If Random Evolution is associated with old-style (reductionist) materialism, scientism, and strict Darwinism, Emergent Evolution is the natural outgrowth of new style materialism, Pantheism, Holism, systems theory, ecology, Gaia theory, and other more developed paradigms.
Emergent evolution agrees with Materialism and Materialistic Pantheism in considering the physical universe as the substratum of existence. But it also sees this reality as able to unfold higher levels of organisation that transcend it and that are not defined by its limitations, or predicatble by its laws. To give a trivial example, Life emerges (evolves) out of Matter. But life cannot be explained or defined according to physical or chemical laws that are otherwise very capable of explaining inanimate matter. Life represents something totally new. It has emerged out of matter but it constitutes a new grade of organisation, a "symmetry break" so to speak. In a sense, life is a "singularity" as far as inanimate matter is concerned, it is a whole new grade of organisation, functioning, expression.
And in the same way mind emerges out of life, and represents a whole new grade of organisation that cannot be explained in merely biological or metabolic terms.
I personally consider the emergent paradigm to be an extremely profound yet at the same time simple, obvious, common-sense way of explaining the universe. Moreover it provides a way to link both science and materialism on the one hand, and metaphysics and spirituality on the other. Thus we find materialistic thinkers like James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis propounding an emergent theory of life and planetology (the Gaia hypothesis). They came upon this from a materialistic perspective, yet it is a hypothesis that goes beyond materialism (even if its founders are dead against the intuitive New Age and Neo-pagan interpretations, and I am sure would not be at all pleased to see what had become of their superb theory even on the present site ;-).
Coming to Emergent Evolution from the other direction, metaphysical and spiritual thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo see evolution as an emerging out of matter of higher qualities, culminating in the spiritual culmination that Teilhard terms the Omega Point and Sri Aurobindo Supramentalisation. Although both Teilhard and Aurobindo advocate a teleological stance, what they say is also pure Emergant paradigm. Carl Jung is another great visionary who seems to hold an emergent theory of evolution (the Collective Unconscious and then Consciousness evolving out of the original nonconscious biological and elemental substratum), even if he does not articulate it such a specific or clear manner.
And straddling and incorporating both camps are those like Erich Jantsch, who's incredible book on systems theory and cosmic evolution, the Self-Organizing Universe, is, to my midn at least, one of the most fascinating and inspiring works of science ever written.
All of which gives us a map of the cosmos and cosmic evolution as a process that is dynamic not static, meaningful not purposeless, yet in keeping with both the spiritual and the materialistic perspectives.
From Great Novels to Jantsch/Prigogine, Ken Wilber and Stephen Wolfram. The Way of a (Re)Searcher. by Erland Lagerroth. Mostly Swedish site on emergent evolution and "theory of everything" - English summary
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