Copyright
Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

The church and science online

. (page 35 of 38)
Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 35 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and others, we are prepared for a perpetual confession of
ignorance : and we have seen that it is not only believers
in Christianity or in a religion of some kind who have come
to the conclusion that the theory of a Creator is that which
best explains things as they are. Once for all, then, it may
be said that the statement that monism logically follows
upon Darwinism is not correct. Indeed it is difficult to see
how those who are so insistent on the fact that there are
laws of Nature which accomplish ingenious ends, can account
for them without postulating a Law-maker as the originator
of what must otherwise be assumed to be the work of blind

chance.

v: " '



EVOLUTION AND THE FATHERS 377

viii. We have seen that some sort of evolution— any of
the forms discussed in the preceding pages — if looked upon
as a method of creation is not antagonistic to the teaching
of the highest doctrinal authorities in the Catholic Church,
such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Suarez and
others (see Chapter XXXII). On this point I may conclude
with two quotations from Father Wasmann — who is far
better qualified to speak on this particular point than the
present writer — since they not only show his own views
but also illustrate the further point which has been several
times urged in these pages — namely, that the mediate
scheme of Creation gives us an even more exalted idea of
the greatness of the Creator than would be given by an
immediate form. " Personally," he writes, 1 " I am firmly
convinced that the doctrine of evolution, considered as a
scientific hypothesis and theory, is not at variance with the
Christian theory of life, although the contrary is often
asserted. ... If we assume that God is the Creator of all
things, and that the world created by Him has evolved
independently and automatically, we have actually a greater
idea of God than if we regard Him as constantly interfering
with the working of the Laws of Nature. Let us imagine
two billiard players, each having a hundred balls to direct.
The one needs a hundred strokes in order to accomplish his
end ; the other with one stroke sets all the balls in motion,
as he will : the latter is undoubtedly the more skilful player.
St. Thomas Aquinas stated long ago that the force of any
cause was the greater, the further its action extended.
God does not interfere directly in the natural order where
He can work through natural causes. This is by no means
a new principle, but a very old one, and it shows us that
the theory of evolution, as a scientific hypothesis and theory,
as far as it can be really proved, is perfectly compatible
with the Christian theory of the origin of things. Accord-
ing to this view, the evolution of the organic world is but
a little line in the millions of pages contained in the book
of the evolution of the whole universe, on the title-page
of which still stands written in indelible letters ; ' In the
beginning God created Heaven and Earth.' "

* •■* Problem 0; Evolution," p. 18



378 THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE

ix. Finally, it may be pointed out once more that, for
Catholics at least, a number of difficulties of a minor char-
acter seem to be completely overcome by ever bearing in
mind the teaching of our philosophy and theology as to
the " nowness " of God. The laws, whatever they may be,
discovered or undiscovered, are His laws, and were made
operative at the moment (we are obliged to speak in the
inadequate words of time and space) that creation took
place. The whole scheme was one and complete at that
moment, and we have no more need to think, in the ordinary
significance of the words, of " interferences " than we have
to consider it an " interference " when a clock strikes twelve.
When the clock was made, it was intended to strike twelve
at the appropriate moment : when creation was launched
on its course it was equally intended that fishes should
appear at a certain moment and man at another. But all
were, in idea, created at the same instant, which with the
Creator has always been and always will be " Now."



CHAPTER XXXVII
MAN AND HIS ORIGIN— HIS BODILY PART

WE are now approaching the termination of out
enquiry. Having dealt with the question of trans-
formism as it applies to the lower creation we must now
turn our attention to man. Is there any real distinction
between the case of man and that of other living things,
particularly other mammalia, to which order he belongs
anatomically ? Yesterday, so to speak, a large portion of
the scientific world would have replied that there was no
distinction, bodily or mental, save one of degree ; to-day
the reply would hardly be so confident nor so unanimous.

For us Catholics there can, of course, be but one reply
that, whatever may be the case with regard to man's bodily
attributes, which form the topic of this chapter, there can
be no question as to his soul, which we shall consider in
the next.

We believe that the soul of man is a wholly different
thing from the " souls " of lower animals. Aristotle came
to this conclusion by pure reason and without the aid of
revelation. Our psychologists of to-day seem to be reach-
ing it again — by devious paths no doubt, but still reaching
it — as we shall see when that part of our subject comes
under consideration.

From the account of the creation of the world given in
Genesis one fact emerges with great clearness. The creation
of man was a dual event and is so described, whereas the
creation of all other things is, in each case, described as a
single event. Cardinal Newman emphasised this distinc-
tion in one of his sermons : " Man was made rational after
he was made corporeal. ' The Lord God formed man of the
dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath

379



380 THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE

of life, and man became a living soul ' (Gen. ii. 7). Here are
two acts on the part of the Creator — the forming the dust
and the breathing the life." 1

According then to what would seem the natural meaning
of the words of the Bible, it would appear that the Creator
first made a suitable habitation for the soul, and when that
habitation was made, infused the soul into it, when and
when only it became what can properly be called " Man."
There would thus, according to the language of the text,
seem to have been a time, however brief, when there was a
man-like organism which was not yet man. It is to be
noted that in the account of the creation of other living
things, no such distinction is made as to a twofold operation.
From this we may be led to suppose that the creature and
its vital principle did not in these cases result from separate
acts of the Creator.

Let us now consider the body, the habitation of the
soul.

Unquestionably man's body closely resembles the body
of other mammals and especially that of the ape ; indeed,
anatomically, he is an ape : even the anatomy of his
brain presents great similarity to that of the higher
apes. As we have yet to see, the more this particular
point is pressed, the stronger becomes the psychological
argument resting upon the mental differences between
the two.

This great anatomical similarity between man and other
mammals certainly strongly suggests a common physical
origin. It is not in itself a proof of such ; indeed there is
no conclusive evidence at present in existence for this
theory. Nevertheless the supposition of the common origin
of the body of man and of other mammals may be used and
is used by science as a working hypothesis to deal with the
morphological problems which arise in terms of that hypo-
thesis — as was the theory of Copernicus when first put for-
ward by him. It may then be found that an increasing
number of these morphological problems and what appear
to be their solutions, point in the direction of the working

1 " Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day," 1869, Sermon VII,

J>r JO? ,



THE ORIGIN OF MAN 381

hypothesis thus adopted. This would gradually augment
its probability and indeed make it more of a fact to
us and less of a hypothesis. But it must not be for-
gotten that an opposite result has occurred in the case
of many working hypotheses and may do in connection
with this.

We must always keep clearly before our minds that
very important truth which has been so often — but not
too often — insisted upon in this book — namely, that because
an explanation explains all the terms of the thing to be
explained, it is not, therefore, necessarily the true explana-
tion but may be far removed from it.

Scientific investigators may, in this way, be on the track
of the true explanation of the origin of man's body or they
may not. Of only one thing can we feel absolutely sure, and
that is that down to the present moment science has arrived
at no conclusive proof of the common origin. " The only
statement, consistent with her dignity, that science can
make, is to say that she knows nothing about the origin of
man." So wrote Reinke in 1902, x and so must any honest
biologist write to-day, for no discovery has since been made
which affords unquestionable evidence for the opposite
statement.

We have already seen that man, as we first know of him,
was skeletally identical with man as he now exists ; that he
was a skilful toolmaker in stone, the only lasting raw material
for tools with which he was acquainted ; that he knew how
to light a fire ; that he believed in a future state for his
soul, however vaguely he may, in his rudimentary psycho-
logy, have understood this matter. Thus he was a man in
every sense of the word and would have been recognised
anywhere to-day as such, were he to appear in flesh and
blood in the streets of any great town.

Branco, the eminent palaeontologist, said in 1901 that in
the history of our planet man appears as a genuine Homo
novus and that, as to his ancestry, palaeontology tells us
nothing on the subject — it knows no ancestors of man. 2

1 " Der gegenwartige Stand der Abstammungslehre," Der Turmer, v.
October, 1902, Part I, p. 13, teste Wasmann, " Modern Biology," p. 480.
* See Wasmann, " Modern Biology," pp. 477-8.



382 THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE

From the time of Darwin scientific observers have been
looking for what has been called " the Missing Link," but
have never succeeded in finding him. Sometimes he has
been thought to have been secured, as in the case of the
Neanderthal and, later on, of the Trinil, Heidelberg and
Piltdown remains ; but none of these give much assistance
to the seekers. Further investigations may throw light
upon all these things, but at the moment, those who have
written on the Piltdown skull, the latest discovered memorial
of early man, are not in any way agreed as to how it should
be restored, what it would be like when properly restored,
nor what its cranial capacity may have been. Further
investigations may throw light on this matter. They may,
though for reasons yet to be given, it seems unlikely, afford
distinct — possibly even convincing — evidence in favour of
the common origin of man and mammals. So far the proof
is not there from the skeletal point of view. Of course there
are the fantastic pedigrees of Haeckel, with numerous purely
imaginary ancestors inserted wherever the gap was too
huge to be ignored. No one credits these things nowadays ;
indeed the old phylogenetic legends day by day tend to
become regarded with less and less favour and to have less
and less weight. Driesch, as we have seen, does not hesitate to
criticise with the utmost severity " the phantasy christened
Phylogeny . ' ' * Ba teson derides the same system : 2 " Natural-
ists," he says, " may still be found expounding teleological
systems which would have delighted Dr. Pangloss himself,
but at the present time few are misled." 3

All these phylogenetic legends arose from the obsessing
idea of series which Mendelian investigations have shown
to be almost certainly fallacious. 4 Fallacious or not, there
is nothing at this moment resembling a series in connection
with man during the ages of his existence upon the earth,



1 See his " History of Vitalism," p. 140, and elsewhere.

2 In his " Presidential Address to the British Association in 1914," I,
p. 8.

8 He quotes, as an example of these, from a recent Croonian Lecture,
" On the Origin of Mammals,," which shows high powers of imagination :
but it is a small thing in comparison with the Haeckelian pedigree
of man.

4 See p. 363 for Bateson's discussion of the sweet-pea and its varieties.



THE APE AND THE MAN 383

nor is there any series linking him up with any possible
ancestry which he may have possessed.

A good many of the ideas about man and his ancestry
are built upon the unsafe foundation which was laid down
when it was considered to be a canon of science that evolu-
tion proceeded only by the gradual accumulation of small
variations. Were this the case we might reasonably expect
to be presented with a " series," if man's body had been
evolved from that of some lower mammal. But we have
seen that the " small variation " and " gradual accumula-
tion " theories do not hold the field as they did. One of the
potent arguments against such a method of evolution is
that a slight modification or an accumulation of slight
modifications might very well reach such a point as to be
actually disadvantageous to their possessor, before they
could reach that further point where they might be really
beneficial to him in the struggle for existence. It is no use
for me to congratulate myself on the fact that, if I reach a
certain spot, I shall be in complete safety and comfort, if
on the way to that spot I must necessarily pass through an
area where I shall almost certainly be destroyed, or, at best,
be in much greater danger than at the spot from which I
started. Now it so happens that this particular argument
can be pressed home more fully in the case of man than per-
haps almost anywhere else. Let us suppose, for a moment,
that some ape-like creature is, slowly and by a minute
series of changes, tending to a man-like form ; what are
the things which would have to happen in the process of
his evolution ? We will consider these in a moment ; but
while we are doing so, let us not fail to note that with one
single exception, there is not one of the things which must
have happened that would not have been of such a char-
acter as to have placed the ape-like creature, in the early
stages of his evolution, in such a position of disadvantage
amongst his fellow-animals as inevitably to have led to his
early extermination.

Man is weaker, less agile, less fitted for rapid flight, less
well-clothed with hair, less well provided with strong canine
teeth, in every physical way a poorer, less powerful animal
than, say, a gorilla . Now, ex hypothesi, he gradually attained



384 THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE

to this position of physical disadvantage by slow degrees :
is it likely that he would have survived the process ? The
late Professor Dwight sums up this point so well that I
shall quote him in extenso. 1 Speaking of man, he says :
" Not very strong of arm, not very swift of foot, without a
well-developed hairy hide, or large teeth, or strong claws,
he seems as a mere animal an exceedingly unfortunate one,
good neither for attack nor defence, in short very unfit for
the struggle for existence, in that imaginary period of half-
fledgedness between brute and man. His instincts and his
senses, that of touch perhaps excepted, though in the savage
state undoubtedly greater than those of civilised man, are
by no means remarkable. Take him as a mere animal, what
is he but an egregious failure ? By what kind of evolution
could such a creature rise* who shows throughout his body
only instances of the survival of the unfittest ? Let us try
to imagine him rising in the scale according to the dogmas
of evolution. Let us watch the arboreal monkey, well-
fitted for his surroundings, gradually losing all that fits
him for them. We see his coat growing thinner, his arms
shorter so that he loses his " reach," his legs longer so
that climbing becomes harder, and at the same time his
brain growing in some incomprehensible way, and for no
good reason, excepting that it is necessary for the theory to
believe that the brain-development went on so swimmingly
that it compensated for the physical degeneration."

There is of course one thing, and one thing only — the
" exception " spoken of a few lines above — which has given
man his predominance and enabled him, poor creature
though he is physically, to lord it over all other living things.
That one feature is the mental superiority which enables the
weak to overcome the strong. Now that form of psychology,
rapidly becoming extinct, which adhered to the foolish
theory that the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes
bile, was (and is, so far as it exists) constrained to postulate
an early and, as Professor Dwight put it, " incomprehen-
sible " development of the brain. Some theorists hold
or held that, for some reason unknown and unguessed at

1 " Thoughts of a Catholic Anatomist," Longmans, New York, 1911,
P- 158.



EVOLUTION BY SALTATION 385

man's brain began to grow because he began to assume
the erect posture, though it is not shown how the one event
depends upon the other. Other theorists hold an opposite
and equally unproved view that he took to the erect posture
because his brain began to grow. All these ideas are the
purest surmises ; there is not a shred of evidence for any
one of them. The fact is that the " small variation " and
" gradual accumulation " theory breaks down in detail and
hopelessly, as far as man is concerned, when it comes to be
critically examined. Many zoologists to-day consider that
it has equally broken down in other cases with which we
are not now concerned. This method of explanation having
failed, is there any other which can be put forward ? Yes :
recent science suggests that the theory of gradual evolution
may be supplanted by that of sa'ltation or mutation. Ac-
cording to this view a new organism considerably different
from the parental type is, from time to time, suddenly
originated by unknown causes, and perpetuates itself as a
new species. If adopted merely as a working hypothesis to
account for the common origin of the bodily part of man
and the lower animals, this might possibly lessen some of
the difficulties, even from the purely rational standpoint.
Some special intervention or supernormal causation would
have been required in any case to produce an organism with
brain and nervous system fitted for the reception of a
rational soul. From the scientific point of view such
mutations in the course of descent are not only conceivable
but seem to have been proved, by the observations of
de Vries, to have occurred in at least some species of
plants.

The hypothesis of the development of man's body by
one or more considerable mutations, designed to take place
so as to provide a proper habitation for the human soul,
would also from the scientific point of view raise fewer
difficulties than the older theory of the accumulated small
variations. There is this final point to be remembered,
namely, that whilst it might have been conceivably possible,
under the older theory, to find a " series " which would
establish the common origin hypothesis, such a series could
not exist and could scarcely be expected to exist, under the
2 c



386 THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE

saltation theory. Hence the difficulty concerning the
" missing link " disappears. Hence definite proof that
things had happened in that way is perhaps scarcely to be
looked for, even if it were in that way that things did
actually happen. But the real fact is that, whatever sur-
mises we may make, we know, as Reinke has asserted,
" nothing about the origin of man."

So much for the hypothesis of the evolutionary forma-
tion of the first man's body, if assumed by scientific in-
vestigators simply as a working hypothesis to co-ordinate
and rationalise certain morphological and physiologica
facts. How does it stand as a legitimate doctrine of Catholic
belief ? Mivart, as is well known, first proposed in 1871
the view that Adam's body may have been mediately
created — that is formed by God not directly from the dust
of the earth, but indirectly by Him through the agencies of
evolution acting on the lower animals. What is the present
position of that doctrine ? Is it compatible or is it incom-
patible with the teaching of the Catholic Church ? The
reply to this question is complex and needs accurate dis-
tinctions. I learn from competent theologians that the
present position may be summed up somewhat as follows.

Mivart's theory was somewhat precipitately and over-
confidently advocated last century by certain able theo-
logical writers who were much impressed by the rapid
advance of the Darwinian theory. Apparently their writ-
ings were brought under the notice of the Roman ecclesi-
astical authorities and were disapproved by them : as a
consequence the authors in question retracted their advocacy
of the doctrine and matters were allowed to remain there.
Accordingly the present position is this : The mind of the
Church at the present time, as expressed in general in the
common teaching of theologians and as conveyed by the
communications of the ecclesiastical authorities at Rome
to the writers above alluded to, is adverse to the theory of
Mivart. In addition to the more obvious meaning of the
Biblical text, the commentaries of the Fathers, the language
of St. Paul and the intricate manner in which various
theological dogmas have been extrinsically connected with
or illustrated by the literal interpretation of the Scriptural



CREATION OF ADAM 387

account of the creation of Adam, have all combined to make
the authorities entrusted with the guardianship of the
Church's teaching very reluctant to admit that a new inter-
pretation of a very important passage of Scripture may -be
freely taught, when there is no clear proof — which is the case
up to the present — that such an interpretation is necessitated
by actual facts of incontrovertible significance. Such neces-
sity can scarcely arise until Science is in a position to with-
draw the statement that she knows " nothing about the
origin of man."

The right and befitting mental attitude of the Catholic
then, in regard to this doctrine, is clear. He does not limit
his assent to the minimum of what is rigidly defined as
de fide. Whatever may be the attractiveness of the specula-
tive opinions of philosophers, or of the working hypotheses
of men of science — whatever even may be their convenience
or instrumental utility in advancing human knowledge — the
loyal Catholic will constantly seek to adapt himself to the
mind of the Church and will accept her guidance even where
her teaching is not put forward as infallible or irreformable.
Still, while this is true as to the filial duty of her children,
it is on the other hand supremely important in the interests
of the Catholic Church herself and of her infallible utter-
ances, that the degree of authority, the nature of the cer-
tainty and the character of the sanctions attached to
diverse ecclesiastical pronouncements on such questions,
should be accurately appreciated. A moment's reflection
on the possibility of future scientific discoveries, coupled
with the experience of the Galileo episode, makes this
obvious.

Returning, then, to the question of the present theo-
logical position of Mivart's hypothesis respecting the pos-
sibility of the formation of Adam's body by divinely directed
evolution, we find that although the advocacy of this theory
has been discouraged by the Roman ecclesiastical authori-
ties as above indicated, it has not, down to the present,
received any public official censure from any of the Roman
Congregations — still less has it been condemned as heretical
through the formal definition of the opposite doctrine as
de fide. Hence should real proof of the original evolution



388 THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE

of man's body ever come to light — which does not seem likely
at present — the Church would have no difficulty in accepting
that opinion, as she is not committed in any irrevocable
manner to the opposite doctrine. 1

1 The theological friends whom I have to thank for the substance of
the latter part of this chapter inform me that those desirous of studying
the most recent exposition of this matter may be referred to Van Noort.
" De Deo Creatore," pp. 114 et seq.



CHAPTER XXXVIII
MAN AND HIS ORIGIN— HIS SPIRITUAL PART



Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 35 of 38)