Charles Darwin, 1869
In the final stage of scientific living we develop a perspective that integrates science with philosophy and religion. This perspective centers on a concept of evolution. The early concept of evolution introduced by Darwin has had difficulty entering the culture, partly because the term “evolution” has often been used to imply various combinations of the following ideas.
1. Early life forms were the ancestors of all later life forms. This idea is called “descent with modification”; and many kinds of evidence strongly support this statement.
2. Natural selection is an important process in evolution. Natural selection is a slow process, a gradual accumulation of numerous small, chance variations that proved beneficial in the struggle for survival. This idea, too, is well supported.
3. Natural selection is the main process in evolution. Gaps in the fossil record continue to challenge this statement.
4. The origin of life on earth is an accident wholly due to physical and chemical processes. This statement is an unproven hypothesis, and scientists have generally given up trying to build a living organism starting just with water, chemicals, and electricity.
5. Because of the many similarities between humans and animals, it is a mistake to think that human beings are on a higher level in mind and spirit. This statement expresses a philosophical view, not a scientific one.
6. Science is the only reliable source of truth. This view is scientism, a philosophical view, not anything that science itself could prove.
To lump all these ideas together under the term “evolution” blocks the development of an integral concept of evolution that includes a spiritual side.
Once biology had set in motion the idea of evolution, the idea was taken up by other sciences. The picture of a long, gradual, and challenging process leading to the appearance of higher forms struck a responsive chord. The concept of evolution was expanded by Henri Bergson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and others to become a cosmic concept embracing every dimension of human life. Today we can build on their achievements to affirm the outworking of divine purpose in the interconnected realms of energy and matter, biological life, personal growth, and planetary history. In its fullness, scientific living participates in that multi-dimensioned evolutionary process.
Rooted in a reasonably well-informed knowledge of unchanging law, scientific living fosters progress, drawing on biology, psychology, history, and other sciences which illuminate the drama of cosmic evolution as it transpires in our world. These phases of cosmic evolution find their fullest meaning and value in the big picture provided by a cosmology that is philosophically open to the fullest meaning and value.
Part of the evolutionary adventure is the evolution of science itself. From the beginning of this discussion, we have spoken of the truths of science, and these truths are as dependable as anything in this world. But our cosmic adventure includes the fact that science itself evolves: scientific knowledge is growing and scientific theories are changing. So we want to avoid dogmatism regarding our facts.
Working with this integral concept of evolution leads us to seek the big picture, calm down, temper spiritual idealism by scientific realism, study to know the proper sequence of things, and be patient with the unfolding. If we honor the wisdom of evolution, when we find ourselves in a situation in decline, we work to slow the decline. When we can lead an advance, we do not get too far ahead of those we hope to lead. The reward for scientific living is that when we act in accord with universe law and the wisdom of evolution, we gain in stability and power.
See Steve McIntosh, Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Story of our Origins (New York: Select Books, 2012), 168. The list of meanings of the term “evolution” is a variation on one put forth by Alvin Plantinga in Robert Pennock, ed., Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2003), 779-89. The photograph is of Charles Darwin.
Last Thursday, May 8, 2014, I accidentally published two posts: “Fine-tuning of basic constants in the universe” and “Tornadoes in a friendly universe?” I apologize for the overload.