The Purpose of Evolution

A better understanding of the purpose of evolution will lead directly to a more evolved world.


| November 2012



Evolution's Purpose

"Evolution's Purpose," by Steve McIntosh, reveals the purpose of evolution — to grow toward ever-widening realizations of beauty, truth and goodness.

Cover Courtesy Select Books

Does the science of evolution really prove that life, humanity, and the universe as a whole are meaningless accidents? In Evolution's Purpose (Select Books, 2012), author Steve McIntosh argues that the purpose of evolution is not "intelligently designed" or otherwise externally controlled; rather, its purpose is being creatively and originally discerned through the choices of the evolutionary creatures themselves. The book's preface, which is excerpted below, details McIntosh's ideas on cultural evolution and  the role of philosophy within the broader context of the theory of evolution.    

Even though I became a “grown-up” many years ago, I have not stopped growing. While my physical body is no longer growing, my mind and character have continued to develop. And as a result of my ongoing personal evolution I have become increasingly sensitive to the problems of the world. Indeed, many of us who have received the educational and economic benefits of living in the developed world now feel a sense of personal responsibility to help improve the human condition and combat the global problems that increasingly threaten us. Although humanity will most likely adapt to our changing world, as our large-scale problems continue to mount the potential regression of our civilization in the decades ahead is becoming a real possibility. It appears that the challenges of the twenty-first century will test humanity like never before; and the only way we will be able to deal with these challenges comprehensively is through  cultural evolution .  

Cultural evolution, however, is a difficult and problematic subject. A significant number of influential scholars, policymakers, and journalists feel that the very idea that some cultures are “more evolved” than others is misguided and potentially racist. Yet those who deny that human culture evolves are often the same ones who are demanding social change. Although there is widespread agreement about the need to address certain social problems, many of those who define themselves as “progressives” are nevertheless ambivalent about humanity’s potential to achieve lasting historical progress. And given the previous failures of progressive ideologies such as Marxism, there are many good reasons why we should remain cautious, or even skeptical, about theories of cultural evolution.   

Still, our growing global problems are resulting from the unintended consequences of previous historical developments, and it is only through further positive development that we can overcome these threats. As environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, the exhaustion of natural resources, overpopulation in the developing world, and hunger and poverty become increasingly dire, we must find a way to outgrow the problems we have created for ourselves. As I will argue in the pages ahead, permanent solutions to the problems we are facing in this new century can only be achieved through the further evolution of consciousness and culture. Therefore, understanding what cultural evolution actually is, how it occurs, and how it can be more effectively brought about is crucial for this undertaking.  

In order to achieve a breakthrough in our ability to understand and facilitate cultural evolution, we need to achieve a breakthrough in our understanding of the overall process of evolution as a whole. And as we will see, this breakthrough is beginning to take shape: leading theorists are coming to realize that the cosmological evolution of stars and planets, the biological evolution of organisms, and the cultural evolution of human history are all part of a universal process of becoming that has been continuously unfolding since the beginning of our universe with the big bang. The advance of evolution encompasses much more than the development of biological species. Indeed, evolution is not just something that is occurring within the universe; evolution itself is what the universe actually is—a grand panoply of micro and macro development that affects everything, and ultimately connects everything.  

However, the mainstream scientific and philosophical community has not digested or even appropriately acknowledged the staggering fact that evolution is universal. Yet once we accept that all forms of evolution—cosmological, biological, and cultural—are part of the same overarching process, despite their significant differences and discontinuities, this leads to a deeper recognition of evolution’s meaning and value. And as we begin to discover the underlying meaning and value of evolution, this reveals evolution’s purpose. A scientifically informed philosophical recognition of the underlying purpose of evolution can be very powerful because, as my arguments will show, a better understanding of evolution’s purpose can lead directly to a more evolved world.