Imágenes de página

crude home-made machines, created their livelihood. In much the same way the religious philosopher holds that the benevolent atheist attributes to himself and his own innate self-righteousness a very great deal indeed. He prefers to believe himself the humble subordinate of a superior being that combines, in one personality, the best of all beings that ever lived.

There is common ground in the position, that even though a single mind might be able to comprehend all that has gone to the evolution and survival of the essentially humane type of man, no single personality could, if isolated, arrive at it by himself. There is a continuity that endures in the creative achievements of humanity, whether, as the theist believes, in the form of a personal Deity, or whether as a collective memory, engraved in type or ancient saga, and from which, whether we read or not, we can hardly escape. There seems very little between these views worth argument, and among educated modern peoples, were it not for the priests, religious differences would scarcely trouble the world.


There is, of course, a danger, since knowledge in these days is of necessity patchy, and first-class minds are rarely content with the known, but are the first to push off into the unknown, and so become specialists, that the mystery of life becomes automatically thrust out from those regions each has independently explored for himself into those known only at second-hand and by hearsay or from books. Thus, as a physicist or chemist, I hold that there is no mystery in the proper sense in the inanimate universe, and I put the Rubicon between mechanism and life. A biologist would probably have a very



great deal to say on this question, and conceivably might totally disagree. But, apart from extreme opinions on such a point, I think there is a growing tendency to distinguish between the mechanism of life and its conscious regulation. I think it would be admitted that a completeness of knowledge, equal to that in the processes of inanimate nature, with regard to the former, and even the artificial generation of life of a simple kind, would not necessarily add anything to the solution of the real mystery.

Once the Rubicon between the most complex non-living mechanism and the simplest living cell is crossed, the doctrine of evolution seems to point clearly to an unbroken road of development up to the higher expressions of life. On this view, the peculiar problems of religion and the human soul are not the most fundamental or incapable of enunciation. In man, it is true, we get hopelessly beyond the range of physical science, butin comparison with the simplest living organism, it is a difference between magnitudes alike infinite. Mechanism there is as before, and subconscious control for most complicated routine processes, but the mind can hardly be equal to the task of explaining itself to itself. The mechanical and even the animal or vital aspects have been thrust into the background by a developed personality, that consistently acts and tries to act-and therefore, in the language of science, already explained, is—a distinct being, resident in the body as a man may live in a house, and, if real, then by the canons of human thought, immortal. Thought, reasoning power, memory, free-will, the æsthetic perceptions of beauty and harmony, the ethical ideas of virtue, justice, duty, and self-sacrifice, and the spiritual aspirations of holiness and triumph over death, divide him from the simplest form of life. Science, assuredly, has a 1919

long road to travel from the stars to the kingdom of heaven. But there seems to be but the one chasm that cannot be crossed, and which, though the gulf ever narrows, still remains unbridged. As Tennyson has it

'Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."


The link in the chain that binds man and his destiny with the external universe is as dangerous to ignore as is the link forged by ethics and philosophy that connects man with his fellow-men and with the realm of spiritual things. Physical science divorces power from will, two very important functions that theology in the past has confused to the unutterable discomfiture of mankind. The will to perform, and, in the special sense that concerns human beings, the goodwill to perform good, is in its nature and origin alone an attribute of life. The power to perform is derived in toto from the inanimate world, however many elaborate metamorphoses it may undergo, and through however many organisms, vegetable and animal, it may pass before it reaches man.

The world that is dead vitally and spiritually is not dead physically. The moon, it is commonly supposed, is a dead world, though since the same sun shines upon it as upon us it cannot be really dead. It is in the present state of physics impossible to conceive of a physically dead world, that is to say, a world without any available source of energy. The discovery of radioactivity has revealed an immense




store of energy in the atoms of matter, compared with which all that hitherto has been known sinks into insignificance. In certain elements—those that show the property of radioactivity—this energy is being slowly given up. This has made, in certain departments of thought, a complete revulsion of outlook. Instead, for example, of the world gradually cooling by radiation it must be getting steadily hotter in its interior owing to the energy evolved by the radioactive elements it contains, unless there are unknown factors at work to compensate for this. A world without energy, in the present state of knowledge, implies a world without matter and, therefore, no world at all.

Hitherto it has been supposed that we were for ever cut off from the major sources of natural energy, which maintain throughout the ages the profligate expenditure from the sun and stars. The coal and oil from which the modern world derives its new powers represent but a limited legacy from the past, rather than a permanent increase in its income of energy. But the discoveries in radioactivity have shown that, in the smallest atoms of matter all around us, there exists stores of energy a million times greater than any so far harnessed. Limitless

physical power awaits humanity so soon as the Alimutan knowledge that shall lead to its control and applica

tion has been obtained. How many unrecorded ages elapsed before the energy of fuel was controlled, and in how short a space of subsequent time has it altered the whole mode of life of the world! Given a clear course and that most rare of national qualities, common sense, physical science can abolish the struggle for existence so far as concerns food and fuel.

But so far the pearls of science have been cast before swine, who have given us in return million

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


aires and slums, armaments and the desolation of

But let us turn to the other side of the picture. The use, rather than the abuse, of this control of the unlimited resources of Nature brings within the range of practicability the abolition of poverty, destitution and economic slavery of the many, in contrast to the few. Weighty enough influences still prevent any approach to the realisation of Utopia, but-and this should be written on every Church throughout the length and breadth of the land-they are not now physical but moral. The Churches, which should have been the first to welcome the possibility of making such a forward step, have still to be won over to the side of the humane man.

They have hitherto in this country proved themselves the most bigoted and powerful opponents of the science, which alone has been able to bring within the realm of practical politics for the masses the Christian principles to which they have rendered such devoted service as academic aspirations and ideals.

One of Huxley's truest and most profound remarks is contained in the Rectorial Address he delivered to the students of this university. “Men tre beginning, once more, to awake to the fact that matters of belief and speculation are of absolutely infinite practical importance.”

It is of the greatest practical sociological importance to ask ourselves whether or not we believe in God. If so, in what sort of a God — absolute,

exercising complete dominion over the soul and spirit of man, his mind, intellect and aspiration towards the beautiful, his body, over animals, vegetables, the inanimate universe of space and time, matter, energy, the ether and electricity? A religion that on the most important questions of everyday life has nothing to say, either definite or constructive,

« AnteriorContinuar »