« PreviousContinue »
bodics could be made, they extended this obvious principle of creation to all animated nature. Hence animals and men were made out of the soil; and yet, as no creation of an animal had ever been witnessed, and as all the known races were of an antiquity vastly beyond any record or tradition, they supposed that the earth had now grown old, and having ceased to produce anything new, had lost her original fecundity.
This simple creed was not presented with any logical finesse. There was no disquisition about the meaning of creation, no subtle disputes about cause and effect, no perplexities about mind and matter, no chemical research into first elements, and no attempt to account for the modus operandi. It was the act of Tellus, or of Nature, and there they left it.
In these days the word 'creation’ has become suspicious to the scientific world, and is scarcely tolerated; but in the classical age, and even in a sceptical school, it was freely used. The motive of this modern sensitiveness is obvious; it originates in a desire to assume a free position,' as it is called, that is, independent of the least suspicion of biblical influence.
Long, however, before the Scriptures had any footing in Europe, very long, indeed, before they had ever been heard of out of the boundaries of Syria, many believed that a sile preme intellect had effected the great work of creation.
Anaxagoras, in the fifth century before the Christian era, is said to have been the first of the Greek philosophers who distinctly taught this. He was the first who introduced Mind for the distribution of matter; for in the beginning of his work, which is beautifully and magnificently composed, he says : "All things were commingled, then
came in Mind, and separated and arranged them.'* And Aristotle tells us † that he made Mind, the beginning of all things, saying that it alone, of all things, was simple, uncompounded, and pure. And to this beginning he attributes both knowledge and action, or the first movement, saying that Mind moved everything.'
This was the next step in advance : design argued a designer, and as they saw many excellent contrivances, many wonderful calculations, and proofs of surpassing knowledge in the works of nature, they came to the conclusion that a presiding Intellect was the author of all things. And to these limits, the question at issue may now be restrained. It is not requisite in disputing with the Transmutationists to go beyond the ancient battle-field, where the Stoics contended with the Epicureans, and where of old they fought the battle of mind against matter. The whole question is whether there be a design and a designer in the works of nature. I have no wish to push the inquiry beyond these limits.
In Cicero's admirable book on the nature of the gods, we find that the Epicureans held precisely the fundamental principle of the Transmutationists. In that work, Cotta, speaking to Velleius the Epicurean, says: 'You deny that reason had any share in the formation of things,'—(nihil enim in rerum naturâ ratione factum esse vultis, i. 32).
We have seen how carefully this doctrine is insisted on by Mr Darwin in his Origin of Species, and it is obvious that this must be sustained as the foundation for the whole superstructure of the theory.
The Stoics had various thoughts about the creative power, but they all held that it was intellectual and divine. Zeno held * that the law of nature was divine, and that it had the power to force us to what is right, and to restrain us from what is wrong—and the words of Seneca, the famous exponent of stoical morality, show us exactly the thoughts of his school on this subject. Whosoever,' + says he, 'was the former of the universe, whether it is that all-powerful Deity, or incorporeal Reason, that is the artificer of the great works, or the Divine Spirit diffused through all the greatest and the least of things, with an equal intention.'
The whole question, therefore, with the ancients, was the same as that which is now the subject of debate, whether Mind has invented and organized all things, or whether the autoplastic actions of irrational matter have elaborated the universe and its contents.
Now the Stoical side of the question is that of common sense, by the simple argument that a machine must have
• Zeno naturalem legem divinam esse censet, eamque vim obtinere recta imperantem prohibentemque contraria De Nat. Deoruin, 14.
† Quisquis formator universi fuit, sive ille deus est potens omnium, sive incorporalis Ratio ingentium operum artifex, sive divinus spiritus per omnia maxima minima æquali intentione diffusus. (Consolat. ad Helv. 8.)
Enough has been said in the text to explain the different tenets of the two ancient schools on the origin of things; it may, nevertheless, be interesting to hear Cicero's more extended account of the Stoic Doctrine, 'that universal nature, which embraces all things, is said by Zeno to be not only artificial, but absolutely the artificer, ever thinking and providing all things useful and proper ; and as every particular nature owes its rise and increase to its own proper seed, so universal Nature has all her motions voluntary, has affections and desires, productive of actions agreeable to them, like us, who have sense and understanding to direct us. Such is the intelligence of the universe.' (Nat. Deorum, xxii.) Here universal Nature and the Intelligence of the universe are obviously the divinity, approximating to Pantheism .
Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.
been designed by a mechanician, that a watch must have been made by a watch-maker; though, at the same time, it is possible to avoid this conclusion, as regards the productions of nature, by having recourse to the system of Buddhism, which ignores Creation and a Creator by a Pantheistic creed, considering Nature itself and everything that is in Nature divine and eternal, and therefore without commencement as identified with the Deity itself. To some it might appear that this* is the most skilful contrivance to avoid the idea of a creation, for though it is not tenable in close reasoning, yet it is the most plausible of all the plans that deny creation, and is considered satisfactory by many millions of the human race. It is however very far from the European mode of thought, being strictly characteristic of the oriental sphere of philosophy, and can never be made to approximate to our physiological inquiries.
With such mysterious speculations modern science has no sympathy; the current tends in the opposite direction, to find in irrational matter the power of self-creation without reason, and to ignore every possible phase of a demiurgic existence.
Writers of this class must frequently be reduced to the necessity of using a language that contradicts their theory, for in treating of the apparatus of nature it is impossible to repudiate the idea of design altogether, as the intention of certain contrivances is so manifest as to be beyond the possibility of doubt. No one therefore ever did, or ever
* I have somewhere read, that in the kingdom of Burmah within the last twenty years some learned men-six I think in number—were put to death by the king for teaching the impious doctrine of a Creator. To us this seems a strange use of the word ' impiety '- but in the Pantheistic creed the idea of a Creator will appear impious, for if it be accepted as certain that the Universe and the Deity are identical, it must seem impious to talk of creating such a universe.
could discourse at length of nature without admitting occasionally the idea of intention, and of certain objects obtained by certain expedients; but in the strictly Material School this ought not to be, as the first proposition of the sect is that all things are made without design, and are as we see them to be simply because they are so. Nevertheless all the disciples of all the Material Schools are continually lapsing into the language of their opponents, and though they are always · driving out“ Nature” with a fork,' yet is she always returning upon them again, and 'her object,'
her designs,' &c., again and again make their appearance, with an occasional protest that no real meaning is to be attached to such expressions, which are used in a wide metaphorical sense' easily understood.
'I consider,' said Cabanis, in speaking of the provisions for the reproduction of animals,—'I consider, with the great Bacon, the philosophy of final causes is sterile, but I have elsewhere acknowledged that it was extremely difficult for the most cautious man never to have recourse to them in his explanations.' And Dr Whewell has well observed, 'though the physiologist may persuade himself that he ought never to refer to final causes, we find that practically he cannot help it, and that the event shows that his practical habit is right and well-founded.
Saint Hilaire, a celebrated authority of the Antitheistic School, has said: 'I ascribe no intention to God, for I mistrust the feeble powers of my reason ; I observe facts merely, and go no farther; I only pretend to the character of what is ; I cannot make Nature as an intelligent beingwho does nothing in vain, who acts by the shortest mode, who does all for the best.'
A testimony which is well worth remembering, for we