So far as mankind has acquired the conviction that the observance of certain rules of conduct is essential to the maintenance of social existence, it may be proper to say that “Providence,” operating through men, has generated morality. Within the limits of a fraction of a fraction of the living world, therefore, there is a “moral” providence. Through this small plot of an infinitesimal fragment of the universe there runs a “stream of tendency towards righteousness.” But outside the very rudimentary germ of a garden of Eden, thus watered, I am unable to discover any “moral” purpose, or anything but a stream of purpose towards the consummation of the cosmic process, chiefly by means of the struggle for existence, which is no more righteous or unrighteous than the operation of any other mechanism.
[This, of course, is the underlying principle of the Romanes Lecture, upon which he was still at work. It is more specifically expressed in the succeeding paragraph:—]
I hear much of the “ethics of evolution.” I apprehend that, in the broadest sense of the term “evolution,” there neither is, nor can be, any such thing. The notion that the doctrine of evolution can furnish a foundation for morals seems to me to be an illusion which has arisen from the unfortunate ambiguity of the term “fittest” in the formula, “survival of the fittest.” We commonly use “fittest” in a good sense, with an understood connotation of “best”; and “best” we are apt to take in its ethical sense. But the “fittest” which survives in the struggle for existence may be, and often is, the ethically worst.
[Another paragraph explains the sense in which he used to say that the Romanes Lecture was a very orthodox discourse on the text, “Satan, the Prince of this world":—]
It is the secret of the superiority of the best theological teachers to the majority of their opponents that they substantially recognise these realities of things, however strange the forms in which they clothe their conceptions. The doctrines of predestination, of original sin, of the innate depravity of man and the evil fate of the greater part of the race, of the primacy of Satan in this world, of the essential vileness of matter, of a malevolent Demiurgus subordinate to a benevolent Almighty, who has only lately revealed himself, faulty as they are, appear to me to be vastly nearer the truth than the “liberal” popular illusions that babies are all born good, and that the example of a corrupt society is responsible for their failure to remain so; that it is given to everybody to reach the ethical ideal if he will only try; that all partial evil is universal good, and other optimistic figments, such as that which represents “Providence” under the guise of a paternal philanthropist, and bids us believe that everything will come right (according to our notions) at last.