Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/34

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24
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ral solution had failed, but its only logical alternative, a natural solution, or the thorough investigation of the subject on principles of causation, was not adopted or urged. The geologists occupied themselves in extending observations and accumulating facts rather than in working out any comprehensive scientific or philosophical principles from the new point of view. The result was a kind of tacit compromise between the contending parties—the theologians conceding the vast antiquity of the earth, and the geologists conceding preternatural intervention in the regular on-working of the scheme; so that, in place of one mighty miracle of creation occurring a few thousand years ago, there was substituted the idea of hundreds of thousands of separate miracles of special creation scattered all along the geological ages, to account for the phenomena of terrestrial life. Two systems of agencies—natural and supernatural—were thus invoked to explain the production of effects. What it now concerns us to note is, that the subject had not yet been brought into the domain of science. One portion of it was still held to be above Nature, and therefore inaccessible to rational inquiry; while that part of the problem which was withheld from science was really the key to the whole situation. Under the new view, the question of the origin of living forms, or of the action of natural agencies in their production, was as completely barred to science as it had formerly been under the literal Mosaic interpretation; and, as questions of origin were thus virtually interdicted, the old traditional opinions regarding the genesis of the present constitution of things remained in full force.

It is in relation to this great crisis in the course of advancing thought that Herbert Spencer is to be regarded. Like many others, he assumed, at the outset, that the study of the whole phenomenal sphere of Nature belongs to science; but he may claim the honor of being the first to discern the full significance of the new intellectual position. It had been proved that a vast course of orderly changes in the past has led up to the present, and is leading on to the future: Mr. Spencer saw that it was of transcendent moment that the laws of these changes be determined. If natural agencies have been at work in vast periods of time to bring about the present condition of things, he perceived that a new set of problems of immense range and importance is open to inquiry, the effect of which must be to work an extensive revolution of ideas. It was apparent to him that the hitherto forbidden question as to how things have originated had at length come to be the supreme question. When the conception that the present order had been called into being at once and in all its completeness was found to be no longer defensible, it was claimed that it makes no difference how it originated—that the existing system is the same whatever may have been its source. Mr. Spencer saw, on the contrary, that the question how things have been caused is fundamental; and that we can have no real understanding of what they are, without first knowing how they