Lonergan, Emergent Evolution and the Cosmic Process


God’s motive for Creation is the potential production of another entity similar to God.  While God can only create creatures, an intelligent created entity could possibly create additional aspects of its own being that could make it similar to God.  To open this possibility God initiates Time, Energy and a number of mathematical Cosmic Constants in the Big Bang.  These interact to produce both Matter and Life, each with appropriate laws of nature.  Matter freely self-organises and produces at least one life-friendly planet.  Life begins on Earth and evolves in complexity and intelligence.  Some members of an evolved intelligent life form – Homo sapiens – eventually begin to make themselves similar to God, in aspects of their being such as creativity and goodness. 


The search for God’s motive for creation begins with Aristotle, who almost solves the problem but considers he has developed an antinomy.  God’s motive becomes clear when Samuel Alexander’s and Bernard Lonergan’s understandings of the Cosmos as an Emergent process is applied to Aristotle’s original conclusions.  God’s motive appears to be to make possible the self-development of other entities to enable them to become similar to God. 

Samuel Alexander identifies the Emergent stages of the process of cosmic development.  Bernard Lonergan proposes a cosmic process that develops from stage to stage, with each stage of the process exhibiting greater freedom than the preceding stage, leading to the freedom of humanity to restructure both itself and the world. 

The complex form of the cosmic process, beginning with the Big Bang, is understandable once the purpose of the process is understood.  This purpose is to make possible the free self-creation of new aspects of the being of a created entity, to enable members of that entity to make themselves similar to God in creativity and goodness.

God cannot create an entity that is similar to the self-existent God, as God can only create creatures.  However God can provide the means, in the Big Bang, to initiate the self-organisation of a series of freely operating cosmic processes, which could lead to the evolution of intelligent animal species.  Members of such a species could eventually develop themselves in goodness and creativity, making some members of the species, such as Jesus, similar to God and an appropriate subject of God’s love.  Recognition of this purpose leads to the resolution of Aristotle’s antinomy. 

God is necessarily “hands-off’ the cosmic process once it has been initiated.  The Big Bang provides the Energy, the Time and the mathematical Cosmic Constants that make planet Earth, life and the process of evolution possible. The cosmic process is self-organising at the Emergent Stages of Matter and Life, and self-creating at the Emergent Stages of Mind and at the Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage.  Humanity thus becomes the original “Do it yourself” kit.


Understanding God’s motive for Creation is important because God’s motive, once it is understood, provides a criterion against which doctrines that were formulated in a more primitive context can be tested and if necessary reconsidered.  This reconsideration could apply equally to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

One other possible way of approaching the question of God’s motive for Creation would be to consider the kind of God that is presupposed by some of the doctrines of some present belief systems.  Could God be an exponent of the mass killing of people of other races or faiths, of everlasting torture or insatiable carnality?  Thanks to Aristotle we do not need to continue with this form of thought-experiment.


In his “Christian Revelation and the Completion of the Aristotelian Revolution” (1988) Patrick Madigan outlines the discussion of God’s motive for Creation from Aristotle to Aquinas and beyond.  Aristotle initiates the discussion when he establishes two apparently contradictory conclusions.   (1) God is necessary, as first mover, to explain the existence of the world, and (2) God is not able to be the cause of an entity that is significantly different from God. 

As Madigan says:  “Aristotle establishes simultaneously two very strong points: first, that God must exist as a necessary first cause to explain the world, and secondly that God, if he exists, could not cause a world significantly distinct from himself.  Both conclusions are demonstrated as necessarily true, and the one contradicts the other”. (1988, 16)

The apparent contradiction between these two conclusions relies on the Cosmos being complete, as Aristotle understands it, and not in process, as Alexander and Lonergan understand it.  Aristotle’s only understanding of process is based on the circular, repetitive, biological process.  Aristotle does not possess the category of linear process, in which the outcome can differ radically from the inputs.  The lack of this category makes Aristotle think he has developed an antinomy.  I argue that there is no real contradiction between Aristotle’s conclusions. 

While God cannot directly create an entity that is not significantly distinct from God, God can open the possibility of the self-creation of additional aspects of the being of a created entity, which could eventually make that entity, or some of its members, similar to God.  God cannot intervene in such a process without frustrating its self-creating purpose.  This is why God is “hands-off” the process that follows the Big Bang.  The Big Bang provides everything necessary for the cosmos to develop by self-organisation until a series of intelligent animal species evolve.  Any further development can only be through a process of self-creation by members of such an intelligent species. 


The Big Bang is the initiation by God not only of Time and of Energy, but also of a number of mathematical “cosmic constants”.  Cosmologist Martin Rees, in “Just Six Numbers” (2000), shows that a series of mathematical “cosmic constants” are embedded in the Big Bang.   Rees states:  “Mathematical laws underpin the fabric of our universe, not just atoms, but galaxies, stars and people. And everything takes place in the arena of an expanding universe, whose properties were imprinted into it at the time of the initial Big Bang.” (2000, 1)   Rees identifies six of these mathematical cosmic constants as particularly relevant to the present state of the Cosmos, stating: “These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe.”  Subsequent development is sensitive to their values, as: “if any one of them was to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life.” (2000, 4) 

Rees does not accept the obvious implication that the cosmic constants are evidence of design.  Instead he postulates a multiplicity of universes with different cosmic constants. In adopting this position Rees multiplies entities beyond necessity, in defiance of Occam’s razor.  I consider and reject Rees’ argument in “The Intelligent Design of the Cosmos” (2006).

I argue in my Thesis “The Process of the Cosmos” (1998) that both matter and life develop by self-organisation.  I am indebted to Rees for showing that the Cosmic Constants are responsible for this self-organisation.  The Cosmic Constants provide the laws of nature that apply to most new Emergent Stages when the basis for a new Emergent Stage develops.  Thus Life emerges when an appropriate form of Matter, in a favourable environment, make it possible for the Cosmic Constants to initiate Life.


In “Space, Time and Deity” (1920), Samuel Alexander shows that the Cosmos develops through a series of Emergent Stages.  Each Emergent Stage introduces something completely new into the world, but the new Emergent Stage is still able to be affected by the laws of the Stage from which it has emerged.  This is the essence of any Emergent.  Thus when Life emerges from Matter it is completely new, has its own new laws and still affected by the laws of Matter. 

Most, but not all, Emergent Stages occur when an existing Stage provides the material and the environment that are necessary for the Cosmic Constants to initiate a new Stage. 

Alexander identifies four Emergent Stages:  Matter, Life, Mind, and Moral Personality.  Matter emerges first, then Life.  Alexander considers Mind constitutes an Emergent because it manifests consciousness.  I regard Mind as an Emergent because of its mode of origin.  The development of the human mind is not a function of the Cosmic Constants.   It is the first product of the process of human self-creation.  I identify Alexander’s fourth Emergent Stage, his “Moral Personality”, as the Human Moral-Cultural Stage.  This Stage only begins within the last 2,600 years, when some humans begin to think critically and begin to develop an awareness of the natural moral law.  


For Lonergan there is a cosmic process that develops from stage to stage, with each stage exhibiting greater freedom than the preceding stage, leading to the freedom of humanity to restructure both itself and the world.  At the root of this cosmic process Lonergan affirms a directed dynamism, parallel to the detached and disinterested human desire to know.  

This pure desire “heads for an objective that becomes known only through its own unfolding in understanding and judgement, and so the dynamism of universal process is directed, not to a generically, specifically or individually determinate goal, but to whatever becomes determinate through the process itself in its effectively probable realization of its own possibilities.” ([1958] 1983, 450)  

Lonergan draws a parallel between the incomplete human knowing that heads towards fuller knowing and an incomplete Cosmos that is heading towards fuller being.  While there is such a thing as finality, it is not “some pull exerted by the future on the present” but is an affirmation that the Cosmos “is not at rest, not static, not fixed in the present, but in process, in tension, fluid.” ([1958] 1983, 445) the principle of finality provides “an upwardly but indeterminately directed dynamism towards ever fuller realization of being.”  ([1958] 1983, 452) Lonergan does not explain what might constitute the ultimate end of this process of   “ever fuller realization of being”.  I suggest the only credible end of this process is the self-creation of entities similar to God.


The Big Bang provides the Time, the Energy and the Cosmic Constants which together provide the foundation of Matter and allow for its development.  Matter develops into a number of Galaxies, Solar systems and planets.  The extent of the Cosmos, the random interaction of laws of nature and the unlimited time available, ensure the eventual production of at least one life-friendly planet – Earth. 

Life emerges on Earth, where evolution produces a number of increasingly intelligent, but instinctive, animal species.  Members of one such species - Homo sapiens - eventually develop their cognitive capacities beyond the capacities provided by instinct.   They begin to recognise and utilise information other than that which they recognise instinctively.  This self-development initiates the human mind, and makes Homo sapiens human.   As Lonergan notes:  “Man’s development is a matter of getting beyond himself, of transcending himself, of ceasing to be an animal in a habitat and of becoming a genuine person in a community.”  (1974, 144) 

With the self-development of a mind Homo sapiens cease to be mere animals and become human. They are no longer simply bound by their instincts, but become free to develop other characteristics, such as creativity and goodness.  These characteristics, when sufficiently developed, could make them similar to God and appropriate for God to love.  To understand this self-development, from the animal level to the human level, we need to consider what it is that distinguishes the various levels of life. 


The difference between the various levels of life is closely related to the type of information that is able to be detected at each level.  Every living species recognises and reacts to the information that is essential to the species survival.   Different forms of life react to different information, in the sense of relevant detectable differences.  As Andrzej Chmielecki notes in “What is Information”:  “information – defined here as any detectable difference of physical states - (is) the determining principle of all animate systems, one which determines both their architecture and their operation.” (1998, 1)

Plants react to differences in soil temperatures and to other physical factors.  These provide the plant with information relevant to the survival of its species.  Animal species are not limited to detecting information that relates solely to the survival of the species.  Their instincts can enable them to detect and react to information that could relate to their individual survival.  This capacity to detect a wider range of information is the beginning of intelligence.   For some species this perception of information extends to the recognition of natural items that can be used as tools.  All Hominid species display this capacity. 


There are many Hominid species during the million years before Homo sapiens evolve, with their significant linguistic capability, some 160,000 years ago.  Initially Homo sapiens hunt and gather just as earlier Hominids had over the previous million years.  There appear to be no significant material differences between their activities and those of earlier Hominids during their first 100,000 years as a species.   However some time before the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution of 45,000 years ago, they begin to develop a mind, and thus to recognise and utilise a range of information beyond that which other Hominid species were able to recognise.  This development of a mind is demonstrated by the beginning of human cultures.

The development of the human mind does not appear to be a function of the size of Homo sapiens’ brain.  Neanderthals evolve some 230,000 years ago, well before Homo sapiens. They are physically stronger and have a larger brain, but they die out when Homo sapiens begin to form cultures.  With the development of a mind, Homo sapiens may have become able to out-compete the Neanderthals, just as the Dingo was to out-compete the stronger and fiercer, but less intelligent, Thylacine or “Tasmanian Tiger”, when the Dingo arrived in Australia some 4,000 years ago.

Some human hunter-gatherers eventually recognise that the regular annual die-off of edible plants that leave dormant seeds or tubers provides the information that enables them to begin agriculture.  This insight takes a further 35,000 years to develop, from the initial formation of human cultures in the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution to the beginning of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution.  The human mind continues to develop in the process of making connections of this type.   The development of the mind constitutes the third Emergent Stage in the process of Emergent Evolution. 

The most recent Emergent stage, the Human Moral-Cultural Stage, only begins to develop within the last 2,600 years.  Only humans are able to be moral. Principled morality is still rare, as Lawrence Kohlberg has shown.  A person’s innate morality, as distinct from the moral criteria of their culture or religion, is a measure of their humanity.  The Human Moral-Cultural Emergent stage involves the perception and application of the natural moral law.


Both Bruno Snell in “The Discovery of Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought” (1953), and Julian Jaynes, in “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” (1976), show that the present form of human moral and critical consciousness, involving both logical reasoning and moral awareness, took Homo sapiens millennia to develop.  Snell and Jaynes offer quite different explanations of the present form of human consciousness, in which humans have insights into their own mental life and the mental life of others.  Jaynes proposes the prior existence of a bicameral mind, on the model of the bicameral brain, while Snell traces the development of the present form of human consciousness through Greek literature.  As Snell comments in his preface to “Scenes from Greek Drama” (1964): “the rapid development of Greek thought in the fifth century B.C. is a fascinating spectacle . . . And since these new ideas became a possession of Western Civilization, we can observe ourselves growing.”  (1964, 6)

Jaynes suggests that in the bicameral mind one part of the brain became aware of moral commands which were then “heard” by the individual human, and to hear was to obey.   Jaynes’ ideas are applied to the pre-logical Hebrews by Rabbi James Cohn in his:  “The Minds of the Bible: Speculations on the Cultural Evolution of Human Consciousness.” (2007)  Cohn regards the Biblical Abraham as pre-logical, saying: “Abraham is not a model of faith. . .  He is a product of his times.  He hears and obeys.  He cannot not obey the voice once he hears it.”  (2007, 21)  

Both Snell and Jaynes see the beginning of morality as linked to the beginning of the present form of human consciousness.  Snell’ s analysis of the gradual development of the present form of human consciousness over a considerable time appears more reasonable to me, but  Jaynes’ approach supports Plato’s idea that values constitute an objective realm of essences, which humans become aware of a priori.  The “voices” heard by bicameral minds appear to be intuitions of Plato’s realm of essences, particularly as the voices focus on moral behaviour.

Homo sapiens’ mind may have begun to develop as a by-product of sapiens’ linguistic capability.  Individual words would have initially had a limited application but most words have an inherent flexibility.  As Phil Eklund notes in “The Jaynesian”:  “A word is a communication that can be stored in memory in a versatile verbal format, which allows learning in one area to be metaphorically applied in other areas.”  (Summer 2007, 3)  This potential for language to lead to an increase in understanding appears to first become a reality some 30,000 years ago when: “As suddenly as a light switch being turned on, people were leaving grave goods, making idols, painting cave walls, the full gamut of bicameral authorisations.” (ibid) 


Humans are thus products of a continuing process of self-creation, through which they cease to be just another animal in a habitat and begin to make themselves fully human.   The first step in this process is the self-development of the human mind.  The Upper Palaeolithic Revolution is generally accepted as evidence of this initial development.  The physical evidence of further development is traceable through technology, but if the purpose of he cosmic process is the production of a communal entity similar to God, the most important human changes will be cultural, both intellectual and moral.  These would constitute the human process of self-creation towards divinity. 

As an eminently moral product of the moral context of Judaism, Jesus can be understood as a proleptic success of this process of human self-creation.   The phenomenon of Jesus provides support for the argument that the motive for Creation is the potential production of other entities similar to God, as does the intellectual and moral creativity of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in the Classical Greek context. 

While Jesus provides the clearest example of the success of the cosmic process, other members of various intellectual and moral cultures who have been recognised as Saints, will have created aspects of their own being that make them similar to God in goodness


Some intelligent created entities can create additional aspects of their own being that can make them similar to God.  To open this possibility God initiates Time, Energy and a number of mathematical Cosmic Constants in the Big Bang.  These interact to produce both Matter and Life, with appropriate laws of nature.  Matter freely self-organises and produces our life-friendly planet.  Life begins on Earth and evolves in complexity and intelligence.  Members of an intelligent life form – Homo sapiens – can make themselves similar to God in creativity and goodness.  Jesus and Socrates appear to be proleptic products of this process of human self-creation.


Alexander, Samuel      (1920)   Space, Time and Deity

Chmielecki, Andrzej      (1998)   What is Information?  Web, Paideia Archive

Cohn, James                (2007)   The Minds of the Bible   Web.

Jaynes, Julian              (1982)   The Origin of Consciousness,  Pelican, 1982

Kelly A.B.                    (1999)  The Process of the Cosmos   Dissertation.com

                                   (2006)  The Intelligent Design of the Cosmos   

                                                 PHILICA.COM Article No.50

Lonergan, Bernard        ([1958] 1983)  Insight

                                   (1974)  A Second Collection


Madigan, Patrick          (1988)   Christian Revelation and the Completion of the

                                                  Aristotelian Revolution

Rees, Martin                (2000)   Just Six Numbers

Snell, Bruno                 (1953)   The Discovery of the Mind

    (1964)     Scenes from Greek Drama

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