Is Conscious Evolution A Heresy?

In the musical Hair, and so marvelously sung by the Fifth Dimension, there was that hope expressed that some new age will arrive and …

Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars …

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation.

(Gerome Ragni & James Rado)

A few calmer commentators have pointed out that Cardinal Gerhard Müller didn’t cite Professor Elizabeth by name. But he did call out Barbara Marx Hubbard and conscious evolution as trending heretical. What the heck is conscious evolution? I went to the source. It seems pretty simple and non-theological to me:

(F)rom unconscious to conscious choice.

Simply put, human beings now have awareness that life changes. With this knowledge, can we affect, interfere with, or even guide our future? Of course we can.

Scientifically, we can alter human genetics and eliminate disease, deformity, and suffering on a large scale. Vaccinations did this in the last century. Advances in medical science date back centuries before that. Because of these advances, and the accompanying revolution in botany, the Earth is home to billions today, not just a few hundred million. And we can feed everybody. For the time being. That alters things quite a bit.

Soon we will be able to consciously do more. Some might question whether or not it is advisable to “repair” the genetics that lead to Down Syndrome, or even homosexuality. But the science of it all is a reality. It’s just a matter of time. And cost.

My daughter, for example, might be genetically repaired one day with a fully normal heart. Stem cells in her bone marrow will get “fooled” into building a heart on a “protein template.” Then a transplant. Her children in the womb might be tested in advance, then “adjusted” if need be, so that they would be born with normal hearts. That is an evolution by choice. We know that being born without a left ventricle is not God’s punishment. It is a flaw in her biology.

Ms Hubbard also speaks of environmental change on her web site. Human beings, when they live in space for example, will change to adapt to their new environment. Some of that change can be guided. If hundreds of generations, for example, live on the moon, that will be a conscious choice on their part. And people will be able to predict and guide changes for the good health of those who live there.

Another example of conscious evolution involves the use of lead in paint and fuel. If the rates of illness and violence drop due to our understanding of toxins in the environment, this is another example of conscious evolution. A paint factory worker going on a rampage and killing people is not God’s judgment against the innocent victims. The worker may not be a culpable sinner. His going mad is the natural consequence of poison in the environment. If the corporations involved know all this, then yes, there is grave sin, blame, and responsibility.

Obviously, there is a theological impact with the awareness that people now can and do affect their evolution. Is it moral for scientists to alter the genetics of an unborn child to cure illness? To alleviate Down Syndrome? What about to adjust the genes that govern homosexuality? To tamp down tendencies to addiction, violence, or anti-social behavior?

I can understand how people in ministry, theology, or in religious life would find the possibility fascinating. And frightening. I suspect the human predilection to sin would remain immune to genetic and environmental tinkering.

But would it be good if some occasions of sin were removed? If genetic defects made abortion a consideration for some couples, and those defects could be removed, would that be a good thing? What if it cost a lot of money to do so?

Is this conscious evolution a problem for the Church? Ms  Hubbard is the messenger. Her web site seems devoted to selling stuff. Reminds me a bit of Father Z.

Are the sisters getting brainwashed by some new age snake oil salesperson? I don’t know. Father Marcial Maciel sure sold a lot of prelates and a pope or two, didn’t he? My sense is that this is a plank/speck affair.

But if the sisters can come up with new ideas about guiding the evolution of the Church to a more evangelical one, I’d like to hear them.

Getting back to the question of the post: is conscious evolution a heresy? No more than the heliocentric solar system. But it’s going to upset some people like heresy, so it’s worth watching and worth taking pastoral time to examine, think, and discern what it all means.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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10 Responses to Is Conscious Evolution A Heresy?

  1. Liam says:

    Actually, Cdl Muller did not drop the H bomb. He carefully avoided collapsing his concerns to that.If we want him to read Hubbard and others carefully, we have to read him carefully likewise.

    “For the last several years, the Congregation has been following with increasing concern a focalizing of attention within the LCWR around the concept of Conscious Evolution. Since Barbara Marx Hubbard addressed the Assembly on this topic two years ago, every issue of your newsletter has discussed Conscious Evolution in some way. Issues of Occasional Papers have been devoted to it. We have even seen some religious Institutes modify their directional statements to incorporate concepts and undeveloped terms from Conscious Evolution.

    Again, I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language. The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.

    My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia. To phrase it as a question, do the many religious listening to addresses on this topic or reading expositions of it even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present?”

    • Liam says:

      I think it’s important NOT to read Muller through Burke. Germanic as Muller is, he’s not Burke. That quote above has some tough and debatable assertions in it, to be sure, but it’s not *necessarily* to be read as harshly as some commentators are making it out to be. There are enough qualifying and conditioning links in it to be pregnant with less harsh readings.

      • Todd says:

        Good. I’m glad to be wrong on this point. I thought I had read him mention the h-word, so I’m pleased to be mistaken.

        “The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation …”

        This is incorrect. I don’t see anything written by Ms Hubbard that is essentially opposed to Christian revelation. That said, some people might take science to an extreme, and others, lacking a Christian worldview, impose a generic spirituality. That said, I would want to see what the women are writing before I would join in a particular condemnation.

      • Liam says:

        “The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation …”
        This is incorrect.

        * * *

        Well, the problem is I think it’s debatable, is is not yet proven in the correspondence to be correct. It’s interesting how even your reaction reveals the Catholic itch to conclude.

        Even then, we have to differentiate between CE and its epiphenomena within the Catholic Church. It could be that CE is fundamentally opposed to Christian Revelation, but that the epiphenomena are not; but it also could be that CE is not fundamentally opposed to Christian Revelation but that the epiphenomena ARE. Or some mix of all that.

      • Todd says:

        Or that some people could screw up the interpretation of the mixing of it all. It’s happened with other people, other philosophies, other eras.

      • Liam says:

        Sure.

        While Hubbard references Chardin, that doesn’t baptize her thought. Flannery O’Connor was *deeply* engaged with Chardin’s writings and its evidenced in her writings, just for a contrasting example. Indeed, if one could have a thought experiment, it would be great to see O’Connor’s take on Hubbard. (Much more interesting to me than, say, Muller.)

  2. Devin says:

    I don’t know if it is heresy. It seems like it based on what I present below (knowing that it could be taken out of context) but that is something for brighter minds to ponder than myself. Either way, I doubt that she cares all that much about heresy or Jesus.

    There is an article by Ross Douthat, where he discusses a passage of Ms Hubbard.
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/the-nuns-and-the-god-within/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    Assuming this is represented of her thought, she appears to be denying the our Lord’s death and it’s sacrificial aspect.. In this video

    she seems to be denying among other thing the Resurrection of the dead, possibly rejection of grace. It has a sort of gnostic feel.

    I don’t think heresy is an appropriate term, she has her own system of thought that is only tangentially related to Christianity. I suppose you could take a critical look and see if you could not Christianize facets of Conscious Evolution and harmonize them with already established elements of the deposit of faith. But doubt she cares if that happens and I doubt the LCWR want that to happen either.

    • Todd says:

      I think Ms Hubbard is an agnostic. Her parents were Jewish, I believe. I wouldn’t expect her to be a Christian any more than I might expect it of Aristotle.

      I don’t know that it’s my itch to conclude as much as I view her views as post-modern rationalism. Or scientific philosophy. It’s not religion. For it to be heresy, it would have to be set up as a derivation from Christ and the Church. She doesn’t even start with the Church.

      • Liam says:

        Well, just to clarify categories, atheism is fundamentally opposed to Christian Revelation without being a Christian heresy.

    • Molly Roach says:

      Could it not be like Aquinas taking on some of the terms of Aristotle?

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