Contemporary Evolutionary Holism

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Traditional Static Holism

Glen Martin:

"Confronted with these disturbing realities, it is imperative to ask where we have been and what resources human civilization has accumulated that might contribute to a transformed future of peace, justice, and sustainability. None of the traditional great religions, for example, condone anything like the conditions described above. Within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism one finds religiously grounded ethical principles that point to, and demand, a very different future. If not “the kingdom of God on Earth” envisioned by Christianity, each of these ancient holistic religions imagines a possible human future characterized by peace with justice: a world in harmony with the ultimate principle, whether this be Allah, Brahman, Dharmakaya, or the Tao.

Human beings began to move beyond a mythological consciousness and mythological relation to the world during the Axial Period in human history, often identified as the 8th to the 2nd centuries BCE.iii In cultures across the world ethicalreligious teachers and prophets emerged who experienced the divine as transcendent to the natural world as well as immanent within it. In Mahayana Buddhism this transcendent-immanent principle was the unsayable Dharmakaya, the Buddha-nature inherent in all things. In Hinduism the unsayable, transcendent-immanent aspects of Brahman, accessible through yoga meditational practices, opened human life to this holistic dimension. Just as one should live in harmony with the Tao, for Chuang Tzu, so for Confucius, the hidden and manifest holistic principle of all things, humanness (jen), arises from the mutual realization of virtue (te), and social propriety (li). Confucius

does not emphasize a transcendent dimension but rather the holistic harmony that nevertheless conforms to “Heaven’s will.” The universal ethical principle expresses the same “Golden Rule” emphasized in all these religions: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself” (Analects XII: 2).

Similarly, in Taoism, Thai Shang states that the good person will “regard [others] gains as if they were his own, and their losses in the same way.”

For Chuang Tzu: “The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace…. Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done”.

The Golden Rule within Taoism arises from the innate holism and harmony of the world—the “inaction” of Heaven and earth. Nothing needs to be done because everything follows holistically from the intrinsic harmony of existence.

The revelation to Arjuna through Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita manifests the Holism of Hinduism and results in an ethical ideal that resonates with those of the other ancient dispensations: “He has compassion toward all creatures and no greed. He knows mildness and humility, and is not fickle in his behavior… He is forbearing, firm, and pure, free from all treachery and conceit”.

In the 6th century BCE, Gautama, the Buddha, denied the Atman, which he apparently took to mean the idea of a metaphysical self-substance (svabhāva) within human beings. Nevertheless, the holism of the mutual interpenetration of all things in emptiness (śūnyatā) actualizes in a similar ideal of human ethical insight: “As a mother cares for her son, all her days, so toward all living things a man’s mind should be all embracing”.

In the Western religions, the transcendent God is also immanent within the world. This pervasive understanding results in a holism similar in some basic ways to that of the East. When Jesus in Matthew 22 expresses the “great commandment”—“You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he is expressing the holism of the immanent God within all existence and human life. The love of God for humans (agapē), the love of humans for God (agapē), and the love of other persons (also agapē) arise from this holism: this immense love that informs the cosmos through both its immanent and transcendent dimensions, of which human beings can be directly aware and which can inform or relationships with all others.

For Judaism, Yahweh is immanent in history and the source of a deeply ritualized existence devoted to the realization of His presence and remembrance throughout daily life: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut.6: 5-4). All humans are embraced within this holism as declared in Leviticus 19:11-18: ““You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him… When a stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

In Islam, according to Islamic scholar Frithjof Schuon, for Islam: “To say ‘God’ is to say… ‘Reality’, ‘Manifestation’, ‘Reintegration’: to say ‘man’ is to say ‘theomorphism’, ‘transcendent intelligence’ and ‘free will’”. Schuon affirms that the relation of Allah to humans and the world is one of holism. Transcendence and immanence permeate all things. God is both manifestation and reintegration, and man’s theomorphism aligns him to God. Hence, the ethical dimension manifests this holism: “But it is righteous… To spend your substance, Our of love for Him, For your kin, For Orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, For those who ask, And for the ransom of slaves; To be steadfast in prayer, And practice regular charity, To fulfill contracts Which ye have made”.

The holism of these ancient sources recognizes the oneness of all human beings, their common “humanness” and/or their common “theomorphic” structure. The results in every case translate into ethical principles emphasizing love, compassion, harmony, and doing to others as you would have them do to you. Versions of the Golden Rule are found in every one of these ancient holistic religions.xi I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me because I am internally related to the others within the divine holism of the cosmos. My thesis contends that we are recovering holism today on a higher level, so to speak, a level that now integrates the emergent evolutionary dynamic of the universe that has been discovered by all the 20th century sciences."


Contemporary Evolutionary Holism

Glen Martin:

"The 20th Century Paradigm-Shift to Holism:

Einstein’s theory reveals that which has been corroborated over and over since that time—that the cosmos is a single, integrated whole, that the most distant conditions in the universe could not be altered without altering our local conditions at the same time. Space-time-matter-and energy form a single, indivisible whole. The paradigm shift to holism had begun. Since that time the same holism has been discovered and corroborated at the microcosmic as well as at the microcosmic, quantum level. Physicist Fritjof Capra writes in The Tao of Physics:

Quantum theory has abolished the notion of fundamentally separated objects, has introduced the concept of the participator to replace that of the observer, and may even find it necessary to include the human consciousness in its description of the world. It has come to see the universe as an interconnected web of physical and mental relations whose parts are only defined through their connections to the whole.

If the cosmos is a whole at the macro and micro levels, then it only follows that holism would be the fundamental principle structuring everything in between. And, indeed, just this has been confirmed to be the case. The universe and all life is characterized by evolutionary holism. Thinkers like Hans Jonas and Errol E. Harris conceive of the entire cosmic process of evolution from the Big Bang to the development of human consciousness to be one integral process, in which all the stages and developments are related to the fundamental principle of order in the whole of the cosmos. Similarly, today the understanding that our planetary biosphere is an integrated whole has become commonplace.

We cannot cut down the rain forests, pollute the oceans or the air, or continue to interfere with the balance of nature without risking the collapse of the entire system that now supports higher forms of life.xxiv Likewise, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have identified both the genetic and civilizational holism of human beings. We are all one species, and our species-characteristics cannot and do not separate our individual characteristics from our species-being. None of us could be the individuals that we are apart from language, history, civilization, and humanity as a whole.xxv The ancient religious-ethical understanding that I am you and you are me is again confirmed by contemporary science.

Finally, religion and ethics have also experienced a massive paradigm-shift to holism. God, or the transcendent, holistic One, is again immanent in all things, and all things are related to one another through internal (not merely external) relationships. Mind is no longer a lost child in a mechanistic universe. The machine model was in error. A better model would be an organic model, but even then the model would have to include cosmic, divine, and evolutionary holism. Mind, which includes human freedom and responsibility, is now understood to be a “natural” aspect of the evolutionary process, and God or the transcendent dimension is seen to be the guiding immanent principle throughout the entire drama of creation. Jay McDaniel writes:

Even ostensibly inorganic matter, at least at the quantum level, has mind-like properties, meaning that consciousness is an expression of, not an exception to, the kind of energy from which the universe as a whole emerges. There is an ontological continuity between physical energy and consciousness, a continuity of matter and mind.

And philosopher Errol E. Harris declares “If the implications of this scientific revolution and the new paradigm it produces are taken seriously, holism should be the dominating concept in all our thinking.” Thinkers like Leonard Swidler and Paul Moises (and many others) today formulate what they call “Global Ethical Principles” that are amazingly close to those articulated by ancient holism—emphasizing the “oneness” of all humanity, our inviolable common “human dignity,” the Golden Rule, and the role of “love” in binding the whole together in harmony.

Contemporary evolutionary holism again opens up for us the same possibility that animated the ancient religions. Swidler and Moizes write: “The religious conversion means coming to know and love, and therefore truly to become one with, all Reality, not quantitatively, but qualitatively. This means becoming one somehow with its very structure, its Principle”.xxix Holistic thinker Alfred North Whitehead writes of the integrated “process” that is our universe, which involves the self-actualization of God, a God in reciprocity with human beings in which “what is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven, and the reality in heaven passes back into the world. By reason of this reciprocal relation, the love of the world passes into the love in heaven, and floods back again into the world”.

In his well-known book on The Stages of Faith (1981), James Fowler identifies the “Conjunctive” stage of religious maturity as the stage in which we recognize that all religions participate in the same transcendent-immanent truth, a truth that transcends the symbol-system encompassed by any one of the religions alone. In Fowler’s highest stage, called “Universalizing Faith,” people become one with all reality in just this way, expressing this enlightened transformation in relation to everyone around them, serving as centers of human liberation. The possibility of an ethically and spiritually informed, decent and humane world system opens up for human beings once again.

Holism, therefore, is not just an ideology expressing some new, subjective cultural paradigm. It has been discovered by science, is intrinsic to all our experience, and can be appropriated as a living ethical and religious transformation by a multitude of persons. The new holism will give us a democratic socialism, a sustainable relationship with nature, and a world system without war, domination, or exploitation. The telos implicit in evolutionary holism is harmony, cooperation, democratic participation, and love.xxxi The same is true of economic and political institutions.

Economist Herman E. Daly writes:

- Homo economicus as the self-contained atom of methodological individualism, or as the pure social being of collectivist theory, are both severe abstractions. Our concrete experience is that of “persons in community.” We are individual persons, but our very individual identity is defined by the quality of our social relations. Our relations are not just external, they are also internal, that is, the nature of the related entities (ourselves in this case) changes when relations among them changes. We are related not only by a nexus of individual willingness to pay for different things, but also by relations of trusteeship for the poor, the future, and other species."