What Is Distinctive In The Naturalistic Outlook

At first tentative, but becoming ever more distinctly conscious of its

real motive, Naturalism has always arisen in opposition to what we may

call "supernatural" propositions, whether these be the naive mythological

explanations of world-phenomena found in primitive religions, or the

supernatural popular metaphysics which usually accompanies the higher

forms. It is actuated at the same time by one of the most admirable

impulses in human nature,--the impulse to explain and understand,--and to

explain, if possible, through simple, familiar, and ordinary causes. The

sane human understanding sees all about it the domain of everyday and

familiar phenomena. It is quite at home in this domain; everything seems

to it well-known, clear, transparent, and easily understood; it finds in

it intelligible causes and certain laws which govern phenomena, as well as

a constant association of cause and effect. Here everything can be

individually controlled and examined, and everything "happens naturally."

Things govern themselves. Nothing unexpected, nothing that has not its

obvious causes, nothing mysterious or miraculous happens here. Sharply

contrasted with this stands the region of the apparently inexplicable, the

supernatural, with all its influences and operations, and results. To the

religious interpretation in its naive, pious, or superstitious forms of

expression, this region of the supernatural seems to encroach broadly and

deeply on the domain of the everyday world. But with the awakening of

criticism and reflection, and the deepening of investigation into things,

it retreats farther and farther, it surrenders piece after piece to the

other realm of thought, and this arises doubt and suspicion. With these

there soon awakens a profound conviction that a similar mode of causal

connection binds all things together, a glimmering of the uniformity and

necessity embracing, comprehending, and ultimately explaining all things.

And these presentiments, in themselves at first quite childishly and

almost mythologically conceived, may still be, even when they first arise,

and while they are still only vaguely formulated, anticipations of later

more definite scientific conceptions. Such a beginning of naturalistic

consciousness may remain quite naive and go no farther than a silent but

persistent protest. It makes free use of such familiar expressions as

"everything comes about of itself"; "everything happens by natural means";

"it is all 'nature' or 'evolution.' " But from the primitive naturalistic

outlook there may arise reconstructions of nature and cosmic speculations

on a large scale, expanding into naturalistic systems of the most manifold

kinds, beginning with those of the Ionic philosophers and coming down to

those of the most recent times. Their watchwords remain the same, though

in an altered dialect: "nature and natural phenomena," the denial of

"dualism," the upholding of the one principle "monism," the

all-sufficiency of nature, and the absence of any intervening influences

from without or beyond nature. Rapidly and of necessity this last item

becomes transformed into a "denial of teleology": nature knows neither

will nor purpose, it has only to do with conditions and results. With

these it deals and through them it works. Even in the most elementary

naturalistic idea, that "everything happens of itself," there lurks that

aversion to purpose which characterises all naturalistic systems.

A naturalism which has arisen and grown in this manner has in itself

nothing to do with concrete and exact knowledge of nature. It may comprise

a large number of ideas which are sharply opposed to "science," and which

may be in themselves mythological, or poetical, or even mystical. For what

"nature" itself really is fundamentally, how it moves, unfolds, or impels,

how things actually happen "naturally," this naturalism has never

attempted to think out. Indeed, naturalism of this type, though it opposes

"dualism," does not by any means usually intend to set itself against

religion. On the contrary, in its later developments, it may take it up

into itself in the form of an apotheosis and a worship of nature. Almost

invariably naturalism which begins thus develops, not into atheism, but

into pantheism. It is true that all is nature and happens naturally. But

nature itself, as Thales said, is "full of gods," instinct with divine

life. It is the all-living which, unwearied and inexhaustible, brings

forth form after form and pours out its fulness. It is Giordano Bruno's

"Cause, Principle, and Unity," in endless beauty and overpowering

magnificence, and it is Goethe's "Great Goddess," herself the object of

the utmost admiration, reverence, and devotion. This mood may readily pass

over into a kind of worship of God and belief in Him, "God" being regarded

as the soul and mind, the "Logos" of Heraclitus and the Stoics, the inner

meaning and reason of this all-living nature. And thus naturalism in its

last stages may sometimes be quite devout, and may assure us that it is

compelled to deny only the transcendental and not the immanent God, the

Divine being enthroned above the world, but not the living God dwelling

within it. And ever anew Goethe's verse is quoted:

What God would outwardly alone control,

And on His finger whirl the mighty Whole?

He loves the inner world to move, to view

Nature in Him, Himself in nature too,

So that what in Him works, and is, and lives,

The measure of His strength, His spirit gives.