Evolution and effort - PDF book by Edmond Kelly

Evolution and effort: and their relation to religion and politics 

Evolution and effort

Schiller's picture of Stupidity challenging the gods, " Hurl here your thunderbolts and see if my dark belly cannot hold them," represents only one attitude of human dullness; it furnishes no suggestion of that other condition, when, penetrated at last by the thunder of heaven, she appropriates and proceeds to dispense it on her own account. 

And yet this is the fate she prepares for every great idea; it encounters first the imperturbable inertia of prejudice, only in the end to become the weapon of that prejudice against the very enlightenment in the cause of which it originally started. The Gospel of Christ after centuries of contempt and martyrdom at last became the idol of its persecutors, and in their hands served to extort the recantation of Galileo. 

The gospel of Mahomet, which was directed against the tendency of Christianity to revert to polytheism under the guise of the Trinity, eventually became a sword in the effort of Arabia to conquer Europe; and so the gospel of Evolution, which rightly understood rescues the destiny of man from his environment in order to restore it to himself, has been made by mistaken interpretation to bolster the opposite doctrines of determinism and laissez-faire. 

Evolution is playing a very different part in the development of the human race from that which it played in that of the lower animals. Before its processes were interfered with by human faculties of intelligence and choice, the environment was everything; the animal and vegetable kingdoms were as completely subject to what was pernicious in it as to what served slowly to select and favour the individuals best fitted to survive; and though certain environments contributed to the survival of continually higher types, others permitted only of the survival of continually lower types; so that while one set of conditions produced man, others destroyed all life save that of sagebrush in the desert or lichens in the arctic zone. 

The prevailing notion that evolution necessarily involves progress has often been shown to be a profound error; it is only under certain limited conditions that it tends towards advancement; under others, it not only retards advancement but even results in degeneracy. Again, judging from a human standard, nothing can exceed the injustice of evolution, its cruelty, its wastefulness. 

Our attention has been directed too much to the survival of the fit, not enough to the sacrifice of the unfit; too much to the few that survive, not enough to the millions that perish. Fair though the face of Nature may seem when we consider only her bounty to man, she has been a cruel stepmother to these countless millions of her creatures which she has sacrificed to her favourite son. Nor should we fondly imagine that man will forever remain the chosen race.

 Far from it; the very fate that has befallen every other dominant species awaits also ourselves; it is a part of the scheme of Nature that we too should perish before a superior race or a less favourable environment. One thing alone may save us; one thing alone differentiates man in this struggle with Nature from other animals — the faculty of choice, the faculty by which we resist the very appetites through which Nature lifted us to the head of her predatory system, but upon which she counts for our ultimate decay. 

The denial of this faculty of choice by a large part of the scientific as well as the religious world is believed to constitute a serious danger, for it tends to paralyse the effort through which alone man can successfully resist the forces in Nature which continually tend to drag him down. If we attempt to contrast the process of evolution in the world before the advent of a man with the process since the advent of man, we shall be struck by the fact that in its first phase it encounters no conscious or intelligent opposition anywhere, whereas man is to-day opposing it strenuously at every step. Moreover, we shall also be struck with the fact that the more intelligent and strenuous the effort of opposition, the higher is the type of man produced. 

And so the r61e of human effort in evolution becomes the determining factor in human destiny this be the case, it becomes a matter of im- portance to distinguish which forces of Nature are on our site and which on the side of the enemy, so that we may favour tlie one and resist the other. Among the great forces in the world is religion. 

We tend to regard religion too little as a force, too much as an institution. And yet regarded as a force religion is probably the greatest ally man has; regarded as an institution she has been sometimes in the past, and doubtless is still to a less extent today, his greatest enemy. This book is an attempt to rescue the force from the institution; to establish its place in the new process of evolution in man as contrasted with the old process which preceded man; to determine its relation to science, to wisdom, to human effort; what are the limits of effort; how they are determined by environment, how far they depend upon conscious choice; the lines along which effort should be directed; the great problems of the world such as pauperism, socialism, education; through what agency they can best be solved; the role of the State; the neglected and yet indispensable instrumentality of politics — and this with a view to presenting an argument in favour of an alliance between politics and religion in the struggle of man with evil and with pain.


I. — The conflict of science and religion
II. — Perfectibility of man
III. — Determinism
IV. — Determinism and the evolution 
V. — Determinism and courage
VI. — Religion: the historic view
VII. — Religion: the scientific view
VIII, — The Church and the State
IX. — Municipal misgovernment.
X. — The problem of pauperism
XI. — Problem of socialism
XII. — The problem of education
XIII. — Party government
XIV. — Summary and conclusion.

the book details :
  • Author: Edmond Kelly
  • Publication date: 1895
  • Company: New York: D. Appleton

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