Sunday, June 26, 2005

On Evolution

The following quotes attempt to articulate an integral view of evolution -- not the mere flatland view of scientific evolution, which is devoid of Spirit, but evolution as the unfolding of Spirit becoming conscious of itself. All quotes are from the books of Ken Wilber and are cited according to their place in the Collected Works (with individual book titles noted where appropriate). A brief commentary follows.

Evolution is best thought of as Spirit-in-action, God-in-the-making, where Spirit unfolds itself at every stage of development, thus manifesting more of itself, and realizing more of itself, at every unfolding. Spirit is not some particular stage, or some favorite ideology, or some specific god or goddess, but rather the entire process of unfolding itself, an infinite process that is completely present at every finite stage, but becomes more available to itself with evolutionary opening.
--CW 7: A Brief History of Everything, 61

Evolution -- wherever it appears -- manifests itself as a series of transcendences, of ascents, or emergences -- and emergences of higher-order wholes. For to remember is really to re-member, or join again in unity, and that is just why evolution consists of a series of ever-higher wholes until there is only Wholeness. Evolution is holistic because it is nature's remembrance of God.
--CW 2: The Atman Project, 267

Spirit is unfolding itself in each new transcendence, which it also enfolds into its own being at the new stage. Transcends and includes, brings forth and embraces, creates and loves, Eros and Agape, unfolds and enfolds -- different ways of saying the same thing.
So we can summarize all this very simply: because evolution goes beyond what went before, but because it must embrace what went before, then its very nature is to transcend and include, and thus it has an inherent directionality, a secret impulse, toward increasing depth, increasing intrinsic value, increasing consciousness. In order for evolution to move at all, it must move in those directions -- there's no place else for it to go.
--CW 7: A Brief History of Everything, 89-90

Spirit or Godhead, when apprehended by the mind, is a paradox: both Goal and Ground, Source and Summit, Alpha and Omega. From the view of Ground, history is pure illusion. Since God is equally and wholly present at every point of time, then history can neither add to nor subtract from God's omnipresence. From the view of summit of Goal, however, history is the unfolding of God to Itself, or the movement from subconscious to selfconscious to superconscious modes; only the latter or superconscious mode can directly realize an everpresent unity with God-as-Ground, and thus the latter alone, of all the modes, is the direct realization of God by God. From that point of view, history is the unfolding of God to Itself, an unfolding that appears to us, through a glass darkly, as evolution. From this side of the paradox, history is no mere illusion, it is the very substance of this drama and the very means of its enactment.
--CW 4: "Sociocultural Evolution," 337

I have fought the notion of Intelligent Design as it applies to teaching evolution in the classroom. No matter how much its proponents attempt to hide their agenda, it always comes across as a way to get Christian creationism into science classes. I firmly believe that the science classroom, no matter how reductionist it might feel to those of us who believe in a divine intelligence, is the domain of science, not faith.

However, I would fully support a humanities class on the spiritual elements of evolutionary theory. This class could include the creation stories of the world's major (and minor) religions, as well as an integral overview such as that provided by the Perennial Philosophy of Aldous Huxley and/or Houston Smith, and the work of Ken Wilber, Alan Combs, and others.

The proper domain of science is the world of Its (the exterior aspect of experience). The proper domain of faith is the world of I and We (the interior aspects of experience). We get into trouble when we value one above the other, when in truth they are inseparable -- two ways of looking at the same reality. For a long time, science has held sway among the intellectual elite of Western culture, and the result has been a flatland view of the world -- all surface and no depth.
During the last twenty years or so in America, a Christian backlash has been growing in an attempt to reclaim a place for Spirit in the discourse of culture. Seeing itself as threatened with annihilation by the predominant line of thinking among the intellectual elite, this backlash has been as reductionistic as is the scientific view. Each denies the other a place at the table. Rather than an integral model, each offers a fragment of the whole. Neither is wrong, but neither has the whole truth.

An integral approach to teaching evolution would be to honor individual belief systems and the partial truths they offer as an explanation of our world, while at the same time honoring what we know to be true through the exploration of our world with the scientific method. Neither approach should be privileged above the other. Every object, every theory, every belief has an exterior truth and an interior truth -- they are not mutually exclusive.

We need an integral view of our place in the Universe. We need to understand that all of nature is a manifestation of Spirit becoming conscious of Itself. How different might our environmental policy be if we held such a view? How different might our politics be if we believed that human beings are not the end-point of evolution, but merely an impressive stage in a grander scheme? How would such a view change the ways in which we treat the poor and the sick?

No comments: