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on 27 August 2012
This is a book that really might make a difference. As Wilber and others comment on the cover, this is a profound and important book, beautifully written and thoroughly researched. Why so important? These are some of my reasons...

Carter Phipps has performed the valuable and long overdue task of building robust foundations for an expanded concept of evolution that takes it out of the clutches of narrow Darwinian, biological and scientific perspectives and explores the full cultural, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the idea. Although the notion of evolution of consciousness isn't entirely new, I am surprised at how many (well-educated) people still think of evolution as primarily a biological process (of the past) and don't realise that today evolution on our planet is primarily taking place in terms of human consciousness and culture. We are also at a cusp or critical moment in history, with mankind becoming conscious of the process and of the part played by human choice in the future of not just our species but the evolutionary process in this corner of the universe.

This makes Carter Phipps book very timely and pertinent to the critical global challenges facing mankind which will not just take all of our creativity and ingenuity but a conscious engagement in the evolution of consciousness and culture in a myriad of ways, on a multitude of levels. However, my personal cause for gratitude with this book is that I both feel recognised by Phipps' terming of `evolutionary', and can identify with so much of his exposition of the evolutionary worldview. For example, his validation of the knowledge generalist and the need to for inter-disciplinary and multi-perspectival answers to complex problems. Many of my views, values, deep intuitions and partially articulated ideas are given a clear and eloquent voice here, and in the process I feel strengthen in my own sense of purpose and passion.

Although I was already very familiar with many of the ideas and people that Phipps weaves together in his engaging narrative (most specifically I am a great fan of Wilber and an experienced practitioner of Spiral Dynamics), he has done something here which Wilber hasn't quite managed or attempted in his own writing, which I think will also be more accessible to a wider audience. For example, I prefer `evolutionary worldview' to `integral worldview' as an all encompassing high level perspective, even though in practice they are largely interchangeable. Obviously Wilber has written about a great many more things and in greater analytical depth, and Phipps is more than ready to signpost this. Coming back to the central achievements of this book, I am also grateful for the way in which Phipps draws together so many disparate strands and the works of many great thinkers in a seamless narrative that always seems to stay relevant and personal. He shows how the story of people's lives influence their work and touches on the underlying connections taking place. I also now have a short reading list of works by several key thinkers, who I had so far skipped past. He might be criticised for being too kind and uncritical of some of the thinkers he showcases, but his positive and generous approach seems to work as a whole in the confines of this book. I did wonder why he doesn't mention any of the controversies surrounding Andrew Cohen or even touch on some of the potential downsides of such guru-teacher models. Might Phipps be a bit of an acolyte of Cohen's, or is he worried about upsetting him by saying anything negative? At least with Wilber he mentions that Wilber's work has provoked much controversy and briefly explores why. However, this book doesn't present itself as a deep critique of the work referenced, and there are plenty of other places to go look for more critical views of some of these people and their work.

Yes, there are biases (e.g. his US centricity in addressing the reader), gaps and strange omissions, but he is painting on such a large canvas that there will of course be different views about how he might have gone about it. It is more important that he has attempted such a task that will help give shape and energy to the evolutionary worldview. Perhaps most importantly, he speaks in a language that many people centred in the relativistic/post-modern worldview will be able to understand and does a good job at showing the limits of their non-hierarchical and non-discriminating perspective. He has clearly drawn upon his own experience of meeting people along his own knowledge journey as a as an editor of WIE magazine. I found the book always readable (although the second section on science the hardest to wade through), and I would advise any reader to follow the course and stay the course.

Any other criticisms? Yes, but mostly in the realm of nitpicking and personal opinions. And if they were all to have been addressed this might have needed to be a much longer book. My primary criticism is that Phipps fails to provide anything more than a superficial exposition of what consciousness is and how it might be evolving. He talks about the realm of interior individual as well as inter-subjective consciousness (worldviews, cultures, etc), without really giving the reader enough to build a dynamic understanding upon. So, for example, he briefly outlines Wilber's All Quadrant All Level (AQAL) model, but doesn't then illustrate what the lines or levels of development look like in the different quadrants. One simple model of consciousness might show how it spans across different levels such as body, feelings, mind, spirit, etc, and how each level is nested in the foundations of the one below. Such an understanding is critical to realising how consciousness has evolved and continues to evolve. Human consciousness is founded on embodiment in the physical plane, in the same way life on this planet emerged out of the primordial but very physical soup. Without this basic understanding it is then easy to fall for trans-humanistic fallacies of equating mind and information, consciousness and bits of data. A computer (however much cleverer than people it may become) isn't conscious because it doesn't have feelings, and it doesn't have feelings because it doesn't have a body, or isn't embodied in the corporeal plane. That isn't to say that cybernetics and enhancing life with technology isn't possible and than a new conception of super-humanity may emerge in the future. Phipps does suggest problems with the transhumanist conflations, but doesn't explain the problems, which would have been quite easy to do. He also fails to expand the notion of lines of development that inter-lace with these levels of consciousness, e.g. cognitive, emotional, moral, spiritual, social, etc, which are critical to how individuals evolve and develop over their lifetimes. He does explain worldviews and stages of adult development (using the Gravsian model) and briefly touches on the notion of sub-personalities (albeit without any reference to Assagioli) and how these can explain different levels of development in different lines, but it would be good to have seen all of these dimensions of individual development and evolution brought together.

A final note of concern; although there is a sort of call to action in the final chapters, and many critical challenges noted along the way (e.g. the need to develop global structures of governance capable of dealing with global crises we are facing), I am left sensing a lack of urgency about where we need to go with all this. Phipps says that the emergence of an evolutionary worldview may take decades or centuries to have beneficial effects on society in the same way the benefits of the European Enlightenment took time to filter through to people's lives. This is where a paradox lies - given the speeding up of change (20 years of change at today's rate is equal to the whole of the last century he tell us), I am not sure we have that amount of time. We may need to find ways of speeding up evolution in all its human dimensions if the evolutionary future that is unfolding in our corner of the cosmos is to be a good one. Yes, evolutionaries are optimistic, but at the same time, nothing is guaranteed. And so I suppose this is for all of us to take forward in our own ways. As Carter Phipps suggests, he has helped open up a space that will need to be filled with other books, yet to be written.
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on 3 July 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.

More than providing just a way of understanding the world, though, Phipps argues that an evolutionary worldview provides us with a moral guide in terms of how to act, and what to strive for in life. This is the case because, to begin with, such a worldview allows us to see that human agency is possible in the truest sense of the word, and that it does indeed have an important impact. When it comes to using our agency, an evolutionary worldview prescribes working towards the good and the continued evolution of our own species, the planet, and even the entire universe. While the specifics of this enterprise remain to be worked out, Phipps hints at the idea that this project should include a system of global cooperation that features pan-governance with ecological sustainability at its heart.

At least in the near term. In the long-term, as evolution continues to proceed (perhaps at an accelerating rate), Phipps flirts with idea that the role of human agency in forwarding the evolutionary project may stretch beyond the borders of our own planet and extend even to the edges of the universe (or multiverse).

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 do a very good job of outlining the theories of these major thinkers, and, through this, providing a broad overview of the evolutionary worldview. When I say broad overview, I really mean it: Phipps very much sticks to a general and theoretical exploration of the evolutionary worldview. In one sense, this is an advantage, as it allows the reader to gain a broad picture of such a worldview (to see the forest as a whole, rather than just the trees, as it were). However, the devil is in the details, as they say, and I did find that the lack of details in some cases compromised the believability of the theories (which are, in some cases, highly speculative).

Also, 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 (indeed, scientific evolutionism thinks of the phenomena of 'spirit' and 'god' as products [if not bi-products] of our evolved brain, and hence ultimately illusory--or at least not 'real' in any sense like spiritual/theistically-inclined people think they are).

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. Phipps glosses over this issue by saying that subjective experience is every bit as important as objective reality (thus showing where he stands on the issue). While this may well be true, it is unlikely to convince any staunch scientific evolutionist that 'spirit' and 'god' are proper subjects of evolutionary theory--much less that we should be exploring and/or embracing an evolutionarily-informed spirituality and theology. As it stands, this issue is left unresolved in the book, and in fact seems completely insoluble, thus forcing us to question how viable a unified and coherent evolutionary worldview (that includes spirituality) really is.
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on 15 August 2012
Carter Phipps has been executive editor of the now defunct EnlightenNext magazine, formerly known as What is Enlightenment? 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". 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. 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).

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, Dennet, E.O. Wilson)
2. The Progressive Darwinists (Carrol, Jablonka, Lamb)
3. The Collectivists (Bloom, Lynn Margulis, David Sloan Wilson)
4. The Complexity Theorists (Goodwin, Kaufman, 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 field. It should have been included in the book, even if only as an appendix.

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?

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?

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...

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...

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...

In my opinion, this mystification doesn't help us in understanding the processes of evolution... If we look back at past evolutionary forms of life, there never has been a transcendental mystery involved in their 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.

(from the review over at Integral World).
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on 6 September 2012
Can evolution be a philosophy and guide for how society should move, and not just a scientific account of change in nature? Carter Phipps thinks it can - but, on the way during this fair-minded book, he reminds us of some of the horrendous political ideas which have used "evolution" to justify themselves, like no-holds-barred capitalist competition in which the weak go to the wall, and master-race fascism. That will leave many readers wondering why he thinks evolution is such a good basis for a philosophy.

It seems to me that's the wrong way of looking at it. We should turn it round and ask, given that evolution is a fact and not simply a point of view we can decide whether or not to adopt, how do we want to respond to that? That's where there is plenty of choice, and so a very wide range of options are compatible with accepting the idea of evolution.

So I think there's a bit of confusion in this book about what he's actually saying. Carter Phipps gets round this by spending quite a lot of his words on reporting what other people are saying, along with telling you he's met them, had dinner with them, etc. This makes for rather a nice easy-to-read book, with good summaries of the thinking of relevant people like Teilhard de Chardin and Ken Wilber, and ideas like Spiral Dynamics.

It would also have been interesting to see Phipps engage with Marx's ideas, since Marx was very much an evolutionary thinker. But Phipps seems to accept a sort of right-wing taboo against any consideration of Marxism, even though he does acknowledge the influence on Marx and other evolutionary thinkers of the philosophy of Hegel.

In line with this, the ideas at the end of the book about how we should respond to the evolutionary process and the current planetary challenges focus very much on individual spirituality and changes in culture, very little on how that can connect with and change politics and economics, which also need to be part of the answer if we are going to feed 9 billion people without total environmental disaster setting the evolutionary process back many millions of years.
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on 26 June 2012
Given the complex nature of Carter's argument and the length of the book, it still feels as if you are reading one of Carter's articles from EnlightenNext.

The text flows wonderfully and has a lightness of touch, I almost feel as if I am not reading it but just letting the words in. But beyond this lightness is a much deeper calling to become an Evoluntionary.

The low cost of the book, belies the wide and integral sweep of the work.
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on 21 February 2014
Great Book, very insightful and worth the purchase. Yes I would recommend this book and others by the author for sure
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