How evolution evolved from the minds of men…
by John Heers, First Things Foundation
In this edition of Heavy Things Done Lightly, the plan is to take a walk through history to discover something like antecedents. Where does Darwin’s evolutionary theory come from? Is it a scientific discovery, or is it a philosophical treatise, one many thousands of years in the making?
But first, a look at how clunky the theory of evolution is in this bifurcated world of ours. It’s a good place to start when trying to answer our question.
In a dated (2006), but quite interesting article from the Guardian, we hear that “scientists are stunned that Kenyan evangelicals want to deny space for an exhibit that prominently displays the bones of Australopithecus anamensis and Nairiokatome Boy.” Both of these exhibits are apparently examples of human evolution. Nariokatome Boy, who also goes by the name of Turkana Boy, (they had nicknames back then too!) is the most complete human skeleton that is also over one million years old. As the article tells us, the EU, the IMF, and Richard Leakey himself, all planned to underwrite the National Museum of Nairobi so that the world could see this powerful evidence for Darwinian evolution.
Kenyans, lots of them apparently, thought the IMF, the EU, and Mr. Leakey should take a hike. Something about ape origins and European discoveries didn’t sit right it seems. Oh, the irony.
It turns out that Kenya and the whole of East Africa, including Ethiopia, is home to some of the oldest traditions in the world. All of them have origin stories, and all of them already think they know where they came from. Remember the Ethiopian on the road that decides to follow that Jesus guy? There’s no mention of him in the Guardian article. Here’s what one prominent Kenyan bishop argued in 2006 during a very heated debate about the righteousness of building a monument to Turkana Boy.
“This [evolution stuff] is confusing our children and killing our faith. When children go to this museum they’ll start believing we evolved from apes.”
Yes. That’s right. Kenyans, a group of people we’ll call Africans, don’t want the Light People to once again lump them in with, that’s right, apes. Can’t you hear these Kenyan bishops asking aloud, “Are they really doing this again?”
But let’s be fair to the Europeans. They aren’t saying that Africans alone came from Turkana Boy, but just that all of us came from Turkana Boy. Listen to the same article as we hear from Richard Leakey, the son of the fabled bone hunter, Louis Leakey, and bonafide anthropology rock star. “The church is being ridiculous. This is scientific history. Evolution theory is accepted across the world.”
Well, apparently not all the way across the world. Apparently, whole swaths of Africans are still getting used to the idea that they came from apes. Sorry, scratch that, descended from Turkana Boy.
I can’t help but think how this story is a creation story battle royale, one creation narrative out to vex another. Even more to the point, it could be argued that one creation story has set out to vanquish all the creation stories. Adam and Eve are surely casualties of this IMF/EU plan, but I can’t imagine traditional Kikuyu priests are happy about Leakey’s evolution monument being built over the dying narrative of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the world’s first humans, who a god created to live at the foot of Mt. Kenya? What about the Maya and their Jaguar mother tale? What about the Norse tale of Odin making the earth out of the flesh and bones of a giant named Ymir? Can any of these tales survive Turkana Boy?
And that leads me to the rest of this article which is all about the world that actually accepted the Light People creation story: That’d be our world. Modernity. Let’s take a walk through history, before returning to Richard Leakey’s rumble in the jungle.
First things first, evolution has always been around in the minds of humans. Change is obvious. Variation over time is obvious. People have always noticed that this happens. Take a look at Plato and Aristotle. Both of them assent to something called a natural hierarchy. Aristotle actually writes about it in his treatise entitled The History of Animals. In that book, he ranks animals over plants and does all kinds of things to sort and chart the origins of organisms. He comments on transitions between organisms.
Aristotle’s ideas would be picked up in earnest by the scholastically minded medieval Roman Catholic theologians, eventually fine-tuning Aristotle’s more naturalistic claims. These folks came up with something called, in Latin, the Scala Naturae. Listen to St. Albertus Magnus from the thirteenth century as he talks about how the Scala Naturae works.
“Nature does not make [animal] kinds separate without making something intermediate between them; for nature does not pass from extreme to extreme without an intermediate.”
This would become known and often cited by Darwin some 600 years later, as the Law of Continuity. Listen to another saint from the Western Christian tradition, a guy named Nicolas of Cusa.
“All things, however different, are linked together; such an order [demands] that the highest species of one genus coincides with the lowest of the next higher genus, in order that the universe may be one, perfect, continuous.”
These ideas became a type of naturalistic explanation for the physical world within the Roman Catholic worldview. And then, as the Protestant Reformation got rolling, and Descartes started to do his mind-bending somersaults, Light People thinkers began to borrow from the medieval Western Christian lineage. They fell in love with Aristotle and Aquinas. Listen to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (d. 1716) use many of the same terms (chains, missing links, gradation) we are now familiar with in our post-Darwinian world:
“All the different classes of beings which taken together make up the universe are so closely united… Thus men are linked with the animals, these with the plants and these with the fossils, which in turn merge with those bodies which our senses and our imagination represent to us as the absolutely inanimate.”
Notice that this famous mathematician is now linking human life to inanimate things like mud. And why shouldn’t he? It is the nature of a math man to use patterns to make sense of the world. But of course, he’s not the first to link human origins to the mud. A passerby might even think that these Light People have set out to prove the existence of the dust-people you may know as Adam and Eve.
To understand how evolution is less about science and more about philosophy, let me introduce you to a crew of ne’er-do-wells. By the early 1700s, a group calling themselves Rosicrucians had devised a secret society and were peddling some pretty interesting philosophies regarding human origins and the nature of existence. Their most famous member was a man named Francis Bacon. According to the historian Carl Lindgren:
“Rosicrucians provided insight into [the physical universe] by teaching that humans are spirits attending the school of life for the purpose of unfolding latent spiritual power, developing themselves from impotence to omnipotence, reaching the stage of creative gods at the end of mankind’s present evolution: That end is the Great Day of Manifestation.”
The Great Day of Manifestation? Reaching the stage of creative gods? What is going on here? Is this something Elon Musk is going to give to mankind?
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
The Day of Manifestation is when a certain collective Great Being limits Himself to a certain portion of space, in which He elects to create a Solar System for the evolution of added self-consciousness.
Francis Bacon and these early evolutionary Light People are a trip! I mean, Klaus and his friends at the World Economic Forum think only they invented transhumanism. It seems that it’s been brewing up for quite some time.
Now check out Denis Diderot (d. 1784). You may recognize his name from high school as the Light Person who gave us the encyclopedia, the book that, in his words, “will encompass every branch of human knowledge [and give us] the power to change men’s common way of thinking.”
Diderot was also the author of the scientific concept we know today as epigenesis. He writes, “Epigenesis is the notion that living beings are formed in the womb by the gradual layering of material substance, without any preformed information or soul.”
As the Stanford philosophy encyclopedia tells us, “Diderot had an admiration for the metaphysics of a single substance composed of an infinite number of modes.” As Diderot himself tells us, “There is only one substance in the universe.”
Diderot, in the 18th century, more than 100 years before the Origins of Species, is telling us that all of creation is connected by what our next Light Person calls, “consciousness”.
Georgie Hegel, the German philosopher upon which Karl Marx built so much of his theory, also dabbled in evolutionary theory as an explanation of human origins far in advance of any objective evidence for it. In fact, Hegel used the idea of epigenesis to explain how all of history works. As Hegel puts it, “The first stage is a thesis; a contradictory antithesis follows this; and finally a synthesis reconciles or “mediates” the two and becomes, in turn, a new thesis.”
Layers upon layers until a new reality comes along. A new thesis. A new thing. Born of natural processes. We are getting closer to Mr. Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.
But before we get to the big guy, we really need to visit a crew called the Lunar Society of Birmingham. This group of Light People were science enthusiasts and philosophers who set out to advance Enlightenment ideals in England. A 1765 think tank! In the Lunar Society were intellectual elites including such people as Matthew Boulton, a leading industrialist of his time, the man who owned The SoHo iron Works in England, and the guy who financed James Watt’s invention, the steam engine. James Watt was a part of the Birmingham Lunar Society too, and so was Joseph Priestley who discovered oxygen (which is kind of funny, that a person “discovered” oxygen).
And then there was a rather infamous fellow named Thomas Day. He became well known when he decided marriage could be made rational. No really. He made getting married a science experiment. Thomas Day actually went to an orphanage and adopted a twelve-year-old girl named Sabrina and began training her in the Enlightenment arts, things like reading and writing. His goal was to “make Sabrina his Spartan wife, a wife I know she can become.” His goal was to prove that women were equal to men. And to prove that equality he did some neat experiments like firing blank pistol shots at Sabrina and dropping hot wax on her exposed arms. He would make her run with heavy objects up and down the hills of the Midlands in England, taking her for muddy walks so she would “one day become able to understand every species of employment.” The experiment ended when Day divorced little Sabrina when she failed to conform to his Light People experiment.
I am not making this up.
The Birmingham Lunar Society was one of many movements during the Age of Enlightenment aimed at transforming society and rationalizing human existence. And of all the members of these societies, the next one is most important for our story about the antecedents of evolution. I bring you, Erasmus Darwin. That’s right. A group of men bonding together in the late 18th century, calling themselves children of the Enlightenment and doing experiments on everything including “wifing”, had as one of its seminal members, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. And what was Grandpa Darwin dedicated to 70 years before his grandson wrote about the origins of our many species?
From the elder Darwin’s book Zoonomia, we read this:
“That in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament… First appearing deep in the ocean…living organisms gradually grew larger, acquiring new forms and functions until whales governed the seas, lions the land, and eagles the air. Human beings appeared last, the culmination of continuous development, related to lowly worms, as well as to apes.”
Yep. The quote above is from Darwin, writing in 1794, 15 years before he was born.
Okay, so that’s not fair. It proves nothing to point out that Charles Darwin sounds exactly like Erasmus Darwin. That two people of the same tradition would sound like two people from the same tradition is pretty normal. But the tradition part is what interests me. Are we sure that the theory of evolution was “proven” by a set of objective observational truths, presented over time by independently-minded scientists, simply reporting facts from the field? Or is it more likely that evolution as an explanation of human origins was delivered in a philosophy book written by a guy fully imbibing medieval Scholasticism, enlightened Deism, and the rationalism of the Light People Revolution? (For more on Light People and their revolution check out our first post in this substack).
It is clear, at least on some level, that the writings of Charles Darwin, words we’ve been taught to think of as a science report, are more akin to a philosophy book aimed at convincing us of the origin of all species. And for me, it seems obvious that this philosophy book was received by people called “Westerners”. We, Westerners, could receive this book because we were fully ready to accept the rationalist worldview. The West was ready to accept this atheist explanation of our existence because we had been fully divested of our noetic narrative. We had been riven from our logos-driven worldview. When we were ready to jettison our fully human, fully divine anthropology, Darwin was ready to deliver his creation story. And boy did we need it. No culture can exist without one of those stories, just like very few human children do well when every night they go to bed asking, “Who the hell are my parents?”
Cultures can’t survive being orphaned. It’s disconcerting. It’s hard having to wake up every day and wonder if the Leakey family has finally found your mother’s bones buried in some Olduvai gorge. Most people rebel against being fatherless. It’s a hard way to go. And well, something tells me when you look around today you are seeing a culture in rebellion. You are seeing angry postmodern orphans, all of them in search of their origins. And who can blame them?
I think history tells us that Charles and Erasmus were writing a new story to explain our parentage. A fundamentally atheistic movement needed to tell their adherents where they all came from, and Charles did a very good job of putting “facts” to paper in order to turn paper into fact. But their story is no longer sufficient. The spirit of their story has led to the questioning of all stories, and that’s because the story the Darwin’s told is an ugly story without telos. It lacks beauty. It lacks a proper mysticism, and it has failed the Light People whom it was meant to heal.
There is one more thing though, that probably needs to be said. What makes Darwinian evolution so utterly new, and so utterly New World, is that the story explains the creature without offering a creator. That’s the new thing. See, this Light People evolution theory teaches that one thing, one nature, can turn into another thing, with another nature and can do it all without divine direction. The atheist story has tried for centuries to pull a quadruple-back flip with a death-defying non-teleological triple-half twist. The Light People story ignores the distinction between creator and creature, blurring the lines between the human being and the Divine Being, imagining that God is in the scientific method itself. The Light People story makes man the end of man.
Yet, still, we are born, and still, we die. A happy creature without a creator is a story for a very brazen New World. Some might call it narcissistic. Mary Shelley in her novel Frankenstein hinted at this. Some might even call it pathological. Fred Nietzsche did a lot of hinting at that. And even when rationalistic religious types have tried to dress up Darwin’s death dive, think Teilhard De Chardin and Vatican II, the evolution-as-origin story still lands cold. Trans-humanism tells us as much. Trans-genderism tells us as much. People thinking they can become reptiles tells us as much. Without a credible beginning, we seem intent on inventing our own ending. As Phillip Sherrard vigorously points out, “The priests of the material realm, the interminable squads of scientific technical experts sent out to chart, dissect, ransack and ravage, [have torn apart] the total fabric of human and cosmic life.”
But is it really all that bad? Are the priests of evolution really out to ransack and ravage human life?
Maybe. But one thing is pretty clear: Something is afoot. Our work at First Things informs us that the New World has abandoned the standard Old World formula. That formula is something like this: There’s a god. You come from this god. Do your best to end this life near that god. Be pleasing to your father. Honor the mother that bore you, and the blood that sustains you. You are not your own.
That’s the pattern of the Old World; and the one that Bacon, Darwin, and this band of Cartesian mind-benders have managed to subvert.
Oh, and by the way, remember that evolution monument I told you about from 2006, the one the IMF, the EU, and the Leakey’s were planning to build in Kenya honoring Turkana Boy and our primate ancestry? The one Kenyans turned out in large numbers to protest? Here’s how that story ends.
I bring you the words of an American magazine called Popular Mechanics, from 2019:
“After finally securing key funding earlier this month, Leakey [has] instructed Daniel Libeskind’s firm to start drawing up plans for what he calls ‘the cathedra’.”
Wow. The Turkana Boy story ends with a powerful Light People publication telling us triumphantly that work has begun on an evolution monument, designed by a famous Polish-American, and all of it funded by the International Monetary Fund, the EU, and Richard Leakey’s pals.
And they are calling their “African” museum, The Cathedral.
I wish I was making that up.
This article originally published on Substack on April 26, 2023.