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We see, then, that the theory of evolution has influenced philosophy in a variety of forms. It has made idealistic thinkers revise their relation to the real world; it has led positivistic thinkers to find a closer connection between the facts on which they based their views; it has made us all open our eyes for new possibilities to arise through the prima facie inexplicable “spontaneous” variations which are the condition of all evolution. This last point is one of peculiar interest. Deeper than speculative philosophy and mechanical science saw in the days of their triumph, we catch sight of new streams, whose sources and laws we have still to discover. Most sharply does this appear in the theory of mutation, which is only a stronger accentuation of a main point in Darwinism. It is interesting to see that an analogous problem comes into the foreground in physics through the discovery of radioactive phenomena, and in psychology through the assumption of psychical new formations (as held by Boutroux, William James and Bergson). From this side, Darwin’s ideas, as well as the analogous ideas in other domains, incite us to renewed examination of our first principles, their rationality and their value. On the other hand, his theory of the struggle for existence challenges us to examine the conditions and discuss the outlook as to the persistence of human life and society and of the values that belong to them. It is not enough to hope (or fear?) the rising of new forms; we have also to investigate the possibility of upholding the forms and ideals which have hitherto been the bases of human life. Darwin has here given his age the most earnest and most impressive lesson. This side of Darwin’s theory is of peculiar interest to some special philosophical problems to which I now pass.


Among philosophical problems the problem of knowledge has in the last century occupied a foremost place. It is natural, then, to ask how Darwin and the hypothesis whose most eminent representative he is, stand to this problem.

Darwin started an hypothesis. But every hypothesis is won by inference from certain presuppositions, and every inference is based on the general principles of human thought. The evolution hypothesis presupposes, then, human thought and its principles. And not only the abstract logical principles are thus presupposed. The evolution hypothesis purports to be not only a formal arrangement of phenomena, but to express also the law of a real process. It supposes, then, that the real data–all that in our knowledge which we do not produce ourselves, but which we in the main simply receive–are subjected to laws which are at least analogous to the logical relations of our thoughts; in other words, it assumes the validity of the principle of causality. If organic species could arise without cause there would be no use in framing hypotheses. Only if we assume the principle of causality, is there a problem to solve.

Though Darwinism has had a great influence on philosophy considered as a striving after a scientific view of the world, yet here is a point of view –the epistemological–where philosophy is not only independent but reaches beyond any result of natural science. Perhaps it will be said: the powers and functions of organic beings only persist (perhaps also only arise) when they correspond sufficiently to the conditions under which the struggle of life is to go on. Human thought itself is, then, a variation (or a mutation) which has been able to persist and to survive. Is not, then, the problem of knowledge solved by the evolution hypothesis? Spencer had given an affirmative answer to this question before the appearance of “The Origin of Species”. For the individual, he said, there is an a priori, original, basis (or Anlage) for all mental life; but in the species all powers have developed in reciprocity with external conditions. Knowledge is here considered from the practical point of view, as a weapon in the struggle for life, as an “organon” which has been continuously in use for generations. In recent years the economic or pragmatic epistemology, as developed by Avenarius and Mach in Germany, and by James in America, points in the same direction. Science, it is said, only maintains those principles and presuppositions which are necessary to the simplest and clearest orientation in the world of experience. All assumptions which cannot be applied to experience and to practical work, will successively be eliminated.

In these views a striking and important application is made of the idea of struggle for life to the development of human thought. Thought must, as all other things in the world, struggle for life. But this whole consideration belongs to psychology, not to the theory of knowledge (epistemology), which is concerned only with the validity of knowledge, not with its historical origin. Every hypothesis to explain the origin of knowledge must submit to cross-examination by the theory of knowledge, because it works with the fundamental forms and principles of human thought. We cannot go further back than these forms and principles, which it is the aim of epistemology to ascertain and for which no further reason can be given. (The present writer, many years ago, in his “Psychology” (Copenhagen, 1882; English translation London, 1891), criticised the evolutionistic treatment of the problem of knowledge from the Kantian point of view.)

But there is another side of the problem which is, perhaps, of more importance and which epistemology generally overlooks. If new variations can arise, not only in organic but perhaps also in inorganic nature, new tasks are placed before the human mind. The question is, then, if it has forms in which there is room for the new matter? We are here touching a possibility which the great master of epistemology did not bring to light. Kant supposed confidently that no other matter of knowledge could stream forth from the dark source which he called “the thing-in-itself,” than such as could be synthesised in our existing forms of knowledge. He mentions the possibility of other forms than the human, and warns us against the dogmatic assumption that the human conception of existence should be absolutely adequate. But he seems to be quite sure that the thing-in- itself works constantly, and consequently always gives us only what our powers can master. This assumption was a consequence of Kant’s rationalistic tendency, but one for which no warrant can be given. Evolutionism and systematism are opposing tendencies which can never be absolutely harmonised one with the other. Evolution may at any time break some form which the system-monger regards as finally established. Darwin himself felt a great difference in looking at variation as an evolutionist and as a systematist. When he was working at his evolution theory, he was very glad to find variations; but they were a hindrance to him when he worked as a systematist, in preparing his work on Cirripedia. He says in a letter: “I had thought the same parts of the same species more resemble (than they do anyhow in Cirripedia) objects cast in the same mould. Systematic work would be easy were it not for this confounded variation, which, however, is pleasant to me as a speculatist, though odious to me as a systematist.” (“Life and Letters”, Vol. II. page 37.) He could indeed be angry with variations even as an evolutionist; but then only because he could not explain them, not because he could not classify them. “If, as I must think, external conditions produce little DIRECT effect, what the devil determines each particular variation?” (Ibid. page 232.) What Darwin experienced in his particular domain holds good of all knowledge. All knowledge is systematic, in so far as it strives to put phenomena in quite definite relations, one to another. But the systematisation can never be complete. And here Darwin has contributed much to widen the world for us. He has shown us forces and tendencies in nature which make absolute systems impossible, at the same time that they give us new objects and problems. There is still a place for what Lessing called “the unceasing striving after truth,” while “absolute truth” (in the sense of a closed system) is unattainable so long as life and experience are going on.

There is here a special remark to be made. As we have seen above, recent research has shown that natural selection or struggle for life is no explanation of variations. Hugo de Vries distinguishes between partial and embryonal variations, or between variations and mutations, only the last- named being heritable, and therefore of importance for the origin of new species. But the existence of variations is not only of interest for the problem of the origin of species; it has also a more general interest. An individual does not lose its importance for knowledge, because its qualities are not heritable. On the contrary, in higher beings at least, individual peculiarities will become more and more independent objects of interest. Knowledge takes account of the biographies not only of species, but also of individuals: it seeks to find the law of development of the single individual. (The new science of Ecology occupies an intermediate position between the biography of species and the biography of individuals. Compare “Congress of Arts and Science”, St Louis, Vol. V. 1906 (the Reports of Drude and Robinson) and the work of my colleague E. Warming.) As Leibniz said long ago, individuality consists in the law of the changes of a being. “La loi du changement fait l’individualite de chaque substance.” Here is a world which is almost new for science, which till now has mainly occupied itself with general laws and forms. But these are ultimately only means to understand the individual phenomena, in whose nature and history a manifold of laws and forms always cooperate. The importance of this remark will appear in the sequel.


To many people the Darwinian theory of natural selection or struggle for existence seemed to change the whole conception of life, and particularly all the conditions on which the validity of ethical ideas depends. If only that has persistence which can be adapted to a given condition, what will then be the fate of our ideals, of our standards of good and evil? Blind force seems to reign, and the only thing that counts seems to be the most heedless use of power. Darwinism, it was said, has proclaimed brutality. No other difference seems permanent save that between the sound, powerful and happy on the one side, the sick, feeble and unhappy on the other; and every attempt to alleviate this difference seems to lead to general enervation. Some of those who interpreted Darwinism in this manner felt an aesthetic delight in contemplating the heedlessness and energy of the great struggle for existence and anticipated the realisation of a higher human type as the outcome of it: so Nietzsche and his followers. Others recognising the same consequences in Darwinism regarded these as one of the strongest objections against it; so Duhring and Kropotkin (in his earlier works).

This interpretation of Darwinism was frequent in the interval between the two main works of Darwin–“The Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man”. But even during this interval it was evident to an attentive reader that Darwin himself did not found his standard of good and evil on the features of the life of nature he had emphasised so strongly. He did not justify the ways along which nature reached its ends; he only pointed them out. The “real” was not to him, as to Hegel, one with the “rational.” Darwin has, indeed, by his whole conception of nature, rendered a great service to ethics in making the difference between the life of nature and the ethical life appear in so strong a light. The ethical problem could now be stated in a sharper form than before. But this was not the first time that the idea of the struggle for life was put in relation to the ethical problem. In the seventeenth century Thomas Hobbes gave the first impulse to the whole modern discussion of ethical principles in his theory of bellum omnium contra omnes. Men, he taught, are in the state of nature enemies one of another, and they live either in fright or in the glory of power. But it was not the opinion of Hobbes that this made ethics impossible. On the contrary, he found a standard for virtue and vice in the fact that some qualities and actions have a tendency to bring us out of the state of war and to secure peace, while other qualities have a contrary tendency. In the eighteenth century even Immanuel Kant’s ideal ethics had–so far as can be seen–a similar origin. Shortly before the foundation of his definitive ethics, Kant wrote his “Idee zu einer allgemeinen Weltgeschichte” (1784), where–in a way which reminds us of Hobbes, and is prophetic of Darwin–he describes the forward-driving power of struggle in the human world. It is here as with the struggle of the trees for light and air, through which they compete with one another in height. Anxiety about war can only be allayed by an ordinance which gives everyone his full liberty under acknowledgment of the equal liberty of others. And such ordinance and acknowledgment are also attributes of the content of the moral law, as Kant proclaimed it in the year after the publication of his essay (1785) (Cf. my “History of Modern Philosophy” (English translation London, 1900), I. pages 76-79.) Kant really came to his ethics by the way of evolution, though he afterwards disavowed it. Similarly the same line of thought may be traced in Hegel though it has been disguised in the form of speculative dialectics. (“Herrschaft und Knechtschaft”, “Phanomenologie des Geistes”, IV. A., Leiden, 1907.) And in Schopenhauer’s theory of the blind will to live and its abrogation by the ethical feeling, which is founded on universal sympathy, we have a more individualistic form of the same idea.

It was, then, not entirely a foreign point of view which Darwin introduced into ethical thought, even if we take no account of the poetical character of the word “struggle” and of the more direct adaptation, through the use and non-use of power, which Darwin also emphasised. In “The Descent of Man” he has devoted a special chapter (“The Descent of Man”, Vol. I. Ch. iii.) to a discussion of the origin of the ethical consciousness. The characteristic expression of this consciousness he found, just as Kant did, in the idea of “ought”; it was the origin of this new idea which should be explained. His hypothesis was that the ethical “ought” has its origin in the social and parental instincts, which, as well as other instincts (e.g. the instinct of self-preservation), lie deeper than pleasure and pain. In many species, not least in the human species, these instincts are fostered by natural selection; and when the powers of memory and comparison are developed, so that single acts can be valued according to the claims of the deep social instinct, then consciousness of duty and remorse are possible. Blind instinct has developed to conscious ethical will.

As already stated, Darwin, as a moral philosopher belongs to the school that was founded by Shaftesbury, and was afterwards represented by Hutcheson, Hume, Adam Smith, Comte and Spencer. His merit is, first, that he has given this tendency of thought a biological foundation, and that he has stamped on it a doughty character in showing that ethical ideas and sentiments, rightly conceived, are forces which are at work in the struggle for life.

There are still many questions to solve. Not only does the ethical development within the human species contain features still unexplained (The works of Westermarck and Hobhouse throw new light on many of these features.); but we are confronted by the great problem whether after all a genetic historical theory can be of decisive importance here. To every consequent ethical consciousness there is a standard of value, a primordial value which determines the single ethical judgments as their last presupposition, and the “rightness” of this basis, the “value” of this value can as little be discussed as the “rationality” of our logical principles. There is here revealed a possibility of ethical scepticism which evolutionistic ethics (as well as intuitive or rationalistic ethics) has overlooked. No demonstration can show that the results of the ethical development are definitive and universal. We meet here again with the important opposition of systematisation and evolution. There will, I think, always be an open question here, though comparative ethics, of which we have so far only the first attempts, can do much to throw light on it.

It would carry us too far to discuss all the philosophical works on ethics, which have been influenced directly or indirectly by evolutionism. I may, however, here refer to the book of C.M. Williams, “A Review of the Systems of Ethics founded on the Theory of Evolution” (New York and London, 1893.), in which, besides Darwin, the following authors are reviewed: Wallace, Haeckel, Spencer, Fiske, Rolph, Barratt, Stephen, Carneri, Hoffding, Gizycki, Alexander, Ree. As works which criticise evolutionistic ethics from an intuitive point of view and in an instructive way, may be cited: Guyau “La morale anglaise contemporaine” (Paris, 1879.), and Sorley, “Ethics of Naturalism”. I will only mention some interesting contributions to ethical discussion which can be found in Darwinism besides the idea of struggle for life.

The attention which Darwin has directed to variations has opened our eyes to the differences in human nature as well as in nature generally. There is here a fact of great importance for ethical thought, no matter from what ultimate premiss it starts. Only from a very abstract point of view can different individuals be treated in the same manner. The most eminent ethical thinkers, men such as Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant, who discussed ethical questions from very opposite standpoints, agreed in regarding all men as equal in respect of ethical endowment. In regard to Bentham, Leslie Stephen remarks: “He is determined to be thoroughly empirical, to take men as he found them. But his utilitarianism supposed that men’s views of happiness and utility were uniform and clear, and that all that was wanted was to show them the means by which their ends could be reached.” (“English literature and society in the eighteenth century”, London, 1904, page 187.) And Kant supposed that every man would find the “categorical imperative” in his consciousness, when he came to sober reflexion, and that all would have the same qualifications to follow it. But if continual variations, great or small, are going on in human nature, it is the duty of ethics to make allowance for them, both in making claims, and in valuing what is done. A new set of ethical problems have their origin here. (Cf. my paper, “The law of relativity in Ethics,” “International Journal of Ethics”, Vol. I. 1891, pages 37-62.) It is an interesting fact that Stuart Mill’s book “On Liberty” appeared in the same year as “The Origin of Species”. Though Mill agreed with Bentham about the original equality of all men’s endowments, he regarded individual differences as a necessary result of physical and social influences, and he claimed that free play shall be allowed to differences of character so far as is possible without injury to other men. It is a condition of individual and social progress that a man’s mode of action should be determined by his own character and not by tradition and custom, nor by abstract rules. This view was to be corroborated by the theory of Darwin.

But here we have reached a point of view from which the criticism, which in recent years has often been directed against Darwin–that small variations are of no importance in the struggle for life–is of no weight. From an ethical standpoint, and particularly from the ethical standpoint of Darwin himself, it is a duty to foster individual differences that can be valuable, even though they can neither be of service for physical preservation nor be physically inherited. The distinction between variation and mutation is here without importance. It is quite natural that biologists should be particularly interested in such variations as can be inherited and produce new species. But in the human world there is not only a physical, but also a mental and social heredity. When an ideal human character has taken form, then there is shaped a type, which through imitation and influence can become an important factor in subsequent development, even if it cannot form a species in the biological sense of the word. Spiritually strong men often succumb in the physical struggle for life; but they can nevertheless be victorious through the typical influence they exert, perhaps on very distant generations, if the remembrance of them is kept alive, be it in legendary or in historical form. Their very failure can show that a type has taken form which is maintained at all risks, a standard of life which is adhered to in spite of the strongest opposition. The question “to be or not to be” can be put from very different levels of being: it has too often been considered a consequence of Darwinism that this question is only to be put from the lowest level. When a stage is reached, where ideal (ethical, intellectual, aesthetic) interests are concerned, the struggle for life is a struggle for the preservation of this stage. The giving up of a higher standard of life is a sort of death; for there is not only a physical, there is also a spiritual, death.


The Socratic character of Darwin’s mind appears in his wariness in drawing the last consequences of his doctrine, in contrast both with the audacious theories of so many of his followers and with the consequences which his antagonists were busy in drawing. Though he, as we have seen, saw from the beginning that his hypothesis would occasion “a whole of metaphysics,” he was himself very reserved as to the ultimate questions, and his answers to such questions were extorted from him.

As to the question of optimism and pessimism, Darwin held that though pain and suffering were very often the ways by which animals were led to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial to the species, yet pleasurable feelings were the most habitual guides. “We see this in the pleasure from exertion, even occasionally from great exertion of the body or mind, in the pleasure of our daily meals, and especially in the pleasure derived from sociability, and from loving our families.” But there was to him so much suffering in the world that it was a strong argument against the existence of an intelligent First Cause. (“Life and Letters” Vol. I. page 310.)

It seems to me that Darwin was not so clear on another question, that of the relation between improvement and adaptation. He wrote to Lyell: “When you contrast natural selection and ‘improvement,’ you seem always to overlook…that every step in the natural selection of each species implies improvement in that species IN RELATION TO ITS CONDITION OF LIFE…Improvement implies, I suppose, EACH FORM OBTAINING MANY PARTS OR ORGANS, all excellently adapted for their functions.” “All this,” he adds, “seems to me quite compatible with certain forms fitted for simple conditions, remaining unaltered, or being degraded.” (Ibid. Vol. II. page 177.) But the great question is, if the conditions of life will in the long run favour “improvement” in the sense of differentiation (or harmony of differentiation and integration). Many beings are best adapted to their conditions of life if they have few organs and few necessities. Pessimism would not only be the consequence, if suffering outweighed happiness, but also if the most elementary forms of happiness were predominant, or if there were a tendency to reduce the standard of life to the simplest possible, the contentment of inertia or stable equilibrium. There are animals which are very highly differentiated and active in their young state, but later lose their complex organisation and concentrate themselves on the one function of nutrition. In the human world analogies to this sort of adaptation are not wanting. Young “idealists” very often end as old “Philistines.” Adaptation and progress are not the same.

Another question of great importance in respect to human evolution is, whether there will be always a possibility for the existence of an impulse to progress, an impulse to make great claims on life, to be active and to alter the conditions of life instead of adapting to them in a passive manner. Many people do not develop because they have too few necessities, and because they have no power to imagine other conditions of life than those under which they live. In his remarks on “the pleasure from exertion” Darwin has a point of contact with the practical idealism of former times–with the ideas of Lessing and Goethe, of Condorcet and Fichte. The continual striving which was the condition of salvation to Faust’s soul, is also the condition of salvation to mankind. There is a holy fire which we ought to keep burning, if adaptation is really to be improvement. If, as I have tried to show in my “Philosophy of Religion”, the innermost core of all religion is faith in the persistence of value in the world, and if the highest values express themselves in the cry “Excelsior!” then the capital point is, that this cry should always be heard and followed. We have here a corollary of the theory of evolution in its application to human life.

Darwin declared himself an agnostic, not only because he could not harmonise the large amount of suffering in the world with the idea of a God as its first cause, but also because he “was aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose.” (“Life and Letters”, Vol. I. page 306.) He saw, as Kant had seen before him and expressed in his “Kritik der Urtheilskraft”, that we cannot accept either of the only two possibilities which we are able to conceive: chance (or brute force) and design. Neither mechanism nor teleology can give an absolute answer to ultimate questions. The universe, and especially the organic life in it, can neither be explained as a mere combination of absolute elements nor as the effect of a constructing thought. Darwin concluded, as Kant, and before him Spinoza, that the oppositions and distinctions which our experience presents, cannot safely be regarded as valid for existence in itself. And, with Kant and Fichte, he found his stronghold in the conviction that man has something to do, even if he cannot solve all enigmas. “The safest conclusion seems to me that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect; but man can do his duty.” (Ibid. page 307.)

Is this the last word of human thought? Does not the possibility, that man can do his duty, suppose that the conditions of life allow of continuous ethical striving, so that there is a certain harmony between cosmic order and human ideals? Darwin himself has shown how the consciousness of duty can arise as a natural result of evolution. Moreover there are lines of evolution which have their end in ethical idealism, in a kingdom of values, which must struggle for life as all things in the world must do, but a kingdom which has its firm foundation in reality.


Professor of Social Philosophy in the University of Toulouse and Deputy- Professor at the Sorbonne, Paris.

How has our conception of social phenomena, and of their history, been affected by Darwin’s conception of Nature and the laws of its transformations? To what extent and in what particular respects have the discoveries and hypotheses of the author of “The Origin of Species” aided the efforts of those who have sought to construct a science of society?

To such a question it is certainly not easy to give any brief or precise answer. We find traces of Darwinism almost everywhere. Sociological systems differing widely from each other have laid claim to its authority; while, on the other hand, its influence has often made itself felt only in combination with other influences. The Darwinian thread is worked into a hundred patterns along with other threads.

To deal with the problem, we must, it seems, first of all distinguish the more general conclusions in regard to the evolution of living beings, which are the outcome of Darwinism, from the particular explanations it offers of the ways and means by which that evolution is effected. That is to say, we must, as far as possible, estimate separately the influence of Darwin as an evolutionist and Darwin as a selectionist.

The nineteenth century, said Cournot, has witnessed a mighty effort to “reintegrer l’homme dans la nature.” From divers quarters there has been a methodical reaction against the persistent dualism of the Cartesian tradition, which was itself the unconscious heir of the Christian tradition. Even the philosophy of the eighteenth century, materialistic as were for the most part the tendencies of its leaders, seemed to revere man as a being apart, concerning whom laws might be formulated a priori. To bring him down from his pedestal there was needed the marked predominance of positive researches wherein no account was taken of the “pride of man.” There can be no doubt that Darwin has done much to familiarise us with this attitude. Take for instance the first part of “The Descent of Man”: it is an accumulation of typical facts, all tending to diminish the distance between us and our brothers, the lower animals. One might say that the naturalist had here taken as his motto, “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Homologous structures, the survival in man of certain organs of animals, the rudiments in the animal of certain human faculties, a multitude of facts of this sort, led Darwin to the conclusion that there is no ground for supposing that the “king of the universe” is exempt from universal laws. Thus belief in the imperium in imperio has been, as it were, whittled away by the progress of the naturalistic spirit, itself continually strengthened by the conquests of the natural sciences. The tendency may, indeed, drag the social sciences into overstrained analogies, such, for instance, as the assimilation of societies to organisms. But it will, at least, have had the merit of helping sociology to shake off the pre-conception that the groups formed by men are artificial, and that history is completely at the mercy of chance. Some years before the appearance of “The Origin of Species”, Auguste Comte had pointed out the importance, as regards the unification of positive knowledge, of the conviction that the social world, the last refuge of spiritualism, is itself subject to determininism. It cannot be doubted that the movement of thought which Darwin’s discoveries promoted contributed to the spread of this conviction, by breaking down the traditional barrier which cut man off from Nature.

But Nature, according to modern naturalists, is no immutable thing: it is rather perpetual movement, continual progression. Their discoveries batter a breach directly into the Aristotelian notion of species; they refuse to see in the animal world a collection of immutable types, distinct from all eternity, and corresponding, as Cuvier said, to so many particular thoughts of the Creator. Darwin especially congratulated himself upon having been able to deal this doctrine the coup de grace: immutability is, he says, his chief enemy; and he is concerned to show–therein following up Lyell’s work–that everything in the organic world, as in the inorganic, is explained by insensible but incessant transformations. “Nature makes no leaps”–“Nature knows no gaps”: these two dicta form, as it were, the two landmarks between which Darwin’s idea of transformation is worked out. That is to say, the development of Darwinism is calculated to further the application of the philosophy of Becoming to the study of human institutions.

The progress of the natural sciences thus brings unexpected reinforcements to the revolution which the progress of historical discipline had begun. The first attempt to constitute an actual science of social phenomena– that, namely, of the economists–had resulted in laws which were called natural, and which were believed to be eternal and universal, valid for all times and all places. But this perpetuality, brother, as Knies said, of the immutability of the old zoology, did not long hold out against the ever swelling tide of the historical movement. Knowledge of the transformations that had taken place in language, of the early phases of the family, of religion, of property, had all favoured the revival of the Heraclitean view: panta rei. As to the categories of political economy, it was soon to be recognised, as by Lassalle, that they too are only historical. The philosophy of history, moreover, gave expression under various forms to the same tendency. Hegel declares that “all that is real is rational,” but at the same time he shows that all that is real is ephemeral, and that for history there is nothing fixed beneath the sun. It is this sense of universal evolution that Darwin came with fresh authority to enlarge. It was in the name of biological facts themselves that he taught us to see only slow metamorphoses in the history of institutions, and to be always on the outlook for survivals side by side with rudimentary forms. Anyone who reads “Primitive Culture”, by Tylor,–a writer closely connected with Darwin–will be able to estimate the services which these cardinal ideas were to render to the social sciences when the age of comparative research had succeeded to that of a priori construction.

Let us note, moreover, that the philosophy of Becoming in passing through the Darwinian biology became, as it were, filtered: it got rid of those traces of finalism, which, under different forms, it had preserved through all the systems of German Romanticism. Even in Herbert Spencer, it has been plausibly argued, one can detect something of that sort of mystic confidence in forces spontaneously directing life, which forms the very essence of those systems. But Darwin’s observations were precisely calculated to render such an hypothesis futile. At first people may have failed to see this; and we call to mind the ponderous sarcasms of Flourens when he objected to the theory of Natural Selection that it attributed to nature a power of free choice. “Nature endowed with will! That was the final error of last century; but the nineteenth no longer deals in personifications.” (P. Flourens, “Examen du Livre de M. Darwin sur l’Origine des Especes”, page 53, Paris, 1864. See also Huxley, “Criticisms on the ‘Origin of Species'”, “Collected Essays”, Vol. II, page 102, London, 1902.) In fact Darwin himself put his readers on their guard against the metaphors he was obliged to use. The processes by which he explains the survival of the fittest are far from affording any indication of the design of some transcendent breeder. Nor, if we look closely, do they even imply immanent effort in the animal; the sorting out can be brought about mechanically, simply by the action of the environment. In this connection Huxley could with good reason maintain that Darwin’s originality consisted in showing how harmonies which hitherto had been taken to imply the agency of intelligence and will could be explained without any such intervention. So, when later on, objective sociology declares that, even when social phenomena are in question, all finalist preconceptions must be distrusted if a science is to be constituted, it is to Darwin that its thanks are due; he had long been clearing paths for it which lay well away from the old familiar road trodden by so many theories of evolution.

This anti-finalist doctrine, when fully worked out, was, moreover, calculated to aid in the needful dissociation of two notions: that of evolution and that of progress. In application to society these had long been confounded; and, as a consequence, the general idea seemed to be that only one type of evolution was here possible. Do we not detect such a view in Comte’s sociology, and perhaps even in Herbert Spencer’s? Whoever, indeed, assumes an end for evolution is naturally inclined to think that only one road leads to that end. But those whose minds the Darwinian theory has enlightened are aware that the transformations of living beings depend primarily upon their conditions, and that it is these conditions which are the agents of selection from among individual variations. Hence, it immediately follows that transformations are not necessarily improvements. Here, Darwin’s thought hesitated. Logically his theory proves, as Ray Lankester pointed out, that the struggle for existence may have as its outcome degeneration as well as amelioration: evolution may be regressive as well as progressive. Then, too–and this is especially to be borne in mind–each species takes its good where it finds it, seeks its own path and survives as best it can. Apply this notion to society and you arrive at the theory of multilinear evolution. Divergencies will no longer surprise you. You will be forewarned not to apply to all civilisations the same measure of progress, and you will recognise that types of evolution may differ just as social species themselves differ. Have we not here one of the conceptions which mark off sociology proper from the old philosophy of history?

But if we are to estimate the influence of Darwinism upon sociological conceptions, we must not dwell only upon the way in which Darwin impressed the general notion of evolution upon the minds of thinkers. We must go into details. We must consider the influence of the particular theories by which he explained the mechanism of this evolution. The name of the author of “The Origin of Species” has been especially attached, as everyone knows, to the doctrines of “natural selection” and of “struggle for existence,” completed by the notion of “individual variation.” These doctrines were turned to account by very different schools of social philosophy. Pessimistic and optimistic, aristocratic and democratic, individualistic and socialistic systems were to war with each other for years by casting scraps of Darwinism at each other’s heads.

It was the spectacle of human contrivance that suggested to Darwin his conception of natural selection. It was in studying the methods of pigeon breeders that he divined the processes by which nature, in the absence of design, obtains analogous results in the differentiation of types. As soon as the importance of artificial selection in the transformation of species of animals was understood, reflection naturally turned to the human species, and the question arose, How far do men observe, in connection with themselves, those laws of which they make practical application in the case of animals? Here we come upon one of the ideas which guided the researches of Galton, Darwin’s cousin. The author of “Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development” (“Inquiries into Human Faculty”, pages 1, 2, 3 sq., London, 1883.), has often expressed his surprise that, considering all the precautions taken, for example, in the breeding of horses, none whatever are taken in the breeding of the human species. It seems to be forgotten that the species suffers when the “fittest” are not able to perpetuate their type. Ritchie, in his “Darwinism and Politics” (“Darwinism and Politics” pages 9, 22, London, 1889.) reminds us of Darwin’s remark that the institution of the peerage might be defended on the ground that peers, owing to the prestige they enjoy, are enabled to select as wives “the most beautiful and charming women out of the lower ranks.” (“Life and Letters of Charles Darwin”, II. page 385.) But, says Galton, it is as often as not “heiresses” that they pick out, and birth statistics seem to show that these are either less robust or less fecund than others. The truth is that considerations continue to preside over marriage which are entirely foreign to the improvement of type, much as this is a condition of general progress. Hence the importance of completing Odin’s and De Candolle’s statistics which are designed to show how characters are incorporated in organisms, how they are transmitted, how lost, and according to what law eugenic elements depart from the mean or return to it.

But thinkers do not always content themselves with undertaking merely the minute researches which the idea of Selection suggests. They are eager to defend this or that thesis. In the name of this idea certain social anthropologists have recast the conception of the process of civilisation, and have affirmed that Social Selection generally works against the trend of Natural Selection. Vacher de Lapouge–following up an observation by Broca on the point–enumerates the various institutions, or customs, such as the celibacy of priests and military conscription, which cause elimination or sterilisation of the bearers of certain superior qualities, intellectual or physical. In a more general way he attacks the democratic movement, a movement, as P. Bourget says, which is “anti-physical” and contrary to the natural laws of progress; though it has been inspired “by the dreams of that most visionary of all centuries, the eighteenth.” (V. de Lapouge, “Les Selections sociales”, page 259, Paris, 1896.) The “Equality” which levels down and mixes (justly condemned, he holds, by the Comte de Gobineau), prevents the aristocracy of the blond dolichocephales from holding the position and playing the part which, in the interests of all, should belong to them. Otto Ammon, in his “Natural Selection in Man”, and in “The Social Order and its Natural Bases” (“Die naturliche Auslese beim Menschen”, Jena, 1893; “Die Gesellschaftsordnung und ihre naturlichen Grundlagen”. “Entwurf einer Sozialanthropologie”, Jena, 1896.), defended analogous doctrines in Germany; setting the curve representing frequency of talent over against that of income, he attempted to show that all democratic measures which aim at promoting the rise in the social scale of the talented are useless, if not dangerous; that they only increase the panmixia, to the great detriment of the species and of society.

Among the aristocratic theories which Darwinism has thus inspired we must reckon that of Nietzsche. It is well known that in order to complete his philosophy he added biological studies to his philological; and more than once in his remarks upon the “Wille zur Macht” he definitely alludes to Darwin; though it must be confessed that it is generally in order to proclaim the in sufficiency of the processes by which Darwin seeks to explain the genesis of species. Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s mind is completely possessed by an ideal of Selection. He, too, has a horror of panmixia. The naturalists’ conception of “the fittest” is joined by him to that of the “hero” of romance to furnish a basis for his doctrine of the Superman. Let us hasten to add, moreover, that at the very moment when support was being sought in the theory of Selection for the various forms of the aristocratic doctrine, those same forms were being battered down on another side by means of that very theory. Attention was drawn to the fact that by virtue of the laws which Darwin himself had discovered isolation leads to etiolation. There is a risk that the privilege which withdraws the privileged elements of Society from competition will cause them to degenerate. In fact, Jacoby in his “Studies in Selection, in connexion with Heredity in Man”, (“Etudes sur la Selection dans ses rapports avec l’heredite chez l’homme”, Paris, page 481, 1881.), concludes that “sterility, mental debility, premature death and, finally, the extinction of the stock were not specially and exclusively the fate of sovereign dynasties; all privileged classes, all families in exclusively elevated positions share the fate of reigning families, although in a minor degree and in direct proportion to the loftiness of their social standing. From the mass of human beings spring individuals, families, races, which tend to raise themselves above the common level; painfully they climb the rugged heights, attain the summits of power, of wealth, of intelligence, of talent, and then, no sooner are they there than they topple down and disappear in gulfs of mental and physical degeneracy.” The demographical researches of Hansen (“Die drei Bevolkerungsstufen”, Munich, 1889.) (following up and completing Dumont’s) tended, indeed, to show that urban as well as feudal aristocracies, burgher classes as well as noble castes, were liable to become effete. Hence it might well be concluded that the democratic movement, operating as it does to break down class barriers, was promoting instead of impeding human selection.

So we see that, according to the point of view, very different conclusions have been drawn from the application of the Darwinian idea of Selection to human society. Darwin’s other central idea, closely bound up with this, that, namely, of the “struggle for existence” also has been diversely utilised. But discussion has chiefly centered upon its signification. And while some endeavour to extend its application to everything, we find others trying to limit its range. The conception of a “struggle for existence” has in the present day been taken up into the social sciences from natural science, and adopted. But originally it descended from social science to natural. Darwin’s law is, as he himself said, only Malthus’ law generalised and extended to the animal world: a growing disproportion between the supply of food and the number of the living is the fatal order whence arises the necessity of universal struggle, a struggle which, to the great advantage of the species, allows only the best equipped individuals to survive. Nature is regarded by Huxley as an immense arena where all living beings are gladiators. (“Evolution and Ethics”, page 200; “Collected Essays”, Vol. IX, London, 1894.)

Such a generalisation was well adapted to feed the stream of pessimistic thought; and it furnished to the apologists of war, in particular, new arguments, weighted with all the authority which in these days attaches to scientific deliverances. If people no longer say, as Bonald did, and Moltke after him, that war is a providential fact, they yet lay stress on the point that it is a natural fact. To the peace party Dragomirov’s objection is urged that its attempts are contrary to the fundamental laws of nature, and that no sea wall can hold against breakers that come with such gathered force.

But in yet another quarter Darwinism was represented as opposed to philanthropic intervention. The defenders of the orthodox political economy found in it support for their tenets. Since in the organic world universal struggle is the condition of progress, it seemed obvious that free competition must be allowed to reign unchecked in the economic world. Attempts to curb it were in the highest degree imprudent. The spirit of Liberalism here seemed in conformity with the trend of nature: in this respect, at least, contemporary naturalism, offspring of the discoveries of the nineteenth century, brought reinforcements to the individualist doctrine, begotten of the speculations of the eighteenth: but only, it appeared, to turn mankind away for ever from humanitarian dreams. Would those whom such conclusions repelled be content to oppose to nature’s imperatives only the protests of the heart? There were some who declared, like Brunetiere, that the laws in question, valid though they might be for the animal kingdom, were not applicable to the human. And so a return was made to the classic dualism. This indeed seems to be the line that Huxley took, when, for instance, he opposed to the cosmic process an ethical process which was its reverse.

But the number of thinkers whom this antithesis does not satisfy grows daily. Although the pessimism which claims authorisation from Darwin’s doctrines is repugnant to them, they still are unable to accept the dualism which leaves a gulf between man and nature. And their endeavour is to link the two by showing that while Darwin’s laws obtain in both kingdoms, the conditions of their application are not the same: their forms, and, consequently, their results, vary with the varying mediums in which the struggle of living beings takes place, with the means these beings have at disposal, with the ends even which they propose to themselves.

Here we have the explanation of the fact that among determined opponents of war partisans of the “struggle for existence” can be found: there are disciples of Darwin in the peace party. Novicow, for example, admits the “combat universel” of which Le Dantec (“Les Luttes entre Societies humaines et leurs phases successives”, Paris, 1893,) speaks; but he remarks that at different stages of evolution, at different stages of life the same weapons are not necessarily employed. Struggles of brute force, armed hand to hand conflicts, may have been a necessity in the early phases of human societies. Nowadays, although competition may remain inevitable and indispensable, it can assume milder forms. Economic rivalries, struggles between intellectual influences, suffice to stimulate progress: the processes which these admit are, in the actual state of civilisation, the only ones which attain their end without waste, the only ones logical. From one end to the other of the ladder of life, struggle is the order of the day; but more and more as the higher rungs are reached, it takes on characters which are proportionately more “humane.”

Reflections of this kind permit the introduction into the economic order of limitations to the doctrine of “laisser faire, laisser passer.” This appeals, it is said, to the example of nature where creatures, left to themselves, struggle without truce and without mercy; but the fact is forgotten that upon industrial battlefields the conditions are different. The competitors here are not left simply to their natural energies: they are variously handicapped. A rich store of artificial resources exists in which some participate and others do not. The sides then are unequal; and as a consequence the result of the struggle is falsified. “In the animal world,” said De Laveleye (“Le socialisme contemporain”, page 384 (6th edition), Paris, 1891.), criticising Spencer, “the fate of each creature is determined by its individual qualities; whereas in civilised societies a man may obtain the highest position and the most beautiful wife because he is rich and well-born, although he may be ugly, idle or improvident; and then it is he who will perpetuate the species. The wealthy man, ill constituted, incapable, sickly, enjoys his riches and establishes his stock under the protection of the laws.” Haycraft in England and Jentsch in Germany have strongly emphasised these “anomalies,” which nevertheless are the rule. That is to say that even from a Darwinian point of view all social reforms can readily be justified which aim at diminishing, as Wallace said, inequalities at the start.

But we can go further still. Whence comes the idea that all measures inspired by the sentiment of solidarity are contrary to Nature’s trend? Observe her carefully, and she will not give lessons only in individualism. Side by side with the struggle for existence do we not find in operation what Lanessan calls “association for existence.” Long ago, Espinas had drawn attention to “societies of animals,” temporary or permanent, and to the kind of morality that arose in them. Since then, naturalists have often insisted upon the importance of various forms of symbiosis. Kropotkin in “Mutual Aid” has chosen to enumerate many examples of altruism furnished by animals to mankind. Geddes and Thomson went so far as to maintain that “Each of the greater steps of progress is in fact associated with an increased measure of subordination of individual competition to reproductive or social ends, and of interspecific competition to co- operative association.” (Geddes and Thomson, “The Evolution of Sex”, page 311, London, 1889.) Experience shows, according to Geddes, that the types which are fittest to surmount great obstacles are not so much those who engage in the fiercest competitive struggle for existence, as those who contrive to temper it. From all these observations there resulted, along with a limitation of Darwinian pessimism, some encouragement for the aspirations of the collectivists.

And Darwin himself would, doubtless, have subscribed to these rectifications. He never insisted, like his rival, Wallace, upon the necessity of the solitary struggle of creatures in a state of nature, each for himself and against all. On the contrary, in “The Descent of Man”, he pointed out the serviceableness of the social instincts, and corroborated Bagehot’s statements when the latter, applying laws of physics to politics, showed the great advantage societies derived from intercourse and communion. Again, the theory of sexual evolution which makes the evolution of types depend increasingly upon preferences, judgments, mental factors, surely offers something to qualify what seems hard and brutal in the theory of natural selection.

But, as often happens with disciples, the Darwinians had out-Darwined Darwin. The extravagancies of social Darwinism provoked a useful reaction; and thus people were led to seek, even in the animal kingdom, for facts of solidarity which would serve to justify humane effort.

On quite another line, however, an attempt has been made to connect socialist tendencies with Darwinian principles. Marx and Darwin have been confronted; and writers have undertaken to show that the work of the German philosopher fell readily into line with that of the English naturalist and was a development of it. Such has been the endeavour of Ferri in Italy and of Woltmann in Germany, not to mention others. The founders of “scientific socialism” had, moreover, themselves thought of this reconciliation. They make more than one allusion to Darwin in works which appeared after 1859. And sometimes they use his theory to define by contrast their own ideal. They remark that the capitalist system, by giving free course to individual competition, ends indeed in a bellum omnium contra omnes; and they make it clear that Darwinism, thus understood, is as repugnant to them as to Duhring.

But it is at the scientific and not at the moral point of view that they place themselves when they connect their economic history with Darwin’s work. Thanks to this unifying hypothesis, they claim to have constructed– as Marx does in his preface to “Das Kapital”–a veritable natural history of social evolution. Engels speaks in praise of his friend Marx as having discovered the true mainspring of history hidden under the veil of idealism and sentimentalism, and as having proclaimed in the primum vivere the inevitableness of the struggle for existence. Marx himself, in “Das Kapital”, indicated another analogy when he dwelt upon the importance of a general technology for the explanation of this psychology:–a history of tools which would be to social organs what Darwinism is to the organs of animal species. And the very importance they attach to tools, to apparatus, to machines, abundantly proves that neither Marx nor Engels were likely to forget the special characters which mark off the human world from the animal. The former always remains to a great extent an artificial world. Inventions change the face of its institutions. New modes of production revolutionise not only modes of government, but modes even of collective thought. Therefore it is that the evolution of society is controlled by laws special to it, of which the spectacle of nature offers no suggestion.

If, however, even in this special sphere, it can still be urged that the evolution of the material conditions of society is in accord with Darwin’s theory, it is because the influence of the methods of production is itself to be explained by the incessant strife of the various classes with each other. So that in the end Marx, like Darwin, finds the source of all progress in struggle. Both are grandsons of Heraclitus:–polemos pater panton. It sometimes happens, in these days, that the doctrine of revolutionary socialism is contrasted as rude and healthy with what may seem to be the enervating tendency of “solidarist” philanthropy: the apologists of the doctrine then pride themselves above all upon their faithfulness to Darwinian principles.

So far we have been mainly concerned to show the use that social philosophies have made of the Darwinian laws for practical purposes: in order to orientate society towards their ideals each school tries to show that the authority of natural science is on its side. But even in the most objective of theories, those which systematically make abstraction of all political tendencies in order to study the social reality in itself, traces of Darwinism are readily to be found.

Let us take for example Durkheim’s theory of Division of Labour (“De la Division du Travail social”, Paris, 1893.) The conclusions he derives from it are that whenever professional specialisation causes multiplication of distinct branches of activity, we get organic solidarity–implying differences–substituted for mechanical solidarity, based upon likenesses. The umbilical cord, as Marx said, which connects the individual consciousness with the collective consciousness is cut. The personality becomes more and more emancipated. But on what does this phenomenon, so big with consequences, itself depend? The author goes to social morphology for the answer: it is, he says, the growing density of population which brings with it this increasing differentiation of activities. But, again, why? Because the greater density, in thrusting men up against each other, augments the intensity of their competition for the means of existence; and for the problems which society thus has to face differentiation of functions presents itself as the gentlest solution.

Here one sees that the writer borrows directly from Darwin. Competition is at its maximum between similars, Darwin had declared; different species, not laying claim to the same food, could more easily coexist. Here lay the explanation of the fact that upon the same oak hundreds of different insects might be found. Other things being equal, the same applies to society. He who finds some unadopted speciality possesses a means of his own for getting a living. It is by this division of their manifold tasks that men contrive not to crush each other. Here we obviously have a Darwinian law serving as intermediary in the explanation of that progress of division of labour which itself explains so much in the social evolution.

And we might take another example, at the other end of the series of sociological systems. G. Tarde is a sociologist with the most pronounced anti-naturalistic views. He has attempted to show that all application of the laws of natural science to society is misleading. In his “Opposition Universelle” he has directly combatted all forms of sociological Darwinism. According to him the idea that the evolution of society can be traced on the same plan as the evolution of species is chimerical. Social evolution is at the mercy of all kinds of inventions, which by virtue of the laws of imitation modify, through individual to individual, through neighbourhood to neighbourhood, the general state of those beliefs and desires which are the only “quantities” whose variation matters to the sociologist. But, it may be rejoined, that however psychical the forces may be, they are none the less subject to Darwinian laws. They compete with each other; they struggle for the mastery of minds. Between types of ideas, as between organic forms, selection operates. And though it may be that these types are ushered into the arena by unexpected discoveries, we yet recognise in the psychological accidents, which Tarde places at the base of everything, near relatives of those small accidental variations upon which Darwin builds. Thus, accepting Tarde’s own representations, it is quite possible to express in Darwinian terms, with the necessary transpositions, one of the most idealistic sociologies that have ever been constructed.

These few examples suffice. They enable us to estimate the extent of the field of influence of Darwinism. It affects sociology not only through the agency of its advocates but through that of its opponents. The questionings to which it has given rise have proved no less fruitful than the solutions it has suggested. In short, few doctrines, in the history of social philosophy, will have produced on their passage a finer outcrop of ideas.




The object of this paper is first to point out certain elements of the Darwinian influence upon Religious thought, and then to show reason for the conclusion that it has been, from a Christian point of view, satisfactory. I shall not proceed further to urge that the Christian apologetic in relation to biology has been successful. A variety of opinions may be held on this question, without disturbing the conclusion that the movements of readjustment have been beneficial to those who remain Christians, and this by making them more Christian and not only more liberal. The theologians may sometimes have retreated, but there has been an advance of theology. I know that this account incurs the charge of optimism. It is not the worst that could be made. The influence has been limited in personal range, unequal, even divergent, in operation, and accompanied by the appearance of waste and mischievous products. The estimate which follows requires for due balance a full development of many qualifying considerations. For this I lack space, but I must at least distinguish my view from the popular one that our difficulties about religion and natural science have come to an end.

Concerning the older questions about origins–the origin of the world, of species, of man, of reason, conscience, religion–a large measure of understanding has been reached by some thoughtful men. But meanwhile new questions have arisen, questions about conduct, regarding both the reality of morals and the rule of right action for individuals and societies. And these problems, still far from solution, may also be traced to the influence of Darwin. For they arise from the renewed attention to heredity, brought about by the search for the causes of variation, without which the study of the selection of variations has no sufficient basis.

Even the existing understanding about origins is very far from universal. On these points there were always thoughtful men who denied the necessity of conflict, and there are still thoughtful men who deny the possibility of a truce.

It must further be remembered that the earlier discussion now, as I hope to show, producing favourable results, created also for a time grave damage, not only in the disturbance of faith and the loss of men–a loss not repaired by a change in the currents of debate–but in what I believe to be a still more serious respect. I mean the introduction of a habit of facile and untested hypothesis in religious as in other departments of thought.

Darwin is not responsible for this, but he is in part the cause of it. Great ideas are dangerous guests in narrow minds; and thus it has happened that Darwin–the most patient of scientific workers, in whom hypothesis waited upon research, or if it provisionally outstepped it did so only with the most scrupulously careful acknowledgment–has led smaller and less conscientious men in natural science, in history, and in theology to an over-eager confidence in probable conjecture and a loose grip upon the facts of experience. It is not too much to say that in many quarters the age of materialism was the least matter-of-fact age conceivable, and the age of science the age which showed least of the patient temper of inquiry.

I have indicated, as shortly as I could, some losses and dangers which in a balanced account of Darwin’s influence would be discussed at length.

One other loss must be mentioned. It is a defect in our thought which, in some quarters, has by itself almost cancelled all the advantages secured. I mean the exaggerated emphasis on uniformity or continuity; the unwillingness to rest any part of faith or of our practical expectation upon anything that from any point of view can be called exceptional. The high degree of success reached by naturalists in tracing, or reasonably conjecturing, the small beginnings of great differences, has led the inconsiderate to believe that anything may in time become anything else.

It is true that this exaggeration of the belief in uniformity has produced in turn its own perilous reaction. From refusing to believe whatever can be called exceptional, some have come to believe whatever can be called wonderful.

But, on the whole, the discontinuous or highly various character of experience received for many years too little deliberate attention. The conception of uniformity which is a necessity of scientific description has been taken for the substance of history. We have accepted a postulate of scientific method as if it were a conclusion of scientific demonstration. In the name of a generalisation which, however just on the lines of a particular method, is the prize of a difficult exploit of reflexion, we have discarded the direct impressions of experience; or, perhaps it is more true to say, we have used for the criticism of alleged experiences a doctrine of uniformity which is only valid in the region of abstract science. For every science depends for its advance upon limitation of attention, upon the selection out of the whole content of consciousness of that part or aspect which is measurable by the method of the science. Accordingly there is a science of life which rightly displays the unity underlying all its manifestations. But there is another view of life, equally valid, and practically sometimes more important, which recognises the immediate and lasting effect of crisis, difference, and revolution. Our ardour for the demonstration of uniformity of process and of minute continuous change needs to be balanced by a recognition of the catastrophic element in experience, and also by a recognition of the exceptional significance for us of events which may be perfectly regular from an impersonal point of view.

An exorbitant jealousy of miracle, revelation, and ultimate moral distinctions has been imported from evolutionary science into religious thought. And it has been a damaging influence, because it has taken men’s attention from facts, and fixed them upon theories.


With this acknowledgment of important drawbacks, requiring many words for their proper description, I proceed to indicate certain results of Darwin’s doctrine which I believe to be in the long run wholly beneficial to Christian thought. These are:

The encouragement in theology of that evolutionary method of observation and study, which has shaped all modern research:

The recoil of Christian apologetics towards the ground of religious experience, a recoil produced by the pressure of scientific criticism upon other supports of faith:

The restatement, or the recovery of ancient forms of statement, of the doctrines of Creation and of divine Design in Nature, consequent upon the discussion of evolution and of natural selection as its guiding factor.

(1) The first of these is quite possibly the most important of all. It was well defined in a notable paper read by Dr Gore, now Bishop of Birmingham, to the Church Congress at Shrewsbury in 1896. We have learnt a new caution both in ascribing and in denying significance to items of evidence, in utterance or in event. There has been, as in art, a study of values, which secures perspective and solidity in our representation of facts. On the one hand, a given utterance or event cannot be drawn into evidence as if all items were of equal consequence, like sovereigns in a bag. The question whence and whither must be asked, and the particular thing measured as part of a series. Thus measured it is not less truly important, but it may be important in a lower degree. On the other hand, and for exactly the same reason, nothing that is real is unimportant. The “failures” are not mere mistakes. We see them, in St Augustine’s words, as “scholar’s faults which men praise in hope of fruit.”

We cannot safely trace the origin of the evolutionistic method to the influence of natural science. The view is tenable that theology led the way. Probably this is a case of alternate and reciprocal debt. Quite certainly the evolutionist method in theology, in Christian history, and in the estimate of scripture, has received vast reinforcement from biology, in which evolution has been the ever present and ever victorious conception.

(2) The second effect named is the new willingness of Christian thinkers to take definite account of religious experience. This is related to Darwin through the general pressure upon religious faith of scientific criticism. The great advance of our knowledge of organisms has been an important element in the general advance of science. It has acted, by the varied requirements of the theory of organisms, upon all other branches of natural inquiry, and it held for a long time that leading place in public attention which is now occupied by speculative physics. Consequently it contributed largely to our present estimation of science as the supreme judge in all matters of inquiry (F.R. Tennant: “The Being of God in the light of Physical Science”, in “Essays on some theological questions of the day”. London, 1905.), to the supposed destruction of mystery and the disparagement of metaphysic which marked the last age, as well as to the just recommendation of scientific method in branches of learning where the direct acquisitions of natural science had no place.

Besides this, the new application of the idea of law and mechanical regularity to the organic world seemed to rob faith of a kind of refuge. The romantics had, as Berthelot (“Evolutionisme et Platonisme”, pages 45, 46, 47. Paris, 1908.) shows, appealed to life to redress the judgments drawn from mechanism. Now, in Spencer, evolution gave us a vitalist mechanic or mechanical vitalism, and the appeal seemed cut off. We may return to this point later when we consider evolution; at present I only endeavour to indicate that general pressure of scientific criticism which drove men of faith to seek the grounds of reassurance in a science of their own; in a method of experiment, of observation, of hypothesis checked by known facts. It is impossible for me to do more than glance across the threshold of this subject. But it is necessary to say that the method is in an elementary stage of revival. The imposing success that belongs to natural science is absent: we fall short of the unchallengeable unanimity of the Biologists on fundamentals. The experimental method with its sure repetitions cannot be applied to our subject-matter. But we have something like the observational method of palaeontology and geographical distribution; and in biology there are still men who think that the large examination of varieties by way of geography and the search of strata is as truly scientific, uses as genuinely the logical method of difference, and is as fruitful in sure conclusions as the quasi-chemical analysis of Mendelian laboratory work, of which last I desire to express my humble admiration. Religion also has its observational work in the larger and possibly more arduous manner.

But the scientific work in religion makes its way through difficulties and dangers. We are far from having found the formula of its combination with the historical elements of our apologetic. It is exposed, therefore, to a damaging fire not only from unspiritualist psychology and pathology but also from the side of scholastic dogma. It is hard to admit on equal terms a partner to the old undivided rule of books and learning. With Charles Lamb, we cry in some distress, “must knowledge come to me, if it come at all, by some awkward experiment of intuition, and no longer by this familiar process of reading?” (“Essays of Elia”, “New Year’s Eve”, page 41; Ainger’s edition. London, 1899.) and we are answered that the old process has an imperishable value, only we have not yet made clear its connection with other contributions. And all the work is young, liable to be drawn into unprofitable excursions, side-tracked by self-deceit and pretence; and it fatally attracts, like the older mysticism, the curiosity and the expository powers of those least in sympathy with it, ready writers who, with all the air of extended research, have been content with narrow grounds for induction. There is a danger, besides, which accompanies even the most genuine work of this science and must be provided against by all its serious students. I mean the danger of unbalanced introspection both for individuals and for societies; of a preoccupation comparable to our modern social preoccupation with bodily health; of reflection upon mental states not accompanied by exercise and growth of the mental powers; the danger of contemplating will and neglecting work, of analysing conviction and not criticising evidence.

Still, in spite of dangers and mistakes, the work remains full of hopeful indications, and, in the best examples (Such an example is given in Baron F. von Hugel’s recently finished book, the result of thirty years’ research: “The Mystical Element of Religion, as studied in Saint Catherine of Genoa and her Friends”. London, 1908.), it is truly scientific in its determination to know the very truth, to tell what we think, not what we think we ought to think. (G. Tyrrell, in “Mediaevalism”, has a chapter which is full of the important MORAL element in a scientific attitude. “The only infallible guardian of truth is the spirit of truthfulness.” “Mediaevalism” page 182, London, 1908.), truly scientific in its employment of hypothesis and verification, and in growing conviction of the reality of its subject-matter through the repeated victories of a mastery which advances, like science, in the Baconian road of obedience. It is reasonable to hope that progress in this respect will be more rapid and sure when religious study enlists more men affected by scientific desire and endowed with scientific capacity.

The class of investigating minds is a small one, possibly even smaller than that of reflecting minds. Very few persons at any period are able to find out anything whatever. There are few observers, few discoverers, few who even wish to discover truth. In how many societies the problems of philology which face every person who speaks English are left unattempted! And if the inquiring or the successfully inquiring class of minds is small, much smaller, of course, is the class of those possessing the scientific aptitude in an eminent degree. During the last age this most distinguished class was to a very great extent absorbed in the study of phenomena, a study which had fallen into arrears. For we stood possessed, in rudiment, of means of observation, means for travelling and acquisition, qualifying men for a larger knowledge than had yet been attempted. These were now to be directed with new accuracy and ardour upon the fabric and behaviour of the world of sense. Our debt to the great masters in physical science who overtook and almost out-stripped the task cannot be measured; and, under the honourable leadership of Ruskin, we may all well do penance if we have failed “in the respect due to their great powers of thought, or in the admiration due to the far scope of their discovery.” (“Queen of the Air”, Preface, page vii. London, 1906.) With what miraculous mental energy and divine good fortune–as Romans said of their soldiers–did our men of curiosity face the apparently impenetrable mysteries of nature! And how natural it was that immense accessions of knowledge, unrelated to the spiritual facts of life, should discredit Christian faith, by the apparent superiority of the new work to the feeble and unprogressive knowledge of Christian believers! The day is coming when men of this mental character and rank, of this curiosity, this energy and this good fortune in investigation, will be employed in opening mysteries of a spiritual nature. They will silence with masterful witness the over-confident denials of naturalism. They will be in danger of the widespread recognition which thirty years ago accompanied every utterance of Huxley, Tyndall, Spencer. They will contribute, in spite of adulation, to the advance of sober religious and moral science.

And this result will be due to Darwin, first because by raising the dignity of natural science, he encouraged the development of the scientific mind; secondly because he gave to religious students the example of patient and ardent investigation; and thirdly because by the pressure of naturalistic criticism the religious have been driven to ascertain the causes of their own convictions, a work in which they were not without the sympathy of men of science. (The scientific rank of its writer justifies the insertion of the following letter from the late Sir John Burdon-Sanderson to me. In the lecture referred to I had described the methods of Professor Moseley in teaching Biology as affording a suggestion of the scientific treatment of religion.

Oxford, April 30, 1902.

Dear Sir,

I feel that I must express to you my thanks for the discourse which I had the pleasure of listening to yesterday afternoon.

I do not mean to say that I was able to follow all that you said as to the identity of Method in the two fields of Science and Religion, but I recognise that the “mysticism” of which you spoke gives us the only way by which the two fields can be brought into relation.

Among much that was memorable, nothing interested me more than what you said of Moseley.

No one, I am sure, knew better than you the value of his teaching and in what that value consisted.

Yours faithfully

J. Burdon-Sanderson.

In leaving the subject of scientific religious inquiry, I will only add that I do not believe it receives any important help–and certainly it suffers incidentally much damaging interruption–from the study of abnormal manifestations or abnormal conditions of personality.

(3) Both of the above effects seem to me of high, perhaps the very highest, importance to faith and to thought. But, under the third head, I name two which are more directly traceable to the personal work of Darwin, and more definitely characteristic of the age in which his influence was paramount: viz. the influence of the two conceptions of evolution and natural selection upon the doctrine of creation and of design respectively.

It is impossible here, though it is necessary for a complete sketch of the matter, to distinguish the different elements and channels of this Darwinian influence; in Darwin’s own writings, in the vigorous polemic of Huxley, and strangely enough, but very actually for popular thought, in the teaching of the definitely anti-Darwinian evolutionist Spencer.

Under the head of the directly and purely Darwinian elements I should class as preeminent the work of Wallace and of Bates; for no two sets of facts have done more to fix in ordinary intelligent minds a belief in organic evolution and in natural selection as its guiding factor than the facts of geographical distribution and of protective colour and mimicry. The facts of geology were difficult to grasp and the public and theologians heard more often of the imperfection than of the extent of the geological record. The witness of embryology, depending to a great extent upon microscopic work, was and is beyond the appreciation of persons occupied in fields of work other than biology.


From the influence in religion of scientific modes of thought we pass to the influence of particular biological conceptions. The former effect comes by way of analogy, example, encouragement and challenge; inspiring or provoking kindred or similar modes of thought in the field of theology; the latter by a collision of opinions upon matters of fact or conjecture which seem to concern both science and religion.

In the case of Darwinism the story of this collision is familiar, and falls under the heads of evolution and natural selection, the doctrine of descent with modification, and the doctrine of its guidance or determination by the struggle for existence between related varieties. These doctrines, though associated and interdependent, and in popular thought not only combined but confused, must be considered separately. It is true that the ancient doctrine of Evolution, in spite of the ingenuity and ardour of Lamarck, remained a dream tantalising the intellectual ambition of naturalists, until the day when Darwin made it conceivable by suggesting the machinery of its guidance. And, further, the idea of natural selection has so effectively opened the door of research and stimulated observation in a score of principal directions that, even if the Darwinian explanation became one day much less convincing than, in spite of recent criticism, it now is, yet its passing, supposing it to pass, would leave the doctrine of Evolution immeasurably and permanently strengthened. For in the interests of the theory of selection, “Fur Darwin,” as Muller wrote, facts have been collected which remain in any case evidence of the reality of descent with modification.

But still, though thus united in the modern history of convictions, though united and confused in the collision of biological and traditional opinion, yet evolution and natural selection must be separated in theological no less than in biological estimation. Evolution seemed inconsistent with Creation; natural selection with Providence and Divine design.

Discussion was maintained about these points for many years and with much dark heat. It ranged over many particular topics and engaged minds different in tone, in quality, and in accomplishment. There was at most times a degree of misconception. Some naturalists attributed to theologians in general a poverty of thought which belonged really to men of a particular temper or training. The “timid theism” discerned in Darwin by so cautious a theologian as Liddon (H.P. Liddon, “The Recovery of S. Thomas”; a sermon preached in St Paul’s, London, on April 23rd, 1882 (the Sunday after Darwin’s death).) was supposed by many biologists to be the necessary foundation of an honest Christianity. It was really more characteristic of devout NATURALISTS like Philip Henry Gosse, than of religious believers as such. (Dr Pusey (“Unscience not Science adverse to Faith” 1878) writes: “The questions as to ‘species,’ of what variations the animal world is capable, whether the species be more or fewer, whether accidental variations may become hereditary…and the like, naturally fall under the province of science. In all these questions Mr Darwin’s careful observations gained for him a deserved approbation and confidence.”) The study of theologians more considerable and even more typically conservative than Liddon does not confirm the description of religious intolerance given in good faith, but in serious ignorance, by a disputant so acute, so observant and so candid as Huxley. Something hid from each other’s knowledge the devoted pilgrims in two great ways of thought. The truth may be, that naturalists took their view of what creation was from Christian men of science who naturally looked in their own special studies for the supports and illustrations of their religious belief. Of almost every laborious student it may be said “Hic ab arte sua non recessit.” And both the believing and the denying naturalists, confining habitual attention to a part of experience, are apt to affirm and deny with trenchant vigour and something of a narrow clearness “Qui respiciunt ad pauca, de facili pronunciant.” (Aristotle, in Bacon, quoted by Newman in his “Idea of a University”, page 78. London, 1873.)

Newman says of some secular teachers that “they persuade the world of what is false by urging upon it what is true.” Of some early opponents of Darwin it might be said by a candid friend that, in all sincerity of devotion to truth, they tried to persuade the world of what is true by urging upon it what is false. If naturalists took their version of orthodoxy from amateurs in theology, some conservative Christians, instead of learning what evolution meant to its regular exponents, took their view of it from celebrated persons, not of the front rank in theology or in thought, but eager to take account of public movements and able to arrest public attention.

Cleverness and eloquence on both sides certainly had their share in producing the very great and general disturbance of men’s minds in the early days of Darwinian teaching. But by far the greater part of that disturbance was due to the practical novelty and the profound importance of the teaching itself, and to the fact that the controversy about evolution quickly became much more public than any controversy of equal seriousness had been for many generations.

We must not think lightly of that great disturbance because it has, in some real sense, done its work, and because it is impossible in days of more coolness and light, to recover a full sense of its very real difficulties.

Those who would know them better should add to the calm records of Darwin (“Life and Letters” and “More Letters of Charles Darwin”.) and to the story of Huxley’s impassioned championship, all that they can learn of George Romanes. (“Life and Letters”, London, 1896. “Thoughts on Religion”, London, 1895. “Candid Examination of Theism”, London, 1878.) For his life was absorbed in this very struggle and reproduced its stages. It began in a certain assured simplicity of biblical interpretation; it went on, through the glories and adventures of a paladin in Darwin’s train, to the darkness and dismay of a man who saw all his most cherished beliefs rendered, as he thought, incredible. (“Never in the history of man has so terrific a calamity befallen the race as that which all who look may now (viz. in consequence of the scientific victory of Darwin) behold advancing as a deluge, black with destruction, resistless in might, uprooting our most cherished hopes, engulphing our most precious creed, and burying our highest life in mindless destruction.”–“A Candid Examination of Theism”, page 51.) He lived to find the freer faith for which process and purpose are not irreconcilable, but necessary to one another. His development, scientific, intellectual and moral, was itself of high significance; and its record is of unique value to our own generation, so near the age of that doubt and yet so far from it; certainly still much in need of the caution and courage by which past endurance prepares men for new emergencies. We have little enough reason to be sure that in the discussions awaiting us we shall do as well as our predecessors in theirs. Remembering their endurance of mental pain, their ardour in mental labour, the heroic temper and the high sincerity of controversialists on either side, we may well speak of our fathers in such words of modesty and self- judgment as Drayton used when he sang the victors of Agincourt. The progress of biblical study, in the departments of Introduction and Exegesis, resulting in the recovery of a point of view anciently tolerated if not prevalent, has altered some of the conditions of that discussion. In the years near 1858, the witness of Scripture was adduced both by Christian advocates and their critics as if unmistakeably irreconcilable with Evolution.

Huxley (“Science and Christian Tradition”. London, 1904.) found the path of the blameless naturalist everywhere blocked by “Moses”: the believer in revelation was generally held to be forced to a choice between revealed cosmogony and the scientific account of origins. It is not clear how far the change in Biblical interpretation is due to natural science, and how far to the vital movements of theological study which have been quite independent of the controversy about species. It belongs to a general renewal of Christian movement, the recovery of a heritage. “Special Creation”–really a biological rather than a theological conception,–seems in its rigid form to have been a recent element even in English biblical orthodoxy.

The Middle Ages had no suspicion that religious faith forbad inquiry into the natural origination of the different forms of life. Bartholomaeus Anglicus, an English Franciscan of the thirteenth century, was a mutationist in his way, as Aristotle, “the Philosopher” of the Christian Schoolmen, had been in his. So late as the seventeenth century, as we learn not only from early proceedings of the Royal Society, but from a writer so homely and so regularly pious as Walton, the variation of species and “spontaneous” generations had no theological bearing, except as instances of that various wonder of the world which in devout minds is food for devotion.

It was in the eighteenth century that the harder statement took shape. Something in the preciseness of that age, its exaltation of law, its cold passion for a stable and measured universe, its cold denial, its cold affirmation of the power of God, a God of ice, is the occasion of that rigidity of religious thought about the living world which Darwin by accident challenged, or rather by one of those movements of genius which, Goethe (“No productiveness of the highest kind…is in the power of anyone.”–“Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann and Soret”. London, 1850.) declares, are “elevated above all earthly control.”

If religious thought in the eighteenth century was aimed at a fixed and nearly finite world of spirit, it followed in all these respects the secular and critical lead. (“La philosophie reformatrice du XVIIIe siecle (Berthelot, “Evolutionisme et Platonisme”, Paris, 1908, page 45.) ramenait la nature et la societe a des mecanismes que la pensee reflechie peut concevoir et recomposer.” In fact, religion in a mechanical age is condemned if it takes any but a mechanical tone. Butler’s thought was too moving, too vital, too evolutionary, for the sceptics of his time. In a rationalist, encyclopaedic period, religion also must give hard outline to its facts, it must be able to display its secret to any sensible man in the language used by all sensible men. Milton’s prophetic genius furnished the eighteenth century, out of the depth of the passionate age before it, with the theological tone it was to need. In spite of the austere magnificence of his devotion, he gives to smaller souls a dangerous lead. The rigidity of Scripture exegesis belonged to this stately but imperfectly sensitive mode of thought. It passed away with the influence of the older rationalists whose precise denials matched the precise and limited affirmations of the static orthodoxy.

I shall, then, leave the specially biblical aspect of the debate– interesting as it is and even useful, as in Huxley’s correspondence with the Duke of Argyll and others in 1892 (“Times”, 1892, passim.)–in order to consider without complication the permanent elements of Christian thought brought into question by the teaching of evolution.

Such permanent elements are the doctrine of God as Creator of the universe, and the doctrine of man as spiritual and unique. Upon both the doctrine of evolution seemed to fall with crushing force.

With regard to Man I leave out, acknowledging a grave omission, the doctrine of the Fall and of Sin. And I do so because these have not yet, as I believe, been adequately treated: here the fruitful reaction to the stimulus of evolution is yet to come. The doctrine of sin, indeed, falls principally within the scope of that discussion which has followed or displaced the Darwinian; and without it the Fall cannot be usefully considered. For the question about the Fall is a question not merely of origins, but of the interpretation of moral facts whose moral reality must first be established.

I confine myself therefore to Creation and the dignity of man.

The meaning of evolution, in the most general terms, is that the differentiation of forms is not essentially separate from their behaviour and use; that if these are within the scope of study, that is also; that the world has taken the form we see by movements not unlike those we now see in progress; that what may be called proximate origins are continuous in the way of force and matter, continuous in the way of life, with actual occurrences and actual characteristics. All this has no revolutionary bearing upon the question of ultimate origins. The whole is a statement about process. It says nothing to metaphysicians about cause. It simply brings within the scope of observation or conjecture that series of changes which has given their special characters to the different parts of the world we see. In particular, evolutionary science aspires to the discovery of the process or order of the appearance of life itself: if it were to achieve its aim it could say nothing of the cause of this or indeed of the most familiar occurrences. We should have become spectators or convinced historians of an event which, in respect of its cause and ultimate meaning, would be still impenetrable.

With regard to the origin of species, supposing life already established, biological science has the well founded hopes and the measure of success with which we are all familiar. All this has, it would seem, little chance of collision with a consistent theism, a doctrine which has its own difficulties unconnected with any particular view of order or process. But when it was stated that species had arisen by processes through which new species were still being made, evolutionism came into collision with a statement, traditionally religious, that species were formed and fixed once for all and long ago.

What is the theological import of such a statement when it is regarded as essential to belief in God? Simply that God’s activity, with respect to the formation of living creatures, ceased at some point in past time.

“God rested” is made the touchstone of orthodoxy. And when, under the pressure of the evidences, we found ourselves obliged to acknowledge and assert the present and persistent power of God, in the maintenance and in the continued formation of “types,” what happened was the abolition of a time-limit. We were forced only to a bolder claim, to a theistic language less halting, more consistent, more thorough in its own line, as well as better qualified to assimilate and modify such schemes as Von Hartmann’s philosophy of the unconscious–a philosophy, by the way, quite intolerant of a merely mechanical evolution. (See Von Hartmann’s “Wahrheit und Irrthum in Darwinismus”. Berlin, 1875.)

Here was not the retrenchment of an extravagant assertion, but the expansion of one which was faltering and inadequate. The traditional statement did not need paring down so as to pass the meshes of a new and exacting criticism. It was itself a net meant to surround and enclose experience; and we must increase its size and close its mesh to hold newly disclosed facts of life. The world, which had seemed a fixed picture or model, gained first perspective and then solidity and movement. We had a glimpse of organic HISTORY; and Christian thought became more living and more assured as it met the larger view of life.

However unsatisfactory the new attitude might be to our critics, to Christians the reform was positive. What was discarded was a limitation, a negation. The movement was essentially conservative, even actually reconstructive. For the language disused was a language inconsistent with the definitions of orthodoxy; it set bounds to the infinite, and by implication withdrew from the creative rule all such processes as could be brought within the descriptions of research. It ascribed fixity and finality to that “creature” in which an apostle taught us to recognise the birth-struggles of an unexhausted progress. It tended to banish mystery from the world we see, and to confine it to a remote first age.

In the reformed, the restored, language of religion, Creation became again not a link in a rational series to complete a circle of the sciences, but the mysterious and permanent relation between the infinite and the finite, between the moving changes we know in part, and the Power, after the fashion of that observation, unknown, which is itself “unmoved all motion’s source.” (Hymn of the Church–
Rerum Deus tenax vigor,
Immotus in te permanens.)

With regard to man it is hardly necessary, even were it possible, to illustrate the application of this bolder faith. When the record of his high extraction fell under dispute, we were driven to a contemplation of the whole of his life, rather than of a part and that part out of sight. We remembered again, out of Aristotle, that the result of a process interprets its beginnings. We were obliged to read the title of such dignity as we may claim, in results and still more in aspirations.

Some men still measure the value of great present facts in life–reason and virtue and sacrifice–by what a self-disparaged reason can collect of the meaner rudiments of these noble gifts. Mr Balfour has admirably displayed the discrepancy, in this view, between the alleged origin and the alleged authority of reason. Such an argument ought to be used not to discredit the confident reason, but to illuminate and dignify its dark beginnings, and to show that at every step in the long course of growth a Power was at work which is not included in any term or in all the terms of the series.

I submit that the more men know of actual Christian teaching, its fidelity to the past, and its sincerity in face of discovery, the more certainly they will judge that the stimulus of the doctrine of evolution has produced in the long run vigour as well as flexibility in the doctrine of Creation and of man.

I pass from Evolution in general to Natural Selection.

The character in religious language which I have for short called mechanical was not absent in the argument from design as stated before Darwin. It seemed to have reference to a world conceived as fixed. It pointed, not to the plastic capacity and energy of living matter, but to the fixed adaptation of this and that organ to an unchanging place or function.

Mr Hobhouse has given us the valuable phrase “a niche of organic opportunity.” Such a phrase would have borne a different sense in non- evolutionary thought. In that thought, the opportunity was an opportunity for the Creative Power, and Design appeared in the preparation of the organism to fit the niche. The idea of the niche and its occupant growing together from simpler to more complex mutual adjustment was unwelcome to this teleology. If the adaptation was traced to the influence, through competition, of the environment, the old teleology lost an illustration and a proof. For the cogency of the proof in every instance depended upon the absence of explanation. Where the process of adaptation was discerned, the evidence of Purpose or Design was weak. It was strong only when the natural antecedents were not discovered, strongest when they could be declared undiscoverable.

Paley’s favourite word is “Contrivance”; and for him contrivance is most certain where production is most obscure. He points out the physiological advantage of the valvulae conniventes to man, and the advantage for teleology of the fact that they cannot have been formed by “action and pressure.” What is not due to pressure may be attributed to design, and when a “mechanical” process more subtle than pressure was suggested, the case for design was so far weakened. The cumulative proof from the multitude of instances began to disappear when, in selection, a natural sequence was suggested in which all the adaptations might be reached by the motive power of life, and especially when, as in Darwin’s teaching, there was full recognition of the reactions of life to the stimulus of circumstance. “The organism fits the niche,” said the teleologist, “because the Creator formed it so as to fit.” “The organism fits the niche,” said the naturalist, “because unless it fitted it could not exist.” “It was fitted to survive,” said the theologian. “It survives because it fits,” said the selectionist. The two forms of statement are not incompatible; but the new statement, by provision of an ideally universal explanation of process, was hostile to a doctrine of purpose which relied upon evidences always exceptional however numerous. Science persistently presses on to find the universal machinery of adaptation in this planet; and whether this be found in selection, or in direct-effect, or in vital reactions resulting in large changes, or in a combination of these and other factors, it must always be opposed to the conception of a Divine Power here and there but not everywhere active.

For science, the Divine must be constant, operative everywhere and in every quality and power, in environment and in organism, in stimulus and in reaction, in variation and in struggle, in hereditary equilibrium, and in “the unstable state of species”; equally present on both sides of every strain, in all pressures and in all resistances, in short in the general wonder of life and the world. And this is exactly what the Divine Power must be for religious faith.

The point I wish once more to make is that the necessary readjustment of teleology, so as to make it depend upon the contemplation of the whole instead of a part, is advantageous quite as much to theology as to science. For the older view failed in courage. Here again our theism was not sufficiently theistic.

Where results seemed inevitable, it dared not claim them as God-given. In the argument from Design it spoke not of God in the sense of theology, but of a Contriver, immensely, not infinitely wise and good, working within a world, the scene, rather than the ever dependent outcome, of His Wisdom; working in such emergencies and opportunities as occurred, by forces not altogether within His control, towards an end beyond Himself. It gave us, instead of the awful reverence due to the Cause of all substance and form, all love and wisdom, a dangerously detached appreciation of an ingenuity and benevolence meritorious in aim and often surprisingly successful in contrivance.

The old teleology was more useful to science than to religion, and the design-naturalists ought to be gratefully remembered by Biologists. Their search for evidences led them to an eager study of adaptations and of minute forms, a study such as we have now an incentive to in the theory of Natural Selection. One hardly meets with the same ardour in microscopical research until we come to modern workers. But the argument from Design was never of great importance to faith. Still, to rid it of this character was worth all the stress and anxiety of the gallant old war. If Darwin had done nothing else for us, we are to-day deeply in his debt for this. The world is not less venerable to us now, not less eloquent of the causing mind, rather much more eloquent and sacred. But our wonder is not that “the underjaw of the swine works under the ground” or in any or all of those particular adaptations which Paley collected with so much skill, but that a purpose transcending, though resembling, our own purposes, is everywhere manifest; that what we live in is a whole, mutually sustaining, eventful and beautiful, where the “dead” forces feed the energies of life, and life sustains a stranger existence, able in some real measure to contemplate the whole, of which, mechanically considered, it is a minor product and a rare ingredient. Here, again, the change was altogether positive. It was not the escape of a vessel in a storm with loss of spars and rigging, not a shortening of sail to save the masts and make a port of refuge. It was rather the emergence from narrow channels to an open sea. We had propelled the great ship, finding purchase here and there for slow and uncertain movement. Now, in deep water, we spread large canvas to a favouring breeze.

The scattered traces of design might be forgotten or obliterated. But the broad impression of Order became plainer when seen at due distance and in sufficient range of effect, and the evidence of love and wisdom in the universe could be trusted more securely for the loss of the particular calculation of their machinery.

Many other topics of faith are affected by modern biology. In some of these we have learnt at present only a wise caution, a wise uncertainty. We stand before the newly unfolded spectacle of suffering, silenced; with faith not scientifically reassured but still holding fast certain other clues of conviction. In many important topics we are at a loss. But in others, and among them those I have mentioned, we have passed beyond this negative state and find faith positively strengthened and more fully expressed.

We have gained also a language and a habit of thought more fit for the great and dark problems that remain, less liable to damaging conflicts, equipped for more rapid assimilation of knowledge. And by this change biology itself is a gainer. For, relieved of fruitless encounters with popular religion, it may advance with surer aim along the path of really scientific life-study which was reopened for modern men by the publication of “The Origin of Species”.

Charles Darwin regretted that, in following science, he had not done “more direct good” (“Life and Letters”, Vol. III. page 359.) to his fellow- creatures. He has, in fact, rendered substantial service to interests bound up with the daily conduct and hopes of common men; for his work has led to improvements in the preaching of the Christian faith.


Hon. D.Litt. (Durham), Hon. LL.D. (Aberdeen), Staff Lecturer and sometime Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. Corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute.

The title of my paper might well have been “the creation by Darwinism of the scientific study of Religions,” but that I feared to mar my tribute to a great name by any shadow of exaggeration. Before the publication of “The Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man”, even in the eighteenth century, isolated thinkers, notably Hume and Herder, had conjectured that the orthodox beliefs of their own day were developments from the cruder superstitions of the past. These were however only particular speculations of individual sceptics. Religion was not yet generally regarded as a proper subject for scientific study, with facts to be collected and theories to be deduced. A Congress of Religions such as that recently held at Oxford would have savoured of impiety.

In the brief space allotted me I can attempt only two things; first, and very briefly, I shall try to indicate the normal attitude towards religion in the early part of the last century; second, and in more detail, I shall try to make clear what is the outlook of advanced thinkers to-day. (To be accurate I ought to add “in Europe.” I advisedly omit from consideration the whole immense field of Oriental mysticism, because it has remained practically untouched by the influence of Darwinism.) From this second inquiry it will, I hope, be abundantly manifest that it is the doctrine of evolution that has made this outlook possible and even necessary.

The ultimate and unchallenged presupposition of the old view was that religion was a DOCTRINE, a body of supposed truths. It was in fact what we should now call Theology, and what the ancients called Mythology. Ritual was scarcely considered at all, and, when considered, it was held to be a form in which beliefs, already defined and fixed as dogma, found a natural mode of expression. This, it will be later shown, is a profound error or rather a most misleading half-truth. Creeds, doctrines, theology and the like are only a part, and at first the least important part, of religion.

Further, and the fact is important, this DOGMA, thus supposed to be the essential content of the “true” religion, was a teleological scheme complete and unalterable, which had been revealed to man once and for all by a highly anthropomorphic God, whose existence was assumed. The duty of man towards this revelation was to accept its doctrines and obey its precepts. The notion that this revelation had grown bit by bit out of man’s consciousness and that his business was to better it would have seemed rank blasphemy. Religion, so conceived, left no place for development. “The Truth” might be learnt, but never critically examined; being thus avowedly complete and final, it was doomed to stagnation.

The details of this supposed revelation seem almost too naive for enumeration. As Hume observed, “popular theology has a positive appetite for absurdity.” It is sufficient to recall that “revelation” included such items as the Creation (It is interesting to note that the very word “Creator” has nowadays almost passed into the region of mythology. Instead we have “L’Evolution Creatrice”.) of the world out of nothing in six days; the making of Eve from one of Adam’s ribs; the Temptation by a talking snake; the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel; the doctrine of Original Sin; a scheme of salvation which demanded the Virgin Birth, Vicarious Atonement, and the Resurrection of the material body. The scheme was unfolded in an infallible Book, or, for one section of Christians, guarded by the tradition of an infallible Church, and on the acceptance or refusal of this scheme depended an eternity of weal or woe. There is not one of these doctrines that has not now been recast, softened down, mysticised, allegorised into something more conformable with modern thinking. It is hard for the present generation, unless their breeding has been singularly archaic, to realise that these amazing doctrines were literally held and believed to constitute the very essence of religion; to doubt them was a moral delinquency.

It had not, however, escaped the notice of travellers and missionaries that savages carried on some sort of practices that seemed to be religious, and believed in some sort of spirits or demons. Hence, beyond the confines illuminated by revealed truth, a vague region was assigned to NATURAL Religion. The original revelation had been kept intact only by one chosen people, the Jews, by them to be handed on to Christianity. Outside the borders of this Goshen the world had sunk into the darkness of Egypt. Where analogies between savage cults and the Christian religions were observed, they were explained as degradations; the heathen had somehow wilfully “lost the light.” Our business was not to study but, exclusively, to convert them, to root out superstition and carry the torch of revelation to “Souls in heathen darkness lying.” To us nowadays it is a commonplace of anthropological research that we must seek for the beginnings of religion in the religions of primitive peoples, but in the last century the orthodox mind was convinced that it possessed a complete and luminous ready-made revelation; the study of what was held to be a mere degradation seemed idle and superfluous.

But, it may be asked, if, to the orthodox, revealed religion was sacrosanct and savage religion a thing beneath consideration, why did not the sceptics show a more liberal spirit, and pursue to their logical issue the conjectures they had individually hazarded? The reason is simple and significant. The sceptics too had not worked free from the presupposition that the essence of religion is dogma. Their intellectualism, expressive of the whole eighteenth century, was probably in England strengthened by the Protestant doctrine of an infallible Book. Hume undoubtedly confused religion with dogmatic theology. The attention of orthodox and sceptics alike was focussed on the truth or falsity of certain propositions. Only a few minds of rare quality were able dimly to conceive that religion might be a necessary step in the evolution of human thought.

It is not a little interesting to note that Darwin, who was leader and intellectual king of his generation, was also in this matter to some extent its child. His attitude towards religion is stated clearly, in Chapter VIII. of the “Life and Letters”. (Vol. I. page 304. For Darwin’s religious views see also “Descent of Man”, 1871, Vol. I. page 65; 2nd edition. Vol. I. page 142.) On board the “Beagle” he was simply orthodox and was laughed at by several of the officers for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. By 1839 he had come to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos. Next went the belief in miracles, and next Paley’s “argument from design” broke down before the law of natural selection; the suffering so manifest in nature is seen to be compatible rather with Natural Selection than with the goodness and omnipotence of God. Darwin felt to the full all the ignorance that lay hidden under specious phrases like “the plan of creation” and “Unity of design.” Finally, he tells us “the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

The word Agnostic is significant not only of the humility of the man himself but also of the attitude of his age. Religion, it is clear, is still conceived as something to be KNOWN, a matter of true or false OPINION. Orthodox religion was to Darwin a series of erroneous hypotheses to be bit by bit discarded when shown to be untenable. The ACTS of religion which may result from such convictions, i.e. devotion in all its forms, prayer, praise, sacraments, are left unmentioned. It is clear that they are not, as now to us, sociological survivals of great interest and importance, but rather matters too private, too personal, for discussion.

Huxley, writing in the “Contemporary Review” (1871.), says, “In a dozen years “The Origin of Species” has worked as complete a revolution in biological science as the “Principia” did in astronomy.” It has done so because, in the words of Helmholtz, it contained “an essentially new creative thought,” that of the continuity of life, the absence of breaks. In the two most conservative subjects, Religion and Classics, this creative ferment was slow indeed to work. Darwin himself felt strongly “that a man should not publish on a subject to which he has not given special and continuous thought,” and hence wrote little on religion and with manifest reluctance, though, as already seen, in answer to pertinacious inquiry he gave an outline of his own views. But none the less he foresaw that his doctrine must have, for the history of man’s mental evolution, issues wider than those with which he was prepared personally to deal. He writes, in “The Origin of Species” (6th edition, page 428.), “In the future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already well laid by Mr Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation.”

Nowhere, it is true, does Darwin definitely say that he regarded religion as a set of phenomena, the development of which may be studied from the psychological standpoint. Rather we infer from his PIETY–in the beautiful Roman sense–towards tradition and association, that religion was to him in some way sacrosanct. But it is delightful to see how his heart went out towards the new method in religious study which he had himself, if half- unconsciously, inaugurated. Writing in 1871 to Dr Tylor, on the publication of his “Primitive Culture”, he says (“Life and Letters”, Vol. III. page 151.), “It is wonderful how you trace animism from the lower races up the religious belief of the highest races. It will make me for the future look at religion–a belief in the soul, etc.–from a new point of view.”

Psychology was henceforth to be based on “the necessary acquirement of each mental capacity by gradation.” With these memorable words the door closes on the old and opens on the new horizon. The mental focus henceforth is not on the maintaining or refuting of an orthodoxy but on the genesis and evolution of a capacity, not on perfection but on process. Continuous evolution leaves no gap for revelation sudden and complete. We have henceforth to ask, not when was religion revealed or what was the revelation, but how did religious phenomena arise and develop. For an answer to this we turn with new and reverent eyes to study “the heathen in his blindness” and the child “born in sin.” We still indeed send out missionaries to convert the heathen, but here at least in Cambridge before they start they attend lectures on anthropology and comparative religion. The “decadence” theory is dead and should be buried.

The study of primitive religions then has been made possible and even inevitable by the theory of Evolution. We have now to ask what new facts and theories have resulted from that study. This brings us to our second point, the advanced outlook on religion to-day.

The view I am about to state is no mere personal opinion of my own. To my present standpoint I have been led by the investigations of such masters as Drs Wundt, Lehmann, Preuss, Bergson, Beck and in our own country Drs Tylor and Frazer. (I can only name here the books that have specially influenced my own views. They are W. Wundt, “Volkerpsychologie”, Leipzig, 1900, P. Beck, “Die Nachahmung”, Leipzig, 1904, and “Erkenntnisstheorie des primitiven Denkens” in “Zeitschrift f. Philos. und Philos. Kritik”, 1903, page 172, and 1904, page 9. Henri Bergson, “L’Evolution Creatrice” and “Matiere et Memoire”, 1908, K. Th. Preuss, various articles published in the “Globus” (see page 507, note 1), and in the “Archiv. f. Religionswissenschaft”, and for the subject of magic, MM. Hubert et Mauss, “Theorie generale de la Magie”, in “L’Annee Sociologique”, VII.)

Religion always contains two factors. First, a theoretical factor, what a man THINKS about the unseen–his theology, or, if we prefer so to call it, his mythology. Second, what he DOES in relation to this unseen–his ritual. These factors rarely if ever occur in complete separation; they are blended in very varying proportions. Religion we have seen was in the last century regarded mainly in its theoretical aspect as a doctrine. Greek religion for example meant to most educated persons Greek mythology. Yet even a cursory examination shows that neither Greek nor Roman had any creed or dogma, any hard and fast formulation of belief. In the Greek Mysteries (See my “Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion”, page 155, Cambridge, 1903.) only we find what we should call a Confiteor; and this is not a confession of faith, but an avowal of rites performed. When the religion of primitive peoples came to be examined it was speedily seen that though vague beliefs necessarily abound, definite creeds are practically non-existent. Ritual is dominant and imperative.

This predominance and priority of ritual over definite creed was first forced upon our notice by the study of savages, but it promptly and happily joined hands with modern psychology. Popular belief says, I think, therefore I act; modern scientific psychology says, I act (or rather, REact to outside stimulus), and so I come to think. Thus there is set going a recurrent series: act and thought become in their turn stimuli to fresh acts and thoughts. In examining religion as envisaged to-day it would therefore be more correct to begin with the practice of religion, i.e. ritual, and then pass to its theory, theology or mythology. But it will be more convenient to adopt the reverse method. The theoretical content of religion is to those of us who are Protestants far more familiar and we shall thus proceed from the known to the comparatively unknown.

I shall avoid all attempt at rigid definition. The problem before the modern investigator is, not to determine the essence and definition of religion but to inquire how religious phenomena, religious ideas and practices arose. Now the theoretical content of religion, the domain of theology or mythology, is broadly familiar to all. It is the world of the unseen, the supersensuous; it is the world of what we call the soul and the supposed objects of the soul’s perception, sprites, demons, ghosts and gods. How did this world grow up?

We turn to our savages. Intelligent missionaries of bygone days used to ply savages with questions such as these: Had they any belief in God? Did they believe in the immortality of the soul? Taking their own clear-cut conceptions, discriminated by a developed terminology, these missionaries tried to translate them into languages that had neither the words nor the thoughts, only a vague, inchoate, tangled substratum, out of which these thoughts and words later differentiated themselves. Let us examine this substratum.

Nowadays we popularly distinguish between objective and subjective; and further, we regard the two worlds as in some sense opposed. To the objective world we commonly attribute some reality independent of consciousness, while we think of the subjective as dependent for its existence on the mind. The objective world consists of perceptible things, or of the ultimate constituents to which matter is reduced by physical speculation. The subjective world is the world of beliefs, hallucinations, dreams, abstract ideas, imaginations and the like. Psychology of course knows that the objective and subjective worlds are interdependent, inextricably intertwined, but for practical purposes the distinction is convenient.

But primitive man has not yet drawn the distinction between objective and subjective. Nay, more, it is foreign to almost the whole of ancient philosophy. Plato’s Ideas (I owe this psychological analysis of the elements of the primitive supersensuous world mainly to Dr Beck, “Erkenntnisstheorie des primitiven Denkens”, see page 498, note 1.), his Goodness, Truth, Beauty, his class-names, horse, table, are it is true dematerialised as far as possible, but they have outside existence, apart from the mind of the thinker, they have in some shadowy way spatial extension. Yet ancient philosophies and primitive man alike needed and possessed for practical purposes a distinction which served as well as our subjective and objective. To the primitive savage all his thoughts, every object of which he was conscious, whether by perception or conception, had reality, that is, it had existence outside himself, but it might have reality of various kinds or different degrees.

It is not hard to see how this would happen. A man’s senses may mislead him. He sees the reflection of a bird in a pond. To his eyes it is a real bird. He touches it, HE PUTS IT TO THE TOUCH, and to his touch it is not a bird at all. It is real then, but surely not quite so real as a bird that you can touch. Again, he sees smoke. It is real to his eyes. He tries to grasp it, it vanishes. The wind touches him, but he cannot see it, which makes him feel uncanny. The most real thing is that which affects most senses and especially what affects the sense of touch. Apparently touch is the deepest down, most primitive, of senses. The rest are specialisations and complications. Primitive man has no formal rubric “optical delusion,” but he learns practically to distinguish between things that affect only one sense and things that affect two or more–if he did not he would not survive. But both classes of things are real to him. Percipi est esse.

So far, primitive man has made a real observation; there are things that appeal to one sense only. But very soon creeps in confusion fraught with disaster. He passes naturally enough, being economical of any mental effort, from what he really sees but cannot feel to what he thinks he sees, and gives to it the same secondary reality. He has dreams, visions, hallucinations, nightmares. He dreams that an enemy is beating him, and he wakes rubbing his head. Then further he remembers things; that is, for him, he sees them. A great chief died the other day and they buried him, but he sees him still in his mind, sees him in his war-paint, splendid, victorious. So the image of the past goes together with his dreams and visions to the making of this other less real, but still real world, his other-world of the supersensuous, the supernatural, a world, the outside existence of which, independent of himself, he never questions.

And, naturally enough, the future joins the past in this supersensuous world. He can hope, he can imagine, he can prophesy. And again the images of his hope are real; he sees them with that mind’s eye which as yet he has not distinguished from his bodily eye. And so the supersensuous world grows and grows big with the invisible present, and big also with the past and the future, crowded with the ghosts of the dead and shadowed with oracles and portents. It is this supersensuous, supernatural world which is the eternity, the other-world, of primitive religion, not an endlessness of time, but a state removed from full sensuous reality, a world in which anything and everything may happen, a world peopled by demonic ancestors and liable to a splendid vagueness, to a “once upon a time-ness” denied to the present. It not unfrequently happens that people who know that the world nowadays obeys fixed laws have no difficulty in believing that six thousand years ago man was made direct from a lump of clay, and woman was made from one of man’s superfluous ribs.

The fashioning of the supersensuous world comes out very clearly in primitive man’s views about the soul and life after death. Herbert Spencer noted long ago the influence of dreams in forming a belief in immortality, but being very rational himself, he extended to primitive man a quite alien quality of rationality. Herbert Spencer argued that when a savage has a dream he seeks to account for it, and in so doing invents a spirit world. The mistake here lies in the “seeks to account for it.” (Primitive man, as Dr Beck observes, is not impelled by an Erkenntnisstrieb. Dr Beck says he has counted upwards of 30 of these mythological Triebe (tendencies) with which primitive man has been endowed.) Man is at first too busy LIVING to have any time for disinterested THINKING. He dreams a dream and it is real for him. He does not seek to account for it any more than for his hands and feet. He cannot distinguish between a CONception and a PERception, that is all. He remembers his ancestors or they appear to him in a dream; therefore they are alive still, but only as a rule to about the third