By Phillip D. Collins
Author’s note: The following is excerpted from the forthcoming book, Invoking the Beyond, which I am co-authoring with Paul David Collins.
As all of humanity’s treasured metaphysical propositions (e.g., the soul, the noumenal realm, God, etc.) swiftly vanished behind the barrier that Immanuel Kant arbitrarily erected between noumenon and phenomenon, there was a corresponding tendency among the critics of traditional theistic outlooks to ascribe noumenal characteristics to the phenomenal world. One case in point was, of course, the biologicized pantheism of Darwinism. Ironically, the premises for this latest iteration of pantheism were established by Spinoza, a theoretician of whom Kant was deeply critical. Nevertheless, the Kantian Rift engendered epistemic incertitude concerning noumenon, thereby rendering ostensibly tenable the subsequent incorporation of noumenal qualities into the conceptualization of a self-sufficient immanent order. Essentially, Spinoza suffused the phenomenal world with divinity, which is a categorically noumenal state of being. Another case in point was Georg Hegel, who advanced the notion of a Weltgeist that was directing “an ongoing developmental (evolutionary) process in nature, including humanity” (Taylor 381-82). This process was historically expressed as a “dialectical struggle between positive and negative entities,” which invariably resulted in a “harmonious synthesis” (381-82). Naturally, such a Manichean process would entail a substantial amount of violence and bloodshed. Not surprisingly, Darwinism “gave credence to the Hegelian notion that human culture had ascended from brutal beginnings” (386). To be sure, there are some disparities between a Spinoza and a Hegel, but a common penchant among such thinkers is a propensity to conflate noumenal attributes (e.g., eternality, infinitude, omnipotence, etc.) with objects of phenomenal experience (e.g., nature, the material cosmos, genetics, biology, etc.).