s contention: First, Teilhard’s description of evolution as directed-chance as it groped its way forward. Second, human evolution is almost the only kind that interested him. He thought human evolution brought evolution as a whole into focus (119).

Dobzhansky writes that “directed-chance is a paradox, as well as Teilhard’s apt insight that “in evolution there ‘are so curiously combined the blind phantasy of large numbers and the precise orientation of an end pursued.’” (128) The blind phantasy of large numbers also applies to human beings converging for the next transcendent event in the evolution of the noosphere. Thus isolated and arrogant, self-asserting individuals, like Nietzsche’s superhuman or Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor are dangers and obstructions to the way forward (135). The “phantasy of large numbers” of human beings needs to participate in the unity of life, coming together in true unity.[20] No longer will evolution proceed with strife or competition. Competition will be for cooperation. What’s more, the driving force of the evolution of the noosphere will be love. “Teilhard makes love the basic agent of evolution: ‘Driven by the forces of love the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being’” (133-134). Perhaps this is what Dobzhansky meant in his “Gods of the Gaps,” by saying that Teilhard attempted to speak of evolution in ontological images rather than of its phenomenological aspects (33).

After Dobzhansky uses the Teilhard citation to witness to the coming of Christ, the citation with which this book review began, he ends with the need for all human beings to take their next steps together, not as passive witnesses but as participants in the evolutionary process. Dobzhansky ends his book with these words of Teilhard: “The consummation of the World, the gates of the Future, the entrance into the Superhuman, they do not open either to a few privileged or to one chosen people among all peoples! They will admit only an advance of all together, in a direction which all together could join and achieve fulfillment in a spiritual renovation of the Earth.”


Part II

For Dobzhansky’s biology of ultimate concern, a large gap obviously exists between his thoughts and a theological tradition proper. Although he also struggles with the meaning and purpose of life and knows not a little philosophy, he remains a scientist, a biologist, who wishes to include biological facts, theories, and ideas of human interest in a Weltanschauung, that is, a religious credo (page 2). Dobzhansky’s presentation of the evolutionary theology of Teilhard de Chardin at the end of his work is brief but significant.  John F. Haught, a Catholic theologian of Georgetown University develops Teilhard’s evolutionary theology further.[21]

However, going directly from biology to ultimate concern necessarily spells a shortcut through history and the humanities to the theological level of description. First let me use the words of Dobzhansky himself about crossing over these levels, especially when the transcendent points are involved. The important levels of description to be crossed and to bear in mind are the one from pre-history to history and from science to the humanities.

Dobzhansky notes that “phenomena of the inorganic, organic, and human levels are subject to different laws peculiar to those levels. It is unnecessary to assume any intrinsic irreducibility of these laws, but unprofitable to describe phenomena of an overlying level in terms of those of the underlying ones.” (43) The move from pre-historical scientific durations of time to history is problematic, because our ten thousand years of recorded history lose their meaning, coherence, and significance dissolved in millions of years of scientific durations of time. An eco-collapse by scientists anticipating a recovery taking 65 million years is merely an apocalyptic scenario of the end of the world. If evolutionary theology posits the genotype of the formation of Christ as the children of God in a matter of several million years, what meaning, hope, and purpose could that possible give us for our historical future?[22]

Thus, to use Dobzhansky’s own words, an underlying scientific level of description, in terms of evolutionary durations of time is unprofitable for describing the kind of time involved in our historical level of existence.[23]

In a related way the same principle holds true for the sciences of biology and sociology.  Emil Durkheim argued convincingly that sociology has sui generis laws, rooted in but independent of biology.[24] The unique and different laws amount to the essence of the overlying discipline. Thus Social Darwinism is unsound as a science and Dobzhansky himself rejects it. It violates biological and sociological levels of description, importing the laws of biology directly into sociology. In a similar way, great distortion results from leaping from biological evolution through history to philosophy and the ultimate concern of theology.

The history of our religious traditions in general record the experience of extraordinary human beings who had theophanies, oracles, and revelatory relationships with God. To speak only of the Christian tradition, there is Abraham, who responded to God’s call, gave hospitality to three angels and believed God’s promise;[25] Jacob, the cheater, who became Israel in a divine wrestling match;[26] Moses’ theophany before the burning bush that did not consume its branches,[27] the oracle that came to the prophet Habakkuk on his watch: “Look at the arrogant! Their spirit is not right within them, but the righteous live by their faith.”[28] St. Paul quotes Habakkuk two or three times if we count the Epistle to the Hebrews.[29] It is Paul who ascended enraptured into the third heaven,[30] and Augustine and his mother Monica were enraptured at the window to their garden.[31] Near the end of his life, St. Thomas stopped writing after such an experience, compared to which all his words were like straw.[32] It was in struggling with Habakkuk’s oracle in Romans that Martin Luther suddenly realized that God was not a wrathful judge condemning him, but that through grace and sheer mercy God justified him through faith, whereupon he felt himself reborn and going through the open doors of paradise.[33] Ordinary religious believers could add volumes to these recorded stories.

The scriptures, treasure troves of wisdom, to use Huston Smith’s language, [34] are the record of God’s speaking to our ancestors in a way that we cannot fathom in pre-history or in science, whose method continues in a fruitful, materialist and naturalist course. The caveat of Teilhard, who labels materialism and naturalism as truly pagan, warns that although they “in fact bring about an improvement in human living conditions, it is not well-being but more-being which, of psychological necessity, can alone preserve the thinking earth from the taedium vitae (disgust and weariness with life).”[35] Thus should the documents of the holy books be discounted and ignored, then “natural reasoning merely plays blind man’s bluff with God, consistently groping in the dark and missing its mark.”[36] It cannot know the loving and forgiving God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered, was crucified, died and rose again on the third day; nor experience the Holy Spirit, if un-open to the world of spiritual realities.

Even so, it is good to read the words of scientists, like Kenneth R. Miller, who have come to understand that the materialist method, so fruitful in understanding nature, when transgressing its bounds and becoming a Weltanschauung, does itself and religion a disservice. When scientists claim a materialist monopoly on all reality, they participate in scientism and not science. A materialist faith jeopardizes the enterprise of science itself, because it confuses faith and the materialist evidence required for the scientific method. In the same way, when religion forgets that it is about ultimate concern in the spiritual matters of morality, meaning, and the purpose of life and places itself on the same level as science, as a materialist enterprise operating with the scientific method, then it becomes a distortion of itself, easily refuted by scientific evidence, as Miller demonstrates.

Science did have to liberate itself from the clutches of wrong-headed religious authorities, who were incapable of making this distinction. Perhaps now the inevitable backlash is taking place. Thus some scientists assert that the universe at bottom has “no design, no purpose, no evil, [and is filled with] nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”[37] As the pendulum swings back on religion’s transgression against science, there is “the chilling prospect that evolution might succeed in convincing humanity of the fundamental purposelessness of life.”[38] Scientism masquerading as science dare not convince us that the universe is without purpose and say there is no meaning for life. Human laws and ethics are not the subject matter of science, and stepping out of bounds, science becomes scientism when it declares them baseless. In that way it obviously sins against religion, ethics, and the very fabric of human society. When such bleak statements of scientism are taken seriously, not only faith but even rationality itself becomes undermined. John F. Haught maintains that with them the scientific project itself becomes endangered and with science becoming confused with scientism, its statements stand self-contradicted.[39]

The question arises, if a scientist believes in evolution, then what kinds of understandings does he or she have for faith? Kenneth Miller, a biologist, argues for spiritual realities that are not to be erased by scientific materialism and naturalism. He takes issue with the skeptic David Hume. “To a believer miracles are more than ‘violations of laws of nature,’ as they were once described by David Hume. They reflect a greater reality, a spiritual reality, and they occur in a context which makes religious, not scientific, sense.”[40]

In defending his faith, Miller argues that God’s intentions can also be accomplished by means of natural laws and chance. He also cites Ian Barbour: “There can be purpose without an exact predetermined will.”(238) Through evolution, Miller argues that God could have created “a creature who, like us, could know Him and love Him, could perceive the heavens and dream of the stars, a creature who could eventually discover the extraordinary process of evolution that filled His earth with so much life.” (238-239)

Much like Martin Luther, Miller holds that “the continuing existence of the universe itself can be attributed to God. The existence of the universe is not self-explanatory, and to a believer the existence of every particle, wave, and field is a product of the continuing will of God.” (241)

In an argument that may resemble a biologist looking for the “gods of gaps” in physics, Miller writes:

The indeterminate nature of quantum events would allow a clever and subtle God to influence events in ways that are profound, but scientifically undetectable for us. Those events could include the appearance of mutations, the activation of individual neurons in the brain, and even the survival of individual cells and organisms affected by the chance processes of radioactive decay. Chaos theory emphasizes the fact that enormous changes in physical systems can be brought by unimaginably small changes in initial conditions; and this too could serve as an undetectable amplifier of divine action. (241)

In this way, Miller, who is at the edge of the science of our day, finds ample room for believing in the sovereign majesty of God. He would not say, “God has the whole world in his hands,” but, God has the whole universe in his hands, as “the Creator of space, time, chance, and indeterminacy.” (242)

Another one of Miller’s arguments for his faith revolves around the anthropic principle, i.e., that the structure of the physical universe seems mathematically designed for the sake of life. He writes, “The physical constants of the universe in which we live have to be favorable to human life, because if they were not, nobody would be around to observe them.” (228) According to Stephen Hawking, “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.” (227-228) Hawking felt that this clearly had religious implications, (229) because with the gravitational constant just that much smaller or larger “the dust from the big bang would have just continued to expand, never coalescing into galaxies, stars, planets, and us.” (228) Thus, the four constants represent a fine tuning of the universe, making life possible.

Daniel Dennett takes an atheistic position against religious interpretations of the fine-tuned universe and argues that perhaps our universe spins out multiple universes and those passing through a black hole could conceivably have other constants (which is a theory first proposed by the physicist Lee Smolin).[41] By natural selection our universe then happens to have anthropic fine-tuning for life. Thus he argues that the anthropic principle would be arbitrary. (230) Miller counters that there could never be evidence for such an argument and Dennett himself gives unconscious credence to religion, because he argues that his explanation of the constants with a “multiplying swarm of universes,” is “at least as good as any traditional alternative.” (231) Miller finds Dennett’s argument weak and far-fetched, because natural selection is not part of the physics of astronomy and it takes as much faith to believe in a swarm of multiple universes with different constants issuing from black holes as to believe in the religious explanation. (231)

Kenneth Miller openly confesses his faith in God, but asserts that as tolerant a place as academia is, it is not so for those who embrace religion. Academia just isn’t prepared to accept those who take religion seriously. “The conventions of academic life,” he writes, “almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of.” (189) Reasoning, finding meaning and purpose in life consonant with ultimate concern is thus not only up against the materialist and naturalist creed but also an academic bias that ends up blotting out the spiritual dimension of reality.

Kenneth Miller is a biologist like Dobzhansky and both were not theologians. In the first place, Teilhard was also not a theologian, but a scientist. In a now dated work, Karl Heim, a theologian from the University of Tübingen, Germany argues against trying to convince modern scientific people about the existence of God through such arguments from physics, whether they come from quantum physics, the uncertainty principle, or the anthropic arguments about the fine-tuning of the universe for life. More precisely speaking, however, Miller does not try to prove the existence of God with his arguments, so much as show how God could still be maintaining and continuing the creation of the universe.

Karl Heim, briefly, takes the primitive space and outdated universe that religion once inhabited and translates religious realities inhabiting the momentous physical universe scientifically conceived today that contains millions upon millions of galaxies down to the quantum physics at the molecular and atomic and subatomic levels. The Bible was written, of course, when everyone still believed that the earth was flat and the sun, moon, and stars rotated around the earth. Paradigm shifts in the scientific conceptions of the universe have gone from that of Ptolemy to Copernicus to Newton and to Einstein’s. Heim situates Christian faith into today’s scientific paradigm of the universe.[42]

Heim argues, however, that a non-objectizable space exists that objective science cannot access.[43] The “I and Thou,” the will, and human relations are in this space to which science is oblivious. Following Heidegger, he understands the “I and Thou” as positions into which they are cast (their Dasein) in the here and now, which is also in this internal space. Even if the bodies of the “I and Thou” may be visible objects, they are not objects. He follows Kant and Fichte, who discovered the un-objectizable ego: it is a “fundamental optical fact that the seeing point (the ego) is itself not visible and as soon as a point becomes visible, it is no longer the seeing point.”[44] Indeed, “The thinking subject cannot be objectivized.” (51) “It is evident that this reality [our Dasein], [an ens realissimum, i.e., the most real of realities] belongs to a region lying outside of three dimensional space.” (45)

Heim charts the non-objectizable points as 1/ the ego, the “I” who am cast into an existence, 2/ the Thou, who also wants to be a center of perception and life-initiative, as well as 3/ the will and even relationships, all of which abide in a space that is inaccessible to the objectivity of science. Heim uses panpsychism to uncover a within, a subjective space,[45] which Miller would call spiritual reality, to which science has no access and which has been almost totally eclipsed by the scientism of today that cannot in any way relate to this spiritual space.[46]

In a similar way to my contrast of scientific durations of time and historical time, Karl Heim notes that physical, scientific, objective time exists in a linear series of moments, t1, t2, t3 … tn, which can go backwards and forwards; while time experienced by a subject is in the molten now of a present, where the future is not yet decided and the concluded past becomes objectified and irreversible. Thus Heim charts out a personal but also cosmic space inaccessible to the objectivity of science. Then he posits a higher, completely other dimension in which God resides.

Heim substantiates the completely other dimension by an intriguing, imaginative, allegorical story conceived and written by an Englishman, Edwin Abbott in a book called Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions. According to Heim, Abbott wrote this geometrical romance thirty years before Einstein’s theory of relativity. (129)  The story tells about three kinds of beings living in different dimensions. The Lineland beings live in one dimension and only know a point moving in lines. Then there are the Flatland beings, who live in two dimensions, making them aware of all realities on the surfaces inscribed by length and width. Suddenly they are startled by Spaceland beings, who live in all three dimensions and whose contact with the Flatland beings seems miraculous and contradictory to them. (129-130) The analogy opposes our three dimensional space to the completely other dimension, in which God resides, from which we hear about the risen Christ walking on water, entering through closed doors to join his disciples, rising from the dead, etc.

Karl Heim uses the concept of space, because it is infinite for any dimension. He posits un-objectizable, internal as opposed to objective space in the universe. He posits that God is in a space with another dimension from ours, an eternal, divine space that we have no power to penetrate much like the Flatland beings versus the three dimensional Spaceland beings, breaking into their world from “above” them. What contact comes out of the higher dimension, has to be by God’s initiative, by revelation, although personal communication is possible by prayer.

Just arguing from the objective space of science as Kenneth Miller does, for Heim completely misses the mark. It even endangers idolatry from a biblical perspective because of the resulting alien God-concept. Contact has to be initiated by God to us from divine space and as such, comes to us only as a gift.  Along with this encounter a completely new world opens up for that person although it was there all the time.  Such a person sees the whole of reality with new eyes. (192) Natural philosophy trying to conceptualize God and even scientist arguing from the anthropic principle do not become transformed in this way.

Heim quotes the poet Max Dauthendey, who had such an experience. Reading the New Testament thereafter, Dauthendey now felt that “Each of [Christ’s] words is spoken out of the center of the universe,” (189) that “The ‘I’ of the world is God and God is personal.” (218) “Now God stands before me as a joy in the life of the universe. To know the personal nature of God is far more blessed than to know the festal nature of the universe. Someday I’ll see God with my outward eyes, just as I have now seen him and recognize him with my inward eyes.” (218)

This is the authentic faith to which Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and the other prophets, Peter, James, and John, Paul and the other disciples, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and the other reformers responded. Karl Heim situates this Christian faith in the present scientific paradigm of the universe and the spiritual reality of the completely other dimension out of which God still encounters us today.



Theodosius Grygorovich Dobzhansky. The Biology of Ultimate Concern. London: Rapp + Whiting, 1967, 1969.

Also by Th. Dobzhansky: Mankind Evolving: the Evolution of the Human Species. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Future of Man. New York: Harper Torch Books, 1964.

————————–. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper Torch Books, 1959.

John F. Haught. Lecture Series “Science and Christian Faith.” Philadelphia: Metanexus Institute and Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 2006-2007. His lectures took place Dec. 6, 2006, Jan. 10, Feb. 19, April 25, and May 23, 2007.

John F. Haught Annotated Lecture Notes on Teilhard from Lecture May 23rd 07. http://peterkrey.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/john-f-haught-lecture-notes-on-teilhard-de-chardin-2007/

John F. Haught. Deeper Than Darwin: the Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution. Cambridge, MA: The Westview Press, 2003.

Kenneth R. Miller. Finding Darwin’s God: a Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.

Hilton C. Oswald, editor. Luther’s Works vol. 19. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974.

Lewis w. Spitz, editor. Luther’s Works, vol. 34. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960.

Luthers Werke. Weimar Ausgabe vol. 19.

Michael Polanyi. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. New York: Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1964.

Donald Palmer. Looking at Philosophy, 4th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006.

Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger,editors, Philosophy of Religion, Second and Third Editions, (Oxford University Press, 2001 and 2007.

John K. Ryan, editor. The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York: DoubleDay & Company, Inc., 1960.

Huston Smith. the World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.

Karl Heim. Christian Faith and Natural Science. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1953.

Abbott, Edwin A. Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1963.

Barbara Brown Taylor. The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000.

Mark Traugott, ed. Emile Durkheim on Institutional Analysis. University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Kurt H, Wolff, ed. Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917: a Collection of Essays. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1960.




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Enriching Endnotes

[1] Dobzhansky puts the teaching of continuous creation into a nutshell: “Creation is an on-going process, not an event of the distant past” (page 113). The page numbers in parentheses throughout are from Dobzhansky’s Biology of Ultimate Concern.

[2] Dobzhansky rehearses a catalogue of the ways the human being is distinct from an animal: “[Humans] are erect – walking – primates, with a brain large in relation to body size, hands fit for tool manipulation, tool-making, and for carrying objects. [Humans] engage in play, are capable of abstract thought, laughter, formation and use of symbols, of learning and using symbolic language, of learning to distinguish good from evil, [and able] to feel reverence and piety. At least some of these characteristics belong to the humanum.” (53-54) Also see pages 64, 69, and 76.

[3] Dobzhansky writes that “A psychological abyss seems to separate Homo sapiens from all other animals” (130). The rudiments of consciousness are, of course, also in animals. According to Teilhard, however, they cannot know that they know something (130). Also see Teilhard’s The Future of Man, pages 164 and 307.

[4] “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so will all be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15: 22-23). Those who awake in Christ have become a new species. Thus St. Paul writes “Adam is a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14).

Barbara Brown Taylor quotes from the book, Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium, by Bennett Sims, who “speaks of Jesus as the prototype of an entirely new level of evolving humanity. As much as Jesus might have looked like any other homo sapiens (cunning humanity), Sims says, he was not. He was the firstborn hetero pacificus (peaceable humanity), who came to bring a new species of creature into being.” The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000), page 31.

[5] See Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1964), page 233.

[6] Because this book precedes the feminist changes in language, I have used the term “human being” where Dobzhansky uses the term “man.”

[7] One of the main reasons for his writing this book is this: “A faith which stands in flagrant contradiction with well authenticated scientific findings cannot be right and one in accord with these findings may nevertheless be wrong” (page 109). Thus his search for a viable synthesis.

[8] N.B: Teilhard’s hope was that in the process of hominization, human beings could become pilots of the evolutionary process. That God is the pilot of evolution resembles finalism, a position which holds that a supernatural force, meaning God, is guiding evolution (118). Although Dobzhansky would disagree with the finalist position that God is piloting evolution, I believe that it is in God that we are enveloped, because, as the Greek poet Aratus said, “In God we live, move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)(See Karl Heim, Christian Faith and Natural Science, (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1953), page 168.) Teilhard also points to God and Christ as the Omega Point for human beings. In Teilhard’s words: “Christ… (is the Redeemer in the fullest sense) as the ultimate mover of anthropogenesis.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man., (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1964), page 281.

It is because of the great inefficiency, the waste and the many extinctions or dead ends during the course of evolution that Dobzhansky argues that God should not be named the pilot of evolution. That is a strong argument against those who argue that the way God created the world was through evolution.

What does Dobzhansky then find in Teilhard? How is God there from the very start of cosmological and biological evolution and also right through it, as Dobzhansky later quotes Karl Heim (1874-1958) of Tübingen wrote about faith and the natural sciences. (He did not hold that God controlled quantum events that science interpreted as random.) Dobzhansky does not tell his readers how this position differs from finalism. Teilhard believed, however, that God in Christ was not only the Omega but the Alpha as well (136).

[9] I’m using Dobzhansky’s revision of Dostoyevsky’s words.

[10] Dobzhansky describes the generalized panpsychism and panentheism of Charles Hartshorne: “God is, then, a superindividual, and all other individuals are [God’s] constituent parts.” God is conceived as the “cosmic organism.” (28-29). Although Dobzhansky disagrees with him he later writes, “Hartshorne [is] a philosopher who is at least aware of evolutionary problems.” (121)

This thought is intriguing because, as St. Paul said, preaching to the Athenians, you “search for God, and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are God’s offspring.’” (Acts 27-28) Thus, as the universe is in God and illuminated by God, we are in God like an embryo inside the womb of its mother. Thus as the baby replicates its mother, Christ is the image replicating the new human being to come, as well as already having been the image in which the human genotype was formed. Not that preformation is involved, but rather God’s creation out of eternity.

[11] There are two different kinds of changes in evolution. In anagenesis a biological species undergoes changes to adapt to environmental change, but continuing to be a single species. In cladogenesis, a single species splits up into one or more new species because of natural selection in different territories and their different environments (123-124).

[12] A dictionary definition: Epigenesis is opposed to preformation, because it holds that the embryo develops from successive differentiation from an originally undifferentiated structure.

[13] See footnote 7.

[14] This resolution resembles the Christological teaching that Christ was fully human and fully divine. Thus a fully natural explanation of nature does not preclude a fully spiritual one.

[15] In their essay entitled “The Anthropic Teleological Argument,” in Philosophy of Religion, L. Stafford Betty with Bruce Cordell take an approach based on probability theory and the chance of evolution achieving the complexities found in organic life. They hold to a proposed law that the significantly greater cannot come from the significantly less. Differing from Dobzhansky’s argumentation, they feel that the God of the gaps in the present circumstances of science now stands reversed. In their essay they write, “We found ourselves wondering if ‘God of the gaps’ may someday be used not by atheists to make fun of theists, but by theists to remind atheists of the facts,” because “scientific gaps are not closing, but becoming ever wider and more unbridgeable by science alone.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, editors, Philosophy of Religion, Third Edition, (Oxford University Press, 2007), page 244. (In the Second Edition, 2001, it is page 227.) Their argument needs to be weighed against Dobzhansky’s, who is, however, no atheist. He remained Orthodox although he did not believe in a personal God nor in the afterlife. But Paul Tillich denied the latter as well, banking completely on the creative act of God for his resurrection.

[16] Thus Dobzhansky argues that there is little chance that life as we know it could exist elsewhere in the universe (page 49, 64, 123, 127-128).

[17] Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: a Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1999), page 242.

[18] Peterson et al, Philosophy of Religion, edition 2, page 218, edition 3, page 235.

[19] “The human eye with all its marvelous complexity, could indeed have been formed by evolution, one step at a time, from a set of simpler but still functioning organs, shaped every step of the way by natural selection.” Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, page 136.

[20] In a work not cited by Dobzhansky, Teilhard writes, “Opposing the individual to the group is a false habit of mind: The coming together of separate elements does nothing to eliminate their differences. On the contrary, it exalts them. In every practical sphere true union (that is to say, synthesis) does not confound; it differentiates. From The Future of Man., (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1964), page 55. Thus true unity allows people to be themselves as different as they may be with an internal bond of love, while uniformity takes away the internal bond and insists on being outwardly alike, even controlling a person’s thoughts, insisting on the conformity of thought.

[21] The John F. Haught Lecture Series of 2006-2007 was sponsored by Metanexus Institute and Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA. His lectures took place Dec. 6, 2006, Jan. 10, Feb. 19, April 25, and May 23, 2007. See the URL of my “John F. Haught Annotated Lecture Notes on Teilhard” in my Bibliography.

[22] Scientific durations of time are very different from eternity, a quality of time capable of touching every past, present, and future moment.

[23] See Karl Heim’s interesting contrast of scientific, physical, objective time and the time as experienced from the now by unobjectizable subjects as well as the now of the internal space of the whole Cosmos. I refer to his arguments below.

[24] Mark Traugott, editor, “Course in Sociology: Opening Lecture,” in Emile Durkheim on Institutional Analysis, (Chicago University Press, 1978), page 50-51 and Kurt H. Wolff, editor, “Sociology and Its Scientific Field,” in Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917: a Collection of Essays, (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 1960), pages 364 and 367.

[25] Genesis 12, 18, 15:6.

[26] Genesis 32: 22-32.

[27] Exodus, chapter 3.

[28] Habakkuk 2: 4.

[29] Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38.

[30] 2 Corinthians 12; 2-4.

[31] John K. Ryan, editor, The Confessions of St. Augustine, (New York: DoubleDay & Company, Inc., 1960), pages 221-223.

[32] Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, 4th Edition, (New York: McGraw Hill, 2006), page 140.

[33] Lewis w. Spitz, editor, Luther’s Works, vol. 34, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), page 337.

[34] According to Huston Smith, “[when sifting the truths, which their institutions preserve, religions] become the world’s wisdom traditions….They begin to look like the data banks that house the winnowed wisdom of the human race.” Huston Smith, the World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), page 5. In another place he quotes Justice Holmes, “Science makes major contributions to minor needs [while] religion, however small its successes, is at least at work on the things that matter most” (page 9).

[35] Pierre Teilhard, The Future of Man, page 281.

[36] Martin Luther in his Jonah Lectures (1526) writes that before John the Baptist pointed out that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, it was incredible to John’s disciples that Christ was moving about among them. “Thus reason also plays blind man’s bluff with God; it consistently gropes in the dark and misses its mark. It calls that God which is not God and fails to call him God who really is God. Reason would do neither one nor the other if it were not conscious of the existence of God and if it knew who and what God is. Thus reason never finds the true God….So there is a vast difference between knowing there is a God and knowing who or what God is. Nature knows the former – it is inscribed in everybody’s heart; the latter is taught only by the Holy Spirit.” Hilton C. Oswald, editor, Luther’s Works vol. 19, (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974), page 55. Weimar Ausgabe vol. 19: 206-207.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, The Luminous Web, has another poetic metaphor about what Luther is referring to: “when the measly lasso of my reason falls a million miles short of the living truth…” page 81.

[37] Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, page 171. Miller castigates such scientists.

[38] Ibid., page 187.

[39] John Haught’s Last 2006-2007 Matanexus Lecture, May 23rd 2007, at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA.

[40] Kenneth Miller, page 240. The following series of page numbers in parentheses will designate pages from Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God.

[41] See Lee Smolin, “Fecund Universes,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Smolin

[42] Barbara Brown Taylor in The Luminous Web, also situates her Christian faith in the new scientific paradigm of the universe the way Karl Heim is doing, but she does not chart the non-objectizable dimension, which science is unequipped to explore and which its method cannot research, as posited by Heim. Her approach is more mystical in a narrative that views the new edges of physics from her implicit stance on revelation. In one important way she goes farther than Miller and Heim, although not farther than Teilhard. She writes of the weak and strong forms of the anthropic principle: the former “states that since we are here, the universe must have been put together in a certain way.” in the latter, “it says that the universe was bound to produce us, since our consciousness makes it possible for the world to exist.” (pages 29-30) Further she writes, “it is difficult to miss the most stunning miracle of creation: that in us, the universe has become conscious.” (page 42) and “In us, God has given all creation a voice.” (page 43)

[43] Heim has not penetrated the scientific cult of objectivity. (Polanyi) Hegel points out that even objectivity is a subjective form of consciousness in that it is also thought. [See W.T. Stace, The Philosophy of Hegel, (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), page 263-264.] The Humanities have different kinds of objectivity appropriate to their disciplines and different from those of science, which violates its limitations by not recognizing them.

[44] Karl Heim, Christian Faith and Natural Science, page 36. The following numbers in parentheses are page numbers from this book.

[45] Heim seems to avoid the term “subjective.” He may feel like many of that day who believed that physics had completely replaced metaphysics and the only task left for philosophers was to mathematize language for more precision in the service of scientists.

[46] Heim’s explicit issue is scientific secularism, which, among other things, is the outcome of the materialism and naturalism of scientism.

Michael Polanyi wrote about what in theological circles we used to call the “cult of scientific objectivity.” He writes: “Objectivism has totally falsified our conception of truth, by exalting what we can know and prove, while covering up with ambiguous utterances all that we know and cannot prove, even though the latter knowledge underlies, and must ultimately set its seal to, all that we can prove.” Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, (New York: Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1964), page 286. He continues, “Our objectivism, which tolerates no open declarations of faith, has forced modern beliefs to take on implicit forms.” (288) (As noted above, Kenneth Miller also complains that academia is not tolerant of those who openly confess their faith in God in Finding Darwin’s God, page 189.) Polanyi argued that our knowledge has to issue from beliefs, which need internal and external checking. But against scientism, “a creed inverted into a science is both blind and deceptive.” (page 268)

From my point of view, the naturalism and materialism of scientism can eclipse the personal subject, the author of science and the free historical subject. Even a scientist, who focuses merely on the measurability of length, mass, and time, can be completely oblivious to being a human subject doing the measuring. And, furthermore, the hands are quite removed from the head and heart, as is instrumental from value rationality.




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