Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

He distinguishes law (pp. 64'-5), with sufficient precision, into five different senses: as applied, 1, "simply to an observed order of facts;" 2, "to that order as involving the action of some force or forces of which nothing more may be known;" 3, "to individual forces, the measure of whose operation has been more or less defined or ascertained;" 4, "to those combinations of force which have reference to the fulfilment of purpose, or the discharge of function;" 5, "to abstract conceptions of the mind-not corresponding with any actual phe. nomena, but deduced therefrom as axioms of thought necessary to our understanding of them. Law in this sense is a reduction of the phenomena, not merely to an order of facts, but to an order of thought." These different significations all "circle round the three great questions which science asks of nature, the What, the How, and the Why." In inanimate nature the first three, we suppose, are the phases of law most clearly discernible; but the world of organisms, though embracing all, is more peculiarly distinguished by the regulative power of the fourth and fifth, which appear to constitute what are known as teleology and the more recent doctrine of morphology. In considering these last, the author introduces many curious and interesting illustrations of contrivances directed to specific ends, whether of utility, ornament, or order, and opposes with much carnestness and force the systems of Darwin and others, who endeavor to explain away all proofs of design by such hypotheses as development, or natural selection, or some not very intelligible idea of morphology acting as a living, \ power in nature. But throughout all, he persistently maintains the universal reign of law, more especially, perhaps, as respects those primary properties of matter which, as far as we know, are indestructible by natural causes-law in this sense, certainly, and probably in others, according to him, being never suspended or altered, but all the infinitely diversified effects witnessed in creation being produced by natural forces conspiring, through adjustment, to purposed ends. The chapter on "Contrivance a Necessity" is to us one of much interest. In it his illustrations are all taken from the flight of birds, with the structural adaptations to that function, and represent in a very striking manner how mechanical laws are made

to subserve the power by the most exact, beautiful, and (if we may use the expression) ingenious contrivances for the purpose. Two following chapters, called "Apparent Exceptions," and "Creation by Law," illustrate, in different phases, the same general argument of design working under conditions imposed. by law, and show the author's power of dealing with those somewhat transcendental ideas which have in recent times become imbedded in the philosophy of natural history. The last two chapters consider law in the realms of mind and of politics, where its reign is recognized as not less absolute than it is in matter, and where, also, order, purpose, and adaptation to specific ends are equally principles of controlling authority. The author had designed to add a chapter on “Law in Christian Theology," as necessary to complete his plan, but for the present has "shrunk from entering on questions so profound, of such critical import, and so inseparably connected with religious controversy."-Preface. The work, which throughout has the impress of an able, cultivated, and manly mind, is perspicuous, animated, and unaffected in its style, exhibits much vigorous thought, and contains a variety of scientific information which is made more interesting by its connection with the philosophical argument.

With a thesis so wide and so varied as the work presents we do not propose to deal, but we would offer some remarks on the relation which its views, as to the immutability of natural laws, seem to bear to the fundamental truths of religion.

The nineteenth century appears to present, in sharper an-` tithesis than most of its predecessors, two antagonistic mental tendencies great superstitious credulity in one class, with a determined scepticism as to every form of the supernatural in another. The first is seen in the prevalence of Mormonism, Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and other wild systems of belief, to which multitudes of minds, generally ill-trained, and little used to the scrutiny of evidence, yield implicit faith. The second is often found with intellects of a higher order, being, indeed, a frequent characteristic of reasoning and philosophic minds. Within the church both are exhibited, sitting side by side, or following each other in rapid succession. In Oxford, thirty years ago, a powerful ecclesiastical party sought to re

introduce into the English Church many of the superstitious observances of Popery. Twenty years later disguised infidelity prevailed there to such an extent that a deistical lecturer could boast, with apparent justice, that the work called "Essays and Reviews," written by an association of Oxford clergymen, propounded the views of Paine and Voltaire with just that mixture of cloudiness we might expect from men who remembered they were in orders, and therefore not quite free to utter all they thought. More recently, by another revolution, the credulous element is again ascendant in that city, and the tractarianism of a past generation is eclipsed by the ritualism of the present.

Yet, if we compare the two-credulity and scepticism-in the extent of their prevalence and the class of minds affected by them respectively, we cannot well doubt that the latter is much the more decidedly a distinguishing trait of the age. Probably at no former time were reasoning men less disposed to submit to the authority of received opinions; probably never before were the foundations of religious faith searched by a criticism so cold and so unshrinking. Not only have philosophers denied the being of a God, the truth of the moral sense, the necessary inherent distinction of right and wrong, and the objective reality of time and space, but what is still stranger, they have even doubted their own personal existence in the very act of self-conscious deliberation upon the point. These are men who have pursued too far the phantoms that haunt the dim bewildering regions of ontology. There are others, again, who have never questioned their own personal identity, or the reality of the external world, but who look upon the universe as a machine that works out its ends by its inherent forces; and, therefore, like the old Epicureans, they exclude all divine agency as superfluous if not mischievous, and deliver up man, hopeless, helpless, prayerless, to the blind fatality of natural causes, except as his own powers may avail to influence his destiny. Nor is this scientific scepticism content with denying the Deity all share in the supervision and control of his works; for one object toward which it zealously presses is to efface all those proofs of design from which his existence even as a Creator can be deduced. Such is the tend

ency of Laplace's celebrated cosmological hypothesis, by which he seeks to construct a universe without supernatural assistance; and also of the more recent Development theory, which, taking different shapes in the hands of different advocates, tends equally in each to banish all immediate divine agency from the department of organized nature. "It is superfluous," says Comte, "to establish specially the indispensable preliminary that all idea of creation, properly speaking, must be utterly rejected as in its nature wholly inconceivable, and that the only reasonable inquiry, if indeed that is attainable, must relate to successive transformations."* So speaks the hierophant of positivism, laying down a canon which embodies the true doctrine of his school. We are aware that many advocates of these theories of Laplace and Darwin deny their atheistical tendency, and find room, not only for an intelligent Creator, but for his special providence, and even his fatherly attribute as the hearer of prayer. They assume that far back in past eternity, or that inconceivably remote period when the Creator laid the plan of his works, he foresaw the exact conditions, wants, and characters of all his intelligent creatures, judged their deeds, beheld their sufferings and temptations, and listened in advance to their prayers; and then with special reference to each, instituted that series of causes which should in their distant future operations produce the specific results, whether of judgment or mercy, which his infinite wisdom decreed. This hypothesis may not be free from speculative dif ficulties to some minds; but it affords, perhaps, a possible basis for the support of personal religion, provided the emotions of the heart can be made to respond to the theoretical conclusion. But the natural desire is for a personal God, whose sympathy and approbation are an instant vital principle, not one whose relations to mankind would be the same if he had sunk into annihilation the moment the great universe, with its infinitely complex web of causalities, had been called into existence. Constituted as the human mind is, existing essentially in the associations to which its finite conditions have given birth, such a Deity must necessarily be, at least to the great majority,

* Philosophic Positivism, tome ii., p. 363.

but a cold and lifeless abstraction which could kindle no devotion in the soul.

The able treatise which stands at the head of this article. asserts, as we have said, the absolute supremacy of natural law, but without detriment to the doctrine of special providence, to the historical truth of miracles, or to their decisive authority as the credentials of revelation. These dangerous consequences the author escapes by a somewhat peculiar definition of terms, to which we shall have occasion again to refer. At present we would extract some remarks on the relation of science to theology that in our opinion convey a grave and weighty truth which it is the duty of all parties fairly to confront.

"We see the men of theology coming out to parley with the men of science, a white flag in their hands, and saying: 'If you will let us alone, we will do the same by you. Keep to your own province; do not enter ours. The reign of law which you proclaim we admit-outside these walls, but not within them-let there be peace between us.' It is against this danger that some men would erect a faint and feeble barrier by defending the position that science and religion may be, and ought to be, kept entirely separate ;-that they belong to wholly different spheres of thought, and that the ideas which prevail in the one province have no relation to the other. This is a doctrine offering many temptations to many minds. It is grateful to scientific men who are afraid of being thought hostile to religion. It is grateful to religious men who are afraid of being thought to be afraid of science. To these, and to all who are troubled to reconcile what they have been taught to believe with what they have come to know, this doctrine affords a natural and convenient escape. There is but one objection to it, but that is the fatal objection, that it is not true. The spiritual world and the intellectual world are not separated after this fashion; and the notion that they are so separated does but encourage men to accept in each ideas which will at last be proved to be false in both. No man who thoroughly accepts a principle in the philosophy of nature which he feels to be inconsistent with a doctrine of religion can help having his belief in that doctrine shaken and

« ElőzőTovább »