Buddhism and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution
Posted on January 31st, 2012

By D. Amarasiri Weeraratne

 It was over a hundred years ago that Darwin presented his theory of Biological Evolution. This epoch-making and far reaching discovery undermined the foundation of religion in the West. Christian priests in England were alarmed and took the offensive against Darwin and his “Theory of Evolution”. Darwin faced all such ill informed and fanatical attacks with courage and calmness. Attempts to silence him with money also failed.

 The fanatical attacks were spearheaded by Archbishop Wilberforce. His contention was that if Evolution was true, then the story of the Creation given in the Bible was false. Rather than accept that the Bible, which contained the infallible “ƒ”¹…”Word of God’ was false, the priests preferred to think that Darwin was mistaken.

 Charles Darwin showed that all living organisms are related members of one connected system and that higher forms of life have gradually evolved from the lower forms. In other words, evolution has progressed from one-celled organisms to its highest state, namely, the human being, all due to biological changes taking place over millions of years.

 The “World Book Encyclopedia” explains evolution thus: “The theory of evolution involves three main ideas:

(1) living things change from generation to generation so producing descendants with new characteristics,

(2) the process has been going on for so long now that it has produced all the groups and kinds of things now living as well as many others that lived long ago and have since died out, and

(3) all these different things are related to each other. Evidence coming from various branches of science such as Geology, Paleontology, Ethnology, Embryology, Biology and so on, all confirm and establish the truth of Darwin’s theory.

 His theory has explained the origins of all the life forms that we see around us, and this explanation is more satisfactory than any other, alternate theory known to man. Many later scientific findings have confirmed this theory as true and factually correct. Opposition to Darwin’s theory by religious fanatics has become useless in the face of our improved understanding of what this is all around us. Today, the scientific world accepts Darwin’s theory and treats it with respect. It is now a subject for study for all students of the natural sciences.

 Although Darwin’s Theory of Evolution shattered the foundations of Western religion and reduced Christianity to a shipwreck, it has not harmed or affected Buddhism in any way. Quite the opposite, it is in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, given so long ago, and so, has confirmed the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha did NOT teach that the world was created by God or that mankind is a special creation by an all- powerful God. The Buddha used the term “Satva” which applies to men, animals and all other living beings. Thus, Buddhism does not distinguish between mankind and animals, nor does it stress the supremacy of certain members of mankind just because they are baptised, in the way Christianity does.

 In the Agganna Sutra we find the Buddha referring to a process of evolution by which means life developed. The idea of evolution is consonant with the teachings of the Buddha and is quite acceptable to the Buddhist; the findings of science fit in and do not contradict the fundamentals of his religion.

 It is good to now present to the reader the three fundamental truths of existence which are to be found at the heart “”…” the core of the Buddha’s teachings, namely: Anitya (Impermanence), Dukkha (Suffering or Unsatisfactoryness) and Anatta (Beings have NO soul) and these three truths are also confirmed as factual by modern scientific evidence.

 These modern scientific findings support what the Buddha taught “”…” his Dhamma (- his teachings) and results in satisfaction to the Buddhist. Darwin showed how life began as a uni-cellular organism in the oceans and evolved by gradual stages. He adduced scientific evidence in support of this thesis. This established that all animals had a common origin and had evolved from one species to another due to biological changes. (This change would be as a result of changing conditions “”…” causes “”…” which create their own effects (changes) on developing species.)*

 This proved once and for all that animal species are not fixed or static as created by God, but they slowly evolve from the lower forms, and even now are evolving into still different forms. Our human lives are too short to observe this process of evolutionary change in its fullness. The animals and plant species that existed millions of years ago no longer exist. The trees and animals that will survive and exists in a million years in the future will be different from the ones existing now. This applies to mankind too.

 Therefore, “Anitya” (Impermanence), is not only confined to inanimate life, but applies to animate life of all types and species. Therefore, what the sciences teach is consistent with the Buddha’s saying (or dictum) : “Sabbe sankhara Anicca” (all compounded things are impermanent). Scientists have arrived at this conclusion using modern all their powerful scientific techniques and analysis and they confirm and spotlight all that the Buddha has been teaching for so many thousands of years. 

The Bible, on the contrary, teaches that the world and it’s living beings have all been created by a merciful God who is all powerful. But in the study of evolution we see that all species are subject to suffering. We see the strong preying on the weak “”…” and this is the common occurrence in the process of life and evolution.

Existence on earth means eating and avoiding being eaten.

 Therefore the entire earth has been drenched with the blood of countless millions of creatures killed for food, on land sea and air. Many ancient species of animals became extinct because they could not avoid falling prey to predators. The example can be cited of those dinosaurs killed as prey and so, have perished long ago leaving only their fossilized skeletons as evidence of their existence, and which scientists now use to reconstruct their shape and size.

 Animals preying upon one another is the method by which nature controls natural populations. “”…” otherwise the entire earth would be filled with insects and other creatures, leaving not even one inch of clear ground. Nearly all creatures live in fear of predators which kill and eat them.

 No intelligent person can accept that an Almighty God, who created such a scheme of bloody carnage over a period of so many millennia, is a kind and compassionate God. The idea that all this life on earth is the work of a kind and all powerful God becomes impossible to accept.

 In such a manner, the belief in a creator God and his attributes of compassion, are shattered “”…” the idea that there is a merciful God is totally demolished. Therefore, Darwin’s theory is in accordance with the Buddha’s saying ( or Dictum): “Sabbe sankhara Dukkha” “”…”all life is suffering (or unsatisfactory).

This is confirmed as true in the light of modern scientific understanding. 

The Bible teaches that man is a special creation, set apart from animals. Theology says that man has a soul which animals do not have. In this connection Lord Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher and a Peer of the British Realm, has asked: “During the long process of Evolution from the amoeba to homo-sapiens, at what stage did the “ƒ”¹…”soul’ come in?’ It is very clear that the idea of a soul which is immutable and eternal is an imaginary one. Man has a more developed brain with superior intellectual powers, therefore the mind of man is mistaken for a “soul” in the Abrahamic religions.

 Biological investigation tells us that there are some 180 vestigial organs remaining in the human body, unused. These are of no use to us now and are the remains of our past evolution. In addition, one can see the remnant of a tail at the end of the human spine and hair on our bodies that show us of our kinship with the apes. Not only human beings, but also animals have vestigial organs remaining in the body unused.

 This is evidence that they, too, have evolved from lower forms. Embryology shows that man as well as animals’ embryos recapitulate the various stages of evolution during the period of gestation. Therefore, we learn that man is a being evolved from the primates and not a special creation with an immortal soul. Modern research has revealed that primates such as Chimpanzees have the intellect of a four year old human child. They can be trained to communicate and can use as many as two hundred and fifty words. They have about 95% of our genes. The difference between mankind and the higher apes is that mankind has developed a brain capable of higher intelligence. No human “soul” has been found.

 The Buddha “ƒ”¹…”s teaching of Anatta is confirmed by the findings of modern science. Therefore, this is in accordance with the ancient Buddhist truth of the saying (or dictum): “Sabbe Dhamma Anatta”. (All beings are without a soul which is immutable and immortal.)

 Thus Darwin’s ideas discredited the belief in an immortal soul, amongst the world’s intelligentsia. 

Thus, we see that Buddhists have no difficulty in accepting Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution”. Buddhists find that Darwin’s revelations are in accordance to the fundamentals of their religious teachings, all dating back so many centuries. Buddhists are pleased that as science advances, the truths enunciated by the Buddha so many years ago, get more and more support and acceptance. 

Footnote: *The Law of Cause and effect “”…” Causality is at the Centre of the Buddha’s teachings. Take a tiger from his forest and his conditions have changed. He will lose his forest characteristics over time. You will just look at a clawless, grey animal called “Tiger”.

 

—————————————–END——- 

MOTTO:

 

“The Gift of Truth, which leads to Wisdom,

– is the Greatest of All Gifts”

 —————————————————

 

MOTTO:

 

“Ignorance is the CROWNING Corruption”

 

                           – Venerable Piyadassi Maha Thero

8 Responses to “Buddhism and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution”

  1. jcorea Says:

    Budhism is a way of life not a relegon like Christianity. Budhism has no answer to savings one’s soul or forgiveness ones’s own sins. Budhism leads to being born again as a Tiger , would you have that? The author is a joker and should understand that his little knowledge is very dangerous to himself. He should try to educate himself correctly.
    Next he probably will say Darwin was a Budhist.

  2. douglas Says:

    As per my understanding ( gathered from readings) the concept of GOD came from the way the human body developed from conception and moved on its own power that was attributed to a “vital force” given from an outside invisible mysterious source and conveniently called it “Soul”. That is why we hear the story of Adam being moulded from clay and given the breath of “life”by this invisible force called “GOD”. This theory lived since then spread by the “Vitalist Philosophers”. It was in essence Mystical.

    But with the development of science things that were mystical started to change and naturally this “vitalist theory” faded away and a new discovery came to being i.e. the phenomena of life was proved to be “natural”- that could be explained by the established findings of sciences, such as chemistry, physics etc. This led to the discovery of the “cell theory” founded by two German scientists – Matthias Schleiden, a botanist and Theodor Schwann, a zoologist. They established that the basic unit of life is a microscopic cells, each of which is a “living entity”. So a unit of life is a congregation of living clells and not an “individual”. Therefore I believe, that the concept of a non entity of “I” “ME” or “MINE” originally enunciated by Buddha stands strong and unchallanged todate.

    However, the two scientists who introduced the cell theory, it is said, could not find from where the cell originated. Yet they thought cell materialized in a mysterious way from body fluids. But in 1850s again, Rudolf Virchow, another German scientist found that the cell arises from splitting of the older cells – thus proving the theory of natural selection and evolution of Charles Darwin.

    Yet again the “vitalists” say the “ability of living organisms- cells, to move and develop is phenomenon and that idea of “invisible mystery” is powered by an outside source and that is called SOUL and GOD.

    The cell theory’s answer to this important aspect of outside “source of power to move” a living organism is: the ability to move comes from something inside “US” (meaning a congregation of cells called a living being like a human or animal.) The science has proved that each cell gets this “power” from tiny motors and machines contained within itself. This “mechanism” of functioning a cell too could be explained in all probability by an indeapth analysis of the Buddha’s teachings relating to “Paticcasmuppada”.

    I leave it to you Mr. Weerratne to educate me from here onwards. Thank you.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    For people interested in this topic, here is a curious and powerful anomaly : Christ said “the meek & the humble shall inherit the Earth”. Buddhism too is for the preservation of life. But, Darwin said “Survival of the fittest”, and in Nature, we know this to be true.
    Since human beings do not have sharp teeth and claws to fight as in the animal world, they use weapons to ensure survival. Over time, there have been many wars in which many millions have got killed. All this has been done to ensure ‘survival’.

    My query is : In the struggle for survival, do we not lose our religions ?

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    I disagree.

    (Now this does not mean I’m here to fight against anyone or their beliefs. It only means my view.)

    1. Evolution by way of a process of natural selection.

    Evolution as mere change over time was known to man for hundreds of thousands of years before Buddha. That is NOT what Darwin said.

    But Buddha never apprehended evolution by way of a process of natural selection.
    In other words, survival of the fittest (Law of the Jungle) and the destruction of the weakest as INALIABLE natural phenomina that CANNOT be changed. This is Charles Darwin’s theory. Buddhist teaching neither endorse it or mention it.

    We should USE Darwin’s theory as approapriate to dominate the world for our needs. Not to run away from it or WRONGLY believe it can be changed through ANY teachings.

    Darwin’s theory is used to dominate the world by powerful nations, businesses, religions, etc. Even for medical purposes.

    2. According to Buddhism there is a way to cessation of dukkha: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

    This is 100% contradictory to the scientific theory and commonsense.

    The truth is right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration CANNOT liberate (or stop or cease) anyone from Dukkha because Dukkha is a FACT of life and death. It CANNOT be changed.

    Science accepts this fact and has come up with various therapies, exercises, surgeries, psychological support schemes, etc. to MANAGE Dukkha.

    e.g. Mr A works hard to win a new project worth $ 1 million. He wins it. Happy! He loses it, sad but MANAGEABLE. Failures are the pillars of success!!! He does NOT run away from craving for the project saying it WILL (or may) create sadness (dukkha)!!

    And the noble 8 paths CANNOT help him in any way in this regard although they are GENERALLY good things.

    3. Buddhism like Hinduism believes in karma. This is totally unscientific. Nature does not keep GOOD and BAD lists of creatures.

    4. Although Buddha may not have endorsed a god, the practice of Buddhism and things that are used to enforce Buddhist concepts are ESSENTIALLY tied to gods.

    e.g. Jataka stories enforce the Buddhist teachings of merits, karma, rebirth, Buddha’s previous cravings for pleasures.

    Without these stories, there is no proof of these concepts contained in Buddhism. These stories contain many gods and mysterious things totally unscientific.

    Once again, my views are only for intelligent discussion not for any vilification.

  5. nilwala Says:

    Darwin (and Wallace) theorised that the various life forms on earth have undergone Evolution, or gradual transformation, from simple cells to multicellular forms with specialized organ systems that enable survival in the multitude of environments that exist on Planet Earth, and that these life forms are able to survive because they are adapted to their environments.
    The question was: How did these transformations and adaptations come about?
    Darwin explained that within each species there were variations that arose through random processes, and the best variations for each environmental niche were naturally selected by each niche as the better/best adapted to it, and so these organisms survived. This concept was formulated as “survival of the fittest”.

    The modern neo-Darwinian modification of Darwin’s theory went on to incorporate new findings in Genetics which supported the existence of these random variations at the cellular and molecular level, through the DNA, and also showed how traits were transmitted from generation to generation through the reproductive process. Studies also showed how new variations and combinations could arise, making new generations of individuals within a species better or less adapted to survive. While Nature selects the best to survive a particular environment, it should be recognized that when the environment changes, if the organism is already highly specialized, it cannot readily survive change. Therefore, a certain amount of flexibility is also necessary in order to survive change.

    The problem that the Christian Church has had is the reconciliation of Evolutionary ideas with the concept of a Creator God, since the chapter on Genesis as recorded in the Bible states that a Creator God made the planet Earth in 7 days, etc. within which each life form was created in its current form, whereas the paleontological record evidences the millennia that have been traversed, as well as the gradual transformations that have taken place (although gaps exist in this record), in the evolution of various species culminating in Man. This problem is at the crux of the debate.

    Today even scientists who are Christians accept Evolution as fact, but with God’s hand in it. The problem to them is the acceptance of Evolution as a process of Nature, without the hand of a creator God who guides it. And so we have the Creationists who consider a Creator God to have initiated evolutionary processes, often citing gaps in the paleontological record to prove His hand in the continuing process.

    To anyone who has not been nurtured in a culture that prays to and believes in a Creator God, it is simple and clear enough to see the Truth of Evolution. It is the rejection of the Creator God concept that presents the dilemma to the theistic religions (Hinduism lies outside this range as Brahma the Creator is an abstract God).

    Another problem for Creationists and other Anti-Evolutionists is that they interpret a ‘moral’ element to exist ONLY if accompanied by the concept of a Creator God, since the Bible (or Koran) states that the Commandments for moral behavior in humans originated from God himself (and given to Moses or Allah), and morality can be instilled only through accompanying ideas of Punishment for sinners, or Heaven for believers.

    To those of us who are Evolutionists and Buddhists, the moral element does exist, and it has evolved in Life Forms through perception of tactile pain and psychic pain. The Pancha Sila of Buddhism and other Eastern religious philosophies aims to prevent and abhor the commitment of pain in one form or another. And these admonitions assert a Karmic recognition and value to good and bad actions, both of which are mind-derived.

    Mahes Ladduwahetty

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    Some random thoughts on the topic :

    I think we have to strike a Balance in our daily living, i.e. the Material Needs (production of goods & services) with our Spiritual Needs which bring a deeper happiness and contentment. It is up to each of us choose what gives us the best of feelings both from our work (production of goods & services) as well as from the practical Teachings of the Masters/Gurus, and attempt to leave behind myth & unreality in daily living.

    In everything we do in daily living we have a strike some sort of Balance, or else suffering will follow. For instance, if I enjoy eating cream & chocolate, I shall enjoy the momentary pleasure of the textures & flavors, but pay dearly in ill health if I eat lots of it. That is just the way Nature has made us, and such a law is universal, and not necessarily religious in origin, though we may categorise it under Right Action (Buddhism).

    It’s the same in Economic activity. If overdone & impractical, the venture goes downhill. If Good & Services are produced without customers, then the system fails. If poor quality Goods & Services are produced, customers avoid buying them.

    The human psyche is still a mystery, and there are many things yet not discovered by modern Science. That we mostly seek what gives us a sense of Security & good feelings in a changing world is the only sure thing, and we can also be sure of some human suffering and eventual passing away. Some myth & ‘unreality’ in religions may help us cope with the unknown factors.

  7. douglas Says:

    Comment Part II -This article deals mainly with the proof of Buddha Dhamma through the findings of Science. Though I too tried to do the same in my first comment, on second thought, there remains certain reservtions in my mind too. Can it be done OR should we do that at all? The problems I have in that attempt are:

    1. Science is “finite”- meaning it has definite limits imposed by laws of nature and as a result not the conclusions.

    2. A religion (Christianity, Islam, Buddha Dhamma, Hindusm etc) has definite final goals and conculusions and they all are “infinite”, such as “entering the God’s Kingdom”; “attainig Nbbana”; “”discolving into Brahman”etc. The path leading to such achievements is well laid out and the followers are led in that path to the attainment of the final destination. (Note: This article does not attempt to discuss that path of any of the religions. Therefore I do not wish to deal with it at all, as that would be completed deviation from the main discussion)

    So my problem is to analyse an “infinite” with the theories of “finite”. I am of opinion that it is not fair or relevant to analyse a religion from the point of view of science which subject is still “incomplete” (finite) and in the process of changes on a daily basis.

    In my opinion, a discussion of the relevance/ validity of the path leading to the final goal of any religion must be undertaken as a seperate excercise.

    I hope the scholars on this subject would definitely enlighten us in the future. Thank you.

  8. Andare Says:

    Here is another view of the material world taking into account the unseen behind the material which is the real sustaining power of the universe.

    Both Buddhists and Christians are correct regarding ‘God’. There is a God who is sustaining the whole universe and provides life to all living things. However it is not a personal creator as the Christians believe. This Power is what keeps the breath flowing in and out of all living things, keeps the sun, the planets and the stars all together. It is not kind or unkind. It is a Force which has set certain physical laws in motion. These laws then run their course starting with the Big Bang and the evolution of all life. There is no permanent ‘soul’ which transmigrates. Only that energy which has been within us can transmigrate. If the Heart (Citta) has not been quenched then the energy will take another life form to come back to experience this incredible world of beauty. Why It has set up this cycle is beyond us. Even the Buddha said that what I am telling you is like the leaves in my hand while what I know is like the leaves in the forest. He spoke 2600 years ago of the solar system, the constellations and the beings in different dimensions.

    All living things are conscious, including plant life. The degree varies. There is a book written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird “Secret life of plants” where the authors have proven it. If we think about it we can see we are clay dolls which can see, talk, dance, and walk. It is this Power within us which allows us to do it. The day this Power leaves us then the dust falls back to its elements it came from and gets recycled. The Kirlian photographs allow us to see the aura and the bio-magnetic field surrounding all life, including plants. There is a picture of a leaf with a part cut away but still you see the bio-magnetic field of the cut away part intact.

    All the religions talk about this Force with different words. The Christians call it ‘God’ and to make the simple people of the time understand Jesus spoke of a creator God which was easy for them to grasp. Now mankind has evolved more and find it hard to accept the mythology of a personal creator God in the sky sitting in judgement and watching everything we do. In Hinduism the word is “Tat vat asim” – Thou art that. This means our true nature is Divine and we can feel it not with our mind but with our Heart. When we do, the Heart dances with joy. In Hinduism they say that we are in the state of duality, when we become Advaita (non-dual) then we are one with that Power. For those who are Hindus I would recommend the writings of Swami Vivekananda or Saint Kabir. Kabir used to say that the fish is thirsty in the water and it makes me laugh. He also said the drop is in the ocean – anyone can understand that but only a few will understand that the ocean is in the drop. I would also recommend “Conversations with God” Vol 1 by Neil Donald Walsh for all.

    There is a thirst built into our Heart which pushes us to search and grow. The need for realization of our true nature is not a desire, it is a NEED, which can drive us crazy if not responded to correctly. When the seeker is earnest a teacher appears from somewhere. When the call of the Heart is sincere then it is heard by the Universe. As they say the flapping wings of a butterfly can cause a tornado somewhere in the Universe !

    The religions are the shell of words left behind by great teachers who come on earth again and again. When they are alive those who come in contact with them experience this reality directly through them. Then the words of the teachers are alive and help us to gain direct Knowledge of the reality. However when they are gone only the words are there and people because they cannot experience anything keep interpreting and revising and trying hard to understand what the teachers were trying to say. One can BELIEVE almost any thing if it is taught at a young age. However the important thing is to KNOW by actual experience. Once you KNOW then there is no need for belief. One does not have to believe the sun is in the sky. One can see it and know that it is there.

    Buddha spoke of this power when asked about Nirvana he said “O bhikkus, there is the Unborn, the Ungrown, and Unconditioned. Were there not the Unborn the, Ungrown and the Unconditioned, there would be no escape for the born, grown and conditioned.—- etc”. He goes on to say “Here the four elements of solidity, fluidity, heat and motion have no place; the notions of length and breadth, the subtle and the gross, the good and evil, name and form are altogether destroyed; neither this world or the other, nor coming or going or standing, neither death nor birth nor sense objects are to be found.” See page 37 (hard copy edition) of “What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula.

    Most of the techniques to realize this thing involve stilling the mind. Jesus said “be still and thou shalt know me”. He said the “Kingdom of Heaven is within you”, Buddha said ”Nirvana is within you’. Buddha showed the techniques to meditate which calm the mind and gradually remove ignorance. Heaven is not out there. It is within us. When we connect with our consciousness to “It” then the experience is bliss. All those experienced this Power within, after a certain stage of evolution, lived in joy for the rest of their lives whatever happened in the outer world. The Arahats were in a state of joy so much so that King Kosala asked the Buddha what is the source of your happiness. Buddha said that we are experiencing the transcendent joy which is not of this world. Read “Thera Gatha and Theri Gatha”. We sometimes connect to it for a moment when watching a sunset or beauty in Nature, and in the state of awe we feel that other side for a moment.

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