Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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instruments ten times as precise, we would never have had
a Kepler or a Newton, or Astronomy. It is a misfortune
for a science to be born too late, when' the means of observa-
tion have become too perfect. That is what is happening
at this moment with respect to physical chemistry : the
founders are hampered in their general grasp by third and
fourth decimal places ; happily they are men of robust
faith. As we get to know the properties of matter better
we see that continuity reigns."

It would thus appear that there are other reasons — be-
sides that general one that we must usually proceed step
by step — why it is even beneficial to science that its dis-
coveries should be made bit by bit. But it is certainly also
a lesson against proclaiming that we are at the end of our
journey when we may not yet have even come in sight of
the penultimate peak.

Those who take the trouble to pursue their studies in
this book to the end will scarcely fail to see that the greater
part of the argument which it presents is based on what


has been said up to the present, for the really important
thing to get into men's heads — difficult as the task seems —
is that there is all the difference in the world between a
Fact and a Theory, and more especially all the difference
in the world when we come to consider their respective
bearings upon the dogmas of religion. Consequently a
certain amount of repetition has been ventured upon in
this chapter in the hope that a restatement of certain of
the points previously dwelt upon may perhaps bring them
more clearly before the mind of some reader of these pages,
and for the same reason and again risking the accusation
of " vain repetition," a brief summary of these points may
now be given.

i. When we talk about a Fact we must be quite sure
that what we are talking about is a fact and not a mere

Let us take a homely example to explain once more
what is meant by this. " I hear A.B. has just been married
to CD."—" Is that a fact ? "— " Oh, yes, there can be no
doubt about it, for I was at the wedding myself and saw
the ceremony and was a witness to the signatures." That
certainly may be accepted as a fact which cannot be dis-
puted or cavilled at. But suppose the conversation con-
tinues : " I hear he married CD. out of pique and because
E.F. refused him."—" Is that a fact ? "— " Oh well !
everybody says that was the reason for what otherwise
seemed inexplicable." That is not a fact at all, but what
we should commonly call a bit of gossip. In a word, it is
a theory. It may be a theory founded on an established
fact or facts. For example : E.F. may have very unkindly
made it widely known that she had refused the offer of A.B.,
and further CD. may have been the kind of woman unlikely
to attract either by charm of person or manner, and un-
provided with the goods of this world which sometimes
seem to make up for a total lack of other attractions.
Under these circumstances the gossip or theory in ques-
tion may seem quite probable and yet, as we all know very
well, it may be wholly incorrect. No one really could clear
up the matter but A.B. himself, and it may be taken as
unlikely that he will do so. Certainly no man, not even the


most experienced of psychologists, can take upon himself
to explain why certain persons attract certain other persons,
and it is consequently impossible to say that A.B. has net
imagined that he has found or actually has found in CD.
charms quite unsuspected by the outer world yet all-
sufficient for himself. This homely parable will, it is hoped,
make the point clear. A provable fact is a fact, but a
theory is a theory, and may never rise to the position or
value of an established fact.

2. There are things which seem to be established facts
and which yet may not be so, such as the old idea respecting
the Chemical Elements. Now let us bear this in mind :
such possibly controvertible facts — if that term may be
employed for a moment — are " facts " of a comprehensive
nature which have passed from the category of hypotheses
into that of facts. Single isolated facts but rarely suffer
such a fate. No doubt Bathybius did, but such facts as
these : — man has a backbone ; gold is heavier than alumin-
ium ; the whale is a mammal, and so on — cannot be con-

But the idea of the Chemical Elements, which is a com-
prehensive fact — if fact at all — based upon a number of
subsidiary facts and observations, began life as a theory and
won such wide acceptance that it came to be looked upon
as a fact and taught as such, though all the time it was
very largely, though, as we have seen, not completely, false
and unfounded.

3. We must not forget that the inaccurate or imperfectly
accurate theory may have been exceedingly useful in its
time either in explaining matters better than they had
previously been explained, or in promoting work along lines
hitherto unpursued and yet exceedingly fruitful. When
we discuss the theory of Natural Selection in later chapters
of this book we shall learn that but few look upon it now-
adays as more than a very partial explanation of the process
of evolution, though some years ago it held a much stronger
position than that. Yet no one will dispute the fact that
it has made some at least of the operations of nature clearer,
if only by the criticism which it has provoked ; and that in
any case it has stimulated enquiries which have led to the


vast enrichment of our knowledge of biological facts.
Further — and this is certainly a quite unsuspected conclu-
sion — it seems to be clear that the early imperfection of a
theory is actually necessary to its ultimate and complete
comprehension, and that its complete unfolding when first
discovered would, paradoxical as it may seem, interfere
with its capacity for being grasped and utilised by the men
of science of the day.

4. Such being the case, the Catholic can look with
complete religious unconcern on all disputes as to theory,
however much his scientific interest may be awakened
by them. Facts, incontrovertible facts, do not really
conflict with religious questions, and only a false attitude
towards the Bible can cause them to appear to do so. It
can hardly be supposed, to refer to an instance quoted
above, that anyone would be upset if he read in the Bible
or in the works of some justly venerated Father of the
Church, that the whale was " a great fish," when he knows
very well that fish it is not. He knows, or he ought to
know, that the word is used in a popular manner and in a
way with which we are very familiar ourselves. No one
would feel the slightest sensation of surprise if on any
Friday in the year he found himself sitting down to a " fish-
dinner " on the menu of which appeared lobsters and oysters,
neither of which are fish, nor even anatomically as near fish,
as the whale. Similarly, "the sun stood still," like our
" the sun rises," is a popular method of speaking, and in-
volves the fact that in some way or another — and various
ways have been suggested — God Almighty did prolong
the hours of light in the case of Joshua ; certainly does
not necessarily involve inferences which churchmen of
the time of Galileo unwisely read into the statement.
They, as we have seen, were men of their own time and
not in front of it, and they fell into the errors natural to
what figured in those days as science. But we should be
careful to make use of the better guidance which we have
obtained in such utterances as the " Providentissimus Deus "
and avoid the mistakes which we can see our predecessors
have made and which, indeed, it would have been ex-
ceedingly difficult for them to have avoided. On the


other hand, our belief in God and in Revelation assures us
that any theory which appears to conflict with either will
only do so in appearance, or will turn out, in so far as it
does so conflict, to have been inaccurate.

5. As regards the various facts and theories which we
have been considering in the preceding pages, it is obvious
to anyone considering them, in the most superficial
manner, that they in no way come into even apparent
conflict with any of the doctrines of the Catholic Church.
Whether everything that has been said respecting the Ether
and the Electrical Theory of Matter be proved truth or utter
misconception, matters, from the point of view of religion,
not one single atom. We have to get further along the
pathways of science before we begin to find even the shadow
of religious contradiction.

What at least we may learn is this : that the incompre-
hensible and inscrutable wonders of which so slight a sketch
has been given must, on the purely materialistic explana-
tion of things, have all come about by blind chance : and we
ask ourselves in all seriousness whether that is the kind of
explanation which a reasonable man can possibly accept.
There was a time, not so long ago, when people used to be
told, not perhaps by the wisest of men, that they should
not believe anything which they could not understand,
and that as they could not understand God they could not
be expected to believe in Him. Here, perhaps, it may be
parenthetically enquired, what kind of a God would that
be whom His creatures could understand ? But let that
pass. We are now asked by serious men of science to believe
in an entity, like the Ether, which is full of all sorts of
apparent difficulties and even contradictions. We are told
that it is impossible to believe in God because He could not
be at once absolutely just and all-merciful and omnipotent
and tolerate evil. Yet we must believe in the Ether which
is uncompressible, denser than anything which we can con-
ceive and yet through which anything can pass without
friction. This analogy is not mentioned for the purpose of
raising difficulties about the Ether but merely to point out
that if there are difficult mysteries in religion there are
mysteries of science in their own way certainly not less


difficult to believe. Yet there are those who look upon us
as weak-minded if we ignore or explain the difficulties of
religion, and yet regard us as impertinent if we refuse our
credence, implicit and instant, to the teaching of the
science of to-day. There seems to be a little unfairness
in this distinction.


^" A HE Church makes but one statement as to the origin
of the universe and of this world, which is a very
small part thereof : " God created them." Beyond this
she does not go, and as was said in the previous chapter,
science and religion are on wholly distinct and not even
adjacent paths so far as concerns the subjects with which
we have been dealing hitherto.

Ninety-nine per cent of the teachings of science are of
no consequence to religion as such. This is the case with
practically all the teachings of Chemistry and Physics. As
to the remaining one per cent of the teachings, they too,
if properly looked at, also have nothing really to do with

It is, however, otherwise with Philosophy, which has a
burning interest of its own in the matters so far under
discussion. To this aspect of the question we must now
turn our attention, devoting some little space to a brief
consideration of the extraordinarily interesting and extra-
ordinarily difficult question of the Scholastic Doctrine of
Matter and Form. This can only be touched upon in
these pages so far as to indicate to readers the outlines
of the theory and its relations to some of the more recent
views of men of science as to the nature of Matter. 1

1 It is almost impossible to grasp the full significance of the theory
in question without longer study than can be afforded to it by others than
professed philosophers and theologians. Those who desire to make
further acquaintance with it than is possible in the few pages which can
here be devoted to it, may commence by studying the following articles in
the " Catholic Encyclopaedia " : " Matter " — " Form " — " Cosmology "
and other articles mentioned under those headings. They may then



The very first thing which is necessary, in approaching
the Scholastic idea of Matter and Form, is to get rid of all
preconceived ideas respecting both of these words, and
especially all ideas such as those which have been under
consideration in previous chapters. Matter, as we com-
monly talk of it and as we have been considering it, is a
real entity — " Matter " in the Scholastic sense is rather a
metaphysical entity than a real physical one, since it can
have and has no existence by itself and apart from Form.
The Matter of the physicists is a thing which in its various
manifestations we can see and handle, the other is a thing
which we cannot see or handle because it cannot exist by
itself. Let us see how this is. It is clear from our own
everyday observations that Matter — as commonly under-
stood — presents to us a double series of manifestations — " it
is not only active, but passive ; not only one in its nature,
but manifold in its extended parts ; not only special in
its own nature, but generically common in all natures ;
furthermore, it changes from one nature to another, and that
by way of transformation, not of simple substitution, for
there is something common to it before and after the
change." 1 Thus we are led to believe that Matter, as com-
monly conceived, is not single but dual in its constitution.
It is held by this theory that there are two opposite prin-
ciples required. The first of these is Primordial Matter, the
" Matter " of the Scholastic. Speaking in common terms,
we may think of this as the indispensable basis of all things.
It cannot exist by itself, and we cannot represent it to our-
selves any more than we can represent to ourselves sub-
stantial form which is its accompaniment. But we can
conceive of each of them. " For St. Thomas, primordial
matter is the common ground of substantial change, the
element of indetermination in corporeal beings. It is a
pure potentiality or determinability, void of substantiality,
of quality, of quantity, and of all the other accidents that

proceed to consolidate their knowledge by studying Fr. John Rickaby's
" General Metaphysics " in the Stonyhurst Series. They will then be in a
position, should they so desire, to make a really serious study of the
question in the pages of the learned " Cosmologie " of Professor Nys, of
Louvain, or in those of Fr. Harper's " Metaphysics of the School."
1 Rickaby, op. cit., p. 86.


determine sensible being. It is not created, neither is it
creatable, but rather concreatable and concreated with
Form, to which it is opposed as a correlate, as one of the
essential ' intrinsic constituents ' of those corporeal beings
in whose existence the act of creation terminates. Similarly
it is not generated, neither does it corrupt in substantial
change, since all generation and corruption is a transition
in which one substance becomes another, and consequently
can only take place in changes of composite subjects. It is
produced out of nothing and can only cease to be by falling
back into nothingness. Its potentiality is not a property
superadded to its essence, for it is a potentiality towards
substantial being." 1

Form, on the other hand, is the intrinsic determinant of
anything that is determinable. Form comes and goes, while
the matter with which it co-exists remains as the principle
of unity. " While forms come and go, matter is the same
throughout, not being liable to ' corruption and genera-
tion.' " 2 After these formal definitions it may be simpler
to put matters in this way. There is a common " matter "
which cannot exist by itself but is always associated with
" form." This common " matter " is the same in gold
and in lead, in the rose and in the rabbit. It is in the
materia prima or prothyle. "Form" is the correlative
matter which makes the gold gold and not lead, the rose
a rose and not a rabbit. This is the " substantial form."
We cannot see it by itself, any more than we can see
" matter " by itself : it is the combination which is evident
to our senses.

Further, the " form " may change though the matter
remains. Thus the rose may and certainly will decay and
cease to be anything which we could call or think of as a
rose. Its " matter " remains, though its " form " has
changed ; the form of a rose having disappeared and that
of a number of other things having taken its place.

Many volumes have been written on this subject, far
exceeding in number the total of the pages which can here
be devoted to it. Hence many — perhaps most — of the points

1 " Catholic Encyclopaedia," sub voce " Matter."
% Rickaby, ut supra.


of interest and controversy must be passed over undiscussed,
nor can any attention be paid to other schools of thought on
the subject. But the following matters must not be passed

The kind of " form " may be different, apart from the
differences which lead to such different manifestations of
matter with form as — say — lead or gold. Gold, for example,
is equivalent to materia prima plus a corporeal and ultimate
form which is inseparable from it. This is a corporeal sub-
stantial form. A rabbit is materia prima with a form also,
but a form of a higher order. In the Aristotelian and
Scholastic view the form in a living animal is the vital
principle or actuating energy which unifies and dominates
the material factor constituting with it a living being of a
definite kind. They deemed it incapable of subsisting apart
from the body, but called it an " animal soul." 1

Finally, in the common teaching of the Schoolmen, man
is materia prima with a form, but again a form of a totally
different and still higher order. The " form " of man is
his rational soul, and that is a Spiritual or " separated "
form, for it can exist apart from the body which it normally
actuates and for which, as the Schoolmen believed, it
retained a certain aptitude or disposition even when separ-
ated at death. On the other hand, the " form " of the
rabbit disappears with the death of the animal. 2

1 It will be noticed by those familiar with his work, of which more will
be said in a later chapter, that Driesch, in his theory of the " entelechy,"
has returned to and fully accepted this position, though, of course, in no
sense a follower of the Schoolmen.

2 Though this difficult matter cannot be discussed here with any
fullness, the following points may be added: The " form " of a plant or
animal is not a spiritual or subsistent " form." Spiritual, according to the
scholastics, means capable of acting and subsisting apart from matter.
They deemed the angels purely spiritual or " subsisting " forms — Formes
subsistentes — naturally existing altogether apart from matter. This the
human soul does not, for it retains an aptitude or inclination for its
partner. Also some Schoolmen — the Scotists generally — held that the
human soul did not immediately and directly inform the materia prima ;
that between them there were intermediate subsidiary forms or stages of
actuation, and they used their theory ingeniously to explain the growth
of the hair, nails, etc., after death by the survival or succession of other
forms. The conception has difficulties but is a very useful one for the
neo-scholastic who has to meet the difficulty of the sort of subsidiary life
and individuality assigned to the cell by modern biology. This is more
difficult to harmonize with the doctrine of the soul immediately and
directly informing pure materia prima.


Of course no attempt can here be made to submit any
proof of these doctrines, nor even to outline the reasons for
them. All that has been attempted is to sketch them out
so that their bearing on what has gone before may be
estimated, and, it may be added, a foundation laid for what
has to be said in subsequent chapters.

Now let us turn to the physical idea of Matter. According
to the idea sketched out in Chapter vii, the ether is the
underlying element of all matter and is always the same.
The various forms of matter presented to our senses are
modifications of that ether or common substructure. They
are, as Sir Oliver Lodge puts it, " like knots in a piece of
string." As all sailors know, there are a variety of knots,
any one of which can be made in a piece of string and again
unmade. The piece of string remains the same, though its
appearance may have been completely modified and again
modified and remodified by the various knots into which
it has been twisted. In all of this there is a certain resem-
blance between the two theories, since we may equate
materia prima with the ether and " form " with the kink or
knot which it assumes in any given body. Yet there is a
profound difference between the two in this respect. Matter
according to most of the scholastics, and certainly according
to Aristotle himself, is nothing of itself. Aristotle said that
it has " neither quiddity, nor quantity, nor quality, nor any
of the determinants of Being." 1 Ether, on the other hand,
has very marked characters, as we have seen. It is an
entity, if it exists at all, and not an abstraction like materia
prima. Hence according to the pure scholastic doctrine it
would have its own " form " and so be a particular kind of
materia secunda or ordinary matter, and we should have to
get behind that etheric form to arrive at the true materia
prima. In this connection it must not be forgotten that
some of the scholastics have argued that materia prima
has a sort of incomplete entity of its own, which would
bring us at least within measurable distance of the physical
idea of the ether as the basis of all matter.

There are at least two important points to be borne in

1 Rickaby, ut supra.


mind before we pass away from a subject which has been all
too briefly treated.

In the first place, it will readily be agreed that the theory
of Matter and Form, as thus sketched out, does approximate
to the modern idea of matter far more than it does to the
doctrines of chemistry and physics commonly taught up
to yesterday.

As long as it was held that there were eighty or more
manifestations of matter, all utterly and ab initio different
from one another— -fundamentally different — the scholastic
doctrine could find no common ground for discussion with
the rigid supporters of such a doctrine. It is not now
denied that metaphysical chemists may all the time have
admitted the existence of a materia prima ; what is being
discussed now is the commonly accepted idea. Now, how-
ever, that chemists, and still more physicists, are more or
less agreed upon the ether as the basis of material objects,
it is clear that we have arrived at a point not far distant
from the conception of the Scholastics. This, at least, may
be said : that the conception which has held from the time
of Aristotle up to the time of Boyle is nearer modern
scientific ideas than the conception ordinarily held by
chemists until within the last few years and from the days
of the Alchemists.

The other point which Catholics should carefully bear
in mind is this : Religion does not stand or fall by the
Scholastic Philosophy, as many of the opponents of the
Church try to make out. The Scholastic Philosophy, as
pointed out in Chapter iv, is the traditional philosophy
of the Catholic Church. The Church has utilised its
terminology and nomenclature in the definition of her
dogmas. She has employed the conceptions of the Scholastic
Philosophy in the exposition and explanation of these
dogmas ; its principles and arguments in their system-
atisation and justification. In fact, the old philosophy of
the great Greek pagans was adopted by the theological
thinkers of the Middle Ages and developed into an instru-
ment of marvellous elasticity, subtilty and precision for
organising, unfolding and harmonising with reason the
whole content of doctrine contained in the Christian Revela-


tion with its logical implications. As a consequence, the
technical theology of the Church and the authoritative
enunciation of her dogmas have become so thoroughly in-
corporated in the language of the Scholastic Philosophy,
and so long and so familiarly illustrated by the metaphysical
concepts of that system of thought that it is pretty certain

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 9 of 38)