The evolutionary philosophy of progress is well established. Like many other phases of truth, it has come into recognition gradually, having to overcome much misconception and opposition. In the long course of the human evolution of truth, there comes, in its own time and place, the perception of the law of evolution itself. Until recently it has generally been regarded as unfriendly to religion, contrary to revelation, and as closely allied to materialism. Its unwilling reception by theological systems is an added example of the oft-repeated alarms which the Church has felt when confronted with unexpected scientific discoveries and advances. Religion—so called—has been so artificial, external, and unnatural, that it has been constantly apprehensive lest some new development would discredit or undermine its authority. It has been admitted that in the "natural" realm, truth could not antagonize other truth; but religion, having been placed upon a supernatural basis, has instinctively been suspicious of new light and investigation. But it is becoming evident that evolution and all well-founded science are not only friendly but absolutely confirmatory of whatever is vital and inherent in true religion.
That which has been called religion, and that which has been denominated science, for centuries have faced each other in an antagonistic attitude, each dealing such blows as could possibly be inflicted upon a supposed enemy. The nearest approach to a compromise which was practicable consisted of a tacit understanding that each was utterly distinct from its opponent, and occupied a realm separated from it by a well-defined boundary line. Upon this ground an armistice was possible on the basis of mutual non-interference. Science claimed to be "natural;" but by this term she really meant materialistic, while religion gloried in being "supernatural," which, translated, signified unnatural. For centuries past science has made continuous sallies and advances, while religion—as a dogmatic system—has correspondingly retreated. Stronghold after stronghold has fallen, until, to superficial observers, it looks almost as if the final storming of the last religious citadel was at hand.
But these centuries of conflict have been only a long, false, feverish dream. We awake, rub our eyes, and find that in reality science, religion, and evolution are not only friendly, but are sisters of one family. They are bound by the strongest ties of consanguinity, and each finds its fullness and completion in the others. The past differences have been wholly due to masks that were put on, and held on, by human prejudice. The dream is ended, the masks removed, and a grand family reconciliation and reunion is taking place.
It is manifestly impracticable, within the limits of this chapter, to attempt any general exposition of so great a philosophy as that of evolution. A brief outline of significant points indicative of its utility in explaining and enforcing the principles of vital, spiritual religion is all that is proposed.
The term evolution is defined as "the act of unrolling or unfolding;" "the process of growth and development." In the province of biology it is the name of the progression or successive steps by which any living organism, vegetable or animal, advances to more perfect and determinate conditions. In its widest sense it comprises the development and improvement,—in accord with natural law,—not only of organic life, but of all human institutions, religions, theologies, civilizations, ethics, and spirituality. Its universal trend permeates mind and matter, and pervades the entire illimitable cosmos. As an eternal law it involves progress from the lower to the higher; from the simpler to the more complex; from the less perfect to the more perfect; from the indeterminate to the determinate.
Evolution explains and shows the links and relations between innumerable facts that otherwise are disconnected and unintelligible. Like all other natural laws its philosophy is indispensable in a grand economy of harmony and unity.
Perhaps its most noticeable conflict with traditional and dogmatic beliefs is in its theory of creation. The former supposition that the earth was created out of nothing in the space of six days by an act of volition on the part of God, and that the process was then finished, is utterly discredited. Even when the six days have been extended to six ages, or epochs, the difficulty is not removed. Creation was supposed to have been performed by the fiat of a wonder-working Creator, who Himself was outside of all phenomena, by a supernatural—that is, a not natural—process. The undeveloped human mind always had a liking for the marvelous and magical, which inclines it toward such a hypothesis, rather than toward the concept of orderly, gradual, and natural development. An eternal unfolding process, while displaying infinite wisdom, order, foresight, and beneficence on the part of God, lacks the dramatic aspect which, though a relic of antique barbarism, has always gratified the human fancy. What a low conception of the Deity to view Him as an omnipotent Magician! How far more ennobling the idea of a Father who is orderly, lawful, and natural! How much higher infinite Reason than infinite Unreason! How much more God-like, a God manifesting Himself through the beauty and harmony of natural progression, than one who operates with the spasmodic vehemence of an infinite Jove!
The opposite extreme is the hypothesis put forth by an earthy materialism. With a vainglorious desire to get along without God in the universe, it unconsciously pays homage to matter as a real power. In an economy of such wonderful adjustment, marvelous perfection, wise foresight, and means exactly adapted to ends, what more irrational than to credit all to blind, unconscious dust? It is only a seeming refinement of the idea to disguise it in the terms of a technical scientific phraseology. No; the grand old cosmos did not grow of itself, nor, on the other hand, did it spring forth at the dramatic waving of a divine wand.
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see,
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
Creation is denned as development, or as investing with new form, rather than as making something out of nothing. Astronomical research proves that creation is perpetual, and that there is an endless series of worlds and systems in all stages of development. In speaking of evolution in its relation to the idea of God, Professor Le Conte says, "If the sustentation of the universe by the law of gravitation does not disturb our belief in God as the Sustainer of the universe, there is no reason why the origin of the universe by the law of evolution should disturb our faith in God as the Creator of the universe. It is evident that if evolution be materialism then is gravitation also materialism; then is every law of Nature and all science materialism."
While there appears to be a steady progression in the ascending scale of life, sentiency, and individuation, a more critical study discloses certain boundary lines or planes, and when each of these is gained there is a new birth, or a sudden assumption of unprecedented powers and more complex organization. When the conditions are fully ripened, an evolutionary step takes place, thus introducing another form, new relations to environment, virtually a new world.
Professor Le Conte, in formulating the ascending scale or series of great steps, makes the following classification: "First, the plane of elements; second, the plane of chemical compounds; third, the plane of vegetal life; fourth, the plane of animal life; and fifth the plane of rational life."
We would add a sixth distinctive plane, that of the spiritual realm in human development. There is a well-defined boundary between this and the rational or intellectual plane next below. When each ascending step is taken, new phenomena appear, not merely excelling the former in degree, but so unlike as to constitute a new creation. Let us briefly review these planes, and note their transitions and distinctions.
The first, or plane of the elements, may be represented as the divine protoplasmic energy, diffused, generalized, unorganized, and in no degree gathered or compacted. Here is resident vitality of marvelous potency, but in an elemental and primal stage.
The plane of chemical compounds is a step higher, and a gain has been made in quality, affinity, and determinateness; but compactness and organization are yet wanting.
The next advance—the plane of vegetal life—seems like a long step, and is characterized by great changes and added powers. Energy has been gathered, organized, and individuated, as shown in a centered, manifested life. New laws of growth and relations' to environment have been assumed, and integration and subsequent disintegration of form, but not of life, have been established.
The next step brings us to the plane of animal life. Added to organization and individuation, are locomotion, sensation, will, and instinct. The life-force is clothed in a form which perfectly expresses the peculiar nature of each species or class that is found within the boundaries of this widely comprehensive division.
Advancing to the plane of human, rational life, instinct, as a governing force, is left behind, and reason assumes control. Here is the human intellect with all its multiform powers and capabilities. Here is moral freedom and the conscious power of choice, which, though errant, marks a great advance beyond blind instinct with all its exactitude. In this department, moral and ethical considerations have their place, though they are still colored and swayed by the passions, appetites, and self-seeking, which have been brought over from the animal plane below. The realm of intellect contains a wide complexity and variety, not only retaining more or less animality, but also anticipating somewhat from the spiritual domain above. It furnishes a testing-ground, and even a battle-field, where the forces from above and those from below wage a warfare for supremacy.
The next step leads to the spiritual plane, which is the crowning attainment of humanity. All that is noble and pure of the intellectual plane is preserved; and, while its contribution becomes secondary and subservient, its real beauty and utility are thereby enhanced. The spiritual plane is the seat of the intuitive faculty,—the illuminated soul-center,—and involves the enthronement of a spiritual, in the place of a material consciousness. It brings into manifestation the divine image, and thereby reveals the intrinsic oneness of God and man. Being the center of the primary and supreme causation, it shapes material conditions, and inaugurates general wholeness and harmony. It creates its own corresponding environment, and rules and profits by circumstances which are seemingly adverse, instead of being subservient to them.
The religion of creed, dogma, ritual, and ordinance has its seat in the intellectual realm, although in the proportion that it is pure and internal it survives the transition. From the altitude of the spiritual Mount, immortality is not a theory but a known fact. There is a distinct perception that continued existence and unfoldment are not dependent upon the continuance of the material base when it has been outgrown.
In the great everlasting cycle of creation the primal energy which God first involved into the lowest, most general, and indeterminate conditions, is, at length, through a series of grand steps, gathered, organized, individuated, and evolved into "sons of God," in which form the return is made to the "Father's House."
Has Christ a place in the evolutionary philosophy? Most assuredly, Yes; and one which is of supreme importance. It follows that humanity should reach its perfect expression and model in the ideal man, who was also the "Son of God," filled with the divine fullness. All men are images of God; but Jesus was the only one in whom the likeness has been perfectly disclosed and manifested. On the intellectual plane perhaps he did not excel all other men, but his divine and human spiritual identity gave him a supreme altitude. The ideal of each plane lies not only in its own perfect completion, but also in a birth from above. Humanity, in Jesus the Christ, receives an ideal demonstration of its Godhood, which meets it on the spiritual plane. Here man in his upward evolvement towards his goal arrives at that point where he is a sharer and partaker in the Deific nature and prerogatives. The human blossoms into the divine, and thereby perfects its humanity. God comes into man, and supplements and rounds out the crudeness that adhered from former environment.
But it may be urged that the perfect Ideal, by the uniform order of evolution, should not appear until the completion of the spiritual course, rather than near its beginning. Upon this point a significant quotation from Professor Le Conte may profitably be given, as the high rank of his researches is unquestioned. In speaking of the new factor on the highest evolutionary plane, he says, "This factor is the conscious voluntary co-operation of the human spirit in the work of its own evolution. The method of this new factor consists essentially in the formation, and especially in the voluntary pursuit, of ideals. In organic evolution species are transformed by the environment. In human evolution character is transformed by its own ideal. Organic evolution is by necessary law; human evolution is by voluntary effort, i.e., by free law. Organic evolution is pushed onward and upward from behind and below; human evolution is drawn upward and forward from above and in front by the attractive force of ideals. Thus the ideal of organic evolution cannot appear until the end; while the attractive ideals of human evolution must come, whether only in the imagination or realized in the flesh, but must come somehow in the course. The most powerfully attractive ideal ever presented to the human mind, and therefore the most potent agent in the evolution of human character, is the Christ. This ideal must come, whether in the imagination or in the flesh I say not, but must come somehow in the course, and not at the end. At the end the whole human race, drawn upward by this ideal, must reach the fullness of the stature of the Christ." And again, "At a certain stage we catch glimpses of the absolute moral ideal. Then our gaze becomes fixed, and we are thenceforward drawn upward forever. The human race has already reached a point when the absolute ideal of character is attractive. This Divine ideal can never again be lost to humanity."
The Christ is like a great magnet in his drawing power, and thereby quickens the evolution of ideal character. As the attractive force of the earthy wanes in human consciousness, men co-operate with the lifting power from above, not only by their own personal aspirations, but by active effort in aiding those around them.
Does the evolutionary key unlock any of the mysteries of what is theologically known as the "Fall of Man"? With all becoming humility, let us attempt its application. We may think of Adam and Eve, not as the names of a single human pair, but as the types used to designate that transitional step when the race crossed the boundary line which lies between Instinct and Reason. Pre-Adamic man was an animal. Like other animals he was not ashamed of his nakedness, and in common with his kingdom was governed by brutish instincts and appetites. He made his habitation in dens and caves of the earth, and possessed only those faint foreshadowings of reason that we now behold in the highest animal intelligence. Instinct, though blind, is exact. The bee forms the honey-cell with perfect geometrical proportion, and the web of the spider is a marvel of regularity and perfection. The bird makes no mistake in singing its song nor in building its nest, and the beaver no error in the construction of his dam. Instinct is a wonderful combination of crudeness and perfection. It makes neither mistakes nor improvements. The all-pervading divine energy resident in the animal shines through, reflecting its perfection and uniformity, though in actual expression it is limited and cannot rise higher than its crude medium. The song of the bird is God singing through the bird, for the melody is only an overflowing of one of the multiform channels of the divine exuberance shaped by the unreasoning instrument through which it passes. Instinct, we may then interpret as the primal or Deific profusion shining through a medium which is involuntary and unreasoning, with an unchanging level of attainment. Bearing this concept of animal instinct in mind, what is the significance of the "Fall"? It was a passage from irresponsibility to responsibility, from innocence to possible guilt, from blind animal passivity to the knowledge and choice of good or evil. In reality the transition from instinct to reason was a rise—a grand evolutionary step upward. However, the quick mistakes of inexperienced reason, as contrasted with the uniform exactness of former instinct, made it appear like a veritable fall. To human consciousness it was a fall, and it was natural that tradition so declared it. Mistaken and stumbling reason, though so full of seeming disaster when compared with perfect instinct, was only a delusive fall, for it was—up-hill. Reason, with all its misconceptions and errancy, is far above instinct, because it contains the elements of voluntary choice, gradual improvement, and, in due time, character. If one who has the inherent ability to climb a hill stumbles and finds himself at its foot, he is yet, in a true sense, higher than one who is farther up, but who is incapable either of stumbling or climbing. Thus, the theological dogma of "the Fall," which through the ages has been such a difficult problem, when interpreted in the light of the evolutionary economy is thoroughly solved and made intelligible.
Within the boundaries of human evolution, the three great planes or stages of progress may be classed as instinct, reason, and intuition, or as animality, intellectuality, and spirituality. This is the only order in which they can come, and sooner or later every member of the human family must pass over the King's highway which runs through them. While a great majority of the race is now upon the intellectual plane, there has been brought forward a great residuum of animality, but without that exact instinct which was formerly a saving element. The gleams from the spiritual plane, which shoot backwards as well as forwards, modify and partially illuminate the intellectual domain, and impart to it an increasing inspiration.
The intuitional realm brings again to light the precision of instinct, and glorifies it with the highest exercise of reason, and then transforms it with its own divine exaltation. It is here that the Father's likeness is unveiled, and man touches and becomes one with God. The perfect accuracy of instinct is revived in intuition, but it is infinitely elevated by the illumination of intelligence and freedom. Animality, before intellectuality is reached, is ignorant, involuntary innocence; but spirituality is voluntary, achieved character. Virtue gains all its solid fiber and quality through the process of overcoming.
Such as men give and take from day to day,
Comes in the common walk of easy life,
Blown by the careless wind across our way.
Great truths are greatly won, not found by chance,
Nor wafted on the breath of summer dream,
But grasped in the great struggle of the soul,
Hard buffeted with adverse wind and stream.
Wrung from the spirit in hard hours
Of weakness, solitude, perchance of pain;
Truth springs like harvest from the well-ploughed field,
And the soul feels it has not wept in vain.
The plane of spirituality is not fully attained until a decisive victory is gained over lower conditions. Those conditions, when normal, have their legitimate place, but the time comes when they must be outgrown. To linger in lower forms when the soul is ready for a higher molding, is to arrest development and violate the divine order. Any turning back, or even standing still, involves penalty and decay. The trend of the universal economy must be observed, otherwise friction and disaster follow. The law of progress is one and the same for the individual, the race, and the whole universe of God.
The great distinguishing feature of animality is selfishness, while that of the spiritual plane is unselfishness. These states are as opposite as the poles, and the entire length of the ladder of human evolution stretches out between them.
The problem of the existence of evil and its relation to evolutionary law having been touched upon in a former chapter (The Universality of Law), need not be taken up in this connection. The evolutionary philosophy classifies things as higher and lower, rather than as good and evil. The lower is the soil in which the higher takes root. By this growth the higher gains a breadth and grandeur which could only come from adverse conditions outgrown and left behind.
Science, evolution, and true religion interpret, indorse, and supplement each other, and are all indispensable in forming the great sphere of Truth. Each must contribute its part to produce a grand diapason of harmony.
Evolution is the long-sought clew that has been needed to unify and interpret all phenomena. Through its aid, discordant and misplaced theories, philosophies, and institutions find their true place, and are brought into accord. It translates all history, and brings orderly progression out of spasmodic confusion. It solves problems in biology and anthropology, and explains and anticipates progression in governmental systems, morals, sociology, and religion. It has to do with spirit as well as matter; divinity as well as humanity. It silences all pessimistic philosophy; and high' upon the folds of its irresistible banner is inscribed the watchword—Excelsior. However good and perfect the to-day, it bids men look for a better tomorrow.
The misconstructions of biblical interpretation are removed when the Bible is approached as an evolutionary, sacred literature. Regeneration, which was regarded as supernatural, is seen as a natural step in progressive unfoldment.
The persistence of the substratum of animalism, in mankind is shown by the outcroppings of war, strife, envy, and division, which continually come to the surface of human history. The murky clouds of pessimism and egotism are also exhalations from the same unwholesome plane.
Evolution is progression in life and not in matter. All the great steps are different qualities of attained internal character. Matter never progresses; which proves that it is only a form of expression. The identical physical material appears and re-appears in higher and lower forms of life, therefore it has no character of its own. The atoms which form the body of a saint are the same that have made up the body of a plant or animal. The progression is in the immaterial reality. It is important that this great distinction be preserved, for thereby the sophistry of materialism is exposed. Evolution is the progression of ascending inherent qualities of life; and these incidentally make use of sensuous and temporary translations. Every kind of life grows, but shapes of outward manifestation disintegrate.
For the individual and the race, life is becoming broader, richer, diviner; and this law of progress is eternal.
The divine order cannot be fragmentary or broken off, and therefore progressive unfoldment will continue in the future state as here. Time and space being ephemeral can interpose no resistance to the eternal sweep of this great Law, which finds its sublimest field for exercise in the human soul.
Human unfoldment is pressing on towards the supreme ideal of racial love and harmony. The heavenly condition becomes increasingly distinct and complete as the great evolutionary highway is traversed. That love which now flows in a few narrow personal channels will broaden to take in all humanity, and its concentric circles will bring God and all His children together in loving unity.