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LIBRARY

UNIVCKSITY OF
CALItORNIA

SAN DIEGO



THE PLACE OF DEATH
IN EVOLUTION



THE PLACE OF DEATH
IN EVOLUTION



BY



NEWMAN \SMYTH



1 The face of Death is toward the Sun of Life,
His shadow darkens earth."

TBNNYSON



NEW YORK

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
1897



COPYRIGHT, 1897, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS



KTorfaooB tyrtsa

1. S. Curbing It Co. - Berwick k Smith
Norwood Man. U.S.A.



o a

WHOSE MEMORY
MAKES RICHER AND MORE REAL

LIFE'S PROMISE TO FRIENDSHIP

OF THE FUTURE

iastcr



PREFACE

THIS volume is the first fruit of a fur-
ther and larger purpose which the author
has long had in mind, and which in some
future season may possibly become ripe
for its harvesting. It springs from a pro-
found conviction that the one theological
task which waits to be accomplished is
a thorough and comprehensive demonstra-
tion of the fact, which the disciple of old
perceived, that the Life was manifested in
the Christ; and hence it will prove true
that His essential words meet and match
the great principles of life which have
been hidden in nature's heart from the
beginning. It will be shown how natur-
ally, and as the appointed heir of all
things, Christianity wins and wears the
crown of life.

The next reconstruction of Christian
theology will be a vital one; it will re-
sult from a deeper knowledge and a truer



Vlll PREFACE

interpretation of the sacred Scripture of
Life, which the hand of God has written
in nature. The coming theologian, there-
fore, the next successful defender of the
faith once given to the saints, will be a
trained and accomplished biologist. Not
only will his thought, descending from
the heights of solitary abstraction, and
forsaking the cloistered shades of the
schoolmen, ancient and modern, proceed
like the wayfaring Son of man along the
familiar paths of human life, in closest
touch with the common heart of human-
ity; but also each organic form will tell
to him the story of its origins, and the
least living cell will unveil the secret
chambers of its divinity. Partial and
hurried efforts, indeed, have been made
in recent years to set our primal faiths
in their large vital connections; Mr.
Drummond's Natural Law in the Spiritual
World, and Mr. Kidd's Social Evolution,
are stimulating efforts in this direction;
but the value of these first endeavors lies
in their true apprehension of the work
needing to be done, rather than in their



PREFACE IX

permanent contribution to its solution.
The science of biology itself has been far
too crude, and its theories are still too
tentative, and even conflicting at many
points, to warrant us as yet in building
upon them over-confidently the higher
conclusions of the Christian reason.
Nevertheless, within the past thirty
years, and since Darwin, some sure
ground has been gained by evolutionary
science, and biology in particular is open-
ing fields of knowledge which invite
fresh inquiry on the part of thoughtful
believers.

The larger work, in this attractive
field, to which the author looks forward,
may never be brought by him to its
accomplishment: it is so large and many-
sided that it can be achieved only by the
toil of many minds, and as the result of
prolonged studies and discoveries of the
laws and processes of life, from the mar-
vel of the microscopic germ up to nature's
highest miracle of the potency of human
thought and love. Both that earlier won-
der of the living cell, and the later marvel



X PREFACE

of the living soul, belong to the same con-
tinuous order, and are a revealing of the
same divine mystery of life. All our
science of nature and the history of man
may come back at last to the Master's
single word of interpretation : " It is the
spirit that quickeneth."

One reason for the present publication
of this portion of the author's work is the
hope that it may stimulate other minds to
enter, in the pursuit of similar inquiries,
that field of evolutionary research which
not long ago it was thought to be perilous
for theologians to traverse, and past which
devout believers were inclined to hasten,
as though it were a forbidden region,
haunted with destructive doubts; but
which we now generally perceive to be
a field of the Lord, fresh with fruits of
wholesome knowledge, and bright with
promise for Christian faith.

The author ventures also to hope that
the line of thought which is pursued
through the following pages may lead
some readers to surer courage for daily life
amid its trials and sorrows. It may bring



PREFACE XI

help especially to those who must receive
inward renewal and cheer, if at all, not
merely from the breath of spiritual fra-
grance which may be borne in occasionally
through the soul's open windows they
hardly know from whence and how; but
rather from their thoughtful entertain-
ment of those serious truths which knock
for entrance into our minds, as they come
in plain and honest simplicity from the
workshops of our sciences, and from the
fields of laborious investigations. Only
thus, through an open-minded and fear-
less hospitality towards all observed and
reasoned truths, can our Christian faith
escape the weakness of a pleasing but
ineffectual desire, and continue to be our
reasonable service.

Although the author's main purpose is
still in the process of growth, suggestive
circumstances and the warmth of friend-
ships whose light is in part the joy of
present life, and in part the influence of
the unseen, have caused this single branch
of his thought to come more quickly to its
ripening; and because as a study it is



Xll PREFACE

complete in itself, it is now given to the
public.

If the sustenance and comfort for our
dearest and deathless hopes here offered,
should seem at first taste to any readers
to be enclosed in a too scientific rind, the
author trusts that within the harder sci-
entific reasonings much sweetness and
strength may be found for our vital
faiths. In order to render the matter of
it more easy of access for the general
reader, necessary technical scientific ma-
terial and extended citations of authori-
ties have been relegated to notes in an
appendix. These notes, however, should
not be overlooked in any critical review
of the subject.

The pursuit for several years of such
studies increases the conviction in which
this volume has been written, that new
light is breaking from evolutionary sci-
ence, and that in that light we shall see
coming out again more clearly and more
surely the simple and immortal faiths of
our human hearts and homes.

NEW HAYEK, April, 1897.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. THE ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH IN

NATURE 1

II. THE PATH OF LIFE THROUGH THE EVIL

IN NATURE 44

III. SCIENTIFIC PRESUMPTIONS OF IMMORTALITY 57

IV. THE FINAL DISCHARGE OF DEATH . . . 107

V. THE BIOLOGICAL AND THE BIBLICAL VIEW

OF DEATH 136

VI. THE METHOD OF POSITIVE BENEVOLENCE

IN THE LAW OF DEATH 163



207



THE PLACE OF DEATH IN
EVOLUTION

CHAPTER I

THE ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH IN
NATURE

IN recent years biological investigations
have penetrated within the veil of mi-
croscopic cells, and learned secrets of life
and death which were little dreamed of in
our philosophy. Traces of an infinitesi-
mal structure, which before had not been
suspected, have been lately discovered
within the least and simplest living
cells; and arrangements of invisible
molecules of matter in an orderly and
organized service are now known to be
provided in the contents of each cell in
which life has its abode. One of the
last wonders of modern science consists



2 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

in the disclosure of the intricate mechan-
ism of the nucleus of each cell, and in
the revelation of regular processes of its
marvellous development. Further expla-
nation of the problem of heredity and
the causes of variation, which Darwin-
ism opened, but did not solve, is now
eagerly sought by many keen-eyed bio-
logical students, equipped with the high-
est powers of the microscope, who peer
into the structural texture, and observe
the behavior of the vital units within the
mystery of the egg. The living cell, that
"long-expected child of time," "the pre-
cious nursling of the ages," as it has been
called, has recently drawn to itself an im-
mense amount of scientific attention; and
doubtless upon the fascinating mystery of
its origins, its aptitudes, and its growth,
it will concentrate still more the interest
of thoughtful observers who would inter-
pret with definite knowledge nature's un-
ceasing drama of life and death.

Neither of these familiar powers of life
or death has disclosed to our most in-
quisitive biological science its last, inner-



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 3

most secret. The science which has en-
tered so far within the cell, and which is
observing with exact definition the last
hiding-places of life, nevertheless does not
hear the first creative word, and cannot
tell the final cause of the origin of life.
Probably it never will ; for to see life re-
vealed in its first truth might be to see
the living God. Our science, which thus
pursues life until it is lost from view in
some mystery of godliness, has not suc-
ceeded any better in disclosing the ulti-
mate nature or final cause of death. Yet
the nearer approach of recent biological
science to the origins of life brings knowl-
edge closer also to the beginnings of
death in the organic world. Some new
light is thus thrown by recent science
over the dark problem of mortality. By
the scientific method, that is, by rea-
soning which proceeds from a basis of
observed facts, we may now make a fur-
ther and profitable study of the origin and
function of death in nature, and thus be
enabled to interpret more intelligibly its
mission for life.



4 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

Until quite recently our evolutionary
science was content either to pass by the
place and work of death without exact
observation of its uses in nature ; or else
it has regarded the universal prevalence
of death throughout the organic world as
a necessary consequence of the struggle
of life, and has dismissed it from further
questioning as an incidental factor in
evolution. Thus Mr. Spencer was satis-
fied with a philosophical determination
and definition of the nature of vital pro-
cesses, which included the possibility of
death within the terms of the definition.
More attention was called to this neglected
factor in organic evolution by the publi-
cation in 1881, and again in 1883, by a
German investigator, Weismann, of some
results of his studies concerning heredity,
in the course of which he discussed the
nature of death, and the causes for the
limitation in different species of the du-
ration of life. About the same time an-
other German zoologist, Biitschli, who had
carried on extensive researches among the
lowest organisms, began to entertain ideas



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 5

somewhat similar to those which Weis-
mann first published in his essays on
Life and Death and the Duration of Life.
Mr. Wallace, who shares with Darwin the
honor of originating the modern concep-
tion of the part which has been played by
natural selection in evolution, in a note
to his volume on Darwinism (published
in 1889) remarks that an idea similar to
that advanced by Weismann, concerning
the utility of natural death, had occurred
to him some twenty years before, and
been noted down, but subsequently for-
gotten.

Later investigations seem to require the
modification in some particulars of the
ideas originally advanced by Weismann,
and to put back the first appearance
of natural death nearer to the earliest
manifestations of life than he had sup-
posed. Much work of painstaking re-
search in this direction remains to be
accomplished ; and biological theories con-
cerning the nature of heredity and the
fundamental laws and processes of life and
death are still too largely in the air, and



6 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

they will need to be anchored more se-
curely to observed facts before we can
trust entirely our faiths to them. Never-
theless, much knowledge has been gained
concerning the origin and functions of
death in the course of the development
of life by the researches already under-
taken; and the facts disclosed, as well
as the theories advanced by some trained
biologists, fairly open the new and inter-
esting question whether death itself does
not fall naturally under some principle
of selection and law of utility for life.
Enough ground, at least, has been won
by our tentative science to give our phi-
losophy further, and somewhat more ad-
vanced foothold in the path of inquiry,
along which the reason of man makes
ceaseless effort to surmount the hard in-
evitableness of death, and in clearer light
to gain firmer hope of immortality.

These studies of life which our newer
biologists, since Darwin, are carrying on,
may be described in the graphic words of
one of the oldest observers of nature and
human life, who was also a tried and



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 7

troubled theologian, " Man setteth an end
to darkness, and searcheth out to the fur-
thest bound the stones of thick darkness
and of the shadow of death."* Like one
who sets miners' lamps along the course
which he would explore, so man in these
more recent sciences searches to the fur-
thest bound, and finds there the stones
which mark for the present the end of
his inquiry into the thick darkness and
the shadow of death. Our science of life
is reaching into the darkness, and farther
and farther from the borders of the near,
the tangible, and the visible, it is remov-
ing the bounds of knowledge out into the
mystery of life and death.

Familiarity with the successes, and also
with the failures, of evolutionary science
since Darwin will serve to produce, in
regard to all such inquiries, a reverent
spirit, if not also an expectant attitude
of faith. Men who have but slight ac-
quaintance with the work needing to be
done, which still lies before our biolo-
gists, may conjure lightly with the word
* Job xxviii. 3.



8 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

evolution, as though it explained all mys-
teries, and dispensed with any necessity
of faith; but men who have learned how
knowledge as well as faith requires pa-
tience for its perfecting will understand
the wisdom both of the caution and the
hope which finds expression in this re-
mark of one of our American biologists:
"My last word is, that we are entering
the threshold of the Evolution problem,
instead of standing within the portals.
The hardest tasks lie before us, not be-
hind us, and their solution will carry us
well into the twentieth century."*

While our biological science has thus,
until quite lately, not ventured so far as
it might into the darkness of the shadow
of death over nature, our theology, on the
other hand, has been and is still contented
to regard the law of death as a law of sin,
originally connected with man's fall, and
as presenting chiefly a human problem to

* Osborn, The. Hereditary Mechanism and the
Search for the Unknown Factors of Evolution^ in
Biological Lectures, Wood's Holl, for 1894, p. 100.



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 9

our faith. The fact of the prevalence of
death in nature before man's fall has been
left vaguely in the background of theology.
It has sometimes been ignored as a prob-
lem of evil with regard to which we have
no clear word of revelation ; or, when the
problem of natural evil has pressed like a
burden upon the heart of faith, the en-
trance of death into the creation before
man has been hesitatingly explained as a
necessary anticipation of the curse which
was predestined to fall, and Avhich nature
consequently must, from the beginning,
make ready to let drop in due time upon
the sin of man. Death, occurring in the
natural order of life, has thus been re-
garded as a part of the preparation of the
stage for the tragedy of man's sin and
the victory of his redemption.

Our theology may be excused for not
gaining any larger and more intelligent
conception of the appearance of death in
nature beneath man, so long as our bio-
logical science has had little or nothing
to say as to the exact point in the evolu-
tion of life where death first entered, and



10 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

while also it has been unable to offer any-
thing better than a general conjecture con-
cerning the natural function and possible
service of death in the evolution of life.
But our Christian theology would be wor-
thy of blame, should it not be quick to
take up into its conception of the divine
order of benevolence any hints which re-
cent biology may have to suggest with
reference to the probable natural utilities
of death. It is of religious concern, as
well as of scientific interest, for us to
learn, and to think out, as far as we
possibly may, all the facts and sugges-
tions which prolonged and microscopic
researches may bring to our knowledge
concerning the minute processes, or most
intimate and hidden laws of life and
death. For if we, children of an age of
questioning and of change, are to keep a
rational faith in spiritual reality, strong
and genuine as was our fathers' faith ac-
cording to their light, ours must be a faith
that shall strike its roots down deep into
all knowledge, although light from above
alone may bring it to its perfect Christian



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 11

trust and sweetness. If, then, our bio-
logical science is running the lines of
its investigation deeper across familiar
ground, as well as over fields of knowl-
edge not hitherto upturned, our faiths
should quickly follow, sowing again their
seed of promise in the freshly worked
soil. Nor should we despise any hints
which biology may bring of larger utili-
ties in nature than we have imagined,
because such facts may seem at first
thought to be slight and insignificant.
The least facts of nature may be germi-
nal with high spiritual significance and
beauty.

Analogies indeed from natural laws
are not proofs of spiritual processes ; and
they should never be pressed beyond
the probabilities of reason which may lie
within them. The demonstration of the
spiritual order cannot lie in the natural.
Nevertheless, if the universe be framed
in one divine thought, and its laws, in
different realms of it, proceed from the
same Intelligence, we should expect to
find that knowledge, shining suddenly in



12 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

any part of it, will throw revealing light
also over other outlying regions, and es-
pecially over those dark spiritual places
which may lie contiguous to the points
which some science is lighting up; for
the different spheres and orders of the
cosmos, from the lowest to the highest,
are not so many separate and closed
spaces, but the universe is connected in
all its parts, its rooms are all open-
windowed, and its successive chambers
lead into one another; there are many
mansions and one house of the Father.

What is thus true in general of the
value of any single science for the
broader illumination of life, does not
hold false of the service which biology is
beginning to render to our conception of
the law of death. If we may discover
and carefully observe the working of a
power favorable to life's best ends in
the utilities of death in nature, we shall
have thereby a light in our hands by
means of which our reason may possibly
find its way still farther through the mys-
tery of death in our human life. It is



ENTRANCE AND USE OP DEATH 13

true that under the existing limitations
of our earthly experience we may not ex-
pect to reach a full explanation of any of
the great laws of nature, and a final dis-
covery of the one benevolence in them
all; but partial explanations are better
than none, the child's imaginations may
seize upon enough of the truth to satisfy
the mind of the child, until it shall put
away childish things, and know as it is
known. We should not neglect therefore
as insignificant the least divine hints
which may have been dropped amid the
silences of nature; for any such sugges-
tions may prove a very present help to
reason while faith waits for the final
revelation.

We shall seek, therefore, to gather up
such knowledge as recent biological sci-
ence may have to offer concerning the
place and function of death in the order
of nature; and then we shall proceed to
inquire whether such knowledge has any
further interpretative value in relation to
the law of our human subjection to death,
and its attendant suffering.



14 ENTKANCE AND USE OF DEATH

What has been from the first the r61e
appointed for death to play in the unfold-
ing drama of life in nature? Looking
down through the history of ever-ad-
vancing life on the earth, looking back to
the first appearance and working of death,
do we discover any signs which indicate
that death, contrary to our common judg-
ment of it, has had appointed to it all the
while a benevolent part, that it has not
been the natural enemy, but in reality a
servant of life, a helpmeet for ever
more abounding, higher, and happier life
on the earth?

The first fact which has been observed
is, that natural death does not appear im-
mediately at the beginning of the history
of life on the earth. There was no such
thing as death, or at least nothing like a
dead body, when life first stirred, and for
some indefinite period after life began to
increase and multiply in earthly matter.

The earliest and the simplest organism
consists of a single cell. That unicellular
organism is now known to be not com-



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 15

pletely homogeneous, or without begin-
nings of distinctions between its parts;
but within the divine simplicity of a
single cell, the infinitesimal tracing of
whose marvellous structure may be de-
tected by our microscopes, while its per-
fect discrimination defies their powers,
life begins its work, never henceforth to
cease, of organizing matter for increasing
sentience, for developing function and
faculty, and for final aptitude and ser-
vice for self-conscious thought and love.
Our human interest in the problem of
the origin and the destiny of life may be
concentrated in the study of this earliest
and simplest living organism, composed
of a single cell. What Tennyson sang
of the "Flower in the crannied wall"
would be now more true of the efflorescence
of life in the little cell which the biologist
plucks " out of the crannies " :

" I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."

If we could read the whole secret of that



16 ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH

living cell, we might know the mystery
of our origin and our destiny. Before it
or within it, is there any trace to be
discovered of a pre-existing life, or any
hint to be found of life's coming glory?
Does life in its earliest known beginnings
contain any revelation of a Spirit that was
before it, or disclose any mystery of Mes-
sianic promise of its coming divinity?

These questions, however, concerning
the ultimate origin and possible spiritual
direction of life, we hold in reserve for a
later place in our present plan of discus-
sion; we are content to begin with a
strictly biological conception of life as a
peculiar property of matter, or, as it has
been tersely stated, " as matter in a pecu-
liar state or condition." Whatever may
have been the origin of life, we may read
with scientific eye its story, after it has
come to write upon the records of the
earth its history and its prophecy. We
may notice the point where, so far as
known, death first enters the course of
life.

That which actually occurs, after life



ENTRANCE AND USE OF DEATH 17

has come far enough out of the unseen
for us to see and to touch it, and to
keep its growth under the eye of our
science, may be summarily described as
follows: The first one-celled organism
does not exist for a season, produce an-
other like itself, and then decay, and die,
and totally disappear ; it does nothing of
the sort ; the one thing it does is, not to
die, but to live on. It succeeds in living
on, and on, by a very simple yet persis-
tent process ; for after a while it divides
itself into two cells, each like itself, and
thus it continues to exist, living in these
cells a double life; and this process of
simple division and multiplication is car-
ried on for a number of successive genera-
tions without the appearance of any dead
ancestor, or of anything like that which


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