Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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and plant. Of course, new wants would produce new organs; and thus have
animals been growing more and more complicated and perfect from the
earliest periods of geological history. Man began his course as a monad,
but, by the force of Lamarck's two principles, has reached the most
elevated rank on the scale of animals. His last condition before his
present was that of the monkey tribe, especially that of the orang-outang.
The advocates of this hypothesis generally, however, suppose that there
are from three to fifteen species of men, and that the different races are
not mere varieties of one species. The most perfect species, the
Caucasian, after leaving the monkey state, has gradually risen through the
inferior species, and is still making progress; so that we cannot tell
where they will stop. In general, the advocates of this hypothesis are
materialists; that is, they do not suppose that there is a soul in man,
distinct from the body, but that thought is one of the functions of the
brain. They usually also regard moral qualities as mainly dependent upon
organization, agreeably to the opinions of ultra phrenologists; and hence
that they are more to be pitied than blamed for their deviations from

Such is the hypothesis. Let us now, in the first place, assume it to be
proved, and see what inferences follow.

_I remark, first, that the occurrence of events according to law does not
remove the necessity of a divine contriving, superintending, and
sustaining Power._

That every event in the universe takes place according to fixed laws I am
ready to admit. For what is a natural law? Nothing more nor less than the
uniform mode in which divine power acts. In the case of miracles, it may
be that the ordinary laws of nature are suspended or counteracted; at
least, they are increased or diminished in their power. Yet from what we
know of the divine perfections, we must conclude that God has certain
fixed rules by which he is regulated in the performance of miracles; and,
of course, in the same circumstances we should expect the same miracles.
So that we may reasonably admit that even miracles are regulated and
controlled by law, like common events; though, from the infrequency of the
former, men cannot understand the laws that regulate them.

Now, if the advocates of this hypothesis mean simply that every event is
regulated by law, - in other words, that with like antecedents like
consequents will be connected, - I have no controversy with them; and such
is the precise statement of a modern anonymous popular writer on the

He declares that his "purpose is, to show that the whole revelation of the
works of God presented to our senses and reason is a system based on what
we are compelled, for want of a better term, to call _law_; by which,
however, is not meant a system independent or exclusive of the Deity, but
one which only proposes _a certain mode of his working_." - _Sequel to the
Vestiges of Nat. Hist. of Creation_, p. 2. - But this is by no means all
that is meant by this hypothesis. Nay, the grand object of the writer
above quoted is, to show that there is no such thing as miraculous
interference in the creation or preservation of the universe. He admits
only the ordinary laws of nature, but denies all special and extraordinary
laws; and says that it does not "appear necessary that God should exercise
an immediately superintending power over the mundane economy." - _Vestiges_,
p. 273. - Nay, he denies that the original creation of the universe and of
animals and plants required any thing but the operation of natural laws;
of such laws as we see and understand. The thought does not seem to have
occurred to him, that special and miraculous acts of the Deity may be as
truly governed by law as the motions of planets. Every thing of that sort
he seems to regard as a violation of law, - a stepping aside from fixed
principles, - a sort of afterthought with Jehovah, - a remedy for some
defect in his original plans. True, the law of miracles and of special
providence is very different from the common course of nature; and,
therefore, the one may for a time supersede the others. But this does not
prove that the former is not regulated by laws; nor that it did not enter
into the original plan of the universe in the divine mind. It must have
been a part of that plan; every thing was a part of it, and there can be
with him no afterthought, no improvement, no alteration of his eternal

Admitting that every event, miraculous as well as common, is under law, it
by no means renders a present directing and energizing Deity unnecessary.
This hypothesis admits that organic life had a beginning, for its grand
object is to show how it began by law alone. Now, who gave to matter, in a
gaseous state, such wonderful laws that this fair world should be the
result of their operation? If it would require infinite wisdom as well as
power to create the present universe at once out of nothing, would it
demand less of contrivance and skill to impart such powers to brute
matter? It was not merely a power to produce organic natures, to form
their complicated organs, to give life, and instinct, and intellect; but
to adapt each particle, each organ, each animal, and each plant, most
exactly and most wonderfully to its place in the vast system, so that
every single thing should most beautifully harmonize with every other

Again. What is a natural law without the presence and energizing power of
the lawgiver? How easily are men bewildered by words! and none has led
more astray than this word _law_. We talk about its power to produce
certain effects; but who can point out any inherent power of this sort
which it possesses? Who can show how a law operates but through the
energizing influence of the lawgiver? How unphilosophical then to separate
a law of nature from the Deity, and to imagine him to have withdrawn from
his works! For to do this would be to annihilate the law. He must be
present every moment, and direct every movement of the universe, just as
really as the mind of man must be in the body to produce its movements.
Take away God from the universe, or let him cease to act mentally upon it,
and every movement would as instantly and certainly cease, as would every
movement of the human frame, were the mind to be withdrawn, or cease to
will. We realize the necessity of the divine presence and energy to
produce a miracle. But if miracles are performed according to law, as much
as common events, - and we surely cannot prove they are not, - why is a
present Deity any more necessary in the one case than in the other? The
Bible considers common and miraculous events exactly alike in this
respect. And true philosophy teaches the same.

I see not, then, why this law hypothesis does not require an infinite
Deity, just as much as the ordinary belief, which supposes that God
originally created the universe by his fiat, and sustains it constantly by
his power, and from time to time interferes with the regular sequence of
cause and effect by miracles. The only difference seems to be this: While
the common view represents God as always watching over his works, and
ready, whenever necessary, to make special interpositions, the law
hypothesis introduces him only at the very dawn of the universe, exerting
his infinite wisdom and power to devise and endow matter with exquisite
laws, capable, by their inherent self-executing power, of originating all
organic natures, and producing the infinite variety of nature, and keeping
in play her countless and unceasing agencies. It was only necessary that
he should impress attenuated matter with these laws, and then put the
machine in motion, and it would go on forever, without any need of God's
presence or agency; so that he might henceforward give himself up to
undisturbed repose.

I know, indeed, that La Place, and some other advocates of this latter
hypothesis, do not admit any necessity for a Deity even to originate
matter or its laws; and to prove this was the object of the nebular
hypothesis. But how evident that in this he signally failed! For even
though he could show how nebulous matter, placed in a certain position,
and having a revolution, might be separated into sun and planets, by
merely mechanical laws, yet where, save in an infinite Deity, lie the
power and the wisdom to originate that matter, and to bring it into such a
condition, that, by blind laws alone, it would produce such a universe - so
harmonious, so varied, so nicely adjusted in its parts and relations as
the one we inhabit? Especially, how does this hypothesis show in what
manner these worlds could be peopled by countless myriads of organic
natures, most exquisitely contrived, and fitted to their condition? The
atheist may say that matter is eternal. But if so, what but an infinite
mind could in time begin the work of organic creation? If the matter
existed for eternal ages without being brought into order, and into
organic structures, why did it not continue in the same state forever?
Does the atheist say, All is the result of laws inherent in matter? But
how could those laws remain dormant through all past eternity, - that is,
through a period literally infinite, - and then at length be aroused into
intense action? Besides, to impute the present wise arrangements and
organic creations of the world to law, is to endow that law with all the
attributes with which the Theist invests the Deity. Nothing short of
intelligence, and wisdom, and benevolence, and power, infinitely above
what man possesses, will account for the present world. If there is, then,
a power inherent in matter adequate to the production of such effects,
that power must be the same as the Deity; and, therefore, it is truly the
Deity, by whatever name we call it. In short, the fact that La Place did
not see that his hypothesis utterly failed to account for the universe
without a Deity, strikingly shows us, that a man may be a giant in
mathematics, while he is only a pygmy in moral reasoning; or, to make the
statement more general, how a man, by an exclusive cultivation of one
faculty of the soul, may shrivel all the rest into a nutshell.

From these views and reasonings, it is clear, I think, that the hypothesis
of creation by law does not necessarily destroy the theory of religion.
For if we admit that every thing in the world of matter and of mind, not
excepting miracles and special providences, is regulated, if not produced,
by law, it does not take away the necessity of a contriving, sustaining,
and energizing Deity. Even though we admit that God has communicated to
nature's laws, at the beginning, a power to execute themselves, (though
the supposition is quite unphilosophical,) no event is any the less God's
work, than if all were miraculous.

In consistency with this conclusion, we find that while some advocates of
this hypothesis evidently intended it to sustain atheism, its most
plausible advocate, as we have seen, fully admits, not only the divine
existence, but the reality of revelation. It may, indeed, be doubted
whether this anonymous writer has not virtually taken away the Deity, and
even moral accountability, by his materialism and his ultra-phrenology;
yet we do not see but he may assert his law system without denying God's
existence or attributes.

It must be admitted, however, that the influence of this hypothesis upon
practical religion is disastrous. It does, apparently, so remove the Deity
from all concern in the affairs of the world, and so foists law into his
place, that practically there is no God. If his agency is acknowledged, as
having put the vast machine in motion, in some indefinitely remote period
of past duration, yet the feeling is, that since then he has given up the
reins into the hands of law, so that man has nothing to do with him, but
only with nature's laws; that he has only to submit to these, and not
expect any interposition for his relief, however earnestly he cry for it.
Now, it is obviously the intention and desire of the advocates of this
hypothesis thus to remove God away from his works, and from their
thoughts; else why should they so strenuously resist the notion of
miracles? For these may just as properly be referred to law as common
events. Yet it is one of the most striking features of the hypothesis,
that it opposes strongly the idea of any special oversight and
interposition on the part of the Deity. True, when we look at the subject
philosophically, we must acknowledge that an event is just as really the
work of God, when brought about by laws which he ordains and energizes, as
by miraculous interposition. Still the practical influence of these two
views of Providence is quite different.

Whoever the author of the Vestiges may be, he has evidently lived in a
religious community, and felt the influence of a religious atmosphere; for
he tries to conform his system as much as possible to the principles of
Protestant Christianity. In other words, he feels so much the power of
practical piety around him, that he does not suffer the influence of the
system which he advocates to exhibit itself fully, nor to drive him into
those extravagances of belief which naturally result from it. In order to
see what is its natural tendency, we need to go to such a country as
Germany, or Switzerland, where there is little to restrain the wildest
vagaries of belief. In the works of Professor Lorenz Oken, of Zurich, we
see fully developed the tendencies and results of this hypothesis of
development by law, combined with the unintelligible idealism of Kant,
Fichte, Schelling, &c. In his Physio-philosophy, translated by the Ray
Society for the edification of sober, matter-of-fact Anglo-Saxons, we find
a man, of strong mind and extensive knowledge, taking the most ridiculous
positions with the stoutest dogmatism, and the most imperturbable gravity,
yet whose blasphemy is equalled only by their absurdity. Let a few
quotations illustrate and confirm this statement.

"The highest mathematical idea, or the fundamental principle of all
mathematics, is the zero == 0.

"Zero is in itself nothing. Mathematics is based upon nothing, and
consequently arises out of nothing.

"Real and ideal are no more different from each other than ice and water:
both of these, as is well known, are essentially one and the same, and yet
are different, the diversity consisting in the form. Every real is
absolutely nothing else than a number.

"The Eternal is the nothing of nature.

"There is no other science than that which treats of nothing.

"There exists nothing but nothing - nothing but the Eternal.

"Every thing in the world is endowed with life; the world itself is alive,
and continues only, maintains itself by virtue of its life.

"Man is God wholly manifested. God has become man, zero has become + - .
Man is the whole of arithmetic, compacted, however, out of all numbers; he
can, therefore, produce numbers out of himself.

"Animals are men who never imagine. They are beings who never attain to
consciousness concerning themselves. They are single accounts; man is the
whole of mathematics.

"Arithmetic is the truly absolute or divine science. Theology is
arithmetic personified.

"For God to become real, he must appear under the form of the sphere.
There is no other form for God. God manifesting is an infinite sphere.

"God is a rotating globe; the world is God rotating.

"The whole universe is material, is nothing but matter; for it is the
primary act repeating itself eternally in the centre. The universe is a
rotating globe of matter.

"There is no dead matter; it is alive through its being, through the
Eternal that is in it. Matter has no existence in itself, but it is the
Eternal only that exists in it. Every thing is God that is there, and
without God there is absolutely nothing.

"Every thing that is is material. Now, however, there is nothing that is
not; consequently there is every where nothing immaterial.

"Fire is the totality of ether, is God manifested in his totality.

"Every thing that is has originated out of fire; every thing is only
cooled, rigidified fire.

"God being in himself is gravity; acting, self-emergent light; both
together, or returning into himself, heat.

"God only is monocentral. The world is the bicentral God, God the
monocentral world, which is the same with the monas and dyas.
Self-consciousness is a living ellipse.

"God is a threefold trinity; at first the eternal, then the ethereal, and
finally the terrestrial, where it is completely divided.

"The symbolical doctrine of the colors is correct according to the
philosophy of nature. Red is fire, love - Father. Blue is air, truth, and
belief - Son. Green is water, formation, hope - Ghost. These are the three
cardinal virtues. Yellow is earth, the immovable, inexorable falsity, the
only vice - Satan. There are three virtues, but only one vice. A result
obtained by physio-philosophy, whereof pneumato-philosophy as yet augurs

"The primary mucus, out of which every thing organic has been created, is
the sea mucus.

"The whole sea is alive. It is a fluctuating, ever self-elevating, and
ever self-depressing organism.

"If the organic fundamental substance consist of infusoria, so must the
whole organic world originate from infusoria. Plants and animals can be
only metamorphoses of infusoria. No organism has consequently been created
of larger size than an infusorial point; whatever is larger has not been
created, but developed.

"The mind, just as the body, must be developed out of these animals,
(infusoria.) The human body has been formed by an extreme separation of
the neuro-protoplasmic or mucous mass; so must the human mind be a
separation, a memberment of infusorial sensation. The highest mind is an
anatomized or dismembered mesmerism, each member whereof has been
constituted independent in itself.

"The liver is the soul in a state of sleep, the brain is the soul active
and awakening.

"Circumspection and forethought appear to be the thoughts of the bivalve
mollusca, and snails.

"Gazing upon a snail, one believes that he finds the prophesying goddess
sitting upon the tripod. What majesty is in a creeping snail, what
reflection, what earnestness, what timidity, and yet at the same time what
firm confidence! Surely a snail is an exalted symbol of mind slumbering
deeply within itself."

It is difficult for an Anglo-Saxon mind to believe that a man who could
write thus was not out of his senses. Yet Oken is an eminent physiologist,
and has made, it is said, important discoveries in respect to the cranial
homologies, which have been developed in Professor Owen's work on the
Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton. Nay, Oken declares himself to have
written his Physio-philosophy "in a kind of inspiration" - from what world
the religious man might be in doubt.

These extravagant notions show what is the natural tendency of the law
hypothesis. Yet it does not necessarily convert a man into an atheist. And
if any of its advocates declare themselves Theists, and even Christians,
we need not regard them as hypocrites, though we may consider them as in
an eminently dangerous position; and that, when they shall act
consistently, they will swing off into utter irreligion. But my arguments
against the hypothesis will be based on the position that _it is not
sustained by facts_; and this is the second position of my lecture.

The nebular hypothesis is a part of the foundation on which the doctrine
of creation by law rests. And the high scientific reputation of its
author, as well as its apparent coincidence with some of the deductions of
geology respecting the earliest condition of the earth, have made
philosophers look upon it with considerable favor. Yet very few have been
ready to give it implicit credence. And of late the most plausible
evidence in its favor seems to be fast vanishing away. The ablest
mechanicians are unable to see how a rotary motion should be produced in
nebulous matter by refrigeration; or, if this be assumed, how the
successive portions, detached by superior centrifugal force, should form
spherical masses. But a still more formidable objection lies in the fact
that, as improvements are made in telescopes, one and another of the
nebulæ, on which the hypothesis rests, have been resolved into stars; and
the presumption hence arising is very strong that all are resolvable. In
the present aspect of the subject, no sagacious philosopher would dare to
rest even an hypothesis upon the unresolved nebulæ. If, however, the
nebular hypothesis were shown to be true, it would prove nothing in regard
to the production of animals and plants by mere law, without the special
agency of the Deity.

The essential and inherent vitality of some kinds of matter is another
doctrine on which this hypothesis rests. "In vain," says Bory St. Vincent,
"has matter been considered as eminently brute. Many observations prove
that, if it is not all active, by its very nature, a part of it is
essentially so; and the presence of this, operating according to certain
laws, is able to produce life in an agglomeration of the molecules; and
since these laws will always be imperfectly known, it will at least be
rash to maintain that an infinite intelligence did not impose them; since
they are manifested by their results." - _Dictionnaire Classique
d'Histoire Naturelle_, art. _Materie_.

The "observations" to which this writer refers to sustain his hypothesis
are those which had been made upon certain vegetable infusions, which, in
certain circumstances, exhibited minute particles in motion, apparently by
vital forces. These were called _monads_, and were not supposed to be
distinct animals, but only atoms, ready to be organized. The more modern
and accurate researches of Ehrenberg and others, however, have shown,
beyond all doubt, that these monads are true animals, the minutest of all
living beings hitherto discovered. Not less than twenty-six species of
them have been described and figured by microscopists, the smallest of
which never exceeds the twelve thousandth of an inch in diameter.

The vegetable physiologists have described certain peculiar motions in the
minute vessels of plants, that might readily be regarded as matter
essentially vital. I refer to what they call _rotation_ and _cyclosis_.
But these are never seen save in the living plant; and, therefore, seem
dependent on the general life of the vegetable.

There is, however, danger of mistaking certain motions of the particles of
matter, by chemical agency, for the effect of vitality. A curious example
is thus described by Ehrenberg, which was discovered by Professor
Bornsdorff. "If a solution of the chloride of aluminum be dropped into a
solution of potassa, by the alternate precipitation and solution of the
aluminum, in the excess of the alkali, an appearance will be given to the
drop of aluminate matter, by the chemical changes and reactions which take
place, as if the _Amoeba diffluens_ were actually present, both as to
its form and evolutions, and will seem to be alive. Such appearance is
considered by its able discoverer as bearing the same relationship to the
real animalcule as a doll, or a figure moved by mechanism, does to a
living child."

We see, then, that the supports on which rests the doctrine of the
essential vitality of matter, give way before better instruments and more
careful research. Another statement, however, of much higher pretensions,
has lately been made, and on no mean authority. Able electricians declare
that, by passing currents of galvanism through solutions of silicate or
ferrocyanate of potassa, or some analogous substance, after a time,
sometimes several years, numerous small insects have been developed,
belonging to the _acari_ family.

These experiments appear to have been conducted with fairness and skill;
and that the insects showed themselves at the pole of the battery, around
which the gelatinous silex collected, cannot be doubted. It is true,
however, that, when the solution was exposed to the atmosphere, the
insects appeared much sooner and more numerous than when care was taken to
exclude every thing but oxygen enough to sustain life. This fact leads to
the suspicion that the ova of the insect might have been communicated
through the air, and that, even when an attempt was made to exclude the
atmosphere, some ova were still present. This conclusion is rendered still
more probable by some experiments made by Professor Schulz, of Berlin, on
the production of infusoria. Having first boiled the vegetable and animal

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 23 of 39)