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MANY years ago, in the clay which in every part of the world is found underlying beds of coal, a peculiar fossil was discovered and named by science Stigmaria. It occurred in great abundance and in many countries, and from the strange way in which it ramified through the clay it was supposed to be some extinct variety of a gigantic water-weed. In the coal itself another fossil was discovered, almost as abundant but far more beautiful, and from the exquisite carving which ornamented its fluted stem it received the name of Sigillaria. One day a Canadian geologist, studying Sigillaria in the field, made a new discovery. Finding the trunk of a Sigillaria standing erect in a bed of coal, he traced the column downwards to the clay beneath. To his surprise he found it ended in Stigmaria. This branching fossil in the clay was no longer a water-weed. It was the root of which Sigillaria was the stem, and the clay was the soil in which the great coal-plant grew.
Through many chapters, often in the dark, everywhere hampered by the clay, we have been working among roots. Of what are they the roots? To what order do they belong? By what process have they grown? What connection have they with the realm above, or the realm beneath? Is it a Stigmaria or a Sigillaria world?
Till yesterday Science did not recognize them even as roots. They were classified apart. They led to nothing. No organic connection was known between lower Nature and that wholly separate and all but antagonistic realm, the higher world of Man. Atoms, cells, plants, animals were the material products of a separate creation, the clay from which Man took his clay-body, and no more. The higher world, also, was a system by itself. It rose out of nothing; it rested upon nothing. Clay, where the roots lay, was the product of inorganic forces; Coal, which enshrined the tree, was a creation of the sunlight. What fellowship had light with darkness? What possible connection could exist between that beautiful organism which stood erect in the living, and that which lay prone in the dead? Yet, by a process doubly verified, the organic connection between these two has now been traced. Working upwards through the clay the biologist finds what he took to be an organism of the clay leaving his domain and passing into a world above —a world which he had scarcely noticed before, and into which, with such instruments as he employs, he cannot follow it. Working downward through the higher world, the psychologist, the moralist, the sociologist, behold the even more wonderful spectacle of the things they had counted a peculiar possession of the upper kingdom, burying themselves in ever attenuating forms in the clay beneath. What is to be made of this discovery? Once more, Is it a Stigmaria or a Sigillaria world? Is the biologist to give up his clay or the moralist his higher kingdom? Are Mind, Morals, Men, to be interpreted in terms of roots, or are atoms and cells to be judged by the flowers and fruits of the tree?
The first fruit of the discovery must be that each shall explore with new respect the other’s world, and, instead of delighting to accentuate their contrasts, strive to magnify their infinite harmonies. Old as is the world’s vision of a cosmos, and universal as has been its dream of the unity of Nature, neither has ever stood before the imagination complete. Poetry felt, but never knew, that the universe was one; Biology perceived the profound chemical balance between the inorganic and organic kingdoms, and no more; Physics, discovering the correlation of forces, constructed a cosmos of its own; Astronomy, through the law of gravitation, linked us, but mechanically, with the stars. But it was reserved for Evolution to make the final revelation of the unity of the world, to comprehend everything under one generalization, to explain everything by one great end. Its omnipresent eye saw every phenomenon and every law. It gathered all that is and has been into one last whole—a whole whose very perfection consists in the all but infinite distinctions of the things which it unites.
What is often dreaded in Evolution—the danger of obliterating distinctions that are vital—is a groundless fear. Stigmaria can never be anything more than root, and Sigillaria can never be anything less than stem. To show their connection is not to transpose their properties. The wider the distinctions seen among their properties the profounder is the Thought which unites them, the more rich and rational the Cosmos which comprehends them. For “the unity which we see in Nature is that kind of Unity which the Mind recognizes as the result of operations similar to its own—not a unity which consists in mere sameness of material, or in mere identity of composition, or in mere uniformity of structure; but a unity which consists in the subordination of all these to similar aims, not to similar principles of action—that is to say, in like methods of yoking a few elementary forces to the discharge of special functions, and to the production, by adjustment, of one harmonious whole.”9393Duke of Argyll, The Unity of Nature, p. 44.
Yet did Sigillaria grow out of Stigmaria? Did Mind, Morals, Men, evolve out of Matter? Surely if one is the tree and the other the root of that tree, and if Evolution means the passage of the one into the other, there is no escape from this conclusion—no escape therefore from the crassest materialism? If this is really the situation, the lower must then include the higher, and Evolution, after all, be a process of the clay? This is a frequent, a natural, and a wholly unreflecting inference from a very common way of stating the Evolution theory. It arises from a total misconception of what a root is. Because a thing is seen to have roots, it is assumed that it has grown out of these roots, and must therefore belong to the root-order. But neither of these things is true in Nature. Are the stem, branch, leaf, flower, fruit of a tree roots? Do they belong to the root-order? They do not. Their whole morphology is different; their whole physiology is different; their reactions upon the world around are different. But it must be allowed that they are at least contained in the root? No single one of them is contained in the root. If not in the root, then in the clay? Neither are they contained in the clay. But they grow out of clay, are they not made out of clay? They do not grow out of clay, and they are not made out of clay. It is astounding sometimes how little those who venture to criticize biological processes seem to know of its simplest facts. Fill a flower-pot with clay, and plant in it a seedling. At the end of four years it has become a small tree; it is six feet high; it weighs ten pounds. But the clay in the pot is still there? A moiety of it has gone, but it is not appreciably diminished; it has not, except the moiety, passed into the tree; the tree does not live on clay nor on any force contained in the clay. It cannot have grown out of the seedling, for the seedling contained but a grain for every pound contained in the tree. It cannot have grown from the root, because the root is there now, has lost nothing to the tree, has itself gained from the tree, and at first was no more there than the tree.
Sigillaria, then, as representing the ethical order, did not grow out of Stigmaria as representing the organic or the material order. Trees not only do not evolve out of their roots, but whole classes in the plant world—the sea-weeds for instance—have no roots at all. If any possible relation exists it is exactly the opposite one—it is the root which evolves from the tree. Trees send down roots in a far truer sense than roots send up trees. Yet neither is the whole truth. The true function of the root is to give stability to the tree, and to afford a medium for conveying into it inorganic matter from without. And this brings us face to face with the real relation. Tree and root—the seed apart—find their explanation not in one another nor in something in themselves, but mainly in something outside themselves. The secret of Evolution lies, in short, with the Environment. In the Environment, in that in which things live and move and have their being, is found the secret of their being, and especially of their becoming. And what is that in which things live and move and have their being? It is Nature, the world, the cosmos—and something more, some One more, an Infinite Intelligence and an Eternal Will. Everything that lives, lives in virtue of its correspondences with this Environment. Evolution is not to unfold from within; it is to infold from without. Growth is no mere extension from a root but a taking possession of, or a being possessed by, an ever widening Environment, a continuous process of assimilation of the seen or Unseen, a ceaseless redistribution of energies flowing into the evolving organism from the Universe around it. The supreme factor in all development is Environment. Half the confusions which reign round the process of Evolution, and half the objections to it, arise from considering the evolving object as a self-sufficient whole. Produce an organism, plant, animal, man, society, which will evolve in vacuo and the right is yours to say that the tree lies in the root, the flower in the bud, the man in the embryo, the social organism in the family of an anthropoid ape. If an organism is to be judged in terms of the immediate Environment of its roots, the tree is a clay tree; but if it is to be judged by stem, leaves, fruit, it is not a clay tree. If the moral or social organism is to be judged in terms of the Environment of its roots, the moral and social organism is a material organism; but if it is to be judged in terms of the higher influences which enter into the making of its stem, leaves, fruit, it is not a material organism. Everything that lives, and every part of everything that lives, enters into relation with different parts of the Environment and with different things in the Environment; and at every step of its Ascent it compasses new ranges of the Environment, and is acted upon, and acts, in different ways from those in which it was acted upon, or acted, at the previous stage.
For what is most of all essential to remember is that not only is Environment the prime factor in development, but that the Environment itself rises with every evolution of any form of life. To regard the Environment as a fixed quantity and a fixed quality is, next to ignoring the altruistic factor, the cardinal error of evolutional philosophy. With every step a climber rises up a mountain side his Environment must change. At a thousand feet the air is lighter and purer than at a hundred, and as the effect varies with the cause, all the reactions of the air upon his body are altered at the higher level. His pulse quickens ; his spirit grows more buoyant; the energies of the upper world flow in upon him. All the other phenomena change—the plants are Alpine, the animals are a hardier race, the temperature falls, the very world he left behind wears a different look. At three thousand feet the causes, the effects, and the phenomena change again. The horizon is wider, the light intenser, the air colder, the top nearer; the nether world recedes from view. At six thousand feet, if we may accentuate the illustration till it contains more of the emphasis of the reality, he enters the region of snow. Here is a change brought about by a small and perfectly natural rise which yet amounts to a revolution. Another thousand feet and there is another revolution—he is ushered into the domain of mist. Still another thousand, and the climax of change has come. He stands at the top, and, behold, the Sun. None of the things he has encountered in his progress toward the top are new things. They are the normal phenomena of altitude—the scenes, the energies, the correspondences, natural to the higher slopes. He did not create any of these things as he rose; they were not created as he rose; they did not lie potentially in the plains or in the mountain foot. What has happened is simply that in rising he has encountered them—some for the first time, which are therefore wholly new to him; others which, though known before, now flow into his being in such fuller measure, or enter into such fresh relations among themselves, or with the changed being which at every step he has become, as to be also practically new.
Man, in his long pilgrimage upwards from the clay, passes through regions of ever varying character. Each breath drawn and utilized to make one upward step brings him into relation with a fractionally higher air, a fractionally different world. The new energies he there receives are utilized, and in virtue of them he rises to a third, and from a third to a fourth. As in the animal kingdom the senses open one by one—the eye progressing from the mere discernment of light and darkness to the blurred image of things near, and then to clearer vision of the more remote; the ear passing from the tremulous sense of vibration to distinguish with ever increasing delicacy the sounds of far-off things —so in the higher world the moral and spiritual senses rise and quicken till they compass qualities unknown before and impossible to the limited faculties of the earlier life. So Man, not by any innate tendency to progress in himself, nor by the energies inherent in the protoplasmic cell from which he first set out, but by a continuous feeding and reinforcing of the process from without, attains the higher altitudes, and from the sense-world at the mountain foot ascends with ennobled and ennobling faculties until he greets the Sun.
What is the Environment of the Social tree? It is all the things, and all the persons, and all the influences, and all the forces with which, at each successive stage of progress, it enters into correspondence. And this Environment inevitably expands as the Social tree expands and extends its correspondences. At the savage stage Man compasses one set of relations, at the rude social stage another, at the civilized stage a third, and each has its own reactions. The social, the moral, and the religious forces beat upon all social beings in the order in which the capacities for them unfold, and according to the measure in which the capacities themselves are fitted to contain them. And from what ultimate source do they come? There is only one source of everything in the world. They come from the same source as the Carbonic Acid Gas, the Oxygen, the Nitrogen, and the Vapour of Water, which from the outer world enter into the growing plant. These also visit the plant in the order in which the capacities for them unfold, and according to the measure in which these capacities can contain them.
The fact that the higher principles come from the same Environment as those of the plant, nevertheless does not imply that they are the same as those which enter into the plant. In the plant they are physical, in Man spiritual. If anything is to be implied it is not that the spiritual energies are physical, but that the physical energies are spiritual. To call the things in the physical world “material” takes us no nearer the natural, no further away from the spiritual The roots of a tree may rise from what we call a physical world; the leaves may be bathed by physical atoms; even the energy of the tree may be solar energy, but the tree is itself; The tree is a Thought, a unity, a rational purposeful whole; the “matter” is but the medium of their expression. Call it all—matter, energy, tree —a physical production, and have we yet touched its ultimate reality? Are we even quite sure that what we call a physical world is, after all, a physical world? The preponderating view of science at present is that it is not. The very term “material world,” we are told, is a misnomer; that the world is a spiritual world, merely employing “matter” for its manifestations.
But surely here is still a fallacy. Are not these so-called social forces the effect of Society and not its cause? Has not Society to generate them before they regenerate Society? True, but to generate is not to create. Society is machinery, a medium for the transmission of energy, but no more a medium for its creation than a steam engine is for the creation of its energy. Whence then the social energies? The answer is as before. Whence the physical energies? And Science has only one answer to that. “Consider the position into which Science has brought us. We are led by scientific logic to an unseen, and by scientific analogy to the spirituality of this unseen. In fine, our conclusion is, that the visible universe has been developed by an intelligence resident in the Unseen.”9494Balfour Stewart and Tait, The Unseen Universe, 6th edition, p. 221. There is only one theory of the method of Creation in the field, and that is Evolution; but there is only one theory of origins in the field, and that is Creation. Instead of abolishing a creative Hand, Evolution demands it. Instead of being opposed to Creation, all theories of Evolution begin by assuming it. If Science does not formally posit it, it never posits anything less. “The doctrine of Evolution,” writes Mr. Huxley, “is neither theistic nor anti-theistic. It has no more to do with theism than the first book of Euclid has. It does not even come in contact with theism considered as a scientific doctrine.” But when it touches the question of origins, it is either theistic or silent. “Behind the co-operating forces of Nature,” says Weismann, “which aim at a purpose, we must admit a cause, . . . inconceivable in its nature. of which we can only say one thing with certainty, that it must be theological.”
The fallacy of the merely quantitative theory of Evolution is apparent. To interpret any organism in terms of the organism solely is to omit reference to the main instrument of its Evolution, and therefore to leave the process, scientifically and philosophically, unexplained. It is as if one were to construct a theory of the career of a millionaire in terms of the pocket-money allowed him when a schoolboy. Disregard the fact that more pocket-money was allowed the schoolboy as he passed from the first form to the sixth; that his allowance was increased as he came of age; that now, being a man, not a boy, he was capable of more wisely spending it; that being wise he put his money to paying uses; and that interest and capital were invested and re-invested as years went on—disregard all this and you cannot account for the rise of the millionaire. As well construct the millionaire from the potential gold contained in his first sixpence—a sixpence which never left his pocket—as construct a theory of the Evolution of Man from the protoplasmic cell apart from its Environment. It is only when interpreted, not in terms of himself, but in terms of Environment, and of an Environment increasingly appropriated, quantitatively and qualitatively, with each fresh stage of the advance, that a consistent theory is possible, or that the true nature of Evolution can appear.
A child does not grow out of a child by spontaneous unfoldings. The process is fed from without. The body assimilates food, the mind assimilates books, the moral nature draws upon affection, the religious faculties nourish the higher being from Ideals. Time brings not only more things, but new things; the higher nature inaugurates possession of, or by, the higher order. “It lies in the very nature of the case that the earliest form of that which lives and develops is the least adequate to its nature, and therefore that from which we can get the least distinct clue to the inner principle of that nature. Hence to trace a living being back to its beginning, and to explain what follows by such beginning, would be simply to omit almost all that characterizes it, and then to suppose that in what remains we have the secret of its existence. That is not really to explain it, but to explain it away; for on this method, we necessarily reduce the features that distinguish it to a minimum and, when we have done so, the remainder may well seem to be itself reducible to something in which the principle in question does not manifest itself at all. If we carry the animal back to protoplasm, it may readily seem possible to explain it as a chemical compound. And, in like manner, by the same minimizing process, we may seem to succeed in reducing consciousness and self-consciousness in its simplest form to sensation, and sensation in its simplest form to something not essentially different from the nutritive life of plants. The fallacy of the sorites may thus be used to conceal all qualitative changes under the guise of quantitative addition or diminution, and to bridge over all difference by the idea of gradual transition. For, as the old school of etymologists showed, if we are at liberty to interpose as many connecting links as we please, it becomes easy to imagine that things the most heterogeneous should spring out of each other. While, however, the hypothesis of gradual change—change proceeding by infinitesimal stages which melt into each other so that the eye cannot detect where one begins and the other ends—makes such a transition easier for imagination, it does nothing to diminish the difficulty or the wonder of it for thought.”9595Edward Caird, The Evolution of Religion, Vol. I., pp. 49-50.
The value of philosophical criticism to science has seldom appeared to more advantage than in these words of the Master of Balliol. The following passage from Martineau may be fitly placed beside them:—“In not a few of the progressionists the weak illusion is unmistakable, that, with time enough, you may get everything out of next-to-nothing. Grant us, they seem to say, any tiniest granule of power, so close upon zero that it is not worth begrudging—allow it some trifling tendency to infinitesimal movement—and we will show you how this little stock became the kosmos, without ever taking a step worth thinking of, much less constituting a case for design. The argument is a mere appeal to an incompetency in the human imagination, in virtue of which magnitudes evading conception are treated as out of existence; and an aggregate of inappreciable increments is simultaneously equated,—in its cause to nothing, in its effect to the whole of things. You manifestly want the same causality, whether concentrated in a moment or distributed through incalculable ages; only in drawing upon it a logical theft is more easily committed piecemeal than wholesale. Surely it is a mean device for a philosopher thus to crib causation by hair-breadths, to put it out at compound interest through all time, and then disown the debt.”9696Martineau, Essays, Philosophical and Theological, p. 141.
It is not said that the view here given of the process of Evolution has been the actual process. The illustrations have been developed rather to clear up difficulties than to state a theory. The time is not ripe for daring to present to our imaginations even a partial view of what that transcendent process may have been. At present we can only take our ideas of growth from the growing things around us, and in this analogy we have taken no account of the most essential fact—the seed. Nor is it asserted, far as these illustrations point in that direction, that the course of Evolution has been a continuous, uninterrupted, upward rise. On the whole it has certainly been a rise; but whether a rise without leap or break or pause, or—what is more likely—a progress in rhythms, pulses, and waves, or—what is unlikely—a cataclysmal ascent by steps abrupt and steep, may possibly never be proved.
There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps—gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely-jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God’s writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
If by the accumulation of irresistible evidence we are driven—may not one say permitted—to accept Evolution as God’s method in creation, it is a mistaken policy to glory in what it cannot account for. The reason why men grudge to Evolution each of its fresh claims to show how things have been made is the groundless fear that if we discover how they are made we minimize their divinity. When things are known, that is to say, we conceive them as natural, on Man’s level; when they are unknown, we call them divine—as if our ignorance of a thing were the stamp of its divinity. If God is only to be left to the gaps in our knowledge, where shall we be when these gaps are filled up? And if they are never to be filled up, is God only to be found in the dis-orders of the world? Those who yield to the temptation to reserve a point here and there for special divine interposition are apt to forget that this virtually excludes God from the rest of the process. If God appears periodically, He disappears periodically. If He comes upon the scene at special crises, He is absent from the scene in the intervals. Whether is all-God or occasional-God the nobler theory? Positively, the idea of an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology. Negatively, the older view is not only the less worthy, but it is discredited by science. And as to facts, the daily miracle of a flower, the courses of the stars, the upholding and sustaining day by day of this great palpitating world, need a living Will as much as the creation of atoms at the first. We know growth as the method by which things are made in Nature, and we know no other method. We do not know that there are not other methods; but if there are, we do not know them. Those cases which we do not know to be growths, we do not know to be anything else, and we may at least suspect them to be growths. Nor are they any the less miraculous because they appear to us as growths. A miracle is not something quick. The doings of these things may seem to us no miracle, nevertheless it is a miracle that they have been done.
But, after all, the miracle of Evolution is not the process but the product. Beside the wonder of the result, the problem of the process is a mere curiosity of Science. For what is the product? It is not mountain and valley, sky and sea, flower and star, this glorious and beautiful world in which Man’s body finds its home. It is not the god-like gift of Mind nor the ordered cosmos where it finds so noble an exercise for its illimitable powers. It is that which of all other things in the universe commends itself, with increasing sureness as time goes on, to the reason and to the heart of Humanity—Love. Love is the final result of Evolution. This is what stands out in Nature as the supreme creation. Evolution is not progress in matter. Matter cannot progress. It is a progress in spirit, in that which is limitless, in that which is at once most human, most rational, and most divine. Whatever controversy rages as to the factors of Evolution, whatever mystery enshrouds its steps, no doubt exists of its goal. The great landmarks we have passed, and we are not yet half-way up the Ascent, each separately and all together have declared the course of Nature to be a rational course, and its end a moral end. At the furthest limit of time, in protoplasm itself, we saw start forth the two great currents which by their action and reaction, as Selfishness and Unselfishness, were to supply in ever accentuating clearness the conditions of the moral life. Following their movements upward through the organic kingdom, we watched the results which each achieved —always high, and always waxing higher; and though what we call Evil dogged each step with sinister and sometimes staggering malevolence, the balance when struck was always good upon the whole. Then came the last great act of the organic process, the act which finally revealed to teleology its hitherto obscured end, the organization of the Mammalia, the Kingdom of the Mothers. So full of ethical possibility is this single creation that one might stake the character of Evolution upon the Mammalia alone. On the biological side, as we have seen, the Evolution of the Mammalia means the Evolution of Mothers; on the sociological side, the Evolution of the Family; and on the moral side, the Evolution of Love. How are we to characterize a process which ripened fruits like these? That the very animal kingdom had for its end and crown a class of animals who owe their name, their place, and their whole existence to Altruism; that through these Mothers society has been furnished with an institution for generating, concentrating, purifying, and redistributing Love in all its enduring forms; that the perfecting of Love is thus not an incident in Nature but everywhere the largest part of her task, begun with the first beginnings of life, and continuously developing quantitatively and qualitatively to the close—all this has been read into Nature by our own imaginings, or it is the revelation of a purpose of benevolence and a God whose name is Love. The sceptic, we are sometimes reminded, has presented crucial difficulties to the theist founded on the doctrine of Evolution. Here is a problem which the theist may leave with the sceptic. That that which has emerged has the qualities it has, that even the Mammalia should have emerged, that that class should stand related to the life of Man in the way it does, that Man has lived because he loved, and that he lives to love—these, on any theory but one, are insoluble problems.
Forbidden to follow the Evolution of Love into the higher fields of history and society, we take courage to make a momentary exploration in a still lower field—a field so far beneath the plant and animal level that hitherto we have not dared it conceivable that in inorganic Nature, among the very material bases of the world, there should be anything to remind us of the coming of this Tree of Life? To expect even foreshadowings of ethical characters there were an anachronism too great for expression. Yet there is something there, something which is at least worth recalling in the present connection.
The earliest condition in which Science allows us to picture this globe is that of a fiery mass of nebulous matter. At the second stage it consists of countless myriads of similar atoms, roughly outlined into a ragged cloud-ball, glowing with heat, and rotating in space with inconceivable velocity. By what means can this mass be broken up, or broken down, or made into a solid world? By two things—mutual attraction and chemical affinity. The moment when within this cloud-ball the conditions of cooling temperature are such that two atoms could combine together the cause of the Evolution of the Earth is won. For this pair of atoms are chemically “stronger” than any of the atoms immediately surrounding them. Gradually, by attraction or affinity, the primitive pair of atoms—like the first pair of savages—absorb a third atom, and a fourth, and a fifth, until a “Family” of atoms is raised up which possesses properties and powers altogether new, and in virtue of which it holds within its grasp the conquest and servitude of all surrounding units. From this growing centre, attraction radiates on every side, until a larger aggregate, a family group—a Tribe—arises and starts a more powerful centre of its own. With every additional atom added, the power as well as the complexity of the combination increases. As the process goes on, after endless vicissitudes, repulsions, and readjustments, the changes become fewer and fewer, the conflict between mass and mass dies down, the elements passing through various stages of liquidity finally combine in the order of their affinities, arrange themselves in the order of their densities, and the solid earth is finished.
Now recall the names of the leading actors in this stupendous reformation. They are two in number, mutual attraction and chemical affinity. Notice these words—Attraction, Affinity. Notice that the great formative forces of physical Evolution have psychical names. It is idle to discuss whether there is or can be any identity between the thing represented in the one case and in the other. Obviously there cannot be. Yet this does not exhaust the interest of the analogy. In reality, neither here nor anywhere, have we any knowledge whatever of what is actually meant by Attraction; nor, in the one sphere or in the other, have we even the means of approximating to such knowledge. To Newton himself the very conception of one atom or one mass, attracting through empty space another atom or another mass, put his mental powers to confusion. And as to the term Affinity, the most recent Chemistry, finding it utterly unfathomable in itself, confines its research at present to the investigation of its modes of action. Science does not know indeed what forces are; it only classifies them. Here, as in every deep recess of physical Nature, we are in the presence of that which is metaphysical, that which bars the way imperiously at every turn to a materialistic interpretation of the world. Yet name and nature of force apart, what affinity even the grossest, what likeness even the most remote, could one have expected to trace between the gradual aggregation of units of matter in the condensation of a weltering star, and the slow segregation of men in the organization of societies and nations? However different the agents, is there no suggestion that they are different stages of a uniform process, different epochs of one great historical enterprise, different results of a single evolutionary law?
Read from the root, we define this age-long process by a word borrowed from the science of roots—a word from the clay—Evolution. But read from the top, Evolution is an impossible word to describe it. The word is Involution. It is not a Stigmaria world, but a Sigillaria world; a spiritual, not a material universe. Evolution is Advolution; better, it is Revelation—the phenomenal expression of the Divine, the progressive realization of the Ideal, the Ascent of Love. Evolution is a doctrine of unimaginable grandeur. That Man should discern the prelude to his destiny in the voices of the stars; that the heart of Nature should be a so human heart; that its eternal enterprise should be one with his ideals; that even in the Universe beyond, the Reason which presides should have so strange a kinship with that measure of it which he calls his own; that he, an atom in that Universe, should dare to feel himself at home within it, should stand beside Immensity, Infinity, Eternity, unaffrighted and undismayed—these things bewilder Man the more that they bewilder him so little.
But one verdict is possible as to the practical import of this great doctrine, as to its bearing upon the individual life and the future of the race. Evolution has ushered a new hope into the world. The supreme message of science to this age is that all Nature is on the side of the man who tries to rise. Evolution, development, progress are not only on her programme, these are her programme. For all things are rising, all worlds, all planets, all stars and suns. An ascending energy is in the universe, and the whole moves on with one mighty idea and anticipation. The aspiration in the human mind and heart is but the evolutionary tendency of the universe becoming conscious. Darwin’s great discovery, or the discovery which he brought into prominence, is the same as Galileo’s—that the world moves. The Italian prophet said it moves from west to east; the English philosopher said it moves from low to high. And this is the last and most splendid contribution of science to the faith of the world.
The discovery of a second motion in the earth has come into the world of thought only in time to save it from despair. As in the days of Galileo, there are many even now who do not see that the world moves—men to whom the earth is but an endless plain, a prison fixed in a purposeless universe where untried prisoners await their unknown fate. It is not the monotony of life which destroys men, but its pointlessness; they can bear its weight, its meaninglessness crushes them. But the same great revolution that the discovery of the axial rotation of the earth effected in the realm of physics, the announcement of the doctrine of Evolution makes in the moral world. Already, even in these days of its dawn, a sudden and marvellous light has fallen upon earth and heaven. Evolution is less a doctrine than a light; it is a light revealing in the chaos of the past a perfect and growing order, giving meaning even to the confusions of the present, discovering through all the deviousness around us the paths of progress, and flashing its rays already upon a coming goal. Men begin to see an undeviating ethical purpose in this material world, a tide, that from eternity has never turned, making for perfectness. In that vast progression of Nature, that vision of all things from the first of time moving from low to high, from incompleteness to completeness, from imperfection to perfection, the moral nature recognizes in all its height and depth the eternal claim upon itself. Wholeness, perfection, love—these have always been required of Man. But never before on the natural plane have they been proclaimed by voices so commanding, or enforced by sanctions so great and rational.
Is Nature henceforth to become the ethical teacher of the world? Shall its aims become the guide, its spirit the inspiration of Man’s life? Is there no ground here where all the faiths and all the creeds may meet—nay, no ground for a final faith and a final creed? For could but all men see the inner meaning and aspiration of the natural order should we not find at last the universal religion—a religion congruous with the whole past of Man, at one with Nature, and with a working creed which Science could accept?
The answer is a simple one: We have it already. There exists a religion which has anticipated all these requirements—a religion which has been before the world these eighteen hundred years, whose congruity with Nature and with Man stands the tests at every point. Up to this time no word has been spoken to reconcile Christianity with Evolution, or Evolution with Christianity. And why? Because the two are one. What is Evolution? A method of creation. What is its object? To make more perfect living beings. What is Christianity? A method of creation. What is its object? To make more perfect living beings. Through what does Evolution work? Through Love. Through what does Christianity work? Through Love. Evolution and Christianity have the same Author, the same end, the same spirit. There is no rivalry between these processes. Christianity struck into the Evolutionary process with no noise or shock; it upset nothing of all that had been done; it took all the natural foundations precisely as it found them; it adopted Man’s body, mind, and soul at the exact level where Organic Evolution was at work upon them; it carried on the building by slow and gradual modifications; and, through processes governed by rational laws, it put the finishing touches to the Ascent of Man.
No man can run up the natural lines of Evolution without coming to Christianity at the top. One holds no brief to buttress Christianity in this way. But science has to deal with facts and with all facts, and the facts and processes which have received the name of Christian are the continuations of the scientific order, as much the successors of these facts and the continuations of these processes—due allowances being made for the differences in the planes, and for the new factors which appear with each new plane—as the facts and processes of biology are of those of the mineral world. We land here, not from choice, but from necessity. Christianity—it is not said any particular form of Christianity—but Christianity, is the Further Evolution.
“The glory of Christianity,” urged Jowett, “is not to be as unlike other religions as possible, but to be their perfection and fulfilment.” The divinity of Christianity, it might be added, is not to be as unlike Nature as possible, but to be its coronation; the fulfilment of its promise; the rallying point of its forces; the beginning not of a new end, but of an infinite acceleration of the processes by which the end, eternal from the beginning, was henceforth to be realized. A religion which is Love and a Nature which is Love can never but be one. The infinite exaltation in quality is what the progressive revelation from the beginning has taught us to expect. Christianity, truly, has its own phenomena: its special processes; its factors altogether unique. But these do not excommunicate it from God’s order. They are in line with all that has gone before, the latest disclosure of Environment. Most strange to us and new, most miraculous and supernatural when looked at from beneath, they are the normal phenomena of altitude, the revelation natural to the highest height. While Evolution never deviates from its course, it assumes new developments at every stage of the Ascent; and here, as the last and highest, these specializations, accelerations, modifications, are most revolutionary of all. For the evolving products are now no longer the prey and tool of the Struggle for Life—the normal dynamic of the world’s youth. For them its appeal is vain; its force is spent ; a quicker road to progress has been found. No longer driven from below by the Animal Struggle, they are drawn upward from above; no longer compelled by hate or hunger, by rivalry or fear, they feel impelled by Love; they realize the dignity reserved for Man alone in evolving through Ideals. This development through Ideals, the Perfect Ideal through which all others come, are the unique phenomena of the closing act—unique not because they are out of relation to what has gone before, but because the phenomena of the summit are different from the phenomena of the plain. Apart from these, and not absolutely apart from these—for nothing in the world can be absolutely apart from anything else, there is nothing in Christianity which is not in germ in Nature. It is not an excrescence on Nature but its efflorescence. It is not a side track where a few enthusiasts live impracticable lives on impossible ideals. It is the main stream of history and of science, and the only current set from eternity for the progress of the world and the perfecting of a human race.
We began these chapters with the understanding that Evolution is history, the scientific history of the world. Christianity is history, a history of some of the later steps in the Evolution of the world. The continuity between them is a continuity of spirit; their forms are different, their forces confluent. Christianity did not begin at the Christian era, it is as old as Nature; did not drop like a bolt from Eternity, came in the fulness of Time. The attempt to prove an alibi for Christianity; to show that it was in the skies till the Christian era opened, is as fatal to its acceptance by Science as it is useless for defence to Theology. What emerges from Nature as the final result of Creation is none other than that immortal principle which, reinforced, is the instrument and end of the new Creation.
The attempt of Science, on the other hand, to hold itself aloof from the later phases of developments which in their earlier stages it so devotes itself to trace, is either ignorance or sheer affectation. For that Altruism which we found struggling to express itself throughout the whole course of Nature, What is it? “Altruism is the new and very affected name for the old familiar things which we used to call Charity, Philanthropy, and Love.”9797Duke of Argyll, Edinburgh Review, April, 1894. Only by shutting its eyes can Science evade the discovery of the roots of Christianity in every province that it enters; and when it does discover them, it is only by disguising words that it can succeed in disowning the relationship. There is nothing unscientific in accepting that relationship; there is much that is unscientific in dishonouring it. The Will behind Evolution is not dead; the heart beneath Nature is not stilled. Love not only was; it is; it moves; it spreads. To ignore the later and most striking phases is to fail to see what the earlier process really was, and to leave the ancient task of Evolution historically incomplete. That Christian development, social, moral, spiritual, which is going on around us, is as real an evolutionary movement as any that preceded it, and at least as capable of scientific expression. A system founded on Self-Sacrifice, whose fittest symbol is the Leaven, whose organic development has its natural analogy in the growth of a Mustard Tree, is not a foreign thing to the Evolutionist; and that prophet of the Kingdom of God was no less the spokesman of Nature who proclaimed that the end of Man is “that which we had from the beginning, that we love.”
In the profoundest sense, this is scientific doctrine. The Ascent of Man and of Society is bound up henceforth with the conflict, the intensification, and the diffusion of the Struggle for the Life of Others. This is the Further Evolution, the page of history that lies before us, the closing act of the drama of Man. The Struggle may be short or long; but by all scientific analogy the result is sure. All the other Kingdoms of Nature were completed; Evolution always attains; always rounds off its work. It spent an eternity over the earth, but finished it. It struggled for millenniums to bring the Vegetable Kingdom up to the Flowering Plants, and attained. In the Animal Kingdom it never paused until the possibilities of organization were exhausted in the Mammalia. Kindled by this past, Man may surely say, “I shall arrive.” The succession cannot break. The Further Evolution must go on, the Higher Kingdom come—first the blade, where we are to-day; then the ear, where we shall be to-morrow; then the full corn in the ear, which awaits our children’s children, and which we live to hasten.
GLASGOW: PRINTED AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS BY
ROBERT MACLEHOSE AND CO. LTD.
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