International Standard Bible EncyclopediaEVOLUTION
1. The Idea of Evolution:
Evolution is a scientific and philosophical theory designed to explain the origin and course of all things in the universe. By origin, however, is not understood the production or emergence of the substance and of the cause or causes of things, but that of the forms in which they appear to the observer. Sometimes the term is vaguely used to cover absolute origin in the sense just excluded. A moment's reflection will make it clear that such a view can never secure a place in the realm of pure science. The problem of ultimate origin is not one that science can solve. If it is solved at all, it must be by purely philosophical as distinguished from scientific or scientific-philosophical methods. Evolution, therefore, must be viewed in science purely and strictly as a process of orderly change in the form of things. As such it assumes the existence of substance or substances and of a force or forces working its successive transformations. (NOTE: This position is apparently contradicted in the title of Henri Bergson's L'evolution creatrice. But an examination of Bergson's system shows that the contradiction is only apparent. Bergson's evolution is neither substance nor efficient cause or principle. The latter is given in his vital impetus (elan vital); the former in his concept of duration.)
As an orderly change of the form of things, evolution may be viewed as operative in the field of inorganic matter, or in that of life. In the first, it is known and called cosmic evolution; in the second, organic evolution. Of cosmic evolution again there appear two aspects, according as the process, or law. of transformation, is observed to operate in the realm of the lower units of matter (atoms and molecules), or is studied in the region of the great. In the first sphere, it is made to account for the emergence in Nature of the qualities and powers of different kinds of matter called elements. In the second, it explains the grouping together, the movements and transformations of the solar and of stellar systems. Similarly, of organic evolution there appear to be two varieties. The first occurs in the world of life including the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Evolution here accounts for the various forms of living beings building their bodies and passing from one stage to another in their existence as individuals, and for the course of the history of all life as it differentiates into species and genera. The second variety of evolution operates in the higher realm of intelligence, morality, social activity and religion. The idea of a law of orderly change governing all things is not a new one.
Historians of science find it in some form or other embodied in the philosophies of Heraclitus, Democritus, Lucretius and Aristotle. There are those who find it also in the system of Gautama (Buddha).
2. Recent Origin of Notion:
But in none of these was there a sufficiently wide basis of fact inductively brought together, or a thorough enough digestion and assimilation of the material to give the view as presented by them a firm standing. Hegel's idealistic theory of Development is kindred to the evolution theory in its essence; but it too antedates the working out of the system upon the basis of the scientific induction of the phenomena of Nature.
Until the time of Herbert Spencer, the scientific use of the word evolution was limited to the narrow department of embryology. By him, the term was made synonymous with all orderly change in Nature. The notion that such change is the result of chance, however, was not a part of Spencer's teaching. On the contrary, that philosopher held that chance is but the expression of laws undiscerned by the human mind. Yet these laws are just as definite and rigid as those already discovered and formulated.
Since the appearance of the inductive method in scientific research, and the rise of the science of biology in particular, the idea of evolution has been elaborated into a great systematic generalization, and proposed as the philosophy of all perceptible phenomena. Beginning as a working hypothesis in a special narrow department, that of biology, it has been extended into all the sciences until all come under its dominance, and it is viewed no longer as a mere working hypothesis, but as a demonstrated philosophy with the force and certainty of fact.
3. Evolution and Biblical Truth:
It was natural that such an important proposition as the explanation of the present form of the whole universe by theory of evolution should in its course have occasioned much controversy. On one side extravagant claims were bound to be put forth in its behalf, combined with a misconception of its field. On the other a stubborn denial of its sufficiency as an explanation, even in the narrow sphere where it first made its appearance, was destined to confront it. This challenge, too, was the result of the misconception of it as an all-sufficient theory of the universe as distinguished from a law or method of the operation of a cause ulterior and superior to itself. The period of this warfare is now nearly, if not altogether, over. The task which remains to be accomplished is to recognize the bearings of theory on forms of thought arrived at apart from the light thrown on the world by itself.
Since such forms of thought are given in the Bible, certain problems arise which must be solved, if possible, in the light of evolution. These problems concern mainly the following topics:
(1) The belief in a personal God, such as the Christian Scriptures present as an object of revelation;
(2) The origin of the different species of living beings as portrayed in the Book of Genesis; (3) The particular origin of the human species (the descent (ascent) of man);
(4) The origin of morality and religion, and
(5) The essential doctrines of the Christian faith, such as supernatural revelation, the idea of sin, the person of Christ, regeneration and immortality. Beyond the answers to these primary questions, it will be neither possible nor profitable to enter within the brief compass of the present article.
The relation of creation to evolution has been already suggested in the introductory explanation of the nature of evolution. If creation be the act of bringing into existence material or substance which did not previously exist, evolution does not touch the problem. It has nothing to say of a First Cause. The idea of a first cause may be regarded as material for metaphysics or the ground of religious belief.
4. Evolution and Creation:
It may be speculated about, or it may be assumed by faith. The theory of evolution begins with matter or substance already in existence. A fairly representative statement of this aspect of it is illustrated by Huxley's dictum, "The whole world living and not living is the result of the mutual attraction according to definite laws of the powers possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the universe was composed" (Life of Darwin, II, 210). This statement leaves two things unaccounted for, namely, molecules in the form of a "primitive nebulosity" and "powers possessed by these molecules." How did primitive nebulosity come to exist? How did it come to be composed of molecules possessed of certain powers, and how did there come to be definite laws governing these molecules? The agnostic answers, "We do not know, we shall not know" (ignoramus, ignorabimus, DuBois-Reymond). The pantheist says, "They are the substance and attributes of the Ultimate Being." The theist posits "an uncaused Cause who is greater than they, and possesses all the potentialities exhibited in them, together with much more (therefore at least a personal being), has brought them into existence by the power of His will" (compare EPICUREANS).
Thus the believer in evolution may be an agnostic, a pantheist or a theist, according to his attitude toward, and answer to, the question of beginnings. He is an evolutionist because he believes in evolution as the method of the transformation of molecules under the control of the powers possessed by them. Conversely theist (and by implication the Christian) may be an evolutionist. As an evolutionist he may be thoroughgoing. He may accept evolution either as a working hypothesis or as a well-established generalization, even in the form in which it is defined by Herbert Spencer: the integration of matter out of an indefinite incoherent homogeneity into definite coherent heterogeneity with concomitant dissipation of energy. (For the exact definition in its full length, see First Principles, 367.) In this definition, as in every other form of it, evolution is the name of a process of transformation, not a theory of absolute causation or creation ex nihilo. The human mind may leave the problem of initial creation uninvestigated; it may assume that there is no problem by regarding matter and energy as uncaused and ultimate realities or phases of one reality; or it may trace these back to a First Cause which has at least the powers and characteristics perceptible in the universe and particularly in itself as mind (i.e. individuality, intelligence and freedom), or in other words, to a personal God. In any of these contingencies it may hold to theory of evolution.
5. Evolution and the Origin of Species:
Evolution is strongest in the realm of life. It is here that it first achieved its most signal conquests; and it is here that it was first antagonized most forcibly by the champions of religious faith. Here it proved irresistibly fascinating because it broke down the barriers supposed to exist between different species (whether minor or major) of life. It showed the unity and solidarity of the entire living universe with all its infinite variety. It reduced the life-process to one general law and movement. It traced back all present different forms, whether recognized as individuals, varieties, species, genera, families or kingdoms, to a single starting-point. In this realm the adjective "organic" has been prefixed to it, because the characteristic result is secured through organization. One of its most enthusiastic supporters defines it as "progressive change according to certain laws and by means of resident forces" (LeConte).
The proof for organic evolution is manifold. It cannot be given here at any length. Its main lines, however, may be indicated as follows:
(1) The existence of gradations of structure in living forms beginning with the simplest (the amoeba usually furnishes the best illustration) and reaching to some of the most complex organisms (the human body).
(2) The succession of living forms in time. This means that, according to the evidence furnished by geology, the simpler organisms appeared earlier on the face of the earth than the more complex, and that the progress of forms has been in general from the simpler to the more complex.
(3) The parallelism between the order thus discovered in the history of life upon earth and the order observed in the transformations of the embryo of the highest living forms from their first individual appearance to their full development.
(4) The existence of rudimentary members and organs in the higher forms.
The most striking of these proofs of evolution are the two commonly designated the paleontological and the ontogenetic. The first is based on the fact that in the strata of the earth the simpler forms have been deposited in the earlier, and the more complex in the later. This fact points to the growth in the history of the earth of the later, more complex forms of life, from earlier simpler ones. The second consists in the observation that each individual of complexly constructed species of organisms begins its life in the embryonic stage as the simplest of all living forms, a single cell (constituted in some cases out of parts of two preexisting cells). From this beginning it advances to its later stages of growth as an embryo, assuming successively the typical forms of higher organisms until it attains the full form of its own species, and thus begins its individual post-embryonic life. It thus recapitulates in its individual history the history of its species as read in the paleontological records. This consideration shows that whatever the truth may be as to the species as a whole (for instance of man), each individual of the species (each man) has been evolved in his prenatal life, if not exactly from definitely known and identifiable species (anthropoid individuals perfectly formed), at least from foetal organisms apparently of the same type as those of anthropoids.
But assuming organic evolution to be true upon these grounds, and upon others of the same character, equally convincing to the scientific man, it must not be left out of account that it is to be distinguished quite sharply from cosmic evolution. These two phases of the law are identical at their basis, but become very different in their application according to the nature of the field in which they operate. Cosmic evolution works altogether through reactions. These are invariable in their cause and effect. Given material elements and conditions, they always issue in the same results. Their operations are grouped together under the sciences of chemistry and physics. Organic evolution works through processes to which the term "vital" is applied. Whether these are identical with the chemico-physical processes in the ultimate analysis is an open question among scientists. In the field of purely descriptive science, however, which limits itself to the observation of facts, it can scarcely emerge as a question, since the true nature of vitality is beyond the reach of observation. And upon the whole, theory that there is an inner difference between vitality and physico-chemical attractions and affinities is supported by certain obvious considerations. But even if vitality should prove to be nothing more than a series of reactions of a chemical and physical nature, the type of evolution to which it yields is differentiated by broad characteristics that distinguish it from merely molecular attractions and affinities.
(1) Vital processes cannot be correlated with the chemico-physical ones. Heat, light, electricity, magnetism, gravitation, chemical affinity, are interchangeable and interchanged among themselves. But none of these can be converted into life as far as now known.
(2) All life is from preexisting life (omne vivum e vivo). Biogenesis still holds the field as far as experimental science has anything to say about it, and abiogenesis is at the most an attractive hypothesis.
(3) The vital processes overcome and reverse the chemical and physical ones. When a living organism is constituted, and as long as it subsists in life, it breaks up and reconstitutes forms of matter into new forms. Carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, in combination with other elements, are separated from one another and reunited in new combinations in the tissues of the plant and the animal. On the other hand, the moment the vital process ceases, the chemical and physical resume their course. The organism in which the vital process has been annihilated is immediately put under the operation of chemical affinities, and reduced into its first elements. So long as the vital process is on, there seems to be a ruling or directive principle modifying and counteracting the normal and natural course of the so-called chemical and physical forces.
(4) The vital process is characterized by the manifestation in matter of certain peculiarities that never show themselves apart from it. These are irritability, assimilation of non-living matter in the process of growth, differentiation or the power in each kind of living organism to develop in its growth regularly recurring characteristics, and
(5) reproduction. The result of the vital process is the tendency in the organic product of it to maintain itself as a unity, and become more and more diversified in the course of its life. These features of organic evolution make it necessary to account not only for the origin of the matter and the energy which are assumed in the cosmic form of evolution, but also for the origin and nature of the unknown something (or combination of things) which is called life in the organism, whether this be a unitary and distinct force or a group of forces. (It is interesting to notice the return to the notion of life as primal energy in the philosophy of Bergson (elan vital); compare Creative Evolution. The same view is advocated by Sir Oliver Lodge, Life and Matter.)
Furthermore, care must be taken not to confuse any special variety of evolutionary theory in the organic realm with the generic theory itself. Evolutionists hold and propound different hypotheses as to the application of the principle. The Lamarckian, the Darwinian, the Weismannian, the De Vriesian views of evolution are quite different from, and at certain points contradictory of, one another. They assume the law to be real and aim to explain subordinate features or specific applications of it as seen in certain given series of facts. They differ from one another in insisting on details which may be real or unreal without affecting the truth of the main law. Lamarckian evolution, for instance (revived recently under the name neo-Lamarckian), makes. much of the alleged transmissibility through heredity of acquired traits. Darwinian evolution is based largely on the principle of accidental variations worked over by natural selection and the slow insensible accumulation of traits fitting individuals to survive in the struggle for life. Weismannian evolution posits an astonishingly complex germinal starting-point. DeVriesian evolution is built on the sudden appearance of mutations ("sports") which are perpetuated, leading to new species. It is unscientific to array any of these against the other in the effort to undermine the generic theory of evolution, or to take their differences as indicating the collapse of theory and a return to the idea of creation by fiat. The differences between them are insignificant as compared with the gulf which separates them all from the conception of a separate creative beginning for each species at the first appearance of life upon earth. (On some differences between the primitive form of Darwinian and later theories of the same general type, see Rudolph Otto, in Naturalism and Religion (ET).)
With these limitations, the law of organic evolution may be taken into the Biblical account of creation as given in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. The question raised at once is one of the relation of the doctrine to the Biblical account. If the evolutionary conception is true, it naturally follows that the Biblical account cannot be accepted in its literal interpretation. For the one of these accounts pictures the different species and general types as coming into existence gradually out of preexisting ones, whereas the other (literally interpreted) represents them as created by a Divine fiat. This difference it is true may be artificially exaggerated. Nowhere does the Biblical account explicitly ascribe the creation of each species to the fiat of God. The word "created" (bara'), as used in Genesis, does not necessarily exclude pre-existing matter and form. On the other hand, expressions such as "Let the earth bring forth" (1:11 the King James Version) indicate a certain mediation of secondary powers in the elements ("resident forces," LeConte) through which organisms came into being. "After their kind" suggests the principle of heredity. "Abundantly" suggests the law of rapid and ample reproduction leading to the "struggle for life," "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest." But all efforts to harmonize Genesis with science upon this basis lead at the best to the negative conclusion that these two are so far different in their purpose and scope as not to involve radical contradiction. A positive agreement between them cannot be claimed.
The difficulty vanishes in its entirety when it is borne in mind that the two accounts are controlled by different interests, treat primarily of different matters and, where they appear to cover the same ground, do so each in an incidental way. This means that their statements outside of the sphere of their primary interests are popularly conceived and expressed, and cannot be set over against each other as rivals in scientific presentation. Upon this basis the Genesis account is the vehicle of religious instruction (not, however, an allegory); its cosmogonic accounts are not intended to be scientifically correct, but popularly adequate. For all that science is concerned, they may be traditional conceptions, handed down in the form of folklore, and purged of the grotesque, purely mythological element so apt to luxuriate in folklore. Between such accounts and the dicta of pure science, it would be absurd either to assume or to seek for harmony or discord. They are parallel pictures; in the one the foreground is occupied by the actual unfolding of the facts, the religious element is concealed deep by the figures in the foreground. In the other the background of haze and cloud is the domain of fact, the foreground of definite figures consists of the religious ideas and teachings. The evolutionary notion of the origin of living forms on the earth can thus in no way be assumed as in contradiction either to the letter or the spirit of the teaching of Gen.
6. The Descent (Ascent) of Man:
A still more important problem arises when the evolutionary theory touches the origin of man upon earth. Here, too, not simply the Biblical account of the creation of Adam and Eve, and their primitive life in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 2 is affected, but all that is said of man as a child of God, clothed with peculiar dignity and eternal worth. (1) The difference between the Biblical and evolutionary records of the creation of man may easily be resolved if the Biblical account (Genesis 2) is not viewed as a literal statement of actual occurrences, but as the vehicle of certain determinative thoughts designed to affiliate man in his proper relation to God. This means that what is essential in the Biblical account is that man as a distinctive and different being in the world came into existence as the result of a special act of will on the part of God, that he was created as the golden summit of the whole upward movement of life. He is not a mere creature of Nature, but the offspring of the Divine will, with power to know his Maker, to hold fellowship with Him and to carry in him the rational and moral image of the Creator of all. Against this view of the origin of man, evolutionary science has nothing to set over. It is concerned with the process through which the emergence of such a being as man was accomplished, and the time and circumstances in which it took place. These points it finds as it finds similar points affecting other living beings.
It would be easy of course to take materialistic forms of the evolutionary theory, such as that advocated by Haeckel, Guyeau, Ray Lankester, and establish an irreconcilable discord between them and the Biblical account; but such varieties of theory are distinguished, not by the occurrence of the idea of evolution in them, but rather by the materialistic metaphysics underlying them; when, for instance, Haeckel defines the notion of evolution by excluding from it intelligence or purpose, and by obliterating differences between the lower animal creation and man, he does so not as an evolutionist in science, but as a materialist (Monist of the materialistic type) in metaphysics. The moment the evolutionist determines to limit himself to the scientific side of his task, and the interpreter of the Biblical account to the religious side of his task, the assumed discord in Genesis 2 and the evolutionary theory totally vanishes.
(2) The more important point of contact between theory of evolution and the Biblical conception of man, however, is that of the notion of the dignity and worth of man. The very existence of a Bible is based on the idea that man is of some consequence to the Creator. And through the Bible this idea not only appears early (Genesis 1:26), "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," followed by the statement, "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," but is interwoven with every fundamental teaching.
It is contended that a representation like this is not compatible with the evolutionary conception of the origin of man from simian ancestors. The contention would be well supported if the evolutionary theory actually obliterated the line of distinction between man and the lower creation; and in any form of it in which such line is ignored, and man is regarded as a being of the same order (neither more or less) as those from which he sprang, it is not capable of being harmonized with the Biblical doctrine. But as a matter of fact, the whole drift and tendency of evolutionary thought ought to be and is the very opposite of belittling man. For according to it, man is the culmination and summit of a process whose very length and complexity simply demonstrate his worth and dignity as its final product. Accordingly, some of the most radical evolutionists, such as John Fiske (Through Nature to God) have extended and strengthened the argument for the immortality of man by an appeal to his evolutionary origin.
7. The Origin and Nature of Religion:
Kindred to the problem of the origin of man, and, in some aspects of it, a part of that problem, is the further problem of the origin and nature of religion. First of all, according to evolution, religion cannot be an exception to the general law of the emergence of the more complex from simpler antecedents. Accordingly, it must be supposed to have evolved from non-religious or pre-religious elements. But the very statement of the case in this form necessitates the clear conception of the idea of religion. If religion is the sense in the human soul of an infinite and eternal being, or beings, issuing in influences upon life, then it is coeval with man and inseparable from the human soul. There never was a time when man was not religious. The very emergence of this sense in the mind of a prehuman ancestor of man would change the brute into the man.
We may speak of the states of the prehuman brute's mind as "materials for the making of religion," but not as religion. Their transformation into religion is therefore just as unique as the creation of the man himself. Whatever the mental condition of the brute before the emergence of the sense of an eternal reality and the dependence of itself upon that reality, it was not a religious being. Whatever the form of this sense, and whatever its first content and results, after the emergence of man it became religion. What caused it to appear at that particular moment and stage in the course of the onward movement? This is a question of causes, and its answer eludes the search of science, both pure and philosophical, and if undertaken by pure philosophy, leads to the same diversity of hypotheses as has been found to control the solution of the problem of beginnings in general (Agnosticism, Pantheism, Theism).
For the rest, that the general features hold true in the field of religion is obvious at a glance. Religious thought, religious practices, religious institutions, have undergone the same type of changes as are observed in the material universe and in the realm of life.
8. The Moral Nature:
What is true of religion as an inner sense of a reality or realities transcending the outward world is equally, and even more clearly, true of the moral life which in one aspect of it is the outward counterpart of religion. To speak of the evolution of the conscience from non-ethical instincts is either to extend the meaning and character of the ethical into a region where they can have no possible significance, or to deny that something different has come into being when the sense of obligation, of duty, of virtue, and the idea of the supreme good have appeared.
In other particulars, the development of the moral nature of man, both in the individual and in the community, manifestly follows the process discerned in the material universe at large, and in the realm of organized life in particular. As an observed fact of history, the gradual growth of moral ideas and the mutual play of the inner controlling principle of the sense of oughtness ("the voice of God") and of social conditions and necessities, arising from the nature of man as a social being, are so manifest that they could neither be denied nor better explained in any other way than in accordance with the evolutionary view.
9. Christianity and Christian Doctrine:
But the rise of the evolutionary theory calls for a new consideration not only of the questions of the origin and nature of religion and morality, but also of that of the content of the Gospel.
(1) At the basis of Christianity lies the idea of revelation. The God whom Jesus presented to men is supremely concerned in men. He communicates to them His interest in and His wishes concerning them. This fact the followers of Jesus have in general called "revelation." Some have insisted and still do insist that such revelation must be supernatural. Setting aside the consideration that the term "supernatural" does not occur in Biblical phraseology, and that the notion is deduced by a process of interpretation which leaves a large flexibility to it, i.e. a possibility of conceiving it in a variety of ways, revelation itself is not necessarily bound up with any special method of the communication of the Divine will (compare REVELATION). Analogies drawn from human life furnish many different ways of making known to the minds of intelligent fellow-beings the thought of one's own mind. These include, first, the pragmatic resort to some act or attitude of a physical nature, as, for instance, the touch of the whip or the point of the spur on the horse; the flown or the smile for the higher class of understanding of the human type. Secondly, the linguistic, wherein by conventional, articulate, highly complex sounds, one tells in words what lies in his own consciousness. All such expression is necessarily partial, indirect and symbolic. Thirdly, the telepathic and mysterious method (whose reality some still doubt) by which communication takes place without the mediation of either language or action. The evolutionary view does not exclude the possibility of any of these methods conceived as ethical and psychological processes. It does exclude any and all of them if understood as magical or preternatural phenomena. There is nothing, however, in a proper interpretation of the facts of Christian revelation to force the magical interpretation of the coming of the Divine message.
On the contrary, there is everything in the gradual and progressive method of the formation of the Christian Scriptures to suggest that the law of evolution was not violated here. One of the latest writers in Scripture plainly represents the whole method of revelation from the Divine point of view as a cumulative delivery of knowledge in different and successive parts and aspects (Hebrews 1:1). Both at its inception and in the course of its history, the gospel shows conformity to this fundamental law.
(2) Evolution and incarnation: One of the strongest objections to the idea of an all-comprehensive generalization of the law of evolution has been said to be that such a law would destroy the uniqueness of the personality of Jesus Christ. This is, however, due to a confusion of thought.
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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
) The process of changing from one state to another; development; as, the evolution of a flower from a bud, or an animal from the egg.
2. (n.) A series of things unrolled or unfolded.
3. (n.) The formation of an involute by unwrapping a thread from a curve as an evolute.
4. (n.) The extraction of roots; -- the reverse of involution.
5. (n.) A prescribed movement of a body of troops, or a vessel or fleet; any movement designed to effect a new arrangement or disposition; a maneuver.
6. (n.) A general name for the history of the steps by which any living organism has acquired the morphological and physiological characters which distinguish it; a gradual unfolding of successive phases of growth or development.
7. (n.) That theory of generation which supposes the germ to preexist in the parent, and its parts to be developed, but not actually formed, by the procreative act; -- opposed to epigenesis.
8. (n.) That series of changes under natural law which involves continuous progress from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous in structure, and from the single and simple to the diverse and manifold in quality or function. The process is by some limited to organic beings; by others it is applied to the inorganic and the psychical. It is also applied to explain the existence and growth of institutions, manners, language, civilization, and every product of human activity. The agencies and laws of the process are variously explained by different philosophers.