Thoughts on Religion
by George John Romanes
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Thoughts on Religion





Twelfth Impression















Sec. 3. CAUSALITY 116

Sec. 4. FAITH 131




The present edition of Romanes' Thoughts on Religion is issued in response to a request which has been made with some frequency of late for very cheap reprints of standard religious and theological works.

39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON, January, 1904.


The late Mr. George John Romanes—the author within the last few years of Darwin and After Darwin, and of the Examination of Weismannism—occupied a distinguished place in contemporary biology. But his mind was also continuously and increasingly active on the problems of metaphysics and theology. And at his death in the early summer of this year (1894), he left among his papers some notes, made mostly in the previous winter, for a work which he was intending to write on the fundamental questions of religion. He had desired that these notes should be given to me and that I should do with them as I thought best. His literary executors accordingly handed them over to me, in company with some unpublished essays, two of which form the first part of the present volume.

After reading the notes myself, and obtaining the judgement of others in whom I feel confidence upon them, I have no hesitation either in publishing by far the greater part of them, or in publishing them with the author's name in spite of the fact that the book as originally projected was to have been anonymous. From the few words which George Romanes said to me on the subject, I have no doubt that he realized that the notes if published after his death must be published with his name.

I have said that after reading these notes I feel no doubt that they ought to be published. They claim it both by their intrinsic value and by the light they throw on the religious thought of a scientific man who was not only remarkably able and clear-headed, but also many-sided, as few men are, in his capacities, and singularly candid and open-hearted. To all these qualities the notes which are now offered to the public will bear unmistakeable witness.

With more hesitation it has been decided to print also the unpublished essays already referred to. These, as representing an earlier stage of thought than is represented in the notes, naturally appear first.

Both Essays and Notes however represent the same tendency of a mind from a position of unbelief in the Christian Revelation toward one of belief in it. They represent, I say, a tendency of one 'seeking after God if haply he might feel after Him and find Him,' and not a position of settled orthodoxy. Even the Notes contain in fact many things which could not come from a settled believer. This being so it is natural that I should say a word as to the way in which I have understood my function as an editor. I have decided the question of publishing each Note solely by the consideration whether or no it was sufficiently finished to be intelligible. I have rigidly excluded any question of my own agreement or disagreement with it. In the case of one Note in particular, I doubt whether I should have published it, had it not been that my decided disagreement with its contents made me fear that I might be prejudiced in withholding it.

The Notes, with the papers which precede them, will, I think, be better understood if I give some preliminary account of their antecedents, that is of Romanes' previous publications on the subject of religion.

In 1873 an essay of George Romanes gained the Burney Prize at Cambridge, the subject being Christian Prayer considered in relation to the belief that the Almighty governs the world by general laws. This was published in 1874, with an appendix on The Physical Efficacy of Prayer. In this essay, written when he was twenty-five years old, Romanes shows the characteristic qualities of his mind and style already developed. The sympathy with the scientific point of view is there, as might be expected perhaps in a Cambridge 'Scholar in Natural Science': the logical acumen and love of exact distinctions is there: there too the natural piety and spiritual appreciation of the nature of Christian prayer—a piety and appreciation which later intellectual habits of thought could never eradicate. The essay, as judged by the standard of prize compositions, is of remarkable ability, and strictly proceeds within the limits of the thesis. On the one side, for the purpose of the argument, the existence of a Personal God is assumed[1], and also the reality of the Christian Revelation which assures us that we have reason to expect real answers, even though conditionally and within restricted limits, to prayers for physical goods[2]. On the other side, there is taken for granted the belief that general laws pervade the observable domain of physical nature. Then the question is considered—how is the physical efficacy of prayer which the Christian accepts on the authority of revelation compatible with the scientifically known fact that God governs the world by general laws? The answer is mainly found in emphasizing the limited sphere within which scientific inquiry can be conducted and scientific knowledge can obtain. Special divine acts of response to prayer, even in the physical sphere, may occur—force may be even originated in response to prayer—and still not produce any phenomenon such as science must take cognizance of and regard as miraculous or contrary to the known order.

On one occasion the Notes refer back to this essay[3], and more frequently, as we shall have occasion to notice, they reproduce thoughts which had already been expressed in the earlier work but had been obscured or repudiated in the interval. I have no grounds for knowing whether in the main Romanes remained satisfied with the reasoning and conclusion of his earliest essay, granted the theistic hypothesis on which it rests[4]. But this hypothesis itself, very shortly after publishing this essay, he was led to repudiate. In other words, his mind moved rapidly and sharply into a position of reasoned scepticism about the existence of God at all. The Burney Essay was published in 1874. Already in 1876 at least he had written an anonymous work with a wholly sceptical conclusion, entitled 'A Candid Examination of Theism' by Physicus[5]. As the Notes were written with direct reference to this work, some detailed account of its argument seems necessary; and this is to be found in the last chapter of the work itself, where the author summarizes his arguments and draws his conclusions. I venture therefore to reproduce this chapter at length[6].

'Sec. 1. Our analysis is now at an end, and a very few words will here suffice to convey an epitomized recollection of the numerous facts and conclusions which we have found it necessary to contemplate. We first disposed of the conspicuously absurd supposition that the origin of things, or the mystery of existence [i.e. the fact that anything exists at all], admits of being explained by the theory of Theism in any further degree than by the theory of Atheism. Next it was shown that the argument "Our heart requires a God" is invalid, seeing that such a subjective necessity, even if made out, could not be sufficient to prove—or even to render probable—an objective existence. And with regard to the further argument that the fact of our theistic aspirations points to God as to their explanatory cause, it became necessary to observe that the argument could only be admissible after the possibility of the operation of natural causes [in the production of our theistic aspirations] had been excluded. Similarly the argument from the supposed intuitive necessity of individual thought [i.e. the alleged fact that men find it impossible to rid themselves of the persuasion that God exists] was found to be untenable, first, because, even if the supposed necessity were a real one, it would only possess an individual applicability; and second, that, as a matter of fact, it is extremely improbable that the supposed necessity is a real necessity even for the individual who asserts it, while it is absolutely certain that it is not such to the vast majority of the race. The argument from the general consent of mankind, being so obviously fallacious both as to facts and principles, was passed over without comment; while the argument from a first cause was found to involve a logical suicide. Lastly, the argument that, as human volition is a cause in nature, therefore all causation is probably volitional in character, was shown to consist in a stretch of inference so outrageous that the argument had to be pronounced worthless.

'Sec. 2. Proceeding next to examine the less superficial arguments in favour of Theism, it was first shown that the syllogism, All known minds are caused by an unknown mind; our mind is a known mind; therefore our mind is caused by an unknown mind,—is a syllogism that is inadmissible for two reasons. In the first place, it does not account for mind (in the abstract) to refer it to a prior mind for its origin; and therefore, although the hypothesis, if admitted, would be an explanation of known mind, it is useless as an argument for the existence of the unknown mind, the assumption of which forms the basis of that explanation. Again, in the next place, if it be said that mind is so far an entity sui generis that it must be either self-existing or caused by another mind, there is no assignable warrant for the assertion. And this is the second objection to the above syllogism; for anything within the whole range of the possible may, for aught that we can tell, be competent to produce a self-conscious intelligence. Thus an objector to the above syllogism need not hold any theory of things at all; but even as opposed to the definite theory of materialism, the above syllogism has not so valid an argumentative basis to stand upon. We know that what we call matter and force are to all appearance eternal, while we have no corresponding evidence of a mind that is even apparently eternal. Further, within experience mind is invariably associated with highly differentiated collocations of matter and distributions of force, and many facts go to prove, and none to negative, the conclusion that the grade of intelligence invariably depends upon, or at least is associated with, a corresponding grade of cerebral development. There is thus both a qualitative and a quantitative relation between intelligence and cerebral organisation. And if it is said that matter and motion cannot produce consciousness because it is inconceivable that they should, we have seen at some length that this is no conclusive consideration as applied to a subject of a confessedly transcendental nature, and that in the present case it is particularly inconclusive, because, as it is speculatively certain that the substance of mind must be unknowable, it seems a priori probable that, whatever is the cause of the unknowable reality, this cause should be more difficult to render into thought in that relation than would some other hypothetical substance which is imagined as more akin to mind. And if it is said that the more conceivable cause is the more probable cause, we have seen that it is in this case impossible to estimate the validity of the remark. Lastly, the statement that the cause must contain actually all that its effects can contain, was seen to be inadmissible in logic and contradicted by everyday experience; while the argument from the supposed freedom of the will and the existence of the moral sense was negatived both deductively by the theory of evolution, and inductively by the doctrine of utilitarianism.' The theory of the freedom of the will is indeed at this stage of thought utterly untenable[7]; the evidence is overwhelming that the moral sense is the result of a purely natural evolution[8], and this result, arrived at on general grounds, is confirmed with irresistible force by the account of our human conscience which is supplied by the theory of utilitarianism, a theory based on the widest and most unexceptionable of inductions[9]. 'On the whole, then, with regard to the argument from the existence of the human mind, we were compelled to decide that it is destitute of any assignable weight, there being nothing more to lead to the conclusion that our mind has been caused by another mind, than to the conclusion that it has been caused by anything else whatsoever.

'Sec. 3. With regard to the argument from Design, it was observed that Mill's presentation of it [in his Essay on Theism] is merely a resuscitation of the argument as presented by Paley, Bell, and Chalmers. And indeed we saw that the first-named writer treated this whole subject with a feebleness and inaccuracy very surprising in him; for while he has failed to assign anything like due weight to the inductive evidence of organic evolution, he did not hesitate to rush into a supernatural explanation of biological phenomena. Moreover, he has failed signally in his analysis of the Design argument, seeing that, in common with all previous writers, he failed to observe that it is utterly impossible for us to know the relations in which the supposed Designer stands to the Designed,—much less to argue from the fact that the Supreme Mind, even supposing it to exist, caused the observable products by any particular intellectual process. In other words, all advocates of the Design argument have failed to perceive that, even if we grant nature to be due to a creating Mind, still we have no shadow of a right to conclude that this Mind can only have exerted its creative power by means of such and such cogitative operations. How absurd, therefore, must it be to raise the supposed evidence of such cogitative operations into evidences of the existence of a creating Mind! If a theist retorts that it is, after all, of very little importance whether or not we are able to divine the methods of creation, so long as the facts are there to attest that, in some way or other, the observable phenomena of nature must be due to Intelligence of some kind as their ultimate cause, then I am the first to endorse this remark. It has always appeared to me one of the most unaccountable things in the history of speculation that so many competent writers can have insisted upon Design as an argument for Theism, when they must all have known perfectly well that they have no means of ascertaining the subjective psychology of that Supreme Mind whose existence the argument is adduced to demonstrate. The truth is, that the argument from teleology must, and can only, rest upon the observable facts of nature, without reference to the intellectual processes by which these facts may be supposed to have been accomplished. But, looking to the "present state of our knowledge," this is merely to change the teleological argument in its gross Paleyian form, into the argument from the ubiquitous operation of general laws.'

'Sec. 4. This argument was thus[10] stated in contrast with the argument from design. 'The argument from design says, there must be a God, because such and such an organic structure must have been due to such and such an intellectual process. The argument from general laws says, There must be a God, because such and such an organic structure must in some way or other have been ultimately due to intelligence.' Every structure exhibits with more or less of complexity the principle of order; it is related to all other things in a universal order. This universality of order renders irrational the hypothesis of chance in accounting for the universe. 'Let us think of the supreme causality as we may, the fact remains that from it there emanates a directive influence of uninterrupted consistency, on a scale of stupendous magnitude and exact precision worthy of our highest conceptions of deity[11].' The argument was developed in the words of Professor Baden Powell. 'That which requires reason and thought to understand must be itself thought and reason. That which mind alone can investigate or express must be itself mind. And if the highest conception attained is but partial, then the mind and reason studied is greater than the mind and reason of the student. If the more it is studied the more vast and complex is the necessary connection in reason disclosed, then the more evident is the vast extent and compass of the reason thus partially manifested and its reality as existing in the immutably connected order of objects examined, independently of the mind of the investigator.' This argument from the universal Kosmos has the advantage of being wholly independent of the method by which things came to be what they are. It is unaffected by the acceptance of evolution. Till quite recently it seemed irrefutable[12].

'But nevertheless we are constrained to acknowledge that its apparent power dwindles to nothing in view of the indisputable fact that, if force and matter have been eternal, all and every natural law must have resulted by way of necessary consequence.... It does not admit of one moment's questioning that it is as certainly true that all the exquisite beauty and melodious harmony of nature follows necessarily as inevitably from the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter as it is certainly true that force is persistent or that matter is extended or impenetrable[13].... It will be remembered that I dwelt at considerable length and with much earnestness upon this truth, not only because of its enormous importance in its bearing upon our subject, but also because no one has hitherto considered it in that relation.' It was also pointed out that the coherence and correspondence of the macrocosm of the universe with the microcosm of the human mind can be accounted for by the fact that the human mind is only one of the products of general evolution, its subjective relations necessarily reflecting those external relations of which they themselves are the product[14].

'Sec. 5. The next step, however, was to mitigate the severity of the conclusion that was liable to be formed upon the utter and hopeless collapse of all the possible arguments in favour of Theism. Having fully demonstrated that there is no shadow of a positive argument in support of the theistic theory, there arose the danger that some persons might erroneously conclude that for this reason the theistic theory must be untrue. It therefore became necessary to point out, that although, as far as we can see, nature does not require an Intelligent Cause to account for any of her phenomena, yet it is possible that, if we could see farther, we should see that nature could not be what she is unless she had owed her existence to an Intelligent Cause. Or, in other words, the probability there is that an Intelligent Cause is unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of nature, is only equal to the probability there is that the doctrine of the persistence of force is everywhere and eternally true.

'As a final step in our analysis, therefore, we altogether quitted the region of experience, and ignoring even the very foundations of science, and so all the most certain of relative truths, we carried the discussion into the transcendental region of purely formal considerations. And here we laid down the canon, "that the value of any probability, in its last analysis, is determined by the number, the importance, and the definiteness of the relations known, as compared with those of the relations unknown;" and, consequently, that in cases where the unknown relations are more numerous, more important, or more indefinite than are the known relations, the value of our inference varies inversely as the difference in these respects between the relations compared. From which canon it followed, that as the problem of Theism is the most ultimate of all problems, and so contains in its unknown relations all that is to man unknown and unknowable, these relations must be pronounced the most indefinite of all relations that it is possible for man to contemplate; and, consequently, that although we have here the entire range of experience from which to argue, we are unable to estimate the real value of any argument whatsoever. The unknown relations in our attempted induction being wholly indefinite, both in respect of their number and importance, as compared with the known relations, it is impossible for us to determine any definite probability either for or against the being of a God. Therefore, although it is true that, so far as human science can penetrate or human thought infer, we can perceive no evidence of God, yet we have no right on this account to conclude that there is no God. The probability, therefore, that nature is devoid of Deity, while it is of the strongest kind if regarded scientifically—amounting, in fact, to a scientific demonstration,—is nevertheless wholly worthless if regarded logically. Although it is as true as is the fundamental basis of all science and of all experience that, if there is a God, His existence, considered as a cause of the universe, is superfluous, it may nevertheless be true that, if there had never been a God, the universe could never have existed.

'Hence these formal considerations proved conclusively that, no matter how great the probability of Atheism might appear to be in a relative sense, we have no means of estimating such probability in an absolute sense. From which position there emerged the possibility of another argument in favour of Theism—or rather let us say, of a reappearance of the teleological argument in another form. For it may be said, seeing that these formal considerations exclude legitimate reasoning either for or against Deity in an absolute sense, while they do not exclude such reasoning in a relative sense, if there yet remain any theistic deductions which may properly be drawn from experience, these may now be adduced to balance the atheistic deductions from the persistence of force. For although the latter deductions have clearly shown the existence of Deity to be superfluous in a scientific sense, the formal considerations in question have no less clearly opened up beyond the sphere of science a possible locus for the existence of Deity; so that if there are any facts supplied by experience for which the atheistic deductions appear insufficient to account, we are still free to account for them in a relative sense by the hypothesis of Theism. And, it may be urged, we do find such an unexplained residuum in the correlation of general laws in the production of cosmic harmony. It signifies nothing, the argument may run, that we are unable to conceive the methods whereby the supposed Mind operates in producing cosmic harmony; nor does it signify that its operation must now be relegated to a super-scientific province. What does signify is that, taking a general view of nature, we find it impossible to conceive of the extent and variety of her harmonious processes as other than products of intelligent causation. Now this sublimated form of the teleological argument, it will be remembered, I denoted a metaphysical teleology, in order sharply to distinguish it from all previous forms of that argument, which, in contradistinction I denoted scientific teleologies. And the distinction, it will be remembered, consisted in this—that while all previous forms of teleology, by resting on a basis which was not beyond the possible reach of science, laid themselves open to the possibility of scientific refutation, the metaphysical system of teleology, by resting on a basis which is clearly beyond the possible reach of science, can never be susceptible of scientific refutation. And that this metaphysical system of teleology does rest on such a basis is indisputable; for while it accepts the most ultimate truths of which science can ever be cognizant—viz. the persistence of force and the consequently necessary genesis of natural law,—it nevertheless maintains that the necessity of regarding Mind as the ultimate cause of things is not on this account removed; and, therefore, that if science now requires the operation of a Supreme Mind to be posited in a super-scientific sphere, then in a super-scientific sphere it ought to be posited. No doubt this hypothesis at first sight seems gratuitous, seeing that, so far as science can penetrate, there is no need of any such hypothesis at all—cosmic harmony resulting as a physically necessary consequence from the combined action of natural laws, which in turn result as a physically necessary consequence of the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter. But although it is thus indisputably true that metaphysical teleology is wholly gratuitous if considered scientifically, it may not be true that it is wholly gratuitous if considered psychologically. In other words, if it is more conceivable that Mind should be the ultimate cause of cosmic harmony than that the persistence of force should be so, then it is not irrational to accept the more conceivable hypothesis in preference to the less conceivable one, provided that the choice is made with the diffidence which is required by the considerations adduced in Chapter V [especially the Canon of probability laid down in the second paragraph of this section, Sec. 5].

'I conclude, therefore, that the hypothesis of metaphysical teleology, although in a physical sense gratuitous, may be in a psychological sense legitimate. But as against the fundamental position on which alone this argument can rest—viz. the position that the fundamental postulate of Atheism is more inconceivable than is the fundamental postulate of Theism—we have seen two important objections to lie.

'For, in the first place, the sense in which the word "inconceivable" is here used is that of the impossibility of framing realizable relations in the thought; not that of the impossibility of framing abstract relations in thought. In the same sense, though in a lower degree, it is true that the complexity of the human organization and its functions is inconceivable; but in this sense the word "inconceivable" has much less weight in an argument than it has in its true sense. And, without waiting again to dispute (as we did in the case of the speculative standing of Materialism) how far even the genuine test of inconceivability ought to be allowed to make against an inference which there is a body of scientific evidence to substantiate, we went on to the second objection against this fundamental position of metaphysical teleology. This objection, it will be remembered, was, that it is as impossible to conceive of cosmic harmony as an effect of Mind [i.e. Mind being what we know it in experience to be], as it is to conceive of it as an effect of mindless evolution. The argument from inconceivability, therefore, admits of being turned with quite as terrible an effect on Theism, as it can possibly be made to exert on Atheism.

'Hence this more refined form of teleology which we are considering, and which we saw to be the last of the possible arguments in favour of Theism, is met on its own ground by a very crushing opposition: by its metaphysical character it has escaped the opposition of physical science, only to encounter a new opposition in the region of pure psychology to which it fled. As a conclusion to our whole inquiry, therefore, it devolved on us to determine the relative magnitudes of these opposing forces. And in doing this we first observed that, if the supporters of metaphysical teleology objected a priori to the method whereby the genesis of natural law was deduced from the datum of the persistence of force, in that this method involved an unrestricted use of illegitimate symbolic conceptions; then it is no less open to an atheist to object a priori to the method whereby a directing Mind was inferred from the datum of cosmic harmony, in that this method involved the postulation of an unknowable cause,—and this of a character which the whole history of human thought has proved the human mind to exhibit an overweening tendency to postulate as the cause of natural phenomena. On these grounds, therefore, I concluded that, so far as their respective standing a priori is concerned, both theories may be regarded as about equally suspicious. And similarly with regard to their standing a posteriori; for as both theories require to embody at least one infinite term, they must each alike be pronounced absolutely inconceivable. But, finally, if the question were put to me which of the two theories I regarded as the more rational, I observed that this is a question which no one man can answer for another. For as the test of absolute inconceivability is equally destructive of both theories, if a man wishes to choose between them, his choice can only be determined by what I have designated relative inconceivability—i.e. in accordance with the verdict given by his individual sense of probability as determined by his previous habit of thought. And forasmuch as the test of relative inconceivability may be held in this matter legitimately to vary with the character of the mind which applies it, the strictly rational probability of the question to which it is applied varies in like manner. Or otherwise presented, the only alternative for any man in this matter is either to discipline himself into an attitude of pure scepticism, and thus to refuse in thought to entertain either a probability or an improbability concerning the existence of a God; or else to incline in thought towards an affirmation or a negation of God, according as his previous habits of thought have rendered such an inclination more facile in the one direction than in the other. And although, under such circumstances, I should consider that man the more rational who carefully suspended his judgement, I conclude that if this course is departed from, neither the metaphysical teleologist nor the scientific atheist has any perceptible advantage over the other in respect of rationality. For as the formal conditions of a metaphysical teleology are undoubtedly present on the one hand, and the formal conditions of a speculative atheism are as undoubtedly present on the other, there is thus in both cases a logical vacuum supplied wherein the pendulum of thought is free to swing in whichever direction it may be made to swing by the momentum of preconceived ideas.

'Sec. 6. Such is the outcome of our investigation, and considering the abstract nature of the subject, the immense divergence of opinion which at the present time is manifested with regard to it, as well as the confusing amount of good, bad and indifferent literature on both sides of the controversy which is extant;—considering these things, I do not think that the result of our inquiry can be justly complained of on the score of its lacking precision. At a time like the present, when traditional beliefs respecting Theism are so generally accepted, and so commonly concluded as a matter of course to have a large and valid basis of induction whereon to rest, I cannot but feel that a perusal of this short essay, by showing how very concise the scientific status of the subject really is, will do more to settle the minds of most readers as to the exact standing at the present time of all the probabilities of the question, than could a perusal of all the rest of the literature upon this subject. And, looking to the present condition of speculative philosophy, I regard it as of the utmost importance to have clearly shown that the advance of science has now entitled us to assert, without the least hesitation, that the hypothesis of Mind in nature is as certainly superfluous to account for any of the phenomena of nature, as the scientific doctrine of the persistence of force and the indestructibility of matter is certainly true.

'On the other hand, if any one is inclined to complain that the logical aspect of the question has not proved itself so unequivocally definite as has the scientific, I must ask him to consider that, in any matter which does not admit of actual demonstration, some margin must of necessity be left for variations of individual opinion. And, if he bears this consideration in mind, I feel sure that he cannot properly complain of my not having done my utmost in this case to define as sharply as possible the character and the limits of this margin.

'Sec. 7. And now, in conclusion, I feel it is desirable to state that any antecedent bias with regard to Theism which I individually possess is unquestionably on the side of traditional beliefs. It is therefore with the utmost sorrow that I find myself compelled to accept the conclusions here worked out; and nothing would have induced me to publish them, save the strength of my conviction that it is the duty of every member of society to give his fellows the benefit of his labours for whatever they may be worth. Just as I am confident that truth must in the end be the most profitable for the race, so I am persuaded that every individual endeavour to attain it, provided only that such endeavour is unbiassed and sincere, ought without hesitation to be made the common property of all men, no matter in what direction the results of its promulgation may appear to tend. And so far as the ruination of individual happiness is concerned, no one can have a more lively perception than myself of the possibly disastrous tendency of my work. So far as I am individually concerned, the result of this analysis has been to show that, whether I regard the problem of Theism on the lower plane of strictly relative probability, or on the higher plane of purely formal considerations, it equally becomes my obvious duty to stifle all belief of the kind which I conceive to be the noblest, and to discipline my intellect with regard to this matter into an attitude of the purest scepticism. And forasmuch as I am far from being able to agree with those who affirm that the twilight doctrine of the "new faith" is a desirable substitute for the waning splendour of "the old," I am not ashamed to confess that with this virtual negation of God the universe to me has lost its soul of loveliness; and although from henceforth the precept to "work while it is day" will doubtless but gain an intensified force from the terribly intensified meaning of the words that "the night cometh when no man can work," yet when at times I think, as think at times I must, of the appalling contrast between the hallowed glory of that creed which once was mine, and the lonely mystery of existence as now I find it,—at such times I shall ever feel it impossible to avoid the sharpest pang of which my nature is susceptible. For whether it be due to my intelligence not being sufficiently advanced to meet the requirements of the age, or whether it be due to the memory of those sacred associations which to me at least were the sweetest that life has given, I cannot but feel that for me, and for others who think as I do, there is a dreadful truth in those words of Hamilton,—Philosophy having become a meditation, not merely of death, but of annihilation, the precept know thyself has become transformed into the terrific oracle to OEdipus—

"Mayest thou ne'er know the truth of what thou art."'

This analysis will have been at least sufficient to give a clear idea of the general argument of the Candid Examination and of its melancholy conclusions. What will most strike a somewhat critical reader is perhaps (1) the tone of certainty, and (2) the belief in the almost exclusive right of the scientific method in the court of reason.

As evidence of (1) I would adduce the following brief quotations:—

P. xi. 'Possible errors in reasoning apart, the rational position of Theism as here defined must remain without material modification as long as our intelligence remains human.'

P. 24. 'I am quite unable to understand how any one at the present day, and with the most moderate powers of abstract thinking, can possibly bring himself to embrace the theory of Free-will.'

P. 64. 'Undoubtedly we have no alternative but to conclude that the hypothesis of mind in nature is now logically proved to be as certainly superfluous as the very basis of all science is certainly true. There can no longer be any more doubt that the existence of a God is wholly unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of the universe, than there is doubt that if I leave go of my pen it will fall upon the table.'

As evidence of (2) I would adduce from the preface—

'To my mind, therefore, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that, looking to this undoubted pre-eminence of the scientific methods as ways to truth, whether or not there is a God, the question as to his existence is both more morally and more reverently contemplated if we regard it purely as a problem for methodical analysis to solve, than if we regard it in any other light.'

It is in respect both of (1) and (2) that the change in Romanes' thought as exhibited in his later Notes is most conspicuous[15].

At what date George Romanes' mind began to react from the conclusions of the Candid Examination I cannot say. But after a period of ten years—in his Rede lecture of 1885[16]—we find his frame of mind very much changed. This lecture, on Mind and Motion, consists of a severe criticism of the materialistic account of mind. On the other hand 'spiritualism'—or the theory which would suppose that mind is the cause of motion—is pronounced from the point of view of science not impossible indeed but 'unsatisfactory,' and the more probable conclusion is found in a 'monism' like Bruno's—according to which mind and motion are co-ordinate and probably co-extensive aspects of the same universal fact—a monism which may be called Pantheism, but may also be regarded as an extension of contracted views of Theism[17]. The position represented by this lecture may be seen sufficiently from its conclusion:—

'If the advance of natural science is now steadily leading us to the conclusion that there is no motion without mind, must we not see how the independent conclusion of mental science is thus independently confirmed—the conclusion, I mean, that there is no being without knowing? To me, at least, it does appear that the time has come when we may begin, as it were in a dawning light, to see that the study of Nature and the study of Mind are meeting upon this greatest of possible truths. And if this is the case—if there is no motion without mind, no being without knowing—shall we infer, with Clifford, that universal being is mindless, or answer with a dogmatic negative that most stupendous of questions,—Is there knowledge with the Most High? If there is no motion without mind, no being without knowing, may we not rather infer, with Bruno, that it is in the medium of mind, and in the medium of knowledge, we live, and move, and have our being?

'This, I think, is the direction in which the inference points, if we are careful to set out the logical conditions with complete impartiality. But the ulterior question remains, whether, so far as science is concerned, it is here possible to point any inference at all: the whole orbit of human knowledge may be too narrow to afford a parallax for measurements so vast. Yet even here, if it be true that the voice of science must thus of necessity speak the language of agnosticism, at least let us see to it that the language is pure[18]; let us not tolerate any barbarisms introduced from the side of aggressive dogma. So shall we find that this new grammar of thought does not admit of any constructions radically opposed to more venerable ways of thinking; even if we do not find that the often-quoted words of its earliest formulator apply with special force to its latest dialects—that if a little knowledge of physiology and a little knowledge of psychology dispose men to atheism, a deeper knowledge of both, and, still more, a deeper thought upon their relations to one another, will lead men back to some form of religion, which if it be more vague, may also be more worthy than that of earlier days.'

Some time before 1889 three articles were written for the Nineteenth Century on the Influence of Science upon Religion. They were never published, for what reason I am not able to ascertain. But I have thought it worth while to print the first two of them as a 'first part' of this volume, both because they contain—written in George Romanes' own name—an important criticism upon the Candid Examination which he had published anonymously, and also because, with their entirely sceptical result, they exhibit very clearly a stage in the mental history of their author. The antecedents of these papers those who have read this Introduction will now be in a position to understand. What remains to be said by way of further introduction to the Notes had better be reserved till later.



[1] p. 7.

[2] p. 173.

[3] See p. 110.

[4] But see an interesting note in Romanes' Mind and Motion and Monism (Longmans, 1895) p. 111.

[5] Published in Truebner's English and Foreign Philosophical Library in 1878, but written 'several years ago' (preface). 'I have refrained from publishing it,' the author explains, 'lest, after having done so, I should find that more mature thought had modified the conclusions which the author sets forth.'

[6] At times I have sought to make the argument of the chapter more intelligible by introducing references to earlier parts of the book or explanations in my own words. These latter I have inserted in square brackets.

[7] p. 24.

[8] p. 28.

[9] p. 28.

[10] p. 45.

[11] p. 47.

[12] p. 50.

[13] p. 63.

[14] pp. 58 ff.

[15] With reference to the views and arguments of the Candid Examination, it may be interesting to notice here in detail that George Romanes (1) came to attach much more importance to the subjective religious needs and intuitions of the human spirit (pp. 131 ff.); (2) perceived that the subjective religious consciousness can be regarded objectively as a broad human phenomenon (pp. 147 f.); (3) criticized his earlier theory of causation and returned towards the theory that all causation is volitional (pp. 102, 118); (4) definitely repudiated the materialistic account of the origin of mind (pp. 30, 31); (5) returned to the use of the expression 'the argument from design,' and therefore presumably abandoned his strong objection to it; (6) 'saw through' Herbert Spencer's refutation of the wider teleology expressed by Baden Powell, and felt the force of the teleology again (p. 72); (7) recognized that the scientific objections to the doctrine of the freedom of the will are not finally valid (p. 128).

[16] See Mind and Motion and Monism, pp. 36 ff.

[17] In some 'Notes' of the Summer of 1893 I find the statement, 'The result (of philosophical inquiry) has been that in his millennial contemplation and experience man has attained certainty with regard to certain aspects of the world problem, no less secure than that which he has gained in the domain of physical science, e.g.

Logical priority of mind over matter.

Consequent untenability of materialism.

Relativity of knowledge.

The order of nature, conservation of energy and indestructibility of matter within human experience, the principle of evolution and survival of the fittest.'

[18] For the meaning of 'pure' agnosticism see below, pp. 107 ff.




I propose to consider, in a series of three papers, the influence of Science upon Religion. In doing this I shall seek to confine myself to the strictly rational aspect of the subject, without travelling into any matters of sentiment. Moreover, I shall aim at estimating in the first instance the kind and degree of influence which has been exerted by Science upon Religion in the past, and then go on to estimate the probable extent of this influence in the future. The first two papers will be devoted to the past and prospective influence of Science upon Natural Religion, while the third will be devoted to the past and prospective influence of Science upon Revealed Religion[19].

Few subjects have excited so much interest of late years as that which I thus mark out for discussion. This can scarcely be considered a matter of surprise, seeing that the influence in question is not only very direct, but also extremely important from every point of view. For generations and for centuries in succession Religion maintained an undisputed sway over men's minds—if not always as a practical guide in matters of conduct, at least as a regulator of belief. Even among the comparatively few who in previous centuries professedly rejected Christianity, there can be no doubt that their intellectual conceptions were largely determined by it: for Christianity being then the only court of appeal with reference to all these conceptions, even the few minds which were professedly without its jurisdiction could scarcely escape its indirect influence through the minds of others. But as side by side with the venerable institution a new court of appeal was gradually formed, we cannot wonder that it should have come to be regarded in the light of a rival to the old—more especially as the searching methods of its inquiry and the certain character of its judgements were much more in consonance with the requirements of an age disposed to scepticism. And this spirit of rivalry is still further fostered by the fact that Science has unquestionably exerted upon Religion what Mr. Fiske terms a 'purifying influence.' That is to say, not only are the scientific methods of inquiry after truth more congenial to sceptical minds than are the religious methods (which may broadly be defined as accepting truth on authority), but the results of the former have more than once directly contradicted those of the latter: science has in several cases incontestably demonstrated that religious teaching has been wrong as to matters of fact. Further still, the great advance of natural knowledge which has characterized the present century, has caused our ideas upon many subjects connected with philosophy to undergo a complete metamorphosis. A well-educated man of the present day is absolutely precluded from regarding some of the Christian dogmas from the same intellectual standpoint as his forefathers, even though he may still continue to accept them in some other sense. In short, our whole key of thinking or tone of thought having been in certain respects changed, we can no longer anticipate that in these respects it should continue to harmonize with the unalterable system of theology.

Such I conceive to be the ways in which Science has exerted her influence upon Religion, and it is needless to dwell upon the potency of their united effect. No one can read even a newspaper without perceiving how great this effect has been. On the one hand, sceptics are triumphantly confident that the light of dawning knowledge has begun finally to dispel the darkness of superstition, while religious persons, on the other hand, tremble to think what the future, if judged by the past, is likely to bring forth. On both sides we have free discussion, strong language, and earnest canvassing. Year by year stock is taken, and year by year the balance is found to preponderate in favour of Science.

This being the state of things of the present time, I think that with the experience of the kind and degree of influence which Science has exerted upon Religion in the past, we have material enough whereby to estimate the probable extent of such influence in the future. This, therefore, I shall endeavour to do by seeking to define, on general principles, the limits within which it is antecedently possible that the influence in question can be exercised. But in order to do this, it is necessary to begin by estimating the kind and degree of the influence which has been exerted by Science upon Religion in the past.

Thus much premised, we have in the first place to define the essential nature both of Science and of Religion: for this is clearly the first step in an analysis which has for its object an estimation of the actual and possible effects of one of these departments of thought upon the other.

Science, then, is essentially a department of thought having exclusive reference to the Proximate. More particularly, it is a department of thought having for its object the explanation of natural phenomena by the discovery of natural (or proximate) causes. In so far as Science ventures to trespass beyond this her only legitimate domain, and seeks to interpret natural phenomena by the immediate agency of supernatural or ultimate causes, in that degree has she ceased to be physical science, and become ontological speculation. The truth of this statement has now been practically recognized by all scientific workers; and terms describing final causes have been banished from their vocabulary in astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology, and even in psychology.

Religion, on the other hand, is a department of thought having no less exclusive reference to the Ultimate. More particularly, it is a department of thought having for its object a self-conscious and intelligent Being, which it regards as a Personal God, and the fountain-head of all causation. I am, of course, aware that the term Religion has been of late years frequently used in senses which this definition would not cover; but I conceive that this only shows how frequently the term in question has been abused. To call any theory of things a Religion which does not present any belief in any form of Deity, is to apply the word to the very opposite of that which it has hitherto been used to denote. To speak of the Religion of the Unknowable, the Religion of Cosmism, the Religion of Humanity, and so forth, where the personality of the First Cause is not recognized, is as unmeaning as it would be to speak of the love of a triangle, or the rationality of the equator. That is to say, if any meaning is to be extracted from the terms at all, it is only to be so by using them in some metaphorical sense. We may, for instance, say that there is such a thing as a Religion of Humanity, because we may begin by deifying Humanity in our own estimation, and then go on to worship our ideal. But by thus giving Humanity the name of Deity we are not really creating a new religion: we are merely using a metaphor, which may or may not be successful as a matter of poetic diction, but which most assuredly presents no shred of value as a matter of philosophical statement. Indeed, in this relation it is worse than valueless: it is misleading. Variations or reversals in the meanings of words are not of uncommon occurrence in the ordinary growth of languages; but it is not often that we find, as in this case, the whole meaning of a term intentionally and gratuitously changed by the leaders of philosophical thought. Humanity, for example, is an abstract idea of our own making: it is not an object any more than the equator is an object. Therefore, if it were possible to construct a religion by this curious device of metaphorically ascribing to Humanity the attributes of Deity, it ought to be as logically possible to construct, let us say, a theory of brotherly regard towards the equator, by metaphorically ascribing to it the attributes of man. The distinguishing features of any theory which can properly be termed a Religion, is that it should refer to the ultimate source, or sources, of things: and that it should suppose this source to be of an objective, intelligent, and personal nature. To apply the term Religion to any other theory is merely to abuse it.

From these definitions, then, it appears that the aims and methods of Science are exclusively concerned with the ascertaining and the proof of the proximate How of things and processes physical: her problem is, as Mill states it, to discover what are the fewest number of (phenomenal) data which, being granted, will explain the phenomena of experience. On the other hand, Religion is not in any way concerned with causation, further than to assume that all things and all processes are ultimately due to intelligent personality. Religion is thus, as Mr. Spencer says, 'an a priori theory of the universe'—to which, however, we must add, 'and a theory which assumes intelligent personality as the originating source of the universe.' Without this needful addition, a religion would be in no way logically distinguished from a philosophy.

From these definitions, then, it clearly follows that in their purest forms, Science and Religion really have no point of logical contact. Only if Science could transcend the conditions of space and time, of phenomenal relativity, and of all human limitations, only then could Science be in a position to touch the supernatural theory of Religion. But obviously, if Science could do this, she would cease to be Science. In soaring above the region of phenomena and entering the tenuous aether of noumena, her present wings, which we call her methods, would in such an atmosphere be no longer of any service for movement. Out of time, out of place, and out of phenomenal relation, Science could no longer exist as such.

On the other hand, Religion in its purest form is equally incompetent to affect Science. For, as we have already seen, Religion as such is not concerned with the phenomenal sphere: her theory of ontology cannot have any reference to the How of phenomenal causation. Hence it is evident that, as in their purest or most ideal forms they move in different mental planes, Science and Religion cannot exhibit interference.

Thus far the remarks which I have made apply equally to all forms of Religion, as such, whether actual or possible, and in so far as the Religion is pure. But it is notorious that until quite recently Religion did exercise upon Science, not only an influence, but an overpowering influence. Belief in divine agency being all but universal, while the methods of scientific research had not as yet been distinctly formulated, it was in previous generations the usual habit of mind to refer any natural phenomenon, the physical causation of which had not been ascertained, to the more or less immediate causal action of the Deity. But we now see that this habit of mind arose from a failure to distinguish between the essentially distinct characters of Science and Religion as departments of thought, and therefore that it was only so far as the Religion of former times was impure—or mixed with the ingredients of thought which belong to Science—that the baleful influence in question was exerted. The gradual, successive, and now all but total abolition of final causes from the thoughts of scientific men, to which allusion has already been made, is merely an expression of the fact that scientific men as a body have come fully to recognize the fundamental distinction between Science and Religion which I have stated.

Or, to put the matter in another way, scientific men as a body—and, indeed, all persons whose ideas on such matters are abreast of the times—perceive plainly enough that a religious explanation of any natural phenomenon is, from a scientific point of view, no explanation at all. For a religious explanation consists in referring the observed phenomenon to the First Cause—i.e. to merge that particular phenomenon in the general or final mystery of things. A scientific explanation, on the other hand, consists in referring the observed phenomenon to its physical causes, and in no case can such an explanation entertain the hypothesis of a final cause without abandoning its character as a scientific explanation. For example, if a child brings me a flower and asks why it has such a curious form, bright colour, sweet perfume, and so on, and if I answer, Because God made it so, I am not really answering the child's question: I am merely concealing my ignorance of Nature under a guise of piety, and excusing my indolence in the study of botany. It was the appreciation of this fact that led Mr. Darwin to observe in his Origin of Species that the theory of creation does not serve to explain any of the facts with which it is concerned, but merely re-states these facts as they are observed to occur. That is to say, by thus merging the facts as observed into the final mystery of things, we are not even attempting to explain them in any scientific sense: for it would be obviously possible to get rid of the necessity of thus explaining any natural phenomenon whatsoever by referring it to the immediate causal action of the Deity. If any phenomenon were actually to occur which did proceed from the immediate causal action of the Deity, then ex hypothesi, there would be no physical causes to investigate, and the occupation of Othello, in the person of a man of science, would be gone. Such a phenomenon would be miraculous, and therefore from its very nature beyond the reach of scientific investigation.

Properly speaking, then, the religious theory of final causes does not explain any of the phenomena of Nature: it merely re-states the phenomena as observed—or, if we prefer so to say, it is itself an ultimate and universal explanation of all possible phenomena taken collectively. For it must be admitted that behind all possible explanations of a scientific kind, there lies a great inexplicable, which just because of its ultimate character, cannot be merged into anything further—that is to say, cannot be explained. 'It is what it is,' is all that we can say of it: 'I am that I am' is all that it could say of itself. And it is in referring phenomena to this inexplicable source of physical causation that the theory of Religion essentially consists. The theory of Science, on the other hand, consists in the assumption that there is always a practically endless chain of physical causation to investigate—i.e. an endless series of phenomena to be explained. So that, if we define the process of explanation as the process of referring observed phenomena to their adequate causes, we may say that Religion, by the aid of a general theory of things in the postulation of an intelligent First Cause, furnishes to her own satisfaction an ultimate explanation of the universe as a whole, and therefore is not concerned with any of those proximate explanations or discovery of second causes, which form the exclusive subject-matter of Science. In other words, we recur to the definitions already stated, to the effect that Religion is a department of thought having, as such, exclusive reference to the Ultimate, while Science is a department of thought having, as such, no less exclusive reference to the Proximate. When these two departments of thought overlap, interference results, and we find confusion. Therefore it was that when the religious theory of final causes intruded upon the field of scientific inquiry, it was passing beyond its logical domain; and seeking to arrogate the function of explaining this or that phenomenon in detail, it ceased to be a purely religious theory, while at the same time and for the same reason it blocked the way of scientific progress[20].

This remark serves to introduce one of the chief topics with which I have to deal—viz. the doctrine of Design in Nature, and thus the whole question of Natural Religion in its relation to Natural Science. In handling this topic I shall endeavour to take as broad and deep a view as I can of the present standing of Natural Religion, without waiting to show step by step the ways and means by which it has been brought into this position, by the influence of Science.

In the earliest dawn of recorded thought, teleology in some form or another has been the most generally accepted theory whereby the order of Nature is explained. It is not, however, my object in this paper to trace the history of this theory from its first rude beginnings in Fetishism to its final development in Theism. I intend to devote myself exclusively to the question as to the present standing of this theory, and I allude to its past history only in order to examine the statement which is frequently made, to the effect that its general prevalence in all ages and among all peoples of the world lends to it a certain degree of 'antecedent credibility.' With reference to this point, I should say, that, whether or not the order of Nature is due to a disposing Mind, the hypothesis of mental agency in Nature—or, as the Duke of Argyll terms it, the hypothesis of 'anthropopsychism'—must necessarily have been the earliest hypothesis. What we find in Nature is the universal prevalence of causation, and long before the no less universal equivalency between causes and effects—i.e. the universal prevalence of natural law—became a matter of even the [vaguest] appreciation, the general fact that nothing happens without a cause of some kind was fully recognized. Indeed, the recognition of this fact is not only presented by the lowest races of the present day, but, as I have myself given evidence to show, likewise by animals and infants[21]. And therefore, it appears to me probable that those psychologists are right who argue that the idea of cause is intuitive, in the same sense that the ideas of space and time are intuitive—i.e. the instinctive or [inherited] effect of ancestral experience.

Now if it is thus a matter of certainty that the recognition of causality in Nature is co-extensive with, and even anterior to, the human mind, it appears to me no less certain that the first attempt at assigning a cause of this or that observed event in Nature—i.e. the first attempts at a rational explanation of the phenomena of Nature—must have been of an anthropopsychic kind. No other explanation was, as it were, so ready to hand as that of projecting into external Nature the agency of volition, which was known to each individual as the apparent fountain-head of causal activity so far as he and his neighbours were concerned. To reach this most obvious explanation of causality in Nature, it did not require that primitive man should know, as we know, that the very conception of causality arises out of our sense of effort in voluntary action; it only required that this should be the fact, and then it must needs follow that when any natural phenomenon was thought about at all with reference to its causality, the cause inferred should be one of a psychical kind. I need not wait to trace the gradual integration of this anthropopsychic hypothesis from its earliest and most diffused form of what we may term polypsychism (wherein the causes inferred were almost as personally numerous as the effects contemplated), through polytheism (wherein many effects of a like kind were referred to one deity, who, as it were, took special charge over that class), up to monotheism (wherein all causation is gathered up into the monopsychism of a single personality): it is enough thus briefly to show that from first to last the hypothesis of anthropopsychism is a necessary phase of mental evolution under existing conditions, and this whether or not the hypothesis is true.

Thus viewed, I do not think that 'the general consent of mankind' is a fact of any argumentative weight in favour of the anthropopsychic theory—so far, I mean, as the matter of causation is concerned—whether this be in fetishism or in the teleology of our own day: the general consent of mankind in the larger question of theism (where sundry other matters besides causation fail to be considered) does not here concern us. Indeed, it appears to me that if we are to go back to the savages for any guarantee of our anthropopsychic theory, the pledge which we receive is of worse than no value. As well might we conclude that a match is a living organism, because this is to the mind of a savage the most obvious explanation of its movements, as conclude on precisely similar grounds that our belief in teleology derives any real support from any of the more primitive phases of anthropopsychism.

It seems to me, therefore, that in seeking to estimate the evidence of design in Nature, we must as it were start de novo, without reference to anterior beliefs upon the subject. The question is essentially one to be considered in the light of all the latest knowledge that we possess, and by the best faculties of thinking that we (the heirs of all the ages) are able to bring to bear upon it. I shall, therefore, only allude to the history of anthropopsychism in so far as I may find it necessary to do so for the sake of elucidating my argument.

And here it is needful to consider first what Paley called 'the state of the argument' before the Darwinian epoch. This is clearly and tersely presented by Paley in his classical illustration of finding a watch upon a heath—an illustration so well known that I need not here re-state it. I will merely observe, therefore, that it conveys, as it were in one's watch-pocket, the whole of the argument from design; and that it is not in my opinion open to the stricture which was passed upon it by Mill where he says,—'The inference would not be from marks of design, but because I already know by direct experience that watches are made by men.' This appears to me to miss the whole point of Paley's meaning, for there would be obviously no argument at all unless he be understood to mean that the evidence of design which is supposed to be afforded by examination of the watch, is supposed to be afforded by this examination only, and not from any of the direct knowledge alluded to by Mill. For the purposes of the illustration, it must clearly be assumed that the finder of the watch has no previous or direct knowledge touching the manufacture of watches. Apart from this curious misunderstanding, Mill was at one with Paley upon the whole subject.

Again, it is no real objection to the argument or illustration to say, as we often have said, that it does not account for the watchmaker. The object of the argument from design is to prove the existence of a designer: not to explain that existence. Indeed, it would be suicidal to the whole argument in its relation to Theism, if the possibility of any such explanation were entertained; for such a possibility could only be entertained on the supposition that the being of the Deity admits of being explained—i.e. that the Deity is not ultimate.

Lastly, the argument is precisely the same as that which occurs in numerous passages of Scripture and in theological writings all over the world down to the present time. That is to say, everywhere in organic nature we meet with innumerable adaptations of means to ends, which in very many cases present a degree of refinement and complexity in comparison with which the adaptations of means to ends in a watch are but miserable and rudimentary attempts at mechanism. No one can know so well as the modern biologist in what an immeasurable degree the mechanisms which occur in such profusion in nature surpass, in every form of excellence, the highest triumphs of human invention. Hence at first sight it does unquestionably appear that we could have no stronger or better evidence of purpose than is thus afforded. In the words of Paley: 'arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use, imply the presence of intelligence and mind.'

But next the question arises, Although such things certainly [may][22] imply the presence of mind as their explanatory cause, are we entitled to assume that there can be in nature no other cause competent to produce these effects? This is a question which never seems to have occurred to Paley, Bell, Chalmers, or indeed to any of the natural theologians up to the time of Darwin. This, I think, is a remarkable fact, because the question is one which, as a mere matter of logical form, appears to lie so much upon the surface. But nevertheless the fact remains that natural theologians, so far as I know without exception, were satisfied to assume as an axiom that mechanism could have no cause other than that of a designing mind; and therefore their work was restricted to tracing out in detail the number and the excellency of the mechanisms which were to be met with in nature. It is, however, obvious that the mere accumulation of such cases can have no real, or logical, effect upon the argument. The mechanisms which we encounter in nature are so amazing in their perfections, that the attentive study of any one of them would (as Paley in his illustration virtually, though not expressly, contends) be sufficient to carry the whole position, if the assumption be conceded that mechanism can only be due to mind. Therefore the argument is not really, or logically, strengthened by the mere accumulation of any number of special cases of mechanism in nature, all as mechanisms similar in kind. Let us now consider this argument.

If we are disposed to wonder why natural theologians prior to the days of Darwin were content to assume that mind is the only possible cause of mechanism, I think we have a ready answer in the universal prevalence of their belief in special creation. For I think it is unquestionable that, upon the basis of this belief, the assumption is legitimate. That is to say, if we start with the belief that all species of plants and animals were originally introduced to the complex conditions of their several environments suddenly and ready made (in some such manner as watches are turned out from a manufactory), then I think we are reasonably entitled to assume that no conceivable cause, other than that of intelligent purpose, could possibly be assigned in explanation of the effects. It is, of course, needless to observe that in so far as this previous belief in special creation was thus allowed to affect the argument from design, that argument became an instance of circular reasoning. And it is, perhaps, equally needless to observe that the mere fact of evolution, as distinguished from special creation—or of the gradual development of living mechanisms, as distinguished from their sudden and ready-made apparition—would not in any way affect the argument from design, unless it could be shown that the process of evolution admits the possibility of some other cause which is not admitted by the hypothesis of special creation. But this is precisely what is shown by the theory of evolution as propounded by Darwin. That is to say, the theory of the gradual development of living mechanisms propounded by Darwin, is something more than a theory of gradual development as distinguished from sudden creation. It is this, but it is also a theory of a purely scientific kind which seeks to explain the purely physical causes of that development. And this is the point where natural science begins to exert her influence upon natural theology—or the point where the theory of evolution begins to affect the theory of design. As this is a most important part of our subject, and one upon which an extraordinary amount of confusion at the present time prevails, I shall in my next paper carefully consider it in all its bearings.


[19] [The third paper is not published because Romanes' views on the relation between science and faith in Revealed Religion are better and more maturely expressed in the Notes.—ED.]

[20] To avoid misunderstanding I may observe that in the above definitions I am considering Religion and Science under the conditions in which they actually exist. It is conceivable that under other conditions these two departments of thought might not be so sharply separated. Thus, for instance, if a Religion were to appear carrying a revelation to Science upon matters of physical causation, such a Religion (supposing the revelation were found by experiment to be true) ought to be held to exercise upon Science a strictly legitimate influence.

[21] Mental Evolution in Animals, pp. 155-8.

[22] [I have put 'may' in place of 'do' for the sake of argument.—ED.]


Suppose the man who found the watch upon a heath to continue his walk till he comes down to the sea-shore, and suppose further that he is as ignorant of physical geography as he is of watch-making. He soon begins to observe a number of adaptations of means to ends, which, if less refined and delicate than those that formed the object of his study in the watch, are on the other hand much more impressive from the greatly larger scale on which they are displayed. First, he observes that there is a beautiful basin hollowed out in the land for the reception of a bay; that the sides of this basin, which from being near its opening are most exposed to the action of large rolling billows, are composed of rocky cliffs, evidently in order to prevent the further encroachment of the sea, and the consequent destruction of the entire bay; that the sides of the basin, which from being successively situated more inland are successively less and less exposed to the action of large waves, are constituted successively of smaller rocks, passing into shingle, and eventually into the finest sand: that as the tides rise and fall with as great a regularity as was exhibited by the movements of the watch, the stones are carefully separated out from the sand to be arranged in sloping layers by themselves, and this always with a most beautiful reference to the places round the margin of the basin which are most in danger of being damaged by the action of the waves. He would further observe, upon closer inspection, that this process of selective arrangement goes into matters of the most minute detail. Here, for instance, he would observe a mile or two of a particular kind of seaweed artistically arranged in one long sinuous line upon the beach; there he would see a wonderful deposit of shells; in another place a lovely little purple heap of garnet sand, the minute particles of which have all been carefully picked out from the surrounding acres of yellow sand. Again, he would notice that the streams which come down to the bay are all flowing in channels admirably dug out for the purpose; and, being led by curiosity to investigate the teleology of these various streams, he would find that they serve to supply the water which the sea loses by evaporation, and also, by a wonderful piece of adjustment, to furnish fresh water to those animals and plants which thrive best in fresh water, and yet by their combined action to carry down sufficient mineral constituents to give that precise degree of saltness to the sea as a whole which is required for the maintenance of pelagic life. Lastly, continuing his investigations along this line of inquiry, he would find that a thousand different habitats were all thoughtfully adapted to the needs of a hundred thousand different forms of life, none of which could survive if these habitats were reversed. Now, I think that our imaginary inquirer would be a dull man if, as the result of all this study, he failed to conclude that the evidence of Design furnished by the marine bay was at least as cogent as that which he had previously found in his study of the watch.

But there is this great difference between the two cases. Whereas by subsequent inquiry he could ascertain as a matter of fact that the watch was due to intelligent contrivance, he could make no such discovery with reference to the marine bay: in the one case intelligent contrivance as a cause is independently demonstrable, while in the other case it can only be inferred. What, then, is the value of the inference?

If, after the studies of our imaginary teleologist had been completed, he were introduced to the library of the Royal Society, and if he were then to spend a year or two in making himself acquainted with the leading results of modern science, I fancy that he would end by being both a wiser and a sadder man. At least I am certain that in learning more he would feel that he is understanding less—that the archaic simplicity of his earlier explanations must give place to a matured perplexity upon the whole subject. To begin with, he would now find that every one of the adjustments of means to ends which excited his admiration on the sea-coast were due to physical causes which are perfectly well understood. The cliffs stood at the opening of the bay because the sea in past ages had encroached upon the coast-line until it met with these cliffs, which then opposed its further progress; the bay was a depression in the land which happened to be there when the sea arrived, and into which the sea consequently flowed; the successive occurrence of rocks, shingle, and sand was due to the actions of the waves themselves; the segregation of sea-weeds, shells, pebbles, and different kinds of sand, was due to their different degrees of specific gravity; the fresh-water streams ran in channels because they had themselves been the means of excavating them; and the multitudinous forms of life were all adapted to their several habitats simply because the unsuited forms were not able to live in them. In all these cases, therefore, our teleologist in the light of fuller knowledge would be compelled to conclude at least this much—that the adaptations which he had so greatly admired when he supposed that they were all due to contrivance in anticipation of the existing phenomena, cease to furnish the same evidence of intelligent design when it is found that no one of them was prepared beforehand by any independent or external cause.

He would therefore be led to conclude that if the teleological interpretation of the facts were to be saved at all, it could only be so by taking a much wider view of the subject than was afforded by the particular cases of apparent design which at first appeared so cogent. That is to say, he would feel that he must abandon the supposition of any special design in the construction of that particular bay, and fall back upon the theory of a much more general design in the construction of one great scheme of Nature as a whole. In short he would require to dislodge his argument from the special adjustments which in the first instance appeared to him so suggestive, to those general laws of Nature which by their united operation give rise to a cosmos as distinguished from a chaos.

Now I have been careful thus to present in all its more important details an imaginary argument drawn from inorganic nature, because it furnishes a complete analogy to the actual argument which is drawn from organic nature. Without any question, the instances of apparent design, or of the apparently intentional adaptation of means to ends, which we meet with in organic nature, are incomparably more numerous and suggestive than anything with which we meet in inorganic nature. But if once we find good reason to conclude that the former, like the latter, are all due, not to the immediate, special and prospective action of a contriving intelligence (as in watch-making or creation), but to the agency of secondary or physical causes acting under the influence of what we call general laws, then it seems to me that no matter how numerous or how wonderful the adaptations of means to ends in organic nature may be, they furnish one no other or better evidence of design than is furnished by any of the facts of inorganic nature.

For the sake of clearness let us take any special case. Paley says, 'I know of no better method of introducing so large a subject than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope.' He then goes on to point out the analogies between these two pieces of apparatus, and ends by asking, 'How is it possible, under circumstances of such close affinity, and under the operation of equal evidence, to exclude contrivance in the case of the eye, yet to acknowledge the proof of contrivance having been employed, as the plainest and clearest of all propositions in the case of the telescope?'

Well, the answer to be made is that only upon the hypothesis of special creation can this analogy hold: on the hypothesis of evolution by physical causes the evidence in the two cases is not equal. For, upon this hypothesis we have the eye beginning, not as a ready-made structure prepared beforehand for the purposes of seeing, but as a mere differentiation of the ends of nerves in the skin, probably in the first instance to enable them better to discriminate changes of temperature. Pigment having been laid down in these places the better to secure this purpose (I use teleological terms for the sake of brevity), the nerve-ending begins to distinguish between light and darkness. The better to secure this further purpose, the simplest conceivable form of lens begins to appear in the shape of small refractive bodies. Behind these sensory cells are developed, forming the earliest indication of a retina presenting a single layer. And so on, step by step, till we reach the eye of an eagle.

Of course the teleologist will here answer—'The fact of such a gradual building up is no argument against design: whether the structure appeared on a sudden or was the result of a slow elaboration, the marks of design in either case occur in the structure as it stands.' All of which is very true; but I am not maintaining that the fact of a gradual development in itself does affect the argument from design. I am maintaining that it only does so because it reveals the possibility (excluded by the hypothesis of sudden or special creation) of the structure having been proximately due to the operation of physical causes. Thus, for the value of argument, let us assume that natural selection has been satisfactorily established as a cause adequate to account for all these effects. Given the facts of heredity, variation, struggle for existence, and the consequent survival of the fittest, what follows? Why that each step in the prolonged and gradual development of the eye was brought about by the elimination of all the less adapted structures in any given generation, i.e. the selection of all the better adapted to perpetuate the improvement by heredity. Will the teleologist maintain that this selective process is itself indicative of special design? If so, it appears to me that he is logically bound to maintain that the long line of seaweed, the shells, the stones and the little heap of garnet sand upon the sea-coast are all equally indicative of special design. The general laws relating to specific gravity are at least of as much importance in the economy of nature as are the general laws relating to specific differentiation; and in each illustration alike we find the result of the operation of known physical causes to be that of selection. If it should be argued in reply that the selection in the one case is obviously purposeless, while in the other it is as obviously purposive, I answer that this is pure assumption. It is perhaps not too much to say that every geological formation on the face of the globe is either wholly or in part due to the selective influence of specific gravity, and who shall say that the construction of the earth's crust is a less important matter in the general scheme of things (if there is such a scheme) than is the evolution of an eye? Or who shall say that because we see an apparently intentional adaptation of means to ends as the result of selection in the case of the eye, there is no intention served by the result of selection in the case of the sea-weeds, stones, sand, mud? For anything that we can know to the contrary, the supposed intelligence may take a greater delight in the latter than in the former process.

For the sake of clearness I have assumed that the physical causes with which we are already acquainted are sufficient to explain the observed phenomena of organic nature. But it clearly makes no difference whether or not this assumption is conceded, provided we allow that the observed phenomena are all due to physical causes of some kind, be they known or unknown. That is to say, in whatever measure we exclude the hypothesis of the direct or immediate intervention of the Deity in organic nature (miracle), in that measure we are reducing the evidence of design in organic nature to precisely the same logical position as that which is occupied by the evidence of design in inorganic nature. Hence I conceive that Mill has shown a singular want of penetration where, after observing with reference to natural selection, 'creative forethought is not absolutely the only link by which the origin of the wonderful mechanism of the eye may be connected with the fact of sight,' he goes on to say, 'leaving this remarkable speculation (i.e. that of natural selection) to whatever fate the progress of discovery may have in store for it, in the present state of knowledge the adaptations in nature afford a large balance of probability in favour of creation by intelligence.' I say this passage seems to me to show a singular want of penetration, and I say so because it appears to argue that the issue lies between the hypothesis of special design and the hypothesis of natural selection. But it does not do so. The issue really lies between special design and natural causes. Survival of the fittest is one of these causes which has been suggested, and shown by a large accumulation of evidence to be probably a true cause. But even if it were to be disproved as a cause, the real argumentative position of teleology would not thereby be effected, unless we were to conclude that there can be no other causes of a secondary or physical kind concerned in the production of the observed adaptations.

I trust that I have now made it sufficiently clear why I hold that if we believe the reign of natural law, or the operation of physical causes, to extend throughout organic nature in the same universal manner as we believe this in the case of inorganic nature, then we can find no better evidence of design in the one province than in the other. The mere fact that we meet with more numerous and apparently more complete instances of design in the one province than in the other is, ex hypothesi, merely due to our ignorance of the natural causation in the more intricate province. In studying biological phenomena we are all at present in the intellectual position of our imaginary teleologist when studying the marine bay: we do not know the natural causes which have produced the observed results. But if, after having obtained a partial key in the theory of natural selection, we trust to the large analogy which is afforded by the simpler provinces of Nature, and conclude that physical causes are everywhere concerned in the production of organic structures, then we have concluded that any evidence of design which these structures present is of just the same logical value as that which we may attach to the evidence of design in inorganic nature. If it should still be urged that the adaptations met with in organic nature are from their number and unity much more suggestive of design than anything met with in inorganic nature, I must protest that this is to change the ground of argument and to evade the only point in dispute. No one denies the obvious fact stated: the only question is whether any number and any quantity of adaptations in any one department of nature afford other or better evidence of design than is afforded by adaptations in other departments, when all departments alike are supposed to be equally the outcome of physical causation. And this question I answer in the negative, because we have no means of ascertaining the extent to which the process of natural selection, or any other physical cause, is competent to produce adaptations of the kind observed.

Thus, to take another instance of apparent design from inorganic nature, it has been argued that the constitution of the atmosphere is clearly designed for the support of vegetable and animal life. But before this conclusion can be established upon the facts, it must be shown that life could exist under no other material conditions than those which are furnished to it by the elementary constituents of the atmosphere. This, however, it is clearly impossible to show. For anything that we can know to the contrary, life may actually be existing upon some of the other heavenly bodies under totally different conditions as to atmosphere; and the fact that on this planet all life has come to be dependent upon the gases which occur in our atmosphere, may be due simply to the fact that it was only the forms of life which were able to adapt themselves (through natural selection or other physical causes) to these particular gases which could possibly be expected to occur—just as in matters of still smaller detail, it was only those forms of life that were suited to their several habitats in the marine bay, which could possibly be expected to be found in these several situations. Now, if a set of adjustments so numerous and so delicate as those on which the relations of every known form of life to the constituent gases of the atmosphere are seen to depend, can thus be shown not necessarily to imply the action of any disposing intelligence, how is it possible to conclude that any less general exhibitions of adjustment imply this, so long as every case of adjustment, whether or not ultimately due to design, is regarded as proximately due to physical causes?

In view of these considerations, therefore, I think it is perfectly clear that if the argument from teleology is to be saved at all, it can only be so by shifting it from the narrow basis of special adaptations, to the broad area of Nature as a whole. And here I confess that to my mind the argument does acquire a weight which, if long and attentively considered, deserves to be regarded as enormous. For, although this and that particular adjustment in Nature may be seen to be proximately due to physical causes, and although we are prepared on the grounds of the largest possible analogy to infer that all other such particular cases are likewise due to physical causes, the more ultimate question arises, How is it that all physical causes conspire, by their united action, to the production of a general order of Nature? It is against all analogy to suppose that such an end as this can be accomplished by such means as those, in the way of mere chance or 'the fortuitous concourse of atoms.' We are led by the most fundamental dictates of our reason to conclude that there must be some cause for this co-operation of causes. I know that from Lucretius' time this has been denied; but it has been denied only on grounds of feeling. No possible reason can be given for the denial which does not run counter to the law of causation itself. I am therefore perfectly clear that the only question which, from a purely rational point of view, here stands to be answered is this—Of what nature are we to suppose the causa causarum to be?

On this point only two hypotheses have ever been advanced, and I think it is impossible to conceive that any third one is open. Of these two hypotheses the earliest, and of course the most obvious, is that of mental purpose. The other hypothesis is one which we owe to the far-reaching thought of Mr. Herbert Spencer. In Chapter VII of his First Principles he argues that all causation arises immediately out of existence as such, or, as he states it, that 'uniformity of law inevitably follows from the persistence of force.' For 'if in any two cases there is exact likeness not only between those most conspicuous antecedents which we distinguish as the causes, but also between those accompanying antecedents which we call the conditions, we cannot affirm that the effects will differ, without affirming either that some force has come into existence or that some force has ceased to exist. If the co-operative forces in the one case are equal to those in the other, each to each, in distribution and amount; then it is impossible to conceive the product of their joint action in the one case as unlike that in the other, without conceiving one or more of the forces to have increased or diminished in quantity; and this is conceiving that force is not persistent.'

Now this interpretation of causality as the immediate outcome of existence must be considered first as a theory of causation, and next as a theory in relation to Theism. As a theory of causation it has not met with the approval of mathematicians, physicists, or logicians, leading representatives of all these departments of thought having expressly opposed it, while, so far as I am aware, no representative of any one of them has spoken in its favour[23]. But with this point I am not at present concerned, for even if the theory were admitted to furnish a full and complete explanation of causality, it would still fail to account for the harmonious relation of causes, or the fact with which we are now alone concerned. This distinction is not perceived by the anonymous author 'Physicus,' who, in his Candid Examination of Theism, lays great stress upon Mr. Spencer's theory of causation as subversive of Theism, or at least as superseding the necessity of theistic hypothesis by furnishing a full explanation of the order of Nature on purely physical grounds. But he fails to perceive that even if Mr. Spencer's theory were conceded fully to explain all the facts of causality, it would in no wise tend to explain the cosmos in which these facts occur. It may be true that causation depends upon the 'persistence of force': it does not follow that all manifestations of force should on this account have been directed to occur as they do occur. For, if we follow back any sequence of physical causation, we soon find that it spreads out on all sides into a network of physical relations which are literally infinite both in space (conditions) and in time (antecedent causes). Now, even if we suppose that the persistence of force is a sufficient explanation of the occurrence of the particular sequence contemplated so far as the exhibition of force is there concerned, we are thus as far as ever from explaining the determination of this force into the particular channel through which it flows. It may be quite true that the resultant is determined as to magnitude and direction by the components; but what about the magnitude and direction of the components? If it is said that they in turn were determined by the outcome of previous systems, how about these systems? And so on till we spread away into the infinite network already mentioned. Only if we knew the origin of all series of all such systems could we be in a position to say that an adequate intelligence might determine beforehand by calculation the state of any one part of the universe at any given instant of time. But, as the series are infinite both in number and extent, this knowledge is clearly out of the question. Moreover, even if it could be imagined as possible, it could only be so imagined at the expense of supposing an origin of physical causation in time; and this amounts to supposing a state of things prior to such causation, and out of which it arose. But to suppose this is to suppose some extra-physical source of physical causation; and whether this supposition is made with reference to a physical event occurring under immediate observation (miracle), or to a physical event in past time, or to the origin of all physical events, it is alike incompatible with any theory that seeks to give a purely physical explanation of the physical universe as a whole. It is, in short, the old story about a stream not being able to rise above its source. Physical causation cannot be made to supply its own explanation, and the mere persistence of force, even if it were conceded to account for particular cases of physical sequence, can give no account of the ubiquitous and eternal direction of force in the construction and maintenance of universal order.

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