Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/September 1886/Ex-President Porter on Evolution
|EX-PRESIDENT PORTER ON EVOLUTION.|
By W. D. LE SUEUR, B. A.
THE great intellectual issue of the present day, however some may try to disguise it, is that between dogma on the one hand and the free spirit of scientific inquiry on the other. In using the word dogma, we have no wish to employ the argument ad invidiam—to take advantage, that is to say, of the popular prejudice no doubt attaching to recognized dogmatism. No, we frankly confess at the outset that a man may argue for dogma without betraying any dogmatic spirit; and that there would therefore be no fairness in embracing dogma and dogmatism in a common condemnation. None the less do we maintain that dogma is opposed to the free scientific spirit; and that the world is now being summoned to decide which of the two it will take for its guide. A definition of dogma, as we understand it, is. therefore in order. By dogma we mean a traditional opinion held and defended on account of its assumed practical value, rather than on account of its truth an opinion that is felt to require defending; that, like our "infant industries," needs protection; and round which its supporters rally accordingly. When great and special efforts are being made to place and keep a certain opinion on its legs, so to speak, be sure that it is a dogma that is concerned, and not any product of the free intellectual activity of mankind.
The last writer of eminence who has "come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty," or, in other words, to the help of orthodoxy against evolution, is Dr. Noah Porter, ex-President o Yale. Dr. Porter is a man who has lived for many years in an atmosphere of philosophical discussion, as well as of high literary cultivation; and we could perhaps scarcely name an American whom the common voice would pronounce better fitted to grapple with every phase of the doctrine of evolution in a logical and scholarly manner. We must confess, however, to a certain amount of disappointment with both the matter and the manner of the learned ex-president's "Lecture on Evolution," delivered before the Nineteenth Century Club, on the 25th of May last, and now reprinted for general circulation in pamphlet form. Our objections to the matter will appear as we proceed: our objection to the manner is that the learned ex-president has really not been so careful as he should have been—as one would suppose he would, almost by instinct, be—to clothe his thoughts in correct literary, or, let us say at once, grammatical form. One does not like to discuss questions of grammar in connection with a discussion of evolution; but, really, there is ground for complaint when a writer of the high competence of Dr. Porter embarrasses and irritates the reader of his lecture by simple inattention to the rules of composition.
The reader is not left long in doubt as to Dr. Porter's point of view. He says, in effect, at the outset, that the question of evolution might be left for scientists and philosophers to settle between them were it not for the fact that, as frequently presented, it involves consequences to Christian theism and natural ethics: this fact renders the intervention of the theologian necessary. Here we see the issue 'plainly formulated between dogma on the one hand and the free conclusions of the human intellect on the other. The theologian must intervene—why? What does he know of the matter in hand that "scientists and philosophers" may not equally know? Why should the interests of truth be dearer to him than to them? It will scarcely be pretended that the special knowledge of doctrinal systems in their succession and relation, or of the textual criticism of the Scriptures, which a professed theological student might be supposed to possess, would be of any great service in a discussion of the Darwinian theory or of the larger aspects of biological evolution. Yet, unless the theologian intervenes by virtue either of such special knowledge or of some special authority of a sacerdotal kind with which he claims to be invested, we fail to see how he can be said to intervene as a theologian at all. If he simply joins in the discussion on general grounds, contributing his quota of information or of logical discrimination, as any one else might do, why, then, he merely sits down with the "scientists and philosophers"; and happy is he if he can hold his own in such good company. Now, the truth is, that the learned doctor's intervention has been precisely of this kind. We fail to discover that he has uttered a single word in his character as a theologian, or done the least thing to show that evolution can not be safely and thoroughly discussed on grounds of science and philosophy. The only significant thing about his intervention is the animus. He thought he could deal with the matter as a theologian and he wished to do so. His feeling at the outset doubtless was, and perhaps still is, that science and philosophy ought to be amenable to some higher control; but he has totally failed to show that such is the case. He finds that only by talking the language of science can he come into contact with science; and so with philosophy; and that there is no higher bar than their own before which these can be summoned. The result is instructive for all who lean to the opinion that Theology is still queen of the sciences, and that her writ runs through the whole domain of human knowledge. The return made to that writ in the most flourishing portions of the intellectual world to-day is: "No jurisdiction! Come down to facts!"
The ex-President of Yale is not opposed, he tells us, to evolution in every aspect: "Evolution or development, in their [sic] noblest and fullest signification, may spiritualize nature, ennoble man, and honor God. The evolution which we criticise is a composite of scientific theories—some true, others doubtful, and others false—which are held together and wrought into a fanciful philosophy by the very slenderest threads of analogy, and elevated into a negative theology by a daring flight of professedly modest or agnostic reserve." Recognizing that this "fanciful philosophy" is made up of several distinct elements, the critic announces that he will take up these in the order of their production and show their genetic connection. To our great surprise, after reading this declaration, we find that the following is the order in which the "elements" in question are placed:
1. Darwinism, as applied to contemporary species.
2. The same extended into the region of paleontology.
3. The arguments drawn from biological study.
4. The doctrine of the conservation of force.
5. The doctrine of the development of the organic from the inorganic.
6. The extension of No. 5 so as to include the phenomena of sensibility among the developed products.
7. Its further extension so as to include the sense of personality.
8. The arguments drawn from the development of language and of human society.
9. The wider theory of cosmical development as suggested by the nebular hypothesis.
10. A materialistic interpretation of the universe.
How it could occur to Dr. Porter that this arrangement represents in any degree "the order of time and thought after which they" (i. e., the several elements of the prevailing evolution philosophy) "have successively come into form or being," we can not imagine. There is really not the least vestige of an historical order discernible. Instead of Darwinism being put first, it ought rather to have been put last. It was the apparent immutability of species that for a long time stood in the way of the adoption of a general theory of development, which the labors of many men in different fields had been preparing. The ship was on the stays, prepared to glide into the ocean, when Darwin came and knocked away one or two of the blocks that had been most obstinately hindering her descent. The wonderful success of the Darwinian theory was chiefly due to this very circumstance, that so much had been already done to facilitate its acceptance. The doctrine of the correlation of force, to which Dr. Porter assigns the fourth place, was, if we date it only from the publication of Grove's treatise, seventeen years old when the "Origin of Species" appeared. The nebular hypothesis had been waiting for over a hundred years, or since the publication of Kant's "General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens." The progress of society and perfectibility of human nature were the commonplaces of the last century, which was also thoroughly familiar with the discussion as to spontaneous generation, or the development of the organic from the inorganic. Why the arguments from biology should be separated from Darwinism proper it is difficult to see, considering that Darwin, from the first, based his theory of the origin of species on biological grounds, quite as distinctly as on the operation of the struggle for existence. It is Darwin, above all men, who has popularized the arguments from rudimentary organs and from the changing phases of embryonic life. Could Dr. Porter have made good his promise to describe to us the evolution of evolution, if we may so express it, he would have done a very useful work; but the fact is, he has not even attempted it, but has simply given us what, if we may be allowed for once to adopt a common misquotation of Horace, may very truly be called the disjecta membra of a philosophy.
Leaving this point, however, let us inquire what the author of the "Lecture on Evolution" has to say on the several heads into which he has divided the subject. In regard to "Darwinism," he finds the evidence for the transformation of species insufficient. He admits the tendency to variation and the struggle for existence; but does not see that these, alone or principally, determine the origin of species. One may go a long way with Darwin, he says, and yet fail to draw the conclusion that three or four original types have been the ancestors of all other organic forms past and present. This language is dubious. It might suggest that, had Darwin been a little more liberal with his archetypes, the learned doctor would have agreed with him fully. What is it "to go a long way with Darwin"? The mere recognition of the tendency to variation and the struggle for existence is not to go with Darwin at all: it is merely to accept his starting-point, and to recognize facts that were fully recognized long before his time. It is a pity that so doughty a champion of orthodoxy as Dr. Porter does not tell us more distinctly what his own position is. Apparently be rejects the theory of transformation by change of environment. Does he, then, believe in the theory of special creation? Was there no "becoming" for the forms we see? Were they suddenly flashed into existence by the Divine fiat, or did they struggle out of the ground like Milton's horse? There is little gained, from the strictly orthodox point of view, in holding aloof from Darwin's conclusion, on the simple ground of the insufficiency of the evidence, if you hold yourself prepared to accept it as soon as a little more evidence is tendered. If the theologian descends into the arena, it should be, not to declare that the Darwinian hypothesis is as yet unproved—a simple man of science, if he thought the facts warranted it, might do that—but to declare it, on a priori grounds, unprovable because false. When Theology can take this tone and make it good, she will be listened to; but, when theologians merely potter in science, there is really no special significance in their acceptance of this or their rejection of that scrap of scientific doctrine; what their opinion, one way or another, is worth, simply depends on the degree of their competency in relation to the matter under discussion. This is a point that should not be lost sight of; for a certain illusion is apt to be created when a professed theologian enters the scientific arena. He is popularly supposed to carry with him certain higher canons of criticism, to represent some authority that can traverse the decisions of science and hold them in check. It is important, therefore, to watch him and see what he does; and if we observe that he is merely making what use he can of his knowledge of the scientific elements of the case, and carefully keeping his theological commission in his pocket, we should attach no more importance to his intervention than if some scientific student or literary man of about equal knowledge of the subject had come forward to have his say.
In favor of Darwinism there is this to be said, that it deals with veræ causæ. It points to certain natural laws or conditions that visibly tend toward the variation of species, and it furnishes, in certain cases, almost conclusive evidence of the descent of different types from a common ancestral form. What, it may be asked, has theology done to render the world of organic forms intelligible to us? All the talk we now hear about a plan of creation and divine ideals is simply an attempt to give a theological complexion to facts that science has discovered, and that are found to be incongruous with the rude conception of creation hitherto current. In company with Darwin and Spencer we feel that we are at least on the road to sound and exact knowledge of the processes of development, to an understanding of how what is came to be as it is. In company with the theologian we quickly realize the hollow and formal character of the explanations he tenders. Except when he openly borrows the language and theories of science, he has absolutely nothing to tell us that our intellectual faculties can appropriate. If theology had a theory of the universe capable of entering into serious competition with the theory of evolution, then no doubt the weakening of the latter might mean the (relative) strengthening of the former. But such is not the case: the theologian, as a theologian, can only say, "God made the world"; science alone can undertake to show how the work was accomplished, i. e., through what successive stages and genetic connections. If, then, the evidence for Darwinism, or for evolution generally, is not complete, all we can do is to wait until it is complete, or until some physical theory of things is established on solid grounds of evidence.
Not only is Dr. Porter himself persuaded that there is no conclusive evidence for the Darwinian theory; but he asserts that "the practical common sense of mankind and the sagacious tact of most naturalists has [sic] usually decided. . . that under the present conditions or laws of being, within the historic period, the limits of well defined species have not been and are not likely to be changed." Evidently "the common sense of mankind and the sagacious tact of most naturalists" are very much on their guard. They don't want to decide anything rashly, so in delivering their opinion they stipulate for "present conditions" and "well-defined species" and "the historic period." Where they momentarily forget themselves is where they seem to stretch the historic period into the future, asserting that within the limits of that period "well-defined species are not likely to be changed." This is undoubtedly a slip on the part of the "common sense" and the "sagacious tact"; for a period can not be "historic" until it has had a history.
It is needless to say that Dr. Porter's opinion as to the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence for Darwinism is not conclusive. As he has appealed to the "sagacious tact of most naturalists," let us see what a naturalist and biologist of the highest order, the Rev. W. H. Dallinger, F. R. S., has to say on the question at issue in the very last number of the "Contemporary Review." These are the learned gentleman's words:
"The philosophical interpretation of modern biological knowledge which originated in Darwin, and has been universally received by trained and competent students, stands so securely that there is little need of additional facts to make it, so far as it is intended to reach, an immutable element, in all future time, in the interpretation of vital phenomena. Much may be added, but the philosophy of the 'Origin of Species' must remain. It is, however, a matter of the deepest interest and of much moment that the active investigations carried on by biologists all over the globe, not only give an unbroken stream of evidence coincident with the great law of variation and the survival of the fittest, but that, ever and again, facts of the largest import present themselves, that pour a flood of light, as unexpected as it is confirmatory, on this great biological law. It was a discovery of much philosophical value and biological interest, that the duck-bill and echidna were oviparous though mammals; this was a final confirmation of what was before partially learned from their osteology and the little that was known of their embryological features, viz., that there must have been a root-stock out of which, in an unmeasured past, arose both the reptilia and the earliest mammals. But a new fact of even larger interest and carrying us inconceivably further back, taking us indeed, with something like clear light, to the origin of the vertebrates themselves, is presented to us by Mr. W. Baldwin Spencer, of the University Museum, Oxford. Mr. Spencer only presents the facts, but their bearing on the philosophy of evolution is apparently inevitable; and certainly they are inexplicable save by this hypothesis."
Then follows an account, for which we have not space, of the discovery, imbedded in the skull of a vertebrate animal, of an invertebrate eye—an atrophied organ, devoid of all function, but pointing to the conclusion, in Dr. Dallinger's words, "that the tunicates and the vertebrates arose in one stock of enormous antiquity." The above extract, however, is chiefly significant for the emphasis with which it asserts the dominion that the Darwinian philosophy has acquired over the minds of competent students of science, and the extent to which it is inspiring and directing their labors. In the face of such powerful testimony, how petty seems the quibble about "the sagacious tact of most naturalists" having decided that "within the historic period" the limits of "well-defined species" have not been changed! Whatever most naturalists may think on this altogether secondary point, it is abundantly evident that they accept the Darwinian theory as a whole, and make it a guiding light in biological research. Any one who wishes to see in what esteem Darwinism is held among men who occupy themselves with the study of organic nature need only turn to the proceedings of learned societies, and he will there see that Darwinism, or, as Dr. Dallinger happily expresses it, "the philosophy of the 'Origin of Species,'" is almost universally accepted as the starting-point of biological speculation. Its general principles will be found to be either tacitly assumed or expressly acknowledged, in nearly every contribution made to those sciences on which it has any bearing. How wide is the range of its application may partly be judged from the following summary, taken from "Nature" of October 23, 1884, of an essay read by Dr. Kirchhoff, of Halle, at the Magdeburg meeting of the Association of German Naturalists and Physicians, on the subject of "Darwinism and Racial Evolution":
"It was argued that the physical development of peoples was intimately dependent on the natural conditions of their respective surroundings. The inhabitants of northern lands are noted for a preponderance of the pulmonary functions; those of hot, moist, tropical regions for a more marked activity of the liver. Thus, the strongest lungs prevail among the Mexicans, Peruvians, and Thibetans, who occupy the three highest plateaus on the surface of the globe. . . . The daily pursuits of a people are constantly evoking special organic peculiarities. This is shown most clearly in the keen sense of smell, sight, and hearing, observed in all hunting and pastoral tribes of the highlands and steppe-lands, as well as in the sense of locality and the surprising physical endurance under hunger, thirst, and other privations. . . . The principle of selection prevails in the moral as well as in the physical order. As mankind pressed northward, irrepressible spirits alone could sustain life under the depressing influences of bleak Arctic surroundings. Hence the remarkably cheerful temperament of the Esquimaux, who are also bred to peaceful habits; for peacefully disposed families alone could dwell under a common roof, as the Esquimaux are fain to do in the total absence of fuel. Through overpopulation the Chinese have become the most frugal and industrious of peoples, in recent times emigrating to foreign lands and crowding out all more indolent or pretentious races."
These are but a few examples of the changes which environment can work, in periods of time by no means unlimited. Yet Dr. Porter forbids us to believe that a changing environment, operating through periods of indefinite length, has wrought specific differences. What we know is that in past ages thousands of species have died out and given place to others; and the only question to be settled is whether the connection between successive forms was a genetic one or not. We can conceive the Creator as wiping the slate, so to speak, of his organic creation, and then covering it again with new forms more or less like the former, but having absolutely no connection with them, and as repeating this operation unnumbered times. The trouble with that conception is that it is a little too barren. It might serve for a postulate in theology, but there is no nourishment in it for the human mind. It dispenses with all cause save a formal and hypothetical one; it takes all meaning out of the universe. The world therefore prefers to believe with Darwin that the stream of life has been continuous, and that all existing forms of life have truly issued from those that preceded them; and the world is thankful to Darwin for having done something—nay—much to show how the transitions from form to form may have been accomplished. He may not have solved the problem entirely—it is not pretended that he has; but thoughtful people in general feel more disposed to make the most of the indications he has furnished than to carp at the evidence as not being logically complete.
According to the learned critic, it is owing to a sense of the insufficiency of the evidence afforded by the paleontological record that the evolutionist resorts to the arguments from biology. Here comes in a remarkable bit of writing: "Perhaps it would be more fair to say, if he [the evolutionist] knew how to put his case in the strongest form, that he would urge that experimental proof is not to be looked for, but only indications of a peculiar character." This may be considered a perspicuous style of composition at Yale; but we confess to finding it uncommonly cloudy. We remember, of course, that our author is not bound to furnish us with brains as well as with arguments; but, using such brains as we have, we venture to suggest that the substantial meaning-of the sentence might better have been expressed in the following words: "Perhaps, if he knew how to put his case in the strongest form, he would urge," etc. We might then with less distraction have admired the modesty which offers to assist the Huxleys and Spencers, the Morses and Fiskes, to state their case in the strongest form, and also the curious felicity of the adjective "peculiar" as applied to the "indications" which the evolutionist, duly instructed by the ex-president, would say are to be looked for. A sentence or two further on we come across what may fairly be styled a "peculiar indication," namely, the word "protean," used in the sense of "most primitive," in the phrase "from the protean forms up to the human." Haeckel and other naturalists talk of the protista; and Dr. Porter apparently thinks that "protean" is the proper cognate adjective.
The biologist, we are told, "makes much of the existence of rudimentary organs in the higher species of animals, and which [sic], he contends, give positive evidence of a great number of intermediate members or links in the great chain of progressive development, which have left no remnants or traces behind." Does the biologist really talk in this fashion? We very much doubt it. How can these "intermediate members" have left no remnants or traces behind, if they have left rudimentary organs as memorials of their existence? Then what is the force of the word "intermediate"? Intermediate between what? A rudimentary organ simply points to some anterior form, in which the organ was better developed. The word "intermediate" has here absolutely no application. Our author is able, however, to give us the philosophy of the rudiments. It "can not be denied," he says, "that they prove a unity of plan or of thought, of beauty and order, in the production of the wondrous cosmos of animal life, including a dramatic order in the introduction of its families and groups." When people say that a thing "can not be denied," they generally mean that it must be admitted. If Dr. Porter uses the words in this sense, he simply closes the whole case without further argument. The same method applied to the question of evolution at large would have saved him the trouble of writing his lecture; though possibly a brief oracular announcement might not have wrought instant conviction in the minds of the Nineteenth Century Club. We are going to be very bold, for our own part, and insist on treating the question as still open. We say then that, in our opinion, Dr. Porter's theory of "a unity of plan or of thought, of beauty and order," is not tenable, and that the evolution theory alone meets the case satisfactorily. There is no use in talking of beauty or order, unless we mean such beauty and order as human faculties can recognize. Now, our human faculties do not recognize beauty in the useless and dwindling rudiments of once-developed members. We are profoundly interested in the invertebrate or molluscoid eye of the vertebrate, Hatteria punctata, referred to by Dr. Dallinger, an eye "so buried in its capsule and surrounding tissue, and so covered with the skin of the head, as to make it almost inconceivable that it can be affected by even the most intense light"; but, if we are asked to admire the beauty of the arrangement, if we are summoned to recognize a wonderful example of order in the perpetuation of so functionless a structure, we hold back. The main element in beauty is fitness, the main element in order is purpose; and we see neither fitness nor purpose here. The only conceivable purpose would be to guide the biologist to the very conclusion he has arrived at, namely, that a remote ancestor of Hatteria was a mollusk; but, although as worthy, perhaps, of a few providential arrangements in his favor as anybody else, the biologist is not prone to think that such helps as he finds on the way were designed for his special benefit. He does not very well see how a past order of things could help leaving traces of itself; and he rests in the facts as they are.
Rudimentary organs, Dr. Porter assures us, bring more difficulties than aids to the doctrine of evolution. This is an extraordinary statement, seeing that competent biologists, almost without exception, have taken a directly opposite view. Does the learned doctor mean to say that biologists in general are radically incompetent to interpret the facts with which they have to deal—that facts which they ought to regard as subversive of a theory, or at least as throwing serious difficulties in its way, they accept with one accord as confirmatory of it? There is manifestly only one remedy for this state of things, and that is that the biologists of Europe and America should go to school to the ex-President of Yale, and learn from him how to read the book of Nature. Possibly, in that case, one of his bright scholars might ask him how it was, if the facts in connection with rudimentary organs brought more difficulties than aids to the doctrine of evolution, that he had himself declared, in the very same sentence in which that statement was made, that, were the doctrine of evolution satisfactorily established on other grounds, the existence of rudimentary organs would be consistent therewith. Then, perhaps, the class might be broken up. The scholars would, perhaps, not wait to hear the master discourse on embryology, and show how the successive stages of embryonic life may be interpreted as a kind of "logical growth" or the development of a plan. The difficulty with this interpretation, again, is that it is merely formal and means nothing. If a Divine plan is to be invoked on every occasion as the explanation of whatever is obscure, all rational inquiry is at an end. God is not bound to give reasons. His ways are past finding out. Nature's ways, on the other hand, do lend themselves to progressive interpretation. There are ultimate questions that always elude us, but we can learn through experience and observation to connect cause and effect, antecedent and consequent. It is upon this line that the scientific investigators of the day are working; and not a day passes without bearing witness to the fruitfulness of their methods. This is the reason why, among scientific workers, an hypothesis that lends itself to verification, that deals with the actual and real, is always preferred to one that supplies a formula and nothing more.
We pass over, as containing little or nothing that is relevant to the subject of evolution, Dr. Porter's discussion of the doctrine of the conservation of energy. The next section of the lecture deals with the theory that the phenomena of life may be highly specialized and complicated forms of mechanical (molecular) action. "To put forward such a theory," says Dr. Porter, "is to hypostatize an agency or an agent of the vaguest and most nebulous character, and to claim for it all the attributes of things or agents that are known to exist under the severest tests of observation and experiment." We wish Dr. Porter would explain how it is possible to hypostatize an agent of the most nebulous character and yet assign to it a most definite character. The theory under consideration simply proceeds upon the principle that to simplify or explain you must generalize—that is to say, you must find the means of expressing the special in terms of the general. The phenomena of life are highly special phenomena, and we are naturally led to wish to see them in wider relations. To rest in the special is to rest in nescience; and the awakened human mind does not consent to that. The widest relations of all are those which we call mechanical; the natural tendency of thought, therefore, is toward the belief that it is through the compounding and recompounding of these, in ways and regions at present far beyond our ken, that matter acquires its higher and more specialized functions. We see in the human body what a mere aggregation of cells may become; we see in human society what a mere aggregation of individuals may become; and it is impossible that Science should not seek her equilibrium in some theory of the essential unity of all forms of matter and all modes of force. We must, however, quote a powerful sentence which in the lecture before us immediately follows (page 15) the words last quoted: "To apply induction to a process which ought to begin with analogy and end with fact, but which begins with a surmise and ends with a dogma, is to reverse the order and to deny the criteria which have given Science her authority to prove and Philosophy her power to prophesy." This has a most magisterial and academic sound; but oh! will somebody please to say what it means? The oracles of old were often of doubtful import; the trouble with them was that they admitted of too many interpretations. But the trouble with the oracle before us is that, to our finite comprehension, it does not admit of any interpretation. How can induction be applied to a process? Induction is itself a process. Again, how can the application of induction to a process (admitting the thing possible) constitute the reversal of an order? Should the process be applied to the induction instead? What, we fancy, Dr. Porter meant to say was, that a certain process, which he tries to describe, reverses the order and denies the criteria, etc., not that the application of induction to the process has that result. But who should be able to say what he means in clear and unmistakable language if not an ex-President of Yale? The fact is, however, to return to the main question, that the criteria of science are not denied, nor is "Philosophy" robbed of any power she ever had to prophesy, by the hypothesis under consideration, which is constructed, as we have tried to show, strictly in accordance with established analogies. There are just two courses open to us: one is to assume, with each advance in the complexity of phenomena, the introduction of some new force wholly unlike and unconnected with those manifested in simpler phenomena; the other is to assume that all force is one, and that it is merely the progressive compounding of the simplest relations that yields the successively higher functions and products. Men of science in general incline to the second alternative rather than to the first. "In spite of our cautions," says Dr. Porter, "evolution will take another step upward, even though it plant its ladder in the clouds and lean it against the sky." How are we to explain such daring perversity on the part of "evolution"? Could it be that Dr. Porter's cautions are not understood? There are phrases and sentences in the pages before us which really suggest an excuse for evolution on this score. What, for example, does this mean: "The unfeigned gratitude in the presence of others, or their displeasure, is soon fixed in the brain reactions"? If we thought the context would throw any light on this remarkable utterance we would quote a certain amount of it; but we have carefully scrutinized it ourselves without getting any help. Dr. Porter is here assailing the evolutionary view of ethics, but that he adequately understands it is not very evident, in spite of the profuse use he makes of technical phrases. We find no reference in his argument to the development of social morality through domestic—to the origination of morality, according to Herbert Spencer, who is perhaps as authoritative an exponent of evolution as could be named, through the care for progeny. If Dr. Porter had really wished to do justice to this part of his subject, he should certainly have taken full account of the line of argument followed out in the "Data of Ethics." He probably would not then have written the following awkward and pointless sentence: "The altruistic experiences which somehow find themselves within the arena of man's private experience naturally secure to themselves the response of man's interested gratitude; selfishness awakens a natural antipathy." Surely the word "experiences" here should be replaced by "sentiments." Imagine "experiences" securing a "response of interested gratitude"! Then, what is meant by qualifying gratitude as "interested"? We imagine that it is of the nature of gratitude to be interested. The main point is, however, that the evolution philosophy does explain, if not to Dr. Porter's satisfaction, to the satisfaction of many, the origin and growth of altruistic sentiments, and that it is not correct, therefore, to speak as if that philosophy wholly failed to grapple with the question.
It is remarkable how free the ex-President of Yale seems to feel himself to treat de haut en bas the leaders of modern evolutionary thought. He twitted them, it will be remembered, with not knowing how to state their own case to the best advantage. He now talks of "the dreary and meaningless theories" of Spencer and Lewes, and smiles at the "naïveté" of Spencer in acknowledging that he had found the germ of his system in the philosophy of Wolff. Then of Spencer's application of Wolff's idea he says, "There never was a profound spiritual truth more ignominiously misinterpreted and more basely perverted to earthly uses." We should like much to see the evidence that Spencer had misinterpreted Wolff. According to Dr. Porter, to misinterpret a writer is apparently to accept some thought contained in his writings, but to develop and apply it differently from what he had done; and to confess the obligation is "naïveté"! Really, the ex-president is teaching us some strange lessons.
Perhaps he (Spencer) "was incapable," our critic haughtily remarks, "of discerning the difference between a homogeneity in matter, necessarily and blindly tending toward a heterogeneity, and such a law of organism [sic], progress, and growth as requires a spiritual intelligence to originate and maintain it." Perhaps he was, poor man! or perhaps he thought he had better discern and formulate progress where he could do it to the best advantage, and leave the postulating of spiritual intelligences to those who had a greater talent than he for building in the region of the unverifiable. It would have been "far more creditable" to Spencer, Dr. Porter remarks, if he had taken the pantheistic theory for better or for worse, in lieu of his own conclusion in favor of an Unknowable Cause of all things. It will occur to some, we think, that Herbert Spencer's "credit" is quite as safe in his own keeping as it would be in his critic's.
Let us, hasten, however, to the conclusion of the whole matter. Dr. Porter's final position is that "evolution, as a consistent theory, in its logical outcome will be found to give a material substratum and material laws for the human spirit; to involve caprice in morality, tyranny in government, uncertainty in science, with a denial of immortality and a disbelief in the personality of man and of God." Here we distinctly join issue. Evolution, as taught by Herbert Spencer, does nothing to weaken the fundamental distinction between subject and object, between mind and matter. If Spencer teaches that both these aspects of existence may, or rather must, find their union and identification in the Unknowable Cause, he does no more and no less than the Christian, who believes that God is the author both of the visible world and of the human spirit. Evolution gives material laws for human thought, only in so far as it shows the dependence of each higher plane of life on those below it; but, inasmuch as it also shows the reaction of the higher on the lower, it does as much for the establishment of liberty as for the demonstration of necessity. As to involving caprice in morality, that is precisely what it does not do, but what theological systems, referring the criterion of right and wrong to a personal will, always have done and always will do. The proof is simple and conclusive. Wherever morality has disengaged itself from theology, there it has shown a tendency to develop along the same lines. Wherever it has been complicated with theology, there it has always been more or less incalculable and capricious; we may add, more or less perverted and debased. As to tyranny in government the thing is almost too preposterous to discus—s every child knows that the days when evolution would have been treated as a damnable heresy, to be extirpated by fire and sword, and when a spiritual philosophy was supreme, were precisely the days of the most odious political tyranny; and that to-day, step by step with the advance of the philosophy Dr. Porter so much detests, political administration is becoming milder and more equitable. "Uncertainty in science"—what are the proofs of it? Was there ever a time when science was surer in its methods, or more fruitful in its results, than it is to-day? What did the spiritualistic philosophies of the past ever do for science except to embarrass it with arbitrary hypotheses, and to stand in the way of the recognition of the natural causes of phenomena? Did it help the understanding of disease to explain it as a chastisement for sin? Was the old doctrine of demoniac possession—so strongly countenanced, unfortunately, in the New Testament an aid toward the scientific treatment of insanity? Did the general belief in ghosts and devils help to rationalize men's thoughts? We think that answers should be given these questions before we are asked to accept the statement that the doctrine of evolution will lead to "uncertainty in science." The fact is, that the hold which evolution has to-day upon the scientific world is due principally, as Dr. Dallinger observes, to its proved utility in a great many different fields of scientific investigation. The man of science, we may be sure, will not be slow to discard it, when he finds it beginning to lead him astray and vitiate his scientific labors.
Finally, as to the relation of the evolution philosophy to the belief in immortality and in a personal God. When Darwin was asked by some one whether his theories were consistent with faith in Christ, he answered that they had no bearing upon faith in Christ, except in so far as they might render those who adopted them exceedingly careful as to the evidence for any belief or opinion presented for their acceptance. The answer was a good one; and a somewhat similar answer may serve us here. The doctrine of evolution is simply a mode of conceiving: and accounting for the succession of events on the earth. It is in no sense a metaphysical or ontological doctrine, and lays no claim to the absoluteness with which metaphysical and ontological doctrines are invested. It does not pretend to penetrate to essences or to unveil final causes. If it is regarded by some as solving all mysteries, that is simply because they do not adequately understand it. Mr. Spencer certainly has never given countenance to such an idea. It does, however, as Darwin said of his philosophy, call constant attention to the need for proving all things. It strikes at the idea of authority, always excepting the constitutional authority, as we may term it, of demonstrated truth. What is troubling the theologians to-day is that it is making good the claim advanced by Christian Wolff for philosophy, namely, that it should embrace the whole domain of knowledge. There may be a great deal of wild talk about evolution on the part of people whose ideas on the subject are crude and superficial, just as there is a great deal of wild talk about art and about politics among people who know next to nothing of these subjects. Nevertheless, one good effect is everywhere apparent—the growing demand for proof in lieu of dogma. Now, the doctrine of immortality is just in this position, that, heretofore, it has been accepted upon authority—upon the same authority as that upon which the most preposterous fables have been given out as solid truth. That authority is discredited, and among the intelligent classes is becoming more so from day to day. The doctrine of immortality, therefore, has to seek out new proofs; and up to the present it is still engaged in the quest. That an emotional longing for immortality is common among men is no doubt true; and, if that is a ground for believing in it, then the case may be considered proved. Those upon whom the methods of modern science have taken hold will probably ask for more conclusive demonstration.
The idea of God, again, is compromised to some extent in the same manner as the doctrine of immortality, namely, by the discrediting of the authority upon which it has been taught. It has now to maintain itself in the open field of philosophy. To say that it is found in the Bible, and is to be believed because it is there, is no longer sufficient. In the present state of thought, the belief in God must be borne in upon the human mind, as the result and consummation of all its activities, or it will certainly lose ground. If Dr. Porter can teach, with power and demonstration, a philosophy that will place the belief in God upon unassailable ground, not only will he encounter no opposition from evolutionists, but he will, we undertake to say, receive their hearty thanks for removing out of the way a question which, though not properly belonging to their field of thought and labor, has too often been made use of, maliciously or ignorantly, for their annoyance. It is needless, we hope, to say that the demonstration would in no way affect the practical work of scientific investigation. The constancy of natural law is the one essential condition of scientific progress; and, that datum remaining, men would still seek to know what is in the present and what has been in the past; and would still regard the world as Wolff regarded it, as "a series of changing objects which exist conjointly and successively, but which are so connected together that one ever contains the ground of the other." Dr. Porter does not himself seem to be of a very different opinion, for (page 31) he sees no objection to "connecting the scientist with the original star-dust," so long as we consent to do so through "the progressive complications of a slowly developed thought of the living and loving God." If Dr. Porter really understands how the progressive complications of a thought could facilitate the conversion of star-dust into a scientist, he stands on a proud intellectual eminence; and it is no wonder if he feels that he could school the whole evolutionist tribe, from Darwin and Spencer down. It is, however, going a long way with the evolutionist to believe that, by the aid of a few thought complications, the star-dust could be brought to take so improved a form; and the evolutionist will not quarrel with him for his proviso. The evolutionist does object, however, when he is told that certain "artificial lines of progressive evolution may become luminous with thought when projected against the bright background of the living God." He says: "No; things do not become luminous when placed against a bright background; they become dark."
Had we space we might notice some, no doubt unintentional, misrepresentations of Mr. Spencer's philosophical position, particularly in regard to his alleged demand for "faith." We must leave this undone, however, in order to make a few concluding remarks. Dr. Porter, we are sure, can not but feel that the present time is a critical one. The numerous attacks that have lately been made upon the theory of evolution, and generally upon the rationalism of the age, show that the defenders of ancient opinions feel that something must be done, or all the world will go after the new lights. Well, we too are profoundly convinced that something must be done. We have, on the one hand, ministers of religion and doctors of divinity denouncing modern science as godless; we have, on the other hand, men of science showing by their practice, if not by words, how little weight they attach to clerical objurgations. The priests proclaim that the dominant scientific philosophy destroys the sense of moral obligation; nay, more, destroys the ground of moral obligation. The scientists reply, in effect, that their philosophy is true, and that moral obligation must take care of itself. The situation is dangerous. It is a dangerous thing to tether moral obligation to outworn creeds; and it is an almost equally dangerous thing to formulate new principles of scientific inquiry, without clearly and frequently exhibiting the provision they make for the regulation of conduct. On the part of the theological world, there has been too much of frowning opposition to inevitable change; on the part of the scientific world too much gayety of heart in setting out for new destinations. The theologians have, for the most part, repulsed as a foe what they should have hailed as a friend; and the scientists have not shown quite enough consideration for the weaker brethren to whose convictions their new speculations were giving a shock.
We think, therefore, that there has been error on both sides, and that it is now high time the whole matter should be considered, as it were, in joint committee. The word has gone forth: morality must stand on a basis of natural law, or it can not stand at all. God can not make morality. He has to be moral Himself first before He can even sanction it; and, if we know God as moral, we know morality apart from the idea of God. The problem of the day, therefore, is the formulation and enforcement of a natural morality—a morality resulting from the nature of man and the conditions of his existence. We have to look the Universe in the face and question of it what it would have us do; that is to say, on what terms the harmony and happiness of human life are to be won. Heretofore men have trusted to names—to Moses and Manu, to Jesus and Buddha, and have received, at the hands of these, laws that were in reality the embodiment of human experience; but the time is coming, yea, now is, when law must take on an impersonal character and be obeyed as law. There is no uncertainty as to the fundamental principles of morals; but we have weakly allowed ourselves to think that the authority of all moral teaching is bound up with certain traditional doctrines. That is the cardinal error which earnest men should strive with all their power to banish. If there are signs among us of a relaxation of moral discipline, they can be accounted for, we think, by the fact that moral instruction has been becoming, for some time past, less and less a domestic matter, and more and more the function of a professional class. It was not through any professional class that Moses proposed to provide for the moral education of Israel. "These words that I command thee this day shall be upon thine heart: and thou [not the minister or the Sunday-school teacher] shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up." How little this is done in Christian families to-day may be gathered from President Seelye's recent article in "The Forum," where he urges the utter insufficiency of the domestic teaching of morality and religion as a reason why the State should take the matter in hand. If, therefore, ex-President Porter and President Seelye, and all the other great educators of our time, want to render a signal service to the State, let them unite in earnest and continued efforts to revive the domestic teaching of morality. Let them strive to persuade Christian parents that it is more important for their sons to be honest than to be rich; more important for their daughters to be pure-minded, rational, and womanly than to be fashionable; and there will soon be a wonderful change in the moral tone of society. But so long as men like these stand apart, thundering against the methods of modern science, and representing moral authority as inseparable from supernatural creeds that are daily becoming more difficult of acceptance, so long will a very hurtful degree of uncertainty as to all moral law prevail in the community. The only escape from a situation that really threatens moral anarchy lies in the recognition of the fact that the Universe, as related to man, has lessons to teach; and that these, revealed as truths of reason to the mind and conscience, are not less authoritative than if thundered on affrighted ears from the cloud-wrapped summit of Sinai.
- Evolution. A Lecture read before the Nineteenth Century Club, May 25, 1886. By Noah Porter, D.D., LL.D., ex-President of Yale College. Herbert L. Bridgman, 55 Park Place, New York. 1886. Pp. 33.
- Here is the sentence a—remarkable one: "That they [rudimentary organs] would be consistent with the doctrine of evolution by favoring and continued environment, provided this were established on other decisive grounds, is also true; but they bring more difficulties than aid to this theory, inasmuch as the critic asks at once, If the movement of evolution were so wide-spread and long-continued, why are not these broken links more numerous?"—(Lecture, p. 10.) We fail to see the propriety in calling rudimentary organs "broken links."
- Schwegler, translated by Seelye.
- The evolutionist is also driven to wonder what can be the state of English composition at Yale when the ex-president, in what was meant to be the most impressive part of his lecture, writes as follows: "Why, then, may he [man] not be worthy of the constant care and fatherly love of Him who has had him in His thoughts from the beginning till now, and toward whom His plans and movements have ever been tending?"—(Lecture, p. 32.)