People in the 19th century had strange ideas about evolution (the theosophists, among others), and I guess some of those ideas are still here. Basically, the idea is that species evolve from a more primitive to a more sophisticated form. What happens in reality is that the species “fork”, they branch out, and each branch is then subject to outside pressures, under which it either goes extinct, or survives. This creates an appearance of evolution of the species, but species don’t actually evolve. They just go extinct, or not. The fact that we still have billions of years old single-cell species, as well as hundreds of millions of years old multi-cell species is evidence enough that species don’t evolve. Yes, they branch out and diversify all the time, but sometimes all of those modified branches die out because they are less resistant to extinction than the original version, which persists. A horseshoe crab is one such example; a shark is another.
Evolution is an illusion which is perceived when you have several mutated branches of a species, and one such branch survives the extinction pressures, while the others do not; then you get the impression that the species evolved to survive.
What actually behaves exactly like people in the 19th century believed the species behave, is the soul – an aggregate of karmic substance, if you will. It starts as a simple structure, and if it continues to evolve (which is not necessarily the case) it can grow in both size and complexity, and it can respond to “evolutionary pressures” by changing into something that is better suited to the environment.
This is the greatest danger posed by this world – it creates an upside-down set of evolutionary pressures and criteria for success, and if you take it seriously (and you are very much motivated to do so) you will make spiritual choices that will re-shape your soul into something that is better suited for survival and success here. Not in the spiritual world, which is the home and the natural environment of the soul, but here.
Let’s see what that means. Let’s imagine that your physical body can evolve the way people think the species evolve – adapt into a more successful form when the environment changes. Let’s say you swim in the sea, and you understand that you’re poorly adapted for it, and you “evolve” into something similar to a seal, and then a dolphin. However, then something changes and you are pulled back to the land, your original home, and you have a little mermaid experience, being completely misshaped and crippled by your previously made choices to adapt to the sea, and you find out that you are now in essence a blob of dysfunctional, dying mess, because you can’t change back effectively, or quickly enough for it to matter. Basically, this world is “the sea” to the soul – unnatural environment with laws that don’t make sense in the real world your soul had evolved for. If you adapt to be successful under the rules of this place, you’ll have to evolve into a dolphin or a jellyfish, and guess what happens when you return to “dry land” of the real world. You discover that you turned yourself into a monster, unfit for anything. The idea from the New Age movement of the 1990s, that the purpose of this world is to help you evolve by providing evolutionary pressure is not wrong – however, the idea that your evolution will go into the direction that will be recognized as improvement according to the criteria of the spiritual realms is highly dubious. By “evolving” you probably think being prodded to turn into an angel of God or an enlightened being; however, the creator of this place had other ideas and priorities. Basically, you think the pressures of this world will help you be a better person, while in fact it is designed to help you become a better jellyfish.
That’s why Christianity is so much better a religion than Judaism and Islam; it understands that criteria of success, as defined by this world, are on a completely unrelated dimension, in relation to success as defined by God and the spiritual realms – basically, what this world casts away, God embraces, and what this world embraces, God casts away. Judaism, Islam (and heretical forms of Christianity such as protestantism) think in terms that God is the ultimate power here and everywhere, He makes all the rules everywhere, and if He likes someone, He rewards him with treasures and success of all kinds, and if someone is seen as unworthy, God punishes him by denying him success and all the good things of the world. The revolution of Christ’s teaching is that this world is in fact not ruled by God – “the Prince of this world” is the title that belongs to Satan. Satan can bestow worldly gifts, either as a temptation or as a way to make one stray from the true path of God, and God can expose those dearest to Him to great trials, deprivations, suffering and death in this world. Basically, what Jesus revealed is that the criteria of this world are not the same as the criteria of God – in fact, it would be proper to say that they are almost perpendicular. Success in terms of the world means to acquire more wealth and more control over other men, and produce the greatest number of most successful offspring. Success in terms of God means to acquire spiritual qualities that are of God – basically, to look at the light of God, and see it as your own, and radiate it outwards into other beings and things, to the greater glory of God. This light of God is the light of spirit, and of understanding that God is the supreme, most fundamental reality of all, and to shine this light means to make it grow in other beings, make others grow in awareness of God, in spiritual beauty, consciousness, bliss, power and reality. As you can see, intersection between those two criteria-sets is very vague, and trying to attain full success under one set of criteria all but guarantees failure according to the other set. As Jesus also said, it might not be the best idea to completely disregard the criteria of this world, and it’s good to “give to Caesar that which is of Caesar”, which is something that was all-but-ignored in the dark ages, when Christians neglected the worldly sphere to a fault, but the fundamental lesson is that you should think twice before you envy those who have great success in this place, because they might be a jellyfish in heaven, having evolved to thrive in this world but to fail in the real one created by God, and also think twice before feeling pity for a pathetic beggar because that might be Milarepa, or for a condemned criminal on a cross of execution, because that might be Jesus. If a world is designed to humiliate God, it would be foolish to expect God to be the greatest of winners in all worldly things.