Different Evolutionary Hypotheses

Rather than attempt to list even the main range of alternatives that have been developed throughout the ages, I will limit myself here to nine possibilities, each of greater or lesser plausibility.  So we have here a number of fundamental interpretations to the history of the Earth, life, and man.

The scientific (or Darwinian) explanation

The scientific (or darwinian) explanation is based on the extraordinary amount of data collected by the sciences, which is tied together by a number of hypotheses: the Earth and life develop through various physical, chemical, and biological processes, over billions of years.  Man evolved from the apes by the purely physical process of "natural selection"; the same process through which all life evolved.

The Scientific cosmology is thus one of continual development and progress through tremendously long periods of time (see external link Geological Timescale page).  Note though that, because there is no spiritual reality in materialistic science, this development is not in any way an "upward" path from lesser to greater; it is simply a neutral fact.  However, there have been many who have merged the scientific and the spiritual understandings, and thus see evolution as a valid upward progression towards greater and greater Spirit.

more on Darwinism

The "Creationist" Religious explanation

The "Creationist" (or Fundamentalist) Religious explanation draws from a literal reading of the Biblical book of Genesis, which was originally an old Hebraic creation myth, interpreted through the theology of the later (from about several centuries c.e.) Christian Church.  The timescale is claustrophobically short: Creation came about through the activity of a single supernatural entity, "God", who created the universe and all life in six 24 hour days about 6000 or 10,000 years ago.  Man did not descend from the apes, but was created  personally by God, and thus the only creature to  have a soul.  There is no evolution or transformation; the whole cosmos is static.

more on Creationism

The "Liberal" Religious Explanation

The "Liberal" Religious Explanation is similiar to the above, but sees Genesis as symbolic rather than literal.  Evolution (Science) is the means by which God  (Religion) acts behind the scenes to bring about the  creation of life.  Science and religion are complementary.  Man evolved from the apes, but his/her soul comes from God.  Religious references refer to symbolic rather than literal facts - e.g. liberal Christians and Jews say the six days are really six "ages" of indeterminate length.

The Goethian position

"The work of the Swiss biologist and anthropologist Adolf Portmann (1897-1982) both directly refers to Goethe's research and uses the same methods. Thus Portmann brings Goethe's science of nature into a modern context .... Goethe's science is essentially qualitative and teleological in the Aristotelian sense in which processes are understood as a manifestation of "form," which is not to be explained only in causal terms. By emphasizing organic qualities as irreducible to mechanistic and molecular ("reductive") explanation, and by using a teleology of the type employed in explaining the ontogenesis of the human being, Portmann's biology and anthropology are based on principles and methods of Goethe's science...

Goethe's basic view that all species have common origins agrees with Darwinism thus far. But, for Goethe, this origin cannot be one special organic form (e.g., no particular animal form among vertebrates) because "no single one can give the pattern of the whole." The single variants of form can then only be understood "from the general idea of type," which is just such a unitary whole, not at all a material quantity, but an idea.

For Goethe, this "type" or ideal "primal organism" is, in Darwinian terms, the "form of common descent" of organic development. "The form of common descent or whatever one calls it is for him [Goethe] always the type itself, as [a sensory-spiritual] idea and it already pertains prior to any definite family of species, which it conditions," asserts Herman Siebeck. The "type" is "a purely apperceptive, typical form manifesting itself in sensory space in a graded sequence...of qualitatively different species" until it reaches its most complete manifestation--in Goethe's words its "highest form of organization"--in the human organism. "The type comes forth more clearly at the higher than the lower level". "

quoted from external linkTranscending Darwinism in the Spirit of Goethe's Science: A Philosophical Perspective on the Works of Adolf Portmann - by Hjalmar Hegge

The Goethian paradigm has been very formative in Anthroposophy.

more on Goethean Science

The Teilhardian position:

According to the teachings of the Jesuit Paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Consciousness and Matter are aspects of the same reality.  Evolution proceeds through successive stages of increasing consciousness and complexity: (a) the layers of the Earth such as geosphere, lithosophere, atmosphere etc (i.e. development of inanimate matter), (b) the Biosphere (life); (c) the Noosphere (self-conscious thought,  or mind; i.e. mankind); and (e) the Omega Point (all humans are united in a single Divine Christ-consciousness).  Little is said concerning such "supernatural" matters as the Soul and the after-life, or even God as a transcendent being; humanity is distinguished from the rest of creation not by a "soul" (the conventional Christian position) but by a mind (the "Noosphere").  Teilhard is an extremely influential thinker, and his ideas are very appealing to those who find the purely materialistic understanding of the universe inadequate, but are unable to accept the fairy tales of the biblically literalist Creationist Christians.

more on Teilhard de Chardin

Some rather more "Esoteric" alternatives.

The Taoist position.  The science and cosmology of ancient China is very like the Western scientific position, in that it denies the existence of a "Creator", or of any kind of evolutionary "ascent" or direction in nature.  The cosmos is seen as the  interaction between the two fundamental polarities of Yin and Yang, and all creatures in it from the constant interchange of the "five states of change"  (usually misinterpreted as five "elements") that arise from Yin and Yang.

The Hindu-Buddhist position.  The cosmos is understood as an endless succession of cycles, and cycles within cycles.  There is no evolution as such, only the ceaseless wheel of rebirth (transmigration).  The only way out is the attainment of Enlightenment or Liberation (nirvana, moksha)

The Theosophical and Anthroposophical position:  The central cosmological teaching of Blavatsky and Steiner and their respective followers is perhaps closer to Christianity than it is to Darwinism.  Like Christianity it sees Science as only partially applicable, in that although Science may be useful  it is also frequently in error.  Instead, knowledge  is derived from Clairvoyance, the "ancient wisdom",  and the "akashic record" (a sort of "cosmic  memory").  These reveal the existence of a number of  previous cycles of human evolution, and even greater cycles of cosmic evolution.  These cycles include "lost continents", such as Lemuria and Atlantis, which the earlier races of humans inhabited.  It is also emphatically stated that man did not descend from the apes, but "congealed" from a more subtle, "etheric" state of being.  The Earth similarily only fully solidified very recently (perhaps only several thousands or millions of years ago).  So although other living organisms probably evolved in the way Darwinism describes, man represents a "special" Creation that is not part of the physical process of nature.  Here we see a concession to the Judeo-Christian religious sentiment, which demands that man be seen as apart from and superior to the rest of nature.

Anthroposophy in fact combines the Theosophical occult with the Goethian intuitive approach to produce a cosmology and philosophy - and a philosophy of evolution - that is quite facscinating, albeit not without many shortcomings, especially when interpreted in literal material terms.

more on Theosophical Views on Evolution
more on The Anthroposophical view of evolution

One could add a further alternative, the Scientific-Esoteric synthesis: As I understand it, the facts given out by science concerning  the origin of the Earth and the evolution of life,  including man, are all true and correct.  But they  only pertain to physical reality.  Intimately associated with this physical reality are other levels  of consciousness and existence, and it is these that  serve as the "blueprint" of the evolving physical  form.  In addition, the cosmologies of the Theosophists, Anthroposophists, and other esotericists can be taken as true intuitions of events on these nonphysical planes.  Distortion arises however in translating these understandings into a physical cosmology.  Thus, science and esotericism can be seen as partial viewpoints, each pertaining to a different level of being.

Evolution main page

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