Page images

What can we say of the “ design argument” to-day? It is now merely an obsolete way of raising the question, What is the meaning of natural evolution ?1 We may use the word “growth,” as it is equally suitable. First of all, “ growth ” means the continual appearance of something new. In considering the meaning of the word, we may always keep in mind the growth of a living body. The thing which grows does not merely go on, like a rolling stone which gathers no moss; it comes to be something new-something better or worse than it was before. Dr Martineau has expressed this as follows, referring to what we may call “ upward” evolution :

Evolution consists in the perpetual emergence of something new, which is an increment of being on its prior term, and therefore more than its equivalent, and entitled to equal confidence and higher rank. This, however, though holding good throughout, has an exceptionally forcible validity at certain stages of the evolution. Though all the differences evolved are something new, and may fall upon an observer's mere perception as equally unexpected, yet, when scrutinised by reason,


1 “Evolution” and “Natural Selection” are two very different things. The latter is thought to be one of the natural causes which brought about Evolution.

some may retain their character of absolute surprise, for which there was and could be nothing to prepare us; while others may prove to be, like an unsuspected property of a geometrical figure, only a new grouping of data and relations already in hand.1

There are three different conceptions of growth current in our own day : they are not always distinguished, and when not distinguished lead to much confusion of thought. They arise from different views of the connection between the old and the new in evolution; this is the “explanation” of the process.

We may be content to trace out only the order of succession in which the various new forms emerge: we may deal only with their history in time. For example, in the evolution of the material world, we may set up, as the utmost possible in the way of explanation, an account of the successive phases of the world's appearance as it cooled and assumed the form of a solid mass ; we may then mark the time when the first germs of life appeared,—then the extending variety of living forms as new races and species

1 Types of Ethical Theory, vol. ii. p. 393 (3rd ed.)

emerged, — and so on. Similarly in the evolution of mind, we may distinguish the successively more complex or “higher” forms of consciousness, and mark the order in which they come out. All through we should only be answering the question which may be colloquially expressed as “which comes after which ?"

But the natural inclination to “explain ” the evolution of things—or rather, as it is at present, to make evolution explain thingsleads us beyond this impartially historical view of Development; and in two different directions, according to the two divergent methods of seeking for inner connections in the various stages of evolution. One view regards the earlier stages as manufacturing and thus explaining the later. Dr Martineau, in the passage which I quoted above, observed that there are many cases in which the “increments of being," the new differences which emerge, may be explained as a “new grouping of data and relations already in hand,” “not spontaneous, from the isolated thing, but due to changed conditions in the scene of its existence, modifying its external

[ocr errors]

relations and through these its internal nature.” Here there is nothing really new —we have only a rearrangement of the old. The view of which I am speaking considers that all advances in evolution are of this type. Thus organic life would be only a new complication of matter and motion ; and the higher stages of conscious life only a new complication of physical sensations. This conception of evolution is seriously maintained by Spencer, among others : his clear statement of it may be quoted :


The law which “unifies the successive changes through which sensible existences separately and together pass," is a law of “the redistribution of matter and motion." “Whatever aspect of it we are for the moment considering, evolution is always to be regarded as fundamentally an integration of matter and dissipation of motion, which may be and usually is accompanied by other transformations of matter and motion. The primary redistribution ends by forming aggregates which are ‘simple' where it is rapid, but which become 'compound' in proportion as its slowness allows the effects of secondary redistributions to accumulate.” “ Organic aggregates differ from other aggregates alike in the quantity of motion which they contain and the amount of rearrangement of parts which accompanies their progressive integration.”1

1 For exposition of this view see First Principles, Part II., ch. xii., xiii.



The ideal of this mode of explanationusually known as Naturalism-is to make our knowledge of the whole history of the universe into one continuous chain in which our reason could pass from link to link, seeing at each step how the earlier ones made the later. “Explanation by beginning” is the watchword of this method. But this ideal is now generally admitted to be by the nature of things impossible. There are, as Dr Martineau says, differences evolved, “which, when scrutinised by reason, retain their character of absolute surprise, for which there was and could be nothing to prepare us” in the previous conditions.

Dr Martineau has pointed out two of these “hitches in the evolutionary deduction”: the appearance of sentience and the appearance of conscious rationality and freedom. No combination of modes of motion could produce a sensation, and no complication of sensations could produce rational thought. Few would contradict this at present; we might say none, for those who profess to show the evolution of consciousness from matter-in-motion endow the matter with sentience first; and

« PreviousContinue »