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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/456

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442
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

that direct action on his works so constantly ascribed to him in Scripture and transferred it to material mechanism" and that he "substituted gravitation for Providence" But, more than this, these men gave a new basis for the theory of evolution as distinguished from the theory of creation.

Especially worthy of note is it that the great work of Descartes, erroneous as many of its deductions were, and, in view of the lack of physical knowledge in his time, must be, had done much to weaken the old conception. His theory of a universe brought out of all-pervading matter, wrought into orderly arrangement by movements in accordance with physical laws—though it was but a provisional hypothesis—had done much to draw men's minds from the old theological view of creation; it was an example of intellectual honesty arriving at errors, but thereby aiding the advent of truths. Crippled though Descartes was by his almost morbid fear of the Church, this part of his work was no small factor in bringing in that attitude of mind which led to a reception of the thoughts of more unfettered thinkers.

Thirty years later came, in England, an effort of a different sort, but with a similar result. In 1678 Ralph Cudworth published his Intellectual System of the Universe. To this day he remains, in breadth of scholarship, in strength of thought, in tolerance, and in honesty, one of the greatest glories of the English Church, and his work was worthy of him. He purposed to build a fortress which should protect Christianity against all dangerous theories of the universe, ancient or modern. The foundations of the structure were laid with old thoughts thrown often into new and striking forms; but, as the superstructure arose more and more into view, while genius marked every part of it, features appeared which gave the rigidly orthodox serious misgivings. From the old theories of direct personal action on the universe by the Almighty he broke utterly. He dwelt on the action of law, rejected the continuous exercise of miraculous intervention, pointed out the fact that in the natural world there are "errors" and "bungles" and argued vigorously in favor of the origin and maintenance of the universe as a slow and gradual development of Nature in obedience to an inward principle. The Balaks of seventeenth-century orthodoxy might well condemn this honest Balaam.

Toward the end of the next century a still more profound genius, Immanuel Kant, took up the theory, and in the light of Newton's great utterances gave it a consistency which it had never before had; and about the same time Laplace gave it yet greater strength by mathematical reasonings of wonderful power and extent, thus implanting firmly in modern thought the idea that our own solar system and others, suns, planets, satellites, and