Professor Drummond's Ascent of Man

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The author of “Natural Law in the Spiritual World” could scarcely be expected to deliver anything but a eulogy on the theory of evolution. This anticipation has been realized in his American lectures, the first of which is characteristically entitled the “Ascent of Man.” The Professor is nothing if not enthusiastic; accordingly the author of “the Greatest Thing in the World” tells us that evolution is “the last and most splendid contribution of science to the faith of the world.”
We beg leave however in a brief manner to present to your readers two out of many serious indictments that must be made against this theory.
1.—Evolution does not rest upon facts, but upon assumptions.
2.—Its tendencies are to destroy faith in God and His word.
In the first place then, one listening to the confident asseverations of the upholders of evolution might reasonably suppose that every care was taken to observe the phenomena they thus profess to account for; and that, before the theory was formulated, a full investigation and a complete induction were made of the whole series of biological and other facts falling within its province. Indeed this much might almost be implied from the Professor's own words. “Each worker toiled in his own little place, the geologist in his quarry... Suddenly these workers looked up; they spoke to one another; they had each discovered a law; they whispered its name. It was the same word that went round. They had each discovered evolution.”
We find however that the alleged discovery was after all only a guess, the “swift induction of an adventurous mind from a momentary glimpse of a (supposed) natural law;” and that this development theory which asserts man to be “lineally descended from a sponge,” and which sees “no more in a beautiful maiden than a cross between a dodo and a daddylong-legs,” is in point of fact a mere scientific dream, fascinating no doubt as some dreams are, but a “baseless fabric” like them all.
In support of this we produce testimony, which the Professor himself will be sure to respect, viz: his own, as given in these very lectures. For the Lowell lecturer assures his audience that “Evolution is after all a Vision.” Now although “Vision” is spelled with a capital V, it can mean no more than a phantasm, a creature of the imagination. And when we are told our remote ancestors were blobs of jelly in some primeval slime, it is really a kindness to be informed at the same time, that the theory has after all no more foundation than a dream.
But if the interpretation is one, the dreams of the aforesaid “workers” are not one; for it seems the eminent scientists themselves do not by any means agree as to the “Visions” they see. Mr. D. himself supplies us with this information. He confesses “there is everywhere at this moment the most disturbing uncertainty as to how the ascent even of species has been brought about. The attacks on the Darwinian theory from the outside were never so keen as are the controversies, now raging in scientific circles, over the fundamental principles of Darwinism itself.” Again, “the whole field of science is hot with controversies and discussions;” “at present there is not a chapter of the record (i.e., of evolution) that is not incomplete, not a page that is wholly finished.” Since therefore Mr. D. admits that even the fundamental principles of Darwinism are the subject of controversy among men of science themselves, we, have the evidence of the evolutionist himself in support of our thesis;—that evolution does not rest upon established facts, but upon debatable assumptions. And after such concessions as these have been made, we are somewhat astounded to read farther on— “it is certain that the materials for his (man's) body have been brought together from an unknown multitude of lowlier forms of life.” Taking the Professor's own hint as to the uncertainty of science we feel constrained to ask him for a few indubitable facts just to establish satisfactorily this little point. There are none however forthcoming. We ask for proof, and he gives us a metaphor about the Cathedral of St. Mark's. In sooth, we did not expect a demonstration, for it is well-known that no passage from a lower species to the human has ever come under the observation of any one; neither has the same been brought about by experiments of any kind. As therefore the statement in question does not rest upon either observation or experiment, the Jachin and Boaz of science, we submit that it would be more correct to say “it is assumed &c.” than “it is certain, &c.” And if it is only an assumption that we are descendants of the apes, surely we may be allowed to throw such a theory to the dogs. But though the Professor does not prove his theory, he sufficiently establishes his own powers of imagination and graphic description in the entertaining account he gives of the supposed ascent of man. In the growth of the human embryo, the scientific Seer discerns “a condensed zoology, a recapitulation and epitome of the main chapters in the natural history of the world. The same processes of development which once took thousands of years for their consummation are here condensed, foreshortened, concentrated into the space of months.” Then the aspiring efforts of past animal organisms through incalculable ages are traced from the single cell upwards, as on a “moving panorama:” worms, fish, amphibian, reptile. “At last the true mammalian form emerges from the crowd.” Then come the apes, and after one last superhuman or perhaps we ought to say supersimian struggle, man appears. However, as soon as the Professor has thus introduced us to our long-lost relatives, he politely informs us that the relationship between us is “all but proved.” One almost hears his tones of apology and regret, as he explains that after all, you know, evolution is only a Vision. Things are not yet very definite; at present man can really choose whatever early relatives he pleases. For embryology is such a very young science; and between ourselves this embryological argument is at present, founded on analogy! As to this last sentence, Mr. D.'s actual words are “Our ideas of the probable history of the human ovum, for the first few days, are mainly taken from our knowledge of the development of other mammals and of birds and reptiles.” So that the embryological argument for evolution in another form is as follows:.—Certain things are found true of the embryos of the rabbit, of the pigeon, of the frog, &c. and it is assumed that the very same things are true of the human embryo.
We therefore repeat that, upon the Professor's own showing, evolution is not grounded upon observed facts, but upon guesses and suppositions.
It is admitted on all hands that embryology is the most obscure branch of biology. The very highest magnifying power of the best microscopes reveals no essential differences between the ova of man, ape, dog, &c. But undeniably there is the most radical difference; and this touch is clear, that in the earliest embryonic stage similarity is no proof of identity. These facts might have taught caution to our Professor and others, who have rashly concluded that, because the growing embryo in its various transformations resembles other forms of life, it must therefore be identical with them. There is indisputably a radical difference in the unicellular stage despite the close resemblance, and essential difference abides throughout all subsequent changes. Analogy is ever a precarious argument; it is the favorite logic of the imagination when one sees lions' heads and smugglers' caves in the glowing embers. We are here insensibly reminded of the foolish man, who called his neighbors one evening to help him reach a large cheese out of the pond. They, wiser than he, found he had been observing the reflection of the moon in the water. The poor man's reasoning was doubtless founded on analogy; but the analogy must have been at fault somewhere. Let evolutionists beware, lest the analogy between the embryos of a man and a monkey be even less than between the moon's image and a submerged cheese.1 A wiser than they said “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
Some years ago, a useful lesson was read to the scientific world on the folly of assuming theories to be true without actual proof. Professor Huxley announced in a leading scientific paper in 1869, that a vast sheet of living matter enveloped the earth beneath the seas. This deep-sea slime, designated by him Bathybius Haeckelii, was alleged to be protoplasm. And he maintained that this gelatinous jelly-like substance was the “physical basis of life.” Strauss and its German god-father Haeckel, carried away by enthusiasm, triumphantly declared it to be the bridge between the living and the non-living, the organic and the inorganic. But oh, the pity of it! the bubble soon burst. In 1876 “Bathybius” was publicly interred; for during the voyage of the ship Challenger, it was discovered that “Bathybius” was quite inorganic, being made up mostly of sulphate of lime. Huxley himself confessed on a subsequent occasion that “Biogenesis is victorious along the whole line.”
It is not our present intention to do more than thus point out for the sake of simple folk that the groundwork on which is built the popular notion of evolution or the “development theory” is entirely of a visionary nature. And seeing it is purely a “working hypothesis,” and unsatisfactory to men of science themselves into the bargain, the less said about it, as we wait for proof, the better; especially since its tendencies are of a pronounced infidel nature, as we hope to show in another letter. (D. V.)
Yours faithfully in Christ,
NOTE—The quotations of Prof. D. in these letters are taken from the reports of his lectures in the “British Weekly” of April 20th, and subsequent dates.