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A Month Before Christmas and a Day After Darwin

by Ronald Settle

Ronald Settle is a doctoral candidate in Theology and Natural Science at Drew University. Madison, NJ 07940. He specializes in the history of Biology. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.127-130, Vol. 17, Number 2, Summer, 1988. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

‘Twas a month before Christmas when all through the hall,
Not a student was sleeping while under the pall
Of late nights in Tipple with papers to type,
And fill with the usual brilliance and hype.

My notes were all nestled like birds of a feather,
Nested and messily huddled together,
And I with my keyboard and Apple P.C.
Had just settled in front of the warm C.R.T

The luster of letters on the flickering screen
Enlightened my mind and illumined the scene,
‘Til the pixels like pixies appeared to impart
A light to my head and a glow in my heart.

When next door in the parlor I heard a great sound
Like the weight of the world and its past coming down
Right into the present to parlay a while,
Flooding fireplace then floor like the crest of the Nile.

So I jumped to my feet, saved my soul to my disk,
And took courage enough to take heart and take risk,
To open the door like the leaf of a book
And proceed and process and prepare for a look.

When what to my world-viewing gaze should ingress,
But a metaphysical system and those who profess:
Now Harts home! now Cobb! now Sherburne and Griffin
On Ogden! on Birch! on Suchocki and Blitzen!

These minions had landed and chose to remain
Like the descent from the sky of some great aeroplane,
With a master of systems who lovingly led,
By the lure in his eye and the White of his Head.

He was vested with logic from his top to his toes,
But looked through his specs like a someone who knows
That the heart has its reasons down an alternate path,
More a Biblical road than Principia Math.

The pack he flung open had a world stuffed into it,
And he opened his mouth and said, "Come on, intuit."
"Imagine," he said, "a process that’s real.
Because deep in your bones its a truth you can feel."

"Each actual entity touches the others,
Like family, friends, parents, sisters and brothers;
The substance of the matter is no substance whatever,
As far as my pack goes, we’re all in it together."

"As a matter of fact, if you don’t mind the suggestion,
The fact is not matter, but it’s mind, without question;
My companions and I have conceived a new vision,
From the feelings of quarks to the love that’s in fission."

"From the stuff of the stars to the stuff of ourselves,
From gyrating electrons to the genes in our cells,
The truth is a beauty and should gain recognition,
It’s more mind than machine, less cog than cognition."

"We are known and are cared for each one to a name,
And our senses make sense when informed by an aim
That both binds us as means and yet frees us as ends
For the doing of what some divine mind intends."

Then the voice of the white-headed first joined the last,
As a chorus was raised in one multi-part blast:
"It’s a month before Christmas but a day after Darwin,
Come join in the metaphysical mood we all are in."

Now, they’d intoned such torrents of truths felt and reasoned
That silent night study drowned in sounds of the season,
Like Adeste Fideles put to jingle bell rocking,
Or a whole body of doctrine stuffed in a small stocking.

"I don’t know where to begin," I began with a start,
"Or how I should answer; with my head or my heart.
"It’s a vision quite suited to either Jesus or Buddha,
Why it even rates stars from Luke Skywalker or Yoda."

"And if beauty is truth, as so says Mr. Keats,
This is surely a case where the twain in one meet.
Yet, ‘All ye know on earth and all ye need . . . know,
Cannot sanction aesthetic metaphysics, though."

"Born of a bent for mathematical musing,
Organismic philosophy comes off quite confusing
Considering what must be seen as the schism
Of little bio in the logos of its organism."

"Since mathematics and physics making love through the years
Have multiplied mystics to the music of spheres,
It would seem amor-cidal, like a check, choke, or throttle
To love a biologist who was not Aristotle."

"So it did not endear or derive people’s applause
Who broke biology’s embracing of divine final cause,
As did Darwin of Down when he tried to undo it
And picture a world without telos tied to it."

"The white-heated spotlight of scientific approval
Left Darwin eclipsed with its fin de siecle removal,
So one’s white-headed ‘29 blindness is full
Of those times’ transmutations that made bear out of bull."

"But what of the others who should have known better,
Who wrote after genetics had salvaged the letter
And spirit of Darwin’s conception of species,
Short shrifted and slighted in process thought’s theses?"

"Some say nothing’s new without divine prodding,
Each thing aping others until Someone goes godding,
While others claim order to God we are owing,
Indispensable divinity gets us coming or going."

"Either way nature is never enough
To explain mind in matter as brain’s thinking stuff,
Without the great Mind making ever so gentle
Suggestions to entities all of whom are quite mental.


You are pleased to report that poor Darwin himself
Wasn’t really prepared to put ends on the shelf,
So denying contrivance in the effect of each cause
He held out for design behind natural laws."

"But Darwin, remember, did admit he was muddled,
And I think that he knew that he’d already scuttled
The vessel for sailing from feeling that quick
To the rock-solid shores of implied metaphysic."

"He knew that a sense of God might have developed
Without divine love having really enveloped
A universe thoughtless in its part or its whole
Until animal brains made for mind, heart, and soul."

"Darwin raised nature up as he lowered us in
But he never forgot that mind’s tied to the skin,
Blood, and brain of a beast’s bond of functions to form,
Making anthropomorphic a panpsychic Hartshorne."

Then I said to my guests as they stood to their feet,
"You might think on making your commitment complete
To a cosmos quite able to make all that we see
From the order of laws to real novelty."

"While mind might emerge from where once there’d been none
The knowing it need not mean meaning is done,
Nor need we, nor should we, make morals the business
Of tailoring ethics to the dictates of is-ness."

"Drawing ethical oughts out of ontological order
May leave us all bristling painted into a corner
If this finding new gaps for housing divinity
Should prove a pursuit falling short of infinity."

"Of course, so many things that you stand for are true
That I wouldn’t want world-views to wall me from you;
I just think there are roads that run straighter for making
The humane destination down the path you are taking.

Then I offered them eggnog and hot cider collectively.
But they said they’d no need, being immortal objectively.
Still, the white-headed one said I’d been pretty nice
As he looked in a small book he checked once, and checked twice.

So into his pack he reached to go fish
Out a present he proffered saying, "Prehend this if you wish."
As I took it I said, "I keep an open stocking,"
And we said at the same time, "Let’s please do keep talking!"

Then collecting together the company concresced
And moving in concert they leaping processed;
Up the chimney they flew like the down of a thistle
Soaring as fast as an aim that’s initial.

But I heard them exclaim as they perished from view,
"Satisfaction in your paper, and in all that you do!"

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