From Our Readers

Recent Major Shifts in Science and Religion:

Changing the Basic Underpinnings of ‘Living Transformation’

The global context of ‘living transformation’ took several historic, albeit hopeful, turns in 2015. These promise to develop pivotally as 2015 transitions into 2016. In September, Pope Francis addressed the United Nations and the US Congress. As the UN convened, he joined more heads of state there than have ever attended—as the UN adopted a revised millennial development agenda.

Francis’ Papal Encyclical, ‘On the Care of Our Common Home,’1 is a direct response to conclusions by mainstream science that climate change is both real and threatening. Further, the encyclical poignantly addresses the myriad social implications. Following September, global institutions moved down ‘the road to Paris’ for the December World Climate Summit.2

This occurs with another huge turnabout in science—the emergence of a new dominant paradigm in evolutionary biology heralded by a January 13, 2015 book from Yale University Press/Templeton’s Foundational Questions in Science series. In Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others,3 David Sloan Wilson elaborates science’s conclusion that ‘group-’ and ‘multi-level-’ natural selection are real and they select for structures and processes that serve the wellbeing of the whole and not self-interest groups. The new science states, in the words of E.O. Wilson (Harvard University’s father of modern sociobiology), “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”4 The implications are huge.

If, when it comes to groups, nature prefers structures and processes that serve the whole, there is—as Wilson further explains—no mystery why our world is sinking in a load of dysfunctional organizational principles. Further, if in fact nature is not only friendly to altruism, but among groups prefers it, perhaps social idealists of all kinds and sacred and secular activists have not been swimming upstream against an uncaring or cruel evolutionary process as the decades-long mantras of the selfish gene and Social Darwinism led us to believe.

Given all of this, it is not unexpected that a mammoth pushback against the Pope’s Encyclical has ensued by many traditional (conservative to fundamentalist) cultural, religious, and economic leaders. That pushback echoes well the predicament of modern religion described by philosopher Ken Wilber at a summer ‘From Self Care to Earth Care’ Conference where he and Wilson spoke (click here to read Integral Spirituality in this issue of Kosmos).

Wilber noted that some 70% of religions appear still ‘stuck’ in the ‘magic/ mythic/literalist’ level (or style) of religious interpretation — built on the ethos “My worldview is right and yours is wrong.”5 Unfortunately, given the way that religious conflict has played out historically, ‘wrong’ has also often meant ‘dead wrong.’

There is dynamic flux today between the tug of these or even more ethically heinous varieties of ‘old time religion,’ and more modern, holistic, and world centric cosmologies and worldviews — especially depending on where you are in the world. first World statistics show a significant shift of persons (in America from 20%, generally, to 70% of ‘millennials’) identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Some 90% of these individuals identify with tolerance, inter-cultural harmony, and a litany of progressive views, as summarized in a 2013 Kosmos Journal article by Kurt Johnson and David Ord.6 Meanwhile, in stark contrast, sectarian wars dominate the MidEast and, as if from a playbook of the Middle Ages, for the first time since the 19th century, a government (ISIS’s so-called ‘Islamic Caliphate’) has officially reinstituted slavery.

Representatives of the world’s religions will gather in Salt Lake City, Utah in October for the seventh Parliament of the World’s Religions.7 In the starkly contrasted climate of how religions are performing today it will be interesting to see if there is a ‘transformative edge’ to this Parliament. If indeed 70% of world religions are still operating at the literalist ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ level, political correctness may well command that the gathering be more of a ‘trade show of world religions’ than a change agent. Much remains to be seen!

No doubt, however, the global background discussion has undergone drastic change. Wilson summarizes, in sync with Laudato Si’: “Altruism exists. If by altruism we mean traits that evolve by virtue of benefitting whole groups, despite being selectively disadvantageous within groups, altruism indubitably exists and accounts for the group-level functional organization that we see in nature. Altruism also exists as a criterion that people use for adopting behaviors and policies, with the welfare of whole groups in mind. This kind of intentional group selection is as important as natural group selection in the evolution of functionally organized human groups.”