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).



Review of Steve McIntosh'
Evolution's Purpose (2012)

Frank Visser

In 2007 Steve McIntosh published his first book Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution, a welcome contribution to the literature of integral philosophy, offering a fresh and systematic look at it's core ideas and arguments. I liked the book for many reasons, one of which was McIntosh' careful reasoning and case building—as one could expect from a former practicing lawyer—but also the esthetic expression of his ideas. As the subtitle showed, and the last chapter of that book as well, called "The Directions of Evolution", McIntosh' dearest topic was the question: is evolution going anywhere? What larger spiritual impulse is behind it? And if so, can we sense that direction in any way, and can we promote its progress? For McIntosh, the story of evolution has spiritual implications, not in the least because it shows such an overwhelming creativity in bringing forth new forms of life. Evolution is our modern day Creation Story.

In the years that passed, he was working on a book about "progress and purpose in evolution", and at the 2010 Integral Theory Conference he presented the paper "Progress in Evolution", as a summary of his thinking on this controversial issue. As is well known among readers of Integral World, I have come to doubt the integral views on evolution as Ken Wilber, the founder of modern integral philosophy, has developed these in his writings. At that same Conference I elaborated on these objections in my paper "The 'Spirit of Evolution' Reconsidered"), so I was especially interested to see if McIntosh had a stronger case for spiritual evolution than Wilber's. Steve and I were scheduled on the same morning in the same room, and he gave his presentation after mine. Finally, his second book, Evolution's Purpose, has come out, which covers this wide field in greater depth.

McIntosh is a great believer in the dialectical nature of progress, where thesis and antithesis are followed in Hegelian fashion by a deeper, or higher, synthesis. I will therefore set up some dialectics in this review, to test the strength of his arguments. And who knows, what synthesis may lie on the far horizon? But from the start, McIntosh' courage to tackle this thorny subject of evolutionary progress and purpose should be applauded. I trust his intentions of giving science its due—as he wrote in the letter accompanying the review copy he kindly sent me a few weeks ago—and this review will try to assess how far he has succeeded in this.

Allow me to sometimes transcend the boundaries of a single book review by including Wilber's ideas on the subject, to get at the heart of the integral view of evolution. Opportunities to do so are far and few between.


What counts is not that a certain view is comforting, soothing or even inspiring, but that it is true.

Let's first hear what Steve McIntosh has to say, in his own words, in a seminal paragraph in which he summarizes the basic message of his book:

Through integral philosophy I have come to see that the evolutionary story of our universe, when understood in its entirety from the flaring forth of the big bang, through the the emergence of our solar system, through the evolution of life, and up through the development of human society and culture, carries an unmistakably spiritual message. This message is discovered as we begin to appreciate the unfathomable value that evolution has produced in the course of its development, and how evolution's generation of value discloses its progressive character. And as we come to clearly see how evolution progresses, this reveals evolution's purpose. As I will explore throughout this book, the evident purpose of evolution is to grow toward ever-widening realization of beauty, truth and goodness; and it is through the generation of these most intrinsic forms of value that evolution expresses its spiritual message. (p. xii)

Steve McIntosh

Key ideas here are that evolution covers more than just a biological process, but should include the cosmos and matter on the one hand, and mind and culture on the other. Value production is seen as a measure of progress, and this process culminates in the emergence of human consciousness and culture, which reveals evolution's purpose. In his opinion, science cannot really detect progress, because this is essentially a matter of philosophy, not science, since it involves the assessment of values.

It is his conviction, that materialistic evolutionary science, which across the board denies progress and purpose in evolution, has become as much a belief system as the traditionalist religious belief systems it tried to combat. And as a consequence, the scientific truths of evolution—not denied by McIntosh, he assures us—can and should be put into the larger context of an integral, spiritual, or as we say these days "evolutionary" framework. Evolution in this wider sense is seen as a "universal process of becoming", which covers matter, life, mind and culture.

Let's try to summarize McIntosh' main argument in the form of a syllogism. I hope I have captured the essence of it in this way:

  1. Current evolutionary science denies overall progress, let alone the subject of purpose, mostly out of resistance to the traditional religious view that humans are the pinnacle of creation, and because progress is very difficult to define in a scientific way.
  2. However, progress in evolution is undeniable if you take an unbiased look at evolutionary history, as illustrated by the general growth in complexity and consciousness, and evidenced in the evolution of the higher animals.
  3. Therefore, a different interpretation of the data of science is needed, free of the ideologies of the past (both in the form of religious orthodoxies that deny evolution as of materialistic science that denies progress and purpose).

If the first premise is shown to be wrong, his conclusion is in danger, even if the second premise may be correct. In fact, that's what I intend to demonstrate in what follows.

To further drive home the dichotomy McIntosh is setting up to convince his readers of the soundness of his arguments, let's give some loosely phrased contrasting keywords of the current scientific view of evolution and this "new picture of evolution" which according to McIntosh is gaining more and more adherents:

Evolution is a random, strictly biological process, with no overall progress, purpose or direction, in a materialistic, accidental and meaningless universe. Evolution is a wider, universal process of emergence, showing overall progress, purpose and direction, in a spiritual, meaningful and wonderful universe.

Feel the difference? But bear in mind that, as Richard Dawkins is fond of saying in his lectures, what counts is not that a certain view is comforting, soothing or even inspiring, but that it is true. That doesn't mean, of course, that a comforting view can't be true, but that we should be on guard while doing philosophy not to let our emotions run away with us. Besides, Dawkins is never tired to stress that natural selection isn't a purely random process, but the result of both random variation and non-random selection—a point lost on many integralists. Not just anything gets selected, only that which provides a distinct advantage.

It is a common ploy among spiritualists and creationists (Ken Wilber included) to paint a gloomy picture of the scientific, "reductionistic" worldview—meaningless, senseless, purposeless—and then come up with a much more uplifting, comforting and inspiring alternative. Or to say that science can't explain certain things, such as complex organs or species formation or the existence of DNA, and that "therefore" some extra-physical Force is needed to "explain" them. McIntosh uses the same tactics.

But is this picture of current evolutionary science correct? For one, one of the most popular books by Stephen Jay Gould is called Wonderful Life—hardly a nihilistic sentiment. And we could quote Darwin from the last paragraph of his Origin of Species, in which he declares his famous words: "There is grandeur in this view of life". Or Dawkins, again, who contrasts "cosmic sentimentality" with the "admirable realism" of science, which unravels for us the "magic of reality" in ways that make creation myths look silly (see the Foreword to his Unweaving the Rainbow and his recent The Magic of Reality).

Perhaps, it is not so much progress as such that has been denied by orthodox science, as certain metaphysical explanations of progress, such as the life force in vitalism (or a cosmic force of Eros in integral philosophy, for that matter). That's a real difference. Or they deny overall-progress, in all lineages and respects, but would defend a limited form of progress, in some lineages and in some respects. Andy Smith' distinction between the strong and weak notions of progress is helpful here. However, some scientists reject the notion of progress out of hand, while for others progress is in fact inevitable, given the way natural selection works, and some admit to its existence "grudgingly", as McIntosh phrases it.

For McIntosh, neo-Darwinism is a phase-specific model embedded in the modernist worldview, that will have to be superseded by postmodernist worldviews, just as it superseded premodernist religion in the past. But can we speak of postmodern evolutionary theory, and if so, what would it's tenets be? Presumably that evolution is driven by some kind of universal Spirit or Eros—a decidedy Platonic view of evolution. (One could, on the other hand, argue that a progressivist view of evolution is more modernist, but a view in which contingency and environmental effects play a more decisive role postmodernist).


"By this definition, adaptive evolution is not just incidentally progressive, it is deeply, dyed-in-the-wool, indispensably progressive."
– Richard Dawkins

Many Americans have been educated on evolution solely by the flamboyant paleontologist and columnist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), who was a staunch defender of the no-overall-progress view of evolution, and McIntosh seems to be one of them. Gould claimed that on the whole, apparent progress in evolution culminating in the human species is an anthropocentric illusion, which evaporates when we take all other kingdoms of life into account. The majority or organisms, bacteria, don't evolve to complexity at all, and are perfectly happy the way they are and have been for billions of years. (Incidentally, this is one of the deepest mysteries of evolution: the difference between bacteria and all other kingdoms of life.)

But Gould's extreme view is by no means shared by the biological community. There's no better way to illustrate this than by somewhat extensively quoting from "Human Chauvinism and Evolutionary Progress", Dawkins' review of Full House, another of Gould's popular books, in which Gould presented and argued for his no-overall-progress view of evolution. In this review Dawkins argues for a more "adaptationist" definition of progress (which he elaborates on more fully at the end of his magnificent The Ancestor's Tale):

a tendency for lineages to improve cumulatively their adaptive fit to their particular way of life, by increasing the numbers of features which combine together in adaptive complexes. (p. 244)

If increased complexity increases that adaptive fit, it is selected, if not, not. The same for humanly cherished qualities such as consciousness. So this definition does not make one species paradigmatic for all others. Dawkins continues:

To evolution: Is it progressive? Gould's definition of progress is a human-chauvinistic one which makes it all too easy to deny progress in evolution. I shall show that if we use a less anthropocentric, more biologically sensible, more 'adaptationist' definition, evolution turns out to be clearly and importantly progressive in the short to medium term. In another sense it is probably progressive in the long term too (A Devil's Chaplain, p. 244)
By this definition, adaptive evolution is not just incidentally progressive, it is deeply, dyed-in-the-wool, indispensably progressive. It is fundamentally necessary that it should be progressive if Darwinian natural selection is to perform the explanatory role in our world view that we require of it... (p. 248)

And about us humans, progress is acknowledged wholeheartedly, and not "grudgingly" as McIntosh would say, though putting it in the wider context of other forms of life:

Progressive increase in brain size is to be expected only in animals where braininess is an advantage. This may, for all I know, constitute a minority of lineages. But what I do insist is that in a majority of evolutionary lineages there will be progressive evolution towards something. It won't, however, be the same thing in different lineages... And there is no general reason to expect a majority of lineages to progress in the directions pioneered by our human line (p. 251)

Even in the long run, Dawkins sees room for evolution's progress, using his concept of "evolvability":

Evolution itself may evolve, progressively, over a longer timescale... [T]here really is a good possibility that major innovations in embryological technique open up new vistas of evolutionary possibility and that these constitute genuinely progressive improvements. The origin of the chromosome, of the bounded cell, of multicellularity, of gastrulation, of molluscan torsion, of segmentation—each of these may have constituted a watershed event in the history of life. (p. 254-255)

This may not be the type of progress McIntosh has in mind, but it's worth noting that it covers the same types of emergence McIntosh points to (using a quote from evolutionary biologist and ex-Discovery Institute member Jeffrey Schloss) to prove that Gould was wrong on this issue to deny progress, so it's definitely not limited to the "instrumental value" of mere survival. Less humanity-centered, but therefore more universally true.

One can of course say: well, if orthodox evolutionary science recognizes the obvious fact of progress, then fine, we have them on board too. Good for them. But no, that would be too easy. Orthodox evolutionary science is making a very different claim: evolutionary complexity can in principle be explained with naturalistic means, by good ole' natural selection, even though many things may still be unclear at the moment.

For sure, Dawkins is over-confident at times about the explanatory value of natural selection and may not represent the majority of researchers in the field. But we can't overlook him either, because he truly provides important pieces of the evolutionary puzzle. In this context, McIntosh' remarks that he hopes to "bring the insights of integral philosophy to the attention of the educated mainstream"(xxiii) but "will avoid a tedious dialogue with atheistic philosophies" (p. xxiv) are telling. Has he perhaps avoided this area from his otherwise inclusive overview because it would jeopardize his thesis?

As a consequence, McIntosh can write the following:

The denial of progress has now become a central feature of the philosophical interpretations of evolution which inevitably accompany the many popular accounts of evolutionary scientists for the general public. (p. 95)

And, even more missing the mark:

Thus, the staunch defenders of the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy have reason to object to progress, not only because progressive, directional development is difficult to measure, but also because their theory cannot account for it. (p. 117)

He refers here to the many books written by Dawkins, Coyne, Zimmer et al. But mind you, Dawkins, one of "the staunch defenders of the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy" if ever there was one, is a self-confessed atheist, who has been called an ultra-Darwinist by his opponents, and of all people he is the one who has no trouble acknowledging multi-dimensional progression in nature (even though the human species is not made paradigmatic)! Where does that leave McIntosh' argument about the necessity for a larger context to make sense of the facts of biological science?

Incidentally, it is interesting that Dawkins and Gould come to such different conclusions, while both happily working within the neo-Darwinist framework. This goes to show that neo-Darwinism isn't the monolithic block many of its critics present it and would like it to be.

In fact, if integral philosophy is essentially evolutionary, why have its major proponents such a hard time to faithfully represent evolutionary theory? It is, I submit, because integralism needs neo-Darwinism to fail, to get its own "theory" off the ground in the first place. Ironically, just as traditional religions and materialistic science are said to have their ideologies, the same can be said of integral or "evolutionary" philosophy. (But that's only to be expected: every worldview will be prone to look for what supports it).


McIntosh is explicitly not proposing a "God of the gaps" argument, but then what is his argument?

Another omission in a book like this, it seems to me, is McIntosh' almost complete neglect of the Intelligent Design movement, that has, especially in the United States, resulted in heated arguments about what Darwinism can or cannot explain. Philosopher of (biological) science Michael Ruse wrote a series of interesting books on the creation/evolution controversy, one of which has a subtitle relevant to our subject: Darwin or Design? Does Evolution Have a Purpose? It would have been interesting to hear from McIntosh how he explains the intricate apparent design of biological organisms or organs, if it is neither by natural selection or Intelligent Design. Or does he believe in natural selection as a creative force after all?

Neglecting this area is a missed opportunity, I believe, to position integral philosophy within the public discourse on evolutionary theory, which has become so polarized between creationists and evolutionists. If there's a way, as McIntosh believes, to embrace the findings of science and still keep an overall purpose to the process, many layman would immediately be interested in its details. But it would also have been an opportunity to have a close and honest look at what Wilber has written on evolution and Intelligent Design. His implicit support for ID when arguing "what neo-Darwinism can't explain" has never been substantiated by detailed examples, and is supposedly only meant to impress the layman reader. Nor does his Eros-theory shed any light on these supposedly unsolvable mysteries of science. Since McIntosh tackles the subject evolution in a whole book, I would have expected to see his coverage of this matter—if only to show the status of integral philosophy's credibility in the science arena.

On several occasions he just states that he is not interested in creationist arguments, and in the helpful paragraph "Where I Stand" he says, at the beginning of the book:

My aim is thus to be as faithful as possible to the scientific facts and argue only with some of the philosophical interpretations that have become closely associated with these facts. Although I maintain that purpose can be detected in the unfolding of evolution, I reject the assertions of creationists and "intelligent design" proponents. (p. xxiii)

So, here McIntosh chooses a different strategy from Wilber. Remember how Wilber recommended Behe's Darwin's Black Box, though he refrained from doing that in public?

Though across the board Wilber has ignored these evolution/creation debates as well, he did occasionally offer his two cents by claiming that "standard" neo-Darwinism could not explain the evolution of eyes and wings and that "everybody" now believed in "emergent" or "quantum" evolution. This was a hidden reference to Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium", that states that evolution proceeds by "jumps" followed by long periods of "stasis" or stagnation. Many creationists have misused this theory, much to the chagrin of Gould, to defend their spiritual views—he qualified these attempts as either "intellectual dishonesty" or "crass stupidity" in his magnum opus The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (p. 986). In my opinion, Ken Wilber has been guilty of the same.

However, when McIntosh discusses Intelligent Design in a brief paragraph on alternative evolutionary theories (where he covers Kauffman, Sheldrake, directed mutation and Intelligent Design), he comments:

It is important to emphasize that the appearance of new, structurally critical information in the emergence of biological forms is still at least partially unexplained. Although Richard Dawkins and others have presented detailed accounts of how complex structures such as eyes and wings may have come about solely through random mutations and random filtering, many aspects of biological emergence remain mysterious. (p. 48)

In my opinion, this is an unproductive approach to science and the way it progresses. For decades the human eye has been the classical example put forward by creationists that would falsify Darwinism—and even Darwin himself was acutely aware of this danger to this theory. But when scientists then painstakingly reconstruct a possible evolutionary history of these organs, by pointing to fossils but also to analogous organs in currently living species, all of a sudden other examples are used for the same ideological purpose: the immune system, DNA, or any other "irreducibly complex" biological feature. Time and time again, science makes progress in these fields, and spiritualists retreat further in their stubborn claims that "something else is going on" in evolution. (Just check out Nick Lane's marvelous award-winning science book Life Ascending for fascinating (attempted) Darwinian explanations of "the ten greatest inventions of evolution", among which the origin of life itself, DNA, photosynthesis, complex cells and sight).

McIntosh is explicitly not proposing a "God of the gaps" argument, he assures us at the end of his book (p. 239, n. 14), but then what is his argument? He is even willing to concede that within the large domains of matter and life, everything could ultimately be explained in naturalistic terms, though at the same time insisting that the emergence of these domains as such still remains a mystery, unfathomable by science, and therefore in need of some metaphysical explanation, even if a minimalistic one.


The "dirty details" of biological evolution are conspicuously absent in his idealistic treatment of the subject.

An interesting difference between Wilber and McIntosh is that where Wilber postulates the cosmic force of Eros, which gently pushes biological and cultural evolution forward and upward, McIntosh seems to opt for some neo-Platonic "pull" theory, in which the archetypal values of Beauty, Truth and Goodness "attract" us towards higher stages of individual and cultural consciousness. McIntosh gives quasi-objective status to these Values, but stresses that it takes subjective consciousness, in its various stages of development, to make them operative. (Beauty doesn't simply disappear when we don't look at it, but it needs our consciousness to fully be appreciated, he argues).

What is more, McIntosh uses Aristotle's doctrine of the four causes (material, efficient, formal and final) to clarify his conviction that evolution ultimately has a purpose or final cause. Intelligent Design has focused on the formal causes behind the apparent design of organisms or organs, McIntosh goes even further and speculates on the final causes behind these phenomena, which explain their purpose. Doesn't the case for formal causes first have to be made, before that of final causes can be attempted? Science itself thinks that only the first two causes (material and efficient) are sufficient to explain natural phenomena. But only by giving specific details on how these causes interact in say, producing the human eye, can such a theory be illuminating. Strong claims require strong evidence, or in the case of philosophy, strong arguments.

McIntosh postulates two "extra-physical influences on evolution": information primarily in the early forms of emergence (matter and early life) and values in the latter (advanced life, mind and culture). This constitutes his "minimal metaphysics" needed to explan evolution's finer points. But if the Carbon atom contains more information than a simple Hydrogen atom, which it does, do we have to suppose that that extra information has to come "from somewhere"? Why not acknowledge that every next electron shell can accommodate more electrons, altering that elements features in the process?

And as to the role values play in evolution, as a kind of "strange attractor"—a concept borrowed from chaos theory—for sure they play a role in human consciousness and culture. Think for example of the attractiveness of "freedom" as an ideal to all human beings (and animals kept in captivity). This "value gravity" is still largely a mystery, McIntosh concedes, but so is physical gravity, he pointedly adds. He even likens his discovery of value-gravity to the four fundamental forces of physics, so that we would now have a fifth fundamental force, which attracts our consciousness to the ultimate values (in the end, "Good-gravity" or "God-gravity" would be a more appropriate name, given McIntosh' theistic perspective). And just as it took some time for gravity to be discovered by science, it has taken a while for value-gravity to be detected. (One wonders if this value-gravity is also exerting its pull on the many barren surfaces of planets that don't sustain any life, conscious or otherwise).

In this context a rather cryptic and ambiguous comment from Wilber comes to mind about which options are open to those who feel that "reductionistic" science in itself is not enough and should be complemented by a spiritual philosophy:

"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 as a super-natural, but an intra-natural, an immanently natural aspect. And that's basically the position I maintain.

I am sure this difference between the push and pull of Spirit is a relative one, for Wilber does have his speculations on complexity theory's chaotic attractors and McIntosh frequently refers to the "rising flow" of evolution. McIntosh sees evolution as both being driven (by imperfect life conditions) and drawn (by values) at the same time. Wilber emphasizes more the push-nature of Eros, even if he characterizes it as a "gentle push".

What is more, McIntosh has a whole chapter on Evolutionary Theology, which he describes in Ten Tenets (where Wilber gave Twenty Tenets defining his view of evolution). Briefly, in McIntosh' brand of evolutionary theology, before the Big Bang there was only the thesis of God; after that event we had the anti-thesis of the cosmos. But it is due to the processes of emergent evolution that advanced human beings can experience God again while being in the cosmos—the synthesis has been accomplished. That raises the question if one really wants to experience what was before the Big Bang. Not my idea of the personal, loving God McIntosh confesses to believe in at the end of his book...

There's another sense in which McIntosh' treatment of evolution is "Platonic" too: the "dirty details" of biological evolution are conspicuously absent in his idealistic treatment of the subject. Of course, this is a philosophical book, but instead of talking page after page of "emergence" or "transcend-and-include", real life examples from the evolutionary drama—or tragedy, if you belong to the overwhelming majority of species that have gone extinct—would have given this book more body—and credibility. McIntosh does make occasional references to the "twists and turns" of evolution, or that evolution has its "occasional setbacks", but he doesn't seem to allow for the massive contingency that is present in the evolutionary process. McIntosh touches on these areas occasionally but they definitely don't take center stage in his narrative.

What about the forces that seem to go against "evolution's purpose", such as entropy—the increase of disorder in the cosmos at large—and the role that the sun indirectly plays in fueling evolution through organisms that developed photosynthesis? What about the untold suffering caused by the several mass extinctions that have plagued the earth, sometimes wiping out 90% of all species? What if the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs hadn't struck Mexico? Dinosaurs are not known to have invested much in their brains. Would we have been there? (The list of contingencies is endless, but this one is the most graphic). In fact, according to science writer Carl Zimmer as late as two million years ago the whale/dolphin species were superior in intelligence, measured as head/body proportion, compared to the various early human species.


So what, then, is the point of introducing the term "emergence" as a description for this sequence of events?

The common viewpoint Wilber and McIntosh share is that evolution, or even the cosmos at large, displays an "impulse" pushing or pulling all things in a certain direction—the growth of consciousness. A keyword here is "emergence", and this is supposed to cover all major transitions within the fields of matter, life, mind and culture. To understand and assess the value of this concept, we need to take a much wider look at things.

The idea is that in all the various domains of matter, life and mind, new phenomena show up that could not have been predicted in advance. Who would have predicted the humming bird? Who could have foreseen the giant red woods? That, of course, opens the door widely for religious feelings and expectations. We went from Hydrogen to Humanity! What mystery! For sure, something is going on here? But this does not necessarily mean that something transcendental is going on.

E        M        E        R        G        E        N        C        E

In my opinion, using "evolution" or "emergence" to cover all four domains seriously dilutes the meaning of that term to an empty generalization, which means nothing more than "change" or "becoming" or "novelty". Wilber has introduced a set of terms which supposedly describe these abstract processes across different domains, such as "transcend-and-include". In this discourse, new stages of evolution emerge due to the creativity present in the cosmos, by transcending previous stages, and at the same time including them in a higher unity. Would this phraseology work in the field of cosmology, for example in the genesis of the Periodical Table of the Elements?

In a recent introductory video on "Kosmic Creativity", Wilber gave his opinion on the way the heavy elements have come about. At first only the simplest of atoms existed in the cosmos, such as Hydrogen and Helium, but soon more complex atoms came into existence, such as Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen, by a process of creative emergence. Since more complex atoms have more protons (and neutrons) than their simpler predecessors, the postulated "transcend-and-include" pattern seems corroborated. (I am not suggesting McIntosh is agreeing with this theory—in fact, I dearly hope he doesn't—but it is definitely true to the spirit of his integral philosophy, as it comes from its very founder.)

That is, until one looks into the real mechanisms that created these higher atoms. It has been through the cooling of matter and the unrelenting force of gravity that atoms got compressed into heavier elements. The really heavy ones even got synthesized during the explosion of supernovae—the only opportunities in the cosmos to generate the required pressure. At no point were these higher elements created by a mysteriously creative process, as postulated by Wilber (using Whitehead's concept of a "creative advance into novelty"). Ironically, it is only reductionistic science that has unraveled these processes in a rational and satisfactory way. McIntosh' reference to Harold Morowitz' book The Emergence of Everything is helpful, because this author does have a clear understanding of the fact that each domain (matter, life, mind) has its own explanatory principles, though in the end Morowitz' background as a theist and Teilhardist skews his conclusions.

So what, then, is the point of introducing the term "emergence" as a description (or even explanation?) for this sequence of events? Does it explain anything at all? Or does it only lead to a mystification that prevents clear thinking and investigation? For one, if evolution in the realm of life works in large part by natural selection, evolution in the realm of matter follows quite different trajectories, not to mention the emergence of mind and culture. What is gained by seeing all these processes as under the sway of Cosmic Love (as Wilber's favorite expression goes), or McIntosh' metaphysical hypothesis of "value gravity", other than "cosmic sentimentality"? One Amazon reviewer of Morowitz' book put it humoristically: "emergence is a weasel word": it appears to cover a lot but in the end explains nothing. At most "emergence" is a descriptive term—true explanations have to be looked for in the respective domains themselves.

Dutch philosopher and theist Jacob Klapwijk has given an interesting critique of the various forms of evolutionary theory that have crossed the boundaries between science and belief, and have turned into all encompassing ideologies, especially where a spiritual dimension is included in a scientific model. In this context, he has coined the term "emergentism": the belief that with the help of this concept the full spectrum from matter to Spirit can be explained. (Orthodox evolutionary theory he refers to as "evolutionism", especially where it has left behind its scientific scruples to make pronouncements on reality as a whole).


Religious needs are not known to bring clarity of mind, let alone expertise in the field of evolutionary theory.

At this point, one wonders if McIntosh' project—tying our human processes of mind and culture to the larger contexts of biology and cosmology under the guiding influences of archetypal or spiritual values—has any chance of survival. If our human values are projected on evolution and the cosmos at large, followed by an attempt to "connect" with this evolutionary impulse, that is now called "evolutionary spirituality"—is that the deal? When did this evolutionary craze start anyway?

I am afraid that where we were first flooded by integral-this and integral-that initiatives and approaches (ranging from therapy to management to health to politics), we may expect to see these efforts being relabeled rapidly as "evolutionary-this" and "evolutionary-that" any time now. Spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen is credited (p. 237, n.8) with introducing a spirituality based on an "evolutionary impulse" within the integral movement. There's a long tradition of spiritualists who have attempted to integrate the doctrines of evolution of their days into a spiritual framework (H.P. Blavatsky, Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, Ken Wilber), with the aim to ground their mystical insights in the reality of cosmological and biological reality, or even find evidence for their mystical intuitions. But religious needs are not known to bring clarity of mind, let alone expertise in the field of evolutionary theory.

The in my opinion strongest parts of the book are those where McIntosh deals with the processes of cultural change, from a psychological perspective, detailing the psycho-cultural stages of premodernism, modernism and postmodernism (and the next, integral or evolutionary stage of post-postmodernism). Here, he really plays with ideas, analyzes what causes these segments of society to deny each other and what would be needed to soften these contradictions and enable a cooperative effort to create a better future to humanity. In this, he is truly an integral, ehm, sorry evolutionary pioneer. In fact, this is the field where he came from before discovering integral philosophy. Here too, however, abstractions abound, and one would be interested to hear McIntosh discuss the 2012 US elections or how demographic changes in the US (with a growing postmodern segment) will change its political landscape.

But as strong as these integral or evolutionary ideas seem in the area of mind and culture—and this is by no means the general feeling in academia—tying these to the larger fields of life and matter does not make them stronger, in my opinion. If "evolutionaries" consistently misunderstand and misrepresent the results of evolutionary science, they might do well to leave these fields of enquiry at rest, and focus instead on being better human beings, aspiring to live in a better society, or to use McIntosh' favorite phrase "to make things better" (he has in fact started a think tank called the Institute for Cultural Evolution). This high idealism of McIntosh is present on every page, but unfortunately his attempts to anchor it in the larger currents of life and matter have failed to convince me.

Does evolution have a purpose? Is it the growth of consciousness, as McIntosh claims? For the human lineages it definitely is—though the word "purpose" might not be the right word—, but for the millions of others, living and extinct? Have they somehow failed to live up to evolution's purpose? Behavior can be purposeful, for sure, but individual organs or organisms? And the process of evolution as such? And if the purpose of evolution really is the growth of consciousness, what is the purpose of that?

At the same time, much more can be said about this book, not least of which is McIntosh' admirable writing style—so different from Wilber, who has never dealt with this topic in such a well-reasoned way. McIntosh skillfully separates the scientific, philosophical and religious parts of his argument, and leaves it to the reader to decide how far he wants to follow him. This is clearly a book to read, and enjoy, several times over.


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