Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Darwin and Von Hűgel

Baron Von Hűgel (1852 - 1925) had grown up with Darwin’s theory of evolution so by the time he came to write Eternal Life (1913) his acceptance of it was broadly similar to that of a scientifically literate person of today who is also theist. He simply accepts the broad thrust of the theory but resists the materialist conclusions drawn from it. This resistance extends to the worries of Darwin also who though he was a great scientist was philosophically and theologically naive.

Concerning the general fact of evolution and its implications:

“We are thus thrown back, here also, upon some Power—Theists will still conceive It as God—Which ever provides these variations in the right time and place, even if It does not directly determine their selection. Indeed, in whatever form we adopt Descent, we are ultimately confronted with similar conditions, and are driven to choose between this or that form of Descent, as simply the mechanism and means provided and used by Creative Intelligence and Power; or the direct attribution to Matter of Consciousness and Mind; or, at least, of the Spontaneous Generation of these. And by such attributions we are landed in pure Mythology.”

In Chapter X of ‘Eternal Life’ he extracts from the memoirs of Darwin (between double quotes) such observations as:

" I do not think that the religious sentiment was ever strongly developed in me"; yet "formerly" he had 'the firm conviction of the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul

" Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds gave me great pleasure; and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare. Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry : I have tried lately to read Shakespeare ... it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for music and pictures. The loss of these tastes may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." He also declares, in 1861 : "I am not at all accustomed to metaphysical trains of thought " ; and in 1879 " What my own views may be," on the subject of religion, " is a question of no consequence to anyone but myself"

As regards Theism, he writes (in 1876) of "the extreme difficulty, or rather impossibility, of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting, I feel compelled to look to a First Cause, having an intelligent mind in some decree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. But then arises the doubt
—Can the mind of man, developed, I fully believe, from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions ? " And at other times : " There seems to be no more design in the action of natural selection than in the course which the wind blows." Again, " I am aware that if we admit a First Cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering throughout the world " ; and " the number of men in the world is as nothing-compared with that of all other sentient beings, which often suffer greatly without any moral improvement" such as men may derive from their sufferings. Yet, in spite of his own sufferings ("I never pass twenty-four hours without many hours of discomfort when I can do nothing whatsoever"), he declares: " According to my judgment, happiness decidedly prevails" in the world. "In my extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist, in the sense of denying the existence of God. I think that generally (and increasingly as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind,"' His son emphatically endorses this diagnosis.

Clearly a man who accepts a first cause and then asks where the first cause might have come from does not have a firm grasp on the metaphysical concept which is operational in the notion of a first cause. Essentially in a metaphysical conception the First Cause is operational now and is not an historic occurrence. Whatever force this sort of argument may have if indeed it is an argument and not a basic intuition which can’t be arrived at apodeictically; Darwin was not engaging with it.

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