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Two weeks ago Connie and I rafted 300 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with Genie Scott, Exectutive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and 23 others, including a young geologist and gifted evolutionary storyteller, Dr. Alan "Gish" Gislick. What a stunning experience!
While in the Grand Canyon, I naturally met God—that is, I had a deeply inspiring and truly transforming experience of Reality. A number of "revies" (revelations/insights) came to me regarding the message I'm to preach in the days, weeks, and months to come. Bottom line: I interpreted Reality/God saying to me: "Be bolder, Michael, much bolder, especially regarding how you speak about the costs (individually and collectively) of not having a meaningful science-based worldview and the benefits of celebrating the epic of evolution as our common creation story. There's too much at stake not to be bold."
Because I speak to wildly diverse groups - from devoutly religious audiences of many different kinds, to nonreligious and occasionally even anti-religious groups - I generally tailor my message, at least a little, for each audience.
Here's the main thing I feel called to say to my fellow Christians:
Until we come to appreciate what God has revealed over the past 200 years about how everything was actually created, and why death at all levels is essential to the creative process, it's practically impossible not to trivialize core religious concepts such as God's ways, God's word, and God's will. More, when we value ancient mythic revelations over current measurable revelations, we inevitably betray God, belittle the gospel, and risk condemning our grandchildren to a literal hell on Earth.
I elaborate on this in my next post.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn't go away." —Philip K. Dick
For all of human history, cultures have created gods, and stories about them, to explain the powerful natural forces that were beyond our control, comprehension, and often ability to cope. For millennia "God" has been little more than an catch-all cosmic concept for everything from thunder bolts to comet trails.
But as science began to show us what really caused natural phenomenon, bit by bit, God faded into the distance, and our supernatural notions became irrelevant or trivial. Real answers to ancient mysteries emerged, and we were left with old stories that didn't quite make sense or ring true in any deep, this-world, realistic way. Until recently...
In the last decade a new way of experiencing God has emerged from within religious traditions around the world, grounded in our best scientific understandings of physical, biological, and cultural evolution. Millions of religious folk have moved from merely thinking about God as some unnatural, otherworldly entity to experiencing God as natural everyday reality filled with awe and mystery—no religion required. It's one of the reasons why so many people polled say they are "spiritual" but not "religious."
For evolutionaries, God is no less than a sacred proper name—a meaningful personificaiton—of ultimate reality, seen and unseen. God is the "Abba" or cosmic father that Jesus knew he was one with and we were all children of. God is the rainbow we can see with the naked eye and the infrared light we can't see. God is the fabric of reality, the very matter and energy of which we are made and the empty space that allows it all to be. As I discuss briefly in Chapter 6 of Thank God for Evolution:
God is the Mystery at the Center of our amazement that the Universe is here at all, that it is what it is, and that it is always becoming, yet always somehow whole.
God is the Mystery at the Heart of consciousness, conscience, compassion, and all the other forms of co-creative, co-incarnational responsiveness of life to life.
God is the Mysterious Omni-Creative Power through which the Universe is and ever becomes more intricately and wondrously fulfilled through the interactions of all its parts (each of which contains a spark of the Whole).
Science is now how we seek truth about the nature of reality, of which we are an inseparable part. Anything short of serious group inquiry into the nature of reality is nothing more than someone just sitting around thinking about God.
Those who speak on behalf of reality are the true prophets of our age, whether they be religious, nonreligous, or even anti-religious. I'll say more about this in future blog posts.
"Science is, at least in part, informed worship." —Carl Sagan
UPDATE: Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow riffed on this topic in their half-hour weekly podcast on 1 September 2009. You can listen to that episode online, "Evolution and Infidelity" PODCAST, or subscribe to the free RSS feed.
We are losing our political leaders and will continue to lose them until we come to terms with our basic biology.
Leaders today are no more susceptible to violations of marital vows than were leaders of the past. But in this era of tabloids and texting, sexual scandals have become epidemic.
Every political victory puts the winner in a position not only of privilege and responsibility but also of sacrifice. Just as voters would be wise to withhold their vote from any candidate who lacks a basic understanding of the economy, so should we be wary of electing any man who is ignorant of his biological instincts.
Foremost, he must know about testosterone—what testosterone does and how a rise in status elevates this hormone and thus intensifies one’s sex drive and willingness to take risks.
We can assume that Governors Sanford and Spitzer both knew that testosterone is the sex hormone. We can also assume that Senators Ensign, Edwards, and Craig knew that the more testosterone one has, the more insistent the sex drive. What most politicians don’t know, however, are 5 scientific discoveries that provide crucial perspective.
What follows are the first few paragraphs of a fabulous Huffington Post blog post by David Sloan Wilson (pictured left), perhaps the leading evolutionary theorist alive today, on the subject of evolutionary psychology in the media...
Evolutionary psychology, once the darling of the public media, has been dumped in a recent Newsweek article by journalist Sharon Begley. Return accusations are beginning to fly from evolutionary psychologists, who accuse Begley of willful distortions and scientific incompetence (e.g., 1, 2).
As usual for romantic quarrels, there are legitimate grievances on both sides that get lost in a hail of recriminations. I have always had a love-hate relationship with the school of thought that most people associate with the term "evolutionary psychology." When it appeared in the late 1980's, it made some great points but also got other things profoundly wrong. Begley's article made some cheap shots but it also made some fair shots about evolutionary psychology that need to be acknowledged.
As for the public media, covering science must be one of the toughest journalistic assignments. First, one must understand the nature of the scientific process in general terms. Then, one must master the specific topic that is being reported. Finally, one must convey what is genuinely newsworthy to a general audience--the fair shots--while avoiding the cheap shots that get people's attention but become part of the problem in the long run. Judged by these standards, the Newsweek article scores rather low.
Here are some issues that need to be resolved to get the romance between evolutionary psychology and the public media back on the right track.
Click HERE to read the rest of this post (a good quick overview of the current state of the discipline).
ALSO SEE: David Sloan Wilson's other Huffington Post contributions, especially his 6-part "Atheism as a Stealth Religion" series and his 13-part "Truth and Reconcilation for Group Selection" series. Both are excellent!
We've been staying at Tahdi Blackstone's home in the West Hills of Los Angeles, which is just heavely. Tahdi, a former board member of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, has been a leader in the IONS community in Los Angeles for many years. She's a beautiful soul and has a wonderful place—one of our favorites, actually. She invited us to be at her home while she went to the 13th Annual International IONS Conference, in Tuscon, AZ.
The highlight of the week was our experience at Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith's (pictured left) dynamic New Thought church, Agape International Spiritual Center, in Culver City. Even though we've yet to meet in person, Rev. Michael invited me to fill his pulpit for the Wednesday evening worship service, while he and his wife, Ricki Byers Beckwith, were speaking in Portland, Oregon. I don't think I've ever experienced more passionate, get-your-body-up-and-clap gospel music in my entire life. It was absolutely awesome. It was also a wonderful way to celebrate Connie's and my 8th wedding anniversary. They gave me 35 minutes to preach, and I had a blast. What a fabulous and wonderfully diverse church! If you've ever in the LA area on a Sunday morning or a Wendesday night, make sure you attend Agape. It's quite the experience.
On Thursday night, I offered my 90-minute "Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis" program, which was also very well received.
Last November (2008) I sent Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and columnist for Scientific American, a copy of my book, Thank God for Evolution. We had met once before, at his office, a year earlier, and he and Connie have known each other for close to a decade. A few weeks later, he sent the following email:
"Michael, I loved your book. Excellent. Really powerful stuff. We're fortunate to have you on our side (the "our" being humanity). Your discussion of evolutionary integrity was especially meaningful to me. I tried to do something similar to this in a couple of chapters in my book Why Darwin Matters, and in How We Believe, but you're a better preacher than I am! I really hope your book does well. When are you coming back to southern California? I'd like to schedule you to present at Caltech."
Well, we just returned to southern California and last Sunday, as part of the Skeptic Society's Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech, I delivered my "Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis" program to an enthusiastic crowd of about 300. (This is the same program I delivered at the United Nations in April.) Having delivered this talk to both very religious groups and to very anti-religious groups, I knew it would generate a positive response from virtually everyone. Still, it was great to actually experience it. Afterwards, a group of about 15 of us when out for dinner and conversations.
Tonight, also as part of Skeptic's Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech, award-winning author Robert Wright will be delivering a talk on his new book, The Evolution of God. Connie and I greatly look forward to this as we've known Bob for years and find his thinking to be closely aligned with our own. Indeed, more than perhaps anyone else, Bob has helped keep us in gas and food money since the launch of our itinerant evo-evangelistic ministry in April 2002. Back in 2002 he donated (gave us!) 75 hardcover copies of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (which I consider one of the 10 best books I've ever read), which we sold at our speaking events. We went on to sell more than 2,000 paperback copies of Nonzero, as well as nearly 400 copies of his book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are—The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.
Just a few weeks ago I read his new book, The Evolution of God, and offered the following endorsement to his publisher:
“In a time marked by religious strife and the conflict between faith and reason comes this brilliant work that naturalizes religion and offers a fresh view of religious history and cultural evolution. This is a bold and, indeed, wise book that gives hope to all of us who long for a healthy future.”
I highly recommend reading The Evolution of God. I see it as one of the most significant books in the growing field of religious naturalism. I also highly recommend Michael Shermer's book, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share, Care, and Follow the Golden Rule, which I is one of the best books in the realm of evolutionary ethics.
On a more personal note, Connie and I look forward to going out for food and drinks with Bob and Michael after Bob's talk tonight. I consider them both to be older brothers on the path.
ALSO SEE: Best Evolution Resources
Thomas Berry died on Monday, at the age of 94. Connie and I are grateful that we were able to see our mentor last November in Greensboro, NC, which I wrote about here: Honoring Thomas Berry. We knew it would be our last visit. When we received his sister Margaret's email (see below), we just held each other and gently wept, reflecting on the fact that perhaps the greatest human being that either of us will ever know in our lifetimes just passed on.
For most people, their first look at life from an evolutionary worldview comes with the truly awesome realization that we have been on this epic journey together through deep time for billions of years. For the first time we can clearly see that we have been evolving as a Universe since before there was even the Sun-Earth relationship that we humans now measure time by.
And even more awesome (and by awesome I don't mean the modern Southern California valley girl-come-surfer turn of phrase but rather the jaw-dropping, heart-stopping kind of awe we feel when see a natural wonder like Hubble's deep space photos or the man-made terror of two towers falling in front of our eyes here on Earth), an evolutionary worldview is about much, much more than our shared past and an anthropocentric resistance to the reality that we are reated to everything and, indeed, share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos. The most awesome realization comes when we turn over the sands of time and realize that we are going to be on this evolutionary journey together for billions of years yet to come.
For some, this means finding instant freedom from the apocalyptic thinking that has paralyzed our planetary creativity. It gives the future back to a generation of believers who have been waiting on the world to end and hoping against hope that someone or something supernatural was coming to save us. For others it opens a new window on the world with a view of the future so inspiring that we feel a calling of cosmic proportions to consciously join hands with the very forces the forged us from stardust to humanity.
As I offered in a recent blog post: "7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion", there are at least seven seriously negative consequences, personally and collectively, of flat-earth scriptural literalism.
By "Old-Time Religion", I mean religious faith that has not yet embraced an evidential understanding of revelation and a deep-time view of grace—that is, religion that still hasn't integrated and been transformed by the epic of evolution—cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history—as given by science.
1. trivializes God, guidance, and good news;
2. balkanizes religion and bastardizes science;
3. desacralizes nature;
4. blasphemes death;
5. fails our children and grandchildren;
6. exacerbates personal and interpersonal challenges; and
7. blinds us from seeing our way out of the current global integrity crisis.
Old-Time Religion trivializes God by claiming that the Creator is still best understood in terms of Iron Age and ancient Palestinian metaphors. It trivializes guidance by suggesting that God stopped communicating all the really important stuff back when people believed the world was flat and religious insights were recorded on animal skins. And it trivializes good news by suggesting that our greatest religious inspiration is found in unnatural events ‘back then, up there, or someday.'
Paul Hawken has been one of my heroes for two decades. He is an internationally recognized proponent of sustainable business practices, founder of Wiser Earth, co-author of Natural Capitalism, and author of The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. On May 3, 2009, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University of Portland, where he also delivered the following outstanding commencement address.
Commencement Address to the Class of 2009
University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009
When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there.
But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.
Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.
This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food – but all that is changing.
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.