Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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for existence." The resemblance between the
two is such as to suggest identity, and this sug-
gestion has been responsible for two modern
schools of philosophy that ask us to follow them
to the most bizarre and dismal conclusions.
Schopenhauer, on the one hand, with the "will
to live" as the sole incentive of life, and Niet-
zsche, on the other, with his "will to power,"
have each in his own way illustrated the ruinous
consequences of a method that has, in every
department of speculative thought, led always
and necessarily into bottomless morasses of
absurdity. Such systems win followers for a
time, partly because the excitement of smashing
things is always exhilarating to a certain class of
minds, more especially if those things be customary
restraints to liberty of thought, emotion, or action,
and partly because they embody an important
element of truth.

The misleading method to which I allude has
already occupied our attention. It is the method
of searching for the realities, the great moving
principles of the world, in the dismembered


elements of our concrete knowledge. The reali-
ties that we have learned by hard experience,
that hold their place in our lives because we are
obliged to live them, are taken to pieces for the
discovery of their inmost vital principle. At
the end of the analysis some one of the factors,
because it is persistent, is assumed to be the sole
generating power of all the varieties and values
in which it appears as an element. In other
words, the whole content of life is reduced to
its lowest terms by an arbitrary cancellation,
and we are assured that the surviving factor
represents its absolute value. Science traces
back the various manifestations of energy in the
universe to one persistent force. We are asked,
therefore, by a certain school of thought, to see in
this the sole principle of everything that is, and
to adjust our estimate of values accordingly.

The principle of evolution has given a great
impetus and scope to the employment of this
method. For the gradual becoming of all things,
from the simplest beginnings, lures the imagina-
tion with the hope of finding in these the measure
of life. Since man has to trace his genealogy
back to the lower animals, we are to go to them
for the valuation of all that, in the upward
march of evolution, has proceeded from them.
To understand the vital principle which underlies
the complexity of human experience we are asked
to eliminate from it all its more advanced develop-
ments till we reach some one basic principle that


is common to all life. Then we are to assume that
the meaning and value of all human thought,
emotion, conviction, all its standards, all its
ideals, all its hopes and expectations and motives
of every kind, must be expressed in the terms of
this one common principle.

The struggle for existence, the will to live,
it is affirmed, is such a principle. It is the parent
instinct from which all other instincts and in-
centives of every kind have sprung and of which
they are modifications. In the increasing com-
plexity of human developments, it is said, these
have taken on certain artificial and fanciful
aspects which have tyrannized over the human
imagination, as superior and entitled to authority.
But as matter of fact, they are in no way superior.
They are, one and all, reducible to the primitive
impulse of life, — the will to exist, or, as Niet-
zsche puts it, the will to power. Religion, moral-
ity, ideality of every kind, all man's notions of
the nobility of his nature, are simply obscure
phases of this root principle of all life.

That these interpretations of human life have
drawn to themselves many followers, is, as we
have said, largely due to the fact that they
embody a large element of truth; and, further-
more, that this truth is one easily grasped and of
great virility. It is the truth that meets one at
every corner, that forces itself upon us wherever
busy men are pursuing the ordinary ends of
existence. It brings before us the forcible,


violent element in life, before which its gentler
persuasives seem things of inconsiderable weak-
ness. It is the echo of our armaments and
gigantic preparations for war that stand out in
such strong contrast to the theories of our civiliza-
tion. It is true also that there is much pretence
and much self-deception in this world. Men
take advantage of legalized morality for the
furtherance of nefarious schemes and the satis-
faction of predatory instincts. And, again, it
is true that morality, on its religious side, has had
its diseased outgrowths that have, to some extent,
poisoned life with malarial doctrines and betrayed
it with false issues.

This element of truth has been sufficient to
blind many to the inherent and essential fallacy
of the scheme of things which these philosophies
represent. And, for the limitation of the number
of their adherents, we are indebted to the results
reached by them — pessimism on the one hand
and the apotheosis of brutality on the other —
far more than to any formal exhibition of the
fallacies that underlie them.

But, for the purposes of this discussion, it is
desirable and necessary that we sift this matter
to the bottom; for, as we have already intimated,
the two very diverse streams of development,
ours and theirs, take their rise in the same source;
namely, the struggle for existence. This is the
great motive power of evolution reduced to its
lowest terms; it is the incentive to effort common


to the whole animated creation. It is only with
the assumption that it constitutes the sole motive
of human activities that we now join issue; and
we do this, not, primarily, in view of the forbid-
ding results reached, but on the ground that it is
absolutely unscientific, that it traverses the facts
and principles of evolution, and that every stage
of the argument derived from it is characterized
by the distortion of human experience.

Through its whole course the process of evo-
lution is marked by the introduction of new
factors, — new not only in appearance, but
essentially new in that they supply a hitherto
unknown kind of efficiency. These factors may
have been evolved from, or in connection with,
antecedent forms and factors, but none the less
do they contain an absolutely new element.
Throughout the world we see differences of degree
passing over into differences of essence, though
we are puzzled to know at what point the trans-
formation takes place. We are also abundantly
familiarized with the phenomenon of potent
influences appearing in the life history of the race
that have no connection, so far as we can see,
with what has gone before. They come in as
superior officers come to take charge of troops in
the organization and drilling of which they have
had no part.

This might be illustrated by what takes place
in every department of evolution. But there is
no one that appeals more directly to our common


experience than the one that is specially germane
to our subject; namely, that of instinct. I will
therefore confine myself to that.

Those who have devoted themselves to the
special study of instinct in young animals have
established the fact that these make their appear-
ance not all at once, but successively, and at
considerable intervals in the life history of the
individual. One is predominant at birth and,
though it may rule the situation only for a few
days, establishes in that short time fixed habits
that persist through life. Then there emerges
another quite different and often antagonistic
instinct that takes control, the one first developed
retiring to a subordinate position.

For instance, the congenital instinct of a newly
born animal is to attach itself to the creature that
is nearest to it at birth; that is, to its mother. But
if, in domestication, it becomes familiarized with
the presence of man during these first days it ac-
cepts him also as a friend. But this friend-making
tendency is soon superseded by the quite opposite
one to suspect and avoid new acquaintances.
A new instinct has been evolved, the object of
which is to guard its possessor against the approach
of enemies. All ranchmen know that a calf
dropped in the bush is practically a wild creature
unless it is discovered within a few days of its

Now what is true of the individual is true
equally of the race. Primitive instincts, having


served their time, have a tendency to retire,
leaving behind them in the organism a more or
less defined inheritance of habit; while, on the
other hand, new dominating instincts aspire to
the place of control. The whole process of
evolution is accompanied by and hinges upon
such a succession of instincts. The ascent to
each advanced stage is conditioned upon the
development and, in the case of man, the foster-
ing of some instinct that has made its appearance
in his life as a new thing, and often as an influ-
ence antagonistic to one that has been hitherto

Every such juncture is a critical period, a tide
in the affairs of the race or of the individual that
should lead on to higher things. That it does not
necessarily so result is manifest. The higher
instinct may be allowed its full normal share in
the succeeding development, or it may be repressed
and overridden by the stronger instinct that is
rooted in habit. As a matter of fact, life pre-
sents itself in many cases as a long-drawn-out
conflict between such instincts and tendencies:
the new struggling to gain a foothold, the old
clinging with tenacity to its established sway in
the organism, — a veritable epitome of the life
struggle, racial and individual, in which we find

It is upon such a critical period that we enter
when the race passes from the domination of
impulse to the dawning regime of reason. The


reasoning, inhibitive tendency, confronts the im-
pulsive, strives to hold it in check, to postpone and
restrain its action. The impulsive, on the other
hand, ever and anon rises up in rebellion and
struggles to throw off this upstart, restraining
power. If the development is normal, these two
principles will settle down to a joint control,
the impulsive, holding still an important place
in the initiative of the progressive life; the reason-
ing, exercising the regulative, directing, steadying
function. Superior on the scale of being as the
new faculty is, it cannot get on without its col-
league. Only by working together, supporting
and regulating each other, do they advance upon
the pathway of the higher life.

As to the instinct that specially interests us, —
that of self-preservation, or " the will to live," —
it is indeed congenital and universal and, at first,
finds itself in absolute control; but at an early
stage its supremacy is disputed. The generative
instinct, even in the simplest forms of life, emerges
not as a modified form of the will to live, but
as a principle antagonistic to it. It 'does indeed
result in the perpetuation of life, but that result
is not the motive that impels to the satisfaction
of it. On the contrary, it always involves a sacri-
fice of a portion of that vitality that has been
stored up by the antecedent instinct. When
an amoeba, grown large with abundant nutrition,
sets off from itself another quite independent
organism that goes its separate way, it is not the


continued action of the will to live that is operat-
ing, it is a totally different instinct, — one that
involves self-surrender, self-depletion. It gives
half of itself away for the satisfaction of an in-
stinct that it does not in the least understand.

Whether such separation is attended with
birth-pangs, or not, we cannot know. But we
do know that, as we ascend the scale of being
parturition and maternity are everywhere accom-
panied by suffering and sacrifice, and by a partial
surrender of the life that has been so carefully
guarded and valiantly fought for. And this
element of surrender, of freely giving away that
which has been hitherto husbanded, is illustrated
as fully in the vegetable world as in the animal.

Let us consider the history of a tree. "It divides
itself into two epochs, each of which is dominated
by a process seemingly the reverse of that which
prevailed in the other. In the first period, self-
assertion is the rule. The struggle for existence,
at the expense of every surrounding thing that
can be of use to it, is the apparent end and
exhaustive expression of its activities. It robs
the soil, it contests the possession of territory
with other forms of vegetable life. It over-
shadows and destroys many weaker relations
on its way to prosperity. Its roots burrow far
and near, contending with other roots for every
morsel of nourishment. It is, in fact, a greedy,
insatiable thing that gets all it can, but never
parts with any of its strength. But when this


has been going on for years — for decades per-
haps — a most wonderful thing takes place; a
flower makes its appearance.

"Were our experience limited to the growth
of a single tree, the advent of this beautiful and
marvellously adapted organism would be a thing
utterly strange and unaccountable in connection
with the tree that had hitherto borne nothing
but leaves. But, more wonderful than the miracle
of the flower, is the miracle of the process which it
ushers in, a process the reverse of that which
has hitherto characterized the tree. That which
has been accumulated is now freely given up,
and the energies of the plant are henceforth
largely diverted into the production of that
which is soon to be separated and altogether
estranged from the producer. The whole process
of flowering and seed-bearing is of the nature of
a free surrender of life-substance in such a way
that no return can ever be received. With
many plants it is the giving up of all their life.
They perish when the process is finished. In
every case it is exhausting, and growth is inter-
rupted by it."*

Recurring now to our formula and recalling
the definition of salvation as the progressive
realization of the highest possibilities of our being,
it will be seen that its appeal emanates from an
instinct that overarches and includes within
itself many other instincts. Not that it is the

* "What is Reality?" p. 477.


latest developed, but that it retains its position
of authority always. Other instincts emerge to
which it must adjust itself, but it assimilates
and uses them in the prosecution of its own never-
ending work. We have already alluded to this
overarching instinct as that of self-realization.

This is, in its own right, a master-instinct of
human evolution. At its advent man becomes
man. We cannot say that it is absolutely want-
ing in the races below man, but, in him, it assumes
an importance and sway that obliges us to recog-
nize in it the motive power of human education,
the dynamic that drives the human machinery,
individual and social, toward some unknown
state of being, a fuller realization of powers and
aptitudes, the nature of which is, as yet, only
foreshadowed. That man is, or may be, some-
thing vastly superior to what he now is, is the
constant implication of the pressure that moves
him and often drives him along the way of a
larger life. It makes use of intelligence, while it
transcends it ; and the idealizing faculty is its con-
stant and necessary coadjutor.

This, a most distinctively human attribute, is
at all times the light which determines the direc-
tion of energy. It points out to the imagination
some object, or goal, to be striven for, invests
it with a dazzling attractiveness, makes it seem
the one thing to be desired, and on it the passion
for self-realization fastens and concentrates. It
is not an infallible guide. In fact men are fond


of calling it an ignis fatuus. It is for ever dis-
appointing and, the disappointed ones often say,
"betraying" those who follow its lead. But,
for all that, it is the indispensable condition of
human progress. It breeds desire in men and
lures them to arduous undertakings. Breaking
up contentment with an assured routine which,
in the animals below man, terminates develop-
ment, it generates a self-impelling force that
drives them up steep and rugged ways, seeking
new outlets for their energy.

Now let us observe that, under the sway of
the ideal, the instinct of self-realization becomes
itself transformed. At first, and through much
of its career, it works in harmony with the prin-
ciple of self-preservation, or the will to live, but
at innumerable points, as the process advances,
it runs counter to it and restrains it. Self-preser-
vation has regard to the continuance of the present
state. It is conservative, takes no unnecessary
risks, conforms to that which has been and is.
Self-realization is impatient of that which is.
Cognizant of the ideal future, it gladly takes
risks in the hope of realizing it. "He that
saveth his life shall lose it" is its answer to the
prudent counsels of the older instinct.

Schopenhauer's "will to live" becomes, in his
hands, a principle of insatiable progressiveness
only because he transcends his formula, identifying
it with the will to an ever-increasing, extending,
superabundant life. And when Nietzsche en-


larges the outlook by his phrase, "the will to
power/' it is that he feels the insufficiency of the
preceding formula. It is an admission of inade-
quacy, but a very meagre one. The instinct
that urges to self-realization does, sometimes,
take the form of a will to power. But this is
only one of an innumerable number of quests
that draw men out of themselves and make them
impatient of mere existence. And what is more,
it is far from being the noblest, or most satisfying.
A distinguishing characteristic of the life to
which self-realization, combined with the idealiz-
ing faculty, introduces men is its manifoldness, —
the divergence of the ways by which it leads them
to transcend themselves. The tribes below man
are most restricted as to the means of gratifying
their instincts. They are narrowly hemmed in
by circumstance. The way in which they must
walk is clearly indicated at every step. Primitive
man is in much the same predicament. But,
when intelligence has enlarged the field of possi-
bilities, multiplied the avenues and the modes
of realization, the element of discriminating
selection supervenes to complicate and dignify
the situation. It is at this point that man be-
comes, in a measure, a law unto himself. The
world is, so to speak, before him, he is the arbiter
of his own fortunes. The kinds of man that he
may be, the kinds that he is solicited and perhaps
importuned to be, depend largely on his tempera-
ment, his natural endowments, and his social


setting. But there are few who are not drawn
in more than one direction.

The value and boundlessness of this race
inheritance dawns very gradually upon human
consciousness. One of the emotions engendered,
as man emerges from the enthralment of the
mere struggle for existence, is that of exultation
in newly discovered powers; and hero-worship is
the result. Every exceptionally great man is
an embodiment of the perfections possible to
human nature, and the heart of the worshipper
swells with pride at the thought of his relation to
it. Legends of great deeds, epic poems, myth-
ologic demi-gods, are expressions of it. And this
primitive mood is also a persistent one, de-
pressed at times into a minor key, but anon
swelling again into enthusiasm. At first its
theme is man's superiority over the beasts who
are physically stronger than he, then it is the
triumph of man over man and imaginary monsters,
and in these later days it is man's subjugation of
the forces of nature. Now, as at the beginning,
men are prone to burst into a delirium of rejoicing
when a representative of the human race scores
new victories in any direction.

But, with all its vitality, this mood of self-
glorification expresses but a small part of the
change that has been wrought by man's advance
in the scale of intelligence. It is but the occa-
sional effervescence from elements that are work-
ing out serious transformations in the depths of


his nature. Hardly has he reached the con-
sciousness of himself as a superior being than he
discerns in that future of allurements also a land
of shadows, a land of forbidding possibilities
where weird shapes pass and repass. Fear, as
well as hope and exultation have come to stay
with him. He carries a weight on this higher
plane of existence that he never knew before.
His eyes have been opened to the knowledge of
good and evil. He has become a responsible
being. His conception of character, of personal
worth, has begun to develop; and the discernment
of essentially higher and lower possibilities, that
are in a measure within his control, steady and
sober his outlook upon life.

We cannot wonder that, under the stress and
anxiety of this higher consciousness, men should
have been led to contrast unfavorably the higher
estate with the simpler one of narrower issues,
that they should have regarded the passage from
innocence to insight as a fall, that they should
have looked back with regret and envy upon the
lot of those whose lives were marked out for them,
who were firmly led, without knowledge or fore-
thought, anxiety or misgivings of theirs, into the
ways that were best for them. The existence
of a great historic Church that has, through the
Christian ages, assumed the responsibility of
giving such a guidance to a world weary of its
liberty is the standing witness to the exacting
and trying nature of the higher career, upon which


human intelligence and the power of moral dis-
crimination has launched the race.

Looked at from one point of view, the out-
come of human evolution is seen to be very evil.
From the time of his majority on, man has shown
a most fruitful and perennial aptitude for mis-
managing his affairs. His career, from the dawn
of intelligence and moral responsibility to his
present status, has been marked by blunders and
insanities of the most far-reaching and tragic
character. The development of his moral nature
has produced an appalling amount of wickedness,
in which the creatures below him in the scale of
being have no participation. They are unmoral,
he is immoral. They may be fierce, predatory,
regardless of the suffering they inflict on others,
but they are not, like man, knowingly and exult-
ingly cruel, vicious, devilish; they are not, like
him, the victims of unbalanced natures and
conscious degradation.

To rectify that which is unbalanced, to curb
the passions that lead to the inordinate develop-
ment of quests that are properly means to higher
ends, is the task which occupies man increasingly.
His salvation is never worked out, but with every
individual, every form of society, in every age,
the conflict between the normal and the abnormal,
moral sanity and moral insanity, growth and
degeneration, the triumph, or defeat, of the life
forces that make for a nobler type of being, is
renewed. And the more complex life becomes,


the more the power and control of man increases,
the hotter is the battle between the opposing
forces of good and evil. In the midst of our
infinitely varied life of to-day, with its thronging
incentives and seductions, the call to work out
one's own salvation is more imperative, more
stirring, more clearly fraught, on the one hand,
with the note of hope and of enthusiasm, and on
the other with that of despair, than in any age
that has preceded it. There is a breadth and a
scope to its meaning that it has never had in the
ages of narrower horizons.

But what of the night? How goes the com-
bat? Is the human race losing, or gaining? Are
individuals battling successfully in the turmoil of
material interests, that now surge against each
other and anon combine in a sweeping current
that is all but irresistible? And this great com-
plexity which we sometimes call the social organ-
ism, or, in vaguer phrase, human civilization,
what shall we say of this? Is it a success? Is it
moving on to higher and better things? Or is it

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 10 of 22)