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In attempting to solve this problem, the philosophers of all ages have exerted their strongest powers of analysis and investigation; and, as a consequence to be anticipated, several different hypotheses have been formed on the subject, which, though they may not prove to be satisfactory in themselves, are nevertheless indications of much profound thought on the part of their authors. The first theory which should be noticed in this connection is that of the eternity of matter. This, as it appears from historical records, has quite an ancient origin, and may be traced through most of the schools of Greece. “If,” says a noted writer, “we search into the systems of all the ancient schools of philosophy, amid an infinite variety of different opinions in other respects, we find them, perhaps without an exception, concurring in a belief of the eternity of matter, or that general substance which constitutes the visible world around us; which was sometimes conceived to be intelligent in many of its corpuscles, and unintelligent in the rest, as was taught by Democritus, sometimes intelligent as a whole, though unintelligent in its separate parts, as taught both by Aristotle and Plato; and sometimes unintelligent in all its parts and particles, whether united or disjoined, which formed the dogma of Epicurus. Under some modification or other, however, the doctrine of the eternity of matter appears to have been universal among the philosophers of ancient nations.”
This hypothesis is one which we might suppose would be naturally first generated in the contemplations of materialistic minds. Wiewing external matter as comprehending the entire realm of being, and having no conception of the existence of an essence more refined than the particles of which matter is
composed, they were in a measure compelled to regard that as eternal, which they were unable to trace to a more sublimated source. The theory here referred to, therefore, is a good representative of the materialism of the age in which it originated. When the mind ascends to a spiritual plane of thought, it can easily perceive the difficulties with which such a theory is beset. Matter, in all its visible and tangible forms, is constantly undergoing the process of change. Even the very particles which make up its whole, become etherealized into an impalpable substance which extends beyond the reach of the senses. For this reason matter can not be eternal in its tangible or compound state, as otherwise it could not be reduced to an inappreciable form. But when we come to ascertain the primitive and substantial basis of matter, extending our view beyond its temporary and changing forms to the refined and spiritual essence into which it is capable of being resolved, we can recognize the fact that this alone has an eternal existence, as the medium through which the Divine intelligence is expressed, and through which also all external matter is moved and governed. To assert the absolute eternity of matter in any other sense than this, is to make a theory which can not stand the test of reason. The difficulties which lie in the way of such a theory, are ably set forth by the author before alluded to, as follows: “We may regard matter as essentially and eternally intelligent, or as essentially and eternally unintelligent; as essentially intelligent in its several parts, or as essentially intelligent as a whole. The dilemma is equal in all these cases. Matter can not be intelligent as a whole, without being intelligent in every atom, for a concourse of unintelligent atoms can never produce intelligence; but if it be intelligent in every atom, then are we perpetually meeting with unintelligent compounds resulting from intelligent elements. If, again, matter be essentially eternal, but at the same time essentially unintelligent, both separately and collectively, then, an intelligent principle being traced in the world, and even in man himself, we are put into possession of two coèternal independent principles, destitute of all relative connection and common medium of action.” It will be observed that the theory which this reasoning is designed to explode, proposes to remove the necessity of any Divine agency in the work of creation. This, however, only shows the tendency of the human mind to extremes, when its exalted intuitions are not unfolded. Rejecting all conception of a Being which the senses can not comprehend, it blindly ascribes to gross and senseless matter, the very qualities which can alone exist in a supreme Intelligence. But if the material theory of creation represents an extreme, it is not more so than the prevalent theological hypothesis on this subject. The proposition contained in this hypothesis is, that all the various forms of the visible Universe have been created by the Divine Being from absolute nothing. When it is said in the Primitive Record, that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” it is supposed that, previous to their introduction into being, the illimitable expanse was simply an empty and unbroken void, which contained not even the least particle of any substance whatever; and that from this vast but exceedingly unsubstantial source, the Divine Will, in its great omnipotence, brought forth the innumerable forms that fill immensity. In accordance with this theory, Dr. John Mason Good, who may be recognized as one of its prom
inent advocates, offers the following remarks:*—“So far from intimating any absurdity in the idea that matter may be created out of nothing by the interposition of an almighty intelligence, reason seems, on the contrary, rather to point out to us the possibility of an equal creation out of nothing of ten thousand other substances, of which each may be the medium of life and happiness to infinite orders of beings. . . . . . Matter, then, we are compelled to regard as a substance created out of nothing by an intelligent first cause; himself immaterial, selfexistent, eternal, and alone.” Now the mind that is true to the order and wisdom of nature, will perceive that the proposition here advanced, that something can spring from nothing, involves a self-contradiction and impossibility. But exclaims our author, “This is only to argue in a circle; for why is it a self-contradiction, or an impossibility?” The answer is, that the proposition is contrary to the first principles of reason— that it overthrows the very basis on which reason begins to act, and hence that it is known to be absurd in the same manner as the affirmation that two and two make six would be known to be so. If the science of numbers be correctly established, then nought multiplied by itself, or by any given number, will produce nought ; and this process might be continued to infinity with the same result. We may safely presume, then, that a whole infinitude of nothing would be insufficient for the production of a single form of matter. It may be said indeed that Deity is omnipotent, and hence can produce such results as He desires, without reference to any impossibilities conceived by earthly minds. But even the omnipotence of Deity can not act in contrariety to absolute necessities, or in violation of the established principles of being; and therefore that omnipotence might be exercised on nothing through etermity, and, because it acts alone, it would remain alone,—because it is associated with no object, it would produce no effect. Besides, in the theory under consideration, the mind is required to grasp that which lies entirely beyond its reach. It is impossible, as before explained, to conceive of nothing. The attempt to do this is at once productive of mental confusion. There must first be established some basis on which the mind may rest, or it can not think. The soul, being . a substance in itself, must have something on which to act, otherwise its powers can not be exercised. Hence the idea of absolute nothing constituting the empty void of space, can never be comprehended by the human mind, inasmuch as every conception which it is able to form, implies by necessity an entity to be conceived. It is useless and unreasonable, therefore, to affirm that the Universe was derived from nothing, when the mind has really no power to conceive of such an origin.
* Good’s Book of Nature, page 32.
But it is still further evident that no substance can originate from nothing, because there are contained in this no elements, essences, or forces from which matter may be derived. All substances, whether visible or invisible, must be formed of necessity from some preexistent germ, in which their constituent elements are embosomed in an undeveloped state. This lesson is clearly unfolded in the process by which all forms are produced on the earth. The plant, the flower, and the tree are developed from the elements and forces existing in the seed from which they originate. Without some original germ from which to spring, these forms could never have been created. And so the very law by which the process of growth