The New Spirit of Evolution – Carter Phipps

While on sabbatical last summer, I spent some time reading Carter Phipps’ book “Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea”. I  blogged about it here

Carter Phipps, author of Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea, gave the keynote lecture for the 2013 Neil Scott Science and Spirituality series at Middle Tennessee State University. Phipps begins speaking at 7:20.


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 THINKING: Produces Evolutionary Christians

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.