Below is an excerpt from Patrick Harpur’s The Philosophers' Secret Fire. I’m not as sceptical as he is about the evidence for evolution, though I think its mechanism is far from understood. What particularly interests me is the way Harpur shows Evolutionists to be driven by pre-existing myths such as the Goddess and the Great Chain of Being.
PS I think the idea of competition as the driver of evolution merely mirrors the competitive capitalist ideology of our society. In other times we might have seen evolution as driven by co-operation, or maybe by elegance.
“A surprising number of people believe that humans are descended from spacemen who have landed on earth and, like the mysterious Nephilim in Genesis, ‘mated with the daughters of men’. We may smile at this myth but it is not especially disreputable. All traditional cultures believe that they are descended from gods, god-like humans such as the ancestors or divine animals – many of whom came from the sky.
Naturally we do not understand the clans who claim descent from a leopard or a bear because we think they believe in a literal biological descent, which they do not. It is westerners who take their myths of descent literally so that, when we ceased to believe that we were literally descended from Adam and Eve, who were created according to Archbishop Usher of Armagh in 4004BC, we were only too ready to believe we were descended from apes. Tribespeople would understand divine ape-ancestors at once, but actual apes… It would be their turn to smile. The last superior laugh is ours, of course, because unlike the naïve tribespeople and the barmy extraterrestrialists we have a scientific theory of descent: evolution.
In 1992 a science writer called Richard Milton published a book, The Facts of Life, which questioned the scientific validity of the theory of evolution. When I read a review of it by Richard Dawkins, describing the book as ‘loony’, ‘stupid’, ‘drivel’ and its author as someone who ‘needs psychiatric help’, I was naturally grateful to Dawkins for drawing my attention, through this closely reasoned critique, to a work I might otherwise have missed. Mr Milton turned out to be disconcertingly sane. He wrote his book as a concerned father who was nervous about his daughter being taught a theory as if it were Gospel truth.”
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Harpur’s main reservation about evolution is the lack of intermediate species in the fossil record and, in their eagerness to believe, the susceptibility of scientists to hoaxes such as Piltdown man.
He continues: “Why do evolutionists believe in evolution against all the evidence? Partly, I suppose, because there is no credible alternative story; mostly, because it is a powerful creation myth which demands to be implicitly believed. Structural analysis has already shown (earlier in the book) how myths which may look very different on the surface are in fact variants of the same myth. They are simply transformed by certain archetypal rules. This is true of myths of devolution and evolution.
Traditionally, creation myths are devolutionary. They describe how we are descended from gods or god-like ancestors, and our present state is fallen, a regression from the perfection of the past. We are inferior to our forebears. Our task is to recreate the conditions of Eden or Arcadia, the state of past harmony.
Only our western scientific myth is evolutionary. It describes how we have ascended from animals and our present state is advanced, a progress from the imperfection of the past. We are superior to our forebears. Our task is to create the conditions of the New Jerusalem or Utopia, the state of future harmony.
We notice that the two myths are, as so often, symmetrical but inverted. So, while the evolutionary myth claims that it is not a myth at all, but history, superseding all other myths, we see that really it is a variant of the devolutionary myth – an eccentric variant that wants to take itself literally.
Evolutionism places humans at the top of the tree, the position formerly occupied by the gods. It also endows us with god-like powers of reason etc. But it claims, too, that we are only animals, a product of mere biology. In other words, we have ‘ascended’ to become the ‘divine animals’ from which so many traditional cultures claim descent.
The place where ‘transmutation of species’ really occurs is not in Nature but in myth. Species of gods and daimons are always appearing to humans in animal form. Witches and shamans take on the shapes of animals and certain animals shed their skins to assume human form. The interchanging of humans and animals is a metaphor for the reciprocal relationship between this world and the Otherworld, the way each flows into the other. In the old days we believed in werewolves; African tribes still routinely believe in were-leopards or were-crocodiles. Nowadays we believe in were-apes. Myth has no objection to the changing of an ape into a man, or vice-versa; but only evolutionists would dream of taking this literally; transmutation of species is a literalisation of daimonic shape-shifting.
Transitional species are abundant in myth, where we not only have were-animals but also centaurs, satyrs, fauns, mermaids, etc; but they are absent in fact. Evolution works imaginatively but not literally. The search for the magical were-ape, or ‘missing link’, which will transform the myth into history tends to follow the same sequence of events: a tooth or bone is found and hailed excitedly as evidence for the missing link. Time passes – and it is reluctantly re-classified as either man-like or ape-like.
The search for ‘missing links’ in the evolutionary chain can be traced back to the Scholastic doctrine – axiomatic for over a thousand years – that ‘Nature makes no leaps’…. But apart from this sort of philosophical precedent for ‘missing links’, it seems simply to be the case that the need for continuity exerts as archetypal a fascination over the imagination as the idea of shapeshifting. We always construct a series of links between ourselves and the gods (or whatever we conceive to be the ground of our being) such as the Neoplatonic emanations, the medieval Chain of Being or the Roman Catholic saints, angels and Blessed Virgin Mary.
But what, if not Adam and Eve, does the evolutionary chain link us to? The Darwinist answer, of course, is: to an ape-like ancestor in the first instance, and ultimately to protein molecules in the primeval ocean. The psychological answer is that it links us to a symmetrical but inverted version of the transcendent God it has done away with – it links us, that is, to an immanent goddess. Darwinists are not aware of her, but she is present in Darwin’s vision of Nature as a cruel power, which his successors inherited. They still see Nature today in an unwittingly Romantic light as the irrepressible source of all forms of life… When Jacques Monod wrote of the “inexhaustible resources of the well of chance’, he was using a metaphor which traditionally belongs to the creatrix in her manifestation as the Soul of the World.
The goddess is particularly present in any ideology which emphasises growth and development. As James Hillman has noticed, ‘the evolutional terms of Darwinian biology… resonate with the person of the mother archetype.’