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else than the gradation of organic beings, rising by degrees or
intervals from less to more perfect forms, — and in this sense
the theory, which is that of Leibnitz and Bonnet, contains
nothing opposed to the doctrine of final causes, and even, on
the contrary, naturally appeals to it, — or else the theory of
evolution is only the theory of fortuitous combinations under
a more learned form, — it expresses the successive gropings
attempted by nature, until favourable circumstances brought
about such a throw of the dice as is called an organization
made to live ; and thus understood, the doctrine of evolution
falls under the objections which such an hypothesis has at all
times raised. Transformism, then, under whatever form it is
presented, shakes none of the reasons we have given above
in favour of natural finality ; for, on the one hand, it is not
irreconcilable with it, and, on the other, it is inexplicable
without it.


This last proof finished, we can regard our first task as
accomplished, which was to establish the existence of a law
of finality in nature. What now is the first cause of that
law ? This second question, much more arduous than even
the first, will be the object of the second part. ^-^^





IF the series of inductions which we have developed in the
previous book be admitted, we shall be brought to this
conclusion, that there are ends in nature. But between this
proposition, and this other that is generally deduced from it
— namely, that a divine understanding has co-ordinated all
towards these ends, — between these two propositions, I say,
there is still a long enough interval.

What have we, in fact, seen? That human intelligence
acts for ends ; that, by analogy, it must be admitted that the
animals act for ends, not only in their so-called intelligent,
but also in their instinctive actions ; that, in fine, by extension
of the same reasoning, living nature must be considered as
also acting for ends. Thus our argument would signif}- that
living nature expresses, in its rudimentary form, the same
property that is manifested under its most salient form in
human intelligence — namely, the property of acting for ends,
or finality. Finality, then, is one of the properties of nature ;
such is the result of the preceding analysis. But how should
this analysis enable us to emerge from nature ? how enable us
to pass from facts to the cause ? The force of our argument
lies precisel}' in this, that we do not change the genus, but
that in one and the same genus — namely, nature — we pursue
the same fact or the same property under different forms.
But if, on the other hand, in place of following the same
order whether ascending or descending, we suddenly pass
from nature tt) its cause, and say there is in nature such a
being (itself a member and part of the whole) which acts
in a certain manner, therefore the first cause of this whole




must have acted in the same manner, — if, I say, we reason
thus, and this is what is generally called the proof of God
from final causes, it cannot be doubted that we very boldly
and rashly draw a conclusion which is certainly not contained
in the premises.

The legitimate and natural impatience of believing souls,
who would have philosophy to guarantee to them an evidence
from reason equal to the evidence of feeling, by which they
are convinced, can hardly bear the application to such prob-
lems of the methods of trial, approximation, and cross-
questioning, which are the peculiar features of the scientific
method. It is hard to see the noblest beliefs of humanity
weigrhed in the balance of a subtle dialectic. Of what use is
philosophy, we are asked, but to obscure what is clear, and
to shake what it defends ? It has been thought by some a
sufficient praise of such spiritualist philosophy to say : It
does not hinder us from believing in God. In this order of
ideas, in effect, it seems that demonstration weakens rathei
than proves, affords more doubt than light, and teaches us to
dispute rather than to decide.

We are as sensible as any of this anxiety and trouble ; and
the fact mentioned, which is nothing but the truth, is one of
the proofs of the feebleness of the human mind. But it is
also precisely part of the greatness of the human mind to
learn to consider vigorously and calmly its natural condition,
and courageously to seek to remedy it. We distinguish, for
our part, even in the order of nature, two things, faith and
science, the object of the one being to supplement the other.
There is a natural, practical, and moral faith in the existence
of a Deity, which no demonstration can equal, to which no
reasoning is adequate.^ But if the soul needs to believe, it
also needs to know ; it will try to unfold the causes of things

1 ' A single sigh towards tbe future and the better,' it is admirably said by
Hemsterhuys, ' is a more than geometrical demonstration of the Deity ' (Aristae
— ' CEuvres d' Hemsterhuys,' ed. 1719, vol. ii. p. 87. — See, on the curious
philosophy of Hemsterhuys, the work of M. Em. Grucker, Paris 1866).


by the laws of reason ; and it is one of the strongest tempta-
tions of the human mind to equalize its knowledge with its
faith, fides qucerens intellectum. Hence the necessity of
applying the abstract and discursive methods of science to
what it would seem ought only to be an object of love and
hope ; even this, as it seems, has something disrespectful in it.
The demonstration, even were it as affirmative as possible,
is itself a failure of respect, for it calls in question what it
is sought to demonstrate. An Deus sit? says St. Thomas
Aquinas at the beginning of the Summa ; and, faithful to the
scholastic method, he first replies, Dico quod non. But who
guarantees this holy theologian that he will retrieve at the
end of his argument what he has denied at the beginning?
If he is sure of it beforehand, wh}^ does he make a show of
seeking it ? Does he only reason, then, for form's sake ? Let
him be silent, then ; let him pray, let him preach, but let him
quit this two-edged weapon, which must not be played with.
But this is an impossibility. No believer will renounce
the temptation to demonstrate what he believes ; and though
he wished to do so, he would soon be forced to it by attack.
Hence the application of the cold methods of science becomes
necessary, and with science there appears all the difficulties
inherent in the employment of these methods. Hence he
who employs them has the perfect right to proportion affirma-
tions to evidence, according to the rule of Descartes. As a
philosopher, I am bound to but one thing : to admit as true
what appears to me evident, nothing more. That there should
be a very great difference between the demonstrations of
science and the instincts of faith, is self-evident ; for an
adequate demonstration of the Deity, of His existence and
essence, would imply a reason adequate thereto. The abso-
lute reason can alone know the absolute Being as He is. If,
then, faith, anticipating this impossible knowledge, gives us
moral certainty, science can only give a relative approximate
knowledge, subject to revision in another state of knowledge,
but which for us is the mode of representation the most ade-

290 BOOK II.

quate to which we could attain. "When Bacon said that we
only know God by a refracted ray {radio refracto)^ this ex-
pression, admired by all, just means that the idea we have of
Him is inadequate, without, however, being untrue, — as the
projection of a circle is not a circle, although it faithfully
reproduces all its parts.

Let us return to the question stated at the opening of this
chapter : Is the existence of ends in nature equivalent to the
existence of a supreme cause, external to nature, and pursuing
these ends consciously and with reflection ? The demonstra-
tion of such a cause is what is called in the schools the physico-
theological proof of the existence of God.

This proof, as is known, has been reduced to a syllogism,^
whose major is, that all order, or, strictly speaking, all adap-
tation of means to ends, supposes an intelligence, and whose
minor is, that nature presents order, and an adaptation of
means to ends.

We have hitherto confined ourselves to the analysis and
discussion of the minor.

There still remains the major proposition of the argument.
Finality being a law of nature, what is the first cause of that
law? That cause, says the traditional voice of the schools,
from Socrates to Kant, is intelligence ; therefore there is a
supreme intelligent cause. Is this conclusion legitimate?
Such will be the object of the second part of this treatise.



XN one of his most profound comedies, Molicre makes a simple
-*- and pious valet give a lesson of theodicy to a sceptical and
railing master. He makes the good Sganarelle speak thus
to the unbelieving Don Juan : ' I have not studied like you,
thank God, and no one could boast of having ever taught me
anything; but with my small sense, my small judgment, 1
see things better than books, and understand very well that
this world that we see is not a mushroom that has come of
itself in a night. I would ask you, Who has made these
trees, these rocks, this earth, and yonder sky above? and
"whether all that has made itself? . . . Can you see all the
inventions of which the human machine is composed, without
admiring the way in which it is arranged, one part within
another? these nerves, bones, veins, arteries, these . . .
these lungs, this heart, this liver, and all these other ingre-
-dients that are there, and that . . . My reasoning is that
there is something wonderful in man, whatever 3^ou may say,
and which all the savants cannot explain.' ^

Under this comic and simple form, Moliere sets forth the
most striking and oldest proof of the existence of God, that
which persuades most men, and which philosophers have called
the proof from final causes. It is this argument that Fenelon
develops so amply and eloquently in his treatise on the Exist-
ence of God ; that Cicero before him had set forth, almost in
the same words, in his De JVatura Deorum ; and that Socrates
appears to have first employed ; and which Kant himself, even
while criticising it, never mentions without respectful sympathy.

1 Lefestin de Pierre, act iii. sc. 1.



This classical and traditional proof has been set forth a
thousand times under the most varied and sometimes the
most piquant forms. Let us give some examples of them.

The illustrious Kepler, whose soul was as religious as his
genius was powerful, found everywhere material for philo-
sophic or scientific reflections. One day, when he had long
meditated on atoms and their combinations, he was, as he
himself relates, called to dinner by his wife Barbara, who
laid a salad on the table. 'Dost think,' said I to her, 'that
if from the creation plates of tin, leaves of lettuce, grains of
salt, drops of oil and vinegar, and fragments of hard-boiled
eggs were floating in space in all directions and without
order, chance could assemble them to-day to form a salad ? '
' Certainly not so good a one,' replied my fair spouse, ' nor
so well seasoned as this.' ^

A Scottish philosopher, the wise Beattie, formed the in-
genious idea of putting in operation the proof of final causes,
to inspire his young child with faith in Providence. This
child was five or six years old, and was beginning to read ;
but his father had not yet sought to speak to him of God,
thinking that he was not of an age to understand such lessons.
To find entrance into his mind for this great idea in a manner
suitable to his age, he thought of the following expedient.
In a corner of a little garden, without telling any one of ths
circumstance, he drew with his finger on the earth the three
initial letters of his child's name,' and, sowing garden cresses
in the furrows, covered the seed and smoothed the earth.
' Ten days after,' he tells us, ' the child came running to me
all amazed, and told me that his name had grown in the
garden. I smiled at these words, and appeared not to attach
much importance to what he had said. But he insisted on
taking me to see what had happened. " Yes," said I, on
coming to the place, "I see well enough that it is so; but
there is nothing wonderful in this, — it is a mere accident,"
and went away. But he followed me, and, walking beside

1 Al. Bertrand, Les fondateurs de Vastronomie moderne, p. ]54.


me, said very seriously : " That cannot be an accident. Some
one must have prepared the seeds, to produce this result."
Perhaps these were not his very words, but this was the sub-
stance of his thought. " You think, then," said I to him, " that
what here appears as regular as the letters of your name,
cannot be the product of chance ? " " Yes," said he firmly,
" I think so." " Well, then, look at yourself, consider your
hands and fingers, your legs and feet, and all your members,
and do not the}' seem to you regular in their appearance, and
useful in their service ? Doubtless they do. Can they, then,
be the result of chance ? " " No," replied he, " that cannot
be ; some one must have made me them." " And who is
that some one ? " I asked him. He replied that he did not
know. I then made known to him the name of the great
Being who made all the world, and regarding His nature I
gave him all the instruction that could be adapted to his age.
The lesson struck him profoundly, and he has never forgot-
ten either it or the circumstance that was the occasion of it.'
Let us now pass to Baron d'Holbach's drawing-room, to a
company where each one outvied the atheism of his neigh-
bour so as to scandalize Duclos himself; let us hear Abb6
Galiani, the witty improvisatore, so fond of paradox that he
did not fear to defend God against his friends the Encyclo-
pedists. Here is the scene, as reported by Abbe Morellet :
' After dinner and coffee the abbd sits down in an arm chair.
his legs crossed like a tailor, as was his custom, and, it being
warm, he takes his wig in one hand, and, gesticulating with
the other, commences nearly as follows : " I will suppose,
gentlemen, that he among you who is most fully convinced
that the world is the effect of chance, playing with three dice,
I do not say in a gambling-house, but in the best house in
Paris, his antagonist throws sixes once, twice, thrice, four
times — in a word, constantly. However short the duration
of the game, my friend Diderot, thus losing his money, will
unhesitatingly say, without a moment's doubt, ' The dice are
loaded; I am in a bad house.' What then, philosopher?


Because ten or a dozen throws of the dice have emero-ed
from the box so as to make you lose six francs, you believe
firmly that this is in consequence of an adroit manoeuvre, an
artificial combination, a well-planned roguery ; and, seeing in
this universe so prodigious a number of combinations, thou-
sands of times more difficult and complicated, more sustained
und useful, etc., you do not suspect that the dice of nature
are also loaded, and that there is above a great rogue, who
takes pleasure in catching you." '

It were useless to multiply the different examples whereby
it has been sought to bring home the force of this proof, and
which are all of the same mould.^ The most ancient known
form is that of throwing the twenty -four letters of the alpha-
bet, which, according to Cicero, Fenelon, and so many others,
could not produce a single verse of the Iliad? In a word,
the stress of the proof is that chance will never produce a
regulated work.

This last form of the proof, — namely, the throwing of letters
of the alphabet, — while it gives it the most striking appear-
ance, is yet at the same time the very thing that supplies the
objection. We know, in effect, that chance is not impos-
sibility. A thing may only happen by chance, and yet
happen. For this it suffices that it implies no contradiction.
There is no reason why the figures composing the date of the
accession of Louis xiv. (1643), that of his personal govern-
ment (1661), and that of his death (1715), should always
form the same number (14), and that this number should be
precisely that of his rank among those of his name (Louis
XIV.) ; and yet, however improbable these coincidences, they
have occurred, and no one will seriously suppose that Provi-
dence amused itself with this kind of game, like a philosopher

1 One may quote, however, the instance given by Tillotson in one of his
sermons : ' If twenty thousand blind men were to set out from different places
in England remote from each other, what chance would there be that they
would end by meeting, all arranged in a row, in Salisbury Plain ? '

2 It is not known who first employed this argument. Perhaps the germ of
it may be found in a passage of Aristotle, Be, Gen. et Corrupt, i. 2.


who should bethink himself of playing the juggler for recrea-
tion. The improbable may happen, then, — only it happens
very seldom ; and, for instance, the like coincidences would
not be found in the history of all kings. But we know that,
to reach a given combination, the more frequent the throws
the more probable becomes the event. We know that mathe-
matical calculation can determine the degree of probability
01 each event, and that it is equal to a fraction whose denomi-
nator expresses the totality of the chances, and the numerator
the number of these chances, a number which augments with
the number of the throws. Starting from this datum, one
€an calculate what chance there would be, by drawing the
letters of the alphabet one after the other, of producing the
verse of the Iliad. If, then, we threw the letters the given
number of times, the production of the verse of "the Iliad
would not only be possible, but certain. This is evidently a
concession that must be made to the opponents of the argu-
ment.i They will not, however, have gained much by this ;

1 M. Charpentier clearly proves this in his ingenious treatise on the lof/ic of
probability, already qnoted (p. 186). But he himself essays to prevail over the
Epicurean argument by one of his own. That a fortuitous combination should
take place once, he says, is not astonishing, and might even happen very
certainly in the immensity of time; but that that combination should be repro-
duced a second and third time in succession, and even an infinite number of
times, is what the calculation of probabilities does not allow ns to admit. But
the world exists from a time, if not infinite, at least indefinite; therefore the
combination from which it results must have been reproduced continually, and
is so still daily, which is inadmissible. Thus what opposes the Epicurean
objection would not be the existence of the world, but its duration. — Despite the
ingenuity of this objection, we do not regard it as decisive. The world, in fact,
is not the repetition of a combination which recurs several times by different
throws; it is one single combination, whose peculiar character is that, once
found, it lasts just because it has in itself conditions of duration and stability.
Given in effect a certain coincidence of distances and masses among the atoms,
there will follow, for instance, a circular motion (that of the stars), which, lu
virtue of the law of inertia, will last eternally, so long as a new cause does not
come to interrupt it; and so with the other conditions of regularity which we
verify in the world. True, we may ask whether chance is capable of producing
a world absolutely stable. But is the world, such as it is, absolutely stable?
We do not know; and there may be such an unknown cause as will one day
bring about its dissolution (for instance, the Icuo of entropy of M. Clausius; see
above, p. 19()). If it were so, the world would have an end; it would then
be, like all other combinations, unstable, only it would have lasted longer
But what are a thousand millions of years to infinitude?


for to make these throws a hand and an intelligence were
necessary. The types will not of themselves quit their cases
to play at this game ; once fallen, they will not rise to begin
again. It follows, then, that the event in question is so im-
probable as to be practically equivalent to an impossibility.
But is it the same if we pass from this particular case to the
most general case possible — namely, to that of atoms endued
with motion, and which have moved in empty space from
infinitude ? If the time is infinite, the number of throws may
be infinite. In order, then, that a combination be produced,
it is enough that it be possible. But the combination of which
tfte actual world consists is possible, since it is; it must,
therefore, infallibly be produced one day or other. This dif-
ficulty is very old : the Epicureans knew and made use of it.
There was scarcely need to know the calculus of probabilities
to discover it ; it is an objection suggested by mere common
sense. Fenelon sets it forth in these terms : ' The atoms, we
are told, have an eternal motion ; their fortuitous concourse
must already have exhausted, during this eternity, infinite
combinations. By infinite is meant something that compre-
hends all without exception. Among those infinite combi-
nations of atoms which have already successively happened,
there must necessarily occur all those that are possible. The
combination of atoms that forms the present system of the
world must, therefore, be one of the combinations the atoms
have successively had. This principle being stated, need we
wonder that the world is as it is? It must have taken this
precise form a little sooner or a little later. We find our-
selves in this system now.'

Fenelon replies to this objection of the Epicureans by
denying that the number of combinations could be infinite,
for, as he says, ' no number is infinite.' Given a number
alleged to be infinite, I can always subtract a unit from it ;
then it will become finite. But if it is finite minus a unit, it
cannot be infinite plus a unit, otherwise it would be this very
unit that made it infinite. But a unit is itself something


finite. Now the finite added to the finite cannot make the
infinite. So to any number whatever I can add a unit ;
therefore it was not infinite before the addition of that unit.
From this reasoning it follows that no number actually real-
ized can be infinite, and that, consequently, the number of
combinations of atoms cannot be infinite. The principle
being overthrown, the conclusion falls along with it.

I do not know that this argument of F^nelon, even grant-
ing its principle, — namely, that no number could be infinite,
— I do not know that this argument hits the mark, and am
inclined to believe that it would rather strengthen the Epi-
curean objection. In fact, the strength of this objection is
not in the hypothesis of an infinite number of combinations,
but in the hypothesis of an infinite time permitting the atoms
to take all possible combinations. But tliis combination is
possible, since it is. It matters little, therefore, whether the
possible number of combinations be infinite or not ; rather, if
the number be finite, there is more chance that this in which
we are should happen during infinite time. Suppose, in short,
that there were only a thousand combinations possible (that
in which we are being one of the thousand, which is proved
by the fact that it exists), there will be a greater chance that
this combination should occur than if there were a million,
a thousand millions, an infinitude of possible combinations.
The more you multiply the number of possible combinations,
the more surprising do you render the realization of the actual
one, — so much so, that even with infinite time we question
whether such a combination must necessarily happen, which
F^nelon too easily grants. To suppose the world to pass
successively through all possible combinations, and that it
passes through them all in turn, is to suppose a certain order,
a certain plan in the course of the combinations, which con-
tradicts the idea of chance. It is clear that it might pass very
often through similar combinations, that those recurring most

Online LibraryPaul JanetFinal causes → online text (page 27 of 47)