While it is true that many distinguished biologists such as Dr. Frederic Wood Jones and the late Dr. H. Fairfield Osborn, etc., have abandoned the old belief that man is derived from any living or fossil anthropoid ape it is important to remember that scientists still believe that man is only a more advanced animal. Having repudiated the Biblical story of the creation of Adam, and ignoring (at present) the Theosophical solution of the problem, scientists see no other explanation. The only real difference between the modern and the older theories of human evolution is that it is now generally believed that the human stock separated from a primitive animal type (probably the Tarsioids) before the anthropoids appeared. So far as the order of precedence goes, this is the teaching of Theosophy and it was announced by H. P. Blavatsky long before the biologists thought of it. But Theosophy, of course, traces the human stock from a very different origin — a spiritual rather than a brute ancestry.
We all believe in Evolution, Theosophists and Scientists alike, and probably the majority of orthodox church people. Evolution is growth and development, and the only alternative is "special creation," which means that the world is static, that elephants and cats, birds and butterflies, oaks and cactuses, etc., ad infinitum, were each and all made at "the beginning" about as they are today. There is, however, considerable disagreement between the Theosophical and the Scientific Schools of thought in regard to what actually evolves, and what is the method by which evolution proceeds; in short what evolution really means. Theosophy presents a generous and comprehensive picture of progressive evolution founded upon the principle of universal consciousness ever advancing toward higher expression in form, all growth being governed by orderly processes under law, but not by a hard, ugly fatalism. Mind, not necessarily of a human order, is the leading factor in any true evolution; otherwise it is pure fortuity and blind meaningless action.
Unfortunately biologists are doubtful about mind in nature, and in confining their attention, with few exceptions, to structure and function, they try to trace the transformation of one species into another to chemical and mechanical processes which leave out Mind or spiritual factors of any kind. Darwin's main energies were devoted to attempts to establish mechanistic "natural selection" as the leading principle in evolution, which means, of course, that if among minute variations spontaneously arising within a species one appeared which might be of advantage in the competitive "struggle for existence" its possessor would prosper at the expense of less favored individuals. If this advantageous variation were passed on by heredity the descendants would increase and multiply and if other improvements appeared new types would be formed. Darwinists sometimes illustrate this by the allegory of the Long Neck. In times of scarcity when the browsing animals had eaten all the leaves on the lower branches of the trees the one that had fortuitously developed a slightly longer neck would reach the higher branches and thrive while the rest were starving!
When Darwin brought forward his theory everyone knew that breeders were producing faster race horses and carrier pigeons, etc., by the artificial selection of the most promising parents, and so when he used the term "selection" it was easily understood. But the vital difference between his "natural" selection and that of the breeders was not so plain to the crowd. In the latter the matter of parents was carefully supervised, all interferences were prevented which might vitiate the purity of the new strain and the individual scions which happened to display the rudiments of the desired characters were protected from harm. If all this was neglected the new strain disappeared and reverted to the original type, as the artificially developed fancy pigeons went back to the plain "Blue Rocks" when allowed to interbreed at will. But according to Darwin's natural selection there was no supervising intelligence to take all this care, nothing but blind forces of nature without foresight or interest in the result. Irrespective of the fact that "natural selection" does not attempt to explain the cause of his so-called fortuitous variations (the modern discovery of the combinations of the chromosomes in the germ cells only removes the fortuity one step backwards) it has been found so full of difficulties that it can no longer be regarded as the dominant feature in evolution, though, as H. P. Blavatsky frequently pointed out it has a subordinate part to play. Dr. Robert Broom, f. r. s., the distinguished biologist and anthropologist, sums up his argument for spiritual intelligence behind evolution from the primitive "jelly-speck" to the highest terrestrial life in a trenchant phrase: "The end seems to me to differ too greatly from the beginning to have been the result of chance." — The Coming of Man.
The twentieth century has revealed many new facts about the processes of life, and modern research into the mysteries of the cell and its complex activities has greatly diminished the belief in the all-sufficiency of Darwin's leading contribution to the subject of evolution, "natural selection." In this and other aspects of the appearance of new species in progressive order a certain number of leading scientists besides Dr. Broom are nearing Theosophical principles.
In opposition to current mechanistic hypotheses of the process of the appearance of new species, the great American biologist, Dr. H. Fairfield Osborn, worked out a new method of regarding it — the process, not the cause — which is important because it approaches closely to the Theosophical teaching that evolution means the unfolding or unrolling into manifestation of what is already in embryo. In bringing forward his hypothesis, which he calls Aristo-genesis, or the process of "absolutely inevitable and predetermined evolution, always tending toward improvement," he shows the inadequacy of the great historic attempts to explain the modes and causes of evolution which were founded on such concepts as, (a) spontaneous variations arising fortuitously (Darwin, etc.), (b) inheritance of acquired characters (Lamarck), (c) environment (Buffon, St. Hilaire).
Dr. Osborn of course accepted the fact (recognised by H. P. Blavatsky) that the "survival of the fittest" and "the direct effect of environment" had some influence on biological evolution, but he insists that "the real underlying causes of evolution are entirely unknown . . ., and may prove to be unknowable," and "Pure Darwinism never sought to explain the origin of new characters. In fact, Darwin invariably used the word "chance" but open-mindedly declared that "chance" was a word that might simply express the ignorance of his time as to principles which might subsequently be discovered," and while modern observations undreamt of by Darwin have, according to Dr. Osborn, brought new facts to light they have in no way diminished the fact that the cause of variation is still totally unexplained by and unknown to scientists. Accepting this fully, he shows good reason for believing that the cause, whatever it may be, is connected with the germ plasm. He finds that the unfolding of the potentialities locked up in this mysterious "cause" are released in orderly response to the challenge of environment. They are not survivals from innumerable accidental mutations which happened to persist because they fitted into the environment. In the great families of mammalia, for instance, the earliest representatives possess the potentialities of the variations which gradually appear and finally segregate their descendants into genera or species. Dr. Osborn made intensive studies of the mammalia to establish this "Creative Aristogenesis," especially in the Proboscideans or elephant family throughout its 14,000,000 years of existence, and found, "absolutely concrete and irrefutable evidence of the actual modes of the origin of new characters in species, genera, and higher divisions." It is as he writes, "fatal to Darwin's working hypothesis of adaptation of survival of variations in any degree subject to chance."
In the teaching of Theosophy, however, the cause of the appearance of the great mammalian types (the larger "root-types" of The Secret Doctrine) is the existence and influence of prototypes on inner planes of life, which become physicalized, as it were, and activate the original germ plasms. After this, the physical forms differentiate within certain limits (as in the teeth, etc., of the Proboscideans) by the ordinary secondary, physical causes such as climate, isolation, sex, diet, etc. Underlying all this, however, as H. P. Blavatsky writes in The Secret Doctrine, II, 649,
is a sub-conscious intelligence pervading matter, ultimately traceable to a reflection of the Divine and Dhyan-Chohanic wisdom.
This is what has sometimes been called "the mystical dweller within the germ cell" activating the nucleolus.
The quotations from Dr. Osborn are taken from his articles in Science for December 2, 1932, and February 24, 1933, which are worth careful study.
Dr. Richard B. Goldschmidt, now professor of Zoology at the University of California, one of the world's leading biologists, has also broken with the pure Darwinian tradition and has unwittingly moved toward one of the most important teachings of the Ancient Wisdom about the appearance of new forms of life. Darwin required innumerable fortuitous variations and aeons of time for the laborious process of working out a new species by "natural selection," but Dr. Goldschmidt discards this principle and offers an impressive array of evidence in favor of rapid mutation in the embryo by which new species would emerge quickly, geologically speaking. In some cases two or more drastic changes would occur at the same time, in others the speed of inter-embryonic development of one or more normal characters would be reduced or increased allowing others to get ahead and dominate, etc. As he points out, such mutations, rare as they may be, might be fraught with tremendous results. They would satisfactorily explain the mechanism of the appearance of the air-breathing Amphibians from certain fishes. To produce such a revolutionary change by the extremely slow process of natural selection working on an occasional "accidental" variation would be, as Dr. Goldschmidt says, incredible, because no intermediate steps are possible and more than one mutation had to take place simultaneously to adapt the fish to terrestrial conditions.
But the mechanism of the transformations (if correctly interpreted by Dr. Goldschmidt) is far from explaining the deeper cause of the simultaneous and other mutations which produce such (literally) epoch-making consequences, for we must remember that the Amphibians led the way to the Reptiles and the Mammals! Was all this the result of a rare and accidental combination of chromosomes in the embryonic cells of some fish? One of Dr. Goldschmidt's critics, while admiring the austere simplicity of his interpretation of the evidence evidently fears that it is dangerous because it may lead to a teleological explanation, and so he calls it "the simplicity of a belief in miracles"! But why should the teleological explanation be so terrible? Theosophists do not think it is at all subversive to reason.
According to the Ancient Wisdom such fundamental changes are not produced by fortuitous happenings, but have a lawful place in the great scheme, and are traceable to Divine or Cosmic Intelligences as mentioned above. Physical matter is only a small part of the real universe. According to Theosophy the "astral" or ideal forms or "germs" of the new orders of life, were "projected" from inner planes of being into the terrestrial world when the conditions were suitable. These subtil elements forced the mutations in the embryo which provided the mechanism by which the more advanced type was able to incarnate, apparently "out of the blue." H. P. Blavatsky explains that when this is done innumerable minor modifications follow by the so-called "natural" ways familiar to biologists. She writes:
Those purely secondary causes of differentiation, grouped under the head of sexual selection, natural selection, climate, isolation, etc., etc., mislead the Western Evolutionist and offer no real explanation whatever of the "whence" of the "ancestral types" which served as the starting point for physical development. 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. — The Secret Doctrine, II, 648-9
Dr. Goldschmidt's hypothesis should be valuable as an open door for biologists to find their way to the teachings of the Ancient Wisdom on the real meaning of "Evolution." An article by him, setting forth the main points of his argument in technical terms will be found in Science for December 15, 1933.