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Hegel Denies Evolution (But Dies 28 Years before the Origin of Species)

Our friends over at www.Marxists.org are perplexed about Hegel’s views on evolution. I am not quite sure where Hegel sits in the Communist Pantheon, but apparently he has some degree of importance. In 1816 Hegel published his Philosophy of Nature (Part 3 of his Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences). Steven Houlgate has written on this book and has posted his critique at Marxists.org. Hegel states the following:

“it is a completely empty thought to represent species as developing successively, one after the other, in time…. The land animal did not develop naturally out of the aquatic animal, nor did it fly into the air on leaving the water.”

And also

“even if the earth was once in a state where it had no living things but only the chemical process, and so on, yet the moment the lightning of life strikes into matter, at once there is present a determinate, complete creature, as Minerva fully armed springs forth from the head of Jupiter…. Man has not developed himself out of the animal, nor the animal out of the plant; each is at a single stroke what it is.”

Just in case any doubt remains, Houldgate notes rather plaintively that “To the discomfort of many who are otherwise persuaded by his philosophy, Hegel rejects outright the doctrine of the evolution of species.”. Houldgate attempts some reconciliation between Hegel and Darwin, but eventually admits that “Further exploration of the relation between Hegel’s speculative philosophy of nature and Darwinian evolutionary theory must, however, await another occasion.”

It is interesting to note that Hegel published his views on evolution in 1816. He does not use the term “evolution” but he clearly articulates the concept as he denies it. This shows that the idea of evolution was in circulation long before Darwin, and must have been widely understood for Hegel to make his comments. The current “Year of Darwin” hoopla fails to mention this, and gives the impression that Darwin all by himself came up with the idea of evolution. Unfortunately, the probability that the Marxists will challenge that is about as great as them rehabilitating Hegel as an ID supporter.

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19 Responses to Hegel Denies Evolution (But Dies 28 Years before the Origin of Species)

  1. 1
    anonymous irishman
  2. 2
    CannuckianYankee

    “yet the moment the lightning of life strikes into matter, at once there is present a determinate, complete creature, as Minerva fully armed springs forth from the head of Jupiter…”

    It appears that the evolution of species is not the only concept that was present pre-Darwin, but the notion of the lighning strike that started it all.

  3. Look up Lamarckism. The concept of evolution didn’t start with Darwin, or Lamarck for that matter.

  4. The ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ was another book published before the Origin (1844) which put forward a theory of biological evolution. The author (now known to be Robert Chambers) remained anonymous at the time of publishing. Perhaps this is why the Origin gained more recognition.

    Darwin’s grandfather also had evolutionary ideas (although Darwin claims they had little influence on his own thought).

    But yeah, it seems pretty clear that the theory of evolution didn’t originate with Darwin.

  5. “it is a completely empty thought to represent species as developing successively, one after the other, in time…. The land animal did not develop naturally out of the aquatic animal, nor did it fly into the air on leaving the water.”

    This sounds like Hegel dismissing as inconceivable ideas which were never part of Darwin’s theory in the first place. He published his book in 1816. The world would have to wait another 43 years before another book was published which offered a mechanism for how aquatic animals might have changed into flying animals, not suddenly in a single jump, but over millions of years.

    “even if the earth was once in a state where it had no living things but only the chemical process, and so on, yet the moment the lightning of life strikes into matter, at once there is present a determinate, complete creature, as Minerva fully armed springs forth from the head of Jupiter…. Man has not developed himself out of the animal, nor the animal out of the plant; each is at a single stroke what it is.”

    Is there a need to remind people that Darwin’s theory dealt with how life evolved after it had appeared, that it said nothing about how life might have emerged from non-life or what we now call abiogenesis? Apparently, there is.

    It is interesting to note that Hegel published his views on evolution in 1816. He does not use the term “evolution” but he clearly articulates the concept as he denies it. This shows that the idea of evolution was in circulation long before Darwin, and must have been widely understood for Hegel to make his comments.

    As described above, the ideas discussed by Hegel have only a distant relationship with Darwin’s theory. Yes, there were a lot of ideas circulating before Darwin and even some attempts at explanation but what Darwin provided for the first time was a carefully thought out and meticulously researched theory which included a plausible mechanism for how evolution might have happened.

  6. “Is there a need to remind people that Darwin’s theory dealt with how life evolved after it had appeared, that it said nothing about how life might have emerged from non-life or what we now call abiogenesis? Apparently, there is.”

    Darwin himself did the minor speculation on how life began and people today run with this minor speculation. But besides that, nearly all the speculation about the RNA world and the pre RNA world involves the concept of natural selection.

    “Yes, there were a lot of ideas circulating before Darwin and even some attempts at explanation but what Darwin provided for the first time was a carefully thought out and meticulously researched theory which included a plausible mechanism for how evolution might have happened.”

    So apparently there is a need to remind people how natural selection is used to solve/speculate on a lot more than just the origin of a species. Because of its universality in explaining everything, it is almost worshiped. It is interesting that given that the one thing it cannot explain is the origin of species except for trivial examples.

  7. Hegel was actually a unique thinker, who some describe as being a conservative. He felt that the Prussian state had reached the height of civilized perfection. I guess you could say the right-Hegelians were his intellectual descendants.

    Dr. Steve Fuller describes Hegel (and Adam Smith too) as one of those blokes who can’t be defined on the left-right divide. Whereas Condorcet, Marx and Comte are people of the left and Malthus, Spencer and Darwin are on the right.

    Science vs. Religion by Steve Fuller. Page 34. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK 2004.

  8. Correct. In the Enlightenment, the “great chain of being” lost its cosmological overtones and became natural history, or a way of ordering nature by resemblances and differences between species. By the end of the 18th century, some bold souls had begun to notice that this chain, shorn of the notion of glorifying God, could be seen as a natural progression. Talk of “evolution,” following the ideas of Epicurus and Lucretius, became common in elite scientific circles. Darwin’s “tree of life” is not sui generis but has its roots in 18th century naturalism.

  9. BTW, Hegel made deliberate use of the growing polularity of the term “evolution” to gild his notion of the evolution of intellectual history.

  10. In essence, Hegel thinking was almost as destructive as Kant’s. His “antidote” to Kant’s skepticism about making contact with reality was to present a reality much more problematic than the one Kant claimed could not be apprehended. While there are both “left” and “right” Hegelians, the main point of Hegel’s “phenomenology of spirit” was to insist that reality and truth are in always in flux. Thus, thesis and anti-thesis clash and generate a new thesis, which, in turn will clash with yet a new anti-thesis and so on.

    In fact, Steve Fuller’s social constructivism is Hegel’s thesis/antithesis philosophy applied to sociology. Social constructivism uses the same principle of mutual causality, meaning that, just as all of history is driven by a kind of a dialectic conflict of opposites, all truth is “created” in context, through some communicative process such as “symbolic interaction.

    Marx borrowed from this same idea of mutual causation by applying the dialectic to matter, hence we have “dialectical materialism.” While Hegel’s dialectic spirit seems to be the opposite of Marx’s dialectical materialism, both end up militating against reason by denying the possibility of unchanging truth, which means that both ultimately contribute to leftist ideas. Anytime ultimate reality is described in dialectical, mutually causative terms, truth becomes a process, which means, of course, that it is no longer truth.

    The theory of mutual causation CAN be used profitably in lower level analyses to avoid simplistic linear thinking on any matter in which a multiplicity of causes is responsible for many events. One such example would be Pareto’s 80/20 principle; another would be “systems theory.” The problem is when this idea is elevated to the level of metaphysics or accepted as a complete theory of knowledge. That’s when the trouble starts and leftist relativism rears its ugly head.

  11. The confusion arises because many look at the ‘involution’ out of time of certain entities, as opposed to the progression in time of ‘evolutionary’ entities.

    http://darwiniana.com/2009/03/.....nd-darwin/

    http://darwiniana.com/2009/03/.....ic-effect/

  12. StephenB, as usual a good and informative post.

    I don’t think I’m smart enough to discern who and what Hegel is. Or if his work his totally bad or what.

    British popularizer of philosophy and former SDP M.P. Bryan Magee (wrote a wonderful introduction to philosophy) thought he was the progenitor of Fascism and Communism.

    So who knows.

  13. Platonist: Your comments about Hegel resonate with me. Not all of his ideas were bad, even by my critical standards. Indeed, it was he who said, “What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on its principles.”

    Also, it does sometimes happen that misguided metatheories can, at times, breed derivative paradigms that surpass the original. It is a phenomenon that I have never been able to fully explain. It’s a little like bad parents who get lucky and just happen to raise good children. John Paul II, for example, was able to take “phenomenology,” which is basically just another form of anti-intellectual subjectivism, and use it to dramatize the inherent dignity of the human person.

    Still, I submit that the reverse is almost always the case. Ideas have consequences, and, to me, after Kant and Darwin, Hegel ranks high on the list of perpetrators of bad ideas. Kant tried to solve Hume’s non-problem about causation by reintroducing Descartes subtectivism, and Hegel tried to solve Kant’s non-problem of skepticism by proposing process idealism. Those events turned out to be big problems for a Western culture that decided to take them seriously.

  14. ‘Not all of his ideas were bad, even by my critical standards. Indeed, it was he who said, “What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on its principles.”’

    I know very little about Hegel, but I do know that his ideas regarding the principles of history being useful for knowing the future were critisied by C.S.Lewis and Popper. Wikipedia on Poppers argument: “The objection [Popper] makes is that historicist positions, by claiming that there is an inevitable and deterministic pattern to history, abrogate the democratic responsibility of each one of us to make our own free contributions to the evolution of society, and hence lead to totalitarianism.”

    C.S.Lewis on Historicism

    The Poverty of Historicism by Popper

    Historicism on wikipedia

  15. 15

    No educated person, not even the most ignorant, could suppose I mean to arrogate to myself the origination of the doctrine that species had not been independently created. The only novelty in my work is the attempt to explain how species became modified, and to a certain extent how the theory of descent explains certain large classes of facts; and in these respects I received no assistance from my predecessors

    –Charles DArwin, Letter to Rev Baden Powell

  16. At # 12

    What I meant is that if you honestly read Hegel’s work (not secondary sources) it can be somewhat opaque.

    I don’t there is very many Hegelians in the world anymore. John Dewey was one for a time and I believe Francis Fukuyama has been described as a Hegelian.

    P.S. I have since changed my mind (after reading arguments against it) on the virtues of socialized medicine.

  17. 17

    Hegel is one of the phenomenological philosophers (almost more of an essayist than philosopher)- he tried to contribute various insights such as the insight that consciousness is a two fold object- reciprocally existing as one “itself” and two as the object itself refers to.

    A lot of Hegel is about describing thought and being and then pointing to the fact that we are in the state of being while thinking about being itself- which calls into question if we are truly able to understand what being is – since he are beings how can we know what not being is? And so forth.

    To a large extent it is very pointless. Too me the state of being is experience – that is not a two fold things but in my experience I exist and describe my existing simultaneously – hence Hegel’s system of analyses is to me not useful except as perhaps some kind of intellectual exercise- like a novel.

    I think it is in Hegel’s nonsensical philosophy that Communists and socialists find refuge- as they can use it to educate and control people’s minds. Hegel’s work is so esoteric that it is difficult to really criticise it (though it can be done) as one has to accept his philsophy before they can appreciate it. It is almost like a religion .Of course there is not much in it – that is overtly socialist -a t least from what I have read. But one could say it is a clasicaly liberal philosphy as Hegel’s system does not have clearly defined rules- and hence one can sort of go where one wants with it- at times you feel as though you are reading something that was written off of the top of one’s head- made up as he went along. I think it is in that that the fairy tale of scoialism finds refuge.

    But at least the man was a bit of a free thinker. I can still appreciate the art even if it is not sceintifically sound.

  18. 18

    “This shows that the idea of evolution was in circulation long before Darwin, and must have been widely understood for Hegel to make his comments.”

    I have been saying this for years- that Darwin was not the founder of the evolutionary theory or model- but is held up today like many icons, as a poltical tool- someone to worriship and fallow – a savior.

    I read a book about Leibniz and the author talked about how Leibniz found the theory of evolution “very useful”–

    Leibniz was born 100 years before Darwin.

    Even the Bible has an evolutionary (simple to complex) emergence of life. So how could the simple day thought of connecting all life forms elude all men for thousands of years?

    It didn’t.

  19. It seems to me that you are obviously and severely misinterpreting Hegel. His claim here has to be interpreted within his greater ontological beliefs. What he seems to be denying here (probably out of context) is some other model of biological development. He then posts a satellite comment at the end of his statement instead of clarifying it (standard, poor Hegelian writing imr) in which he makes a different claim about how the concept of [Darwinian-predescesor] evolution is a tautology once one assumes that life is a natural phenomenon. For example, if you thought of the development of all life as the growth of a single organism, we do not have a common definition for the process by which individual stem cells differentiate themselves: in an ontological sense, Hegel wants to reduce all structure to process (reduce all of the present to history). The correct response here to Hegel would be “you may be metaphhsically correct, but evolution as a unified concept describing a historical process is useful in the empirical sciences”. In fact, this seems perfectly in line with his philosophy and so I believe this quote is taken out of context.

    Also,Marxists don’t need to challenge Hegel on evolution any more than anthropologists need to challenge Marx & Engels on the anthropological misconceptions of their time, which by the way do not in any way invalidate their arguments. It sounds like you’re using your reading of Hegel as a throw away attack on people you’re presuming to be less intelligent than you.
    Marxists are decidedly rational, pro-science. “The purpose of communism is to clear away class contradictions so that science can affect the transformation of society.”

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