* * * * *
THE ARGUMENT FROM GENERAL LAWS.
Sec. 28. Turning now to an important error of Mr. Mill's in respect of omission, I firmly believe that all competent writers who have ever undertaken to support the argument from Design, have been moved to do so by their instinctive appreciation of the much more important argument, which Mill does not mention at all and which we now proceed to consider—the argument from General Laws. That is to say, I cannot think that any one competent writer ever seriously believed, had he taken time to analyse his beliefs, that the cogency of his argument lay in assuming any knowledge concerning the process of divine thought; he must have really believed that it lay entirely in his observation of the product of divine thought—or rather, let us say, of divine intelligence. Now this is the whole difference between the argument from Design and the argument from General Laws. The argument from Design says, There must be a God, because such and such an organic structure must have been due to such and such an intellectual process. The argument from General Laws says, There must be a God, because such and such an organic structure must in some way or other have been ultimately due to intelligence. Nor does this argument end here. Not only must such and such an organic structure have been ultimately due to intelligence, but every such structure—nay, every phenomenon in the universe—must have been the same; for all phenomena are alike subject to the same method of sequence. The argument is thus a cumulative one; for as there is no single known exception to this universal mode of existence, the united effect of so vast a body of evidence is all but irresistible, and its tendency is clearly to point us to some one explanatory cause. The scope of this argument is therefore co-extensive with the universe; it draws alike upon all phenomena with which experience is acquainted. For instance, it contains all the phenomena covered by the Design argument, just as a genus contains any one of its species; it being manifest, from what was said in the last section, that if the general doctrine of Evolution is accepted, the argument from Design must of necessity merge into that from General Laws. And this wide basis, we may be sure, must be the most legitimate one whereon to rest an argument in favour of Theism. If there is any such thing as such an argument at all, the most unassailable field for its display must be the universe as a whole, seeing that if we separate any one section of the universe from the rest, and suppose that we here discover a different kind of testimony to intelligence from that which we can discover elsewhere, we may from analogy be abundantly sure that on the confines of our division there must be second causes and general laws at work (whether discoverable or not), which are the immediate agents in the production of the observed results. Of course I do not deny that some classes of phenomena afford us more and better proofs of intellectual agency than do others, in the sense of the laws in operation being more numerous, subtle, and complex; but it will be seen that this is a different interpretation of the evidence from that against which I am contending. Thus, if there are tokens of divine intention (as distinguished from design) to be met with in the eye,—if it is inconceivable that so "nice and intricate a structure" should exist without intelligence as its ultimate cause; then the discovery of natural selection, or of any other law, as the manner in which this intelligence wrought in no wise attenuates the proof as to the fact of an intelligent cause. On the contrary, it tends rather to confirm it; for, besides the evidence before existing, there is added that which arises from the conformity of the method to that which is observable in the rest of the universe.
Thus, notwithstanding what Hamilton, Chalmers, and others have said, I cannot but feel that the ubiquitous action of general laws is, of all facts supplied by experience, the most cogent in its bearing upon teleology. If perpetual and uninterrupted uniformity of method does not indicate the existence of a presiding intelligence, it becomes a question whether any other kind of method—short of the intelligently miraculous—could possibly do so; seeing that the further the divine modus operandi (supposing such to exist) were removed from absolute uniformity, the greater would be the room for our interpreting it as mere fortuity. But forasmuch as the progress of science has shown that within experience the method of the Supreme Causality is absolutely uniform, the hypothesis of fortuity is rendered irrational; and let us think of this Supreme Causality as we may, the fact remains that from it there emanates a directive influence of uninterrupted consistency, on a scale of stupendous magnitude and exact precision, worthy of our highest possible conceptions of Deity.
Sec. 29. Had it been my lot to have lived in the last generation, I doubt not that I should have regarded the foregoing considerations as final: I should have concluded that there was an overwhelming balance of rational probability in favour of Theism; and I think I should also have insisted that this balance of rational probability would require to continue as it was till the end of time. I should have maintained, in some such words as the following, in which the Rev. Baden Powell conveys this argument:—"The very essence of the whole argument is the invariable preservation of the principle of order: not necessarily such as we can directly recognise, but the universal conviction of the unfailing subordination of everything to some grand principles of law, however imperfectly apprehended in our partial conceptions, and the successive subordination of such laws to others of still higher generality, to an extent transcending our conceptions, and constituting the true chain of universal causation which culminates in the sublime conception of the COSMOS.
"It is in immediate connection with this enlarged view of universal immutable natural order that I have regarded the narrow notions of those who obscure the sublime prospect by imagining so unworthy an idea as that of occasional interruptions in the physical economy of the world.
"The only instance considered was that of the alleged sudden supernatural origination of new species of organised beings in remote geological epochs. It is in relation to the broad principle of law, if once rightly apprehended, that such inferences are seen to be wholly unwarranted by science, and such fancies utterly derogatory and inadmissible in philosophy; while, even in those instances properly understood, the real scientific conclusions of the invariable and indissoluble chain of causation stand vindicated in the sublime contemplations with which they are thus associated.
"To a correct apprehension of the whole argument, the one essential requisite is to have obtained a complete and satisfactory grasp of this one grand principle of law pervading nature, or rather constituting the very idea of nature;—which forms the vital essence of the whole of inductive science, and the sole assurance of those higher inferences from the inductive study of natural causes which are the vindications of a supreme intelligence and a moral cause.
"The whole of the ensuing discussion must stand or fall with the admission of this grand principle. Those who are not prepared to embrace it in its full extent may probably not accept the conclusions; but they must be sent back to the school of inductive science, where alone it must be independently imbibed and thoroughly assimilated with the mind of the student in the first instance.
"On the slightest consideration of the nature, the foundations, and general results of inductive science,... we recognise the powers of intellect fitly employed in the study of nature,... pre-eminently leading us to perceive in nature, and in the invariable and universal constancy of its laws, the indications of universal, unchangeable, and recondite arrangement, dependence, and connection in reason....
"We thus see the importance of taking a more enlarged view of the great argument of natural theology; and the necessity for so doing becomes the more apparent when we reflect on the injury to which these sublime inferences are exposed from the narrow and unworthy form in which the reasoning has been too often conducted....
"The satisfactory view of the whole case can only be found in those more enlarged conceptions which are furnished by the grand contemplation of cosmical order and unity, and which do not refer to inferences from the past, but to proofs of the ever-present mind and reason in nature.
"If we read a book which it requires much thought and exercise of reason to understand, but which we find discloses more and more truth and reason as we proceed in the study, and contains clearly more than we can at present comprehend, then undeniably we properly say that thought and reason exist in that book irrespectively of our minds, and equally so of any question as to its author or origin. Such a book confessedly exists, and is ever open to us in the natural world. Or, to put the case under a slightly different form:—When the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or the naturalist notes down a series of observed facts or measured dates, he is not an author expressing his own ideas,—he is a mere amanuensis taking down the dictations of nature: his observation book is the record of the thoughts of another mind: he has but set down literally what he himself does not understand, or only very imperfectly. On further examination, and after deep and anxious study, he perhaps begins to decipher the meaning, by perceiving some law which gives a signification to the facts; and the further he pursues the investigation up to any more comprehensive theory, the more fully he perceives that there is a higher reason, of which his own is but the humbler interpreter, and into whose depths he may penetrate continually further, to discover yet more profound and invariable order and system, always indicating still deeper and more hidden abysses yet unfathomed, but throughout which he is assured the same recondite and immutable arrangement ever prevails.
"That which requires thought and reason to understand must be itself thought and reason. That which mind alone can investigate or express must be itself mind. And if the highest conception attained is but partial, then the mind and reason studied is greater than the mind and reason of the student. If the more it be studied the more vast and complex is the necessary connection in reason disclosed, then the more evident is the vast extent and compass of the intelligence thus partially manifested, and its reality, as existing in the immutably connected order of objects examined, independently of the mind of the investigator.
"But considerations of this kind, just and transcendently important as they are in themselves, give us no aid in any inquiry into the origin of the order of things thus investigated, or the nature or other attributes of the mind evinced in them.
"The real argument for universal intelligence, manifested in the universality of order and law in the material world, is very different from any attempt to give a form to our conceptions, even by the language of analogy, as to the nature or mode of existence or operation of that intelligence [i.e., as I have stated the case, the argument can only rest on a study of the products, as distinguished from the processes of such intelligence]: and still more different from any extension of our inference from what is to what may have been, from present order to a supposed origination, first adjustment, or planning of that order.
"By keeping these distinctions steadily in view, we appreciate properly both the limits and the extent and compass of what we may appropriately call COSMOTHEOLOGY."
I have quoted these passages at length, because they convey in a more forcible, guarded, and accurate manner than any others with which I am acquainted, the strictly rational standing of this great subject prior to the date at which the above-quoted passage was written. Therefore, as I have said, if it had been my lot to have lived in the last generation, I should certainly have rested in these "sublime conceptions" as in an argument supreme and irrefutable. I should have felt that the progress of physical knowledge could never exert any other influence on Theism than that of ever tending more and more to confirm that magnificent belief, by continuously expanding our human thoughts into progressively advancing conceptions, ever grander and yet more grand, of that tremendous Origin of Things—the Mind of God. Such would have been my hope—such would have been my prayer. But now, how changed! Never in the history of man has so terrific a calamity befallen the race as that which all who look may now behold advancing as a deluge, black with destruction, resistless in might, uprooting our most cherished hopes, engulfing our most precious creed, and burying our highest life in mindless desolation. Science, whom erstwhile we thought a very Angel of God, pointing to that great barrier of Law, and proclaiming to the restless sea of changing doubt, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed,"—even Science has now herself thrown down this trusted barrier; the flood-gates of infidelity are open, and Atheism overwhelming is upon us.
Sec. 30. All and every law follows as a necessary consequence from the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter. That this must be so is evident if we consider that, were it not so, force could not be permanent nor matter constant. For instance, if action and reaction were not invariably equal and opposite, force would not be invariably persistent, seeing that in no case can the formula fail, unless some one or other of the forces concerned, or parts of them, disappear. And as with a simple law of this kind, so with every other natural law and inter-operation of laws, howsoever complex such inter-operation may be; for it is manifest that if in any case similar antecedents did not determine similar consequents, on one or other of these occasions some quantum of force, or of matter, or of both, must have disappeared—or, which is the same thing, the law of causation cannot have been constant. Every natural law, therefore, may be defined as the formula of a sequence, which must either ensue upon certain forces of a given intensity impinging upon certain given quantities, kinds, and forms of matter, or else, by not ensuing, prove that the force or the matter concerned were not of a permanent nature.
Sec. 31. The argument, then, which was elaborated in Sec. 29, and which has so long and so generally received the popular sanction in the common-sense epitome, that in the last record there must be mind in external nature, since "that which it requires thought and reason to understand must itself be thought and reason,"—this argument, I say, must now for ever be abandoned by reasonable men. No doubt it would be easy to point to several speculative thinkers who have previously combated this argument, and from this fact some readers will perhaps be inclined to judge, from a false analogy, that as the argument in question has withstood previous assaults, it need not necessarily succumb to the present one. Be it observed, however, that the present assault differs from all previous assaults, just as demonstration differs from speculation. What has hitherto been but mere guess and unwarrantable assertion has now become a matter of the greatest certainty. That the argument from General Laws is a futile argument, is no longer a matter of unverifiable opinion: it is as sure as is the most fundamental axiom of science. That the argument will long remain in illogical minds, I doubt not; but that it is from henceforth quite inadmissible in accurate thinking, there can be no question. For the sake, however, of impressing this fact still more strongly upon such readers as have been accustomed to rely upon this argument, and so find it difficult thus abruptly to reverse the whole current of their thoughts,—for the sake of such, I shall here add a few remarks with the view of facilitating the conception of an universal Order existing independently of Mind.
Sec. 32. Interpreting the mazy nexus of phenomena only by the facts which science has revealed, and what conclusion are we driven to accept? Clearly, looking to what has been said in the last two sections, that from the time when the process of evolution first began,—from the time before the condensation of the nebula had showed any signs of commencing,—every subsequent change or event of evolution was necessarily bound to ensue; else force and matter have not been persistent. How then, it will be asked, did the vast nexus of natural laws which is now observable ever begin or continue to be? In this way. When the first womb of things was pregnant with all the future, there would probably have been existent at any rate not more than one of the formulae which we now call natural laws. This one law, of course, would have been the law of gravitation. Here we may take our stand. It does not signify whether there ever was a time when gravitation was not,—i.e., if ever there was a time when matter, as we now know it, was not in existence;—for if there ever was such a time, there is no reason to doubt, but every reason to conclude, that the evolution of matter, as we now know it, was accomplished in accordance with law. Similarly, we are not concerned with the question as to how the law of gravitation came to be associated with matter; for it is overwhelmingly probable, from the extent of the analogy, that if our knowledge concerning molecular physics were sufficiently great, the existence of the law in question would be found to follow as a necessary deduction from the primary qualities of matter and force, just as we can now see that, when present, its peculiar quantitative action necessarily follows from the primary qualities of space.
Starting, then, with these data,—matter, force, and the law of gravitation,—what must happen? We have the strongest scientific reason to believe that the matter of the solar system primordially existed in a highly diffused or nebulous form. By mutual gravitation, therefore, all the substance of the nebula must have begun to concentrate upon itself, or to condense. Now, from this point onwards, I wish it to be clearly understood that the mere consideration of the supposed facts not admitting of scientific proof, or of scientific explanation if true, in no wise affects the certainty of the doctrine which these facts are here adduced to establish. Fully granting that the alleged facts are not beyond dispute, and that, even if true, innumerable other unknown and unknowable facts must have been associated with them—fully admitting, in short, that our ideas concerning the genesis of the solar system are of the crudest and least trustworthy character; still, if it be admitted, what at the present day only ignorance or prejudice can deny, viz., that, as a whole, evolution has been the method of the universe; then it follows that the doctrine here contended for is as certainly true as it would be were we fully acquainted with every cause and every change which has acted and ensued throughout the whole process of the genesis of things.
Now, bearing this caveat in mind, we have next to observe that when once the nebula began to condense, new relations among its constituent parts would, for this reason, begin to be established. "Given a rare and widely diffused mass of nebulous matter,... what are the successive changes that will take place? Mutual gravitation will approximate its atoms, but their approximation will be opposed by atomic repulsion, the overcoming of which implies the evolution of heat." That is to say, the condensation of the nebula as a whole of necessity implies at least the origination of these new material and dynamical relations among its constituent parts. "As fast as this heat partially escapes by radiation, further approximation will take place, attended by further evolution of heat, and so on continuously: the processes not occurring separately, as here described, but simultaneously, uninterruptedly, and with increasing activity." Hence the newly established relations continuously acquire new increments of intensity. But now observe a more important point. The previous essential conditions remaining unaltered—viz., the persistence of matter and force, as well as, or rather let us say and consequently, the law of gravitation—these conditions, I say, remaining constant, and the newly established relations would necessarily of themselves give origin to new laws. For whenever two given quantities of force and matter met in one of the novel relations, they would of necessity give rise to novel effects; and whenever, on any future occasion, similar quantities of force and matter again so met, precisely similar effects would of necessity require to occur: but the occurrence of similar effects under similar conditions is all that we mean by a natural law.
Continuing, then, our quotation from Mr. Herbert Spencer's terse and lucid exposition of the nebular theory, we find this doctrine virtually embodied in the next sentences:—"Eventually this slow movement of the atoms towards their common centre of gravity will bring about phenomena of another order.
"Arguing from the known laws of atomic combination, it will happen that, when the nebulous mass has reached a particular stage of condensation—when its internally situated atoms have approached to within certain distances, have generated a certain amount of heat, and are subject to a certain mutual pressure (the heat and pressure increasing as the aggregation progresses), some of them will suddenly enter into chemical union. Whether the binary atoms so produced be of kinds such as we know, which is possible, or whether they be of kinds simpler than any we know, which is more probable, matters not to the argument. It suffices that molecular combinations of some species will finally take place." We have, then, here a new and important change of relations. Matter, primordially uniform, has itself become heterogeneous; and in as many places as it has thus changed its state, it must, in virtue of the fact, give rise to other hitherto novel relations, and so, in many cases, to new laws.
It would be tedious and unnecessary to trace this genesis of natural law any further: indeed, it would be quite impossible so to trace it for any considerable distance without feeling that the ever-multiplying mazes of relations renders all speculation as to the actual processes quite useless. This fact, however, as before insisted, in no wise affects the only doctrine which I here enunciate—viz., that the self-generation of natural law is a necessary corollary from the persistence of matter and force. And that this must be so is now, I hope, sufficiently evident. Just as in the first dawn of things, when the proto-binary compounds of matter gave rise to new relations together with their appropriate laws, so throughout the whole process of evolution, as often as matter acquired a hitherto novel state, or in one of its old states entered into hitherto novel relations, so often would non-existent or even impossible laws become at once possible and necessary. And in this way I cannot see that there is any reason to stop until we arrive at all the marvellous complexity of things as they are. For aught that speculative reason can ever from henceforth show to the contrary, the evolution of all the diverse phenomena of inorganic nature, of life, and of mind, appears to be as necessary and as self-determined as is the being of that mysterious Something which is Everything,—the Entity we must all believe in, which without condition and beyond relation holds its existence in itself.
Sec. 33. Does it still seem incredible that, notwithstanding it requires mental processes to interpret external nature, external nature may nevertheless be destitute of mind? Then let us look at the subject on its obverse aspect.
According to the theory of evolution—which, be it always remembered, is no mere gratuitous supposition, but a genuine scientific theory—human intelligence, like everything else, has been evolved. Now in what does the evolution of intelligence consist? Any one acquainted with the writings of our great philosopher can have no hesitation in answering: Clearly and only in the establishment of more and more numerous and complex internal or psychological relations. In other words, the law of intelligence being "that the strengths of the inner cohesions between psychical states must be proportionate to the persistences of the outer relations symbolised," it follows that the development of intelligence is "secured by the one simple principle that experience of the outer relations produces inner cohesions, and makes the inner cohesions strong in proportion as the outer relations are persistent." Now the question before us at present is merely this:—Must we not infer that these outer relations are regulated by mind, seeing that order is undoubtedly apparent among them, and that it requires mental processes on our part to interpret this order? The only legitimate answer to this question is, that these outer relations may be regulated by mind, but that, in view of the evolution theory, we are certainly not entitled to infer that they are so regulated, merely because it requires mental processes on our part to interpret their orderly character. For if it is true that the human mind was itself evolved by these outer relations—ever continuously moulded into conformity with them as the prime condition of its existence—then its process of interpreting them is but reflecting (as it were) in consciousness these outer relations by which the inner ones were originally produced. Granting that, as a matter of fact, an objective macrocosm exists, and if we can prove or render probable that this objective macrocosm is of itself sufficient to evolve a subjective microcosm, I do not see any the faintest reason for the latter to conclude that a self-conscious intelligence is inherent in the former, merely because it is able to trace in the macrocosm some of those orderly objective relations by which its own corresponding subjective relations were originally produced. If it is said that it is impossible to conceive how, apart from mind, the orderly objective relations themselves can ever have originated, I reply that this is merely to shift the ground of discussion to that which occupied us in the last section: all we are now engaged upon is,—Granting that the existence of such orderly relations is actual, whether with or without mind to account for them; and granting also that these relations are of themselves sufficient to produce corresponding subjective relations; then the mere fact of our conscious intelligence being able to discover numerous and complex outer relations answering to those which they themselves have caused in our intelligence, does not warrant the latter in concluding that the causal connection between intelligence and non-intelligence has ever been reversed—that these outer relations in turn are caused by a similar conscious intelligence. How such a thing as a conscious intelligence is possible is another and wholly unanswerable question (though not more so than that as to the existence of force and matter, and would not be rendered less so by merging the fact in a hypothetical Deity); but granting, as we must, that such an entity does exist, and supposing it to have been evolved by natural causes, then it would appear incontestably to follow, that whether or not objective existence is presided over by objective mind, our subjective mind would alike and equally require to read in the facts of the external world an indication, whether true or false, of some such presiding agency. The subjective mind being, by the supposition, but the obverse aspect of the sum total of such among objective relations as have had a share in its production, when, as in observation and reflection, this obverse aspect is again inverted upon its die, it naturally fits more or less exactly into all the prints.
Sec. 34. This last illustration, however, serves to introduce us to another point. The supposed evidence from which the existence of mind in nature is inferred does not always depend upon such minute correspondences between subjective method and objective method as the illustration suggests. Every natural theologian has experienced more or less difficulty in explaining the fact, that while there is a tolerably general similarity between the contrivances due to human thought and the apparent contrivances in nature which he regards as due to divine thought, the similarity is nevertheless only general. For instance, if a man has occasion to devise any artificial appliance, he does so with the least possible cost of labour to himself, and with the least possible expenditure of material. Yet it is obvious that in nature as a whole no such economic considerations obtain. Doubtless by superficial minds this assertion will be met at first with an indignant denial: they have been accustomed to accumulate instances of this very principle of economy in nature; perhaps written about it in books, and illustrated it in lectures,—totally ignoring the fact that the instances of economy in nature bear no proportion at all to the instances of prodigality. Conceive of the force which is being quite uselessly expended by all the wind-currents which are at this moment blowing over the face of Europe. Imagine the energy that must have been dissipated during the secular cooling of this single planet. Feebly try to think of what the sun is radiating into space. If it is retorted that we are incompetent to judge of the purposes of the Almighty, I reply that this is but to abandon the argument from economy whenever it is found untenable: we presume to be competent judges of almighty purposes so long as they appear to imitate our own; but so soon as there is any divergence observable, we change front. By thus selecting all the instances of economy in nature, and disregarding all the vastly greater instances of reckless waste, we are merely laying ourselves open to the charge of an unfair eclecticism. And this formal refutation of the argument from economy admits of being further justified in a strikingly substantial manner; for if all the examples of economy in nature that were ever observed, or admit being observed, were collected into one view, I undertake to affirm that, without exception, they would be found to marshal themselves in one great company—the subjects whose law is survival of the fittest. One question only will I here ask. Is it possible at the present day for any degree of prejudice, after due consideration, to withstand the fact that the solitary exceptions to the universal prodigality so painfully conspicuous in nature are to be found where there is also to be found a full and adequate physical explanation of their occurrence?
But, again, prodigality is only one of several particulars wherein the modes and the means of the supposed divine intelligence differ from those of its human counterpart. Comparative anatomists can point to organic structures which are far from being theoretically perfect: even the mind of man in these cases, notwithstanding its confessed deficiencies in respect both of cognitive and cogitative powers, is competent to suggest improvements to an intelligence supposed to be omniscient and all-wise! And what shall we say of the numerous cases in which the supposed purposes of this intelligence could have been attained by other and less roundabout means? In short, not needlessly to prolong discussion, it is admitted, even by natural theologians themselves, that the difficulties of reconciling, even approximately, the supposed processes of divine thought with the known processes of human thought are quite insuperable. The fact is expressed by such writers in various ways,—e.g., that it would be presumptuous in man to expect complete conformity in all cases; that the counsels of God are past finding out; that his ways are not as our ways, and so on. Observing only, as before, that in thus ignoring adverse cases natural theologians are guilty of an unfair eclecticism, it is evident that all such expressions concede the fact, that even in those provinces of nature where the evidence of superhuman intelligence appears most plain, the resemblance of its apparent products to those of human intelligence consists in a general approximation of method rather than in any precise similarity of particulars: the likeness is generic rather than specific.
Now this is exactly what we should expect to be the case, if the similarity in question be due to the cause which the present section endeavours to set forth. If all natural laws are self-evolved, and if human intelligence is but a subjective photograph of certain among their interrelations, it seems but natural that when this photograph compares itself with the whole external world from parts of which it was taken, its subjective lights and shadows should be found to correspond with some of the objective lights and shadows much more perfectly than with others. Still there would doubtless be sufficient general conformity to lead the thinking photograph to conclude that the great world of objective reality, instead of being the cause of such conformity as exists, was itself the effect of some common cause,—that it too was of the nature of a picture. Dropping the figure, if it is true that human intelligence has been evolved by natural law, then in view of all that has been said it must now, I think, be tolerably apparent, that as by the hypothesis human intelligence has always been required to think and to act in conformity with law, human intelligence must at last be in danger of confusing or identifying the fact of action in conformity with law with the existence and the action of a self-conscious intelligence. Reading then in external nature innumerable examples of action in conformity with law, human intelligence falls back upon the unwarrantable identification, and out of the bare fact that law exists in nature concludes that beyond nature there is an Intelligent Lawgiver.
Sec. 35. From what has been said in the last five sections, it manifestly follows that all the varied phenomena of the universe not only may, but must, depend upon the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter. Be it remembered that the object of the last three sections was merely to "facilitate conception" of the fact that it does not at all follow, because the phenomena of external nature admit of being intelligently inquired into, therefore they are due to an intelligent cause. The last three sections are hence in a manner parenthetical, and it is of comparatively little importance whether or not they have been successful in their object; for, from what went before, it is abundantly manifest that, whether or not the subjective side of the question admits of satisfactory elucidation, there can be no doubt that the objective side of it is as certain as are the fundamental axioms of science. It does not admit of one moment's questioning that it is as certainly true that all the exquisite beauty and melodious harmony of nature follow as necessarily and as inevitably from the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter, as it is certainly true that force is persistent, or that matter is extended and impenetrable. No doubt this generalisation is too vast to be adequately conceived, but there can be equally little doubt that it is necessarily true. If matter and force have been eternal, so far as human mind can soar it can discover no need of a superior mind to explain the varied phenomena of existence. Man has truly become in a new sense the measure of the universe, and in this the latest and most appalling of his soundings, indications are returned from the infinite voids of space and time by which he is surrounded, that his intelligence, with all its noble capacities for love and adoration, is yet alone—destitute of kith or kin in all this universe of being.
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THE LOGICAL STANDING OF THE QUESTION AS TO THE BEING OF A GOD.
Sec. 36. But the discussion must not end here. Inexorable logic has forced us to conclude that, viewing the question as to the existence of a God only by the light which modern science has shed upon it, there no longer appears to be any semblance of an argument in its favour. Let us then turn upon science herself, and question her right to be our sole guide in this matter. Undoubtedly we have no alternative but to conclude that the hypothesis of mind in nature is now logically proved to be as certainly superfluous is the very basis of all science is certainly true. There can no longer be any more doubt that the existence of a God is wholly unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of the universe, than there is doubt that if I leave go of my pen it will fall upon the table. Nay, the doubt is even less than this, because while the knowledge that my pen will fall if I allow it to do so is founded chiefly upon empirical knowledge (I could not predict with a priori certainty that it would so fall, for the pen might be in an electrical state, or subject to some set of unknown natural laws antagonistic to gravity), the knowledge that a Deity is superfluous as an explanation of anything, being grounded on the doctrine of the persistence of force, is grounded on an a priori necessity of reason—i.e., if this fact were not so, our science, our thought, our very existence itself, would be scientifically impossible.
But now, having thus stated the case as strongly as I am able, it remains to question how far the authority of science extends. Even our knowledge of the persistence of force and of the primary qualities of matter is but of relative significance. Deeper than the foundations of our experience, "deeper than demonstration—deeper even than definite cognition,—deep as the very nature of mind," are these the most ultimate of known truths; but where from this is our warrant for concluding with certainty that these known truths are everywhere and eternally true? It will be said that there is a strong analogical probability. Perhaps so, but of this next: I am not now speaking of probability; I am speaking of certainty; and unless we deny the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, we cannot but conclude that there is no absolute certainty in this case. As I deem this consideration one of great importance, I shall proceed to develop it at some length. It will be observed, then, that the consideration really amounts to this:—Although it must on all hands be admitted that the fact of the theistic hypothesis not being required to explain any of the phenomena of nature is a fact which has been demonstrated scientifically, nevertheless it must likewise on all hands be admitted that this fact has not, and cannot be, demonstrated logically. Or thus, although it is unquestionably true that so far as science can penetrate she cannot discern any speculative necessity for a God, it may nevertheless be true that if science could penetrate further she might discern some such necessity. Now the present discussion would clearly be incomplete if it neglected to define as carefully this the logical standing of our subject, as it has hitherto endeavoured to define its scientific standing. As a final step in our analysis, therefore, we must altogether quit the region of experience, and, ignoring even the very foundations of science and so all the most certain of relative truths, pass into the transcendental region of purely formal considerations. In this region theist and atheist must alike consent to forego all their individual predilections, and, after regarding the subject as it were in the abstract and by the light of pure logic alone, finally come to an agreement as to the transcendental probability of the question before them. Disregarding the actual probability which they severally feel to exist in relation to their own individual intelligences, they must apply themselves to ascertain the probability which exists in relation to those fundamental laws of thought which preside over the intelligence of our race. In fine, it will now, I hope, be understood that, as we have hitherto been endeavouring to determine, by deductions drawn from the very foundations of all possible science, the relative probability as to the existence of a God, so we shall next apply ourselves to the task of ascertaining the absolute probability of such existence—or, more correctly, what is the strictly formal probability of such existence when its possibility is contemplated in an absolute sense.
Sec. 37. To begin then. In the last resort, the value of every probability is fixed by "ratiocination." In endeavouring, therefore, to fix the degree of strictly formal probability that is present in any given case, our method of procedure should be, first to ascertain the ultimate ratios on which the probability depends, and then to estimate the comparative value of these ratios. Now I think there can be no doubt that the value of any probability in this its last analysis is determined by the number, the importance, and the definiteness of the relations known, as compared with those of the relations unknown; and, consequently, that in all cases where the sum of the unknown relations is larger, or more important, or more indefinite than is the sum of the known relations, it is an essential principle that the value of the probability decreases in exact proportion to the decrease in the similarity between the two sets of relations, whether this decrease consists in the number, in the importance, or in the definiteness of the relations involved. This rule or canon is self-evident as soon as pointed out, and has been formulated by Professor Bain in his "Logic" when treating of Analogy, but not with sufficient precision; for, while recognising the elements of number and importance, he has overlooked that of definiteness. This element, however, is a very essential one—indeed the most essential of the three; for there are many analogical inferences in which either the character or the extent of the unknown relations is quite indefinite; and it is obvious that, whenever this is the case, the value of the analogy is proportionably diminished, and diminished in a much more material particular than it is when the diminution of value arises from a mere excess of the unknown relations over the known ones in respect of their number or of their importance. For it is evident that, in the latter case, however little value the analogy may possess, the exact degree of such value admits of being determined; while it is no less evident that, in the former case, we are precluded from estimating the value of the analogy at all, and this just in proportion to the indefiniteness of the unknown relations.
Sec. 38. Now the particular instance with which we are concerned is somewhat peculiar. Notwithstanding we have the entire sphere of human experience from which to argue, we are still unable to gauge the strictly logical probability of any argument whatsoever; for the unknown relations in this case are so wholly indefinite, both as to their character and extent, that any attempt to institute a definite comparison between them and the known relations is felt at once to be absurd. The question discussed, being the most ultimate of all possible questions, must eventually contain in itself all that is to man unknown and unknowable; the whole orbit of human knowledge is here insufficient to obtain a parallax whereby to institute the required measurements.
Sec. 39. I think it is desirable to insist upon this truth at somewhat greater length, and, for the sake of impressing it still more deeply, I shall present it in another form. No one can for a single moment deny that, beyond and around the sphere of the Knowable, there exists the unfathomable abyss of the Unknowable. I do not here use this latter word as embodying any theory: I merely wish it to state the undoubted fact, which all must admit, viz., that beneath all our possible explanations there lies a great Inexplicable. Now let us see what is the effect of making this necessary admission. In the first place, it clearly follows that, while our conceptions as to what the Unknowable contains may or may not represent the truth, it is certain that we can never discover whether or not they do. Further, it is impossible for us to determine even a definite probability as to the existence (much less the nature) of anything which we may suppose the Unknowable to contain. We may, of course, perceive that such and such a supposition is more conceivable than such and such; but, as already indicated, the fact does not show that the one is in itself more definitely probable than the other, unless it has been previously shown, either that the capacity of our conceptions is a fully adequate measure of the Possible, or that the proportion between such capacity and the extent of the Possible is a proportion that can be determined. In either of these cases, the Conceivable would be a fair measure of the Possible: in the former case, an exact equivalent (e.g., in any instance of contradictory propositions, the most conceivable would certainly be true); in the latter case, a measure any degree less than an exact equivalent—the degree depending upon the then ascertainable disparity between the extent of the Possible and the extent of the Conceivable. Now the Unknowable (including of course the Inconceivable Existent) is a species of the Possible, and in its name carries the declaration that the disparity between its extent and the extent of the Conceivable (i.e., the other species of the Possible) is a disparity that cannot be determined. We are hence driven to the conclusion that the most apparently probable of all propositions, if predicated of anything within the Unknowable, may not in reality be a whit more so than is the most apparently improbable proposition which it is possible to make; for if it is admitted (as of course it must be) that we are necessarily precluded from comparing the extent of the Conceivable with that of the Unknowable, then it necessarily follows that in no case whatever are we competent to judge how far an apparent probability relating to the latter province is an actual probability. In other words, did we know the proportion subsisting between the Conceivable and the Unknowable in respect of relative extent and character, and so of inherent probabilities, we should then be able to estimate the actual value of any apparent probability relating to the latter province; but, as it is, our ability to make this estimate varies inversely as our inability to estimate our ignorance in this particular. And as our ignorance in this particular is total—i.e., since we cannot even approximately determine the proportion that subsists between the Conceivable and the Unknowable,—the result is that our ability to make the required estimate in any given case is absolutely nil.
Sec. 40. I have purposely rendered this presentation in terms of the highest abstraction, partly to avoid the possibility of any one, whatever his theory of things may be, finding anything at which to object, and partly in order that my meaning may be understood to include all things which are beyond the range of possible knowledge. Most of all, therefore, must this presentation (if it contains anything of truth) apply to the question regarding the existence of Deity; for the Ens Realissimum must of all things be furthest removed from the range of possible knowledge. Hence, if this presentation contains anything of truth—and of its rigidly accurate truth I think there can be no question—the assertion that the Self-existing Substance is a Personal and Intelligent Being, and the assertion that this Substance is an Impersonal and Non-Intelligent Being, are alike assertions wholly destitute of any assignable degree of logical probability, I say assignable degree of logical probability, because that some degree of such probability may exist I do not undertake to deny. All I assert is, that if we are here able to institute any such probability at all, we are unable logically to assign to it any determinate degree of value. Or, in other words, although we may establish some probability in a sense relative to ourselves, we are unable to know how far this probability is a probability in an absolute sense. Or again, the case is not as though we were altogether unacquainted with the Possible. Experience undoubtedly affords us some information regarding this, although, comparatively speaking, we are unable to know how much. Consequently, we must suppose that, in any given case, it is more likely that the Conceivable should be Possible than that the Inconceivable should be so, and that the Conceivably Probable should exist than that the Conceivably Improbable should do so: in neither case, however, can we know what degree of such likelihood is present.
Sec. 41. From the foregoing considerations, then, it would appear that the only attitude which in strict logic it is admissible to adopt towards the question concerning the being of a God is that of "suspended judgment." Formally speaking, it is alike illegitimate to affirm or to deny Intelligence as an attribute of the Ultimate. And here I would desire it to be observed, that this is the attitude which the majority of scientifically-trained philosophers actually have adopted with regard to this matter. I am not aware, however, that any one has yet endeavoured to formulate the justification of this attitude; and as I think there can be no doubt that the above presentation contains in a logical shape the whole of such justification, I cannot but think that some important ends will have been secured by it. For we are here in possession, not merely of a vague and general impression that the Ultimate is super-scientific, and so beyond the range of legitimate prediction; but we are also in possession of a logical formula whereby at once to vindicate the rationality of our opinion, and to measure the precise degree of its technical value.
* * * * *
THE ARGUMENT FROM METAPHYSICAL TELEOLOGY.
Sec. 42. Let us now proceed to examine the effect of the formal considerations which have been adduced in the last chapter on the scientific considerations which were dealt with in the previous chapters. In these previous chapters the proposition was clearly established that, just as certainly as the fundamental data of science are true, so certainly is it true that the theory of Theism in any shape is, scientifically considered, superfluous; for these chapters have clearly shown that, if there is a God, his existence, considered as a cause of things, is as certainly unnecessary as it is certainly true that force is persistent and that matter is indestructible. But after this proposition had been carefully justified, it remained to show that the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge compelled us to carry our discussion into a region of yet higher abstraction. For although we observed that the essential qualities of matter and of force are the most ultimate data of human knowledge, and although, by showing how far the question of Theism depended on these data, we carried the discussion of that question to the utmost possible limits of scientific thought, it still devolved on us to contemplate the fact that even these the most ultimate data of science are only known to be of relative significance. And the bearing of this fact to the question of Theism was seen to be most important. For, without waiting to recapitulate the substance of a chapter so recently concluded, it will be remembered that its effect was to establish this position beyond all controversy—viz., that when ideas which have been formed by our experience within the region of phenomenal actuality are projected into the region of ontological possibility, they become utterly worthless; seeing that we can never have any means whereby to test the actual value of whatever transcendental probabilities they may appear to establish. Therefore it is that even the most ultimate of relative truths with which, as we have seen, the question of Theism is so vitally associated, is almost without meaning when contemplated in an absolute sense. What, then, is the effect of these metaphysical considerations on the position of Theism as we have seen it to be left by the highest generalisations of physical science? Let us contemplate this question with the care which it deserves.
In the first place, it is evident that the effect of these purely formal considerations is to render all reasonings on the subject of Theism equally illegitimate, unless it is constantly borne in mind that such reasonings can only be of relative signification. Thus, as a matter of pure logic, these considerations are destructive of all assignable validity of any such reasoning whatsoever. Still, even a strictly relative probability is, in some undefinable degree, of more value than no probability at all, as we have seen these same formal considerations to show (see Sec. 40); and, moreover, even were this not so, the human mind will never rest until it attains to the furthest probability which to its powers is accessible. Therefore, if we do not forget the merely relative nature of the considerations which are about to be adduced, by adducing them we may at the same time satisfy our own minds and abstain from violating the conditions of sound logic.
The shape, then, to which the subject has now been reduced is simply this:—Seeing that the theory of Evolution in its largest sense has shown the theory of Theism to be superfluous in a scientific sense, does it not follow that the theory of Theism is thus shown to be superfluous in any sense? For it would seem from the discussion, so far as it has hitherto gone, that the only rational basis on which the theory of Theism can rest is a basis of teleology; and if, as has been clearly shown, the theory of evolution, by deducing the genesis of natural law from the primary data of science, irrevocably destroys this basis, does it not follow that the theory of evolution has likewise destroyed the theory which rested on that basis? Now I conclude, as stated at the close of Chapter IV., that the question here put must certainly be answered in the affirmative, so far as its scientific aspect is concerned. But when we consider the question in its purely logical aspect, as we have done in Chapter V., the case is otherwise. For although, so far as the utmost reach of scientific vision enables us to see, we can discern no evidence of Deity, it does not therefore follow that beyond the range of such vision Deity does not exist. Science indeed has proved that if there is a Divine Mind in nature, and if by the hypothesis such a Mind exerts any causative influence on the phenomena of nature, such influence is exerted beyond the sphere of experience. And this achievement of science, be it never forgotten, is an achievement of prodigious importance, effectually destroying, as it does, all vestiges of a scientific teleology. But be it now carefully observed, although all vestiges of a scientific teleology are thus completely and permanently ruined, the formal considerations adduced in the last chapter supply the conditions for constructing what may be termed a metaphysical teleology. I use these terms advisedly, because I think they will serve to bring out with great clearness the condition to which our analysis of the teleological argument has now been reduced.
Sec. 43. In the first place, let it be understood that I employ the terms "scientific" and "metaphysical" in the convenient sense in which they are employed by Mr. Lewes, viz., as respectively designating a theory that is verifiable and a theory that is not. Consequently, by the term "scientific teleology" I mean to denote a form of teleology which admits either of being proved or disproved, while by the term "metaphysical teleology" I mean to denote a form of teleology which does not admit either of being proved or of being disproved. Now, with these significations clearly understood, it will be seen that the forms of teleology which we have hitherto considered belong entirely to the scientific class. That the Paleyerian form of the argument did so is manifest, first because this argument itself treats the problem of Theism as a problem that is susceptible of scientific demonstration, and next because we have seen that the advance of science has proved this argument susceptible of scientific refutation. In other words, from the supposed axiom, "There cannot be apparent design without a designer," adaptations in nature become logically available as purely scientific evidence of an intelligent cause; and that Paley himself regarded them exclusively in this light is manifest, both from his own "statement of the argument," and from the character of the evidence by which he seeks to establish the argument when stated—witness the typical passage before quoted (Sec. 26). On the other hand, we have clearly seen that this Paleyerian system of natural theology has been effectually demolished by the scientific theory of natural selection—the fundamental axiom of the former having been shown by the latter to be scientifically untrue. Hence the term "scientific teleology" is without question applicable to the Paleyerian system.
Nor is the case essentially different with the more refined form of the teleological argument which we have had to consider—the argument, namely, from General Laws. For here, likewise, we have clearly seen that the inference from the ubiquitous operation of General Laws to the existence of an omniscient Law-maker is quite as illegitimate as is the inference from apparent Design to the existence of a Supreme Designer. In other words, science, by establishing the doctrine of the persistence of force and the indestructibility of matter, has effectually disproved the hypothesis that the presence of Law in nature is of itself sufficient to prove the existence of an intelligent Law-giver.
Thus it is that scientific teleology in any form is now and for ever obsolete. But not so with what I have termed metaphysical teleology. For as we have seen that the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge precludes us from asserting, or even from inferring, that beyond the region of the Knowable Mind does not exist, it remains logically possible to institute a metaphysical hypothesis that beyond this region of the Knowable Mind does exist. There being a necessary absence of any positive information whereby to refute this metaphysical hypothesis, any one who chooses to adopt it is fully justified in doing so, provided only he remembers that the purely metaphysical quality whereby the hypothesis is ensured against disproof, likewise, and in the same degree, precludes it from the possibility of proof. He must remember that it is no longer open to him to point to any particular set of general laws and to assert, these proclaim Intelligence as their cause; for we have repeatedly seen that the known states of matter and force themselves afford sufficient explanation of the facts to which he points. And he must remember that the only reason why his hypothesis does not conflict with any of the truths known to science, is because he has been careful to rest that hypothesis upon a basis of purely formal considerations, which lie beyond even the most fundamental truths of which science is cognisant.
Thus, for example, he may present his metaphysical theory of Theism in some such terms as these:—'Fully conceding what reason shows must be conceded, and there still remains this possible supposition—viz., that there is a presiding Mind in nature, which exerts its causative influence beyond the sphere of experience, thus rendering it impossible for us to obtain scientific evidence of its action. For such a Mind, exerting such an influence beyond experience, may direct affairs within experience by methods conceivable or inconceivable to us—producing, possibly, innumerable and highly varied results, which in turn may produce their effects within experience, their introduction being then, of course, in the ordinary way of natural law. For instance, there can be no question that by the intelligent creation or dissipation of energy, all the phenomena of cosmic evolution might have been directed, and, for aught that science can show to the contrary, thus only rendered possible. Hence there is at least one nameable way in which, even in accordance with observed facts, a Supreme Mind could be competent to direct the phenomena of observable nature. But we are not necessarily restricted to the limits of the nameable in this matter, so that it is of no argumentative importance whether or not this suggested method is the method which the supposed Mind actually adopts, seeing that there may still be other possible methods, which, nevertheless, we are unable to suggest.'
Doubtless the hypothesis of Theism, as thus presented, will be deemed by many persons but of very slender probability. I am not, however, concerned with whatever character of probability it may be supposed to exhibit. I am merely engaged in carefully presenting the only hypothesis which can be presented, if the theory as to an Intelligent Author of nature is any longer to be maintained on grounds of a rational teleology. No doubt, scientifically considered, the hypothesis in question is purely gratuitous; for, so far as the light of science can penetrate, there is no need of any such hypothesis at all. Thus it may well seem, at first sight, that no hypothesis could well have less to recommend it; and, so far as the presentation has yet gone, it is therefore fully legitimate for an atheist to reply:—'All that this so-called metaphysical theory amounts to is a wholly gratuitous assumption. No doubt it is always difficult, and usually impossible, logically or unequivocally to prove a negative. If my adversary chose to imagine that nature is presided over by a demon with horns and hoofs, or by a dragon with claws and tail, I should be as unable to disprove this his supposed theory as I am now unable to disprove his actual theory. But in all cases reasonable men ought to be guided in their beliefs by such positive evidence as is available; and if, as in the present case, the alternative belief is wholly gratuitous—adopted not only without any evidence, but against all that great body of evidence which the sum-total of science supplies—surely we ought not to hesitate for one moment in the choice of our creed?'
Now all this is quite sound in principle, provided only that the metaphysical theory of Theism is wholly gratuitous, in the sense of being utterly destitute of evidential support. That it is destitute of all scientific support, we have already and repeatedly seen; but the question remains as to whether it is similarly destitute of metaphysical support.
Sec. 44. To this question, then, let us next address ourselves. From the theistic pleading which we have just heard, it is abundantly manifest that the formal conditions of a metaphysical teleology are present: the question now before us is as to whether or not any actual evidence exists in favour of such a theory. In order to discuss this question, let us begin by allowing the theist to continue his pleading. 'You have shown me,' he may say, 'that a scientific or demonstrable system of teleology is no longer possible, and, therefore, as I have already conceded, I must take my stand on a metaphysical or non-demonstrable system. But I reflect that the latter term is a loose one, seeing that it embraces all possible degrees of evidence short of actual proof. The question, therefore, I conceive to be, What amount of evidence is there in favour of this metaphysical system of teleology? And this question I answer by the following considerations:—As general laws separately have all been shown to be the necessary outcome of the primary data of science, it certainly follows that general laws collectively must be the same—i.e., that the whole system of general laws must be, so far as the lights of our science can penetrate, the necessary outcome of the persistence of force and the indestructibility of matter. But you have also dearly shown me that these lights are of the feeblest conceivable character when they are brought to illuminate the final mystery of things. I therefore feel at liberty to assert, that if there is any one principle to be observed in the collective operation of general laws which cannot conceivably be explained by any cause other than that of intelligent guidance, I am still free to fall back on such a principle and to maintain—Although the collective operation of general laws follows as a necessary consequence from the primary data of science, this one principle which pervades their united action, and which cannot be conceivably explained by any hypothesis other than that of intelligent guidance, is a principle which still remains to be accounted for; and as it cannot conceivably be accounted for on grounds of physical science, I may legitimately account for it on grounds of metaphysical teleology. Now I cannot open my eyes without perceiving such a principle everywhere characterising the collective operation of general laws. Universally I behold in nature, order, beauty, harmony,—that is, a perfect correlation among general laws. But this ubiquitous correlation among general laws, considered as the cause of cosmic harmony, itself requires some explanatory cause such as the persistence of force and the indestructibility of matter cannot conceivably be made to supply. For unless we postulate some one integrating cause, the greater the number of general laws in nature, the less likelihood is there of such laws being so correlated as to produce harmony by their combined action. And forasmuch as the only cause that I am able to imagine as competent to produce such effects is that of intelligent guidance, I accept the metaphysical hypothesis that beyond the sphere of the Knowable there exists an Unknown God.
'If it is retorted that the above argument involves an absurd contradiction, in that while it sets out with an explicit avowal of the fact that the collective operation of general laws follows as a necessary consequence from the primary data of physical science, it nevertheless afterwards proceeds to explain an effect of such collective operation by a metaphysical hypothesis; I answer that it was expressly for the purpose of eliciting this retort that I threw my argument into the above form. For the position which I wish to establish is this, that fully accepting the logical cogency of the reasoning whereby the action of every law is deduced from the primary data of science, I wish to show that when this train of reasoning is followed to its ultimate term, it leads us into the presence of a fact for which it is inadequate to account. If, then, my contention be granted—viz., that to human faculties it is not conceivable how, in the absence of a directing intelligence, general laws could be so correlated as to produce universal harmony—then I have brought the matter to this issue:—Notwithstanding the scientific train of argument being complete in itself, it still leaves us in the presence of a fact which it cannot conceivably explain; and it is this unexplained residuum—this total product of the operation of general laws—that I appeal to as the logical justification for a system of metaphysical teleology—a system which offers the only conceivable explanation of this stupendous fact.
'And here I may further observe, that the scientific train of reasoning is of the kind which embodies what Mr. Herbert Spencer calls "symbolic conceptions of the illegitimate order." That is to say, we can see how such simple laws as that action and reaction are equal and opposite may have been self-evolved, and from this fact we go on generalising and generalising, until we land ourselves in wholly symbolic and—a paradox is here legitimate—inconceivable conceptions. Now the farther we travel into this region of unrealisable ideas, the less trustworthy is the report that we are able to bring back. The method is in a sense scientific; but when even scientific method is projected into a region of really super-scientific possibility, it ceases to have that character of undoubted certainty which it enjoys when dealing with verifiable subjects of inquiry. The demonstrations are formal, but they are not real.
'Therefore, looking to this necessarily suspicious character of the scientific train of reasoning, and then observing that, even if accepted, it leaves the fact of cosmic harmony unexplained, I maintain, that whatever probability the phenomena of nature may in former times have been thought to establish in favour of the theory as to an intelligent Author of nature, that probability has been in no wise annihilated—nor apparently can it ever be annihilated—by the advance of science. And not only so, but I question whether this probability has been even seriously impaired by such advance, seeing that although this advance has revealed a speculative raison d'etre of the mechanical precision of nature, it has at the same time shown the baffling complexity of nature; and therefore, in view of what has just been said, leaves the balance of probability concerning the existence of a God very much where it always was. For stay awhile to contemplate this astounding complexity of harmonious nature! Think of how much we already know of its innumerable laws and processes, and then think that this knowledge only serves to reveal, in a glimmering way, the huge immensity of the unknown. Try to picture the meshwork of contending rhythms which must have been before organic nature was built up, and then let us ask, Is it conceivable, is it credible, that all this can have been the work of blind fate? Must we not feel that had there not been intelligent agency at work somewhere, other and less terrifically intricate results would have ensued? And if we further try to symbolise in thought the unimaginable complexity of the material and dynamical changes in virtue of which that thought itself exists,—if we then extend our symbols to represent all the history of all the orderly changes which must have taken place to evolve human intelligence into what it is,—and if we still further extend our symbols to try if it be possible, even in the language of symbols, to express the number and the subtlety of those natural laws which now preside over the human will;—in the face of so vast an assumption as that all this has been self-evolved, I am content still to rest in the faith of my forefathers.'
Sec. 45. Now I think it must be admitted that we have here a valid argument. That is to say, the considerations which we have just adduced must, I think, in fairness be allowed to have established this position:—That the system of metaphysical teleology for which we have supposed a candid theist to plead, is something more than a purely gratuitous system—that it does not belong to the same category of baseless imaginings as that to which the atheist at first sight, and in view of the scientific deductions alone, might be inclined to assign it. For we have seen that our supposed theist, while fully admitting the formal cogency of the scientific train of reasoning, is nevertheless able to point to a fact which, in his opinion, lies without that train of reasoning. For he declares that it is beyond his powers of conception to regard the complex harmony of nature otherwise than as a product of some one integrating cause; and that the only cause of which he is able to conceive as adequate to produce such an effect is that of a conscious Intelligence. Pointing, therefore, to this complex harmony of nature as to a fact which cannot to his mind be conceivably explained by any deductions from physical science, he feels that he is justified in explaining this fact by the aid of a metaphysical hypothesis. And in so doing he is in my opinion perfectly justified, at any rate to this extent—that his antagonist cannot fairly dispose of this metaphysical hypothesis as a purely gratuitous hypothesis. How far it is a probable hypothesis is another question, and to this question we shall now address ourselves.
Sec. 46. If it is true that the deductions from physical science cannot be conceived to explain some among the observed facts of nature, and if it is true that these particular facts admit of being conceivably explained by the metaphysical hypothesis in question, then, beyond all controversy, this metaphysical hypothesis must be provisionally accepted. Let us then carefully examine the premises which are thus adduced to justify acceptance of this hypothesis as their conclusion.
In the first place, it is not—cannot—be denied, even by a theist, that the deductions from physical science do embrace the fact of cosmic harmony in their explanation, seeing that, as they explain the operation of general laws collectively, they must be regarded as also explaining every effect of such operation. And this, as we have seen, is a consideration to which our imaginary theist was not blind. How then did he meet it? He met it by the considerations—1st. That the scientific train of reasoning evolved this conclusion only by employing, in a wholly unrestricted manner, "symbolic conceptions of the illegitimate order;" and, 2d. That when the conclusion thus illegitimately evolved was directly confronted with the fact of cosmic harmony which it professes to explain, he found it to be beyond the powers of human thought to conceive of such an effect as due to such a cause. Now, as already observed, I consider these strictures on the scientific train of reasoning to be thoroughly valid. There can be no question that the highly symbolic character of the conceptions which that train of reasoning is compelled to adopt, is a source of serious weakness to the conclusions which it ultimately evolves; while there can, I think, be equally little doubt that there does not live a human being who would venture honestly to affirm, that he can really conceive the fact of cosmic harmony as exclusively due to the causes which the scientific train of reasoning assigns. But freely conceding this much, and an atheist may reply, that although the objections of his antagonist against this symbolic method of reasoning are undoubtedly valid, yet, from the nature of the case, this is the only method of scientific reasoning which is available. If, therefore, he expresses his obligations to his antagonist for pointing out a source of weakness in this method of reasoning—a source of weakness, be it observed, which renders it impossible for him to estimate the actual, as distinguished from the apparent, probability of the conclusion attained—this is all that he can be expected to do: he cannot be expected to abandon the only scientific method of reasoning available, in favour of a metaphysical method which only escapes the charge of symbolism by leaping with a single bound from a known cause (human intelligence) to the inference of an unknowable cause (Divine Intelligence). For the atheist may well point out that, however objectionable his scientific method of reasoning may be on account of the symbolism which it involves, it must at any rate be preferable to the metaphysical method, in that its symbols throughout refer to known causes. With regard, then, to this stricture on the scientific method of reasoning, I conclude that although the caveat which it contains should never be lost sight of by atheists, it is not of sufficient cogency to justify theists in abandoning a scientific in favour of a metaphysical mode of reasoning.
How then does it fare with the other stricture, or the consideration that, "when the conclusion thus illegitimately evolved is confronted with the fact of cosmic harmony which it professes to explain, we find it to be beyond the powers of human thought to conceive of such an effect as due to such a cause"? The atheist may answer, in the first place, that a great deal here turns on the precise meaning which we assign to the word "conceive." For we have just seen that, by employing "symbolic conceptions," we are able to frame what we may term a formal conception of universal harmony as due to the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter. That is to say, we have seen that such universal harmony as nature presents must be regarded as an effect of the collective operation of general laws; and we have previously arrived at a formal conception of general laws as singly and collectively the product of self-evolution. Consequently, the word "conceive," as used in the theistic argument, must be taken to mean our ability to frame what we may term a material conception, or a representation in thought of the whole history of cosmic evolution, which representation shall be in some satisfactory degree intellectually realisable. Observing, then, this important difference between an inconceivability which arises from an impossibility of establishing relations in thought between certain abstract or symbolic conceptions, and an inconceivability which arises from a mere failure to realise in imagination the results which must follow among external relations if the symbolically conceivable combinations among them ever took place, an atheist may here argue as follows; and it does not appear that there is any legitimate escape from his reasonings.
'I first consider the undoubted fact that the existence of a Supreme Mind in nature is, scientifically considered, unnecessary; and, therefore, that the only reason we require to entertain the supposition of any such existence at all is, that the complexity of nature being so great, we are unable adequately to conceive of its self-evolution—notwithstanding our reason tells us plainly that, given a self-existing universe of force and matter, and such self-evolution becomes abstractedly possible. I then reflect that this is a negative and not a positive ground of belief. If the hypothesis of self-evolution is true, we should a priori expect that by the time evolution had advanced sufficiently far to admit of the production of a reasoning intelligence, the complexity of nature must be so great that the nascent reasoning powers would be completely baffled in their attempts to comprehend the various processes going on around them. This seems to be about the state of things which we now experience. Still, as reason advances more and more, we may expect, both from general a priori principles and from particular historical analogies, that more and more of the processes of nature will admit of being interpreted by reason, and that in proportion as our ability to understand the frame and the constitution of things progresses, so our ability to conceive of them as all naturally and necessarily evolved will likewise and concurrently progress. Thus, for example, how vast a number of the most intricate and delicate correlations in nature have been rendered at once intelligible and conceivably due to non-intelligent causes, by the discovery of a single principle in nature—the principle of natural selection.
'In the adverse argument, conceivability is again made the unconditional test of truth, just as it was in the argument against the possibility of matter thinking. We reject the hypothesis of self-evolution, not because it is the more remote one, but simply because we experience a subjective incapacity adequately to frame the requisite generalisations in thought, or to frame them with as much clearness as we could wish. Yet our reason tells us as plainly as it tells us any general truth which is too large to be presented in detail, that there is nothing in the nature of things themselves, as far as we can see, antagonistic to the supposition of their having been self-evolved. Only on the ground, therefore, of our own intellectual deficiencies; only because as yet, by the self-evolutionary hypothesis, the inner order does not completely answer to the outer order; only because the number and complexity of subjective relations have not yet been able to rival those of the objective relations producing them; only on this ground do we refuse to assent to the obvious deductions of our reason.
'And here I may observe, further, that the presumption in favour of atheism which these deductions establish is considerably fortified by certain a posteriori considerations which we cannot afford to overlook. In particular, I reflect that, as a matter of fact, the theistic theory is born of highly suspicious parentage,—that Fetichism, or the crudest form of the theory of personal agency in external nature, admits of being easily traced to the laws of a primitive psychology; that the step from this to Polytheism is easy; and that the step from this to Monotheism is necessary. If it is objected to this view that it does not follow that because some theories of personal agency have proved themselves false, therefore all such theories must be so—I answer, Unquestionably not; but the above considerations are not adduced in order to negative the theistic theory: they are merely adduced to show that the human mind has hitherto undoubtedly exhibited an undue and a vicious tendency to interpret the objective processes of nature in terms of its own subjective processes; and as we can see quite well that the current theory of personal agency in nature, whether or not true, is a necessary outcome of intellectual evolution, I think that the fact of so abundant an historical analogy ought to be allowed to lend a certain degree of antecedent suspicion to this theory—although, of course, the suspicion is of a kind which would admit of immediate destruction before any satisfactory positive evidence in favour of the theory.
'But what is 'the satisfactory positive evidence' that is offered me? Nothing, save an alleged subjective incapacity on the part of my opponent adequately to conceive of the fact of cosmic harmony as due to physical causation alone. Now I have already commented on the weakness of his position; but as my opponent will doubtless resort to the consideration that inconceivability of an opposite is, after all, the best criterion of truth which at any given stage of intellectual evolution is available, I will now conclude my overthrow by pointing out that, even if we take the argument from teleology in its widest possible sense—the argument, I mean, from the general order and beauty of nature, as well as the gross constituent part of it from design—even taking this argument in its widest sense and upon its own ground (which ground, I presume, it is now sufficiently obvious can only be that of the inconceivability of its negation), I will conclude my examination of this argument by showing that it is quite as inconceivable to predicate cosmic harmony an effect of Intelligence, as it is to predicate it an effect of Non-intelligence; and therefore that the argument from inconceivability admits of being turned with quite as terrible a force upon Theism as it can be made to exert upon Atheism.
'"In metaphysical controversy, many of the propositions propounded and accepted as quite believable are absolutely inconceivable. There is a perpetual confusing of actual ideas with what are nothing but pseud-ideas. No distinction is made between propositions that contain real thoughts and propositions that are only the forms of thoughts. A thinkable proposition is one of which the two terms can be brought together in consciousness under the relation said to exist between them. But very often, when the subject of a proposition has been thought of as something known, and when the predicate of a proposition has been thought of as something known, and when the relation alleged between them has been thought of as a known relation, it is supposed that the proposition itself has been thought. The thinking separately of the elements of a proposition is mistaken for the thinking of them in the combination which the proposition affirms. And hence it continually happens that propositions which cannot be rendered into thought at all are supposed to be not only thought but believed. The proposition that Evolution is caused by Mind is one of this nature. The two terms are separately intelligible; but they can be regarded in the relation of effect and cause only so long as no attempt is made to put them together in this relation.
'"The only thing which any one knows as Mind is the series of his own states of consciousness; and if he thinks of any mind other than his own, he can think of it only in terms derived from his own. If I am asked to frame a notion of Mind divested of all those structural traits under which alone I am conscious of mind in myself, I cannot do it. I know nothing of thought save as carried on in ideas originally traceable to the effects wrought by objects on me. A mental act is an unintelligible phrase if I am not to regard it as an act in which states of consciousness are severally known as like other states in the series that has gone by, and in which the relations between them are severally known as like past relations in the series. If, then, I have to conceive evolution as caused by an 'originating Mind,' I must conceive this Mind as having attributes akin to those of the only mind I know, and without which I cannot conceive mind at all.
'"I will not dwell on the many incongruities hence resulting, by asking how the 'originating Mind' is to be thought of as having states produced by things objective to it, as discriminating among these states, and classing them as like and unlike; and as preferring one objective result to another. I will simply ask, What happens if we ascribe to the 'originating Mind' the character absolutely essential to the conception of mind, that it consists of a series of states of consciousness? Put a series of states of consciousness as cause and the evolving universe as effect, and then endeavour to see the last as flowing from the first. I find it possible to imagine in some dim way a series of states of consciousness serving as antecedent to any one of the movements I see going on; for my own states of consciousness are often indirectly the antecedents to such movements. But how if I attempt to think of such a series as antecedent to all actions throughout the universe—to the motions of the multitudinous stars throughout space, to the revolutions of all their planets round them, to the gyrations of all these planets on their axes, to the infinitely multiplied physical processes going on in each of these suns and planets? I cannot think of a single series of states of consciousness as causing even the relatively small groups of actions going on over the earth's surface. I cannot think of it even as antecedent to all the various winds and the dissolving clouds they bear, to the currents of all the rivers, and the grinding actions of all the glaciers; still less can I think of it as antecedent to the infinity of processes simultaneously going on in all the plants that cover the globe, from scattered polar lichens to crowded tropical palms, and in all the millions of quadrupeds that roam among them, and the millions of millions of insects that buzz about them. Even a single small set of these multitudinous terrestrial changes I cannot conceive as antecedent a single series of states of consciousness—cannot, for instance, think of it as causing the hundred thousand breakers that are at this instant curling over on the shores of England. How, then, is it possible for me to conceive an 'originating Mind,' which I must represent to myself as a single series of states of consciousness, working the infinitely multiplied sets of changes simultaneously going on in worlds too numerous to count, dispersed throughout a space that baffles imagination?
'"If, to account for this infinitude of physical changes everywhere going on, 'Mind must be conceived as there' 'under the guise of simple Dynamics,' then the reply is, that, to be so conceived, Mind must be divested of all attributes by which it is distinguished; and that, when thus divested of its distinguishing attributes, the conception disappears—the word Mind stands for a blank....
'"Clearly, therefore, the proposition that an 'originating Mind' is the cause of evolution is a proposition that can be entertained so long only as no attempt is made to unite in thought its two terms in the alleged relation. That it should be accepted as a matter of faith may be a defensible position, provided good cause is shown why it should be so accepted; but that it should be accepted as a matter of understanding—as a statement making the order of the universe comprehensible—is a quite indefensible position."'
Sec. 47. We have now heard the pleading on both sides of the ultimate issue to which it is possible that the argument from teleology can ever be reduced. It therefore devolves on us very briefly to adjudicate upon the contending opinions. And this it is not difficult to do; for throughout the pleading on both sides I have been careful to exclude all arguments and considerations which are not logically valid. It is therefore impossible for me now to pass any criticisms on the pleading of either side which have not already been passed by the pleading of the other. But nevertheless, in my capacity of an impartial judge, I feel it desirable to conclude this chapter with a few general considerations.
In the first place, I think that the theist's antecedent objection to a scientific mode of reasoning on the score of its symbolism, may be regarded as fairly balanced by the atheist's antecedent objection to a metaphysical mode of reasoning on the score of its postulating an unknowable cause. And it must be allowed that the force of this antecedent objection is considerably increased by the reflection that the kind of unknowable cause which is thus postulated is that which the human mind has always shown an overweening tendency to postulate as a cause of natural phenomena.
I think, therefore, that neither disputant has the right to regard the a priori standing of his opponent's theory as much more suspicious than that of his own; for it is obvious that neither disputant has the means whereby to estimate the actual value of these antecedent objections.
With regard, then, to the a posteriori evidence in favour of the rival theories, I think that the final test of their validity—i.e., the inconceivability of their respective negations—fails equally in the case of both theories; for in the case of each theory any proposition which embodies it must itself contain an infinite, i.e., an inconceivable—term. Thus, whether we speak of an Infinite Mind as the cause of evolution, or of evolution as due to an infinite duration of physical processes, we are alike open to the charge of employing unthinkable propositions.
Hence, two unthinkables are presented to our choice; one of which is an eternity of matter and of force, and the other an Infinite Mind, so that in this respect again the two theories are tolerably parallel; and therefore, all that can be concluded with rigorous certainty upon the subject is, that neither theory has anything to gain us against the other from an appeal to the test of inconceivability.
Yet we have seen that this is a test than which none can be more ultimate. What then shall we say is the final outcome of this discussion concerning the rational standing of the teleological argument? The answer, I think, to this question is, that in strict reasoning the teleological argument, in its every shape, is inadequate to form a basis of Theism; or, in other words, that the logical cogency of this argument is insufficient to justify a wholly impartial mind in accepting the theory of Theism on so insecure a foundation. Nevertheless, if the further question were directly put to me, 'After having heard the pleading both for and against the most refined expression of the argument from teleology, with what degree of strictly rational probability do you accredit it?'—I should reply as follows:—'The question which you put I take to be a question which it is wholly impossible to answer, and this for the simple reason that the degree of even rational probability may here legitimately vary with the character of the mind which contemplates it.' This statement, no doubt, sounds paradoxical; but I think it is justified by the following considerations. When we say that one proposition is more conceivable than another, we may mean either of two very different things, and this quite apart from the distinction previously drawn between symbolic conceptions and realisable conceptions. For we may mean that one of the two propositions presents terms which cannot possibly be rendered into thought at all in the relation which the proposition alleges to subsist between them; or we may mean that one of the two propositions presents terms in a relation which is more congruous with the habitual tenor of our thoughts than does the other proposition. Thus, as an example of the former usage, we may say, It is more conceivable that two and two should make four than that two and two should make five; and, as an example of the latter usage, we may say, It is more conceivable that a man should be able to walk than that he should be able to fly. Now, for the sake of distinction, I shall call the first of these usages the test of absolute inconceivability, and the second the test of relative inconceivability. Doubtless, when the word "inconceivability" is used in the sense of relative inconceivability, it is incorrectly used, unless it is qualified in some way; because, if used without qualification, there is danger of its being confused with inconceivability in its absolute sense. Nevertheless, if used with some qualifying epithet, it becomes quite unexceptionable. For the process of conception being in all cases the process of establishing relations in thought, we may properly say, It is relatively more conceivable that a man should walk than that a man should fly, since it is more easy to establish, the necessary relations in thought in the case of the former than in the case of the latter proposition. The only difference, then, between what I have called absolute inconceivability and what I have called relative inconceivability consists in this—that while the latter admits of degrees, the former does not.