The Plurality of Worlds Part 11

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[1] Among the most recent expositors of this doctrine we may place M.

Henri Martin, whose _Philosophie Spiritualiste de la Nature_ is full of striking views of the universe in its relation to G.o.d. (Paris. 1849.)

[2] Most readers who have given any attention to speculations of this kind, will recollect Newton’s remarkable expressions concerning the Deity: “aeternus est et infinitus, omnipotens et omnisciens; id est, durat ab aeterno in aeternum, et adest ab infinito in infinitum…. Non est aeternitas et infinitas, sed aeternus et infinitus; non est duratio et spatium, sed durat et adest. Durat semper et adest ubique, et existendo semper et ubique durationem et spatium const.i.tuit.”

To say that G.o.d by existing always and everywhere _const.i.tutes duration and s.p.a.ce_, appears to be a form of expression better avoided. Besides that it approaches too near to the opinion, which the writer rejects, that He _is_ duration and s.p.a.ce, it a.s.sumes a knowledge of the nature of the Divine existence, beyond our means of knowing, and therefore rashly.

It appears to be safer, and more in conformity with what we really know, to say, not that the existence of G.o.d const.i.tutes time and s.p.a.ce; but that G.o.d has const.i.tuted _man_, so that _he_ can apprehend the works of creation, only as existing in time and s.p.a.ce. That G.o.d has const.i.tuted time and s.p.a.ce as conditions of man’s knowledge of the creation, is certain: that G.o.d has const.i.tuted time and s.p.a.ce as results of his own existence in any other way, _we_ cannot know.


“For doubt not that in other worlds above There must be other offices of love, That other tasks and ministries there are, Since it is promised that His servants, there, Shall serve Him still.”–TRENCH.

[4] For instance, we may a.s.sume that in two or three hundred years, by the improvement of telescopes, or by other means, it may be ascertained that the other planets of the Solar System are not inhabited, and that the other Stars are not the centres of regular systems.



1. We proceed then to a few reflections to which we cannot but feel ourselves invited by the views which we have already presented in these pages. What will be the future history of the human race, and what the future destination of each individual, most persons will, and most wisely, judge on far other grounds than the a.n.a.logies which physical science can supply. a.n.a.logies derived from such a quarter can throw little light on those grave and lofty questions. Yet perhaps a few thoughts on this subject, even if they serve only to show how little the light thus attainable really is, may not be an unfit conclusion to what has been said; and the more so, if these a.n.a.logies of science, so far as they have any specific tendency, tend to confirm some of the convictions, with regard to those weighty and solemn points,–the destiny of Man, and of Mankind,–which we derive from other and higher sources of knowledge.

2. Man is capable of looking back upon the past history of himself, his Race, the Earth, and the Universe. So far as he has the means of doing so, and so far as his reflective powers are unfolded, he cannot refrain from such a retrospect. As we have seen, man has occupied his thoughts with such contemplations, and has been led to convictions thereupon, of the most remarkable and striking kind. Man is also capable of looking forwards to the future probable or possible history of himself, his race, the earth, and the universe. He is irresistibly tempted to do this, and to endeavor to shape his conjectures on the Future, by what he knows of the Past. He attempts to discern what future change and progress may be imagined or expected, by the a.n.a.logy of past change and progress, which have been ascertained. Such a.n.a.logies may be necessarily very vague and loose; but they are the peculiar ground of speculation, with which we have here to deal. Perhaps man cannot discover with certainty any fixed and permanent laws which have regulated those past changes which have modified the surface and population of the earth; still less, any laws which have produced a visible progression in the const.i.tution of the rest of the universe. He cannot, therefore, avail himself of any close a.n.a.logies, to help him to conjecture the future course of events, on the earth or in the universe; still less can he apply any known laws, which may enable him to predict the future configurations of the elements of the world; as he can predict the future configurations of the planets for indefinite periods. He can foresee the astronomical revolutions of the heavens, so long as the known laws subsist. He cannot foresee the future geological revolutions of the earth, even if they are to be produced by the same causes which have produced the past revolutions, of which he has learnt the series and order. Still less can he foresee the future revolutions which may take place in the condition of man, of society, of philosophy, of religion; still less, again, the course which the Divine Government of the world will take, or the state of things to which, even as now conducted, it will lead.

3. All these subjects are covered with a veil of mystery, which science and philosophy can do little in raising. Yet these are subjects to which the mind turns, with a far more eager curiosity, than that which it feels with regard to mere geological or astronomical revolutions. Man is naturally, and reasonably, the greatest object of interest to man.

What shall happen to the human race, after thousands of years, is a far dearer concern to him, than what shall happen to Jupiter or Sirius; and even, than what shall happen to the continents and oceans of the globe on which he lives, except so far as the changes of his domicile affect himself. If our knowledge of the earth and of the heavens, of animals and of man, of the past condition and present laws of the world, is quite barren of all suggestion of what may or may not hereafter be the lot of man, such knowledge will lose the charm which would have made it most precious and attractive in the eyes of mankind in general. And if, on such subjects, any conjectures, however dubious,–any a.n.a.logies, however loose,–can be collected from what we know, they will probably be received as acceptable, in spite of their insecurity; and will be deemed a fit offering from the scientific faculty, to those hopes and expectations,–to that curiosity and desire of all knowledge,–which gladly receive their nutriment and gratification from every province of man’s being.

4. Now if we ask, what is likely to be the future condition of the population of the earth as compared with the present; we are naturally led to recollect, what has been the past condition of that population as compared with the present. And here, our thoughts are at once struck by that great fact, to which we have so often referred; which we conceive to be established by irrefragable geological evidence, and of which the importance cannot be overrated:–namely, the fact that the existence of man upon the earth has been for only a few thousand years:–that for thousands, and myriads, and it may be for millions of years, previous to that period, the earth was tenanted, entirely and solely, by brute creatures, dest.i.tute of reason, incapable of progress, and guided merely by animal instincts, in the preservation and continuation of their races. After this period of mere brute existence, in innumerable forms, had endured for a vast series of cycles, there appeared upon the earth a creature, even in his organization, superior far to all; but still more superior, in his possession of peculiar endowments;–reason, language, the power of indefinite progress, and of raising his thoughts towards his Creator and Governor: in short, to use terms already employed, an intellectual, moral, religious, and spiritual creature. After the ages of intellectual darkness, there took place this creation of intellectual light. After the long-continued play of mere appet.i.te and sensual life, there came the operation of thought, reflection, invention, art, science, moral sentiments, religious belief and hope; and thus, life and being, in a far higher sense than had ever existed, even in the highest degree, in the long ages of the earth’s previous existence.

5. Now, this great and capital fact cannot fail to excite in us many reflections, which, however vaguely and dimly, carry us to the prospect of the future. The present being _so_ related to the past, how may we suppose that the future will be related to the present?

In the first place, _this_ is a natural reflection. The terrestrial world having made this advance from brute to human life, can we think it at all likely, that the present condition of the earth’s inhabitants is a final condition? Has the vast step from animal to human life, exhausted the progressive powers of nature? or to speak more reverently and justly, has it completed the progressive plan of the Creator? After the great revolution by which man became what he is, can and will nothing be done, to bring into being something better than now is; however that future creature may be related to man? We leave out of consideration any supposed progression, which may have taken place in the animal creation previous to man’s existence; any progression by which the animal organization was made to approximate, gradually or by sudden steps, to the human organization; partly, because such successive approximation is questioned by some geologists; and is, at any rate, obscure and perplexed: but much more, because it is not really to our purpose. Similarity of organization is not the point in question. The endowments and capacities of man, by which he is Man, are the great distinction, which places all other animals at an immeasurable distance below him. The closest approximation of form or organs, does nothing to obliterate this distinction. It does not bring the monkey nearer to man, that his tongue has the same muscular apparatus as man’s, so long as he cannot talk; and so long as he has not the thought and idea which language implies, and which are unfolded indefinitely in the use of language. The step, then, by which the earth became, a _human_ habitation, was an immeasurable advance on all that existed before; and therefore there is a question which we are, it seems, irresistibly prompted to ask, Is this the last such step? Is there nothing beyond it?

Man is the head of creation, in his present condition; but is that condition the final result and ultimate goal of the progress of creation in the plan of the Creator? As there was found and produced something so far beyond animals, as man is, may there not also, in some course of the revolutions of the world, be produced something far beyond what man is?

The question is put, as implying a difficulty in believing that it should be so; and this difficulty must be very generally felt.

Considering how vast the resources of the Creative Power have been shown to be, it is difficult to suppose they are exhausted. Considering how great things have been done, in the progress of the work of creation, we naturally think that even greater things than these, still remain to be done.

6. But then, on the other hand, there is an immense difficulty in supposing, even in imagining, any further change, at all commensurate in kind and degree, with the step which carried the world from a mere brute population, to a human population. In a proportion in which the two first terms are _brute_ and _man_, what can be the third term? In the progress from mere Instinct to Reason, we have a progress from blindness to sight; and what can we do more than see? When pure Intellect is evolved in man, he approaches to the nature of the Supreme Mind: how can a creature rise higher? When mere impulse, appet.i.te, and pa.s.sion are placed under the control and direction of duty and virtue, man is put under Divine Government: what greater lot can any created being have?

7. And the difficulty of conceiving any ulterior step at all a.n.a.logous to the last and most wonderful of the revolutions which have taken place in the condition of the earth’s inhabitants, will be found to grow upon us, as it is more closely examined. For it may truly be said, the change which occurred when man was placed on the earth, was not one which could have been imagined and constructed beforehand, by a speculator merely looking at the endowments and capacities of the creatures which were previously living. Even in the way of organization, could any intelligent spectator, contemplating anything which then existed in the animal world, have guessed the wonderful new and powerful purposes to which it was to be made subservient in man? Could such a spectator, from seeing the _rudiments of a Hand_, in the horse or the cow, or even from seeing the hand of a quadrumanous animal, have conjectured, that the Hand was, in man, to be made an instrument by which infinite numbers of new instruments were to be constructed, subduing the elements to man’s uses, giving him a command over nature which might seem supernatural, taming or conquering all other animals, enabling him to scrutinize the farthest regions of the universe, and the subtlest combinations of material things?

8. Or again; could such a spectator, by dissecting the tongues of animals, have divined that the Tongue, in man, was to be the means of communicating the finest movements of thought and feeling; of giving one man, weak and feeble, an unbounded ascendency over robust and angry mult.i.tudes; and, a.s.sisted by the (writing) hand, of influencing the intimate thoughts, laws, and habits of the most remote posterity?

9. And again, could such a spectator, seeing animals entirely occupied by their appet.i.tes and desires, and the objects subservient to their individual gratification, have ever dreamt that there should appear on earth a creature who should desire to know, and should know, the distances and motions of the stars, future as well as present; the causes of their motions, the history of the earth, and his own history; and even should know truths by which all possible objects and events not only are, but must be regulated?

10. And yet again, could such a spectator, seeing that animals obeyed their appet.i.tes with no restraint but external fear, and knew of no difference of good and bad except the sensual difference, ever have imagined that there should be a creature acknowledging a difference of right and wrong, as a distinction supreme over what was good or bad to the sense; and a rule of duty which might forbid and prevent gratification by an internal prohibition?

11. And finally, could such a spectator, seeing nothing but animals with all their faculties thus entirely immersed in the elements of their bodily being, have supposed that a creature should come, who should raise his thoughts to his Creator, acknowledge Him as his Master and Governor, look to His Judgment, and aspire to live eternally in His presence?

12. If it would have been impossible for a spectator of the praehuman creation, however intelligent, imaginative, bold and inventive, to have conjectured beforehand the endowments of such a creature as Man, taking only those which we have thus indicated; it may well be thought, that if there is to be a creature which is to succeed man, as man has succeeded the animals, it must be equally impossible for us to conjecture beforehand, what kind of creature _that_ must be, and what will be _his_ endowments and privileges.

13. Thus a spectator who should thus have studied the praehuman creation, and who should have had nothing else to help him in his conjectures and conceptions, (of course, by the supposition of a praehuman period, not any knowledge of the operation of intelligence, though a most active intelligence would be necessary for such speculations,) would not have been able to divine the future appearance of a creature, so excellent as Man; or to guess at his endowments and privileges, or his relation to the previous animal creation; and just as little able may we be, even if there is to exist at some time, a creature more excellent and glorious than man, to divine what kind of creature he will be, and how related to man. And here, therefore, it would perhaps be best, that we should quit the subject; and not offer conjectures which we thus acknowledge to have no value. Perhaps, however, the few brief remarks which we have still to make, put forwards, as they are, merely as suggestions to be weighed by others, can not reasonably give offence, or trouble even the most reverent thinker.

14. To suppose a higher development of endowments which already exist in man, is a natural mode of rising to the imagination of a being n.o.bler than man is; but we shall find that such hypotheses do not lead us to any satisfactory result. Looking at the first of those features of the superiority of man over brutes, which we have just pointed out, the Human Hand, we can imagine this superiority carried further. Indeed, in the course of human progress, and especially in recent times, and in our own country, man employs instead of, or in addition to the hand, innumerable instruments to make nature serve his needs and do his will.

He works by Tools and Machinery, derivative hands, which increase a hundred-fold the power of the natural hand. Shall we try to ascend to a New Period, to imagine a New Creature, by supposing this power increased hundreds and thousands of times more, so that nature should obey man, and minister to his needs, in an incomparably greater degree than she now does? We may imagine this carried so far, that all need for manual labor shall be superseded; and thus, abundant time shall be left to the creature thus gifted, for developing the intellectual and moral powers which must be the higher part of its nature. But still, that higher nature of the creature itself, and not its command over external material nature, must be the quarter in which we are to find anything which shall elevate the creature above man, as man is elevated above brutes.

15. Or, looking at the second of the features of human superiority, shall we suppose that the means of Communication of their thoughts to each other, which exist for the human race, are to be immensely increased, and that this is to be the leading feature of a New Period?

Already, in addition to the use of the tongue, other means of communication have vastly multiplied man’s original means of carrying on the intercourse of thought:–writing, employed in epistles, books, newspapers; roads, horses and posting establishments; ships; railways; and, as the last and most notable step, made in our time, electric telegraphs, extending across continents and even oceans. We can imagine this facility and activity of communication, in which man so immeasurably exceeds all animals, still further increased, and more widely extended. But yet so long as what is thus communicated is nothing greater or better than what is now communicated among men;–such news, such thoughts, such questions and answers, as now dart along our roads;–we could hardly think that the creature, whatever wonderful means of intercourse with its fellow-creatures it might possess, was elevated above man, so as to be of a higher nature than man is.

16. Thus, such improved endowments as we have now spoken of, increased power over materials, and increased means of motion and communication, arising from improved mechanism, do little, and we may say, nothing, to satisfy our idea of a more excellent condition than that of man. For such extensions of man’s present powers are consistent with the absence of all intellectual and moral improvement. Men might be able to dart from place to place, and even from planet to planet, and from star to star, on wings, such as we ascribe to angels in our imagination: they might be able to make the elements obey them at a beck; and yet they might not be better, nor even wiser, than they are. It is not found generally, that the improvement of machinery, and of means of locomotion, among men, produces an improvement in morality, nor even an improvement in intelligence, except as to particular points. We must therefore look somewhat further, in order to find possible characters, which may enable us to imagine a creature more excellent than man.

17. Among the distinctions which elevate man above brutes, there is one which we have not mentioned, but which is really one of the most eminent. We mean, his faculty and habit of forming himself into Societies, united by laws and language for some common object, the furtherance of which requires such union. The most general and primary kind of such societies, is that Civil Society which is bound together by Law and Government, and which secures to men the Rights of property, person, family, external peace, and the like. That this kind of society may be conceived, as taking a more excellent character than it now possesses, we can easily see: for not only does it often very imperfectly attain its direct object, the preservation of Rights, but it becomes the means and source of wrong. Not only does it often fail to secure peace with strangers, but it acts as if its main object were to enable men to make wars with strangers. If we were to conceive a Universal and Perpetual Peace to be established among the nations of the earth; (for instance by some general agreement for that purpose;) and if we were to suppose, further, that those nations should employ all their powers and means in fully unfolding the intellectual and moral capacities of their members, by early education, constant teaching, and ready help in all ways; we might then, perhaps, look forwards to a state of the earth in which it should be inhabited, not indeed by a being exalted above Man, but by Man exalted above himself as he now is.

18. That by such combinations of communities of men, even with their present powers, results may be obtained, which at present appear impossible, or inconceivable, we may find good reason to believe; looking at what has already been done, or planned as attainable by such means, in the promotion of knowledge, and the extension of man’s intellectual empire. The greatest discovery ever made, the discovery, by Newton, of the laws which regulate the motions of the cosmical system, has been earned to its present state of completeness, only by the united efforts of all the most intellectual nations upon earth; in addition to vast labors of individuals, and of smaller societies, voluntarily a.s.sociated for the purpose. Astronomical observatories have been established in every land; scientific voyages, and expeditions for the purpose of observation, wherever they could throw light upon the theory, have been sent forth; costly instruments have been constructed, achievements of discovery have been rewarded; and all nations have shown a ready sympathy with every attempt to forward this part of knowledge.

Yet the largest and wisest plans for the extension of human knowledge in other provinces of science by the like means, have remained hitherto almost entirely unexecuted, and have been treated as mere dreams. The exhortations of Francis Bacon to men, to seek, by such means, an elevation of their intellectual condition, have been a.s.sented to in words; but his plans of a methodical and organized combination of society for this purpose, it has never been even attempted to realize.

If the nations of the earth were to employ, for the promotion of human knowledge, a small fraction only of the means, the wealth, the ingenuity, the energy, the combination, which they have employed in every age, for the destruction of human life and of human means of enjoyment; we might soon find that what we hitherto knew, is little compared with what man has the power of knowing.

19. But there is another kind of Society, or another object of Society among men, which in a still more important manner aims at the elevation of their nature. Man sympathizes with man, not only in his intellectual aspirations, but in his moral sentiments, in his religious beliefs and hopes, in his efforts after spiritual life. Society, even Civil Society, has generally recognized this sympathy, in a greater or less degree; and has included Morality and Religion, among the objects which it endeavored to uphold and promote. But any one who has any deep and comprehensive perception of man’s capacities and aspirations, on such subjects, must feel that what has commonly, or indeed ever, been done by nations for such a purpose, has been far below that which the full development of man’s moral, religious, and spiritual nature requires.

Can we not conceive a Society among men, which should have for its purpose, to promote this development, far more than any human society has yet done?–a Body selected from all nations, or rather, including all nations, the purpose of which should be to bind men together by a universal feeling of kindness and mutual regard, to a.s.sociate them in the acknowledgment of a common Divine Lawgiver, Governor, and Father;–to unite them in their efforts to divest themselves of the evil of their human nature, and to bring themselves nearer and nearer to a conformity with the Divine Idea; and finally, a Society which should unite them in the hope of such a union with G.o.d that the parts of their nature which seem to claim immortality, the Mind, the Soul, and the Spirit, should endure forever in a state of happiness arising from their exalted and perfected condition? And if we can suppose such a Society; fully established and fully operative, would not this be a condition, as far elevated above the ordinary earthly condition of man, as that of man is elevated above the beasts that perish?

20. Yet one more question; though we hesitate to mix such suggestions from a.n.a.logy, with trains of thought and belief, which have their proper nutriment from other quarters. We know, even from the evidence of natural science, that G.o.d _has_ interposed in the history of this Earth, in order to place Man upon it. In that case, there was a clear, and, in the strongest sense of the term, a _supernatural interposition_ of the Divine Creative Power. G.o.d interposed to place upon the earth, Man, the social and rational being. G.o.d thus directly inst.i.tuted Human Society; gave man his privileges and his prospects in such society; placed him far above the previously existing creation; and endowed him with the means of an elevation of nature entirely unlike anything which had previously appeared. Would it then be a violation of a.n.a.logy, if G.o.d were to interpose again, to inst.i.tute a Divine Society, such as we have attempted to describe; to give to its members their privileges; to a.s.sure to them their prospects; to supply to them his aid in pursuing the objects of such a union with each other; and thus, to draw them, as they aspire to be drawn, to a spiritual union with Him?

It would seem that those who believe, as the records of the earth’s history seem to show, that the establishment of Man, and of Human Society, or of the germ of human society, upon the earth, was an interposition of Creative Power beyond the ordinary course of nature; may also readily believe that another supernatural Interposition of Divine Power might take place, in order to plant upon the earth the Germ of a more Divine Society; and to introduce a period in which the earth should be tenanted by a more excellent creature than at present.

21. But though we may thus prepare ourselves to a.s.sent to the possibility, or even probability, of such a Divine Interposition, exercised for the purpose of establishing upon earth a Divine Society: it would be a rash and unauthorized step,–especially taking into account the vast differences between material and spiritual things,–to a.s.sume that such an Interposition would have any resemblance to the commencement of a New Period in the earth’s history, a.n.a.logous to the Periods by which that history has already been marked. What the manner and the operation of such a Divine Interposition would be, Philosophy would attempt in vain to conjecture. It is conceivable that such an event should produce its effect, not at once, by a general and simultaneous change in the aspect of terrestrial things, but gradually, by an almost imperceptible progression. It is possible also that there may be such an Interposition, which is only one step in the Divine Plan;–a preparation for some other subsequent Interposition, by which the change in the Earth’s inhabitants is to be consummated. Or it is possible that such a Divine Interposition in the history of man, as we have hinted at, may be a preparation, not for a new form of terrestrial life, but for a new form of human life;–not for a new peopling of the Earth, but for a new existence of Man. These possibilities are so vague and doubtful, so far as any scientific a.n.a.logies lead, that it would be most unwise to attempt to claim for them any value, as points in which Science supplies support to Religion. Those persons who most deeply feel the value of religion, and are most strongly convinced of its truths, will be the most willing to declare, that religious belief is, and ought to be, independent of any such support, and must be, and may be, firmly established on its own proper basis.

22. We find no encouragement, then, for any attempt to obtain, from Science, by the light of the a.n.a.logy of the past, any definite view of a future condition of the Creation. And that this is so, we cannot, for reasons which have been given, feel any surprise. Yet the reasonings which we have, in various parts of this Essay, pursued, will not have been without profit, even in their influence upon our religious thoughts, if they have left upon our minds these convictions:–That if the a.n.a.logy of science proves anything, it proves that the Creator of man can make a Creator as far superior to Man, as Man, when most intellectual, moral, religious, and spiritual, is superior to the brutes:–and again, That Man’s Intellect is of a divine, and therefore of an immortal nature. Those persons who can, on any basis of belief, combine these two convictions, so as to feel that they have a personal interest in both of them;–those who have such grounds as Religion, happily appealed to, can furnish, for hoping that their imperishable element may, hereafter, be clothed with a new and more glorious apparel by the hand of its Almighty Maker;–may be well content to acknowledge that Science and Philosophy could not give them this combined conviction, in any manner in which it could minister that consolation, and that trust in the Divine Power and Goodness, which human nature, in its present condition, requires.


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