The Origin of Civilization
Take the men and women who hold, on marriage and on religion, what are called “advanced views” – free-lovers and free-religionists- remove them from the restraints of the Church and of the state, not yet up to their standard, and let them form a community by themselves in which their views shall be carried out in practice; would they not in two or three generations lapse into a state not above that of the most degraded and filthy savages? We see this deterioration going on in our midst and right before our eyes, as the effect of apostasy from our holy religion. This proves that apostasy is sufficient to explain the existence of the savage races, without supposing the human race began in “utter barbarism.” If apostasy in modern times, as we see it does, leads to “utter barbarism,” why should it not have done so in ancient times?
Sir John Lubbock, though his name is not euphonious, is, we understand, an English scientist, highly distinguished and of no mean authority in the scientific world, as his father was before him. He certainly is a man of high pretensions, and of as much practical ability and practical good sense as we have a right to expect in an English scientist. He, of course, adopts the modern theory of progress, and maintains that the savage is the type of the primitive man, and that he has emerged from his original barbarism and superstition to his present advanced civilization and religious belief and worship by his own energy and persevering efforts at self-evolution or development, without any foreign or supernatural instruction or assistance.
One, Sir John contends, has only to study and carefully ascertain the present condition of the various contemporary savage tribes, or what he calls the “lower races,” to know what was the original condition of mankind, and from which the superior races started on their tour of progress through the ages; and one needs only to ascertain the germs of civilization and religion which were in their original condition, to be able to comprehend the various stages of that progress and the principles and means by which it has been effected and may be carried on indefinitely beyond the point already reached. Hence, in the volume before us the author labors to present us a true picture of the present mental and social condition of contemporary savages as that of the primeval man. He assumes that the mental and social condition is that of the infancy of the human race, and by studying it we can attain to the history of “pre-historic” times, assist, as it were, if we may be pardoned the Gallicanism, at the earliest development of mankind, and trace step by step the progress from their first appearance on the globe upward to the sublime civilization of the nineteenth century- the civilization of the steam-engine, the cotton spinner and weaver, the steamboat, the steam-plough, the railway, and the lightning telegraph.
This theory, that finds in the savage the type of the primitive man, is nothing very new. It was refuted by the late Archbishop Whately, by the Duke of Argyll in his Primeval Man, and on several occasions by ourselves. The facts Sir John adduces in support of this theory, are far as facts they are, had been adduced long ago, and were as well known by us before we abandoned the theory as untenable, as they are by Sir John Lubbock or any of his compeers. They may all, as far as they bear on religion, be found summed up and treated at length in the work of Benjamin Constant, La Religion consideree dans sa Source, ses Developements, et ses Formes, published in 1832, as well as in a mass of German writers. Sir John has told us nothing of the mental and social condition of savages that we had not examined, we had almost said before he was born, and which we had supposed was not known by all men with any pretension to serious studies. In fact, we grow rather impatient as we grow old of writers who, because they actually have learned more than they knew in their cradles, imagine that they have learned so much more than all the rest of mankind. No men try our patience more than our scientific Englishmen, who speak always in a decisive tone, with an air of infallibility from which there would seem to be no appeal, and yet utter only the veriest commonplaces, old theories long since exploded, or stale absurdities. We have no patience with such men as Herbert Spencer, Huxley, and Darwin. We are hardly less impatient with the scientists who in our own country hold them up to our admiration and reverence as marvelous discoverers, and as the great and brilliant lights of the age. We love science, we honor the men who devote their lives to its cultivation, but we ask that it be science, not hypothesis piled on hypothesis, nor simply a thing of mere conjectures or guesses.
The modern doctrine of progress or development, which supposes a man began in the lowest savage, if not lower still, is not a doctrine suggested by any facts observed and classified in men’s history, nor is it a logical induction from any class of known facts, but a gratuitous hypothesis invented and asserted against the Biblical doctrine of creation, of Providence, of original sin, and of the supernatural instruction, government, redemption, and salvation of men. The hypothesis is suggested by hostility to the Christian revelation, prior to the analysis and classification of any facts to sustain it, and the scientists who defend it are simply investigating nature, not in the interests of science properly so-called, but, consciously or unconsciously, to find facts to support an hypothesis which may be opposed to both. Any facts in nature or in history, natural or civil, political or religious, that seem to make against Christian teaching, are seized upon with avidity, distorted or exaggerated, and paraded with a grand fanfaronade, sounding of trumpets, beating of drums, and waving of banners, as if it were a glorious triumph of man to prove that he is no better than the beasts that perish; while the multitude of facts which are absolutely irreconcilable with it are passed over in silence or quietly set aside, as of no account, or simply declared to be anomalies, which science is not yet in a condition to explain, but, no doubt, soon will be, since it has entered the true path, has found the true scientific methods, and is headed in the right direction. Science is yet in its infancy. In its cradle it has strangled frightful monsters, and, when full-grown, it will not fail to slay the hydra, and rid the world of all its “chimeras dire.” But while we do not complain that your infantile or puerile science has not done more, we would simply remind you, men of science, that it is very unscientific to reason from what you confess science has not yet done as if it had done it. Wait till it has done it, before you bring it forward as a scientific achievement.
We confess to a want of confidence in this whole class of scientists, for their investigations are not free and unbiased; their minds are prejudiced; they are pledged to a theory in advance, which makes them shut their eyes to the facts which contradict it, and close their intelligence to the great principles of universal reason which render their conclusions invalid. There are other scientists who have pushed their investigations as far into nature and history as they have, perhaps even further, who know and have carefully analyzed all the facts they know or even pretend to know, and yet have come to conclusions the contrary to theirs, and find nothing in the facts or phenomena of the universe that warrant any induction not in accordance with Christian faith, either as set forth in the Holy Scriptures or the definitions of the Church. Why are these less likely to be really scientific than they? They are biased by their Christian faith, you say. Be it so: are you less biased by your anti-christian unbelief and disposition? Besides, are you able to say that these have not in their Christian faith a key to the real sense or meaning of the universe and its phenomena which you have not, and therefore are much more likely to be right than you? Do you know that it is not so? There is no science where knowledge is wanting.
The unchristian scientists forget that they cannot conclude against the Biblical or Christian doctrine from mere possibilities or even probabilities. They appeal to science against it, and nothing can avail them as the basis of argument against it that is not scientifically proved or demonstrated. Their hypothesis of progress, evolution, or development is unquestionably repugnant to the whole Christian doctrine and order of thought. If it is true, Christianity is false. They must then, before urging it, either prove Christianity untrue or an idle tale, or else prove absolutely, beyond the possibility of a rational doubt, the truth of their hypothesis. It is enough to prove that it may, for aught you know, be true; you must prove that it is true, and cannot be false. Christianity is too important a fact in the world’s history to be set aside by an undemonstrated hypothesis. And it is any thing but scientific to conclude its falsity on the strength of a simply possible or even probable hypothesis, not as yet indeed proved, and of which the best you can say is that you trust science will be able to prove it when once it is out of its nonage. You cannot propose it at all, unless you have scientifically demonstrated it, or previously disproved aliunde the Christian revelation. So long as you leave it possible for me to hold the Christian faith without contradicting what is demonstrated to be true, you have alleged nothing to the purpose against it, and cannot bring forward your theory even as probable, far less as scientific; for, if it is possible that Christianity is true, it is not possible that your hypothesis can be true, or even scientifically proved. The scientists seem not to be aware of this, and seem to suppose that they may rank Christianity with the various heathen superstitions, and set it aside by an unsupported theory or a prejudice.
Let the question be understood. Christianity teaches us that in the beginning God created heaven and earth, and all things therein, visible and invisible, that he made man after his own image and likeness, placed him in the garden of Eden, gave him a law, that is, made him a revelation of his will, instructed him in his moral and religious duty, established him in original justice, in a supernatural state, under a supernatural providence, on the plane of a supernatural destiny; that man prevaricated, broke the law given him, lost his original justice, the integrity of his nature attached thereto, and communion with his Maker, fell under the dominion of the flesh, became captive to Satan, and subject to death, moral, temporal, and eternal; that God, of his own goodness and mercy, promised him pardon and deliverance, redemption and salvation, through his own Son made man, who in due time was born to the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, was dead and buried, and on the third day rose again, ascended into heaven, whence he shall come again, to judge the living and the dead. This doctrine, in substance, was made to our first parents in the garden, was preserved in the tradition of the patriarchs, in its purity in the synagogue, and in its purity and integrity in the Christian Church founded on it, and authorized and assisted by God himself to teach it to all men and nations.
According to this doctrine, the origin of man, the human species, as well as of the universe and all its contents, is in the creative act of God, not in evolution or development. The first man was not a monkey or a tadpole developed, nor a savage or barbarian, but was a man full-grown in the integrity of his nature, instructed by his Maker, and the most perfect man of his race, and as he is the progenitor of all mankind, it follows that mankind began not in “utter barbarism,” as Sir John asserts, but in the full development and perfection of manhood, with the knowledge of God and providence, of their origin and destiny, and of their moral and religious duty. Ignorance has followed as the penalty or consequence of sin, instead of being the original condition in which man was created; and this ignorance brought on the race by the prevarication of Adam, the dominion of the flesh, and the power of Satan acquired thereby, are the origin and cause of barbarism of individuals and nations, the innumerable moral and social evils which have afflicted mankind in all times and places.
Now, to this doctrine Sir John opposes the hypothesis of the origin of man in “utter barbarism,” and his progress by natural evolution or self-development. But what facts has he adduced in its support, or that conflict with Christian teaching, that prove that teaching false or even doubtful? He has adduced, as far as we can see, none at all, for all the facts that he alleges are, to say the least, as easily explained in the supposition of man’s deterioration as on the supposition of progress, development, or continuous melioration. Some of the facts he adduces might, perhaps, be explained on his hypothesis, if there were no reason for giving them a contrary explanation; but there is not one of them that must be so explained. This is not enough for his purpose, though it is enough for ours. He must go further, and prove that his facts not only may but must be explained on his hypothesis, and can be explained on no other. If we are able to explain, or he is unable to show positively that we cannot explain, all known facts in accordance with Christian doctrine, he can conclude nothing from them against Christianity or in favor of his naturalism. We do not, he must remember, rely on those facts to prove the Christian doctrine, but he relies on them to disprove it, by proving his hypothesis; and if he cannot show that they absolutely do disprove it, or positively prove his hypothesis, he proves nothing to his purpose.
Sir John dwells at great length on the real or supposed rites, forms, and barbarous customs observed by outlying savage tribes and or nations, but, but before he can draw any conclusion from them in favor of his theory of progress, he must prove that they were primitive. He knows them only as contemporaneous with what he would himself call civilized marriage: how then, without having first proved that the race began in “utter barbarism,” conclude from them that they preceded civilized marriage? One thing is certain, we never found them without finding somewhere in the world contemporary with them the civilized marriage. There is no history, historical intimation, or tradition of any custom or conception of marriage older than we have in the book of Genesis, and in that we find the true idea of marriage was already in the world at the earliest date of history, and the vices against it are plainly condemned in the Decalogue, contemporary with these very usages, customs, and notions of savages on which Sir John dwells with so much apparent delight, and which are barbarous, and lax enough to satisfy even our women’s rights of men; and, so far as history goes, preceding them, the true idea of marriage as something sacred, and as the union of one man with one woman, was known and held, and therefore could not have been, at least as far as known, a development of barbarian marriages. The same answer applies to the question of religion. Contemporary with the savage and barbarous superstitions of the heathen, and even prior to them, we find practiced in its fervor and purity the true worship of the true God. True religion is not developed from the impurities and absurd superstitions of the heathen, and is by no means the growth of the religious sentiment becoming gradually enlightened and purifying itself from their grossness, for it is historically as well as logically older than any of them. Men worshipped God the creator of heaven and earth before they worshipped the fetish, the elements, or the hosts of heaven. Religion is older than superstition, for superstition is an abuse of religion, as the theologians say, by way of excess, as irreligion is its abuse by way of defect; but a thing must exist and be entertained before it can be abused. Nothing can be more certain than that true religion has never been developed from false religions, or truth from falsehood; for the true must precede the false, which is simply the negation of the true. Christianity is, if you will, a development, the fulfillment of the synagogue or the Jewish religion; Judaism was also, if you will, a development of the patriarchal religion; but in neither case a self-development; and in neither case has the development been effected except by supernatural intervention. It would be absurd to suppose the patriarchal religion was a development of heathenism, since it is historically prior to any form of heathenism, and every known form of heathenism supposes it, and is intelligible only by it. So far was Judaism from being self-evolved from the superstitions of the heathen, that it was with the greatest difficulty that the Israelites themselves, as their history shows, were kept from adopting the idolatry and superstition of the surrounding nations, which shows that their religion was not self-evolved, and that it was above the moral and religious life of the people. Christianity develops and perfects Judaism, but by supernatural agency, not by the natural progress or self-development of the Jewish people; for if it had been, the bulk of the nation would have accepted it, and we know that the bulk of the Jewish people did not accept it, but rejected it, and continue to reject it to this day.
We know, also, that the progress of the heathen nations was very far from raising them to the level of the Christian religion. Traces of some of its principles and several of its moral precepts may be found with the gentile philosophers, as we should expect, since they pertained to the primitive revelation; but those philosophers were not the first, but rather the last to accept it. Nowhere amongst the heathen did any Christian communities spring up spontaneously or were of indigenous origin. Christianity sprang up out of Judea, and the nations adopted it, in the first instance, only as it was carried to them by Jewish missionaries. Humble fishermen, publicans, and mechanics. Who first received them, and believed their message? Principally the common people, the unlettered, the poor, and slaves of the rich and noble. “For see your vocation brethren,” says St. Paul, (I Cor. 4, 26), “that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” Were the fisherman of the Lake Genesarath, and the slaves of the Roman Empire, we may ask with Msgr. Maret, “the most enlightened and advanced portion of mankind?” Who dare maintain it, when it is a question of natural development or progress? Had Christianity been the natural evolution of the human mind, or the product of the natural growth of human intelligence and morality, we should have first encountered it not with the poor, the ignorant, the unlettered and wretched slaves, but with the higher and more cultivated classes, with the philosophers, the scientists, the noble, the great generals and the most eminent orators and statesmen, the elite of the Greek and Roman society, those who at the time stood at the head of the civilized world. Yet such is not the fact, but the fact is the very reverse.
The Biblical history explains the origin of the barbarous superstitions of heathendom in a very satisfactory way, and shows us very clearly that the savage state is not the primitive state, but has been produced by sin, and is the result of what we call the great gentile apostasy, or falling away of the nations from the primitive or patriarchal religion. When language was confounded at Babel, and the dispersion of mankind took place, unity of speech or language was lost, and with it unity of ideas or of faith, and each tribe or nation took its own course, and developed a tribal or national religion of its own. Gradually each tribe or nation lost the conception of God as creator, and formed to itself gods made in its own image, clothed with its own passions, and it bowed down and worshipped the work of its own hands. It was not that they knew or had known no better. St. Paul has settled that question. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all impiety and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice. Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God has manifested it to them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: his eternal power also and divinity; so that they are inexcusable. Because when they had known God, they glorified him not as God, nor gave thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened; for, professing themselves wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and of creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their hearts, to uncleanliness; to dishonor their own bodies among themselves, who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom I 18-25)
St. Paul evidently does not believe Sir John Lubbock’s doctrine that the race began in “utter barbarism,” and have been slowly working their way up to the heights of Christian civilization. He evidently ascribes the superstitions, and consequently the barbarism, of the heathen to apostasy. Sir John, of course, does not accept the authority of St. Paul; but, if he cannot prove St. Paul was wrong, he is debarred from asserting his own hypothesis, even as probable. If it is possible to explain the facts of the savage state on the ground of apostasy or gradual deterioration, the hypothesis of development, of self-evolution or natural and unaided progress, falls to the ground as wholly baseless. His hypothesis becomes provable only by proving that no hypothesis is possible.
But all the known facts in the case are against our scientific baronet’s hypothesis. Take Mohammedanism. It sprang up subsequently to both Moses and the Gospel. It is a compound of both Judaism and Christianity, more Jewish than Christian, however, and is decidedly inferior to either. How explain this fact, if the several races of men never fall or retrograde, but are always advancing, marching through the ages onward and upward? Many of the ancestors of the present Mussulmans belonged to highly civilized races, and some of them were Christians, and not a few of them Jews. Yet there is always progress, never deterioration.
But we need not go back to the seventh century. There has been a modern apostasy, and we see right before our eyes the process of deterioration, of falling into barbarism, going on among those who have apostatized from Christianity. The author regards as an evidence of the lowest barbarism what he calls “communal marriage,” that is, marriage in which the wife is common to all the males of her husband’s family. We do not believe this sort of marriage was ever any thing more than an exceptional fact, like polyandry; but suppose it was even among even the lowest savage tribes, how much lower or more barbarous is the state it indicates, than what the highly civilized Plato makes the magistrates prescribe in his imaginary Republic? How much in advance of such a practice is the free love advocated by Mary Wolstonecraft and Fanny Wright; the recommendation of Godwin to abolish marriage and the monopoly by one man of any one woman; than the denunciation of marriage by the late Robert Owen as one of the trinity of evils which have hitherto afflicted the race, and his proposal to replace it by a community of wives, as he proposed to replace private property by a community of goods; or, indeed, that we see actually adopted in practice by the Oneida Community? Sir John regards the gynocracy which prevails in some savage tribes as characteristic of a very low form of barbarism; but to what else tends the woman’s-rights movement in this country and ours? If successful, not only would women be the rulers, but children would follow the mother’s line, not the father’s, for the obvious reason that, while the mother can be known, the father cannot be without any certainty. Does not free love, the mainspring of the movement, lead to this? And are not they who support it counted the advance party of the age, and we who resist denounced as old fogies or as the defenders of man’s tyranny?
Sir John relates that some tribes are so low in their intelligence that they have none or only the vaguest conceptions of the divinity, and none at all of God as Creator. He need not go out amongst outlying barbarians to find persons whose intelligence is equally low. He will search in vain through all gentile philosophy without finding the conception of a creative God. Nay, among our own contemporaries he can find more who consider it a proof of their superior intelligence and rare scientific attainments that they reject the fact of creation, relegate God into the unknown and the unknowable, and teach us that the universe is self-evolved, and man is only a monkey or gorilla developed. These men regard themselves as the light of their age, and are so regarded, too, by no inconsiderable portion of the public. Need we name August Comte and Sir William Hamilton, Professor Huxley, Charles Darwin, not to say Sir John himself, among the living? If these men and their adherents have not lapsed into barbarism, their science, if accepted, would lead us to the ideas and practices which Sir John tells us belong to the lowest stage of barbarism. Sir John doubts if any savage tribe can be found that is absolutely destitute of all religious conceptions or sentiments, but, if we may believe their own statements, we have people enough among the apostate Christians of our day who have none, and glory in it as proof of their superiority to the rest of mankind.
Sir John sees a characteristic of barbarism or of the early savage state in and the dread of evil spirits, or what we call demonism. The Bible tells us all the gods of the heathens are devils or demons. Even this characteristic of barbarism is reproduced in our civilized communities by spiritism, which is of enlightened American origin. This spiritism, which is rapidly becoming a religion with large numbers of men and women in our midst, is nothing but demonism, the necromancy and witchcraft or familiar spirits of the ancient world. Men who reject Christianity, who have no belief in God, or least do not hold it necessary to worship or pay him the least homage or respect, believe in the spirits, go to the medium, and consult her, as Saul in his desperation consulted the Witch of Endor. If we go back a few years to the last century, we shall find the most polished people on the globe abolishing religion, decreeing that death is an eternal sleep, and perpetrating, in the name of liberty, virtue, humanity, and brotherly love, crimes and cruelties unsurpassed if not unequalled in the history of the most savage tribes; and we see little improvement in our own century, more thoroughly filled with the horrors of unprincipled and needless wars than any other century of which we possess the history. Indeed, the scenes of 1792-3-4 are now in process of reproduction in Europe.
We must remember that all these deteriorations have taken place or are taking place in the most highly civilized nations of the globe, whose ancestors were Christians, and with persons many of whom were brought up in the belief of Christianity. Take the men and women who hold, on marriage and on religion, what are called “advanced views” – free-lovers and free-religionists- remove them from the restraints of the church and of the state, not yet up to their standard, and let them form a community by themselves in which their views shall be carried out in practice; would they not in two or three generations lapse into a state not above that of the most degraded and filthy savages? We see this deterioration going on in our midst and right before our eyes, as the effect of apostasy from our holy religion. This proves that apostasy is sufficient to explain the existence of the savage races, without supposing the human race began in “utter barbarism.” If apostasy in modern times, as we see it does, leads to “utter barbarism,” why should it not have done so in ancient times?
We might make the case still stronger against the author’s hypothesis, if necessary, by referring to the great and renowned nations of antiquity, that in turn led the civilization of the world. Of the nations that apostatized or adhered to the great gentile apostasy, not one has survived the lapse of time. To every one of them has succeeded barbarism, desolation, or a new people. The Egypt of antiquity fell before the Persian conqueror, and the Egypt of the Greeks was absorbed by Rome, and fell with her. Assyria leaves of her greatness only long since buried and forgotten ruins, while the savage Kurd and predatory Arab roam at will over the desert that has succeeded to her once flourishing cities and richly cultivated fields. Syria, Tyre, Carthage, and the Greek cities of Europe and Asia have disappeared or dwindled into insignificance, and what remains of them they owe to the conservative power of the Christianity they adopted and have in some measure retained. So true is it, the Psalmist says, “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” How explain this fact, if these ancient nations could by their own inherent energy and power of self-development raise themselves from “utter barbarism” to the civilization they once possessed, that they could not preserve it; that, after having reached a certain point, they began to decline, grew corrupt, and at length fell by their own internal rottenness? If men and nations are naturally progressive, how happens it that we find so many individuals and nations decline and fall, through internal corruption?
Another fact is not less conclusive against Sir John’s hypothesis, that in all the nations of the heathen world their least barbarous period known to us is their earliest after the apostasy and dispersion. The oldest of the sacred books of the Hindus are the profoundest and richest in thought, and the freest from superstition and puerilities so characteristic of the Hindu people today. The earliest religion of the Romans was far more spiritual, intellectual, than that which prevailed at the establishment of the empire and the introduction of Christianity. Indeed, wherever we have the means of tracing the religious history of the ancient heathen nations, we find it is a history of almost uninterrupted deterioration and corruption, becoming continually more cruel, impure, and debasing as time flows on. The mysteries, perhaps, retained something of the earlier doctrines, but they did little to arrest the downward tendency of the national religion; the philosophers, no doubt, retained some valuable traditions of the primitive religion, , but so mixed up with gross error and absurd fables that they had no effect on the life or morals of the people. One of the last acts of Socrates was to require Crito to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius. If Sir John’s hypothesis were true, nothing of this could happen, and we should find the religion of every nation, as time goes on, becoming purer and more refined, less gross and puerile, more enlightened and intellectual, and more spiritual and elevating in its influence.
The traditions of some, perhaps of all heathen nations, refer their origin to savage and barbarian ancestors, and this may have been the fact with many of them. Horace would seem to go the full length of Sir John’s theory. He tells us that the primitive men sprang like animals from the earth, a mute and filthy herd, fighting one another for an acorn or a den. Cicero speaks somewhat to the same purpose, only he does not say it was the state of the primeval man. Yet the traditions of the heathen nations do not in general favor the main point of Sir John’s hypothesis, that men come out of barbarism by their own spontaneous development, natural progressiveness, or indigenous and unaided efforts. They rise, according to these traditions, to the civilized state only by the assistance of the gods, or by the aid of missionaries or colonies from nations already civilized. The goddess Ceres teaches them to plant corn and make bread; Bacchus teaches them to plant the vine and to make wine; Prometheus draws fire from heaven and teaches them its use; other divinities teach to keep bees, to tame and rear flocks and herds, and the several arts of peace and war. Athens attributed her civilization to Minerva and to Cecrops and his Egyptian colony; Thebes, hers to Orpheus and Cadmus, of Phoenician origin; Rome claimed to descend from a Trojan colony, and borrowed her laws from the Athenians- her literature, philosophy, her art and science, from the Greeks. The poets paint the primitive age as the age of gold, and the philosophers always speak of the race as deteriorating, and find the past superior to the present. What is best and truest in Plato he ascribes to the wisdom of the ancients, and even Homer speaks of the degeneracy of men in his days from what they were at the siege of Troy. We think the author will search in vain through all antiquity to find a tradition or a hint which assigns the civilization of any people to its own indigenous and unassisted efforts.
Sir John Lubbock describes the savages as incurious and little given to reflection. He says they never look beyond the phenomenon to its cause. They see the world in which they are placed, and never think of looking further, and asking who made it, or whence they themselves came or whither they go. They lack not only curiosity, but the power of abstraction and generalization, and even thought is a burden to them. This is no doubt in the main true; but it makes against their natural progressiveness, and explains why they are not, progressive, but remain always stationary, if left to themselves. The chief characteristic of the savage state is in fact its immobility. The savage gyrates from age to age in the same narrow circle- never of himself advances beyond it. Whether a tribe sunk in what Sir John calls “utter barbarism,” and which he holds is the original state of the human race, has ever been or ever can be elevated to a civilized state by any human efforts, even of others already civilized, is, perhaps, problematical. As far as experience goes, the tendency of such a tribe, brought in contact with a civilized race, is to retire the deeper into the forest, to waste away, and finally become extinct. Certain it is, no instance of its becoming a civilized people can be named.
In every known instance in which a savage or barbarous people has become civilized, it has been by the aid or influence of religion, or their relations with a people already civilized. The barbarians that overthrew the Roman Empire of the West, and seated themselves on its ruins, were more than half Romanized before the conquest by their relations with the Romans and service in the armies of the empire, and they rather continued the Roman order of civilization in the several kingdoms and states they founded than destroyed it. The Roman system of education, and even the imperial schools, if fewer in number and on a reduced scale, were continued all through the barbarous ages down to the founding of the universities of medieval Europe. Their civilization was carried forward, far in advance of that of Greece or Rome, by the Church, the great civilizer of the nations. The northern barbarians that remained at home, the Germans, the Scandinavians, the Sclaves, were civilized by the labors of Christian monks and missionaries from Rome and Constantinople, from Gaul, England, and Ireland. In no instance has their civilization been of indigenous origin and development.
Sir John Lubbock replies to this as he does to Archbishop Whatley’s assertion that no instance is on record of a savage people having risen to a civilized state by its own indigenous and unassisted efforts, that it is no objection, because we should not expect to find any record of any such an event, since it took place, if at all, before the invention of letters, and in “prehistoric times.” We grant that the fact that there is no written record of it is not conclusive proof that no instance of the kind ever occurred; we should expect some trace of it in the traditions of civilized nations, or at least find some tendencies to it in the outlying savage nations of the present, from which it might be inferred as a thing not improbable in itself. But nothing of the sort is found. The author’s appeal to our ignorance, and our ignorance only, cannot serve his purpose. He arraigns the universal faith of Christendom, and he must take out his case by positive, not simply negative proofs. Till his hypothesis is proved by positive evidence, the faith of Christendom remains firm, and nothing can be concluded against it.
But how really stands the question? Sir John finds in the various outlying savage tribes numerous facts which he takes to be the original germs of civilization, and hence he concludes that the primitive condition of the human race was that of “utter barbarism,” and the nations, or, as he says, the races, that have become civilized, “have become so by their indigenous and unaided efforts, by their own inherent energy and power of self-development or progress.” But the facts he alleges may just as well be reminiscences of a past civilization as anticipations of a civilization not yet developed; and in our judgment- and it is not today that for the first time we have studied the question- they are much better explained as reminiscences than as anticipations, nay, are not explicable in any other way. The facts appealed to, then, can at best count for nothing in favor of the hypothesis of natural progress or development. They do not prove it or render it probable.
He is able, and he confesses it, to produce no instance of the natural and unassisted progress of any race of men from barbarism to civilization, and even his own facts show that barbarous or savage tribes are not naturally progressive, but stationary, struck with immobility. Where, then, are the proofs of his hypothesis? He has yet produced none. Now, on the other hand, we have shown him that, in all known instances, the passage from barbarism into civilization has been effected only by supernatural aid, or by the influence of a previously civilized race or people. We have shown him also that the gentile apostasy, which the Bible records and our religion asserts, sufficiently explains the origin of barbarism. We have also shown him nations once civilized falling into barbarism, and, in addition, have shown him the tendency of an apostate people to lapse into barbarism existing and operating before our very eyes, in men whose ancestors were once civilized and even Christians. The chief elements of barbarism he describes exist and are encouraged and defended in our midst by men who are counted by themselves and their contemporaries as the great men, the great lights, the advanced party of this advanced age. Let the apostasy become more general, take away the Church or deprive her of her influence, and eliminate from the laws, manners, and customs of modern states what they retain of Christian doctrine and morality, and it is plain to see that nations the loudest in their boast of their civilization would, if not supernaturally arrested, in a very short space of time, sink to the level of any of the ancient or modern outlying savage tribes.
Such is the case, and so stands the argument. Sir John Lubbock brings forward an hypothesis, not original with him indeed, and the full bearing of which we would fain believe he does not see, for which he adduces and can adduce not a single well-authenticated fact, and which would not be favored for a moment by any one who understands it, were it not for its contradiction of the Biblical doctrine and Christian tradition. But while there is absolutely no proof of the hypothesis, all the known facts of history or of human nature, as well as all the principles of religion and philosophy, with one voice pronounce against it as untenable. Is not this enough? Nothing is more certain than Christian faith; no fact is or can be better authenticated than the fact of revelation; we might then allege that the hypothesis is disproved, nay, not to be entertained, because it is contrary to the Christian revelation, than which nothing can be more certain. We should have been perfectly justified in doing so, and so we should have done; but as the author appeals to science and progress to support himself on facts, we have thought it best, without prejudice to the authority of faith, to meet him on his own ground, to show him that science does not entertain his appeal, and that his theory of progress is but a baseless hypothesis, contradicted by all the known facts in the case and supported by none; and therefore no science at all.
Sir John’s theory of progress is just now popular, and is put forth with great confidence in the respectable name of science, and the modern world accept its, with great pomp and parade. Yet it is manifestly absurd. Nothing cannot make itself something, nor can any thing make itself more than it is. The imperfect cannot of itself perfect itself, and no man can lift himself by his own waistbands. Even Archimedes required somewhere to stand outside of the world in order to be able to raise the world with his lever. Yet we deny not progress; we believe in it, and hold that man is progressive even to the infinite; but not by his own unaided effort or by his own inherent energy and natural strength, nor without the supernatural aid of divine grace. But progress by nature alone, or self-evolution, though we tried to believe it when a child, we put away when we became a man, as we did other childish things.
Thus much we have thought it our duty to say in reply to the theory that makes the human race begin in utter barbarism, and civilization spring from natural development or evolution, so popular with our unchristian scientists or- but for respect to the public we would say- sciolists. We have in our reply repeated many things which we said before, and which have been said by others, and better said. But it will not do to let such a book as the one before us go unanswered in the present state of the public mind, debauched as it is by false science. If books will repeat the error, we can only repeat our answer.
From the Catholic World for July, 1871