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REASON AND REVELATION.
The ever-increasing evidence of a unity of method in creation invites theology to take a far more positive position with regard to the congruity of natural and revealed religion, as related to the human reason, than was once required, or even perhaps possible. The argument of Butler's “ Analogy,” for instance, profound though it be, is cast mainly in a negative form. Framed to parry objections, it attempted little more than to prove that it is as reasonable to believe in revealed religion as in natural, because there are no difficulties in the one that have not their counterparts in the other. Not only did the author of this most important treatise avoid the position that the arrangements of nature supply positive data for inferring the probable methods and proportions of a subsequent revelation, but he even made the opposite assumption his strong point. It is reasonable, he argues, for us to postulate a revelation supplementary to that of nature, but “we are in no sort judges by what methods and in what proportion it were to be expected that the supernatural light and instruction would be afforded us.”] Notwithstanding, he seems to say, God's manifestation of himself in nature, we occupy the same position with regard to the later revelation that we should have occupied, previous to experience, with regard to the earlier, with this exception: experience obliges us to look for as many apparent anomalies in the one as in the other. The “ Analogy,” therefore, while it constantly suggests and supplies the materials for a positive position, bases its main argument upon man's ignorance.
It seems to me not irreverent to attempt something more affirmative than this, and not unreasonable to believe that the great Educator of the race intends us to achieve it. Therefore, as in a
1 Analogy, part II., chap. iii. Copyright, 1886, by HOUGHTON, MIVELIN & Co.
former article I argued that Christianity, as miraculous, is not contrary to the order of nature as evolutional, so now I shall endeavor to show that, as a written revelation, it is congenial to that same order, and is thus approved as part of it.
How, then, let us ask, does the problem of a written revelation look from the standpoint of a natural religion built upon evolution? A natural religion, built upon evolution, would necessarily take its stand upon the principle of unity in deity corresponding to a recognized unity of method. It would also give us a God who is moving toward an end through the progressive elaboration and perfection of his works. What that end may be, we have to conjecture from what seems to be the latest and highest result attained. We therefore postulate the perfection of rational mind as the goal toward which all things tend.
Evolution further teaches that, from the beginning, this universal process has been that which in the sphere of mind we call educational. It is a process of drawing out and developing. It is the evolution of latent powers bestowed, through response, to an eliciting and stimulating environment. As a human instructor seeks to attain the ends of education by awakening activity in his pupils, so evolution permits us to recognize the Creator, from the beginning, even until now, following the plan of “making things make themselves.” It further discloses to us the fact that the creature is not left alone in this process, but that the Author and Sustainer of all things works with him. There is everywhere a coöperation supplementing, guiding, and making effective the more or less unintelligent efforts of the creature.
Tracing this process into the history of our race, we see, further, that the human reason, using the word in its widest sense, is the organ as well as the apparent end of it. While developing intellectually, morally, æsthetically, religiously, it has from the beginning been an efficient factor in its own evolution. It, like all other things, has been made to make itself. And, as it is said of the divine reason, the Abyos, that “ without Him was not anything made that was made," so, in a subordinate and dependent sphere, we may say of the human reason, “ without it has not anything been made that is made.” Through its activities and efforts in response to environment the Divine Intelligence has brought to pass all that has been achieved in the progress of man. In looking forward, therefore, to that which may be reasonably expected to take place in the future, we must assume, as the most probable of all things, that this factor, which is at the same time the end of evolution, will continue to hold the place it has always held.
There are, indeed, good grounds for believing that additional data, originating outside the human reason, will be given it to work upon, because it has in the past been furnished with such data, both in the original revelation of man to himself as a selfconscious, moral being, and, subsequently, through the moral and intellectual leaders of the race. But while this is highly probable, there is a stronger probability, bordering upon certainty, that no revelation will come to it in such a form as to involve a radical change of its relation to environment. The new elements furnished will be of the nature of materials for it to work upon, and of stimuli to draw out its powers. They will not be of such a nature as to bring to an abrupt close its career in the working-out of its own destiny. I say that this probability would border on certainty ; first, because the fundamental characteristic of the God of a religion, the outgrowth of evolution, would be constancy, — a constancy exhibiting itself not only in the progressive nature of the ends for which he works, but equally in the general method by which he approaches them; and, secondly, because there is in nature a law of degeneration as well as a law of increase. Every faculty not used is doomed by this law to atrophy and final extinction.
As I look through the history of creation the operation of this principle is everywhere manifest. It declares itself in plant-life. It is in no respect relaxed when we pass on to study the conditions of animal prosperity. With the advent of the self-conscious human soul great modifications are introduced, but there is no weakening of this law. On the contrary, I have to recognize the fact that the more highly elaborated any product becomes the more closely does it seem to be followed and threatened by this tendency to reversion and degeneration. I see, moreover, that elaboration everywhere means conflict. It means that life becomes more intense, and that a continually increased pressure is brought to bear on the organism from conflicting influences. As it ascends in the scale of being there is a far greater elasticity in both directions. Development is more easily stimulated. The results of it are more easily lost. The human reason is a many-sided thing. It is powerfully drawn in many directions. Its normal development depends upon the preservation of a balanced activity in its moral, its intellectual, its emotional, and its practical aptitudes. It is far more difficult for it to sustain a healthful activity in some departments than in others. The one in which it is most likely to suffer, and in which neglect is most disastrous, is that of the moral and spiritual life.
And further, my belief with regard to the future of the human reason is confirmed when I reflect on the emphasis which the developed moral sense of the race puts upon its achievements. How can we account for the feeling that there is an inherent nobleness in the quest of truth, as such ? The practical judgment can easily justify effort and sacrifice for the attainment of knowledge that can be made serviceable on the plane of life already occupied. But when it encounters the sentiment expressed in such current phrases as " loyalty to truth,” “ truth for its own sake," “ truth at all costs,” it is at a loss to explain the springing and unequivocal response which the moral sense makes to this sentiment. From the practical standpoint such expressions embody the most dangerous of all tendencies. They lead to perpetual disturbance. They are disintegrating, revolutionary ; they make the career of the human race that of the rolling stone. But, face to face with this arraignment, the conscience is firm and uncompromising in its position. I therefore conclude that this has to do with the prosperity of the soul itself; and that the unerring instinct which urges it on has its rational ground in the underlying consciousness that its normal development is of far more worth than any other end that can be presented as an incentive to effort.
Inquiring into the past career of this instinct, I find nothing that would lead me to condemn it as an abnormal development. For although it has always worked disturbance, any view of history, except the narrowest, declares that disturbance has been an inseparable concomitant of progress. It has caused great inconvenience, great suffering, much conflict, but it has also been the source of all that is highest and best in human society.
Therefore, in looking for a further revelation from the same Creative Intelligence that made the human mind, I must anticipate that it will be adjusted to this high but mysterious instinct of the soul ; and that whatever truth is bestowed will be given in something the same proportions as the revelation given in nature. There will be the communication of certain great ultimate facts that will stand out with clearness. But, although clear, they will not be readily harmonized. They will, like the general impressions which all men receive from nature, afford a basis for action. But they will also, like these, embody an element of contradiction, because it is by means of this element that the reason is stimulated and led on to its conquest of truth. Again, I anticipate that the great ultimate facts of the later revelation, like the general impressions derived from nature, and, like the data of thought that underlie them, will be surrounded by an environment of a various and heterogeneous character, – aspects of truth, which, when rightly used, will contribute to the elucidation of problems arising from the new facts communicated.
But now it is time to inquire, How does this assumption of antecedent probabilities, derived from an evolutional standpoint, correspond with that which Christendom holds to be a revelation from God? Clearly, it does not agree with some of the conceptions of Christianity which have been made prominent. It does not agree with that representation which makes it the deliverance of truth in the form of a fully elaborated product ready to be assimilated without effort. Nor with that conception which regards it as an instrument for the subjugation or suppression of human reason. It is diametrically opposed to an assumed revelation that substitutes itself through the medium of a book or of the living voice for the reason and progressive moral sense. Therefore, if any one of these ideas truly represents the Christian revelation, there is a difference between evolution and Christianity that cannot be reconciled. Christianity is the antithesis of evolution.
But these conceptions may be false. They have been protested against by some in every age of the church. If evolution is true we should anticipate that errors would come in, — that the historic development of Christianity in response to a hostile environment would give rise to many specialized forms of thought not destined to survive, though serving a temporary purpose. History helps us to trace the rise and growth of many such conceptions, and to measure the influence that environment has had in producing them. Our knowledge of the human spirit and of its reluctance to respond to the highest incentives permits us further to conjecture the origin of some of these forms. And since in us the principle of natural selection has been supplemented by rational intelligent selection, it is our duty to challenge with criticism every doubtful phase of Christianity that comes to us as the result of a long historic development.
What, then, has been the origin of that general conception of the Christian revelation which makes it the contradiction of the method of nature ? First, as to the sacred Scriptures, — are they responsible for it? I shall hope to show that they are, on the contrary, the true continuation of the method of nature, that they are adjusted to the constitution of the soul on the same principles, and that the same proportions which exist in the natural revelation