Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/532

This page has been validated.

sciousness, at all explained or enforced. To a certain extent this feeling was itself a justification of resistance to the claims of evolution to be regarded as a sufficient history of the creation of man. The evolutionists had claimed to be able to make clear to its possessors the mystery of conscience; and if reasonable men asserted that, so far as they were concerned, the sense of mystery remained, it was clear that the last word on the subject was not yet spoken.

I am certainly very far from thinking that the last word will be spoken for some time to come, but I make bold to believe that it is possible to throw further light upon the subject without at all departing from the general principle of evolution to which I have for long given such intellectual adherence as was in my power. Let us, then, begin by endeavoring to understand what were the precise features in the power called conscience, which seemed to intuitional thinkers to baffle and defy the explanations of the evolutionists.

Their general point of view may be fairly expressed by the statement that the conscience must have had an existence prior to the conditions out of which it was supposed to have been evolved. Drawn out in detail, this statement contains the three following propositions:

1. Conscience is instantaneous—that is, innate—in its origin, and therefore not to be accounted for by the supposition that by degrees it was impressed upon the mind from without. It bears so strong a resemblance to the other faculties, the senses and emotions, that, like them, it must have formed part of the original constitution of man. When examined it seems to testify that it is in no sense a composition, not made up of long and varied experiences, but the result of a single creative act, or at any rate the instantaneous product of certain conditions brought for the first time into relation with each other. In other words, the length of time postulated by evolutionists for the development of man is not granted them in the case of conscience. We shall see presently whether they really require it.

2. Conscience is instantaneous—that is, intuitional—in its operations, and therefore not to be accounted for by the action and reaction of social relationships. Had there been but one man, that one man would have been able to say, "I must do this;" and, again, there must have been a sense that it was right to combine for social purposes of mutual help and comfort before men could have conceived the idea of doing so. The notion that I ought to act in a certain way toward my neighbor is, if not a primary, at least a very easy one, whereas the notion that I ought to act in a certain way, because it is for his or our advantage, seems prima facie a much later one. There is, in short, a correlation between the conscience and an external rightness, which is just as natural, as rapid, as unaffected by later relationships, as is the correlation between the eye and light. In primeval man the conscience detects, however dimly and imperfectly, morality in actions just as the eye detects shape and color in objects. Social and civilized life may