The Theosophical Forum – May 1947

EVOLUTION — Allan J. Stover

The term evolution is employed here in its original sense of unfolding or unwrapping from within; as of a seed or bud. Organisms are, indeed, influenced by environmental factors, but the way in which the organism responds to one or another influence is determined by what is latent within it as a part of its inner nature. Fundamentally, the heart of any being has within it numberless phases of character and specializations of form awaiting opportunity to manifest. Then, when nature presents the proper conditions, there is a response and new characteristics appear. That this is so is shown by recent experiments in which a series of transplant stations were established across the State of California. Carefully bred seedlings from identical plants were transplanted at intervals across the State from the coastal plain through the coast range, interior valleys, foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains to the desert valley east of the mountains. The experiment resulted in many variations in size, form, color and general appearance.

Darwin attempted to show by his discoveries that, because of outside influences, evolution proceeded by a transformation of one form into another. Thus, while the theories of Darwinian evolution, including the survival of the fittest, the origin of species and the influence of heredity and environment, may appear to be true, it is only within the smaller groups such as the genus and the species that they hold good and, then, only in appearance. In the constantly changing phases of geological history, Nature has provided many opportunities for unfolding varying aspects of character. There are many parts to be played on the stage of life and, as in a school, the student is required to study many subjects in order to become a well-balanced man or woman.

Physical bodies are merely the houses of life in which all egos live while learning the lessons possible under particular conditions. When the ego has mastered the lessons of one condition, it passes on to other homes better fitted for its new evolutionary status. It is this inner evolving self, whether of a man, an animal, or a plant, that is the compelling force in all evolution. Today, scientists are coming to realize gradually that chance and outside influences have little to do with true development. They are a means but not a cause. Darwin said that intelligence arises first when organisms begin to cooperate. In recent times, Dr. Osborn has stated that there is an unexplainable and mysterious factor which he calls, "creative aristo-genesis"; that is, a creative urge originating in the higher portion of each being which is the cause and directing force behind evolution.

Dr. Robert Broom in his presidential address before the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1933 said, "The origin of species and much of evolution appears to be due to some organizing and partly intelligent spiritual agency associated with the animal or plant, which controls its life processes and tends to keep the being more or less adapted to its environment." "But in addition to this there seem to be other spiritual agencies of a much higher type which have been responsible for what may be called greater evolution — the evolution of vertebrates, the steady advance from fishes to amphibians, to mammals, and ultimately to man." With the exception that it is the indwelling life and not the house in which it lives which advances from class to class, the Theosophist finds the above quotation very well stated.

In studying nature, we find that each group of organisms, such as a genus or family, has a lifetime consisting of a birth, a youth, a maturity and a death; as does each individual composing it. Moreover, each individual recapitulates the history of the race to which it belongs. This is supposed to be the case with transformations such as that of a caterpillar passing through a series of changes to become the winged and colorful butterfly. In the case of the higher animals, the recapitulation takes place quickly during the embryonic stage. In fact, all living things begin life as a single cell and pass along the evolutionary path as far as they may or as they are evolved to do. In general plan, all follow the same pathway until they reach their particular station in life and, there, they stop. It is this which binds nature together in an organic whole, linking each life with every other life.

The plant body contains mineral and vegetable substances, the animal body mineral, vegetable and animal substances: each kingdom includes something of the preceding kingdoms within it. What, we may ask, made these grooves of evolutionary progress in the first place? Did man pass through each of the lower types of life in turn, as the Darwinists suggested? Suppose we take a single illustration. Theosophy tells us that man was once a globular mass of light, without organs or physical form. The microscope reveals numerous creatures both plant and animal which are gelatinous, single-celled beings without organs. Nevertheless, man was never an amoeba. Neither was he ever a rabbit; although mammals follow now the general pattern of man's structure at the present time. In succeeding eras, the animals will adopt, so far as they are able, the human "style" of that period. Thus it is that all things aspire to manhood, and man, in his turn, aspires to godhood. This current of evolution has been diagrammed as a ladder or tree of life, symbols which are full of significance to the intuitive student.

A study of earth history shows that evolution is not a steady process, but moves in cycles and, at certain times, change and development are rapid. In this, it resembles an examination; for many types of both plant and animal life fail to make the grade and are destroyed. The others, under the stimulus of rapidly changing conditions, adapt themselves to the new surroundings and become the types of the new age. Then follows a time of slow almost imperceptible growth or advance until another revolution of rapid change approaches.

What is learned from a study of the evolutionary development of plant and animal life is much more important than is generally supposed. A former Leader of the Theosophical Society, Dr. G. de Purucker, has stated repeatedly that all things follow one law, for small cycles repeat on a small scale the same pattern that large cycles pass through on a larger scale. All things follow the pattern of and contribute to all other things in a vast system of cycles, or wheels within wheels, that proceeds throughout universal nature. This being so, we find within our own experience instances of the same course of action as is recorded in the pages of the geological strata. When the student of Theosophy comes upon a time or cycle in which study is difficult and progress seems at a stand-still, he or she should remember that a true evolution of character is being experienced. The student, by aspiration, has called upon the Higher Law and, in evolving through self-directed effort, is beginning to work in harmony with the rhythm of universal nature. Having once experienced evolution within ourselves and watched the cyclic development of some faculty, we have a basis for understanding all evolutionary progress. We have made that knowledge a part of ourselves by observing and considering our own experience. The test of any law of nature lies in its universality and so we see the patterns which are unfolded in a study of geological history repeated in lesser cycles of all kinds. If we study the problems and cycles of daily life in the light of this knowledge, we are taking the first step in a self-directed evolution.

There are many parallels between the life of a race and the life of an individual. One of these is the fact that, as a life stock becomes old, it loses its ability to adapt itself to new conditions if it has become fixed or crystallized in its habits. This is as true of a race as of an individual. In general, any abnormal specialization is a sign of old age and of approaching extinction. It is an evidence of a departure from the main evolutionary stream and an entering upon some purposeless and egoistic trend which not only comes to a quick conclusion but uses up the store of vital energy. This leaves the individual unable to cope with the tests that come at periodic times.

True evolution is inspired by the inner self. The useless specializations are often due to portions of an organism "going on their own." Middle lines are necessary if a race or an individual is to live to a ripe old age. We may picture the life course of a family, whether plant or animal, as a current or stream of life in which the middle portion continues to the end. Here and there side streams develop and branch off, only to become extinct. The history of living things shows that an enormous number of plant and animal types have vanished, as out-moded vehicles, while the best adapted have continued to evolve and are still with us today. Human evolution is similar. Study literature, art, architecture, social customs, etc. and see how soon after specialization sets in with needless ornament or luxury, a rapid decline begins. The great value of a study of nature is that it shows us how closely we ourselves are linked with the universe in which we live. In a very real sense we are an epitome of that universe, builded of its materials and following its laws.

The Theosophical Forum