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We hear much alledged against the study of phy-. sical causes, as having, at best, a tendency little congenial to religious reflections, and even hostile and injurious to its spirit. By confining the attention (it is commonly said,) to the investigation of secondary causes, the thoughts are habitually withdrawn from the first cause.
But such objections only furnish, in fact, instances of the confusion of ideas from the ambiguous use of the term "cause." And they immediately disappear when we come to distinguish the meaning correctly.
Even if the allegation were true that this dissociation of ideas is encouraged, what does it amount to but an accusation that we withdraw our thoughts from the conclusion in order to pursue the proof? What is it but the absurd charge that by giving our attention solely to the evidence, we indispose our minds for the inference?
PREJUDICES against the minute investigation of nature as an unworthy and trifling pursuit, have not unfrequently been entertained by those who were profoundly ignorant of the object and tendency of such pursuits, and of the necessity of such precise inquiry for establishing the conclusions of all sound philosophy. The cultivators of science have often been condemned to hear such aspersions cast upon their labours. And to see the genuine spirit in
which they were answered, we may cite the testimony of the illustrious father of British astronomy, who, upon a suspicion that his sublime pursuits were treated with ridicule, (in a letter to Newton,) expresses his wonder that these occupations should be "looked on as trifling. . . Other persons (he says,) that come after me will think their time as little mispent in these studies as those did who have gone before me. The works of the Eternal Providence, I hope, will be a little better understood through your labours and mine, than they were formerly; think me not proud for this expression; I look on pride as the worst of sins, humility as the greatest virtue."
And the sentiment so nobly avowed by Boyle, when taxed with the childishness of his occupation in watching the colours of soap-bubbles, deserves to be ever borne in mind as well by those who cultivate, as those who cavil at physical inquiry; "nothing can be unworthy of being investigated by man which was thought worthy of being created by Godt."
But science is often assailed with the charge of being wholly conversant with objects of sense, and that, confining us to the world of matter, it restrains and disables the mind from the more worthy and elevating pursuit of moral and spiritual truth. If, however, physical science be restricted to
Baily's Account of Flamsteed, p. 169.
† See Note H.
objects of sense, those very objects form the steps by which we ascend to the evidence of mind; if natural philosophy be conversant solely with the visible creation, it is by the light of that which is visible that its true disciple penetrates beyond those limits into the presence of Him who is invisible.
When, therefore, we hear the assertion (so sacred in the eyes of many,) that experiment can never carry us beyond the region of matter; that by physical induction we can never attain to truth in its legitimate and only valuable sense; and that "all real philosophy radiates from the knowledge of God;" in such declamation it is difficult to discover any thing but a hopeless confusion of thought, most commonly assisted by a thorough ignorance of the nature of inductive science, and a total misconception of the very aim and character of philosophical inquiry.
Or again, they contend that "natural theology is entirely founded upon vain curiosity and profitless speculations concerning the intentions of God;" and are loud in their condemnation of the arrogance which would lead a finite mind to attempt to comprehend the counsels of the Infinite; blind entirely to the fact that no such attempt is ever made, no such object aimed at; since, in inferring design, the inquirer is always foremost to confess his inability to trace its indications to the smallest extent beyond the limits which actual inductive evidence warrants.
The Pride of Science.
NOTHING is more common than to hear persons ignorant of physical science enlarging upon what they term the arrogance of the philosopher in drawing his conclusions, and pretending to determine what is, and what must be, in regions utterly beyond the limits of sensible experience; nothing more usual than to meet with those who talk not only with disbelief, but with ridicule, of the theories of the scientific pedant; and in the most solemn tone, declaim against the pride of reason and philosophy as essentially hostile to the humility of faith. They seem to regard the speculations of physical science as mere fancies, in which the philosopher indulges for the sole gratification of his own wayward presumption, and in virtue of which he may assume a claim to the admiration of the vulgar. Little considering that these very speculations afford the only legitimate and substantial ground on which a reasoning inquirer can build his most sublime proofs of the existence and attributes of the Divine Being, that those very theories are nothing else than the expression and the embodying of that allpervading analogy and order in which the universal manifestations of the Divine mind are disclosed to us.
So long as correct induction is our guide, we may with safety pursue physical speculation to any
extent. The only real presumption is in the departure from sound inductive principles, and the attempt to interpret nature without their aid. Inductive research undoubtedly claims the right of an absolutely unlimited extent of inference, even when it points to objects too vast or too minute, too remote in space, or too deep in the abyss of time, to come at all within the grasp of our faculties. The sole consideration it regards is the accuracy and truth of its evidence; if this be in the first instance firmly established, the true philosopher will never shrink from admitting all its necessary consequences, however inconceivable may be their nature, and incalculable their extent.
If there were any reasonableness in prescribing such limits, if there were any real ground of doubt as to the universal preservation of the analogies of nature, it must be carefully observed that any such limitation would amount, in its direct consequences, to a limitation in those inferences on which we frame all our notions of the Deity; any such ground of doubt would (as far as it went,) tend to discredit our proofs of the Divine perfections.
If the deductions of science are unwarrantable intrusions of the vain imagination of the self-sufficient philosopher into those vast regions of creation which are purposely veiled from us, the objectors seem to forget that, by necessary consequence, they make the sublime conclusions of natural theology also an unwarrantable stretch of inference. If they