Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/May 1880/God and Nature
|GOD AND NATURE.|
AN elderly clergyman, dying some years ago in the east of London, bequeathed his silver spoons and the like to his nephews and nieces. But the spoons could nowhere be found. Ultimately they were discovered in a closet beneath a pile of sermons; the good clergyman having, for the sake of safety, chosen for his little stock of plate the place in which, as he imagined, it was most likely to be permitted to remain undisturbed.
I fear that I committed a mistake not long since by doing something analogous to that which was done by him whose providence I have just now chronicled, though with a different intention. I printed, in the form of an Appendix to a volume of "Oxford and Cambridge Sermons," a note on "Matter," for some portion of which, at least, I should like to crave more consideration than perhaps it has already received. The following paragraph contains the thought which I wish just now to put before the reader and to develop in this essay:
"I have referred to Cudworth's discussion of theories of matter with regard to the possible atheistic tendencies of some of them; and the time has not gone by, perhaps it never will, when the fear of atheism, as growing out of physical theories, will have ceased to exist. I am by no means prepared to say that there is no ground for such fear; but I think that some portion at least of the danger of science being found to have atheistic tendencies would be got rid of, if a clearer view could be obtained of the manner in which it is possible to establish a connection between physical theories and atheistic conclusions. It seems to me that we want a new word to express the fact that all physical science, properly so called, is compelled by its very nature to take no account of the being of God: as soon as it does this, it trenches upon theology, and ceases to be physical science. If I might coin a word, I should say that science was atheous, and therefore could not be atheistic; that is to say, its investigations and reasonings are by agreement conversant simply with observed facts and conclusions drawn from them, and in this sense it is atheous, or without recognition of God. And, because it is so, it does not in any way trench upon theism or theology, and can not be atheistic, or in the condition of denying the being of God. Take the case of physical astronomy. To the mathematician the mechanics of the heavens are in no way different from the mechanics of a clock. It is true that the clock must have had a maker; but the mathematician, who investigates any problem connected with its mechanism, has nothing to do with him as such. The spring, the wheels, the escapement, and the rest of the works are all in their proper places somehow, and it matters nothing to the mathematician how they came there. As a mathematician the investigator of clock-motion takes no account of the existence of clockmakers; but he does not deny their existence; he has no hostile feeling toward them; he may be on the very best of terms with many of them; it may be at the request of one of them who has invented some new movement that he has undertaken his investigations. Precisely in the same way the man who investigates the mechanics of the heavens finds a complicated system of motion, a number of bodies mutually attracting each other and moving according to certain assumed laws. In working out the results of his assumed laws, the mathematician has no reason to consider how the bodies came to be as they are; that they are as they are is not only enough for him, but it would be utterly beyond his province to inquire how they came so to be. Therefore, so far as his investigations are concerned, there is no God; or, to use the word above suggested, his investigations are atheous. But they are not atheistic; and he may carry on his work, not merely without fearing the Psalmist's condemnation of the fool, but with the full persuasion that the results of his labors will tend to the honor and glory of God."
The thought contained in this paragraph, and which may be said to be compressed in the word atheous, appears to me to be interesting intellectually, and valuable morally. It is not desirable that the reproach of atheism should be thrown about rashly. That there is such a thing as atheism, and that the atheistic condition of mind may be not only a very miserable, but also a very immoral one, I would not venture to deny; but that charges of atheism are not unfrequently rashly made, and the attitude taken up by scientific investigators is sometimes regarded as atheistic when it is not fairly to be described by that terrible epithet, is also true. Physical science is not more essentially atheistic than arithmetical or geometrical: all three are atheous, not one is atheistic.
Yet God and nature are very close the one to the other: the natura naturans and the natura naturata must necessarily be contiguous. We need a "scientific frontier" between them, a line which shall on no condition be transgressed by those who occupy the territory on one side or the other.
The necessity of keeping this frontier line sacred is perhaps not sufficiently recognized, and there is a great tendency to transgress it; but it is not a mere arbitrary line to be laid down by treaty, as the boundaries of adjacent states are settled, but is like one of the great watersheds of nature, which no human arrangement can alter: it is like the "great divide" in the Rocky Mountains, one side of which means for every drop of rain that falls a passage to the Pacific, and the other side means a passage to the Atlantic. On a smaller scale there are similar edges on Snowdon and Helvellyn; you may stand upon them and throw two pebbles with the right hand and with the left, which will be miles apart before they come to rest.
For, in truth, the difference between the two territories, separated by our supposed scientific boundary, is greater than that which is expressed by the terms natura naturans and natura naturata The conception of a natura naturans might be merely that of a first cause, a logical beginning of nature, without any of those moral attributes which men with almost one consent associate with the name and conception of God. If the transgression of the legitimate boundaries of the field of physical science merely introduced the inquirer to metaphysical speculations, no harm would ensue, though possibly not much advantage. The condition and quality of mind which make a man a successful investigator of nature, either by the way of observation or by that of mathematical analysis, are seldom associated with those mental powers which enable a man to get beneath the surface of phenomena and speculate with any success as to the ground and underlying conditions of things. I do not say that a mind may not possess both kinds of power, but the combination is rare. Still, a man at the worst can only fail, and a brilliant observer or analyst may prove himself to be a poor philosopher, and that is the worst result that can come. But this is not in reality the result of crossing the scientific frontier. If on the one side is God and on the other nature, this means that on the one side you have a moral and religious region, and on the other a purely physical region; and the passage from one to the other is quite certain to be fraught with danger, not to say mischief.
Let me illustrate my meaning by reference to a passage in Ernst Haeckel's "History of Creation."
"Creation," he writes, "as the coming into existence of matter, does not concern us here at all. This process, if indeed it ever took place, is completely beyond human comprehension, and can therefore never become the subject of scientific inquiry. Natural science teaches that matter is eternal and imperishable, for experience has never shown us that even the smallest particle of matter has come into existence or passed away. . . . Hence a naturalist can no more imagine the coming into existence of matter than he can imagine its disappearance, and he therefore looks upon the existing quantity of matter in the universe as a given fact. If any person feels the necessity of conceiving the coming into existence of this matter as the work of a supernatural creative power, of the creative force of something outside of matter, we have nothing to say against it. But we must remark that thereby not even the smallest advantage is gained for the scientific knowledge of nature. Such a conception of immaterial force, which at the first creates matter, is an article of faith which has nothing whatever to do with human science. Where faith commences science ends. Both these arts of the human mind must be strictly kept apart from each other. Faith has its origin in the poetic imagination; knowledge, on the other hand, originates in the reasoning intelligence of man. Science has to pluck the blessed fruits from the tree of knowledge, unconcerned whether these conquests trench upon the poetical imaginings of faith or not."
With much which is contained in the preceding quotation I entirely agree. Where faith commences, science ends; this is perfectly true; but I miss any recognition of the truth that the supernatural power which most persons "feel the necessity of conceiving" is something much beyond a "creative force outside of matter." It is difficult, I think, for most of us to keep our minds clear of the conception of such force outside of matter, though I quite agree with the author that nothing is gained for the scientific knowledge of nature by adopting the conception. But what I think the mind feels chiefly the necessity of conceiving is the existence of a Being who is the ground of all the moral phenomena of the world; and, if a writer on natural history goes beyond his subject at all, he should recognize the fact that the passing of the boundary carries the mind into a region of moral philosophy and religion, and not merely into a speculation concerning the possible origination of matter.
That this criticism is not unfair and not unimportant may be, I think, concluded from the results to which Ernst Haeckel is himself led, and to which he wishes to lead his readers. He tells us that he has no fault to find with the hypothesis, if we feel it to be necessary, of an origin of matter; but he tells us subsequently that there is no purpose in nature, and no such thing as beneficence on the part of a Creator.
"Every one," he writes, "who makes a really close study of the organization and mode of life of the various animals and plants, and becomes familiar with the reciprocity or interaction of the phenomena of life, and the so-called 'economy of nature,' must necessarily come to the conclusion that this 'purposiveness' no more exists than the much-talked-of 'beneficence' of the Creator. These optimistic views have, unfortunately, as little real foundation as the favorite phrase, 'moral order of the universe,' which is illustrated in an ironical way by the history of all nations. The dominion of 'moral' popes, and their pious Inquisition, in the mediæval times, is not less significant of this than the present prevailing militarism, with its 'moral' apparatus of needle-guns and other refined instruments of murder."
This passage, as will be seen, takes us into the region of morals. There is no question here of permitting the hypothesis of an originating force outside of matter, if we feel such an hypothesis intellectually necessary; but we have instead a denial ex cathedra of the existence of such a thing as a moral order or of such a person as a beneficent Creator. This is not merely atheous; it is atheistic. An investigator of nature has a right to say that the question of the existence of a beneficent Creator or the non-existence of such a Being does not affect his investigations; but he has no right, upon the strength of investigations purely physical, to deny the existence of beneficence as an attribute of the Creator, if a Creator there be.
But I am not surprised to find utterance given to some expression of opinion as to the moral character of the Creator, when once the legitimate boundary of physical science has been transgressed. If a man can be satisfied with examining nature as he finds it, whether as an observer or as a mathematician, the question of a Creator need no more trouble him than it troubles the man who is busied with integrating equations or devising a new calculus; but if he is not satisfied with this, then he can scarcely stop short of a complete investigation of the whole question of theism; and the elements necessary to this complete investigation are certainly not to be found in physics, any more than you can find in physics the material for a complete treatise on poetry or music or painting.
For, in truth, physical science does not afford the basis even for a complete investigation of ourselves. When anthropology is classed among the physical sciences, it is necessary to confine the investigations comprehended under the title to the consideration of man as a creature having certain material attributes and leaving certain material marks of his existence in past ages: a study of the highest interest, and one which students have a right to call anthropology, if they please: but manifestly anthropology can not be translated by the words "the science of man," for the science of necessity leaves out of consideration all that is most interesting to man or which makes man most interesting.
To say that physical science does not include the study of man is perhaps nearly the same thing as saying that man is not a part of nature; and though such an assertion may seem paradoxical, there is a sense in which it is quite true, and it is important to observe what that sense is. Putting aside all questions of immortality, it is not difficult to conclude that mankind possess attributes which do not belong to other creatures, and which make it necessary, in examining the world, to put man in a class by himself.
Take a few examples. Let the first be that of will. The question is whether a human being has a command of his actions in a manner in which no other creature has. Simple experience seems to me to prove that he has: I do not feel that I need the help of philosophers to solve the question. A dog or a horse has in a certain sense a will, but I can calculate how a dog or a horse will act, if I know the conditions to which it is subjected; whereas I positively know from actual experience that I can do as I choose, independently of all external influences. Bring me to the test: tell me in any given circumstances what those circumstances will lead me to do, and I will undertake to do something different. And the power of will implies the capacity for self-sacrifice. Every animal is by its very nature selfish. Doubtless there are, in this as in other things, faint reflections of humanity in the humbler creatures, just as the στοργὴ of the animal, which lasts for a short time and utterly dies out when it has served its purpose, is the faint reflection of that human love which lasts through life and grows with years; but there is nothing in the life of animals which can be seriously named as being of the same kind as that feeling which inspired a Howard, or a Wilberforce, or a St. Vincent de Paul. The man who deliberately puts aside that which is most pleasant to men in general, and which he himself has every capacity to enjoy, and does something quite different from the dictates of his nature because he judges that something to be right or good, exhibits a quality and a power which is simply lacking in every other living creature except the human race.
Again, regard man as a being of purpose. I quoted a passage not long ago from Ernst Haeckel, in which he denies the existence of purpose in nature. Can purpose be denied to exist in man? If I am not mistaken, the whole history of civilization may be described as a development of purpose. Every other creature is apparently content with the condition in which it finds itself. Birds build nests as their ancestors did thousands of years ago; fishes have no ambition; possibly the time may have been when ants did not know the luxury of keeping aphis-cows, or being waited upon by slaves of their own race; but, speaking generally, it may be said that unprogressiveness marks all other animals, as distinctly as progressiveness does man. I put out of consideration, as not belonging to the argument, the question of evolution, and the progression of living things in that sense of the word. I am speaking only of nature as we see it now, and not as it may possibly once have been; and certainly, as things are now, it seems impossible to deny that while the animals about us are as fixed in their habits and instincts as the plants, or nearly so, there is one race, namely, the human, which is not fixed at all, but is constantly devising something new, regarding nothing as gained while anything remains to be achieved.
Once more, take the more general attribute of thought. Much has been written of late concerning the minds of animals; it is a curious and interesting subject, and certainly I for one do not grudge our humbler friends in the great world-family of life any gift of mind with which they have been endowed. The brain of the ant is, as some one has truly said, perhaps the most wonderful little morsel of matter in existence. But certainly the mind of man is so incomparably more powerful and effective a machine of thought, that any comparison between it and the mind of the most gifted animal appears almost ridiculous. The fact is that our natural tendency is so much to assume the utter non-existence of mind in animals, that, when we find evidence of mind which we can not resist, we stand amazed at the discovery. In many things, as we know, the inferior creatures are much more clever than ourselves; we could never build a nest like a bird, or make a comb like a bee, or do ten thousand things which are being done every day by spiders and beetles. But still thought in the highest sense belongs to man. A dog sometimes looks as though he was thinking a thing out, and dog-stories are very wonderful; but, after all, the cleverest dog that ever lived yet has never been able to get beyond "Bow-wow," and we may safely predict that no dog will ever acquire even the simplest elements of human knowledge. I can not believe that this power of thought can properly be described as the mere result of phosphorus in the brain. That epigram, "No phosphorus, no thought" strikes me as having in it more of smartness than of wisdom. It is of course true that the brain is in some manner the organ of thought, and phosphorus may be the most important element in the formation of the brain; but is not thought conceivable independently of this particular machinery for making it possible to a material creature, just as motion is conceivable apart from horses or steam, or any of the causes to which it is commonly due? Is there not a kind of absurdity in regarding thought as the result of phosphorus, as real as if we should say, what upon the same principle of philosophy we might say, that truthfulness, kindness, modesty, were all functions of phosphorus? Nay, I do not know why we should not go further, and assert that there could be no thought without carbon or without any other element of which the human body is composed; for you can have no actual thought without a living creature, and no living creature without a body, and no body without carbon, ∴ etc.—q. e. d.
All these examples lead up to one sovereign attribute which comprehends and implies both them and others equally important, namely, the attribute of personality. A man can say, with a full sense of the meaning of what he says, not merely "I eat, drink, and sleep," nor even "I am conscious of will, purpose, and thought," but "I am: I am a conscious person, not a mere machine, though the proprietor of a wonderful piece of machinery. My body, my brain, my mind, are not merely things which work with a living innate power, but they are mine, they work for me, they do what I tell them. If they are out of order, I know it, and I complain of it; I say, for instance: 'I have overtasked my brain, I must give it some rest before I can do this or that; I know what I wish to do, and feel myself competent to do it, but my brain will not obey me because it is tired, just as my horse may be overworked, or as my knife will not cut when it has been blunted by too much use.'" So of the moral feelings. I can discuss them, I can guide my conduct by means of them, I can feel ashamed of this or that failure in upright or high conduct. A man knows that he is responsible for his actions. Sometimes a murderer is convicted twenty years after the offense has been committed, or he gives himself up after as many years because his memory and his conscience make his life intolerable. He has no doubt as to the fact that the person who did the deed of darkness years ago is the same person as he who feels the pangs of remorse to-day. Every material particle in his body may have changed since then; but there is a continuity in his spiritual being out of which he can not be argued, even if any ingenious sophist should attempt the task. No ingenuity will prevent the conscience stricken murderer from pleading guilty.
There are, undeniably, anomalies of a very remarkable kind connected with the sense of personality, and cases are recorded in which men and women have had (as it were) a different personality at different times. An instance is recorded of a young woman who habitually passed from one state of existence or consciousness to another, so distinct that when in the second state she knew nothing of what had happened when she was in the first. For example, having returned upon one occasion from a funeral, she fell asleep, and awoke in a few moments in her second state; all remembrance of the funeral was gone, and she wondered why she was in mourning. This case appears to have been carefully and scientifically watched for many years, and to have given undeniable evidence of what may be described as a double existence or double consciousness; so that the being in question would have no true sense of personality, and certainly would not be admissible in a witness-box as evidence of any event said to have taken place. Instances more or less of the same kind may probably be produced without limit. What they prove is, that we are dependent for the proper use of our faculties upon material conditions; the corpus sanum is one condition of the mens sana; but they do not prove the unreality of the attribute of personality any more than the existence of idiocy and insanity, or even the possibility of getting drunk and so losing all sense of who and what we are, prove it. Undoubtedly everything depends, in the case of a human being whose powers are exerted through material organs, upon the proper working condition of those organs, and a pressure of blood upon the brain may make a man of the holiest life and the most philosophical temper commit suicide, as experience proves. But all such morbid exceptions to the general rule can not destroy the belief which a man in his normal condition feels compelled by the conditions of his existence to hold, namely, that he is himself and no one else, that he is responsible for his actions, and that what he does now will bear fruit in his subsequent experience either for good or for evil, unless he becomes deranged. The author from whom I have taken the above case of double personality exclaims very naively: "Ah! comme il faut avoir un peu de saine complaisance pour les sept péchés capitaux! Jugez: un peu de sang de trop, peut être un centième de gramme mal dirigé au contact d'une pauvre petite résille de nerfs, et le voilà fait, l'orgueilleux, le vaniteux, le superbe!" True: we must be cautious in forming opinions of actions; and in any human court—we may believe also in the court divine—every circumstance connected with an action must be taken into account in order that a just judgment of it may be formed; but all this does not prove that there is no such thing as haughtiness, or vanity, or pride, or that sane men are not responsible for their temper of mind and the quality of their actions.
To come back, then, to the conception of personality. I can not but feel sure that this is the highest conception that I can possess of my own being, or of any kind of being. All history seems to transmute itself into a kind of phantasmagoria or illusive pantomime, unless the attribute of personality be conceded to the actors. Socrates, Alexander, Julius Cæsar, Cromwell, Napoleon, must be studied without reference to phosphorus, and upon principles lying altogether outside the territory of physical science. And this postulate of personality seems to me to lead, by an intellectual necessity, to the conception of personality in a region not of φωσφόρος, but of φῷς itself, the conception of the Person, ὀ ᾦν, of whom persons like ourselves are, as it were, a faint reflection.
The study of the being and doings of this Person would seem to be of necessity one of the most interesting that can be suggested to the mind of man. The study may be conducted upon different, though not crossing, lines; the chief lines being the physical, the metaphysical or philosophical, the moral, the religious. Each of these branches has its own method and its own sources of illumination; each also has its own peculiar difficulties and its own anomalies and contradictions. A really complete scientific theism, such a theism as Bacon would have delighted to map out in detail, would comprehend all the different departments of which I have spoken, and in the unity of such a system physicists and philosophers and divines would be able to meet and shake hands.
It is a curious subject of inquiry, and the reader will, I think, pardon me for here introducing it, how far, upon the theistic view of nature, we can discriminate between that which is necessary in the nature of things and that which is to be regarded as being such as it is in virtue of a divine purpose or choice. It seems clear, for example, that when once matter is assumed to be the subject of a divine operation, as in the case of the universe with which we are acquainted and of which we form a part, certain necessary conditions are imposed upon the creative work or upon the system of nature. These conditions may be, in a certain sense, limitations of divine power; but they are not limitations in any more objectionable sense than are the truths of geometry or number, to which all created things must be conformable. Sometimes a condition of this kind exists which is not at all obvious at first sight, and which, nevertheless, is as necessary to be taken into account as the truth that two and two make four and can not make five. Thus, for example, Laplace suggests that the utility of the moon is not as great as it might have been, and he points out an arrangement according to which, as he shows, the earth would have received much more light than it actually does; but I remember having read a memoir by Liouville in one of the numbers of his "Journal," in which he shows that the arrangement proposed by Laplace would not be stable—that is, that it would only be possible in the sense in which it is possible to make a pin stand upon its point. An example of this kind shows the necessity of caution in any suggestions which may be made for the improvement of natural arrangements. But it does more than this; it helps to illustrate the point which I am now endeavoring to discuss, with reference rather to the philosophy of the arrangements which we see than to any suggestions for improving them.
Let us consider for a moment what is called by mathematicians the principle of least action. Putting this principle into popular language, it may be described as asserting that the motion of bodies generally takes place in such a manner that the energy expended in the motion is the least possible. From this principle, when enunciated in a strict mathematical form, the equations of motion of a system may be deduced, or, in other words, the problem of the motion of a system may be solved. The remarkable fact connected with this principle is, that its truth was evolved by a speculative mind out of the general principle that nature would use the least effort possible to produce a given result, before it was demonstrated in its strict form by mathematicians; and, looking upon it thus, we should be disposed to regard the form of motion which involves least effort as being chosen out of all possible forms, much in the same way as a man who has to perform a journey or to do a certain piece of work inquires how the journey or piece of work can be reduced to a minimum of trouble or expense. But the fact of the "principle of least action" being mathematically deducible from the principles of motion would seem to prove that there is in reality no choice in the matter, but that least action is as necessary a truth as is that of the least distance between two points on a sphere being that which is traced by the great circle joining them.
Just consider this question of two points on a sphere. As a matter of geometry it is easy to show that the shortest path between them is that given by the great circle, and this principle is now well recognized in navigation. But change the problem from geometry to dynamics, by supposing a particle to move on the surface of a smooth sphere under the action of a force tending to the center, as that exerted by an elastic string in a state of tension; then it is equally easy to prove that this particle, when started in any direction, will describe a great circle—that is, its motion will be such that the distance traversed by it in passing from its point of departure to any point in its path will be the shortest distance between those points. It might be said that the particle chose the easiest path, but in reality there was no choice, nothing but necessity; in other words, the dynamical minimum stands on the same footing as the geometrical.
In truth, the question of minimum comes under our notice very frequently and very curiously in nature. The path of a ray of reflected light may be determined upon the principle that it is the shortest possible; and this is not the only case in which the law of minimum is illustrated by optics. But take a very different case, that of the cells made by the bee. It is well known that the bee is a wonderful geometer. The cells consist of hexagonal prisms closed at the ends with three tiles having exactly the angles which with a given amount of material will make the cells most capacious, or with a given capacity will use the smallest amount of material. This has been long known, and has given rise to much speculation as to the manner in which the bee is guided to so remarkable a result. I am not aware that any satisfactory solution has yet been proposed; but the intellectual conception of the problem is much simplified if we bear in mind that the transverse section is the nearest form possible to a circle, and the form of the end of the cell the nearest possible to a sphere; so that it may be said that the instinct of making circular prismatic cells with spherical ends, and then clearing away unnecessary wax, is all the instinct which the bee requires. Let the reader observe that this is said, not with a view to depreciate the bee's architectural skill, but only for the purpose of pointing out that the application of the wax in the most economical manner, making it go as far as possible, subject to the condition of forming prismatic cells, is a geometrical result from adopting the simplest plane and solid figures, namely, the circle and the sphere. Let me illustrate this by a single example. Suppose I gave a coppersmith a lump of copper, and said, "Make this into a bowl of given thickness, having a maximum of capacity"; my coppersmith would undoubtedly be posed. But suppose I said, "Make this into as simple a bowl as you can, and let the material be of such a thickness": he would almost certainly make it hemispherical, or nearly so, because that is the simplest form; but his hemispherical bowl would, as a matter of fact, possess the property of maximum content which I wished it to have.
It seems to me, therefore, that there may be not a few cases in which arrangements, that appear at first sight to be the result of a choice among many that might be possible, are in fact arrangements which are necessitated by geometrical conditions, or what may be equivalent to them. This consideration should make us cautious in attributing to an arbitrary will facts which might seem at first sight to warrant this conclusion. Then, again, there are phenomena in the ordinary functions of nature, having the appearance of chance, which yet are not chance in the true sense of the word, but which have strongly the appearance of it, and for which it is difficult to give any account. The manner in which plants turn toward the light is to me a profound mystery; there must be a force to produce the motion, but I do not perceive whence it can arise. And the instinct of seeking the light sometimes assumes the most wonderful form. I think I have read of a potato in a dark cellar throwing out a long sprout which extended itself till it emerged at a hole at a distance through which light entered. The power which living matter has to adapt itself to unforeseen circumstances, of which this potato may be taken as a humble instance, has very much of the appearance of choice. A limb is broken, or a skull is trepanned, and the limb becomes as strong as ever, and the skull retains whatever brain it may have had within it, in virtue of new efforts of nature exactly adapted to the wants; but these wants are such as could not have been foreseen, and could scarcely have been included in the original idea, so to speak, of the man to whom the accident has happened.
Therefore I feel that we are on very difficult and mysterious ground when discussing the place which should be assigned in nature to choice. I think that we ought to recognize the fact that many things in the edifice of nature, which might strike us at first sight as the arbitrary touches of the great Architect, may in reality be the results of geometrical or other necessity inherent in the conditions of space, or time, or matter. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that a creation such as we see round about us, and of which we form a part, could have been evolved out of its primitive elements without the exercise of that which, for want of a better word, I will call choice. Why should our hearts be on the left side rather than on the right? Why should we have five digits rather than seven? Why should we have one thumb rather than two? Why, to take a larger instance, should the planets be exactly such as they are in size and in other conditions, which apparently follow no law whatever? Why should the exact quantity of matter exist which does exist, for an infinite quantity is, I suppose, inconceivable? And what determines the precise pace at which all the bodies which constitute the universe move? To use the language of a mathematician, what determines all the arbitrary constants and arbitrary functions in the integrals of nature's equations? This string of questions might be lengthened indefinitely, but the reader will see what the force of them is. If the principle of symmetry could be asserted concerning the human body or concerning the solar system, that symmetry might answer many questions; it might be said, "This or that is so, because there is no reason why it should be otherwise." But there is an absence of symmetry from many parts of nature, and, when no geometrical or other cause can be assigned, you need the hypothesis of an independent will in order to render the irregular formation in any degree intelligible. A supreme will throws light upon the darkness; it may leave some difficulties unsolved, but we feel that in it we have got the key.
But my pen has run as far as perhaps my readers will care to follow me; and I conclude, therefore, by reminding them of the thesis which my essay has been intended to illustrate. It is the relation of God and nature, and the connection between the study of the latter and the knowledge of the former. I would say at the end what I said at the beginning, that physical science is properly and necessarily atheous, but not properly and not necessarily atheistic. Clerk Maxwell, that great intellect, whom Cambridge and the world have recently lost, was no atheist, but a devout believer in God; yet no man had penetrated more deeply and more successfully into the arcana of matter, and discussed more profoundly and more ingeniously the molecules of which the universe is made. Is this wonderful? I think not. It seems to me that, while it is the duty of a scientific inquirer, as such, to exclude from his inquiries anything that at all transcends the natural region, and therefore God can have no place in his inquiries, yet the moral effect of the discipline of investigation ought to be, in the case of a well-balanced mind, to compel it, if need be, to "cross the boundary of experimental evidence" and recognize the existence of Him "who hath created all things," in whom "we live, and move, and have our being."—Nineteenth Century.
- "Oxford and Cambridge Sermons," p. 280. (George Bell & Sons.)
- I have used this phraseology as expressing the difference between the cause and the phenomena of the material universe. Bacon writes, in the first aphorism of the second book of the "Novum Organum": "Datæ naturæ Formam, sive differentiam veram, sive naturam naturantem. . . invenire, opus et intentio est hunianæ Scientiæ." But upon this Mr. Ellis remarks in a note: "This is the only passage in which I have met with the phrase natura naturans used as it is here. With the later schoolmen, as with Spinoza, it denotes God considered as the causa immanens of the universe, and therefore, according to the latter, not hypostatically distinct from it." As employed by me, the phrase is not intended (I need hardly say) to have any pantheistic tendency.
- Vol. i., p. 8 (English translation).
- Vol. i., p. 19.
- I had not observed, when this was written, that the Archbishop of York had said nearly the same thing. "Without time, no thought; without oxygen, no thought; without water, no thought. All these are true, and they import a well-known fact, that man who thinks is a creature in a material world, and that certain forms of matter are needful to his existence as an organized being." ("Design in Nature," "Word, Work, and Will," p. 244.)
- I take this from the "Causeries Scientifiques," 1877 (Rothschild, Paris).