Sunday, April 08, 2007

Teleology and progress

Despite the fact that teleology has been vehemently removed from most of science since about 1830 and according to a very interesting essy by Bernard Towers, it is still tempting modern scientists who merely refer to it under a different name:

"It has been said that all scientists have a secret passion for teleology but that, like a mistress she has to be kept out of sight of polite company. For myself, I would be happy to take her into public as a respectable married woman and call myself openly a teleologist, provided that I am allowed to specify in what senses I am using the term."

Towers goes on in the next essay to quote Dobzhansky who was a strong supporter of Teilhard and gives Dobzhansky's translation of the following passage from Teilhard:

"Man is not the centre of the univers as was naively believed in the past, but something much more beautiful - Man the ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis. Man is the last-born, the keenest, the most complex, the most subtle of the successive layers of life. This is nothing less than a fundamental vision. And I shall leave it at that."


Anonymous said...

But literature rushes into religion and theology.this is an interesting article about the image of beauty

Anonymous said...

A frequent theme of the books under review is that beauty, and the consideration
of beauty, has been banished; indeed many of the authors write
to protest and correct that banishment. Thus Elaine Scarry writes of the
banishment of beauty from the humanities because of ‘a set of political
complaints about it’ which she sets herself to address (57).17 Edward Farley
begins his book with a chapter on the suppression of marginalisation of beauty,
its ‘discursive absence’ in the world of postmodernity (1).
Jeremy Begbie asserts that ‘music has received virtually no sustained
treatment in contemporary systematic theology’ (3); and Richard Viladesau,
who draws heavily upon Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Herrlichkeit, recognises
the urgency of a consideration of music and all the arts in a theology that is to
be spiritually as well as intellectually nourishing. John de Gruchy is one of the
few who earths these complaints about the absence of beauty in ethical
considerations: he argues that ‘apartheid was not only unjust but also ugly’;
there is a ‘connection between ugliness and oppression, and between beauty
and redemption’ (1; cf. Farley 4). From the very different perspective of
continental thought, Adorno writes of the ‘extinction of art’ and the refusal
of beauty (in Cazeaux, 237); Benjamin shows how art in the capitalist age
of mechanical reproduction conceives of beauty in terms of war (337). There
is repeated evidence of how aesthetic theory has turned its focus away from
beauty to the sublime (Lyotard and Kristeva in Cazeaux; also Crockett).
The banishment of beauty is no new thing. There have been voices since
classical Greece calling for a refusal of beauty. Sometimes this refusal has
referred specifically to beauty produced by human intent (as in the arts), and
sometimes it has referred more broadly to the beauty of nature or the human
form. But the reasons for banishing beauty, the factors that bring about its
displacement, have varied enormously. One of the most useful results of
my reading of these books has been a clarification of a genealogy of this
displacement, since the banishment of beauty can only be addressed when its
structures in the western symbolic are discerned.
A. The Dangers of Beauty
Plato, famously, wanted to banish poets from his ideal republic, and was
explicit in his condemnation of the arts. At the very least, there should be
legislation to control them, so that artists would ‘produce only edifying and
morally improving works’.18 According to Platonic thinking, art is mimetic: it
imitates nature, and produces only semblances, images (Greek: eidolon from
which also is derived ‘idol’, false god). But in Platonic metaphysics, nature itself
is mimetic. The natural things of the physical world are copies of eternal
metaphysical ideas or ‘forms’, and it is these which are the true reality. Hence
works of art are copies of copies, inevitably falsifications the further they are
removed from reality. The beauty to be found in art (as also at one degree less in
the physical world) is thus a distortion and distraction from truth and goodness,
and an ideal society, which educated its youth to be attuned to the ideas
or forms of true reality, would have at most only a very restricted place for
Farley and de Gruchy barely notice Plato’s negative evaluation of artists
and the arts, passing quickly to his place in developing the ‘Great Theory of
Beauty’ which I shall discuss below. Given that both of them are concerned
with the banishment of beauty specifically from theological discourse, this is a
major omission, since it was from Plato that a good deal of the suspicion of
involvement with beauty in the theology and spirituality of christendom
derived. On the one hand, as already noted, physical beauty was thought
to detract from the realm of spiritual truth: the various formulations of
body^soul dualism, formulations which regularly linked the male with the
spirit and the female with the body and its reproductive functions, could
therefore easily find themselves in congruence with a gendered rejection of
physical or artistic beauty. But as Viladesau points out, Plato’s critique of art
rests also on his ‘recognition of the addictive and restricting power of pleasure’
(188). Beauty, whether natural or artistic, attracts us towards it. This attraction
and the pleasure it affords easily traps the one who is drawn into it to rest
content, Viladesau argues (following Barth and Ricoeur) in its satisfactions,
rather than continuing in the restlessness appropriate (he thinks) to the human
condition (188^98).
These are not precisely Plato’s worries; they are an appropriation of Plato for
the purposes of Christian theology. Nevertheless the central theme is the same:
art and beauty must be banished or treated with very great caution not because
it is trivial or insignificant but precisely because of its enormous power.
Contrary to contemporary Philistinism which dismisses beauty as irrelevant
to the practical and economic conduct of life, and which would be dumbfounded
at the very idea of shaping the character in relation to standards of
beauty and aesthetic sensibility, Plato and Platonism thought that art and the
pleasures of beauty were so strong a force in the formation of character that
they must be looked upon as a grave danger. If given way to, they would
cause the person drawn to them to rest in imitations, copies of copies, rather
than turn to the source and origin of truth. Moreover, they would stir the
passions and emotions in inappropriate ways, offering sensory gratification
rather than intellectual or spiritual advancement. Since in Plato the beauty in
question is the beauty of the human body, all the gendered issues of sexuality
and embodiment are immediately brought into play. All this was taken up in
strands of christendom from Tertullian to Barth, and has had huge influence
in the banishment of beauty, a banishment linked to suspicion of embodiment
and to misogyny. Beauty was banished precisely because of its awesome power
over emotions, attitudes, and ways of life.