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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

Relations of Evolution to Theism

Relations of Evolution to Theism.

We advance, however, to the more serious difficulties of the subject. Is the theory of Evolution atheistic? We have been told again and again of late that it is. Many of its advocates, we are reminded, are avowed atheists. It dispenses with a Creator, makes him unnecessary, excludes him ham the universe. So we hear; and the substance of the objection is, that Evolution is necessarily inconsistent with Theism. We will look at this carefully.

It may be allowed at once that many of the German expositors of Evolution are atheistic—as Büchner, Haeckel, Oscar Schmidt, and others. This reproach, however, does not lie against Darwin, Wallace, and their principal English followers. In explanation of the endeavour made in some quarters to press Evolution into antagonism to Theism, we should remember that there may be an anti-religious as well as a religious fanaticism, and that the former sometimes finds it convenient to assume a scientific dress. When we find, as in the Germans just named, undoubted attainments in science associated with hostility to religion, we must not forget the earlier hostility of religion, or, at least, of theology and theologians, to science. These men do not forget it. They remember how the doctors of divinity gathered at Salamanca to demonstrate Columbus a heretic for proposing to seek the shores of India by sailing west; how Galileo was imprisoned, tortured, and died in a dungeon for asserting the motion of the earth; and how Bruno was burnt at the page 8 stake as late as the first year of the seventeenth century for suggesting the possible existence of other inhabited worlds. They know that every science has had to fight its way into acceptance against the opposition of the theologians; and so they see in the ideas God, revelation, religion, only obstruction to truth.

We may extenuate thus, but not the less do we condemn, their infatuation, for infatuation it is. In their endeavour to make Evolution atheistic they are guilty of a flagrant departure from the true scientific spirit. They refer the origin of man, as we have seen, to the marine Ascidians, and that of the marine Ascidians to the "primordial slime." When we enquire concerning the genesis of their" primordial slime, "we arc further referred to the nebular hypothesis, and the condensation of sun and planets out of matter in a condition of "diffused nebulosity." And, when finally we ask, "Whence came your 'matter in a condition of diffused nebulosity?'" they answer, "Well, all we know is, that it was not created! Neither at that, nor at any other point in the evolutionary series, can we admit the intervention of a personal Power or Will." This seems to me Hindoo science. The Hindoo cosmogony represents the earth as resting on the back of an elephant, which stands on the back of a tortoise, which stands upon nothing. It is apparently a relief to the Hindoo mind to think that so ponderous a mass as the earth has something to rest on. Even an elephant is too big to be left absolutely without footing. But so insignificant a creature as a tortoise may contrive to shift without any material support. After much the same manner, German evolutionists seem to have concluded that such thin and unsubstantial stuff as matter in "a condition of diffused nebulosity," may come into existence without the aid of a Creator.

Evolution has been discredited by these attempts to push it into the service of Atheism, but it is not for that reason to be summarily rejected. There have been undevout astronomers, and it was a saying of Comte that the heavens declare the glory, not of God, but of Kepler and Newton. But that would be a poor reason for repudiating astronomy, or for doubting the calculations of the Nautical Almanac, through which that science lends its aid to navigation. To reject Evolution merely because some evolutionists are Atheists, would be like refusing to use imported goods because some captains of vessels are addicted to profane swearing. We may allow the scientists who say that Evolution cannot tolerate Christianity to pair off with the theologians who affirm that Christianity cannot accept Evolution, and so leave the field free to impartial investigators, who are not under bondage to invincible prejudice.