Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Mans Two Existences
By George Ticknor Curtis (18121894)
[Born in Watertown, Mass., 1812. Died, 1894. Creation or Evolution? A Philosophical Inquiry. 1887.]
I HAVE seen an ingenious hypothesis which it is well to refer to, because it illustrates the efforts that are often made to reconcile the doctrines of evolution with a belief in immortality. This hypothesis by no means ignores the possibility of a spiritual existence, or the spiritual as distinguished from the material world. But it assumes that man was produced under the operation of physical laws; and that after he had become a completed productthe consummate and finished end of the whole process of evolutionhe passed under the dominion and operation of other and different laws, and is saved from annihilation by the intervention of a change from the physical to the spiritual laws of his Creator. Put into a condensed form, this theory has been thus stated: Having spent countless æons in forming man, by the slow process of animal evolution, God will not suffer him to fall back into elemental flames, and be consumed by the further operation of physical laws, but will transfer him into the dominion of the spiritual laws that are held in reserve for his salvation.
One of the first questions to be asked, in reference to this hypothesis, is, Who or what is it that God is supposed to have spent countless æons in creating by the slow process of animal evolution? If we contemplate a single specimen of the human race, we find a bodily organism, endowed with life like that of other animals, and acted upon by physical laws throughout the whole period of its existence. We also find present in the same individual a mental existence, which is certified to us by evidence entirely different from that by which we obtain a knowledge of the physical organism. As the methods employed by the Creator in the production of the physical organism, whatever we may suppose them to have been, were physical laws operating upon matter, so the methods employed by him in the production of a spiritual existence must have operated in a domain that was wholly aside from the physical world. Each of these distinct realms is equally under the government of an Omnipotent Being; and while we may suppose that in the one he employed a very slow process, such as the evolution of animal organisms out of one another is imagined to have been, there is no conceivable reason why he should not, in the other and very different realm, have resorted to the direct creation of a spiritual existence, which cannot, in the nature of things, have required to be produced by the action of physical laws. When, at the birth of each individual of the human race, the two existences become united, when, in consequence of the operation of that sexual union of the parents which has been ordained for the production of a new individual, the physical and the spiritual existence become incorporated in the one being, the fact that they remain for a certain time mutually dependent and mutually useful, coöperating in the purposes of their temporary connection, does not change their essential nature. The one may be destructible because the operation of physical laws may dissolve the ligaments that hold it together; the other may be indestructible, because the operation of spiritual laws will hold together the spiritual organism that is in its nature independent of the laws of matter.
I can therefore see no necessary connection between the methods employed by the Almighty in the production of an animal and the methods employed by him in the production of a soul. That in the birth of the individual the two come into existence simultaneously, and are temporarily united in one and the same being, only proves that the two existences are contemporaneous in their joint inception. It does not prove that they are of the same nature, or the same substance, or that the physical organism is the only ego, or that the psychical existence is nothing but certain states of the material structure, to whose aggregate manifestations certain philosophers give the name of mind, while denying to them personal individuality and the consciousness of a distinct being .
I will only add that the great want of this age is the prosecution of inquiry into the nature of the human mind as an organic structure, regarded as such. It seems to me that the whole mission of Science is now perverted by a wrong aim, which is to find out the external to the neglect of the internalto make all exploration terminate in the laws of the physical universe, and go aside from the examination of the spiritual world .
If we know the mind, we must reach the conviction that there is a mind: and this conviction can be reached only by penetrating through all the externals, through the physical organism, through the diversities of race, through the environment of matter, until we have found the soul. If history, like zoölogy, has found its anatomy, mental science must, in like manner, be prosecuted as an anatomical study. So long as we allow the anatomy of zoölogy to be the predominant and only explanation, the beginning and the end of the mental manifestations, so long we shall fail to comprehend the nature of man, and to see the reason for his immortality.