The Origin of Human Nature
A Zen Buddhist Looks at EvolutionAlbert Low
we think about our origin is important: if we think we are machines
living among other machines, we will act accordingly. By showing
evolution as a creative and intelligent process with its own inherent
logic, The Origin of Human Nature resolves the dilemma of how to have, at the same time, both truth and ethics.
The Origin of Human Nature
gives a new and fertile way to integrate spiritual and scientific views
of human evolution. It offers a new and refreshing alternative to the
current theories: random mutation (mechanistic neo-Darwinism), Genesis
(God did it all personally), and Intelligent Design (God personally does
what we can’t otherwise account for). It is an invigorating perspective
on how our best qualities—our capacity for love, our appreciation of
beauty, our altruistic capability, our creativity and intelligence—have
come to be.
Instead of starting in an imagined remote and uncertain past and moving to the present, The Origin of Human Nature
starts at the certain and immediate present. That consciousness,
creativity, intelligence exist is certain. How can these have evolved?
Using a top-down approach, the author answers this question in an
original and engaging way.
Zen master Albert Low, director of the Montreal Zen Center,
has spent his life enquiring into human nature. His response integrates
Zen Buddhism with Western philosophy, psychology, and evolutionary
science to provide a full range of practical and stimulating answers.
About The Origin of Human Nature
The Origin of Human Nature introduces a new logic that
incorporates but goes beyond classical logic and it shows how this
logic throws new light on evolution, creativity, conflict,
intelligence, consciousness, the mind-matter problem, the antinomies
of theoretical physics and even laughter.
The same logic can help us to understand more about love, empathy, altruism, selfishness, and even mysticism and religion.
The book shows the following:
- that evolution is intentional, creative and intelligent without invoking a Creator.
- the difference between an organism and a machine and shows further the fallacy of claiming that machines will one day think;
- that Darwin’s “struggle for existence” is two-fold: there is
an active and metaphorical struggle. Neo-Darwinism conflates the two
into the metaphorical struggle;
- how subjectivity can play an authentic part in a scientific theory of evolution;
- that even the most primitive organisms may have rudimentary awareness;
- that primitive vertebrates may have rudimentary reflexive awareness; and
- how a spiritual and scientific approach can be combined seamlessly.
Why do we need another theory of the evolution of human nature?
In a 2004 Gallup Poll, nearly ninety percent of Americans rejected the current theory of evolution. Why? Possibly because:
1. Neo Darwinism debases Human Beings
Neo-Darwinism strips our humanity from us in the name of science.
Leading theorists say we are lumbering robots in the service of genes;
our joys and sorrows, our memories and ambitions, our sense of personal
identity and freewill are for them no more than a pack of neurons. They
say we are hard-wired for violence, that ethics and morality are but
quirks on the evolutionary trail or else mathematically impossible. We
are pure accidents that might well never have been; complicated
computers destined to be surpassed by other more complicated computers;
when we die we die and that’s the end of us.
Understanding the evolution of human nature is not, and never can be,
the province of scientists alone. A viable theory of evolution must
draw from and be confirmed by many branches of learning. Religion,
psychology, and philosophy must be active in the creation of this understanding.
2. It has no place for what is most typically human
No doubt many of us have at one time or other looked eagerly to science
to tell us something about ourselves. One would hope that the life
sciences might have developed in the many years since Darwin first
proposed his theory, and that we would have some scientific basis for
understanding ourselves and our psyche—some answers to where we fit in.
But alas! They tell us that we do not fit in. That is, if one
understands ‘we’ to mean our ‘selves,’ our ‘minds,’ ‘spirits,’ and not
simply our bodies. The discovery of the DNA code, cloning, stem cell
research, organ transplants, cyborgs, genetic engineering—in fact all
of modern technology—seems to have created a world in which ‘we’ as
selves no longer have a place. Scientists now take it for granted that
only a material solution holds promise of resolving the enigmas of the
mind and of human existence. I am told that that I am a machine, that I
have no special place in the world. I am an accident, something that
need never have been.
3. It takes away meaning and generates despair
Victor Frankl, a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, pointed
out that those who were most likely to survive the depredations of Nazi
bestiality had some reason to go on living, “Psychological observations
of the prisoners have shown that only those who allowed their inner
hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell
victim to the camp’s degenerating influences.” But now we are told that we do not have a moral and inner self, that we are
no-where for no reason!
4. It is based on a faulty assumption
Neo-Darwinism (the “evolution” taught in schools today) is based upon a
faulty assumption that because a materialist basis enabled the physical
sciences to work near miracles in technology, the same material basis
can work marvels for the life and psychological sciences as well. One
only has to read some of the simplistic theories of what passes for
Evolutionary Psychology to see the limitations of this approach.
5. It has a parochial outlook
Neo-Darwinism has claimed “the theory of evolution” as its exclusive
preserve and condemns all trespassers. Yet, we cannot let our
awareness of who and what we are be walled into a biological ivory
tower. We must bring it to the streets, to serve the needs of human
beings in general—not only a few of us who act within the artificial
and limited role of “scientist.” The neo-Darwinian theory as put forth
today is not only very limited, it is dangerous and destructive. The
Origin of Human Nature breaks through the neo-Darwinian barricades and
brings invigorating light and balance into our thinking about our
origin and possible future.
Intelligent Evolution is about you and me. It is about how we—with all
our loves and fears, hopes and anxieties, creativity and violence—have
come to be members of life’s evolving drama.
So far evolutionary theory, including genetics, has asked, “How has the
human form evolved?” The Origin of Human Nature poses the question,
“How has the evolution of human nature been possible?” It offers
something quite new to the debate on our origin and evolution, and possibly a new foundation for the psychological sciences.
Instead of starting with guesses about a remote and uncertain past, and
with matter alone, The Origin of Human Nature starts with the present
and concrete fact of human creativity—and with creative and spiritual
geniuses such as Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Leonardo da Vinci,
Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, and Mozart. It asks how
evolution has made these, and the rest of us, possible. It shows that
creative intelligence has not been brought into being by evolution, but
that evolution is the unfolding of creative and intelligent potentials
inherent in life.
The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution ignores the very essence of life:
its intelligence, creativity, capacities for love, altruism, empathy.
It ignores the fact that life is meaningful and purposeful. The Origin
of Human Nature restores all of these to their rightful place in a
theory of evolution worthy of human beings.
It introduces a logic that expresses our intuition of life as a dynamic
unity. This intuition is basic to Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and
Kantian philosophy and has been written about by scientists such as
Heisenberg, Bohm, and Penrose as well as the philosophers Spinoza and
Articulating this intuition for the intellect requires what Low calls a logic of ambiguity. Classical logic is the logic of the machine. The
logic of ambiguity, being the logic of creativity, is also the logic of
life; it incorporates classical logic as one aspect yet goes beyond
it. It does for thinking about life and creativity what Niels Bohr’s
logic of complementarity did for wave-particle ambiguity in physics.
The present trend of biological research seems to present us with a
terrible dilemma: We can have truth or ethics but not both. Our
psychological sciences are in a self-admitted state of disarray—with no
firm foundation on which to build. The Origin of Human Nature offers a
possible way to construct the needed foundation, one that has Darwin’s
theory of evolution as its stimulus. Building upon this kind of
foundation, we can have both truth and ethics.
The Origin of Human Nature is written in accessible non-technical
language for a broad audience of readers interested in the ebb and flow
of debate about what should be taught in our schools about human origins and our place in the world.
In 2009, organizations throughout the world will celebrate both the
200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the
publication of Darwin’s seminal book, The Origin of the Species. These
two anniversaries will be major media events, and the subject of
evolution will be widely discussed and debated.
Recently Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, Published
Darwin’s Black Box, about Intelligent Design. His ideas will be a
major talking point at 2009 events. Behe’s criticisms of the current
theories of evolution are trenchant and could open many people’s minds
to the perspective of The Origin of Human Nature.
Repeated attempts are being made to have an approach to evolution other
than the neo-Darwinian one currently taught in schools and
universities. (A Gallup Poll Published in 2004 reported that nearly 90
percent of the Americans interviewed expressed dissatisfaction with
this theory.) The only viable alternative at the moment is Creationism
or its modern version, Intelligent Design. The scientific community
resists these attempts because both Creationism and Intelligent Design
invoke a God as a Creator. The Origin of Human Nature satisfies both those who want a less materialistic/mechanistic approach to
understanding human nature, and those who object to introducing “God”
into a scientific discussion.
Westerners, in steadily increasing numbers, are adopting Buddhist and
other spiritual approaches to life. The Origin of Human Nature is the
first book to offer them a way to integrate their spiritual
understanding with a scientific understanding of human origin.
Animal rights activism is steadily increasing. The Origin of Human
Nature lends much support to the assertion that animals are conscious
beings with feelings not too dissimilar to human beings, and should
have a broad appeal to these readers.
Endorsements of The Origin of Human Nature
this intelligently written little book Albert Low gives us a modern
Guide for the Perplexed; a richly thoughtful reflection on the roots of
human nature that glows with a deep respect for both science and the
Author of The Radiance of Being
Low offers us a strikingly original vision of evolution and human
nature. He presents us with a choice that is stark, with implications
that are far-reaching. On the one hand, we can take the metaphor of
“man as machine” literally and, as a consequence, abandon those very
qualities that make us human and make life worth living. On the other
hand we can come to see that the evolutionary process, and therefore
ourselves, as fundamentally intelligent and creative. The choice, Low
tells us, is fateful and ours to make."
William Byers PhD,
Author of How Mathematicians Think
battles over evolution are fought by two sides that are far too rigid
in their thinking, the Biblical literalists on the one hand and the
mechanistically committed materialists on the other. But our human and
spiritual nature is much bigger than fanatic literalism or scientistic
dogmatism, and Low's refreshing book offers a more open direction to
explore the potentials of evolution for real human beings."
Charles T. Tart, PhD,
Author of Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People
The Origin of Human Nature_ Albert Low Roshi offers us a larger context
for thinking about evolution, a context that goes beyond the blindness
of passivity and chance. Here, in the more gracious place Low provides,
we can envision evolution's possibilities, possibilities that go far
beyond selfish memes and reductive materialism. In providing us with a
model of evolution that transcends that of Dawkins and Dennett, so Low
also provides us with a a model of conversation and understanding that
transcends Evolution vs Intellgent Design. We are all the richer for
Franz Metcalfe, PhD
Author of What Would Buddha Do?
enthusiastically recommend this book. As a hard-core scientist, I was
overjoyed to read Dr. Low’s “knowing” centered approach to human
origin’s and nature, as well as his eloquent rebuttal of the “selfish
gene” neo-Darwinism that now dominates mainstream views. Dr. Low’s
vision dovetails perfectly with the broader scientific vision of
evolution that I work with but perhaps it takes a Zen master to
communicate the profundity of its human implications to a world so
desperate for a deeply felt understanding of purpose and meaning."
Dr. S. J. Goerner,
Author of After the Clockwork Universe: The Emerging Science and Culture of Integral Society
the clichés on both sides of the modern God/evolution debate, Dr. Low’s
book offers a most welcome invitation to the joyful work of thinking
like a human being about what an evolving human being is and can—and,
for the sake of our world, must-- become."
Author of Why Can’t We Be Good?
THE ORIGIN OF HUMAN NATURE, Dr. Albert Low breathes new life into old
terms -- the transcendent, consciousness, awareness, evolution,
creativity, intention -- not by going around science, but by going
through it. In the current frenzy to purge science of purpose, meaning,
direction, and values, Low's insights are a welcome resource. One might
say that our survival depends on the wisdom in this book."
Larry Dossey, MD.
Author of The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things