The Last Supper
Barfield devotes many
pages in his books and essays to the dismantling of the Darwinian view
of evolution, a view whose hold on our imagination
"has gradually turned it into a reality principle for the common man and
a paradigm (to adopt T. S. Kuhn's
useful term) for scientific investigation" (EC 9).1
Darwinism in various ways as
"Much more like a caricature
than a contradiction of the underlying facts." (WA 160, Sanderson
is speaking), Charles Darwin's
concept of the evolution of life was hardly timeless; on the contrary,
it was grounded in, and utterly dependent on, the collective
representations of Darwin's own Victorian Age. "What," Barfield asks,
"were the phenomena of nature at the time when the new doctrine [of evolution]
began to take effect, and particularly at the Darwinian moment in the middle
of the nineteenth century?"
account of the history of the natural world, not in terms of uninterrupted
of form into form, but of abrupt substitutions
of a new form for an old, rather in the manner of Aladdin's lamps. (EC
in terms of causality. (EC 8)
arranged evolution of outsides. (SM 101)
unparticipated to a degree which has never been surpassed before or since.
The habit, begun by the scientific revolution, of regarding the mechanical
model constructed by
the actual and exclusive structure of the universe, had sunk right into
them. . . . the last flicker of medieval participation had died away. Matter
and force were enough. There was as yet no thought of an unrepresented
base; for if the particles kept growing smaller
and smaller, there would always be bigger and better glasses to see them
through. The collapse of the mechanical model was not yet in sight. . .
. Literalness reigned supreme.
In Darwin's time, alpha-thinking
"had temporarily set up the appearances of the familiar world . . . as
things wholly independent of man. It had clothed them with the independence
and extrinsicality of the unrepresented itself . . ." (SA 61-63).
For Barfield, Darwinism
is simply shoddy thinking.2
It flies in the face
of biological evidence:
We don't hear very
much about the giraffe's neck these days, but I am getting very tired of
those "stick-like" insects, which fit in so nicely with Darwin. You don't
like freaks, so we'll leave out alternate generation, or the life-history
of the Gordius-fly, described by Agassiz,
or the numerous examples of complex symbiosis and the like that in our
own time Grant Watson has described
s o delicately in his books. No doubt they're at the other end of the scale.
But I should have thought they're was quite enough round about the middle
of the scale to rule out natural selection and adaptive radiation as the
principal factor in their provenance--enough for anyone who is not strongly
biased in its favor to start with. (WA 155, Sanderson is speaking)
It is methodologically
Surely it is a very
arbitrary methodological restriction [assumed in Darwinism] that the organism
must always be conceived of as cut off from its environment, that the interdependence
of object and environment is of only secondary importance, and that the
object's evolution must be treated primarily as a closed causal system!
I would go further
. . . and say that such a restriction is not only arbitrary, but also crudely
anthropomorphic! For it is just of the human being himself, and only of
the human being--and then only since the seventeenth century--that the
cutting off from environment is in fact characteristic. (WA 159)
It offers no explanation
of the "problem of unity":
The Darwinians have,
with their historical investigations, made "species" look silly and unreal
enough--but they have not presented science with any way of getting at
the unity which underlies these innumerable variations--other than the
trivial subterfuge of imagining a very remote time when they did not exist.
It is grounded on circular
The central fortress
[of Darwinism], then, is the "primeval" inorganic solidity of the earth.
. . . On the one hand it is said that the earth as we know it, including
its "secondary" quality of solidity, is a construct of the human brain;
and, thus, that brain and solidity are correlatives; on the other hand,
it is assumed that the earth as we know it was there for billions of years
before there was a human, or any other brain, in existence. (WA
And--its greatest fault--Darwinism
essentially leaves out of the picture the central enigma (the "original
mystery," as mathematician G.
Spencer-Brown terms it) of how human consciousness--the source, self-reflexively,
of the idea of evolution in the first place--came to be: the huge question--answered
by Anthroposophy's conception of the evolution of consciousness--of how
material evolution ever gave rise to mind.
of Darwinism should not be confused with creationism; he does not dispute
that evolution has taken place;4
rather it is Darwin's version of the process which he doubts. The fossil
record can be read differently. "The record of the rocks," Barfield agrees,
"is a script containing stored memories of earth's past." But . . .
that he at any rate must leave nature alone and confine himself to spotting
the working of the two adversaries in the mind of man. As to evolution--Good
Heavens! He suddenly saw in a blinding light what they had done--not indeed
with biological evolution itself, but with the picture men had formed of
that evolution. The picture they had induced us to form was one of a cosmic
process in which nothing but Lucifer and
were at work; of a process which they and they alone could have brought
about! It was a process of transformation, from which transformation itself
had been eliminated! Men spoke of evolution and described--a succession
of substitutions. . . . This, then, was the picture we were left with--the
two opposing influences so clearly seen, the two sides of the canvas so
delicately painted--and the central figure, which alone gave meaning to
them, omitted! It was like--it was like--and he found himself striving
to imagine what manner of picture Leonardo
da Vinci's Last
Supper would be with the central figure blacked out. (UV
of that participation which still linked the Greeks, and even the medieval
observer with his phenomena, might well have led to a very different interpretation--as
it did in the case of Goethe, who had that touch.
But for the generality of men, participation
was dead; the only link with the phenomena was through the senses; and
they could no longer conceive of any manner in which either growth itself
or the metamorphoses of individual and special growth, could be determined
from within. The appearances were idols. They had no "within." Therefore
the evolution which had produced them could only be conceived mechanomorphically
as a series of impacts of idols on other idols.
|See in particular
"The Evolution Complex" and Saving the Appearances, Chaps. VII,
VIII, IX, X.
Barfield goes on to note, "seized hold of the imagination, at first of
the English-speaking, and then of the whole Western world, with a rapidity
and an all-exclusiveness which I believe future generations will contemplate
as a startling historical phenomenon. . . . It has almost become subconscious"
light of reason," Barfield observes caustically, "was not Charles Darwin's
guiding star. Which makes it all the stranger that his own thinking should
have remained the guiding star for western science and western thinking
in general for something like one-and-a-half centuries" (EC 12).
Meggid provides Burgeon with an even deeper understanding of the Anthroposophical
perspective on the success of Darwinism:
You may now, if you like, think of Darwin
and his co-workers and successors. Here the Gabrielic impulsion was doubly
strong; for there was not only the growing warmth of enthusiasm for a purely
physical science; that applied to all the sciences. But here the enthusiasm
was truly at home, for the field of its operation was also the field of
heredity itself. You-who know something at least of other equally important
factors in the evolution of humanity-have you any better explanation for
the unbalanced obsession with biology which has held the idea of evolution
in its grip ever since it first began to be entertained in the West? (UV
have no doubt [Barfield has Sanderson say in Worlds Apart] that
[natural selection] was an important physical factor; I only think its
significance has been exaggerated. I don't mean the theory that the human
form has evolved from the animal form. Physically speaking, I think it
largely did. I mean the assumption that organic matter evolved from inorganic,
and that the phenomenon of solidity preceded the phenomenon of life. In
my view these are both not only pure assumptions but also largely arbitrary
one" (WA 156, Sanderson is speaking).