Philosophical Theories of Evolution
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) developed the theory that there is something more in evolution than merely mechanical urge. He pointed out that the molluscs in the order of evolution proceed by steady steps to develop an eye, which resembles the eye developed by the independent line of vertebrates. How does it happen, he asked, that similar effects appear in two independent lines of evolution, if they were purely accidental? He pointed out that the two developments must have been governed by a common vital impulse to this useful end. He is inclined to attribute a 'rudiment of choice' to the species which, traveling by different paths, reach the same goal. Given a new situation, the 'urge' (élan vital), common to all members, impels them to lead it by a new method. According to Bergson, it is the inner urge, or life-force, or an upward drive that incites the whole species in a definite direction. The striving of the organism is a creative effort to which evolution is due.10
Among the alternative explanations of the evolutionary process, we may also refer to Herbert Spencer (1820-1903),
who questioned the assumption that life always came from life. He attempted to give a philosophical account of the rise of the living from the non-living, of the mental from the non- mental. According to him, the differences between these are due to the degree of the complexity of the organization. But still the question can be raised as to why life should occur at all. The theory of the survival of the fittest does not carry us so far. Life has little survival value as compared with Matter from which it is supposed to have sprung. A rock survives for hundreds of millions of years, while even the oldest tree is only a few thousand years old. If survival was the aim of nature, life would never have appeared.¹¹
According to Samuel Alexander (1859-1938),¹² the whole process of universe is an evolutionary growth from space-time. The original matrix is space-time. Time is the mind of space. In course of time, space-time breaks up into finites of ever-increasing complexity. At a certain point in the history of things, finites assume new empirical qualities which are distinctive levels of experience — primary qualities, matter, and secondary qualities, life and mind. As explained in his book, 'Space, Time and Deity’, the cosmic process has now reached the human level, and man is looking forward to the next higher quality of deity. According to him, men of religious genius are preparing mankind for this next state of development. The divine quality or deity is a state in time beyond the human. The whole world is now engaged in the production of deity. As time is the very substance of reality, no being can exhaust the future. Even god is a creature of time.
Alexander's philosophy is called the philosophy of
emergent evolution. According to him, when physical structure assumes a certain complexity, life 'emerges' as something new. When the physical structure alters in complexity, as it does when it produces a central nervous system, 'mind' emerges, and the gap between life and conscious behaviour is supposed to be covered. Alexander finds explanation of the evolutionary process in a nisus or thirst of the universe for higher levels. It is the nisus that is creative and seeks to satisfy the underlying thirst.
Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936), who comes very close to Alexander in his account of emergent evolution, acknowledges God as the nisus through whose Activity emergents emerge, and the whole course of emergent evolution is directed. According to him, God is not the emergent deity, but an Activity within which qualities emerge. God is the breath of the whole movement, the deep root which feeds the whole tree. The course of history is the gradual coming of God to Himself. Lloyd Morgan contends that emergent evolution is not predictable. But it is not in the strict sense undetermined like Bergson's creative evolution, not only unpredictable for human minds but, in principle, for all minds. Lloyd Morgan infers the coming of divinity from the purposeful direction of the universe, and is inclined to conceive of his God as completely immanent. He maintains that the whole course of events subsumed under evolution is the expression of God's purpose.
Lloyd Morgan, is basically an adherent of Spinoza, and although he speaks of 'emergence' in the evolutionary process, it appears that changes occur according to rule, and
there is no spontaneity.
According to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), the evolutionary process cannot be evaluated in terms of its origin. What comes later is more than what was there earlier. There is, according to him, a developing process marked by increasing complexity. Powers and properties of matter, life, mind, and values are not entirely different; they interpenetrate and produce an increasing complexity and concentration. In man, evolution becomes conscious of itself. Tracing the story of evolution, he examines the phenomena, big and small, from sub-atomic particles and cells to stellar galaxies, bio-spheric and noo-spheric. There are, according to him, two complementary tendencies in the evolutionary process, differentiation and integration. In his paleontological studies, he found that evolution tends towards unification.
According to him, all energy is essentially psychic. In his book, The Phenomenon of Man, he conceives for man a superhuman future and presents a transcendental vision of omega-workings. Evolution is pushing man towards a higher goal, an omega-point, which can be described as collective divinity. A cosmic divine manifestation is in the making.¹³
Whitehead (1861-1947), who recalls the Platonic view of the cosmic process, maintains that nothing can emerge in the evolutionary process of the universe if its constituents were not already in existence. The qualities which are said to emerge historically are ingredients into events from the
beginning. There are, as in Plato, eternal objects, and ingredience of these objects into events are the explanation of the historical becoming. He admits that at every step there is the emergence of what is genuinely new. Every event, according to him, is a miracle, but it embodies an idea from beyond the developing series of events in the universe. Whitehead suggests an eternal order and a creative reality. The cosmic series has a nisus towards the eternal order which is beyond itself, though it is increasingly realized in the cosmic.
According to Whitehead, an actual event is the meeting point of a world of actualities, on the one side, and a world of ideal possibilities, on the other. He maintains that eternal objects, in interaction with creative passage, manifest themselves in actuality, reckoning with space-time limitation, casual push or drag of the past, and that ultimate irreducibility which we may call God. It is God who envisages a realm of possibilities and the word of actuality so as to focus the possibilities on each occasion for the creation of something new. It is He who determines the ideal plans of events by the imposition of His nature. The universe exhibits, according to Whitehead, a creativity with infinite freedom, and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities; but this creativity and these forms are together impotent to achieve actuality apart from the complete ideal harmony, which is God. God, according to Whitehead, is the home of the universals and the ideal harmony.
Ingressive evolution' is a phrase that aptly describes Whitehead's theory; There is, according to Whitehead, a progressive ingression and incorporation into the cosmic series of the eternal order which God embraces in Himself.
The 'primordial' nature of God is capable of harmonious concurrent realization. The members of the realm of possibility are called by Whitehead 'eternal objects'. They are eternal forms or ideas, to use the Platonic expression, but unlike Plato's ideas, they are not substances, but possibilities, conceptually realized in God. They are not imaginary and abstract. Some of them are apprehended as possibilities logically prior to their manifestation in actuality of existence and others as symbols of values that we pursue. The relation of form to the temporal world is that of potentialities to actualities. In the view of Whitehead, the temporary actualities realize the possibilities surveyed in God's nature. The order and purpose we see in the world is a result of actuality fulfilling the highest possibilities it sees before itself, which is a vision of God as relevant for it.
It can be seen that these philosophical theories depart in different degrees from the materialistic interpretation of the evolutionary process, and although they admit the world movement as an evolutionary process and admit also some or many of the elements of the scientific theory of evolution, they endeavour to explain, in some ultimate terms, the rationale and objects of evolution by a process of philosophical speculation.14