by Rev. Dandridge Pendleton
Scientific evolution, in its broadest biological sense, simply means change. Applied more specifically to the development of natural organic forms, the word "evolution" refers to the apparent production of higher organisms from lower ones in a continuous (contiguous?) chain of ascent- a production the impulse to and the outcome of which are essentially random and materialistic as to both their means and their end result.
Here is the first and most basic point of issue with the scientific theory (for it is a theory, though it is presented as proven fact) of evolution. For the New Church, along with every other religion worthy of the name, is not materialistic in its outlook as to essential means, ends, and final purposes. From our/their outlook, the physical cosmos is not a "fortuitous" accident, nor was man (In this and in all following references to "man" the term as I am using it is derived from the Latin homo, which includes both men and women) himself merely a chance product of biochemical combinations, whether simple or complex. To the materialist there is but one continuous degree of ascending life in creation, whereas the man of the New Church acknowledges discrete degrees of creative ascent -three in each world (the natural and the spiritual), six in all. These degrees originated in and out of the Divine substantial, and they have their continuance and preservation moment by moment in their created order and use by the Lord - an order and use which reflects and represents Himself in all its parts from inmosts to outmosts and greatests to least singulars.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the several Christian denominations would not admit of man's arrival upon the scene through any of the lower forms of life as a means. Since then, however, the increasing pressure generated by scientific discovery and theory, coupled with considerably more thought and less preconviction by Christian thinkers, has led to a "compromise" solution in some areas of the Christian Church. In these areas, the theory of human evolution out of the animal kingdom has been pronounced theologically acceptable, provided it be acknowledged as Divine in origin, implementation, and end result. Even the Roman Catholic Church, long the stalwart opponent of the scientific evolutionary theory of the origin of man, has made certain concessions in this regard.
And what of the New Church's idea in this field of study? We find no unified opinion but rather much difference thereof, and as a result, a restlessness of scholastic conscience when it comes to specific discussion of the subject. It is obvious that we cannot solve the problem by evading it. Somehow we must come to an essential unity in our approach to the subject of human beginnings, which will necessitate something considerably more to the point than the impression left with many New Churchmen in the past - that the Most Ancient Church was the beginning of all things human.
In recent times, geologically speaking, there came to the fore an animal-like form which yet was not an animal in essence, there to assume dominion over the earth with unprecedented swiftness and efficiency. What do the Writings tell us of these first man-forms and of the means by which they were created? As to their basic nature and quality, I would call your attention to a published study by Rev. Ormond Odhner. (New Church Life, March 1960, pp. 101-110) There, while certain differences of interpretation and conclusion may arise, a valuable study of the pertinent teachings is offered. As to the means of human creation, however, the Writings apparently maintain an absolute silence as far as any open, specific statement is concerned. And yet I believe there is a considerable body of doctrine bearing upon the life of man as distinct from, and at the same time as related to, the life of animals; and it is to this doctrinal aspect of the subject that the mind of the theologian primarily and essentially should address itself.
Physically considered, animals are superior to men. (See SD 4760:2, 2543) But spiritually, the life of the animal ends with the death of the body, while the life of man continues to eternity. An interesting mental, and hence biological, difference is noted: that with men the external sight is governed by the intellect, whereas with animals the intellect is governed by the external sight, which results in man's having an "ample brain" for this purpose, whereas certain animals are said to have two "subsidiary brains" within the orbits of their eyes. (See AC 4407) The fallacy of considering man as simply a more perfect animal is made clear; for the animal receives the influx of life only from the three degrees of the natural world, while man receives also of the three degrees of the spiritual world, and therefore possesses from birth the potential of a spiritual as well as a natural mind. (See AC 5084:5; DLW 66, 270; Life 86) Animals are thus said to be like men in what pertains to their externals but unlike men in what pertains to their life in internals; for in man alone have been gathered together all things of order from firsts to lasts- a fact which establishes itself primarily in that physical organ called the brain, and thereby causes the human brain to be in the "form and flow of heaven." (Love xxi:1,2; see also LJ 9; AC 4040, 4041) This brief doctrinal resume outlines a fundamental point of knowledge and acknowledgment which can never be reconciled with the materialistic view of evolution. The spiritual world and its close relation to, and effect upon, the natural world is basic to our thought in this, as in every other subject in either of those worlds.
I would draw your attention next to certain statements which indicate a direct communion - and in certain cases an identity - between man and animal on the plane of the physical body and also on the plane of the lower or natural mind. Animals are said to possess similar bodies and senses to men, in respect to which "man is an animal," similar discernment and sagacity on the plane of these senses, similar natural affections, similar natural good, a similar life on the natural plane, a similar natural mind in respect to which man is said to be "altogether an animal" and "merely animal," and a similar correspondence of the parts of the physical body with the societies of heaven - a correspondence which causes the forms of their bodily organs to accord with the "flow of spiritual substances and forces ... [which] tends toward the human form, and to each and all things of it from head to heel" (emphasis added). (See AC 196:2; AE 1197:2,3; AC 6484e, 3020, 3408, 5561; Life 86; TCR 296, 566, 673; AE 1208:3)
Following out this line of thought, we find implications of not only a similarity between man and animal on the physical and exterior natural planes of life, but also a virtual identity on those planes. Man's life before regeneration is said to be "merely animal." Without the Divine celestial and spiritual there is "nothing human" in him, but only a "kind of animal nature such as there is in beasts." In respect to his external life man is "nothing but an animal," and he would have "no more thought, or other thought, than a beast" were it not for his particular communication with spirits. (See AC 848, 1894, 10042; TCR 475) Man is actually identified with the animal kingdom in Arcana Coelestia 3000, where we read: "In the animal kingdom not only man but also each particular animal, even the least and lowest, is representative." In Heaven and Hell 103 it is written: "It was stated in the foregoing chapter ... that all the parts and every single part of the animal body are correspondences." Yet interestingly, in the section from which this is quoted, the references are all to man's body and the term "animal" is not used. Nowhere, to my knowledge, do the Writings refer to a human kingdom as such, whereas the animal kingdom is said to be the highest in nature, and therefore to "correspond in the first degree." (HH 104) The two universal forms in creation are the vegetable and the animal, and "by animal forms both animals of every kind and men and angels are meant." (Love xxi, emphasis added; see also DLW 346) In Divine Love and Wisdom 65 man is designated as the highest form in the animal kingdom. This idea is evident also in True Christian Religion 145 in which man is placed as a form of higher rank in that (the animal) kingdom.
There are two strong doctrinal statements on the basis of which many New Church men have felt it impossible to consider scientific evolution as the physical medium of human beginnings. Divine Providence 55 speaks of all things as being "held together in the order in which and into which they were created"; and True Christian Religion 145 asserts that nothing can be produced from a form "except what is like it and what is its own." There is no question as to the Lord's holding of all things in the order in which and into which they were created. Yet we should keep in mind that the essential of that order is a conspiring toward the human form (see previous reference); wherefore all things having their origin in the spiritual sun are said to exhibit that form in their inmosts. (See TCR 66 (emphasis added) In considering the statement just quoted from True Christian Religion that nothing can be produced from a thing except what is like it and what is its own, I believe that a correct interpretation must emphasize what it is to come from something. I am quite certain that from a mineral, vegetable, animal or human soul can be derived only another mineral, vegetable, animal or human soul respectively. This, however, does not remove the possibility of man's physical evolution out of or through an animal form. Reflect here on the difference between the first true man as he would necessarily have been had he come from an animal, that is, from an animal soul, and that same man as he would have been in his own right, having been produced from the Lord through a lower animal structure of physical and external mental attributes. The necessary change would not have been on the plane of the physical body, nor even on that of the lower mind, but on the plane of the soul, from which the potential of a spiritual rational could descend.
In order for this change to take place, the implantation of the human soul or "primitive" would have to be accomplished, I assume, within some highly developed form of animal. This has been one of the "sticking points" for many in the past, in that such an implantation and subsequent gestation and birth would seem a "vile" concept. Yet there has not been similar aversion expressed in relation to the Divine soul's having entered into and been born through the mind and body of Mary, although humankind had become far more vile than any animal if both the spiritual and the historical record are considered.
The miracle of this Divine conception and birth was prefigured, I believe, in the conception and birth of the first human soul into the material universe. Under this concept, however, I would keep in sharp focus the difference between the Divine soul and all merely human souls - one so complete that, while there is an analogy, there is no ratio between them. From this there is also an analogy, but no ratio, between man's regeneration and the Lord's glorification. The advent of the first human even as the Divine conception was without the agency of a human father. And even as there was with the Lord an external heredity from Mary which He was to put off, so also with the first man, and with all men thereafter, there was and is an animal "heredity" in externals - the physical body and the merely animal affections and appetites - which are put off by regeneration and the death of the material body.
It is my belief, then, that the Writings indicate man's physical evolution through but not from a higher form of animal life: higher, that is, than other animal forms then extant. I conclude further that this higher form must have been that specific animal form in which the most full and complete brain development had occurred: a brain in which the two basic correlation centers - the cerebral hemispheres and the cortex -had become fully established. Beyond this, the brain of man today appears to have but a continuous structural superiority over the brain of the higher primate forms of animal life, consisting in an enlargement of those brain areas which have the least specialized function - the so-called "association areas" which lie behind the regions of sensory and activity localization. Modern scientific theory has concluded, at least for the time being, that the secrets of human "self-consciousness" and true "conceptual thought" lie in this simple enlargement.
So far I have given no indication as to my thought concerning an "arboreal theory" of evolution. I have reflected on this as a possibility, but so far I have been unable to accept it as a fact. If there is a willingness to consider man's physical evolution out of any lower material form, then I believe that the logic of ordered succession would prevail - a logic which an arboreal theory would disrupt. Vegetable forms are not forms of life; animal forms are such forms. (See DLW 158; cf. 346) The vegetable kingdom comprises but the mediate or middle degree of ascent from the ultimates of nature to the Divine, whereas the animal kingdom constitutes the primary degree of that ascent. (See DLW 65) To conceive of the human brain's unfurling its prodigious forces for the first time within a plant form - a form which does not even accord with the flow of spiritual but only with that of natural forces and substances - simply does not seem feasible to me.
Before closing, I would like to propose a question which has come up in the course of this study, and which may be of some interest to the New Church biologist. The brain of man, as stated earlier, is "in the form and flow of heaven." This is not said of the animal brain, and the conclusion would seem to be that the animal brain, while it accords with the "flow of spiritual substances and forces," is not in the actual form and flow of those forces but in the actual form and flow of nature only. We are also told that the human mind is a form of Divine good and truth both spiritually and naturally organized, and that therefore the human brain "is this form." (TCR 224:2) The animal mind is also a form of Divine good and truth, but naturally - not spiritually - organized; wherefore it would follow that the animal brain is this form. Is there, then, a "discrete" structural difference observable between the animal and the human brains which would answer to the discrete functional difference in their mental capabilities (merely natural vs. potentially spiritual)? As we follow the brain structure of man back into history, back beyond recorded civilization, back to the Ancient (Cro-Magnon?) And Most Ancient (Neanderthal?) Churches, back beyond this to the "Pre-Adamites," and finally to the "near-men," is there a trend in that structure which might lead us to conclude that the first human brain was almost, but not quite, identical to the highest animal brain extant at that approximate period? It is fascinating to me (though certainly not definitive) that the early Arcana presents us with the single, generalized statement that men became first natural, then spiritual, then celestial. These earliest human forms, although they were not developed even to whatever the Writings mean by "natural," were human- that is, they had human, not animal, souls. The indication to me is that there evidently was a stage in the existence of the earliest men -perhaps spanning a number of, even many, generations - in which their physical appearance and activities would have seemed more "animal" to us than human, and that it took this time for them to "become [even] natural," let alone spiritual, and finally celestial (Most Ancient Church).
The reason for asking this question is that considerable importance has been given in scientific circles to physical body-structure similarities between men and animals in "proving" the scientific theory of evolution. However, the inmost of the physical body is the brain, and it is the "form and flow of the brain" contour, both externally and more deeply within, which is most closely representative of the interior and exterior forces which motivate and essentially constitute the body in which that brain lives, whether in animal or man.
The following points are emphasized again in summation:
-New Church Life 1997;117:68-77