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we are born; the other the point to which the greatest minds attain, who, having gone the whole round of possible knowledge, find that they know nothing, and that they end in the same ignorance in which they began. But then this last is an intelligent ignorance which knows itself. Out of the many, however, who come forth from their native ignorance there are some who never reach this other extreme. These are strongly tinged with scientific conceit and set up the claim to be learned.'' In the same strain Hamilton: "There are two ignorances. We start from one, we repose in the other, and the pursuit of knowledge is but a course between the two, as human life is a traveling from grave to grave. The highest reach of human science is a scientific recognition of ignorance and its first fruit is humility."
Authorities aside, I appeal to experience. Somewhat of the middle of things we know, but the beginning and the end of anything who can understand either? Astronomy, pushing her research into trackless voids, never plants her foot on the outposts of space; nor has the chemist in his subtlest analysis caught the simple atom. The smallest thing is a universe
"Where suns and systems inconspicuous float."
A cloud hangs over either end of the narrow span along which the toiling intellect travels back and forth, weaving its web of thought. We are like men climbing up winding stairs to the summit of some high tower; below are stairs along which we have come, above are more that go out of sight; the bottom and the top are alike invisible. "We know in part," never the whole ; even the part, we never know, but in part. We cognize nothing as it is in itself; not even the commonest thing of the senses. Our knowledge is relative: of things as they appear, in the shaping coloring lenses of our kaleidoscope faculty of representation. "Instead of receiving the ideas of things as they are, we tinge, with the qualities of our compound being, all the simple things that we perceive." Our own minds we know, not as they are in themselves—in their essence—but only as they seem in the deflecting, refracting mirror of consciousness. Both body and mind are apprehended by us only as the unknown causes, which, impinging one upon the other, evolve that luminous play of sensations, thoughts, feelings, volitions, which make up the varied conscious experience we call ourselves. Push the inquiry one step back and we find we are in the profoundest ignorance respecting our own being. How much more, of the Infinite Mind, we name God! We must humble ourselves with Job of old and consent that by no searching can we find him out. Even Revelation makes him known to us, divested of the fullness of his attributes and reduced to the limit of our finite mode of comprehension. Above, below, on the right hand and on the left, darkness compasses us about. Sufficient indeed for our practical need is the knowledge we may gain of this middle sphere in which our lot is cast; but as Pascal puts it, "extreme things are not ours, any more than if they were not. We were not made for them. Either they escape us or we them. We burn with the desire to sound the utmost depth and to raise a fabric that shall reach infinity. But all we build crumbles, and the earth opens in fathomless abysses beneath our deepest foundations." Surely then he knows nothing as he ought to know, who in the highest reaches of intelligence is not humbled at the thought, how like nothing is all we know, to what we do not know.
I have dwelt long and repetitiously on this point in order to expose the perversity of that conceit of over-much knowing, which has been, and is, the bane of learning. Ambition, on the part of burning intellects, to transcend the limit of our faculties is the temptation that has beset the path of thought ever since man in Eden, aspiring to be as Gods, fell from his high estate. This makes of most difficult attainment, that which some philosopher said was the greatest wisdom, "Quaedam aequo animo nescirevelle" The intellect is restive in its ignorance and struggles against the limit set to its march like a caged bird against the wires that confine its flight. Every one familiar with the history of human thought, knows how this ambition to understand all mysteries has perverted religious inquiry from the right way, crowding the tomes of theology with endless subtilties and refinements and debates, darkening " counsels with words without knowledge." Says Hegel, in his introduction to the History of Philosophy: "Courage for the truth, faith in the might of the intellect, is the condition of philosophy. Man, because he is intellect, may and should reckon himself worthy of the Highest. He can never think enough of the greatness and power of his reason; and with this confidence, nothing is so concealed, that it will not open to his call. The veiled and secret essence of the universe has no power to withstand his search. It must unbar itself to his approach and lay its riches and its mysteries before his raptured gaze." In a spirit like this, the aspiring philosophers of Germany went daft in the attempt to penetrate the secret of existence and establish the "science of man on an identity with the omniscience of God." This windy conceit swept the land, assailing established moral ideas and religious faiths, until the institutions of Church and State trembled like a forest in the march of a whirlwind. Like scenes, (only more terrific), from the same cause, were acted over in the vineclad regions of France. To-day this "vain deceit" of knowledge is invading the field of physical science, imperiling all its highest interests, by leading it away from the modest and safe path of experiment, in which it has made such solid and brilliant achievements, into the fog-banks of a priori speculation. Instead of studying phenomena and orders of sequence, setting down what they find, some of the more ambitious savans are about writing a new book of Genesis. Postulating matter and force and a necessary law of evolution, they construct a theory, deductively, of the way the world emerged from a homogeneous, nebulous stuff, next to nothing, into what it now is, with plants and animals and finally man at the summit of the grand procession. Reading the writings of such thinkers as Herbert Spencer, one cannot fail to see how far they have wandered from that simple experimental study of nature which characterized the inquiries of Newton, Cuvier and Franklin, and to which we owe those solid discoveries that have so ennobled and enriched our modern world. For one, I glory in science as the grand inheritance of our. age. But I say to all young students, beware of that false science that is puffed up with the ambition to know everything: that is not content to know "in part "—demanding in the boastful language of Hegel, above quoted, that the whole universe shall give itself into its hand. For "if any man, (in this way), think he knoweth anything he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know."
II. I pass to a second use of science. // encourages a religious spirit. This sentence may sound strange to some ears. It is more or less the fashion of these times to denounce science as the enemy of religion. I do not say that all men of science are religious. It is sadly otherwise. What I say is, the natural tendency of the pursuit of knowledge is to beget a disposition not hostile but favorable to religion. If true science fosters intellectual humility, it cannot fail to be a preparation for that higher spiritual knowledge revealed, not to the "wise and prudent" but "unto babes." The proposition, "ignorance is the mother of devotion," is a true one, if we mean that ignorance in which all knowledge ends; that consciousness of the limit of our faculty, of which all are aware, who know anything "as they ought to know."
Reverence is the native sentiment, out of which religion springs, and on which it is built. Religion, in general, may be defined—adoring love of the Infinite. All worship requires faith in somewhat beyond our apprehension. That which we know, as far as we know it, is on our level. We lift ourselves up to that which we fully comprehend and veneration ceases. The object I can see all round and through no longer fills me with awe. Hence the saying of St. Bernard, I think, "A God known is no God at all." The truth that lifts us to admiration, is not the truth exactly defined and compassed with a clean circumference, but that which looms up vaguely out of mists and hints at more than it reveals. It is not those luminous points that we see twinkling on the face of night, but that infinite expanse which they suggest, and along which the imagination wings its way, that makes us.bow our heads in awe of the starry heavens. Here may we not see the final cause of that limitation, on our knowing faculty imposed, of which I have been speaking? We know " in part," that we may believe more, and adore that mystery of being we cannot know. In the words of an unknown poet:
"Full many a secret, in her sacred veil,
Hath nature folded. She vouchsafes to knowledge
Not every mystery, reserving much
For human veneration, not research.
Let us not therefore seek what God conceals.
For even the things, which lie within our hands,
These knowings, we know not, so far from us,
In doubtful dimness, gleams the star of truth."
First knowledge, then a sense of ignorance, then faith, then worship; such is the succession of mental states that conduct us to religion and to God. What can better inspire adoration than the study of nature? Not a fact discovered but opens a territory of limitless mystery to reverent faith. For every question which science answers, a hundred others start up which it cannot put to rest. Take this flower— Botany has classified and named it. It can explain something of its structure and the vital circulations by which it grows. But tell me, if you please, why these leaves, unfolding from the same bud on the same stalk, are so differentiated that one is crimson, its neighbor purple, or perhaps green in the center edged round with white. A painter being asked how he mixed his paint, replied, "with brains, sir." What brain mixed these paints; what artist's pencil spread these colors and tints in such exquisite arrangements over the petals of the flower? Science stares helpless in the presence of this miracle of life, this potency behind the germ that builds it into being, and may well bow down before the mystery of the simplest flower.
There is not the slightest tendency in the progress of
knowledge to diminish faith and reverence. We watch the
process and order of nature, and correct and enlarge our
conceptions, and resolve some things that before were not