angry_disregard (angry_disregard) wrote,

Peck: The Road Less Traveled: Grace: The Miracle of Evolution

Spiritual growth is the evolution of an individual. An individual’s body may undergo the changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve. New physical patterns are not forged. Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability. Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically. New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age. Our lifetime offers us unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.
The most striking feature of the process of physical evolution is that it is a miracle. Given what we understand of the universe, evolution should not occur; the phenomenon should not exist at all. One of the basic natural laws is the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy naturally flows from a state of greater organization to a state of lower differentiation. In other words, the universe is in a process of winding down. The example frequently used to describe this process is that of a stream, which naturally flows downhill. It takes energy or work—pumps, lochs, humans carrying buckets, or other means—to reverse this process, to get back to the beginning, to put the water back on top of the hill. And this energy has to come from somewhere else. Some other energy system has to be depleted if this one is to be maintained. Ultimately, according to the second law of thermodynamics, in billions and billions of years, the universe will completely wind down until it reaches the lowest point as an amorphous, totally disorganized, totally undifferentiated “blob” in which nothing happens any more. This state of total disorganization and undifferentiation is termed entropy.
The natural downhill flow of energy toward the state of entropy might be termed the force of entropy. We can now realize that the “flow” of evolution is against the force of entropy. The process of evolution has been a development of organisms from lower to higher and higher states of complexity, differentiation and organization. A virus is an extremely simle organism, little more than a molecule. A bacterium is more complex, more differentiated, possessing a cell wall and different types of molecules and a metabolism. A paramecium has a nucleus, cilia, and a rudimentary digestive system. A sponge not only has cells but begins to have different types of cells interdependent upon each other. Insects and fish have nervous systems with complex methods of locomotion, and even social organization. And so it goes, up the scale of evolution, a scale of increasing complexity and organization and differentiation, with man, who possesses an enormous cerebral cortex and extraordinarily complex behavior patterns, being, as far as we can tell, at the top. I state that the process of evolution is a miracle, because insofar as it is a process of increasing organization and differentiation, it runs counter to natural law. In the ordinary course of things, we who write and read this book should not exist.
The process of evolution can be diagrammed by a pyramid, with man, the most complex but least numerous organism, at the apex, and viruses, the most numerous but least complex organisms, at the base. The apex is thrusting out, up, forward against the force of entropy. Inside the pyramid I have placed an arrow to symbolize this thrusting evolutionary force, this “something” that has so successfully and consistently defied “natural law” over millions upon millions of generations and that must itself represent natural law as yet undefined.
The spiritual evolution of humanity can be similarly diagrammed. Again and again I have emphasized that the process of spiritual growth is an effortful and difficult one. This is because it is conducted against a natural resistance, against a natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and old ways of doing things, to take the easy path…But as in the case of physical evolution, miracle is that this resistance is overcome. We do grow. Despite all that resists the process, we do become better human beings. Not all of us. Not easily. But in significant numbers humans somehow manage to improve themselves and their cultures. There is a force that somehow pushes us to choose the more difficult path whereby we can transcend the mire and muck into which we are so often born.
This diagram of the process of spiritual evolution can apply to the existence of a single individual. Each of us has his or her own urge to grow, and each of us, in exercising that urge, must single-handedly fight against his or her own resistance. The diagram also applies to humanity as a whole. As we evolve as individuals, so do we cause our society to evolve. The culture that nurtures us in childhood is nurtured by our leadership in adulthood. Those who achieve growth not only enjoy the fruits of growth but give the same fruits to the world. Evolving as individuals, we carry humanity on our backs. And so humanity evolves.
The notion that the plan of mankind’s spiritual development is in a process of ascension may hardly seem realistic to a generation disillusioned with the dream of progress. Everywhere is war, corruption and pollution. How could one reasonably suggest that the human race is spiritually progressing? Yet that is exactly what I suggest. Our very sense of disillusionment arises from the fact that we expect more of ourselves that our forbears did of themselves. Human behavior that we find repugnant and outrageous today was accepted as a matter of course yesteryear...
But what is this force that pushes us as individuals and as a whole species to grow against the natural resistance of our own lethargy? We have already labeled it. It is love. Love was defined as “thew ill to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves. It is through love that we elevate ourselves. And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves. Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution. It is evolution in progress. The evolutionary force, present in all of life, manifests itself in mankind as human love. Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.
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