Secret Service Theologian


A DOUBTER'S DOUBTS about science and religion


"IT'S lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss about whether they were made, or only just happened. Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could 'a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn't say nothing against it, because I've seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done. We used to watch the stars that fell, too, and see them struck down. Jim allowed they'd got spoiled and was hove out of the nest."
In this charming piece of fooling, Mark Twain states the problem admirably. The question is whether things were made, or "only just happened." But Jim, being a philosopher, suggested evolution as a compromise, and Huck Finn’s deism was not intelligent enough or vigorous enough to resist it.
“Only just happened “ - that supreme folly of nineteenth-century philosophy, is as really a positive creed as the Mosaic cosmogony. And surely a venerable faith of any sort is preferable to a new-fangled superstition which has no rational sanction and is devoid even of that kind of respectability which antiquity can sometimes impart. In our search after the origin of life reason guides us in a path which leads direct to God. Nor let any one here object that this is but a veiled appeal to revelation. Unless reason points to the existence of a God, the question of a revelation cannot even arise. And if any one should raise the difficulty which robbed Professor Tyndall of his sleep in childhood, "Who made God? "‘ the solution is to be found, not in attempting to answer the question, but in exposing its absurdity. "Science" Lord Kelvin declares, "positively affirms creative power. And it is because science leads us back to an existence which never had a beginning that, for want of any other term by which to designate it, we call it God.
But here we must turn back upon the ground already traversed. We have been dealing hitherto with evolution, not as an hypothesis to account for the origin of species, but merely as a pretended explanation of the origin of life; and we have found that, thus regarded, it is but a blind lane which leads nowhere. The inquiry suggests itself, therefore, whether the conception of God be a true one which we have thus reached by escape from a wrong path. The question whether there be a God is no longer open. What concerns us now is merely to decide what kind of God we shall acknowledge. Shall we be content with the mystic Pantheism which a false system of biology would offer us, or shall we adore an intelligent Ruler of the universe?
The man who can give no account of his own existence is a fool; and he who denies a God can give no account of his existence. In the old time men whispered their folly within their own hearts; nowadays they proclaim it on the housetops, or, to translate the Oriental figure into its Western correlative, they publish it in printed books. But philosophy is not folly, and folly has no right to call itself wisdom. There is a God - that is certain: what then can reason tell us of Him?
As heathen poets wrote two thousand years ago, "We are also His offspring." It behoves us, therefore, to ascribe to Him the highest qualities which His creatures are endowed with. To admit, under pressure of facts which we can neither deny nor ignore, the conception of a God, and then to minimise that conception so that it becomes inadequate to account for the facts - this is neither reason nor philosophy, but crass folly. Since reason shuts us up to belief in God, let us have the courage of free thought, and instead of taking refuge in a vague theism, let us acknowledge a real God - not the great primordial germ," but the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
Regarded as a theory to account for life, evolution is the wildest folly; but as an thesis to account for the varied forms of life, it claims a hearing on its merits. And viewed in this light, no one need denounce it as necessarily irreligious. As the apostle of evolution with fairness urges, he who thus denounces it "is bound to show why it is more irreligious to explain the origin of man as a distinct species by descent from some lower form, through the laws of variation and natural selection, than to explain the birth of the individual through laws of ordinary reproduction. The birth both of the species and of the individual are equal parts of that grand sequence of events which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance . The understanding revolts at such a conclusion."
Darwin might, indeed, have stated the matter much more strongly. To call into existence a lowly organised form of life, endowed with latent capacities so wonderful and so exquisitely adjusted that only when a certain stage of development is reached, the moral qualities spring into exercise, immortality is attained, and there arises in the mind "the idea of a universal and beneficent Creator of the universe" - this is a far more amazing act of creative power than the Mosaic account of the genesis of man supposes. But, on the other hand, this very admission suggests a question the importance of which none but the superficial and the ignorant will doubt, Is not the Mosaic account, for that very reason, the more philosophical hypothesis?
It is obvious that if we acknowledge " a beneficent Creator of the universe," the existence of man is explained by the necessary admission that he is a creature; and no theory of development from a lower form of life would be tenable for a moment, were it not for reasons which lie hidden, and do not appear upon the surface. Of that very character, however, are the grounds upon which the hypothesis of evolution rests. These may be summarised in a single sentence, as "the close similarity between man and the lower animals in embryonic development, as well as in innumerable points of structure and constitution, both of high and of the most trifling importance - the rudiments which he retains, and the abnormal reversions to which he is occasionally liable."
But these facts, indisputable and striking though they be, may one and all be accounted for by an hypothesis of an exactly opposite character.Instead of assuming that the protoplastic organism was of the humblest form but endowed with capacities of development, why should we not suppose that man himself was the primordial creature and that he came from the creator's hand stamped with the characteristics "in innumerable points of structure and constitution," to warn him that he was made liable to a law degeneration and decay and that the neglect or perversion of his noble powers would degrade him indefinitely in the scale of life? It is certain that this hypothesis is more in accordance with the traditional beliefs of the heathen world than that of evolution, and it would be easy to maintain that it is more philosophical.’
We shall gain nothing by misrepresenting facts, and no fair person will pretend that experience warrants the hypothesis that any race of men, that any individual even, ever advanced in the scale of life save under the constant pressure of favouring circumstances.
But while culture alone will, so far as our experience teaches us, account for an advance, the tendency to degenerate seems universal. "In the Australian bush," for example, "and in the backwoods of America, the Anglo-Saxon race, in which civilisation has developed the higher feelings to a considerable degree, rapidly lapses into comparative barbarism, adopting the moral code, and sometimes the habits, of savages."
And evolution, while, in theory at least, accounting for the physical facts it appeals to, makes no reasonable attempt to explain the moral phenomena which claim our attention, though these are far more significant and important. We know what it is to meet with people over whose origin or career some mystery evidently hangs. A bar sinister has crossed their pedigree, or their life is darkened by some strange secret. And is there not something akin to this in the history of our race? Can any intelligent observer look back upon the history of the world, or honestly face the dismal facts of life around us - "the turbid ebb and flow of human misery " - and fail to find traces of some mysterious disaster in primeval times, which still disturbs the moral sphere?
According to the evolutionist, man is but an upstart, a biological parvenu, ever in danger of betraying his humble origin, and occasionally showing a tendency to revert to his former state. But surely it is only a base materialism which would assign to the phenomena on which this theory rests the same importance as that which we ascribe to the mysteries of man’s inner being. The presence in embryo of organs properly belonging to a brute, or such" reversions " as " the occasional appearance of canine teeth " - what are these in comparison with the fact that life from the cradle to the grave is marked by baffled apirations after an unattainable ideal, and unsatisfied cravings for the infinite? Are we to believe that these cravings and aspirations are derived from the " hairy quadruped with a tail and pointed ears" ?
"As soon as man grew distinct from the animal he became religious." A sense of humour would have saved Renan from offering a suggestion so grotesque as this. We might admit for the sake of argument that the descendant of an ape might become philosophical and mathematical and musical; but how and why should he become religious? "To call the spiritual nature of man a ‘by-product’is a jest too big for this little world." "Man, the evolutionist declares, "still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." His inner being, we may with greater truth reply, gives unmistakable proof that his origin was a high and noble one. Evolution, remember, is not fact, but only theory. The facts are the pearls; evolution is but the string on which we are asked to hang them. And we shall seek in vain for a single shred of direct evidence in support of it.
It is significant that naturalists who suppose new species to be originated by evolution "habitually suppose the origination to occur in some region remote from human observation." These results are supposed to have been produced during "those immeasurable epochs," "untold millions of years" before "beings endowed with capacity for wide thought" existed on the earth." To which the sceptic will make answer: First, that there is no proof that this earth has so long existed in a habitable state; it is a mere inference based upon a certain geological theory which is wholly unproved and by no means universally accepted. And, secondly, that as neither the course of nature within known periods, nor the skill of man, has ever produced a species, we may be merely stultifying our minds by dismissing the difficulty to a mythical past about which we may conjecture and romance, but concerning which we know absolutely nothing.
But let us for a moment assume these "untold millions of years," these "immeasurable epochs" of an "abysmal past," during which the evolutionary process has been developing. Further, let us concede that the supposed process is so slow that no appreciable change may be looked for within the period of historic time. In fact, let us, for the sake of argument, admit everything assumed by the evolutionist, excepting only the hypothesis of evolution itself, and we can at once subject that hypothesis to a practical test of the simplest kind, which will either establish its truth or demonstrate its falseness.
Suppose our world were visited by a being of intelligence, able to converse with men, but wholly ignorant of an existence like ours, marked by development and decay. Brought face to face with puling infancy, vigorous manhood, and the senile decrepitude of extreme old age, such a being might express incredulous wonder on hearing that these were successive stages in human life. And he might answer fairly and with shrewdness, "If such a statement be true, then there must be individuals in the world of every possible age, from a minute to a hundred years, and manifesting every imaginable degree of growth and decline." To which the unequivocal reply we should of course be able to offer would put an end to his scepticism. But suppose we were to make some such answer as this: "True it is that never a moment passes but that some new life enters the world, and some blighted or withered life disappears from it; the processes of generation and growth and decay are all unceasing and constant; but yet we cannot satisfy the test you put to us. We can show you large children and small adults, smooth-faced boys and full-bearded men, types of failing manhood and of hale old age, but there are ‘missing links’ which we cannot supply. Of some of these we have ‘archeological evidence,’ there are fossil specimens in our museums; and the learned tell us that others no doubt exist and will yet be found; but of living specimens there are none, though all the resources of nature and of science have been appealed to in the effort to produce them." With such an answer our ephemeral visitor might well return to his celestial home perplexed with grave misgivings respecting our honesty or our intelligence.
And so here. The cases are entirely parallel.’ If theprocesses of evolution have been in operation during infinite eons of time and be still at work, " missing links" are out of the question. The naturalist will, of course, be able to point to types of every imaginable stage; of development, from the simplest and humblest to the most exquisitely complex and perfect. But the naturalist can do no such thing. There are almost innumerable gaps in the chain which could only be accounted for by the supposition that evolution has again and again been interrupted during intervals so prolonged, that in comparison with them the entire period of historic time is but as a tick of the clock. Therefore it is that at every step the naturalist has to appeal to the Paleontologist. As Huxley will tell us, "The only perfectly safe foundation for the doctrine of evolution lies in the historical, or rather archeological evidence, that particular organisms have arisen by the gradual modification of their predecessors, which is furnished by fossil remains."
The evolutionist professes to account for the origin of species, but, finding as he proceeds that, under his hypothesis, the problem remains inexplicable, he strives to conceal its real character. Whence the distinctions which he thus classifies? How can he account for species itself? He struggles to escape from the difficulty by representing all such distinctions as being purely arbitrary. But such a piece of "special pleading" only betrays the weakness of his position. The lines which separate one species from another are clearly marked, as is evidenced by the undoubted fact that the effects of both culture and neglect are strictly limited by them. The reality of the difficulty, moreover, the evolutionist himself acknowledges by the recognition of missing links, and by his appeal to the fossils to supply them. The necessity for the admission and the appeal are a conclusive proof that his hypothesis is untenable.
Let us then keep clearly in view, first, that evolution is merely a philosophic theory, second, that it is unproved, third, that it is inadequate and fourth, that (as will appear more plainly in the sequel) it is unnecessary except of course with those scientists who cling to any plank that will save them from having to acknowledge God. And, it may be added, there is a fashion in science as well as in dress, and the fashion changes almost as rapidly in the one sphere as in the other. And so, as Karl von Hartmann wrote:
"In the sixties of the past century the opposition of the older group of savants to the Darwinian hypothesis was still supreme. In the seventies the new idea began to gain ground rapidly in all cultured countries. In the eighties Darwin’s influence was at its height, and exercised an almost absolute control over technical research. In the nineties, for the first time, a few timid expressions of doubt and opposition were heard; and these gradually swelled into a great chorus of voices, aiming at the overthrow of the Darwinian theory. In the first decade of the twentieth century it has become apparent that the days of Darwinism are numbered."
(Taken from a translation given in The Pall Mall Magazine for September, 1904.)

As a commentary upon it I may add the following extract from an article entitled "The Riddle of Evolution," which appeared in The Times Literary Supplement of June 9, 5905: "No one possessed of a sense of humour can contemplate without amusement the battle of evolution, encrimsoned (dialectically speaking) with the gore of innumerable combatants, encumbered with the corpses of the (dialectically) slain, and resounding with the cries of the living, [as they hustle together in the fray. [Here follows a lengthy list of the various schools and sects of Evolutionists.] Never was seen such a mêlée. The humour of it is that they all claim to represent ‘Science,’ the serene, the majestic, the absolutely sure, the undivided and immutable, the one and only vicegerent of Truth, her other self. Not theirs the weakness of the theologians or the metaphysicians, who stumble about in uncertainty, obscurity, and ignorance, with their baseless assumptions, flimsy hypotheses, logical fallacies, interminable dissensions, and all the other marks of inferiority on which the votaries of Science pour ceaseless scorn. Yet it would puzzle them to point to a theological battlefield exhibiting more uncertainty, obscurity, dissension, assumption, and fallacy than their own. For the plain truth is that, though some agree in this or that, there is not a single point in which all agree; battling for evolution they have torn it to pieces; nothing is left, nothing at all on their own showing, save a few fragments strewn about the arena. . .
Chapter Three

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