1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Problems Solved by Evolution. Evolution, Creation and Emanation.

(Part 5)


Problems solved by Evolution.—The hypothesis of evolution aims at answering a number of questions respecting the becoming or genesis of things. Of these the first is the problems of explaining change, that is to say, of accounting for that incessant process of transformation which the world manifests. The form which this question has commonly taken is, "What is motion, and how does it arise?" The second inquiry relates to the factor of intelligible order in the world, to the existence of general classes of things, including minds, of universal laws, and finally to that appearance of a rational end towards which things tend. Thirdly, it is necessary to account for the origin of organic beings which appears to be subordinated to different principles from those which control inorganic bodies. Lastly, we have the apparent mystery of a genesis of conscious minds in dependence on physical bodies. These are the principal inquiries which the various theories of evolution aim more or less completely at answering. As a subordinate question, we may mention the meaning of human history, and its relation to physical processes.

Evolution, Creation, and Emanation.—In seeking to answer these questions, the hypothesis of an evolution of the cosmos with all that it contains competes, in part at least, with two other principal doctrines respecting the origin of the world. These are the theory of direct creation by a personal Deity and that of emanation.

It is clear that the doctrine of evolution is directly antagonistic to that of creation. Just as the biological doctrine of the transmutation of species is opposed to that of special creations, so the idea of evolution as applied to the formation of the world as a whole, is opposed to that of a direct creative volition. It substitutes within the ground which it covers the idea of a natural and necessary process for that of an arbitrary volitional process.

The theory of a personal creator answers the questions enumerated above by referring the form of the world to an act of direct creation .as an extreme doctrine, it views matter as well as form as the product of divine volition; in a modified form, it conceives the deity as simply fashioning the uncreated material of the world; and in a still more restricted form, it regards the universal laws or forms which are impressed on things as co-eternal with the deity. Advancing knowledge has gradually limited the sphere of direct creative activity, by referring the present order of the world to the action of the secondary causes.

Hence this theory only now completes with the hypothesis of evolution at one or two points, more especially the production of living forms, the origin of human mind, and the nature of history,-- which last is conceived as somehow controlled by divine action in the shape of providence. The question how far the doctrine of evolution, in its most extended and elaborate form, absolutely excludes the idea of creative activity need not be dwelt on here. It is sufficient to say that the theory of evolution, by assuming an intelligible and adequate principle of change, simple eliminates the notion of creation from those regions of existence to which it is applied.

The doctrine of emanation, which had its origin in the east, and was developed by the Neoplatonists, Gnostics, and cabalists, is a philosophic transformation of the idea of an original creation of the world. It regards the world as a product of the divine nature, and so far it is a theory of creation. On the other hand, it conceives of this production as necessary, and analogous rather to a physical than to a moral action. In this respect it agrees with the doctrine of evolution. It further coincides with this doctrine in the recognition of a scale of existence. It differs from this last inasmuch as it reverses the order of evolution, by making the original stage the most perfect and all later stages a succession of degradation. In one respect, the theory of emanation has a curious relation to that of evolution. As we have seen, the process of evolution is from the indeterminate to the determinate. This is often expressed as a progress from the universal to the particular. Thus the primordial matter assumed by the early Greek physicists may be said to the universal substance out of which particular things arise. The doctrine of emanation again regards the world as a process of particularization. Yet the resemblance here is more apparent than real. The universal is, as Mr. Spencer remark, a subjective idea; and the general forms, existing ante res, which play so prominent a part in Greek and mediaeval philosophy, do not in the least correspond to the homogeneous matter of the physical evolutionists. The one process is a logical operation, the other a physical. The theory of emanation, which had its source in certain moral and religious ideas, aims first of all at explaining the origin of metal or spiritual existence as an effluence from the divine and absolute spirit. In the next place, it seeks to account for the general laws of the world, for the universal forms of existence, as ideas which emanate from the deity. By some it was developed into a complete philosophy of the world, in which matter itself is viewed as the lowest emanation from the absolute. In this form it stands in sharp antithesis to the doctrine of evolution, both because the former views the world of particular thing and events as essentially unreal and illusory; and because the latter, so far as it goes, looks on matter as eternal, and seek to explain the general forms of things as we perceive them by help of simpler assumption. In certain theories knows as doctrines of emanation, only mental existence is referred to the absolute source, while matter is viewed as eternal and distinct from divine nature. In this form the doctrine of emanation approaches, as we shall see, certain forms of the evolution theory.

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