Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

The church and science online

. (page 15 of 38)
Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 15 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

for many occurrences which, in a less critical age, might
have been claimed as miraculous, but which wOuld not
be so thought to-day by educated Catholics. Of course it
may be said that the still more critical to-morrow may
dispose of things which to-day we suppose to be miraculous.
To which it may be replied that such an upheaval of all
our medical ideas, even the most fundamental, as this would
require is absolutely unthinkable, as will appear later.
Whilst admitting all that may be said as to the efficacy of
" suggestion " in a considerable number of cases, it is at
least permissible to ask why only, or almost only, at Lourdes


is the result of self-suggestion available ? Mr. Belloc 1
asks : " If what happens at Lourdes is the result of self-
suggestion, why cannot men, though exceptionally, yet in
similar great numbers, suggest themselves into health in
Pimlico or the Isle of Man ? It is no answer to say that
here and there such marvels are to be found. The point is
that men go to Lourdes in every frame of mind, and are
in an astonishing number cured." Of course we may be
met with the argument that the religious form of suggestion
is the strongest known ; but the materialist who ventures on
that argument is on very dangerous ground for himself, as
a very little consideration will show.

But over and above all this, the fact remains that there
are certain cases cured, or reported to be cured, at Lourdes
and elsewhere, into which it is quite impossible to suppose
that the element of suggestion can enter, and of which it
may be said that if, per impossibile, it were to be proved
that it did enter, the whole edifice of medical and surgical
science would have to be reconstructed. Such are cases
of broken and ununited bones, cancers, large destructions of
tissue by lupus, and other such conditions not of a nervous
origin, or to any extent capable of being influenced by the
nervous system. Every medical man knows the protean
character of the manifestations of hysteria, and can make a
guess at least as to the vagaries of which its victims are
capable. But no medical man will argue that suggestion
will instantaneously cure a broken limb even in an hysterical

Further, with such a condition, or with cancer, or any
other grave organic disease, nature seems to be too suffi-
ciently occupied to couple with it an hysterical condition.
Lastly, hysteria, though not wholly unknown, is rare in men,
amongst whom a great number of the cures at Lourdes
take place. In fact, the cases of the most remarkable
character are just those in which the hysterical element is
least, if at all in evidence. Take, for example, the case of
Gargam, 2 seriously injured, almost unto death, by a railway
accident. His spine was dislocated, as the Rontgen rays

1 In his preface to Jorgensen's " Lourdes."

2 See Jorgensen's " Lourdes," p. 161.


proved ; he was paralysed, and his limbs in places gan-
grenous. He was declared by many doctors to be incur-
able, and on that account was awarded a life annuity by
the law courts. He had abandoned his religion, but, to
please his mother, and apparently without any expectation
of a cure, he went to Lourdes, and was instantaneously
cured of all his ailments. Or take the case of Marie Le-
marchand, 1 who was cured, also instantaneously, of a most
severe form of lupus which had converted her countenance
into a thing of repulsive monstrosity. Sixteen years after
the cure, which is the last account of her, she had suffered
from no recurrence of the disease. These are but samples
of the more serious cases which have been cured at Lourdes,
and the difficulty of explaining them on the " suggestion "
hypothesis is intensified by their number.

The last-named case was admittedly the original of
Zola's Elise Roquet, of whom the novelist asserted that she
suffered from " an unknown formation of ulcers of hysterical
origin." Now apart from the two important facts that
lupus is as well known a form of disease as any that ever
comes before a medical man, and that it has nothing
whatever to do with hysteria, so far as anyone knows or
has ever to my knowledge suggested, the line of argument
pursued in this matter by Zola, when placed in the form of
a syllogism, would not deceive a babe in logic. His major
premise is that there are no ailments cured at Lourdes
which are not hysterical in their character. But Marie
Lemarchand was cured there of lupus. Therefore the disease
of which she was cured was hysterical in its origin, and as
lupus is not that, we will call the condition one of ulcera-
tion (which it was) and of unknown origin (which, by the
way, it was not).

Finally, let us glance at the very remarkable case of Pierre
de Rudder, cured not at Lourdes, but at Oostacker in Bel-
gium. 2 His leg had been broken by the fall of a tree, and
the fragments of bone remained ununited, in spite of surgical

1 See Jorgensen's " Lourdes," p. 175.

2 As this place and the village where de Rudder lived were in
the centre of the hottest fighting for some months, it is to be feared that
no trace of the shrine or of either village now exists.


efforts, for eight years. His condition was known to all his
neighbours and to medical men in the district around. Yet
he was instantaneously cured after praying at the shrine. 1
There can be no kind of doubt that the limb was broken, and
the fragments ununited prior to the cure : that rests on evi-
dence which cannot be gainsaid . Nor can there be any doubt
that the bones did reunite, for they are to be seen to-day, 2
and bear unmistakable evidence of having been fractured
and reunited. For the instantaneous character of the cure
there also appears to be abundant evidence. Suppose that
the cure had, after eight years of suffering, occurred very
slowly and without surgical aid. That would be almost
incredible to any medical man. But that it should have
been instantaneous takes it out of the category of natural
possibilities, unless, as I have said, the whole foundation
of our medical knowledge is inaccurate.

Too much stress in this and other cases can hardly be
laid upon the instantaneous nature of the cures. Nature
does sometimes cure patients suffering from tuberculous
and other usually incurable diseases, but never long un-
united fractures, nor, I think it may be said, true cancers
nor various other things of a severe and chronic character.
The cure, however, is slow ; never, I think it may be fear-
lessly asserted, instantaneous, as is so often the case at
Lourdes and elsewhere.

What we have to ask ourselves in face of any alleged
miracle which comes under our notice, is what the authorities
of the Church have to ask themselves when called upon to
pronounce judicially in such cases : Did things happen as
they are said to have happened ? Can the thing which
happened be explained upon natural lines ? Both of these
things are matters of evidence, and the proofs which will

1 Numerous accounts of this remarkable cure have been published.
The best known to me is " A Modern Miracle," from the French of Alfred
Deschamps, s.j., m.d., sc.d., published by the Catholic Truth Society
(id.), in wbich a very full account, with illustrations of de Rudder
and the bones of his legs which were removed after his death, is
given. Another account in a book entitled " Heaven's Recent Wonders,"
is vitiated by the fact that the cut of the sound leg is described in the text
as that of the injured and healed member.

a If they have escaped the peril of war. At any rate, they were removed
and placed in a museum after de Rudder's death.


convince one man will perhaps not suffice for another. No
one, however, who is not totally deaf and blind to all evi-
dence, can deny that the evidence in quite a number of
cases is uncommonly hard to get over. In fact, it is only
to be got over by the subterfuge of assuming that there
are no miracles, and that what seem to be such are occur-
rences under laws of which we are still in ignorance.

But see what comes of this. In a non-critical age it
was still possible to sneer at post -Apostolic or " Church "
miracles, and to retain an undiluted belief in those narrated
in the Bible. But that cannot be done nowadays : so we
find the Bible miracles naturally explained, or explained
in accordance with Dr. Sanday's statement, 1 that a " miracle
is not really a breach of the order of nature ; it is only an
apparent breach of laws that we know, in obedience to other
and higher laws that we do not know." In a sense this
statement is quite correct, and its author may be perfectly
orthodox in his meaning; but no one doubts that, in the
minds of many, such an explanation is equivalent to a state-
ment that miracles act according to or under natural laws.
After all, the essential element in the notion of miracle is
exception to, or derogation from, the laws of nature.
Whether this be effected by God's ordinary concurrence or
co-operation with secondary causes or by His introduction
of some higher agency, His action must be really an inter-
ference with the general order of nature. But nothing is
gained by ascribing this event to a " law." Indeed it is
precisely in this fact of individual intervention that the
supernatural revelation of God is manifested, and just in
this lies the probative force of the Gospel miracles to which
Christ so frequently appealed. 2 Moreover, when it has
once been admitted that the free-will of man can intervene
and alter the current of physical causation in his own
organism and immediate environment, it is not easy to see
why any theist should find insuperable difficulties in believ-
ing that a Personal God may, in analogous manner, inter-
vene and modify the general order of nature.

Here we may revert to what has already been alluded to,

1 " Life of Christ," viii, teste " Medicine and the Church," p. 202.
* E.g., Matt. xi. 5 ; John v. 36.


viz. the " unknown " law of Spinoza, who held that the
term miracle should be understood with reference to the
opinions of men, and that it means an event which we
cannot explain by means of the experience which we have
at hand but which may be explained when further experience
has been gained by the race. Thus the things that we are
enabled to see by the aid of the Rontgen rays would have
been thought to have been miraculously seen until the
discovery of the actual modus operandi was made. Up to
a point all must admit the truth of this observation ; yet
there remains a residuum of things which, as has been
suggested, it seems impossible that anything but the theory
of a miracle can account for. Again, it seems perfectly
clear that, if God is infinitely powerful and infinitely free,
as of course He must be, miracles are possible. But then,
it is argued, God cannot contradict Himself, as He would
be doing if He permitted the laws which He Himself had
set up to be contravened upon any occasion. This argu-
ment is forcibly put by Spinoza i 1 "If miracles are, strictly
speaking, all above nature, then you must admit a break in
the necessary and immutable course of nature ; which is
absurd. It would follow also that the principles of reason
are violable, for after all they are but laws of nature. In
that case we are unable to trust them, unable to prove the
existence of God ; and thus miracles, far from being a help
to the knowledge of God, prove a total impediment to that
knowledge." Here, however, Spinoza confuses two things,
viz. principles of nature and principles of reason. 2 No
miracle could alter the equation 2x2=4 because that is a
principle of reason, an enunciation of an inviolable truth.
But no principle of reason is infringed by the instantaneous
cure of a broken leg. It is only the instantaneous part of
the thing which is claimed as miraculous 3 and, as we have
often to be reminded, the element of time is not one which
comes into operation in connection with the Eternal Being.

1 For the full discussion of this question see Boedder, op. cit., p. 425.

2 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, " De Potentia," q. 6, art. i, obj. n.

3 The distinction between the two classes is very humorously brought
out in Mr. Chesterton's " Innocence of Father Brown," where the thief
posing as a priest is detected by just such false theology. As the genuine
priest is made to say — " Reason and justice grip the remotest and loneliest


Lastly, we have to see what is the natural corollary
of trying to explain away the numerous post-Apostolic
miracles which seem to attach themselves so closely to the
Catholic Church and which have been so forcibly repudiated
by other Christian denominations as well as by unbelievers.
If we must and can explain away the " Church " miracles,
why may not a similar method be pursued with the
Bible miracles — indeed, must we not in common honesty
pursue it ? But what comes of this ? First, that there was
no Virgin Birth, though it is difficult to see how any other
theory tallies with the age-long belief that Our Lady was the
flower of all virginity and of all womanhood, or is com-
patible with the view, which surely is not too high an
estimate, that she was an ordinarily good and modest woman.
Second, that the miracles of Our Lord were worked on per-
fectly natural lines, that He knew this, yet appealed to
them as proofs of His mission ; and, in spite of this deceit, He
is to be looked upon as at least the best of men, and a model
for us all. Again, either the Resurrection never took place
at all, or a very different interpretation must be put upon
it from that taught by the Church through the centuries.
Yet the Church in her corporate capacity was there to see
it, and the evidence of eyewitnesses in its favour is at least
as strong as that brought forward in verification of any other
historical event. And so on, and so on.

In all this we trace the corrosive effect of a general revolt
from authority. It eats away first one thing, then another,
until nothing is left but a few useless and apparently un-
related fragments. This is not a work on inter-credal
polemics, so that this matter will not be pursued any further,
nor would it have been introduced at all had it not been
necessary to show that a distorted view of the question of
miracles, such as is held by many outside the Church,
logically leads up to a renunciation of those miraculous

star. Look at those stars. Don't they look as if they were single diamonds
and sapphires ? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you
please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the
moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don't fancy that
all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the
reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of
pearl, you would still find a notice-board, ' Thou shalt not steal,' "


events which others than Catholics hold sacred. This does
not prove their truth. That can be attempted and with
success, as we believe, on different lines. What it does
show is that the doubt as to the possibility of occurrence
of one kind of miracle and the belief in that of the other is
not a very logical position for anyone to occupy.

Note. — It is interesting to note that Sir William Barrett, f.r.s., a
very distinguished physicist who is not a member of our Church, in his
recent book "On the Threshold of the Unseen" (London, Kegan Paul,
19 17) states it as his opinion that the common Protestant belief that
miracles, using this term in its widest sense, are credible in Scripture
but incredible out of it, is out of court.


WE learnt in connection with the Nebular Theory
that the earth on which we live may very probably
have consisted originally of a whirling mass of nebular sub-
stance abstracted, so to speak, from a much larger and
equally whirling mass from which our solar system has
taken its origin. As this nebula revolved, it gradually con-
tracted and became a spherical mass of molten substance
from which at some period or another it would appear that
the moon may have been thrown off. Still revolving and
slowly cooling, the earth gradually consolidated and became
what it is to-day. The science which reveals to us the
occurrences of the long-drawn ages, since the earth can be
said to have deserved that name, is known as geology.
Here we begin to come into contact with subjects with
which religion is closely associated, and hence it will be
necessary briefly to describe the scope of geological con-
siderations and to deal with the points where religious
interests are engaged. This will be the task of the present
and of succeeding chapters.

In the first place, then, it may be said that there are
at least three aspects of geology with which we are funda-
mentally concerned. First of all, enquiry must be made
into the agencies by which the earth has come to be as it
is. It is the task of Dynamical Geology to deal with this
part of the question. By it we are taught that, whilst vast
cataclysms must have taken place in the past, the agencies
of rain and wind and sun and ice and the like which we see
at work to-day, are responsible for many, perhaps even
most, of the changes which we have to study. Indeed

i S 6


even now cataclysms occur — on a smaller scale, no doubt,
than many of those in past ages, yet of great severity —
such as volcanic eruptions, shocks of earthquake, landslips,
and the like. Thus we have to take into account both
great and sudden changes and those other changes which
depend upon the slow day-after-day operations of the
ordinary forces of nature. It is neither possible nor in
any way necessary to devote much space to a detailed
account of the processes dealt with by Dynamical Geology.
The ordinary text -books on geology will give sufficient in-
formation and will supplement the few observations which

Anyone who has ever watched a boiling pot of porridge
will hardly have failed to notice that, under the influence
of the heat and even after it is taken off the fire, the
contents undergo great convulsions. Such, on a much
vaster scale, must have been what took place in the cooling
down of the molten mass from which the earth has been
formed. Further, as this cooling process went on — with
different rapidities in different places and in different con-
stituents — the varying tensions of different parts must have
caused the surface to be thrown into folds just as an apple
is as it dries and becomes shrivelled. Hence depressions
and elevations, primitive valleys, seas, lakes, and moun-
tains — waterless seas and lakes until the condensation of
the vapours around the earth filled them with fluid. At the
same time we may imagine that pent-up accumulations of
gas and steam in the interior of the crust would at times, as
they still do, burst forth in eruptions and lava-flows and
cause earthquakes and other phenomena with which we
are all familiar. But there was and there is a second
class of movements which are even more important to under-
stand if we are to comprehend the next chapter of geological
research, namely, stratigraphy. These are the slow, gradual
movements of depression or elevation which are always
going on, though not perceived by the inhabitants of the
earth until their results are pointed out by geologists. As
a result of these movements in the past there are parts
of the earth on which men walk about daily which were
once covered by the waves of the sea, and places once


habitable, once even inhabited by men, now covered by
the ocean.

" There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth, what changes hast thou seen !
There where the long street roars hath been
The stillness of the central sea." x

Hence, during a period of elevation, a given tract of earth
may acquire no addition of material save perhaps blown
sand : nay, will suffer denudation by rain and wind, whilst,
during a period of depression, it may, as a sea-bottom, be
covered thickly with the rich deposits carried down by some
mighty river. Thus the see-saw motion of alternate eleva-
tion and depression, with its necessary corollaries, will
account for the fact that the surface of the earth is not homo-
geneous and uniform, but consists, as even the most careless
observer can hardly fail to notice, of different materials
often arranged on top of one another — like " streaky bacon,"
to use a homely simile. Sometimes these layers stand side
by side like books on a shelf, or side by side yet obliquely,
like books on a half -empty shelf : sometimes they are con-
torted and twisted. To study these strata is the task of
Stratigraphical Geology — the second of the three divisions
to which allusion has been made. Not that these two are
not closely interlocked with one another, for it is Dynamical
Geology which must explain to its stratigraphical sister
why it is that the strata do not always lie evenly on top of
one another but assume the diverse positions just indicated.
We shall perhaps understand all this better if we suppose
for a moment that the Sahara were to be so much depressed
and the bed of the Mediterranean so much elevated that
where the desert now is there were to be a sea, and where
the sea is, dry land were to exist. Fresh deposits would be
laid down by the sea on what is now a sandy desert, whilst
what had formerly been the bed of the Mediterranean, now
dry land, would be exposed to all the processes of alteration
associated with terrestrial conditions. A further process of
depression in the Sahara might convert it into a brackish
inland lagoon, wherein a deposit of the character associated

1 " In Memoriam," cxxiii. This passage is said to refer to Cheltenham,
once part of the bed of the " Severn Sea."


with that kind of water would be laid down. Now let us
suppose that, after long ages, during which the deposits we
have been speaking of had hardened into rock, the Sahara
is once more subjected to elevation and becomes dry land
and is exposed to the examination of geologists. In the
section which they might make for the purposes of examina-
tion, they would first cut through a rock formed of the
deposits laid down in the brackish lagoon. Then they would
cut through the old bed of the sea. Finally, they would
arrive at the sandy surface of what was the Sahara — finally,
that is, so far as the stages which we have been considering,
for further down there would doubtless be other stories to
be unfolded. Under the conditions which we have been
considering, all these strata would lie evenly and flatly upon
one another just as we might lay a plank of oak on one of
deal and add a third of mahogany to the pile. But now let
us suppose that a violent eruption takes place through the
centre of these deposits. Its force will disturb their even
position, tilt them up — perhaps even to a position at right
angles to that which they originally occupied — and by its
terrific heat will so alter their appearance as to mask the
fact that they were originally deposited in water. Hence
arise what are called " met amorphic rocks."

So much, then, for the connection of Stratigraphical and
Dynamical Geology. We have still to glance at the constant
forces which are effecting the apparently unchanging surface
of the earth every moment of every day. Of these, of course,
the most potent is water in one or other of its manifesta-
tions. There are the waters of the sea constantly carving
away at the shores which they surround, here encroaching,
there receding, as the land undergoes the slow processes of
depression and elevation of which we have been speaking,
but always in either case gradually eroding the apparently
unalterable rocks. Then there are the running waters —
rivers and streams — carving out valleys and clefts in rocks,
carrying down to the sea vast quantities of deposits which
may accumulate at the mouths of rivers to form bars or
deltas, and in any case must be spread in large sheets over
the bed of the sea. As this matter will assume great im-
portance in connection with the question of man's period of


occupation of the earth it may be well to pause for a moment
and consider this matter of water-formed valleys.

Everyone who has ever looked at a river will be well
aware that in certain parts of its course it will be found to

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 15 of 38)