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of them can be false ; it is impossible that if all of them were false any other solution of the problem could be given. We shall hereafter show that the first and the third are not mutually exclusive ; meantime we have simply to point out that if the problem of the world's origin is ever to be solved, it must be solved somewhere within the limit of these three alternatives.
But we have now to observe that the acceptance of any one of these alternatives is tantamount to the acceptance of a miracle ; one must be true, and yet any one is a choice of the supernatural. Let us glance at each of them separately, and let us begin with that which in the field of Agnosticism finds the most general acceptance—the theory that the world had no beginning.
Let us first distinctly understand what is the real issue here involved. It is the doctrine of evolution that there never has been an absolute beginning. That doctrine is commonly supposed to constitute the main difference between Theism and Atheism, but in truth there is not a theist in the world who would not gladly subscribe to it. Let no one imagine that in denying an absolute beginning, the doctrine of evolution is committing any religious heresy. The first principle of every religious believer is just the denial of an absolute beginning, just the assertion that there never was a time when absolute nothingness reigned. The surest truth in the universe is the knowledge that there never was a period in which something did not exist; all science and all religion must alike concur in this. The question between evolution and theology, where such a question is started, does not lie in the affirmation or denial of an eternal something in the universe; the existence of such an eternal something is admitted by both. But the question begins where this admission ends. What is this eternal something? is it matter or spirit, extension or thought, nature or the supernatural? It is here that theology and Agnosticism part asunder. Theology holds that what is eternal in the physical universe must itself be of a nature which transcends the physical ; Agnosticism holds that as we have no right to go beyond the limits of our sensuous experience, we have no right to assume that the thing which has existed from eternity is anything other than the visible order of nature.
Let us then, for the sake of argument, accept the view of the Agnostic. Let us say that something has existed from all eternity, and that this something is nothing else than the physical nature which our senses now perceive. What we wish to point out is this, that in adopting such a view the Agnostic is flying from Scylla into Charybdis. His reason for choosing the alternative of an eternal physical nature is, his idea that thereby he will avoid the supernaturalism of a religious belief: he does avoid it, but he accepts instead the supernaturalism of an irreligious belief. For, let it be distinctly marked that the belief in the independent eternity of the present visible order is, in the most pronounced sense of the term, the acceptance of a miracle. Mr Herbert Spencer himself admits that such a belief is unthinkable. But why is it unthinkable? Is it merely because the idea of eternity is an idea which cannot be represented in the imagination? That this is not the cause will be evident from the fact that we do not experience the same difficulty in conceiving that the world shall never end, as we do in conceiving that the world has never begun. So far from finding the idea of an unending world to be unthinkable, we find it much more difficult to think the contrary—much more difficult to imagine a time when the present system of things shall cease to be. Now the idea of eternity is as much involved in the conception of an unending world as in the conception of an unbeginning world; and if that idea does not render the former conception unthinkable, there is no reason whatever why it should so affect the latter. Yet the fact remains, that while we have no difficulty, so far as imagination is concerned, in conceiving that the present system of things shall never end, we have a difficulty amounting to the impossible in conceiv
ing that the present system of things has never begun.
We repeat the question then, What is it that renders this idea unthinkable? We have seen that it is not our inability to represent the notion of eternity, for we have the same inability in relation to an eternal future, and yet we find no difficulty in conceiving such a future. Why is it that when we try to conceive this world as having had an eternal past, we are forced to abandon the attempt in despair? The reason lies here : to conceive this world as having had an eternal past is to conceive a violation of law as now established ; in other words, it is to believe in a miracle of the most pronounced type. Let us try to make this clear. This world, considered as an object of sense, is simply a series of changes, or as the Positivist would put it, a succession of antecedents and consequents. If this world has been eternal in the past, we have then the phenomenon of a series of changes going back into infinitude. This is equivalent to saying that we have a chain consisting of an infinite number of links, not one of which rests upon anything ; which, again, is tantamount to saying that there is no chain at all. Not one of the links has an adequate antecedent, not one of them is either self-supporting or supported by anything else. The denial of a first link is equivalent to the affirmation that something is suspended on nothing, or that a series of consequents exists without any antecedent. Now we are not here contending whether this conception be or be not false; but we contend that, whether false or true, it is the idea of a violated law, of a miracle, of a supernatural element introduced into nature. We contend that the man who accepts this conception as an article of belief is thereby committing himself to a faith in the supernatural, compared to which the faith of a religious man is small and insignificant. He is going far beyond Agnosticism itself. The Agnostic never goes further than to say that no true cause has yet been discovered in the world. But the man who holds this belief in an eternal regress of physical changes asserts not merely that no cause has been discovered but that no cause exists. He declares in effect that a series of phenomena which are transparently dependent and incapable of selfexistence, have owed their life to another series of phenomena whose dependence is equally transparent, and whose incapacity for self-existence is not less manifest. And in committing himself to this doctrine he has committed himself emphatically to a confession of faith; it is only on the ground of faith that he can for a moment hold it. It is a violation of every law of all philosophy, not excepting Positive philosophy. It is a violation of every principle of causality - even of that Agnostic principle which can see in the cause only