Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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his brain, and it was organized there by mind.
Mind is its vital principle. Separated from that
vital principle it is a dead thing which cannot
explain itself, much less the universe. How can
we wonder that a universe interpreted by such a
mutilation should be found destitute of mind?
Necessarily, the power that moves it is declared
to be unknowable, and that, manifestly and
wholly, because the well-known cause and originat-
ing principle of mechanism was subtracted from it
before its application to the greatest of analogical

When we give ourselves to the investigation of a
man-made machine, we find it absolutely complete
in itself. The world of organized physical forces
can, as we have said, also be studied in separation
from the thought of mind. In fact it must be so


studied for the accomplishment of the ends of phys-
ical science. And for this purpose the employment
of the concept is not only justifiable but most
useful. But when, rising to a higher point of
view, we seek a concept that shall be inclusive of
those two great realms of reality that stand apart
from each other in our analytical thought, our
only chance of success lies in restoring to the con-
cept mechanism the other vital half of reality
that we have temporarily neglected. When we
have grasped these two halves of reality in one
concept, as in our thought of personality we unite
soul and body, we have a mechanical universe
that is instinct with mind: not a machine that
has emerged out of the absolutely unknown, self-
sufficing and self-adjusting, but a mechanism alive
with the thought and potency of its originator.
It is an established order of things displaying
great uniformity of action, but it is also a moving,
growing order.

We could not have a better illustration and
verification of the truth of the above principle
than that afforded by the history of the efforts to
explain evolution without the recognition of an
indwelling mind. They have failed most signally
both from the side of biology and from the side
of physics. During the last half of the nine-
teenth century the pan-mechanical view of the
world scored its greatest triumphs, and also, quite
aside from the considerations above advanced,
worked out its own discomfiture.


I will endeavour to show, in as few words as
possible, how this came to pass. In physics it
was the direct result of an apparent demonstra-
tion of the thesis that man's belief in his own
mind as the efficient cause of anything is a de-
lusion. The course of reasoning was something as
follows. The multiplicity of forces in the midst
of which we live, — motion, heat, light, electricity,
chemical affinity, etc., — though they seem to us
to have no community of nature, are, in fact,
different forms of one persistent power. They
have been demonstrated to be different modes of
motion that are all convertible into each other.
And further, those other forms of energy that we
call sensation, emotion, thought, will, are, in no
wise, of a different nature; they also are trans-
formable into the above-mentioned modes of
motion. Now, add to this the consideration that
the physical power of the universe never suffers
diminution or increase, and we have before us the
data upon which the argument for the exclusion
of mental causation from the world of real things
is based. It is said to be demonstrated that
mental phenomena cannot be a result outside the
physical chain, because, if any portion of the
stream of energy were diverted from its course
for the production of mind, that portion would
disappear and the physical consequents would
cease to be the equivalents of their physical

Thus it was made to appear that science ne-


cessitates the banishment from the universe of
all such concepts as that of mental causation.
Herbert Spencer did not hesitate to adopt this
conclusion and Professor Huxley had no reserves
with regard to it. He declared that conscious-
ness had absolutely no power of modifying events.
"We are," he says, " conscious automata, . . .
parts of the great series of cause and effect which,
in unbroken continuity, compose that which is and
has been and shall be."* And again: "Any one
who is acquainted with the history of science will
admit that its progress in all ages, meant and, now
more than ever, means, the extension of what we
call matter and causation, and the concomitant
banishment from all regions of human thought of
what we call spirit and spontaneity." f

Now, so long as the denial of spiritual influences
concerned itself with such matters as the invasion
of the order of nature by miraculous interpositions,
or the belief in specific answers to prayer, —
matters lying quite outside the sphere of verifica-
tion through unquestioned experiences, — it did
not accomplish its own undoing. Men deferred
to it provisionally. Many were ready to sur-
render the most vital of their religious beliefs to
it. But when the ever-widening generalizations
of science, with their categorical inclusions and
exclusions, brought physicists to the above ulti-
matum, the vision of an unmodifiable order faded

* "Science and Culture," pp. 243 and 246.
t "The Fortnightly Review," February, 1869.


out of sight. The limit had been reached sud-
denly, and the argument, so to speak, broke its

For, when the assumption of the sufficiency and
all-inclusiveness of physical causation came to
abut upon personal experience, it was seen to be
the flat contradiction of the fundamental realities
of life. Every one of us is daily living the nega-
tion of that which this assumption affirms. Our
activities as related both to things and to people
are the practical, indefeasible demonstration of
the proposition that efficiency, direction of energy
toward definite ends, purposive modifications of
every kind, have their rise, not in mechanism, but
in mind, — in that very department of reality
that the physicists declare to be non-existant.
What we are obliged to live, that we must neces-
sarily believe. From the standpoint of physics
or, for that matter, from any standpoint, it is im-
possible for us to explain how mind gets its hold
upon and uses its instrumentalities, how it ever
invents and controls a machine. But in our actual
experience we know that it does do it.

Thus, simply by production to its ultimate and
necessary conclusions, the mechanical theory
settled itself, and great was the relief to sane
thinking. It was as when a man is held in the
grip of a paralysing nightmare. He tries to
speak, but something prevents; he tries to move,
but there is no response to his will. The agony
increases till the point of greatest tension is


reached; then, as by a supreme shock, the spell
is broken. The sleeper awakes and assures him-
self that he is a free man.

But, thus far, the world of speculative thought
is no more than half-awake to the importance of
its emancipation. It is, to theology, a restoration
of liberty after a depressing period of servitude;
but the habit of servitude still remains. The
deadening influence of determinism lingers, and
the echoes of its paralysing dicta reach us as if
no revolution in thought had taken place. The
impossibility of answers to prayer in a world
governed by law is sometimes affirmed and some-
times hesitatingly admitted by those who ought,
by this time, to know better.

The breaking of the spell assures man that the
order of nature can be and constantly is modified
through his initiative; and inseparably linked
with this, is the assurance that the God of all the
earth can do as much, — that the order of nature
can be modified by a supreme mind in touch with
it. If we go on believing that our requests, our
prayers to our fellowmen can be answered by re-
sponsive acts on their part, there is no reason,
scientific or otherwise, against the belief that a
higher intelligence may be influenced to aid us in
the attainment of our desires and legitimate am-
bitions. As in the one case so in the other, the
so-called scientific impossibility of modifying the
routine order of nature by intelligence and will
has vanished.



The story of the struggles of the pan-mechanieal
explanation of evolution in the department of
biology, though more restricted, is in some respects
more interesting than that of its fate in the sphere
of physics. For here we see men, eminent for
their understanding of the ways of nature, exer-
cising all their inventive powers to think into the
process of evolution some kind of a mechanical
substitute for mind. It was not that the phe-
nomena of the process itself suggested a mechani-
cal solution. For when, with the incoming of
evolution, the vision of a world of routine, run-
ning its everlasting mechanical round without
change, had become transformed into that of a
world of constantly new beginnings and new
departures, in the interests of an ever-increasing
organization, the familiar analogies of experience
suggested, nay, even seemed to necessitate, the
recognition of a designing intelligence directing
to some extent the play of natural forces. But
to all such suggestions a deaf ear was turned at
the behest of the grand, all-embracing mechanical
theory. They embodied an easy, popular mode
of interpretation, but, they must be popular delu-
sions. They were not scientific.

Darwin made a marvellously elaborate and bril-
liant attempt toward the solution of the difficulty,
but it was not a success. Science was quick to
discern its deficiencies. On every side there sprang


up those who recognized the fact that Darwin had
told but one side of the story. It was clear that,
while his whole thought and enthusiasm had been
devoted to tracing the influence of the external
factors of the process, the all-important agency
of the internal factors had been minimized almost
to the vanishing point. The protest against this
one-sided view took a variety of forms among
those who were as anxious as Darwin himself to
explain the process without the recognition of a
separate guiding intelligence.

All those processes of the physical world such
as chemical affinity, organic affinity, crystaliza-
tion, etc., were exploited. But the sought-for
factor, which could take the place of intelligence,
proved to be always just out of reach. Then
there came a weakening, a disposition to admit
assistance from the forbidden realm of psychical
causation — a movement that was quickly ex-
posed by others who were equally hard pressed
for a principle that would work.

Thus Nageli assumed the existence in nature of
"a law of improvement." According to this law,
internal causes work continually toward a greater
complexity and greater perfection of organization.
He guards this announcement with the assurance
that his principle is a purely mechanical one, and
that it is the law of the persistence of motion in
the field of organic evolution. But of this same
principle Eimer, who holds as well as Nageli to
the determining influence of mechanical factors,


says, " Although he explains it as a mechanico-
physiological principle, I hold it to be a kind of
striving toward a goal or teleology, in face of which
a directing power conceived as personal, existing
outside material nature and ruling all things,
would seem to me fully justified."*

This unavoidable attraction, this compulsion
as by a necessity of the human mind toward the
one analogy that can explain evolution, is still
more interestingly illustrated by that class of
theorists who so far surrendered to the demand
for intelligent guidance as to avail themselves of
it in a modified form. These assume that what
we behold in organic evolution cannot be explained
without intelligence or consciousness, but that
there is no need of postulating a superior being as
the source of such intelligence, since the creature is
sufficient unto itself. In this there was a swinging
back to the conception of Lamarck given to the
world a century before the " Origin of Species."
It was outlined by Charles Darwin's grandfather
in the following terms: "What we call creatures
were not created by God, for there is no such being
as we imagine by that name, but by themselves,
that is, by the process of evolution."

The difficulty of reaching satisfactory results,
with the very small outfit of intelligence which
we may attribute to animals, is manifest. The
wonders of instinct and progressive organization
demand for their explanation an intelligence, not

* Organic Evolution, p. 53.


of a lower quality than that of man, but one of a
vastly higher quality. To get round this diffi-
culty an intelligence different in kind was postu-
lated. And if different in kind it might, it was
imagined, be made to cover all the requirements
of the situation. Thus Mr. J. J. Murphy gave us
" unconscious intelligence," and Dr. Cope gave
us " consciousness and memory," but without
intelligence. Of this latter Dr. Cope says, "We
are led to the conclusion that evolution is an
outgrowth of mind and that mind is the parent
of all living forms." But, he explains, "by
mind, as the author of the organic world, I
mean only the two elements, consciousness and

Why, common-sense asks, should these two
distinguished investigators and theorists set aside
the whole and satisfactory analogy of a conscious
intelligence residing in nature to make use of that
same analogy in a mutilated form? How does
the mutilation help them? In no way, except
that by it they get the service of the concept
intelligence without committing themselves to the
implications of it. In a single phrase they com-
bine the affirmation and the denial of the factor
which is the mainspring of their explanation of
the animated world. They get the use of an
intelligence that is not intelligence, of conscious-
ness that is not consciousness. That this is
simply conjuring with a contradiction of terms, a

* Origin of the Fittest, p. 230.


mere juggling with words, is made evident by the
fact that the formula reads just as well one way
as the other. Unintelligent consciousness works
the same wonders for Dr. Cope that unconscious
intelligence works for Mr. Murphy.

Another exploitation of this idea of unconscious
intelligence gained at one time a large following
for the philosophy of Edouard von Hartmann.
This raised the efficiency so described from the
realm of the lower animals to that of an all-com-
prehensive principle. It was said to be an all-
pervading and universally working constructive
wisdom, a foreseeing, purposive intelligence in-
forming the whole process. A most elaborate
and effective array of the facts necessitating the
belief in such an indwelling principle is fur-
nished, and this stands quite apart from the
assumption that is attached to it; namely, the
assumption that this wisdom of the All-one is
unconscious. It is, in fact, theism metamor-
phosed into pantheism by the affirmation of its

Here again, common-sense asks, Why is it neces-
sary or reasonable to mutilate the analogy by which
alone man can reach a satisfactory explanation of
the world? It is, in fact, neither necessary nor
reasonable. It is not the former, because all the
facts of the world are more truly explained without
the mutilation. It is not the latter, because the
very same arguments that prove the necessity of
postulating the existence of an indwelling wisdom


oblige us, if we admit their soundness, to assume
that this same indwelling wisdom is conscious.*

By an irresistible compulsion the human mind,
after all its circling round, comes back to the
analogy of concrete mind as the one and only
vehicle by which it can reach a satisfactory con-
ception of the universe. All its attempts to
pierce the empyrean of thought by the use of
abstractions have proved as abortive as trying to
fly with one wing. And for the clearing away of
the mists which hung over this controversy we are
deeply indebted to the thoroughness with which
the biologists as well as the physicists, who
advocated the opposite view, have pressed
their claims to ultimate conclusions. But this
is very far from being the full statement of our

The same thoroughness of discussion that
established the necessity of recognizing an intel-
ligent Creator has, at the same time, increasingly
revealed and illustrated the relations which He
sustains to His creature world. Its intimate
study of purposive action in the animals lower
on the scale of development than man, has
brought before us aspects of nature that pro-
foundly affect our thought of God. For the
farther we carry research in this direction, the
more we are impressed with the evidences of
an intelligence and foresight in actions of the

* A psychological theory of evolution by a more recent writer
is considered in Appendix B.


lower orders of creation which cannot possibly be
their intelligence.

The whole of that great class of instincts that
cannot be attributed to " lapsed-intelligence " or
habit, all those new departures in progressive
organization which declare themselves along the
course of evolution, all the forms that show struc-
ture in anticipation of function — these as well as
the phenomena of human consciousness, emphasize
the fact of a higher intelligence working with
that of the creature and leading its activities to
ends of which it could never have dreamed. In
other words, evolution discloses a world called into
being, not only by a gradual, but also by a co-
operative process. Lamarck's idea of the great
movement was half true. Creatures do make
themselves. But the ampler truth is stated by
Charles Kingsley when he says, "We see in evo-
lution God making things make themeslves."
And if I mistake not, it is out of this conception,
as a living root, that the purest and most inde-
structible form of religion is destined to grow.

Wide as is the interval which separates man
from the orders below him, great as is the con-
trast between his consciousness and theirs, there
is, in respect of co-operative creation, an unbroken
continuity. A principle of associated working
characterizes the whole process and reveals to us
more clearly than any other the meaning and
scope of it all. The doctrine of which we have
heard so much of late, the immanence of God,


seems, as an applied generalization, perilously
near to pantheism, but studied and illustrated by
the facts of evolution, it becomes the vital doctrine
of a real theology.

Darwin somewhere says that he found himself
at times powerfully impelled to recognize the
agency of an intelligent mind in the wonderful
adaptations of nature, but was deterred from
yielding to this because he could not believe that
some things were designed and others not. But
such a difficulty disappears in the light of our
analogy. If we trust ourselves unreservedly to
our human experience for the interpretation of
God's working in His world, the appearance of
design in some relations and its absence in others
is not only not surprising, but just the combina-
tion we should expect to find. The great volume
of our activity, physical and mental, expresses
itself in routine action, — the almost unconscious
repetition of habit in response to an approxi-
mately uniform environment. But this is con-
tinually varied by departures, on this side and
on that, occasioned by the necessity of ad-
justing ourselves to a changed environment
or for the attainment of some end not, hitherto,
contemplated. Both kinds of activity are nec-
essary, the one for stability, and self-preserva-
tion, the other for growth and rise in the scale
of being.

This is just what we find in evolution — a per-
sistent substratum of uniformity, varied by con-


tinually new departures. Nor do these new
departures involve a break in the method. There
is perfect continuity, but from the standpoint of
a wider principle. As we ascend the scale of being,
such qualities as consciousness, foresight, responsi-
bility, increase. There is more and more liberty,
a constantly wider field granted to the creature,
until, in man, we come to a being who is able to
construct an ideal future and direct the stream
of his vitality to the attainment of it. But the
method remains always the same. Everywhere
it 'is the joint activity of the Creator and his
creature offspring. Everywhere we see the efforts
of the latter rewarded by responses from the

And furthermore, we are indebted to the
stimulus that has come to the study of biology,
through evolution, for another help of the greatest
importance to theology. Even when we restore
to the concept mechanism its vital half, it remains
a very imperfect instrument with which to measure
the relations existing between man and his Maker.
The quality of externality is a great flaw. It
continually suggests separation, or only occasional
communication, which is misleading.

But the study of cell-life and of the relations
which the wonderfully varied and complex nervous
system sustains to the central consciousness of
the organism, supplies us with a most satisfactory
symbol of the composite relations of the divine
and the human. We need no longer think of the


machine and its maker, two strongly contrasted
realities that have been vitally connected, but
are now quite set off from each other. It is one
living and inseparable organism that we con-
template, every part of which is alive with the
same kind of life ; all the members of which sup-
port each other in a great complexity of relations
and which find their ultimate meaning in the one
unit of being, the human ego.



OUR next inquiry must be, What does
evolution testify as to the character-
istics of the supreme, indwelling in-
telligence which it discloses? To answer this
truthfully we must try to divest ourselves of all
assumptions derived from other sources. Our
method forbids our starting off in the high-handed,
edict-pronouncing way of the old theology. We
cannot assume, once for all, that the Supreme
Being is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
Nor, on the other hand, can we affirm the opposite.
What the absolute truth with regard to these
attributes may be we can never know, simply
because we are not omnipotent, omniscient, and
omnipresent. What we aim at doing is to study
His works in the realm made known to human
experience and, in so far as we can organize the
knowledge so acquired, draw inferences from it.
Not to cut loose from a priori assumptions
would be like starting on a voyage without
weighing anchor, and to those who regard lying
at anchor as the chief function of theology, our



proceeding will seem hazardous. But let us
have patience and not judge this matter too
hastily. The formal statement of more than one
principle on which we daily act would shock
us and, perhaps, call forth a protest. The shock
is occasioned by the traversing of a conventional
mode of expressing ourselves. To be asked to
entertain, even hypothetically, the thought of
deity without omnipotence will occasion just
such a shock to some minds; but this is largely
a matter of language, and in what follows I shall
try to make clear that there never was a more
mistaken idea than that which makes the doctrine
of the omnipotence of God a vital part of our
religion. We have in reality never held it in any
other than an obstructive sense. It has been
like a dumb idol to which we have formally bent
the knee and then gone on our way leading our
religious lives, and justifying our belief in God's
goodness, by the light of conceptions that are the
practical denial of omnipotence. But our present
concern is not with the old theology.

What does evolution teach us with regard to the
omnipotence of God? There are two quite distinct
ways of approaching the problem. We may inter-
rogate the great process as a whole, or we may
occupy ourselves with the study of details. Let
us glance first at one and then at the other.

When we contemplate the overarching princi-
ples and motives of evolution we experience a

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 5 of 22)