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Scientific Faith
by [?]

I find myself accepting certain things on the authority of science which so far transcend my experience, and the experience of the race and all the knowledge of the world, in fact which come so near being unthinkable, that I call my acceptance of them an act of scientific faith. One’s reason may be convinced and yet the heart refuse to believe. It is not so much a question of evidence as a question of capacity to receive evidence of an unusual kind.

One of the conclusions of science which I feel forced to accept, and yet which I find very hard work to believe, is that of the animal origin of man. I suppose my logical faculties are convinced, but what is that in me that is baffled, and that hesitates and demurs?

The idea of the origin of man from some lower form requires such a plunge into the past, and such a faith in the transforming power of the biological laws, and in the divinity that lurks in the soil underfoot and streams from the orbs overhead, that the ordinary mind is quite unequal to the task. For the book of Genesis of the old Bible we have substituted the book of genesis of the rocky scripture of the globe–a book torn and mutilated, that has been through fire and flood and earthquake shock, that has been in the sea and on the heights, and that only the palaeontologist can read or decipher correctly, but which is a veritable bible of the succession of life on the earth. The events of the days of creation are recorded here, but they are days of such length that they are to be reckoned only in millions of years.

The evolution of the horse, according to the best and latest research, from the eohippus of Eocene times–a small mammal no larger than the fox–to the proud and fleet creature that we prize to-day, occupied four or five millions of years. Think of that first known progenitor of the horse as never dying, but living on through the geological ages and being slowly, oh, so slowly, modified by its environment, changing its teeth, its hoofs, enlarging its body, lengthening its limbs, and so on, till it becomes the horse we know to-day.

In accepting the theory of the animal origin of man we have got to follow man back, not only till we find him a naked savage like the Fuegians as Darwin describes them,–naked, bedaubed with paint, with matted hair and looks wild and distrustful,–but we cannot stop there, we must follow him back till he becomes a troglodyte, a cave-dweller, contending with the cave bear, the cave lion, and the hyena for the possession of this rude shelter; back still, till we find him in trees living like the anthropoid apes; then back to the earth again to some four-footed creature, probably of the marsupial kind; still the trail leads downward and ever downward, till we lose it in that maze of marine forms that swarm in the Palaeozoic seas, or until the imagination is baffled and refuses to proceed. It certainly is a hard proposition, and it puts one upon his mettle to accept it.

Should we not find equal difficulty in believing the life-history of each one of us,–the start in the germ, then the vague suggestion of fish, and frog, and reptile, in our foetal life,–were it not a matter of daily experience? Let it be granted that the race of man was born as literally out of the animal forms below him as the child is born out of these vague, prenatal animal forms in its mother’s womb. Yet the former fact so far transcends our experience, and even our power of imagination, that we can receive it only by an act of scientific faith, as our fathers received the dogmas of the Church by an act of religious faith.