A Devotee Does Not Engage in ViolenceA Devotee Does Not Engage in Violence (Sajjana – Akṛta-droha)
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By Published On: July 30, 2023Tags: , 15.6 min read

Overview

Kalki Dāsa explores the history of the development of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. He raises the question whether this theory put forth in Darwin's book 'On the Origin of Species' was borrowed from the Vedic texts and discovers some very interesting answers.

Near the end of the 1700s in Europe, a significant body of research into geology, palaeontology (study of fossils), and other natural sciences were developing rapidly. These discoveries undermined the 6,000 year old world timeline given in the Bible, and opened up a new frontier of exploration into the truths of natural history.

In 1859 the British biologist Charles Darwin published the controversial book, ‘On the Origin of Species’, which turned many heads and opened a major scientific debate regarding the origins of life on this planet. Darwin’s theory angered many Christians while also giving a foundation to many atheists to establish their own philosophies.

After nearly two-hundred years of heated debates between the evolutionists and the creationists, those acquainted with Vedic philosophy are beginning to wonder if Darwin borrowed his theory of evolution from the Vedas?

In 1831, the twenty-two year old Charles Darwin embarked on an expedition which allowed him to study and catalogue thousands of plant and animal species from around the world. The evidence he collected went on to support his theory that all species, (including humans) originated from primitive life forms found during the earth’s early history.

Darwin’s theory proposes how (over millions of years) aquatics emerged from the oceans to adapt limbs; branching off into insect, reptile, and avian species. Next, reptiles diverged into four legged mammals, then came simians (monkeys), apes (two-legged animals), and finally human beings. Setting aside the sthāvara or non-moving species mentioned below, Darwin’s theory seems to fit right into the sequential blueprint given in Padma Purāṇa:

jalajā nava-lakṣāṇi sthāvarā lakṣa-viṁśati
kṛmayo rudra-saṅkhyakāḥ pakṣiṇāṁ daśa-lakṣaṇam
triṁśal-lakṣāṇi paśavaḥ catur-lakṣāṇi mānuṣāḥ

There are 900,000 aquatic species. There are also 2,000,000 non-moving living entities (sthāvara) such as trees and plants. There are also 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, and there are 1,000,000 species of birds. As far as quadrupeds are concerned there are 3,000,000 varieties, and there are 400,000 varieties of humans.

Students of the Vedic sciences generally do not accept the theory of evolution as presented by Charles Darwin, but it is interesting to note how closely his theory resembles what is found in the Vedic literature which explain how the jīvātmā (individual unit of consciousness) evolves through different species of life, taking on different bodies according to his qualifications.

The gradation of species outlined in the Padma Purāṇa is therefore not a description of how one species becomes another species, but how different species are ranked according to their consciousness, culminating in the human form of life. Above the human form are further advanced forms of life known as the devas (demigods), ṛiṣis (sages), and prajāpatis (the progenitors of mankind).

Since the time it was written, Darwin’s theory has made a deep impact on our views on science, politics, sociology and economics. *1

In order to get a better idea of Charles Darwin’s position, it is important to understand the intellectual dialogue that was taking place at that time. When Darwin was developing his theory, the influence of the church was waning in Europe and the British Empire was rising to take over the world. Urged on by the influence of Sir Isaac Newton *2, a number of thinking minds sought to extensively study, and codify the laws of nature. These scientists identified themselves as Deists, but did not affiliate themselves with Christianity.

Deism was a progressive step forward from Christianity. Understanding that the timeline and conception given in the Judeo-Christian religions was being disproven by science, Deists chose to investigate the existence of God through the empiric study of nature, rather than scriptural revelations given in the Bible *3. As a young college student in England, Charles Darwin was exposed to proponents of Deism such as Sir John Herschel, and Charles Lyell, who inspired him to dedicate his life to science, and make a lasting contribution to the field of natural philosophy.

The greatest wealth of the British Royal Crown came from India, via the exploits of the East India Company. A Lesser known type of wealth came to England from the sub-continent in the form of knowledge.

For the first time (in European history), the contributions of Ancient Indian mathematicians and astronomers were beginning to come to light. The Indologist Henry Thomas Colebrooke translated many works from Brahmagupta, and Bhaskara and brought them back to his colleagues in London *4. Praising the greatness of his discoveries, leading scientists such as Charles Babbage and Sir John Herschel elected Colebrooke as president of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1821.

Colebrooke was an accomplished Sanskrit scholar, and also wrote extensively on Vedic philosophy during the eleven years he spent in Calcutta, India. In relation to the Vedic concept of evolution, Colebrooke was well acquainted:

We now have an account of specific or individual creations, composed of fourteen classes of beings.

The fourteen classes of beings are, (1) that of Brahma; (2) Prajapatya, that of progenitors, the Manus, the Rishis, or divine sages; (3) Saumya, lunar or planetary; (4) Aindra, that of Indra and of other divinities; (5) Gandharva, that of the demigods attendant on Indra, and of similar beings; (6) Rakshasa, that of demons, foes of the gods; (7) Yaksha, that of the attendants of Kuvera; (8) Paisacha, that of mischievous and cruel fiends. These are divine or superhuman beings. The ninth class is that of man.

We have then five classes of inferior beings; or, counting from the preceding, (10) Animals, or domestic animals, pasu; (11) Wild animals, such as deer and the like, mriga; (12) Birds; (13) Reptiles, or creeping things, including fish, sarisrupa; and (14) Specific of individual creation; or, as denominated in the text, the bhautika-sarga, or elemental creation. (Henry Colebrooke, ‘On the Philosophy of the Hindus’, 1837)

Henry Colebrooke brought back many philosophical ideas he gleaned from his journey in the east. The impact of these ideas and their influence on Colebrooke’s circle of associates cannot be understated. For scientists like Sir John Herschel and Charles Babbage, these discoveries served to enhance their understanding of the natural laws, and further, confirmed how an intelligence was working behind them.

After his worldwide expedition, Charles Darwin moved to London in 1837, where he sought out the company of the leading scientists of the time, including the famous mathematician/inventor Charles Babbage. During one public speech, Babbage delivered the following statement:

In like manner does God impress His creation with laws, laws that have built into them future alterations in their patterns. God’s omnipotence entails that He can foretell what causes will be needed to bring about the effects He desires; God does not need to intervene each and every time some new cause is required… God, then, is like the inventor of a complex, powerful calculating engine. (Charles Babbage, 1838)

These words of Charles Babbage must have left an indelible impression on Darwin, who was in attendance during the unveiling of Babbage’s invention of the ’Difference Engine’ *5. Darwin made it his goal to discover what these alterations encoded into nature were, in order to establish his own theory of evolution.

Sir John Herschel was another scientist who Darwin idolised. Credited as one of Darwin’s two greatest influences, Darwin desperately sought Herschel’s approval *6. but was left disappointed by his reception to ‘On the Origin of Species’. In response to Darwin’s theory, Herschel wrote the following in the introduction to his new book:

An intelligence, guided by a purpose, must be continually in action to bias the directions of the steps of change — to regulate their amount — to limit their divergence — and to continue them in a definite course. We do not believe that Mr. Darwin means to deny the necessity of such intelligent direction. But it does not, so far as we can see, enter into the formula of his law (Darwin’s theory of evolution) ; and without it we are unable to conceive how the law can have led to the results. (‘Physical Geography’, John Herschel 1861)

It is no secret that Charles Darwin was an atheist. After growing up enduring constant reprimanding from his fanatical Christian father, and having more dogmatic church doctrines crammed down his throat while in college, it’s no wonder that Darwin was weary of creationism and the illogical superstitions which accompanied it. Darwin was eager to dispense with the necessity of a creator, and the disapproval of his contemporaries further consolidated his position.

In short, Darwin’s theory was widely celebrated amongst younger generations of scientists (Darwin’s followers), but was rejected by other naturalists on the grounds of it violating Deistic principles. Perhaps if individuals like Sir John Herschel and Alfred Wallace had supported their conclusions with Vedic evidence, Darwin’s theory would not have gained as much traction as it did *7. Within only a brief period of time Darwin’s book became a new gospel, and his theory of evolution the state doctrine of establishment science.

Through his autobiography, we also know that Charles Darwin associated with the historian Thomas Macaulay, whose views on Indian culture were also highly influential on British intellectual society. However, unlike Sir John Herschel who wrote favourably about India’s scientific contributions. Macaulay minimised the greatness of Indian culture, and refused to acknowledge its influence on European sciences.

In truth, the Vedas go far beyond telling how God created the world in seven days. They give a comprehensive formula for the unfolding of life throughout the universe over billions of years *8. Furthermore, the idea that entities more advanced than ourselves are involved in the creation fills in the gap left by religionists (and atheists) between man and God. According to the Vedic philosophy, Darwin was partially right when he concluded the following:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (Charles Darwin, conclusion to ‘On the Origin of Species’ 1859)

According to the Vedic conception however, that original form wasn’t a single celled organism *9. but the first created being known as Brahmā. Brahmā produced the secondary life forms, namely the Prajāpatis. These early progenitors seeded life throughout the cosmos, creating the devas, dānavas, humans, and all other lower forms of animate and inanimate life. *10.

Interestingly enough, years after Darwin’s book was published, ‘On the Origin of Species’ co-author Alfred Wallace suggested the following:

A superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms. The laws of evolution alone would, perhaps, never have produced a grain so well adapted to man’s use as wheat and maize; such traits as the seedless banana and bread-fruit; of such animals as the Guernsey milch cow, or the London day-horse.

If we are not the highest intelligence in the universe, some higher intelligence may have directed the process by which the human race was developed, by means of more subtle agencies than we are acquainted with. (‘The limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man’, Alfred Russel Wallace, 1869)

Richard Dawkins, a staunch follower of Darwin even admitted this was a possibility in 2008:

It could come about in the following way – It could be that at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civilisation evolved, by probably some kind of Darwinian means, to a very, very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose that it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry and molecular biology. You might find a signature of some sort of designer… And that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. (Richard Dawkins, ‘Interview with Ben Stein’ 2008)

Certainly a number of things Darwin discussed in his theory were accurate. For instance, it is evident how species naturally vary over time according to the environments and circumstances they adapt in. The theory of natural selection can therefore be described as a law of nature – i.e. the strong survive, while the weak are weeded out. Where Darwin ‘stretched it’ however, was in asserting that all these things happened randomly, driven by the primitive urge for competition rather than a carefully guided intelligence operating behind the laws themselves.

Darwin’s theory also doesn’t adequately address the problem of perception, or the evolutionary necessity for adapting senses like the eyes and ears. This was something that Darwin admittedly struggled with *11. to the point that he even once exclaimed, “The sight of a peacock feather, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!”

On the other hand, Vedic philosophy addresses these matters with profound clarity and elegance,

According to Darwin’s theory, matter gradually produces consciousness, but before producing consciousness it must produce some hazy consciousness, then mind, and then the soul. But in reality, it is just the opposite. Subjective evolution parallels objective or material evolution. But in the evolution of consciousness, the super-subject is first, then the individual soul or jīva-subject is next. Then, from the subjective consciousness of the jīvas, matter is produced.

Reality is subjective. It is based on consciousness. Colour is perceived through the eye. It is not that the colour is there and the eye can catch it. But the seer sees through the eye and perceives colour. So colour is a perception. Its position as actual substance should be traced to the subtle plane of existence. This is the nature of reality: the gross is coming from the subtle. In Sāṅkhya philosophy, of course, that is described as a bifurcated thing. According to Sāṅkhya philosophy, there are three branches of reality: the sense, the senses, and the sense objects. Sound is created by the ear, colour is produced by the eye, and so on.

The objects of the senses are in the mode of ignorance, tama-guṇa, the sensual instruments are in the mode of passion, raja-guṇa, and the power of sensation is in the mode of goodness, sattva-guṇa. From these proceed light, the eye, and colour; sky, the ear, and sound. In this way, mundane reality branches in three ways: tama, raja, and sattva. So the gross world is coming from the subtle through the channel of consciousness. The feeler, the instrument of perception, is creating the object of his perception. (Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī – ‘Subjective Evolution of Consciousness’)

Disregarding the axiomatic truth that only a higher consciousness can produce life of a lower order, Darwin’s theory turned the Vedic concept of evolution on its head, and proposed that the human evolved from the ape, setting the foundation for modern materialist philosophy as we know it today. Whether or not Darwin heard personally about Vedic evolution, certainly the men who influenced him the most were exposed to Vedic knowledge, and that in itself is enough to make the case for his borrowing the theory of evolution from the Vedas.

NOTES

  1. “Social Darwinism is the study and implementation of various theories and societal practices that purport to apply biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology, economics and politics, and which were largely defined by scholars in Western Europe and North America in the 1870s.” Riggenbach, Jeff (2011-04-24) The Real William Graham Sumner, Mises Institute
  1. On July 5th, 1687 Sir Issac Newton wrote, ‘Principia’ (Latin — meaning origins, beginning) arguably the most influential work in the history of western science.
  1. Some prominent Deists throughout history include: Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Lyell and Max Planck. Many of the founding fathers of the United States of America were also Deists.
  1. “On his return to this country, Henry T. Colebrooke presented his Sanskrit manuscripts to India House, where they became a priceless treasure for scholars, and he devoted himself to scientific pursuits. In 1817 there appeared his greatest contribution to learning, his book ‘Algebra, with Arithmetic and Mensuration, from the Sanskrit of Brahmagupta and Bhaskara’, which revealed for the first time to Europeans the mathematical achievements of the ancient Hindus.” (‘Some Prominent Personalities and Events in the Early History of the Royal Astronomical Society’, G.J. Whitrow 1970)
  1. “Charles Babbage announced his invention on 14 June 1822, in a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society, entitled “Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables”. This machine used the decimal number system and was powered by cranking a handle.” (Campbell-Kelly, Martin (2004). Computer: A History of the Information Machine 2nd ed. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.)
  1. Correspondences of Charles Darwin

1859 ‘To Sir John Herschel’: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-2517.xml
1859 ‘To Charles Lyell’: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-2543.xml
1859 ‘To Charles Lyell’: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-2575.xml
1861 ‘To Sir John Herschel’: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-3154.xml

  1. “The great question as to the origin of algebra, which has been the case of so much speculation, seems at length, by the enlightened researches which have of late been made in Hindu literature, nearly decided in favour of that nation. When the stationary character of Hindu intellect is taken into the account, we shall see reason to conclude that all we now possess of Hindu science is but part of a system, perhaps of much greater extent, which existed at a very remote period, even antecedent to the earliest dawn of science among the Greeks, and might authorise as well the visits of sages as the curiosity of conquerors.” (“Mathematics”, by John Herschel — David Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, 1832)
  1. “The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang.” (‘Cosmos’, Carl Sagan 1980)
  1. Single-celled organisms aren’t actually so ‘simple’ when observed under a microscope. Even prehistoric single-celled organisms such as pelomyxa have literally hundreds of moving parts, what to speak of the complexity that’s involved in repairing damage to DNA that all carbon-based lifeforms undergo.
  1. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 6.4.19
  1. Charles Darwin, ‘On the Origin of Species’ 1859 pg. 178-179
A Devotee Does Not Engage in ViolenceA Devotee Does Not Engage in Violence (Sajjana – Akṛta-droha)
Hari-nama InitiationHari-Nāma Initiation

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About the Author: Kalki Dāsa

Avatar of Kalki Dāsa
Kalki Dāsa Adhikārī was born in Chicago in 1993 and met his guru, Śrīla Narasiṅgha Mahāraja in 2015. He studied music at DePaul University for four years before moving to Vermont in order to serve his spiritual master. Besides his musical abilities, Kalki also has a penchant for ancient history and philosophy. Kalki Dāsa is married to Mañjarī Devī Dāsī, both of whom reside and serve at the Rupanuga Bhajan Ashram in Vṛndāvana.
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