The idea of law
3. The cosmochronological idea
in natural science (1994)
Fifth International symposium, Association for Calvinist Philosophy,
August 24, 1994
S. Griffioen, B.M. Balk (eds.), Christian philosophy at the close
the twentieth century, Kampen 1995, 93-111.
In 1948, George Orwell coined the phrase ‘Big brother is watching
you’ (Orwell 1949, 5), and in 1970, Ira Levin predicted in the near future everybody to wear a bracelet which on a scanner would identify the bearer’s ‘nameber’ (Levin 1970, 17). It does not require much fantasy to recognize our wrist-watch
and bar-code. Ten years after 1984, we realize it is not big brother watching us, but us watching our watch. Tempus vitam regit (Landes 1983, 360): ‘Time rules life’ could have been Dooyeweerd’s motto, too.
Never to become finished, the fourth volume of his great work, De wijsbegeerte der wetsidee, was to deal with the philosophy of time (WdW I, 37; III, v). Instead Dooyeweerd published his views in a
number of papers, later to be incorporated into the first volume of A new critique of theoretical thought (Dooyeweerd 1936-39, 1940; NC I, 22-34; Popma 1965; Brüggemann-Kruyff 1981-82). In 1935 (WdW I, 505), Dooyeweerd
included the study of time into his five ‘fundamental, but mutually inseparably cohering themata (themes)’, but in 1953 he wrote:
‘The problem of
time cannot be a particular theme, since it has a universal transcendental character, and as such embraces every particular philosophical question. It is the transcendental background of all our further inquiries.’ (NC I,
Dooyeweerd’s conception of ‘cosmic time’, as he called it, turned out to be both original and controversial. As a tribute to his centennial, this paper
reviews cosmochronology to be an integrating idea in a Christian philosophy of modern natural science.
Dooyeweerd’s systematic philosophy is dominated by the idea of time.
Like meaning makes religious sense of our life, cosmic time makes philosophical sense of the cosmos. Everything that is created is also temporal and vice versa, yet being created is entirely different from being temporal. Both terms are referential.
On the one hand, being created refers to the origin of the cosmos. It says that everything has a meaning which it does not derive from itself but from its maker.
‘Meaning is the [mode of] being of all that has been created and the nature even of our selfhood. It has a religious root and a divine origin.’ (NC I, 4)
The Christian idea of creation implies that nothing has autonomy, that all exist in Christ, in whom everything in heaven and on earth has been created, in whom the cosmos finds its religious unity. Moreover, for human
people being created implies to bear responsibility. Dooyeweerd calls this dimension of human existence ‘supratemporal’ (NC I, 31, 101).
On the other hand, being
temporal means that anything is related to everything else, in past, present and future.
‘The intent of philosophy is to give us a theoretical insight into the coherence
of our temporal world as an inter-modal coherence of meaning ... It is a temporal coherence ... Man is bound to time together with all creatures that are fitted with him in the same temporal order.’ (NC I, 24)
The cosmochronological idea expresses the diversity, the coherence and the dynamics of the cosmos. It is a philosophical idea, by no means to be confused with our daily experience of time, which we shall call
`common time’, the time of our natural experience, the time of common sense (NC I, 33-34). Cosmic time is a philosophical generalization of common time.
is the century of science and technology. Western society has been changing at an unprecedented rate. The status of science and technology evolved accordingly from a position at the fringe of civilization to its most dominant factor. Simultaneously, natural
science became more and more aware of the temporal and transient character of the cosmos, of the biosphere and of the society we live in.
The first thing to observe is that science
has become aware of the importance of many kinds of relations. Relations form the framework of cosmochronology.
1. Coherence: time makes reference
use of calendars, diaries and clocks, agendas and time-tables, in short, public time, serves to organize our mutual relations. In a more general sense, cosmochronology means mapping the cosmos. The first thing one needs in a map is a grid, a system
of reference, by which everything can be located and identified. Nothing exists in itself, and the existence of whatever can only be established by its relations to other things or events. Reversely, the reference systems have no meaning apart from the things
they do relate, even cosmic time does not exist apart from concrete reality.
Such a grid is provided by each of the modal aspects. The order expressed by the first modal aspect applies
to the numerical relations between any pair of things or events. The spatial order refers to relative spatial positions, the kinematic order to relative motions, etc. (NC II, 79-106). Because each modal aspect is universal, each provides us with
a cosmic map. We don’t have a single map of the cosmos, but as many as there are modal aspects. And although these maps are all universal, we cannot do without any of them. Each modal aspect corresponds to a specific
intersubjective relationship (Stafleu 1970, 1980).
The numerical aspect orders everything in a sequence, not only by numbers, but also by magnitudes like length, speed or energy. Common
time contains this linear order, the order of earlier to later, the quantitative order of hours, days and years. But the numerical order does not imply an idea of the present, nor of simultaneity. It only displays an order of relative past and future, of earlier
The spatial aspect provides us with the order of simultaneity. At any time, as measured on the numerical scale, there are lots of spatially different things and events
related to each other by their relative spatial positions. Together, the numerical and spatial aspects give a sense of diachronism and synchronism. Until the beginning of our century it was taken for granted that motion does not influence the numerical
and spatial measures of time. But in 1905 Albert Einstein shocked the world by demonstrating the kinematic order to imply a relativization of the numerical and spatial orders. This relativization is unheard of in the common conception of time
and surprised physicists and philosophers alike. If two events are synchronous as determined by one observer, they may be perceived diachronous by another one. The static order of relativity, the so-called `block universe’ or Minkowski’s
space-time continuum, is often assumed to exhaust the idea of time (Minkowski 1908). However, the block universe does not provide a distinction between past and future, and the present (the ‘now’) is absent.
Even common time contains more than diachronism and synchronism alone. These would not suffice to explain a common watch, for there is no transient flow of time in the combination of dia- and synchronism.
In the block universe a temporal interval is nothing but the difference between two temporal moments, like a spatial interval is nothing but the distance between two points in space. We need the kinematic aspect to give us a reference
system for any kind of motion. Motion is only conceivable if whatever is moving remains identical to itself. This is the first instalment of presentness. Relativity theory has shown that the present is not universal, its determination depends on
the speed of the reference system. The present is invariably connected to some kind of individuality, it is a particular point of reference of something or somebody remaining itself. The present is determined by the choice of one’s individual
point of view, and is only the same for systems that do not move very fast with respect to each other. Hence the `now’ is based in the kinematic aspect, although it presupposes the simultaneity of all events which also occur ‘now’. By
the choice of an individual point of reference the past and the future are separated but still symmetric, there is no distinction in principle.
The discrimination between past and future arises
from the physical aspect, by order of the irreversibility of physical and chemical processes. As a reference system the physical aspect implies everything in the cosmos to interact with anything else. If something would not be able to interact with other
things (if it would be completely `inert’ or isolated from the rest of the world) it would not exist in a physical sense, it would have no physical meaning, it would not belong to the physical cosmos. Everything that exists in a physical or any other
sense is embedded in cosmic time. Distinguishing past and future, the order of irreversibility allows of causal connections, a cause always preceding its effect. Irreversibility is highly relevant to the idea of individuality, things and events
being subject to laws of probability. The actualization of possibilities constituting the present is irreversible. Whereas the past is determined, leaves traces, and can be remembered, the future is open and can be influenced. Hence the
asymmetry of past and future is based in the physical aspect.
There are as many temporal orders and relationships as there are modal aspects (Stafleu 1985, 1986, 1988,
1991). These include the biotic order of the generations, the order of descendence concerning the living beings, allowing of a taxonomy relating all species to each other. Biologists assume correctly that all living beings are genetically related
to each other. The psychic order concerns teleology, intentionality and purposive behaviour. These two orders cannot simply be reduced to the orders of dia- or synchronism, or to the kinematic and physical orders of time flow and irreversibility.
The temporal orders and the corresponding intersubjective relations have given rise to much scientific thought and discussion during the present century. The revision of the ideas of
time and space in the theory of relativity, the so-called measurement problem in quantum physics, and the discussion of the so-called arrow of time have greatly influenced the development of physics and its philosophy (Stafleu 1970, 1980). The irreversibility
of time is still hotly debated, because it does not fit into reductionist mechanist views, and this has its impact on the everlasting discussion of the interpretation of quantum mechanics (Coveney, Highfield 1990).
2. Interdependence: the metric of time
The modal aspects constituting the various maps are not independent of each other, on the contrary, they are strongly related. They display a numerical order, they
are simultaneously operative, they refer dynamically to each other, one is irreversibly founded on the other, and they deepen each other’s meaning. For instance, the relativity of time and space mentioned above means the development of the numerical
and spatial orders anticipating the kinematic one. The originally static orders of dia- and synchronism become dependent on motion when anticipating the kinematic order of time. Also, the order of irreversibility which in
physical systems would lead to a disconsolate uniformity is opened up in living systems that grow and flourish, apparently defeating physical laws.
With respect to the usual order
of the modal aspects, retrocipations and anticipations concern references backward and forward (NC II, part I). They refer the various maps to each other and enrich their meaning. In fact, the maps would be quite useless if they were
not related. [By an unfortunate term, the anticipations and retrocipations are called ‘analogies’. This is unfortunate (if not wrong), because analogy’ is a logical rather than a cosmological category, like ‘metaphor’
is a lingual one. The modal aspects are analogous to each other because of having retro- and anticipations. However, calling these intermodal relations ‘analogies’ both obscures their meaning and impedes the analysis of real analogies
with their help (cf. Stafleu 1994b).]
The natural sciences heavily depend on the possibility of making measurements. Retrocipations make numerical relationships to show themselves
not only in mathematical states of affairs, but also in spatial, kinematic and physical magnitudes. The law for a magnitude, called its metric, allows of expressing spatial, kinematic, physical or technological relationships in numerical terms.
By projecting the spatial, kinematic and physical maps on the numerical one, they become measurable. This is the basis of the mathematization of modern science, the possibility to apply statistics and to design mathematical models
of natural and technological systems, and to measure them. In turn, the availability of measuring instruments is a fruit of the technological opening up of physical systems, the exploration of the anticipations in the mathematical
and physical aspects. Hence, the fact that physical relations can be measured depends in principle on numerical retrocipations, in practice on technological anticipations.
Now common time as measured by your watch turns out to be kinematic time, retrocipating to spatial and numerical time and anticipating later aspects. The standard of common time is determined by the kinematic law concerning motion uninfluenced by physical
forces. This law for inertial motion covering equal distances in equal time intervals delivers the norm for an accurate clock, whether mechanical or electronic. Common time as measured by a calendar is purely numerical, but the time measured
by a clock, both in science and in common sense, is the metric of kinematic time, the objective measure of the flow of time. It is a small but important segment of cosmochronology. Your personal watch shows you the present, here and now,
in the flow of time. Because you want to partake in public time, you take care to have your watch synchronized with other clocks.
This is the moment to observe a remarkable shift in
the natural sciences and technology. It is well known that during the 19th century mechanism was the leading world view of the natural sciences. Newton’s mechanics, now called classical, was considered the paradigm of all sciences. This world
view broke down by the introduction of relativity theory and quantum physics. An additional breakdown is generally overlooked, however. During the 20th century, mechanics as a standard of measurement was replaced by electronics,
not only in physics but in chemistry, biology and technology as well. In the first half of this century all measurements were still ultimately reduced to the measurement of mechanical forces, the received standard of physical interaction.
After the rise of solid state technology and the development of transistors and chips, measuring now means the comparison with electric effects. For an example consider the measurement of ordinary time. You all remember that accurate clocks used to be mechanical
ones. But now probably each of you carries an electronic watch, and you are aware that you hardly ever have to adjust it, contrary to your earlier mechanical devices. The paradigm of the natural sciences is no longer mechanics, but electronics.
Mechanism is a kind of reductionism, the view that all states of affairs in one aspect can be reduced to an earlier aspect, in this case the aspect of motion determined by mechanical forces
acting between unchangeable elementary particles. Mechanism is no longer fashionable, but the idea that physics can be reduced to mathematics, and biology to physics and chemistry is still very much alive. The existence of retrocipations accounts for the success
of reductionist schemes, but the neglect of anticipations bars the development of a fruitful philosophy of science. This is reinforced by the usual neglect of the duality of modal laws and typical structures, to which we now turn.
3. Diversity: temporal being
If we compare each modal aspect with a grid on a map, the structures could be compared with towns. The structures form nodal points in our cosmochronology. In
fact, Dooyeweerd’s theory does not concern structures, but structural types (not towns but types of towns), and Dooyeweerd only discussed so-called thing-like structures. (For a review of this typology see Stafleu 1994a.) It is tempting to demonstrate
Dooyeweerd’s philosophy to be able to account for the intricate structures as discovered by the natural sciences in the past century. However, I shall restrict myself to making some brief remarks on the temporal character of individual things, plants
and animals, in order to show the transition from the modal aspects to the nodal points of individuality.
Unity and diversity
Dooyeweerd stressed the unity and persistent identity of a thing to be an unalienable part of our natural experience. However, many states of
affairs discovered by scientific research are not open to natural experience. Moreover, natural experience cannot provide science with data, because by its nature it is not documented, not open to scientific research. Yet there is a continuity between
natural and scientific experience.
Both in daily life and in science, a thing is experienced as a unit with specific properties. Nearly a century ago an atom was established to consist
of a nucleus and a number of electrons. Yet an atom is known as a unit with a specific mass and chemical properties. It is a unity, and there are a lot of them, there are many hydrogen atoms with the same characteristic properties. The unity of a thing is
based in the aspect of quantity, but its meaning is not confined to quantity.
For instance, the structural likeness of all electrons gives rise to an important structural law for systems
containing more than one electron. This is the so-called exclusion principle discovered by Pauli in 1925, saying that two electrons can never occupy the same physical state. This structural law accounts for the enormous diversity of nuclei, atoms,
molecules and crystals. Without this law, and without the structural likeness of all electrons, life and this conference would be impossible.
Coherence or wholeness
With the exception of elementary particles like electrons, a thing exhibits a spatial coherence of its parts.
The spatial coherence of a physically qualified thing like an atom is of a physical nature, it is determined by an equilibrium of physical forces. Likewise, the unity and coherence of a plant is biotically determined. Yet coherence is a spatial category, subject
to the order of simultaneity. It has only sense to speak of coherence if it concerns simultaneously present parts.
Identity and persistence
The identity and persistence of a thing comes to the fore when it is subject to change. The original kind of change is local motion. It has only
sense to speak of local motion if the moving subject remains itself, maintaining its identity, and this is also the case in other kinds of change, like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. Only when ceasing to exist the thing loses its identity.
A criterion of identity is the law that a moving thing cannot be simultaneously at different positions. According to the theory of relativity the speed of a material thing is always less than
the speed of light. Faster moving things, called `tachyons’, could be at two different positions at the same time, such that their identity could not be established. In the event that according to one observer a tachyon is emitted, another observer would
see it being absorbed. The order of emergence and perishment would be reversible. For these reasons it is doubtful whether we would be able to recognize a tachyon. We would have to invent a new definition of `existence’.
Stability and duration
The individual duration of a
thing is the time between its coming into existence and its perishment. Dooyeweerd considered duration to be the subject side of cosmic time, but in my opinion this is too narrow, the
subjectside of cosmic time also including the modal and structural intersubjective relations.
During its existence a thing has a certain stability. An atom has stable and
metastable states. If it is in a metastable state, sooner or later it emits light or some other kind of radiation. A radioactive nucleus transforms itself into a different nucleus. Most elementary particles are unstable. The duration of a metastable state
is determined by the law of decay, saying that at every moment the probability for the system to be transformed during a specified time to come is 50%. The so-called half-life time is specific for the system or state concerned. I want to draw your attention
to the fact that the validity of the law of decay is absolutely independent of the system’s past, and to the fact that the law applies to structural wholes, not to mixtures. The composition of a mixture betrays its past, but a physically
qualified structural whole has no past.
The existence of a thing can be terminated by some external cause, for instance a collision. The stability of a thing means that it is able to
resist such external influences, to a certain extent. In physics this is expressed by the system’s binding-energy, the minimum energy needed to break it up. A stable molecule remains intact as long as its binding energy is more than the mean energy
of the collisions of the molecule with other ones. The mean collision energy is determined by the temperature.
In a solid a criterion for stability is its melting point. The higher
its melting point, the stabler the solid. Only chemically pure systems have a definite melting point, solid mixtures have not. Stable things have a measure of periodicity. In atoms, molecules, nuclei and the solar system this is a numerical periodicity,
the constant frequency of circular or elliptic motion. In a solid it is the spatial periodicity of the long-distance order of the crystalline structure.
For plants and animals stability
has consequences for their mean future life time, which sometimes depend on their age, sometimes not. More than for physical systems, the actual life time of an individual plant or animal is determined by external influences.
Differentiation and integration
Since the 19th century
it is known that a new plant or animal develops itself starting from a single fertilized cell, after the fusion of a female with a male cell. This process is strongly controlled by a DNA-molecule. In the fertilized egg cell the DNA-molecule is derived half
from the female, half from the male parent. In processes controlled by DNA both lawlike and individual elements play a part. The lawlike part implies that fertilization usually only occurs if the parents belong to the same species and have similar DNA-molecules.
The individual part means that a DNA-molecule also contains a lot of stochastic information, determining the individual appearance of the new plant or animal.
The DNA-molecule controls
the functioning of each cell of the plant, and also its development, the growth of one single cell to the adult plant or animal during its existence. During this process many new cells emerge which though having the same DNA-structure differ from one
to the next. The identity of the cells is limited by but also distinguishable from the identity of the plant of which it is a part. Besides this differentiation we see a process of integration, of cells forming a tissue, tissues forming organs like roots,
leaves or flowers, together making the plant an organized whole.
This idionomic development of a plant, by differentiation and integration, is typical for biotically qualified structures.
It is determined by the internal structural law for the plant.
The internal differentiation and integration gets a new dimension in the form of the experience of every animal during its life, in particular during its youth. The individuality of an animal is to
a large extent determined by its experience. This is structurally limited by its specific ability to learn and by its age.
Animal behaviour is partly inborn, partly determined by the
animal’s experience, and partly by its perception of the environment. Hence an animal has a sense of past, present and future and of their continuity. An animal has a memory, it has knowledge of its environment and it has expectations,
together leading to purposive actions. A higher animal feels emotions like fear, anger, uncertainty, when its memory of the past, perception of the present and expectations of the future do not match.
To conclude, although each of these six categories is based in one of the first six modal aspects, they are nevertheless not determined by modal laws but by the idionomic structure of the individuals concerned. Together they
are knotted into a single structural whole. They show how the modal aspects of temporality are tied up into a typical structure. And I should add, they relate to human persons as well.
4. Dynamics: temporal becoming
During the twentieth century, the standard philosophy of science has become more realistic. At first it was dominated by the positivist view that science is only concerned with observations of phenomena, but
the successes of solid state theory, astrophysics, nuclear physics, and their technological applications have forced philosophers to acknowledge the existence of a structured reality behind the phenomena. This development confirms
Dooyeweerd’s theory of structures.
His typology concerns structures of individual things. Therefore Dooyeweerd’s system gives the impression of being static, and
his famous review of Lever’s Creation and evolution (Dooyeweerd 1959) reinforced that impression. But the core of cosmochronology is the dynamic development of the cosmos, of the earth, and of mankind. In our century, astrophysical
and biological theories of evolution have matured, becoming more and more consistent. In order to account for this, I propose to pay attention to the structures of aggregates, events and processes. If structures of things can be compared with
towns, events and processes look like traffic in and between towns.
Theories of everything
At the close of a century it seems tempting to assume that physical science is nearing completion. At the close of the 18th century Laplace thought that after Newton only a few minor problems remained
to be solved, but in the 19th century chemistry came to fruition, electricity was developed and thermal physics arrived at new insights. At the end of the 19th century people like Michelson and Kelvin were of the opinion that virtually all physical
problems were solved, and Max Planck as a student was advised to study something more promising. Shortly after came relativity and quantum mechanics, followed by nuclear physics, solid state physics and astrophysics.
And now we are made to believe that physics is at the verge of discovering the philosopher’s stone, the Theory of Everything (Hawking 1988, Barrow 1990). It is supposed to explain the coherence of
the so-called fundamental forces of nature, to wit, electromagnetism, the nuclear forces and gravity. The unified theory should include both quantum physics and general relativity. To call this a Theory of Everything is both preposterous and wrong.
It is preposterous like somebody’s claim to understand everything about chess or football because he knows the rules of the game. Knowledge of the coherence of the fundamental interactions
would be very interesting and a great achievement, but it would not help us a bit to understand the structures studied in a field like solid state physics.
It is also utterly wrong as
far as it stems from an old-fashioned reductionism, as if everything could be explained from the knowledge of physical laws, presumably modal laws.
This unified theory does not exist
yet, quantum theory and general relativity being at cross-purposes. Among other things, it aims to explain the genesis of the physical cosmos. As you know, astrophysics assumes that the universe has started its existence some fifteen billions years ago
in a big bang. The now received theory does not claim to explain the very start of this process, it only describes its development after the start. It describes what Dooyeweerd has called the opening process of the creation, the coming into
being of natural things according to laws, given by the Creator. This is a natural process, which does not mean that it could have occurred without the continuous support of the Lord. The theory does neither explain where the natural laws come from nor
why they are universally valid.
The astrophysicists tell us that during the process not only things and events came into existence, but even physical space and time themselves. From
our point of view, this means that space and time only make sense if providing a framework for the mutual relations between concrete things and events, and do not exist apart from the latter. Space, time and concrete matter were created together.
It should be clear that the big bang is not to be identified with the creation in a religious sense. At the start of this review I emphasized the distinction between ‘creational’
and ‘temporal’. The temporal is subject to scientific research, the creational is not. Science is only concerned with what happened and happens in cosmic time. It is not concerned with the relation of the temporal universe to the Eternal.
There is another
reason why a theory of everything cannot be expected to explain all that happens. I refer to the occurrence of probability as a main factor of the theory, which includes quantum physics. In order to calculate the effects of large numbers of systems like the
molecules in a gas, nineteenth century physics made use of probability, but only for practical reasons. It was generally believed that the future motions and interactions of the molecules were fully determined by present positions, velocities
and forces. But radioactivity first and atomic physics next have taught us that most processes are intrinsically stochastic. This means, first that molecules and similar systems have an individuality of their own, secondly that their motions
and interactions are not completely determined by natural laws. They do not occur independent of laws, but every law leaves room for individuality. It also means that a theory can never give a complete account of what happens, even at the physical level.
From a philosophical point of view this is one of the most revolutionary changes in our world view.
Probability refers to processes and events, and the fact that each process has
its own probability shows that it has a typical structure.
In quite a different way determinism got a blow from the so-called chaos theory. Natural laws were assumed to determine the course of events in any closed system if its state was fully established at some initial
time. Recently it has become clear that even a very slight difference in the initial state gives rise to very large differences after a relatively short time. It all depends on the precision with which the initial state can be determined. Now this is
limited in two ways. First, quantum mechanics has shown that even for a closed system the initial state cannot be defined with infinite accuracy. Second, it has become clear that a closed system is an idealization that cannot be achieved. A well-known example
concerns the terrestrial atmosphere, which cannot be treated as a closed system. Therefore our knowledge of its present state, however accurate, does not allow of predicting the weather for more than a couple of days.
More than in the nineteenth century, modern science is interested in events and processes. The natural laws have not lost their character of causal laws, but to apply them to open systems demands a new approach.
Events and processes
structure of a thing, a plant or an animal concerns a more or less well defined individual, events concern relations between individuals. Above I mentioned the modal intersubjective relations, such as the relative position or motion of two things. Besides
these general modal relations, many events have a specific character and therefore a structure of their own. Consider, for instance, two kinds of collision between the molecules in a gas. Usually a collision only changes the particles’ position
and state of motion, and such an encounter has a purely modal character. But sometimes the colliding molecules form a new molecule, and this is only possible if the colliding molecules match. A typical amount of energy is needed or is released. A chemical
process (consisting of a large number of such collisions) conforms to a typical law, it has a typical structure which does not fit into Dooyeweerd’s typology.
Even the existence
of the so-called elementary particles appears to be a continuing process. Quantum electrodynamics shows that no electron can ever be isolated from its surroundings. It continuously interacts with the electromagnetic field, and in the process positive
and negative electrons besides photons are created and annihilated. This is in striking contrast with the age old idea that the fundamental building stones of matter, whether atoms or elementary particles, are unchangeable and everlasting.
Aggregates of life
occur on the basis of aggregates or mixtures, under strictly determined circumstances, such as temperature. Life on earth could never have arisen without a rich variety of chemical elements and their compositions. (For a recent review, see Mason 1992.) In
the universe hydrogen and helium are abundantly present, all other elements being rare compared to these two. At a very high temperature such as occurs in a star, elements are formed from hydrogen and helium, at a lower temperature to be concentrated
Typical processes do not occur in all kinds of mixtures, but only in aggregates with a certain kind of composition, often within rather strict limits. The members
of the aggregate must have a structural relatedness allowing of typical processes.
On our map of the cosmos we find various kingdoms. In the kingdoms of plants and animals aggregations
constitute the basis of evolutionary processes. Elsewhere I have pointed out that four typical aggregates of life are operative in biotic evolution: genes, biotopes or ecosystems, niches and populations (Stafleu 1986, 1989). They exhibit
a certain kind of individuality different from that of a plant or a cell or a flower. Their typicality is not determined by their own structures, but by structural relations between the members of the aggregate. Each of them is based in one
of the modal aspects preceding the biotic one.
The theory of evolution turns out to depend on a number of unchangeable laws concerning heredity, abundancy, equilibrium and exclusion
in biotic aggregates. The kingdoms of plants and animals are in a permanent state of evolution. The present theory of evolution is only able to explain small nearly continuous transitions, in other respects it is far from complete. Nevertheless, apart from
a number of gaps or missing links the general picture of the evolution from the big bang to the present state of the plant and animal kingdoms is quite satisfactory (Van Till 1986, Lindberg, Numbers 1986, Bowler 1989).
Any philosophy of nature should be able to account for the natural processes occurring in various types of aggregates. Still absent in our philosophy, a typology of aggregations, processes and events would provide
a valuable contribution to the continuing debates on evolution.
But before that we should get rid of some dualisms.
5. Complementarity: the temporal position of mankind in and beyond the animal kingdom
The main purpose of any cosmochronology is to determine the position of mankind in the cosmos. I shall discuss a possible entrance to anthropology
starting from natural philosophy (Stafleu 1991). It should go without saying that this is not the only possible entrance.
Functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects
In the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea it is common understanding that animals do not function
as subjects in the post-psychic aspects (NC I, 39; II, 81, 114; III, 58, 85). The logical aspect being the first aspect after the psychic one, this view confirms the traditional opinion
that a human person distinguishes himself from an animal in particular because of his rationality, his ability to think, his intelligence. It therefore detracts from another view of this philosophy, namely that a person is primarily religious.
Recently I have called in question whether it is true that animals, or at least the so-called higher animals, cannot be subjects
(rather than objects) in the post-psychic aspects, putting forward the following hypothesis. In the post-psychic aspects, if animals act as subjects, they do so always retrocipatory, i.e., referring to their biotic and psychic needs. (Stafleu
1989, 1991. Cf. Lever 1973, 187-193, Dengerink 1986, 214, Hart 1984, 176-182.)
The subjective functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects is invariantly primitive and
instinctive, often coercive, though animals are able to learn from their mistakes. It is retrocipatory, never anticipatory. It is retrocipatory, because even post-psychic behaviour of animals serves their biotic and psychic functioning, in particular feeding,
reproduction and survival of the species. Human activity, on the contrary, is opened-up, anticipating, transcending the temporal order, and therefore religious. Human anticipatory acts are cultural, contrary to the natural,
retrocipatory behaviour of animals.
This view induces a new understanding of the distinction between ‘normative’ and ‘natural’. In Dooyeweerd’s philosophy,
the first six modal aspects are called natural, the others normative. I don’t think this makes sense. I propose to call the activity of human beings ‘normative’, because only men and women have to answer to laws, even natural laws,
in a responsible way. For instance, it is a norm that an accurate clock conforms to the natural law of inertial motion. Animals are not responsible for their behaviour, even if they are subject to the post-psychic modal aspects. Hence normativity is not
coupled to aspects but to humanity.
This view makes transparent the fallacy of evolutionism, that attempts to explain everything, even human behaviour, in evolutionary terms. By
ignoring the distinction between animal retrocipatory natural behaviour and human anticipatory normative acts, reductionist evolutionism foregoes any insight into the uniqueness of humanity, in particular human responsibility.
The structure of the human body
biological taxonomy a human being is considered a mammal, belonging to the order of the primates. Dooyeweerd’s theory of ‘enkapsis’, the interlacement of structures, accounts for this state of affairs. The structure of a human body is
interlaced with an animal substructure, and its nature determines a person’s position in the animal kingdom. Likewise, because of its organic substructure, an animal belongs to the organic kingdom, which it simultaneously transcends. The structure
of an animal is not biotically but psychically qualified. Hence to assign mankind a place in the animal kingdom does not imply that its structure is psychically qualified.
of the animal body, in which biotic, physical, kinematic and spatial substructures are interlaced, is designed for the animal’s behaviour, whereas the human body is designed for responsible activity. In several respects the animal substructure
of a human being is much more developed than the structure of any animal (Lever 1956, Chapter 5). Human thought is localized in the cerebral cortex, in particular the neocortex, which is absent in most animals. In mammals it is present only
to a small extent. The cultural aspect of human activity is most pregnantly expressed in the hand, an organ that is far more developed than whatever comparable animal organ. The nerve cells related to the hands take a relatively large volume in the human
brain. The lingual aspect finds its counterpart in the speech centre, again a substantial part of the brain. The larynx, the tongue and the muscles of the jaws are such as to make speech possible. The structure of the human face is made to show joy, sorrow
or anger. In fact, a human being is far more emotional than any animal.
All these and many more differences in the body structure of humans and the most related animals point to
the open character of the ‘act structure’ of a human person.
‘The erect gait, the spiritual expression of the human face, the human hand formed to labour after
a free project, testify to the fact that the human body is the free plastic instrument of the I-ness, as the spiritual centre of human existence.’ (NC III, 88. See also Dooyeweerd 1959).
It shows how much the human body is directed to spiritual life. The open character can be understood from the view that a person knows what it is to be called to bear responsibility, because he or she knows the difference between
good and evil.
Scientific knowledge of the functioning of the human body has increased enormously during the twentieth century, yet much is still not understood. In particular the
age-old distinction of body and mind is still haunting us. The main pitfall is to identify the `body’ with the material, i.e. the physical, organic and psychical substructure of human existence on which the `mind’ is superposed.
Duality versus dualism
between human persons and animals is often expressed by the supposed lack of a ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ in animals. This leads to the suggestion to relate the distinction of body and spirit to the complementary directions of retrocipation and anticipation. Complementarity is a concept introduced in quantumphysics by Niels Bohr in order to account for the dual aspects of wavelike and particlelike functioning of electrons and
photons (Bohr 1934, chapter 2).
Animal functioning in the post-psychic aspects (if present) is always retrocipatory, instinctive, directed to biotic and psychic needs. The functioning
of a person, as far as it is retrocipatory, does not differ very much from that of the higher animals. But the human spiritual functioning (the `act-structure’ according to Dooyeweerd) is mostly anticipatory, directed
towards the opening up of all modal aspects, and even transcending them.
This should not be misunderstood as the resurrection of the age old dualism of body and mind, supposed to be
two different substances, whether or not interacting with each other (Popper, Eccles 1977). I reject this dualism as much as I question the dualistic division between the ‘natural’ modal aspects and the ‘spiritual or ‘normative’
aspects. A dualism means a division into parts, like the nineteenth century dualism of electromagnetic and other waves versus material particles, or the division of a human being into a body and a soul as distinct substances, or the division
of natural and normative aspects. A duality means that something has two sides, like the wave-particle duality in quantum physics, or the law-subject duality, or the duality of anticipatory and retrocipatory directions in
the order of the modal aspects.
The structure of a human person is characterized by the simultaneous occurrence of retrocipatory or bodily and anticipatory or spiritual
functioning of a human person as a whole. This applies to all modal aspects of human functioning. Hence, the death of a person does not mean the separation of body and spirit, and his resurrection concerns the human body as well as the spirit.
This concept of spirit or mind should not be confused with the idea of the human soul, his heart, the centre of his existence as a religious being. The main incentive for human anticipatory activity
is the experience of good and evil, to which we now turn.
The temporal experience of good and
It is now generally accepted that the fundamental distinction between human beings and animals cannot be determined on biological grounds only. Of course, there are relevant
biotic differences between human persons and their nearest relatives, the apes. Nevertheless, the biotic distinction between a human and an ape is smaller than that between an ape and
a horse. Humans and apes constitute different families of the same order of the primates.
When paleontologists want to establish whether certain fossils are derived from ape-like or
human-like beings they have to take recourse to non-biological characteristics, like the use of fire, clothing, tools and ornaments, the burial of the dead, in short, anticipatory activity. During its history mankind has disclosed the various
modal aspects. Unlike animal behaviour, human activity is not merely guided by the fulfillment of biotic and psychic needs, but is directed to answering a calling.
The awareness of good
and evil marks the birth date of humanity. The fact that animals can learn shows them having a sense of lawfulness. But only people consider laws as normative, as providing principles for normative activity. Human beings have discovered the existence
of good and evil, in the animal world, in their environment, and last but not least in their own communities. This discovery included the phenomenon of illness of plants and animals. Every biologist can explain that illness as such is a
natural condition. Only from a human point of view does it make sense to say that a plant or an animal being ill is anti-normative. The so-called struggle for life, too, is experienced as anti-normative by people only.
All persons experience the calling to combat evil. This not only applies to evil observed in the plant and animal worlds, but also to evil in themselves and in their fellow people. The calling to combat evil implies a sense of responsibility
for plants and animals and for humanity, for the `environment’ as it is now called. An animal takes the world as it is, as given, whereas a human person attempts to improve the world. The awareness of good and evil constitutes the start
of cultural development, including science and technology.
The sense of calling and responsibility is at the heart of human existence, it is the driving force of any world view and cannot
be traced back in a scientific way. From a philosophical point of view it can only be established to exist as a matter of fact. The question of the origin of this calling cannot be answered scientifically or philosophically, because it is a religious
question. Hence the development of humanity from the animal kingdom cannot be scientifically explained or even dated. Rhetorical questions like: `Can you imagine that a gorilla mother gives birth to a human child?’ are therefore quite irrelevant.
Animals have no self-consciousness, and nobody can tell how self-consciousness in human beings arises.
Increasing insight into the distinction between good and evil enables human beings
to understand much better how to commit evil themselves. The belief in a calling degenerates into belief in one’s own possibilities, love for one’s neighbour into love for oneself, justice into arbitrariness, division of labour into slavery,
care into neglect. Humanity wants to be allowed to use evil in order to further what is good in one’s own eyes, the goal sanctifying the means. Natural science did not escape from this, as testifies the development and use of poison gas, atomic
bombs and smart projectiles. This is the fall into sin, from which humanity can only be saved by the complete sacrifice and self-denial of Christ.
The most pregnant expression of evil
is death, destruction. In a strictly biological sense death is not wrong, if it concerns the natural end of a plant or animal as a living individual. Human beings fight death, seeking eternal life. In a Christian sense, eternal life does not mean the
perpetuation of temporal life, but the true knowledge of God. It is like a window, from which a human person can look outside the plant and animal kingdoms, in the anticipatory direction. This window is opened by God himself, who allowed his son to become
a man in order to teach us who is the father of humanity and the creator of the cosmos.
By meeting Jesus Christ in our heart and in our fellow men we also meet ourselves. True knowledge
of oneself is absolutely dependent on the knowledge of God in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the only image of God. Hence our self-knowledge is dependent on temporal relations between human persons, of whom Christ is the first, the alpha and omega of cosmic
Our religious experience starts from our heart, our self-consciousness, and proceeds through our anticipating activity, pervading all aspects of human experience.
Both philosophers and scientists have become aware that the natural sciences themselves are dependent on the point of view taken by the human observer. This has been emphasized in relativity theory and quantum mechanics, and recently in the so-called anthropic
principles, which explore the relevance of human existence for astronomy, physics and biology (Barrow, Tipler 1986).
I have presented a survey of cosmic
time, ending up with anthropology. This is, I think, in line with the words of Dooyeweerd with which he concluded his New critique:
‘So it appears that the theory of the
enkaptic structural whole forms the necessary connective link between the theory of the individuality-structures and their temporal interweavings, and what is called a philosophical anthropology.
All our previous investigations have been nothing but a necessary preparation for the latter. They all implicitly tended to the ultimate and doubtless most important problem of philosophical reflection: What is man’s position in the temporal
cosmos in relation to his divine Origin ? ... The really philosophical problems concerning man’s position in the temporal cosmos cannot be rightly posited without a due insight into the transcendental conditions of philosophic thought. And
in addition a philosophic anthropology presupposes an inquiry into the different dimensions of the temporal horizon with its modal and individuality structures.’ (NC III, 781)
I have taken the liberty of exploring one way to a philosophical anthropology, the way through the natural kingdoms. I am not suggesting this to be the only possible way, I am not an evolutionist. But it is a necessary part of a Christian
philosophy of nature and of mankind. The various modes of temporal experience and existence which I have mentioned are concentrated into the human selfness, in our consciousness of being a temporal creation, embedded in the whole cosmos, with knowledge
of the eternal. The natural sciences are not able to explain the rise of humanity, but if the results of science could not be related to anthropology, our philosophy would be in vain.
introducing a new term, cosmochronology, I wish to emphasize the importance of the idea of cosmic time both in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy and in science. Relations constitute the framework of cosmochronology, the structures form its nodal points.
The core of cosmochronology is the dynamic development of the cosmos, and its main purpose is to determine the position of mankind in the cosmos.
Dooyeweerd’s vision of time,
now over fifty years old, is able to account for many modern insights. It deserves to be studied, to be amplified, and to be developed in continuous confrontation with current views in philosophy and in science, not only at the close of the present century,
but also in the century to come. In particular Dooyeweerd’s philosophy should be developed into a theory of change, in order to account for a world that is not static but dynamic.
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