Emergentism as a Religion of Complexity

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* Book: Emergentism: A Religion of Complexity for the Metamodern World. By Adyahanzi, Brendan Graham Dempsey. Metamodern Spirituality Series, Vol. VI.

URL = https://www.brendangrahamdempsey.com/metamodern-spirituality-series

Contextual Quote

"Emergentism is a novel spiritual framework informed by the revelations of complexity science, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, consciousness studies, developmental psychology, and other cutting-edge disciplines."

- Brendan Graham Dempsey [1]


"The new sciences of complexity have completely revolutionized our understanding of the universe as well as our place in it. At a time when nihilism and meaninglessness are affecting more people than ever, the new cosmic story of complexification comes as a genuine revelation. Evolution, we now know, is not some senseless meandering, but part of an ever-deepening learning process by which the universe is waking up to itself. And, as highly complex, conscious beings, we have a unique role to play in this cosmic drama.

Addressing the meaning crisis head-on, this book synthesizes such insights and explains their profound implications for spirituality and human purpose. Applying a ‘civilizational design’ lens to this endeavor, it boldly presents these ideas in terms of a new religion for our time. Emergentism is the complexity-informed, sincerely ironic, co-created religion for a metamodern moment poised between breakdown and breakthrough. In a time between worlds, at the edge of chaos, the conditions are ripe for a new God to emerge."


Brendan Graham Dempsey:

" It is divided into three major parts: Logos, Mythos, and Religio. Logos, meaning “rational study” and the root of words like “logic,” considers the intellectual history and scientific evidence behind Emergentism. Mythos, the root of “myth” and “mythology,” considers the theological, symbolic, and scriptural adaptation of such ideas into the religious register. Finally, Religio, the root of our word “religion,” which means both “tying back” to inherited traditions as well as “observance” of particular rituals and practices, considers the communal and enacted side of Emergentism.

As for the history and evidence,

Chapter 1 begins by tracing the roots of our contemporary meaning crisis back to the transition from the traditional religious worldview to the early modern reductionist one.

Chapter 2 completes this history, taking us through the paradigm shift that has since replaced reductionism with a neo-holistic approach referred to as complexity science.

Chapter 3 looks at some unifying theories that have synthesized the insights of this new paradigm, leading us to a new understanding of the complexifying cosmos as a continually learning entity waking to deeper consciousness through sentient beings.

With the logos side of things established, we then explore the transposition of these ideas into the mythological register.

Chapter 4 offers a hermeneutics (or interpretation) of the complexification story through a spiritual/theological lens.

Chapter 5 attempts to render some of these ideas symbolically, with maps and icons of the Emergentist cosmos.

Chapter 6 offers a “scriptural” rendition through sincerely ironic mythopoeia, supplemented with AI visuals.

Finally, the religious elements of tradition and practice are considered.

Chapter 7 surveys some of the lineages, ancient and modern, in which Emergentism stands, while

Chapter 8 outlines some of the ethical orientations and specific practices that characterize Emergentist living.

After all that, we’ll conclude with some summary reflections and invitations."



On Substack, the author goes into the details of the sources of the Emergentist approach:


  • Lineage: 1. Eastern and Western Mysticism [2]

"Emergentism is a novel spiritual framework informed by the revelations of complexity science, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, consciousness studies, developmental psychology, and other cutting-edge disciplines. At the same time, the ideas that it speaks to are actually surprisingly ancient.

  • Lineage: 2. German Idealism [3]

With the advent of modernity, the religious worldview’s belief in an immaterial, eternal supernatural realm became no longer tenable. Reality had proven itself to be inescapably naturalistic and subject to change over time. Whatever “God” might be, it was clear that he could no longer be cognized in such mythic metaphysical terms, but needed to be understood in light of time and flux like everything else.

  • Lineage: 3. Analytical Psychology [4]

Another paradigm with remarkable overlap with Emergentism, despite coming from a very different starting place, is the analytical psychology pioneered by Carl Jung in the early to mid-20th century.

  • Emergentism | Lineage: 4. Process Theology [5]

Another intellectual lineage rich in Emergentist insight is so-called “process theology,” a theological paradigm that parts with traditional notions of God as “eternal” and “unchanging” and instead stresses the ways in which God might be conceived as affected by temporal processes and subject to transformation. According to the process theologian John Cobb, “process theology may refer to all forms of theology that emphasize event, occurrence, or becoming over substance.”

  • Lineage: 5. Integral Theory [6]

The last conceptual paradigm that we will consider here as a meaningful theological lineage of Emergentism is integral theory. Without doubt, the person most responsible for the current state of this school of thought is American philosopher and writer Ken Wilber—though Wilber is himself a synthesizer of various traditions and disciplines."


What is Emergentism ?

Brendan Graham Dempsey:

"what is Emergentism, exactly? Well, let’s start with the name. The concept of “emergence” and “emergent properties” has become crucial to the new science I have been referring to—nowadays known simply as “complexity science.” The basic idea is that, as things become more and more complex, completely novel and unpredictable phenomena arise—entirely new layers of reality, in fact, which behave according to their own laws and principles. These new levels are said to “emerge” out of interactions occurring lower down, and so possess their own unique “emergent properties” not reducible to their parts."


Drawing connections with spiritual and philosophical traditions of the past

Brendan Graham Dempsey:

"With the maturation of the sciences out of reductionism and into the neo-holistic perspective we have been considering, the split between reason and religion is disappearing. Science has not proved nor disproved religion; nor has religion triumphed over science. Rather, both have been transformed by the other, with religion learning to adopt the methods of empiricism and critical scrutiny and science learning to speak in the language of meaning and purpose. The result is not some strange truce between traditional religion and modern science, then, but more like the formation of a new category altogether, a “religion that is not a religion,” in which a Universe of meaning and sublime significance is simply, well, the best explanatory theory.

In drawing connections with spiritual and philosophical traditions of the past, we are not simply suggesting that the ancients possessed the pure and eternal truth that science is now corroborating. Such a claim flies in the face of the very essence of Emergentism — namely, that knowledge grows, truth evolves, and information increases from past to future. Rather, we are invited to consider the continuity of wisdom’s development, to see the present truth prefigured in the past, to find our story told by the ancestors in their own way. In doing so, our timely truth not only gains a sense of heritage, antiquity, and depth, but we also come to new insights about it when placed in the context of a deeper intellectual tradition."



Emergentism as Religtion 2.0

Brendan Graham Dempsey, from the Introduction:

"What if we weren’t forced to choose between religion and science, spirituality and reality, meaning and truth?

What if (it turned out) science itself was actually leading the way in uncovering an entirely new vision of the universe—a new, empirically-grounded worldview that actually spoke to our souls?

What if we’ve only been seeing half the picture for so long, and are only now beginning to glimpse the truer, bigger picture?—one in which, it’s at last clear, life is not just some chance accident or fluke, but an inevitable and important development of the universe’s design plan; where evolution isn’t blind, but actually has a pattern, direction, and even a purpose; where everything isn’t inexorably destined to descend into disorder and cosmic dissolution, but actually grows more and more complex—and, in fact, conscious—with time?

What if you are a part—and an important one—of a cosmic story stretching all the way back to the Big Bang, and concluding (if ever) in the fullest realization of what could only be called, with all semantic justification, Divinity?

If life was as meaningful as that, just imagine what this could mean for healing the mindset now breaking the world…

The new way of conceiving the universe and our place in it isn’t just some fanciful New Age bullshit; believe it or not, we now have every reason to think it (or something like it) is factually, scientifically true.

A paradigm shift has been occurring in the sciences over the past few decades—one that promises to transform our way of seeing the world. Indeed, it has already impacted academia and intellectual circles in profound, game-changing ways. It is now poised to sweep into the public discourse more broadly, where it will re-frame for millions of people some of the most important philosophical and spiritual questions humanity has been asking since the dawn of time—a transformation this book would like to help facilitate.

While drawing considerably from its findings, though, Emergentism: A Religion of Complexity for the Metamodern World is not intended as simply an introduction to that new scientific paradigm. Many such works already exist and are of immense value. No, rather than simply provide an overview of the new science’s mind-blowing discoveries and conceptual paradigms, I would like to offer something more important and meaningful.

Good science is, as a rule, judicious, ever cautious not to overstep the data’s limited conclusions by too much inference, implication, or extrapolation. That is as it should be, and is what establishes the methodology of science as its own unique academic discipline. At the same time, though, it is ultimately our knowledge of the world that science is deepening, and our knowledge of the world is what shapes and informs our worldview, by which we live and think and feel and make meaning every day. So while we need scientists to continue their diligent work establishing the solid empirical basis of knowledge, we also need people to help integrate that knowledge into a fuller, more comprehensive vision of reality. Otherwise, we risk missing the forest for the trees—awash in data, but lacking the kind of knowledge and wisdom that actually make a difference in our lives.

As a theologian and mythologist, I am interested in worldviews and, particularly, the grand narratives that undergird them. As such, I am a bit freer than the strict scientist to draw wider conclusions, extrapolate into the yet-unknown, invoke poetry and metaphor, and generally paint a bigger picture based on their findings. As such, my interest is not scientific paradigms per se, but rather how these paradigms can shift the way we see the world, and our place in it, in ways that either help or hinder our sense of meaning and purpose.

It is my belief that the new science I’ve alluded to has the potential to radically shift our beliefs in such a way as to resolve the meaning crisis and, as a result, start to heal its outward symptoms of destruction and decay. But, for its message to be effective, it needs to be communicated in a manner that makes it clear, compelling, and attractive. To that end, our new scientific understanding of the world must be freed from the arcane technical language of textbooks and articles and allowed to shine with the full glow of myth and poetry if its radical, life-transforming implications are to be realized. That is what I will try to communicate here."