Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/December 1896/Editor's Table

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Editor's Table.

A THEOLOGICAL VIEW OF EVOLUTION.

ON more than one occasion lately we have had to note the growing liberality of theological thought in relation to scientific questions; and we now have before us another striking example of the same tendency in an address delivered at the recent Church Congress in England by Archdeacon Wilson, of Manchester, on The Bearing of the Theory of Evolution on Christian Doctrine. Thoughtless critics sometimes endeavor to cast ridicule upon the clergy for troubling themselves with discussions of this kind. Their idea is that theologians should expound and develop their doctrines in entire independence of, if not indifference to, what the scientific world may be doing, and that the scientific workers should equally ignore theology. We can not accept such a view. The human mind is not built in thought-tight compartments, if we may use the expression. Every thought honestly entertained claims the privilege of traveling everywhere, and asks for illustration and confirmation wherever it goes. If the scientific man is a religious man he will want to blend his science with his religion, and the religious man will want to know that the doctrines to which he adheres are not contradicted by any portion of his acquired knowledge. If the leaders of religious thought were to withdraw from all interest in the teachings of science, the inference would certainly be drawn that they were conscious of a hopeless antagonism between the principles of science and the doctrines of religion. They would seem to present to the world the alternative: "Science or Religion; choose which you will, you can not have both."

Far better is the attitude of those who, believing in both, believing that men have need of religion, and that they can not deny the authority of science, strive to see what measure of agreement there is between the teachings of one and the other. Such is the position of the Archdeacon of Manchester. In examining the theory of evolution he sees, in the first place, that it is no way inconsistent with theism; and, in the second, that it throws no difficulty hi the way of recognizing the personality of the Divine Being that theologians were not already aware of and familiar with in connection with their own special studies. That problem would subsist even if no theory of evolution had ever been formulated. To quote the speaker's words: "No cell of a body could interpret the personality of the whole; and similarly we could not grasp the personality of God and his love and Fatherhood when we were thinking of all Nature as the expression of his will." As regards the creation of man, the archdeacon does not consider that there is any conflict between the theory of evolution and any essential Christian doctrine. "It was no part," he said, "of the doctrine of the Church — it was a comparatively modern theory of the naturalists, rashly accepted by the theologians of two centuries ago — that man was a special and underived species. He could imagine no sublimer conception of the nature or the dignity of man than that which saw all Nature as the self-manifestation of God rising into self- consciousness in man. Christian doctrine could adopt the evolutionary view of the creation of man; it was pledged to no other."

Passing to the doctrine of the Fall of Man, the speaker acknowledged that, in the light of evolution, the generally received view required considerable readjustment. We quote again: "Man fell, according to science, when he first became conscious of the conflict of freedom and conscience. Now, this conflict of freedom and conscience was precisely what was related as ‘The Fall’ sub specie historiœ. It told of the fall of a creature from unconscious ignorance to conscious guilt, expressing itself in hiding from the presence of God. But this fall from innocence was in another sense a rise to a higher grade of being. It was in this sense that the theory of evolution taught us to interpret the story of the Fall. It gave a deeper meaning to the truth that sin was lawlessness." Closely connected with the doctrine of the Fall is the doctrine of Atonement, and that, too, the speaker stated, must undergo modification and accept a broader basis. Such is the evident meaning of the following passage: "The theory of evolution is, indeed, fatal to certain quasi-mythological doctrines of the Atonement which once prevailed, but it is in harmony with their spirit. It has become impossible to regard redemption as an afterthought, as a plan devised by a resourceful Creator, in Miltonic fashion, to meet an emergency. It has become impossible to the evolutionist to retain what was once the ordinary view of the supernatural as an interference with the natural, as an interposition from another sphere. Such dualism is repugnant to him. All progress being the result of struggle and sacrifice, the Atonement is God's identification of himself with the human race in that ceaseless struggle, manifested specially in the supreme sacrifice of the sinless Christ, but also in all human life lived in the spirit of Christ. This identification is the Atonement, the reconciliation, and in it the evolutionist, not less than the theologian, finds new hope and power, a release from sin, a real forgiveness and redemption." The speaker did not profess to be able to see his way through all the difficulties of his subject, but he made the broad statement that "thought is being transformed by scientific method, and along with thought theology must change in form on some such lines as these." The following remarks on the subject of sin recall very strongly the views of Mr. Herbert Spencer: "It seems plain that if sin is a transgression and goodness the fulfillment of the law of man's higher nature, the consequences of sin and of goodness are not arbitrary nor external; they are in ourselves. They are the being what we have become, the sinking to the lower or the rising to the higher."

It seems to us that in this address—even in the few extracts we have made there is much food for reflection. We may each form our own estimate of the success with which the author has applied himself to the task of reconciling the scientific philosophy of the age with Christian doctrine; but it seems clear to us that the effort to give at once a rational basis and interpretation to the accepted teachings of religion and a religious character to the principles of science is in every way commendable. There is not too much science in the world today, nor is there too much religion; and it can neither do the religionist any harm to know that the doctrines in which he places faith may be regarded as part of the rational interpretation of the universe, nor the scientist to know that the intellectual aspect of his theories is not all—that they have their moral and spiritual implications to which he would do well to take heed. The final aim of all intellectual effort should be the wise government of human life; and science does not properly fulfill its function, does not do justice to its own mission in the world, unless it endeavors to moralize its message to mankind. There has been too great a willingness, if we may say so, on the part of scientific investigators to fling broadcast crude theoretical conclusions, without any care as to how they may be correlated with the general body of human beliefs and sentiments. Science, under this treatment, loses much of the charm with which it ought to be invested, and arouses a certain instinctive repugnance against itself and its professors in the popular mind. Hard-headed and ambitious men, on the other hand, see in it an excellent road to money-making, and nothing more. Properly presented to the world, it might, as Wordsworth says of duty, wear "the Godhead's most benignant grace"; and it is to the credit of the theologians that many of them are endeavoring so to present it. The Archdeacon of Manchester is not far wrong when he says that "the needs of the human heart are much the same as they were four thousand years ago." A recent writer who, though chiefly known as the author of fantastic tales, is understood to be a strong man of science in certain lines—Mr. H. G. Wells—would carry this statement much further back than four thousand years.[1] At any rate, there is such a thing as the human heart, and it wants a word now and then. It may be impossible perhaps for science, as science, to speak the word; but it should at least welcome every alliance which, while leaving it due freedom of action, may help to bring it a little nearer to the instinctive needs and higher moral sentiments and aspirations of humanity.

 

 
INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE.

It was a, favorite dream of the early political economists that the expansion of international trade would gradually unify the world, that it would so educate the nations in the peaceful arts that, at no distant day, they would resolve to learn war no more, so that Astræa, if she were so minded, might return to the plains of earth and find nothing to remind her of the conflicts and bloodshed which, according to the poets, had caused her to take her flight. If things could have gone just as the early economists wished and hoped, something like this might have come, or be about to come, to pass. They thought that commerce was going to shake off its shackles, that trade was going to be free, and that the mutual benefits which it would bestow would, year by year, strengthen the feeling of friendship between nation and nation. They did not foresee such a revival of the prejudice-breeding protectionist system as our eyes have witnessed, or the greed for colonial acquisitions which it has introduced into the world. They magnified unduly the rôle which reason was going to play in the affairs of men, and made inadequate allowance for the measureless floods of popular ignorance which popular education would disengage and set into activity. Still, their dream was no discredit to them, and one of these days, after a greater lapse of time than they counted on, it may come true.

But what trade has not yet accomplished, and does not, as things are at present, seem in the way of accomplishing, another force is silently laboring to achieve. That force is science. It is cosmopolitan by nature; something more than the world even is its parish. We all remember the story of Goethe, who, when the Revolution of July, 1830, broke out in France, and was creating commotion and trepidation more or less throughout Europe, was so absorbed in thinking of the controversy between Cuvier and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire over the theory of development, which had become acute just at the same time, that he completely mystified a friend who had come to see him by talking with the greatest excitement about the intellectual crisis when the friend was thinking of the political one. It seemed to Goethe an enormous descent to come down from the level of a great scientific and philosophcal problem to a mere question as to the precise form of monarchical government which was to prevail in a certain country. To him the protagonists on the world's theater were not the Polignacs, the Periers, or the Metternichs of the hour, but the leaders of thought and the representatives of science. Goethe has been accused of lack of patriotism; but we may put it to his credit that he was free from those sentiments of rancor toward foreigners which constitute so large a portion of the patriotism of the majority. In his predominant interest in large intellectual questions he was a type of the better mind of the future, and pointed forward to the time when science would become a missionary of peace and concord to the jarring nations.

Two generations have passed since then, and science has made advances which, could he have lived to witness them, would have filled the great German with gratification and delight. That it is sensibly drawing the nations together there is no doubt. Scientific workers in every field of research are stretching out, across seas and continents, hands of friendship and help to their fellow-workers in other lands. Literatures are national, broadly speaking, but science is necessarily international. There is but one set of natural laws for the universe; and, broadly speaking again, the method of science is one. It follows that all who, the world over, are engaged in scientific work form but one army, one band, and move forward under one banner. This fact has been recognized by the formation of many international associations for the prosecution of different branches of scientific work. The physiologists, the psychologists, the criminologists, and several other sections of the great scientific corps have in this way organized for mutual assistance; and it only remains to form one general international organization which shall in a manner preside over all the scattered provinces of science, and by its existence and activity give evidence to the world that science is one and that humanity should be one. We are glad to know that this important object is in a fair way of accomplishment. Next year the British and American Associations for the Advancement of Science will meet within about two hundred miles of one another, the one at Toronto and the other at Detroit; and it is expected that not only will the two associations contrive to meet and fraternize, but that steps will be taken toward establishing some bond of union between the two, and so preparing the way for a wider international organization. The scheme, it is further expected, will be followed up two years later when the British and French Associations will meet within about thirty miles of one another, one at Dover and the other at Boulogne; and if so a world meeting may possibly be arranged for the year 1900, Let science flourish, and let its influence over the nations increase! It means love of truth; it means reasonableness and equity; and if these things be in us and abound, there can not be much room for international hatred.

 

 
COMPLETION OF THE SYNTHETIC PHILOSOPHY.

The publication of the concluding volume of Mr. Herbert Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy is an event of no small moment in the history of modern thought. No other doctrine of this or of any recent century has revealed so much in regard to the way in which organisms and institutions have come to be what they are as the evolutionary or synthetic philosophy has. Long before its great expounder had completed his presentation of it in the four fields of life, thought, society, and conduct, it had turned violent opposition into eager acceptance, and was being applied in countless researches, and was assumed as the only admissible standpoint for interpreting the past and predicting the future. The concluding division of his system deals with Industrial Institutions, and has been eagerly awaited with the expectation that it would throw needed light upon the industrial ferment of the times. This expectation it amply fulfills. Mr. Spencer's plan for a series of ten volumes in which the principles of evolution should be set forth with sufficient illustrative evidence was first issued in 1860. To do this work as he determined that it should be done was an immense undertaking, and he was further hampered at first by insufficient means, and throughout by seriously impaired health. That he has surmounted every obstacle and reached his goal may well inspire wonder, and notable too is the fact that his exposition has been completed substantially as proposed. Notwithstanding the progress of knowledge during the past third of a century, and notwithstanding, moreover, the widening of Mr. Spencer's own horizon, the plan that seemed good to the man of forty has proved acceptable to his riper self at seventy-six. Mr. Spencer is to be heartily congratulated upon the completion of his task, but more fortunate than he is the world that has received the benefit of his labors.

 

  1. See an article in the October Fortnightly Review—Evolution an Artificial Process.