The Curious Case of John Elof Boodin vs. Charles Darwin

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts 12 Comments

The American philosophy of Pragmatism was in many ways a direct response to Darwin's publication of “On the Origin of Species.” The early Pragmatists were trying to apply the same logic to philosophy that Darwin had applied to evolution. At the same time the Pragmatists were generally apposed to the idea that chance mutation and natural selection were the only things moving evolution along. They didn't want to replace chance with reliance on God, or a metaphysical force that was outside of the realm of experience, but they were committed to finding a real cause for the directionality of evolution.

William James and John Dewey seemed willing to agree that chance and adaptation were the blind movers of evolution until the human mind emerged. After that they saw human intelligence as the guiding force of further evolution. Charles Sanders Peirce postulated that Evolutionary Love was guiding evolution.

Another philosopher John Elof Boodin, who was a graduate student of Josiah Royce and William James at Harvard, had his own ideas. Boodin was certainly influenced by the Pragmatism of James, but was more fundamentally an idealist after the heart of Josiah Royce.

Boodin felt that Darwin had come to the conclusion that random mutation and the pressure of survival were the only factors in determining the direction of evolution because he was looking at evolution as if it were happening to individuals and species on planet Earth. Darwin was taking a geo-centric view of evolution when in actuality evolution was a cosmic process. Boodin felt that to get a clear picture of evolution you had to realize that it was not species that were evolving, it was the whole cosmos. The development of species had to be seen as part of the development of the cosmos.

Boodin actually saw the evolution of plants and animals as part of the evolution of the Earth's crust. He likened evolutionary development to the development of a child in society. The child develops in certain ways not by chance, but because its evolution is guided by its surroundings. A baby doesn't develop in isolation. For instance it learns a language because it hears the language spoken around it.

Similarly species develop as they do because they are part of a developing environment. But why does the environment of the Earth develop the way it does? Boodin speculated that in the entire universe there would be planets at all different levels of development, and just like a developing child follows the lead of more mature people as it develops, our planet follows the lead of more mature planets along its path to maturity.

This happens through a process Boodin called Cosmic Interaction. In the continuum of space/time all planets are interconnected and through the passing of electromagnetic waves from one to another the planets transmit information to each other. Somewhere there must be a most evolved planet with the most evolved life forms and all the other planets are following the lead of that one.

Boodin's theory (to the extent that I currently understand it) is intriguing even if it seems a bit hard to swallow. I do think that there is some credit due to him for his insight that in order to understand evolution we must attempt to see it as a cosmic process and not as an isolated occurrence on our own planet.

I intend to read more of Boodin's work and will report on it here as I do.

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Sam Rosen
11 years ago

Fascinating, Jeff. I had never considered that Darwin’s view of evolution was a geocentric one. It’s interesting that even in Wikipedia’s overview of The Origin of Species, it says only that “the scientific consensus remains that natural selection is the primary explanation for the development of new species.” But it doesn’t say anything about cosmic evolution. It would make sense that if Darwin was looking at biological evolution on Earth alone, he would have only seen part of the picture, as profound as his discoveries were. But once it’s scaled back to a cosmic context, it becomes almost impossible to… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Jeff, How long must we cast about looking for spirits and fairies until we finally land on the dry truth of Darwin, Dewey, and, dare I say, Dawkins? Or should we immediately focus our attention this side of heaven because there is so much to learn and time is precious?

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago

Brian, I wondered what you are going to think about this. Certainly many of Boodin’s conclusions about the mechanisms of evolution are odd – but even he knew that. I think in the matter of Evolution a stance of “agnosticism” is probably best. I think that some things can be stated as fact: 1. Evolution has an apparent directionality (even Darwin and Dawkins would agree with that.) 2. Chance Variation and Natural Selection is definitely a mechanism that creates that apparent directionality. 3. All of our evidence from the history of evolution points to the fact that our understanding of… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Touche, my friend. In many ways we are in violent agreement. I mention Darwin, Dewey, and Dawkins for reasons beyond poetic alliteration. They embody the scientific method, Darwin by example, Dewey and Dawkins by their advocacy. According to Corlis Lamont’s ten propositions of the Humanist philosophy: “Tenth, Humanism, in accordance with scientific method, believes in the unending questioning of basic assumptions and convictions, including its own. Humanism is not a new dogma, but is a developing philosophy ever open to experimental testing, newly discovered facts, and more rigorous reasoning.” If I am a fundamentalist about the scientific method, I stand… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago

Well put. I haven’t read enough of Boodin to have a final opinion, but I suspect that his science is fuzzy which doesn’t help make his point – I think that Charles Sanders Peirce’s logic is impeccable and detailed which makes some of his arguments more credible and also much more influential over time.

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

So I pointed out the commonalities; our differences lie in priorities.

After my recent exploration of spirituality which you’ve helped me with, I’m turning a corner and coming home to my preference for the empirical and skepticism of the mystical.

You, on the other hand, not only have a personal inclination, but also a requirement from your employer and customer base, to hope for romantic spirituality.

Bless us both!

Sam Freedom
Sam Freedom
10 years ago

A great article was just published in “Telos Journal”, titled, “Darwin & His Theory, Then & Now: Darwinian Thought & the Fourth Way”, Volume 13, Issue 2, Number 50. I think you’ll both find it fascinating as it actually goes deeply into cosmology. But it really does a number on Dawkins in the process… “Almost casually, Dawkins glosses over the beginning point of life, as well as the fact that science has no understanding of the function, if any, that is provided by 99 percent of the DNA molecule. However, by establishing the beginning of life and the reason —… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
10 years ago
Reply to  Sam Freedom

Thanks for the tip, I will definately look at the paper!

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

It seems the rumblings of those who believe we humans share the universe with other beings who inhabit other planets become more common. Given the vastness of the universe with thousands (millions?) of other planets, that seems credible but of course we know those other beings will have characteristics determined by conditions completely different from Earth’s. I wonder if it will be like fish out of water to ever have the possibility of any interaction with them?

Darryl
Darryl
10 years ago

John Elof Boodin was an idealist.. he did not support the mechanical material type of evolution darwin was into. I think you need to read more into his works and study the definition idealism. Boodin also completley opposed atheism.

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
10 years ago

Dear Darryl,

Thank you for your comment. My understanding of Boodin is far from complete. I was so excited to discover him and his work that I wanted to put up a post about what I found so compelling. I have a couple of his books and one a biography that all need to be read. If you have any suggestions about how to find out more about his work, or if you would be willing to tell me how you know of this somewhat obscure thinker, I would love to hear

Darryl
Darryl
10 years ago

Jeff i just got your email. The reason i know about Boodin is becuase of his connection to one of my favourite idealist philosophers Josiah Royce. Sorry about my first comment there it was rushed and very incomplete i did not think anyone was going to reply. Boodin is a rather unheard of philosopher. Only two of his books have been reprinted so it is hard to get hold of some of his material. I definatley can discuss Boodins idealism on here. I am not expert on evolution becuase evolution does not interest me but i can discuss his metaphysics.… Read more »