Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

. (page 33 of 39)
Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 33 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

worlds above us, and in the earth beneath us, from its circumference to
its centre, the transmutations of chemistry are in progress, and many of
them are modified by the agency of man; so that here is another channel
through which human actions exert an influence upon the material universe,
and to an extent which we cannot measure. Let us look at some of the modes
in which this is done.

Take, in the first place, the facts respecting photography, or the art of
obtaining sketches of objects by means of the action of light. This is
strictly a chemical process. In a beam of light, that comes to us from the
sun, we find not only rays of light and heat, but chemical rays, which act
upon some bodies to change their constitution. When these rays are
reflected from a human countenance, and fall upon a silvered plate, that
has been coated with iodine and bromine, they leave an impression, which
is fixed and brought out as a portrait by the vapor of mercury and some
other agents. Here the chemical changes produced by these rays are
exceedingly perfect; but they produce effects upon many other substances,
artificially or naturally prepared; such as paper, for instance, immersed
in a solution of bichromate of potash, or upon vegetation, whose green
color is probably the result of this action, (as is obvious from the fact
that plants growing in the dark are destitute of color.) Indeed, a large
part of the changes of color in nature depend upon these invisible rays.

It seems, then, that this photographic influence pervades all nature; nor
can we say where it stops. We do not know but it may imprint upon the
world around us our features, as they are modified by various passions,
and thus fill nature with daguerreotype impressions of all our actions
that are performed in daylight. It may be, too, that there are tests by
which nature, more skilfully than any human photographist, can bring out
and fix those portraits, so that acuter senses than ours shall see them,
as on a great canvas, spread over the material universe. Perhaps, too,
they may never fade from that canvas, but become specimens in the great
picture gallery of eternity.

The thought may perhaps cross some mind, that, though those human actions
which are performed in sunlight may be imprinted upon the universe, yet no
deed of darkness can thus reveal its author, and remain an eternal stigma
upon his name. But there is another phase to this subject. What is the
evidence that the chemical rays of a sunbeam are rays of light? We know
that they are unequally diffused through the spectrum, being most
energetic at its violet extremity; but there is no proof that they are
visible. They may, like heat, exert their appropriate influence, which
seems to be mainly that of deoxidation, and yet not be colorific. If so,
we might expect them to operate in the dark; and experiment proves that
they do. An engraving on paper, placed between an iodized silver plate and
an amalgamated copper plate, was left in the dark for fifteen hours. On
exposing the amalgamated plate to the vapor of mercury, "a very nice
impression of the engraving was brought out - it having been effected
through the thickness of the paper." - Mr. Hunt, _"On the Changes which
Bodies are capable of undergoing in Darkness," Phil. Mag._ vol. xxii. p.
277. - Many like experiments prove the existence; among bodies, of a power
analogous to, if not identical with, that which accompanies light, and is
the basis of the photographic process. Some philosophers do not regard
them as identical. But this is of little consequence in my present
argument. For all agree that there is a power in nature capable of
impressing the outlines of some objects upon others in total darkness.

In respect to such cases, there are one or two facts deserving of special
notice. And, first. We must not infer, because man has yet been able to
bring out to human view but a few examples of this sort, that they are,
therefore, few in nature. Rather should the discovery of a few lead to the
conclusion that nature may be full of them, and that a more delicate and
refined chemistry may yet disclose them. For the few known cases give us a
glimpse of a recondite law of nature, which most likely pervades creation.
Some regard these dark rays as neither light, nor heat, nor chemical rays,
but a new element; but, whatever its nature, no reason can be given why it
should operate only in a few cases, and those of artificial preparation.
More probably, through this influence, all bodies brought into contact, or
proximity, impress their images upon one another; and the time may come,
when, touched by a more subtile chemistry than man now wields, these
images shall take a place among obvious and permanent things in the
universe, to the honor and glory of some, but to the amazement and
everlasting contempt of more.

Of more, I say; for wickedness has oftener sought the concealment of
darkness than modest virtue. The foulest enormities of human conduct have
always striven to cover themselves with the shroud of night. The thief,
the counterfeiter, the assassin, the robber, the murderer, and the
seducer, feel comparatively safe in the midnight darkness, because no
human eye can scrutinize their actions. But what if it should turn out
that sable night, to speak paradoxically, is an unerring photographist!
What if wicked men, as they open their eyes from the sleep of death, in
another world, should find the universe hung round with faithful pictures
of their earthly enormities, which they had supposed forever lost in the
oblivion of night! What scenes for them to gaze at forever! They may now,
indeed, smile incredulously at such a suggestion; but the disclosures of
chemistry may well make them tremble. Analogy does make it a scientific
probability that every action of man, however deep the darkness in which
it was performed, has imprinted its image upon nature, and that there may
be tests which shall draw it into daylight, and make it permanent so long
as materialism endures.

There is another chemical principle, called _catalysis_, through which
human actions may make powerful and permanent impressions on the universe,
and that, too, unperceived by man. In some cases, the mere presence of a
certain agent, in a small quantity, will produce extensive changes of
constitution in other bodies, while the agent itself remains unaltered.
Thus a strip of platinum will determine the union of oxygen and hydrogen
in the platinum lamp; and sulphuric acid, in a solution of starch, will
change it first into gum, and then into sugar; while neither the platinum
nor the acid experiences any change. These are called _catalytic_ changes.
More often, however, the catalytic agent is itself in the process of
change, and it produces an analogous change in other bodies. A familiar
example is yeast, or ferment. This substance contains a principle called
_diastase_, one part of which is capable of converting two thousand parts
of starch into sugar; and this is what is done in the familiar process of
fermentation, when we always see verified the scriptural declaration, _A
little leaven leaveneth the whole lump._

The precise manner in which the diastase operates in these cases we may
not be able to explain. The particles of the diastase, being themselves in
motion, possess the power of putting in motion the particles of other
bodies; and these, again, operate upon others, and so on, often to an
astonishing extent. In the case of the platinum and the acid, however, no
change takes place in their molecules, and we can only state it, as an
unexplained fact, that they do produce changes in other bodies.

We have other examples of catalytic influences in nature, exhibiting an
agency still more subtile and energetic. I refer to contagious and
epidemic diseases in animals and plants. An influence goes abroad, and
seems to be propagated through the atmosphere, traversing whole
continents, and crossing wide oceans, powerful and deadly in its effects,
yet inappreciable by the most delicate mechanical or chemical tests. But
the phenomena admit of explanation by supposing a movement, either in the
particles of the atmosphere, or of the still more subtile and elastic
medium that pervades all space; a movement started at a particular spot,
as the cholera in India, and the small-pox or some epidemic from some
focus, and communicating an unhealthy movement from atom to atom, till it
has encircled the earth and mowed down its hecatombs.

Now, when we look at such facts, who can suppose it improbable that man,
who can hardly lift a finger without producing some chemical change,
should start some of these movements, that may reach far beyond his
imagination? And here, as in the cases that have preceded, we must not
estimate the actual change in the constitution of bodies by the apparent;
for we know that multitudes of such changes are passing within us and
around us, without our cognizance; and yet there may be chemical eyes in
the universe quick enough to see them all, and to follow them onward to
the final result; for there must be a final resultant of all such forces;
nor can we doubt that, some time or other, and to some beings, if not to
ourselves, it will be manifest. Here, then, is another mode in which a
chemical influence may go forth from us, reaching the utmost limits of
matter and of time; nay, perhaps extending into eternity, and revealing
our actions to the finer sensibilities of exalted beings.

_I derive my sixth argument in support of the general principle from
organic reaction._

Few persons, save the zoölogist and comparative anatomist, have any idea
of the great nicety and delicacy of the relations that exist between all
the species of animals and plants, so that what affects one affects all
the rest. Perhaps the subject may be illustrated by supposing all the
species of organic beings to be distributed at different distances through
a hollow sphere, while between them all there is a mutual repulsion, and
the whole are retained in the form of a sphere by an attracting force
directed to the centre. By such an arrangement, if one species be taken
out of the sphere, or its repellency become stronger or weaker, the
relative position of all the rest would be altered. No matter how many
millions of species there are, the movements of one will cause a reaction
among all the rest.

Now, this illustration, although an approximation, falls short of
representing the actual state of things in nature. It is no exaggeration
to say that a relation similar to the supposed one exists throughout the
vast dominions of animate beings; so that you cannot obliterate or change
one species without affecting all the rest. Often the change is effected
so slowly and indirectly that the beings experiencing it are unconscious
of it; or they may realize some slight disturbance of the balance in
organic nature, and yet be unconscious of the cause. By the illustration
above given, when one or more species is removed from the supposed sphere,
or its repellent force weakened or strengthened, although an influence
will reach all the other species, yet a new equilibrium will soon be
established, and no permanently bad effects seem to follow. But not so in
nature. There the balance originally fixed between different beings by
infinite wisdom is the best possible; and every change, not intended by
Providence, must be for the worse. It was intended, for instance, that man
should subdue forests and extirpate noxious plants, as well as ferocious
and noxious animals; and, therefore, such a change operates to his
advantage, but to the injury of the inferior animals. Yet often he pushes
this exterminating process so far as to injure himself also. Thus the
farmer wages a relentless war against certain birds, because of some
slight evils which they occasion. But when they are extirpated,
opportunity is given for noxious insects to multiply, and to bring upon
the farmer evils much greater than those he thus escapes.

To prevent an excessive multiplication of some species is one of the grand
objects of the present balance established among the whole. Such an
increase is an inevitable effect of the extinction of a species, and it
often occasions great mischief. The carnivorous species, especially, were
intended to act as nature's police, to prevent a too great increase of the
herbivorous races, which are rendered excessively fruitful to keep the
world full. If, then, a carnivorous species become extinct, the species on
which it has fed will so multiply as to prove great nuisances, and to
produce wide disorder among many species, not only of animals, but of
plants. And often has man, in this way, by the extermination of species,
in particular districts, unwittingly brought a powerful reaction on

On the Island of New Zealand, within one or two hundred years past, eight
or ten species of gigantic birds - the dinornis and palapteryx - have become
extinct, probably through the persecution of man. The natives, without
doubt, hunted them down for food, until all disappeared: and as no
quadruped of much size inhabits the island, we think there is no little
plausibility in the suggestion of Professor Owen, that when the birds were
all gone, or nearly gone, the natives were tempted to the practice of
cannibalism, as the only means of gratifying their passion for meat. What
a terrible retribution for disturbing the equilibrium of organic nature!

The records of zoölogy and botany afford endless illustration of this
subject. But the great truth which they all teach is, that so intimately
are we related to other beings, that almost every action of ours reacts
upon them for good or evil; for good, upon the whole, when we conform to
the laws which God has established; and for evil, when by their violation
we disturb the equilibrium of organized nature, and produce irregular
action. In this latter case, we cannot tell where the disturbance, thus
introduced, will end; for it is not a periodical oscillation, like the
perturbations of the heavenly bodies, nor a mere change of position and
intensity by mechanical forces.

But does not this law of mutual influence between organic beings extend to
other worlds? Why should it not be transmitted by means of the
luminiferous ether to the limits of the universe? Who knows but a blow
struck upon a single link of organic beings here may be felt through the
whole circle of animate existence in all worlds? That is a narrow view of
God's work, which isolates the organic races on this globe from the rest
of the universe. The more philosophical view throws the golden chain of
influence around the whole animal creation, whether small or great, near
or remote.

Reverting to the reasoning which we employed in tracing out the extent of
mechanical reaction, we shall see that organic reaction may extend not
only to other worlds, but also into eternity. For if the matter of the
universe is to survive the conflagration of the last day, the future
economy of life must have some connection with the present, whether this
earth or some other part of the universe be the theatre of its

I speak here not of moral influences, which we know will pass over from
time into eternity, but of a physical reaction, which may also reach
beyond the same gulf. For at least a part of those creatures, who in this
world have felt the modifying power of other beings, will survive the
world's final catastrophe, and occupy material, though spiritual bodies,
whose germ is represented as derived from their bodies on earth. We have
reason, then, to suppose some connection and modifying influence between
them. And we might show, also, that moral causes, which so affect the
physical character here, may exert a like power in eternity. But time will
not permit the argument to be followed out.

The conclusion, then, from this argument also, is, that probably every
action of ours on earth modifies the condition and destiny of every other
created being in this and other worlds through time and eternity. What
though human experience, dependent on the bluntness of mortal
sensibilities, cannot demonstrate such an influence? Shall the gross
perceptions of this disordered world be made the standard of all that
exists? Rather let us listen to the suggestions of science, which tell us
of the possibility of senses far more acute in other worlds, and in a
future state of being - senses that can trace out and feel the vibrations
of the delicate web of organic influence that binds together the great and
the small, the past, the present, and the future, throughout the universe.

_My seventh argument in support of the general principle depends upon
mental reaction._

Mental reaction operates in two ways - indirectly and directly; indirectly
through matter, directly by the influence of mind upon mind, without an
intervening medium. When describing electric reactions, I have shown how
our thoughts and volitions change the electric, chemical, and even
mechanical condition of the body, and, through these media, that of all
the material universe; and I need not repeat that argument. But to modify
the inanimate world through these agencies necessarily affects all other
intellects, which are connected with matter; and since man in a future
world is to assume a spiritual body, we may reasonably suppose that all
created beings are in some way connected with matter; and, therefore, by
means of materialism, through the subtile agencies that have been named,
we may be sure that an influence goes out from every thought and volition
of ours, and reaches every other intellect in the wide creation. I know
not whether, in other worlds, their inhabitants possess sensibilities
acute enough to be conscious of this influence; certainly, in this world,
it is only to a limited extent that men are conscious of it. Yet we must
admit that it exists and acts, or deny the demonstrated verities of

But is there not evidence that mind sometimes acts directly upon other
minds, without any gross, intervening media? It may, indeed, be doubted
whether any created intellect operates, except in connection with some
form of matter. Yet there are certain facts in the history of individuals
in an abnormal state, which show that one mind acts upon another,
independent of the senses, or any other material means or
intercommunication discoverable by the senses. Take the details of
sleep-waking, or somnambulism; and do not they present us with numerous
cases in which impressions are made by one mind upon another, even when
separated beyond the sphere of the senses? Take the facts respecting
double consciousness, and those where the power was possessed of reading
the thoughts, of others, or the facts relating to prevision; and surely
they cannot be explained but by the supposition of a direct influence of
one mind upon another.

Still more decided in this respect are the most familiar facts of
artificial somnambulism, called mesmerism. Whatever may be our views of
this unsettled branch of knowledge as a whole, it would seem as if we
could not doubt that its facts prove the action of mind upon mind,
independently of bodily organization, without rejecting evidence which
would prove any thing else.

Now, if we admit that mind does operate upon other minds while we are in
the body, independent of the body, can we tell how far the influence
extends? If electricity, or some other subtile agent, be essential to this
action, it would indeed transfer this example to electric reaction, but it
would still be real. Yet, in the absence of all certain proof of the
electric power in this case, and with certain proof of the existence of
such an influence, we may place it among those marvellous means by which
man makes an impression, wide beyond our present knowledge, upon the
universe, material and mental; and it ought to make us feel that our
lightest thoughts and feeblest volitions may reach the outer limit of
intellectual life, and its consequences meet us in distant worlds, and far
down the track of eternity.

_Finally. I derive an argument in support of the general principle from
geological reaction._

By this expression, I mean those reactions of whose existence geology
furnishes the proof. They are, in fact, the reactions already considered;
but geology proves that they have actually operated in past time in many
instances, by evidence registered on the rocks, and thus tends to confirm
our reasoning derived from other sources. I do not mean that the proof is
before us of precisely such an action as our reasoning has supposed, but
so analogous to that supposed as to lend it confirmation. A few examples
will illustrate the argument.

The effects of mechanical reaction are, perhaps, most frequent and
striking in the rocks, especially those deposited from water. Here we
have, for instance, the _ripple marks_, which present us with a faithful
register of the slightest movement of the waters, and also of the motions
of the atmosphere, or of the currents in it, that agitated the waters. In
the almost impalpable powder that sometimes constitutes the rocks, we can
trace the slightest erosion and comminution of the strata from which the
deposit was worn. In the petrified rain drops we find an indelible trace
of the most gentle shower. And here, too, we can see the direction of the
wind. Such facts, also, imply the operation of electricity and gravity, of
heat and cold, collecting and condensing the rain, and bringing it down;
and so similar to present meteorological phenomena do these ancient
showers appear to have been, that we may conclude that electrical
reactions, in all respects, were the same as at present.

The preservation of the tracks of numerous animals in some of the
sandstones shows us how deep and permanent an impression the most trivial
action of a living being may make. In these footmarks we sometimes notice
a change in the direction of the animal along the surface; and, of course,
an impression deeper or more shallow than usual, of parts of the foot, by
the action of the muscles employed in changing the animal's course. Here,
then, we have the register of so slight an action as an increased or
diminished action of a particular muscle of the leg. Nay, further, such a
movement affords us an infallible register of an act of the animal's will,
since that must have preceded the change; and that implies an electric
current, first inward along the sensor nerves, and then outward along the
motor nerves.

Geology lays open before us a map of the changes in organic nature from
the apparent commencement of life on the globe, and thus enables us to see
examples of this kind of reaction. We find different economies of life to
have appeared, but all of them most wisely adapted to existing
circumstances. In each economy we perceive the balance between the
different tribes provided for. If, for instance, one race of carnivorous
species died out, new races were created to occupy their place, so that
the herbivorous species should not overrun the globe. Thus, when the early
sauroid fishes diminished, the gigantic and carnivorous marine saurian
reptiles were introduced. And when the chambered shells, whose occupants
were carnivorous, disappeared with the secondary period, numerous univalve
mollusks were created to feed on other animals; although previously that
family were herbivorous. It would seem, however, as if each successive
economy of organic life had contained within itself the seeds of
extinction. It was, indeed, mainly a change of climate which first caused
some species to disappear. But their destruction so disturbed the balance
of creation that others followed, until total extinction was the result,
which, however, was often hastened by catastrophes.

Thus we have in the stony volume of the earth's history actual examples of
effects resulting from the acts, and even volitions, of the inferior
animals, which can never be erased while the rocks endure.

If, therefore, with our imperfect senses, we can see these results so
distinctly, we may safely infer that human conduct, and thought, and
volition impress upon the globe, nay, upon the universe, marks which
nothing can obliterate.

The thoughts which press upon the mind, in view of such a conclusion, are
numerous and interesting. A few we can hardly help noticing.

_In the first place, what a centre of influence does man occupy!_

It is just as if the universe were a tremulous mass of jelly which every
movement of his made to vibrate from the centre to the circumference. It
is as if the universe were one vast picture gallery, in some part of which

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 33 of 39)