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LECTURE IV NOTE C.—P. 127.

THE HYPOTHESIS OF CYCLES.

The idea of an eternal succession of cycles of existence—of alternating periods of dissolution and renovation—of the destruction of worlds, and continual birth of new worlds from the ruins of the old—could not but present itself early o the minds of speculative thinkers whose theories did not admit of a beginning of the world in time. We find it in Brahmanism, in some of the early Greek philosophies, among the Stoics, and it has been frequently revived in modern times as an alternative to the doctrine of creation.

Zeller says of the Greek Anaximandel: “The assertion which ascribes to Anaximander an infinity of successive worlds seems borne out by his system. . . . Plutarch, indeed, expressly says of Anaximander that from the Infinite, as the sole cause of the birth and destruction of all things, he considered that the heavens and the innumerable worlds arise in endless circulation; and Hippolytus speaks to the same effect. . . .Cicero, too, makes mention of innumerable worlds, which in long periods of time arise and perish; and Stobaeus attributes to Anaximander the theory of the future destruction of the world. . . . The same theory of a constant alternation of birth and destruction in the universe was held by Heraclitus, who approaches more closely to Anaximander than to any of the ancient Ionian physicists, and also most probably by Anaximenes and Diogenes. We have reason, therefore, to suppose that Anaximander also held it.”—Pre-Socratic Philosophy, pp. 259, 260.

This theory was revived by Kant in his Theory of the Heavens in 1755,896896Kant, however, held a beginning. See Strauss’s criticism of him in passage cited. and was adopted from him by Strauss (in his Glaubenslehre and Der alte und der neue Glaube, pp. 153–160). Vatke and others also held it.

Mr. Spencer, with all his profession of nescience about origins, adopts this theory, as in reason he is compelled to do if he advocates evolution, and yet refuses to admit a beginning in time.—First Principles, pp. 519–537, 550, 551.

There is a fascination and grandeur in this conception of endless cycles of existence,—of new worlds perpetually rising from the ashes of the old,—but it is a theory which cannot be maintained.

1. Philosophically, it involves all the difficulties which, in discussing the cosmological argument, we saw to inhere in the notion of an endless succession of causes and effects. This, as respects the past (regressus in infinitum), is a supposition which is not simply inconceivable, but which reason compels us positively to reject as Self-contradictory.

2. Scientifically, it seems disproved by the doctrine of the dissipation of energy, and of the tendency of the material universe to a state of final equilibrium. This doctrine is stated 424by Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin) in the following terms:—

“(1) There is at present in the material world a universal tendency to the dissipation of mechanical energy.897897Professor Proctor says that only the two hundred and twenty-seventh part of the one millionth of all the heat from the sun reaches any planet; the remainder passes into spance and is lost.

“(2) Any restoration of mechanical energy, without more than an equivalent of dissipation, is impossible in inanimate material processes, and is probably never effected by material masses, either endowed with vegetable life, or subjected to the will of an animated creature.

“(3) Within a finite past, the earth must have been, and within a finite period of time to come the earth must again be, unfit for the habitation of man as at present constituted, unless operations have been, or are to be, performed which are impossible under the laws to which the known operations going on at present in the material world are subject.”—Paper “On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy,” in Phil. Meg., ser. iv. vol x. p. 304ff. Cf. Tait’s Recent Advances in Physical Science, p. 146; Stewart and Tait’s The Unseen Universe, pp. 93, 94, 126–128, 211–214 (5th ed.); and Jevons’s Principles of Science, ii. p. 483. Mr. Spencer himself admits that, as the outcome of the processes everywhere going on, we are “ manifestly progressing towards omnipresent death,”—that “the proximate end of all the transformations we have traced is a state of quiescence.”—First Principles, p. 514.

Stewart and Tait say: “The tendency of heat is towards equalisation; heat is par excellence the communist of our universe, and it will no doubt ultimately bring the present system to an end.”—Unseen Universe, p. 126.

Professor Huxley says of astronomy, that it “ leads us to contemplate phenomena, the very nature of which demonstrates that they must have had a beginning, and that they must have an end, but the very nature of which also proves that the beginning was, to our conceptions of time, infinitely remote, and that the end is as immeasurably distant.”—Lay Sermons, Addresses, etc., p. 17 (“On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge”

Cf. on the cycle of hypothesis, Flint’s Philosophy of History, pp. 30–35; Dorner in criticism of Vatke, Person of Christ, pp. 122, 123; and Chapman in criticism of Spencer, Pre-Organic Evolution, pp. 179–190.


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