by Alfred Acton II
In this study we wish to consider the question of man's natural origin. For the New Churchman this consideration begins with the acknowledgment that there is a Creator who has formed us by orderly means. We ask, as we seek to penetrate the mysteries of faith: "How did the Lord bring about the orderly development of life to accomplish His crowning goal, man?" Are there any teachings in the New Word which will help us as New Churchmen to see an answer to man's origin that will do no violence to Divine truth, and at the same time make it possible for us to accept the vast body of facts accumulated by anthropologists and other scientists ?
We recognize that the Lord works on man from within and without at the same time. From within He gives us curiosity and, as we develop, other loves which lead us to see Him in the form of His Divine truth. From without we are faced with experience, both the experience of sense facts, and the experience recorded in the pages of revelation. We are further instructed that because these two forms of experience, that is, the two worlds presented to us for study, come from the same author, they are not in conflict. The two foundations of truth, revelation and our natural sense experience (broadly called "science"), cannot contradict one another if they both be rightly understood. Where there is apparent conflict, further study of both is needed. Yet if from within we have no love to look to God, all the truth presented from without, however perfect, will eventually be denied by our insanity.
We assume that as New Churchmen we have a love from within to see truth. We assume further that the spiritual, which is the essence of revelation, is discretely above the natural. At the same time, we recognize that spiritual truth as it appears in revelation is couched in fallacies - in sense appearances which may well be wrong, but which nevertheless illustrate principles of eternal spiritual value. The science of the Hebrew authors of the Old Testament is an easy illustration of this principle. For these men, the story of creation in six days at the voice of God was scientific fact, as far as their knowledge of scientific fact went. They had no idea that what they were writing was based on other than observable truth. Their world was earth-centered. They had no problem accepting the scientific principle that the sun was created after light. Of course the truth is that these seven days of creation illustrate a spiritual, not a natural, principle. As we all know, it is the creation of a spiritual man, not the natural earth, that is discussed in the spiritual truth of Genesis. So too, in the New Testament, the authors of the book of Revelation and Matthew found no problem seeing the sun and moon fall upon the earth. Again, this event was for them a scientific possibility. Yet again the scientific, or so-called scientific, truth was used in revelation for the purpose of illustrating a spiritual reality: At the Last judgment, the truth of former Christianity did in fact fall upon the earth of that church, exposing it to the intellectual devastation of atheistic thought. In the New Word we also find apparent scientific truths which in reality are wrong but are used to illustrate spiritual principles. Perhaps the most famous of these errors is found in the Divine Providence, where we read that regardless of chromosomal pairings a black father will always have a black child and a white father will always have a white child when he mates with a woman of opposite color (DP 277). The experience of our day clearly demonstrates how wrong this apparent scientific fact is. We do not reject this experience. Instead we recognize the spiritual principle which the apparent scientific fact of revelation is illustrating, and embrace that truth as of more worth than the fact which our penetration into the mysteries of God's creation has rejected. We accept the spiritual principle that the soul of a child is transmitted from the father.
Indeed, this truth is of cardinal importance to our essential spiritual faith. On this fact hangs our understanding of the incarnation and the glorification of God. If the mother contributed to the soul, then the birth of God via the virgin Mary would have been an impossibility, since His soul, the Father, would have been tainted with the mortal substance of Mary. And so God would have remained man, since to put off the soul is to destroy identity.
When we consider the origin of man's natural body, the spiritual question of the soul coming from the father takes on other but equal importance. If man had an animal father, would he not then have had an animal soul? Are not these souls, that of man and animal, discretely different? Whatever our theory as to man's origin, whether it be some form of evolution or some other theory, we cannot violate the essential spiritual truth that the soul is from the father, and that man's soul is discretely above that of animal.
There are many other spiritual principles found in the pages of revelation which must be considered by the conscientious New Churchman as he seeks to understand his natural origins. Yet I know of no teachings which will limit the New Churchman to any one theory concerning this question. This fact can be illustrated by the variety of theories which conscientious New Churchmen have come up with in answer to this perplexing question. Actually, for the New Churchman there is but one villain in the multitude of theories propounded as answers. The villain, of course, is the most popular, that is, atheistic or agnostic evolution developed from the theories first propounded by Darwin. These theories refuse to consider the possibility of creation by a loving God.
But what other theories might we consider as alternatives to this widely held position? Religious men of past ages have found three theories which have for a time at least satisfied their questions concerning their natural origins. In the New Church, five other possible solutions have been offered. These theories can be listed as follows: The anthropomorphic theory of creation, the fiat theory, and the God-directed Darwinian evolution theory. With New Churchmen: the Arboreal theory, the hominine animal theory, a New Church version of the God-directed Darwinian evolution theory, evolution by limitation, and the microcosmic theory of evolution.
The first of the non-New Church theories is the most primitive. For lack of a better name I have called it the anthropomorphic theory. The name anthropomorphic means man-shaped. This theory states that God created as does man. God was, as it were, a giant man who picked up the substance of the earth and, using his man-like hands, fashioned a body out of that clay into which He breathed life. The theory finds full expression in the second chapter of Genesis. There we see not just Adam formed out of dust, but Eve taken from his rib. The truth underlying this theory is, of course, that God could not create out of nothing. The New Word is quite clear on the principle that out of nothing nothing comes (DLW 282, 283). Yet obviously, to conceive of God as a giant human being who uses man-like hands to mold our body is a primitive thought concerning the Divine. Many degenerate mythologies of the Ancient Church, having fallen from a true picture of God-man, express this philosophy. But the theory today has little else than historical value.
In Genesis, chapter one, where an entirely different sequence of creation is given, this primitive degenerate concept of creation is superseded by the fiat theory of creation, the theory held even today by fundamentalists. Note in passing how different the concept of creation is in the two accounts of Genesis. In chapter one we go from sea to earth to vegetables to fish to animals to men and women. In chapter two we go from rain or mist to man to a garden or the vegetable kingdom, to animals to woman. Of course, though both the anthropomorphic and fiat theories are couched in science long since refuted, they both still contain spiritual principles concerning man's origin. God did create; He used an orderly sequence, though probably neither of the two mentioned is accurate, and creation was an act of His will. Fiat, "let there be . . . and there was," illustrates the importance of God's will in creation. Further, both theories stress the importance of man as God's crowning work. The New Churchman, with the many teachings of the New Word concerning the purpose of natural creation as a heaven from men on earth, would do well to remember that the villain, atheistic evolution, sees man not as the goal of creation but as a small step in the accidental development of animal forms which will in time be superseded by some other higher life form.
The fiat theory, as interpreted by former Christianity, supports the philosophical position that God created out of nothing: a theory, as noted, condemned in the New Word (DLW 282, 283). It need not be so understood from the Genesis account. Still, if God did create from something, the means He used to fashion this substance, according to the fiat theory, were commands. God said, and there was. The fiat theory will not allow for one order of life to evolve into another. Each form of living thing was a separate instantaneous creation. Also, if we fully accept this theory, we must also accept seven days as the time period in which such creation took place. Most advocates of this theory today are willing to allow seven general stages, which may involve many eons rather than a few days. But some strict advocates of the theory still exist. These people find no trouble defending their position of seven days of creation. They simply say that God on each day of creation created the fossils and other geological evidences, which appear to contradict their theory in order to allow mortal men the freedom to reject their Maker. In other words, fossils were created as fossils, not formed as they would appear to have been, and this for the sake of human freedom.
There is one passage in the New Word which seems to support the fiat theory, at least upon first reading. An angel speaking to Swedenborg on the subject of creation, when contrasting creation in heaven and on earth, pointed out that "creation in the spiritual world was from moment to moment in accordance with the affections of angels." He added that there was a difference between creation there and in our world.
If creation "in the beginning" in our world were instantaneous, and if each form sprang from a different spiritual affection inflowing in a general way from God by means of the spiritual atmospheres, how could one life form evolve into another? Does not instantaneous mean all at once? What could be more instantaneous than the fiat command? There are, however, other teachings in the New Word which lead us away from the angel's thought concerning natural creation. The work Divine Love and Wisdom teaches that creation came from seeds and that there was a general progression in life forms from these seeds. Obviously a seed must grow into a plant, and is not the instantaneous creation of the fiat theory (cf. DLW 312, 172). Further careful study of the angel's remarks, though they perhaps favor a fiat interpretation, will reveal that the passage is not so strong as to preclude any other theory. What is instantaneous? Is it the soul substance which has the image of the body which will follow? If so, any seed, including the human reproductive seed, has this instantaneous image.
One further teaching of the New Word tends to support the fiat theory as opposed to evolution. We read in the Divine Providence: "For by means of the Divine from Himself the Lord provides that all things may be held together in the order in which and into which they were created" (DP 55). We would assume from this passage that a fish could not evolve into a frog and so on up a scale since the use of the fish and frog differ, and each would be held in that order. Only fiat would allow for both the fish and the frog to be created apart from one another, since only fiat has specific Divine creations. Yet, as we shall see, other New Church theories concerning evolution reconcile this passage with their position without doing it violence. Fiat is not the only answer to separate created forms held in order for the sake of use.
Darwinian evolution posed the greatest challenge to fiat creation, though historically many philosophers, Swedenborg in his earlier days included, had posited other theories. We do not here challenge the facts of Darwin: Darwin was a careful naturalist and his observations were detailed. Nor do we believe that Darwin's theory today is what it was yesterday, or will be tomorrow. Mendel's genetic principles, including the concept of mutation, have greatly changed the original theory. Still, the theory, as many today teach it, presents a philosophical approach which we can and must challenge. This approach says man is a freak; true, the fittest freak of all, but still a freak who will probably be superseded by a more fit freak. Indeed, biologists today are talking about producing that freak through controlled mutations, thus allowing man some role in the formation of his successor; a thing which all evolution to date has been unable to do. Life, according to this theory, is an accident. The proper combination of slime got together in the proper geographical setting with a perfect temperature and miraculously began to respire, digest, and reproduce itself. I use the word "miraculously" due to the tremendous improbability of such an event, but perhaps the agnostic evolutionist would prefer the term "accidentally." In any event, from this first freak later freaks evolved due to chance mutations caused perhaps by solar activity and other radiations, and due to the geographical isolation of these freaks which allowed them to endure, and also due to the principle of the survival of the fittest. The accident of a thumb that could touch its fingers and so grasp things produced man from some primate strain. Since this thumb made man able to kill almost all his enemies and since its action helped his brain to grow, the primate eventually evolved into the freak he is today - man the animal. Of course, the New Churchman cannot accept this theory. The simple truth that there is no such thing as an accident is sufficient to refute its basic hypothesis, not to mention, of course, its complete denial of God.
Former Christianity, however, was only interested in the Darwinian theory's denial of God, and its rejection of man as God's final creation. Since it believed that God could intervene in His creation, and that there is such a thing as chance, or Divine intervention, the concept of accident developing upon accident was not repugnant as it is to the New Churchman who believes that God cannot operate outside of His established order.
Because former Christianity can accept much of atheistic Darwinian theory it has no real quarrel with the agnostic scientist, except of course, for the fundamentalists who still hold out for fiat creation. Instead, Christians today for the most part accept Darwinian evolution with the philosophical proviso that such evolution was not mere accident, but rather organized by Divine intervention at stated intervals seeking to provide a home on earth for man.
As we noted earlier, today's form of Darwinian evolution poses another serious problem to the New Churchman which Christianity is not concerned about. We accept the teaching that man is not an animal and that his soul could never have come from an animal father. Many Christians around us have already rejected the virgin birth as an impossible miracle, and so have no trouble rejecting man's discrete difference from animal. Who cares how the soul is transmitted as long as we have one and it is immortal? Don't animals have some kind of soul anyway?
Still another doctrine of the New Word is at variance with current Christian evolutionary theory. We believe that life inflows into a vessel; true, it inflows only according to the form of the receiving vessel, but still life is an influx. Some chance organization of material particles will not necessarily produce life. There must be an influx into that vessel which is from the Lord. Life elsewhere may exist according to a different arrangement of chemicals than that which we call life here. Yet still because God will not act contrary to His own order, and since God may have allowed life to begin in some manner similar to that posited by the evolutionists, it is perhaps possible for us in the laboratory to recreate the circumstances under which the first influx of life took place and so to watch new life form. We note that such an experiment, even if successful, would not be the creation of life, let alone human life which is discretely above it; rather, it would simply be the formation of a receptacle of life which would receive according to its form. As New Churchmen we can never say man creates life, nor that life is the product of a chance combination of material parts.
Perhaps a teaching should be added here that somewhat favors evolution. This teaching is that the Lord did not create the world all at once and leave it alone, but rather, preserves his creation by perpetual new creation. We read: "for subsistence is a perpetual coming forth, and consequently preservation in connection and form is perpetual creation" (AC 4322, 10076). Of course, the sustainer who is responsible for perpetual creation is the Lord, and it is not said that the perpetual creation is the creation of new forms of life to replace old ones.
A few further passages from the Arcana Coelestia also seem to support some idea of evolution. The first of these points out that man began natural, like wild animals, and then became spiritual, and at last became celestial like the men of the Most Ancient Church. In other words, the species "man" evolved into something more perfect, from something less perfect. Of course this passage simply says man was natural, not that he was an animal as the evolutionist says. But a second passage in the same series of numbers gives us pause to consider just what this early man, or preadamite, was. It states clearly that man before regeneration, which apparently began with the Most Ancient Church, was non-man, and that the term "man" was applied to the species only after the establishment of that church. We read:
The teaching of this series also states that there was a genetic change as man rose to become celestial. The men of the Most Ancient Church, we read, "had celestial seeds implanted in them; whence their descendants had seed in them from a celestial origin" (AC 310).
From this context it is not too far beyond the plain teachings to postulate that there was a race of non-men who by regeneration became men and thereby caused a genetic change, the implantation of a celestial seed, which was then passed on to their progeny. Of course, such non-men are elsewhere called pre-adamites, and we know they are in heaven so that they did have immortal souls. The question of the evolutionists is, Were there perhaps some non-eternal non-men who preceded those in heaven? Did man evolve from animals? Was he, while natural, simply animal? Such questions are questions which New Church theories of evolution must consider - and such will be our next consideration.
There are at least five New Church theories on man's origin: the arboreal theory, first propounded by Swedenborg in The Worship and Love of God (which he wrote prior to his call); the hominine animal theory; a New Church version of the evolutionary theory; a theory of evolution by limitation; and the microcosmic theory of evolution.
The arboreal theory was first propounded by Swedenborg himself. It states that each of the three kingdoms of creation was the base of the next higher kingdom. The mineral kingdom was the mother of the vegetable kingdom, even as the vegetable kingdom in turn was the progenitor of the animal. In this theory man is a member of the animal kingdom. Perhaps we might wonder about this fact. Is not man higher than animals? Is there not a human kingdom which is above the animal? As far as live forms on earth are concerned, the New Word answers these questions "no." Man is identified as a member of the animal kingdom. We read "In the animal kingdom not only man, but also each particular animal, even the least and lowest is representative" (AC 3000). And again: "First things are each and all things of the animal kingdom. Those of the lowest therein which are called worms and insects, the middle are birds and beasts, and the highest, men" (DLW 65). Man as to his body is an animal. It is only as to his soul that he differs from the animal - he will live forever. Now, of course, the soul does weave the animal matter of the body into a form for use, and so man is the highest of the animals.
But to return to the arboreal theory. Each kingdom was the parent of the next. Minerals were organized into forms which when activated by the "fingers of God," thought of as the atmospheres of the natural and spiritual world, became living seeds from which the vegetable kingdom in turn sprang. Each seed was a separate formation of the mineral kingdom. Further, once a seed was formed out of a mineral it could not change that form and become some other kind of vegetable. All vegetables came directly from minerals, no vegetables from other vegetable forms. In its turn, the vegetable kingdom became acted upon by the fingers of God. Each particular vegetable gave birth to a particular animal form. The grasses with their abundant variety became the insects still often found among them. The bushes and shrubs gave birth to birds and small animals; perhaps, though this is not specifically said, seaweed and other underwater vegetation gave birth to the fish; certain trees produced certain mammals; and at length, the tree of life brought forth a man, who, according to Swedenborg's theory, was Adam.
The theory was propounded in the Worship and Love of God, a book published in 1745, which was after Swedenborg's call but prior to his first studies of the Word and three years before the publication of the Arcana Coelestia. No serious students consider this book as a part of the New Word, yet it is a transition work and does show some of Swedenborg's first thoughts on the Genesis story. It should be noted that the book was a poem, and subject to all the interpretation of poetry. The fact that Adam was the first man is, of course, contrary to the teaching of the New Word. Yet, ignoring that criticism, Swedenborg has at least tried to give a scientific explanation of how creation by a loving God could happen. Though his theory may seem somewhat unscientific today, in its own day it did no violence to observable facts. Perhaps a flavor of the poem would be of use. We read concerning the birth of man:
A second New Church theory states that man's mother was an animal. According to this theory, it is more logical for man to come in an orderly succession from the highest animal form which has existed prior to his birth. This form would have had the best developed brain. For one kingdom to spring in toto from another is too abrupt a development as far as this theory is concerned. According to the hominine animal theory, the process of the incarnation of God illustrates the process of the origin of all life forms. God, with a discretely different soul, sprang from man, by means of a virgin birth. This birth apparently was caused by God ordering the spiritual atmospheres in such a way that they could spark the multiplication of cells in the womb of Mary. A similar pattern of Divine influx and parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, allows for the apparent evolution observed by scientists. There was a Divine implantation of a seed from a soul without the mediation of a natural father, which allowed the higher order of life to spring forth. Once born, this life form continued according to the nature of its soul. The element of miracle implied in this theory makes it sound highly unscientific, yet it does no violence to the teachings of the New Word, so far as I know. Indeed, the concept of implantation of a more perfect seed seems to be taught at least in part. The first parents of the Most Ancient Church, we are taught, had "celestial seeds implanted in them; whence their descendants had seed in them from a celestial origin" (AC 310). Note here that this teaching uses the term "parents" which could mean many mothers; or as would seem more logical since seed is from the father, many fathers; or both, considering both ova and sperm as seed. If mothers is meant, then the passage confirms the hominine animal theory, if not, then we seek another.
An alternative to the hominine animal theory is the New Church version of Darwinian evolution. This theory begins with the acceptance that life is an influx. As an influx it is governed by the prime rule of influx, namely, that form of the receiving vessel determines the nature of the influx. With this truth in mind the theory notes that if there is a dramatic change in the form of a vessel, then the influx will change dramatically. A mutation is a dramatic change. The mutant is not, hereditarily speaking, the same as the parent. Also, it can pass on the change. Is not the implantation of a new kind of seed in actuality the reshaping of the seed of a lower order father by means of mutation, which by the nature of the change allows the establishment of a new kind of soul in the ultimate? Yes, answer the adherents of New Church evolution. For them there is no problem in the soul of man being discretely above the soul of animals. A mutation has in fact so altered the seed of the father that it is an entirely new thing in terms of the influx it receives. Nor is there a problem in the proposition that all life forms once created will be able to pass on their qualities unchanged in future generations. Unless there is further mutation, this is exactly what should happen.
But why should mutations take place? New Church evolution answers this question "because God wills it"; yet the more philosophical answer states that inherent in the first finition of God was all possible life, and that this striving of the spiritual in the natural has brought about such mutations in an effort to find fit forms for expression. In other words, the human soul was potentially present in the very first finite thing, but it found no expression until by mutation a form had evolved which could give it suitable life. God worked on His creation both from the spiritual within and the natural without. The natural from without appears like evolution since life forms viewed from without must build up.
A fourth theory is the microcosmic theory of evolution. This theory operates on the proposition that the development of the embryo will help us in seeing how the human race developed since the human race can be viewed as a single man. The first conscious life of man is at birth. The first conscious life of the Grand Man, that is the birth of heaven, had to take place when the first man arrived there. Prior to that, according to the microcosmic theory, there was an embryological development of this Grand Man which took place as the human form developed on earth. The theory observes that the embryo goes through many stages which look extremely foreign to the human figure. There are things in this development that look like gills and a tail, for example. The embryo begins with a single cell. So too, according to the microcosmic theory, did man begin. As scientists now recognize one-celled animals and one-celled plants, this theory postulates one-celled things which, though they look like animals, are really the beginnings of developing humans. Just as the fertilized cell of the embryo divides and specializes, so did these first created human cells which lived on the earth over a very long period of time. In process of time these cells became organized into forms which prefigure the various stages of embryological development. There may even have been an ape-like form that lived millions of years ago which in reality was this embryological human. At length, when the form had finally developed to a stage almost like that of man, the human was able to inflow fully, and so, the first human being lived. But, I suppose, just as the body must develop after birth, so many different men might have existed: for example, Neanderthal, Rhodesian and Cro-Magnon men. The basic problem with this theory seems to be that it seeks to make man's physical body as something different from that of an animal, (though to be sure we might never recognize this difference from a skeleton) while the New Word seems to teach that as to his body man is an animal. Still, the theory does no real violence to any of the doctrines of the New Word, and it does account for the fact of many different types of man.
A final theory that we wish to consider is a theory of evolution by limitation. I do not treat this last because I have special affinity for it, but because it is so different from the others. This theory denies all up-building of forms from a lower to a higher. Instead, it says that the highest form was first. Now that does not mean that a human being consciously pre-existed all other forms of life, but it does mean that the potential human was the first of creation. The end prefigures the means. So the goal God has for the world must be present prior to the first establishment of the means whereby this goal is attained. This means that the first of finition must have in it all the potentialities of the most complex life forms.
In itself that statement is accepted by all the New Church theories we have discussed. But evolution by limitation takes the concept further. In this theory the first natural created thing, spoken of as the natural sun, has all life forms in it. Organization of this matter is not an up-building from one lower form to another, but rather a drawing out of more specialized forms. Limitations being imposed upon this first natural form specialize its uses and so make it both more and less perfect. More perfect as to use, less perfect as to the potential expression of life. With the vegetable kingdom we found a limitation of this first created stuff in such a way that it could never be animal or human, although the original created stuff had that potential. So also with each generation of animals the original stuff was more and more particularized, that is limited, making that animal less and less able to become a man. But perhaps an illustration will help us to see what evolution by limitation is all about. Imagine a large pile of sand. Take a bucket of water and pour it on top of the pile, always in the same spot, until the water is gone. As the water runs down the pile it will form into many different rivulets which are further and further apart. So with life stuff. It is all from the Lord. It was present in the first living cell as the water was on the top of the pile. But as those cells became more organized the life stuff within was more and more limited into a particular use, which was further and further apart from other uses. This was not an up-building process, but a limiting one, although there is the definite appearance of up-building due to specialization.
A final word ought to be said about evil animals. It is the teaching of the New Word that all evil originates in man. God did not create evil. So animals, said to be evil, could not exist prior to man whose evil loves gave them their origin. Since the scorpion and the alligator, and many carnivores are specifically listed as evil animals, and since our sense evidence places the origin of man long after the origin of these animals, we have a problem. If we accept some New Church type of evolution, how can we reconcile the presence of evil animals prior to man? Let us remember just what evil is. Evil is not nothing. According to the New Word, evil is the perversion of good. In other words, evil is not a specific creation in itself. Only after there is a good can it be perverted. Only after there is orderly creation can there be disorder. Evil can simply twist existing forms or acts toward selfishness. For example, the act of sex is good in itself, but as adultery it is vile.
We can conclude that certain animal forms must have preexisted their perversion into evil animals. They had to be created by the Lord first in order for them to be perverted. So a carnivore may well have pre-existed man, provided he was not evil as to his use, provided his killing enhanced natural uses by preserving the animal population. The True Christian Religion specifically states that carnivorous fish pre-existed man, pointing out how useful they are in keeping the seas from being overrun. Yet, when a carnivore turns from his natural use and begins to destroy spiritual uses, that is when he turns from an animal-meat diet to a man-meat diet, then he is perverting his use. We believe such a perversion could never have taken place without the hells. That carnivores lived prior to evil is hinted at in a passage from the Arcana Coelestia where we read that the good men of the Most Ancient Church ate no meat because it was to them a wickedness and like wild animals. If there were no carnivores eating meat, how could man regard meat-eating as like animals? So the form existed, but the perversion of the form under which we suffer did not exist.
We have now traced nine theories of man's natural origin. One real villain is readily seen. But as to the rest, there are no clear teachings as to which particular theory may be the best. Perhaps further study of both science and revelation will help us to see God's orderly means of creation better, but for the present all we can do is guess.
The New Churchman is not to be bound in this matter. He is free, free to enter into the mysteries of both this world and the other, free to contemplate the beauty and mystery of God's creation.
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