The Idea of God (Part II)

The final installment in a two-part series on ancient and modern theology.

This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.

II.

Between the two ideas of God which we have exhibited in such striking contrast, there is nevertheless one point of resemblance; and this point is fundamental, since it is the point in virtue of which both are entitled to be called theistic ideas. In both there is presumed to be a likeness of some sort between God and Man. In both there is an element of anthropomorphism. Even upon this their common ground, however, there is a wide difference between the two conceptions. In the one the anthropomorphic element is gross, in the other it is refined and subtle. The difference is so far-reaching that some years ago I proposed to mark it by contrasting these two conceptions of God as Anthropomorphic Theism and Cosmic Theism. For the doctrine which represents God as immanent in the universe and revealing himself in the orderly succession of events, the name Cosmic Theism is eminently appropriate; but it is not intended by the antithetic nomenclature to convey the impression that in cosmic theism there is nothing anthropomorphic. A theory which should regard the Human Soul as alien and isolated in the universe without any links uniting it with the eternal source of existence, would not be theism at all. It would be Atheism, which on its metaphysical side is “the denial of anything psychical in the universe outside of human consciousness.” It is far enough from any such doctrine to the cosmic theism of Clement and Origen, of Spinoza and Lessing and Schleiermacher. The difference, however, between this cosmic conception of God and the anthropomorphic conception held by Tertullian and Augustine, Calvin and Voltaire and Paley, is sufficiently great to be described as a contrast. The explanation of the difference must be sought far back in the historic genesis of the two conceptions. Cosmic theism, as we have seen, was reached through nature-worship with its notion of vast elemental spirits indwelling in physical phenomena. Anthropomorphic theism is descended from the notion of tutelar deities which was part of the primitive ancestor-worship. In the process by which men attained to cosmic theism, physical generalization was the chief agency at work; but into anthropomorphic theism, as we have seen, there entered conceptions derived from men’s political thinking. For such a people as the Romans, who could deify Imperator Augustus in just the same way that the Japanese have deified their Mikado, it was natural and easy to conceive of God as a monarch enthroned in the heavens and surrounded by a court of ministering angels. Such was the popular conception in the early ages of Christianity, and such it has doubtless remained with the mass of uninstructed people even to this day. The very grotesqueness of the idea, as it appears to the mind of a philosopher, is an index of the ease with which it satisfies the mind of an uneducated man. Many persons, no doubt, have entertained this idea of God without ever giving it very definite shape, and many have recognized it as in great measure symbolic; yet nothing can be more certain than that untold thousands have conceived it in its full intensity of anthropomorphism. Alike in sermons and theological treatises, in stately poetry and in every-day talk, the Deity has been depicted as pleased or angry, as repenting of his own acts, as soothed by adulation and quick to wreak vengeance upon silly people for blasphemous remarks. In those curious bills of expenses for the mediæval miracle-plays, along with charges of twopence for keeping up a “fyre at hell mouthe,” we find such items as a shilling for a purple coat for God. In one of these plays an angel who has just witnessed the crucifixion comes rushing into Heaven, crying, “Wake up, almighty Father! Here are those beggarly Jews killing your son, and you asleep here like a drunkard!” “Devil take me if I knew anything about it!” is the drowsy reply. Not the slightest irreverence was intended in these miracle-plays, which were the only dramatic performances tolerated by the mediæval church, for the sake of their wholesome educational influence upon the common people. In the light of such facts, one sees that the representations of the Deity as an old man of august presence, with flowing hair and beard, by the early modern painters, must have meant to all save the highest minds much more than a mere symbol. Until one’s thoughts have become accustomed to range far and wide over the universe it is doubtless impossible to frame a conception of Deity that is not grossly anthropomorphic. I remember distinctly the conception which I had formed when five years of age. I imagined a narrow office just over the zenith, with a tall standing-desk running lengthwise, upon which lay several open ledgers bound in coarse leather. There was no roof over this office, and the walls rose scarcely five feet from the floor, so that a person standing at the desk could look out upon the whole world. There were two persons at the desk, and one of them—a tall, slender man, of aquiline features, wearing spectacles, with a pen in his hand and another behind his ear—was God. The other, whose appearance I do not distinctly recall, was an attendant angel. Both were diligently watching the deeds of men and recording them in the ledgers. To my infant mind this picture was not grotesque but ineffably solemn, and the fact that all my words and acts were thus written down, to confront me at the day of judgment, seemed naturally a matter of grave concern.

If we could cross-question all the men and women we know, and still more all the children, we should probably find that, even in this enlightened age, the conceptions of Deity current throughout the civilized world contain much that is in the crudest sense anthropomorphic. Such at any rate seems to be the character of the conceptions with which we start in life. With those whose studies lead them to ponder upon the subject, in the light of enlarged experience, these conceptions become greatly modified. They lose their anthropomorphic definiteness, they grow vague by reason of their expansion, they become recognized as largely symbolic, but they never quite lose all traces of their primitive form. Indeed, as I said a moment ago, they cannot do so. The utter demolition of anthropomorphism would be the demolition of theism. We have now to see what traces of its primitive form the idea of God can retain, in the light of our modern knowledge of the universe.

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The most highly refined and scientific form of anthropomorphic theism is that which we are accustomed to associate with Paley and the authors of the Bridgewater treatises. It is not peculiar to Christianity, since it has been held by pagans and unbelievers as firmly as by the devoutest members of the church. The argument from design is as old as Sokrates, and was relied on by Voltaire and the English deists of the eighteenth century no less than by Dr. Chalmers and Sir Charles Bell. Upon this theory the universe is supposed to have been created by a Being possessed of intelligence and volition essentially similar to the intelligence and volition of Man. This Being is actuated by a desire for the good of his creatures, and in pursuance thereof entertains purposes and adapts means to ends with consummate ingenuity. The process by which the world was created was analogous to manufacture, as being the, work of an intelligent artist operating upon unintelligent materials objectively existing. It is in accordance with this theory that books on natural theology, as well as those text-books of science which deem it edifying to introduce theological reflections where they have no proper place, are fond of speaking of the “Divine Architect” or the “Great Designer.”

This theory, which is still commonly held, was in high favor during the earlier part of the present century. In view of the great and sudden advances which physical knowledge was making, it seemed well worth while to consecrate science to the service of theology; and at the same time, in emphasizing the argument from design, theology adopted the methods of science. The attempt to discover evidences of beneficent purpose in the structure of the eye arid ear, in the distribution of plants and animals over the earth’s surface, in the shapes of the planetary orbits and the inclinations of their axes, or in any other of the innumerable arrangements of nature, was an attempt at true induction; and high praise is due to the able men who have devoted their energies to reinforcing the argument. By far the greater part of the evidence was naturally drawn from the organic world, which began to be comprehensively studied in the mutual relations of all its parts in the time of Lamarck and Cuvier. The organic world is full of unspeakably beautiful and wonderful adaptations between organisms and their environments, as well as between the various parts of the same organism. The unmistakable end of these adaptations is the welfare of the animal or plant; they conduce to length and completeness of life, to the permanence and prosperity of the species. For some time, therefore, the arguments of natural theology seemed to be victorious along the whole line. The same kind of reasoning was pushed farther and farther to explain the classification and morphology of plants and animals; until the climax was reached in Agassiz’s remarkable Essay on Classification, published in 1859, in which every organic form was not only regarded as a concrete thought of the Creator interpretable by the human mind, but this kind of explanation was expressly urged as a substitute for inquiries into the physical causes whereby such forms might have been originated.

In its best days, however, there was a serious weakness in the argument from design, which was ably pointed out by Mr. Mill, in an essay wherein he accords much more weight to the general argument than could now by any possibility be granted it. Its fault was the familiar logical weakness of proving too much. The very success of the argument in showing the world to have been the work of an intelligent Designer made it impossible to suppose that Creator to be at once omnipotent and absolutely benevolent. For nothing can be clearer than that Nature is full of cruelty and mal-adaptation. In every part of the animal world we find implements of torture surpassing in devilish ingenuity anything that was ever seen in the dungeons of the Inquisition. We are introduced to a scene of incessant and universal strife, of which it is not apparent on the surface that the outcome is the good or the happiness of anything that is sentient. In pre-Darwinian times, before we had gone below the surface, no such outcome was discernible. Often, indeed, we find the higher life wantonly sacrificed to the lower, as instanced by the myriads of parasites apparently created for no other purpose than to prey upon creatures better than themselves. Such considerations bring up, with renewed emphasis, the everlasting problem of the origin of evil. If the Creator of such a world is omnipotent, he cannot be actuated solely by a desire for the welfare of his creatures, but must have other ends in view to which this is in some measure subordinated. Or if he is absolutely benevolent, then he cannot be omnipotent, but there is something in the nature of things which sets limits to his creative power. This dilemma is as old as human thinking, and it still remains a stumbling-block in the way of any theory of the universe that can possibly be devised. But it is an obstacle especially formidable to any kind of anthropomorphic theism. For the only avenue of escape is the assumption of an inscrutable mystery which would contain the solution of the problem if the human intellect could only penetrate so far; and the more closely we invite a comparison between divine and human methods of working, the more do we close up that only outlet.

The practical solution oftenest adopted has been that which sacrifices the Creator’s omnipotence in favor of his benevolence. In the noblest of the purely Aryan religions—that of which the sacred literature is contained in the Zendavesta—the evil spirit Ahriman exists independently of the will of the good Ormuzd, and is accountable for all the sin in the world, but in the fullness of time he is to be bound in chains and shorn of his power for mischief. This theory has passed into Christendom in the form of Manichæism; but its essential features have been adopted by orthodox Christianity, which at the same time has tried to grasp the other horn of the dilemma and save the omnipotence of the Deity by paying him what Mr. Mill calls the doubtful compliment of making him the creator of the devil. By this device the essential polytheism of the conception is thinly veiled. The confusion of thought has been persistently blinked by the popular mind; but among the profoundest thinkers of the Aryan race there have been two who have explicitly adopted the solution which limits the Creator’s power. One of these was Plato, who held that God’s perfect goodness has been partially thwarted by the intractableness of the materials he has had to work with. This theory was carried to extremes by those Gnostics who believed that God’s work consisted in redeeming a world originally created by the devil, and in orthodox Christianity it gave rise to the Augustinian doctrine of total depravity, and the “philosophy of the plan of salvation” founded thereon. The other great thinker who adopted a similar solution was Leibnitz. In his famous theory of optimism the world is by no means represented as perfect; it is only the best of all possible worlds, the best the Creator could make out of the materials at hand. In recent times Mr. Mill shows a marked preference for this view, and one of the foremost religious teachers now living, Dr. Martinean, falls into a parallel line of thinking in his suggestion that the primary qualities of matter constitute a “datum objective to God,” who, “in shaping the orbits out of immensity, and determining seasons out of eternity, could hut follow the laws of curvature, measure, and proportion.”

But indeed it is not necessary to refer to the problem of evil in order to show that the argument from design cannot prove the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent Designer. It is not omnipotence that contrives and plans and adapts means to ends. These are the methods of finite intelligence; they imply the overcoming of obstacles; and to ascribe them to omnipotence is to combine words that severally possess meanings into a phrase that has no meaning. “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” In this noble description of creative omnipotence one would search in vain for any hint of contrivance. The most the argument from design could legitimately hope to accomplish was to make it seem probable that the universe was wrought into its present shape by an intelligent and benevolent Being immeasurably superior to Man, but far from infinite in power and resources. Such an argument hardly rises to the level of true theism. It was in its own chosen stronghold that this once famous argument was destined to meet its doom.

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It was in the adaptations of the organic world, in the manifold harmonies between living creatures and surrounding circumstances, that it had seemed to find its chief support; and now came the Darwinian theory of natural selection, and in the twinkling of an eye knocked all this support from under it. It is not that the organism and its environment have been adapted to each other by an exercise of creative intelligence, but it is that the organism is necessarily fitted to the environment because in the perennial slaughter that has gone on from the beginning only the fittest have survived. Or, as it has been otherwise expressed, “the earth is suited to its inhabitants because it has produced them, and only such as suit it live.” In the struggle for existence no individual peculiarity, however slight, that tends to the preservation of life is neglected. It is unerringly seized upon and propagated by natural selection, and from the cumulative action of such slight causes have come the beautiful adaptations of which the organic world is full. The demonstration of this point, through the labors of a whole generation of naturalists, has been one of the most notable achievements of modern science, and to the theistic arguments of Paley and the Bridgewater treatises it has dealt destruction.

But the Darwinian theory of natural selection does not stand alone. It is part of a greater whole. It is the most conspicuous portion of that doctrine of evolution in which all the results hitherto attained by the great modern scientific movement are codified, and which Herbert Spencer bad already begun to set forth in its main outlines before the Darwinian theory had been made known to the world. This doctrine of evolution so far extends the range of our vision through past and future time as entirely to alter our conception of the universe. Our grandfathers, in common with all preceding generations of men, could and did suppose that at some particular moment in the past eternity the world was created in very much the shape which it has at present. But our modern knowledge does not allow us to suppose anything of the sort. We can carry back our thoughts through a long succession of great epochs, some of them many millions of years in duration, in each of which the innumerable forms of life that covered the earth were very different from what they were in all the others, and in even the nearest of which they were notably different from what they are now. We can go back still farther to the eras when the earth was a whirling ball of vapor, or when it formed an equatorial belt upon a sun two hundred million miles in diameter, or when the sun itself was but a giant nebula from which as yet no planet had been born. And through all the vast sweep of time, from the simple primeval vapor down to the multifarious world we know to-day, we see the various forms of Nature coming into existence one after the other in accordance with laws of which we are already beginning to trace the character and scope. Paley’s simile of the watch is no longer applicable to such a world as this. It must be replaced by the simile of the flower. The universe is not a machine, but an organism, with an indwelling principle of life. It was not made, but it has grown.

That such a change in our conception of the universe marks the greatest revolution that has ever taken place in human thinking need scarcely be said. But even in this statement we have not quite revealed the depth of the change. Not only has modern science made it clear that the varied forms of Nature which make up the universe have arisen through a process of evolution, but it has also made it clear that what we call the laws of Nature have been evolved through the self-same process. The axiom of the persistence of force, upon which all modern science has come to rest, involves as a necessary corollary the persistence of the relations between forces; so that, starting with the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter, it can be shown that all those uniformities of coexistence and succession which we call natural laws have arisen one after the other in connection with the forms which have afforded the occasions for their manifestation. The all-pervading harmony of Nature is thus itself a natural product, and the last inch of ground is cut away from under the theologians who suppose the universe to have come into existence through a supernatural process of manufacture at the hands of a Creator outside of itself.

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It appears, then, that the idea of God as remote from the world is not likely to survive the revolution in thought which the rapid increase of modern knowledge has inaugurated. The knell of anthropomorphic or Augustinian theism has already sounded. This conclusion need not, however, disturb us when we consider how imperfect a form of theism this is which mankind is now outgrowing. To get rid of the appearance of antagonism between science and religion will of itself be one of the greatest benefits ever conferred upon the human race. It will forward science and purify religion, and it will go far toward increasing kindness and mutual helpfulness among men. Since such happy results are likely to follow the general adoption of the cosmic or Athanasian form of theism, in place of the other form, it becomes us to observe more specifically the manner in which this higher theism stands related to our modern knowledge.

To every form of theism, as I have already urged, an anthropomorphic element is indispensable, it is quite true, on the one hand, that to ascribe what we know as human personality to the infinite Deity straightway lands us in a contradiction, since personality without limits is inconceivable. But on the other hand, it is no less true that the total elimination of anthropomorphism from the idea of God abolishes the idea itself. This difficulty need not dishearten us, for it is no more than we must expect to encounter on the threshold of such a problem as the one before us. We do not approach the question in the spirit of those natural theologians who were so ready with their explanations of the divine purposes. We are aware that we see as through a glass darkly, and we do not expect to “think God’s thoughts after him” save in the crudest symbolic fashion. In dealing with the Infinite we are confessedly treating of that which transcends our powers of conception. Our ability to frame ideas is strictly limited by experience, and our experience does not furnish the materials for the idea of a personality which is not narrowly hemmed in by the inexorable barriers of circumstance. We therefore cannot conceive such an idea. But it does not follow that there is no reality answering to what such an idea would be if it could be conceived. The test of inconceivability is only applicable to the world of phenomena from which our experience is gathered. It fails when applied to that which lies behind phenomena. I do not hold for this reason that we are justified in using such an expression as “infinite personality” in a philosophical inquiry where clearness of thought and speech is above all things desirable. But I do hold, most emphatically, that we are not debarred from ascribing a quasi-psychical nature to the Deity simply because we can frame no proper conception of such a nature as absolute and infinite.

The point is of vital importance to theism. As Kant has well said, “The conception of God involves not merely a blindly operating Nature as the eternal root of things, but a Supreme Being that shall be the author of all things by free and understanding action; and it is this conception which alone has any interest for us.” It will be observed that Kant says nothing here about “contrivance.” By the phrase “free and understanding action” he doubtless means much the same that is here meant by ascribing to God a quasi-psychical nature. And thus alone, he says, can we feel any interest in theism. The thought goes deep, yet is plain enough to every one. The teleological instinct in Man cannot be suppressed or ignored. The human soul shrinks from the thought that it is without kith or kin in all this wide universe. Our reason demands that there shall be a reasonableness in the constitution of things. This demand is a fact in our psychical nature as positive and irrepressible as our acceptance of geometrical axioms and our rejection of whatever controverts such axioms. No ingenuity of argument can bring us to believe that the infinite Sustainer of the universe will “put us to permanent intellectual confusion.” There is in every earnest thinker a craving after a final cause; and this craving can no more be extinguished than our belief in objective reality. Nothing can persuade us that the universe is a farrago of nonsense. Our belief in what we call the evidence of our senses is less strong than our faith that in the orderly sequence of events there is a meaning which our minds could fathom were they only vast enough. Doubtless in our own age, of which it is a most healthful symptom that it questions everything, there are many who, through inability to assign the grounds for such a faith, have persuaded themselves that it must be a mere superstition which ought not to be cherished; but it is not likely that any one of these has ever really succeeded in ridding himself of it.

According to Mr. Spencer, the only ultimate test of reality is persistence, and the only measure of validity among our primary beliefs is the success with which they resist all efforts to change them. Let us see, then, how it is with the belief in the essential reasonableness of the universe. Does this belief answer to any outward reality? Is there, in the scheme of things, aught that justifies Man in claiming kinship of any sort with the God that is immanent in the world?

The difficulty in answering such questions has its root in the impossibility of framing a representative conception of Deity; but it is a difficulty which may, for all practical purposes, be surmounted by the aid of a symbolic conception.

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Observe the meaning of this distinction. Of any simple object which can be grasped in a single act of perception, such as a knife or a book, an egg or an orange, a circle or a triangle, you can frame a conception which almost or quite exactly represents the object. The picture or visual image in your mind when the orange is present to the senses is almost exactly reproduced when it is absent. The distinction between the two lies chiefly in the relative vividness of the former as contrasted with the relative faintness of the latter. But as the objects of thought increase in size and in complexity of detail, the case soon comes to be very different. You cannot frame a truly representative conception of the town in which you live, however familiar you may be with its streets and houses, its parks and trees, and the looks and demeanor of the townsmen; it is impossible to embrace so many details in a single mental picture. The mind must range to and fro among the phenomena in order to represent the town in a series of conceptions. But practically what you have in mind when you speak of the town is a fragmentary conception in which some portion of the object is represented, while you are well aware that with sufficient pains a series of mental pictures could be formed which would approximately correspond to the object. That is to say, this fragmentary conception stands in your mind as a symbol of the town. To some extent the conception is representative, but to a great degree it is symbolic. With a further increase in the size and complexity of the objects of thought, our conceptions gradually lose their representative character and at length become purely symbolic. No one can form a mental picture that answers even approximately to the earth. Even a homogeneous ball eight thousand miles in diameter is too vast an object to be conceived otherwise than symbolically, and much more is this true of the ball upon which we live, with all its endless multiformity of detail. We imagine a globe and clothe it with a few terrestrial attributes, and in our minds this fragmentary notion does duty as a symbol of the earth.

The case becomes still more striking when we have to deal with conceptions of the universe, of cosmic forces such as light and heat, or of the stupendous secular changes which modern science calls us to contemplate. Here our conceptions cannot even pretend to represent the objects; they are as purely symbolic as the algebraic equations whereby the geometer expresses the shapes of curves. Yet so long as there are means of verification at our command, we can reason as safely with these symbolic conceptions as if they were truly representative. The geometer can at any moment translate his equation into an actual curve and thereby test the results of his reasoning; and the case is similar with the undulatory theory of light, the chemist’s conception of atomicity, and other vast stretches of thought which in recent times have revolutionized our knowledge of Nature. The danger in the use of symbolic conceptions is the danger of framing illegitimate symbols that answer to nothing in heaven or earth, as has happened first and last with so many short-lived theories in science and in metaphysics. Forewarned of this danger, and therefore—I hope—forearmed against it, let us see what a scientific philosophy has to say about the Power that is manifested in and through the universe.

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We have seen that before men could arrive at the idea of God, before out of the old crude and fragmentary polytheisms there could be developed a pure and coherent theism, it was necessary that physical generalization should have advanced far enough to enable them, however imperfectly, to reason about the universe as a whole. It was a faint glimpse of the unity of Nature that first led men to the conception of the unity of God, and as their knowledge of the phenomenal fact becomes clearer, so must their grasp upon the nonmenal truth behind it become firmer. Now the whole tendency of modern science is to impress upon us ever more forcibly the truth that the entire knowable universe is an immense unit, animated throughout all its parts by a single principle of life. This conclusion, which was long ago borne in upon the minds of prophetic thinkers, like Spinoza and Goethe, through their keen appreciation of the significance of the physical harmonies known to them, has during the last fifty years received something like a demonstration in detail. It is since Goethe’s death, for example, that it has been proved that the Newtonian law of gravitation extends to the bodies which used to be called fixed stars. That such was the case was already much more than probable, but so lately as 1835 there were to be found writers on science, such as Comte, who denied that it could ever be proved. But a still more impressive illustration of the unity of Nature is furnished by the luminiferous ether, when considered in connection with the discovery of the correlation of forces. The fathomless abysses of space can no longer be talked of as empty; they are filled with a wonderful substance, unlike any of the forms of matter which we can weigh and measure. A cosmic jelly almost infinitely hard and elastic, it offers at the same time no appreciable resistance to the movements of the heavenly bodies. It is so sensitive that a shock in any part of it causes a tremor which is felt on the surface of countless worlds. Radiating in every direction, from millions of centric points run shivers of undulation manifested in endless metamorphosis as heat, or light, or actinism, as magnetism or electricity. Crossing one another in every imaginable way, as if all space were crowded with a mesh-work of nerve-threads, these motions go on forever in a harmony that nothing disturbs. Thus every part of the universe shares in the life of all the other parts, as when in the solar atmosphere, pulsating at its temperature of a million degrees Fahrenheit, a slight breeze instantly sways the needles in every compass-box on the face of the earth.

Still further striking confirmation is found in the marvelous disclosures of spectrum analysis. To whatever part of the heavens we turn the telescope, armed with this new addition to our senses, we find the same chemical elements with which the present century has made us familiar upon the surface of the earth. From the distant worlds of Arcturus and the Pleiades, whence the swift ray of light takes many years to reach us, it brings the story of the hydrogen and oxygen, the vapor of iron or sodium, which set it in motion. Thus in all parts of the universe that have fallen within our ken, we find a unity of chemical composition. Nebulæ, stars, and planets are all made of the same materials, and on every side we behold them in different stages of development, worlds in the making: here an irregular nebula such as our solar system once was, there a nebula whose rotation has at length wrought it into spheroidal form; here and there stars of varied colors marking different eras in chemical evolution; now planets still partly incandescent like Saturn and Jupiter, then planets like Mars and the earth, with cool atmospheres and solid continents and vast oceans of water; and lastly such bodies as the moon, vaporless, rigid, and cold in death.

Still nearer do we come toward realizing the unity of Nature when we recollect that the law of evolution is not only the same for all these various worlds, but is also the same throughout all other orders of phenomena. Not only in the development of cosmical bodies, including the earth, but also in the development of life upon the earth’s surface and in the special development of those complex manifestations of life known as human societies, the most general and fundamental features of the process are the same, so that it has been found possible to express them in a single universal formula. And what is most striking of all, this notable formula, under which Herbert Spencer has succeeded in generalizing the phenomena of universal evolution, was derived from the formula under which Von Baer in 1829 first generalized the mode of development of organisms from their embryos. That a law of evolution first partially detected among the phenomena of the organic world should thereafter not only be found applicable to all other orders of phenomena, but should find in this application its first complete and coherent statement, is a fact of wondrous and startling significance. It means that the universe as a whole is thrilling in every fibre with Life, — not, indeed, life in the usual restricted sense, but life in a general sense. The distinction, once deemed absolute, between the living and the not-living is converted into a relative distinction; and Life as manifested in the organism is seen to be only a specialized form of the Universal Life.

The conception of matter as dead or inert belongs, indeed, to an order of thought that modern knowledge has entirely outgrown. If the study of physics has taught us anything, it is that nowhere in Nature is inertness or quiescence to be found. All is quivering with energy. From particle to particle without cessation the movement passes on, reappearing from moment to moment under myriad Protean forms, while the rearrangements of particles incidental to the movement constitute the qualitative differences among things. Now in the language of physics all motions of matter are manifestations of force, to which we can assign neither beginning nor end. Matter is indestructible, motion is continuous, and beneath both these universal truths lies the fundamental truth that force is persistent. The farthest reach in science that has ever been made was made when it was proved by Herbert Spencer that the law of universal evolution is a necessary consequence of the persistence of force. It has shown us that all the myriad phenomena of the universe, all its weird and subtle changes, in all their minuteness from moment to moment, in all their vastness from age to age, are the manifestations of a single animating principle that is both infinite and eternal.

By what name, then, shall we call this animating principle of the universe, this eternal source of phenomena? Using the ordinary language of physics, we have just been calling it Force, but such a term in no wise enlightens us. Taken by itself it is meaningless; it acquires its meaning only from the relations in which it is used. It is a mere symbol, like the algebraic expression which stands for a curve. Of what, then, is it the symbol?

The words which we use are so enwrapped in atmospheres of subtle associations that they are liable to sway the direction of our thoughts in ways of which we are often unconscious. It is highly desirable that physics should have a word as thoroughly abstract, as utterly emptied of all connotations of personality as possible, so that it may be used like a mathematical symbol. Such a word is Force. But what we are now dealing with is by no means a scientific abstraction. It is the most concrete and solid of realities, the one Reality which underlies all appearances, and from the presence of which we can never escape. Suppose, then, that we translate our abstract terminology into something that is more concrete. Instead of the force which persists, let us speak of the Power which is always and everywhere manifested in phenomena. Our question, then, becomes, What is this infinite and eternal Power like? What kind of language shall we use in describing it? Can we regard it as in any wise material, or can we speak of its universal and ceaseless activity as in any wise the working of a blind necessity? For here, at length, we have penetrated to the innermost kernel of the problem; and upon the answer must depend our mental attitude toward the mystery of existence.

The answer is that we cannot regard the infinite and eternal Power as in any wise “material,” nor can we attribute its workings to “blind necessity.” The eternal source of phenomena is the source of what we see and hear and touch; it is the source of what we call matter, but it cannot itself be material. Matter is but the generalized name we give to those modifications which we refer immediately to an unknown something outside of ourselves. It was long ago shown that all the qualities of matter are what the mind makes them, and have no existence as such apart from the mind. In the deepest sense all that we really know is mind, and as Clifford would say, what we call the material universe is simply an imperfect picture in our minds of a real universe of mind-stuff. Our own mind we know directly; our neighbor’s mind we know by inference; that which is external to both is a Power hidden from sense, which causes states of consciousness that are similar in both. Such states of consciousness we call material qualities, and matter is nothing but the sum of such qualities. To speak of the hidden Power itself as “material” is therefore not merely to state what is untrue, — it is to talk nonsense. We are bound to conceive of the Eternal Reality in terms of the only reality that we know, or else refrain from conceiving it under any form whatever. But the latter alternative is clearly impossible. We might as well try to escape from the air in which we breathe as to expel from consciousness the Power which is manifested throughout what we call the material universe. But the only conclusion we can consistently hold is that this is the very same power “which in ourselves wells up under the form of consciousness.”

In the nature-worship of primitive men, beneath all the crudities of thought by which it was overlaid and obscured, there was thus after all an essential germ of truth which modern philosophy is constrained to recognize and reiterate. As the unity of Nature has come to be demonstrated, innumerable finite powers, once conceived as psychical and deified, have been generalized into a single infinite Power that is still thought of as psychical. From the crudest polytheism we have thus, by a slow evolution, arrived at pure monotheism, — the recognition of the eternal God indwelling in the universe, in whom we live and move and have our being.

But in thus conceiving of God as psychical, as a Being with whom the human soul in the deepest sense owns kinship, we must beware of too carelessly ascribing to Him those specialized psychical attributes characteristic of humanity, which one and all imply limitation and weakness. We must not forget the warning of the prophet Isaiah: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Omniscience, for example, has been ascribed to God in every system of theism; yet the psychical nature to which all events, past, present, and future, can be always simultaneously present is clearly as far removed from the limited and serial psychical nature of Man as the heavens are higher than the earth. We are not so presumptuous, therefore, as to attempt, with some theologians of the anthropomorphic school, to inquire minutely into the character of the divine decrees and purposes. But our task would be ill-performed were nothing more to be said about that craving after a final cause which we have seen to be an essential element in Man’s religious nature. It remains to be shown that there is a reasonableness in the universe, that in the orderly sequence of events there is a meaning which appeals to our human intelligence. Without adopting Paley’s method, which has been proved inadequate, we may nevertheless boldly aim at an object like that at which Paley aimed. Caution is needed, since we are dealing with a symbolic conception as to which the very point in question is whether there is any reality that answers to it. The problem is a hard one, but here we suddenly get powerful help from the doctrine of evolution, and especially from that part of it known as the Darwinian theory.

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Although it was the Darwinian theory of natural selection which overthrew the argument from design, yet—as I have argued in another place—when thoroughly understood it will be found to replace as much teleology as it destroys. Indeed, the doctrine of evolution, in all its chapters, has a certain teleological aspect, although it does not employ those methods which in the hands of the champions of final causes have been found so misleading. The doctrine of evolution does not regard any given arrangement of things as scientifically explained when it is shown to subserve some good purpose, but it seeks its explanation in such antecedent conditions as may have been competent to bring about the arrangement in question. Nevertheless the doctrine of evolution is not only perpetually showing us the purposes which the arrangements of Nature subserve, but throughout one large section of the ground which it covers, it points to a discernible dramatic tendency, a clearly-marked progress of events toward a mighty goal. Now it especially concerns us to note that this large section is just the one, and the only one, which our powers of imagination are able to compass. The astronomic story of the universe is altogether too vast for us to comprehend in such wise as to tell whether it shows any dramatic tendency or not. But in the story of the evolution of life upon the surface of our earth, where alone we are able to compass the phenomena, we see all things working together, through countless ages of toil and trouble, toward one glorious consummation. It is therefore a fair inference, though a bold one, that if our means of exploration were such that we could compass the story of all the systems of worlds that shine in the spacious firmament, we should be able to detect a similar meaning. At all events, the story which we can decipher is sufficiently impressive and consoling. It clothes our theistic belief with moral significance, reveals the intense and solemn reality of religion, and fills the heart with tidings of great joy.

The glorious consummation toward which organic evolution is tending is the production of the highest and most perfect psychical life. Already the germs of this conclusion existed in the Darwinian theory as originally stated, though men were for a time too busy with other aspects of the theory to pay due attention to them. In the natural selection of such individual peculiarities as conduce to the survival of the species, and in the evolution by this process of higher and higher creatures endowed with capacities for a richer and more varied life, there might have been seen a well-marked dramatic tendency, toward the dénouement of which every one of the myriad little acts of life and death during the entire series of geologic æons was assisting. The whole scheme was teleological, and each single act of natural selection had a teleological meaning. Herein lies the reason why the theory so quickly destroyed that of Paley. It did not merely refute it, but supplanted it with explanations which had the merit of being truly scientific while at the same time they hit the mark at which natural theology had unsuccessfully aimed.

Such was the case with the Darwinian theory as first announced. But since it has been more fully studied in its application to the genesis of Man, a wonderful flood of light has been thrown upon the meaning of evolution, and there appears a reasonableness in the universe such as had not appeared before. It has been shown that the genesis of Man was due to a change in the direction of the working of natural selection, whereby psychical variations were selected to the neglect of physical variations. It has been shown that one chief result of this change was the lengthening of infancy, whereby Man appeared on the scene as a plastic creature capable of unlimited psychical progress. It has been shown that one chief result of the lengthening of infancy was the origination of the family and of human society endowed with rudimentary moral ideas and moral sentiments. It has been shown that through these coöperating processes the difference between Man and all lower creatures has come to be a difference in kind transcending all other differences; that his appearance upon the earth marked the beginning of the final stage in the process of development, the last act in the great drama of creation; and that all the remaining work of evolution must consist in the perfecting of the creature thus marvelously produced. It has been further shown that the perfecting of Man consists mainly in the ever increasing predominance of the life of the soul over the life of the body. And lastly, it has been shown that, whereas the earlier stages of human progress have been characterized by a struggle for existence like that through which all lower forms of life have been developed, nevertheless the action of natural selection upon Man is coming to an end, and his future development will be accomplished through the direct adaptation of his wonderfully plastic intelligence to the circumstances in which it is placed. Hence it has appeared that war and all forms of strife, having ceased to discharge their normal function, and having thus become unnecessary, will slowly die out; that the feelings and habits adapted to ages of strife will ultimately perish from disuse; and that a stage of civilization will be reached in which human sympathy shall be all in all, and the spirit of Christ shall reign supreme throughout the length and breadth of the earth.

These conclusions, with the grounds upon which they are based, have been succinctly set forth in my little book entitled, The Destiny of Man viewed in the Light of his Origin. Startling as they may have seemed to some, they are no more so than many of the other truths which have been brought home to us during this unprecedented age. They are the fruit of a wide induction from the most vitally important facts which the doctrine of evolution has set forth; and they may fairly claim recognition as an integral body of philosophic doctrine fit to stand the test of time. Here they are summarized as the final step in my argument concerning the true nature of theism. They add new meanings to the idea of God, as it is affected by modern knowledge, while at the same time they do but give articulate voice to time-honored truths which it was feared the skepticism of our age might have rendered dumb and power. less. For if we express in its most concentrated form the meaning of these conclusions regarding Man’s origin and destiny, we find that it affords the full justification of the fundamental ideas and sentiments which have animated religion at all times. We see Man still the crown and glory of the universe and the chief object of divine care, yet still the lame and halting creature, loaded with a brute-inheritance of original sin, whose ultimate salvation is slowly to be achieved through ages of moral discipline. We see the chief agency which produced him—natural selection which always works through strife—ceasing to operate upon him, so that, until human strife shall be brought to an end, there goes on a struggle between his lower and his higher impulses in which the higher must finally conquer. And in all this we find the strongest imaginable incentive to right living, yet one that is still the same in principle with that set forth by the great Teacher who first brought men to the knowledge of the true God.

As to the conception of Deity, in the shape impressed upon it by our modern knowledge, I believe I have now said enough to show that it is no empty formula or metaphysical abstraction which we would seek to substitute for the living God. The infinite and eternal Power that is manifested in every pulsation of the universe is none other than the living God. We may exhaust the resources of metaphysics in debating how far His nature may fitly be expressed in terms applicable to the psychical nature of Man; such vain attempts will only serve to show how we are dealing with a theme that must ever transcend our finite powers of conception. But of some things we may feel sure. Humanity is not a mere local incident in an endless and aimless series of cosmical changes. The events of the universe are not the work of chance, neither are they the outcome of blind necessity. Practically there is a purpose in the world whereof it is our highest duty to learn the lesson, however well or ill we may fare in rendering a scientific account of it. When from the dawn of life we see all things working together toward the evolution of the highest spiritual attributes of Man, we know, however the words may stumble in which we try to say it, that God is in the deepest sense a moral Being. The everlasting source of phenomena is none other than the infinite Power that makes for righteousness. Thou canst not by searching find Him out; yet put thy trust in Him, and against thee the gates of hell shall not prevail; for there is neither wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Eternal.

This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.