Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

faith. All the more remarkable is the fact that in relation to the belief in immortality the modern doctrine of evolution has found that meeting-place with revelation for which its predecessors have looked in vain. If we believe Mr Spencer, we shall be led to the conclusion that the existence of immortality in the universe is not a novelty, and therefore not a break in the chain. Mr Spencer tells us that the principle of immortality, so far from being a new thing in the world, is in point of fact the oldest thing in the universe—the thing which lies at the basis of all other things. It is something which belongs to the being of that primal Force which comprehends all nature, while itself uncomprehended by nature. The only thing we do comprehend about that Force is just the fact of its persistence, of its pertinacity through all changes,-in a word, of its immortality. But if. it be so, it follows that the introduction of immortality into any special region of the universe would never break the evolutionary chain. It would not be a leap or paroxysm above the original order of nature, but only a manifestation in the circumference of what already exists in the centre. Very significantly, therefore, is it stated in the Book of Genesis that the immortal life which was breathed into man was not a new life, but one which had existed in the universe from the beginning—the breath of God. He is said to

have become a living soul, not by a leap or paroxysm which broke the evolutionary chain, but by the impartation of something which, according to Mr Spencer, is the prime mover of the chain of evolution—the persistence of a Force lying at the basis of the universe: “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”

Thus far, then, we are presented by the system of evolution with something which is more than an analogy to the immortality of the soul ; we are presented with an actual revelation of the fact that there is in nature a thing which is already immortal. Can the doctrine of evolution go any further in corroboration of the hope of immortality? The immortality of force is chiefly valuable in showing us that the idea of an eternal persistence is not a thought contrary to science. But if the matter ended there, we should, after all, have attained a very small result indeed. If force be no more than force, if it contains no other attribute than that of abstract and unconscious power, the immortality revealed by nature will be of little use or comfort to the human soul. To know that no force in the universe has ever been lost, to ascertain that no atom in nature has ever perished, to prove that no diminution in the quantity of being has ever taken place, may be a satisfactory computation to the arithmetician, but can be of no value to him who inquires after the immortality of the soul. The immortality of the soul is not a persistence of quantity, not a continuance in the measure of force, not a mere absence of diminution in the sum of figures; it is a continuity of quality, a prolonging of consciousness, a persistence of something which can at no time be weighed or measured. If, therefore, we would have from science any light on this subject, we must seek it elsewhere than in the mere contemplation of force. The persistence of force is only valuable to the doctrine of immortality in proving that the conception of immortality is not alien to nature. We want to know. whether nature can go further, whether it can tell us of anything which is immortal besides force: if so, we shall conclude that this other thing is itself one of the attributes of force.

And here, again, we would direct the mind of the reader to a fact to which we have already alluded in another connection. In speaking of the idea of God, we pointed out that unless we suppose a violation in the present order of physical science-in other words, unless we postulate the belief in a miracle compared to which the miracles of revelation are mild—we shall be compelled to admit the truth that life has never had a beginning. The present order of physical nature is the law of biogenesis—the law that no living thing can proceed from a thing which is not living. Unless w lieve that at one time that law was violated

act of spontaneous generation, we shall have no alternative but to confess that life has been eternal. If every living object presupposes a living object before it from which it has derived its being, it is impossible to imagine a time in which no living object existed. We saw that two alternatives lay open to us as possible hypotheses. We pointed out that in the first instance it was competent for us to hold, either that there had been an eternal series of offspring and parents, or that the series had begun somewhere by the impartation of life from a higher source. In either case, we showed that the result was the same; whichever of the hypotheses we adopted, was found equally to involve the eternity of life. Ultimately we saw that it was only in the first instance that we had an alternative at all. We found that the hypothesis of an eternal series of offspring and parents was untenable in the nature of things, and that, as a matter of scientific fact, we were driven to the conclusion that life in this world had a beginning. We were forced, then, to adopt the only remaining alternative—the supposition that life in this world had begun through the impartation of life from a higher order of things, or, as we should say in religious language, from the breath of God.

Now this fact, which was then used in its bearing on the idea of God, has an equal significance in relation to the doctrine of immortality. For if it be proved that life has been already eternal, we have already proved, not indeed the immortality of the soul, but the immortality of that which makes the soul. If life has had no beginning in time, this is only, in other words, to say that life is already immortal, that it has already proved its capacity to live for ever. Here is another step gained from the testimony of physical evolution. Nature has presented us with a second fact which presents more than an analogy to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which tells us that the material of which the soul professes to be constituted has itself exhibited in history the power of an endless being. Two things, accordingly, are revealed by the present system of evolution to have been eternal-force and life. We are now prepared to say that these two are one. We have seen that in this world life had a beginning, and it follows that the life from which it came must have been supramundane, or above this world. The only form of being which evolution knows to be above this world is Mr Spencer's inscrutable Force: we are justified, therefore, in concluding that the supramundane life which generated all other life belongs itself to the nature of that inscrutable Force, and derives its immortality from the same source which constitutes its persistence.

Have we, then, solved the question of the soul's immortality? By no means. We have seen that

« AnteriorContinuar »