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Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea

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  • Posted July 8, 2012

    A Brief Summary and Review

    *A full executive-style summary of this book will be available at the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, on or before Monday, July 16, 2012. The main argument of the book: Up until the scientific revolution, some half a century ago, religion reigned supreme in the realm of belief and understanding. Since that time, though--and especially since the introduction of the theory of evolution in 1859--science has increasingly challenged religion as the chief source of how we understand the world and our place in it. Science's increasing influence can be seen in the growing trend towards secularism in the past 200 years, and particularly in the last century, as church and state have been increasingly separated, and a growing percentage of the population has moved away from the world's religions. Still, though, religion is not going down without a fight. What's more, even many who have turned away from religion question science's ability to provide the kinds of understandings that truly satisfy the human psyche. The problem, many believe, is that science, with its materialist explanations, fails to accommodate our deeper spiritual and moral nature. According to the author Carter Phipps, though, while science and spirituality may seem diametrically opposed, the latest developments in evolutionary theory are actually upsetting this notion. This is the case because the theory of evolution, which was once confined to the realm of biology, has now spread to envelop every other domain of human inquiry, such that it has become the key paradigm in understanding the natural (and meta-natural) world, from biology to psychology to morality to culture to spirit to god to the unfolding of the universe. The result is that evolution can now be turned to in order to answer virtually all of our deepest and most profound existential questions, and in a unified and coherent way that does in fact satisfy our deepest spiritual longings. When I say that this is Phipps' argument, it is true that the author is very much a proponent of the evolutionary worldview. However, rather than focusing on his own particular views in the book, Phipps centers his attention on the theories that the leading thinkers have advanced in the field. This includes not only current theorists, but all of the major theorists that have been involved with the worldview since its inception some 200 years ago (beginning with Georg Hegel--whom Phipps identifies as the first explicitly evolutionary philosopher). Phipps does well to show how evolutionary views have spilled out of science and into more meta-natural domains, such as spirituality and conceptions of god (theology). While this is no doubt interesting, it presents a problem. The approach of scientific evolutionism to spirituality and god is entirely different from an evolutionarily-informed spirituality and theology. Given that this is the case, as evolutionary theory is pushed beyond the boundaries of science, it necessarily splits into opposing sects. This is a major problem for any supposedly whole and coherent evolutionary worldview. And Phipps does not fully address this challenge in the book. A full and comprehensive summary of the main argument of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, on or before Monday, July 16, 2012.

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