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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Religious Beliefs of a Scientist: or One Purpose of Creation and Evolution

by George B. Batten, M.D.
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 743-754

A lecture given to the Dulwich Branch of the P.N.E.U.

[**Note-- This article had a number of Greek words with Greek symbols which are not displayed on this page, although the words are included within quotation marks.]

In the "Contemporary Review" for June 1898, Marie Caillard says: "It has often been said--and it must be still more often felt--that one of the deepest needs of the age is an adequate Christian Philosophy, which will present, in a consistent whole, the all-embracing truths of the religion of Christ in language, which modern Scientific thought could assimilate. The time is, perhaps, not yet ripe, and it may be that many consciously and unconsciously converging efforts, many hardly contested conflicts, much painful sifting of the wheat from the chaff, must yet be undergone before the age is ready to receive the answer for which it longs." I quite agree with her, and also agree that in the meanwhile it can only be productive of good if a careful attempt is made from time to time to face some of the issues in the combined light of Christian and scientific truth.

I offer the following attempt in this direction in the hope that it may induce many more profound thinkers than myself to turn their attention to these matters. I hope moreover it many help the large number of people who themselves have neither the opportunity nor the inclination to keep conversant with modern science, but who, nevertheless, have a deep-seated and practical belief in the truths of modern science; and who, at the same time, have an equal or greater belief in the truths of the Christian Religion, yet have a real though vague sort of fear that the two beliefs are not consistent with one another.

To most advanced modern thinkers, the apparent antagonism between revealed religion and science, which seemed to exist, and presented so much difficulty to men's minds, and was so much talked and written about a few years ago, now no longer exists; and in their opinion any attempt to reconcile them in unnecessary, and is raising an obsolete question. But I feel sure there are a large number of people who do not yet realize this, and to whom this old apparent antagonism is still a stumbling block. These people I desire to help, and hope to encourage them to enquire more and more fully into the essential truths of religion and science.

No one but the Creator can fully understand the scheme and purpose of creation. But certain truths seem to me to be evident. I believe--that in the beginning God (the Creator) was; that from Him emanated all things; that, taking this Universe as we poor finite creatures know it, the Creator created matter and forces, and that the forces, which we may for convenience term inorganic, namely gravitation, chemical energy, light, heat and electrical energy, acted upon original matter, in whatever form that existed, and by this action gradually evolved all the so-called elements, and more complex forms of matter until protoplasm was reached.

In fact, evolution of matter proceeded by the action of the so-called natural forces, until a something was evolved with the fitness of capacity for being acted upon by some higher force. This life or vital force, also created by and emanating from the Creator, began to act upon protoplasm, and, by its action, all living forms, plant and animal, were gradually evolved, from diatom to forest tress, from amaeba to man. The senses with all their attributes were so formed, and at last the brain and mind of man were evolved.

That just as protoplasm was a something which had been evolved with a fitness or capacity for the action of Bios ("Bios") or animal and vegetable life; so the brain and mind of man with all its attributes was a something which had been evolved, with a fitness or capacity for being acted upon by a still higher form of life, let us call it spiritual, or more accurately, psychical vital force ("psuche").

This spiritual vital force, which also was created by, and emanated from the Creator, acted on the brain and mind and will of man, and produced a new and higher form of life, the phsychical part or soul of man, the "psuche" of the Bible.

This enabled man to be evolved into a higher being, an evolution upwards towards the goal of that order of beings or creatures who reflect the Creator.

Among the attributes of man's mind is the religious faculty, that faculty, by the exercise of which, man's mind from its infancy has tried to reach a conception of, and to commune with, the supernatural, i.e., with something outside of itself, of the existence of which it has some vague, indistinct, though no less certain, consciousness.

I further believe that when this religious faculty of mankind had been sufficiently evolved up to a fitness to accept something more, the Creator then made a special revelation of Himself to mankind, or a portion of mankind, that is to say He revealed to man that there was a Creator, and that man had a moral relation to his Creator, mankind up to that time never having had any idea of a Creator at all. That the Creator in fact revealed to man that man was to do what He the Creator desired, and not what man himself willed, and at the same time, or subsequently, He revealed to him a wonderful series of pictures of the course of creation as portrayed in the first chapter of Genesis.

God the Creator then also revealed to man the purpose of creation, and especially of man's creation or evolution; that is the evolution of an order of beings which should of its own free will worship Him, the Creator, should be able to commune with Him, and should attain to the high ideal of sonship with the Creator.

The mind of man, however, had, and has, the power of choice; and, as mankind at once began to exercise this choice in the wrong direction, chose to do what man willed, not what God purposed, and, chiefly because his ideas were too selfish, or, too self-centered, he fell away from progressing towards the high idea of sonship with the Creator, for which the Creator had intended him. This first step is pictured in Genesis in the "fall of man in the garden of Eden." Mankind having so fallen away, God, the Creator, then vouchsafed, and, in the fulness of the time, made another revelation of Himself and allowed a still higher and more Divine power to act upon the soul and spirit of man. This Divine power or spirit further acted and acts upon man's spiritual or psychical part, his "psuche," and produces the quickening spirit, the "Pneuma" of the New Testament, i.e., God's "Pneuma" acts upon our "psuche" and produces a still higher spiritual life, a "Pneuma" in us, which can commune with his "Pneuma," and also acts through our "psuche" on us. That is to say He sent His Divine Son with power or force, His quickening spirit, to help further the upward development of man's spirit, to regenerate still further spiritual man, so that he might and may successfully be evolved into the idea of creation, a creature who chooses of his own free will to worship and obey God, and to commune with Him through Christ, a creature worthy of sonship with the Creator, who shall see the Father no longer in the Son, but as the Son sees Him, in the day when God shall be all in all.

This, and nothing short of this, is the aim of creation, the purpose of evolution, the goal of created life, the culmination of human evolution and development, and the realization of the Divine idea of manhood.


Having state these beliefs, it remains to give some reasons for the belief that is in one. Reasons, no proofs, for as Tennyson has well said, "nothing worth proving can be proven nor disproven."

We are conscious of certain phenomena in this universe. They may be divided into three kingdoms--the inorganic, the organic, and the spiritual.

As far as we know, the universe is composed of matter upon which certain forces act and re-act. Take these in their lowest or simplest form. In the inorganic kingdom we have some 70 so-called elements, i.e., substances that have been found incapable of sub-division into any simpler substances. By the combination of these elements we get all the other known forms of matter, except perhaps that hypothetical substance which we call the luminiferous ether, that substance the existence of which is inferred between the atoms and molecules of all other forms of matter, and throughout space, to explain the conveyance of light and other forms of radiant energy from star to star, from atom to atom. Now, how did all the elements originate? They must either have been created as such in their present form, or have been evolved from some more ancient, and probably simpler forms of matter.

A great deal of speculation beginning with the ideas of Lucretius, who held "that atoms fall rapidly together in their dancing course throughout the spheres, and by their collision engender all known things"; by Boyle, who explained different kinds of matter by the "nature of the motion of the particles and atoms of which they are composed"; by Bernouilli, by Herpath, by Joule in 1851, all of whose ideas were systematized by Clausis, in 1857, under "The Kinetic Theory of Gases," which has been further applied recently by Dr. Johnstone Stoney.

Then there has been speculation as to the arrangements of the elements in octaves, suggested by Newlands, in 1863, and elaborated by Meyer and Mendeleef, in 1869; speculations that is regarding the periodic arrangements of the elements by which the existence and properties of several elements were prophesied before their discovery; predictions which were verified by the subsequent discovery of galium and other metals, and more recently of "argon," "helium," and now, "neon."

Again, the evidences furnished by the spectroscope, and what is called the new astronomy, nearly all point to the fact that the more primitive, i.e., the hotter and nearer their initial condition, are the starts and nebulae, the fewer elements do they contain; and, as they cool, more and more elements, and then compounds are discoverable.

All these speculations and evidences tend in the mind of most modern chemists to point to the probability that the elements were evolved from simpler elements or even from one all-pervading original substance, which has been called "protyle." Whether this protyle, and the ether, are the same substance or not, or in what way this can condense or combine with itself to form the atoms of the ordinary elements, whether in whorls or vortices or how, we cannot now stop to discuss. I think we shall all agree, that however the elements began, all other inorganic forms of matter are elaborated by combinations of these elements, by the action of certain forces which we call the natural forces--gravitation, chemical energy, light, heat, and magneto-electrical energy.

No one has explained gravitation at all successfully. Professor Clerk Maxwell however suggested, from purely mathematical deduction, in 1857, that actinic energy, light, heat, and electrical energy were all magneto-electrical perturbations of the ether, and it has been practically proved by Hertz, in 1888, and others since, that they are in fact similar forms of motion in the ether. Given certain simple forms of matter, acted upon by these natural forces, it is comparatively easy to explain or, perhaps, imagine how all known forms of inorganic matter were evolved.

One thing, however, we must noticed, and I wish to call special attention to this, that for certain of the natural forces to be able to produce any effect on matter towards producing fresh forms, that matter must be in a suitable condition or state; for instance, chemical energy is powerless to act upon hydrogen and chlorine to produce hydrochloric acid if the hydrogen and chlorine are too hot, or, in others words if the motions of the atoms of hydrogen and chlorine are too rapid and at too great an amptitude of vibration.

I should like here to emphasise the fact that whether we begin with elements and natural forces and now known, or whether we go back to protyle in motion, yet we must get to a point where we ask inevitably, how did it begin? Was the beginning fortuitous, or was there, and is there a Creator? We cannot tell, but the simplest hypothesis is that there must have been a Creator, and on this assumption we can, as before stated, easily imagine the explanation that all forms of inorganic matter are evolved from original matter by the action and reaction of the natural and inorganic forces.

We can imagine this going on up to a certain point, up to the formation, in fact, of protoplasm.

Having reached this point there is suddenly opened out another huge vista, the vista of the organic kingdom, and the phenomena of life and all living things--plants and animals.

Here we come to something quite unknown in the inorganic world. Reduced to their simplest factors all plants and animals consist of a cell or cells, composed more of less of protoplasm, not however dead protoplasm, but protoplasm endowed with a something which gives the cells the power of reproduction, of growth, of assimilation, often of movement and certainly of irritability; what is this something? We call it life. What is Life?

Here again we are faced with several possible explanations.

1. Is life a subtle combination of any inorganic forces, of chemical energy, of heat, of electricity, acting on the protoplasm and forming a cell?

2. Is it a property of each cell, or of the protoplasm in each cell, a something with which the cell is endowed? If so, how did it begin? Was it created afresh in each original cell; or was it something latent in all original matter, and immanent and inherent in matter from the beginning?

3. Is it a new force--vital force, which perhaps existed from the beginning, but produced no results until matter was elaborated, or evolved, by the action of the inorganic forces into a suitable condition for life or vital force to act upon it? Which of these is the most probable explanation?

About the middle of the present century a great change occurred in the general trend of investigation and speculation in animal physiology. Whereas previously the majority of investigators had treated life as something essentially different from the phenomena met with in the inorganic world, it then came to be almost universally held that apart from consciousness, which stood by itself, life must ultimately be susceptible of analysis into a series of physical and chemical processes; and could be investigated on no other lines than those of physics and chemistry. That is thirty or forty years ago, and even until recent times the prevailing belief was that the first of the explanations was true, i.e., that life is explicable by the result of the physico-chemical forces, with which we are familiar in the inorganic world.

For instance, in explaining the heat production in an animal, Professor Huxley stated that "oxygen seizes upon those organic molecules which are disposable, lays hold of their elements and combines with them into new and more stable forms, carbonic acid, water and urea."

A more careful study of what occurs has led however to a very different conclusion with regard to the relations between oxygen and life. For the oxygen does not primarily lay hold, but is itself laid hold of, to be disposed of according to the needs of the organism. It may be simply handed or forced onwards by the living cells which grasp it. In the case of deep sea fishes, for instance, it may be driven onwards into the swimming bladder even against the enormous pressure in the opposite direction of 1500 lbs. to the square inch. Or it may be stored up in some form or other for future use, or be utilised immediately.

The living cell and not the amount of oxygen in the blood regulates the consumption of oxygen, as Pluger has well said.  ["Nineteenth Century", 1898.] Professor Haldane, from whom the above is quoted, says that "to any physiologist who candidly reviews the progress of the last fifty years it must be perfectly evident that, so far from having advanced towards a physico-chemical explanation of life, we are apparently much further from it than we were fifty years ago."

It is perfectly evident that a living organism differs from any inorganic structure in this respect, that in spite of constant changes in its constituent material, and in its environment, it retains its identity in a manner which we are forced to recognise, by whatever theory we may account for it.

Turning now to the older belief in vital force which was known as vitalism, we find the old vitalists practically assumed that there is something in a living cell or organism which controls and directs into suitable channels the available blind physical and chemical forces. If this something be called vital force, then the objection is evident that it is not a force, or form of energy of the same order as the physico-chemical or inorganic forces; for we find that with life, or vital force, there is an expenditure of energy which at the same time is not expended, and may even be growing with expenditure, as in a developing organism. Life therefore cannot be a force at all like the ordinary forces, which are all amenable to the law of conservation of energy.

I hold, however, that life is a force of quite a different order, and not amenable at all to the same laws as inorganic forces: that it either existed throughout all time, created by the Creator in the beginning when all the physico-chemical forces were created, and only waiting for the evolution of matter into a suitable condition, i.e., waiting for protoplasm upon which it could act; or it was created later when protoplasm had been evolved; and with Prof Haldane I hold "that the time is not very far off when it will be generally acknowledged that the biological are separated from the physical sciences not through any spatial line of demarcation, between what is living and what is not living, but by the fact that the fundamental conceptions and laws of biology are, and from the nature of the phenomena dealt with must be entirely different from those of physics and chemistry."

There are still the other two explanations (1) that life is a something which is an endowment of each original cell: that is to say, that the life of each animal and plant or of each original animal and plant is a separate creation of the Creator, and (2) that Life is a something latent in all matter and inherent in it from the beginning. This latter is, of course, the view of those who look upon all forces as something inherent in matter, a sort of property of matter which does not exist outside of matter; in fact, of those who look upon the existence of matter without forces, or forces without matter, as impossible; or who think that matter and forces may be manifestations of the same thing. I admit the possibility of these explanations, but they do not seem to help us much, and we need only fall back upon them if the others are less satisfying and helpful to our minds.

If then we may assume that life is a form of force of a different order from the inorganic forces, and that it is able to act upon matter in a suitable condition, then it quite easily follows that as the inorganic forces acting upon matter evolved it up to protoplasm, so this vital force so acted and acts upon protoplasm as to evolve it into living cells, also that by the action of vital forces upon protoplasm all the processes or organic evolution were rendered possible, and the organic evolution of matter went on from single cells up to man. Further, that in man with a brain more highly developed than in the lower animals, evolution still went on from that primitive man, who geologists tell us existed in the preglacial epoch, down to a man as we know of him through historical records.

In other words, vital force continued the evolution of matter from protoplasm up to the brain and mind of man; that is to say, up to a something capable of being acted upon by a still higher force--let us call it psychical force. This force created by and emanating from the Creator is able so to act upon the brain and mind and will of man as to make it possible for the evolution of matter, and therefore of man, to proceed still higher; and just as vital force ("Bios") endows protoplasm with a something which we call life, and stamps an organism with an identity or LIFE of its own; so the psychical vital force endows man with a something which we call spiritual or psychical life, and stamps him with a psychical identity which we call SOUL. Thus an evolution of man's psychical part is rendered possible, and goes on until an order of beings is produced capable of communion with the Creator.

Now as to the history of man himself, as revealed by scientific investigations, and by historical or semi-historical records, there are geological evidences to show that the mind of man early had among others two attributes: the power of free choice, and what may be called the religious faculty.

The power of free choice or free will seems to exist in man alone among all living creatures as far as we know.

The religious faculty is shewn in primitive man by the burial with him of flint arrow-heads and other things which presuppose a belief in a use for these things after death; and more distinctly by the ancestor worship of early races, of which so much has been written lately, and which by many has been supposed to be the origin of all religions; certainly they seem to be the germ of all natural religions. This religious faculty, and these natural religions, were only a means whereby man's mind was prepared for the reception of spiritual religions, in fact for revealed religion.

When the religious faculty of man's mind had been sufficiently evolved, then the Creator made a definite revelation of himself to mankind, or rather a portion of mankind. God shewed to man that there was a Creator, and that man had a moral relation to his Creator. Previously to this, and even subsequently in those who had not received the revelation, there was never any evidence of man's having any idea of a Creator who made all things, to whom men were responsible. To even the intellectual Greeks this was a new idea. The first chapter in Genesis records a series of pictures or revelations which God made to man of the manner of Creation; and although scientists have from time to time scoffed at this first chapter of Genesis as quite incompatible with the teaching of science, yet comparatively recently the advance of science has made it possible to explain these pictures of creation as being the processes of creation, in the proper chronological order, as they would have appeared to a supposed individual on the earth's surface. God also revealed to man the purpose of creation, and especially of man's creation, namely, that man should do as the Creator willed, not as man himself wished, and that by doing the Creator's will he was to be developed into a being who should of his own free will worship the Creator. But as I have already said man had the power of choice; and man even after he had received this revelation of the Godhead, chiefly exercised his choice in the wrong direction. The Old Testament, from the Genesis picture of man's first disobedience to God's revealed will, as shewn in the fall of man in the garden of Eden, up to the end, is chiefly a history of how mankind in general, and the Jewish race in particular, did drift away from carrying out God's purposes.

It therefore became necessary for the Creator to bring a further influence to bear on this perverse, self-willed and self-centered human race. He therefore sent His Son, whose coming He had long before promised, to erring mankind. Christ therefore came into this world with Divine power to regenerate mankind. The incarnate Christ, "God manifested in the flesh" by the Atonement, more correctly read as the At-one-ment, the making the purposes of mankind at one with the purposes of the Creator, made it again possible for the higher evolution of mankind to take place through Him.

Christ made thereby a further revelation of the Creator, and the Creator's purposes, to mankind; and it is only by following in the lines which He revealed to us that we can develop into sons of God. Christ lived and died on this earth, and returned to the Godhead whence He came.

Christ came, and by His Divine quickening Spirit, so acted and acts upon man's psychical part, his soul, as to produce a still further development in man, to produce in man a quickening spirit.

Christ made it possible for the living soul of the first Adam to develop into the higher spirit, the quickening spirit of the second Adam.

Christ came and died and returned to the Godhead, and by so doing He has for ever opened a new channel of communication for mankind with the Godhead, with the Creator.

For the higher spiritual part of regenerated man his spirit can communicate with the Godhead through the Holy Spirit, which Christ sent to mankind.

It is only by allowing this higher evolution of man's soul into a quickening spirit to take place, that man can commune with the divine, and by such communion can become fit for

full communion with the Creator, and become a Son of God and a being who of his own free will delights in worshipping God the Creator. Such a being as we may reverently assume God intended to produce when He created this world.

There may be, nay we believe there are, other orders of beings in God's universe, "Angels who praise the Lord alway;" but is it not indicated that it is the proud though possibly not the exclusive privilege of the human race to be those creatures who shall by God's help carry out this one purpose of Creation; that is, the evolution of an order of beings who shall of their own free will delight in worshipping the Creator?

May I summarise:--In the beginning God was. God created matter and forces. From matter under the influence of these forces, was evolved protoplasm. Then a new force, vital force, "Bios" acted on this suitable form of matter and produced living cells, Evolution of all living things, plants and animals, took place under the influence of life, up to man, and man's brain and mind. Then a higher form of vital force, psychical force, acting on the brain and mind of man produced a soul or "psuche," a spiritual, or more accurately a psychical life for mankind. Then as man did not fully develop in the right direction under this psychical force, the Creator allowed a still higher, more Divine force to act on man's soul and produce "Pneuma" or spirit, and God's Spirit acting on this "Pneuma" in us enables a being to be evolved who can commune with the Creator and so complete that phase of creation and evolution.

(1) Creation of matter and forces by the Creator.
(2) Matter acted upon by inorganic forces produces protoplasm.
(3) Protoplasm acted upon by "Bios" or vital force evolves man's brain.
(4) Man's brain and mind acted on by psychical force evolves soul or "psuche."
(5) Man's soul acted on by the Divine Spirit evolves a spirit or "Pneuma" in man capable of communion with God the Creator and originator of all things.

All these being processes that take a longer or shorter time, are each progressive.

George B. Batten, M.D.