Srila Prabhupada on Darwin and Darwinism

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A selection of quotations from the books, letters, and talks of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, with comments (in italics) by Drutakarma Dasa.

In Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.24.73) we learn that Brahma, the first demigod, instructed subordinate personalities called the Prajapatis to generate the various kinds of material bodies at the beginning of creation. The Sanskrit word prajapati means “generator of population.” Srila Prabhupada comments in his purport to this text:

In this verse we can understand that the various types of living entities were created simultaneously at the very beginning of the creation. The nonsensical Darwinian theory of evolution is not applicable here. It is not that intelligent human beings did not exist millions of years ago. On the contrary, it is understood that the most intelligent creature, Lord Brahma, was first created. Then Lord Brahma created other saintly sages like Marichi, Bhrigu, Atreya, Vasishtha, and Lord Shiva. They [the Prajapatis] in their turn created different types of bodies according to karma.

In Srimad-Bhagavatam Lord Kapiladeva told His mother that the living entity gets a particular type of body in accordance with his work and that this body is decided upon by higher authorities. The higher authorities, as appointed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are Lord Brahma and all other Prajapatis and Manus. Thus from the beginning of creation it can be seen that the first creature is the most intelligent. It is not that so-called modern intelligence has developed by the gradual process of evolution.

As stated in Brahma-vaivarta Purana, there is a gradual evolutionary process, but it is not the body that is evolving. All the bodily forms are already there. It is the spiritual entity, or spiritual spark within the body, that is being promoted by the laws of nature under the supervision of superior authority. We can understand from this verse that from the very beginning of creation different varieties of living entities were existing. It is not that some of them have become extinct. Everything is there; it is due to our lack of knowledge that we cannot see things in their proper perspective.

In this verse the word dhvasta-tamasah is very important, for without being free of ignorance one cannot control the creation of different types of living entities. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.31.1), daiva-netrena—bodies are awarded under the supervision of superior powers. How can these superior powers control the evolutionary process of the living entity if they are not free from all imperfection? The followers of the Vedic instructions cannot accept the Darwinian theory of evolution, for it is marred by imperfect knowledge.

According to Darwin, the origin of the bodies of living things occurred like this: In some warm pond, chemicals combined to produce the first single-celled organism. Once this happened, multicellular creatures arose in the water, diversifying into plants and animals. Later some of these plants and animals migrated onto the land. The first land animals were amphibians and reptiles. Later the mammals emerged, and finally humans came into existence.

Darwin wavered about the causes of this development. Sometimes he seemed to favor a strict materialism, and sometimes he seemed to allow for a kind of theistic evolution, with God setting up the laws of nature in such a way as to allow for the development of more and more complex forms of life.

Modern evolutionists have refined Darwin’s account of the origin of species, and most prefer to explain it strictly in terms of unguided material causes. According to them, the oldest unicellular fossils are about 2 billion years old. The first land plants and animals came into existence about 400 million years ago. The first primitive mammals came into existence about 300 million years ago. The first primates came into existence about 40 million years ago, the first hominins came into existence about 6 million years ago, and finally humans like us came into existence within the past 150,000 years.

Today, some theologians, and many other people, explain this development in terms of theistic evolution, with God operating in such a way as to cause the generation of the first life forms and their subsequent evolution into various species without violating the laws of nature recognized by modern science. But according to Srila Prabhupada, the Bhagavatam says that all the life forms, including the most intelligent, were manifested at the beginning of the day of Brahma, which occurred about 2 billion years ago. Thus the Bhagavatam view of the origin of species—the timing, order, and process—is different from that of both unguided materialistic evolution and guided theistic evolution.

In the following excerpt from Srila Prabhupada’s purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.29.60), Prabhupada expands upon one of the points he made in the excerpt above, namely that there is more to a living thing than the gross material body.

The living entity has two kinds of body—the subtle body and the gross body. Actually he enjoys through the subtle body, which is composed of mind, intelligence, and ego. The gross body is the instrumental outer covering. When the gross body is lost, or when it dies, the root of the gross body—the mind, intelligence, and ego—continues and brings about another gross body. Although the gross bodies apparently change, the real root of the gross body—the subtle body of mind, intelligence, and ego—is always there. The subtle body's activities—be they pious or impious—create another situation for the living entity to enjoy or suffer in the next gross body. Thus the subtle body continues whereas the gross bodies change one after another.

Since modern scientists and philosophers are too materialistic, and since their knowledge is taken away by the illusory energy, they cannot explain how the gross body is changing. The materialistic philosopher Darwin has tried to study the changes of the gross body, but because he had no knowledge of either the subtle body or the soul, he could not clearly explain how the evolutionary process is going on.

According to the Bhagavatam worldview, there is a kind of evolution, but not the kind that Darwin imagined. The soul evolves through different kinds of material bodies until it comes to the human form, which offers liberation from material existence. As explained in Srila Prabhupada’s purport to text 5.14.30, some souls come to the bodies of humans from the bodies of monkeys.

By fulfilling the process of evolution from the aquatics to the animal platform, a living entity eventually reaches the human form. The three modes [gunas] of material nature [sattva, or goodness; rajas, passion; tamas, ignorance] are always working in the evolutionary process. Those who come to the human form through the quality of sattva-guna were cows in their last animal incarnation. Those who come to the human form through the quality of rajo-guna were lions in their last animal incarnation. And those who come to the human form through the quality of tamo-guna were monkeys in their last animal incarnation. In this age, those who come through the monkey species are considered by modern anthropologists like Darwin to be descendants of monkeys.

According to the Bhagavatam, time goes in cycles of four yugas, or ages. We are now in the age of Kali, which is dominated by the tamo-guna, or mode of ignorance. Srila Prabhupada takes it as ironic that evolutionists falsely believe that the human body evolved from the bodies of ancient apes. In terms of the evolution of the soul, this is actually in some sense true, because in the age of Kali most souls entering human bodies are born in the mode of ignorance and came into their human bodies from the monkey or ape bodies they had in their last lives.

The importance of the human body in the evolution of the soul through different bodies is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.13.25):

In the course of the evolutionary process, which is caused by fruitive activities due to undesirable material sense gratification, I have received this human form of life, which can lead to the heavenly planets, to liberation, to the lower species, or to rebirth among human beings.

Srila Prabhupada elaborates his purport to this text.

All living entities within this material world are undergoing the cycle of birth and death according to the laws of nature. This struggle of birth and death in different species may be called the evolutionary process, but in the Western world it has been wrongly explained. Darwin's theory of evolution from animal to man is incomplete because the theory does not present the reverse condition, namely evolution from man to animal. In this verse, however, evolution has been very well explained on the strength of Vedic authority. Human life, which is obtained in the course of the evolutionary process, is a chance for elevation (svargapavarga) or for degradation (tirashcham punar asya cha). If one uses this human form of life properly, he can elevate himself to the higher planetary systems, where material happiness is many thousands of times better than on this planet, or one may cultivate knowledge by which to become free from the evolutionary process and be reinstated in one's original spiritual life. This is called apavarga, or liberation from the punishment of material existence. . . .

The word tirashcham refers to degraded life. Human life, of course, provides an opportunity for the best living conditions. As Western people think, from the monkeys come the human beings, who are more comfortably situated. However, if one does not utilize his human life for svarga or apavarga, he falls again to the degraded life of animals like dogs and hogs. Therefore a sane human being must consider whether he will elevate himself to the higher planets, prepare to free himself from the evolutionary process, or travel again through the evolutionary process in higher and lower grades of life. If one works piously one may be elevated to the higher planetary systems or achieve liberation and return home, back to Godhead, but otherwise one may be degraded to a life as a dog, a hog, and so on. As explained in Bhagavad-gita (9.25), yanti deva-vrata devan. Those interested in being elevated to the higher planetary systems (Devaloka or Svargaloka) must prepare to do so. Similarly, if one wants liberation and wants to return home, back to Godhead, he should prepare himself for that purpose.

Our Krishna consciousness movement is therefore the highest movement for the benediction of human society because this movement is teaching people how to go back home, back to Godhead.

One reason Srila Prabhupada objected to the Darwinian theory of evolution was its compatibility with atheism and materialism, which serve to distract people from the real goal of human life, thus insuring for them continued suffering in the cycle of birth and death. In the following conversation with one of his scientifically trained disciples (biochemist Dr. Thoudam Damodar Singh, later known as Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami), Srila Prabhupada blames governments for promoting evolution. The conversation took place on February 3, 1977, in Bhubaneswar, India.

Srila Prabhupada: So why is the government fostering this godless "evolution" science—this dishonesty? Because the government leaders are themselves dishonest. They want simply to accumulate money by inducing people to work in their big industries. So they are cheating the people out of their birthright: to live the simple, natural life, to become God conscious, and at life's end, to go back home to God. The government must make sure that people develop genuine God consciousness. That is the government leaders' actual business. They should promote genuine God consciousness, strict following of God's natural laws. Anything not genuine should be finished. Nothing bogus allowed. This is real government. This we are working for. The government leaders' business is to see that the scientific or intellectual group is giving the students a sense of the transcendent Personality of Godhead, a sense of the divine.

Dr. Singh: Nowadays, the government leaders are seeing that the intellectuals impart a sense of all-pervasive matter, with no soul and no Supreme Soul. A sense of the demoniac, one might say. It's hard to imagine these demoniac types being convinced by godly arguments.

Srila Prabhupada: We must push forward. Gradually the whole world will see that here are first-class gentlemen and here is first-class culture. Vedic, godly culture. Real culture. We must always remember, people are inclined to this God conscious culture. It is natural. And Lord Krishna wants it. Why should we care about some rascal's objections? Do something to spread God conscious culture. It is Krishna’s business. Print books. Travel all over the world. Challenge this godless government policy. Challenge their intellectual hirelings. "Come on, rascal scientists. You have given yourself to spreading materialism and godlessness. We shall scientifically establish the existence of the spiritual self—the soul—and God."

Srila Prabhupada directly instructed his scientifically trained disciples to challenge the Darwinian theory of evolution. Sometimes he would refer to the supporters of the theory of evolution in strong terms (“rascals”). Some may object that not all evolutionists are godless materialists. For example, today there are some who support varieties of theistic evolution, which involve accepting as true the Darwinian picture of the development of bodies of living things. They say, “God created the bodies of plants and animals, but He did it by Darwinian evolution.” As can be seen in this selection of quotes, this idea is not compatible with the account of the origin of the bodies of living things given in the Vedic literature (defined broadly as including the Puranas).