Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/533

This page has been validated.
515
THE PLACE OF CONSCIENCE IN EVOLUTION.

enable him to see more clearly and explain more completely, but it cannot give him either the eye or the conscience.

3. Conscience is also instantaneous—that is, imperative—in its commands. It never stops to argue when once the right is, or is thought to be, ascertained. But if mankind had reached the lofty heights of duty by the ladder of utility or the gradually-growing influence of external sanctions, it might have been expected that some fragments of the ladder, some traces of the process, some memory of the time when "ought" was a word of dubious meaning and uncertain cogency, would have been preserved. The evidence derivable from the histories of savage existence seems plainly to indicate that this imperativeness of conscience is inseparable from the most rudimentary stage of moral and social life. In short, to put the matter as briefly as possible, those who object to the theory of evolution maintain that it is impossible to conceive of any creature entitled to the name of a human being who was not as much furnished with a conscience as any of his successors. True, the primeval conscience had not begun to construct moral rules any more than the primeval eye had formed theories of light and form; but the existence of both was equally indisputable and essential to the idea of man.

Now, if it can be shown that there is a place in evolution for the formation of a conscience fulfilling all these conditions—if, that is, the theory of evolution can be proved to account precisely for those phenomena that seem prima facie to militate most strongly against it—if this feature, which I have called instantaneousness, and have exhibited in three of its leading characteristics, is exactly what one might expect to find in the evolution of the human race—then I submit we have obtained a confirmation of the truth of the said theory of that nature which appeals most forcibly to the common-sense and practical judgment of mankind. Let this, then, be the judge as to whether all that is instantaneous in conscience is not fully accounted for by the considerations I am about to urge.

In seeking to account for the origin of man by evolution we are frequently obliged to confess that the entire absence of contemporary evidence compels us, at any rate for the present, to say of many phenomena, that if we knew more we should be able to answer difficulties and clear up perplexities which seem at this present moment wellnigh insuperable. The gaps are such that they cannot be filled up even by the imagination. Science has done but little yet to enable the intellect to form an idea to itself of the way in which organic life and reasoning man began to exist upon the earth. Impenetrable darkness hangs over vast epochs, nor is it possible in the present absence of materials to fill in the picture of that critical time when man (slowly or suddenly, who can tell?) rose up from among the beasts and said, or rather felt without being able to say, "I am." But then by our hypothesis this is also the time when he also said, "I must." We may feel assured that at this time,