Evolution and Design
Part 3 of 3
6. Saltation, symbiosis, self-organization
7. Chance, creation, and design
8. Theosophy: evolution from within
6. Saltation, symbiosis, self-organization
The theory of punctuated equilibria was proposed in the early 1970s by palaeontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, soon to be joined by Stephen Stanley. It postulates that, instead of undergoing continuous evolutionary change, species remain in a state of unchanging equilibrium for most of their existence. But these long periods of stability or stasis are occasionally punctuated by brief bursts of rapid evolution in which new species emerge – so quickly geologically speaking (i.e. within a few tens of thousands of years) that no finely graded sequence of intermediate forms is preserved in the fossil record.
Standard evolutionary theory recognizes that a new species may branch off from an existing one very quickly – a process known a quantum speciation – but only in special circumstances; punctuated equilibria suggests that rapid speciation is the rule rather than the exception. Many evolutionists are vigorously opposed to this theory, and continue to attribute the lack of transitional fossils to the imperfection of the fossil record. There have been heated and sometimes nasty debates between gradualists and punctuationists, and one darwinist commented that there are times when he thinks about going into a field with more intellectual honesty: the used-car business!
Punctuationists argue that rapid speciation events occur in small populations. However, random genetic drift is greatest in small populations, which makes the accumulation of favourable mutations even more unlikely. They also claim that speciation happens so fast that there is no time for nonadaptive mutations to be eliminated by natural selection. They hold that, rather than individual organisms being selected, entire new species survive or perish depending on their degree of adaptation to the environment they find themselves in. Critics maintain that ‘species selection’ is inadequate to account for the degree of adaptation observed in the fossil record. Punctuationists acknowledge that species selection cannot explain complex morphological adaptations but are vague about what does explain them.1
The hypothesis that a species can rapidly evolve into a new species as a result of purely random mutations is rather far-fetched. Furthermore, the punctuationist scheme offers no solution whatsoever for the really serious problem of the absence of transitional forms between the higher categories of organisms – families, orders, classes, and phyla. Michael Denton writes:
The gaps which separate species: dog/fox, rat/mouse etc are utterly trivial compared with, say, that between a primitive terrestrial mammal and a whale or a primitive terrestrial reptile and an Ichthyosaur; and even these relatively major discontinuities are trivial alongside those which divide major phyla such as molluscs and arthropods. Such major discontinuities simply could not, unless we are to believe in miracles, have been crossed in geologically short periods of time through one or two transitional species occupying restricted geographical areas. Surely, such transitions must have involved long lineages including many collateral lines of hundreds or probably thousands of transitional species ... To suggest that the hundreds, thousands or possibly even millions of transitional species which must have existed in the interval between vastly dissimilar types were all unsuccessful species occupying isolated areas and having very small population numbers is verging on the incredible!2
A number of influential biologists have seen large-scale mutations as the most probable way in which new types of organisms have emerged. An extreme form of evolution by saltation was proposed in 1940 by geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, with his theory of the ‘hopeful monster’. He held that every so often a spontaneous ‘systemic mutation’ or macromutation – a massive reorganization of the genome of an individual organism – would occur, resulting in a ‘monster’. Most of these would be unviable and perish, but occasionally a ‘hopeful monster’ would appear which would be preadapted to a new environmental niche and become a successful new species. He proposed, for instance, that at one time a reptile laid an egg and a bird was hatched from the egg. He believed that such events accounted for all the major gaps in the fossil record. Goldschmidt was excommunicated by the darwinist establishment and regarded as a lunatic for the rest of his life, though his theory did find favour with palaeontologist Otto Schindewolf, another opponent of gradualism.
Critics objected that when major mutational changes appear in the laboratory, they involve errors in the formation or placement of old parts – e.g. a leg coming out of a fruit fly’s head – and never the appearance of a new organ. Ernst Mayr described these mutation-generated monsters as ‘hopeless’, and Theodosius Dobzhansky said that the idea that a drastic mutation would produce a viable new type was equivalent to a ‘belief in miracles’. No macromutations leading to positive results or the emergence of a viable new species have ever been observed. (It should be added, though, that the formation of a new species by any mechanism has never been observed.) Moreover, even if a much improved animal were to appear, it would find no mate, unless similar macromutations occurred in a male and female individual at the same time – which does not double the improbability, but squares it. If saltational events have occurred, it is quite untenable to suppose that they occurred by mere chance.
Gould defended Goldschmidt’s postulate that major structural transitions can occur rapidly (and supposedly randomly) without a smooth series of intermediate stages:
All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt. ... Even though we have no direct evidence for smooth transitions, can we invent a reasonable sequence of intermediate forms – that is, viable, functioning organisms – between ancestors and descendants in major structural transitions? Of what possible use are the imperfect incipient stages of useful structures? What good is half a jaw or half a wing?
The conventional reply to this, says Gould, is that incipient stages in the development of a new organ performed a different function from the one they later came to fulfil: ‘The half jaw worked perfectly well as a series of gill-supporting bones; the half wing may have trapped prey or controlled body temperature.’ But he suspected that this approach could not save gradualism in most cases.1
Fig. 6.1. Darwinists speculate that feathers originally evolved for heat insulation (though hair would have been much simpler to evolve and would have done the job just as well). They also claim that the proto-wings of proto-birds may have been used for capturing insects before they became suitable for flight!2
Regulatory genes to the rescue
Like Goldschmidt, Gould believed that most large evolutionary changes are brought about by small alterations in rates of development:
the problem of reconciling evident discontinuity in macroevolution with Darwinism is largely solved by the observation that small changes early in embryology accumulate through growth to yield profound differences among adults. ... Indeed, if we do not invoke discontinuous change by small alteration in rates of development, I do not see how most major evolutionary transitions can be accomplished at all. Few systems are more resistant to basic change than the strongly differentiated, highly specified, complex adults of ‘higher’ animal groups. How could we ever convert an adult rhinoceros or a mosquito into something fundamentally different?1
He believed that neoteny – the retention of the juvenile features of an ancestral species in the adult form of a descendant species, as a result of a slowdown in the rate of physical maturation – ‘provides one of the few mechanisms for rapid and profound evolutionary change in a Darwinian fashion without the specter of macromutation. A descendant with a mixture of ancestral juvenile and adult characters ... may immediately enter a new adaptive zone; yet the genetic input need involve no more than some changes in regulatory genes ...’2
Jeffrey Schwartz, too, invokes changes in regulatory genes (such as homeobox genes) and their activities as the key to the sudden emergence of new morphological designs and new species. He argues that the concept of macromutations can be dispensed with, since micromutations in regulatory genes can have major, macroevolutionary effects. He writes: ‘The activation of homeobox gene expression in novel positions or in novel combinations at different times certainly produces significant changes.’3 But he adheres to the core darwinist belief that nothing but chance determines which regulatory genes are activated or deactivated, and when and where this occurs.
Each individual possesses two copies of each gene, which may be the same or different; if they are different, one copy will be dominant and the other recessive or unexpressed. Nonlethal genetic mutations are usually recessive to start with, and Schwartz argues that at some point, after they have been inherited by many members of the species, regulatory genes, ‘by a mechanism that remains unclear’, activate the recessive mutated genes and deactivate certain other genes, leading to the abrupt appearance of a new organ, or perhaps a new species.4 Regulatory genes themselves also undergo random mutations, which may turn them on or off, or may duplicate or change them slightly. Schwartz recognizes that most of these random changes would lead nowhere and assumes that ‘[t]he evolution of life is probably strewn with the carcasses of failed species’5. However, there is no evidence that there have been any such failures, and the idea that all these alleged random happenings could somehow produce a feather, an eye, a kidney, an echolocation system, let alone a completely new plant or animal, places great strains on our credulity.
Moreover, as pointed out earlier, regulatory genes no more explain morphogenesis than do structural genes. It is true that the order and location in which particular regulatory genes are switched on and off are correlated with the development of particular structures. But no one has ever shown that regulatory genes, or any other genes, carry instructions that determine the form of developing organs and organisms. Changes during embryonic development could certainly produce far-reaching effects, but they would need to unfold in a planned and purposeful manner. According to the theosophic tradition, such changes reflect prior changes in the astral body, which provides the template for embryonic and postnatal physical development.
The first living organisms on earth are thought to have been bacteria, which consist of a single prokaryotic cell (i.e. a cell without a nucleus). They are said to have evolved further partly by random mutations and partly by transferring genes from one to another (known as DNA recombination). Around 2 billion years ago, larger and more complex eukaryotic cells (i.e. nucleated cells) appeared, the first unicellular eukaryotic organisms being the protists. All later, multicellular organisms – animals, plants, and fungi – consist of eukaryotic cells.
Lynn Margulis attributes these major evolutionary innovations to symbiosis – the widespread tendency of different organisms to live in close association with one another and often inside one another (like the bacteria in our intestines). The most intimate form of symbiosis is the incorporation and integration of the genes of one species (mostly bacteria and other microbes) into the genome of another, giving rise to a new species – a process known as symbiogenesis. She sees symbiogenesis as the principal avenue of evolution, and says that random genetic mutations, which are ‘nearly always inconsequential or detrimental to the work as a whole’, have been ‘dogmatically overemphasized’ by neodarwinists.1
Margulis argues that mitochondria, the powerhouses inside most nucleated cells, were once free-floating bacteria, and that in the distant past a larger cell either swallowed or was invaded by a bacterium, but instead of digesting it or being killed by it, they began to cooperate and the invading cell eventually became a mitochondrion. This proposal was initially greeted with ridicule but is now widely accepted, though it has never been experimentally demonstrated. Margulis also suggests that the flagella or fringe of cilia used by eukaryotes to propel themselves through the water were once the rapidly swimming bacteria called spirochetes, which accidentally attached themselves to other prokaryotes and progressively lost their distinct traits; and that the chloroplasts in plant cells used to be cyanobacteria which for some reason were spared digestion by plant ancestors. These chance alliances, ‘encouraged’ by environmental pressures, allegedly gave rise to the internally elaborate eukaryotic cells, which then diversified through random variation and selection, and eventually formed symbiotic alliances with one another, thereby producing the first multicellular organisms.
Note that, like genetic mutations, all the changes involved in the integration of the genes of one organism into the genome of another organism are supposed to take place randomly, i.e. without any overall guidance or purpose. Michael Behe (pronounced: BeeHee) raises a further objection: ‘The essence of symbiosis is the joining of two separate cells, or two separate systems, both of which are already functioning. ... Neither Margulis nor anyone else has offered a detailed explanation of how the preexisting cells originated.’2 And as Ernst Mayr points out, ‘There is no indication that any of the 10,000 species of birds or the 4,500 species of mammals originated by symbiogenesis.’3 The large-scale, undirected exchange of genetic material between unrelated individuals is just as incapable of explaining the history of life on earth as any other random mechanism.
Stuart Kauffman, a leading proponent of complexity theory, argues that the origins of life, metabolism, genetic programmes, and body plans are all beyond darwinian explanation but may arise spontaneously through self-organization. This refers to the tendency of complex systems to spontaneously organize themselves into ordered patterns; ‘perturbations’ of a system can sometimes cause it to switch from one pattern to another. It’s true that many systems do sometimes seem to ‘spontaneously’ organize themselves, but saying that self-organization is driven by ‘laws of complexity’ is useless, since scientific laws do not cause or explain natural phenomena; they merely describe them!
Complexity theory is heavily mathematical and is unconnected to real-life chemistry. No proponent of complexity theory has ever gone into a laboratory, mixed a large variety of chemicals in a test tube, and looked to see if self-sustaining metabolic pathways spontaneously organize themselves. Many origin-of-life scientists have already tried such experiments – without any notable success. Self-organization remains a vague and fuzzy concept, and the theory excels mainly at generating computer graphics rather than explaining anything. Critics have accused Kauffman of practising ‘fact-free science’ and indulging in ‘cyberfantasy’.
Robert Wesson is another scientist who recognizes that evolution involves more than just random variation and natural selection. He holds that it also involves self-organization, and that the emergence of a new species is directed by ‘internal factors’. The essence of self-organization, he says, is the ‘attractor’, which somehow guides the development of a new organ or instinct in a particular direction. He claims that thinking in these terms ‘makes extraordinary adaptations more understandable’.1 The truth, however, is that ‘attractors’ is no more than an empty word.
Like Wesson with his ‘attractors’, many other scientists have felt compelled to invoke all sorts of new ‘laws’ and ‘organizing principles’ to explain the amazing diversity, creativity, and ingenuity of life. Michael Denton, for example, speaks of ‘a preordained pattern, written into the laws of nature from the beginning’.2 Paul Davies says that in addition to the laws of physics, there are ‘general organizing principles that supervise the behavior of complex systems at higher organizational levels’.3 Systems theorist Fritjof Capra says that there is an ‘inherent tendency’ in nature towards the ‘spontaneous emergence of increasing order and complexity’.4 But as already noted, ‘laws of nature’, ‘organizing principles’, and ‘inherent tendencies’ are purely descriptive terms and explain nothing.
Rupert Sheldrake goes a step further by recognizing the need for nonphysical causal factors – which he calls morphic fields. These include morphogenetic fields (which guide the development and maintenance of the bodies of organisms), behavioural fields (which organize habitual and instinctive behaviour), mental fields (associated with conscious and unconscious mental activity), and social and cultural fields. He argues that natural systems at all levels of complexity – from atoms to organisms and societies of organisms – are animated, organized, and coordinated by these fields, which contain an inherent memory. Natural systems inherit this collective memory from all previous things of their kind by ‘morphic resonance’.
Evolution, says Sheldrake, ‘involves more than a change in gene frequencies: it involves the natural selection and stabilization of patterns of organization brought about by morphic fields. These fields themselves evolve.’1 He is open to the idea that new morphic fields could arise through some sort of creative agency or impulse rather than through blind and purposeless chance. He argues that morphic fields never completely vanish when the species or entity they organize dies but continue to exist as ‘potential organizing patterns of influence’, and that this explains why the same evolutionary pathways are sometimes repeated.
To some extent, morphic fields correspond to the inner, subtler bodies or souls postulated in mystic traditions, and the morphic field of Gaia corresponds to the subtler (astral and akashic) planes interpenetrating our physical globe. But Sheldrake’s concept of morphic fields is extremely hazy. He describes them as ‘fields of information’, saying that they are neither a type of matter nor of energy and are detectable only by their effects on material systems. However, if morphic fields were absolutely nonmaterial, they would be pure nothingness and therefore devoid of any explanatory power. It makes more sense to conceive of them as finer, nonphysical patterns of energy-substance, too ethereal to be detectable by scientific instruments.2
Instead of a physical world organized by nebulous nonmaterial ‘fields’, theosophy proposes the existence of a whole spectrum of paraphysical forces and entities, ranging from elemental nature-forces to spiritual intelligences. The idea that there are subtler energies and entities at work makes more sense than the belief that there are abstract ‘laws’ and ‘principles’ floating around, magically creating order out of chaos, or that chance and spontaneity just happen to be creative. From a theosophical viewpoint, the physical world and everything within it are organized and guided from within outwards, and are self-organizing only if ‘self’ is taken to include supraphysical levels of their constitution.
The notion of inner planes of existence does not of course ‘explain’ things in the sense of offering an ‘ultimate answer’; after all, we could then enquire after the properties of these subtler states of energy-substance, the characteristics of the various entities that populate the unseen realms, and the way in which these supraphysical factors influence and interact with the physical world. The point is simply that if we do in fact live in a multilevelled reality, as many ‘anomalous’ phenomena imply, then paraphysical forces and entities will inevitably play a role in evolution too. The basic principle is that whatever is happening on any particular plane is influenced by subtler forces connected with inner planes, rather than by absolutely nonmaterial ‘laws’, ‘principles’, ‘fields’, etc.3
- Walter J. ReMine, The Biotic Message: Evolution versus message theory, Saint Paul, MN: St. Paul Science, 1993, pp. 328-31.
- Michael Denton, Evolution: A theory in crisis, Bethesda, MA: Adler & Adler, 1986, pp. 193-4.
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, London: Penguin Books, 1990, p. 157.
- Denton, Evolution: A theory in crisis, p. 209.
Regulatory genes to the rescue
- Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, p. 160.
- Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Cambridge, MA: Belknap, Harvard University Press, 1977, p. 284.
- Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Sudden Origins: Fossils, genes, and the emergence of species, New York: John Wiley, 1999, p. 348.
- Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz, Extinct Humans, New York: Nevraumont, 2001, pp. 46-9.
- Sudden Origins, p. 373.
- Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A theory of the origins of species, New York: Basic Books, 2002, p. 15.
- Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, New York: Free Press, 1996, p. 189.
- Foreword to Acquiring Genomes, p. xiii.
- Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994, p. 170.
- Michael J. Denton, Nature’s Destiny, New York: Free Press, 1998, p. 282.
- Paul Davies, The Mind of God, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992, p. 182.
- Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, London: Flamingo, 1997, p. 222.
- Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature, New York: Vintage, 1989, p. 285.
- See ‘Rupert Sheldrake: a theosophical appraisal’, davidpratt.info.
- See ‘Worlds within worlds’, davidpratt.info.
7. Chance, creation, and design
Darwinists believe that one type of creature can eventually evolve into a completely different type of creature through genetic changes that are totally random and purposeless. Consider the transition from land reptiles to fish:
[A]s ordinary land reptiles ventured into the water, abandoning their life on land where they had been remarkably successful supposedly for millions of years, they now needed fish-like tails. Obligingly, with no possible knowledge that such was needed, random, accidental mutations altered the incredibly complex genetic apparatus that had produced reptiles in such a way that beautifully designed, marvellously functional fish-like tails were produced on a reptile previously floundering awkwardly around in the water. Likewise, feet and legs were no longer useful for propulsion in water, and so the vast complex of genes that coded for all the structures in feet and legs was somehow, a mutation here, a mutation there, transformed miraculously into the incredible complex of genes required to code for the tendons, blood vessels, nervous system, muscles, bones, and other structures, all arranged in a precise way, to constitute the paddles now highly efficient for propulsion in water. It is evident that, in spite of fervent denials, evolutionists do believe, even in miracles.1
To transform a reptile into a mammal, all sorts of radical changes would be required. Reptiles, for example, have multiple jaw bones and a single bone in the ear, while mammals have a single jaw bone and three in the ear. Yet there are no fossils representing a series of intermediate stages, and it is not easy to imagine genetic mistakes gradually transforming a reptilian jaw and ear into a mammalian jaw and ear while the creatures continue to chew and hear. The essential organ of hearing in the mammal is the organ of Corti, an extremely complicated organ not possessed by a single reptile, and there is no hint of where it came from. Darwinists would have us believe that
a series of thousands of mistakes in a marvelously coordinated fashion gradually created the organ of Corti to function in an ear which at the same time had to be reengineered accordingly while dragging in two bones from the jaw which had to be redesigned. Furthermore, each intermediate stage not only had to be fully functional but actually must have been superior to the preceding stage.
At the same time, many other marvellous new physiological and anatomical organs and processes had to be invented, including a new mode of reproduction, mammary glands, temperature regulation, hair, and a new way of breathing. There is no structure in a reptile in any way similar to the mammalian diaphragm, so once again ‘a complicated structure had to be created de novo (and by a series of mistakes!) to perform a function that was already being satisfactorily performed in a different manner in the assumed reptilian ancestor’.2
Fig. 7.1. The organ of Corti contains rows of sensory hair cells, which generate nerve impulses in response to sound vibrations.3
For the mammalian reproductive system to function properly, the following features, among others, must all be present: ovary and testes to manufacture ova and sperm, each of which must have only half the normal number of chromosomes; the male body must have a mechanism for implanting the sperm in the female’s body; sperm cells must have the ability and instinct to seek out the waiting ovum; the ovum must accept a single sperm, and then block the entry of any further sperm; the sperm cell must unite with the ovum in a way that ensures ordered blending of the nuclear chromosomes and genes; the fertilized ovum must initiate cell division and proliferation; the growing embryo must acquire a placenta and umbilicus to conduct blood and waste products between mother and embryo; the fetus must be expelled from the womb at full term; mammary glands are needed to supply liquid nourishment to the newborn babe. All these features could hardly be the outcome of a slow accumulation of genetic copying mishaps. To paraphrase Gould: What good is half a penis? Or a sperm without a tail? The entire reproductive system would have to appear all at once in perfect working order.
As indicated earlier, many darwinists have now resorted to invoking regulatory genes as a magical solution to every problem. For instance, Michael Schwartz writes:
If fins become limbs with feet at their ends merely through the turning on of homeobox genes in novel locations and the insertion of a short molecular sequence into one particular homeobox gene, then the evolution of primate hands and feet would be an even simpler evolutionary feat.4
In other words, a regulatory gene is switched on here and adjusted there and hey presto – hands and feet appear! The origin of the regulatory gene system itself, and any mutations that regulatory and structural genes undergo, are of course attributed to blind chance.
The living world presents endless fascinating examples of ingenious designs that expose the sheer idiocy of standard darwinian explanations. The butterfly, for instance, starts life as a tiny hard-shelled egg within which an embryo grows and eats its way out to become a caterpillar which proceeds to gorge itself on vegetation. When fully grown, the caterpillar sheds its skin for the last time, and changes into a pupa or chrysalis containing an amorphous mass of tissues which somehow rebuilds itself into a totally different structure with a totally different lifestyle. It is surely an insult to our intelligence to insist that the mysterious metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly could have originated by fortuitous genetic mutations! But as biochemist Michael Behe says, ‘In some ways, grown-up scientists are just as prone to wishful thinking as little boys ...’5
Or consider the bombardier beetle, half an inch in length, which is equipped for its defence with a miniature liquid-fuel rocket engine. The beetle stores hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide in an internal reservoir, from which the mixtures can be pumped into a reaction chamber containing enzymes. The valve is closed, and the explosive reaction at 100°C forces the spray out through a turretlike orifice in the beetle’s rear end, which sends it in any desired direction. This complex defence mechanism along with the instincts needed to operate it could hardly be the result of gradual, random evolution!
The flatworm called Microstomum also has a remarkable defence system. When it is attacked, defensive cells called nematocysts, just beneath the surface of the worm’s back, are discharged and sting the attacker. The worms obtain their nematocysts from hydras; normally they avoid hydras, but when they need more nematocysts, they eat them and digest all their tissues except these particular cells. After the nematocysts have been enclosed within certain of the flatworm’s cells, those designed to fire coiled or sticky threads are digested, while those that fire poisonous barbs are transported to sites just beneath the outer layer of the worm’s back, where they are oriented so that their stings will fire upward. The cells forming the worm’s outer layer become very thin just above the nematocysts, providing portholes for the firing of the stings. Finally, the cells encapsulating the nematocysts undergo extensive changes that enable these cells to act as trigger mechanisms.6
There are countless puzzling examples of mimicry in the plant and animal worlds. For instance, the aardwolf resembles the striped hyena – an aggressive animal that most predators avoid. The aardwolf possesses an erectile mane along its back that makes it appear much larger than it really is and enhances its resemblance to the hyena. The similarities even extend to the aardwolf’s internal anatomy. How did random mutations and natural selection manage to accomplish this?
Fig. 7.2. The aardwolf (top) mimics the striped hyena (bottom).7
|Fig. 7.3. A Philippine anglerfish, looking just like a rock or shell, waves a piece of bait resembling a small fish which is found in that region. The bait, which is part of its body, has fins, a tail, and black spots for eyes. The bait attracts predatory fish close enough for the anglerfish to snap them up.8|
Some small fish, such as the wrasse, pick parasites off larger fish, even inside their mouths. It would be suicidal for the wrasse to approach the big fish if the latter did not control its appetite, and the big fish would have no reason to refrain from eating the wrasse unless it expected to be cleaned. As Robert Wesson says, ‘Humans could establish such an arrangement only by negotiation and on the basis of trust.’9 For orthodox darwinists, however, the blind forces of evolution are more than sufficient!
In Darwin’s time the cell was believed to be a ‘homogeneous globule of protoplasm’, but it is now known to contain systems of mind-boggling complexity. Some cells swim using a cilium, a structure that looks like a hair and beats like a whip. Cilia are very complicated molecular machines, containing about 200 different kinds of protein parts. It is an example of what Michael Behe calls an ‘irreducibly complex system’ – i.e. a system which ceases to function if any one of its interrelated parts is removed. Such systems, he says, cannot be produced in the gradual, step-by-step manner that Darwin envisaged, and would have to arise all at once.
Another irreducibly complex system is the rotatory flagellum – a sort of outboard motor that some bacteria use to swim. The device includes a long tail that acts as a propeller; the hook region, which attaches the propeller to the drive shaft; the motor, which uses a flow of acid from outside the bacterium to the inside to power the turning; a stator, which keeps the structure stationary in the plane of the membrane while the propeller turns; and bushing material to allow the drive shaft to poke up through the bacterial membrane. In the absence of the hook, the motor, the propeller, drive shaft, or most of the 40 types of proteins necessary for the construction and operation of the flagellum, either no flagellum is produced or one that does not work at all.1
Fig. 7.4. Drawing of a bacterial flagellum showing the filament, hook, and the motor imbedded in the inner and outer cell membranes and the cell wall.2
Other examples of irreducible complexity include vision, blood clotting, and the intracellular protein transport system. Behe points out that the technical literature is essentially silent when it comes to explaining in any detail how such intricate systems might have evolved in a darwinian fashion; most of the papers in molecular biology journals are concerned with DNA sequence analysis. Darwinism has become stuck in the world of imagination.
Darwin admitted that the belief that an organ as perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection is ‘enough to stagger anyone’, but appealed to the enormous period of time available. Even more staggering is the current belief that camera-type eyes (like our own) evolved randomly and independently at least seven times. Like Darwin, Richard Dawkins thinks that the eye evolved step by step through a series of intermediate stages. But even the ‘light-sensitive spot’ that Dawkins takes as his starting point is a multicell organ, each of whose cells makes the complexity of a motorcycle or television look paltry in comparison. Dawkins merely adds complex systems to complex systems and calls that an explanation. Behe comments:
This can be compared to answering the question ‘How is a stereo system made?’ with the words ‘By plugging a set of speakers into an amplifier, and adding a CD player, radio receiver, and tape deck.’3
Fig. 7.5. Cross-section of the human eye. The retina has 130 million light-sensitive rods and cones, which cause photochemical reactions that transform light into electrical impulses. Some 1 billion impulses are transmitted to the brain every second, by means that are poorly understood.
Behe illustrates the complexity of vision with the following rather technical but still highly simplified description: When a photon hits the retina, it interacts with a small organic molecule called cis-retinal, causing its rather bent shape to straighten out. This changes the shape of the protein rhodopsin, which is bound to it, and exposes a binding site that allows the protein transducin to stick to it. Part of the transducin complex now dissociates and interacts with a protein called phosphodiesterase, which then acquires the ability to cut a molecule called cyclic-GMP and turn it into 5'-GMP. Some of this sticks to another protein called an ion channel. Normally the ion channel allows sodium ions into the cell, but when the concentration of cyclic-GMP decreases because of the action of the phosphodiesterase, the cyclic-GMP bound to the ion channel eventually falls off, causing a change in shape that shuts the channel. As a result, sodium ions can no longer enter the cell, the concentration of sodium in the cell decreases, and the voltage across the cell membrane changes. That in turn causes a wave of electrical polarization to be sent down the optic nerve to the brain. The system then has to regenerate and return to the starting point ready for the next incoming photon.4 When the electrical signals are processed, integrated, and interpreted by the brain (and mind), vision results.
Michael Schwartz believes that by invoking regulatory genes, the need for an elaborate account of the eye’s origin and complexity disappears:
[T]he reasons lie in knowing that there are homeobox genes for eye formation and that when one of them, the Rx gene in particular, is activated in the right place and at the right time, an individual has an eye.5
A more vacuous darwinian ‘explanation’ is difficult to imagine!
God and imperfection
In the early 19th century, Anglican priest William Paley argued that if we found a watch on the ground we would assume its various parts had been designed and put together for a purpose. He went on to argue that highly complex living systems, too, must have been designed. Michael Behe, a representative of the modern intelligent-design (ID) movement, argues that ‘design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components’.1 He says that although some complex biochemical systems may have been designed by an intelligent agent, this does not mean that all of them were or that other factors, including random mutations and natural selection, are not operative.
Intelligent design is also invoked to explain the vast chain of coincidences that make life on earth possible – e.g. the relative strengths of the four physical forces, the ratio between strong and weak chemical bonds, the thermal properties of water, and the properties of the earth’s atmosphere. If the ‘laws of physics’ had been only slightly different, carbon-based life would be impossible.2 Darwinists reject the intelligent-design hypothesis as untestable and unfalsifiable, and therefore pseudoscience. However, the same charge can be levelled against the darwinian hypothesis that the entire living world originated through random mutations and natural selection.
The ID movement leaves open the question of the nature of the designer or designers. However, many of its supporters are Christian fundamentalists and creationists, and believe that there is only one designer/creator: the hypothetical omnipotent and omniscient God of traditional Christian theology. This is the most simplistic form of creationism. Its supporters accept that genetic variation (‘microevolution’) is constantly taking place, but reject macroevolution and the theory of common descent. They do not believe that God intervenes by planning and directing mutations to accomplish large-scale evolutionary changes. At various times in the past, God supposedly created each new kind of creature out of nothing by supernatural means, so that these newly created beings appeared on earth abruptly and fully developed. A 1999 survey found that 47% of Americans believe that ‘God created human beings in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years’.
Darwinists argue that since there are flaws in the designs of creatures we see on earth, they cannot be the product of an intelligent agent – this is known as the ‘argument from imperfection’. As S.J. Gould put it, ‘Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.’ His favourite example was the panda’s thumb. The giant panda has a thumb that it uses to grasp the bamboo shoots that form the mainstay of its diet. However, its thumb is not one of the five fingers of the normal mammalian paw. Instead, it is an extra digit constructed from a modified wrist bone, with appropriate rearrangement of the musculature. Gould assumes that a designer would have given the panda a real opposable thumb, and concludes that the panda’s thumb must have evolved by darwinian means.3
However, it is impossible to disprove design on the basis of unprovable assumptions about how a hypothetical designer would or would not act. As Behe says, the designer might have multiple motives, with engineering excellence often relegated to a secondary role. Furthermore, the fact that living systems are not perfect does not prove that there is no design at all and that random darwinian evolution is a fact. Note that Gould fails to provide an adequate darwinian explanation of how the Panda’s thumb evolved:
He simply states that a single change in a regulatory gene, which controls the action of many structural genes, was responsible for the whole complex development of bone and muscle. But he does not specify which regulatory gene changed, nor does he explain how a change in the regulatory gene would orchestrate this remarkable transformation. He offers nothing more than the traditional vague magic-wand explanation.4
Creationists have traditionally responded to the argument from imperfection by showing that alleged ‘imperfect’ designs are actually sophisticated engineering feats. An example is the human eye. Darwinists argue that the vertebrate eye is a botched design as it is wired backward: the photoreceptors face away from the light, resulting in a ‘blind spot’. Creationists say that the eye is actually an excellent design: if it wasn’t designed in this way, the vitreous humour would fill with all sorts of visual ‘confetti’ and cloud up. Whether the eye is perfect or not, the fact remains that ‘The scientific literature contains no evidence that natural selection working on mutation can produce either an eye with a blind spot, an eye without a blind spot, an eyelid, a lens, a retina, rhodopsin, or retinal.’5
Robert Wesson draws attention to many odd and seemingly illogical features in the living world. The human body, for example, is ill adapted in many ways:
The body is a bundle of imperfections, with sagging bellies, drooping breasts, useless protuberances above the nostrils, rotting teeth with trouble-prone third molars, aching feet, bulging buttocks, easily strained backs, and naked tender skin, subject to cuts, bites, and, for many, sunburn. We are poor runners and are only about a third as strong as chimpanzees smaller than ourselves.6
However, these relatively minor defects do not prove that the body arose from chance mutations and random selection. From a theosophical point of view, the entities embodying in physical forms get the body they need to gain the experiences and learn the lessons necessary for their evolutionary progress. Evolving, imperfect souls are unlikely to have absolutely perfect bodies, and the misuse by humans of their free will is the root cause of a multitude of ailments.
Evolutionists have argued that the forelimbs of turtles, horses, humans, birds, and bats are less than perfectly adapted because they are modified from an inherited structure rather than designed from completely ‘raw’ materials for a specific purpose. But the mere fact that vertebrate forelimbs are modifications of the same basic design is no proof of anything. It is certainly compatible with intelligent design, for why shouldn’t designers – who need not be omnipotent! – produce new features in organisms by modifying existing ones?
Features that have no apparent use at all are also cited as evidence against design. For instance, only about 5% of genes code for proteins; the remaining 95% are often referred to as ‘junk DNA’ or ‘pseudogenes’. Darwinists argue that instead of attributing them to a designer who made serious errors, it makes more sense to explain them as failed experiments in the random process of gene duplication. This argument is unconvincing. First, even if pseudogenes have no function, darwinism has yet to explain convincingly how they arose. Second, the idea that they have no function at all has come under increasing attack. It has been found that much of the nonprotein-coding DNA appears to have information characteristics resembling those of a human language.7 Some researchers have speculated that this DNA contains information for future evolutionary events.
Monotheism vs. creative powers
Many people are unable to reconcile the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, perfect creator with the suffering, imperfections, and waste in nature. The gnostics, for example, argued that God must have been
an inferior deity, a builder, receiving his ‘orders,’ so to say, from the divine architects ... [T]he manifold imperfections and incompletenesses so plainly apparent even to us humans, in the kosmical system, proclaim that it could not be the work of an all-perfect and kosmically omnipotent Deity; from utter perfection could spring forth only a perfect and complete work.1
Monotheists might argue that God chose to create a potentially perfect universe, but endowed each soul he created with a measure of free will, which can be used for good or ill. However, this explanation is insufficient, for if God determines the character and circumstances of birth of each new soul he supposedly creates, he would be responsible for many of the numerous apparent injustices in the human and animal worlds – which would surely reflect rather badly on him!
There are further objections to the traditional theological concept of God. If God is infinite and has always existed ‘he’ is an abstraction and cannot be a thinking, creating being; a being is by definition finite and limited, a learning entity, and certainly not all-powerful and all-wise. An infinite God could not be entirely separate from the physical universe, but would be synonymous with infinite nature. To conceive of God as existing outside the cosmos is therefore illogical, and the idea of God creating the universe and everything within it out of literally nothing is simply absurd: nothing can come from nothing, and therefore infinite nature must always have existed – whatever creationists and big-bang cosmologists (or rather comedians) may claim.2
Instead of a single supreme creator-god, more sophisticated forms of creationism hold that a wide range of spiritual and other nonphysical beings are involved in the process of ‘creation’.3 In contrast to strict creationism, other researchers and mystical traditions propose that there is a physical evolutionary process, but they go beyond strict darwinism by proposing that this process is guided and directed by hierarchies of paraphysical entities.
19th-century naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, for example, parted company with his contemporary, Charles Darwin, after coming to the conclusion that unaided natural selection was unable to account for the physical form of humans and that the guiding action of ‘higher intelligences’ was a ‘necessary part of the great laws which govern the material Universe’.4 20th-century anthropologist Robert Broom argued that various spiritual and psychic agencies were at work in guiding and controlling evolution, some benevolent and some malignant.5
Alexander Mebane proposes that a variety of subdivine designers guide the process of saltational evolution. He suggests that the abundance of weirdly fantastic lifeforms and life-styles indicates that the designers have always competed with one another.6 Robert Gilson proposes that the ultimate ‘all-wise and all-powerful’ divine source delegates most of the work of creation to a vast hierarchy of subordinate but largely autonomous powers. These nonphysical agencies bring about genetic mutations, but the lower ranks may make errors.7 Both Mebane and Gilson seem to imply that the designers work predominantly selfconsciously.
All the great religious and philosophical systems, echoing the ageless wisdom tradition, have postulated an interlinked series of nonphysical worlds and entities behind the workings of the physical world. Christianity, for instance, speaks of angels, archangels, dominions, principalities, etc. And in the first verse of Genesis – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ – the word normally translated as ‘God’ is actually a plural word, elohim, meaning ‘gods’ (el means ‘god’, eloh means ‘goddess’, and -im is the masculine plural ending). The word translated as ‘created’ is a reflexive verb signifying that the androgynous creative powers made or formed themselves into, i.e. became, the spiritual realms and the material realm.8 The elohim are clearly not equivalent to boundless infinitude, which is referred to in the second verse as ‘the deep’ (tehom), corresponding to the ayn soph of the kabbalists, the shunyata of the Buddhists, and the parabrahman of the Hindus.
The most detailed and accessible presentation of the ancient wisdom is to be found in modern theosophy. The theosophical teachings on evolution given out since the formation of the Theosophical Society in 1875 are merely a general outline of the information in the possession of the Brotherhood of Adepts.9 This information is said to have been compiled and repeatedly verified by countless generations of sages and seers, whose occult powers grant them access to the inner realms of nature and enable them to read the records of the earth’s history clairvoyantly.
- Duane T. Gish, Evolution: The fossils still say no!, El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1995, pp. 104-5.
- Ibid., pp. 167-73.
- ‘Ear, human’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, CD-ROM 2004.
- Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Sudden Origins: Fossils, genes, and the emergence of species, New York: John Wiley, 1999, p. 38.
- Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The biochemical challenge to evolution, New York: Free Press, 1996, p. 23.
- Richard L. Thompson, Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science: An investigation into the nature of consciousness and form, Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1981, pp. 193-5.
- William R. Corliss (comp.), Biological Anomalies: Mammals I, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 1995, p. 17.
- William R. Corliss (comp.), Science Frontiers: Some anomalies and curiosities of nature, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 1994, p. 154.
- Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994, p. 162.
- Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski and Stephen C. Meyer, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000, pp. 123-4, 134-5.
- Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, p. 71.
- Ibid., p. 39.
- Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, pp. 117-9; Darwin’s Black Box, pp. 18-22.
- Schwartz, Sudden Origins, p. 362.
God and imperfection
- Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, p. 194.
- See Michael J. Denton, Nature’s Destiny: How the laws of biology reveal purpose in the universe, New York: Free Press, 1998.
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, London: Penguin Books, 1990, p. 20.
- Sri Ramesvara Swami (ed.), Origins: Higher dimensions in science, Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1984, p. 47.
- James P. Gills and Tom Woodward, Darwinism under the Microscope: How recent scientific evidence points to divine design, Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002, pp. 151-9; Darwin’s Black Box, p. 224.
- Beyond Natural Selection, p. 95.
- Nature’s Destiny, p. 290.
Monotheism vs. creative powers
- G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press (TUP), 2nd ed., 1979, p. 509.
- See ‘Big bang, black holes, and common sense’, davidpratt.info.
- See Michael A. Cremo, Human Devolution: A Vedic alternative to Darwin’s theory, Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing, 2003.
- Quoted in H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, TUP, 1977 (1888), 1:339.
- R. Broom, The Coming of Man, London: H.F. & G. Witherby, 1933, pp. 11-2, 196-8, 220-5.
- Alexander Mebane, Darwin’s Creation-Myth, Venice, FL: P&D Printing, 1994, pp. 69-70.
- Robert J. Gilson, Evolution in a New Light: The outworking of cosmic imaginism, Norwich: Pelegrin Trust, 1992, pp. 99-109, 122.
- G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1973, pp. 129-33; Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, pp. 95-104.
- See ‘The mahatmas’, davidpratt.info.
8. Theosophy: evolution from within
Darwin vs. design
[A]ll things had their origin in spirit – evolution having originally begun from above and proceeded downwards, instead of the reverse, as taught in the Darwinian theory.1
It is not against zoological and anthropological discoveries, based on the fossils of man and animal, that every mystic and believer in a divine soul inwardly revolts, but only against the uncalled-for conclusions built on preconceived theories and made to fit in with certain prejudices.2
Darwinism is rooted in the materialistic assumption that the universe consists only of physical matter-energy, that living organisms are no more than complex machines, and that mind and consciousness are simply a byproduct of the brain. It claims that one physical organism can be transformed into a completely different physical organism through the accumulation of favourable mutations thrown up by blind chance, without any overall direction, innate purpose, or inner urge.
Theosophy, on the other hand, describes the physical world as the outer shell of inner worlds – astral, mental, and spiritual. Likewise, every physical organism is animated by inner, subtler ‘bodies’ or souls, including an astral model-body, an instinctive or selfconscious mind, of widely varying degrees of development, and a spiritual-divine self or monad. Evolution (lit. ‘unrolling’) involves the unfolding of latent powers and capacities in response to impulses from within and stimuli from without, and the development of suitable physical forms through which they can be expressed. Evolutionary change takes place on every plane of reality, including every level of our own constitution.
According to theosophy, no organ can develop and no organism can evolve except in response to an inner impulse and inner direction. Just as physical expressions of human creativity and inventiveness exist first as ethereal ideas or thought-forms, so is every physical organ or organism an expression of a preexisting ethereal prototype. In other words, ‘no form can be given to anything, either by nature or by man, whose ideal type does not already exist on the subjective plane’.
Neither the form of man, nor that of any animal, plant or stone has ever been created, and it is only on this plane of ours that it commenced ‘becoming,’ i.e., objectivising into its present materiality, or expanding from within outwards, from the most sublimated and supersensuous essence into its grossest appearance. Therefore our human forms have existed in the Eternity as astral or ethereal prototypes ...3
It is puerile, says Blavatsky, to suppose that blind, indifferent cells could arrange themselves into organs, or that the marvellous complexities of the human body could be produced without the ‘supervisory presence of a quasi-intelligent impulse’ or ‘sub-conscious intelligence pervading matter’; this instinctive, directing intelligence is ‘ultimately traceable to a reflection of the Divine and Dhyani-Chohanic wisdom’.4 ‘Dhyani-chohans’ (lit. ‘lords of meditation’) is a general term for higher intelligences, whose collective consciousness makes up a ‘universal mind’, whether it be that of a planet, star, galaxy, etc.
Speaking of the dhyani-chohans, Blavatsky writes:
That they work in cycles and on a strictly geometrical and mathematical scale of progression, is what the extinct animal species amply demonstrate; that they act by design in the details of minor lives (of side animal issues, etc.) is what natural history has sufficient evidence for. In the creation of new species, departing sometimes very widely from the Parent stock, as in the great variety of the genus Felix – like the Lynx, the tiger, the cat, etc. – it is the ‘designers’ who direct the new evolution by adding to, or depriving the species of certain appendages, either needed or becoming useless in the new environments.5
These ‘designers’ are not to be thought of as omniscient, omnipotent, selfconscious gods who can ‘create’ whatever they like. Their work on our plane is predominantly instinctive and automatic, reflecting the karmic needs of the evolving entities and wider cycles of planetary activity.
Just as many of our own bodily processes, such as respiration, blood circulation, digestion, growth, and healing are regulated by our automatic will (autonomic nervous system), which in a sense is a reflection of our conscious self, so the regular or ‘lawlike’ operations of nature can be regarded as the automatic and instinctual operations on our plane of the will and consciousness of higher beings; the ‘laws’ of nature are therefore more like habits of nature. Like most world religions, theosophy speaks of hierarchies of creative powers of different grades, providing the inner impulses behind the outer workings and processes of the physical world. They include ‘architects’ and ‘builders’, and the lowest are the semiconscious nature-forces or elementals. The general idea is that, in any particular hierarchical world-system, the more evolved forms of consciousness-substance guide and inform the less progressed forms.
Theosophy therefore denies the existence of design in the sense of a ‘special creation’ by a supernatural creator. It postulates, however, a general evolutionary blueprint or ground plan, the result of past eras of evolution, stored in the subtler (astral and akashic) realms, which is put into effect by a variety of nonphysical agencies. Every evolutionary cycle builds on the one that went before, and utilizes preexisting patterns and prototypes, which are modified and adapted as required. This means that nothing has to be created entirely from scratch – and certainly not out of ‘nothing’!
According to theosophy, the present earth is the reembodiment of a former earth (our moon being the remains of its astral body), and the different classes or kingdoms of monads forming and evolving on our globe are pursuing an evolutionary journey that has no absolute beginning and will have no absolute end. In each grand cycle of evolution, encompassing tens of billions of years, monads embody in each kingdom in turn, from submineral (elemental) to superhuman (dhyani-chohanic).
The present earth and its lifeforms originated some 2 billion years ago in a highly ethereal condition, and gradually materialized and condensed during the ‘descending arc’ of the earth’s evolution, which lasted until the midpoint of the earth’s lifespan, some 4½ million years ago, in the middle of the current, fourth round of evolutionary activity. Since then the ascending arc of etherealization and spiritualization has begun.1
The globe we live on is said to be the most material of 12 globes that make up the earth planetary chain; the other globes are situated on more ethereal and spiritual planes and are therefore unobservable by us. The different kingdoms or life-waves of monads make seven rounds through all the globes in succession during each embodiment of a planetary chain, spending many millions of years on each one, during which they embody in suitable forms and pass through different stages of development. On any globe, at any time, one kingdom dominates, and the bulk of its monads embody on that globe. When a life-wave departs from a globe, it leaves behind its most advanced representatives (often referred to by the Sanskrit term shishtas, meaning ‘remainders’). When it returns to that globe in the next round, the monads reawaken these ethereal seeds of life, which begin to materialize and differentiate into a variety of stocks appropriate to that kingdom’s evolution.
Science Theosophy Began (years BP) Began (years BP) Phanerozoic eon Cenozoic era Quaternary period: Holocene epoch 10,000 Pleistocene 1,600,000 870,000 Tertiary period: Pliocene epoch 5,300,000 1,870,000 Miocene 23,700,000 3,670,000 Oligocene 36,600,000 5,280,000 Eocene 57,800,000 7,140,000 Palaeocene 66,400,000 7,870,000 Mesozoic era Cretaceous 144,000,000 16,000,000 Jurassic 208,000,000 28,000,000 Triassic 245,000,000 44,000,000 Palaeozoic era Permian 286,000,000 74,000,000 Carboniferous 360,000,000 110,000,000 Devonian 408,000,000 148,000,000 Silurian 438,000,000 179,000,000 Ordovician 505,000,000 214,000,000 Cambrian 540,000,000 250,000,000 Proterozoic eon (Laurentian)
(start of 4th round)
Late 900,000,000 Middle
(start of 3rd round?)
Early 2,500,000,000 Archean eon Late
(start of 2nd round?)
Middle 3,400,000,000 Early 3,960,000,000 Hadean eon
(start of 1st round)
Fig. 8.1. Chronology of the geological ages. According to theosophy, the scientific time-periods are too long by a factor of between about 2 and 9, due to the false assumptions on which radiometric dating is based.2
Our earth’s fourth round began in the Late Precambrian, about 320 million years ago (the corresponding ‘scientific’ figure being 640 million years). The appearance of the first fossils of the metazoans (multicellular animals) about 600 million years ago, and their sudden proliferation 530 million years ago in the spectacular ‘Cambrian explosion’ resulted from the reawakening of the astral root-types by the monads arriving on our globe from the preceding globe.
This means that metazoans must have originated far earlier in the Precambrian. Many scientists have come to the same conclusion on biochemical grounds, and believe that older and more primitive fossils will eventually turn up. In actual fact, evidence that an advanced land flora and insect fauna may have existed in the Cambrian or even Precambrian has already been found, but orthodox scientists have done their best to resist this interpretation of the evidence as it does not fit in with their beliefs.3 Since large, ethereal, boneless creatures from earlier rounds would have left, at most, only a fossilized imprint, and since scientists do not expect to find very large Precambrian fossils, this greatly reduces the likelihood of them recognizing such evidence for what it is.
In the Cambrian explosion about 70 new phyla, or basic anatomical designs, burst onto the scene, seemingly out of nowhere. Since then almost no new phyla have appeared in the animal world; in fact the number has declined to about 30. No new classes of animals have arisen since the mid-Palaeozoic, and no new orders since the radiations of the mammals and birds in the early Tertiary, following the demise of the dinosaurs. The overall trend has been towards an increasing number of species based on fewer and fewer basic body plans. For instance, there are about 3 million species of insects alive today, but only 3 basic arthropod designs, compared with over 20 in the mid-Cambrian.
From the start of the fourth round until the midpoint of the planetary life cycle, some 4½ million years ago, the evolutionary trend was downwards into matter, resulting in a profusion of new species, which developed the fundamental designs activated at the start of the round in a variety of specialized directions. However, the midpoint of the cycle marked the beginning of the ascending arc towards spirit, and henceforth more and more animal monads will tend to pass into a lower nirvanic rest as they will not be able to evolve sufficiently along psychological and spiritual lines.
The types of organisms that emerged during the Cambrian explosion testify to the heightened creativity at that time. It was a period of amazing experimentation, when elements from different basic body plans could be mixed together in one organism. This is no longer possible today: there is a completely distinct vertebrate body plan, angiosperm body plan, mollusc body plan, etc. The limited variability of plants and animals that breeders nowadays have to contend with is another sign of the lower creative potential that prevails now that the descending arc has ended.
The development of life on earth has been far from smooth and linear. Instead, the emergence and diversification of new stocks and the extinction of existing ones tend to take place fairly rapidly and abruptly. As G. de Purucker points out, evolutionary development sometimes passes through phases of greater rapidity and intensity:
we ... teach the general doctrine of a slow and steady evolutionary growth from within outwards ... We also teach that this steady evolutionary process consists in bringing out, through what we may call self-expression, the intrinsic, native, latent, dormant powers or faculties inherent in and urging on the evolving entity; and, furthermore, that this process is at certain cyclic intervals marked by noteworthy spurts or increases of evolutionary intensity, followed as surely by periods of quiescence or dormancy, and even occasionally by apparent, but not real, retrogression.4
Theosophically, nothing appears out of nowhere for no reason or purpose. When a new type of physical vehicle is required for a monad’s development, a suitable prototype is provided by the patterns from previous evolutionary cycles stored in the earth’s memory field. On the other hand, plant or animal species that are unable to adapt sufficiently to changing environmental conditions, or no longer provide suitable vehicles for the evolutionary experience of the monads embodying in that kingdom, eventually go extinct, and their place is taken by more appropriate forms. This process may be accelerated by environmental changes and natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and impacts, but these are merely the mechanisms of deeper-lying causes.
Man – storehouse of all types
The first root-race of humanity in the fourth round began to develop in the mid-Palaeozoic; these early protohuman forms were huge, ovoid, semi-astral, nonselfconscious beings that did not reproduce sexually but by fission (as cells do today). During the ensuing millions of years, they slowly materialized, declined in size, and assumed the present human shape. Sexual reproduction in the human kingdom is said to have originated in the second half of the third, Lemurian, root-race, some 18½ million years ago. On the theosophical timescale, this was in the late Jurassic of the Mesozoic era, or age of reptiles.
The late second and early third root-races reproduced by budding or gemmation – an asexual method of reproduction still found in a few unicellular organisms (e.g. certain bacteria, yeasts, and protozoans) and in certain multicellular animals (e.g. hydras, jellyfish, and sea squirts). At certain seasons many buds or vital cells would leave the parent body, and while many might perish, others would successfully grow into other beings. If they fell from the portion of the parent body which had become the seat of the reproductive organs, they would reproduce another human, but if they fell from some other part of the body, they would often, if the environment was favourable, grow into the beginnings of the mammals, which then proceeded to develop and specialize along their own lines. G. de Purucker explains:
every vital cell or reproductive germ is in itself a storehouse or repertory of unexpressed types; and if there be no natural inhibition, no psychical barrier or bar to its expression, the type having the strongest urge for manifestation would be the one to emerge as dominant, and grow into a representative entity which would be the beginning of a new stock of creatures.1
In our day, the several trillion cells composing our bodies are so tightly held in the dominant grip of the inner human entity that the inherent tendencies of the cells have become recessive. But in those early times, before the awakening of selfconscious intelligence gathered pace in the later third root-race, the dominance of the human life-fluid or mental essence over the cells and life-atoms composing their primitive, more ethereal bodies was far weaker. When any of the cells freed itself from that control, it instinctively followed the path of self-expression, according to its stage of development. A further reason why the cells developed along their own lines was that all entities were then running down the arc of descent, which is the period of the evolution of matter and the involution of spirit, and therefore all stocks from the ‘human’ down were under the natural urge to evolve new corporeal forms.
The first creatures belonging to the class Mammalia appear in the fossil record in the early Mesozoic, and supposedly evolved from the therapsids – mammal-like reptiles that originated in the Carboniferous of the Palaeozoic. However, there is no continuous fossil trail leading from reptiles to mammals. The mammals started to appear in greater numbers in the Cretaceous and Jurassic, towards the end of the third root-race, and underwent a tremendous radiation and diversification in the early Tertiary, or early Atlantean period, following the late Cretaceous extinctions.
According to theosophy, then, the origins of the mammals can be traced to astral prototypes thrown off by the late second and early third root-races in the late Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic,2 when humans were androgynous and had not yet separated into two sexes and become mammals themselves. The bodies of the animals became fully physical before those of astral humanity, and likewise separated into male and female from the preceding androgynous state before the human stock. Among vertebrates, males and females possess the rudimentary reproductive organs of the other sex, and this points to the existence of former hermaphrodite ‘mammals’, or rather mammal ancestors.3
All the stocks below the mammals – the invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and birds – were derived from the primitive human stock in the preceding (third) globe-round, hundreds of millions of years ago in the Precambrian, long before the earth attained its present degree of physical density. Thus, as far as our present fourth round is concerned, only the mammals are traceable to prototypes shed by man. ‘The amphibia, birds, reptiles, fishes, etc., are the resultants of the Third Round, astral fossil forms stored up in the auric envelope of the Earth and projected into physical objectivity subsequent to the deposition of the first Laurentian rocks’,4 i.e. after the commencement of the fourth round.
The early stages of development that mammalian embryos, including human embryos, pass through are very similar. Blavatsky writes:
When it is borne in mind that all forms which now people the earth, are so many variations on basic types originally thrown off by the MAN of the Third and Fourth Round, such an evolutionist argument as that insisting on the ‘unity of structural plan’ characterising all vertebrates, loses its edge. The basic types referred to were very few in number in comparison with the multitude of organisms to which they ultimately gave rise; but a general unity of type has, nevertheless, been preserved throughout the ages. ...
[T]he human type is the repertory of all potential organic forms, and the central point from which these latter radiate. ... [The mammals are] post-Human, and, consequently, it is easy to account for the general resemblance between their embryonic stages and those of Man, who necessarily embraces in himself and epitomizes in his development the features of the group he originated.5
The human embryo seems to pass through plantlike, fish, and reptile forms during its development.6 In this regard, it should be noted that in earlier rounds, when the earth and its inhabitants were still very ethereal, the monads later to manifest in fully-fledged human form passed relatively quickly through the lower kingdoms, thereby recapitulating the stages of development they had passed through during previous embodiments of the earth. Furthermore, as indicated above, the animal groups below the mammals originated from ‘man’ in earlier rounds. However, ‘man’ here refers to proto-human ethereal forms bearing no resemblance to the selfconscious humans of today.
Astral and physical evolution
According to the darwinian doctrine of common descent, all species that have ever lived have descended directly from other species. Theosophy denies that this is universally true:
no Occultist can accept the unreasonable proposition that all the now existing forms, ‘from the structureless Amoeba to man,’ are the direct lineal descendants of organisms which lived millions and millions of years before the birth of man, in the pre-Silurian [= Precambrian, in modern terminology] epochs, in the sea or land-mud.
There is no need for the numberless types of life to represent the members of one progressive series. They are ‘the products of various and different evolutional divergences, taking place now in one direction and now in another.’
The ‘Unity of Type’ common, in a sense, to all the animal and human kingdoms, is not ... a proof of the consanguinity [common ancestry] of all organic forms, but a witness to the essential unity of the ‘ground-plan’ Nature has followed in fashioning her creatures.1
Darwin’s insistence on gradual evolutionary change was opposed by many of his contemporaries, such as St. George Mivart:
[W]e find a remarkable (and on Darwinian principles an inexplicable) absence of minutely graduated transitional forms. All the most marked groups ... appear at once upon the scene. ... All these difficulties are avoided if we admit that new forms of animal life of all degrees of complexity appear from time to time with comparative suddenness, being evolved according to laws in part depending on surrounding conditions, in part internal ...2
Although a few ‘transitional’ fossils have turned up, theosophy rejects the hypothesis that they are links in a more or less continuous sequence of bodily transformations, as many darwinists still claim.3 There are genuine major gaps in the fossil record, e.g. between invertebrates and vertebrates, and between the various classes of vertebrates, and ethereal processes are required to bridge them.
Blavatsky says that the physical factors influencing evolution – on which darwinism is fixated – only come into play after ‘the physicalization of the primeval animal root-types out of the astral’.4 But no subsequent significant changes in physical form are possible unless they have been prepared on the astral, formative level. The changes may remain latent and unexpressed until outer circumstances are appropriate for their manifestation, resulting in sudden major variations or the emergence of a new species.5 This would be accompanied by far-reaching genetic mutations, but guided and coordinated from within rather than random.
It may be the case that, in the past, individuals of one species have given birth to descendant species belonging to a different genus or family, but ‘descent with modification’ seems a less likely explanation for the origin of new orders, classes, phyla, and kingdoms. As Blavatsky says, ‘the admitted chasm between the systems of reproduction of the oviparous vertebrates and mammalia, constitutes a hopeless crux to those who, with the Evolutionists, seek to link all existing organic forms in a continuous line of descent.’6 New genera, families, and orders of creatures have continued to appear since the middle of the third root-race when matter was losing its previously ethereal, plastic nature and assuming its current density. If new families or orders of mammals are not the modified descendants of species belonging to other families and orders, several alternative scenarios (involving ‘spontaneous generation’) are conceivable.
At some point, a new species that has taken shape astrally – based on the designs of previous species but not descended from them physically – could materialize fairly abruptly into physical manifestation. This would be analogous to the materialization of complete human forms that have occasionally been reported in seance rooms. One of the most famous cases from the heyday of spiritualism in the 19th century was the materialization of a seemingly flesh-and-blood female known as Katie King, by the medium Florence Cook.7 Blavatsky cited Katie King as an illustration of the manner in which the ethereal Lemurian race assumed a fully physical form8 – a major difference being that the latter process took millions of years rather than a minute or two in the case of seance-room materializations. The animal kingdom underwent a similar gradual process of materialization, and became fully physical before the third-race humans. Once the animal and human kingdoms had attained a fully physical state, however, any projection or precipitation of ethereal forms into physical visibility must have occurred quite suddenly.
Alternatively, only the seeds or eggs of members of the new species might be precipitated in some suitable environment where they can grow to maturity. It is not inconceivable that such environments included the bodies of other creatures. But if a reptile, for instance, once laid an egg from which a bird was hatched, it must have come as quite a shock for the parent!
In conclusion, the reason why transitional forms are generally missing from the fossil record is because no such physical beings ever existed. According to darwinism, we would expect the highest of any subphylum to be most like the lowest of any higher subphylum. Significantly, however, it is usually the lowest (earliest) representatives in each phylum which are most alike in primitive features. According to theosophy, the reason that all the mammalian and premammalian strains approximate in type and character the farther back we can trace them is because they sprang from one common source – ethereal prehuman ‘man’.
All the animal stocks tend to diverge away from the primitive human stock and develop specializations of particular functions and organs, such as wings, trunks, claws, horns, and gills. The animals had little capacity to forge ahead along psychological lines, but there was plenty of scope for them to develop physiological variations. The monkeys and anthropoid apes, for example, possess a far more specialized anatomy than humans, showing that they are a later development; according to theosophy, they originated from human-animal interbreeding.9 G. de Purucker writes:
the human race, most primitive of all, retained its comparative simplicity of bodily structure and function, because it was not solely concerned with mere experimentation and adaptation along physical lines. Once it had built for itself a suitable vehicle, it abandoned that line of evolution as a distinct line of evolution for its own sake, in order to bring into outer expression the far more important inner psychological, intellectual, and indeed spiritual factors locked within it.10
* * *
According to an old kabbalistic axiom, ‘the stone becomes a plant; the plant, a beast; the beast, a man; and the man, a god’. This does not mean that a mineral form evolves into a plant form, then an animal form, then a human form, etc., along darwinian lines. Rather, it means that a monad undergoes countless embodiments in each kingdom in turn, beginning with the three elemental kingdoms, followed by the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms, and ending with the three spiritual kingdoms. We begin each major planetary cycle as unselfconscious god-sparks and, if we run the race successfully, we shall complete it as selfconscious gods, having attained relative perfection for the world-system in question. But no state of consciousness can last for ever. After a period of nirvanic rest, a new period of activity commences, involving similar stages of evolutionary development, for there are always new spheres of experience in which to become selfconscious masters of life.
Darwin vs. design
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press (TUP), 1977 (1888), 2:170.
- Ibid., 1:636-7.
- Ibid., 1:282; also 1:58, 2:660.
- Ibid., 2:299fn, 648-9.
- Ibid., 2:732.
- See ‘Evolution in the fourth round’, davidpratt.info.
- See ‘Geochronology: theosophy and science’, davidpratt.info.
- See Michael A. Cremo, Human Devolution, Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing, 2003, pp. 43-54; Richard L. Thompson, Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1981, pp. 191-2.
- G. de Purucker, H.P. Blavatsky: The mystery, San Diego, CA: Point Loma Publications, 1974, pp. 73-4.
Man – storehouse of all types
- G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, TUP, 2nd ed., 1973, p. 320.
- A.L. Conger (ed.), The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, TUP, 1948, 3:181-2; The Esoteric Tradition, p. 324.
- The Secret Doctrine, 2:184; see ‘Sex and sexuality’, sections 2 and 5, davidpratt.info.
- The Secret Doctrine, 2:684.
- Ibid., 2:683-4.
- Ibid., 1:184, 2:187-9, 258-9.
Astral and physical evolution
- The Secret Doctrine, 2:259-60, 258, 737.
- Quoted in ibid., 2:697 (see corrected TPH ed., 1979), Blavatsky’s italics.
- G. de Purucker, Man in Evolution, TUP, 2nd ed., 1977, pp. 72-3.
- The Secret Doctrine, 2:648-9.
- Man in Evolution, p. 134.
- The Secret Doctrine, 2:735.
- See ‘Visitors from the twilight zone’, section 2, davidpratt.info.
- The Secret Doctrine, 2:737.
- See ‘Human origins: the ape-ancestry myth’, davidpratt.info.
- Man in Evolution, p. 132.
Evolution and design: contents
Human origins: the ape-ancestry myth
Evolution in the fourth round