In the first section of this three-part article, Ong explains how humans' awareness of their place in history developed before Darwin's discovery. Before Darwin, this awareness was helped most by the development of writing, for once written records existed, humans could compare and contrast themselves to people of earlier times. In the West, what developed was not merely a keener sense of history but a sense of history that acknowledged the past as the foundation for the present and recognized the future as something that would be distinctly different from the present. While this specific sense of times can be seen in the work of many intellectuals of Darwin's time, it is in Darwin's work that this sense of history "crystallized" and became widespread.
In the second section of the article, Ong describes how evolutionary thought was already developing in philosophy (through the work of Giambattista Vico, Hegel, Schelling, and Auguste Comte) and in the natural sciences (through the work of the French astronomer La Place and the English geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell). Hutton and Lyell's refutation of catastrophic theory was especially important, for this theory had often been associated with a religious point of view. While Hutton and Lyell's work did not destroy catastrophic theory altogether (it lives on as its own entity, as well as through the tendency to look for cyclical patterning in history rather than acknowledging an evolutionary progression), their work and the work of others opened the door for Christians to incorporate a more evolutionary perspective.
Ong believes that cyclical patterning is present in history (he cites cyclical patterns discussed by both historians and artists), but he also believes that people latch onto cyclical patterning just as they do myth (a danger Ong discusses in "Myth and the Cabalas") in order to avoid their fears about the future. In fact, Ong argues that a Christian view of the world is more compatible with an evolutionary view of history than it is with a cyclical view of history; the Incarnation was a historical event that occurred after a series of other events building up to it, and it was different from any event that came before it. While Ong does not like to label this view of history as strictly "linear" because that term implies spatial imagery that is not accurate, he accepts the term because it separates the Christian view of history from the cyclical view.
In the last section of the article, Ong refutes some of the more plausible
arguments for the cyclical view, such as the Earth's movement around the
Sun. In addition, Ong asserts that a cyclical model does not respond
to the reality of history, where each event is new and different, nor does
it acknowledge the uniqueness of individual human beings. Despite
the fact that humans have been present only for a small part of the development
of the cosmos, when one takes an evolutionary view of history and acknowledges
that all that has occurred before the birth of humankind leads up to this
birth, humans really are quite significant. Likewise, when one realizes
that all that occurred in religious history led up to the Incarnation,
rejecting an evolutionary view is nearly impossible for Christians.