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Lecture 3. Revelation in Nature.

BUT is it Force or God? Is it a blind unconscious power working mechanically, or is it a living Person who can make his choice of ends and means? Our assumption of trustworthiness implies the latter; but we will ask again. If the heavens declared the glory of God to them of old, one would think they must speak in thunder to men like us, who look down vistas of space and time our fathers never dreamed of. The common things on which the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind—the sea and the morning, the wild goats of the rock, the horse that mocketh at fear and the eagle that beholdeth from afar—all these are no more than the surface of a mighty structure of seeming power and wisdom which grows more marvellous with every year's discoveries. The old legends pale before the transformations of the aphis or the Salpa, and the wizardry of Michael Scott is as nothing beside the marvels of the spectroscope. And there is also beauty running through Nature, from the purple clouds of evening to the iridescent colours that flash like jewels from a beetle's wing case. The petals of a lily are more gorgeous than the robes of Solomon; and even the tiger's beauty is not more terrible than a spider's eyes, gleaming out like four gigantic pearls.

At first sight all this would seem to confirm hundreds of times over the old belief in a God whose handiwork is earth and heaven. But science appears to show that if there be such a God, he works throughout by natural laws. We do not find him creating new species, but evolving them from the old—and evolution is “(1) a continuous progressive change; (2) according to certain laws, of differentiation and others; (3) by means of resident forces” This is Le Conte's definition,1 from the standpoint of a practical man of science; and we accept it subject to certain cautions. Continuous is not necessarily opposed to anything but catastrophic change. It does not imply either that the variations are indefinite or that the apparent changes in one generation are always very small. Progress is general progress of the whole, not excluding regress or degeneration in any number of species or individuals. Resident forces do not exclude the action of forces outside the organism. Some take it that indefinite and insensible variation is the meaning of the word: our notice is simply that our use of it must not be construed as admitting this.

Before we go further, it may be urged with some force that the idea of progress assumes a directive power guiding the process, for it is not implied in the mere survival of the organisms best fitted each to its own conditions. Such directive power may work either in the conditions or in the organisms, or in both; but in one or the other it must work, if there is to be any progress.

But if we find evolution everywhere and creation nowhere, some will ask whether evolution may not suffice without creation. Need we assume a God if we never find him acting? If he will neither do good nor do evil, how is he better than the idols in Isaiah? Darwin asked for a few simple germs of life to begin with, and undertook from these to derive the whole complex of life around us. Well, a man who begins with an egg is not unlikely to finish with the bird that was in it. But sonic of Darwin's successors announce that they can do without the egg. Given matter and force, they undertake to explain the universe as a purely natural evolution which neither needs nor admits any divine action whatever. Can they do it?

The first thing to notice is that evolution only denotes a method of action, and tells us nothing of the power that acts, except that it acts in this way and not in that. Being a scientific theory, it deals only with the succession of events, and never reaches any true cause at all. We are all agreed that there must be something to determine the succession; but if we ask whether that something is Force or God, science has nothing to say. Evolution leaves that question exactly where it was before; so that if the theory of design was not already overthrown by Kant, neither is it now subverted by Darwin.

But let us make sure of our ground before we go further. If any have argued from design, not simply to an artificer, but directly to a creator, they have argued hastily. The theory of evolution and the theory of design, when both are rightly limited, cover exactly the same ground. They both leave out the questions of origin, and deal with processes of development; but while design is a theory of the guiding power, evolution is a theory of its method of action. The one theory is that design is the guiding power, whatever be its method of action; according to the other, evolution is the method of action, whatever be the guiding power. They are quite independent. If design is to be contradicted, we must make necessity the guiding power; if evolution, we must show that the action is discontinuous.

Thus the theory of design is not that design originated the system, but simply that design is working it now. The question of origin lies further back, but only one step further back. On one side we can all agree that if design is not working the system now, we have no evidence that it ever did work it. On the other, if design is working it now, there seems no escape from the conclusion that design originated it. No doubt design in ourselves works on matter it did nut originate; but when we come to the entire system, we must choose between a creator and necessity. A mere artificer like ourselves is unthinkable, for in that case the system, and therefore the artificer who shapes it, must be necessary and eternal. But then we get two first principles for a universe which is one. Either, then, this artificer resolves into a necessary system and forms a part of it, or else we must further admit that he is its creator. The dilemma of design or no-design is absolute, and there is no escape from it by taking a blind instinct for the guiding power. If there is no design in that instinct, we come back to necessity; if there is, it must reside in a being higher than the animal which acts. In any case it is clear that according as design or necessity is working the system now, design or necessity must have originated it—if the latter can be called an origin at all.

The theory of evolution in its nineteenth-century form was suggested to its twin founders, Darwin and Wallace, by the phenomena of biology, and is now generally accepted as at any rate a general account of the way in which living things have come into their present forms. From biology it was extended to history, in spite of the difference made by the free action of men. Some would get rid of the difference by making freedom illusory, so that in the end we have nothing but blind forces as before. However, we need not trouble ourselves about this quite yet. We may frankly accept evolution, not as a cause, nor as a final theory, but as a theory which gives a general though largely metaphorical account of the processes by which organisms have come into their present form. By calling it a general account, we mean that though it describes a large number of such processes, we cannot assume that it describes all, or even that it completely describes any of them. And in calling it largely metaphorical, we mean that if the development of physical organisms be strictly and properly called an evolution, that of social organisms can only be so called by a metaphor—that though there is likeness enough between the two processes to justify our use of the word, we must not allow such use to conceal important differences. Our scientific friends often caution us not to let metaphors run away with us, and we thankfully accept their warning.

Leaving questions of origin in abeyance for the moment, we cannot allow that evolution fully describes the method even of biological development. Supposing it completely to explain the useful side of things by natural selection and suchlike means—though even this is more than can be said for certain—it breaks down on their aesthetic side. Its failure here is as conspicuous as its success before.

Sexual selection and guiding lines will not go far. They explain few cases, and these but roughly and in part: yet beauty seems as widespread in the world as use; and when once the two are fairly separated the theory is helpless. In the mineral world, at any rate, there can be no thought of use to explain the beauty, say of the colours revealed by polarized light. Yet separated they must be, for even if beauty has occasional uses, it is essentially the relation of forms, colours, and sounds to a sense which seems independent of utility. So at least it seems at present, though the matter will have to be reconsidered whenever it can be shewn that beauty commonly serves a purely useful end. It would be a new light if such ends were found for the delicate stipplings of a flower, the grace of a bird's flight, or the splendour of a sunset.

Then again, in what sense has the development been continuous? Supposing the visible outcome continuous, though even this is not always the fact,2 is it certain that there never was any change in the underlying forces? Is it certain that no new force ever came in under cover of the “chance variations,” acting at first insensibly, and afterwards more strongly, seeming first no more than a difference of degree, and only later shewing itself a difference of kind? The possibility involves no visible breach of continuity; so that, though the question is purely scientific, science may never be able to decide it. Perhaps, on the contrary, the germ of the very highest was in the very lowest, so that one unbroken sweep of development covers all, and every thing but personal action comes by necessary sequence from the original arrangement. Sonic of the old “breaks,” like that between animal and vegetable life, are perhaps fairly bridged over; and if that which separates man from the anthropoids is more doubtful, it is not because the body presents any difficulty, but because his mental and spiritual characters are so unlike all other products of evolution. In any case, even if we assume matter to be eternal, there seem to be “breaks” at the appearance of life and of conscience. Now, if Force is the guiding power, any apparent breaks must be illusory; but if there be an evolving mind, the question must be left open. In that case there may or may not have been some visible discontinuity, though the evidence is still very strong that there is a real break between matter and life. It matters little for our purpose. Religion rests not on any particular order or method of past development, but on the fact of present experience, that life invests matter, and conscience life, with qualities of a different order from the old. The absence of a break is no disproof of creative action, and its presence is not more suggestive of design to a careful thinker than the continuous development. For the theory of evolution the difference may be important; for that of design it does not matter. Break or no break, the guiding power must he either design throughout or necessity throughout. The one thing; impossible is to divide it between the two.

We need no long discussion of the so-called chance variations by which evolution is said to be carried on. The phrase may pass, but only as a confession of ignorance, not as an antitheistic assumption. Chance means obscure causes, not no causes at all. Given the throw, the toss of a halfpenny might be calculated as accurately as the fall of a stone, if our analysis was equal to the task. All that is known of the obscure causes tends to shew that their action is as determinate as that of better known causes. The variations are not always even small. What is more, they seem to tend in definite directions, not indiscriminately in all directions. This means that the directions of variation are limited in number, so we cannot assume that one variation or another will fall in a given direction, unless there be some directive power to guide it that way. It is poetry, not science, which tells us that “Chance governs all”; and that was only in Chaos. In any case, the fundamental postulate of science, that the physical universe is an ordered whole and not a chaos, must put such limits on “chance variations” as will justify us in believing that the unknown part of it cannot be very different from the known. If, for example, the known part points to a God, the unknown cannot point to that which the fool hath said in his heart. We may judge by the known as a fair sample of the whole, without fear that our main conclusions from it will ever be reversed by further knowledge of what is now unknown.

Before we go further with the subject of design, let us once more clear the question. The appearance of design in the world is undisputed. The man who tells us that many things do not present that appearance cannot seriously deny that many do. Nor can it well be doubted in the face of history that the primâ facie inference is from the appearance of design to its reality. The Non-Theist will generally go so far with it; but then he joins issue. The primâ facie inference, he tells us, may have been very natural in the dark ages; but now that the light of science has arisen on the world, we can explain the appearance of design more reasonably by blind necessity than by the reality of design. This is the question before us. We are not asking now just whether the appearance of design is enough of itself to demonstrate the existence of an infinite Creator. Our question is simply whether we can infer the reality of design from the admitted appearance of design.

What suggests to us the idea of design is not the bare fact that things are suitable to ends; for if they have properties there must be ends to which they are suitable, so that such suitability is no more than the outcome of those properties. A falling tree is very suitable for killing a man; but though we occasionally hear of trees falling when men are passing, the event does not suggest design to us,—at least not till we have in some other way reached a high conception of providence. A pistol shot is equally suitable for killing the man; and it suggests design, because we do not hear of pistols procured and loaded and pointed and fired without design—not perhaps to kill that man or any other man, but at all events design to make them capable of killing somebody. And all these four acts are themselves trains of sequences of the sort which suggests design, so that even if the pistol were pointed and fired by accident we could not rule out the idea of design unless we had reason to suppose that the procuring and the loading also wore accidental. So other cases. What suggests design in the tiger is not the simple fact that his teeth are suitable for eating flesh, but the co-ordination of teeth and claws and stomach and habits generally to a flesh diet. Other cases are even more suggestive of design, because they are more complicated and cover a wider field. Thus in the response of the eye to light, or in the adaptation of the sexes to each other, in the growth of unborn off-spring and the provision made for it, we sum up far-reaching trains of independent causes whose co-ordination is not easy to account for without the help of some directive power.

True, design is only a theory, and therefore cannot be demonstrated; but neither can the rival theory of necessity. Be the case for either what it may, it can always be disputed by the man who takes no proof but logical demonstration. So far the two theories are precisely on a level, and there is nothing to decide between them but the better or worse account we find they give of the facts. Now the evidence of design is cumulative. It is a fallacy to say that “the vastest range of design is of no greater validity than one attested instance of it, so far as proof is concerned,” for the chief attestation of one instance lies precisely in the range and variety of other instances. Each successive case which suggests design makes it more credible that the next is also a case of design. But the evidence for necessity is not cumulative. If one class of cases can be explained without recourse to design, no presumption arises that a different class can be so explained. Design covers all the cases with a single theory; necessity has to be fitted afresh (like the Ptolemaic epicycles) to each class of cases. It is like a parcel of boys all making different and inconsistent excuses for the simple fact that they were found in the wrong place.

The theory of design in its older form rested chiefly on sundry special adaptations supposed to be separately planned. But now that these can be explained—at least immediately—as the necessary results of natural “laws” which cannot be supposed to design anything at all, design is so far excluded. But we still have the “laws” themselves to deal with; and these are much greater and more complicated matters than the isolated adaptations, for they involve the whole structure and history of the universe in all its parts, both small and great, in the whole range of space from one end of the sidereal system to the other, and in the whole expanse of time from the dim beginnings of the present order of things to the final equilibrium of heat in which light and life—such life as ours is now—may be doomed to perish. We see no longer a multitude of separate adaptations accounted for by separate acts of design, but one vast organic whole evolving like a thing of life, and seeming to need no less than eternal power and divinity to plot out the evolution, to work the “laws” that cannot work themselves, and to dovetail all the parts in their infinite complexity into one consistent whole. The question of design is only thrown back from the particular adaptations to the general “laws” By what general laws came it, for instance, in the dawn of time, before this earth of ours was earth at all, that the streams of star-dust rushing through space heaped up the different chemical elements in the quantities and also in the proportions needful to sustain such life as since has lived on earth? A little more or less of carbon dioxide would plainly be a difference of life and death to animals or plants; and bromides instead of chlorides would have made the ocean like the Dead Sea. Or look again at the majestic development of life itself, from its lowly beginnings on the waves of the warm Archæan sea, slowly working upward from tiny sponges and radiolarians to the tree-like ferns of the coal measures and the colossal beasts of later ages; till at last in the fulness of time the world-wide evolution converges from all quarters on the coming of its lord and ruler, man. All this may be the work of blind forces; but is there nothing to guide them? Is there no intending will revealed, no increasing purpose running through the ages? In a word, can there be such evolution without an evolving wind? Is any other theory even decently plausible?

No doubt what has been and still is the general answer of thinking men: and though an ancient and imposing tradition may be mistaken, it ought not to he renounced without serious reason. Now, what is there to set against it? We are all agreed that there is no true causation in natural “law” so that if we are shut up to this we have nothing but an endless series of phenomena, and never reach a true originating cause at all. But we do not get rid of the problem by stopping here. Matter causes nothing at all; force causes nothing but motion, and cannot determine its own direction. Therefore whatever problem of originating and directing power arises from the present arrangement of things arises equally from their arrangement in the furthest past we can discern.

One true originating and directing cause, and only one, is known to us in will. Our own will we know by direct experience, and other wills we infer from outward actions. Some would reduce even this to a mechanical resultant of motives, meaning by motives the things, whatever they be, which stir the will to deliberate action. But deliberate choice as opposed to unreasoning impulse implies a pause for deliberation; and we know as certainly as we know any scientific fact that in deliberation we contribute from ourselves an irreducible element which prevents the issue from being anything like a mechanical resultant of those motives. We are not rigid bodies moved in space according to dynamical formulæ, but living beings who can kick at the so-called forces which seem to drive us, and are very much in the habit of doing so, for it is only metaphorically that motives can be likened to mechanical forces. Nor need the decisive element therefore be caprice; for though we are conscious of power to do anything whatever within certain limits, a man in his right mind has some principle or general aim, good or bad, to which he endeavors to subject that power, so that a choice of motives in particular cases resolves itself into a choice of means for carrying out such principle or general aim.3 Such a man, for instance, does not love money for its own sake, but as a general means of getting what he wants, or pleasure for its own sake, but as a means of realizing the life he most desires. The desire must be in us before we can even consider how it may be satisfied. So we choose our plans, not according to some “strength” ascribed to motives by a misleading metaphor, but simply as we deem this or that course of action best suited to our ultimate purpose.

The reality of freedom has been shortly put from another point of view. There is such a thing as truth, for otherwise the supposition that there is no truth would itself be false; there is such a thing as untruth, for otherwise contradictory beliefs would be true; and the world is a rational system, for otherwise all thought would be empty. Now necessity reduces every belief to a necessary effect of past states of mind which have nothing to do with truth and untruth. No means is left for distinguishing them, and reason and science disappear in idle speculation.

Yet again, if necessity were a fact it could not be a final fact. As freedom implies an agent acting freely, so necessity implies an agent acting necessarily. If it does not, no rational meaning seems possible for the word, and it is no better than a hocus-pocus. Then there must be a fact of some sort to decide that the action shall be necessary and not free; and this fact remains for investigation. If that fact be necessity again, the infinite regress opens out before us; and unless the chain is somewhere broken by a free agent, we cannot have a true cause at all. The necessitarian neither solves the problem nor frankly gives it up—and science with it, but puts forward a solution which turns all thought (including itself) into meaningless fancy.

Like scientific “laws,” the inference of design is an induction based on incomplete knowledge of facts; and the only reasonable question is bow far the theory describes facts. Now, as we saw just now, we do not attach the idea to all facts without distinction, but only to certain facts. Beyond the suitableness of things to ends, there is the further problem of the co-ordination of independent causes to a common end; and no question of design arises till we come to this. To these facts, and only to these, we attach the idea of design; and we attach it by the same necessity of thought which compels us to believe that there is design in similar facts originated by ourselves. Or by others, for wherever we see such co-ordination which is not caused by our own will, we never hesitate to refer it to some other will. No matter if the means employed are themselves subordinate ends, or if the main end is obscure, or if we cannot trace the co-ordination through all parts of the apparent scheme. We are often convinced that a man is working out a design, even when we cannot guess what it is; and evidence of design in some parts of a whole is no way invalidated by failure to trace it in others.

Where the co-ordination seems to be the work of other men, the inference of design is so forced on us that no man in his right mind will deny it. If A goes to B's office every day at a certain hour, I conclude at once that he goes there for a purpose. I may have no idea what that purpose is, or why C goes with him; but I do not therefore doubt that lie has a purpose, and I should be thought insane if I did. Now, if the co-ordination, as in the cases we had before, seems to be the work of some higher power, the inference of design is equally forced on us; and it holds the field till proof is given that facts are inconsistent with it, or at least that some other theory gives upon the whole as good a description of the facts, particularly including the illusion—for illusion it will have to be—that the co-ordination of means to ends implies design.

Notable differences may be pointed out between the works of Nature and the works of man; and some have taken occasion from these to deny the likeness between them. Thus Nature works inside her productions, and forms them by growth; whereas man works from the outside, and by adding one part to another. Nature also makes her living product reproduce itself, while man must himself make a new machine. These and others are important differences, though they are too broadly stated. But we should beg the question if we contrasted Nature's action as unconscious with man's as deliberate. The blind properties of things play exactly the same part in both cases: whether design underlies them both is just the question at issue.

But important as the real differences are, they seem in no way to invalidate such evidence of design as there may be. The point of comparison is the fact that means are—no matter how—co-ordinated to ends in the works of Nature as well as in those of man. The inference of design rests on the fact, not on any particular circumstances of it, so that it remains unshaken till either the fact is denied or proof is given that the idea of design arises from particular circumstances found only in the works of man. As the fact of co-ordination is undisputed, we have only to ask on what grounds we are forbidden to carry over the idea of design from the works of man to the works of Nature.

There is nothing in the conception of design to limit it to finite beings. Doubtless design on God's part must differ from design of ours, but it is still design. Infinite wisdom which sees all the conditions of the problem may work very differently from the finite wisdom which has to pick its way from step to step. It may move to its end with unfailing certainty, but it will choose an cud and co-ordinate means to ends as finite wisdom does. The alternative is that a perfect Being either cannot design anything at all, or cannot work out a design by law—which seems a strange idea of perfection.

The boldest attack on our argument is to say that there is no true analogy except in another world evolving like our own. We cannot grant this, for as between design and necessity there is no reason to suppose that another world would give us better evidence than our own. If analogy is a likeness of relations, not of things, it would rather seem that no amount of unlikeness between things can disprove an alleged analogy, unless it covers the particular point of comparison. Irrelevant differences, however great, must go for nothing. If a ship sails, we cannot deny that a bird “sails,” unless we dispute the likeness of the motion. The great difference that the bird is living and the ship is not goes for nothing, because it does not touch the likeness asserted.

We have already touched on the objection that we cannot argue from finite facts to an infinite designer; but here we may add that in any case infinity is irrelevant to the theory of design. Man works by laws that are fixed for him, which he cannot alter; but if God works, he works by laws he has fixed for himself, which he will not alter. The comparison is not between finite and infinite, but between one conditioned group of works and another. Our theory simply argues from co-ordination to design; whether the designer be infinite has nothing to do with the question. The only difference it makes is that he is limited by his own will, and not by something else.

Another objection seems even more faulty—that we may argue from design to an artificer who alters the form of matter, but not to a creator who originates its substance. Here it seems forgotten, first that this concedes the artificer's design, then that the theory of design is concerned with the working of the system, not with its origin. It is suggested by facts; and there can be no facts till a system is working. Again, though our argument stops at an artificer, there is a step gained from which, as we have already seen, we are compelled to go on to a creator. But this is a distinct line of reasoning, for we shall be no longer arguing from co-ordination to design, but from the existence of an artificer to the unthinkableness of a mere artificer as the highest power that has to do with matter. Besides this, matter and form can only be separated in thought, in logical analysis, but not in fact. It was a crude philosophy which gave us in transubstantiation matter without form, and form without matter; and it is a crude philosophy which still sometimes speaks of Being without attributes, Mind without thought, or Will without object.

We are reminded again that unconscious co-ordination is not design. True, there may be design, and there may be unconsciousness of it; but not in the same agent. Unconscious design is a contradiction in terms. If an agent designs a thing, he must design it consciously; and if he acts unconsciously, his relation to it is precisely that of a stick or a stone which somebody else is using. The phrase is misleading, for it introduces the word design when it means only blind forces bringing out the same results as might be brought out by a person consciously designing. The admission of design is only verbal. Our argument that co-ordination implies design somewhere is no way weakened by proof that the immediate agent acts unconsciously. If we may look beyond an automaton to the design of a man who made it, what hinders us from looking beyond Nature to the design of One who is greater than Nature?

Neither again does it seem true that we can see man's design, but not Nature's, though it is very credible that we never see the whole of Nature's design. Assuming ex hypothesi that Nature co-ordinates means to ends as well as men, we get two parallel series of similar facts; and if we can see what the design is in one, why cannot we in the other? If, however, all that is meant is that while we see the whole of man's design we do not see the whole of Nature's, our answer might be to question whether we ever do see the whole even of man's design. If we do not, the two cases are exactly on a footing. In any case, however, there is no reason why imperfect knowledge should not be true as far as it goes. Evidence that Nature designed this or that end is no way weakened by the certainty that Nature designed also many other ends. The real bearing of the fact is not that we have no right to infer design anywhere, but that we cannot expect to see it everywhere. The design of a system still evolving cannot be more than incompletely known to us; and we have no right to require that every part of an uncompleted work should show its relevance to the incompletely known design of the whole. Every workman knows what fools we make of ourselves if we find fault with the details of machinery before we quite know what it is meant to do.

A strange idea which underlies a good deal of common thought is that design is a quasi-physical cause which ought to appear somewhere or other as a heterogeneous link breaking the chain of purely physical sequences. But this, we are told, is just what we never find in the operations of Nature. The links are always purely physical, the sequences always unbroken; and we have no reason to suppose that if we could only trace them back far enough a link of another sort would tie them all up to the foot of Jupiter's chair. There is no room for design.

This is excellent logic; but it premises a false conception of design. It proves too much. In our own operations, where design is unquestioned, we have a precisely similar chain of purely physical causes. There is no single force we can put forth with design which purely physical causes cannot put forth without design, though always under limitations which nothing but design can remove. But if the items can be explained without design, it does not follow that the whole can be so explained. Given stones, physical causes might make a heap of them; and no question of design arises till we notice that the heap is on the top of a hill. Given words, they must come in some order or other; but if that order makes sense we infer design, and sometimes even if it does not. So with the operations of Nature. The physical causes form an unbroken series not including design, and there is really nothing to suggest design till we ask how they came to be arranged and co-ordinated to ends; and that is a question on which a science of sequences can have nothing to say. If then we set the question aside, or forbid it as Comte forbade it, we can do very well without design; but then we must give up all pretence of seriously facing facts. Design is not a link in the chain of sequences, but a directive power called in to account for their co-ordination to ends; and if we cannot explain the cairn of stones without design, neither can we explain without design any natural product which seems to arise in a similar way from the co-ordination of means to an end.

Upon the whole, I can find but two serious or at least plausible objections; and these do not really touch the inference from the appearance of design to the reality of design of some sort. The gist of them both is that even if design were proved it would be the wrong sort of design. One of them begins by saying that the design indicated (supposing any design indicated) is that of a finite agent who finds difficulties in his way, and does not always take the best means of overcoming them, and this points to a God of limited wisdom or limited power,—to polytheism perhaps or a dualism of good and evil, or may be to a capricious God or a mere artificer, but not to the one all-sovereign and unchanging God of Theism. In a true creator's hands matter must be more plastic than the potter's clay, for it has no properties but those he has himself given it. Why then should he struggle with difficulties which must be of his own making, unless it be to display his skill in overcoming them? Why should he so often use indirect or clumsy means? Why indeed should he use any means at all, to work out what he must be able to do with a word? If Theism be true, we must go back to the worthier conception of the Psalmist—

He spake, and it was done:

He commanded, and it stood fast.4

To a certain distance the reply is easy. A divine knowledge may be needed for a full answer; but a divine knowledge is equally needed to justify the objection at all. Unless we know all the ends in view, the objection falls to the ground at once; and this is a large assumption. Perhaps the immediate end is clear, and even the final end may be visible; but if we cannot be sure that we know all the intermediate and subsidiary ends, our ignorance invalidates all criticism of the means employed. We are more or less competent judges (and there is no irreverance in judging) whether there is design, whether such and such is the immediate end, and whether this or that is a good means of reaching it; but we cannot judge of adaptation to unknown further ends. In our own experience we often find that a short cut to an end is a long way round to something further. Meanwhile it might be well if we were sometimes more modest in judging even of the immediate end. The imperfections of our senses, for example, are fair evidence that there was no design to give us more perfect senses; but they are not evidence that there was no design to give us our present senses. The fact of design is one thing, the limit of the design quite another; unless it be maintained that a limited end cannot under any circumstances be designed by such a God as Theism supposes; or, in other words, that he cannot create finite things. Perhaps, indeed, it is as well for us that our eyes are neither telescopes nor microscopes, and that our ears are not long enough to hear everything our friends may say of us.

It must be further considered that design implies choice, that choice implies limitation to one line of action out of sundry, and that the limitation is not removed if the choice is determined by infinite wisdom. If things created are finite, they must have definite properties and relations; and if these are laid down by infinite wisdom, then infinite power (not being unwisdom) will be as effectually limited by them as if it were physically unable to get beyond them. If an infinite Being is pleased to work out a design, he must work it out subject to the properties he has given to things, so that he may have to use other and more cumbrous means than he would if things had such other properties as he would have given them if his one purpose had been to reach by the shortest way the one end we ourselves happen to be thinking of.

One perhaps of these further ends is not beyond our comprehension. Let us take a hint from the satirical suggestion that circuitous means can only be used “to display his skill in overcoming difficulties.” Is that quite true? Supposing difficulties overcome, is it certain that nothing but skill would be shown? Some say that he is a God of patience (μακροθνμία) Working by method, and preferring circuitous means to the short cut of breaking down the perverse will of man. Now, if the world is a revelation, as on any theistic theory it must be, such a character ought to shew itself. And how could it shew itself if he were bound always to make straight for the immediate object?

This may suffice to show that the objection rests on assumptions we have no right to make; though its rashness might be further shewn by other considerations. For instance, have we not reason to believe that the separation of means and ends which is a necessity of thought for us can have no place in an infinite mind? However, if science is right in pointing to man as the goal of evolution, and if certain religions are right in teaching—what science, not being omniscience, is not competent to deny—that the natural order exists for and is subordinate to a spiritual order, we get a view which, if not free from difficulties, is at any rate rational and moral, and perhaps involves fewer difficulties than any other.

The greatest of these difficulties is the remaining objection. It is said that if there is design at all, the whole must be designed. We cannot pick and choose. Evil in the world and sin in ourselves—evil physical and evil moral—must be as much designed as any of the beneficent adaptations preached by Theism. Yet if God creates good and bad indiscriminately, the whole case for design disappears. His action is exactly that of some blind necessity, so that any theory of design is superfluous.

To this we might demur, that co-ordination of means to ends is still evidence for the existence of design, and that evidence for the existence of design is not refuted by evidence that the design is in some parts good and in others bad. If this were the case, we might fairly conclude that the design was not purely good, or that it was not consistently carried out, or that it was crossed by a conflicting design, possibly of another agent; but not that there was no design at all. The evidence that there is design would stand exactly where it stood before. So far as the objection to design goes, this would be a valid answer; but it is not one a Theist can make. Even i f he can demur to the conclusion, he is bound also to dispute the premises, by maintaining that facts are consistent with a design of perfect goodness.

The objection plainly raises the whole question of evil, so that it cannot be answered here except in the barest outline. Something, however, may be said at once to spew that the difficulty is less formidable than it looks. Physical evil is broadly that which is or may be unpleasant to us or other animals. Now the design alleged by Theists is not chiefly to prevent such unpleasantness, but to produce and to train moral persons; and till this design (and not another) is disproved no objection can arise from the presence of physical evil in the world. Moral evil is a harder question, for it cannot be designed by the God of Theism. The answer, to put it in the shortest form, is that as we trace backward a train of sequences we come to a true origin whenever we find a personal will. It is not merely that we cannot get behind it, but that if freedom is real we have come to something which so deflects, arranges, and co-ordinates the physical sequences that what goes before would not without this rearrangement be followed by what comes after it. If then moral evil or sin is our own act, our own will is a sufficient reason for it, so that God's creation is not the sin, but the freedom which made sin possible; and this is at all events a different thing. And since the idea of moral beings includes their freedom, omnipotence itself could no more make moral beings without freedom than a square without sides. It would not be a difficulty, but a contradiction in terms. This may suffice till we come to the question whether sin is permanent.

Upon the whole, if there is not design in the present working of the physical universe, the mimicry of design is so close, so general, so varied and so complicated, that we are entitled to call for serious and cogent evidence that it is no more than mimicry. And in this it will not be enough to disprove the immediate action of design in one or two cases, and then vaguely surmise that design may be entirely dispensed with in all the rest. It must be disproved either universally, or at least so generally that the outstanding cases of apparent design can fairly be treated as anomalies which a fuller knowledge may be expected to clear up. The scientific facts are hardly disputed: what is their philosophical interpretation? The onus probandi seems to rest on those who try to explain the admitted appearance of design by the action—not simply of blind forces, for that is agreed, but of blind forces with nothing but blind necessity to guide them.

We have had to discuss the theory of design at some length, because of its close connexion with the idea of revelation. Were it true that there is no evidence of design in the changes we see around us, no means of revelation would be left, but au intuition given to individuals. Such intuition might be certain to its receiver; but he could riot convey his certainty to others. To them it would be matter of testimony, backed up it might be by the life of the witness. Such life might show conclusively the sincerity of his belief, but we should have no outside facts to test its truth. The historical argument of Paley's Evidences is unassailable till we take the ground that no amount of historical evidence is enough to prove a miracle; but it would not have even a semblance of cogency if the facts deposed to by the apostles had all been feelings limited to themselves, and none of them events which anyone could investigate at his pleasure. Even so, there might be a weighty argument in the agreement of independent witnesses. But if the intuition were universal in the sense that everyone was fully conscious of it, there would be no room for doubt; and whether it was universal or not, the proof of it might always be disputed if it could not be put in relation to external facts. If it is impossible to prove design by facts which might be verified by all, it will not easily be proved by intuitions not given to all, or at least disputed by some.

Now this means that the entire physical universe of space and time is in its measure a revelation of God. Some will answer that, being such a world as God was pleased to make, it is a declaration of his will, but not necessarily a revelation of his nature; and this is a good reply to those who go back to the mediæval conception of God (not yet extinct among us) as mere sovereign power. It is valid also against the more or less deistic teleology of the eighteenth century, which contemplated a great and skilful engineer living somewhere far away in heaven, who made the world a few thousand years ago, set its clockwork going, and left it to itself, except that every now and then he had to come back and do with his own hand something his clockwork could not do, which something we call a miracle. This theory rests on a whole series of dualisms which we now see to be false. For instance, design does not necessarily imply an artificer working from outside and standing in such arbitrary relation to his work that it need not express anything more than his fancy at the moment. If evolution points to a God at all, it points to a God immanent in the world, however he may also transcend it—immanent as a living and formative power, and working as directly in the commonest of natural processes as in the mightiest of marvels. A God who sometimes and only sometimes works in it is unthinkable. Again, if it is a rational world (and thought is meaningless unless it is), it must be the expression, not of arbitrary or irrational will, but of a rational will; and this again must be the divine nature, for the idea that the divine will can be arbitrary is nothing else than the natural man's confusion of freedom with caprice. Yet again, we have another false dualism of infinite and finite. God is not simply something other than the world, for that which is infinite cannot be limited by the finite, as if each had its proper place assigned it in some larger whole including both. Such quasi-local distinctions are absurd. The infinite can be limited by nothing but itself. It must be the ground and explanation of the finite, the element in which the finite lives and moves and has its being, while the derived reality of the finite makes it in its measure a true expression of the infinite which lives and moves, but has not its being in it.

If then the physical universe is a true expression of eternal power and divinity, it has a value inconsistent with pantheistic or ascetic5 forms of thought which make it the mere husk of the spiritual, or even its worst enemy. If God saw all that he had made, we cannot doubt that he found it very good, however it be misused and marred by sin. The world may pass away, and the fashion of it; but so long as it remains, it is as truly a divine message as any that could be spoken by an angel flying in the midst of heaven. The spiritual life is not the natural; yet there is food as well as poison for it in the world and the things of the world. Vainly the corn of wheat would drink the water of the rain of heaven, if it had not also power to take in particles of matter from the earth around it. So too the spiritual life must feed on the things of the world around it, and be nourished by the relations of natural life and of ordered society, without which no human health can long endure. The Ascetic is like the Positivist—he pours out the wine of life, and adoresthe empty cup; the Pantheist strips his deity of all the relations of reality and worships, not indeed an idol, but a meaningless word which he takes for the name that is above every name.

Before we go further, let us glance back at the conception of God suggested by the physical universe or Nature. It may be summed up with St. Paul, as a revelation of eternal power and divinity. That there is a single force behind it, and that a force of indefinitely great power, is hardly disputed. Men of science may be Theists or Non-Theists, but we do not hear of Polytheists among them; and they are generally agreed that though there may be a case for a dualism of good and evil, it is overborne by the strong evidence of unity in Nature. If now the argument from design be accepted, that force must be allowed will (which implies personality) and indefinitely great power and intellect. Whether these indefinites are strictly infinite is a question which some will have left open, on the ground that there is nothing in the physical universe to settle it. We have seen that this argument is not worth much; but we may let it pass for the present. Not so the question of eternity, for even if the world were eternal in the sense of infinite past duration, its moving force would have to be in the same sense eternal; and if the world have beginning or end, it must be the effect of a cause which cannot be less than eternal, for even the atheist will hardly suppose that in the beginning there was nothing at all, so that nothing created something.

We see, then, revealed in Nature an eternal Person, of indefinitely great power and intellect. But this is plainly a most incomplete conception, which gives us no idea of his real nature. Can we get no further? Some power and some intellect every living person must have; but his nature is not determined by the amount he has of these. They are outside things—only tools for use, however needful they may be. What he is himself depends on the character of the will that uses them. The man of pleasure does not cease to be a man of pleasure merely because his health is broken, and the gambler is not summarily reformed when he has gambled everything away. On the other hand, the charm of a loving nature is no way hindered by want of a capacious intellect, and even the dying man can give one last dumb sign that love is stronger than death. Amounts of power and intellect are accidents of men, not their real selves. So also must it be with God. As definite power and intellect is not the self of man, so neither can indefinite or even infinite power and intellect be the self of God. They are conditions of action, but not the will that acts. Given a will that is divine in character: if that will were to lay aside from use on earth6 all superhuman power and intellect, it would remain as divine as ever. So far as this goes, there is no difficulty at all in the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

We must emphasize this—that the idea of God as mere power is simply unmeaning. It is not even untrue, but simply unmeaning. Power without will to set it in motion is potential, not active power such as we see. It is like the power stored in a piece of coal, which can do nothing till it is put on the fire. God as mere power is a subject without a predicate; and though we may sympathize with a lament that the predicate cannot be found, it is hard to understand how the sentence can be all the better for having no predicate.

If, then, we are to know anything of God, we shall have to see something more than his eternal power and divinity. What sort of a will is there behind? Is it a will for right or wrong, for love or hatred, or is it simply neutral? To our former questions Nature's answer rang out sharp and clear; but now it is confused by a discordant undertone. There is indeed so much to be said for a belief in her indifference, that it is not wonderful if some have looked no further. As regards right and wrong, she works by general laws of a neutral character, crushing saint and sinner alike the moment they get in the way. In war she is on the side of the biggest battalions, without regard to right and wrong; and in peace the vilest of sinners can use her laws as effectually as the purest of saints. So far she seems thoroughly indifferent; but when we ask how these neutral laws work out in practice, we find a decided balance in favour of right. Thus right is a factor of success in war, though it may be overcome by other factors; and virtue is a real factor of success in life, though only one factor out of sundry. Still, it is only a balance; and though it does upon the whole amount to a declaration that Nature is on the side of right, it is not a clear unhesitating declaration like that of the eternal power and divinity.

So on the other score. One thing indeed is quite plain—that God is very much the reverse of love, if love is nothing more than good nature, such as is, shewn by giving children what harms them because they like it. Yet much Christian and Antichristian reasoning takes for granted that a loving God would feed us this way, and wonders why he does not. Let us clear the word of weakness, and imagine a love too strong to waver in changing moods like ours, and too true to spare us whatever stimulus or punishment may be needed to urge us on to better things. Yet if we now ask Nature again, her answer is nearly the same as before. She still works by general laws; and though there is a decided balance in favour of her wish to promote the happiness of her creatures, yet it is only a balance which hardly resolves all doubts. In this case, however, the evidence may be a little stronger; for though the inflexibility of law is akin to right, it seems quite as much akin to the awful sternness of the highest and truest love. It is not only no objection to the belief of some that God is love, but the only thing consistent with it; for any variableness or shadow of turning would be conclusive proof that he is something else.

No doubt you know Huxley's grand picture of Nature playing chess with the youth. As he says, she never overlooks a mistake; but she is absolutely, just. To the winner the stakes are paid with overflowing liberality, while the unskillful player is check mated without haste and without remorse. “without haste and without remorse.” Now look at a still grander picture, coming down from those dread times of tumult and confusion when the Assyrian London was verging to her fall, and

The grim clans of the restless Mede

were gathering to their prey.

The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,

And will not at all acquit the wicked.

His way is in the whirlwind and in the storm;

And the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Is it not the same portrait? Both Huxley and the prophet Nahum tell us how Nature has no forgiveness, and both notice her strange delay to strike. Yet there is a characteristic difference. Where Huxley tells us that Nature checkmates without haste and without remorse, Nahum says the Lord is slow to anger. May not this be true? The long delay is not uncommon may it not admit a possibility of something better? On the plane of Nature this is pure speculation: yet I see nothing to forbid it. May there not be mercy somewhere after all? Though Nature's laws roll onward in their unrelenting sequences beyond the reach of mortal ken, there may still be forgiveness in some higher sphere; and by forgiveness I mean no rolling back that car of Juggernaut, as if the word of Nature could be broken in the world of Nature, but the triumph over it of the living spirit which exults in suffering and laughs at death for love and right, serene and calm in sure and certain hope to see and to share an everlasting victory.

  • 1.

    Le Conte, Evolution.

  • 2.

    E.g. the case of the Ancon sheep.

  • 3.

    Hyslop, Elements of Ethics, ch. iv.

  • 4.

    Ps. xxxiii. 9.

  • 5.
    This formally contradicts Mr. Illingworth's dictum (Christian Character, 60) that “asceticism is an essential ingredient in all true human life”; but I think our difference is only verbal. One man holds that things of sense, especially the body, and most of all relations of sex, are impure and dangerous, while another who believes that “every creature of God is good” holds further that certain pleasures ought to be abstained from under certain circumstances, or even permanently by certain persons; and I do not think Mr. Illingworth distinguishes these two motives less sharply than I do. But I submit that it is inconvenient and misleading to mix up lines of conduct depending on such different motives under the general term asceticism. As the second line of conduct cannot be distinguished as Christian asceticism if it caters (as I fully grant it does) into all true human life, I prefer to call the first line of conduct asceticism, leaving the words austerity or self-discipline to describe the second.

    For example, the Puritan had reason (sufficient or not) for his dislike of cards; but that reason was not distrust of pleasure as such, if he was quite ready for a game of bowls. Such a man may be austere, and his self-discipline possibly mistaken; but he is not ascetic.

    The greater the confusion emphasized by Mr. Illingworth, the greater the need of distinguishing radically different motives as clearly as we can.

  • 6.

    The limitation is needed to shut out a good many questions we need not discuss here.