Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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sions made for the education of man are the out-
come of an intelligence higher than his, it follows
that there will be some adjustments, some relations
of more or less, that he cannot altogether explain.
But so far as the general scope and intention is
concerned, the truth of this interpretation will, I
think, appear increasingly as we study it and
submit the realities of history and current experi-
ence to it.



CHAPTER X

ANALOGY FROM THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

WHEN we were outlining the analogy
which exhibits the points of resem-
blance between the evolution of a
human body and that of the social organism, our
attention was directed collectively to all the
classes of cells that contribute of their diversity
to the organized unity. The contrasts of form
and function which these different orders present
are an apt illustration of the diversities of tempera-
ment, aptitude, ability, ambition, and function
with which we are familiar in the human con-
stituents of society. But now, having passed from
the study of the constitution of the social order to
the question of its meaning, we may contract the
field, and avail ourselves of the analogies afforded
by one department, or class, of these cells.

I
The nervous system is marked off from all the
other organic agencies that serve a human body
by radical peculiarities. It is as much above all
the others in the scale of being as man is above
the creatures of mechanical routine. As matter
of fact the great differences which exist between

190



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 191

the different orders of animals are largely condi-
tioned upon the gradual expansion and complexity
of organization in this department. It is the
only department in which there is continual
change, in which there is a progressive creation of
new forms with higher functions, and in which
there is a clearly defined subordination of orders
which have been successively developed.

" Every tissue of the body," we are told, " ex-
cept the nervous tissue, has but one dead level
of function. No one bone, or bone-cell, has any
higher rank than another bone or bone-cell, any
more than one brick in a building is of a higher,
or more important grade, than another brick,
simply because it is put above, or below."* In
the nervous system, on the contrary, there is,
just as in human society, a higher and a lower
order, a governing and a governed, a class that
directs and controls, and, on the other hand,
subordinate classes that carry into effect. These
latter were the first in the order of evolution.
They constituted the original, comparatively
simple nervous system, which responded almost
automatically to external stimuli. But, with the
ascent of the biological scale, a superior class of
cells emerged to take charge of the more complex
situation. It is the office of these cells to organ-
ize, direct, control, and educate those lower in
the scale.

* " Brain and Personality," by W. Hanna Thomson, M.D.,
LL.D., p. 137.



192 GOD IN EVOLUTION

With reference to this aspect of cell-life the
author just quoted writes as follows: "In study-
ing the development of a nervous system from a
physiological point of view, the first principle
discernible as governing that development is what,
in any other connection, we should term discipline,
and we cannot do better than to note how the
conceptions suggested by that word are applicable
to our subject." * In pursuance of this applica-
tion Dr. Thomson represents the superior grey
motor-cells of the surface of the brain saying to
the grey motor-cells of the spinal cord, "You
were the original nervous system, to be sure, just
as there were horses before there were men to
ride them, but since I have come, I am above and
you are below, and as it is, it took long, patient
training and a great deal of trouble to break you
in to my service so that you would act according
to my orders."!

Somehow, in response to the persistently re-
peated action of uniform stimuli proceeding from
the superior afferent nerves, there are formed what
are called nerve-centres, or ganglia, character-
ized by an ever-increasing complexity of organiza-
tion and function. These are the physical basis
of habits. By oft-repeated stimuli the nerve-
centres have been organized and trained to
respond through the efferent nervous system in
an orderly and uniform way. The results are
varied, because the organization is as complex as

* Ibid., p. 134. t Ibid., p. 139.



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 193

the needs of the organism which it serves. All
our vital functions, like breathing, the beating of
the heart, etc., are carried on automatically by
these nerve-centres that have been trained to
habitual action. By what adaptive intelligence
these wonderfully complex instrumentalities have
been called into existence, in response to afferent-
nerve stimuli, no physiologist can begin to tell
us. In the whole process we have to recognize a
creative power working with the co-operative
microscopic beings which we call nerve-cells.

Here, as elsewhere, we discern that power
working, not by itself upon unresponding inactive
material, but, always in conjunction with and
through active agents. And here again, as else-
where, we find the creative process not only a
gradual, but also an educative one. The devel-
opment of the co-operating cell, even though
microscopic, seems to be one of the ends in
view, though never the final end. Each indi-
vidual in the series is tributary to a collective
life and efficiency beyond itself, and each unit
of organization so formed is again tributary to a
higher organization which subserves ends of larger
significance and value.

All the nervous centres of which we have spoken,
each one a most elaborate system in itself, are
spheres of organized influence that have been so
trained to habitual correspondence and harmony
of action that they, in connection with the afferent
stimuli from the outside world, carry on the opera-



194 GOD IN EVOLUTION

tions of the different vital processes in a normal
body without friction, hesitation, or disturbance
of any kind. They work each one silently and
effectively; and so perfectly equal are they to
every change of adjustment, necessitated by
change of environment, that we ordinarily take
no note of them. But, with all this elaborate-
ness and perfection, they are but factors in a
grander organization, that of the human body as
a whole, which, from the higher point of view, is
seen to be the end for which they have been created
and educated. Each one fits into its place in
that higher unity, subordinates itself to its re-
quirements, works harmoniously with all the other
departments, and thus prepares a perfected living
mechanism to be taken possession of by that
wonder of all wonders, — a human consciousness.
Where does this new factor, this new controlling
agent, come from? How does this one, conscious,
intelligent, commanding personality spring from
the multiplicity with which it is vitally connected
and over which it is placed in authority? Does it-
spring from it at all? May it not be a being of a
different order sent from some higher centre of
power, like the governor of a dependent province,
to look after and be responsible for its interests?
Whatever the truth may be from an ontological
point of view, this latter conception, from a
practical point of view, fits the situation in some
important respects. True, the new-comer is not,
at his advent, in control of the situation. He is



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 195

not at first the educator, but the educated. The
whole complex organism with which he has to do
and on which he is dependent is in perfect run-
ning order when he comes on the scene. It has,
so to speak, a vast experience as related to his
inexperience. He has at first to be its pupil,
and only gradually reaches a position of knowl-
edge and mastery that fits him to assume the
government.

But, when this stage has been reached, it is
manifest that he is the end for which all this
wonderful complexity of organization has been
elaborated. Human history is the record of the
use that individually and collectively he has made
of his power. It is not, however, to the external
evidences of his achievements that our attention
must be directed in this connection, but to the
more intimate, internal relations sustained to the
world of nerve-cells and centres which he not
only administers and governs, but the organ-
ization of which he has immensely extended.
Acquired faculties come to the birth, are organ-
ized, trained, and perfected by this dominating
personality, and each one of these is physically
represented by a special community of nerve-cells.

Until the formation of these acquired faculties
there is great uniformity in the nervous system
of different men. But, from this on, there is the
widest diversity. The majority of men build
up for themselves the faculty of expressing
themselves in language. Many organize the cell



196 GOD IN EVOLUTION

combinations that enable them to interpret
written signs and those that give them the
power of expression by the same means. Be-
yond these acquisitions the nervous systems of
individuals become separated by very great
divergencies. One constructs within his cere-
brum a veritable laboratory for the working
out of physical problems, another a study stored
with volumes for the writing of history or
philosophy; another has acquired an organiza-
tion that makes him a wonderful dancer. Every
man who composes music, or who renders it
by his skill as a vocalist or instrumentalist,
has built up for himself a special organism of
his own for his personal use. So also every
one who has developed skill in any kind of
occupation, handicraft, or interest has, by direct-
ing attention and effort in a given direction,
modified the nervous mechanism that he has
inherited.

In all this diversity we see the results of human
educational methods persistently directed to spe-
cial ends. But when, advancing a step farther,
we look at all these results collectively, and seek
to carry out our analogy by the discovery of a
still higher unity, to which they are all organically
related, we find ourselves at a loss. For it is a
unity of personality that we are seeking; and this
the social organism does not give us. All its values
have to be estimated in terms of the human in-
dividual. Its usefulness, its opportunities, its



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 197

happiness are nothing except as they are realized
by its separate constituents. It is indeed a most
valuable instrumentality for the furtherance of
human interests, of human discipline, of human
education, but it is nothing more.

Another step is necessary. We have seen that,
when the organization of the human body
reached a certain stage of perfection, there
appeared, from some unknown source, a mysteri-
ous being vitally connected with it, that took
possession of it, ruled, disciplined, and formed
it. Let us make the hypothesis that some such
being exists who sustains to the social organism
relations similar to the above, — that the human
race, as a whole, is related to this being, somewhat
as the nervous system of a man is related to his
central consciousness and will. This hypothesis
not only completes the analogy, but it completes
and satisfies the requirements of the great process,
the coming stage of which we seek to formulate.

For clearness of thought, we may once more
narrow the field of our analogy. We will assume
that the Supreme Being is related to the human
race as a human person is related to some one
of the special faculties that he has created and
trained for his own use. This places no limitation
upon the thought of the Supreme One. We are
but a department of His universe, one of His
interests. It has, on the other hand, the advantage
of illustrating, by a natural process, the fact and
the method of our creation by Him and, further,



198 GOD IN EVOLUTION

of His continued superintendence and co-opera-
tion at all stages of the process.

The history of any one of our brain specializa-
tions would serve our purpose, but I will choose
that of music, not alone because it is one of the
most elaborate and clearly set forth as to its
processes in our consciousness, but also because
it ranges from the most ordinary levels of experi-
ence, through every phase, to the most trans-
cendent. We can, therefore, trace the process of
education, mark its stages, and see how each one
leads up to that which is intrinsically higher on
the scale of natures and values. There is a
foundation for music in our physical organiza-
tions which antedates any action of ours with
regard to it. Its beginnings are matters of vibra-
tions, outside the organism, which are responded
to by afferent nerves and conveyed to a centre
where they come into consciousness. There is
no music until this consciousness has been reached
and made a participating factor with the nerve-
stimuli that have led up to it, and it is only when
attention has focalized this consciousness that the
process of cell education in which we are interested
begins.

The first steps are experiments in sounds and
sound combinations. These are selected from,
remembered, repeated with pleasure, varied, ex-
panded, organized. A chord is a distinct achieve-
ment, a tune is a wonderful accomplishment.
Each has a raison d'etre and completeness in itself.



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 199

But music does not stop there. As we follow
the course of its evolution from these simple
beginnings through a long and elaborate develop-
ment as a great science and art, we find ourselves
contemplating a microcosm of diversified agencies
which has a certain completeness in itself, but
also an incompleteness, a lack of finality, in view
of a larger unity into which it may enter as a
factor. The player on a violin has constructed a
wonderful nerve-organism which responds to his
bidding alone. He may be very great as a soloist.
So also a symphony by a great master is a crea-
tion that stands out clear in its separateness as
a finality. It has its own completeness. But
every soloist, composer, and composition is also
a link in an endless chain of development.

Even when we contemplate this great depart-
ment of human achievement as a whole we may
take very narrow views of it. It is in one aspect
a science, and all its agencies and outcomes may
be expressed in the terms of science. In another
aspect it is an art, to be judged and regulated
and cultivated in accordance with the canons of
art. But, in a higher sense, it is a medium of
expression for the most exalted thought and feel-
ing. And, more than this, it passes over from
the role of instrumentality to that of leadership
and becomes the pioneer in realms that transcend
our experience. It carries us whither no language
can follow it; it becomes a most potent revealer
of the ideal.



200 GOD IN EVOLUTION

But, in the face of this grand reality of develop-
ment, we have to recognize the fact that all great
musical creations, both as regards composition
and performance, have to come back to the
individual, the human person, for their origin and
for their interpretation. Unless we recognize the
existence of a higher personality in whom all
these human combinations centre and find their
meaning, they are unattached, floating, evanescent
dreams, vaporous emanations from the persons
with whom we can connect them. They are
human personality rendered with variations, and
not to be taken seriously.

Just so, when we contemplate the more com-
prehensive social organism. There is before us
a most impressive world of reality that has come
into existence as the result of the corporate life
of innumerable human beings. But the origin
and significance of it all, unless we postulate some
higher personality, must be referred back to hu-
man persons. We cannot say that it centres
in them, for it finds no centre, no interpretation
in the little world out of which it has sprung
and which it has far transcended. The corporate
life that so strongly suggests an organism has no
real unity in itself. It foreshadows such a unity,
preaches it to us every day of our lives by its
manifest tendencies, its repetition of analogies,
its unattached, inconclusive, unmeaning issues,
its constant demands for a realization that cannot



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 201

be supplied. But the moment we supply that
missing factor of a superior being, to whom we
sustain vital relations, the situation is transformed.
Order emerges, the unmeaning finds its perfect
solution, the unattached its fitting attachments,
the unfulfilled its way of fulfilment.

As in the field of music all the curiously formed
instruments for its production, all the elaborate
nerve-organisms in myriads of individuals for its
understanding and its rendering, all the great
compositions and orchestras and composers, are
seen to be, in their wider relations, only instru-
mentalities for the development and education
of the human soul as related to the supreme soul,
so the great corporate life of humanity as a whole
is seen to be pre-eminently and essentially a great
training school by which the human is led up to
a progressive comprehension of and union with
the divine.

In the knowledge of our relations to that higher
life we first begin really to live. We project our-
selves, our thoughts, our hopes, our ambitions,
our affections, all that is highest and best in our
aspirations, into that larger life, to which we are
tributary, of which we are part, which we can
serve, whose battles we can help to fight, toward
which all our emotions of loyalty and love and
worship may find their full and inexhaustible
satisfaction. This is not a future to which we
are looking forward, a life to be lived in another
world. It is the living present. The life that



202 GOD IN EVOLUTION

has hitherto found its attachments only in hu-
man persons and interests is transformed by it,
becomes, in embryo, that of a new creature.

But now, let us ask, how does this affect our
conception of and our attitude toward the social
organism? Does it become a thing of small
importance in our eyes because we have found
out that it is not the final end of existence? On
the contrary, our discovery invests it for the first
time with elements of nobility and with values of
incalculable significance; for it is vitally related to
a transcendent life in which we find the meaning
and fulfilment of ours. It is the instrumentality,
the school organized by infinite wisdom, to educate
us for that life. But, while it is this, it has, at the
same time, a significance and completeness of its
own. It is an interest to be lived for on its own
account, since we, also, are its makers and
measurably responsible for it.

It is the joint outcome of the co-operative
working of God and man within that environ-
ment of uniformity which we call the order of
nature. It is ordained of God, it is built up by
man, half blindly, half intelligently, in response
to constraining influences that he dimly recognizes.
We cannot definitely analyze this co-operative
working. We cannot say God has worked alone
here, man has worked alone there, or that, in this
other matter, they have worked together. Under
the guidance of analogy we construe the great
stream of uniform influences as the habitual



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 203

working of the Divine Wisdom in conformity to
the nature of things. And at certain points we
think we recognize the initiative of the divine, or
of the human, in new departures.

II

Let us now return to trace, along the line of our
analogy, the development of the social organism
and some of its characteristics. For the same
analogy that we have used to illustrate the con-
stitution of the social order throws light upon the
process of its becoming.

That stage of evolution which is represented
by a community of cells, each one of which closely
resembles every other, is a striking illustration
of primitive society. One man may differ from
another in his power of domination, but this is a
matter of degree, not of radical difference. It is
only when a man arises possessed of a new idea,
a hitherto non-existent formation of brain, that
the differentiation on which the social order is
based begins. When such a man appears, he is,
as related to the uniformity which surrounds him,
a freak of nature, and he is so regarded by his
fellows. They may worship him, but that is
usually an afterthought. At first they are inclined
to fear and persecute him. He is abnormal and
not to be tolerated. Sometimes he is dragged
outside the camp and stoned; sometimes he is
permitted to live out his life with his developing
idea for company.



204 GOD IN EVOLUTION

In this latter case he sometimes leaves behind
him a permanent modification of primitive con-
ditions. He has brought forth something, some
invention, or some thought, the value of which
others have recognized and which enters into the
race as a new, persistent factor. Every repetition
of this process makes the nascent society a little
more complex, and we seem to see in it a rehearsal
of that orderly succession of creations by which
the human body has come to be what it is.

But the whole process is different in that we
can more clearly trace, all the way along, the
influence of each of the associated agencies that
have been at work. So far as details are concerned
we are often in doubt, but of certain main ten-
dencies we can be tolerably sure. The initiative
of the whole movement must be traced to that
instinct, that passion for self-realization, which
distinguishes man from all that is not man. This
God-implanted instinct is the source of all human
development, social as well as individual. The
new growth has been along individual lines, but
the organization has been largely effected by non-
human constraining influences. Only at a some-
what advanced stage of the process does man
begin to be conscious of the social order as some-
thing which he has had a hand in creating and
for which he is in a measure responsible. But if,
with this discovery, he jumps to the conclusion
that he is the sole author of it and that he can
destroy with impunity that which he has uncon-



THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 205

sciously constructed, he is labouring under a fatal
mistake.

The principles of this social order are the
outcome of a wisdom far exceeding his, and
experience teaches him that they are as stable and
as coercive as the fundamental laws of nature.
They are, in fact, no other than what we call the
laws of nature. The social order is the natural
order. There is a certain amount of elasticity to
it. Important modifications in the adjustment
of its details are possible and desirable. It is the
problem of our lives to study and find out how
best to make them. But we cannot go far in any
direction without coming up against principles, to
violate which means only social annihilation.

We have the same kind of liberty under the
unwritten laws of organized society that we have
under the laws of agriculture, or the laws that
govern the well-being of a human body. We can
accomplish great things while we work in harmony
with these laws, supplementing, guiding, control-
ling their action, but if we disregard them, they
work against instead of for us. It is not difficult
for us to draw up, from the standpoint of what we
think ought to be and might be, a formidable ar-
raignment of the situation in which the human race
finds itself. It is easy to show how things might
have been more wisely arranged. But, when our
radically new devices are put to the test of human
experience, we are continually scourged back to the
methods which we had thought to supersede.



206 GOD IN EVOLUTION

The training school organized by an intelligence
higher than ours, whatever may be said in criticism
of it, works better than our inventions, and the
curriculum of experience is recognized, in the long
run, as the only thoroughly trustworthy one. It
is severe, but it is effective. It has produced and
is continually producing tragic failures, it involves
much incidental suffering; but, on the other hand,
everything that is of value in human life and
thought and feeling is its outcome. Life is good
for nothing when we once get out of this school
of character. True, one of the great incentives
to human effort is to get out of it, to achieve an
independence of its coercions and become each one
his own master. But if, when we have thrown
off the harness of necessity, we neglect to harness


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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 12 of 22)