Adapted from the book, The Story of Our Time
Prior to Charles Darwin, the concept of evolution had barely entered public discourse. Now, we recognize that everything evolves: life, culture, civilization, science, technology, the arts, and even the Universe itself.
What accounts for this unprecedented leap of consciousness over the past century and a half? Did Darwin discover divinity? He may be best known for his “survival of the fittest” view of evolution, but he also recognized that this co-exists with its opposite, the natural law of cooperation. Little acknowledged, though, is that Darwin actually saw evolution as purposeful, progressive, and leading to greater and greater harmony.
Buried within Darwin’s The Descent of Man is this gem of progressive evolution: “As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”
What is he expressing here, if not collective altruism, or the Golden Rule writ large? In one sweeping statement, the natural law of cooperation is taken from the individual level to the global level. The next step in this evolutionary trajectory, though not without its ups and downs, would be another universal spiritual principle, a future in which there is peace on Earth.
Coming soon after the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith in the mid-19th century, Darwin’s groundbreaking work on evolution is a testament to the power of the periodic release of spiritual energies, designed to advance humanity’s consciousness.
It is difficult to deny that the founders of the world’s religions — Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and in our time Baha’u’llah — have each in their own way transformed the spiritual life of the peoples of the world, indeed changed the course of human life over the last 4,000 years, and brought about a leap of consciousness with each new spiritual epoch they initiated.
Darwin also understood that all life is literally made of the same stuff. He wrote, “All the organic beings which have ever lived on this Earth have descended from some one primordial form.” This foreshadowed the discovery almost a century later of DNA, a common language every organism has in its cells.
Modern Darwinians no longer need to guess at the story of evolution; they consult “genetic scripture,” an embedded code to better understand the physical realm, just as spiritual seekers consult religious scripture, revealed by the Prophets of God, to understand the spiritual realm.
Could science and religion be simultaneously revealing complementary aspects of the same reality, giving us a more complete picture of the whole? In many instances, both can be quite close in their expressions of reality. Darwin said, “As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress toward perfection.”
The Baha’i writings, just preceding Darwin, say, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees… The seed does not at once become a tree; the embryo does not at once become a man… They grow and develop gradually and attain to the limit of perfection. This is the universal divine organization and the natural system.”
Today, we can better understand that one universal law governs all, that reality is one unified whole, and that progressive evolution and progressive revelation are parallel principles of a single reality.
In 1859, Darwin’s The Origin of Species, stating that all organisms are part of “the great Tree of Life,” signaled the beginning of the greatest flood of scientific discoveries humanity has seen. Just prior, in the 1850s, the Baha’i Revelation, including such teachings as “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch…,” brought religion into the modern age, while verifying the latest quantum discoveries: “This endless Universe is like the human body…all its parts are connected one with another…linked together in the utmost perfection.”