Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/October 1914/The Evolution of Service by Union and Cooperation, Conservation and Exchange

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THE specialist, who has wandered far into the wilderness of created things, seeking the solution of his problem at its source, must pause now and again to note the location of the sun and the direction in which the streams are flowing. Having done so, he well may greet his distant colleagues and send a field-note of progress to his friends at home. Herewith is such a greeting and such a field-note of progress.


Part I

I. Evolution and the Conduct of Life

The theory of evolution is now accepted by all classes of intellectual leaders. Its transforming influence has penetrated society far beyond the point where the theory is formally recognized, or the meaning of the term even vaguely understood. It has destroyed old standards for the interpretation of life; erased old formulas for the conduct of life; and has compelled us to make new standards and formulas more in harmony with our new conceptions of nature and her methods.

With the disappearance of the old landmarks, the acknowledged leaders of humanity, of all kinds of belief and training, are groping about seeking a new standard for the interpretation and the conduct of life; a standard that is based on the best of the old religious, and on the best of the new knowledge; one that is not in downright conflict with the common-sense teachings of every-day life, nor with the conduct of affairs in which these leaders are the acknowledged experts; nor with the vision of the modern prophets who foresee the coming of a new man.

It is therefore again time to enquire what is the nature of the underlying processes common to the evolution of the living and of the non-living world? What, after all, constitutes progress in nature, and how it is accomplished? In what directions are the great evolutionary streams of plant life, and animal life, moving? What are the ethics and morals of nature, if indeed she has any? What has science to offer the trustees of tradition in place of that which it seems to have destroyed? What have the students of nature, and of life at large, learned, however elemental, that will be to all mankind a fundamental truth and a guiding principle to right living? Is mankind to live, and make progress in his manner of living, by following the same laws other living things have followed in their progress; or must he create out of his own compelling needs new methods of living, new principles, new laws of conduct, that are solely applicable to himself?

To these questions science has given various answers, for life, as well as nature, has many sides, and science sees them through diverse eyes.

II. The Mosaic Vision of Science

Nature is, indeed, so vast, so intricate, that one science can see but a very small part of her; and since no science can long preserve its images undimmed, nor adequately utilize the vision of other sciences, our mental picture of nature is a mosaic patchwork of flickering images; a changing, composite caricature, that exaggerates her most conspicuous features, her most discussed and most recently discovered phases.

But yesterday, nature seemed to be the essentially unchanging product of a precipitative creative fiat; to-day, the still changing product of a slow process of growth; and to-morrow, what will the image be? Which science will throw the high lights of nature on the mind of man? Which one will cast the shadows?

The great naturalists of the preceding generation—those brilliant students of interwoven lives playing their varied parts on shifting scenes of forest, field, and shore—gave us our first vivid picture of an ever-changing nature. It was largely their testimony, and the overwhelming evidence gathered from their point of view, that won the verdict for evolution. After the great naturalists came the modern schools of biologists, exploring the streams of life to their source, and by greater refinements of methods seeking in the seclusion of the laboratory to obtain a nearer and a larger view of nature in accouchement: now scrutinizing with microscope and blazing lights the minutely woven fabric of egg, and sperm, and embryo; now seeking the first throbs of nascent life in cell and organ; now, by artful and instantaneous killing, striving to fix in their order the mincing steps of life, and to preserve them for more deliberate inspection; now striving to view the steps of life in action; and again, by mimicking the processes of life, hoping to catch their meaning, or perhaps the meaning of life itself.

The field naturalists and the modern schools of biologists survey a particular phase of life through a particular medium, or facet, and each school has evolved a set formula, or diagram, for the one thing it most clearly sees; notably the Lamarckians, who see the inheritance of acquired characters, and the moulding influence of habit and of the external environment; the Darwinians, who see little else than "natural selection" and the "survival of the fittest"; the Weismannians, who specialize in an omnipotent, but obedient, "germ plasma," and who insistently deny the inheritance of acquired characters; the morphologists, who see their own cubist diagrams, instead of living, growing things; the cytologists, breeders and experimentalists, with their thumbnail sketches of the minute machinery of life, and of heredity; with their now widely familiar Mendelism, chromosomes, tropisms, artificial parthenogenesis and eugenics.

The precise methods of the modern biologist may give us commendably accurate pictures of some particular point, or phase, of life, as life is at the present moment. They have, no doubt, greatly stimulated and enriched the science of biology; but they have not clarified it, nor unified it to a corresponding degree, because they have not given us large pictures of the processes and products of evolution; and because their formulas, when widely applied, are contradictory and often meaningless. They lack perspective, and for that reason they have not taken, nor can they take, the place of the descriptive and historic sciences, such as geology, paleontology and comparative anatomy. They alone can show us approximately what life was like in the remote past, the wonderful progress it has made, its method of making progress, and the order of its accomplishment.

Thus the multiplicity, and the changing intensity, of the images formed by the compound eye of modern science have created much confusion in the mind of the scientist and the layman; one that is augmented by a prevalent opinion that certain points of view, and certain methods of studying nature, are more "scientific," more truthful and more trustworthy than others.

It is clear that the microscopic, telescopic and panoramic methods of studying nature have their respective virtues and the defects of their qualities, for each method, and each point of view, shows important things the other fails to reveal. In their attempts to portray nature, biologists often forget the weakness of the one and fail to utilize the strength of the other. By thus limiting their field of vision; by exaggerating the minute, the local, the dramatic, and the tragic incidents of life, they overlook the most significant teachings of nature, although they are familiarly and universally proclaimed by her. The layman is always a loser thereby, for while the sicklied germs of truth fly far and wide on the white wings of explanatory lies, the mature plant is too deep rooted and ponderous to be successfully transplanted.


III. Tragic, Cooperative, and Benevolent Nature

The picture of nature painted by the field naturalists was a warring, hostile nature, "red in tooth and claw with ravine." Its merciless struggle for existence, its wanton destruction and tragic incident, as portrayed by their disciples, deeply moved both scientist and layman, and greatly influenced the conduct and the interpretation of human life.

But the attention of the naturalists was mainly focused on the fifth act of life's drama, not on the body of the play; on the tumult and the decisive battles of a complex, mature life whose work was nearly done, not on its earlier, more primitive phases, nor on the silent, constructive processes, the building up of cell on cell, and organ on organ, that were taking place during the long and peaceful periods of preparation.

They gave us the now familiar picture of life's tragic side, and like all one-sided representations, it was but a caricature, true indeed to the life they portrayed, but misleading in the omission of the truth. They showed us the shameless selfishness; the needless toil and suffering; the wanton wastefulness of life; the endless competitions of strength and skill, in shifting alliance with cunning, hypocrisy and deceit; with blind chance in the background awarding death to the vanquished and to the victor life's bitter spoils.

With master strokes, and with the convincing accuracy of the trained observer, they painted the "disastrous chances" of a tumultuous life; the "moving accidents by flood and field"; the spectacular catastrophes of failure. But they did not portray the slow and benevolent processes of construction; the peaceful cooperations, the careful conservations, and the successful sacrifices of self to higher service. Some writers have indeed recognized the element of benevolence in the cooperation that forms such an important feature of social organization; but usually it has been regarded as something peculiar to the association of a few highly organized animals, and to man, not as something inherent to all stages of organic and inorganic nature.

But a new phase of the primeval method of nature, a new instinct, one that proclaims the universal brotherhood of man with man, and the brotherhood of man with all life and with nature, is seeking expression in the heart of man. It demands the so-called "humanitarian" methods of benevolent union, of cooperative exchange, of sympathy and service. The hand hesitates to obey the heart's commands, because the false prophets of science still dictate the use of nature's crudest, least effective methods, saying that progress can be made only through appropriation, elimination and destruction; through competition and then more competition; through mastery by brute force, or strategy; through selfishness; and the license of freedom uncontrolled. I challenge this interpretation of the order. It is not the real teaching of life, nor of nature. It places the emphasis in the wrong place and on the wrong thing. It measures the cost, but does not see the gain. It counts the failures, but does not recognize the manner of achieving success.

There is nothing new, essentially new, or unlike nature's methods, in the "humanity" of man, for the "humanitarian methods" of making progress through sympathetic, or harmonious, action; through benovelent union; through cooperative exchange and service, are as old as the universe; and it is on these methods alone and with them alone, the universe is built. All evolution is a process of more and more successful union, and more and more effective cooperation. All manner of living is a fabric of cooperating services. In every sphere of nature, be it chemical, or physical, or organic, or social, or "spiritual," and at every stage in its progress, evolution is achieved through union, not disunion; through construction, not destruction; through sympathetic and harmonious action, not discord; through organization, not disorganization; through cooperation, not competition; through the bondage of service, not the license of freedom; through service that leads the way to more service, not through dominion and freedom from service.

The processes that produce evolution, as distinct from those that do not, are essentially benevolent and moral processes, for evolution is a progressive triumph of right, or successful methods of self giving. Every forward step is a constructing and a conserving process, whether it be the union of cosmic matter to form solar systems; or atoms to form chemical compounds; cells and organs to form a body; or man to form society. In all cases the forward step is the result of a successful giving, or surrender of self, to form. a part of something that is larger, and better equipped for a wider service. Every living thing has its two great periods; one when it is receiving all it is, the other when it is giving all it has. The broader, more elaborate, each life is, the longer and more elaborate is the process of giving by the parents, and of receiving by the offspring; and the better all organs of both parent and offspring cooperate for a wider service of the whole.

Nor does "blind chance" rule in nature, for the dice are loaded in favor of things in the right time and place, as against those in the wrong time and place; in favor of things that cooperate and serve, as against those that do not cooperate and serve. In its broadest sense, union, even if it is primarily by "chance," tends to become progressive, or cumulative, because of the increased stability of each new product of union. Both union and cooperation are cumulative and directive; cumulative, because order tends to exclude from itself whatever is in conflict with it; directive, because the larger unit tends to control the smaller unit, and to incorporate it into its own system.

Progressive union and progressive cooperation, or progressive benevolence, harmony and service are, therefore, inherent properties of life and matter.


IV. Creation, Evolution and Service

Thus union and cooperation are the great creative, the great constructive, and the great conservative forces in nature. They tend to give community of action, and harmony of action to her constituents; to give stability and rest. They express themselves in an evolution that leads toward completion; toward the fulfilment of the inherent possibilities of nature; toward perfection.

Creation then is the birth of new things through the union and cooperation of preexisting things. Its product may be a new star; a chemical compound; an inanimate machine; a living mechanism with the properties of growth and renewal; or any one of the many kinds of cooperating groups, or associations, of men. We may not correctly use the term "Creative Evolution," for there can be no creation without evolution and no evolution without creation. The ceaseless flow of creative processes is evolution, and evolution is serial creation.

While nature's methods of creating are always the same, the quality of her products is as unknowable, and the extent of her resources as unpredictable, to-day as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. The first cooperative union of hydrogen and oxygen to produce water created a new substance, with new properties and qualities, with new potentialities for world service, in no wise comparable with those of its constituents. This familiar process, whereby a substance, such as water, is produced by the cooperative union of things that appear to us so utterly unlike it, is no more or less mysterious in its power to create new things, new properties, new possibilities for further creation, than the cooperative union of a much larger number of elements to form protoplasm, with its newly created properties called "vitality."

As the formal chemistry of cooperating elements creates new chemical substances, with new properties and new powers for world service, so the super-chemistry of cooperating lives creates new organisms whose sum total of reactions may be expressed in unified bodily, or social activities, or in terms of bodily or of social consciousness, with their new powers for world service. These new properties, born of the cooperative union of a group of cells to form a "living body," or of a. group of men to form a "team," a college, a city, or a state, constitutes the distinctive properties, or what is often called the "soul" or "spirit," of that group; and just as the properties of water and the "vitality" of protoplasm are new things, unlike anything else in the whole world, so are the essential, distinctive properties of each class of cooperating things unlike anything else in the whole world; hence they can only be measured, or compared, in terms of themselves.

The only attribute common to each class, and to all classes of nature's manifestations, is the inherent power, through the union and cooperation of their respective constituents, to create new things with new properties and with new powers for world service. The only common measure of their powers for service is the extent of the unions and cooperations that created them, and the extent of the new unions and cooperations they, in turn, create.

Progress therefore in organic evolution, as in cosmic evolution, consists in a measurable approach towards uniting the maximum number Of constituents into the most economic system of foreign and domestic cooperation.

Whatsoever conditions of time, space, materials and mode of action tend to give greater unity and better cooperation in nature, is world-service. Service, then, constitutes the real basis of ethics and of morality for the attainment of service is, to that extent, the actual fulfilment of the possibilities of nature; and all service is the fruit of a measurably perfected process of cooperative union.

Science, therefore, finds no time, nor place, nor thing set apart and alone sanctified by one instantaneous, all-embracing creative act. Cosmic evolution and organic evolution, the growth of suns and stars, of earth, and plant, and man, are continuous parts of one process. The formal chemistry of earth, and sea, and air; the flowing chemistry of protoplasmic cell and organ; the moulding discipline of associated nerve and muscle; of eye and hand; the alchemy of associated lives in nature's household, are but different phases of one living, all pervading, process of creation.

Nebulæ stiffen into stars, and suns give birth to drooling planets, larva smeared. Throbbing tides of sea and air, the heart-beats of a planet, drive the humid breath of oceans over the mountain skeleton, and through the capillaries of earth, clothing her ribs in clay, and spreading her first gardens of ooze. Earth labors in her kitchen, and with equal skill in synthesis, brings forth atoms tied in squads, or regiments; minerals, straight-edged and steadfast; soft proteids and albumens, with rounded forms and yielding sides; dancing specks and wriggling threads, prophets of the life to come; sprawling, self-constructing, self-consuming, protoplasm, free to rove, or wrapped in walls, or bound in glowing brotherhood of cells together; naked, hand-free, high-headed man, armored and armed with conscience and with vision. Scrutinize as best she may, science finds no seam in this universal fabric; no patchwork of dead and alive, honored or dishonored in creation; no boundaries between what was, and is, and shall be.

Thus all nature is a moving conflict for more intimate union, better cooperation, wider service. An unending strife to gain stability, or peace, where peace is won only through union and cooperation that lead to further conflict and wider service. All evolution is the product of service, and its progress is measured in terms of service. The essential character of all natural processes is a striving for perfection through organized service.

There should be no conflict between the teachings of science and the dictates of an enlightened humanity as expressed in the broad term religion, for science and religion are dual reflections of a universal natural law; their methods and aims are the same; they differ only in the manner in which they seek for, discover and express the same things.

Science seeks truth and discovers righteousness. Religion seeks righteousness and discovers truth. Both acquire knowledge of nature's right and wrong methods of making progress, and both point the same way to right living.

Science is the deliberate, conscious interpretation of nature. Religion is the instinctive, unconscious expression of natural law in terms of feeling.

Religion is the instinctive feeling for truth, justice and righteousness. Nature is truth, and her way is the way of justice and righteousness. Science takes cognizance of it in measured terms.

Religion is the feeling of wonder, adoration, gratitude and humility. It is largely justified and satisfied by the contemplation of nature through science.

Religion is the recognition of our own imperfections, and a desire for perfection. Nature is a conflict of imperfections. Science shows that the conflict is aimed at, and moves toward, perfection.

Religion demands service. Nature is a growing fabric of cooperating services. Science surveys the process and points the way toward higher service.

In science and religion, there is strife through organized service to discover and attain perfection. Each reflects in its own way the essential character of a universal natural law.


We are at present in a better position to use the panoramic vision of science than ever before, because we have now reached a point where the outlook on the evolution of life extends to the horizon, and we may see mapped out in broad perspective the grand preliminaries to life, and the general trend of life's highways.

These great highways of organic evolution, that run back for many millions of years, through the whole gamut of vertebrate and invertebrate life, from man to the simplest and minutest kinds of living things, show us in large terms what organic evolution really is and how it has been accomplished. They reveal to us the ethics and the morals of nature, the fundamentally right and the fundamentally wrong methods of living, for throughout all the highways of progress nature declares, and declares with insistent repetition, that the actual creation of new things and of new powers for service, or the evolution of the varied products' and activities of nature, is never compassed by competition and selfishness; never by destruction, nor by discord, nor by dominion; but by union and by cooperation; by sympathy, submission and mutual service. Until some other being appears, greater than man, the age long processes that have produced him are justified by their product, and are thereby standardized as righteous and moral processes.

(To be continued)