« AnteriorContinuar »
medium, take a gradually more and more compressed form, (as the range of a projectile is narrowed by the resistance of the air,) they will move with increased velocity, continually approach the sun in nearer gyrations, and at length fall into his mass.
The lapse of time which will be necessary to accomplish this is indeed so inconceivably immense, that we might well call the stability of the system perpetual. The probability of such resistance has only been evinced by certain extremely minute effects produced on the orbit of that singular and scarcely material substance, the periodical comet of Encké, a sort of unsubstantial thing, a mere wisp of vapour, which yet obeys the laws of impulse and gravity, and revolves about the sun. The æther then which offers a resistance barely observable to what is little more than an æthereal nebula, it may readily be imagined, has failed to produce any effect on the solid planets capable of being detected, in the entire period since the earliest astronomical observations.
It has, indeed, been contended by some able and philosophical writers, that there are few conclusions of science which so strongly force upon the mind the conviction of a Supreme power as those which refer to the finite nature of all created things; which make the period when the present order of nature did not exist, and predict the time when it shall cease; which point to a beginning and an end. However true and just these views may be with
regard to the origin of the world, I must confess I fail to see their force with respect to the termination. The former unquestionably evinces the arranging and designing will of the Creator; but in the latter, it is difficult to see any such indications, unless, indeed, so far as we may venture upon the strength of the analogies of the past to look forward to a new order of things: to the substitution of a fresh series of recondite adjustments for those which may be destroyed; to the renovation of beauty and order out of decay and destruction; for the evolution of which that destruction may be necessary.
Proportions of Births.
WE may also here cite another example introduced by the illustrious writer last quoted, and in which he uses the term "final cause" in the same sense as before.
"La constance de la superiorité des naissances des garçons sur celles des filles à Paris et à Londres, depuis qu'on les observe, aparu à quelques savans, être une preuve de la Providence sans laquelle ils ont pensé que les causes irréguliers qui troublent sans cesse la marche des événements, aurait du plusieurs fois rendre les naissances annuelles des filles supérieuse a celles des garçons. Mais cette preuve est un nouvel exemple de l'abus que l'on a fait si souvent des causes finales, qui disparaissent toujours par un examen approfondi des questions lorsqu'on a les
données necessaires pour les résondre. stance dont il s'agit est un résultat des causes régulières*"
The slightest consideration will surely render it evident that the author here contrasts "final causes" or" Providence" with the idea of "regular causes" and fixed laws; manifestly using the former terms in the sense of "direct intervention." When, however, we take those terms in the sense which we have before endeavoured to elucidate, the whole case is relieved of all difficulty and objection, and we find in those regular laws, and that constant maintenance of a particular proportion, the very proofs and essential notion of Providence and final
Unexplained Phenomena: Tendency of Philosophical Conjectures.
THE immense extent of our ignorance compared with that of our knowledge, is the reflection which has been only the more powerfully forced upon the minds of philosophers as discovery has advanced; and, in emphatic language, was the dying remark both of Newton and of Laplace. The bearing of this unavoidable confession upon the evidences of natural theology, deserves an attentive consideration.
It has been the favourite course with many inquirers to look anxiously to those parts of nature
* Laplace, Essai Philosophique sur les Probabilités, p. 103.
which are most hidden from our knowledge for the indications of the Divinity; to contend that when natural causes fail us, we are, in an especial manner, driven to admit direct Divine intervention; and that when mechanical laws apparently cease to apply, then we must more peculiarly recognize the dominion of the Deity. The view which I have been here endeavouring to illustrate is precisely the reverse. The evidences of the Divine operation seem to me manifested precisely in proportion as we can trace material laws and physical laws.
A world enveloped in entire obscurity as to physical causes, would, to my apprehension, be a world without the evidence of a Deity. An universe without appreciable laws would be a chaos, not a creation. And, by parity of reason, in those regions of nature, where we are most involved in ignorance, there, is the Deity most hidden from our perceptions. And instead of groping in the darker recesses where induction has not yet penetrated to find Him, we shall more rationally go forth to behold Him in those brighter regions which are illumined by discovered causes and demonstrated laws.
Yet so powerful has been the prejudice to the contrary, that not only have the unexplained obscurities of nature been religiously venerated as the penetralia of natural worship, but it has been held dangerous to indulge in the most philosophical conjectures; and impious to speculate on causes which may be most rationally imagined to prevail when we
have no certain proofs to rely upon; as if, in so doing, we were profanely penetrating into precincts peculiarly consecrated to the Deity, and hallowed by his immediate presence.
Example: Nature of Gravitation.
WE may illustrate this remark by the instance of the essential principle of gravity which, in the present state of our knowledge, is wholly enveloped in mystery. But do we thence gain any thing in favour of final causes, or the belief in Divine agency? On the contrary, if future discoveries should disclose to us the nature of this universally mysterious agent, and bring it under the dominion of mechanical laws, we shall obtain so much the higher insight into the recondite mechanism of the world, and the more striking proofs of the skill of its Divine artificer.
Such were the sentiments of the most enlightened of Newton's followers even in his own times; and when, in the controversy to which his discoveries were at first exposed, the absurd accusation was urged by his continental opponents, that by pushing the physical explanations of phenomena beyond due bounds, the philosopher unwarrantably intruded into the region of primary causation, (according to the confused idea, so commonly prevalent, of their relative nature,) the reply of Dr. S. Clarke, (than whom no one was better able to see the theological bearing of the case,) was simply, "Si M. Leibnitz ou