Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/204
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
or four thousand generations we shall get a man-monkey fully equal in intelligence to the average Hottentot. Thence upward we cannot deny the possibility of development without heterodoxy. In short, by interpolating a sufficient number of terms we may form an ideal, which, for any thing we can say, may be an actual series ending with the man and beginning with the inferior animals, in which there shall not be a single violent transition. The question whether reason is or is not specially distinct from instinct is simply irrelevant. In one case we must suppose that it begins by entering in homoeopathic doses; in the other, that it is simply the development of certain lower faculties; in either case the animal will shade into the human intellect by degrees as imperceptible as those by which night changes into dawn. Indeed, it is impossible to see why—except from fear of certain conclusions, which is not a logical ground for dissent—the possibility of a passage from brute to man should ever have been denied on a priori grounds. Whether the theory is confirmed or confuted by observation is an entirely open question; but it is strange that it should be pronounced impossible when we are ready to admit infinitely greater changes. If you can imagine a monkey to have been developed from a sea-anemone, an animal from a plant, or living from inorganic matter and none of these changes, however little reason we have to believe in their actual occurrence, are supposed to be obnoxious to any insurmountable objection a priori—why can we not admit that a monkey may possibly become a man?
It is here that we come upon the confusion already noticed. It results from mixing metaphysical inquiries about the what? with scientific inquiries into the how? A man of science says (possibly he makes a mistake, but that is not to the purpose), Mix such and such elements under such and such conditions, and a living organism will make its appearance. The theologian sometimes meets this statement as if it were equivalent to an assertion that life is nothing but an arrangement of matter. He has really said nothing of the kind: he does not know what is the essence of life or of matter; he has merely to do with the order in which phenomena occur; and has absolutely no concern with the occult substratum in which they are supposed to inhere. The utmost that he can ever say—if he can ever say so much—would come to this: Bring together a set of the phenomena which we call molecules, and there will result a series of the phenomena which we call vital; but what molecules are, or what life is, is a question beyond his competence. Similarly, when he proceeds a step farther and traces the origin of our moral sense to some dumb instinct in the animal world, he is not really speaking treason against the dignity and importance of morality. Mr. Browning, in one of his poems, speaks of some contemptible French author who explained the origin of modesty by referring, as only a very free-speaking person could refer, to the mode in which the sexual instinct operated upon savage