Q: Question: Does the theory of evolution support reincarnation? Are the Hindu creation myths consistent with evolution? Is evolution true?
This question evokes the need for a brief overview of the status of the theory of evolution in the present times. The broadest contrast between evolution and the Hindu view of creation is that evolution is a scientific truth-claim and the creation accounts of Hinduism are mythology. Scientific theories are to be based upon testable, verifiable data present in the world. One of the challenges of a scientific theory of the past is to recover the data (fossils, starlight, etc.) in an accurate way in order to fashion and prove a theory. With the approximately 135 years since Darwin’s theory was put forth, the research and effort to discover scientific data has been enormous. The question then becomes, “Does the representation of the creation claim of Hinduism or the Bible have any match with the evidence that scientists are uncovering?” This brief answer does not delve into all that this question asks, but gives a brief overview of the present status of the theory of evolution and a brief comparison of Hindu and Christian scriptures.
Overview of Evolution
This paper is a brief overview of the theory of evolution. Scientific progress over the past few decades has given us a vast amount of data to use to discuss this theory, and there are far-reaching implications. This vast data was simply unavailable at the time Darwin posed his theory, and he assumed that future research would determine the viability of his theory.
Types of Evolution
Evolutionary theory has several forms. Microevolution involves very small changes to a species and it can be observed in nature. The changes that have been observed due to microevolution are always very small and very rarely or never result in a new species. Macroevolution is the theory that one species can change into a new species by many small, favorable adaptations over a long period of time. Materialistic evolution is the theory that life started by physical and chemical forces acting on non-living matter. Because macroevolution and materialistic evolution require very long time spans, they cannot be directly observed so we must validate these theories in other ways.
Beginning about 300 years ago, geologists began to realize that the earth was very old. Layer upon layer of sedimentary rock gave a testimony to different eras in the earth’s past. Within these layers of sedimentary rock they found the fossil imprints of creatures that lived in those eras.
About 150 years ago, Charles Darwin discovered evidence in nature for microevolution. He hypothesized that random changes would occur in a species due to genetic mutations, and those individuals that received favorable changes would be more suited for survival than those that had unfavorable changes or no change. He called this hypothesis the “survival of the fittest.” He extrapolated his theory to macroevolution and the rise of new species by supposing that small, favorable changes would be accumulated over the long time spans that geologists were discovering in the earth’s past. Species could develop new characteristics and new species could arise from older ones. However, Darwin wrote in the 6th edition of Origin of Species in 1872: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”
Geology and paleontology have made huge progress since Darwin’s day, providing us with information that Darwin did not possess. As the fossil record has been explored in great detail, what has been found is not a slow, continuous progression toward greater complexity. Rather, a species suddenly appears in the fossil record, it lives for a span of time with little change, and then it becomes extinct. The slow, gradual change that Darwin predicted has not been found.
The biological sciences have also made impressive strides over the past century. The more that scientists learn about life, the more complex life appears. The life processes are now known to be immensely complex, each function having many interrelated parts. For example, if a function requires 100 parts then all 100 parts must be present before the new function will provide any benefit to the creature. If a creature should develop one of the parts by chance, it would be of no advantage and probably be a disadvantage to the creature. Therefore, there is no slow, gradual pathway to this new function. This has created a very high hurdle for the theory of evolution. Functions that have many interrelated parts are said to have irreducible complexity.
A quantitative example will help to illustrate this point. Suppose I have a 10-letter word in mind and I want you to guess the word by randomly guessing the letters. The probability that you will guess the first letter correctly is 1 out of 26 since there are 26 letters with equal probability of being chosen. Likewise, the probability of your guessing the remaining letters is 1 out of 26 for each one. The chance that you will correctly guess all the letters simultaneously is 1 out of 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 or 141 trillion. If you guessed a combination of the 10 letters once every second, how long would it take to find the correct combination? The number of seconds in a year is 365 x 24 x 60 x 60 or 31,536,000 seconds, so that is how many guesses you could make in a year. 141 trillion combinations divided by 31,536,000 guesses per year equals 4.5 million years to try all the combinations.
The significance of this illustration is that random chance is very inefficient in creating a complex object. Guessing one correct letter would not take very long because there are only 26 possibilities. However, when you need to choose 10 correct letters simultaneously, the number of possibilities becomes enormous and it will take a long time to find the correct sequence. Imagine how long it would take random chance to produce a complete sentence or a whole book. This example illustrates that an intelligent designer is necessary to create something with even a modest level of irreducible complexity.
Life is Irreducibly Complex
Living creatures have many irreducibly complex systems that cannot evolve in a step-by-step way because the systems can function only if they are complete. These biological systems are much more complex than our 10-letter word example, so there is essentially zero probability that these systems suddenly appeared intact. Many scientists take these findings to be compelling evidence that life was designed and it did not arise by macroevolution.
Many scientific papers and books have been written over the past few decades on evolution. A literature search was done to see if there is a credible hypothesis for how even a simple characteristic of a living organism could have arisen by a series of small steps. After all the decades of good, sophisticated scientific research into evolution, this effort has not produced one such example. On the contrary, as the biological sciences learn more about the complexity of life, macroevolution is shown to be more and more implausible.
If it is highly improbable that random chance could produce a new, simple feature in an existing species, it is much more improbable that an entire organism could be formed by chance. The simplest living organisms have only a single cell. Materialistic evolution says that single-celled life started by chance from non-living matter and then evolved into the higher species. Cells contain many different types of proteins, DNA and RNA. These long molecules are formed from simpler building blocks that must be assembled in the correct order, just like the example of the 10-letter word. However, the number of possible combinations of these building blocks is astronomical due to the lengths of the strings. If chance should produce a small piece of a correct sequence, the same random forces will cause it to disintegrate and no progress is made toward a living cell. Chance must produce all of the complexity of a cell simultaneously. It has been estimated that it would take 10100billion years (that is a 1 followed by 100 billion 0’s) for a cell to form by chance. The age of the universe is slightly over 10 billion years (a 1 followed by ten 0’s), so materialistic evolution is entirely without scientific merit.
Another Evolutionary Theory
Since the scientific evidence does not support slow, gradual evolution, an alternative theory that has received considerable attention is punctuated equilibrium. This theory states that life on earth will be occasionally subjected to extreme stress, such as a super nova explosion or a large meteor impact. During these times, the majority of the members in a species would die and this species would disappear from the fossil record because their numbers are so low. The surviving members of the species would have more frequent mutations due to the environmental stress, so macroevolution would be accelerated. After a time, the species would adapt to the stress and the population would rise, resulting in a significant number of fossils again. This theory could explain the absence of transitional forms in the fossil record that were predicted by Darwin.
This theory is testable in the laboratory, because we can subject a species to various forms of environmental stress. In these experiments, the population shrank as expected, but the beneficial mutations were not observed. Harmful mutations outnumber beneficial mutations by at least 10,000 to 1, so death rather than macroevolution is observed.
The Hindu and Christian Accounts of Creation
If science supports intelligent design rather than evolution, then we must conclude that there is a Creator. However, there are many religions in the world, so how are we to know what is true?
One way to evaluate a religion is to test it’s teaching against verifiable facts. The Hindu concept of creation and the myths of the creation account are very hard to bring to bear with any of the scientific theories or the discoveries of the creation of the world. If the creation myths are taken literally, then science would stand strongly against them. If they are taken figuratively, it is difficult to still find a relationship between these accounts and the scientific findings (e.g. Prajapati dividing into pati and patni, male and female and producing all the offspring of the earth).
The first pages of the Bible give an account of the creation of the universe, the earth and all life. If the six days of creation are understood as six ages rather than six 24-hour days (the Hebrew word encompasses both meanings), the sequence of events very closely matches our current scientific understanding of these events. The Bible was written long before scientific theory came to the same conclusions, so this is dramatic evidence for the trustworthiness of the Bible. No other religion can make such a claim for its writings.
Reincarnation and Transmigration of the Soul
I must take a little space to explain the difference between evolution and the transmigration of the soul, as there has been considerable confusion here. Some gurus have claimed that Hinduism and evolution consistent with each other. But what they really are speaking of is the transmigration of the soul. These are really different issues. Transmigration of the soul is the belief in reincarnation that a being passes through many life forms and species and ascends ultimately to moksha or release from samsara. The theory of evolution discusses the possibility of singular individuals in the same species evolving to a different or higher species.
This paper has briefly summarized the extensive and growing scientific evidence that there is an intelligent designer. The theory of evolution has been taught as fact for generations, so this is a revolutionary concept with personal implications. If we exist because of evolution, then there may be no spiritual dimension to life. However, if we exist because of an intelligent Creator, then we need to seek out this Creator in order to understand the meaning of life. If you have a desire to learn more about the God of the Bible, we recommend that you read the Gospel of John, the fourth book in the New Testament. You will find that God not only created you, but he wants to have a personal relationship with you.
It has been popular among some Hindu thinkers to link Hinduism with evolution as a further scientific proof of the concept of reincarnation and the gradual improvement of a being throughout many different species, finally reaching moksha. There is a parallel concept in idea alone; there is no necessary link between these two. Darwin’s concept of evolution was not of a single being evolving throughout time through different species, but of species evolving with the death of individuals. Whether new-born individuals of species are unconnected new individuals or are reincarnated form a previous existence was simply not in the scope of his theory at all. The recent decline in the feasibility of evolution as a viable theory makes it unwise to link these two conceptually.
This paper has briefly listed some recent scientific observations on evolution. The following books are recommended for further reading on this subject.
1. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton, published by Alder and Adler, Bethesda MD, 1986.
2. Darwin’s Black Box by Michael J. Behe, published by Touchstone, New York, NY, 1998.