Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/180

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These citations of the evolution idea in Lucretius are a sufficient refutation of the popular notion that somehow Darwin is responsible for the invention of this revolutionary conception. Indeed, the doctrine of evolution is itself one of the best illustrations of the law of evolution, for it has a continuous, progressive history of twenty-five centuries. It stretches the slow process of its rise and development from Thales' 'evolution's morning star,' more than six hundred years before Christ, down to the present hour. The hazy surmises of the early Greek speculation become precise and organic in the teaching of Aristotle, that nature proceeds by gradual transitions from the most imperfect to the most perfect, that the higher species are descended from the lower, that man is the highest point of a long and continuous ascent. The idea thus definitely enunciated by 'the master of those that know,' may be traced through Lucretius to the Christian theologians of the medieval period, and from them to the philosophers and naturalists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the beginning of the nineteenth century we meet Lamarck, the most important figure in this history since Aristotle. His 'Zoological Philosophy' (1809) is the first elaborate exposition of the means or factors of evolution as applied to the origin of living forms. From his day the descent of the higher organisms from the lower was a standing question among naturalists until the publication of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species' in 1859. That splendid product of a great mind brooding for years on an enormous mass of facts, practically closed the question and won at once the almost unanimous assent of the naturalists of the world.

Our old-world poet not only takes an honorable place in the historical development of scientific opinion, but also illustrates in his own person certain modern phases of the relation between science and religion. He has been called the high-priest of atheism and the apostle of irreligion. He does deny Providence and the future life with great elaboration of argument; he does scout with vehemence the current theology and worship. And this, too, in the name of his scientific system. But was his science atheistic and irreligious? His fierce indignation—does it burn against the gods themselves, or against the popular conception of the gods? Does he despise religion itself, or the 'foul' perversion of it?

Respecting Lucretius' opposition, in the name of science, to religion, it is to be borne in mind that, speaking generally, the Romans had no genius for religion. They were called unto politics, as the Hebrews were called unto religion. The national religion derived what vitality it had from its alliance with the civic spirit, and with the decline of that spirit, religion dropped into cant with a meager and barren ritual and a train of grotesque superstitions. It was at times polluted by