Equally important as the first inquiry into the origin is the second, which investigates the essence of things. What is the world? What is humanity and the individual? What am I? An answer to these questions is also indispensable to the unity of our thought and the peace of our heart.
The new world-view is at once ready with its answer. It asserts, of course, that in reality all creatures are one and the same. There is nothing but matter and force, which constitute the substance of all things and only changes in endless series of forms. There is no God, there are no spirits, there is no heaven, there is no world of invisible things, no kingdom of eternal goods, no moral world-order. Nothing exists save this visible world of measurable and ponderable things, which is moved by purely mechanical and chemical forces. In a word, the world is a machine, and, as a clock, runs down. It is distinguished, however, from a machine made by man, in that the latter has been put together by a reasonable will and is still governed by it. But the world--wonderful saying--is a machine which has construed itself, which continuously holds itself in motion, and which, completely blind, without reason and purpose, eternally runs on and never down. Hence the world is no living, animated organic unity, but an eternal existence of one and the same sort, a circular motion devoid of purpose, an endless, useless round upon round, monotonous and wearisome as the wave-beat of the ocean and the flying wheels of a factory.
The organism, the living being, and man also have their place in this mechanism. For there are no creatures who differ from each other in being; there are no species which, though allied, are separated from each other in origin. All living beings are automatons, machines, even as inorganic creatures, only more finely construed and more artistically constructed. Man also forms no exception. He has neither a soul nor liberty, neither responsibility, independence, nor personality. In fact, he does not live, he is being lived. There are phenomena peculiar to him which we call psychical. But this gives us no warrant to conclude that these are altogether his own. For practical reasons they are only provisionally distinguished from physical, sensually observable phenomena. For in kind and nature they are really the same. The are but the finest products of the richest developed change of matter.
Simply because man is more finely construed than animals, and again because his highest and noblest construction is the brain, he produces finer and nobler products than other creatures. Hence all the psychical phenomena which we find with man find their preparation and analogy with plants and animals. Understanding, reason, consciousness, will, feeling, passions, tendencies, all occur in an undeveloped form with lower organisms. The difference is in degree, not in kind. With man all these phenomena are produced in the same mechanical, chemical way. What a man thinks and wills and does, he must think, will, and do. Even as bile separates itself from the liver, so thought separates itself from the brain. The better, the finer, the greater the brain, the better, the deeper, the richer the thought. Ohne Phosphor kein Gedanke ("without phosphorous no thought"). In a word, as a man eats, so is he.
This same interpretation is applied to all spiritual and moral goods which are common to man. Language, religion, morality, art, science, law, history, etc., at its latest instance, is all product of change of matter, results of circumstances. If animals, says Darwin, were educated as men, they too would be men. Fate of accident alone, whichever you please to call it, has determined it otherwise. First living as beasts, climbing the branches of trees, in communion with women, without any sense of right or law, of good and evil, compelled by circumstances, in the manner of bees and ants and beetles, they have gradually formed colonies. And in those colonies, alongside and over against the animal and selfish inclinations which are originally common to man social instincts have slowly developed, which weighed up against the others, and held them in balance, and caused men to live not exclusively for themselves but to some extent for others. Protected and encouraged by society these social instincts have gradually fostered the sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, of true and false, and quickened the need of arts and sciences. Hence there is no moral world-order, no objective right, no unchangeable law of morals, no absolute distinction of good and bad. It is all the product of circumstances. Under other relations the moral law would be entirely different, good would be evil, right wrong, and truth falsehood. Even religion has no objective value. It is born from the conflict of the feeling of self and the feeling of need. Dependent upon and oftentimes helpless over against nature, and bound to maintain himself in a physical or ethical sense, man reaches out after invisible powers which he takes to exist analogous to his own spiritual life, first in and afterward above nature, and by sacrifice and prayer he tries to engage their help in the conflict. But there is no religion in the sense of a service of God, for there is no God. At most, religion has a subjective value. Man alone is the standard of things.
Such is the thought of the newer world-view concerning the essence of material and spiritual phenomena. One might almost ask, How is it possible? And in any case, How can faith in such a view be claimed in the name of science? For it is at once clear that from this view-point there is no difference of good and evil, of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood. Everything is good and beautiful and true in its time and place, according to the individual faith and choice. And yet the adherents of the newer world-view claim to have the truth--the pure, full truth, which chases away the mists, expels error, and opens the state of happiness. They think they have a world without riddle, without mystery, and with unknown boldness they force it upon others. Skeptical according to their principle, they are on the one side hardened dogmatists in practice, and oftentimes worse fanatics than the adherents of religious belief. While they do not acknowledge objective truth, they are more certain of the truth of their own teaching than many an orthodox believer. By which single fact they pay homage to the validity and the value of the old world-view at a radical and decisive point. Sin is always doomed in spite of itself to pay homage to virtue, and falsehood in whatever garment it hides itself is compelled to confess respect for the truth which it antagonizes. When in the name of science, that is, in the name of truth, the defenders of the new world-view demand faith in their system, they cannot do otherwise than acknowledge the objective, of human opinion, independent difference of truth and falsehood, and thus also of good and bad, or right or wrong, of the beautiful and the unsightly.
Yea, more, when with the warmth of conviction, with eloquence of speech, and force of argument they seek to make their truth the common good of humanity and thereby contribute to the state of future happiness, which is the realm of the true, good, and beautiful, the "trinity of monism," they mean the world of unseen goods which far excels the world of visible things and rules and dominates it. By their trying to break the compulsion of nature by their serious thinking and strong will they show that they themselves are citizens of a higher, reasonable, and moral world which is exalted far above the mechanical order of nature and differs from it in essence. They themselves do not rest content with the physical necessity, but they honor the independence and the liberty of human personality. They furnish the strongest proof that they are no machines, no animals, but men--men of God's own generation, created after his image.
Indeed, this image never allows itself to be entirely wiped out. It operates also in the most deeply sunken and most widely errant man. It bears an indelible character, and asserts itself even in the unrest and in the accusation of the conscience. Man can adhere to falsehood, but he never does it and never can do it save as he holds it to be truth, and thereby pays homage to the truth. He can be the servant of sin, but he never is nor ever can be, except as he reckons evil to be good and so pays his respect to the good. He can kneel down to an idol, but he never does it and he never can do it except as he thinks that in the idol he sees the only true and living God and confesses awe and fear of the Eternal Being. God leaves himself without witness to no man. In each man's consciousness and conscience, reason and heart there reveals itself a kingdom of eternal and unseen goods, which steps not out of the way of any doubt and shrinks from no bold denial. The materialist may gaze himself blind upon the material world; spiritual, ideal goods are also goods, though they cannot be weighed or measured, or converted into bank notes. Sin, guilt, remorse, repentance, grace, love, comfort, forgiveness, etc., are also phenomena which must be interpreted, as well as the world of ponderable material and mechanical force.
The interpretation which the newer world-view offers of these spiritual and moral phenomena is really not worthy of the name. Confess, can it be called an interpretation when personality is robbed of its liberty; when the objective existence of true and false, of good and evil, of right and wrong is denied; when religion and morality is dissolved in a fancy? We do not dispute the warrant of tracing out as far and deep as possible the unmistakable connection and mutual relation of the spiritual and material phenomena. But as little as he who anatomically and physiologically investigates the brains, interprets the thought, or he who anatomically or physiologically investigates the heart, interprets love, just so little has he discovered the secret of religion and morality, of art and science, who exposes to the light their connection with the social conditions of any given period of time. Whoever thinks this mocks, indeed, at the needs of the human heart. They do as the unmerciful friends in Jesus' parable: when we ask them for bread they give us a stone; when we ask them for fish they give us a scorpion, as a proof that the mercies of the wicked are still cruel, and he who will feed on this bread of science will, according to Isaiah 29:8, be as a hungry man who dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but when he awaketh his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreams that he drinks, when he awakes, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite.
The development theory, therefore, is unable to interpret the richness and variety of creation. Indeed, the word development is not in place at the view-point of the mechanical world-interpretation. Evolutionists have unlawfully appropriated it and use it as a device to hide their poverty, and as a flag which does not cover their cargo. But development does not stand over against creation, but is only possible upon its foundation and belongs to its confession. Development produces nothing of itself, it is not the mother of being or of life; it is only a form of motion, which can only reveal what lies hidden inwardly in the germ. But the so-called development theory has no knowledge of germs; it knows nothing of disposition or capacity, of fitness and susceptibility. In its system there is no room for anything save atoms and complexes of atoms, which are altogether passive in themselves and are collocated only and alone in a mechanical or chemical manner by circumstances from without. This makes no mention of development in its real sense. No one thinks of development with reference to a machine whose parts are prepared in a factor piece by piece and afterward put together. Development is given an opportunity only when by almighty creation existence is given to beings who by way of organic growth must become what in germ and principle they already are. He who speaks of development refers to thought, plan, law, end; he who names development names God, who laid the "cidos" in the "hyle," the completed organism in the germ, the future in the present, and who in the creation had an eye to all times and opportunities. So little does development stand over against creation that there is scarcely any choice left between creation with the richest development on one side and mechanical combination by the accident of a host of similar atoms on the other. Development stands between origin and end; under God's providence it leads from the first to the last and unfolds all the riches of being and of life to which God gave existence.
When, therefore, in distinction from materialistic one-sidedness we embrace not merely a few but all phenomena in our world-view, how greatly does our outlook upon the universe change and enlarge itself. For then the world is no monotonous monism, no mechanical process, no irrational machine, but an organic, living whole. It contains not only matter and force, but also spirit and consciousness, reason and will. No merely mechanical and chemical, but also spiritual and moral powers operate herein, and not only are there dominant in it laws for material nature, but also laws for plants and animals, for angels and men, for social and political life, for religion and morality, for science and art, and for all the realms of the true and good and beautiful. The world is a unity, but that unity reveals itself in the richness and most beautiful variety. From the beginning heaven and earth have been distinguished from each other; sun, moon, and stars were given a task of their own; plant and animal and man each have their proper nature. Everything is created by God with a nature of its own and exists and lives after its own law. And although the creatures are thus distinguished, they are not separated from each other. Together they form one whole, one organism, one art product, of which God himself is the artist and the master builder. In him, in his counsel, in his will all created things find their origin and maintain their existence. Everything comes forth from him and in him everything is and moves and has being. He is no Deus ex machina, no help in extreme need, whom man invokes as a last resort to assist in his conflict with the mighty forces of nature. But he is the source of all being, the origin of all life and light, and the overflowing fountain of all good, who exhibits his virtues in the world and fills it with his glories.
Again, the newer world-view has no need of God; still less is its need of Christ. It has no knowledge either of sin or of guilt. It needs no Savior and saves itself. It makes mention of a development and of a civilization which leaves the heart unchanged and at most puts a check for a time upon the "wild animal" in man. But it knows nothing of a regeneration and renewal by the Holy Ghost, or of a faith that justifies the ungodly and that overcomes the world. It is the world-view of the heathen who, knowing God, does not glorify him as God, and gives thanks that the truth of God changes into falsehood, and honors and serves the creature above the Creator, to whom be glory forever and ever. It disdains the salvation from above and undertakes from the depths to lift up self on high; it will have nothing to do with the incarnation, the becoming of man on the part of God, but replaces it by the reaching forth unto deity on the part of man. But behold, amid this world of sin and sorrow, of riddles and mysteries, there stands before us on the heights of Golgotha, the cross of Christ. And at that cross God and the world, angels and men, peoples and nations, yea, all creatures take each other by the hand and exchange the token of reconciliation and of peace. In the cross all the riddles of being and of life solve themselves in principle. For thereby has God reconciled himself to the world, and triumphed gloriously over all principalities and powers. All things are of God, they are and remain in God and by God, and from their scattering they shall once return unto God. Is not this world-view more real, more beautiful and richer than that which views the whole universe as an accidental play of lifeless atoms?
Originally published in Methodist Review (1901). Translated from the Dutch by the Rev. J. Hendrik de Vries, M.A., pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, and translator of Dr. Kuyper's Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, and several other writings.