The Evolution of Life on Earth — Science and The Secret Doctrine
Dr Victor Gostin and Dr Hugh Murdoch
Magazine Article: Theosophy in Australia, September 2005
Part 1 – Overview
The modern understanding of the origin of the Solar System is very similar to the theory of Laplace which was well described in some detail and strongly supported by Blavatsky against a quite different theory current in her day (SD II, 592). Broadly speaking, a cloud of gas and dust, under the combined influence of gravity, rotation, collision and aggregation of particles eventually becomes the Solar System as we know it comprising the Sun the planets and their satellites. Blavatsky emphasises that the Sun and the planets are born as part of a single process by graphically referring to them as co-uterine brothers.
However, when we come to the details of evolution, HPB’s account presents several problems (Barborka, G, The Peopling of the Earth, TPH Wheaton, 1975). The Earth is represented as a CHAIN of seven globes, Only the fourth, Globe D, is physical. Life begins on Globe A, with human monads entering the evolutionary cycle in very ethereal form. They are said to come from the Moon chain, an earlier planetary chain with our Moon as its physical Globe. We have here a striking discrepancy not only with science but internally within the Secret Doctrine. The Moon is not a relic of an older planetary system but is part of our Solar System, the origin of which is so well described by Blavatsky herself. Perhaps the Moon story should merely be regarded as symbolic of a planet on an earlier star system.
In the theosophical story (Barborka, op.cit.), life proceeds seven times around the chain of planets from A to G, each such Round being followed by a pralaya of equal time to that spent on the Round. Precise figures are given for the time spent on each Round, on each globe, on each race etc, with progressively increasing times spent on successive Rounds, Globes etc. We are currently on Globe D in the 4th Round and Blavatsky gives the precise time spent to date on this globe in this Round, based on a Tamil calendar, (SD II, 69). This whole numerology seems to me extraordinarily mechanistic and I cannot envisage life being so precisely and mechanically ordered. Nevertheless, we can use this data (3 Rounds + 3 Globes on this Round + Blavatsky’s time to date on our Globe D) to work out the current age of the Solar System according to the Secret Doctrine as 1,026,201,027 years to 2004, i.e. a little over one billion years. This compares with the age of approximately 5 billion years for the Solar System as a whole and 4.6 billion years for our solid Earth, based on several independent scientific techniques. We need to recognise that in Blavatsky’s time there was no reliable scientific estimate. Her figure was at least, much more realistic that the then popular figure of about 6,000 years for the age of the world based on the Bible, and indeed widely believed by many Christians today.
Helena Blavatsky said in 1888 that the “Secret Doctrine” was based on a small part of the Stanzas of Dzyan: — ancient symbolic texts, with later commentaries, further clarified by her teachers or Masters. While the Masters were clearly much advanced in spiritual and metaphysical matters, they did not claim infallibility in all knowledge. In essence, three separate evolutionary lines are presented: evolution of the physical body, of the intellect (or mind), and of the spirit. Science deals only the physical, but we can compare Blavatsky’s many references to the physical world with scientific knowledge including the major discoveries of the ensuing 120 years. Blavatsky is said to have access via her teachers to knowledge of the past from the Akasic Records. Modern Science has its own “Akasic Records” (Nature’s archives) of the past in the form of the information stored within geological strata, deep ice cores, ocean and lake cores, tree rings, etc. Geological history is based on a variety of highly refined and thoroughly tested and cross-referenced dating techniques on, for example, both single minerals and vast rock sequences. This information is not secret but is publicly available.
The earliest (and most primitive) life forms occurred at least 3.5 million years ago. All life on Earth has the same genetic basis, with heat-loving bacteria at their core. Favoured theories for the origins of Earthly life (very early in the evolution of Earth) involve the chemically and thermally active deep-sea smokers heated by deep crustal heat. Most life on Earth is microscopic and very diverse. The major kingdoms are bacteria, protoctista (eg brown algae), fungi, plants, and animals (including humans). Classical Theosophy recognises only plants and animals plus humans as a separate kingdom.
Planetary activity and biological evolution have been continuous with no major periods of rest or inactivity. However there have been several times when a significant fraction of existing life was extinguished by a major catastrophe, eventually followed by new developments in evolution. An example is the major diversification of our own line, the mammals, following the asteroid that led to the extinction of a great many life forms including the dinosaurs. These occurrences are random and not pre-programmed as suggested by the theory of Rounds.
Science, like Blavatsky, recognises certain cyclic behaviour of the Earth’s motion about the Sun, although there are major differences both in the description of these cycles and their physical effect (either actual or supposed) on the Earth and of its life. Astronomers recognise three such cycles which earth scientists refer to as the Milankovitch cycles after the man who correctly interpreted their cyclic effect on Earth’s climate and sea levels. The major cycle discussed by Blavatsky is the precession cycle of 25,868 years which she refers to as the Sidereal year and which she seriously misinterprets. The cycle results in different areas of Earth receiving more or less solar heating, but it does not mean major sudden tilts of the Earth’s axis, as Blavatsky supposes, that lead to major catastrophes. The interaction of the Milankovitch cycles is, however, relevant in explaining the almost regular periodic occurrence of ice ages and interglacials, as evidenced in the geological record. We are currently in a warm interglacial period.
Thus, in terms of human (or planetary) history we should base our chronology on the major recorded climatic changes – the glacial/interglacial cycles — together with the rises and falls of sea-levels, instead of the SD explanation of axial shifts creating the rise and drowning of continents (see Part 2). Blavatsky’s 2nd Fundamental Postulate of the importance of cyclicity is vindicated in broad terms, if not in the manner she envisaged.
A table of major evolutionary events plotted against geological time was presented showing that prokaryotes (cells without nuclei) were the first cell organisms, followed by the eukaryotes (cells with nuclei) (1,500my). First multi-cellular organisms and most modern Phyla originated (or differentiated) during the Ediacaran Period (~600my). This included the first plants. First shelled organisms e.g. corals, snails ~540my. First trees, about 300my. Mammals and birds evolved ~200my. Primates ~15my. First Hominids ~6my. The far travelling Homo erectus evolved about 2 million years ago, and our oldest modern human ancestors are 195,000 years old.
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To be continued.
Part 2 will present some specific comparisons of Scientific and Theosophical views on particular topics concerning the Evolution of life on Earth.