I have been working on a theory that the Buddhist “story” of dependent origination (not the doctrine, the story), is a cultural narrative about evolution.
Pratityasamutpada-as-evolution has a philosophical tradition in India that predates Buddhism: Samkhya philosophy. The History of Philosophy without any gaps series (Kings College London) teaches Indian philosophy. It has a section on Samkhya philosophy that explains its theory of evolution. http://historyofphilosophy.net/samkhya It’s a rather crude and confusing story of evolution, but the components are definitely there. Actually pratityamsamutpada is a more sophisticated and refined version. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar also said that Buddhist philosophy is based on Samkhya.
My writing on this has been crude and needs much refinement, but its a work-in-progress. When I first started writing on this, I developed the idea that evolution itself went through stages of transformation, where the process of evolution itself changed: the evolution of evolution. I related my understanding of Buddha’s teaching on pratityasamutpada (dependent origination) to theories of evolution. In my first attempt at this, I ended the piece with a question that I never answered: what is the next stage of evolution? I made several speculations, but none were satisfactory.
Since then, I believe that I have arrived at the answer, or at least one possible answer to “what comes next?” It’s this:
The next evolution of evolution is the capacity to choose, consciously choose, how we will evolve. Up till now, all evolution has been pre-conscious. Even cultural evolution was limited by instinct and environmental conditions, but it was the beginning of a more conscious evolution. The evolution of evolution is a conscious choice about how we will evolve, what kinds of mental and social capacities we will have, even physical capacities, and how we will use them. How we evolve from here is now up to us. We can choose our evolutionary future.
Practicing the dharma of Buddhism is one way that we can consciously choose how we will evolve, but many spiritual paths accomplish the same. Michael Dowd’s religious naturalism is another form of this. The key to this stage is that it is a conscious evolution, which means first of all that you must understand and accept, at some minimal level, the process of evolution.
Conscious evolution also does not guarantee that we all naturally evolve to some state as a peaceful, ecological utopian species. On the contrary, we can also choose an evolutionary path to become the most violent and destructive species that ever inhabited this planet. Or more likely, we could evolve to be some mixture of the two extremes. The point is that its a conscious choice, and that we have the power to make those conscious choices right now. We are already in the midst of this process. The question is now: which way do we go?Here are links to two previous articles I wrote that developed these ideas: