Below are five questions and answers with philosopher, author, and the co-founder of the Institute of Cultural Evolution, Steve McIntosh.
Why did you write Evolution’s Purpose?
After my first book, Integral Consciousness, came out in 2007 I spent much of my time writing articles and giving interviews. But eventually I realized that the best way to continue my work in integral philosophy was to write another book. So I went on kind of vision quest to decide what the focus of the next book should be and I came to the realization that the most basic truth about integral philosophy is that consciousness evolves. And as I contemplated this foundational truth I came to see more clearly how the scientific and historical story of our evolutionary origins is actually a profound spiritual teaching.
This lead to a significant period of research which helped me appreciate that from the beginning the core of integral philosophy has been about discerning the spiritual significance of evolution—this is what Whitehead and Teilhard and Wilber all have in common. And I realized that there was more to discover in this quest to learn evolution’s spiritual teaching. Thus, I decided that the best way to contribute to the emergence of the evolutionary worldview was to work to further develop the core of integral philosophy by focusing on the meaning and value of evolution itself, which is why I wrote Evolution’s Purpose.
Why do you feel evolution is a subject for philosophy to address as well as a science? What can philosophy add to our growing scientific knowledge of our origins?
The empirical facts of evolution inevitably connect with one kind of philosophy or another, they cannot stand alone without a reality frame. And at this point in history our evolutionary creation story is too significant to be left to the impoverished philosophy of scientism. Because of its immense symbolic significance, the enlarged understanding of evolution that is now before us deserves a philosophy that can come to terms with the value that evolution generates.
Further, if we can effectively communicate the deeper truths of evolution’s value generation and its spiritual significance, this can provide a kind of spiritual leadership for our culture that we currently lack. Properly understood, the spiritual teachings of evolution can help us move beyond the shortcomings of the current culture of progressive spirituality by giving us a standard of comparative excellence. That is, the spiritual lessons of evolution will thus serve as a “true tone” or “concert pitch” that can help “tune up” all the spiritual lines of development that will come to “play in the orchestra” of emerging evolutionary spiritual culture.
What should the average person know about evolution that they don’t usually hear from today’s experts?
That we are agents of evolution. That we embody the all levels of emergence within us—we know what it feels like to be evolution happening. So again I think the average person should know that the scientific and historical story of our evolutionary origins is actually a profound spiritual teaching.
Who would you say are the three most important but under-appreciated thinkers when it comes to understanding the nature of evolution? Why are each important?
Well, I can start by mentioning Andrew Cohen and yourself (Carter Phipps), who are both doing important work in the unfolding emergence of the evolutionary worldview. Beyond that I can cite Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who is very under appreciated in our culture. Perhaps more than any other writer, Teilhard really showed the confluence of the truths revealed by science and spirituality.
The last chapter of the book is called “The Promise of a New Evolutionary Worldview”. What do you feel is the single most significant and/or exciting promise of an evolutionary orientation to the world around us?
The emergence of the evolutionary worldview could well turn out to be a kind of “second enlightenment;” a new way of seeing and knowing the world that can give us new powers to evolve consciousness and improve the human condition by healing the wounds of history.