Not So Fast, Nietsche!

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Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
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Not So Fast, Nietsche!

Orah Minder

Not So Fast, Nietzsche!

"It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

In 1859 Charles Darwin offered a theory that seemed to disprove the longstanding explanation of the Origin of existence. Darwin's theory of evolution proposes a convincing argument that the universe was not created for a purpose, with intention, by a conscious God, but rather, was a phenomenon of random change. Fredrick Nietzsche articulated the gravity of the affect of Darwin's theory on society. He said that when Darwin published the theory of evolution people stopped believing in God. Nietzsche wrote that when people stopped believing in God, God died. According to Nietzsche people read the theory of evolution as a direct contradiction to the notion of the Mind: a Consciousness behind creation. Nietzsche's assertion pivots on the assumption that God's existence depends solely on human belief. Nietzsche assumes that belief is the greatest power that humans possess, but that this belief could not stand strong against the theory of evolution. So the theory of evolution destroyed the greatest power possessed by humans and in doing so destroyed God and destroyed the notion that there was Something that sparked the origin of species. But Darwin's theory did not stop the study of teleology: people continued the search for the Origin of existence. Even after The Publication in 1859 people still have a powerful need for knowledge, and a yearning faith that It is out there, that there is Meaning. This need fuels humanity's search for God. Darwin may have killed the human belief in a conscious, purposeful God, but he did not kill the human belief in an Origin. The search for the Spark that started existence continues. More powerful than belief, within humanity, is a need. God, the original Spark, the Origin, does not depend on belief, but rather It depends on need. When humans stop searching, when we no longer yearn to know the Origin of existence then God will die.

This searching for the ultimate explanation for existence is a phenomenon that has permeated human thought for centuries, if not for the entire history of humanity. Aristotle gave an explanation of this Origin: God. This explanation was cherished for centuries. Darwin did not try to substitute Aristotle's explanation with another, he did not offer a theory to what the actual Origin of the first species was, but rather, suggested a scientifically based proposal that there is no evidence of the existence of a conscious, purposeful God. This revolutionary idea sent a shock through western society. People's beliefs were unsettled and they were forced to begin a new search for the answer to the question of Origin.

Even before Aristotle, Plato made an attempt to answer teleological questions in a scientific manner. Daniel Dennett describes Plato's theory of Ideas by writing, "every earthly thing is a sort of imperfect copy or reflection of an ideal exemplar or Form that existed timelessly in the Platonic realm of Ideas, reigned over by God. This Platonic heaven of abstractions was not visible, of course, but was accessible to Mind through deductive thought." Aristotle used this theory of Ideas to expand his theory of Essences. Aristotle's theory of Essences is the theory that "permeated the thinking of just about everybody" Dennett explains Aristotle's theory: "All things not just living things had two kinds of properties: essential properties, without which they wouldn't be the particular kind of thing they were, and accidental properties, which were free to vary within the kind... within each kind was an essence. Essences were definitive, and as such they were timeless, unchanging, and all-or-nothing." At the base of these theories Plato and Aristotle assumed a Consciousness, a Mind. In an attempt to answer the questions of teleology they attributed existence to this Consciousness. Until 1859 this was the God of western society.

When Darwin published the theory of evolution in 1859 he seemed to disprove this attempt to answer the question of the Origin. Fredrick Nietzsche saw this as The End of the Force that prompted people to live a moral life style; this is the Force that enables society to function. But, Darwin failed "to offer an explanation of the origin of the first species, or of life itself; he begins in the middle, supposing many different species with many different talents already present, and claims that starting from such a mid-stage point, the process he has described will inevitably hone and diversify the talents of the species already existing." Darwin did not attempt to suggest an answer to the questions of teleology; he did not try to end The Search of humanity with a solid answer, a definite God. Rather, he attempted to unsettle the longstanding answers upon which society was based. Darwin's persuasive theory did not disprove the existence of any kind of God, a form of Morality, but rather, seemed to disprove the existence of the type of God upon which people had depended for so long: a Mindful, Purposeful God. What the theory of evolution did was make people uncomfortable in their present belief in the stagnant unchanging God presented by Aristotle and Plato. People did not lose the sense that there is Something out there, Something to which we must fit our actions. Darwin encouraged a continuance of searching; he reopened the study of teleology. Darwin did not address the question of Original Source. He did not suggest that there is no Force.

In 1859 people did not stop believing in the idea that there is Something out there for which we can search, but rather, people stopped believing in a stagnant God. People began an active search for another Origin. In 1859 Darwin revived an ancient search. Daniel Dennett points out, "if Nietzsche is the father of existentialism (a view that there is no purpose, no meaning to existence), then perhaps Darwin deserves the title of grandfather." In granting Darwin the title of 'grandfather of existentialism' Dennett suggests that this loss of faith occurred as a result of Darwin's theory of evolution. It is true that people lost a faith in 1859, but only in a very specific God. In 1859 Darwin created a space for people to find new faith. Darwin did not kill the human ability to have faith in a God, but rather, opened the field of possibilities.

Nietzsche's argument of 'The Death of God' did not take this opening of possibilities into consideration. Though people might not believe in a certain type of God they continue to search for something. Nietzsche writes with a very narrow definition of God: the conscious, purposeful, mindful Creator of existence. Maybe this God died in 1859, but it did not leave western society Godless. In all of recorded human history people have been searching. There has never been a time when people have given up The Search for Meaning. This Search is what makes God a living reality. Humans are always yearning to find Meaning. Only when this yearning stops will God die.

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