Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

the course of formation, we know that the primary and transition rocks either show us the earth in the course of forma

tion, as the future seat of life, or exhibit such life as already begun.

"How far that which Astronomy thus asserts as possible, is probable-what is the value of these possibilities of life in distant regions of the universe, we shall hereafter consider; but in what Geology asserts, the case is clear. It is no possibility, but a certainty. No one will now doubt that shells and skeletons, trunks and leaves, prove animal and vegetable life to have existed. Even, therefore, if Astronomy could demonstrate all that her most fanciful disciples assume, Geology would still have a complete right to claim an equal hearing-to insist on having her analogies regarded. She would have a right to answer the questions of Astronomy, when she asks, How can we believe this? And to have her answer accepted." *

We regret that our space prevents our laying before the reader the masterly and deeply interesting epitome of geological discoveries contained in these two chapters. The stupendous series of these revelations may be thus briefly indicated:-That countless tribes of animals tenanted the earth for countless ages before Man's advent; that former ocean-beds now constitute the centres of our loftiest

mountains, as the results of changes gradual, successive, and long continued; that these vast masses of sedimentary strata present themselves to our notice in a strangely disordered state; that each of these rocky layers contains a vast profusion of the remains of marine animals, intermingled with a great series of fresh-water and land animals and plants endlessly varied-all these being different, not only in species, but in kind!-and each of these separate beds must have lasted as long, or perhaps longer, than that during which the dry land has had its present form.

The careful prosecution of their researches has forced on the minds of

geologists and naturalists" the general impression that, as we descend in this long staircase of natural steps, we are brought in view of a state of the earth in which life was scantily mani

* Essay, pp. 191, 192. § Ibid., p. 154.

fested, so as to be near its earliest stages."†

In the opinion of the most eminent geologists, some of these epochs of organic transition were also those of mechanical violence, on a vast and wonderful scale-as it were, a vast series of successive periods of alternate violence and repose. The general nature of such change is vividly sketched by the Essayist, in a passage to which we must refer the reader. When, continues the Essayist, we find strata bearing evidence of such a mode of deposit, and piled up to the height of thousands and tens of thousands of feet, we are naturally led to regard them as the production of myriads of years; and to add new myriads, as often as we are brought to new masses of strata of the like kind; and again to interpolate new periods of the same order, to allow for the transition from one group to another. §

The best geologists and naturalists are utterly at fault, in attempting to account for the successive introduction

of these numerous new species, at these immense intervals of time, except by series of distinct Acts of Creation. referring them to the exercise of a The chimerical notion of some natural cause effecting a transmutation of one series of organic forms into another, has been long exploded, as totally destitute of proof: and the doctrine of the successive CREATION of

species," says the Essayist," remains firmly established among geologists."|| There is nothing known of the cosmical conditions of our globe, to contradict the terrestrial evidence for its vast antiquity as the seat of organic life, says Dr Whewell: and then proceeds thus, in a passage which is well worth the reader's attention, and has excited the ire of Sir David Brewster :·

"If, for the sake of giving definiteness to our notions, we were to assume that the numbers which express the antiquity of these four periods-the present organic condition of the earth; the tertiary period of geologists which preceded that; the secondary period which was anterior to that; and the primary period which preceded the secondary-were on the same

[blocks in formation]

scale as the numbers which express these four magnitudes :-The magnitude of the earth; that of the solar system compared with the earth; the distance of the nearest fixed stars compared with the solar system; and the distance of the most remote nebulæ compared with the nearest fixed stars,-there is, in the evidence which geological science offers, nothing to contradict such an assumption. And as the infinite extent which we necessarily ascribe to space allows us to find room, without any mental difficulty, for the vast distances which astronomy reveals, and even leaves us rather embarrassed with the infinite extent which lies beyond our furthest explorations; so the infinite duration which we, in like manner, necessarily ascribe to past time, makes it easy for us, so far as our powers of intellect are concerned, to go millions of millions of years backwards, in order to trace the beginning of the earth's existence-the first step of terrestrial creation."

isted in any of the previous states of the earth.

To return, however, to the course of the argument. We hear the oppressed observer asking, as he reascends this "long staircase of natural steps" which had brought time down to the mystic origin of animal existence; his eye dimmed with its efforts to "decipher," in the picturesque language of Sir David Brewster," downwards, the pale and perishing alphabet* of the Chronology of Life" WHERE, ALL THIS WHILE, WAS MAN?

Secondly, That his history has occupied a series of years which, compared with geological periods, may be regarded as very brief and limited. Here opens the "Argument from Geology"-and with it Chapter VI.

That the existence of man upon the earth is an event of an order quite different from any previous part of the earth's history; and that there is no transition from animals to MAN, in even his most degraded, barbarian, and brutish condition, the Essayist demonstrates, with affecting eloquence, and with great argumentative power. No doubt there are kinds of animals very intelligent and sagacious, and exceedingly disposed and adapted to companionship with man; but by elevating the intelligence of the brute, we do not make it become that of the man; nor by making man barbarous, do we make him cease to be man. He has a capacity, not for becoming sagacious, but rational, -or rather he has a capacity for PROGRESS, in virtue of his being rational.

Were Europe at this moment to be submerged beneath the ocean, or placed under a vast rocky stratum, what countless proofs would present themselves to the exploring eyes of remote future geologists, of the existence of both Man and his handiwork!-of his own skeleton, of the products of his ingenuity and power, and the various implements and instruments with which he had effected them!

After adverting to Language, as an awful and mysterious evidence of his exalted endowments, and felicitously distinguishing instinct from reason, the Essayist observes that we need not be disturbed in our conclusions by observing the condition of savage and uncultivated tribes, ancient or modern-the Scythians and Barbarians, the Australians and Negroes. The history of man, in the earliest times, is as truly a history of a wonderful, intellectual, social, political, spiritual creature, as it is at present.† The savage and ignorant state is not the state of nature out of which civilised life has everywhere emerged: their savage condition is one rather of civilisation degraded and lost, than of civilisation incipient and prospective. And even were it to be assumed to be otherwise, that man, naturally savage, had a tendency to become civilised, that TENDENCY is an endowment no less wonderful than those endowments which civilisation exhibits.

When, however, we know not only

+ Essay, p. 188.

The rudest conceivable work of human art would carry us to any extent backward, but it is not to be found! Man's existence and history incontestably belong to the existing condition of the earth; and the Essayist now addresses himself to the two following propositions:

First, That the existence and history of man are facts of an Entirely Different Order from any which ex

* More Worlds than One, p. 52.

what man is, but what he may become, both intellectually and morally, as we have already seen; when we cast our mind's eye over the history of the civilised section of our race, wherever authentic records of their sayings and doings exist, we find repeated and radiant instances of intellectual and moral greatness, rising into sublimity -such as compel us to admit that man is incomparably the most perfect and highly endowed creature which appears to have ever existed on the earth.

"How far previous periods of animal existence were a necessary preparation

of the earth as the habitation of man, or a gradual progression towards the existence of man, we need not now inquire. But this, at least, we may say, that man, now that he is here, forms a climax to all that has preceded—a term incomparably exceeding in value all the previous parts of the series- a complex and ornate capital to the subjacent column-a personage of vastly greater dignity and importance than all the preceding line of the procession.” *

66

If we are thus to regard man as the climax of the creation in space, as in time, can we point out any characters," finally asks the Essayist, "which may tend to make it conceivable that the Creator should thus distinguish him, and care for him-should prepare his habitation, if it be so, by ages of chaotic and rudimentary life, and by accompanying orbs of brute and barren matter? If man be thus the head, the crowned head, of the creation, is he worthy to be thus elevated? Has he any qualities which make it conceivable that, with such an array of preparation and accompaniment "the reader will note the sudden introduction of these elements of the question, the "accompanying orbs!"" he should be placed upon the earth, his throne? Does any answer now occur to us, after the views which have been presented to us ? That answer," continues the Essayist, "is the one which has been already given:" the transcendent intellectual, moral, and religious character of man-such as warrants him in believing that God, in very deed,

* Essay, pp. 198-199. + Ante, p. 289.

is not only mindful of him, but visits him."†

This may be, the objector is conceived to say; but my difficulty haunts and harasses me: that, while man's residence is, with reference to the countless glistening orbs revealed by Astronomy, scarcely in the proportion of a single grain of sand to the entire terraqueous structure of our globe, I am required to believe that the Almighty has dealt with him, and with the speck in which he resides, in the awfully exceptional manner asserted in the Scriptures. Let us here remind and blasphemous, expression of this the reader of a coarser, and an insolent "difficulty," by Thomas Paine, already quoted :

"The system of a plurality of worlds renders the Christian faith at once little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air: the two beliefs cannot be held together in the same mind." With such an opponent Dr Whewell expressly states that he has no concern; he deals with a difficulty' felt by a friend:" wishing "rather to examine how to quiet the troubled and perplexed believer, than how to triumph over the dogmatical and self-satisfied unbeliever."

666

"Let the difficulty," he says, "be put in any way the objector pleases."

I. Is it that it is unworthy of the greatness and majesty of God, according to our conception of Him, to bestow such peculiar care on So SMALL A PART of His creation ? §

But a narrow inspection of the atom of space assigned to man, proves that He has done so. He has made the period of mankind, though only a moment in the ages of animal life, the only period of Intelligence, Morality, Religion. If it be contrary to OUR! conception of Him, to suppose Him to have done so, it is plain that these conceptions are wrong. God has not judged as to what is worthy of Him, as we have presumed to judge. He has deemed it worthy of Himself to bestow upon man this special care, though he occupy so small a portion of TIME-why not, then, though he occupy so small a portion of SPACE?

+ Ibid., p. 203. § Essay, p. 194.

II. Is the difficulty this:-That supposing the earth, alone, to be occupied by inhabitants, all the other globes of the universe are WASTED?-turned to NO PURPOSE ?*

giving such a peculiar dignity and importance to the earth is CONTRARY TO THE ANALOGY OF CREATION? †

This objection, be it observed, assumes that there are so many globes similar to the earth, and like her revolving,-some accompanied as she is, by satellites,-on their axis, and that therefore it is reasonable to suppose the destination and office of all, the same;-that there are so many stars, each, like our sun, a source of light, probably also of heat; and that it is consequently reasonable to suppose their light and heat, like his, imparted, as from so many centres of systems, to uphold life;-and that all this affords strong ground for believing all such planets, as well those of our own as of other systems, inhabited like our planet.

But the Essayist again directs the eye of the questioner to the state of our own planet, as demonstrated by Geology, in order to show the precariousness, if not futility, of supposing such an analogy to exist. It would lead us to a palpably false conclusion - viz., that during all the vast successive periods of the Earth's history, that Earth was occupied with life of the same order-nay, even, that since the Earth is Now the seat of an intelligent population, it must have been so in all its former conditions. For it was then able, and adapted, to support animal life, and that of creatures pretty closely resembling man in physical structure. Nevertheless, if evidence go for anything, the Earth did not do so! "Even," says Dr Whewell, "those geologists who have dwelt most on the discovery of fossil monkeys, and other animals nearest to man, have not dreamed that there existed, before him, a race of rational, intelligent, and progressive creatures."§ Here, however, he is mistaken, as we shall presently see Sir David Brewster revelling in such a dream. As, then, the notion that one period of time in the Earth's history must resemble another in the character of its population, because it resembles it in physical conditions, is negatived by the history of the Earth itself; so the notion that

Is "waste" of this kind to be considered unsuited to the character of our Creator? But here again we have the like "waste" in the occupation of this earth! All its previous ages, its seas and its continents, have been "wasted" upon mere brute life: often, apparently, on the lowest, the least conscious forms of life :-upon sponges, coral, shell-fish. Why, then, should not the seas and continents of other planets be occupied with life of this order, or with no life at all? Who shall tell how many ages elapsed before this earth was tenanted by life at all? Will the occupation of a spot of land, or a little water, by the life of a sponge, a coral, or an oyster, save it from being "wasted"? If a spot of rock or water be sufficiently employed by its being the mere seat of organisation, of however low and simple a type, why not, by its being the mere seat of attraction? cohesion? crystalline power? All parts of the universe appear pervaded by attraction, by forces of aggregation and atomic relation, by light and heat why may not these be sufficient, in the eyes of the Creator, to prevent the space from being "wasted," as, during a great part of the earth's past history, and over vast portions of its mass in its present form, they are actually held by Him to be sufficient? since these powers, or forces, are all that occupy such portions. This notion, therefore, of the improbability of there being in the universe so vast an amount of "waste" spaces, or "waste" bodies, as is implied in the notion that the earth alone is the seat of life, or of intelligence, is confuted by matter of fact, existing, in respect of vast spaces, waste districts, and especially waste times, upon our own earth. The avoidance of such "waste," according to our notions of waste, is no part of the economy of creation, so far as we can discern that economy in its most certain exemplification.

III. Is the difficulty this :-That

Essay, p. 195.
Even of monkeys, there have been found fossil remains.

+ Ibid., p. 196.

§ Essay, p. 197.

one part of the universe must resemble another in its population, because it has a resemblance in physical conditions, is negatived, as a law of creation. Analogy really affords no support to such a notion.

IV. Nay, continues Dr Whewell, * we may go further: instead of the analogy of creation pointing to such entire resemblance of similar parts, it points in the opposite direction: it is not entire resemblance, but universal difference, that we discover: not the repetition of exactly similar cases, but a series of cases perpetually dissimilar, presents itself: not constancy, but change- perhaps advance; not one permanent and pervading scheme, but preparation, and completion of successive schemes :-not uniformity, and a fixed type of existences, but progression and a climax.

Viewing the advent of Man, and what preceded it, it seems the analogy of nature that there should be inferior, as well as superior, provinces in the universe, and that the inferior may occupy an immensely larger portion of Time than the superior. Why not, then, of Space?

"The earth was brute and inert, compared with its present condition; dark and chaotic, so far as the light of reason and intelligence are concerned, for countless centuries before man was created. Why then may not other parts of creation be still in this brute and inert and chaotic state, while the earth is under the influence of a higher exercise of creative power? If the earth was for ages a turbid abyss of lava and of mud, why may not Mars or Saturn be so still? The possibility that the planets are such rude masses, is quite as tenable, on astronomical grounds, as the possibility that the planets resemble the earth, in matters of which astronomy can tell us nothing. We say, therefore, that the example of geology refutes the argument drawn from the supposed analogy of one part of the universe with another; and suggests a strong suspicion that the force of analogy, better known, may tend in the opposite direction." +

We have now gone through a large portion, embracing two of the three sections into which we had divided

* Essay, p. 198.

this startling Essay; presenting as full and fair an account of it as is consistent with our limits. Though the author professes that he "does not pretend to disprove the Plurality of Worlds, but to deny the existence of arguments making the doctrine probable," his undisguised object is to assign cogent reasons for holding the opposite to be the true doctrine-the Unity of the World. What has gone before is, moreover, on the assumption that the other bodies of the universe are fitted, equally with the Earth, to be the abodes of life. Before passing on, however, to the remaining section of the Essay, which is decidedly hostile to that assumption, let us here introduce on the scene Dr Whewell's only hitherto avowed antagonist, Sir David Brewster.

Though it is impossible to treat otherwise than with much consideration, whatever is published by this gentleman, we must express our regret that he did not more deliberately approach so formidable an opponent as Dr Whewell, and, as we are compelled to add, in a more calm and courteous spirit. We never read a performance less calculated than this Essay, from its modesty and moderation of tone, and the high and abstract nature of the topics which it discusses with such powerful logic, and such a profusion of knowledge of every kind, to provoke an acrimonious answer. It is happily rare, in recent times, for one of two philosophic disputants, to speak of the other's

[ocr errors]

exhibiting an amount of knowledge so massive as occasionally to smother his reason;""ascribing his sentiments only to some morbid condition of the mental powers, which feeds upon paradox, and delights in doing violence to sentiments deeply cherished, and to opinions universally believed;"§ characterising some of his reasonings as "dialectics in which a large dose of banter and ridicule is seasoned with a little condiment of science;" and an elaborate argument, of great strength and originality, whether sound or not, as "the most ingenious, though shallow piece

Ibid., pp. 199, 200.

More Worlds than One, p. 237, (we quote from the first edition). Ibid., p. 230. || Ibid., p. 240.

« AnteriorContinuar »