Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3713

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Religious Aspects of the Doctrine of Development

By James McCosh (1874)

First published in P. Schaff & S. Prime (Eds.). History, essays, orations, and other documents of the sixth general conference of the Evangelical Alliance, held in New York, October 2-12, 1873, New York, pp. 269-271.
Reprinted in G. Daniels (Ed.) (1968). Darwinism comes to
America. Waltham, MA: Blaisdell, pp. 96-101.

Posted May 2004


All that science has demonstrated, all that theism has argued, of the order, of the final cause and benevolent purpose in the world is true, and can not be set aside. Every natural law -- mechanical, chemical, and vital -- is good. Every organ of the body, when free from disease, is good. There is certainly the most exquisite adaptation in the eye, however we may account for its formation, and for the numerous diseases which seize upon it. Agassiz has shown, by an induction of facts reaching over the whole history of the animal kingdom, that there is plan in the succession of organic life. "It has the correspondence of connected plan. It is just that kind of resemblance in the parts -- so much and no more--as always characterizes intellectual work proceeding from the same source. It has that freedom of manifestation, that independence, which characterizes the work of mind, as compared with the work of law. Sometimes in looking at the epos of organic life in its totality, carried on with such care and variety, and even playfulness of expression, one is reminded of the great conception of the poet or musician, where the undertone of the fundamental harmony is heard beneath all the diversity of rhythm or song."  All this is true, but all this is not all the truth.  What the older scientific men did not see -- what Newton did not see, as he looked to the perfect order of the heavens -- what Cuvier did not see, when he dwelt so fondly on the teleology seen in every part of the animal structure -- what Paley did not see, when he pointed out the design in every bone, in every joint and muscle -- what Chalmers did not see, when in his astronomical discourses he sought to reconcile the perfection of the heavens with the need of God's providing a Saviour for men -- has been forced on our notice, as naturalists have been searching into animal life, with its struggles and its sufferings. There is order in our world, but it is order subordinating conflicting powers. There is goodness -- but goodness overcoming evil. There is progression -- but progression like that of the ship on the ocean, amid winds and waves. There is the certainty of peace -- but after a battle and a victory. There may be seen everywhere an overruling power in bringing good out of evil; so that Schopenhauer, in noticing the evil, has noticed only a part, and this only a subordinate part of the whole -- and this to be ultimately swallowed up.


While they have seen the phenomenon, these men have not known what to make of it. It is useless to tell the younger naturalists that there is no truth in the doctrine of development, for they know that there is truth, which is not to be set aside by denunciation. Religious philosophers might be more profitably employed in showing them the religious aspects of the doctrine of development; and some would be grateful to any who would help them to keep their old faith in God and the Bible with their new faith in science. But we must at the same time point out the necessary limits of the doctrine, and rebuke those unwise because conceited men who, when they have made a few observations in one department of physical nature, being commonly profoundly ignorant of every other -- particularly of mental and moral science -- imagine that they call explain everything by the one law of evolution.  But there is a large and important body of facts which these hypotheses can not cover. Development implies an original matter with high endowments. Whence the original matter? It is acknowledged, by its most eminent expounder, that evolution can not account for the first appearance of life. Greatly to the disappointment of some of his followers, Darwin is obliged to postulate three or four germs of life created by God. To explain the continuance of life, he is obliged to call in a pangenesis, or universal life, which is just a vague phrase for that inexplicable thing life, and life is just a mode of God's action. Plants, the first life that appeared, have no sensation. How did sensation come in? Whence animal instinct? Whence affection -- the affection of a mother for her offspring, of a patriot for his country, of a Christian for his Saviour? Whence intelligence? Whence discernment of duty as imperative? It is felt by all students of mental science that Darwin is weak when he seeks to account for these high ideas and sentiments. Careful, as being so trained, in noticing the minutest peculiarities of plants and animals, and acquainted as he has made himself with the appetites and habits of animals, he seems utterly incapable of understanding man's higher capacities and noble aspirations -- of seeing how much is involved in consciousness, in personal identity, in necessary truth, in unbending rectitude; he explains them only by overlooking their essential peculiarities.  It is allowed that geology does not show an unbroken descent of the lower animals from the higher; on the contrary, it is ever coming to breaks, and, in the case of a number of tribes of the lower animals, the more highly organized forms appear first, and are followed by a degeneracy. It is acknowledged that in the historical ages we do not see such new endowments coming in by natural law -- the plant becoming animal, or the monkey becoming man. That matter should of itself develop into thought is a position which neither observation nor reason sanctions. Science gives no countenance to it. Common-sense turns away from it. Philosophy declares that this would be an effect without a cause adequate to produce it.


But these inquiries have brought us face to face with a remarkable body of facts. The known effects in the world -- the order, beauty, and beneficence -- point to the nature and character of their cause; and this not an unknown God, as Herbert Spencer maintains, but a known God. "The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." But in the very midst of the good there is evil: the good is shown in removing the evil, in relieving suffering, in solacing sorrow, and conquering sin. Evil, properly speaking, can not appear till there are animated beings, and as soon as sentient life appears there is pain, which is an evil. It does look as if in the midst of arrangements contrived with infinite skill there is some derangement. It may turn out that the Bible doctrine, so much ridiculed in the present day, of there being a Satan, an adversary, opposed to God and good, has a deep foundation in the nature of things, even as it has confirmation in our experience without and within us, where we find that when we would do good, evil is present with us.


... How curious, should it turn out that these scientific inquirers, so laboriously digging in the earth, have, all unknown to themselves, come upon the missing link which is partially to reconcile natural and revealed religion. Our English Titan is right when he says that at the basis of all phenomena we come to something unknown and unknowable. He would erect an altar to the unknown God, and Professor Huxley would have the worship paid there to be chiefly of the silent sort. But a Jew, born at Tarsus, no mean city in Greek philosophy, and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel -- but subdued, on the road to Damascus, by a greater teacher than any in Greece or Jewry -- told the men of Athens, who had erected an altar to the unknown God, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you." It does look as if later science had come in view of the darkness brooding on the face of the deep without knowing of the wind of the Spirit which is to dispel it, and divide the evil from the good, and issue in a spiritual creation, of which the first or natural creation was by a type.


We do not as yet see all things reconciled between these two sides -- the side of Scripture and the side of science. But we see enough to satisfy us that the two correspond. It is the same world, seen under different aspects. We see in both the most skillful arrangement; we are told in both of some derangement. Both reveal a known God; both bring us to an unknown source of evil. But with the sameness there is a difference. The relation is not one of identity, but of correspondence; like that of the earth to the concave sky by which it is canopied; like that of the movement of the dial on earth to that of the sun in heaven. On this side is a wail from the deepest heart of the sufferer; on that side there is consolation from the deepest heart of a comforter. On the one side is a cry like that of the young bird when it feels that it has wandered from its dam; and the other, a call like that of the mother bird, as you may hear her in the evening, to bring her wandering ones under her wings. You may notice on that side a bier, with a corpse laid out upon it of a youth, the only son of his mother, and she a widow; on that other side the same picture, but with one touching the bier, and the dead arises and is in the embraces of his mother. On this side you see a sepulchre, and all men in the end consigned to it, and none coming out of it; on the other side you see the great stone rolled away, and hear a voice, "He is not here; He is risen." The grand reconciliation is effected by that central figure standing in the middle of the ages, by Him who has "made peace through the blood of his cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven."