One of Steiner’s Central Doctrines
by Roger Rawlings
Afterword by Peter Staudenmaier
Steiner's views on evolution were complex (not to say self-contradictory). Sometimes Steiner indicated that man evolved from animals: “As man has evolved out of the animal, so will the 'superman’ evolve out of man.”  But more often, Steiner said something quite different.
At the Waldorf school I attended, a fundamental Anthroposophical narrative underlay many of the lessons we were taught. The tale was rarely made explicit, but its general outlines were continually suggested to us. Evolution moves in two opposite directions: True humans are evolving upwards through a progressive set of reincarnations. Failed humans, by contrast, degenerate, descending along a self-created trajectory of error and diminishment.
The core concepts in this narrative are destiny, reincarnation, and evolution. To present the Anthroposophical view more openly than my teachers did, let's turn briefly to Anthroposophist Roy Wilkinson. (We'll return to Steiner posthaste.) A prolific author of pamphlets and books dealing with Waldorf education, Wilkinson supports "Steinerian evolution" and indicates that such evolution should be taught in Waldorf schools. According to Wilkinson, various gods or "spiritual beings" created each species directly. Evolution per se was secondary — the gods created all the animals, just as they created man.
Anthroposophy is a polytheistic creed. In its doctrines, numerous gods have worked jointly to cause and guide creation. Thus, Wilkinson begins his account with these words: "Let us start from the point that the gods, or the divine spiritual beings, decided to create the world and man. For this we have a good authority in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible.”  Well, yes and no. The Bible tells of God creating all things; it does not say that multiple gods were involved.
Wilkinson proceeds to explain that the gods created the animals by separating them, one at a time, from the main, upward stream of world evolution. The lion, for example, represents a certain spiritual stage that humans passed through. Proto-human spirits who could not evolve further stayed behind at that stage, the lion stage, while other spirits — ourselves — kept evolving upward. Thus, animals reflect various pre-human capacities that humanity itself has largely transcended. "[A]nimals [are] the by-products of human development ... [T]he animal forms represent physically incarnated soul forces which the human being had to dispense with in order to mature sufficiently to receive the [human] ego ... We see then that man is not the result of animal evolution but that he is at the beginning of it and is central to it. Indeed he is the cause of it. The animal world represents soul qualities which the human being has discarded although he still retains remnants of them.” 
Animals are, in a sense, failed humans. They have trapped themselves at levels of development that wholesome, correct-thinking souls left behind. Here is one of Steiner's comments explaining that animals descended from humans, not vice versa:
Steiner places humanity at the center of evolution: animal life, plant life, and even the mineral world depend on human beings for their development. Steiner does not deny that some animals (particularly lower animals) may have come into existence before humanity arose. Inferentially, these would have been the animals with whom humans “were one.” Later, humans gave rise to the rest of the animal kingdom. The higher animals were, originally, part of the human spirit-soul. Thus, they represent portions of humanity that sank to subhuman status: They descended from, or “precipitated” out of, humans.
Steiner's contention that “[E]arthly development would have long ago reached its final stage were the Earth not continuously fed with the forces of human corpses” is hard — if not impossible — to square with the findings of science. Indeed, life existed and evolved for billions (billions with a “B”) of years before humanity showed up. Here are some numbers:
All of this (and much more, of course) occurred without the aid of human corpses. The precise date of the emergence of Homo sapiens remains in dispute, but it was probably less than a million years ago, perhaps as recently as 300,000 years ago.  Earthly development, in other words, got on just fine without us for a long, long time.
Let’s turn to another passage from Steiner. Here he is discussing mankind’s evolution with teachers at the first Waldorf School:
According to geologists, the Tertiary and Quaternary periods are subdivisions of the Cenozoic Era, which began about 65 million years ago. The Tertiary lasted until about two million years ago, when the Quaternary began. We are still in the Quaternary Period.  Few of Steiner’s assertions are consistent with any of this. The first mammals, for example, appeared between 286 and 248 million years ago, not as recently as 65 million years ago. There was no Lemuria, no Atlantis. Humans did evolve in the present Quaternary Period, but they were not around when fire-breathing dragons ruled the earth, since there were no dragons (fire-breathing or otherwise). Nor were humans around when dinosaurs ruled the earth (the reign of the dinosaurs began about 230 million years ago, ending about 65 million years ago; homo sapiens arose about 300,000 years ago).
Steiner’s statement to the teachers, above, is not even internally consistent. Were we jelly-like or amphibian-like? We couldn’t have been both. An amphibian made of jelly couldn’t pull itself ashore, and if it washed up on shore, it would likely lie wherever the water deposited it, like a stranded jellyfish, gradually cooking in the sun. What we actually seem to be seeing here is Steiner changing his story even as he tells it. But let it go.
The important point to note is that Waldorf teachers accepted Steiner's account, and they even contributed to it: "[T]here were still the fire breathers.” Yes, Steiner replied. No, we should reply.
According to Steiner, our evolution on the Earth is only one stage in our overall evolution. Prior to living here on Earth, we lived on (or during) other “planets” such as the Old Sun and the Old Moon. [See "Old Sun" and "Old Moon".] In moving from “planet” to “planet,” we are evolving in the same way that other beings evolved before us. They passed through their own “human” stages and then they moved on to higher stages. We will move on too — we are “human” only temporarily. 
Our evolution, thus, is part of a larger pageant. For instance, certain spiritual beings once lived “on” the Sun during the period called “Old Sun” — they were "spirits of fire" who were, in a spiritual sense, human at that time. Other beings, lower than spirits of fire but still higher than us, became human during a later period called Old Moon. We ourselves evolved to human status only in a still later stage, called Present Earth. Here is how Steiner outlines "human" evolution during these three stages: “At that time [i.e., Old Sun] the so-called spirits of fire had the same status as human beings on the Earth today. The spirits of fire on Old Sun, however, did not look like present-day human beings. These sublime individuals went through their ‘human stage’ in completely different circumstances than we are at today’s stage of development. On Old Moon [i.e., later, during Old Moon] there was also a multitude of beings going through their human stage of development. They then came to Earth as exalted beings — lunar Pitris (or spirits of the Moon) who have now attained a stage higher than ours. In Christian esoteric terms they are called ‘angels.’ It is only on Earth [i.e., during Present Earth] that we have become ‘human beings.’ The lunar Pitris are the next level above us, and above them are the spirits of fire....”  This may revise your conception of angels as well as your image of what it means to be human.
Steiner labeled the mega-stages of evolution Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon, Present Earth (where/when we are now), Future Jupiter (our next stage), Future Venus, and Future Vulcan. These stages are not, despite their names, the planets that we see in the sky today. Rather, they are periods of time, evolutionary stages. They bear the names of planets because the spiritual/astrological influences of various planetary gods (Jupiter, Saturn, etc.) pervade the stages. Keeping the planets, the gods, and the evolutionary stages straight can get difficult, especially since Steiner sometimes dropped the adjectives (Old, Present, Future) when discussing the stages, and he sometimes said "on" when he meant "during." He was a mystic, you see, so he wrote and spoke mystically. Still, if we work at it, we can usually understand what he was driving at. [For more on all this, see "Matters of Form" and "Planets".]
Let’s look at another example, Steiner discoursing on evolution: “In the course of a given epoch not all beings attain the goal of their evolution. Some fall short of it. During Saturn evolution [i.e., Old Saturn], for example, not all the Spirits of Personality [i.e., gods four levels above us] attained the ‘human’ stage appointed for them. Nor did all the human physical bodies [i.e., our physical bodies in their earliest, germinal stage] that developed upon Saturn reach the degree of maturity which would enable them to become the bearers on Sun [i.e., during Old Sun] of an independent life body [i.e., etheric body].”  Yes, I know. Confusing. But we can parse it out. Evolution is central the Anthroposophical belief, and it involves all of the universe, not just ourselves and the animals below us. So, we first came into existence during Old Saturn. At that times, other, higher beings — who had begun their existence in previous evolutionary periods — stood above us as gods. The lowest gods were at their "human" stage of development during Old Saturn while other gods stood higher. We ourselves were still far below the human stage. After Old Saturn, the entire solar system and its gods evolved to a new stage, called Old Sun. All the gods moved up one step and we ourselves moved up one step. However, not every soul makes the proper progress as evolution advances. Some beings fail to evolve, so they get left behind. Thus, for instance, "not all the Spirits of Personality attained the ‘human’ stage appointed for them" during Old Saturn. These gods failed to get promoted and thus they stayed behind as abnormal spirits. [See "Abnormal".] For the beings who make normal, proper progress, each evolutionary stage produces new capabilities and parts. So, we developed the first, germinal version of our physical bodies during Old Saturn, and we developed the first version of our etheric bodies (nonphysical bodies one level higher than physical bodies) during Old Sun. But some physical bodies did not evolve enough to receive their etheric bodies during Old Sun, so these would eventually be left behind — they failed to evolve properly.
Yes. I know.
There are nine ranks of gods above us, according to Anthroposophical belief. The gods move upward just as we move upward from evolutionary stage to evolutionary stage. The gods one step higher than us are often called angels; those two steps above us are often called archangels; and so forth. [See "Polytheism".] Gods who are many steps above us no longer evolve much, at least as we can conceive the process: They are at or near their ultimate spiritual/evolutionary fulfillment. But gods just a few steps above us move along with us, in effect leading us upward. Consider the angels again: “Angels or Angeloi. These reached their human stage of development during the Old Moon period and are as present only as far evolved as humanity will be during the Jupiter phase of evolution [i.e., Future Jupiter]. Hence, Angels are one stage above humans. What is the task of these Beings? ... Every individual [i.e., each of us] is endowed with a Being [an Angel] who, because it stands one stage above humanity, guides that individual from one incarnation to another.” 
Again, we see that Steiner’s version of evolution has nothing at all to do with scientific accounts. It is a wishful view involving guardian angels who shepherd us on a predetermined upward path. This is very nice, if you can believe it. Christians, however, must reckon with the demand Steiner places on the powers of orthodox belief. The angels he describes are not at all like those presented in the Bible — they are creatures just a bit superior to us, evolving as we evolve. Specifically, they help us during the process of reincarnation, a process totally absent from the Bible. Non-Christians face an even larger demand on their will to believe. If you don't accept the existence of angels, archangels, reincarnation, etheric bodies, and the rest, you may find Steiner's teachings wholly implausible.
To examine the overall shape of mega-evolution, as Steiner described it, please see "Everything" and the essays that follow it.
Are Waldorf students taught Steiner's antiscientific version of evolution? Is Roy Wilkinson's hope fulfilled? Here is a brief report from my own education as a student in a Waldorf school.
One Friday afternoon, at a joint assembly of all the high school students at our Waldorf school, the headmaster — John Fentress Gardner — explained to us that Charles Darwin was wrong. Humans did not descend from apes or any other animals; instead, animals descended from us.
Although I was generally a faithful Waldorfer, swallowing without complaint most of what our teachers dished out, I held up my hand and argued against Mr. Gardner’s thesis. My parents subscribed to a great many periodicals, most of which I read, and we had a multi-volume encyclopedia in our home — so I was not completely dependent on Waldorf teachings. (We even had a TV, which we hid in the basement lest any Waldorf teachers came calling.) Hence, I had at least a vague idea of the wider world beyond Waldorf’s walls, and a vague idea of the teachings of modern science as accepted in that wider world.
Anyway, Mr. Gardner and I discussed evolution a bit during the assembly and again later, in a private meeting to which I was summoned in Mr. Gardner’s office. Most of the details of our discussion have faded from my memory, but in retrospect I am struck by this: In endorsing a central Anthroposophical doctrine during a high school assembly, Mr. Gardner came close — perhaps closer than ever in my own experience — to openly, explicitly attempting to impose the Anthroposophical worldview on the students. Usually he and our other teachers were more circumspect, but in this instance pretense was set aside and the school’s devotion to strange, antiscientific concepts became plain.
Evolution is absolutely central to Anthroposophy. Steiner described a long process of human evolution, beginning on Saturn long ago and reaching glorious heights on Vulcan in the distant future. In a nutshell, this is the Anthroposophical creed. [See “Here’s the Answer” and “Everything”.] Mr. Gardner did not go into detail; I don’t believe he referred to these planetary stages; he may not have even — in this assembly — mentioned Rudolf Steiner. But he opened a door and beckoned for us to enter, into the occult fantasies that he and his colleagues embraced as reality.
In Anthroposophical doctrine, the dreadful fate of failed humans is shown not only in animals, but even more horribly in the self-inflicted self-destruction of people who, in their successive incarnations, fall still lower and lower. These depraved souls do not evolve but "involve" — that is, they fall.
Steiner's evolutionary doctrines are tied up with his racial doctrines. Steiner taught that some races are higher than others, reflecting higher spiritual evolution among their members. Good humans evolve upward into higher and higher races. “A race or nation stands so much the higher, the more perfectly its members express the pure, ideal human type ... The evolution of man through the incarnations in ever higher national and racial forms is thus a process of liberation [leading to] an ideal future.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 149.
Lower races contain souls at lower levels of development. Wicked souls descend through the ranks of the races. An entire race may be heading downward. Individual souls within that race may break free and ascend, but the race in general will decline, and wicked souls from higher races will fall down to take their places within the descending race. It is these wicked, descending souls who keep the descending race fully populated.
"A soul may be incarnated in a race that is declining; but if that soul does not make itself evil, it will not be reincarnated in a race that is falling back, but in one that is on the up-grade [i.e., a good soul can rise out of a bad race]. Enough souls are pouring in from other quarters for incarnation in races that are on the down-grade (i.e., bad souls) [to populate the descending race]." — Rudolf Steiner, INVESTIGATIONS INTO OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE (Kessinger, facsimile of 1920 edition), p. 138. [The final phrase “(i.e., bad souls)” was added by the Anthroposophical editor. The same passage, without the last phrase, can be found in Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1986.)]
Truly wicked people may fall so low that they descend below the level of the lowliest race. In that case, they completely cease to be human and become immoral "nature spirits" — beings even lower than goblins that dwell in physical nature and have no true spiritual identity. "Such souls lose the possibility of incarnation and find no other opportunity ... [T]here are no more bodies bad enough [to house them] ... Beings that stay behind at such stages appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature spirits." — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 70.
In discussing such things, we are staring directly at the foul underbelly of Anthroposophy — Rudolf Steiner at his worst. If you have the necessary fortitude, you can explore these matters further at "Steiner's Racism", "Races", and "White Guys".
— Roger Rawlings
by Peter Staudenmaier
Steiner proposed a combination of both progressive and regressive evolution, sometimes called evolution and involution; this was the basic scheme for Theosophy as a whole, and much of Steiner's version is quite similar to Blavatsky's, for example.  There's a very good discussion of this subject in Wouter Hanegraaff's book NEW AGE RELIGION AND WESTERN CULTURE: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1996), pp. 470-82. Steiner's line on the preeminence of human evolution goes more or less like this (and again largely follows Theosophical premises): The human spiritual entity predates the earth cycle and earthly life forms, but it took eons for humanity to emerge in physical form on the earth; this did not happen until the Lemurian period. Throughout this process, the evolving human impulse cast off its “lower forms” as varieties of plant and animal life. (The same thing will happen in the future with the separation of the good race and the evil race.) Thus humans weren't the first “life forms” on earth, if we take this in a biological sense, but they nevertheless preceded and gave rise to the other life forms on earth. As for the possibility of individual degeneration, this is crucial to the system as a whole, but operates across multiple incarnations rather than during one lifetime. It also characterizes entire peoples and races, in Steiner's view. Involution and evolution go hand-in-hand in Anthroposophy, as in other esoteric systems.
The basic idea behind the involution component of Steiner’s theory is that across long eons of development, the cosmos becomes increasingly dense, and spirit descends more and more into matter. This is in turn necessary for the upward movement of humanity becoming increasingly spiritual and less tied to matter. The process is racially structured; those souls that get stuck in obsolete racial and ethnic forms, for example Chinese or Jews, have become too attached to matter and thus can't progress spiritually. (This is also one chief reason why many Anthroposophists regard their own doctrines as antiracist, because the eventual goal of the process is to leave racial and ethnic particularity behind as vestiges of mere materiality and physicality.) It is basically up to each reincarnating soul to make the choice in favor of racial-spiritual advance or decline.
After evolving through Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon,
we arrived at Present Earth. Here is a peek at part of our Earth history:
"There was once a large expanse of land [Atlantis] where today there is the Atlantic Ocean ... In that earlier time there was not yet such a solid bony skeleton [i.e., we did not have bony skeletons]. Human beings could have had only soft cartilage, like sharks. Also they could not have breathed through lungs as we do today. At that time they had to have a kind of swimming bladder and a kind of gills, so that the human being who lived then was in his external form half man and half fish. We cannot escape the fact that man then looked quite different — half man and half fish ... The more imperfect of these fish-men became [i.e., degenerated to become] kangaroos, those a little more advanced became deer and cattle, and the most perfect became apes or men. You see from this that man did not descend from apes: man was there, and all the mammals really descended from him, from these human forms in which man remained imperfect. So we must say that the ape descended from man, not that man descended from the ape. That is so, and we must be quite clear about it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Anthroposophic Press, 1987), pp. 54-55.
[Floris Books, 2008.]
Like all Waldorf teachers' guides, this book rewards study.
Written by a Waldorf teacher for other Waldorf teachers, it explicitly rejects science while affirming (less explicitly) Anthroposophical dogma.
"Many of the books written for children are but watered down [sic] forms of [scientific evolution, Darwinism] ...
But if, directly or indirectly, this picture of the animal world [i.e., that humans evolved from lower animals] were impressed upon the child,
we would...implant into the child the seeds of brutal and ruthless egotism." [p. 11.]
The book also includes a hymn to be sung by Waldorf students [p. 134], thus underscoring the religious nature of Waldorf schooling.
The religion is Anthroposophy. The central lesson of the hymn is that man is the center and pinnacle of the created universe:
"Birds fly in the air with wings outspread.
Beasts trample the earth with heavy tread.
But upright walks Man holding high his head.
Praise God who made all things well.
"Sweet song cometh from small birds' beak.
The large beasts can roar and the small ones squeak.
But Man utters words, only he can speak.
Praise God who made all things well.
"Strong wings carry birds above the land.
On paws and on hoofs beasts walk, run, and stand.
But none can compare with the human hand.
Praise God who made all things well."
The hymn certainly flatters humanity, and most of us probably like the view it expresses.
But whether it accurately conveys the capacities of lower animals and the vast difference between them and humans is open to debate.
Be that as it may, we should ask ourselves why a Waldorf teachers' guide includes a hymn for use by the students.
* The title of the hymn is, literally, "Hymn".
According to Steiner, not only did humans not evolve from animals,
but the higher races did not evolve from the lower.
"Savage" races, like animals, evolved downward from good, upwardly evolving humans:
“So you see, gentlemen, we are not justified in thinking that [civilized] human beings were originally like the savages of today. The savages have developed into what they now are — with their superstitions, their magical practices and their unclean appearance — from states originally more perfect. The only superiority we have over them is that, while starting from the same conditions, we did not degenerate as they did. I might therefore say: The evolution of man has taken two paths. It is not true that the savages of today represent the original condition of mankind. Mankind, though to begin with it looked more animal-like, was highly civilized.
“Now perhaps you will ask: But were those original animal-like men the descendants of apes or of other animals? That is a natural question. You look at the apes as they are today and say: We are descended from those apes. Ah! but when human beings had their animal form, there were no such animals as our present apes! Men have not descended, therefore, from the apes. On the contrary! Just as the present savages have fallen from the level of the human beings of primeval times, so the apes are beings who have fallen still lower.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987), lecture 8, GA 354.
The "information" Steiner provided about various subjects
generally amounts to little more than fantasy.
It is objectionable for that reason
and for several other reasons as well.
“While it was enclosed within the earth, the moon provided the motherly, female qualities for the earth ... The forces the moon used to provide when it was part of the earth are now in the animals themselves. They bear the moon forces within them ... Nowadays the moon cannot do much more than stimulate the head ... It makes a big difference whether something is inside the earth or outside." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002), pp. 128-130. [R. R. sketch, 2009, based on the sketch on p. 130.]
Paintings by Waldorf students,
courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
Image: Rudolf Steiner, MENSCHHEITSENTWICKELUNG UND CHRISTUS-ERKENNTNIS, p. 245.
This schematic shows human evolution proceeding from Atlantis to modern Europe.
Two decadent branches leave the upward movement, depicting beings who failed to evolve properly.
One branch indicates animalism (Steiner taught that animals descend from humans),*
the other shows a form of human racial decadence.
Entwickelung der Menschheit : Development of Mankind
Atlantier: resident of Atlantis; Europäer: European
Affengeschlecht: apes (or ape species)
dekadente Abzweigung: decadent branching
Quoting a report from late in 2010, a correspondent at the waldorf-critics discussion group has posted:
"The 'Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien' (BPjM) ('Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons' [Germany]) examined 2 books by Rudolf Steiner for 'racist content' and decided that the content of the books is racist.**
"...The content of the book [by Rudolf Steiner] is, in the opinion of the board of 12 representatives, considered in part as an incitement to racial hatred, respectively as discriminating on grounds of race." [10-12-2011 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/21769]
* Steiner's description of evolution is far removed from Darwin's. According to Steiner, we did not evolve from animals, but in a sense animals evolved from us. Steiner said we have passed through various proto-human stages. At one stage, we were more or less ape-like. Most of us kept evolving and passed to a higher stage, but those beings who could not progress stayed at the apelike stage and became literal apes. This is what the lower branch depicts in the illustration above.
Steiner also taught that once we became modern humans, we evolved upward from low human races to higher races. He taught that human evolution occurs through the process of reincarnation. All of us began at a low racial level, he said, and most of us later evolved to higher levels — but those who could not progress stayed at a low level. The second branch in the illustration gives an example of people trapped at a "decadent" racial level. According to Steiner's teachings, the process of evolution from race to race continues today: People normally spend one life at a particular racial level and then return in a future life at a different racial level. Good people evolve upwards to higher races while wicked people evolve downwards to lower, decadent races — i.e., races that are, as a whole, withering. [See "Steiner's Racism".] Individuals in decadent races may free themselves by improving morally and moving upward even as the decadent races die out. But people who descend to lower and lower levels may meet a terrible fate. If the lowest, decadent races disappear, there will be no races low enough to accommodate the descending souls. These souls will therefore drop out of humanity altogether and become subhuman beings: nature spirits. [See "White Guys".]
** The books are SPIRITUAL-SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE OF THE HUMAN BEING and THE MISSION OF INDIVIDUAL FOLK-SOULS IN CONNECTION WITH GERMANIC-NORDIC MYTHOLOGY. [See "Steiner's Racism".]
The concept of a planned, progressive evolution
lies near the heart of Anthroposophy.
We have evolved from Old Jupiter (upper left)
to Present Earth (bottom — densely physical),
and we will evolve to Future Vulcan (upper right).
[R.R., 2009, based on b&w sketch in
Rudolf Steiner, THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN
(Anthroposophic Press, 1993), p. 179.]
The real world is okay. Really.
We don't need phantasmagoric alternatives
such as Steiner's.
Onward and Upward
Steiner's followers generally deny the truth of modern evolutionary theory.
Some are creationists; most accept Steiner's upside-down version of evolution.
The following may serve as a slight corrective.
On July 28, 2009, I posted the following message at
I have edited it slightly for inclusion here.
At the moment I happen to be reading THE BLIND WATCHMAKER by Richard Dawkins. He makes a crucial point that applies to the sorts of arguments Anthroposophists often offer in disputing scientific accounts of evolution.
Dawkins speaks of the "Argument from Personal Incredulity," which boils down to rejecting theories that you, personally, find impossible to believe. But how well informed are you? How much information do you possess in order to reach meaningful conclusions on the subject? How hard have you thought about the subject? How rational are your arguments? And does you personal capacity for belief or disbelief even matter?
Dawkins cites the case of Hugh Montefiore, the Bishop of Binghamton, who wrote THE PROBABILITY OF GOD. The Bishop relies heavily on the "Argument from Personal Incredulity" to "prove" that evolutionary science is wrong. His book is full of such phrases as "....there seems to be no explanation on Darwinian grounds.... It is no easier to explain... It is not easy to understand.... It is equally difficult to explain.... I do not find it easy to comprehend..... I do not find it easy to see.... I find it hard to understand.... It does not seem feasible to explain.... I cannot see how.... neoDarwinism seems inadequate to explain many of the complexities of animal behaviour.... it is not easy to comprehend how such behaviour could have evolved solely through natural selection.... It is impossible.... how could an organ so complex evolve?.... It is not easy to see.... It is difficult to see." — Dawkins, pp. 54-55.
In response, Dawkins writes:
“The Argument from Personal Incredulity is an extremely weak argument, as Darwin himself noted. In some cases it is based upon simple ignorance. For instance, one of the facts that the Bishop finds it difficult to understand is the white colour of polar bears. [Dawkins quotes the Bishop again:] ‘As for camouflage, this is not always easily explicable on neo-Darwinian premises. If polar bears are dominant in the Arctic, then there would seem to have been no need for them to evolve a white-coloured form of camouflage.’
Dawkins continues: “This should be translated: ‘I personally, off the top of my head sitting in my study, never having visited the Arctic, never having seen a polar bear in the wild, and having been educated in classical literature and theology, have not so far managed to think of a reason why polar bears might benefit from being white.’
Dawkins continues continuing: “In this particular case, the assumption being made is that only animals that are preyed upon need camouflage. What is overlooked is that predators also benefit from being concealed from their prey. Polar bears stalk seals resting on the ice. If the seal sees the bear coming from far-enough away, it can escape. I suspect that, if he imagines a dark grizzly bear trying to stalk seals over the snow, the Bishop will immediately see the answer to his problem. " — Dawkins, pp. 55-56.
Dawkins’ larger point is that critics of standard, scientific evolutionary theory misunderstand a basic reality. They think that Darwin taught that all evolutionary change is completely random, which they find impossible to believe. How could, for example, the human eye evolve completely randomly? The random evolution of such a fine organ is not credible. But this is not what Darwin taught, nor is it what modern biologists think. Small changes occur randomly, but the overall process of evolution is not at all random: It is controlled by the imperative necessity to survive and pass on ones’ genes. Evolution is, in this larger sense, not at all random nor difficult to comprehend.
More quotes from THE BLIND WATCHMAKER:
"Living things are too improbable and too beautifully 'designed' to have come into existence by chance. How then, did they come into existence ? The answer, Darwin's answer, is by gradual, step-by-step transformation from simple beginnings, from primordial entities sufficiently simple to have come about by chance. Each successive change in the gradual evolutionary process was simple enough, relative to its predecessor, to have arisen by chance. But the whole sequence of cumulative steps constitutes anything but a change process, when you consider the complexity of the final end-product relative to the original starting point. The cumulative process is directed by non-random survival."
"The underlying basis for the intuitive incredulity that we all are tempted to feel about what Darwin called 'organs of extreme perfection and complication' [such as the human eye] is, I think, twofold. First we have no intuitive grasp of the immensities of time available for evolutionary change. Most sceptics about natural selection are prepared to accept that it can bring about minor changes like the dark coloration that has evolved in various species of moth since the industrial revolution. But having accepted this, they then point out how small a change this is. I agree that this is a small change, no match for the evolution of the eye, or of echolocation (in bats). But equally, the moths only took a hundred years, to make their change. One hundred years seems to be a long time to us, because it is longer than our lifetime. But to a geologist, it is about a thousand times shorter than he can ordinarily measure!
<snip> “The second basis for our natural incredulity about the evolution of very complex organs like human eyes and bat ears is an intuitive application of probability theory. Bishop Montefiore quotes C. E. Raven on cuckoos. These lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, which then act as unwitting foster parents. Like so many biological adaptations, that of the cuckoo is not single but multiple. Several different facts about cuckoos fit them to their parasitic way of life. For instance, the mother has the habit of laying in other birds' nests, and the baby has the habit of throwing the host's own chicks out of the nest. Both habits help the cuckoo succeed in its parasitic way of life. Raven goes on: ‘It will be seen that each one of this sequence of conditions is essential for the success of the whole. Yet each by itself is useless. The whole opus perfectum must have been achieved simultaneously. The odds against the random occurrence of such a series of coincidences are, as we have already stated, astronomical.’
[Dawkins replies] “Arguments such as this are in principle more respectable than the argument based on sheer, naked incredulity. Measuring the statistical improbability of a suggestion is the right way to go about assessing its believability. Indeed, it is a method that we shall use in this book several times. But you have to do it right! There are two things wrong with the argument put by Raven. First, there is the familiar, and I have to say rather irritating, confusion of natural selection with 'randomness'. Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random. Second, it just isn't true that 'each by itself is useless'. It isn't true that the whole perfect work must have been achieved simultaneously. It isn't true that each part is essential for the success of the whole. A simple, rudimentary, half-cocked eye/ear/echolocation system/cuckoo parasitism system, etc., is better than none at all. Without an eye you are totally blind. With half an eye you may at least be able to detect the general direction of a predator's movement, even if you can't focus a clear image. And this may make all the difference between life and death.” — Dawkins, pp. 55 - 59.
In sum, a random change may lead to the evolution of rudimentary sensitivity to light. But then the non-random dictates of evolution take over. Being able to see, even very very dimly, is far better than being totally blind. Creatures who can see very very dimly gain an advantage over totally blind creatures; they survive while their blind competitors die out. Then, over millennia — vast, vast, slow, slow periods of time — primordial eyes evolve, becoming better and better. Ultimately, we wind up with the “perfect” human eye.
But in fact our eyes are far from perfect. They have blind spots, can’t see at all well at night, etc. Only a blind watchmaker would create such eyes; an omnipotent God could do much, much better. Even Steiner’s “gods” could do much better. Even ordinary, competent human engineers could do better.
Also, as Andrew Parker argues in IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE, an evolutionary change so radical and beneficial as sensitivity to light may trigger rapid evolutionary change. Modern evolutionary theory accepts this. The point, however, is that the “purpose” of evolution (survival and reproduction) does not have to be imposed by a designer. It is a perfectly natural, indeed inevitable, inherent characteristic of evolution.
So, evolution involves small, random changes, but the overall pattern of evolution is not random at all. Yet the products of evolution are far from being as well-designed as divine designers might have made them. What we have is a comprehensible, natural process that, even when unrolling “rapidly,” takes a very long time, and it does not require outside guidance as from a God or gods.
Does this prove the nonexistence of God or the “gods”? Of course not. Anthroposophists and others fear that making even minor concession to science and reason would undermine their entire belief system, but this is not true. At least, any belief system worth considering must be compatible with true information, knowledge. Buddhists and Catholics, to give just two examples, accept scientific truths. Anthroposophists could do so, too, if they were willing. They would have to make some adjustments in their thinking, but after all this is what Steiner presumably recommended when calling Anthroposophy a science.
— Roger Rawlings
The Defrauded Gorilla: "That Man wants to claim my Pedigree.
He says he is one of my Descendants."
Mr. Bergh: "Now, Mr. Darwin, how could you insult him so?"
White polar bear stalking white seals in the snow.
Photo of Charles Darwin: International Museum of Photography.
Cartoon: Harper's Weekly, 1871 (Bettmann/Corbs).
Both: ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 8. THE WORST SIDE ◊◊◊
The racial teachings deep in Anthroposophy that surface sometimes at Waldorfs
Problems in the doctrines
One of Steiner's suppressed lectures
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS
Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch
are closely connected to the essay on that page;
others are not — they provide general context.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE, Chapter 18: http://southerncrossreview.org/54/steiner-life18.htm .
 Roy Wilkinson, MAN AND ANIMAL, The Robinswood Press, Stourbridge, England, 1990, pp. 2-3, quoted in “Waldorf Schools Teach Odd Science, Odd Evolution,” by Eugenie C. Scott, National Center for Science Education (see http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/Eugenie_Scott_94.html ).
 Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 69-71.
Note how here, as so often, Steiner clearly rejects the findings of science. He knew better than some of his adherents that science was his enemy: Despite wistful claims he sometimes made, he seems to have known that science will never confirm his bizarre “theories,” not because of any bias against Anthroposophy, but simply because Anthroposophy has no basis in factual information.
 For this data, I chose a popular, widely used, plain-vanilla source: The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia, Mac OS X Edition, Version 6.0.2. This is scientific knowledge as generally recognized throughout the world today.
Steiner’s theory stands in opposition to Darwin’s. Many people dislike the idea of evolution in any form, but Darwinian evolution (unlike Steinerian evolution, creationism, and other opposing ideas) has been substantiated by vast accumulations of reliable information. No theory is absolute; all theories are subject to revision and, if they are finally proven wrong, replacement. But Darwin’s theory has, so far, not only survived but gained increased stature. To the extent that a biological theory can be proven, Darwin’s theory of evolution has been proven. “Darwin’s theory of evolution has become the bedrock of modern biology. But for most of the theory’s existence since 1859, even biologists have ignored or vigorously opposed it, in whole or in part. It is a testament to Darwin’s extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views.” — Nicholas Wade, “A Mind Still Prescient After All These Years” (THE NEW YORK TIMES, Feb. 10, 2009), p. D1.
The essential correctness of Darwin’s views eludes Anthroposophists. “I once spent two days in intense study of the fossils in the Natural History Museum in Vienna ... Darwin’s view of gradual evolution of lower into higher forms had no example that I could find to support it.” — Clopper Almon, A STUDY COMPANION TO AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 73. Spending two days in such an “intense study” is admirable, but is it sufficient to overthrow the evolutionary record patiently collected by evolutionary biologists over the last century and more? Almon proceeds to cite a dubious source, Michael Denton’s EVOLUTION: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1986). This is a thin reed on which to lean. From a review in the LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Denton pursues his avowed purpose, to critique the Darwinian model of evolution, in a manner alternately fascinating and tiresome. He details legitimate questions, some as old as Darwin's theory, some as new as molecular biology, but he also distorts or misrepresents other ‘problems.’ For example, he falls into the classic typological trap: organisms with the same name are all the same. He has Euparkeria as the closest possible ancestor of Archaeopteryx, thus displaying either ignorance or disregard for discoveries over the past two decades. He misunderstands or willfully misrepresents the nature of a cladogram as opposed to a phylogeny. Much of the book reads like creationist prattle....” — Walter P. Coombs, Jr., Biology Department, Western New England College. Of course, Darwin’s theory remains controversial — but primarily among uninformed laymen, not among biologists. Polemicists like Almon and Denton may strive to deny the scientific consensus, but they achieve little. Among scientists, the debate is essentially over. “Evolutionists no longer are concerned with obtaining evidence to support the fact of evolution but rather are concerned with what sorts of knowledge can be obtained from different sources of evidence.” — "evolution." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 15 Feb. 2009. Darwinian evolution is fact.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 26. Ibid.
 The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia.
 A further complication: Some of us are not really human. E.g., some “children are born with a human form, but are not really human beings....” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 649. I discuss Steiner’s views on subhumans elsewhere.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 49.
 Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 133.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL (Anthroposophic Press, 1994), p. 35.
 Helena Blavatsky was one of the founders of Theosophy, the religion from which Steiner’s Anthroposophy stems. See Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUALISM, MADAME BLAVATSKY, AND THEOSOPHY: An Eyewitness View of Occult History (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), and Helena Blavatsky, THE SECRET DOCTRINE (Theosophical University Press, reprint edition, 1999).