The Role of Evolutionary Thinking in Modern Culture — An Interview

Evolutionaries eyeRecently I was interviewed for the Journal of Communicative and Integrative Biology, by author Tam Hunt. A preview of the result is below.

The entire interview can be found here.

What is an “evolutionary” and why should we care?

An evolutionary is a broad category for a new type of thinker and way of thinking about the world. An evolutionary is informed by the radical knowledge that we live in a dynamic changing, evolving universe instead of a static, fixed, unchanging one. In discipline after discipline stasis is giving way to change, fixity is giving way to flow, form is giving way to process, as a way to describe reality. That may sound abstract, but when it comes to thinking about things like human psychology and cultural development, this understanding is actually quite important. For example, it makes a differences when we begin to realize that this thing we call “human nature” is neither fixed in time nor fixed genetically in our evolutionary history, but is malleable, adaptable, evolvable (to use that term loosely). Too often we imagine life and reality to be fixed and unchanging. I call this the “spell of solidity.” Evolutionary thinking is breaking that spell. We’re learning so much about how things in nature develop—including us. We’re discovering that the future is more open than we had imagined and my book is an exploration of how this insight is transforming our understanding of what it means to be human.

What is evolutionary spirituality? Is this a truly new set of concepts or do some schools of thought, such as Vedanta or Buddhism, already encompass many of the key ideas?

Evolutionary spirituality is a spiritual perspective based on the knowledge that we live in this evolving cosmos that has gone from hydrogen gas to human beings. In the book, I say that evolutionary spirituality is evolution-inspired, future-oriented, and world-embracing. Most religious traditions, are pre-evolutionary, including Vedanta and Buddhism, and they are not natively oriented this way (though each tradition has exceptions). Of course, nothing is entirely new, and elements of these ideas can certainly be found in the great traditions. Evolutionary spirituality is also a broad term. It varies from more science-based approaches like the “Universe Story” and “Big History” to new forms of philosophy, mysticism and religious theology.

Darwin2At its essence, evolutionary spirituality is about realizing that evolution is not just happening out there in the universe—in nature, or in our biology—but in our own lives and the lives of our communities. It is connected to the choices we are making to develop and grow, to have more integrity, to understand ourselves and our world more deeply, to expand our own awareness and cognition, to reach for richer, more complex and integrated perspectives, to create novelty and beauty, and to contribute in some small way to the further development of human consciousness and culture.

What inspired you to write your book?

I wanted to share these powerful ideas with readers. They can change the way we see ourselves, and the possibilities inherent in life. And they can make us think more deeply about science, technology, cultural differences, and our place in this vast cosmos.

Also, some (not all) of these ideas have flourished in the counterculture. There are some good things about that. But the downside is that they have not yet received some of the rigorous disciplining critique that will allow them to develop further. Thoughtful, interesting books can help to change that.

Who are the most important figures in today’s evolutionary philosophy/spirituality, in your view?

I feature profiles of many of the thinkers that inspired me in the book, and I hope readers will enjoy learning something about all of them. But rather than promote them here, I would prefer to talk about the founders of evolutionary philosophy/spirituality—individuals like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo and Henri Bergson. They were all extraordinary pioneers of this evolutionary perspective. And of course, if we are going to talk about evolution as a transformational idea, than we have to just appreciate at least 2 others—Darwin, whose insights brought evolution into the world as a fully scientific idea. And Hegel, whose evolutionary, or proto-evolutionary philosophy, was foundational to so much that came after, and a sign of the cultural sea change that was beginning in his time.

As I spoke to today’s evolutionaries for the book, these names often surfaced. And there are others as well. An evolutionary may be future-oriented, but this perspective is also about a rich appreciation of the past, of those pioneers whose shoulders we stand on, and whose work we humbly try to take forward in our own time.

Why is the idea of evolution so hard for many people to accept as integral to reality?  Isn’t evolution simply “change” by another name? And isn’t change as obvious as the nose on my face?

I don’t think most people have trouble with evolution. But there are a minority who do. That is mostly because the way in which book_displayevolution was historically introduced into our culture. Almost from the start, evolution was not simply a scientific idea but also an anti-religious idea. In the 19th century, it was a key inflection point in the development of science and in our growing trust of science instead of religion to explain the world to us. And justifiable or not, evolution became historically associated with an atheistic view of the world. Obviously it is still is caught up in that science/religion culture war. Unfortunately, that makes some religious people reflexively reject the idea, not based on its merits or any deep consideration of its truthfulness, but simply based on the assumption that being pro-evolution is inherently the same as being anti-religion, and not even just anti-religion, but anti-meaning, anti-morality, almost anti-human. Of course, I think that’s unfortunate and unnecessary (even if one is religiously inclined) but it’s hard to change these historical narratives once they get started. Over time, I expect this anti-evolution narrative will fade. At least we can hope it will.

To read the entire interview, click here.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email
  • LinkedIn

Leave a Reply