Differentiating from Dowd

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Michael Dowd and I are both associated with evolutionary Christianity.  I’m not sure I even like the tag, but it probably will stick for awhile. Michael asked me to give him some feedback on his excellent recent youtube videos and Tedx talk, and I decided to respond to him with a blog post. My hope is that Michael will respond with his own post on this site.   I’ve had an itch for some time related to Michael’s work, and this gives me an opportunity to scratch it.

Over the past few years I have noticed some significant differences between Michael and myself. That is to be expected. I’m finding it important to publicly declare that I don’t see us doing the same thing.   Michael and his wife, Connie Barlow, have become friends over the years. I first met them when I was giving a presentation at Chautauqua Institute in Up State New York. They rolled into town in their van, the same week that I was the presenter. And it was a fabulous connection between brothers whose lives had been changed by the insights of Father. Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin, Brian Swimme, and others, who helped us all to see the intrinsic luminosity of an unfolding cosmos. As well they were a great support to me when I was going through a big life transition recently.   Michael and Nora

Michael and Connie famously travel throughout North America, and have done so for the past 12 years or so, in a van they affectionately call Angel, spreading the gospel of evolution. They see themselves as bridge builders between the scientific community and the church, sometimes taking heat from both communities in the process. Folded into these presentations is a passionate concern for climate change. Suffice it to say that these two souls are “all in” in their passionate commitment to helping the church not be afraid of science (particularly evolution). I celebrate and applaud their commitment.

Michael sees himself as leading an “evidential reformation” as significant as Luther’s Protestant revolution hundreds of years ago. He summarizes his work in a tidy little manifesto: (1) Reality is my God, (2) Evidence is my scripture, (3) Big History is my creation story, (4) Ecology is my theology, (5) Integrity is my salvation …  Beautiful. These pithy summaries represents decades of synthesis.   Right off the top let me say that the Youtube videos and the TEDx talks are characteristically lucid and Michael is his passionate and articulate self. Kudos.

But when I look at the manifesto, it could have been written by an atheistic materialist. It reflects a scientific, modernist worldview and doesn’t require anybody holding that worldview to contend with your Christianity, Michael. My question to you is whether this is this truly a bridging mission? I can see how you are challenging and inviting Christians to take science seriously.  But it’s less clear how the scientific community is being challenged to take Christianity seriously on its own terms. The bridge is actually a one-way street.

I know that you have a reaction to the word “materialism” to describe a worldview in which everything is a reconfiguration of matter, including mind— the belief of mainstream science today that the great story of the cosmos is not unfolding within a pervasive and primordial heart and mind. For the record I believe that it is. To repeat, I can see the challenge that you are putting to Christianity, which I support, but I don’t see how you are actually challenging science with a robust articulation of Christianity.

I hear you saying, G_d is Reality.  But that just begs the question: what is Reality? And as far as I can tell from what you are putting out, Reality is what science is able to confirm about physical reality. Physical reality is truly awesome, and here I’m in agreement with you that the church needs to become scientifically literate. The story of the evolving cosmos is truly another scripture, as Thomas Berry affirmed. (“The heavens declare your handiwork and Earth your glory, day to day pours forth speech, etc.”- Psalm 119) But it’s a lot less clear how you are wrestling with that other scripture (the Bible) as a valid expression of truth. (You know of course that I’m no biblical literalist and realize that there are truly nasty bits that need to be contextualized).

I hear and appreciate your referencing these ancient texts as “night language” or “private revelation”, versus the “public revelation” or “day language” that science offers. But you privilege and validate, as far as I can tell, the public revelation over the private. This is the so-called “evidential revolution” you are leading. It would be helpful for me if you would occasionally critique, a la Thomas Kuhn, the limits of the scientific epistemology as a way of knowing, with its inherent problem that we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are. You can’t extract mind from the equation. The quintessential postmodernist wisdom, supported by quantum physics, shows us that we participate in the construction of reality.

The biblical writers themselves enjoyed a different way of knowing and interpreting the world, and there is much wisdom that’s not available to current scientific method. Pre-modern philosophers and theologians, including Thomas Aquinas and the Greek philosophers, wrote about seven or eight senses, not just the five that we’re familiar with and through which science limits its inquiry.  These other senses were related to the soul’s way of knowing a reality deeper than the physical. They approximated what today we call intuition. These intuitive senses “saw” and “felt” a Wholeness animating every part, every atom of the universe. An early scientist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) inspired many non-materialist scientists including biologist, Rupert Sheldrake and physicist, Henri Bortoft. As a religious man, he studied plants, and began with the premise of an underlying, animating Wholeness. He intuitively got the wholeness, and his method of doing science, was, in part, a conscious alternative to the reductionistic scientific method of Sir Isaac Newton.

This Wholeness or Coherence (or Mind, G_d or Buddha Mind or the Christ Mystery) lived the universe and is living the universe.  Intuition reveals a synthesizing, whole-making presence and activity, weaving patterns from the chaos. This perception of wholeness or deep patterning is what Plato meant by “beauty”, which transcended but included physical or aesthetic beauty. Paul (or a scholar in his lineage) used this intuitive capacity when he declared that Christ was the one “in whom all things are held together” (Colosssians 1:15-20).

Yes, it’s night language, but only night language can capture what science in its current iteration of metaphysical materialism will never be able to reveal. To put the question bluntly to you, is there a dimension of Reality that includes and permeates, but transcends the physical, and does this Mind and Heart interact with the physical realm, in-forming it, influencing, and supporting it?

It seems to me that if the scientific world is truly going to be challenged in the way you are challenging the church, you might want to present a nuanced theology of providence—that this Whole-Making activity is actually non-coercively at work within the evolutionary process, leading it all/us all into greater degrees of freedom, beauty, truth, goodness. And that this is all an expression of the Mystery that religions called G_d.  There is no true religious sensibility without some kind of felt sense that the universe is purposively unfolding toward, yes, an indeterminate (or emergent) future,  but biased toward a completion of love. I’m not talking about traditional notions of predestination, but rather the subtle interplay of Spirit with a world that enjoys freedom, particularly in human.   To repeat, I don’t see you challenging the scientific world to contend with a robust, credible theology.

So while that part of your manifesto “ecology is my theology” has a nice ring to it, ecology isn’t actually theology. I could support your argument that there is nothing more important that ecological repair.  However, your choice not to have a theology (implicit in the statement “ecology is my theology”) feels, again, like you are catering to the scientific (and materialistic) community. Rupert Sheldrake comes to mind here as a pan-psychic, non-materialist and religious biologist, who has truly and courageously taken heat from the scientific community for his theory of morphogenetic fields.

Let’s be clear, theology that’s worth the ink is not the same as mere beliefs, understood as arbitrary intellectual assertions that may or may not be true. Theology, at best, is an articulation of a transcendent experience that is real and life-changing. Even philosophically, I hear no metaphysics (that which transcends, but includes physicality) in your work.  Especially in recent years, I sense a shift away from theology and metaphysics. This is a real problem, because until we understand first principles, we cannot understand the basis of our actions as a species. More about this below.

This leads me to your presentation of the evolutionary role of religion in human civilization. Along with Robert Wright and others, you conclude that religion served and serves an “adaptive” function, in a kind of neo-Darwinian way, helping humanity to survive, to stop killing each other, to establish moral frameworks for community, etc. I find this position overly simplistic and reductionistic. It reduces pre-modern people’s experience of the Numinous, of G_d or the gods, to an instrumental role, a mere means to an end, unconsciously driven by blind instinct to give us a better shot at surviving.

But I would reverse it. The experience of the Numinous is not a means to an end, but an end in itself and the beginning of an authentic life. It is contact with the true Nature of “Reality”. It is a genuine “I-Thou” experience, and not merely, as you claim, a personification of what a pre-modern mind couldn’t yet understand because the scientific method hadn’t yet emerged. I know that you validate the “I-Thou” experience in your presentations, but again, Michael, it seems as though the “Thou” is a projection of the human psyche, in line with Feuerbach’s philosophy. This takes me back to the question of theology. What for you is the “Thou” in this experience?

A last point about this experience of an over-arching, implicate order, or Wholeness/Mind that weaves beauty from chaos, truth from falsehood, and goodness from evil.  It rarely serves an adaptive function.  If it is authentic it doesn’t adapt to culture, but explodes it. Jesus, for example, interrupted consensus reality, re-ordering it in the direction of a deeper expression of what it means to be human. And that true humanity is only revealed in relation to the One he called Abba. The direction of evolution he effected was not in accordance with the dominant culture’s trajectory, but rather subverted its moral order.

Politically, the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the rights of workers all came out of the Jesus’ lineage, (and thereby through Judaism) inspired and initiated by those who had an authentic experience of the Numinous “Other”, calling them to interject and correct the trajectory of evolution away from the privileged and toward rights of the invisible and marginalized. I contend that they actually encountered the Christ Mystery and were transformed. Not that they just didn’t understand or that it was an inner voice that got projected on to G_d, but that a reality, a transcendent Heart and Mind (implicate in the cosmos), more subtle than the physical apprehended them. Would you agree? Or how would you put it? I’m not too concerned about the words we use for it, but that whatever they experienced is ultimate Reality, even though you can’t do an experiment to prove it.

Owen Barfield wrote his book, Saving Appearances, precisely to correct the modernist flatlander[1] tendency to see only “appearances”, but miss the dimension of Wholeness living in and through the appearances. Historically, this lack of intuitive capacity led to what ancient Judaism called idolatry, which led to devotion to objects, rather than the indwelling Subjectivity that was the source of physical beauty and reverence.  The objects themselves could not carry the freight of the numinous. And this tendency is what leads precisely to the mess that the modern worldview has made of the world. This is why theology and metaphysics are, in fact, so critical. When we ascribe a numinous dimension solely to the material, we worship (unconsciously) the material world of objects. We gather to ourselves tokens of the numinous (bigger houses, a second or third car, more sound systems, better vintage wines, designer clothes). And we do so as individuals, leading lives of disconnected excess, because we do not feel the Mind and Heart that connects (or the “pattern that connects” to use Gregory Bateson’s third person metaphor).   This is precisely what we would expect from a modernist worldview that voided the universe of both a pervading and primordial consciousness, soon to be followed by voiding it of any intrinsic cosmic meaning or purpose. Stripped of the sacred, numinous dimension, matter and its various artifacts, attains god-like status, and our devotion manifests unconsciously in lives of material excess, which is at the heart of our ecological crisis, including climate change.

Deepak Chopra is directly challenging the scientific community to come to terms with consciousness or mind as a fundamental reality, and not only an emergent or epi-phenomenon. This is perhaps “the” issue for science in the 21st century. You have chosen not to sign his challenge, claiming that ecology is more critical to Christians than such issues. I disagree, and given your mission of bringing science to Christians, how can this be excluded as unimportant? In fact, for reasons outlined above, it is critically important.

Deepak calls it this originating mind “consciousness”. Christians call it G_d, and ascribe deep, ontological personhood (G_d as personal, but not “a” person). But whatever name it goes by, there is a lot at stake, and it is precisely an ideological battle between materialist metaphysics, and the theology and metaphysics that honour a Transcendent Mystery.

I could say more, brother. But I leave it there for now. Both of us experience ourselves as embodiments of the creative unfolding of the cosmos, with the capacity to consciously participate in the emergence of a new and better future. I honour your commitment and your rare passion for this evolving project. Both of us affirm that there’s an emergent quality to this process, that nothing is predetermined, and that the future needs us to show up in our co-creatorhood.  What I experience is that this great cosmic emergence itself emerges out of and is grounded, not solely in the physical, but in the ultimately mysterious interplay and polarity of Spirit and matter. Both poles are actual. For me, this is where the numinous, awesome nature of reality lies. I look forward to your response.

[1] “Flatlander” is a term that integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, uses for the modernist worldview which denies interiority or a subjective dimension to reality. This subjectivity (or mind) pervades the universe, including matter. Matter is not “lower” than mind, rather it is mind’s outside dimension.

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Comments

  1. Baz Edmeades says

    Great to see such a brave and intelligent rejection of Wittgenstein’s dictum that we should remain silent about the things we cannot speak of. I miss full access to your thoughts (which I frankly can’t afford right now) because they’re so often thought-provoking and inspiring..

    How easy it is to slip into the ostensible “rigorous” or “scientific” appeal of atheism. I’m currently being tempted by that ostensibly logical view myself…

    I accept, G-d, that I can never demonstrate your existence and workings to others or indeed myself by logic or science, but I seek to restore within myself the “personal conviction” of Your reality which sustained Kant.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Baz, love the Wittgenstein quote, and love the prayer at the end. I hear humility, and to know that a mind like Kant was sustained by prayer.

  2. Karen Sloan says

    Hi Bruce,
    You speak so much for me in this blog. I also feel myself at times slipping into a scientist’s view of the world, where all is only what we can see and measure. And then when I think I cannot go on, that urge, that quiet voice somewhere within, calls forth. It cannot be measured, only its presence felt and acted apon. As it has always been.

    Thanks
    Karen

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Karen, for your honesty. I think we’ve been so steeped in a materialistic worldview, that it is all of our default positions, scientists and non-scientists alike. The modernist worldview is so pervasive, and at times pernicious I would say.

  3. says

    Tremendous post, Bruce. I found Michael’s book very helpful when I was just starting to come to terms with evolution. I appreciate so much about his work, but I also sensed a subtle reductionism going on–as you say, privileging scientific, objective truth over subjective, spiritual experience. When Dowd says “facts are God’s native language” he seems to be saying something quite different from St. John of the Cross who said “silence is God’s first language.” And when he said that the evidence points to God having no qualities whatsoever, I had to shake my head. How is that different from agnosticism, or atheism for that matter? No doubt we need to grow beyond immature, mythical conceptions of the divine nature, and Michael’s work (along with yours and many others) is helping us do that. But we also need to go beyond mere materialism (which, I believe, simply cannot adequately explain reality) to articulate a meaningful, nonreductive understanding of “that which we call God”. And I think you’re doing that very well, Bruce. So thanks again. By the way, as a somewhat recent post-evangelical, I don’t quite get why you always use the term “G_d” and would love to hear you explain it sometime, if you haven’t already.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Nathanael, Well said. In terms of G_d, it’s a nod to the unknowability, the Mystery, in line with Jewish thought that we cannot utter G_d’s name, and yet we can experience G_d’s presence, come into resonance. But when we think we have “the” name, our ego’s revel and make G_d in our image.

      • Rodney Williams says

        I like how this fits with YHWH,
        The Breath that breathes me. Unknowable but knowing….in my reckoning…..Personified in Jesus of Nazareth.. Who lived the LOVE of which you speak.
        the Love that wants to live through us and in us into the unfolding future.
        It is for that reason that I take Jesus as the pole ( LOVE future) towards which I am heading and also the lodestone to guide me there…. If that makes sense… Written in miniature on my iphone!

  4. Blyth Hughes says

    Tremendously interesting and encouraging to read about the need to incorporate something beyond the measurable and corporeal. As a practicing scientist and christian for many years I am glad to know that the concept of “mind” and consciousness is being appreciated more fully. Is it that we are all “modellers” of the universe and all carry around a working model of it inside ourselves that we have learned to identify with the “outside” world from the age of 1 (or earlier) and are constantly refining, expanding, and evolving, and also learning how to merge it with other’s “models”? Is it also that we are developing personal and social constructs to allow is to deal with anxiety and so bring some greater measure of certainty (desire for objective evidence) and thus inner peace, but are also developing means to increase anxiety through a rapidly changing social and natural world (at least in our understanding of it) and so bring in once again overburdening-ness, alienation and unknowing? Nevertheless, the christian labels of “in christ” and “body of christ” are still very real to me and point to the importance of community based on a narrative and a spirit that are alive, open-ended, mindful of the personal, and infused with the very deep truth of the paramount importance of empathy and “love” (as borne out by evidence). I agree with Michael Dowd, and others, that there is a “grand narrative” that we all are part of and that the scientific method has a central role to play in revealing that narrative. It is a truly wondrous narrative, and wondrous that the human mind is subtle, nuanced and rich enough to include it in all its detail. It is also wondrous that through the ages it has not been necessary to know that “grand narrative” in all its scientific precision to have an experience of the numinous. Maybe the hope is that by knowing it more fully, a more transformative experience will be possible for those who are yet to come, and so a more complete community experience will also be possible — and possible with a larger more diverse community.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Blythe,

      Good to hear from a working scientist. Really appreciate your nuanced take on this issue of mind. My intuition is that we are, in truth,
      “models” of the working universe. What else could we be, when you think about it? At least it makes sense to me. And we have the capacity to download it all, or to come into resonance with the Whole. To me, again, this is what it is to be “in Christ”. Thanks for your comment.

  5. says

    Thank you Bruce and all the other comments made in this post. So important to know where we are placing our attention, how we do that, and why we do it. All of this informs our understanding of ourselves and the universal story we subscribe to. We are SO materialistically conditioned — affecting us on every level of our being.
    Excellent to bring in the “Flatlander” term of Wilber’s Bruce! (The modernist worldview which denies interiority or a subjective dimension to reality.)
    I also appreciate Nathanael’s comparison of Dowd saying that “facts are God’s native language, whereas” St. John of the Cross refers to “silence [as] God’s first language.”
    Listening beyond the known through the profound letting go nature of Silence Practice, is the opposite of “flatlander.” Might be called “God”? God IS Holy Mystery to me, so I don’t leave the “o” out. :)
    With appreciation for starting the dialogue Bruce! Connie and Michael stayed with us on their Vancouver visit as you know. And your post puts a lot in perspective. At the time, I couldn’t quite figure out what the “dividing elephant in the room” was! Quite clear now. Thanks.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Laura, I agree that materialism is like the air we breathe today. It underlies all of our institutions, political, educational, financial…it’s a practice just to differentiate!

  6. Bill T. says

    Really interesting, great review Bruce

    I don’t know think human capabilities and awareness has reached the stage of perceiving and accepting the Wholeness/Oneness that is our physical reality. I think what we perceive as our reality contains both Spirit and matter. WIth-out Spirit matter doesn’t come into being. It is only in our perceived physical separateness that we see self/ego as separate from the true essence of Spirit presence. Don’t know if you get what I’m referring to? Kind of way beyond my ability to even put to word what I feel intuitively.

      • says

        Bill — I SO appreciate people like you who try to language what stands beyond language (from the Oneness Consciousness we are. Trusting our (higher) intuition is key to this process. I like the St. John of the Cross quote: “They can be like a sun, words. They can do for the heart what light can for a field.”

  7. Fred Brailey says

    The internet is evolved from a century of scientific exploration. The search for scientific truth is the human spirit exploring “reality.” Is it merely materialism? I question that, especially for the fruits of science enable us ro grow both materially and spiritually.

    The internet might be seen as a stunning example of human evolutionary growth in unpredictable directions. Is it ‘merely physical’? This medium continues to evolve in unpredictable ways. I like to think of it a quality of G-d, enabling human communication at the speed of light. Materialist arguments vs. spirituality seem fraught with endless philosophical questions, which I feel are largely futile!

    Some of the atomic scientists struggled with their consciences years before they produced the bomb. Many more scientists are now questioning the entire nuclear power and weapons industry as unsustainable; for many materialistic reasons it is bringing about its own self destruction. It is part of our endless search for truth, both material and spiritual.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Fred,

      I agree with you, “the search for scientific truth is the human spirit exploring reality.” Nice. I think Teilhard would agree with you as well.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Fred, you sound a bit like Teilhard, with his idea of the noosphere. He would regard I’m sure, the internet, as an extension and manifestation of mind, planetary mind. Thanks…

  8. Ed Olson says

    Thank you Bruce for initiating this public dialogue with Michael.

    I have learned so much from both of you in recent years. I look forward to Michael’s response. I like the way Deepak Chopra phrased the question: Is consciousness or mind a fundamental reality, and not only an emergent or epi-phenomenon?

    Whether consciousness has existed from the beginnings of the Universe and now we and other life forms have evolved to access it is a vital question. I do believe the collective experience of that awakening as captured by the great religions of the world can aid neuroscientists and others in the quest to understand consciousness

    Ed

  9. John Monroe says

    Another great post Bruce! I too am a big fan of Michael and Connie. They helped to introduce me to you and others in this science-religion interface in their teleconference a few years ago. Thank you for driving home the reality of Spirit, G_d, the Numinous, Consciousness, whatever you want to call it. The reductionistic, materialistic bias in our culture is at the root of much of our dis-ease, I believe. In the church, this bias shows up in a fixation on doctrine and talk about G_d or Ultimate Reality, but in a troubling lack of transformative spiritual practice.
    Why engage in contemplative practice if consciousness is an epiphenomenon, an accident? If there is only pre-rational consciousness and not trans-rational states or stages of consciousness available to us, then or course, spiritual experience or intuition will always be seen as pathological.
    I am supporting the Climate March in New York on September 21 and hope that hundreds of thousands show up and provide energy for deep change in our nation’s energy policies. Fear or rational argument, however, will not be effective in getting us to the Promised Land of sustainability. A collective shift or awakening, a deeper awareness of non-physical dimensions, ironically, appears necessary for a more sustainable relationship between humanity and our planet to emerge.
    Thanks for this post. I will be returning to it often.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks John, for supporting the walk for climate change that is so central to what Michael and Connie are doing these days. Interesting, I just read a piece by biologist, E.O. Wilson, on whether humans enjoy freedom. As a thorough going materialist, he was at least consistent. All these words on a page, beautifully written, but concluding with, there is no freedom, just the illusion of it, which is enough for us to carry on. I don’t know how he could live with the futility of his conclusions, or bother writing the piece, given that he believes himself to be nothing other than historically, genetically, sociologically determined, since he reduces himself to physicality, and historical causation.

  10. Dawn Hutchings says

    Thanks Bruce!!! I have followed both your work and Michael Dowd’s with great interest and appreciation!!! I very much appreciate your careful and gracious articulation of your differences. There is much food for thought here and you have sent me scurrying back to the drawing board as I ponder the implications. I look forward to Michael Dowd’s response!!!
    Namaste…

  11. says

    In confronting Michael’s materialism, Bruce writes, “I hear you saying, G_d is Reality. But that just begs the question: what is Reality?” *And I wonder about begging the question, for what is God?— except man’s creational attempt to exist from himself, to be a God.* Perhaps we should take another look at Feuerbach’s anthropological concept of God as humanities psychological and outward projection of man’s inward nature—-mankind’s attempt to live fully and make sense of our short term existence. Since reason and science have not been able to come up with proof positive of God’s existence, we may be looking in the wrong time/space.
    When the very word ‘mystic’ is more or less defined by John 17:21 ‘That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.’ Perhaps ‘Reality’ itself has the hypostasis that we humans are searching for, and perchance that hypostasis may be the real stuff hidden behind the manifestation of existence including our own. We know so little, and yet we play the game of theology as if we are uncovering the good, the true, and the beautiful. Give me ‘Silence’, beyond my attachments, my fall from Grace. I will welcome Grace again, even death—-to the ‘Reality’ that formed and gave me birth. Amen.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Cloyce, beautifully expressed. I do think Feuerbach was on to something, but that it’s not a false projection. It’s an externalization of an intuitive awareness of Source, and that we are Its intimate expression. We mirror the universe, which mirrors/reflects Source, inside and out. And of course we project through our prevailing worldview. Silence, yes, so needed.

  12. Jen-Beth Fulton says

    Thank you, Bruce for being honestly grateful for what Michael has brought to our consciousness in evolutionary learning, yet critiquing a growing fundamentalist attitude towards Scientific proof. As you know fromo our time studying the “Painting the Stars ” material, I questioned and rejected Michale’s call for a “new” paradigm of radical conformity, it seemed, to a proof orientated future. We have been down that road to the disservice of the numinous and our being the conscious expression of the Universe in evolution. Along with others, in these fascinating comments, I so appreciate your ability to put it all into words and challenge this perspective of Dowd, as we strive for balance between Religion / Sprituality and Science

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Jen-Beth, yes, it’s a balance that we’re striving for I think and a forthright presentation of our biases.

  13. says

    Hi Bruce;
    As a recovering Fundamentalists who has been inspired by both you, Mike and others; I truly welcome this engagement. I’ve been following Brian McLaren and Richard Kearney, also grappling with the same issues. I recently attended a conversation with Mark Nepo who quoted one mystic who’s response was always, “IT’S NOT TWO BUT ONE”. My primary task is to get my Evangelical tribe to come to terms with Science. I’ve also followed Deepak Chopra’s line & you tube debates which I’ve found helpful. I’m still grappling with how to get science to accept Christianity? I need help in that regard!

    May I part wit this quote from Richard Kearney’s ANATHEISM:
    … the absolute can never be understood absolutely by any single person or religion.
    … One must, I suggest, abandon the old God of sovereignty and theodicy. That Master God must die so that the God of inteconfessional hospitality can be born. And, insofar as religious dogma has often served as vehicle of infantile fear and dependency, the interreligious God may be described as a postdogmatic God. That is why anatheism appreciates a rigorous atheistic critique of the theistic perversions of religion.
    THANKS!!!

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Muzi,

      Good to hear from you and thanks for this. I like Kearney’s “inter confessional hospitality…Does “an-atheism” simply mean “not atheism”, but at the same time refusing to define theism?

  14. Bjorn Saw says

    Dear Bruce,
    That is the most beautiful thing I read from you. Mind you, I haven’t read all your blog posts. I am so with you and with you heartfelt concern regarding this crucial point. This is a reason why many of a theologian would not even enter into a debate regarding these concerns because they see the futility thereof if not this point is understood correctly.
    I see it as the crux of the matter. This is why any true religion will be an offense to the mindset of a materiist. It just doesn’t make sense, the mind cannot grasp it. It is foolishness to the world.
    That’s why Jesus still is relevant and we can’t outgrow him, or mature past him. He will be that thorn in our side, that wound in our hip.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Bjorn, Materialism is insidious, like the air we breathe. Not easy to differentiate, even for the spiritually oriented for the 21st century.

      • says

        I consider the spiritualist vs. materialist binary to be as useless and misleading as the theist vs. atheist binary. Both IMHO are outdated, misguided, and unnecessarily divisive. More, both reflect a non-integal way of viewing the world.

        • says

          Dear Michael and Bruce,

          The point is not, as I see it, the designation “materialist” or “atheist” or their opposites, but the subtle feeling of something essential being set aside. For me, inherent in Life itself, the mystery we experience on so many planes, is a calling. A voice coming from the heart of things, from the very visible universe down to the cells of our body. Science and astronomy are fantastic revelations to the human mind. They awakens us to larger reality beyond the norm. Beyond the normal sense of everyday perception we are taken by the grandeur of nature itself. Yet the calling still rings when our eyes fails us, or when our mind reaches its limits, or when we our body breaks down. This voice of the unknowable, the mystery beyond our farthest reaches, is presented in our traditions in language some say is antiquated or cloaked in mystery, yet those very words are like gateways to a knowing that surpasses human comprehension. This both of you already know but I say it to bring home the point of this entire discussion. Michael, can’t you see what Bruce is pointing to, or referring to in his critique? If we dialogue about that, then we won’t get into the whole “yes but no” rhetoric.
          Theology, to me, must always be imbued with the living mystery as it is exposed. Therefore it is essential to leave an infinite amount of space to that which we all revere and let that have the final say. No need to prove a point, but we simply answer the call coming from within, of a Being that is all-inclusive in his love and understanding. Fundamentally beyond yet immanent.

          • Bruce Sanguin says

            Thanks, Bjorn, for writing from Mystery/night language, and not about it. It makes all the difference. To speak from it is to convey that one has walked the land, and knows the feeling that is beyond description ultimately, but as Chris says in his response, the Unknown is not unknowable.

  15. frank says

    Hi Bruce,

    Great stuff as ever!

    Reminds me what famous mystic so-and-so said so eloquently, “One house, many rooms. Don’t eat where ya crap and don’t crap where ya eat.”

    Let’s keep science out of the kitchen! ;)

    Regards

  16. Richard Smith says

    Much enjoyed reading this blog. I have found Dowd’s “Thank God for Evolution” refreshing and stimulating. He simplifies so the simple can understand Christianity and God in Evolutionary terms.
    Sanguin is more the theologian and writes in the convoluted metaphysics that theologians love. Of importance I thinks is the concept that Mind and Matter are integrally related and one does not exist without the other and they evolve together creating the beauty and complexity and possibilities that we all enjoy. The end result is both an objective and a subjective world that correlate but do not represent the world the same way. Dowd focuses on the objective while Sanguin emphasises the importance of the subjective world. So a diversity results, which is the essence of the evolutionary process. We need to live with and celebrate this diversity for that is its strength otherwise we end up in doctrinal straight jackets with sectarian divides.
    Hope this makes sense.
    Richard

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Richard, I hope I’m not too “convoluted”! :-) I agree with you, although what’s at stake in this conversation is the question of the reality of Mind, not as epiphenomenon, but as ground of being, and yes, mind and matter do co-evolve. But the materialist worldview collapse all reality down to matter (and some new age spiritualities collapse all reality down to mind.

      • says

        I love your blog post. A really important issue. And I agree with what you just said: “But the materialist worldview collapse all reality down to matter (and some new age spiritualities collapse all reality down to mind.”
        Complexity and holding 2 seeming opposing statements as simultaneously true is really hard for our human brain. It seems to take decades of human effort at growing up (as studied now by the work of Robert Kegan, Susanne Cook-Greuter, and other developmental psychologists) before our brains can truly hold that level of complexity.
        I think, perhaps, this conversation is pointing to a a pair of seeming opposites – “reality” vs. “Mind” – which only look like they are in tension because of the level of our interior mental complexity.
        You are helping push those of us who are ready to think about and feel about this (thinking and feeling is another one of those seeming opposites) to hold the simultaneous truths, and the presence of the a third truth – humility is needed in the face of all of it.
        If our rational mind cannot understand it – it is not necessarily false. This is a point mystics have made. And, as Ken Wilber points out, it is where the pre-trans fallacy takes place as well. PRE-rational can be made to be “the same as” TRANS-rational by those who are not yet TRANSrational.
        Simple example: PRE-RATIONAL exists before logic and scientific discipline arises in human history, and in the individual’s journey. In our present time and culture where Science and materialism are normative, God images and theologies require belief EVEN IF rational mind and scientific data disagrees. Evolution is a hot bed focus for such debates. Fear can be triggered here: either believe in God OR believe in Science and go to hell.
        RATIONAL mind often (but not always) takes the next step to embrace Science… but due to anger at feeling betrayed by the previous worldview it then throws out God and embraces materialism as the only truth. Since Evolution is Capital T True, then God and theology are WRONG. (An example of either or thinking – but a step forward in developmental psychology)
        TRANS-RATIONAL can hold both Science and the numinous (freed from theological limitations) as simultaneously True. Developmentalists might call this the “self-transforming mind” or mindset – as the person at this stage can remain humble enough to continue learning for the rest of his/her life.

        I see Michael Dowd as helping people deal with and make the Pre-Rational / Rational transition with less fear and more grace.. I see you as helping with the Rational / Trans-Rational transition. Both audiences need to be served.

        So once again – an either/or becomes a both/and. You are both bringing something important to human individual evolution and our cultural evolution.

        AND I personally am more intrigued in finding inside myself the traces of materialist-scientific-default mode. I am more likely to find safety in logic and science. I worry that the leap to TRANS-Rational is often so hard, so difficult, that we tend to find our “safety zone” and either go to too much science or materialism , or we find safety in a new more “spiritual” type of Magical Thinking – the “new age” non-rational overemphasis you mentioned.

        So how is THAT for a complex and perhaps CONVOLUTED reply to your reply to a reply to your blog!?!?
        Hugs and smiles
        Cindy

        • Bruce Sanguin says

          Thanks Cindy,

          Really appreciate your contextualizing here, especially in light of your brilliant work with Spiritual Intelligence,(https://www.deepchange.com/sq21book) as a distinctive line of intelligence. And your reply is not at all convoluted. It’s very clear, and I think your introduction of the pre/trans fallacy is apt. I agree that the leap to trans-rational (which as you point out, includes the rational, but moves beyond it) is very difficult and many think that they have made it when they haven’t – and who knows, that probably includes me! Your observation that possibly Michael and I are helping different memes make the transition to new world views is interesting.

        • says

          Cindy — this is brilliant. I think you are “spot on” that Michael and Bruce are serving 2 different evolutionary purposes, and therefore groups of people. So they are, indeed, brothers in this regard. And yes, I agree that the leap to trans-rational is the most challenging — by far.

      • says

        Brother Bruce,

        If you ever again want me to respond to something you’ve written, I ask you to please refrain from characterizing my position as “materialist” or “reductionist.” I consider this to be an unnecessary slur and an insult to all of us who consider ourselves Religious Naturalists: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_naturalism

        I am neither materialist, nor spiritualist. I am an emergentist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence And like Thomas Berry, I am more a geologian than a theologian. (And yes, this includes transcendent mystery, see below.)

        You imply at the beginning of your post that you viewed (and were critiquing) my “God in Big History” videos. Yet in the 7th paragraph, you say, “I hear you saying, G_d is Reality. But that just begs the question: what is Reality?”

        This is one of the things that leads me to think that perhaps you didn’t actually watch video #3, “Reality Rules!”, because that’s where I discuss three faces of Reality — i.e., what is undeniably and inescapably real regardless of our beliefs — namely, (1) Time, (2) Nature, and (3) Mystery. How you see this as an example of materialism or reductionism is beyond me. “Mystery”, after all, is hardly limited to what science can discover or describe. And it certainly includes most of what I suspect you mean when you speak of transcendent Mind and Heart.

        I am hardly the first to insist that any so-called “God” that is not (at the very least!) a synonym or personification or expression of REALITY is hardly a God worth honoring. Rudolf Bultmann, arguably the most significant New Testament scholar and theologian of the first half of the 20th century, was saying things very much along these lines. I invite you (no, I beg you!) to please read (or re-read) this vital essay before we speak:

        “What Are We Pointing to With the Word ‘God’?” http://evolutionarychristianity.com/blog/what-are-we-pointing-to-with-the-word-god/

        As I think you know, I have trained in Spiral Dynamics (with Don Beck) and have taught Spiral Dynamics and Integral theory. My cherished Integral friends and colleagues include Ken Wilber, Steve McIntosh, Jeff Salzman, Cindy Wigglesworth.

        My approach, as outlined in my book, “Thank God for Evolution,” and also in both of my TEDx talks and my “God in Big History” videos is very deliberately Integral, or second-tier, just without the Eastern metaphysic.

        I am somewhat troubled by your not distinguishing integral science from mechanistic science, and I’m imagining that this may be what leads you to consistently mischaracterize those of us who consider ourselves Christian Naturalists, or Sacred Realists, or Religious Naturalists.

        In any event, this is way more than I wanted to get into in print, so I’ll stop now. I greatly look forward to having a heart-to-heart conversation with you. I know how important subtle non-verbals are for conveying the tender side of a spirited conversation. I frankly don’t trust text to do this very well. :-)

        Big love and cyberhug,

        ~ Michael

        • Bruce Sanguin says

          Thanks Michael,

          For the record, I said that your five point manifesto could have been written by an atheistic materialist. I hear that you are deeply offended by those terms.

          My interest is in discovering what “sacred emergentist” means. If it means that you experience awe and wonder at reality as an emergent process, life from matter, consciousness from life, etc., that there is top-down causality, a la Kaufmann, etc. I’m one of those guys too. But if it means that mind is an epiphenomenon, I’m not one of those guys. I believe that mind/Mind is the Ground and Milieu out of which the “great emergence” continues to unfold and to inform. In the tradition of perennial philosophy I don’t believe that the more complex can arise from the less complex, except by assuming an originating “simplicity beyond complexity”—call it G_d, Mind, Great Coherence, Heart, Mystery.

          By the way, I would call Rupert Sheldrake’s new science of life truly integral, because it assumes non-material causation, or rather the polarity of mind/matter in the creative process. Integral science to me would honour the left hand quadrants, that is, honour that there is subjectivity “all the way up and all the way down”—that all of reality down to the quantum level participates in Mind, (or Spirit using religious language).

          I, too, look forward to our continuing discussion. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      • Richard Smith says

        I agree that one should not boil all down to the material, since mind is as much a reality as material. Yes I see your point of the danger of this in Dowd’s simplification. So scripture while a material reality contains a disclosure of mind at work in another period in time, disclosing its wisdom to us in Parable and not scientific fact. Though if we read both correctly they will correlate in interesting ways as I am discovering as I prepare a sermon on NOAH and the Great Flood.
        Richard

        • Bruce Sanguin says

          Thanks Richard, Correlation is the key, as in mind is correlated to brain function, but cannot be reduced to the physical brain.

  17. Paul Mullen says

    I have come to appreciate the “emptiness” that pervades space through the universe down to the atoms, and without which the material reality we esteem so much would collapse into nothingness, as at least a metaphor for the presence which is beyond mere existence. Because we tend to fear emptiness we try to fill it with as much material as we can — whether food or stuff.

    I am new to you work, Bruce, and I will read more as it resonates well with my own thinking while challenging me with new ideas and questions. Keep up the good work.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Paul,

      I love the metaphor of emptiness, or fecund emptiness, or zero point energy field, or the “no way” of the Tao, and yes, and the challenge of learning to love the emptiness of being along with the fullness of becoming – but it’s not so clear cut is it? There’s a fullness in the emptiness, and a way of holding the becoming which flows from emptiness.

  18. Craig Miller says

    Hi Bruce, Great post and very helpful. I think of the work of Joseph Campbell on the “Power of Myth” and the PBS series with Bill Moyers when Michael says “evidence is my scripture” and appreciated your nod to the continued significance of pre-modern wisdom and the place of intuition in the spiritual life. As I mentioned to Michael at Epiphany Explorations it would be great to have a lectionary of scientific texts that would correlate with the RCL for those of us creating weekly worship opportunities. I would add civil rights to your list of movements inspired by personal experience with the numinous other and the global spread of nonviolent action sustained by spiritual practice. Loving the website! Cheers.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Craig, for the addition of civil rights. And I agree that they resource you are looking for needs to happen. Wondering if it’s me, me and others, or…?

    • says

      Yes, as we discussed briefly in Victoria, Craig, I very much agree that such as lectionary tool would be enormously timely and useful. Hopefully in the next few years, Lord willing.

  19. says

    Dear Bruce,

    Thank you for inviting me to comment on last week’s “Differentiating from Dowd” post. As you know, I am grateful for the role you are playing in the body of life, even though I am playing a different role.

    I do have a number of things I’d like to say in response to your post. But rather than trying to type them out here I’d much prefer having a heart-to-heart Skype conversation that you are, of course, welcome to post on your site. My only request, if you’re open to it, would be that you watch the 3rd and 5th videos in my “God in Big History” series first: “Reality Rules!” and “Evidential Prophets”. (Several times in your post you mischaracterize my position or ask me things that I cover in those two episodes.)

    To paraphrase ‘geologian’ Thomas Berry’s famous summary of our species’ predicament (and our way into the future):

    1. The glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth.
    2. The desolation of the Earth is becoming the great shame of the human.
    3. Therefore, all human activities, programs, policies, and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship.

    I wholeheartedly agree, and would add “all theologies, philosophies, and notions of ’spiritual practice’” too.

    I think this could be a fruitful place to begin having what I’m sure will be a fun and spirited (in more ways than one) conversation. :-)

    You game?

    Love and blessings,

    ~ Michael

    PS. If you post this comment as a guest blog post (I would greatly appreciate your doing so, actually), please include the URL to my “God in Big History” videos: http://thegreatstory.org/god-in-big-history.html

    Thanks, bro!

  20. says

    Wonderful comments.
    I am reminded of what Lao-Tzu has to say about this numinous Reality:
    “The Tao is like a well:
    used but never used up.
    It is like the eternal void:
    filled with infinite possibilities.
    It is hidden but always present.
    I don’t know who gave birth to it.
    It is older than God.”
    (Tao Te Ching, chapter 4, Stephen Mitchell translation)

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Paul, very apt quote…” It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God” Nice.

  21. Annie says

    The problem with this type of inquiry is that as soon as one makes a point at separating views and paths of knowledge one will run into the other via its nuance. Both points (Bruce and Michael) are acting as if they follow a distinguishing world-view –and well maybe they are but, the question is really all you have to discuss while the answer is really something else.
    I am reminded of the Crocodile Dundee movie Dundee says; Well, you see, Aborigines don’t own the land.They belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.

    In a lot of ways, that is exactly what we are doing. Trying to determine where the emphasis or ownership belongs; material or spiritual. Who leads the evolution, mind or matter? So, where do you think this kind of discussion leads…will someone be more right than the other? Are we not giving Mystery or Spirit its proper pedestal when clearly it is much more nuanced than that? As I suspect, the more you try to distinguish yourself the more you find agreement (nuance).

    What I am noticing though is that while both report distinguishing characteristics – and one may claim this is its higher classification—both remain as classifications, extending the ability to “classify” a bit higher and a bit more inclusive of another form of consciousness. Not everyone is willing to do this, but you seem to be friends – willing to extend a great deal of hospitality to the other. In this process, we find our greatest advances. But just for the record, so I get my schtick in (smile) Order and the grand-scheme of the Universe is above all of this – unbiased but adhering to itself as Spirit and Form.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Annie,

      For your carefully considered comment. I’m not interested so much in being right, as I am in being clear—which is what differentiation is all about. Whether in human relationships, cosmology, biology, or ideology, this kind of clarity (boundary setting) is critical to the emergence of a deeper, more intimate, and more intense communion. This is one of the engines of evolution, in all domains. The alternative is to end up with heaps, not wholes. Michael has been asking me for awhile now to give him feedback. I believe that I honour him by being honest and transparent. But I’m not interested in a pissing contest. I don’t actually agree with your closing sentence that the grand scheme of the universe is above all this (above egoic clamouring yes). I think that the Universe is showing up in these polarities, this nuancing/differentiating, and that the competency to stay connected across differences is precisely what the universe is practicing in such conversations, on behalf of the human species.

  22. Don Murray says

    Hi Bruce

    I loved your piece on your differences with Michael Dowd. It represents what is, for me, a primary issue of our age. Is there a spiritual force out there or is it all a creation of our minds? Jung, on the last page of Answer to Job, has an insightful comment on the problem. “But since …. the behaviour of the archetypes cannot be investigated at all without the interaction of the observing consciousness …. the question as to whether it is initiated by consciousness or by the archetype can never be answered.” Then he adds a big, “Unless, in contradiction to experience, one either robbed the archetype of its autonomy or degraded consciousness to a mere machine.” He sees a reciprocal relationship between the two. In other words, we are partners in the evolution of human consciousness and even the consciousness of the universe.

    The challenge is to move from what I call a Newtonian paradigm – a material, clockwork, universe with no real room for a spiritual dimension, but the primary paradigm of the Western world – to a quantum paradigm that includes the psychic/spiritual. It is happening, and you and many others are helping it along. The Armageddon question is whether it will reach critical mass before we do ourselves in.

    I like Dowd’s “evidence based” theology. You rightly question what is accepted as evidence. To think only in terms of objective evidence is to deny the consciousness that is observing and analyzing the evidence. Surely a dream or an intuitive knowing is as authentic data as observing the trajectory of a star.

    The same with “reality.” To consider material reality only is to be stuck within the Newtonian paradigm. I like Jean Houston’s analysis of reality, resulting from her experiments with the hallucinations/visions of those on LSD trips and her explorations of the religions of the world. There is the material/mortal reality, the psychic/spiritual reality, and the source/God reality. And we live within all these dimensions of reality whether we are aware of it or not.

    And what are the implications for Christianity, and all religions, within the great transformation that is taking place? If numbers attending worship within any religion in the Western world are any indication, religions are on the way out. They have become expressions of hierarchy and patriarchy and no longer resonate with the creative forces within contemporary culture. The fundamentalist reaction – a particular religion hanging on to the belief that it has the ultimate truth – has terrifying implications, e.g. ISIS. Hopefully the onward push of evolution will counter its fanaticism.

    Now the evolutionary story, the Universe Story, is emerging as the story that binds all humanity and everything else as one. The story of an ever evolving 13.8 billion year universe draws us all into its orbit. It encompasses all religions and cultures. No matter what else we are we are “children (or adults) of the Universe.” Understanding the Universe as more than the material universe is fundamentally important. After all, only 5% or less of the energy of the universe is observable matter, wondrous though that is.

    Speaking of energy, it is becoming for me a numinous word. Everything is some form of energy, but what energy is in itself is the ultimate mystery. Energy is the stuff of reality. God is the stuff of reality. The qualities of energy and the qualities of God must be identical. Science and religion are bound together in the search for the meaning and purpose of Energy/God.

    Religions, having lost their supernatural base, now become the sources of wisdom gleaned from the ages of human history. The Bible becomes one tradition’s witness to the evolution of human consciousness, from the awakening of Eve to the new heaven and the new earth.

    Pardon me for rambling on. You triggered me into reviewing my life’s work of trying to make sense of things. I believe I sent you my latest book, The Death and Resurrection of God: From Christianity to the New Story. That’s my third one. There should be another one on the Bible as witness to the evolution of human consciousness, or one traditions’s pathway to learning how to be human. At 80 there is some doubt it will ever happen, although much of it is in rough draft.

    Carry on the good work. “To you from [fading] hands (minds) we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.”

    Don Murray

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