Thursday, February 3, 2011

Intelligent Evolution

Evolution is one of those topics, like right-to-life, politics and religion, which cause many to go onto autopilot when mentioned.  The staunch members of the various factions immediately retreat to their respective corners, lace up their gloves, and prepare to duke it out.  Opinions on this subject run the gamut from traditional creationists who believe that God absolutely created the entire heavens and earth in six literal days to evolutionists who are strict materialists who believe that the entire process is the result of the random interaction of inert elements.  However, I think that many people, including myself, fall somewhere in the middle and lean towards a theory that envisions an evolutionary process directed to some degree by a cosmic creative force. 

If we accept that evolution is still in process, and we accept the possibility that it has been directed in some way by a cosmic intelligence, then shouldn’t we assume that that direction is still occurring?  The answer to this question really depends on one’s opinion regarding the degree of involvement that has been present.  Some believe that the universe was merely set in motion and there has been no other participation from a divine source.  From a traditional religious perspective, many believe that God (however they may conceive of Him) is intimately involved in every aspect of our existence.  Personally, I tend to view the cosmic involvement as an underlying progression towards order and unity.

The concept of a directed evolution is conveyed in a marvelous book written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin entitled The Phenomenon of Man.*  Teilhard was a Jesuit priest and paleontologist who died in 1955.  He was involved in several notable discoveries of prehistoric human fossils.  His book, published in 1950, puts forth a remarkable thesis that the entire universe is undergoing a process of “cosmogenesis,” (the progressive guided development of the universe) which is occurring through the mechanism of “complexification.”  This latter term perfectly conveys the process that has been going on since the beginning. 

According to current cosmological theory, at the instant of the formation of the universe, it was comprised exclusively of sub-atomic particles.  These coalesced into hydrogen atoms, which in turn were compressed into more dense atoms through fusion reaction within stars.  Eventually these elements were incorporated into our planet and finally combined into complex DNA molecules which are the building blocks of life and contained millions of atoms in a single molecule.  This is precisely the opposite of what one would expect to observe.  Over time, matter tends to degrade, not increase in complexity.  Nevertheless, it was through complexification that life emerged, thus suggesting the influence of a creative force directing the progression of this phenomenon.
Teilhard presents a somewhat technical but still understandable description of evolution as it has unfolded from the “big bang” through its current manifestation in the earth.  He believed that we are currently experiencing one of the primary objectives of the evolutionary process, consciousness.  He further believed that the ultimate objective is the “Omega point,” which is God-consciousness.  This thesis is especially interesting because it not only provides a link between creation and evolution, but it sets forth an interesting rationale for the process.

Is Teilhard right?  Naturally, it is impossible for us to know to what degree this theory reflects reality, but for me it is an idea that definitely resonates with my truth meter.  We have no way of knowing why a purely energetic cosmic consciousness would have generated matter, but it is certainly conceivable that if that is what took place, that that entity could also convey an awareness of its existence within the resulting life forms.  Perhaps the common aspects of so many of the world religions are due to a progressive awakening that is unfolding in our collective human awareness.  If this is what is truly taking place, then we are engaged in a dual evolutionary process, both physical and energetic/spiritual.

Unfortunately, evolution occurs over an extremely long period of time.  Therefore, none of us will be able to observe the complete fulfillment of any awakening that may be in progress.  Nevertheless, we can attempt to develop a sensitivity that will enable us to perceive the direction of this progression and fulfill whatever role we may have in it.

* For a more thorough understanding of Teilhard’s theory, I would recommend obtaining a copy of his book.


  1. That is one way to look at it.

  2. I don't understand the debate. It seems to me to all fit together. Be it the Biblical version, the Hindu version, evolution, or whatever, it seems to be a very similar idea. The only real difference being was it by design or by chance, and since neither side can present definitive evidence one way or the other, why engage in pointless arguments? I guess it's entertaining.

  3. The video that I included was merely an example of the controversy. The major underlying issue seems to be what should be taught in public schools, strict materialism or potential cosmic direction. If all of this is merely the result of inert atomic matter, then all concepts of morality are purely arbitrary, and life has no purpose other than what we give it. On the other hand, if pure consciousness is the source, then the expression of our individual consciousness may well be subject to a higher authority.

  4. I'm not sure morality is any more arbitrary either way. How do you mean "subject to a higher authority"? Isn't that true in both cases? If there is a God than our individual consciousness is subject to God, if not than aren't we subject to the collective consciousness of man? Does that not become our higher power?

  5. John Kerry, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are my higher powers, unfortunately (or whoever else has enough lobbyist support to fund a campaign). And of course, whoever holds the power essentially controls the media who control the collective consciousness of man, as this is generally where opinions and perspectives are formed. So, I'm not sure collective consciousness has a whole lot of authority these days. It is just a puppet. Though if it did come to find genuine authority, that sounds a lot like the final inevitable goal of Social Evolution as defined by Karl Marx. Is it possible JC was talking about the same thing?

    However, humanity doesn't seem to be evolving into a more collective soul, but rather, appears to be moving away from it. In the West we have become more isolated and marginalized in our communities, families, and even within our own homes as our personal realities are being replaced by the fantasy realm of the internet and television. In the developing world, struggling to keep up as the West drags the planet forward, urbanization is the inevitable result as premature infrastructure development and uneven economic dependence create scenarios where traditional forms of survival no longer feasible (ponder the effects of US Foreign Aid). This is a process that pulls families and communities apart, which is contrary to the idea of an evolution towards social unity. Only something cataclysmic would seem to be able to reverse this backwards progression any time soon. For it is in times of great disaster and desperation that humanity seems to find it's greatest compassion, and come together in a unified positive effort. And prevailing compassion would seem to be the vital component in social, personal and spiritual evolution. But as we draw further apart, compassion loses it's place in our lives.

    But this is just a narrow and spontaneous perspective on a tiny sliver of an eternal process. Things could be, and have been, worse.

  6. Neither Buddhism nor Christianity began in the midst of a catastrophe. They were mustard seeds. Thomas Cahil’s series “The Hinges of History” convey an interesting perspective of history unfolding.

  7. In 6 CE, Judea came under direct Roman rule as the province of Iudaea. Eventually, the Jews rose against Roman rule in 66 CE in a revolt that was unsuccessful. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE and much of the population was killed or enslaved.

    Just a brief look at current events during the time when Christianity was born:

  8. Interesting point. I suppose that the suppression of a revolt in a minor Roman province could explain the ultimate worldwide success of Christianity.

    I'm just throwing out ideas. I don't claim to have all of the answers.

  9. Actually, I thought we were just talking about the birth of Christianity, not the spread. The Roman occupation was no small item of concern during the ministry of Christ, and it can be speculated that his ministry would not have had the success that it did if the people weren't facing the same kind of ominous fate that they were under Roman occupation. They were, in fact, looking for a leader to free them, and the revolution in 66 demonstrates that this was the direction in which they were headed. And people need to be brought together in a common cause for something like that to take place, which takes me back to my original point. So the idea is that the same kind of circumstances that led to the revolt (and the eventual destruction and enslavement in 70) was the same mentality that led to the birth of Christianity.

    As for the rise, and the eventual worldwide spread of Christianity, those are different topics, but in each of those cases there was no lack of persecution and then eventual bloodshed on a massive scale, from all parties involved, though the perpetrators responsible clearly shifted over time. In a sense, it could be said that he spread of Christianity was cataclysmic in itself (the death of the native inhabitants of the Americas is widely considered to the largest scale genocide ever perpetrated, by a long shot, and all carried out under the sign of the cross).

    Then one has to wonder if what Christianity has achieved is in fact success in the eyes of Christ, who spoke plainly that compassion was at the core of all that was important. Again, back to the original point I was going for, but still, another subject of potentially lengthy debate that perhaps is a few blog entries down the road.

    Buddhism, however, that isn't so easy to explain beyond the suffering and disillusionment of a single man who set out to discover the answers to the questions of his youth.

  10. I don't know about the history lesson, but in my experience individuals only find spiritual awakening, or any major change, in the midst of crisis. I have encountered few cases contrary to this. This is why suffering is universal, it brings focus and motivation for change and opens us up for discovery. Evolution of any kind is fueled by suffering.

    As to Christianity being successful in the eyes of Jesus, perhaps. It seems to have strayed from the original message. Jesus was not building churches or religion, He was building relationships. He was reconciling man to God and to each other. It was Paul that organized it and went around setting up organizations, and then government got involved and it took on a different face entirely. Today it often seems little more than a business. However, through all that, a simple pure message of love has endured. The story of Jesus is available 2000 years later to all those who would hear it. So is it a success? I don't know, it has helped me.

    Oh, and maybe we could do without the

  11. Good point, even if everything else were left out of the equation, the availability of the message of Christ to us today alone makes it all worth it.

  12. There is no doubt that pain is an amazing motivator for change. My reference to the mustard seed was the idea that both Jesus and Buddha began in obscurity, but have become so influential. Unfortunately, I think it was their intent to direct mankind to the path of enlightenment, but their followers have tended to build shrines in front of the path and charge admission as though the path itself was the destination. It’s hard for those who approach the original teachings to look behind the structures and rediscover the path that they need to continue following.

    motivator for change. The beautiful thing