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Saturday, 17 January 2015

1. The Manuscripts

This is the first chapter of the book Discovering the Keystone, Solving the Riddle of The Red Serpent after 40 years by Guillaume Brouillard (Griffel Media, Cape Town, 2009). In this chapter the focus is on the parchments that the priest Bérenger Saunière is said to have discovered in the church of Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Château towards the end of the nineteenth century. In these there are reference to a bloodline (which one can maybe call the "red serpent bloodline") and a certain treasure (the temple treasures of Jerusalem?). It is recommended that the Background is read before this chapter.

Comme ils sont étranges les manuscrits de cet Ami, grand voyageur de l'inconnu, ils me sont parvenus séparément, pourtant ils forment un tout pour celui qui sait que les couleurs de l'arc-en-ciel donnent l'unité blanche, ou pour l'Artiste qui sous son pinceau, fait des six teintes de sa palette magique, jaillir le noir.

How strange are the manuscripts of this Friend, great traveller of the unknown. To me they had the appearance of being separate; however, they form a whole for the one who knows that the colours of the rainbow give unified white, or for the Artist who under his paintbrush brings forth black from the six tints of his magic palette.

The author of the poem Le serpent rouge kicks off this extraordinary riddle by referring to certain manuscripts that belong to a friend of his. The mere fact that this is the very first thing he mentions is surely indicative of its significance. Later on in the poem, he refers to these manuscripts as 'parchments'

There is little doubt that these manuscripts relate to the famous parchments the priest Bérenger Saunière is said to have discovered in the church of Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Château. These parchments allegedly bear on an invaluable secret, even referred to by some as a 'state secret'.

1.1 The parchments of Saunière

Since 1964, several documents besides Le serpent rouge were deposited in the French National Library in which the parchments Saunière had allegedly found are mentioned. From these documents it appears that Saunière, after discovering the parchments and on recommendation of the bishop of Carcassonne, Félix-Arsène Billard, took them to the priest Bieil, director of the St. Sulpice seminary in Paris at the time. Several of the parish priests in the Rennes-le-Château region most probably had direct or indirect ties with St. Sulpice, such as Eugène Grassaud, a close friend of Saunière's, who studied at this seminary.

While in Paris, Saunière apparently met the young Emile Hoffet at the home of a certain Ané - a cousin of the priest Bieil - whose house was the center of intense religious and spiritual activities in those days (see 1st Note). Although Hoffet was not yet a priest at that stage, he was already renowned for his expertise in the field of religious manuscripts. He apparently had a look at these parchments and also made copies of them for his own use. From the documents in the French National Library it appears that the young Hoffet could have been the connection between Saunière and the person who in time compiled these documents.

It appears that Hoffet subsequently showed his copies to a few trusted people, one of whom was Leo R. Schidlof. Schidlof, under the fictitious name of Henry Lobineau, compiled the first known document in which these parchments are mentioned. In this document, dated 1956, 'Lobineau' already mentions 'the parchments of the abbé Saunière, priest of Rennes-le-Château' in the title. The full title of this writing is Généalogie des rois mérovingiens et origine de diverse familles francaises et étrangères de souche mérovingienne, d'après l'abbé Pichon, le docteur Hervé et les parchemins de l'abbé Saunière, curé de Rennes-le-Château ('Genealogy of the Merovingian Kings and the Origins of Several French and Foreign Families of Merovingian descent, according to the abbé Pichon, Dr. Hervé and the Parchments of the abbé Saunière, priest of Rennes-le-Château').

It is possible that, after his death, Emile Hoffet's archives came into possession of Pierre Plantard and his friends, who would then have used them to compile different documents on the subject and subsequently deposited these in the French National Library. It is even possible that they also compiled the writing that is attributed to Henri Lobineau, or at least deposited this in the library as well. Philippe Toscan du Plantier, for instance, is mentioned as the 'compiler' of another document that also appeared under the name of Henry Lobineau, namely Dossiers secrets d'Henri Lobineau ('Secret Dossiers of Henri Lobineau'). According to the writer Guy Patton, the book Le trésor maudit de Rennes-le-Château [9] by Gérard de Sède, who is also associated with Pierre Plantard's circle of friends, 'most certainly [is] the result of access to the missing archives [of Hoffet]' [10].

That dubious information also appears in these documents can most probably be attributed to the fact that these writers did not have access to all the facts from the time of Bérenger Saunière. It is not an established fact, for example, that Saunière had ever been to Paris. Although it is said that he had signed the register for visiting priests who attended mass in St. Sulpice, other evidence shows that it could probably have been his brother, Alfred. It could be that Alfred acted as his envoy. In addition, questions also exist about the date of this alleged visit to Paris and whether Hoffet had indeed been present at the time.

1.2 Genealogies of the Merovingians 

The parchments Saunière allegedly discovered seem to comprise mainly of different genealogies. Most of the documents attributed to Henry Lobineau also contain genealogies, some of which are dated March 1954.

As indicated in the title of the oldest of these documents, these are the genealogies of the claimed direct descendants of the early Merovingian monarchs and their families. Lobineau apparently also consulted the works of Dr. Hervé and the abbé Pichon (whose real name was Francois Dron) in order to write his own. The latter supposedly compiled his genealogies in 1809 by order of Napoleon. There is also a reference to a manuscript of the abbé Pichon titled Les diplômes mérovingiens (1796) ('The Sovereign Sealed Deeds of the Merovingians'), which is said to be kept in the castle of Lys' private library.

According to Dossiers secrets d'Henri Lobineau, as well as some of the other writings, the following documents were among the parchments Saunière is said to have found:
  •  An old parchment with information in the form of litanies of Notre Dame. It is dated 1244 and bears the seal of queen Blanche of Castille, the mother of the French king Louis IX. This parchment contains the genealogy of the Merovingian bloodline through King Dagobert II, from 681 until 1244, when his direct descendent, Jean VII Plantard, married Elisende of Gisors. 
  • A parchment dated 1644, containing the continued Plantard bloodline into the 1600s. It also contains the last will and testament of Francois-Pierre d'Hautpoul, the baron of Rennes-le-Château, which was recorded on the 23rd November, 1644, by one Captier, the notary of the town of Espéraza, near Rennes-le-Château.
In his book Rennes et ses derniers seigneurs [11] ('Rennes and her Last Rulers'), René Descadeillas states that in 1780, this last will and testament was in the possession of another notary of Espéraza, Jean-Baptiste Siau, who deemed it of such utmost importance that he refused to hand it over to members of the Hautpoul family themselves and kept it under lock and key in his own safe. In 1644, after the death of the last heir, the countship of Blanchefort also fell to the Hautpouls.
  • A last will and testament, dated 1695, of Henry d'Hautpoul, the grandson of Francois-Pierre. In 1732, Henri's son Francois d'Hautpoul, married Marie de Nègre d'Ablès, the epitaph of whose gravestone was deliberately removed by Saunière. There are six lines in this will that are linked to the well-known church leader St. Vincent de Paul, a friend of the abbé Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the new St. Sulpice Church.
  • Two documents with Latin texts. The first is compiled of three passages from the Bible: Luke 6: 1-5, Matthew 12: 1-8 and Mark 2: 23-28. The second contains a much longer Biblical passage from the Gospel according to John - chapter 12: 1-12. According to Dossiers secrets d'Henri Lobineau, the priest Bigou, who was the personal chaplain of Marie de Nègre d'Ablès, compiled these documents between 1781-1791 after her death. Both these documents contain coded messages, one in which a 'treasure' is mentioned.
Some of the most interesting genealogies among Henri Lobineau's documents that were published by Philippe Toscan du Plantier are those signed by the abbé Pierre Plantard, vicar of the basilica of St. Clotilde in Paris. These signatures differ from Lobineau's handwriting and were most probably by the abbé Plantard himself. There are four of these genealogies, all dated March 1939. They are numbered 5, 7, 19 and 22, which indicate that the abbé Plantard still compiled other genealogies that Du Plantier did not include in his document. According to the author of Le cercle d'Ulysse ('The Circle of Ulysses') - possibly Philippe de Chérisey - it was this abbé Plantard, a distant relative of the now well-known Pierre Plantard, who originally compiled these genealogies from Hoffet's documents, which Henri Lobineau subsequently only copied.

One of the abbé Plantard's other genealogies appear in Abrégé de l'histoire des Francs. Les Gouvernants et rois de France [12] ('Concise History of the Franks. The Rulers and Kings of France'), a book by Louis Vazart, another friend of Pierre Plantard. I came across this writing at the Dagobert II Museum in the town of Stenay in the north-east of France. This genealogy not only shows the Plantard bloodline from 1546, when Jean XIV Plantard married Marie, the heir of St. Clair, until the 19th century, but also where the abbé Plantard himself fits into this genealogy (see Figure 4). To the best of my knowledge, Discovering the Keystone marks the first time that this genealogy appears in an English publication and it contradicts many researchers' opinions that there are certain gaps in the Plantard bloodline.
 
A genealogy in Dossiers secrets d'Henri Lobineau continues where the above-mentioned genealogy stops. It shows the bloodline from Francois III Plantard (1761-1806) to the well-known Pierre Plantard's father, Pierre V. This is apparently in the abbé Plantard's own handwriting, and contains a note on his association with this family (see Figure 5).


From these it is clear that quite a few more Plantards than just the well-known Pierre Plantard are associated with these documents. The reason for this is that the parchments Saunière allegedly discovered involve this very bloodline. It would also explain why the Hoffet archives would come into Pierre Plantard's possession: These genealogies show the male bloodline from the Merovingian king Dagobert II - of which Pierre Plantard is the heir presumptive. 

1.3 In a vault in London 

So far, only the copies of the parchments that are said to have been in Hoffet's possession have been traced. The original parchments, it seems, were inherited by Saunière's cousin, Bertha Jammes. In the document L'énigma de Rennes [13] ('The Enigma of Rennes'), Philippe de Chérisey writes that in 1955, two Englishmen by the names of captain Ronald Stansmore of the British intelligence service and Sir Thomas Frazer, 'éminence grise' of Buckingham Palace, bought three of the parchments from Bertha Jammes. According to the article 'The treasure, the priest and the Priory' [14] by BBC researcher Jania MacGillivray, they acted on behalf of Pierre Plantard's uncle, Etienne I. Stansmore and Frazer then entrusted it to the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, after which it ended up in a safe-deposit vault at Lloyds International in London.

During a meeting between the authors Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln with Pierre Plantard on the 17th May, 1983, Plantard showed them notarized documents, of which he also gave them copies, relating to the moving of the parchments from France to England. One of these documents, dated the 5th October, 1955, also constitutes an application to the French consulate in London to bring three parchments from France to England. Another document, dated the 23th July, 1956, is an application to keep these parchments in England.

In the first document, the parchments are described as follows: '...three parchments whose value cannot be calculated, confided to us, for the purposes of historical research, by Madame Jammes, residing in France at Montazels (Aude). She came into legal possession of these items by virtue of a legacy from her uncle, the Abbé Saunière, curé of Rennes-le-Château (Aude).' [15] It confirms that the parchments comprise the 1244 genealogy, the 1644 genealogy and the last will and testament of 1695, and then offers the following statement: 'These genealogies contain proof of the direct descent, through the male line of Sigebert IV, son of Dagobert II, king of Austrasie, through the House of Plantard, Counts of Rhedae, and they are not to be reproduced in any fashion'.

The second document confirms that after 25 years, monsieur Plantard, the count of Rhedae and of St. Clair, born on the 18th March, 1920, would again have a legal right to the parchments. Should he not claim them, they would be taken up in the French National Archives.

Interestingly enough, the second application was submitted by Roundell Cecil Palmer, count of Selbourne, of whom a certified birth certificate is attached. In the Second World War, Palmer was the head of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), which had close ties with the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - the forerunner of the CIA. It leaves a lot to the imagination that someone of this stature could be linked to these parchments. According to his daughter, Palmer was rather interested in genealogies and often vacationed in the Pyrenees close to Rennes-le-Château.

However, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln discovered that this second document had been tampered with. Given the fact that the count of Selbourne was so closely involved with intelligence agencies, it could very well have been the handiwork of such an agency that would have wanted to keep the documents in England illegally. According to the mentioned authors, the culprits were most likely the Knights of Malta, which had close ties with both the SOE and the CIA. Whatever the case may be, it seems that the parchments later ended up in a safe-deposit box in Paris.

According to Pierre Plantard, these documents are the original parchments that Saunière had discovered. In an interview with Noel Pinot, published in the Vaincre (the internal bulletin of the Prieuré de Sion) of April 1989, Plantard said: 'The parchments that were in London some years ago are completely authentic'.

Only after these parchments have been examined by independent experts would one be able to get an objective opinion about this - and would the truth about the Plantard's claim to descend from Dagobert II be well and truly known.

1.4 The coded texts

The parchments with the Latin texts that contain coded messages ostensibly bear on the hiding place of a 'treasure'. In 1967, Gérard de Sède published representations of these two documents in his book Le trésor maudit de Rennes-le-Château, which, according to him, were copies of the parchments Saunière is said to have discovered in the church of Rennes-le-Château. Henry Lincoln later also published and discussed these parchments in his The Holy Place [16].

Most interesting, though, is the fact that those who had given De Sède the documents later on alleged that they were forgeries! In the document L'énigma de Rennes, Philippe de Chérisey explains how he himself cooked them up: 'I set about creating an encoded copy based on certain passages from the Gospels, after which I deciphered what I had just personally encoded. Finally, through a circuitous route, I made sure the fruit of my labour found its way to Gérard de Sède.' [17] He admitted the same to the writer Jean-Luc Chaumeil: 'I fabricated the parchments, whose ancient text I took, en onciale, to the Bibliothéque Nationale ...' [18] During a meeting with Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln in 1979, Pierre Plantard too said that the coded texts were forgeries that De Chérisey had fabricated for a short television programme in 1956.

However, compiling these coded texts would unquestionably have been a mammoth task - not something you concoct for a ten-minute programme on TV! In The Messianic Legacy, Beigent, Leigh and Lincoln state: 'The staggering effort required to devise the ciphers seemed inappropriate, indeed ridiculous, for such a purpose'. [19] According to an expert in code deciphering at the British intelligence service whom Lincoln approached, it is 'the most complex cipher he has ever seen and would have taken months of work to prepare'. [20]

When confronted with this, Pierre Plantard confessed that the documents were indeed 'forgeries' - but ones that correspond greatly to the originals: 'M. Plantard conceded that the forgeries were based very closely on the originals. In other words, they had not been 'concocted' by M. Chérisey at all. They had been copied, and M. Chérisey only made a few additions. What remained when these additions were deleted, would be the original texts found by Saunière.' [21]

But why pretend the documents De Sède published were complete forgeries to begin with, and why all the deception by De Chérisey?

To my thinking, it was clearly an attempt to divert attention from the published documents. By alleging they were falsified, they would never be taken seriously again by anyone. That, however, would serve to prove that these documents contain information that warrants such conduct. If they are indeed authentic, these documents could therefore be of great consequence.

1.5 Two sides of only one parchment!

In the above-mentioned meeting between Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln with Pierre Plantard in 1983, Plantard elaborated on the issue and volunteered the information that Saunière did in fact not discover two parchments with coded messages in Latin texts, but only one. The two documents De Sède published had originally been the two sides of one parchment!

Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln write: 'The documents found by Saunière, he said, were indeed only four in number. Three of them were those to which various references had repeatedly alluded – a genealogy dating from 1244 bearing the seal of Blanche de Castille, a Hautpoul genealogy dating from 1644 and the Hautpoul 'testament' dating from 1695. The fourth parchment, he said, was the original on the basis of which the marquis de Chérisey had devised a modified version. According to M. Plantard, there was one coded message on each side of the page. In some way, apparently, the two texts interact with each other – if, for example, they were held up to the light and viewed, as it were, in superimposition. Indeed, it was suggested that M. Chérisey's chief 'modification' had simply been to reproduce the two sides of the same page as separate pages, and not to the original scale' [22].

According to Plantard, the published texts are therefore unblemished. To reproduce the original document, however, the correct scale of these texts must be placed back-to-back in the correct position. Without the original parchment, this would be virtually impossible. The only person who had access to the original appears to have been Pierre Plantard himself, who would have made it available to De Chérisey.

As with the other documents, there is no way of knowing whether this parchment is indeed authentic. What we do know, however, is that one of the texts is an Oxford University translation that was in actual fact only published in 1889 as Putnam and Wood point out in their book The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château, A Mystery Solved [23], which proves that Saunière could not have discovered this parchment with the others. On the other hand, as Ted Cranshaw states in his excellent article 'The Second Parchment at Rennes-le-Château and the intrusive W' [24], the one coded message can only be deciphered using the old French alphabet, which does not contain the letter 'w'. The mere fact that De Chérisey believed the 26-letter alphabet could be used to decipher the message proves that he could not possibly have been the author. As Cranshaw puts it: 'De Chérisey has made so many mistakes in his account of the working of the cipher that it is impossible to take his claim to authorship seriously. We are forced to conclude that he acquired the array of letters from somewhere else and decided to pass them off as his own.'

All this tends to make one wonder even more about the significance of these texts, even though it is not exactly clear who devised them. An alternative view mentioned in Dossiers secrets d'Henri Lobineau is that they were compiled by the priest Bigou, the personal chaplain of Marie de Nègre d'Ablès, after her death between 1781-1791. Both these documents contain coded messages, one in which a 'treasure' is mentioned. Pierre Plantard's explanation about the compilation clearly makes sense. As was already mentioned, the attempts to discredit these texts are in all probability indicative of their actual worth. The original parchment could therefore indeed contain the key to the 'secret' of the Hautpoul-Blanchefort family.

1.6 The parchment and the poem

From the above it is evident that the 'manuscripts' in the poem refer specifically to the two-sided parchment containing the coded messages. In the poet's words: 'To me they had the appearance of being separate; however, they form a whole for the one who knows...'

It is also clear that the correct joining of the two texts is crucial. The poet draws on two metaphors to emphasize this, namely the colours of the rainbow integrated into white and the six primary colours that produce black when mixed. The antipoles 'white' and 'black' is a continuous theme in the poem, with the implication that, once these have been balanced, one will arrive at the 'solution'.

The mentioning of these texts right at the beginning of the poem obviously suggests they hold the key to solving the riddle. However, while the poet knows exactly what the ciphers contain, and mean, anyone else attempting to solve the riddle is clueless at this point. It would seem, then, that these texts are to serve as a map of clues to help the curious find their way through the 'unknown'. 

1.7 So who wrote the poem? 

One of the things that strikes one in this stanza is that only two words are written with capital letters – 'Ami' ('Friend') and 'Artiste' ('Artist'). One later on discovers that capitalizing letters is one of the ways in which the poet supplies one with clues.

The two A's could very well indicate the kinship between the poet and his friend, which would imply the poet is also an artist or painter – a clue as to his identity. Assuming that he was a famous painter, there is only one person who fits the bill – Jean Cocteau. Not only was he a famous poet – which would explain the exceptional quality of the poem – but also a renowned painter. Moreover, Cocteau was also connected with the same Rosicrucian Order as Plantard, of which the former was allegedly Grand Master until his death in 1963. Plantard is said to have succeeded him as one of a trio who subsequently headed the Prieuré de Sion. Cocteau's signature also appears on the Prieuré de Sion's statues.

What is furthermore noteworthy about Cocteau is that he unambiguously identified himself with the grand mastership of a Rosicrucian Order in one of his paintings, to wit the one in the French church at Leicester Square in London. In this painting, there not only appears a red rose at the foot of the cross in accordance with the symbol of the Rose Cross, but also a self portrait next to it. In addition, as Henry Lincoln points out in The Holy Place, the layout of this painting was so cleverly designed that if one were to fit a pentagram over it, the center of it would fall right on Cocteau's forehead! The ingenuity with which Cocteau incorporated his identity into this painting unmistakably corresponds with what one finds in the poem Le serpent rouge.

There is therefore reason enough to believe that Cocteau was indeed the writer of the poem. It would also imply that he formulated the riddle, as one would expect from a Grand Master of a Rosicrucian Order – á la Jacques Saunière in The Da Vinci Code. And throughout the poem, he lauds someone he calls his friend, who seems to be none other than Pierre Plantard. 

Note 1: The house of Ané 

The name 'House of Ané' ('Chez Ané' in French) figures quite prominently in the enigma of Rennes-le-Château. Just as this had been a house in Paris where many figures had gathered and where Saunière had also apparently called at, he himself had the Villa Bethania ('House of Ania') built in Rennes-le-Château where people from all over, even Paris, appear to have gathered. One wonders whether this is not connected with the 'arche' of the Prieuré de Sion called Beth-Ania, which, according to the Dossiers secrets d'Henri Lobineau, had already been active in Rennes-le-Château in 1481. Earlier the Templars, who according to the Prieuré of Sion documents were once associated with that group, had indeed sworn an oath of allegiance to 'Bethany'.

The key to the name 'House of Ania' possibly lies in Jean Markale's book, Rennes-le-Château et l'énigme de l'or maudit, in which he points out (although not in connection with Bet-Ania) that in The last days of Pompeii, the Rosicrusian and occultist, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, mentions a group called 'Anas'. They live 'under' the ground and are spiritually and technologically ahead of their time. This calls to mind the secret 'underground stream' of Arcadia associated with the Prieuré de Sion tradition.

 Is the 'House of Ania' connected with this Anas?

Markale also points out that the Anas not only form part of the 'illuminati tradition', but that the name could also allude to the 'Anaon' of early Brittany, the sons of Don in Wales and the Tuatha de Danaan ('The People of the Goddess Dana') of Ireland. In French, Dana ('d'Ana') means 'from Ana'. This had been the 'people of the Sidhe' (in other words, spirits). This Anas could therefore possibly be regarded as descendants and successors of the early Anaon – who perhaps also regarded themselves as spirits (angels?).

It is furthermore to be remarked that this Anas shows similarities with the so-called Angelic Society, which, according to some, can be linked to the Prieuré de Sion. In both cases it is a group who associates themselves with spirits/gods/angels (or the descendents of the fallen angels). Members of the Angelic Society included musicians, poets, playwrights and painters. Figures like Delacroix and Poussin are linked to this group. Their motto was 'Et in Arcadia ego'. Another name for this association is said to be Les Broullards ('clouds').

[9] De Sède, G. 1967. Paris: J'ai Lu. Translation: W.T. & R.W. Kersey. 2001. The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Château. Surrey: DEK.
[10] Patton, G & Mackness, R. 2000. Web of Gold. London: Sidwick & Jackson, p 205.
[11] Descadeillas, R. Toulouse: Edtions Privat.
[12] Vazart, L. 1978. Suresnes: Chez l'Auteur.
[13] De Chérisey, P. 1978. Paris.
[14] 1979. French translation in Bonne Soirée. 14 August 1980.
[15] Baigent, M., Leigh, R. & Lincoln, H. 1986. The Messianic Legacy. London: Jonathan Cape, p 305.
[16] Lincoln, H. 1991. The Holy Place. The Mystery of Rennes-le-Château: Discovering the Eight Wonder of the Ancient World. London: Jonathan Cape.
[17] De Chérisey, P. 1978. Paris.
[18] Chaumeil, J. 1979. Le trésor du triangle d'or. Nice: Alain Lefeuvre, p 80.
[19] Baigent, M., Leigh, R. & Lincoln, H. 1986. The Messianic Legacy. London: Jonathan Cape, p 301.
[20] Lincoln, H. 1991. The Holy Place. London: Jonathan Cape.
[21] Baigent, M., Leigh, R. & Lincoln, H. 1986. The Messianic Legacy. London: Jonathan Cape, p 301.
[22] Ibid., p 302.
[23] Putnam, B. & Wood, J. E. 2003. Gloucestershire: Sutton.
[24] Published on the internet in 1997.

Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com

Read also
The Red Serpent - Background
 

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Serpent of Paradise

The speaking serpent of Eden has mystified scholars throughout the ages. In my analysis I focus on the ancient milieu in which the story originated which allows us to understand the story in a radically new way. This is the fourth part in the series on the Book of Genesis. 

There is always a serpent in paradise!! Already in the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2-3), the serpent is a very important character. In this regard the serpent is introduced as a being who is closely connected with the dark and fallen aspect of our world: "the fall" of the human race is closely connected with this creature. As such it is depicted as cunning and crooked. What sets the serpent apart from all the other animals in Eden, however, is not merely the fact that it was "more subtle" (Gen. 3:1) than them, but that it had some strange abilities, foremost of which was the ability to speak (Gen. 3:1-5)!!

Readers and scholars had been mystified by this for ages. For some this part of the garden story proves that this is "just a story"; some conservative Christians think that it did in fact happened as told. They think that taking the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God requires such a reading. In this essay I revisit the question: How should we understand the speaking serpent of Eden? I believe that the best way to approach this question is to study the ancient world in which this story came into being.

We cannot understand this part of the story (as is the case with the creation story and the other important motifs in the garden story, for example that Eve was made from Adam's rib etc. - see parts 1-3 of this series), without considering the ancient background from which this story originated. I have previously argued [1] that the author of the Book of Genesis used the ancient source material that the fathers of the Israelites brought from their original homeland Sumeria (Abraham is said to have been from Ur in Sumeria). This is again relevant to this discussion.

The serpent and the tree

To understand the motif of the serpent in the garden story, we should first observe the following. In the Biblical story there seems to be a very close connection between the serpent and one of the trees in the garden, namely the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" which grew in the midst (or: middle) of the garden (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:3). God forbid Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of this tree. Although He did not give any reason, it seems that this was a very serious matter in God's eyes because he warned them (at first only Adam was warned, but Eve understood the warning as applying to them both) that they would surely die on the day when they eat of it.

When the serpent approached Eve, it mentioned something else: the fruit of this tree had some amazing qualities. If they ate thereof their eyes would be "opened" and they would be "as gods" who know "good and evil". Although it might seem that the serpent's intention was merely to get them to disobey God - which would make it into an opponent of God - there does seem to be some special connection between the tree and the serpent. The qualities of the fruit of the tree aligned with the serpent's purpose. The one place in the garden where the serpent would make its appearance was exactly at this tree.

This close association between the serpent and some tree is not unique to the Bible; it is a very old motif that goes back to the earliest strata in ancient Sumerian thought. I previously mentioned that the other motifs in the garden story in the Book of Genesis are also very ancient: contrasting it with the other garden of Eden story in the Book of Ezekiel makes this clear (see part 3: The Garden of Eden: Was it a real place?). In part 3 of this series I showed that the Genesis story incorporates motifs that are much, much older than those in the Ezekiel story. In this regard I mentioned the geographical details which place the garden somewhere in the "east", near the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, instead of in the "northern" Lebanon (the geographical details in the Genesis story corresponds with the ancient Sumerian view which locates this place in the land of Aratta - the Biblical Ararat).

I also mentioned that different trees grew in the middle of the garden according to the two stories, namely a fruit-bearing tree and a cedar. I showed that both motifs, namely the location of the garden and the cedar in the middle of the garden, reflect developments during and after the Akkadian period in Mesopotamia (~2350-2150 BC) when the older motifs were replaced by these more recent ones. This implies that the Genesis story could go back to the earlier version - which we can only account for if we accept that the Abrahamic family brought this story with them from their ancient homeland in Sumeria. Such an ancient origin for these motifs is in general agreement with the other Mesopotamian motifs in the ancient history in Genesis (ch. 2-11) which also show no influences whatsoever from after the Old Babylonian period (the first half of the second millennium BC; see my previous discussions in this regard). 

I now add another ancient motif to the others in the garden story in Genesis: the close association between the serpent and some tree. In ancient Sumerian literature there are various stories where we find such a close association between the serpent and the tree, namely that of Inana and the Halub tree, the myth of Lugalbanda as well as the legend of Etana. In the Etana legend the serpent is in control of a deep pit at the bottom of the tree, which could refer to the realm of the dead since the serpent is closely associated with that realm in ancient Sumerian thought.

In the Sumerian stories there is another creature that is also associated with the same tree, namely the eagle which is also called Anzu (the one who "knows heaven"). The eagle is typically depicted in the top of the tree, whereas the serpent is depicted at the bottom. I have previously argued that these Mesopotamian eagles correspond to the Biblical cherubim [1] which would explain why we find both the serpent as well as such cherubim mentioned in the garden story in Genesis. Cherubim also have large wings and we read in Biblical poetry that God rides on a cherub (or: cherubim according to the Septuagint; Ps. 18:10, 11). Although the cherubim of later Biblical tradition are depicted with four heads of which only one is that of an eagle (Esek. 1:5-10; 10:20-21), it is possible that this reflects later developments (as is the case with the garden story in Ezekiel).

The speaking serpent

Sumeriologists have proposed that the motif of the eagle in the top and the serpent at the bottom of the tree is part of the oldest strata in Sumerian thought. This motif probably goes back to the prehistoric shamanistic inheritance of the Sumerians in the time when their forebears lived in the northern mountains of Aratta. Stephanie Dalley writes in this regard: "Certain themes of shaman narratives are strikingly similar to themes of Sumerian and Akkadian myths. The World Tree, the Cosmic Eagle and a Serpent often feature in the shaman's attainment of his otherwordly goal, as they also do in the story of Inana and the Halub [Huluppu] tree, of the myth of Lugalbanda and of the Legend of Etana... One might suppose that shamanism was ingenious in northern Asia and extremely ancient, so that in some way it influenced Mesopotamian myths at their very roots" [2].

According to Sumerian legend, their forebears originated in the northern mountainous area of Aratta (which originally could have been in the vicinity of the Urmia lake - see part 3). This is also where the Biblical story of Eden place the origin of the forebears of the later Mesopotamian peoples and Israel in particular. What is quite striking, is that the motifs that we are discussing, namely of the serpent and the tree (together with the eagle) is thought to go back to this early phase in Sumerian/Mesopotamian history - exactly in accordance with the Biblical story where it is placed right at the beginning of remembered history. This motif captures the early origins of the Mesopotamian peoples (including the Semites) the best!

The reason why the motif of the serpent and eagle in the tree is ascribed a shamanistic origin, is that this is in fact the pre-eminent symbol of shamanism, especially in the northern Asiatic and Siberian regions. The shamans of this region - even to this day - hold the birch, with its white bark, in high regard and envision that there is an eagle sitting at its top and a serpent coiled up at its roots. The Yahut shamans are said to perceive a naked woman, who embodies the spirit of the tree, at its roots. As such the lower part of her body could have had a serpent-form because roots were often symbolized as serpents [3]. She would be the serpent at the bottom of the tree.

In the Yahat tradition this serpent woman at the bottom of the tree tempts the aspirant shaman with the milk of her breasts which is said to be a symbol of the mushrooms which grow in close proximity to the berch tree. These mushrooms are said to be of special importance in their shamanistic rituals. The shamans use them to induce the shamanistic experience that takes them to those otherwordly regions which they visit on their spiritual journeys. That such a snake-woman could speak to the shaman would not be considered strange - animal spirits and other spirits speak to them all the time.

This background shows that we should also consider the garden story in the Book of Genesis in a shamanistic context. In such a context it is not strange to find speaking animals involved. Is it not in another shamanistic context, in the story of Balaam, that we find the same motif, i.e. where the donkey speaks to him (Num. 22:27-30)? This means that the speaking serpent should not be understood either in the context of "just stories" or as some real event where some snake actually spoke, but rather as something that does in fact "happen" in reality in the context of the shamanistic experience. As such the story of the speaking serpent in the garden story in Genesis captures something that really happens in shamanistic context.

This background also throw some light on the "fruit" of the tree in the middle of the garden of Eden. In the context of primitive shamanism this would refer to the mushrooms which grow in proximity to the beach. This is the fruit with which the serpent-woman tempts the shaman - in exactly the same way that the serpent tempted Eve in the garden story with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The amazing qualities of the fruit of Eden are now easy to explain: it "opens" the eyes to spiritual dimensions (Balaam also refers to himself as the one "having has eyes open"; Num. 24:16) and those who partake of such shamanistic "food" often think that this enables them to becomes like "gods".

Taking the fruit of the tree in the middle of Eden as referring to such mushrooms allow us to make sense not only of the speaking serpent, but also of God's command not to eat of that fruit. The appearance of this prohibition in the garden story, which clearly refers to a very early period in our human existence, makes perfect sense in the framework of that time when shamanism was still very much part of all human life. It also brings into focus a prohibition which is generally accepted throughout Israel's history, namely of all occult experience and anything that would induce such experience.

The serpent as fallen seraph?

We can now consider the Biblical serpent in more detail. In the Sumerian tradition both the eagle and the serpent (especially when considered in the context of the world tree) were considered to be symbols of spiritual entities. In this regard we find that both of these creatures were supposedly able to renew themselves (symbolizing living forever?), i.e. the eagle's feathers grow back and the serpent shed its skin. In the Legend of Etana we are told how the eagle's feathers were pulled out when he was thrown into the deep pit guarded by the serpent, but also how it regrew after his escape. In the Epic of Gilgamesh we are told how the serpent stole a special plant from the hero and directly thereafter shed its skin.

When we consider the eagle and serpent as signifying "spiritual entities" it is very possible that they were later remembered as cherubim and seraphs in Biblical tradition. In the Bible seraphs are flaming beings of which the name means "serpent". Although such seraphs are found around the throne of God, there were corresponding creatures with the same name which were possibly fallen beings. As such certain characteristics of the serpent are especially applicable to them - which could be the reason why the Biblical author of the garden story accentuated the fact that the serpent was "more subtle than any beast of the field" (Gen. 3:1). In this regard the symbol of the serpent was especially applicable to these creatures.

These creatures are flaming (and flying) snakes called "sârâph", which kept in desert places (they were associated with such snakes in the desert; Deut. 8:15; Is. 30:6; but see also Is. 14:29 [4]). The serpent which Moses set upon the pole was also such a creature (Num. 21:6, 8). It is possible that this image of the serpent on the pole had reference to the garden story, i.e. to the serpent in the tree (I have shown that this story is very old and not fabricated during or after the Babylonian period) in which case that serpent was in fact taken to be such a "sârâph". Later, in the New Testament, this same image is applied to Jesus Christ who took our sins on Himself on the cross (Joh. 3:14).

In the ancient Sumerian context the serpent which held at the bottom of the tree, was closely associated with the realm of death of which the pit in the Etana story is clearly a symbol (see above). The serpent was also the pre-eminent symbol of that realm in ancient Sumeria. As such, the serpent was regarded as the prime enemy of the Anzu eagle, who had access to the abode of the Most High God. The conflict between these creatures, and supposedly the two realms, is illustrated in the legend of Etana where these are depicted as arch-enemies. The Biblical story seemingly uses the same motif of the conflict between the serpent (which would be the servant of the ruler of the realm of death) and God. In this story the fruit of the tree is also associated with death (God warned Adam and Eve that they would die if they eat that fruit). 

Conclusion

The ancient Sumerian background of the garden story in the Book of Genesis helps us to understand some of the motifs which would otherwise be hard to explain. The motif of the serpent and the tree is a very old one - going back to the earliest strata of Sumerian thought. Its takes us back to the time when shamanism was a basic way of life. This shamanistic context explains the talking serpent - this is a typical experience in such a context. It also explains the "fruit" of the three of knowledge of good and evil [5]. In my view we can regard that fruit as the mushrooms which shamans use to induce their experience - in this context God's prohibition makes perfect sense. God did not merely forbid Adam and Eve to eat some apple (how would that make sense?); He forbid them to engage with the occult world where the initiates experience that their eyes are "opened" and that they become "as gods".

This interpretation of the garden story does not explain everything. Some aspects of the story still needs explanation but I will do that in the context of the next part of the series which focuses on the "fall". The next question to answer is: How should we understand the "fall", especially if Adam and Eve were not the very first humans, as I argued previously (see part 2)?

[1] In my book Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012).
[2] Dalley, S. 1998. The Legacy of Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford University.
[3] In my view this shamanistic serpent-woman is probably the forerunner of the goddess Ninhursag, depicted as a snake-woman, who in the Kesh Temple Hymn could also be viewed as the "spirit of the temple". Kesh originally referred to an area in the northern mountains. She is not only described as a snake in the hymn; in later Mesopotamian tradition she is also depicted with the lower part of her body in the form of a snake. (See Johan Coetser's essay on this blog: An introduction to ancient Sumerian religious literature).
[4] The fiery serpent with wings first appeared as a symbol in the Akkadian period when the great king Naram-Sin, grandson of Sargon the Great, used it as his symbol. This symbol was probably used by later Mesopotamian kings who regarded him as the archetypal king, which would be the reason why it is ascribed by the prophet Isaiah to the later Assyrian king Sargon (Is. 14:29). It seems that this symbol was translated into heaven as the constellation Draco that rules the northern starry heavens. It was later stripped of its wings but stayed the "heavenly serpent" who rules over all earth. In the Book of Revelation this is referred to as the Great Dragon (Open. 12). The fallen seraphs that are depicted as fiery flying serpents could clearly be viewed as belonging to the realm of this king of serpents.
[5] In the garden story another tree is mentioned, namely the "tree of life" (Gen. 3:22; 24). Why is this tree only mentioned towards the end of the story and why were Adam and Eve not also previously (i.e. before the "fall") prohibited from eating its fruit? In this regard it is interesting to remember that there is a strong tradition according to which the great tree in the garden of Eden was felled (Ezek. 31:12-18). We find this motif also in extra-Biblical traditions according the which the conflict between the eagle and serpent led to the tree being cut down. After that, however, a new shoot sprouted out. This could be the tree of life. There is a sense in which those partaking in the shamanistic (or, in later times, in the mystical) experience believe that they can obtain immortality.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud. (Ref. www.wmcloud.blogspot.com).
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Op soek na Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also the other parts of the series on the Book of Genesis:

If readers find the article interesting, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others, including their pastors or other scholars. 



Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Meeting God

I believe that we are (also) spiritual beings who could have a relationship with God. Meeting God can lead to such a relationship. 

In life it happens from time to time that we meet someone who will forever change our lives, either for the good or for the bad. Some people will have a lasting positive impact on our lives: they will become our partners for live, either as friends or husbands and wives. We think back to the moment when we first met them with feelings of happiness and thankfulness. Other people whom we met had a negative impact on our lives. We curse the day when we first met them.

We are social beings; we need other people in our lives. There are certain deep emotional and intellectual needs that can only be filled by other people. Our dogs or cats cannot fill that gap (although they can help a bit!). Without encounters with other people, we can never meet the "right" people who will bring joy into our lives. We can, however, never know beforehand when we will meet the "right" people. It is something that just happens. Some day, some moment - when we do not even think in these terms - we just meet someone who will have a lasting positive impact on our lives.

In this whole process of meeting people, one of the most exciting moments is when we actually see and converse with somebody that we feel connected to. What is special about this moment, is that it is an actual and personal experience. It is different from thinking or dreaming about someone whom we have not met. It is not merely some deeply personal experience - we can have many such experiences all by ourselves. What makes this kind of experience so special is that it involve both a personal and a mutual component. This mutual component is what makes the moment so special: both persons see in the other someone who has the potential to bring joy and happiness into their lives. Sometimes it take some time before we actually realize this, namely that we enjoy the company of some person.

There are people who can bring a lot of joy into our lives, but we never meet them. Somehow, they never cross our paths or they cross it at the wrong moment. Sometimes we meet them, but we have all sorts of misplaced perceptions about ourselves and others and the meeting lead nowhere. Sometimes misplaced perceptions of someone (maybe created by some jealous person) result in us never actually meeting them. This is the story of what could have been...

We are also spiritual beings and a lot about our social life is also applicable to the spiritual domain. Encountering God could also change our lives dramatically - Yes, more than meeting some person. People hold all sorts of ideas about God. They have certain perceptions about God often based on other people's thinking and doings in the name of God. For some, God is merely an idea. They do not think that we can ever encounter God in the spirit. For them he will always be the unmeetable Other: we cannot encounter Him because He does not exist. Others have all sorts of experiences which they attribute to God. But in many cases these are merely experiences - no actual encounters with God had actually occurred. It is like thinking or dreaming about other people - we have some experience, but this does not include the reality of the encounter with someone else.    

Encountering God also involves a special moment. As is the case with meeting other humans, it so often happens that we encounter God when we do not in the least expect it to happen. This does not mean that we cannot seek God: God will help us find Him but the moment when He does so is so often totally unexpected. Suddenly, without expecting it in any way, we become aware of God. We have a deep sense of awareness of the presence of God. And this is the wonder of such encounters: God is not merely in the mind, He is Spirit and he encounters us in the spirit. This is not merely a personal experience; it is an experience that involves another person: the person of God. Meeting God changes our lives not because it is merely some deeply personal experience; it changes our lives because we encounter God.

We all have deep spiritual needs that only God can fulfill. People can bring joy and happiness into our lives; God brings a much deeper level of joy, peace and happiness into our lives because He touches us on a much deeper and more subtle level. God can bring a level of happiness and fullness in our lives that no human can. What makes God so different is that He does not only touch us on the positive side, bringing joy into our lives; He also touches us on a deep level where we have all sorts of pain, guilt and regret. All of us have had negative experiences in our encounters and relationships with other people and we carry that pain with us. Some people even project such feelings on God due to some loss in their lives which they cannot handle: it is much easier to keep someone responsible, even if it is God. These feelings are so deep in our inner being that we cannot even reach the depths thereof.

Meeting God touches this level. The relationship with God goes deeper than with any human - and brings healing to those experiences that brought darkness into our lives due to what others have done to us, what we have done or said to them or some event that left deep scars in our inner being. When we encounter God, the moment arises where we have to decide: are we going to allow Him into our lives? Are we going to get involved with God, enter into a relationship with God. In the same way that we have requirements for relationships, God has. And the basic requirement is that we have to be willing to let God touch us on the deepest level.

We have to open ourselves to God: when we hear His voice in the deepest essence of our being we must be willing to say: Yes God. Just as we say Yes to the person whom we love, we have to say Yes to God. The relationship with God is not a forced one - as any unhealthy human relationship would be. Since God is so much higher, greater and mightier than us, this Yes will include that we obey his requests which are only in our own best interest. God is not a hard, ruthless ruler; God is not one who kills loved ones. He is the loving Father. He is the Father because He is the one who bow down to us in a loving relationship.

We do not dive into relationships with other people. We consider many things, especially if such a relationship will be in our best interest. In the same manner we should also carefully consider a relationship involving God. The benefits are clear, I think. But sometimes we have reservations. We do not want to enter into a relationship where we have to obey. Maybe we have negative perceptions about obedience. Maybe we had some negative experiences with people in this regard. Maybe we feel that we are best off if we are our own master. As with so many things in life there are no neutral ground here: either we are open to the idea of obeying God or we think that we should obey only ourselves. Strangely, love is the only value that would get us so far as to obey willingly. And this is what God is: Love. He has demonstrated His love when he send his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring us the good news of God's love for us.

As with so many relationships that have never been, it is such a pity that so many people have never actually met God. They have heard about Him, they have thought about Him - but they have never encountered Him. The reason for this can well be because they are not open to such an encounter or that they have not recognized it as such when the encounter was indeed with Him. Meeting God is the most important life-changing experience. I hope that for everyone...

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)

Read also: A message for the church



Monday, 20 October 2014

Darwin's Doubt

In this essay I discuss Stephen C. Meyer's book Darwin's Doubt (2013) in which he makes a case for Intelligent Design. How convincing is his case? Should we consider Intelligent Design as a viable alternative to the neo-Darwinist theory of evolution? What are the options on the table?

I received Darwin's Doubt as a birthday present from my two daughters. I love good books - and I enjoyed reading the book. Meyer's style is very relaxed but at the same time includes in-dept discussions of issues that other authors merely touch on. Although he is not a biologist, as a philosopher of biology at the Discovery Institute and the Biologic Institute in the US he is clearly a master of his topic. The book gives a good overview of the historical development of Darwin's theory of evolution as well as the central issues in contemporary debate. He argues that neo-Darwinism has come at a cross-roads since more and more senior biologists acknowledge that it cannot explain macro-evolution. In this regard he sets aside whole chapters to discuss technical issues in a manner that is easy to understand. He also discusses some of the growing number of post-Darwinian viewpoints. His answer is Intelligent Design. But is it a sensible solution?

The Cambrian explosion

Meyer's main concern is with the Cambrian explosion 544-530 million years ago. The reason why this particular period is of great interest is that the fossil record shows the sudden appearance of many new animal forms and structures. I fact, about twenty of the twenty-six total phyla - that is, the highest (or widest) categories of biological classification in the animal kingdom - made its first appearance during the Cambrian explosion. The fossil record does not show any previous ancestor forms from which they could have evolved. They appear out of the blue. And this presents a clear problem for Darwin's theory - which was in fact also recognized by him - since his theory is one which explains incremental change, not "quantum leaps" in change. This represents the one issue on which Darwin had some doubts - from there the title. Meyer shows that it is not a question of "missing fossils", but rather that we have good reason to think that no "missing" fossils exist. The Cambrian explosion therefore presents a real challenge to Darwin's theory. 

The first biologists who became well-known for accentuating the discontinuities in the fossil record, were Stephan Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge. They proposed a theory called "punctuated equilibrium". The gaps which they accentuated were confirmed by statistical paleontology which showed that such gaps are not an anomaly; this is exactly what the fossil record tells us. The fossil record that we have (with the gaps) is a complete picture of the forms of life and it is unlikely that the many intermediate forms required by neo-Darwinism would ever be found. Although their view presented the first real challenge to neo-Darwinian theory, in the end the problem with their theory was that it did not provide an adequate mechanism to explain the gaps. So, although it focused attention on the gaps (and the deficiency of neo-Darwinism), it could not explain the origin of new body parts.

The appearance of new body structures involves a radical increase in the level of complexity of the information needed to produce them. Meyer is especially interested in this aspect of the Cambrian explosion: the Cambrian explosion is also an information explosion. Our knowledge of DNA enforces the realization that such an explosion in complexity also involves an enormous explosion in the amount of information involved. He starts this part of his discussion with the challenge presented at the Wistar Institute conference in 1966, namely that the available time since the formation of the earth is not nearly enough to produce the required complexity in biological structure through genetic mutation (which works hand in hand with natural selection; genetic mutation is the basic mechanism though which change is introduced according to neo-Darwinist evolution). One possible answer to that challenge was that functional proteins are very common in the "combinational space" i.e. the ratio of functional to non-functional biological structures produced by mutation is larger than assumed. This would reduce the necessary time periods for evolution to succeed. But this loophole was closed by Douglas Axe in a series of articles since the year 2000.

The main problem for genetic mutation is that one does not merely have to consider individual mutations; the larger context is also important. The various genes and proteins are embedded in larger "protein folds" and mutations in the first could leave the protein folds non-functional - both aspects must be taken into account. In this regard the protein folds are the smallest units of structural innovation. For evolution to work, both individual mutations and adaptations in the protein folds as a whole must be successfully achieved - and this is just not possible in any of the manners that biologists thought it would. I fact, even the "genes and proteins themselves represent complex adaptations - entities that depend upon the coordinated interaction of multiple subunits that must arise as a group to confer any functional advantage" (p253).

Meyer also discusses developmental biology where genes and proteins play an important role in embryo development. A possible Darwinian solution suggests itself in the form of mutations in key regulatory genes - but all such efforts have lead to destructive evolutions. Then there are the developmental gene regulatory networks - the many gene products, which are necessary for the development of specific animal body plans, transmit signals that influence how the various cells in an embryo develop and differentiate. There are reasons to believe that these are animal-wide systems of genetic control functions which turn genes on and off during the life of the organism. These genetic control systems have been extensively studied by Eric Davidson, who has drawn up detailed flow-diagrams which shows how such gene regulatory networks (dGRN) work. This means that building new animal body plans like those which appeared during the Cambrian Explosion, require not just new genes and proteins embedded in new protein folds, but new dGRN's. This involves significant changes on the macro-level which make classical neo-Darwinian unsuitable as the mechanism producing change (as Davidson also points out).

Another reason to reject the idea of genetic mutation according to Meyer, is the "epigenetic" revolution. This word is derived from the Greek prefix epi which means "above/beyond" and refers to sources of information which lay beyond the genes. Since 2003 it became abundantly clear that certain information regarding body plans is not derived from DNA at all - it is derived from other sources like the microtubules in the cytoskeleton of cells, the cell membranes, iron channels and electromagnetic fields in cells and the arrangement of sugar molecules on the exterior surface of cell membranes. Meyer writes: "If DNA isn't wholly responsible for the way an embryo develops - for body-plan morphogenesis - then DNA sequences can mutate indefinitely and still not produce a new body plan, regardless of the amount of time and the number of mutational trails available to the evolutionary process" (p281).

The inability of neo-Darwinism to explain the gaps in the fossil record has lead to other approaches which can be called "post-Darwinian". Such approaches became a mainstream phenomena with the gathering of the "Altenberg 16" in 2008 - scientists who believe that neo-Darwinism does not provide the evolutionary mechanisms needed to explain the origin of new biological structures (body forms). Meyer discusses some of the most important approaches in this regard. There are self-organizing models which think in terms of biological forms that arise "spontaneously ("self-organizes") through the laws of nature. Meyer shows that, although these models can account for "order" which arises mechanically (in crystals etc.), it cannot account for "complexity", which requires information - "that characterizes the digital code of DNA and the higher-level information-rich biological structures" (p306). He also discusses other approaches, for example those which focus on Hox (regulatory) genes, which can supposedly account for macro-evolution (as in Jeffrey Schwartz's Sudden Origins). He shows that these approaches have problems of their own which disqualify them as sensible explanations for the sudden appearance of new body structures in the process of evolution. 

Intelligent design?

Meyer believes that Intelligent Design can account for the sudden appearances of new life forms. He presents this solution not in metaphysical (religious) terms, but in scientific terms (he discusses the various arguments against Intelligent Design as a scientific theory). Meyer uses the method of abductive inference (to be distinguished from both inductive and deductive reasoning) according to which inference is made from past events based on present clues, facts or causes. In his view, of all the causes now in operation, the one which can best explain the Cambrian explosion, is that of (human) intelligent design. Since neo-Darwinism (as well as the other post-Darwinist models) cannot provide an explanatory cause which can account for the sudden appearance of new body structures, other possibilities should be explored - and the only one which explains the sudden appearance of new complex structures (including new dGRN's and new epigenetic information) that we know of, is (human) design. Of all the available hypotheses, this is the one, according to him, which we are forced to adopt in accordance with the method of inference to the best explanation.

Meyer argues that this approach can also predict outcomes just as any other scientific theory. In this regard he mentions the case of "junk DNA". Neo-Darwinists originally argued that the large percentage of DNA which seemed to be without any function, is a predictable outcome of the inherently random process of evolution. Intelligent Design proponents, however, predicted that some function would eventually be found for "junk DNA" - if it was designed, it must have some function. When the ENCODE project eventually confirmed that at least 80% of the genome can be assigned biochemical functions, these scientists felt vindicated. They took it as an important confirmation for their theory.

Does this confirm that Intelligent Design (ID) as a scientific theory is correct? In my view it does not. Although neo-Darwinism seemingly has serious problems in providing an adequate mechanism for macro-evolution, and ID seems to be able to account for such evolution ("designed" animal forms which appear suddenly in the fossil record), one can argue that biology as a science has just not developed the tools to deal with the complexity that is manifest in biological structures. There could be causes that we have not yet discovered and therefore not taken into account. I immediately think of the fast evolving field of quantum decoherence, where the impact of quantum effects on macro-structures is studied. It is possible that we will eventually find that evolution has a quantum component, i.e. that leaps in biological evolution have their grounds in the quantum world where they would arguably seem to be at home.

It is interesting that Immanuel Kant presented a problem very similar to the one outlined in Meyer's book in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), in the second part called Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment, in which he develops a scientific approach suitable for application to biological structures. In the seventh antinomy (a conflict of laws) he sets the following opposing dogmatic positions in conflict: 1. The view that everything in nature can be mechanically explained (as is the case with neo-Darwinism) and 2. that at least some biological structures can only be explained though design (in accordance with Intelligent Design). These are opposing positions which cannot be reconciled. According to Kant we can, however, defuse the conflict when we allow that both could be true - in general biological change is caused by the laws of nature, but some biological structures can only be explained if we regard them (heuristically) as if they are designed. 

According to Kant these positions can be reconciled if we allow for a supersensible (noumenal) realm as the substratum of nature in which the ground for the second type of causality (design) is situated. As such, the "whole and the parts" (i.e. the total design and its components) which have the capacity to spontaneously produce biological structures, as both the cause and the means of its own production, would be situated beyond the reach of human sensibility in the supersensible realm. In this regard Kant allows not only that the various biological products of nature, but even the whole of nature, could have been produced in this manner. According to Kant the human understanding cannot conceptualize this ground (i.e. such wholes and their relation with their parts).

In my opinion we can take the supersensible realm as empirically confirmed in the quantum realm, and the second type of causality which Kant allows (other than deterministic causality or mechanism) as the spontaneous causality typical in quantum collapse (I plan to argue this in future essays on this blog). This would mean that such "designs" are at least in part situated in the quantum realm and find expression in self-organizing (albeit not in the above-mentioned sense) biological structures. The whole-part relation which Kant refers to, finds affirmation in the various quantum states ("parts") which together form superpositions of states ("wholes") - which are in fact beyond human access and conceptualization (we only have a partial understanding thereof). One can think that complex superpositions of states could somehow incorporate the potentiality (in close integration with material biological structures) to produce the new body forms that become visible in macro-evolution.

Kant did not exclude God from such "designs" underlying biological products. He allowed for two aspects regarding these "designs" - there are the spontaneous causality (potentiality) which is grounded in the supersensible realm as well as the fundamental cause (i.e. God) beyond all of nature and even the supersensible realm in this sense. According to Kant we can think that some (non-human) understanding can think this whole-parts potentiality behind visible biological structures (i.e. the designs in the supersensible realm) which is beyond the capacity of our understanding. We can even think that some understanding (which would be God) could have intentionally designed these. Kant argues this in the final part of the Critique of the Power of Judgment. So, although we can think that the Cambrian explosion would eventually be explained in quantum terms, this will not exclude the possibility that God created the unfolding world with all the "designs" built into it. The arguments for divine design, however, go beyond this essay.

Conclusion

In my view Meyer did a good job in showing where and why the theory of neo-Darwinian evolution is falling short of expectations. Clearly there is a growing concern among biologists that the available mechanisms (especially genetic mutation) cannot account for macro-evolution. This is not only clear in the technical details of the arguments presented, but also in the fact that we are currently seeing a post-Darwinian revolution in biological thinking. If Meyer is correct in his assessment, we can expect that neo-Darwinism would increasingly come under pressure as the all-encompassing theory of biological explanation. Paradigms, however, do not change easily and without a viable alternative I cannot see the situation changing any time soon.

Does Intelligent Design provide an viable alternative? I do not think so. In my view it has merit in that it proposes that there are some underlying "designs" that become manifest in new biological forms. This could very well be the case. This would mean that the process of evolutionary change is not random at heart - it follows some pattern which could involve some form of order (complexity) deeply imbedded in nature as Kant proposed long ago. Although one can ascribe the origin of such "body plans" to God's active involvement in history, it is also possible that they are, at least in part, situated in the quantum realm and that the scientific community just does not as yet have the explanatory tools to account for that. They may, however, be able to do so in future. If such "plans" do exist in some form, it would nonetheless show that our universe is not random. And that would already be an argument that some designer, which would be God, has woven that design into the fabric of the universe at the time of the Big Bang.   

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Postmodernism faces its first great challenge

Postmodernism seems to have become the dominant contemporary paradigm governing Western thought. I use the events in the Ukraine to show that postmodernism is facing its first real challenge - on the political front. I ask: What will come of this?

Over the last century postmodernism has slowly but steadily grown to become what is probably the most important paradigm governing Western thought. At first it was only an idea, a philosophical idea. But with time postmodernism has seemingly become the dominant paradigm in Western thinking which pervaded not only the arts and literature, but most areas of academic research and life: psychology, politics, theology and even the some of the sciences. There are some scientists in the natural sciences who still cling to the modernist paradigm, but even in the philosophy of those sciences the boat has departed to different shores (although not postmodernism).

In the public and political space postmodernism seems to govern the thinking of the world's most important leaders and a very large part of the main media outlets. The EU, where postmodernism governs the thinking of the elite, is a paradigmatic example. The same is true of Barack Obama's administration. The new manner of thinking says that all narratives are fine, all have a valid point, no standpoint is to be excluded, peace should reign, all are even (why stand outside?). This paradigm thinks of itself as representing an all-inclusive package, where all views in its otherness find acceptance in an open space of reconciliation and accommodation (except maybe those which degrade our humanity in a substantial way).

Often challenges for such paradigms arrive in the political arena. This is where the practical implications of ideas and paradigms become visible. As such, the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea in the Ukraine presents a direct and substantial challenge to postmodernism. It is not merely that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, rejects the postmodern paradigm and tries to present an alternative (a nationalist-traditionalist perspective). It is rather that he presents a part of reality which is not included in the postmodern paradigm. And this poses the first real challenge to postmodernism. The question is: How will these events impact on postmodern thinking?

Postmodernism and reality

As with all powerful paradigms, postmodernism became part and parcel of Western thinking over a long period of time. As its name suggests, the idea behind it originally developed in reaction against the modernist paradigm which ruled the Western world from the Enlightenment into the early twentieth century. The thinker who can in my view be regarded as the father of postmodernism, is Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). He was the first philosopher who radically challenged modernism, and with it, the long rationalist tradition going back to Socrates. To some extent, however, his philosophy should rather be viewed merely as anti-modernist.

Although various great names, like Sigmund Freud, took a lot from Nietzsche's thinking, it was especially the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), who formulated the ideas which took the name postmodernism and which became the paradigm of thinking all over the West (and even wider). Some philosophers, like Richard Rorty (1931-2007) with his easy style of writing, was influential in getting the ideas out to the American public and others around the world. 

Postmodern thinkers staged an effective reaction against modernism in leveling severe criticism against it. The greatest reason for modernism's eventual fall, however, was that it showed serious discrepancy with practical reality. In the era when the sciences were established, it seemed so natural and logical to think that one would always be able to obtain a final objective view on things. Is not science exactly the pursuit of such final truths? Final truths which show for once and for all what reality is like?

Already in Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) philosophy, who is often viewed as the paradigmatic modernist thinker (that distinction rather belongs to René Descartes (1596-1650)), it is clear that although we can obtain "objectivity" to the extent that we as humans share the same type (forms) of understanding as well as the same world, both our reason as well as our access to the world are restricted. This means that we do not have a God's eye view from which we can make final judgments - all our judgments are made from our restricted human standpoint (this is captured in the famous "Copernican turn" in his philosophy). Even in the natural sciences, for example, in quantum mechanics, we cannot do better than allowing for various interpretations.

This disconnect between paradigms arising from great ideas, and reality, can generally be attested in the history of such paradigms. Take Marxism, for example. For many it seemed like the final social answer to the class-divided world. Many great Western thinkers were Marxists. But when it was implemented in practice in Communist countries all over the world, it failed miserably. With the collapse of the Soviet-Union, Marxism effectively also ceased to be a viable paradigm.

The events in the Ukraine brings postmodernism at the same cross-roads. Again, as with so many older paradigms, it does not seem to fit reality. The reason is simple: Putin represents a view which sets itself apart from the postmodern paradigm. This demonstrates that at least some views are not only not-included in postmodernism; these views are in conflict with the basic perspectives guiding postmodernism. On the surface postmodernism seems to be exceptionally accommodating, but in practice it cannot include views which assert their own correctness against postmodernism.

Putin thinks in geopolitical terms - and the expansion of the EU, with its postmodernist paradigm, presents a do-or-die moment for him. The expansion of the EU strangles the Russian sphere of influence. It says: join us or join us. There is not any allowance for Russian geopolitical concerns, which view the EU-expansion (and its ideas) as "life" threatening. Putin represents that part of reality which stands outside the postmodern paradigm and its political goals; that part of reality which is not included in the postmodernist paradigm.

Postmodernist thinkers would not see it in these terms. They view Putin's stance as out of line with contemporary thought. They believe that Putin holds fast to outdated ideas. They believe that Russia - and the world - will eventually come around and see that postmodernism is in fact correct. If the present conflict escalates into a full-blown (cold)war, they would view the Western perspective as one worth fighting for. And if the West prevails, they would believe that such a victory demonstrates the triumph of postmodernism on the political front. It will be taken as evidence for the success of postmodernism itself.

Postmodernism as ideology

One of the typical problems with the implementation of ideas and the establishment of paradigms, is that it reveals underlying problems that would otherwise remain hidden. It shows what are the defects of such generally accepted paradigms. And as I argued above, the general defect of paradigms is that they in general exclude some aspect of reality. Since we only have a human perspective, it is impossible to obtain final proof to demonstrate that some paradigm is the only valid one (that was the main idea behind modernism!).

Often those situated in some paradigm are blind to such defects and try to enforce their paradigm as the only correct and acceptable one. Then the problem is not merely that the adherents of the paradigm regard it as the only valid view (many competing paradigms can hold to that), but that they do not allow for any discontent. At this point the paradigm becomes an ideology. In the case of Marxism the ideological implementation lead to dictatorship and total control over peoples lives. It lead to the suppression of all freedom. And this is generally true of all paradigms who become ideologies and which come in control of the resources and means to enforce implementation.

Postmodernism represents a very large house in which many and diverse alternative viewpoints have been accommodated. It presents a unity in diversity, but not an unity which includes all diversity. Since it represents mainly "alternative" viewpoints which have traditionally been excluded from mainstream thinking, it also presents an alternative to traditional viewpoints. But the alternative which is presented, does not have space for those traditional views. This is the part of reality which it can never incorporate. Although postmodernism professes to accept all narratives as having validity, the peace which it preaches can only be realized when their viewpoint becomes the final one - undisputed and taken as the only correct one.

To achieve this goal, postmodernist advocates are in a total war against its opposition: to discredit, undermine and exclude it as far as possible. Its sense of reconciliation has very definite limits: there is no place for alternative paradigms, like that of traditional Christianity, who rejects "alternative" world-views and lifestyles as undermining the basic foundations of healthy family life. In fact, it preys on broken and dismembered family members who are (largely because of the modernist paradigm) disillusioned with traditional thinking. These advocates are involved in an all-out war of ideas. Since they are in alliance with the contemporary political elite, they are in near-control of the mind-forming media. One can expect that at some point in future they will also start to reinforce their paradigm as the only acceptable one.

The partnership between postmodernism and the political elite in the EU and (partially) the US can eventually lead to exactly this outcome. We already see that postmodernism has become an ideology which is enforced through "political correctness". Journalists who are not careful to stay in line with politically correct thinking will soon find themselves out of work. Books which do not toe the line, will not be published in the mainstream press. One can think that the EU, where postmodernism is in every respect the unofficially accepted paradigm, would eventually as it grows in power also start to enforce this ideology not only in the media, but even beyond that. When it becomes the enforced norm, freedom of thinking will be sacrificed. The question is maybe not whether, but when, the EU will eventually proceed along this road?

What is the alternative?

Some philosophers seem to be stuck in the modernist-postmodernist dichotomy. They think in either-or terms. But are these real opposites or are they merely opposing paradigms. Are there any other road - even if it is the one less traveled? There are in fact such alternatives. An important alternative is the one presented by Kant, namely the "transcendental idea" (as I will call his basic philosophical idea). One cannot really call it a paradigm because it has never developed into a generally accepted paradigm, in spite of the enormous impact that Kant's thought had on Western philosophy. The main reason for this is that for most of the past two hundred years Kantian studies was dominated by the two-object view which supposedly finds all sorts of inconsistencies in Kant's philosophy. Over the last half-century there has, however, been a dramatic repositioning in Kantian thought with the general acceptance of the two-aspect view.

According to the transcendental idea, there are ideas (say, scientific theories) which fit our observation of reality, but only within certain constraints. We can obtain a good fit between our conceptual structure and the external world around us given in perception. We can, however, never achieve a fit between our ideas and the world as it really is outside those constrains. The fit between ideas or paradigms and reality can, therefore, never be final. One often finds opposing paradigms which are dogmatically asserted by their proponents, but which do not capture reality as it really is - and which effectively "says to much" about the world. It affirms things that cannot be proven.

Modernism and postmodernism can be viewed as such opposing paradigms. Although postmodernism has brought a very effective criticism against modernism, the same can be done regarding postmodernism. In both cases the paradigm says more than it should: Modernism believed we can obtain one final and objective truth, postmodernism believes that all possible truths are included in its truth. In fact, both these extremes are too restricted to capture the whole truth - or the world as it really is.

Kant showed that we can bring such opposites into conflict and in that way discover solutions which, although they cannot be proven to be true, may in fact be true. In this way we create space for various valid possibilities. In fact, one of the most important outcomes of the conflicting positions discussed by Kant, is the possibility of saving "freedom". We can in general take this as the free space in which paradigms can compete. This would allow all possible paradigms to freely compete in the open space of the market place of ideas. Viable ideas would present themselves as worthy competitors. Restricting this space is a typical sign that the adherents of that paradigm who do this do not have confidence that their own view would be able to survive open competition.

On the market space of ideas rational discussion and practical demonstration should freely compete. And those ideas which are better, would carry the day - if this space is not loaded to favor one over the other. Although absolute freedom is obviously not obtainable (there are always certain paradigmatic structures imbedded in society which developed over many years), this space should involve freedom to promote one's views without being persecuted (there are obviously certain limits to this, for example, child pornography etc.). Although we can respect all views (maybe rather the persons holding those views), this does not mean they are all worthy of our consideration. We can at the same time argue that some are better and even that one is correct - even though we, from a human perspective, would never be in a position to prove that in a final sense.

The problem with the present situation is that this space is severely restricted by the affiliation between postmodernism and the political elite. Only those ideas which are in line with postmodern thought are accepted and allowed in the public media. Only certain viewpoints are heard on TV, on radio and in the main papers. When the traditional viewpoint is presented, it is often not by sufficiently accomplished persons and it is always attacked vehemently by the proponents of postmodernism. Often a caricature is made out of it. What we see is not a free space for ideas (although the main papers would often say that it is!), it is rather a war zone where the postmodern ideologists try to gain as much field as possible.

In my opinion the present conflict in the Ukraine demonstrates that postmodernism is not all-inclusive and can never be. The fact that this conflict between the West and Russia is also cast in ideological terms in the mainstream media (especially in the EU) could eventually lead to a perceived victory for postmodernism if the West win in any future escalation of the conflict. This can strengthen the ideological impulse in postmodernism circles leading to even stronger enforcement of its view.

At some point along the way freedom can give way to effective dictatorship, although under a different name. Then their enemies would be cast in the role of enemies of reconciliation and accommodation. Since the postmodernist house is so large, it could easily lay claim to the whole space, and try to eliminate all who reject this paradigm. Since traditional Christians would surely find themselves on the outside, their breathing space could become extremely small. Although this would exhibit the failure of postmodernism in its ideological dictatorship, there would probably be nobody to to appreciate this.

Conclusion

In this essay I discuss the present challenge that postmodernism faces on the political front in the confrontation between the EU and Russia over the Ukraine. I am not a supporter of Putin; I merely show that his stance demonstrates the shortfall of postmodernism. Postmodernism have been victorious over modernism, but this victory can easily lead to the dogmatic assertion that this is the only valid and acceptable paradigm. In fact, this is already thought to be the only "politically correct" view for the media to promote. When this paradigm is eventually enforced as an ideology, it can easily, as has so often happened in the past - think of Marxism - lead to loss of freedom for alternative paradigms and even dictatorship.

I obviously do not know what will eventually happen. As such this essay is like a time capsule, like a letter in a bottle. It refers to things in the distant future. It refers to the time when the EU project has transformed itself into a powerful force on the world stage - maybe even a great and powerful empire [1]. Only then will the ideological impulse behind postmodernism become visible for all to see. But then there will maybe not be anybody to appreciate this final failure of postmodernism - except those who will face the full force of its might. As such, this essay will be forgotten long before it becomes relevant. And who will then read it?

[1] Click on  The European Union: forever rising
I discuss the transcendental idea in the framework of hermeneutics in the following essay:
Part 1: Can we still believe the Bible: a hermeneutical perspective

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. www.wmcloud.blogspot.com)