Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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series, or a derivation of one from the other.

In short, it seems to me unquestionable that, in
so far as the modern theory of evolution gains support
from embryology, it is indebted entirely to analogi-
cal relations existing on widely different scales, and
under circumstances that seem to be wholly unlike
each other. I am not, be it understood, attempting
to disparage the argument thus derived. I wish only
to show how much influence analogy has in deter-
mining our beliefs; and to what an extent the most
complex relations may be employed as a key to the
understanding of other complex relations from which
they are widely separated. Nor, on the other hand,
am I trying to make it appear that the analogical
argument is the only one to which the hypothesis of
evolution refers for support.

When once the hint of a genealogical relationship
between species had been furnished by the egg series,
scientific research busied itself to find corroborations
of this hint in other and widely different relations


of things; and although this research failed to discover
much that it expected to find, and found in many cases
that which seemed, at first sight, the contradiction
of the hypothesis it was trying to verify, yet, so many
and weighty were the converging evidences in its favour
that evolution was tentatively established.


Let us now turn to the consideration of that most
significant of all analogies, very old, very time-worn,
the conception that is easily taken hold of by chil-
dren, and to which the greatest intellects of the world
have bowed in reverence; but which, from an intel-
lectual point of view, has always been beset with dif-
ficulties. A pragmatic theology undertakes the
removal, to some extent, of these difficulties. It sets
itself the task of showing that the hypothesis of an
indwelling intelligence, working and creating in the
great world somewhat as man, the energizer and cre-
ator, works in his little world, is a conception that
stands endorsed by the scientific method.

In pursuance of this end I will ask the atten-
tion of the reader to a very remarkable and instruc-
tive parallel existing between the evidential process
that has led to the establishment of the doctrine of
evolution, and that which has been the progressive
endorsement of the doctrine of an indwelling God.

In both cases we have a trio of related series. And
furthermore in both cases, one of the series, that
which mediates between the other two, is composed of
forms made known to us by modern scientific research.
In the series that leads to evolution, the two presented
to ordinary observation are, first, the geological, and


second, the series of contemporary species. In the
series that leads to theism, the two that correspond
to these are, first, the one made known to us in the
history of man's creative activities, which we may
call the human series, and second, the one exhibited
on a broader scale in the history of the greater
creation, which we may call the divine series. Both
these two series have had to wait the advent
of the third for a satisfactory interpretation. By
themselves they suggested analogical resemblances
and gave rise to hypotheses; but only when the third,
mediating series was made known to us could these be
scientifically endorsed. We have seen how the infer-
ence of genetic relationship derived from the geolog-
ical series was vetoed by the stability and genetic
separateness of the series of contemporary forms.

Just so, in the attempt to apply the analogy between
what we have called the human and divine series,
contrarieties of thought arose. Two distinct aspects
of the human series as related to its centre emerged
and divided the attention. On the one hand was the
relation sustained by the individual to its completed
products, which had become altogether separated from
their author; on the other hand the relations sustained
by the individual to its not-yet-finished products.
The former tallied with the idea of a transcendent
God, quite separated from his creatures, the latter
to the conception of an indwelling continuously creat-
ing God, with whose existence that of the creature
was vitally bound up. To this latter class belong all
the constructions of man that are still in the for-
mative process : — the unpainted or half-painted pic-
ture, the statue in the clay, the unrealized invention,
the partially written book. The application of this


analogy presents every human being as a thought of
God in the making, a creature of God only half

But this most fruitful and, in some respects, help-
ful conception encountered serious contradictions in
experience; for it took no account of man's freedom
and responsibility. It seemed to obliterate the very
fact in which the analogy took its rise, namely, the
reality of man as an originating, creative centre.
Taken by itself, its logical outcome was pantheism
and determinism. Thus our analogy, that seemed so
attractive and helpful in the beginning, proved most
disappointing. If we followed it out on the line of
completed products to a transcendent God, we had
to think of ourselves as finished and dismissed, cut
off from all vital connection with the Author of
our being. But, if we took the other horn of the
dilemma, we found ourselves at odds with the most
vital reality of our existence.

But now we come to the third series, which is the
key to the other two. We may call it the organic,
because it presents the human organism to us in the
two-fold aspect of a unity and a multiplicity. The
unity is the familiar, significant fact of experience —
the Ego. The multiplicity is the human body as
known to science. The following statement of it is
by Dr. Evald Hering: — " Millions of the minutest,
separately existing beings, different in shape and ex-
ternal structure, compose a systematically arranged
aggregate, thus forming the diverse organs; and these
beings, in spite of their complicated interdependence,
lead quite separate lives, for each single being is an
animated centre of activity. The human body does
not receive the impulse of life, like a machine, from


one point, but each single atom of the different organs
bears its vitalizing power in itself." *

Each of these living-beings, known to science as
a cell, consists of a protoplasmic body and a nucleus
that, somehow, exerts an influence over it; and there
is that in the behaviour of the nerve-cell that strongly
suggests the most distinctive characteristic of mind,
that is, self-control. A normal cell when stimulated
does not re-act to exhaustion, but responds by meas-
ure. Just as a person chooses to be more or less indif-
ferent to one set of influences while responding freely
to another, so also it seems to be with nerve-cells.
This power of inhibition, as it is called, differs in cells
and groups of cells as much as persons differ in tem-
perament, and there is every indication that it is a
phenomenon of exactly the same nature as that which
convinces us that we are, to a certain extent, respon-
sible beings.

And again, according to their special functions, the
individual cells are organized in such manner that each
group presents something the same aspect of unity
in diversity that characterizes the larger organism.
The individuals that have to do with the sense of
hearing are organized in a system by themselves.
Those that serve the sense of sight form another sys-
tem; and those that serve the sense of touch, still
another. So also those bodily functions that are
less closely related to our consciousness: the beating
of the heart, the movements of the lungs, and other
complicated activities of the organism which we call
automatic. And, somehow, there is a unity of action
in each system, — a co-ordination, by means of which

* An Address on the "Specific Energies of the Nervous
System," Dec, 1887.


the activities of a diversified multitude are combined
for the achievement of definite ends.

The substantiation of these facts stands out before
us as the concrete, living endorsement of the two anti-
thetical conceptions of God, which we have hitherto
held against the protest of logical consistency. With
the discovery of an adequate symbol for the major
premise, the protest vanishes. Logic is with us. The
indefeasible fact of an independent unity and mul-
tiplicity, existing in one being, takes these two aspects
of God, that have been associated without union,
and compacts them into one substance of unquestion-
able truth. We have in this fact a demonstration
that may be likened to a chemical reaction when the
particles of elements quite foreign to each other lock
together in the formation of a new substance. We
cannot at once realize how important a factor
in the theology of the future this third series must
be. It cannot but classify our fundamental concep-
tions of God, and rectify our thoughts of Him in many
of life's relations. Let us glance at some of its more
immediate effects.

Why, let us ask, is it that one side of our thought
of God appeals to us as the practical, and the other
as the mystical, somewhat unreal side? The belief
that God works in and through man is a vital and fun-
damental part of our theology. Our knowledge of
God that comes to us through the prophets, all that
comes through the Incarnation, all that comes
through conscience, grounds its claims upon the
truth of this view. The doctrine of the Spirit that
works with our spirit, that inspires, guides, and
regenerates men, owns the same origin; and it is a
part of our religion upon which we wish to take


a very strong hold, which ought to be exceedingly
real to us. But does it not stand in the thought
of most of us as a cloudy, unsubstantial, theoretical
kind of belief? Is it not a view of things that
impresses us deeply in hours of meditation, but
which slips away when we come back to the things
of earth? Are we not dogged by a sense of incon-
sistency and paradox in view of all our anxious
forecastings of the future, our carefully laid plans,
and our cautious exploration of our way through
the world? And do not these strivings sometimes
present themselves to us as a practical surrender of
our religious beliefs?

If I mistake not, the doctrine of the Spirit is vague
because it has always appealed to us as an abstract,
unrestricted principle. The divine efficiency in its
relation to human efficiency has nowhere been pre-
sented to us in the terms of a real symbol. It could
not be so presented; because, until science had inter-
vened, we knew nothing about the individuality and
semi-independence of the subordinate units of an or-
ganism; and, unless we emphasize this, the full value
of the analogy is not apparent. But, with this em-
phasis, the interaction and mutual limitation of divine
and human efficiency find such a clear and concrete
expression as to make it impossible for the one to
overshadow the other in our thought. Magnify as
we will the doctrine of the immanency of God, there
is no tendency to the obscuration of man's personal-
ity. For our symbol so regulates and restricts the
two truths as to make them not antithetical but

That form of enthusiasm which enjoins passivity
on the part of man, in order that the Spirit may have


free course within him, finds no encouragement. It
is the activity of the subordinate beings that furnishes
the opportunity for the Supreme Being to work.
It is when they are the most earnestly engaged, each
one according to his special endowment, in working
out their own salvation, that the higher power ener-
gizes most effectively within them. Neither, on the
other hand, is it possible for us to lose sight of or under-
estimate the agency of the Spirit in our lives. For
this, through the medium of our symbol, is repre-
sented by the over-ruling, determining, constantly
modifying action of the Ego.

Let us pass in review some of the relations existing
between the human Ego and its subordinate beings.

We may take it for granted that the primary inter-
est of a nerve-cell centres in itself; that self-preserva-
tion and the discharge of natural activities command
the lion's share of its attention. Its consciousness
of other beings extends only to those of its own
kind, or of nearly related kinds. Its interests are cell
interests. At the same time, knowing what we do
of the efficiency of the central Ego, we can hardly
doubt that its determinations are represented in some
way in the consciousness of cells affected by them.
When the attention of the Ego concentrates itself
upon a particular interest, the vitality and strength
of the organism is directed to a special part of the
brain or nervous system; and in that part there is
superabundant life, activity, and growth. Somehow,
we know not how, when this concentrated attention
is accompanied by constructive effort on the part of


the Ego, its activity results in a more or less elabor-
ate organization of nerve-cells corresponding to the
form of thought in the Ego.

In what guise this organizing activity appears to
the agents of it we shall never know. But we may
reasonably conjecture that, had they the power of reflec-
tion, it would seem to them much as it now seems to
us, when our plans and strivings appear to be tribu-
tary to larger ends than those which we have set before
us; that they would have a vague consciousness of
a sphere more important than that of the individual;
and that in moments of creative activity they might
conceive themselves to be inspired.

We might further illustrate this thought by refer-
ring to the well-known power of the Ego over the organ-
ism for the preservation of health and the overcoming
of disease. When all goes well we say the organs of
the body are doing their work normally and thoroughly;
and we little think, perhaps, how much of this desir-
able state of things is to be credited to the confident
cheerful attitude of the central consciousness. When
disease comes, each organ and cell has its own way of
contending against it; and if, when hard pressed in
the conflict, there comes a great inflow of strength,
it is perhaps that the Ego has heard good news, has
found a new interest in life, or has thrown the whole
force of a hitherto unused will-power into the battle.

In all these cases we have illustrated to us the
greatest mystery of being, — the mystery of life within
life, of mind co-operating with mind organically.
We do not understand any better than before how
such interaction is accomplished, nor how it is pos-
sible that a nerve-cell, while leading a life of its own,
should at the same time be the unconscious agent of


a higher Being of whom it is a part. But it brings
the fact, the reality, of a similar relationship on a differ-
ent scale within the range of our ordinary experience.
In one sense it remains a mystery; but in the same
sense all the processes of nature are mysterious. It
no longer has that most trying kind of mystery that
inclines to doubt, — the kind that must always cling
to a fact that stands alone, that can, in the wide uni-
verse find no other fact to which it can be likened.

There is another class of relations, not so direct
but very intimate, that is capable of being turned to
account in theology. The Ego is a Providence, both
general and special, to its little world of subjects.
It might seem, indeed, almost as true to say that they
are a providence to it, for it owes its existence and de-
velopment to their increase and organization; and its
present state of existence would cease except for their
constant activity in the performance of functions
that only they know how to perform. But from the
time that the Ego begins to be conscious of itself as
an individual with wants to be satisfied and interests
to protect, there begins also an activity of the one
for the welfare of the many.

The first cry of the infant for attention is a demand
of the one, in response to the inwardly manifested
clamours of the multitude that have suddenly become
dependent upon it. And from this time on, the des-
tiny of the diverse beings that make up the cosmos of
the human organism becomes more and more depend-
ent upon the intelligence, the energy, and the moral-
ity of the Ego. When the Ego suffers hunger or
thirst, what is it but that its myriad subjects are
urging it with inarticulate prayers to consider and
minister to their wants? Unless the Ego bestirs itself


they must starve. They, indeed, are able and willing
to work for their living; but only when they are
directed and led by the Ego can they work to any
purpose. It, the Ego, must be the Divinity that
shapes their ends, that combines and directs their
skill and their energies in such a way that they
shall accomplish the thing that is required. And when
the constantly recurring wants of the multitude are
regularly met by a bountiful supply of meat and
drink, it must seem to them somewhat as the early
and the latter rain and the timely sunshine seem
to us.

Again, in view of hostile influences, the lives and
the welfare of this great throng of beings are largely
conditioned upon the wisdom of their sovereign Ego.
They depend implicitly upon its sagacity, its vigilance,
its courage, and its prudence to carry them safely
through the innumerable dangers that beset their
existence, — dangers which they can neither foresee
nor guard against. They assist, according to their
several endowments. One great division is organized
as a corps of observation, another has been detailed
and specially trained to gather information by the use
of articulate speech, and this other constitutes the
auditory system; but their activities are of no avail
unless the Ego, or one of its trained representatives
in a subordinate nerve-centre, elaborates the infor-
mation received and gives effect to it through other
sets of carefully educated, executive workers.

The higher we rise in the scale of being the more
prominently does the non-mechanical aspect of this
relationship appear, and the more clearly is the func-
tion of the Ego seen to be that of a far-seeing and over-
ruling wisdom.


In the lower organisms, the quickness and uniformity
of the responses to external influences, may suggest
mechanism; but the more the Ego becomes developed
the more critically does it consider the reports and
petitions that are sent up by its subjects; and the more
competent does it become to correct, to refuse, to
modify, to reconstruct, and even to revolutionize.
It becomes too wise to satisfy every appetite that
importunes, according to the measure of its demands.
The word discipline calls up to the memory of
every moral man numberless occasions on which he
has played the part of an inflexible ruler and governor.
He has been hard pressed by the opposing claims of
diverse interests in his little world; and he has found
his wisdom sorely puzzled to adjust these, to give a
reasonable satisfaction in many directions, so that
there shall be no cause for desolating rebellions among
his subjects.

Another side of the matter illustrated by our anal-
ogy is that of the worth of the subordinate individual.
Cells, it is true, are continually perishing and their
places are taken by others. They succeed each other
as the generations of men succeed each other in the
social organism. But, while it lives, every living cell
has functions to perform, the significance of which
cannot be isolated from the significance of the whole.
The faithful performance of its part contributes some-
thing to the vitality of other members of the organism
and, at the same time to the happiness and efficiency
of the Ego. In this dual relationship, we have a unique
symbol for illustrating the meaning of the dual state-
ment of the great law of religion and morality: "Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy
neighbour as thyself.' '


Duty to one's neighbour is not something separate
from, and superadded to, duty to one's God. It is, in
the organic unity of the world, only a different aspect
of the same duty. Devotion to the Supreme Being
can realize itself in only one way, — faithfulness to
organic relations. The immediate concern of each
individual element, or being, is the discharge of its
special functions as related to other beings. But this
is made sublime and inspiring for man by the knowl-
edge of his connection with the Supreme Ego.

It has probably occurred to the reader that, in the
development of the analogy derived from the physical
organism, we have also availed ourselves of the closely
related one of the social organism; and it may seem
that there is something forced and artificial in striving
to combine, in our thought of the Supreme Being and
His human subjects, ideas acquired in departments
of experience so separate. It may therefore be worth
while to add to what has been said of the similarity
and continuity of these departments, the considera-
tion that they are in all respects homogeneous. They
differ not in kind, only in degree. Every impor-
tant characteristic of the one is represented to some
extent in the other. In the social organism, as
well as in the physical, the relations which we study
are relations between organized groups of nerve-cells.

The characteristic that specially distinguishes the
relations of the social organism is that of externality.
When one individual has relations with another
he seems to be dealing with that which is no part of
himself, but a separate entity, a separate focus of
interests. A natural chasm has to be bridged by
some means of communication. Contrasted with this,
action within the physical organism seems to be direct,


instantaneous, and accomplished without the inter-
vention of means.

But if we penetrate beneath this outside appear-
ance of things, we shall see that in both cases there is
another phase of the reality than that which has
preoccupied the imagination; and that when this is
taken into account, the two sets of relations declare
themselves to be not essentially different, but only
different in the degree of prominence developed in
certain elements. We shall be convinced that our
thought of ourselves, as contained within the little
world of a physical organism, is a false suggestion of
the imagination. Our existence extends as far as
our communications extend. The head of the body
politic, the ideal king or statesman, whose sight
reaches to every quarter of a great realm, and whose
comprehensive intelligence understands all the varied
interests that balance each other within it, is a vast
being compared with the day-labourer who has no
thought above the routine of his occupation, though
he may, perchance, have a larger body and a heavier

The difference consists in this: that the statesman
has brought into vital connection with his own brain
the brains of a multitude of diverse individuals. If
we allow our thoughts to be captured at this point
by a contemplation of the means by which all this is
brought about, we shall assuredly rest in that which
is secondary and incidental, and lose sight of the
essential fact. The man of high position in the state
has, it is true, extended the field of his consciousness
and power by means of such things as articulate sounds,
printed books, letters hurried by steam from one end
of the realm to the other, and by the use of electric


wires stretched to every town and hamlet like the
nerve-fibres of the body.

But we must look underneath all this machinery
to find the essential conditions of its effectiveness:
namely, the fact that the brain masses belonging to
all these individuals of the nation are homogeneous,
and, therefore, capable of being linked together so as
to pour all their knowledge into the combining con-
sciousness of any individual whose capacity is equal
to its reception. From this point of view, therefore,
the externality of the relations between individuals
has to give place to another phase of the truth that
is equally real and more vital.

And furthermore, when we examine the phenomena
that characterize the interaction of the elements
within the physical organism, the impression of immedi-
ateness and absence of means vanishes. There is
no internal communication that does not require

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 20 of 22)