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Spiritual evolution can refer to several things. Sometimes it is contrasted with biological evolution, as in a "higher evolution" of the spiritual part of humans or beings in general. But it can also be a philosophical and esoteric idea that biological evolution is driven by spiritual or metaphysical forces; such views are found in many occult and New Age writings. Although these ideas are either pseudoscience or simply outside the realm of science, their supporters don't necessarily reject evolution in scientific terms, nor the age of the Earth. The view of the history of the Earth, and especially that of life on it, may however still differ a lot from scientific explanations with the ideas of spiritual forces shaping what happens in the material world.
In various spiritual belief systems, life ultimately evolves from biological life to a non-physical life. Souls may or may not move across forms of biological life as the souls mature, and may or may not be driving changes in the forms of biological life available. There may or may not exist various higher and lower planes of existence which evolution is supposed to progress across, and where higher beings influence affairs in lower planes.
There have been numerous confused writers who have maintained that biological evolution operates not only on a physical, but also on some imaginary "spiritual level". They usually describe evolution as a "directed process" and that nature has purposiveness. Those who advocate spiritual evolution are not always theistic, as some do not postulate that a deity is the prime mover of the evolutionary process. Instead, those who advocate spiritual evolution usually speak of "forces" or "purposes" directing the evolutionary process or working the ongoing processes of the universe.
“”For many men the abolition of that teleological kind of evolution was the most significant and least palatable of Darwin's suggestions. The Origin of Species recognized no goal set either by God or nature... The belief that natural selection, resulting from mere competition between organisms for survival, could have produced man together with the higher animals and plants was the most difficult and disturbing aspect of Darwin's theory.
“”Wallace and Mr. Mivart... are as stout believers in evolution as Mr. Darwin himself; but Mr. Wallace denies that man can have been evolved from a lower animal by that process of natural selection which he, with Mr. Darwin, holds to have been sufficient for the evolution of all animals below man; while Mr. Mivart, admitting that natural selection has been one of the conditions of the evolution of the animals below man, maintains that natural selection must, even in their case, have been supplemented by "some other cause"–of the nature of which, unfortunately, he does not give us any idea. Thus Mr. Mivart is less of a Darwinian than Mr. Wallace, for he has less faith in the power of natural selection. But he is more of an evolutionist than Mr. Wallace, because Mr. Wallace thinks it necessary to call in an intelligent agent–a sort of supernatural Sir John Sebright–to produce even the animal frame of man; while Mr. Mivart requires no Divine assistance till he comes to man's soul.
Later writers, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man, 1955) and Sri Aurobindo (The Life Divine, 1977), describe evolution as progression from inanimate matter to a future state of Divine consciousness. Teilhard de Chardin refers to this as the Omega Point and Sri Aurobindo as the Supermind.
Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891), the founder of modern Theosophy; Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), the founder of Anthroposophy; George Gurdjieff (1872–1949), the founder of the Fourth Way and Samael Aun Weor, the founder of a modern Gnosis movement,[note 1] were deeply involved in the study and teachings of the occult. Their works borrowed ideas from Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Hinduism, Kabbalah, Neoplatonism and Mysticism and attempted to merge their ideas with the sciences. Most of these occult writers advocated the view that evolution is driven by purposeful spiritual forces and rejected the Darwinian view of evolution, which they equated with materialism. In their views, biological evolution is a smaller part of a larger evolution.
Gurdjieff's Fourth Way teaching considers planets alive, too, and teaches that they evolve from moons, to rocky planets, to gas giants, to stars. Those who live on a planet such as Earth are very small in relation to all of that, and if their being is not substantial enough, they are merely the playthings of the planets, a little like molecules in a body. In the case of Earth, the people of Earth are supposedly "food for the Moon", and most do not survive death beyond a brief existence as fuel for its growth. Gurdjieff claimed to be helping people develop souls so that they could survive death, possibly reincarnate, and maybe even develop into a higher form of life eventually.
Occult evolution theories evolve along with the larger cultic milieu and will likely never fall out of fashion as long as teachings of spiritual development exist. Such ideas of an evolution of souls or consciousnesses have various shapes and flavors, from fearful teachings that the world is a prison which needs to be broken out of to survive and/or prosper, to hopeful teachings that all is slowly and inevitably moving towards exalted highs of living wisdom. Gurdjieff's teaching, and teachings with a gnostic flavor, tend to fall into the fearful category. New Age and later conspirituality teachings can be oriented either way. The Ra Material or Law of One by Don Elkins (1930–1984) et al is a more hopeful yet also millennialist New Age teaching with a more complex structure, and one which so-called masters like David Wilcock and Laura Knight-Jadczyk have in turn later based much on.
The concept of higher evolution separates the spiritual development of a "higher consciousness" from the "lower evolution" processes of biological evolution, though the two may be viewed as analogous. The two may even proceed in some interlinked fashion. This idea is common in mysticism, and found in Theosophy and other Western esoteric teachings. While the term is modern and Western, it's related to the ideas in Buddhism and Hinduism of karma and dharma.
While "lower evolution" shapes physical form, higher evolution strives towards a transcendence of physical form. This may be viewed more literally, and commonly it is in occult teachings, overlapping with ideas of occult evolution. It may also more loosely refer to a psychological, mental, or "spiritual practice" process that brings a sense of inner change but does not literally move a person beyond the limits of the physical body.
Most scientists maintain that unguided evolution explains the biological evolutionary process; thus, the idea that some immaterial force is guiding evolution is a metaphysical viewpoint considered to be pseudoscience by the scientific community.
Ideas of higher evolution range from being all about psychology and cultural development, in which case they may sometimes dovetail with secular humanist aspirations and be viewed by the latter as having their hearts in the right place, to being the envisioned ideals of mystical monks with which the public is little concerned, to being part and parcel of occult teachings or examples of New Age woo.
- Anima Mundi
- Vedic creationism, for similar "living things devolving from pure spirit" nuttery
- Unguided evolution for what's actually going on.
- Samael Aun Weor's Gnosis movement is not to be confused with the Gnosis teaching of Boris Mouravieff which is more closely related to the teaching of George Gurdjieff. Mouravieff, like Gurdjieff, considered his teaching to be "esoteric Christianity", though Mouravieff tied his ideas to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in particular. Mouravieff distanced himself from what is more commonly called gnosticism, quite unlike Weor.
- Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Second Edition, 1962,1970).
- Mr Darwin's Critics by Thomas Henry Huxley
- Carl Johan Calleman The Purposeful Universe: How Quantum Theory and Mayan Cosmology Explain the Origin and Evolution of Life Bear & Company, 2009 ISBN 1591431042
- Ole Therkelsen Martinus, Darwin and Intelligent Design: A New Theory of Evolution Världsbild Förlag, 2010 ISBN 9185132853
- David Wilcock The Source Field Investigations: The Hidden Science and Lost Civilizations Behind the 2012 Prophecies Dutton Adult; 1st Edition edition, 2011 ISBN 0525952047
- The Ra Material: An Ancient Astronaut Speaks by Don Elkins et al. (1984) The Donning Company. ISBN 089865260X.
- The Ultimate Evolutionist Model: Evolution by Purposive "Forces" by Ellen Myers