Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/260

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

admissions. Were all our actions linked one to another by mechanical necessity, it is admitted that responsibility and duty would be no longer conceivable. Our "energies" as Prof. Huxley admits, would be "paralyzed" by "utter necessarianism." Further, did our conception of matter represent a reality, were matter low and gross, as we are accustomed to think of it, then man, as the product of matter, would be low and gross also, and heroism and duty would be really successfully degraded, by being reduced to questions of carbon and ammonia. But from all of these difficulties Prof. Huxley professes to extricate us. Let us look back at the arguments by which he considers that he has done so.

We will begin with his method of liberating us from the "iron" law of necessity, and thus giving us back our freedom and moral character. He performs this feat, or rather, he thinks he has performed it, by drawing a distinction between what will happen and what must happen. On this distinction his entire position is based, Now in every argument used by any sensible man there is probably some meaning. Let us try fairly to see what is the meaning in this. I take it that the idea at the bottom of Prof. Huxley's mind is as follows: Though all our scientific reasoning presupposes the uniformity of the universe, we are unable to assert of the reality behind the universe, that it might not manifest itself in ways by which all present science would be baffled. But what has an idea like this to do with any practical question? So far as man, and man's will, is concerned, we have to do only with the universe as we know it; and the only knowledge we have of it, worth calling knowledge, involves, as Prof. Huxley is constantly telling us, "the great act of faith," which leads us to take what has been as a certain index of what will be. Now, with regard to this universe. Prof. Huxley tells us that the progress of science has always meant, and "means now more than ever," "the extension of the province of. . . causation, and. . . the banishment of spontaneity."[1] And this applies, as he expressly says, to human thought and action as much as to the flowering of a plant. Just as there can be no voluntary action without volition, so there can be no volition without some preceding cause. Accordingly, if a man's condition at any given moment were completely known, his actions could be predicted with as much or with as little certainty as the fall of a stone could be predicted if released from the hand that held it. Now Prof. Huxley tells us that, with regard to certainty, we are justified in saying that the stone will fall; and we should, therefore, be justified in saying similarly of the man, that he will act in such and such a manner. Whether theoretically we are absolutely certain is no matter. We are absolutely certain for all practical purposes,

  1. "Lay Sermons," p. 123.