REINCARNATION AND KARMA
Concepts Compelled by the Modern Scientific Point of view
by Dr. Rudolf Steiner
Read this Essay in the original German
FRANCESCO REDI, the Italian natural scientist, was considered a dangerous heretic by the leading scholars of the seventeenth century because he maintained that even the lowest animals originate through reproduction. He narrowly escaped the martyr-destiny of Giordano Bruno or Galileo. For the orthodox scientist of that time believed that worms, insects, and even fish could originate out of lifeless mud. Redi maintained that which today is generally acknowledged: that all living creatures have descended from living creatures. He committed the sin of recognizing a truth two centuries before science found its “irrefutable” proof. Since Pasteur has carried out his investigations, there can be no longer any doubt about the fact that those cases were merely illusion in which people believed that living creatures could come into existence out of lifeless substances through “spontaneous generation”. The life germs entering such lifeless substances escaped observation. With proper means, Pasteur prevented the entrance of such germs into substances in which, ordinarily, small living creatures come into existence, and not even a trace of the living was formed. Thus it was demonstrated that the living springs only from the life germ. Redi had been completely correct.
Today, the spiritual scientist, the anthroposophist, finds himself in a situation similar to that of the Italian scientist.
On the basis of his knowledge, he must maintain in regard to the soul what Redi maintained in regard to life. He must maintain that the soul nature can spring only from the soul. And if science advances in the direction it has taken since the seventeenth century, then the time will come when, out of its own nature, science will uphold this view. For — and this must be emphasized again and again — the attitude of thought which underlies the anthroposophical conception of today is no other than the one underlying the scientific dictum that insects, worms and fish originate from life germs and not from mud. The anthroposophical conception maintains the postulate: “Every soul originates out of the soul nature,” in the same sense and with the same significance in which the scientist maintains: “Everything living originates out of the living.” (See Appendix (a))
Today's customs differ from those of the seventeenth century. The attitudes of mind underlying the customs have not changed particularly. To be sure, in the seventeenth century, heretical views were persecuted by means no longer considered human today. Today, spiritual scientists, anthroposophists, will not be threatened with burning at the stake: one is satisfied in rendering them harmless by branding them as visionaries and unclear thinkers. Current science designates them fools. The former execution through the inquisition has been replaced by modern, journalistic execution. The anthroposophists, however, remain steadfast; they console themselves in the consciousness that the time will come when some Virchow will say: “There was a time — fortunately it is now superceded — when people believed that the soul comes into existence by itself if certain complicated chemical and physical processes take place within the skull. Today, for every serious researcher this infantile conception must give way to the statement that everything pertaining to the soul springs from the soul.”
One must by no means believe that spiritual science intends to prove its truths through natural science. It must be emphasized, however, that spiritual science has an attitude of mind similar to that of true natural science. The anthroposophist accomplishes in the sphere of the soul life what the nature researcher strives to attain in the domains perceptible to the eyes and audible to the ears. There can be no contradiction between genuine natural science and spiritual science. The anthroposophist demonstrates that the laws which he postulates for the soul life are correspondingly valid also for the external phenomena of nature. He does so because he knows that the human sense of knowledge can only feel satisfied if it perceives that harmony, and not discord, rules among the various phenomenal realms of existence. Today most human beings who strive at all for knowledge and truth are acquainted with certain natural-scientific conceptions. Such truths can be acquired, so to speak, with the greatest ease. The science sections of newspapers disclose to the educated and uneducated alike the laws according to which the perfect animals develop out of the imperfect, they disclose the profound relationship between man and the anthropoid ape, and smart magazine writers never tire of inculcating their readers with their conception of “spirit” in the age of the “great Darwin.” They very seldom add that in Darwin's main treatise there is to be found the statement: “I hold that all organic beings that have ever lived on this earth have descended from one primordial form into which the creator breathed the breath of life.” (Origin of Species, Vol. II, chapter XV.) — In our age it is most important to show again and again that Anthroposophy does not treat the conceptions of “the breathing in of life” and the soul as lightly as Darwin and many a Darwinian, but that its truths do not contradict the findings of true nature research. Anthroposophy does not wish to penetrate into the mysteries of spirit-life upon the crutches of natural science of the present age, but it merely wishes to say: “Recognize the laws of the spiritual life and you will find these sublime laws verified in corresponding form if you descend to the domain in which you can see with eyes and hear with ears.” Natural science of the present age does not contradict spiritual science; on the contrary, it is itself elemental spiritual science. Only because Haeckel applied to the evolution of animal life the laws which the psychologists since ancient days have applied to the soul, did he achieve such beautiful results in the field of animal life. If he himself is not of this conviction, it does not matter; he simply does not know the laws of the soul, nor is he acquainted with the research which can be carried on in the field of the soul. (see Note 1). The significance of his findings in his field is thereby not diminished. Great men have the faults of their virtues. Our task is to show that Haeckel in the field where he is competent is nothing but an anthroposophist. — By linking up with the natural-scientific knowledge of the present age, still another aid offers itself to the spiritual scientist. The objects of outer nature are, so to speak, to be grasped by our hands. It is, therefore, easy to expound their laws. It is not difficult to realize that plants change when they are transplanted from one region into another. Nor is it hard to visualize that a certain animal species loses its power of eyesight when it lives for a certain length of time in dark caves. By demonstrating the laws which are active in such processes, it is easy to lead over to the less manifest, less comprehensible laws which we encounter in the field of the soul life. — if the anthroposophist employs natural science as an aid, he merely does so in order to illustrate what he is saying. He has to show that anthroposophic truths, with respective modifications, are to be found in the domain of natural science, and that natural science cannot be anything but elemental spiritual science; and he has to employ natural-scientific concepts in order to lead over to his concepts of a higher nature.
The objection might be raised here that any inclination toward present-day natural-scientific conceptions might put spiritual science into an awkward position for the simple reason that these conceptions themselves rest upon a completely uncertain foundation. It is true: There are scientists who consider certain fundamental principles of Darwinism as irrefutable, and there are others who even today speak of a “crisis in Darwinism.” The former consider the concepts of “the omnipotence of natural selection” and “the struggle for survival” to be a comprehensive explanation of the evolution of living creatures; the latter consider this “struggle for survival” to be one of the infantile complaints of modern science and speak of the “impotence of natural selection.” — If matters depended upon these specific, problematic questions, it were certainly better for the anthroposophist to pay no attention to them and to wait for a more propitious moment when an agreement with natural science might be achieved. But matters do not depend upon these problems. What is important, however, is a certain attitude, a mode of thought within natural-scientific research in our age, certain definite great guiding lines, which are adhered to everywhere, even though the thoughts of various researchers and thinkers concerning specific questions diverge widely. It is true: Ernst Haeckel's and Virchow's conceptions of the “genesis of man” diverge greatly. But the anthroposophical thinker might consider himself fortunate if leading personalities were to think as clearly about certain comprehensive viewpoints concerning the soul life as these opponents think about that which they consider absolutely certain in spite of their disagreement. Neither the adherents of Haeckel nor those of Virchow search today for the origin of worms in lifeless mud; neither the former nor the latter doubt that “all living creatures originate from the living,” in the sense designated above. — In psychology we have not yet advanced so far. Clarity is completely lacking concerning a view point which might be compared with such scientific fundamental convictions. Whoever wishes to explain the shape and mode of life of a worm knows that he has to consider its ovum and ancestors; he knows the direction in which his research must proceed, although the viewpoints may differ concerning other aspects of the question, or even the statement may be made that the time is not yet ripe when definite thoughts may be formed concerning this or that point. — Where, in psychology, is there to be found a similar clarity? The fact that the soul (see Appendix (b)) has spiritual qualities, just as the worm has physical ones, does not cause the researcher to approach — as he should — the one fact with the same attitude of mind as he approaches the other. To be sure, our age is under the influence of thought habits which prevent innumerable people, occupied with these problems, from entering at all properly upon such demands. — True, it will be admitted that the soul qualities of a human being must originate somewhere just as do the physical ones. The reasons are being sought for the fact that the souls of a group of children are so different from one another, although the children all grew up and were educated under identical circumstances; that even twins differ from one another in essential characteristics, although they always lived at the same place and under the care of the same nurse. The case of the Siamese Twins is quoted, whose final years of life were, allegedly, spent in great discomfort in consequence of their opposite sympathies concerning the North-American Civil War. We do not deny that careful thought and observation have been directed upon such phenomena and that remarkable studies have been made and results achieved. But the fact remains that these efforts concerning the soul life are on a par with the efforts of a scientist who maintains that living creatures originate from lifeless mud. In order to explain the lower psychic qualities, we are undoubtedly justified in pointing to the physical forebears and in speaking of heredity, just as we do in the case of bodily traits. But we deliberately close our eyes to the most important aspect of the matter if we proceed in the same direction with respect to the higher soul qualities, the actually spiritual in man. We have become accustomed to regard these higher soul qualities as a mere enhancement, as a higher degree of the lower ones. And we therefore believe that an explanation might satisfy us which follows the same lines as the explanation offered for the soul qualities of the animal.
It is not to be denied that the observation of certain soul functions of higher animals may easily lead to this mistaken conception. We only need draw attention to the fact that dogs show remarkable proof of a faithful memory; that horses, noticing the loss of a horse shoe, walk of their own accord to the blacksmith who has shod them before; that animals which are shut up in a room, can by themselves open the door; we might quote many more of these astonishing facts. Certainly, the anthroposophist, too, will not refrain from admitting the possibility of continued enhancement of animal faculties. But must we, for that reason, obliterate the difference between the lower soul traits which man shares with the animal, and the higher spiritual qualities which man alone possesses? This can only be done by someone who is completely blinded by the dogmatic prejudice of a “science” which wishes to stick fast to the facts of the coarse, physical senses. Simply consider what is established by indisputable observation, namely, that animals, even the highest-developed ones, cannot count and therefore are unable to learn arithmetic. The fact that the human being is distinguished from the animal by his ability to count was considered a significant insight even in ancient schools of wisdom. — Counting is the simplest, the most insignificant of the higher soul faculties. For that very reason we cite it here, because it indicates the point where the animal-soul element passes over into the spirit-soul element, into the higher human element. Of course, it is very easy to raise objections here also. First, one might say that we have not yet reached the end of the world and that we might one day succeed in what we have not yet been able to do, namely, to teach counting to intelligent animals. And secondly, one might point to the fact that the brain has reached a higher stage of perfection in man than in the animal, and that herein lies the reason for the human brain's higher degrees of soul activity. We may fully concur with the persons who raise these objections. Yet we are in the same position concerning those people who, in regard to the fact that all living creatures spring from the living, maintain over and over again that the worm is governed by the same chemical and physical laws that govern the mud, only in a more complicated manner. Nothing can be done for a person who wishes to disclose the secrets of nature by means of trivialities and what is self-evident. There are people who consider the degree of insight they have attained to be the most penetrating imaginable and to whom, therefore, it never occurs that there might be someone else able to raise the same trivial objections, did he not see their worthlessness. — No objection can be raised against the conception that all higher processes in the world are merely higher degrees of the lower processes to be found in the mud. But just as it is impossible for a person of insight today to maintain that the worm originates from the mud, so is it impossible for a clear thinker to force the spirit-soul nature into the same concept-pattern as that of the animal-soul nature. Just as we remain within the sphere of the living in order to explain the descent of the living, so must we remain in the sphere of the soul-spirit nature in order to understand the soul-spirit nature's origin.
There are facts which may be observed everywhere and which are bypassed by countless people without their paying any attention to them. Then someone appears who, by becoming aware of one of these facts, discovers a fundamental and far-reaching truth. It is reported that Galileo discovered the important law of the pendulum by observing a swinging chandelier in the cathedral of Pisa. Up to that time, innumerable people had seen swinging church lamps without making this decisive observation. What matters in such cases is that we connect the right thoughts with the things we see. Now, there exists a fact which is quite generally accessible and which, when viewed in an appropriate manner, throws a clear light upon the character of the soul-spirit nature. This is the simple truth that every human being has a biography, but not the animal. To be sure, certain people will say: Is it not possible to write the life story of a cat or a dog? The answer must be: Undoubtedly it is; but there is also a kind of school exercise which requires the children to describe the fate of a pen. The important point here is that the biography has the same fundamental significance in regard to the individual human being as the description of the species has in regard to the animal. Just as I am interested in the description of the lion-species in regard to the lion, so am I interested in the biography in regard to the individual human being. By describing their human species, I have not exhaustively described Schiller, Goethe, and Heine, as would be the case regarding the single lion once I have recognized it as a member of its species. The individual human being is more than a member of his species. Like the animal, he shares the characteristics of his species with his physical forebears. But where these characteristics terminate, there begins for the human being his unique position, his task in the world. And where this begins, all possibility of an explanation according to the pattern of animal-physical heredity ceases. I may trace back Schiller's nose and hair, perhaps even certain characteristics of his temperament, to corresponding traits in his ancestors, but never his genius. And naturally, this does not only hold good for Schiller. This also holds good for Mrs. Miller of Gotham. In her case also, if we are but willing, we shall find soul-spiritual characteristics which cannot be traced back to her parents and grand-parents in the same way we can trace the shape of her nose or the blue color of her eyes. It is true, Goethe has said that he had received from his father his figure and his serious conduct of life, and from his little mother his joyous nature and power of fantasy, and that, as a consequence, nothing original was to be found in the whole man. But in spite of this, nobody will try to trace back Goethe's gifts to father and mother — and be satisfied with it — in the same sense in which we trace back the form and manner of life of the lion to his forebears. — This is the direction in which psychology must proceed if it wishes to parallel the natural-scientific postulate that “all living creatures originate from the living” with the corresponding postulate that “everything of the nature of the soul is to be explained by the soul-nature.” We intend to follow up this direction and show how the laws of reincarnation and karma, seen from this point of view, are a natural-scientific necessity. It seems most peculiar that so many people pass by the question of the origin of the soul-nature simply because they fear that they might find themselves caught in an uncertain field of knowledge. They will be shown what the great scientist Carl Gegenbaur (see Note 2) has said about Darwinism. Even if the direct assertions of Darwin may not be entirely correct, yet they have led to discoveries which without them would not have been made. In a convincing manner Darwin has pointed to the evolution of one form of life out of another one, and this has stimulated the research into the relationships of such forms. Even those who contest the errors of Darwinism ought to realize that this same Darwinism has brought clarity and certainty to the research into animal and plant evolution, thus throwing light into dark reaches of the working of nature. Its errors will be overcome by itself. If it did not exist, we should not have its beneficial consequences. In regard to the spiritual life, the person who fears uncertainty concerning the anthroposophical conception ought to concede to it the same possibility; even though anthroposophical teachings were not completely correct, yet they would, out of their very nature, lead to the light concerning the riddles of the soul. To them, too, we shall owe clarity and certainty. And since they are concerned with our spiritual destiny, our human destination, our highest tasks, the bringing about of this clarity and certainty ought to be the most significant concern of our life. In this sphere, striving for knowledge is at the same time a moral necessity, an absolute moral duty.
David Friedrich Strauss endeavored to furnish a kind of Bible for the “enlightened” human being in his book, Der alte und neue Glaube (Faith — Ancient and Modern). “Modern faith” is to be based on the revelations of natural science, and not on the revelations of “ancient faith” which, in the opinion of this apostle of enlightenment, have been superceded. This new Bible has been written under the impression of Darwinism by a personality who says to himself: Whoever, like myself, counts himself among the enlightened, has ceased, long before Darwin, to believe in “supernatural revelation” and its miracles. He has made it clear to himself that in nature there hold sway necessary, immutable laws, and whatever miracles are reported in the Bible would be disturbances, interruptions of these laws; and there cannot be such disturbances and interruptions. We know from the laws of nature that the dead cannot be reawakened to life: therefore, Jesus cannot have reawakened Lazarus. — However, — so this enlightened person continues — there was a gap in our explanation of nature. We were able to understand how the phenomena of the lifeless may be explained through immutable laws of nature; but we were unable to form a natural conception about the origin of the manifold species of plants and animals and of the human being himself. To be sure, we believed that in their case also we are concerned merely with necessary laws of nature; but we did not know their nature nor their mode of action. Try as we might, we were unable to raise reasonable objection to the statement of Carl von Linné (see Note 3), the great nature-researcher of the eighteenth century, that there exist as many “species in the animal and plant kingdom as were originally created in principle.” Were we not confronted here with as many miracles of creation as with species of plants and animals? Of what use was our conviction that God was unable to raise Lazarus through a supernatural interference with the natural order, through a miracle, when we had to assume the existence of such supernatural deeds in countless numbers. Then Darwin appeared and showed us that, through immutable laws of nature (natural selection and struggle for life), the plant and animal species come into existence just as do the lifeless phenomena. Our gap in the explanation of nature was filled.
Out of the mood which this conviction engendered in him, David Friedrich Strauss wrote down the following statement of his “ancient and modern belief”: “We philosophers and critical theologians spoke to no purpose in denying the existence of miracles; our authoritative decree faded away without effect because we were unable to prove their dispensability and give evidence of a nature force which could replace them in the fields where up to now they were deemed most indispensable. Darwin has given proof of this nature force, this nature process, he has opened the door through which a fortunate posterity will cast the miracle into oblivion. Everybody who knows what is connected with the concept ‘miracle’ will praise him as one of the greatest benefactors of the human race.”
These words express the mood of the victor. And all those who feel like Strauss may disclose the following view of the “modern faith”: Once upon a time, lifeless particles of matter have conglomerated through their inherent forces in such a way as to produce living matter. This living matter developed, according to necessary laws, into the simplest, most imperfect living creatures. These, according to similarly necessary laws, transformed themselves further into the worm, the fish, the snake, the marsupial, and finally into the ape. And since Huxley, the great English nature researcher, has demonstrated that human beings are more similar in their structure to the most highly developed apes than the latter are to the lower apes, what then stands in the way of the assumption that the human being himself has, according to the same natural laws, developed from the higher apes? And further, do we not find what we call higher human spiritual activity, what we call morals, in an imperfect condition already with the animal. May we doubt the fact that the animals — as their structure became more perfect, as it developed into the human form, merely on the basis of physical laws — likewise developed the indications of intellect and morals to be found in them to the human stage?
All this seems to be perfectly correct. Although everybody must admit that our knowledge of nature will not for a long time to come be in the position to conceive of how what has been described above takes place in detail, yet we shall discover more and more facts and laws; and thus the “modern faith” will gain more and firmer supports.
Now it is a fact that the research and study of recent years have not furnished such solid supports for this belief; on the contrary, they have contributed greatly to discredit it. Yet it holds sway in ever extending circles and is a great obstacle to every other conviction.
There is no doubt that if David Friedrich Strauss and those of like mind are right, then all talk of higher spiritual laws of existence is an absurdity; the “modern faith” would have to be based solely on the foundations which these personalities assert are the result of the knowledge of nature.
Yet, whoever with unprejudiced mind follows up the statements of these adherents of the “modern faith” is confronted by a peculiar fact. And this fact presses upon us most irresistibly if we look at the thoughts of those people who have preserved some degree of impartiality in the face of the self-assured assertions of these orthodox pioneers of progress.
For there are hidden corners in the creed of these modern believers. And if we uncover what exists in these corners, then the true findings of modern natural science shine forth in full brilliance, but the opinions of the modern believers concerning the human being begin to fade away. (See Appendix (c))
Let us throw light into a few of these corners. At the outset, let us keep to that personality who is the most significant and the most venerable of these modern believers. On page 804 of the ninth edition of Haeckel's Natuerliche Schoepfungsgeschichte (Natural Genesis) we read: “The final result of a comparison of animals and man shows that between the most highly developed animal souls and the lowest human souls there exists only a small quantitative, but no qualitative difference; this difference is much smaller than the difference between the lowest and the highest human souls, or the difference between the highest and the lowest animal souls.” Now, what is the modern believer's attitude toward such a fact? He announces: we must explain the difference between the lower and the higher animal souls as a consequence of necessary and immutable laws. And we study these laws. We ask ourselves: how did it come about that out of animals with a lower soul have developed those with a higher soul? We look in nature for conditions through which the lower may develop into the higher. We then find, for example, that animals which have migrated to the caves of Kentucky become blind there. It becomes clear to us that through the sojourn in the darkness the eyes have lost their function. In these eyes the physical and chemical processes no longer take place which were carried out during the act of seeing. The stream of nourishment which has formerly been used for this activity is now diverted to other organs. The animals change their shape. In this way, new animal species can arise out of existing ones if only the transformation which nature causes in these species is sufficiently great and manifold. — What actually takes place here? Nature brings about changes in certain beings; and these changes later also appear in their descendants. We say: they are transmitted by heredity. Thus the coming into existence of new animal and plant species is explained.
The modern believers now continue happily in the direction of their explanation. The difference between the lowest human souls and the highest animal souls is not particularly great. Therefore, certain life conditions in which the higher animal souls have been placed have brought about changes by means of which they became lower human souls. The miracle of the evolution of the human soul has been cast out of the temple of the “modern faith” into oblivion, to use an expression of Strauss', and man has been classified among the animals according to “eternal, necessary” laws. Satisfied, the modern believer retires into peaceful slumber; he does not wish to go further.
Honest thinking must disturb his slumber. For this honest thinking must keep alive around his couch the spirits which he himself has evoked. Let us consider more closely the above statement of Haeckel: “the difference (between higher animals and men) is much smaller than the difference between the lowest and the highest human souls.” If the modern believer admits this, may he then indulge in peaceful slumber as soon as he — according to his opinion — has explained the evolution of the lower men out of the highest animals?
No, he must not do this, and if he does so nevertheless, then he denies the whole basis upon which he has founded his conviction. What would a modern believer reply to another who were to say: I have demonstrated how fish have originated from lower living creatures. This suffices. I have shown that everything evolves — therefore the species higher than the fish will doubtless have developed like the fish. There is no doubt that the modern believer would reply: Your general thought of evolution is useless; you must be able to show how the mammals originate; for there is a greater difference between mammals and fish than between fish and those animals on a stage directly below them. — And what would have to be the consequence of the modern believer's real faithfulness to his creed? He would have to say: the difference between the higher and lower human souls is greater than the difference between these lower souls and the animal souls on the stage directly below them; therefore I must admit that there are causes in the universe which effect changes in the lower human soul, transforming it in the same way as do the causes, demonstrated by me, which lead the lower animal form into the higher one. If I do not admit this, the species of human souls remain for me a miracle in regard to their origin, just as the various animal species remain a miracle to the one who does not believe in the transformation of living creatures through laws of nature.
And this is absolutely correct: the modern believers, who deem themselves so greatly enlightened because they believe they have “cast out” the miracle in the domain of the living, are believers in miracles, nay, even worshipers of the miracle in the domain of the soul life. And only the following fact differentiates them from the believers in miracles, so greatly despised by them: these latter honestly avow their belief; the modern believers, however, have not the slightest inkling of the fact that they themselves have fallen prey to the darkest superstition.
And now let us illumine another corner of the “modern belief.” In his Anthropology, Dr. Paul Topinard (see Note 4) has beautifully compiled the findings of the modern theory of the origin of man. At the end of his book he briefly recapitulates the evolution of the higher animal forms in the various epochs of the earth according to Haeckel: “At the beginning of the earth period designated by geologists the Laurentian period, the first nuclei of albumin were formed by a chance meeting of certain elements, i.e. carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, under conditions probably only prevailing at that epoch. From them, through spontaneous generation, monads developed (the smallest, imperfect living creatures). These split and multiplied, rearranged themselves into organs, and finally, after a series of transformations which Haeckel estimates as nine, they bestowed life upon certain vertebrae such as the amphioxus lanceolatus.” We may skip the description of the further animal species in the same direction and add here at once Topinard's concluding sentences: “In the twentieth earth epoch, we find the anthropoid ape approximately during the whole Miocene period; in the twenty-first, the man-ape which does not yet possess speech and a corresponding brain. In the twenty-second period, Man finally appears as we know him, at least in his less perfect forms.” And now, after having cited what is to be understood as the “natural-scientific basis of the modern belief,” Topinard, in a few words, makes a significant confession. He says: “Here the classification comes to an abrupt halt. Haeckel forgets the twenty-third degree in which the brilliant Lamarck (see Note 5) and Newton (see Note 6) appear.”
A corner in the creed of the modern believer is thereby exposed in which he points with the utmost clarity to facts, concerning which he denies his creed. He is unwilling to rise into the human soul sphere with the concepts with which he tried to find his way in the other spheres of nature. — Were he to do this, were he, with his attitude of mind acquired through the observation of external nature, to enter upon the sphere which Topinard calls the twenty-third degree, then he would have to say to himself: just as I derive the higher animal species from the lower through evolution, so do I derive the higher soul nature from the lower through evolution. I cannot understand Newton's soul if I do not conceive of it as having sprung from a preceding soul being. And this soul being can never be looked for in the physical ancestors. Were I to look for it there, I would turn upside down the whole method of nature research. How could it ever occur to a scientist to show the evolution of one animal species out of another if the latter, in regard to its physical makeup, were as dissimilar to the former as Newton, in regard to his soul, is to his forebears: One conceives of one animal species having proceeded from a similar one which is merely one degree lower than itself. Therefore, Newton's soul must have sprung from a soul similar to it, but only one degree lower, psychically. Newton's soul nature is comprised in his biography. I recognize Newton by his biography just as I recognize a lion by the description of its species. And I comprehend the species “lion” if I imagine that it has sprung from a species on a correspondingly lower stage. Thus I comprehend what is comprised in Newton's biography if I conceive of it as having developed from the biography of a soul which resembles it, is related to it as soul. From this follows that Newton's soul existed already in another form, just as the species “lion” existed previously in a different form.
For clear thought, there is no escape from this conception. Only because the modern believers do not have the courage to think their thoughts through to the end do they not arrive at this final conclusion. Through it, however, the reappearance of the being who is comprised in the biography is secured. — Either we must abandon the whole natural-scientific theory of evolution, or we must admit that it must be extended to include the evolution of the soul. There are only two alternatives: either, every soul is created by a miracle, just as the animal species would have to be created by miracles if they have not developed one out of the other, or, the soul has developed and has previously existed in another form, just as the animal species has existed in another form.
A few modern thinkers who have preserved some clarity and courage for logical thinking are a living proof of the above conclusion. They are just as unable to familiarize themselves with the thought of soul evolution, so strange to our age, as are the modern believers characterized above. But they at least possess the courage to confess the only other possible view, namely: the miracle of the creation of the soul. Thus, in the book on psychology by Professor Johannes Rehmke (see Note 7), one of the best thinkers of our time, we may read the following: “The idea of creation ... appears to us ... to be the only one suited to render comprehensible the mystery of the origin of the soul.” Rehmke goes so far as to acknowledge the existence of a conscious Universal-Being who, “as the only condition for the origin of the soul, would have to be called the creator of the soul.” Thus speaks a thinker who is unwilling to indulge in gentle spiritual slumber after having grasped the physical life processes, yet who is lacking the capacity of acknowledging the idea that each individual soul has evolved out of its previous form of existence. Rehmke has the courage to accept the miracle, since he is unable to have the courage to acknowledge the anthroposophical view of the reappearance of the soul, of reincarnation. Thinkers in whom the natural-scientific striving begins to be developed logically must of necessity arrive at this view. Thus, in the book, Neuchristentum und reale Religion (Neo-Christianity and Real Religion), by Julius Baumann (see Note 8), professor of philosophy at the University of Goettingen, we find the following (twenty-second) paragraph among the thirty-nine paragraphs of a Sketch of a Summary of Real-Scientific Religion: “Just as in inorganic nature the physical-chemical elements and forces do not disappear but only change their combinations, so is this also to be assumed, according to the real scientific method, in respect of the organic and organic-spiritual forces. The Human soul as formal unity, as connecting Ego, returns in new human bodies and is thus enabled to pass through all the stages of human evolution.”
Whoever possesses the full courage for the natural-scientific avowal of faith of the present age must arrive at this conception. This, however, must not be misunderstood;we do not maintain that the more prominent thinkers among the modern believers are cowardly persons, in the ordinary sense of the word. It needed courage, indescribable courage to carry to victory the natural-scientific view in face of the resisting forces of the nineteenth century. (See Appendix (d)) But this courage must be distinguished from the higher one in regard to logical thinking. Yet just those nature researchers of the present age who desire to erect a world conception out of the findings of their domain are lacking such logical thinking. For, is it not a disgrace if we have to hear a sentence like the following, which was pronounced by the Breslau chemist Albert Ladenburg, in a lecture at a recent (1903) Conference of scientists: “Do we know anything about a substratum of the soul? I have no such knowledge.” After having made this confession, this same man continues: “What is your opinion concerning immortality? I believe that in regard to this question, more than in regard to any other, the wish is father to the thought, for I do not know a single scientifically proven fact which might serve as the basis for the belief in immortality.” What would the learned gentleman say if we were confronted by a speaker who said: “I know nothing about chemical facts. I therefore deny the chemical laws, for I know not a single scientifically proven fact which might serve as the basis for these laws.” Certainly, the professor would reply: “What do we care about your ignorance of chemistry? First study chemistry, then do your talking!” Professor Ladenburg does not know anything about a substratum of the soul; he, therefore, should not bother the world with the findings of his ignorance.
Just as the nature researcher, in order to understand certain animal forms, studies the animal forms out of which these former have evolved, so the psychologist, rooted in natural science, must, in order to understand a certain soul form, study the soul form out of which the former has evolved. The skull form of higher animals is explained by scientists as having arisen out of the transformation of the lower animal skull. Therefore, everything belonging to a soul's biography ought to be explained by them through the biography of the soul out of which this soul concerned has evolved. The later conditions are the effects of former ones. That is to say, the later physical conditions are the effects of former physical conditions; likewise, the later soul conditions are the effects of former soul conditions. This is the content of the Law of Karma which says: all my talents and deeds in my present life do not exist separately as a miracle, but they are connected as effect with the previous forms of existence of my soul and as cause with future ones.
Those who, with open spiritual eyes, observe human life and do not know this comprehensive law, or do not wish to acknowledge it, are constantly confronted by riddles of life. Let us quote one example for many. It is contained in Maurice Maeterlinck's book Le Temple Enseveli (The Buried Temple). This is a book which speaks of these riddles, which appear to present-day thinkers in a distorted shape because they are not conversant with the great laws in spiritual life of cause and effect, of Karma. Those who have fallen prey to the limited dogmas of the modern believers have no organ for the perception of such riddles. Maeterlinck puts [forth] one of these questions: “If I plunge into the water in zero weather in order to save my fellow man, or if I fall into the water while trying to push him into it, the consequences of the cold I catch will be exactly the same in both cases, and no power in heaven or earth beside myself or the man (if he is able to do so) will increase my suffering because I have committed a crime, or will relieve my pain because I performed a virtuous deed.” Certainly; the consequences in question here appear to an observation which limits itself to physical facts to be the same in both cases. But may this observation, without further research, be considered complete? Whoever asserts this holds, as a thinker, the same view point as a person who observes two boys being taught by two different teachers, and who observes nothing else in this activity but the fact that in both cases the teachers are occupied with the two boys for the same number of hours and carry on the same studies. If he were to enter more deeply upon the facts, he would perhaps observe a great difference between the two cases, and he would consider it comprehensible that one boy grows up to be an inefficient man, while the other boy becomes an excellent and capable human being. — And if the person who is willing to enter upon soul-spiritual connections were to observe the above consequences for the souls of the human beings in question, he would have to say to himself: what happens there cannot be considered as isolated facts. The consequences of a cold are soul experiences, and I must, if they are not to be deemed a miracle, view them as causes and effects in the soul life. The consequences for the person who saves a life will spring from causes different from those for the criminal; or they will, in the one or the other case, have different effects. And if I cannot find these causes and effects in the present life of the people concerned, if all conditions are alike for this present life, then I must look for the compensation in the past and the future life. Then I proceed exactly like the natural scientist in the field of external facts; he, too, explains the lack of eyes in animals living in dark caves by previous experiences, and he presupposes that present-day experiences will have their effects in future formations of races and species.
Only he has an inner right to speak of evolution in the domain of outer nature who acknowledges this evolution also in the sphere of soul and spirit. Now, it is clear that this acknowledgment, this extension of knowledge of nature beyond nature is more than mere cognition. For it transforms cognition into life; it does not merely enrich man's knowledge, it provides him with the strength for his life's journey. It shows him whence he comes and whither he goes. And it will show him this whence and whither beyond birth and death if he steadfastly follows the direction which this knowledge indicates. He knows that everything he does is a link in the stream which flows from eternity to eternity. The point of view from which he regulates his life becomes higher and higher. The man who has not attained to this state of mind appears as though enveloped in a dense fog, for he has no idea of his true being, of his origin and goal. He follows the impulses of his nature, without any insight into these impulses. He must confess that he might follow quite different impulses, were he to illuminate his path with the light of knowledge. Under the influence of such an attitude of soul, the sense of responsibility in regard to life grows constantly. If the human being does not develop this sense of responsibility in himself, he denies, in a higher sense, his humanness. Knowledge lacking the aim to ennoble the human being is merely the satisfying of a higher curiosity. To raise knowledge to the comprehension of the spiritual, in order that it may become the strength of the whole life, is, in a higher sense, duty. Thus it is the duty of every human being to seek the understanding for the Whence and Whither of the Soul. [see How Karma Works — e.Ed.]