THE GOSPEL OF EVOLUTION
From "The Atheistic Platform", Twelve Lectures
By Edward Aveling
London: Freethought Publishing Company
63, Fleet Street, E.C.
THE GOSPEL OF EVOLUTION
A new and better Gospel is now preached to men. That which has for a long time gone by the name of Gospel (good news) is neither news nor good. It is not news, for it has been preached for nearly nineteen centuries. Not that length of time alone could make it old and effete. But the Gospel of Christianity has not within itself that inherent and strong life of reality which makes even old truths to have a perennial freshness, an eternal youth, Nor is the Gospel of Christianity good. In the tales that it tells us of the past, in the advice that it gives us for the present, and in the hopes and threats it holds out for the future, it is a misleading guide, a poor philosopher, a false friend.
The legends have it that on the coming of the central figure of the discredited evangel the angels sang together: "Peace on earth, good will to men." It was a false alarm. Neither peace nor good will was forthcoming. But with the advent of this scientific gospel, the Gospel of Evolution, comes the possibility of "striking a universal peace through sea and land," the possibility of the universal brotherhood of man.
Perhaps we are all of us too anxious and too hopeful in the feeling that some one idea will save the world. The religious creeds of different races and times are the expression of this anxiety. We that have rejected all belief in the supernatural must take care that the same fancy that has spoilt the lives of so many does not mar our own. We must have a care lest we make too much of some truth, even though it be a scientific conclusion, based on scientific observation and reasoning. And we must not forget that, of all the great generalisations, that of Evolution is the one most likely to be thus regarded, for it is a generalisation of generalisations. The mind of man is always longing for some solid resting-place. Man wants to get back and back, to something certain. He wants to feel that, whatever happens, some one great principle stands fast. The children of the decrepit gospel dreamed that this was found in God. The children of the new Gospel know that in the indestructibility of matter and of motion, and in the infinite nature of the transformations of matter and motion, they have a solid fact on which to fall back when all else fails. Only it is very important to remember that, great as any idea may be, the mental effort needed for its understanding and its acquisition is to the individual of as much moment as the idea itself. The exercise of our faculties is of as great value to us as the results attained by the exercise. The old parental habit of asking of the school-boy or the school-girl: "What prizes have you gained?" is only one form of a general error. The question is not, "What prizes have you?" but "What have you learned?" We are coming to recognise this in some measure in our estimates of grown men and women. Still, however, to the vulgar, the measure of a man is the banker's balance. But the thoughtful, as yet few in number, although the number grows hourly, and even the commonplace people, if they are in the unaccustomed atmosphere of culture, are estimating the value of a human being by that which he actually does and is, rather than by the magnitude of the cheques he can draw.
What is, then, this Evolution? In the asking this question and in the attempt to answer we see how much happier is the position of the new gospel as compared with that of the old. The good news of Christianity, having no scientific and indeed no natural basis, has been Protean in its forms. These have been indefinitely varied according to the taste and fancy of the age and of the individual. The Gospel as