Saturday, 13 August 2016

SHAW ON EVOLUTION

 In debate on evolution, which took place in London between Hillaire Belloc and Bernard Shaw, the latter said:—
 During our lifetime there has been a change in public opinion in the mind of the world, and that change is represented to us by the word evolution. I should say, roughly speaking, that the world, without the conception of evolution, is a world in which men of strong mind can only despair as Shakespeare despaired. That is to say, you have the conception of the universe represented as something like the sea. The sea is always restless, always in motion, having violent fits of rage occasionally getting up farther and doing nothing except steadily drowning a certain number of people—killing, killing, killing. A man of strong mind contemplating that state of the universe may become pessimistic like Shakespeare; he talks about the world very much as Hamlet talked about the world, as King Lear talked about the world. If they happen to be men of a naturally cheerful disposition they may be able to get through without it; but, nevertheless, without a conception of evolution they are in a world in which there is no hope; in which, there is no future, and from which there is nothing to come. Theirs is a world of which the Frenchman says, the more it changes the more it is the same old thing. On the other hand, when you introduce the state of evolution you are immediately in the sea of sin and misery, but, nevertheless, there is a promised land before you, and when you reach that promised land there will be always still another promised land on the horizon.
 You will never, then, have to tread that most terrible of all things, the ultimate achievement of perfection, because when you hare arrived at that it means nothing more. It means that you are in a world of nothing more to hope for. But the moment you get evolution introduced you get something to live for. The world is all changed. If any two men talked to you about what is coming an honest man, of course, will say that he did not know what was coming. But the man who is an evolutionist will say that he does believe that there is something coming different from what has been, that it is higher than what has been, that it is something which lives more intensely, more abundantly, than that which has lived before. Perhaps the main conception of a finished perfected universe, as far as I can judge, is that "what has been will be," and there is no thing more dreadful. That does not recommend itself to me. At this moment the movement of evolution in its modern form has suddenly taken shape in America, where a famous man named Mr. Bryan, a great American statesman, one of those men which, I think, America alone can produce, a man who has an extraordinary sort of uplift without any discoverable brains of any kind, has suddenly led a movement against evolution and has called it by the name of fundamentalism. He asked his followers to call him, I think, their first fundamentalist, and he tries to make it a criminal offence for anybody to teach children in the schools the theory of evolution in its modern scientific form. Now, there, of course, you get immediately a strong difference between Mr. Bryan and myself.
 If I had Mr. Bryan on this platform there would be no possible confusion between our ideas. I should quite frankly tell Mr. Bryan that what he calls fundamentalism is really infantilism. I should regard his endeavour to obtain the withdrawal of the teaching of children scientific knowledge as a gross violation of the rights of children, and that I should regard the desire to do it as being a particular stigma of a blockhead, to use no stronger expression. Now, in the old days America got all her ideas from us. When you spoke to an American you knew he began to speak, if he had any ideas at all, that they were the ideas that we had exported forty or fifty years before, and which he had brought back in a condition of the most appalling stain. But it is no longer the case, America imports our ideas and sends them back to us in moving picture shows. Therefore, I want to say that when you compare that clear issue which could be debated with any possible issue that could arise between Mr. Belloc, who calls himself a Catholic, and I, who am called a Protestant—when you compare the two, I think, you will at once see that somehow or other the statement of Mr. Belloc is a Catholic and that I am a Protestant means nothing at all. Whereas, in the issue as between Mr. Bryan and, say, my friend, Professor Gilbert Murray, or M. Bergson, or any other exponent of modern evolution, there would be no doubt whatever in the mind of any ordinary citizen on which side they were. It would never occur to anyone to classify them as either Protestants or Catholics, and I take it that that would mean these categories of Protestants and Catholics are now obsolete, that you cannot find a debate on them, whereas you can produce a debate between Mr. Bryan and myself on evolution.
 I think even if we considered the history of those churches, the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church, and all the other churches, it appears to me now to be plain to everybody that, whereas there is a great ideal, an ideal which we call the Catholic Church, which we have always been striving to realise, a thing which one can only describe as the communion of saints, in the very largest sense, we have given it many names, but we are certain of this, that there are many churches in the world and that they all profess to be a realisation of that ideal of the Catholic Church. The historical fact is that they have all broken down completely. None of them is really the Catholic church, and that they have shown that I will take the Catholic Church, for instance. I had better try to put as much blame as I possibly can on that church, for I am sure you will know that I have plenty of missiles to throw at the other churches as well, the Protestant Church as well as the others. What has really affected the Catholic Church, of course, is rationalism. It has always suffered from rationalism carried to the extreme. If you want to get a religious precept, which is, I am sure, as near a Catholic precept as you can get; go back 25 centuries or thereabouts and you will find it in Micah, the prophet. Micah says this to you : "What doth thy God require of thee but to do justice; what more doth thy God require of thee but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God." I have a very high opinion of the Prophet Micah for saying that, and if only the churches could be persuaded to believe the Prophet Micah they would not be in the condition they are at present.
 One of the things that is going to happen and is coming in the future is that we are going to get away from rationalism in the bigoted sense. We are going to be very much more tolerant of one another's faiths and of each other's positions. Here I don't know what is going to happen. The really interesting question is : Will the churches repent, will the churches adapt themselves to the growth of the human spirit and the march of the human soul will they cast aside their past and will they stick in the old ruts, each quarreling with the other and trying to assert that each is the only true church ? It seems to me that the churches have got themselves into an extremely tiresome lot of people. It has happened in this way : In our writing and in our conversation we talk of "the church." There is no such thing really as "the church." In every village there is a building called a church and a man called a minister; he may be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Baptist, or any other denomination, but, in addition to being one of these, he may be a fool or he may be a saint. There is no guarantee either way. They are a mixed assortment. The man in the street is tired of the preachers and will listen to some one who is not a parson provided he has something to say. I don't care tuppence, if all the churches crumbled and were utterly scattered. Our soul will go marching on.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) , Thursday 12 November 1925, page 6

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