Cosmic Evolution

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 31 Comments

I have been thinking about something that came up in the discussion around my last post. It was something that Carl had said early on when he remarked about how a large part of the American population doesn’t believe in evolution and then wondered how they could possibly ever be interested in anything like evolutionary spirituality. Good question? In fact when I spoke about evolutionary philosophy in America last week in Philadelphia someone there asked exactly the same question.

This question is a good reintroduction to what I have wanted to get us engaged in speaking about. It has to do with the way that we think about evolution. I think that what is commonly called the evolution debate is too narrowly limited to a view of evolution that was popularly created during the early part of the 20th century. It was during that time that the debate about evolution heated up, reaching a pinnacle with the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1926. This court case was instigated by the American Civil liberties Union to challenge a Tennessee law that made it illegal to teach in public schools anything besides Divine Creation as the ultimate origin of humanity.  

It was the trial of the century with so many people coming to watch the deliberations that they eventually moved the trial proceedings outside. The case ended with the Tennessee law upheld, which was expected from the start, but the move to go to trial did achieve its main goal which was to take the evolution debate to a national stage. The result of this heated national debate was a deepening polarization between religion and science. Christian fundamentalism tightened its grip on a literal interpretation of the Bible and science wrapped its arms around a deterministic interpretation of evolution that increasingly denied the possibility of God.

Along the way the evolution debate was set in terms that are still with us today. The language of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” reduced the essential question at hand to “Did men evolve from apes?” The view of evolution that was on trial, at least in the public’s eye, was limited to the evolution of species on Earth and most specifically, the evolution of human beings from primates. I think in many ways the debate in the public mind often remains limited to this interpretation, which I think is too narrow a definition of evolution to encapsulate the reality of cosmic evolution.

Another typical sentiment that was expressed during the time of the Scopes trial was, “Do you really think that your great, great, great grandmother was a gorilla?” Nobody would think that. The time frame through which one species might turn into another is larger than the human mind can truly hold. The way this question is framed makes it sound like an ape at some time in the past gave birth to a human-like baby. If that is the framework in which you are considering evolution, it is no wonder you would not believe it!

There seems to be a huge emotional challenge for human beings to see themselves as human beings having evolved from other species, but we don’t seem to have any difficulty imaging a tree growing from an acorn, or an adult human growing from a baby – and these transformations are equally awesome and impossible to fully understand.

Perhaps it is more useful not to think about humans evolving from apes, but simply to think of humans having evolved from the universe. We are like a leaf on a tree. The leaf didn’t come from the branch, it came from the acorn. What ever coding lies within the acorn that allows it to grow into a tree includes coding that allows for the gradual unfolding of all of the parts of the tree. One part of the tree doesn’t grow from another; all the parts grow as part of the same unfolding process over time. My consideration of evolution is not scientific (although I am familiar with some of the science of evolution) it is philosophical. I think that when we consider evolutionary philosophy it is valid to leave all that we know about evolution from religion and from science temporarily aside and look anew at how the universe seems to work. The universe grows, and that fact alone is worth contemplating deeply before we get to the more complex questions of how does it grow? is that growth guided or not? and ultimately who or what is guiding it?

There have always been religious people, and specifically Christians, who have embraced the reality of evolution and saw no need for conflict with their faith. And there are also scientists who don’t see their belief in evolution as an obstacle to their faith in God. I think that the way the evolution debate is most popularly framed might be part of what causes what sometimes appears to be an unbridgeable divide between science and religion.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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Carl
11 years ago

There’s a lot in this post, and I suspect it will prompt lots of comments. One thought that occurs to me is that the humans who cannot see themselves as having evolved from non-humans might be “species-ists” just as some people are nationalists, racists, tribalists, sexists, and so on. That is, they view our species as very special, so special that it cannot be seen in the same category in any way as non-humans. This, it seems to me, is a form of our particular life form’s ego — an identification ourselves as humans and separation from non-human life forms… Read more »

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

When I read Lisa’s comment on last post “through self-awareness that they were the cause of most of their problems, and they could stop them if they wanted.”, it trigger self awareness of own cynicism and darkness,realize my choice is the cause and solution and open up the positivity,innocence,simplicity and enthusiasm which is rediscovery of the trust in a deeper intention. Now when I read Carl’s comment,I face known problem(cynicism)regarding impersonal perspective again”At fundamental level,I don’t feel same urgency as you who really interested in evolutional spirituality.Honestly,Our Evolutionary Crisis doesn’t sink in me yet.What is the problem about the identification… Read more »

Mette
Mette
11 years ago

I am reading Tolles “Power of Now” at the moment and it is very inspiring also in relation to this subject. Tolle write that any religion just points to the reality of spirit that we have to discover for ourselves – the words can only be pointers. In Denmark we have lutheranism as state religion, and we have no problem with the physical evolution here. But what we are not into (yet) is grasping what a “conscious evolution” could mean. I think that it is quite another thing than the physical evolution. Today we are at at point where our… Read more »

Margaret
Margaret
11 years ago

I liked the bit when Jeff said to “leave all we know from religion and science temporarily aside and look anew at how the universe seems to work. The universe grows, and that fact alone is worth contemplating deeply…..” I have had a bit of a hard time with the term Evolution as it often sounds like a new form of religion. I distinctly remember the start of Biology class in my convent school in Dublin, at about the age of 16, being told by the lay-teacher with a cough and an awkward tone, that the theory of evolution does… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

If we use terms like growth or development instead of evolution, it might work just as well. Seems to me we are talking about general principles that account for change over time in a creative process. Two underlying principles or types of mechanisms can account for every kind of learning, growth, development, etc. in widely different situations, once we get the process started with the Big Bang or whatever the beginning principle might be. The first is the principle of variation. In other words, new things happen and they happen for various reasons, such as the effect of random cosmic… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

Oops. I didn’t finish that.

The Anthropomorphic error — assuming that the world or Universe works just like we do, with verbal behavior, cognition, planning, and all the rest of it. It’s not clear that such a human-like model is necessary, but we do tend to make God in the image and likeness of ourselves.

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

Why Christians don’t get threaten their faith to God by the evolution? Why scientists who don’t see their belief in evolution as an obstacle to their faith to god? If we are talking about conscious evolution and if the principle of selection apply, God (some one up there)seems as an obstacle to see the reality of cosmic evolution or further development of consciousness. God may be deeply tied up with our unquestionable identity of specialness as human being, as the center of universe, but same time God is deeply rooted in our heart, emotional conviction and humbles us for the… Read more »

brian
brian
11 years ago

Those who insist on telos in evolution are missing the whole point. The God hypothesis really is discredited by the correct understanding of evolution. Religious folks have good reason to feel their views are threatened if they want to hold on to those beliefs. There, I said it.

Carl
11 years ago

Bravo, Brian!

angela eward-mangione
angela eward-mangione
11 years ago

What a brilliant and fascinating essay. I had never considered the notion of evolution as philosophy/philosophical. I must say: That is one of the most reasonable and sound things I have heard in some time. Such an approach might even lend itself toward one understanding the “science” better, if one wants to do such a thing.

I think your notion of evolution as philosophy is of great integrity and something which I respect very much.

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

I know this blog is a product in and of itself. But isn’t it tempting to somehow capture it?

The mind-blowing thing about evolution is that all of life’s grandeur came about with only variation, selection, and reproduction. Absolutely stunning!

Carl
11 years ago

What is the evidence for telos in evolution?

Sue
Sue
11 years ago

The revulsion some feel forwards the idea that human beings may be descended from apes may also have another aspect. The Scopes Monkey trial was also about race. Some people didn’t want to be descended from apes because that might have meant they were descended from Africans. They were and are racist, and they are not who I’m thinking about at this point. I’m thinking about the pluralists of the green mime who want to embrace everyone and offend no one. Maybe their desire to offend no one is hindering the *pluralists* from conceptualizing evolution as it truly is, because… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

Interesting that racist revulsion is another form of separation or ego, just like “species-ism” — the idea that we are a special species separate from and superior to all others. The idea that there is an “Intelligence” that works like we do by imposing purpose on the things it creates (versus simply evolving without an imposed purpose) is anthropomorphic, as though the Universe were like we humans with verbal behavior and cognition. Maybe, in Truth, there really IS only one Being that precludes all types of separation, flowing with the interdependent co-origination of all its apparent parts, as the Buddhists… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

The more a person engages in meditation without thought, the answers to their questions come faster. Supposedly, when a person is without thought during meditation, all their ideas they have about the question stop being produced allowing a new way of seeing the question to come to them in a pure way. I know this to be true for me when I had the question, “God gave humans everything they needed to know about living life, inside of them. How do I get to that information?” (I soon left my church and religion after I started receiving the answer to… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Belief in telos (or God) makes evolution less wondrous. It takes all the fun out. A total buzzkill.

Carl
11 years ago

I have always believed in parsimony, Occam’s razor, the idea that we should not use any more principles or complexity to explain or describe things than needed. In the case of individual behavior, for example, lab experiments show that consequences alone without any instructions or explanation can increase the frequency, form, and complexity of behavior. We don’t need additional principles other than to account for what initiates a response in the first place (variation) and the reinforcing impact of consequences on responding (selection). Certainly, consequences can account for increasing differentiation and specialization of behavior, species, and other events because they… Read more »

Jay Marrs
Jay Marrs
11 years ago

Jeff,

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I encourage people I discuss these topics with to replace “evolution” with “development” if it becomes a hindrance. Would be interested to hear your conclusion to this post.

Together,
Jay Marrs

Dov Henis
Dov Henis
11 years ago

Life’s Is A Ubiquitous Evolution Mode The mode of a gene’s response to organism-culture’s feedback signal, i.e. “replicate without change” or “replicate with change” in case of proven augmented energy constrainment by the offspring, is the mode of Life’s normal evolution, which is the mode of evolution universally. Genes’ Expression Modification http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/200/122.page#3649 Again, the scope of of genes lifehood is not just the lifehood of genes. Genes, and Life in general, are but one of the forms of mass, of constrained energy formats. The lifehood of genes is the foundation of the subject of evolutionary biology, which is a major… Read more »

Dov Henis
Dov Henis
11 years ago

Updated Physical Evolution Defintion Dec 1 2009 A. Three present definitions of physical evolution, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evolution – a process of change in a certain direction. – a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in their successive generations, and also the process described by this theory. – a process in which the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena. B. Suggested updated physical evolution definition, of Life’s normal evolution and universal energy-mass evolution. a theory, and the process described by it,… Read more »

Frank Luke
10 years ago

Have any of you read Ken Wilber in “Sex, Spirituality and Ecology” asserting that ecology continues, not being static, and that the Omega Point of human ecology is Enlightenment? It seems to me that our physical beings are not so much evolving as our minds are, greatly affected by tech developments.

Hindus believe that greatly evolved people become transformed into light. Can it be that there’s a cosmic black joke involved where an atomic apocalyse will transform us all into star stuff, our “enlightenment”?

Frank Luke
10 years ago

The radio program “New Dimensions” has a great leader statement at the beginning of their weekly programs that the personal and the cosmic are connected. Human actions play out in planetary and cosmic consequences and the reverse is true. Can there be any doubts even in light of all the nay-sayers of scientific presentation of evidence of this truth? Doubt and demands for corroboration of findings is useful but truth will out, eventually. As Galileo muttered, “But it (the earth) moves, nevertheless”.

Frank Luke
10 years ago

What’s astoundingly mind-bending is that an overwhelming amount of Americans believe in The Rapture more than in the truth of Evolution. Is this saying something about the acceptance of Science findings, about the need for metaphysics? Is the credence of Christianities teachings, understood and misunderstood, due to the fact that for many Americans the Bible is maybe the only book they know, some people only by hearsay? To accept we are descended from apes even with the dicovery that our DNA is nearly the same is too difficult for those who see apes as too grotesque and different from accepted… Read more »

Frank Luke
10 years ago

If we see that evolution’s modifications of species is usually about helping species to survive, I submit that humanity’s modification to help us survive is to develop the higher consciousness that will enable us to realize peace is something we must attain or perish. This modification is obviously still in progress and may take a very long time. I hope the realization will eventually trump aggressive destructive behavior ingrained in humans so far but that our instinct for survival will lead us to learn to co-exist with our fellow humans in peace.

Frank Luke
10 years ago

Have I scared off any further comments? Have many long-standing threads just died? My comments seem to be languishing at the tail-end of a lot of threads. What’s happening? All talked out or on to greener pastures?

??

Frank Luke
10 years ago

HI Jeff, TY for that, I was really wondering. Aloha!

Bamboo Tattoo Thailande

Youre unquestionably correct on this blog post!!