Hindu views on evolution

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Hinduism includes a range of viewpoints about the origin of life, creationism and evolution.

Rigveda, the earliest Hindu text mentions the Hiranyagarbha ("golden embryo") as the source of the creation of the Universe, similar to the world egg motif found in the creation myths of many other civilizations. It also contains a myth of the proto-Indo-European origin, in which the creation arises out of the dismemberment of a cosmic being (the Purusha) who is sacrificed by the gods.[1] As for the creation of the primordial gods themselves, the Nasadiya Sukta of Rigveda takes a near-agnostic stand, stating that the Gods came into being after the world's creation, and nobody knows when the world first came into being.[2] In the later Puranic texts, the creator god Brahma is described as performing the act of 'creation', or more specifically of 'propagating life within the universe'. Some texts consider him equivalent to the Hiranyagarbha or the Purusha, while others state that he arose out of these. Brahma is a part of the trinity of gods that also includes Vishnu and Shiva, who are responsible for 'preservation' and 'destruction' (of the universe) respectively.

Many Hindu texts mention the cycle of creation and destruction. The Shatapatha Brahmana states that the current human generation descends from Manu, the only man who survived a great deluge after being warned by the God. This legend is comparable to the other flood legends, such as the story of the Noah's Ark mentioned in the Bible and the Quran.[3]

Some Hindu schools do not regard the scriptural creation myth as a literal truth, and often the creation stories themselves do not go into specific detail, thus leaving open the possibility of incorporating at least some theories in support of evolution. Some Hindus find support for, or foreshadowing of evolutionary ideas in scriptures.[4] For example, the concept of Dashavataras (see below) can be seen as having some similarities to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.[5][6][7][8]

In a survey of 909 people, 77% of its respondents in India agreed that enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and 85% of God-believing people said they agree with evolution as well.[9][10] According to the survey conducted by Pew Forum in the United States, 80% of Hindus agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth.[11] However, in India, there were minimal references to Darwinism in the 1800s. Elements of Victorian England opposed the idea of Darwinism. Hindus already had present notion of common ancestry between humans and animals. The Hindu dharma believes that the gods have animal features, showing a theory that humans can be reborn again as animals or with their features.[12]

Hindu creationism[edit]

According to Hindu creationism all species on earth including humans have "devolved" or come down from a high state of pure consciousness. Hindu creationists claim that species of plants and animals are material forms adopted by pure consciousness which live an endless cycle of births and rebirths.[13] Ronald Numbers says that: "Hindu Creationists have insisted on the antiquity of humans, who they believe appeared fully formed as long, perhaps, as trillions of years ago."[14] Hindu creationism is a form of old earth creationism. According to Hindu creationists the universe may even be older than billions of years. These views are based on the Vedas which depict an extreme antiquity of the universe and history of the earth.[15][16]

Creation myths[edit]

Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs.[17] As a result, the Hindu texts do not provide a single canonical account of the creation; they mention a range of theories of the creation of the world, some of which are contradictory.[18] Many Hindus regard these scriptural legends as allegories or metaphors rather than literal truth.

Rigveda[edit]

The Purusha sukta of the earliest Hindu text Rig Veda mentions purusha, the primeval cosmic being.[19] The Purusha is described as all that has ever existed and will ever exist.[20] Viraj, variously interpreted as the mundane egg[19] (see Hiranyagarbha) or the twofold male-female energy, was born from Purusha, and the Purusha was born again from Viraj. The gods then performed a sacrifice with the Purusha, leading to the creation of the other things in the manifested world from his various body parts and his mind. These things included the animals, the Vedas, the Varnas, the celestial bodies, the air, the sky, the heavens, the earth, the directions, and even Indra and Agni. It is likely that this myth has proto-Indo-European origins, as it is similar to other myths found in the Indo-European cultures, in which the creation arises out of the dismemberment of a divine being (cf. Ymir of the Norse mythology).[1]

The concept of Purusha is similar to the concept of Brahman described in the later texts.[21]:318 As for the creation of the primordial beings (such as the gods who performed the sacrifice of the Purusha), the Nasadiya Sukta states:[22]

Who really knows, and who can swear,
How creation came, when or where!
Even gods came after creation’s day,
Who really knows, who can truly say
When and how did creation start?
Did He do it? Or did He not?
Only He, up there, knows, maybe;
Or perhaps, not even He.


— Rig Veda 10.129.1-7

Rigveda (10.121) also mentions the Hiranyagarbha (literally, golden embryo/womb/egg) that existed before the creation. This metaphor has been interpreted differently by the various later texts. The Samkhya texts state that Purusha and the Prakriti made the embryo, from which the world emerged. In another tradition, the creator god Brahma emerged from the egg and created the world, while in yet another tradition the Brahma himself is the Hiranyagarbha.[23] The nature of the Purusha, the creation of the gods and other details of the embryo creation myth have been described variously by the later Hindu texts.

The early hymns of Rigveda also mention Tvastar as the first born creator of the human world.[24]

Brahmanas[edit]

The fish avatara of Vishnu saves Manu, the progenitor of the existing human race, during the great deluge.

The Shatapatha Brahmana mentions a story of creation, in which the Prajapati performs tapas to reproduce himself. He releases the waters and enters them in the form of an egg that evolves into the cosmos.[25] The Prajapati emerged from the golden egg, and created the earth, the middle regions and the sky. With further tapas, he created the devas. He also created the asuras, and the darkness came into the being.[21]:102–103 It also contains a story similar to the other great flood stories, such as the one mentioned in the Bible. After the great flood, Manu the only surviving human, offers a sacrifice from which Ida is born. From her, the existing human race comes into the being.[21]:102–103

Upanishads[edit]

The Aitareya Upanishad (3.4.1) mentions that only the "Atman" (the Self) existed in the beginning. The Self-created the heaven (Ambhas), the sky (Marikis), the earth (Mara) and the underworld (Ap). He then formed the Purusha from the water. He also created the speech, the fire, the prana (breath of life), the air and the various senses, the directions, the trees, the mind, the moon and other things.[26]

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4) mentions that in the beginning, only the Atman existed as the Purusha. Feeling lonely, the Purusha divided itself into two parts: male ("pati") and female ("patni"). The men were born when the male embraced the female. The female thought "how can he embrace me, after having produced me from himself? I shall hide myself." She then became a cow to hide herself, but the male became a bull and embraced her. Thus the cows were born. Similarly, everything that exists in pairs, was created. Next, the Purusha created the fire, the soma and the immortal gods (the devas) from his better part. He also created the various powers of the gods, the different classes, the dharma (law or duty) and so on.[27] The Taittiriya Upanishad states that the being (sat) was created from the non-being. The Being later became the Atman (2.7.1), and then created the worlds (1.1.1).[21]:103 The Chhandogya states that the Brahma creates, sustains and destroys the world.[28]

Later texts[edit]

An attempt to depict the creative activities of Prajapati; a steel engraving from the 1850s

Belief in evolution is among the Samkhya philosophy. In the Samkhya philosophy, evolution is symbolized by the Sanskrit term pariama. Many Hindu reformers compare this term and philosophy with Darwinism. The prominent Vivekananda, based most of his cosmological and biological ideas off of the Samkhya.[12] The Samkhya texts state that there are two distinct fundamental eternal entities: the Purusha and the Prakriti. The Prakriti has three qualities: sattva (purity or preservation), rajas (creation) and tamas (darkness or destruction). When the equilibrium between these qualties gets broken, the act of creation starts. Rajas quality leads to creation.[29]

The later texts such as the Puranas identify the Purusha with the God. In many Puranic notes, Brahma is the creator god.[21]:103 However, some Puranas also identify Vishnu, Shiva or Devi as the creator.[21]:103

In Garuda Purana, there was nothing in the universe except the Brahman. The universe became an expanse of water, and in that Vishnu was born in the golden egg. He created Brahma with four faces. Brahma then created the devas, asuras, pitris and manushas. He also created the rakshasas, yakshas, gandharvas. Other creatures came from the various parts of his body. (e.g. snakes from his hair, sheep from his chest, goats from his mouth, cows from his stomach, others from feet) . His body hair became the herbs. The four varnas came from his body parts and the four Vedas from his mouths. He created several sons from his mind, Daksha, Daksha's wife, Manu Svaymbhuva, his wife Shatarupta and the rishi Kashypa. Kashypata married thirrteen of Daksha's daughter and all the devas and the createures were born through them.[21]:103 Other Puranas and the Manu Smriti mention several variations of this theory.

In Vishnu Purana, the Purusha is same as the creator deity Brahma, and is a part of Vishnu.[21]:319 The Shaivite texts mention the Hiranyagarbha as a creation of Shiva.[23] According to the Devi-Bhagavata Purana Purusha and Prakriti emerged together and formed the Brahman, the supreme universal spirit that is the origin and support of the universe.[21]:319

The Advaita Vedanta states that the creation arises from Brahman, but it is illusory and has no reality. (Vivarta)[21]:103

Hindu cosmological view of creation[edit]

Many of the Hindu philosophies mention that the creation is cyclic.[21]:104 According to the Upanishads, the universe and the Earth, along with humans and other creatures undergo repeated cycles (pralaya) of creation and destruction. A variety of myths exist regarding the specifics of the process, but in general the Hindu view of the cosmos is as eternal and cyclic. The later puranic view also asserts that the universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. In Hindu cosmology, a universe endures for about 4,320,000,000 years (one day of Brahma, the creator or kalpa)[30] and is then destroyed by fire or water elements. At this point, Brahma rests for one night, just as long as the day. This process, named pralaya (Cataclysm), repeats for 100 Brahma years (311 trillion, 40 billion human years) that represents Brahma's lifespan.

Attempts to reconcile evolution[edit]

Most God-believing Hindus accept the theory of biological evolution.[9][10][11] They either regard the scriptural creation theories as allegories and metaphors, or reconcile these legends with the modern theory of evolution.

Day and Night of Brahma[edit]

Science writers Carl Sagan and Fritjof Capra have pointed out similarities between the latest scientific understanding of the age of the universe, and the Hindu concept of a "day and night of Brahma", which is much closer to the current known age of the universe than other creation views. The days and nights of Brahma posit a view of the universe that is divinely created, and is not strictly evolutionary, but an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth of the universe. According to Sagan:

The Hindu dharma is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only dharma in which time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang.[31]

Capra, in his popular book The Tao of Physics, wrote that:

This idea of a periodically expanding and contracting universe, which involves a scale of time and space of vast proportions, has arisen not only in modern cosmology, but also in ancient Indian mythology. Experiencing the universe as an organic and rhythmically moving cosmos, the Hindus were able to develop evolutionary cosmologies which come very close to our modern scientific models.[32]

Dashāvatāras and evolution[edit]

British geneticist and evolutionary biologist, J B S Haldane, observed that the Dashavataras (ten principal avatars of Lord Vishnu) are a true sequential depiction of the great unfolding of evolution. Like the evolutionary process itself the first true manifestation of the god is a fish the Matsya, then comes the aquatic reptile turtle, the Kurma, then an animal the boar Varaha, then narashimha, a humanoid being, Vamana, the pigmy man then the rest five are humans. [33]

Vanaras[edit]

The Hindu epics mention an ape-like humanoid species called the vanaras.

The Sanskrit epics of the Hindus mention several exotic creatures including ape-like humanoids.[34] Some Hindus see this as a proof of the historicity of their mythological characters and as support for the theory of evolution in their texts. The Ramayana speaks of the Vanaras, an ape-like species with human intelligence, that existed millions of years ago. However, according to the Ramayana alongside these ape-men existed modern humans.[35] Thus, according to these ancient writings, the status of such creatures was a state of coexistence rather than evolution. This is in opposition to common descent which is accepted by most scientists.[36]

ISKCON and evolution[edit]

Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) say that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is wrong, but they do not necessarily reject evolution altogether. The views of the founder of ISKCON, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, on Darwin and evolution are found in his book Life comes from life.[37][38]

Devolution[edit]

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) take a literal reading of Puranas which teach that time and space are cyclical, and that the earth goes through a cyclic model of yugas that says that life on earth devolves through four stages, or cosmic epochs, with each one becoming increasingly dark, alienated than the previous.[39][40][41]

History therefore to ISKCON is a succession of four epochs called yugas, the first being the best a Golden age, then devolving to the present degenerate age, the Kali Yuga. After Kali Yuga, the process repeats itself, with the earth entering a stage of sleep and then being reborn.[42] According to the teachings of ISKCON the current age we are now in, which began approximately 5000 years ago, is called Kali yuga. Kali-yuga is a 432000 year-long devolution, a stage of degeneration on earth and for the human being.[43]

ISKCON also teach another process of devolution. Michael Cremo defines this process of devolution as "The process by which conscious selves descend to the realm of the material energy, and are placed in material bodily vehicles."[44] Cremo proposes that human beings have not evolved from other animals, but they have devolved down from a spiritual world.[45] This process of devolution is rooted in the Hindu teaching of Sat Desh, (translated "True Home") which teaches that a spiritual homeland exists eternally which is the location where spirits dwell before they enter material bodies on earth.[46]

According to the Vedic texts the remedy to free oneself from the evil of devolution, is to cast off materialism, and realize one's real spiritual nature, which is that of Sat Desh, the homeland of spirits.[47] Vishal Mangalwadi describes Sat Desh as "The highest region, made purely of spirit substance and inhabited by pure spirits — pure because they are uncontaminated by matter or mind. There are countless spirits and they enjoy the greatest conceivable happiness".[48]

Cremo is a member of ISKCON and the author of Human Devolution: A Vedic alternative to Darwin's theory, published by ISKCON's Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing,[49] which holds that man has existed on the earth in modern form far longer than that offered by the currently accepted fossil evidence and genetic evidence. Cremo suggests that Darwinian evolution should be replaced with "devolution" from the original unity with Brahman. His books have been met with considerable skepticism by the scientific community which charges that Cremo's theories are pseudoscience.[50][51] Author Meera Nanda has dubbed these beliefs a form of "Vedic creationism."[52]

As the cosmological theory of Hinduism teaches the four successively declining 'ages' of the yugas,[53] ISKCON teaches that we should expect to see evidence for devolution in biology and other sciences due to the "reality of the past Vedic curse of decay and degeneration on the world of nature, as stated in the Puranas", ISKCON members claim that genes are being lost in animals and humans and this is evidence for devolution.[54]

Intelligent design[edit]

In 2010 the ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Book Trust published an intelligent design book titled Rethinking Darwin: A Vedic Study of Darwinism and Intelligent Design chapters included contributions from Intelligent design advocates William Dembski, Jonathan Wells and Michael Behe as well as from Hindu creationists Leif A. Jansen and Michael Cremo.[55]

Hindu opposition to Christian creationism[edit]

While the Creation-evolution controversy has seen much debate in the US and other countries, it has not been a significant issue in India, with its majority-Hindu population.[56][57] Hindus are among many faiths that have expressed apprehension about efforts to teach Christian creationism in public schools in the US.[58] One objection to the teaching of creationism based on the religious texts of a particular faith is that in a pluralistic society this can result in the imposition of one religion.[59]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Cavanaugh, Michael A. 1983. A Sociological Account of Scientific Creationism: Science, True Science, Pseudoscience. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.
  • Eve, Harold, "Creationist Movement in Modern America", Twayne Pub, 1990.
  • The Hidden History of the Human Race (The Condensed Edition of Forbidden Archeology), Michael A. Cremo, Torchlight Publishing, May 15, 1999ISBN 0892133252
  • Forbidden Archeology: The Full Unabridged Edition, Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson, Torchlight Publishing; 2Rev Ed edition, January 1998 ISBN 0-89213-294-9
  • Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and the Making of Hindu Nationalism in India, Meera Nanda, Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  • Explaining Hindu Dharma A Guide for Teachers, N. K. Prinja (ed), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK). pp. 204. Chatham Printers Limited, Leicester, UK, 2001.
  • Forbidden Archeology's Impact: How a Controversial New Book Shocked the Scientific Community and Became an Underground Classic, Michael A. Cremo, Torchlight Publishing, January 1998, ISBN 0-89213-283-3.
  • Hindu Perspectives on Evolution: Darwin, Dharma, and Design (Routledge Hindu Studies Series), C. Mackenzie Brown, Routledge, 2012, ISBN 0-41577-970-7

External links[edit]

Hinduism and Science

Hare Krishna