Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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an advanced stage of degeneration, the forerunner
of anarchy and dissolution? From the standpoint
of current thought this would seem to be the most
momentous question of our day, the riddle in which
every one, from the most buoyant optimist to the
Cassandras of pessimism, are interested.

But it is worse than useless to attempt an
answer to it until we have determined a point
that, in the logical order, necessarily comes


before it. What constitutes success in the evo-
lution of progressive being? Toward what kind
of a realization on the ascending scale are we, as
a race, or as individuals, moving? If we make a
mistake in our answer to this question we may be
looking fixedly for the truth in the wrong direc-
tion, gazing into the west to see the sun rise.



WHAT constitutes success in the evolu-
tion of progressive being? This ques-
tion, if considered from the standpoint
of the individual, would produce a great variety
of answers, none of which would have anything
other than a personal value. What we require
is an answer which, though speculatively reached,
is the outgrowth of a careful study of the facts of
the one great process of evolution of which we
have any knowledge. Our investigation is not
for the purpose of amusement. It is one of serious
import. We are making an effort to attain to a
fuller knowledge of God and of man, and of their
mutual relations, by ascertaining the end toward
which both are moving.

The data for such a forecast must be sought
both in the relatively near and in the remote past ;
that is, in the history of evolution that antedates
the appearance of man, and also in the history of
human evolution. We must look into the former
for analogies to guide us in the formation of



hypotheses, then we must scrutinize the latter to
see how these hypotheses fare when tested by the
facts of human experience. The first glance at
the situation is discouraging. For, so far as we
can see, many of the distinct advances in the
process have been sprung upon the world as
surprises. When a new type has emerged it
seems to have appeared on the scene suddenly;
proceeding, probably, from an antecedent form,
but, as related to it, a monstrosity, a strange crea-
ture with an enlarged organization and hitherto
unknown aptitudes and functions.

The whole course of evolution is marked by
such new departures, each one of which has run
its own specialized career and settled down into a
permanent type, which apparently leads to nothing
beyond itself. What we see around us is a multi-
plicity of such arrested developments, each one of
which seems to signalize a dead-stop in the process.
Like the branch line of a railway, it has its ter-
minus, and beyond this there is no thoroughfare.
There may still be indefinite variation, but the
type is persistent; that is, the tendency to revert
to it is far stronger than the departures from
it and prevails over them. Nothing essentially
higher than a horse can be bred from a horse by
successive modifications, nothing essentially higher
or different from a man can, by ordinary genera-
tion, be bred from a man.

But now, taking a wider view of the situation,
we are rewarded with a principle of continuity


which is distinctly helpful. While arrested devel-
opment, indeterminate issues, and degeneration,
abundantly characterize the great process in its
details, there is discoverable, from a higher point
of view, a well-marked through-line of evolution.
Every higher stage of being is higher in virtue of
an increased complexity of organization, and it
is always from the more complex that the next
higher springs. I am speaking, be it understood,
of the great movements, the epoch-making ad-
vances of evolution, — advances like that from
the inorganic to the organic, from inanimate to
animate forms, from the non-sentient to the
sentient, from homogeneous aggregations of living
beings to complex organizations in which many
different orders of beings with different functions
unite to make one highly complex being with one
central consciousness. So also the advance from
sedile forms to those capable of moving from
place to place, and that which distinguishes the
simplest mode of propagation, by budding or
segmentation, from that of sexual generation.

These epoch-making advances mark the main
course, the through-line of evolution. When a
great step forward has been made we are justified
in the assumption that progress is to be looked
for in this line. There was a time when gill-
breathing animals were the highest type on earth.
But when lung-breathing animals appeared, the
future of evolution was theirs. The structural
changes that have marked these upward move-


merits have been many and various, affecting all
parts of the body. But there is one factor that
shows a constant increase; that is, the nervous
system. The enlargement and complexity of
this characterizes every advanced step. The
importance of the upward movement when man
appeared on the scene can hardly be exaggerated,
though its significance was not in evidence at the
time of its development. It was, indeed, provided
for in his structural formation, but as this was
far in advance of the immediate necessities of a
being only slightly removed in his habits from the
creatures just below him, it afforded only a faint
hint of its future.

Could there have been a comparative anatomist
there to study this new type he could have dis-
covered nothing to make him suspect that a
radically new chapter in the history of evolution
had been entered upon. True, the greatly en-
larged brain-cavity would have been to him the
prophecy of a being superior to any that had
hitherto existed. But this advance was in the
regular line. Here was apparent provision for a
great increase in the volume and complexity of
the nervous system. But all the difference indi-
cated could be summed up in terms of more or
less, and the whole course of evolution had been
characterized by the continual increase of this
particular element. He could not, in the most
courageous flights of fancy, have approximated
to the reality of the possibilities that lay dormant


in that enlarged cerebrum; for the order of crea-
tion, as it had been hitherto, would have held
his imagination in leash.

We are measurably in a similar position. We
are, more or less, hampered as to the largeness of
our expectations by the past of human develop-
ment which we know and can study, and our fore-
cast of the future is limited, more or less, by the
belief that what has been will be, with modifica-
tions. But, there is a vast difference between
knowing nothing of what human evolution is and
is to be, and knowing as much as we do, — a differ-
ence as great as that between absolute darkness
and twilight. It is not simply that our knowledge
of the situation is increased, that we are able to
look back over vast realms of experience and
achievement that have been gradually realized
through the effort and cumulative growth of
generations; it is not alone that we are apprised
of the fact that all the advances of evolution
antecedent to man are as nothing in comparison
with that which his advent signalized. In addition
to all this knowledge, and of far more importance
than it, is the training we have received in the
course of its acquisition. We have learned not
only how to accumulate knowledge, but how to
use it, how to bring its parts into relation to each
other and to organize it for additional conquests.

And furthermore, our imaginations have been
trained and disciplined till they have become
reliable instruments for the construction of a



hypothetical future. Nor is the use of this
instructed faculty a matter wholly contingent on
the will to use it. We needs must construct a
future for ourselves, whether we will or no. The
irrepressible speculative instinct streams forth of
itself in imaginative ventures. It is futile to try
to repress it. It is our highest privilege to curb,
direct, and use it.

To return to the question in hand. The knowl-
edge that the appearance of man signalized a
radically new departure in the great process,
justifies us in the assumption that the next higher
type will be in the line of human evolution.

A very pertinent question suggests itself at this
initial stage of the inquiry, in view of the enormous
differences which distinguish contemporary from
primitive man. Do we find any evidence to
warrant the belief that we have already entered
upon the higher stage that we are seeking? That
is, are there indications that a new, distinct species
has already become a living reality alongside of
and closely related to the older type from which
it sprung? We can answer at once that there are
many developments which seem to point in this
direction. But their value, as related to other
evidence, will appear at the end of the discussion
rather than in the middle of it. In the meantime
we may carry it with us as an hypothesis that may
be strengthened, or the reverse, by our investiga-
tion. We have remarked, in passing, that nothing
radically different from a man can be expected to


spring from the genus homo by ordinary generation.
That is, man's physical structure seems to be as
fixed as that of any of the animals that surround

But there is this great difference. There exists
in man one department of his organization that
is indeterminate. This department, the nervous
system, has been the instrumentality through
which all the advance, from the most primitive
to the most highly evolved man, has been achieved.
But all this difference has, from one point of view,
been realized without giving rise to a new type.
The cumulative result has not been accomplished
through the agency of ordinary generation ; it has
not passed by physical heredity from father to
son. And, if we must limit ourselves to the defini-
tion of a new type which this point of view involves,
we not only have not entered upon its realization,
but we can find no encouragement for anticipating
that we ever shall enter upon it. For this defini-
tion, following analogy, shuts us up to the hypoth-
esis that somehow and somewhere there will
emerge from the human race a preternatural
individual, superior, physically and mentally, to
man, and that from him a prepotent type will be
established, producing a race of beings of like

But all our knowledge of the history of evolution,
both antecedent and subsequent to the appear-
ance of man, discourages any such expectation.
Superior individuals have, it is true, made their


appearance, all along the line of our social evolu-
tion, who were as much above the average of
humanity as the hypothesis demands. There
have been many such who, if they could have
reproduced their kind by natural generation,
would have given us a race of beings as much
superior to man as he is superior to some of the
orders next below him. But this has never been
the case. These qualities are not transmitted in
any such degree as to build up a new type. There
is sometimes a modified inheritance through a
generation or two. But the law that seems to
dominate the situation is that of reversion to
type. There is no permanent accumulation of
qualities registered in human organization.

Each individual of the race begins life's career
with a practically similar outfit of instrumental-
ities, powers, and adaptations. What he becomes,
depends upon the quality of the organism he has
inherited, plus his own choices and efforts. He
may rise far above his progenitors both in acquisi-
tion and in character, he may build up a physical
organization of brain-cells that separates him by
a wide interval from the great multitude of his
fellow-creatures. By himself he belongs to a
superior race; but it goes no further.

Over against this genealogical impass we have
to set the fact that, with man, another kind of
heredity has come into the world. Each great
mind has left behind it a spiritual inheritance, a
veritable progeny of minds that has conserved and


transmitted the new factors introduced. Each
new tendency is represented by a specialized class
of minds that retains its peculiarities from genera-
tion to generation. Not far back in our history
some of these classes were called guilds, and these
guilds kept as closely to themselves as any well-
defined species. New blood was at times intro-
duced, but for the most part they were close
corporations. But where these visible demarca-
tions were lacking, the separateness was main-
tained by natural aptitudes and disabilities.
Birds of a feather flocked together, assimilated,
fostered, and perhaps improved upon, their special

Now if the matter ended here we should have
made no progress toward the discovery of a new
persistent human type. These specializations
are, generally speaking, indeterminate variations
that are continually commingling and passing
over into each other, — functional differences
that leave the human agent simply human. The
permanent element is really that which has become
the property of the race.


The race. — Here again we touch a unity, —
that is, the conception of a unity, — and the idea
grows apace and takes shape. All the differentia-
tion that we have been considering is seen to con-
verge and find a structural justification as parts
of that race unity. Each department is seen to


be an efficient and more or less necessary factor
in that which we call the social organism. This
wonderful complex of human constructions has
come into being as their product. And, at this
point, biology comes to our aid with an analogy
that is one of the most luminous of modern dis-
coveries. It is the a. b. c. of evolution and the
reader will pardon its recapitulation.

At the beginning of animated existence the
unit, the individual, is the single cell, living its
isolated, independent life and multiplying only
by dividing itself into two identically similar cells
which continue to be as absolutely independent
of each other as the original cell. Then appears
a marvellous change. There comes a time when
the new cell, instead of separating from the original
one, remains connected with it. Many subsequent
cells do the same, and instead of isolated individ-
uals we have a community with a certain solidarity
of interest and mutual support. Then another
change. This community gives rise to cells of a
quite different order, which also remain attached
to it and perform important functions for the
benefit of the whole community. This gives us
a rudimentary organism, and the same process,
repeated over and over again by the production
of new classes of cells with new functions, each of
which takes its place in the life of the expanding
organism helpfully and without disturbance,
gives us the succession of associated beings that
culminates in man.


This process is recapitulated every time a new-
individual is born into the world, and in the
history of the formation of civilized society we
seem to have a repetition of it on a more extended
scale. This latter is the cumulative outcome of a
succession of new types of men, each with hitherto
unknown abilities, insights, and aspirations. Each
new type has added something to the collective
life of the race of the nation, which is thus grad-
ually organized into a solidarity in which every
part is more or less dependent upon the normal
activity of all the other parts.

The exceeding fitness of this analogy has drawn
from different departments of thought the most
extreme affirmations of its soundness as the expo-
nent of reality. One tells us that the nation is
not only an organism, it is a personality, and a
moral personality,* while another declares that the
individual, as related to the social organism, is
naught but a fragment of social tissue.

Even though we should think it desirable to
state the case less absolutely, these affirmations
embody an element of unquestionable truth.
The social organism is an actuality, it is a real
entity, a great living, expanding, energizing, pro-
gressive reality. It is, from one point of view,
the product of human activity, but it is equally
true that the great achievements of the race are
its outcome and are dependent upon it. In it
we live and move and have our being, and it is
* "The Nation," by Elijah Mulford,


clearly advancing to still greater complexities of

So impressive is this view of the situation, so
fraught with the anticipation of great future
developments, that many, in our day, would have
us rest the case here. What need is there to look
further when an unfinished work of such magni-
tude is committed to us? Is it not folly to try to
look beyond it when we can as yet hardly begin
to see what is contained in it? Can we afford to
deplete our energies and our enthusiasm in the
contemplation of that which is far off, uncertain,
and vague, when more than we can command of
these is required for the prosecution of the work
in the midst of which we find ourselves, battling,
as it were, for very life?

The answer to this view seems to me capable
of statement in very few words, and so, because it
is simply a marked illustration of that infirmity
or rather immaturity of judgment that has been
in all stages of human evolution one of the greatest
obstacles to progress; namely, short-sightedness.
All along the course we can see that this has
worked, both in individuals and in society, for the
production of arrested development. The vice of
modern society has been said to be, living too ex-
clusively in and for the present, or the immediate,
that which seems just a little way beyond us.
And in all ages the mistake of mistakes has been
that of substituting means for ends, — seeing in
the instrumentalities of life the ultimate goal for


which it is worth while to give up our whole lives.
We can see, as we survey the lower planes of
human effort and ambition, how this mistake,
embodying often a large element of wilfulness,
has led to the wreck of individual lives full
of high possibilities, how it has extinguished in
disillusion and despair the light that might have
shone with an ever-increasing brightness, how it
has submerged in deepest gloom souls that were
constituted for progressive happiness.

The social organism, stupendous reality that it
is, cannot be the goal of evolution, the final end
toward which the process moves. It cannot be,
first, because we can see through it and beyond it;
second, because there is nothing in it, or in its
tendencies, to suggest a fruition worthy of the
great process, and third, because its adjustments
and its working, from first to last, seem to imply
an order to which perfection is impossible. When
we try to forecast a future in which the social
organism is to figure as the culmination of the
process that has brought forth man, we are not
only hopelessly bewildered in a maze of conflicting
issues, but, when we have tasked our imaginations
to the utmost, their best presentations seem but a
mockery of the ideals that have loomed large in
the vision of prophets and poets, — a satire on
the laborious, long-drawn-out warfare that has
led up to them. The light fades out of our Utopias
even while we gaze at them, and they are seen to
be cold, passionless things.


What then shall we make of this great reality?
If the social order is not the final goal of evolution,
what explanation of it can we find? Is there any
conceivable end, sufficiently important and valu-
able, to figure as the justification of this great
stream of elaborately organized energy?

There is, it seems to me, one, and only one,
that meets the requirement; and one word ex-
presses it — education. Etymologically this word
is closely allied to evolution, but it carries a much
higher significance in that it calls attention to
the advanced reaches of the great process, while
the word evolution has always been associated with
its earlier stages. Evolution has, from the be-
ginning, been a word of offence to those whose
interest in the world's becoming has centred in its
latest products, for it seems to implicate the whole
of reality in the category of blind forces. The
word education, on the other hand, affirms and
emphasizes intelligence and the development of
character through discipline. The former sug-
gests the unconscious, mechanical aspect of nature,
the latter a more or less conscious process under
the guidance of a higher intelligence.

I am speaking, be it understood, of education in
the most comprehensive sense; that is, the sense in
which the whole development of the human race,
individual, social, political, and religious, may be
construed as an education. The conditions of
that education, its environment, the problems to
be worked out, the means and instrumentalities


to be employed, the agents to be educated, have
been supplied and brought into relation to each
other by the supreme intelligence that works in
all nature. In the earlier stages the individual
knows nothing of what his existence means nor
whither it tends. Nevertheless an important
work is going on within him. The conditions in
which he finds himself necessitate effort and war-
fare for the salvation of the body, and this body is
of such a nature that effort and conflict increase
its wants and, at the same time, its power of ac-

At every step of the way, the organism, both
social and individual, encounters new problems
to be solved, new difficulties to be overcome.
In every relation of life it is sorely tested and
stimulated. It is often a severe discipline. The
fact that it is an upward career is made painfully
apparent. The human spirit often faints before
what is required of it. It cannot cast itself loose
from the lower creature from which it has sprung.
It is dependent upon it; and its demands, often
imperious, have to be listened to and provided
for and at the same time regulated, controlled,
governed, in a word, educated.

The history of this upward career of the human
race presents many points of view. It is a war-
fare, it is a conquest, it is a triumph; it is also a
defeat, a long-drawn-out story of loss, degenera-
tion, tragedy. The law of increase for those who
face the situation and fight the good fight is offset


by the law of loss. Powers and opportunities
are forfeited by those who refuse. The upward
way means hardship, labour, patience, endurance,
suffering. It means also joy, exhilaration, peace
with oneself, in a word, abiding happiness. The
two are mingled. The disciplinary part is not,
in most lives, an uninterrupted strain that breaks
the spirit. The reward of activity and earnest
striving is closely associated with it. The com-
pensations of life are not postponed to some far-off
event of the future, they are, in the great majority
of experiences, immediate. Life is a thing worth
cherishing for its own sake, even though it fall
short of the fullest salvation, — the realization of
the highest things possible.

To study and understand this method, so
amply illustrated in human history, is to study
and to understand the great intelligence that
has instituted it. He has declared Himself in it
more fully than in any other department of His
creation; and, in our own painfully developing
science of education, we have the sole key to its

Let us then make the hypothesis that the social
organism is the embodiment of an educational
process, — a great training school, broadly planned
and firmly administered by a higher intelligence;
a school of discipline calculated to stimulate and
draw out innate powers, to forge character through
grappling with and overcoming difficulties; a
curriculum for elevating, expanding, purging,


purifying humanity, — not, perhaps, the whole
human race, but the survivors of it, those who,
with the help of a power-not-themselves, work
out their own salvation. Not that this concept
will at once solve all our difficulties. The terms
of the hypothesis forbid this. For if the provi-

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 11 of 22)