Darwin or Jesus?

Sep 16 2007

Darwin or Jesus?

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How About a Sacred Fish with Legs?

What if both science and religion are wrong about evolution?

What if both are right?

We’ve all seen them: bumper stickers and decals of a fish with legs symbolizing Darwin’s theory of evolution. And then, from religious creationists, the “counter-decals” of a fish-with-a-cross swallowing “Darwin’s” amphibious fish. The battle of the decals is just one way the debate between creationists and evolutionists overflows onto our streets.

But there’s an alternative: a philosophy that shows why both religion and science have got it wrong—and right.

To move beyond the sectarian clashes and wars in these troubled times—between fundamentalists in both religion and science—we need a wiser, more coherent, account of who we are and how we came to be. We need a revised and renewed vision of creation and evolution. We need a deeper and broader understanding of both religion and science.

Both Wrong and Right

Religion is wrong to place the “Creator” beyond nature (as supernatural).

Science is wrong to deny intelligence (consciousness or spirit) at work in evolution.

Religion is right to hold the view that there is creation and that creation possesses intelligence. And religion is right to deny that the birth and evolution of our world happened by chance.

Science is right to hold the view that evolution produces different species, including humans. And science is right to deny that some “supernatural” intelligent designer is responsible for the wondrous diversity and interconnectedness of living and non-living forms.

Best of Both

In the new view, creation is not the result of some “supernatural Creator.” Nor is creation a one-time event. Instead, creation is continuous and natural. Evolution is not random and unfolding without the guidance of a deep intelligence. Nature itself is naturally intelligent and creative. That’s how evolution occurs.

Instead of a “higher” intelligence, let’s be open to a deeper intelligence. Instead of “dead” and “dumb” matter, let’s be open to sentient and intelligent matter.

Then we can have the best of both worlds—integrating the great insights of both religion and science. The “missing link” is consciousness. The ability to have experience, to feel, to be aware is a complete mystery to science. Evolution cannot explain it. Religions take it for granted that this ability is unique to humans (or, at best, to creatures with brains). The fact of consciousness highlights the shortcomings of both science and religion, and it offers a way out of the seemingly endless debate between evolutionists and creationists.

New Worldview

We need a new worldview where religion recognizes that consciousness (intelligence or spirit) is not “supernatural,” but is part of the natural fabric of cosmos, Earth, and life, and where science recognizes that matter itself “tingles with the spark of spirit,” that evolution is guided from within. This “new” philosophy or worldview is called “panpsychism” or “radical naturalism.” We could also call it “intelligent evolution.” (Actually, it’s a very ancient philosophy, shared by indigenous cultures throughout the world.)

If we shift to such a view, then we can begin to transcend the squabbles between those who believe in supernatural “intelligent design” and those who believe in random evolution.

The biggest challenge facing modern science is to explain the mystery of consciousness. A science based on the assumption of “dead” insentient matter exploding from a random Big Bang cannot account for mind. Yet consciousness is the one thing we can be absolutely certain exists.

The biggest challenge facing mainstream religion is to remain relevant in a world increasingly dominated by scientific knowledge.

The philosophy of intelligent evolution can help science and religion meet these challenges. In a nutshell, it takes us beyond the dogmas of both:

Beyond Religion: The world was not created by a supernatural transcendent God (in seven days or 13.7 billion years).

Beyond Science: The world did not come into being from a random Big Bang followed by billions of years of random chemical and biological evolution.

Instead, the most coherent story about how the world came to be (a world where both matter and mind are real) recognizes that

* Spirit is not supernatural (above and beyond nature).

* Evolution is not without purpose or intelligence.

The new philosophy offers a way to honor the deep insights of both religion and science.

Intelligent Design

Yes, there is an “intelligent designer” at work in evolution. But the intelligence (call it “God” or “Spirit” or “Creative Ultimate”) is intrinsic to nature. Nature itself is intelligent (has sentience and consciousness, purpose and meaning) “all the way down” to single cells, molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles.


In this new view of nature and evolution, matter itself is intelligent. Matter is “adventurous.” Evolution is the great adventure of matter exploring its own creative potentials. As matter evolves, its native intelligence or consciousness evolves, too. So by the time human brains come on the scene, matter or nature has achieved the remarkable ability to be self-reflective—to know that it knows—and to ponder the eternal questions in religion, philosophy, and science: Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? Why is there anything at all?

Intelligent Evolution: A Sacred Fish with Legs?

Instead of the amusing (and silly) bumper-stickers pitching Darwin against Jesus (evolution vs. religion), we can come up with a new set of symbols and sound-bytes:

Picture a decal that shows a fish with legs and a halo, indicating that evolution is a sacred process because spirit is active in the development of species. Evolution is natural and creative. We could say “Spirit Matters” or, just as meaningful, “Matter Spirits.”

4 Responses to Darwin or Jesus?

  1. Mike tisdale April 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    So have you come to embrace Wilber’s philosophical ideas, or are you still a critic?

    • christiandequincey April 14, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      As before . . . both. For years, I have valued Wilber’s contribution to the field of consciousness studies, and I have also been a critic of specific weaknesses in his model — e.g., his treatment of “intersubjectivity”, especially in Integral Psychology.

  2. MDM May 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    I like your process/panpsychist pantheism (if I read you correctly) as a contrast to the more traditional Whiteheadian process panentheism. On your view, is the intelligence of Nature just the distributed intelligence of this bit and that bit, etc. Or do you think there is a more holistic or integrated intelligence at work?

    • christiandequincey July 1, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      In my view, the sentient beings that compose the universe — from quanta to quirky humans — are arranged in nested systems of parts within wholes that are parts within larger wholes. While each individual being (or “part”) has its own “monad” of intelligence, each whole also has its own unit intelligence. To the extent that the cosmos consists of hierarchies of nested systems, it does have a “more holistic or integrated intelligence.”

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