Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Evolution, the limbus and hereditary evil

By Rev. Mark R. Carlson


The following paper is in three parts. The first part provides background information on the history of the theory of evolution, and in particular looks at the controversy over the issue of whether or not Charles Darwin should be given priority as its author. The role of Alfred Russel Wallace in delineating the function of natural selection is examined, and the possibility that Swedenborg influenced Wallace's later views is considered.

The second part looks at the support for the idea of evolution in the Writings, quickly examines the empirical evidence in support of the key idea of natural selection, and provides an overview of various criticisms leveled at the neo-Darwinian, or synthetic, theory of evolution. [1]

Because of its weaknesses it is suggested that the present theory of evolution is only part of a larger reality, which is as yet unknown.

The third part looks at Rupert Sheldrake's hypothesis of formative causation and suggests that his concept of morphogenetic fields may demonstrate a mechanism whereby the Lord created forms of life suited to the environment of this world. [2] The implications of this hypothesis for rethinking the theory of evolution from the Writings are considered. And finally, confirmations and illustrations of New Church doctrine, particularly doctrine concerning hereditary good and evil, are looked at as they may connect with the concept of morphogenetic fields.


The Birth of a Theory

Charles Darwin was without doubt a great naturalist. His observations of natural history on board the HMS Beagle proved to be an invaluable source for confirming the idea of evolutionary change, an idea which was already well on the way to acceptance in the early 19th century, propelled primarily by the work of Lamarck as the century began. However, it appears that Darwin may not have been responsible for the key concept, natural selection, which made the theory workable.

Those interested in the history of ideas have long debated the originality of Darwin's theory of evolution. It is a well-known fact that the basic idea of the transmutation of species was a popular notion among many biologists in the early 19th century. And Darwin does indeed preface The Origin of Species with a historical sketch of those who contributed to his thinking on evolution. He mentions Lamarck, W. C. Wells, Patrick Matthew, and Herbert Spencer. [3] However, he fails to mention one key predecessor, and gives almost no credit to another. Not mentioned is Edward Blyth, who in 1835 wrote on the subject of natural selection. [4] What is even more curious, however, is that Darwin gives such cursory attention to the name of Alfred Russel Wallace.

Little known outside the world of academia is the fact that two papers, both on the theory of divergence through natural selection and its function in the process of evolution, were read before the Linnean Society in London on the very same day, July 1, 1858. One was written by Charles Darwin, the other by Alfred Russel Wallace. [5] In the historical sketch introducing The Origin of Species, mentioned above, Darwin dispenses with Alfred Russel Wallace in one sentence. He says simply that Wallace promulgated the theory of natural selection with "admirable force and clearness." [6]

It is clear to those who read both addresses which of these two men had a better grasp of the theory of divergence of species through natural selection - it was Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was not formally educated and belonged to the lower class in Victorian England, but he was a brilliant and highly regarded naturalist who had seriously considered the problem of transmutation for several years. [7] He later recounted how the idea of divergence by means of natural selection came to him while he was delirious from malaria. [8] He was on the island of Ternate, in present-day Indonesia, when he wrote the paper later delivered before the Linnean Society together with Darwin's. It was titled, "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type."

The common interpretation of these events, as repeated by Bronowsky, is that Darwin had already worked out the details of the theory and that Wallace made an independent discovery of the principle of divergence through natural selection. [9] When Darwin received Wallace's essay, so the common interpretation goes, it simply forced Darwin to publish The Origin before his personal timetable would have completed it. [10] Loren Eiseley, who gives what is perhaps the most definitive treatment of the underpinnings of Darwin's thought for the general reader, confirms this theme by saying, "As is well known he [Wallace] arrived independently at the principle of natural selection and shares with Darwin a preeminent position in nineteenth-century biology." [11]

Regardless of these statements, there has been a quiet debate going on as to which man was truly responsible for settling on the idea of divergence through natural selection put forward that July in 1858. Usually the conclusion of such discussions is that it does not really matter who was responsible; what matters is that the idea came before the public, and Darwin was the man better suited to do that. He was wealthy, of the upper class, and well known. Wallace was poor, of the lower class, and unknown.

A closer examination of the events leading up to the papers presented by Wallace and Darwin before the Linnean Society in London leads to the conclusion that Darwin probably was not responsible for the keystone of the theory: divergence of species through natural selection.

The Evidence

There is no hard evidence that Darwin surreptitiously borrowed the key concept of divergence of species through natural selection from Wallace, but the circumstantial evidence is worth considering.

Darwin had been working on a theory of evolution for many years. His travels aboard the H.M.S. Beagle had confirmed in his mind what other naturalists had been writing for many years, and what he may have learned first from his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, namely, that empirical evidence suggests some sort of transmutation of species. From time to time Darwin wrote in his notebooks on the subject of transmutation, but he apparently had no interest in publishing these notes.

Loren Eiseley has noted that these notebooks contain transcriptions of the theories of Edward Blyth, probably the first person to suggest the idea of natural selection. But Blyth saw natural selection as a mechanism for maintaining the integrity of species; for him, natural selection was a mechanism for weeding out changes that made the species unfit for survival. Although Darwin claimed total originality for his ideas, Eiseley questions his claim. [12] He demonstrates that a large number of passages concerning natural selection in Darwin's early essays were taken almost word-for-word from the earlier writing of Edward Blyth.

The passages from Blyth were used by Darwin in early notebooks to support the idea of change rather than stability in species. This was of course a radical shift in emphasis, and Stephen Gould, one of the foremost advocates of evolutionary theory, suggests that Eiseley's criticism of Darwin on this point may not be valid. [13] Nevertheless, if Darwin seriously considered the idea of natural selection as a result of Blyth's work, we might have expected him to be mentioned in Darwin's introductory historical sketch.

However, it is clear that Darwin was not convinced that the reversal of roles for natural selection was truly a workable idea. He could demonstrate a theory of artificial selection in the breeding of domesticated animals, but he questioned how it could work in the wild. He knew that in cross-breeding domesticated animals the result was either sterile or in time reverted to its original "wild" state. [14] The species barrier seemed impenetrable, as Blyth had so forcefully argued. Thus Darwin confessed in his species notebook, "how selection could be applied to organisms living in the state of nature [is] a mystery to me. [15]

Meanwhile, Wallace continued to work on the idea of transmutation while in Indonesia. He was in contact with Darwin by mail at least eight times during this period. He remained frank and open with Darwin about his current thinking on the subject of evolution, as would a student talking to a mentor. However, Darwin withheld his own views while encouraging Wallace to continue his work. [16]

At last Wallace, in a flash of insight, wrote the Ternate essay in which he forcefully put forth the idea of divergence through natural selection as the mechanism for change in the evolutionary process. One key section of this essay addressed the very issue that had bothered Darwin, that is, the tendency for variations in domesticated animals to revert to type. Excited by the concept of natural selection, Wallace mailed the essay to Darwin in his usual open manner to receive the opinion of the foremost naturalist in England. [17] In his letter he said that he hoped the idea of natural selection would be as new to Darwin as it was to him. [18] He mailed the essay to Darwin on March 9, 1858. On the same day he mailed a letter to a friend in London, one Frederick Bates. Both the letter to Bates and the essay to Darwin would have traveled on the same ship to England, yet, according to Darwin, they arrived two weeks apart. The following is a documented chronology of events surrounding this critical time, as compiled by Brackman: [19]

March 9, 1858 Wallace mails letter to friend Bates and Ternate Essay to Darwin

June 3, 1858 Bates receives his letter

June 8, 1858 Darwin writes Hooker that he has found the "keystone" to his theory

June 12, 1858 Darwin claims he finished the final chapter of his paper on this date

June 18, 1858 The date Darwin claims to have received Wallace's essay

July 1, 1858 Presentation of Darwin and Wallace papers before the Linnean Society

Nov. 24, 1859 Publication of The Origin of Species

There seems to be a very good possibility that Darwin was stretching the truth in his letter to Hooker of June 8, 1858. It is true that Darwin was working with the idea of natural selection, but it is not at all clear that he fully understood or accepted natural selection as the primary mechanism for change in nature until June of 1858.

It can also be demonstrated from the later writings of both Darwin and Wallace that Wallace remained firm in his understanding of the inherent variability of species through natural selection while Darwin hesitated and back-tracked in later editions of The Origin. Often Darwin's changes reflect his growing uncertainty about the process as he took more of a Lamarckian view of inherited characteristics. (It may turn out that Darwin's Lamarckian leanings were also correct, as we shall see later).

Certainly it is possible that we have here an example of what Carl Jung would call "synchronicity," or the simultaneous occurrence of two similar ideas or events with no connection through space and time. However, Brackman and other scholars think otherwise. Brackman holds that Darwin was very much interested in priority and was upset by the thought that another man should get the credit for a theory that he had worked on for so many years, a theory he knew would change the world when he saw it presented by Wallace in its full grandeur. Brackman further suggests and gives a good deal of evidence to support the notion that Darwin and two fellow naturalists, Hooker and Lyell, entered into a conspiracy to ensure that Darwin would be given priority and receive full credit for the theory of evolution. [20]

Darwin kept a very complete diary of the events of his life. But strangely, during the months of April, May, and June of 1858 he departed from his normal practice and recorded very little. The date on which he received Wallace's essay is not recorded nor is the all-important date of July 1st, when his own paper on natural selection was read before the Linnean Society.

The Darwin archives are very complete, but the envelope in which the Ternate essay arrived is missing with its telltale postmark; also strangely missing are most of the letters that passed among Hooker, Lyell, and Darwin in late June of 1858. In one of Darwin's letters to Hooker that does survive, Darwin states that "there is nothing in Wallace's sketch which is not written out much fuller in my sketch (of 1844) so that I could most truly say and prove that I take nothing from Wallace." [21] According to Brackman, this is simply not true. He points out that Darwin's 1844 sketch does mention the idea of natural selection, but totally missing is the idea of divergence of species through natural selection.

Darwin's psychosomatic illness became much worse after publication of The Origin of the Species. This has been attributed to the great tension the publication of such a controversial theory would have on a man who was as deeply religious as Darwin. It has also been suggested that perhaps he suffered from a nagging sense of guilt over his treatment of Wallace. Whatever the case, there may be good reason to doubt that Darwin was solely responsible for the theory of evolution he put before the world in The Origin of Species.

It might be asked, if Darwin was not truly responsible for the complete theory, does it really matter? I think it does. There can be no doubt that giving credit where credit is due is one of the most strongly held principles of the academic community. The theory of evolution has had such a great impact on the thinking of the world in the fields of science, philosophy, and religion that it seems all the more important that proper credit should be given.

I cannot say that Wallace should be given priority over Darwin, nor am I suggesting that there has been a century-long conspiracy among historians to avoid the issue. However, there does seem to be a good deal of smoke surrounding Darwin's claim to originality, and one has to wonder why there has been no concerted attempt to put out the fire.

Alfred Russel Wallace

It is worth spending a few moments to look at the views of this remarkable man. Besides being noted for the forceful way he wrote about natural selection (he was often said to be "more Darwinian than Darwin"), Wallace had views on the origin of man relative to natural selection that are both interesting and unique.

Other naturalists, including Darwin, continued to hold that the existence of mankind could be explained as simply the crowning achievement of the blind and purposeless process of evolution; Wallace, on the other hand, held that the theory could not support this view. He pointed out that natural selection was capable of producing organic beings that were only slightly more suited to survival than the other inhabitants of the same environment. Therefore natural selection could not account for the highly advanced brain and intellectual abilities of mankind. Wallace observed that these abilities were developed far beyond the incremental advantage needed for survival. [22] It was also his strong conviction that human speech, mathematical ability, and the uniquely human creative impulse simply could not be explained by natural selection. Wallace therefore concluded that "the brain of prehistoric and of savage man seems to me to prove the existence of some power, distinct from that which has guided the development of the lower animals." [23]

Furthermore, Wallace contended that with the advent of a large brain and intellectual ability, human beings had passed beyond the process of natural selection. At last, he said, there had arisen an animal which was not doomed to extinction with the destruction of its ecological niche. [24] Wallace had lived among the so-called "savage" peoples of the world for many years and had come to know them as highly intelligent, though uneducated, equals. He also observed that the brain size of these native peoples was vastly superior to that of anthropoid apes; he therefore did not regard them as being lower on the evolutionary scale, as did Darwin. If Wallace had been given credit for the theory of evolution, perhaps the racism of the last century could have been reduced.

It is well known that Wallace believed in personal immortality and that later in life he became very interested in spiritism. [25] He was interested in the scientific aspects of the phenomena and attended many seances with the intention of exposing any trickery, which he seldom found. Wallace produced many articles on the subject and wrote a small book, The Scientific Aspects of the Supernatural. [26] As we might guess, he also mentions some knowledge of Swedenborg at least once toward the end of his life. He writes in a letter to James Marchant:

The whole cumulative argument of my 'World of Life' is that in its every detail it calls for the agency of a mind ... enormously above and beyond any human mind . . . . Mine seems a more clear and intelligible supposition . . . and it is the teaching of the Bible, of Swedenborg, and of Milton. [27]

The connection between Wallace and Swedenborg deserves further investigation, not because it is likely that he had any awareness of Swedenborg in his late twenties when he wrote the Ternate essay, but because Swedenborg may well have had some influence on him later in life when he came to disagree with Darwin on the nature of primitive man and the equality of native peoples.



The Danger of the Theory

The notion that nature created itself is a common line of reasoning in hell, and one that is as ancient as evil itself The Writings tell us it was possible to deny God with the intellect long before the theory of evolution. [1] The real danger of the theory now is that even the simple-minded are affected by its sophisticated arguments against God.

Also of concern is the fact that many evolutionists appear to debunk everything related to religion. A typical example of this may be seen in Richard Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene. In it he demonstrates the so-called "creative" possibilities that can result from random replication errors. The inherently unreasonable and illogical notion that a random process can "create" life and the wondrous variety of its forms is, of course, the fundamental flaw in neo-Darwinian theory and must be supported and defended at all costs or the theory collapses. Dawkins writes:

We tend to regard erratic copying as a bad thing, and in the case of human documents it is hard to think of examples where errors can be described as improvements. I suppose the scholars of the Septuagint could at least be said to have started something big when they mistranslated the Hebrew word for "young woman" into the Greek word for "virgin," coming up with the prophecy:" Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son . . . ." [2]

But Dawkins does not end his foolishness here. The theme of this book is that the only purpose behind living organisms, including man, is the preservation of the "gene" and its ability to replicate itself To this end he sees all animals, including man, as nothing but lumbering robots within which our genes remain safely sealed off from the outside world, manipulating that world for the sake of their own survival by remote control. He writes,

They are in you and in me; they created us body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines. [3]

Evolution and the Writings

There can be no doubt that the scientific evidence in favor of some form of transmutation process is massive. And there is really no reason to deny this possibility from the point of view of New Church doctrine. We do not hold to the Fundamentalist view first put forward by Archbishop James Ussher that the world was created in the year 4004 B.C. at nine o'clock in the morning! Nor would we wish to question the results of radiometric methods in establishing the age of the earth as do many Fundamentalists. From the point of view of the doctrines we can easily accept that the earth is billions of years old.

Moreover, certain doctrines suggest to us that a form of evolution may have been the mechanism whereby the Lord created the diversity of life on earth. We are told that the Lord introduces order into man and into universal nature by successive formations. [4] We are also informed that the three kingdoms of nature provide a mechanism whereby the Lord's life reaches down to ultimates and returns to Him through higher and higher uses and lastly returns to Him through mankind, [5] and that everything in nature has relation to the human form. [6]

Since these teachings make it clear that there is, so to speak, a "spiritual chain" through which all things are connected, would not the law of correspondence also demand a natural chain of connection? This could be such a fanciful connection as is suggested in the Worship and Love of God, where each order of plants gives birth to a corresponding order of animals, and where mankind is said to have arisen from a tree! [7] We also have the suggestion of a process of increasing perfection in mankind in the teachings concerning the growth of pre-men or preadamites into a race of actual men. [8] Furthermore, there is at least a hint of some kind of physiological change that took place after the fall of the Most Ancient Church when mankind moved from internal breathing to external breathing. [9]

In addition to the above, we have to deal with the doctrines which appear to teach the spontaneous creation of evil animals and plants after the fall. [10] And Swedenborg himself seemed to think that some sort of spontaneous creation continues to exist. [11] Many simply take these as scientific errors on his part, and certainly all the evidence seems to suggest that this is the case, though he was well within the scientific thinking of his day. However, it must be said that no clear case can be made from the literal statements of the Writings for the process whereby the great variety of living things appeared on this planet. The only thing we know for certain is that whatever that process may have been, the hand of God was behind it.

Natural Selection Demonstrated

Because it is impossible to verify by experiment or direct observation as in normal science, the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is more a theory of historical reconstruction than a scientific theory. We cannot go back and observe what really happened. But one important aspect of the theory has been supported by observation.

It is testimony to the theoretical nature of the theory that it took over a century for empirical evidence to demonstrate the workings of natural selection in nature. This evidence was to wait until the early 1950s when Bernard Kettlewell conducted the now-famous studies of the British peppered moth. It was well known that a century ago this moth was light colored, which matched it to the light backgrounds of the trees and lichen-covered rocks of its environment. Today the same species of moth is predominantly dark in color. By a series of simple experiments Kettlewell demonstrated that light-colored moths survived better in unpolluted forests while dark-colored moths survived better in polluted woods. This was the first hard evidence that natural selection actually worked in nature. [12]

There is also clear evidence that it is possible for one species to change into another species through changes imposed by natural selection and population isolation. In Europe there are two distinct species of gull, the herring gull and the black-backed gull. They do not interbreed and are quite different in appearance and behavior. But it is possible to trace, step by step, the formation of these two species by following the slightly different versions of these birds as traced in habitats around the northern hemisphere. In each case the different races interbreed with the their adjacent races, but at the two ends of the ring, found in Europe, they do not interbreed. [13]

Criticisms of the Theory

While the above aspects of microevolution have been demonstrated as workable in nature, macroevolution (i.e., large-scale evolution of higher taxonomic groups such as genera, classes, and orders) is less well supported. Critics hold that the neo-Darwinian theory as it stands is simply not an adequate or plausible explanation for the origin of life or for the variety of living things. Those within the community of biologists, however, would not agree, and see no reason to doubt the veracity of the theory in regard to macroevolution. [14]

Those who criticize the theory often do so from a religious bias, or from the perspective of another field of science. Therefore we should be aware that most of the critics of the theory may not be thoroughly knowledgeable of the intricacies of the synthetic theory. While such explanations do exist and apparently do satisfy most biologists, most of us would agree that something is missing. Whether or not there is any truth to the weaknesses pointed out by the theory's critics, surely we must say that genetic variability and natural selection are only part of a larger mechanism which remains unknown.

In what follows I will summarize seven difficulties with the theory that have been raised by critics, and go into greater detail with an eighth difficulty.

A Summary of Criticisms

First there is the problem of speed. According to critics there is as yet no satisfactory way to account for the fact that some species have remained essentially the same for hundreds of millions of years. There is also no accounting for the relatively quick appearance of many complex forms of life, such as the mammals and the birds, nor for the sudden appearance of hair and feathers. Likewise, there is no explanation for the sudden appearance of the flowering plants or angiosperms.

Second, there is the problem of convergence. How is it that completely different evolutionary lines have selected such similar solutions to life by a supposedly random process? For example, there is the remarkable similarity of the structure of the eye in such lines of descent as the vertebrates and cephalopods; the similarity in the overall shape of both whales and fishes; and the almost identical skeletal structure of the placental and the marsupial dog. If change is based on a purely random mutation one would expect a much greater variety of solutions to the problems of life than are actually found.

Third, there is the problem of preadaptation. Certain whole organs have appeared in organisms long before they seem to be necessary for survival. Take for example the amniote egg which appeared while reptiles were still mainly water living creatures but much later served to open up a new niche on land. How can the appearance of such structures be explained by natural selection when they produced no advantage when they first appeared?

Fourth, there is the problem of the repeated occurrence of simultaneous changes which must have involved many genes mutating at once. Take once again the example of the eye. How did such a complex organ evolve through small random changes? If small random mutation is the only mechanism for change, what possible survival advantage could there be to five percent of an eye? How did this happen more than once in evolutionary history?

Fifth, how is instinct to be explained? Many kinds of animal behavior could not be taught by parents. For instance, how does the chick, while still encased in the egg, know to peck its way out? What is more, how does it know not to peck randomly but to focus on just the spot where an air space has been provided? If instinct is inheritable, what are the units of behavior and how are these encoded in the DNA? No one knows.

Sixth, how is altruistic behavior to be explained in terms of natural selection? Take for example the warnings emitted by robins and thrushes when a hawk approaches. From the view point of the individual bird's survival, surely it would be wiser to remain silent and not give away one's position. How is such behavior to be explained in humans? In fact, as Wallace pointed out, how are human intelligence, language, and creativity to be explained? Stephen Gould admits: "If the genetic components of human nature did not originate by natural selection, fundamental evolutionary theory is in trouble . . ." [15]

Seventh, the notion that all changes in living things happen by chance mutation has always raised eyebrows. While it is one thing to accept that natural selection might change the color of a moth or the shape of a bird's bill, it is a very different thing to accept that chance mutation and natural selection could be responsible for such a complex structure as the eye. Even given the theory that small changes accumulate and compound gradually over millions of years, most critics agree that the probabilities don't make sense.

In 1967 a group of mathematicians from MIT called a conference titled, "Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution." At this conference it was acknowledged that even among biologists there is a widely held feeling that something is missing in the current theory. Sir Peter Medawar opened the meeting with the following remarks: "The immediate cause of this conference is a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought of as the accepted evolutionary theory in the English-speaking world, the so-called neo-Darwinian theory. This dissatisfaction has been expressed from several quarters and is not only scientific." [16] The conference opened with a paper by Murray Eden, Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, who demonstrated that if it required a mere six mutations to bring about an adaptive change, this would occur only once in a billion years, while if two dozen genes were involved, it would require ten billion years, which is more than the age of the earth. [17]

Criticisms from Paleontology

It was apparent to Darwin that the fossil record supported the theory of a gradual evolutionary change only to a certain point. Fossils did indeed indicate a process of increasing complexity and refinement of design among species as recorded in rock strata, and the appearance was very strong that certain now extinct species were ancestral to species still in existence. Looking at the fossil record as a whole indicates to most thinking people that some form of evolution of species has been taking place. Certainly New Churchmen would not wish to support the notion put forward by creationists that God purposely made the earth look much older than it is or that the story of the flood accounts for the distribution of fossils. [18]

However, the problem facing Darwin and those seeking to support the new theory of evolution was that intermediate species between those now extinct and those presently in existence were for the most part not to be found. These gaps in the fossil record applied to almost all species found in fossil remains, even when it appeared quite likely that one species was ancestral to another. The gaps were simply too great to support Darwin's notion of gradual progression through competition and natural selection. The search for the "missing link" among paleontologists was, therefore, not limited to the missing link between men and apes; it was a search for thousands of missing links.

Darwin's conclusion was that only a tiny fraction of all fossil-bearing strata had been examined and that huge areas of the globe had never been explored by professional paleontologists. He thought that these gaps would certainly be filled with transitional forms in the future. However, nearly 99 percent of all work in paleontology has been done since the time of Darwin. The results have been mixed. Many transitional forms of a lesser nature have been found, certainly enough to verify that some form of evolution has taken place. [19]

However, the new fossil species discovered since Darwin's time do little to fill in the gaps between species. New fossil species have been found to be either unique types of unknown affinity or closely related to known forms of life. [20] Even the most spectacular discovery of new fossil forms by Walcott in the Burgess shale formation of British Columbia, which revealed ten completely new invertebrate phyla, gave no new support to the theory of evolution. All efforts to link these ten new phyla with previously known forms failed. They have come to be regarded as life forms whose existence had not been expected and which are not ancestral to any other known life forms - merely small end-twigs on the tree of evolution.

In the late 1930s a species of fish, the Coelacanth, thought to have become extinct long ago, was caught by a fisherman off the coast of East Africa. The Coelacanth was believed to be ancestral to modem amphibians and was one of the most promising missing links. Finding one alive was something of an embarrassment to the theory of evolution since when the fish was examined its soft anatomy (which does not fossilize) revealed features which were not at all close to a relative of Amphibia.

Furthermore, the fossil record of the horse used to be one of the most convincing examples of gradual evolutionary development. In the 1960s a case could be made for a rather smooth development of the horse from fossil records. The horse increased in size and complexity as it developed changes in teeth, changes in limbs, and the gradual reduction in the number of toes. The problem with this record was that horse fossils were not found arranged in rock strata in the proper evolutionary order from least complex to most complex forms. [21] The sequence also depended on arranging Old World and New World fossils side by side. According to one authority, there are so many fossil forms that could be included in the fossil history of the horse that "the story depends to a large extent u on who is telling it and when the story is being told." [22] The fossil history of the horse was further weakened when it was discovered that small Eohippus, supposedly the earliest known ancestor of the horse, had exactly the same skeleton as the present day Hyrax, a rodent-like animal that lives quite happily in Africa to this day. [23]

Darwin's hope that future discoveries from paleontology would fill in all the gaps between species has not been fulfilled. The picture of life on earth given by today's fossil evidence is still very much a discontinuous record.

Punctuated Equilibria

It is interesting to observe how several of the difficulties with the theory mentioned above are dealt with by present neo-Darwinian thinking. Before Darwin, the most acceptable ideas concerning the origins of life were Bible oriented. The species were all separate because God had made them that way through special creation; they suddenly appeared in fossil records because that is when God created them. Likewise, certain animals had become extinct because of the catastrophe of Noah's flood. This was a view of change by catastrophe, change by great leaps, or a saltationist view. Darwin's notion was that all life evolved gradually, and went extinct gradually as natural selection had its way, a view which gradually put to rest the idea of special creation. But as noted above, the fossil evidence stubbornly continues to support a saltationist view (change by jumps) rather than a uniformitarian view (smooth unbroken change).

Richard Goldschmidt, a German biologist who later came to teach at Berkeley, was a renegade from the Darwinian camp who was bothered by the features of evolution that could not be explained by gradual change. Viewing the gaps in the fossil record, he proposed that changes took place suddenly by "monstrous" mutations, producing animals that might today be seen in freak shows. He gave these creatures the catchy name, "hopeful monsters." [24] Every now and then, he theorized, one of these hopeful monsters was well suited to environmental changes that were taking place and became firmly entrenched. At the time Goldschmidt wrote he was much criticized for his views. But as paleontology continued to deliver evidence for the saltationist view, Goldschmidt's idea was resurrected.

In a strange twist of fate, catastrophism has returned to the forefront of evolutionary theory. In the 1970s evidence was found to indicate that the earth has undergone radical changes over very short periods of time. It is now known that the earth has reversed its magnetic field at random intervals; these reversals are believed to have caused the onset of such profound changes as ice ages and a drastic increase in the amount of gamma rays reaching the earth's surface, both of which could cause mass extinctions. Such events would indeed have catastrophic results for life on earth.

In 1972 Stephen Gould, a professor of Geology at Harvard, and Niles Eldredge published a paper which made popular the idea that gradualism should be replaced with a punctuated theory they called "Punctuated Equilibria." The widely accepted idea now is that evolution is a process which includes long periods of stagnation when species formation is at a stand-still, a stagnation which is occasionally punctuated by rapid events of speciation.

During the so-called periods of "punctuation" when speciation occurred, Gould posits that huge changes occurred by rapid evolution in small groups - so rapid and so small that no fossils were left. These periods of rapid speciation took place as the result of such a small change in the environment as the introduction of a new predator, or through large-scale natural catastrophes, such as floods, climate changes, or meteor strikes. This, says Gould, explains why many species seem to appear or disappear "suddenly" in the fossil record. Gould also postulates that during times of catastrophe, as many as ninety-six per cent of living species died out in mass extinction. During these times, he says, it was not survival of the fittest but survival of the luckiest. [25]

Punctuated Equilibria is now a widely accepted addendum to the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and as a reconstruction of history it does answer several criticisms of the theory. However, with the idea of punctuated equilibria a crack has appeared in the smooth texture of divergence through mutation and natural selection. By admitting that at least from time to time some mechanism other than raw natural selection has taken charge of evolution, we may view Darwin's idea and the whole of the synthetic theory of evolution as merely part of a larger mechanism as yet unknown.

A Shift in Thinking

Michael Denton, in his very readable and persuasive Evolution: A Theory in Crisis suggests that the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is in a similar position today as was the Ptolemaic view of astronomy in the generation before Copernicus. At that time the idea that the earth was the center of the solar system was completely accepted. However, more and more problems with the theory kept developing. Each of these problems was explained by circles of belief that could not admit the fundamental error of the theory.

Denton observes that the confused state of affairs prior to Copernicus and some of the present thinking about the theory of evolution is not unusual for scientific progress. He refers us to Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Here Kuhn points out that the final abandonment of a scientific theory has always required the development of an alternative theory or paradigm that promises to explain what the old paradigm cannot explain. [26] Denton also suggests that given the present lack of a viable alternative paradigm to explain the process of evolution, the philosophy of Darwinism will continue to dominate biology more by default than by merit. [27] The final words of Denton's book are worth quoting:

Ultimately the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmogonic myth of the twentieth century. Like the Genesis-based cosmology which it replaced, and like the creation myths of ancient man, it satisfies the same deep psychological need for an all-embracing explanation for the origin of the world . . . . The truth is that despite the prestige of evolutionary theory and the tremendous intellectual effort directed toward reducing living systems to the confines of Darwinian thought, nature refuses to be imprisoned. In the final analysis we still know very little about how new forms of life arise. The mystery of mysteries - the origin of new beings on earth - is still largely as enigmatic as when Darwin set sail on the Beagle. [28]

From the point of view of most biologists, Denton has overstated the case against the theory of evolution. Be that as it may, perhaps there is some value in considering from the point of view of the Writings the evidence in support of a larger or modified theory of evolution, which includes the basic principles of genetic variability and natural selection but is not limited to them.

Looking for a Larger Theory

My purpose in what follows is not an attempt to derive science from doctrine, nor is it to derive doctrine from science, but rather to look beyond present orthodox thinking in both areas to suggest a deeper understanding of both. Most surely we cannot expect to catch a glimpse of the Lord's hand at work in creation, for He always works behind an impenetrable veil which maintains human free will. There will always be a variety of interpretations for the appearance of purpose and goal directedness in nature. Chance and probability are obscure and convenient explanations for what science cannot explain, while from doctrine we know that there is no such thing as chance. [29]

The Lord has created a seamless universe, and try as we might we will never penetrate the veil and catch the Lord at work through scientific inquiry. In regard to evolution we could take the view that the Divine Providence in ultimates nudges the direction of the probabilities in chance mutation, subtly guides the many opportunities for change that occur in the process of meiosis, and that He controls which chromosomes are lost as a result of genetic drift. [30] This is a view with which I would agree. But perhaps there is a step further that we may go in understanding just how the Lord does this, a step which falls within the gap between science and religion, a step which may in part explain, at least to those of the New Church, how the Lord has guided the probabilities toward useful life forms well suited to their environment.

The Weismann Barrier and Neo-Lamarckism

It has been noted that what is lacking in the neo-Darwinian theory is a feedback mechanism whereby the genetics of a species may in a sense "know" on a broad scale whether or not a particular change is suited to its future survival. With the recent emphasis on a holistic view of mankind, of the world, and of the environment, there are also those who call for a more holistic view of evolution. This view would not completely separate cause and effect but sees them as existing in a circular chain of ongoing feedback mechanisms. It was just such a mechanism that was suggested by the first great evolutionary theorist, Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), with his idea of acquired characteristics.

As noted earlier, Darwin himself was something of a Lamarckian. He favored natural selection as the primary mechanism for change in species, but in later editions of The Origin he also became quite certain that beneficial characteristics acquired by parents, such as strengthened wings from much use, were also passed on to their progeny. Thus he writes:

. . . I think there can be no doubt that use in our domestic animals has strengthened and enlarged certain parts, and disuse diminished them, and that such modifications are inherited. [31]

Darwin postulated a mechanism for how the germ cells received information from the body cells which he called "pangenesis." He conjectured that the body cells would throw off tiny particles he called "gemmules," and that these collected in the germ cells from all parts of the body. He concluded that every character of the germ cells came from the present state of the body tissues. [32]

It may be observed that if there is indeed a feedback mechanism akin to what Darwin theorized whereby the physiological and behavioral characteristics acquired by parents could be passed on to their progeny as a tendency toward the same change, this would vastly speed up the production of useful changes and bring the statistical probability for evolution more within the time limits that are known to exist.

While holistic thinking demands a feedback mechanism in evolution, it is a solid tenet of the neo-Darwinian theory that information flows out of the genetic information contained in the gametes and never in; there is no feedback mechanism. The core of neo-Lamarckism is just the opposite: that somehow feedback information flows from the present state of the organism into the genetic information, allowing for change to take place according to need by reproducing in offspring beneficial characteristics acquired by earlier generations.

Experiments which were designed to refute Darwin's idea of "pangenesis" and the notion of acquired characteristics were conducted by August Weismann (1834-1914) in the early part of this century. In his research Weismann cut off the tails of twenty generations of rats, and observed that there was no shortening of the tails of subsequent generations. Weismann concluded that the germ plasm was essentially isolated from the body plasm. This became known as the Weismann barrier. However, Eiseley points out that since Weismann's works are no longer carefully studied, present thinking has lost sight of the fact that Weismann held this view with qualifications. He was willing to concede that the isolation of germ plasm from the body plasm was probably not complete, but that any influences from the body "must be extremely slight. [33]

It is now known from experimental evidence that the Weismann barrier is not impenetrable. Conrad Waddington demonstrated that heat-shocked fruit flies produced certain mutations in the next generation, and that this mutation happened more and more frequently in subsequent generations. He avoided the Lamarckian implications of his work and called this tendency "genetic assimilation." [34] Howard Temin has shown that certain viruses carry genetic information into host cells and embed it in the host DNA. [35] And starting from Temin's work, Ted Steele conducted recent experiments in Canada in which young mice were "persuaded" to tolerate foreign tissue antigens. He found that this tolerance was passed along to their progeny. [36] The Weismann barrier has been broken. This does not in any way prove that a feedback mechanism such as posited by neo-Lamarckism exists, merely that it might be possible. There is as yet no known mechanism whereby the genetic material can be influenced by the behaviors and acquired characteristics of previous generations.


Morphogenetic Fields

One idea which suggests a feedback mechanism for the process of evolution is the hypothesis of formative causation and the concept of morphogenetic fields as postulated by Rupert Sheldrake in his book, A New Science of Life. Sheldrake's hypothesis proposes that the form, development, and behavior of living organisms are shaped and maintained by "morphogenetic fields" together with genetic inheritance. In theory the hypothesis of formative causation provides a mechanism by means of which the acquired characteristics of previous generations can be passed on to future ones. It avoids completely the whole question of how the genetic material could be altered by acquired characteristics because it posits that the new information is stored not in the genes themselves but in the morphogenetic field. [1]

The morphogenetic field is thought to be a field of information which exists apart from space and time. This field of information acts with the same intensity on all similar organisms with no loss of intensity due to separations by space or time. Sheldrake calls this action of the field on similar organisms "morphic resonance." The field of information is affected by the patterns and behaviors of present physical forms, and is constantly being updated by the condition of present systems; the updated field in turn helps to guide the formation of future systems. The condition of present organisms and the strengthening or weakening of various muscles and organs from use or disuse may take thousands of generations to register strongly enough within the field to actually change future forms.

It can be seen that the hypothesis of formative causation reincorporates Lamarck's notion of acquired characteristics with a new twist. What disturbs scientists most about Sheldrake's theory is that it suggests that information can be stored in a non-material medium. We would note that such a possibility is well within the scope of doctrinal possibility!

Sheldrake's theory further postulates that the DNA molecule in the cells of all living things does not contain all the information necessary for the formation of the organism, or for its continued life process, but rather that DNA is in a sense a finely tuned receptor which taps into the information field for that species. [2] Thus not only is the formation of the organism's body guided by the morphogenetic field, but the field also continues to provide the organism with the mysterious behavioral information we call instinct. [3] In a similar fashion, the theory can be used to explain the mystery of human memory; it states that in effect our brains are not so much libraries full of old memory files as they are sending and receiving stations that leave a continuous trail of experience imprinted on the morphogenetic field, [4] again a notion well within the scope of doctrine. [5]

Two things distinguish Sheldrake's theory from so much theosophical babble. In the first place, Sheldrake's credentials are impressive: he is a biochemist and a scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, a Frank Knox Fellow at Harvard University, and a Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society. In the second place, Sheldrake thinks it is possible to demonstrate the existence of morphogenetic fields by the scientific method.

Since the publication of the first edition of A New Science of Life in 1981, further experiments with the hypothesis have been carried out and reported in a revised and expanded edition of the book. For example, Sheldrake carried out several controlled experiments using television broadcasts with the cooperation of the British Broadcasting Company. According to the theory, if many people have been taught to see a hidden puzzle image, others should be able to see that image more quickly. Thus millions of TV viewers were taught to see hidden images in puzzle pictures. Before the program aired, a base line was established by observing how well people could distinguish the hidden image. After the program aired people who could not have seen or heard of the program from all over the world were again asked to find the image. The results indicated significant improvement in worldwide non-viewers' ability to distinguish the image. [6]

In 1988 Sheldrake published a second book, The Presence of the Past, in which he more specifically relates the hypothesis of formative causation to the process of evolution. Here he states that the morphogenetic field can be thought of as a probability structure which reduces the indeterminism of the random process of genetic mutation and variability, so that "out of the many possible patterns of events that could have happened, some now become much more likely to happen as a result of the order imposed by the higher-level field." [7]

It is clear that Sheldrake's revolutionary idea of morphogenetic fields is a contribution to what has been broadly called the "New-Age Paradigm," perhaps most widely popularized by Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. This new paradigm is a synthesis of such unexplainable scientific phenomena as the behavior of subatomic particles blended with ideas from Eastern mysticism. There are many similarities between Sheldrake's morphogenetic field and Karl Pribram's holographic paradigm, as well as with David Bohm's idea that the universe contains both implicate and explicate order. [8] All of these new ways of looking at the universe accept some form of transcendental reality and should be of great interest to the New Church.

However, there is as yet no support for the hypothesis of formative causation within the mainstream of biology. It is possible that even if morphogenetic fields do exist and do play a part in determining the forms of animals, plants, and minerals, no conclusive evidence for their existence will ever be found. While there is as yet no felt need for such a concept among most biologists, perhaps one day when biology has come closer to the limits of empirical investigation, as has the field of physics, it too will embrace a greater openness to metaphysical concepts.

Support from Doctrine

There are a number of doctrines which would appear to support Sheldrake's hypothesis. The existence of the morphogenetic field itself is implied by the doctrine of spheres, forms, and conatus; perhaps we can understand these doctrines better in the light of Sheldrake's theory. For instance, observe the following teaching:

"It was also perceived that a sphere flows forth not only from angels and spirits but also from each and all things that appear in the spiritual world - from trees and from their fruits, from shrubs and from their flowers, from herbs, and from grasses, even from the soils and from their very particles. From which it was patent that both in the case of things living and things dead this is a universal law: that each thing is encompassed by something like that which is within it, and that this is continually exhaled from it. It is known, from observation of many learned men, that it is the same with the natural world that is, that there is a wave of effluvia constantly flowing forth out of man, also out of every animal, likewise out of tree, fruit, shrub, flower, and even out of metal and stone. This the natural world derives from the spiritual, and the spiritual from the Divine." [9] Observe the emphasis on the forms (forma) of things in the Writings, as in DLW 309:

(1) In lands there is a conatus to produce uses in forms, that is, forms of uses.

(2) In all forms of uses there is a kind of image of the creation of the universe.

(3) In all forms of uses there is a kind of image of man.

(4) In all forms of uses there is a kind of image of the Infinite and Eternal.

Clearly, the form of a thing is tied to its use in the world, and the form of a thing is produced by correspondence modified by and made suitable for use according to external circumstances. This implies the existence of the feedback mechanism referred to above between the form of the thing and the field or sphere from which it was created. In the following, notice how form is said to be determined by use:

Natural forms are effects and cannot appear as causes . . . . Instead they take the forms they do from the use they perform in the place where they belong. Nevertheless the forms taken by effects represent the things that exist among causes. . . . [10]

It is a universal law of correspondences that the spiritual fits itself to use, which is its end, and actuates and modifies the use by means of heat and light and clothes it by provided means, until there results a form subservient to the end, and in this form the spiritual acts as the end, use as cause, and the natural as effect . . . . [11]

Likewise, notice how similar the idea of the morphogenetic field is to what the Writings describe as the conatus in lands which strives to produce uses in forms:

That there is such a conatus and such quality in the substances and matters of lands is plain from the fact that seeds of all kinds opened by means of heat even to their inmost core are impregnated by the most subtle substances, and through this they have power to conjoin themselves to use, from which comes their prolific principle. Then through conjunction with matter from a natural origin they are able to produce forms of uses, and thereafter to deliver them as from a womb that they may come forth into the light and thus sprout up and grow. This conatus is afterwards continuous from the lands through the root even to outmosts, and from outmosts to firsts, wherein use itself is in its origin. [12]

What is missing from Sheldrake's hypothesis is of course the connection between the morphogenetic field and the Divine influx of life through the spiritual world. Sheldrake implies the connection with a higher power, but he does not pursue the issue since this is beyond the limits of investigation.

Illustrations and Confirmations of Doctrine

There are at least seven areas of doctrine which are interesting to look at with Sheldrake's idea of the morphogenetic field in mind.

The Limbus

In the pre-theological works Swedenborg seems to sense the need for something akin to Sheldrake's morphogenetic field. From a scientific and philosophical point of view as expressed in The Economy of the Soul's Kingdom Swedenborg believed that a spiritual entity, or soul, directed the natural development of the embryo. He was not a preformationist, for he observed that in the egg there could not be found a type of the future body. [13] He later concluded that "there is a certain formative substance or force that draws the thread from the first living point and afterwards continues it to the last point of life." [14] Because of the very refined nature of this substance, he said it could "never be followed by the mind, unless it be previously instructed in the doctrine of series and degrees. [15]

As time went on, Swedenborg began to call this undetectable substance "the purest fluid" and finally "the spirituous fluid." He speaks of this fluid as being contained in the cortical cells of the brain, and that it is capable of "mutation" and "harmonic variety" (morphic resonance?). Finally, he thought of the "spirituous fluid" as being a kind of organic basis for the human soul. [16]

Later in the theological works this idea is described in more detail and Swedenborg begins to call it a limbus, or border, because it is composed of the finest things of nature and exists, as it were, at the very edge or border of the natural world.17 We are given the most complete view of this unique and puzzling doctrine in The True Christian Religion:

To this I will add the following arcanum: The soul, which is from the father, is the man himself, while the body, which is from the mother, is not the man in himself but is from the man; it is simply the soul's clothing, woven of such things as are from the natural world, while the soul is woven of such things as exist in the spiritual world. After death every man lays aside the natural which he took from the mother, and retains the spiritual which is from the father, together with a kind of border (limbo) from the purest things of nature about it. [18]

Hugo Odhner in The Spiritual World makes a thoughtful attempt to understand these "purest things of nature" from the scientific knowledge of the twentieth century. He notes that modem science conceives of matter as gravitational fields of force, and also observes Swedenborg's statement that the highest natural sphere originates in the force of gravity. [19] Thus he says, "for all we know, the 'limbus' might be a structure of wave-patterns, the form of which we can describe only by abstractions, and which is perpetually reintegrated without losing its characteristic uniqueness." [20]

The difficulty with Odhner's suggestion is that there is no known connection between living things and the inorganic wave-patterns of gravity, magnetism, or any other form of electro-magnetic energy. The hypothesis of causative formation, however, provides us with the hypothesis that living things do indeed produce and connect with wave-patterns of an unknown type. Of course there is also no hard evidence for the existence of Sheldrake's concept of the morphogenetic field, but at least his theory provides us with a new way of thinking about the limbus and its function in both the natural and spiritual worlds.

Let us observe the similarities between the function of the limbus and the concept of the morphogenetic field. First, clearly both the limbus and the morphogenetic field are a function of the natural world, and both have been thought of as a natural "field" rather than natural substance. Second, the limbus apparently serves as a kind of form-causing agent for the spiritual body, giving man's spirit a fixity and permanence according to his life in the world. [21] Likewise, the morphogenetic field contributes to the external form of all natural living and non-living things, giving fixity and permanence to the various species' solutions to the challenges of their environment. Third, the limbus is said to be that medium in which man's mental states and natural memory become fixed and permanent, [22] a non-material yet natural storage medium for human memory. Likewise, the morphogenetic field is thought to be a non-material storage medium for memory in humans, and for instinct in lower animals.

Obviously there are great differences between the doctrine of the limbus and the concept of the morphogenetic field. For one thing, the possibility of a continuing function for the morphogenetic field after the death of the human body is not addressed by Sheldrake, nor would we expect it to be. For another, morphogenetic fields are thought to be associated with all living and non-living forms. However, since both of these concepts are at the moment perhaps more in the realm of philosophy than of science, certainly we can say that insofar as the idea of morphogenetic fields applies to human beings there is a great deal of similarity and overlap between the idea of morphogenetic field and the teachings concerning the limbus.

Let us now assume for the sake of argument that there is at least a relationship between the theory of the human morphogenetic field and the Divinely revealed truth concerning the limbus. We then have some interesting illustrations and confirmations of doctrine.

The Nature of the Spiritual Body

Ray Gill touched off the controversy over the nature of the bodies of spirits and angels in an article in New Church Life in November of 1911. In this article he suggested that the true human form was not the shape of. our material bodies, but rather another more perfect human form contained in the first cell of a child and known to the Lord alone.

[23] Gill cited many other teachings to support this idea, including ones that speak of how spirits from another earth who despised their bodies after death appeared in the form of clouds. [24] In response, those who held that the spiritual body after death merely "appeared" in the same form to the angels but really wasn't that form pointed to teachings which referred to the cortical vessels of the human brain and the limbus, [25] while those who held that the appearance of the human form after death was a "real appearance" pointed to the teachings which clearly state that after death man is possessed of every limb and organ of the body as in the natural world.

The teachings concerning the limbus, such as DP 319 and DLW 270, which speak of "coiled gyres" and "vortex-like inward and outward gyrations" seem to be Swedenborg's best analogous idea of what a "field" might look like. If we assume that the limbus and the morphogenetic field are the same, then in a sense the information in these "fields" is the source of the human form itself in both worlds. The field provides, as it were, the information which determines the skin or shape of the spiritual body, [26] while the perfection and beauty of this body is freely chosen according to the quality of one's life in the world. There is no contradiction between the teachings concerning the human form itself, or that which causes its form, and the human shape. What is new here is the thought that the limbus in its general state, before one has impressed upon it a unique life quality, is also the source of information for creating the physical body in the womb of the mother.

The Creation of Evil Animals

As mentioned previously, the Writings give us the troublesome teaching that evil animals arose when mankind began to behave in evil ways. Just what is meant by this is difficult to imagine. It is almost impossible to say that such animals as bats, owls, wolves, tigers, rats, and mice, arose after human beings reached the scene, and then only after they had turned to evil. Something else must have happened that changed man's relation to these creatures, many of whom have existed for hundreds of millions of years. Sheldrake's concept of the morphogenetic field may shed some light on this problem.

Sheldrake conceives of the morphogenetic field as being a universal field with a different "frequency" or "morphic resonance" for each species, a frequency which is tuned in by the unique DNA structure of that species. There is also what might be called a subset of the species frequency for each individual organism, with genetically related organisms sharing very similar individual frequencies or resonances. As the behaviors of individual organisms change, this behavior is stored as a sort of behavioral memory in the individual's frequency, but as more and more organisms take on a new behavior, the memory spreads to the whole field, so that at last other organisms with a similar morphic resonance may take up the new behavior spontaneously. In other words, the cumulative effect of the behaviors of individuals gradually affects the behavior of the whole species.

We see here a mechanism whereby the behavior of mankind could eventually also affect the behavior of other living creatures. As mankind turned more and more toward a self-centered, animal-like approach to life, this behavior could have affected the universal morphogenetic field, which is also the origin of the instincts and behaviors of animals. What may have happened is that as man became more animal-like, this new behavior gradually registered through the morphogenetic field. Then, like other animals, he simply became fair game for predators such as wolves and tigers, while at the same time he became susceptible to infection by microbes and parasites.

The change from internal to external breathing, which apparently happened some time after the new evil behaviors of mankind, appears to be the result of a morphological change in the human race. [27] This pattern seems to fit with the concept of the morphogenetic: field as being a mechanism whereby the behavior of past organisms can influence the morphology of future ones. This change apparently did not involve a major change in human physiology, but it does appear that a minor physiological or psychological change took place, which added conscious control of the breathing apparatus. [28] Such conscious control would be necessary for the development of spoken language, which we know also took place after the fall. [29]

The Virgin Birth

Perhaps the similarity of the doctrines concerning the limbus and the theory of the morphogenetic: field may help us enter with greater understanding into this most holy of miracles. How did the Lord bow the heavens and come down? It seems unlikely that He did so by creating a male DNA structure out of nothing to intertwine with the DNA of Mary. But if the DNA is primarily a mechanism for tuning into the purest things of nature, or the field of the limbus, which is the real source of the formative information for the growth of a fetus in the womb, then I think we can see a little more clearly how the Lord's birth into the world may have been accomplished.

In TCR 103 the primary topic is how the soul of a child is created from the soul of the father. Here we are told that in the seed there exists a graft or offshoot of the father's soul within a sort of envelope formed from the elements of nature. It is clear from CL 183 that the "elements of nature" in TCR 103 are indeed the "Purest things of nature," or the limbus:

In the seed of man is his soul in a perfect human form, veiled over with substances from the purest things of nature, out of which the body is formed in the mother's womb. [30]

Again note the emphasis in this teaching on the formative function that is performed by the soul and its vessel of the purest things of nature. These purest things of nature, which also serve the vital function of maintaining a conjunction between heaven and earth, are no doubt always under the Lord's direct control. It is not contrary to any known natural or spiritual order for the Lord to project His presence into the field of the limbus and concentrate its vital force into the ovum of Mary, thus creating a kind of "Divine Seed." In support of this idea it is interesting to observe how in the last sentence the focus of TCR 103 shifts away from the soul of man to the soul of the Lord:

With respect to the Lord: While He was in the world He put off by the acts of redemption everything of the human from the mother, and put on a Human from the Father, which is the Divine Human: and this is why in Him Man is God, and God is man. [31]

The Redemption of Mankind

If there is any truth to the notion that the doctrine of the limbus and the theory of the morphogenetic field are similar concepts, then we also have a new implication for the work of the Lord's redemption while He was in the world. There is only one teaching that I am aware of that hints at the connection between the Lord's life in the world and the limbus:

With the Lord, however, after He had cast out hereditary evil and so purified the organic elements of the Human Essence, these too received life so that the Lord, who was already Life as regards the Internal Man, became Life as regards the External Man as well. [32]

It is possible to interpret the "organic elements of the Human Essence" (Humanae Essentiae organica) referred to here as meaning simply the Lord's "physical body," but if that is what "organic elements" means, why the obscure terminology when a very clear and commonly used term is at hand? Since the concept of the morphogenetic field includes the idea that the behavior of each organism affects the universal field for all individuals of a species, perhaps we can see how the Lord, by His life in the world, not only restored the spiritual world to order but also restored order to the purest things of nature as "these too received life." We might consider the possibility that at the time of the Lord's birth the morphogenetic field was so defiled by evil that the human race would soon have died out by an inability to reproduce healthy children. A similar process seemed to have begun after the fall with the Nephilim. [33]

In the realm of pure speculation, one might wonder what role, if any, the Divine Limbus which also "received life" continued to play after the Lord's resurrection. Is it possible that the Divine Natural, or Human Essence, that which was added to the Divine, somehow continues to be associated with the Divine Limbus? [34]

Conjugial Love

We have seen above in TCR 103 and CL 183 that the limbus is associated with human seed. Perhaps by considering the idea of the morphogenetic field we can better understand certain teachings concerning the communication between husband and wife through the act of love. A woman is said to be actually formed into a wife by receiving into herself the image of her husband as her body receives the "offshoots" of his soul which are in his seed. [1]

Perhaps the emphasis on the "formation" of the wife from the reception of the seed of the husband is a little more understandable when we think of the "offshoots" of the husband's soul as a field of information concerning the quality of his soul. This makes more sense than thinking of the process as a mechanistic transference of physical material which somehow has a formative psychological effect in the woman.

The Function of a Special Church

We are all familiar with the teachings that those in the church universal are sustained and kept alive spiritually by means of the special church, although it may consist of comparatively few individuals. [2] The idea that the thoughts and behaviors of a select group of individuals could somehow affect the thoughts and behaviors of millions of others is close to what the theory of formative causation would predict. Perhaps the idea of the morphogenetic field gives us a way of thinking more concretely about just how those of the special church may serve so many others in the natural world.

Hereditary Evil

My thoughts turned to the doctrine of hereditary evil several years ago when reading the work of Murray Bowen, a researcher in the field of family therapy. One of the things which set his work apart was his longitudinal research project which followed the development of families for a period of up to thirty years. Bowen noticed that a tendency to similar dysfunctional behaviors appeared to be transmitted down through the generations of a family. He called this process the "multi-generation transmission process." [3] Bowen's theory of family systems looked to me very much like a mechanism for the transmission of what the Writings call "hereditary evil," the process whereby the evils of parents are transmitted to off-spring as a tendency to those particular evils. [4] Behaviors that psychologists term "dysfunctions" and what we would call "evils" are not necessarily synonymous, but there is a remarkable overlap between the two concepts.

Bowen did not suggest that this transmission of dysfunctional behavior was a genetic transference, but rather one which was transferred to children in part by means of the behavior of the parents toward the child, but more importantly by the "system" of the relationships within the family. We cannot say that Bowen's "multi-generation transmission process" is synonymous with the transmission of hereditary evil, but there would appear to be some connection. This seems all the more likely when we observe that the core of Bowen's theory has to do with the degree to which people are able to distinguish between the feeling process and the intellectual process, [5] or in terms of the Writings, the separation of the will from the understanding.

We tend to assume that hereditary evil is just that, something that one inherits from parents the same way as one inherits brown eyes and freckles. But we live in a post-Mendelian age in which such concepts as genes and chromosomes are taken for granted as the mechanism of heredity. In Swedenborg's day this was not the case. What Swedenborg meant by "hereditary" (haereditarius) is not necessarily what we picture in our minds today. Hereditary evil may be as much a function of the way parents treat their children as it is of some deeper form of inheritance.

A New View of Hereditary Evil

If there is any validity to Bowen's "multi-generation transmission process" and Sheldrake's concept of the morphogenetic field, there are at least two ways that hereditary evil can be transmitted to a child: first, by the effect of the parents' behavior and family system on the child; and second, through heredity, through genetic transmission and/or by means of "morphic resonance" between the morphogenetic fields of parents and their children.

Family counselors have long noticed how almost mystical is the effect parents have on children. It is a commonly accepted view that many problems exhibited by children can be traced back to problems parents are experiencing either within themselves or in the marital relationship. The sharing of pathology within a family is so widely accepted that when one member of a family presents a problem to a therapist, that member is often called the "identified patient." The assumption is that the real problem does not necessarily exist simply within that individual. The psychological view of this phenomenon is that the context in which the family exists and the patterns of relationships within the family cause the shared pathology. But from doctrine there is no reason for us to doubt that the medium of transmission is also on a much deeper level than psychology has yet considered.

But there are also tendencies toward good that can be passed on to children:

For every characteristic which parents have acquired from frequent practice and conduct, that is, which they have taken into themselves by their own actions in life until with them they have become so habitual as to appear natural, is passed on to their children and becomes hereditary. If parents have led a good life from the love of good and have experienced delight and blessedness in that life, and if this is their state when they conceive an offspring, their offspring acquires from them an inclination toward this same form of good. [6]

And related to the above teaching is the following concerning conjugial love:

That the offspring born of two who are in love truly conjugial derive from their parents the conjugial of good and truth, from which they have an inclination and faculty, if a son for perceiving the things that are of wisdom, and if a daughter for loving what wisdom teaches. [7]

As we have seen, the mechanism of acquired characteristics through morphic resonance, together with natural selection, may be the very mechanism that has provided for the evolutionary progress of all life on earth. But regardless of what may have happened in the past, surely we must conclude from these teachings that some mechanism of acquired characteristics now provides for the hope of mankind on earth and the continued "evolution" or progress of the Lord's church on earth.

AC 3469, quoted above, and other teachings do indeed speak about the state of parents at the time of conception as being a factor in what tendencies are transmitted to their children. But in the light of Bowen's research and Sheldrake's hypothesis, together with how well the theories of both men appear to illustrate a number of teachings of the Writings, I would suggest that we expand our thinking about just what is meant by hereditary evil and hereditary good.

I think we have to consider the possibility that hereditary tendencies to both good and evil can continue to be transmitted from parents to children after birth, through the family system as Bowen suggests, and even after they leave home, as is suggested by Sheldrake's hypothesis. If there is something akin to "morphic resonance," the quality of the parents' life will continue to affect the children for as long as they live - and perhaps even after death? What is more, we should consider the possibility that if a parent enters into a secret state of evil that remains unknown to his or her children, still that evil may have an adverse effect on his children.

But, of course, the reverse of this is also true. Parents who had not really begun to think about spiritual things or paid much attention to the work of repentance before their childbearing years may yet be able to pass on to their children an inclination to good affections and to conjugial love if they begin that work later in life. If the abatement of hereditary evil is the future hope of the church on earth, this seems to be a much more workable, optimistic and even logical view. It provides a mechanism whereby a great deal more can be accomplished by each new generation of a family than would appear to be the case if the "die is cast" with the conception of a child.

It makes sense to me that the same mechanism has been at work in the formation of both man's physical body through evolution and his spiritual body through the inherited tendencies toward good and toward evil. It also seems safe to conclude that the same mechanisms will continue to work in the future for the increased perfection of the human race. Surely, both the past and the future of mankind are intertwined by means of a "perfecting" process, whatever that process may be.


Like Wallace, I believe mankind has indeed risen above the perfecting process of natural selection with his highly developed intellect and his ever-increasing ability to control his environment. And I believe that another process continues for our perfection in a manner Darwin never dreamed of, a process which may be closely associated with what the Writings call the "limbus," and a concept which is presently denied by science - the transmission of acquired characteristics - a concept first postulated by Lamarck and later accepted by Darwin. Whatever the process may be, surely we must agree that the acquired characteristic of a tendency toward conjugial love is the hope of mankind and the hope of the future of the church on earth.


Part I.

1. Neo-Darwinian theory adds to Darwin's ideas the concept that an evolution is due to the accumulation of small genetic changes brought about by the random mutation of genetic material.)

2. Walter Orthwein first mentioned Sheldrake's hypothesis before this council last year. NCL, July 1989, p. 314.)

3. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: The New American Library, 1958, first edition 1859), pp. 17-25.

4. Loren Eiseley, Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979), p. 46.

5. In reality Wallace's Ternate Essay was the only true paper read that day. Darwin's offering was merely an extract from an unpublished sketch of 1844 hastily mingled with a Darwin letter to Asa Gray of 1857.

6. Darwin, op. cit., p. 24.

7. Transmutation was the accepted 19th century term. In those days "evolution" referred to the growth of an embryo in the womb.

8. Alfred Russel Wallace, My Life (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1905), vol. 1, p. 361.

9 J. Bronowsky, The Ascent of Man (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1973), p. 306.

10. Julian Huxley, Introduction to the Mentor Edition, The Origin of Species, p. ix.

11. Loren Eiseley, Darwin's Century (New York: W. W. Norton, 1961), p. 290.

12. Eiseley, Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X, pp 45-80.

13. Stephen Jay Gould, The Urchin in the Storm (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1987), pp. 51-61.

14. Arnold C. Brackman, A Delicate Arrangement (New York: Times Books, 1980), p. 12.

15. Ibid., p. 15.

16. Ibid., p. 292.

17. If Wallace had mailed the Ternate essay to a journal for publication it is quite probable that he would have been given credit for the theory of evolution.

18 Wallace, op. cit., p. 363.

19 Brackman, op. cit., pp. 16-22.

20 Brackman, op. cit., pp. 58-68.

21. Ibid, p. 60.

2.2 Alfred Russel Wallace, Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (London: Macmillan and Co, 1870), p. 333.

23 Ibid., p. 343.

24 Eiseley, Darwin's Century, p. 312.

25. E. Hubbard, Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Scientists (New York: P. F. Collier and Son, 1928), p. 392-3.

26. Alfred Russel Wallace, My Life, vol. 2, p. 313.

27. James Marchant, ed., Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (New York: Harper, 1916), p. 413.

Part II.

1. See DLW 349-351, 357, CL 380, TCR 79, 178.

2. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 18.

3. Ibid., p. 21.

4. AC 6465, 8603.

5. DLW 170, 316.

6. AC 9555.

7. WLG 30.

8. SD 3390.

9. AC 97, 805:2.

10. TCR 53, 78:5, AE 1201:3.

11. DLW 342, 347.

12. Kettlewell, H. H. D. "Darwin's Missing Evidence," Scientific American, (1959), pp. 148-153.

13. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda: Adler and Adler, 1985), p. 81.

14. See Steven M. Stanley, Macroevolution: Pattern and Process (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1979).

15. Quoted by Gordon Rattray Taylor in The Great Evolution Mystery (New York: Harper and Row, 1983), p. 224.

16. Quoted by Gordon Rattray Taylor, Ibid., p. 4.

17. Ibid., p. 5.

18. K. R. Miller, "Scientific Creationism Versus Evolution: The Mislabeled Debate," Science and Creationism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), ed., Ashley Montagu, p. 36.

19. R. J. Cuffey, "Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution", Science and Creationism (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984), ed., Ashley Montagu, pp. 255-271.

20. Denton, op. cit., p. 161.

21. Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe (New Haven: Tricknor and Fields, 1982), p. 28.

22. Quoted by Hitching, op. cit., p. 28.

23. Ibid., p. 32.

24. Denton, op. cit., p. 230.

25. Hitching, op. cit., pp. 165, 166.

26. Thomas S. Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 23.

27. Ibid., p. 357.

28. Denton, op. cit., p. 358.

29. AC 5508:2.

30. See Charlotte Gyllenhaal-Davis, "Chance, Evolution, and the New Word," The New Philosophy 81 (1978), pp. 271-283.

31. Darwin, op. cit., p. 133.

32 Eiseley, Darwin's Century, p. 217.

33 Eiseley, op. cit. p. 218.

34 Taylor, op. cit., p. 50.

35 Ibid., P. 51. 36

36 Hitching, op cit., p. 147.

Part III.

1. Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1981), paperback, pp. 137-149.

2. Ibid., p. 122.

3. Ibid., P. 175.

4. Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 210-222.

5. AC 2474, 2475, 2478, 2494, HH 345.

6. Sheldrake, 1981, p. 250.

7. Sheldrake, 1988, p. 120.

8. Ken Wilber, "Physics, Mysticism and the New Holographic Paradigm," The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes (Boulder: Sharnbhala, 1982), ed., Ken Wilber, pp. 157-186.

9. DLW 293.

10. AC 2991.

11. D. Wis. 11:4.

12. DLW 310.

13. I EAK 249.

14 Ibid., 253.

15 Ibid., 167.

16 Ibid., 314.

17 See DP 220, DLW 257, 260, Wis. viii: 4.

18 TCR 103.

19 LJ Post. 312.

20 Hugo Odhner, The Spiritual World (Bryn Athyn PA: The Academy of the New Church, 1968), p. 40.

21. DP 319, DLW 270.

22. Odhner, op. cit., p. 35.

23. AC 3633.

24. AC 10314, SD 1668.

25. See AC 4040, DLW 366, 369, 388, DP 319.

26. DLW 257.

27. AC 97.

28. Carl Th. Odhner, The Golden Age (Bryn Athyn PA: The Academy Book Room, 1913), p. 77.

29. AC 1120, SD 3322, 3324, 3490.

30. CL 183.

31. TCR 103:3.

32. AC 1603.

33. AC 557, 567, 581, 1673.

34. AC 1461.

Part IV

1 CL 193, 198.

2 AC 2853, SS 104.

3 Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (New York: Jason Aronson, 1978), p. 384.

4 AC 313, 494, 1573, 1902, 3701, 4317.

5 Bowen, op. cit., p. 355.

6 AC 3469:3.

7 CL 202.


Bowen, Murray. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York: Jason Aronson, 1978.

Brackman, Arnold C. A Delicate Arrangement: the Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. New York: Times Books, 1980.

Bronowsky, J. The Ascent of Man. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1973.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of the Species. New York: The New American Library, first edition 1859 (Mentor MY 1050 paperback, 1958).

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1986.

Eiseley, Loren. Darwin's Century. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., (Anchor A 244, paperback), 1961.

Eiseley, Loren. Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979.

Gould, Steven J. Ever Since Darwin. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1973.

Gould, Steven J. An Urchin in the Storm. New York: W. W. Norton and Co. (paperback), 1987.

Gyllenhaal-Davis, Charlotte. "Chance, Evolution, and the New Word," The New Philosophy 81 (1978), pp. 271-283.

Hitching, Francis. The Neck of the Giraffe. New Haven: Ticknor and Fields, 1982.

Hubbard, E. Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great Scientists. New York: P. F. Collier and Son, 1928.

Hull, D. L. Darwin and His Critics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Kittlewell, H. H. D. "Darwin's Missing Evidence," Scientific American, 201 (1959), pp. 148-153.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University Chicago Press, 2nd. ed., 1970.

Mayr, Ernst. Toward a Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Monod, J. Chance and Necessity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.

Montagu, Ashley. (Ed.) Science and Creationism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Odhner, Carl Th. The Golden Age. Bryn Athyn, PA: The Academy of the New Church, 1913.

Odhner, Hugo Lj. The Spiritual World. Bryn Athyn, PA: The Academy of the New Church, 1968.

Odhner, Hugo Lj. The Human Mind. Bryn Athyn, PA: The Academy of the New Church, 1969.

Odhner, Linda Simonetti. "Recapitulation Theories and Man's Place in the Universe." Swedenborg and His Influence. Bryn Athyn, PA: The Academy of the New Church, 1988, pp. 199-226.

Sheldrake, Rupert. A New Science of Life: the Hypothesis of Formative Causation. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 2nd ed., 1981.

Sheldrake, Rupert. The Presence of the Past, New York: Vintage Books, 1988.

Stanley, Steven M. Macroevolution: Pattern and Process. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1979.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. References to all theological works are from Swedenborg Foundation standard set, with the exception of the Arcana Caelestia, references from the first 6 volumes are the Elliott translation; and Divine Providence is the Dick translation, both published by The Swedenborg Society.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, New York: The New Church Press, 1955.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. The Spiritual Diary. London: James Speirs, 1883-1902.

Taylor, Gordon Rattray. The Great Evolution Mystery. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. London: Macmillan and Co., 1870.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. My Life. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1905.

Wilber, Ken. (Ed.), The Holographic Paradigm. Boulder: Shambliala, 1982.

- New Church Life 1990; 110:202-212, 259-275, 298-312, 345-351


Swedenborg Biography
Heavenly Doctrines
The revelation process
Who is God?
The Word of God
Bible & the Writings
Time and Eternity
History of Religion
On Being Useful
Providence and  Evil
Getting Rid of Evil
The Death Process
Life after Death
Life on Other Planets
The Second Coming
Spiritual Marriage
Art & Literature


• Back • Home • Up • Next •

Evolution: Carlson

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com