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The Plurality of Worlds is a Webnovel created by Edward Hitchcock and William Whewell.
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a series in which each term (after the first,) is double of the preceding one. Hence, the distances of the planets conform to a series following this law, (_Bode’s law_, as it is termed.) And though the law is by no means exact, yet it was so far considered a probable expression of a general fact, that the deviation from this law, in the interval between Mars and Jupiter, was the princ.i.p.al cause which led first to the suspicion of a planet interposed in the seemingly vacant s.p.a.ce; and thus led to the discovery of the planetoids, which really occupy that region.
It is true, that the law is found not to hold, in the case of the newly-discovered planet Neptune; for his distance from the Sun, which according to this law, should be 388, is really only 300, 30 times the Earth’s distance, instead of 39 times. Still, Bode’s law has a comprehensive approximate reality in the Solar System, sufficient to make it a strong recommendation of any hypothesis of the origin of the system, that it shall account for this law. This, however, the nebular hypothesis does not.
THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN.
1. There is no more worthy or suitable employment of the human mind, than to trace the evidences of Design and Purpose in the Creator, which are visible in many parts of the Creation. The conviction thus obtained, that man was formed by the wisdom, and is governed by the providence, of an intelligent and benevolent Being, is the basis of Natural Religion, and thus, of all Religion. We trust that some new lights will be thrown upon the traces of Design which the Universe offers, even in the work now before the reader; and as our views, regarding the plan of such Design, are different, in some respects, and especially as relates to the Planets and Stars, from those which have of late been generally entertained, it will be proper to make some general remarks, mainly tending to show, that the argument remains undisturbed, though the physical theory is changed.
2. It cannot surprise any one who has attended to the history of science, to find that the views, even of the most philosophical minds, with regard to the plan of the universe, alter, as man advances from falsehood to truth: or rather, from very imperfect truth to truth less imperfect. But yet such a one will not be disposed to look, with any other feeling than profound respect, upon the reasonings by which the wisest men of former times ascended from their erroneous views of nature to the truth of Natural Religion. It cannot seem strange to us that man at any point, and perhaps at every point, of his intellectual progress, should have an imperfect insight into the plan of the Universe; but, in the most imperfect condition of such knowledge, he has light enough from it, to see vestiges of the Wisdom and Benevolence of the Creating Deity; and at the highest point of his scientific progress, he can probably discover little more, by the light which physical science supplies. We can hardly hope, therefore, that any new truths with regard to the material universe, which may now be attainable, will add very much to the evidence of creative design; but we may be confident, also, that they will not, when rightly understood, shake or weaken such evidence.
It has indeed happened, in the history of mankind, that new views of the const.i.tution of the universe, brought to the light by scientific researches, and established beyond doubt, in the conviction of impartial persons, have disturbed the thoughts of religious men; because they did not fall in with the view then entertained, of the mode in which G.o.d effects his purpose in the universe. But in these cases, it soon came to be seen, after a season of controversy, reproach, and alarm, that the old argument for design was capable of being translated into the language of the new theory, with no loss of force; and the minds of men were gradually tranquillized and pacified. It may be hoped that the world is now so much wiser than it was two or three centuries ago, that if any modification of the current arguments for the Divine Attributes, drawn from the aspect of the universe, become necessary, in consequence of the rectification of received errors, it will take place without producing pain, fear, or anger. To promote this purpose, we proceed to make a few remarks.
3. The proof of Design, as shown in the works of Creation, is seen most clearly, not in mere physical arrangement, but in the structure of organized things;–in the const.i.tution of plants and animals. In those parts of nature, the evidences of intelligent purpose, of wise adaptation, of skilful selection of means to ends, of provident contrivance, are, in many instances, of the most striking kind. Such, for example, are the structure of the human eye, so curiously adapted for its office of seeing; the muscles, cords, and pullies by which the limbs of animals are moved, exceeding far the mechanical ingenuity shown in human inventions; the provisions which exist, before the birth of offspring, for its sustenance and well-being when it shall have been born;–these are lucid and convincing proofs of an intelligent Creator, to which no ordinary mind can refuse its conviction. Nor is the evidence, which we here recognize, deprived of its force, when we see that many parts of the structure of animals, though adapted for particular purposes, are yet framed as a portion of a system which does not seem, in its general form, to have any bearing on such purposes.
The beautiful contrivances which exist in the skeleton of man, and the contrivances, possessing the same kind of beauty, in the skeleton of a sparrow, do not appear to any reasonable person less beautiful, because the skeleton of a man, and of a sparrow, have an agreement, bone for bone, for which we see no reason, and which appears to us to answer no purpose. The way in which the human hand and arm are made capable of their infinite variety of use, by the play of the radius and ulna, the bones of the wrist and the fingers, is not the less admirable, because we can trace the representatives and rudiments of each of these bones, in cases where they answer no such ends;–in the foreleg of the pig, the ox, the horse, or the seal. The provision for feeding the young creature, which is made, with such bounteous liberality, and such opportune punctuality, by the b.r.e.a.s.t.s of the mother, has not any doubt thrown upon its reality, by the teats of male animals and the paps of man, which answer no such purpose. That in these cases there is manifested a wider plan, which does not show any reference to the needs of particular cases; as well as peculiar contrivances for the particular cases, does not disturb our impression of design in each case. Why should so large a portion of the animal kingdom, intended, as it seems, for such different fields of life and modes of living;–beasts, birds, fishes;–still have a skeleton of the same plan, and even of the same parts, bone for bone; though many of the parts, in special cases, appear to be altogether useless (namely, the vertebrate plan)? We cannot tell.
Our naturalists and comparative anatomists, it would seem, cannot point out any definite end, which is answered by making so many cla.s.ses of animals on this one vertebrate plan. And since they cannot do this, and since we cannot tell why animals are so made, we must be content to say that we do not know; and therefore, to leave this feature in the structure of animals out of our argument for design. Hence we do not say that the making of beasts, birds, and fishes, on the same vertebrate plan, proves design in the Creator, in any way in which we can understand design. That plan is not of itself a proof of design; it is something in addition to the proofs of design; a general law of the animal creation, established, it may be, for some other reason. But this common plan being given, we can discern and admire, in every kind of animal, the manner in which the common plan is adapted to the particular purpose which the animal’s kind of life involves. The general law is not all; there is also, in every instance, a special care for the species. The general law may seem, in many cases, to remove further from us the proof of providential care; by showing that the elements of the benevolent contrivance are not provided in the cases alone where they are needed, but in others also. But yet this seeming, this obscuration of the evidence of design, by interposing the form of general law, cannot last long. If the general law supplies the elements, still a special adaptation is needed to make the elements answer such a purpose; and what is this adaptation, but design? The radius and ulna, the carpal and metacarpal bones, are all in the general type of the vertebrate skeleton. But does this fact make it the less wonderful, that man’s arm and hand and fingers should be constructed so that he can make and use the spade, the plow, the loom, the pen, the pencil, the chisel, the lute, the telescope, the microscope, and all other instruments? Is it not, rather, very wonderful that the bones which are to be found rudimentally, in the leg-bone of a horse, or the hoof of an ox, should be capable of such a curious and fertile development and modification?
And is not such development and modification a work, and a proof, of design and intention in the Creator? And so in other cases. The teats of male animals, the nipples of man, may arise from this, that the general plan of the animal frame includes paps, as portions of it; and that the frame is so far moulded in the embryo, before the s.e.x of the offspring is determined. Be it so. Yet still this provision of paps in the animal form in general, has reference to offspring; and the development of that part of the frame, when the s.e.x is determined, is evidence of design, as clear as it is possible to conceive in the works of nature.
The general law is moulded to the special purpose, at the proper stage; and this play of general laws, and special contrivances, into each other’s provinces, though it may make the phenomena a little more complex, and modify our notion as to the mode of the Creator’s working, will not, in philosophical minds, disturb the conviction that there is design in the special adaptations: besides which, some other feature of the operation of the Creative Mind may be suggested by the prevalence of general laws in the Creation.
4. There is, however, one caution suggested by this view. Since, besides, and mixed with the examples of Design which the creation offers, there are also results of General Laws, in which we cannot trace the purpose and object of the law; we may fall into error, if we fasten upon something which is a result of such mere general laws, and imagine that we can discern its object and purpose. Thus, for instance, we might possibly persuade ourselves that we had discovered the use and purpose of the teats of male animals; or of the trace of separation into parts which the leg-bone of a horse offers; or of the false toes of a pig: all which are, as we have seen, the rudiments of a plan more general than is developed in the particular case. And if, when we had made such a fancied discovery, it were found that the uses and purposes which we had imagined to belong to these parts or features, were not really served by them; at first, perhaps, we might be somewhat disturbed, as having lost one of the evidences of the design of the Creator, all which are, precious to a reverent mind. But it is not likely that any disturbance of a reverent mind on such grounds as this, would continue long, or go far. We should soon come to recollect, how light and precarious, perhaps how arbitrary and ill-supported by our real knowledge, were the grounds on which we had a.s.signed such uses to such parts. We should turn back from them to the more solid and certain evidences, not shaken, nor likely to be shaken, by any change in prevalent zoological or anatomical doctrines, which those who love to contemplate such subjects habitually dwell upon; and, holding ourselves ready to entertain any speculations by which the bearing of those general Laws upon Natural Religion could be shown, in such a way as to convince our reason, we should rest in the confident and tranquil persuasion that no success or failure in such speculations could vitally affect our belief in a wise and benevolent Deity:–that though additional ill.u.s.trations of his attributes might be interesting and welcome, no change of our scientific point of view could make his being or action doubtful.
5. This is, it would seem, the manner in which a reasonable and reverent man would regard the proof of a Supreme Creator and Governor, which is derived from Design, as seen in the organic creation; and the mode in which such proof would be affected by changes in the knowledge which we may acquire of the general laws by which the organic creation is const.i.tuted and governed. And hence, if it should be found to be established by the researches of the most comprehensive and exact philosophy, that there are, in any province of the universe, resemblances, gradations, general laws, indications of the mode in which one form approaches to another, and seems to pa.s.s into and generate another, which tend to obliterate distinctions which at first appeared broad and conspicuous; still the argument, from the design which appears in the parts of which we most clearly see the purpose, would not lose its force. If, for instance, it should be made apparent, by geological investigations of the extinct fossil creation, that the animal forms which have inhabited the earth, have gradually approached to that type in which the human form is included, pa.s.sing from the rudest and most imperfect animal organizations, mollusks, or even organic monads, to vertebrate animals, to warm-blooded animals, to monkeys, and to men; still, the evidences of design in the anatomy of man are not less striking than they were, when no such gradation was thought of. And what is more to the purpose of our argument, the evidences of the peculiar nature and destination of man, as shown in other characters than his anatomy,–his moral and intellectual nature, his history and capacities,–stand where they stood before; nor is the vast chasm which separates man, as a being with such characters as these latter, from all other animals, at all filled up or bridged over.
6. The evidence of design in the inorganic world,–in the relation of earth, air, water, heat and light,–is, to most persons, less striking and impressive, than it is in the organic creation. But even among these mere physical elements of the world, when we consider them with reference to living things, we find many arrangements which, on a reflective view, excite our admiration, by the beneficial effect, and seemingly beneficent purpose. Our condition is furnished with the solid earth, on which we stand, and in which we find the materials of man’s handiworks; stone and metal, clay and sand;–with the atmosphere which we breathe, and which is the vehicle of oral intercourse between man and man;–with revolutions of the sun, by which are brought round the successions of day and night, through all their varying lengths, and of summer and winter;–with the clouds above us, which pour upon the earth their fertilizing showers. All this furniture of the earth, so marvellously adapting it for the abode of living creatures, and especially of man, may well be regarded as a collection of provisions for his benefit:–as _intended_ to do him the good, which they do. Nor would this impression be removed, or even weakened, if we were to discover that some of these arrangements, instead of being produced by a machinery confined to that single purpose, were only partial results of a more general plan. For instance; we learn that the varying lengths of days and nights through the year, and the varying declination of the sun, are produced, not, as was at first supposed, by the sun moving round the earth, in a complex diurnal and annual path, but by the earth revolving in an annual orbit round the sun; while at the same time she has a diurnal rotation about her own axis, which axis, by the laws of mechanics, remains always parallel to itself. When we learn that this is so, we see that the effect is produced by a mechanical arrangement far more simple than any which the imagination of man had devised; but in this case, the effect is plainly rather an increased admiration at the simplicity of the mechanism, than a wavering belief in the reality of the purpose. In like manner when, instead of supposing water to exist in a continuous reservoir in a firmament above the earth, and to fall in the earlier and in the latter rain, by some special agency for that purpose; men learnt to see that the water in the upper regions of the air must exist in clouds and in vapors only, and must fall in showers by the condensing influence of cold currents of air; they needed not to cease to admire the kindness of the Creator, in providing the rain to water the earth, and the wind to dry it; although the mechanism by which the effect was produced was of a larger kind than they had before imagined. And even if this mechanism extend through the solar system: if the arrangement by which the Earth’s atmosphere is the special region in which there are winds hot and cold, clouds compact or dissolving,–be an arrangement which extends its influence to other planets, as well as to ours;–if this mixed atmosphere be placed, not only at the meeting point of clear aqueous vapor above, and warmer airs below, but also at the meeting point of a hot central region surrounding the Sun, and a cold exterior zone in which water and vapor can exist in immense collected ma.s.ses, such as are Jupiter and Saturn;–still it would not appear, to a reasonable view, that this larger expansion of the machinery by which the effect is produced, makes the machinery less remarkable; or can at all tend to diminish the belief that it was _intended_ to produce the effect which it does produce. Hot and cold, moist and dry, are constantly mixed together for the support of vegetable and animal life; and not the less so, if we believe that, though elements of this kind pervade the whole solar system, it is only at the Earth that they are combined so as to foster and nourish living things.
7. But it will perhaps be said, that to suppose the whole Solar System to be a machine merely operating for the benefit of the Earth and its population, is to give to the Earth and its population an importance in the scheme of creation which is quite extravagant and improbable:–it is to make the greater orbs, Jupiter and Saturn, minister to the less; instead of having their own purpose, and their own population, which their size naturally leads us to expect. To this we reply, that, in the first place, we have shown good reason for believing that the Earth is really the largest dense solid globe which exists in the solar system, and that the size of Jupiter and Saturn arises from their being composed mainly of water and vapor. And with regard to the difficulty of the greater ministering to the less;–if by _greater_, mere size and extent be understood, it appears to be the universal law of creation, that the greater, in that sense, _should_ minister to the less, when the less includes living things. Even if the planets be all inhabited, the sun, which is greater far than all of them together, ministers light and heat to all of them. Even on this supposition, the vast s.p.a.ces by which the planets are separated have no use, that we can discern, except to place them at suitable distances from the sun. Even on this supposition, their solid globes within, their atmospheres without are all merely subservient to the benefit of a thin and scattered population on the surface. The s.p.a.ce occupied by men and animals on the earth’s surface, even taking into account the highest buildings and the deepest seas, is only a few hundreds, or a thousand feet. The benefit of this minute sh.e.l.l, interrupted in many places for vast distances, everywhere loosely and spa.r.s.ely filled, is ministered to by the solidity and attraction of a ma.s.s below it 20 millions of feet deep; by the influence of an atmosphere above it 200 thousand feet high at least, and it may be, much more. And this being so, if we increase the depth of the centre 20 thousand times; if we carry the extreme verge of air and vapor to thirty times the radius of the earth’s…o…b..t from us, how does the construction of the machine become more improbable, or the disproportion of its size to its purpose more incongruous? Is mere size,–extent of brute matter or blank s.p.a.ce,–so majestic a thing? Is not infinite s.p.a.ce large enough to admit of machines of any size without grudging? But if we thus move the centre of the Earth’s peopled surface 20 thousand times further off, we reach the Sun. If we carry the limit of air and vapor to the distance of 30 times the radius of the Earth’s…o…b..t we arrive at Neptune. Are these new numbers monstrous, while the old ones were accepted without scruple? Is number such an alarming feature in the description of the Universe? Does not the description of every part and every aspect of it, present us with numbers so large, that wonder and repugnance, on that ground are long ago exhausted? Surely this is so: and if the evidence really tend to prove to us that all the solar system ministers to the earth’s population; the mere size of the system, compared with the s.p.a.ce occupied by the population, will not long stand in the way of the reception of such a doctrine.
8. But the objection will perhaps be urged in another form. It will be said that the other Planets have so many points of resemblance with the Earth, that we must suppose their nature and purpose the same. They, like the Earth, revolve in circles round the sun, rotate on their own axes, have, several of them, satellites, are opaque bodies, deriving light and probably heat from the sun. To an external spectator of the Solar System, they would not be distinguishable from the Earth. Such a spectator would never be tempted to guess that the Earth alone, of all these, neither the greatest nor the least, neither the one with the most satellites, nor the fewest, neither the innermost nor the outermost of the planets, is the only one inhabited; or at any rate the only one inhabited by an intelligent population. And to this we reply; that the largest of the other planets, if we judge rightly, are _not_ like the Earth in one most essential respect, their density; and none of them, in having a surface consisting of land and water; except perhaps Mars: that if the supposed external spectator could see that this was so, he might see that the earth was different from the rest; and he might be able to see the vaporous nature of the outer planets, so that he would no more think of peopling them, than we do, of peopling the grand Alpine ridges and vallies which we see in the clouds of a summer-sky.
9. But even if the supposed spectator attended only to the obvious and superficial resemblances between one of the planets and another, he might still, if he were acquainted with the general economy of the Universe, have great hesitation in inferring that, if one of them were inhabited, the others also must be inhabited. For, as we have said, in the plan of creation, we have a profusion of examples, where similar visible structures do not answer a similar purpose; where, so far as we can see, the structure answers no purpose in many cases; but exists, as we may say, for the sake of similarity: the similarity being a general Law, the result, it would seem, of a creative energy, which is wider in its operation than the particular purpose. Such examples are, as we have said, the finger-bones which are packed into the hoofs of a horse, or the paps and nipples of a male animal. Now the spectator, recollecting such cases might say: I know that the earth is inhabited; no doubt Mars and Jupiter are a good deal like the Earth; but are they inhabited? They look like the terrestrial breast of Nature: but are they really nursing b.r.e.a.s.t.s? Do they, like that, give food to living offspring? Or are they mere images of such b.r.e.a.s.t.s? male teats, dry of all nutritive power?
sports, or rather overworks of nature; marks of a wider law than the needs of Mother Earth require? many sketches of a design, of which only one was to be executed? many specimens of the preparatory process of making a Planet, of which only one was to be carried out into the making of a World? Such questions might naturally occur to a person acquainted with the course of creation in general; even before he remarked the features which tend to show that Jupiter and Saturn, that Venus and Mercury, have not been developed into peopled worlds, like our Earth.
10. Perhaps it may be said, that to hold this, is to make Nature work in vain; to waste her powers; to suppose her to produce the frame work, and not to build; to make the skeleton, and not to clothe it with living flesh; to delude us with appearances of a.n.a.logy and promises of fertility, which are fallacious. What can we reply to this?
11. We reply, that to work in vain, in the sense of producing means of life which are not used, embryos which are never vivified, germs which are not developed; is so far from being contrary to the usual proceedings of nature, that it is an operation which is constantly going on, in every part of nature. Of the vegetable seeds which are produced, what an infinitely small proportion ever grow into plants! Of animal ova, how exceedingly few become animals, in proportion to those that do not; and that are wasted, if this be waste! It is an old calculation, which used to be repeated as a wonderful thing, that a single female fish contains in its body 200 millions of ova, and thus, might, of itself alone, replenish the seas, if all these were fostered into life.
But in truth, this, though it may excite wonder, cannot excite wonder as anything uncommon. It is only one example of what occurs everywhere.
Every tree, every plant, produces innumerable flowers, the flowers innumerable seeds, which drop to the earth, or are carried abroad by the winds, and perish, without having their powers unfolded. When we see a field of thistles shed its downy seeds upon the wind, so that they roll away like a cloud, what a vast host of possible thistles are there! Yet very probably none of them become actual thistles. Few are able to take hold of the ground at all; and those that do, die for lack of congenial nutriment, or are crushed by external causes before they are grown. The like is the case with every tribe of plants. The like with every tribe of animals. The possible fertility of some kinds of insects is as portentous as anything of this kind can be. If allowed to proceed unchecked, if the possible life were not perpetually extinguished, the multiplying energies perpetually frustrated, they would gain dominion over the largest animals, and occupy the earth. And the same is the case, in different degrees, in the larger animals. The female is stocked with innumerable ovules, capable of becoming living things: of which incomparably the greatest number end as they began, mere ovules;–marks of mere possibility, of vitality frustrated. The universe is so full of such rudiments of things, that they far outnumber the things which outgrow their rudiments. The marks of possibility are much more numerous than the tale of actuality. The vitality which is frustrated is far more copious than the vitality which is consummated. So far, then, as this a.n.a.logy goes, if the earth alone, of all the planetary harvest, has been a fertile seed of creation;–if the terrestrial embryo have alone been evolved into life, while all the other ma.s.ses have remained barren and dead:–we have, in this, nothing which we need regard as an unprecedented waste, an improbable prodigality, an unusual failure in the operations of nature: but on the contrary, such a single case of success among many of failure, is exactly the order of nature in the production of life. It is quite agreeable to a.n.a.logy, that the Solar System, of which the _flowers_ are not many, should have borne but one _fertile_ flower. One in eight, or in twice eight, reared into such wondrous fertility as belongs to the Earth, is an abundant produce, compared with the result in the most fertile provinces of Nature. And even if any number of the Fixed Stars were also found to be barren flowers of the sky; objects, however beautiful, yet not sources of life or development, we need not think the powers of creation wasted or frustrated, thrown away or perverted. One such fertile result as the Earth, with all its hosts of plants and animals, and especially with Man, an intelligent being, to stand at the head of those hosts, is a worthy and sufficient produce, so far as we can judge of the Creator’s ways by a.n.a.logy, of all the Universal Scheme.
12. But when we follow this a.n.a.logy, so far as to speak of the mere material ma.s.s of a planet as an _embryo world_;–a barren flower;–a seed which has never been developed into a plant;–we are in danger of allowing the a.n.a.logy to mislead us. For a planet, as to its brute ma.s.s, has really nothing in common with a seed or an embryo. It has no organization, or tendency to organization; no principle of life, however obscure. So far as we can judge, no progress of time, or operation of mere natural influence, would clothe a brute ma.s.s with vegetables, or stock it with animals. No species of living thing would have its place upon the surface; by the mere order of unintelligent nature. So much is this so, according to all that our best knowledge teaches, that those geologists who must most have desired, for the sake of giving completeness and consistency to their systems, to make the production of vegetable and animal species from brute matter, a part of the order of nature, (inasmuch as they have explained everything else by the order of nature,) have not ventured to do so. They allow, generally at least, each separate species to require a special act of creative power, to bring it into being. They make the peopling of the earth, with its successive races of inhabitants, a series of events altogether different from the operation of physical laws in the sustentation of existing species. The creation of life is, they allow, something out of the range of the ordinary laws of nature. And therefore, when we speak of uninhabited planets, as cases in which vital tendencies have been defeated; in which their apparent destiny, as worlds of life, has been frustrated; we really do injustice to our argument. The planets had no vital tendencies: they could have had such given, only by an additional act, or a series of additional acts, of Creative power. As mere inert globes, they had no settled destiny to be seats of life: they could have such a destiny, only by the appointment of Him who creates living things, and puts them in the places which he chooses for them. If, when a planetary ma.s.s had come into being, (in virtue of the same general physical law, suppose, which produced the earth,) the Creator placed a host of living things upon the earth, and none upon the other planet; there was still no violation of a.n.a.logy, no seeming change of purpose, no unfinished plan. In the solar system, we can see what seem to be good reasons why he did this; but if we could not see such reasons, still we should be yet further from being able to see reasons why he necessarily must place inhabitants upon the other planet.
13. It is sometimes said, that it is agreeable to the goodness of G.o.d, that all parts of the creation should swarm with life; that life is enjoyment; and that the benevolence of the Supreme Being is shown in the diffusion of such enjoyment into every quarter of the universe. To leave a planet without inhabitants, would, it is thought, be to throw away an opportunity of producing happiness. Now we shall not here dwell upon the consideration, that the enjoyment thus spoken of, is, in a great degree, the enjoyment which the mere life of the lower tribes of animals implies;–the enjoyment of madrepores and oysters, cuttle-fish and sharks, tortoises and serpents; but we reply more broadly, that it is not the rule followed by the Creator, to fill all places with living things. To say nothing of the vast intervals between planet and planet, which, it is presumed, no one supposes to be occupied by living things; how large a portion of the surface of the earth is uninhabited, or inhabited only in the scantiest manner. Vast desert tracts exist in Africa and in Asia, where the barren sand nourishes neither animal nor vegetable life. The highest regions of mountain-ranges, clothed with perpetual snow, and with far-reaching sheets of glacier ice, are untenanted, except by the chamois at their outskirts. There are many uninhabited islands; and were formerly many more. The ocean, covering nearly three-fourths of the globe, is no seat of habitation for land animals or for man; and though it has a large population of the fishy tribes, is probably peopled in smaller numbers than if it were land, as well as by inferior orders. We see, in the Earth then, which is the only seat of life of which we really know anything, nothing to support the belief that every field in the material universe is tenanted by living inhabitants.
14. That vegetables and animals, being once placed upon the earth, have multiplied or are multiplying, so as to occupy every part of the land and water which is suited for their habitation, we can see much reason to believe. Philosophical natural-historians have been generally led to the conviction that each species has had an original centre of dispersion, where it was first native, and that from this centre it has been diffused in all directions, as far as the circ.u.mstances of climate and soil were favorable to its production. But we can see also much reason to believe that this general diffusion of vegetable and animal life from centres, is a part of the order of nature which may often be made to give way to other and higher purposes;–to the diffusion, over the whole surface of the earth, of a race of intelligent, moral agents.
This process may often interfere with the general law of diffusion: as for instance, when man exterminates noxious animals. And whatever may be the laws which tend to replenish the earth, on which such centres of the diffusion of life exist for animals and plants; according to all a.n.a.logy, these laws can have no force on any other planet, till such origins and centres of life are established on their surfaces. And even if any of the species which have ever tenanted the earth were so established on any other planet, we have the strongest reason to believe that they could not survive to a second generation.
15. Perhaps it may be said that we unjustifiably limit the power and skill of the Supreme Creator, if we deny that he could frame creatures fitted to live on any of the other planets, as well as in the Earth:–that the wonderful variety, and unexpected resource, of the ways in which animals are adapted for all kinds of climates, habitations, and conditions, upon the earth, may give us confidence that, under conditions still more extended, in habitations still further removed, in climates going beyond the terrestrial extremes, still the same wisdom and skill may well be supposed to have devised possible modes of animal life.
16. To this we reply, that we are so far from saying that the Creator could not place inhabitants in the other planets, that we have attempted to show what kind of inhabitants would be most likely to be placed there, by considering the way in which animals are accommodated to special conditions in their habitation. In judging of such modes of accommodating animals to an abode on other planets, as well as the earth, we have reasoned from what we know, of the mode in which animals are accommodated to their different habitations on the earth. We believe this to be the only safe and philosophical way of treating the question.
If we are to reason at all about the possibility of animal life, we must suppose that heat and light, gravity and buoyancy, materials and affinities, air and moisture, produce the same effect, require the same adaptations, in Jupiter or in Venus, as they do on the Earth. If we do not suppose this, we run into the error which so long prevented many from accepting the Newtonian system:–the error of thinking that matter in the heavens is governed by quite different laws from matter on the earth. We must adopt that belief, if we hold that animals may live under relations of heat and moisture, materials and affinities, in Jupiter or Venus, under which they could not live on our planet. And that belief, as we have said, appears to us contrary to all the teaching which the history of science offers us.
17. And not only is it contrary to the teaching of the history of science, to suppose the laws, which connect elemental and organic nature, to be different in the other planets from what they are on ours; but moreover the supposition would not at all answer the purpose, of making it probable that the planets are inhabited. For if we begin to imagine new and unknown laws of nature for those abodes, what is there to limit or determine our a.s.sumptions in any degree? What extravagant mixtures of the attributes and properties of mind and matter may we not then accept as probable truths? We know how difficult the poets have found it to describe, with any degree of consistency, the actions and events of a world of angels, or of evil spirits, souls or shades, embodied in forms so as to admit of description, and yet not subject to the laws of human bodies. Virgil, Ta.s.so, Milton, Klopstock, and many others, have struggled with this difficulty:–no one of them, it will be probably agreed, with any great success; at least, regarding his representation as a hypothesis of a possible form of life, different from all the forms which we know. Yet if we are to reject the laws which govern the known forms of life, in order that we may be able to maintain the possibility of some unknown form in a different planet, we must accept some of these hypotheses, or find a better. We must suppose that weight and cohesion, wounds and mutilations, wings and plumage, would have, either the effect which the poets represent them as having, or some different effect: and in either case it will be impossible to give any sufficient reason why we should confine the population to the surface of a planet. If gravity have not, upon any set of beings, the effect which it has upon us, such beings may live upon the surface of Saturn, though it be mere vapor: but then, on that supposition, they may equally well live in the vast s.p.a.ce between Saturn and Jupiter, without needing any planet for their mansion. If we are ready to suppose that there are, in the solar system, conscious beings, not subject to the ordinary laws of life, we may go on to imagine creatures const.i.tuted of vaporous elements, floating in the fiery haze of a nebula, or close to the body of a sun; and cloudy forms which soar as vapors in the region of vapor. But such imaginations, besides being rather fitted for the employment of poets than of philosophers, will not, as we have said, find a population for the planets; since such forms may just as easily be conceived swimming round the sun in empty s.p.a.ce, or darting from star to star, as confining themselves to the neighborhood of any of the solid globes which revolve about the central sun.
18. We should not, then add anything to the probability of inhabitants on the other planets of our system, even if we were arbitrarily to a.s.sume unlimited changes in the laws of nature, when we pa.s.s from our region to theirs. But probably, all readers will be of opinion that such a.s.sumptions are contrary to the whole scheme and spirit of such speculations as we are here presuming:–that if we speculate on such subjects at all, it must be done by supposing that the same laws of nature operate in the same manner, in planetary, as in terrestrial s.p.a.ces;–and that as we suppose, and prove, gravity and attraction, inertia and momentum, to follow the same rules, and produce the same effects, on brute matter there, which they do here; so, both these forces, and others, as light and heat, moisture and air, if, in the planets, they go beyond the extremes which limit them here, yet must imply, in any organized beings which exist in the planets, changes, though greater in amount, of the same kind as those which occur in approaching the terrestrial extremes of those elementary agents. And what kind of a population that would lead us to suppose in Jupiter or Saturn, Mars or Venus, the reader has already seen our attempt to determine; and may thence judge whether, when we go so far beyond the terrestrial extremes of heat and cold, light and dimness, vapor and water, air and airlessness, any population at all is probable.
19. Perhaps some persons, even if they cannot resist the force of these reasons, may still yield to them with regret; and may feel as if, having hitherto believed that the planets were inhabited, and having now to give up that belief, their view of the solar system, as one of the provinces of G.o.d’s creation, were made narrower and poorer than it was before. And this feeling may be still further increased, if they are led to believe also that many of the fixed stars are not the centres of inhabited systems; or that very few, or none are. It may seem to them, as if, by such a change of belief, the field of G.o.d’s greatness, benevolence, and government, were narrowed and impoverished, to an extent painful and shocking;–as if, instead of being the Maker and Governor of innumerable worlds, of the most varied const.i.tution, we were called upon to regard him as merely the Master of the single world in which we live:–as if, instead of being the object of reverence and adoration to the intelligent population of these thousand spheres, he was recognized and worshipped on one only, and on that, how scantily and imperfectly!
20. It is not to be denied that there may be such a regret and disturbance naturally felt at having to give up our belief that the planets and the stars probably contain servants and worshippers of G.o.d.
It must always be a matter of pain and trouble, to be urged with tenderness, and to be performed in time, to untwine our reverential religious sentiments from erroneous views of the const.i.tution of the universe with which they have been involved. But the change once made, it is found that religion is uninjured, and reverence undiminished. And therefore we trust that the reader will receive with candor and patience the argument which we have to offer with reference to this view, or rather, this sentiment.
21. We remark, in the first place, that however repugnant it may be to us to believe a state of any part of the universe in which there are not creatures who can know, obey and worship G.o.d; we are compelled, by geological evidence, to admit that such a state of things has existed upon the earth, during a far longer period than the whole duration of man’s race. If we suppose that the human race, if not by their actual knowledge, obedience, and worship of G.o.d, yet at least by their faculties for knowing, obeying, and worshipping, are a sufficient reason why there should be such a province in G.o.d’s empire; still in fact, this race has existed only for a few thousand years, out of the, perhaps, millions of years of the earth’s existence; and during all the previous period, the earth, if tenanted, was tenanted by brute creatures, fishes and lizards, beasts and birds, of which none had any faculty, intellectual, moral, or religious. By the same a.n.a.logy, therefore, on which we have already insisted, we may argue that there is reason to believe, that if other planets, and other stars, are the seats of habitation, it is rather of such habitation as has prevailed upon the earth during the millions, than during the six thousand years; and that if we have, in consequence of physical reasons, to give up the belief of a population in the other planets, or in the stars; we are giving up, not anything with which we might dwell with religious pleasure–hosts of fellow-servants and fellow-worshippers of the Divine Author of all:–but the mere brute tribes, of the land and of the water, things that creep and crawl, prowl and spring;–none that can lift its visage to the sky, with a feeling that it is looking for its Maker and Master. There have not existed upon the Earth, during the immense ages of its praehuman existence, beings who could recognize and think of the Creator of the world: and if astronomy introduces us, as geology has done, to a new order of material structures, thus barren of an intelligent and religious population, we must learn to accept the prospect, in the one case, as in the other. Nor need we fear that on a further contemplation of the universe, we shall find every part of it ministering, though perhaps not in the way our first thoughts had guessed, to sentiments of reverence and adoration towards the Maker of the universe.
22. The truth is, as the slightest recollection of the course of opinion about the stars may satisfy us, that men have had repeatedly to give up the notions which they had adopted, of the manner in which the material heavens, the stars and the skies, are to minister to man’s feeling of reverence for the Creator. It was long ago said, that the heavens declare the glory of G.o.d, and the firmament showeth his handiwork: that day and night, sun and moon, clouds and stars, unite in impressing upon us this sentiment. And this language still finds a sympathetic echo, in the b.r.e.a.s.t.s of all religious persons. Nor will it ever cease to do so, however our opinions of the structure and nature of the heavenly bodies may alter. When the new aspects of things become familiar, they will show us the handiwork of G.o.d, and declare his glory, as plainly as the old ones. But in the progress of opinions, man has often had to resign what seemed to him, at the time, visions so beautiful, sublime, and glorious, that they could not be dismissed without regret. The Universal Lord was at one time conceived as directing the motions of all the spheres by means of Ruling Angels, appointed to preside over each. The prevalence of proportion and number, in the dimensions of these spheres, was a.s.sumed to point to the existence of harmonious sounds, accompanying their movements, though unheard by man; as proportion and number had been found to be the accompaniments and conditions of harmony upon earth. The time came, when these opinions were no longer consistent with man’s knowledge of the heavenly motions, and of the wide-spreading causes by which they are produced. Then “Ruling Angels from their spheres were hurled,” as a matter of belief; though still the poets loved to refer to imagery in which so many lofty and reverent thoughts had so long been clothed. The aspect of the stars was most naturally turned to a lesson of cheerful and thoughtful piety, by the adoption of such a view of their nature and office; and thus, the midnight contemplator of an Italian sky teaches his companion concerning the starry host;
Sit, Jessica; look how the floor of heav’n Is thick inlaid with patterns of bright gold.
There’s not the meanest orb, which thou behold’st, But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims; Such harmony is in immortal souls.
meaning, apparently, the harmony between the immortal spirits that govern each star, and the cherubims that sing before the throne of G.o.d.
But however beautiful and sublime may be this representation, the philosopher has had to abandon it in its literal sense. He may have adopted, instead, the opinion that each of the stars is the seat, or the centre of a group of seats, of choirs of worshippers; but this again, is still to suppose the nature of those orbs to be entirely different from that of this earth; though in many respects, we know that they are governed by the same laws. And if he will be content to know no more than he has the means of knowing, or even to know only according to his best means of knowing, he must be prepared, if the force of proof so requires, to give up this belief also; at least for the present.
23. Indeed, those who have not been content with this, and have sought to combine with the visible splendor of the skies, some scheme, founded upon astronomical views, which shall people them with intelligent beings and worshippers, have drawn upon their fancy quite as much as Lorenzo in his lesson to Jessica; or rather, they have done what he and those from whom his love was derived, had done before. They have taken the truths which astronomers have discovered and taught, and made the objects and regions so revealed, the scenes and occasions of such sentiments of piety as they themselves have, or feel that they ought to have. Even in Shakspeare, the stars are already _orbs_, each orb has his _motion_, and in his motion produces the music of the spheres. More recent preachers, following sounder views of the nature of these orbs and motions, have been equally poetical when they come to their religious reflection. When the poet of the _Night Thoughts_ says,
“Each of these stars is a religious house; I saw their altars smoke, their incense rise, And heard hosannas ring through every sphere.”
he is no less imaginative than the poet of that _Midsummer Night’s Dream_, which we have in the _Merchant of Venice_. And we are compelled, by all the evidence which we can discern, to say the same of the preacher who speaks, from the pulpit, of these orbs of worlds, and tells us of the stars which “give animation to other systems;” when he says “worlds roll in these distant regions; and these worlds must be the centres of life and intelligence;” when he speaks of the earth as “the humblest of the provinces of G.o.d’s empire.” But then we must recollect that these thoughts still prove the religious nature of man; they show how he is impelled to endeavor to elevate his mind to G.o.d by every part of the universe; and it is not too much to say, that through the faculties of man, thus regarding the starry heavens, every star does really testify to the greatness of G.o.d, and minister to His worship.
24. We may trust that this mere material magnificence does not require inhabitants, to make it lift man’s heart towards the Universal Creator, and to make him accept it as a sublime evidence of His greatness. The grandest objects in nature are blank and void of life;–the mountain-peaks that stand, ridge beyond ridge, serene in the region of perpetual snow;–the summer-clouds, images of such mountain tracts, even upon a grander scale, and tinted with more gorgeous colors;–the thunder-cloud with its dazzling bolt;–the stormy ocean with its mountainous waves;–the Aurora Borealis, with its mysterious pillars of fire;–all these are sublime; all these elevate the soul, and make it acknowledge a mighty Worker in the elements, in spite of any teaching of a material philosophy. And if we have to regard the planets as merely parts of the same great spectacle of nature, we shall not the less regard them with an admiration which ministers to pious awe. Even merely as a spectacle, Saturn made visible in his real shape, only by a vast exertion of human skill, yet shining like a star, in form so curiously complex, symmetrical and seemingly artificial, will never cease to be an object of the ardent and contemplative gaze of all who catch a sight of him. And however much the philosopher may teach that he is merely a ma.s.s of water and vapor, ice and snow, he must be far more interesting to the eye than the Alps, or the clouds that crown them, or the ocean with its icebergs; where the same elements occur in forms comparatively shapeless and lawless, irregular and chaotic.
25. But perhaps there is in the minds of many persons, a sentiment connected with this regular and symmetrical form of the heavenly bodies; that being thus beautifully formed and finished they must have been the objects of especial care to the Creator. These regular globes, these nearly circular orbits, these families of satellites, they too so regular in their movements; this ring of Saturn; all the adjustments by which the planetary motions are secured from going wrong, as the profoundest researches into the mechanics of the universe show;–all these things seem to indicate a peculiar attention bestowed by the Maker on each part of the machine. So much of law and order, of symmetry and beauty in every part, implies, it may be thought, that every part has been framed with a view to some use;–that its symmetry and its beauty are the marks of some n.o.ble purpose.
26. To reply to this argument, so far as it is requisite for us to do so, we must recur to what we have already said; that though we see in many parts of the universe, inorganic as well as organic, marks which we cannot mistake, of design and purpose; yet that this design and purpose are often effected by laws which are of a much wider sweep than the design, so far as we can trace its bearing. These laws, besides answering the purpose, produce many other effects, in which we can see no purpose. We have now to observe further that these laws, thus ranging widely through the universe, and working everywhere, as if the Creator delighted in the generality of the law, independently of its special application, do often produce innumerable results of beauty and symmetry, as if the Creator delighted in beauty and symmetry, independently of the purpose answered.
27. Thus, to exemplify this reflection: the powers of aggregation and cohesion, which hold together the parts of solid bodies, as metals and stones, salts and ice,–which solidify matter, in short,–we can easily see, to be necessary, in order to the formation and preservation of solid terrestrial bodies. They are requisite, in order that man may have the firm earth to stand upon, and firm materials to use. But let us observe, what a wonderful and beautiful variety of phenomena grows out of this law, with no apparent bearing upon that which seems to us its main purpose. The power of aggregation of solid bodies is, in fact, the force of crystallization. It binds together the particles of bodies by molecular forces, which not only hold the particles together, but are exerted in special directions, which form triangles, squares, hexagons, and the like. And hence we have all the variety of crystalline forms which sparkle in gems, ores, earths, pyrites, blendes; and which, when examined by the crystallographers, are found to be an inexhaustible field of the play of symmetrical complexity. The diamond, the emerald, the topaz, have got each its peculiar kind of symmetry. Gold and other metals have, for the basis of their forms, the cube, but run from this into a vastly greater variety of regular solids than ever geometer dreamt of. Some single species of minerals, as calc-spar, present hundreds of forms, all rigorously regular, and have been alone the subject of volumes. Ice crystallizes by the same laws as other solid bodies; and our Arctic voyagers have sometimes relieved the weariness of their sojourn in those regions, by collecting some of the innumerable forms, resembling an endless collection of hexagonal flowers, sporting into different shapes, which are a.s.sumed by flakes of snow. In these and many other ways, the power of crystallization produces an inexhaustible supply of examples of symmetrical beauty. And what are we to conceive to be the object and purpose of this? As we have said, that part of the purpose which is intelligible to us is, that we have here a force holding together the particles of bodies, so as to make them solid. But all these pretty shapes add nothing to this intelligible use.
Why then are they there? They are there, it would seem, for their own sake;–because they are pretty;–symmetry and beauty are there on their own account; or because they are universal adjuncts of the general laws by which the creator works. Or rather we may say, combining different branches of our knowledge, that crystallization is the mark and accompaniment of chemical composition: and that as chemical composition takes place according to definite numbers, so crystalline aggregation takes place according to definite forms. The symmetrical relations of s.p.a.ce in crystals correspond to the simple relations of number in synthesis; and thus, because there is rule, there is regularity, and regularity a.s.sumes the form of beauty.
28. This, which thus shows itself throughout the mineral kingdom, or, speaking more widely and truly, throughout the whole range of chemical composition, is still more manifest in the vegetable domain. All the vast array of flowers, so infinitely various, and so beautiful in their variety, are the results of a few general laws; and show, in the degree of their symmetry, the alternate operation of one law and another. The rose, the lily, the cowslip, the violet, differ in something of the same way, in which the crystalline forms of the several gems differ. Their parts are arranged in fives or in threes, in pentagons or in hexagons, and in these regular forms, one part or another is expanded or contracted, rendered conspicuous by color or by shape, so as to produce all the multiplicity of beauty which the florist admires. Or rather, in the eye of the philosophical botanist, the whole of the structure of plants, with all their array of stems and leaves, blossoms and fruits, is but the manifestation of one Law; and all these members of the vegetable form, are, in their natures, the same, developed more or less in this way or in that. The daisy consists of a close cl.u.s.ter of flowers of which each has, in its form, the rudiments of the valerian. The peablossom is a rose, with some of its petals expanded into b.u.t.terfly-like wings. Even without changing the species, this general law leads to endless changes. The garden-rose is the common hedge-rose with innumerable filaments changed into glowing petals. By the addition of whorl to whorl, of vegetable coronet over coronet, green and colored, broad and narrow, filmy and rigid, every plant is generated, and the glory of the field and of the garden, of the jungle and of the forest, is brought forth in all its magnificence. Here, then, we have an immeasurable wealth of beauty and regularity, brought to view by the operation of a single law. And to what use? What purpose do these beauties answer? What is the object for which the lilies of the field are clothed so gaily and gorgeously? Some plants, indeed, are subservient to the use of animals and of man: but how small is the number in which we can trace this, as an intelligent purpose of their existence! And does it not, in fact, better express the impression which the survey of this province of nature suggests to us, to say, that they grow because the Creator willed that they should grow? Their vegetable life was an object of His care and contrivance, as well as animal and human life. And they are beautiful, also because He willed that they should be so:–because He delights in producing beauty;–and, as we have further tried to make it appear, because He acts by general law, and law produces beauty. Is not such a tendency here apparent, as a part of the general scheme of Creation?
29. We have already attempted to show, that in the structure of animals, especially that large cla.s.s best known to us, vertebrate animals, there is also a general plan which, so far as we can see, goes beyond the circuit of the special adaptation of each animal to its mode of living: and is a rule of creative action, in addition to the rule that the parts shall be subservient to an intelligible purpose of animal life. We have noticed several phenomena in the animal kingdom, where parts and features appear, rudimentary and inert, discharging no office in their economy, and speaking to us, not of purpose, but of law:–consistent with an end which is visible, but seemingly the results of a rule whose end is in itself.
30. And do we not, in innumerable cases, see beauties of color and form, texture and l.u.s.tre, which suggests to us irresistibly the belief that beauty and regular form are rules of the Creative agency, even when they seem to us, looking at the creation for uses only, idle and wanton expenditure of beauty and regularity. To what purpose are the host of splendid circles which decorate the tail of the peac.o.c.k, more beautiful, each of them, than Saturn with his rings? To what purpose the exquisite textures of microscopic objects, more curiously regular than anything which the telescope discloses? To what purpose the gorgeous colors of tropical birds and insects, that live and die where human eye never approaches to admire them? To what purpose the thousands of species of b.u.t.terflies with the gay and varied embroidery of their microscopic plumage, of which one in millions, if seen at all, only draws the admiration of the wandering schoolboy? To what purpose the delicate and brilliant markings of sh.e.l.ls, which live, generation after generation, in the sunless and sightless depths of the ocean? Do not all these examples, to which we might add countless others, (for the world, so far as human eye has scanned it, is full of them,) prove that beauty and regularity are universal features of the work of Creation, in all its parts, small and great: and that we judge in a way contrary to a vast range of a.n.a.logy, which runs through the whole of the Universe, when we infer that, because the objects which are presented to our contemplation are beautiful in aspect and regular in form, they must, in each case, be means for some special end, of those which we commonly fix upon, as the main ends of the Creation, the support and advantage of animals or of man?
31. If this be so, then the beautiful and regular objects which the telescope reveals to us; Jupiter and his Moons, Saturn and his Rings, the most regular of the Double Stars, Cl.u.s.ters and Nebulae; cannot reasonably be inferred, because they are beautiful and regular, to be also fields of life, or scenes of thought. They may be, as to the poet’s eye they often appear, the gems of the robe of Night, the flowers of the celestial fields. Like gems and like flowers, they are beautiful and regular, because they are brought into being by vast and general laws.
These laws, although, in the mind of the Creator, they have their sufficient reason, as far as they extend, may have, in no other region than that which we inhabit, the reason which we seek to discover everywhere, the sustentation of a life like ours. That we should connect with the existence of such laws, the existence of Mind like our own mind, is most natural; and, as we might easily show, is justifiable, reasonable, even necessary. But that we should suppose the result of such laws are so connected with Mind, that wherever the laws gather matter into globes, and whirl it round the central body, _there_ is also a local seat of minds like ours; is an a.s.sumption altogether unwarranted; and is, without strong evidence, of which we have as yet no particle, quite visionary.
32. But finally, it may be said that by this our view of the universe, we diminish the greatness of the work of creation, and the majesty of the Creator. Such a view appears to represent the other planets as mere fragments, which have flown off in the fabrication of this our earth, and of the mechanism by which it answers its purpose. Instead of a vast array of completed worlds, we have one world, surrounded by abortive worlds and inert ma.s.ses. Instead of perfection everywhere, we have imperfection everywhere, except at one spot; if even there the workmanship be perfect.
33. To this, the reply is contained in what we have already said: but we may add, that it cannot be wise or right, to prop up our notions of G.o.d’s greatness, by physical doctrines which will not bear discussion.