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From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 73. No. 1 - November, 2002

In recent times, experts have been redefining the theory of evolution. Darwin's theory-that evolution proceeds by a process of natural selection-is being challenged even now, 140 years after the publication of The Origin of Species. The recent emergence of the intelligent design theory, which has received much attention, has raised further doubts about Darwinism.

J. Scott Turner, associate professor of biology at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, says that evolution is much more complex than Darwinism or even neo-Darwinism makes it out to be. In his essay in The World and I (July 2002) he writes:

The world seems perfused with "designedness"-a harmonious match between structure and function-that could mean only one thing: the world had a designer. The 19th-century logic prevailing when Darwin introduced his radical alternative is embodied in William Paley's famous simile: a watch implies a watchmaker, a designer.

Darwin cut the stays of this confining worldview. In his eyes, designedness-what we now call adaptation-was not evidence of an intelligent designer but of the perfecting power of natural selection. In this view….there is no intelligence or purpose guiding the process. To use another famous simile (that of Richard Dawkins), evolution is the product of a blind watchmaker.

Darwin's assertions were controversial from the start. The most serious criticisms came not from the conservatively religious but from many of the most respected biologists of his day. Their problem stemmed from Darwin's inability to explain how heredity-crucial to his theory-actually worked….

Much of 20th-centuty biology was driven by the search for the nature and structure of the gene, which culminated in 1953 with the discovery by Francis Crick, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Frankin of the double-helical structure of DNA… In its obsession with genes as the centre of evolution, modern biology has been led away from the phenomenon of adaptation-designedness-that is evolution's foundation….Genes cannot be the whole show.

In other words, neither Darwin's natural selection, nor the emphasis on genes that permeates neo-Darwinism, can offer a satisfactory explanation.

The challenging of old theories in the light of new evidence is one of the distinct signs of the times. As in many other branches of knowledge, so in the field of evolution, this trend is to be seen. The Secret Doctrine stated that while the Darwinian hypothesis is partially correct, as the Occultists are ready to concede (I, 187), the true doctrine of evolution will remain an enigma to the human mind "until metaphysical as well as physical inquiries are much more advanced" (I, 600). What scientists are now contending, The Secret Doctrine posited as far back as 1888, that "natural selection," or the survival of the fit and the elimination of the unfit in the struggle for existence, cannot be credited with the power of originating species. The Secret Doctrine (II, 648-49) states:

The truth is that the differentiating "causes" known to modern science only come into operation after the physicalization of the primeval animal root-types out of the astral. Darwinism only meets Evolution at its midway point-that is to say when astral evolution has given place to the play of the ordinary physical forces with which our present senses acquaint us. But even here the Darwinian Theory, even with the "expansions" recently attempted, is inadequate to meet the facts of the case. The underlying physiological variation in species-one to which all other laws are subordinate and secondary-is a sub-conscious intelligence pervading matter, ultimately traceable to a REFLECTION of the Divine and Dhyan-Chohanic wisdom. A not altogether dissimilar conclusion has been arrived at by so well known a thinker as Ed. von Hartmann, who, despairing of the efficacy of unaided Natural Selection, regards evolution as intelligently guided by the UNCONSCIOUS (the cosmic Logos of Occultism). But the latter acts only mediately through FOHAT, or Dhyan-Chohanic energy, and not quite in the direct manner which the great pessimist describes.

Organized religions started deteriorating a long time back, when the Living Wisdom of the Prophet was forgotten and the priests took over. Every religion that begins as a liberating agency ends as a vast prison-house. Built on the renunciation of its founder, it becomes a possessive institution in the hands of its priests, and an active centre of schism and strife.

The need of religion in this troubled world is, however, keenly felt by the masses, and new religious movements are springing up everywhere, writes Toby Lester in his article in The Atlantic Monthly:

Contemporary theories of social and political behaviour tend to be almost willfully blind to the constantly evolving role of religion as a force in global affairs. The assumption is that advances in the rational understanding of the world will inevitably diminish the influence of that last, vexing sphere of irrationality in human culture: religion. Inconveniently, however, the world is today as awash in religious novelty, flux, and dynamism as it has ever been-and religious change is, if anything, likely to intensify in the coming decades….

It's tempting to conceive of the religious world-particularly when there is so much talk of clashing civilizations-as being made up primarily of a few well-delineated and static religious blocs: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so on. But that's dangerously simplistic. It assumes a stability in the religious landscape that is completely at odds with reality. New religions are born all the time. Old ones transform themselves dramatically. Schism, evolution, death, and rebirth are the norm. And this doesn't apply only to religious groups that one often hears referred to as cults. Today hundreds of widely divergent forms of Christianity are practiced around the world. Islam is usually talked about in monolithic terms (or, at most, in terms of the Shia-Sunni divide), but one almost never hears about the more than 20 million members of various schismatic Muslim groups around the world….Buddhism, far from being an all-encompassing glow radiating benignly out of the East, is a vast family of religions made up of more than 200 distinct bodies, many of which don't see eye-to-eye at all. Major strands of Hinduism were reshaped in the 19th century, revealing strong Western and Christian influences.

The fact is that religion mutates with Darwinian restlessness. Take a long enough view, and all talk of "established" or "traditional" faith becomes oxymoronic; there's no reason to think that the religious movements of today are any less subject to change than were the religious movements of hundreds or even thousands of years ago. History bears this out….

Secularization of a sort certainly has occurred in the modern world-but religion seems to keep adapting to new social ecosystems, in a process one might refer to as "supernatural selection." It shows no sign of extinction, and "theodiversity" is, if anything, on the rise.

Whether called "cults" or "sects" or "new religious movements" (the expression now in vogue), can their mushrooming in the modern world be called the sign of a genuine religious revival? Are they not rather the symptoms of a deep-seated psychic disorder which is manifesting upon the surface? The remedy is to implant in people's consciousness ideas of true religion and ethics. If there is to be a genuine religious revival-and this is an urgent necessity-what is required is a religion which preaches and shows the way to practice the gospel of Universal Brotherhood; a religion which recognize the inherent divinity of man and the possibility of his growth to perfection without the mediation of salaried priests; a religion which does not carnalize, anthropomorphize and caricature the concept of God, who is in reality an Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable Presence; a religion which does not depend upon rituals or ceremonies, paraphernalia or pageantry, for its existence; a religion which encourages and teaches man to face the results of his own actions, and thus create a worthy future for himself by letting the light of Spirit guide him in the present.

Paleontologists say that dinosaurs lived on Earth for some 160 million years. Why they perished has been a subject of investigation in recent years, and the general belief is that an asteroid that struck the Earth abruptly ended their reign. However, fossils found in Montana's Hell Creek Formation, the graveyard of a host of prehistoric reptiles, tell a different and more complex story. (Discover, June 2002)

Jack Horner and other senior scientists exploring Hell Creek are not only unearthing fossils but also re-creating the environment in which the dinosaurs lived.

The events recorded in this suite of sedimentary rock suggest that the common explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs-a massive asteroid impact-doesn't fully account for their undoing. What's more, the Hell Creek Formation may tell us something about the fragility of life today….

The extinction pattern that has emerged was not expected. Whereas the last of the nonavian dinosaurs certainly perished 64.5 million years ago, many other animals survived….Frogs and salamanders, crocodiles, turtles, mammals, and birds, survived the asteroid impact, suggesting that the mass extinction at the time may not have been as massive as previously thought….One of the many insights that conservation biologists have gleaned from their study of living ecosystems is that different organisms respond differently to environmental stress. Certain fauna went extinct while others evolved into new forms….

The project findings indicate that the Hell Creek Formation represents a time of widespread ecological disturbance. "What we're seeing," Hartman says, "is major environmental destabilization before the planet got hammered with an extraterrestrial object."…The asteroid may well have been the knockout blow in a fight the dinosaurs had already lost.

Constraints of the environmental conditions is only one of the factors on which the existence-or disappearance-of species depends. There is more to it than mere physical causes. How did the dinosaurs, or for that matter any other species, appear on Earth in the first place? H.P.B. stated that "to draw any analogy between the highly metaphysical teaching" of the Secret Doctrine and modern theories of physical evolution "would, in itself, seem rather a hopeless task." For, the esoteric teaching is that it is an invisible intelligence outside the vast multiplicity of forms which has guided the differentiation and evolution of species in the lower kingdoms of nature. The process of differentiation of species is explained by Mr. Judge in Chapter XV of The Ocean of Theosophy.

Theosophically speaking, one could say that the same law of Evolution that brings species into existence also causes their extinction-that is, when they die a natural death and man is not responsible for their extermination. No more than science does esoteric philosophy accept anything outside the uniform and immutable laws of Nature. But it teaches a cyclic law, a double stream of spirit and of matter, which, starting from the neutral centre of Being, develops in its cyclic progress and incessant transformations. The Secret Doctrine speaks of "designers" and "builders," "working under the impulse given them by the ever-to-be-unknown (on our plane) Master Mason-the ONE LIFE AND LAW…That they work in cycles and on a strictly geometrical and mathematical scale of progression, is what the extinct animal species amply demonstrate." (S.D., II, 732)

Are some people inherently evil? Three experts discuss the question in Psychology Today (October 2002). A point of agreement among them is that to damn a person completely for some evil acts is to falsely overgeneralize. This is what the experts have to say:

ALBERT ELLIS, Ph. D. (President, Albert Ellis Institute): No, we cannot accurately say that some people are essentially evil. Even those who commit many immoral acts would have to do so all the time to be evil people….Invariably, those who steadily commit some of the worst crimes, also do a number of good and kind deeds. Humans are fallible-and changeable.

ELIZABETH RADCLIFFE, Ph. D. (Executive Director, The American Philosophical Association): I believe that we develop good or evil characters through our choices. While individual dispositions and environmental factors influence our choices, we can only make sense of our lives by rising above these features. We develop vices, or virtues, by choosing. The more lies we tell, the easier it becomes; and demeaning others becomes easier the more we disrespect them. Those who develop a habit of choosing badly may lose all sense of the good, and this is what we call an evil character.

PHILIP ZIMBARDO, Ph. D. (President, American Psychological Association): It is easy to identify individuals who willfully degrade and destroy other human beings as "evil." … However, as a social psychologist I prefer to identify situational conditions that can facilitate or seduce good people into becoming perpetrators of evil, such as adherence to destructive ideologies, rules, roles, group norms, along with processes of dehumanization, deindividuation and moral disengagement.

"Painful is the accumulation of evil conduct," says the Dhammapada; for, sooner or later, if not in this life then in the next, evil deeds must ripen and bring their consequences to their perpetrator. Nothing can annihilate deeds once they have been done. To seek to have their consequences washed away by any magic or by any prayers is merest superstition, but even so, no one is ever fettered utterly. In everyone shines the free Atman, and where That exists no bondage can be absolute. Always a person can turn and climb the upward path, for the Divine Freedom that is in his heart can never be annulled. (Cf. The Bhagavad-Gita, IX, 30-31)

The American Psychological Association says that even if people are not aware of them, negative thoughts about ageing that they pick up from society many be cutting years off their lives. A study by Yale University's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health found that older people with more positive self-perceptions of ageing, measured up to 23 years earlier, lived 7.5 year longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of ageing. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

According to the study authors, the effect of more positive self-perceptions of ageing on survival is greater even than physiological factors such as low blood pressure and cholesterol, no history of smoking, average body weight, and a tendency to exercise, each of which has been associated with a longer lifespan.

Negative views of ageing can operate without older people's awareness, say the researchers, because they are thought to be internalized at an early age and are unlikely to be consciously evaluated as we get older.

The study carries the message: mental attitudes and positive thoughts about life and living matter more to our health and well-being than mere physiological measures. Although in the ultimate analysis the quality of life lived counts more than its longevity, yet it is the duty of each to keep the body in a good working condition for as long as possible through appropriate measures. For, death, we are told, "disappoints the soul."

SHOULD we be concerned about the current spasm of extinction, which has been accelerated by the inexorable expansion of agriculture and industry? Is it necessary to try to slow down a process that has been going on forever?

I believe it is. We know that the well-being of the human race is tied to the well-being of many other species, and we can't be sure which species are most important to our own survival…

A major challenge for the 21st century is to preserve as much of our natural estate as possible. Let us resist with all our efforts any moves to reduce the amount of wild land available for wild species. And let us call upon the world's richest nations to provide the money to make that possible. That would not be a contribution to charity; it would be an investment in the future of humanity-and all life on Earth.


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