[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

pears the thought that any instruments have attempted, by rejecting the elemenmau can fashion can penetrate the real tary conceptions of space, to show that profundities of the universe! Seeing, as there may be limits to space, not merely we do now, how utterly men's ideas of limits to occupied space, but limits to what the stars are fell short of the truth, space itself, as though by closing his and how more inadequate still were their eyes the traveller, oppressed by the vastconceptions of the real number of the ness of the plain surface over which he stars when they trusted only to the natural voyaged, should endeavor to convince his eye, we should very ill have learned the mind that the end of his journey was close lesson their errors teach us, if we in turn by him. fell into the mistake of supposing that Practically infinite," as Huxley has the telescopic eye can reveal more to us expressed it, or absolutely infinite, space than the merest corner of the universe. is (to all intents and purposes) infinite for Even of the universe of stars — that is of us. But space and time are too intimately the system of suns whereof our sun is a associated for us to imagine that space member — this may be said. But how can be infinite and time finite; or that if unlikely, how incredible, indeed, is it, that occupied space grows even under our surthere is but one system of suns, but one vey until we recognize that it is as infinite galaxy ? The star-clouds may not be out as space itself, time occupied by the oclying galaxies, as the Herschels supposed. currence of events (of whatever sort) can It seems clear that they are but parts of be otherwise than infinite too. our own galaxy, whose grandeur and com- If we could reasonably doubt this we plexity are far greater than had been sup- should yet find evidence as clear in this posed. But who can doubt that beyond direction as with reference to space itself, the limits of our own galaxy, beyond though not so obvious to the senses. spaces bearing probably something like Every one can understand the evidence of the same proportion to the size of the gal- vast size presented by the universe as axy that the interplanetary spaces bear to science is able to survey it; and every the size of our earth, come other galaxies, one can see how the constant growth of some like, sone unlike, our own, some as the known universe points to the real large, some smaller, but many doubtless universe as to all intents and purposes far larger than the glorious system of infinite. But not every one can under: suns which appears infinite to our con. stand the evidence of the antiquity of the ceptions? “As tbüs we tilt'

-in imag- universe, or the certain promise which its ination

an abysmal world, a features afford of a duration in the future mighty cry arises that systems more mys. which must be, like the duration of the terious, worlds more billowy other universe in the past, practically infinite. heights, other depths are coming, are But even to those who cannot see the nearing, are at hand.” Who can wonder force of the evidence on these points, it is if from these awful depths men have obvious so soon as the idea has once been turned in weariness of soul, nay almost in presented — just as obvious as is the idea affright, as when the Alpine traveller, of infinite absolute space — that time itpeering over some fog-enshrouded preci- self, occupied by events or not so (if this pice, sees down, as the mist rolls past, to could be imagined) must be absolutely indeeper and deeper abysses, until he is finite. The occurrence of events might compelled to turn from the contemplation perhaps be spoken of (not conceived very. of the ever-growing depth! It is not sim. readily) as having an absolute beginning ply the vast in which men have learned to and proceeding onwards to an absolute believe, not mere immensity, but the mys- end, this island of occupied time being tery of absolute infinity. On all sides lost in a shoreless ocean of void time ; but our island home is surrounded by a shore. none can reasonably speak even of a be. less sea of space. So great has been the ginning for an ending of absolute time, far oppression of this mystery of infinity that less conceive either thought. men like Helmholtz, Clifford and others, Space then and time present themselves



to our conceptions, and with the progress ideas of those days by what men said, it of research may be said to present them. would seem to have been regarded as a selves to our observation, as practically wholesome thought, that under the oper. jnfinite. The earth which has been dis- ation of natural laws trees and animals, placed from her imagined central position races and forests, grow from feeble begin. in space has been displaced equally from nings till they sulfil all the functions of her imagined central position in time. their several kinds. The more carefully The ocean of time which had been sup- such processes of development were con. posed bounded on one side by the begin. sidered, the more perfectly the laws of ning of this earth's history and on the nature seemed fitted to work out their other by the close of the earth's career, seeming purpose, so much the more conis seen to bear somewhat the same re. fidently did men regard those processes lation to the earth's duration that the and laws as implying some plan or pur. Pacific Ocean bears to the tiniest islet of pose; though also, it must be admitted, the least important Polynesian group. the nature of such plan or purpose seemed

Now, in the days when the earth was to the wiser sort the more inscrutable the thought to be central and all-important in more closely its workings were studied. space, central also and all-important in “Canst thou by searching find out God?” regard to time, a little knowledge — as said one, who so far spoke truth, though limited and as imperfect - was possessed he drew the wrong lesson from it; canst by men respecting the action of natural thou find out the Almighty unto perfeclaws. They knew for example that ani. tion? It is as high as heaven; what mals, including man, pass through certain canst thou do? deeper than hell; what stages of development. They saw that canst thou know?” Another, who took the trees of the forest spring from seeds. a wiser view of nature, yet in this spoke They could trace further the growth and the same doctrine: “Touching the Aldevelopment of families of animals, the mighty, we cannot find him out.” spread of vegetation over countries and In our day, with the extension of men's continents; the formation, on the one recognition of the vastness of space and hand, of tribes, nations, races, and spe time, there has come a widening also of cies; on the other, of the various forms their conceptions respecting the extent of of vegetable development. But such the domain of natural law as well in time knowledge, and all the ideas associated as in space. with such knowledge, were limited within And in the first place I would ask the range of space and time over which whether it is not naturally to be expected alone in those days men were able to ex- that this growth in our ideas respecting tend their survey. In fine, men recog- evolution should have followed (if it did nized processes of development taking not accompany) the growth of our concepplace upon the earth, and during her con- tions of the extent and duration of the tinuance as an inhabited world; they did domain of evolution. If it had so chanced not look outside either the region of space that neither research nor observation had or the period of time which they had availed to extend our recognition of the learned to regard as if they were in reality operation of natural laws — after Coperall space and all time.

nicus, Kepler, and Newton had estabIn passing I may note that hitherto I lished the true theory of the solar system have not heard that in the good old days – might not analogy alone have sufficed to – when the earth was the world and her convince men that the larger and longerlife (very much under-estimated) all time lasting universe shown them by science – men who studied processes of develop. was governed by wider and more permament or evolution such as are plain and nent laws than they had hitherto recogo obvious to all were regarded as necessa. nized ? rily rejecting the belief in some power at But the Copernican theory had not been the back of observed phenomena. On established without the demonstration of the contrary, so far as we can judge of the la law so general and far-reaching that when it had once been established no new from particle to particle throughout the recognition of law could be reasonably whole extent of the universe. Of a law regarded as startling or unexpected. such as this, if of any law at all, it might Newton had proved that the quality of I have been said that it seems to negative gravity pertains to every particle of mat- the action of a special ruler. It was said ter in all places and in every condition, of late respecting the general doctrine of and that it extends according to definite development, that it sets the Almighty law to an infinite distance. At least, bei on one side in the name of universal evohad proved these properties so far as they lution ; with at least as much force it might can be proved. Every possible test had have been said of the doctrine of attracshown that the particles of solid, liquid, tion, that it sets the Almighty on one side and vaporous matter equally possess (ac- in the name of universal gravitation. cording to their mass) the quality of grav. We know indeed that such an objection ity. Every possible test had shown that was urged against Newton's doctrines in not the external particles of suns and Newton's day and for many years after. planets, or these in greater degree, but very probably if the theory of gravitation every particle, to the very centre of the had not been established to demonstra. largest and most massive globe, possesses lion by Newton and such followers as Lain the same degree (according to its mass) place, Lagrange, and others, we might this mysterious, all-pervading power. hear the objection even now (we hear it And lastly, every possible test applied to still among the ignorant, but of course it the movements of the heavenly bodies has entirely died out save with them). had shown that the force of gravity ex. When the theory of universal gravitation erted thus by each particle diminishes as became thoroughly established, it was the square of the distance increases, but found to be in perfect accordance with the suffers no further diminution : so that the idea of a universal lawgiver. Men pres. tiniest particle in the sun exerts, at least ently began to wonder, indeed, how it throughout the domain of the solar sys- could ever have been supposed that the tem, even to the orbit of Neptune, the laws of the universe must of necessity be force due to its mass and to the distance limited in their range of action whether in of any other particle on which its influ- space or in time. ence is exerted. In this inquiry the vast Yet when the Newton of our own time mass of the sun stands us in good stead. advanced a theory which bears to biology Were we only able to consider the attrac- (so far as is possible in matters so unlike) tion exerted by a single particle, or by a the same relation that the law of gravity small mass at great distances, the small bears to astronomy, a theory bringing ani. ness of the resulting attraction would mal and vegetable life under the domain foil any attempt to measure its amount of laws practically universal, an unreason. with precision. But we can consider the ing fear possessed many lest this natural total energy of the solar mass, exceeding sequel of our growing knowledge of the three hundred and fifty thousand times universe should alter men's conceptions the mass of the sun, at the distance of- of the government of the universe. In Neptune; in other words, we can examine space the universe was seen to be infi. the combined attractive force of a gather. nite, and in duration infinite; a law infiing of many millions of millions of parti- nitely wide in its operation had been cles, and having measured that, we can found to govern all movements within the divide it in accordance with the known universe, yet the recognition of a new law, relative mass of the sun, and so ascertain also indefinitely wide in its operation, in. whether each particle of the sun does its stead of being regarded as natural and due work at the distance of Neptune. appropriate, was looked upon with disfa. When we thus learn that there is not the vor and disapproval. slightest trace, even over that enormous Note that we use the word indefinite, range, of any diminution of energy be- not infinite, in speaking of the operation yond that belonging to the law of gravity of the law of biological evolution. The as determined for a small distance (such biologist cannot test the operation of this as the moon's), we are justified in assum- law so widely as the astronomer can test ing that at a distance twice, thrice, many the operation of the law of gravity, for times as great as Neptune's the law of the simple reason that the biological law gravity holds unchanged. We have then relates chiefly to time, while the astroà law whose action is to all intents and nomical law relates chiefly to space, and purposes universal; it operates in every we can look with ever increasing range particle of the universe, and it extends of vision into depths of space which are practically infinite, while we cannot have come into being, let it be noted that look with equal confidence into remote there must be a kindred difference be. depths of past or future time. For the tween any experiments as to the possibil. same reason that men even to this day ity of spontaneous generation and the only accept more confidently the enlarged conditions under which we can imagine ideas of science with regard to space than spontaneous generation to have occurred. the extended ideas with regard to time, There is some difference, we submit, bewhich logically should be accepted with tween a small flask with a few ounces of equal readiness, the theory of evolution hay infusion, to which no air has been must ever remain incomplete as compared admitted, which has not been submitted with the theory of universal attraction. to a number of life-destroying processes, No one could urge with much effect, in and a young planet teeming with material these days, that perhaps beyond the range vitality, still hot with its primeval fires, of the telescope the law of gravity which still palpitating from the throes which within that range (and far beyond the (during countless ages) had preceded and limits of the solar system *) we see in op- accompanied its birth. No experiment eration, may be replaced by some other or observation man has ever made or can law entirely different in its mode of ac- ever make, can suffice to show that the tion. But the opponent of the doctrine of spontaneous generation of living forms biological evolution may, without much then was either possible or impossible. fear of effective reply, express the belief But men may continue, if it gives the that before some definite epoch in the many comfort, to believe that just then past, not evolution, but some other law or the uniform action of law was interrupted, process, was at work in the fashioning of that just at that stage the mechanism of the various forms of animal and vegetable the universe was found to be imperfect. life. In dealing with space no one can

But while in this sense and to this de.. reasonably say, that in whatever direction gree the law of biological evolution differs one may suppose a line extended, a limit from the law of universal attraction, the nust at length be reached beyond which work of Darwin must yet be regarded as we cannot, even in imagination, extend akin to that of Newton, in that it extends our survey. But in dealing with time it indefinitely our conceptions of the range is not considered unreasonable, but, on of natural laws. As Newton showed men the contrary, eminently reasonable, to say all the millions of families of worlds that far back as we may please to carry throughout the universe moving in ac

of evolution we must at length cordance with the law of attraction, so come to a beginning, before which there Darwin has shown us all the myriads of was not only no evolution of life but no races which have inhabited the earth life to pass through processes of evolu- brought into due relation to their surtion.

roundings by the operation of the law of Here, indeed, science assents in some evolution. And as the law of gravity was degree to the objectors, if science may but a wider law, including such laws as not be said to have given birth to the ob- Copernicus and Kepler had recognized, jection. Science has shown that with which in turn severally included many suitable care to remove or destroy all minor laws, so it should be noticed that germs of life from a given space, no life the law of biological evolution includes will appear within that space – in other all those minor laws of development which words, that so far as scientific observation men had recognized for ages without enextends, the generation of life is never tertaining the unreasonable thought that spontaneous. Equally science might as- such laws necessarily implied the nonsert that, so far as scientific observation existence of a lawgiver. extends, the generation of a system of To those alike who are pained and to orbs like the solar system does not occur those who rejoice at what they regard as spontaneously under any suitable test the irreligious tendency of the doctrine of conditions. If a smile be excited by the biological evolution, the same answer inay thought of the vast difference of scale be- be made: it is only when we try to create tween any test conditions for the forma arbitrary limits of space or of time, and to tion of a solar system and the conditions set these as bounds to the operation of under which our own solar system may the laws of nature, that any such tendency

can be imagined. Those who have ad• Binary, triple, and multiple star systems tell us of mitted the growth of a tree, a forest, or a the operation of gravity in the star depths; and so do the movements of stars in space, though not so obvi- flora, of an animal, a race, or a fauna, ously.

according to natural laws, have to ac

the process,



[ocr errors]


knowledge nothing new in kind, however truth, “End is there none to the universe different it may be in degree, in admitting of God; lo, also there is no beginning." that there is development on the larger

R. A. PROCTOR. scale as well as on the smaller, not even though they should have to admit that such development takes place throughout all space and all time. The difficulty in dealing with one thought is not greater

From Temple Bar. than that which oppresses us in considering the other; both difficulties are overwhelming, both infinite. If we could BY MRS. PARR, AUTHOR OF "ADAM AND EVE" evade the conception of the infinite in space or in time, we might be content to

CHAPTER XXVII. imagine limits to the operation of law. BEFORE Robin and Mr. Blunt met But we can neither evade the conception again Christopher and he had come to a nor grasp it. As Pasteur has well said, very decided understanding, the result of quite recently, “When the question is which was a promise that Mr. Veriker's asked, "What is there beyond the starry name should be if possible avoided, or if vault?' it is useless to answer, ‘Beyond spoken of before his daughter, should be lies unlimited space. When we ask what respected. lies beyond the far-off time when what we Accustomed to tacit submission from see around us began to be, and what lies his son, Mr. Blunt was not a little surbeyond the remote future when it will prised to find that in this first measure of cease to exist, of what use the answer, swords between them, Christopher was

Beyond lie eternities of past and coming decidedly the victor. It had not struck time? Nobody understands these words. him so much in the midst of his loud He who proclaims the existence of an talking and bluster; but after, when he Infinite - and nobody can evade it-as- reflected, his sense showed him that he serts more of the supernatural in that had been decidedly worsted. affirmation than exists in all the miracles “If I don't take care,” he said, “beof all the religions; for the notion of the tween the two of them I shall be made a Infinite has the twofold character of being complete puppet of — my word won't be irresistible and incomprehensible. When valued more than that,” and he snapped this notion seizes on the mind, there is his fingers figuratively. nothing left but to bend the knee. In During the whole day the thought that anxious moment all the springs of stayed by him, and kept him silent and intellectual life threaten to snap, and one brooding, so that Robin and Christopher feels near being seized by the sublime were but little troubled by his company. madness of Pascal. Everywhere I see “Now you mustn't think any more the inevitable expression of the Infinite about it," the good fellow said, fearing in the world. By it the supernatural is that Robin was still dwelling on the doseen in the depths of every beart." mestic misadventure; and observing that,

It is as thus viewed that the laws of though she assured him she had comdevelopment brought before us during pletely forgotten the matter, ber eyes the last quarter of a century — not as were heavy and all she said came by novelties, for in conception they are of effort, he rejoiced when rather late in the vast antiquity, but new in the sense that evening the servant announced Mr. Cam. now for the first time they are presented eron, who had come, as he frankly told as proven – are so solemn and impres- them, to see Mrs. Blunt. sive when rightly understood. As the "Perhaps I ought,” he said, “to make discoveries of astronomy were first steps some apology for the lateness of the hour, towards infinite space, steps carrying us but the truth is that the rectory people far enough upon the road to show that of are coming to-inorrow, and I wanted to necessity it must be intinite, the udy steal a march upon them.” of the movements of the heavenly bodies “What, the Temples !” exclaimed Rob. tells us unmistakably of intinite time, so in. " Are they coming? I'm so glad ! the recognition of development tells us I'm looking forward to seeing the Temthat, as we might have anticipated, the ples. Today at church I so liked the domain of law is limitless alike in space look of the children with them !” and in time. With the angel in Richter's The untidy run-wild little Spencers had dream, Science, in the doctrine of ever- touched a chord of sympathy with her lasting evolution, proclains the solemn own neglected childhood.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »