Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

. (page 21 of 22)
Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 21 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

time for its transmission; and all the intercourse that
takes place between individual elements within the
organism is as dependent upon means as that which
takes place outside of it. Much attention has, of
late years, been given to the accurate measurement
of the intervals that elapse between the reception of
stimuli by different exterior organs and their percep-
tion at headquarters. In short, scientific research
tends continually to the abolition of those special
marks by which we have discriminated between the
intercourse of beings within and without the organism.

We may then cherish a dual thought of God without
contradiction. We may think of Him as our Sover-
eign. We may picture to ourselves this vast universe
as a network of means for conveying the knowledge
of itself to the Being who dwells apart, separate


in His individuality, yet so connected with each
one of His creatures that nothing is indifferent
to Him. On the other hand, when we think of
our relations to the great sum of things, so connected
in every part as to form an organic unity, and of the
one life and order that flows through all, we have to
put the thought of separateness far into the back-
ground, concentrating our attention on the one organic

Each of these views in its own place is best. No
greater mistake can be made than to array them against
each other. God dwells within His world, the very life
and breath of all things. He is the great heart and
brain of the universe. He is the Ego, for Whom
and by Whom all things exist. Every plant and flower
and every animated form is an expression of some
thought of His. Every event that takes place in His
world is an incident in His life.

But, on the other hand, God is also transcendent.
He is the Supreme Being of a vast hierarchy of beings.
He is distinct from all the others, and above them
all. They are His ministers that do His pleasure. He
is their Sovereign, they are His subjects. He is their
Father, they are His children. He is their Crea-
tor, they are His instruments. He directs and over-
rules their activities for the attainment of ends that
dwell in His thought as ideals.


Henri Bergson

WHEN a scheme of thought comes into the
world that compels the attention and
admiration of many thinkers of divergent
ways of looking at things, it is a phenom-
enon worthy of our study. This is the significant fact
with regard to the philosophy of Professor Henri Berg-
son.* He is attracting to himself men of the most
widely different outlooks, temperaments, and doctrines,
each one of whom finds in him the endorsement of some-
thing that is peculiarly dear to him. Seeing that his
method is from first to last thoroughly pragmatic, that
he goes direct to nature for his facts and gives the
impression of great single-mindedness in his inter-
pretation of them, it is no wonder that he is received
with enthusiasm and acclaim by those who class them-
selves as pragmatists. But, on the other hand, those
of the opposite camp, the absolutists of various shades,
would lock arms and claim him as their own.f

* No citations of Bergson have been made in the foregoing
pages, for the simple reason that the author had not read any
of the works of that distinguished writer till after his own book
(with the exception of Chapter I and the Appendices) was

f See Review by J. H. Muirhead, Hibbert Journal, April,
1911, p. 895.



We can hardly explain this condition of things
by qualities of attractiveness in style and form,
though Bergson has these qualities in a remarkable
degree. In the words of Professor James, "The
rarity is when great peculiarity of vision is allied
with great lucidity and unusual command of all the
classic expository apparatus. Bergson's resources in
the way of erudition are remarkable, and in the
way of expression they are simply phenomenal.
This is why in France, where Vart de bien dire
counts for so much and is so sure of appreciation,
he has immediately taken so eminent a place in pub-
lic esteem." *

The very possession of these qualities, again, forbids
us to attribute the consensus of approval to vagueness
or indeterminateness in the presentation of his views.
He asks us, it is true, to follow him sometimes into
nebulous reaches of thought where intellectual breath-
ing is difficult. James avers that many of his ideas
baffle him entirely. But it is not in these alone, but
also in the open fields of constructive philosophizing
that the stamp of approval is set and the claim of
fellowship made. We must, then, go deeper down to
find the secret; and I believe it to be condensed in
that well-worn formula: "One touch of nature makes
the world akin." A distinctive thing about Bergson
is that he brings his great store of resources and
gifts to bear without hindrance from disabling pre-
possessions. He is thoroughly emancipated from the
spell which Darwinism and the mechanical view of
the universe have exercised over so many minds, some
of them of a high order.

He goes to nature open-eyed, not labouring under the
* "A Pluralistic Universe," p. 226.


necessity of making what he finds there tally with
the theory of "Natural Selection " or with that of the
creation of new forms by the very unoriginating
principle of heredity. On the contrary, his philosophy
is a frank return to seeing the world as the unscientific
see it. It restores the psychological, spiritual aspect
of it, which the speculative science of the last century
did so much to banish. It removes the opacity and
dullness that prevailed under this regime, and permits
us to think the world with the fresh thoughts of
children. There is a buoyancy and a tonic in this
philosophy that is specially acceptable in an age of
pessimistic exhalations. It restores vitality to that
which was becoming anemic, hope and expectancy to
a world whose outlooks seemed to be fast closing up.

Bergson does not enter the domain of theology, or
postulate, as we do, an all-pervading intelligence at
the heart of things, but he points persistently in
this direction and, by his implications, pushes us
toward some such hypothesis. His attitude toward
a solely mechanical interpretation of the universe is
explicit. This is, he tells us, the outcome of a
habit into which the intellect has been betrayed
by the instrumental use of material things. It, the
intellect, unconsciously forms for itself a frame-
work of knowledge into which all its experiences
fit, except those which touch life. It is "at home
in the presence of unorganized matter. This mat-
ter it makes use of more and more by mechan-
ical inventions; and mechanical inventions become
the easier to it the more it thinks matter as
mechanism. The intellect bears within itself, in the
form of natural logic, a latent geometrism that
is set free in the measure and proportion that the


intellect penetrates into the inner nature of inert
matter." *

So long, therefore, as it deals only with the inanimate,
all the facts fit into the frame-work perfectly. But
immediately it claims universality for this mould of
thought, it gets into difficulties; for life is incapable
of being forced into it otherwise than by a convention
which eliminates from it all that is essential. To
correct this aberration, he begins by tracing a defin-
itive line between the inert and the living, which
leaves us free to adopt a special attitude toward the
latter and to examine it with other eyes than those ot
positive science. Life or creative force is, he holds,
the antithesis of mechanism and matter; and the facts
of evolution, far from necessitating or inviting a
mechanical interpretation, are the contradiction of it.
He asks, "Can the insufficiency of mechanism be
proved by facts?" and answers, "If this demonstra-
tion is possible, it is on condition of frankly accepting
the evolutionist hypothesis." f

The dualism, thus postulated at the outset of the
discussion, persists through the whole course of the
argument. In the universe, to use his own words, "two
opposite movements are to be distinguished, descent
and ascent. The first only unwinds a roll already pre-
pared. In principle it might be accomplished almost
instantaneously, like releasing a spring. But the ascend-
ing movement, which corresponds to an inner working
of ripening or creating, endures essentially and imposes
its rhythm on the first, which is inseparable from it." J

* "Creative Evolution," by Henri Bergson, Member of
the Institute, Professor at the College de France. Translated
by Arthur Mitchell, Ph.D., p. 195.

t Ibid., p. 53. t Ibid., $.11.


These movements, which correspond to the two most
general laws of our science, the principle of the
degradation of energy and that of its conservation, are
antagonistic to each other. On the one hand, we see
the world running down, unmaking itself, descending
all the time into stereotyped, material forms; and, on
the other, a counter movement of ascent through a
creative impulse which, great as it is, has yet a ten-
dency to exhaust itself. "All our analogies show us
in life an effort to remount the incline that matter
descends; in that they reveal to us the possibility,
the necessity even, of a process, the inverse of
materiality, creative of matter by its interruption
alone."* This fundamental discrimination sends a
clarifying current through the vexed questions that
confront us everywhere in connection with life's varied
antagonisms. The struggle for existence, the conflict
between its varied forms, the retrograde movement
that sets in immediately upon the cessation of effort, the
phenomena of old age and decay, the difficulty and
labour involved in the improvement of human con-
ditions, the painfully slow increase of intelligence,
the decay of instinct, and the late emergence of moral
discriminations — all these and a multitude of similar
situations find in this dual movement a satisfactory

They are not, thereby, teleologically explained, but
they are securely lodged in the first indispensable stage
of explanation. By referring them to the two great
tendencies of nature above mentioned, these facts are
ranged as necessary and homogeneous parts of the
great universal scheme of things in which we find our-
selves. The "tremendous internal push" that is the
* Ibid., p. 245.


cause of vital evolution is, according to Bergson, the out-
come of a need of creation. "It cannot create abso-
lutely because it is confronted with matter, that is to
say, with the movement that is the inverse of its own.
But it seizes upon matter, which is necessity itself and
strives to introduce into it the largest possible amount
of indetermination and liberty."* But, as it is a
limited force seeking to transcend itself, it always
remains inadequate to its work. From the bottom to
the top of the organized world we observe one great
effort, but everywhere there is manifest a dispropor-
tion between it and the result.

As to the use of the word impetus for the designation
of the life principle, Bergson recognizes its insufficiency
and its misleading implications. He says, "It must be
compared to an impetus because no image borrowed
from the physical world can give more nearly the idea
of it. But it is only an image. In reality life is of
the psychological order." f It is only in its contact
with matter that it is comparable to an impulsion or
an impetus, " regarded in itself, it is an immensity of

Throughout the discussion, this view of the nature of
the vital principle is honoured. The concept impetus
is largely replaced by that of effort and always with
the suggestion of conscious, intelligent effort. "It
is the role of life," he tells us, "to insert some inde-
termination into matter." To this end it "seizes
upon matter." Its "main energy has been spent in
creating apparatus." It "is always seeking to tran-
scend itself." It "hesitates." "It finds only one way
of succeeding." In short, it is only through the use of
terms implying intelligence and will that he makes
* Ibid., p. 251. t IWd., p. 257.


the process intelligible to us. Every relapse to the
mechanical thought acts as a shutter to the under-

Again, the necessity for postulating an indwelling
intelligence is, it seems to me, latent in Bergson's
account of instinct and intelligence. These two, he
holds, are not things of the same order. They are at
once mutually complementary and mutually antag-
onistic. The following paragraph is italicized by our
author: "The cardinal error which, from Aristotle
onward, has vitiated most of the philosophies of
nature is to see in vegetative, instinctive, and rational
life, three successive degrees of the development of one
and the same tendency, whereas they are three diver-
gent directions of an activity that has split up as it
grew." * Accepting this, what shall we say is the nature
of the original "activity"? and what has caused it
to split up into two kinds, antagonistic and comple-
mentary to each other? In the beginning they were
one psychic activity, and because they were originally
interpenetrating they retain always something of
their common origin. "There is no intelligence in
which some traces of instinct are not to be discovered,
more especially no instinct that is not surrounded by
a fringe of intelligence." f This accounts for the fact
that they have been generally regarded as of the same
kind, while "in reality they accompany each other
only because they are complementary."

The point, I take it, is that they are the same from
one point of view, that of their essential nature; but
distinctly different from another point of view, that of
their functioning. They both, we are told, involve
knowledge — "in the case of instinct, unconscious, in
* P. 135. f Ibid., p. 186.


the case of intelligence, conscious."* Though so
different, however, they are both innate. Instinct is
the knowledge of things, concrete situations; intelli-
gence is the knowledge of relations. "If instinct is,
above all, the faculty of using an organized natural in-
strument, it must involve innate knowledge (potential,
or unconscious, it is true), both of this instrument and
of the object to which it is applied. Instinct is, there-
fore, innate knowledge of a thing. But intelligence is
the faculty of constructing unorganized (that is to
say artificial), instruments. . . . The essential func-
tion of intelligence is, therefore, to see the way out of
a difficulty in any circumstances whatever, to find
what is most suitable, what answers best the question
asked." t

An intelligent being, therefore, bears within himself
the means to transcend his own nature; not, however,
in virtue of his intelligence, but because this is supple-
mented by instinct. "There are things that intelli-
gence alone is able to seek, but which, by itself, it will
never find. These things instinct alone could find;
but it will never seek them." J I think it will be
generally conceded that this account describes truth-
fully the salient characteristics of instinct and intelli-
gence, and that the claim that they are, as related to
the activities of the individual, different in kind, is well
grounded in experience.

As we look on this side and on that, each antithetical
statement commends itself as true; but we get no
intelligible idea of how they are combined in operation,
or how their difference has originated; nor can we,
unless we should find, somewhere among our concrete
experiences, a combination of diverse and yet similar
* Ibid., p. 145. t Ibid., p. 150. % Ibid., p. 161.


influences functioning in somewhat the same way,
and thus reach a serviceable understanding of their
relations. Such a concrete experience is, it seems to
me, afforded us in the duality of the motives by
which our daily lives are regulated. We may divide
these motives into two distinct classes: first, those
which have been self-elaborated, gradually reached
through reason and experience; and, second, those
which have had their rise quite independently of any
intellectual processes of ours.

In other words, everything adduced by Professor
Bergson to explain the difference between intelligence
and instinct applies perfectly to the difference between
the knowledge which a man works out for himself and
that which has been worked out for him by some other
man. Intelligence, then, is one's own intelligence.
Instinct is the intelligence of another, appearing in
experience as an impulsion to perform certain definite
acts, the reasons for which are known only to a more
comprehensive wisdom. Thus we are again urged in the
direction of the hypothesis of a higher intelligence with
which we are intimately and organically connected.

As regards teleology, Bergson holds a middle course.
After demonstrating the insufficiency of the mechanical
explanation, he turns to the consideration of purpose
or finalism; and his first word with regard to it is that
" radical finalism" is quite as unacceptable as radical
mechanism, and for the same reason. "The doctrine
of teleology in its extreme form, as we find it in Leibniz,
for example, implies that things and beings merely
realize a programme previously arranged. There is
nothing unforeseen, no invention or creation in the
universe. As in the mechanical hypothesis, here again
it is supposed that all is given. Finalism, thus under-


stood, is only inverted mechanism."* But, on the
other hand, "finalism is not, like mechanism, a doc-
trine with fixed, rigid outlines. It admits of as many-
inflexions as we like. The mechanistic philosophy is
to be taken, or left: it must be left if the least grain
of dust, by straying from the path foreseen by me-
chanics, should show the slightest trace of spontaneity.
The doctrine of final causes, on the contrary, will never
be definitely refuted. If one form of it be put aside,
it will take another. Its principle, which is essentially
psychological, is very flexible. It is so extensible, and
thereby so comprehensive, that one accepts something
of it as soon as one rejects pure mechanism. The
theory we shall put forward in this book will therefore
necessarily partake of finalism to a certain extent." f
As matter of fact, Bergson makes a very generous
use of teleology; for while he most carefully abstains
from postulating any definiteness of plan in nature, and
duly emphasizes the fact that the study of the process,
in detail, is continually leading us into the wilderness
he calls attention to the fact that there are two or three
highways, and that by following these as closely as
possible we shall be sure of not going astray; and fur-
thermore, that what concerns us particularly is the road
that leads to man. Man is unique. He alone has
broken through the barrier that holds the rest of
creation in abeyance. In a special sense, man is the
term and the end of evolution. Not that he is the
sole end, or the end in any such sense that it can be
said that all the rest of nature is for the sake of man.
He has struggled like the other species, he has struggled
against other species. "Evolution has been accom-
plished on several divergent lines; and while the
* Ibid., p. 34. t Ibid., p. 40.


human species is at the end of one of them, other
lines have been followed with other species at their
end." *

In his struggle upward, man has suffered losses.
He has not only abandoned cumbersome baggage
on the way; he has also had to give up valuable
goods. As regards some kinds of instinct, he is
manifestly inferior to animals lower in the scale.
"It is as if a vague and formless being, whom we
may call, as we will, man or superman, had sought
to realize himself and had succeeded only by aban-
doning a part of himself on the way. The losses
are represented by the rest of the animal world and
even by the vegetable world. . . . From this point
of view the discordances, of which nature offers us the
spectacle, are singularly weakened. The organized
world, as a whole, becomes as the soil on which was
to grow either man himself or a being who morally
must resemble him. The animals, however distant they
may be from our species, however hostile to it, have
none the less been useful travelling companions, on
whom consciousness has unloaded whatever encum-
brances it was dragging along, and who have enabled
it to rise, in man, to heights from which it sees an
unlimited horizon open before it." f

Bergson, furthermore, gives side glances at certain
pregnant outcomes of evolution that, focalized, are
capable of conducting us to a much more definite
teleology than that for which he makes himself respon-
sible. There are certain results of the process which, in
the body of this book, we have called its indirect incre-
ment, its by-products. They are, as related to man's
purposes and efforts, unexpected side issues; but, as
* Ibid., p. 266. Ibid., p. 266.


related to the highest results of evolution, they are
the matters that, above all others, have significance
and persistent value. Bergson, now and again, while
emphasizing the fact that intelligently-made mechan-
ism has contributed to, and greatly modified, human
evolution, recognizes, as it were with bated breath, the
importance of these indirect, unintended promoters
of it.

"A noteworthy fact is the extraordinary dispropor-
tion between the consequences of an invention and the
invention itself. We have said that invention is
modelled on matter and that it aims, in the first place,
at fabrication. But does it fabricate in order to
fabricate, or does it not pursue involuntarily, and even
unconsciously, something entirely different? Fabri-
cating consists in shaping matter, in making it supple
and in bending it, in converting it into an instrument
in order to become master of it. It is this mastery that
profits humanity much more even than the material
result of the invention itself. Though we desire an
immediate advantage from the thing made, as an
intelligent animal might do, and though this advantage
be all the inventor sought, it is a slight matter com-
pared with the new ideas and new feelings that the new
invention may give rise to in every direction, as if the
essential part of the effect was to raise us above our-
selves and enlarge our horizon. Between the effect
and the cause the disproportion is so great that it is
difficult to regard the cause as producer of its effect."*

If the principle here illustrated manifested itself in

no other way than in that above noticed, we could put

it aside with an interrogation; it is, we might say, an

experience awaiting more light for explanation. But,

* Ibid., p. 182.


far from being isolated, its manifestation is as broad
as life and as varied as human endeavour. And the
mystery of it, without the hypothesis of a divinity that
shapes our ends, is equally great in every class of our

All our real growth, our actual progress in the
scale of being, is in the beginning achieved by this same
method of indirection; and though it is only at an
advanced stage that we learn to pursue life's higher
ends consciously and directly, yet when this stage is
reached and we recognize character as the supreme
value toward which evolution moves, then it is that
we are in a position to construct a working teleology,
looking before and after. Such an interpretation of
life's meaning will still lack definiteness. It cannot
be outlined with mathematical precision. It must be
always growing with our growing ideals; but the
direction of it, and the nature of the Supreme Real-
ity that is at once its Source and its End, becomes
increasingly known to us. Bergson, in another con-
nection, recognizes the possibility of thus penetrating
to the inwardness, the " intention," of life by the use
of the activity which he calls intuition. "It is to the
very inwardness of life that intuition leads us — by
intuition I mean instinct that has become disinter-
ested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting upon its
object and enlarging it indefinitely." *

If I am not mistaken, this describes, in different
language, the very process above outlined. In all our
strivings to better ourselves, whether by creation or
by acquisition, the immediate object of our ambition
is something clearly and definitely apprehended by

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 21 of 22)