Evolution: An Enlightenment View, by John White

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The following was written and emailed to me by John White, author of The Meeting of Science and Spirit (see end of post for contact information). It will appeal to some liberal Christians and many New Age and New Thought folk, especially those with an affinity for Integral philosophy and/or Eastern forms of evolutionary spirituality. 

"Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind," said Albert Einstein. Can science which attributes human origin to evolution and religion which attributes human origin to special creation ever agree on the subject of humanity's genesis? They can if they recognize a transcendent perspective which reconciles them. It is found in enlightenment traditions.

Human evolution is characterized primarily by our ascent in consciousness to ever-greater degrees of intelligence and noetic power. Cro-Magnon, for instance, are distinguished from Neanderthal not so much by physical body design as by their greater intelligence which resulted in the world's first art, statuary, engravings, music, personal ornamentation and starcharts. Their superior tool-making ability gave us the bow and arrow. They were the first to domesticate animals, invent fishing as a food supply, create calendars and bury their dead with funary objects. (Neanderthal were the first to simply bury their dead.) Anthropologists also infer that Cro-Magnon had more highly developed social systems. Altogether, they showed a superior degree of consciousness and qualify to be called a newer species.

Homo sapiens succeeded Cro-Magnon. But evolution has not stopped with us, enlightenment traditions say. Higher forms of humanity await future emergence. Our race is evolving to a godlike state, marked by states of consciousness which include the rationality and intellect of Homo sapiens but go beyond that with new faculties and depth of intelligence.

In the strict scientific sense, evolution means a process by which life arose from nonliving matter and subsequently developed as a succession of types, entirely by natural means—i.e., no supernatural factor was involved.

On the basis of my reason, research and personal experience with enlightenment traditions, I reject the part which prohibits supernaturalism. From the perspective of enlightenment, all is divine and everything in the cosmos is the work or play of God the Creator-Spirit—what America's founders, in the Declaration of Independence, called "nature's God." Nature is God in material form; God or what might be called Supernature infuses and pervades all of nature.

That means evolution is a divinely driven process by which God as Spirit expresses itself through the production of evermore complex forms. Natural processes are really acts of God. The process of change in Nature from a lower, simpler or worse state to a higher, more complex, better state (which is how Mr. Webster defines evolution) does not happen because blind forces and random events propel it on the basis of mere chance. They happen because God wills it intelligently, creatively and lawfully—that is, according to first principles and laws.

Science has recognized some of the laws of the cosmos, but has not yet recognized the lawmaker. (The founders of America, however, certainly did.) God is the motive force of evolution. God is the origin-source of all life. God is the creator-artist behind the entire panorama of the cosmos.

Some Christians reject the theory of evolution on the basis of their understanding of the Bible. They maintain that each species is a special creation by God rather than an evolutionary emergent, "brought into existence by acts of a supernatural Creator using special processes which are not operative today," according to Dr. Duane T. Gish in Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (Creation Life Publishers: San Diego, CA, 1978). They point to alleged flaws in the theory of evolution arising from Darwin's On the Origin of Species and call their position "creation science." Their position, as expressed by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati in Refuting Evolution (Master Books, P.O. Box 727, Green Forest, AR 72638), is this: "A God who ‘created' by evolution is, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from no God at all" (p. 22). He adds, "Evolution is a philosophy trying to explain everything without God" (p. 91).

Creation scientists seek to refute Darwinism because they see it, and science in general, as (mis)guided by a philosophy of atheistic materialism which holds that life arose from a chance arrangement of matter. They are correct in that perception, although it would be more accurate to call that philosophy scientism, not science. However, from the point of view of enlightenment traditions, all that is irrelevant. Darwin may be wrong, partly or even totally so, but evolution does not rise or fall upon him.

Evolution, per se, is what the Declaration of Independence would call "self-evident truth" derived from "nature's God." Everywhere we look in nature, there is development and growth through sequenced and invariant stages, and that growth/development is always unidirectional. Moreover, the fossil record shows that the history of life—what science calls macroevolution—is a history of older, simpler forms being succeeded by newer, more complex forms. Precisely how the newer, more complex forms emerge is perhaps still to be discovered by science, but their emergence itself is inarguable. (Mammals, for example, are not found in the fossil record prior to fishes and reptiles, nor is Homo sapiens found in the fossil record prior to other less advanced hominid forms.) Creation science acknowledges that, claiming the newer, more complex forms are special creations, including the various human forms, rather than emergents arising through Darwinian natural selection.

I have no problem with that creationist claim. From my perspective, it doesn't matter whether the various human species were natural mutations or special creations. As I see it, evolution is divinely initiated, divinely guided and divinely destined. God is the motive force of all history, including evolutionary history. So evolution is really another mode of God's action in nature. That does not change, whether Darwin is ultimately proven right or wrong, i.e., whether natural selection, mutation or special creation eventually supplies the mechanism by which new species arrive on scene. From the point of view of enlightenment, science's godless chance "mutation" is actually God's "special creation" occurring through processes which simply are not yet fully perceived and understood by science.

That means official science doesn't yet see the hidden hand of Supernature in nature. It means operational science doesn't yet see intelligent design behind apparent randomness. It means natural science doesn't yet see divinity working behind the awesome display of life in all its variations and changes. It means normal science doesn't yet see the universe is orderly, rational and lawful because God is so.

It also means, however, that creation science doesn't yet see that special creation may occur through natural laws presently unknown to science (but which are becoming apparent through noetics-the study of consciousness-and, in a deliciously ironic manner, through the ongoing efforts of "godless" science itself, despite what some scientists do to deny it). It also means that creation science's conception of God is fundamentalist anthropomorphism—an immature, mythic understanding of the divine which must be outgrown through mystical ascent in consciousness to attainment of the splendid vision of God as Spirit in action, operating lawfully throughout nature in ways which science has rightly described, but only in part.

So my own stance could be described as meta-Darwinian: noetic evolution or the evolution of human consciousness through intelligent design and special creation. The issue, rightly perceived, is not a question of science vs. religion. Saying that either science or religion is right does not apply when God is understood as Spirit in action. God is the motive force behind both. (See the works of integralist Ken Wilber for elaboration on this idea, especially Integral Psychology. See also the works of physicist Amit Goswami, especially Creative Evolution and Steven McIntosh's Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution.)

Enlightenment sees the paradoxical coexistence of both perspectives: Spirit in action, working through the laws of nature as science comes to understand them. There is intelligent design to be discerned behind nature, including human nature. Intelligent design means seeing God as the foundation of all existence. From the perspective of enlightenment traditions, there is also special creation because the hidden hand of God extends, via grace-given mystical experience, to create a new species, one member at a time, but in an accelerating fashion which assures eventual dominion by the emerging new noetic breed.

With reference to the human species, the term "special creation" should be understood by Christians in the sense given in the New Testament: the creation of the new creature or "the new man" by "the renewing of your mind in Christ" or noetic evolution-i.e., higher human development to enlightenment. As St. Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." That "new creation" is characterized by noetic change, by a change of consciousness to a higher state-called Christ consciousness or cosmic consciousness or nondual consciousness-which sees God directly and therefore sees that all creation is an expression of the Divine Creator.

Evolution is the journey and enlightenment is the goal for both the individual and the human race. Imagine a society of people who have attained enlightenment or put on the mind of Christ. For Christians, that would be the kingdom of heaven—on Earth. To quote St. Paul again: through Jesus, God "let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made from the beginning in Christ (Ephesians 1:9).

Thus the bottom line for me is what has been called evolutionary theism but which I prefer to call evolutionary spirituality or Spirit in action throughout all of nature, including human nature. As I stated in The Meeting of Science and Spirit, "Human history is a process of ascent to godhood. That process is best described, individually and collectively, as evolution."

John White
60 Pound Ridge Road
Cheshire, CT 06410