One of the most popular kinds of website these days are those providing genealogy records. They help people searching for their ancestral roots. We are uncertain about who we are. We seek identity. Where do we come from? What are our human origins?
Religious view of human origins
Up to about two centuries ago, the religious view prevailed in Western culture. Then, people assumed they were created in the image of God with an immortal soul. They were conscious of their designated place, in the grand scheme of things, as somewhere between the angels and the animals. In short, this Christian worldview gave life its meaning, a sense of our human origins and an outlook people could try to live by.
However, nowadays, in our secular times, we have lost awareness of transcendence and the sense of the sacred. A few people even think humans descend from aliens who visited earth. But even if true this wouldn’t explain how aliens came into existence.
Most people give the scientific way of knowing pride of place. Consequently, the question, ‘Who made us, God or evolution?’ is firmly answered in favour of the latter. In Darwin’s theory there is no room for divine guidance or design.
“We are the only people who think themselves risen from savages; everyone else believes they descended from gods.” (Marshall Sahlins)
The Christian fundamentalists who argue for creationism do religion no favours. They have a literal understanding of the biblical account of the 7 days of creation. So they see this as factual history. (An alternative view they don’t like is that the book of Genesis is a myth conveying a useful psycho-spiritual message relevant to personal growth.) Consequently, the ‘creationists’ make bogus scientific claims. Not surprisingly, these are easily derided by anyone with any sense. As a result, it has become next to impossible for the idea of design within our human origins to gain any kind of fair hearing.
Evolution and our human origins
It seems today that Darwinian evolution is the only possible explanation of life’s start and development. However, Huston Smith in his book ‘Beyond the Post-Modern Mind’ presents the case for further consideration of a concept of ‘great origins’.
Fossils found in the Earth’s crust show that there have been changes in the constitution of plants and animals, and with the help of radioactive and potassium-argon dating, these have been placed in historical sequence.
Moreover, higher, more complex forms of life (such as human beings) appeared later than simpler ones. All species of life on earth can be traced back through their pedigrees to the simplest forms in which life initially appeared.
Darwin proposed how all this happened saying it did so through natural selection of those fittest to survive working on natural variability and chance mutations. Darwinism is popular in science because natural selection is purely mechanical and the mutations on which it works do so solely by accident. In other words, biology views the origin and development of human life as an automatic process with no room for divine providence.
Perhaps this is not surprising as all branches of science avoid any account of natural phenomena as having any design. This is because there can be no scientific instruments to observe purpose and meaning. What might be intended is beyond the ability of science to judge empirically.
Criticism of Darwinian evolution
We need to ask questions about any fossil evidence for incremental change.
“Geology… does not reveal… finely graded organic change and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against (my) theory.” (Charles Darwin)
Also, there is the question about a lack of fossil evidence for intermediate forms between species.
“Evolution requires intermediate forms between species, and palaeontology does not provide them.” (David Kitts professor of geology University of Oklahoma)
A third concern is to do with non-functionality of changes that only later result in useful new body parts. How can natural selection account for the emergence of complex organs? Ones that are made of many parts that only when they work together after thousands of generations have any use for survival? In the short term what good is half a jaw or half a wing? The module of the brain that governs linguistic ability has no counterpart among non-humans. It’ has appeared in human beings suddenly in its present form.
Huston Smith points out that Darwin’s theory of evolution is rather weak but looks strong because there are no other contenders for understanding our origins.
Non-naturalistic views of human origins
I would suggest that if science has a restricted kind of knowing, then perhaps we need to re-look at other ideas for finding a sense of who we are and where we come from. The trouble with a naturalistic outlook is that it assumes that nothing can exist unless it is physical.
This way of thinking stops one from considering all sorts of less tangible phenomena – those that involve subjectivity and cannot be seen with any kind of precision, prediction or control. To illustrate, at times we can gain intuitive insight, notice fortunate coincidences, and remember dreams. In addition, we can be surprised by wonder and awe at the life force within nature. We can be willing to surrender ourselves to life’s growth and healing power.
Subjective truth may not prove anything, but it can offer reasons for what to believe. Beliefs about who we are and where we come from. And as such it can guide our decisions and conduct.
Spiritual awareness and our human origins
I would say perceiving in non-naturalistic ways is a sort of spiritual awareness. According to 18th century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the spiritual inflows into the natural. The divine is spiritual, and it endeavours to flow into and enliven the natural. The divine energy is one of love wishing to share its life in human action.
Swedenborg thought that those learned people who study natural sciences are more likely to deny any divine reality due to their focus instead on natural forces. In addition he thought that for the rest of us any negative frame of mind is associated with a materialistic and self-orientated attitude. This he wrote opposes deeper understanding.
“The force or endeavour within the action or movement is, it is plain, something spiritual within something natural; for thought and will are spiritual activities, whereas action and movement are natural ones.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Copyright 2019 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems