Page images
PDF
EPUB

106

CONTRIVANCE AND ADAPTATION.

count for the stupendous planetary system, with the motions and laws of which our wisest astronomers are but imperfectly acquainted, and which forms but a speck among uncounted myriads of other and greater systems ? I make no pretence to any superior knowledge. This might be my answer.

And why do you wish or expect any answer at all to such a question? What reason have you to imagine that the universe ever had an origin or a beginning ?

When the natural theologian terms the universe“ an effect," he begs the entire question; and a vast superfluity of words introduces his supernatural cause. When he applies the essentially human term “contrivance" to the phenomena of nature, or to the various parts of organised beings, he equally begs the question, and his argument is equally futile. The Gordian knot is not untied-the mystery is not explained by the invention of a still greater mystery, a creative Being, who makes matter out of nothing. He maintains that nothing can exist without a cause, but he contradicts himself when he arrives at his Great First Cause, whose existence I might as reasonably insist upon terming an effect, and might conjure up an imaginary contriver for his imaginary God. The writers of Bridgewater Treatises, and other works on natural theology, press upon us what they term the evidence of “ adaptation,” which is really nothing more than the argument of design under a different set of terms. Could anything exist if it were not adapted by its nature for the position which it occupies ? Its very existence involves its adaptation. In this matter-of-fact and inexorably-natural universe all things must shake themselves into their places according to the laws of nature. Rivers run in their beds to the sea, and not up hill; we see that those superficial excrescences, the mountains, bave, for the most part, sloping sides. Now we do not say that certain mountains are beautifully adapted, by an express supernatural act, for human ascent and descent, or that rivers are beautifully adapted to run in beds to the sea instead of up hill; but we are content to know that large masses of earth naturally resolve tbemselves into slopes, and that water is obedient to certain wellknown laws. Nowhere do we perceive any supernatural inter

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

or

ference, and it is not a whit more reasonable to apply the term “adaptation “contrivance" to the more complicated phenomena of nature-a man for instance-than to the more simple, such as a river or a mountain. Granting the hypothesis that there once was a first man, his appearance in the universe is no more to be wondered at, or deemed a miraculous adaptation, than that of the appearance by birth of an infant to day, which most people will allow happened from natural causes, and without supernatural interference. So also a first plant, a first animal, or a first man may have been naturally produced in this earth under the right circumstances-circumstances wbich probably cannot occur in the present condition of our globe. The natural cause of the first man's existence is unknown; but is it therefore reasonable to conjure up a supernatural cause ?

Every day adds to our acquaintance with nature; we are constantly discovering her rarest phenomena to be periodical in their occurrence. Every operation, from the propagation of a plant or animal to the various motions of the planets, proceeds by certain and comprehensible laws,* without any apparent necessity for supernatural interposition. A regular system of decomposition and reproduction, of propagation and death, is in progress,

and philosophers have united in declaring the stability of the universe. “ In the economy of the world,” says Hutton, “I can find no traces of a beginning nor prospect of an end.” And Playfair says, “ In the planetary motions, where geometry has carried the mind so far, both into the future and the past, we discover no mark either of the commencement or of the termination of the present order.”+

The universe is stable, the motions of the planetary bodies are fixed and unvarying; where then are we to look for the constant sustaining cause of this permanency, for the ultimate moving power?

He who believes in a God finds no difficulty here ; God is the sustaining power-God eternally labours at the winch, or periodically winds up the clockwork which moves his beautiful but

* Comprehensible laws, although not all as yet comprehended. † Playfair's Works, vol. iv., page 55.

108

VAIN SEARCH FOR A BEGINNING.

solitary creation amidst an infinite void. But, having dismissed all supernatural ideas, let us try if a better theory of the universe cannot be deduced from reason and facts.

In all cases in which the experiment can be tried, we find that moving bodies, if left to themselves, are reduced to rest, and it is impossible for a person acquainted with mechanics and the theory of gravitation to believe that any of the bodies in space are at rest: the burden of proof lies with those who assert rest, and not upon those who believe in motion, which a person acquainted with mechanics inust do until the contrary is proved. That motion of our entire solar system, its translation, as it was called, so long an enigma to astronomers, is now proved beyond a doubt to be its orbit round another great centre. Is this then the central sun, the primum mobile ? No, we have no reason to believe that this body is stationary any more than the sun, the centre of our system; and if it be not stationary, what causes it to move ? What is the ultimate moving power? There is none, there is no primum mobile, no stationary centre of the universe, and there never was a beginning.

How can any reasonable man seek so vainly for a beginning ? Can any one conceive a state of nothing, an infinite void for an infinite time, with a solitary almighty spirit brooding over space, till it pleased him on a sudden to commence the grand work of creating matter out of nothing ?

As I cannot believe in there ever having been a state of nothing, so neither can I believe that nature consists of a determinate quantity of matter, that it might be weighed, measured, and the last atom ascertained. No; when I reflect that space must be infinite, that motion must exist in every one of the bodies in space, that there can consequently be no stationary moving power, and that no motion can exist without reciprocal causes, the idea of the INFINITY OF MATTER becomes at once simple, evident, and necessary to explain the phenomena of nature. Matter is infinite, eternal, indestructible; an infinity of populous orbs, an infinity of syetems roll through space round an infinite succession of centres, wondrously connected, and reciprocally causing and influencing each other's motions.

ETERNAL INFINITY HAS NO ORIGIN.

103

Darkly have astronomers groped in the absence of the knowledge of this great and simple truth, fettered by the necessity of respecting the creative chimera: the discovery of new planets and new systems, the resolution of the most obscure and distant nebulæ into innumerable but distinct stars, have failed to point out to them the only mode in wbich the motions of the planets can be explained, and the theory of gravitation completely and consistently demonstrated. Without supposing an infinite series of centres, we must at last arrive at rest at the stationary centrum mundi of the ancients; but matter is infinite, and the source of motive power is motion.

It must be perfectly clear that any idea of the creation of infinite nature is an absurdity? As long as the universe is considered as a certain determinate quantity of matter, there does apptar a probability, nay, there seems at first a necessity for supposing a beginning, a primum mobile, and a sustaining power for this beautiful arrangement of worlds wbich we find so incomprehen. sibly solitary in infinite space. But where is the possibility of a contriver, a creator, for infinite activity? ALL IS. Time, space, matter--no beginning, no end.

Infinite and eternal as nature is, its infinite divisions, from the grandest systems to the minutest organised or inorganic particles, are in constant motion and change. Not an atom of matter can be lost or annihilated, but the incessant round of decomposition and reproduction, of propagation and death, is in action, although the enormous periods of its operations upon the planets and sytems will perhaps for ever prevent its accurate observation by human philosophy.* Geological periods are immense when compared with our chronology: we know that the magnetic poles annually alter

• Dr. Whewell, in his “ Bridgewater Treatise” (on Astronomy) says:-“ We can no longer maintain the infinite past duration of the earth; for chemical forces as well as mechanical, tend to equilibrium. If, for instance, a large portion of the earth’s mass were originally pure potassium, we can imagine violent igneous action to go on so long as any part remained unoxidised; but when the oxidation of the whole has once taken place, this action must be at an end; for there is no agency (physical) which can reproduce the deoxidised metal, Thus a perpetual motion is in

[ocr errors]

110

THE EARTH HAS NOT STOPPED WORK.

their position; we can remark several changes that have taken place in the relative localities of land and water; and we cannot doubt that with the precession of the equinoxes such changes must be produced periodically, and entire alterations must be caused in the climate of various regions; and yet how trifling are the modifications of the surface of the globe within the periods of existing records.

The creation and the deluge have long been fertile fields for visionary speculation and false reasoning. Geology, the youngest of the sciences, has as yet only scraped the surface of a few small portions of the globe; and yet upon the slender foundation of its scanty researches a numerous array of fanciful and conflicting theories have arisen, some of them being attempts to reconcile facts with scripture, and others being indifferent or hostile to the Mosaic history

One of the most universally accepted geological theories is that of successive creations, or successive appearances and departures of races of plants and animals. The first step in this hypothesis is founded upon the absence of any organic remains in granite and the other so-called primary rocks; as if it were possible that any such traces should remain after the process of fusion, or some equally powerful agency, by which granite and similar rocks have been reduced to their present state. Granite is called a primary rock, but we have no reason to doubt that the same, or very similar operations, are in progress now in their appropriate places, as formed in bygone ages our present superficial rocks. The interior and every other unseen part of the earth is not quiescent. capable in chemistry, as it is in mechanics; and a theory of constant change, continued through infinite time, is untenable." Can any reader have failed to detect the monstrous assumption contained in this passage ? viz., that whatever cannot be effected by the chemistry of Dr. Whewell, with his pipkins and crucibles, is also impossible in the chemistry of nature, Modern chemists have abandoned the search after the philosopher's stone; but is it therefore certain that all the gold in the earth was produced by a supernatural cause any more than granite or gravel? Because the metals have not yet been analysed, is it to be finally decided that they are absolute elements ?

« PreviousContinue »