Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/13

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
3
THE NATURAL VERSUS THE SUPERNATURAL.

of his life, does not mean sameness or identity of all physical processes, but it means identity of these processes under like conditions. Given the same conditions, and the same results always follow. Water obeys its laws under low temperature, and iron its. It is not long since that the Bishop of Carlisle urged as an argument against the uniformity of Nature the fact that the weather is changeable! If his lordship could have shown that the laws which govern the formation of clouds, and the precipitation of rain and snow are changeable, or ever work inversely, he would have made out his case. The fathers of the Church believed that the flesh of the peacock never decayed. St. Augustine said he had ascertained by experiment that this is a fact. If this were so, it would indeed be a remarkable exception; but the man of science would at once set about ascertaining its natural cause, without for one moment attributing it to a supernatural one. But without trying the experiment ourselves, does any sane man to-day doubt that either the saint deceived himself, or else that he was not honest? His statement is incredible, because it contradicts all the rest of our knowledge relating to the decomposition of animal tissue.

I suppose the last thing our fathers would have thought of doing, would have been to try to reconcile their conception of Christianity with their stores of natural knowledge. They did not feel the need, which we to-day feel so keenly, of any such reconciliation. They cherished their faith as something apart, something not founded in the order of this world, something to which science and all that pertains to the "natural man" are necessarily strangers. The order of this world is carnal; it is full of evil, and is separated by an impassable gulf from the sacred and the divine. A vast number of most excellent and pious people still feel in this way about their religious belief; it is all the more sacred and precious to them because it has no relation to the natural course of mundane things. It forms for them an escape from the humdrum, from the failures, and from the materialism of life. Who can recall without deepest sympathy and love the religious beliefs and observances of the many simple and credulous people he has known in his youth, perhaps of his own parents or grandparents, with their fervid piety but merciless creeds, their faith in their church and in the saving power of its sacraments, their unquestioning belief in the literal truth of the Bible, every word of it—the Fall, the Flood, the miracles, and all? What a refuge their faith was to them in times of trouble; what an avenue of escape into spiritual and ideal regions! It saved them; why can it not save us? For the simple reason that it is no longer credible to us: we are born into another world; we can not believe the old creed, try we never so hard. It was adequate to their knowledge, to their development, but it is not adequate to ours. The old terms and symbols satisfied them, but they are fast becoming obsolete to us. The whole aspect of the universe has changed. But our salvation is to be had upon essentially the same