In his newly published bestseller “Evolutionaries” Carter Phipps defines evolution as an idea that transcends biology. Evolution says Phipps, “is better thought as a broad set of principles and patterns that generate novelty, change, and development over time.” He defines “Evolutionaries” as generalists willing to engage in cross-disciplinary thinking who have or are developing the ability to contemplate the vast timescales of our evolutionary history as they embody a new spirit of optimism.
Phipps cautions against leaning into Neo-Darwinism with its focus upon competition and the principle of the survival of the fittest as the driving forces behind evolution. Instead, Phipps points to current biologists whose theories of symbiogenesis have shifted the scientific and cultural conversations about evolution from a focus on competition to a new appreciation of cooperation. “The spoils of evolution go not to the fastest or the smartest but to those who can find the best relationship between creative individuality and cooperative sociality.”
For those of us whose understanding of evolution is limited to our hastily studied and quickly forgotten high school biology classes, the word co-operation may not spring to mind when we think of evolution. Indeed, when thinking about our cultural evolution we all too often look to our violent past and point to the survival of the fittest to determine the ways and means by which humanity has evolved over time. But if as biologists insist, co-operation and the ability to form relationships are determinative factors in the evolution of species, we would do well not only to re-examine our history but also look toward the future with an eye toward improving our abilities to co-operate and form relationships, so as to help determine what we might become.
Phipps explains that, “Evolution happens at the edges. Evolution happens on the borders, the boundaries, the in-between zones. This is true whether we are talking about nature or culture. It as the case in ancient glucose gradients that helped spur the creation of eukaryotic cells, as well as in the primordial mud between land and sea where scientists suggest that life first emerged.”
Inspired by Matthew Fox’s “Creation Spirituality” I have come to believe that religious institutions must work to enable their adherents to take seriously our call to be co-creators in the ongoing process of creation. Evolutionary thinkers like Phipps encourage me to wonder what role the church may or may not play in humanity’s need to foster co-operation and the ability to form relationships so that we might evolve into all that we are created to be???
Below is an interview that sheds more light on Carter Phipps’ evolutionary thinking. Enjoy!
Evolutionary is a term given to thinkers who see evolution as much more than simply a theory that pertains to the biological development of life on this planet. Evolutionaries are generalists who are willing to piece together information from all disciplines in order to explain the cosmos. So, says Carter Phipps in his new bestseller, “Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea”. In which he defines evolutionaries as: “deep time explorers of a universe of infinite becoming.” In a world where scientists, philosophers, and theologians are borrowing from one another’s insights in order to explore the secrets of existence, evolutionary theory is being applied to more than just biology.
Inspired by Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, I have long since given up on the medieval doctrine of original sin and moved beyond the atonement theologies that rely on our need to be saved by a “Father God”. Like many progressive Christians, rather than describing the human condition as sinful or broken, I understand humanity to be incomplete and still evolving. We did not fall from grace in some mythical garden. Humanity, like all of the cosmos continues to evolve. The idea of evolution has all sorts of implications not only for how we see ourselves as human beings, here and know. As we continue to evolve, the determination of who or what humanity becomes requires that we take seriously our role as co-creators not with some grand-puppetier-god-in-the-sky. But as co-creators with a God who is in all and through all.
The emerging conversation between scientists, theologians, and philosophers makes the question “Do you believe in the bible or do you believe in evolution?” obsolete. The conversations between disciplines are giving birth to a new spirituality. Evolutionary Christianity is emerging. Evolutionary thinkers are developing new theologies that take seriously God’s presence in all things through Christ.
After having spent a week, exploring the work of Teilhard de Chardin; an evolutionary thinker who was decades ahead of his time, I am eagerly devouring my copy of Phipps new book (just released June 12 and it has already it has reached #14 on Amazon). I will say more in future posts. In the meantime, for an overview of what it means to be an evolutionary, take a look at the video below which features Carter Phipps speaking at MIT this past May.
“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a mystic whose explorations of creation landed him in hot water with his beloved Roman Catholic Church and propelled him toward visions of a cosmos whose very life-blood is Love.
Published posthumously, Teilhard’s “Le Phenomene Humain” reads more like the work of a progressive 21st century christian theologian or scientest than that of a devoted 20th century Jesuit priest/biologist/palaeontologist. Teilhard paints a poetic vision that modern theologians would call a panentheistic view of the cosmos (pan: all + theo: god = god is in all and all is in god).
As I work my way through Sarah Appleton-Weber’s translation, “The Human Phenomenon” I am also enjoying Ersula King’s excellent biography “Spirit of Fire”. King is Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol, and a vice president of the World Congress of Faiths. Her specific areas of expertise are in the life and work of Teilhard. Below you will find her lecture which provides an excellent overview of Teilhard de Chardin and the “Contemporary Mystic Quest” (in 5 parts). Whether you know a great deal about his life and work, or nothing at all, I commend it to you. But beware, it will wet your appetite for more.
I first discovered Teilhard’s work while completing my undergraduate work in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, when a well-used copy of “The Phenomenon of Man” (Le Phenomene Humain) captured my interest. At the time, Teilhard’s insights were quite a stretch for me and although I finished the book feeling overwhelmed by its complexity, I couldn’t help longing for the day when I might be better able to follow Teilhard beyond the rigid confines of the science versus religion debate toward a more comprehensive approach to understanding the cosmos and our place in it.
Today, in the midst of my sabbatical at UBC, it feels so appropriate that I should once again be consumed by Teilhard, as I luxuriate in Sarah Appleton-Weber’s newer translation: The Human Phenomenon. Lo these many years later, I still feel ill-equipped to grasp the wonders of Teilhard’s vision. But, I am struck by the beauty of his vision of the complex process of unfolding of the universe.
My comprehension of Teilhard’s work is enhanced by Ersula King’s splendid biography: Spirit of Fire. King describes his vision as one in which: “love is a spirituality that celebrates the oneness of creation, a spirituality that acknowledges love as the clearest understanding we have of God, of ourselves, of history, and of the cosmos.”
“his vision was one of consuming fire, kindled by the radiant powers of love. It was a mystical vision, deeply Christian in origin and orientation. Yet it broke through the boundaries of traditional orthodoxies — whether those of science or religion — and grew into a vision which is global in intent.”
In an essay, “The Heart of the Matter” written near the end of his life, Teilhard described this fire at the heart of reality:
“Throughout my life, by means of my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight, until a flame all around me, it has become almost luminous from within. Such has been my experience in contact with the Earth. The diaphany of the divine at the heart of the universe on fire. Christ, the heart, a fire capable of penetrating everywhere, and gradually spreading everywhere.”
Teilhard was a scientist/theologian/philosopher/prophet who remains ahead of his time, whose work continues to push scientists and theologians to move beyond the carefully drawn boundaries of their own disciplines so that they might learn from one another. King explains: “His deepest desire was to see the essence of things, to find their heart, and probe into the mystery of life, its origin and goal. In the rhythm of life and its evolution, at the center of the cosmos and the world, Teilhard believed, is a divine center, a living heart beating with the fiery energy of love and compassion. Now, the heart is really a fleshly reality But the image of this very flesh, this concentration of living, breathing matter, came to symbolize for Teilhard the very core of the spirit.”
The warmth of these summer days at UBC are richly complemented by Teilhard’s fiery vision as I savour this divine consumption.
Today, I began to study the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I have been longing to do this ever since I was first introduced to this 20th century Christian mystic some 25 years ago, when Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing” helped me to look to the Christian mystics, both ancient and modern, to find new ways of connecting to the cosmos. After many brief encounters with Teilhard’s work in books and articles by some of my favorite theologians, I have longed to spend some time exploring Teilhard’s purported brilliance. I have begun by reading “The Human Phenomenon” (often mistranslated from the French as “The Phenomenon of Man”). I’ve submerged myself in the delights and challenges of this enthralling work until my mind is about to explode (usually just a chapter or two at a sitting) and then I take a break by reading Ersula King’s riveting biography: “Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin”. It has been a mind blowing day!
So many connections are emerging and I shall endeavor to post them as they escape from the quagmire of ideas that are swirling around in my brain. But as the Sabbath approaches I leave you with this playful tune from Peter Mayer which celebrates this blessed Ordinary Day in a way that complements this mystic moment!
Michael Dowd, a self-proclaimed Evolutionary Evangelist is committed to spreading the good news that evolution is humanity’s common creation story as he proclaims that science illuminates the evidence with which God is communicating to humans today.
Inspired by the work of Fr. Thomas Berry who portrayed the epic of evolution as a sacred story Dowd seeks to popularize Berry’s insistence that humanity is the universe becoming conscious of itself.
Dowd’s work is especially intriguing to this particular 21st century pastor who connects to the cosmos from the perspective of panentheism (God is in everything and everything is in God). Evolutionary Christianity is an exciting way of using the explosions in scientific evidence to illuminate our religious quest to understand our place in the cosmos.
I am indebted to a blog-follower from South Africa for linking me to this excellent video by New Hampshire Outlook that explores the work of the Rev. Michael Dowd. In addition to a fabulous interview this video provides an enticing overview of Evolutionary Christianity that will leave you wanting to learn more. You can begin by visiting Evolutionary Christianity’s Blog. I’m anxiously waiting for my copy of Dowd’s “Thank God for Evolution” to explore more of Dowd’s insights.
Summertime provides me the freedom to recall those voices from the past that belong to rebels who helped to shape me. Holly Near and Odetta possess voices that called me into being. Their hunger for justice opened me up to a world beyond the confines of my safe and comfortable life. Their love of humanity inspired me to reach out to strangers I might never have met. Their quest for peace disturbed me from my placidness. The Spirit that dwells in, with, and through them sang me into being.
My old records are long lost, so I rejoice that technology reunites me with these old friends. We may all be older now, but Holly Near is as fearless as ever and Odetta still has the power to haunt generations. Enjoy!
Re-reading Diana Butler Bass’ latest tome while on sabbatical in Vancouver allows me the luxury of time to delve deeply into her keen insights with regard to the current state of Christianity in North America.
Bass offers hope to those of us who remain in the institutional church toiling away at the hard work of renewal. While the powers that be within the institution struggle to hold on to what used to be, by tinkering with doctrines and structures in order to maintain the status quo, Bass sees a “New Spiritual Awakening” happening among the “spiritual but not religious” crowd who seek a more direct experience of God. Rather than choosing between spirituality and religion, Bass calls for a more spirtual religion; one that enables us to become more fully human.
Take the time to watch Bass describe her book in her own words. For those of you who have already read the book, I would encourage you to listen to the story at the end of the lecture which Bass did not include in the book that captures the flavour of the “New Spiritual Awakening” she sees taking place in the most unlikely of places among the most unlikely participants.
In a soon to be released interview for “The Work of the People,” Peter Rollins offers a challenging critique to those among us who are addicted to feel-good Sunday Church experiences. As someone who spends hours of sweat and toil crafting Sunday morning worship services, I must confess to squirming as Rollins’ critique made me feel like a pusher of dubious integrity. Despite my discomfort, Rollins’ challenge reminds me of the need to “re-think” my own assumptions and aspirations of what it means to be “church”.
Rollins’ critique speaks to the need to broaden our definition of church beyond that which takes place in a building on Sunday morning to a more inclusive understanding of our life together in community. When church endeavours to embody Christ, we begin to live our lives together as one in the world. Our common life in Christ reaches beyond our addiction to feel-good Sunday morning worship to include our struggle together to become more fully human.
Pete Rollins will be our guest at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario on the weekend of: April 12-14, 2013. I look forward to learning more from this challenging theologian!!!
Evolutionary theologian Michael Dowd, author of “THANK GOD FOR EVOLUTION” advocates for an “Evolutionary Christianity”. A self-described “New Theist” Dowd explains: “New Theists are not believers; we’re evidentialists. We value scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence over ancient texts, religious dogma, or ecclesiastical authority. We also value how an evidential worldview enriches and deepens our communion with God. New Theists are not supernaturalists; we’re naturalists. We are inspired and motivated more by this world and this life than by promises of a future otherworld or afterlife. This does not, however, mean that we diss uplifting or transcendent experiences, or disvalue mystery. We don’t. But neither do we see the mystical as divorced from the natural.New Theists are legion; we are diverse. Many of us continue to call ourselves Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Hindu. We may also self-identify as emergentist, evidentialist, freethinker, neo-humanist, pantheist, panentheist, or some other label. New Theists don’t believe in God. We know that throughout human history, the word “God” has always and everywhere been a meaning-filled interpretation, a mythic and inspiring personification of forces and realities incomprehensible in a prescientific age. We also know that interpretations and personifications don’t exist or fail to exist. Rather, they are more or less helpful, more or less meaningful, more or less inspiring.”
Here’s the TED TALK: Why We Suffer Now, for those who are pushed for time. But if you have the time, I strongly recommend the longer CAL TECH Lecture: Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis, below in which Dowd is able to elaborate on his ideas. Fascinating stuff!!!
For more on Evolutionary Christianity click below: