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THE Law of Continuity having been referred to already as a prominent factor in this inquiry, it may not be out of place to sustain the plea for Natural Law in the Spiritual Sphere by a brief statement and application of this great principle. The Law of Continuity furnishes an a priori argument for the position we are attempting to establish of the most convincing kind—of such a kind, indeed, as to seem to our mind final. Briefly indicated, the ground taken up is this, that if Nature be a harmony, Man in all his relations—physical, mental, moral, and spiritual—falls to be included within its circle. It is altogether unlikely that man spiritual should be violently separated in all the conditions of growth, development, and life, from man physical. It is indeed difficult to conceive that one set of principles should guide the natural life, and these at a certain period— the very point where they are needed—suddenly give place to another set of principles altogether new and unrelated. Nature has never taught us to expect such a catastrophe. She has nowhere prepared us for it. And Man cannot in the nature of things, in the nature of thought, in the nature of language, be separated into two such incoherent halves.
The spiritual man, it is true, is to be studied in a different department of science from the natural man. But the harmony established by science is not a harmony within specific departments. It is the universe that is the harmony, the universe of which these are but parts. And the harmonies of the parts depend for all their weight and interest on the harmony of the whole. While, therefore, there are many harmonies, there is but one harmony. The breaking up of the phenomena of the universe into carefully guarded groups, and the allocation of certain prominent Laws to each, it must never be forgotten, and however much Nature lends herself to it, are artificial. We find an evolution in Botany, another in Geology, and another in Astronomy, and the effect is to lead one insensibly to look upon these as three distinct evolutions. But these sciences, of course, are mere departments created by ourselves to facilitate knowledge—reductions of Nature to the scale of our own intelligence. And we must beware of breaking up Nature except for this purpose. Science has so dissected everything, that it becomes a mental difficulty to put the puzzle together again; and we must keep ourselves in practice by constantly thinking of Nature as a whole, if science is not to be spoiled by its own refinements. Evolution being found in so many different sciences, the likelihood is that it is a universal principle. And there is no presumption whatever against this Law and many others being excluded from the domain of the spiritual life. On the other hand, there are very convincing reasons why the Natural Laws should be continuous through the Spiritual Sphere—not changed in any way to meet the new circumstances, but continuous as they stand.
But to the exposition. One of the most striking generalisations of recent science is that even Laws have their Law. Phenomena first, in the progress of knowledge, were grouped together, and Nature shortly presented the spectacle of a cosmos, the lines of beauty being the great Natural Laws. So long, however, as these Laws were merely great lines running through Nature, so long as they remained isolated from one another, the system of Nature was still incomplete. The principle which sought Law among phenomena had to go further and seek a Law among the Laws. Laws themselves accordingly came to be treated as they treated phenomena, and found themselves finally grouped in a still narrower circle. That inmost circle is governed by one great Law, the Law of Continuity. It is the Law for Laws.
It is perhaps significant that few exact definitions of Continuity are to be found. Even in Sir W. R. Grove’s famous paper,2121“The Correlation of Physical Forces,” 6th ed., p. 181 et seq. the fountain-head of the modern form of this far from modern truth, there is no attempt at definition. In point of fact, its sweep is so magnificent, it appeals so much more to the imagination than to the reason, that men have preferred to exhibit rather than to define it. Its true greatness consists in the final impression it leaves on the mind with regard to the uniformity of Nature. For it was reserved for the Law of Continuity to put the finishing touch to the harmony of the universe.
Probably the most satisfactory way to secure for oneself a just appreciation of the Principle of Continuity is to try to conceive the universe without it. The opposite of a continuous universe would be a discontinuous universe, an incoherent and irrelevant universe—as irrelevant in all its ways of doing things as an irrelevant person. In effect, to withdraw Continuity from the universe would be the same as to withdraw reason from an individual. The universe would run deranged; the world would be a mad world.
There used to be a children’s book which bore the fascinating title of “The Chance World.” It described a world in which everything happened by chance. The sun might rise or it might not; or it might appear at any hour, or the moon might come up instead. When children were born they might have one head or a dozen heads, and those heads might not be on their shoulders—there might be no shoulders—but arranged about the limbs. If one jumped up in the air it was impossible to predict whether he would ever come down again. That he came down yesterday was no guarantee that he would do it next time. For every day antecedent and consequent varied, and gravitation and everything else changed from hour to hour. To-day a child’s body might be so light that it was impossible for it to descend from its chair to the floor; but tomorrow, in attempting the experiment again, the impetus might drive it through a three-storey house and dash it to pieces somewhere near the centre of the earth. In this chance world cause and effect were abolished. Law was annihilated. And the result to the inhabitants of such a world could only be that reason would be impossible. It would be a lunatic world with a population of lunatics.
Now this is no more than a real picture of what the world would be without Law, or the universe without Continuity. And hence we come in sight of the necessity of some principle or Law according to which Laws shall be, and be “continuous” throughout the system. Man as a rational and moral being demands a pledge that if he depends on Nature for any given result on the ground that Nature has previously led him to expect such a result, his intellect shall not be insulted, nor his confidence in her abused. If he is to trust Nature, in short, it must be guaranteed to him that in doing so he will “never be put to confusion.” The authors of the Unseen Universe conclude their examination of this principle by saying that “assuming the existence of a supreme Governor of the universe, the Principle of Continuity may be said to be the definite expression in words of our trust that He will not put us to permanent intellectual confusion, and we can easily conceive similar expressions of trust with reference to the other faculties of man.”2222“Unseen universe,” 6th ed., p. 88. Or, as it has been well put elsewhere, Continuity is the expression of “the Divine Veracity in Nature.”2323“Old Faiths in New Light,” by Newman Smyth. Unwin’s English edition, p. 252. The most striking examples of the continuousness of Law are perhaps those furnished by Astronomy, especially in connection with the more recent applications of spectrum analysis. But even in the case of the simpler Laws the demonstration is complete. There is no reason apart from Continuity to expect that gravitation for instance should prevail outside our world. But wherever matter has been detected throughout the entire universe, whether in the form of star or planet, comet or meteorite, it is found to obey that Law. “If there were no other indication of unity than this, it would be almost enough. For the unity which is implied in the mechanism of the heavens is indeed a unity which is all-embracing and complete. The structure of our own bodies, with all that depends upon it, is a structure governed by, and therefore adapted to, the same force of gravitation which has determined the form and the movements of myriads of worlds. Every part of the human organism is fitted to conditions which would all be destroyed in a moment if the forces of gravitation were to change or fail.”2424The Duke of Argyll: Contemporary Review, Sept., 1880, p. 358.
But it is unnecessary to multiply illustrations. Having defined the principle we may proceed at once to apply it. And the argument may be summed up in a sentence. As the Natural Laws are continuous through the universe of matter and of space, so will they be continuous through the universe of spirit.
If this be denied, what then? Those who deny it must furnish the disproof. The argument is founded on a principle which is now acknowledged to be universal; and the onus of disproof must lie with those who may be bold enough to take up the position that a region exists where at last the Principle of Continuity fails. To do this one would first have to overturn Nature, then science, and last, the human mind.
It may seem an obvious objection that many of the Natural Laws have no connection whatever with the Spiritual World, and as a matter of fact are not continued through it. Gravitation for instance—what direct application has that in the Spiritual World? The reply is threefold. First, there is no proof that it does not hold there. If the spirit be in any sense material it certainly must hold. In the second place, gravitation may hold for the Spiritual Sphere although it cannot be directly proved. The spirit may be armed with powers which enable it to rise superior to gravity. During the action of these powers gravity need be no more suspended than in the case of a plant which rises in the air during the process of growth. It does this in virtue of a higher Law and in apparent defiance of the lower. Thirdly, if the spiritual be not material it still cannot be said that gravitation ceases at that point to be continuous. It is not gravitation that ceases—it is matter.
This point, however, will require development for another reason. In the case of the plant just referred to, there is a principle of growth or vitality at work superseding the attraction of gravity. Why is there no trace of that Law in the Inorganic world? Is not this another instance of the discontinuousness of Law? If the Law of vitality has so little connection with the Inorganic kingdom—less even than gravitation with the Spiritual, what becomes of Continuity? Is it not evident that each kingdom of Nature has its own set of Laws which continue possibly untouched for the specific kingdom but never extend beyond it?
It is quite true that when we pass from the Inorganic to the Organic, we come upon a new set of Laws. But the reason why the lower set do not seem to act in the higher sphere is not that they are annihilated, but that they are overruled. And the reason why the higher Laws are not found operating in the lower is not because they are not continuous downwards, but because there is nothing for them there to act upon. It is not Law that fails, but opportunity. The biological Laws are continuous for life. Wherever there is life, that is to say, they will be found acting, just as gravitation acts wherever there is matter.
We have purposely, in the last paragraph, indulged in a fallacy. We have said that the biological Laws would certainly be continuous in the lower or mineral sphere were there anything there for them to act upon. Now Laws do not act upon anything. It has been stated already, although apparently it cannot be too abundantly emphasized, that Laws are only codes of operation, not themselves operators. The accurate statement, therefore, would be that the biological Laws would be continuous in the lower sphere were there anything there for them, not to act upon, but to keep in order. If there is no acting going on, if there is nothing being kept in order, the responsibility does not lie with Continuity. The Law will always be at its post, not only when its services are required, but wherever they are possible.
Attention is drawn to this, for it is a correction one will find oneself compelled often to make in his thinking. It is so difficult to keep out of mind the idea of substance in connection with the Natural Laws, the idea that they are the movers, the essences, the energies, that one is constantly on the verge of falling into false conclusions. Thus a hasty glance at the present argument on the part of any one ill-furnished enough to confound Law with substance or with cause would probably lead to its immediate rejection.
For, to continue the same line of illustration, it might next be urged that such a Law as Biogenesis, which, as we hope to show afterwards, is the fundamental Law of life for both the natural and spiritual worlds, can have no application whatsoever in the latter sphere. The life with which it deals in the Natural World does not enter at all into the Spiritual World, and therefore, it might be argued, the Law of Biogenesis cannot be capable of extension into it. The Law of Continuity seems to be snapped at the point where the natural passes into the spiritual. The vital principle of the body is a different thing from the vital principle of the spiritual life. Biogenesis deals with Bios, with the natural life, with cells and germs, and as there are no exactly similar cells and germs in the Spiritual World, the Law cannot therefore apply. All which is as true as if one were to say that the fifth proposition of the First Book of Euclid applies when the figures are drawn with chalk upon a blackboard, but fails with regard to structures of wood or stone.
The proposition is continuous for the whole world, and, doubtless, likewise for the sun and moon and stars. The same universality may be predicated likewise for the Law of life. Wherever there is life we may expect to find it arranged, ordered, governed according to the same Law. At the beginning of the natural life we find the Law that natural life can only come from pre-existing natural life; and at the beginning of the spiritual life we find that the spiritual life can only come from pre-existing spiritual life. But there are not two Laws; there is one—Biogenesis. At one end the Law is dealing with matter, at the other with spirit. The qualitative terms natural and spiritual make no difference. Biogenesis is the Law for all life and for all kinds of life, and the particular substance with which it is associated is as indifferent to Biogenesis as it is to Gravitation. Gravitation will act whether the substance be suns and stars, or grains of sand, or raindrops. Biogenesis, in like manner, will act wherever there is life.
The conclusion finally is, that from the nature of Law in general, and from the scope of the Principle of Continuity in particular, the Laws of the natural life must be those of the spiritual life. This does not exclude, observe, the possibility of there being new Laws in addition within the Spiritual Sphere; nor does it even include the supposition that the old Laws will be the conspicuous Laws of the Spiritual World, both which points will be dealt with presently. It simply asserts that whatever else may be found, these must be found there; that they must be there though they may not be seen there, and that they must project beyond there if there be anything beyond there. If the Law of Continuity is true, the only way to escape the conclusion that the Laws of the natural life are the Laws, or at least are Laws, of the spiritual life, is to say that there is no spiritual life. It is really easier to give up the phenomena than to give up the Law.
Two questions now remain for further consideration—one bearing on the possibility of new Law in the spiritual; the other, on the assumed invisibility or inconspicuousness of the old Laws on account of their subordination to the new.
Let us begin by conceding that there may be new Laws. The argument might then be advanced that since, in Nature generally, we come upon new Laws as we pass from lower to higher kingdoms, the old still remaining in force, the newer Laws which one would expect to meet in the Spiritual World would so transcend and overwhelm the older as to make the analogy or identity, even if traced, of no practical use. The new Laws would represent operations and energies so different, and so much more elevated, that they would afford the true keys to the Spiritual World. As Gravitation is practically lost sight of when we pass into the domain of life, so Biogenesis would be lost sight of as we enter the Spiritual Sphere.
We must first separate in this statement the old confusion of Law and energy. Gravitation is not lost sight of in the organic world. Gravity may be, to a certain extent, but not Gravitation; and gravity only where a higher power counteracts its action. At the same time it is not to be denied that the conspicuous thing in Organic Nature is not the great Inorganic Law.
But the objection turns upon the statement that reasoning from analogy we should expect, in turn, to lose sight of Biogenesis as we enter the Spiritual Sphere. One answer to which is that, as a matter of fact, we do not lose sight of it. So far from being invisible, it lies across the very threshold of the Spiritual World, and, as we shall see, pervades it everywhere. What we lose sight of, to a certain extent, is the natural Bios. In the Spiritual World that is not the conspicuous thing, and it is obscure there just as gravity becomes obscure in the Organic, because something higher, more potent, more characteristic of the higher plane, comes in. That there are higher energies, so to speak, in the Spiritual World is, of course, to be affirmed alike on the ground of analogy and of experience; but it does not follow that these necessitate other Laws. A Law has nothing to do with potency. We may lose sight of a substance, or of an energy, but it is an abuse of language to talk of losing sight of Laws.
Are there, then, no other Laws in the Spiritual World except those which are the projections or extensions of Natural Laws? From the number of Natural Laws which are found in the higher sphere, from the large territory actually embraced by them, and from their special prominence throughout the whole region, it may at least be answered that the margin left for them is small. But if the objection is pressed that it is contrary to the analogy, and unreasonable in itself, that there should not be new Laws for this higher sphere, the reply is obvious. Let these Laws be produced. If the spiritual nature, in inception, growth, and development, does not follow natural principles, let the true principles be stated and explained. We have not denied that there may be new Laws. One would almost be surprised if there were not. The mass of material handed over from the natural to the spiritual, continuous, apparently, from the natural to the spiritual, is so great that till that is worked out it will be impossible to say what space is still left unembraced by Laws that are known, At present it is impossible even approximately to estimate the size of that supposed terra incognita. From one point of view it ought to be vast, from another extremely small. But however large the region governed by the suspected new Laws may be that cannot diminish by a hair’s-breadth the size of the territory where the old Laws still prevail. That territory itself, relatively to us though perhaps not absolutely, must be of great extent. The size of the key which is to open it, that is, the size of all the Natural Laws which can be found to apply, is a guarantee that the region of the knowable in the Spiritual World is at least as wide as these regions of the Natural World which by the help of these Laws have been explored. No doubt also there yet remain some Natural Laws to be discovered, and these in time may have a further light to shed on the spiritual field. Then we may know all that is? By no means. We may only know all that may be known. And that may be very little. The Sovereign Will which sways the sceptre of that invisible empire must be granted a right of freedom—that freedom which by putting it into our wills He surely teaches us to honour in His. In much of His dealing with us also, in what may be called the paternal relation, there may seem no special Law—no Law except the highest of all, that Law of which all other Laws are parts, that Law which neither Nature can wholly reflect nor the mind begin to fathom—the Law of Love. He adds nothing to that, however, who loses sight of all other Laws in that, nor does he take from it who finds specific Laws everywhere radiating from it.
With regard to the supposed new Laws of the Spiritual World—those Laws, that is, which are found for the first time in the Spiritual World, and have no analogies lower down—there is this to be said, that there is one strong reason against exaggerating either their number or importance—their importance at least for our immediate needs. The connection between language and the Law of Continuity has been referred to incidentally already. It is clear that we can only express the Spiritual Laws in language borrowed from the visible universe. Being dependent for our vocabulary on images, if an altogether new and foreign set of Laws existed in the Spiritual World, they could never take shape as definite ideas from mere want of words. The hypothetical new Laws which may remain to be discovered in the domain of Natural or Mental Science may afford some index of these hypothetical higher Laws, but this would of course mean that the latter were no longer foreign but in analogy, or, likelier still, identical. If, on the other hand, the Natural Laws of the future have nothing to say of these higher Laws, what can be said of them? Where is the language to come from in which to frame them? If their disclosure could be of any practical use to us, we may be sure the clue to them, the revelation of them, in some way would have been put into Nature. If, on the contrary, they are not to be of immediate use to man, it is better they should not embarrass him. After all, then, our knowledge of higher Law must be limited by our knowledge of the lower. The Natural Laws as at present known, whatever additions may yet be made to them, give a fair rendering of the facts of Nature. And their analogies or their projections in the Spiritual sphere may also be said to offer a fair account of that sphere, or of one or two conspicuous departments of it. The time has come for that account to be given. The greatest among the theological Laws are the Laws of Nature in disguise. It will be the splendid task of the theology of the future to take off the mask and disclose to a waning scepticism the naturalness of the supernatural.
It is almost singular that the identification of the Laws of the Spiritual World with the Laws of Nature should so long have escaped recognition. For apart from the probability on a priori grounds, it is involved in the whole structure of Parable. When any two Phenomena in the two spheres are seen to be analogous, the parallelism must depend upon the fact that the Laws governing them are not analogous but identical. And yet this basis for Parable seems to have been overlooked. Thus Principal Shairp: “This seeing of Spiritual truths mirrored in the face of Nature rests not on any fancied, but in a real analogy between the natural and the spiritual worlds. They are in some sense which science has not ascertained, but which the vital and religious imagination can perceive, counterparts one of the other.”2525“Poetic Interpretation of Nature,” p. 115. But is not this the explanation, that parallel Phenomena depend upon identical Laws? It is a question indeed whether one can speak of Laws at all as being analogous. Phenomena are parallel, Laws which make them so are themselves one.
In discussing the relations of the Natural and Spiritual kingdom, it has been all but implied hitherto that the Spiritual Laws were framed originally on the plan of the Natural; and the impression one might receive in studying the two worlds for the first time from the side of analogy would naturally be that the lower world was formed first, as a kind of scaffolding on which the higher and Spiritual should be afterwards raised. Now the exact opposite has been the case. The first in the field was the Spiritual World.
It is not necessary to reproduce here in detail the argument which has been stated recently with so much force in the “Unseen Universe.” The conclusion of that wort remains still unassailed, that the visible universe has been developed from the unseen. Apart from the general proof from the Law of Continuity, the more special grounds of such a conclusion are, first, the fact insisted upon by Herschel and Clerk-Maxwell that the atoms of which the visible universe is built up bear distinct marks of being manufactured articles; and, secondly, the origin in time of the visible universe is implied from known facts with regard to the dissipation of energy. With the gradual aggregation of mass the energy of the universe has been slowly disappearing, and this loss of energy must go on until none remains. There is, therefore, a point in time when the energy of the universe must come to an end; and that which has its end in time cannot be infinite, it must also have had a beginning in time. Hence the unseen existed before the seen.
There is nothing so especially exalted therefore in the Natural Laws in themselves as to make one anxious to find them blood relations of the Spiritual It is not only because these Laws are on the ground, more accessible therefore to us who are but groundlings; not only, as the “Unseen Universe” points out in another connection, “because they are at the bottom of the list—are in fact the simplest and lowest—that they are capable of being most readily grasped by the finite intelligences of the universe.”26266th edition, p. 235. But their true significance lies in the fact that they are on the list at all, and especially in that the list is the same list. Their dignity is not as Natural Laws, but as Spiritual Laws, Laws which, as already said, at one end are dealing with Matter, and at the other with Spirit “The physical properties of matter form the alphabet which is put into our hands by God, the study of which, if properly conducted, will enable us more perfectly to read that great book which we call the ‘Universe.’”2727Ibid., p. 286. But, over and above this, the Natural Laws will enable us to read that great duplicate which we call the “Unseen Universe,” and to think and live in fuller harmony with it. After all, the true greatness of Law lies in its vision of the Unseen. Law in the visible is the Invisible in the visible. And to speak of Laws as Natural is to define them in their application to a part of the universe, the sense-part, whereas a wider survey would lead us to regard all Law as essentially Spiritual. To magnify the Laws of Nature, as Laws of this small world of ours, is to take a provincial view of the universe. Law is great not because the phenomenal world is great, but because these vanishing lines are the avenues into the eternal Order.
“Is it less reverent to regard the universe as an illimitable avenue which leads up to God, than to look upon it as a limited area bounded by an impenetrable wall, which, if we could only pierce it would admit us at once into the presence of the Eternal?”2828“Unseen Universe”, p. 96. Indeed the authors of the “Unseen Universe” demur even to the expression material universe, since, as they tell us “Matter is (though it may seem paradoxical to say so) the less important half of the material of the physical universe.”2929Ibid., p.100. And even Mr. Huxley, though in a different sense, assures us, with Descartes, “that we know more of mind than we do of body; that the immaterial world is a firmer reality than the material.”3030“Science and Culture,” p. 259.
How the priority of the Spiritual improves the strength and meaning of the whole argument will be seen at once. The lines of the Spiritual existed first, and it was natural to expect that when the “Intelligence resident in the ‘Unseen’” proceeded to frame the material universe He should go upon the lines already laid down. He would, in short, simply project the higher Laws downward, so that the Natural World would become an incarnation, a visible representation, a working model of the spiritual. The whole function of the material world lies here. The world is not a thing that is; it is not. It is a thing that teaches, yet not even a thing—a show that shows, a teaching shadow, However useless the demonstration otherwise, philosophy does well in proving that matter is a non-entity. We work with it as the mathematician with an x. The reality is alone the Spiritual. “It is very well for physicists to speak of ‘matter,’ but for men generally to call this ‘a material world’ is an absurdity. Should we call it an x-world it would mean as much, viz., that we do not know what it is.”3131Hinton’s “Philosophy and Religion,” p. 40. When shall we learn the true mysticism of one who was yet far from being a mystic—“We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal?”32322 Cor. iv. 18. The visible is the ladder up to the invisible; the temporal is but the scaffolding of the eternal. And when the last immaterial souls have climbed through this material to God, the scaffolding shall be taken down, and the earth dissolved with fervent heat—not because it was base, but because its work is done.
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