Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/226

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

mechanical conceptions did not break down in a novel situation (such as development must bring about), there would be a constant selection in favor of more and more correct ideas of these matters. Thus would be attained the knowledge of that fundamental law upon which all science rolls; namely, that forces depend upon relations of time, space, and mass. When this idea was once sufficiently clear, it would require no more than a comprehensible degree of genius to discover the exact nature of these relations. Such an hypothesis naturally suggests itself but it must be admitted that it does not seem sufficient to account for the extraordinary accuracy with which these conceptions apply to the phenomena of Nature, and it is probable that there is some secret here which remains to be discovered.

 
V.

Some important questions of logic depend upon whether we are to consider the material universe as of limited extent and finite age, or quite boundless in space and in time. In the former case, it is conceivable that a general plan or design embracing the whole universe should be discovered, and it would be proper to be on the alert for some traces of such a unity. In the latter case, since the proportion of the world of which we can have any experience is less than the smallest assignable fraction, it follows that we never could discover any pattern in the universe except a repeating one; any design embracing the whole would be beyond our powers to discern, and beyond the united powers of all intellects during all time. Now, what is absolutely incapable of being known is, as we have seen in a former paper, not real at all. An absolutely incognizable existence is a nonsensical phrase. If, therefore, the universe is infinite, the attempt to find in it any design embracing it as a whole is futile, and involves a false way of looking at the subject. If the universe never had any beginning, and if in space world stretches beyond world without limit, there is no whole of material things, and consequently no general character to the universe, and no need or possibility of any governor for it. But if there was a time before which absolutely no matter existed, if there are certain absolute bounds to the region of things outside of which there is a mere void, then we naturally seek for an explanation of it, and, since we cannot look for it among material things, the hypothesis of a great disembodied animal, the creator and governor of the world, is natural enough.

The actual state of the evidence as to the limitation of the universe is as follows: As to time, we find on our earth a constant progress of development since the planet was a red-hot ball; the solar system seems to have resulted from the condensation of a nebula, and the process appears to be still going on. We sometimes see stars (presumably with systems of worlds) destroyed and apparently resolved back into the nebulous condition, but we have no evidence of any existence of the world previous to the nebulous stage from which it seems to have been