John Wesley.

A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy .. (Volume 3) online

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extremely ingenious, ai d full as probable as any other.
Before I conclude, permit me, sir, to give you one
piece of advice. Be not so positive: especially with re-
gard to things which are neither easy nor necessary to be
determined. I ground this advice on my own experi-
ence. When I was young I was sure of every thing. In
a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was
not half so sure of most things as before. At present I
am hardly sure of any thing, but what God has revealed
to man.

Upon the whole, an ingenious man may easily flourish
on this head. How much more glorious it is for the
great God to have created innumerable worlds, than this
little globe only ! But after all, I would ask one piain
question. Suppose there are more worlds than there are
sands on the sear shore? Is not the universe finite still ?
It must be, unless it be God. And if it be finite, it caa
4



265

still bear no proportion to him that is infinite : no more
than this ball oi ; earth docs. How large soever it be,
still compared to him it is as nothing: as the small dust
of the balance. Do you ask then what is this spot to
the great. God ? Why, as much as millions of systems.
Great and little have place, with regard to us: but be-
fore him they vanish away. Inlarge the bounds of cre-
ation as much as you please, still it is but a drop to the
Creator.

And still the power of his Almighty hand,
Can form another world from every sand !

Yet were this done, there would be no more propor-
tion between the world and its Crealor, than there is now !

It will easily be observed that 1 do not; deny, but only
doubt of the present s\stem of astronomy. But the in-
genious Mr. Kennedy goes much farther in his astrono-
mical chronology. I beg leave to present the im-
partial searchers after truth, with a short extract from it/

<s Although many persons of great abilities have
thought sacred chronology worthy their most diligent
researches, yet they have all failed in the main point.
They have taken it for granted, that the scriptural com-
putations are quite umibtronomical. The title of The
World's Chronology, has been fixed to very different col-
lections of years, without looking for any astronomical
era, to support the title. This is the iiist attempt of
that kind which has been made.

" I have lately proved the fundamental proposition of
the following scheme, namely, that Moses fixes the posi-
tion of the sun and moon with regard to each other at
the creation. And this revealed position of the sun
and moon, with respect to each other at the creation, I
call the scriptural, astronomical era.

" By means of this era we may keep even pace with
the two great luminaries, from the first year of the world
till now. And till now my conclusions are confirmed,



266

by the joint attestations of the sun and moon, the two
faithful witnesses in heaven.

' BN i tse it is tuil) proved, that time commenced at
our aiituiLiuii equinox, at the fourth day of the creation,
at the full moon, or the fifteenth dav/ or the first month
of the first lunar year.

<f From the autumnal equinox at the creation to the
same in 176 '1, have elapsed 576'8 vears. Indeed, Capel-
lus supposes time to commence two years, archbishop
Usher tour years later. But could ihe error ot a single
year be discovered in the series I have collected, all
would fall to the ground.

" Touching the common astronomy, I observe,
1. Astronomers still divide the ecliptic into 360 degrees.
But how unnaturally ? Three hundred and sixty de-
grees, i nd near one fourth, are undeniable more corres-
pondent to the sun's annual motion. And upon this di-
vision we can make a truer calculation, than can be
made upon any other.

" 2. The inequality of solar tropical years, and the
inequality of the equations of natural days, are estab-
lished doctrines. But whoever computes the times of
equinoxes and solstices, and subtnits his calculations to
the test of the latest and best observations, will find no
room for any equations at all.

" 3. Astronomers unanimously maintain, that at the
end of nineteen lunisolar j-ears, the mean new moons,
and the mean full moons happen, ''bout an hour and a
half sooner than they did ai the beginning of the cycle.
On the contrary, I undertake to evince, that the very
reverse of this is true. I allow that at the end of nine-
teen lunisolar \ea;s, the moon departs from the sun I
but it departs fr'-m it, not by a retrocession westward,
but b^ a progression eastward. That is, the mean new
moons and the mean full moons fall out, not an hour
and a half sooner, but almost two hours iater. There*
fo.t. -lit doctrine of lunar anticipations has no founda-
tion m nature.



267

" 4. Although the quantity of a solar tropical year is
a conclusion in astronomy, yet such an unhappy fatality
has attended this 'research, for almost two thousand
years past, that whoever examines the vast variety of
opinions, must see nothing has yet been determined with
certainty. So th.it instead of a precise aud established
definition, he finds liltle more than this general account,
that the quantity of the natural year has been long and
much sought after, but with small success : so that it
seems at this day to remain among the yet undiscovered
secrets of nature.

" Indeed to know this with ail exactness, one would
think no more is needful than to examine the tables of
observations. Let us tl>en examine that made by Tycho
Brahe, in queeit Elizabeth's time, and that J)y doctor
Bradley a hundred and seventy years after. But in Ty*
clio's table of twelve terminations, seven of them differ
a minute from the other five. And this difference per-
plexes the conclusion, and leaves it in a state of uncertain-
ty. Proceed we then to Dr. Bradlcy's tables. But thea;
leave a latitude of twenty-one minutes. Thus we see
how imperfect the knowledge even of the solar tropical
year still is, and that no true judgment can be formed
concerning it, either from observation or tabular calcu-
lation.

" 5. It requires no small skill, even to determine the
distances of the sun's four stations, at the vernal and
autumnal equinox, and the summer and winter sol-
stice. Nay, it is a question whether this determination
likewise must not still be reckoned among the secrets of
nature.

" And if we should correct the tables of these by
Dr. Xeil's rule, yet this very correction leaves as four dif-
ferent measures according to the majority of Tyrho
Brali e's corrections, according to Sir Isaac Newton's, Dr.
Halley's, and Dr. Bradley's corrections. So that still we
come to no certainty, oven as to the solar stations. We
are at attend, like a traveller, who arriving at a place

VOL. III. N



268

tvhere four ways meet, is at a full stop, for want of a
clear distinction, which of them to take.

" 6. The greatest astronomers are not agreed, even
as to the length of a natural day.

" Mr. Ferguson observes,

" The fixed stars appear to go round the earth in
twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, and four seconds,
and the sun in twenty-four hours. Therefore in three
hundred and sixty-five days, measured by the returns of
the sun to the meridian, there are three hundred and sixty-
six days, as measured by the stars returning to it. The
former are called solar days, the latter sidereal. But
whoever will compare this with the determinations of
Dr. Keil, will find them flatly contradictory to each
other. And the farther he examines the most celebrated
writings, the more deeply lie will be convinced, that
neither the precise length of a sidereal day, nor the com-
plement of the solar, has yet been determined with cer-
tainty/'

Whoever desires to see these propositions proved at
large may have recourse to the book itself. But if these
things are so, what becomes of the whole fabric of even
Newtonian astronomy ? How can I depend on the calcula-
tions of those concerning the motions of the heavens,
who know so little about the earth I What instructions
can they give me concerning other systems, who are so
unskilled with regard to our own ? Why does not some
eminent astronomer undertake this daring man, who so
violantly attacks the very foundation of their building 1
For if his remarks are just, sensible men will be inclined
to think, that after all the parade of mathematical de-
monstration, there is little more certainty in astronomy
itself, than even in jadicical astrology !

And how just are the great Mr. Boyle's remarks, upon
the whole of natural philosophy ? " The most, says
he, even of modern virtuosi, fancy more certainty in
their physical theories than a critkal examiner will find*



369

I will touch only on two subjects, which we commonly
think are, and which surely ought to be, most thoroughly
understood: I menu, the ivature of the body in genera!,,
and the nature of sensation. As to the first, since we
turn ourselves no way, but we are invironed by co.rporeal
substances one would think un object that so many ways
affects our senses, should be perfectly known to us. And
yet the notion of the body in general, or what it is that
discriminates bodies from other substances, is not by any
means agreed even among the modern philosophers. And
Indeed, no account of it, which has yet been given, wilt
extricate us out of the difficulties of that no less per-
plexed than famous dispute, " Of the Composition of
Bodies." But the difficulties attending this, will, till
they are removed, spread a thick niffht over I lie notion
of bodies in general. For either a corporeal substance
is divisible into extended parts, and each of these divisi-
ble into other parts smaller and smaller, ad infinitnm, or
this division must stop somewhere. But there are in-
conveniences, not to say absurdities urged against either
of these suppositions. The objections on both sides are
so strong that the most sensible and candid men, after
having 'tired themselves and their readers with striving
to solve them, have at length owned them to be inso-
luble.

" But though we do not understand the nature of
bodies in general, must we not perfectly understand what
passes within ourselves, in reference to the particular
bodies we daily see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and
touch? These we know by our senses: but how little
do we know of the manner wherein our senses inform
us of any thing 7 Sensation we allow is not performed
by the organ, but by the mind perceiving the motion
produced in the organ. Ask then a philosopher how
the soul comes to be wrought on, and that in such vari-
ous manners, by those external bodies, which are the ob-
jects of our senses? He will tell you, that by the im-
pression on the organs, they variously move the nervous
fibres, wherewith those parts are endowed, by which the
oiotiwa is propagated to the brain : where these motions



270

being perceived by the soul, become sensations, through
the intimate union of the soul with the body. Hut give
me leave to take notice that this union of an incorporeal
with a corporeal substance, is a thing so ('itricult to com-
prehend, that the profoundest secrets of theology, not to
say the incarnation itself, are not more abstruse than
this. For how can we conceive that a substance purely
immaterial, should be united without any medium (and
in this case there can be none) with a body that cannot
possibly lay hold on it, and which it can pervade, and
fly away from at plea -lire? And it is almost as difficult
to conceive, how any part of the body, without except,
ing the animal spirits of the brain (for these are as truly
corporeal as the other parts) can make impression on
substance perfectly incorporeal, and which is not affected
by the motions of any parts but the nerve. Nor is it a
small difficulty to conceive how a finite spirit, can either
move, or (which is much the same thing) regulate anc
determine die motion of the body.

" And suppose the soul in the brain does perceive the
different motions communicated to the senses, yet this*
though it may give some account of sensation in general,
does not give us any satisfactory reasons of particular
sensations. For if I demand, for instance, when I look
on a bell that is ringing, such a motion, in the brain pro-
duces in the mind the perception of seeing and not hear-
ing, and another motion coming from the same bell al
the same time, produces in the mind, the perception of
hearing, aud not seeing : what can be answered, but that
such is the good pleasure of the Author of Nature?
And if we ask about the differing objects of any orte
sense, as, why the light reflected from snow, produces a
sensation of whiteness rather than redness ? Why cas-
tor produces a stink, and not a perfume ? Why sweet
things generally please, and bitter disgust us? Nay,
whv a little of some objects (suppose fire) will give plea-
sure, a little more of them give pain? To these and a
thousand other questions of the same kind, it can only
be answered, such is the nature of man. So plain is it,
that we are yet to seek both for the definition of a



271

poreal substance, and* for a satisfactory account of the
manner of our own sensations. Yet without the true
notion of a body, we cannot understand the object of
physics in general: and without knowing the nature of
the sensation, we are ignorant of that, from which we
derive almost ail that we know of any body in parti-
cular.

" And as our philosophical knowledge is not very
deep, not reaching with any certainty to the bottom of
the most obvious things, nor penetrating to their inmost
nature : so it is not very wide, not being able to give us
with any clearness or particularity, an account either of
the celestial parts of the world, or of the deeply subter-
raneous parts of which the superficial part is but a small,
not to say contemptible portion. As 'to the very globe
\ve inhabit, (not to mention how many plants and mi-
nerals we are wholly ignorant of, and Aiovv many others
we are but slenderly acquainted with) the objects about,
which our enquiries angl experiments are conversant all
belong to the superficial parts of the globe, of which the
earth known U us is but the crust. But what the iuter-
cal part of it is, we no more know, than what is the sub-
stance of the remotest stars. Even among the moderns
some think the internal part of it, is pure elementary
earth ! Others imagine it to be fire, the receptacle of
natural, or hellish flames. Others will have the earth to be
a solid magnet ; while others br-lieve it at once was fixed
star: and that though it is now degenerated into a planet,
yet its internal parts are of the same nature us before :
the cliange proceeding only from thick spots that cover it,
(like those frequently observed upon the sun) by the
condensation whereof the firm earth, whic!> we inhabit,
was formed. And it is as difficult to demonstrate the
fcils hood, as the truth, of each of these jarring opinion?.
For whereas it is at least three thousand five hund red
miles to the centre of the earth, it does not appear, that
men have been able to penetrate towards it either by
land, or by sea, above one, or two miles at the most, and
that not in above three or four places. So that as yet \ve
have not penetrated any thing deep upon the husk, with-
Ji 3,



272

cut at all reaching the kernel of the globe. And what
is this globe, of which itself we know so little, to those
vsst globes of which we know much less ? For though
the former astronomers give us their distances and mag-
nitudes as exactly as if they had measured them, yet the
latter mathematicians give us reason to doubt of what
those have delivered. For since we can observe no pa-
rallax in the fixed stars, (nor perhaps in the highest pla-
nets) we must still be to seek for a method to measure
the distance of those bodies. And not only the Coper-
uicar.s make it many hundred thousand miles greater
than the Ptolemeans, but Rice) ol us makes it vastly
greater than the Copernicans themselves. Nor can we
wonder at these huge discrepances (though some amount
to many millions of miles) when v>e consider that astro-
nomers do not measure the distance of the fixed stars,
by their instruments, but each accommodates the distance
of them to his peculiar hypothesis. From this uncertainty
of the distance of tlie fixed stars, it is easily inferred, that
we are not sure of their bulk : no, not even in reference
to one another : since it is doubtful whether the different
sizes they appear to be of, proceed from an inequality of
bulk, or only from an inequality of distance. But besides
these, there are divers things relating to the stars, so remote
from our knowledge, that they are not even enquired into :
such as these, vvhy the number of the stars is neither
greater nor less thaa it is? Why so many of them arc so
placed, as not to be visible to the naked eye? Why of
the visible ones, so many are in one part of the sky, and
so few in others ? Why they are not placed in some ci-
der, but scattered over the sky, as if it were by chance 1
Many questions might be added, as concerning the stars,
SD concernirg the interstellar parts: as whether they
are empty, save where they are pervaded by light, or
- filled with ethereal matter ?, So that our knowledge is
much short of what is generally thought. For the earth
being but a point, compared to the orb of the sun :
which orb itself is but a point in respect of the firma-
ment: of how little extent must our knowledge be,
which leaves us totally ignorant of so many things



273

touching the vast bodies which are above us, and pene-
trates so little a way into the earth beneath us, that it
seems confined to but a small share of a superficial part
of a physical point/'

Perhaps it will be I acceptable to calm, dispassipnate
men, If I add another extract from a very sensible writer,
containing a few short observations, oil the whole present
system of philosophy.

1. The first axiom in the present philosophy is, that
all matter is indifferent to motion or rest. But do we
not here stumble at the threshold 1 Laying as a funda-
mental truth, what is manifestly false] For motion and
rest are such opposites, that it implies a contradiction to
suppose an equal disposition to either, inherent in the
same body. The one ii> a positive, which necessarily
implies power, the other a mere negative, which implies
no power in any direction*

2. Matter containing in itself no power of any kind,
can give no resistance to any impression upon it : neither
can it of itself continue to exert the effects of that im-
pression. Therefore the second axiom, or rather the
phenomena, from which it it is deduced, must arise, not
from matter in itself, but from the relation which ail
matter bears to the universal system of nature.

3. The third axiom x concerning re-action is as excepti-
onable as the two former. For it may easily be shewn,
that the re-action of matter depends entirely on gravi-
ty. If gravity were subtracted, there is no proof or rea-
son to suppose, that bodies would exert either resistance
or re-action. All these axioms therefore, instead of being
absolute laws, are mere phenomena depending on- other
causes, which causes, it is incumbent upon the philoso-
to look for.

4. The projectile power never caa balance that of
gravitation, so as to maintain the motion of the planets,

X 4



If cm never recover its force when it is resisted, where*
us gravity can. Therefore the constant bending of its
ction, which must be equal to a constant proportion-
able resistance, must uniformly and perpetually weaken
its power, and strengthen that of gravitation; so that
the direction of motion must necessarily sink more and
more, and at last fail wholly into the direction of gravi-
tation. It follows that no power acting upon an orb
which gravitates towards its centre of motion, can pos-
sibly maintain its projectile motion, in the direction of a
circle.

5. Even on supposition that projection and gravita-
tion equally retained their propensity to motion though
resisted, yet those powers could not move the planets in
ellipsis, because in the same proportion as the one pre-
vailed over the other, in the same proportion it must
alter the tendency of motion towards its own direction.
And none can explain how, when a quantity of motion
and also of inclination is gained by gravitation over pro-
jection, the orb will, while these remain unchanged, leave
at any point the direction of the moving power that pre-
vails, and recede into the direction of the weaker power,
or e contra,

6. Again : from the proportions of the forces required
between gravitation and projection, in order to move the
orbs and circles, it is evident that these two powers can-
not be the cause of their motions. For by comparing
the forces of these it appears, that the force of gravita-
tion is not such in proportion to that of projection, as to
bend the direction of the projected body sensibly from
the right line.

7.. The motion of the moon along with tfce earth,
cannot be owing to her gravitating towards it, nor to a
projection impressed upon her, in common with the
earth : because she has a projection of her own round
the earth. And she cannot be so projected as to move
\i\ two different orbits at one and the same time, by the



275

l> inertia? continuing one projectile motion round tlie
sun, and another round the earth. 'Therefore the mo-
tion or' this, and by a parity of reason,, that of all the
secondary planets, must be guided every moment either
by mechanism or by a spiritual power.

Indeed Sir Isaac thought these powers might arise
from a subtle, etherial medium, diffused tli rough the
whole universe : but this is only retiring a step farther
in the ({ark. For it comes to one, whether the cause of
attraction be assigned to grosser bodies themselves, or
to the impulse of a medium that penetrates them. If
the powers of that supposed medium are unmcchauical,
they must be spiritual. And seeing the medium is only
supposed, it is more natural to assign these uninechani-
cal powers, to bodies which we know disposed to these
motions, than to suj^osed bodies, which we know
nothing of.

Farther ; if Sir Isaac supposes such a medium for
maintaining attraction, gravitation, and elasticity, how
came he not to suppose thiit the same is concerned, in
supporting his axioms or laws of motion ] For the knot
does not iie in gravitation or attraction, or any particular
kind of motion, but in finding powers to produce a?;.ci
maintain motion in general. If these are meckaical;
it h easy to suppose,, though we should never be able to
explain in what manner that the contriver has adjusted
the mechanism to produce all the motion observable in.
the creatures. But if they are unmechaoical laws, pro-
perties, or whatever we may call tbcnx there is no occa-
sion for supposing any cause of gravitation, or for taking
it amiss to have it called an occult quality, unknown
virtue, charm, law,, or any word we have no meaning to

8. This, unrneehanical philosophy has a bad influence
in obstructing our advancement in the knowledge of
nature. For how can enquiries into the powers of na-
ture be carried on to any decree of perfection, under the
direction of a system which muffles our eyes with un.me-
chanical laws of matter, suppose the basis of mrchunism,
instead of examining whlker these tbcuvjclvcb a./ uo



the production of mechanism? Such are the indiffer-
ence of matter to continue itself either in re.vt or mot ion :
re-actiov equal to action: the resistance of matter to a
change of state : gravitation, attraction, repulsion, elas-
ticity : pressure of fluids in ail directions : a fluid with
Co cohesion of parts, moving in diverging lines; whose
parts are possessed of different degrees of attractability
by oilier bodies, contrary to that law which makes gra-
vitation simply as the quantities of matter: a fluid pos-
sessed of alternate fits of attraction and repulsion !
How weak is it, to make these the basis of mechanism,
rather than the result of it ?

9- Let us now examine these matters more closely.
In the present philosophy, spate is always considered in
the first place ; because without admitting space void of
matter, the whole system falls to the ground.

This same infinite space is the most wonderful thing
within the whole range of being. It is neither God, nor
In-i creature, and yet is inseparable from the being either
of God, or of "Anything he can create. It is ihtite both
in its extension and its duration. It is knmoveable and
indivisible. If a compleat definition of it were put into


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Online LibraryJohn WesleyA survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy .. (Volume 3) → online text (page 23 of 24)