A NEW CHURCH RATIONALE FOR EVOLUTION
Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell
Emanuel Swedenborg, in the Arcana Coelestia n. 4223, sets the stage for an argument for continuous creation that would not appear for 250 years. Things come into being, he ways, not from what they are, but according to what they do; it is the use that a thing performs that determines its suitability for a permanent place in a body, or in the world of nature. And since all uses “flow in from the Lord, by way of heaven, ... in keeping with [its] order and with [its] form,” creation then, proceeds by design, according to preexisting spiritual forms. Only now are scientists beginning to grasp the enormity of this simple idea.
“The true position with correspondence is that although the heavens do certainly correspond to the organic forms themselves of the human body - on account of which these communities or those angels have been spoken of as belonging to the province of the brain, or to the province of the heart, or to the province of the lungs, or to the province of the eye, and so on - they correspond primarily to the functions belonging to those viscera or organs. The position really is that, like the organs or viscera themselves, their functions make one with their organic forms. For it is impossible to gather any idea of a function except from forms, that is, from substances, since the substances are the subjects from which they exist. It is impossible to gather any idea of sight, for example, except from the eye, or of breathing except from the lungs. The eye is the organic form from which and through which sight exists, and the lungs the organic form from which and through which breathing does so; and the same applies to all other organic forms. It is the functions therefore to which heavenly communities correspond primarily, and then because they correspond to the functions they correspond to the organic forms too; for the one is indivisible from the other and inseparable, so much so that it makes no difference whether you speak about the function or about the organic form through which and from which that function exists. Consequently there is a correspondence with organs, members, and viscera because there is such with the functions. And therefore when the function is brought into action the organ also is stimulated. The same also applies in every single thing a person does. When he wishes to do this or that, and to do so in this or some other way, and is thinking of it, the organs move in response, and so in accordance with the aim of the function or use; for it is the use they serve that governs the forms.
This shows also that the use they serve existed before the organic forms of the body came into being, and that the use produced and adapted those forms to itself, and not the reverse. But once the forms have been produced or the organs adapted, the uses they serve then flow from them, in which event it seems as though the forms or organs were prior to the uses, when that is not in fact the case. For the use flows in from the Lord, doing so by way of heaven, in keeping with order and with the form in which the Lord has arranged heaven, and so in keeping with correspondences. This is the manner in which man is brought into existence and in which he is kept in existence. This again shows the origin of the correspondence of the human being - every single part of him - with the heavens. “
This is perfectly logical, of course, but just as it says, it seems to be the other way around for objective observers of nature. In Divine Love and Wisdom n. 46 Swedenborg clearly restates this when he says,
From all this it can be seen how sensually (that is, how much from the bodily senses and their blindness in spiritual matters) do those think who maintain that nature is from herself. They think from the eye, and are not able to think from the understanding. Thought from the eye closes the understanding, but thought from the understanding opens the eye. Such persons cannot think at all of Esse and Existere in itself, and that it is Eternal, Uncreate, and Infinite; neither can they think at all of life, except as a something fleeting and vanishing into nothingness; nor can they think otherwise of Love and Wisdom, nor at all that from these are all things of nature. Neither can it be seen that from these are all things of nature, unless nature is regarded, not from some of its forms, which are merely objects of sight, but from uses in their succession and order. For uses are from life alone, and their succession and order are from wisdom and love alone; while forms are only containants of uses. Consequently, if forms alone are regarded, nothing of life, still less anything of love and wisdom, thus nothing of God, can be seen in nature.
“Forms are only containants of uses.” Another translation renders this “...forms are the vessels serving those uses,” and I think this is probably even better. The major premise here is that the form has to come first.
This addresses a major problem in understanding how evolution works. I don’t think anyone understands it very well. It is a slippery mechanism, that works backwards and blindly, but nonetheless according to the Divine plan, or as William Dembski and others would now say, “creation by design.” Here is my own approach to the problem:
Nature is an arena of probability. It seems to be “random” in operation, and it is, from our natural frame of reference. But remember that creation proceeds from the Lord, and it comes forth in His “image,” and the Lord is order itself. So how does the order get into nature, especially in the mechanism of evolution? The “randomness” of the biosphere is constantly generating new forms. Even non-living things (landforms, atmospheric conditions, chemicals in motion, etc.) are constantly changing forms from the external forces they encounter. But living things do this in a fascinating way - they change forms from the “inside out,” so to speak, by means of “accidental” mutations in their DNA, and that change is perpetuated in future generations. The mutation is “random,” which means that it is completely within the operational dynamics of natural laws, and occasionally it is of such magnitude that something not just different, but truly new is produced. Does this new thing live on, perpetuate itself, and become a new species? This depends on whether there is a niche awaiting it, in the natural world.
A niche is a unique complex of living and non-living components that can support this new thing - its “occupation” and “neighborhood” in the ecosystem. Here is the fun part: the niche has to be there first if the newly generated organism is to persist. If it is not, then the organism dies out. This is extinction, pure and simple.
Is this a random system? Yes, if you are in the world watching it happen. But the niche had to be there first. Is this another random event? Yes. But what is “randomness?” Do not despair; randomness does not mean that no Creator is involved.
Here is the best part: Translate (spiritual) “use” for (natural) “niche,” and (spiritual) “freedom” for (natural) “randomness,” and I believe that you have a perfect model of continuous creation from correspondence. The Creator builds a world that can generate new forms “on its own” so to speak, without the need for magical, direct intervention. The biosphere pops out new forms all the time, like an evolutionary popcorn popper, but no new forms persist over time unless there is a niche already there for them.
Where might niches come from? They correspond to spiritual uses, manifesting themselves in the natural world by means of its capabilities (natural laws, etc.). When there is a match, then there is a conjunction of a spiritual use with it natural vessel. Bingo! Creation continues, in a spiritual-to-natural direction, with the “cooperation” of a totally “mechanistic” system.
The whole system is an infinitely large self-propelled mechanism for orderly change. If you look for the Creator in it He is there, right in the middle, providing the creative force to keep it all generating, via continuous spiritual influx. If you choose to deny Him, then you will find a perfectly autonomous system that needs no God. All nature is obviously (for you) from nature. These are the affirmative and negative principles, respectively, at work ( ). Freedom. Choose your paradigm. One leads to the “order of heaven” and the other leads to the “insanity” of self intelligence
The last little bit of delicious biology is that it is no accident that there are DNA accidents. There is a built-in and very stable error rate in DNA replication, that apparently must be there to provide for a certain number of background mutations to occur. This insures genetic variability, and genetics just won’t work without it. Now isn’t that strangely fortuitous?
I use to teach biology from this perspective, and it works. There is a biology based on the New Philosophy (not hung onto it, like ornaments) that is completely compatible with any fact of mechanistic science. In fact, if you start with spiritual principles first (a doctrinal framework) and then apply the biological principles to them, you often get science (in this case evolution) that makes more sense than the textbook does. (Surprise! This works for all the other disciplines, too.)
So in summary, AC 4223 and all its companion passages are in my opinion right in line with what is happening in the natural world of observation. And these passages from the New Philosophy, coming as they do from the mid-1700's, offer a spiritual foundation to support the “new” idea of “creation by design.” “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9.