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Parliament lasted seventeen days; and the audiences were so large that
most of the essays were repeated in overflow meetings. There were also
some forty congresses held in smaller halls for speakers who could not
find room on the great platforms. One of these meetings was held by
Jewesses, of whom nineteen spoke. Some of them were also heard from the
platform of the Parliament; as were many clergy women.

Mr. Underwood presided at the Congress of Evolutionists. There was also
a convention of the Free Religionists, in connection with the Parliament
which they had made possible; but "The Freethought Federation" could get
no chance to meet in the great building, or even to sell pamphlets. Mr.
Bonney had proposed a union of all religions against irreligion; and
this would have been in harmony with the policy adopted by many States
of the American Union. Their Sunday laws and similar statutes show a
purpose of encouraging all the popular sects alike, with little regard
for the rights of citizens outside of these favoured associations. Most
of the speakers in the Parliament, especially the Buddhists, were so
zealous for the brotherhood of man, that they protested against any
discrimination on account of theology. The great audiences gave most
applause to the broadest declarations; and the few utterances of
Protestant bigotry were plainly out of place. The general tendency of
the Parliament was strongly in favour of recognising the equal rights
of all mankind, without regard to belief or unbelief. All legislation
inconsistent with this principle will be swept away, sooner or later,
by that great wave of public opinion which broke forth during the
Parliament of Religions. There the golden age of religion began, and war
must give place to peace.




CHAPTER VII. THE EVOLUTIONISTS

WE have seen how the Transcendentalists tried to suppress vivisection,
in spite of all it has done for the health and happiness of mankind. The
sanguinary intolerance of Robespierre and other disciples of Rousseau
was described earlier in this volume. And the notorious inability of
Carlyle and Garrison to argue calmly with those who differed with
them further illustrates the tendency of confidence in one's own
infallibility. Only he who knows that he may be wrong can admit
consistently that those who reject his favourite beliefs may be right.
The Parliament of Religions showed that there has been a growing
conviction of the equal rights of holders of all forms of belief and
unbelief; this conviction has been promoted by recognition of two great
facts: first, that knowledge is based upon experience, and, second, that
no one's life is so complete that he has nothing to learn from other
people. If they do not believe as he does, it may be merely because
experience has taught them truth which he still needs to learn. Each
one knows only in part; and therefore no one can afford to take it for
granted that anyone else is completely in error.

I. This tolerant method of thought has gained greatly in popularity
since Darwin proved its capacity to solve the problem of the origin
of man. The possibility that all forms of life, even the highest, are
results of a natural process of gradual development has often been
suggested by poets and philosophers. The probability was much discussed
by men of science early in the nineteenth century; but it was not until
1858 that sufficient evidence was presented to justify acceptance of
evolution as anything better than merely a theory. Twenty-one years had
then elapsed since Darwin began a long series of investigations. In
the first place, he collected an irresistible number of cases of the
influence of environment in causing variations in structure, and of the
tendency of such variations to be inherited. Most men who accepted
these propositions admitted their insufficiency to account for the
multiplicity of species; but the explanation became complete when Darwin
discovered that any plant or animal which is peculiarly fit for survival
in the continual struggle for existence is likely to become largely
represented in the next generation. A spontaneous variation which
prolongs the life of its possessor may thus become not only more common
but more firmly fixed in successive generations, until a new species is
established.

To this tendency Darwin gave the name "natural selection"; but this term
literally implies a deliberate choice by some superhuman power. Herbert
Spencer proposed the phrase, "survival of the fittest"; but it must be
remembered that the fitness is not necessarily that of greater moral
worth.

There may be merely such a superiority in strength and cunning
as enables savages to devour a missionary. Spencer says that "the
expression, 'survival of the fittest,'" merely means "the leaving alive
of those which are best able to utilise surrounding aids to life, and
best able to combat or avoid surrounding dangers." Weeds are fitter than
flowers for natural growth; and Joan of Arc proved unfit to survive in
the contest against wicked men.

This discovery of Darwin's made it his duty to avow a view which was so
unpopular that he felt as if he were about "confessing a murder." He was
making "a big book" out of the facts he had collected, when a manuscript
statement of conclusions like his own was sent him by Wallace, who had
discovered independently the great fact of the survival of the fittest.
Darwin wished at first to resign all claim to originality; but his
friends insisted on his taking a share of the honour of the discovery.
Accordingly an essay, which he had written in 1844, was read in company
with that sent him by Wallace before the Linnæan Society, in London, on
July 1, 1858. The importance of the new view was so well understood that
the entire first edition, amounting to 1250 copies, of Darwin's _Origin
of Species_, which book he wrote soon after, was sold on the day of
publication, November 24, 1859. Other editions followed rapidly, with
translations into many languages. No book of the century has been more
revolutionary.

II. Theologians still insisted on the supernatural creation of each
species of plant or animal, and especially of the human race, in
its final form. The inference that man had been developed by natural
processes out of some lower animal, was easily drawn from the _Origin of
Species_, though not expressly stated therein; and there was great alarm
among the clergy. An Anglican bishop, who was nicknamed "Soapy Sam" on
account of his subserviency to public opinion, declared in a leading
quarterly that Darwin held views "absolutely incompatible" with
the Bible, and tending to "banish God from nature." Other prominent
Episcopalians called the new book "an attempt to dethrone God," and
propagate infidelity. Cardinal Manning denounced the "brutal philosophy"
which taught that "There is no God, and the ape is our Adam." Both
Catholics and Protestants started anti-Darwinian societies in London,
and, in 1863, Huxley saw "the whole artillery of the pulpit brought upon
the doctrine of evolution and its supporters." The example of England
was followed promptly by France and Germany. America was distracted
by civil war; and her men of science were so few and timid that the
denunciations of Darwinism which were prompted by the theological and
metaphysical prejudices of Agassiz were generally accepted as final
decisions. The position of the Unitarians and Transcendentalists may be
judged from the fact that, during a period of nearly three years after
the publication of the _Origin of Species_, nothing was said about
Darwinism in the extremely liberal divinity school where I was then
a student. Evolutionism had to look for advocates in America to
Spiritualists like Denton or unbelievers like Underwood at that period.

Clerical opposition increased the general unwillingness of scientific
men to snatch up new views. As early as 1863, however, Darwin received
the support of the famous geologist, Lyell, as well as of a younger
naturalist destined to achieve even more brilliant success. Huxley has
distinguished himself in arguments against the scientific value of the
Bible. Among his other exploits was a demonstration that a chain, in
which no link is missing, connects the horse with a small, extinct
quadruped possessed of comparatively few equine peculiarities. In this
case, transformation of species is an undeniable fact. Other young
naturalists in England, as well as in Germany, gradually became willing
to push the new view to its last results; and Darwin was encouraged
to publish, in 1871, his elaborate account of the origin of our race,
entitled _The Descent of Man_. The wrath of the churches blazed forth
once more; and Gladstone entered the arena. Englishmen ventured no
longer to say much about the differences between Moses and Darwin; for
the obvious retort would have been, "So much the worse for Moses." A
German Lutheran, however, bade his congregation choose between Christ
and Darwin; and the infallibility of Moses was asserted so zealously by
a Parisian Catholic as to win formal thanks from the Pope.

America was now wide awake; irreligious tendencies were assigned to
evolutionism by the president of Yale, as well as by some Princeton
professors; and one of these latter warned believers in the development
of man that they would be punished as infidels after death. The verdict
of men of science has at last been pronounced so plainly as to be
accepted by thoroughly educated people in the Northern States; but
the Southerners are more bigoted. Even so late as 1894, a professor
of biology at the University of Texas was dismissed, in violation of
contract, for teaching evolutionism. A similar offence had been found
sufficient, ten years before, by the Presbyterians of South Carolina,
for driving a devout member of their own sect from his chair in a
theological seminary. That popular writer on geology, Winchell, was
requested in 1878 by a Methodist bishop to resign a professorship at
Nashville, Tennessee, where he had expressed doubt of the descent of
all men from Adam. The geologist refused to resign, and the chair was
suppressed.

Voltaire's chief grievance was the intolerance of Christianity. Paine
and Bradlaugh complained that there was much immorality in the Old
Testament. The most damaging of recent attacks have been made in the
name of science. Genesis and geology had been found irreconcilable
before the appearance of Darwinism; but the new system widened the
breach. The most serious offence to the theologian, however, was that
he could not longer point without danger of contradiction to beneficial
peculiarities in the structure of plants and animals, as marks of the
divine hand. The old argument about design was met by a demonstration
that such peculiarities were apt to arise spontaneously, and become
permanent under the pressure of the struggle for existence. The
theologian has had to retreat to the position that Darwinism has not
accounted for the soul, the intellect, and especially the intuitions.

III. Whether Darwin succeeded or not in this part of his work is not so
important as the fact that, several years before he announced his great
discovery, an elaborate account of the process by which the powers of
thought and feeling have been developed gradually out of the lowest
forms of consciousness was given by Herbert Spencer. The first edition
of his _Principles of Psychology_, published in 1855, carried the
explanation so far as to show the real origin and value of the
intuitions. Their importance had been almost ignored by thinkers who
relied entirely on individual experience, and greatly overrated by the
Transcendentalists; but neither set of philosophers could explain
these mysterious ideas. The infallibility of conscience is not to be
reconciled with such facts as that Paul thought it his duty to persecute
the Christians, or that Garrison, Sumner, John Brown, and Stonewall
Jackson were among the most conscientious men of the century. The
ancient Greeks agreed in recognising justice, but not benevolence, among
the cardinal virtues; precisely the opposite error was made by Kant
and Miss Cobbe; and a tabular view of all the lists of fundamental
intuitions which have been made out by noted metaphysicians might
be mistaken for a relic from the Tower of Babel. Emerson's religious
instincts were not so much impressed as Parker's with the personality of
God and immortality; but the difference seems almost insignificant when
we remember what ideas of theology arose spontaneously in New Zealand.
How widely the intuition of beauty varies may be judged from the
inability of aesthetic Chinamen to admire the white teeth and rosy
cheeks of an English belle. Intuition is plainly not an infallible
oracle; but is it merely a misleading prejudice?

The puzzle was solved when Spencer showed that intuition is a result of
the experience of the race. Courage, for instance, was so important
for the survival of a primitive tribe in the struggle against its
neighbours, that every man found his comfort and reputation depend
mainly on his prowess. If he fought desperately he gained wealth,
honour, and plenty of wives; but cowards were maltreated by other men
and scorned even by the women. The bravest man left the largest number
of offspring; and every boy was told so early and earnestly to be
courageous as to develop a pugnacious instinct, which has come down to
the present day in much greater strength than is needed for the ordinary
demands of civilised life. We love war too much, because our ancestors
were in danger of not loving it enough for their own safety. As courage
ceased to be the one all-important excellence, industry, fidelity, and
honesty were found so useful as to be encouraged with a care which has
done much to mould conscience into its present shape. Other virtues
were inculcated in the same way. The welfare of the family was found to
depend largely on the fidelity of wife to husband; and the result was
that chastity has held a much higher place in the feminine than in
the masculine conscience. So our religious instincts owe much of their
strength to the zeal with which our ancestors sought to avert the divine
wrath. Thus we have ideas which were originally only vague inferences
from primitive experience, but which have gradually gained such strength
and definiteness, that they have much more power than if we had thought
them out unaided by the past. Spencer himself says, "There have
been, and still are, developing in the race certain fundamental moral
intuitions" which "are the results of accumulated experiences of
utility, gradually organised and inherited," but "have come to be quite
independent of conscious experience." They "have no apparent basis in
the individual experiences of utility"; and thus conscience has acquired
its characteristic disinterestedness.

When we feel this inner prompting to a brave or honest action which
must be done promptly or left undone, it is our duty to act without
hesitation or regard to our own interest. We are serving our race in
the way which its experience has taught. Suppose, however, that there is
time enough for deliberation, and that we see a possibility of harm to
our neighbours, our family, or even to our own highest welfare. In this
case, we ought to compare the good and evil results carefully. We should
also do well to consider what was the decision of the consciences of
the best and wisest men under similar circumstances. If we neglect
these precautions, we may be in danger of following not conscience but
passion. There is also a possibility that conscience may embody only
such primitive ideas of duty as have since been found incorrect. This
has often been the case with persecutors and monarchists.

Generosity is still too apt to take an impulsive and reckless form which
perpetuates pauperism. Spencer has taught us that conscience is worthy
not only of obedience, but of education.

Spencer's attempt to substitute a thoughtful for a thoughtless
goodness of character has been much aided by his protest against such
undiscriminating exhortations to self-sacrifice as are constantly heard
from the pulpit. Good people, and especially good women, welcome the
idea of giving up innocent pleasure and enduring needless pain. The
glory of martyrdom blinds them to the fact that, as Spencer says in his
_Psychology_, "Pains are the correlatives of actions injurious to the
organism, while pleasures are the correlatives of actions conducive
to its welfare." In other words, "Pleasures are the incentives to
life-supporting acts, and pains the deterrents from life-destroying
acts." Abstinence from pleasure may involve loss of health.
Self-sacrifice is scarcely possible without some injury to mind or
body; as is the case with people who make it a religious duty to read
no interesting books and take scarcely any exercise on Sunday. It is
further true that "The continual acceptance of benefits at the expense
of a fellow-being is morally injurious"; as "The continual giving up of
pleasures and continual submission to pains are physically injurious."
Blind self-sacrifice "curses giver and receiver - physically deteriorates
the one and morally deteriorates the other," "the outcome of the policy
being destruction of the worthy in making worse the unworthy." No wonder
that men are stronger, and also more selfish, than women. Almost all
self-sacrifice involves loss of individual liberty. The subjection of
women has been deepened by their readiness to sacrifice themselves to
those they love; their fondness for martyrdom often leads them into the
sin of marrying without love; and generosity of heart facilitates ruin.
Women would really be more virtuous if they felt less obligation to
their lovers and more to their race.

IV. Spencer's psychological discoveries were corollaries to that great
principle of evolution of which he made the following announcement as
early as 1857 in the _Westminster Review_. After declaring his belief in
"that divergence of many races from one race which we inferred must have
continually been occurring during geologic time," he stated that "The
law of all progress is to be found in these varied evolutions of the
homogeneous into the heterogeneous," or in other words, "out of the
simple into the complex." The discoveries of Darwin and Wallace were
not announced before 1858, but Spencer avowed in 1852 his belief in "the
theory of evolution" or "development hypothesis," according to which
"complex organic forms may have arisen by successive modifications out
of simple ones." It was without any aid or suggestion from Darwin that
Spencer's statement of the law of evolution was brought into the final
form published in 1862. Evolution was then described as change, not
only from the simple to the complex, but also from the chaotic to
the concentric and consolidated, or, in Spencer's own words, "from an
indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite coherent heterogeneity."
Progress, he says, consists in integration as well as differentiation.
There is an increase in permanence and definiteness as well as in
variety. Higher forms are not only more complex and unlike than lower
ones, but also more stable and more strongly marked.

Spencer has been represented by some Transcendentalists as Darwin's
pupil; but the whole system just described would, in all probability,
have been built up in substantially its present form, if both Darwin and
Wallace had kept their discoveries to themselves. The only difference
would have been that Spencer could not have been sustained by such a
great mass of evidence. All these facts were collected by Darwin merely
to prove the physical development of men and other animals from lower
forms of life; but Spencer showed that all the phenomena of thought and
feeling, as well as of astronomy, geology, and chemistry, are results of
the great laws of integration and differentiation. All human history and
social relations can be accounted for in this way. And if this extension
had not been given to the principle of evolution, Darwin's discoveries
might soon have ceased to have much interest, except for students of
natural history. Each of the two great evolutionists helped the other
gain influence; but their co-operation was almost as unintentional as
that of two luminaries which form a double star.

V. Spencer has done much to diminish intolerance, by teaching, as early
as 1862, that all religions are necessary steps in the upward march of
evolution.

He has also attempted to reconcile religion and science, by teaching
that the one all-essential belief is in a great unknowable reality,
which is not only inscrutable but inconceivable. In writing about this
supreme power, he uses capitals with a constancy which would look like
an assumption of knowledge, if the same habit were not followed in
regard to many other words of much less importance. He admits that "We
cannot decide between the alternative suppositions, that phenomena are
due to the variously conditioned workings of a single force, and
that they are due to the conflict of two forces." "Matter cannot be
conceived," he says, "except as manifesting forces of attraction and
repulsion"; but he also says that these antagonistic and conflicting
forces "must not be taken as realities but as our symbols of the
reality," "the forms under which the workings of the unknowable are
cognisable." This creed is accepted by many American evolutionists.
It is the doctrine of one of Spencer's most elaborate and brilliant
interpreters, Professor John Fiske, of such popular clergymen as Doctors
Minot J. Savage and Lyman Abbott, and of many of the members of that
energetic organisation, "The Brooklyn Ethical Association." _The Open
Court_ of Chicago and other periodicals are working avowedly for "the
Religion of Science"; but that is not to be established without much
closer conformity to the old-fashioned creeds and ceremonies than
has been made by Spencer. His later works seem more orthodox than his
earlier ones; but his final decision is that "The very notions, origin,
cause, and purpose, are relations belonging to human thought, which are
probably irrelevant to the ultimate reality." He has also admitted that
the proposition, "Evolution is caused by mind," "cannot be rendered into
thought." And he is right in saying that he has nowhere suggested
worship.

Whether he has proposed a reconciliation, or only a compromise, whether
evolutionism will ever be as popular in the pulpit as Transcendentalism,
and whether there is not more reality in the forces of attraction and
repulsion than in Spencer's great unknowable, are problems which I will
not discuss. Darwin was an agnostic like Huxley, who held that "We know
nothing of what may be beyond phenomena," and "Science commits suicide
when she adopts a creed." Huxley pronounced the course of nature
"neither moral nor immoral, but non-moral," and declared that "The
ethical progress of society depends not on imitating the cosmic process
but on combating it." The severity of his criticism of the Gospel
narratives called out threats of prosecution for blasphemy. He avowed
"entire concurrence" with Haeckel, who holds that belief in a personal
God and an immortal soul are incompatible with the fundamental
principles of evolution. The German scientist argues in his elaborate
history of the development of animals, that life is no manifestation of
divine power, working with benevolent purpose, but merely the necessary
result of unconscious forces, inherent in the chemical constitution
and physical properties of matter, and acting mechanically according
to immutable laws. The position of Haeckel and Huxley is all the more
significant because Frederic Harrison knows of "no single thinker in
Europe who has come forward to support this religion of an unknown
cause."

VI. A much more important controversy has been called out by Spencer's
theory of the limits of government. As early as 1842 he proposed "the
limitation of state action to the maintenance of equitable relations
among citizens." His _Social Statics_ demanded, in 1850, as a necessary
condition of high development, "the liberty of each, limited only by the
like liberty of all." His ideal would be a government where "every man
has freedom to do all he wills, provided he infringes not the equal
freedom of any other man." These propositions are repeated in the
revised edition of 1892, which differs from the earlier one in omitting
a denial of the right of private property in land, and also a demand for
female suffrage. How far Spencer had changed his views may be seen in


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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 13 of 16)