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Freud: The Darwin of the Human Psyche

Ian Taylor

Sigmund FreudCharles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx have often been regarded as that unholy trinity who, in the 19th century, laid the foundation for today's pagan society. Darwin gave the world biological evolution in 1859. Freud later developed the notion to give us the evolution of the human psyche, while at about the same time Marx told us how society would evolve. The following short exposé shows the important influence of Darwin on Freud's thinking and includes some very recent disclosures.

Born in 1856 to a Jewish family, Sigmund Freud lived virtually all his life in Vienna, Austria; he left during the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 and died of cancer in London the following year. Freud's parents were not Orthodox Jews, but he did have some instruction in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, he was put off by ritual and thoroughly put off by what he saw of Christianity; as a child, he was often taken to Mass by his Catholic nurse. He graduated in medicine in 1881, spent some time in neurological research and became convinced that humans were mere mechanisms and the human brain but a complex of electrical circuitry. At the age of 30 he began his own practice developing the psychoanalytic techniques for which he is now famous. In 1884 he worked on the therapeutic use of cocaine and began to use it on himself as he found it enabled him to work better; he became a life-long user. He lost professional credibility, however, when it was discovered that cocaine was addictive. For this reason, and the fact that the medical fraternity considered psychoanalysis a "Jewish doctrine," Freud and his small band of followers were never highly esteemed in Europe. He was more regarded in England and especially in America, where patients had more money to spend on the time-consuming psychoanalysis.

A rather revealing insight into Freud's nature is that he visited an art dealer weekly to pick up art objects. Many of these were Egyptian and Oriental and were plainly idols; indeed, the famous id is the name of a Sumerian river god. Concerning these idols, Engelman (1972, 2:74) noted in a photographic essay that Freud "looked at them continuously while working and talking to patients" (p. 75). The discerning reader may appreciate that his inspiration was unlikely to have been from the best source. Darwin's Origin of Species, published in 1859, had been translated into German the following year and found enthusiastic followers in both Germany and Austria, namely Vienna. Ernst Haeckel became Darwin's chief apostle in Germany and produced his celebrated Biogenetic Law in 1868, which said that the human embryo recapitulates all the prior stages in human evolution. Thus, we were said to have gills like a fish at around 12 weeks, because during human evolution we went through an amphibian stage.

Wilhelm His, a famous German embryologist, showed in 1874 that Haeckel's "Law" was based on some deliberately altered drawings and was patently untrue. Nevertheless, the Biogenetic Law still appeared in school textbooks as evidence for evolution for the next century (Taylor 1984, 274). This "Law" was to have a profound influence on Freud"s theory of religion, as we shall later see.

Freud eagerly read German editions of Darwin's Origin and his Descent of Man and confessed that Darwin's work had been the main motive in his deciding upon a scientific career. Upon graduation from medical school in 1881, he worked for Ernst BrŸcke, a German physiologist and thoroughgoing Darwinian. It is not surprising then that, being so thoroughly steeped in evolution, Freud was convinced that early humans lived in hordes dominated by a male. This was to be the foundation for his theory of the origin of religion. But historically his interests were first in physiology, where the financial reward was too meager, then in psychoanalysis, where the income was more lucrative and helped support his young family.

One of Freud's early patients was Emma Eckstein, an attractive single lady of 28 who had irrepressible sexual urges, considered something of a mortal sin in the 1890s. Freud consulted with his colleague, Wilhelm Fleiss, and in the dawning light of Freud's sexual theories, both were convinced of a connection between the sex organs and the nose and decided the only recourse was to operate on the woman's nose. This they did, and in a bungled neglect to remove interior gauze, almost lost the patient. Incredible as this story is, this event formed part of the brave beginnings of the heady science of psychoanalysis and neuropsychiatry! (Masson 1984, 55).

The official works of Freud occupy 24 large volumes  but there is yet a gold mine of unpublished papers in the archives of the Library of Congress, Washington. Disclosure has been forbidden until the 21st century; however, there have been some leaks, including the Emma Eckstein affair and a revelation of Freud's "seduction theory." Published in 1896, his classic paper titled "Study of Hysteria" argues that the origin of adult neuroses lay in sexual abuse and trauma in childhood. Most of his patients were women, and his approach to their problems became known as the "seduction theory."

Little known, however, is the fact that in September 1897 Freud effectively abandoned his theory by arguing that the reported childhood experiences of rape and sexual molestation were not actually real, but were imagined.  Classical Freudian psychoanalytical methods have been based on this premise ever since. Masson (1984) discovered that Freud abandoned his theory because in the 1890s it was "too offensive" to the male-dominated scientific establishment. Today, with the sex abuse of children coming out of the closet, we can see that his original "seduction theory" was probably based upon fact, and Freudian psychoanalysis has in effect made liars out of all those patients genuinely suffering from the effects of childhood sexual abuse during the past century. Naturally, orthodox Freudians do not take kindly to this news, and today there is much argument within the head-shrinker fraternity.

Always looking for a father figure, Freud himself became the father of psychoanalysis in the early 1900s and gathered about him a little band of followers. One of these was Carl Jung, who fell out with Freud in 1914, and from then on their doctrines and followers went their separate ways. However, the story behind this was brought about by the discovery in 1977 of some private correspondence between the Russian Jewess Sabrina Spielrein, Carl Jung and Freud.

Sabrina and Jung were at one time lovers, but Sabrina's love turned to open hostility when Jung married another woman. A psychoanalyst herself, she then played Freud against Jung and began what became opposing schools of analytic thought. This little insight serves to remind us that the immortals on Mount Science have feet of clay, and it is undoubtedly for this reason that Freud's more private papers have been concealed from the light of day.

In the early 1900s Freud's interests drifted from psychoanalysis to ethnology. The purpose was to develop a thesis he called "metapsychology," or the evolution of human religious ideas. He drew deeply at the evolutionary well of an ungodly British trio: Edward Tyler, Robertson Smith and James Frazer. Tyler was the first to interpret anthropological data in evolutionary terms and was professor of the subject at Oxford. He claimed that religion had developed in a straight line from the Stone Age to the present time with variations along the way. He believed that by studying the religions of primitive tribes it would be possible to define the earliest religion. Smith was a brilliant man in several disciplines and was sold out to Darwin's evolution. He believed that totemism, or the veneration of a sacred animal as an action, as a rite, or a cult, was the original religion.

Frazer drew from both Tyler and Smith, combining their ideas with the old Babylonian mystery religion and backing the new thesis with a prodigious amount of ethnological data in his Golden Bough. Freud, at heart a physiologist, brought all these ideas together in a grand synthesis partly published in 1912 in his Totem and Taboo, while the biological aspects have been revealed in some "lost manuscripts" recently discovered by Ilse Simitis (1987). Freud's entire theory on the origin of religion is so far-fetched that as much as is possible will be repeated here in his own words from his autobiography:

“The father of the primal horde, since he was an unlimited despot, had seized all the women for himself; his sons, being dangerous to him as rivals, had been killed or driven away. One day, however, the sons came together and united to overwhelm, kill, and devour their father, who had been their enemy but also their ideal. After the deed they were unable to take over their heritage since they stood in one another's way. Under the influence of failure and remorse they learned to come to an agreement among themselves; they banded themselves into a clan of brothers by the help of the ordinances of totemism, which aimed at preventing a repetition of such a deed, and they jointly undertook to forgo the possession of the women on whose account they had killed their father. They were then driven to finding strange women, and this was the origin of the exogramy [not breeding with members of one's own clan] which is so closely bound up with totemism. The totem meal was the festival commemorating the fearful deed from which sprang man's sense of guilt (or "original sin") and which was the beginning at once of social organization, of religion and of ethical restrictions.

Now whether we suppose that such a possibility was a historical event or not, it brings the formation of religion within the circle of the father complex and bases it upon ambivalence which dominates that complex. After the totem animal had ceased to serve as a substitute for him, the primal father, at once feared and hated, revered and envied, became the prototype of God himself. The son's rebelliousness and his affection  for his father struggled against each other through a constant succession  of compromises, which sought on the one hand to atone for the act of patricide [killing the father] and on the other to consolidate the advantages it had brought. This view of religion throws a particularly clear light upon the psychological basis of Christianity, in which, as we know, the ceremony of the totem meal still survives with but little distortion in the form of Communion. I would like explicitly to mention that this last observation was not made by me but is to be found in the works of Robertson Smith and Frazer.” (Strachey 1959, 20:68).

The theme here of the son killing his father and later unknowingly marrying his own mother will be recognized as that of Sophocles play Oedipus the King. This is precisely the root of Freud's famous Oedipus complex, and thus religion itself is based entirely on the Oedipus complex of humanity as a whole.

As if all this was not bad enough, Simitis' discovery of the paper titled by Freud Phylogenetic Fantasy adds fuel to this fire of madness. Freud believed that different psychiatric illnesses typically tend to surface at different ages. The earliest was anxiety hysteria, followed by conversion hysteria [here he actually means religious conversion, while psychoanalysts today have a technique to deal with this serious malady!], obsessional neuroses, paranoia, melancholia, mania and finally, dementia precox [now known as schizophrenia].

Freud had been completely taken in by Ernst Haeckel's fraudulent Biogenetic Law and believed that, just as the human embryo recapitulates prior stages of evolution, so the various psychoneuroses tend to develop in the human psyche recapitulating particular crises in prehistory. He suggested that there was a time in the past when all was peace, contentment and joy represented by the story of the Garden of Eden, but this was shattered by the Ice Age and the war over women between father and sons. The ice changed the friendly world into a mass of threatening perils, and human beings suffered anxiety hysteria. Food was short and frustrations over denial of sex led to conversion hysteria, which in Freud's view was often linked with the denial of sex. Too little sex forced our ancestors to start using their brains: they became intelligent and started to talk …. The fantasy goes on and, while the chronology for his sequence of mental illnesses is now out of date, there is no doubt that this nonsense will be added to that already taught in the universities to explain the origins of our religious beliefs. This, then, is the depth to which human reason has plummeted by adopting Darwin and allowing atheism to develop as its creed.


Engelman, E. 1972. Engelman's farewell view. CA: Intellectual Digest 2[Jan.]:74.

Frazer, J.G. 1890. The Golden Bough. London: Macmillan. 2 vols.

Masson, J.M. 1984. The Assault on Truth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Semitis, I.G. 1987. Sigmund Freud: A Phylogenetic Fantasy. Cambridge: Harvard U. Smith, R. 1898. Lectures on the Religion of the Semites. Edinburgh: A. & C. Black.

Strachey, J. 1959. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Toronto: Clarke Irwin. 24 vols.


Engelman, E. 1972. Engelman's farewell view. CA: Intellectual Digest 2[Jan.]:74. Frazer, J.G. 1890. The Golden Bough. London: Macmillan. 2 vols. Masson, J.M. 1984. The Assault on Truth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Semitis, I.G. 1987. Sigmund Freud.

Photo: Sigmund Freud. (PD)