Page images
PDF
EPUB

act in that exceptional, not to say miraculous, manner. I should like to see it shown that this is not to make ignorance do the part of knowledge. In my opinion, the materialist charges upon his opponent the vice of his own reasoning.

But recent discoveries of science, we are told, go far to prove that there is no such chasm as is alleged between the dead and the living, the inorganic and organic. In support of this affirmation, however, real and relevant evidence cannot be found. It is true that until recently many chemists supposed that no organic substance could be artificially composed from inorganic constituents, and also true that a multitude of organic substances have now been so formed. The inference is that chemists may err and may have their errors corrected by experience and investigation, but certainly not that a single forward step has been taken in bridging over the gulf between life and death. Suppose every organic substance—even brain, blood, nerve, albumen, protoplasm itself— to be resolved, as I doubt not every organic substance may and will be resolved, into inorganic elements, and what follows if out of the elements involved no substance can be built up which is not dead, not one which manifests a single vital property? Simply that there is nothing even in the most elaborate organic structures, or in the corporeal parts and elements most closely associated with vitality, which is essentially different from mere dust of the earth; that the entire body of man himself is but "dust and ashes," and that when you reach what is highest and most admirable in it, the border of the gulf between matter and the living soul is merely touched. How can any person be so illogical as to describe this as filling up or bridging over the gulf?

The assertion sometimes made that life has been proved to be merely a form of mechanical and chemical force, is without the least foundation. What has been proved is, that life does not create force, and that vital actions are carried on by means of mechanical and chemical forces. Life has been shown to do no mechanical or chemical work itself, but it has not been shown that it does not determine the direction in which mechanical and chemical forces work when they are within the living organism; and until that has been shown, nothing has been done to prove that it does not perform a function to which the ordinary physical powers are incompetent. The driver of a railway train does not add to the force generated in its engine, but he has notwithstanding a place and use. A master mason may expend no part of his strength in the actual construction of a house while he is superintending his labourers and builders, but who would consider the proof of that to be equivalent to a demonstration that he had been of no service, or was even a purely mythical personage?

The argument from evolution to spontaneous generation is clearly not a strong one. The former may suggest a presumption in favour of the latter, but this cannot supply the place of, or warrant us to dispense with, direct and positive proof.

Is there a definite boundary-line between the plant and the animal? Is the organic world divisible into a vegetable and animal kingdom, or is there an intermediate kingdom protista f These two questions, it seems to me, are irrelevant in the materialistic controversy, and it is to be regretted that they should have been drawn into it, especially as biology, to which they properly belong, is not yet prepared to give them definite answers, and the danger of making ignorance do the part of knowledge in discussing them is extremely great.1

There is, then, a gulf between the dead and the living over which materialism throws no bridge. Science must confess that it needs a power not present in matter to account for life.

Mind, I remark next, presents to materialism a still greater difficulty. No kind of reasonable conception can be formed of a process by which molecular changes will pass into or produce sensation, pleasure or pain, perception, memory, judgment,

1 See Appendix XVII. ..',»;.'

desire, or will. This objection to materialism was admirably put by Professor Tyndall — in words which he has not yet retracted, and which he will find it hard to refute, should he wish to do so— when he wrote: " The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one phenomena to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their grouping, all their electrical discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling,— we should probably be as far as ever from the solution of the problem, How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness? The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable." Materialism presents itself as an intelligible theory of the universe, and yet it has not succeeded in explaining a single fact in the world of consciousness. It hopes to be able some day to show us future Shakespeares " potential in the fires of the sun," but as yet it cannot find the sensations of a protamceba even in its own protoplasm.1

There are two other objections to materialism which are as strong as any that have been urged, but which I must be content merely to indicate.

First, then, materialism is inconsistent with the testimony of our moral consciousness, with the facts of our moral nature. We perceive a distinction between right and wrong; we feel that we are free to choose between them; that we are responsible, however, for our choice; that we are praiseworthy or blameworthy, &c. These perceptions and feelings are facts as certain as any in the world, and the theory which cannot honestly accept them ought to be rejected. But materialism cannot. It must deny them, or explain them away, or invent untenable hypotheses as to their origin.

Secondly, materialism refuses satisfaction to the spiritual wants, aspirations, and convictions of men. It denies the existence of God and of the soul. It acknowledges nothing that is higher than the seen, or better than the temporal. It resolves religion in all its length and breadth into a delusion. It openly threatens to turn it out of the world. But, as we have seen, reason and morality are to be turned out also. Only when reason, morality, and religion have all been got 1 See Appendix XVIII.

« PreviousContinue »