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THE TRANSMUTATION SCHOOL.
The attempt has frequently been made to describe or explain the origin of life on our globe, but in every instance the result has been a signal failure. In nature's first labours no midwife was present, and they who could per. suade us that they know the mysteries of her secret chamber, are all sooner or later detected as vain pretenders. History has here no information to give us; science can afford us no help; but rather, by enlarging our knowledge of the complexities of organization, and the multiplicity of their relations, increase our astonishment at the vastness of the subjects which have to be explained. We can only hope to describe things as they actually are, and to interpret their design ; and in doing this, scrupulously and faithfully, we shall always have our hands full ; but if we would go on to explain by what method and by what particular adaptations of matter animated beings were first endowed with form and life, we descend to the low level of the charlatan, and return to the obsolete pretensions of the alchemist and magician. Whenever the attempt is seriously made, we perceive that it is mainly by the instrumentality of verbal inaccuracies, by the free use of expressions of a large and indefinite meaning, by analogical and metaphori
cal appliances to establish facts, by bold inventions of phenomena which have no existence in nature, and by frequently taking for granted the proposition to be proved..
These are the expedients of the modern school ; but in remoter days the exposition was by mythos, presented as a sacred tradition for the acceptance of faith, and not meant as a physiological system for examination and approbation.
One of the most ancient and most popular theories taught that all creatures were formed out of the earth, by itself, and that in dying they returned to their parent, as is well expressed in a verse of Lucretius.
Omniparens eadem rerum commune sepulchrum. The Epicureans spoke as if they thought that the earth had originally created animals ; Lucretius, the interpreter of that school, says of the earth that it has grown effete, and that she who first created all races, and gave forth the great beasts, now scarcely creates very little animals.
Jamque adeo fracta est ætas, effoetaque Tellus
Sæcla, deditque ferarum ingentia corpora partu (ii. 1150). He also attributes to the earth the creation of the human race, and says that all terrestrial animals, as well as the birds, owe their birth to her, who therefore justly receives the title * of mother.
In the infancy of knowledge this opinion could scarcely be avoided : the earth seems to produce all trees and plants, and some animals also ; moreover, as no other solid substance but the earth seemed at hand, out of which solid
Quare etiam atque etiam maternum nomen adepta
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.