Beyond Creationism vs Evolution - Beginning at the Beginning : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture Before there was any need for explanations, or dogma, or doctrine or creed there was the elemental experience of the world.
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Beyond Creationism vs Evolution - Beginning at the Beginning

Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings in southwest France. AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool hide caption

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AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool

Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings in southwest France.

AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool

Is there anything else to say? Is there a "road less traveled" in the discussion of science and human spiritual endeavor? Is there a line of authentic inquiry on the subject that avoids the usual polarities and skips the easy applause lines?

The last post in this series argued that the endless Creationism vs. Evolution debate had long ago ceased to be serve anyone except to the most vitriolic of its partisans. The best plan of action for the rest of us would be to move on and look for perspectives that can actually teach us something. Engaging in that discussion en masse would be the best way to ensure that Evolution's firmly established scientific veracity is not turned into a convenient football for the intolerant.

I believe it is possible, and necessary, to see science and human spiritual endeavor through an alternative perspective. That perspective would acknowledge the truths each can reveal and avoid jealous comparison of those truths. Of course, determining the nature of those truths is where a lot of the action in the discussion will play out. With that in mind we should step back - way back - and gain some much needed perspective.

We need to begin at the beginning. We need to begin at our beginnings.

The brain packed between your ears is, essentially, the same mess of glop, fluid and wiring possessed by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers 50,000 years ago. Evolution has not changed the basic structure of our neural circuitry since those distant millennia when our great-great-great-etc parents invented what we now call culture. It was in that world, locked in the depths of the last ice-age, that we humans awoke to ourselves and our mortal predicament. It was across those uncounted years that we began to bury our dead, ornament our selves in clothing and jewelery, fashion tools of ever increasing complexity and most importantly tell our stories through the symbolic domains of art and music.

The beautiful paintings of bull, bison and bear in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira give silent testimony to the simple fact that we have been awake and watching what the world evokes in us for a long, long time. It is impossible to know if these cave paintings had explicit religious orientations, but it is difficult to view them and not sense their engagement with a sacredness, a deeply felt interior response to the world. These cave paintings and other early art speak to the role of Mythos -- the internalized, symbolic reaction to the world which we still carry with us today.

At the same time the finely crafted harpoons, needles and hand axes found at paleolithic sites around the world speak to the other domain of human being, the external observation and manipulation of the world. In these tools and in bone fragments engraved with the cycles of lunar phases or carved with elemental counting schemes there is ample evidence that Logos - analytic, technical thinking - had already been awakened in our ancestors.

The remarkable findings of modern archeology afford us a perspective on our own origins that we would be foolish to ignore in thinking about science and religion. Rather than simply arguing over which specific form of modern religion best fits (or doesn't fit at all) the latest scientific results, can we step back and ask broader questions that reach the common roots of our humanity?

Can we look back and see neither ruthless savages or mystical saints in the early men and women whose genes we all carry but, instead, attempt to understand their role as cognitive revolutionaries responding to imperatives that would one day become modern forms of both science and religion? Can we trace those imperatives backwards to our origins and see how they arose together and how they defined what it meant to be human?

If we take this route then we will find Mythos and Logos braided together as a unified response to the irreducibility of experience. And experience is the key on which all depends.

Our elemental encounter with the world, the raw stuff of experience, was just as vivid and strange to our ancestors as it is to us now if we are willing to pay attention. They felt awe and wonder beneath the dark weight of the night sky, in the deep quiet at the forest's edge or in the shock of infant's birth wail. Those experiences drove our ancestors, as it drives us, to an all important aspiration, a desire to draw closer to the source of that tremendous awe. That aspiration - what I call the Constant Fire - contains the original and braided roots of science and religion. The artifacts of the Paleolithic era speak eloquently of a time when this aspiration began and we should pay attention to what those artifacts tell us.

Before there was any need for explanations, or dogma, or doctrine or creed there was the elemental experience of the world. From experience arose the original root of striving, the original aspiration which our ancestors knew and which still lies at the deepest roots of our best, most authentic efforts to know ourselves and the world. That aspiration is, for me, a road less traveled in the discussions of science and religion. If we were to follow it and to ask what is common, not in results about the world but in the deeply felt response to it, who knows where we might be led?