Man in Evolution by G. de Purucker

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

Chapter 9

Man and Anthropoid — II

In the Scientific American some years ago there appeared an extremely interesting article called "Dawn-Man or Ape?" by William King Gregory, then professor of vertebrate paleontology at Columbia University. He is apparently of the neo-Darwinian persuasion, and in discussing the question of the evolution of man from the apes, as alleged by the Darwinian theory, he says:

In other words, even if we did not have the chimpanzee we should have to infer its existence as a sort of half-way station in the long road of ascent from the primitive Eocene primates. Darwin's theory that man is a derivative from the anthropoid ape stock, although not from any existing type of ape, accounts for hundreds of such peculiar resemblances between man and ape. And what other scientific hypothesis can do this? — September 1927, p. 232

We have here precisely the same spirit of vaulting enthusiasm, of what is to me exuberant imagination, that was manifest and that wrought such curious work in a biological sense in the cases of Huxley in England and Haeckel in Germany — inventors, these two, of imaginary steps in their evolutionary ladder of life; for does not Gregory say in the same spirit: "Even if we did not have the chimpanzee we should have to infer its existence" — we should have to invent one? Fortunately, the chimpanzee exists; but the idea of substitutive invention is there. Enthusiasm for biological invention is there.

As regards the "hundreds of such peculiar resemblances between man and ape," such resemblances most unquestionably exist, though hundreds seems to be a large number. But this is another example of the Darwinian method, just as Huxley and Haeckel followed it: they emphasized and overemphasized the manifold points of resemblance between man and his younger brothers, the apes — or rather his degenerate half-children, the apes and the monkeys; but they omitted to point out at their full value the host of dissimilarities, the wide divergences, that exist in even greater number between the human stock and the anthropoid and lower simian stocks. They recognized them in some cases, but denigrated their value, underestimated their importance, or slurred them over as things which are so obvious they need scarcely to be mentioned with more than a passing allusion to their existence. I must point out that this method of suggestion of the unimportance of important features or characters differing as between the two stocks, has a direct psychological influence upon those who see or hear them. As I have said before, people take such statements at their face value, without further examination, as established facts of nature, which most emphatically they are not.

In an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sir Arthur Keith, held by his colleagues to be "the most brilliant anthropologist of the day," said:

The evidence of man's evolution from an ape-like being, obtained from a study of fossil remains, is definite and irrefutable, but the process has been infinitely more complex than was suspected in Darwin's time. Our older and discarded conception of man's transformation was depicted in that well-known diagram which showed a single file of skeletons, the gibbon at one end and man at the other. — "The Evidence for Darwin is Summed Up"; for full text see The New York Times, September 4, 1927, sec. 8, pp. 1, 10

We all know that picture: it is still in many of our museums, and is still taught in many of our biological books. These also show intermediate stages of bestial or subhuman creatures, which are announced as having actually been the intermediate steps or stages of man's evolution from the ape; yet in no case, please mark well, are these creatures announced as being mere offsprings of the scientific imagination of their reconstructors, reconstructed perhaps from a portion of a fossil skull, or perhaps from a portion of a jaw or from a tooth or two, or one or two or three of these together. From and around these scanty fossil remains have been built up the various pictures of more or less manlike creatures, growing gradually more beastly and apelike as they descend the scale towards the gorilla or the chimpanzee or the gibbon, as they go down the file towards the apes and monkeys.

I may add here that the mistakes and faults of these imaginary reproductions of former men are rarely, or never perhaps, obvious to the trusting student or reader; and yet a striking instance of such false reconstructions may be shown with regard to Neanderthal man, who has always been pictured as having had no human nose, but pictured as a being with a flat, squat nose, somewhat like those of the Catarrhine apes of the Old World. Yet we now know that this was not true, as is well illustrated in the case of the fossil skeleton or individual discovered in France in 1908, at La Chapelle-aux-Saints; for the skull of this skeleton had prominent nose bones and, so far as I know, the skeleton belonged by unanimous consent to a Neanderthal man.

Professor H. H. Wilder, the American zoologist, has shown that this individual must have had an eminent nose, a very pronounced nose; and yet for a long, long time we were taught that the physiognomy of this former living man comprised a nose — if a nose at all — which approximated to the nasal apparatus of the ape.

These reconstructions are, by the necessities of the case, in very large part imaginary. It is unfortunate that they should still be exhibited as representations in the direct line of man's ancestry, and that our children should see them and be taught the falsehood that these imaginary reconstructions represent man as he formerly appeared at different stages of his alleged ascent from the anthropoid.

Sir Arthur continues:

In our original simplicity we expected, as we traced man backward in time, that we should encounter a graded series of fossil forms — a series which would carry him in a straight line toward an anthropoid ancestor.

We should never have made this initial mistake if we had remembered that the guide to the world of the past is the world of the present.

As I have said before, there is no such end-on, uniserial rectilinear evolution of man from the protozoan upwards, as the Darwinists have stated it. Yet evolution is indeed an end-on progress. It is indeed a uniserial path, hut it is not rectilinear or in a straight line; and it does not proceed along the pathway which the Darwinists and the neo-Darwinists have claimed and still claim for it.

In this assertion the theosophists no longer stand alone, for there is a large and growing and important school now teaching pretty much the same thing.

Continuing from Professor Keith's remarks:

In our time man is represented not by one but by many and diverse races — black, brown, yellow and white. Some of these are rapidly expanding, others are as rapidly disappearing.

Our searches have shown that in remote times the world was peopled, sparsely it is true, with races showing even a greater diversity than those of today and that already the same process of replacement was at work. We have to thread our way, not along the links of a chain, but through the meshes of a complicated network.

Just so! How pleasant it is to read the apologetic acknowledgments of the mistakes formerly so enthusiastically and positively affirmed as facts of nature, especially when these come from an honest antagonist!

A few years ago it was a scientific heresy of the deepest dye to suppose that man had evolved in any other manner than in that outlined in scientific books, and supposedly along the line of ascent set forth in reconstructive work on skeleton and muscle in our museums. Such evolution, we were taught as an axiom, as a scientific dogma, had proceeded along that certain and particular pathway from the protozoan to man which Professor Keith now very rightly and aptly calls a "discarded conception."

To continue the quotation:

We have made another mistake. Seeing that in our search for man's ancestry we expected to reach an age when the beings we should have to deal with would be simian rather than human, we ought to have marked the conditions which prevail among living anthropoid apes. We ought to have been prepared to find, as we approached a distant point in the geological horizon, that the forms encountered would be as widely different as are the gorilla, chimpanzee and orang, and confined, as these great anthropoids now are, to limited parts of the earth's surface.

Have we not been pointing out that a theory per se is not a fact of nature, and that inevitably it would in good time be replaced by a theory more closely approximating to natural truth? Yet we draw the sharpest kind of distinction between a theory evolved from some man's mind and the facts of nature. These latter are the ultimate tests in any proof of a system; not theories and hypotheses.

I continue citing from Professor Keith:

That is what we are now realizing: As we go backward in time we discover that mankind becomes broken up, not into separate races as in the world of today, but into numerous and separate species. When we go into a still more remote past they become so unlike that we have to regard them not as belonging to separate species but different genera. It is among this welter of extinct fossil forms which strew the ancient world that we have to trace the zigzag line of man's descent. Do you wonder we sometimes falter and follow false clues? (1)

This is good, although at first it sounds like a contradiction of the fundamental theosophical teaching that all stocks originated from the one main stock, the human. But this apparent contradiction can easily be explained. In tracing back from the present the history of the great stocks, it is true that they appear more distinctive and differentiated up to a certain period, which in theosophy we call the fourth root-race.

At about that time the world was teeming with a large number of evolutionary strains, because at that period material evolution in various directions had reached the acme of its power. The various types of mankind were more widely separated from each other, not only as regards contemporaneity and succession, but likewise in frequent instances as regards type than are the races of today.

But in times preceding this great fourth race, the farther back we go in geologic time, the more closely do the stocks begin to approximate towards each other, so far as type is concerned. In other words, they become more and more generalized the nearer we approach their origin at the common point of departure in ages far preceding that of the fourth root-race. It is in those more generalized and far earlier types, having ancient or modern representatives as the case may be, that we find a greater kinship, biologically speaking, among the various stocks.

Professor Keith ends his address:

Was Darwin right when he said that man, under the action of biological forces which can be observed and measured, has been raised from a place among anthropoid apes to that which he now occupies? The answer is yes! and in returning this verdict I speak but as foreman of the jury — a jury which has been empaneled from men who have devoted a lifetime to weighing the evidence.

That declaration sounds extremely convincing. But let us point out that other juries, empaneled from other men who likewise have spent a lifetime in the study of the evidence, tell us a different tale; and the ranks of these latter are growing daily greater.

Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, in an address given before the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia on April 29, 1927, said:

I regard the ape-human theory as totally false and misleading. It should be banished from our speculations and from our literature not on sentimental grounds but on purely scientific grounds and we should now resolutely set our faces toward the discovery of our actual prohuman ancestors. . . .

The prologue and the opening acts of the human drama occurred way back 16,000,000 years ago (2) . . . At this period, or before, the family of man sprang from a stock neither human nor ape-like, . . .

In my opinion, the most likely part of the world in which to discover these "Dawn Men," as we may now call them, is the high plateau region of Asia embraced within the great prominences of Chinese Turkestan, of Tibet and of Mongolia. — "Recent Discoveries relating to the Origin and Antiquity of Man," read by Vice-president Osborn on the occasion of the bicentenary anniversary (April 27-30) of the American Philosophical Society which traces its origins to the junta formed by Benjamin Franklin in 1727 at age twenty-one. See Proceedings, vol. 66, pp. 373-89

Could the contradiction between two eminent biologists be more absolute? Of course, while Professor Osborn speaks of the ancestors of man as having been neither human nor ape, he gives utterance merely to the common biologic theory that these two stocks were derived from some animal neither human nor anthropoid. He knows of no proof that the idea is anything else than a theory elaborated in an attempt to find a common ancestor for the two classes of the primates most closely resembling each other, man and ape. But the theosophical teachings tell us very clearly, and the facts of anthropology and biology seem to prove the case fully, that that common ancestor was man himself -- not man as he now is, of course, but man as he then was; less evolved than present mankind, as is to be expected, but yet no animal as we understand that word, and no ape in any sense, but original, primitive man himself.

You may call him prehuman, if you limit the term "human" to man as he now is. But the strain from which humans come, from which men are derived, was human to its source on this earth, and its origin was in godlike creatures, who came to our earth in the earliest days of the planet's life; and, as it were, casting the seeds of their lives into the developing germs, originated the human stock. These very developing germs or life-atoms were those with which these godlike creatures were spiritually, psychically, and therefore magnetically connected in a former period of evolution, in times so vastly far-distant that we call it another manvantara or cycle of manifested life.

Osborn continues:

It is our recent studies of behaviorism of the anthropoid apes as contrasted with the behaviorism of the progenitors of man which compel us to separate the entire ape stock very widely from the human stock. (3)

So do the theosophical teachings separate the two stocks very widely. Only I do not understand what Professor Osborn means by the "behaviorism of the progenitors of man," because to study behaviorism you must know the living creature, and I do not know any living creatures who are the progenitors of man.

I continue quoting from Dr. Osborn:

The term "ape-man" has been forced into our language along a number of lines, and even the term "anthropoid" has come to lose its significance. "Ape-man" gained prestige through early explorers and travelers who represented the anthropoid apes as walking on their hind feet. We have since discovered that no anthropoid ape walks upright; the gibbon balances himself awkwardly when he comes down from the trees, but all the other apes are practically quadrupedal in motion, except possibly in defense, when they rear as a horse would rear. . . .

Of all incomprehensible things in the universe man stands in the front rank, and of all incomprehensible things in man the supreme difficulty centers in the human brain, intelligence, memory, aspirations, and powers of discovery, research and the conquest of obstacles.

This is the language of a genuine seer. But let me ask: why does this most remarkable scientific thinker speak of man as being so entirely "incomprehensible"? As I see it, it is because, great as he is in his line of scientific work, honest and courageous as he obviously is, he nevertheless is still more or less, unknown to himself, under the psychological influence of the old materialistic teaching that there is nothing in man that can be known except his physical body and its "psychologic" activities.

Chapter 10

Table of Contents


1. Please understand that different "races of men" means men much more like each other than does different "species of men," and that different "species of men" are more like each other than are different "genera of men." (return to text)

2. It is very remarkable that Professor Osborn gives almost the exact length of time stretching backwards into the past — sixteen million years ago — required to reach primitive man, that theosophy teaches as having been the period of the first appearance of truly physical man, who had been preceded by semi-astral man, and before that by astral man. The first truly physical men existed eighteen million years ago.

Professor Osborn further places the age of man, in his present stage, at one million years. It is also the theosophical teaching that man, as he now is in his present evolutionary cycle, has been so for one million years more or less. It should be noted, however — and the point is of some importance — that this "one million years" applies to our present humanity or fifth root-race in its present evolutionary stage only since the time when it became a race sui generis, i.e., a race with its own typical racial characteristics, and more or less separated from the previous or fourth root-race. Actually the origins of our present humanity or fifth root-race extended several million years farther back than this "one million years" mentioned.

Professor Keith says that it is only about one million years since man diverged from the ape stock, or perhaps, rather, from that common ancestor of man and the ape about which so much is said and so exceedingly little is known; and that this separation of the two stocks occurred, as alleged, in the beginning of the Miocene epoch of the Tertiary period of geology. Professor Keith is very modest indeed in his biologic computations of geologic time. Only one million years, according to Keith, since the beginning of the Miocene! Other authorities, equally great, differ widely from Keith's time period. For instance in Organic Evolution by Richard Swan Lull (1921), various dates are given as estimates of the duration of these various geologic periods; and the Tertiary, to which belongs the Miocene epoch, is given by Matthew as of nine million years in duration — while Barrell is not satisfied with less than sixty million! (return to text)

3. It is interesting to note that Professor Keith also contrasts the behaviorism of man with the behaviorism of the apes, and attempts to use this to show a kinship between apes and monkeys and man. Professor Osborn draws diametrically opposite conclusions from the same set of ideas and facts. (return to text)