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 A Scientist Looks at



E. Lester Smith, D.Sc., F.R.S.


Great changes have occurred during the last twenty years in the patterns of scientific thought about the nature of man and his role in the evolutionary process of which he is a part. Technological advances and previously undreamed of new sources of power have brought even the conquest of space within the range of human endeavor. Horizons are expanding to infinity and the old adage—Man know thyself—is urgently before us, lest we use our knowledge of natural powers for total destruction.

These developments present humanity with an unprecedented challenge to discover and accept its proper role in relation to the totality of life on this planet. “It cannot be too strongly stressed that man is unique among the creatures, that he is not merely a species of higher animal. Man has will and individuality in an entirely new way, in which he differs from the animals. Man is the crux of the evolutionary process.” Leading biologists have set the keynote for a new view of man’s role in the creative process. Sir Julian Huxley, for example, has stated as a scientific fact that “man is a new and unique kind of organism.”


Huxley explains that evolution in the Darwinian sense has virtually ceased. That is to say, biological evolution is no longer producing any fundamentally new species. Man, on the other hand, is still evolving, but in a different way. Distinguished from the animals by his intelligence, man now has the power and the duty to direct evolution himself. In Huxley’s dramatic words: —“Man’s destiny is to be the sole agent for the future evolution of this planet.”

At the biological level our potential for control of evolution is determined by knowledge of the genetic mechanism and the functions of enzymes and coenzymes in the development of cells and organs. In the last two decades such knowledge has increased fantastically. Crop plants and farm animals have already been vastly improved by rule-of-thumb techniques of breeding and selection. Advances in the science of genetics now permits exact correlation of physical traits with genes located precisely on the chromosomes of the cell nucleus. Pre-selected re-assortments of chosen genes can now be found with certainty among the progeny from controlled crosses: a desirable characteristic of rye, for example, has been introduced in this way into wheat. New characteristics can sometimes be introduced by deliberate induction of mutations.

On the biochemical side, we are fast approaching a solution of the “genetic code.” That is to say, we may soon come to understand the detailed structures of the nucleic acids of which the genes are made, and the way in which they dictate the structures of the enzymes and other proteins that control biological uniqueness. It is hard to foretell what new and terrible powers this knowledge may place in our hands.

However, it is the evolution of man himself that really matters. Man can pass on to his successors not only the genetic characteristics in his germ-cells, but also his store of knowledge and experience. These indeed can be shared immediately without waiting for the next generation. Thus man has already speeded up evolution enormously in this cultural sense. Moreover he is now capable of guiding evolution towards a goal of his own choice. It is by accepting and exercising this tremendous responsibility that man must claim and express his divinity.

“Man’s intelligence makes him the one free agent in Nature.” The future of all living things, his own future, and the future of mankind—all these are in his own hands, to make or mar. These are god-like powers, and that is what we mean by the ‘divinity’ of man. But we mean more than this. It is becoming clear to scientists that divinity in this sense is inherent in the Cosmos itself, though it is expressed self-consciously only by man in his finer moments. To quote Huxley again: —“He is a reminder of the existence, here and there in the quantitative vastness of cosmic matter and its energy-equivalents, of a trend towards mind, with its accompaniment of quality and richness of existence; and, what is more, a proof of the importance of mind in the all-embracing evolutionary process.”


Though man now stands at the apex of the evolutionary process, he remains intimately linked with all that has gone before. The unity that Theosophy proclaims is not just a pious hope, but a scientific fact at every level. Already we are one of another, and we are one with nature, though we seldom pause to recognize these things. At the physical level we share one earth; the atoms of our bodies are constantly changing, and, with every breath, we take in myriads previously used by other men. It is said that most Englishmen have in their bodies a few atoms that once were Shakespeare’s.

At the chemical level we share one pattern of metabolism; the thousands of chemical reactions, by which we digest our food and maintain our flesh and organs, are mostly common to all the animal kingdom and, in fact, plants use many of these same reactions along with others. It has thus become clear that throughout nature, metabolic pathways are like a single theme with variations.

At the biological level we share one life; the evolutionary progress of living organisms is like an imposing design of branching stairways, and at no point is the step high enough for any denial of continuity. Individual cells in our bodies resemble lowly unicellular organisms; in embryonic life, too, many of the earlier forms are recapitulated.

At the social level we share one humanity; we are one social species with minor variations, and the history of civilization concerns our efforts at harmonious integration of increasingly large groups.

Finally, at the spiritual level we share one God; for many this is no more than an article of religious acceptance, but for some it is a luminous certainty born of deep personal experience. When it is thus for all of us we shall no longer need to remind ourselves of these truths—and we shall be truly civilized. So man carries within himself the essence of all that has been and is now; and he has the power to build the future as he will.


Man’s intelligence can be his undoing or his salvation. Allied to his baser nature it leads to selfish antisocial behavior; allied to his spiritual qualities it leads towards co-operation, altruism and unity. “The human kingdom has evolved values other than those of mere survival in competition with others. Our highest impulses have no biological survival value; in fact they are the exact opposite in their consequences. This is a new phenomenon, a new factor in evolution. Such a ‘mutation,’ expressing a purposeful spiritual and altruistic drive, is something entirely new in the evolutionary pattern of material forms.” Such altruistic behavior may indeed lack survival value in the strictly biological sense, but survival value it certainly does have, in the wider context of human civilization. Doubtless, we shall continue to falter, but clearly this is the path we must take. In the long run, indeed, it will be perilous not to do so. We have gone a long way already, and by now we know too much to turn back.

It is a hard road that humanity has chosen, but unless we keep faith, the human race may exterminate itself.

But so long as we can avoid this ultimate disaster, there is no desperate urgency. On a geological time-scale, human civilization is extremely young yet. So, provided we do contrive to move steadily forward in the right direction, then presumably we have millions of years before us as a race, in which to achieve the perfection we seek. It must be emphasized again that this is not just wishful thinking, but a strictly scientific assessment of human possibilities. This is a challenge; but also it is a tremendously hopeful outlook, which contrasts strongly with the gloomy forebodings current in some circles to-day.

Man is greater than he knows. “He can become something finer; more intelligent; more far-seeing; more altruistic; less ego-centered; more wise and loving; more nearly self-determining and less the mere sport of circumstances. So the duty devolves on every intelligent and altruistic person to do all in his power to aid in this process of human development.” Many hope that such ideas may form the basis of a new world religion not yet promulgated. This may be through a new teacher who will breathe fire into these cold thoughts, who will inspire us with a joyous sense of togetherness in the tremendous enterprise still before humanity. Or it may come through many minds catching fire with this creative spiritual ideal. Our task is clear; it is no less than to build a heaven here on earth.

We are all in this together: there is no escape. But the consummation is deferred till all are ready. For the purpose of the Universe is to create a new God—and “we are that God.”

*** *** ***

* Reprinted from a pamphlet issued by The Theosophical Society in England.


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