“If I do not become clear to myself through self-perception
then I do not exist for myself.” Rudolf Steiner
THE SUMMER of 2003, we at Watershed began a study of cosmology
and the wisdom of creation as part of our course on Jesus and the
Wisdom Tradition. Because the wisdom tradition honoured Creation
as the handiwork of God, we wanted to better understand how this
physical universe is understood in the 21st century. We started
to become familiar with the 13.7 billion year birth process of the
universe, and became immersed in what science was telling us. A
bewildering array of facts and phenomena suggest a living universe
that is still evolving. At first we were disoriented. The shift
from Eucharist to eukaryotes seemed disjointed. We weren’t
familiar with the language or even the emphasis on the physical
sciences. Deep time is really hard to get your mind around. And
how do we integrate faith in an accompanying God with the fascinating
processes that continue every day at both the microscopic and macroscopic
level all around us?
One of our most poignant classes centered on an episode
from the PBS series, Evolution. A 19-year-old boy sat amidst the
test tubes of his chemistry class in Wheaton College and exclaimed,
“What do you do when, as a scientist, the evidence before
you goes completely against your whole upbringing, against everything
you’ve known previously?” These were the earnest words
of Nathan Baird, a student raised to believe evolution was evil,
but who had become fascinated by what his chemistry classes were
revealing to him. He was in an arduous process of sifting both what
he thought and what he believed, and he wanted to include his apprehensive
family in the process. Nathan’s struggle reflects in microcosm
the tension between science and religion that has been brewing ever
since Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859.
It seems the more we know about our world, the less we can attribute
its workings to God. Rudolf Steiner in Mystics after Modernism
suggests that it isn’t science per se but a distortion of
reason that has led us astray.
ago, at the dawn of the modern era, science and faith were not yet
separated by a chasm. As humanism was being born, many of the pioneers
in science were also pioneers of the spiritual realm. They were
breaking ground with discoveries of the physical world, and in ways
of knowing in the mystical realm. These first moderns understood
reason as including imagination and intuition, but from Descartes
on we have been increasingly hobbled by limiting reason to logic.
This has fostered a dualism between experience and knowledge that
has fueled the polarization of science and religion ever since.
Steiner traces an evolving consciousness from Meister Eckhart (1260
– 1326) to Angelus Silesius (1624 - 1677). Amazingly, many
mystics anticipated some of our scientific discoveries, like the
basis of chemical medicine (Theophrastus Paraclesus) or stages of
development in consciousness (Jacob Boehme). Perhaps the resolution
of Nathan’s enigma lies in revisiting how these men came to
know what they did.
How we know determines our experience of what we know. All our knowledge
starts from the senses, through our physical organs. But knowledge
doesn’t just happen. Valentin Weigel (1553 – 1588) says
we must be active in it. I can open a book and see the black markings
on the page, but I’m not reading until I interpret those markings.
The book doesn’t put the idea in my mind, nor does it come
strictly from my mind. I arrive at an idea through the interaction
between my observing self and the book. At some point we become
aware we are observing; we become self-aware. Here we touch on another
level of knowing and perceiving. We understand intuitively what
we once only knew through the senses. We have direct apprehension.
This spirit doesn’t live in objects but is brought to birth
by our consciousness. And in so doing, we participate with what
Steiner calls Primordial Essence in creating the world. Consciousness
of this sort only arises in humans; it is the natural world becoming
conscious of itself through our spiritual capacity, or intellect.