Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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of reasoning to the conception of the primaeval nebula
from which our system has originated." 1

Laplace's theory, with which we have been dealing up to
now, postulates the original nebula as gaseous in its com-
position — gaseous and luminous. It may now be well to
deal very briefly with another theory which differs some-
what from that already under consideration, and in this
way. According to Laplace's view, as we have seen, the
planets in the course of their formation pass through the
stage of being each of them in a gaseous ring. According
to the Meteoric Theory the nebula consists not of an
incandescent gas, which may afterwards cool down first
into a liquid and then into a solid, but of a huge
collection of solid meteorites. Everybody has seen a
" shooting star." Each of these is a solid meteorite which
enters our atmosphere cold and dark ; which there, by
friction, becomes heated and luminous for the short time
which generally intervenes before it is reduced to powder
and becomes a trail of incandescent dust. The collection
of solid meteorites above spoken of, whirling round as
the nebula whirls, must come into constant collision
with one another and thus develop heat and incandes-

1 It is only fair to add that the exploits of radium have lately thrown
some doubt on this theory. The presence of about 3$ grams in each
cubic metre of the sun's mass would be sufficient to account for the
present radiation. But it must be confessed that up to the present moment
there is absolutely no evidence entitling us to assume the existence of
solar radium.


cence. 1 It is possible that the collection of solid meteorites
may have first of all been a nebula composed of incandescent
gas but broken up into meteorites not contracted into a

There is this to be said about this theory, that it seems
to explain the ancient climates of the earth better than
the other. In the most ancient times, long ages before
man was there to make observations, and when life was
only beginning its first struggles with its environment, we
should have expected to find that on account of the greater
heat of the crust of the earth climates and climatic con-
ditions were very different from what they are now. It
may well be asked how we can possibly know anything
about them. Well, the surfaces of some of these ancient
plains of the archaeozoic era have actually been preserved
for us under blown sand, which has formed sandstone, and
this when removed has exposed the ancient land-surface
to our observation. With this result : that we know that
the prevalent wind in Scotland, for example, was then, as
it is now, from the south-west, that the raindrops were of
the same size and fell with the same force as to-day, in a
word, that there was no very material difference between
the conditions millions of years ago and to-day. It is urged
that all this concurs better with the meteoritic or plane-
tesimal theory than with that of Laplace, and it is certain
that the earth which has unquestionably been hotter than
it is, would take a shorter time to cool down from the
condition of a group of consolidated meteorites, heated by
mutual collisions, than it would have done in cooling down
from the condition of an incandescent gas, or a superheated
liquid. The fact is that there are difficulties of various kinds,
some of them mathematical in their nature, in connection
with either explanation, but the facts seem to point
to some such theory as that with which we have been con-
cerning ourselves, eventually emerging as the accepted ex-
planation of the condition of the solar system. It need
hardly be said that neither of these theories is a complete

1 Of course, some of these meteors do actually reach the earth ; far
more than is generally imagined. See " The Making of the Earth,"
pp. 33 seq.


or final explanation, and that neither of them in any way
conflicts with any dogma of religion, which insists on only
one point, that " in the beginning God created the heaven
and the earth." How He chose to do this is only indicated
in outline, and in no way contradicts or raises any difficulty
in connection with the nebular hypothesis or its variants.


SO far as we have gone we have under our consideration :
Space, whatever that may really be ; Luminiferous
£ther> whatever again that may be ; Heavenly Bodies of
Various kinds, some of them incandescent gas, some of them
superheated molten masses ; some of them, like our Earth,
\varm ; some of them, like our Moon, cold extinct masses.
We have all these various forms of Matter and we have all
this Matter in Motion. We can form some idea of how this
may have come about, given Matter and that in Motion.
Can we form any idea of how Matter and Matter in Motion
first came into existence, that being the underlying fact of
the scheme of the Universe ?

There are, as we shall see, two and two only explanations
possible. They must be considered separately, and will
be discussed in this chapter. But before attacking them a
word must be said as to another attitude towards this ques-
tion common enough to-day and perhaps still more common
some twenty-five years ago.

It is the attitude which Huxley named Agnosticism, and
from the rigidly scientific point of view it is a perfectly
reasonable attitude. Du Bois Reymond, one of Johannes
Muller's most brilliant pupils, laid it down that there were
Seven Enigmas confronting the scientific enquirer which
were : — •




The nature of Matter and Force.

The origin of Motion.

The origin of Life.

The apparently designed order of Nature.

The origin of sensation and consciousness.

The origin of rational thought and speech.




The first, second, and fifth of these he described as
"transcendental " and insoluble — ignoramus et ignorabimus.
He thought that the same would probably have to be said
about the seventh. As to the others, they were probably
solvable, but were still unsolved. Now with regard to this
attitude it may rightly be said that science cannot solve any
of the great fundamental questions, though science can
supply any number of invaluable facts which at any rate
enable philosophy to offer some explanation of these funda-
mental matters. The Agnostic attitude has sometimes been
rather severely criticised, but surely if a man of science keeps
within his own territory it is better for him honestly to con-
fess that he does not know than to spin the scientific cob-
webs of explanation which we come across in the writings
of Haeckel and of Weismann, explanations avowedly in-
vented lest we should accept that Christian explanation
which still holds the field for so many who do not even
claim to be called Theists.

Let us turn from the attitude of pure Agnosticism
as to the origin of Matter and Motion, to the explanations
of those phenomena of which, as we have said, there are
in the last analysis only two, for we arrive here at what
logicians call a Dichotomy.

Either Matter was created or it is self-existing, and
further, it must be alive. 1 If we sift out the meaning of
Pantheism, the Anima Mundi and conceptions of that kind ;
if we apply ourselves to the consideration of Bergson's
Creative Evolution, — his blind deity ever impelling matter
onward to an unknown goal, — all these conceptions really
resolve themselves into that of Matter, alive and eternal.
To this conclusion came the authors of " The Unseen
Universe " ; indeed, it is the conclusion to which all who

1 St. Thomas discusses the possibility of a creation from all eternity.
Aristotle had held the eternity of the world, or at least of matter, in some
sense. St. Thomas teaches (by reason) that motion cannot be eternal and
that, consequently, a world with any change in it cannot be eternal. He
holds, however, that reason cannot disprove the possibility of the creation
by God from all eternity of some sort of matter with no motion in or
attached to it. No motion, for motion originates time. Of course, he
teaches that according to Christian Revelation neither the Angelic nor
the Material Universe was created from Eternity. In any case, matter
or any finite or imperfect reality could not be self -existing. The self-
existing must be perfect, infinite and, therefore, one or unique.


consider the question must come. 1 These men had made a
very special study of matter and their fame is likely long
to survive. Their object was to show that the materialistic
views, rampant and apparently victorious all along the line
at the time that the book was published, i.e. in the early
seventies, were no solution of the difficulties which they
purported to explain. In the preface to the second edition,
which also appears in later editions, the authors say : " To
reduce matters to order, we may confidently assert that
the only reasonable and defensible alternative to our
hypothesis (or, at least, something similar to it) is the
stupendous pair of assumptions that visible matter is eternal,
and that it is alive." And they continue : " If anyone can
be found to uphold notions like these (from a scientific point
of view), we shall be most happy to enter the lists with him."
Yet Haeckel's so-called Law of Substance — unaccepted
by any physicists so far as the present writer is aware —
practically amounts to the very thing which these two
eminent physicists ridicule, that Matter is eternal and
alive. In fact, so it must be, twist the explanation how one
will, unless it was created and is directed. In the body of
their book the authors consider this question of the living
atom, and though opinions as to the position and character
of the atom have undergone a considerable change since
the book was written, such changes of opinion have rather
tended to confirm than to weaken the views which are now
about to be quoted. The materialists or pantheists, or
whatever we may choose to call those who contend for a
living and eternal atom, as against one which has come into
existence at the fiat of the Creator, maintain that the atom
— or, perhaps it would now be said, the electron — is the
true abode of immortal life in the universe and that its life
is a very simple one. Such in a condensed form is the
attitude. In reply the authors of the book we are consider-
ing ask what all this may imply. " It implies, in the first

1 The authors of " The Unseen Universe," at first issued anonymously,
were Professors Balfour Stewart and P. G. Tait, two of the most dis-
tinguished physicists of their day. This book has undeservedly rather
passed out of mind but it is well worth reading. The quotations given
here are taken from the 7th ed. published in 1878 and the italics and
capitals are those of the authors themselves,


place, that the atom is eternal, and to this we object. It
implies, in the next place, that the atom is extremely
simple in its constitution, and to this we object." It may
be said that modern views decidedly support both these
objections, and more especially the second of them. Then
they proceed : " It implies, thirdly, that for the antecedents
of the motions of the atom it is unnecessary to resort to
anything beyond the atom itself, and to this we object."
In connection with this last objection they claim " that in
order to conceive the nature of the forces by which atoms
act upon each other we are driven at once ... to something
which implies the existence and the agency of the Unseen
Universe." Finally, " We maintain that what we are driven
to is not an under-life resident in the atom, but rather, to adopt
the words of a recent writer, a Divine over-life in which we
live and move and have our being." 1

Here, then, we see science brought to the brink of the
question as regards matter, is it created or is it eternally self-
existing and alive ? The two physicists in question declare
that it is not eternal and not alive. Either, then, we must
admit that it was created and that there is a Creator, or
we must content ourselves by saying " Ignoramus et ignor-
abimus," with Du Bois Reymond. Our authors do not
hesitate to accept the former alternative and to proclaim
their belief in a Creator of the Universe. The same con-
clusion was arrived at by one who was an even more dis-
tinguished physicist than either of the two just mentioned,
distinguished as they were. Lord Kelvin can hardly be
said to have had a superior or even an equal save Newton
alone, and Lord Kelvin declared in an address to the
Students of University College, London, in 1903, that
Science positively affirms creative power. 8

Let us now, however, turn our attention to the Universe
as a whole. Have we any reason to suppose that it has
always been as it is, or that it will always remain as it is ?
On the contrary, we have every reason to believe that it is

1 Op. cit., pp. 241 seq. Italics here and previously as in original.

* " I cannot admit that, with regard to the origin of life, science neither
affirms cor denies creative power. Science positively affirms creative
power . . . which [she] compels us to accept as an article of belief "
(" Nineteenth Century," June, 1903).


in a constant state of flux. There is no doubt in anyone's
mind that the earth was once a mass of exceedingly hot, if
not absolutely molten, material and that it has gradually
cooled down to the condition in which we now know it. If
the nebular theory is true there was an even earlier period
when it was a glowing gas, or something nearly as attenu-
ated. Not long ago it was thought that it would gradually
cool down, until, like the moon, it became a cold, dead
world, a " has-been " of the skies, incapable of supporting
life of any kind, or at least anything which we could now
recognise as life.

Nowadays some hold a different view, believing that the
temperature of the earth is slowly but certainly rising
and that it will continue to rise until it reaches the bursting
point, when it will explode and blow into atoms, becoming
" cosmic dust " or a mass of fragments which might con-
ceivably be consolidated into a new planet or become a
group of asteroids. 1 What, for our purposes, is important
about these theories is that they show that it is not expected
that the world will go on for ever as it now is. The Universe,
as we know it, must have an end, and we may fairly claim
that it must have had a beginning for reasons that will yet
appear. Of course, the reply may be made that this is true
of the Universe, as we know it, that it must have had a
beginning and will have an end, but that this is true only
in a certain sense. In other words, it may be argued that
this world was once no doubt a molten mass ; we know that
it is now inhabitable, which it cannot have been for long
ages of time ; we can well believe that there will be an end
to it as it is now ; all this may be accepted. But what is there
to prove that it will not be reconstructed in the manner
suggested from a group of planetesimals formed by the
disruption of the earth into a new planet, perhaps in time
itself to become the fruitful mother of life ? This is Haeckel's
argument in relation to his " theory of substance." Thus
it has been stated that the nebular theory confirms the view
that the cosmogonic process has not simply taken place

1 Incidentally it may be remarked that these theories need not cause
any alarm since in neither case is the end dated for less than several
million years ahead.


Oh'ce but is periodically repeated. That whilst in some parts
b£ the universe new cosmic bodies arise and develop out of
rotating masses of nebulae ; in other parts old, extinct,
frigid suns come into collision, and are once more reduced
by the heat generated to the condition of nebulas. Now,
in the first place, it may be remarked with regard to this
theory, that whether probable or not matters but little
from our present point of view, since it does not help us to
solve the question as to who made the machine, wound it
up and set it going. We are still reduced to the matter-
alive theory which we have seen is rejected by the physicists
whose speciality matter is. But apart from that there is a
serious difficulty in the way of this phcenix-like production
of new worlds from old, and that difficulty lies in the un-
doubted fact of the degradation of energy. The question
of the Law of the Conservation of Energy will have to be
considered more fully when we come to close quarters with
the Vitalistic controversy, but for the moment we may say
that it teaches that in a closed system there is a certain
amount of energy capable of manifesting itself in various
ways but remaining the same in amount through all its
changes of character. It appears, for example, as heat, as
motion, as strain, and so on, but the amount does not
differ : the sum adds up the same at the end whatever the
factors may be. Now, as far as we are concerned, the uni-
verse is our closed system. The solar system is not, for
there is radiation from it into space, which radiation means
dissipation of energy. Of course there is an enormous amount
of energy in the solar system, not to speak of the universe,
but we must not forget that a great deal of this might as
well not be there for all practical purposes, because it is
unavailable, that is, incapable of transformations. All the
activities of actual matter, as we know it, are accompanied
by a degradation of energy, i.e. there is less available at the
end of the process than there was at the beginning. Thus
every stroke of a steam-engine means a transference of
heat from a hotter to a cooler body ; hence at the end we
are left with two bodies whose temperatures are closer than
at the start. We may regard the universe as a steam-
engine — but without any outside supplies of fuel. Every


change, every motion, brings nearer the day when all its
portions will have been reduced to the same dead level of
temperature. Heat is the final stable form of all these
energies, and every exercise of power pays a toll to that
great reservoir of uniformly distributed heat which is slowly
but surely ushering in "the night when no man can

Thus, to turn to our own universe and the earth upon
which we have our temporary habitat, the rotation of
the earth round the sun and of the moon round the earth
cause tides in the sea and in the atmosphere around the
earth, which tides produce friction. It is known that the
period of the rotation of the earth is gradually growing
greater and it can be calculated that the time will come
when the earth will rotate on its own axis in the same period
as it rotates round the sun, that is, in a year. In other
words, the year and the day will coincide. Under these
circumstances the kinetic, or we may here call it actual
and available energy of the earth, will be less than it now
is. How are we to account for the balance ? It has become
friction of the tides against the earth, and this friction
has been transformed into low-temperature heat, and that
again has been radiated into space and has become non-
available. And so with steam and internal-combustion
engines, and in fact all exhibitions of energy there is a
certain loss of available energy or degradation thereof.

Now let us apply this knowledge to the theory that the
universe is cyclically renewing itself in the manner indicated
above. The whole question is fully considered in a recent
book from which we may quote. 1 The author in question
points out that our closed system is the universe, which
from the physical point of view we must look upon as
finite, for if infinite all our speculations become meaningless,
and he continues : " The universe therefore is a system in
which energy tends continually towards degradation. In
every process that occurs in it — that is to say, every purely
physical process — heat is evolved, and this heat is distributed
by conduction and radiation, and tends to become uni-

1 Johnstone, " The Philosophy of Biology," Camb. Univ. Press, 1914,
p. 63.


versally diffused throughout all its parts. When this ulti-
mate, uniform distribution of energy will have been attained
all physical phenomena will have ceased. It is useless to
argue that universal phenomena are cyclical. We vainly
invoke the speculations (founded on rather prematurely
developed cosmical physics) of stellar collisions, light-
radiation pressure, the distribution of cosmic dust, etc.,
to support our notions of alternate phases of dissipation
and concentration of energy ; close analysis will show
that all these processes must be irreversible. The picture
physics exhibits to us is that of the universe as a clock
running down ; of an ultimate extinction of all becoming ;
an universal physical death. In this conclusion there is
nothing that is speculative. It is the least metaphysical of
the great generalisations of science. It represents simply
our experience of the direction in which physical changes
are proceeding. Based upon the most exact methods of
science known to us, nothing seems more certain and more
capable of rigorous mathematical investigation."

Science, then, teaches us that the clock is inevitably, if
slowly running down and that in time it must come to a stop,
like any other clock, if unwound. Surely we could hardly
want better proof that there must have been a time when
there was no clock, or no clock wound up and going. x If that
were not so, we should be presented with the impossible
paradox of a universe which had no beginning but is bound
to have an end. And yet, in face of his statements as to
the certainty of the data on which the conclusion at which he
has arrived is based, and the infallibility of that conclusion —
and indeed he has not spoken in any way too strongly about
it — the author from whom I have been quoting proceeds :
" And yet we are certain that it is not universally true.
For there must always have been an universe — at least our

1 " If we accept the theory that the heat of the stars is kept up by
their slow contraction, we must think of the universe of stars as of a
clock which is running down. As we can see by the eye of reason that
the weight of the clock was higher yesterday than it is to-day, so we can
compute that the stars must have been larger in former times, and that
there must have been some finite and computable period when they were
all nebulae. Not even a nebula can give light without a progressive change
of some sort. Hence within a certain finite period the nebulas themselves
must have begun to shine. How did they begin ? This is the unsolvable
question." Simon Newcomb, " The Stars : a Study of the Universe," p. 219.


intellect is incapable of conceiving beginning. If we sup-
pose a beginning, an unconditioned creation, at once we
leap from science into the rankest of metaphysics." What
all this means is that if we hold that the universe is eternal
and that degradation of energy is still going on, the time
when all energy had been degraded and things had come to
a standstill must long have been past. But we still find
energy available. Therefore there must be some means —
though science cannot point to it — whereby the degraded
energy can be once more restored. Now the weak point
of this syllogism is that the major premise is in dispute.
The writer in question says that we cannot imagine a time
when there was no universe. Well, this is precisely what
all Catholic, indeed one may say all Christian, philosophy
does quite calmly and quite easily envisage. It thus offers
a reply to the difficulty under consideration which, though
some may call it "rank metaphysics," at least to men like
Lord Kelvin, and to others is a satisfactory solution of the

Let us now state the Catholic solution, which is at any rate
simple and definite and is summed up in the statement
that " In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth." According to the Catholic belief God alone has
existed from all eternity and it was at His fiat that the
universe came into existence. There was a time when
there was no universe ; when there was nothing but God.
This solution of the difficulty presented a still further diffi-
culty of a purely philosophical character to Herbert Spencer
and others, who were driven to the belief that there must be

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 12 of 38)