Universal Brotherhood Path – October 1902


In considering this subject it is very necessary to discriminate between the principle of evolution and the special doctrines that mark latter-day thought on the question. Evolution itself is a simple fact in Nature. There can be no question that the universe is directed by laws of progressive growth and unfoldment. Philosophers in all ages have recognized this fact and formulated it in various ways.

During the last century, however, certain modern theories have lent a special meaning to the term "evolution," and it is this special significance that we wish to consider.

Two main ideas may be found floating in the hazy atmosphere of popular belief. First there is the notion that Darwin and others have discovered an explanation of Nature and life which supplants other explanations, rules all spiritual doctrines out of order, and confirms the triumph of materialism. Secondly, we find the idea that the descent of man from an ape-like ancestor is a proven fad.

We intend to show that the facts of the modern evolutionists, though they may be genuine as facts, are inadequate as explanations; and that the doctrines for the most part merely re-state the problem instead of solving it.

Let us begin by pointing out that here modern science has made its usual philosophical blunder — that of mistaking mere classifications of effects for causes. Just as physicists have summarized the phenomena of attraction, given them the name "gravitation," and then proclaimed gravitation as the cause of these phenomena; so evolutionists have elevated their observed results into causes, to supply the place of those real causes of which they are ignorant.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says on this point (Art. "Darwinism," in American Supplement):

The principle of natural selection ... is not the name of a force in evolution, but only of the result or outcome of the action of those forces which secure the survival of the fittest. It is the name of an effect and not of a cause. . . . It is therefore a philosophic misapprehension to speak of natural selection as something substantive, which acts as a causal, or even a conditioning factor.

The environment of an organism cannot in any philosophic sense be regarded as causative in relation to the structures which arise in co-ordination with it. These structures are growths, and growths are results produced by the action of causes in the organism. The environment furnishes occasions for particular modes of action of the forces of growth. It is a philosophic error therefore to conceive the conditions of existence as producing any given modification of organic structure.

And H. P. Blavatsky says in one of her writings:

It is a mere device of rhetoric to credit "Natural Selection" with the power of originating species. "Natural Selection" is no entity; but a convenient phrase for describing the mode in which the survival of the fit and the elimination of the unfit among organisms is brought about in the struggle for existence. . . . It is merely a representative term expressive of the manner in which "useful variations" are stereotyped when produced. Of itself, "it" can produce nothing, and only operates on the rough material presented to "it." The real question at issue is: What cause — combined with other secondary causes — produces the "variations" in the organisms themselves?

Thus it is evident that modern science has given at best only half an explanation. It has pointed out the plan or method on which some force or intelligence works; but it has not shown what that force or intelligence is.

We may accept as a fact the principle that species are derived one from the other; and we may admit that a process of natural selection goes on, resulting in the elimination of weaker specimens and the perpetuation of the more adaptable ones. But such admissions do not bind us down to any theory whatever as regards the cause of evolution and differentiation of species. This cause may be called God, or it may be assigned to some potency inherent in matter; but this is in any case a further question that we may leave unsettled without prejudicing our belief in natural selection as an observed process.

It is to this further question that modern science and modern religion can furnish no answer. On the one hand to attribute all to the will of God is too ready and wholesale a way of disposing of the difficulty to suit a philosophic mind, and encourages the false idea of separation between deity and creation. On the other hand, we cannot expect to find in matter the causes of which matter itself is defined to be the effect, nor in "blind" forces the intelligences which guide them. Here then is the point where Theosophy steps in to fill the gap. It supplements and completes the doctrines of evolution (so far as these are sound) and points out the causes which those doctrines do not tell us of.

And here it must be remarked that the inquirer stands on the threshold of a vast subject, so far-reaching that we can merely outline its scope. For in Theosophy the universe is one whole, and it is impossible to divide it into departments for separate study, as modern science tries to do.

H. P. Blavatsky shows how the question of organic evolution dovetails into questions of the origin of life, the birth of worlds, the life-history of man — spiritual, mental, physical — and other questions treated in her works. To enter into such questions would lead us too far afield, so we must content ourselves with indicating their nature and their bearing upon the doctrines we are considering.

Universal Brotherhood Path

Theosophical University Press Online Edition