Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult

Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the topic. But no attempt to assess the scope of his legacy can properly leave out the muse-like role his theory played in the thinking of Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), who in turn was largely responsible for setting the agenda for modern occult interests, including the cult of Aryanism which bore its own poisonous fruit in Nazi Germany.
Readers of this blog will know well by now my view that Darwin’s materialist account of life’s history stands radically opposed to the worldview of the Hebrew Bible. Yet it always has to be repeated at the beginning of a discussion like this that the purpose is not to blame Darwin but merely to explore the largely unintended consequences of his idea. The disclaimer having been made, meet Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a rotund Russian fabulist of noble birth who later became an American citizen and, after years in India, died in London. Her books, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, were tremendously influential and, if less well known today, continue to influence ideas beyond the far edge of respectability — ideas that, however, are no less popular for being weird.
The incredibly popular late-night radio show Coast to Coast AM had on Blavatsky expert Michael Gomes last summer. He clarified the genealogy of some of the rather interesting ideas that preoccupy the show’s 3 million plus listeners. Things like the sunken continents of Lemuria and Atlantis, lost civilizations seeded by wandering white-skinned wise men of old, the “sixth sense” — such themes of contemporary esotericism go back to Blavatsky’s popularizing treatment of them. Not that she invented Atlantis, for example, but the modern esoteric fascination with such matters can be traced back to her influence. She claimed to have learned secret wisdom on a visit to the mountain kingdom of Tibet that she likely never, in fact, took, in a lamasery from the Great White Brotherhood of Masters, or Mahatmas.
What’s interesting about her writing is that she was obsessed with Darwin and mentions him by name frequently — sometimes to argue against him, just as often to claim that evolution was well known long ago to bearers of her secret knowledge. Much of The Secret Doctrine (1888), for example, is given over to her retelling of evolution but as if reflected in a funhouse mirror. So instead of people descending from ape-like creatures, apes descend from people. Evolutionary forces governed a competition among ancient now lost peoples, with Aryans having emerged as the current favored race.

As we learn from her, this was all well known to masters of secret Hindu and other lore. Typically, she writes in Isis Unveiled (1877), 

[T]he Brahman-pundits, and the Tanaim — the scientists and philosophers of the pre-Christian epochs — speculated on the creation and development of the world quite in a Darwinian way, both anticipating him and his school in the natural selection of species, gradual development, and transformation.

She wasn’t a racist, nor was she an anti-Semite. Her definition of “Aryan” even included Jews! But it’s easy to see an early adumbration of Nazi themes. Her personal seal, printed on her book covers, is topped by the swastika, an ancient Indian symbol of good fortune that she also helped to bring to public attention and admiration. Her concept was that the people of Atlantis mostly perished, but some survived and linked up with Aryans who were in Tibet at the time, passing along secret knowledge.
It sounds ridiculous but people took it seriously at the time because of the pseudo-scientific, pseudo-Darwinian and pseudo-scholarly gloss that’s everywhere in her work. Theosophy, as she called her view, achieved cult-like influence over lots of educated people, and with notable success in Germany where the Aryan theme was popular. SS-chief Heinrich Himmler, an admirer of “Aryan” Hindu wisdom who carried a book of teachings from the Bhagavad-Gita with him, would later send a Nazi science expedition to Tibet to seek the origins of the Aryan race. The occult Thule Society, with its cult of Aryanism, inherited some of Blavatsky’s vision. Thule in turn connects to Hitler by way of member Dietrich Eckhart, credited as the “spiritual founder” of the Nazi party, to whom Hitler dedicated Mein Kampf on its final page.
No, this is not just my interpretation. It’s given in a number of scholarly and popular works with no axe whatsoever to grind against Darwin. In The Occult Roots of Nazism (New York University Press, 1992), Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke ties together the various threads of Aryan race cultism under the term “Ariosophy” and summarizes, “The central importance of ‘Aryan’ racism in Ariosophy, albeit compounded by occult notions deriving from theosophy, may be traced to the racial concerns of Social Darwinism in Germany.”
In Himmler’s Crusade: The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race (Wiley, 2003), Christopher Hale writes of how Darwin, 

who had no interest in the occult, had a powerful impact on its development and was revered by Madame Blavatsky who claimed to have translated his works in Russian while in Africa. Not true, but Darwin’s ideas which had so dismayed the Church when they first appeared, were rapidly absorbed by occult thinkers.” Hale notes how Hitler’s confidants, Nazi occultists Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess, combined an “interest in Social Darwinism” with their “bogus history of an Aryan Master Race.”

In Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult (Continuum, 2002), Peter Levenda likewise credits Madame Blavatsky: 

Taking her cue from Darwin, she popularized the notion of a spiritual struggle between various “races,” and of the inherent superiority of the “Aryan” race, hypothetically the latest in the line of spiritual evolution….The rationale behind many later Nazi projects can be traced back — through the writing of von List, von Sebottendorff, and von Liebenfels — to ideas popularized by Blavatsky.

He crystallizes the point: “Human evolution is Darwin’s engine, one Blavatsky would ride to the end of the line. In a sense, Origin of Species and The Descent of Man launched the craziness of the 20th century.”

By decapitating — so he thought — any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer, Darwin created a gaping wound at the center of the Western soul. Something had to come along and fill that hole and it had to be, so to speak, Darwin-shaped. It had to speak in evolutionary terms, about races and competition. Madame Blavatsky happened to be the person who came up with an influential modern Darwinian myth that filled that role, disastrously.
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posted March 4, 2010 at 11:16 pm

David wrote: “By decapitating — so he thought — any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer, Darwin created a gaping wound at the center of the Western soul.”
David, is there a quote by Darwin that you have in mind when you say that he thought that he “decapitated…any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer?”
I don’t remember any quote by him that is like that. Also, I recommend Janet Brown’s biography on Charles Darwin (Charles Darwin: The Power of Place). Brown describes a conversation in which Darwin referred to himself as an agnostic. It’s on page 484 of the biography.
And here is a link to the part of Charles Darwin’s autobiography in which he discusses his views on religion:
He writes the following: “I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”
In addition, it is logically consistent to believe that an intelligent super being caused the universe to exist and to believe that said being didn’t proximately cause the existence of any of the organisms — or any parts of any of the organisms — to live on earth. The two propositions have different meanings.
Also, what do you mean when you say “Darwin created a gaping wound at the center of the Western soul?” First, many atheists are happy people. Second, overall, the world is better now than it was before Darwin published Origin of Species. For instance, life expectancy among humans is much higher than it was in 1859. Infant mortality rates are lower. Literacy rates are higher. Levels of education are higher. Knowledge of the universe is, in general, much higher. People, in general, have more opportunity to do things they enjoy. Technology has made life easier for a lot of people. Finally, if Darwin’s claims about evolution contributed to many people believing that no Gods exist, that is a good thing – assuming, of course, that the belief that no Gods exist is reasonable. And I think it is reasonable. I’m an atheist.
In addition, I suspect that people who believe that evolution is true have, in general, fewer unjustified and false beliefs than people who don’t believe that evolution is true. At least that is my experience.
Finally, for the sake of argument, let’s say that some people’s belief that evolution is true has contributed to their having some unjustified and/or false beliefs. That is, of course, irrelevant to whether I know or am warranted in inferring that evolution is true. Analogously, suppose some people’s belief that the earth revolves around the sun contributed to their having false beliefs about a sun God. I’m still quite sure that the earth revolves around the sun.

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posted March 5, 2010 at 4:37 am

Steve, Janet Brown’s book is good, and so is Ernst Mayr’s. Maybe it’s his scholarship that David had in mind. Mayr wrote: “Every anti-evolutionist prior to 1859 allowed for the intermittent, if not constant, interference by the Creator. The natural causes postulated by the evolutionists completely separated God from his creation, for all practical purposes. The new explanatory model replaced planned teleology by the haphazard process of natural selection. This required a new concept of God and a new basis for religion.” He also wrote: “It is apparent that Darwin lost his faith in the years 1836-39, much of it clearly prior to the reading of Malthus. In order not to hurt the feelings of his friends and of his wife, Darwin often used deistic language in his publications, but much in his Notebooks indicates that by this time he had become a ‘materialist’ (more or less = atheist). ” And finally, “There is indeed one belief that all true original Darwinians held in common, and that was their rejection of creationism, their rejection of special creation. This was the flag around which they assembled and under which they marched. When Hull claimed that “the Darwinians did not totally agree with each other, even over essentials”, he overlooked one essential on which all these Darwinians agreed. Nothing was more essential for them than to decide whether evolution is a natural phenomenon or something controlled by God. The conviction that the diversity of the natural world was the result of natural processes and not the work of God was the idea that brought all the so-called Darwinians together in spite of their disagreements on other of Darwin’s theories. One Long Argument (1991) p.99 ”

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posted March 5, 2010 at 4:44 am

Steve writes: “In addition, I suspect that people who believe that evolution is true have, in general, fewer unjustified and false beliefs than people who don’t believe that evolution is true. At least that is my experience.
A study that may be less anecdotal was conducted by Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: “I used to teach a course on science and pseudoscience which was offered to honors students, which are most definitely not a random subset of the student population at the university. These were among the best and brightest students on campus. They also came from disparate backgrounds with fewer than half of those I interviewed pursuing a science major. I asked them to respond to questions aimed at evaluating their general knowledge of science as it is assessed among aspiring high school teachers. These were questions about matters of fact, not principles of science or critical thinking. Not
surprisingly, science majors knew (slightly) more science than non-science majors did. I then asked them to rate their belief in a series of paranormal phenomena, from voodoo to astrology, from water dowsing to haunted houses, and so on. The results (Figure 1) indicate no significant difference between genders, but, astoundingly and contrary to expectations, the science majors held more strongly to paranormal beliefs than the non-science students!

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posted March 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Mark2, Massimo Pigliucci’s “study” is not much less anecdotal than my experience. He is just referring to one class that he taught. For instance, it’s not a nationwide or world wide poll. Moreover, here are the sentences of mine that you are referring to: “In addition, I suspect that people who believe that evolution is true have, in general, fewer unjustified and false beliefs than people who don’t believe that evolution is true. At least that is my experience.” My claim is about people who believe that evolution is true. Pigliucci’s survey of his class was not about those who believe that evolution is true.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that those believe that evolution is true have, overall, more irrational beliefs than those who don’t believe that evolution is true. That is, of course, irrelevant to whether I know or am warranted in inferring that evolution is true. Please see the final paragraph in my first post in this thread.
On a different note, David wrote: “By decapitating — so he thought — any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer, Darwin created a gaping wound at the center of the Western soul.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume that widespread belief among humans that evolution is true has contributed to more harm than good. That is, of course, irrelevant to whether I know or am warranted in inferring that evolution is true. Analogously, suppose that the widespread belief that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old and is expanding has contributed to more harm than good. I’m quite sure that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old and is expanding. Moreover, suppose that the widespread belief that planet earth is about 4.6 billion years old has contributed to more harm than good. I’m quite sure that planet earth is about 4.6 billion years old.

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posted March 5, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Mark2, in response to your first post in this thread, here is the claim by David to which I responded: “By decapitating — so he thought — any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer, Darwin created a gaping wound at the center of the Western soul.”
Nothing in your first post in this thread supports David’s claim that Charles Darwin “thought” that he “decapitated any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer” in the sense of an intelligent being that caused the known universe to exist. For instance, there is nothing in your post about Darwin’s having claimed something like the following: “The knowledge that evolution is true decapitates any rational case for a belief that an intelligent being caused the known universe to exist.” Now, maybe Darwin said or wrote something similar to that, but I’d like to see it.
Of course, in his autobiography for his granddaughter, which I provided a link to, Darwin did write the following: “Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws. But I have discussed this subject at the end of my book on the Variation of Domestic Animals and Plants, and the argument there given has never, as far as I can see, been answered.” So, Darwin believed that his knowledge of evolution shows that God didn’t intervene on earth and poof any organisms (or any parts of any organisms) into existence. And maybe that is what David meant. But, again, here is what David wrote: “By decapitating — so he thought — any rational case for belief in a divine or any other designer, Darwin created a gaping wound at the center of the Western soul.” David’s claim is vague. He doesn’t distinguish between a being that caused the universe to exist and a being that poofed some organisms into existence many billions of years after the universe already existed. Darwin seemed to believe that he has shown that the latter didn’t occur. And I agree with him. I haven’t seen Darwin say that biological evolution shows that no God exists and/or that no God caused the universe to exist.

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Ray Ingles

posted March 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm

So, is it reasonable to claim that Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Boltzmann, Planck and the other pioneers of Quantum Mechanics bear any responsibility whatsoever for what Deepak Chopra misappropriates from their work?

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posted March 5, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Klinghoffer’s continuing efforts to show that “Darwinism” is the root of all evil reaches new levels of absurdity. Who does he think he is convincing with this sort of nonsense? I find the argument for Adam and Eve bringing “Original Sin” into the world more convincing.

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Philip Koplin

posted March 5, 2010 at 4:31 pm

David will write a book incorporating this material. It will have the word “Origin” in the title. It will be driven onto the bestseller list by conservative book clubs. It will be cited as an authoritative expose of the evils that Darwinism has brought to the world. You can start working on your Amazon reviews now.

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David Klinghoffer

posted March 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Thanks for the good book idea, Philip! ;-)

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Philip Koplin

posted March 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm

David. You can donate my commission to your local public library.

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posted March 5, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I really don’t get it…You don’t blame Darwin for ideas that have appeared as a result of his ideas…so what’s the point of drawing the connection?

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posted March 9, 2010 at 2:19 am

tm61, I believe that David doesn’t blame Darwin 100% (like some of David’s detractors claim David is doing) and he doesn’t blame Darwin 0% (as Philip Koplin seems to be doing). I’m sure it’s somewhere in the middle, and I’m curious if David would give a rough estimate.

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Bill from Up on the Hill

posted April 15, 2010 at 9:50 am

Blavatsky was a student of Hinduism and Buddhism and the inner traditions of other religions as well. That was the basis of her views on Theosophy, which she claimed was not her own invention, but a revival of Neo Platonist views. In particular, she was interested in esoteric Buddhism and formally converted to being a Buddhist. The theory propounded here that her views on the occult came from her love of Darwin is not really accurate. She was interested in psychic phenomena and believed that the inner traditions of all religions led to mystic awareness and the potential for psychic abilities. Her theories on root races may have been influenced by Darwin, but David doesn’t make a good case for showing how the development of the occult phenomena of the late 19th century actually proceeds from Darwin through Blavatsky. He might as well criticize Buddhism for it’s influence on Blavatsky, because that would be closer to the truth. But that might not look good on Belief Net.

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posted November 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm

An interesting discussion but I think many are missing a more important point to the article. Almost every debate involving evolution pits “science” versus religion. Evolution has been upheld as purely scientific, objective, new and innovative. Religion on the other hand is portrayed as old, superstitious, and non-objective.
Now through studying history we are shown that a major occultic religious movement is supporting Evolution. Evolution can therefore not qualify itself as purely scientific, objective, or even a new idea. I think we can also add dishonest to its list of qualities since these facts have conveniently been buried. We have writings from Pope Leo XIII and also Master Mason Selami Isindag stating that Freemasonry, an occultic organization, participated in the spread of the theory of evolution at every level. Occultist Alice Bailey who was married to Freemason Foster Bailey said of Freemasonry:
“It holds in its symbolism the ritual of Deity, and the way of salvation is pictorially preserved in its work. The methods of Deity are demonstrated in its Temples, and under the All-seeing Eye the work can go forward. It is a far more occultic organization than can be realized, and is intended to be the training school for the coming advanced occultists.”
According to New Age author Marilyn Ferguson, occultists are all over government and education. Analyzing some of the speeches of Obama, Bush, Reagan, Al Gore identify them as New Age occultists. The term “New World Order” that is being thrown around by politicians a lot these days has been propagated by the New Age Movement for the last 100 years. We have the Eye of Ra (Lucifer the light bearer) on the back of our money along with the words, “He has approved our undertaking” above it.
The majority of the public are not scientists. We take what is told to us by scientists and educators on faith. With the Occult jumping aboard the evolution train as this article points out, and with the Occult being so pervasive in matters of government and education (as well as the media)… how can the “science” behind the Theory of Evolution be trusted? I could care less about connecting Darwin to the occult. This to me is the greater question. Evolution as a religious movement.

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hardy magna

posted December 12, 2011 at 1:02 am

The occult link of evolution goes to the very beginning: Lucifer’s initial lie that man can become a god, fast-forward to Babylonian satanism. Today’s New Age/New Spirituality is just Babylonian satanism in a new coat. Alfred Wallace nearly aced Charles Darwin in presenting his theory of evolution, which forced Darwin’s hand. Darwin would rather have remained in the background but he didn’t want twenty years of work to fall into the drain. Both Wallace and Darwin could not imagine the mechanism of change from one species to another. And then Wallace fell ill with an acute fever. In a vision, he was ‘given’ the idea of survival of the fittest (this is similar to Muhammad’s visions and convulsions). Prior to this, Wallace was heavily into the occult, and was later shunned by the British intellectuals. His name was deleted from the ‘Darwin-Wallace theories.’ It is of course critical to realize that evolution hypothesis attempts to ignore God; that it is a mainstay of today’s ‘new thought’ — that man will one day become gods; there was no fall and no need for a Saviour. New Agers await their coming messiah, who will rule politically and spiritually. Evolution’s occult origins should be included in the creation-evolution debate.

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Richard Spendiff

posted February 1, 2013 at 8:14 am

Psalm 83 is being fulfilled before our very eyes. It won’t be long till the nations are aghast at what shall unfold before their very eyes. Until then, evolution is a part of the god ordained delusion spoken of in the New testament. It provides a cosy lie for the deceived to convince themselves there is no God. What will they do in time to come? something like this, I guess
Rev 6:16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,

oooh, embarrassing

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