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| Chapter 2 (continued...) |
Considering these briefly, we have first the origin of matter. Failing all other solutions, it would seem that this problem has been skirted by suggesting, as Hoyle has done, that there "never was no matter," (65) that matter is eternal, and that the universe is everlastingly regenerating itself. But it seems to me that to say that matter has always been there is merely postponing the question of where it came from. We can no more conceive of the infinity of matter than we can of the sudden creation of it ex nihilo. Both require an exercise in faith which is scarcely supported by any kind of mental picture of what is involved. One is neither more nor less reasonable than the other.
With respect to the second missing link, it was firmly believed that Pasteur had once for all settled the question as to whether life could appear spontaneously. Since this demonstration had been made by the scientific method, it did not seem that it could be challenged. But it is being challenged now -- a circumstance which illustrates what has been appropriately called the "implacable offensive of science". It is challenged by the discovery that in a laboratory environment it is possible artificially to create a situation, such as could have very well existed in the past, which permits the synthesis by natural forces of certain of the building blocks that distinguish living from dead matter. (66) These discoveries have led biologists to believe that life could have arisen purely by accident. It is the nature of things, they say, that anything which can happen will happen inevitably if one has enough time.
Concerning the third link, it may be said that it has been "found" many times, but further knowledge has invariably lessened the certainty that such finds really are the links sought. Man has not been completely defined yet, and although he is always looked upon as a unique animal in a class by himself, it is not so easy to define wherein his uniqueness lies. There is general agreement that his possession of language and his powers of abstraction are together decisive factors, but how is one to determine whether or not fossils possessed either of these things? Every effort to derive human language by some evolutionary process from the so-called language of animals has failed, and the first people to admit this fact today are the linguists themselves. (67) Nevertheless, the feeling persists that human language is merely an extension, and most people are persuaded that in a rather
65. Hoyle, F., Nature of the Universe, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1950.
66. S. L. Miller, working in the laboratory of Harold Urey, in 1955, circulated a mixture of water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen through an apparatus in which they were exposed to a silent electric discharge. A week later, analysis showed it to contain glycine and aniline in a mixture of other amino acids--i.e., organic compounds previously thought to be produced only from living matter. J. Bronowuki, reviewing a book by Michael A. Arbib entitled, Brains, Machines and Mathematics in Scientific American, June, 1964, p.133, makes the following observation, "Nothing that has been discovered in the past ten years, or that has resisted discovery, has made us despair of the basic tenet that biological processes have the same mechanism as physical processes. No reputable investigator intends to abandon the search for such concrete mechanisms or to fall back on some mystic vitalism to relieve him of the ardors of the search."
67. For a summary of this evidence, see "Who Taught Adam to Speak?" Part VI in Genesis and Early Man, vol. 2 of The Doorway Papers Series by Zondervan publishing Company.
nebulous way they could conceive of the stages in the process. Thus, even here there is much wishful thinking that the Great Chain can yet be completed. These three links from no-matter to matter, from dead matter to living matter, and from animal to man are therefore optimistically believed to be well on the way to resolution.
And finally, there is the fourth link -- which is more disturbing, since it is of such a nature that it is hard to conceive of any experiment which could be designed to resolve it. Superficially, the possession of self-consciousness does not seem to be essentially different from the possession of consciousness, and yet in fact it is: every line of research so far explored has only strengthened the view (1) that man alone possesses it and no other animal, and (2) that to its possession must be attributed all of civilization. Man's every thought and every word is ultimately dependent upon his powers of abstraction and his use of language, both of which are universally considered to be dependent in turn upon the possession of self-consciousness. Indeed, the very existence of science results entirely from this unique faculty. How did it arise? The point is worth examining.
The consciousness of creatures other than man is evidently not a lower form of self-consciousness but something qualitatively different,though perhaps sharing some element of it. Both involve awareness, and therefore both involve the central nervous system. Yet animals with no effective brain (decerebrated) perform many functions, (68) including the raising of young, which would seem to demand consciousness but which, it is reasonably sure, they do not possess in this mutilated condition. Even decerebrate humans show evidences of something which looks exactly like consciousness. Man has no way of knowing what "pure" animal consciousness is; when he thinks about the subject, he becomes conscious of consciousness in his own person and in this process becomes self-conscious. The evidence that animals do not have this self-awareness is extensive and involved: it is one of the few conclusions resulting from research in the behavioural sciences on which, as far as I know, there is virtually unanimous agreement.
So we have to account for a new thing in the natural order. If consciousness is awareness and if awareness is
a form of nerve irritability and if the activity which accompanies awareness can be performed to an astounding degree as a kind of closed-circuit automated reflex, then it might be possible to derive consciousness from
matter itself as a kind of specialized electrical activity. J. B. S. Watson and the Behaviourist School are really doing just this.
But self-consciousness is a step further: in this instance matter does not merely respond to stimuli, but actually becomes aware of its own inclination to respond, which is a very different thing. "Matter has become conscious of itself," as Mascall has put it. (69) And by so doing, it becomes possible for it deliberately to delay or check its own response. This delay is what makes man a freely acting creature, liberated from the chains which bind action to reaction and characterize all instinctive behaviour. It is the supreme gift which Huxley is at pains to account for, but which he still wishes to call an accidental "acquisition," like sight or hearing or any other of the senses that are supposedly traced naturalistically to some inherent irritability in matter. He has spoken of it as "a glorious paradox" (70) that what is to be regarded as an essentially purposeless mechanism after one
68. Decerebrate animals: see H. C. Bazett and W. G. Penfield, "A Study of the Sherrington Decerebrate Animal in the Chronic As Well As the Acute Condition" in Brain (Journal of Neurology), vol.45, 1922, p.185-265. Also Sir Charles Sherrington, Man on his Nature, Anchor Books, Doubleday, New York, 1955, pp.156-57. pg.20 of 34
69. Mascall, E. L., ref.38, p.35.
70. Huxley, Julian, Rationalist Annual, 1946, p.87.
thousand million years of blind and automatic operation has finally generated freedom of choice as one of theattributes of our own species and in so doing has, as he expressed it, "superseded itself" as the blind thing
that it once was. (71)
The evolutionists do not hesitate to derive sight and hearing from something that was in an earlier stage of evolution "not quite sight or hearing but incipiently so." One step further back, they propose, we find merely a "sensitive area" -- photosensitive or pressure sensitive, as the case may be. Going back a step further still, we have only an aggregate of otherwise normal body cells that nevertheless happen to have the potential of becoming in time sensitive in these ways. Further back still, these cells are indistinguishable from all other cells, as indeed they appear to be at one stage in the embryo. The fact is, then, that these people are arguing for an unbroken chain in the process which "tends" of itself to move toward higher organization and capabilities entirely without the introduction of any new element or force. It is hoped to fill out the links not only between species of animals, but between the faculties they possess and the cells which structure these faculties, and even the atoms which constitute these cells.
In short, vision and bearing and all the other senses are merely terminal phases of capacities inherent in matter from the start, requiring only time and the right forces to "let them emerge". Thus arose the power of irritability -- and of awareness -- and therefore so also of consciousness. It is really not mysterious at all. All mystery is explained away by using the magic word evolution. Primitive people have long believed that the power to understand is dependent merely upon a knowledge of how to use the Magic Word!
In a way, it may be said that this movement toward the "reduction" of all phenomena associated with living things began with a manifesto presented to the world by three men: (72) Carl Ludwig (1816 - 1895), who taught most of the great physiologists of the world who were active in the latter part of the nineteenth century; Emil du Boris-reymand (1818 - 1896), the founder of electrophysiology; and Hermann von Helmholtz (1812 - 1894), who needs no introduction. Here in essence is what they agreed upon: "All the activities of living material, including consciousness, are ultimately to be explained in terms of physics and chemistry." This manifesto was received with varying degrees of interest. It was profoundly influential in Russia as the result of the studies of I. M. Sechenov (1829 - 1905), one of Ludwig's pupils who demonstrated the physical and chemical factors altering the activity of the nervous system.
71. See J. Thorpe, "Progress and Purpose in Evolution" in Listener, BBC, 30 July, 1953, p.172. pg.21 of 34
72. Leake, Chauncey D., "Perspectives of Adaptation: Historical Background" in Handbook of Physiology, sect. 4, American Physiological Society, Washington, 1964, pp.5-6.
Later on, this philosophy was to influence profoundly the thinking of Bertrand Russell, who wrote: (73)
The evidence, though not conclusive, tends to show that everything distinctive of living matter can be reduced to chemistry, and therefore ultimately to physics.
The fundamental laws governing living matter are, in all likelihood, the very same that govern the behaviour of the hydrogen atom, namely, the laws of quantum mechanics. . . . In the chain of events from sense organ to muscle, everything is determined by the laws of macroscopic physics.
pg.22 of 34
- It seems that once an idea has been accepted by enough people of importance it becomes self-perpetuating, being thereafter accepted by newcomers to the field not because it has been demonstrated by the scientific method but because of the weight of authority behind it. Now and then some outstanding scientist in the field may raise a question -- as J. B. S. Haldane has done in this particular instance -- but on the whole the doctrine, once it has hardened, tends only to be hardened still further by each successive generation. The unbelievable can be stated in such a way as to make it sound perfectly reasonable.
In a recent article in the British journal Nature, Ponnamperuma arrives at the conclusion that "life itself is only a special though complicated property of matter and that au fond there is really no difference between a living organism and lifeless matter." (74) Wood Jones observed that if you poke a corpse you can predict what will happen, but if you poke a live body you can't---and this unpredictability is a basic difference! But given enough information, Huxley might have replied, "This unpredictability will disappear."
This is one of the great goals of all science. Ralph Gerard observed, "Science aims to translate experience into general laws of predictive value." (75) It is true that in lowly forms of animal life prediction is more successful than in the higher forms, and that in the higher forms some prediction is still possible. But in man the method which has allowed prediction to be made elsewhere does not seem to have worked very well. Indeed, as Susanne Langer has observed, the failure of the method of the exact sciences to provide really vivifying leads to research in the social sciences may be evidence that they cannot actually be applied. (76)
- 73. Russell, Bertrand, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, Allen and Unwin, London, 1961, p.36.
- 74. Ponnamperuma, C., "Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life" in Nature, vol.201, 1964, p.337.
- 75. Gerard, Ralph, "The Scope of Science" in Scientific Monthly, June, 1947, p.496.
- 76. Langer, Susanne, ref.61, p.18. Some thoughts on the social responsibility of scientists will
In a paper relating science to sociology, Isaiah Bowman, the President of Johns Hopkins University, summed up the contribution of the former to the latter in the following way: (77)
It is a clever, cynical and hard-bitten world that science is making, one in which the idealistic and the spiritual are bound to havie a diminishing place. Viewed against a background of classical education, science has been a disadvantage to our society.
If the most important questions of mankind are those concerning spiritual relations with one another and with God, then science is not to be taken seriously. Through dazzling discovery and successful practical application science gives a sense of power which is both demoralizing and dangerous.. . .
Science has taught us analysis, but we have had as yet no large scale and equally successful synthetic constructions that bear on human conduct.
pg.23 of 34
- The successes of science have largely resulted by treating nature as a machine. The assumption is then made that because man is part of nature, he too is essentially a machine -- and therefore ought to be treated the same. Unfortunately, the method has not proved successful: it has merely led to his disappearance as a person so that
it is no longer "man" that is being treated.
- be found in Science, vol.109, 1949, p.637. Here M. F. Ashley Montagu, in a note entitled "The Conscience of the Past and the Practice of the Present," records some words by Father Francesco Lana (1631 - 1687), by some named the inventor of the first airship (though too poor actually to build one!): "Other difficulties I see not, which may be objected against this Invention, besides the one which seems to me greater than all the rest, and that is, that it may be thought that God will never suffer this Invention to take effect because of the many consequences which may disturb the civil government of men. For who sees not, that no City can be secure against attack . . . the same would happen to private Houses, and Ships on the sea . . . . And this they may do . . . with such security that they which cast those things down from a height out of gun-shot. cannot on the other side be offended by those below." To the question, then, why has God allowed the invention, an answer is given by D. R. Davis, Down Peacock Feathers, Jeffrey Bles., London. 1942, pp.21-26. See also Max Planck, "Meaning and Limitations of Exact Science" in Science, vol.110, 1949, p.319ff. A brief but useful article with special reference to Boyle and Newton in this connection will be found in the Journal of Science and Religion, vol.I, no.1, Paternoster Press, London, 1947, p.13ff. A striking example of the sense of responsibility of a scientist in earlier days will be found in Science, vol.90, 1939, p.180. So also Hugh Dryden wrote "The cold sharp tools of science have not been effective in penetrating the area of human emotions, purposes, and values. 'It is the Nemesis of the struggle for exactitude by the men of science,' remarked the biologist, H. S. Jennings, 'that leads him to present a mutilated, merely fictional account of the world as a true and complete picture.' 'You can no more analyze these imponderables by scientific methods,' said Eddington, than you can extract the square root of a sonnet," ("The Scientist in Contemporary Life" in Science, vol.120, 1954, p.1053). See also a review of Bertrand Russell's rationalist philosophy in Nature, 25 December, 1954, p.1162.
- Conant in his On Understanding Science (Mentor Books, New York, 1951, p.25) argues that the methods of science are not necessarily applicable to matters of ordinary life. Maurice B. Visscher, in an article entitled "The Duty to Doubt and the Will to Believe" (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December, 1956. p.357) observes, "It has been said recently that when scientists move into philosophic or sociological realms, they 'somehow divest themselves of the scientific method with which they live in the laboratory'." This is only as it should be really. For the detachment which is proper in the laboratory must be replaced by identification in the human situation so that the scientific method is no longer strictly applicable. But they are still popularly credited with the supposed omnicompetence of scientists.
- 77. Bowman, Isaiah, "Science and Social Pioneering" in Science, vol.90, 1939, p.312.
Thus it appears that in the case of man we are dealing with something more than merely an aggregate of matter. Thorpe has pointed out that Huxley himself has come a long way from the old view of the animal as merely a machine and has been driven to assent to the possibility that all living substance has what, for the moment, must be called "mind-like" properties. (78) This is perhaps why he took such a favourable attitude toward the work of Teilhard de Chardin, who attributed "mind" to the whole cosmos, to every particle in it, without admitting to a pantheistic view of it. (79) It is a strange thing to see Julian Huxley recommending the work of a theologian, as he did when he wrote the introduction to The Phenomenon of Man, but necessity as well as adversity makes strange bedfellows.
It is a long way from pure materialism to the admission that the very first atoms had a kind of mind-like component and "knew" what to do from the beginning, even though the knowing was a very lowly process. But to suggest that they had a kind of self-consciousness is to imply that they not merely knew what to do, but knew they were doing it! It is not simply a matter of admitting they possessed consciousness in some lowly form, but even self-consciousness. If this is not so, then self-consciousness is an intruder originating outside the system and not merely a result of the unfolding of the potential of matter itself. But such an intrusion cannot be allowed, and Huxley is thus virtually forced to say that man "is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself"! (80) It is amazing what words will do---and how easily they can gloss over a fatal flaw in an argument
In The Great Chain of Being, Arthur O. Lovejoy traces the attempts which have been made in the past to link all forms of life in an unbroken chain by introducing an infinite number of intermediate stages wherever there were apparent discontinuities. These links were demanded between species, of course, and between the non-living and the living. There can be no jumps. The connections must form a smooth slide. The same is required between unconsciousness and consciousness. As Lovejoy points out, "panpsychism" was the view that there is some kind of consciousness, some form of animatedness, some "soul" in everything---atoms, stones, plants, animals, man, angels, and God alike. It is a question of degree.
pg.24 of 34
- 78. Thorpe, J., ref.71, p.171.
- 79. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Phenomenon of Man, Collins, London, 1959, 320 pages.
- 80. Huxley, Julian: quoted by Teilhard de Chardin, ref. 79, p. 21.
Consciousness is not considered to be an emergent property or function which is very quietly but very abruptly "there" in sentient matter, but must of necessity be assumed to have been existent at a very low level even before it was "manifested" anywhere. This has been termed the "retrotensive" concept, which holds that "whatever is empirically found in or associated with the more complex and highly evolved natural entities must inferentially be read back into the simpler and earlier ones." (81) It has been argued that there are but two views possible: Consciousness is inherent in all matter, even in atoms, or it has been introduced from outside.
In answer to Ponnamperuma, Professor Lawden wrote subsequently (also in Nature) that he felt the real problem had been skated around and not really faced up to at all. Thus he observed: (82)
For many years the evidence has been strongly in favour of the view that there is no difference between a living organism and lifeless matter and, in any event, experience in every field of science suggests powerfully that nature is a unity which can be divided into categories for human convenience, but that we must never lose sight of the fact that the boundaries so introduced are man-made and possess no counterparts in reality. . . .
Nature seems to satisfy a principle of continuity, so that the marking of dividing lines on her fabric may throw into relief some features of the pattern but it inevitably distorts the reality.
This principle of continuity is exemplified as the smooth gradation of forms from the fundamental particles to ourselves, thus constituting a hierarchy at no level of which can a clear dividing line between the living and dead be distinguished.
Lawden then went on to say that the belief that even human behaviour can be adequately explained by the laws of physics would no longer be challenged by many, yet he expressed some doubts as to whether the consciousness which is his brain---i.e., self-consciousness---can really be so accounted for. As he put it: (83)
I fail to understand how [self] consciousness could ever arise in any matter system how ever complex. A system of particles, each of which possesses the known physical characteristics of electrical charge, spin, etc., might very well be designed to behave like a human being but not to experience consciousness as human beings undoubtedly do. . . .
We may perhaps hope to explain human behaviour, but our experience of this behaviour will remain unaccounted for [emphasis mine].
pg.25 of 34
- This question of self-consciousness was the subject of a paper by Seymour S. Kety, entitled "A Biologist Examines the Mind and Behaviour." (84) He first points out that machines can be built or can be designed which
- 81. Lovejoy, Arthur O., The Great Chain of Being, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1960, p.276.
- 82. Lawden, D. F., "Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life" in Nature, 25 April, 1964, p.412.
- 83. Ibid.
84. Kety, S. S., "A Biologist Examines the Mind and Behaviour" in Science, vol.132, 1960, p.1861, 1863.
will evaluate and discriminate, learn from experience, and even adapt to changing situations, so that it seems possible that an electronic brain could be made which would simulate human behaviour. Yet "there remains one biological phenomenon. . . for which there is no valid physiochemical model and (or so it seems to me) little likelihood of developing one; this is the phenomenon of consciousness." The author uses the word consciousness, but the context of the paper as a whole shows that he really has in mind self-consciousness. Thus subsequently he quotes A. E. Fessard (Brain, Mechanisms and Consciousness, 1954) as having said,
Momentary distributions of patterns of excitatory or inhibitory state . . . have been proposed . . . as the basis for conscious experience; but what makes a pattern 'conscious' of its own patterning remains an irritating problem.
Kety then discusses the electro-physico-chemical basis of mental activity and shows that the total energy of the process of thinking can be measured in metabolic terms and expressed as a power requirement equivalent to twenty watts. Experiments are described which show that the "difference between normal consciousness and the depths of coma is only a matter of seven or eight watts." He adds, "Now that we have an energy equivalent for thought I'm not at all sure this proves the physical nature of consciousness." pg.26 of 34
Much of his own research has apparently been directed toward the determination of the metabolic cost of various types of abnormal mental activity, research which must have provided much reason to encourage the view that consciousness is "nothing but" an electrochemical process.
This leads Kety into a brief discussion of the mechanistic view of behaviour. After quoting Claude Bernard to the effect that "determinism thus becomes the foundation of all scientific progress and criticism," he concludes: "Although I share this faith, I cannot avoid pointing out that it is faith rather than proof which forms the basis of this Olympian generalization."
It is my awareness of my own behaviour that is the new thing crucial to the whole issue. Whence did this self-consciousness arise? The current mechanistic view is quite unable to account for it. I have a mindfulness of my own mind; because I have, I also possess the power to explore the ways in which it could have arisen. But this possession also engenders certain intellectual needs, leading me to search for my relationship to all the other existences around me which seem to lack self-awareness entirely and consequently enjoy a kind of harmony among themselves which I do not share in ‹ yet which I often envy.
Man somehow stands outside the rest of Creation, able to contemplate both it and himself, and able also to ponder the meaning of his own strange unrelatedness to it. The Psalmist, too, asked "What is man?" (Psalm 8:4). But he saw the question as part of a larger one with another dimension to it, the fact that God has taken special notice of him -- indeed, in the Incarnation, has "visited" him in His own Person. God the Creator took upon Himself, not the form of animals nor the form of angels, but the form of man, thus creating a bond between Himself and man that is unique in Creation. It was because this fact was fully recognized in the Medieval World View that it still appears to have been so remarkably satisfying for all its faults. It viewed man, not merely as a creature of God and therefore part of the rest of God's creation, but as a creature so uniquely related to Him as to stand apart from all other creatures and with a unique destiny. It was natural to look upon all else, under God, as existing for his special benefit. The purpose of the Universe was related to this God-to-man kinship. The meaning of everything was therefore found by reference to a point outside the system itself, the unique relationship between God and man, both of whom transcend the ordinary limits of time and space by which the rest of nature is bound. The modern World View denies this reference point and being therefore a closed system of cause and effect, cannot even "criticize" itself sufficiently to observe its own logical weakness and philosophical inadequacy. (85)
Man's mind works in such a way that it is pointless to speak of the Universe as having a "purpose" unless it is a purpose which primarily has as its end something that concerns man himself. Some other purpose---say, to lead to a breed of super-animals other than man---still makes it, for him, an entirely unsatisfactory process.
Even most materialistic investigators admit that there certainly is every appearance of plan and purpose in Nature. Thus Simpson in one of his more recent books agrees that "there are without any doubt directional forces in evolution." (86) And again "there is, or seems to be, an essential order or plan in spite of the great multiplicity. There seems, moreover, to be purpose in this plan." (87) Part of this purpose is observable in the phenomenon of pre-adaptation, by which is meant the appearance of a structure in an antecedent form which serves no purpose at the time but emerges in later forms as a useful organism. Again, to quote Simpson: (88)
pg.27 of 34
- 85. P. W. Bridgman, "Science and Common Sense" in Scientific Monthly, July, 1954, p.35.
- 86. Simpson, George Gaylord, ref.45, p.187.
- 87. Ibid., p.191.
88. Ibid., p.203.
There is little doubt that pre-adaptation does really occur. . . . We shall see that pre-adaptation, with some expansion and modification of its significance, must be accepted. . . . Earlier opinions that random pre-adaptation is an adequate explanation of adaptation were, however, quite unjustified.
pg.28 of 34
- Medawar gives as an example the fact that human beings are born with a thicker epidermis on the sole of the foot than elsewhere on the body. This is a pre-adaptation, for, as he points out, it can have served no purpose up to this time since the fetus is strictly treading water. (89) Throughout the history of life in the past, similar phenomena have been noted, the first evidences of a pre-adaptation often appearing a very long time before the organ began to serve a useful purpose---many, many generations later. The fact has so impressed one prominent paleontologist that he finds it impossible to account for it without introducing some "spiritual power which has planned and directed evolution." (90)
Yet at the same time, as we have already noted in several places, Simpson denies categorically that the appearance of man was anything more than an accident. So there is really no meaning to this kind of plan and purpose because the preparatory process itself, by not having man specifically in view, ceases to have any meaning for him beyond that of being academically interesting. If one is persuaded that the stage has been specifically prepared for oneself, then one's being on the stage has a quite different effect upon behaviour than would the knowledge that no such preparations were made but that the stage just happened. In one view, man is fulfilling his destiny, but in the other he is merely taking over -- and this quite by accident. By viewing the Universe as a completely Creator-less phenomenon, man finds himself to be of no greater significance than the atoms out of which he is constructed. The answer to the question "What is man?" is not satisfying unless it has reference to the end for which he exists. If this end is merely to contribute to the acceleration of a hitherto blind process, it seems quite unrealistic to believe that such an end will provide a spring for action that requires sacrifice and devotion or calls forth the best in man.
- 89. Medawar, Sir Peter B., The Uniqueness of the Individual, Basic Books, New York, 1957, p.34.
- 90. Broom, R.: quoted by G. G. Simpson, ref.45, p.199. In Simpson's original paper in Scientific Monthly, (June, 1947) on "The Problem of Plan and Purpose in Nature," he attributes this statement to Broom but without documentation. In his Meaning of Evolution, (Yale, 1952, p.325), he refers to Broom's original article, "Evolution as the Paleontologist Sees It" (South African Journal of Science, vol.29, l932, p.54-71), but I cannot find this exact statement in it. Even science itself---not merely evolutionary biology---has come to take the form of a kind of religion. In his Gifford Lecture, published as "The Relevance of Science, Creation and Cosmogony" (Harper and Row, New York, 1964), C. F. von Weizsacker concludes that "today's faith in Science plays the role of a dominating religion, differing little in its mythical ('theoretical') components from the universal myths of the past." It even has its "priestly caste, the technologist and expert." See a review by H. L. Nieburg in Science, vol.147, 1965, p.1434. And in von Weizaacker's book, pages 15, 18, 23, and 160.
It does not satisfy my mind, at any rate, because the super-man which Huxley envisages in the dim and distant future bears little if any relationship to me. This future creature is neither me in my children, nor me in my fellow man. Indeed, it will be a creature vastly superior and really quite unlike me. If it is not, then the "Huxley Plan" will have failed in its objective, which is to direct evolution deliberately into something higher. To provide me with the inspiration that is required to strive for something else than merely my selfish interests, I must have a goal that I can visualize and I must be convinced that the goal is worth sacrificing myself for. The "new revelation" makes no attempt to define the goal; it only seek to assure us that there is one. This is not the stuff out of which convictions are made, and without convictions life is flat and dull indeed!
The displacement of the Medieval Synthesis in which "meaning" was achieved by relating man to God had led to a synthesis which men are no longer related to God nor even to one another, but only to the rest of the animal world at the best, and all other atoms in it at the worst. How is life to have any real significance in such an atmosphere?
In the old days, it is true that men were very tired because they had to work so hard. Today we are merely bored, which is far worse. We are bored because all real drama has gone out of life, so that we find ourselves searching frantically to alleviate our boredom‹‹entering into drama synthetically in books, movies, theater, television, and even spectator sports. Lewis Mumford has vividly described how in Medieval times, in spite of what appears to us now; the even tenor and eventlessness of each day, man's life was really full of drama. He said: (91)
Every culture has its characteristic drama. It chooses from the sum total of human possibilities certain acts and interests, certain processes and values and endows them with special significance: provides them with a setting, organizes rites and ceremonies: excludes from the circle of dramatic response a thousand other daily acts which, though they remain part of the "real" world, are not active agents in the drama itself.
What was the essential drama of the Medieval Culture? It took place within the Church; it conceived the passage of sinning man through an evil and painful world, from which he might emerge through repentance into heaven, or sink through hardness of heart or confirmed mischief into hell. The earth itself was but a mean stopping place, a wayside tavern of ill fame, on the way to those other worlds. But nothing that concerned this drama was mean: on the contrary the Church, founded through an act of God, brought into the world constant reminders of the grace and beauty that was to come: though art and music might tempt men from a higher life, they also indicated its possibility, indeed its immanence. Life was a succession of episodes in man's pilgrimage to heaven: for each great moment the Church had its sacrament or its celebration. Beneath the active drama was the constant chant of prayer: in solitude or in company men communed with God and praised Him.
91. Mumford, Lewis, The Culture of Cities, Harcourt Brace, New York, 1938, pp.60-61. pg.29 of 34
Even in Shakespeare's time, all the world was still a stage and all the men and women actors, each with his little part to play. Today man has been changed from an actor on a stage into an animal in a laboratory‹‹and the laboratory has no Personal Director. Carl Becker ably summed up the situation when he wrote: (92)
It has taken eight centuries to replace the conception of existence as a divinely composed and purposeful drama to the conceptions of existence as a blindly running flux of disintegrating energy.
pg.30 of 34
- Admitting all its faults, this Medieval Synthesis must have more nearly satisfied man's spirit than our present one does, simply because the individual actors in the drama all had, and were sure they had, some place in the drama. The Modern Synthesis, by contrast, makes the individual virtually of no significance, and the drama in which he is acting out his little piece is essentially indifferent to whether he as an individual succeeds or fails in it. He even finds himself on the stage quite by accident. The common man in Medieval times must often have felt that he was little more than a puppet, but at least he had the assurance that there was a "Puppeteer" who was very much aware of his performance. The common man today often has the feeling of being merely a thing of circumstance, a feeling which is only heightened by the added suspicion that the puppeteer is "mindless chance."
Most of us are sufficiently aware of the wonders which are everywhere to be discovered in Nature to feel that accident is not really adequate to account for them. We may give mental assent to a purely materialistic evolutionary philosophy, but emotionally we find it difficult to believe that the perfection of the eye or the ear or the hand, or the wing of a bird, or the mimicry of a butterfly or insect, or the radar of a bat arose purely by accident. Thus, to quote Medawar again: (93)
- These are intelligible [doubts], but they are founded upon a misconception, namely, that evolution is a perfectionist process. The eye, for example, is beset by chromatic and spherical aberration, and is not correctly centred along its optical axis: Helmholtz, the grand master of physiological optics, said that an optician would be ashamed to make an instrument with such elementary physical faults.
- 92. Becker, Carl, "The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers": quoted by C. I. Glickuberg in "Science and the Literary Mind" in Scientific Monthly, June, 1950, p.353.
93. Medawar, Sir Peter B., ref.89, p.122.
Medawar then proceeds to a study of the imperfections of man, overlooking entirely the possibility that man became a fallen creature, defiled physiologically by generations of unnatural living. (94) As to the faults which may exist in the eye, for example, there are many authorities who would immediately challenge this statement as it stands. The fact is that, as in certain other organs, what may appear as "faults" can often be explained as necessary departures from a purely idealistically perfect form in order to gain certain advantages in operation which would have to be surrendered if the idealized form were to be adopted. In point of fact, perfection must always be defined not in some abstract mechanical terms, but in terms of suitability for function in the actual situation in which the mechanism must work. As an example, there are certain "faults" in the design of the human hand which make it uncommonly difficult to get the fingers warm again if they have once become severely chilled. But to meet this exceptional requirement, certain structural changes would be necessary which would almost certainly rob the fingers of some of their extraordinary powers of manipulation, as in playing a piano concerto. The Designer has to weigh the advantages of each gain and each loss. Sir Charles Bell wrote on the human hand in his famous contribution to the Bridgewater Treatises, and because of his reverent attitude, reading his essay can be almost an act of worship. (95) Modern essays on anatomy are apt to be very different, their main object being an excursion into a supposed evolutionary origin, which has quite another effect on the mind of the reader. These two approaches to the study of an organ such as the hand may both be concerned among other things with the question of design in nature. But there is little doubt as to which of them will contribute most toward a philosophy which has the power of stirring men to action. The motive power in human affairs depends upon the goal which man sees for himself. Lewis Mumford rightly points out that "if society is paralyzed today, it is not for lack of means but lack of purpose." (96) Julian Huxley
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- 94. Ibid., pp.122-33 (chap. 6). A good illustration of the fact that "fitness" must be defined in terms of "application" is human skin. W. Montagna, an authority, after speaking of the things human skin has to do, says it "has achieved a remarkably effective compromise" (see "The Skin" in Scientific American, February, 1965, p.56f.). F. Wood Jones has some pointed words in this connection. He wrote, "All the great naturalists of the pre-Darwinian period had a profound realization of the harmony effected by the various structural developments begot in response to functional demands. Great emphasis was laid upon the fitness of the creature to fulfill its life's role in the surroundings in which it happened to find itself. There was admiration for the development of parts and organs and for the perfections of the adaptation of structure to function.
- "But after the advent of Charles Darwin's theory, a profound change of thought concerning all this became apparent in biological literature; and a morbid enthusiasm was displayed in seeking for atavistic, rudimentary and apparently useless structures. Disharmonies were sought for and discovered.
- "The harmonies that had so much appealed to the naturalists and anatomists of the 18th century were ignored. The phase of pessimism is well expressed by Eli Metchnikoff (1845 - 1916) in his work, The Nature of Man, in which he sought to prove that most living things, when examined critically, could be demonstrated to be made up of a series of misfits and disharmonies, structural, physiological and psychological" (Trends of Life, Arnold, London, 1953, p.86).
95. Bell, Sir Charles, "The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design" in Bridgewater Treatises, Pickering, London, 1837.
- 96. Mumford, Lewis, ref.91, p.229. On the need for an effective motivation, Edmund Sinnott has written with characteristic lucidity in a paper entitled "Ten Million Scientists" in Science, vol.111, 1950, p.123ff.
was very well aware of this and for some time busily underscored the idea that while everything in the past has occurred by accident, a creature has now emerged who can consciously direct the future. And this, he believed, is all that is needed to convert his Modern Synthesis into a proper substitute for the Medieval one. To this end he argued that (97)
. . . man is enabled and, indeed, forced to view his destiny as the trustee, spearhead, or effective agent of any further evolutionary progress on this planet. He has been thrown up by the cosmic process as an instrument for the further carrying on of that process.
Huxley actually called this "the latest revelation" and appropriately (or otherwise) spoke of it all as part of the new "religion," adding: (98)
Further, insofar as an effective new belief system must have a religious aspect, it will doubtless need to await for the appearance of a prophet who can cast it into compelling form and shake the world with it.
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- We have spoken of the manner in which Medieval man because of his philosophy of life had a map upon which he could pinpoint his own position and relate himself to everything around him. With such a map he might be lost, for the map might be faulty, but he never suffered from the lost feelings which plague our own
- 97. Huxley, Julian, "New Bottles for New Wine: Ideology and Scientific Knowledge" in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol.80, parts I and II, 1950, p.20.
- 98. Ibid.
generation. Elsewhere, Huxley acknowledged man's need in this sense, for he said in his closing words: (99)
In the long run, our actions are related to our over-all picture, our map of reality. . . . Even an insect like a bee has to build up a three-dimensional map of the country round its hive to find its way about. It is in relation to the total picture of its surroundings that it steers itself in space.
But man's surroundings are enormously larger, and in them he has to steer himself in time as well as in space. That is why his map must be a four-dimensional one. A three-dimensional one will help him determine his position and chart his direction, but a four-dimensional one will also help him in choosing his destination.
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- In the volume from which this quotation is taken, Huxley set forth not only the "destiny" which he saw for man, but the means by which it is to be achieved. Evolutionary philosophy is summed up in the answer he gave to these two matters of great importance. As to the destiny, it is merely some higher animal form; as to the means, it is essentially eugenics. (100) It promises man the opportunity of being, in some remote descendant, a superior organism for a fleeting moment, after which he will cease to be. Huxley was persuaded that there can be no higher or more noble goal. (101) How strange that a man with intelligence and such tremendous learning should be so blind as not to see that his beloved theory has already been cast in the form of a religious faith and has indeed shaken the world, leading to a war and to barbarities and to the destruction of life and culture and property on a scale mankind hopes never to witness again. For Hitler was the child of Nietzsche, and Nietzsche
- 99. Huxley, Julian, Evolution in Action, Chatto and Windus, London, 1953, p.153. It seems odd, perhaps, to hear a scientist of Huxley's stamp acknowledging that any kind of religious value has had any kind of significance. He is not alone in this however. Andrew Ivy in a paper on medical research pointed out that there are plenty of goals toward which the energies of men may be religiously directed -- the conquest of hunger and disease, for example. But science and technology in themselves are not enough. They have little value unless used as tools for the attainment of something worthwhile beyond themselves. As he put it, "We have reached the point in the development of science and civilization where it is clear that they cannot survive without a sound moral philosophy" ("Medical Research: Operation Humanity" in Scientific Monthly, February, 1949, pp.120-21).
- 100. Ibid., p.152. In the light of our knowledge of what went on in Germany during the last great war, where a "scientific" program for the breeding of a super-race was undertaken, eugenics has come to he viewed with distrust. For who is to define the eu-? A rather helpful summary in brief form of the problems involved in this definition will be found in the March, 1965, issue of the Scientific American, under Letters to the Editor, pages 8-10. This very useful magazine is readily obtainable in most large libraries. My own teacher in human genetics at the University of Toronto (Dr. Norma Ford Walker) used to remind us that it may be difficult from the point of view of the community as a whole to justify breeding intellectual giants and to discourage the breeding of simpletons. The former can quite easily become an extremely self-seeking or even crooked individual, the latter are apt to be amicable and less dangerous --- and indeed, often useful to society in performing simple tasks unacceptable to most of us. Moreover, they help to keep alive in us some of those finer feelings of pity and kindness. On this side of the Atlantic, geneticists are not on the whole very sympathetic toward eugenics, and we publish no eugenics journals in America. Huxley, with his usual bombast, is oversimplifying the problem.
- 101. Ibid., p.152.
was the child of Darwin, (102) and in Darwin this new faith was spelled out in a "scientific" form. But most of us will feel with Henry Margenau that although science has its vogue and its successes are impressive enough in its own field, "yet by itself it is powerless to mold the behaviour of men for good." (103)
In conclusion, we cannot do better than quote the words of E. T. Whittaker of the University of Edinburgh, who wrote: (104)
At the present time there is a movement in scientific circles aimed at securing for science a greater influence on human affairs and even calling for a re-founding of civilization on a scientific basis. But its advocates do not always understand that, as a necessary condition for the possibility of such a reform, Science must be re-integrated into a unity with philosophy and religion.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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- But does any religious view of the world accord sufficiently closely with reality that it is capable of providing the basic framework within which such a re-integration could be achieved? The question is, Can Christianity today succeed where Medieval Christianity failed?
- 102. Statement made by Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1926, p.435.
- 103. Margenau, Henry, "Ethical Science" in Scientific Monthly, November, 1949, p.290.
- 104. Whittaker, E. T., "Aristotle, Newton and Einstein" in Science, vol.98, 1943, p.270.