Page images
PDF
EPUB

LECTURE VIII.

RELATION OF SCIENCE TO OUE CONCEPTIONS OF DIVINE INTERPOSITION FOR MORAL GOVERNMENT IN THE WORLD.

'I ""HE view given in previous lectures of the

most prominent features of the recent advances in scientific knowledge most intimately concerning our religious conceptions of the origin and government of the world, may afford some aid towards forming a judgment of the points of contact and apparent conflict. A brief summary will afford the best introduction to the lines of inquiry with which the present discussion may be brought to a close.

First, as to the inorganic in the universe, recent investigations favor the conclusion that neither the matter in the world, nor the enT ergy, can be increased or diminished by operation of any laws known to apply to such existence. The laws under which these two forms of being hold their place in the world involve only change of distribution and relation. Both matter and energy are, however, perpetually undergoing change or transformation, and whether the change be for the better or for the worse in the history of the universe as a whole, the fact of unceasing change in subordination to fixed law, is clear evidence that matter and energy are not eternal or self-subsisting, but are dependent on some transcendent existence imposing the laws determining their relations.

[graphic]

Second, as to organized existence, recent researches go to prove that there is in all animals a measure of adaptability to surrounding conditions of life, providing for " adaptive changes" in the organism, which become fixed, and are transmitted to succeeding generations of the same order under the law of heredity. On warrant of the evidence for this, it is to be taken as certain that the various orders of animals now familiar to us did not at first come into being with all the characteristics now pertaining to them. The law of their life has provided for a progression in development, in accordance with which we have distinct orders of the pigeon, the dog, and the horse, with variations in animals of every class. This law of development, applicable to all animal life, admits of greater or less diversity of result in the history of distinct races, according to the complexity of the organism.

Third, as to the relations of different orders in the scale of animal life, it is proved that all vital organism has been modelled on a common plan as appears in the arrangement and functions of the nerve system, providing for sensibility and motor activity. In accordance with this, we find in different orders of animal life not merely analogies or resemblances in structure, but homologies or examples of complete identity of structure and function. Thus the brain, and the two sets of nerve lines, namely sensory and motor, are the same in nature and functions in all animals, from the frog to man inclusive, and they differ only in complexity of arrangement within the central organ, and extent of ramification of the nerve lines. Diversity of nature thus far appears in the relative complexity of organism. This is a conclusion which assigns to man his place in the scale of animal life; that is, in so far as we regard man exclusively by reference to his animal nature, he stands highest in the scale of organism,—first in rank, judged simply by complexity of brain structure, and minuteness of nerve system.

Fourth, in respect of moral life, that is, ability to contemplate a law of life absolutely authoritative as well as universally applicable amongst intelligent beings,—such for example as the law of benevolence; ability to control the whole animal nature so as to subject it to this higher law of benevolence; ability to strive after the harmonizing of all dispositions and actions in accordance with the law of benevolence,—man occupies a distinct place in the order of beings existing in the world, no other living being standing associated with him. There are innumerable forms of organized being in the world; but only a single representative of moral life in it. No being save man contemplates a general law of life, making its fulfilment a deliberate end of action; no being save man possesses a conception of duty or oughtness, which, if it be regarded simply as an intellectual exercise, can be apprehended only under application of a law of conduct such as benevolence. That man stands entirely alone in these respects, and is, therefore, to be ranked as a distinct order of being, appears from the following definite lines of evidence: no animal contemplates a general law of conduct, or intelligible rule of life applicable for the government of the order to which it belongs; no animal subordinates physical impulse at the bidding of such a law; no animal aims at the perfecting of its nature under a general conception of the excellence of its own nature, as dog, horse, or ape. Therefore we conclude that man alone of all living beings known to us in this world is a moral being.

Taking now these four aspects of existence as known to us in this world,—without advancing to deal directly with the phases and conditions of religious life,—the whole four can be freely accepted by religious men in strict harmony with all the requirements of religious thought. The three first named are distinct advances in the history of physical science, and will be generally admitted to include the most important accessions to our knowledge of the physical universe having any bearing on the conceptions lying at the basis of religious thought. The fourth is the

« PreviousContinue »