Should Evolution be Taught in School? Ask, Miss USA

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I was reading this BBC article yesterday and came across an interesting statistic: 

"Today, more than 20% of the British public and the majority of US citizens, either tentatively or explicitly reject evolution, according to surveys published in the journal Science."

It reminded me of a recent clip of Miss USA beauty contestants I'd seen circulating on the internet. You might've seen it. In the clip the young women are asked "Should evolution be taught in schools?" Their answers do seem to represent the statistics above, with most respondents saying that they're against evolution being taught in schools. 

(note: the clip below is an edited compilation of the full interviews, which can be found here).


fish_legsAs a 'believer' in evolution, I've got to side with the YES camp and say that evolution should be taught in schools. However I can understand why some people would have trouble accepting evolution as a worldview. I mean, it's not something that's immediately apparent in our everyday experience. I've never seen a fish grow legs, or a monkey write a poem. And none of us were around to see the hair fall from our bodies or hear our neighbour's larynx begin to form complex speech. Nope, as far as physical evolution goes, it's hard for a normal person to relate. But there may be other types of evolution.

The realness of evolution really sinks in for me when I think about my little sister. Born twelve years her senior, I had the privilege to watch her grow from compulsive infant, to curious toddler, to rambunctious kid, and now an individuating teenager (something I'm sure any parent reading this can relate to). Looking back on it, the process strikes me as an everyday example of evolution all around us - in us even. Because we've all travelled this same trajectory. This to me is the interesting part.

If you're reading this website, you probably already believe that evolution is a real phenomena. But how many of us consider it seriously as a phenomena that's occurring in us right now. We are still evolving. Our lives seem so still and unchanging yet we're part of an evolutionary stream that's been continuing on for billions of years. And it's presently - as I'm typing and you're reading - still in mid-swing. That's pretty amazing. When I think about it in this way, it makes me wonder if I could actually have some input into this process of evolution. I mean, why not? We already know that evolution isn't happening "out there", it's happening to us right now. Or rather, it is us right now. We're the process in motion. So why not see if the steering works. tribe_meetine

Choosing to grow legs is hard. But I can choose to do things that over time change who I am as a person, to such a degree that the cultural ramifications for the future could be untold. Culture is the collective expression of we individuals (our minds, personalities, and preferences). In the same way that our individual psyches have developed since infancy, so have our cultures developed since their origins (the basic tribal arrangements of yesterday were not as complex as the multi-layered social stratifications of today). If we take evolution seriously we should also take seriously that we actually have the power to change it's course, culturally, through everything that we chose do. UN_assembly

Everything that we do impacts the people around us and therefore culture, in some small way. Making the long-term effort to grow from weak to strong, from dull to bright, from ignorant to enlightened, is something that might occur naturally in a millenia, but that we have to power to choose to do today. Right now. And every day for as long as we live. For me, starting to experiment with adopting this evolutionary perspective has been life changing. I don't want to waste a single day anymore. Everything is becoming an opportunity to push my own limits and I feel like I owe it to life to use the most of everything it's given me. That might come off as elitist or privileged to some. And maybe it is. But the more I think about it the more I think that people of my ilk - wealthy, privileged, middle class Western citizens of the 21st Century - have an obligation to make the most of our lives. We're some of the first to not only understand the science of evolution, but to have the wealth and ability to actually engage in it by choice. If God does exist, the greatest gift he may have given us is evolution.  

(and here's a follow-up to the last video... unrelated to the opinion above, but irresistible nonetheless)

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  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 07 July 2011 00:23 posted by TJ Dawe

    Interesting to see where the non-evolution believers come from vs the believers. Pretty close correlation to red state/blue state voting.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Thursday, 07 July 2011 20:50 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Yes I was noticing the same. What it made me think of though, is just how much we're influenced by the culture we grow up in. This seems like an obvious point at first glance, but the more I think about it the more it starts to shake up my notion of being a unique individual who decides for himself.

    What I mean is that apparently if I was born in the north-eastern US, educated in that system, and possible raised atheist I would conclude that evolution were a real thing. In some southern/central states, I'd more likely be a christian, who was raised to believe that evolution was a questionable "theory" at odds with the absolute Truth of my God.

    From the outside, this is pretty common sense stuff. Duh. But it makes me wonder - - in what other ways is who I am completely conditioned by where I was raised. Things that I can't see at all because they feel so natural, common sense, and so much like *me*.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 14 July 2011 00:16 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Bergen, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your embodied expression of waking up to the very real and immanent possibilities of personal and cultural evolution.

    I just wanted to add a resource here for other readers of this post (I would assume you're familiar). One of the people who's inspired me the most on this topic is Carter Phipps of EnlightenNext; he has such an eloquent, clear and impassioned description of all this. The one dialogue that blew my s@&t and continues to do so every time I listen, is his dialogue called 'Evolution Changes Everything' with Craig Hamilton. At one point he talks about how EVERYTHING in reality is evolving constantly, which includes our minds. Nothing is stable, all is fluid, in motion. Whoa. I'm still trying to open up to the truth of this (radical) process understanding of reality. I find it quite liberating in ways I probably don't yet understand. But as a colleague and fellow evolutionary, I appreciated your own experience with this teaching as described above, it had me buzzing.

    That dialogue with Carter and Craig can be found here, I can't recommend it enough:

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 14 July 2011 01:44 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I also wanted to add this passage from Andrew Cohen that recently came into my email inbox. Seems to speak to the core of this post:

    Are You Moving?

    "What gives me the greatest spiritual confidence is the knowledge that I'm moving. I know that I'm continuing to develop. Philosophically, spiritually, personally, I am not in the same place I was a decade ago, a year ago, or even six months ago. And as long as that's the case, I will have the confidence to stand up and talk about evolution.

    The problem for most people, as I see it, is that they are not moving. They're stuck at some place they reached decades ago. In an evolutionary worldview, the raison d'être is movement, change. The highest goodness is actual development. Are we evolving? Are we developing? If we're stagnating, the universe cannot evolve through us. If we are not moving, the evolutionary process is stagnating. Of course, it's not something we are deliberately or consciously doing, but because of our ignorance or unenlightenment, we are actually inhibiting the evolution of the interior of the cosmos.

    If we have the courage to embrace this radical perspective on ourselves, we awaken to an enormous evolutionary imperative to get moving, so that the universe can get moving through us. From the perspective of a process that is trying to get somewhere, there is always a tremendous urgency—a creative urgency, an ecstatic urgency—for you to evolve. You and I are vehicles through which the process can develop. Is your self receptive? Is it open, transparent, surrendered, and committed enough to be a vessel for that creative urgency? When you get moving, your human body, personality, soul, and spirit becomes an expression and a manifestation of the evolutionary impulse—incarnate and always moving".

    Again, Berg, you being a student of Andrew Cohen, these are obviously teachings you've spent much time with, but I'm only still starting to feel into this type of teaching and what it's saying/means for my life, and I thought it might be of use for others too.

  • Comment Link chela Thursday, 14 July 2011 15:33 posted by chela

    Great article.
    Trevor, I appreciate these comments. It all has me buzzing with my morning coffee.
    I too find it fascinating to inquire into what is uniquely me and what of me is simply a product of culture. I relate to the obligatory impulse to not waste my life, particularly given that I am in a place and time on this planet when I don't need to concern myself with survival but can actually have the focus of my life be my own evolution and the evolution of others.

    I don't actually see this as an elitist or privileged view, which is why the word obligation is important here. It's not as though consciously participating in evolution is just a fun little game, it actually takes something and can be very disruptive and painful in terms of the comfort one might associate with privilege.
    We all have an opportunity here that is otherwise not available and doing/being whatever we possibly can to push this whole thing forward takes a lot of waking up.

    What strikes me as I reflect on this article is how much this impulse may not be a choice, but rather a part of the culture that we are currently in. Certainly the culture of our community pushes the importance of this worldview, that consciously participating in evolution is not only something worth inquiring into, but what we must be doing (and are doing!) moment by moment.

    This Cohen quote reminds me of the Hubble telescope imax film we watched...that we got to see the constant movement of evolution. To be still for just a moment and feel the experience of this moment, we can feel that movement. To consciously do something with that movement, to unfold and become feels to me as both simple and obvious and totally f-ing mind blowing.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 15 July 2011 21:31 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Cool Trev, I liked that audio too, and like you I'm just starting to get a grip on what an evolutionary worldview means for my life. The post above was a bit of a reflection on that. It's just such a new thing, with so little references to go on, it's a bit like fumbling around in the dark for something you know is there but can't fully see yet. Anyhow, it's fun talking and writing about it.

    And Sr. Che I'm in complete agreement about the word obligation. In my experience, that is the feeling of it. And to be honest it's not always a feeling the ego wants to have. That part/voice of me would much rather shirk obligation and do whatever feels good. But some other part, a better part, I'd say, feels inspired by the obligation and makes me want to give it a shot. Just like in the little contemplation you laid out at the end of your comment - I think we always have a CHOICE to do something with the moment. But it's up to us. In any moment we can chose to be different or better or more than we already are, and that is, you're right, a gift that's f-ing mind blowing.

  • Comment Link Paul P Monday, 18 July 2011 17:45 posted by Paul P

    If the impulse to evolve exists, where's the obligation? Won't the evolutionary impulse continue on its merry way regardless of what we consciously choose? Perhaps we are just attached to our particular form of consciousness which is fundamentally limited in ways that we cannot fathom…

    How is this evolutionary story any different from the other traditional mythologies? I find it funny that people are all excited that this is somehow backed by science. Is it really? Where’s the predicted outcome that can be tested?

    If it is another mythology, and post-post modern at that, we ought to be careful of proselytizing it in the way of a traditional worldview. Bergen, I like how you wrote in the first person about your experience of experimenting with the perspective and how it works for you. But when you write ”I think that people of my ilk - wealthy, privileged, middle class Western citizens of the 21st Century - have an obligation to make the most of our lives”, it comes darn close to proselytizing your belief.

    And how is the evolutionary impulse “Are You Moving?” itself any different from the achievement values of modern culture? Is it THAT, attachment to achievement, that is really driving people in their personal development? Who says that vertical development is the only way? What about horizontal development - is THAT not “moving”?

    And what about not developing at all? Can we not just pause, relax, reflect on where we have already come and spend some time ENJOYING it? And if we go deeply into where we are currently, might we not find that we are already good enough?

    I would suggest that we can make an invitation to others to align to this mythos, but let’s drop the obligatory, ra ra, this is the only cosmic way, stuff, shall we…?

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 19 July 2011 01:21 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Paul, I'll let Bergen speak for himself, but I thought I'd take a crack at some of your questions. I've been a student of evolutionary spirituality now for about two years (in both a Christian and EnlightenNext context) and would like to speak to your words here from my own experience. I'll do this a little rapid fire.

    "If the impulse to evolve exists, where's the obligation? Won't the evolutionary impulse continue on its merry way regardless of what we consciously choose? Perhaps we are just attached to our particular form of consciousness which is fundamentally limited in ways that we cannot fathom…"

    I'll speak to the obligation part a little later. Will the evolutionary impulse keep going on its merry way regardless of what we choose? Surely, as long as the universe exists, because in this view it's the core animating impulse of the cosmos itself, so it will go on regardless of human existence. When it comes to us consciously choosing, I see the importance of this on a couple different levels. One is that we are the interiority of cosmos. Thus, the more we can become conscious, the more the cosmos becomes conscious, the more Spirit permeates matter (maybe one day transfiguring it, if you believe a guy like Aurobindo). Someone or something else might do this or fulfill this role, but this is a pretty beautiful and mind blowing thing to take part in.

    The second context would be a human one. If we choose to consciously evolve our interiority, we may be able evolve beyond some of our more ancient and more violent/selfish/greedy instincts, thus possibly ushering in a new relationship to the Earth and to each other. A new future. This is one reason I think it's important to make this choice to consciously evolve, to contribute to the emergence of a new Earth community.

    In terms of your point about "our particular form of consciousness which is fundamentally limited in ways that we cannot fathom…", I have a few problems with this statement. First of all, what 'form' of consciousness are you talking about, as consciousness evolves. Where are you stopping that river? Secondly, to say that our consciousness is fundamentally limited (how so?) in ways we cannot fathom- if we can't fathom it, how can you make the statement. It seems like a meaningless statement to me, philosophically. On what basis are you making such a statement a priori? I lean more toward the view that because we are a fundamental *part* of the universe- we are not separate- we always have some sort of access to the whole of which we're an intrinsic part. This is why the old Greek philosophers and so many thinkers of old could've intuited things that science (or psychology, or some modern discipline) would only corroborate thousands of years later. To be a part of the whole is to have access to the whole. I sometimes hear you trying to make sure we limit what we think we can know, but this to me sounds like a remnant of the postmodern 'incredulity towards metanarratives' and so on. It might be nothing of the case, but that's why we have discussions!

    "How is this evolutionary story any different from the other traditional mythologies? I find it funny that people are all excited that this is somehow backed by science. Is it really? Where’s the predicted outcome that can be tested?"

    A few points here. What are you meaning by the word mythology here? It sounds to me like you're using the word as an automatic pejorative. Is that true? In Joseph Campbell's view, myths work as metaphors/stories that put us in right-relation with reality. We could easily substitute the word myth for meta-narrative, or guiding understanding of reality (myth is then fundamentally ontological). Yes, again, this kind of talk makes the postmodern mind jumpy, but I'm over that. There's certainly a very real sense in which 'The Great Story'- via Brian Swimme and Michael Dowd- is being offered as a 'myth' for our time, but if it's true (as it seems to be) that we are an intrinsic part of a 13.7 billion year process that continues to unfold- why is this not a valid/usefully orienting guiding story for our lives? Or maybe I'm way off base here on your comment (and concerns?) regarding mythology.

    It terms of science and it's supposed backing of this view, I'd have to ask what you think of the view of some scientists (eg. Stuart Kauffman, John Stewart 'Evolution's Arrow') that claim the universe is moving toward greater complexity, cooperation, integration, self-organization etc.? That is, that the universe has directionality. Is this a view that you are familiar with and/or accept? I will say that this view is still controversial and the subject of intense debate, so it's not a finished topic, but this is some of the science that those practicing an evolutionary spirituality are intrigued/excited by because it speaks to the (my) inner experience of the practice. Which brings me to another point. Are we privileging a scientific way of knowing here? Would this not fundamentally contradict say, Wilber's Integral Methodological Pluralism? Can we accept as valid a knowledge of these things born of interior experience and practice? Again, you may fully accept these forms of knowledge, but are solely concerned with the use of science as a support.

    "We ought to be careful of proselytizing it in the way of a traditional worldview". Why? What's inherently wrong with proselytizing? Isn't TJ proselytizing in his new post about the film Tree of Life? What's wrong with that? Is not the sheer rejection of proselytizing a postmodern move, whereas from an integral perspective we'd want to preserve or include what was healthy in it? I'm wary of this outright rejection of proselytizing.

    "Obligation". Ok, I'll leave the obligation part to Bergen, they were his words, and I'm already going too long here!

    "And how is the evolutionary impulse “Are You Moving?” itself any different from the achievement values of modern culture?"

    I would say, from my own experience, that it's quite different. It's the movement, in Christian language, from my will to Thy will. It's service oriented, receptive to reality and what's wanting to emerge. At the moment I have no idea how my life will unfold, or if I'll 'achieve' anything, and I love it. I just want to serve the whole process, to contribute to the health of the whole in any way I can, and that might mean very little financial or cultural rewards for me, and that's perfectly fine by me. As part of my practice, I wake up everyday and offer a prayer to Spirit, asking only how I can be of service today, and to guide me in that process. At night I give thanks for being allowed to be of service that day. To the extent I'm able, it has little to do with me personally. If you want to hear some others speak to the nature of this difference (and in a more realized way), Thomas Hubl, Carter Phipps and Neale Donald Walsh all speak powerfully to this in their dialogues with Craig Hamilton in 'The Way of Evolutionary Man' teleseries (maybe you've already heard them). They'll do far more justice to this point than I can. See the last ten minutes of the Hubl interview for a particularly potent transmission of this point/experience.

    "And what about not developing at all? Can we not just pause, relax, reflect on where we have already come and spend some time ENJOYING it?"

    I don't see any reason why conscious evolution and "enjoying it" have to be mutually exclusive. There's no dichotomy from what I can see between working to grow and evolve oneself and culture, and taking in the moment, a meal, a bath, a love making session, or whatever else, with full presence and bliss. But aren't we here just on the fault line between being and becoming? One side, a la Eckhart Tolle, saying Be Here Now, everything is perfect, which is true, and the other saying, the universe is evolving and unfolding and that at our core we deeply want to take part in that, which is also true. Like I said, I think it's a both/and situation.

    Well thanks Paul, that's a mouthful I know, but these are topics that I'm most passionate about; I always appreciate your thoughtful points and sharp challenges.

  • Comment Link Paul P Tuesday, 19 July 2011 05:04 posted by Paul P


    Thanks for getting back so quickly – and so comprehensively. You’ve given me much more to ponder in a helpful way.

    Let me just respond to one of your points tonight; I’ll get back to the others another night.

    I don’t mean to use the word mythology as a pejorative. What I often sense (perhaps mistakenly?) is a sleight of hand move from evolutionary science to evolutionary spirituality. We start out by talking about evolutionary science and whether it should be taught in schools, in the middle somewhere evolutionary science gets conflated with psychological development, and then in the end somehow science is aligned with this meta-narrative about what is going on in our interior. I don’t follow precisely because science is limited to the objective exterior realm and spirituality to the interior subjective realm. It’s nice to use the same word “evolution” but to me these are apples and oranges (or perhaps two different sides of the same coin?).

    I have heard Wilber talk in the Future of Love teleseries about “love” in this evolutionary spirituality context as a fifth fundamental force, putting it on par with gravity, electromagnetism, and so on. To me this isn’t methodological pluralism, this is paradigmatic language larceny (made that term up!). The idea that hydrogen atoms get together to form helium via the fifth force “love” is big stretch for this guy.

    Scientifically, no additional forces are needed to explain star formation AND entropy is still increasing in the universe. This means despite the local increase in complexity, overall the universe gets messier and more disordered as stars form, as galaxies form, and so on. That’s the scientific arrow in time: entropy is increasing. For the technically minded:

    “Matter has lower entropy than radiation, and the light elements have lower entropy than iron. Hence, because the universe begins with lots of hydrogen and helium, the formation of structure provides a pathway for converting matter into iron and radiation.”

    That’s one view anyway and it may not be that satisfying philosophically. But you must remember science gives no answers to “why”, only to “how” and “what”, (and so gives only part of the story!)

    Anyway, I really appreciate your passionate response. And I am grateful to have this community to help me muddle through this stuff.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 20 July 2011 01:50 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Paul thanks for the reply, I look forward to further commentary. I just wanted to jump in quickly tonight and say that you're not alone in your criticism of Wilber's views in that dialogue (a version of which he's been espousing in many forums lately). I find them very problematic too, not only because his use of the scientific narrative seems rather sloppy and questionable, but because he sounds so dogmatic. In the post 'Wilber 5' period, where perspectives and 'kosmic address' are central motifs, Wilber somehow never manages to acknowledge his own. He just asserts this stuff as if it's clearly fact, when apparently (according to several critics) it's anything but. I wanted to draw your attention to two recent critical essays against Wilber on this point, which sounds like it might be in line with what you're thinking. The first is an essay David Lane on Integral World:

    The second is a paper that Wilber critic Frank Visser presented at the last Integral Theory Conference. I went and saw him present it, he beats up on Wilber pretty good.

    At this point I think Wilber is fast becoming more of a liability to the evolution of integral ideas than anything else. I think the days of integral theory or the integral 'movement' being dominated by Wilber are over. There's just too many scholar-practitioners and other folks taking it all in too many new emergent directions, which is great to see, and a natural evolution in the history of ideas.

    I will say that I personally deeply believe that what's often called Eros is a very real and central current in the universe. It's something I feel as powerful as anything else in my life. But I don't think dogmatically and sloppily proclaiming it a basic scientific fact is very helpful. I think that discovering/contacting this through practice and inner inquiry is the way to go. Just get people connected and leave the rest to fate. Anyway, a discussion on Eros is a whole other ballgame, and probably something we should do soon (any ideas on a form that could take?), but I wanted to make you aware of those two essays, I thought you might be interested. cheers, looking forward to more mutual muddling to come!

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 20 July 2011 13:13 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Hi Paul, thanks for the thoughtful and challenging comments. I'd say that just about every point you raised could merit an (ongoing) conversation in itself - but we'll have to be picky here as it's the comment section. Maybe it's better to pick a few key points and explore them in depth? I'll try to go with that and break-up the text as I go…

    You said: "And how is the evolutionary impulse “Are You Moving?” itself any different from the achievement values of modern culture? Is it THAT, attachment to achievement, that is really driving people in their personal development?"

    This is a point that I've wondered about too, and don't have an answer for. Is the 'moving' impulse I've come to feel at times just a modernist achievement value? It might be. But one thought is that it may also have to do with our motivations. Like, what is driving us to achieve? Is it to have security? power? fame? wealth? spiritual realization? the social good of realizing the full extent of human capacities and powers in this world?

    Whether or not it's "modernist" may matter less than what one is actually driven by. In my experience of what I interpret as the evolutionary impulse, the motivation is change-oriented, extremely creative and inquisitive, wholesome, and positive. When seeing the world from this perspective the obsessive self-referencing that is my normal identity is less apparent and I'm more oriented toward what is happening in the intersubjective spaces around me. My motivations vary throughout the day, of course (and definitely include things like power, security, wealth, and self-interest), but the experience of "evolutionary becoming" has been as I described above. Again, this is new to me and I don't claim to have it figured out.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 20 July 2011 13:14 posted by Bergen Vermette

    You said: "Who says that vertical development is the only way? What about horizontal development - is THAT not “moving”?"

    In terms of vertical development being better that horizontal, this one is tricky for me too. I still have trouble distinguishing in myself what is vertical and what is horizontal development. I mean, I know the 'theory' behind it. Horizontal growth is apparently the type of growth that makes a person 'healthier' in their existing psyche (like psycho therapy, shadow stuff, weight lifting (?)). And vertical development is, as I understand it, the emergence of entirely new ways of relating to one's experience and reality in fundamental ways.

    I can kinda tell when I'm growing horizontally (although, friends and mentors are probably a better judge), but vertical is a tough one. I've had breakthrough insights and extended periods of heightened awareness, but in all honesty these usually occur on retreat or in the presence of other long term spiritual practitioners or in groups of committed friends. I'm doubtful as to how much they actually have to do with anything I am doing in particular (I attribute it more to the group). Yet in these moments I can see clearly why vertical development is more important, I can feel us pushing into new realms of human experience and relatedness, and we all feel that something very important is occurring. But then it fades to a memory and I can't explain why I felt that way anymore (why I felt it was so important).

    I think the reality is that vertical development is a very rare and subtle thing. The more I think about it, the more the term "vertical" seems inappropriate, as it's a linear term that might not capture the waxing and waning, amorphous nature of development. I think it's something that we don't fully understand - yet intuit through brief experiences of.

    So in terms of your question "Who says that vertical development is the only way?" I think that both are very important. But I also think that in general our culture privileges horizontal development over vertical. Everyone is interested in uncovering their shadow but few are interested in giving up who they are to a totally new way of being. Maybe what's valuable about vertical development is that it's rare, difficult, and as yet unexplored.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 20 July 2011 13:29 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Paul said: "And what about not developing at all? Can we not just pause, relax, reflect on where we have already come and spend some time ENJOYING it? And if we go deeply into where we are currently, might we not find that we are already good enough?"

    Who says we can't enjoy development?? (I agree with Trevor on this one) In my experience the sentiment you're expressing comes from actually intuiting what an evolutionary worldview entails - *unending* development. There's something exhausting about that thought, entirely distasteful to a certain part of ourselves; and yet quite compelling (and enjoyable!) to another. Think about the artist that can't stop painting. Or the mathematician who stays up through the night driven by unseen forces to find the answer. Or the guitarist who plays until her fingers bleed. What compels these people? Apparently there's a thrill in becoming more. In many ways it's the story of humanity. But yes, I think your intuition is right, it'll be tough work - and how does the saying go? - Most things worth doing take effort?

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 20 July 2011 13:45 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Paul said: "I would suggest that we can make an invitation to others to align to this mythos, but let’s drop the obligatory, ra ra, this is the only cosmic way, stuff, shall we…?"

    Haha, was I ra ra'ing? Sorry man, I can get carried away sometimes! I was definitely giving an invitation, because it's something that's new to me and that I think is worth looking into. As for the obligation, you've mentioned that a several times (three, I think) so that word seems to have put a bee in your bonnet. Maybe you could say more about why that is. I don't think it's a bad word actually. In fact, in my experience it challenges some basic postmodern assumptions about individuality, free-choice, and self-expression.

    You asked "where's the obligation?". Well, in my experience, it comes from within. Obligation isn't really something that someone else can make you feel. It arises out of seeing something important and feeling called to live up to what you've seen or understood.

    Like if you see a bully picking on someone small and defenceless. Often you might feel obligated to help - you know that the person needs help, you know that you could do something about it, and some unseen moral value inside you starts to speak up and compel you to act. Now, you could ignore it. And we often might. But we all know that feeling when we know we should have acted but didn't. It feels like shit. Like we letdown someone else and the better part of ourselves.

    Believe it or not, as I expolore these ideas in greater depth I've actually been feeling an obligation to evolution (!). As strange as that may sound, it's not really. If you can see that something is better, and has value, then you know intuitively you should act on it. Like the bully example. If you knew that evolution was possible, that it was only good, and that it was in your hands to take-up - wouldn't you feel funny if you chose not to do it? If you knew that you were among the very lucky few that didn't really have to worry about feeding yourself, or hiding from hostile neighbours, or dying from curable diseases - wouldn't you start to ask how you could best use the wonderful life you'd been given? I think that's why some people feel so passionately about environmental issues or poverty alleviation - they see the potential and feel obliged to act for it. I feel (in my best moments) the same way about evolution. I've seen and experienced it as a real thing, intuited its potential, and been intimidated by the size of its call. In all of that there's an obligation I feel to give it a shot and see where we can go with it. If not us, who?

    You might answer that last question with a previous statement you made: Won't the evolutionary impulse continue on its merry way regardless of what we consciously choose? Well, like Trevor said, of course it will. But there's no time for that. Look at all the problems that face humanity, and more importantly - look at the possibilities. Human potential is potentially unlimited. And we're starting to understand that we actually have the ability to help drive our own evolution. Imagine where we could go.

    Think about that in a cosmic scale - since you brought it up. The universe evolved into us, we are it. And now the universe, as we, is aware of itself and understands that it can chose to act in ways that make it evolve MORE. So how exactly is our choosing to develop any different from 'waiting' for the universe to do it for 'us'? How is *it* (evolution or the universe) out there and we are over here? There's a subtle but important duality in your reasoning that could be confusing things.

    Thanks for your commenting Paul, it really has me thinking. Look forward to continuing the talk with you. Cheers - B

  • Comment Link Paul P Wednesday, 20 July 2011 21:49 posted by Paul P


    Thanks for the multi-faceted response; I’ll try to keep my comment brief.

    Yes, here we are in the garden of forking paths… I’d first like to pick up on the thread that Trevor responded to, if I may. The two articles he points out are certainly in line with my thinking about this topic. Visser makes many good points which are summed up nicely:

    "To Ken Wilber, presenting his "theory" of spiritual evolution driven by Eros to science, a current day evolutionary theorist would probably just say: I have no need of such a hypothesis..."

    Is Andrew Cohen's any different?

    Another related question to you is why title your brief article “Should evolution be taught in schools?” referring to scientific evolution (essentially Darwinism) and then shift over to discussing evolutionary spirituality? How do you see these as related – if at all?

    Or put another way, in what sense is “Evolutionary Spirituality” actually “evolutionary”?

    I guess I am cautioning against a sort of language-based bait and switch with scientific concepts and spiritual ones. And as we try to build bridges between the two, I’d like to be clear on where the footings are on each side of the apparent chasm.

    More later on the interior aspect...

  • Comment Link Adam Salem Thursday, 21 July 2011 21:59 posted by Adam Salem

    very well articulated!

    as a serious postulation though, SHOULD WE EVEN HAVE SCHOOLS???

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:35 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hey All,

    Great discussion. In light of it, I re-read Bonnitta's highly complex essay on the site about developmental biology, integral, and evolutionary thought (not for the faint of heart :):

    As I understand it she's opening up a question around whether evolution is the same as development (especially vertical development).

    She's more the expert on this subject than I but what I take from what's she's saying is that notions of higher degrees of complexity, cooperation, and integration are heavily bound up with human values systems--in the scientific theorizing itself. So when we say that certain scholars argue the universe is showing more complexity, more cooperation, and integration, I think it's worth asking how they understand those terms (or the converse if they are arguing there is no sign of increasing complexity, cooperation, integration).

    As a perhaps dumb way of putting it (I'm not a scientist so this might expose my complete ignorance in this regard):

    Is a starfish more complex than me because it can re-grown cut off limbs (which I can't)? Or am I more complex because I have the capacity for speech and self-reflective thought? Or are there multiple kinds of complexity--with humans more complex in certain areas in relation to other species and other species more complex in relation to us?

    Is it the same for cooperation and integration? Are there multiplicities of kinds of cooperation and integration?

    How is that adjudicated?

    My philosophical concern is that it sometimes sounds to me like when folks say the universe is increasing in X, Y, Z that they may be holding a rather unilinear sense of these (that would be a re-trenching of a modernist worldview seems to me).

    I don't want to have science colonize the space of spirituality to be sure, but I have to admit some hesitations I have when science is brought in to reinforce various spiritual positions (evolutionary or otherwise). As a purely historical matter, the track record is very poor. And as Wilber has noted previously, there's an inherent danger (from the spiritual side) in equating a spiritual teaching with a scientific one---if the scientific teaching changes do we lose the spiritual insight? Does it invalidate the spiritual data?

    e.g. If the Big Bang proves to be false or at least re-contextualized in a theory that supports multi-universes or a more infinite time length, does that invalidate Evolutionary Spirituality?

    It might mean we need to re-tell our Cosmic Story but I don't think it inherently invalidates spiritual insights/movements. if however those two are conflated or equated maybe it does invalidate the spiritual--at least in the eyes of others.

    I think it's important for science to have its own integrity and space to work out (agnostically if you like in relation to the BIG QUESTIONS) what it needs to do.

    On the spiritual side I think it's very important to take seriously what Wilber says: how we interpret spiritual experience is at least as important (if not more so) than the experiences themselves. I'm not here advocating against a position (like Evolutionary Spirituality) I think we just need to be very clear about what we mean when we interpret spiritual experiences in a certain way. Particularly (as the discussion here has brought up) when that same word is used in other contexts as well.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Friday, 22 July 2011 14:19 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Once again, a great job opening great conversation. Didn't have a chance to digest all of this yet, but wanted to say hi, thanks, and note the kind of humility that arises in the face of evolution on a cosmic scale, that nothing is forever, everything is in flux, and the "notion" of "evolution" is also evolving ... so it would be difficult for me to take such a strong stand on such a gigantic notion as evolutionary spirituality .. here is something better said

    that puts the notion into proper scale for me

    bests all around,


  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 22 July 2011 19:39 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Paul

    Yes, I agree with you and Trevor; that bit by Wilber about love was painful. Personally, I wish he'd say more about it, maybe it'd make more sense if he did. As it stands, it was a bit of a metaphysical leap for me.

    You also ask if Andrew Cohen is any different, but I'm not sure I understand what I'm comparing. Give me a couple of days to get to the Visser article you guys are talking about and then I can get back to you here.

    My initial thought, if I understand the Visser quote and the context in which you are asking the question, is that there may be a few usages of Eros being tossed around here (like evolution, no doubt).

    Trusty wikipedia says this:
    "Throughout Greek thought, there appear to be two sides to the conception of Eros. In the first, he is a primeval deity who embodies not only the force of love but also the creative urge of ever-flowing nature, the firstborn Light for the coming into being and ordering of all things in the cosmos..."

    Wilber seems to be focusing on the Love aspect. While Cohen is interested in the *creative urge* in the universe (if I understand him), which he labels as Eros. Some of Cohen's thoughts on love, which make no mention of Wilber's "fifth fundamental force", can be accessed here:

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 22 July 2011 19:46 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Paul & Chris

    Starting a new thread here based on a similar inquiry from you guys.

    First, Paul asks why the title? No smart answer. I wrote the thing in one sitting, starting with the intention of just posting the Miss America video, and coming up with some interesting commentary. In the end I ended up with something a bit different, but kept the title because I thought it was more catchy than: "My personal thoughts on the implications of Evolution". But hey, maybe it reveals a deeper assumption on my part about the relationship between Darwinism and Evolutionary Spirituality…

    Which brings up Paul's second question: how do I see scientific evolution as related to evolutionary spirituality?

    In brief, I think the connection is that as a culture, those of us that believe evolution to be a real phenomena are only just starting to spot the underlying implications of the discovery. I mean, we've only been thinking about the idea for 100 years, we should expect some time to let it sink in.

    To me, the major implication is that the world is not static. We are in the midst of a continuum. We have a sense that life is still and that we aren't changing, but in reality we live in a continuum. We *are* a continuum. As I describe in the article above, that's been a powerful contemplation for me.

    Paul, you "sense/caution against" a "bait and switch" or a "sleight of hand" in which proponents of evolutionary spirituality equate scientific concepts with "what is going on in our interior." First off, both those terms describe forms of manipulation. That interpretation of what I'm saying may be a defensive position on your part, looking out for "proselytizers". I understand that's a valid reaction to someone like me who's promoting (proselytizing?) a new way of seeing the world, especially one with a new interpretation of god. But I think I've been very clear that I'm describing my own experiences with considering the implication of evolution. Your own contemplation of these matters may bring about different outcomes (of which I'd be interested to hear). Second, the fact is, I hesitate when speaking about interior development, because as I mentioned in a comment to you above, I think its an arena of study that is in its infancy and is also tied up with simplified notions of linear and sequential development, as well as cultural assumptions - - something Bonnitta speaks about in the essay Chris linked to, and something I agree with fully. (I actually wrote a long response to that essay that i promise will get published, one of these days).

    Chris brings up Wilber's famous warning not to equate spirituality with science. Makes sense. But I don't agree when it comes to *worldviews*.

    In my understanding (and Chris can probably speak to this better than I can) Wilber's warning was in relation to the *unchanging Truth* of spirituality, or God. Warning not to, for example, equate quantum stuff with proof of Buddha nature. Buddha nature (the Ground, THAT) is a fundamental reality that is free from time and free from the universe. So complications come up when we try to link it to science. Worldviews, on the other hand, are of course based on the prevailing science of the day, and should be until that science is proven wrong (which it undoubtably will be).

    In this sense I ascribe to the philosophy of William James, who was himself smitten with evolution. James had this idea he called Radical Empiricism, which is basically that what you believe today will probably be proven wrong tomorrow, but you have to believe it anyway because it's your stepping stone to the future. You need it to get to the next idea. But the catch is you can't fake it. You actually have to test out the idea, try it on, act on it. Then you can see what it's all about and where it will take you. Have we done that with evolution? We can almost guarantee that at some point in the future evolution is going to be proven wrong or at least flawed, that's the history of human thought. But we still need to use it, try it on, have it inform our worldview, test its implications, until its flaws become apparent and lead us to the next and better thing. I think James used to say that you have to simultaneously be willing to hold onto your idea and to let it go. You need both.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 22 July 2011 19:50 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Adam

    that's an idea I haven't considered before. could you say more about what you think?

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 22 July 2011 19:53 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Bonnie

    i love that clip! it actually inspired a post awhile back...

  • Comment Link Bruce S. Friday, 22 July 2011 23:18 posted by Bruce S.

    Great conversation. Thought I'd weigh in on a couple of things.

    The first relates to conviction and meta-narrative, picking up on what is being the proselytizing tendency of evolutionary spirituality. Neither conviction or meta-narrative is “allowed” in postmodernism. All is context and perspective, including "truth". I'm an NT on the Meyers-Brigg, and it seems that we NT types don't do well without grand narratives. I understand the philosophical critiques of such narratives and how they typically have belonged to the domination system.

    But the meaning-freak in me is a pattern-identifying animal. Pattern recognition between and at all levels lights me up. Our pre-frontal lobes are actually wired for it. I can't explain it. I seem to be built this way.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 23 July 2011 04:43 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Nice response.

    Worldviews is an important one to bring up in this context. I definitely agree with James' point that what we believe today may later be shown to be wrong (or at least in need of re-thinking, re-valuation). But James' contemporary C.S. Peirce said that we end up choosing (as a kind of educated though emotion/gut guess) what worldview/philosophy to believe. We have may have (hopefully) good reasons for doing so but ultimately Peirce said we can't prove our own choices. He called these abductions (as opposed to the more commonly conceived inductions and deductions).

    My sense is these abductions are not sufficiently described as such when it comes to integral, evolutionary spirituality, evolutionary worldview, etc. (Or for that matter materialist philosophies).

    And I think this becomes particularly important when we begin (as I said before) to interpret spiritual experiences in light of various interpretive worldviews. The experiences by and large (in er my experience) are quite raw, if we are willing to try (as much as possible) to totally suspend our various interpretive frameworks. I think like Peirce and James we do have to make choices and commitments (and this is a good thing overall) but I feel that's it's really really important that we hold them lightly. Others are free to disagree of course. And as well to be able to let the views expand to include more and more.

    When it comes to evolutionary spirituality, my sense is that there is a real experience & connection with a creative force. A force that in its stronger moments leads to an identity that is less based in self-reflective capacities (though is not asleep) and is a leap forward. I find it leads me to want to commune more deeply with the fullness of life on earth. It's new, it's definitely adaptive to the circumstances, it's somehow rather mysteriously emerged (if only partially and for temporary time periods).

    But I'm still unclear as to what it means to equate/interpret that reality with evolution as such. Creativity I get. I'm not saying I'm for sure it's wrong to call it evolutionary. I'm just unsure.

    I like how Bonnitta put it (via Alan Watts). The earth peoples (whether other planets people or others planets lead to other sentient species who knows). When people through around the weighty term Kosmocentric, I think we need to be eco-centric. Does the Kosmos do other things than evolution? And is human life on Earth only one ramification of Kosmic evolution?

    These are questions that I don't think we really (as yet) have any answers to and that is in part why I'm hesitant around the term.

    I'm concerned we might bit off more than we can chew. I'd prefer we stay with what (for now) we know: the earth peoples.

    As such, I think the next great task for humanity is to learn to live on (and as) earth in a way that is mutually beneficial. Evolution is obviously part of what earth does. But it doesn't seem to me to be all that occurs.

    This is where something like Pattern Dynamics makes great sense to me:

    It includes evolutionary elements (generally under the label emergence, creativity) but also things like polarity, rhythm, dynamics, structure.

    I may just not understand the word properly, but I don't get the sense evolutionary covers those other elements. If I'm wrong on that front, I'm happy to be corrected.

  • Comment Link Paul P Saturday, 23 July 2011 07:19 posted by Paul P

    Impulse, Obligation, Proselytizing & Dopamine

    When connecting to an impulse, sitting in contemplation or otherwise, the impulse itself implies a tendency to feel like “moving”. Isn’t that what an impulse is? So I’m still at the question: where’s the *obligation* to “move”?

    I don’t think it comes through our understanding of evolution as a worldview (at least not for me). My current understanding of evolution, in scientific terms, is that evolution occurs through (among several other factors) natural selection and variation. This means that as long as we all don’t do the same thing, evolution will continue in some direction.

    So to me, it seems like the obligation you (Bergen) speak of comes out of a desire to control the outcome of evolution in some way. And if the outcome that we want is for the greater good then isn’t this a “moral impulse” rather than an evolutionary one?

    I guess I don’t read TJ’s Tree of Life review as proselytizing – he says he’s smitten by the movie and encourages me to go see it – an invitation. I like invitations. I’m left to decide for myself whether I like it or not. There’s no obligation or requirement, implied or otherwise, that I believe anything different.

    Bergen, I really hear that taking on an “evolutionary” worldview has had a significant positive impact for you and I think that’s great. Why indeed would you (or anyone) choose to not make the best of your (or their) life? And so your passion for your view spills over. Cool. And I may or may not choose to believe the same: the artist that can’t stop painting sounds addicted to me…

    In terms of a spiritual path I like the Buddha’s invitation:

    “Do not blindly believe what others say, even the Buddha. See for yourself what brings contentment, clarity, and peace. That is the path for you to follow.”

    In the talk about Evolutionary Spirituality between Craig Hamilton and Carter Phipps (mentioned above by Trevor) at times it sounds as though contentment, clarity, and peace are not enough anymore. That’s old school. You’re not in the game – the “evolutionary” game – if you’re content. You’ve got to be engaged more, do more stuff, create, create, create!!! I guess I’m saying let’s also remember we can always choose to stop and smell the flowers of our evolution. We need to find that balance between “being” and “becoming”. Otherwise what are we doing all this creating for anyway?!?

    I went back and read Bonnitta’s article (awesome article!) and all the comments again and I noticed your discussion of epistemic drives. Here’s the quote from Bonnitta

    "My friend and colleague, Tom Murray identifies “epistemic drives” as the phenomenology of satisfaction (a hit of dopamine, perhaps?) that the body-mind receives from enjoying grand unifying notions and elegant models conveying beautiful images that resonate with a particular epistemic desire."

    I can’t help but wonder if this evolutionary impulse in relation to the evolutionary spiritual worldview is somehow related to one of these dopamine hits…

  • Comment Link Christopher Porto Saturday, 23 July 2011 22:40 posted by Christopher Porto

    It's still a shocking fact that so many Americans don't believe in evolution. Like Bergen, I have been pushing into an evolutionary worldview for a number of years now. It's sobering to get a reality check that most people around us haven't embraced this perspective! Thank goodness my education instilled a deep understanding of evolution into being. By the way, I'm so impressed by the dialogue that's being generated in the comments section!

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Sunday, 24 July 2011 00:10 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the note. I'd be interested to hear more about your experience pushing into an evolutionary worldview--what you understand by the term, what implications it has, and so on. And what was it in school that instilled a deep understanding of evolution? I'd be interested to hear how evolution was taught in school.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Sunday, 24 July 2011 11:19 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    hi again. some thoughts. 1)should evolution be taught in school? yes, but also the scientific method should be taught to contextualize all scientific theories, how they are subject to empirical testing, how they are revised and how theories also bring up new questions and point the way forward for scientists. 2) should evolutionary spirituality be taught in school? I take several issues with the notion of evolutionary spirituality. first, I think it is problematic to use the term "evolution" which is an empirical term that means something specific in the scientific community, and add it onto the word "spirituality" -- it seems like a gimmick to me. even still, those that use the term, conveniently emphasize the convergent aspects of evolution, and not the more important, more significant (from an evolutionary point of view) divergent and radial aspects. that would be more radical but also appropriate to the nomiker "evolution" 3) I don't see how a theory-- which is relative, conceptual and contingent-- be the over-arching packaging that spirituality fits in. spirituality is bigger, deeper, larger, more open, less dense, unfathomable, and at the same time immanent in each particular occassion (unlike the historical narrative of evolution)... so the notion of evolutionary spirituality seems to me to be a big conceptual category error 4) THAT the notion of evolutionary spirituality IS compelling, is however something to look at and explain, and for me it has to do with the deep purposefulness that permeates the cosmos -- something like what I wrote in the Presence of Choice article about each moment being "provocative and loving" -- and here we have some interesting work in both science and hermeneutics that is looking closely at this, Evan Thompson describes it a the cellular level, Jason Brown describes it at the neuro-psychological level, etc... so for me there is a deep purposefulness that interpenetrates all existence at all levels, but there is no ONE PURPOSE.. so that takes the teleological omega point out of the narrative 5) I would caution that we judge what being "true to one's purpose" looks like -- it doesn't have a specific form -- (i.e. middle class white guys hyped up on evolutionary spirituality) -- it can operate at vastly different scales and temporics, and of course heads up! THERE ARE SHADOWS EVERYWHERE HA HA! ... but 6) I do believe there is something deep inside each person, each sentient being, each processural "thing" that acts as a kind of "authenticator" which steers toward this unique purpose in being, and produces suffering of all sorts when that purpose isn't fully realized or realizable... 7) how that all operates is a mystery, and in my opinion, cannot be decoded by scientific thinking, although the correct use of the mind can certainly be a useful portal, ...

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Sunday, 24 July 2011 15:06 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    @ Chris - I went to Catholic grammar and High School. I remember coming home - I think it was in the 8th grade - and telling my mom about evolution and she fought back tears. Although I am pretty sure it was a Catholicised version about God creating the process, and then stepping in to add souls to humans, my Baptist Aunt (her sister) was completely outraged! The only other time my mom cried when I learned something was when I learned how babies were made. Where do people come from and how are babies made - taboo, taboo.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Sunday, 24 July 2011 23:28 posted by Bergen Vermette

    @ Chris

    You bring up some great points and questions here.

    In terms of Peirce, what do you think he would say about the 'injunctions' of practice, when choosing worldview? Because wouldn't our 'practice' of a worldview help us to examine its validity. For example, the physical sciences have done a very good job of testing the materialist worldview. Rocketships and clean drinking water are good outcomes of this worldview. If we engage in practices that, say, open us up to cosmological realities, we might act in different ways, and can then judge the outcomes. Peirce saying that we 'can't prove our choices' to me leaves things too open and wishy washy. Can't we prove it based on actions - at least until a better action and outcome is found?

    In terms of holding spiritual experiences lightly, I agree. But I also think we need to act on them. Otherwise what significance have they had in our lives? We could argue the point that all experiences are open to interpretation, but I'm not necessarily talking about whether the bright light I saw was a visit from Mary or a visit from Shiva. Rather what about, say, the spiritual experience of life being a fundamentally good and wholesome thing and the resulting spiritual confidence in life and the goodness of life that it can bring. While I may hold that experience lightly, it can move me to live a better life and act in ways that benefit those around me. This is important I think.

    You say: "But I'm still unclear as to what it means to equate/interpret that [connection to a creative force] with evolution as such. "

    It's a good question. I'm not sure either. I think that the term evolutionary relates to the idea of a "process perspective" which I spoke about in previous comments. I also think it relates to the belief that humans can develop and evolve their interior spaces (which is a view that's up for considerable debate). In my own practice and experience it also relates to the emergence of a different self-identity that is larger and more oriented to a process perspective, to the collective space among individuals, and to the Ground (though as a novice this is not an identity that I claim to experience on a day to day basis, only in brief moments). Also, I don't think that there are any hard and fast definitions or distinctions here in evolutionary spirituality. There are many groups and individuals with their own slightly different versions that are all coined 'evolutionary'. So I think part of where we're at is deciding what we're even talking about!

    Back to the Earth People-ing. I agree, it's a really great description. And I also agree that we throw around the term Kosmocentric far to easily (I actually got a post brewing on that point, so thanks for the reminder). But I still have to raise you one. You said: "I'm concerned we might bit off more than we can chew. I'd prefer we stay with what (for now) we know: the earth peoples." But we know more than that. We know, for example, that the Universe-Earths. I mean, you could take the exact same analogy that Watts used to show that the Earth Peoples and that Apple trees Apple - and apply it to planets, or galaxies, or black holes. The Universe Planets. It Galaxies. The Universe Earths, and the Earth Peoples. We are as much a part of the Kosmos as we are a part of the Earth. And trying to hold that stretches our sense of things out beyond the planet itself to cosmic proportions.

    In this sense I like to think of "kosmocentrism" (if we can call it that for now, knowing that nobody yet fits the term) as being the ultimate nature mystic. 'Nature' in the biggest context of the word - the universe. If someone had a deep appreciation, excitement, and allegiance to nature, we'd understand and accept that - probably because we'd had our own small experiences of awe and wonder in the forest or by the sea or under the sky. So extrapolate that to a sense of being one with the Kosoms. As the Nature sage walks in the forest as the forest, the Kosmic sage walks among the stars as starstuff. It's a pretty new and challenging orientation I think. But one that seems inevitable to me.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Sunday, 24 July 2011 23:37 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Great seeing you on here Bruce, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you that something about the big picture is immensely satisfying. And maybe, instead of being the antithesis of postmodernity, it could actually help to orient the many individual perspectives we all have? At once honouring them, but putting them in context. Just a thought.

    I haven't thought much about pattern recognition, but can see how that relates to trying to discern what's happening in the big picture - like Gebser's social insights, or directionality in the universe.

    Thanks also to Bonnitta for coming on to offering your thoughts and for Paul for sticking with the conversation(!). I have a lot to say and will respond tomorrow.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 26 July 2011 01:24 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Great response thanks.

    In terms of Peirce (Jeff C. probably knows more on this than I do), I think he would say practices fall into the realm of deductions. We make abductions and those implicate certain deductions. In spirituality let's say you take your abduction and then there are certain practices and interpretive frameworks that flow logically from that prior choice. Those practices give rise to certain experiences (inductions) which are then framed and given meaning via the abductive worldview. Eventually perhaps certain experiences arise that force a crisis of legitimacy in the reigning worldview but that's pretty rare.

    In relation to evolutionary spirituality, I'd think of Teilhard. Teilhard's Law of Complexity and Consciousness (the greater the material complexity the greater the corresponding degree of consciousness) works as Teilhard admitted when you look at the universe from the perspective of the "within" (his term, "interiors" in our term). That's his abduction and the deduction is his Law that follows from it. I think his deductions are valid from that perspective, but he can't really prove his initial leap. As Bonnitta said, looked at from the "without" perspective, evolution shows more radial and diverging perspectives.

    I realize the "E" word has power in public discourse--I think there's strengths and weaknesses to that. And I don't want to sound too pedantic (or hold back action based out of these values). I'm fine for people to use the word (my questions and all) so long as they would admit there are some potential issues with it. Be open about the abduction.

    I just want to be clear that I'm not denying the validity of various experiences. I just have some questions about the frameworks. If it's a more process understanding, should we call it process spirituality? (Or does that get too confused with process philosophy?). I'm aware there are no great alternatives to evolution (I get Bonnitta's point about evolution applied to spirituality being compelling).

    And as to the geo v. kosmocentricism, it reminded me of Wilber's Basic Moral Intuition. Which is Basic, Moral, and an Intuition (or an Abduction in Peirce's terms). i.e. It's an educated gut decision.

    His version of the BMi is: greatest depth x greatest span.

    Now that equation may be up for debate, but I find it a helpful perspective. My abduction from that position (my guess) is that this earth bound (the earth peoples) position is (for now anyway) the one that I think best captures the most depth and the most span. I admit it's a guess, so I'm open to others critiquing it. i.e. Where's the sweet spot (of greatest depth and greatest span)? Admittedly it's a moving target.

    If humans go out from Earth and start populating other planets, then I could see a need for a Kosmocentric perspective. Maybe. I'm not denying such a thing is real (or at least potentially real), I'm just unclear at this point in our species' existence, how helpful K-centrism is (it could be depth to the exclusion of span I'm wondering).

    I really like how Bonnitta talked about inner purposefulness (at multiple layers) in all things and that sense of an inner development. I think that's very powerful (and very real whatever real means) but I'm still open (or agnostic perhaps) on whether that ought to be equated with evolution.

    But this is a great inquiry regardless. So thanks.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 26 July 2011 02:27 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Well, hello again all. I'm glad we've opened up this mutual space to move through this important topic, and that many different perspectives, including critical, are being heard. There are many threads/avenues of possible inquiry open, so I'm going to respond to a few that are live for me.

    The first thing I wanted to do is just acknowledge that evolutionary spirituality has a long lineage, one that I think is worth keeping in mind when having this conversation. From the German Idealists, to Bergson and Aurobindo, to Teilhard, Thomas Berry and Andrew Cohen. Here's the best short introduction to that lineage that I know of:

    So I think when speaking and debating about evolutionary spirituality let's at least keep in mind this history. It's not just some "gimmicky" recent flash in the pan or flight of fancy, and there are some formidable characters in the tradition. Which brings me to the point being made about dopamine, and "satisfaction with beautiful images" etc. First of all, I think reducing this view to dopamine is a gross (modernist) reductionism that I reject. If we follow that view to it's logical conclusion, it ends in reducing all meaningful human experiences to the brain (and ultimately ends up in solipsism, a profoundly separate place). We get a hit of dopamine when we feel love for our partner or friends don’t we? Is that love 'just dopamine' then? four quadrants? Also, who's to say it's not actually *the soul* that's being lit up by this view/practice, and not just some “warm feelings from a fuzzy comforting belief”.

    Secondly, with regards to this lineage, Paul, I’m wondering if you are willing to reduce the entire body of work of people like Sri Aurobindo, Hegel, Teilhard de Chardin (and so many others), to simply them getting off on flights of fancy and a dopamine hit. This seems highly uncharitable, to say the least.

    To Bonnitta's passing comment about "middle class white guys hyped up on evolutionary spirituality", it might be worth noting that there are people from all kinds of ages and places that are impassioned by their practice of evolutionary spirituality. The EnlightenNext community (for instance) is in multiple countries, from Denmark to Israel to New Zealand, and it's men and women of all ages. As a practitioner student of EN, I was once put in a break-out call (on-line) with a 64 old woman from Britain, and we had an amazing and potent conversation together. So I may be wrong about what that quip was ultimately implying, but if the implication was that it's mainly young males that are attracted to evolutionary spirituality, this is demonstrably false. And let's not forget that Aurobindo was an Indian, and his partner the Mother, a woman.

    Generally, one core theme I hear is a confusion as to what the term evolution is signifying in evolutionary spirituality, which is fair enough (as Chris says, it’s used in other contexts), so let me offer how I think the term is being used. Firstly, I can say in response to Chris, that science is *not* being brought in to reinforce spiritual positions, and no one is *equating* a scientific position with a spiritual one. I see evolutionary spirituality happening at three levels, with the first being the most important:

    1) the inner, or personal interior- at it’s core, evolutionary spirituality, in my experience, is about contacting a source of energy and fire within, a part of ourselves that wants to grow and evolve and transform. There’s a huge part of us that doesn’t want to grow or change at all, whether because of fear or laziness or a desire for comfort and control or whatever. I personally know it all too well. But there’s another center within, full of potential possibility, full of explosive dynamic energy, and evolutionary spiritual practice works to get in contact with that fire within, and to trust it and open to it and be a vehicle for it, and to be receptive to what wants to emerge through us in our lives.

    In my congregation at Canadian Memorial, where Bruce is teaching evolutionary Christianity, I’ve watched men and women of all ages beginning to contact that source (which Andrew Cohen calls the evolutionary impulse) and begin to light up, grow, take on projects they always wanted to, open up to new things that they’re being called to, and just generally begin to grow and act in the world. It’s beautiful to watch, and it’s a beautiful to take part in. And so far, no science needed. Just contact with that center; and to put my philosophers hat on for a moment, the history of philosophy has spoken about this vital center in many ways, whether it’s Spinoza’s conatus, Schopenhauer’s Will, the will to power in Nietzsche, or the creative evolution of Bergson. For Nietzsche his ‘ubermensh’ or overman would be someone who lived a life of perpetual becoming and self-overcoming. So again, there’s a long lineage of folks who’ve been talking about/exploring this inner dimension of our being, and I think on that account alone it’s worthy of serious investigation/consideration.

    In sum for level 1, I would say that evolution here is being used in the sense of ‘to evolve’, as in to grow and transform and to actively realize one’s potential.

    2) the cosmos- the next level of evolutionary spirituality is a cosmic one. The architectural theorist Charles Jencks has given my favorite description of this view:

    “Today we have a new metanarrative, coming from the post-modern sciences of complexity and the new cosmology, the idea of cosmogenesis, the story of the developing universe, the notion that the cosmos is a single, creative, unfolding event that includes life and us in its narrative, one that locates culture in space and time”.

    So a next level of an evolutionary spirituality, as I see it, is to (re)connect to the cosmos, to move beyond the separation and cosmic nihilism of modernity (a first), and to realize that we are part of a process that is 13.7 billion years old, has produced us, and is fundamentally dynamic and ongoing. It’s moving, as is everything in it. We’re squarely in the Heraclitean river, and now conscious of it. Bergen speaks to this nicely when he says, “To me, the major implication is that the world is not static. We are in the midst of a continuum. We have a sense that life is still and that we aren't changing, but in reality we live in a continuum. We *are* a continuum. As I describe in the article above, that's been a powerful contemplation for me”.

    So yes, at this point, one is engaging with new findings in science (what Michael Dowd calls “public revelation”), and trying to reorient to the truth of the cosmic story of which we are a-part. This is now the biggest context. I went and saw the Imax Hubble Telescope three times, and each time, present in this orientation, I felt a profound sense of connection to the universe. This is my home. It is I, and I am it. Holy crap. And it’s a marvelous, beautiful, astonishing (and exceedingly trippy!!) place to make our home. To be honest, I spontaneously wept several times in the Hubble film, and these weren’t giddy tears of joy either, but more like sobs.

    There’s one more tier here to add in level 2; in the teachings of many teachers of evolutionary spirituality, the creative impulse within us to grow and evolve, is also the very same impulse at the heart of the universe itself. The current that runs through us is the universal current localized in us. And if we can realize our profound connection to all that is, we can become, as Marc Gafni says, “God’s verbs”. This is still a more esoteric teaching than a scientific one, but this ultimate equivalency of our will with Thy will-cosmic will, is central to many teachers in the lineage.

    I like what the evolutionary theologian John Haught says, when he writes,

    “The root of our restlessness is the whole evolution of the cosmos itself. When we think about ourselves and our destiny, we can’t dissociate them from the destiny of the whole universe”.

    I think this is a possibility we need to take seriously. It’s worth reflecting on why the core teaching in 12 step programs, in order to overcome addiction, is to serve a Higher Power or “a power greater than oneself”. Step 11 reads- “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out”. The hole in the soul, which the addict is always trying to fill, is only truly filled when we connect to the All that lies and lives within us. Could it be that the way out of the anomie, the anxiety, the depression, the rampant addiction in our time, is to connect to the cosmic will and to serve it? Given what’s at stake if this is true, I’d say this is worthy of serious consideration and investigation.

    3) the direction of the cosmos- this last tier, and probably the one most controversial in terms of the science dimension, is the use of findings coming out of the system sciences and the complexity sciences, that the universe has a directionality toward higher and higher levels of complexity, integration, and self-organization. The interesting thing about this is that these finding happen to match up to my/the inner experience resulting from the practice. I feel an overwhelming inner pull to expand my sphere of love (however much I fail in the attempt, or resist it), and to help some sort of (harmonious/globally co-operative) planetary world culture/civilization emerge on the planet. This not only sounds similar to cosmic directionality, but it sounds a lot like the Eros that many have spoken of. Here’s how Freud (of all people) described Eros: “Civilization is a process under the influence of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind. Why this has to happen, we do not know; the work of Eros is precisely this”.

    What is this intuition of ‘Eros’ that people keep having? And does it not seem to accord with much of what’s occurred cosmically, and here on Earth (ie. greater and greater units of parts/organization/co-operation”? One does not need a belief in Eros/Telos to practice evolutionary spirituality. But I’ve certainly got one eye keenly open to, and am very interested in, how what I’m experiencing within is starting to align more and more with what science is saying about the unfolding material universe. Not only that, in a similar way to Berg’s reference to James, I can (and often do) start to act in the world with this (tentative) understanding of directionality and Eros, and see if it resonates with the world around me. My experience so far is that it does, so I keep testing into that territory. But I do, as Chris suggests, hold this part loosely, and am always willing to shift and evolve my view given new findings. I in no way need to justify evolutionary spirituality via this external material science. The basic practice is to connect to that inner center and continue to act in accord with that.

    One last point- I hear Frank Visser’s point that science does not need this other force, ie. Eros, and that’s fair enough from a scientific point of view. But does this invalidate the inner experience of Eros? And isn’t it not, as I said before, privileging a scientific mode of knowing, when it would be better to embrace an epistemological pluralism that includes 1st person experience? And at what point here in our conversation do we bring up the importance of injunction and taking up the practice? At what point is a cerebral discussion of evolutionary spirituality no longer adequate, or even a complete hindrance, to accessing the inner experience arising through the practice of it?

    Well, evolutionary spirituality is still a relatively knew field, and I sure appreciate the space to wrestle through some of the issues it has to grapple with. thanks all.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 26 July 2011 02:39 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    As one representation of a view supporting directionality in cosmic evolution, I recommend Craig Hamilton's interview with John Stewart, author of 'Evolution's Arrow'. In the first thirty minutes or so, he gives a pretty clear and solid expression of this view. I think any conversation about evolutionary spirituality has to engage this view.

  • Comment Link Paul P Tuesday, 26 July 2011 05:08 posted by Paul P


    Lot’s to digest in your response. Thank you.

    Personally, though I have my fair share of scientific training, I don’t reduce interior experience to exterior events. Quite frankly I don’t understand the topology between science and spirit and I am most interested learning about it and building bridges, not blowing them up.

    It seems you take my analytical approach as being critical, as if I am somehow judging severely and trying to find fault. How ironic given our discussion on the other post “Can we ever truly judge one another

    What I am trying to do as best I can is to get clarity. Your long comment is quite helpful in this regard.

    I have not read primary source material of any of the long list of mystics/philosophers you provided. And no, I would not, could not reduce their work to simply a dopamine hit, even if I had. I suppose it would be an interesting question whether a dopamine level change in some part of the brain is *related* to mystical experiences, but I do not ascribe to the view that “THAT is what they are.”

    I used the word *related* not reduced. I am interested in the correlations – the bridges. And I can see how my last sentence could be interpreted as reductionist. Not my intent, however. I was trying to point to the phenomenonlogy of satisfaction in an interesting way. In my experience as a scientist I have had a few “eureka” moments that stick out in my mind – once when realizing how I could best display some complex data sets for an article in an illuminating way, a truly creative moment for me; another time when some measurements we made confirmed our model of the system to be accurate enough to design devices. These were powerful, exciting and energizing moments in my life as a scientist. I that contacting the “evolutionary” impulse?

    I have heard Andrew Cohen talk about said impulse as: “the creative impulse”, “the authentic self”, and “the Big Yes”, at different times. I think creative impulse works best for me (unless I am somehow missing the point?)

    Just wanted to clear that up in case you were making some assumptions about where I am coming from.

    I recall listening to the John Stewart interview awhile back and yes I was quite intrigued by his narrative. Although, as I recall Stewart denied the existence of spirit/God for the most part, speaking mostly of the value of spiritual practice, and Craig Hamilton smoothly agreed to disagree. I’ll have to give it another listen to recall exactly what was said.

    I will need some time to reflect on your three levels of E-spirituality before getting back to you more. I’m sure I’ll have a few more questions!


  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Tuesday, 26 July 2011 09:42 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Thanks, Trevor, for the attention you put in your response. I respect people (like yourself) whose beliefs can embrace more and more nuance about people and the world. Do you know Richard Carlson? He has been either a member of, or close to the Aurobindo community and has been working on bringing Aurobindo's spiritual insights/teachings into the postmodern world by contextualizing and modernizing the epistemic frameworks they are taught in. His most excellent piece 100 Years of Sri Aurobindo on Evolution can be accessed at Highly Recommended

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Tuesday, 26 July 2011 09:45 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Here is Carlson's introduction


    As the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origins of Species take place this year, it is easy to overlook the fact that 2009 also marks the 100th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo’s first major text on evolution and consciousness. In Process and Evolution and Yoga and Human Evolution (1909) Sri Aurobindo begins to comprehensively articulate his vision of human evolution. Just as Darwin’s book became the foundation for a science of evolution, what has been called evolutionary spirituality can be traced back to Sri Aurobindo’s work. Many are acknowledging this bicentennial year of Darwin’s birth with a reassessment of his work in light of what we now know about evolution it therefore, also seems to be a good time to reassess Sri Aurobindo’s vision of human evolution in context of our contemporary understanding of the phenomena we call evolution, both scientifically and culturally a century later.

    To do this in any systematic way requires a consideration of the development of Sri Aurobindo’s perspective on biological evolution, human progress, and human unity. Although his view of science and its limits does not seem to have change appreciably during the period from 1909 to 1949, his view of “human progress” seems to have become decidedly less optimistic and chastened over time. While not denying that the “yoga of the divine mother” or “nature’s yoga” is still striving to achieve human unity in latter years his tone becomes decidedly anti-humanist as he declares human progress to be most probably an illusion! Even though his view of history is essentially cyclic he starts his consideration of evolution by writing in Yoga and Human Evolution the following:

    “ Whether we take the modern scientific or the ancient Hindu standpoint the progress of humanity is a fact.”(Aurobindo 1909)

    However, by the early1940s when he is revising the last chapters of The Life Divine he writes:

    “the idea of human progress itself is very probably an illusion, for there is no sign that man, once emerged from the animal stage, has radically progressed during his race-history; at most he has advanced in knowledge of the physical world, in Science, in the handling of his surroundings, in his purely external and utilitarian use of the secret laws of Nature “ (Aurobindo 1949 p832)

    In his 1949 postscript to The Ideal of Human Unity however, he still acknowledges the drive of nature toward human unity is inevitable:

    “We conclude then that in the conditions of the world at present, even taking into consideration its most disparaging features and dangerous possibilities, there is nothing that need alter the view we have taken of the necessity and inevitability of some kind of world-union; the drive of Nature, the compulsion of circumstances and the present and future need of mankind make it inevitable“. (Aurobindo 1949)

    How does one reconcile the idea of an evolution toward human unity which seems to be progressive with the development of human progress that seems to be is in Sri Aurobindo’s view circular? This is one issue that will be explored in this paper which attempts to reconcile Sri Aurobindo’s seemingly contradictory claims that while nature is propelling human society toward unity that human progress itself at best is circular and probably an illusion.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Tuesday, 26 July 2011 09:59 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Trevor, Bergen -- Interesting shift to ask you - do you think spiritual evolution should be taught in school?

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Tuesday, 26 July 2011 14:13 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Because Carlson's article begins with a long overview of Evolution and systems theory, and ends with a long exegesis of contemporary society and intellectualism, I excerpted the middle section where he unpacks Aurobindo's complex evolutionary position to a file on my site which you can access at

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Wednesday, 27 July 2011 05:31 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Trevor,

    For the great summary of evo-spirituality, and thanks Bonnitta, for Richard Carlson's summary of Sri Aurobindo's somewhat pessimistic turn toward the end of this life.

    As I read it, besides the two world wars and the descent into materialism that characterized the time in which he lived, he found that the way reason was used by modernists kept us from evolving as a species. It served "the beast", the reptilian drive for sex, sustenance, and security, and the neo-mammalian part of the brain that is focused on status. Much research has been done that indicates that the role of the neo-cortex (or one of its roles) is to justify and rationalize our behavior when we act out on our instinctual nature - the intellect serving the beast.

    This made me think of this thread's ongoing concern that evo-spirituality not use science superficially to support the "myth"/narrative of conscious evolution in the human species.

    But what I find interesting is that when Dawkin's posits that the human being is basically an instrument of selfish genes to perpetuate themselves, everybody seems willing to accept this narrative/myth - and it is metaphysics, not science. Here we see in action what Aurobindo was worried about - reason being used to keep us from realizing our higher nature.

    Never mind that the myth of genetic determinism is being seriously undermined - and unfortunately under-reported in the press.

    There is an epistemological bias, I've noticed, to look at what is most base and most instinctual about our evolutionary history, and assume that we are merely civilized expressions of that early stuff. But the civilized part is merely veneer. Start with the lowest and assume this absolutely defines human nature.

    But what if we start with the highest manifestation of the human spirit and assume that the universe is like a seed coming to fruition, and from the get-go was filled with the potential to grow into divinity. Call it the patient advance (and advances of Love). Start with Buddha or Jesus or Theresa of Avila, and assume that these souls represent a glimpse into where we are heading, and where we've always been headed. Of course, this requires conscious consent. Call it a realization of why the universe emerged in the first place.

    Why is it so unfashionable to take as evidence of a teleological bias in the universe the very existence of person like Thomas Hubl (never met him, but the Beamers seem to appreciate him), and then work backwards - reading that kind of personalized purpose into the universe from the beginning? Might this not be using reason to touch into soul/spirit/and what's next for our species?

    The only evidence we seem willing to extrapolate from is the evidence from the physical sciences, but we dare not see or suggest any patterns that we can derive from quantum physics or chaos theory and apply them to the human realm. What about the perennial principle of as above so below? So we end up with reducing consciousness to an emergent property of dirt. The universe is not imbued with soul, intelligence or creativity, except that which we humans (as the sole possessors of these qualities) project onto it. (We actually know that it's meaningless and purposeless, because, for example, random mutation means that the mutation does not privilege the organism). This randomness is ultimate, leaving no room for a dance, say, between chance and purpose.

    But there we go again. We've told a story about human nature based on biology - as below, so above, reversing the perennial philosophy. But this is acceptable as long as it's a story that supports a narrative of meaninglessness.

    For the time being I'm going to live "as if" the universe is imbued with soul, going somewhere, and that somewhere is hinted at in the exquisite beauty and love that each of us is capable of realizing. I've flirted with purposelessness, with abstract rationalization and deconstructionism in all its forms - and the flirtation served a useful purpose. But I guess I'm getting too old, and I've felt too deeply the unceasing call of Love, to live without a Big, Beautiful Story of Love.

  • Comment Link Paul P Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:43 posted by Paul P

    Ok, I’m going out on a limb here and going to take a creative stab at illustrating why I think it can be problematic to use scientific concepts/language in the context of the interior/spiritual dimension of being.

    Let's say I write the following article: “Should Quantum Mechanics be taught in schools?”

    Insert a video first interviewing a bunch of mechanical engineers from Ford:
    “No need for quantum in my world. Never used a wave function in my design of a combustion engine.”
    Followed by interviews with some physicists from D-wave.
    “Absolutely, the next generation of computational tools is going to be based on quantum algorithms on quantum computers. We can just solve some problems faster.”

    As a believer in “quantum mechanics”, I’ve got to side with the YES camp….

    When I sit in deep contemplation and connect to the vacuum field in my meditation, in the stillness I notice fluctuations. These fluctuations occur spontaneously and out of nowhere. New ideas and thoughts simply appear out of nothingness. Connecting to the vacuum field in this way is a great source of energy, inspiration and new ideas to me.

    We are actually a bunch of a quantum processes. It just seems like we are classical and mechanistic but in reality we are billions and billions of little quantum objects all connected and permeated by the vacuum field, dancing and fluctuating together.

    Notice that if you want to change your mind, it happens instantly. One second you believe one thing but then you simply decide – you make a choice – and a quantum leap has occurred. You can change your mind whenever you want. You have choice precisely because you are made up of these quantum processes.

    In deep contemplation, on rare occasions, I find a feeling of oneness with everything – other people, animals, the trees, even the rocks of the mountains sometimes – in some spiritual circles it’s called non-duality – that’s contacting the vacuum field again it permeates and connects everything.

    You really have to take this quantum worldview seriously. There’s a long lineage of thinkers from Schrodinger and Heisenberg to Bohm and Stapp that support this quantum view of the world. Reality just isn’t classical.

    And if God does exist, the greatest gift he may have given us is choice.


    OK so hopefully that generates a few chuckles about “quantum spirituality”.

    I am not trying to belittle anyone’s interior experience or their interpretation of it. I am cheekily trying to point out that the words we use as pointers to describe our inner experience can dramatically impact how others interpret it. So maybe in doing so, I have given you a partial sense of how I feel when I hear “evolutionary spirituality”.

    In all seriousness I am curious to know what makes a spiritual practice an evolutionary spiritual practice. What are the techniques or injunctions you use? Is it sitting and contemplating the evolutionary worldview?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 28 July 2011 00:04 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for your response. Very passionate and moving.

    Have you ever seen this TED talk by Joan Roughgarden critiquing Dawkins' (and by extension Darwin's) views on sexual selection?

    As Roughgarden shows, Dawkin's idea of the 'selfish gene' is poor science in many ways (as you note also probably poor metaphor).

    Your point about the reverse of the perennial position (as below, so above) is a very subtle one. I really appreciated it.

    I'm not sure however that questions in this thread about potentially superficial use of evolution in terms of spirituality are thinking of Dawkins' reductionistic model of evolution. (At least I'm not).

    The Evo Devo folks have I think offered a viewpoint that includes Darwin's natural selection, Mendel's genetics, but also includes development as a key theme (missed in Dawkins, NeoDarwinian views).

    But all of those could still be labeled philosophically materialist. I'm not sure they are advocating that the baser nature is of more value. [that seems to me to be more the trend of evolutionary psychology.]

    As Mark Edwards said a while back, there's depth in the exteriors:

    While I wouldn't classify myself as a materialist, I sometimes wonder (in admittedly out there moments) if the spiritualist critique of materialism isn't wrongheaded in certain foundational ways. i.e. Shouldn't the spiritual position be more materialistic? Shouldn't we embracing a certain kind of ethical materialism (not spiritual materialism as Trungpa correctly criticized)? Isn't utterly material what we want in a spirituality? [I guess this is more my Christian side coming out.]

    Isn't it possible that the reason consumerism and capitalism have taken off so much is that the religions have lost a connection to the voice of materialism and therefore that energy has been co-opted and perverted by globalization (via hooking materialism to consumerism and individualism)?

    Slavoj Zizek for example, half-jokingly/half seriously (I think) says that he is trying to write an (atheist) materialist theology. Arguably Alain Badiou (Zizek's close friend/ally) arguably has done precisely that in his work.

    Those aren't the positions I/we would hold I imagine. But it seems to me there are various options that aren't always getting a fair shake. e.g. Zizek and Badiou are materialist but also not relativist. But they aren't Dawkins-like materialists either. How do they fit our categories? Do they?

    Humans are certainly an expression of life/Universe/Nature. I don't want to create a separation between the human and the earth. On the other hand I have some (not necessarily huge) concerns/questions about whether we are equating the point of the Universe is for awakened humans. I think Awakening, Service in Love is the inherent pull of the human species. But I'm unclear whether currently described evolutionary spirituality views are closing off the option that the Universe also could be undergoing alternate (but potentially complementary) streams via other realities (other species, other sentient life forms) as well.

    I haven't articulated that very well but I hope that question makes sense.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 28 July 2011 00:22 posted by Chris Dierkes

    To take a different angle. In Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality Wilber talks about Nature-Nation State Mysticism. The Nation means human technology, society, consciousness, politics, etc. in a mutually beneficial relationship with Nature. Seems to me that is the next great leap (if there is going to be one) for humans and for the earth (absent some other species growing sentient out of computers or something). I think any spirituality worth anything ought to be promoting that Nature-Nation vision.

    A fundamentally transcend and include model. The transcend has already happened thanks to modernity--the inclusion hasn't. And without it, it's going to get ugly (already is in some places).

    It's a kind of human society creatively built on Biomimicry as the overriding ethical and cultural impulse. I think this what Pattern Dynamics is trying to get at.

    If that's the kind of thing people mean by being an evolutionary than I'm for it (with the caveat that I'll still am not totally sold on the use of the 'e' word). Obviously I don't want (somewhat minor/medium) questions and concerns to prevent working with folks towards good ends.

    But I'm still uncomfortable with equating that next step (Nature-Nation mysticism) with humans becoming Kosmocentric or suggesting that the Universe's telos is to make us humans that way. I'm not saying the personalization couldn't be a trajectory in the Universe, but I wonder about it being (as I understand it) considered the trajectory.

    I guess I think it's more like Nature-Nation mysticism and a society built upon in every arena of existence is the next task assigned humans as our role as a species.

    Beyond that I'm somewhat agnostic. i.e. There could be other tasks for humans down the line, new Creation stories that come into play, other sentient realities who have other tasks assigned them.

    Does any of that make sense?

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 28 July 2011 03:05 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    @Bonnitta, thanks for the links to Carlson’s piece on Aurobindo, I look forward to having a look at that. In terms of whether evolutionary spirituality should be taught in schools, I don’t see why not. If I were making the rules, I’d include it in a Religious Studies survey course to be taught in high school. Give students a chance to sample and ponder a variety of outlooks/traditions, including atheism and creationism too.

    @Paul, thanks for the clarification as to your views regarding reductionism. In terms of your example of a different use of scientific language in a spiritual context, I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re getting at, but I have a couple things to say. Firstly, if you said to me exactly what you said above, and then told me, “You really have to take this quantum worldview seriously. There’s a long lineage of thinkers”, I’d say cool, show me the practice so I can check this out for myself. That would be the only way for me to truly verify whether or not your views had any substance. Secondly, I don’t think a spirituality that uses scientific language has any special privilege when it comes to sounding like gobbledygook to the uninitiated. If one hasn’t done the practice, or doesn’t have ‘the developmental signifieds’ as Wilber once put it, then a lot spiritual writing will sound like nonsense. Again, I don’t think evolutionary spirituality in unique in this regard.

    In terms of your question about what specific evolutionary practices there are, I can offer a few resources. I can let Bergen speak more deeply to his practice in the EnlightenNext community, but as a practitioner student, I can give you a preliminary rundown. There’s a daily seated meditation practice (pretty much identical to what’s described here:; there are The Five Tenets, one of which you spend contemplative time with every day ( And there’s a collective enlightened-dialogue practice (described here: There might be more as a full time student, but that’s what I’m familiar with.

    Thomas Hubl has a variety of practices, most of which are described in Chris’ essay on Hubl, or if not described, I’m sure there are links.

    Craig Hamilton has a series of practices, most of which he teaches in his 9-week telecourses. However, he does offer a variety of free practices on his site. I really recommend the guided meditation he offers, where you begin by dedicating your practice to the service of the whole. I’ve found that very powerful.

    In terms of at Canadian Memorial United, where I’m a member and Bruce is minister, the prayers and Bruce’s sermon are explicitly evolutionary in content and language, but the overall service is still fairly traditional. We’ve been talking about how to incorporate more explicit practice- and in what forms and times (ie. on the weekend, at night, in small groups etc)- but that’s a work in progress. Bruce has just published a new book of evolutionary Christian prayers, and I find those really great for doing Lectio Divina ( You can download a free sample of Bruce’s book at his website,

    In terms of contemplating the evolutionary worldview, yes this can be a valid method of practice. Michael Dowd calls this developing “deep-time eyes” (, and Carter Phipps calls deep-time understanding one of the core characteristics of an ‘evolutionary’. I know Bruce Sanguin had his awakening experience while reading Brian Swimme’s ‘The Universe is A Green Dragon’ while on a silent retreat, so a contemplative practice with regard to the universe story can be very powerful. I remember Bergen after we came out of the Imax Hubble Telescope, he was just dumbstruck, he found the experience so moving and deep, so this can be a potent source of opening.

    Another practice, and perhaps the most important (or at least it’s been the most transformative for me), is to do those daily prayers I mentioned way back in the thread. The first is to wake up in the morning and sincerely and humbly ask Spirit to let you be of service that day. It’s a subtle practice of surrender and receptivity, and to being open to what’s being asked of you. My experience, after doing this for about three years, is that life opens up rapidly- doors open, synchronicities start to happen like mad, and life begins to unfold in unexpected ways. My view after practicing this, is that Spirit will utilize you to the precise extent you are willing to serve it. Don’t know how that all works, but that’s my experience. I invite you Paul (or anyone else) to do this daily practice for two months, and just see what occurs in your life. Turn your will over to Thy will, listen to what’s being asked of you, bravely answer the call, and see what happens. Oh, and at night, the prayer is to say thank you for being allowed to be of service that day.

    And one last practice- play this song three times in the morning loud, and dance around your apartment. That’ll get things flowin. ☺

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Thursday, 28 July 2011 19:30 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Hi everyone. Finally got around to finishing this wonderful conversation over breakfast (waffles, blueberries, and cereal). I've thought of so many little things to write about as I read through each thoughtful comment and back-and-forth, but at this point I can't recall all of them so I'll just make a few points starting from the initial post:

    Should evolution be taught in schools? I would say yes! Children learn the Earth revolves around the sun, they learn about the planets, they memorize the periodic table. So why not learn about the tree of life? I believe evolution belongs amongst this field of knowledge.

    As far as spiritual evolution, I'm not so sure about this. Well to be honest, I think the education system is in need for an overhaul. If I had my way, and I agree with Trevor on this one, I would have the world religions, creation stories, and mythologies taught to kids K-12. Not only would it be important to expose them to important questions and world cultures, it would give them a sense of interconnection between all of the great civilizations. An important quality for youngsters to have growing up in a global age. This is something that the Ross School is doing (Thompson & Ralph Abraham) with their planetary curriculum:

    Evolution, in general, can help reveal just how connected we are. If you take popular-culture examples like The Incredible Human Journey, or other documentaries that show just how connected we are through our genes. This, I believe, has the same effect that has been articulated again and again throughout our discussion: a sense of connection to a larger process and an identity with a common origin.

    Concerning the great dialogue/vigorous discussion about the validity of "spiritual evolution" - I find myself somewhere in the middle. I think scientific narratives, images, and knowledge about how we are indeed "star stuff" can have a profound and sometimes mystical connective experience. It can do what religion normally has done for us: bridge the sacred and profane, to bind the human being back to a sense of the sublime. The hubble space telescope can do this for some. For others, viewing the Earth from space, or a pale blue dot can have a similar effect.

    The astronaut Edgar Mitchell had a profound samadhi experience while orbiting the Earth. His description sounds quite similar to what we're describing as "evolutionary enlightenment:

    "What I experienced during that three-day trip home was nothing short of an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness. I actually felt what has been described as an ecstasy of unity.... I perceived the universe as in some way conscious. The thought was so large it seemed inexpressible, and to a large degree it still is."

    "I realized that the molecules of my body and my partners, and the molecules of the spacecraft were prototyped in some ancient generation of stars. And suddenly, instead of being an intellectual experience, it was an emotional experience, followed with an ecstasy!"

    Mitchell went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences to study and learn about the kind of experience he had. Whether it is a supernova, the Earth, or the Big Bang we use as an object of contemplation; each of these things can connect us to a larger, universal process. So in this sense I can see why evolutionary narratives, whether biological or cosmic, can instill a sense of sacred connection with the universe. They're not used as proof of evolutionary spirituality as much as they seem to catalyze a response in us.

    There are some aspects of contemporary "evolutionary enlightenment" that I'm not so comfortable with and find to be too identified with the material processes of the universe - which, of course, can have a numinous connective experience - and they are meant to - but can't also forget that feeling a sense of unity with the universe is itself an object of contemplation, just as the Earth from space is, for an even greater and higher mystical union with a reality that is more infinite than the physical universe itself.

    Also, one of the dangers of always "moving," and "becoming," is neglecting an important and central understanding of what Aurobindo described in the very beginning of his book, The Life Divine: that matter is secret Spirit, and humanity "secret God." It is this fullness that is already within us - a divine spark that is potently infinite and brimming with the forces to release its shell of ignorance and shine into the world. OK, that may be a little too poetic but, what Aurobindo is saying is that the material is the expression of the spiritual. The only limits are the physical limits - and the physical body evolves in order to involve, to express, this dynamic and infinite Love and Creativity. This great Spirit. The divine become flesh.

    So I guess there is where I'm on the fence. I agree with a lot of the more mystical and esoteric traditions that this world is the most dense, material, and limited reality. The goal of spiritual evolution, as classically understood, is a journey of the Soul spark freeing itself from the husk of ignorance, re-collecting itself from the scattered remnants of time and space, and returning to its Divine Origin, remembering its Divine Name and place within the Heavens. I still believe this is true. (Guess I'm not a materialist? LOL)

    If this is true for the journey of each divine spark, how much more true is it for this reality itself? The physical cosmos itself is Spirit. As Teilhard de Chardin said, there is a "spiritual power of matter." When one views the material processes from "on high," they can see the happenings of the material world through the mystic's eye. So the rather gnostic entrapment of the soul in flesh becomes, simultaneously, the path of its release, and furthermore, sublimation.

    It's not enough to escape the world, but to sublimate it.

    This is something I'm willing to believe is beyond the journey of each soul. It's a larger, cosmic (and not in the sense of Carl Sagan's cosmos alone - but also the cosmos according to the Great Chain of Being and the heavenly spheres). It's bringing the divine down upon Earth, because the Earth itself is secretly the same Unseen Light of the heavens.

    The alchemist Paracelsus wrote that there are two kinds of light: Lumen Dei (the light of the Godhead, uncreated, unmanifest) and Lumen Naturae (the light hidden in the natural, physical world). While the alchemist, the human being, can discover the uncreated Light through divine grace, meditation, contemplation, etc. - it is the job of the alchemist to uncover that same light hidden in nature. I always compare this to what Bassui said about Buddha Nature. Ice and water are made of the same substance, but are in two different states. That's the only difference between a Buddha and anyone else. In the same way, the material universe is veiled divinity.

    The tricky part, and the part that puts humans in an important spot in this cosmology, is that it is up to us to reveal this Light in nature. It is our responsibility. This puts a new spin on being a steward in the Garden.

    So I understand the importance of tapping into this urge to "become," but also there is great importance in realizing and recognizing what we already are, and thus living, creating, and evolving to express what is infinite in us through infinitely novel ways.

    Sri Aurobindo believed that the emerging kind of human being would be a "gnostic being," in which the higher consciousness would have finally been able to descend, and become a permanent part of this material realm, and an active, stable agent of divinization. A race of wizards and alchemists? Perhaps we are a long way away from that, but I think the important thing we can do now is to practice in whatever way flowers the divine in us, and helps our highly materialist culture realize the sublime through its own journey. I don't think the two are truly separate. The material is the spiritual's counterpart, another expression of the divine.

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Thursday, 28 July 2011 19:39 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Just a little addendum: Aurobindo also wrote quite extensively on the Psychic Being. Esoterically speaking, this is a kind of "sum of all experiences," though the various lifetimes - a kind of greater Self made up thousands of incarnations. The goal of Integral Yoga is to allow this being to guide you like an Inner Guru, your own divine teacher and "Higher Self" (Something that's tossed around a lot in the New Age - but probably has its origin in teachings like Aurobindo's). So there is importance in evolution. It gives something to the uncreated worlds - experience of limitation, fragmentation, uniqueness, the relative. Just as the individual can reconnect to the divine, the Psychic Being eventually reconnects itself and its lifetimes back to its origin. It's moved from a spark to a flame, to a star.

  • Comment Link Paul P Thursday, 28 July 2011 21:31 posted by Paul P

    Thanks Trevor for posting the resources and sharing some of experience with your practice. Maybe a few lightbulbs are finally going off over here…

    Please forgive my ignorance about what constitutes a formal evolutionary spiritual practice. Having now read through the Integral Enlightenment website descriptions of meditations, transformative practices, and engagement practices I have a much better sense of what the “evolutionary tradition” is. Interesting to me is that I am familiar with some of the practices and others are new to me, but I can see how the whole menu produces something intriguing.

    What I notice that is unique to this tradition, from my perspective at least, is the shift of the context for the practice:

    “Are we meditating simply to find greater inner peace for ourselves? Or, are we meditating with the intention of liberating our consciousness in order to make ourselves available to fully participate in the further evolution of Life, Humanity, Consciousness, and even God?”

    This context shift is reflected in one of my earlier comments questioning being no longer satisfied with clarity, contentment and peace. As Jeremy describes well above, I guess I sometimes feel the urge to “become” is like a trap – the illusion of movement can become a treadmill as illustrated so well in our Western Culture – personally been there done that! And at the same time I see the value in the service orientation; a worthy practice to take up for sure!

    And I also notice in particular the contemplation and engagement with these two moral questions:

    What Would I Do if the Evolution of the Human Race Depended on Me?
    What If The Evolution of the Human Race Depended on What I Do Right Now?

    which is perhaps why I questioned whether this impulse is “evolutionary” – seeming to me like a moral one. And maybe this contemplation would naturally lead one to a sense of moral obligation which Bergen was speaking about. (Eh Berg, where’d you go?) I have not had years of experience contemplating this, so it’s just a guess.

    And in fact, it seems that the actual mechanism of evolution – whether it’s traditional Darwinism or a combination of effects of the epigenome, exposome, nutrigenome and microbiome – doesn’t really matter. It just matters that some process of change is going on to contemplate these questions. So to me the relation between scientific evolution and evolutionary spirituality seems rather loose.

    As to the direction of evolution, it doesn’t seem to matter much either. Evolutionary spirituality seems more like stewardship: here we are on the evo-devo tree and the question becomes now what are we going to do to keep going. I tend to agree with Chris that our cultural next step is along the lines of a worldcentric or Nature-Nation vision, rather than a cosmocentric orientation. To me, it seems the cosmos will be fine whether we go the way of the dinosaurs or not – the universe is just that BIG! Part of me wonders if the idea that we are so important for evolution in the universe isn’t a throwback to when it was assumed the Earth was at the center of the universe.

    Not sure I am contributing much new here in this comment other than to write down some of my own learnings from this conversation that we have been having. But I do want to thank everyone for sharing their respective points of view which have been instrumental in helping me to learn. When I look back at my original comment full of questions from 10 days ago, I feel like I’ve learned a lot since then.

    Thanks All!

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 29 July 2011 15:04 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Chris,

    I think at this point it's time for beers.

    Didn't mean to get all mushy on you with that post. But interestingly enough, you picked up on something real. I felt an emotional release after posting it. Don't quite understand what it was that came up for me, to be honest. Might have something to do with this being a time in my life to commit and to do so with an open-hearted, open-minded conviction.

    I agree that "personalization" is not "the" point/goal of evolution. I suspect that it's more like omni-purposeful. The achievement of the eyeball is a glorious end unto itself, as is the incredible complexity of DNA. I just use "a" person as an example of the realization of an originating potential of Spirit.

    Your Nation/Nature state mysticism works for me. I don't totally get your point about the problem with a Kosmocentric telos. Beers. I love Benyus' work on biomimicry. Wrote about it in my book.

    In terms of "materialism", again I suspect we're on the same page. As a Christian I'm radically incarnational, in a way I suspect pushes the acceptable limits of that doctrine. That is, I agree with Hafez that the universe is the secret one slowly growing a body.

    By materialism I more mean the metaphysical assumption that
    matter is all there is, and all that is accidentally manifested. I like Thomas Berry's thinking that maybe we should be talking about "inscendence" not transcendence, because the latter has implications of escaping this world. The deeper we go into matter, the closer we get to the Heart and Mind of sacred Mystery.

    Matter is, in this sense, sacramental. McFague would critique that by saying that matter is not sacred because it is an outward sign of the interiority of Spirit. It is sacred unto itself, not as a sign pointing us to the Holy One/Holy Oneness.

    I still don't totally get your reservations around the term "evolutionary". Beers.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 01 August 2011 21:44 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Bruce. Beers = Very Good.

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