From AnthroWiki

Evolution (from Latinevolvere "to roll out", "to roll over", "to develop") has been, since the time of the French Revolution, the term for every slow and peaceful development and thus forms the conceptual contrast to revolution (Latinrevolutio "to roll back", "to turn around"), which stands for a sudden, violent change.

The biological theory of evolution

In biology, natural history and cultural history, evolution is understood today as the development to new, usually more highly integrated, more complex forms in the physical-chemical (development of the universe and the Earth), biological (development of living beings) and cultural spheres (development of cultures), and as such is largely attributed to purely material causes in the sense of the modern Darwinian theory of evolution. Following this, according to the systems theory, evolution is a process in which copies of a system are produced by reproduction or replication, which differ from each other and from their original system by random variation, and in which only some of these copies are admitted for a further copying process due to selection. On the basis of fossils, the history of evolution can be confirmed by objective facts.

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), who developed the most essential basic ideas of the theory of evolution at the same time as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and in many points in agreement with him, however, in contrast to Darwin, resolutely opposed mere chance, to which life should owe its origin and development, but postulated an organising spirit-guided principle of life. For Wallace, the goal and purpose of this development is the human being who can recognise the hidden forces of this development and derive from them a supreme, superior spirit as its cause. In his book "The World of Life", published in 1910, he emphatically stressed:

„But besides the discussion of these and several other allied subjects, the most prominent feature of my book is that I enter into a popular yet critical examination of those underlying fundamental problems which Darwin purposely excluded from his works as being beyond the scope of his enquiry. Such are, the nature and causes of Life itself ; and more especially of its most fundamental and mysterious powers growth and reproduction.

I first endeavour to show by a careful consideration of the structure of the bird's feather ; of the marvellous transformations of the higher insects ; and, more especially of the highly elaborated wing-scales of the Lepidoptera (as easily accessible examples of what is going on in every part of the structure of every living thing), the absolute necessity for an organising and directive Life- Principle in order to account for the very possibility of these complex outgrowths. I argue, that they necessarily imply first, a Creative Power, which so constituted matter as to render these marvels possible ; next, a directive Mind which is demanded at every step of what we term growth, and often look upon as so simple and natural a process as to require no explanation ; and, lastly, an ultimate Purpose, in the very existence of the whole vast life-world in all its long course of evolution throughout the eons of geological time. This Purpose, which alone throws light on many of the mysteries of its mode of evolution, I hold to be the development of Man, the one crowning product of the whole cosmic process of life-development ; the only being which can to some extent comprehend nature ; which can perceive and trace out her modes of action ; which can appreciate the hidden forces and motions everywhere at work, and can deduce from them a supreme and overruling Mind as their necessary cause.

For those who accept some such view as I have indicated, I show how strongly it is supported and enforced by a long series of facts and co-relations which we can hardly look upon as all purely accidental coincidences. Such are the infinitely varied products of living things which serve man's purposes and man's alone not only by supplying his material wants, and by gratifying his higher tastes and emotions, but as rendering possible many of those advances in the arts and in science which we claim to be the highest proofs of his superiority to the brutes, as well as of his advancing civilisation.“

Alfred Russel Wallace: The World of Life, Preface (archive.org)

The English zoologist St. George Jackson Mivart (1827-1900) held a completely different view from Wallace. Both excluded the human being from purely natural evolution. For Rudolf Steiner, this was a clear indication that the true nature of man could only be revealed by spiritual science:

„Attention should be drawn to two researchers who both stood on the ground of evolutionary history, on the ground of natural science. Both researchers understood the development of the individual living organisms in the same way as the Darwinians, but they only excluded man. They were clear that the laws applicable to the animal world were not to be applied to man, but that, as one must derive one's physical from the physical, so one must derive one's spiritual-mental from a spiritual-mental. Both were completely clear about this. They were just as good natural scientists as they were spiritual cognizers, but their habits of thought were below those of the natural sciences. They thought as a true natural scientist thinks. What did one of them, Mivart, and the other, Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin, think about the actual processes of evolution?

Wallace said to himself that man could not simply be placed in the animal series. Not for the simple reason that there was already a considerable difference in the external structure of the brain between man and the most highly developed ape, even if one only considered the savage, and because the brain of the ape was far too imperfect compared to the brain of the savage, if man was only to have developed from the ape in the straight course of evolution. The other researcher, Mivart, found that the cultural stage of wild man was not at all outwardly different from the stage of development of the most highly developed ape. If, however, we consider the mental activities of the savage and, on the other hand, the activities of the most highly developed ape, we must assume that, since the brains of both have so much similarity with each other, man does not belong in the animal series. If we look again at the brains, we see quite clearly that man's brain has not developed out of the ape's brain by adapting to external tasks, but that it has already developed all its possibilities through civilisation in such a way that it only seems as if everything had already been predisposed so that it could one day become the tool of civilisation.

So because the monkey brain and the human brain differ so greatly from each other, one man, Wallace, believes he must assume that there is no relationship between man and the animal line. And it was precisely the similarity of mental characteristics in both that was proof for Wallace of what he said. For Mivart, his contemporary, the exact opposite was true; he was of the opinion that if one compared the mental qualities of the wild man with those of the highest-standing ape, such a great difference would emerge that because of this difference one could not assume any ancestral relationship between the wild man and the ape.

We thus see two naturalists, both accustomed to scientific thinking, who both assume what they think for opposite reasons; the one because the characteristics of the savage and the supreme ape are so similar, the other because they are so different. If two investigators, both inclined to deduce man from the spiritual, can be so misled as to their grounds of proof by the abundance of facts, how should not he, who is still more prejudiced in the habits of mere materialistic thought, be still more incapable, through the abundance of facts, of arriving at the spiritual from these facts and laws themselves!

Natural science leads us only from fact to fact. If we have spiritual science, then it is precisely from this spiritual science that the natural scientific can be understood and put into perspective. But the laws of spiritual science can never be found out of natural science. Therefore, the human soul would be increasingly deprived of all its spiritual nourishment if it were to remain dependent on "scientifically" accepting only that which is produced by natural science. Natural science itself will attain its greatness and importance precisely by keeping within its limits.“ (Lit.:GA 62, p. 97ff)

Evolution from an anthroposophical point of view

Anthroposophical spiritual research goes beyond these approaches, which remain in general, and concretely uncovers the complex spiritual and material backgrounds of evolution, which are most comprehensively described by the so-called seven planetary stages of world evolution, which in turn are divided into seven conditions of life and these in turn into seven conditions of form. At present, with our present physical earth evolution, we are in the fourth (physical) condition of form of the mineral kingdom, which is the 4th condition of life of our Earth.

From a spiritual-scientific point of view, evolution means that a spiritually creative being gradually becomes more and more clearly visible in the outer sensual-material appearance. The necessary counter-movement to this is involution, through which the spiritual again gradually withdraws from the outer appearance (see below).

„But if you really follow my writings, you will see that I have always done justice to Darwinism, but that I have been able to do justice precisely by opposing it with Goetheanism, the conception of the evolution of life. I have always tried to combine what is called the theory of descent, on the one hand in the sense of Darwinism, on the other hand in the sense of Goetheanism. Why? Because in Goetheanism the ascending line lives, the lifting of organic development out of the merely physical, physical existence.

How often have I referred to the conversation between Goethe and Schiller, where Schiller, when Goethe recorded his archetypal plant, said: That is not empiricism, that is not experience, that is an idea. - Then Goethe said: Then I have my idea before my eyes! - because he saw the spiritual everywhere. In Goethe's work we have a doctrine of development that carries within itself the seed of being raised to the highest spheres, of being applied to soul and spirit. Even if Goethe only made the beginning for organic development in the doctrine of metamorphosis, we have the evolution of the spirit to which humanity must come from this fifth post-Atlantean period onwards, because the human being is internalising himself, as I have shown in these reflections. Goetheanism can have a great future, for the whole of Anthroposophy lies in its line. Darwinism looks at physical development from the physical side: external impulses, struggle for existence, selection and so on, and thus represents the dying development, all that can be found about organic life if one abandons oneself to the impulses that grew up in earlier times. If one wishes to understand Darwin, one has only to summarise synthetically all the laws that were discovered earlier. If one wants to understand Goethe, one must rise to new and ever new laws of existence. Both are necessary. The mistake is not that there is a Darwinism or that there is a Goetheanism, but that people want to adhere to one or the other and not to one and the other. That is what matters.“ (Lit.:GA 177, p. 223f)

Development proceeds in cycles and presupposes no beginning and no end:

„Development presupposes no beginning and no end. Development proceeds in cycles without repetition, always something new is inserted in cyclical progress. Finite beginning or end is a maja conclusion, abstracted from sensuous processes.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 188)

Rudolf Steiner consistently builds on the preliminary work that Goethe did with his metamorphosis theory. Goethe assumed that an ideal archetype works in every living being, which he called type. This Type forms an archetypal wholeness out of which the manifold individually formed single beings emerge. The type common to all plants is the archetypal plant (GermanUrpflanze), the type active in animals is the archetypal animal (GermanUrtier).

„What does Goethe understand by this type? He has spoken clearly and unequivocally about it. He says he felt the necessity: "to establish a type by which all mammals could be tested for agreement and difference, and as I had previously sought out the archetypal plant, so I now strove to find the archetypal animal, which ultimately means: the concept, the idea of the animal". And another time with even greater clarity: "But once one has grasped the idea of this type, one will quite understand how impossible it is to set up a single genus as a canon. The individual cannot be a pattern of the whole, and so we must not seek the pattern for all in the individual. The classes, genera, species and individuals behave like the cases to the law: they are contained in it, but they contain it and do not give it." So if Goethe had been asked whether he saw his original form, his type, realised in a certain animal or plant form that existed at some time, he would no doubt have answered with a resounding "No". He would have said: Just like the domestic dog, even the simplest animal organism is only a special case of what I understand by type. We do not find the type at all realised in the external world, but it comes to us as an idea in our inner being when we consider what living beings have in common. Just as the physicist does not make a single case, a random phenomenon, the starting point of his investigations, so the zoologist or botanist may not address a single organism as the original organism. And here is the point at which it must become clear that the newer Darwinism falls far short of Goethe's basic ideas. This scientific trend finds that there are two causes under the influence of which one organic form can transform itself into another: adaptation and the struggle for existence. Adaptation is understood to mean the fact that an organism undergoes a change in its life activity and in its form as a result of influences from the outside world. As a result, it acquires characteristics that its predecessors did not have. In this way a transformation of existing organic forms can take place. The law of the struggle for existence is based on the following considerations. Organic life produces many more germs than there is room on earth for them to nourish and develop. Not all of them can reach full maturity. Every developing organism seeks from its environment the means for its existence. It is inevitable that with the abundance of germs a struggle will arise between the individual beings. And as only a limited number can find a livelihood, it is natural that this will consist of those who prove to be the stronger in the struggle. These will emerge as the victors. But which are the stronger? Without doubt, those with an organisation that proves expedient to procure the means of living. The beings with inexpedient organisation must succumb and die out. Therefore, says Darwinism, there can only be purposeful organisations. The others simply perish in the struggle for existence. On the basis of these two principles, Darwinism explains the origin of species in such a way that organisms transform themselves by adaptation under the influence of the outside world, transplant the new peculiarities thus gained to their descendants, and of the forms transformed in this way, always those are preserved which have assumed the most appropriate form in the process of transformation.

Goethe would undoubtedly not have objected to these two principles. We can prove that he already knew both of them. But he did not consider them sufficient to explain the forms of organic life. To him they were external conditions under the influence of which what he called type takes on special forms and can transform itself in the most manifold ways. But before something transforms, it must first be present. Adaptation and the struggle for existence presuppose the organic, which they influence. Goethe first seeks to gain the necessary prerequisite. His essay "Versuch, die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären" (Attempt to explain the metamorphosis of plants), published in 1790, pursues the idea of finding an ideal plant form that underlies all plant beings as their archetype. Later he attempted the same for the animal world.“ (Lit.:GA 30, p. 73ff)

„Particularly in the world-view current which, as a newer theory of development, extends from Lamarck, through Lyell and others, to Darwin and the present views of the facts of life, can be seen the importance which the point of view of the seeing consciousness has. This theory of development seeks to represent the ascent of the higher forms of life from the lower. It thus fulfils a task which is in principle justified in itself. But it must proceed in the same way as the human soul proceeds in dream-consciousness with the dream-experiences; it allows the following to emerge from the earlier. In reality, however, the driving forces which conjure up a subsequent dream-image from the earlier one are to be sought in the dreamer and not in the dream-images. Only the waking consciousness is able to feel this. The seeing consciousness can no more be content to seek in a lower form of life the effective forces for the emergence of a higher one than the waking consciousness can be content to allow a subsequent dream to really emerge from a preceding dream without looking at the dreamer. The soul-being experiencing itself in true reality sees the soul-spirit which it finds effective in the present human nature, also already effective in the forms of development which have led to the present human being. It will not anthropomorphically dream the present human being into the natural phenomena; but it will know that the spiritual-mental, which is experienced by the seeing consciousness in the present human being, is effective in all natural events which have led to the human being. It will thus recognise that the spiritual world which becomes manifest to man also contains the origin of the formations of nature which preceded man.“ (Lit.:GA 20, p. 176f)

Evolution, involution, creation out of nothing

„Thus we have to consider three things in all becoming: First, the unfolding out of a state that is, as it were, wrapped up; we call this development or evolution. Then what lies in the germ must come into being through the reverse process, wrapping or involution. But these two processes alone do not give progress. Only through the fact that a being is able to absorb influences from outside and to process them into inner experiences can a new thing, a progress, come into being in the world. That is the third thing; it is called creation out of nothing. You are constantly developing what is predisposed in you from before, you are constantly taking up something from your environment which you transform into experiences, and you then carry this into a new embodiment. In all life, the trinity of evolution, involution and creation out of nothing works. In man we have this creation out of nothing in the work of his consciousness. He experiences the processes in his environment and processes them into ideas, thoughts and concepts. Dispositions originate from earlier embodiments, but all progress in life is based on the production of new thoughts and new ideas. The conditions of the environment are "consumed" and the inner experiences lead to new thoughts and ideas. Hence three is the number of life; it is called the number of creation or of activity.“ (Lit.:GA 101, p. 259f)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.