Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/120

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THE narrow limits of Prof. Tyndall's address, the greatness of the questions it raised, and the diversity of views to which it has given rise, seem to have led to much erroneous interpretation of the document. Many newspapers have charged that the speech is an unprecedented and unwarranted aggression upon ground to which science has no rightful claim, and even the Scientific American describes the position taken by Prof. Tyndall as a "sudden invasion of the neutral territory lying between scientific and religious thought." The passage that has been most constantly quoted and relied upon, to show that Prof. Tyndall has quit his own field and intruded into that which belongs to religion, is where he speaks of "prolonging his vision across the boundary of, the experimental evidence." But it is easy to show that this passage will bear no such construction; that is, what Prof. Tyndall proposes to do is, exactly what all men of science have been about these hundred years. Let us see what he means, which may be the best done by detaching from the address the full statement in which the passage occurs. Prof. Tyndall says: "Two courses, and two only, are possible. Either let us open our doors freely to the conception of creative acts, or, abandoning them, let us radically change our notions of matter. If we look at matter as pictured by Democritus, and as defined for generations in our text-books, the absolute impossibility of any form of life coming out of it would be sufficient to render any other hypothesis preferable; but the definitions of matter given in our text-books were intended to cover its purely physical and mechanical properties. And, taught as we have been to regard these definitions as complete, we naturally and rightly reject the monstrous notion that out of such matter any form of life could possibly arise. But are the definitions complete? Every thing depends on the answer to be given to this question. Trace the line of life backward, and see it approaching more and more to what we call the purely physical condition. We reach at length those organisms which I have compared to drops of oil suspended in a mixture of alcohol-and-water. We reach the protogenes of Haeckel, in which we have 'a type distinguishable from a fragment of albumen only by its finely-granular character.' Can we pause here? We break a magnet, and find two poles in each of its fragments. We continue the process of breaking, but, however small the parts, each carries with it, though enfeebled, the polarity of the whole. And, when we can break no longer, we prolong the intellectual vision to the polar molecules. Are we not urged to do something similar in the case of life? Is there not a temptation to close to some extent with Lucretius, when he affirms that 'Nature is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself, without the meddling of the gods?' or with Bruno, when he declares that Matter is not 'that mere empty capacity which philosophers have pictured her to be, but the universal mother who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb?' The questions here raised are inevitable. They are approaching us with accelerated speed, and it is not a matter of indifference whether they are introduced with reverence or irreverence. Abandoning all disguise, the confession that I feel bound to make before you is, that I prolong the vision backward across the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern, in that matter which we in our