Site menu:


Sophia Perennis and the theory of evolution and progress
© 2001 Frithjof Schuon

What is the evolutionist error?

Much could be said about the operations and modalities of Divine Omnipotence. In the case of miracles, God projects something of Himself into the world and modifies the natural course of things by His Presence. In other cases, which properly speaking do not fall outside the natural course of things, the Divine Presence is less direct or, if one prefers, more indirect, for the entry of God into the world cannot mean that the Divine Presence enters the world with its very substance, which would reduce the world to ashes. This amounts to saying that in the sphere of the manifestations of Divine Power, one has to distinguish between "horizontal" and "vertical" dimensions, the vertical being supernatural and the horizontal natural; for the materialists, only the horizontal dimension exists, and that is why they cannot conceive of causes which operate vertically and which for that very reason are non-existent for them, like the vertical dimension itself. (1) [Survey of Metaphysics and esoterism, 68-69].

(1) It may be pointed out here that the evolutionist error has its roots in this prejudice. Instead of conceiving that creatures are archetypes "incarnated" in matter, starting from the Divine Intellect and passing through a subtle or animic plane, they restrict all causality to the material world, deliberately ignoring the flagrant contradictions implied by this conceptual "planimetry."

The "stopgap" theory of transformist evolution

Man, like the Universe, is a fabric of determination and indetermination; the latter stemming from the Infinite and the former from the Absolute.

It may be objected that our preceding considerations on the human phenomenon are not an exposition of anthropology properly so called, since we offer no information on the "natural history" of man nor a fortiori on his biological origin, and so on. Now such is not our intention; we do not wish to deal with factors that escape our experience, and we are very far from accepting the "stopgap" theory of transformist evolutionism. Original man was not a simian being barely capable of speaking and standing upright; he was a quasi-immaterial being enclosed in an aura still celestial, but deposited on earth; an aura similar to the "chariot of fire" of Elijah or the "cloud" that enveloped Christ's ascension. That is to say, our conception of the origin of mankind is based on the doctrine of the projection of the archetypes ab intra; thus our position is that of classical emanationism - in the Neoplatonic or gnostic sense of the term - which avoids the pitfall of anthropomorphism while agreeing with the theological conception of creatio ex nihilo. Evolutionism is the very negation of the archetypes and consequently of the divine Intellect; it is therefore the negation of an entire dimension of the real, namely that of form, of the static, of the immutable; concretely speaking, it is as if one wished to make a fabric of the wefts only, omitting the warps.

Quite obviously, an anthropology is not complete if it does not take into account the spiritual dimension of man and therefore factors such as the eschatological hierarchy which we have just spoken, or of the analogous social functions. To say homo sapiens, is to say Homo religiosus; there is no man without God. [To have a center, Survey of Integral Anthropology, p. 50-51].

How should we represent creation or creations? as a process of transformism taking place in "matter"?

Creation - or "creations" - should then be represented not as a process of transformism taking place in "matter" in the naively empirical sense of the word, but rather as an elaboration by the life-principle, that is to say, something rather like the more or less discontinuous productions of the imagination: images arise in the soul from a non-formal substance with no apparent link between them; it is not the images which transform themselves, it is the animic substance which causes their arising and creates them. That man should appear to be the logical issue, not indeed of an evolution, but of a series of "sketches" more and more centered on the human form - sketches of which the apes seem to represent disparate vestiges - this fact, or this hypothesis, in no way signifies that there is any common measure, thus a kind of psychological continuity, between man and the anthropomorphic and in some sense "embryonic" bodies which may have preceded him. The coming of man is a sudden "descent" of the Spirit into a receptacle that is perfect and definitive because it conforms to the manifestation of the Absolute; the absoluteness of man is like that of the geometrical point, which, strictly speaking, is quantitatively unattainable starting from the circumference. (1) [Stations of Wisdom, p.89].

(1) The same thing is repeated in the womb: as soon as the body is formed the immortal soul is suddenly fixed in it like a flash of lightning, so that there is complete discontinuity between this new being and the embryonic phases which have prepared its coming. It has quite rightly been maintained, against transformism, not only that "the greater cannot come from the less" (Guénon), but also that even though something existent may gain more precision or become atrophied, there cannot on the other hand be a motive, in a species, for the adjunction of a new element, not to mention that nothing could guarantee the hereditary character of such an element (according to Schubert-Soldern).

Naivety of transformist evolutionism

Transformist evolutionism offers a patent example of "horizontality" in the domain of the natural sciences, owing to the fact that it puts a biological evolution of "ascending" degrees in place of a cosmogonic emanation of "descending" degrees. (1) Similarly, modern philosophers - mutatis mutandis - replace metaphysical causality with "physical" and empirical causalities, which no doubt demands intelligence, but one that is purely cerebral. [Roots of the Human Condition, p. 5].

(1) We understand the term "emanation" in the Platonic sense: the starting point remains transcendent, hence unaffected, whereas in deist or naturalist emanationism the cause pertains to the same ontological order as the effect.

Mechanism and empirical appearance

There are two points to consider in created things, namely the empirical appearance and the mechanism; now the appearance manifests the divine intention, as we have stated above; the mechanism merely operates the mode of manifestation. For example, in man's body the divine intention is expressed by its form, its deiformity, (1) its symbolism and its beauty; the mechanism is its anatomy and vital functioning. The modern mentality, having always a scientific and "iconoclastic" tendency, tends to overaccentuate the mechanism to the detriment of the creative intention, and does so on all levels, psychological as well as physical; the result is a jaded and "demystified" mentality that is no longer "impressed" by anything.

By forgetting the divine intention - which nonetheless is apparent a priori - one ends in an emptiness devoid of all reference points and meaning, and in a mentality of nihilism and despair, if not of careless and brutal materialism. In the face of this deviation it is the child who is right when he believes that the blue sky above us is Paradise.

That there are sciences, including physical sciences, is in man's nature because it is in the nature of things; but it is quite as much in the nature of things that man is unable to unveil Isis and that he must not try to do so. Human science has limits of principle; what in traditional civilizations prevents man from overstepping these limits is his relationship with God, with all the consequences that this relationship implies.(2)

(1) We should specify: total or integral deiformity, for in animals too there is - or can be - a deiformity, but it is partial; similarly for plants, minerals, elements and other orders of phenomena.

(2) Although a believer, Pasteur is supposed to have said that when entering his laboratory he left God outside; be that as it may, this plainly shows the false realism of scientists, while at the same time - in a quite different respect - it demonstrates the inferiority complex of those who are still believers towards the apparently victorious rationalists.

Science's planimetric view of objects

One point that certain physicists do not seem to understand is that the mechanism of the world can be neither purely deterministic nor a fortiori purely arbitrary. In reality, the universe is a veil woven of necessity and freedom, of mathematical rigor and musical play; every phenomenon participates in these two principles, which amounts to saying that everything is situated in two apparently divergent but at bottom concordant dimensions, exactly as the dimensions of space are concordant while giving rise to divergent appearances that are irreconcilable from the standpoint of a planimetric view of objects.(3)

(3) Let us take the example of the human body: its principial form, which cannot be other than what it is, stems from the Absolute and from necessity, whereas its actual form - a particular body, and not the body as such which gives rise to innumerable variations, stems from the Infinite and from freedom. Its principial form is as it were mathematical, it is measurable; on the contrary, its actual form is as it were musical, its beauty is unfathomable. Anatomy has its limits, beauty does not; but beauty can be relative, whereas anatomy cannot.

"Horizontal" and "vertical" causes

Another point that moderns do not grasp, is that there is no reason for necessarily seeking the cause of a phenomenon on the plane where it is produced, and that on the contrary one has to consider the possibility of a non-material cause, above all when it is a question of a phenomenon whose beginning is unknown a priori, and unknowable materially, as is the origin of living beings. Transformist evolutionism is the classical example of the bias that invents "horizontal" causes because one does not wish to admit a "vertical" dimension: one seeks to extort from the physical plane a cause that it cannot furnish and that is necessarily situated above matter.

Even within the order of physical causes, one has to take into account the simultaneous presence of the immanent metaphysical Cause: if a seed is the immediate cause of a plant, it is because the divine archetype intervenes in the physical causality. Geometrically speaking, causes can be situated on the "concentric circles" that constitute the Universe, but other causes - and with all the more reason the First Cause - are situated at the Center and act through the radii emanating from it. The divine Intellect contains the archetypes of creation, and it is starting from this Cause - or from this causal system - at a given cyclic "moment" of the cosmogonic process, that the "ideas" are "incarnated" which will be manifested in the form of contingent creatures.

We do not ask physicists to be content with an anthropomorphic and naive creationism; but at least it would be logical on their part - since they aim at a total and flawless science - to try to understand the traditional ontocosmological doctrines, especially the Hindu doctrine of the "envelopes (kosha) of the Self (Atma) a doctrine that, precisely, presents the Universe as a system of circles proceeding from the Center-Principle to that extreme limit which for us is matter. For human science does not derive solely from the need to know and to register; more profoundly its origin is the thirst for the essential; now the sense of essentiality attracts us toward shores other than those of the limited plane of physical phenomena alone. [Roots of the Human Condition, p. 16-20].

Who proved the evolutionary theory and when has it been proven?

We shall no doubt be told that the reality of a creator God has not been demonstrated; however, aside from the fact it is not difficult to demonstrate this reality with arguments proportionate to its nature - but which for that very reason are inaccessible to certain minds - the least that can be said is that evolution has never been proved by anybody whatsoever, and with good reason; transformist evolution is accepted as a useful and provisional postulate, as one will accept no matter what, provided no obligation is felt to accept the primacy of the Immaterial since the latter escapes the control of our senses.

And yet, starting from the recognition of the immediately tangible mystery that is subjectivity or intelligence, it is easy to understand that the origin of the Universe is, not inert and unconscious matter, but a spiritual Substance which, from coagulation to coagulation and from segmentation to segmentation - and other projections both manifesting and limiting - finally produces matter by causing it to emerge from a more subtle substance, but one which is already remote from principial Substance.

It will be objected that there is no proof of this, to which we reply - aside from the phenomenon of subjectivity which precisely comprises this proof, leaving aside other possible intellectual proofs, not needed by Intellection - to which we reply then, that there are infinitely fewer proofs for this inconceivable absurdity, evolutionism, which has the miracle of consciousness springing from a heap of earth or pebbles, metaphorically speaking. [From the Divine to the Human, p. 5-6].

What would be the meaning of life if evolutionists were right?

In the beginning was the Spirit: hence the Word; for the Spirit, wanting and having to communicate itself because It is the Sovereign Good, brings about the manifestation of Its innumerable possibilities. The Spirit is both Light and Heat; the latter, life, is as miraculous as the former, intelligence, when we consider them on the plan of their earthly manifestation. Besides, to reduce all intelligence and all love to material causes is a way of not wanting to admit that our material existence is an exile; of wanting, on the contrary, to feel at ease in a world that presents itself as an end in itself, and which exempts man from the effort of transcending things and of transcending himself; whereas without this effort man bypasses the human vocation.

If the evolutionists are right, the human phenomenon is inexplicable and human life is not worth living. Moreover it is to theses conclusions that they arrive in the end, whence their axiom of the absurdity of existence; this is to say that they attribute to the object, which is inaccessible to them, the absurdity of the subject, which they have deliberately chosen by following the propensity towards not innocent, but human, animality. [From the Divine to the Human, p. 17].

About the metaphysically and physically aberrant imaginations of the evolutionists

The human form cannot be transcended, its sufficient reason being precisely to express the Absolute, hence the untranscendable; and this cuts short the metaphysically and physically aberrant imaginations of the evolutionists, according to whom this form would be the result of a prolonged elaboration starting from animal forms; an elaboration which is at once arbitrary and unlimited.

Materialists, even those who consider transformist evolution inexplicable and even contradictory, accept this hypothesis as an indispensable idea, which moreover carries us outside of science and into philosophy, or more exactly into rationalism with its reasonings cut off from the very roots of knowledge; and if the evolutionist idea is indispensable to them, it is because in their minds it replaces the concept of a sudden creation ex nihilo, which to them seems the only other possible solution.

In reality, the evolutionist hypothesis is unnecessary because the creationist concept is so as well; for the creature appears on earth, not by falling from heaven, but by progressively passing - starting from the archetype - from the subtle to the material world, materialization being brought about within a kind of visible aura quite comparable to the "spheres of light" which, according to many accounts, introduce and terminate celestial apparitions. [From the Divine to the Human, p. 88]

Is the ape there to show what man has been?

The ape, for example, is there to show what man is and what he is not, and certainly not to show what he has been; far from being able to be a virtual form of man, the ape incarnates an animal desire to be human, hence a desire of imitation and usurpation; but he finds itself as if before a closed door and falls back all the more heavily into its animality, the perfect innocence of which, it can no longer recapture, if one may make use of such a metaphor; it is as if the animal, prior to the creation of man and to protest against it, had wished to anticipate it, which evokes the refusal of Lucifer to prostrate before Adam. [From the Divine to the Human, p. 98]

Contradictions of the notion of evolution and progress

If man is a hypocrite, two options lie before us: either he is basically such, and then it would be impossible to remark the fact without going outside human nature by miraculous or Divine means; or else man is only accidentally and relatively hypocritical, in which case there was no need to wait for psychoanalysis to take account of the fact, since health is more fundamental to the nature of man than illness, and there have therefore always been men who could recognize evil and who knew the cure for it.

Or again, if man is profoundly sick, one cannot see why psychoanalysis should alone have been able to notice the fact and why its explanation, which is quite arbitrary and in fact essentially perverse, should alone be the right one.

One can obviously try to get round this by putting it down to the working of "evolution," but in that case one has to blind oneself both to the qualities of our ancestors and the vices of our contemporaries, to say nothing of the impossibility of demonstrating - or the absurdity of admitting - the possibility of a sudden burst of intellectual and moral objectivity in a process that is merely biological and quantitative.

For if a natural development were to lead up to a reflexive intelligence, to a sudden act of awareness that perceived the development for what it was, that outcome would be a reality falling entirely outside the realm of the evolutionary process; there would thus be no common measure between the act of awareness and the quite contingent movement that preceded it, and this movement, therefore, under no circumstances, could be the cause of the awareness in question.

This argument is the very negation of the theory of transformist evolution, and therefore of all such notions as those of man as a "link" or man as a product of chance; by the same token it also excludes any mystique of a generative matter, of a biosphere or noosphere or of a "point omega."' Man is what he is, or he is nothing; the capacity for objectivity and absoluteness inherent in thought proves the quasi-absolute or fixed and irreplaceable character of the thinking creature; this is what is meant by the Scriptural words "made in God's image." [Logic and Transcendence, p.12-13].

The evolutionary theory, a substitute for the traditional theory of emanation

In reality, the evolutionary theory,..., is a substitute for the traditional theory of emanation and consists in denying the periphery-center relationship.(1) Thus the very existence of the Center, source of emanation, and of the radii leading to it is denied, and an attempt is made to situate every hierarchical relationship on the curve marking the periphery.

Instead of proceeding upward, starting from the corporeal level and passing through the animic sphere, then mounting toward realities at first supraformal and finally principial or metacosmic, an evolving hierarchy is imagined, advancing from matter, through vegetable and animal life, to human consciousness, itself considered as some kind of transitory accident.

With a thoughtlessness that is infinitely culpable when they call themselves believers some people imagine a superman who is destined to take man's place, and who consequently would also render Christ's humanity contemptible (2); and a certain "genius" imagines at the end of the evolutionist and progressivist chain something he is not ashamed to call "God" and which is no more than a pseudoabsolute decked out in a pseudotranscendence; for the Eternal will always be Alpha and has always been Omega. Creatures are crystallized in the corporeal zone emanating, in a manner at once, continuous and discontinuous, from the Center and from on high; they do not "evolve" by coming from matter and so from the periphery and from below. But at the same time, and beyond reach of our human point of view, creatures are all "contained" in God and do not really come out from Him; the whole play of relationships between God and the world is but a monologue of relativity. [Logic and Transcendence, p.68-69].

(1) This must not, of course, be confused with the emanationist heresy, which has nothing metaphysical about it and which reduces the Principle to the level of manifestation, or Substance to the level of accidents.

(2) For God only manifests himself directly in a support which by definition marks the presence of the Absolute in relativity and is for this reason "relatively absolute." This "relative absoluteness" is the justification of the possibility Homo Sapiens Man might disappear, if God so wished, but he could not change into another species; the Platonic ideas are precise possibilities and not just misty vagueness: every possibility is what it is and what it ought to be.

About the evolutionist prejudice

Evolutionism, ..., provides a typical example of reasoning in the absence of sufficient premises. Modern scientism starts from the gratuitous and crude axiom that there is no reality outside sensorial, or virtually sensorial experience with the highly relative exception of psychology, a very limited domain which, in any case, can be reduced philosophically to a subtle mode of the sensorial; and since it starts from this axiom, it will reason in accordance therewith, leaving out of account premises that surpass it.

Now in the case of a reality that does surpass the sensorial and empirical order, any such reasoning must evidently be false - as well might one reason about a sparrow while denying the existence of birds - and it will demonstrate its falsity by replacing the missing premises by purely functional hypotheses; and these hypotheses will betray their chimerical nature by their monstrousness, as witness the concepts of the ape-man or of "hominization". All this is truly sinister if one considers that the essential truth has reference, on the one hand, to the transcendent Absolute and, on the other, to the suprasensible cosmos, or to the extrasensorial character of the greater part of the cosmos, including our souls which, precisely, appertain to this order. [Logic and Transcendence, p.93-94].

Importance of matter for evolutionists

At first sight, it might be thought that the end result of the cosmogonic projection is matter, which in fact appears as the "final point" of the existentiating trajectory; but it is so only in a certain respect, that of the cosmic Substance, of which it is the most exteriorized and contingent mode; it is such at least for our sensorial world, for one can conceive of indefinitely more "solidified" substances than the matter pertaining to our spatial cosmos (1).

(1) For the evolutionists, this matter is the very theater - or the initial substance - of universal Possibility; gratuitous concepts such as those of the biosphere or of the "noosphere" add nothing that could attenuate this error whose effects are incalculable.

In which case evolutionism would evolutionism be justified?

Since we alluded above to the evolutionist prejudice, it will be permissible here to say a few more words on the subject: evolutionism would be justified if a tree could produce something other and better than what is contained in its seed; it would be justified if the fruits of the tree were, not the manifestation of what the seed already contains, but the result of an evolution that is unforeseeable and variable according to circumstances, or if it were a matter of chance whether an apple tree bears apples and not figs.

The phenomena of evolution and transmutation exist within the limits of certain contingencies, otherwise the seed would never become a tree and a plant would never modify its shape under given conditions, such as a change of soil or climate; but these two factors - evolution and transmutation - are altogether secondary in relation to the principle of qualitative anticipation of effects within their own cause. These truths assume a particular importance when it is a question of Revelations and traditions, for the slightest error on this plane can be devastating to the soul and to the intelligence. [Treasures of Buddhism, p27].


About the notion of progress

In any case people today far too readily include under the common denomination of want or misery both an ancestral simplicity of life and mere lack of food, and the continual confusing of these two things is far from unbiased; the catchword "under-developed countries" is from this point of view highly significant in its blatant perfidy. A scientific machine-age standard of living has been invented and the aim is to impose this on all peoples (1), above all on those who are classed as 'backward' whether they be Hindus or Hottentots. For these believers in progress happiness means a host of noisy and ponderous complications calculated to crush out many elements of beauty and so also of well-being; when they want to abolish such and such 'fanaticisms' and 'horrors' these people forget that there are also atrocities on the spiritual plane and that the so-called humanitarian civilization of the moderns is saturated with them.

(1) The Sankaracarya of Kañci has pointed out ... that 'the very idea of raising the standard of living ... will have the most injurious effects on society. Raising the standards of living means tempting people to encumber themselves with more luxuries and thus leading them ultimately to real poverty in spite of increased production. Aparigraha meant that every man should take from nature only so much as is required for his life in this world.'

In order to be able to judge of the quality of happiness in some past state of the world one would have to be able to put oneself in the place of the men who lived in it and adopt their way of evaluating things and so also their imaginative and sentimental reflexes; many things to which we have become accustomed would seem to them intolerable restraints to which they would prefer the more familiar risks; just the ugliness and the atmosphere of triviality of the world of today would seem to them like the worst of nightmares.

History as such cannot give a full account of the soul of some distant epoch: it chiefly registers calamities, leaving aside all the static factors of happiness; it has been said that happiness has no history, and this is profoundly true. Wars and epidemics no more reflect than do certain customs the happy aspects of the lives of our ancestors, while their literary and artistic works plainly do so. Even if one supposes that history could tell one nothing about the happiness of the Middle Ages, the cathedrals and other artistic manifestations of the mediaeval world provide an indisputable witness to that happiness in the sense that (to put it at its lowest) they do not give the impression of a humanity more unhappy than that of today; like the Orientals of old the ancestors of the present Europeans would no doubt have preferred, given the choice, to be unhappy after their own fashion than happy after ours.

There is nothing human which is not an evil from some point of view: even tradition itself is in certain respects an 'evil', since it must handle evil things in man and these human ills invade it in their turn, but it is then a lesser evil and, humanly speaking, it would obviously be far truer to call it a 'good'. The pure truth is that 'God alone is good' and that every earthly thing has some ambiguous side to it.

No doubt some will say that humanitarianism, far from being materialistic by definition, aims at reforming human nature by education and legislation; now it is contradictory to want to reform the human outside the divine since the latter is the essence of the former; to make the attempt is in the end to bring about miseries far worse than those from which one was trying to escape.

Philosophical humanitarianism underestimates the immortal soul just because it overestimates the human animal; it compels people even to denigrate saints that they may the better be able to whitewash criminals; the one seems unable to go without the other. From this results oppression of those of contemplative bent from their most tender years: in the name of egalitarianism vocations are blurred and geniuses are worn down, by schools in particular and by official worldliness in general; every spiritual element is banished from professional and public life (2) and this amounts to removing from life a great part of its content and condemning religion to a slow death.

The modern levelling - which may call itself 'democratic'- is the very opposite of the theocratic equality of the monotheistic religions, for it is founded, not on the theomorphisrn of man, but on his animality and his rebellion.

Besides, the thesis of indefinite progress comes up against the following contradiction: if man has been able to exist for thousands of years while under the domination of errors and stupidities - always supposing that the traditions are merely such, in which case the error and stupidity would be well-nigh measureless - the immensity of this deception would be incompatible with the intelligence with which man as such is credited and with which he must be credited.

In other words, if man is intelligent enough to arrive at the 'progress' which our period embodies - assuming there is any reality in such progress - then man must have been a priori too intelligent to remain for thousands of years the dupe of errors as ridiculous as those which modern progressivism attributes to him; and if he is on the contrary stupid enough to have believed in them so long, then he must also be too stupid to escape from them.

Again, if present-day man had at long last arrived at truth, he would have to be proportionately superior to the men of former times, and the disproportion between the two would be well-nigh absolute. Now the least that can be said is that the men of ancient or mediaeval times were neither less intelligent nor less virtuous than modern man. The ideology of progress is one of those absurdities that are as remarkable for the lack of imagination as for the total lack of sense of proportion they display; this is, moreover, essentially a vaishya illusion, rather like that of 'culture', which is nothing more than intellectuality stripped of intelligence. [Castes and Races, p.28-30].

(2) On the other hand, by a kind of compensation, professional life more and more assumes a "religious" air in the sense that it claims the whole of man, his soul as well as his time, as though the sufficient reason for the human condition were some economic enterprise and not immortality.