Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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something more at the back of things than mere blind powers.
This great and over-mastering difficulty was that if God — or
the Great Unknowable or any other periphrase which may be
used by philosophers desirous of avoiding the stigma of old-
fashionedness, — if God existed alone and self-sufficient, then
we seem to be obliged to contemplate the existence of a
subject unprovided with any object, which would be an
almost impossible state of affairs. This book is in no sense
a manual of theology, nor is it any part of its scope to deal
with such mysteries as that of the Blessed Trinity as held
by Christians. But this at least may be said, that this


doctrine, as we understand it, does away with the difficulty
just raised, since it shows us in the doctrine of the Trinity
in Unity that the highest form of existence in the universe
is a social form " in which thought is for ever communi-
cated with unbroken harmony of feeling and will." 1

Another argument which is urged against the Christian
idea is that the postulation of a Divine Creator depends
upon man's craving for a knowledge of causality. Since
everything must have a cause there must be a First Cause.
This seems a fair argument, but is countered by the ques-
tion " What was the cause of the First Cause ? " Here we
are back again at our old dichotomy : Creator (First Cause)
or Self-Existing Matter, eternal and alive.

It is clear that if we adopt the first solution we must
at the same time see that we are dealing with a Cause
wholly unlike any other of the secondary and tertiary
causes which must all be traceable back to it. Catholic
Philosophy teaches that when we speak of a First Cause we
speak of a Cause which is different from every other cause
in that it is a Free Cause, moved only by Itself and un-
moved by anything else. Thus it differs from all the unfree
causes which we know in nature, which are themselves
effects of other natural causes, and these again of others
and so on. It is only in connection with a Free Cause that
we reach finality.

This is, of course, the barest possible statement of an
argument whose full development must be sought in manuals
of Natural Theology. It is outlined here in order that
readers may be aware that the difficulty has been met and
considered and that there is an answer which will seem
satisfactory to all but two classes of mind. The first class
is that which refuses to believe that any truth can be reached
in connection with these ultimate matters and declines to
consider anything which can be said about them, in other
words, the pure Agnostic.

The other class of mind is that of the man whose
first principle it is that there is nothing higher than
Matter. Well, if that is an established major premise, as it
certainly is in Some minds, then clearly there is no such

1 Robinson, " God and the World," London, S.P.C.K., 1913. P- 49-


thing as a God or a First Cause and Matter is Eternal and
it is Alive. We have seen that this theory gets us into
trouble with the physicists, and when we come to consider
the question of man's higher part we shall see that it gets
us into great difficulties there also. But there is no doubt
that there are minds which refuse utterly to believe in any-
thing which they would call " mystical," which believe
themselves degraded by any such idea and look upon those
persons, including Lord Kelvin, Stokes, Pasteur, and other
like men of science, who do hold this idea, as " senile "
or otherwise deluded. To such persons arguments of the
kind now offered will be quite useless. " Everything shows
that energy is being degraded." " I know, but since the
Universe must have existed from all eternity it cannot be
true that energy is really being degraded or there must be
some method of reversal." " How do you know that the
Universe is eternal ? " " Because I cannot imagine a time
when it did not exist." " But I can imagine and I believe
in a period 1 when there was nothing but the Triune God."
" Oh, but you are a mystic ! " And then there is no more
to be said. Well, the " mystic " ideas are set down
here and it may once more be added that they have ap-
proved themselves to some at least who were not merely
" mystics," but were also recognized leaders of science.

Note to Chapter XII. — My friend Mr. A. J. Rahilly, whose
kindness I have already acknowledged, has been good enough
to favour me with the following note which may be read in con-
nection with the facts alluded to in the chapters immediately
preceding. It deals with the inability of Science to account for
the present configuration of the Universe.

Father Secchi's spectroscopic classification of the stars shows
us vividly the various stages through which a sun (our own
included) must pass in its appointed course. At one end we have

1 " Period." — It is difficult to find a word comprehensible to the
ordinary reader yet one which will not cause the philosophical critic
to tear his hair. " Period," of course, generally means a certain section
of time — the Victorian Period, i.e. the time during which Queen Victoria
reigned over Great Britain. In the sense in which it is used above it means
nothing of the kind. For the scholastics time implies change. Before the
Creation, therefore, there was no time but eternity, that is duration of an
unchanging Existence — the " everlasting now." It will be understood,
then, that in using the word " period " here it is in no relation to what we
think of as " time."


those vast stretches of nebulosity (to be seen, for example, in the
constellations of Orion and Andromeda) that seem to be slowly
settling into stellar nuclei. Next we have youthful stars (such as
Sirius and Vega) which are white or slightly bluish, surrounded
by atmospheres principally composed of helium and hydrogen.
Stars in their prime (like our own sun or Arcturus) are somewhat
yellowish and are swathed in glowing robes of metallic vapour.
Stars in their decline (e.g. Alpha Herculis) are of a reddish hue
and have banded spectra. Lastly, we have faint dark-red stars,
whose spectra are crossed by wide absorption bands probably
due to carbon. The final stage of a sun seems to be represented
by those dead dark companions of some double stars. We can
thus form a very clear idea of the " natural history " of a star.
The heavens present us with stars in every stage of their life-
history from embryonic nebulosity to dark decline. In this way
we arrive at a tolerably vivid conception of the meaning of
stellar evolution. The life-period of a star, vast and limitless as
it appears to beings whose span is but threescore years and ten,
is seen to be merely a momentary scintillation across the dark
night of eternity. The suns scattered through space are as fires
which light up for a moment and then sink into the gloom. Even
the mightiest star delays but little behind its lesser fellows ; all
alike are hastening to extinction. Some of the stars which we
see are just lit ; some are expiring. But such differences of age —
what are they compared to the ocean of a limitless past ? It is as
if we compared the different ages of men now on earth with the
past epochs revealed by geology. Undoubtedly the stars are
contemporaries, their lives overlap ; they are a conflagration lit
up almost simultaneously in the heavens.

This conclusion is one of far-reaching significance. We know
that each star is but a fire of brief duration ; we know too that
all these millions of glittering stars are now lit up simultaneously
throughout the vast regions of space ; we know that a time will
come when all these fitful gleams will be quenched. Did the lives
of only two stars overlap, were there only two stars shining in
the sky, we might conceivably attribute the coincidence to
chance ; though indeed, when we think of chance-tossed atoms
scattered haphazard through infinite space for all eternity, the
probability that two stars would be shining simultaneously is
well-nigh infinitesimal. But it is utterly beyond our powers of
credulity to believe that myriads of comparatively transient
stars should by mere chance light up together throughout space.
The more one thinks of this astounding simultaneity of our
universe, the more does one become convinced that its gradual
evolution from chance-strewn nebulosity is an impossibility.
Chance encounters of particles scattered through infinite space
could never produce such a contemporaneous illumination. And,
even if we draw upon the resources of eternity, we are merely



raising the further difficulty : If the present configuration of the
universe is merely one stage in an infinite evolution, why is not
the present stage long past and gone ? But the present stage is
really unique, such a universal conflagration can never again
recur, it began once and it will end. The stars are the chrono-
meters of the Creator. By their simultaneous radiance they are
always reminding us of the day when God's creative energy
started them on their course, " when all the morning-stars sang
together and all the sons of God shouted for joy."


IN the processes of Nature, as we observe them, certain
orderly series of occurrences take place : certain results
follow upon certain causes, and these things we commonly
speak of as occurring according to what we call " Laws of
Nature." It may be well to devote a little consideration to
this matter, since it is one respecting which there is cer-
tainly an ambiguity in speech and writing and not infre-
quently also an ambiguity in people's minds. We speak
of a Law in one sense when we allude to the act of a com-
petent legislature. That is a Law which, whether just or
unjust, must be obeyed, unless its infringer is prepared to
submit to such painful consequences as may follow upon
breaking it. Then again there are the Moral Precepts which
are not purely penal prescriptions nor man-made ordinances.
There are certain things which we need not do but which
we " ought " to do. There are also the Laws of Revelation,
such as the Ten Commandments, many of which are pre-
scribed by the " natural law " quite independently of any
promulgation through Moses.

But when we speak of such a " Law " as the Law of
Gravitation or the Law of the Conservation of Energy, we
are dealing with a very different matter. Here we are
speaking of an arrangement which we have discovered,
though our discovery may be imperfect enough and may
only partially take count of the factors of the case. 1

The arrangement in question seems at any rate to be an
invariable one as, for example, we have seen that the

1 No penalty would be exacted nor would anyone be ethically shocked
if a stone, thrown up into the air, did not return to the earth in the orthodox
fashion. Those who witnessed the occurrence would be merely surprised.



transmission of light through the luminiferous ether is.
Then we may speak of the Law of the Transmission of Light.
At any rate it will now be clear what is meant by a " Law
of Nature " and in what way it differs from an ordinary
law dealing with tariffs or what not, which may be here
to-day and gone to-morrow. There is at least one point
which the two kinds of laws would seem to possess in
common. No one can conceive the first form of Law
alluded to above coming into existence fortuitously or
enacting itself. The Ten Commandments were given to
Moses by God Himself, and all the laws of ^civilised countries
have been made by monarchs or parliaments or senates, or
such-like bodies. Even the rigid laws of many uncivilised
races have been made at some time and by some person or
persons and are kept in being by the consent, whether the
result of fear or love is of no consequence, of those who live
under them.

In other words, it is impossible for us to conceive of laws
of this kind which had no law-giver. The idea is grotesque.
Yet it is quite certainly true that there are people who
firmly believe in what all agree to call " Laws of Nature,"
who are yet able to persuade themselves that these laws
have come into existence by mere chance — that is to say,
that they have had no law-giver.

In the preceding chapter we saw that, apart from the
Agnostic attitude, there were only two possible views of the
Universe in the last analysis : — namely, that it was created
by an eternal God, or that it was itself eternal and alive ;
and we discussed some of the difficulties which attended the
latter conclusion. We may now return to the same con-
sideration in face of the fact that, as is admitted by all,
there are certain series of orderly occurrences which we agree
to name " Laws of Nature," and that the common experi-
ence of mankind is that where there is a law there must
also have been a law-giver. Let us first of all look at what
is involved in the theory that though there are laws there
is no law-giver. 1 " The world, so science assures us, at a

1 The following passage is, with slight modifications, taken from an
essay published in my volume, " A Century of Scientific Thought," p. 28.
Burns and Oates, London, 1915.


certain date in the past, was a mass of nebulous matter at
a terrifically high temperature. Slowly and with vast con-
vulsions and cataclysms, it cooled down. Then by some
chance mixing together of some nitrogen, hydrogen,
oxygen, carbon, and other elements, in some manner un-
discoverable by and even unimaginable by modern chemists,
the lowest form of living organism emerged — the offspring
of the blindest chance, yet endowed somehow or another
with the marvellous power of propagating its kind, and
more, with the tendency to vary fortuitously in all direc-
tions. Then the Law of Natural Selection, not to speak of
a host of other so-called laws of Nature, all of them ex
hypothesi the result of blind chance, sprang into existence
and by marvellously complex co-operations effected the
most ingenious and elaborate products without any Law-
giver to lay them down or direct their actions. By the
simple process of extinguishing the disadvantageous varia-
tions, Natural Selection developed out of the come-by-
chance Protozoan, all the forms of animal and vegetable
life which have flourished on this earth or which now
astonish us by their multitude and variety. Finally it
brought forth Man — the head and crown of things. And
more, far more, the Brain of Man. And what does that
mean ? Hamlet, Paradise Lost, the Differential Calculus,
the music of Handel, the paintings of Botticelli, internal
combustion engines, wireless telegraphy, all the poetry of a
Wordsworth, all the wonderful inventions of a Kelvin — all
these things and a thousand more as wonderful — the Law
of Natural Selection, without a spark of intelligence behind
it — this perfectly aimless action of physical forces has
accomplished all these things. This is the demand which
is made upon our powers of belief by those who deny the
existence of an Intelligent Author of the Universe and
attempt to put forward an explanation of the existence of
things as they are. Natural Selection, Conservation of
Forces, Propagation of Light, all these so-called laws and
all the other so-called laws must be one of two things.
They must be the products of mechanical forces acting at
random, or they must be the ordinances of an Intelligent
Law-Giver. There is no middle term since, as we have seen,


there is in the last abstraction nothing between believing in
a Being — a Law-Giver — who is something in Himself, apart
from the universe, and believing in a mere abstraction from
or generalisation of natural laws or processes, and that, as
apart from a Law-Giver, means nothing more than Blind

Or, again, we may regard the question from a slightly
different angle. It is quite clear that an infinite number of
different universes are logically conceivable. Yet only one
is actually realised. Why ? The question has at least a
meaning — in spite of the assertion of monists. We could
quite easily conceive gravitation to act according to the
inverse-cube of the distance, or we could imagine light
travelling twice as fast as it does. The fact that things are
what they are, when logically they might be otherwise, is
the fundamental fact which we have to face. The real
concrete world is all around us and is clamant for an explana-
tion. The attempt of philosophers to explain it logically
is a hopeless failure. No amount of a priori thought will
determine the colour of gold or the boiling-point of water.
The various orderly modes in which the actual world is
found to act are, as we have already seen, termed " laws
of nature." These are the " orderly modes " which actually
exist but they are not inevitable a priori, in fact one can
conceive a universe in which they were all replaced by
different modes. Reason imperatively demands some real
principle of selection (i.e. creation), some actual pre-existent
factor which out of the infinity of possible worlds selected
and actualised the world as we know it. The popular
materialistic view accepts a nebulous congeries of chemical
elements as a primary datum and tries to see the world of
life and intelligence latent therein. To accept, without
explanation, the existence of hydrogen atoms — each a com-
plicated world in itself — all perfectly similar and vibrating
in perfect unison across the measureless distances of inter-
stellar space — surely this is an enormous demand on our
faith. Having once posited an inorganic world of marvel-
lous mechanisms and complex affinities, it is quite easy to
smuggle in a few protozoa. Having swallowed a camel, it
is not worth while straining at a gnat I


Faced by the actual world of chemistry and biology, we
must choose one of two courses. Either the Laws of Nature
are ultimate inscrutable data impervious to logic and amen-
able to no explanation, or else they are the laws of a Law-
giver, the orderly modes in which the creative Mind of God
expresses Itself.

The matter which we are now considering is so well
illustrated by a portion of the discussion between Fr. Was-
mann and certain materialistic champions which excited
so much interest some years ago in Berlin, that I shall give
some account of that part of the proceedings which concerns
us at the moment. 1 In his speech Professor Plate, a leading
exponent of materialistic views, lays down his position, and
it is that of many others, very candidly and very clearly.
He says : 2 " The monist asserts nothing about the nature
of God, but limits himself to the laws of nature. These
laws are, indeed, the only things that we can establish with
certainty ; with regard to what underlies them there are
many different opinions, and we monists are not all agreed
on the subject. Personally, I always maintain that, if there
are laws of nature, it is only logical to admit that there is a law-
giver. But of this law-giver we can give no account, and
any attempt to give one would lead us into unfounded
speculations. It is there that faith begins," he continues,
" and many of us have given up all faith."

One initial criticism must be made on this important
remark — the monist here described is not what we should
understand by that term. A monist to English-speaking
persons is one who believes in some shape or form in matter
alive and sentient, whether under Haeckel's so-called Law of
Substance or otherwise. Such a person scoffs at, or at least
utterly denies, the idea of a God, in any proper sense of the
term. The kind of person for whom Professor Plate is speak-
ing is one who would with us be styled an Agnostic, to
use the now commonly received term originally invented
by Huxley. But the really important point is that this
champion of monism, as he calls himself, freely admits that

1 A full account of the discussion, with comments by Fr. Wasmann,
will be found in his " Problem of Evolution," London. Kegan Paul, 1909.
8 P. 108. Italics here and elsewhere as in original.


if there is a Law there must be a Law-Giver. This would
seem a logical necessity were it not clear that it does not
appear to be so to all persons. Fr. Wasmann remarks on
the statement : " Plate's own confession that where there are
natural laws, there must be a law-giver, is one of the utmost im-
portance. A law-giver underlying the laws which He has
made, cannot be identified with those laws, for otherwise
He would be superfluous, as the laws of nature would suffice
independently of Him. Therefore the originator of the laws
of nature must be an exalted and intelligent being, in fact,
the personal Creator recognised by theism."

We saw the difficulty that three was to account for Matter,
and that in motion, and the alternatives offered for our
choice. The same alternatives are before us in considering
the maintenance of the Universe, for that is the question
now before us, the Laws of Nature being merely our descrip-
tion of the plan by which the Universe is maintained. Of
course, there is the objection, not very profound it will be
granted, yet often made : " You say that God created Matter
and set it in motion : How did God come to be or who
created Him ? " Here it is not possible to undertake the
full discussion of this question, but this may briefly be
said : —

Matter is limited in all sorts of ways. It has not in itself
any reason for its motion, much less has it any reason for
its existence. It is difficult to imagine a thing so limited
being the sum of things. The theist postulates an infinitely
perfect Being containing in Himself the reason of His
existence and therefore eternal, and maintains that only
an infinitely perfect being, could contain in Himself the
reason of His existence. Having postulated such a Being,
he proceeds to show that his explanation coincides with the
facts and explains them. As the Church teaches, it is
possible to arrive at a knowledge of God from natural
argument, therefore the theist reaches it. Having reached it
he may consider and attain to a belief in Revelation — a
matter with which we have nothing to do at the moment —
which will enlarge his ideas of the Deity and throw light
upon His providences.

This preliminary discussion on the manner in which the


Universe is maintained will lighten very greatly the task
which has to be essayed in the remainder of this chapter
and the next, namely, the discussion of the relation of
Prayer and of Miracles to the Laws of Nature with which
we have been dealing. Let us first deal with the question
of Prayer. And to begin with, let us dispose of the shallow
argument that this question may be approached, as mere
scientific questions are, by means of experiment. Experi-
mentally no doubt Christians are aware of many graces,
temporal as well as spiritual, which have been obtained as
the result of prayer ; but to argue, as some have tried to do,
that we may make an experiment in this matter, with the
ordinary controls, is to suppose that material and spiritual
things are of a like character, a common but most funda-
mental mistake. Even in this world it would be an
injudicious, not to say dangerous, thing to let the person
from whom we are seeking an exceptional favour suppose
that we were making him the subject of an experiment.
It would not be tactful, neither would it be respectful, and
it would be most unlikely to be attended by any favourable
result to our request.

Those who are opposed to our ideas on this matter must
allow us to lay down certain fundamental propositions
which, of course, we must eventually prove, but on which
we found our argument.

In the first place we postulate a personal God and we
believe Him to be omnipotent and the Creator and Main-
tainer of the Universe. From this it follows that He is
Himself the formulator of what we call the Laws of Nature,
in other words, He is the Law-Giver of whom we have been
speaking. He does not " break " His laws because what
people sometimes maintain are breaches are matters which
were provided for when the laws were first conceived. If
there be a God, nothing is more sure than that He has told
those who believe in Him to approach Him in their need
by prayer, and, according to our view, the fact that such
prayer may, if the gift be to our eternal benefit, be granted,
is as much a Law of Nature, that is a Law of God, as any of

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 13 of 38)