One of the most influential thinkers within New Age consciousness is Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961), whose impact lingers long after his death. The modern movement known as Jungism still attracts many because of a perceived spirituality. But it is an anti-Christian spirituality which relies upon naturalistic evolution and neopaganism.
The son of a minister, Jung rejected Christianity in 1912 and embraced the polygamous beliefs practised by Dr Otto Gross. Jung went on to promote his own cult religion of rebirth and individuation, and told the story of his own ‘deification’ in 1925.
Jung was profoundly influenced by the writings of Ernst Haeckel, the German professor of zoology and zealous nineteenth century evolutionist, and especially by Haeckel’s so-called Biogenetic Law.1 Haeckel’s infamous concept of ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ was shown early in the 1900s to be false, and now has few supporters. Nevertheless, the idea of recapitulation has served as an important vehicle in evolutionary mythology, and it made a great impact on Jung.
In a frank treatment of Jung’s life and ideas, Richard Noll describes how Jung’s views changed markedly during his life, but evolution remained central to his theories about existence and meaning. Spiritualism and evolutionary biology formed the basis of his psychoanalysis theories which were intended to replace Christianity.2
As for the adverse impact of evolutionary theory upon modern belief systems, it is sobering to reflect upon how Jung finally rationalized away any lingering Christian prohibitions against mistresses:
‘What did Jung discover about himself in [Otto] Gross? … Perhaps the natural state of humans who were civilized only in the last few thousand years after a million or so of evolution was indeed the primal polygamy of our ancestors … only suited for tribal life in a small Gemeinschaft [community] of hunters and gatherers … this notion of biologically based polygamous impulses from an ancestral past as a major determinant of human social behaviour [is] gaining scientific ascendancy in the work of sociobiologists and “evolutionary personality psychologists” in the 1990s.’3
Jungian theory and mystical New Age concepts are still widely influential, with exaggerated emphasis being made on personality types and the meaning of feelings.
Evolution and Freud
Jung was not the only thinker profoundly influenced by evolutionary beliefs. Within the psychoanalysis movement which arose in the nineteenth century, evolutionary beliefs were central to theories developed by Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and his colleagues, disciples and foes. Belief in recapitulation theory and inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarckianism) were of crucial importance in stimulating theories about supposed ancestral behaviour now affecting modern human beings.
The ideas of committed evolutionists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Alfred Russel Wallace, Ernst Haeckel, and Charles Darwin made an enormous impact on late nineteenth century society. Darwin was also a major early figure in the growing science of the mind later developed more fully by Freud and others.
Darwin’s belief that man had descended from lower animals led him to delve into the evolution of intelligence and the origin of instincts and emotions—hence his 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published one year after The Descent of Man. Frank Sulloway has shown just how much Freud owed to Darwin’s earlier speculation:
‘Darwin’s [M and N] notebooks touch repeatedly upon unconscious mental processes and conflicts; upon psychopathology (including double consciousness, mania, delirium, senility, intoxication, and a variety of other psychosomatic phenomena); upon the psychopathology of everyday life (for example, forgetting and involuntary recall); upon dreaming (Darwin records three of his own dreams and subjects them to partial psychological analysis); upon the psychology of love and the phenomena of sexual excitation … and upon the evolution of the aesthetic sense, of morality, and of religious belief.’4
Darwin’s strong influence
Thus, the influence of belief in evolution upon the early developing psychoanalysis movement cannot be overemphasized. In addition to Freud and Jung, many other theorists developed themes which derived from evolutionary recapitulation/Lamarckian perspectives. Darwin’s influence was all-important:
‘It is certainly fitting that the influence of Charles Darwin, the man whose evolutionary writings did so much to encourage young Freud in the study of biology and medicine, should have been so instrumental in turning psychoanalysis into a dynamic, and especially a genetic, psychobiology of mind. Indeed, perhaps nowhere was the impact of Darwin, direct and indirect, more exemplary or fruitful outside of biology proper than within Freudian psychoanalysis. Yet it was not until Freud had freed himself from the quest for a neurophysiological theory of mind that he finally began to reap the full benefits of this Darwinian legacy within psychoanalytic theory. By then—the late 1890s—Darwin’s influence upon Freud’s scientific generation had become so extensive that Freud himself probably never knew just how much he really owed to this one intellectual source … Freud, toward the end of his life, recommended that the study of evolution be included in every prospective psychoanalyst’s program of training.’5
Much emphasis was placed in the early developing psychoanalysis movement upon human behaviour being explicable primarily in sexual/evolutionary concepts. Indeed, without such naturalistic evolutionary underpinning, it is hard to see how Freudian psychoanalysis could even exist.’6
Unfortunately for Freud and his colleagues, disciples, and foes within the psychoanalysis movement, both recapitulation theory and Lamarckian acquired characteristics came to be widely seen as erroneous scientific beliefs and were eventually abandoned by almost everyone.
Freud himself refused the urging of colleagues to accept this bad news, and instead continued to cling thereafter to belief in recapitulation theory and inheritance of acquired characteristics. The prospect of being shown to be completely mistaken about such cherished lifelong evolutionary beliefs was obviously too painful for him to accept.