The Problema Continui

The problem of descent thus shows itself to be one which has neither

isolated character nor special value. It is an accessory accompaniment of

all the questions and problems which have been raised by, or are

associated with, the doctrine of evolution, which would have been in our

midst without Darwin, which are made neither easier nor more difficult by

zoological knowledge, and the difficulties of which, if solved, would

> solve at the same time any difficulties presented by descent. The

following considerations will serve to make this clear. The most

oppressive corollary of the doctrine of descent is undoubtedly that

through it the human race seems to become lost in the infra-human, from

which it cannot be separated by any hard and fast boundaries, or absolute

lines of demarcation. But it is easy to see that this problem is in fact

only a part of a larger problem, and that it can really be solved only

through the larger one. Even if it were possible to do away with this

unpleasing inference as regards the whole human race, so that it could be

in some way separated off securely from the animal kingdom, the same

fatality would remain in regard to each individual human being. For we

have here to face the problem of individual development by easy

transitions, the ascent from the animal to the human state, and the

question: When is there really soul and spirit, when man and ego, when

freedom and responsibility? But this is the same problem again, only

written with smaller letters, the general problema continui in the

domain of life and mind. And the problem is very far-reaching. In all

questions concerning mental health and disease, abnormalities or cases of

arrest at an early stage of mental development, concerning the greater or

less degree of endowment for intellectual, moral, and religious life, down

to utter absence of capacity, and this in relation to individuals as well

as races and peoples, and times; and again, concerning the gradual

development of the ethical and religious consciousness in the long course

of history, in its continuity and gradual transition from lower to higher

forms: everywhere we meet this same problema continui. And our

oppressive difficulty is bound up with this problem, and can be dispelled

only by its solution, for the gist of the difficulty is nothing else than

the gradualness of human becoming.

This is not the place for a thoroughgoing discussion of this problema

continui. We can only call to mind here that the "evolution idea" has

been the doctrine of the great philosophical systems from Aristotle to

Leibnitz, and of the great German idealist philosophers, in whose school

the religious interpretation of the world is at home. We may briefly

emphasise the most important considerations to be kept in mind in forming

a judgment as to gradual development.

1. To recognise anything as in course of evolving does not mean that we

understand its "becoming." The true inwardness of "becoming" is hidden in

the mystery of the transcendental.

2. The gradual origin of the highest and most perfect from the primitive

in no way affects the specific character, the uniqueness and newness of

the highest stage, when compared with its antecedents. For, close as each

step is to the one below, and directly as it seems to arise out of it,

each higher step has a minimum and differentia of newness (or at least an

individual grouping of the elements of the old), which the preceding stage

does not explain, or for which it is not a sufficient reason, but which

emerges as new from the very heart of things.

3. Evolution does not diminish the absolute value of the perfect stage,

which is incomparably greater than the value of the intermediate stages,

it rather accentuates it. The stages from the half-developed acorn-shoot

are not equivalent in value to the perfect tree; they are to it as means

to an end, and are of minimal value compared with it.

4. All "descent" and "evolution," which, even in regard to the gradual

development of physical organisation and its secrets, offer not so much an

explanation as a clue, are still less sufficient in regard to the origin

and growth of psychical capacity in general, and in relation to the

awakening and autonomy of the mind in man, because the psychical and

spiritual cannot be explained in terms of physiological processes, from

either the quantity or the quality of nervous structure.

This problem, and the relation of the human spirit to the animal mind,

will fall to be dealt with in Chapter XI. It is neither the right nor the

duty of the religious conception of the world to inquire into and choose

between the different forms of the idea of descent which we have met with.

If it has made itself master of the general evolution idea, then descent,

even in its most gradual, continuous, monophyletic form, affects it not at

all. It can then look on, perhaps not with joy, but certainly without

anxiety, at Dubois' monkey-man and Friedenthal's chimpanzee. On the other

hand, it is obvious that a secret bond of sympathy will always unite it

with the right wing of the theory of descent, with the champions of

"halmatogenesis,"(32) heterogenesis,(33) kaleidoscopic readjustment, &c.,

because in all these the depth and wealth and the mystery of phenomena are

more obviously recognisable. For the same reasons the religious outlook

must always be interested in all protests against over-hastiness, against

too great confidence in hypotheses, and against too rapid simplification

and formulation. And it is not going beyond our province to place some

reliance on the fact that there are increasing signs of revolt from the

too great confidence hitherto shown in relation to the Theory of Descent.

The general frame of the theory will certainly never be broken, but the

enclosed picture of natural evolution will be less plain and plausible,

more complex and subtle, more full of points of interrogation and

recognitions of the limits of our knowledge and the depths of things.