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CREATION AND EVOLUTION.
In the course of the foregoing chapters we seem to have arrived at a definite result, a result which, if established, will itself constitute only a fresh beginning. We have reached the conclusion that the ancient hope of man in the possibility of a Divine knowledge is not a superannuated hope, not a belief which has been outgrown by the progress of modern research and the advance of modern civilisation. We have found that, so far from being destroyed by the spirit of Agnosticism, it has recognised in the spirit of Agnosticism a real, though an unconscious, ally. We have seen that the beginning of man's knowledge of God is just the sense of his ignorance of God, that his first recognition of a world which transcends his own is reached in the perception that his own world is bounded: it is from the limits of his nature that he has derived the thought of a region which is supernatural. This thought, however, derived as it has been from the discovery of human feebleness, and suggested as it is by the very spirit of negation, is, now that it has been found, a real and positive fact of knowledge. In reaching the conception that there is a life which transcends experience, man has himself already transcended his experience and claimed an affinity with that life. He could not entertain for a moment the idea of a Power which goes beyond the conditions of his earthly being, if he were not in some sense himself beyond them. His recognition of a transcendental element—nay, his very aspiration to recognise such an element—is a proof that already he is greater potentially than he is actually, and that the range of his human susceptibilities surpasses the extent of his earthly possessions.
But we have now to observe that, if we are willing to concede so much, we must of necessity concede more; this end, as we have said, is only a new beginning. If there be a Power which transcends the order of nature, and if man has arrived at the knowledge of this transcendence, he has arrived at that knowledge through an affinity of his own being to the being of the transcending Power. Whence has man derived this affinity? Let the fact of its existence be granted, and there can be only one answer; he must have derived it from an impartation made by the Power itself. But in making such a statement we have already passed from theory into history, from the philosophising about the nature of God to a positive affirmation regarding the acts of God. To say that, in any sense, either man or any other creature of the universe is possessed of the Divine image, is to say that there has already taken place in the universe an act of creation, an act by which God has imparted Himself, communicated Himself, shared Himself. It is, therefore, in strict logical sequence with the foregoing subject that we pass from the possibility of Divine knowledge to the asserted fact of Divine creation. If man can know God, he can only know Him on the ground of an affinity of nature, and he can only claim an affinity of nature on the ground that God has imparted Himself to his own soul.
We must now, therefore, proceed to ask with regard to the doctrine of creation the same question which we have asked concerning the possibility of Divine knowledge—Is it compatible with modern science? There are two words which in our days are constantly opposed—creation and evolution. The one is regarded as the watchword of a theological past, the other is viewed as the symbol of the scientific present. But it is not merely the words that are placed in antithesis; it is the things which they signify. The idea of creation is supposed to be incompatible with the idea of evolution, and the process of evolution is held to be a disproof of the act of creation. It is said that the very conception of evolution implies that something has been eternal. To suppose an absolute beginning of all things, is to suppose that the first existence began to be by a totally different process from the evolution process. On this account Mr Herbert Spencer does not hesitate to deny "an absolute commencement of anything."1 He feels that to assume the coming into existence of a first principle is virtually to reject the evolution theory as an adequate explanation of the universe; and in this view we agree with him. But we have already pointed out that Mr Spencer will here experience no opposition from the theist. The theist does not, any more than he, accept the possibility of an absolute beginning. He, like Mr Spencer, believes that the primal force which underlies the universe is eternal, only he gives to that force the name and attribute of personality. Whatever difference lies between the creationist and the evolutionist, this at least does not constitute one of its elements. The evolutionist speaks of an evolving principle, and the creationist speaks of a creative principle; but they both alike insist that the principle must be eternal. Nay, they both alike insist on something more— that the principle shall itself be free from the changes which it originates. The Force of Mr Herbert Spencer, evolving, as it does, all other forces, is itself unchangeable; the God of natural theology, creating as He does all other existences, is Himself immutable. So far the two systems are at one.
We are ourselves disposed to go further. It seems to us that the theological doctrine of creation does not necessarily demand even that the matter of the world should have had a beginning at all. We pointed out that there are three conceivable views which may be taken of the world's origin; we may either say that it began by chance, or that it began by creative Intelligence, or that it never began. In estimating the value of these alternatives, we have already stated our opinion that the two last are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to hold that the world owes its existence entirely to the creative power of God, and yet at the same time to maintain that the world had no historical beginning: this was the view of Plato in pre-Christian days, and of Clement and Origen in the bosom of the Christian Church itself. We see a ray of light emanating from the sun, and . we say that the ray of light owes its being to the sun. If it were proved that there never was a time in which that ray had not existed, it would not in the slightest degree shake our conclusion