The Theory of Evolution as an Aid to Faith in God and Belief in the Resurrection

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The Theory of Evolution as an Aid to Faith and God and Belief in the Resurrection  (1911) 
by William Henry Chamberlin

Supplement to

NO. 14

The Theory of Evolution as an Aid to Faith in God and
Belief in the Resurrection


Every natural process, if rightly viewed from within, would be the pursuit of an ideal. There would be no dead Nature at all,—nothing really inorganic or unconscious,—only life, striving, onflow, ideality, significance, rationality. JOSIAH ROYCE

What appears to us-in sense-perception as physical nature must be a community, or a complex of communities of sentient experiencing beings.A. E. TAYLOR.

This very world which we suppose we know we cannot really understand, until we have transformed it so that it becomes no longer dead matter, but living spirit.


"There is one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all," and, "the God that made the world and all things therein . . . he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; ... he is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being, . . . For we are also his offspring." PAUL.

"The light which is in all things; which giveth life to all things: which is the law by which all things are governed: even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things."JOSEPH SMITH.

The world not only moves, but it lives! It is involved in and is a part of a vast, dynamic, purposive process. This is a conclusion now almost uniformly held by men trained in the criticism of world views; and if it is true, it follows that sanity of action in man requires a careful search into the character of the world purpose and proper efforts to adjust his acts to the life of the World Purposer. In this paper it is designed to show how the theory on the evolution of organic forms contributes to a belief in the purposive character of all causality in nature, and is able to inspire a loving trust in God and a healthful belief in man's dignity and in the promise of future glory through the resurrection of his body.

But before engaging in this specific purpose and without discussing the matter, I desire to call attention to the impression that the total process of evolution has made upon the minds of leading thinkers, and so I quote from Rogers in his Religious Conception of the World. He writes as follows: "Is there anything therefore in the world process as a whole which tends to make it at all analogous to the activities of human life, and to create the belief that there is to be found in it a purpose and intelligence at work—that it has meaning? Now this at least is hardly doubtful, that men have what is naturally a very strong tendency to interpret the universe in this way; and such a tendency is far from being undermined by the results of modern science. Indeed the theory of evolution brings out for the first time in clear relief the essentially dramatic quality of creation. That something more than blind and haphazard forces are at work, bearing in themselves no relation of prevision to the results which actuary are accomplished, is the first and natural presumption which the spectacle of the world's history raises as it unrolls itself in the imagination—a presumption which it is not easy to eradicate so long as the eyes are not kept too exclusively on the details, and the whole massed effect is allowed to exert its influence. When we call before us the full sweep of the world's advance from the time when it was a mere whirling and fiery mist, and see how marvelously out of its seeming chaos there grows order and intricate regularity, how the wonders of plant and brute life come into being, how finally man appears, the paragon of animals, with eyes to see beauty of the world and reason to bring its forces into subjection and, most of all, with the power to create the ideal world of truth and honor, righteousness and love; when we see these supersensible ideals more and more ruling his life, till we have the promise of a society wherein the poet's dream and the prophet's forecasting shall be an actual thing,—when all this, I say, comes before us, if is not easy to resign ourselves to say that all has merely happened so." I also quote Bowne, who in his Personalism says, "The doctrine of evolution has seemed to many to weaken the argument for purpose in nature. In fact, however, for all who see in the antecedent stages of evolution a preparation for things to come, or the earlier phases of a progressive movement, the facts of evolution become the most impressive of all the inductive arguments for purpose in the world; for in that case the entire movement in its great outlines has the forward look, and is thereby marked as rooting in the causality of intelligence. And the argument becomes more impressive than argument from detailed marks of special contrivance, by as much as its boundless range in space and time transcends the petty extensions and durations of the traditional discussion." Conclusions similar to these are held quite generally among men carefully teamed in the criticism of world views.

Now the most profound evidence for the purposive character of the process of evolution in general, and of the evolution of organic forms in particular cannot be considered in a brief paper like this. But there is a class of evidence for the purposive character of the evolution of organic forms which can be grasped by any body, since it is inductive and makes an appeal to familiar facts, which I merely wish to illustrate here. For this purpose I select a rough anology between human purposive activity and the process by which organic forms seem to have come into existence.

Any human purpose changes and grows only as it itself is modified. New purposes are never formed except on the basis of old ones, and the old purpose always survives and manifests itself as a potent factor or element in the new purpose. Thus there is telescoped into any purpose now manifesting itself a long system of the purposes that have in the history of the individual and the race been used in making it possible. That is, I could not have the purpose in the form in which I now have it which is expressed when I utter the word LOVE, if our Anglo-Saxon ancestors had not uttered themselves through the word LUFE or if similar activity had not in Sanscrit been previously uttered through the word LUBH. The earnest form survives in the present one, and it would not be possible to utter the word love without at the same time incorporating in some way the old forms, thus epitomising the history of the word. We could not now say BENEFIT if the old English had not used BENEFET, the earlier French, BIENFAIT, and the still earlier Romans, the adverb BENE and the verb form FACTUM, and we cannot now utter the word without involving those old forms used in the Latin language.

Now in regard to any purpose whatever from the grossest to the most ethereal, it never exists save as it involves sensation elements through which its character is able to be comprehended by others, and yet it can never be grasped by others save in terms of these sensations awakened within them. All purposes are invisible, inaudible, intangible, and none of them can be comprehended in terms of sensations alone. The purposes expressed by one are accompanied by sensations of sound in another, but his purpose becomes known to the other only as it assumes a form that is judged to adequately express the purpose of the other as is shown by how the two get along with each other. If the word CHURCH means a building to one and a body of men and women to the other, confusion at once appears and often irritation on the part of both. When this confusion disappears we have the only guarantee there is that the one knows the purpose of the other. Purpose, the only form of causation we know or can conceive of, is thus forever and utterly invisible, intangible, and incapable in any way of being summed up in terms of sensation.

This well established truth that purpose, the only kind of causation we know or can conceive of, is incapable of being seen, should be held steadily in mind by all those who are trying to comprehend the creative power or powers in nature, of whose purposes nature is what man has been able to construct as the phenomenal sign. The world of power is itself unseen but is presupposed in the visible or sensed world as is the world of power and purpose in a foreign tongue presupposed by those who first hear it as a mass of unintelligible sounds, but who later find in it only expression of meaning.

What can be sensed when we study the human purpose being expressed when the word LOVE or the word BENEFIT is being uttered, contains signs as we have shown above of all the purposes which have been involved in a long process of development. The present purpose telescopes a long system of purposes which have been used in the development and are now present in the completed purpose; and the present word, or heard or seen sign of the purpose also contains elements that have been involved in former expressions of the purpose.

In trying to comprehend, therefore, the power at work in nature, or of whose purposes nature is the phenomenal sign to us, we must not expect to see it. It is not to be seen, and, since its activities are not to be reproduced by us as we commonly reproduce and thus come to know the purposes of a friend with whom we are talking, its presence in nature is not subject to the test of mutual understanding. Thus all we need to know or ordinarily know of the purpose present in the extra human world is to be learned very indirectly not by sight, not by hearing and communication, but by examining the sensations we have and the way of their appearance to see if there are any signs in them of purpose. We are limited, that is, if there is any purpose in the extra-human world, to the discovery of analogies between the ways of the extra-human world and human ways. Now there are analogies many and profound between the two realms of activity, the human and the extra-human. Of these analogies we are in this paper to consider but the one existing between our ways of acting and the ways of the power back of organic forms. See Royce, The World and the Individual, Vol. II, ch. V, for an extended discussion.

The present purpose existing when the word LOVE is being uttered is the outcome of an historic development, and its phenomenal sign the sound or the seen word is a parallel development. Various stages in the course of its development we see when we study the philology of the word in LUFE, LUBH, etc., and we also find in the present sound or seen word, signs traces, or remnants, many of which persist a though seemingly not needed or functional at the present time, as where traces of the old Latin words BENE and FACERE, words no longer used, are discovered in our word benefit, or as when we find in our word LOVE a silent e, a vestigal structure that would not exist save that it was needed in the course of an historic development and is needed now. Likewise the o must still be used though if the word were not a development accompanying an evolving purpose and we could invent a seen word today we should perhaps use a u instead of an o and omit the silent e.

The organic forms of the present are analogous to the present word forms that we see, in that stages in their development can be traced in the sluffed-off forms seen in the fossil remains embedded in successive layers of the earth's crust, just as similar stages in the development of words are found in a study of ancient languages deposited and preserved on the written page. Similarly, just as the utterance of any word at the present time involves the telescoping, as it were, of a long line of developing activities and epitomises the historic development of the word, so the study of the formation of any and every organic form of the present time, as the study of embryology shows, epitomises, as is often said, the entire history of the development of organic forms.

The inference from the analogy is, that since intelligent purpose is needed to account for the forms we now see in language and every human product, so intelligent purpose is necesary to account for the facts now so well established in the sciences of geology and embryology concerning living organic forms.

When, then, in observing the development of the human embryo we see it assume early a jelly-fish form and later the successive fish, reptilian, and mammalian forms it is known to take on, we have the best evidence ordinarily available that extra-human or divine activitiy is at work there, and when scientific men tell us that we have muscles for moving the ear, or the skin that man no longer uses, and that there is in the perfectly developed body of a man nearly two hundred of such vestigral remains, we know he gives us the best inductive evidence available that super-human purposive activity is even now at work in all of us sustaining those bodies without which we could not form or see any portion of the world which human activity past and present makes it possible for us to reproduce.

Then, just as when a friend utters a word we can be aware that he has meaning and purpose, thought and feeling, which we cannot see and which is intangible, so when we observe our bodies we find ourselves able to believe that divine power and purpose is active there, even the intelligence or "light which is in all things; which giveth life to all things;" or in the language of Paul quoted above, that "he himself giveth to all life, and breath," and "he is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being, . . . for we are also his offspring."

From such a point of view for regarding the body of man, it would be as superficial and foolish to say that man's body evolved from the lower animals or from monkeys as it would be to maintain that a palace evolved from a hut through the hut's transforming itself with reference to its human environment until it became able to satisfy the needs of a king. Without reference to human activity we could never comprehend the transformation, but with it, all becomes clear. A man who knows how to make a cottage can vary his habit so as to be able to construct a mansion or a palace. It does not lessen for us the dignity and value of the palace to know that essential things arising through the habit of foundation forming, or wall and roof forming, concerned in the building of a cottage, are also found in a palace. Neither can it lessen the value or dignity of a man's body to know that the habit involved in the formation of the essential features of a fish persist in the formation of the essential features of man's body. As the king does not despise his palace because it has in common with an ordinary house rooms and doors and windows, so a man should not despise his body because it has in common with that of a monkey a backbone, or eyes and ears.

The body of a man is to us the phenomenal sign of a vast system of purposes going on now in the divine mind. The body of a fish in Devonian times would have been, if seen by us, significant of a purpose in many respects similar to the purposes now alive for the sake of men, and even of horses or of animals generally. But this similarity in the divine habits involved in the existence of these various bodies argues no identity in the intelligent beings for whose welfare they arise, and more than my reacting now to a tree and then to a stone by the habit or seeing argues an identity between the tree and the stone.

For it is now becoming more and more clear to those who think about ultimate realities that men, animals, and all intelligent beings coexist and are eternal, that "man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be." This conclusion is expressed in the language of Prof. Rogers thus: "God does not create us by an arbitrary choice of his, so that our nature as human selves is merely secondary and derivative. This nature of ours is an ultimate fact of reality." This is also what Prof. Royce has in mind when he says: "Every moment of every finite consciousness has some unique character."

There is nothing whatever then in the theory of evolution to destroy a belief in God or in man's eternal character, and in his dependence upon God for all but his power to know or will. In fact the coexistence of eternal spirits with God is presupposed by the process of evolution itself, for this process when studied merely exhibits in detail how God has been reacting to the choices of eternal beings. In the language of Prof. Rogers, "God's purposes are constituted by the relation in which his life stands to other—finite—lives existing outside the limits of the physical world which science studies." And again: "If by cause we mean a source for the understanding of things, I am a cause—a part of the cause, that is—of events that happen in the outer world." This is true, and the cause or reason for the existence of any phenomenon, a matter abstracted from in all scientific activity, is never to be found save in terms of the purposes of God in reference to the purposes of other eternal intelligences. His habitual activities found and sustain all of uniformity there is in nature, and his habitual activities create and sustain singularly and separately each and every body that appears in the world. And the universe is the living God, and all that it inhabit live in the light of his shining. "He is in the sum,-and the light of the sun; and the power thereof by which it was made. As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made. And the earth also, and the power thereof."

From the standpoint of man, God's activities for his sake are only to be measured by many millions of years. Such continuous activity implies a measureless interest in our welfare. Bodies were created for animals, first lower in grade, then higher. New forms came in to displace the older bodily forms perhaps, as biologists say, as sports. These sports would represent a new effort on the part of the Divine Spirit in behalf of the growing powers of eternal beings capable of limitless development. Advances in the organization of bodies were made slowly and tentatively, and seemingly in response to the choices, desires, and increasing powers of intelligent beings. At an appropriate time the creation of a body adequate to the needs of man was achieved. (Whether the creation of man's body took place here or in some other world would not concern the method of creation.) At the very beginning of man's career, it is possible that the Divine Creator would cause to appear upon the earth in connection with this new creation one of the most intelligent of spirits who would strive and suffer to enrich men in their activities. Henceforth there would be. caused to appear among men from time to time as needed, bright spirits to accelerate their increasing life. At all times and among all men the Divine Spirit in whom we live would co-operate with men, aiding in the formation of ideals, inspiring to their realization and conserving advances in life. This He would do largely by habitual, perhaps in the main, semiconscious, reaction to our acts or desires. For as Prof. Rogers thinks: "Every conscious act whatsoever involves the reaction of at least God's experience; stated empirically, even thought involves brain changes." The brain thus would be the phenomenal sign to us of God's life in interaction with our own, and this intimate living relationship suggests how he could cooperate with or dampen the ardor of our desires and urge us to heightened activity, and how it is that, "The light which now shineth, which giveth us light, is through him who enlighteneth our eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth our understandings."

From time to time and in accordance with law and moral purpose, God could attend consciously to our needs and prayers and the "sudden strokes of ideas" awakened within us at such times would make the presence of the Spirit seem like that of a visitor when He is so near us always. By individual inspiration and by sending choice spirits among men from time to time, God is no doubt always active to further the life of men. But through Jesus of Nazareth he revealed the fullest life. Of this we may be sure, as Jesus himself taught, through the fact that God cooperated with him in his mighty deeds of love, often modifying his habitual ways of acting in nature and performing miracles to aid him in the training of his disciples through a long and agonizing process of disillusionment, in which they surrendered all desires that were in the way of absolute love of him. And finally when Jesus had performed the agonizing task of Messiah and had died to reveal the kindly life of God, the Divine Spirit witnessed that Jesus' claim to reveal the most abundant life was true, by restoring in his case his accustomed activities to his life, thus allowing him to again appear in the accustomed form among his disciples. For our sakes, in order to turn us to Himself-through Christ, he brought about the resurrection of our Lord.

God thus shows himself as interested in our achievement of fuller life with its accompanying happiness. As we understand and love Christ, the whole world becomes transformed and full of new and religious value, and when the power to know this world is achieved by us, we can adequately adjust our thoughts and acts to our true environment; and behold, our Father stands revealed all about us, not only in the grandeur of the lilies of the field, but in sunshine and in the storm, in life and in death; and often he seems present most potently when we meet evils. Christ desired us to see the Father thus; and that he himself stands at the door and knocks, willing to come in and sup with us and we with him, eager to live with us in the greatest intimacy.

We have tried to show how the theory of evolution helps us to realize the possibility of this intimate relation to God and Christ always; that inhere is no self-running nature, but' that God is immanent in the world; and this view renders sanity,—more adequate adjustment to our true environment, far more easy than when we thought of him as absent.

Finally, this theory removes obstacles in the way of so many to belief in the resurrection. Such a God, who through millions of years has striven to make such lives as we now enjoy possible, could not allow us to go out in a night This thought is nobly expressed by the great geologist, Prof Le Conte: "Mature is the womb in which, and evolution the process by which, are generated sons of God. Now,—do you not see?—without immortality, this whole purpose is balked—the whole process of cosmic evolution is futile. Shall God be so long and at so great pains to achieve a spirit, capable of communing with him, and then allow It to lapse again into nothingness?" Reflections like these make it very difficult for a good man to think so unworthily of God as to doubt his willingness to contribute to our continued existence. And the theory of evolution, from our point of view, enabling us to see in the body of man the phenomenal sign of God's purposive activity, makes the resurrection of the body mean simply the renewal of God's accustomed activities in cooperation with our own. To live again and know ourselves and our friends it seems that our bodies must be restored to us; for, to quote Prof. Taylor: "Unless the 'soul' continues to live for aims and interests teleologically continues with those of its earthly life, there would be no genuine extension of our self-hood beyond the grave. And in order that a man may continue to have his interests, he must have his body, which, in the words of Prof. Taylor, stands on his system of habitual reactions, and so is indispensable to his existence as a self, restored to him, and this restoration after death could only be, in our view, in case God restored his wonted activities in a resurrection of his body.

Prof. Howison also looks confidently for the resurrection of the body. In his Limits of Evolution he writes on this subject as follows: "As ourselves the causal sources of the perceived world and its cosmic order . . . . we are to go perceptively onward, exercising forever our inherent power of framing experience, of begetting worlds of sense-colored variety and definiteness, in their long career surely of higher and higher subtilty, refinement, beauty, and goodness." Here Prof. Howison is emphasizing the part that man's activities in connection with his body will play in a future stage of existence. The part that God's activity will play is emphasized by Paul in a way we can now see more clearly in the light of the above discussion. In his letter to the Romans, he says: “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you.” There is nothing then that science contends for in the way of an obstacle to belief in the resurrection of the body; and, through the above discussion, we are helped to believe in future stages of activity in which we may "partake of the fruit of the vine" with the Lord Jesus and with the great and good of every age, and in the society of all those loved ones who have made life so sweet here and who have passed or shall pass to their glory in those happy worlds; and there we may hope to stand in the presence of the Ancient of Days, the Adamic Being who, perhaps, as we have suggested above, headed the race of man, and who, through his devotion to immortal spirits, his children, won the resurrection of the body and, with our heavenly mother, presides in the celestial world from whence he secures with Christ the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, who is in and through all things to the end that we might win the fullest lives here and companionship with Him in the eternal world hereafter.

In conclusion, then, let us repeat, that if a Divine purpose is immanent in nature, nature's forms must be thought of as evolving in a way parallel to the unfolding of the divine purpose. The use of the theory is a most important means of advancing to a realization of God's immanence in nature and life, and a great remover of intellectual difficulties that hamper faith in so many. And finally the theory awakens within us from the above point of view. An expectation of the resurrection, or the renewal of God's reactions to our lives, the restoration of the spirit to the body, without which there can be little or no life or happiness. That God can do this seems certain and that he will do it is, at the very least, as certain as that the uniformity of nature that all science presupposes shall continue. Both the uniformities in nature and the resurrection depend upon the Father's love.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1921, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.