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The Evolutionary Worldview

The application of the evolutionary worldview to personal and social affairs, including social action and philanthropy, is relatively new.  This current initiative is grounded in an emerging evolutionary spiritual movement that is part of that trend.  I wrote the following three documents as an introduction to this perspective and how it can be applied to life, and to place it within the larger field of spiritual traditions.

-- Tom Atlee

1.  What is the evolutionary worldview?

We now know from science that everything in and around us is made of the initial Great Radiance with which the universe began.  There is nothing outside of that.  All the hydrogen atoms in the water and carbohydrates in and around us are almost as old as the universe, itself -- 13,700,000,000 years.  The carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms that form the rest of us -- and all life on earth -- came into being in the bellies of red giant stars that lived and died before our sun was born.  The more complex elements -- calcium and magnesium, gold and silver, and all the rest -- were created in supernova explosions brighter than a billion stars, flung to the far ends of the galaxy as raw materials for Life.

It is not mysticism but hard science that now tells us we are made of stardust and light, waves and coalescences of stardust and light reconfiguring into cars and trees, oceans and civilizations.  We are cosmic evolution, happening right here and now.  We are the living face of evolution, the eyes and hands and minds of the universe weaving itself into its next manifestations, day after day after day.  We are the universe becoming conscious, watching itself through microscopes and telescopes, mountaintops and meditations, awed, nudging its pieces into greater awareness and love.

We are also the universe broken apart in the illusion of separateness, the arrogance of our small but growing power, the pursuit of our small but growing desires.  And we are the universe waking up from this dream of separateness and smallness into the discovery of ourselves as conscious, loving Evolution, finding ever more remarkable and inclusive forms of cooperation. We are both the universe's sleep and the universe's awakening.

Here on earth, we are stardust-as-human-civilization dawning into an evolutionary imperative:  the creation of a collectively wise culture that is capable of its own conscious evolution.  This unprecedented challenge is more than an enticing possibility. It is a collective necessity, a matter of survival.  It is our next evolutionary leap and we are that leap.

(For more information on the evolutionary worldview see

2.  Evolutionary guidance

Lessons from our long evolutionary journey offer rich sources of guidance about how to consciously participate in the process -- and thereby transform ourselves, our consciousness, our social systems and cultures, and our technologies -- in ways that serve our long-term collective flourishing as part of a flourishing Earth.  Here are a few of the evolutionary dynamics and opportunities we can explore and use:

a.  Love at the core.  The fact of evolution means we are all related. Not just we humans, but all entities in the universe, all are expressions of one universe.  We have been kin since the infinitely intense birth of this universe.  We all arose from the Source of that, and we are all made of stardust.  Two hundred million generations ago, our ancestors swam in the sea; today the chemistry of the sea still flows through our veins.  Our bodies contain great civilizations of highly specialized and synchronized single-celled beings, cousins of the trillions of microbes that populate the world around us.  All humanity is one family, rich with diversity yet sharing one root.  Deep inside we know this, we resonate with one another, we are drawn into relationship, support, and celebration.  Love is not something that needs to be added or built, only freed and nurtured, for it is our natural state.

b.  A new dance of cooperation and competition. Those who today detect directionality in the history of life note that evolution through time has produced ever more inclusive and intricate systems of cooperation.  Cooperative achievements have been retained by the body of life not at the expense of competition but in service to it: Quite simply, cooperating entities are more robust in handling the challenges offered up by the world around them.  Similarly, as human activities expand to embrace the global commons we all share, the win/lose games that drove human interactions in the past are being  supplanted by "zero-sum games" -- that is, we are all in it together; we either win together or lose together.  Wider levels of cooperation are no longer simply admirable; they are essential.  And the next evolution of cooperation will transcend and include competition in new ways that look more like the Olympics than war.

c.  Synergy between self and the whole.  Because individual organisms play their role in biological evolution by passing on genes, self-interest is foundational in biological evolution.  And yet it is evident that the evolutionary benefits of cooperation throughout the journey of life have been achieved by creatively tying self-interest to the welfare of the whole.  Sustainable cooperative systems thus contain feedback loops that help individuals experience the positive and negative effects of their own acts.  On that loom individual gifts can then be woven into patterns that serve the whole even as the whole enhances the lives of its individual members.  This is evolutionary science.  This is evolutionary economics.  This is evolutionary sociology.  This is evolutionary politics and governance.

d.  Higher learning.  Evolution is a vast learning enterprise.  In biological evolution, learning often happens by organisms passing information through genes from one generation to the next, testing new approaches through real-world trial and error opportunities.  This out-in-the-world intelligence accelerated and disengaged from harsh consequences when evolution internalized it into minds that could test ideas and options immediately and safely before trying them out in the real world.  Later, with the evolution of symbolic language in the human realm, supplemented by increasingly sophisticated methods of transmitting learnings over time and space, evolution spread rapidly into the realm of collective intelligence.  Increasingly inclusive collective intelligence and wisdom are the growing edges of evolution today.

e.  Self-organization and emergence.  Evolution has steadily enriched the capacity of life to organize itself into ever-more creative, remarkable, complex, and workable forms.  The wonder of the universe is not that it was designed from outside, but that it is designing itself from the inside, and getting better and better at doing so.  (Some say God manifests in this imminent, infinite, yet ever expanding creativity.)  As complexity increases, linear forms of understanding and management become less and less useful -- both in the realm of human societies and ecologically in the world at large.  The complexity sciences have vividly demonstrated that life operates primarily with distributed, evocative, self-generated, whole-system organic forms of organization and leadership.  By way of whole-system forms of intelligence, life generates its own newness at the evolutionary edge, experienced as emergence, as a creative upwelling within us, among us and around us.  The growing body of knowledge about healthy self-organization and emergence can help us transform problems and crises into evolutionary leaps.

f.  Evolving consciousness.  Most native peoples experience the world as alive and aware:  stones, mountains, forests, plants, animals are all conscious, each in their own ways.  Drawing upon mainstream science, as well as indigenous roots, many are beginning to recover similar forms of depth communion with the more-than-human world, thereby nurturing right relationships to life.  Pioneers committed to exploring the interior dimension of reality discovered and mapped diverse and extensive realms of awareness, which are now becoming available to more people, deepening them into Spirit and ameliorating the destructive tendencies of materialism.  The power of civilization -- with its languages, tools, stories, constructed environments -- to shape consciousness (and vice versa) has resulted in a co-evolution of social systems and consciousness -- presenting tremendous evolutionary opportunities in the dynamics where these two shape each other.  We can now envision the conscious evolution of increasingly conscious and self-evolving social systems.

3.  Evolutionary enrichment of religious/spiritual traditions

The evolutionary story and perspective offers a science-based, sacred foundation for all dimensions of human life, and for inquiries into life's meaning and morals.  It is neither tied to nor anathema to any religious tradition.  On the contrary, people from virtually all major religions -- including mainstream and evangelical traditions -- have found it adds richness and depth to their own beliefs. 

Much of the diversity of religions arises from their own origins and evolution in different ecological and cultural settings.  Lush environments engender lush theologies.  Kingdoms on earth call forth heavenly kingdoms.  Individualistic cultures tend to value individual spiritual experience. 

As an enterprise that thrives on diversity, the evolutionary perspective opens itself to a thousand interpretations and adaptations in widely diverse traditions, offering thereby a sense of kinship to all those who find meaning in it, regardless of their religion or lack of it.

Much work has already been done by ministers and theologians integrating the evolutionary perspective with Christian theology - see 

New initiatives will soon make it possible for anyone of any tradition to participate in a global collaborative effort to weave the evolutionary perspective meaningfully into every religious tradition on earth, as well as into the worldviews of non-religious people and agnostics.

See also

Conscious Evolution

Conscious Evolutionary Agentry


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