Evolve or Perish


We are at a turning point in human history. The quality of this century and beyond will be determined largely by how how quickly we are able to come into integrity -- that is, how well we learn from and align with Life's One Great Law: evolve or perish.

It's no coincidence that we are facing what many commentators suggest is a Perfect Storm of crises: the global economy, climate change, terrorism, health care, the collapse of biodiversity and fisheries around the world, and a host of other educational, social, political, environmental, moral, and ethical challenges. Simply put, we are confronted by Reality. The future of civilization depends on if, and how quickly, our personal worldviews and the structure of our institutions come into alignment with this Reality.

Integrity (coming into right relationship with Reality at all nested levels – what religious people call 'getting right with God') truly is everything. It's the only thing that ultimately matters. The main reason I am so evangelistic about evolution is this: Without a deep-time, developmental worldview, it is simply impossible to understand what integrity is – much less know how to live it.

Consider: Our current systems of governance, economics, education, and religion all came into being long before a natural, measurable way of understanding the nature of reality was available—that is, before any human group could possibly answer life's biggest questions in scientifically compatible ways. Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? How are we to live?

Of course, each of the world's enduring religious traditions provides subjectively meaningful answers to these questions. But prior to telescopes, microscopes,computers, and global communications, subjectively meaningful answers would not have been objectively aligned with the way things really are.  

The answers may well have been very useful in their time, but it is unfair to expect the ancient answers and perspectives to remain fresh across so many centuries. They should not be expected to provide adequate help for individuals navigating life's challenges today—nor for societies as a whole.

A prime example of a religious distinction that is out of sync with today's demands is that of "natural vs. supernatural." Prior to an evolutionary worldview, it was more than just difficult, it was impossible for any culture to acquire and assent to natural (scientifically accurate) explanations for questions such as: How did that mountain get there? What is the Sun made of? How old is Earth? Why do some objects in the night sky move while others hold to fixed positions? Why are humans such a blend of good and evil? What is our place in the universe—our role in the body of life? Why is there a multitude of conflicting religious stories around the world?

The Great Work of our age is thus surely this: co-creating systems of governance, economics, education, and religion that reflect and draw on our best understandings of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human evolution. My book, Thank God for Evolution, is an attempt to outline the contours of evolutionary religion for the 21st century. But what will evolutionary governance and evolutionary economics look like? Or evolutionary jurisprudence, and evolutionary education? And how might we most effectively harness the collective intelligence of humanity in our exploration of such questions? 

If our descendants are to survive and thrive into the future, the institutions that shape us, govern us, and provide the necessities of life for us will all need to shift—and rapidly—into evolutionary modes. Fortunately, evolution is not engineering. Testing, response, adaptation, and delight in emergence are far more important than traditional modes of planning and designing. We don't need to agree upon—nor even to see—the promised land before we take major steps to begin the journey. For me, this is good news—very good news.