Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Word

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

-- from the Tao Te Ching
(Stephen Mitchell version)

In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was God.

-- from The Gospel According to John
(King James version)

These introductory utterances draw distinct lines between approaches to the world; one beholden to words, ideas, concepts, proclamations and revelations; the other suspicious of these things, distanced from them; one confident that the truth can be told; the other comfortable with the sense that the Truth is beyond knowing. One is tempted to make some sweeping declaration that this epitomizes the divide between Western and Eastern styles of thought. But that would be too pat. The cultures of the Occident and the Orient each contain versions of both views.

Curiously, what got me thinking about this stuff is the seemingly never-ending evolution-creationism wrangle, one venue of this occurring at a favorite blog, The Loom

To me the creationists are carrying on with the fundamental assumption laid out by John, while evolutionists (myself included) are carrying on in the Taoist paradigm. Evolutionary theory is messy, always changing, being revised, debated and updated. It's explanations are wonderful, powerful but never quite right; there's always something new to consider, surprising things always crop up. Creationism is clean, it answers (God did it). Creationism is the end of the search. Evolution is always at a beginning.

But to find "the Answer" is self defeating and destructive. Where do you go once you have it? With nothing left explore, you're left with the mission of bringing "the Answer" to others as a means of continuously validating the "the Answer." The missionary act, however, is inherently arrogant and tyrannical.

The spirit of scientific inquiry is quite different (though scientists in the particular are not immune to acts of arrogance and tyranny). Its truth seeking is ongoing and its attention is focused there. No time for crusades, there's too many questions and the answering of which leads to more questions.

I think this can be seen in the creationism/evolution "debates." And The Loom highlights it quite well. The evolutionists are interested in exploring the avenues that constantly are cropping up with new findings and new thinking. The creationists don't do that themselves (What is there to do when you have the Answer?) but are constantly trying to dismantle the edifice of evolution. This puts the evolutionists in the position of defending themselves on a level that's not very interesting. It's quite irritating.

In a nutshell, evolutionists aren't barging into churches trying to spread their ideas. Creationists, on the other hand, do barge into arenas of evolutionary discourse trying to spread their Word. What else can you do with a static idea?


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