Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/85

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RELATION OF THE FINITE TO THE INFINITE.

from nothing as it is for us to prove that a whole is not greater than any of its parts, for it is a self-contradiction. The reader will bear in mind that we are not discussing the facts of the creation, but the incompetency of the human mind to grasp the facts, whatever they may be. However humiliating, then, it may be to the pride of human intellect, we are forced to the conclusion that there is a vast field of thought, open to anxious inquiry it is true, over the gateway of whose entrance we may well inscribe, "The Unknowable." Somewhere within this vast field, from which the human intellect is excluded, lie absolute time and space, and all we call creation, or primary causation. It is the futile attempt to explore this field that has brought philosophers and theologians alike into deserved contempt—the old folly of perpetual motion by the construction of a clock that shall wind up itself.

It is now time for science to define, in some way, the limitations of human knowledge, and thus confine all research strictly within the sphere of the knowable. Is it not safe to assume that the finite mind is so conditioned that it cannot possibly perceive or comprehend ultimate antecedent causes? To say that God was the first cause seems at first an easy solution, but it is only another way of saying we do not know, for we ask at once, "Had God a beginning? and if not, then for an infinite period of time he was alone, or else matter has been coeternal with him, and we come back to the Hindoo idea that God is the universe. Our conception of God must be the essence of our conception of eternity, and of that the finite mind can of necessity form no conception. There is a mathematical ratio between a second of time and a million million centuries; but there can be no ratio between a million million centuries and eternity, hence our conception of an infinite and eternal God is impossible. The difficulty does not lie so much in the vastness of the idea itself as in the seeming impossibilities the idea involves. It is like attempting to show the necessity for a sixth sense, by expressing this want or necessity in terms of the five senses we already possess; no such idea can by any possibility be conveyed.

Let us compare an animal as low in the scale of existence as an oyster with one of the highest known type, man, and note the points of agreement and the points of divergence. An oyster, like man, is evolved from a germ, advances to the climax of animal vigor, and then, like him, declines and dies. An oyster's life is conditioned by the elements in which he lives, and so is man's. An oyster, like man, is propagated by well-defined laws, and like him is subject to disease and premature decay. Now, in all the conditions named, there is not only no difference in kind, but, so far as we know, there is none in quality. They are conditions expressed in universal laws to which the entire organic kingdom is subjected, and over which human agency has little or no control. Let us now turn to those higher qualities in man which are