Nature and Spirit were at one time universally considered to be at enmity, and even today the majority of people regard them as opposed to each other; but a fuller knowledge of the Cosmos reveals the sublime fact that the natural and the spiritual are two aspects of One Eternal Truth.
Nature is the Spirit made visible and tangible. The seen is the expressed form and letter of the unseen. We search in trackless deserts of speculation to find the Real, while all the time it stands before us. The return from those weary and fruitless wanderings to Truth is a coming back to the simple and obvious; but whereas we went out with sealed eyes, we come back with them unsealed; we look upon Nature with a vision clarified from ignorance and egotism, and lo! the unclean has become clean, the mortal has become immortal, and the natural is seen to be also the spiritual. Thus, when the physical scientist reveals a natural law, he, at the same time, makes known to the understanding mind—whether he himself knows it or not—a spiritual law. The whole universe is spiritual, and every physical law is the letter of a moral principle. When the moral nature of the Cosmos is apprehended, all controversies about matter and spirit—as things opposed are at an end, and the assiduous worker in physical realms—often spoken of contemptuously as a "materialist"—is seen to be a revealer, as well as the worker in spiritual realms, the two phases of the universe being, as we have pointed out, but two arcs of one perfect whole.
When Charles Darwin made known the law of "the survival of the fittest," he revealed the working of Divine Justice in Nature. The almost universal prejudice and passionate opposition among religious people which the announcement of his discovery aroused was based, not on the fact itself, but upon a total misunderstanding of that law. That opposition has today nearly died out; but even yet one frequently hears this law referred to as a "cruel law” and the belief in it denounced as tending to destroy pity and love.
Such people always think of this law as "the survival of the cruelest," or "the survival of the strongest," and here is where the misunderstanding arises. The correct term, "The Survival of the Fittest," must not be lost sight of; for the fittest are never the cruelest, and rarely the strongest. The strongest and curliest creatures have long since passed away, and have given place to weaker, but more intelligent, creatures and beings. Think of the numberless insects, and of the many powerful enemies which beset them on every hand. Yet these wonderful and beautiful creatures continue to flourish, and they owe their continuance to their intelligence, which is greater, better and more fitted to survive than the strength and cruelty of their enemies. For what is the survival of the fittest but the survival of the best? In a world of continual progress it must need be that the best of every period takes precedence of the worst—the good of the bad, the fit of the unfit. This, indeed, is the very meaning of progress. When we think of progress, we at once think of something, by its superiority—its greater fitness to the time and occasion—taking precedence of something which is inferior and has fallen out of the line of advancement; and this progress, this advancement, this survival of the fittest, resolves itself into a moral principle, into a Divine Law.
Opponents of this teaching tacitly assume that the most selfish are the fittest to survive, and they thereupon condemn the teaching as callous, and accuse Darwin of making selfishness supreme. But the error is theirs, and not Darwin's or the law's. In their prejudice they wrest his meaning to a false issue, and attack that. Their error consists in assuming that the fittest to survive are the most selfish; whereas such are the worst specimens, and not the best. When we realize that the unselfish are more fitted to survive than the selfish, this law assumes an aspect the very opposite from that which its opponents have given it, and we at once see that in it are involved the profoundest moral principles, namely, the principles of Justice and Love.
Remembering that it is the fittest that survive, what, then—in this universe of law and order—constitutes the fittest? It is evident that the fittest are the most advanced specimens of any given species. Not the strongest, not the cruelest, not the most selfish, not even the finest physically; but the most advanced, those most in line with the order of evolution.
The fittest at one period are not the fittest at another. There was a time when brute force was dominant; but that was when nothing higher had been evolved. Yet even in that long distant period—ten million years back, when gigantic monsters held sway upon the earthy—something higher was being evolved. Already intelligence, yea, and unselfish love, were beginning to make themselves felt, for those great beasts loved and protected their young; and so all who most unselfishly shield their offspring, be they beasts or men, will be most protected while, obviously, any species that neglected its offspring would rapidly perish. Thus, long, long ages ago, the fragile babe of intelligence was born in the manager of brute force, and since then, through all the ages of struggle, it has been gradually but surely overcoming the brutal strength and terror; so that today intelligence has conquered, or almost conquered, for the strongest brutes have passed away for ever, having given place to beings physically weaker and smaller, but better, and more morally perfect.
Without the operation of such a law man could never have come into existence; for man is, up to the present, the crown and summit of a process of struggle, selection, and progress which began many millions of years ago when the first of life appeared upon the earth. Man is the product of the law of the survival of the fittest operating through millions of years, perhaps millions of ages; yet in brute strength he is far inferior to many animals. He rules the earth today because of the principle of intelligence within him. But there is being evolved in man a higher principle than intelligence, namely, Divine Love, which is as much higher and more powerful than intelligence as intelligence is higher and more powerful than brute force. I use the term "Divine Love" in order to distinguish it from human affection, and from that intermittent kindly impulse, which are both spoken of as Love. Intelligence may aid selfishness, but not so Love; in Love all selfishness is swallowed up and brute force is no more, both being transmuted into gentleness.
The beginnings of the Divine Love are already in the world. We see its wonderful operation in the few men in who0m it has been perfected, namely, the Great Spiritual Teachers who, by their precepts and the example of their lives, rule the world today; and selfish men worship them as God. We see in these men the prophecy of what Love will do in the distant future, when a large number of men possess it in an advanced degree; how selfishness and selfish men will submit to it and be governed by it, as the brutes now submit to man's intelligence and are ruled by it. And this Love is making its appearance not only in the Great Teachers, but in men less evolved; and though in these it is, as yet, in a more or less rudimentary form, nevertheless the stirrings of its gentleness and joy are being felt in many human hearts.
A common argument against the survival of the fittest is that were men to put it into practice they would kill off all their weakling and invalids, preserving only the strong, and thus destroying all pity and love and humanity. This argument is a demonstration of the error to which we have already referred. It is ludicrously self-contradictory, for, while it admits that the best elements are pity and love and humanity, it asserts that these would perish if the fittest, or best survived. And here we are at the heart of the whole matter. The best does survive, and, therefore, pity, compassion, and love cannot be overthrown by selfishness is for every annihilated.
Speaking of human beings, it is plain that the fittest to survive are not the selfish and the cruel, but those who have developed the finest characteristics of kindness, compassion, justice, and love—in a word, the most moral, the purest, and wisest.
To talk about putting this law "into practice" shows ignorance of its nature; for it is independent in its operation, and is always in activity, and all men and creatures obey it; and should ever a race of men, under them is taken notion that they were practicing it, do it such violence as to "kill off their weaklings and invalids," the law would not cease to operate in their case, and they, by virtue of that very law, would soon exterminate themselves.
With the ceaseless march of human progress, cruelty is becoming less and less fitted to survive against the growing intelligence and gentleness. The cruel races have nearly all died out, only disorganized remnants of them remaining. The fierce animals of prey are becoming fewer, and brutal men are now regarded as a menace to society. Gradually and inevitably, also, selfish and aggressive men will come to have less and less power in the world, will become more out of harmony with the growing environment of peace and goodwill, till at last they will pass away from the earth altogether, as the gigantic brutes have passed away, no longer fitted to survive in a world conquered by Love, in which righteousness and truth become triumphant.
Thus this law, as represented by Darwin, is the aspect, in Nature, of the operation of Justice, or Love; for in the Light of Truth, Justice and Love are seen to be one. The spiritual aspect of the law was intimately known by all the Great Teachers, and men have overlooked the fact that these Teachers embodied it in their teaching. Thus the precept of Jesus, "The meek shall inherit the earth," is none other than a simple but Divine statement of the survival of the fittest.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.