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Lecture 1: Introduction

The attitudes towards Theism of Newton and Laplace: the latter has become the common attitude of ‘Science.’ This illustrated.

The polity of Modern Science claims to be in idea a complete and compacted whole. ‘Gaps,’ in what sense admitted, and how dealt with.

The dualism of Matter and Mind: ‘Science’ decides to treat the former as fundamental, the latter as episodic.

Professor Huxley on the situation: his admissions and advice—a blend of Naturalism and Agnosticism. These doctrines complementary: they react upon each other. According to the one, Natural Theology is unnecessary; according to the other, Rational Theology is impossible.

Examination of the position that Science forms a self-contained whole. No sharp boundary between ‘science and nescience.’ Mr. Spencer betrays science.

Tyndall's suggestion of an Emotional Theology.

SIR ISAAC NEWTON concludes his famous Principia with a general scholium, in which he maintains that “the whole diversity of natural things can have arisen from nothing but the ideas and the will of one necessarily existing being, who is always and everywhere, God Supreme, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, absolutely perfect.” A little more than a hundred years later Laplace began to publish his Mécanique Céleste, which may be described as an extension of Newton's Principia on Newton's lines, translated into the language of the differential calculus. When Laplace went to make a formal presentation of his work to Napoleon, the latter remarked: “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Whereupon Laplace drew himself up and answered bluntly: “Sire, I had no need of any such hypothesis.”1 Since that interview another century has almost passed. Sciences that were then in their infancy—such as chemistry, geology, biology, and even psychology—have in the meantime attained imposing proportions. Any one who might now have the curiosity to compare the treatises of their best attested exponents with the great work of Laplace would find that work no longer singular in the omission which Napoleon found so remarkable, an omission which Newton, by the way, in his famous letters to Bentley, had already pronounced to be absurd.

Of course, it is not to be forgotten, the increasing specialisation brought about by the growth of knowledge justifies and even necessitates far greater restriction in the scope of any given branch of it than was customary a couple of centuries ago. People talked then, not of this or that natural science, but of ‘natural philosophy’; and psychology, as we know, even in our own day, is often lumped together with metaphysics as ‘mental philosophy.’ It was incumbent on men styling themselves philosophers to define their attitude towards the notions of a necessarily existent Being, a First and Absolute Cause, and not to confine themselves merely, to contingent existences and to causes that are in turn conditioned. The sharp division which Christian Wolff brought into vogue between empirical and rational knowledge was then ignored, if not unknown. But nowadays, at all events, the absence from a work on natural science of all reference to the supernatural would be no proof that the author disavowed the supernatural altogether.

Still, this is not the point. What we have to note is the existence in our time of a vast circle of empirical knowledge in the whole range of which the idea of a Necessary Being or a First Cause has no place. Towards this result religious and devout men like Cuvier or Faraday have contributed as much as atheists such as Holbach or Laplace. Like many another result of collective human effort, it was neither intended nor foreseen. But there it is nevertheless; and it is all the more impressive because it has grown with humanity, and is not the work of a one-sided sect or school. If modern science had a voice and were questioned as to this omission of all reference to a Creator, it would only reply: I am not aware of needing any such hypothesis.

God made the country, they say, and man made the town. Now we may, as Descartes did, compare science to the town. It is town-like in its compactness and formality, in the preëminence of number and measurement, systematic connexion, and constructive plan. And where science ends, they say too, philosophy and faith may begin. But where is science to end? All was country once, but meanwhile the town extends and extends, and the country seems to be ever receding before it. Let us recall a few familiar instances by way of illustration. To Bentley's inquiry, how the movements and structure of the solar system were to be accounted for, Newton replied: “To your query I answer that the motions which the planets now have could not spring from any natural cause alone, but were impressed by an intelligent Agent.… To make this system with all its motions required a cause which understood and compared together the quantities of matter in the several bodies of the sun and planets and the gravitating powers resulting from thence,… and to compare and adjust all these things together in so great a variety of bodies, argues that cause to be not blind and fortuitous, but very well skilled in mechanism and geometry.”2 But now, in place of this direct intervention of an intelligent Agent, modern astronomy substitutes the nebular hypothesis of Kant and Laplace. Think again of the remarkable instances of special contrivance and design collected by Paley in his Natural Theology, published at the beginning of this century, or of those of the Bridgewater Treatises a generation later—works from which some of us perhaps got our first knowledge of science. Nobody reads these books now, and nobody writes others like them. Such arguments have ceased to be edifying, or even safe, since they cut both ways, as the formidable array of facts capable of an equally cogent dysteleological application sufficiently shews. But, in truth, special adaptations have ceased to lie on the confines of science, where natural causes end. “Sturmius,” says Paley, “held that the examination of the eye was a cure for atheism.”3 Yet Helmholtz, who knew incomparably more about the eye than half a dozen Sturms, describes it as an instrument that a scientific optician would be ashamed to make: and Helmholtz was no atheist.4 Again the immutability and separate creation of species, which Cuvier and other distinguished naturalists long stoutly maintained, are doctrines now no longer defensible. And without them the unique position assigned to man in the scale of organic life—for the sake of which, it is not too much to say, Cuvier and his allies held out so desperately—can be claimed for man no more. “The grounds upon which this conclusion rests,” says Darwin, the conclusion, i.e., that man is descended from some less highly organised form, “will never be shaken, for the close similarity between man and the lower animals in embryonic development as well as in innumerable points of structure and constitution, both of high and of the most trifling importance,—the rudiments which he retains, and the abnormal reversions to which he is occasionally liable,—are facts which cannot be disputed.”5 And certainly the unanimity with which this conclusion is now accepted by biologists of every school seems to justify Darwin's confidence a quarter of a century ago. And not merely man's erect gait and noble bearing, but his speech, his reason, and his conscience too, are now held to have been originated in the course of a vast process of evolution, instead of being ascribed, as formerly, to the inspiration and illumination of the Divine Spirit directly intervening.

But vast as the circuit of modern science is, it is still of course limited. On no side does it begin at the beginning, or reach to the end. In every direction it is possible to leave its outposts behind, and to reach the open country where poets, philosophers, and prophets may expatiate freely. However, we are not for the present concerned with this extra-scientific region—the metempirical as it has been called: what we have to notice is rather the existence of serious gaps within the bounds of science itself. But over these vacant plots, these instances of rus in urbe, science still advances claims, endeavouring to occupy them by more or less temporary erections, otherwise called working hypotheses. Concerning such gaps more must be said presently. Meanwhile, it may suffice to refer to one or two in passing, as our immediate concern is only to understand the claim of science to include them within its domain, though it can occupy them only provisionally.

There is first the great gap between the inorganic and the organic world. Even if astronomical physics will carry us smoothly from chaotic nebulosity to the order and stability of a solar system, and if again “it does not seem incredible that from… low and intermediate forms, both animals and plants may have been developed”;6 still what of the transition from the lifeless to the living? There is no physical theory of the origin of life. Nothing can better shew the straits to which science is put for one than the reception accorded to Lord Kelvin's forlorn suggestion that possibly life was brought to this planet by a stray meteorite! But, on the other hand, taking living things as there, science finds nothing in their composition or in their processes physically inexplicable. The old theory of a special vital force, according to which physiological processes were at the most only analogous to—not identical with—physical processes, has for the most part been abandoned as superfluous. Step by step within the last fifty years the identity of the two processes has been so far established, that an eminent physiologist does not hesitate to say “that for the future, the word ‘vital’ as distinctive of physiological processes might be abandoned altogether.”7 It is allowed that life has never been found to arise save through the mediation of already existing life—in spite of many a long and arduous search. Yet, on the ground that vital phenomena furnish no exceptions to purely physical laws, it is assumed that life at its origin—if it ever did originate—formed no break in the continuity of evolution. This instance may perhaps be taken as a type of the scientific treatment of existing lacunæ in our empirical knowledge. Wherever there are reasons for maintaining that a natural explanation is possible, though none is, in fact, forthcoming, there actual discontinuity and the supernatural are held to be excluded.

But this principle is put to a far severer trial when we pass from the physical aspect of life to the psychical. The coarse and shallow materialism that disposed of this difficulty with an epigram, “The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile,” only served to set the problem in a clearer light. For it is just the hopelessness of the attempt to resolve thought into a physiological function that is the difficulty. And accordingly, within twenty years after Karl Vogt's flippant utterance, we find the physiologist, Du Bois-Reymond, answering this ‘riddle,’ not merely with an Ignoramus, but with an Ignorabimus. Indeed, nowadays there is nothing that science resents more indignantly than the imputation of materialism. For, after all, materialism is a philosophical dogma, as much as idealism. It professes to start from the beginning, which science can never do; and, when it is true to itself, never attempts to do. Modern science is content to ascertain coexistences and successions between facts of mind and facts of body. The relations so determined constitute the newest of the sciences, psychophysiology or psychophysics. From this science we learn that there exist manifold correspondences of the most intimate and exact kind between states and changes of consciousness on the one hand, and states and changes of brain on the other. As respects complexity, intensity, and time-order the concomitance is apparently complete. Mind and brain advance and decline pari passu; the stimulants and narcotics that enliven or depress the action of the one tell in like manner upon the other. Local lesions that suspend or destroy, more or less completely, the functions of the centres of sight and speech, for instance, involve an equivalent loss, temporary or permanent, of words and ideas. Yet, notwithstanding this close and undeviating parallelism between conscious states and neural states, it is admitted, as I have already said, that the two cannot be identified. It is possible, no doubt, to regard a brain change as a case of matter and motion, but the attempt to conceive a change of mind in this wise is allowed to be ridiculous.

But though these two sets of facts cannot be identified, as the physical and the physiological may be, yet, since they vary concomitantly, may not causal connexion at all events be safely affirmed of them? Yes, it is said, if that means merely that the connexion is not casual. When, however, the attempt is made to determine an event in either as the cause or the effect of the concomitant event in the other, the difficulties seem insuperable. There is not merely the difficulty that the two seem strictly coincident in time, so that all question of sequence is excluded—although this difficulty is one on which stress has been laid. But, in addition, the series of neural events—being physical—is already, so to say, closed and complete within itself, each neural state is held to be wholly the effect of the neural state immediately preceding it, and the entire cause of that directly following. In other words, the master generalisation of the physical world, that of the conservation of energy would be violated by the assumption that energy could appear or disappear in one form without at once disappearing or reappearing to a precisely equivalent amount in another. Brain changes could not then be transformed into sensations, or volitions be transformed into brain changes, without a breach of physical continuity; and of such a breach there is supposed to be no evidence.

The position, then, of science in the present day as regards what I have called the gap between the psychical and the physical is briefly this: If the mechanical theory of the material world including the modern principle of energy is not to be impugned, then there is no natural explanation of the parallelism that exists between processes in brain and processes in consciousness; the gap is one across which no causal links can be traced. This amount of dualism science seems content to admit rather than forego the strict continuity and necessary concatenation of the physical world. But it is not regarded as the sort of discontinuity that sets empirical generalisation at defiance or points directly to supernatural interference. True, the gulf is such that the utmost advance on the physical side would not, of itself, help on psychology in the least, nay would not even suggest to the physicist, pure and simple, the existence of the psychical side at all. True, again, the gap is such that psychology, keeping strictly to its own domain, gives no hint of the existence of that physical mechanism of brain, nerve, and muscle, by which it is so intimately shadowed, or—as many very arbitrarily prefer to say—which it so intimately shadows. But this very concomitance is itself a uniformity of nature, a uniformity of coexistence, and no limit can be assigned to the extent to which psychophysics may succeed in determining its details. Inasmuch as supernatural intervention is not invoked by physiology or psychology severally, psychophysics can obviously dispense with it in merely correlating the two. As a result of our brief survey, then, we find that “the ideas and the will of the one necessarily existing Being,” to which Newton referred, do not figure even as a working hypothesis anywhere within the range of that systematic exposition of “the whole diversity of natural things,” that calls itself modern science.

This summary of existing knowledge about whatever comes to be is confessedly meagre in the extreme. To many it will suggest objections and to some it may seem obscure. I shall myself have objections in plenty to make and to meet, as best I may, later on; as to the obscurity, this I fear could only be remedied by an elaboration of detail which would call for more time than we can spare. Moreover, this defect is made good already in sundry well-known essays and addresses by men like Huxley, Tyndall, Clifford, Helmholtz, Du Bois-Reymond, and others. Besides, it is precisely the broadest and most general characteristics, not the details, of the current science of nature, that I wish to emphasise. Let me then, before attempting to advance further, ask your patience while I try to restate them in another way.

We note first of all the old dualism of Matter and Mind, or rather—since a duality of substances is nowadays neither asserted nor denied—the dualism of so-called material and mental phenomena. As to material phenomena—that is to say wherever there is matter in motion, whether planets revolving round a sun or molecules vibrating in a living frame, over all these—certain mechanical laws are held to be supreme; that a single atom should deviate from its predetermined course were as much a miracle as if Jupiter should break away from its orbit and set the whole solar system in commotion. Matter and energy are the two fundamental conceptions here. The amount of both is constant, and even independent, in so far as matter cannot be raised to the dignity of energy nor energy degraded to the inertness of matter. But the energy of any given body or material system may vary indefinitely, provided only every increase or decrease shall entail always an equivalent decrease or increase by transfer to or from other bodies or systems. Thus the continuity and solidarity of the material world is complete; but there is no limit to the diversities which it may assume, provided its physical unity and concatenation are strictly conserved.

When we turn to what are called mental phenomena we find nothing answering to this quantitative constancy, inviolable continuity, and strict reciprocity. Minds are not a single conservative system as matter and energy are. What one mind gains in ideas, feeling, strength of will, another does not necessarily lose. We have here a number of separate individuals, not a single continuum. But on the other hand we know nothing of minds without a living body and without external environment. Between each living body and this environment there is a continuous exchange of material—the metabolism of physiologists—accompanied by a constant give and take of energy. While the organism gains in this exchange, it thrives and developer, goes up in the world; as it loses, it begins to decline and perish, to go down in the world. But, as all organisms collectively, together with their environments, constitute the constant and continuous physical system, indefinite increase and advance all round are impossible. Sooner or later what we describe as struggle must ensue, leading to ‘the survival of the fittest,’ as its result. But conscious life is found to rise and fall with organic efficiency and position, so that (completely isolated and distinct as the consciousness of A is from that of B), all minds are indirectly connected; each is yoked to its own body and through this body to the one material world. Of other connexions and relations that minds may have wholly independent of this physical connexion, we have so far no experience; all intercourse, all tradition, is mediated through the one physical world.

So then the concomitance of mind with body is invariable; concomitance of body with mind on the other hand is not certainly more than occasional, even exceptional. Moreover, keeping strictly to the psychological standpoint, we can never get beyond qualitative description and rough classification, natural history in a word, not natural science. And this would be true even though, in individual cases, quantitative determinations were possible, which however they are not. For there are certainly no common psychological units of intensity or duration; no mind-stuff fixed in amount; no psychical energy that must be conserved. Thus, on the physical side we have a single system, unvarying law, quantitative exactness, complete concatenation of events—in a word, one vastly complex, but rigidly adjusted, mechanism. But on the psychical side we have as many worlds as there are minds, connected indeed, yet independent to an indefinite extent; a series of partial and more or less disparate apercus or outlooks; each for itself a centre of experience, but all without any exact orientation in common. Psychology, pure and simple, has always been individualistic and accepted, tacitly at least, the Homo Mensura doctrine. Again, on the physical side the elements with which we deal are held to be indestructible and unalterable, the same always and everywhere. Whereas minds, so far as we know them, are the subjects of continual flux while they last; and seem to arise and melt away like streaks of morning cloud on the stable firmament of blue. But though all these unique and transient centres of thought and feeling are psychologically as isolated and individual as mountain summits, oases in a desert, or stars in space, yet they are indirectly related through physical organisms, which are integral parts of the one great mechanism. To set out, then, from this one permanent material scheme and to trace its working through the fleeting multitude of vital sparks, as one follows the stem of a tree up into its branches with their changing leaves and fruit—that is a sure, synthetic, and direct method. But to attempt, setting out from these sporadic and shifting complexities, to reach an abiding and fundamental unity, is as precarious as analytic and inverse methods always are; and possibly it is altogether hopeless. In brief, then, we are to conclude that, in proportion as psychological facts are physiologically interpretable, and in proportion again as their physiological concomitants are physically explicable, in that same proportion will every fact of mind have a definite and assignable place as an epiphenomenon or concomitant of a definite and assignable physical fact, and our empirical knowledge approximate towards a rounded and complete whole.

No doubt such consummation of natural science is indefinitely far off. But it is an ideal. Let me cite a single and very eminent witness. “Any one who is acquainted with the history of science,” says Professor Huxley, “will admit, that its progress has, in all ages, meant, and now more than ever means, the extension of the province of what we call matter and causation, and the concomitant gradual banishment from all regions of human thought of what we call spirit and spontaneity.… And as surely as every future grows out of past and present, so will the physiology of the future gradually extend the realm of matter and law until it is coextensive with knowledge, with feeling, and with action. The consciousness of this great truth,” Mr. Huxley believes, “weighs like a nightmare upon many of the best minds of these days. They watch what they conceive to be the progress of materialism in such fear and powerless anger as a savage feels, when, during an eclipse, the great shadow creeps over the face of the sun. The advancing tide of matter threatens to drown their souls; the tightening grasp of law impedes their freedom.”8

The alarm and perplexity are, in Professor's Huxley's opinion, alike needless; the “strong and subtle intellect” of David Hume, if only we would ponder his words and accept his “most wise advice” would, he thinks, soon allay our fears and give us heart again. The advice is well-known, but as it will fitly introduce a new trait in the modern scientific attitude, the main features of which it is our present business to characterise, I will ask leave to re-quote it. It was in the Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding that Hume wrote: “If we take in hand any volume of divinity, or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” How this advice is to dispel perplexity at “the advancing tide of matter and the tightening grasp of law,” and how it is to reassure those who are alarmed lest man's moral nature should be debased by the increase of his knowledge, are perhaps not straightway obvious! Well, the comfort consists simply in saying: After all the knowledge is very superficial and must always remain so. As Professor Huxley puts it: “What, after all, do we know of this terrible ‘matter’ except as a name for the unknown and hypothetical cause of states of our own consciousness? And what do we know of that ‘spirit’ over whose threatened extinction by matter a great lamentation is arising,… except that it is also a name for an unknown and hypothetical cause, or condition, of states of consciousness? And what is the dire necessity and ‘iron’ law under which men groan? Truly, most gratuitously invented bugbears.… Fact I know, and Law I know; but what is this necessity save an empty shadow of my own mind's throwing—something illegitimately thrust into the perfectly legitimate conception of law?” “The fundamental doctrines of materialism,” continues Professor Huxley, “like those of spiritualism and most other ‘isms’lie outside the limits of philosophical inquiry; and David Hume's great service to humanity is his irrefragable demonstration of what these limits are.”

In this deliverance of Professor Huxley we have a fragment of that particular ‘ism ’ for which he is proud to be sponsor and which he has christened Agnosticism. It is in fact that doctrine that has led modern science, as I have already remarked, to separate itself from the pronounced materialism and atheism so common in scientific circles half a century or so ago. But it is only in its bearing on the ideal of knowledge just described that agnosticism concerns us at present. Professor Huxley—in this point following the lead of Mr. Herbert Spencer—concludes the consolatory reflections he derives from Hume and returns to his first position in this wise: “It is in itself of little moment whether we express the phenomena of matter in terms of spirit, or the phenomena of spirit in terms of matter—each statement has a certain relative truth. But with a view to the progress of science, the materialistic terminology is in every way to be preferred. For it connects thought with the other phenomena of the universe,… whereas, the alternative, or spiritualistic, terminology is utterly barren, and leads to nothing but obscurity and confusion of ideas. Thus there can be little doubt, that the further science advances, the more extensively and consistently will all the phenomena of Nature be represented by materialistic formulæ and symbols.”

This ‘nightmare’ theory of knowledge, as regards its exclusion of everything supernatural or spiritual, thus closely resembles the doctrines which in the seventeenth century they called Naturalism. And the name has recently been revived. But it is important to bear in mind the difference already noted. Naturalism in the old time tended dogmatically to deny the existence of things divine or spiritual, and dogmatically to assert that matter was the one absolute reality. But Naturalism and Agnosticism now go together; they are the complementary halves of the dominant philosophy of our scientific teachers. So far as knowledge extends all is law, and law ultimately and most clearly to be formulated in terms of matter and motion. Knowledge, it is now said, can never transcend the phenomenal; concerning ‘unknown and hypothetical’ existences beyond and beneath the phenomenal, whether called Matter or Mind or God, science will not dogmatise either by affirming or denying. This problematic admission of undiscovered country beyond the polity of science has tended powerfully to promote the consolidation of that polity itself. Release from the obligation to include ultimate questions has made it easier, alike on the score of sentiment and of method, to deal in a thoroughly regimental fashion with such definite coexistences, successions, resemblances, and differences as fall within the range of actual experience. The eternities safely left aside, the relativities become at once amenable to system. All this is apparent in the passages just quoted from Professor Huxley.

But I pass now to a new point. Agnosticism, we have just seen, has reacted upon naturalism, inducing in it a more uncompromising application of scientific method to all the phenomena of experience. And it will be found that naturalism in its turn has reacted upon agnosticism, inducing in that a more pronounced scepticism, or even the renunciation of higher knowledge as a duty, in place of the bare confession of ignorance as a fact. The contrast between the certainty of science, with its powers of prediction and measurement, and the uncertainty of philosophic speculation, forever changing but never seeming to advance, has been one source of this agnostic despondency. The long record of attempts that can only appear as failures, the many highly gifted minds, as it seems, uselessly sacrificed in the forlorn enterprise of seeking beneath the veil of things for the very heart of truth—this, when contrasted with the steady growth of scientific knowledge, might well, as Kant puts it, “bring philosophy, once the queen of all the sciences, into contempt, and leave her, like Hecuba forsaken and rejected, bewailing: modo maxima rerum, tot generis natisque potens—nunc trahor, exul, inops.”9 But since Kant's day the position of philosophy has become still more desperate. That agnosticism—for such we might call it—by which he himself supplanted the bold but baseless metaphysics of his rationalistic predecessors, is now in turn scouted as transcendental and surreptitious; is charged, that is, with borrowing from experience the very forms on whose strictly a priori character it would rest the possibility of experience. By the advance of what has been called metageometry, still more by the advance of experimental and comparative psychology, and by the wide reach of the conception of evolution, science has encroached upon what Kant regarded as the province of the a priori. He allowed that all our knowledge begins with experience and is confined to experience. He allowed that if the several particulars of that experience had been different, as they conceivably might have been, our a posteriori generalisations would have varied in like manner. But a spontaneous generation of knowledge from sense particulars without the aid of a priori formative processes, was to him as inconceivable as the spontaneous generation of a living object from lifeless matter without the aid of a vital principle. But now that the physical origin of life is regarded as not merely credible but certain, a priori forms of knowledge are out of fashion. Kant's position, in a word, is held to be out-flanked. There can be no science without self-consciousness; but then this very self-consciousness, it is said, has been evolved by natural processes. Nature herself has polished, and apparently is still polishing, the mirror in which she sees herself reflected. Kant's dialectic against dogmatic metaphysics is thankfully accepted; but his theory of knowledge is held to be superseded by a better psychology and a better anthropology. All this, of course, really amounts to saying that there can be no theory of knowledge at all as distinct from an account of the natural processes by which, as a fact in time, knowledge has come to be. The solvitur ambulando procedure is at once the most effective and the most summary method of dealing with this position, and we shall have to try our best at it later on.

Meantime one or two remarks on this unreflective, uncritical, character of modern science may serve to complete this preliminary sketch of its attitude towards the problem of theism. We have seen that, on the one hand, it allows no place for Natural Theology or such knowledge of God as the constitution of nature may furnish; and that, on the other, it denies the title of Knowledge to Rational Theology, or such knowledge of God as philosophy may claim to disclose. We have seen further that these negations have two main grounds: first, the Laplacean dictum, which Naturalism adopts, that science has no need of the theistic hypothesis; and secondly, the Humean, or ultra-agnostic, dictum, that what is neither abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number, nor yet experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence, can only be sophistry or illusion. Disregarding Hume's somewhat rhetorical phraseology, these two statements amount to saying, first, that there is no knowledge save scientific knowledge, or knowledge of phenomena and of their relations, and secondly, that this knowledge is non-theistic. It is worth our while to note that in a sense both these propositions are true, and that is the sense in which science in its every-day work is concerned with them. But again there is a sense in which, taken together, these propositions are not true, but this is a sense that will only present itself to the critic of knowledge reflecting upon knowledge as a whole. Thus it is true that science has no need, and indeed, can make no use, in any particular instance, of the theistic hypothesis. That hypothesis is specially applicable to nothing just because it claims to be equally applicable to everything. Recourse to it as an explanation of any specific problem would involve just that discontinuity which it is the cardinal rule of scientific method to avoid. But, because reference to the Deity will not serve for a physical explanation in physics or a chemical explanation in chemistry, it does not therefore follow that the sum total of scientific knowledge is equally intelligible whether we accept the theistic hypothesis or not. Again, it is true that every item of scientific knowledge is concerned with some definite relation of definite phenomena and with nothing else. But, for all that, the systematic organisation of such items may quite well yield further knowledge which transcends the special relations of definite phenomena. In fact, so surely as science collectively is more than a mere aggregate of items or ‘knowledges,’ as Bacon would have said, so surely will the whole be more, and yield more, than the mere sum of its parts.

And the strictly philosophical term ‘phenomenon,’ to which science has taken so kindly, is in itself an explicit avowal of relation to something beyond that is not phenomenal. Mr. Herbert Spencer who, more perhaps than any other writer, is hailed by our men of science as the best exponent of their first principles, is careful to insist upon the existence of this relation of the phenomenal to the extra-phenomenal, noumenal, or ontal. His synthetic philosophy opens with an exposition of this “real Non-relative or Absolute,” as he calls it, without which the relative itself becomes contradictory. And when Mr. Spencer speaks of this Absolute as the Unknowable, it is plain that he is using the term ‘unknowable’ in a very restricted sense. I say this, not merely because he devotes several chapters to its elucidation, for these might have been purely negative; but also because it is an essential part of Mr. Spencer's doctrine to maintain that “our consciousness of the Absolute, indefinite though it is, is positive and not negative”;10 that “the Noumenon everywhere named as the antithesis of the Phenomenon, is throughout necessarily thought of as an actuality”;11 that, “though the Absolute cannot in any manner or degree be known, in the strict sense of knowing, yet we find that its positive existence is a necessary datum of consciousness; that so long as consciousness continues, we cannot, for an instant, rid it of this datum; and that thus the belief which this datum constitutes, has a higher warrant than any other whatever.”12 In short the Absolute or Noumenal according to Mr. Spencer, though not known in the strict sense, that is as the phenomenal or relative is known, is so far from being a pure blank or nonentity for knowledge that this phenomenal, which is said to be known in the strict sense, is inconceivable without it. It is worth noting, by the way, that ‘this actuality behind appearances,’ without which appearances are unthinkable, is by Mr. Spencer identified with that ‘ultimate verity’ on which religion ever insists. His general survey of knowledge then has led this pioneer of modern thought, as he is accounted to be, to reject both the Humean dictum that there is no knowledge save knowledge of phenomena and of their relations, as well as the Laplacean dictum that this knowledge is non-theistic.

But it might be maintained that the several relations among phenomena may suffice in their totality to constitute an Absolute. Possibly it may be so; this much remains for the present an open question. But even so, it would still be true that any knowledge of this Absolute would not be phenomenal knowledge. Science, which is chary of all terms with a definitely theistic implication, talks freely of the Universe and of Nature; but I am at a loss to think of any single scientific statement that has been, or can be, made concerning either the one or the other. By scientific statement I mean one that having a real import is either self-evident or directly proved from experience.13

There is still another possibility, some seem to think, which, however, has not yet been realised, and which indeed, it seems to me, never can be realised. It might conceivably have happened, they say, that our finite knowledge of phenomena proved to be a complete and rounded whole as far as it went, a sort of microcosm within the macrocosm; a model of the whole universe on a scale appropriate to our human faculties, rather than a fragment with hopelessly ‘ragged edges.’ And spite of the many obstinate questionings that show the contrary, it is far from unusual to find scientific men talking as if this preferable ideal, as some perhaps think it, was the sober fact. Thus Mr. Spencer, though controverting all such views, nevertheless describes “science as a gradually increasing sphere,” such that “every addition to its surface does but bring it into wider contact with surrounding nescience.” True, this with Mr. Spencer is only a metaphor, whereas for Comte it was a doctrine; but as metaphor or as doctrine it is widely current and most misleading. Our knowledge is not only bounded by an ocean of ignorance, but intersected and cut up as it were by straits and seas of ignorance; the orbis scientiarum, in fact, if we could only map out ignorance as we map out knowledge, would be little better than an archipelago, and would show much more sea than land.

Of course the rejoinder will be made, We admit the intervening streaks and shallows; but here our ignorance, like our knowledge, is only relative, whereas, of the illimitable ocean beyond, our ignorance is absolute and profound. By the help of postulates and generalisations which our perceptive experience confirms, and by the help of hypotheses congruent with our present experiences and verifiable by experiences yet to come, we have completed the circle of the sciences and built up a Systema Natur™. I have endeavoured to describe this system of natural knowledge, as it is commonly conceived by those whose genius and enterprise we have to thank for it. The said fundamental postulates and unrestricted generalisations, the various assumptions consciously or unconsciously made, the hypothetical abstractions by which this unity is secured—to all these we must give our best attention later. For the moment I am concerned only with this one conceit: that the several sciences by their mutual attraction, if I might so say, together form a single whole, totus teres atque rotundus, floating in “an interminable air” of pure nescience. But unless we are prepared to repudiate logic altogether, this sharp severance of known and unknown, knowable and unknowable, must be abandoned, so radical are the contradictions that beset it. Where nescience is absolute, nothing can be said; neither that there is more to know nor that there is not. But if science were verily in itself complete, this could only mean that there was no more to know; and then there could be and would be no talk of an environing nescience.

Again, if nescience is real,—is such, I mean, that we are conscious of it,—we must at least know that there is more to know. But how can we know this? To say that we know it because of the incompleteness of the phenomenal relations actually ascertained, may be true enough; but of course such an admission gives up at once the solid unity of science as it is and the utter vacuity of the opposed nescience. We must suppose then that phenomenal knowledge is regarded as ideally complete—the fragments sufficing at least to suggest an outline of the whole, helped out by ultimate generalisations such as the conservation of matter and energy, the principle of evolution, and the like. And if it is still held that there is an endless and impalpable envelope of nescience beyond this ideally perfect sphere of positive knowledge, this can only be because the phenomenal implicates the noumenal; the known and knowable, as Mr. Spencer and others teach, being necessarily related to the ‘unknowable,’ which means, we must remember, the not strictly knowable. But this doctrine too is fatal to any thoroughgoing dualism of science and nescience; on the contrary, it amounts to a dualism of knowledge. As Mr. Spencer himself says: “The progress of intelligence has throughout been dual. Though it has not seemed so to those who made it, every step in advance has been a step towards both the natural and the supernatural. The better interpretation of each phenomenon has been, on the one hand, the rejection of a cause that was relatively conceivable in its nature but unknown in the order of its actions, and, on the other hand, the adoption of a cause that was known in the order of its actions but relatively inconceivable in its nature.… And so there arise two antithetical states of mind, answering to the opposite sides of that existence about which we think. While our consciousness of Nature under the one aspect constitutes Science, our consciousness of it under the other aspect constitutes Religion.”14

Finally, if on the other hand, it be held that phenomenal knowledge, when ideally complete, will be clear of these noumenal and supernatural implications, then this position again is incompatible with a dualism between science and nescience. For if the sphere of science were so complete as to be clear of all extra-scientific implications, then, as I have already said, there would be no nescience. If, however, there must be nescience so, long as science is finite and relative, then so long the metaphysical ideas of the Absolute and the Infinite will transcend the limits of actual science, and yet will have a place within the sphere of science ideally complete. In other words, ideally complete science will become philosophy. This conceit or doctrine of an absolute boundary between science and nescience and the endeavour to identify with it a like sharp separation between empirical knowledge and philosophic speculation may then, we conclude, be both dismissed as “sophistical and illusory.” Nevertheless, as I have said, these notions are widely current in one shape or other, save among the few in these days, who have even a passman's acquaintance with the rudiments of epistemology. One of the most plausible and not least prevalent forms of this doctrine is embodied in the shallow Comtian ‘Law of Development,’ according to which there are three stages in human thought, the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive; the metaphysical superseding the theological and being in turn superseded by the positive or scientific. A glance at the past history of knowledge would shew at once the facts that make these views so specious and yet prove them to be false.

And now to resume what has been said, and to conclude: I have tried to present an outline sketch of that polity of many mansions, which we may call the Kingdom of the Sciences, and the mental atmosphere in which its citizens live. As the constant inhabitants of large towns, though familiar with shops supplying bread and beef, know nothing of the herds in the meadows or the waving fields of wheat, so the mere savant is familiar, with ‘phenomena and their laws’ and with the methods by which they are severally measured and ascertained, but rarely or never thinks of all that ‘phenomena’ and ‘law’ and ‘method’ imply. As a knowledge of what is thus beyond his purview cannot be attained by experiment or calculation, it should surprise us as little to find him associate it with nescience as it surprises us to find the urchins in a slum confusing with the tales of fairy-land what we may try to tell them of the actual facts of country life.

Indeed the resemblance in the two cases is closer than at first it seems. For it is very common for those who decline to recognise Natural or Rational Theology to speak with fervour of what I think we might fairly callÆsthetic Theology. Tyndall, for example, in his once famous Belfast Address to the British Association, spoke thus to the assembled representatives of science: “You who have escaped from these religions into the high-and-dry light of the intellect may deride them; but in so doing you deride accidents of form merely, and fail to touch the immovable basis of the religious sentiment in the nature of man. To yield this sentiment reasonable satisfaction is the problem of problems at the present hour.”15 It seems clear that in Tyndall's opinion this reasonable satisfaction could not need, at any rate, must not have, an intellectual basis either ‘high-and-dry,’ or otherwise. For he proceeds to describe this religious sentiment as “a force, mischievous, if permitted to intrude on the region of knowledge, over which it holds no command, but capable of being guided to noble issues in the region of emotion, which is its proper and elevated sphere.” Yet a page or two further on Tyndall brings his address to a close with these words: “The inexorable advance of man's understanding in the path of knowledge, and those unquenchable claims of his moral and emotional nature which the understanding can never satisfy, are here equally set forth. The world embraces not only a Newton, but a Shakespeare—not only a Boyle, but a Raphael—not only a Kant, but a Beethoven—not only a Darwin, but a Carlyle. Not in each of these, but in all, is human nature whole. They are not opposed, but supplementary; not mutually exclusive, but reconcilable. And if, unsatisfied with them all, the human mind, with the yearning of a pilgrim for his distant home, will still turn to the Mystery from which it has emerged, seeking so to fashion it as to give unity to thought and faith; so long as this is done, not only without intolerance or bigotry of any kind, but with the enlightened recognition that ultimate fixity of conception is here unattainable, and that each succeeding age must be held free to fashion the Mystery in accordance with its own needs—then, casting aside all the restrictions of Materialism, I would affirm this to be a field for the noblest exercise of what, in contrast with the knowing faculties, may be called the creative faculties of man.”

I am really at a loss to know whether this is to be taken for climax or anti-climax, pathos or bathos. But of one thing I am sure: tried by the “high-and-dry light of the intellect” this specimen of Professor Tyndall's “eloquence and scientific fire,” as the Saturday Review called it, will not help us to solve the ‘problem of problems.’

Surely the late professor must have thought lightly of his own teaching, to be ready under the influence of an emotional yearning to cast aside the doctrine to which an “intellectual necessity” (p. 55) had led him, the doctrine by which he discerned in matter “the promise and potency of all terrestrial life”; nay, further, to be ready to refashion the Mystery from which the human mind has emerged so as “to give unity to thought and faith.” If religious sentiment must not be permitted to intrude on the region of knowledge, how is the refashioning in the interests of this unity to begin? And if nothing short of creative faculties can satisfy this sentiment, what about ‘the danger’ and ‘the mischief’ to the work of the knowing faculties when such sentiment does intrude?

Professor Tyndall does not tell us where he went for his psychology. But Mr. Spencer, to whom he frequently refers, would have taught him that no sentiments are entirely without a cognitive basis, the religious perhaps least of all. This cognitive element in religious sentiment is of necessity amenable to intellectual challenge, just because it is itself of necessity intellectual. No doubt, “ultimate fixity of conception is here unattainable”; but when Professor Tyndall tells us this, has he forgotten that on the very same page he has also declared “it certain that [scientific] views will undergo modification”? In fact, just as religious sentiment implies knowledge, so too do the high-and-dry constructions of the intellect involve “creative faculties”; finality will be impossible and reconstruction a necessity in both regions so long as we only “know in part.” But why do I talk of the regions of knowledge? The semblance of two regions, one pure fact, the other pure fancy, one all science, the other all nescience, is just the error that I have been trying to expose and to which this utterly unscientific notion of an emotional theology is due.

  • 1.

    W. W. Rouse Ball, Short History of Mathematics, 1888, p. 388.

  • 2.

    Bentley's Works, Dyce's edition, vol. iii, pp. 204–206.

  • 3.

    Natural Theology, ch. iii, Tegge's edition of the Works, p. 263.

  • 4.

    Popular Lectures, 1893, vol. i, p. 194.

  • 5.

    The Descent of Man, 1871, vol. ii, p. 385.

  • 6.

    Origin of Species, sixth edition, p. 425.

  • 7.

    Professor Burdon Sanderson, Opening Address to the Biological Section, British Association, 1889. Nature, vol. xl, p. 522.

  • 8.

    Collected Essays, Eversley edition, vol. i, pp. 159 ff.

  • 9.

    Critique of Pure Reason, first edition, Pref., p. 3.

  • 10.

    First Principles, Stereotyped Edition, § 26, p. 92.

  • 11.

    First Principles, Stereotyped Edition, § 26, p. 88.

  • 12.

    First Principles, Stereotyped Edition, § 27, omitted in the Revised Edition, p. 98.

  • 13.

    Kant's discussion of the cosmological antinomies is instructive here in its method even more than in its results.

  • 14.

    First Principles, § 30, stereo. ed., p. 106 fin.; rev. ed., p. 91.

  • 15.

    Reprint of Address, 1874, p. 60.