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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
As an economics’ student in Dublin in the late 1960’s, Peter Collins underwent a significant “scientific conversion”. Since then he has devoted considerable attention to the implications of a full spectrum developmental approach for radical new interpretations of mathematics and its related sciences. Though potentially of growing relevance for better understanding of our present problems, so far, he believes, these have been greatly overlooked by both the scientific and integral communities.
A New Scientific Vision
Part 1: The Considerable Shadow of Modern Science
“The most beautiful and deepest experience one can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. One who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind.” —Albert Einstein
The rise of modern science is generally believed to have started with Copernicus in 1543, when contrary to the religious thinking of the time he formulated a scientific model, which placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the centre of the known Universe.
Galileo was then the next great figure who besides supporting the Copernican viewpoint (until forced to recant by the Church) contributed greatly to the empirical development of science.
Newton was the towering influence later on in the century. He provided a new theoretical basis for study of the physical universe, which became especially enshrined in his great discovery of the law of gravitation.
However contrary to popular perception, this did not represent a clean break from former influences, as Newton throughout his life remained strongly attached to medieval religious thinking. This contributed so much to an extraordinary intuitive ability in making his discoveries that John Maynard Keynes remarked in a perceptive essay:
“Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians …”. 
One hundred years later, with the growing influence of the Enlightenment, the next radical step was now ready to be taken with respect to the social sciences.
So Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations paved the way for development of the modern capitalist economy through his clear understanding of the important role of the price mechanism. So just as with gravity in physics, he could point to a new universal principle governing the manner in which economic activity operates.
Though Smith was a philosopher who earlier had advocated the importance of moral principles in the conduct of economic life, the subsequent effect of his discovery was to gradually remove economics from any concern with such principles. So the fiction of impersonal free markets everywhere working in the best interests of society has developed into a powerful ideology. Indeed it was the unwarranted deregulation of financial markets that led to their worldwide collapse in 2008, with near catastrophic economic consequences.
Then in the 19th century, another major development occurred in the growing belief that science could explain the evolution of life itself without need for supernatural intervention. There were strong connections here with the prevailing mindset in economics. Patrick Matthew, who was the first to clearly articulate the positive principle of evolution by natural selection in 1831, was a follower of Adam Smith and a keen advocate of free markets.
And Thomas Malthus  one of best known of the early classical economists, with his portrayal of the struggle for human survival amidst scarce resources, was to exercise a key influence on both Darwin and Wallace with respect to their independent discoveries of natural selection. So evolution through natural selection can be conveniently seen as representing a third great universal principle.
I find it fascinating how in that famous last paragraph from the “On the Origin of Species” , Darwin refers back to the law of gravity as if unconsciously recognising that the principle of natural selection was to have a similar degree of importance in the biological sphere.
So at each stage the frontiers were pushed back. First the influence of God was banished from the inanimate physical world. Next it was gradually removed from the socio-economics sphere. Then with the final barrier surmounted, it was now starkly understood that God apparently exercised no influence on the evolution of life itself.
And this has now led to its inevitable conclusion in recent years with a strong atheistic stance evident among many evolutionary scientists, who throw scorn on the very notion of religious belief.
So just as in psychological terms, adult development—certainly in Western society—is associated with the successful differentiation of consciousness (from primitive influences) likewise the modern development of science has likewise been associated with a similar differentiation of consciousness. So here it is maintained that the objective world can be independently investigated in a rational manner, free of religious belief.
And from one valid perspective, the specialisation of reason has led to an extraordinary degree of progress in an unprecedented explosion of knowledge in so many scientific disciplines. And this in turn has enabled remarkable developments in technology, which have utterly transformed the manner in which we now live.
However to borrow from the title of Ken Wilber's first published book, there exists a spectrum of consciousness entailing many distinctive bands of understanding. And present scientific interpretation relates to just one—though admittedly very important—of these bands.
Again using the analogy of electromagnetic energy, there are many other bands on the physical spectrum besides that of natural light; likewise there are many bands on the psychological spectrum, besides the one narrow band relating to conventional science. When appropriately understood, these bands have great relevance among other things, for scientific appreciation of the qualitative holistic nature of reality. However because of the undue dominance of the present model, they remain almost totally unexplored.
The very words whole and holistic have close etymological associations with the related notions of health and healing.
Because science greatly lacks a proper holistic dimension, it can be said that this thereby represents an extremely unhealthy state in terms of its future development and for society in general.
It is my long-held belief, that we have reached a true crisis point in our culture with respect to present science. While again conceding that we have indeed witnessed remarkable developments in many disciplines, this has inevitably led to an increasing degree of fragmentation and alienation of overall experience.
The very nature of quantitative scientific analysis is to break reality up into constituent parts. However, true integral appreciation requires a distinctive holistic approach which cannot be reduced in this manner.
Many of the most pressing issues currently facing us in economic, social, political and environmental terms require a true holistic dimension for their proper resolution. However because of the continued dominance of the analytic scientific model in our culture, this qualitative dimension is gravely lacking.
For instance it is urgently required to deal effectively with the critical issue of climate change.
Climate researchers from a number of different institutes have found that an explanation for the prolonged heat wave in Siberia from January to June this year would be nearly impossible in the absence of global warming. So with temperatures rising three times as fast in the Arctic circle as elsewhere, this is likely to have considerable effects on global weather systems and melting ice-caps together with a consequent rise in ocean levels and the further release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Though conventional science provides us with considerable knowledge regarding climate change it cannot of itself enable the kind of global cooperation required to effectively deal with the issue
Also the response to recent economic crises has led to growing inequality and a deepening of the divisions in society. So a rapid erosion of the very fabric of democracy is now taking place in many developed countries such as the United States, Brazil, Hong Kong and Britain with growing tensions emerging as between the major superpower blocs of the EU, the US, China and Russia.
Then the present Covid-19 has its origins in changing environmental circumstances where people, as in China, have been infiltrating more on the habitats of wild bats and animals carrying viruses that can be transferred to human populations. So we may be facing the threat of continuing world wide disruption from further highly contagious viruses in the coming years. And the fall-out from Covid-19 has already been of an unprecedented magnitude with far reaching economic and social consequences that have yet to be properly estimated.
Also the impact of digital technology with its emphasis on information of every kind serves only to distract further from the much greater need for genuine transformation in personal and social terms. Through creating the expectation of immediate feedback for example on social media, it greatly limits the possibility of deeper interior change that requires a much longer term perspective.
So I am greatly concerned at what I see—despite its apparent sophistication—the increasing superficiality of so many aspects of life as we continually consume often irrelevant data that serves as a poor substitute for true meaning.
I do accept that it is right for Frank and others to portray the achievements of evolutionary science and also to highlight Ken Wilber's failure to accurately represent these achievements. However, I think it is equally important in the context of integral appreciation, which is the raison d'être of the site, to portray clearly the nature and limits of such science. And there has been considerably less attention paid to this critically important issue on Integral World in recent years regarding the disturbing manner in which the important holistic dimension has been completely eliminated from accepted scientific understanding.
So in attempting to redress this imbalance, I will look at the three fundamental polarities that underlie all scientific experience. I will then show how key assumptions, which are vitally necessary for such understanding to operate, are not however formally included by science. And in some respects, as this bears comparison with Ken Wilber's four quadrant approach, hopefully it should be accessible to most readers.
I do accept that it is right for Frank and others to portray the achievements of evolutionary science and also to highlight Ken Wilber's failure to accurately represent these achievements. However, I think it is equally important in the context of integral appreciation, which is the raison d'être of the site, to portray clearly the nature and limits of such science.
Reality as Interpretation
Firstly, all experience is conditioned by external and internal polarities. So when a scientist e.g. in evolutionary biology, attempts to understand the world, this inevitably entails a relationship as between an external aspect as objectively known and a corresponding internal aspect comprising the mental constructs used for such interpretation.
So inescapably, we always have thereby a relationship as between the knower (as internal observer) and what is known (as objectively understood).
Therefore strictly speaking, there is no objective reality in any separate absolute sense.
And this is not just meant as an interesting philosophical proposition but has been repeatedly demonstrated in recent years by quantum mechanics, which represents the most successful of all scientific theories.
So we cannot clearly separate our objective knowledge of reality from the mental interpretation of such reality.
Therefore we are never neutral observers of the objective world but rather in some measure direct personal participants—there I say it—in co-creating that world.
Though its practitioners rarely advert to the fact, with conventional science the two-way dynamic interaction as between observer and what is observed is bypassed through the assumption of direct correspondence between both aspects.
Because it is now understood that no meaningful interaction takes place, reality does indeed appear to exist in an objective independent manner. Equally the logical rational constructs used for its interpretation appear to perfectly correlate with this reality.
However if you think about it for a moment, an objective world totally separate from the self is a deeply alienating notion.
So a scientist such as Richard Dawkins, while explicitly maintaining the rational view of science, in his actual experience implicitly allows for a great deal of unconscious interaction e.g. through the imagination, which of course is not explained by the formal model.
It is interesting for example in this regard to remark that Dawkins is a lover of poetic verse, especially in its most romantic expression.
And this poetic sensibility is clearly evident in the titles he has chosen for some of his recent books, "Unweaving the Rainbow", "An Appetite for Wonder" and "Brief Candle in the Dark".
And he demonstrates how this affective dimension is intimately involved in the experience of a rainbow.
"And it doesn’t matter how many rainbows you see throughout your life. The glory is reinvented afresh, and the heart leaps up every time".
However the clear implication of this is that one cannot hope to successfully reduce the experience of a rainbow to its cognitive scientific interpretation.
So actual experience – and this by extension applies to all phenomena – entails the complementary dynamic interaction of both cognitive (scientific) and affective (artistic) aspects.
The very essence of the cognitive aspect is that it is of a detached impersonal nature, whereby a collective universality can be applied to the definition of phenomena. Thus at the level of the scientific description of a rainbow, it does not matter how one emotionally reacts to the phenomenon. Rather it suffices that a collective cognitive agreement exists as to the explanation.
So separation with respect to the objective world can only take place in a relative rather than absolute manner.
This means that in experience there are always two aspects that are relatively independent and interdependent in terms of each other.
For interpretation of the independent nature of objective phenomena, the rational analytic procedures of conventional science are indeed directly relevant.
Then for the interdependent aspect, a distinctive holistic integral appreciation is required which is qualitative in nature.
However this holistic aspect—though vitally necessary for all science to operate—is excluded totally from its formal interpretation.
So in this crucial sense the accepted view of science, as solely rational, represents a substantial misinterpretation of its true nature.
And the way that the holistic integral aspect implicitly enters scientific understanding is through intuition.
So as I see it this is a key weakness in the scientific position of a scientist such as Dawkins.
Though he freely admits the importance of intuition as the starting basis for scientific investigation, he never enquires deeply regarding its true nature. In fact the holistic qualitative nature of intuition is utterly distinct from reason, which by contrast is analytic and quantitative.
So a key consideration for science should be to establish more precisely how both reason and intuition properly interact and indeed the extent to which they are compatible with each other in experience!
However because of an unquestioned form of gross reductionism this issue is never even addressed.
Intuition is directly of a spiritual origin. Though it is strictly necessary for the appreciation of all relationships where holistic—as opposed to analytic—connections are involved, it is especially important for truly original scientific work.
Thus there is no difference in principle as between the spiritual illumination of the contemplative mystic and that of the gifted scientist in suddenly discovering an important new pattern to reality that previously had remained undiscovered.
Isaac Newton is revered as perhaps the greatest scientist who has ever lived. In the popular mind he is seen as the supreme rationalist. However it was his remarkable intuition that led him to his great discoveries. He treated rational proofs as a secondary exercise, a kind of dressing up as it were of his findings so as to enable popular acceptance.
And of course Einstein was equally intuitive and left us many telling quotes such as the one heading this article and the following.
“I believe in intuition and inspiration.... At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason."
Authentic intuition carries a feeling of certitude that is much more powerful than can be provided through reason. Because such intuition is directly spiritual in nature, for a brief timeless moment one thereby remains suspended in eternity, and experiences a meaning there that directly resonates with the deepest core of one's being.
Indeed the similarity between mystical and scientific illumination struck me very forcibly some years ago, when I was viewing a programme on Andrew Wiles recounting his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem (which had eluded all mathematicians for some 350 years).
His modest demeanour and thin frame put me immediately in mind of a religious ascetic. And he spent 7 years alone wrestling with his problem much in the same manner as a monk might struggle with the shadow self. Then seemingly close to failure, he had a marvellous insight which finally enabled his proof. And it is very moving to see in this short video clip how Wiles is overcome with emotion as he recalls that decisive event.
So we are here at the pinnacle of mathematics in the celebrated proof of a long outstanding problem. However the intuitive manner of revelation which constitutes the key moment with respect to his proof has no place in mathematics (as formally understood).
I will raise just one other important issue here at this stage.
Some evolutionary biologists believe that consciousness can be explained as another form of matter. However when one accepts the necessary interaction as between knower and what is known, then it becomes apparent that any enquiry with respect to matter already entails a developed form of consciousness.
So once again the materialist fallacy is revealed as the erroneous attempt to consider objective reality as somehow possessing an existence independent of the enquiring mind. Or—as Ken Wilber might say—it represents the attempt to consider holons as possessing an exterior without any corresponding interior aspect.
Distinguishing Whole and Part
The second key polarity set relates to that between whole and part. And this is where the reductionism of conventional science is most readily apparent.
The essence of the analytic approach is to consider the whole in any context as inseparable from its quantitative parts.
However when one considers it carefully, there are huge unrecognised issues that arise from such reductionism.
Most fundamentally, if a whole is considered as no more than the sum of its constituent parts, then it begs the question of how one can ever recognise a distinctive whole in the first place. So the assumption that wholes can indeed be treated as parts simply represents the reduction, in every context, of qualitative to quantitative meaning.
We all can easily appreciate especially in an artistic context how the whole cannot be simply identified with its constituent parts. One for example could validly attempt to analyse a musical score in a quantitative type manner i.e. separate notes, chords, instruments and so on. However, true appreciation of the music through listening to the entire piece, entails the holistic interdependence of all these separate parts. So in moving from part to whole appreciation a transformation in understanding takes place, where quantitative switches to qualitative meaning.
And this interdependence—entailing the direct appreciation of wholeness—works in two ways. From one perspective we have the collective appreciation of the score, where the various notes for example through their combined interaction create the whole musical effect. However each individual note likewise attains a whole uniqueness through its interrelationship with all other notes.
So wholeness works in two ways which are complementary with each other i.e. at the collective level, where the whole transcends all of the parts and likewise at an individual level where the whole becomes immanent in each part.
And this leads to a very important observation that I have made repeatedly regarding Ken Wilber's treatment of the notion of holarchy, which has a corresponding major bearing on the manner he approaches evolutionary issues.
Wilber properly caters for only one notion of wholeness in his work i.e. the collective transcendent notion, where each whole is considered as a constituent part of a higher whole. This is the notion of a hol-on (whole-part). However, sole emphasis on this aspect of wholeness gives a misleading asymmetrical interpretation of development, as the progressive ascent to higher stages.
In a simplified model, which suffices for illustration, development from this perspective proceeds from matter to mind to spirit. Therefore, because spirit is now seen as literally superior to matter, not surprisingly in attempting to explain evolution, Wilber gives dominance to the spiritual aspect, while significantly ignoring more matter-based scientific findings.
However the complementary understanding of wholeness comes from the reverse notion of an on-hol (part-whole).
So in development, it is only through the lower that the corresponding more immanent notion of wholeness, as individual uniqueness, can develop.
This is directly relevant to the scientific process, which can operate in both a deductive and inductive manner.
Now deduction would relate well to Wilber's holarchical approach. So deductions start from hypotheses or theories that represent the formop stage of rational concepts.
Here the integration with data then proceeds in a top-down manner where one attempts to include the lower conop, to which the empirical data relate, in the higher formop stage.
However we could equally attempt to proceed in the reverse manner, starting with conop. Then through induction we attempt to infer some general pattern from the data leading perhaps to the formulation of a theory at the formop stage.
Einstein is his annus mirabilis of 1905, provided an excellent example of both approaches at work.
His Special Theory of Relativity represented the deductive top-down approach with a few general principles leading to a reformulation of the nature of light and a new understanding of physical space and time.
Then in his quantum mechanical work on the photoelectric effect, he showed experimentally how light can displace electrons from atoms. This provided strong evidence that light was thereby comprised of particles, contrary to the wave theory of light that was widely held at the time. So here was empirical evidence leading to the abandonment of an existing theory. Subsequently, the even stranger theory that light possessed both particle and wave aspects, was accepted.
So properly understood, ultimately in development the relationship between higher and lower stages is of a merely relative nature. Thus there is a continual need for top-down integration, where one attempts to integrate lower from the perspective of higher stages. And this represents in vertical terms the transcendent aspect of spiritual development.
However equally, there is continual need for bottom-up integration where one attempts to integrate higher from the perspective of lower stages, which represents the corresponding immanent aspect. And this dynamic interactive perspective entails that both higher and lower stages are repeatedly revisited throughout development, leading to continual enhanced appreciation of their nature. And such constant revisiting is thereby a prerequisite for the proper integration of all stages in development.
However once again, because Ken Wilber in effect identifies integration in a merely top down manner, the spiritual aspect of development thereby dominates over scientific material considerations.
However, equally the opposite charge can be made with respect to exponents of the scientific understanding of evolution, especially as represented by its more extreme members.
Here in terms of integration, a merely bottom-up strategy is adopted, whereby an attempt is made to explain the entire spectrum in terms solely of the physical material stages. Their position is much more extreme than that of Wilber.
Though he is often careless in his expression of modern evolutionary findings, he does however recognise a valid role for orthodox science.
However people such as Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Daniel Dennett, while admitting the existence of the mental realm (which they then attempt to reduce to that of the physical) see no valid role at all for the spiritual stages of contemplative development.
Though implicitly in many ways as I have stated, their very interpretations do indeed require a spiritual aspect in the use of intuition, they seemingly remain completely blind as to the implications of such use.
Thus it is intuition, in its two complementary forms, that enables one to distinguish wholes as distinct from parts. In other words, through intuition a qualitative aspect is brought to understanding, enabling one to properly distinguish wholes, in any context, as distinct from quantitative parts.
So in scientific understanding, reason is used directly to connect analytic parts sequentially in an asymmetrical manner. And this properly relates to the quantitative aspect of such relationships.
However intuition by contrast is used directly for the combined interconnection of these parts in a simultaneous holistic fashion. And this properly relates to the qualitative aspect.
Recognition of this key distinction has enormous consequences for the correct interpretation of the natural selection principle of evolution.
Now the creationists protest at the attempt to eliminate God as they see it from the scientific explanation of evolution. The scientists on the other hand understandably resist religious interpretations that they see as leading to magical interventions in evolution.
However if we equate God with what is spiritual and even less controversially the spiritual with holistic type appreciation, then it becomes quite untenable to maintain the present majority scientific position that natural selection can effectively explain design in nature without any recourse to a designer.
So again the key problem here is a failure to distinguish the narrow explicit interpretation of science from the actual experience, which necessarily entails key unrecognised assumptions.
Thus again in explicit terms, science is seen as a rational pursuit that with respect to evolution can explain reality in material terms.
However, implicitly science must always incorporate other features such as intuition, for its procedures to operate.
However intuition is spiritual in nature geared to a qualitative holistic appreciation of reality. So in every possible context, intuition enables us to integrate parts into an effective whole. Put another way, without intuition there would be no way to recognise design in nature (or indeed recognise anything at all).
And in more general terms, we can extend this finding to all relationships in nature and not just those entailing the developed conscious appreciation of the human species.
So quite simply, the process which enables separate parts at any level of existence to independently exist is quite distinct from the corresponding process enabling their interdependence with other parts (thereby allowing for the formation of wholes).
So we have two fundamental principles that are always necessarily involved:
1. A quantitative analytic aspect relating to the differentiation of separate parts and
2. A qualitative holistic aspect relating to their corresponding integration into new wholes.
Scientific materialism, of which the design without a designer interpretation of natural selection represents an especially unfortunate example, is based on the reduced principle of wholes being indistinguishable from parts. And as an attempted total explanation of evolution, I find it thereby hugely impoverished.
When one appreciates the clear distinction as between wholes and parts, then the claims of others such as Steve Taylor on this site that scientific reductionism cannot alone explain the complexity of nature assume a fresh validity.
So strictly speaking like two sides of the same coin, evolution of necessity entails both material and spiritual aspects. Thus to enquire whether evolution is material or spiritual is to ask the wrong question. It is not a question of either/or or but rather both/and. So again properly understood, there is no incompatibility in recognising that evolution is both material and spiritual. In fact it cannot be meaningfully any other way!
Natural Selection and Other Evolutionary Issues
The first person generally recognised to have discovered the positive nature of natural selection with respect to evolution was Patrick Matthew a Scottish landowner. This discovery however in the appendix to the book “On Naval Timber and Arboriculture” not surprisingly attracted little attention. However, when Darwin eventually went into print with his “On the Origin of Species” Matthew wrote to him informing him of his earlier discovery. In fairness, Darwin generously accepted that though brief, Matthew's description completely described the principle of natural selection. Wallace was likewise to make the same concession, recognising Matthew as one of the most original minds of the early 19th century.
However it is a letter written by Matthew and reproduced by Darwin in a later edition that contains perhaps the most revealing few sentences on natural selection that I have read.
"To me the conception of this law of Nature came intuitively as a self-evident fact, almost without an effort of concentrated thought. Mr. Darwin here seems to have more merit in the discovery than I have had; to me it did not appear a discovery. He seems to have worked it out by inductive reason, slowly and with due caution to have made his way synthetically from fact to fact onwards; while with me it was by a general glance at the scheme of Nature that I estimated this select production of species as an à priori recognisable fact—an axiom requiring only to be pointed out to be admitted by unprejudiced minds of sufficient grasp."
Here in these short lines, Matthew succinctly points to the two types of intuition that I have been discussing.
His own intuition was of the transcendent type enabling him to literally see in top-down holistic fashion how the general nature of evolution takes place through natural selection.
Such intuition is properly—even if not explicitly understood as such—of supernatural origin coming from above, as it were, thereby inspiring the most universal insights with respect to nature.
This type of intuition is however more frequently associated with mathematics and the physical sciences. For example Einstein's happy thought which was central to his General Theory of Relativity was the marvellous intuition that gravity and acceleration are equivalent.
However in evolutionary biology, which entails a great deal of empirical enquiry, the second bottom-up type of intuition is much more frequent. Indeed, biologists are often inspired by a keen aesthetic sense of the beauties of nature, which then facilitates the development of such intuition. It is interesting in this aesthetic context therefore to recall these words of Darwin uttered towards the end of his life.
“If I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”
Matthew refers to Darwin making synthetic—rather than analytic—connections between data. In other words, Darwin was able to make holistic connections through an inductive form of reasoning inspired by intuition.
This intuition thereby relates to the complementary immanent aspect of spiritual experience.
If we revert back to Richard Dawkins, he does indeed admit to the second type of intuition (though not properly incorporating it into his formal understanding of science).
As we have seen there is a great deal of this immanent aspect—though again not explicitly recognised—in the work of Richard Dawkins, where imagination and artistic sensibility play a key role.
There is thereby a huge paradox in Richard Dawkins' position in that his passionate advocacy of the wonders of science seems indistinguishable at times from nature mysticism.
Dawkins would then attempt to defend himself from the charge that this does indeed represent a form of religious sensibility by claiming that it is the supernatural form of religion that he opposes.
Whereas he might reluctantly accept that his work is fuelled by spiritual intuition, he would deny a role for any supernatural religion.
And it is precisely because Dawkins misleadingly identifies the transcendent aspect with what he sees as religious myths e.g. God as the intelligent designer of creation, he thereby fails to recognise that the mature appreciation of the supernatural expresses itself through intuition of a transcendent nature i.e. spiritual insight that operates at a universal rather than local level of understanding.
So the intuition that enabled Patrick Matthew to be the first to clearly appreciate the positive role of natural selection in evolution is of the supernatural variety that Dawkins would seek to dismiss.
Thus it is not only creationists that are blinded by religious myths; equally blinded are those scientists like Dawkins who fail to recognise the distinct spiritual meaning which such myths—however imperfectly—seek to represent.
And once again, whenever holistic intuition is at work, the spiritual is necessarily involved. However while implicitly adopting such intuition, science then fails to incorporate its all important role in the explicit interpretation of scientific truth.
So the claim that science can explain evolution without the need for a designer is a gross misinterpretation, due to a failure to properly recognise the holistic role of intuition in the scientific process.
Properly understood it is not so much the principle of natural selection that has seemingly removed the need for a designer with respect to evolution. Rather it is an inevitable consequence of pushing a limited model of analytic science to its extremes, where the material findings from evolution then appear to perfectly match the narrow scientific approach used for their interpretation.
And in saying this, I am in no way suggesting that we should go back to the primitive attempts of creationists to explain evolution. Rather, we need to move to a far subtler form of interpretation whereby we recognise that the order and intelligent design that we find in nature cannot be properly divorced from our own very interpretation of this reality, which necessarily entails both reason and intuition.
So in truth we are always in part the co-designers of the world we experience.
Now Richard Dawkins while admitting Matthew's prior grasping of the principle of natural selection has sought to downplay his contribution on the grounds that he did not shout this truth from the rooftops, implying therefore that he could not have properly appreciated its relevance.
I find this view most unconvincing. When we consider how long Darwin hesitated to publish his views, despite accumulating extensive supporting evidence and was only rushed into publication when made aware of Wallace's independent discovery of natural selection, we can easily appreciate why Matthew nearly 30 years earlier could have expected little or no support for his views. Moreover, Matthew, though working in a related area, was not properly a naturalist—which only makes his discovery all the more remarkable—and had several other interests that he wished to pursue.
Also he clearly considered that evolution by natural selection, certainly in its most general expression, represented an axiom as self-evident truth, rather than a testable theory.
And the crucial point is this! The key reason why Dawkins and others consider natural selection so important is that they misleadingly think, in line with their atheistic agenda, that it thereby displaces the need for an intelligent designer in evolution. So in this worldview Darwin replaces God. However, Matthew would not have accepted this position. He did not believe in a God that directly intervened in nature. However he would have understood intelligent design as arising from physical laws already built into creation from its inception.
In this respect one has only to contrast Matthew's understated approach to evolution by natural selection with the wildly exaggerated claim of Daniel Dennett (a close associate of Dawkins).
"If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had I'd give it to Darwin. . . . In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law."
Dennett's comment here really has little to do with Darwin's true purpose. Rather it represents an agenda that seeks to reduce all meaning—including of course religious—to a particularly narrow interpretation of science, which formally excludes many of its most important aspects.
It is interesting in this regard to compare the religious views of the three men, who independently discovered the principle of natural selection.
Patrick Matthew from what I can tell was a Deist, who would have accepted a form of natural religion, where once again scientific laws and moral principles are understood as already built into the natural world and human behaviour respectively.
Much like Darwin who later in life was to discover a second principle of evolution through female sexual selection, likewise Matthew was to recognise a second distinct type of evolution in the beauty of nature.
So it was as if Matthew recognised a masculine principle working through competition and survival, which was enshrined in natural selection and a feminine evolutionary principle working through the beauty of nature. However he did not leave any detailed research on these issues. So Darwin's influence, quite deservedly, has been much more significant.
Though Darwin was always reluctant to discuss his religious beliefs, he probably was in some respects a Deist in his earlier life, though becoming more deeply agnostic with the passing of time.
In these words written in a letter in 1879, he states:
"In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."
Wallace became a spiritualist in later life, which in part explains why the original Darwin-Wallace partnership later became (just) Darwin. He reverted in some respects to a form of creationism whereby he saw the direct intervention of God as necessary at different stages of evolution. He also believed that natural selection could not explain human gifts such as mathematical, artistic or musical genius.
So, when we combine these three distinctive belief positions with the strong atheistic stance of some of Darwin's modern followers, we can see that natural selection can be made to appear compatible with almost any belief system.
Incidentally, Wallace was opposed to Darwin's separate evolutionary theory of sexual selection and was successful in having it incorporated within natural selection, which in turn reflected the male dominated culture of Victorian Britain.
And it has to be said that there were several distinct differences dividing Matthew, Darwin and Wallace in their understanding of what natural selection entailed. In one important respect Matthew's views were much more in tune with modern findings. Whereas Darwin believed that evolution proceeded in a slow gradual fashion, Matthew by contrast emphasised the importance of natural catastrophes followed by very rapid periods of evolution.
And though the modern evolutionary synthesis (combining natural selection with Mendelian genetics) is now widely accepted by the scientific community, the principle of natural selection itself faced considerable opposition for many decades after Darwin's publication in 1859.
Though natural selection is likely to remain a crucially important principle, Darwin's second theory of evolution relating to beauty through female sexual selection could perhaps eventually attain a comparable significance.
The fact that the first has become so firmly established relates in many ways to the dominance of the masculine principle in science. Here, as we have seen, the feminine principle represented through holistic intuition is completely excluded in formal terms. And as the appreciation of beauty is directly associated with such intuition, proper acknowledgement of the feminine principle would lead to Darwin's second theory being seen in a completely new light. Richard Prum's “The Evolution of Beauty” however, has recently sought to rectify this imbalance.
And there are other factors affecting evolution such as genetic drift, where random chance can lead to a change in the frequency of an allele (alternative form of a gene) over time and gene flow, which is the movement of genes in and out of a population.
And these factors do not act in isolation in influencing evolution. So the complex nature of their interplay can be very difficult to establish.
Also with respect to natural selection a considerably more nuanced appreciation is likely to emerge in future years.
The principle of natural selection—certainly in its most general expression—can be validly considered a tautology. This was once the view of Karl Popper, who like Patrick Matthew before him, treated it as an a priori metaphysical proposition. However he then expressed a variety of other viewpoints over the years not properly consistent with his original position.
However there is a deeper sense in which the “design without a designer” interpretation of natural selection is certainly a tautology.
The well known phrase in computing “garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind here. When one adopts a narrow interpretation of science based on reduced assumptions, inevitably the conclusions reached will likewise be of a reduced nature. So once again the conclusion that natural selection demonstrates how intricate design can take place without the need for a designer is directly implied by the explicit assumptions used for its interpretation.
Then in terms of natural selection a great deal more needs to be learnt regarding the precise mechanisms by which it operates.
In “Climbing Mount Improbable” Richard Dawkins, when describing natural selection states:
“Darwinism is not a theory of random chance. It is a theory of random mutation plus non-random cumulative natural selection.”
However, though this seemingly appears to give a concise definition it raises key issues.
Randomness and order are in fact complementary terms. So randomness at an individual implies order at a more collective level. We can see this for example with prime numbers. Each individual prime is random; however the collective behaviour of primes with respect to the natural numbers is highly ordered.
It is my belief, that natural selection is a limited expression of a much deeper universal principle where randomness and order i.e. non-randomness are understood as mutually implying each other. (Perhaps in a further contribution, I can say more on this matter).
Whereas it was traditionally believed that inherited characteristics entail gene transfer from the same species, it is now realised that a considerable amount of horizontal gene transfer (between species) also takes place. This would help to explain for example, why the evolution of species can occur extremely rapidly in certain circumstances.
Then with “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins won enormous popular acclaim with his account of the replicating gene as the unit of natural selection. His phenomenal success was largely due to the quality of his writing prose, clarity of expression and caustic wit. However many have dissented from his views including Ernst Mayr, one of the foremost biologists of the 20th century, claiming that Dawkins' replicator notion “is in complete conflict with the basics of Darwinian thought”. And Stuart Kauffman describes Dawkins' ideas as “impoverished” stating that the replicator principle does not capture the kind of structure that evolves through natural selection. Personally, I find Dawkins' replicating gene as strongly reminiscent of the idealised perfect competition model in economics and thereby inherently unsuited to portraying the true dynamics of gene interaction.
It is my belief, that natural selection is a limited expression of a much deeper universal principle where randomness and order i.e. non-randomness are understood as mutually implying each other. (Perhaps in a further contribution, I can say more on this matter).
Epigenetics focuses on how signalling within genes occurs—thereby affecting their manifest expression—rather than changes to the genetic code. This can then enable, contrary to accepted opinion, acquired characteristics arising from interaction with the environment to be inherited by the next generation. Darwin's quickly discredited Pangenesis theory, though lacking a modern knowledge of genetics, allowed for the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
Likewise the contribution of quantum mechanics through the modern field of quantum biology could prove increasingly important.
Whereas it was initially thought that decoherence with respect to the macro environment would rule out the direct influence of quantum effects on biological processes, a growing body of recent research is showing that this is not in fact the case.
For example, it is now thought that quantum entanglement may play a key role in the magnetic compass that unerringly controls the migration of birds, even over very long distances.
Also the efficiency of photosynthesis is believed to entail quantum mechanical behaviour operating with respect to chemical reactions within plant cells.
And the traditional explanation of olfaction is undergoing revision, whereby it is now suggested that scent perception involves a response to the quantum vibration of different molecules as they exchange electrons.
Then the rapid production of enzymes that take place in metamorphosis e.g. of a tadpole to a frog, owes a great deal to quantum tunnelling.
Indeed, recent experiments also seem to suggest that quantum tunnelling can sometimes be involved in gene mutations, though its precise importance for evolution has yet to be clearly established.
Quantum mechanics is also important in a more indirect manner in explaining how the classical world of macro reality emerges from the sub-atomic world. The new area of quantum darwinism, which attempts to apply the principle of natural selection to particle interactions has emerged as one possible interpretation. This allegedly then provides a means of getting rid of the measurement problem with respect to quantum states. Though I accept the value of this in practical terms, I would strongly resist any consequent attempt to interpret results in a reduced manner.
Finally greater appreciation of the hidden holistic nature of science might lead to a renewed interest in approaches such as the Gaia Hypothesis and the symbiotic theory of Lynn Margulis.
Origin of Mystery
The third key polarity set relates directly to that between (material) form and (spiritual) emptiness.
So again from a proper experiential perspective, these two polarities always interact.
However in explicit terms analytic science reduces emptiness to form. So the philosophy of materialism directly results from such reductionism.
However, once again at an implicit level science requires spiritual emptiness to successfully operate.
This is ably captured in the opening quote from Einstein on mystery.
However this appreciation of mystery as the basis of all religious feeling seems to have escaped Richard Dawkins and his close associates.
And as Einstein states it underlies all true endeavour in the arts and the sciences.
Yet Dawkins does genuinely appreciate the wonder of nature, which then becomes wedded to his particular view of science. However this happens at an implicit level where he never recognises the origin of this wonder as religious (in its truest sense). He is so busy dismissing what he sees as religious myths that he cannot get behind such myths to appreciate the deeper spiritual meaning they seek to represent.
And the true nature of mystery and wonder relates to an innate awareness of what has the greatest purpose in life.
So what is most meaningful is the authentic experience of mystery. At its deepest level, it is the incredible realisation that one's essential nature—and indeed the essential nature of everything in creation—is spiritual and thereby inseparable from what we know as God. So put simply, the mystery of God is the mystery of one's own existence. And again such mystery and wonder is the basis of all true religious feeling, while also providing an innate sense of purpose in the pursuit of scientific and artistic knowledge.
The explicit interpretation of narrow science, as relating solely to phenomenal form, thereby automatically dismisses any recognition of teleological purpose from its investigations.
However once again the pursuit of such science implicitly relies on—and often greatly relies on, as we have seen with Richard Dawkins—mystery and wonder.
So the view that the modern theory of evolution somehow proves that life is without ultimate purpose is strictly an illusion due to its narrow interpretation of science as solely relating to material form. Again, however this fails to recognise that wonder, which is literally empty of form, is implicitly involved in all scientific investigation.
However even when one can maintain a deep commitment to authentic spiritual meaning, acceptance of evolution— freed from magical divine intervention— does raise some very uncomfortable issues.
For example, a deep remnant of traditional religious belief is the view that all creation exists for the benefit of the human species. So in abandoning the comforting notion of being specially chosen by God, we are left with the challenging task of properly including the role of all other species—and indeed inanimate matter—throughout the universe in a coherent spiritual worldview.
Then with synthetic biology, one can already purchase bio bricks through the Internet and then seek to assemble them in a manner that never existed before in the natural world. And through the new CRISPR technology, genomes that took many millions of years to evolve can now—apparently—be re-edited in an instant with potentially alarming ethical concerns.
Likewise, it is obvious that with evolution the survival of individual members is secondary to the overall collective survival of the species.
However with the human species we have become accustomed to giving a unique value to the individual, which may not be compatible with the successful long-term evolution of our species.
I have often considered this very issue and imagine that it is overwhelmingly likely that intelligent life exists in great profusion throughout the universe. However, it may well be the case that special conditions are required, only rarely fulfilled, that enable the long-term survival of such life. So the future of our own species is in no way guaranteed. And apart from the impact of natural events, we now have the capacity, unlike other species on Earth, to bring about our own destruction.
So I would agree that the view of evolution as representing an inevitable ascent towards higher forms of development is misplaced, reflecting a faulty way of viewing reality. As a developed intelligent species we have the capacity to wipe out everything that has been achieved through human evolution. This is why a truly integrated appreciation is necessary to prevent that awful possibility.
With authentic spiritual realisation, the present moment alone continually exists. Then from this spiritual centre, the phenomenal events, relating to evolution, possess a merely relative existence in space and time. Thus forward movement from the spiritual centre is continually cancelled out through corresponding backward movement to the same centre. However it requires mature appreciation representing the complementary relationship of the internal observer with what is externally observed, before this relative appreciation of physical events in space and time, properly consistent with continual experience of the present moment, can be truly established.
Thus material evolution always reveals its eternal destiny right now in the present moment if only we have the spiritual eyes to see. And indeed, this revelation is continually repeated in some measure, wherever a physical or biological interaction of any kind takes place in the universe.
1. Newton the Man: John Maynard Keynes
2. An Essay on the Principle of Population: 6th edition by Thomas Malthus
3. On the Origin of Species: Charles Darwin, 1st ed. 1859
4. The Spectrum of Consciousness: Ken Wilber; Quest Books Paperback; 2nd edition, Oct. 1993. See also Psychologia Perennis: The Spectrum of Consciousness: Ken Wilber
5. An Appetite for Wonder: the Making of a Scientist: Richard Dawkins: Paperback Black Swan, 2014
6. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture: Patrick Matthew, 1831
7. This was printed in the Preface to the 3rd edition of “On the Origin of Species” in 1861 but was then deleted from the 4th edition in 1866 and later editions. Darwin was apparently annoyed at Matthew's refusal to let the matter rest after his (Darwin's) generous concession of priority to Matthew with respect to the discovery of natural selection.
8. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809—1882: W.W. Norton and Company; Revised ed. (September 17, 1993)
9. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Daniel C. Dennett; Simon and Schuster; Reprint edition (June 12, 1996)
10. Letter to John Fordyce. 7th May, 1879
11. Extracted from Patrick Matthew's Law of Natural Selection, by Michael E. Weale; Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 115, Issue 4, August 2015, Pages 785-791
12. The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us: Richard O. Prum; Doubleday Books (20 June, 2017)
13. Popper's Shifting Appraisal of Evolutionary Theory; Mehmet Elgin and Elliott Sober
14. Climbing Mount Improbable: Richard Dawkins; Full Text; Internet Archive
15. The Selfish Gene: Richard Dawkins; Full Text; 30th Anniversary edition
16. In 1868, Charles Darwin proposed Pangenesis, a developmental theory of heredity. He suggested that all cells in an organism are capable of shedding minute particles he called gemmules (which would now be referred to as genes), which are able to circulate throughout the body and finally congregate in the reproductive glands. The theory originated from the claim that characteristics acquired during an organism's life were heritable. In fact Darwin also initially believed in blended inheritance though appeared to later depart from this view. Pangenesis was far from a temporary aberration of thought on Darwin's part. He held this theory over a period of at least 20 years, and believed it complemented natural selection. He was reluctant to drop it even when initial experimental evidence, involving blood transfusions between different coloured rabbits, seemingly proved that it was in error. However modern research at least in part does support the inheritance of acquired characteristics and is leading to a revision of Darwin's once discredited theory.
17. Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology: John Joe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili; Broadway Books; Reprint edition (26th July 2016)
18. Quantum Darwinism, an Idea to Explain Objective Reality, Passes First Tests; Quanta Magazine
19. This is a really a description of what I term radial development. In geometric terms, it can be illustrated by a circle with a central point from which lines radiate in all directions to an outer circumference. So the centre point represents the absolute present moment from which all phenomenal events in space and time are related. Thus internal (psychological) and external (physical) aspects, understood initially in a linear manner, have ultimately a purely relative (circular) meaning as experience ceaselessly moves forwards and backwards with respect to this timeless centre. Likewise higher and lower levels of reality have a merely relative meaning.
In my latest model of development, which can be found in numerous contributions at Spectrum of Development, I include 8 bands (with 3 main levels in each band).
The 1st band relates to early conscious development referred to by Gebser as the archaic, magical and mythical stages respectively. Then the 2nd band leads to the specialisation of such conscious development, which typifies Western society. The 3rd band relates to the first major phase of spiritual contemplative development that is characterised by the dominance of the ascent (in a transcendent manner). The 4th band relates to a consolidation of this refined intuitive awareness before giving way to a counterbalancing descent in the 5th band through proper grounding of the unconscious in the material world. This then enables the immanent aspect of spirituality to become fully balanced with the transcendent.
The final three bands are then given over to radial development, where the mature interpenetration of both conscious and unconscious can take place. The 6th band in some respects is similar to the 1st in that it serves as a preparation for a truly enhanced involvement in life. The 7th represents the full flowering of conscious activity that is properly balanced by an ever-present contemplative vision, whereas the 8th represents a final rebalancing where one can willingly act against type. So for example, the more cautious contemplative person may be required here to become especially prominent in supporting an active cause.
With respect to this model of development, analytic science relates to Bands 1 and 2 (especially 2); holistic science relates to Bands 3, 4 and 5 and radial science to Bands 6, 7 and 8.
To a certain extent everyone enjoys access to all these bands. However mature development requires proper differentiation in terms of each level in a discrete sense combined with continual sustained integration with respect to all levels.
See also the earlier Stages of Development where I adopt a question and answer format in clarifying some key issues.
Richard Dawkins: An Appetite for Reductionism: Peter Collins