Karl Alois Kneller.

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been any advantage to the latter that their young should possess the
beginnings of the organs of a beast of prey. 6. As we have no
direct experience of the history of the evolution of animals, as set
forth in the theory of descent, we are referred to the analogies between
the evolution of a species and the birth and development of an
individual. But in the latter case, numerous organs come into being
simultaneously, preserving at the same time a tendency to an existence,
that can only be realised provided that each separate organ does
not depend more on the whole, than the whole on it; the animal
is only developed with the development of its organs : it is not in
existence before its organism nor can it be said that of the many
different formations, which are possible, those only are actually realized,
which are most suitable for the animal.


"Now the fact that there is a sphere in which purpose has
a share in shaping events, deserves patient consideration
when we come to study the history of the evolution of or-
ganic forms. For if there are special forces which bring
a goal of action into conscious perception and direct
the course of development towards that end, it is in the
highest degree improbable that such forces are confined to
our planet or rather to a petty proportion of the dwellers
on that planet. It is also repugnant to my mind to suppose
that a Force, to whose potency we conceive no limit, has
attained in the creation of man the highest point of its

"On the other hand we find many tokens that purposive
activity works over wider areas than that of merely human
consciousness. We are not indeed able to discern with eyes
and hands the working of purposive force, but we are con-
stantly meeting phenomena which can be explained only by
such an hypothesis. It is by such a process of inference
that Physics has penetrated to the atom, and the exact
sciences lend the fullest support to such inference.

"If in the middle of a desert, apparently never inhabited,
we were to come upon hewn stones, knitted together with
mortar, would we not regard it as the merest nonsense
to maintain that there was no reason to suppose that the
building was the outcome of purposive thought? But, as far
as co-ordination in view of a definite plan is concerned,
living organisms stand far higher than any product of human
art. Their structure bears so patently the stamp of purpose
that the first sight of them sets us asking what is the func-
tion of this and that member. And such tokens of plan
and purpose are not confined to the structure of a given
individual organism, but extend also to the relations of one
organism with another." A striking example of this neces-
sity of postulating intellect behind the metamorphoses of
the animal world "is to be found", says Volkmann, "in the
evolution of sex". According to the theory of evolution
every organism must at first have been able to propagate
itself; only in a later period was the co-operation of two
individuals required. Male and female organisms must there-


fore have come into existence at the same stage of evolu-
tion, and, under the same external conditions, pairs of beings
of completely different structure and function must have
been developed. But such a process is "completely un-
intelligible except on the assumption that there is a power
which directs the process to an intended goal". Similar
examples of inter-relation are to be found wherever we
choose to look. "There are animals which serve as the in-
dispensable food of others, and animals of prey that prevent
the too great increase of specially prolific species. Insects
are necessary for the fructification of certain plants, and,
on the other hand, practically every insect species has had
created for its use a plant which is its natural home and
nutriment. Plants in general serve to support the life or
animals, and animals to increase the diffusion of plants. In
short, process after process, provided in the economy of the
organic world, gives unmistakable evidence of an effort to
attain ends deliberately pre-conceived. The fact that we are
unable to penetrate in the same fashion to the purposive
thought behind the larger cyclic processes of the universe
is no ground for denying the existence of such thought:
the infinitely great, like the infinitely small, transcends the
limits of our understanding. "If anyone chooses to charac-
terise as an 'hypothesis' this inferred idea of an intelligence
which is at work in the universe, and which directs it in its
totality to pre-conceived ends in other words a Power
which we call God , I can find nothing against the term.
But I do say that it is an hypothesis which nobody has yet
succeeded in dismissing as superfluous." "I find the First
Cause of all organic evolution in a directing Intelligence,
which works towards deliberate ends, and creates the sum
of conditions without which the process of Becoming could
not go forward." 1

1 In the beginning of his essay Volkmann says: "Eine Annahme
wie die , dafi der erste Mensch durch den Hauch Gottes aus einem
ErdenkloC entstanden , ist fur die Naturwissenschaft schlechthin un-
zulassig." But Holy Scripture does not say that Adam's body was first
an "ErdenkloG", and was then changed into flesh. It makes two distinct


An exhaustive study of the brain by Volkmann con-
cludes as follows 1 :

"My own views as to the relations existing between life
and its physical envelope may be very briefly stated. Life
and organism go together, and, therefore, either life is the
causal agency behind the organism, or the organism is the
causal agency behind life. But both must spring from a
deeper causal source other than, and outside, themselves, for
we know that there was a period when the earth was as
yet barren of life. This ultimate source of causation I find
in God. God conceived the idea of life, and made his idea
actual in matter. But for matter, life must have remained
a mere possibility, must have lain imprisoned in the Divine
Mind, incapable of finding external manifestation. When
the organism undergoes dissolution, life vanishes from the
region of actuality, but the idea of it remains in the mind
of God and may again be actualized in matter. Individuals
die, but the idea of them persists in the race.

"Moreover the soul had need of matter in order to the
development of its life. The substance in which it assumes
concrete reality is the brain, and with the disintegration of
the brain the manifestation of the soul in that particular
form is at an end. But the ideal content of the physical
envelope is imperishable, and no more disappears with the
death of the brain than the idea of an animal species with
the death of an individual member of it.

statements: I. The material out of which Adam's body was formed in
some way or other by the activity of God, was not created anew,
but was taken from matter which already existed; in other words,
by his body man belongs to the sphere of the lower order of
creation. 2. The soul is derived directly from God. If Volk-
mann means to say that science can refute one of these two state-
ments, this does not harmonize with his conception of a God, whose
activity is free. If God is free, He can create men in whatever way
pleases Him best.

1 Handworterbuch der Physiologic mit Riicksicht auf physiologische
Pathologic. Herausgeg. von Dr. Rudolph Wagner I, Braunschweig
1842, 596 f.


"In this view the survival of the soul after bodily death
is merely a regression of it into the mind of God, and the
possibility of rebirth always remains. How far immortality,
as thus conceived, is personal it is not the function of philo-
sophy to determine; but it may be remarked that philo-
sophy can find no grounds on which to deny personal im-
mortality. It is said that the total destruction of the organism
by death is such a ground. But we must remember that
from the physiological standpoint itself the personal soul is
not controlled by the organism, but only conditioned by it.
The idea finds outer expression in matter, and the organic
processes themselves are no more than manifestations of the
perpetually changing idea. Moreover, it must be borne in
mind that we do not so thoroughly understand the process
called 'death' as to be able to declare that it means the
entire destruction of the organism. It is possible that the
comparative grossness of our organs of observation may ex-
pose us to error. Fechner has very truly remarked that a
foetus, if capable of studying its own physiology, would find
good grounds for regarding birth as the death of its in-
dividuality. The organs which are of the greatest importance
to it while in the foetal condition, the membranes and the
organs of nutrition, are ruptured, but the real outcome of
this apparent destruction, which is the death of the embryo
as such, is an organic structure which serves as envelope
for the true life of the individual."

Karl Von Vierordt (f 1884), Professor of Physio-
logy at Tubingen, did much to extend our knowledge
of the circulation of the blood. He was the author of
a widely popular treatise on Physiology, and of many
studies on various problems of Physics. He has recorded
his firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the
spirituality of the soul in an address delivered to the
students of the University 1 .

1 Uber die Einheit der Wissenschaften , eine Rede, gehalten in
der Aula der Universitat Tubingen am 6. Marz 1865, 9.


"With what justice Locke has said in his 'Essay on the
Human Understanding' : 'The propositions of morality are
as demonstrable as the propositions of mathematics ; for the
ideas from which morality takes its origin are realities.' And
if the English philosopher speaks of morality as the charac-
teristically human science he means by this that the truth
of its essential propositions is more fully recognised and
more firmly held, alike by popular and by scientific thought,
than are the central propositions of any other science. Spiri-
tual reality has a basis as positive and 'factual' as material

"The scientific blunder of materialism lies in a misunder-
standing of the limitations of physical laws. However wide-
reaching the laws may be, however successful the sciences
which elucidate them, they furnish no shadow of explana-
tion of spiritual processes."

Towards the close of his address he says to the
students 1 :

"But before you proceed, with ripened insight, to fashion
and formulate your views on religion, keep in your minds
a word of friendly assurance. Faith in the divinity of the
religion of Jesus is not imposed on your hearts in any de-
ceitful disguise. True religion stands equally remote from
a sick-souled, narrow pietism and from a too lucid and super-
ficial rationalism; it allows the intellect its full rights, but
it also teaches us to believe in a super-sensual and immortal
life, and to place our reliance in Providence."

Gustav Adolf Spiess (f 1875), a Frankfort phy-
sician, did work of great excellence in Physiological
Pathology. His work on that subject attracted the
hostile attention of Virchow, but even Spiess' severest
critics recognised him as a savant of the first order.

"In his writings we find passage on passage in sup-
port of the theistic interpretation of the world, - - a

Uber die Einheit der Wissenschaften 32.


philosophy in which he was able to unite and reconcile
science and religion." l

Chr. George Theodore Ruete (f 1867), won his
reputation mainly in optical surgery. In the year 1863
he was chosen Rector of the University of Leipsic, and
took as the subject of his inaugural address: "The
Existence of the Soul, Regarded from the Standpoint
of Science" 2 .

"In direct opposition to the materialists who assert that
the universe can be explained with logical completeness as
the expression of a single principle, I find myself compelled
to postulate two principles, a spiritual and a material, and
to recognise that there are processes in nature which the
human mind is incapable of understanding. I maintain that
for the consistent materialist the facts of conscious percep-
tion are inexplicable, while the spiritualist is at least able
to say that they point undeniably to the existence of a spiri-
tual principle. In this conviction (that the phenomena of
sensation can arise only as experiences of a spiritual, self-
conscious principle) I am strengthened by a recognition of
the fact that most of the great physiologists of our day . . .
share it, although they do not always proclaim it."

According to materialism sense-perception, e. g. seeing
or hearing, finds a complete explanation in the physico-
chemical reactions evoked in eye and ear by light and sound-
waves. There is no need of any active spiritual principle.
Ruete opposes this interpretation of the phenomenon, and
shows that the co-operation of the soul is needed in order
to originate sensation. He does this by adducing instances
in which all the external physical conditions of perception
are present, without in fact producing conscious perception.

1 Obituary notice in the Bericht iiber die Senckenbergische Natur-
forschende Gesellschaft 1875 1 &76, Frankfurt 1877, 59.

2 Uber die Existenz der Seele vom naturwissenschaftlichen Stand-
punkte, Leipzig 1863. Cf. Rothmund in the Allgemeine deutsche
Biographie XXX 39.


"Some one, for example, speaks to us, but we are inatten-
tive and do not (consciously) hear what he says. A moment
later, we gather ourselves together, and what he has said
penetrates for the first time into our consciousness. But if
too long an interval has elapsed we find it impossible to
recover his words.

"I recollect that at the beginning of my professional ca-
reer I had to perform a very painful operation on a young
girl, the success of which was as important for my patient's
welfare as for my own reputation. When the operation was
over, the girl began to cry (we had no chloroform then), as
I thought, for the first time. I did my best to soothe and
quiet her, and expressed my surprise that she should not
have begun to cry till everything was practically over, where-
upon I was informed that she had been crying with far
greater violence from the very beginning and that what I
heard was only a feeble echo. My attention being wholly
concentrated on the operation, I had remained quite un-
conscious of a physical stimulus far greater in volume than
that which impressed itself on my mind as soon as my
consciousness was released. The sound-waves had impinged
on my ears, the inevitable vibrations and organic disturbances
had been produced, but no auditory sensation had followed
because the indispensable mental condition of attention had
not been present." 1

Of Theodore L. W. Bischoff (f 1882), the Munich
physiologist, Karl Kupffer says in a memorial address * of
March 28 th 1884: "Throughout his life he was full of pious
affection towards the religion he had learned at his mother's
knee, and he never wavered from an intense belief in the
immortality of the soul which had there been implanted in
his mind." In a posthumously discovered manuscript, "Thoughts
of a Scientist on the Nature of Man and on Religion" (Bonn
1878), he explains his attitude towards religious problems.
According to Kupffer's account 3 , BischofFs philosophical posi-
tion is but inadequately developed. Many of his phrases

1 Allgemeine deutsche Biographic XXX I 7 f . 2 Miinchen 1884, 6.
3 Ib. 22 f 42.


have a materialistic ring "but Bischoff argues vehemently
against the conclusions of materialism, while at the same
time claiming the processes of organic life as falling within
the domain of the general forces of nature" *. . . .

Du Bois-Reymond, as we have already learned, re-
marks that many passages of Schwann which show a
tendency to monism are not to be pressed too far.
The same remarks may be extended to the works of
Claude Bernard (f 1878), that great master of French
science, and more than worthy successor of the vitalist
Bichat, and the experimentalist Magendie. We must not
look in his works for perfect accuracy of expression
or steadiness of insight in the treatment of purely philo-
sophical questions. Statements abound in his writings
which on a hasty reading seem to imply a purely mate-
rialistic or positivist interpretation of life. But a deeper
study nearly always reveals that the thought is better
than the verbal form, and that not merely does Claude
Bernard not deny the existence of a spiritual principle
in man but that he expressly accepts it. This position is
quite consistent with his general contention, namely, that
it is not the duty of Physiology to decide the old battle
of materialism and spiritualism, nor to put forward either
system of thought as the ground and basis of its re-
searches 2 . A glance into his "Physiologic Generate"
will set us in the full stream of his thought.

The science of Physiology properly speaking came
into existence, according to Bernard, with the discovery
u that life is conserved by physico-chemical processes,
which, so far as their immediate cause and character

1 Ib. 23.

2 De la physiologic generate par Claude Bernard, Paris 1872.


are concerned, do not differ from those which take place
in non-living matter" *. It was Lavoisier who first made
this proposition the starting point of scientific Physio-
logy. He treated respiration as a process of oxidisation
pure and simple. The heat of the body he showed,
in conjunction with Laplace, to be due to a process
of combustion, identical in essence with that which takes
place in our ovens. Bernard signalises as the most fatal
error of Physiology before Lavoisier "the assumption
that vital manifestations proceed in complete indepen-
dence of ordinary physico-chemical laws, and are pro-
duced and directed by vague, hidden forces (vital prin-
ciple, spirit, physiological soul, vital force), which cannot
be localised or scientifically understood".

The first impression which would be gathered by a
hasty reader from this passage is that Claude Bernard
was a materialist. But closer study will show that this
is not the case. To dismiss the notion of a vital force
or a physiological soul is, to his mind, to deny not the
existence of a spiritual principle in man but merely that
conception of it which makes it totally independent
of physico-chemical laws. Physiology should not adopt
as its basis either materialism or spiritualism, but should
devote itself simply to the experimental investigation of
organic life.

"Science (i. e. physical science) never reaches to ultimate
causes, and the first cause of life, as of all else, will ever
escape our researches. In order to understand and explain
the mechanism of life it is no more necessary to know what
is the nature of the creative power behind living matter,
than it is necessary to know the nature of the creative prin-

1 De la physiologic generale par Claude Bernard 4 5.


ciple behind a mineral before proceeding to investigate its
properties." *

Physiology, according to this view of it, is incapable
of raising obstacles against the existence of a spiritual
soul, or against the existence of God. Such questions do
not fall within the province of Experimental Physiology
at all. But Claude Bernard, in casual expressions, rather
transgresses the limits set by himself, and in so doing
displays distinct hostility to materialism. The pen of
a materialist would not "secrete" such phrases as "crea-
tive power". Still more definite in drift is a later pas-
sage in the book, the only one in which Bernard ex-
pressly discusses the conflict between spiritualism and
materialism. Having declared that the question of the
existence of the soul does not belong to Physiology, he
continues :

"As science shows, neither organic nor inorganic matter
produces phenomena : both serve simply to manifest pheno-
mena through the properties which they exhibit under deter-
minate conditions. It is a counter-sense to declare that a
phenomenon of motion, whether it takes place in living or
in lifeless matter, is not susceptible of a mechanical ex-
planation. But on the other hand, matter, of whatever kind,
possesses no spontaneity and no generative power; it is a
mere expression of the thought of that mind which has
created the machine. The organised matter of the brain,
in which the phenomena of perception and intellection mani-
fest themselves, is no more conscious of the processes of
thought manifested in it than the dead matter of a mere
machine, say for example, a watch, is conscious of the mo-

1 Ib. 317. Similar opinions are of frequent occurrence in Bernard,
e - S' P- 3 21 : L a cause premiere de la creation, soit de la matiere
brute, soit de la matiere vivante , nous echappe egalement ; p. 306
to 307 : Les causes premieres des phenomenes nous echapperont
partout etc.


vement of its parts. It is no more conscious of thought
than the type of a compositor's case, or the paper are con-
scious of the ideas which they record. If it is said that thought
is a secretion of the brain, it may with the same justification
be added that time, or the idea of time, is a secretion of
the watch. . . . To put the whole matter in two words: we
must distinguish between causes and conditions. Matter is
never the cause of anything, it is only a condition; and
this holds as well of the changes which take place in lifeless
as of those which take place in living matter. The savant
must seek to explain the determinism of the processes by
an analysis of their conditions ; these, then, play the role of
proximate causes. First causes, however, lie beyond his
province, and he must not allow them to influence his
researches. The determinism of phenomena is his domain.
Therein lie the problems of experimental science." 1

Passages such as this enable us to understand what
Bernard means by the word ''determinism", which oc-
curs so often in his writings. He means nothing more
than that every organic process is to be explained on
its physico-chemical side by physico-chemical causes.
This "determinism" does not clash with the conception
of moral freedom. If, for example, I make up my mind
to move my finger, this resolution sets going a whole
series of processes. It produces a change in the brain,
which projects an influence along the determinate nerve,
the nerve moves a muscle, and the muscle the finger.
In the whole chain there is only one link free, namely,
the originating volition; all the others are the rigidly
necessary outcome of their predecessors. But the scientist
cannot subject to direct and immediate observation the
volitional impulse, his view is limited to the series of
changes by which that impulse is realised. He should

1 De la physiologic generale 325.


confine himself to these changes without denying or
asserting the freedom of the will. That Bernard desires
to be understood in this sense, he expressly declares.

"If modern science accepts determinism, it so accepts it
as to make it actually a condition of freedom. Indeed there
can be no free act save at the moment when the process
receives impulse and direction. Once set going, this impulse
falls absolutely under the sway of determinism. During this
latter period determinism is a compulsion to which the gods
of old owned submission. Determinism, I re-iterate, does
not exclude freedom." l

We have only to add that Bernard, while vigorously
opposing the hypothesis of a falsely conceived vital force,
is in no way hostile to the conception of certain direc-
ting forces which determine the formation and structure
of the organism 2 .

J. B. Dumas, speaking over the grave of Bernard, ex-
pounded the ideas to which the dead scientist had de-
voted himself in these words:

"Like Lavoisier, Laplace, Bichat, Magendie . . . Claude
Bernard sought to unveil and understand the great secret
of life, without professing to explain its ultimate nature and
origin. The astronomer remains ignorant of the power be-
hind the cosmic system, and yet is able to calculate with
certainty the paths of the planets which that power main-

1 Je le repete, le determinisme n'exclut pas la liberte 334.

2 Dans les corps vivants, les forces directrices ou evolu-
tives des phenomenes sont morphologiquement vitales , tandis que

Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 25 of 32)