The debate over evolution has continued since the time of Darwin without resolution, in part because it is a metaphysical contest that is conducted beyond the limits of observation. The claims for natural selection have turned into an ideology short of real science, a kind of metaphysical reductionism. The result has thrown the study of history into confusion, and handed an ideological pseudo-science to many with Social Darwinist agendas. History should instead be the antidote to this kind of speculative excess, for it enforces the discipline of observation at short range, a century or less, something entirely absent in the study of deep time where generalizations about immense intervals of time are taken for granted without direct empirical observation.
A devastating question haunts standard thinking on evolution: what if the real force of evolution acts intermittently at high-speed over a range of mere centuries? The vastness of deep time would swallow up such brief episodes and leave no trace whatever. As we examine world history precisely this possibility becomes confirmed, and it shows one of the most obvious solutions to the evolution mystery. The question of the so-called Axial Age arises in this context with an ominous warning that we can get the question of evolution completely wrong, as a myth of ‘scientism’. The data for this Axial phenomenon shows a direct example of high-speed cultural macroevolution at the level of centuries. We are prone to hallucinate evolution with substitutes, using oversimplifications such as natural selection. And history simply won’t conform to the assumptions of Darwinism and reductionist scientism. We might do better to follow the facts of evolutionary sequences empirically, mindful of the dangers of naïve theories.
The Eonic Effect: a dose of empiricism The revolution in our knowledge of world history has uncovered a challenge to the Darwinian assumptions about random evolution and natural selection. As we extend our view of history to a scale of five thousand or more years, the empirical given of the historical development of civilization in a remarkable portrait of spontaneous self-organization shows us something that Darwinism cannot explain, and, further, the result looks like a complex hybrid of history and evolution. Instead of botched theories that distort our thinking we can follow the empirical outlines of episodes of evolution using periodization and descriptive analysis.
The bottom line on evolution The eonic effect gives us in many ways the bottom line on evolution: it presents a complete portrait of all the pieces of the puzzle and demands that we solve them all at once. Some of issues that make the theory question intractable (there are many others):
A theory of evolution must resolve the fact/value duality. But if it does so, can it be science? That’s the great catch-22 on theories. The harder scientists try to do good science the more ‘evolution’ becomes invisible to their perspective.
Theories of evolution have severe problems of observability. We never directly observe the causal sequence of natural selection. We suspect we can only observe evolution at the level of correctly documented sequences in real time at the level of centuries.
As Lamarck notes, evolution operates on two levels, a drive for complexity and a process of adaptation (Darwinism only deals with the second). That is, we see something driving evolution. But that may be beyond easy observation, inducing a false reliance on the second process
Evolution is not necessarily genetic. What are the correct boundaries of genetic evolution? We will explore non-genetic ‘historical evolution’ which is not genetic, and then discover that this is probably the key to earlier human evolution (and perhaps evolution as a whole)
Current theories of evolution automatically discard the free will question, and void the possibility of morality. The evolution of consciousness and morality is a problem for such evolutionary biology. In fact, as with the Kantian discourse on ethics, a kind of noumenal veil or boundary conceals the dynamics of evolution. We never truly observe evolution, only its phenomenal aspect.
There are many other issues of this type and we need to be wary of simplistic theories. The obsessive demand for ‘science’ (reductionism) can make our theoretical understanding false at the first step. A theory of evolution is a big thing, we must beware of handing violent men a false oversimplification that becomes a legitimization of conflict ideologies.
We cannot speculate about deep time and project ‘answers’ as abstractions. History shows the way: establish chronicles in real time over long intervals. Then we can detect ‘evolution’ by examining the clusters of directional change in a pattern of developmental emergence. World history gives us a range of five thousand years for this exercise and the result is illuminating, and, further, makes us suspicious similar processes and chronicles are lost to us in the earlier stages of human evolution.
Evolution in history? It is not clear at first how we can bring the idea of evolution into history itself. In fact, this approach is long overdue next to the incoherence of current thinking. Any process of developmental emergence is ‘evolution’, and the question is rather what relation this has to the earlier descent of man. The answer is that the relationship is most probably direct, and that world history can therefore suggest something to us about man’s emergence.
System Action, Free Action Current theories cannot resolve the distinction between the action of a system, e.g. a process of evolution, and the free activity of the agents that make it up. Human (macro) evolution is incomprehensible without something like this distinction. Consider the relationship of an ocean liner and its passengers: the obvious distinction between the ‘system action’ of the ship and the ‘free action’ of the passengers in relative motion on the vessel is all we need to proceed with a new perspective on evolution and history.
The moment we examine world history as an evolutionary and developmental process we see immediately that something much more complex than natural selection is at work. The great champion of Darwin, T. H. Huxley, ended by saying as much as he realized that something was missing in the Darwinian account. It struck him that there must be something more than natural selection at work since we always act as if to oppose it. The complex evolution of ethics in the descent of man is something that the Darwinian framework simply cannot explain. In fact, it is little appreciated, because always soft-pedaled, that reductionist science cannot explain an ethical agent at all. This embarrassing limitation of scientism is seldom made clear to the public as it is induced to accept the Darwinian perspective as some kind of ultimate explanation. The obsession with Darwinism is ideological, and too often connected, whether consciously or not, with economic assumptions.
Another approach is needed, and the study of world history provides it: we must acknowledge that there are limits to our ability to observe evolution in deep time, and to our ability to produce universal theories that are valid in all situations. We can make hard claims only about what we can observe at close range, and world history is about all that is so observed, this to a far greater degree than evolution in deep time. If we honestly acknowledge this limitation, a surprise is in store for us. We can observe the transition from evolution to history, and there achieve some understanding of what earlier evolution must have been like. The result is an unexpected insight into the evolutionary descent of man. In general, history might show us evolutionary episodes of short duration. Such episodes are never observed in deep time, whose units of observation are very large. This braiding of history and evolution feels right, and gives us a sense of the lameness of Darwinian explanations. We need to stop imposing simplistic theories on history. And yet we cannot either leave the question of a science of history unanswered, in the style of much narrative chronicle, the staple of historiography. A contradiction lurks, waiting to be resolved. Universal causality must rule, and yet history makes no sense without the reality of freedom.
One solution to the question of theories is to explore outlines and periodization to highlight historical dynamism as a set of facts, instead of a theory created to satisfy some preconceived agenda. The outline, or periodization, is then the only candidate left to resolve the mystery of dynamics. With the so-called eonic effect it is just this approach that bears spectacular fruit. We can look at world history, on two levels, as evolution, and yet also as the free action of agents creating its chronicle. The combination is illuminating. In fact, world history shows a remarkable rhythm of development, and falls into a simple outline of successive epochs or chapters in a clear narrative of emergent civilizations. This ‘narrative’ is far more conducive to historical understanding, and the question of evolution, than the counterintuitive imposition of reductionist analysis because it respects the complexity of what history in fact shows. Further, the perennial question of freedom in relation to causality demands a larger framework of explanation than that of reductionism. Scientists are often too embarrassed to inform us that freedom is disallowed in their analyses. We need to produce a new ‘science of freedom’, at least in principle, to reconcile science and the stubborn facts of historical free activity.
History is too complex for a simplistic evolutionary schema based on the genetics of natural selection. We should therefore restrict ourselves to what we can detect in world history itself, where this fallacy is obviously inadequate. The resolution lies therefore in looking at history itself, where the significance of man and culture alone can be found. Ironically, if we restrict our vision to the emergence of civilization we unravel the riddle of evolution that might answer to our perplexity over the descent of man.
We are ready, to take a look at world history. Archaeological research has greatly expanded our knowledge of world history, and the result is the unexpected discovery of a mysterious dynamic generating a non-random pattern we call the ‘eonic effect’. In fact, the scale of this process is such that we can only call it ‘evolution’. Thus, for the first time we can detect the unmistakable evidence of non-random evolution, and this in world history itself. This leaves us with the question, What is evolution? And this forces another, long overdue, What is the relationship between history and evolution? This could be recast as the paradoxical question, When did evolution stop and history begin?
A moment’s reflection will tell us that no instantaneous passage between the two is plausible and that our terms have been left ragged. We must, by this logic, be able to detect a Transition between evolution and history. Can we find evidence to match this deduction? Indeed, we can, our non-random pattern, the eonic effect. In fact we can say more: if we apply that same logic to our Transition we should expect it to take the form of a series of transitions in an alternation between evolution and history, as if overlayed, the one emerging from the other. The eonic effect shows just this property of transitions in a series. Have we reached the end of this Great Transition? If not, then our evolution still constitutes our present and future. We should ask who man is, with such wisdom as would constitute achievement of the title, homo sapiens.
The Meaning of Evolution We are so accustomed to Darwinian or reductionist definitions of genetic evolution that we forget the meaning of the term: evidence of developmental emergence by any process or dynamic. By that definition history shows a clear pattern of non-random evolution in the development of civilization (and the parallel development of human individuality).
Limits of Observation Biologists often distinguish the ‘fact’ of evolution from the ‘theory’. The difference is crucial, for it is relatively easy to see from the fossil record that evolution occurs as a succession/progression of animal forms, but to confirm that this occurs by a process of natural selection is far more speculative, and probably false. Truly observing evolution is difficult, and we cannot easily infer the mechanism from generalizations about immense vistas of time. What if evolution is an active or intermittent process that occurs at high speed in short intervals that we never observe?
History and Evolution A paradox confronts the distinction of evolution and history: when did evolution stop and history begin? This odd question is the clue to seeing that history and evolution must show an interconnection. Further this braiding together is likely to show a series of transitions between the two. With this clue we can rapidly find the evidence for just this, which we call the ‘eonic effect’.
Theory Failsafe: Do no harm We are beset by the simplistic speculative theory of natural selection with its violent Social Darwinist substrate, the fact/value distinction eliminated, the evolution of ethics turned into a mechanical abstraction that actually negates the ethical domain. This confusion of theories deserves our protest. Simply tracking an evolutionary sequence over time is a useful discipline and a reminder of the real complexity of evolution.
An Evolution Formalism Darwinism is an oversimplication of what should be a standard formalism or model of evolution: this involves a kind of macro/micro distinction, and in the case of man takes the form of the idea of the ‘evolution of freedom’ as the passage from passive evolution to active free history through a macroevolutionary process or Transition (in this case a series of transitions) matched with a microevolutionary history of man’s self-realization of his emerging freedom. This overall framework (which is not a theory but a generalized descriptive device) fits human history perfectly, and the remarkable data of the eonic effect finds a useful clarification in terms of the evolution formalism. Students of evolution have already seen a distorted example of such an evolution formalism in theories of punctuated equilibrium, where the partition into macro and micro arises spontaneously. Unfortunately the influence of Darwinism made this insight stillborn. The point here is that ‘evolution’ is about some ‘force or process’ that drives development.
Our thinking is conditioned by Darwinism, which throws ‘evolution’ into the past, with a tacit set of assumptions about random evolution. The result is an enforced incoherence. This is often matched with a prejudice against any consideration of a science of history in the large, and/or any attempt using the philosophy of history to seek historical meaning. A further critique of the idea of universal history comes from the postmodern rejection of the Grand Narrative.
In this context the status of a science of history is ambiguous, as the philosopher Karl Popper in his critique of historicism insisted, with his rejection of the idea that history has meaning. Yet as the labors of archaeological research proceed a falsification of this perspective emerges. Karl Popper was wrong: history has meaning, and we can discover large-scale coherence in its unfolding. It is hard to break the habit of thinking universal histories have all been discredited. Suddenly we see the existence of a world system, but this requires looking beyond individual civilizations to the whole phenomenon of Civilization since the Neolithic.i
As we proceed in search of history we will discover an irony, which is that we will find evolution in history, and then history in evolution, and this will give us an insight into the descent of man. We must move beyond the myth of purely genetic evolution, and the fixation on natural selection. We can recalibrate our definition of ‘evolution’ to include man’s past, present, and future, with a new kind of model that can carefully define the nature of our evolving freedom.
Confusing ‘god’ and ‘evolution’ Once we detect ‘evolution’ in action we are likely to be stunned by its forcefulness, complexity, and the sense of design unfolding, perhaps even that of a designer. Further, we collide directly with the mythology of the Old Testament which, however, detected the phenomenon we call the ‘eonic effect’, that is an evolutionary sequence. As we examine the phenomenon we begin to see that theistic explanations fail completely and that ‘evolution’ is the only applicable term, and crude ‘systems analysis’ the only method to study it. ‘Evolution’ is the cover term for an immensely subtle creative energy operating across time and space in a global process of spectacular force. Our approach will thus be neither theistic nor atheistic, and we will disallow the terms of divinity in our argument. A Kantian sense of the noumenal and the phenomenal pervades the enquiry into evolution, and we should be wary of producing a new mythology. Our method can disciple us to what we can observe. What is beyond the limits of observation is unknown to us.
In the remainder of this chapter we will look at the history behind the Old Testament, and then at the mysterious structure behind world history. In Chapter Two we will examine the legacy of Darwinism, and the basis for a critique of the theory of natural selection. In Chapter Three we will show the relationship of our discovery to the question of evolution, and develop a simple model to assist us in producing a short world history. This model is really a peridodization matrix and will be connected to a classic essay on history by Kant. This model highlights the developmental sequence we see in history. The existence of this pattern of developmental ‘macroevolution’ in world history itself will allow us to resolve the misapplication of Darwinism to historical emergence. Our model will use an ‘evolution formalism’, which is not a theory, but a series of concepts that can help us to describe what we are seeing. The remainder of the book will construct an outline of world history based on our findings of its hidden structure, and ‘idea for a universal history’. We can do this in the context of so-called ‘Big History’. The genre of Big History has been an attempt to rediscover universal history in a reductionist context, but this will not quite work.
Big Histories, Universal Histories: One of the most significant approaches to world history in recent times has been that of the genre so-called ‘Big History’, history since the Big Bang. This perspective, easily adapted to our own, deserves its own critique and revision in light of our renewed consideration of ‘universal history’. There should really be two meanings to the term ‘big history’: the horizontal meaning of history seen in the context of cosmology and the emergence of life, and a vertical meaning in terms not unlike the distinction of microevolution and ‘macro’ or ‘big’ evolution in biology. We will explore both meanings and then invoke the context of Big History before beginning at the conclusion of this chapter. Universal histories are histories that give credence to the reality of freedom.
Deconstructing Flat History Postmodern critics of the philosophy of history wish to deconstruct the ‘grand narrative’ on the basis of its ideological presumption or teleological illusionism. But the need to deconstruct ‘flat history’ is almost more significant given the way reductionist historicism has deprived history of any meaning.
Conflict Theories The legacy of Darwinian natural selection is that of conflict theories, which arise spontaneously in the desert of flat history as attempts to provide a substitute for a mechanism to drive history (or evolution). Thus, Darwinian natural selection is really saying that nothing, no evolutionary force, drives evolution. Instead, the struggle or competition of organisms does this, a clear case of a conflict theory rushing to fill a void. In fact, as we explore the eonic effect the limits of this perspective rapidly become obvious.
Economic Logic Related to this is the confusion of economic and evolutionary categories. The two are not the same. Evolutionary thinking goes in search of its ‘macro’ process, fails to find it, and defaults to a conflict theory, sometimes with economic overtones. We must carefully distinguish economies, and evolutionary sequences.
Kant’s Challenge: In search of Universal History Although the idea of Big History creates a fertile framework for the study of history, it is a subtle evasion, or retranslation, of the ideas of the philosophy of history. Arising in an association with the rise of modernity, and ultimately the grandchild of Old Testament history, the ‘idea for a universal history’ spoken of by the philosopher Kant highlights the central paradox of historical theory: the antinomy of freedom and causality, and highlights a basic question, How do we construct a science of history? We can accept the challenge of the philosopher Kant in a famous essay (which also contains a classic pre-Darwinian conflict theory) to answer this question.
The evolution of man is, and remains, a complete mystery, although world history can give us important clues. There is something almost mythological in the projection of Darwinian scenarios of natural selection onto the Paleolithic. Such evidence as we have is mostly that of skeletal remains, highly incomplete, of a series of hominids stretched over millions of years. Dogmatism in such a situation takes on an almost religious character in Darwinists. In the midst of this void of hard information we are to believe that all the complex functions of the human advance are to be ascribed to processes of natural selection and adaptation. Such claims, pressed into service for metaphysical conclusions, are weak in their evidentiary basis. In contradiction to this, flagrantly out in the open, is the evidence of a Great Explosion in the period up to ca. 50,000 BC, when modern man is suddenly in evidence. As if crossing a threshold homo sapiens suddenly begins to leave traces of all the forms of higher culture that are characteristic of man as we find him in history. The suddenness and depth of this rapid passage, if we can trust the data, call out for explanation beyond the standard and very vague claims of mysterious mutations. This is really a question of what we mean by ‘macroevolution’, as opposed to ‘microevolution’. Is not Darwin’s theory really one of microevolution? The problem is that observing anything that resembles macroevolution demands a very detailed record of evolutionary sequences, and this invokes a crisis of correct observation. There is an irony to our views of evolution. We look to deep time to find the answers to our quest to understand evolution, and yet we have very little data to conclude anything. We then apply that thinking to history, and yet here we have what is really a far more detailed record, seen at close range. We fail to suspect the fallacy here, or that history itself shows the direct evidence of evolution.