Chapter Seven: Eternity and the Temporal Order
Zeit ist wie Ewigkeit und Ewigkeit wie Zeit,
So du nur selber nicht machst einen Unterscheid.
Eternity is as time, time as eternity,
If they are otherwise, the difference is in thee.1
To-day, to-morrow, yesterday
With Thee are one, an instant aye.
Not only does man stand at the point of intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes of existence considered in their spatial symbolism, but he also lives at the moment when the eternal and the temporal meet. He is at once a being located in time and the process of change and one who is made for the Eternal and the Immutable and who is able to gain access to the Eternal even when living outwardly in the domain of becoming. He can, moreover, live in time and experience it not only as change and transience but also as the “moving image of eternity.” In the same way that the periphery of the circle of existence reflects the Center which is everywhere and nowhere, the experience of that change which is called time reflects eternity in that whenever which is the ever-recurring now. As long as man is man, the vertical axis is open before him not only in the “spatial” sense of enabling him to climb to the higher levels of reality and ultimately to the Real as such, but also “temporally” in transcending the experience of profane time to reach the portal of eternity itself. Likewise, in the same way that the intermediate worlds possess their own space and form until one reaches the level of formless manifestation, so also do they possess their own “time” or what would correspond to time in the terrestrial realm of existence.
No better proof is needed of the meeting of the dimensions of time and eternity within man than the fact that man is aware of his own death, of his own mortality, which means that he is also given the possibility to envisage that which lies beyond the terminus a quo of terrestrial existence. Man's awareness of his mortality is in a sense proof of his immortality, of the fact that he was created for the Eternal. Moreover, there exists within normal man a natural attraction for the Eternal which is none other than the Absolute and the Sacred as such. The Eternal is like the original abode of the soul which, being lost, is sought by the soul everywhere in its earthly exile. The tranquility of a placid lake or the vibrating rays of the morning sun shining upon the mountain peaks evoke in man a sense of peace and the joy of a beauty which melts the hardness of the human soul and quells the agitations of a being caught in the tumultuous tides of the sea of becoming, of what Buddhism characterizes so powerfully as samsāra. This joy and sense of peace are none other than the mark of eternity as it touches the human soul. Pontifical man lives in time but as a witness to eternity.
Traditional teachings throughout the world are replete with references to the mysterious relationship between time and eternity both within man and in the objective order. Since all religion is concerned with the sacred, it is also concerned with the Eternal, for the Eternal is the Sacred as such and also all that is sacred bears the stamp of eternity. Moreover, man lives in time; his actions are determined by time; and he is finally devoured by time, for to be born in time is to die. Hence even archaic religions which, as we shall shortly see, have a very different conception of history and the march of time than do the Judeo-Christian ones, are as much concerned with saving man from the withering effect of the temporal process and enabling him to be saved from all-becoming as the Judeo-Christian traditions. To be seriously concerned with the human state, as all the traditions are despite the many differences between them, is to have to deal with a being living amidst temporality but who is marked by the signature of eternity, a being who is mortal yet made for immortality.
In the same way that intelligence is made to know the Absolute and can know only the Absolute absolutely, the knowledge of all other orders of reality partaking of an element of māyā which characterizes those states, it is easier for intelligence as previously defined to grasp the meaning of eternity than of time. Eternity is associated with immutability and permanence. It is an attribute of that reality which is but does not become and in fact transcends even Being. But this first veil upon the face of Absolute Reality shares with that Reality the attribute of eternity, for Being like Non-Being, in the metaphysical sense already defined, does not become. To gain an intellectual comprehension of the meaning of the Absolute is also to understand the Eternal. That same intellectual intuition which makes available through scientia sacra a principial knowledge of Ultimate Reality also provides a direct intuitive knowledge of the Eternal.
It is from this principial, metaphysical point of view that the definition of time seems more problematic than that of eternity to the extent that Saint Augustine could assert that he knew what time was but had difficulty defining it when asked. Modern analytical philosophers have tried to “solve” the problem of time by simply reducing it to a problem of language and of memory, as if one could explain the immediate experience of time by anything less immediate in such a way that the immediate experience would cease to exist. The analytical philosophers now speak of before
an utterance, with
an utterance, and later than
an utterance instead of past, present, and future, hoping thereby to deny once and for all the human experience of past, present, and future. They lay the blame for the impossibility of solving the problem of time in classical philosophy on the “myth of passage”2
which views time as a running river. Some philosophers of science try to associate the very reality of temporality with asymmetrical boundary conditions of physics,3
while others as “idealists” have denied the reality of time altogether.4
There is such a bewildering range of views and opinions concerning time in modern European philosophy that one could conclude that once man loses sight of the Eternal he no longer has any sense of the profound significance of time which has become the alpha and omega of his existence. He may talk about four-dimensional “world-lines” including and embracing time and space in a unity in the manner of modern physics but can hardly answer why, if he is located on only a limited segment of this four-dimensional complex, he can even speculate about what lies beyond this complex and “where” he as a conscious being will be when the world-line about which he is speculating now will reach a point corresponding to the end of his terrestrial life. It is questions such as these that have caused many modern continental philosophers in the West to look with skepticism upon the vacuum-cleaning activity of the posirivists and analysts who would like to remove any metaphysical significance that time might still possess, since it ends with a supernatural event, namely, death, that only the philosopher in the Platonic sense has practiced facing,5
From the metaphysical point of view, in the same way that eternity is an attribute of that Reality which is at once Absolute and irifinite, time is the characteristic of the dynamic potential of matter and energy which, as discussed already, result from the irradiation and effusion of the All-Possibility in the direction of nothingness. Once cosmic manifestation reaches the level of the physical world, the matter-energy of this world which corresponds to the principle of substance on this level of reality contains within its very nature a dynamism which entails change and becoming. Time is a consequence of this change. In this sense, the concept of time in modern physics as being a condition of material existence rather than an abstract absolute quantity as found in Newtonian physics is closer to traditional cosmologies. These cosmologies see both time and space as conditions of corporeality, and “abstracted” from it, rather than quantitative coordinates extending to infinity within which objects move and interact. It must be remembered that Aristotle considered time as the measurement of change.6
Moreover, since cosmic reality is characterized by the polarization between subject and object, there are two modes of time, one subjective and the other objective.7
Objective time is cyclic by nature, one cycle moving within another with a quaternary structure which manifests itself on various levels ranging from the four parts of the day (morning, midday, evening, and night), the four seasons and the four ages of man (childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age) to the four yugas
of the Hindu cosmic cycle. As for subjective time, it is always related to the consciousness of past, present, and future which flow into one another, each possessing its own positive as well as negative aspects. The past is a reflection of the Origin, the memory of paradise lost and the reminder of faithfulness to tradition and what has been already given by God. But it is also related to imperfection, to all that man has left behind in his spiritual journey, the world that man leaves for the sake of God. The future is related to the ideal which is to be attained, the paradise that is to be gained. But it is also a sign of the loss of childhood and innocence and elongation and separation from the Origin which means also tradition. As for the present which is man's most precious gift, it is the point where time and eternity meet; it symbolizes hope and joy. It is the moment of faith and the door toward the nontemporal. Contemplation is entry into the eternal present which is now. But the present is also the moment associated with immediate pleasure, with instantaneous satisfaction which only accentuates the fleeting effect of time rather than the pacifying reflection of eternity.8
Hence both subjective and objective time have a relative reality which is no less than the reality of the being who is located in the spatio-temporal matrix. To deny their reality is valid only from the perspective of the Immutable which always is but does not become. Scientia sacra, therefore, while affirming this view on its own level, seeks to provide meaning for that experience which we call time and which is also real from the point of view of change and becoming like māyā itself, which does not exist from the “perspective” of Ātman but whose reality cannot be denied for those living in the embrace of māyā. From the total metaphysical point of view then, eternity is an attribute of the Absolute and Infinite Reality which, because of its Infinitude and Goodness, emanates outwardly and manifests the many levels of existence. Of these levels the physical possesses a matter combined with energy whose very dynamism necessitates that process of becoming and change of which time is a condition. But time itself is impregnated by the Eternal in such a way that every moment of time is a gate to the Eternal—the moment, the present, the now belong to the Eternal itself.
As far as spiritual experience is concerned, the present moment as the gateway to the Eternal is so significant that practically all the traditions of the world speak with nearly the same tongue concerning the present moment, the instant (nil alzemâle
), the present now (gegenwürtig nû
), and the eternal now (ewigen nû
) of Meister Eckhart in which God makes the world,9
of Sufism whose “son” the Sufi considers himself to be (according to the well-known saying “the Sufi is the son of the moment”—al-ṣ̄ufī ibn al-waqt
the moment or point at which, according to Dante, all times are present.11
This “now” is the gateway to eternity; it is to time what the point is to space. To be at the central point here and now is to live in the Eternal which is always the present. Hence the preciousness of the “moment” which man must not let pass him by for as the Buddhists say, “Get ye across this sticky-mire, let not the Moment pass, for they shall mourn whose Moment's past.”12
Forgetful man daydreams in either the past or the future evading the present moment which alone is real in the spiritual sense. Only he who lives in the eternal present is in fact awake. This moment is that “twinkling of the eye” in which all things were made13
and which in the Upanishads appears as a name of God.14
To live in this moment is to experience all that was, is, and will ever be.
The subjective experience of the eternal present, moreover, conditions and colors man's experience of time itself as does in fact the experience of anything which bears the fragrance of the immutable and the sacred. There is not just a single subjective experience of time but one subjective experience within another. Hence joy and happiness, issuing from that Supreme Substance which is pure bliss, shorten time since this experience brings man closer to the eternal now, while pain, agitation, and dispersion lengthen the subjective experience of time. That is why it is said that in the Golden Age time was longer than in the later ages. That is also why in such myths as that of the seven sleepers in the cave, the aṣḥāb al-kahf
mentioned in the Quran, falling asleep in the cave for a short moment corresponded to the passage of several generations in the outside world.15
In a sense, eternity penetrates into time in such a way that the closer man's experience approaches the realm of the eternal and the joy which is inseparable from it, the less is the subjective experience of time a burden on him so that duration passes by more rapidly.16
If in the embrace of the earthly beloved hours pass as if they were but a moment, in union with the Divine Beloved all the eons of time past and future pass not only as if they were a moment but as they are
actually a moment, in fact the
supreme moment in which the spiritual man lives constantly. It is the now which all human beings experience at that moment which is their last earthly moment, namely, the moment of death. The now is at once an anticipation of that moment and a going beyond it in the sense of experiencing an inner resurrection even before bodily death.17
Eternity then is reflected in the present now, and the now is the solar gate through which the hero must pass to reach beyond the sea of becoming and the withering effect of time whose function it is to devour all that exists in its bosom. But from another point of view it is possible to refer to eternity as both being “before” and “after” the moment in which we stand and in fact before and after the world in which we have our present existence. Eternity is then before all that was and after all that will be, before and after meaning not in time but in principle. It is in this sense that the Islamic tradition speaks of al-azal
, that is, preeternity and al-abad
or posteternity, the two being in their own reality none other than al-sarmad
or eternity as such.18
The morning of azal
referred to so often in Sufi poetry refers to eternity in its aspect of coming before all creation. It refers to that “early dawn” when man made his eternal covenant with God.19
Likewise, eternity is sometimes referred to as boundless time or timelessness as in late Zoroastrianism where boundless time or Zurvan is considered as the principle of both Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman, Zurvan meaning metaphysically the Eternal and etymologically boundless time.20
Also, in later Greek thought Kronos as the father of Zeus was often identified with chronos
, despite the fact that such an assimilation is etymologically inconceivable. In the context of the Maitri Upanishad
, “time” is equivalent with eternity, here again “time” meaning boundless time, not time as it is usually understood. Since ontologically existence cannot be completely other than Being which is its principle, time also cannot be totally divorced from eternity in the sense that what man experiences in time comes from God and is related to Him. It is in this sense that the Maitri Upanishad
distinguishes “two forms” of Brahman, as time and timelessness, but possessing one essence. It states: “From one who worships, thinking that Time [kālas
] is Brahma’, time [kāla
, also death] reflows afar.”
From Time flow forth all beings,
From Time advance to full growth,
And in Time again, win home,—
“Time” is the formed and the formless, both
This Time which contains all time is in reality none other than that moment which always is, the “in the beginning” which is always present. The “once upon a time” of folk tales is not a particular time but Time which is also the timeless, the Hebrew ‘olam
and the Greek aiōn
. In certain languages such as Sanskrit fairy tales simply begin with “there is” (asti
), implying directly the eternal present, while Persian stories begin with a statement known to every Persian-speaking child but which contains the whole metaphysical significance of that eternal moment which is beyond time and yet the point from which the story begins. The statement is: “There was one; there was no one; other than God there was no one.”22
The origin of time and all those events which we experience as taking place “in time” belong to that “once upon a time” which is no time and yet all times wherein belong both metaphysics and myths and symbols which, therefore, do not wither with time. They share in the immutability of that eternal moment from which all things are born.
Although the doctrine of the eternal now in its relation to time is universal and is to be found in the sacred scriptures and sapiential teachings of different traditions throughout the world, the attitude toward the experience of man in the stream of change and process which is called history is hardly the same among all religions. Nor is the question of the genesis of the world as it is related to the temporal process the same. Of course, all traditions are based on the doctrine of grades of existence issuing from the Supreme Principle but they envisage the unfolding of time differently, some basing themselves on a single act of creation and one period of the cosmic drama and others on many cycles which are repeated according to the rhythms that reflect the “days and nights of the life of Brahma,” to put it in Hindu terms. There are also those traditions which live in space and for whom time and history are of little consequence, and those which live in time and which take history into account as being of religious and ultimate significance.
The difference between these perspectives which also is directly related to the cyclic and linear conceptions of the “march of time” or history can itself be explained by taking recourse to the traditional doctrine of cycles.23
According to this doctrine in its Hindu form, each grand cosmic cycle (kalpa
) consists of a thousand yugas
which comprise “a day of Brahma.”24
Moreover, each smaller cosmic cycle concerning a particular humanity is comprised of four yugas
, beginning with what the Greeks called the Golden Age (the Kṛta Yuga
of Hindu sources) and ending with the Iron Age (Kali Yuga
) whose termination also marks the end of the present terrestrial cycle of history. In one single cycle in which time is divided according to the Tetractys
, that is, 4, 3, 2, 1, the Golden Age being the longest and the Iron Age the shortest, the process of change or what we interpret as the flow of time is very slow at the beginning, increasing its tempo as the cycle advances so that time, far from being linear and uniform, is itself qualitatively modified during different yugas
. For men of the Golden Age, time as an element of “secular” change was not of any significance. Time was identified with cosmic rhythms like that of the seasons. Although the cycle never returns to the same point but follows a helical rather than circular motion,25
the changes in nonrepeated patterns were too imperceptible to be of any consequence. It was only during later phases of the cycle that gradually the experience of time in its noncyclic aspect became consequential and that history began to gain significance.
This difference can perhaps be better understood by meditating a moment upon the symbolism of the hourglass which itself is an instrument for the measurement of time.26
One unit of time during which the sand flows from the upper compartment into the lower could be considered as symbolizing one cosmic cycle. Now, as the cycle begins, although the sand is pouring through, there seems to be no perceptible change in the condition of the upper compartment which appears as being immutable. The reality of such a condition appears as one of permanence in which the particles of sand are “seen” as being in space and not in a time which would alter their condition in an ultimately significant way—in the same way that in the Golden Age, although individuals did grow old and die, the world in which they lived
seemed to be located in a paradisal permanence in which the cosmos was rejuvenated by temporal cycles but not affected in a nonrenewable manner by time. For so-called primitive man, the cosmos and history were the same, in fact identical, as were time and transcendence and reality and the symbol. But as the sand continues its flow, the very situation of the upper compartment begins to change. It is not only the individual particles of sand that fall through the channel but the whole configuration of sand in the upper compartments begins to change and time gains a new significance.
The religions in which time is seen in a cyclic manner and where history is of little consequence as far as man's “salvation” is concerned are essentially those archaic religions based on the reality of human experience in earlier phases of the cosmic cycle and corresponding to the beginning of the flow of sand in the hourglass. It is the later religions, corresponding to the last phase of the unit of time measured by the hourglass, which had to take into account the temporal experience in a religious manner. Judaism, although in one respect a “primoridal” religion, was destined to play a major role in itself and also to serve as background for Christianity in the religious life of the humanity of the last phase of the human cycle, hence its concern with history and the metahistorical and metacosmic significance of the historical experience of the chosen people of Israel, Hinduism, on the other hand, remains based on the primordial perspective of cyclic time while having been able to rejuvenate itself and survive to this day. Zoroastrianism, in a sense, occupies an intermediate position between the religions of India and the Abrahamic ones as far as history is concerned,27
while Islam being the last of the Abrahamic religions and yet a return to the primordial religion confirms the significance of man's actions in history while refusing to identify the truth itself with history in any way. It is of some significance that even the events of sacred history mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran have a more historical color in the former and a more symbolic one in the latter.28
In any case since it is the function of all religions to save men from the imperfections implied by their terrestrial state, they have had to deal with the significance of temporality in different ways depending on their point of departure and the “archetypal” reality which they represent on earth. There has developed as a result of these factors a cyclic as well as a linear conception of time and of history, the first associated with the non-Abrahamic and the second with Abrahamic religions. But even within the Abrahamic traditions the situation has not been the same in the three religions which comprise the members of this religious family. In Judaism, because of the presence of a long line of prophets, while the importance of history is confirmed, the flow of history is not strictly speaking linear nor has history been identified with the Deity through the doctrine of incarnation which marks the entrance of the truth into history. In Islam also the significance of what man accomplishes in this world either individually or collectively is fully emphasized, the world of time being called the “cultivating field” for eternity,29
but it is categorically denied that anything that occurs in history affects the divine as such since Islam rejects strongly all incarnationism. Moreover, the Islamic conception of prophecy according to which truth was present from the beginning and is brought to the world over and over again by different prophets, ending with the Prophet of Islam after whom there will be no other prophet but the second coming of Christ is based on a cyclic conception of time and not a linear one.30
It is most of all in Christianity that one can say that only one part of a complete cycle or one small cycle was taken and treated in a linear manner. As a result, Christianity in its exoteric formulations—not of course in its sapiential teachings which saw Christ as the Logos who said, “before Abraham was I am”—came to perceive history as marked by three fundamental points: the fall of Adam on earth, the incarnation of the Son of God as the second Adam in history, and the end of the world with the second coming of Christ. This view of the march of time, combined with the idea of the birth of Christ as a unique historical event and the incarnation of the Son in the matrix of time and of history, created a special religious situation which, once Christianity was weakened, gave way easily to that idolatry of the worship of history that characterizes much of the modern world. Although the concern of Marx with every detail of human life is a parody of the concerns of Talmudic Law, his putting history in the place of the Divinity is a Christian heresy and not an Islamic or Hindu one. While Christianity was strong, despite its emphasis upon history, the passage of days and years was sanctified by the continuous repetition of the events of the life of the founder and the saints. Christians, like followers of other religions, lived in the world whose very temporality was transformed by the ever-repeated themes of the life of Christ and the rites which flowed from the origins of the tradition along with the grace of the saints who perpetuated the spirit of the tradition over the ages. The worship of mammon as history or historical process came only in the wake of the desacralization of the Christian world, but it was precisely the secularization of the linear concept of time and historical process that gave rise to that historicism and denial of the truth as transcendent that characterizes much of modern thought. Otherwise, traditional Christian thought, like all traditional thought, had seen the solution to the problem of space and time through recourse to that Reality which is beyond space and time yet pervades and transforms both of them.31
The concern of Christianity with the linear time covering the period from the first coming of Christ to his second coming is also related to the point of view of the Abrahamic religions which, in their exoteric aspect, are concerned primarily with the practical goal of saving man rather than with the nature of things per se which is the concern of the esoteric. That is why in the exoteric formulations of these religions eschatology is simplified into the two opposite states of heaven and hell and the question of creation is reduced to the theological formulation of creatio ex nihilo. The question of intermediate states, the final consummation of all things in God, other cosmic cycles and humanities, the meaning of the “waters” upon which the light of God shone, the existence of beings in divinis before that event called creation, and so many other questions are left for the esoteric dimension of these traditions.
As far as the question of time is concerned, perhaps no issue demonstrates the inadequacy of the theological formulations in themselves and without the aid of sapiential doctrines than creation ex nihilo
. In all the three Abrahamic religions there have been theologians who have claimed that God created the world from nothing and that the world has an origin in time, while there have been traditional philosophers who have insisted that there was no time when the world was not, since time is a condition of the world. Thousands of treatises have been written by Muslims, Jews, and Christians since John the Grammarian wrote his De aeternitate mundi
To this day in traditional Islamic circles of learning the problem of ḥudūth
or “newness” and “eternity” of the world is debated,33
since it represents a question which cannot be resolved logically on the level in which the theologies of the Abrahamic religions place themselves. It must either be accepted on faith or recourse must be had to that scientia sacra
for which ex nihilo
does not mean literally from nothing but rather from “possibilities” in the principial order which, to quote Ibn ‘Arabī, have not as yet “smelled the perfume of existence” and which are existentiated and externalized upon the terrestrial plane from a preexistent state or even states. Creation in this sense is always a descent. A figure like Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī has already provided the answer for the incessant debate between followers of ḥudūth
and those of qidam
, while those who have not been able to reach an understanding of the issue even in the traditional Islamic context have been those who simply have not comprehended the message of a work such as the Mathnawī
An element of these teachings concerning creation that does need to be mentioned is the doctrine of the renewal of creation at every instant (tajdīd al-khalq fī kulli ānāt
), which characterizes much of the Sufi teachings concerning creation. The Sufis, like all those who speak of the moment or the now, take recourse to an “atomization of temporality,” if such a term can be used, and believe that, although time as flow is indivisible, from another point of view it is no more than the repetition of the instant like the line which is formed by the repetition of spatial point.35
During this instant or now the whole world returns to the Origin through the movement of contraction (al- qabḍ
) and is recreated through expansion (al-basṭ
) like the two phases of breathing. At every moment there is a fresh creation (tajdīd al-khalq
) and the link between the Creator and His creation is incessantly renewed. As Jāmī says, “The universe is changed and renewed unceasingly at every moment and every breath. Every instant one universe is annihilated and another resembling it takes its place,… In consequence of this rapid succession, the spectator is deceived into the belief that the universe is a permanent existence.”36
This doctrine, which has the greatest import as far as the practical and operative aspects of Sufism are concerned, is a manner of viewing the problem of creation from the perspective of the eternal present itself from which nothing ever really departs. Furthermore, it complements the metaphysical doctrine which sees creation ex nihilo
as the existentiation of the archetypes or essences which possess a precosmic reality in divinis
The deification of the historical process in secular terms has taken place in the modern world not only because the metaphysical teachings concerning time and eternity have been forgotten as a result of the desacralization of both knowledge and the world but also, as already mentioned, as a result of the particular emphasis of Christianity upon history which is not to be found in other traditions.38
Christian thought, at least in its main line of development in the West, took history seriously, in the sense of believing in the irreversible directionality of history, the power which history possesses to introduce novelty of even a radical order, awareness of the uniqueness of each historic event which was to give rise in modern times to existentialism, the possibility of certain historical events to be decisive in a final way,39
the religious significance of human involvement in historical movements and institutions, and the importance of human freedom in not only determining the individual man's future but also the whole of history. From these premises to those of Promethean man, who secularized all of them and decided to mold his own destiny and history, was but a single step. And from this secularization of the Christian conception of history combined with messianism, those materialistic and secular philosophies have been born which are based on the view that the historical process is the ultimately real itself, and that through material progress man is able to attain that perfection which was traditionally identified with the paradisal state, with the terrestrial and celestial Jerusalem located at the alpha and omega points of history which are also the present now. Through historicism, secular utopianism, and the idea of progress and evolution in a sense time has, for modern man, tried to devour eternity and usurp its place, replacing the eternal now in which the eternal and the temporal meet with the present moment as the fleeting instant of transient pleasures and sensations. Paradoxically enough, the end result of this process is that this divinized time has not only destroyed the possibility of the experience of eternity for those who have fallen under its hypnotic spell, but it has also eclipsed the meaning of perpetuity and historical continuity and hence the sense of history itself.40
The deification of historical process has become so powerful and such a compelling force that, in the souls of many human beings, it has taken the place of religion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the role that the theory of evolution plays in the mental and psychological life of those scientists who claim to look upon all things from a detached scientific point of view but who react with violent passion when the theory of evolution is discussed critically from any quarter—whether it be logical, theological, or scientific.41
In many ways and for profound reasons, evolution has become the substitute for religion for many people who defend it with complete intolerance while claiming to be very reasonable and tolerant beings without any strong religious beliefs.42
Others speak in categorical terms of the scientific method, then defend evolution on scientific grounds without being at all aware that their manner of accepting evolution as scientific has nothing to do with their own definition of what science is.43
There lies in these attitudes a factor of the most profound nature which concerns the depth of the soul of man, for it involves the substitution of historical process for the Divinity and therefore brings out a response which is reserved for the sacred to which pontifical man always responds with the whole of his being. Moreover, this defense of evolution involves a battle for “faith,” not scientific truth, for it provides the only way possible to veil over the penetration of the archetypal realities, of which the species are earthly reflections, upon the physical plane, and the sole means of providing some kind of a seemingly acceptable scheme to enable man to live in this world amidst the bewildering variety of the forms of nature but in forgetfulness of the transcendent One who is the source of this variety.
The criticisms which can be brought and have in fact been brought against the theory of evolution as currently understood, and of course not as man's vertical ascent toward his own eternal archetype, are at once metaphysical and cosmological, religious, logical, mathematical, physical and biological, including the domain of paleontology. Metaphysically, life comes before matter, the subtle world before life, the Spirit before the subtle world, and the Ultimate Reality before everything else, this “before” meaning in principle whatever may have been the chronological appearance of matter, life, and consciousness upon the theater of cosmic existence. Intellectual intuition which enables man to know scientia sacra
provides this absolute certitude of the primacy of consciousness over both life and matter. It provides a knowledge of that hierarchy which issues from the Source in which all things are eternally present and to which all things return. It sees existents in gradation and their appearance on the temporal plane as elaborations of possibilities belonging to that vertical dimension or gradation.44
Objects in this world “emerge” from what Islamic esoterism calls the “treasury of the Unseen” (khazānay-i ghayb
); nothing whatsoever can appear on the plane of physical reality without having its transcendent cause and the root of its being in divinis
. There is, metaphysically speaking, no possibility of any temporal process adding something to the Divinity or to Reality as such. Whatever grows and develops is the actualization of a possibility which had preexisted in the Divine Order, this development or growth being always of an essence while total reality resides in the immutable world of the archetypes. Finally, metaphysically speaking, that which belongs to a lower scale of being can never give rise to what belongs by nature to a higher level. From the point of view of the scientia sacra
the only meaning that the evolution of anything can have would be the actualization of the possibilities latent in that thing. Otherwise not all the eons of time can produce something out of nothing. The power of creation belongs to the creating Principle alone which is pure actuality itself. What evolution does is to deify the historical process not only by considering it as the ultimately real but also by transferring the power of creatio ex nihilo
from the transcendent Divinity to it.
Also, from the metaphysical and cosmological points of view, form is the imprint of an archetype and a divine possibility and not an accident of a material congregate. Moreover, form is quality and qualities do not add up as do quantities. Even in the inanimate world green is not the sum of red and blue in the same way that four is the sum of two and two. Green possesses a qualitative reality which is simply not reducible to the qualities of the colors which, materially or quantitatively speaking, add up to constitute green. This principle is even more evident in life forms where the reality of any form is irreducible to its quantitative components. Would half a human body be qualitatively half of the complete human body? Forms of living beings have a qualitative reality which cannot evolve from any other form unless that form were also present “somewhere.” And that “somewhere” cannot metaphysically have any locus but the archetypal world which is the origin of all forms.
From the purely religious point of view also, the evidence against evolution is universal even in traditions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism where cosmic history is envisaged on grand scales and where there has been perfect awareness among those who read their sacred Scriptures that the world has been around much longer than six thousand years, that other creatures have preceded man on earth, and that the geological configuration of the world has changed. The same can be said of Islam where, over a thousand years ago, Muslim scientists were perfectly aware that sea shells on top of mountains meant that mountains had turned into seas and seas into mountains and that land animals had preceded man on earth and that sea animals had come before land animals.45
In all sacred Scriptures and traditional sources whether they speak of creation in six days or of cosmic cycles lasting over vast expanses of time, there is not one indication that higher life forms evolved from lower ones. In all sacred books man descends from a celestial archetype but does not ascend from the ape or some other creature. Whatever concoctions of scriptural evidence have been made up to support modern evolutionary theory since the last century, they are based upon the forgetting of the traditional and sapiential commentaries and on interpreting the vertical scale of existence in a temporal and horizontal fashion as was done philosophically as a background for the rise of nineteenth-century evolutionary theory itself. The remarkable unanimity of sacred texts belonging to all kinds of peoples and climes surely says something about the nature of man. In any case, it is one more proof against those who would seek to make use of a particular text from one tradition or a few lines judiciously chosen from a certain scripture which would lend themselves more easily to misinterpretation in order to demonstrate religious support for the validity of the theory of evolution.
From a purely logical point of view it is difficult to explain how one can get, let us say, five pounds of barley out of a box in which there were originally only four. When one studies historical geology and paleontology one runs across many cases where the evolution of one form into another seems just as absurd. But this absurdity is brushed aside by positing long periods of time, with the illusion that somehow if you have enough time you can explain any problem. Whether one has a thousand years or a hundred million years, it is logically absurd that inert matter should become conscious or that a lower order of organization would by itself become a higher order of organization—apparently against not only logic but all that we know of the laws of physics. In logic no A can become B unless B is already in some way contained in A, and surely B can never come out of A if it possesses something more or is greater than A. No amount of evolutionary patience can change this primary human demand for logic. That is in fact why those who defend the theory of evolution usually make their definition so ambiguous as to be able to evade critical logical examination of the definition they provide.
There is even a mathematical criticism of the theory of evolution.46
According to modern information theory, one cannot receive from any unit more information than has been put into it. Now, the cell can be considered as a unit containing a certain amount of information which in fact governs the activities of the life form in question. How can this information within the cell be increased without having new information put into it through some agent whatever it might be? One cannot study the cell as it is done today, accept information theory and at the same time accept the current interpretations of the theory of evolution according to which, through temporal processes and without an external cause, which itself must be of a higher order in the sense of being able to increase the information contained within a gene, the amount of information contained within the genes does increase and they “evolve” into higher forms.
As for arguments drawn from physics, it is well-known that life forms preserve their order and structure and use the energy connected with life to that end in a manner which is totally different and opposed to the second law of thermodynamics. The very appearance on earth of more complicated life forms during later stages in the life of the earth is opposed to the law of entropy and indicates the presence of another kind of energy at play. There are in fact many biologists who claim that there is not one but two different types of energy functioning in our terrestrial environment: one physical or connected with nonliving matter and the other with living things; and that the laws pertaining to the two are very different even if vital energy enters into play only when a particular set of material conditions are present and not before or after. Such scientists oppose strongly the possibility of inert matter evolving into life forms because of the fundamental differences between the two types of energy involved in the laws which govern each realm.47
As far as biological and paleontological evidence is concerned, there are numerous arguments outlined by experts in these fields many of whom hardly dare express their views until old age for fear of being ostracized by their professional colleagues. Nevertheless, the number of works by scientists in these fields, which point to the impossibility of the theory of evolution, the theory that E. F. Schumacher calls science fiction rather than science,48
grows substantially every day and includes not only biologists but also geneticists, physiologists, and men from many other disciplines in the life sciences.49
As for paleontological evidence, the first fact which confronts any student of the field is the appearance of new species in new geological periods in a sudden manner and over very extended areas. Unrelated major groups such as the vertebrates appear all of a sudden in the form of four orders and everywhere one detects the sudden rather than gradual appearance of complex organisms. Moreover, the strati-graphic record hardly ever reveals fossils which should exist as intermediates between the great groups, something which should be present if the theory of evolution as usually understood were to be accepted.50
Furthermore, all the reasons given by defenders of evolution as to why the paleontological record does not in fact provide any such evidence have been refuted by numerous scientists.51
As for plants, the situation is even more difficult to explain than is the case for animals. The paleontological record hardly supports the evolutionary hypothesis no matter how far it is stretched and how farfetched is its interpretation.52
The most damaging evidence comes of course from the lack of the trace of life in the pre-Cambrian and its sudden profusion afterwards. Anyone who studies this record with an open mind cannot but be impressed by the sudden appearance of a new force or energy upon the surface of the earth, manifesting itself and leaving its mark upon the geological record in a manner that can hardly be called evolutionary. The whole paleontological evidence of the Cambrian as distinct from the pre-Cambrian points to anything but the gradual evolution of life forms.53
As for the post-Cambrian, the record reveals that nearly all the phyla of animals known were already present in the Cambrian—such as Porifera, Coelenterata, and Annelida—and that as far as phyla are concerned, no new classes have arisen since the Paleozoic with the exception of the Chordata.
The mutations of which many biologists speak and through which they seek to explain what they call evolution by leaps in fact never exceed a very limited boundary and represent either an anomaly or a decadence of the species in question. The hiatus remains unexplained by any of the mutations observed in biology unless one posits at other periods different forces acting on earth from those now observable. None of the variations which are presented by advocates of evolution as “buds” of a new species have in fact been anything more than variants within the framework of a specific species. There are animals which in a sense “imitate” animals of other orders such as whales which are mammals although they act as fishes; and yet fishes, reptiles, birds, and mammals remain distinct types and such creatures as whales and dolphins, far from proving evolutionary theories, only point to the immense creative power of nature. As for adaptations, there are some so complex that any evolutionary theory would be hard put to explain it, the action of a wise Creator being a much more logical solution.54
That is why the more objective among biologists, even when they do accept the theory of evolution for what they feel is the lack of any other “scientific” alternative, remain fully aware of the fantastic and even “surrealistic” character of evolutionary theory as usually understood,55
Certainly biology has not provided any proofs for this theory in the scientific sense of proof, but it has provided numerous obstacles which can only be overcome by a “leap of faith,” which is only a parody of the faith that God has placed in the human soul for Himself and His messages. The criticisms against the evolutionary theory and problems associated with it are so numerous that certain modern scientists have even suggested that Darwinism and Lamarckism are burdens upon the science of biology itself and that this science should be allowed to develop without having to bear the burden of a philosophical assumption which does not correspond to its findings but in fact puts an immense constraint upon this science in order to enable modern man to continue to use this crutch for his unending worship of the historical and temporal process as reality.56
The few arguments outlined here in such a brief fashion are themselves the subject of another discourse and cannot be developed in detail in a study devoted to knowledge and the sacred. But because the theory of evolution, both in itself and in its wedding to various philosophies and even theologies, has played such a major role in the desacralization of what remained in the West of sacred knowledge and even of man's general sense of the sacred, it has been necessary to refer to these criticisms. It has also been important to mention the scientific objections to evolution because it is on the basis of a supposedly scientific foundation that evolution has been generalized to embrace the whole cosmos up to the Pleiades and the whole of knowledge including theology itself.
If in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries evolutionary theory affected European philosophy in various ways, ranging from Nietzsche's superman to the emergent evolution of Samuel Alexander and the creative evolution of Henri Bergson, it nevertheless remained for the latter half of the twentieth century for this type of thought to enter into the realm of Catholic theology itself and to produce that Darwinization of theology, and the surrender of this queen of the sciences to the microscope,57
which is represented by Teilhard de Chardin. Strangely enough, in this domain the French Jesuit was preceded by an Oriental, namely Śri Aurobindo, who in his Life Divine
had tried to provide an evolutionary interpretation of the Vedanta but who did not have the same influence or effect in India as Teilhard has had in the West.58
It is in fact noteworthy to mention that, in the Orient, it is only in the Indian subcontinent that, as a result of Anglo-Saxon education with its heavy emphasis upon such evolutionary philosophers as Herbert Spencer, there has appeared not only a figure such as Aurobindo but a whole army of “evolutionary thinkers” of lesser eminence. Also it is from this world that that peculiar wedding between pseudospirituality and evolutionism, with talk of cosmic consciousness and the birth of a new humanity with evolved consciousness and the like, has spread to the rest of the world. Neither Buddhist Japan and China nor the Islamic world, despite the talk of Iqbal about the superman, produced the same blend of religion and evolution that we find in Aurobindo. It is therefore somewhat strange that the Western counterpart of Aurobindo should hail not from the land of Darwin but that of Claude Bernard and Cuvier.
From the traditional point of view Teilhard represents an idolatry which marks the final phase of the desacralization of knowledge and being, the devouring of the Eternal by the temporal process, if such were to be possible. It is therefore all the more strange that some should consider his work as “the resacralization of the profane world.”59
The fact that there has been such a flood of popularized writings about him, even journals being devoted to the study of his works60
and that he has caught the attention of such a wide audience, including many not at all attracted to authentic religion, can only mean, in a world such as ours, that he caters to certain of the antitraditional and even countertraditional61
tendencies of this world—most of all to that psychological formation which is the result of the domination of the evolutionary way of thinking upon the mind and psyche of most modern men.62
For Teilhard, evolution embraces not only living creatures but even nonliving matter. All cosmic matter which he addresses as “O Holy Matter!”63
follows the law of “complexification” which leads the cosmic “stuff” to rise from stage to stage until it reaches man. All beings for him have a conscious inner face (not to be confused with the traditional Hindu doctrine that equates existence itself with consciousness) like man himself, and evolution also implies the evolution of consciousness from life and matter. This evolution has not only brought forth the biosphere to cover the earth but through human culture has led to the noosphere which has become imposed upon the biosphere. At a later stage of this supposed evolution human cultures will become one. Through the psychic concentration thus created a “hyperpersonal” consciousness will come into being at the “Omega point” where evolution will end in convergent integration, this point being God in as much as He determines the direction of history. It is through this fantastic mental sublimation of a crass materialism that Teilhard seeks to synthesize science and religion and give Christian significance to the evolutionary hypothesis cum
First of all, from the metaphysical and religious points of view this amalgamation rather than synthesis cannot be considered as anything but the inversion of the traditional doctrine of emanation and the generation of the hierarchy of existence. Theologically it is sheer idolatry as demonstrated by such assertions of Teilhard as, “There exists only matter becoming spirit.… Thus much matter [is needed] for thus much spirit,”64
and the like. What is lacking completely in this perspective is awareness of the two kinds of rapport between the Principle and Its manifestation, that is, the relation of continuity and discontinuity. While the Principle is the source of the cosmos and nothing can exist without receiving existence from the source of Being which is to existence as the sun is to its rays, the Principle remains transcendent vis-à-vis all manifestation through a discontinuity which cannot be disregarded or overlooked by any authentic exposition of metaphysics. There is a world of difference between the traditional doctrine of the transcendent unity of being (waḥdat al-wujūd
in its Islamic form) and a rationalistic pantheism that neglects the absolute transcendence of the One which is yet the source of all multiplicity.65
For Teilhardism, it is not only the question of neglecting the aspect of discontinuity between the Principle and Its manifestation,66
which would result in a kind of philosophical pantheism encountered often in the history of Western thought, but of even considering the Principle as the end product of the evolution of manifestation itself.
Teilhard tries to explain the transition of inert matter to life as the “coiling up of the molecule upon itself,” forgetting the penetration of a new cosmic principle into the domain of inert matter as the cause for the sudden appearance of life on earth. This “coiling up,” moreover, is nothing but a parody of spiritual concentration as his description of the transition of life to consciousness as “the threshold of reflection” is a parody of the divine creative act itself. He speaks about this process reaching, through evolution, the state of totality as if totality could have ever not been or could have ever lacked something which it gained later without ceasing to be totality! When one reads Teilhard carefully, one realizes that his faith lies in matter and in this world above all else without an awareness of how matter itself is generated by higher levels of existence.67
When Teilhard says, “If, in consequence of some inner subversion, I should lose successively my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, my faith in the Spirit, it seems to me that I would continue to believe in the world. The world
—the value, the infallibility and the goodness of the world—this is
, in the last analysis, the first and the only thing in which I believe
he is expressing openly that worship of mammon which theologically could not but be called idolatry. And even when he asserts his faith in the Omega point evolving from evolutionary processes, he is denying the totality of all traditional teachings and clinging to only a truncated and subverted version of them, for Christ did say that he is the alpha and
the omega; in the Quran God is called not only the last or omega (al-ākhir
) but also the first (al-awwal
), not only the outward (al-ẓāhir
) but also the inward (al-bāṭin
The criticism against Teilhard's amalgamation of religion and science cannot be limited to the religious pole but includes the scientific one as well. All the criticism brought against evolutionary and transformist theories in general apply to Teilhard as well who defended them not with scientific reasoning but with a “religious” passion. Moreover, Teilhard has been criticized for his views on biology and physiology with which he was not very familiar but from which he sought to draw philosophical and religious conclusions.69
He sought to create a cosmic unity through the reduction of vital energy to physical energy and to equate the laws of living beings which possess finality in the biological sense70
with those of inert matter which is of a very different nature, and in which the same kind of finality cannot be observed, although from the traditional metaphysical point of view, very far from that of Teilhard, everything in the universe possesses a purpose and an entelechy within the total harmony of the cosmos. His “unity” is more a uniformity, reducing all levels of cosmic reality to the material one rather than true unity which integrates instead of leveling and reducing things to their least common denominator.71
Teilhard saw the world of nature as, in a sense, “Marxist,” that is, solely determined by temporal and historical processes. As one of his scientific critics has asserted, however, “Nature is much more Platonist than Father Teilhard believes and not at all Marxist.”72
If we have paused to criticize Teilhardism in the midst of this discussion of time and eternity, it is because the unveiling of the nature of this type of phenomenon is one of the most important tasks if one is to resuscitate traditional doctrines in an authentic manner, for it is not only the antitraditional but even more the countertraditional that veils the nature of tradition of which it is a veritable caricature. In fact, “Teilhardism is comparable to one of those cracks that are due to the very solidification of the mental carapace, and that do not open upward, toward the heaven of true and transcendent unity, but downwards toward the realm of psychism. Weary of its own discontinuous vision of the world, the materialist mind lets itself slide toward a false continuity or unity, toward a pseudo-spiritual intoxication, of which this falsified and materialized faith—or this sublimated materialism [of Teilhardism]—marks a phase of particular significance.”73
The slightest intuition of the immutable archetypes and the sense of the Eternal would have evaporated this fog of illusion which seeks to sublimate the temporal into the order of the Eternal of which it cannot be but a shadow.
The traditional response to either the Hegelian or Marxist relocation and even deification of the historical process or, what is even more insidious from the traditional point of view, that mixture of evolutionism and theology found in Teilhard can be discovered not only in the metaphysical doctrines concerning eternity and the temporal order but also in those traditional philosophies of becoming which treat in a more directly philosophical way those currently popular philosophical theories which would make of the evolutionary process the progenitor of either the perfect society, or the Spirit or Omega point itself. One of these philosophies is that of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī whose transubstantial motion (al-ḥarakat al-jawhariyyah
) treats fully the significance of movement and becoming while remaining aware of the archetypal realities which manifest themselves through this “substantial becoming.”74
Likewise, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī deals extensively with dialectic and the opposition between what Hegel and Marx called thesis and antithesis without ever elevating the historic process to the level of the Truth which is by nature immutable and eternal.75
It is such sources, whether Islamic or otherwise, that alone can explain the meaning of becoming, the scales of cosmic beings including living forms, the vertical hierarchy stretching from the lowest material form through man to the Divine Presence, and even the mutilation and inversion of these teachings in modern times. And for that very reason it is through the subversion of such traditional teachings that tradition itself is betrayed by forces which parade under a religious guise while helping to accomplish the final shortlived victory of the temporal over the Eternal, of the profane over the sacred.76
Ultimately the temporal can no more be made to replace the eternal and to consume it than can the sun be hidden in a well. The traditional doctrine of eternity and the temporal order cannot itself change or evolve because it belongs to the eternal order. This doctrine not only distinguishes between time and eternity but also “modes of time” in accordance with modes of consciousness.77
Its concern is not only with profane time and God as the Eternal but also with those intermediate modes of becoming associated with eschatology whose final end is
the abode of eternity in its absolute sense.78
Finally, this doctrine is concerned with that present now which is eternity as it touches the plane of time, the moment which is both alpha and omega in which man encounters the Eternal that is the Sacred as such, the moment that is the sun-gate through which he passes to the Beyond, becoming finally what he always is
, a star immortalized in the empyrean of eternity.
O soul, seek the Beloved, O friend, seek the Friend,
O watchman, be wakeful: it behooves not a watchman to sleep.
On every side is clamour and tumult, in every street are
candles and torches,
For tonight the teeming world gives birth to the world
Thou wert dust and art heart, thou wert ignorant and
He who has dragged thee this far shall drag thee to the
Beyond through His pull.