History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Chopra on evolution

June 11th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Is Evolution Ready to Evolve?

I respect Chopra’s honesty in challenging Darwinism, and his interesting suggestions for a better theory. But I think that his suggestions, unless takne as usefully heuristic, are based on the fallacy of a ‘conscious universe’, which makes no more sense than the fallacies of a mechanical universe. To brave the issues with this kind of assertion is nonetheless a provocative way to stimulate thought, and break out of the mindframe of scientism.
More commentary later on this, let Chopra speak for himself, with or without my endorsement.

Although science prides itself on objectivity, it has some cherished articles of belief. If you question them, however reasonably, you can expect ire and raised hackles. Bruce Lipton has discovered this after posting “Has Modern Science Bankrupted Our Souls?” In it he challenges basic assumptions of modern science, such as the pre-eminence of a Newtonian physical universe and the conception of evolution through random mutations for being flawed. Natural selection and random mutation no doubt played a part in getting us where we are now, but they won’t carry us into the future. The controversy being stirred up is old and, so far as Darwinists are concerned, completely settled. On one side is the light of reason, on the other darkness and superstition. The fact that Bruce Lipton is a cell biologist doesn’t mean that his credentials protect him. People don’t take kindly to having their faith questioned.

But the issue here isn’t about bringing Darwin down, but rather about expanding his theory. Lipton’s post reflects the urgency of future evolution, or where we grow from here. He poses the potential threat of mass extinction and the ruin of the planet (very real threats, even if you don’t push as hard as he does). After painting a doomsday portrait of the future, Lipton offers hope, saying that humans will make exciting breakthroughs if we face our hour of crisis by evolving to the next stage of consciousness. As the author of a book titled “The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness,” Lipton stands at the forefront of a growing movement. Some cutting-edge scientists belong to the movement, although it has roots in the new spirituality as well.

The basic premises that are able to cross the line between science and spirituality are these:

We live in a conscious universe.

Such a universe is constantly evolving.

Humans are woven into the currents of cosmic evolution.

The future of our own evolution will be based on conscious choice

There are precincts of science where any of these statements would be considered outrageous. I know from experience, since one of my first posts at The Huffington Post addressed the future of evolutionary theory. My argument involved pointing out the holes in classical Darwinism, which turned out — quite unintentionally — to be the most inflammatory way to begin. True believers came out of the trees (apologies to any non-Darwinists for that image) with the usual cries against superstition and my presumed ignorance. Lipton takes a more palatable route, holding out exciting openings for the future (a carrot) and the dismal prospects if we don’t go through those openings (a stick).

One could also appeal to personal interest, however, and the best way might be with the last premise on the list: “The future of our own evolution will be based on conscious choice.” A person can be left at peace with randomness, natural selection, a universe where the only conscious beings are us and so on. But most people also gravitate toward the idea of choosing their own future. It’s more optimistic than resigning yourself to the mechanical operation of fate, or stand ins like all-controlling genes. Science can also get on board with this, since in the scientific mind, choice includes a support for research, innovation and unexpected breakthroughs. We often hear that humankind is on the verge of a major change in our perception of reality, a paradigm shift as it is called. But there’s no necessity for the new paradigm to break into laboratories and smash all the test tubes.

The brightest prospect is for an expanded science, one that takes consciousness into account. This is actually unfolding all around us. Even 10 years ago, a scientist who took consciousness seriously risked career suicide. He was likely to be rebuked with a common Physics slogan, “Shut up and calculate.” In other words, stop this foolish speculation and go back to what we trust — mathematics. But there is no getting around the bald fact that every human experience occurs in consciousness, including mathematics. If there is a reality beyond our awareness, by definition we will never know it. One branch of science after another, starting with the quantum revolution in physics a century ago, has been faced with mysteries that force it to consider consciousness. How does the brain produce thought? Why do genes respond when we interact or have experiences? Is biology a quantum phenomenon? Happily, there are now sizable conferences on these once unthinkable topics.

So is evolution ready to evolve? It would seem so, if we are to judge by the cutting edge. Younger researchers are open to these topics; they won’t just shut up and calculate. There are tussles, of course, and angry skirmishes. A war of two worldviews has broken out, in fact. One conception of the universe and our place in it is being forced to yield its supremacy to the new paradigm on the block. What Lipton’s post has done is to bring the clash of worldviews down from the ivory tower.

Choosing the future isn’t just about government energy policy and technologies to clean up greenhouse gases. We are living on a shrinking planet with bulging population growth and each new arrival wants the good life. If the good life means endless consumption, pollution and waste, if toxic nationalism and war protects the haves from the have-nots, Lipton’s darkest scenario may come true. But evolution is a force of nature, and perhaps we will all feel which way the wind is blowing. Lipton’s brightest scenario could also come true. There’s no final reason why millions of people cannot wake up and decide that the good life is really about a choice to evolve. With that one insight planetary healing can begin.

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