Excerpts from

  Human Destiny
by Lecomte du Noüy

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Book Description
In this inspiring best-seller, a famous scientist answers the spiritual questions concerning the nature of God, the soul, and the universe that perplex modern man.

At long intervals, sometimes hundreds of years apart, a scientific work appears which marks a new epoch in human thought. Such was the treatise in which Copernicus reformed astronomy; the Discourse on Method by Descartes; Newton on gravitation, Darwin on evolution or Einstein's theory of relativity. In years to come, Human Destiny, by Lecomte du Noüy, may prove to be such a book because of its startling theory of man's true place in the Universe and the meaning of his existence on this earth. This book could change the whole direction of scientific thought since the Renaissance. It can make history.

Re-interpreting the theory of evolution in the light of modern physics, Human Destiny argues that the strictly materialistic theory of the Universe, and of man, is no longer ten­able. Man, it says, is not on this earth by chance alone—and the author presents a series of convincing arguments to indicate that by the laws of pure chance man, and even life, could not be here at all. Dr. du Noüy contends that science finds a purpose evident in the history of life which rises above the laws of matter.

The scope of the author's theory is tre­mendous. He brings enormous erudition and the most advanced scientific learning to the support of his thesis. According to this thesis man has now, to all intents and purposes, completed his biological evolution. He is just beginning his moral evolution.

Human Destiny will impress every reader with its sincerity and profundity of grasp. Embracing many fields of science in its argu­ment, it remains a brilliantly readable book. It deals with greatest drama of all time—the drama of creation—and it concludes on a note of hope.

Comments on Human Destiny

John J. O'Neill, Science Editor, New York Herald-Tribune:

"Human Destiny is the voice of a first magnitude scientist giving to mankind a pattern of progress in the fabric of which science and religion are interwoven."

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Minister, Marble Collegiate Church, New York City:

"One of those rare and exceptional books that may well mark a new epoch in the study of the development of man. ... It would be my judgment that Human Destiny will finally be enrolled among the great volumes which have stimulated human progress."

Wilton M. Krogman, Chicago Sunday Tribune:

"This is more than a great book—it is a great book by a great and good man. Here you will find faith, hope, and charity; faith in God; hope in the destiny of man, and charity, which, put into action, is love for both God and man. I hope you will read Human Destiny. If you do you will be rewarded with an intellectual and spiritual adventure."

Yandray W. Vance, The Hartford Courant:

"One of the few significant books of the 20th Century, and probably of the past 50 years, Lecomte du Noüy's Human Destiny makes its wide-spread appeal not only to the scientist and the religious thinker but to the philosopher, the creative artist and laymen in general. ... It is a masterpiece of profound exposi­tion, in simplest terms, of the most crucial problems today confronting humanity. This is perhaps the clearest modern utterance of the whole man, of a spirit and. intellect, akin to those of Goethe, touching life at all points."

Rev. Gerald G. Walsh, Editor of Thought. Fordham University:

"The book seems to me the most remarkable essay in natural theology at­tempted by any scientist of our age."

Sigman Byrd, Houston Post:

"Here is one of the most amazing books of a decade."

Waldemar Kaempffert, The New York Times Book Review:

"Presented with an eloquence and a sincerity that cannot fail to impress. ..."

Book Contents

BOOK I:  The Methods

I. Our Subjective Idea of the Universe–Relativity of This Image–The Notion of Cause–The Scale of Observation.

II. Scientific Thinking–The Purpose of Science–The Laws of Science–Discon­tinuity in Our Science and Irreversibility–Analysis–Man-made Compartments–The Structure of Scientific Laws–Probabilities.

III. Probabilities–An Application of the Laws of Chance–Protein Molecules–Chance Alone Cannot Account for the Birth of Life.

IV. The Laws of Inorganic Evolution Contradict Those of the Evolution of Life–Carnot-Clausius Law–The “Point of View of the Microbe”–Free Will and the Materialistic Attitude.

BOOK II:  The Evolution of Life

V. The Age of the Earth–Birth of Evolution–Asexual Reproduction and the “Invention of Death”–Animals Evolve More Rapidly Than Plants–The Preservation of Fossils–Transitional Forms.

VI. Some Important Problems Set by the Fossils. 

VII. Significance and Mechanisms of Evolution.

BOOK III: The Evolution of Man

VIII. The New Orientation of Evolution: Man–The Second
Chapter of Genesis. 

IX. Tradition, a Human Mechanism of Evo­lution–The “Useless Gestures”–Moral Ideas and the Notion of Good and Evil–The Belief in God, and the Representa­tion of God–The Goal. 

X. Civilization. 

XI.  Instincts–’Societies of Insects–Intelli­gence–Abstract Ideas–The Role of the Individual.

XII.   Superstition–Origin and Development.  

XIII.  Religion–True Religion Is in the Heart.   

XIV.  The Idea of God and of Omnipotence.    

XV.   Education and Instruction.  

XVI.  The Telefinalist Hypothesis (Summary)–Human Destiny.  

XVII. Intellectual or Moral Development?–The Wake of Man. 

XVIII. Universal Thought–The Shrinking EarthRecapitulation and Conclusions.


THIS book is simply written, and technical terms have been avoided whenever it was possible to do so without affecting the accuracy of the ideas, so that it is accessible to any edu­cated man or woman.

Nevertheless, as it brings to light new ideas, new inter­pretations, and as it calls for thought, it may require an unwonted effort of concentration on the part of the reader. He may have to read slowly, and to go over certain passages twice. There is nothing in them that an intelligent person cannot understand if he or she is willing to try.

Just as food cannot be digested without being mas­ticated, so ideas cannot be assimilated without having been thought over and understood. The author has done his best to be lucid. But no matter how clear are the directions given for the use of an instrument, one can­not master it by simply reading them through. One must handle it. We beg the reader to make the effort of "handling" the ideas which are not familiar to him by criticizing them, by taking them to pieces, and by trying to replace them by others.

The problems of today have become so complex that a superficial smattering of knowledge is inadequate to enable the cultivated layman to grasp them all, much less to discuss them. This fact has been occasionally exploited in order to twist truth and to mislead the public. The time has come for all men of good will and of good faith to become conscious of the part they can and must play in life, if our present Christian civilization is to endure.

Everyone shares a responsibility in the future. But this responsibility can materialize into a constructive effort only if people realize the full meaning of their lives, the significance of their endeavors and of their struggles, and if they keep their faith in the high destiny of Man.

As the purpose of this book is to substantiate this faith by giving it a scientific basis, the writer hopes that the effort imposed on the reader will be rewarded by a clearer outlook on the most important problems of all times.


THE human race has just passed through one of the darkest periods of its history. It may even prove to be the most tragic of all, due to the fact that the conflict penetrated into the remotest corners of the world and that its unprecedented violence destroyed whatever illusions we might have had as to the solidity and permanence of the civilization man was so proud of.  A general uneasiness had spread over all the occidental countries ever since the first world war.

This was not a new phenomenon but simply an awakening of the human conscience which had been anesthetized by the mechanical progress of the preceding fifty years.

The rapid development of the material side of civilization had aroused the interest of men and kept them in a kind of breathless expectation of the next day’s miracle. Little time was left for the solving of the true problems: the human problems. Men were hypnotized by the incredibly brilliant display of new inventions following one another almost without interruption from 1880 on, and were like children who are so fascinated by their first view of a three-ring circus that they even forget to eat or drink.

This prodigious spectacle became the symbol of reality, and true values, dimmed by the glitter of the new star, were relegated to second place. The shift was easy and painless because philosophers and scientists of the nineteenth century had already prepared the minds of the thinking public by setting up question marks without answers.

Many people had a presentiment of the danger and gave the alarm, but it remained unheeded. It remained unheeded because a strange new idol had been born and a true fetishism, the cult of novelty, had taken hold of the masses. On the other hand, the discerning minds–the Cassandras–only had anachronic arguments at their disposal. The world was changing every day, replacing yesterday’s garb by a more brilliant and unexpected one. While the dazzled children of men opened wide their eyes in an admiring ecstasy which insensibly turned into a true faith in the unlimited power of science and invention, the wise men fought only with venerable but outworn arguments, words stripped of the prestige of youth, and appeals for the awakening of a conscience which nobody wanted and many thought strangely old-fashioned and useless.

The Churches made a great effort but without rejuvenating their teachings. The results were not successful enough to halt the universal demoralization or even the disaffection and uneasiness of the crowd. It could not be otherwise. Compulsory education had opened up new paths, highways, and lanes in the intelligence of men. Without becoming much more intelligent, men had learned to employ the tricks of rational thought. An infinitely seductive tool, a new toy had been put in their hands and they all had the illusion that they knew how to use it. This tool had obtained sensational results which gradually transformed their material life and raised unlimited hopes. It was natural that the respect, heretofore bestowed on the priests, should be transferred progressively to those who had succeeded in harnessing the forces of nature and in penetrating some of her secrets.

Thus materialism spread not only amongst technicians but, alas, in the masses. Rational thinking should have been employed to fight this disease of reason. A mathematical argument can only be fought by other mathematical arguments, a scientific reasoning can only be destroyed by a reasoning of the same kind. If a lawyer tries to demonstrate that you are in the wrong it is no use pleading your case sentimentally or even logically. He will only be convinced if you confront him with other laws which contradict those he has invoked. It makes no difference if you are right and if, equitably, you should win. It is just as impossible to overcome his objections by subjective and psychological statements as it is to open a door with the wrong key.

We must use the right key if we want to fight paralyzing skepticism and destructive materialism which are by no means the inevitable consequences of the scientific interpretation of nature, as we have been led to believe. Therefore, we must attack the enemy with his own weapons and on his own ground. If we are unable to convince the skeptic, because of his bad faith or simply because of his negative faith, there is hope that the honest and impartial spectator who has followed the vicissitudes of the struggle will recognize the victor.

In other words, nowadays we can hardly expect to destroy atheism by using the sentimental and traditional arguments which could arouse the ignorant masses of the past. We cannot fight tanks with cavalry, nor planes with bows and arrows. Science was used to sap the base of reli­gion. Science must be used to consolidate it. The world has evolved in the last five hundred years. It is important to recognize this and to adapt ourselves to the new conditions. We no longer travel from New York to San Francisco in a “prairie schooner,” nor do we burn witches as they did in some places during the seventeenth century. We no longer treat infectious diseases by purging and bleeding, but we still use the same weapons as two thousand years ago to fight the greatest peril which has ever menaced human society, and we do not realize that large quantities of powerful arms are within our reach, capable of ensuring a certain if not immediate victory.

The purpose of this book is to examine critically the scientific capital accumulated by man, and to derive there from logical and rational con-sequences. We shall see that these consequences lead inevitably to the idea of God.

The present work, therefore, will not help convinced believers, except for the fact that it will give them new scientific arguments which they may use to advantage. It is not primarily meant for them. It is meant for those who, as a result of certain conversations, or experiences, have, at some moment of their existence, felt a doubt arising in their minds. It is meant for those who suffer from the conflict between what they think is their rational self, and their spiritual, religious, or sentimental self. It is meant for all men of good will who have understood that the aim of human life is the realization of a superior conscience and the perfection of self by a harmonious fusion of all the specifically human qualities; for all those who strive to understand the meaning of their efforts and of their trials. It is meant for those who would wish these efforts to be integrated in the cosmic order, and who are eager to contribute to it in a certain measure, thus conferring to their existence and aspirations a real value transcending the narrow frame of their individual interests. It is meant for all those who believe in the reality of human dignity and of man’s mission in the universe, and for those who do not believe in it yet, but who are anxious to be convinced.

To achieve this result we will first study some mechanisms of human thought, so as to know what real value can be attributed to our concepts, to our reasoning, and to those of the materialists. Some of the latter are sincere and have an absolute and naive faith in their cerebral processes; others, however, are not so sincere and deem that the public should not be admitted back of the scientific stage lest they realize that the scenery is sometimes of pasteboard and canvas. They often avoid showing up obscurities and contra-dictions. They may not see them themselves. Indeed, it is the philosophers of science rather than the laboratory workers who should point out the difficulties of interpretation, the gaps and the relativity of the theories. Such men unfortunately are rare, and their language is often incomprehensible even to the cultivated public.

In our opinion it is imperative for the layman to know something of modern scientific and philosophic thought, and to learn how to use it so as to avoid being misled and impressed by the reasoning of materialistic scientists who, even if they are of good faith, are not always free from error.

We hope the reader will understand that, if he is interested in the destiny of man, he cannot attack this immense question without knowing the handicaps attached to human thought which enable us to study it. When physicists make measurements with the aim of verifying a hypothesis, when astronomers check the position of a star, they know exactly the degree of precision of their instruments, and the mean error introduced into their observations. They take that into account, and the calculus of errors constitutes an important chapter in all the sciences. Our problem is Man. The instrument used is the brain. It is, therefore, necessary to know the limitation of the instrument before trying to solve the problem. We will see that this investigation will reveal grave weaknesses in the scientific and mathematical reasoning of materialists. These weaknesses are so serious that, in the actual state of our knowledge, they take away all scientific value from their arguments.

We shall next examine man in the universe, and this will lead to an attentive study of evolution. This in turn will lead us to expound a hypothesis which incorporates human evolution into evolution in general, and to develop its logical consequences.

The aim of the author is specifically human. He is convinced that the modern uneasiness arises mainly from the fact that intelligence has deprived man of all reason for existence by destroying, in the name of a science still in the cradle, the doctrines which up till now gave a meaning to individual life, a reason for effort, a transcendent end to attain: namely, the religions.

The negation of free will, the negation of moral responsibility; the individual considered merely as a physicochemical unit, as a particle of living matter, hardly different from the other animals, inevitably brings about the death of moral man, the suppression of all spirituality, of all hope, the frightful and discouraging feeling of total uselessness.

Now, what characterizes man, as Man, is precisely the presence in him of abstract ideas, of moral ideas, of spiritual ideas, and it is only of these that he can be proud. They are as real as his body and confer to this body a value and an importance which it would be far from possessing without them.

If, therefore, we want to give a meaning to life, a reason for effort, we must try to revalorize these ideas scientifically and rationally, and it seems to us that this can only be achieved by trying to incorporate them into evolution, by considering them as manifestations of evolution, in the same way as the eyes, the hands, and articulate speech.

It must be demonstrated that every man has a part to play and that he is free to play it or not; that he is a link in a chain and not a wisp of straw swept along by a torrent; that, in brief, human dignity is not a vain word, and that when man is not convinced of this and does not try to attain this dignity, he lowers himself to the level of the beast.

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