“By next Friday evening they will all be convinced that they are monkeys,” wrote Thomas Henry Huxley to his wife Henrietta. The year was 1860, and on June 30, Huxley would confront Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, in one of history’s most famous debates. The topic was Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Samuel Wilberforce despised Darwin’s theory, published the previous year in The Origin of Species, and he was determined to demonstrate its shortcomings. Although a bishop of the Church of England, Wilberforce knew something of science. He was a lifelong student of natural history, and he served as a vice president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He had also been on the governing council of the Geological Society of London, and he knew well several leading scientists of his day, such as geologist Charles Lyell, one of Darwin’s chief supporters, and biologist Richard Owen, one of Darwin’s chief opponents.
At the invitation of the editor of the influential Quarterly Review, Wilberforce had written a negative critique of The Origin of Species. It was not printed until after the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, but when it finally did appear, Darwin himself called it “uncommonly clever.”
In his review, Wilberforce (1860) first attacked Darwin on scientific grounds. In The Origin of Species, Darwin had argued that living things tend to vary slightly in the course of reproduction. After giving examples from bird and animal breeding, Darwin contended that over vast periods of time, aided by natural selection, such variation could lead to the origin of new species. But Wilberforce noted that the variations obtained in breeding pigeons, dogs, and horses were not changes in the basic physical structure of these creatures, such as required for the production of new kinds of organisms. Pigeons remained pigeons, dogs remained dogs, and horses remained horses. Turning to metaphysics, Wilberforce argued that such human qualities as free will and reason were “equally and utterly irreconcilable with the degrading notion of the brute origin of him who was created in the image of God.”
On June 30, at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Oxford, Dr. J. W. Draper of New York read a paper titled “Intellectual Development of Europe Considered with Reference to the Views of Mr. Darwin.” Expecting fireworks, seven hundred attentive hearers had packed the lecture hall. After Draper finished his talk, several persons offered comments. Finally, Wilberforce spoke, attacking Darwin’s theory. His confident words mirrored those that would later appear in his Quarterly Review article on The Origin of Species. Attempting to draw a laugh, he wondered “if any one were willing to trace his descent through an ape as his grandfather, would he be willing to trace his descent similarly on the side of his grandmother?”
Huxley leaned toward one of his companions and said, “The Lord hath delivered him into my hands.” When he was called to speak, Huxley delivered his famous retort, quoted in many books about evolution. Declaring that he felt no shame in having an ape for an ancestor, he added, “If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.” The audience, won over by Huxley, broke into loud applause. In their opening skirmish, the apes had prevailed over the angels.
On the Side of the Angels
The angels, however, still had some highly placed advocates. On November 25, 1864, Benjamin Disraeli, then chancellor of the exchequer and soon to be prime minister, said at a speech at the Sheldon Theatre in Oxford: “The question is this – Is man an ape or an angel? My Lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence the contrary view, which is, I believe, foreign to the conscience of humanity: more than that, even in the strictest intellectual point of view, I believe the severest metaphysical analysis is opposed to such a conclusion. But what does the Church teach us? What is its interpretation of the highest nature? It teaches us that man is made in the image of his Creator – a source of inspiration and of solace from which only can flow every right principle and every Divine truth… It is between these two contending interpretations of the nature of man [ape or angel], and their consequences, that society will have to decide.” But Oxford University had already decided. Disraeli’s remarks, especially the one about being on the side of the angels, met with loud disapproving laughter which today still echoes with increased volume in the halls of academia.
Disraeli’s unsympathetic university audience had two components. First, there were theologians who had given up a literal reading of the Bible.
Second, there were scientists who were also rejecting biblical literalism, from the standpoint of Darwinism. They both reacted with dislike to Disraeli’s talk of angels. Indeed, it was the unwitting alliance between these two groups that insured the relatively quick triumph of Darwinism over the Wilberforces and Disraelis of Victorian England. Within a few decades, most of the educated persons of England, and the world, whatever their religious or cultural heritages, would accept that human bodies were not direct creations of God in His image but were instead the modified bodies of apes. Disraeli’s statement that he was “on the side of the angels” is often inserted, as an amusement, into books on evolution, and so is a satirical Punch cartoon of Disraeli dressed as an angel.
But what exactly did Disraeli mean when he spoke of being on the side of the angels? Was this merely a metaphor, pointing to some vague involvement of God in the origin of the human species? Given the intellectual climate of his times, one is tempted to answer the question positively. For most intellectuals, God had already retreated from the visible universe, taking the role of a detached clockmaker who set a strictly material machine in motion and left it running. But a deeper study of Disraeli’s writings lends support to a more literal reading of his remarks.
In Lord George Bentinck: A Political Biography, Disraeli spoke fondly of “the early ages of the world, when the relations of the Creator with the created were more intimate than in these days, when angels visited the earth, and God Himself even spoke with man.”
Similar passages can be found in Disraeli’s novels, which were fairly transparent vehicles for his own political, philosophical, and spiritual convictions. In Tancred, published in 1847, his visionary hero, a young Victorian aristocrat, has the following exchange with a bishop of the Church of England.
“‘The Church represents God upon earth’, said the bishop.
“‘But the Church no longer governs man’, replied Tancred.
“‘There is a great spirit rising in the Church’, observed the bishop with thoughtful solemnity…. ‘We shall soon see a bishop at Manchester’.
“‘But I want to see an angel at Manchester’.
“‘Why not? Why should there not be heavenly messengers, when heavenly messages are most wanted?’”
Tancred then proceeds on a spiritual quest to Jerusalem. While in Palestine, he ascends Mt. Sinai by night and is visited by an angel “vast as the surrounding hills.” After identifying himself as “the angel of Arabia,” the angel says, “The relations between Jehovah and his creatures can be neither too numerous nor too near. In the increased distance between God and man have grown up all those developments that have made life mournful.”
Eventually, Tancred forms a plan to revitalise Europe by first restoring the spiritual purity of Asia. “When the East has resumed its indigenous intelligence, when angels and prophets shall again mingle with humanity, the sacred quarter of the globe will recover its primeval and divine supremacy; it will act upon the modern empires, and the faint-hearted faith of Europe, which is but the shadow of a shade, will become as vigorous as befits men who are in sustained communication with the Creator.” Disraeli’s vision of a Creator and his angels constantly interfering with the world is far less compatible with Darwinism than the vision of a Creator who keeps his angels in heaven and his hands off the world.
Given his mystical tendency, it is not surprising that Disraeli disliked materialistic evolutionary theories. Tancred appeared before Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but in it Disraeli satirised Robert Chambers’s Vestiges of Creation, which also expressed evolutionary ideas.
Before setting off to the East, Tancred developed a temporary affection for beautiful young Lady Constance, whom Tancred regarded as his spiritual guide. One evening Lady Constance spoke to him with effusive praise about a book titled, presciently, The Revelations of Chaos.
“‘To judge from the title, the subject is rather obscure’, said Tancred.
“‘No longer so’, said Lady Constance. ‘It is treated scientifically; everything is explained by geology and astronomy, and in that way. It shows you exactly how a star is formed; nothing can be so pretty! A cluster of vapour, the cream of the milky way, a sort of celestial cheese, churned into light, you must read it, ’tis charming’.
“‘Nobody ever saw a star formed’, said Tancred.
“‘Perhaps not. You must read the Revelations; it is all explained. But what is most interesting, is the way in which man has been developed. You know, all is development. The principle is perpetually going on. First, there was nothing, then there was something; then, I forget the next, I think there were shells, then fishes; then we came, let me see, did we come next? Never mind that; we came at last. And the next change there will be something very superior to us, something with wings. Ah! that’s it; we were fishes, and I believe we shall be crows. But you must read it’.
“‘I do not believe I ever was a fish’, said Tancred.
“‘Oh, but it is all proved; you must not argue on my rapid sketch; read the book. It is impossible to contradict anything in it. You understand, it is all science; it is not like those books in which one says one thing and another the contrary, and both may be wrong. Everything is proved: by geology, you know. You see exactly how everything is made; how many worlds there have been; how long they lasted; what went before, what comes next. We are a link in the chain, as inferior animals were that preceded us: we in turn shall be inferior; all that will remain of us will be some relics in a new red sandstone. This is development. We had fins; we may have wings…’
“‘I was a fish, and I shall be a crow’, said Tancred to himself, when the hall door closed on him. ‘What a spiritual mistress! And yesterday, for a moment, I almost dreamed of kneeling with her at the Holy Sepulchre! I must get out of this city as quickly as possible.’”
Lady Constance presents the perfect picture of someone barely hanging on to “the faint-hearted faith of Europe, which is but the shadow of a shade,” all too ready to be swept aside by the new prophets of evolution. The unfriendly reception Disraeli got from the dons at Sheldon Theatre in Oxford is proof of that. A world in which God, angels, and miracles have retreated beyond the most distant borders of material reality was ripe for rapid conquest by Huxley and Darwin.
But while in Syria, Tancred encountered a lady whose faith was anything but insipid; indeed, she manifested a faith in things too intensely mystical for even himself. The lady was Astarte, Queen of the Ansareys. Astarte took Tancred into a secret sanctuary cut out of solid rock in an isolated ravine. There he saw an “elegant hierarchy” composed of “goddess and god, genius, and nymph, and faun.” Tancred thought them to be the gods of the Greeks, but Astarte called them the gods of her own people, who once ruled from ancient Antioch. The chief goddess was Astarte, her own namesake.
“When all was over,” said the Queen, “when the people refused to sacrifice, and the gods, indignant quitted earth, I hope not for ever, the faithful few fled to these mountains with the sacred images, and we have cherished them.” She expressed a lofty hope that “mankind will return again to those gods who made the earth beautiful and happy; and that they, in their celestial mercy, may revisit that world which, without them, has become a howling wilderness.” If Disraeli’s vision of an active God and angels, voiced directly by himself and indirectly through characters like Tancred, is hostile to Darwinian evolution, how much more so the vision of Astarte.
Yet Astarte’s vision of a cosmos permeated with gods and goddesses once ruled Europe. These gods and goddesses were intimately involved in a temporal process of bringing into being other creatures within the universe. The universe was like a living mystical factory filled with subtle machinery, operated by subtle beings, who cooperated in the production of plants, humans and animals. Then came Christianity. At first, Christianity simply replaced the pagan gods and goddesses with angels. But by gradually deemphasising the role of angels, Christianity depopulated the cosmos. The visible universe became a lifeless clocklike machine that a distant creator God mysteriously built and set in motion. As far as living things were concerned, they were also machines. Mechanistic science took the final step of removing the mystery of their manufacture. They were not the instantaneous ex nihilo creations of the distant clockmaker, but part of a temporal material process running within the machine of the universe itself. That temporal process was evolution, guided by natural selection. In the universal scheme of life, the great clockmaker became a barely tolerated supernumerary, useful only for maintaining social order and public morality.
So man was ape, not angel. Nevertheless, there are still a great many people who take Disraeli’s side of the great question. For example, on July 13, 1994, Naomi Albright, author of several books about her contacts with angels, related to me this encounter: “I had entered into a state of consciousness that I call ‘living vision’. A living vision is not like something imagined. It is perfectly clear to you that you are there live and in person. In this state, an angelic being appeared before me. He said I should call him ‘Lighter than Light’, as his real name would be unpronounceable by me. After identifying himself as an angel, he told me that I should accept the fact that I had been one of them, an angel, since the Beginning, but that I had come down to the human form, and had been reincarnating on this level for a long time.” Experiences such as this point back to the cosmos of Disraeli, with its God and angels, its gods and goddesses, all somehow linked to human origins and destinies.
Altered States of Consciousness
Cultural anthropologists might call Albright’s “living vision” and angel encounter “an altered state of consciousness” (ASC). Such ASC reports are widespread. Anthropologist E. Bourguignon surveyed 488 world cultures and found that 90 percent of them have well-developed experiences of such altered states. These would include, for example, the experiences reported by shamans, who regularly contact spirit beings in their trances. Albright’s angel-contact testimony shows, however, that ASCs are not confined to tribal peoples. Modern accounts of contacts with alien beings in connection with UFO experiences provide another example of ASCs from advanced cultures.
Many cultural anthropologists and clinical psychologists studying ASCs in non-Western cultures classify them as psychopathological – as neurotic or psychotic departures from normal consciousness, as defined by Western psychology. A more charitable approach dispenses with Western psychopathological interpretations and evaluates ASCs as normal or abnormal according to the standards of the culture in which the states occur.
In modern civilised societies, persons claiming to be in contact with a spirit being, and acting as if this were so, would be labelled psychotic. But in many other societies such claims and behaviour would be considered normal, perhaps even prestigious. Nevertheless, most psychologists and anthropologists, although dispensing with negative descriptive language, would not normally regard contact with an angel, spirit, or UFO entity as real, in the sense of the human subject actually contacting another existing personality. At most, those taking a Jungian point of view would say that there is contact with a real archetype from the human subconscious.
But some anthropologists are now considering a different approach. Katherine P. Ewing, a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University, has raised the issue of positive belief as a valid stance for an anthropologist to take in relation to reports of paranormal phenomena. While engaged in researching Sufism in Pakistan, Ewing met a Sufi saint. This saint told her that he would come to her while she was sleeping. When this in fact occurred, in what Ewing took to be a dream, she felt someone touch her. The sensation was so real that, startled, she awoke sitting upright on her bed. In order to maintain her self-image as a professional anthropologist, she resisted what she called “the temptation to believe.” She found herself instinctively “placing the phenomenon immediately within a psychological interpretive scheme in which dreams come only from the dreamer’s internal states.” In other words, she convinced herself that the saint had not actually come to her in the dream. But she noted, “To rule out the possibility of belief in another’s reality is to encapsulate that reality and thus, to impose the hegemony of one’s own view of the world.” A better approach to experiences that challenge the worldview of Western science would be, she contends, to “take them seriously and allow them to play a role in shaping what are ultimate realities we share as participants in a global human community.”
When this step is taken, we find ourselves confronted with a wealth of empirical evidence that tends to support the worldviews of traditional cultures. When this evidence is taken into account, it would appear that human beings are not modified apes who arose on this planet by a process of physical evolution. Instead we are fallen angels, beings who came to this planet by a process of devolution from spiritual forms that preexisted in another dimension of reality.
As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (15.7), “The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” God is an eternally conscious person, and the living entities are also eternally conscious persons. In their original state, the deathless living entities exercise their free will to act in connection with God, in the pleasure-filled realm of pure spiritual energy. Some of the living entities, however, misuse their free will to act independently of God. Attracted by the material energy, they become covered by bodies composed of mind and matter. In this state, their natural freedom is constrained by the conditions imposed upon them by their bodies, with which they struggle to enjoy the material energy, in a cycle of repeated births and deaths. It is possible, however, for such living entities to regain their deathless and blissful spiritual state.
Reprinted with permission from Michael Cremo’s book Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (Torchlight Publishing, 2003).
© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.
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