A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.
Chesterton’s point: shouldn’t we see, even today, some ape in some state of transition between man and ape? Some much closer to human and some much closer to ape, a variety of states of advancement? Not merely in physical appearance or DNA, but in mind and soul? It is this that he will further explore in this chapter.
The modern scientist can do many things, but he cannot watch the Missing Link, he cannot run experiments on it, he cannot test it.
He cannot keep a cave-man like a cat in the back-yard and watch him to see whether he does really practise cannibalism or carry off his mate on the principles of marriage by capture.
The scientist studies based on evidence, and the evidence on much of this history of the cave man does not exist. A fragment of a bone is clutched tightly as it is this scientist’s only tool. But what does the fragment really tell us about the individual from which it came and, more so, about the surroundings in which he lived?
Yet, from the fragment, we get a being. We give him a name. We draw pictures of him, to “show that the very hairs of his head were all numbered.” All from a thigh bone, or a fragment of a jaw bone, or a few bones from who knows how many different individuals – or creatures.
The sincerity of Darwin really admitted this; and that is how we came to use such a term as the Missing Link. But the dogmatism of Darwinians has been too strong for the agnosticism of Darwin…
What was the nature of man before he became man? We write of prehistoric man, but as he lived in “pre-history,” what can we know – beyond a fragment of a bone? There are traces of human lives before we find human stories; hence, we know only that man came before history – and not much else. Chesterton will dive no further into this:
His body may have been evolved from the brutes; but we know nothing of any such transition that throws the smallest light upon his soul as it has shown itself in history.
Just because it was pre-history does not mean it was primitive. Yet, what little we do know of the pre-history paints a picture far different than the stereotype. We know of the art even though we don’t know of the story.
One summary of the pre-history begins: they wore no clothes. But how does the scientist know this? Based on what evidence? A second claims that the cave drawings served no religious purpose – inferring that the artist or the tribe had no religion.
I can hardly imagine a thinner thread of argument than this which reconstructs the very inmost moods of the prehistoric mind from the fact that somebody who has scrawled a few sketches on a rock, from what motive we do not know, for what purpose we do not know, acting under what customs or conventions we do not know, may possibly have found it easier to draw reindeers than to draw religion.
Maybe the reindeer was his religious symbol; maybe it was not. Maybe he drew his religious symbol elsewhere; maybe his religion prohibited him from drawing the religious symbol (certainly an idea not limited to pre-history).
It is commonly assumed that religion developed in a slow, evolutionary manner. Theories abound, incorporating some combination of the fear of the tribal chief, the phenomena of dreams, and the sacrifice associated with the harvest. But these causes are so disconnected – what could possibly connect them other than a religion, or, if you prefer, a superstition?
For the plain truth is that all this is a trick of making things seem distant and dehumanised, merely by pretending not to understand things that we do understand.
As if we are saying that pre-historic man had a strange habit of stuffing something in his mouth and chewing; or he lifted his alternating legs in rotation. Have we not heard of eating, or walking? We comprehend religious feelings, yet attempt to kill the idea in the pre-historic man.
But it is likely that only a spiritual sentiment could connect such seemingly unconnected things – the tribal chief, the dream, the sacrifice. To connect these things, it took a particular sort of mind – not the mind of a monkey, but the human mind.
The cow derives no particular feeling when hearing the skylark; live sheep don’t tie any meaning to their dead ancestors.
It is true that in the spring a young quadruped’s fancy may lightly turn to thoughts of love, but no succession of springs has ever led it to turn however lightly to thoughts of literature.
It is only in man that such experiences cross the line to art and religion. Yes, the dog also dreams, but he has never transformed this into a religion: Cerberus is not some sort of canine trinity, worshipped by dogs.
So, where is this Missing Link – this creature after the ape and before man had religion? We have no evidence of him, we do not know if he even existed, we cannot deduce anything about him or how he might have (or if he might have) stumbled onto religion – assuming he did exist, which we do not know.
Evidence on such matters begins only with the first men who were already men – they were also the first mystics:
We come back once more to the simple truth; that at some time too early for these critics to trace, a transition had occurred to which bones and stones cannot in their nature bear witness; and man became a living soul.
…if we chose to project the human figure forward out of an unhuman world, we could only say that one of the animals had obviously gone mad.
What else could we conclude? Man is that much different from all the rest of creation. There is one answer that best explains this change, this difference, this reality:
Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.