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REVIEW OF HERBERT SPENCER. Ꭱ
O one longer holds with the ancient skeptic,
that all things remain as they were since the beginning. All alike admit that the universe, as we know it, has had a beginning in time, and the problem which all alike propose is, to account for its origin and history. There was a time in the eternal duration when the present order did not exist, and a time when it began to be. How? This is the question which both science and religion attempt to answer.
Until within a few years Theism has been accustomed to conceive of creation as an instantaneous work. “The Creator spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” In a moment, as the lightning flashes out of the dark night, so the worlds were “won from the void and formless infinite,” and each one started on its way, perfect after its kind. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. At his command the light kindled, and the oceans filled, and the whole earth swarmed with life. But it is claimed that the long times of
natural history and geology, and the gradual introduction of higher forms, have thrown doubt upon this conception. It is said that the law which holds for all present development is true for creation also : First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. Creation was not a single but a successive work; and, instead of being finished once for all, its vast and mysterious operations are still going on. Even yet the creative plan is not completed ; and, so far from being at a distance, we are in the very midst of creation's week.
It is hardly necessary to point out that evolution in this general form is perfectly compatible with Theism. All that Theism cares to know is, that Mind is the primal cause and the eternal ruler of the universe. Whether it hastens on to its purpose, or whether it lingers upon its way, is a matter of comparative indifference. When was it that the Spirit of God brooded over nature to bring forth the living from the lifeless ? Set up the date six thousand years ago, or carry it back to that nebulous time when the earth was without form and void, and darkness hung over the face of the deep; one cannot see that it makes any difference. When was it that the seeds of life and mind were sown? Was it after our earth had taken on its final form ? or were they scattered upon that desert mist from which the world has sprung? How long was nature in fulfilling the Divine command—a week or an age? Has it accomplished the work, or is it yet toiling at the task ? Were the lower forms of life created with the power of evolving the higher or not? Is organic existence complex in essence, or is its variety but a harmonious variation upon a single string? It is no degradation to the individual to be born; why should it be any more degrading to species to be born? If it is not degrading to teach that the individual reaches distinctive manhood only through the darkness and weakness of the birth-process and of unfolding infancy, I know not why it should be thought degrading to teach that species, too, struggle up through lower forms to their distinctive characteristics. I cannot feel that Theism, or even Christianity, is at all concerned with the answer to any of these questions. One view makes creation single, the other makes it successive. One concentrates the creative act upon a point of time, the other spreads it over unknown years. One makes nature instantaneously obedient; the other keeps it toiling for ages at the Divine command. Either view might be worthily held, and each has many elements of peculiar sublimity and grandeur. Religion cares only to insist that in the beginning a Divine sower went forth to sow.
But there is another form of the evolution theory. The thorough-going evolutionist, availing himself of the doctrine of the unity of the forces, paces with firm step through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and finally brings all things home to the parentage of matter and force. He drives back beyond all life, beyond all form, beyond even the present material elements, back to the raw and faint beginnings of matter and force themselves. At that distant point there are no such myths as life and mind; these are unimaginable ages down the future. There is nothing there but little lumps of good, hard matter. These are the fountain-head of existence, and only need to be left alone long enough to transform chaos into creation. Mind is not the beginning and primal cause of things, but is the final outcome of nature—the highest point to which the whirling atoms climb. This is what purports to be the scientific book of Genesis. This is evolution as it is held by the New School of Philosophy, of which Mr. Spencer is one of the chief apostles.
Now let us note the true nature of the problem which the New Philosophy attempts to solve. It often happens that a few vague and general analogies are allowed to blind the reason to the infinite complexity of the problem, and it may even be questioned whether many of the evolutionists themselves properly appreciate the task they have to perform. Their proposition, in plain words, is this: All things have come, by a rigid mechanical sequence, from the condensation of that primeval mist. Not merely the forms and disposition of matter, but life, and mind, and their various manifestations, have all been evolved by necessary physical causation.