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If we suppose the former, then without supernatural aid to arrest the decline, or creations from crude matter to repair the loss, all animal and vegetable life must at length expire. No principle of development, no transformation of species, will save us from this consequence; since nothing of the kind avoids the inherent necessity of a reproductive system complicated in proportion to the length of the series to which it is ordained to give birth. But if we take the alternative supposition, then it may be asked is it possible that within a finite space of matter—the reproductive organs of a flower for example—an infinity of separate contrivances can be embodied. Each must contain in itself a special mechanism, requiring a combination of molecules to constitute it, or at least a single molecule endowed with special powers; and of these there cannot be an absolute infinity within the mass. Or if we assume that in some mysterious way the same combination may serve for any number of results in other words, if
—, we vary the effect indefinitely without varying the cause—we either directly violate a fundamental law of human belief, or leaving the sphere of the intelligible, we pass into those transcendental regions where the mind grasps at phantoms and finds no reality.
This difficulty assumes somewhat portentons dimensions on Darwin's hypothesis, who traces back the organization, through forms progressively more imperfect, to the first progenitor of all animal and vegetable lite, which he supposes a simple protozoic cell, that came into being as if by accident.
We, therefore, conclude, that organic contrivances alone are not sufficient to perpetuate life, and that our globe, if abandoned to these must at length become but a dead and desolate waste. If this last supposition is inadmissible, we are then led to in fer that an unseen intelligent power averts the consequence, either by supplying the deficiencies and arresting the decay of the generative principle, or by new creations replacing from time to time the species which become extinct. But if the phenomena of reproduction require more than material laws, those of life in general, so closely related to the former, may not improbably be within the same category. Hence it is possible that, as in the Mosaic creation, God formed man
from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of lite, so he has ever since reserved to himself the same great prerogative, and has never imparted to organized forms that portion of his creative power; employing indeed elaborate mechanism in accomplishing physiological ends, but superadding a higher principle which, unlike the former, is bound in the fatalism of no material laws.
Before concluding, it may not be amiss to refer to certain vague inferences disparaging the infinitude of the divine attributes which may be suggested by the apparent subjection of all creative design to the fixed laws of matter and of motion. Throughout organized nature the supremacy of these laws seems to be recognized as absolute. All structural adaptations to functional ends are made in subordination to them. When their operation subserves the design, they are employed for that purpose; when it is adverse, contrivances are adopted to avoid or to lessen the inconvenience. But in no case do we find these laws suspended, or their authority disregarded. On the contrary, they appear to prescribe positive limits within which the range of creative power must be confined. These indications we confess give a semblance of plausibility to the hypothesis of the ancient philosophers, which is not wholly without advocates in the present day—that matter is uncreated and eternal, and possesses certain indestructible properties which are but partially subject to the divine will, and necessitate a creation not absolutely perfect, but the best the material will admit. In reply to such sceptical surmises, we beg leave to offer a few remarks. It
may be assumed that no creation can ever demonstrate to man the absolute omnipotence of the divine Being ; because, if finite, the argument is inconclusive, and if infinite, it swells beyond his grasp. The universe which actually exists affords as near an approach to such demonstration as the mind is capable of receiving from external exhibitions of power; since the portion brought within its survey is of dimensions so vast that the imagination sinks overpowered under the effort to conceive it. Hence the conviction, aided by the mind's instinctive sentiment, that the Being who possesses powers so stupendous is really omnipotent, is in general irresistible. On
the other hand a finite or imperfect creation, though admitted to be such, could not prove him less than infinite, because nothing could exist to show that it displayed his utmost power. If, moreover, we can distinctly see that there may be reasons why material laws should be allowed a fundamental place in the order of nature, that old hypothesis of the eternity of matter and its evil and refractory properties loses its show of plausibility. Let us then assume that the Supreme Being is not simply a Creator, but also the Lord and Ruler of intelligent moral beings to whose character and wants it is proper this external condition should be conformed, and we think the seeming incompatibility between the constitution of nature and the infinity and perfection of the divine attributes will disappear, leaving the absolute optimism of the system unimpeached. He has impressed properties on matter, and then conformed each individual organism to the physical necessity they impose. But this appears indispensable to give that stability and consistence to the course of nature without which the world would be to human apprehension a wilderness of confusion and inconsistency; without which experience would be a false and dangerous guide, prudence and recklessness occupy equal ground, and the primeval decree that man should subdue the earth become an impossible task. Another part of the design may be to teach by natural examples how inherent difficulties in the accomplishment of physical objects may be met and the desired end best secured. Natural organisms have often furnished useful lessons to man in aid of his designs, and probably if studied expressly with such a view, would afford yet greater advantages.
These are considerations addressed to the physical and intellectual wants of the race; those which respect their moral characteristics may have still greater weight. A certain degree of uniformity in the operation of natural laws is indispensable, if the divine benevolence, wisdom, or power is to be displayed, however imperfectly, in the works of creation. Without fixed properties in matter, and regularity and system in the course of nature, it is impossible that the mind, constituted as it is, should discern the adaptation of means to ends, or appreciate in any degree the design which pervades the
organized world; and without evidence of design there could
1 of course be no inference as to the attributes of the Creator, nor indeed any proof of his existence. If, therefore, his plan required that there should be indicia by which man might, in the absence of revelation, trace his hand and divine his character, it involved necessarily a degree of immutability in material laws from which a perverse and sceptical spirit might argue in disparagement of his sovereign power. Then, too, the unchanging persistence of such laws under all diversities of condition and circumstance may be designed to teach an important lesson as to the fixed eternal character of the Deity's attributes, the immutability of his will, and the inexorable necessity of submitting to his decrees, and regulating the life by the laws he is pleased to prescribe. Another great moral end is answered which we do not well see could be secured by other means.
It is a divine prerogative, shared probably by no created being, to suspend or sustain at will the operation of natural laws. By this means any revelation the Deity chooses to make may be authenticated by credentials bearing the seal of his sovereignty. But unless the order of nature were in general fixed and uniform, no deviation from it would be so signally marked as to bear the certain impress of Divine power. It would seem, therefore, that, without that feature in the constitution of nature which we have been considering, man could have no knowledge of his Maker, either through bis works or by revelation.
But it may be objected that the design apparent in organic structures is imperfectly accomplished. Elaborate provision is made in animals to procure subsistence; to this end structure, instincts, and habits conspire; yet they often suffer great privation, and even die of want. Or if such partial failure is a necessity of the laws originally impressed on matter, there is still a possible approach to perfection which few organisms exhibit. We find in the same species great disparities in size, form, and strength, some being much better fitted to the necessities of their position than others. This suggests that the machinery of nature, though the product of wisdom infinitely beyond man's comprehension, is not absolutely perfect, but accomplishes its object only by approximation. Then there are monstrous formations—misshapen abortions which excite wonder, as if some malign power were at work baftling nature's kindly designs. These seem marked as failures when they pass from nature's hand, like fabrics of human skill marred and ruined in the making.
Our interpretations of the Creator's real purposes, however, is extremely precarious. That the certain attainment of what seem special organic ends, is not always the object, is evident from the fact that such ends are in innumerable instances antagonistic, so that the success of one is necessarily the failure of another. Thus rapacious birds are fitted both by structure and instinct to capture a living prey, while their quarry is equally fitted, by speed or stratagem, to escape pursuit. Then we have no warrant to assume that the Creator's design is not one into which what seem blemishes enter as an integral part. Ile is a sovereign Ruler as well as Creator, and we must believe that the government and discipline of his rational creatures constitute an object far more important than the physiological development of the inferior world of organisms. But if the constitution of nature, in the particulars drawn into question, gives exercise to caution, vigilance, energy, patience, and other traits which are admitted to elevate the moral character, and also afford inexhaustible employment to the higher powers of the mind, we may regard the objection as sufficiently repelled ; especially since the latter advantage may not be confined to man, but embrace innumerable orders of intelligence superior to ours. Perfection of organization would then be, not the amplest development of animal powers or vegetable properties, nor the certain attainment of the objects to which structures and instincts tend, but the exact accomplishment of those higher designs compared with which mere physical ends are insignificant. Now let us suppose that the faultless typical standard the objection seems to require were in every case exhibited—that the corn in the fields, for example, the fruit on the trees, and the cattle on the hills, were all of the finest quality and kind, of the largest size, and without blemish—no place would then be left for the exercise of judgment or taste in selection, no scope for sagacity in detecting the hidden causes of deterioration and