Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).


Republished as: Frank Visser (2013): A Review of "Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea", World Futures: The Journal of Global Education, 69:3, 184-195

The Evolution Religion:
Making Sense
of Evolution

Review of Carter Phipps'
Evolutionaries (2012)

Frank Visser

Carter Phipps
Carter Phipps

The adjective "evolutionary" has become a buzz word in the integral world, "evolutionary spirituality" the household name to designate the approach to religion advocated by integral luminaries such as Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen. To this has been added the substantive "evolutionary" by Carter Phipps, follower of Cohen and author of the recent book by the same name: Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea.[1]

The idea is that those who adhere to these ideas, not just hold them as intellectual beliefs—as their academic cousins the "evolutionists" do—but are committed to them as an all encompassing worldview or life style. For all practical purposes, evolution has become their religion. Phipps' book can be seen as an attempt, not so much to argue for a scientifically viable theory of biological evolution, as to make philosophical and religious sense of it.

'The Real Evolution Debate'

Such an elaborate scheme immediately raises the question about the validity of each of these approaches to evolution.

Carter Phipps has been executive editor of the now defunct EnlightenNext magazine, formerly known as What is Enlightenment? (This magazine, founded by spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, featured the "Guru and Pandit" dialogues between Cohen and Ken Wilber, which have now continued online). In this role, Phipps did many interviews with leading authorities in the fields of science and spirituality. He also authored many essays, among which in 2007 an intriguing overview essay about the many meanings assigned to the term "evolution", called "The REAL Evolution Debate", in a special issue devoted to "The Mystery of Evolution".[2] Over the years, this essay grew into the book.

In this highly readable and informative essay, Phipps distinguished no less than twelve approaches to evolution. Some of their current or historic representatives are listed here, Phipps mentions many more, including their main works and historical influences:

  1. The Neo-Darwinists (Dawkins, Gould, Dennett, E.O. Wilson)
  2. The Progressive Darwinists (Carrol, Jablonka, Lamb)
  3. The Collectivists (Bloom, Lynn Margulis, David Sloan Wilson)
  4. The Complexity Theorists (Goodwin, Kauffman, Laszlo)
  5. The Directionalists (Conway Morris, Gardner, Wright)
  6. The Transhumanists (Ettinger, Gibson, Kurzweil)

  7. The Intelligent Designers (Behe, Dembski, Johnson)
  8. The Theistic Evolutionists (Miller, Peacocke, Polkinghorne)
  9. The Esoteric Evolutionists (Blavatsky, Steiner, C. Wilson, Tarnas)
  10. The Process Philosophers (Whitehead, Hartshorne, Griffin)
  11. The Conscious Evolutionists (Teilhard de Chardin, Dowd, Marx Hubbard)
  12. The Integralists (Aurobindo, Gebser, Wilber, Combs)

This is definitely a helpful list, that brings clarity to an otherwise impenetrable territory. It should have been included in the book—even if only as an appendix.

Usually only two or three reach the media spotlights (i.e. 1. neo-Darwinism and 7. Creationism, otherwise known as Intelligent Design), which severely limits the number of intellectual options available. (Though truth be told, perspectives 1-6 can be qualified as scientific; perspectives 7-12 are better seen as speculative, so Darwinism and Creationism are iconic for their respective fields).

Of course, such an elaborate scheme immediately raises the question about the validity of each of these approaches to evolution. Are all these authors equally qualified to speak out on this topic of biological evolution? Taking the idea of evolution from science and run with it is for sure not the same as illuminating its intricate workings. How many pay lip service to Darwin but continue to pursue their own philosophical or religious points of view?

Where the first five can be seen as legitimate schools of thought within evolutionary science, the last half a dozen are increasingly cases of speculative thought, based on some religious or philosophical point of view, culminating in integral philosophy, which claims to be able to "integrate" all of them—or at least to the extent they have truth on their side.

How many of these spiritualists have taken the idea of evolution—often ill-understood in the form of pop-evolution—to mean we are going onwards and upwards towards an ever brighter future? Have the spiritual authors in this catalog really understood the radicality of Darwin's message, that evolution is indeed possible and has happened without any Divine Plan or Driving Force?

This spectrum covers everything from science to religion to philosophy to even esotericism, including the "integral" point of views that tries to cover all the bases. At the very least we could see this as a catalog of the manifold ways the idea of evolution has been received by the different segments of society. But given the fact that in integral parlance "everyone is right" (to a certain degree, that is), we can anticipate Phipps finds merit in each of them.

From this wider perspective, the strictly scientific view of evolution will readily been seen as "reductionistic", "dogmatic" or worse. But from a scientific point of view, all these various wider interpretations of the idea of evolution just don't belong to the field of scientific truth. They provide meaning and comfort to those who adhere to them, but that's a totally different ball game.

And of course, seeing yourself as being part of a global (and even cosmic) evolutionary process, which will culminate in every higher states of consciousness and culture—this turns out to be Phipps' worldview, when you have finished reading his book—is uplifting indeed. Attuning yourself to the "Spirit of Evolution" (Wilber's favorite expression) is presented as a new and contemporary religious ideal, supported by science.

Evolution as Cultural Idea

Most scientists will say that these "spiritual" views of evolution are pre-Darwinian, i.e. they see evolution as an onward and upward process in nature and culture.

So has science legitimately restricted itself to points of view that can be demonstrated to be factually true, or has it erroneously focused, not to say fixated itself on a partial truth within this larger debate? Phipps' main point in the essay (and his book) is that evoluton, instead of being merely a scientific biological theory, is as much or even more a larger cultural idea which has inspired many fields of knowledge. It is these larger fields he has tried to explore with this book Evolutionaries:

Consider this: evolution was never merely a scientific idea. For that matter, it wasn't even Darwin's idea. Indeed, long before Darwin ever became fascinated by Galápagos finches, the notion of evolution was already at work in the culture of the nineteenth century, quietly subverting established categories of thought and changing religion, philosophy and science, in unexpected and remarkable ways. (Evolutionaries, p. 8)

To which Phipps hastens to add:

Please don't misunderstand me: I have the greatest respect for Darwin's seminal contribution. (p. 8)

It is clear from his book that Phipps is at home in this nineteenth century feeling of subversive excitement. But most scientists will say that these "spiritual" views of evolution are pre-Darwinian, i.e. they see evolution as an onward and upward process in nature and culture (even if meandering at times, and allowing for occasional setbacks), instead of the much more hazardous picture of science, in which the human species is seen as the "sole survivor" of many humanoid races now extinct, not to mention the many contingencies that have occurred in the remote past (the extinction of the dinosaurs being only one of them). However, some biologists, such as Directionalist Conway Morris, do maintain that the appearance of man, or something similar, was inevitable given the way evolution looks for "convergent" solutions to life's problems.

Incidentally, one would be surprised to know how many spiritual authors from Phipps' catalog claim to subscribe to Darwinism (e.g. Theist Kenneth Miller, in his Finding Darwin's God), but still manage to fit this into their own particular philosophical or religious views ("God has created natural selection!"). One of them, Michael Dowd, a Conscious Evolutionist and author of Thank God for Evolution, could even be called a "Darwin freak", for he has exchanged his strong belief in Jesus now for an equally strong, or as "convert" perhaps even stronger belief in Darwin—which he even preaches in his own church! Celebrating evolution! It's equally remarkable that the proponents of Intelligent Design (e.g. Michael Behe, in his Darwin's Black Box) use biochemical data to support their religious views—even if not very successfully so far. Be that as it may, the black-and-white debate presented in the media between scientists and creationists turns out to have a lot more shades of grey.

What is more, Phipps' catalog suggests that the integralist point of view culls the partial truths from these approaches and combines them into the Final Truth About Evolution, but one should be very careful here. Let's never forget that Ken Wilber—the prime representative of the Integralist approach—has blundered, not once, but repeatedly with his misrepresentations of evolutionary theory when dealing briefly with neo-Darwinism. The usual integral "logic" predictably goes like this: evolution does follow Darwinian principles when it comes to forms of life once they have arisen, but can't explain how these forms arose in the first place. To "explain" these new emergences, some other principle has to be invoked; in Wilber's case Eros or "the Spirit of Evolution". Darwinism supposedly cannot handle "novelty": the emergence of new species, or complex organs.

However, the very few empirical examples Wilber gave to support this claim (the human eye, the wings of birds, the human immune system) have all been refuted by online critics. When I decided to specialize in a field Ken Wilber has written about and chose evolutionary theory, to check the validity of his statements about this area, the results where not pretty (as you can read in "The 'Spirit of Evolution' Reconsidered", a paper presented at the 2010 Integral Theory Conference). Spiritualist authors often see "unsurmountable" problems requiring Divine intervention where scientists patiently continue to look for scientific solutions—which more often than not they do find in a couple of years time.

Phipps covers the fields of science, culture and spirituality, interspersing his philosophical musings with reports of interviews he had with various authors. This makes for lively and engaging reading.

We'll take these three fields of inquiry one by one, using Phipps' own section headings.

1. Reinterpreting Science

If Phipps was really interested in "the origin of novelty" and how scientific disciplines such as "evo-devo" currently conceptualize this, much of his feeling of mystification by this topic would subside.

In the Science section, Phipps zooms in on the "novelty" problem, in a chapter called "Novelty: The God Problem"—named after one of Howard Bloom's books of the same title:

We have explanations for how one thing transforms into another over the slow march of time. But evolution's greatest mystery still remains: How does something come from nothing? And ultimately, it's not just a question about the origins of things but about novelty of all kinds. How does anything new get created? How does something entirely novel come into existence? In this world of change and flux, what is the source of unexpected creativity? (p. 101)

In this quote perhaps too much is included to be dealt with at the same time. The origin of the universe is one thing, the source of personal creativity another, but evolutionary theory usually covers precisely the field Phipps claims we have explanations for: "how one thing transforms into another"—isn't that what is meant by "the origin of species"?

Is the appearance of winged birds a "new" thing in evolution? Or the appearance of camera lens eyes? Or the emergence of the heavy elements, for that matter? Page after page, the chapter marvels about complexity theory, transformations at the edge of chaos, still undiscovered laws of nature that should produce evolutionary novelty (quoting Bloom, Gardner, Kauffman, Wolfram), but one looks in vain to specific empirical examples that need to be explained. (Recall that Wilber recently suggested that even the origin of the heavy elements needs some transcendental explanation—at least, that's how he'd prefer to see it in his Kosmic philosophy. The same rhetoric is used by Brian Swimme: "We went from Hydrogen to human beings, what a Mystery!").

As my university methodology teacher taught me once: science doesn't start with stories or theories, it starts with a question: What is it exactly that you want to explain? What actually are your data?

In this chapter Phipps also deals with the concerns of Intelligent Design proponents who state that "current biological theory is insufficient to explain novelty in the emergence of life" (p. 104)—a statement Ken Wilber would fully agree with. To his credit, he immediately refutes the worn out argument from creationists that evolution supposedly is in conflict with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, in that order in the universe tends to decrease, and not increase, as we see in the evolution of life on Earth:

This argument is dead on arrival. Biological evolution gets around the implications of entropy because the Earth is not an isolated system. We are riding the light, so to speak, using the sun's energy to power our way along. The sun is losing energy, but we are the beneficiaries. (p. 120)

Creationists have turned to more "scientific" arguments to support their views, most notably Michael Behe in his Darwin's Black Box. Phipps notes that not only has this approach met with severe criticism from the scientific community, but also from more progressive religionists, who consider this exclusive focus on design a limitation of God's richer nature. Be that as it may, it's obvious that Phipps is more interested in these religious implications.

Instead of exposing the shallowness of creationists' reasoning, he lets them off the hook. Is this a no-go area given Wilber's less than fortunate statements on the subject? Instead, he closes the chapter with statements that border on the delusional (though he refers to them as "original" and "compelling speculations", based on the work of complexity theorist James Gardner, whom he interviewed in 2006 [3]):

Could our reflections on the evolutionary process itself be an essential element not only in fulfilling the next stage of our own development but in creating the next novel stage of cosmogenesis?

According to Phipps', and echoing Wilber/Cohen integral philosophy, the creativity in the Cosmos at large is no different from the creativity found in our deepest selves:

As our picture of the universe continues to expand and we grow more cognizant of the creative power of nature, it is simultaneously as if the creative capacity we once reserved entirely for God has seemed to flow out of heaven and into earth. And as a product of nature's creation, we share in that bounty. As our picture of evolution grows more creative, so does our picture of ourselves. God's omnipotence has become our own creative potential. (p. 122-123)

It is clear from the above that Phipps is less interested in finding a scientific explanation for creative processes, both in nature as in ourselves, than in celebrating a religious philosophy of life. Evolution has become his religion. If Phipps was really interested in "the origin of novelty" and how scientific disciplines such as "evo-devo" currently conceptualize this, much of his feeling of mystification by this topic would subside.

Check only a random Wikipedia entry on Evolutionary Developmental Biology, otherwise known as "evo-devo", and you will find yourself immersed in the recent scientific explorations concerning the origin of novelty:

A major question then, for evo-devo studies, is: If the morphological novelty we observe at the level of different clades is not always reflected in the genome, where does it come from? Apart from neo-Darwinian mechanisms such as mutation, translocation and duplication of genes, novelty may also arise by mutation-driven changes in gene regulation. The finding that much biodiversity is not due to differences in genes, but rather to alterations in gene regulation, has introduced an important new element into evolutionary theory.[4]

Or another one, an overview essay by Armin Moszek titled "On the Origin of Novelty in Development and Evolution", associate professor of biology at the Indiana University, on the biological explanation of novelty:

I argue that, in order to understand exactly where, and under what conditions, evolutionary innovation occurs, we need to search for exactly where preexisting variation ends. We may be surprised how much novelty and innovation may arise out of the already familiar, and may grow well within the confines of strict homology.[5]

Is it against Phipps' agenda to enter these territories? As far as I am concerned—and given Wilber's misbehavior in these matters—even the slightest hint from spiritually-inclined authors that science cannot explain novelty is suspect to me.

In the end, Phipps follows the same logic as Wilber: in our cultural and religious history, mythical religion has been succeeded by rational science, and the current evolution/creation debate is largely a clash between these two worldviews. But, so the argument goes, creationists do point out "real problems" in evolutionary theory, that science supposedly cannot solve. Therefore, a post-rational mystical spirituality is called for, that can "explain" these anomalies–the origin of novelty–without having to return to a literal interpretation of creation myths. Cultural evolution moves on.

So Phipps, like Wilber, aligns with science against pre-rational religion, but tries to trump science with the help of mysticism, in his case an "evolutionary spirituality". There was a time when I deeply liked this strategy: it allows one to be modern and scientific, and at the same time deeply religious. But this project breaks down when you get to specifics. What exactly is it that a spiritual Eros can explain? Does a mystical-integral view of evolution avoid the severe drawbacks of creationism? Until now, neither Wilber nor Phipps have created a solid case.[6]

2. Recontextualizing Culture

It is both ironic and tragic that major spokesmen of this conflict resolution model haven't been able to resolve their theoretical and personal differences.

True to his agenda of expanding the theory of evolution beyond the limits of natural science, Phipps turns now to human culture. Can we legitimately speak of "cultural evolution"? Even languages—and language is a key component of culture—are said to evolve, differentiate and go extinct. But in the more controversial sense of cultural progress? Few scientists would be willing to go that far. Long term trends, maybe, but qualitatively distinct stages? Not a chance.

Of course, part of this distaste of stage models is caused by the misuse that has been made by them in history. Phipps is well aware of these pitfalls, but tries to avoid these by pointing out that, just as individual development unfolds in successive structures of consciousness, so does collective or cultural development. However, cultural development is much more difficult to trace, since societies or cultures stretch out over many centuries. His guide in this endeavor is Jean Gebser, author of The Ever-Present Origin and a major inspiration for Ken Wilber's cultural model.

Wilber discovered Gebser, whose work hadn't been translated into English yet, through a summary article in Main Currents in Modern Thought published in the early seventies.[7] He fleshed out Gebser's stage model in a magnificent way in his book Up from Eden published in 1981. Gebser's stages matched perfectly with the stages Wilber had postulated himself in his earlier works, but were more catchy. Compare "archaic" to "uroboric" or "magical" to "typhonic" and you know what I mean. But Wilber does deserve credit for opening up this entire field.

How has Gebser been received outside of the integral world? Has there been any fruitful exchange between integralism and the various Gebser societies around the world? Has academic science paid any attention to his work at all?

According to the Wikipedia article on Jean Gebser:

Gebser cautioned against using terms like evolution, progression, or development to describe the changes in structures of consciousness that he described.

That sentence alone deserves a careful treatment. We are now forty years later, and it no longer suffices to repeat Gebser's stages over and over again.

The same can be said for another stage model Phipps covers in his book, the well known color-stages of Spiral Dynamics. Just as Ken Wilber did much to promote Gebser's work, the same can be said for the work of Don Beck, at least in their years of cooperation, which lead to the "Spiral Dynamics Integral" (SDi) approach. (But then again, if it wasn't for Beck and Cowan, nobody would have heard of Clare Graves, the founder of the original and back then color-less stage model. Graves was a contemporary of Maslow, and both models show how values and needs go hand in hand during development.) There was a time Wilber discussion groups were buzzing with SD colors, ad nauseam, as if any meaningful discussion could be decided in those terms.

As is well known by now, the cooperation between Wilber and Beck ended a few years ago, and Wilber changed his color scheme as published in Integral Spirituality (2005) without much ado. For the initiated: Blue became Amber, and Yellow became Teal, as if to mimic the color spectrum (remember Wilber's first book was called The Spectrum of Consciousness, 1977). Apparently, the spiraling nature of the Spiral, going from "warm" or me-individual to "cool" or we-collective stages was discarded in the process as irrelevant.

Personal animosities or male egos aside, one wonders if real theoretical differences are involved here—just as one wonders why Beck broke with his former colleague Cris Cowan—his co-author of the book Spiral Dynamics (1996). Both claim to have the true version of Spiral Dynamics. It is both ironic and tragic that major spokesmen of this conflict resolution model (Beck, Cowan, Wilber) haven't been able to resolve their theoretical and personal differences.

In this section the work of Ken Wilber is given a chapter as well. After the obligatory treatment of the four quadrants, and relating the legend around their discovery by a flash of insight, Phipps goes briefly into Wilber's (and Sheldrake's) contribution to our understanding of evolution. No hint is given about the criticism Wilber has faced in recent years because of his apparent mis-understanding of the basics of evolutionary theory. One wonders if Phipps is interested in these details at all. But if criticism is ignored, the outcome will be integral, or evolutionary, ideology—plain and simple.

The idea behind this Wilberian/Sheldrakean view of evolution is that the supposed laws of nature are in fact "habits" and new stages in evolution take time to "settle" into stable structures. What has always puzzled me is that the metaphor of habits presupposes a subject, which doesn't seem present in the human collective, let alone the Kosmos at large. For Wilber, "Kosmic habits" not necessarily refer to the material cosmos, for his notion of "Kosmos" implies the inner dimensions of consciousness. So the more pioneers advance into new domains of consciousness and experience, the easier it will be for others to follow. I believe there are easier explanations for the fact that cultural pioneers create followers.

3. Reenvisioning Spirit

There's a deep ambivalance—or should I say dishonesty?—in these integral or evolutionary statements about evolution, between what is actually claimed and what isn't.

In the third and last section of the book, Phipps enters the domain of spirit, where he seems to be most at home. In his opinion, religion, to survive at all in this modern world, would be best advised to embrace the idea of evolution. Creationism and atheism can best be seen as premodern and modern ways to makes sense of the world around us. Can we legitimately speak of post-modern (or even post-post-modern) views of reality as well? If evolution has become a divine process, it is this world that is its playground. This explains the world affirmation of Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, two of the greatest forerunners of the evolutionary worldview. It is also a responsible worldview, bent on making a difference in this world of ours.

This ties in to what Phipps has named "conscious evolutionism", a movement that has futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, Michael Dowd and Brian Swimme as their major representatives. The idea is that in our modern world, we need modern creation stories to replace the myths of yesteryear. We have not only a new cosmology, but new crises and new capacities to face them—the current climate crisis being one that comes to mind. Our connection the physical cosmos is closer then most of us would expect, as Carl Sagan said "We are made of star stuff" (all the heavier elements in our bodies come from star explosions).

Of course, if the physical cosmos becomes a projection screen for all our religious needs, it is one small step to see the world as a field of vast creativity, that wants to express itself through us humans. Says Brian Swimme:

The Earth wants to come into a deeper way of reflecting on itself. The invention of the eye is an example. It's almost like the life process wants to deepen its awareness... It is as if the whole system of life was going to find a way to see one way or another. So what's the essence of life? Life wants a richer experience. Life wants to see. And we come out of that same process. We also want to see, we want to know, we want to understand deeply. That is a further development of this basic impulse itself. (p. 317)

One wonders if the Sun wants to shine, plants want to grow, and rain wants to fall... in this intentionality-laden worldview as well. But Phipps is well aware that intentionality, agency and consciousness evolved, and have taken a large span in time to enter the scene at all. At this moment in time, where we have reached self-consciousness, we have also reached our moment of global responsibility:

[T]he power of our human autonomy does make us special. It doesn't mean that we are God's gift to the Earth or that we're fundamentally separate and distinct from other species. But neither are we just another creature, one among millions. (p. 318)

I can resonate with this feeling that, though quantitatively we may be less than a speck of dust in the cosmos, qualitatively we are unique in the very fact of being aware of this. Still, one of my favorite metaphors for illustrating our humble position in time comes from physicist Robert Dijkgraaf, former president of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences, and currently director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton—and I paraphrase from a newspaper column he once wrote—"if we compare life on earth to a book of about 400 pages, the written history of mankind covers the width of the period at the end of the last sentence..." We have appeared late, very late on the scene indeed.

This brings Phipps to his own guru, Andrew Cohen, and his brand of "evolutionary enlightenment". Where traditional religious believers claimed to know the mind of God, their evolutionary counterparts seem to know much about what the "evolutionary impulse" is or wants us to do. Writes Cohen:

The evolutionary impulse, he writes, is "the energy and intelligence that burst out of nothing, the driving impetus behind the evolutionary process, from the big bang to the emerging edge of the future." (p. 335)

This ties in nicely with Wilber's comments that without such an impulse or Eros, evolutionary phenomena can't be explained. But it is not at all clear that such an impulse exists, and certainly not as a necessary way to explain nature's phenomena, as we have tried to demonstrate in many essays on this website (take for example "What Good is Half a Wing?").

This outlook on life also has its theologians, who see change, process, movement and creativity as spiritual phenomena. Only such a view can keep up with the discoveries of science, they say. God's power has been replaced by the power of nature. But if life is so powerful, why has it appeared only on Earth as far as we know, and not on our neighboring planets, not to mention planets in other solar systems? And if the right conditions were so important, why aren't these conditions enough in and by itself, which would make the hypothesis of a creative Force redundant? There's enough reason to question this euphoric narrative of cosmic intention.

Phipps adds some correctives to the notion that our role in evolution has become all-important. We cannot just wish or visualize our problems away, as New Age religionists have it, since we have to take existence's lawfulness into account. But even then, there's always a potential for novelty, as the Whiteheadian expression goes. This has often been called "emergence", without explaining anything by that term alone, a reservation Phipps fortunately shares:

So while the idea of emergence should not be confused with an explanation of the novelty of nature, it does help identify actual truths about the evolutionary process that are critical to appreciate. It names the wonderful creativity of our cosmic story—radically new capacities and higher levels of being do emerge in this marvelous universe." (p. 357)

In my opinion, this mystification doesn't help us in understanding the processes of evolution. How can something that is not an explanation convey "actual truths" about evolution? If we look back at past evolutionary forms of life, there never has been a transcendental mystery involved in the evolutionary processes that lead to their existence. Wilber defended his amateurish comments on biological evolution with exactly the same "argument": what he actually wanted to point at was that "they are metaphors and examples for this extraordinary capacity of creative emergence that is intrinsic to the universe."

There's a deep ambivalence—or should I say dishonesty?—in these integral or evolutionary statements about evolution, between what is actually claimed and what isn't. On the one hand, there's the claim that science by itself can't explain evolution, and that other principles are needed—Eros, the evolutionary impulse, the Spirit of Evolution, creativity—but when pressed for details, all claims to offer explanations are abandoned and rephrased as metaphors. In the end, this is fact-free science, that can be used for whatever philosophical or religious purpose one wants. Phipps wrestles with this, at times, but is in the end too much a believer in the evolution religion to be convincing.


[1] C. Phipps, Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea, Harper Collins, Harper Perennial, 2012.

[2] C. Phipps, "The REAL Evolution Debate", What is Enlightenment?, The Mystery of Evolution issue, Issue 35, January/March 2007.

[3] C. Phipps, "A New Dawn for Cosmology", interview with James Gardner, What is Enlightenment?, Issue 33, June/August 2006.

[4] "Evolutionary Developmental Biology", Wikipedia.

[5] Moczek, A.P., "On the Origin of Novelty in Development and Evolution", Bio Essays, 5: 432-447, 2008, and "The origins of novelty". Nature 473: 34-35 (invited commentary).

[6] To be sure, some evolutionaries, the "religious naturalists", have stopped calling on supernatural forces guiding evolution, but Phipps' inclinations seem clearly spiritual, given his alliance to Andrew Cohen's philosophy, when he writes of "the driving impetus behind the evolutionary process" and "an energetic drive at the core of the evolutionary process" (p. 335).

Wilber sometimes presents a naturalistic, sanitized version of his "Spirit of Evolution" theory where he says things like:

"You either postulate a supernatural source of which there are two types. One is a Platonic given and one is basically theological—a God or Intelligent Design—or you postulate Spirit as immanent—of course it's transcendent but also immanent—and it shows up as a self-organizing, self-transcending drive within evolution itself. And then evolution is Spirit's own unfolding. Not a super-natural, but an intra-natural, an immanently natural aspect. And that's basically the position I maintain." (audio file on, 2006)

However, this highly ambiguous position still presupposes an immanent, "intra-natural" (?) drive within evolution—which creates eyes, wings and immune systems? Fortunately, there are more straightforwardly naturalistic explanations for these phenomena than Ken Wilber has dreamt up in his integral philosophy.

[7] Gebser, Jean. (Jan.-Feb. 1974). "The Integral Consciousness", Main Currents in Modern Thought, 30:3, 107�9 and (Nov.-Dec. 1972), "The Foundations of the Aperspectival World", Main Currents in Modern Thought, 29:2, 85-90.

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