The Theosophical Forum – August 1946

LIGHT ON HUMAN EVOLUTION — Charles J. Ryan

Not long after the Theosophical Society was established in India the Masters told Mr. Sinnett that they wanted an institution that "would arrest the attention of the highest minds." One of the obstacles to more rapid progress has been the teaching of the mechanistic, soulless form of human evolution which prevails so widely among the authorities who guide the minds and direct the studies of the rising generation in many educational institutions, at least in the area of Western culture. This has, of course, been the result of scientific research which broke down the literal accuracy of the Bible story of the creation of man about 6000 years ago. Scientists and theologians entirely failed to recognize the Oriental method of stating great truths in fanciful allegorical form; but, as a matter of fact, the story of Genesis enshrines the true story of man's evolution in a poetical disguise which becomes perfectly clear when the key to its interpretation brought in The Secret Doctrine is applied.

The destruction of the superstitious literal interpretation of the medieval ages was a good thing, and also the establishment of the broad principle of evolution even in a very limited shape. But Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism — no matter which — lost touch with any suggestion of spiritual or intelligent Guidance in evolution, and in spite of increasing tendency in other scientific departments toward less mechanistic views, "the still, small voice" of Theosophy with its magnificent exposition of Cosmic and human evolution finds it difficult to attract the attention of the "highest minds" who control our universities and colleges. But the unexpected discoveries in Africa and Eastern Asia have begun to tell, and we believe it is no exaggeration to say that the work of devoted Theosophists for the last seventy years or so has permeated the mental atmosphere of the world with "spiritually-scientific" concepts whose effects are now becoming apparent. Anyway an increasing number of experts are beginning to doubt whether the accepted arguments for the ape-ancestry of Man are valid. Among these are such eminent anthropologists as Dr. Robert Broom, Professor Frederic Wood-Jones and others. Dr. Broom is not the only anthropologist who has deplored the mysterious disappearance or deliberate neglect of certain fossil evidence which throws doubt on current popular theories. According to Dr. G. W. H. Schepers, writing against the theory that Man is an offshoot of the Anthropoid Ape, "Those who believe differently have either spoilt their reputations or have wisely remained silent on the subject"!

Within the last twenty years or so the scientific world has been profoundly stirred by remarkable discoveries in South Africa of very ancient remains of the so-called Ape-Man, Anthropoid Apes of a more highly advanced type than anything yet known. Intensive research is continuing to bring to light many facts of interest to Theosophical students who are sufficiently acquainted with the technique of anthropological studies to appreciate the importance of certain new discoveries in support of H. P. Blavatsky's arguments in The Secret Doctrine against the theory that man is the direct descendant of some ancient variety of the Anthropoid Ape with all its materialistic implications.

In regard to this South African development the Theosophical University Library at Covina has just received a valuable and welcome addition, The South African Fossil Ape-Men, the Australopithecus, published by the Transvaal Museum, Pretoria, and presented by Dr. Robert Broom, F. R. S. "in memory of a happy day spent at Point Loma in 1937," as he writes. The main portion of this highly technical and fully illustrated study of the very humanlike "Ape-Men" bones found in the Transvaal is written by Dr. Broom who has devoted many years of intensive research and study to South African Paleontology, especially in relation to Early Man and the Anthropoids. He has developed profoundly spiritual concepts of human evolution which are fundamentally in harmony with those of the Ancient Wisdom though in some matters the latter represents a wider and more Cosmic picture of man's upward journey to the gods.

The second part of the book is written by another highly-qualified scientist, Dr. G. W. H. Schepers, who presents a detailed analysis of the brain casts of the South African Ape-Men, and some striking criticisms of the popular theory, derived from Darwin, that modern humanity was directly descended from some kind of Anthropoid Ape.

The skeletal remains of three types of Ape-Men found at Taungs, Sterkfontein and Kromdraai are particularly interesting because they are by far the nearest to man of any Anthropoid yet found, and at first it was rumored that the desired "missing link," Man's immediate ancestor, had been discovered, but this was soon found to be erroneous. However, as Dr. Broom points out, the structure of the brains of these Ape-Men resembles that of Man far more closely than of those of the other Anthropoid Apes, though of course they are much less in volume than those of the smallest human brain. In some cases the teeth — important factors in the study of relationships — are identical with human teeth. For many reasons the South African Ape-Men are generally and quite reasonably accepted to be a collateral line of Anthropoids which ran for a while side by side with Man, distant cousins as one might say — "poor relations," who died out without leaving any modern representatives. None of the specimens yet found are as old as the most ancient human races. Science has found the true ancestor of man a very elusive personage! How can this be? Where is he hiding?

According to The Secret Doctrine, many intermediate forms between intelligent Man (Homo sapiens) and the anthropoid apes flourished in very distant ages but none were predecessors. They were offshoots from the human stock and were produced by a complex process of miscegenation which is outlined in that Book of Revelation and which is fully discussed in Theosophical literature, but which cannot be described here. Field-Marshal J. C. Smuts, who contributes the Introduction to Dr. Broom's detailed analysis, believes that "we are at any rate coming nearer to the solution of the age-old question of our human origin." According to the Ancient Wisdom, however, certain factors which must be understood before this can be done have not yet been discovered or even suspected by science. To solve the mystery it will have to brush aside the prejudice against the occult in Nature and learn that the spirit of man can function in other bodies than the physical.

Marshal Smuts says, "Races, like individuals, disappear by the way, but the great march of life goes on steadily, endlessly, to goals beyond our ken, perhaps beyond our present human type." We might add that human life in almost incredibly remote ages has marched through types that would seem very strange to our present understanding, as indicated in The Secret Doctrine and mentioned in the most ancient writings and traditions. Among the most important of these transformations, that of the astral to the physical, (still unknown to biology though evidence is available) the reader should consult Volume II, pages 652-3, 689, 737, etc.

About twelve years ago Dr. Broom published his profoundly significant The Coming of Man, strictly scientific factually and yet not above the comprehension of the layman, in which he presented his rather unorthodox belief that Natural Selection or any other mechanistic theory of Evolution does not satisfy our sense of fitness, and that intelligent spiritual forces are the active agencies in the production of the marvelous variety we see around us. Worse still, he declared that "Man has been the end foreseen from the beginning," a purely Theosophical concept. Since then he has seen no reason to modify his views and in fact the march of discovery has reinforced them. In an article printed in The Outspan, a leading South African journal, for April 5, entitled "The Religion of a Scientist," he gives carefully thought-out reasons for believing as Theosophy teaches, that "some great Power had planned ihe creation of countless human Egos on earth; but that much of the working out of the Plan was the work of subsidiary powers who were neither all-wise nor all-mighty." This would explain the evolution of tetanus germs and tape-worms and poisonous snakes, etc., which has proved such a stumbling-block to theologians and even philosophers! To the materialist he says: "It is awkward to be a materialist and then find that matter is not a very real substance and that mind has probably more claim to reality than has matter."

Returning to The South African Fossil Ape-Man, we find in Dr. Schepers" section a remarkable chapter on "Theory and Speculation" in Darwinism, in which he reaches conclusions that have been familiar to students of Theosophy ever since The Secret Doctrine was written, though not to biologists. He shows that facts discovered since Darwin's time throw new light on the evolution of Man and Ape and upset the popular belief that Man is descended from the Anthropoid Apes or even from the Primates, extinct or living. He delineates a hypothesis of man's ancestry that places the line of descent that ultimately became human as entirely free from the Anthropoids or any other Primates. The apelike characteristics of the Anthropoids were permanently differentiated a very long time ago. Man is of a simpler and less differentiated type and yet is supposed by the orthodox school to be descended from some kind of Anthropoid, which is a reversal of the order of Nature. The rule is that after biological forms have reached a limit of differentiation they die out or remain static; they do not reverse the order and return to a lesser degree of physical complexity. Assuming that man descends from an Anthropoid, and to explain the discoveries of remains of quite modern type of Man in what appear to be extremely early geological periods, anthropologists, according to Dr. Schepers, "seek all manner of unlikely explanations for such an "impossibility," even going so far as to discredit usually reliable witnesses."

How many times has this been pointed out with astonishment in this journal and other Theosophical literature!

Dr. Schepers believes that the famous Pithecanthropus of Java and the other so-called Dawn-Men — very "low-brows" — are not Primitives but Degenerates (a Theosophical teaching) and he even ventures to declare that not only is the origin of Man unknown but also that of the Anthropoid Apes, and that the primeval mammalian ancestor of both lines of descent may be looked for in the older Tertiary Age. Most geologists estimate the beginning of the Tertiary to be about 40 to 60 million years ago.

Dr. Schepers" remarks about embryology might almost be taken from The Secret Doctrine. He shows that the prenatal stages passed through by Man do not recapitulate the phases of evolution from the Anthropoids down to Homo sapiens as called for by the Darwinian theory. For instance, at no time in the process does the human hand or foot resemble those of the apes. He discusses many other facts which have been used to perpetuate the Darwinian ape-ancestry of Man and shows that they have quite another interpretation when considered without prejudice and free from the pressure of the popular scientific creed and the authority of great names. Advanced students of Theosophy who know the difficulty in swimming against the stream of materialistic science (especially strong in biology and evolution) will find this magnificently outspoken analysis of the situation a great help when meeting the objections of the younger generation who have been trained in the colleges to accept the materialistic view of man's nature and origin.

As to Dr. Schepers" position in relation to the possibility of evolution having meaning or purpose we do not wish to be misunderstood. He does not discuss this problem or the existence of a reincarnating spirit in Man but he seemingly accepts the general scientific belief that Man is a purely "natural" evolution from the lower animal kingdom. For the spiritual interpretation of human evolution, however, we must turn to Dr. Broom. But anyway, we should be grateful to Dr. Schepers, for he has taken a long step in agreement with the Theosophical explanation of the appearance of the Anthropoids, and he gives a tremendous age for the early ancestors of Man, even though we may not agree that they were primitive mammals of the Eocene or Oligocene period.


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