Notice once more that as we ascend in the scale of development natural selection selects more unsparingly and the path to life narrows. It is a very easy matter for the lowest forms to get food. Indeed the plant sits still and its food comes to it. And the battle of brute force can be fought in a multitude of ways—by mere strength, by activity, by offensive or defensive armor, or even by running into the mud and skulking. It is harder to gain knowledge, and yet many roads lead to an education. Colleges are by no means the only seats of education. And many totally uneducated men have college diplomas. And life is, after all, the great university, and here the sluggard fails and the plucky man with the poor "fit" often carries off the honors.
"But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: And the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of corals or of pearls: For the price of wisdom is above rubies."
And when it comes to righteousness there is only one right, and everything else is wrong. "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Therefore "strive to enter in at the strait gate." And remember that "strive" means wrestle like one of the athletes in the old Olympic games.
"I saw also that the Interpreter took Christian again by the hand and led him into a pleasant place, where was built a stately palace beautiful to behold; at the sight of which Christian was greatly delighted. He saw also, upon the top thereof, certain persons walking, who were clothed all in gold. Then said Christian, May we go in thither?
"Then the Interpreter took him and led him up toward the door of the palace; and, behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door at a table-side, to take the name of him that should enter therein; he saw also that in the door-way stood many men in armour, to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in amaze. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, Set down my name, Sir; the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put an helmet upon his head, and rush toward the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace, at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace saying:
"'Come in, come in; Eternal glory thou shalt win.'
"So he went in, and was clothed in such garments as they.
"Then Christian smiled, and said, I think verily I know the meaning of this."—Bunyan's, Pilgrim's Progress, p. 44.
If you wish to climb the Matterhorn many paths lead up the lower slopes, and a stumble here may cost you only a sprain. And I suppose that several paths lead to the base of the cone. But thence to the summit there is but one path, and a misstep means death. Pardon these quotations and illustrations. They are my only means of at all adequately presenting to you a scientific man's conception of the meaning of the struggle for life. The laws of evolution are written in blood and bear the death penalty. For
"Life is not as idle ore, But iron dug from central gloom, And heated hot with burning fears, And dipt in baths of hissing tears, And battered with the shocks of doom To shape and use."
There would seem therefore to be going on a process of natural selection. Natural selection seems to select more unsparingly and the struggle for life—or even existence—to grow fiercer as we advance from lower forms to higher in the animal kingdom.
But the theory which we have agreed to accept teaches us that these survivors are those which or who have conformed to their environment and that they have survived because of their conformity. And what do we mean by environment? And does not man modify his environment? Certainly he changes by irrigation a desert into a garden. He carries water against its tendency to the hill-top. But he has learned to do this only by studying the laws which govern the motions of fluids and rigorously obeying them. He must carry his water in strong pipes and take it from some higher point, or must use heat or some means to furnish the force to drive it to the higher point. He cannot change a single iota of the law, and gains control of the elements only by obedience to their laws. Electricity is man's best servant as long as he respects its laws, but it kills him who disobeys them. But does not man make his own surroundings in social life? He merely enters upon a new mode of life; and if this new mode be in conformity with the eternal forces and laws of environment man prospers in this new mode of life and conforms still more closely.
There is, indeed, but one environment, but the lower animal comes in contact with, and is affected by, but a small portion of its elements. Form and color were in the world before the animal had developed an eye, but up to this time these could have but little effect on animal life. Light vibrations were present in ether long before the animal by responding to them made them any part of its own true environment. There is vastly more in environment than man has yet discovered, and he will discover these elements only by obedience to their laws.
Environment includes ultimately all the forces and elements which go to make up our world or universe. It is an exceedingly general term. I might say that under the environment of certain wheels, springs, and spindles, which we call a Jacquard loom, silk threads become a ribbon worthy of a queen. Is Nature and environment only a huge divine loom to weave man and something higher yet? One great difference is evident. Under normal conditions the silk must become a ribbon. But protoplasm can fail to conform and become waste. Environment is a very hard word to define, and our views concerning it may differ.
One thing, however, seems to me clear and evident. If each successive stage in the ascending series is selected or survives on account of its conformity to environment there must be some element or power, something or somewhat in environment specially corresponding in some way to, or suited to drawing out, the characteristic of this ascending stage on account of which it survives. The forces and elements of environment make and work against those at each stage who wander from the right path, and for those who follow it. And thus natural selection arises as the total result of the combined working of all these forces. They all unite in one resultant working along a certain line, and natural selection is the effect of this resultant. In the stage represented by hydra the forces of environment combine in a resultant which works for digestion and reproduction and the best development of their organs. But as the animal changes he comes into a new relation or occupies a new position in respect to these forces. New elements in the old environment are beginning to press upon him. And the resultant changes accordingly. He may be compared to a steamer at sea which raises a sail. The wind has been blowing for hours, but the sail gives it a new hold on the ship. Steam and wind now combine in a new resultant of forces. From worms upward environment manifests itself through natural selection as a power working for muscular force and brute strength or activity.
But soon natural selection ceases to select on the ground of brute force. After a time environment proves to be a power making for shrewdness. And when the mammal has appeared the resultant of the forces of environment impels more and more toward unselfishness, and when man has appeared environment proves to be a "power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness." But what shall we say of an environment which unmasks itself at last as a power making for intelligence, unselfishness, and righteousness? Someone may answer it is a host of chemical and physical forces bringing about very high ends. That is very true, but is it the whole truth? The thinking man must ask, How did it come about, and why is it that all these forces work together for such high moral and intelligent ends?
We face, therefore, the question, Can an environment which proves finally and ultimately to be a power not ourselves making for righteousness and unselfishness be purely material and mechanical? Or must there be in or behind it something spiritual? Shall we best call environment, in its highest manifestation, "it" or "him?"
The old argument of Socrates, as on the last day of his life he sits discoursing with his friends, still holds good. He is discussing the same old question, whether there is anything more than force, material, mechanism in the world. He says that one might assign as "the cause why I am sitting here that my body is composed of bones and muscles; that the bones are solid and separate, and that the muscles can be contracted and extended, and are all inclosed in the flesh and skin; and that the bones, being jointed, can be drawn by the muscles, and so I can move my legs as you see; and that this is the reason why I am sitting here. But by the dog, these bones and muscles would long ago have carried me to Megara or Booetia, moved by my opinion of what was best, if I had not thought it more right and honorable to submit to the sentence pronounced by the state than to run away from it. To call such things causes is absurd. For there is a great difference between the cause and that without which the cause would not produce its effect."
If there is no intelligence or love of truth in the cause, how can there be anything higher in the effect? And if Socrates had been only bone and muscle, he ought to have run away.
Our problem stands somewhat as follows: We have given protoplasm, a strange substance of marvellous capacities, which we call functions, and possessing a power of developing into beings of ever higher grades of organization. Environment proves to be a combination of forces working for the higher development of functions in a certain orderly sequence. And every lower function in the ascending line demands the development of the next higher. Digestion demands muscle, and muscle nerve, and nerve brain. We shall soon see that mammalian structure had to culminate in the family, and the family demands unselfishness and obedience. Environment therefore proves from the beginning to have been unceasingly working for the highest end; never, even temporarily, merely for the lower. For we have seen that environment works most unsparingly against those who, having taken certain of the steps in the ascending path, fail to continue therein.
But in order to attain this highest end for which it has always been working, an immense number of subsidiary ends have had to be attained. These are not merely digestion and brain, but a host of others: e.g., in vertebrates, vertebrae of the right substance, position, form, arrangement, and union. And in the ascending line, for whose highest forms it has continually worked, the difficulties of attaining each subsidiary end have been successively solved, and through this host of subsidiary ends the animal kingdom has advanced straight to its goal of intelligence and righteousness. Now the whole process is a grand argument for design. But I would not emphasize the process so much as the end attained. This especially, when attained by conformity to that environment, demands more than mere mindless atoms in or behind that environment. Can we call the ultimate power which makes for righteousness "it?" Can we call it less than "Him, in whom we live and move and have our being?"
The history of life is a grand drama. "Paradise Lost" and Shakespeare's plays are but fragments of it. But without intelligence they could never have been composed; without a choice of means and ends they could never have been placed upon the stage. Does the plot of this grander drama of evolution demand no intelligence in its ultimate cause and producer? Is the succession of steps, each succeeding the other in such order as to lead to truth and right and continual progress toward a spiritual goal, is this plot possible without a great composer who has seen the end from the beginning? Could it ever have been executed upon the stage of the world, and perhaps of the universe, without an executing will?
Now I freely grant you that this is no mathematical demonstration. Natural science does not deal in demonstrations, it rests upon the doctrine of probabilities; just as we have to order our whole lives according to this doctrine. Its solution of a problem is never the only conceivable answer, but the one which best fits and explains all the facts and meets the fewest objections. The arguments for the existence of a personal God are far stronger than those in favor of any theory of evolution. But we very rightly test the former arguments, indefinitely more rigidly and severely, just because our very life hangs on them. On the other hand, we should not reject them as useless, because they are not of an entirely different kind from those on which all the actions and beliefs of our common daily life are based. There is a scepticism which is merely a credulity of negations. This also we should avoid.
We have considered a few of the reasons for thinking that, with the material, there must be something spiritual in environment, that if the woof is material the warp is God. Here we need not delay long. Blank atheism seems to be at present unpopular and generally regarded as unscientific. The so-called philosophic materialism of the present day seems to be in general far nearer to pantheism than to the old form of materialism which recognized only atoms and mechanism. Atheism as a power to deform the lives of men has, for the present, lost its hold, and even agnosticism is respectful. The materialism against which we have to struggle is not that of the school, but of the shop, of society, of life. There are comparatively few now who avow a system of philosophy making mindless atoms their first cause.
But there is a far grosser, more deadly materialism of the heart and will. It sits unrebuked in the front pews of our churches and controls alike church and parish, caucus and legislature. It calls on us all to fall down and worship, promising the world if we obey, the cross if we refuse. And we bow to it; and that is all it asks, for a nod on our part makes us its slaves. It is the idolatry of money, position, shrewdness, learning—in one word, of success. It takes all the strength out of our morality, loyalty and obedience to God out of our religion, and makes cowards and liars of us, who should be heroes. It makes our religion a byword with honest unbelievers. And if they are honest scientific minds, waiting for evidence of the practical value of our religion, why should they believe, when we live so successfully down to the religion which we would scorn to openly profess? Our fathers may have been narrow or straight-laced; they were not cross-eyed from trying to keep one eye on God and the other on the main chance. What is the use of whispering, "Lord, Lord," Sundays, if we shout, "Oh, Baal, hear us," all the rest of the week. Let us at least be honest, and "if Baal be god, follow him," and avow it. And worst, and most hideous, of all, we are not so much hypocrites as self-deceived. Let us not forget the old Greek doctrine of Ate, goddess of judicial blindness, sent down only upon those who were living the unpardonable sin of indifference.
But supposing that there is in environment something more and other than material, can we possibly know anything about it?
I am in a boat near the mouth of a river. The boat is tossed by the waves, driven by currents of wind, and now and then temporarily turned by eddies. I seem to look out upon a chaos of apparently conflicting forces. But all the time the wind and tide are sweeping me homeward. Now the wind, which sometimes indeed does shift, and the great tidal wave are steadily bearing me in a certain direction, though wave and eddy and gust may often make this appear doubtful to me. So, underneath all waves and eddies of environment, there is a great tidal wave, bearing man steadily onward; and I gain a certain amount of valid knowledge of environment from the direction in which it is bearing me.
Let us change the illustration. Man survives as all his ancestors have survived before him, through conformity to environment. Environment has therefore during ages past been continually making impressions upon him. And he can draw valid inferences concerning the one power, which must underlie the apparent host of forces of environment, from the impressions which these have left upon the structure of his mind and character. By studying himself he gains valid knowledge of what is deepest in environment. For man is the most completely and closely conformed thereto of all living beings.
But man is a religious being. This is a fact which demands explanation just as much as bone and muscle. Now no evolutionist would believe that the eye could ever have developed without the stimulus of light acting upon the cells of the skin. Place the animal in darkness and the eye becomes rudimentary and disappears. Could a visual organ for seeing moral and religious truth have ever originated in the mind of man had there been no corresponding pulsation and thrill of a corresponding reality in environment? Is not the one development just as improbable or inconceivable as the other?
And this is the reason that, when man awakened to himself and his own powers, he knew that there was and must be a God. "Pass over the earth," says Plutarch; "you may discover cities without walls, without literature, without monarchs, without palaces and wealth; where the theatre and the school are not known; but no man ever saw a city without temples and gods, where prayers and oaths and oracles and sacrifices were not used for obtaining pardon or averting evil." Given man and environment as they are, and a belief in God is a necessary result. But you may ask, if we are to worship a personal God, why might not a conscious and religious hydra, with equal right, worship an infinite stomach, and the annelid a god of mere brute force?
There stands in Florence a magnificent statue by Michel Angelo. A human figure is only partially hewn out of the stone. He never finished it. If you could have seen the master hewing the chips with hasty, impatient blows from the shapeless block, you would have been tempted to say that he was but a stonecutter, and but a hasty workman at that. Even now we do not know exactly what form and expression he would have given to the still unfinished head. But no one can examine it and hesitate to pronounce it a grand work of a master-mind. In any manifestly incomplete work you must judge the purpose and character and powers of the workman or artist by its highest possibilities, just so far as you have any reason to believe that these possibilities will be realized. You must look at the rudely outlined heroic human figure in the block of stone, not at the rough unfinished pedestal, if you would know Michel Angelo. So in the hydra and the annelid you must look at the possibilities of the nervous system before you or he think that digestion and muscle are all.
Once more the highest powers dawn far down in the animal kingdom. There are traces of mind in the amoeba, and of unselfishness in the lower mammals. If there were a goal of human development higher and other than unselfishness, wisdom, and love, we should have seen traces of it before this. But have we found the faintest sign of any such? Moreover, remember that a function continues to develop about as long as it shows the capacity for development. And during that period environment is a power making for its higher development. But is there any limit to the possible development of the three mental activities mentioned above? I can see none. Then must we not expect that environment will always make for these? And will environment ever manifest itself to man as the seat or instrument of a power possessing higher faculties other than these? Man must worship a personal God of wisdom, unselfishness, and love, or cease to worship. The latter alternative he never yet has been able to take, and society survive under its domination. So I at least am compelled to read the finding of biological history.
But let us grant for the sake of argument that man contains still undeveloped germs of faculties capable of perceiving and attaining something as much higher than wisdom and love as these are higher than brute force. You will answer, this is not only inconceivable, it is impossible. Still let us grant the possibility. We notice, first of all, that it is against the whole course of evolution that these faculties should be other than mental, and what we class under powers pertaining to our personality. For ages past evidently, and no less really from the very beginning, evolution has worked for the body only as a perfect vehicle of mind, and for this as leading to will and character. And human development has led, and ever more tends, as Mr. Drummond has shown, to the arrest, though not the degeneration, of the body. It is to remain at the highest possible stage of efficiency as the servant of mind. These higher powers will thus be mental and personal powers. And how has any and every advance to higher capabilities been attained in the animal kingdom? Merely by the most active possible exercise of the next lower power. This is proven by the sequence of physical and mental functions. We shall attain, therefore, any higher mental capacities only by the continual practice of wisdom and love. That is our only path to something higher, if higher there shall ever be. But if we find that the God of our environment is a God of something higher than love and righteousness, will these cease to be characteristics of his nature and essence? Not at all.
I have learned, perhaps, to know my father as a plain citizen. If I later find that he is a king and statesman, with powers and mental capacities of which I have never dreamed, do I therefore from that time cease to think of him as wise and kind and good? Not in the least. I only trust his love and wisdom as guide of my little life all the more. And shall not the same be true of God though he be king of all worlds and ages? It becomes unwise and wrong to worship God as the God of might only when we have found that he is a God also of something higher and nobler, of love; and after we have perceived this fully and worship him as love, we rest in the arms of his infinite power.
But now that the work has gone thus far, we can see that all development must take place along personal, spiritual lines; and are compelled to believe in a spiritual cause who knew the end from the beginning. And man's farther progress depends upon his conformity to this spiritual environment. And what is conformity to the personal element in our environment but likeness to him? This is my only possible mode of conformity to a person—to become like him in word, action, thought, and purpose, and finally in all my being. Very far from a close resemblance we still are. But we are more like him than primitive man was; and our descendants will resemble him far more closely than we. And thus man, conscious of his environment, and that means capable of knowing something about God, knows at least what God requires of him, namely, righteousness, love, and likeness to himself; or, as the old heathen seer expressed it, "to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God." Man is and must be a religious being. And he conforms consciously. Thus to be more like God he must know more about him, and to know more about him he must become more like him. The two go hand in hand, and by mutual reaction strengthen each other. I will not enter into the most important question of all, whether we can ever really know a person unless we have some love for him. The facts of evolution seem to me to admit of but one interpretation, that of Augustine: "Thou hast formed me for thee, O Lord, and my restless spirit finds no rest but in thee." Granted, therefore, a personal God in and behind environment, however dimly perceived, and conformity to environment means god-likeness; for conformity to a person can mean nothing less than likeness to him.
Some of you must, all of you should, have read Professor Huxley's "Address on Education." In it he says, "It is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for unknown ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well the highest stakes are paid with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated—without haste, but without remorse.
"My metaphor," he continues, "will remind some of you of the famous picture in which Retzsch has depicted Satan playing at chess with man for his soul. Substitute for the mocking fiend in that picture a calm, strong angel, who is playing for love, as we say, and would rather lose than win—and I should accept it as an image of human life."
[Footnote 1: Huxley: Lay Sermons and Addresses, p. 31.]
This is a marvellous illustration, and in general as true as it is beautiful and grand. But that "calm, strong angel who is playing for love, as we say, and would rather lose than win," is certainly a very strange antagonist. Is it, after all, possible that our clear-eyed scientific man has altogether misunderstood the game? Is not the "calm, strong angel" more probably our partner? Certainly very many things point that way. And who are our antagonists? Look within yourself and you will always find at least a pair ready to take a hand against you, to say nothing of the possibilities of environment. "Rex regis rebellis." Our partner is trying by every method, except perhaps by "talking across the board," to teach us the laws and methods of this great game. And calls and signals are always allowable. The game is not finished in one hand; he gives us a second and third, and repeats the signals, and never misleads. Only when we carelessly or obstinately refuse to learn, and wilfully lose the game beyond all hope, does he leave us to meet our losses as best we may.
Let us carry the illustration a step farther. Who knows that the game was, or could be, at first taught without talking across the board? I can find nothing in science to compel such a belief, many things render it improbable. Grant a personality in environment to which personality in man is to conform and gain likeness. Environment can act on the digestive and muscular systems through mere material. But how can personality in environment act on personality in man except by personal contact or by symbols easy of comprehension according to its own laws? Some method of attaining acquaintance at least we should certainly expect.
But some of you may ask, How can any theory of evolution guarantee that anything of the present shall survive in the future? It is continually changing and destroying former types. The old order of everything changes and passes away, giving place to the new. But is this the whole truth? Evolution is a radical process, but we must never forget that it is also, and at the same time, exceedingly conservative. The cell was the first invention of the animal kingdom, and all higher animals are and must be cellular in structure. Our tissues were formed ages on ages ago; they have all persisted. Most of our organs are as old as worms. All these are very old, older than the mountains, and yet I cannot doubt that they must last as long as man exists. Indeed, while Nature is wonderfully inventive of new structures, her conservatism in holding on to old ones is still more remarkable. In the ascending line of development she tries an experiment once exceedingly thorough, and then the question is solved for all time. For she always takes time enough to try the experiment exhaustively. It took ages to find how to build a spinal column or brain, but when the experiment was finished she had reason to be, and was, satisfied. And if this is true of bodily organs we should expect that the same law would hold good when the animal development gradually passes over into the spiritual. And what is human history but the record of moral and religious experiments, and their success or failure according as the experimenters conformed to the laws of the spiritual forces with which they had to do?
We need not fear that our old fundamental beliefs will be lost. Their very age shows that they have been thoroughly tested in the great experiment of human history and found sure. Modified they may be; they will be used for higher purposes and the building of better characters than ours. They will not be lost or discarded. We too often think of nature as building like man, with huge scaffoldings, which must later be torn down and destroyed. But in the forest the only scaffolding is the heart of oak.
We have seen that the sequence of functions in animal development has culminated in man's rational, moral nature. He alone has the clear perception of the reality of right, truth, and duty. The pursuit of these has made him what he is. His advance, if there is any continuity in history, depends upon his making these the ruling motives and aims of his life. He must continually grow in righteousness and unselfishness, if he is not to degenerate and give place to some other product of evolution. Moreover, as these moral faculties are capable of indefinite, if not infinite, development, they must dominate his life through a future of indefinite duration. For the length of the period of dominance of a function has always been proportional to the capacity of that function for future development. These can never, so far as we can see, be superseded, for no rival to them can be discovered. We have found in them the culmination of the sequence of functions.
We have attempted to show in this lecture that reversal of this grand sequence has always led to degeneration, or, in higher forms, far more frequently, to extinction. As we ascend, natural selection works more, rather than less, unsparingly. And as advance depends upon conformity to environment, and as the highest forms must be regarded as therefore most completely conformed, we gain our most adequate knowledge of environment when we study it as working especially for these. For these have been from the very beginning its far-off, chief aim and goal. Viewed from this standpoint, environment proves to be a host of interacting forces uniting in a resultant "power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness," and unselfishness.
Inasmuch as man's rational moral nature, his personality, is the result of the last and longest step toward and in conformity to environment, these powers correspond to that which is at the same time highest, and deepest, and most fundamental in that environment. This power which makes for righteousness is therefore to be regarded as personal and spiritual rather than material. It is God immanent in nature. And it is mainly to this personal and spiritual element in his environment that man is in the future to more completely conform. Conformity to this element in man's environment does not so much result in life as it is life; failure to conform is death. And the pressure of environment upon man, compelling him to choose between life through conformity and non-conformity with death, can be most naturally and adequately explained as the expression of his will. We know what he requires of us.
Our knowledge of him is very incomplete, but may be valid as far as it extends. And it would seem to be valid, for it has been tested by ages of experiment. The results of this grand experiment have been summed up in man's fundamental religious beliefs. And farther knowledge will be gained by more complete obedience to the requirements already known. The evidence, that these fundamental religious beliefs will persist, is of the same character as that upon which rests our belief in the persistence of cells and tissues. The one is rooted in the structure of our minds; the other, in the structure of our bodies. But, after all, only will can act upon will, and personality upon personality. It remains for us to examine how man was compelled by his very structure to develop a new element in his environment, conformed indeed to the laws of his old environment, but better fitted to draw out the moral and spiritual side of his nature. And in connection with this study we may hope to gain some new light on the laws of conformity.
CONFORMITY TO ENVIRONMENT
We are too prone to think that soil and climate, hill-side or plain, mountain and shore, temperature and rainfall, constitute the sole or the most important elements in human environment. Every one of these elements is doubtless important. Frost, drought, or barrenness of soil may make a region a desert, or dwarf the development of its inhabitants. Mountaineer, and the dweller on the plain, and the fisherman on the shore of the ocean develop different traits through the influence of their surroundings. In too warm a climate the human race loses its mental and moral vigor and degenerates. This is undeniable.
But, though one soil and climate and set of physical surroundings may be more conducive than another to the development of heroism, truthfulness, unselfishness, and righteousness, no one is essential to their production or sure to give rise to them. Moral and religious character is a feature of man's personality, and our personality is moulded mainly by the men and women with whom we associate. A man is not only "known by the company which he keeps;" he is usually fashioned by and conforms to it. As President Seelye has well said, "The only motive which can move a will is either a will itself, or something into which a will enters. It is not a thought, but only a sentiment, a deed, or a person, by which we become truly inspired. It is not the intellect, but the heart and will, through which and by which we are controlled. It is not the precepts of life, but life itself, by which alone we are begotten and born unto life.
"Now, there are two ways in which living power, personal power, the power of a will, may enter a soul and give it life; the one is when God's will works upon us, and the other when our wills work upon one another. God's will may directly penetrate ours, enabling us to will and to do of his good pleasure; and our own wills, thus inspired, may be the torch to kindle other wills with the same inspiration. It is in only one of these two ways that a human soul can be truly inspired; and, without a true inspiration, no amount of instruction, whether in duty, or life, or anything else, will change a single moral propensity."[A]
[Footnote A: Seelye: Christian Missions, p. 154.]
Even though a Lincoln may rise above his hereditary position or his surroundings, they are the school in which he is trained; the gymnasium in which his mental and moral fibre is strengthened. Family and social life form thus the element of man's environment by which he is mostly moulded, and to which he most naturally and completely conforms. Let us therefore briefly trace the origin of this new element of man's environment, and then notice the effect upon him of conformity to its laws, and see whither these would lead him.
We have already seen that intra-uterine development of the young was being carried ever farther by mammals, and we found one explanation of this in the fact that each mammalian egg represented a large amount of nutriment, and that the mammal had very little material to spare for reproduction. Very possibly, too, the newly hatched mammals were exposed to even more numerous and greater dangers than the young of birds. Even among lower mammals the young is feeble at birth. But the human infant is absolutely helpless. And the centre of its helplessness is its brain. Its eyes and ears are comparatively perfect, but its perceptions are very dim. Its muscles are all present, but it must very slowly and gradually learn to use them. Its language is but a cry, its few actions reflex. The new-born kitten may be just as helpless, but in a few weeks it will run and play and hunt, and after a few months can care for itself. Not so the child. It must be cared for during months and years before it can be given independence. Its brain is so marvellously complex that it is finished as a thinking and willing and muscle-controlling mechanism only long after birth. This means a period of infancy during which the young clings helplessly to the mother, who is its natural protector. And during this period the mother and young have to be cared for and protected by the male. And the period of infancy and the protection of the female and young are just as truly, though in far less degree, characteristic of the highest apes as of man.
I can give you only this very condensed and incomplete abstract of Mr. John Fiske's argument; you must read it for yourself in his "Destiny of Man." And as he has there shown, this can have but one result, and that is the family life of man. And we may yet very possibly have to acknowledge that family life of a very low grade is just as truly characteristic of the higher apes as of lower man. And thus the family life of man is the physiological result of, and rooted in, mammalian structure.
And the benefits of family life are too great and numerous to even enumerate. First of all the family is the school of unselfishness. All the love of the parent is drawn out for the helpless and dependent child, and grows as the parent works and thinks for it. And the child returns a fraction of his parents' love. Within the close bond of the family the struggle for place and opportunity is replaced by mutual helpfulness; and this doing and burden-bearing with and for each other is a constant exercise in the practice of love. And with out this mutual love and helpfulness the family cannot exist.
And slowly man begins to apply the lessons learned in the family to other relations with partners, neighbors, and friends. Slowly he discovers that an entirely selfish life defeats its own ends. A voice within him tells him continually that love is better than selfishness and ministering better than being ministered unto. It dawns upon him that it is against the nature of things that other people should be so selfish and grasping; a few begin to apply the moral to themselves, and a few of these to act accordingly.
And what a change the few steps which man has taken in this direction have wrought in his life. Says Professor Huxley: "In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint, in place of thrusting aside or treading down all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influence is directed not so much to the survival of the fittest as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. It repudiates the gladiatoral theory of existence."
It is a vast change from the "gladiatorial theory" to that of "mutual helpfulness." Call it a revolution, if you will. Revolutions are not unheard of in the history of the animal kingdom any more than in human history. We have seen, first, digestion and reproduction on the throne of animal organization, then muscle, and finally brain. Each of these changes is in one sense a revolution.
A little before the summer solstice the earth is whizzing away from the sun; a few weeks later it is whizzing with equal rapidity in almost the opposite direction. In the very nature of things it could not be otherwise. But so silently and gradually does it come about that we never feel the reversal of the engine; indeed the engine has not been reversed at all. Very similar is the change of the struggle of brute against brute to that of man for man. Indeed human development seems now to be almost at such a solstice where the power that makes for love is almost exhausted in opposing the tendency toward selfishness. We shall not always stay at the solstice; soon we shall make more rapid progress. And unselfishness like the family relation is firmly rooted in mammalian structure.
And man owes almost everything to family life. First the child gains the advantage of the parent's experience. He is educated by the parent. In a few formative and receptive years he gains from the parent the results of centuries of human experience. The process is thus cumulative, the investment bears compound interest. And yet this is peculiar to man only in degree. Have you never watched a cat train her kittens? And the education of the child in the savage family is very incomplete.
The family is the first and fundamental of all higher social and political unities. And without the persistence of the family the larger social unit would become an inert mass. All the individual ambition, all desire for family advancement, must be retained as still a motive for energetic advance. And all the training which social life can give reaches the individual most effectively, or solely, through the family. Society without the family would be like an army without company or regimental organization. Thus the very existence, not only of training in love and mutual helpfulness, but even of society itself as a mere organization, depends upon the existence and improvement of family life. And as so much depended upon and resulted from it, it could not but be fostered and improved by natural selection. The tribe or race with the best family life has apparently survived. But all social animals have some means of communicating very simple thoughts or perceptions. The simplest illustrations of this are the calls and warning cries of mammals and birds. It is not impossible that the higher mammals have something worthy of the name of language. But man alone, with his better brain and better anatomical structure of throat and mouth, and the closer interdependence with his fellows, has attained to articulate speech. And this again has become the bond to a still closer union.
Now our only question is, How does social life enable and aid man to conform to environment? We are interested not so much in his happiness as in his progress. It helps and improves the body by giving him a better and more constant supply of more suitable food, and better protection from inclemency of the weather, and in many other ways. Baths and gymnasia are built, and medical science prolongs life. Yet make the items as many as you can, and what a long list of disadvantages to man physically you must set over against these. Many of these evils will doubtless disappear as society becomes better organized, but some will always remain to plague us. We pamper or abuse our stomachs, and dyspepsia results. We live in hot-houses, and a host of diseases are fostered by them. Indeed it would be hard to count up the diseases for which social life is directly or indirectly responsible. Social life becomes more and more complicated, and our nervous systems cannot bear the strain. Medical science saves alive thousands who would otherwise die, and these grow up to bear children as weak as themselves. We are looking now at the physical side alone; and from this standpoint the survival of the invalid is a sore evil. Now society will and must become healthier; we shall not always abuse our bodies as sinfully as we now do. Still, viewed from the standpoint of the body alone, the best, as it seems to me, which we can claim, is that social life does no more harm than good.
What has social life done for man intellectually? Much. It gives him schools and colleges. But are our systems of education an unmixed good? How many of our schools and colleges are places where men are stuffed with facts until they have no time nor inclination to think? They may turn out learned men; do they produce thinkers? And how about the spread of knowledge? Is it not a spread of information? And most of what goes forth from the press is not worthy of even that name, or is information which a man had better be without. We are proud of being a nation of readers. And reading is good, if a man thinks about what he reads; otherwise it is like undigested food in the stomach, an injury and a curse. A dyspeptic gourmand is helped by "cutting down his rations." In our mental disease we need the same course of treatment. Let us read fewer books and papers and think more about what we do read.
Society may foster original thinking; it is none the less opposed to it.
"Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."
This is the motto of all great parties in Church and State. Still social life has undoubtedly fostered thought. We think vastly more and better than primitive man; still we have much to learn. Society puts the experience of centuries at the service of every individual. Poor and unsatisfactory as are our modes of education, they are a great blessing intellectually and will become more helpful. And, after all, the friction of mind against mind in social life—provided social intercourse is this, and not the commingling of two vacua—is a continual education of inestimable advantage. And all these advantages would without language have been absolutely impossible. Intellectually our debt to society is inestimable.
And how does social life aid man morally? I cannot help believing that primitive society was the first school of the human conscience. It was a rude school, but it taught man some grand lessons.
The primitive clan would seem to have existed as a rude army for the defence of its members and for offensive operations against enemies. Individual responsibility on the part of its members was slight for offences against individuals of other clans, or against the gods. For any such offence of one of its members the whole clan was held, or held itself, largely responsible. If one man sinned, the clan suffered. It could not therefore afford to pardon wilful disobedience to regulations made by it or its leaders. Its very existence depended on this strict discipline. And much the same stern discipline has to be maintained in our modern armies or they become utterly worthless.
Furthermore, man, as a social being, is very ready to accept the estimate of his actions placed upon them by his fellows. It is not easy to resist public opinion now. The tie of class or professional feeling is a tremendous power for good and evil. It must have been almost irresistible in that primitive army, which summarily outlawed or killed the obstinately disobedient. But all obedience was lauded and rewarded. It had to be so. And if the tribe was worthy to survive, because its regulations were better than those of its rivals, or perhaps as nearly just and right as were well possible, it was altogether best and right it should be so. The voice of the people was, in a very rude, stammering way, the voice of God. And those who survived became more and more obedient, and found themselves, when disobedient, feeling debased, and mean, and unworthy, as their fellows considered them. And all this feeling tended to develop a conscience in the individual answering to the estimates and regulations of the community.
And remember that the primitive religion is a tribal religion. The gods felt toward a man just as his neighbors did. A public opinion of this sort is irresistible, and a man's conscience and estimate of himself and his actions must conform to it. But you may say a man may grant that this opinion is in a sense irresistible, and find himself very miserable and unhappy under its condemnation. But he would not feel remorse; this is a very different feeling. Possibly it may be. I am not so sure. But what I am interested in maintaining is that the condemnation of one's fellow-men puts more vividly before one's eyes, and emphasizes, the condemnation of one's own self. It may often be a necessary step in self-conviction. And what is most important, even in our own case, the condemnation of our fellows often brings with it self-condemnation.
Try the experiment, as you will some day, of following a course of action which you feel fairly confident is right, but which all your neighbors think is foolish and wrong. See if you do not feel twinges within you which you must examine very closely to distinguish from twinges of conscience. If you do not, I see but one explanation—you are conscious that God is with you, and content with this majority. But in the case of primitive man God was always on the side of one's tribe.
Now this does not explain the origin of man's conception of right; it presupposes such a conception in some dim form. I do not now know why right is right or beauty beautiful. I only know they are so. Where or when either of these perceptions dawned I do not know. But, given some such dim perception, I believe that primitive human society gave it its iron grip on every fibre of man's nature.
Before the animal could safely be allowed to govern itself intelligently it had to serve a long apprenticeship to reflex action and instinct. And man's moral nature had to undergo a similar apprenticeship to tribal regulation and tribal conscience. Only slowly was instinct modified and replaced by intelligent action. And how this old tribal conscience persists. Often for good, although there it were better replaced by an individual conscience working for right. But how slowly you and I learn that there is a higher responsibility than to party or class. How often my vote and action are controlled, not by my own conscience, but by the opinion of my fellows, or the feeling that, if my party suffers defeat, God's work will suffer at the hands of my opponents. And what is all this but the survival in a very degenerate form of the old tribal conscience of primitive man? And he knew, and could know, nothing better: I can and do.
But society slowly works for unselfishness. The love learned in the family manifests itself in ever-widening circles; it must do so if it is the genuine article. It works for neighbors and friends, then for the poor and helpless of the community. Then it spreads to other communities and nations. For genuine love recognizes no bounds of time or place. Slowly we learn that we are our brother's keepers, and that the brotherhood cannot stop short of the human race. Goodness and kindness radiate from one, perhaps unknown, member of the community to his fellows, and thence all over the world. And the world is the better for his one action.
Primitive society was thus the best possible school of conscience; and the family and it are the great school of unselfishness. But society is even more and better than this. It is the medium through which thought, power, and moral and religious life can spring from man to man. This is its last and culminating advantage: it is that for which society really exists.
For, in the close bonds of family and social life, a new possibility of development has arisen based upon articulate speech. We might almost call it a new form of heredity, independent of all blood-relationship. Progress in anatomical structure in the animal kingdom was slow, because any improvement could be transmitted only to the direct descendants of its original possessor. But in all matters pertaining to or based upon mind, a new invention, or idea, or system becomes the property of him who can best appreciate it. The torch is always handed on to the swiftest runner. Thus Socrates is the true father of Plato, and Plato of Aristotle. Whoever can best understand and appreciate and enter into the spirit of Socrates and Plato becomes heir to their thoughts and interprets them to us. And the thought of one man enriches all races and times.
But a great teacher like Socrates is not merely an intellectual power. "Probe a little deeper, surgeon," said the French soldier, "and you'll find the emperor." Napoleon may have impressed himself on the soldier's intellect; he had enthroned himself in his heart. "Slave," said the old Roman, Marius, to the barbarian who had been sent into the dungeon to despatch him, "slave, wouldst thou kill Cains Marius?" And the barbarian, though backed by all the power of Rome, is said to have fled in dismay. Why did he run away? I do not know. I only know that I should have done the same. One more instance. Some thirty years ago the northern army was fleeing, a disorganized mob, toward Winchester. Early had fallen upon them suddenly in the gray of the morning, and, while one corps still held its ground, the rest of the army was melting away in panic. Then a little red-faced trooper came tearing down the line shouting, "Face the other way boys; face the other way." And those panic-stricken men turned and rolled an irresistible avalanche of heroes upon the Confederate lines. What made them turn about? It was something which I can neither define nor analyze—the personal power of Sheridan. It is the secret of every great leader of men. Now Sheridan had imparted more than information to these men. Is it too much to say that he put himself into them? From such men power streams out like electricity from a huge dynamo.
Now society furnishes the medium through which such a man can act. You have all met such men, though probably not more than one or two of them. But one such man is a host. They may be men of few words. But their very presence and look calls out all that is good in you; and while you are with them evil loses its power. Says the gay and licentious Alcibiades, in Plato's "Banquet" concerning Socrates:
"When I heard Pericles or any other great orator, I was entertained and delighted, and I felt that he had spoken well. But no mortal speech has ever excited in my mind such emotions as are excited by this magician. Whenever I hear him, I am, as it were, charmed and fettered. My heart leaps like an inspired Corybant. My inmost soul is stung by his words as by the bite of a serpent. It is indignant at its own rude and ignoble character. I often weep tears of regret and think how vain and inglorious is the life I lead. Nor am I the only one that weeps like a child and despairs of himself. Many others are affected in the same way."
These men are the real kings. Their power for good, and sometimes for evil, is inestimable. And the great advantage of social life, as a means of conforming to environment, is the medium which it furnishes to conduct the power of such men. Man's last effort toward conformity to environment, the struggle for existence in its last most real form, is the life and death grapple between good and evil. For here good and evil, righteousness and sin, come face to face in spiritual form; "we wrestle not with flesh and blood." Life is more than a game of chess or whist; it is a great battle; every man must, and does, take sides; he must fight or die. And the real kings of society are, as a rule, on the side of truth, and aid its triumph. For one essential condition of such leadership is the power to inspire confidence in the love of the king for his willing subject. A suspicion of selfish aims in the leader breaks this bond. The hero must be self-forgetful. This is one reason for man's hero-worship, and the magnetic, dominant power of the hero. But evil is essentially selfish and can gain and hold this kingship only as long as it can deceive. And these kings "live forever." Dynasties and empires disappear, but Socrates and Plato, Luther and Huss, Cromwell and Lincoln, rule an ever-widening kingdom of ever more loyal subjects.
And society will have leaders; men may set up whatever form of government they will, they are always searching for a king. And this is no sign of weakness or credulity. Man's desire for leadership is only another proof of the vast future which he knows is before him, and into which he longs to be guided. The wiser a man is, the more he desires to be taught; the nobler he becomes, the more whole-souled is the homage which he pays to the noblest. Is it a sign of weakness or ignorance in students, of adult age and ripe manhood, to flock to some great university to hear the wisdom and catch the inspiration of some great master? When Jackson fell Lee exclaimed, "I have lost my right arm." Was Jackson any the less for being the right arm to deal, as only he could, the crushing blows planned by the great strategist?
But is not man to be independent and free? Certainly. But he gains freedom from the petty tyranny of robber-baron or boss, and from the very pettiest tyranny of all, the service of self, only as he finds and enlists under the king. Serve self and it will plunge you in, and drag you through, the ditch, till your own clothes abhor you. You are free to choose your teacher and guide and example. But choose you will and must. I am not propounding theories; I am telling you facts. Whether for better or worse man always does and will choose because he must. Look about you, look into yourselves. Have you no hero whom you admire and strive to resemble? no teacher to whom you listen? You must and do have your example and teacher. Is he teaching you to conform to environment, or leading you to be ground in pieces by its forces all arrayed against you?
The Carpenter of Nazareth stood before Pilate. "And Pilate said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." And Pilate would not wait for the answer to his question, What is truth? and the Jews chose Barabbas. Would you and I have acted differently? The answer of our Lord to Pilate contains the essence of Christianity. "You a king," says Pilate in astonishment; "where is your power to enforce your authority?" And our Lord's answer seems to me to mean substantially this: Roman legions shall suffer defeat, rout, and extermination; and Roman power shall cease to terrify. All its might must decay. But "everyone that is of the truth" shall attach himself to me with a love which will brave rack and stake. All your power cannot give a grain of new life. I can and will infuse my own divine life, my own divine self, into men. And this new life is invincible, immortal, all-conquering. I have infused myself into a few fishermen, and they will infuse me into a host of other men. Thus I will transfigure into my own character every man in the world, who is of the truth, and therefore will hear my voice. All the power of Rome cannot prevent it, and whatever opposes it must go down before it.
Christianity is the contagion of a divine life. Society is the medium through which it could and was to work. Greece had prepared the language necessary for its spread. Roman power had built its highways and levelled all obstructions.
"A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts."
But, you will object, the grandest kings have had, as a rule, the fewest loyal subjects. The prophets and seers are stoned. Elijah stands alone on Carmel and opposed to him are more than a thousand prophets of Baal, with court and king at their head. Heroism does not pay, and heroes are few. Right is always in a hopeless minority. Let us look into this matter carefully, for the objection, even if overstated, certainly contains a large amount of truth.
Let us go back to two forms having much the same grade of organization: both worms. One of them sets out to become a vertebrate, building an internal skeleton. The other forms an external skeleton and becomes a crab. To form its skeleton the crab had only to thicken the cuticle already present in the annelid. It had to modify the already existing parapodia and their muscles, changing them to legs. The external skeleton gave from the start a double advantage—protection and better locomotion. Every grain of thickening aided the animal in the struggle for existence in both these ways. The very fact that the skeleton was external may have rendered it more liable to variation, because it was thus exposed to continual stimuli. And the best were rapidly sifted out by Natural Selection. The change and development went on with comparative rapidity. In the mollusk the change was apparently still more easy and the development still more rapid.
But the development of an internal skeleton was more difficult and slower. It was of no use for the protection of the animal, and only gradually did it become of much service in locomotion. Being deep-seated it very possibly changed all the more slowly. Furthermore, a cartilaginous rod, like the notochord, even fully developed, hardly enabled the animal to fight directly with the mail-clad crab. The internal skeleton had to become far more highly developed before its great advantages, and freedom from disadvantages, became apparent. The mollusk and crab were working a mine rich in surface deposits although soon exhausted. The vertebrate lead was poor at the surface, and only later showed its inexhaustible richness. It looked as if the vertebrate were making a very poor speculation.
Whether this explanation be true or not, a glance at a chart, showing the geological succession of occurrence of the different kingdoms, proves that in the oldest palaeozoic periods there were well-developed cuttlefish and crabs before there were any vertebrates worthy of the name. If any were present, their skeleton was purely cartilaginous and not preserved.
I think we may go farther, although in this latter consideration we may very possibly be mistaken. We have already seen that the progress made by any animal may be measured more or less accurately by the length of time during which its ancestors maintained a swimming life. The ancestors of the coelenterates settled to the bottom first. Then successively those of flatworms, mollusks, annelids, and crabs. All this time the ancestors of vertebrates were swimming in the water above. Food was probably more abundant, certainly more easily and economically obtained by a creeping life, on the bottom. But thither the vertebrate could not go. There his mail-clad competitors were too strong for him. Those which settled and tried to compete in this sort of life perished. We may have to except the ascidia, but they paid for their success by the loss of nearly all their vertebrate characteristics. The future progress of vertebrates depended upon their continual activity in the swimming life. And they were forced by their environment to maintain this. Otherwise they might, probably would, never have attained their present height of organization. Certainly at this time you would have found it hard to believe that the victory was to fall to these weaker and smaller vertebrates.
Let us come down to a later period. Reptiles, mammals, and birds are struggling for supremacy. Of the power and diversity of form of these old reptiles we have generally no adequate conception. The forms now living are but feeble remnants. There were huge sea-serpents, and forms like our present crocodiles, but far more powerful. Others apparently resembled in form and habit the herbivorous and carnivorous mammals of to-day. Others strode or leaped on two legs. And still others flew like bats or birds. They were terrible forms, with coats of mail and powerful jaws and teeth. And they were active and swift. When we look at them we see that the vertebrate, though slow in gaining the lead, is sure to hold it. The internal skeleton gave fewer advantages at the start; its greatest superiority had lain in future possibilities.
But which vertebrate is heir to the future? It would have been a hard choice between reptile and bird. I feel sure that I, for one, should not have selected the mammal, a small, feeble being, hiding in holes and ledges, and continually hard put to it to escape becoming a mouthful for some huge reptile. And yet the persecution, the impossibility of contending by brute strength, may have forced the mammal into the line of brain-building and placental development. The early development of mammals appears to have been slow. Palaeontology proves that they were long surpassed by reptiles and birds. But the little mammal had the future. The battle was to go against the strong.
Once again. The arboreal life of higher mammals would seem to be most easily explained by the view that they were driven to it by stronger carnivorous mammals having possession of the ground. Brain was good, for it planned escape from enemies. But it did not give its possessor immediate victory over muscle, tooth, and claw in the tiger. That was to come far later with the invention of traps and guns. Brain gave its possessor a sure hold of the future, and just enough of the present to enable it to survive by a hard struggle. And the same appears to have been true of primitive man.
Thus all man's ancestors have had to lead a life of continual struggle against overwhelming odds and of seeming defeat. It was a life of hardship, if not of positive suffering. The organ which was to give them future supremacy, whether it was backbone, placenta, or brain, could in its earlier stages aid them only to a hardly won survival. The present apparently, and really as far as freedom from discomfort and danger is concerned, always belongs to forms hopelessly doomed to degeneration or stagnation. Crabs, not primitive vertebrates, were masters of the good things of the sea; and, in later times, reptiles, not mammals, of those of the land. Any progressive form has to choose between the present and the future. It cannot grasp both. I am not propounding to you any metaphysical theories, but plain, dry, hard facts of palaeontology; explain them as you will.
And here we must add our last word about conformity to environment; and it is a most important consideration. Conformity to environment is not such an adaptation as will confer upon an animal the greatest immunity from discomfort or danger, or will enable it to gain the greatest amount of food and place, and produce the largest number of offspring. Indeed, if you will add one element to those mentioned above, namely, that all these shall be attained with the least amount of effort, they insure degeneration beyond a doubt. This is the conformity of the bivalve mollusk. The clam has abundance of food, enormous powers of reproduction, almost perfect protection against enemies, and lives a life of almost absolute freedom from discomfort, and the clam is really lower than most worms.
If an animal is to progress, it must keep such a conformity ever secondary to a still more important element, namely, conformity or obedience to the laws of its own structure and being. This second element the mollusk and every creeping stage neglected, and the result of this neglect was stagnation or degeneration. Activity was essential to progress from the very structure and laws of development of the animal, while a great abundance of food was not. A life of ease, for the same reason, necessarily results in degeneration.
But you will ask, What becomes of Mr. Darwin's theory of evolution, if obedience to the laws of individual being is more important than conformity to external conditions? Both are evidently necessary, and they are not so different as they may seem at first sight. They are really one and the same. Bringing out the best and highest there is in us, is the only true conformity to that which is deepest and surest and most enduring in our environment. That in environment which makes for digestion is almost palpable and tangible, that which makes for activity less so perhaps; but that which makes for brain and truth and right is intangible and invisible. We easily fail to notice it; and, unless we take a careful view of the course of development in the highest forms of life, we may be inclined to deny its existence. But it is surely there, if man is a product of evolution.
Each successive stage of animal life is not the preceding stage on a higher plane, but the preceding stage modified in conformity to the environment of that from which it has just arisen. Says Professor Hertwig[A]: "During the process of organic development the external is continually becoming an integral part of the individual. The germ is continually growing and changing at the expense of surrounding conditions." Every stage thus contains the result of a host of reactions to a ruder and older portion of environment. And the higher we go the more has the original protoplasm and structure been modified as the result of these reactions.
[Footnote A: Hertwig: Zeit- und Streitfragen, p. 82.]
We have seen clearly that environment must be studied through its effect upon living beings. Viewed from any other standpoint it appears to be a myriad, almost a chaos, of interacting, apparently conflicting, forces. The resultant of some of these is shown by the animal at any stage of its development. And as the animal advances, the resultant determining its new line, or stage, of advance, includes new forces, to which it has only lately become sensitive. And thus the human mind, as the last and highest product of evolution, mirrors most adequately the resultant of all its forces. If we would know environment we must study ourselves, not atoms alone, nor rocks, nor worms.
Extremely sensitive photographic plates, after long exposure, have proven the existence of stars so dim and far-off as to be invisible to the best telescopes. Man's mind is just such a sensitive plate; it is the only valid representation of environment.
The truth would appear to be that the law is present in environment, but hard to read; but it is stamped upon our structure and being so deeply and plainly that the dullest of us cannot fail to read it. We learned the fact of gravitation the first time that we fell down in learning to walk, long afterward we learned that its law guided earth and moon. And it is the presence of this law within us, and our own knowledge that we are conscious of it, that makes man without excuse. But conformity to that which is deepest in environment often, always, demands non-conformity to some of the most palpable of surrounding conditions.
There is no better statement of the ultimate law of conformity than the words of Paul: "Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
And this difference is exactly what I have been trying to put before you. The mollusk conformed, but the vertebrate conformed in a very different way, and was transformed, "metamorphosed," to translate the Greek word literally, into something higher. And let us not forget that man conforms consciously and voluntarily, if at all; he is able to read in himself and environment the law to which lower forms have been compelled unconsciously to conform.
These facts merely illustrate a great law of life. No man's eye, much less hand, can grasp the whole of the present and at the same time the future. Rather what we usually call present advantage is not advantage at all, but the first step in degeneration. If one will be rich in old age he must deny himself some gratifications in youth; his present reward is his self-control. If a man will climb higher than his fellows he must expect to be sometimes solitary; his reward is the ever-widening view, though the path be rougher and the air more biting than in their lower altitude. If he point to heights yet to attain, the majority will disbelieve him or say, "Our present height was good enough for our ancestors, it is good enough for us. Why sacrifice a good thing and make yourself ridiculous scrambling after what in the end may prove unattainable?" If you discover new truths you will certainly be called a subverter of old ones. And this is entirely natural. The upward path was never intended to be easy.
Read the "Gorgias" of Plato, and let us listen to the closing words of Socrates in that dialogue: "And so, bidding farewell to those things which most men account honors, and looking onward to the truth, I shall earnestly endeavor to grow, so far as may be, in goodness, and thus live, and thus, when the time comes, die. And, to the best of my power, I exhort all other men also; and you especially, in my turn, I exhort to this life and contest, which is, I protest, far above all contests here." You must remember that Callicles has been taunting Socrates with his lack of worldly wisdom and the certainty that in any court of justice he would be absolutely helpless because of his lack of knowledge of the rhetorician's art: "This way then we will follow, and we will call upon all other men to do the same, not that which you believe in and call upon me to follow; for that way, Callicles, is worth nothing."
And Socrates met the end which he expected: death at the hands of his fellow-citizens.
And here perhaps a little glimmer of light is thrown into one of the darkest corners of human experience. The wise old author of Ecclesiastes writes: "There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness; and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. There is a vanity which is done upon the earth, that there be just men unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity." "I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" (Eccles. viii. 14; ix. 11). It is this element of chance that threatens to make a mockery of effort, and sometimes seems to make life but a travesty. The terrible feature of Tennyson's description of Arthur's last, dim battle in the west is not the "crash of battle-axe on shattered helm," but the all-engulfing mist.
Perhaps this is all intended to teach us that riches and favor, and even bread, are not the essentials of life, and that failure to attain these is not such ruin as we often think. But no man ever struggled for wisdom, righteousness, unselfishness, and heroism without attaining them; even though the more he attained the more dissatisfied he became with all previous attainment. And if our slight attainments in wisdom and knowledge always brought wealth and favor, we might rest satisfied with the latter, instead of clearly recognizing that wisdom must be its own reward. Uncertainty and deprivation are the best and only training for a hero, not sure reward paid in popular plaudits.
Political economists speak of the productiveness and prospectiveness of capital. We may well borrow these terms, using them in a somewhat modified sense. In our sense capital is productive in so far as it gives an immediate return; it is prospective in proportion as the return is expected largely in the future. A "pocket" may yield an immediate very large return of gold nuggets at a very slight expense of labor and appliances, but it is soon exhausted. In a mine the ore may be poor near the surface, but grow richer as the shaft deepens; the vein is narrow above, but widens below. The returns are at first small, its inexhaustible richness becomes apparent only after considerable time and labor. The value of the "pocket" is purely productive, that of the mine largely or purely prospective. Indeed it may be opened at a loss. But even a rich mine may be worked purely for its productive value; it may be "skinned."
Let us apply this thought to the development of a species; although what is true of the species will generally be true of the individual also, for the development of the two is, in the main, parallel. In the animal all functions are to a certain extent productive, and all directly or indirectly prospective. When we examine the sequence of functions we cannot but notice how largely their value is prospective. As long as a lower function is rising to supremacy in the animal, it appears to be retained purely for its productive value; thus digestion in hydra or gastraea. But after a time animals appeared which had some muscle and nerve. And, by the process of natural selection, those animals which used digestion as an end for its productive value became food for, and gave place to, those using it as a means of supporting muscle and nerve of greater prospective value. And similarly, those animals which used muscle, or even mind, productively gave place to others using these prospectively.
In other words, the functions and capacities of any animal, the extent of its conformity to environment, may be regarded as its capital. The animal may use this capital productively or prospectively. It may spend its income, and more too; it may increase its capital. Now social capital will always fall sooner or later to those communities whose members use it most prospectively, who are willing to forego, to quite an extent, present enjoyment, and look for future return. The same is true of all development. Sessile forms and mollusks, and, in a less degree, crabs and reptiles, worked for immediate return. They are like extravagant heirs who draw on their capital and sooner or later come to poverty. The primitive vertebrate, the mammal, and the other ancestors of man used their capital prospectively, and it increased, as if at compound interest.
The spendthrift appears at first sight to have the greatest enjoyment in life, the rising business man works hard and foregoes much. I believe that the latter is really by far the happier of the two. But, if you can spend only a day or two in a city, and your examination is superficial, you may easily make the mistake of considering the spendthrift as the most successful man in the community. So, in our brief visit to the world in times past, we picked out the crab, the reptile, and the carnivore as its rising members.
Once more, capital can be spent very quickly; to use it prospectively requires time. This is a truism; but it does no harm to call attention to truisms which have been neglected. Organs and powers of great prospective value are slow and difficult of development. If their increase is to be at all rapid, they must start early. If their development and culture is deferred, there will be little or no advance, but probably degeneration. Extravagance grows rapidly and soon becomes irresistible; habits of saving must be formed early. The same is true of the development of all other virtues.
There is in the child an orderly sequence of development of mental traits. While these powers are in their earlier, so to speak embryonic, stages of development, they can be fostered and increased or retarded. They are still plastic. Very early in a child's life acquisitiveness shows itself; he begins to say "I," and "mine," and desires things to be his "very own." And this can be fostered so that the child will grow up a "covetous machine." Or he may be taught to share with others.
Not so much later, while the child is still in the lower grades of his school life, comes the period of moral development. If, during this period, these powers are fostered and cultivated, they may, and probably will, be dominant throughout his life. And herein lies the dignity and glory of the unappreciated, underpaid, and overworked teachers of our "lower" schools, that they have the opportunity to cultivate these moral powers of the child during these most critical years of his life. Repression or neglect here works life-long and irreparable harm. The young man goes out into the world. Here "practical" men continually instruct him by precept upon precept, line upon line, that he cannot afford to be generous until he has acquired wealth; that he must first win success for himself, and that he can then help others. And, unless his character is like pasture-grown oak, he follows and improves upon their teachings. He reverses the sequence of functions. He puts acquisitiveness first and right and sterling honesty and unselfishness second. For a score or more of years he labors. At first he honestly intends to build up a strong character and a generous nature just as soon as he can afford to; but for the present he cannot afford it. If he is to succeed, he must do as others do and walk in the beaten track. He wins wealth and position, or learning and fame. He now has the ability and means to help others, but he no longer cares to do so. Loyalty to truth, sterling honesty—the genuine, not the conventional counterfeit—unselfishness, in one word, character, these are plants of slow growth. They require cultivation by habit through long years. In his case they have become aborted and incapable of rejuvenescence. But his rudiment of a moral nature feels twinges of remorse. He ought not to have reversed the sequence of functions, and he knows it. But he cannot retrace his steps. He made the development of character impossible when he made wealth his first and chief aim. If he has a million dollars he tries to insure his soul by leaving in his will one-tenth to build a church, or, possibly, one-half for foreign missions. In the latter case he will be held up as a shining example to all the youth of the land, and the churches will ring with his praises. But what has been the effect of his life on the moral, social capital of the community? Is the world better or worse for his life? He has all his life been disseminating the germs of a soul-blight more infectious and deadly than any bodily disease.
If he has made learning or fame his chief aim, he probably has not the money to buy soul-insurance. He takes refuge in agnosticism, like an ostrich in a bush. His agnosticism is in his will; he does not wish to see. Or its cause is atrophy, through disuse, of moral vision. He cannot see. There are agnostics of quite another stamp, whom we must respect and honor for their sterling honesty and high character, though we may have little respect for their philosophical tenets. But how much has our scholar advanced the morality of the community? He has probably done even more harm than the business man, who is a mere "covetous machine."
The "practical" man has reversed the sequence of functions. Character is, and must be, first; and wealth, learning, power, and fame are the materials, often exceedingly refractory, which it must subjugate to its growth and use. And this subjugation is anything but easy. The reversal of the sequence results in a moral degradation and poverty indefinitely more dangerous to the community than the slums of our great cities. For these may be controlled and cleansed; but the moral slum floods our legislatures and positions of honor and trust, and invades the churches. The mental and moral water-supply of the community is loaded with disease-germs.
The social wealth of a community is the sum total of the wealth of its individual members. And a community is truly wealthy only when this wealth is, to a certain extent, diffused. If there is any truth in our argument that the sequence of functions culminates in righteousness and unselfishness, the real social wealth of a community consists in its moral character, not in its money, or even in its intelligence. We may rest assured that character, resulting in industry and economy, will bring sufficient means of subsistence, so that all its members will be fed and housed and clothed. And art and culture, of the most ennobling and inspiring sort, will surely follow. And even if such literature failed as largely composes our present fin-de-siecle garbage-heap, we would not regret its absence. That community will and must survive in which the largest proportion of members make the accumulation of character their chief and first aim. And to this community every rival must in time yield its place and power, and all its acquisitions. And in every advancing community the position of any class or profession will in time be determined by its moral wealth.
But this moral wealth is intangible. The rewards and penalties of moral law easily escape notice in our hasty and superficial study of life. The God immanent in our environment often seems to hide himself. The altar of Jehovah is fallen down, and Baal's temples are crowded with loud-mouthed worshippers. The bribes of present enjoyment and of immediate success loom up before us, and we doubt if any other success is possible.
But the law of progress, even now so dimly discernible in environment, is written in our minds in letters of fire. For we have already seen that environment can be understood only by tracing its effects in the development of life. What is best and highest in us is the record of the working of what is best and highest in environment. And the personal God so dimly seen in environment is revealed in man's soul. Man must study himself, if he is to know what environment requires of him. And if the knowledge of himself and of the laws of his being is the highest knowledge, is not the vision of, and struggle toward, higher attainments, not yet realized and hence necessarily foreseen, the only mode of farther progress? And what is this pursuit of, and devotion to, ideals not yet realized and but dimly foreseen, if it is not Faith, "the substance of things hoped for, and evidence of things not seen?" By it alone can man "obtain a good report." Man must "walk by faith, not by sight." "For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
In Kingsley's fascinating historical romance, Raphael Aben-Ezra says to Hypatia, "Is it not possible that we have been so busy discussing what the philosopher should be, that we have forgotten that he must first of all be a man?" This truth we too often forget. No statesman, philosopher, least of all teacher, can be truly great who is not, first of all, and above all, a great man. And in our study of man are we not prone to forget that he stands in certain very definite and close relations with surrounding nature?
Man has been the object of so much special study, his position, owing to his higher moral and mental power, is so unique that he has often been regarded not only as a special creation, but as created to occupy a position not only unique, but also exceptional, above many of the very laws of nature, and not bound by them. Many speak and write of him as if it were his chief glory and prerogative to be as far removed as possible, not only from the animal, but even from the whole realm of nature. The mistake of making him an exception arises, after all, not so much from too high a conception of man, at least of his possibilities, as from too low a view of nature.
But however this view may have arisen, it is one-sided and mistaken. Man certainly has a place in Nature—not above it. If he is the goal toward which the ascending series of living forms has continually tended, he is a part of the series—the real goal lies far above him.
Pascal says, "It is dangerous to show a man too clearly how closely he resembles the brute without showing him at the same time his greatness. It is equally dangerous to impress upon him his greatness without his lowliness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both. But it is of great advantage to point out to him both characteristics side by side."
A great German thinker began his work on the human soul with a discussion of the law of gravitation.
All study of man must begin with the study of the atom. Man's life we have seen to be the aggregate of the work of all the cells of his body. But the protoplasm which composes his cells is a chemical compound, and hence subject to all the laws of all the atoms of which it is composed. And its molecules, or the smallest mechanically separable compounds of these atoms, are arranged and related according to the laws of physics, so as to permit or produce the play of certain forces which are always the result of atomic or molecular combination. Every motive or thought demands the combustion of a certain amount of material which has been already assimilated in the microscopic cellular laboratories of our body. Every vital activity is manifested at least through chemical and physical forces. And the elements of the fuel for our engines we receive through plants from the inorganic world. For the plant, as we have seen, stores up as potential energy in its compounds the actual energy of the sun's rays. And thus man lives and thinks by energy, obtained originally from the sun. But man not only consumes food and fuel. The complicated protoplasm is continually wearing out and being replaced. Every cell in our bodies is a centre toward which particles of material stream to be assimilated and form for a time a part of the living substance, and then to be cast out again as dead matter. Our very existence depends upon this continual change. There is synthesis of simple substances into more complex compounds, and then analysis of these complex compounds into simpler, and from this latter process results the energy manifested in every vital action. We are all whirlpools on the surface of nature; when the whirling ceases we disappear. Man, like every other living being, exists in a condition of constant interchange with surrounding nature; he is rooted in innumerable ways in the inorganic world.
And because of these close relations the great characteristic of living beings is the necessity and power of conformity to environment. Hence a very common definition of life is the continual adjustment of internal relations to external relations or conditions. To a very slight extent man can rise superior to certain of the ruder elements of his surroundings, but he gains this victory only by learning and following the laws of the very environment which he succeeds in subjecting to himself. Indeed his higher development and finer build bring him into touch with an indefinitely wider range of surroundings than even the lower animal. Forces, conditions, and relations which never enter the sphere of life of lower forms, crowd and press upon him and he cannot escape them. His higher position, instead of freeing him from dependence upon environment and subjection to law, makes him thus more sensitive, as well as more capable of exact conformity to an environment of almost infinite complexity; and more sure of absolute ruin, if ignorant, negligent, or disobedient. The words of the German poet are literally true:
"Nach ehernen, eisernen, grossen Gesetzen, Muessen wir alle unseres Daseins Kreise vollenden."
But man is an animal. And the principal characteristic of an animal is that it eats a certain amount of solid food. The plant lives on fluid nutriment, and this comes to it by the process of diffusion in every drop of water and breath of air. The acquisition of food requires no effort, and the plant makes none. It has therefore always remained stationary and almost insensible. Not taking the first step it has never taken any of the higher ones. But solid food would not, as a rule, come to the animal—though stationary and sessile animals are not uncommon in the water—he must go in search of it. This called into play the powers of locomotion and perception. And in the sequence of function we have seen digestion calling for the development of muscle; and muscle, of nerve and brain. And the brain became the organ of mind.