You are on page 1of 4

Vedanta and the Theory of Evolution


Prelude Darwin’s theory of evolution refuted the
Let us recall the famous Indian fable— Biblical belief of God’s creation of life on Earth
‘Six blind men and an elephant.’ There were six and human beings in six days and that
blind men who wanted to know what an occurred 10,000 years ago. For Darwin’s theory
elephant was. They were hence taken to an of evolution to be true it was essential to prove
elephant and given an opportunity to feel it three things. One, the earth was much older
for themselves. Each one touched the elephant than 10,000 years to have allowed sufficient
to know how it was. When they were asked time for evolution; two, the complex species
to describe how an elephant looked, each one that exist today had descended from one or a
described it differently depending on the part few simpler and common ancestors; and three,
he touched and felt. There were arguments the driving force for species to evolve. Even if
among the six men as to who was correct. one of them were disproved, his theory would
They were told that everyone was ‘partially’ simply collapse.
right because they had touched only ‘a part’ The creationists attacked these assump-
of the elephant and that putting them all tions time and again but the judgement has
together will give the real picture. been going in favour of evolutionists at most
times. Darwin’s speculation that the earth is
Creation versus Evolution older in the order of millions of years is
The 19th century witnessed some of the strongly supported by the radiometric dating
greatest scientific discoveries and technological by the geologists. They estimate that the earth
advances. While discoveries in the fields of is at least 3.56 billion years old! Darwin was
physics and chemistry were readily accepted right in his first assumption.
and appreciated, advances in the field of bio- The assumption of common ancestors is
logy were condemned. The single most impor- now supported by fossil records. Radiometric
tant reason was it confronted religious dog- dating of the fossils reveals that the simpler
mas. Scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus and fossils were older than the more complex
Galileo Galilei were ridiculed and punished fossils. This supports the origin of more
for challenging the geocentric descriptions complex organisms from simpler ancestors.
(that the earth was the centre of the universe ‘Natural Selection’—one of the most
and the sun and other celestial bodies revolved breathtaking ideas ever—provided the answer
around it) found in the Biblical works. There- for the driving force in nature that causes the
fore, in 1859, when Charles Darwin published species to evolve. Just as a farmer selects those
On the Origin of Species by means of Natural crops with better yield over low yielders for
Selection, religious fanatics turned red-hot. further cultivation, Darwin proposed that
Dr. Chetan Belludi from Davangere in Karnataka is an alumnus of Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala (Mysore),
pursuing higher studies in medicine. …

T h e V e d a n t a K e s a r i ~ 33 ~ J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 9

nature selects individuals with favourable of Inheritance.’ With the ‘Laws of Inheritance’
traits to pass them on to their next generation. accounting for the passage of the variations
For example, among the deer’s it is more likely down the generations, Darwinism came back
for a deer with faster legs to survive the attack to the scientific front with a vengeance!
of predators than a normal deer. This is how Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance provided
nature selects the faster deer. There are tremendous insight into one’s ‘Vehicles of
innumerable such examples. Heredity’ or ‘Genes.’ Many interesting facts
were discovered—chromosomes, genes, De-
Theory of Evolution—Its Ascent and Descent oxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) and its ‘twisted
While the physical evidences were going -ladder’ structure and the molecular techni-
in favour of evolution and against the western ques of comparing the DNA of different
religious beliefs, the first serious threat to samples like Nucleic Acid Hybridisation, etc.
Darwinism came not from fundamental These technological advances were at
Christians but from scientists themselves. Their once used to test Darwin’s hypothesis. The
argument was, of course the faster deer was more it was explored the louder was the
more likely to survive but when it has to mate, judgement in favour of Evolution! Here are
it is more likely to mate with a normal deer some important findings. All living creatures
and so the offspring would be a blend of the use the same set of 20 amino acids to build
two characteristics—a half-faster deer! The their proteins. The DNA code for these amino
argument focussed on successive-dilution of acids is the same in all of them. For example
the variations bringing the equation back to ‘UUU’ codes for the amino acid Phenyl alanine,
where it started! in bacteria, in fungi, in plants, in crustaceans,
The blend of characteristics into a ‘half- in fish, in mammals and be-it-any species! This
faster’ progeny was merely a hypothesis. None clearly demonstrates that the blueprint for all
of the scientists who argued on successive living creatures was derived from one or few
dilution of variations really tested it seriously common ancestors. It doesn’t stop there.
because it ‘sounded’ logical. In 1865, when an Analysis of DNA samples from different
Austrian monk called Gregor Johann Mendel species shows direct relationship between the
presented a paper ‘Experiments on Plant extent of resemblance and the proximity of
Hybridization,’ where he confronted the belief their relationship in the ladder of evolution.
of the ‘blend of characteristics’ but nobody paid For example human DNA is 96% similar to
enough attention to it. Darwin passed away that of the chimpanzees, 75% similar to that of
in 1882 and Mendel died two years later. Thus, the dogs and 33% similar to that of the
by the end of the 19th century, the ‘Theory of daffodils! This clearly shows that we are more
Evolution’ was written a scientific obituary! closely related to chimpanzees than dogs or
In 1900, two scientists—Hugo de Vries daffodils. Darwin was more than right again!
and Carl Correns—understood the ‘Experi-
ments on Plant Hybridization’ like never- The Continuing Stalemate
before and the theory was given a successful Through most of the 20th century
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), so to Darwinism grew exponentially. The sad part
say! All of a sudden it sprung back to life and about it is it inculcated ‘materialism’ into one’s
became popularly known as ‘Mendel’s Laws thinking and seemed to support atheism. There

T h e V e d a n t a K e s a r i ~ 34 ~ J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 9

were revolts and judicial proceedings on Millions of attempts have been made to answer
whether Darwin’s theory of evolution should it, yet millions of times it will have to be
be taught in high school biology. The intention answered again. It is not that each answer was a
was not to disprove evolution but to prevent failure; every answer to this question contained
the growing atheism. Judgements seemed to a part of truth, and this truth gathers strength
fluctuate between the two ends and the topic as time rolls on. I will try to present before you
the outline of the answer that I have gathered
remained a mystery for decades until the next
from the ancient philosophers of India, in
big threat to Darwinism came with the
harmony with modern knowledge.
proposal of the ‘Theory of Intelligent Design’
by Philip E. Johnson. He began with some of the subtle
This theory wasn’t totally different from observations in the Nature. He observed that
the biblical description of creation according some things in Nature though seemingly
to Genesis. It just scientifically altered the different were actually a part of the spectrum
theory to sound more logical. It brought in an of a big thing. For example, a seed and a tree.
‘Intelligent Designer’ who crafted the life deftly Though seemingly different, they are a part of
and intentionally and opposed the crude the bigger spectrum of the plant life, each one
undirected ‘Natural Selection’ as the driving leading to the other. The seed is a finer form
force for evolution. Also evolution could not of the plant and over a period of time it
account for the development of ‘Intelligence’ develops into a grosser form, i.e., a tree. The
and ‘Awareness,’ which could be explained tree in turn dies out leaving behind a finer
by the ‘Intelligent Design.’ Evolutionists are form, the seed. Same is the case with a chicken
working on the challenges of propellers of and an egg. They aren’t two different things
‘Intelligent Design’ and are successful to some to argue which one came first. They are one
extent but by and large, the tug-of-war and the same. Man and his germ cells are no
between Evolutionists and Creationists has exception to this phenomenon. He explained:
been 50-50 with no clear outcome as of now. So is the case with everything in nature by which
Obviously, all this is quite mind we are surrounded. We know that the huge
boggling. Moreover, how does India’s religious mountains are being worked upon by glaciers
and rivers, which slowly but surely pounding
tradition respond to the theory of evolution?
them and pulverising them into sand, that drift
Well, the best and one of the most convincing
away into the ocean where it settles down on its
answer to it was provided by a great Indian
bed, layer after layer, becoming hard as rocks,
scientist way back in 19th century itself.
once more to be heaped up into mountains of a
future generation. From sand rise these
19th January 1896, New York mountains, unto sand they go.
A 33 year old Indian scientist was
addressing an American gathering. Mind you, The Myth Debunked
this was a pre-genetic era when Darwinism With these analogies, he derived the
and the theory of evolution were still shaky. equation, ‘Destruction means going back to
But the scientist had the answer. the cause.’ And ‘Therefore we learn that the
The lecture opened with some of the basic effect is the same as the cause, not different. It
questions that have crossed almost all mind. is only in another form.’ Next he applied this
‘Whence is this?’ he asked and continued, to the universe taken as a whole.

T h e V e d a n t a K e s a r i ~ 35 ~ J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 9

This universe must be resolved into its causes; The whole of this universe was present in the
the sun, moon, stars, and earth, the body and cosmic fine universe. The little cell which
mind, and everything in this universe must becomes afterwards the man, was simply the
return to their finer causes, disappear, be involved man and becomes evolved as a man. If
destroyed as it were. But they will live in the this is clear, we have no quarrel with the
causes as fine forms. Out of these fine forms evolutionists, for we see that if they admit this
they will emerge again as new earths, suns, step, instead of their destroying religion, they
moons and stars. will be the greatest supporters of it!
With this new understanding, the crea- Let us close this discussion with another
tionists and evolutionists seemed like those quote of this scientist,
blind men trying to understand a huge ele-
If that is so, take this whole evolutionary series,
phant called universe. Both of them were right
from the protoplasm at one end to the perfect
in their own way. They were only ‘partially’
man at the other, and this whole series is one
right. Each dealt with only a part of evolution
life. In the end we find the perfect man, so in
akin to the blind men describing the elephant.
the beginning it must have been the same.
They seemed like the components of a jig-saw Therefore, the protoplasm was the involution of
puzzle—though the individual compo- the highest intelligence. You may not see it, but
nents seemed to complement, they lacked tota- that involved intelligence is what is uncoiling
lity. When the components are properly arra- itself until it becomes manifested in the most
nged, they merge into one another, revealing perfect man. It, therefore, follows absolutely that
a bigger picture of which they are only a part! the perfect man, the free man, the God-man, who
The bigger picture was nothing but the has gone beyond the laws of nature, and
finer cosmic energy getting evolved firstly into transcended everything, who has no more to go
the earth, sun, moon, etc., and secondly, into through this process of evolution, through birth
the living cell, the organisms which later and death, that man called the ‘Christ-man’ by
Darwin explained how they developed into the Christians, the ‘Buddha-man’ by the Buddh-
Man. The whole thing was one big process. ists, and the ‘Free’ by the Yogis—that perfect
As if man developed from his first cell, the man who is at one end of the chain of evolution
was involved in the cell of the protoplasm, which
zygote, growing into the blastula, which later
is at the other end of the same chain.
on develops into foetus, then comes out of the
womb as a baby, grows up into an infant, a That is quite a breath-taking statement—
child and then finally into an adult. If you providing such a conciliatory solution to this
observe carefully, Man didn’t just ‘evolve’ knotty issue. And surely the readers must have
from the zygote; he was ‘involved’ in it! The guessed the name of the scientist—of course,
young scientist put this concept into words, it is Swami Vivekananda. The lecture referred
No rational man can possibly quarrel with these to in the above discussion is in his Complete
evolutionists. But we have to learn one thing Works (2: 207-209). Indeed it is Swamiji’s genius
more. We have to go one step further, and what to harmonise, but to limit his greatness
is that? That every evolution is preceded by an through just one lecture is another case of a
involution. blind man trying to explain ‘the elephant’! No
He also appealed for peace from the matter what the ‘elephant’ looks like, one thing
evolutionists, is sure, it’s gigantic. †

T h e V e d a n t a K e s a r i ~ 36 ~ J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 9