The Religion of a Darwinist

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Arthur Keith
Sir Arthur Keith (1866 – 1955)
J. M. Robertson
J. M. Robertson M.P. (1856 – 1933)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at South Place Institute 26 March 1925. Chaired by J. M. Robertson M.P. and presented by Sir Arthur Keith.

Reason must be the prevalent factor in the outlook of modern man: reason as controller of passions and primitive impulses, and as guide in the search for truth. This search, for the Darwinist, is evolutionist in the fullest sense: the quest for the origins to explain not only life on earth but of the universe as a whole. This quest limits itself to facts, to what is known or can be known. It does not rely on faith of any kind. It entails a through exploration of the geological and historical past.

Evolutionary science shows that man’s physical characteristics have not changed in the last 10,000 years, since the time men were hunters. Though most of mankind has since become civilised and domesticated, many savage instincts still exist in the human make-up. Also, some human groups are still in the pre-civilisation stage.

An overall survey of biological evolution indicates nature’s continual aim of creating new species. In particular, the human species has flourished through the development of tribalist and territorialist mentalities. These mentalities maximised sympathy, and therefore minimised violence, within tribal groupings. However, within the tribal context emerged outlooks which transcended it and sought moral universality.

The general evolutionary survey shows man’s links with the anthropoids: all have a common ancestor, as the fossil record demonstrates. Also, the human brain is similar to that of the anthropoid in kind, and differs only in degree. Anthropoid communities are similar to early man’s tribal life. However, the anthropoid brain, unlike man’s, has not developed reason, to objectify and control instincts and emotions, and to develop memory and long-range perspectives.

Increase in scientific knowledge is increase in understanding of natural processes and mechanisms. This comprehension does not require any notion of the supernatural; it is based instead on the concept of natural law-law operating consistently.

As regards evolution, reason indicates that there are laws of evolution, and that they are progressive. Nature works, though very slowly, toward perfection. She experiments her way toward it, and human beings are the pawns of the experiment. Darwinism recognises this, and so accepts what at first appear to be the injustices and harshness of the evolutionary process.

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