Was Evolution by Design or by Accident as Suggested by Current Science?

I am certainly not an expert on this topic but am very interested in understanding the different theories of what has caused evolution. I would like to summarize my understanding of the theories and invite correction and elucidation. (Please forgive me if any of my summaries are lacking in detail or respect)

  1. The big bang happened, gravity and the other three forces caused the creation of the stars, the elements, the galaxies, the solar system, planetary movement, and then life began when basic acids mashed together and began replicating, setting off a process of evolution. All of this without predetermined cause.

  2. The creation and evolution of the universe happened as described by science, but at all stages God was leading it all like the director of an Orchestra.

  3. The Universe was once one in and of itself, and then something happened to cause the big bang. The Universe has been trying to stitch itself back together ever since. First with electromagnetism, then gravity, then love. Love being the gravity of life, and this being where people start mentioning that Darwin states love as the key driver of evolution as opposed to survival. This theory would also put forth that everything in the Universe is conscious, and that consciousness increases with complexity of the organism. We all share the same origin, the same consciousness and our separation is a ego driven fantasy.

  4. I am sure there are many other theories I am forgetting or not mentioning, please feel free to add some theories.

  5. Ken Wilber’s theory… which I cannot fully summarize. I have read snippets of his beliefs throughout many different writings and don’t fully understand what he believes. I would sincerely appreciate anyone able to share Ken Wilber’s current official position or point me to which book/chapter to go re-read or purchase to learn.

Myself personally, I have always believed in theory 1. But more and more I am leaning towards theory 3.

Jeb, thanks for raising the question, and providing some of the theoretical options. Ken Wilber’s view on evolution can be summarized as follows:

If we look upon evolution as the reversal of involution the whole process becomes intelligible. (Ken Wilber, Up from Eden, 1981: 305)

The strict theory of natural selection suffers from not acknowledging the role played by Spirit in evolution. (Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye, 1983, p. 205).

This is the key point he makes. Without this esoteric cosmology of involution and evolution, Spirit moving out towards the world and Spirit returning to itself, he has nothing to offer to the subject of evolution. For this reason he sees evolution as “Spirit-in-action”. This includes both nature and culture (see his Trump book).

In an audio on kenwilber.com he once stated, that he sees Spirit as an immanent force in nature, which creates complexity and consciousness - adding immediately that this Spirit is transcendent as well.

Science views this whole process as mindless, and as some, including Wilber, say: driven by chance. But that’s a caricature. Within science opinions cover the whole spectrum from: existence is just one weird “happy accident” to “existence is not a big deal at all”. The second group points to all kinds of laws that facilitate the emergence of complexity.

Intelligent Design authors like to point to the chance aspect of science, and minimize the lawfullness aspect, so they can introduce their own “deus ex machina”: Jehova, Spirit, or Eros (I assign Wilber to this group). All have in common that they can’t specify how this has worked in practice (how?, when?, why?), all they can maintain is that science can’t explain it. This mindset therefore exhibits a heavy bias against science.

As to your own preferred view, I don’t see how you can jump from electromagnetism to love to consciousness being the foundation of the world. But it is true that “something happened to cause the big bang” and that the universe is trying to restore its original position (following the Second Law of Thermodynamics). The reason this can’t be done easily is that other forces (most notably gravity) create (termporary) complexity.

This is a discussion tremendously obfuscated by Wilber when he claims to know how complexity emerged (by Eros!) and downplays or even ridicules the Second Law (“it is ridiculous to say the universe is winding down!”). He misses both the winding-down AND winding-up processes that can be explained naturalistically.

Science doesn’t actually claim evolution is an “accident”. Making this claim implies there is a consensus view of scientists, and requires that you site your source. This consensus view is according to who?

The job of science is to understand the processes, structures and interactions of objects and organisms, not to explain the reasons WHY they’re there in the first place. An “accident” is a why not a what. Invoking the authority of “consensus” without siting your source lacks intellectual integrity. Its a lost performative. Looks to me like we have a materialists reductionist, who wants to invoke “science” as an authority abstractly without following its own criteria for making empirical truth claims.


Thanks so much for answering me so well. Deeply appreciated.

Neither do I! Pardon the very rough summary and I barely understand the full concept myself. It’s just something I am piecing together as I read and listen to others. In the 3% of the universe we see (the non-dark parts) attraction and growing complexity perennial in everything I read. How they connect and build on each other I am don’t pretend to know. And it is just something that baffles me and fills me with awe.

I downloaded the book last week and its in my reading list, thank you. I googled the term “spirit-in-action” and although found some interesting topics nothing on a theory.

I have read that Wilber has gone through several variations of his theory, hence “Wilber III” and “Wilber IV” so assumed that books written in the 80’s didn’t really apply to his current theory. I am obviously wrong in this assumption, is there anyone that can point me in the right direction?

To paraphrase; the difficult to understand nature of the universe’s beginning, expansion, and later to be retraction and ending is the basis of spirit… and then I’m lost at Spirit moving out towards the world and spirit returning to itself. If you could explain that any better I would be extremely grateful.

Can you point me to where he mentions this? I would love to read it.

And where he says this as well?

Although I totally agree, taking into consideration what little we already know about dark matter/energy. I wouldn’t be shocked if the second law TD only applies to our visible Universe.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my weird question. It has fueled much curiosity.

I see you have posted some links in another thread about this topic to Integral world, I assume your website?

Thank you, I’ll get reading and studying and try to internalize all this. Thank you very much.

Not sure what you are responding to. I stated scientific positions range all over the chance-necessity spectrum, so there is no consensus at all. It is the creationists (like Wilber) who try to pigeonhole science in the chance part of the spectrum.

If you want to have an overview of Wilber’s positions re: evolution across four decades check out my “The Spirit of Evolution Reconsidered” essay on Integral World. You will see he holds to the involution/evolution scheme to this very day.

I’m responding to the basic context of the question, “design or accident” which isn’t a very good starting point for a productive discussion. Setting it up that way makes sure that its over before it even gets started. It’s a false dichotomy.

Ken’s view is more like a panpsychist emergentism in my estimation, but I can see how a materialist bias would view it as “creationism”. He’s offered some fairly nuanced propositions embedded within intractable paradoxes, but they’re often being treated with a coarse set of complex equivalences as the principal means for verification or falsification. That pretty much misses the point.

I’ve read your essays. I didn’t find them particularly clarifying.


I fully agree that “design or accident” is a false dichotomy. It is used by creationists, as Dawkins has exposed. If you had read my essays carefully you could have found that out. I further state on multiple occasions that Wilber may not be a vulgar mythic-fundamentalist, but that his mystico-creationism follows the same faulty creationist logic:

In other words, something other than chance is pushing the universe. For traditional scientists, chance was their god. Chance would explain it all. Chance—plus unending time—would produce the universe. But they don’t have unending time, and so their god fails them miserably. That god is dead. Chance is not what explains the universe; in fact, chance is what that universe is laboring mightily to overcome. Chance is exactly what the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos overcomes. (A Brief History of Everything, Wilber 1996: 26)

So in Wilber’s universe, there is chance and “something else”. I argue that there is every reason to suppose this “something else” isn’t a spurious spiritual Eros, but naturalistic lawlike processes.

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Okay maybe he’s not a mystico-creationist but he just thinks like one or argues like one? I can’t see how that position is self congruent. So he is a “creationist” or isn’t?

The design/accident is a false dichotomy but the mystical forces/natural law dichotomy is a reasonable one? Is there a persuasive argument in there somewhere?

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Not sure if you are aware of it, but the insertion of immanent Spirit in evolution in Wilber’s writings is not something i defend, but have tried to expose over so many years on Integral World! So I couldn’t agree more.

That’s exactly my point, that even if Wilber seems to be more sophisticated than your average creatonist or Intelligent Designer, his type of reasoning is the same: “science can’t account for major evolutionary changes, therefore something else must be going on and I know that that something else must be Eros/Spirit.”

Calling that “emergence” or “creativity” is using a buzz word that gets interesting only when specified. The way Wilber approaches the field of self-organization and emergence is by co-opting it for his spiritual agenda. Scientists in these fields tend to look for naturalistic mechanisms first.

As Stuart Kauffman would say:

Is it, then, more amazing to think that an Abrahamic transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient God created everything around us, all that we participate in, in six days, or that it all arose with no transcendent Creator God, all on its own? I believe the latter is so stunning, so overwhelming, so worthy of awe, gratitude, and respect, that it is God enough for many of us. God, a fully natural God, is the very creativity in the universe. It is this view that I hope can be shared across all our religious traditions, embracing those like myself, who do not believe in a Creator God, as well as those who do. This view of God can be a shared religious and spiritual space for us all. (Reinventing the Sacred).

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I am aware that you don’t defend this position. I want to offer though that “insertion” of immanent spirit in evolution isn’t the right word. That characterization is an aggressive reduction. The non-marginalizing inclusion of immanent spirit is there. Perennialism is there and has been included in the model and does strengthen its coherence. Its not going away because it is instantiated in the very holarchical organization of meaning and information itself. We couldn’t describe a coherent meta-narrative with out using the perennial structure to represent it because mind makes meaning orders language this way being an emergent property of it.

There’s no meaningful difference between a spiritual agenda and an educational one or integral one. The superficial difference is in the selectivity of narrative components - a “form / function” false dichotomy. Or a “facts / values” false dichotomy if you prefer.

This issue is one of a binocular rivalry of quadrant isomorphism - in particular the subject object bijection. It’s a meaningless, low resolution contextualization that doesn’t add anything new to help solving the paradox.


Thanks for adding these latest comments. They go a long way in helping me understand the subject better.

I am sorry if my attempts to learn the subject are insulting to you. I didn’t know the best way to ask the question, and still don’t to be honest. I am very interested in learning how many ideas and the logic behind them exist.

Maybe it’s just me but if this was directed at me starting this thread, it didn’t feel good. If it was directed at Frank, I don’t think it would encourage him to continue contributing to this thread. Which I hope he does, I’m still digesting all this but he has taken some serious time to lay out his thoughts. Which I sincerely appreciate. It’s been very educational.

Sometimes discussing things can be healthy for its educational importance, to someone like me.

Thank you so much for posting your thoughts and opinions. But if it were just you posting it wouldn’t be much fun.

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Can you please source this, or perhaps explain it more clearly and reference something to follow up with?

Hi Jeb,
Sorry if that comes across as harsh. Its mostly for Frank’s very poor characterization of Eros and Telos in the context of IT. The marginalization of “Spirit” in favor of a mechanistic view that he never fully articulates isn’t something I can see as being productive. Its an example of a larger trend toward new-atheism and neo-nilhilism which I’ve found to be a significant source of fragmentation in the IT community and antithetical to the IT drive. His characterization, from my perspective, is so persistently biases toward materialism that it makes any common ground difficult to locate, particularly because he doesn’t express appreciation for the model, or tell us what he thinks is right and good about it.

He mind reads his intention here and describes it with pejoratives.

The details need to get filled in. A secular semiotic will be helpful to use in tandem, and the better we can understand entropy and its role in self-organization the better off we’ll all be. But the idea that the concept of Eros is an attempt at supplanting science, is a profoundly impoverished view that forgets Hegel, Whitehead, Plato, and many others, and dislodges Holism from the model based on semantics. Its verbal legalism and just plain mean.

The idea that an imminent and transcendent Spirit is a “Designer God” or that the awe of the scientific universe and all its wonders is sufficiently intimate to satisfy the narrative needs of the religious impulse, is to make a parody of both.


The work of Carl Jung in Psychology of the Unconscious, Modern Man in Search of the Soul, Psychology and Religion, Symbols of Transformation, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, Robert Moore’s King, Warrior, Magician, Lover and Jordan Peterson’s Map’s of Meaning, all point to something similar and profoundly important. The deep structures of the human psyche express an ageless wisdom, and this wisdom is expressed in the story telling capacity of the soul in the way that it has out pictured our deepest ontological considerations into what has become the mytho-poetic narratives of religion. The archetypes at the root of the psyche which make up the narrative components of the self and the soul, are expressing something we should really honor and pay attention to. Distilled into its most refined form, is the doctrine of perennialism.

Eros, telos involution and evolution are its basic parts. How did we get here? What does it mean for us to be? And what should we do about it? are questions this story begins to provide a frame work for us to answer. It proposes Spirit is the source and origin of existence, our true nature and the fundamental constituent of reality. Through the act of creation it has undergone a transformation and a descent in to time and form, making us and the world, as well as the laws of nature and the ladder of evolution - inner and outer. It suggests our remoteness from the source of light and life is a part of the purpose of creation since the descent and the forgetting of Spirit is remembered and made whole again by our participation in the evolutionary ascent back to the source point completing its mission. This is the law of Love. Integral is an expression of it. To eject this part of it prevents integral from being integral at all.

What Wilber has done is to provide the developmental component of modern science and really all the disciplines on the RT side, and the narrative component of spirituality on the LT, a means of connecting. It works beautifully. He’s set the table for both science and spirituality to sit down together and have a meal. Dinner hasn’t been served yet some might argue. But science - the RT leaning biases - seem to be complaining about what’s on the menu before giving it a chance and taking a bite.

We should be respectful here of the fact that the conversation is at least as much about meaning making, and values as it is about empirical facts and scientific descriptions. The idea that falsifiability of perennialism belongs to the rt quadrant is a non-starter. Also, the idea that the perennial narrative offers nothing legitimate or useful to the rt side is a non-starter. But we find the critics of IT often propose just that. Throw out Eros and Telos! Its woo-woo nonsense because science offers no proof of it. Eros and Telos are satisfactory, however imperfect conceptual scaffolding for a much deeper edifice of knowledge that has yet to be articulated in the language of physics. Nothing about these terms derides science or the 2nd law of Thermodynamics. They do require a loosening of the materialist bias and a reconsideration of the fragmentary atomistic paradigm to get at them more rigorously, but if we’re dealing with good skeptics rather than dogmatic materialists, we’ll be able to eventually sort things out in a way that preserves the meta-narrative and enriches our understanding of its material expression.

When we observe that the basic activity of thought, speech, and values - which is really helpful to look at when working toward getting shared reality - we inevitably see that our meta-filters are coloring and shaping the world we see and our relationship to it. Assuming our understanding of these terms (Eros and Telos) is sufficient or that Ken’s understanding of them is like our own, is dubious. We don’t really know what he means, we only know what we think we mean -which for the most part is a product of the tools with which we use to think. The values hierarchy that’s filtering perception and helping to define and encode meaning in to our understanding is largely determining the richness and complexity we are able to connect to beyond them. This is why the integral project is one of personal evolution. It’s situated in several intractable paradoxes like an Oroborus, reconstituting them even as we attempt to resolve them. We can only see what seems to be the case from our relative position, and our relative position predisposes us to a particular kind of thinking and meaning making. To deal with this, we need a higher position on the ladder so that we can get a better view.

One of the more stunning things about these paradoxes is that language is operating through the holarchical structure that the perennial narrative and integral altitudes illuminate. Holarchy or Holism we learn from not only Ken Wilber but Hegel, Spinoza, Bohm and many others, is the arrangement of parts within larger and larger wholes such that new emergent properties arise at higher orders of complexity providing deeper, more congruent meaning than any of its more fundamental units suggest. Everything seems to follow this organization of parts and wholes in all quadrants including language and thought. Its so ubiquitous even that its reasonable to suggest that we can know something about the properties of holons themselves by observing their effects in our own thinking. Essentially, this is what Eros and Telos are - analogies to describe the behavior of Holons.

The capacity to make these observations, that is to say, to be able to observe the subtle principals embodied the specific forms it takes, is what is described as vision logic. Ken suggests our best bet in developing this capacity is through state training, shadow work and integral life practice in general. There isn’t any evidence I’ve seen that suggests debating the framework helps to develop vision logic. But still, we have a social need for finding shared reality and mutual understanding so we share our views and ideas to feel a connection and hopefully deepen our understanding and find loving support and encouragement from our peers.

Somehow, when mutual understanding happens its because the meaning Holons at higher orders of complexity emerging from its lower level constituents, provide a felt sense of analogical coherence that transcends the sum of its parts. “understanding”. At least that’s the story of integral theory. Eros, Ken seems to suggest, is involved in the self-organizing, cohering, self- transcending, vertical flow of the emergent higher order analogies that we experience when overcome any of those pesky paradoxes or when we say “i get you and mean it”. Its a bloody miracle when it happens.

Douglas Hofstadter suggests that cognition is emergent from earlier holons. His books “Godel, Escher, Bach” details this idea spectacularly. His book “I Am a Strange Loop” also vividly details how cognition is analogical, suggesting that thought and meaning making are processes of the building up of analogies. And that analogies themselves are incomplete, self-referential high level symbol structures that never actually describe the objects they reference but only intimate them. This analogical reasoning is unavoidable, whether we’re talking about philosophy or physics because its how we think. Its what Wilber refers to as absolute subjectivity or the “paper on which the AQAL map is drawn” because whatever we’re observing or measuring, its being interpreted using the tools of symbols in the broader context of the meta-narrative and values structures we have access to.

When we see what some of those high level symbols are, especially in light of what Campbell and Jung and others have pointed out, we can see the significance of the transpersonal “big picture” lens of what IT really is. AQAL alone is useful, but the meta-narrative of “Spirit in action”, perennialism, and the Hero’s journey in our own evolutionary process, gives the model a deeper level of coherence since it sums up the motive force of the integral drive in relation to the full depth and breadth of considerations we can be involved with.

The state stages, in particular the subtle and causal “realms” provide us with the some of the more vivid views of the symbolic “bits” we use to codify our interpretation of reality. And, its specifically those states that provide us with the deeper insights with regard to the meaning of the words “spirit, eros and telos”. And, i think this is where there’s a great deal of contention, these states do lend explanatory and integrative power to observations of the objective domains and even helps to heal some of the paradigmatic blind-spots of science, at least as far as we deal with them in ourselves.

I apologize for being prickly, I am concerned about being marginalized for having a personal relationship to spirit. I’ve endured ridicule and its unsophisticated arguments more than i imagined i would in the integral community. The characterization of perennialism, and pansychism as being “woo” idealism and an “overreach” or the characterization that these views are anything like creationist arguments with their accompanying “cult like behaviors”, only serve to shove people like me back in closet. If you read the critiques Frank has published on Integralworld you’ll see these arguments in gory detail with ad-hominem attacks and straw-man takedowns everywhere. I’d rather that stuff not spill into this forum. Again I apologize. Your question is valid. I hope this has been helpful.


In GEB Hofstadter asks; “what does this picture say?”

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Thank YOU so much for that reply. Just to share, I had to really read deep and look up more words than I care to admit to ensure I was not mis-reading you. I believe I understand your message.

Perennial philosophy has been the dim light guiding my search since my early twenties. So having read Campbell, Peterson, and some of Jung I agree with your statements. You state them very well. Thank you.

I don’t mean to tire you out but if you could explain just a little more. Eros and Telos. I understand Eros to be Greek in origin and to be a type of love, most notable lustful, romantic, creative love. Telos also of Greek origin to describe an ultimate goal or outcome.

I want to Paraphrase your above statement, as if I were explaining it to a Child to see if I understand it. Please pardon me if I butcher it. - The Universe as we experience it together is made up of spirit and that spirit is lovingly working towards an outcome of increased complexity of itself, the most complex example we are aware of is life, most notably us humans.

Although I explained my idea of this poorly in point 3 in my opening question, its the conclusion I like best based on my journey to date.

However I can see how this is a very frustrating hypothesis to anyone who is a materialistically inclined person or very critical. I myself struggle to fully commit to it. I would even go so far as to say it is the theory/hypothesis I like best.

However I would struggle to provide any shred of evidence external to my own experience to share this with someone. So I can appreciate them treating it like woo-woo. I recall being turned onto perennial philosophy shortly after being initiated as a Freemason by a brother who later became my Alchemy mentor. My first thought was “what a load of new age horse shit”, followed be “explain more”. Lol, that’s actually my reaction to almost everything down this Rabbit hole; “horse-shit”… “tell me more”. Lol.

I’d like to throw out an idea (which is all the Carl Sagan books I’ve read nagging inside of me). Humans historically have put themselves at the center of creation, being in the image of their gods, the Earth at the center of the cosmos, the sun at the center of the Universe etc. Demonstrating that we have a historical trend to place ourselves in a state of importance and using all manner of explanation as proof of our preferential state.

How could we test whether the, lets call it spirit-in-action, hypothesis/theory has credibility and it is not simply a narrative to serve our own psyche. One idea I have is the discovery of life on other planets. If/when we discover life on other planets, and it has some types or perennial development similar to our own I would clasp my hands in huzzah. I even think it very likely, the discovery of exoplanets and exoplanetary systems being similar to our own is indicative that part of the evolutionary process is similar to our own solar system. Planets similar to Earth, in the goldilocks zone could do what Earth did, very similarly. If the species went through stages of evolution and growing up and waking up similar to humans, I would say its pretty conclusive of something bigger than us. If it is something else (impossible for me to conceptualize) then that would be a Copernicus mic drop on spirit in action. Although being so hypothetical and imaginary I concede its impossible for me to know. Just fun to think about.

I have for sometime considered the Fermi Paradox to the Drake Equation, asking where is all the life in our Galaxy/Universe? My theory is that there is life, but that they didn’t evolve sooner/faster (on a large relative scale) than Earth life has. I would suppose that there is a cosmic wide field of evolutionary growth. I have nothing to back that up, just my personal application of growth stages to the Fermi paradox.

Thank you so much for answering. It has been heavily educational.

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Einstein’s God is good enough for me. All else is imagination, in my opinion. Culminating in delusional beliefs of becoming one with the world Ground or the Supreme Identity. Talk about hubris. Fine as subjective states but as soon as priviliged knowledge is claimed about the outside world a category or quadrant mistake is committed.

And an immanent Spirit is as much creationist, or emanationist if you prefer, as any mythic God. Invoking Spirit to explain (“at least part of”, claims Wilber) the complexities of nature is vulnerable to the same criticism: how, when and where did that God/Spirit produce empirically verifiable changes in nature? Nobody knows.

And i don’t mean amy “deep science”, just a simple question: did Spirit (of whatever variety) have a role to play in the formation of wings or eyes, or did it not? And if so, how? As long as this cannot be specified it is meaningless.

I know perennialism and its claims very well.

In the eighties I was publisher for 10 years of the Dutch section of the Theosophical Society. I wrote the book “Seven Spheres”, of which Wilber said: “this book should be published in America”. I know every nook and corner of the doctrine of evolution as driven by Spirit, or the Logos as they call it. And it is wrong, a fictional account of romantic souls who know zero about evolution but like the idea that God is on our side.

Theosophists at least had the idea that there should be a sense of proportion between eathly processes and divinity so they placed their Logos in the (spiritual) Sun. Even so, they needed to invent an intricate system of globes and rounds to get this divine influence in the correct places.

Usually, mystical speculations like this nowadays are out of all proportion when called cosmic, universal or even more misleading: non-local. I am totally out of that game now. It just doesn’t add any true understanding about nature’s processes and is never more than huge pretense and knowledge claims.

I won’t repeat myself here for i have documented all this on Integral World. Too bad if you can’t appreciate its quality.