ONE truth was clear at every stage in the foregoing discussion. Every atom, every event, every soul in the universe is imbued with the immanent Presence—life is a constant sharing of divine power.
Whatever be the starting-point in our interpretation of experience, whether in some truth of the reason, some cherished insight of the inner life, or a fact in the outer world, there is no stopping-place short of the conclusion that God is the immanent Reality, the sufficient Ground of all existence. We may evade the point or deviate into agnosticism, by giving undue regard to the limitations of finite consciousness.
But our deepest nature is never satisfied until we attain a conception which meets the ultimate needs of thought.
To be sure, we found it necessary to distinguish between a logical argument for the ultimate Ground of things, and the thought of God as the object of religious consciousness. We discarded all formal attempts to prove that God exists, and rejected the popular argument from causation.
But this presented no difficulty, since we are not here so much concerned with the philosophical idea of Ground, with the idea of God as transcendent, as with the immanent relation between God and His world. The modern thought of nature and of human experience demands that relationship at every point, without regard to time or space.
Yet to find God in everything, is not to conclude that one finds only God. The experiences of the inner life are the severest tests. For if we are able to maintain the reverential attitude of sonship we may enter into the divine love with all joy, yet avoid the pitfalls of mysticism. Finally, we betray our real belief by what we do. To trust, to be profoundly faithful, is indeed to show that the divine immanence is a reality in our lives. By its fruits shall the degree of our love be known.
The adjustment of the inner life to the thought of God is thus the first great step in the present inquiry. The mere argument, the theory of the divine immanence, is secondary. The essential is the attitude we adopt, the effect upon conduct. Unless we make this profoundest of all adaptations, we cannot expect to enter into the fullness of the other two great relationships, the adjustment to nature and to man.
To regard nature, for example, in the light of the divine immanence is to take a vastly different view from that of ordinary thinking.
It is the custom, nowadays, to trace the immanent connections of things, to look back of each event to its immediate physical environment as its cause. This line of inquiry is doubtless in the right direction. But it is apt to stop short of the profoundest interests in human life. The ideal of mechanical science is to describe every event in terms of exactly measurable forces, and it is doubtless a convenient fiction to regard nature as an independent, self-operating mechanism.
Yet it is important to bear in mind the entire inadequacy of this working hypothesis. Above the realm of the mechanical there is the domain of the organic and the realm of the conscious. The mechanical principle is strained to the utmost to make it include the organic, and within certain limits it is no doubt applicable.
This partial success should not, however, blind us to the fact that there is a higher order of existence where all quantitative explanations fail, where thought must turn from the measurable to the qualitative, and from what merely is to what ought to be.
The aim of the present chapter is not to propound a complete theory of nature, but to make certain observations which bear on our interpretation of the inner life. From the point of view of ultimate values, the physical universe is not the total universe, but is the most objective, outer portion of the divine order. The highest type of reality is spiritual. The fundamental character or constitution of things is grounded in the intelligence, the being and love of God.
Only by reference to their fundamental environment may things be understood. Hence the visible world is not comprehensible alone. It is not even a system or unity of law-exemplifying forces, by itself. Nature possesses system through its relation to the total divine order. Hence it is the home of man in other than a merely physical sense, and it should be regarded in the light of all the ideals to which man’s earthly life contributes.
That which gives it its seemingly independent life is the aspiring Spirit which went forth from God into manifesting activity, and is mounting through all the levels of mechanical forces and organic life to the moral and spiritual plane.
The old-time thought of God as the creator of something out of nothing is still so strong that when one proposes to consider the world as a manifestation, the question arises, What is the purpose of this divine self-revelation? That the world reveals God is almost a truism. But the question is, Why does God thus reveal Himself?
The answer may be regarded as the simplest or the most difficult problem that can be asked in regard to the world of nature. It is easy to argue that God created the world according to “design.” The facts of nature everywhere suggest such an argument. But modern thought has little need of the notion of a designer. Theological arguments of that kind are quite out of fashion. If the universe has always existed in some form, there never was a beginning, hence no “creation” and hence no “design.”
The attempts to assign a purpose for creation have been rather puerile. Wiser men have been contented with the profound suggestion that the world came forth from the “fullness” of the divine nature. It was not due to any imperfection on His part that God created the world. He was not compelled to create it. But in His abounding love he freely sent Himself forth.
We may say, then, that the world reveals the nature of God—in so far as physical forms and evolutions can manifest Him. There seems no reason to allege that there ever was a time when God did not reveal Himself in objective form. The world as a system is of a certain character because God is of a certain nature. The world exists, that is the chief fact. Granted the world, we may if we please say that its purpose is to reveal the being of God in objective form.
The world as a fact is one thing, the world as said to exemplify values is another. What values the divine Father may see in it, only the Father can tell. The values you and I find in it depend upon the state of development we have attained, the theory of life we hold. It would be absurd for any man to insist that his scheme of values exhausts the purposes of life.
The question of purposes, then, is subordinate to the question of character. What is the nature of the world? What are its laws? How is it constituted as a whole? What has been its history? What seem to be its tendencies? Such questions immediately resolve themselves into innumerable inquiries in regard to different aspects of nature, and it is the province of the special sciences to answer these questions. What most concerns us is the character of human existence in the natural world.
Here again the inquiry divides and subdivides.
It matters greatly where we chanced to be born, what our racial interests are. It is remarkable what a chaos of values, what confused notions exist in regard to man’s place in nature. It is obviously of far greater consequence to determine the general nature of the conditions and laws of physical existence, and leave the problem of particular values for later consideration.
It was once customary to contrast the realm of nature with “the realm of grace,” to the entire disparagement of man’s natural life. Then came the reaction against the supernatural, and nowadays the reaction has gone so far that the tendency is to overlook the values and realities that are more than natural.
A more rational philosophy would doubtless see ends in nature considered as if nature were independent, and lines of development which have a natural beginning but reach far into the invisible.
It is convenient, for example, to speak of the conservation of natural energy while we are not attempting to state what that energy is or what end it subserves. As a relative end in itself, nature possesses a beauty, a worth which needs no ulterior sanction. Many ideals of a mechanical and organic character doubtless reach perfection in nature. As the home of physical man, as the embodied expression of mental and social life, nature is relatively complete.
The ephemeral, temporal ends attained in animal life are surely of real and almost independent worth.
Quite apart from all the woes and calamities which constitute nature’s darker history there is much to be said about these subordinate ends, and nature is far from existing for man’s sake alone. The naturalism, the poetry and mythologies which recognise these earthly beauties are permanent possessions of human literature.
Among many other things, nature makes for variety, endurance, strength, and health as physical ends of priceless value. The fact that man has made miserable use of his opportunities should not be emphasised at the expense of the profound thought of what man might have been, of what he may yet be. It is as unfair to charge nature with human woes as to disparage her because of her subordinate position.
A vast amount of subjectivism must be brushed away before we shall really begin to see nature as she is. From the days of the crudest polytheism and animism to the days of orthodox salvation schemes the tendency has been to read speculative notions into nature. Even now there are those who insist that the physical cosmos is far less orderly than modern science claims.
The first essential, then, is to recognise that as part of the self-revelation of God nature possesses a character quite independent of the thought and conduct of men. To understand that character we should look, not to human speculation and subjectivity, but to nature regarded as it exists for all and as grounded in the being of God. It is to the lasting credit of modern science that it is making the most persistent effort to differentiate between nature and human prejudice.
The second need is to regard nature in such ways that we shall see its place in human experience, side by side with the inner life. In short, it is as important to give nature its due with respect to our spiritual life as to avoid the mystic identification of nature with God. Whatever its ultimate reality and worth, and however incomplete our natural existence may be, nature is in relation to man a world of matter, of things and forces which exist independently of his mere thinking about them.
Furthermore, the relation of God to matter is in a sense as intimate and direct as His relation to the human soul. We cannot deny the existence of matter. To make such a denial would be to assert the non-existence of a part of the character and purpose of God, as well as of the world of all that we physically experience. Yea, to deny it is blasphemy.
It is true, the world of matter which you and I perceive may have no objective existence precisely as we perceive it. Science tells me that certain ether waves impinge on my retina, and form an image, which in turn is translated into an idea, and interpreted according to my education.
Certain other rays indirectly produce perceptions in your mind, and are interpreted according to your conceptions. The external object may be the same in both cases; but the conceptions which represent it may be quite different. I never see exactly the same object which you contemplate, nor do we as minds actually see the object at all, since we know the object by means of ideas.
We are unable even to dissociate the actual sensation and the perception based on a lifetime of experience and thought by which we interpret it. Nor do we hear the same sound, perceive the same colours, or smell the same odours. But the existence of something real which causes the sensations no one can seriously question.
Even an uninterpreted sensation makes us partially aware of something not ourselves. We may be scientifically aware that the sensation is in and not outside of our minds, and that we interpret it through ideas; but the object that produces the sensation is not necessarily an idea. When the hand encounters a masonry wall, we are sure of the existence of an external force which meets and effectually withstands all the pressure we are able to exert.
Despite the fact that the ultimate character of nature is not discoverable by physical science, nature proves to be a relatively uniform system everywhere exemplifying the same laws and forces. Nature is not a collection of fragments, of warring atoms, but possesses a certain order, harmony.
The forces which we ordinarily speak of as distinct, such as heat, light, electricity, are transformable into one another. One force in varying modes of motion is the underlying physical principle. That force can neither be physically created nor destroyed, but is constantly conserved.
Some scientific men have been inclined to describe the uniformity of nature as atomic, that is, the order thus far attained by nature is attributed to the systematic arrangement of atoms, an arrangement which came about through fortuitous play and impact.
This view dates back to Leucippus and Democritus, and it was long the prevailing hypothesis of those who fought the notion of “design” in nature and contended for a mechanical, quantitative explanation of things.
The mechanical theory has by no means been abandoned. But it seems more and more improbable that atoms are the ultimate elements of all being. Recent discoveries have pointed to the conclusion that radiant energy in various forms is the primal physical force of all that we denominate “substance,” “elements,” and the like.
It may be that modes of motion in the ether are the final activities with which physical science has to deal. Such activities may still be describable in quantitative terms. The more simple, relatively independent the description of nature becomes, the more serviceable will be such description alike for the physical scientist and for the philosopher.
The attempt to carry the mechanical hypothesis as far and as high as possible is not to be deplored but to be welcomed. It is the physical scientist who is alone able to develop the great idea of the uniformity of nature, for it is he alone who possesses the essential facts. It is only a question of secondary details. The conception of uniformity is now well-established.
If the secondary details and the discoveries of new elements point to a higher conception than the purely mechanical theory, the physical scientist will be the first to acknowledge it.
As a matter of fact, it is one of the profoundest achievements of nineteenth-century science that it has gradually passed beyond the merely mechanical theory which had such vogue after the great discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. Popular thinking has scarcely risen as yet to the modern biological point of view.
We are still inclined to think and speak of matter as “inert” or “dead.” Science shows us that it is nowhere inert, not even in the great rock foundations of our earth. Physical death is only a state of transition to another form of life. It is life that is fundamental, not what is popularly called a “thing,” or “substance.” The word ‘’substance” is ordinarily applied as if each table, house, rock, were a thing by itself, a permanent entity, or unitary mass.
But science points out that there are everywhere mutations of life, even in the apparently most solid body. The term “matter” is simply a general expression for relatively mobile forms of life in various grades from the seemingly lifeless granite through less compact forms, solids, liquids, gases, and the attenuated nerve tissues which approach the nature of mind.
Furthermore, a single substance—for instance, water—passes successively through three states, as a solid, as liquid, and as vapour, the integration and disintegration of matter in various forms being one of the most striking phenomena of material life. Even the earth’s atmosphere has been reduced to liquid and solid forms.
The chemical process called combustion is capable of liberating in an incredibly short space of time all the solid materials of a vast building, and transforming them into invisible gases, leaving only a heap of ashes to attest the ruin.
Nothing is stable in material form, nothing can resist the subtle, invisible activities of the one force, interpenetrating the seemingly immutable forms of matter, setting the particles into rapid vibration, or causing them to appear in ever-varying combinations.
Nature is not only the theatre of laws and forces, but is, figuratively speaking, a live organism. That is, the term “organism,” as inadequate as it is, suggests an aspect of nature which the word “mechanism” fails to exemplify. Of this great throbbing thing of life physical man is a part, so closely related to it that he seems to be the central figure whose existence was prophesied from the very dawn of being.
To make this relationship clear, think for a moment what this great natural existence means. In an organism no part is complete in itself, but supplements and depends on all the other parts. No part can in itself be perfect, since it would then be a separate organism. The cog-wheel may be a truly wonderful contrivance; yet it is useless unless it exactly fits into some machine which is incomplete without it.
The musical note, however pure, has no meaning for us unless it is sounded in unison with others.
The same is true of man. He cannot live in isolation. He is not good alone. He must have a particular gift or occupation, in order that perfection may be attained by the whole. He is a dependent being, and in turn contributes his little share of benefit. Countless ages elapsed before he could exist at all, and every one of the innumerable hosts that preceded him lived and struggled that he might be born.
From those who labour day by day come the food, the clothing, and the homes which make continued life possible. Numberless thousands of minds have thought out and formulated that which today constitutes our knowledge of art, science, history, literature, and philosophy; and the largest contribution to our knowledge made by a single mind seems wonderfully small, our own original thought infinitesimally smaller.
Each of these incidental forces in the worlds of nature, of society and thought, about which we think so rarely, contributes its share to the shifting series of experiences called life, each plays its part in the great organism.
The most important fact remains. This beautifully organised thing of life, with its wonderful law-governed parts and its co-operation of beings and things, was not made suddenly or out of hand. It has grown out of that which has probably existed eternally.
Slowly, as the seed matures in the ground and prepares the way for the bursting bud and the blooming plant, everything in nature, so far as we know, from the raising of continents to the development of man, has taken place and reached its present condition by insensible degrees.
Today is the product of yesterday, and yesterday of the day before, and so on indefinitely. Each cause is the effect of another cause more remote. The life of the tree comes from the sun millions of miles away, but it comes through something. Its energy is stored in the organic and inorganic materials immediately surrounding the tree, and through the heat and light transformed from the solar rays by the earth’s atmosphere.
The immediate environment, ancestry, and experience give rise to all living things; and all life finds its origin in a single environment. Evolution is the only law yet discovered which in any way accounts for the origin of our world in its present form. When one pauses to consider what this law is as a universal principle, it becomes evident that there could be no other.
Yet it is easy to misunderstand this principle. To many, evolution simply means the derivation of man from some lost ancestor, a belief which generally arouses a feeling of repugnance; for it means that the existence of God is not necessary under this theory, and one naturally lays it aside as irreligious.
Yet evolution would be of little significance if it were not a universal law, as well exemplified in the growth of the tree as in the development of new species or of a planet from a mass of nebula. It would have no ultimate meaning unless it proved the presence of God at every step in the great world process.
In the foregoing chapter we have seen that the whole problem is simplified by the knowledge that all life is immanent, that the activity of beings and things is due to the Power resident in that which lives and grows. If God is immanent in one portion of the universe, He must be immanent in all.
If He gives rise to a world and its people, He must be with the world in order for it to endure. This much is clear: it only remains to discover, as far as possible, the series or gradations of power and substance whereby Spirit makes itself known to and revealed as the lowest forms of being, and to note the successive stages through which all beings pass in their upward growth.
This latter task is the work of natural science; and year by year her workers are collecting evidence, classifying facts, inquiring into the causes of variation, the influence of environment, the effect of use and disuse, the transmission of acquired variations, and all other problems connected with development; howbeit there is still great diversity of opinion on all these points.
Every fact makes our knowledge of the immanent God more concrete. Every datum supplies a link in the series of causes and effects. Every factor plays its part. Every step bears some relation to its antecedent and its consequent. And all facts, all forces, all events, are related to the entire universe.
One need only observe the social and political changes going on today, class contending with class and party with party, in order to discover every aspect of this universal principle. We forget this law sometimes, and undertake to force events, we endeavour to convince ourselves that there is a royal road to success; but we soon discover that we can omit no steps.
The seed planted in the ground, like the new idea sown in a wilderness of conflicting opinion, contains an indwelling principle of life, which causes it to develop in a certain way. It grows and absorbs nutriment from the sunlight, it matures slowly, it is dependent solely on what it has within and what closely surrounds it. Its growth may be hastened within certain limits, but only by introducing a new factor.
The plant which it becomes in due time is a type of the results of all physical evolution. It is growth, not by creation out of nothing, but through the transformation of that which already exists into something different. Its growth is due to the interaction of part on part. Its transmutation into another species can only result through modification, the introduction into its life of some new element.
The new element once introduced, whether in the organic or the inorganic worlds, in society, in politics, in religion, a change is sure to result.
But we have the best evidence in our own lives; and the chief problem, laying aside all discussion of particular theories of evolution, is to discover the actual course of events in daily experience, to learn how far we have gone in the upbuilding of character, how to aspire and co-operate with the immanent activities of our being.
We have an excellent example of what evolution means in the growth of ideas. We are born with a set of opinions on matters of politics, religion, and the like. There is a strong tendency toward conservatism; and we are for a time inclined to think like our parents, and even to cherish and defend the dogmas which have come down to us.
But with each experience, each new book, each new acquaintance with the world and with people, which makes an impression on us, a new factor enters into our thought; and the only way to avoid progress is to avoid contact with progressive people.
So well is this understood by certain leaders of thought that they forbid their followers to read outside of established lines; for they know that, if people think, they will change. Ideas have a resident, a stimulating life, especially when they come fresh from the minds of those to whom the world’s mental progress is due. They speak to us in books. They compel our assent through reason and through people.
And, once sown in the mind, they work a wonderful transformation, until they burst forth with all the power of firm conviction.
Yet the transition is ever gradual and law-governed, like the growth of the tree. No idea is established without controversy. We turn it over, weigh it, and view it in all its aspects, just as new social and political institutions grow out of controversy and long experience. The power of conviction comes only when the last objection has been met. We are involuntarily as moderate and painstaking as Nature herself.
If perchance we forget the natural method, and jump at conclusions, we discover no way of making them sure but to go back and supply all the steps. If an idea appeals to us at once, it is because thought and experience have already prepared the way for its acceptance. We cannot force a full-grown idea into the mind of another any more than nature can be interfered with from without.
We are compelled to seek a starting-point, to discover some idea already existing in the mind of the other person, and lead on gradually from the known to the unknown. Nor can we create a new philosophy or originate any idea which has no basis in experience. Whether we will or no, we must take cognisance of universal human knowledge, and develop our thought from that. Psychology shows that even the wildest and most absurd fancies of the imagination are in some way products of experience.
Our rational self challenges us to find any method of growth and change except that of patient evolution, the great world-wide process of “continuous progressive change, according to unvarying laws, and by means of resident forces.” The process once called “creation” is as long as time itself, as wide as the universe. It is going on today. It will never cease until its great task is completed. It is thorough, painstaking, gradual, and sure.
It is economical, careful, and direct, making use of every incident, every possible factor, every so-called chance, so that in human life joy, sorrow, hardship, success, heredity, disposition, environment, education, society, and thought, are called into use; and all these factors have a bearing on the result. “The ideal is immanent in the real.”
The aspiring force speaks through the slightest incident of experience. The omnipresent Spirit aspires through, cooperates with, and seeks co-operation from the individual soul to whom it is ever trying to make itself known. God is immanent in evolution.
In order to make this intimate relationship of God and His world of manifestation clear and vivid, let us try for a moment to conceive the long series of forces and substances, interpenetrating and blending with each other, and descending from the central Love down through the various levels of manifestation to the physical and chemical forces and all the volatile substances to the liquids, solids, and finally to the hard rock.
Or, starting with the nebulous mass out of which our universe is said to have developed, let us pass imaginatively upward through the vast cycles of cosmic time, the thought of which adds depth and meaning to the conception of God. Good visualisers will probably call up some mental picture which suggests these vast stretches of time.
Out of the gradually cooling mass which at length takes shape as our earth they will imaginatively see the dawn of life, and the moderate, patient, purposeful transition from the inorganic to the organic kingdom, the long periods in which one form of animal life succeeded and won supremacy over another, the change from the rank vegetation of the carboniferous period to the graceful forms of today, the raising of continents and mountains, the retreat of the great ice-sheets which once covered large portions of the northern hemisphere, and the dim outlines of that far-distant society, the herding together of men, out of which grew modern civilisation.
Thus we come at last to the dawn of human history. The epochs of the past unfold before us with new meaning. We note how period has grown out of period, event out of event. Thought becomes overpowered by the vastness and complexity of civilised life in its endless phases, its manifold contributions to the arts and sciences.
The great truths of religion and philosophy, the great souls of history, claim our attention at last; and thus the thought turns once more to the Supreme Reality whose ideals are the goals of this long evolution.
One’s personal thought is lost in contemplation of the Universal. One is momentarily lifted above the present, above the world of human life, into the life of worlds, of the universe—yes, the very life of God, of which one seems to contemplate but one of its infinite phases.
One feels that the human self is intimately related to this great Life. One communes with the Essence itself, the Spirit, the protecting Love. Matter seems like a mere symbol as compared with the worth of this ideal vision. The Life which manifested itself so long ago in the primeval history of the earth returns to consciousness in man, and recognises through him its own transcendent source. The soul knows the great unity henceforth, whatever phase of it is contemplated.
It habitually turns from the universe to God and from God to His great world of manifestation.
The essential thought for our present purposes is the idea of nature as grounded in the divine order. To adjust ourselves to nature we must first consider what nature is and how it is made known. Popular notions prove to be more materialistic than scientific conceptions, for science corrects the assumption that matter is a substance by itself, inert or dead, amidst a collection of utterly different forces; and develops instead the idea of nature as living, uniform, organic.
The account thus given is carried up to the point of sensation in man, yes, farther than that, for psychology as a natural science inquires into mental life in so far as it is found in close relation with the body. The mechanical explanation of things is carried as far as possible, then gives place to the biological. Biology is still more or less subservient to the mechanical theory.
But a point is reached where the most important problems concerning life and mind are handed over to a higher science. Idealistic philosophy takes up the problems of nature where the special sciences leave them, critically examines all the presuppositions, and turns to the consideration of the far larger system which includes both nature and mind. Thus it is profound knowledge of the inner life that enables man truly to equip himself to adjust his life to nature.
The inquiry which begins at the threshold of sensation reveals a new world.