The strongest objection to the theory that man has descended from lower organisms comes from the fundamentalist religious sects. They consider that the evolution of the species is a directed contradiction of the biblical story of creation and that it also tends to degrade man.
The biblical account in Genesis conceives of man as a spontaneous creation, that is, a creation that came into existence in the physical form in which he now appears. It also states that man is the image of his Creator, that he is the highest creation in reference to the faculties and attributes that he exhibits. If, of course, the Bible is to be taken literally as being the exact word of God and on those grounds no further facts can be considered, then one conclusively closes his mind to all other knowledge.
In numerous ways, it is shown by science by means of empirical knowledge that the Bible is a collection of legends, historical facts, and personal revelations. The Bible can be refuted in part, especially when one realizes that those who contributed to it lacked much of the knowledge available today.
In the still popular King James version of the Bible, at the beginning of the opening chapter of Genesis, there usually appears the date 4000 B.C. as the time of creation. This date is easily refuted scientifically by geology, astronomy, archaeology, and Egyptology. It is known from the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs and cuneiform tablets that there were well-established cultures that had been in existence for centuries at the time the Bible states as the beginning of creation.
Geologists, by means of the so-called earth clock (the ages of the earth revealed in its strata), disclose that this globe has been in existence for millions of years. Radioactive carbon in objects can be recorded in such a manner as to establish their age accurately. This latest method of physical science has confirmed estimates that archaeologists have given to artefacts that far antedate the creation date set forth in the Bible.
The modern space age and its space probes and explorations have put to a severe test the literal interpretations of the Bible. Science is not resorting to heterodoxy or heresy; it is, rather, impartially searching for truth. If it is established that life exists on other celestial bodies and not exclusively on earth and if other reigns equal to or superior in intelligence to man are found, this will then make erroneous the statement that the earth alone was selected as the habitat of an especially created being – man. It must be realized that the early prophets and contributors to the Old Testament accounts did not conceive of heavenly bodies as being other worlds. In fact, most of them were of the opinion that cosmologically the earth is the principal body in the universe.
At the time when Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), astronomer, promulgated his idea that the sun and not earth was the centre of our universe, he became the victim of attack by the theologians. They accused him of detracting from the divine eminence and importance of man. Man was God’s chosen creation, they said, citing the Bible. The earth was created solely for him.
Consequently, if the earth were not the centre of the universe and if it held a subordinate position, man’s status would thus be inferior, also. Copernicus himself wrote, “In the centre of everything rules the sun; for who in this most beautiful temple could place this luminary at another or better place where it can light up the whole at once? – in fact, the sun setting in a royal throne guides the family of stars surrounding him … the earth conceives by the sun, through him becomes pregnant with annual fruits.”
Today, nearly five centuries after Copernicus, truth is again in conflict with religious orthodoxy. Even a high school student in his studies has the evolutionary process in nature demonstrated to him. Breeders of cattle and poultry know the mutations that result by special breeding; in fact, they depend on such for the improvement of their stock. The horticulturist and even the amateur gardener can discern the variations caused in plant growth and form by environmental effects.
What seems to strike particularly at the human ego and dignity is the belief that organic evolution in relation to man means that “he comes from a monkey.” Most of those who acrimoniously inveigh against the theory of evolution have never read any of Darwin’s works or any other textbooks on the subject. Their opinion is that evolution is atheistically designed to attack their faith.
Charles Darwin has not declared in his works that man is a direct descendent of any particular primate. His postulations and researches present the idea that there is “a tree of genealogical descent” and that there are related forms branching off from common parents. Simply put, he meant that life came originally from simpler common forms. In the passing of time, these common forms as parents had many branches from their original stock. These branches or their variations account for the different species due to natural selection and environmental factors.
In his renowned work, The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin states that these variations account for different organisms as the result of competition for restricted food. Those with favourable variations survive and produce their kind. Man was not created as he is, but various factors in his existence, in his gradual survival, have brought about his organic structure. Further, the impact of present conditions will gradually make other changes in him. Man’s hands, for example, were not spontaneously given to him as they are, but their prehensile quality was developed with his need to cope with his environment.
In his works, Darwin shows that the embryological development of the individual “tended to follow roughly the evolutionary development of their races revealed by fossil remains.” That is to say, the human embryo goes through changes which can be observed and which correspond to earlier forms of organisms whose fossilized remains have been found. This indicates that man preserves in himself the early forms of living organisms through which his physical being passed until he reached his present highest stage of development.
Instead of this being shocking and detracting from the status of man, it actually indicates that man may not yet have reached zenith of attainment. There is the potentiality of still further development, which is a yet greater tribute to cosmic law and phenomena. We think that Charles Darwin beautifully expressed this thought in the following words: “Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having risen, in stead of his being placed there originally, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future.”
Organically, man is an animal. To try to separate physically or to distinguish the organic functions of man from other animals is an absurdity. The cells of the human have the same basic function, such as irritability, metabolism, reproduction, and excretion, as living cells in other forms of lower life. It is the physical vehicle of man which the evolutionary theory states is a product of evolution and continues to be.
What reflection does this have upon the religious, the mystical, and philosophical conception that man is “a living soul”? Theology contends from its hagiography, its collection of sacred writings, that man alone has soul. From one point of view only can this postulation be supported. Man, at least, as the most intelligent being on Earth, has the most highly developed self-consciousness.
It is this consciousness of his emotional and psychic nature that causes him to conceive that entity of his personality which he calls soul. He terms it divine, and it is divine if we designate all cosmic forces as being of a divine nature. It is erroneous to say that man alone has a soul. If, as previously stated, beings having a self-consciousness equivalent to man are found in the future to exist in the greater universe; then, certainly, they would have the equal right to claim such an entity as soul.
Until man became Homo sapiens, a rational highly developed self-conscious being, he had only the essence of soul but no conception of it. In the lower animals, there is that same vital force and consciousness, which gradually evolved in man to its own awareness and designates itself soul. Those who fear that the theory of evolution demands the status of man will perhaps learn before another century has passed that there are many other factors that strike at mans egotistic conception of being “the central object of all creation.”
- Ralph M Lewis