Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

would picture the Christ of Judæa, we must revive the Christ of theology. We must throw ourselves back into the attitude of men who expected the advent of a kingdom, and yet believed that the kingdom waited for the ripening of one human soul-waited until there should appear one spirit whose perfect and unblemished life should become the medium for transmitting the new light to the world. We shall only write successfully the history of Jesus of Nazareth when behind the very beginning of His earthly acts we recognize the mission, “I am come to fulfil.”

SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT.

By Rev. W. D. THOMSON, M.A. THE POSSIBILITY OF MIRACLES AND SCIENCE. — A recent number of The Review of the Churches contained a sermon by, the Rev. W. H. Dallinger entitled, “ A Scientist's Defence of the Miraculous." The first part of the sermon is apologetic, and is intended to reconcile the possibility of the miraculous with natural laws. The importance of the question thus raised the preacher strongly emphasizes : “I tell you, it is the earnest, thoughtful, yearning question of the profoundest minds that live in this age.” He is safe in asserting that “the possibility of miracles is no longer disputed”; at any rate, no one would venture to dispute it who took an intelligent view alike of the knowledge and of the ignorance of science regarding the operations of nature.

The way, however, in which, from a scientific standpoint, he presents the argument in favour of the possibility of miracles is not altogether free from objection. His object, it requires to be noted, is not to explain why the Christian miracles occurred, nor how they occurred. Nor is it to prove that they did occur : whether or not they are facts is a question which must be argued purely on historical and moral grounds. What he seeks to prove is that they could occur; and while their possibility is readily granted by such scientists as Professor Huxley, all must feel who are interested in the question that it is of the utmost consequence to have the scientific grounds of their possibility made as plain as perfectly valid scientific deductions permit. In regard to such plainness the sermon referred to seems to come short.

In the first place, the sermon does not make it sufficiently clear that an occurrence is not necessarily miraculous because it happens to be mysterious. It is quite true, as is affirmed, that “the history of the Gospel claims to be associated with the mysterious, that is to say, with miracle.” But then it might be objected that many facts and occurrences in nature have elements of mystery in them or about them which are not on that account miraculous. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing in the creation which is not suggestive of mystery in one direction or another to the thoughtful mind. What is the

a

most distinctive feature of the Christian miracles? Not their mysteriousness; nor their professed object and fitness to serve wise and beneficent ends; nor even that which presented itself as extraordinary and singular in their visible or tangible aspects. They were, indeed, marked by all these features. But their fundamental distinction consisted in the fact that they were effects from extraordinary as contrasted with ordinary exercises of the Divine personal efficiency immanent in nature. As regards the cause that produced them, that is the supreme claim set up for them in the Christian Scriptures; and that they could be so produced is what the Christian apologist has to prove. Nor is it enough to show, as the sermon does, that man possesses what it calls a "miracle-working power,” arising wholly in his power to discover and to obey the laws of nature, and thereby to accomplish such things as the sending of a message through the telegraph. Between such things as done by the knowledge and power of man and the Christian miracles as done by the knowledge and power of God there are points of similarity: but there is also a radical difference; and it is this fact which has placed those miracles in dispute as events in the history of natural phenomena and of Christianity.

But there is another weakness, and rather a serious one, in the mode of arguing followed in the sermon. This appears in various passages, but one will suffice to indicate its nature. I submit that theology places itself falsely, that the whole theism stands in jeopardy by the definition which it gives of miracles. I submit that miracle is neither a contravention nor a suspension of the laws of nature any more than a telegraph message or electric light is. A miracle is the application of those laws by perfect knowledge to a specific end." The last sentence brings out the point in question. The position laid down in it cannot be absolutely defended in view of the character of the Christian miracles and those natural laws which have been the occasion of placing their actual occurrence under suspicion. The real truth is that where there is no departure from natural law in any occurrence, there is no miracle, in the generally accepted sense of the word. It is not meant, indeed, that there was no fulfilment of natural laws of any

kind in the Christian miracles. But what is meant is, and that which Dr. Dallinger has failed to point out is, that those events or incidents were miraculous, and miraculous only, to the extent in which one or more of the ordinary laws of nature were disobeyed. Let the miracle of our Lord walking on the sea be taken as an instance. In ordinary circumstances, any man attempting to walk on the same lake would sink, owing to the specific gravity of his body being greater than that of water. And it was just because the natural law involved in this was not fulfilled that our Lord did not sink, and that His journey over the waves was miraculous. In the same way, when He turned the water into wine, the miraculous nature of the occurrence consisted in a departure from those natural laws according to which the juice of the vine is produced by organic processes and converted into wine. Or let the Incarnation be taken. In what sense was it miraculous as viewed on the human side of the event? It was a miracle because it involved disobedience to the biological law of gamogenesis, according to which every individual possessing a human nature starts his organic existence both from a human father and a human mother. For reasons such as these, then, it is obvious that it weakens the scientific argument for the possibility of the Christian miracles to make the sweeping and unguarded assertion that miracle is the application of natural laws. Nor is it at all necessary to take up such a position in defence of miracles.

But in order to prove their possibility, it is very necessary to present the true scientific conception as to what the laws of nature are, and to insist upon this view being taken of them. And here again, and to the disadvantage of the preacher's argument, the sermon is at serious fault. It commits the great mistake-a mistake surprisingly common in sermon literature-of speaking of natural laws as acting. Many commit the same mistake, who seem not to know the real nature of the laws in question. But Dr. Dallinger doubtless does know what it is, and so it may be concluded that, in ascribing action to those laws, he did so simply to accommodate his speech to popular though at the same time most unscientific ideas. In the course of the sermon there occur such utterances as these: “

We are able to explain the phenomena of heat. We know its laws, and we know the manner of their action; but for all that we find ourselves instinctively inquiring, Why do these laws exist? Why do they operate as they do? Who first set them in action ?” Again, speaking of evolution as a law, he says: “We stand before it asking, Who caused the law? Who first put it into this mode of action? How does it act so?”

Now, in regard to the instances of the mistake we are noting, what has to be observed is that they ascribe that to natural laws which belongs solely to the function of natural forces. Evolution, in so far as it has entered into natural processes, has never acted. It is at most a result from the action of other causes. It does not belong to its nature to act. Nor does it belong to the nature of the laws of heat or of any other laws, whether organic or inorganic, to act. Nothing is ever created, or evolved, or modified by natural laws; they are absolutely without power of causation. They are to be distinguished from natural forces, which do all the work of the universe in its various forms, dead and living. They are generalizations of the human mind-representations in words, or other symbols, of the absolutely regular and persistent manner in which any natural force, or any combination of natural forces, acts in every instance where the action takes place under precisely similar conditions.

This is the strictly scientific conception of natural law. And when this definition is kept in view and taken advantage of, in the course of argument, there is no difficulty whatsoever in reconciling the possibility of the Christian miracles both with the laws and with the forces of nature. But in order to secure all possible clearness and strength for the argument, it is necessary to shift the ground on which it is based from the laws of nature to its forcesto their nature and capabilities.

THE BOOK CRITIC.

DELIVERED

BEFORE

THE

NATURAL THEOLOGY THE GIFFORD LECTURES

UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH IN 1891, BY PROFESSOR SIR G. G. STOKES, BART.

Adam & Charles Black, London and Edinburgh. We remember being present at a meeting of the Mathematical and Physical Section of the British Association, at which there was a learned and abstruse discussion as o the possible relations between the ether and ponderable matter. Lord Rayleigh, Sir William Thomson, and others spoke, and the discussion passed into the hands o minor men. The meeting became somewhat listless, until suddenly every one was on the alert. The more eminent the listener was, the keener was his attention. A quiet, modest, unassuming, elderly gentleman had risen, and was speaking in the quietest possible manner, and every one listened as if his words were golden. We have never seen such reverence and respect paid to a living man. We ask our neighbour who is the gentleman ? The answer was, “ Professor Stokes.” A little later we got from that gentleman, himself a Senior Wrangler, some account of Sir G. G. Stokes and his work, and an emphatic statement that the work of Sir G. G. Stokes was not excelled by that of any physicist in the present century. Here, then, is a man who is regarded with reverence for his character and work by such men as Sir William Thomson, whose name is a power in the scientific world. What has he got to say on questions of Natural Theology ? Has his science led him away from faith ? Has his study of law and necessity led him to deny freedom ? Has his wide and accurate knowledge of the order of the universe led him to ignore or to deny a personal God, origin, and goal of everything that is ? No! Sir G. G. Stokes is a living proof of the fact that science is not hostile to faith ; that the most profound knowledge of science is compatible with the deepest personal religion.

In writing his present work, Sir G. G. Stokes has found himself greatly hampered by the terms of Lord Gifford's will. His own words are, “I have felt myself very much cramped by the provisions of the will.” For Lord Gifford had directed the lecturers “ to treat their subjects as a strictly natural science

without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special, exceptional, or so-called miraculous revelation.” It was rather hard that he should find himself brought up so frequently by this invisible barrier, and it is interesting to watch how he deals with it :

“If I may conjecture,” says Sir G. G. Stokes, “ from the language of the bequest, taking one part with another, I should imagine that there may have been something of a revulsion in his mind from teaching of perhaps too narrow a character, of a kind in which wide conclusions are drawn from particular expressions, and that he might not object to an examination, in their broad features, of some things asserted on the strength of what professes to be a revelation from God to man, so far, at least, as to inquire whether they so fall in with what our reason approves as to receive confirmation thereby.”

So Sir G. G. Stokes has been enabled to examine the reasonableness of what professes to be revealed, and we may be thankful. It would have been a calamity had the lecturer been prevented from giving us his views of the origin of life, the origin of man, the reasonableness of creation, and the reasonableness of resurrection.

The most valuable part of these lectures is, without doubt, that which treats of the subjects in which Natural Theology and Physics meet. Of special value is the insistence on the view that looks on the laws of nature as “God's mode of working.” The lecturer, as we should expect, has no sympathy with that attitude of mind which is manifested by some theologians and by some men of science, and may be described

!

as the belief that the more of law we have in the universe, the less of God we have. On the contrary, he holds and illustrates with great power that law and order reveal God, and are His modes of working. He here enforces the valuable lesson taught by Bishop Butler, which both theologians and men of science have been so slow to learn. This is the main value of his book, and the lesson is summed up in the section where he sets forth the “change of views as to relations between science and religion.” He illustrates by a reference to geology, and to the Nebular hypothesis. We quote the latter :

“There was a time when the adoption of the Nebular hypothesis was looked on with suspicion, as indicating at least a tendency towards atheism. But now, the discovery of the gaseous nature of the nebulæ, or at least of the matter belonging to them, from which the light comes, the scrutiny of the stars and heavenly bodies generally, by means of the telescope and spectroscope, and the comparison of the results obtained with information derived from experiments which can be made in the laboratory, seem to indicate a sort of relationship, combined with differences among the various stars, &c., a sort of order of sequence which leads us strongly to regard the stars as formed by an evolutionary process from some anterior condition of matter. This, however, merely indicates that the regular operation of ordinary natural causes, such as we can see around us and can study, may have extended backwards far beyond what at first sight we might have been disposed to imagine.”

As neither law nor order are self-explanatory, the more we can trace of them in the past history of the universe, and the wider we can show their working, the more emphatic is the testimony they bear to the eternal power and wisdom of the living God.

J. IVERACH, D.D.

a

THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. BY JOSEPH AGAR

BEET, D.D. Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Union, London. Multum in Parvo; a book which in a few pages sets forth a great and weighty argument in a style perfectly clear and easily understood is surely a great boon. Dr. Beet has conferred a benefit not merely on the Wesleyan Methodist Church and her teachers, he has made all the Churches a debtor to him. We have read the little book with great interest, and the chapters from the fifth to the end more than once with increasing admiration and appreciation of their terseness, thoroughness, and power. How well the historical argument for the truth of Christianity is set forth need scarcely be said, for Dr. Beet has already showed his mastery of this department of apolegetics in his Fernley Lecture. Of the first four lectures we cannot speak with so much confidence. We are not sure that Dr. Beet's definition of religion is adequate : “ Religion is such conception of the unseen as makes for righteousness." Does not the term “ conception ” here limit religion to the intellectual sphere of human nature ? Is the word "conception ” to have its purely logical meaning? If so, then we shut religion out from the emotional and the volitional, and also from that part of the intellectual nature of man which cannot be included under the term conception.” But Dr. Beet does not, perhaps, intend to use the word in this rigid

Again, why limit the object of religion to “the unseen ”? May not an object seen be also an object of worship? We are afraid that the distinguished author, in his anxiety not to take anything for granted-mindful, perhaps, of Mr. Matthew Arnold-has given us a definition of religion which is quite inadequate.

Again, Dr. Beet says,

“The facts just noted compel us to believe that the universe has a source other than itself, a’source in every way superior to anything derived from it, and therefore intelligent. And this is all that we mean by a PERSONAL GOD. This term asserts only that that which dis

sense.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »