The Evolutionary Epic

368 page hard-back book containing 34 chapters.

Edited by
Cheryl Genet,
Russell Genet, Brian Swimme
Linda Palmer and Linda Gibler

Foreword by
David Christian

Published by
The Collins Foundation Press
Santa Margarita, CA 


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We now know, in quite some detail, how the Darwinian story of life’s ever increasing complexity played out on Earth, the third planet orbiting an ordinary G2-type star, one of hundreds of billions of stars in an only slightly larger than average spiral galaxy, which in turn is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible universe, …a fleck of gold on a grain of sand in a remote corner of a vast cosmic beach. Russell Genet

Description and Acclaim

These essays take you from the struggles of our hominid ancestors on the savannah's of Africa to a mountain climber’s epiphany on the snowcapped heights of a stratovolcano in Mexico, from the mysteries of the quantum world to the vast reaches of the universe. Begin with a story of humanity’s evolution from primeval stardust to planetary stardom. Then explore the emergence of the story through scientific research and wonder. View the multi-faceted epic through unexpected lenses and follow it as it is engages education, becoming a vital part of the enlightenment of young minds. Finally, experience the evolutionary epic as it shifts our scientific and cultural paradigms, serves our quest for a brighter future, and enriches humanity’s imaginative and spiritual dimensions.


This book captures the presentations made at the Evolutionary Epic conference, along with a few guest contributions. I came as an outsider to the theme of teaching and exploring evolution as an epic story that includes the history of the universe from the Big Bang. I was enthralled by the lively mix of scientists, humanists, philosophers, and artists, all contributing to the rich tapestry of ideas. As a scientist, I had never attended a conference which merged science: astronomy, geology, anthropology, and materials, with the humanities and the arts: history, poetry, songs, and paintings. Exploring the history of the universe, the place of Earth and humans in it, and humanity’s multi-dimensional responses, ultimately speaks to some of today’s biggest problems, among them, sustainability and global climate change.

–Stephen L. Sass, Professor Emeritus, Materials Science and Engineering
Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Cornell University

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Foreword: Celebrating the Birth of a New Creation Story - David Christian 11

Publisher’s Note: The Evolutionary Epic and a Sustainable Future - Dwight Collins 15

Preface: Journey to the Evolutionary Epic - Cheryl Genet 17

Science’s Story of How We Came to Be 21

         Humanity: The Chimpanzees Who Would Be Ants - Russell M. Genet 23

Part I The Epic Emerges Through Research and Wonder 37

         1 Imagining a Day in the Lives of Our Evolutionary Ancestors - Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth 39
           The "Little Bang": The Origins and Adaptive Significance of Human Stone Toolmaking -  Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth

         2 Fire and Civilization - Carlos A. Camargo 61

         3 Toward an Information Morality: Imperatives Derived from a Statistical Mechanics of Meaning - Robert Adámy Duisberg 71

         4 An Astronomer’s Faith Within an Evolutionary Cosmos - Christopher Corbally 79

Interlude: The Poetic Cosmos 87

         love letter to the milky way  - Drew Dellinger

Part II The Epic Explored from Diverse Perspectives 89

         5 The Evolutionary Epic and the Chronometric Revolution - David Christian 91

         6 To Tell a Transformational Tale: The Evolutionary Epic as Narrative Genre - Paul A. Harris 101

         7 The Epic of Cosmic Evolution - Nancy E. Abrams and Joel R. Primack 107

         8 Bringing the Universe Story Home: Engaged Cosmology and the Role of the Artist - Pauline Le Bel 119

         9 Evolutionary Spirituality: The Soul of Evolution - Barbara Marx Hubbard 125

Part III The Epic Engages Education and Big History 133

        10 Implications of the Evolutionary Epic for the Study of Human History - John A. Mears 135

        11 The Convergence of Logic, Faith, and Values in the Modern Creation Story - Craig G. R. Benjamin 147

        12 Why Aren’t More People Teaching Big History? - Cynthia Stokes Brown 153

        13 Contemplatio ad Amorem Naturae: Contemplative Practice in Ecozoic Education - Trileigh Tucker 159

        14 Big History as Global Systems History - Alan T. Wood 169

        15 A Consilient Curriculum - Loyal Rue and Ursula Goodenough 175

Part IV The Epic and Scientific and Cultural Paradigms Shifts 183

        16 Eastern Sages and the Western Epic: Viewing Cosmos with Both Hemispheres of the Global Brain - Sheri Ritchlin 185

        17 Cultural and Religious Evolution: A Case Study - Jane Bramadat 193

        18 Empirical Evidence for the Law of Information Growth in Evolution - Richard L. Coren 201

        19 The Future Is and Is Not the Past: Heredity, Epigenetics, and the Developmental Turn - Gregory Mengel 213

        20 Digital Teleologies, Imperial Threshold Machinic Assemblages, and the Colonization of the Cosmos: A Poststructuralist   
             Interpretation of 2001: A Space Odyssey - Fernando Castrillon

        21 Beyond Machines: Metaphor in Biology - John Wilkinson 229

        22 Quantum Psychology: Bridging Science and Spirit - Gary Moring 237

        23 Touch: An Evolutionary Key to Healthy Living - Katie Carrin 243

Part V The Epic Guides Our Path to the Future 251

        24 Future Primal: A Politics for Evolving Humanity - Louis Herman 253

        25 Transcending Cultural Indoctrination: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff - Jack A. Palmer and Linda K. Palmer 265

        26 Cosmology and Environmentalism: Five Suggestions for Ecological Storytellers - Brian Swimme 273

        27 Islands of Sustainability - Mark Jason Gilbert, Art Whatley, Phylliss Frus, Jon Davidann, Leilani Madison, & Stephen Allen 279

        28 Listening to the Voice of the Earth: A Catholic Perspective - Linda Jaye Gibler 291

Interlude: The Poetic Cosmos 297

        hymn to the sacred body of the universe

Drew Dellinger

Part VI The Epic Enriches Our Imaginative and Spiritual Dimensions 301

        29 Alchemical Ritual Evocation of the Epic of the Universe as Ancestral Heritage - Jeff Jenkins 303

        30 Already Living: An Artist’s Perspective on the Evolution of the Human - Winslow Myers 311

        31 Imagination and the Epic of Evolution - Josefina Burgos 321

        32 Our Cosmic Context - Todd Duncan 329

        33 Theological Problems and Promises of an Evolutionary Paradigm - Peter Hess 335

Index 347

About The Humanity Conference and Book Series 365

For the Conference Participants 367

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  • Nancy Ellen Abrams – Attorney at Law, lecturer, University of California, Santa Cruz; co-author (with Joel R. Primack) of The View from the Center of the Universe. (p. 107)

  • Stephen Allen, Ph.D., LEED AP – Associate Professor of Chemistry, Environmental Science Program, College of Natural Sciences, Hawai`i Pacific University. (p. 279)

  • Craig Benjamin, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of History, Grand Valley State University. (p. 147)

  • Jane Bramadat, M.A. – (Religious Studies), MEd (Counselling); Ordained Unitarian Universalist Parish Minister, First Unitarian Church of Victoria, BC, Canada. (p.193)

  • Cynthia S. Brown, Ph.D. – Professor Emerita of Education and History, Dominican University of California; author of Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. (p. 153)

  • Josefina Burgos, M.A., Ph.D. candidate – (Philosophy and Religion) at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco. (p. 321)

  • Carlos A. Camargo, M.D. – Emeritus Clinical Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine. (p. 61)

  • Katie Carrin, C.M.T. – Instructor, Acupressure Institute, Berkeley and The Healing Arts Institute, Sacramento; self-published author. (p. 243.)

  • Fernando Castrillon, Psy.D. – Clinical Psychologist, Instituto Familiar de la Raza (IFR)-San Francisco; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies Department, Community Mental Health Masters Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). (p. 221)

  • David Christian, Ph.D. – Professor of History, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia (Until Dec 2008, Professor of History at San Diego State University). (pp.11 & 91)

  • Dwight Collins, Ph.D. – President, Collins Family Foundation; founding faculty member and lecturer, Sustainable Operations Management, Presidio School of Management, San Francisco. (p. 15)

  • Christopher Corbally, S.J. – Vice Director, Vatican Observatory; Adjunct Associate Astronomer, University of Arizona. (p. 79)

  • Richard L. Coren, Ph.D. – Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering, Drexel University. (p. 201)

  • Jon Davidann, Ph.D. – Professor of History, Director, International Exchange and Study Abroad Program, Hawaii Pacific University. (p. 279)

  • Drew Dellinger, M.A. – Founder of Poets for Global Justice; author of love letter to the milky way: a book of poems. (pp. 87 & 297)

  • Rob Duisberg, Ph.D., D.M.A. – Lecturer, E-Commerce & Information Systems, Albers School of Business and Economics, Seattle University. (p. 71)

  • Todd Duncan, Ph.D. – Director of the Science Integration Institute; Adjunct faculty, Portland State University Center for Science Education and Pacific University Physics Department. (p.329)

  • Phyllis Frus, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of English, Hawai’i Pacific University. (p. 279)

  • Cheryl Genet, Ph.D. – Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Cuesta College; Managing Editor of the Collins Foundation Press; Director of the Orion Institute. (pp.17, 21, 37, 89, 133, 183, 251, 301)

  • Russell Genet, Ph.D. – Research Scholar in Residence, California Polytechnic State University; Adjunct Professor of Astronomy, Cuesta College; Director, Orion Observatory. (p. 23)

  • Linda Gibler, OP, Ph.D. – Dominican Sister of Houston; Doctor of Ministry Program Director and Associate Academic Dean, Oblate School of Theology; Adjunct Professor, Loyola Institute of Ministry. (p. 291)

  • Marc Jason Gilbert, Ph.D. – National Endowment for the Humanities’ Endowed Chair in World History and the Humanities, Hawaii Pacific University. (p. 279)

  • Ursula Goodenough, Ph.D. – Professor of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis; author of The Sacred Depths of Nature. (p.175)

  • Paul A. Harris, Ph.D. – Professor of English, Loyola Marymount University; President, International Society for the Study of Time. (p. 101)

  • Louis G. Herman, Ph.D. - Philosopher; Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii West Oahu. (p. 253)

  • Peter M. J. Hess, Ph.D. – Faith Project Director, National Center for Science Education; Professor in Graduate Liberal Studies, Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, California; Fellow, International Society for Science and Religion. (p. 335)

  • Barbara Marx Hubbard – Co-founder of The Foundation for Conscious Evolution and Conscious Evolution Chair at Wisdom University. (p.125)

  • Jeff Jenkins – California Institute for Integral Studies. (p. 303)

  • Pauline Le Bel – Playwright, novelist, singer; Executive Director of Voices in the Sound. (p. 119)

  • Elaine Leilani Madison, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of English, Hawaii Pacific University. (p. 279)

  • John A. Mears, Ph.D. – University of Chicago; Associate Professor of History, Southern Methodist University; Past President, World History Association. (p.135)

  • Gregory Mengel, M.A. – California Institute of Integral Studies. (p.213)

  • Gary Moring, M.A., Ph.D. candidate – California Institute of Integral Studies; 1984-2004 Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religion, University of Phoenix; author. (p. 237)

  • Winslow Myers, M.F.A. – Artist and retired teacher. (p. 311)

  • Jack A. Palmer, Ph.D. – Director of Graduate Studies, Professor of Psychology, College of Education and Human Development, University of Louisiana at Monroe. (p. 265)

  • Linda K. Palmer, M.S. – Researcher, writer; editor: Edition Naam Publishing, Collins Foundation Press, Jiva Institute, India. (p. 265)

  • Joel R. Primack, Ph.D. – Distinguished Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz; co-author (with Nancy Ellen Abrams) of The View from the Center of the Universe. (p. 107)

  • Sheri Ritchlin, Ph.D. – Free-lance writer, editor and lecturer. (p. 185)

  • Loyal Rue, Ph.D. – Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Religion, Luther College. (p.175)

  • Kathy Schick, Ph.D. – Professor, Anthropology Department and Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University; Co-Director, CRAFT Research Center, Indiana University; Co-Director, Stone Age Institute; co-editor, Stone Age Institute Publication Series. (pp. 39, 43)  

  • Brian Swimme, Ph.D. – Professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. (p.273)

  • Nicholas Toth, Ph.D. – Professor, Anthropology Department and Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University; Co-Director, CRAFT Research Center, Indiana University; Co-Director, Stone Age Institute; co-editor, Stone Age Institute Publication Series. (pp. 39, 43) 

  • Trileigh Tucker, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Seattle University. (p. 159)

  • Art Whatley, Ph.D. – Professor and Program Chair, MA/Global Leadership and Sustainable Development, College of Professional Studies, Hawaii Pacific University (p. 279)

  • John Wilkinson, Ph.D. – Liberal Studies Instructor, Art Institute of California, San Francisco. (p. 229)

  • Alan T. Wood, Ph.D. – Professor of History, University of Washington, Bothell. (p. 169)

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    Celebrating the Birth of a New Creation Story

    The conference from which most of the papers in this volume are drawn met at the Makaha Resort in Hawaii on January 3 – 8, 2008. It was organized by Cheryl and Russ Genet. The conference was about a story, and it was the power, the beauty, and the importance of that story that drew the participants together. The story has many different names; Evolutionary Epic is just one. It has also been called a Modern Creation Myth, The Universe Story, Big History. Whatever the name, the core idea is the same: there is emerging today a coherent story, based on modern, scientific information that tells the history of our universe, from its very beginnings to today. That story can help each one of us understand our place in a larger universe. The evolutionary epic links modern accounts of the origins of the universe, the Earth, life, and human societies into a single story about origins, so it can play in modern society a role similar to that of traditional creation stories in all earlier societies.
          Creation stories are immensely important. They provide large maps of reality, and by tracing the origins and evolution of our world, they explain how things came to be as they are. Maps tell us where we are and, in some sense, who and what we are. The largest maps, those attempted in creation stories, are as fundamental to our sense of history as maps of the world are to our sense of geography. Like a world map, the evolutionary epic provides a frame within which we can better understand the smaller maps with which we navigate our way through life. The evolutionary epic is important because it is the largest possible map of time.
          A conference like this would not have been necessary if the evolutionary epic had been widely known. The strange thing (strange, at least, to those at this conference) is that the evolutionary epic is not taught in every school in every country in the world! Instead, schoolchildren throughout the world are presented either with bits of the story (the history of my country, for example, or a bit of geography or geology or astronomy) with little attempt to describe the larger story that threads these smaller stories together. Or they are taught creation myths that worked well for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, but don’t work so well today because we have so much more information, and much of that information contradicts what is said in traditional creation stories. The Earth was not created 6,000 years ago, or just a few generations ago. Nor was it created countless billions of years ago. We now know when it was created: about 4.5 billion Earth years ago. The evolutionary epic builds on a vast amount of new knowledge generated in recent centuries (much of it in recent decades) through careful and rigorous scientific research conducted throughout the world in many different disciplines, from nuclear physics to cosmology, to biology, to human history.
          The fact that so much of the definitive information needed to construct the evolutionary epic has been gathered very recently suggests one reason why the evolutionary epic is not widely taught today (yet!). A modern scientific account of the origins of the universe became available only in the twentieth century, and only in the last decade or two could it be based on a solid foundation of empirical observation, much of it from new, space-based satellites. The modern study of genetics became possible only after the discovery of the crucial role of DNA in heredity by Crick and Watson in 1953; now, genetic knowledge is helping transform our understanding of the origins and early history of our own species,
    Homo sapiens. A modern understanding of the evolution of our Earth became possible only after the clinching of the theory of "plate tectonics" in the 1960s.
          Above all, we can now date the whole of the past. Before the appearance in the 1950s of new methods of dating, most of them based on measuring the regular breakdown of radioactive materials, it was impossible to assign reliable dates to any parts of the story before the appearance of the first written documents a few thousand years ago. In the last few decades, our timelines have expanded from just a few thousand years to almost 14 billion years, reaching back past the civilizations of Sumer, to the evolution of our human ancestors several million years ago, to the appearance of the first multi-celled organisms almost 1,000 million years ago, to the formation of our Earth itself, some 4,500 million years ago and finally to the origins of our universe, about 13,700 million years ago.
          These recent changes explain the sense of excitement shared by all of us who have been involved in the attempt to construct the evolutionary epic and to make it more widely accessible to others. How can it best be told? How can we link the science with the spirit? How can the story be acted out, re-told and taught so that its power is palpable? What meaning does the story contain for humans today? How can we link the science that underpins so much in our society with our personal experience of life as felt and experienced?
          For me, one of the revelations of the conference was that there are so many questions to be asked about the evolutionary epic, and even more answers. Like all creation stories, the evolutionary epic contains within itself great diversity and can be received and appreciated and taught in many different ways, a bit like a complex crystal being slowly turned and turned and turned in front of many people, each of whom will see in it slightly different things. That diversity is reflected in the diversity of approaches, styles, questions, and struggles in the essays collected here. Don’t be surprised if you find dissenting positions here, or essays that seem to contradict other essays, or essays that raise unexpected questions or approach the evolutionary epic from unexpected angles. The evolutionary epic, we found, is capacious enough to absorb such differences with ease.
          You will find essays on the construction of the evolutionary epic, on philosophical and spiritual ways into it, on scientific approaches to its various components, on what it might mean in different contexts and to different people, on the challenge of bringing out the story’s beauty and the challenge of teaching the epic, on ways of rendering it in poetry, in images and in theatre, and on its implications for the future of our species and our biosphere. This is not a monolithic story even though, like all great creation stories, it has a narrative core that can be recognized in all versions.
          Another revelation was the repeated reminder both of the smallness and insignificance of our species, and of our centrality to the evolutionary epic. We are, after all, the only creatures of which we know that can begin to grasp the story of the universe and infuse it with meaning and feeling. In his paper, Winslow Myers offers a powerful image of this relationship in a wonderful Vermeer painting that depicts a figure (perhaps the pioneering biologist Anthony van Leeuwenhoek) leaning forward and touching a celestial globe.
    For me, Vermeer’s painting inverts Michelangelo’s image of God touching the finger of Adam. However cool-headed we may remain as we try to piece together the scientific evidence for the evolutionary epic, it is hard to resist a sense of awe as we realize that we, in our tiny corner of the universe, represent the universe becoming aware of itself.
           I hope these essays can convey something of the majesty, beauty, and power of the evolutionary epic, and also something of its diversity and capaciousness. Finally, I want to offer my personal thanks to Russell and Cheryl Genet for bringing together this diverse assembly of people to celebrate the birth of a new creation story.

    David Christian
    Professor of History

    Author of Maps of Time

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