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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39

II. The Dawn of Humanity

page 20

II. The Dawn of Humanity.

Surely, none but a fabled God, the dark imagination of an ignorant and uncultured mind, could look upon poor Adam or any other man, afflicted inwardly with tœnia and ascarides, busied externally with the prolific pediculi that enliven the solitude of the primitive savage, and having the monotony of his consequent reflections diversified by the chigo of the West Indies and the guinea-worm of torrid Africa; could look too upon the sheep with a diseased liver, owing to the fasciolæ or "flukes" therein existent; could gaze on the pig evincing more than a suspicion of trichinæ or "measles," and upon the potato for the food of the same pig already bearing the germs of the dreaded "disease," and pronounce such a sample of his creative powers as "very good!"

Let it not be thought that these conclusions are only ludicrous; they are very serious indeed—for Bibliolaters and the germ theorists. Nor let it be said that I am speaking of repulsive things: the man who believes that God made all these things and called them good, must also believe that God made what repulsiveness they have; and it is not my fault if the theory of creation is capable of a reductio ad absurdam.

To return to the gradations and developments of functions, we find, at the stage at which we had just arrived, individual organisms with only one set of generative organs and functions—those of the male or those of the female respectively; though, again, it does not follow that this is an instant and unvarying result, since we may find forms of the same organisms in which some individuals have only male or female organs or functions, while others have both, powerfully developed. This is even the case in some of the orchids, plants bearing a very high rank in vegetable life. In some species of gregarious insects, as ants or bees, we find a further variation, for there are a very small number with female organs, a larger number with male organs, and a vast majority without any sexual organs at all; yet the grubs, which would otherwise have become non-sexual insects or working bees, can be, in case of need, developed by the other working bees themselves into perfect females or queens.

Difference of sex is, as we all know, the rule in the higher grades of animal life. We find, too, an increasing page 21 importance and responsibility attaching to the female functions. In some cases, as in fishes (which are classed very high in animal life, being vertebrated), the functions of both male and female may continue to be as simple or even more simple than in some of the primitive forms already men-tioned; for with most fishes no congress of the sexes is needed for the act of generation. The ova of the female are simply extruded in some convenient locality, and the secretion of the male is extruded in the water near by. But with birds, and with the mammalia upwards to man, the maternal function is one of increasing burden and responsibility; no longer limited to the simple formation and extrusion of germs or ova containing, as it were, latent life, but now nourishing and cherishing the impregnated cell or cells within their own body or otherwise, till eventually an almost perfectly developed progeny is put forth into the world. In this natural function and adaptability we have a link which stretches through all remaining types of life, in very deed "one touch of nature" that "makes the whole world kin;" for in the system of development that I have roughly sketched we have, in the incident of separation of sex, arrived at or passed through all the phases of living organisms of which we have any knowledge—the lowest organisms as well as articulata, crustaceæ, insects, fishes, reptiles, birds and mammalia—all therein included. At the head of these as intelligent beings may be probably placed the insect the ant, and the mammal man.

I cannot attempt to explain in brief words all the evidence that is adduced by materialists in favour of the assertion that Man has been eventually developed by simple natural laws from lower organisms somewhat such as now surround us. I will only draw attention to two inevitable conclusions: firstly, that if we verify any one instance in an organism of development or adaptation to an altered condition of surroundings, there is no logical bar to such a series of developments as would eventually result in man, and might through him go on to still higher beings; and secondly, that if we concede the spontaneous generation of any one living organism we at once lay a sufficient basis for such a series of developments as is just suggested.

Both these conclusions are antagonistic to and utterly do away with any necessity for recourse to imaginary forces outside the natural properties of matter. And this is, in brief, the essential point of Materialism. In matter, i.e.. in that which page 22 is perceptible to our senses, we find the basis of, and the potentiality for, all of which those senses and their resultant reason can give us any knowledge. We find, for example, in the fact of man's mind or intellect, simply a high instance of this potentiality of matter; mind or intellect being but an empty phrase, without the existence of brain and reason (i.e., experience of the senses) to evolve and contain it. Materialism does not, as is falsely assumed, degrade the vital forces of life and thought to the level of the inert and inanimate conditions usually attributed to matter; on the contrary it elevates ignorantly despised matter to the capabilities and possibilities of the highest existence and most subtle energies; materialism is no adding of death unto death, but a resurrection of all things unto life. It does not hold matter as alien or foreign to spirit, it sees in the one but a capacity or phase of the other; it does not say matter is a vice, it finds no vice resultant anywhere but from the want of knowledge of the laws of matter; it does not look on matter as a foe to virtue and high intelligence, it sees in matter the noble mother of all living.

I have wronged my argument somewhat by seeming to assume that an hypothesis was necessary for the first of the conclusions given above. But development is already more than a theory, it has established itself in the region of indisputable fact. One of the most recent observations on this point is that concerning the axolotl, a Mexican lizard, furnished with gills, and living only in the water; but which by accidental natural circumstances, or by such circumstances artificially imitated, may be developed into a perfect land salamander (hitherto considered of an entirely different gensus, which is a greater distinction than a species), breathing only by lungs and being incapable of a life in the water; its gills having disappeared together with the tail-fin, dorsal ridge and other especially aquatic adaptations, and corresponding capacities for a life on land having been developed.

Now if the variation from a life only possible in water to one only possible in air,—if such a variation or adaptation or development can be brought about during the brief period of existence of one little reptile, who shall dare to assign a limit to the variations and developments that may be evolved in untold myriads of years? This factor of time is one of the most difficult to realize and grasp the full import of, since we have but such a tiny experience of it in our own life, or even in all the centuries during which page 23 man has left any written or graven record of his life and acts. Thirty or forty centuries would seem to be the limit of the period during which we have anything like historical record of man, though we may grasp that there were then many and diverse races of men, some of which had attained a high state of civilization. Nor does there seem to be any indubitable change traceable in the actual bodily framework of man during that time. But sufficient expla-nations of this at once suggest themselves. In the first place, that, as has been already noticed, it is in the lowest and simplest organisms that cardinal changes are most readily evolved, and we may expect in the case of so high an organism as man that many generations may pass away before any distinct and palpable development may have manifested itself; and that indeed no change would, be necessitated in such organs as had, during all that period, been sufficiently adapted to the circumstances; secondly, that in tracing the record of man through prehistoric times, in such evidence as is afforded us by fossil implements and bones of man himself, we do get irrefutable evidence of development since that more distant period; and, lastly, that if we will consider the case of organs or faculties which have not been sufficiently adapted to the circumstances, we shall get here, too, distinct and indubitable evidence of development.

Somewhat of such development it will be my effort to trace in the next study—the Progress of Civilization; the development of the faculties by which we have reached from the material into that which has been usually, and, we hold, incorrectly, styled and considered the immaterial. With more highly developed faculties we may find how all things are material: i.e., ultimately reducible to the cognizance of the senses; we shall find in materialism the eventual explanation of all that lay outside the ken of duller senses, and was therefore attributed to ultra-intelligible and extra-natural agency; we shall find in materialism the sure basis and touchstone for both the outward and inward conduct of man—all true work, all true science, all true morality being therefrom deducible and provable. Nought of despondency, nought of untrust is there in Materialism, no dark, cold, fanciful belief, but simple knowledge, full of Nature's warmth and life and light. Not ours

"to seek
If any golden harbour be for men
In seas of Death and sunless gulfs of Doubt,"

page 24

for to us Doubt is not sunless, it is the very bright and bracing air in which we grow ever more strong, more humble, more confident,—and we trouble about no poetical fictions as to Death; for we hold that, as far as man is concerned, Death is but the condition of non-existence, and it is manifestly absurd to endow the sheer absence of existence with either charms or terrors.