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Lecture 3: Theistic Inferences from Man’s Place in the Universe

MAN the climax and crown of evolution—what then? What inferences may we draw from man's place in the universe regarding the Great Being who is beneath and within the creative process, from its commencement to its consummation? That is the theme which is to occupy our attention in the present lecture.

Our appeal, you observe, is to the end of the process. Why, it may be asked, restrict ourselves to the end; why not roam over the whole process in quest of critical points at which the Creator's hand may be directly apparent? Some theistic apologists have in fact done this, as if under an impression that while God may be in the usual, He is far more certainly to be found in the unusual, where the evolutionary process passes into some new phase and makes a remarkable new departure. Before going on to unfold the argument based on man's position, it may help us to appreciate its comparative value if we first give some account of the leading attempts to plant the foot of faith on what seem crises in the history of world-genesis.

Three such crises have received prominent attention from apologists.

1. Some have sought to find room and need for special Divine activity at the very beginning of the evolutionary process. The contention is that the initial condition, just before evolution commences, is such that no commencement is possible without some action ab extra. The starting-point is conceived to be ‘a vast diffusion of ultimate units of matter, each like the other in every respect, each subject to equal pressure and tension.’1 How in such a state of things is differentiation to begin? No other way is conceivable, it is argued, than by the power of God. No great exertion of that power may be necessary. No great force is needed to set a bank of fine dry sand on a steep slope in motion. The touch of a finger at the foot of the slope will suffice to make the motionless mass break into rills. In like manner the sound of a human voice will sometimes cause a snow-slope in the high Alps to rush headlong in a destructive avalanche. Even so a touch of the Divine finger, a word of the Divine voice, may be enough to start the atomic chaos on its evolutionary career. But the point on which those who wield this argument would insist, is that the touch, the word, is needed. A transcendent Divine interposition, however minute, has to take place.

The argument is ingenious, and may be commended to the attention of agnostic philosophers, like Mr. Herbert Spencer, for whose special benefit it is designed. It is obvious, however, that even granting its conclusiveness, on which I confess I do not feel competent to pronounce a confident judgment, reasoning of this sort cannot be of much service as an aid to faith in God, for ordinary minds. It is too abstruse, and it is based on a condition of the universe too remote from that which falls under our observation. It demands the power of thinking in vacuo, in an intellectual atmosphere so rare that only experts can breathe in it. The theistic argument based on ‘Preorganic Evolution,’ whatever its value for its own purpose, can never take its place among the popular proofs for the being of a God endowed with creative power and boundless intelligence.

2. A second crisis demanding Divine interposition has been found in the origin of life. The theistic argument at this point starts from the results of scientific investigation into the question of spontaneous generation. As is well known, the generally accepted result of extensive and careful inquiry is that there is now no such thing as spontaneous generation, i.e. that where, ever life has been seen to appear in connection with experiments, the presence of germs has been detected; and, negatively, that where germs have been successfully excluded, no life has made its appearance. It may therefore be taken for granted that in the present condition of nature no life shows itself where only lifeless matter was before. From this datum many theists have inferred that no life ever did, or could, appear where only dead matter had previously been, and that therefore when life first made its appearance in the world the new phenomenon owed its existence, not to the action of natural law, bringing the elements of protoplasm, separately lifeless, into such a combination as yielded a vital result, but to the immediate causality of the Being who is the Fountain of Life. On the surface the reasoning appears both legitimate and conclusive, and yet, in the name of science, not a few have entered a plea of non sequitur. It does not follow, it is argued, that because life does not appear now, so far as can be ascertained, except where life in some form was before, that therefore the first appearance of life in the world must have been something supernatural. We do not know what natural conditions, such as the then existing temperature of the earth, might form the preparation for the new phenomenon, so that on its appearing it should be simply the next step onwards in the regular course of evolution. It is further contended that, in connection with every phenomenon in the universe however startling and novel, the presumption is that it has its natural causes. From the mere fact, therefore, that at a given stage in the evolving process life appeared, it may be inferred that there were facts in the previous condition of the world to account for it. To make this conclusion more easily acceptable, care is taken to explain what the new phenomenon precisely would be. It would not, of course, be the case of an insect generated in putrefying substances without any assignable cause. It would rather be a case of specks of living protoplasm precipitated from a solution containing the non-living ingredients of protoplasm. Finally it is asked, Why should this seem a thing impossible, except as the miraculous effect of an immediate exertion of Divine power? The difference between living and non-living matter is after all not so very great. It is a difference in degree not in kind. Life, organised matter, is simply a peculiar combination of inorganic matter. Hitherto certainly science has not been able to penetrate the secret of the combination, and to effect it; but we ought not to despair of ultimate success. As Du Bois Reymond puts the case, we ought to see in it nothing more than a ‘very difficult mechanical problem.’2

Recent theistic writers have been influenced more or less by these considerations, and have been less confident than older apologists as to the cogency of the inference from the beginning of life to immediate Divine causality. It is now deemed unwise to be too dogmatic on the subject. Every Theist, of course, sees in the emergence of life the trace of God's hand, but not necessarily in a miraculous form. The cautious Theist now hesitates to adduce initial life as conclusive evidence of a supernatural agency on the ground that no natural cause is assignable or possible.

3. A third great crisis more than any demanding immediate Divine interposition has been found in the origin of conscious life, introducing us into the wonderland of feeling and thought. Here too the Theist has scientific acknowledgments on his side. For the best representatives of science promptly admit that the phenomena of feeling and thought are not resolvable into motions of matter, though they are intimately connected with movements of the cerebral substance. The same man of science who pronounced the origin of life only a difficult problem in mechanics declares the origin of consciousness to be a problem absolutely insoluble. Dogmatic Materialists find it necessary for the maintenance of their theory of the universe to assert the contrary, and boldly to treat thought as a mere mode of motion, but they receive no encouragement from responsible scientific authorities. In these circumstances the way to the theistic inference seems open. Every phenomenon must have some cause. If we cannot explain mind in terms of motion are we not shut up to the conclusion that the spiritual world is in essence and origin altogether supernatural, to be accounted for only by the creative activity of the Divine Spirit? But to this reasoning the modern scientist, refusing to step out of the natural, assumes an agnostic attitude, saying: I confess I cannot explain the origin of thought and feeling and consciousness; I even acknowledge that, in my judgment, these phenomena are scientifically inexplicable. But there I stop. I decline to go into the question of supernatural agency. My position is purely negative, viz., that the attempt to discover the natural causes of mental phenomena is hopeless. Such causes may exist, though for us the secret of their nature may remain for ever impenetrable. Present-day science fights shy of the hypothesis of a soul, or of a world-soul, and prefers to remain in a position of ignorance.3

It is not possible for the Theist by anything he can urge to dislodge the scientist from this agnostic position. But he may be satisfied in his own mind that the phenomena of thought must ultimately have a spiritual origin. We can be quite certain of this at least, that the materialistic theory is impossible. Far from accounting for the origin of mind, that theory leaves us entirely at a loss to understand how there ever came to be such phenomena as thought and consciousness at all. From the materialistic point of view these phenomena are simply by-products, coming into being one knows not how, and serving no purpose, having no more share than the dead in ‘all that's done beneath the circuit of the sun.’ The chain of physical causality is complete without them, and things would go on just the same if there were no consciousness accompanying brain movements: ‘railway trains,’ to use the vivid illustrations of Mr. Romanes, ‘running filled with mindless passengers, and telephones invented by brains that could not think to speak to ears that could not hear.’4 One does not need to be a profound philosopher to see the absurdity of a theory which reduces man to the position of a conscious automaton. Yet while we are quite sure of our ground in putting Materialism out of court, we are not obliged to dogmatise on the question, whether the phenomena of mind necessarily imply a distinct substratum, and may not rather have arisen in the course of evolution in some quite inscrutable way out of what is called matter. As we have already seen, some theistic scientists, such as Le Conte, decidedly prefer the latter alternative. One can easily understand the bias in this direction. More and more, believers in evolution incline to claim for it universal sway, and regard with disfavour the hypothesis of a dualistic breach of continuity at any point of the process. ‘Onwards,’ say they, ‘let it march, in its inexhaustible energy, from star-dust to solid globes, from inanimate being to living matter, from rudimentary forms of life to feeling in animals, and to thought, consciousness, and conscience in man, and all along let the phenomena be but the varied states of one eternal something capable of undergoing the most marvellous transformations.’ For one who takes up this position it will not be possible to infer from the mere facts of the appearance of consciousness at a certain stage in the evolutionary process the existence of a cause adequate to its production outside of nature; because for him ex hypothesi that phenomenon, like all others, has its place in the natural order of things. But it is open to him to argue from the scope and issue of the whole, that the process of evolution has its ultimate ground in a Being whose nature contains or accounts for all that comes to pass, and very specially the last and highest series of phenomena, those belonging to the spiritual life of man.

This seems to be the safe and wise position for all Theists to take up. Instead of looking out for open points in the process of world-making at which to bring in the supernatural power of a transcendent Deity, let us rather believe in the incessant activity, all along the line, of an immanent Deity. If we are not able to compel others agnostically inclined to accept this view, it is much if we find it thoroughly satisfactory to our own minds. And there is every reason why we should. In the first place, even agnostic philosophers themselves, like Mr. Spencer, acknowledge a great unknowable ultimate ground underlying the whole process of evolution, and entering as a factor into the production of all that exists. We need not agree with them as to the unknowableness of the ground, but we may most legitimately take comfort from the fact that they are at one with us at least as to its existence. Then, in the next place, the conception of God as immanent in the world, and acting on it throughout its whole history, from within, helps us in some measure to conceive of His action by bringing it into analogy to the relation in which we ourselves stand to our own bodies. When we try, we find it really beyond our power to imagine how the Great Spirit acts on the world. But we find it equally impossible to imagine how we ourselves act on our own bodies. Yet, with all deference to the abettors of the conscious automaton hypothesis, the fact is indubitable. I really can, and do, every hour of the day, at will, set the members of my body, my hands and my feet, in motion. This helps me to believe that God's action on the world, whereof He is, as it were, the soul, is equally real and incessant, though utterly incomprehensible. I use the qualifying expression, ‘as it were,’ in suggesting that the relation of God to the world is analogous to that of soul to body, because the analogy may easily be pressed too far. If God be the soul of the world, asks Du Bois Reymond in effect, where is His brain? This is to take the analogy too literally and prosaically. It should be used solely for the two-fold purpose of indicating that God's relation to the world is one of immanence and not of mere transcendence, and of making this incessant action on the universe credible, if not conceivable, by representing it as analogous to the action of a human spirit on its material organism.

Before passing from this topic, I may remark that the conception of God's relation to the world as immanent, indwelling, is perfectly compatible with the idea of transcendence. He may be in the world, yet above it. He may act on the world at all times and in accordance with its natural laws, and He may also act on it at particular crises in an exceptional manner, so as to initiate a new departure. I do not know whether any of the points that have been seized on by Theists constitutes such a crisis or not. I t is not necessary for me to dogmatise on the question. The beginning of life may or may not have been a stage at which immediate, or transcendent action of God took place. If it was not, my faith in a God always at work as an immanent cause remains intact. If it was, the occasional transcendent activity is quite reconcilable with the constant immanent activity. At no point in the history of the universe can I compel belief in transcendent Divine action, by abstract reasoning, meant to influence other minds. But such transcendent action, at any point, need be no stumbling-block to my own faith.

But, on the other hand, it must be remembered that it may be the reverse of an advantage to faith to lay an excessive emphasis on the occasional preternatural action of God upon the world. The risk we run by so doing is that of getting into a way of finding God nowhere save in the unusual; i.e. of lapsing into Deism. The Deist believed that God by a stupendous miracle created the world perfect at the first, then left the machine ever after to itself, to do its appointed work through its own self-acting laws. God's power was thus exhaustively manifested at the creation; since then He has been an otiose Divinity. That crude view is out of date, but the underlying principle may survive. It has been truly observed that ‘Cataclysmal geology and special creation are the scientific analogue of Deism.’5 These also have passed away, but a similar remark might be applied to such survivals of occasionalism as still linger among us. The man who clings eagerly to the primitive impulse that set evolution going, to the origination of life, and to the inspiration of a living soul, as proofs that God exists, virtually declares that in all other parts of the history of the universe he finds no convincing evidence of God's being and power. And what, one may ask, is the good of such a Deity after you have verified His existence to your own satisfaction? He is a far-off, absentee, otiose Divinity. How much better to find God everywhere, than here and there at rare intervals; ever active, not merely rousing Himself out of an age-long sleep to do marvellous things now and then; active in the movements of every molecule as it enters into combination with its neighbours, not less than in the initial push that set all the molecules agoing; revealing Himself as the Fountain of Life in the minutest variations that condition the development of species, as well as in the fiat by which life first came into being! One can, of course, understand the special interest taken in the more conspicuous activity of the Divine Being for apologetic purposes. In directing attention thereto, the apologist in effect says to the doubter: ‘You must admit that here at least God is present.’ The prominence given to the occasional and the unusual in the theistic argument is analogous to the insistence on the predictive element in prophecy in the argument of the older apologetic for the truth of Christianity. In both cases, the one-sided emphasis is well meant; nevertheless it is evil in result. In the argument from prophecy on the old lines, the predictive element threw the far more important ethical element in Hebrew prophecy into the shade. In the theistic argument, based on critical points in the history of creation, the tendency is to make the evolutionary process as a whole, a Godforsaken, mechanical affair, redeemed from utter godlessness only by Divine initiatives separated from each other by millions of years. The true conception of God's relation to the universe surely is: God always dwelling in the world and ever active there.

Always active from the beginning of the evolutionary process to the end, and always looking forward to the end. God ever creating and ever exercising a providence over creation, guiding it towards its consummation—man. Here, not at any preliminary stage, is the place on which we should plant our foot, if we desire to know not merely that God is but what He is. For from man, viewed as the child of evolution and as its climax, we may learn these four things:—

1. That the process of world-making is instinct with purpose—man in view throughout.

2. That purpose guided the evolutionary process so as to ensure that it should reach its foreordained consummation.

3. That the object of the purpose being man, the Being who purposes must be manlike.

4. That the purpose which aimed at bringing man on the scene will continue to work towards making the most of man.

1. That creation has a purpose, that there is such a thing as a world-aim, is, to say the least, a very reasonable and credible proposition. I do not say that it is a proposition that can be strictly demonstrated like one of the propositions of Euclid, so that every man, whatever his intellectual bias or moral state, shall be forced to accept it.6 I content myself with saying that it is a more reasonable and credible proposition than any other which can be enunciated on the subject. Compare it, e.g. with the thesis of Strauss: The world did not proceed from reason, but it has reason for its goal. How much more credible the counter-thesis, that just because reason is the goal of the world-process, therefore it proceeded from reason—mind, thought, spirit, the fountain of all that is! If even the Straussian view is, by comparison, irrational, what shall we think of the materialist conception of reason, consciousness, in man, as a mere lusus naturae, not only explaining nothing, but itself inexplicable and not worth trying to explain? Evolution, far from having a purpose, ends in this A group of unintelligible, useless phenomena; in Hartmann's expressive phrase, ‘an insubstantial glimmer resulting from certain constellations of material functions.’7 Must we not all indorse the sentiment of Romanes when he says: ‘Assuredly, on the principles of evolution, which Materialists at least cannot afford to disregard, it would be a wholly anomalous fact that so wide and general a class of phenomena as those of mind should have become developed in constantly ascending degrees throughout the animal kingdom, if they are entirely without use.’8

Men of science, as such, are not Materialists, and they will be careful not to commit themselves to such an absurdity as that which the words just quoted so forcibly expose. But while keeping aloof from the dogma that reason is useless, they may equally decline to regard the origination of the rational as the aim of the world-process. They may give the whole question of a world-aim the go-by. They may say: ‘What we are concerned with is the physical explanation of the world as we find it. We claim the right to explain man, if we can, on the same principles as those by which we explain everything else. And we think we have so explained him; as a part of nature which has come to be what it now is by the process which we call evolution. And there is no more to be said on the matter. We decline to look at man apart, as if there were something exceptional about him, if not as to the way in which he has come to be, at least as to the significance of him, now that he is here. We refuse to go into questions of teleology, to inquire as to the aim of the evolutionary process. We regard that process as explaining all the phenomena of nature, but the process itself we take as an ultimate fact, requiring and admitting no explanation. Least of all would it occur to us to isolate the end of the process from all that goes before, and to find in it the explanation of the whole. No doubt it is the end, and, we admit, a very remarkable one. But every process must have some end, and if the movement be an advancing one, of course the consummation must be higher than anything that appears at an earlier stage.’

Perhaps nothing that can be said by one accustomed to look at things in another light is likely to alter the views of men in this mood. But it does not follow that the truths one sees under that light are not worth stating. I am not one of those who think that it is possible to compel faith in God by any processes of reasoning whatsoever. It is possible to remain agnostic in spite of all conceivable theistic arguments. Yet it is worth while for the Theist, even for his own sake, to think out a theory of the universe that shall be helpful to faith by its consistency and intrinsic worthiness. And of such a theory man, as the consummation of the evolutionary process, may be made the starting-point, as reflecting the light of purpose on the whole antecedent history of the universe:—

‘From the grand result

A supplementary reflux of light,

Illustrates all the inferior grades,

Each hack step in the circle.’9

It looks as if nature herself were inviting us to regard man as, while no exception in origin, exceptional in significance. She has hidden the evidence of his parentage. She has thrown down the scaffolding after finishing the building. How much trouble it has given the scientist to find links of connection between man and the lower creation! So far as the body is concerned, the best evidence is that which is carefully concealed from observation, the transformation which a human being undergoes before he is born. Then of the evolution of mind how faint the traces! If we believe in it, it is rather because the presumption a priori is in favour of it than because of the detailed inductive proof. It may be that for long ages after the genus Homo existed he was by reason of mental imbecility unable to speak, and could communicate only by signs; but the solitary alleged survival of that speechless epoch—the click of the Kaffir—is a very slight proof of the fact. Grant the reality of the continuous process, and that in this, as in all other departments, it has proceeded by insensible progression, nevertheless, what we see is a great gulf separating man, even at the lowest point of civilisation, from the most intelligent animals. The rudest savage has an artistic hand, and a speaking tongue. Has this fact no meaning? Does not nature, or its Author, seem to say: ‘This is what I was aiming at all along; and now that I have reached the goal I place the final product on a pedestal that he may be well in view, and that you may study his significance. It is nothing less than this, that in him all that went before finds its rationale. Evolution of the inanimate and the lower animate world took place because it was to culminate in the evolution of man. Without him the long process of creation would have been much ado about nothing.’

It may indeed seem presumptuous to say that man is of more importance than all the world with him left out; than the biggest objects of nature, the mountain ranges, the seas, the wide fertile plains, or than the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, which primitive man worshipped as beings greater than himself. We have a survival of this feeling in the familiar words of the Hebrew Psalter, ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained…what is man?10 Here is the key, in part, to nature-worship, man crushed by the over-whelming magnitudes and grandeurs of the physical world. The Psalmist, indeed, was not so crushed. He rose above the oppressive sense of bondage to the physical, into the joyous consciousness of the lordship of the human; probably not without a struggle with the temptation to succumb. And that is what we have all got to do, and what the theory of evolution, rightly construed, helps us to do. We have to learn that we do not suffer by comparison with the heavenly bodies. Rather they by comparison dwindle into insignificance. When I consider man, final product of the creative process, then say I, What are sun, moon, and stars? Whether the heavenly bodies contain human beings, or intelligent beings of some sort, I know not. If they do, then intelligence, there as here, is supreme. If they do not, then vast in mass, in distance, and in the sweep of their revolutions as they are, these bodies are insignificant compared with the chief tenant of this small terrestrial planet. In themselves, they have no sufficient raison d'être. For their own sake it was not worth while bringing them into existence. The reason of their being lies outside them, in their serviceableness to the spiritual universe. The sun, moon, and stars are redeemed from insignificance by illuminating and beautifying the planet in which man dwells.

Similar is the view to be taken of the whole subhuman creation. It has its reason of existence in man, and the moral interests he represents. If man had not been, it would not have been worth while for the lower world to be. If the Creator had not had man in view, the lower world would not have come into existence. This is how the Theist must view the matter. He must regard the sub-human universe in the light of an instrument to be used in subservience to the ends of the moral world. The Agnostic can evade this conclusion by regarding the evolution of the universe as an absolutely necessary and aimless process, which could not but be, which has no conscious reason for being, no purpose to arrive at any particular destination, but moves on blindly in obedience to mechanical law. If it arrive at length at man, why then it must be because it is in the nature of mechanics to produce in the long-run mind, and of motion to be permuted ultimately into thought. For us this theory is once for all impossible. We must believe in God, Maker of heaven and earth. And believing in Him we look for a plan in His work. In creation, as in human history, we find at first much mystery and darkness. To what end that all-diffused fiery mist, those igneous rocks, those microscopic protozoa, those hideous ‘dragons of the prime’? But stay; here, at the end of the æons, is man. It was worth God's while to make him, and in the light of this latest creation we can see at least a glimmering of meaning even in chaos, in the apparently useless, the irrational, the monstrous. All these were natural steps in a gradual process that was to have a worthy ending, in which the whole creative movement should find its justification. Man makes the world-process rational. With man at the head, every member of the lower creation has its appropriate place, and helps to make a cosmos. Lower forms of life arc not to be considered abortions because they fall short of the human. It is enough that the human comes at last along at least one line of evolution. In order that the world may be rational it is not necessary that there shall be in it nothing but men. It suffices that there be in it also men.

2. Our second inference was ‘that purpose guided the evolutionary process so as to ensure that it should reach its foreordained consummation.’ On this point it is not necessary to dwell, as it is an obvious corollary from the first inference. If there was purpose at all in the creative process, it would be active all through the process. There was providence in evolution, looking forward to its end and guiding it towards the end, as well as creation. Indeed, the process was more one of providence than of creation. God was occupied not so much in making new creatures, and originating by immediate activity new departures, as in guiding a world-generating process that was in a sense self-acting.11 Self-acting so far, but not in a sense that made guidance unnecessary. There were risks of miscarriage, points at which the process might go wrong, possibilities of downward rather than upward, onward movement. There was no absolute mechanical guarantee for advancement, nothing to make improvement, as distinct from deterioration, a matter of course. Providence was there to give things the necessary direction, acting with the certainty of instinct in bee and bird, or of teleological law in an organism, whereby all the parts are constrained to serve the end for which the organism exists. Doubtless the universe is a very different thing from an organism like the eye or the human body. A cosmos, we call it, but it is a cosmos wherein multitudes of grotesque creatures may have appeared from time to time more fitted for a chaos than a cosmos. All sorts and forms of being, shapely and misshapen, may have come into existence, and only after innumerable experiments, eliminating the unsuitable, may the creatures worthy to survive have at last been hit upon. This may seem a wild supposition, but I make it that I may have an opportunity of saying that even in such a world of apparently endless fortuity, a providence, teleology, might prevail. There is plenty of the chance element in human history, yet we doubt not that through the ages one unceasing purpose runs. Providence and what we call chance arc so far from being incompatible, that some thoughtful men have found in the realm of chance the theatre in which providence is more particularly displayed. ‘Those unforeseen accidents,’ writes Isaac Taylor, ‘which so often control the lot of men, constitute a superstratum in the system of human affairs, wherein, peculiarly, the Divine Providence holds empire for the accomplishment of its special purposes. It is from this hidden and inexhaustible mine of chances—chances, as we must call them—that the Governor of the world draws, with unfathomable skill, the materials of his dispensations towards each individual of mankind.’12 I do not emphasise this view. I quote the opinion simply to back the assertion that ‘chance’ and providence are not mutually exclusive. I for my part would rather seek traces of purpose in the region of law than in the region of the lawless. Therefore I have no desire to find in the evolution of the world points at which one could say: See, here is a place at which, but for the miraculously guiding hand of Divine Providence, the evolutionary process might have gone wrong, leading the universe, not forward to man, but backward to chaos. There may have been such points, but I am nowise anxious to find them, any more than I am anxious to find points such as the origination of life, at which the creative hand of God was indispensable. Enough for me that in the orderly and the disorderly alike, in the necessary and in the accidental, in the law of heredity and in the caprice of variability, purpose, teleology, controlling aim was ever present and active, steadily moving on towards the great goal.

3. Our third inference was ‘that the object of the purpose being man, the Being who purposes must be manlike.’ The end, that is, explains not only the process of creation but the Creator. It was, we have seen, man in view as the far-off divine event that gave the Creator an interest in the process, and helped Him, so to speak, to endure its wearisome toil and drudgery. Doth God care for fiery clouds, protozoa, ‘dragons of the prime’? He cares for spirit and its endowments—reason, freedom, conscience. But that is as much as to say that He Himself is spirit. God, in short, is like man. Why not, it may be asked, like any other part of the universe? Why not like all parts? If the nature of a cause is to be inferred from the nature of its effects, must not God the cause of all be like all, not to say identical with all; a Being such as Pantheists conceive? So argues Mr. Fiske, who follows Mr. Spencer in thinking that from the process of creation we can learn only that God is, not what He is.13 In reply I say that our inference to the spirituality of God does not rest on the category of causality. As a cause God stands in the same relation to all beings, and so far as that goes He might be as like one being as another. Our inference is based on the category of purpose. Man is not merely one of the infinite number of effects produced by Divine causality, but he is the effect which explains all the rest, the end in view of the Creator in all His creative work. If this be allowed, then it must be admitted that man's relation to God is unique. It is a relation of affinity, because God, ex hypothesi, supremely cares for what man distinctively is.

Here I may be allowed to note in passing how far from being out of date is the view of man's relation to God presented in the Hebrew books. By abstaining from elaborate cosmogony, and confining attention to the purely religious aspect of the world, they offer a view which for simple dignity and essential truth leaves little to be desired. ‘God said, Let us make man in our image.’ This is a flash of direct insight, of inspiration, not an inference from scientific knowledge of the exact method of creation. It is, however, associated with the perception that man's place in the world is one of lordship. In both cases the Hebrew prophet, by religious intuition, grasped truths which our nineteenth century science has only confirmed. Man is lord, therefore man is Godlike: so teaches Genesis. For our purpose the statement has to be inverted: Man is lord, therefore God is manlike. The point that needs emphasising to-day is not that man is like God, but that God is like man. For it is God, His being and nature that we desire to know, and we welcome any legitimate avenue to this high knowledge. And man's place in nature is accredited to us as our surest, if not sole, source of knowledge, teaching us not merely that God is, but more especially what He is: viz., that He is spirit like ourselves.

This doctrine has in its favour the Consensus gentium. Everywhere and always men have conceived their gods as manlike, spirits. Animism was the primitive religion. Much error has been associated with this fundamentally right thought; inevitably, however lamentably. The only cure for the error by which men have imputed to the Divine human passions and vices, is growth in the ethical ideal. The purification of religion keeps pace with the elevation of morality. From the abuses of the past we must not rush to the conclusion that the notion of God being like man is false, and that the great thing is to get rid of anthropomorphism, in Mr. Fiske's ponderous phrase, the ‘deanthropomorphisation’ of the idea of God. The desideratum rather is to conceive God not as like what man is, or has been at any stage in his mental and moral development, but as like what man will be when his development has reached its goal. There has been a rudimentary likeness all along, from the day when man became in the incipient degree human. From that day forth man was, however imperfectly, rational and moral; and when we say that God is manlike we mean that God is a rational and moral being; and we say this because God's end in the creation was the production of a rational and moral being, like man.

4. Our last inference was ‘that the purpose which aimed at bringing man on the scene will continue to work towards making the most of man.’ It may be assumed that there will be something more to do. It would not be in accordance with the principle of evolution, and with the analogy of nature, if man were at the outset all that it is in him to be. Our expectation a priori would be that man, to begin with, was man only in germ, in skeleton, in outline, in fruitful possibility, rather than in realised fact. Assuming provisionally that such was the case, our position is that the Maker of man would be interested in the realising of the possibilities of man's nature, as a father is interested in the rearing of his child. He will not stop when He has reached the human; He will work on, cultivating to the utmost the humanities. He may rest when the creative process has reached the human stage, and say ‘it is good,’ but it will be only to make a new start in a rational and moral evolution incomparably more interesting and momentous than the physical evolution foregoing. We therefore expect to find traces of God in history, working as a just and beneficent Providence on the great scale and on the small. Hegel complains of a peddling view of Providence which recognises its action in individual life, but not among peoples, or in humanity at large, regarding history as a chaos, and the attempt to discover a plan there hopeless, not to say presumptuous. Against this view he maintains that history is a rational process, and that it is competent and incumbent to seek in the world a design which shall enable us to comprehend evil and reconcile the thinking spirit with its existence.14 One cannot but sympathise with the great philosopher's attitude, though the task he undertook may be more difficult than even he imagined. Perfect rationality it may be as impossible to find in history, as it is to find perfect morality. But that history is wholly chaotic, without even drift or tendency towards the true and the good, who can believe? If darkness broods over the scene, there is at least light shining in the darkness.

  • 1.

    C. Chapman, Preorganic Evolution and the Biblical Idea of God, p. 151.

  • 2.

    Vide Du Bois Reymond, Über die Grenzen des Naturerkennens, p. 31.

  • 3.

    So Du Bois Reymond in Über die Grenzen, etc., p. 37.

  • 4.

    Mind and Motion and Monism, p. 71.

  • 5.

    Aubrey L. Moore, Science and the Faith, p. 185.

  • 6.

    Professor Seth holds that purpose is involved in the very idea of evolution. ‘A speculation which does not see that evolution spells purpose has not made clear to itself the difference between progress and aimless variation. Such speculation rests ultimately on a purely mechanical view of the universe.’—Man's Place in the Cosmos, p. 58.

  • 7.

    Einen substanzlosen Schein, der aus gewissen Constellationen materialler Functionen resultire,—Philosophie des Unbewusstes, p. 479.

  • 8.

    Mind and Motion and Monism, pp. 72-3.

  • 9.

    Browning, Paracelsus, p. 189.

  • 10.

    Psalm viii. 3, 4.

  • 11.

    In a restatement of the teleological argument, Professor Fraser expresses the above thought in these terms: ‘Providential evolution of the universe…this rather than sudden creations, or interference with the Divine continuity of events in the providential evolution, becomes the Theistic conception of contrivance in nature, under the modern dynamical conception of the physical universe.’—Gifford Lectures, 2nd Series, p. 82.

  • 12.

    History of Enthusiasm, pp. 117, 118.

  • 13.

    Outlines of Cosmic Theism, vol. ii. p. 388.

  • 14.

    The Philosophy of History, Bohn's translation, p. 14.