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THE EVOLUTION OF BELIEF
BELIEFS are about facts—facts of external consciousness and internal consciousness—and are statements that facts are thus and thus. The ultimate test of a belief is whether the facts actually are as stated and believed to be—i.e. is the appeal to consciousness.
Differences of belief (which may be compared to the variations of organisms), so far as they are not due to erroneous logical processes, may be explained in one of two ways: (1) the powers of vision (spiritual, moral, æsthetic) may be supposed to vary from individual to individual, as do those of physical vision, and for the same (unexplained but not therefore supernatural) causes. This assumes that the facts are themselves always the same, but that one man, having better sight, sees them and their relations to each other better than other people, and therefore differently from other people. This accounts for the origin of different varieties of belief. The perpetuation of any variety depends solely on the conditions under which it occurs : whatever varieties of belief are not favoured by the conditions, by their environment, will perish—the rest will survive (the surviving belief will not necessarily be that of the keenest-sighted man, but that which accords with what the average sight can see of the facts). The survival of a new variety of belief implies harmony between the reformer's vision and the average man's view of the facts, on this theory; and therefore the theory fails to explain any advance-unless, indeed, we postulate that the new variety or "sport" at once alters the conditions and makes them favourable to itself and its own growth. Now this is what really takes place in the case of belief (bad
ones propagate themselves thus as well as good), and it seems to be equally true of organisms, e.g. man has modified his environment to favour his own growth.
There is, of course, the possibility that the same causes which raise (or lower) the powers of vision in the individual at the same time raise them in different degrees in all the other members of the race; and in the same way it is conceivable that the same causes which produced an atmosphere such as the earth possesses also favoured the occurrence of forms of life such as would survive in that atmosphere. But here we are supplementing the negative method of exclusions, which is the essence of the “survival” theory, by a positive cause which does away with chance-the survival of one variety will not be due to the fact that it happened by chance to be the one which survived, whilst the ninety-nine perished (on the ground that of a hundred different varieties one must be more in harmony with the conditions than the ninety-nine), but to the fact that both the occurrence of the variety and the change in conditions necessary for its survival are the joint effects of one common cause (or collocation of causes or causa causarum).
That the change in conditions should synchronise with the first occurrence of the new variety, and should take place just in time to favour its development, rather fits in with the theory of design than with that of the accidental survival of the variety which happened to be best adapted to preexisting conditions. In this connection note we have no evidence that forms of life incapable of surviving under conditions found on this planet ever did occur upon the earth : all we can say is that if they occurred, they would, ex hypothesi, perish. Note, too, there is nothing to compel us to believe that such radically unfit forms ever did occur. The position of the argument simply is that if we assume the existence of fit and unfit forms side by side, we need not call in the theory of design to account for the existence of forms specially adapted to the conditions under which they occur—we can explain their survival as due to the selective agency of the conditions (assumed to be constant).
It is only for the purpose of dispensing with the design theory that the occurrence of radically unfit forms is necessary. No argument can be drawn from the fact that of the numerous forms capable of existing for a longer or shorter time, some eventually perish—for they are, ex hypothesi, not radically unfit, but simply less fit than others.
If, then, we confine ourselves to the facts, the only forms we have experience of are forms fit in some measure or other: radically unfit forms are unproven-a mere hypothesis.
The one thing certain is that forms of life capable of surviving must have existed in the beginning. And granted that unfit forms also existed (or rather failed to exist), their existence (or failure to exist) throws no light either on the survival or on the origin of the forms which were capable of surviving. The fit survived because they were fit, not because others were fundamentally unfit.
But the absence of fundamentally unfit forms seems to indicate that the forms of life which first occurred on this planet were the outcome of the same causes as the conditions which favoured their development. And it seems fairly obvious that what favoured their growth might favour their origin (which is only the earliest period of growth).
And so generally throughout the course of development, the causes which bring about a change in the conditions would also produce a variation fit to survive in the new conditions and to take the place of the antiquated species.
(2) The other theory of the origin of varieties in belief, i.e. of the fact that one man sees (spiritually or morally) what another cannot see, is not that he has greater powers of vision, but that he has more revealed to him. On this theory the survival of a new variety must be due to the fact that a similar revelation is simultaneously or subsequently made to those who accept the new belief, so that to them also more is revealed than was known before. This would be in accordance with the view already set forth, that the same cause (not necessarily a personal cause) which produces a new variety also produces the conditions favourable to the survival of that variety.
On the other hand, this theory (1) would make teaching quite unnecessary, whereas, as a matter of fact, teaching seems to be an essential condition (perhaps not the only one) of any extension in the disciples' range of vision, and (2)
would make the process of spiritual or moral reform purely mechanical, quite apart from the rest of man's nature and absolutely necessitarian.
As regards the last consideration, the “higher power of vision ” theory is just as fatal to free will as the revelation theory.
Now, if the facts of the internal consciousness are realities in the same sense as the facts of the external consciousness, then they must be the same for all men, and equally available for all. And from the religious point of view it must be that all who seek can find them out, that the door will open to all who knock.
The latter consideration points to the rejection of necessitarianism : it implies that the truth can be perceived by anyone who chooses to look for it, that the facts are there all the time for those who will attend to them. This is not, however, inconsistent with the revelation theory as such; but it requires us to believe that as attention is a matter of personal will and choice, so the revelation of new facts is a matter of personal grace, invariably accorded but strictly conditional on the free exercise of the seeker's will. Thus the facts are equally open to all, and if not equally revealed are equally ready to reveal themselves. So, too, external facts have to be learnt by humble and patient watching for them.
This theory then will account for the two fundamental explicanda : (1) that differences in the range of vision do exist in different individuals; (2) that the facts, the reality, the truth are equally open to all minds.
The "greater power of vision” theory is then superfluous. And note that it is only a hypothesis, its only evidence is that it explains the facts. It is not capable of independent verification; and, as a matter of scientific psychology, the faculty theory has been discarded as an erroneous and misleading statement of the simple fact that different minds do behave in different ways. Some minds seek religious truth more earnestly than others, have a greater hunger and thirst for righteousness. Even to the reformer the greater measure of revelation is accorded because of his greater importunity.
Thus the ultimate reason for variety of belief seems to be Tò óti, the fact that men in the exercise of their free will pay varying degrees of attention to the facts; and this is an ultimate fact, for which we are not in a position to assign a reason, any more than we can assign a reason for “sports” differing from the other individuals of the species, or for the fact that bodies tend towards one another in the manner formulated by the law of gravity. From it we can deduce things as they are; for it we can assign no scientific cause. Indeed, if we could assign a cause (other than the individual's own free choice) we should thereby deny the freedom of the will, and have to ask why the potter blames the pots for the flaws in them of his own making. Free will is the ultimate term to which we come when we look at the facts of "internal consciousness" in our endeavour to escape from the endless chain of scientific causation, just as a First Cause is the ultimate term and mode of escape when we look at the facts of “external consciousness." Personality is the concept which supplies the solution in both cases : the free will of a personal agent is the unifying principle of experience in both spheres.
But as the First Cause acts by laws which, though natural laws, are God's laws and the expression of His will, so the free will of the human agent acts with equal regularity, and in the same way under the same circumstances. No scientific account of nature or of man is possible save on this assumption, namely, that there is not only a uniformity of nature but a uniformity of human nature. But this latter uniformity is the expression of the free will of the human agent, just as the former is of God's will. It is from this point of view that we have to inquire why and how erroneous as well as correct beliefs originate and are evolved.
First, we must distinguish true and false belief. Beliefs are about facts, are statements about facts, statements that certain facts will be found to occur in a certain way or be of a certain kind. If the facts are found to be or occur as stated, the belief is correct; if not, not. The only final test is the actual facts—the test of immediate consciousness. Consciousness is a sphere, one half or hemisphere being "external consciousness,” the other consisting of the internal facts of consciousness. That certain acids corrode certain