Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

material universe is limited in its duration. It is simply a vortex-ring, like a puff of smoke, having its origin in friction, and at last to be brought to an end by friction. It is matter diffused by heat, losing its heat and uniting again as cold cinder. The sun once was all, and all once more will become the sun, and the reunited sun will lose its heat in space, and when heat is gone, all motion will cease, and eternal silence and death will reign throughout space. Not a cheerful gospel certainly, this that science last reveals to us. It is not strange that the dreariness of such conclusions repels the mind towards some better hope, and that physicists are working other veins of truth, if for no other end than to escape the horror of desolation their own triumphs have compelled them to face. Mr. Fiske says: “ There is little that is even intellectually satisfying in the awful picture which science shows us of giant worlds concentrating out of nebulous vapor, developing with prodigious waste of energy into theatres of all that is grand and sacred in spiritual endeavor, clashing and exploding again into dead vapor balls, only to renew the same toilful process without end — a senseless bubble-play of Titan forces, with life, love, and aspiration brought forth only to be extinguished.” Such sentiments characterize the ablest physicists of the age.

It is a great achievement to have traced this physical universe down to its end, and taken an intellectual measure of it. One of three possible destinies is now held to be certain : it will either cease to exist, or it will exist as a frigid mass of dead matter; or it will forever repeat a process of alternate vaporization and condensation. Whichever it be, the question rises with infinite emphasis : What is the end of creation? The study of the material universe takes us farther and farther from life and meaning and use. We reach, at last, either nothingness, or a cinder, or a ceaseless clash and repulsion of vapor-balls called worlds, with possible moments of life amidst vast cycles of lifeless ages. We reach the end of a road but find nothing to tell us why it exists. The question forces itself upon us, if by looking in other directions we cannot reverse this process and find some worthy end of creation, something instead of nothing, the play of mind instead of the whirl of molecules, life instead of death. The recent verdict of science as to the fate of the material universe, drives us with irresistible force to belief in an unseen, spiritual world, — not the belief of religious faith, but of cold, hard reason. The profoundest depth of absurdity into which the mind can sink is the denial of purpose. Meaning, worth, use, there must be somewhere. If we cannot find it in the seen, we must search for it in the unseen. If the path into the visible leads away from it, we must open one into the invisible to see if it cannot be found there. There is no theory that lays hold of the universe with so comprehensive a grasp as the principle of continuity, but like all other materialistic theories, it leaves a somewhat unexplained and outside its grasp, a somewhat that embraces its beginning, consciousness, moral freedom, and the main-spring of its activity; but it may be consid

ered as favorable to immortality by reaction from its own triumphs. It remands us with terrible emphasis, to some other order for light which it has demonstrated to itself that it cannot find, finding only darkness.

The other main point at which physical science touches human destiny, is in connection with that part of the doctrine of physical evolution which holds that all forms of life are developed from preceding forms under the impulse of some unknown force, - a theory not yet exactly defined and far from being fully proved. So far as it is accepted in its extreme form, it seems to violate the hope of immortality by bringing all life into one category, and under one law, with the apparent inference of one destiny. If personal identity can be predicated of one set of beings, why not of all, if all are one ? The very vastness of the hope seems its own destruction. Bishop Butler, encountering the same objection from another line of argument, boldly accepts this logic, and does not withhold immortality from the brutes. Aside from logical considerations, it may be a harmless belief, but while the verdict of human thought has always been in favor of the immortality of man, it has rejected that of the brute; and the permanent impressions of the race are not to be disregarded. It does not follow that because all lives may be developed from a preceding order, one destiny awaits them. It is a process of involving as well as evolving, and the former may introduce new conditions, if not new forces, that affect the final issue. It may even be granted that all the potentiality of life is drawn from preceding orders, without being forced to the conclusion that their destiny is the same. This potentiality has an accretive quality, in so far at least as to form new combinations. It may thus unite energies that shall enable it to shoot the gulf we call death.” Take the extremest form of evolution, — matter having all the potency of life within itself, — it does not necessarily exclude future existence. The space between an ascidian and a thinking brain is as wide as that between temporary existence and unlimited existence. If an ascidian can evolve mind, the brief life of an ascidian may evolve endless life. Somewhere along the process it may pick up the quality of continuance as somewhere, according to the theory, it picks up the sense of moral freedom ; for there is nothing in this assumed potentiality of matter adverse to continuance. On the contrary, as the theory presupposes the eternity of matter, and the continuity of force, the probability would be that the vital potentiality of matter embraced a principle of eternal duration that would at last come out in some of the higher forms of life. If matter can attain to mind that longs for immortality, may not its potentiality be able to achieve it? If it can develop the conception, may it not be able to develop the fact ? A matter that can work itself up into such forms as a Shakespeare or a Newton, might be expected to reach corresponding achievements in regard to

time.

If the question still recurs, at what point in the process of evolution, granting its truth for the moment, the principle of immortality is inserted, or gets possession ? — a question of great pungency under the principle of continuity, we answer it by instancing an analogy. At what point of its growth does a plant acquire the power of self-perpetuation ? As a shoot it utterly perishes if cut down; the lusty after-growth of stem and branches also withers into nothingness; the flower is not " a self-reviving thing of power;” but the flower, gathering light and dew into its glowing bosom, intermingles with them its own life-essence and so bears a seed around which it folds its faded petals as a shroud, and falls into the dust, no longer to perish but to live again. This is more than illustration, it is an argument. A living thing under the law of development comes to have a power of self-perpetuation that it did not have at first; why should it not be so with the life that has culminated in man? He is the flower of life, and in his heart alone may there be found the seed of eternal existence.

But this phase of the subject is unsatisfactory; it is not necessary to consider it under these suppositions, and we turn to another. We want not mere continuance but some solid ground for belief in personality after death. An immortality of force, of vital energy, of impersonal life, is a matter of small concern to us. If this be our destiny, all personal hopes, plans, and motives must be confined to this side of the grave. Our little life is indeed rounded with a sleep, a brief journey from nothingness to nothingness. But reason and human

« ElőzőTovább »