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ART. VIT. Observations on the HYPOTHESES which have been asa
sumed to account for the Cause * of GRAVITATION from Mechanical Principles. By the Rev. S. Vince, A. M. F. R.S. Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philofophy. Cambridge, 1806.
The importance of the matter treated, and the name of the au
thor, entitle this little tract to more consideration than a pamphlet of twenty-fix octavo pages can usually claim. The appearance also of a scientific memoir, in so detached a form, is a circumstance that excites some curiosity. This circumstance is accounted for in the preface, where we learn, that the memoir was read in the Royal Society of London as the Bakerian Lecture; though, for reasons that are not explained, but in which, as might be expected, the author is not disposed to acquiesce, it was not inserted in the Philosophical Transactions. The present publication is therefore to be considered as an appeal to the public, from a sentence of the Council of the Royal Society. Feeling, as reviewers must naturally do, fome jealousy of those tribunals, which, by interposing a veto between literary productions and the public, interfere with them in the lawful exercise of their profefsion, our prejudices, on the present occasion, are unavoidably in favour of the author. We will endeavour, however, to conduct our investigation with the utmost impartiality ; and shall proceed to give our opinion, happy in the reflection, that we have 110 authority nor jurisdiction that can carry our sentence into execution, whether it be right or wrong; that we must allign the reasons of every judgment we pronounce; and are therefore only strong to do justice, but weak, whenever, from prejudice or ignorance, we attempt to do the contrary. The most enviable fituation in which a judge can be placed, is, when he has the power of doing good, and wants the power of doing evil. A reviewer has his charge to give to the grand jury of the public before he can pronounce sentence; and has, by that means, a better fecurity for his own impartiality, than any thing but absolute infallibility could give. But, as we neither know the degree of merit that is required, nor of demerit that may be tolerated, in a Bakerian Lecture, our judgment has no direct concern with that of the Royal Society. We have seen several of those lectures that
* It may seem a minute criticism, but it is too obvious to escape remark, that there is an inaccuracy in this title; the hypotheses referred to not having been contrived to account for the cause of gravitation, but for gravitation itself, or, to state the thing more correctly still, for the phenomena of gravitation.
contained nothing very new or important; and we have seen others, particularly of late, that conveyed some of the most interesting intelligence to the public, that experiment ever extracted from the receffes of the material world. What is the average degree of excellence that may belong to such publications, and whether the present memoir falls short of that standard, or exceeds it, are points which we are not competent to decide.
The preface to these observations, besides informing us of the circumstance just mentioned, makes us acquainted with the view which Mr Vince had, in this examination of the systems, contrived for explaining the phenomena of gravitation.
. In his Optics, Sir I. Newton attempts to account for gravity by means of an elastic Auid. This, however, he proposes by way of a question, not being satisfied about it, as he says, for want of experiments. These, however, he never made; nor has any one since examined his hypothesis, in order to discover whether it will account for the law of gravitation ; for it is not sufficient merely to show that such a medium may exist as will drive a body towards the sun.'
To this is annexed the following note.
"Mr MACLAURIN observes, that this hypothesis no way derogates from the government and influences of the Deity, whilst it leaves us at liberty to pursue our inquiries concerning the nature and operations of such a medium. And Sir J. PRINGLE, the late worthy and learned President of the Royal Society, who executed the duties of his high office with great impartiality and honour, considering the importance of the subject, recommended it as deserving the attention of philo. sophers.',
Our author then goes on in the text to remark,
• What Sir I. Newton left for further examination, will be deemed no impertinent nor useless inquiry; more particularly at this time, when many of the most eminent philosophers upon the Continent have been endeayouring to account for all the operations of nature upon merely mechanical principles, with a view to exclude the Deity from any concern in the goyeruiment of the system, and thereby to lay a foundation for the introduction of Atheism. Upon this account, the author was requested to consider the subject, and give the result of his examination. The inquiry was favourably received; and it was suggested, that it might not be improper to be offered to the Royal Society.?
On comparing the last of these passages with the first, and also with the note subjoined to it, a very obvious inconsistency ap. pears. It is plain, that Newton, whole piety no man ever questioned, did not think that, to ascribe the phenomena of gravita, tion to a mechanical cause, had the slightest tendency to support atheistical opinions, or to weaken the arguments for the existence of God and of Providence. Maclaurin and Sir John Pringle, were also of that opinion ; and, from his manner of quoting their authority, we should suppose that our author himself was of the fame way of thinking. Yet he immediately gives us to underftand, that his inquiry was undertaken for the express purpose of trying, whether religion might not be supported, and the atheistical opinions, which he ascribes to the philosophers of the Contiment, opposed, by showing the insufficiency of mechanical principles to explain the law of gravitation. In the same breath, therefore, we are told, that to assign a mechanical cause of gravitation, is quite conlistent with the truths of natural religion; and also, that to disprove the existence of such causes, is a direct way of supporting those truths. It is equally out of our power to afGgn any other meaning to the passages.just quoted, and to account for the inconfstency which they involve.
Again, it must be obvious to every one, that the belief in the Inechanical cause of gravitation, which was so consistent with the piety of Newton and his countrymen, is represented as one of the weapons by which the philosophers of the Continent are at this moment attacking the whole system of religious belief. It would seem, then, that an argument which an English philosopher may maintain in perfect conlistency with theism, and all the great principles of natural religion, cannot be viewed, in the hands of his brethren on the Continent, but as atheistical and impious sophistry. We muft-look, it seems, not to the argument, but to the man that uses it; and not to the man only, but to the country in which he lives, because an opinion that is sound and orthodox in England, may be impious and atheistical in France or Germany. We know not how to afcribe such illiberal and inconĞstent notions to this learn.ed Professor, but cannot interpret his words in any way by which these conclufions can be avoided.
For our part, being convinced that the issue of this argument is quite immaterial to the truths of natural religion, which must rest on the same immoveable foundation, whether the physical cause of gravity is ever discovered or not, we feel no other interest in the result, than that which the extenfion or limitation of knowledge is calculated to excite. We must also express our hearty disapprobation of every attempt that is likely to confine the range of our inquiries, and to produce an intolerance of philosophical opinion. In all ages, there have been men illiberal and narrow-minded enough, to think that the search after natural causes was irreverent to the Author of Nature, and argued a doubt of his power, Anaxagoras, though the first of the Greek philofophers who entertained rational notions concerning the Supreme Being, yet, because he was a great inquirer after second causes, was accused of srreligion. The fame charge, on the same ground, has often been