Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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God in Evolution





Amid all that is problemalu this at letki is certain: • i t -Xj"tr'2ife
is no empty surface-dallying. Something momentously significant
is going forward in it, a movement with vhi'tfa we our selves have
much to do, the direction of which we are? quite[ ivell able to
gauge. — Rudolf Eucken








[ W • D • O ]


THE argument to which attention is called
in the following pages is intimately related
to that of a book written some twenty-
years ago, entitled "What is Reality?" 1 parts of
two chapters of which are brought together and
re-stated in Appendix A of this book.

On some accounts the interval that separates
the two is infelicitous. But, on the other hand,
it is an advantage; for a fundamental principle
of the method herein advocated if., that the
value of any theory can be demonstrated only by
the test of experience. And ; at the end of two
decades of scientific and philosophical activity,
it is encouraging to iind that the stream of
thought on which the earlier venture was launched
has swollen into a great river, carrying philos-
ophies of high import.

The answer then given to the question —
"What is Reality?" has found substantial en-
dorsement in the pragmatic method of James
and Schiller and Dewey, and in the trend of
a wide-spread movement of scattered thought

1 Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1891, Boston and New York,
pp. xxvii + 510.




that is thoroughly, though often unconsciously,

In other words, the foundations, laid twenty
years ago, having solidified rather than crumbled,
a strong inducement is offered to attempt a more
specific application of this method to theology.
And, if a renewed appeal to the actualities of ex-
perience shall be found to yield some intelligible
answers in this department, it will surely not
be a matter of "carrying coals to Newcastle."



The Situation 1

Concerning Method 18

General Aspects of Evolution 37

The Process and its Interpretation .... 60

The Omnipotence of God 84

Evolution and the Doctrine of God's Benevolence 102

The Mandate of Evolution 135

Work Out Your Own Salvation 154

The Future of Evolution 173

Analogy from the Nervous System . . . . 190

The Great Ideal 212

Two Formulas 233

Experience and Will 259

Life's Lesser Enthusiasms 278

The Will to Love 296

Appendix A. The Evidential Value of Analogy 311

Appendix B. Henry Bergson 341




THEOLOGY has been, and must con-
tinue to be, implicated in the move-
ments that take place in the cognate
departments of science and philosophy. The
three interpenetrate each other, and a living
theology is at all times sensitive to changes of
attitude in the other two. Not that it is derived
from either, or both of them, or that it is, at
any time, vitally dependent upon them. It
grows out of and is rooted in the real experi-
ences of men in their spiritual relations. It will
continue to live and energize in the world even
though science and philosophy should be arrayed
against it.

But it is needless to say that under such cir-
cumstances it would be at a disadvantage. It
would not exert its legitimate influence. The
situation would be abnormal. The three should
march together, be mutually supporting, restrain-
ing, inspiring. And if I am not mistaken, it is
toward such a condition of things that the ever-
turning wheels of evolution are carrying us.



Through our antagonisms, and even by means of
them, we are fighting our way to a better under-
standing. Each department, by loyalty to its
own aspect of the truth, has helped to work out
the one great problem. Even controversy, which
at times seems so barren, has helped to eliminate
useless issues and clarify the medium of thought
in which we move.

The present outlook is, from some points of
view at least, most interesting and full of promise;
for in each of the three departments there is a
germinal movement, a new departure and, also
discernible, a common centre toward which all
three converge.

The situation is, in important respects, like
that of the early Christian centuries, when old
conservative religions of separate nations budded
forth, each one with a new version of itself; and
old philosophies enlarged and adapted themselves
in obedience to new aspects of truth that had
dawned upon the consciousness of the race. The
ancient Persian faith gave birth to Mithraism;
that of Egypt to the cult of Isis, and the grand
old Hebrew religion, to Christianity; and, in all
three, the new elements had much in common.
So also with the old philosophies, the new versions
moved toward one vaguely-defined goal, and also
tended to assimilation with the new religions.

To-day, in science, in philosophy and in religion
there are similar vigorous outgrowths, embody-
ing a new way of looking at things. In science


it is the gradual decay of the mechanical con-
ception of the world, and the substitution for it
of a psychological interpretation of its phenom-
ena. In philosophy it is the protest on the
part of a considerable body of concrete thinkers,
who employ in their constructions a method that
deals, to use Professor John Dewey's phrase,
with whole, not half, ideas. Breaking with the
abstractions and negations of the past, this school
puts itself in communication with actual experi-

In religion, that is, in the statement of it which
we call theology, there is a movement, not con-
certed, not clearly formulated, but with well-
defined convergent tendencies. As in the elder
day, so now, there is a common motive underly-
ing views that, to some extent, are divergent.
Then, the movement was away from polytheism
and toward some form of monotheism; now, it
is away from the thought of God as external to
the universe, and toward some conception of
Him as its living, in-dwelling principle.

Perhaps I am over-sanguine in my forecast of
the outcome of these new departures in science,
philosophy and theology, but it seems to me
written in the very nature of the great process
itself that it must be some harmonizing synthesis.

The little world of the Ego, in which each one
of us lives, has been built up gradually by adding
concept to concept, and by the successive correla-
tion of these additions, in progressively larger


syntheses. In the course of growth, some of
these additions have easily and naturally fitted
in to what was previously organized; but, on
the other hand, many of them have had to pass
through much tribulation before they could be
received. The highly-organized personality that
every normally balanced adult has come to be,
contains many elements that, originally hetero-
geneous and unassimilable, have come to be
correlated parts of a conscious personality.

The same is true of the vastly complicated
social organism; and in its history we can trace
the gradual amalgamation of families and tribes
and nations, through long-drawn-out antago-
nisms, into larger and still larger organizations.
And, in every case, these transformations have
been brought about only in part and formally
by the coercive power of external events, and
essentially and intensively by internal growth
changes, — expansions of thought and purpose,
and wider outlooks. Except for these there would
have been no real assimilation, no efficient unity.*

Over and over again this process has been
repeated on life's stage; and we may as well
doubt the continued revolution of the earth
through space, as to doubt the continuance of
the onward movement toward this enlargement
and correlation of thought. We may not indeed

*A most valuable exposition of this process of mental
organization is given in " Mind in Evolution " by L. T.
Hobhouse, M.A., Chapter XIII.


dream of a total cessation of antagonism. When
one set of contrarieties has been adjusted, another
set, on a wider field, emerges. Were it not so,
mental evolution would be arrested.

But, for the immediate outlook, I think we
may say that science, philosophy and theology,
that have for a long time been passing through
the phase of separation, and sometimes of antag-
onism, are now, in the light of wider concepts,
drawing together. The lines of demarcation
are fading out, the larger view is at hand. Our
science becomes philosophical and our philosophy
becomes scientific; and both lead up to, and
imply, theology. Some of the best intellects are
working synthetically; not confining themselves
exclusively to the one aspect of truth represented
in a department, but reaching out to find the
truest expression of the reality underlying all.

This movement has given us such men as the
late William James, and the French philosopher,
Henri Bergson. In each separate department,
also, it has brought forth those who, without
venturing beyond their own chosen line of work,
have, within that sphere, so reconstructed its spec-
ulative outlooks as to strengthen the thought
that is being worked out elsewhere : — such men
as the embryologist, Hans Driesch, who, beginning
his career with the acceptance of the purely me-
chanical view of organic development, was car-
ried by his studies to the necessity of assuming
an undefined influence, guiding the mechanical


forces toward the realization of ends. Such men
also as Reinke, and the physiologist Bunge, who
advocates seeking a knowledge of the creative
impulse by using what we know of causation
in the internal world of our own consciousness,
for the interpretation of that which transpires in
the external world of material organization.

We must not allow the significance of this
movement to be obscured by the names that are
given to its different developments with the word
neo prefixed. The labels " neo-Lamarckism " or
"neo- vitalism " may serve a useful purpose as
indicating a certain relatedness between the
present and the past of speculative thought; but
when these are used to identify in any measure
the old form with the new, when the new is called
a " recurrence to mediaeval mysticism,' 7 or a
" pseudo-metaphysical theory of life," they are
misleading. Such a treatment of recurrent phases
of thought is not in the interest of light-bearing
but of obscuration.

We recognize, as those of an elder day often
did not, that human thought ascends as a spiral,
and that each new turn introduces hypotheses
that, more or less, resemble phases of speculation
abandoned on a lower plane. They are, in some
respects, the same, but essentially different in
that, through the removal of limitations in some
directions and the positive enlargement of thought
in others, they are so modified and reset as to be
completely transformed. The psychological ex-


planations of evolution that are today labelled
neo-Lamarckism are no more than a reminder of
the hypothesis of the eminent naturalist of a
century and a half ago ; and the comparison of the
vitalism of to-day with that of Aristotle borders
on the grotesque.

In the department of theology, while there is
a strong and sustained unanimity of dissent from
certain phases of inherited belief, and while
there are, as we have said, marked convergent
tendencies in the transformation of thought, and
much enthusiasm also on the part of individuals
and groups of individuals for newly-apprehended
aspects of the truth, there is, as yet, no pronounced
principle of solidarity binding the positive aspects
of the work together, nothing of that commanding
power that emanates from the assent of a multi-
tude, or even of a select few whom men have
learned to trust. At the same time, there exists
a profound and growing conviction that such a
solidarity, such a preponderating weight of agree-
ment, is not only possible but, that it ought to
be realized. There is no department of life in
which certitude is more ardently, or reasonably,
longed for. But, the very growth process that
stimulates religious thinking seems to be the
natural and unavoidable enemy of certitude.

How then is confidence to be restored without
going back to the policy of a fixed immovable
theology? Can anything be substituted for the


divine authority of the church? Within the Ro-
man church, the Modernist movement accentu-
ates this issue, though the problem to be solved
is not essentially different from that of Protes-

The difference in the two situations is that the
latter, having lived through three centuries of
denominational antagonism, is, in some sort,
inured to its disabilities, — has, so to speak,
adjusted itself to a modus Vivendi, though deeply
conscious of its unsatisf actoriness : while Mod-
ernism, viewing this same experience from without,
sees in its outcome an object-lesson, a terrible
warning. Hence a dilemma; the substance of
which is stated by Father Tyrrell in the following
words: — " Taught by history, God's great logic-
mill, which has worked out both these sixteenth
century solutions, the solution of unfettered
authority and the solution of unfettered liberty
to their impossible results, he (the modernist),
will see the necessity of going back to the point
of divergence." *

The modernist, in other words, is in search of
some new way, that shall work experimentally,
and, at the same time, yield the advantages of
authority and liberty.

The possibility that naturally suggests itself
is that of combination, — the adoption of a
method that shall associate the two desirable

* " Passing Protestantism and coming Catholicism," by
Newman Smyth, p. 182.


elements in such manner that neither shall over-
ride the other, but that each shall exercise a
restraining and supporting power. Such a method
ought to be found, because all the movements
of the world are organized on a similar plan.
The great upward creative process which we call
evolution is the outcome of antagonistic forces
that act and react upon each other after just
such a fashion.

But the achievement of such a method is not
so simple a matter as it might at first seem, not
so simple as it actually did seem in the early
days of the great secession from Rome. For
while Protestantism leads logically to what
Father Tyrrill calls unfettered liberty, it has, as
matter of fact, been striving all through the years
to reach just such a combination as that contem-
plated. And the great question of to-day is,
can we go any farther in this direction? Does
the experience of the past encourage the hope,
long deferred, that this desideratum will be
supplied? Is there, at the present day, any
emergence of new elements that may render
practicable a combination that has not been a
success hitherto, and that is working more and
more limpingly as time goes on?

The impression prevails in some quarters that
the Modernist movement may somehow bring
to Protestantism a kind of authority, tempered
by liberty, which will prove the very thing which
it long has sought, and that the Christian church


as a whole may thus realize a stable, and, at the
same time, a living and growing unity.

To many others, however, this hope seems to
lack foundation, because the kind of authority
thus provided differs in no respect from that to
which so long a trial has been given: and a radi-
cally different way of surmounting the difficulty is
proposed : — the substitution, that is, of another
kind of authority. The gist of their argument
may, I think, be stated somewhat as follows.
The effort to combine ecclesiastical authority and
liberty has failed to work, because it is an attempt
to unite in action two motives that are not of the
same order, two mutually irreconcilable elements.
Liberty of thought is a living, growing, aggres-
sive principle. Divinely appointed, ecclesiasti-
cal authority is a static, immovable, inelastic
principle; one that does not simply restrain
liberty, but abolishes it. It is yoking together
the dead and the living. One, or the other, of
these must, in the long run, triumph and reign
supreme. But, what alternative is there?

In the April, 1911, number of the "Hibbert
Journal " there is an appeal from the side of science
to theology entitled, "Can Theology become
Scientific?"* in which the following questions
are put to theologians: — "Are they willing to
regard religious facts as the primal realities
wherewith they are concerned, and theological
*By M. M. Pattison Muir, M.A.


theories as instruments for acquiring rationalized
knowledge of these facts, not as answers to
enigmas in which they can rest ? Are they
willing to measure the truthfulness of theological
ideas by their values as aids to religious life, and
by their relations to other truths which also must
be preserved by men? Theologians speak of
theology as a science: are they willing to advance
their science by using the scientific method?"

After outlining what is meant by the scientific
method, the same article makes the following
hypothetical forecast.

"Let us suppose, for a moment, that theology
were to adopt and use this method. Theology
would then be a systematic attempt to co-ordinate
the facts of man's religious life; to express the
points of agreement between groups of these
facts by means of general formulas, in other words
to find the laws of religious experiences; to try
the hypotheses which have been made, for the
purpose of bringing order into sections of religious
facts, by inquiring how these hypotheses have
worked; to test the truth of the theories which
have claimed, and of those which now claim, to
explain the facts of religious experience, by
inquiring into their fruitfulness, their vivifying
influence, their power of bringing the realities
with which they are concerned into reconcil-
ing contact with other truths of which human
intelligence demands the preservation.' '

The method here suggested is the outcome of


a principle of far wider scope than the realm of
physical science. It is called scientific, simply
because it has been conspicuously used in the
practical part of scientific procedure. Prag-
matic is the word that, in its very modern
signification, stands for the larger transforming
principle that is bringing the antagonistic aspects
of our thought together. I have used the word
pragmatic and said nothing of pragmatism, because
it seems to me that the two words may be used
for effecting a very necessary discrimination.

If the former is used solely to designate method,
and the latter solely a system of philosophy, that
has sprung up as one application of that method,
much confusion may be avoided. The method,
which has endless applications, is easily under-
stood, and is illustrated so abundantly and clearly
in life that he who runs may read. As Prof.
William James has said: " There is absolutely
nothing new in the pragmatic method," but
"not until our own time has it generalized itself,
become conscious of a universal mission, pre-
tended to a conquering destiny."

Between this method and the derived system
of philosophy the same writer draws a sharp
line of demarcation. As a method, it stands for
no special results, it is rather an attitude of
orientation. As a system of philosophy, on the
other hand, it is applied to the working out of a
"theory of truth." This latter, however ably it
may be conducted and however useful it may, in


the long run, prove to be, is an entirely different
matter: and the failure to note this difference
has given rise to many damaging misconceptions
and much unwarrantable prejudice against the
method. For, in the development of such a phil-
osophy and in its controversial defence, many
words and expressions are used that have a
purely technical significance, and statements are
sometimes made that, taken out of their contro-
versial setting, give the impression of opposing
the very truths they are advocating.

It is with the method alone that we are con-
cerned; and we shall hope to make the nature
of its working understood, not by definitions, but
by illustrations: for a method that deals with
concrete ideas can be best explained concretely,
that is, by the exhibition of its actual working.
It will, however, be worth while to carry along
with us and keep continually in sight Professor
Schiller's Protagorean formula — "man is the
measure* of all things." It may also be help-
ful to outline some of the probable results of
its adoption.

In the first place, it would necessarily banish
to the limbo of disused instrumentalities the
kind of authority that has for centuries held
sway: — the authority, that is, that takes its
stand on a unique, divine revelation granted
to a specially appointed group of men, who act
as its guardians and interpreters. In the second

*The analogical and intensive measure.


place, it would set up another kind of authority
in the place of that which it deposed : — the
authority of human experience. Far from de-
livering theology over to unfettered liberty it
would simply transfer all its problems to another
tribunal, — to the tribunal that adjudicates all
questions that arise in every department of
science. In it we have a kind of authority
that can work with liberty, because it is a liv-
ing, growing and adjustable principle, because it
takes account of all the new elements that find
a place in our ever- widening experience; in
short, because it is of the same elastic nature as
the liberty with which it has to co-operate.

It is no less strong for resistance because of its
expansiveness. It gives, but it does not give
way. It yields and reconstructs, but it does
not break and disappear. In the long run it is
a far more sure reliance, and, in its progress,

Third, as related to other departments of con-
structive thought the change would be a very
radical one. It would put an end to the remote
separateness of theology, to its superior-cast
pretentions, and bring it into accord with the
community of interests that jointly affect the
welfare of man. It would bring it completely
under the influence of the method that has
transformed and is still transforming the outlooks
of theoretical science; — a transformation that
makes it possible for theology and science to


perfectly assimilate their working principles with-
out the surrender of anything that is vital.

It is into a very real and comprehensive world
that this pragmatic method carries us. It calls
our attention, not to some special phases of reality
alone, but to every aspect of it. Its theology
will therefore be one that roots itself in and grows
strong on every department of human thought
and activity, that draws inspiration from every
kind of emotion, that turns its back on nothing,
despises nothing. It must be a theology that
studies reverently the deep things of God, not
alone in the utterances of seers through whom He
has unmistakably spoken, not alone in the con-
tributions of science, but also in the common
wisdom that has been wrought out and com-
pacted in the upward travail of the race. As
Maeterlinck has said: — "The thinker continues
to think justly, only when he does not lose con-
tact with those who do not think."

Again, in such a theology, the great creative
process of the world will be studied as a sacred
revelation of its Author. Humanity, in learning
through evolution how it has come to be what
it is, has entered upon a new phase of self-knowl-
edge, and upon new outlooks of what lies before
it. But it is not alone, or most vitally as a matter
of knowledge, that this affects us: for knowledge,
standing by itself, is little more than material,
or instrumentality to be used. It is pre-eminently


in the power that knowledge generates that the
hope of the future lies.

Bergson's conception of the whole great move-
ment of creation as a struggle upward on the
part of the creature, an overcoming, a triumphing
over difficulties, in which every individual has
an honourable place, an opportunity of contribut-

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 1 of 22)