THEOSOPHY, Vol. 27, No. 3, January, 1939
(Pages 110-115; Size: 19K)
(Number 79 of a 103-part series)



II: The Link Between Man and Ape

(Part II of III)

THE theory of the selective development of mutations as the origin of evolutionary changes is probably more widely agreed upon by biologists than any other hypothesis. Setting aside for the moment the question of what causes such mutations and other initial difficulties in the way of the theory, let us now regard the practical consequences of its acceptance. Of primary importance is the fact that the selection and development of mutations in such manner as to produce a new and higher species calls for enormous stretches of time together with a long series of transition forms.

To uphold this theory it has been necessary to push back the origin of present species to the remotest past. The amazing implications of this theoretically required time-factor, however, seem to have been entirely overlooked. It is of course well known that some insects such as the cockroach and the ant have maintained substantially the same form since the earliest specimens discovered, dating back many millions of years. Surprising stability of form has also been noted in higher forms of life. Prof. Glenn L. Jepson found in southern Montana relics of a mouse regarded as 80,000,000 years old, and a duck supposed to be 50,000,000 years old was unearthed in Utah.(1) The chronology is questionable, but that belongs to another subject. Taking the figures at their face value, if these forms have remained more or less in statu quo for this immense period, how long did it take them to evolve to that stage from "zero"? Supposing that the rate of progress in evolution may be determined in some such way as this, how long must it have taken man to evolve from the condition of his supposed near relatives, the apes, to where he is now?

There is an obvious irregularity in the rate of evolution, some species having altered rather rapidly as compared with others, the reason for which is, again, a subject in itself. Fairly good lines of descent have been established for some species, the horse and the elephant, for instance; lines substantiated by a real ladder of transition forms such as any evolutionist would give his ears to find in the case of man. The development of these rapid lines suggests the optimum rate which these changes, under the orthodox theory, might be expected to reach. In physical terms, the evolution of the elephant from Elephas Primigenius involves much less alteration than that required for the development of man from the highest ape form; that of the horse from his three-toed ancestor somewhat more. Allowing for some confusion in time estimates, the three-toed horse, placed in the Tertiary epoch, according to present ideas would be at least 90,000,000 years old. The highest ape is at least half as far from man as the Anchitherium from the modern horse; but let us be liberal and assume that on the same scale man diverged from the animal stock 20,000,000 years ago. Then what becomes of the "cave-man" of only 30,000 years ago, and the "beginning of civilization" only 8,000 years ago? Even as early as a million years ago, man, on this scale, should already have achieved quite a high civilization, having traversed nineteen-twentieths (more likely thirty-nine-fortieths) of his way from the apes. Either a marvelous and wholly unexplained mutation took place very recently, or the age of civilized man has been ridiculously dwarfed, on the showing of the mutation theory itself.

Further difficulties present themselves. The mentalities of neither the 80,000,000 year-old mouse, the 50,000,000 year-old duck, the 90,000,000 year-old horse, nor of the ape, whatever his age, have changed one whit, so far as any known evidence goes. All these species -- except where specially trained by man -- exhibit to this day the simple minimum of intelligence necessary to survival, and no more. In fact, every aspect of animal evolution points to a fundamental law in nature which might be expressed thus: The mental evolution of the animal kingdom never exceeds the bare survival minimum, unless artificially stimulated. Moreover, careful consideration will show that such a law would be strictly in accord with orthodox evolutionary theory. But man in some of his races is a glaring and apparently miraculous exception. His mental evolution, if it kept pace with his physical development as outlined in this hypothesis, should in the one case have brought him to his present intellectual status nearly a million years ago; or, according to the law formulated above, he should still have the mentality of an ape, since that is all he would need for survival.

The familiar theory accounting for man's intellectual development is that, having for some reason been forced out of the trees, he developed new capacities in coping with the necessities of life on the ground, while some mutation supplied him with an opposable thumb and the resulting tool-handling abilities. As a matter of fact, so far as physical equipment is concerned, a man with man's mind can get along pretty well with no thumbs at all. Monkeys have no physical trouble in handling things; the limitation is inside. The mind was not developed by the use of hands, the actual process being just the opposite. The common monkey with four hands and a prehensile tail is better fitted by nature to handle tools than is man; and there are innumerable ways in which all animals might use the physical powers they have, were their minds awakened to these possibilities. Obviously, animals are content with the survival minimum of development.

Both the denial of the existence of civilization a million years ago and the assertion of a sudden recent spurt of human intellect are scientifically insupportable, productive of mysteries insoluble except by wholly speculative, factually unsubstantiated, and in some cases, childish theories. These difficulties do not exist in Theosophy, which teaches with a wealth of evidence, first, an originally extraneous, now internal stimulus of human intellect shared in varying degrees by various races; second, the existence of lost civilizations of untold antiquity; and third, because of the different degrees of intellectual impetus, the co-existence of civilization and savagery in the human race for immemorial ages.

It is intensely interesting to note the recognition of a threefold evolution in man in the retiring presidential address of Dr. Edwin Grant Conklin before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dec. 27, 1937. He said:

Physically the fittest is the most viable and most capable of leaving offspring; intellectually the fittest is the most rational; socially the fittest is the most ethical. To attempt to measure intellectual or social fitness by standards of physical fitness is hopelessly to confuse the whole question, for human evolution has progressed in these three distinct paths. Man owes his unique position in nature to this three-fold evolution, and although the factors of physical, intellectual and social progress are always balanced one against another, they are not mutually exclusive.(2)
Could a definite series of transition forms from ape to man, located within the presently accepted time limits, be established by anthropologists, an irrational fact would have to be accepted as objective evidence, and the reason sought afterwards. But instead of a series of transition forms, we have only a few types rather closely grouped into similar or identical races: Pithecanthropus Erectus, the Neanderthal Man, the Heidelberg Man, the Peking Man, the Broken Hill Man, the Piltdown Man. There are others which are not transition forms at all, but mixed types; not graduated, but belonging rather closely to the same stage of development; not far back in time in proportion to development, but quite recent. (The later Neanderthals were contemporaries of the Cro-Magnon man, and the latter was admittedly as much a human being as we are.) These facts are so glaring that none of the ape-like species is now accepted by competent scientists as being ancestral to present Homo Sapiens. Anthropologists regard them as offshoots -- agreeably to Theosophy -- and the "missing links" are as profoundly missing as ever. These "blurred copies" are illustrations of the strange by-paths taken by a few hominoid or anthropoid tribes in the past, but they throw no light whatever on our own ancestry.

In 1935 evidence developed that the modern type of man lived in Africa 60,000 years ago, at which time the Neanderthals occupied Europe.(3) This agrees entirely with the Theosophic teaching that modern type Atlantean descendants have occupied Africa for at least a million years, the European Neanderthals, along with the Pithecanthropus and similar stocks, being merely scattered and sporadic survivors of a still older and vanishing race -- a race, moreover, with a queer history. Peking Man had a skull like the Neanderthal, though lower-browed; he made tools, used fire, walked erect, and was of good human stature. His jaws and teeth show mixed human and ape traits. All this is not the description of a transition type but of a hybrid, the meaning of which Theosophists will well understand.(4) In 1935 Dr. Theo. D. McCown of the University of California found near Mount Carmel, Palestine, the remains of nine men who combined the "ape-like" characteristics of the Neanderthal with the appearance of modern men.(5) The Minnesota Man exhibits the same mixture of traits.(6) The famous Pithecanthropus itself is regarded by Dr. Ales Hrdlicka as a "high primate of as yet uncertain ancestry and no known progeny," thus eliminating the Java Man from the human line in both directions, leaving our own poor Homo Sap. suspended in a still further attenuated ancestral vacuum.(7) It is perhaps in a desperation born of such quandaries that the discoverer of Pithecanthropus, Dr. Eugene Dubois, now expresses the view that man did not gradually progress to his present state, but came into existence as a finished genus.(8) This claim is far more extreme than any made by theosophists, having been inspired, in the opinion of some, by pressure from the Catholic Church, to which Dr. Dubois belongs.

An obvious direction of research is the study of resemblances between man and ape, physically and psychologically. It has been frequently stated that there is not a bone or organ in the ape which does not have its counterpart in man. It has been also stated, just as truthfully, but neither as often nor as loudly, that there is not a bone or organ of the ape which could possibly be mistaken for that of a man. The beast impress is unmistakable. Psychological disparities are equally definite. Dr. Robert M. Yerkes of the Yale Laboratories of Primate Biology provides these general conclusions, the result of an extensive study of the chimpanzee by N. Kohts of Moscow:

1. The chimpanzee ignores the possibility of walking erect and carrying weights with his hands.

2. He is devoid of imitation so far as human sound is concerned, and fails to improve his imitatory behavior.

3. He fails to understand the advantages of friendly relations with animals lower than himself.

4. His habits as to tool-using fail to improve.

5. He does not engage in creative or constructional play.(9)

In other words, his natural reactions are altogether different from those of a human child in every important respect. When and how, then, did the chimpanzee lose the incipient human traits which must have once been present if there is any real ancestral relation between man and ape? The evidence points to hybridization and degeneration. It does not fit anything else. Other apes, especially the gorillas, disclose humanoid traits which, though not changing their animal status, nevertheless point out a special relation with man -- again indicating the same conclusion.

As a matter of fact, the idea of a direct ancestry has long been given up, popular ignorance on the subject notwithstanding. Dr. William K. Gregory, for instance, gives the view of the Johns Hopkins School of Anatomists that man "diverged" from the anthropoid stock very far back, just a little later than the gibbon.(10) This brings up the old puzzle: If man is then not as old as the gibbon, why has his evolution so far outrun the latter? Dr. Gerrit S. Miller claims that such a transformation as that from anthropoid to man is without fossil-proved precedent. He calls the derivation of man from a Tertiary anthropoid an "alluring [!] speculation." Dr. Gregory contends in return that regardless of what might be the period of divergence, men and apes are divergent offshoots of a common stock. We have heard so much of this "common stock," without ever seeing hide, hair, or tail of it! When, we wonder, will it dawn upon these savants that the neatest, most complete and indisputable explanation of this mystery is that the missing root was man himself? Let us sum up some of the points in favor of this idea, using only scientific data:

1. It explains the enormous discrepancies between the supposed ages of man and ape and their respective developments.

2. It explains the absence of human psychological traits and the presence of degenerated physical characters in the chimpanzee.

3. It explains the many resemblances between man and ape just as adequately as the scientific theory; and in some cases -- such as the inverse development of the brain lobes -- explains them better.

4. It explains why an ape baby grows less intelligent as it becomes older, while the human baby grows more intelligent, the one recapitulating an evolution, the other degeneration.

5. It explains the absence of any accepted ancestral type, and of missing links in general.

6. It explains the presence of modern type men in geologic strata so old as to make it very difficult to believe in their evolution from "ape-man" types. An example is the Homo Sapiens found in Tanganyika, associated with such animal remains as to force a conclusion on the part of Sir Arthur Smith Woodward that man may be 20,000,000 years old.(11) And it would avoid the desperate stratagem of assuming that the associated prehistoric animals must after all have survived much later than heretofore believed, in order to accompany man! (Mendenhall.)

Why, then, has it been so difficult -- until today impossible -- to get scientists to consider the idea that man was his own ancestor? The vast historical momentum of the "animal ancestry" theory, so firmly embedded in both the popular and the scientific mind, is one explanation. Another is the plain lack of courage among scientists who fear the vengeance of outraged prejudice. In some, there is perhaps a vague apprehension of how practically every materialistic conclusion would be upset by the application of such a theory, leading back to the time of a consolidation of physical form out of states of matter now unknown scientifically, guided by pre-existing intelligence.

Next article:
III: The Microscopic Problem
(Part III of III)
(Part 80 of a 103-part series)

Back to the
"Science and The Secret Doctrine"
series complete list of articles.

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".


(1) Science, May 20, 1938.
Back to text.

(2) Science, December 31, 1937.
Back to text.

(3) Science, March 15, 1935.
Back to text.

(4) Science, April 15, 1938.
Back to text.

(5) Oakland Tribune, October 11, 1935.
Back to text.

(6) Science, June 10, 1932.
Back to text.

(7) Science, June 10, 1932.
Back to text.

(8) Science News-Letter, August 24, 1935.
Back to text.

(9) Science, May 15, 1936.
Back to text.

(10) Science, January 13, 1933.
Back to text.

(11) Science, September 22, 1933; Science, August 4, 1933; Literary Digest, August 19, 1933.
Back to text.

Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.