Haeckel and the Importance of Monism

Author: Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was born in Prussia and was educated in several different fields including philosophy, biology, natural history, and medicine. He is credited with the discovery of thousands of new species and promoted the works of Charles Darwin in Germany.
Context: The Confession of Faith of a Man of Science was written in 1892, a period in which many biologists were rethinking their understanding of the relationship between God and nature.
Language: The language used in Haeckel’s Confession was forceful and persuasive. Haeckel seemed to be urging his audience to recognize the beauty in a monistic view toward God and nature.
Audience: Haeckel writes that he “crave[s] the permission of this assembly” to confess his faith, indicating that he was orating his Confession to a congregation of other scientists in his field.
Intent: Haeckel’s intent was to persuade his audience of the existence of a unity between God and nature.
Message: Haeckel implored his fellow scientists to embrace the monistic unity of all things. He emphasized the compatibility of God and the scientific knowledge of the time, as well as the presence of a divine spirit in nature. He also quoted the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, who opined that “no body is so small that it does not contain a part of the divine substance whereby it is animated.” Haeckel concluded his speech with a representation of monism as “truly beatific union of religion and science”, stressing the influence monism will have on the ideas of the coming century.

The Confession of Faith of a Man of Science

Author: Ernst Haeckel. Born in 1834, died in 1919. He was born in Potsdam- in what was then Prussia. He was a German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, professor and artist. Haeckel established and named thousands of species and devised many biology terms (i.e. anthropogeny, stem cell, ecology, and phylogeny). He also read Charles Darwin’s work and encouraged it, spreading it throughout Germany. He believed that races were separate species and that caucasians were the highest among these. According to him, the lower races (or primitives) were subject to annihilation. In 1905, he established a group called the “Monist League” in order to incite his ideas as well as his political and religious beliefs. The Nazi’s later unfortunately used Haeckel’s rationalizations as evidence for fueling their anti-Semitic propaganda and dogma as a means to support nationalist sentiments in the interwar and World War II era.

Context: This work was published in 1892 and was influenced by Darwinism and German idealistic tradition.

Language: This piece is opinionated, and written in a knowledgeable manner with evidence to support reasoning. Haeckel confers with the audience directly (“this assembly”, “we”, “our”, “I”).

Audience: Other monists, darwinists, and philosophers of his time.

Intent: Haeckel’s intent in this document was to emphasize that faith is central to monism and open people’s eyes to “a true knowledge of nature”, believing that this understanding was necessary to content the individual’s pursuit for comprehension of mankind.

Message: The inorganic and organic universe which we perceive are intertwined and spirit is ubiquitous throughout nature and natural beings. Monism, or believing that we are all a part of one type of spirit under one God, is a primary sentiment which Haeckel holds, and which he believes the human mind embraces. He realizes the need man has to understand nature and where it originates. Haeckel discusses the prevalent equation of god with nature, god being an atomic force within all organisms. He coins this notion “gaseous vertebrate”- that god is an unseen backbone for all that is living. To Haeckel, monistic exploration is an attempt to comprehend the truth of nature, exercise proper morals, and ascertain beauty. Once man synthesizes these distinguished segments of monism, he can “gain the pure idea of God” (Haeckel).