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Activity Of Consciousness
Aim And Method Of Naturalism
Autonomy Of Spirit
Consciousness Of The Ego
Constructive Criticism
Contrast Between Darwinian And Post-darwinian Views
Creative Power Of Consciousness
Criticisms Of The Mechanistic Theory Of Life
Crities Of Darwinism
Darwinish In General
Darwinism And Teleology
Darwinism In The Strict Sense
De Vries's Mutation-theory
Differences Of Opinion As To The Factors In Evolution
Eimer's Orthogenesis
Evolution And New Beginnings
Feeling Individuality Genius And Mysticism
Freedom Of Spirit
Fundamental Principles Of Naturalism
Goethe's Attitude To Naturalism
Haeckel's Evolutionist Position
How All This Affects The Religious Outlook
How The Religious And The Naturalistic Outlooks Conflict
Individual Development
Intuitions Of Reality
Is There Ageing Of The Mind?
Lamarckism And Neo-lamarckism
Machnical Theories Criticism
Mind And Spirit The Human And The Animal Soul
Mystery : Dependence : Purpose
Natural Selection
Naturalistic Attacks On The Autonomy Of The Spiritual
No Parallelism
Other Instances Of Dissatisfaction With The Theory Of Descent
Pre-eminence Of Consciousness
Preyer's Position
Religion And The Theory Of Descent
Spontaneous Generation
Teleological And Scientific Interpretations Are Alike Necessary
The Antimony Of Our Conception Of Space
The Antimony Of Our Conception Of Time
The Antimony Of The Conditioned And The Unconditioned
The Characteristic Features Of Darwinism
The Conservation Of Matter And Energy
The Constructive Work Of Driesch
The Contingency Of The World
The Dependence Of The Order Of Nature
The Development Of Darwinism
The Ego
The Fundamental Answer
The Law Of The Conservation Of Energy
The Mechanics Of Development
The Mystery Of Existence Remains Unexplained
The Organic And The Inorganic
The Position Of Bunge And Other Physiologists
The Problema Continui
The Real World
The Recognition Of Purpose
The Religious Interpretation Of The World
The Spontaneous Activity Of The Organism
The Supremacy Of Mind
The Theory Of Descent
The True Naturalism
The Two Kinds Of Naturalism
The Unconscious
The Unity Of Consciousness
The Views Of Albrecht And Schneider
The Views Of Botanists Illustrated
The World And God
Theory Of Definite Variation
Theory Of Life
Various Forms Of Darwinism
Virchow's Caution
Virchow's Position
Weismann's Evolutionist Position
What Is Distinctive In The Naturalistic Outlook
What Is Distinctive In The Religious Outlook

Religion And The Theory Of Descent

In seeking to define our position in regard to the theory of descent it is
most important that we should recognise that, when it is looked into
closely, the true problem at issue is not a special zoological one, but is
quite general, and also that it is not a new growth which has sprung up
suddenly and found us unprepared, but that it is very ancient and has long
existed in our midst. In the whole theory the question of "descent" is
after all a mere accessory. Even if it fell through and were seen to be
scientifically undemonstrable, "evolution in the realm of life" would
remain an indisputable fact, and with it there would arise precisely the
same difficulties for the religious interpretation of the world which are
usually attributed to the Theory of Descent.

Evolution or development has been a prominent idea in the history of
thought since the time of Aristotle, but descent is, so to speak, a modern
upstart. According to long-established modes of thought, to evolve means
the existence of the rudiment as in the seed to full realisation as in the
tree. In the course of its development the organism passes through many
successive phases, which are related to one another like steps, each
rising directly from the one beneath, and preparing for the one above.
Thus all nature, and especially the realm of life, implies a ladder of
"evolution." What is "potentially" inherent in the lowest form of life has
in the highest, as in man, become actual or "realised" through a
continuous sequence of phases, successively more and more evolved. This
view in its earlier forms was very far from implying that each higher step
was literally "descended" from the one below it, through the physical and
mental transformation of some of its representatives. As the world, in
Aristotle's view for instance, had existed from all eternity, so also had
the stages and forms of life, each giving rise again to its like. Indeed,
the essential idea was that each higher step is simply a development, a
fuller unfolding of the lower stage, and finally that man was the complete
realisation of what was potentially inherent in the lowest of all.

This doctrine of evolution was in modern times the fundamental idea of
Leibnitz and Kant, of Goethe, Schelling and Hegel. It brought unity and
connectedness into the system of nature, united everything by steps,
denied the existence of gaping chasms, and proclaimed the solidarity of
all the forms of life. But to all this the idea of actual descent was
unnecessary. An actual material variation and transition from one stage to
another seemed to it a wooden and gross expression of the evolution idea,
an "all too childish and nebulous hypothesis" (Hegel).

All the important results of comparative morphology and physiology, which
the modern supporters of the doctrine of descent so confidently utilise as
arguments in its favour, would have been welcomed by those who held the
original and general evolution idea, as a corroboration of their own
standpoint. And as a matter of fact they all afford conclusive proofs of
evolution; but not one of them, including even the fundamental
biogenetic law and the inoculated chimpanzee, is decisive in regard to
descent. This contention is sufficiently important to claim our
attention for a little. Let us take the last example. Transfusion of blood
between two species is possible, not necessarily because they are
descended from one another or from a common root, but solely because of
their systematic (ideal) relationship, that is to say because they are
sufficiently near to one another and like one another in their
physiological qualities and functions. If, assuming descent, this homology
were disturbed, and the systematic relationship done away with, for
instance through saltatory evolution, the mere fact of descent would not
bring the two species any nearer one another. Thus the case proves only
systematic relationship, and only evolution. But as to the meaning of this
systematic relationship, whether it can be "explained" by descent, whether
it has existed from all eternity, or how it has arisen, the experiment
does not inform us.

The same idea may be illustrated in regard to Weismann's "predicting."
This, too, is a proof of evolution, but not of descent. Exactly as
Weismann predicted the striping of the hawk-moth caterpillars and the
human os centrale, Goethe predicted the formation of the skull from
modified vertebrae, and the premaxillary bone in man. In precisely the same
way he "derived" the cavities in the human skull from those of the animal
skull. This was quite in keeping with the manner and style of his Goddess
Nature and her creative transformations, raising the type of her creations
from stage to stage, developing and expanding each new type from an
earlier one, yet keeping the later analogous to and recapitulative of the
earlier, recording the earlier by means of vestigial and gradually
dwindling parts.

But what has all this to do with descent? Even the "biogenetic law"
itself, especially if it were correct, would fit admirably into the frame
of the pure evolution idea. For it is quite consistent with that idea to
say that the higher type in the course of its development, especially in
its embryonic stages, passes through stages representative of the forms of
life which are below it and precede it in the (ideal) genealogical tree.
Indeed, the older doctrine of evolution took account of this long ago.

"The same step-ladder which is exhibited by the whole animal kingdom, the
steps of which are the different races and classes, with at the one
extreme the lowliest animals and at the other the highest, is exhibited
also by every higher animal in its development, since from the moment of
its origin until it has reached its full development it passes
through--both as regards internal and external organisation--the essentials
of all the forms which become permanent for a lifetime in the animals
lower than itself. The more perfect the animal is, the longer is the
series of forms it passes through."

So J. Fr. Meckel wrote in 1812 in his "Handbook of Pathological Anatomy,"
with no thought of descent. And the facts which led to the construction
of the biogenetic law were discovered in no small measure by Agassiz, who
was an opponent of the doctrine of descent.(31)

But the advance from the doctrine of evolution to that of descent was
imperatively prompted by a recognition of the fact that the earth is not
from everlasting, and that the forms of life upon it are likewise not from
everlasting, that, in fact, their several grades appear in an orderly
ascending series. It is therefore simpler and more plausible to suppose
that each higher step has arisen from the one before it, than to suppose
that each has, so to speak, begun an evolution on its own account. A
series of corroborative arguments might be adduced, and there is no doubt,
as we have said before, that the transition from the general idea of
evolution to that of descent will be fully accomplished. But it is plain
that the special idea of descent contributes nothing essentially new on
the subject.

It is an oft-repeated and self-evident statement, that it is in reality a
matter of entire indifference whether man arose from the dust of the earth
or from living matter already formed, or, let us say, from one of the
higher vertebrates. The question still would be, how much or how little of
any of them does he still retain, and how far does he differ from all?
Even if there be really descent, the difference may quite as well be so
great--for instance, through saltatory development--that man, in spite of
physical relationship, might belong to quite a new category far
transcending all his ancestors in his intellectual characteristics, in his
emotional and moral qualities. There is nothing against the assumption,
and there is much to be said in its favour, that the last step from animal
to man was such an immense one that it brought with it a freedom and
richness of psychical life incomparable with anything that had gone
before--as if life here realised itself for the first time in very truth,
and made everything that previously had been a mere preliminary play.

On the other hand, even were there no descent but separate individual
creation, man might, in virtue of his ideal relationship and evolution,
appear nothing more than a stage relatively separate from those beneath
him in evolution. It was not the doctrine of descent, it was the doctrine
of evolution that first ranked man in a series with the rest of creation,
and regarded him as the development of what is beneath him and leads up to
him through a gradual sequence of stages. And his nearness, analogy, or
relationship to what is beneath him is in no way increased by descent, or
rendered a whit more intimate or more disturbing.

Next: The Problema Continui

Previous: Other Instances Of Dissatisfaction With The Theory Of Descent

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