Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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1 " The Principles of Christianity," London, Catholic Truth Society,

P- 59-

* Which one may also speak of as the vital principle or under any other

term which connotes the existence of an extra-physical agency in living

3 His results were published in a little work, " Francisci Redi Patritii
Arctini Experimenta circa generationem inscctorum." The edition under
my hands is " Amstelodami sumptibus Andreae Frisii," M. DC. LXXI.


of putting gauze screens over meat and thus proving that,
when so protected, it did not develop maggots. This
hitherto held proof of spontaneous generation therefore fell
to the ground. We may roughly speak of Redi's method
as that of sterilisation, if by sterilisation we mean the con-
tinued exclusion from a suitable pabulum of the living
organisms of decay. It was by this method in the future
that all great advances in this controversy were made.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the con-
troversy became more active ; curiously enough, the pro-
tagonists were two Catholic priests. Needham (1713-1781)
supported the theory of spontaneous generation and Spal-
lanzani (1729-1799), of whom we have already heard in
connection with his experiments on the salamander in the
direction of regeneration, opposed the doctrine. Moreover,
to Spallanzani belongs the credit of introducing the crucial
experiment on which all later work depends ; for it was he
who showed that if fluids, which would otherwise become
putrescent and be found to be swarming with life, were
boiled for a sufficiently long time and kept thereafter in
hermetically sealed vessels, no putrefaction took place and
no life was developed. Again the controversy went to sleep
until in 1858 Pouchet asserted that he had seen life develop
in a sterilised medium which had been exposed to what he
believed to be pure air. The discussion which this assertion
provoked led the French Academy in i860 to offer a prize
to the person who could solve the riddle.

As we now all know, the answer, and that a most con-
clusive one, was given by Pasteur, who worked on the lines
originated by Redi and perfected by Spallanzani. He showed
quite conclusively that the cause of putrefaction and the
appearance of living organisms in suitable pabula was not
spontaneous generation but contamination by microscopic
organisms, of which the air is full. Redi had commenced
the discovery by showing that gross causes, such as blow-
flies, when excluded from the pabulum, excluded the pos-
sibility of the formation of maggots. Spallanzani went a
good deal further than that, but the scientific instruments
of the day were not sufficient to enable him to complete his
thesis. Pasteur had the instruments and the genius and


closed the question, so far as such a question can be closed,
for it must always be remembered that Pasteur did not
prove that spontaneous generation does not take place :
no man could prove a general negative of that kind. What
he did show was that none of the evidence which had hither-
to been claimed to prove the reality of spontaneous genera-
tion did actually prove it. Hence the position in which he
left matters was this : Spontaneous generation may take
place and may even be going on all around us without our
knowing it ; but, if so, it is without our knowing it, for there
is not a single particle of scientific evidence in favour of
such an occurrence. There are perhaps still a very few who
cling to a belief in spontaneous generation, and think that
it has been demonstrated ; but there is no question that,
as far as they can be unanimous on any point, and indeed
with a unanimity more than remarkable in scientific con-
troversies, men of science are convinced that spontaneous
generation has been entirely disproved. Securus judicat
orbis terrarum : the entire canning and bottling trade
depends upon the truth of Pasteur's experiments and does
not find them wanting. For a further account of Pasteur
and his work the reader may be referred to any of the books
and pamphlets 1 — and there are a myriad of both — which
deal with the life and work of that truly great man. Mean-
time one may allude to three other assertions in connection
with this matter— assertions which one comes across from
time to time, and which had better be dealt with before we
pass to the consideration of other questions.

The first of these may be thus stated : " It is true that
spontaneous generation does not take place nowadays, but
I feel quite sure that it did take place in bygone days."
Thus Herbert Spencer 2 declared that " at a remote period
in the past, when the temperature of the Earth's surface
was much higher than at present, and other physical con-
ditions were unlike those we know, inorganic matter, through
successive complications, gave origin to organic matter."

1 There is an excellent account of him by Professor McWeeney, in
' Twelve Catholic Men of Science," published by the Catholic Truth

* " Nineteenth Century," May, 1886.


We may note the delightful nebulosity of the words
" through successive complications," which really beg the
whole question, and pass on to the classical utterance of
Huxley on the subject. 1 Huxley thought that if it were
given to him " to look beyond the abyss of geologically
recorded time " he might " expect to be a witness of the
evolution of living protoplasm from not-living matter."
And though he admitted 2 that the biogenists were vic-
torious all along the line, he went on to claim that spon-
taneous generation at some time or another must have
occurred because it was " a necessary corollary from Dar-
win's views if legitimately carried out." Misplaced faith
could hardly go further. In connection with the hypothesis
of life having been brought by a meteor from some planet,
Reinke, the botanist, said that that idea would never have
been devised had not the theory of spontaneous generation
been regarded " as lost beyond all hope of recovery." 3
Spencer's and Huxley's way of recovering that which is
" lost beyond all hope of recovery " was to refer it to a
period before the advent of man, as to which, of course,
there is not a single atom of proof or testimony. Virchow,
in an address delivered at Wiesbaden in 1887, said : " Never
has a living being, or even a living element— let us say a
living cell — been found of which it could be predicated that
it was the first of its species. Nor have any fossil remains
ever been found of which it could ever be likely that they
belonged to a being the first of its kind, or produced by
spontaneous generation." This statement holds good to
the present day.

Moreover, it may be remarked that the temperature of
the globe, though possibly higher than it now is when life
first appeared upon it, could not have been so very much
higher, or life could neither have appeared nor continued to
exist. There are no conditions, thermic, chemical or
physical, which can possibly have existed on this earth at
any period which cannot be perfectly reproduced on a

1 " Critiques and Addresses," p. 239.

2 In a letter to Charles Kingsley, published in Huxley's " Life and
Letters," i., 244.

3 As quoted by Fr. Wasmann, S.J., in " Modern Biology, etc.," p. 204.


limited scale in our laboratories ; yet no one has hitherto
succeeded in getting anywhere near the solution of the
problem of the production of living protoplasm.

The second assertion amounts to this : " We haven't
yet made living protoplasm artificially, but we are on the
point of doing so." If prophesying is the most gratuitous
form of foolishness in any case, it certainly has so far shown
itself to be so here ; the hope has been expressed time after
time, yet, according to those best qualified to pronounce
an opinion, we are no nearer to its realisation than we were
years ago.

Sir Henry Roscoe in 1887 1 said : " It is true that there
are those who profess to foresee that the day will arise when
the chemist, by a succession of constructive efforts, may pass
beyond albumen, and gather the elements of lifeless matter
into a living structure. Whatever may be said regarding
this from other standpoints, the chemist can only say that
at present no such problem lies within his province. Proto-
plasm, with which the simplest manifestations of life are
associated, is not a compound, but a structure built up of
compounds. The chemist may successively synthesise any
of its component molecules, but he has no more reason
to look forward to the synthetic production of the structure
than to imagine that the synthesis of gallic acid leads to the
artificial production of gall-nuts."

Twenty years later another President of the British
Association 2 arose once more to prophesy that living proto-
plasm was shortly to be demonstrated. It has been noticed
that it is always biologists and never chemists or physicists
who draw extravagant cheques on the bank of Chemistry and
Physics. So it was in this case, and again the cheque was
returned marked "no effects" by the chemists and physi-
cists, who with one accord declared that the solution of the
problem in question was no nearer than it had ever been.
With regard to the assertion with which we are now dealing,
it may be at least said that no one asserts that living matter
has been made by the chemist, and that it will be made
is a prophecy which may or may not come true.

1 Presidential Address to the British Association.
* Professor, now Sir E. Schafer, in 191 1.


In the third place, it is occasionally asserted that though
living matter has never yet been made, something on the
way to being alive has been produced artificially. To this
it may be replied that a thing must be either living or not
living, and that it is impossible to conceive of a thing which
is half-and-half. This impossibility of conceiving such a
thing, by the way, is one of the best proofs of the abyss
which stretches between life in its simplest manifestations
and not-living matter. It may be added that these half-
way houses have been shown to be purely physical mani-
festations explicable on purely physical lines.

How then did life arise ? " God created it " is the
Catholic answer — indeed the answer of all Christians ; and
this simple and sufficient reply holds the field. Reinke, a
distinguished botanist, declares : x "If we agree that living
matter has at some time come from inorganic substances,
then, in my opinion, the Creation hypothesis is the only one
which meets the necessities of logic and of causality and
therewith answers to the needs of a prudent seeker after

With which statement we may leave the question of the
origin of life.

1 " Einleitung in die theoretische Biologie," s. 559.



IN the foregoing chapters we have endeavoured to dis-
cuss two important questions in connection with Life.
In the first place, we had to consider whether there really
is such a thing as Life, or whether the manifestations which
we have come to connect with that name are in fact nothing
more than higher manifestations of those chemical and
physical processes with which in simpler forms we are
familiar in everyday existence. The answer suggested to
that question is that there is a radical difference between
the phenomena of Life and the phenomena of chemistry
and physics, and that the former cannot now be and never
can be stated fully in terms of the latter. The difference
lies in the existence in living matter of a vital principle
which dominates the material substance with which it is

We next considered the origin of life, and found the entire
scientific world averse from the solution of spontaneous
generation, whether as an event of to-day or of the remote

Life, as far as we can trace it, has always come from
life : how then did it originate ? There is, of course, the
agnostic position which takes Life as an existing fact and
refuses to ask how it originally came into being, believing
that no answer to such a question can be expected. With
those who contentedly hold such a position there can be
no argument. All the theories which they may subsequently
weave are good, or may be good, so long as one is content
to remain within the system which they have set up and
within which they are working ; but they do not explain



the system, still less anything which is outside it. Further,
it is obvious that if the system which they assume should
prove to have been falsely assumed, all that has rested on
that assumption must necessarily fall to the ground.

We may leave this attitude of mind on one side, since it
confessedly ignores the matter with which we are concerned.
We have agreed that there is such a thing as Life ; that it
differs in kind from what we may for the moment speak of
as Not-Life ; that it must have had a beginning. Taking
all these things into consideration, we can have little
difficulty in accepting, with a large number of scientific
persons, not to speak of all believers in revealed religion,
the statement that Life was created by an Omnipotent
Creator. In fact, things as they are necessitate our believing
in a Creator and in postulating such a Being in order to
explain them, even if we had no revelation to give us in-
formation concerning Him. On this point something more
must be said when we come to deal with the so-called
Argument from Design. Meanwhile, it may De pointed out
that the belief to which we have been alluding is neither
the beginning nor the end of our idea of the powers and
actions of the Creator in connection with the physical facts
of this planet. It is not the beginning, because He created
Matter before He gave rise to Life ; and it is not the end,
for His action with regard to Life obviously does not end
with the origination thereof. The Creator of Life by that
very fact and in that very act must have foreseen,
intended and created all the manifestations of Life which
have been, are, or may yet be. This statement brings us
face to face with the Theory of Evolution, or Darwinism,
as it is commonly but, as we shall see, most erroneously
called — a title under which it has been misrepresented,
argued over, misunderstood, extolled and hated, perhaps
more than any theory which has ever been before the public.
It will be necessary to devote much consideration to this
matter, for reasons which will be perfectly obvious to all

Before, however, getting to the heart of the contro-
versy, there are certain preliminary considerations which,
as it seems to the present writer, must be taken into con-


sideration in any discussion of the matter ; the neglect of
which, in fact, has led to a good deal of misconception.

In approaching those which deal with theological problems,
no one can be more aware than the present writer of the
difficulty of the task. It is intensely difficult for anyone
who has not had a prolonged training in Theology even to
touch the fringe of comprehension of such questions as are
involved in the matter with which we are now concerned.
Huxley once exulted in having " plucked the heart " out
of Suarez during a summer afternoon spent in the library
of a Scottish University. He would have been deeply in-
dignant if some theologian had ventured to make a similar
claim in connection with some profound embryological
monograph : how he would have derided the man who
imagined that, without learning the language of science,
he was yet able to penetrate the meaning of those who
wrote in that language ! But Scholastic Philosophy and
Theology have their own language, which is not to be
learnt in a day nor picked up "as one goes along." It is
ignorance or neglect of this simple but most important fact
which has led to so many misconceptions and misunder-
standings, not only on the part of men of science but also
on the part of would-be defenders of the faith who have
at times done more harm to the cause which they desired
to support than has been effected by those whose aim in
life was to destroy it.

It is with this warning before my eyes and with every
submission of what I say to those who are far more conver-
sant with the matter than I am or am ever likely to be,
that I venture to set down the following points, which seem
to me to assist in coming to a right conclusion on this

It may seem like a platitude to remark in the first place
that the Creator is not a superior kind of human being.
Yet it is the cardinal point which we have to keep before
us. Of course, it is a commonplace of Theology, but I am
speaking of and to non-theologically instructed persons.
St. Thomas Aquinas says, 1 " Nullum nomen univoce de
Deo et creaturis praedicatur." There is nothing; no, not

1 "Summa," Pars i., qu. xiii., art. v.


even existence, as regards which we can speak in common
terms of the Creator and the beings whom He has created.
Of course we cannot help thinking of the Creator in an
anthropomorphic manner. There is no moral delinquency
in doing so ; it is, in fact, impossible for us to do otherwise.
We cannot look higher than our eyesight will carry us.
Imagination will penetrate further than the most powerful
telescope ; and imagination will at least help us to under-
stand that whatever we may think of the Creator, the reality
must far transcend our thought. And further, it will
enable us to realise, what of course is the case, that our
inaccuracies are not only great but that they are inaccuracies
of quality far more than inaccuracies of quantity.

We have just seen that not even existence can be postu-
lated of God and man in common terms, and this brings us
to the subject of Eternity. All of us, I suppose, think of
this as being a very greatly prolonged Time — prolonged
backwards and prolonged forwards, never having a begin-
ning nor an end but always going on. According to the
teaching of Catholic Philosophy, Eternity is not this at all.
It is defined as " possession, without succession and perfect,
of interminable life." The life of God in Eternity, to use
our quite inadequate phraseology, is " not only without
beginning or end, but also without succession — iota simul —
that is without past or future ; a never-changing instant or
' now.' "* " In God," writes Fr. Boedder, 2 " there is no kind
of succession, and where there is no succession there is no
time." It does not appear that in the controversy which we
are now commencing to discuss what I may venture to call
the " Nowness " of God has been sufficiently considered.

If it is difficult for the ordinary person to think of the
Creator in other than human terms, so also is it difficult
for him to think otherwise of the Creation. At the best he
is likely to think of a superhuman intelligence at work, but
only of a superhuman intelligence, a human intelligence
raised to the n th power. Moreover, he is likely to think of
this intelligence as arranging things in a succession of events,
perhaps even at successive times, nay, perhaps even with

1 " Catholic Encyclopaedia," sub voce " Eternity."
* " Natural Theology," Stonyhurst Series, p. 158.


reconsiderations at different epochs. Indeed, with all
reverence it may be said that those who think about the
subject at all are tempted to think of creation as effected
by a very superior kind of man sitting down daily to con-
sider the task that was accomplished yesterday, and that
which must be attacked to-day.

No doubt the position thus indicated is excused by the
fact that it seems to be that adopted by the writer of
Genesis ; and for very obvious reasons. The writer of that
book certainly intended to make it clear that God created
everything ; and, whatever other lessons he may have
desired to teach, it seems also clear that he desired to teach
mankind that there was a succession in the events of creation
(see Chapter XVI). These things the writer of the Sacred
Book had to bring before the simple people for whom he
wrote, in language which they could understand : any other
kind of account would have been quite incomprehensible
to them — in fact, the very statements about the Creator
which have just been made are incomprehensible to all of
us. This is no more than to say that God is inscrutable and
incomprehensible to His creatures : if He were not so,
they would be His equals and not His creatures.

To return to our main thesis, we must recognise that the
idea which, without putting it into so many words, one is
liable to form of God and of His creation — as that of a vastly
superhuman Being slowly evolving the course of Nature
by successive ideas and successive operations — is not only
inadequate but positively ridiculous. How ridiculous it is
becomes the more obvious the more we meditate upon the
fact that there is no succession with God but that every-
thing is Now.

If we once get this idea clearly into our minds and couple
with it the idea — very much less difficult to realise — of
God's Omnipotence, we can at once begin to look at the
controversy as to Evolution from a totally different angle.
We approach it from the standpoint of a Creator, and we
do so because the central and primary point of importance
is the acceptance of a Creator and the comprehension of His
attributes. Beside this all other matters are of secondary
importance. Whether the products of Life came into exist-


ence suddenly or slowly and gradually ; whether, in the
latter case, there were epochs of greater or lesser activity or
a constant steady stream of progress ; whether there were
times at which fresh forms of life arose without connection
with those already in existence ; whether evolution, if
evolution there were, was mono- or poly-phyletic — all these
things sink into minor importance when we remember that
God is Omnipotent and that with Him there is no succession.

Whatever may have been the process of Creation, it was
a process of Creation ordained by the Creator. Assuming
that — to speak humanly — God had His plan ; that He saw
in His ideas countless possible worlds to their minutest
details ; that He selected one and said, " Let it be," then
this world would come into being and evolve as foreseen by
God, God Himself remaining unchanged during the process
of variation and evolution. Immediate Divine formation
and mediate production through evolution are equally
possible to God.

Another matter which requires mention is the statement
which is sometimes made that God " interferes " or " inter-
venes " in the progress of natural operations. The terms
are inadequate, hopelessly inadequate, as are all terms
which we are obliged to use in this connection. Here again,
if we keep constantly before our minds the " Nowness " of
God, we shall be kept clear of the obvious absurdity of think-
ing that He is called upon from time to time, like the captain
of a ship or the generalissimo of some great army, to come
to a decision respecting some hitherto unexpected phase
of events. The terms just alluded to are really a matter
of that technical language of Theology which, as has already
been said, must be learnt before the content of the subject
itself can be appreciated. The Divine Act can be considered
in itself (entative, to use the theological term) or in the term
produced {terminative).

Considered terminative one could speak of a multitude of
divine acts ; but the Divine Act in itself, the Act that
produced all these terms or effects, is really one. 1

1 I owe this explanation, and some of the other points in this chapter,
to a kind and erudite theological friend to whom my gratitude is due. He
adds in this connection an illustration which may be of as much value to


Creation — with that continuance of the stream of life
and its development, not to speak of the guidance of the
same which that word entails — is not, in our common
acceptation of the term, an " interference " with the laws
of nature. The point to keep constantly before our minds
is that creation really is the institution of those very laws.
The creation of Life and the formulation of the Laws under
which it was to work : each of these simultaneous operations
forms part of the Act of Creation. Again, to use our in-
adequate terminology, we must not look upon what we may
call " interferences " as unpremeditated. As far as I know,

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 30 of 38)