2. The Evolution Controversy

Wallace's Second Opinion 


Section 2.3.1

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon





2. The Evolution Controversy  
      2.1 The Legacy of Darwinism  
         2.1.1 Debates and Darwin Trials 
         2.1.2 Evolution and Ethics
         2.1.3 The Metaphysics of Evolution
         2.1.4 Is There A Science Of History? 
      2.2 Beyond Natural Selection 
         2.2.1 The Limits of Observation  
         2.2.2 Random Evolution: Climbing Mt. Improbable?
         2.2.3 Punctuated Equilibrium
         2.2.4 Natural Selection and The Oedipus Paradox  
      2.3 Visions of A Ghostseer  
         2.3.1 Wallace's Second Opinion  
         2.3.2 Theism/Atheism: The 'God' Debates  
         2.3.3 Critique of Evolutionary Economy  
         2.3.4 The Evolution of Evolution  
         2.3.5 The Science of Freedom  

 3. Descent Of Man Revisited 



    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   2.3.1 Wallace's Second Opinion


One of the strangest aspects of the emergence of Darwinism is the sudden appearance of Alfred Wallace on the scene, triggering the publication of Darwin’s Origin. A closer look leaves us with the suspicion that Wallace’s letters suddenly cured Darwin of his ‘evolution’ writer’s block, and ignited the cribbed notes of his Origin. The long delay in Darwin’s work here has always been something of a mystery, as if he remained unsure of the basis of his claims. This story of the rigged priority upon receipt of the famous Ternate letter leaves an ambiguity at the threshold of Darwinism. Any evaluation of Darwin and his theory should consider the motives of personal ambition at the onset. And any testimony to evolution should consider Wallace’s ‘second opinion’ on the subject of evolution, for he quite intelligently saw the problems arising with the question of human evolution.[i]

Wallace is notorious for his later interest in spiritualism, in the tide of interest in the question, that is also evident in the work of Henry James. The attempts to proceed scientifically in this area seem ludicrous to us now, and yet the question will not die in so far as Darwinian thinking cannot produce a viable definition of the organism, certainly not of man. Is the organismic totality a purely space-time entity? Even such a simple question eludes easy answer. It founders at the limits of metaphysics.[ii]

Just So (Ghost) Stories It is ironic that the onset of one of the greatest critiques of metaphysics began with Kant’s Visions of A Ghostseer, sounding the caution that questions divinity, soul, and free will would prove intractable to scientific analysis. Darwinism gets itself in trouble on all three of these classic issues. We might smile at Wallace the table-rapper, but sound science can provide no proof against the reality of ghosts, a dismal circumstance. At least we can be sure that if such exist, Darwinism is falsified on the spot, the difficulty of ghostly forms adapting to their environment by natural selection being evident.

Wallace is an important, but neglected, figure in the emergence of evolutionary theory, and his views, whatever our perspective, are not refuted by anything in the spurious abuse of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Let us note, then, that one of the co-discoverers of selectionist theory later dissented on the question, as far as the descent of man is concerned. Wallace (who started as a super-selectionist) saw something that becomes obvious in light of the eonic effect, that is, the appearance not of adaptive traits, but of potential that emerges through self-realization (making the term ‘evolution’ ambiguous). His classic observation was that

...in creating the human brain, evolution has wildly overshot the mark.
An instrument has been developed in advance of the needs of its possessor...Natural selection  could only have endowed the savage with a brain a little superior to that of the ape, whereas he possesses one very little inferior to that of the average member of our learned societies.... [iii]

This sentiment springs to life once we see the way Wallace’s dilemma reflects on history. We are confronted with questions about the meaning of evolution, if history shows yogis exploring consciousness in traditions as old as the emergence of civilization. It is entirely possible man came into being as he is in times unseen in the Paleolithic, and that what we sense as ‘evolution’ is another process entirely, a kind of self-realization of potential. It is still evolution in our sense.

The Buddha Phenomenon That close observation of historical facts might uncover some surprising indications of what is left out of Darwinism can be seen in the history of Indian religion. That Wallace was righter than he knew is obvious to any student of world religion. Man in his ordinary state is unaware of the potential of his ‘self-consciousness’, let alone able to produce a theory of its evolution.

The Shiva seal History shows the extreme antiquity of explorations of self-consciousness in the discovery of the famous cylinder seal possibly showing a meditating yogi from the period ca. -2000. That what we find in later Buddhism should be discovered much earlier was to be expected, and makes us suspect still earlier forms of such explorations stretching backwards into the Neolithic.[iv]

A simple question haunts the Darwinian account. At what point do we first see the Buddha phenomenon and what evolutionary process can account for it?

Four States Our spontaneous usage of the term ‘self-consciousness’ fits easily into the classic sutra maps of the ‘four states of consciousness’, sleep, consciousness, self-consciousness, and an unnamed ‘fourth’ (turiya), variously referred to as ‘enlightenment’ (a much abused term). The organism, conceived as a temporal entity subject to recurrent manifestations or lives in time, is subject to ‘historical termination’ in the fourth state.

One problem is Wallace’s intent to introduce some spiritual explanation into a naturalistic context. There are better approaches to this than Cartesianism, from Spinoza, to Kant, to the Indian Samkhya. Another is the claimed ‘exceptionalism’ implied by applying his objection to man only. That, again, is not the point. If chimpanzees show elements of mind then the argument could be easily backdated, no doubt, to restate the point. We should be glad that Darwinism shows us a sense of kinship with earlier primates. Man is, is not, exceptional. These are dialectical issues that tend to seesaw as we discover new evidence. But in the final analysis we should not be deprived by current efforts to find the unity of organisms from possibly claiming man crosses, or is crossing, a definite threshold into a new evolutionary stage.

The tougher question revolves around the demarcation of the spiritual. Since the crux seen in the Shiva seal is the mastery of the power of attention, we can dispense with the material/spiritual distinction. It is worth noting that one of the most ancient of the strains of the yogis in question was even more ‘materialistic’ than current science, finding this ‘higher potential’ of man to be an issue of ‘material consciousness’ in an evolutionary psychology not quite like the current version. We will examine a later redaction of this called ‘Samkhya’ whose demarcation, itself still dualistic, is ‘material top to bottom’, including consciousness as ‘spirit’, and something beyond consciousness.

One problem here is that a great deal of current New Age  thinking is now using the term ‘evolution’ to refer to the realization by an individual of his potential, by various methods, whatever their status, but many of them descendants of those of our figure in the Shiva seal. The use of this terminology is misleading, although if spontaneous usage gains a footing, it is a fait accompli. We should at least be careful to note that this is not ‘evolution’ in the historical sense we will explore, and that this is clearly operating at a different level than even the creation of religions, for we can see the Axial dependency and transformations of Indian religion in historical times, on a far greater scale that such exemplars as Buddhism, or Hinduism, which become temporal streams with their own character. Beware of gurus attempting to coopt the idea of evolution with claims that some spiritual development under their control represents ‘evolution’. This is not historical evolution in our sense. Nonetheless, Jainism and early Buddhism give us one way to see a purely ‘evolutionary psychology’ emerging prior to the immense cultural politics, mixed with monotheism, that came later.  



   Web:  chap2_3_1.htm


[i] David Qammen, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin ( New York : Norton, 2006), Deborah Blum, Ghosthunters ( New York : Penguin, 2006), Roy Davies, The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins Of A Scientific Crime ( London : Golden Square Books, 2008), Loren Eiseley, Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X (New York: Dutton, 1979).

[ii] Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters ( New York : Penguin, 2006).

[iii] Arthur Koestler, Janus, (New York: Hutchinson, 1978), p. 174.

[iv] Joseph Campbell, Oriental Mythology (New York: Penguin, 1976), p. 170.





Last modified: 09/21/2010