Schelling’s Pantheogenic Naturphilosophie

In his bok The Origin and Goal of History, Karl Jaspers’ claims that Schelling “clung with complete conviction to the theory that the creation of the world took place six thousand years ago, whereas today no one doubts the bone finds which prove man’s life on earth to have gone on far more than a hundred thousand years” (288). As I’ve come to understand Schelling’s thought, it seems rather obvious to me that he believes no such thing. He may be a creationist of sorts, since for him nature is the self-revelation of God, but his Naturphilosophie is explicitly evolutionary. From the very beginning of his public philosophizing, he recognized the full reality of contingency in nature, including its development through unfathomably long epochs of history (see On the World Soul, 1798). His was not a form of intelligent design. Deity and nature, in Schelling’s system, are free of necessary design, since they are as dark and chaotic as they are cosmically manifest. Schelling’s God is no abstract systemizer; in fact, God is a living actuality, a free and loving personality striving to give birth to itself in the course of natural history. Nature is slumbering spirit; in the course of its evolution, it has realized itself as human nature. As human, the spirit in nature first begins to awaken to itself as myth. Eventually, spirit begins to philosophize, to tell the story of stories. Soon after the birth of philosophy, so the story goes, the spirit in the human becomes self-conscious and history comes to an end as eternity enters fully into time. In this way, Schelling attempts to integrate Greek Philosophy, Christian Revelation, and Modern Science.

Jaspers’ dismissive mischaracterization (misunderstanding?) of Schelling’s pantheogenic cosmology reveals the one-sided modern attitude toward religion. Schelling’s philosophical scheme presents an alternative to both the Enlightenment and Romantic mentalities. Perhaps the alternative he provides for today’s post-secular philosophy is one reason for his resurgence of late.

In the closing paragraph of his Freedom essay of 1809, Schelling writes (transl. Bruce Matthews):

We entertain the greatest respect for the profound significance of historical investigations;… we believe that truth lies nearer to us and that we should first seek the solution for the problems that have become vital in our time among ourselves and on our own soil, before we wander to such distant sources. The time of merely historical faith is past as soon as the possibility of immediate knowledge is given. We have an earlier revelation that any written one–nature. It contains archetypes that no one has yet interpreted, whereas the written ones have long since received their fulfillment and exegesis. If the understanding of that unwritten revelation were inaugurated, the only true system of religion and science would appear, not in the miserable garb pieced together out of a few philosophical and critical conceptions, but at once in the full significance of truth and of nature.