Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/747

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MATTER LIVING AND NOT-LIVING.

are the proximate cause of life the only cause, that is to say, which the human intellect can grasp, and with which accordingly science has to reckon. If we reject this conclusion, we reject with it the methods of science, and along with these science itself. But science is our chosen arbiter.

Nothing in reality is lacking to crown the hypothesis with demonstrative proof but to discover the law of co-operation of the physical factors uniting in the production of life, and deduce the phenomena from it; although to furnish this may well tax the highest resources of science for an indefinite future. And yet some happy feat of induction or deduction, or of both combined, may furnish it to-morrow. Meanwhile, the hypothesis as it stands, it is hardly too much to say, exacts the acquiescence, if it does not secure the assent, of every mind at once unbiased and not uninformed. The cause of life is known. The law of the cause alone is unknown. This law, as to which no hypothesis has yet been formulated, is strictly the only aspect of the subject open to hypothesis; so that, while the hypothesis supplied has passed beyond the hypothetical stage, the hypothesis required has not definitely reached it. In this logical interregnum, however, the vacating hypothesis, obviously, must still rule the discussion. But let us hear Dr. Beale.

"Bear in mind," he admonishes us, "that no state of matter known, no mere chemical combinations, no mechanical contrivances, no machinery ever made, can be caused to exhibit phenomena resembling in any really essential particular those which are characteristic of every form of living matter that exists in nature." This admonition may be just, and I am disposed to think it is, if qualified by that reference to "the present state of scientific knowledge" which the learned professor often makes, but which he here apparently fails to "bear in mind"; yet, with this qualification, it is not indisputably just, seeing that Dr. Bastian, one of the foremost experimenters of the age, contends that he has surmounted the difficulty which Dr. Beale declares to be an impossibility. Whether Dr. Bastian has achieved this result or not, the impossibility of achieving it has not been proved; on the contrary, the possibility, with the advance of scientific knowledge, has grown clearer. A few years ago, Dr. Beale might, with equal justness, have delivered this same admonition to us in respect to organic compounds of every sort; but meanwhile chemistry, in the face of the assumed impossibility of making any of them, has, in fact, made hundreds of them, therein surpassing the creative power even of animal life, which in general is powerless to form them, but appropriates them ready made from the vegetable world, in which they are compounded out of their elements; and, if chemistry can produce organic matter, it may, when further developed, produce organisms, or, what would be of equal significance, formless protoplasm. It is on the way, and pressing forward. While impossibilities, akin to Dr. Beale's pres-