Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/May 1891/Professor Huxley on the War-Path II
|PROFESSOR HUXLEY ON THE WAR-PATH.|
BUT now—if Nature has indeed never stopped her operations at any one time—if they have been, on the contrary, always continuous in unity of plan amid every change in method, then it follows that we do not know how often new germs may have been introduced and may have had their full development accelerated by processes of comparatively short duration. Darwin, in a passage but little noted, has thought of this. He speaks of stages of development being possibly "hurried through." We see this actually done in the living world, although we do not often think of it as we ought. It is done in all the mysterious phenomena of metamorphosis. A comparatively low and simple organism goes to sleep, and in a few weeks—or a few days, or even, it may be, in a few hours—it awakes entirely reformed, reconstructed, provided with new organs, and fitted for absolutely new spheres of activity and life. We do not know whether this method of creation may not have been repeated over and over again with abiogenic germs—just as it is now repeated in an infinite variety of forms among the germs which are biogenic. I am contending now for a true and honest agnosticism and not for any theory. We do not know that inheritance by descent is the only possible or the only actual cause of likeness and homologies in organic structure. It is not the cause of it as regards the inorganic world, and it may not be the only cause of it in those houses which have been made out of inorganic materials to be the abodes of life. It is indeed not possible that inheritance can be the only cause of likeness—if it be granted that the first starting-point of development must have been in germs which had no organic parent. On the other hand, we can be quite certain of the reason why organs should be made like each other, although we can not be sure of the physical causes through which exclusively this likeness must be brought about. The reason is that certain needs must be met by appropriate apparatuses—vital, chemical, and mechanical. Extraneous matter must be assimilated, weight must be supported, circulating fluids must be supplied with oxygen, light must be caught upon adapted surfaces, and must be transmitted through focused lenses, if sight is to be enjoyed. And so on. The Why is within our knowledge. The How is most doubtful and most obscure. Geology, above all other sciences, impresses this ignorance upon us—even as regards some of the simplest of her operations. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the conditions of original deposit. Very often it is still more difficult to understand the conditions of denudation or removal. The great earth-movements which have certainly taken place are full of mystery—the depressions and elevations, the cracks and "faults" which have dislocated the strata, the "downthrows" sometimes of thousands of feet, which have cut across the rocks as sharply as if the cutting had been effected by a knife, the overthrows and the overthrusts, the sinkings and the underthrusts, which have inverted the order of original formation, the metamorphism which has obliterated original structure here, and has left it wholly unaltered there; the vast thicknesses which are destitute of the remains of life, in juxtaposition perhaps with some one thin bed which is crowded with them; the methods by which, and the times during which, old forms of life have been destroyed, and new forms have been introduced—all these, and a thousand others, are questions on which our ignorance is profound.
Now, it is a remarkable fact that all these difficulties are, as it were, multiplied and accentuated in that very period which is nearest to us that period which was marked by the very latest changes of which geology has any cognizance—I refer to the period which is now generally called Quaternary. It is sharply marked off from previous periods by a strictly scientific definition. Shells, and particularly marine shells, may be called the time-medals of creation. Their comparative indestructibility, and the fact that the element in which their inmates live is the same element which preserves their habitations when they die, make it certain that in them Geology keeps her oldest, most complete, and most authentic record. The Quaternary period is defined as that during which innovation was stopped as regards the development of shell-life—during which no new species was born—during which we find, with a few rare exceptions, no shell which is not also an existing and a living species. As regards them, therefore, the Quaternary period is the existing period in the classifications of geology. It is the age in which we ourselves are now living. And yet this is the very period during which the greatest novelty of all seems to have been introduced, for it is in this period that we can first detect the advent of man. Moreover, it is in this period that there seem to have been some of the most mysterious earth-movements of which the science has any glimpse. Great dislocations of strata—great changes in the distribution of land and sea—great destruction of preceding forms of life, are among the familiar conceptions which its best-ascertained phenomena suggest. Nor is this all. The vanishing of preceding forms of life in many older periods may have been gradual, and the creatures which disappeared may he supposed to have lived on in their modified descendants. But in our own Quaternary period multitudes of the vanishing beasts seem to have been destroyed by some great destruction, many of them leaving no descendants whatever to represent their antique and abandoned forms. Nature has simply obliterated them altogether. All these circumstances, and many more, combine to make this present geological period in which we are still living—the Quaternary period—one of the darkest and most mysterious of all. Thus every possible question which is the most difficult in geology seems crowded and aggregated into the age which stands nearest to us, and to which geologically we ourselves belong.
If, then, there is any one of the halls of science into which we should enter with uncovered heads, it is surely that in which the grand problems of Quaternary geology are handled and discussed. If in her great temple there be any pavement on which a true and wise agnosticism would tread with cautious and humble steps, it is upon that which constitutes the threshold of inquiries so complicated as to facts, so difficult as regards the interpretation of them, and so profound in their bearing upon other subjects of the very highest interest and importance. Yet this is the threshold across which Prof. Huxley comes tripping on the light fantastic toe. It would be hard to say whether his utterances are most conspicuous for their dogmatism or for their levity. All agnosticism is forgotten, and all sense of ignorance is denied or silenced. After pouring out the vials of his wrath and expending the arrows of his ridicule on a conception of the Deluge which nobody entertains, he turns fiercely on a German author who has ventured to suggest that some catastrophe greater than any mere floods of the Euphrates and of the Tigris may possibly have happened among the many and obscure changes recorded in Quaternary geology. Prof. Huxley seems very anxious to get this idea out of his way. He won't hear of it. He knows all about it, at least for the purposes of denial. He does not argue the question. He does not give any reasons. He simply denies the possibility as of his own authority, and pronounces it to be "particularly absurd." This attempt to settle by an ipse dixit what can and what can not possibly have happened during the great physical changes of the Quaternary age, will never do. Even if it were only on account of our utter ignorance of all details respecting those changes, that ignorance is notorious enough to condemn such an attempt as an offense against all the legitimate methods of science.
But there is worse than this in the sentences which follow. Prof. Huxley declares contemptuously that the occurrence of any catastrophe during the Quaternary age, such as could give rise to the traditions of a deluge, is an "hypothesis which involves only the trifle of a physical revolution of which geology knows nothing." Now here we have a positive assertion; and it is one which can only be met by a contradiction as direct and flat as truth demands, and as the courtesies of literature will allow. Once upon a time in discussion with an illustrious and venerable man, Prof. Huxley felt called upon to say that his opponents' assertions were "demonstrably contrary to fact." I may safely assume, therefore, that this is a form recognized by the highest authority as occasionally required even in the calm and lofty debates of science. This, accordingly, is the form of contradiction which I now venture to adopt in meeting the confident assertion of Prof. Huxley. I do so, however, declaring emphatically that I have no suspicion whatever that Prof. Huxley intended to deceive anybody, whether himself or others. All that I am sure of is that if others believe what he says on this matter they will be deceived, and deceived grossly. The explanation lies in the fact that, in the hot pursuit of his theological antipathies, he has made the very simple and natural mistake of confounding "geology" with himself. But these two are not identical or convertible terms. He may not have seen—because prejudice has shut his eyes—some things which geology has seen, and seen very clearly too. He may not know of, or recognize the full import of, facts which geology does know of, and has established. But whether he knows of them or not—whether he has ever "put two and two together" in respect to them—it does so happen that among the difficult problems of Quaternary geology, three great salient conclusions have been established. The first is, that among the very last and latest changes in the history of the globe there was a great extension to the south of the conditions of climate which are known as glacial. The second is, that during part of that time—and almost certainly during the very last part of it—or even since it ended—there was, over some great part at least of the northern hemisphere, a great submergence of the land under the waters of the sea. The third is that man had already appeared upon the earth, and had more or less spread upon it, before that late submergence took place, and must, therefore, have been a witness, and may possibly have been a victim, to it. Now, the first two of these conclusions are not only "known to geology," but are among its most widely accepted doctrines, while the third has made great progress and is rapidly—taking if, indeed, it has not already taken—the same place and rank in the category of discovered and admitted truths.
If, then, these three great facts have acquired this position and even if they be disputed by a few writers, or by Prof. Huxley himself—it is "demonstrably contrary to fact" to allege that geology "knows nothing" of them. The science knows of them so well and so familiarly that "the last great depression" has become a stock phrase among Quaternary geologists—as referring to many ascertained phenomena which are capable of no other interpretation.
It may, however, be well asked how it is, if these three great facts have been established, that the conclusions flowing from them have not been followed up. The explanation is as easy as it is instructive. It has been due to that one cause which, perhaps more than any other, has impeded the advance of science—the blinding effect of invincible preconceptions. Sometimes these have been aggravated by such intellectual aversions as that which animates Prof. Huxley against everything connected with Christian theology. But many desperate preconceptions have other sources. The authority of great men who have fallen into some great error has been one of the barriers most difficult to breach. Of this kind perhaps the most memorable example was the power of Sir Isaac Newton to postpone for nearly a century and a half the establishment of the undulatory theory of light. The furious and contemptuous attacks made upon Dr. Thomas Young, when in our own day he revived that theory and poured the light of his own genius upon it, remind one very much of the temper and the spirit in which some men are now meeting those movements of discovery that tend to reopen questions which only ignorance had closed, and to give to old ideas a new and scientific basis. Then there has been another source of abounding prejudice. The shape in which those old ideas were at first presented has often been really deforming and erroneous. This has been pre-eminently the case with the form under which the idea of a deluge has come across the pathway of geology. At first men would not believe in the reality of fossil shells. When' this reality was proved to demonstration, then the supposition was entertained that they were carried into the solid rocks by the Noachian Deluge. The absurdity of this supposition was almost sickening, and it established a lasting sense of nausea in all the stomachs of geologists at the very mention of a deluge as coming at all within the cognizance of their science. This is just the attitude of mind which sets up the most insuperable preconceptions, and renders men insensible to the force of any evidence which even seems to look in the direction of their disgust. In this very article Prof. Huxley makes a confession upon this subject, which he does not mean as such, but which, nevertheless, is a confession most true and most significant. "At the present time," he says, "it is difficult to persuade serious scientific inquirers to occupy themselves in any way with the Noachian Deluge. They look at you with a smile and a shrug," etc. This is quite true. But it is also true that the attitude of mind thus depicted is most unsafe and most unphilosophical. I confess to having myself lain under the incubus of the same preconceptions for many years. It was of course easy to take refuge in the bolt-hole dug out by Lyell—that if there ever was a deluge it must have been 'an event so "preternatural" in all its circumstances and effects that there is no use in even thinking of it in connection with any of the physical sciences. Yet the promptings of our intellectual conscience will perforce suggest that, though belief and reason are not coincident in extent, they ought to be coincident in direction, and that physical events of great magnitude, if they happened at all, however preternatural, were presumably brought about by physical agencies which must have left some effects behind them, unless subsequent obliteration has destroyed the evidence. This last alternative was indeed easily conceivable in the abstract. It is, however, always less easily conceivable in each actual case in proportion to the magnitude of the supposed events and the recency of their supposed occurrence. But this method of looking at the whole case, which is purely logical and scientific—this perception of alternatives turning upon evidence, and on the possible causes of the want of any evidence at all—is a method which at once awakens our intelligence to the testimony of facts, and breaks down the stupid preconceptions which blind us to the true interpretation of them. It puts an end to that irrational attitude of the mind which Prof. Huxley, strange to say, seems to approve of and applaud, in which we can hardly be persuaded "to occupy ourselves in any way" with a great problem, and in which we can only look at it "with a smile and a shrug."
Once roused from this paralysis of our reason, we soon find that there are abundant materials on which to exercise its powers. I live in a district of country over the whole of which the evidence of "the great submergence" is as striking as it 'is ubiquitous. I estimate the depth of it as having been at least two thousand feet. Not less decisive is the evidence that it must have happened among the very latest operations which have been at work upon the globe. Charles Darwin saw this in 1839, when he came to the West Highlands to look at the famous Parallel Roads of Glen Roy. His estimate of the minimum depth of it was at least 1,280 feet. He saw it, and he dwelt upon it with emphasis in the celebrated paper in which he recorded his observations. No one who resides in the low country where the rocks are never seen except in quarries, can have any conception how clear and unmistakable are the proofs of some temporary, and very recent, depression of our land, with almost all its mountains, under the level of the sea. Then comes corroboration after corroboration from every field of Quaternary geology. For thirty years and more geologists have known, and have been staring helplessly on the fact, that in North Wales one of the hills of the Snowdon range is covered with a marine gravel at a level of 1,130 feet above that of the present sea. They have known the fact that this gravel contains shells in abundance, all of existing species. They have known it, but most of them have been reluctant to "occupy themselves about it in any way." Even in recording it they generally leave it, if not "with a smile and a shrug," at least with a timid and embarrassed glance. Yet nothing in the whole range of their science is more mysterious and instructive than that Moel Trefan top. Old Ocean has been there, and he has been there very lately. He has been there as regards the area and the locality, and he has been there in a passing way, but he has not necessarily been there as regards its existing level. Prof. Huxley tells us that a heaping of the sea over a particular place is a physical impossibility. I quite agree. Then it follows that Moel Trefan must have been sunk under the sea and raised out of it again, all within our existing age. Can the learned professor tell us how wide has been the area of depression in which Moel Trefan was included? Was it contemporaneous or not with a like submergence all over the Highlands of Scotland? And if so, where did it stop? Prof. Prestwich has said that it prevailed over the whole of Ireland, over the whole of Wales, over all the center and north of England, and over the whole of Scotland. A large part of Russia, and all northern Germany down to Holland, were also included, And is he certain that it was not wider still, and included larger areas of the whole northern hemisphere? Quaternary geology certainly suggests, even if it does not establish, that it did. Italian geologists of the highest authority report the same facts from Calabria and from Sicily. Gravels with three hundred kinds of existing shells are piled up at elevations 2,400 feet above the Mediterranean. Was Charles Darwin an ignoramus in geology when he recognized exactly the same phenomena on the vast continent of South America? The facts he records respecting the massive marine gravels of Patagonia, the recency of them, and the correlative destruction of the great mammalia, are more astonishing even than the parallel facts in Europe. Are the geologists of Canada deceived when they report similar facts as establishing similar conclusions over the greater part of northern America? If the submergence was local, but the locality was as large at least as the British Islands, how "particularly absurd" is the assumed impossibility of a partial deluge! If it was far wider, then how absurd also is the denial that it may have been as wide as the whole area occupied by man at some early stage of his dispersion! Further, can he tell us whether this "great submergence" over more than one great area, was balanced or not by any corresponding elevation over some other? And if it was, then can he tell us whether the elevation may not possibly have been a raising of some ocean floor? And if it was, can he assure us that the "fountains of the great deep" did not perforce pour their waters over corresponding areas of the land? Can he tell us how deep the great submergence was, as well as how wide? Above all, can he tell us how slow it was, or how rapid? If he can't tell us any one of these things, or make even a plausible attempt to do so, then he has no right to tell the world that Quaternary geology "knows nothing" of any more adequate basis for the world-wide tradition of a deluge than a flood in Mesopotamia. Quaternary geology is still in great confusion, the prey of extreme theorists, and of many baseless hypotheses. But it is not quite in such a mess as Prof. Huxley would represent it to be. For one thing, it has established "the great submergence" with all its consequences.
But this is not all. When once the scales of preconception and of spurious authority have fallen from our eyes, they are opened to other facts which have been as clearly ascertained, as timidly regarded, and as feebly interpreted. In particular we see the fleshly bodies, and the complete skeletons, and the collected and compacted bones of millions of great animals which have perished—very lately—many without leaving descendants—and have so perished as to be preserved in superficial deposits scattered over many portions of the globe. In my own case, it was the futility of the explanation given of these facts of Quaternary geology by the Lyellian school that first awoke my attention, now many years ago, to the untrustworthiness of the method in which these facts were handled. Nothing that savored of the possibility of "catastrophes" would that school even look at fairly in the face. No idea that would not fit, or could not be squeezed, into their own narrow interpretations of the doctrine of uniformity, could find entrance into minds swathed in the bandages of the great hurdy-gurdy theory. I can not in these pages give, even in abstract, the astonishing facts which Quaternary geology has established respecting the death and preservation of what are called the Pliocene and the Pleistocene mammalia—and this, too, both in the Old and in the New World. They have lately been collected and marshaled with exhaustive research, and with admirable ability, by Mr. Howorth, M. P., in his book on The Mammoth and the Flood. I observe that a most significant silence has been maintained respecting this array of facts and arguments, and that the old-school geologists have found it much, more convenient to ignore than to answer it.
Then, lastly, the same observations apply to the abundant evidence which Quaternary geology has supplied that man was living before the mammoth and its compeers were all destroyed. The spirited outline of a living mammoth has been left to us by some incipient Landseer of a not very ancient world. The consequences which are involved in this fact were long evaded—never faced or followed—just as the consequences were long evaded of marine gravels heaped upon the tops or the high flanks of our existing mountains. When palæolithic implements were first discovered, not' many years ago, both the religious and the agnostic world were fluttered and excited. The one hoped for, and the other feared, the establishment of some hitherto undreamed-of antiquity for man. Both of them forgot that those old implements have, intellectually as well as physically, a double edge. They may serve to establish the extreme recency of some great convulsion—far more than they tend to prove the extreme antiquity of the creatures affected by it. With an instinctive dread of this alternative, vigorous attempts have been made to treat all implement-bearing gravels as fluviatile—the work of existing rivers and the spoil of existing water-sheds. It has been felt that indefinite drafts might then be drawn upon the bank of time—because the implement-bearing gravels are often at high levels, and existing rivers must have been at work for some indefinite number of ages to cut their way down to the present lower channels. But again these attempts have broken down. Human implements—it is confessed—have now been found abundantly in gravels which must have been at least spread and redistributed not by rivers, but by the sea. Moreover, it is admitted that the old implement-bearing gravels often exhibit the marks of "tumultuous action." Thus all along the line Quaternary geology has established not only the possibility, but the certainty, of many of those events which Prof. Huxley presumes to denounce as "particularly absurd." Every year is opening up some new vista through the thick clouds which envelop the Quaternary ages. Prof. Prestwich may almost be said to be the father of this geology in England. No one man has done so much for it; no one has been so minute and laborious in research, or so careful and conscientious in reasoning on its facts. The very last result he has arrived at is the probable discovery of the lowest stratum, or the base bed, of the Quaternary series in England. And what is it? It is a thick bed of marine gravel overlying an old terrestrial surface on which now extinct mammalia lived, and fed, and were destroyed. This gravel stretches up the valley of the Thames, till it reaches elevations eight hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea. It contains pebbles, washed, rolled, and translated all the way from the rocks of the Ardennes. This alone records a depression of the land great enough to swamp, not only the greater part of Europe, but the greater part of the habitations of man all over the globe. Prof. Prestwich expressly connects these gravels with great changes in physical geography, and with the destruction of the older or "Pliocene mammalia."
It is impossible in these pages to treat this subject in detail. I have dealt with it at all—and of necessity in the merest outline—only because the confident assertions of a man so eminent as Prof. Huxley are apt to intimidate young inquirers, and to keep up in their minds the fatal preconceptions of spurious authority. But they should remember that though Prof. Huxley is a distinguished expert in biology in all its branches, including paleontology, he enjoys no similar authority in dynamical or stratigraphical geology. Ne sutor ultra crepidam. Still less can he, or indeed any other man, be allowed to browbeat our reason in coming to those conclusions which men of even ordinary understanding are perfectly competent to draw from facts which others have ascertained.
There are many miscellaneous things in Prof. Huxley's article on which I have no space to comment. It reminds me of a witty description once given of a favorite but somewhat barbaric Scotch dish—the boiled head of a sheep—"There's a lot of fine confused feeding upon't." A few of these miscellaneous morsels may be tasted in the mean time. Prof. Huxley makes a very lofty claim for Science. It belongs to her, he tells us, to deal with the problem "of the origin of the present state of the heavens and the earth," and also that of "the origin of man among living things." "The present state" are limiting words which make the claim somewhat ambiguous. "The present state" of the earth certainly belongs to history, and much of it to very recent history indeed; and so with regard to the origin of man, if it be equally limited to his "present state." The present state of the members of the Royal Society would be an inquiry not necessarily leading us very far into the past. But if the "origin of their species among living beings" be intended, then science has hitherto offered no suggestion, except that they are all descendants from "some arboreal creature with pointed ears." Science has a good deal to do yet if the task assigned to her by Prof. Huxley is ever to be completed. Another boast goes very near to the assertion that to science belongs the power of deciding whether there are any agencies in the spiritual, which can produce effects upon the material, world. I suppose we shall be told presently that science can decide, by the microscope and the dissecting needle, whether the Sadducee was right in denying either angel or spirit, and the Pharisee was a fool in confessing both. Our agnostic professor may well be happy in the prospect of such unbounded knowledge being obtained by such simple means.
Then we have a very lofty boast about the hopeless position of Christian divines "raked by the fatal weapons of precision with which the enfants perdus of the advancing forces of science are armed." We are tempted to ask if Prof. Huxley himself is one of these "enfants." If so, he must have laid down his arms before he fired off this article. Anything less like a weapon of precision than that which he has shouldered in the fight, it is impossible to conceive. "Old Brown Bess"—with its clumsy bullet, its devious flight, its low penetration, and its enormous windage—is indeed almost a weapon of precision in comparison with that which Prof. Huxley here flourishes against the massive foundations of Christian belief. But, perhaps, he means rather the small arms of the modern critical school. If he does, then precision is the very last characteristic which belongs to it. Its methods are largely subjective. Here and there it may have a clearly ascertained fact to rest upon. Here and there it may have arrived at some tolerably secure results. But in the main its methods are metaphysical, resting on nothing but individual preconceptions, applying tests and private canons of interpretation which are purely arbitrary. There is no credulity like that which leads the agnostic to swallow with open mouth everything that issues from that most copious fountain of fads and follies the—inner consciousness of a German professor.
The assumption which inspires the tone of Prof. Huxley's language on this subject—that precision in research is undermining the credit of the Hebrew Scriptures—is an assumption almost comically at variance with fact. There is, in particular, one weapon of precision which has been of late working wonders in precisely the opposite direction. That weapon is the spade. And what has it been unearthing? Everywhere over that narrow strip of our planet on which its human interests have been most impressive and profound everywhere from Tyre and Sidon from Carmel and Lebanon on the west, to Babylon and Nineveh and the boundary mountains of Assyria, on the east the spade has been disentombing continuous and triumphant proof of the genuine antiquity and historical character of the Jewish books. Out of them comes the light which guides the explorer; and out of them shines the light which is reflected from his spoils. They give the true and only key to the earliest partings of our race. They are true to the rise and progress of divided nations. The picture of manners which they present is not less faithful than the account they give of early habits and pursuits both in peace and war. Only the other day Mr. Flinders Petrie has told us how the spade has uncovered those impregnable walls of the Amorite cities which were reported to invading Israel by the spies of Moses. They are found to be more than twenty-eight feet thick at the base fit to support a superstructure of at least fifty feet in height. There will come, I suppose, our wonderful agnostic critic to point out that the record in Deuteronomy says that these cities were "walled up to heaven." But these walls of Lachish could never have reached the Pleiades. They could not have so much as touched the moon. Nay, it is certain that they could not have approached even the limits of our own atmosphere. Therefore the book of Deuteronomy is unhistorical, and Christian theology is founded on the "quicksands of fable"!
But the spade, as a true weapon of precision, has done more for us than this. It has revealed to our living sight, in the remains of Nineveh and of Babylon, all the mysterious imagery of the prophets, and all the literal historic truth of their tremendous denunciations. It has revealed in numberless inscriptions the shameless confession of that inordinate pride and cruelty which dictated the policy, and the desolating deeds, of the great military monarchies of the East. It has explained their fall and their own subsequent retributive desolation as foreseen in the magnificent visions of Nahuin and Zephaniah, of Ezekiel and Isaiah. Such hideous wickedness could not be allowed to last. Their doom indeed was written in the moral law; and one of these prophets expressly founds his predictions on his confidence in that law as the will of the "just Lord." "Every morning doth He bring his judgment to light; he faileth not." But when the chariots of Assyria were still issuing from the gates of Nineveh "the bloody city" it required a prophet's eye to read the sentence. When Nebuchadnezzar, or his latest successor, was still lounging in his palace richly colored and shining with enameled walls when the hanging gardens of Babylon were still in bloom it required some open vision to foresee the time when they should exist no more when for centuries the very site of them should be uncertain and when the mounds of their ruin should be given over to the owls and to the bats.
Then there is a higher sphere of prophecy into which we rise upon steps more solid even than the buried slabs of Nineveh. There are some splendid and powerful words in one of the books of the New Testament which indicate the true value to be set upon the demonstrable facts of Hebrew prophecy—first, as a support to our faltering, or to our faint, beliefs, and then as a guide to still deeper spiritual insight. I speak of the call which bids us "take heed" to "the more sure word of prophecy, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in our hearts." They point especially to those Messianic visions in which some Jews, speaking to other Jews, yet burst through all the barriers of their intense exclusiveness, and tell them to look to a Deliverer in whom the Gentiles were to trust, and who was to be the Desire of all nations. Other men than those who claim exclusively the name of critic must really be allowed to have some inner consciousness of their own—some power to recognize voices which are full to overflow of intimations from the spiritual world. It is impossible for any open-minded man to follow those loft} strains without recognizing the mystery and the majesty of their import. It is no more possible, when doing so, to listen to the carpings of the verbal critics than it would be to listen to the rasping noises of some petty mechanical operation when the thunders of heaven are pealing overhead. And here I may be permitted to express a very strong opinion that in recent years Christian writers have been far too shy and timid in defending one of the oldest and strongest outworks of Christian theology. I mean the element of true prediction in Hebrew prophecy. It may be true that in a former generation too exclusive attention had been paid to it, and too much stress had been laid upon details. Nay, more, it may be true that the attempted application of prophecy to time still future has been the cause of great delusions amounting almost to religious mania. But the reaction has been excessive and irrational. A great mass of connected facts, and of continuous evidence, remains—which can not be gainsaid. Even if the greater prophets could be brought down to the very latest date which the very latest fancies can assign to them, they depict and predict overthrows and vast revolutions in the East which did not take place for centuries. It is easy to see how and why this reaction has arisen. Besides that mere swing of the pendulum which affects more or less all progress in human thought, a false analysis of physical science has intimidated men into a languid submission to that greatest of all fallacies which is embodied in the very word "supernatural." They tell us they can not believe in what they call the supernatural. But neither need they do so. For my own part, I believe in nothing "above" nature or outside of it, which is not also in it, and visibly shining through it. It is so particularly with predictive prophecy. There is nothing more thoroughly in harmony with the system of things in which we live. The conception that all future events are connected with the present by the links of natural consequence, is a conception familiar to all science and to all philosophy. That those links should be capable of being followed, and their results foreseen by adjusted eyes, is quite according to the natural constitution and course of things. Prophetic prediction is implicit—to an almost miraculous degree—in the mysterious instincts of many of the lowest animals. It is explicit, more or less, in all the intuitions of human genius; and there is nothing difficult to conceive in this faculty being strengthened, intensified, and glorified, in minds whose relations with the spiritual world are close and special. In a more literal sense we may say of the Hebrew prophet what Tennyson says of the ideal poet:
"The marvel of the everlasting will,
An open scroll,
Before him lay."
It is a comfort to observe that Prof. Huxley is not very sanguine as to the early triumph of his own nonsense. There is no ground, he says, "for much hope that the proportion of those who cast aside these fictions and adopt the consequence of that repudiation, are, for some generations, likely to constitute a majority." Certainly not. Prof. Huxley must know that the ranks of science are crowded with men, quite as eminent as himself, who are believers in Christianity. For more than "some generations" these men are likely to have successors. A few Christian sects have lately been showing signs of a disposition to divorce belief from facts, and from all definite conceptions of objective truth. An authority among them has lately uttered a warning voice. He has told them that they have in consequence been losing ground. "The undogmatic churches have reaped the scantiest harvest, while the dogmatic churches have hitherto taken the multitude." This is bad hearing for Prof. Huxley. But it is good hearing for all who hold that morality itself can not be maintained except in connection with definite beliefs. The result, so disappointing to agnosticism, is the result of a great law—Nature abhors a vacuum. Men can not live on a diet of negations. Both our intellectual and our moral natures have digestive apparatuses of their own. They require their appropriate food, and Prof. Huxley has none to give them. The sect of the knownothings is not likely to be ever popular, still less to overspread the world. It is too barren, too empty-handed. It makes even science poor, robbing it of half of its intellectual interest and of almost all its charm. Men who talk about "plans" and "apparatuses" and "contrivances" and then tell us they don't mean what the words imply, are feeding themselves and us on husks indeed.
But Prof. Huxley has his revenge. In words which seem to express the most supercilious contempt, he refers to those who, "having distilled away every inconvenient matter of fact in Christian history, continue to pay divine honors to the residue." This is a bitter sentence. I do not think it is a just one as applied to the authors of the volume called Lux Mundi; but I fear it is more justly applicable to religionists of the Robert Elsmere type. Prof. Huxley ridicules them in a mock sentence supposed to be coming in some Bampton Lecture of the future: "No longer in contact with fact of any kind, faith stands now and forever proudly inaccessible to all the attacks of the infidel." I should not like to speak in this tone to, or of, any minds which are perplexed. But I agree with Prof. Huxley that, as flesh and blood must have a skeleton, so both sentiment and faith must have an object. They can not hang in air with no footing either in earth or heaven. Nothing can be more certain than that "nature" did not generate itself. The things which are seen were certainly not made of things that do appear. The things which are seen are all temporal. It is the things which are not seen that are alone eternal. All this belongs to our universal experience, and is part of our all too scanty stock of necessary truths. What we call nature—ourselves included—must have had an origin and a cause. These are the objects of religion. Of two things we may be sure about theology: first, that there must be facts concerning it; and, secondly, that these facts must be the supreme facts with which we have to do. They may or may not be accessible to us, but they must exist as realities—with all their dynamic apparatus, and with all their corresponding laws. It is the business of all men to see those facts as best they may, and to obey those laws as best they can. It is impossible, therefore, to admire or even to respect the attitude of men who, in these matters, do nothing but stand by the highway sides of life mocking. Least of all is this attitude to be respected in our professed agnostics. They should at least remember that they have nothing to give us of their own. Ignorance—even fictitious ignorance—is the motto on their flag. They do not plead it humbly as a confession, or use the sense of it as a stimulus to exertion. They claim it proudly as a boast, and use it as a weapon to repulse the light. With them knowledge is "quite shut out," not because they have by nature no sense enabling them to see it, but because they choose to close its door and to starve it into atrophy. They are the men who can not rise to the higher interpretations even of their own science, or read the discoveries of their own dissecting knife. We accept their teaching as far as it goes, but we need not and can not accept their mastership. We desire to assimilate every fact which they can prove, and we are grateful for all the thought, and care, and labor, through which alone these facts have been established. But other men must be allowed to see other related facts to which experts may be blind. On any pure question of biology there is no man to whom we can go more safely than to Prof. Huxley. An original and careful investigator, a brilliant expositor, and in many things a cautious reasoner, he enjoys, on his own ground, a high and a just authority. But off that ground he passes iDto the shadows of a great eclipse. He labors under insuperable bias. Through this, and this alone, and through—we may be sure—no conscious unfaithfulness to truth, there is one great subject on which his judgment is warped by an obvious antipathy. On all questions bearing on "Christian theology" he is not to be trusted for a moment. Loud and confident in matters on which both he and we are profoundly ignorant, we see him hardly less boisterous in asserting ignorance where the materials of knowledge lie abundant to our hands. We have seen his canons of criticism—how rude and undiscerning; his claim for the physical sciences—how inflated; his own dealings with one of them—how shallow and how dogmatic. Prof. Huxley may depend upon it that the time has come when the great questions raised by the indisputable facts of Quaternary geology—of which the Deluge is perhaps the least important must be taken out of the hands of men who, by his own confession, have hitherto dwelt with them in no voice more articulate than a smile, and in no attitude more intellectual than a shrug.—Nineteenth Century.
- Origin of Species, sixth edition, p. 149.
- Comparative Anatomy, p. 98.
- Text-Book of Geology, by A. Geikie, p. 891.
- Proceedings of the Royal Society, No. 196, 1879.
- Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, August, 1887.
- Naturalist's Voyage, edition of 1852, pp. 170-176.
- The Great Ice Age, by James Geikie, pp. 505, 506.
- Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, February, 1890, p. 85.
- Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, May, 1890, p. 140.
- In connection with the Palestine Exploration Fund.
- Deuteronomy, i, 28.
- Assyrian Discoveries, by George Smith, pp. 256-282, and passim.
- Zephaniah, iii, 5.
- 2 Peter, i, 19.
- Address of the President of the Congregational Union at a late meeting.
- Hebrews, xi, 3.