The Recognition Of Purpose

(6.) We must now turn to the question of "teleology." Only now, not

because it is a subordinate matter, for it is in reality the main one, but

because it is the culminating point, not the starting point, of our

argument. If the world be from God and of God, it and all that it contains

must be for some definite purpose and for special ends. It must be swayed

by eternal ideas, and must be subject to divine providence and guidance.
But naturalism, and even, it appears, natural science, declares: Neither

purposes nor ideas are of necessity to be assumed in nature. They do not

occur either in the details or in the whole. The whole is an absolutely

closed continuity of causes, a causal but blind machinery, in regard to

which we cannot ask, What is meant to be produced by this? but only, What

causes have produced what exists? This opposition goes deep and raises

difficulties. And in all vindication or defence of religion it ought

rightly to be kept in the foreground of attention, although the points we

have already insisted on have been wrongly overlooked. The opposition

concentrates itself to-day almost entirely around two theories of

naturalism, which do not, indeed, set forth the whole case, but which are

certainly typical examples, so that, if we analyse them, we shall have

arrived at an orientation of the fundamental points at issue. The two

doctrines are Darwinism and the mechanical theory of life, and it is to

these that we must now turn our attention. And since the best elucidation

and criticism of both theories is to be found in their own history, and in

the present state of opinion within their own school, we shall have to

combine our study of their fundamental principles with that of their


We can here set forth, however, only the chief point of view, the gist of

the matter, which will continue to exist and hold good however the

analysis of details may turn out. For the kernel of the question may be

discussed independently, without involving the particular interests of

zoology or biology, though we shall constantly come across particular and

concrete cases of the main problem in our more detailed study.

The struggle against, and the aversion to ideas and purposes on the part

of the nature-interpreters is not in itself directed against religion. It

does not arise from any antagonism of natural science to the religious

conception of the world, but is primarily an antagonism of one school of

science to another, the modern against the mediaeval-Aristotelian. The

latter, again, was not in itself a religious world-outlook, it was simply

an attempt at an interpretation of the processes of nature, and especially

of evolution, which might be quite neutral towards religion, or might be

purely naturalistic. It was the theory of Entelechies and formae

substaniales. In order to explain how a thing had come to be, it taught

that the idea of the finished thing, the "form," was implicit in it from

the very beginning, and determined the course of its development. This

"form," the end aimed at in development, was "potentially," "ideally," or

"virtually" implicit in the thing from the beginning, was the causa

finalis, the ultimate cause which determined the development. Modern

natural science objects to this theory that it offers no explanation, but

merely gives a name to what has to be explained. The aim of science, it

tells us, is to elucidate the play of causes which brought about a

particular result. The hypothetical causa finalis it regards as a mere

asylum ignorantiae, and as the problem itself not as its solution. For

instance, if we inquire into the present form and aspect of the earth,

nothing is advanced by stating that the "form," the primitive model of the

evolving earth was implicit in it from the beginning, and that it

gradually determined the phases and transition-stages of its evolution,

until the ultimate state, the end aimed at, was attained. The task of

science is, through geology, geognosy, mineralogy, geodesy, physical

geography, meteorology, and other sciences to discover the physical,

chemical, and mechanical causes of the earth's evolution and their laws,

and from the co-operation of these to interpret everything in detail and

as a whole.

Whether modern natural science is right in this or not, whether or not it

has neglected an element of truth in the old theory of Entelechies which

it cannot dispense with, especially in regard to living organisms, it is

beyond dispute that, from the most general point of view, and in

particular with reference to teleology, religion does not need to concern

itself in the least about this opposition. "Purposes," "ideas," "guidance"

in the religious sense, are quite unaffected by the manner in which the

result is realised; everything depends upon the special and particular

value of what has been attained or realised. If a concatenation of causes

and stages of development lead to results in which we suddenly discern a

special and particular value, then, and not till then, have we a reason

and criterion for our assumption that it is not simply a result of a play

of chances, but that it has been brought about by purposeful thought, by

higher intervention and guidance of things. Certainly not before then.

Thus we can only speak of purposes, aims, guidance, and creation in so far

as we have within us the capacity for feeling and recognising the value,

meaning and significance of things. But natural science itself cannot

estimate these. It can or will only examine how everything has come about,

but whether this result has a higher value than another, or has a lower,

or none at all, it can neither assert nor deny. That lies quite outside of

its province.

Let us try to make this clear by taking at once the highest example--man

and his origin. Let it be assumed that natural science could discover all

the causes and factors which, operating for many thousands of years, have

produced man and human existence. Even if these causes and factors had

actually been pure "ideas," formae substantiales and the like, that would

in no way determine whether the whole process was really subject to a

divine idea of purpose or not. If we had not gained, from a different

source, an insight into the supreme and incomparable worth of human

existence, spiritual, rational, and free, with its capacity for morality,

religion, art and science, we should be compelled to regard man, along

with every other natural result, as the insignificant product of a blind

play of nature. But, on the other hand, if we have once felt and

recognised this value of human existence, its highest dignity, the

knowledge that man has been produced through a play of highly complex

natural processes, fulfilling themselves in absolute obedience to law, in

no way prevents our regarding him as a "purpose," as the realisation of a

divine idea, in accordance with which nature in its orderliness was

planned. In fact, this consideration leads us to discover and admire

eternal plan and divine guidance in nature.

For it does not rest with natural science either to discover or to deny

"purpose" in the religious sense in nature; it belongs to quite a

different order of experience, an entirely inward one. Just in proportion

as I become aware of, and acknowledge in the domain of my inward

experience and through my capacity of estimating values, the worth of the

spiritual and moral life of man, so, with the confidence of this peculiar

mode of conviction, I subordinate the concatenations of events and causes

on which the possibility and the occurrence of the spiritual and moral

life depend, to an eternal teleology, and see the order of the world that

leads to this illuminated by everlasting meaning and by providence.