Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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bilities of infinite meaning and value.


Immediately we focalize life from the standpoint
of this principle, all its parts undergo a radical
transformation. Nothing remains the same be-
cause everything, as related to this principle, has
taken on a higher significance. The most ordinary
tasks of life are glorified by it. The most hope-
less antagonisms are reconciled in it. In its
light the love of one's neighbour, coincidently
with the love of oneself, are seen to be converging
lines pointing to a perfect reconciliation. As re-
lated to the love of God they are seen to be one.
They attain to an absolute union and solidarity
in the Being from Whom both have sprung. If,
assuming tentatively the position of one in whom
love to God has become a supreme, controlling
principle, we may imagine ourselves to have
achieved the state of existence which this point
of view reveals, the problem is seen to be solved.
The world, the great process, is no longer a riddle.
We have, at least, conceived an end worthy of all
the ages.

This, it may be said, is building castles in the
air. But, every attempt to look into the future,
to provisionally construct that-which-is-to-be, for
the guidance of our conduct, is of the nature of
castle building. The important question is, Do
we build wisely? Is that which we conceive as
desirable likely to be realized as the actual?



WE have outlined a theory of the knowl-
edge of God, and have claimed validity
for it on the ground that it has been
thoroughly tested and amply verified in experience.
But it may fairly be asked: in whose experience?
Before venturing a direct answer to this question,
let us glance for a moment at the analogous case
of science, of that which we provisionally call
established science. By whose experiences and
judgments have the conclusions of science been
established? Not by that of all men, nor by that
of the generality of men, but by that of a small
group, or groups, of men who have addressed them-
selves with absorbing devotion to working out,
in different departments, the problems of science.
To the conclusions reached by the concurrent
judgment of these experts the rest of the world
defers; that is to say, the intelligent part of it.
It is content to accept and, more or less, to live
by these conclusions. Not that they are accepted
as final; the assent given to them is always provi-
sional. The scientific deliverances of to-day may
not be, in all respects, those of to-morrow. Neither



are these conclusions accepted in all their details.
The body of science which we may reasonably
regard as established, fringes off in every direction
into hypotheses, surmises, guesses, and prophesies
which win the interest, or approval, of individuals,
in various degrees.

Do we feel any less confidence in the conclusions
of science because they do not appeal to us as
finalities? On the contrary, although we may not
be in a position to question the validity of the
agreements of the men of science, our common-
sense distrusts them most when they take on the
tone of finality and absoluteness, when they tell us
that, in this, or that, direction, they have touched
bottom, that there are no realities unfathomable by
their methods, and that all reality must conform
to the physical laws which they have formulated.
We feel the greatest confidence in them when
we know that they recognize their limitations.

More than this, it is true that the characteristics
of openness, incompleteness, progressiveness, con-
stitute the greatest value of science to human
thought. The scientific spirit is of more vital
importance than the whole body of scientific
achievement. The conviction that the world of
man is growing, daily expanding and deepening,
revealing new vistas for exploration, new possi-
bilities of realization — this is the secret, the
motive power that generates the energy and the
enthusiasm of all modernism. It is this that
gives zest to life even in the midst of weariness,


that makes the future glow with expectancy
though the present be discouraging.

The criticisms so often aimed at the materialism
of the modern world and the comparisons made
between it and times of less progressive thought-
fulness, to the disparagement of the former, have
no truth in them except as related to surface
manifestations. Those more conservative ages
of reflection had their charm to those who lived
in them; their outlooks upon life, though limited,
were often very beautiful, and they have a much
enhanced charm for us who look back to them
from the hurry and changefulness of our day,
but, as compared with the present, those ages
were only half alive.

Now let us turn back to the question of re-
ligious experience. Of whose experience were we
speaking when we were advocating its use as the
foundation of religious belief? Essentially and
potentially of the experience of every normal
individual of the human race. Primarily and
actually of the experience of the religiously
advanced members of it. It is the experience of
those who have, as in science, addressed them-
selves with absorbing devotion to working out the
problems of religion. Let me call attention to
the difference, wide as eternity, between this
kind of foundation and that offered by a church
claiming divine authority. Up to a certain point,
as Cardinal Newman has shown, the analogy
between the authoritative Church of Rome and


the body of men eminent in science holds, and
the argument that, as we defer to the conclusions
reached by the concurrent judgment of scientific
experts, so we ought to defer to the deliverances
of the Church, seems valid. As we accept results,
the reasons for which we cannot understand, from
the one, so ought we to accept them from the

There could not be a greater fallacy. We have
already noted that the assent given to the de-
liverances of scientific men is of a radically differ-
ent kind from that demanded by the authority
of the Church. It is only a provisional, tentative
assent that is asked for, or given, to the conclusions
of science. It is an absolute, final assent involv-
ing the suppression of all individual criticism
that is demanded by the Church. But this only
scratches the surface of the difference. Under-
neath the kind of assent asked for, lies the method
by which the beliefs to which adhesion is asked
have been reached. That of the Church com-
mands our acceptance on the ground that its
doctrines emanate from a source altogether
distinct from that to which we must trace the
common-sense wisdom by which we live. It is,
in fact, the reverse of the method which obtains
in ordinary, practical affairs. In the one case the
beliefs have been communicated directly, in all
their completeness and absoluteness, from an
infallible, authoritative source; in the other they
have been worked out, laboured for, reached,


after much travail of research and experiment,
and as the outcome of many failures.

The one is claimed to be divine wisdom miracu-
lously imparted, the truth of an omniscient, all-
wise mind, that must take precedence over every
other kind of truth, superseding and extinguishing
it, if not agreeable to it. The other is human
wisdom, wisdom in the making, incomplete, inade-
quate, imperfect, looking ever to the future for
its enlargement and correction.

The inductive theology, which we advocate,
abolishes altogether this antagonism, this theory
of two sources of wisdom, two methods of ac-
quiring it. It finds but one kind of wisdom
emanating from one source; that is, the co-
operative working of the human and the divine.
The practical wisdom of everyday life, the scien-
tific wisdom of those who have devoted themselves
to the discovery of nature's secrets, the religious
wisdom of those who have given themselves to the
study of life's higher problems — all these are on
the same footing as regards source and method,
and each, in its own sphere, has a like claim to our
allegiance. Each of them has a divine element,
each has a human element. Each one, in its own
way, is a revelation of God and also a revelation
of man and, all taken together, they illustrate
how God is related to man and what dispositions
man should cultivate toward God.

With such an understanding we have the same
foundation for a free-working theology that we


have for a free-working science, and we have the
same reason to anticipate the building up of a
body of stable belief in the one department as
in the other. With such a theology there is no
foundation whatever for the assumption that,
in the absence of an authoritative church, all
religion must tend to pure individualism and
disintegration. There is no such necessity in the
nature of things. In religion, as in other things,
" wisdom is justified of her children." There will
always be dissent and cavilling, because there is
always a multitude of people about us who know
not their right hand from their left in these matters.
But there will also be a strong, vigorous, growing
body of belief for the guidance and encourage-
ment of the seekers after God. Nor need we
confine ourselves to the future tense in speaking
of these things.

The future is more exhilarating with its promise
of better things to come, but it is permitted to
speak also of the present and find in it abun-
dant assurance. The process of theological and
religious transformation in the midst of which we
live necessarily involves the tearing down of much
that was held sacred in other days; and destruction
on a large scale always arrests and holds the atten-
tion of the multitude far more than the opposite
process of building up. The former is effected
rapidly, it is spectacular, startling, and, if brought
about in the way of warfare, with varying episodes
of rally and retreat, it adds to its tragic interest


that of partisanship. The process of reconstruction,
on the other hand, is slow, tentative, for the most
part, attracting little attention; it is accompanied
by failures and temporary set-backs, and often
discredited by work that has to be done over again.
But spite of all hindrances the re-formation
of doctrine is well on the way to general recogni-
tion. While attention has been held spellbound
by the destruction wrought in the old structures,
it has been quietly maturing strength. It has
not been the work of conventions nor of councils.
It has been sparingly recognized in high places;
nor will it ever have the stamp of finality and
infallibility. It has been elaborated, in travail
of soul, by individuals and communities. It has
been the natural growth of the human spirit
bursting the fetters by which it has been bound
for centuries, slowly and painfully becoming
aware of the vital forces pulsating within it and
awakening to the consciousness of the glorious
possibilities of a new-found liberty. And nothing
is farther from the truth than the frequently made
charge that all this new constructive effort is
divergent. It presents us, indeed, with a variety
of aspects, it is accompanied by erratic move-
ments; but it is also characterized by an under-
lying unity of principle and motive. This, its
positive side, is the only one worth attention;
the other aspects are of passing significance, the
chips that fly from the hewing of grand building


We may say of our modern civilization that it
goes on wheels. But all wheels are not the same
kind of wheels. There are the wheels of ox-carts
and the wheels of baby-wagons, wheels of motor-
cars that rush us over the earth's surface, and
wheels in our pockets that mark the time they
take to do it in, great driving-wheels that run
the complex machinery of a factory and smaller
wheels that are moved by it. But, with all
this multiplicity of wheels, differing from each
other, there is one wheel-principle. Each kind
does its own work in its own way, but in every
case it is the work of a wheel, whether it be that
of a locomotive or that of a pulley.

So it is with the great elemental truths of reli-
gion. They admit of many forms of statement and
of application, — varying and progressive adjust-
ments; but in every case this variety emanates
from a unity that admits of the most categorical
authoritative statement. There is no uncertainty
about this, there is no possibility of evasion. It
is absolute in its finality. It represents necessity.
It is the one and only principle leading to pro-
gressive well-being. "This do, and thou shalt

Thus, the great Christian formula is expressed
in the terms of an uncompromising mandate,
Thou shalt. It is the law. Not simply the
Jewish law, nor its digest, but the essential all-
comprehensive law of our being. And when it
is complied with, when it is converted from the


general into the particular, realized in the actual
experience of the individual, it transforms all
those differences of view, which from the outside
look so divergent, into varying expressions of an
essential oneness of spirit, — into that most effi-
cient kind of unity that is grounded in identity of
desire, of aspiration, of enthusiasm.

But it is just here that many find an in-
superable difficulty. The way of life is seen to
be not only narrow and difficult, but its gate
locked and bolted against the generality of men.
Can love, it is asked, be called into being by the
will? Does not love cease to be love if it is not
spontaneous? To many the thought of an
achieved love is a profanation of sacred things.

There has certainly been much in our educa-
tion to foster such a sentiment. Because love is
so beautiful, so life-giving, so transforming and
sustaining in its influences, we have abstracted it,
personified and idealized it. It is a mysterious
something, outside and superior to us, that comes
unbidden and takes possession of us, a something
sacred that we are not at liberty to control nor
oppose. In poetry, in romantic stories, in the
drama, this view of love has been continually set
before us, and to a certain extent we have hon-
oured it; but in practical life we, for the most
part, protest against it. It is not all a lie. But
in its unqualified form it is a most pernicious
and demoralizing lie.

It is a strange delusion that love, the most


precious, the most powerful, the great saving
agency of the world, is one over which we have
no control. Not that, in this respect, it consti-
tutes a category by itself. Faith, which is the
condition of it, has shared its segregation. When
our late leader in psychology gave us, a few years
ago, an essay entitled, "The Will to Believe,"
there was a great outcry on the part of many.
The idea that a man's beliefs can be, and ought
to be, regulated, to a great extent, by his will
was denounced as immoral. Such a view, it
was affirmed, carried within it the seeds of insin-
cerity and constructive hypocrisy.

Now, is there to be found in experience any
good reason for isolating these two, faith and love,
from all the other activities of the soul? We are
not slow to recognize the part which our wills
play as regards these others. The very founda-
tion of our conception of ourselves as responsible
beings rests upon the recognition of the fact that
we, to a great degree, make ourselves what we are,
that we are free to cultivate habits that collectively
constitute character. To live aright, to work
wisely for our own salvation, is to give the
strength of our lives to the formation of habits.
The highest possibilities of being, toward the
realization of which we press, are habits.

We cultivate the habit of courage, not only
because it is necessary for success in life's conflicts,
but, because without it no man can feel himself to
be a man. We cultivate fear also, lest courage


should degenerate into rashness. We cultivate
enthusiasm because, in its absence, we find no
joy in the tasks we have set for ourselves. We
cultivate patience because enthusiasm, by itself,
overshoots the mark, tends to aggressiveness and
intolerance, becomes transformed into bitterness
and discouragement. We cultivate sensitiveness
in order that we may understand the finer meanings
of life. We cultivate indifference to defend our-
selves not only against its coarser solicitations,
but also its false and foolish refinements. We
cultivate the social spirit that we may not be
estranged from our fellowmen. We cultivate the
power of living a life apart from society lest all
our energy should run to waste in its trivi-
alities. We cultivate generosity and we culti-
vate thrift. We cultivate industry, endurance,
forbearance. We cultivate, in the largest sense,

When we come to the formation of specific
aptitudes, it is the same. We become proficients
in no branch of art or science, experts in no pro-
fession except by intelligently directed will power,
— by cultivation, training, discipline. We begin
with nothing, or next to nothing, — a little mother-
wit, a predilection or hint of fitness for this or that
pursuit; the rest is done by faithful attention
and effort, so far as we are concerned, and by the
creative spirit of God working with us in response
to our prayers of endeavour.

Now, while we recognize this as the order of


becoming, in all that makes for self-realization in
life's utilities, must we settle down to the con-
viction that the most efficient, most dominating
qualities of the soul belong to a sphere that is
outside our influence? — that we have no control
over those master-powers by means of which,
alone, all the other more or less conflicting aims
of life can be co-ordinated, organized, and made to
work for one great end? If so, let us count human
life a progressive futility, and man a moral

If we have not the power to shape our convic-
tions, if we cannot, by the exercise of the will,
determine and temper them for action, then the
increase of intelligence makes us increasingly
helpless. The more we know, the worse off we are.
For the extension of knowledge continually opens
new aspects of things. With a small amount of
knowledge it was possible for us to come to definite
conclusions and give ourselves with whole-hearted-
ness to acting upon them. But, with the ability
to look on the other side of this, that, and the
other question, come the divided mind, hesitation,
inaction, and a growing paralysis of the executive
faculty. Every man of affairs knows this well
enough, and owes all his successes to acting upon
it. It is a commonplace of experience that a man
who cannot make up his mind arrives nowhere.
And it is quite as necessary that minds be made up
in the realm of spiritual beliefs as in that of secular


It is not a matter of suppressing our honest
convictions in the one case any more than in the
other. It is our duty to receive and weigh all the
evidence and all the inducements that present
themselves, and if, when all has been said and
done, the two sides seem to be evenly balanced,
we have to decide by sheer force of will, and fight
it out on that line.

As matter of fact, this evenness of balance is
a hypothetical rather than an actual situation
except as regards unimportant issues, those in
which one way is just about as good as another.
In problems of greater moment, when we have
been hopelessly befogged in our efforts to solve
them on their own merits, there are usually
larger considerations that help to clear the
atmosphere. The appeal to thesq is like that
to a higher court, and it is just here that our
method can be applied most effectively. The
issues brought before this higher court relate to
the practical effects of a decision upon the individ-
ual and upon society. Of two antagonistic pro-
positions, does the adoption of one promise better
results in actual life than the other? Does the
one give courage and strength to men in the midst
of life's warfare? Does the other tend to apathy
and demoralization?

The problems of theology are specially in point
here. Take, for instance, those two that stand
at the head of the list. Is there a benevolent God
working with man in the affairs of the world?


May the career of the individual life be continued
after the dissolution of the body? A formidable
array of arguments may be brought for a negative
answer to both of these questions, some of them
grounded in actual experience. Equally weighty
considerations may be urged for an affirmative
answer. And looking, now on this side and now
on that, it may seem that no decision is possible.
Shall we then rest the case here and content our-
selves with the ineptitude of Agnosticism? Or,
recognizing that no answer to these great questions
is practically a negative answer, shall we set our-
selves to determine what resultants are likely to
flow from a negative and what from a positive
answer? If we adopt this latter course we make
an appeal from logic to life.

We seek enlightenment as to the good and the
bad, the true and the false in spiritual beliefs
from the same instructors that have taught us
and our ancestors to distinguish between foods
and poisons, between normal tissue and gangrene,
between the air that gives life and vigour when
we breathe it and that which depresses and cor-
rupts the system. We have learned what kind of
convictions it is well to encourage and what to
eradicate, as a farmer knows, through his own and
inherited experience, the difference between re-
munerative crops and weeds, the difference be-
tween soil that will yield him nothing and that
which will respond to the labour he bestows upon
it. As, in the one set of relations, experience has


guided us to a wise selection of means for the
promotion of physical well-being, so in the other
set of relations, experience must be trusted to
guide us to a reliable choice of the beliefs that will
sustain and advance our spiritual welfare.

If, as regards the two great questions above
noted, it appears that an affirmative answer works
for the encouragement of all that is good in life,
if it makes men strong, earnest, self-controlled, if it
meets the great desideratum by giving something
that is in every way worth living for, if it is an
answer that, in its comprehensiveness, takes up all
other beliefs and ends, co-ordinates, unifies, com-
bines them all in organic efficiency, if its employ-
ment receives the endorsement of those vital
impulses that we instinctively recognize as the
noblest and most authoritative, giving us the un-
reasoned conviction that we are moving in the
right direction; while, on the other hand, a nega-
tive answer brings no helpfulness in its train, no
outlook into a future of spiritual realization to
nerve us for the conflicts of the present, no lighting
up of the great world-process, nothing to hope for
beyond the disappointing things of our mundane
life, nothing to be loyal to, nothing of that joy
that comes from the consciousness of movement
toward something better, the divine sense of
expectation, that makes present trials and sacri-
fices seem light, if, in our own experience and in the
lives of others, its fruits are in the long run indif-
ference, apathy, cynicism — then, the will must


decide for the affirmative and see that its judg-
ment is made effectual.

It is the contention of our method that such
an appeal is legitimate, and not only so, but that
the decisions thus reached are things not to be
laid on the shelf for academic use, but things to
live by. They are of momentous importance.
Having reached this point, a mere formal assent
is criminal neglect of duty and opportunity. We
are bound to give the whole strength of our
adhesion and the whole volume of our loyalty
to them. We must become partisans and in
dead earnest, for these are matters of spiritual
life and death.

The will must take control of the situation and
rule with a masterful sway. It can do this,
through its two strong arms of attention and
inhibition. A man's responsibility centres very
much in the use which he makes of these two
faculties. Their strength varies in different in-
dividuals all the way from zero to almost absolute
sway. They are the muscles of the soul, that

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 16 of 22)