Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hindu Responses to Darwinism

Science & Education, Volume 19 (2010), Numbers 6-8, has an interesting article by C. Mackenzie Brown, “Hindu Responses to Darwinism: Assimilation and Rejection in a Colonial and Post-Colonial Context.” He posits “Modern Vedic Evolutionism” as

one of a number of types of Hindu responses to Darwinism clustering at one end of a spectrum arrayed according to the degree of their acceptance or rejection of Darwinian evolution. Modern Vedic Evolutionism, as I use the term, encompasses a variety of responses to Darwinism that are characterized by two general claims: on the one hand, evolution, including Darwinian evolution, can be found in the ancient Vedic literature, and on the other, Darwinian evolution—while accepted as true on some level—is found to be incomplete in the light of Vedic revelation.

The roots of Modern Vedic Evolutionism can probably be traced back to the founder of Theosophy, Madam Helena Blavatsky, who saw in the ancient Hindu mythology of the ten avatars or incarnations of the god Visnu an anticipation of Darwin’s theory. The incarnations, in their traditional order as found in such Puranas as the Bhagavata, progress from a fish, to an amphibian (a turtle), to a mammal (a boar), to a half-human (a mythic man-lion), to a dwarf (an early form of humankind), and then through various human forms representing stages of cultural and spiritual evolution. [K.C.] Sen developed his own version of avataric evolutionism apparently inspired by Blavatsky.—p. 715.

The reference is to Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, 2: 274-75. Brown includes an informative chart on page 714, comparing and contrasting the responses of various figures like Vivekananda, Dayananada Saraswati, Tagore, and Aurobindo, which can be seen here.

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