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People tend to think the theory of evolution has its origin in scientific observation whereas Intelligent Design (ID) has its origin in religion. In this article I will challenge this belief, by making the case that the theory of evolution has its roots in eastern religion. I will also argue that since the West has embraced this theory it has led not to atheism, but eastern spirituality. Hinduism and paganism are very similar in viewing nature as a god. This god is made up of all other life forms including our own, as well as spiritual beings (gods, demons or spirit guides). Some western versions of these religions speak in terms of supernatural energies rather than gods.
Hinduism teaches that 'god is everything and everything is god'. The goal of man's existence is to realise his own godhood. What follows from this teaching is not just an appreciation of nature but the worshipping of it. In Hinduism the cow is sacred and eating any meat is forbidden. Hindus believe that life started simple and became more complex. We all started life in the sea and through the process of death and rebirth our bodies assumed new and higher forms. We moved onto the land and when we had accumulated enough positive karma we became human. As humans we progress from dark to light skin. Eventually from man it is possible to make the next step, to become enlightened and realise we are god.
To a Hindu enlightenment meant grasping 'All is god and god is all'. However, in the eighteenth century the term 'Enlightenment' was to become meaningful in the West for a very similar reason.
If you remember, eastern religion and paganism can be summed up as saying that 'god is Nature and Nature is god'. This means that Nature created itself. The Enlightenment philosophers claimed something very similar: namely, that everything can be explained by the laws of nature. This philosophy is called 'Naturalism': it is the equivalent of saying 'All is Nature and Nature is all'.
This belief is compatible with eastern religion and paganism which says that 'Nature is god' but incompatible Christianity which says that God created nature, and exists apart from it. It is possible to believe in Naturalism and reject all kinds of spirituality, but in practice only a few do. G. K. Chesterton said: "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything."
One of the first things to be revised in the Enlightenment was the timescale. James Hutton, an Edinburgh geologist, put forward the case that the Earth was billions of years old. If nature was going to form itself using only natural laws it was going to need a vast amount of time to do it. In the Enlightenment a group of elite thinkers called 'The Select Society' allowed themselves to discuss whatever they wished, with one exception: revealed religion. Here are two quotations dating from the time of the Enlightenment and documenting the fact that Edinburgh's Royal Mile played a central role in this world-changing movement:
"Here I stand at what is called the (Mercat) Cross of Edinburgh, and can, in a few minutes, take fifty men of genius by the hand."
Mr. Amyat, the King's Chemist
"Edinburgh is a hot bed of genius."
Adam Smith was one such genius. He wrote a book called The Wealth of The Nations which is seen as the founding document for world capitalism. Smith, like many other Enlightenment thinkers, was devoted to Freemasonry. Much of the discussion in the Enlightenment took place in the Freemason Lodges.
Another leading Freemason at this time was Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. Erasmus died before Charles was born, yet it is clear from Erasmus' writings that he already believed in evolution. This means that it was not the Galapagos Islands that suggested evolution to Charles, but rather he had this framework in place when he chose how to interpret the evidence. Have a read of this poem by Erasmus which seems to describe the big bang and evolution:
HAIL TO THE BARD! who sung, from Chaos hurl'dErasmus Darwin
How suns and planets form'd the whirling world;
How sphere on sphere Earth's hidden strata bend,
And caves of rock her central fires defend;
How the first embryon-fibre, sphere, or cube,
Lives in new forms,-a line,-a ring,-a tube;
Closed in the womb with limbs unfinish'd laves,
Sips with rude mouth the salutary waves;
Seeks round its cell the sanguine streams, that pass,
And drinks with crimson gills the vital gas;
Weaves with soft threads the blue meandering vein,
The heart's red concave, and the silver brain;
Leads the long nerve, expands the impatient sense,
And clothes in silken skin the nascent Ens.
Erewhile, emerging from its liquid bed,
It lifts in gelid air its nodding head;
The lights first dawn with trembling eyelid hails,
With lungs untaught arrests the balmy gales;
Tries its new tongue in tones unknown, and hears
The strange vibrations with unpractised ears;
Seeks with spread hands the bosom's velvet orbs.
With closing lips the milky fount absorbs;
And, as compress'd the dulcet streams distil,
Drinks warmth and fragrance from the living rill;-
Till, link by link with step aspiring trod,
You climb from NATURE to the throne of GOD.
This is a spiritual poem as well as a biological one; it describes a simple cell, becoming a fish, crawling onto land, developing lungs and eventually becoming human. But then it adds on one more step: the transition from man to God. Albert Pike authored Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree. This compendium of official Masonic lore clearly traces Masonry to Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and other eastern religions. Note also that the word 'Enlightenment' is very much a part of the vocabulary of Freemasonry. It is what Freemasons must declare they seek in order to move from one degree of Freemasonry to the next.
Erasmus Darwin credits Lord Monboddo's work as an influence in his publications. Monboddo (who was also a dedicated Freemason) suggested long before Charles Darwin that humans had come from apes. Lord Neaves, one of Monboddo's successors on the high court of Scotland, believed that proper credit was not given to Monboddo. Neaves wrote the following poem:
Though Darwin now proclaims the lawNeaves, 1875
And spreads it far abroad, O!
The man that first the secret saw
Was honest old Monboddo.
The architect precedence takes
Of him that bears the hod, O!
So up and at them, Land of Cakes,
We'll vindicate Monboddo.
Monboddo cites the Greek philosopher Aristotle as a major influence on his thoughts about evolution. Charles Darwin, in his foreword to the 6th edition of The Origin of Species, credited Aristotle with foreshadowing the concept of natural selection. In Greek paganism, Gaia is a goddess - a personification of Earth and Nature (she is often referred to today as 'Mother Earth' or 'Mother Nature'). According to the Greeks she arose out of chaos, forming the world and giving birth to all the other gods including Zeus.
So the concepts of the Earth being formed from chaos and evolution by natural selection existed as religious concepts centuries before they were scientific theories. If Intelligent Design must be rejected because it has religious connections, then Evolution must also be dismissed for the same reason.
So we have seen that through history the concept of Evolution is never far away from eastern spirituality or paganism. But what about today? Does this still hold true?
Does This Evolution Museum Promote Paganism?
The construction of the Our Dynamic Earth exhibit in Edinburgh cost around £34 million of mostly public money. It was created as a science education project for Scotland's capital to teach children about Evolution and the Big Bang (and to mark the start of the new millennium). However, its contents are very interesting as they reveal the philosophical origin of evolution. The bookshop of this museum sells educational books about Darwinian evolution and the Big Bang, alongside books on eastern religion and pagan spirituality: Chinese Astrology, Tarot, Yoga, Fengshui and ghosts.
I visited the exhibition a couple of years ago. The presentation began by telling how the Earth was formed from the chaos of the Big Bang and how life emerged from non-living material and evolved from simple sea-life to complex human beings. For the finale we had to lie on our backs and look up at a presentation in a planetarium-style dome. The presentation talked about the delicate balance of life on Earth and concluded by saying no wonder so many people are becoming interested in Gaia. Gaia theory says that the Earth behaves as a living organism. A visit to the book shop's music section shows that they are plainly promoting eastern religion and pagan spirituality, not even approaching science: Tibet (Buddhism), Yoga (Hinduism), Tai Chi (Taoism), Reiki (Buddhist root), Celtic (Druidism) etc.
A recent £2 million refit of Dynamic Earth included putting the words "The Mother Earth ... of All Adventures" in giant letters on the outside of the dome.
You might expect that because Edinburgh was at the heart of the Enlightenment it would now be one of the most secular, scientific and rational cities in Europe. However, Edinburgh is a very superstitious city. Even the University of Edinburgh where Darwin was educated now boasts a parapsychology unit. A recent science festival had as its highlight an investigation into hauntings of the underground city.
There is an annual ghost festival. The Royal Mile where the Enlightenment took place, is dominated by ghost tours, witchcraft tours, witches' covens, witchcraft hotel, pagan occult suppliers, New Age shops, alternative therapy studios and psychic fairs.
This backdrop provided the inspiration for the Harry Potter books that were penned in the city.
Edinburgh hosts an annual pagan fire festival called 'Beltane' (Beltane takes its name from the pagan god Baal). On April 30th each year 12,000 people gather for a pagan celebration on Edinburgh's Calton Hill. In the past the festival has been sponsored by the City of Edinburgh Council. Most of the people who attend are students or from a well-educated background. So it seems that Evolution started with eastern religion and paganism and leads back there.