Friday, December 27, 2013

Monism as Connecting Religion and Science by Ernst Haeckel

The Riddle in a nutshell
This Kindle file consists of the text of a lecture delivered by German biologist Ernst Haeckel on October 9, 1892. In this speech, Haeckel asserts that the monumental scientific advances of the 19th century, in particular Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, prove that the most rationally accurate philosophical and religious view of the creation, composition, and fundamental workings of the universe is the monism and pantheism of the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Haeckel would go on to develop the ideas of this lecture further in his excellent 1901 book The Riddle of the Universe, in which he outlines a monistic world view that can serve as a viable cosmology for modern freethinkers, skeptics, pantheists, and atheists.

Like many scientists of his day, Darwin included, Haeckel didn’t get everything right, as one would expect from a work written prior to a thorough understanding of DNA, relativity, or quantum mechanics. Nevertheless, his fundamental philosophical arguments remain valid. One antiquated idea that’s examined in-depth in both works is the concept of “ether”, a term used to describe the medium which exists between the particles of matter in the universe. In the post-Einstein world, this ether could be seen as the very fabric of space-time itself. Nowadays, ether might even be analogous to dark matter. The point is, even though all of Haeckel’s scientific conclusions may not have survived the scrutiny of the past century, it doesn’t change the fact that his application of empirical science to the philosophical questions of the nature of the universe, God, human consciousness, and free will still provides thought-provoking inspiration for rational thinkers looking for answers to such universal riddles.

While The Riddle of the Universe was directed at a general audience, Monism as Connecting Religion and Science is a lecture that was delivered to an organization of scientists. For that reason, the text of this speech is neither as accessible nor as engaging as that of the longer and better book it inspired. If you’ve already read The Riddle of the Universe, you will find little new here. The best purpose this 25-page speech can serve is as an outline or “cheat sheet” of that larger work. If you haven’t read The Riddle, this brief abstract might give you enough idea of the contents of that larger work to help you decide if it’s worth reading. On the other hand, I’d hate to think that the somewhat dry, scholarly prose of this lecture might dissuade readers from endeavoring to tackle the more elegant and eloquent book which followed. My recommendation, therefore, is that unless you’re just really a huge fan of Haeckel, this short work is skippable. By all means, read The Riddle of the Universe instead.

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