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Art. IV.— The Testimony of Nature and Revelation to the Being, Perfections, and Government of God. By the Rev. Henry Fergus, Dunfermline. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. 1833.
The author of this volume makes no apology for coming forward with a new work upon a subject which has been previously treated so ably; none indeed is necessary, and if one were wanted, it would suffice for him to plead, that new books would be read even when old ones, of greater merit, on the same subject, were neglected. He has avowedly availed himself at times of Ray, Derham, and Paley; but his volume has many sources of illustration not known to those writers, and the variety of these, renders the work not only entertaining and instructive to him who reads for facts, but adds to its power of producing conviction in the mind of every serious inquirer. In his first Book, On the Origin of the World, he treats of the general belief of mankind in a Deity, on the eternity of the world, on chance, and of design; on each of these points he makes many sensible observations in invalidation of atheistic plausibilities. The distinction which he makes (p. 19) between a physical cause and a metaphysical or efficient cause—i. e. between a law of nature from which a phenomenon results, and the consequences of the action of some being endowed with reason, will, and power—is sound and well stated. In the second Book he treats of Evidences of Design in Nature; in this part he makes a nearer approximation to verbal precision than Dr. Paley has in his so called Argument from Design, which is really, in form, an assumption of the thing to be proved. The alleged and the actual fact is the harmony of the universe; the adaptation of each part to others; design is the reasonable inference from this correspondence. As thinkers, we are not the less impressed by Dr. Paley's reasoning on this head, on account of the flaw in the statement; but, as observers, we know that the effect is lessened when there is a want of precision in the expression of true ideas, which should be so represented that they give the conscientious seeker of wisdom due confidence in them, and also obviate the cavils of the sophist. The human eye is next considered, with reference to its various and wonderful powers, which are justly argued as much to prove purpose, as the invention of that most ingenious of human contrivances, the achromatic telescope, of which be gives the history, and from which he, in an interrogative form, states the proper inference. "Shall we then admit, that Gregory, Newton, Euler, and Dollond, were designing and contriving beings in their schemes and efforts to construct an achromatic telescope, and yet contend that the eye, which was their model, was formed without design and and contrivance? Shall we admit design and contrivance in the imitation, and yet deny them in the pattern? This were absurd in the extreme. In the structure of the eye, design and contrivance are obvious; and that organ could not have been formed but by a designing and contriving Being."
We may say of this section of Mr. Fergus's volume, as of many other portions, that there is not much novelty in his information, or in his arguments and conclusions; for his facts have been stated in books of natural history, and his reasonings will be recognised by the student in theology as old acquaintance; but still there is use and value in a book which repeats the description of wellknown phenomena, intermingled with such reflections as engender sound notions respecting the origin and preservation of the wondrous fabrics brought under consideration: the religious inquirer obtains scientific knowledge, and science acquires a religious character. The chapters on the human body, on the inferior animals, their forms, clothing, means of defence, food, &c., are all highly interesting, from the information they include. The chapter on instinct has more speculative ingenuity, and, consequently, is more open to animadversion than its predecessors; but still it contains some valuable matter, as the following extract, on the habitations of animals, will show:
In the construction of their houses many animals display much sagacity; and as an example of this we may select the beaver. He is a native chiefly of high latitudes, and, though not possessed of all that surprising sagacity and ingenuity which some distinguished naturalists have ascribed to him, is endued with wonderful instincts.
The beavers, when numerous, construct their houses on the margin of ponds, lakes, and rivers. They always choose a place where the water is so deep as not to freeze to the bottom. When they build on small rivers where the water is liable to be drained off, by a failure in the sources which supply the stream, they provide agiiinst the evil by making a dam quite across the river at a convenient distance from their houses. This shows the foresight and sagacity of an engineer in erecting a fort, or marking out the ground for the site of a city. The shape of the dam varies according to circumstances. If the currentof the river be slow, the dam runs almost straight across; but if the current be rapid, the dam is formed with a considerable curve towards the stream, so that the different parts of it support each other like an arch. The materials employed are drift wood, green willows, birch, and poplars, if they can be gotten; also mud and stones, intermixed in such a manner as contributes much to the strength of the dam, which, when the beavers are allowed long to frequent a place undisturbed, by frequent repairs becomes very firm.
The beavers always cut their wood higher up the river than their houses, so that they enjoy the advantages of the stream in conveying it to the place of its destination. Ou the margin of lakes, where they have always a sufficient depth of water, they construct no dams. Their houses, however, are built of the same materials as the dams -, and their dimensions are suited to the number of inhabitants, which seldom exceeds four old, and six or eight young ones. The great aim of the beaver is to have a dry bed: and their houses, which are but rude structures, have only one door, always openiug to the water. The otter, likewise, discovers much sagacity in forming his habitation. He burrows un^cr ground, on the banks of rivers and lakes. He always makes the entrance to his house under water, working upwards toward the surface of the earth, and forming different chambers in his ascent, that in case of high floods he may still have a dry retreat. He forms a small air hole reaching to the surface, and for the purpose of concealment, this air hole commonly opens in a bush.—pp. 112—114.
The bearing of these facts upon the author's general argument, will be understood by those who have only read our pages; but it cannot be fully appreciated except by those who either study the entire work of Mr. Fergus, or who bring to the perusal of these parts minds previously accustomed to the consideration of final causes, together with such an exact acquaintance with the history of animals as will make them acknowledge the accuracy of the details we have transcribed. In respect to definitions of the term "Instinct," we are not offered so much as we could have welcomed; we read a repetition of Dr. Paley's description of instinct as " propensity prior to experience and independent on education." We do not blame Mr. Fergus for neglecting to mention the forgotten paradox of Dr. Darwin, who endeavoured to show that every thing which we are wont to ascribe to instinct arises, in reality, from habit and association i^an absurdity which has been amply refuted by Dr. Thomas Brown, in his philosophical observations on the ifoonomia; and not less completely stultified by a wise witticism of Sheridan's): but we do complain of his omitting all mention of all definitions of instinct except the one which he so loosely and inaccurately adopts from Dr. Paley. The received definition of instinct, in the most intellectual of the countries of Europe, is, "unconscious reason." Mr. Fergus should have known, and should have referred to this: he would then have had a right to the praise of diffusing, among his fellow-countrymen, a phrase pregnant with wisdom; and he would have had the satisfaction of knowing that his own opinions were deemed worthy of deference, because he had paid attention and due deference to the well-considered ideas of other and greater inquirers. After this qualification of our previous praise, we must do him the justice to select instances of his skill in describing the instincts of birds, relative to pairing, nidification, incubation, the providing of food for the young, and defending them against want and danger:
1. When the offspring require, for some time, the attention and industry of both parents to support them, animals are found to pair; but, in cases where the female alone is able to raise her progeny, the sexual intercourse is promiscuous. The affectionate attention of the parents is always adapted to the condition of their young, and is continued towards them till they are capable to provide for themselves. Man is a pairing animal. Some quadrupeds pair, and pairing is common among the featlu red tribe. In winter, indeed, birds in general are without any fixed habitation; and many kinds of them appear in great flocks, without any particular attention of one individual to another. On the return of spring, however, the scene changes. The general society is dissolved, and many partnerships, consisting each of a male and a female, are formed. The pair fix on a suitable spot, and by their joint labour construct a habitation.
2. Most birds prepare their nests with much care; and many of them discover ingenuity in the design, and neatness in the execution. But the ingenuity and the neatness belong to the species, and in no degree characterise individuals. They have no need of an apprenticeship. The nest of those birds which have paired for the first time is not more rude or inconvenient than that of those which have repeated the labour of nidification for a number of years. There is no deficiency in the first from want of instruction and practice, and the last have gained nothing by observation and experience.
The dove that perch'd upon the Tree of life,
And made her bed among its thickest leaves;
All the wing'd habitants of Paradise,
Whose songs once mingled with the songs of Angels,
Wove their first nests as curiously and well
As the wood-minstrels in our evil day.
The crow and the magpie, the lark and the linnet, and every other kind, has each a peculiar manner of building its nest: and every individual of the same species, in similar circumstances, follows the same model, and uses similar materials. The instinctive propensity seems, in various instances, to accomodate itself to peculiar circumstances, both in building the nest, and in the process of incubation. In countries infested by monkeys, some birds, which in other climates build in bushes or in the clefts of trees, suspend their nests upon a slender twig, and so elude the mischievous propensities of the monkey. With us, ravens build on trees; but in the cold climates of Iceland and Greenland, they construct their nests in the holes of rocks.
The nest is always suited to the size of the bird, and to the number of its eggs and young. Many small birds display much sagacity in concealing their nests by tufts of grass, or by twigs and leaves. In the nest we see a receptacle provided for eggs before they come to maturity, yea before the bird knows that it is to lay them. Each species lays a determinate number; and it appears that, in this process, some birds at least, do not act under the influence of physical necessity, but have, to a certain extent, an instinctive volition.—pp. 117—119.
The distinction implied, in the second paragraph of our extract, between the spontaneous and complete performances of the feathered tribes, and the progressive advances made by the noninstinctive, but reasoning being man, is important to every searcher into the nature of the different beings who fill this "glorious universe;" and, even if the argument has not excited our admiration, we should have felt grateful to him for recalling to our memories, one of the most beautiful passages in modern poetrv, one in which there is wisdom as well as feeling and fancy, lo return to the drift of the volume, we must cite the reasoning of Mr. Fergus; and again we are obliged, though to a small extent, to quote:
If instincts result, as some have imagined, from conformation of parts, who organized the animal? If they flow from mechanical impulse, who constructed the machine? Where is the moving power? To talk of attraction, gravitation, nature, appetency, &c. in order to account for the existence, or characteristic propensities of living creatures, is merely darkening counsel by a multitude of words. It is a vain attempt to substitute sound for sense; for where is there any rational way of accounting for the various instincts of animals, but by referring them to a powerful, wise, and good intelligence? In the instincts of the creature, we see the perfections of the Creator; and may apply to instincts in general what Dr. Reid says of bees in the construction of their cells. "They work most geometrically without any knowledge of geometry ; somewhat like a child, who, by turning the hand of an organ makes good music without any knowledge of music. The art is not in the child, but in him who makes the organ. In like manner, when a bee makes its combs so geometrically, the geometry is not in the bee, but in that great Geometrician who made the bee, and made all things in number, weight, and measure." If we do not see other animals displaying the geometry of the bee, we observe them, in a similar manner, employing suitable and effectual means for the accomplishment of their ends.
Thus, in our cursory glance at animated nature, we have seen great uniformity accompanied by surprising variety. The same general outline, with various modifications, prevails widely in the formation of living creatures. If we examine any one animal, we find its parts admirably adapted to each other. They form a harmonious whole. In every species we see an astonishing relation of the organs of one sex to those of another. By means of bodily conformation and instinctive propensity, an adequate provision is made for the preservation of the individual, and the preservation of the species. Every thing goes on in a regular and uniform course. We never see any new species of animals appearing, nor any old kinds ceasing to exist. "We meet with no metamorphoses of animals into a species different from that of their parents. By adventitious circumstances, the size, strength, and, m some measure, the instincts of animals, may be altered; but still the character of the species remains essentially the same, —pp. 125—127.
In the subsequent chapters, the author pursues his inquiries through inanimate nature; and he finds in the seas, in the atmosphere, in the light, in the stars, and in the sun, further proflrs of the existence and all-pervading influence of a supreme mind: but we refer those whose curiosity has been gratefully excited by the previous specimens of his ability to display the wonders of the creation, to the volume itself. We now conclude our notice of it, anticipating that it will meet with considerable, if not long-lived success. It is likely to obtain a perusal from those who may afterwards study the profound and metaphysical work of Cudworth, or even the contemporary work of Dr. Alexander Crombie, which states and combats many atheistic sophisms, that had not been fabricated in the time of the great English Platonist: suffice it for Mr. Fergus's praise, that his book will probably afford, by itself, satisfaction to many minds; and that, where this is not completely effected, it may lead to further study on the part of those who, except for such an introduction as this, would not have entered upon the study at all.