Man in Evolution by G. de Purucker

Copyright © 1977 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.

Chapter 8

Man and Anthropoid — I

So far as the ancestral derivation of man is concerned, we assert that he has not one drop of anthropoid or simian blood in his veins, and never had. I wish to emphasize this, because we must free our minds in many important respects from that teaching which so very large a part of the public has unconsciously accepted as a true statement of the facts of man's ancestral tree. We must make our minds receptive of and more concordant with new discoveries, newer truths which the great researchers into nature's mysteries have found out for us.

It is true that theosophy does not teach that primitive man was physically fashioned as he is at present. On the contrary, man himself has evolved from a more primitive to a more perfect form even as other and lower creatures have so evolved. And it is a fact that though he possessed the same general type of physical structure that he now has, he actually was apelike in appearance, but he never was an ape. I repeat, at no time was man ever an ape, for the simple reason that the ape appeared in geologic time far later than did physical man, being in part an offspring of an early human stock. The ape in some degree even today resembles in physical appearance his human half-parent of that distant time.

It should be remembered, moreover, that the apes, being of half-animal and half-human origin, are far more beastlike in appearance than man ever was, even in those early ages. Therefore, when we say that man, in early geological periods was "apelike in appearance," we merely mean that the evolving human monad passed through human bodies which at one stage of their evolution had what now would be called certain modified yet apelike looks; but these, as time passed, became more and more refined and human in appearance until they are what they are now.

Professor Wood Jones corroborates this viewpoint:

we may say that not only is he [man] more primitive than the monkeys and apes, having become differentiated specifically in an extremely remote past, but also that he has been a creature which walked upright on his two feet for an astonishingly long period. — The Problem of Man's Ancestry, p. 38

Likewise Professor Boule of Paris concludes, from a close study of the skeleton-fossil of the individual discovered in 1908 at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, that man had

been derived neither from the Anthropoid stem, nor from any other known group, but from a very ancient Primate stock that separated from the main line even before the giving off of the Lemuroids. — "L'Homme fossile de la Chapelle-aux-Saints," Ann. de Palyontologie, 1912; quoted by Wood Jones, op. cit., p. 34

Yes, provided that we add that that "very ancient Primate stock" was man himself — not man as we now know him, but the man of that geologic period which theosophy states to have been in the Secondary times; more definitely in the early Jurassic. Nor did the human stock "separate from the main line," because man was himself that "main line."

It is very unfortunate that the calm, conservative attitude of mind which all true scientists should have, has so often been departed from in former years by enthusiastic proponents of accepted scientific theories. Haeckel, for instance, the anthropologist, paleontologist, zoologist, and whatnot, used to teach — and it was accepted as a fact of nature, because the great Haeckel taught it — that in the respective embryos of man and of ape the differences between them could not be distinguished until the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy — a teaching which was not true. As Professor Wood Jones says, it is a teaching whose results we now must take time and energy to undo. The differences between the embryo of the ape and the embryo of man are noticeable far earlier, embryologically speaking, than the fourth month of intrauterine life.

I was looking this morning at an interesting picture. It was the picture of the embryo of a gorilla a short time preceding birth; and this curious little beasty was an ape all through, as was to be expected. The bestial mouth was there; the long arms; the unmistakable features and specific characters of the anthropoid type — all were there. Yet it was more humanoid in appearance than its parents were, more humanlike in appearance than it itself would have been, had it lived and grown to adulthood. The braincase was relatively larger and more human in shape, the forehead taller and nobler than the receding forehead of the adult gorilla. Its foot likewise approximated much more closely to the normal human foot in appearance; and whereas these are but superficial features of judgment, being mere resemblances, yet they properly can be employed in argument, and the Darwinists and neo-Darwinists and transformists are the last to object to it, because their own theories are so widely based upon resemblances between man and ape.

It is well known that the infant ape appears to be more human in general and in detail than does the adult. As growth proceeds the forehead recedes, the mouth becomes still more bestial, the foot becomes more typically the hand-foot of the anthropoid stock; and in many other respects, as for instance in the protruding jaw, the typical ape-appearance is acquired.

What is the explanation of this problem, and of the larger departure from the humanoid towards the more anthropoid? And also towards the type, now extinct, which furnished the other half-parent of the ape strain?

The theosophist says that the more human appearance of the early ape embryo is a case of reversion to the former type of a far past geologic time, towards the human half-parent of the progenitors of the present ape stock; and because the particular anthropoid strain, indwelling in the germ plasm of the cell which brings the ape individual to grow and to develop into its adulthood — as that cellular strain or potency seeks to express itself, it follows of necessity the only path open to it, its own path. It climbs its own ancestral or genealogical tree.

Nature always follows grooves; it always takes the path of least resistance, the path of the pioneers who have gone before. All forces in universal nature do this: electricity as an example in point. Nowhere in nature do you find a natural force or an evolving entity following the path of greatest resistance. A biologic habit once established will prevail until it is succeeded by the growth and dominance of a succeeding habit; and it is the essential work of evolution to produce ever nobler courses, ever nobler habits, than those which had preceded the newer.

Consequently, the pathway which has once been opened is automatically taken by all evolving entities that are included in any particular group or stock or race or strain coming along behind.

It is the teaching of theosophy that the anthropoid or ape stock in a far remote past, in the Miocene of the Tertiary period, sprang from the human stock on one side and from a quasi-beast — simian — ancestry on the other. This explains why the ape so closely resembles man in some things and shows such immense dissimilarities in other things — in the nobler characters and features which man has. (1)

Similar was the case with regard to the lower simian stocks, the monkeys; but that event happened at a period still more remote in geologic time, to wit, in the Mesozoic period, during the period of existence of what we call the "mindless" human races. In those far back days, these particular crossings were almost invariably fertile, for the simple reason that matter was then far more plastic than it now is; matter had not yet set into the grooves that it now follows.

Thus the apes and the monkeys have traces of human blood in their veins; the monkeys a single dose, so to say, of the nobler strain, and the apes a double dose of the same. But no man has one drop of either simian or anthropoid blood in his veins.

I weigh on this point with emphasis because the other idea, that of the ape ancestry of man, is so difficult to eradicate. Though it is not now accepted by most modern biologists, curiously enough it remains alive. People are averse to changing their minds in relation to what they think are proved facts. Old and worn-out ideas, ideas which are actually behind the knowledge, scientific and other, of the day, still remain in our minds and plague us.

It was Darwin who in his book The Descent of Man gives voice to his opinion that the origin of man is to be found in an anthropoid ape living in a remote geological period; and scientists ever since have elaborated the theory. Despite the vastly wider light thrown on the problem of evolution by modern research, this outworn theory is still taught in many of our public schools as being a resume of the facts of nature, as far as man's evolutionary past is concerned. It sounds incredible, but such is the case.

Let me quote here a few passages from The Descent of Man in which this theory is expressly stated. In chapter six, Darwin says:

Now man unquestionably belongs in his dentition, in the structure of his nostrils, and some other respects, to the Catarrhine or Old World division [of monkeys]. . . . There can, consequently, hardly be a doubt that man is an off-shoot from the Old World simian stem. — p. 153

If the anthropomorphous apes be admitted to form a natural sub-group, then as man agrees with them, not only in all those characters which he possesses in common with the whole Catarrhine group, but in other peculiar characters, such as the absence of a tail and of callosities, and in general appearance, we may infer that some ancient member of the anthropomorphous sub-group gave birth to man. — p. 154

But we must not fall into the error of supposing that the early progenitor of the whole Simian stock, including man, was identical with, or even closely resembled, any existing ape or monkey. — p. 155

Obviously not.

We are far from knowing how long ago it was when man first diverged from the Catarrhine stock; but it may have occurred at an epoch as remote as the Eocene period. — p. 156

And finally, we have this gem:

The Simiadae [in Darwin's classification, all anthropoid primates] then branched off into two great stems, the New World and Old World monkeys; and from the latter, at a remote period, Man, the wonder and glory of the Universe, proceeded. — p. 165

The more enlightened theory — that the anthropoid and monkey stocks, the anthropoids in particular, probably sprang from man as their half-parent (theosophy says actually) in a far-gone period of geological time, though not as degenerate men — this theory in differing forms is in greater or less degree hinted at or upheld by a number of very eminent zoologists before and after Darwin, each of course after his own manner. I may mention the Frenchman de Quatrefages, several German biologists, and possibly even the modern author and anatomist Wood Jones, also Klaatsch of Heidelberg University, and apparently Osborn of Columbia University. Some or all of these men uphold the theory that the anthropoid stock may have originated wholly or partly in and from the human stock. These scientists may differ as among themselves, but the root-idea seems to be common to them all. [See Appendix II for more recent and identical findings.]

Some diehard proponents of the older and now more or less rejected evolutionism also assert that preceding man's evolution through the anthropoid and simian stocks, he even passed through quadrupedal mammalian forms, of which the mammalian quadrupeds on earth today are the modern descendants. But let me remind you of what Professor Klaatsch has to say about that idea — merely echoing, by the way, what many another great man has said to the same point in former years: "Man and his ancestors were never quadrupeds as the dog or the elephant or the horse."

This renowned anthropologist further states emphatically that monkeys and apes are "degenerated branches of the prehuman stock." Such, as far as it goes, is precisely the teaching of theosophy, which, however, claims that this is but half the truth, adding that the primitive human stock was but the half-parent of the original ancestors of the modern anthropoids. This does not mean, however, that monkeys and apes are or were degraded men, but that they were in part human, and in part animal — derived from an early human stock on one side, and from an early animal stock on the other; and that they have since shown a strong tendency to revert to the types of former geologic apes.

The Darwinians and the neo-Darwinians still say that man belongs to the same subphylum or stock that the apes and monkeys do. If he belongs to their subphylum, he is either their descendant or their ascendant. Now if man sprang from the apes, how is it, please, that he has lost the specific characters or features which mark the anthropoid and lower simian stocks, and has wandered back in so many respects to an identical basal mammalian simplicity of structure which he must have possessed before, thus violating one of the best known of the biological laws. This is the law of irreversibility, which sets forth that in evolution no entity, losing an organ or a character or a feature, takes that identical organ up again, or regains it; but that if the recurrent conditions of environment are ever similar to what they were before, he then gains new organs suited to these recurrent conditions in the new circumstances in which he finds himself. Louis Dollo, a Belgian paleontologist, has done some remarkable work in proof and in demonstration of this law of irreversibility, which is today accepted by most representative biologists.

Thus if man cannot have been derived from the apes and the monkeys, as is now very generally accepted by biologists, and yet is the most primitive in origin of all the mammals on earth, what is the logical, the inevitable, deduction that we must make? It is this: that belonging to their subphylum or their stock, as they say, and not being their descendant, he must be their ascendant, their progenitor. That is precisely what we say, although we explain the facts in a very different and, we believe, more convincing way.

Darwinism became the favorite scientific evolutionary theory of the time. Nowadays it is more or less moribund, although there are still a number of "won't-give-ins" who cling to the old Darwinian ideas; yet they belong, for all that, rather to what is called the neo-Darwinian scheme, which is Darwinism more or less modified by other natural facts which have been discovered and investigated to some degree since 1859 when Darwin published his important book, The Origin of Species.

No one can rightly say that all that Darwin taught is wrong, or that all that the neo-Darwinians teach is erroneous. That position would be absurd. On the contrary; for there is some truth in the explanation of the facts of nature which Charles Darwin and his followers investigated and supposed that they had found out. Nor can one say that the theories of Lamarck, Darwin's predecessor whom Darwin so largely followed, are altogether wrong. There is some truth in them both, particularly in Lamarck's idea or intuition of the appetence innate in the organism striving in its environment — i.e., the inward urge of the evolving organism towards action upon that environment. Speaking generally, there is some truth in the larger ideas of all great men. It is indeed great men who have adopted and elaborated the theories of progressive development of the human stock and of the stocks below man, and they have accumulated a large number of natural facts, which in larger or smaller degree furnish some support for those theories.

No one denies an actual fact or any number of actual facts. But it is a vastly different matter when our men of science undertake to raise upon these natural facts various theories or speculations or hypotheses and to pass these off upon a trusting public as established facts of nature. As freethinking men and women we should reserve the right to accept or to reject any hypothesis or theory exactly in the degree that we find it to be true or untrue.

As a matter of fact, what theosophy claims, and what we have been teaching for many decades is this: that the evolution of man and of the beings below him, and of the universe itself, cannot be logically and completely explained on accepted scientific lines, or by the alleged facts of science depending solely upon physical and chemical agencies.

These are not the only factors working in the evolution of beings; and the main divergence (leaving other important facts aside) between the theosophical view of evolution and those theories hitherto current in the world, is that the latter refuse to admit a psycho-vital engine or motor behind and within the running physical machine — or rather engineers, call them spiritual entities if you like.

We claim that there are designers in the world — designers of many degrees, vast hierarchies of them, infilling and, in fact, forming the invisible part of the cosmos itself. They are the origin of the life forces working through the life-atoms of all evolving entities; and it is in these designers that we live, and move, and have our being, even as the cells and atoms of a man's body — those small and elemental lives — live and move and have their being in him; further, that the working of these designers is de facto neither fortuitous nor haphazard, but is essentially the result of the purposive and teleological striving of these designers towards a larger and more perfect expression of their indwelling and native powers.

This again is one of the largest differences between the theosophical and the accepted scientific view of evolutionary development. We assert that natural forces, the indwelling powers in these designers, work towards a definite or purposive end; while, on the other hand, the popular scientific theories avoid or disregard this vitally important question and, usually tacitly, postulate fortuity, chance, or the random origination of species and biological variations.

Charles Darwin himself, in the opening words of the fifth chapter of The Origin of Species, explicitly declares that he wrongly uses the word "chance" in connection with the origination of species, saying that it is "a wholly incorrect expression," but that this word "chance" nevertheless suffices to set forth our ignorance of the actual cause of specific variations. Strangely enough, he then immediately proceeds to set forth the cause of which he has just confessed he was completely ignorant — natural selection — resulting in the survival of the fittest.

Chapter 9

Table of Contents


1. Such is the case with the anthropoid apes. The touch of humanity from their early human half-parent still works within them, but is overshadowed in power, in influence, and therefore in biologic consequences, by the stronger beast evolutionary strain. Nevertheless, because our earth and its entire groups of inhabitants of all kingdoms are even now beginning what in theosophy is called the ascending arc of evolutionary development, the human influence in the ape stock now surviving will become still stronger in power as future ages roll by into the ocean of the past. This means that in distant future time the apes will slowly become more humanlike than now they are. (return to text)