Science and Spirituality: Explaining evolution

Darwin's model of evolution complements a subtle message in the ancient religious texts. Do science and spirituality both point to the same trend using different examples? Does spirituality go a step beyond and predict the future? Pawan Dhar draws the parallels.

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.120 Published online 28 August 2012

The question of spontaneous creation versus intelligent design is still unsolved. We do not have a clear understanding of how life emerged on this planet? What were the initial substances, catalysts and reaction conditions?

If we take the view that God created the world, we must justify emergence of new variants and species. If we take the view that God continues to create new life forms, it is important to find the energy signature of God. If we take the view that God does not exist, then we need to provide an explanation for the unique fundamental differences between the living and the non-living.

Models of physical evolution

Though the origin of life continues to remain an enigma, the evolution of life generally falls into the following belief systems (i) evolution does not happen, (ii) evolution happens towards increasing complexity, (iii) evolution happens towards decreasing complexity.

Studies on microbes with faster doubling rates e.g., E. coli have been particularly useful to address these issue. It is a common knowledge that evolution occurs in the form of emergence of new traits when microbes are grown under artificially controlled conditions.

Available scientific evidence supports the view that the primordial seed of life populated our planet nearly 3 billion years ago. The earliest life forms were small ribonucleic acid molecules, capable of performing trivial biochemical tasks. With the increasing presence of favourable conditions these self-replicating RNA strings acquired a wrapper of cell membranes. With time, new cell parts sprouted giving rise to a range of cellular functions. From single cells a colony of cells working in concert arose. These were precursors of more complex aquatic life forms. Random migration towards land gave rise to terrestrial organisms.

Darwin's theory says that eukaryotic evolutionary process starting from simple organisms resulted in the emergence of more complex forms like fishes, amphibians, reptiles, aves and mammals — the upper end of mammalian spectrum being humans.

Darwin and Dashavataras

Interestingly, Darwin's theory not only enjoys a strong scientific support but also finds a symbolic resemblance in several religious texts of Hinduism. Though there are delicate differences in the names, the chassis of supernatural forms is generally accepted and recognized as Dashavataras or the ten forms of Lord Vishnu (das: ten, avatar: incarnation).

Whether these avatars existed or not, the key message is the presence of a clear evolutionary trend from the aquatic (matsya avatar) to terrestrial (varaha avatar) life forms, matching the Darwinian model, and symbolized by a major phenotypic change that follows every level.

Why evolution?

According to ancient Hindu scriptures, it is the fundamental desire of knowing the life-giving substance that drives evolution. This grand desire is deeply embedded in our life operating system resulting in the evolution of bodily forms followed by the evolution of mind. The evolution of mind ultimately results in the identification of oneself with highest intelligence. To support this phase of evolution two things were needed – the evolution of brain and the evolution of a neural network.

Interestingly, the evolution of intelligence seems to match the evolution of brain. Available scientific evidence indicates that human intelligence was an outcome of more cortical neurons and synapses emerging in human brain leading to greater information processing speed1.

The earliest life forms probably did not feel pain, as nervous system was rudimentary or absent. With increasing biological complexity a need for a large scale well-coordinated activity arose. This gave birth to nervous system connecting higher brain-level controls with the local cell-level activities.

With the emergence of notochord, subtle energy channels found a place to collaborate. In yogic parlance, they are known as chakras. With the emergence of upright posture and a vertically stiff vertebral column, the spinal cord was surmised host a number of additional chakras, from the genital organ to the brain. At every level, intelligence received a boost.

As humans evolved and survival was assured, the focus moved towards the evolution of intelligence. With the evolution of intelligence, the capability to think and concentrate received a tremendous boost. This led to the emergence of philosophy and religion (made of story, rituals and spirituality).

The future

Ironically, brain evolution followed by mind evolution led to more complex behavioural outcomes than expected. Unfortunately, instead of intensifying the search for highest intelligence, the need itself got blurred and mind got more survival-oriented.

The present evolution state is believed to be closest to the highest form when physical, emotional and mental capabilities have reached peak misuse. Spiritually speaking, due to tremendous increase in human empowerment, the world has witnessed a rapid increase in environmental abuse, natural disasters, life threatening diseases and hatred.

Humanity desperately needs a major reboot. And if Darwin and the scriptures are to be believed, the last phase of evolution towards highest intelligence has just begun.

This article is the fourth in a series entitled 'Science and spirituality'.


  1. Roth, G et al. Evolution of the brain and intelligence in primates. Prog. Brain Res. 195, 413-430 (2012) | PubMed |