Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 4. -- Difficulties of Mill and Lange against the Argument from Design.

116. (1) Having applied the Argument from Design to the case of the human eye, Mill thus objects to its force:{19} "Creative forethought is not absolutely the only link by which the origin of the wonderful mechanism of the eye may be connected with the fact of sight. There is another connecting link on which attention has been greatly fixed by recent speculations, and the reality of which cannot be called in question, though its adequacy to account for such truly admirable combinations as some of those in nature, is still and will probably long remain problematical. This is the principle of the survival of the fittest."

Answer. Only if accepted in its most extreme form can the Darwinian theory be urged as an objection against the Argument from Design; whereas, on the other hand, the extreme form of this theory is losing in public favour just because it attributes so much to chance and is absolutely exclusive of finality. If evolution be the true explanation of the existing order of the cosmos, and this evolution is due to the gradual working out to their final issues of laws inherent in matter from the commencement, then the question whether this existing order be due to intelligence or not, is not solved, but merely pushed back. In the achievements of human industry, a self-constructing machine would be taken to imply not comparative absence of skill and contrivance in its maker, but a higher exercise of these qualities; and the same will have to be said of the machine of the cosmos. The more its order is due to an evolution which is the outcome of the action of fixed laws inherent from the first and tending definitely towards the final result, the more striking is the manifestation of intelligence which it bears upon its face. However, the essence of extreme Darwinism lies in this, that it seeks to attribute the course of evolution ultimately to chance. Accidental varieties spring up among individuals, and out of the vast number of these, those which are advantageous in some line to their possessors, are said to perpetuate themselves in the struggle for existence. They go to form the fittest, and the struggle for existence being severe and consequently destructive, the fittest of those born are naturally the survivors, and surviving, transmit their acquired advantages to their offspring, and thereby fix them.

Such a system, no doubt, is directly opposed to the Argument from Design. If the order of the world can be explained by chance, there is no need to refer its origin to intelligence. But then this hypothesis of origin by chance is just that which has to be rejected as inadmissible, because it offends against the undeniable truth that order presupposes finality in the immediate cause and intelligence at all events in the ultimate cause. It is not necessary, again, to justify this statement, as we have done so already (Cf. §§ 42, seq.), when we dealt with the hypothesis of a fortuitous concourse of atoms. There is, in fact, no essential difference, from a metaphysical point of view, between that ancient theory and the modern theory of Natural Selection when taken in its extreme form. However, it is precisely on the ground that it attributes the magnificent order of nature to sheer chance that this extreme form of Darwinism is going out of favour.

We may here notice, without associating it with Mr. Mill's name, another prevalent mode of meeting the Argument from Design, which in some respects is the opposite of that just considered. The Argument from Design, it is said, proceeds from the supposition that the cosmos is like Paley's watch, a machine in which the component parts have no natural tendency towards one another, but have their motion and unity impressed upon them from without. In other words, the ordering impulse is here without the machine, and it is just on this account that the inference to the existence of a designing mind is just. But by what right is it assumed that the ordering impulse in nature generally is of this sort?

"The thought or design which is at work in the growth and development of organized structures is not a mere mechanical power or cunning acting from without -- shaping, adjusting, putting together materials prepared to its hand, constructing them according to an ingenious plan after the manner of a maker of machines. Here, on the contrary, the idea or formative power goes with the matter, and constitutes the very indwelling essence of the thing. Instead of coming in as an after-thought, to give to existing materials a new use and purpose not included or presupposed in their own original nature, the idea or design is present from the very beginning, inspiring the first minute atom or cell with the power of the perfect whole that is to be. Nor for the building up and completing of the structure, is there any call for the interposition of external agency. From first to last it is self-formative, self-developing: the life within resists all merely outward interference and subordinates all outward conditions to its own development. In this case, therefore, we do not need to go beyond or outside of the thing itself in seeking for the explanation of it. The thought or reason that explains it is within the thing itself, nay, is its very self: so that to perceive or know the thing at all is to perceive or know the reason and ground of its existence."{20}

If we find this to be so in the organisms around us, may we not extend the same idea to the whole finite world and regard its order and the finality of its movements as throughout proceeding from a directing force which is immanent within it rather than from one outside it like the God of Paley?

This objection is easily answered. It is of no consequence, in the first instance, whether the directing principle which imparts finality to the movements of the cosmos be external or internal to it, except, indeed, in so far as the internal principle of vital movement and growth in organisms supplies us with evidence of a much more elaborate and far-reaching finality than we find in the mechanical achievements of human industry. But as long as there is finality, there must be intelligence. For finality involves an operation of the future on the present, determining the course and direction which the present movements are to take in order that they may reach the future goal, and operation of the future on the present is inconceivable except in so far as the future is apprehended by an intelligence which can set the physical forces in corresponding motion and prescribe to them their lines of movement.{21}

Thus it matters not, in the first instance, where we place the thought whence the design and finality of the cosmos proceeds, whether within it as an immanent principle, or without it as a God distinct from it and transcending it. Ultimately, however, the hypothesis of thought immanent in the cosmos, of an anima mundi in fact, is excluded. For the argument of the First Cause leads us to a First Intelligence which is self-existent, and the analysis of the idea of self-existence causes us to perceive that the First Intelligence must be a Pure and Infinite Spirit, whereas the cosmos is finite and material. Only on the hypothesis that cosmical monism or pantheism was irrefutable, would an objection like that just remarked upon, be really strong. We have, however, given ample proof to show the futility of pantheism and any other form of monism. (Cf. c. iv. sect. 2). And if the reader bears still in mind what we have said there, he cannot fail to see that every appeal to immanent teleology against an intelligent Designer is as futile as Mill's appeal to the "survival of the fittest." Indeed it is still more obviously opposed to reason than that appeal, inasmuch as its foundation is more directly repugnant to the attributes of a self-existing Being.

117. (2) Mill thinks that design and omnipotence are incompatible. "It is not too much to say," he maintains,{22} "that every indication of design in the cosmos is so much evidence against the omnipotence of the Designer. For what is meant by design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance -- the need of employing means -- is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means, if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy, which the direct action of the Being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means, but an incumbrance. A man does not use machinery to move his arms. If he did, it could only be when paralysis had deprived him of the power of moving them by volition. But if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skilful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means, when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of Him who employs them and when His will could have bestowed the same efficacy on other means?

No one purpose imposes necessary limitations on another in the case of a Being not restricted by conditions of possibility."

Answer. By this way of arguing Mill proves nothing more clearly than that he has a wrong notion of omnipotence. Omnipotence is not an ability to effect things which are intrinsically impossible, but it is the power to effect whatever is intrinsically possible. A power to produce what is intrinsically impossible, for instance a philosopher without a reasonable soul, would be a power for non-sense in the strictest meaning of the word; it would be no power at all. Mill thinks that an omnipotent Being is not "restricted by conditions of possibility." This is true enough if it merely means that God can do or make everything which is not intrinsically impossible; but it is not true, as Mill suggests, that an omnipotent Being can by His free-will make the intrinsically impossible become intrinsically possible. Now it is intrinsically impossible for all means to suffice for all ends indiscriminately. If God will, for instance, that the sun's action on the earth should be precisely what it is now, and in accordance with the same physical laws as now obtain, He could not possibly accomplish this end by putting the earth where Jupiter is and Jupiter where the earth is. If He willed that the innumerable species of living beings that people the earth should live on nourishment naturally suited to their organisms, He could not reach this end by providing food for only a few of them. Finally, if He willed that men should merit their final happiness by faith, obedience, and patience, He could not remove all difficulties and sufferings from their path through life.

If these considerations are borne in mind, it becomes clear that in selecting certain means rather than others as being necessary or appropriate to the accomplishment of certain ends, God displays no want of power. The necessity or appropriateness of the means for the ends is determined by the laws of intrinsic possibility.

However, Mr. Mill's objection is not yet fully answered. Why, he may still urge, require any means at all? Why, if God is omnipotent, can He not create, for instance, full-grown living beings at once, by a mere exercise of will? The question seems specious enough, but it proceeds from failure to see that the freedom of God is not less infinite than His omnipotence. Of course, an omnipotent God could create straight off all the trees in the world in a state of maturity, and could maintain them in the perfection of their nature without the agency of nutritive elements and processes. But He may also prefer a system such as that in actual existence, in which results are worked out gradually by an evolutionary process, various agents combining and co-operating according to their natures and properties. Surely the present age, which is so much in love with evolution, ought not to deny that this latter is in itself an attractive system: one, therefore, which may reasonably be selected by a God desirous to manifest the excellences of His creative power in a high degree. As an absolutely best world is intrinsically impossible (Th. XV.), the manifestation of God's omnipotence in the world can in no system be exhaustive. Precisely because Omnipotence is infinite power, its effects cannot reflect it adequately. How far it shall be manifested, depends entirely upon God's free choice. God can choose no system in which the dictates of infinite wisdom and goodness would be violated. But among the indefinite number of systems that may be in harmony with the requirements of absolute wisdom and goodness, there is none of which the preference was not entirely open to the freedom of the Creator. The answer, then, to the question, Why require any means at all? is briefly this: Because God in His infinite freedom has chosen a universe consisting of beings which cannot manifest His power, wisdom, and goodness in that degree which He freely intends without the adaptation of means to ends in such excellency and such profusion as. our experience witnesses.

118. (3) Lange{23} argues against design from the great waste of living germs recurring constantly in nature. "It cannot possibly be doubted that nature proceeds in a way which has no resemblance with human adaptation of means to ends; nay, that its most essential modus operandi, judged by the standard of human understanding, is such as can only be compared with the blindest chance. . . . From the pollen of the plant to the fertilized seed-corn, from the seed-corn to the germinating plant, from the latter to the mature plant which again bears seed, we see a constant repetition of a mechanism which preserves life so far as it is preserved in the present order of things, only by the generation of thousands of beings to destroy them immediately, and by availing itself of fortuitous coincidences of favourable conditions. The destruction of living germs, the failure of what has begun, is the rule; the 'connatural ' (naturgemässe) development is a special case among thousands; it is the exception, and this exception is made by that nature which the purblind teleologist admires for its self-preservation brought about by adapting means to ends. . . . What we call chance in the preservation of species, is of course no chance in regard of the universal laws of nature, the grand machinery of which calls forth all those effects; but it is chance in the strictest sense of the word, if we take this term as an expression of what is opposed to the results obtained by an Intelligence calculating in a similar way to men." Similar lamentations about nature's "clumsiness" and "cruelty" occur repeatedly in Mill's Essays on Religion.{24}

Answer. We have to acknowledge that the eloquent writer of the History of Materialism does not advocate blind chance quite so openly as the Epicureans of old. According to him, the preservation of the actually existing world of animals and plants is due to the grand machinery of the laws of nature. Be it so. Where, then, shall we search for the origin of these laws? Proximately, of course, they are founded on definite combinations of the forces of diverse natural beings. But those combinations themselves -- whence did they proceed? To this we have given a full answer. (Cf. §§ 43, seq.) After all, therefore, even if we allow for argument's sake that apparent failures result from the collision of various natural laws -- as Lange evidently supposes -- it must nevertheless be admitted that these laws are designed by an intelligent Mind.

But, it may be asked next: Is it reasonable to believe that this Mind is infinitely perfect? If so, whence so many failures in nature's working? Should not a Creator of infinite perfection have taken care that every one of His creatures reached the end for which it was intended? This evidently is not the case in the present order of things; for what can be the end intended by the production of living germs but that they shall grow and bear seed. Instead of that, the greater part of them is wasted. Does not this one fact alone suffice to justify fully Lange's inference that nature is not subject to the government of a directing Mind in any way similar to human minds? The answer to this question is not too difficult. Before we can reasonably pronounce that there are failures in nature, we must first be certain that nature's ends go no farther than we suppose them to go. The weak point in Lange's argument lies precisely in his taking for granted that living germs are good for nothing unless they become full-grown living beings. This, however, is evidently not the case, and Lange himself practically denies it as often as he eats a piece of bread or an egg. Who will say that all the germs of life that are destroyed to furnish a savant's breakfast-table, are wasted? As we have demonstrated in chapter iii., God is infinitely perfect, consequently, infinitely good and wise. The object of His creation must be worthy of His goodness and wisdom. From this it follows, as we shall see in the treatise on Divine Providence, that the absolutely last end of all creation is the manifestation of God's goodness to His rational creatures, and the relatively last end the happiness of the rational creatures themselves. The rest of the creation must serve as means to attain the last end, which cannot be immediately reached but by the knowledge and love of God, whereof only rational creatures are capable. Experience proves that the inferior creation is useful for man in various ways, and that many of these ways, formerly unknown, are revealed in the course of time. It is, therefore, unreasonable to say that creatures are useless because we cannot find out how far they are useful. After it has been demonstrated clearly that an infinite Mind is the Author of the universe, we cannot without rashness scrutinize the ways by which that one infinite Mind of God leads His creatures to their respective destinies. It is enough or us that we can prove that there is an infinitely good God, who guides His creatures to those particular ends which He conditionally intends, as often as the conditions are put, and that in any case He guides them to those ends which He absolutely intends, making all things contribute to the last general end of creation.

Lange's objection appeared quite lately in a new form. "I am not saying," says Mr. Mallock,{25} "that the theory of evolution has disproved the existence of a designer, but that it has destroyed the traditional evidence that the designer is good, or indeed that he is even wise and skilful. How it has done this can be explained briefly as follows. Suppose we were told of a certain marksman that every one of his rifle-shots, no matter at what distance, invariably hit the target in the very centre of the bull's-eye, we should say that this was evidence of unrivalled skill. Supposing, however, we were to discover subsequently that for every shot that hit the bull's eye he had fired a thousand that hit the rim of the target, and fifty thousand that hit the neighbouring haystacks, instead of thinking him skilful for having hit the bull's-eye occasionally, we should be inclined to think him skilful if he contrived always to miss it. Now the old idea of creation was that everything was created suitable to the conditions of its existence; in other words, the bull's-eye was hit each time. The scientific theory is the precise opposite -- that most things were created unsuited to the conditions of their existence; and those only have survived which happened accidentally to suit them. In other words, for each time the bull's-eye is hit, it is missed thousands of times; and as the God we are assuming is, ex hypothesi, firing eternally, the fact of his hitting the target is no proof of his having aimed at it. If the discoveries of science amount to anything, they amount to this -- that the successes of nature are the siftings of innumerable failures; and if there is any force in the argument, that the successes show skill, there is equal force in the argument that the failures show want of it. . I am granting that the existence of a designer is not only not disproved by science, but proved by it. The one thing on which I am here insisting is that science does not indeed disprove that the designer is good and wise, but assuredly does destroy every proof that he is."

Answer. We beg our reader not to mistake the proper meaning of this difficulty. Mr. Mallock is far from upholding the cause of agnosticism. All be contends for is that, in the face of modern scientific discoveries, God's goodness and wisdom cannot be proved by reason, although they can be certified by faith.

For the present we are only concerned about the wisdom of the Designer of Nature. By what arguments does our objector think that science has destroyed the evidence for it? He refers us to the theory of eternal evolution. Science, he considers, has made it certain that evolution has been an eternal process in nature, and upon this assumption his argument is manifestly based. Is, then, this basis solid? If "eternal" evolution is to mean evolution without beginning, it is certain that no cautious thinker would venture to maintain that it has heen established with any degree of probability on the grounds of scientific facts. Moreover, we have had occasion to prove that eternal evolution in this sense is intrinsically repugnant (pp. 146, 147). Perhaps by eternal evolution Mr. Mallock only means evolution throughout countless ages. Even if thus explained, can evolution be taken for more than what Mr. Huxley takes it for -- viz., "a workable hypothesis"? Whether the true answer be negative or affirmative, we will at all events start from the assumption that evolution existed and went on through unmeasurable geological periods, after the manner in which Darwinians conceive it. On this assumption, if with a view to consider the tenability of the hypothesis, we suppose the laws of evolution to have been instituted by a Personal God, the comparison he makes between a marksman and the arranger of the universe is intelligible enough. As the marksman aims at the target in such a way as to hit, if possible, the bull's-eye, so God, in laying down the laws of evolution for inanimate and animate things, has a certain aim; and if He is to be taken as wise in any considerable degree, He must reach His aim not only in some cases, but at least in most cases; He must reach it in each case not only approximately, but with precision. Otherwise He would be like a marksman who misses the target a far greater number of times than he hits it, and who when hitting it strikes only the rim, not the bull's-eye.

But now if we are to judge from the appearance of nature whether God does hit the bull's-eye to this extent, we must first be certain what is the bull's-eye at which He is aiming when He lays down and maintains laws of evolution for matter and life. Mr. Mallock seems to think that according to our doctrine God has intended that every living being should be in complete harmony with its surroundings, and should always be placed in such conditions as would foster and not hinder its connatural development. It is quite true that if this had been the object of the Creator, scientific facts might be said to have destroyed all our evidence for His wisdom, and laid us open to the attacks of agnosticism. But the advocates of the design argument have never imagined that the Divine intention in framing this world was to disregard the inherent tendencies to corruption, and to secure to each form of organic life the completion of its natural development and the fulness of comfort and enjoyment. This has not even been supposed of man, the highest among living organisms. If indeed man's life as a whole to the inclusion of the life to come were meant, we should have to speak differently. But as far as that portion of his life is concerned which is led here below, it was acknowledged many thousand years ago by one whose theism is beyond suspicion that, "Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries."{26} And the very Founder of Christianity deemed the conditions of life so inadequate to assure absolute happiness and development that among the reasons for which He wished His disciples not to be over-anxious for the future, we find this, "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."{27}

Under the heading "Divine Providence" we shall show that God has created the world for the manifestation of His goodness to rational creatures, and for the happiness of the latter, who alone are capable of true happiness. Consequently, in so far as evolution with the restrictions laid down above (pp. 133, 134) may be admissible, this is the final goal towards which its whole course must be directed. And the final goal must be reached only and precisely in that degree of perfection which the Creator intends.

We conclude, then, by saying that the target at which the Designer of Nature is aiming is not the prosperity of corporeal life, and the bull's-eye in the target is not the perfect adaptation of each individual life to its surroundings. The true target is God's glory and the final happiness of those rational creatures who obey the voice of their conscience, and the bull's-eye in the target is precisely that degree of God's glory and man's final happiness which the Creator in the light of His infinite knowledge has fixed absolutely. It will be hard for the champions of natural science to show either that the end of creation thus explained is asserted without sufficient evidence or to prove that it will not be reached finally.

{19} Essays on Religion, p. 172.

{20} Caird's Introductions to the Philosophy of Religion, pp. 146, 147.

{21} Cf. §§ 43-45, where the full proof of this statement is given

{22} L.c. pp. 176, 177.

{23} Geschichte des Materialismus (2te Auflage). Vol. II. pp. 246, 247.

{24} Pp. 28, 29, 30, 35, 36, &c.

{25} Fortnightly Review, November, 1890, p. 766.

{26} Job xiv. 1.

{27} St. Matt. vi. 34.

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