Charles Darwin was not the inventor of the idea of Evolution, but it was he, more than anyone else, who first popularized it by the publication of his book The Origin of Species in 1859. The transformation produced in the thought of the Western world by the evolutionary theory and its advocates was both rapid and radical. Up till then the doctrine of special creation had managed to hold out against all challenges; but now the now outlook began to oust it from its position of almost unquestioned acceptance. According to the new, the evolutionary, gospel, it was now no longer possible to regard man as a fallen creature, which was the way in which Christian theology had always regarded him. On the contrary, it now became necessary to admire man as the summit of evolutionary progress—as homo sapiens who, uncreated, had risen and was destined by irresistible evolutionary grace to go on rising. His was the crowning achievement of the glorious, age-long upsurge from the humblest beginnings; he, of all that was fit the fittest, had survived by that divine right of his own supreme fitness. Though not yet perfect, for there were still vestigial remnants of his less reputable ancestry clinging to him and stultifying his nature, yet none the less he was comforted with the great evangelical assurance that mall was perfectible to an indefinite degree. Nor was this faculty of perfectibility a mere potential, that might or might not come into operation; it was an energy, hidden but constantly active, like the leaven concealed in the lump of dough and silently leavening the whole lump. Progress, he was told, was inevitable; regress, unthinkable.
There is little occasion for surprise that a deterioration of Christian belief accompanied the conversion of the masses to the evolutionary creed, for a complete reversal of the biblical view of man as a sinful creature, standing under the divine displeasure and desperately in need of redemption, was involved. Indeed, the very concept of redemption was, ex hypothesi, an absurdity and an insult to human dignity, and God, if he was permitted still to exist, was merely tolerated as a benevolent onlooker at the circumference and not at the center of things. After ail, why should not man be self-sufficient and autocentric when he hears the good news that he is destined, without outside aid, to master the universe? No longer was it a sin to blaspheme against God; but to blaspheme Man could not be forgiven. Algemon Charles Swinburne, one of the hymn-writers of the new humanism, gave eloquent expression to the creed of the movement in his Hymn of Man:
But God, if a God there be, is the substance of men which is man Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten; thy death is upon thee, O Lord.
And the love-song of earth as thou diest resounds through the wind of her wings—
Glory to Man in the highest! for Man is the master of things.
As might have been expected, another concomitant of the evolutionary crusade was the confident emergence of the destructive criticism of Holy Scripture. A book which teaches that all men are fallen from grace and are in bondage to sin, and that the wages of sin is death, —which teaches that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate who suffered vicariously for helpless mankind on the Cross,—which teaches that God is sovereign over all the affairs of men, and that to be without Christ is to he without hope—such a book demanded to be destroyed, and the scholars of the movement set about the work of demolition with a will It was perhaps just a little incongruous that those who professed to be champions of Man should have disqualified the Bible very largely on the ground that it was a man-made production.
The grand motif of the survival of the fittest was considered to he relevant not only in the realm. of biology, but in every other sphere, that of theology included. Thus, from the evolutionary viewpoint, it was by no means inappropriate that Christian dogma should now at length, in the inevitable course of universal development, give way to the new scientific revelation (commonly deified as “Science”). “Taught by science,” declared Oliver Lodge, “we learn that there has been no fall of man: there has been a rise.” Conan Doyle produced a book significantly named The New Revelation, in which he propounded the following dogma: “Christianity must change or perish. That is the law of life, that things must adapt themselves or perish.” This was an article of evolutionary fundamentalism which needs to be borno in mind, for the evolutionary hypothesis, if true, certainly had every right to demand a radical transformation of the biblical view of man and the world. By making resounding categorial statements and by speaking with determination of their theory as a fact which none must question, the evolutionary zealots swept many off their feet. For instance, Conan Doyle affirmed that it was “certain that man had never fallen,” that “never was there any evidence of a fall.” Having established his point by asserting it, he proceeded to put the following perfectly good question: “But if there were no fall, then what became of the atonement, of the redemption, of original sin, of a large part of Christian mystical philosophy? Even if it were as reasonable in itself, as it is actually unreasonable,” he added, “it would still be quite divorced from the facts.”
These sacrosant so-called “Facts” are, of course, the “facts” of “Science,” of Evolution, the “New Revelation.” The Wells-Huxley-Wells trinity, in their massive bible of biology entitled The Science of Life, pontificate about Evolution as “the incontrovertible fact,” “the fact of facts,” the “central fact,” the “hated fact” whose critics they scornfully dismiss as “dishonest creationists, narrow fanatics, and muddleheaded people.” Such blustering, however, seems to indicate that the fanaticism is not aIl on one side!
It was with these alleged “facts” that the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith were incompatible. But the repercussions of evolutionary dogmatism were by no means confined to the theological sphere; they invaded also the sociological and philosophical fields. Thus another accompaniment to the glorification of man, which is so integral a component of the evolutionary creed, has been the development of the herrenvolk or master-race thesis. Man, it is true, is regarded as Evolution’s highest achievement to date; but there are degrees of manhood. There are the fit and the unfit, and only the fittest could be viewed as suitable for survival and for the propagation of homo sapiens. And so the ugly heads of racialism and nationalism reared themselves from the evolutionary coil. If the superman were to be achieved at last, it would only be through the reproduction of the master-race, or rather of the pure stock within that race. Just as Johanssen succeeded by careful selection in producing a pure line of bigger and better beans, so the same principle was to be applied to human beings. The elimination of every inferior strain became imperative in the name of progress. This doctrine had gained willing prophets among German militarists before the first world war, when it had become fashionable to proclaim that war was a biological necessity for the establishing of the strong and the elimination of the weak. Few are likely now to dispute that subsequent history has proved the falsity of this contention, for modern warfare has shown itself to be an unprecedentedly effective means of liquidating the strong on both sides. We do not need reminding that in course of time the prophetic mantel fell upon Adolf Hitler. who announced his acceptance of the cosmic doctrine that “the whole of nature is a continuous struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak;” nor do we need reminding of the catastrophic consequences of this dogmatism.
Racial arrogance also involves racial hatred. The terrible excesses of antisemitism are a grim reminder of this. Its throttling clutch in our day reached back even to Jesus Christ who, being a Jew by birth, was unfit to survive, and so quite properly was sent to the wall; and the Bible, having been written by Jews, likewise required to be profaned and discredited. together with its distasteful teaching about fallen mankind. Such logic was in itself sufficient to damn Christianity in the eyes of the convert to the herrenvolk creed. In Germany, the greatest crime became that of not being born of the pure stock, or rather of not being able to conceal the awkward skeletons in one’s family vault for it was an uncomfortable fact that in the Western world, where man was considered to he more highly evolved than elsewhere, this concept of a pure racial stock was historically and scientifically a mere figment of wishful thinking. Heinrich Himmler, that notable prophet of racial purity and uncompromising exterminator of the genetically inferior, experienced much existential anxiety lest his deceased Jewish grandmother should be resurrected to his undoing. It was only to be expected that the brief creed of the original Apostles should be replaced by these latter day saints with one whose articles required belief in the blessings of eugenics, biological and social selection, and heaven on earth at last for the strong, but sterilization and the gas chamber for the weak.
The class-hatred and class· warfare of Marxism with its creed of dialectical materialism were justified by the application of the same principles in the economic sphere. Karl Marx’s perusal of The Origin of Species impressed him deeply: “Darwin’s book,” he wrote, “is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the struggle in history.” For Marx, as for Darwin, struggle was the means of progress and development. The workers of the world were to unite for the overthrow of their tyrannical masters, knowing that in the fierceness of the conflict they had nothing to Jose but their chains. In the professedly classless state of Russia, however, from which also the Christian God has been officially expelled, the greatest tyranny of present times has come into being. The “fit” few have survived only by liquidating their rivals, ensconcing themselves in the monastic and imperial fastness of the Kremlin, and cowing the masses under the dread threat of the Siberian concentration camps where millions of the world’s workers unable to struggle, suffer cold and starvation and unthinkable brutality every year.
Surely it is an object lesson of modern history that materialistic humanism, by its denial of the dignity and worth of the individual, leads to the foulest depths of inhumanity. Human life and human death become of little or no account; for, after all, each individual life is but an infinitesimal fragment which is doomed to be discarded and forgotten as the great unregarding process moves inexorably onward. It is Man that matters, not men.
Such a view is, of course, optimistic for Man, though not for men. Here, however, philosophy attempted to apply its consolation, for those at any rate who could understand its terms. The British philosopher McTaggart, for example, elaborated a theory of time according to which each stage in the time-sequence was regarded as an infinitesimal improvement on the immediately preceding stage. Time, in short, was also evolving and inevitably leading up to the final stage in the time-series, which is the eternal. “Time,” maintained McTaggart, “runs up to Eternity, and ceases in Eternity.” He rightly described as a “cheerful theory” one like this which postulates that, “whatever the state of the universe now, it would inevitably improve, and the state of each conscious individual in it would inevitably improve, until they reached a final stage of perfect goodness.” This view, he considered, would give, “as much as any belief can give, consolation and encouragement in the evils of the present.”
And yet McTaggart makes the extremely candid, though incapacitating, admission that “no empirical evidence which we could reach would afford even the slightest presumption in favor of such a vast conclusion.” It was, nevertheless, precisely this supposition which sustained him on his last bed: “After a short but painful illness,” his friend, Professor Broad, tells us, “borne with admirable courage and patience, he died on 18th March, 1925, in a nursing home in London at the age of 58, passing, as he firmly believed, to the next stage in the long but finite journey from the illusion of time to the reality of eternal life.” It will, I think, be granted that this was a very insecure basis for optimism, let alone faith. A philosophical fancy, which is admittedly unsupported by any demonstrative evidence, can scarcely be accepted as offering substantial encouragement to believe that mankind is steadily advancing towards the goal of the good state. Once again, it is a case of wishful thinking, adapted to the evolutionary pattern of the inevitability of human progress.
A further refinement, also borrowed from the philosophers, was brought forward by Bernard Shaw in his play Back to Methuselah, in which the Brothers Barnabas propound the doctrine that the wish, if adequately entertained, is not only father to the thought, but actually creative of the thing wished for. According to this Shavian prospectus of the future, wishful thinking of sufficient intensity wilt lead to the indefinite extension of the human lifespan (one of Shaw’s most wishful thoughts), the shedding of the need for sleep (at present so exasperating a devourer of precious hours), and the elimination of the indignity of the digestive and excretory systems, not to mention the clumsiness of sexual reproduction; until ultimately the cumbrance of the body itself will be abandoned, as a butterfly abandons the cocoon for which it has no further use and soars up into uninhibited freedom. All this machinery of flesh and blood, so painstakingly elaborted and evolved across the span of the ages, will, after all, become unnecessary, and the human spirit will burst forth at last to enjoy complete freedom in the realm of pure intellect. Meanwhile, we are told, our body “imprisons us on this petty planet and forbids us to range through the stars.” Man’s destiny, however, is with the immortals, and “the day will come when there will be no people, only thought.—And that,” we are instructed, “will be life eternal.” And so we “press on,” says Shaw, “to the goal of redemption from the flesh, to the vortex freed from matter, to the whirlpool in pure intelligence that, when the world began, was a whirlpool in pure force.”
Here, in this strange compost of Orphic and Bergsonian expectations, we have wishful thinking with a vengeance. But it is no more wishful than that of the thoroughgoing evolutionary scientist who, it may be, regards himself as unconcerned with philosophical considerations. The fact is that evolutionary fundamentalism, fascinated by the mirage of the age-long transition from lifeless matter to matterless life, introduces philosophical concepts which are quite beyond the check or scope of experimental science. And in the evolutionary creed nothing is more unscientific than the article that affirms that originally, in the first instance, life sprang from lifeless matter—that the initial process was, in other words, that of spontaneous generation. If the doctrine of origins is hopelessly unscientific, it can hardly be expected that what follows from it will be anything but unscientific.
There was a time when notions of spontaneous generation were popularly entertained, but Louis Pasteur’s famous experiments of last century effectively exploded such fancies, and today the experimental science of genetics has entirely confirmed his conclusion that all life, of whatever kind, comes from previous life of the same kind. This is a fact which the Wells-Huxley-Wells trio dare not question, hostile though it is to their doctrine of origins. But, unwilling to be outdone, they resort, like conjurors, to the art of misdirection. assuring their readers with disarming blandness that “of course” this “apparent impossibility” of spontaneous generation “applies only to the world as we know it today.” Having said this, the stage is now set for them to perform a feat of logical contortionism which results in their placing themselves in a position directly opposed to that of genuine science. It seems that their prejudice at this point is so invincible that their a priori philosophical fixations cannot be discarded. even when it is the cause of genuine science which is at stake. Taking refuge in a hypothetical antiquity which is quite secure from the prying gaze of either scientist or historian, they produce the following remarkable proposition: “At some time in the remote past, when the earth was hotter and its air and crust differed, physically and chemically, from their present state, it seems reasonable to believe that life must have originated in a simple form from lifeless matter.”
Why this should seem reasonable, they do not say; nor do they tell us why it is their belief that life must have originated from lifeless matter. But it is evident that, for them, what is reasonable, what is credible, and what is necessary, are dictated by the subjective and unscientific presuppositions that govern their outlook. Once again, it is just a case of wishful thinking, which on paper and in the unrestrained imagination creates the thing wished for. It is, however, a projection of desire, which is unrelated to reality.
To perpetrate such an indiscretion in the name of science is certainly no service to science. By this method of argument every genuine discovery of science would become suspect, and any charlatan would be at liberty to propound as scientifically reasonable any nonsense which happens to coincide with this notion of things as he would like them to be. He may, with equal logic, postulate that it seems reasonable to believe that in the remote past the sun must have revolved round the earth and the moon must have been made of cheese. Of course, this method (though to call it method is a euphemism), if seriously admitted, must undermine the whole structure of scientific knowledge, for the laws of science are themselves dependent on the acceptance of the principle of the consistency of nature. To postulate that at one time life has come from lifeless matter and that all life is not always derived from previous life of the same kind, is to abandon this principle; and if this principle is to be abandoned at pleasure, science may as well forthwith turn away from its task as hopeless, for it is suffering betrayal at the hands of its own familiar friends.
(To be continued)