The Dial/Volume 15/Number 171/An Evolutionist's Alarm

An Evolutionist's Alarm.[1]

Professor Calderwood's work on "Evolution and Man's Place in Nature" belongs to a class of books that may not inaptly be designated as "buffers." Their service is to soften the shock between new scientific doctrine and the dogmas of popular religion. This work has been done for the science of geology, and is now rapidly doing for the new biology that dates from Darwin. Those who have never experienced the need of a reconciliation between religion and science, and those who prefer to devise their own systems of "accommodation," will take but a moderate interest in "buffers." Acute metaphysical minds will find, in some form of Berkeleian idealism, a way out from the disconsolate vision of a merely mechanical world, in which Darwinism, on a first hasty interpretation, seemed to issue. Crude literal materialism has been proved unthinkable, they will argue. Matter that contains in itself the power and potency of all forms of life and thought must be conceived as the manifestation of a power most nearly akin to what we know as mind. Belief in such a world-soul would seem mere pantheism. But it did not seem so to Berkeley; and Berkeley was right. With the Infinite and Unknowable, all things are possible. We cannot tell how far the roots of personality penetrate into the real nature of things; and since we have no right to dogmatize on either side, we may properly throw the weight of our moral and religious feelings into the scale of hope. Evolution explains the process, it does not explain away the fact, of creation. And, like other winds of scientific doctrine that terrified our fathers, Darwinism, when the storm of controversy has died down, will be found to have left unshaken the pillars of man's faith in his higher spiritual destiny.

But there are many estimable persons who refuse to be soothed by these subtle considerations. Their alarmed imaginations require visible tangible barriers of defense—something like Professor Max Müller's Rubicon of language "which no brute will dare to cross." And it is for these that Professor Calderwood's book is chiefly designed. He finds that the continuity of evolution is interrupted at three points: (1) at the creation of organic life, (2) at the appearance of mind, (3) at the advent of "rational life." At each of these points he erects a barrier and assumes a direct intervention of the living source of all existence. In defense of the first barrier, he offers no argument beyond the generally acknowledged fact that spontaneous generation cannot now be experimentally verified. In separating by a sharp line of demarcation "rational life" from animal life, he follows Mr. Wallace, whose arguments he amplifies into an elaborate rhetorical exposition of the many distinctive qualities that differentiate the developed nineteenth century man from the animals. The one novel feature of his teaching is the affirmation (p. 340) that "the inferior type of mind recognized as belonging to the higher animals cannot be accounted for by evolution from sensory apparatus any more than rational power can be thus explained." Sensibility is coëxistent with life. But no one, Professor Calderwood argues, would make mind coexistent with life, for that would be to assign mind to the oyster, and pass as by a dissolving view into the Hegelian monism. The difference between sense-discrimination and mind, or intelligence proper, is that the latter not only distinguishes sensations, but recognizes their significance, interprets them as signs of something else. The power of the higher animals to do this,—the ability of a dog, for example, to understand our signs,—cannot be accounted for by the structure of the brain. To explain it we must assume a higher form of intelligence independent of the organism, and yet radically distinct from the active power of inventing signs for his own rational or moral ends, which is the peculiar prerogative of man. It would seem that the poor Indian's untutored mind was not so far astray, after all, in thinking that,

"Admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company."

It is hardly worth while to attempt to clear up the psychological misconceptions involved in this ratiocination. The rigid distinction between mere sense-discrimination in the oyster and the interpretation of sensation in the higher animals is of course untenable, for the simple reason that there is no case of sense-discrimination unaccompanied by a corresponding interpretation. Even the amœba interprets soft as organic and digestible, and hard as inorganic and indigestible, and shapes its action accordingly. And from the amoeba to the dog the correspondence between immediate sensation and consequent action based on "interpretation" develops too gradually to admit of the drawing of any absolute dividing line. We may say, if we please, that the reaction in the amoeba is purely physiological or mechanical, while in the dog it is accompanied by consciousness. But the only basis for such an assertion would be the fact that the dog has a brain and the amoeba has none. And Professor Calderwood's contention is that the higher faculties of the dog are in no way expressed in his physical structure. In fact, the attempt to "draw the line" anywhere except between man and the animals is not a serious issue in contemporary speculation, and the loose reasoning of this book will not make it one.

  1. Evolution and Man's Place in Nature. By Henry Calderwood, LL.D. New York: Macmillan & Co.