Imágenes de página
PDF

events, habituates the imagination to regard our planetary system as having probably been evolved, under the will of Providence, by the long operation of the established laws of matter.

It is quite a legitimate object of science, therefore, to view the laws of the physical world—whether they regard its mechanic movement, its chemistry, or its zoology—in their creative as well as reproductive -functions; and it is the purpose of a work lately published, entitled "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," and which has drawn to itself considerable attention, to collect and arrange whatever hints or fragments of knowledge science affords, enabling us to bring the successive phenomena of creation under the formula of general laws. In this purpose it is impossible to find a shadow of blame, and the work will probably answer one good end, that of directing the stndies of scientific men into paths but little or timidly explored. But unfortunately, what the author has collected as the results of science, are, in some instances, little else than the wild guess-work of speculation. He has no scruple whatever in imitating those early geographers, who, disliking the blank spaces of undiscovered regions, were in the habit in their charts

"Of placing elephants instead of towns."

Indeed, his book is an assemblage of all that is most venturous and most fanciful in modern speculation, in which the most conspicuous place is allotted to a modification of Lamarck's theory on the development of animal life.

The charge of an atheistic tendency, as it is the heaviest which can be made against a work, so it is the last which ought to be hazarded without sufficient cause. In general, owing to the very sacredness of the subject, we feel disposed, in all suspicious cases, to pass over in silence both accusation and defence; and if in the present instance we depart, for a moment, from this line of conduct, it is only to give expression to a conviction— which we share, we believe, with all who have both the interest of science and the interest of theology at

VOL. LVII. KO. CCCLIV.

heart—that the fair efforts 6T the scientific enquirer should never be impeded by needless objections of a theological character. What we mean is this: though a suspicion may cross the mind, that a writer docs not hold the religious tenets which we should desire to see every where advocated; yet if we are persuaded, at the same time, that this laxity of faith has no real logical connexion with the scientific results with which he is occupied, we ought not to inflict on them any portion of our suspicion or distrust. Wc shall always protest against confounding the legitimate attempts of science with the erroneous principles of certain schools of metaphysics, which may or may not be connected with them. If there is atheism in the world, we know whence it comes; we know well it is in a very different laboratory than that of the chemist that it has been distilled.

The unknown author before us, repeatedly protests against being numbered amongst atheistic philosophers; on our own part, we are thoroughly convinced that no formula of physical science could possibly interfere with a rational belief in the power and wisdom of God; what remains, then, but to treat his book purely in a scientific point of view?

To reduce to a system the acts of creation, or the development of the several forms of animal life, no more impeaches the authorship of creation, than to trace the laws by which the world is upheld and its phenomena perpetually renewed. The presumption naturally rises in the mind, that the same Great Being would adopt the same mode of action in both cases. If, for instance, the nebular hypothesis, to which we have already allnded, should be received as a scientific account of the proximate origin of our planetary system, this, as Mr Whewell has shown in his "Bridgewater Treatise," would serve only to enlighten and elevate our conception of the power of God. And indeed to a mind accustomed—as is every educated mind—to regard the operations of Deity as essentially differing from the limited, sndden, evanescent impulses of a human agent, it is distressing to be compelled to picture to itself the power of God as i

[graphic]

any other manner than in those slow, mysterious, universal laws, which have so plainly an eternity to work in; it pains the imagination to be obliged to assimilate those operations, for a moment, to the brief energy of a human will, or the manipulations of a human hand. Does not the lauguago even of a Christian poet, when he speaks of God as launcfiing from his ample palm the rolling planets into space, in some measure offend us? Do we not avoid as much as possible all such similitndes, as being derogatory to our notions of the Supreme?

There are still, indeed, some men of narrow prejndices who look upon every fresh attempt to reduce the phenomena of nature to general laws, and to limit those occasions on which it is necessary to conceive of a direct and separate interposition of divine power, as a fresh encroachment on the prerogatives of the Deity, or a concealed attack upon his very existence. And yet these very same men are daily appealing to such laws of the creation as have already been established, for their great proofs of the existence and the wisdom of God! Their imagination has remained utterly untutored by the little knowledge which they have rather learned to repeat than to apprehend. Whatever words they may utter, of subtle and high-sounding import, concerning the purely spiritual nature of the Divine Being, it is, in fact, a Jupiter Tonans clad in human lineaments, and invested with human passions, that their heart is yearning after. Such objectors as these can only be beaten back, and chained down, by what some one has called the brute force of public opinion.

Some little time ago men of this class deemed it irreligious to speak of the laws of the human mind; it savoured of necessity, of fatalism; they now appland a Dr Chalmers when he writes his Bridgewater Treatise, to illustrate the attributes of God in the laws of the mental as well as the physical world.

No, there is nothing atheistic, nothing irreligious, in the attempt to conceive creation, as well as reproduction, carried on by universal laws. For what is the difference between individual isolated acts, and acts capable of being expressed in a general

formula? This only, that in the second case the same act is repeated in constant sequence with other acts, and probably repeated in many places at the same time. The divine work is only multiplied. If the creation of a world should be proved to be as orderly and systematic as that of a plant, this may make worlds more common to the imagination, but it cannot make the power that creates them less marvellous.

But while we would reprove the narrowness of spirit that finds, in any of the discoveries of science, a source of disquietnde for the interests of religion, we have here an observation to make of an opposite character, which we think of some importance, and which we shall again, in reviewing the theories of our author, have occasion to insist upon. It is undoubtedly true that there rises in the minds of every person at all tinctured with science, a presumption that every phenomenon we witness might be, if our knowledge enabled us, reduced under the expression of some general law; and that whatever changes are, or have been, produced in the world, might be traced to the interwoven operations of such laws. But however prevalent and justifiable such a presumption may be, we hold it no sound philosophy to give it so complete a preponderance as to debar the mind from contemplating the possibility of quite other and independent acts of divine power, the possibility of the abrupt introduction in to our system of new facts, or series of facts, with their appropriate laws. The author before us, in his anxiety to explain, after a scientific manner, the introduction of life, and the various species of animals, into the globe, seems to have thought himself entitled to have recourse to the wildest hypothesis rather than to the immediate intervention of creative power; as if it were something altogether unphilosophical to suppose that there could be such a thing as a quite new development of that plastic energy. It is not even necessary that we should urge, that if a Creator exist, it is a most unwarrantable supposition to imagine that all his creative power has been exhausted. We say, even to an atheistic philosophy, that it is an nnau«

thorized limitation that would forbid the mind to contemplate the possibility of the uprise, in time, of entirely new phenomena. Can any philosopher, of any school whatever, be justified in saying, that there shall be no new fact introduced into the universe? —that its laws cannot be added to? Why should he recoil from the introduction of any thing new? If he is one whose last formula stands thus, whatever is, is—this new fact will also fall, with others, into his formula. Of this, also, he can say, whatever is, is. There is, we repeat, a strong presumption in favour of a scientific sequence, of an unbroken order of events; but this presumption is not to authorize any hypothesis whatever in order to escape from the other alternative, an immediate intervention of creative power. This, also, is a probability which philosophy recognises, and in which a rational mind may choose to rest till science brings to him some definite result.

We are very far from intending to follow the author of the Vestiges of the Natural History of the Creation through all the sciences along which his track has led him. We shall limit ourselves to what forms the most peculiar and startling portion of his work—to his theory of the origin and development of animal life.

But for the discoveries of geology a certain philosophy might have been content to say of the animal creation, that it was the law of nature that life should beget life—that reproduction, like nutrition, to which it has been assimilated, is a part of the definition of life—and that, as to a commencement of the various tribes of animals, we are no more bound to look for this than for the commencement of any other of the phenomena of nature. From the researches, however, of geology, it is evident that there was a time when this earth revolved around the sun a ban-en and untenanted globe —that there was a time when life did make its first appearance, and that in different epochs of the world's existence there have flourished very different species of animals than those which now inhabit it. Here, at all events, the imagination cannot gain that imperfect repose which it finds in the contemplation of an eternal series.

It is a plain historical fact, that life had a beginning on this earth, and that from time to time new forms of life, new species of vegetables and animals, have been introduced upon the scene. Here are two great facts to be accounted for, or to be left standing out, unconnected in their origin with that interlinked series of events which creation elsewhere displays. Life reproduces life, the plant its seed, the animal its young, each after its kind; such is the law; but this law itself, when was it promulgated, or when and how did it come into force and operation?

For ourselves, in the present imperfect condition of our knowledge, we are satisfied with referring life, in all its countless forms, at once to the interposing will of the Creator. We listen, however, with curiosity and attention to any theory which the naturalist or physiologist may have to propose, so he proceed in the fair road of induction. There is nothing in the laws of life which forbids, but much, on the contrary, which invites, to the same pains-taking examination which has been bestowed, with more or less success, on other phenomena of nature.

But what is the resolution of this problem which the author of the Vestiges proposes? Assuredly not one which indicates the boldness of advancing science, but one of those hardy conjectures which arc permitted to . arise only in the infancy of a science, and which show how clear tho field is, hitherto, of certain knowledge—how open to the very wantonness of speculation. Very little has been done towards determining the laws of life, and therefore the space is still free to those busy dreamers, who are to science what constructors of Utopias are to history and politics. His solution is simple chough, and with good reason may it be simple, since it depends on nothing but the will of its framer. The germ of life—that primary cell with its granule, in which some physiologists have detected tho first elementary form of life—he finds to be a product of chemistry. From this germ, cell, or animalcule, or whatever it may be culled, has been developed, in succession, all the various f existence—each form hay

[graphic]

propitious moment, given birth to the form just above it, which again has not only propagated itself, but produced an offspring of a still higher grade in the scale of creation. Thus the introduction of life, and the various species of animals, is easily accounted for. "It has pleased Providence to arrange, that one species should give birth to another, till the second highest gave birth to man, who is the very highest."—(P. 234.) Under favourable skies, some remarkable baboon had, we presume, a family of Hottentots, whose facial angle, we believe, ranks them, with physiologists, next to the brute creation; these grew, and multiplied, and separated from the tribes of the Simice; under a system of improved diet, and perhaps by change of climate, they became first tawny, and then white, and at last rose into that Caucasian family of which we here, in England, boast ourselves to be distinguished members.

Such a solution as this most people will at once regard as utterly unworthy of serious consideration. This progressive development is nowhere seen, and contradicts all that we do see; for no progeny, even amongst hybrids, was ever known to be of a superior order, in the animal creation, to both its parents. Such a proposed origin of the human race would be sufficient, with most of us, for its condemnation. "Give us at least," we exclaim, " a man to begin with—some savage and his squaw—some Iceland dwarf if you will, wrapt in his nutritious oils—something in the shape of humanity I" In short, it is a thing to be scoffed away, and deserving only of a niche in some future lIndiOras. But although the theory is thus rash and absurd, and requires only to be stated to be scouted, the author, in his exposition of it, advances some propositions which are deserving of attention, and for this reason it is we propose to give to his arguments a brief examination.

The theory divides itself into two parts—the production of organic life from the inorganic world; and the progressive development of the several species from the first simple elementary forms of life.

Spontaneous, or, as our author calls

it, aboriginal generation, is a doctrine neither new, nor without its supporters. But unfortunately for his purposes, the class of cases of spontaneous generation which appear to be at all trustworthy, are those in which the animaleule, or other creatures, have been produced either within living bodies, (entozoa,) or from the putrefaction of vegetable or animal life, the decay and dissolution of some previous organization. Here life still produces life, though like does not produce like. It is well known that, amongst some of the lower class of animals, as amongst certain of the polypi, reproduction is nothing more than a species of growth; a bnd sprouts out of the body, which, separating itself, becomes a new animal. With such an analogy before us, there appears nothing very improbable in the supposition that entozoa, and other descriptions of living creatures, should be produced from the tissues of the higher animals, either on a separation of their component parts when they decay, or on a partial separation when the animal is inflicted with disease. We make no profession of faith on this subject; we content ourselves with observing, that this class of cases, where the evidence is strongest, and approaches nearest to conviction, lends no support whatever to our author's hypothesis, and provides him with no commencement of vital phenomena. Of cases where life has been produced by the operation of purely chemical laws on inorganic matter, there are certainly none which will satisfy a cautious enquirer. If Mr Crosse or Mr Wcckes produce a species of worm by the agency of electricity, it is impossible to say that the germ of life was not previously existing in the fluid through which the electricity passed. When lime is thrown upon a field, and clover springs up, it is the far more probable supposition that the seed was there, but owing to ungenial circumstances had not germinated; for no one who has mentioned this fact has ventured to say that the experiment would always succeed, and that lime thrown upon a certain description of soil would in all parts of the world produce clover. Not to add, that it would be strange indeed if such an instance were solitary, and that other vegetation should not be produced by similar means.*

[ocr errors]

Vegetable and animal life, we ought here to mention, are considered by our author as both derived from the same elementary germ which branches out into the two great kingdoms of nature; so that it is,of equal importance to him to find a case of spontaneous generation amongst the plants as amongst the animals. We must, therefore, extend the observation we made on a certain class of cases amongst animals, to an analagous class of supposed cases of spontaneous generation amongst vegetables. If that downy mould, for instance, which the good housewife finds upon her pots of jam, be considered as a vegetable, and be supposed to have grown without seed, it would be somewhat analagous to the entozoa amongst animals; it would be a vegetation produced by the decay of a previous vegetation.

It is only necessary to recall to mind the instances which naturalists record of the minuteness of the seeds of life, and the manner in which they may lie for a long time concealed, in order to induce us to presume, in the majority of examples that are alleged of spontaneous generation, the previous existence of the seed or the germ. Take the following from Dr Carpenter's work on Comparative Physiology:—"Another very curious example of fungous vegetation, in a situation where its existence was not until recently suspected, is presented in the process of fermentation. It appears from microscopic examination of a mass of yeast, that it consists of a number of minute disconnected vesicles, which closely resemble those of the Red Snow, and appear to constitute one of the simplest forms of vegetation. These, like seeds, may remain for almost any length of time in an inactive condition without losing their vitality; but when placed in

a fluid in which any kind of sugary matter is contained, they commence vegetating actively, provided the temperature is sufficiently high; and they assist in producing that change in the composition of thefluid which is known under the name of fermentation."—P. . 74. With such instances before us, the experiments of Messieurs Crosse and Weekes must be conducted with singular care and jndgment, in order to lead to any satisfactory result.

Let us be allowed to say, that the experiments of those gentlemen excite in us no horror or alarm. A Frankenstein who produces nothing worse than a harmless worm, may surely be suffered to go blameless. Let these electricians pursue their experiments, and make all the worms they can. They will incur no very grave responsibility for such additionsasthey can make to that stream of life which is pouring from every crack and crevice of the earth. Some persons have a vague idea, that there is something derogatory to the lowest form of animal life to have its origin in merely inorganic elements; an idea which results perhaps not so much from any subtle and elevated conceptions of life, as from an imagination unawakened to the dignity and the marvel of the inorganic world. What is motion but a sort of life? a life of activity if not of feeling. Suppose—what indeed nowhere exists—an inert matter, and let it be snddenly endowed with motion, so that two particles should fly towards each other from the utmost bounds of the universe; were not this almost as strange a property as that which endows an irritable tissue or an organ of secretion? Is not the world one—the creature of one God —dividing itself, with constant interchange of parts, into the sentient and the non-sentient, in order, so to speak, to become conscious of itself? Are we to place a great chasm between the sentient and the non-sentient, so that it shall be derogation to a poor

* We were about to make some remarks on the alleged production of animated globules in albumen by electricity; but we find that, in a note to the third edition, the author virtually relinquishes this ground. Vie had made enquiries amongst scientific men; but no such experiment had been received or accredited amongst them.

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »