The Fundamental Question Concerning Intelligent Design
A talk at the Theosophy-Science Seminar, Springbrook, Qld, 21 May 2006
This talk is a discussion of what I regard as the fundamental question concerning intelligent design; or at least the fundamental question from a particular point of view, and that, not necessarily the view of science. There are other questions concerning intelligent design which may be more productive from a scientist’s point of view; but no question is more fundamental, in my opinion, than the question relating to the nature of intelligence. A further consideration arises towards the end of this discussion: whether or not we can rely on the intelligence of the designer, when the designer is a human being rather than a metaphysical principle. The present discussion also provides background information with which to better understand four significant words and how they interact with one another: they are Life, Consciousness, emergence and karma.
According to the doctrine of physical monism currently dominating the scientific imagination, what exists is matter/energy out of which life and consciousness emerge at a certain stage of complexity. According to theosophical teachings, however, Life and Consciousness are involved in the beginning. The process of emergence is what makes them explicit in the end. We tend to think of karma in purely human terms — action and its consequences, as you sow, so shall you reap, and so forth. But the doctrine of karma also refers to the underlying principle of order or harmony that is holding the whole process together and guiding it all the way. Not as a guide which forces, but rather like Whitehead’s idea of the divinity as a “lure” that gently entices. Surprisingly, perhaps, the law of karma can also be seen working at the grossest material level. Every species is the result of a unique series of events and interactions, engaging in adaptation, ecological opportunism and niche construction. Life, in process of evolution, changes the environment in which it lives and then further adapts to that environment. This history of past events and their consequences is karma — action and its results. Underlying the whole process is a force tending towards equilibrium or Order. And it is this force, which I am calling Intelligence, that is the subject of my talk.
Let us begin with a few rhetorical questions. Is intelligence something human beings possess, to varying degree; or is it universally diffused — and not just among humans? Is intelligence acquired by the ego or does intelligence (as opposed to intellect) exist in inverse proportion to ego? Is intelligence an epiphenomenon of either the brain or of thought? Metaphorically put, is thought the receiver or the transmitter of intelligence? There is a fairly consistent answer to these questions across diverse cultures and climes, East and West, from the Upanishads and Plato to Bruno, Blavatsky and Bohm: and it is their answer to these questions that I am about to give.
A basic distinction must first be made between intelligence and intellect, and between small “m” mind and capital “M” Mind; between thought and consciousness and between consciousness and its content. Platonists, Gnostics, Theosophists, Buddhists and Vedantists have always distinguished two ways of knowing corresponding to two distinct fields of knowledge. For example, G.R.S. Mead distinguishes between gnosis and ordinary knowledge when he writes: ‘Gnosis is knowledge; but not discursive knowledge of the nature of the multifarious arts and sciences …’ (Mead 1906 b). Intuitive insight and direct perception, in which there is no separation between the knower and the known, the observer and the observed, is central to Vedânta, Buddhism, Taoism and Patañjali Yoga. It also features strongly in the work of the Presocratics, including Heraclitus and Parmenides, in Plato and the Neoplatonists, and also more recently in the philosophy of Spinoza, Schelling, Bergson and Bohm. Gnosis, direct perception, unitive perception, whichever of these near-synonyms you prefer, is basically a way of knowing not mediated by thought.
In a nutshell, then, intellect is related to discursive, analytic thought, which is always conditioned, whereas intelligence relates to the present moment, to the unconditioned, the spaces in between thought. Then there is the nature of consciousness to consider. Professor E.A. Burtt presented a valuable insight into the general Western conception of consciousness, when he pointed out that the Westerner generally:
… defines “consciousness” as always implying awareness of some object. By contrast, the Eastern thinker sees something of vital importance beyond and underlying all objects — namely, the universe that encompasses them, and the self that apprehends them — the knower, which by its very nature is the subject of consciousness and always eludes us when we try to make it an object. In fact, he is sure that when its essence as knower is fully realized … the separation between subject and object that is necessary for rational knowledge is transcended, and the self becomes aware of itself as a unity in which that separation has been overcome. He is likewise sure that consciousness — so far from disappearing in this realization — only then becomes freed from its prison and fulfils its intrinsic nature (Burtt 1965, p.286).
In nondualistic systems such as Advaita Vedânta, the universe in which objects exist and the Self that apprehends them are one and the same no-thing often described as pure consciousness.
Consciousness carries different connotations in South Asian philosophical systems than in the West. Consciousness without an object, that is, contentless consciousness, is regarded as consciousness per se or pure consciousness, which is sacred or divine, infinite and universal. Thought and representation are not consciousness itself but part of its content, just like all material objects. In the classical Indian metaphysics known as Sânkhya the distinction is made between pure consciousness, Purusa, and prakriti, which is matter or nature, a metaphysical principle underlying all physical manifestations or phenomena (Schweizer 1993, p.847). This latter category not only includes all physical objects and processes but also all mentalistic qualities such as thought, desire, volition, the sense of I-am-ness and so on. In Sânkhya the category of mind includes three distinct but related functions, all of which are regarded as material: 1) buddhi, which is a highly refined or subtle material substance, comparable to the Greek nous, it refers to the higher reaches of human intelligence including intuitive and unitive perception; 2) manas, which is the cognitive faculty itself, the rational discriminating analysing intellect, the organ of cognition as such; and 3) ahamkâra the I-maker or ego which ‘appropriates all mental [and other] experiences to itself’ (Schweizer 1993, p.848). In this system, the only thing that is not material, is not a thing at all, but pure consciousness without content, Purusa, which never becomes anything but without which nothing can come to be.
One of the benefits of the mind/consciousness dualism of Sânkhya metaphysics is that it sheds light on the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is what remains after all the other categories of existence are negated or transcended. Consciousness is what underlies every object and every representation. It was present in the beginning and remains when all else has passed away. In the Vedânta the same no-thing, the same totality called Purusa in Sânkhya, is described as Brahman of which it is predicated only ‘that it is, that it perceives, and that it enjoys eternal bliss’ (Müller 1883/2002, p.176). The authors of the Upanishads discovered something ‘behind the veil of the body, behind the senses, behind the mind, and behind our reason’ which they called the âtman the universal Self (Müller 1883/2002, p.176). They argued that the âtman is finally identical to Brahman and that this universal consciousness, which is pure intelligence, is our true nature, the eternal element in us. Furthermore, the authors of the Upanishads maintain that everything in the universe is guided by this intelligence, supported by this intelligence and established in this intelligence (Aitareya Upanishad III, 3 in Radhakrishnan 1953/1990, p.523). We must not forget that intelligence, in this usage, must be distinguished from discursive reason, the cognitive faculty, and the I-making principle or ego in any form. Small “m” mind and intellect are personal, whereas intelligence and capital “M” Mind are universal in every respect.
Moving right along to the present day, let us take a look at David Bohm’s understanding of intelligence. Bohm described his theory of the implicate order as making possible, ‘the comprehension of both inanimate matter and life on the basis of a single ground, common to both’ (Bohm 1980/1997, p.193). That ground he variously described as consciousness, the generative order, and the holomovement. So-called inanimate matter and life are both to be understood on the basis of a common ground, the nature of which is intelligence. Distinguishing between thought and intelligence, Bohm and Krishnamurti began by defining intelligence as mental alertness, the capacity to read between the lines, particularly to read thought and to understand it. They then moved on to consider the deeper levels of intelligence, where intelligence may be regarded as synonymous with God (Dialogue with Bohm in Krishnamurti 1986, p.509/526). Krishnamurti suggests: ‘Religious people, instead of using the word intelligence, have used the word God’. Bohm replies: ‘God is perhaps a metaphor for intelligence … God means that which is immeasurable, beyond thought’ (Dialogue with Bohm in Krishnamurti 1986, p.525-6). Krishnamurti agrees and then reminds us that our image of God and our ideas of God have been created by thought to satisfy its desires and assuage its fears:
… the desire for this intelligence, through time, has created this image of God. And through the image of God, Jesus, Krishna, or whatever it is, by having faith in that — which is still the movement of thought — one hopes that there will be harmony in one’s life (Dialogue with Bohm in Krishnamurti 1986, p.526).
In Science, Order, and Creativity Bohm and Peat use fractal geometry to illustrate how order can exist within apparent randomness (Bohm and Peat 1987, p.173). The Mandelbrot fractals contain a hidden order — the base figure and the generator — which manifests the most remarkable array of complex images, including six-pointed stars, snow-flakes, mountains, images of the Buddha, and so forth: all based on a simple figure with a generator applied at different scales (Bohm and Peat 1987, p.152-4). This model may help to answer the question, where does order come from? If order can be hidden within apparent geometric randomness, then perhaps order can also be hidden within the apparent randomness of life more generally. That hidden order is Intelligence. In the Platonic system it would be described as the Good, and in the Gnostic system as Mind, all of which are often capitalised to distinguish them from their lower and often very distorted reflections.
Bergson held that disorder does not exist. In his view there are only two types of order: geometric and vital (Lorand 1992, p.580-87). Geometric order includes the movement of particles through space and time, the order of number, the functioning of machines and the more subtle orders evident in the growth of plants and the development of language (Bohm and Peat 1987, p.111). Geometric order is secondary, vital order is fundamental. In Bergson’s view, the intellect creates an artificial or mechanical order, which may be of practical value, but is not the truth about reality. It is the vital order that orders nature; ‘the order of the intellect is lifeless’ (Lorand 1992). This understanding informs Bohm’s treatment of the generative order or the holomovement — the totality. What Bohm calls the totality appears to be the same no-thing called Purusa in Sânkhya and Brahman in Vedânta. Thus, pure consciousness, intelligence or Mind may represent the ultimate generative or implicate order from which both mind and matter and all its evolutes arise. Furthermore, as all manifestations of order — mechanical, biological, hermeneutic and other — derive from the generative order, this raises the possibility that the totality, the holomovement and pure consciousness are of the nature of order, and that ultimately, it is order that unfolds from them. This is consistent with Plato’s treatment of the Good and Plotinus’s treatment of the One. I suppose it could basically be described as a form of emanationism.
In this model, it is proposed that although the totality is of the nature of order, and ultimately only order unfolds from it, the same cannot be assumed of the semi-autonomous parts of nature such as the human intellect or thought. Further, in this model it might be proposed that order, peace and happiness are part of the deeper orders of being, so that we need not think in terms of creating order out of chaos, surviving a hostile world, struggling to find happiness or anything of that kind; but, instead, find out what it means to live in harmony with the natural order, and not merely the order of physical nature. Do Intelligence and Order come from the personal empirical self, or from the universal Self, the totality, variously described as pure consciousness, Brahman, the âtman, the Ultimate Principle or God?
The ultimate source of order, for Bohm and Krishnamurti appears to be the intelligence beyond thought, which is synonymous with God, pure consciousness and Brahman. They argue that thought is a material, mechanical, measurable electrochemical process, which takes place in the brain and is largely a reaction to the past; whereas intelligence is neither mechanical nor measurable, nor is it the product of thought or time. They finally agree that the relationship between intelligence and the brain, or between intelligence and thought, is that the brain can be an instrument of intelligence, thought can be a “pointer” to intelligence; whereas in itself thought is “barren”. It has no value without intelligence (Dialogue with Bohm in Krishnamurti 1986, p.520). It becomes important, then, to clearly understand the difference between thought — which is a movement in time away from “what is” — and intelligence, which exists in the depths of life, or the deeper recesses of the generative order, and can be contacted only by a mind that is free from desire and fear, pleasure and pain, the twin impulses propelling the mind outward, further and further into confusion. We might ask, what is this intelligence that is potentially our pilot through life? We have already seen that it is not a personal possession, it is not desire, it is not thought or intellect. Nor is it social convention dictating to us what is right and what is wrong. Rather it is the light of universal intelligence or pure consciousness; a reflection within us of the holomovement, the whole movement, which is synonymous with the Good in Plato’s sense.
So where does all this leave the question of the cosmic design and its designer; and the related but separate question concerning the intelligence or otherwise of human designers, let us say scientists or geneticists? The human being can be, and ultimately is, a microcosm or mirror of pure intelligence or pure consciousness, which is inseparable from the Good or the totality. In the meantime, we are in large measure the embodiment of desire, fear, and conditioned thought. Does this imply that scientists and the rest of us should not be doing what we do because we can’t be trusted? That would be a rather idiotic position to take, not to mention impossible. As the Bhagavad Gîtâ eloquently points out, it is not possible for a human being to remain actionless even for one second. However there is also to be taken into account the inescapable difference between ourselves as creators, inventors, manipulators — and the action of the totality, Brahman or God, in which worlds endlessly appear and disappear in a regular ebb of creation and dissolution the nature of which is order. The Good in us, the Intelligence in us, which is universal, is tempered by having become embodied in an instrument that has been taken over by conditioned thought. That is the Krishnamurti/Bohm position. By contrast, the action of the totality is not distorted by the personal element. It is by definition whole, complete, unlimited. Our actions are all limited, fragmentary, conditioned and so forth. It doesn’t matter how clever we become or how uneducated we might remain; our basic status as conditioned contingent beings remains unaltered.
Would it make any difference to my basic argument concerning intelligent design, if advanced scientists from another world created all “life” on earth? I think not, because Being not beings “created” life. I believe that this universe and everything that comprises it is the creation, expression, or emanation of Being or pure consciousness. If we wish to speak in terms of “multiverses,” which personally I would not, then equally I would say that the totality of all multiverses is the creation or emanation or expression of Being not beings. That would be the view of Plato, Blavatsky, Bruno and Bohm among others I might choose to rally round me. In this argument, if advanced scientists from another world created life on earth that would not amount to saying that they created Life itself. Life is the totality, the immeasurable, the vastness of which space is just a reflection and of which all that exists is an emanation. All that beings can do, whether they be terrestrial or extra-terrestrial, is tinker around with what Being has already produced: namely, the necessary conditions for existence — on earth, in heaven, or on Mars as the case may be. I believe that we can rely on the intelligence of Being, which is of the nature of intelligence and bliss — sat-chit-ânanda — in a way that we cannot rely on the intelligence of conditioned limited beings such as humans. Does this have any implication as to how we might view the scientific endeavour? I think it implies only that we view all human and alien endeavour with caution, with humility, and where possible with safeguards against the unintelligence that flesh is heir to, whether that flesh be pink or green. But this should not just be a story of caution, either, for you never know what is really acting behind the things we do: particularly since that intelligence upon which we can rely is within us. All that we have to do is find our own way back to it.
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Bohm, David, and F. David Peat. Science, Order, and Creativity. London, New York: Bantam, 1987.
Burtt, E. A. In Search of Philosophic Understanding. New York and Toronto: New American Library, 1965.
Krishnamurti, J. The Awakening Of Intelligence. London: Victor Gollancz, 1986.
Lorand, Ruth. “Bergson’s concept of order.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 30(4), no. October (1992): 279-595.
Mead, G.R.S. The Gnosis of the Mind. The Gnostic Society Library, 1906 b. Accessed March 2006. Available from www.gnosis.org/library/grs-mead.
Müller, F. Max. India What Can it Teach Us? New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 1883/2002.
Radhakrishnan, S. The Principal Upanisads. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1953/1990.
Schweizer, Paul. “Mind/consciouness dualism in Sankhya-Yoga philosophy.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (4), no. December (1993): 845-59.
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