Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/June 1878/Illustrations of the Logic of Science V

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE LOGIC OF SCIENCE.
By C. S. PEIRCE,
ASSISTANT IN THE UNITED STATES COAST SURVEY.

FIFTH PAPER.—THE ORDER OF NATURE.

I.

ANY proposition whatever concerning the order of Nature must touch more or less upon religion. In our day, belief, even in these matters, depends more and more upon the observation of facts. If a remarkable and universal orderliness be found in the universe, there must be some cause for this regularity, and science has to consider what hypotheses might account for the phenomenon. One way of accounting for it, certainly, would be to suppose that the world is ordered by a superior power. But if there is nothing in the universal subjection of phenomena to laws, nor in the character of those laws themselves (as being benevolent, beautiful, economical, etc.), which goes to prove the existence of a governor of the universe, it is hardly to be anticipated that any other sort of evidence will be found to weigh very much with minds emancipated from the tyranny of tradition.

Nevertheless, it cannot truly be said that even an absolutely negative decision of that question could altogether destroy religion, inasmuch as there are faiths in which, however much they differ from our own, we recognize those essential characters which make them worthy to be called religions, and which, nevertheless, do not postulate an actually existing Deity. That one, for instance, which has had the most numerous and by no means the least intelligent following of any on earth, teaches that the Divinity in his highest perfection is wrapped away from the world in a state of profound and eternal sleep, which really does not differ from non-existence, whether it be called by that name or not. No candid mind who has followed the writings of M. Vacherot can well deny that his religion is as earnest as can be. He worships the Perfect, the Supreme Ideal; but he conceives that the very notion of the Ideal is repugnant to its real existence. In fact, M. Vacherot finds it agreeable to his reason to assert that non-existence is an essential character of the perfect, just as St. Anselm and Descartes found it agreeable to theirs to assert the extreme opposite. I confess that there is one respect in which either of these positions seems to me more congruous with the religious attitude than that of a theology which stands upon evidences; for as soon as the Deity presents himself to either Anselm or Vacherot, and manifests his glorious attributes, whether it be in a vision of the night or day, either of them recognizes his adorable God, and sinks upon his knee's at once; whereas the theologian of evidences will first demand that the divine apparition shall identify himself, and only after having scrutinized his credentials and weighed the probabilities of his being found among the totality of existences, will he finally render his circumspect homage, thinking that no characters can be adorable but those which belong to a real thing.

If we could find out any general characteristic of the universe, any mannerism in the ways of Nature, any law everywhere applicable and universally valid, such a discovery would be of such singular assistance to us in all our future reasoning, that it would deserve a place almost at the head of the principles of logic. On the other hand, if it can be shown that there is nothing of the sort to find out, but that every discoverable regularity is of limited range, this again will be of logical importance. What sort of a conception we ought to have of the universe, how to think of the ensemble of things, is a fundamental problem in the theory of reasoning.

 
II.

It is the legitimate endeavor of scientific men now, as it was twenty-three hundred years ago, to account for the formation of the solar system and of the cluster of stars which forms the galaxy, by the fortuitous concourse of atoms. The greatest expounder of this theory, when asked how he could write an immense book on the system of the world without one mention of its author, replied, very logically, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là." But, in truth, there is nothing atheistical in the theory, any more than there was in this answer. Matter is supposed to be composed of molecules which obey the laws of mechanics and exert certain attractions upon one another; and it is to these regularities (which there is no attempt to account for) that general arrangement of the solar system would be due, and not to hazard.

If any one has ever maintained that the universe is a pure throw of the dice, the theologians have abundantly refuted him. "How often," says Archbishop Tillotson, "might a man, after he had jumbled a set of letters in a bag, fling them out upon the ground before they would fall into an exact poem, yea, or so much as make a good discourse in prose! And may not a little book be as easily made by chance as this great volume of the world?" The chance world here shown to be so different from that in which we live would be one in which there were no laws, the characters of different things being entirely independent; so that, should a sample of any kind of objects ever show a prevalent character, it could only be by accident, and no general proposition could ever be established. Whatever further conclusions we may come to in regard to the order of the universe, thus much may be regarded as solidly established, that the world is not a mere chance-medley.

But whether the world makes an exact poem or not, is another question. When we look up at the heavens at night, we readily perceive that the stars are not simply splashed on to the celestial vault; but there does not seem to be any precise system in their arrangement either. It will be worth our while, then, to inquire into the degree of orderliness in the universe; and, to begin, let us ask whether the world we live in is any more orderly than a purely chance-world would be.

Any uniformity, or law of Nature, may be stated in the form, "Every A is B;" as, every ray of light is a non-curved line, every body is accelerated toward the earth's centre, etc. This is the same as to say, "There does not exist any A which is not B;" there is no curved ray; there is no body not accelerated toward the earth; so that the uniformity consists in the non-occurrence in Nature of a certain combination of characters (in this case, the combination of being A with being non-B).[1] And, conversely, every case of the non-occurrence of a combination of characters would constitute a uniformity in Nature. Thus, suppose the quality A is never found in combination with the quality C: for example, suppose the quality of idiocy is never found in combination with that of having a well-developed brain. Then nothing of the sort A is of the sort C, or everything of the sort A is of the sort non-C (or say, every idiot has an ill-developed brain), which, being something universally true of the A's, is a uniformity in the world. Thus we see that, in a world where there were no uniformities, no logically possible combination of characters would be excluded, but every combination would exist in some object. But two objects not identical must differ in some of their characters, though it be only in the character of being in such-and-such a place. Hence, precisely the same combination of characters could not be found in two different objects; and, consequently, in a chance-world every combination involving either the positive or negative of every character would belong to just one thing. Thus, if there were but five simple characters in such a world,[2] we might denote them by A, B, C, D, E, and their negatives by a, b, c, d, e; and then, as there would be 25 or 32 different combinations of these characters, completely determinate in reference to each of them, that world would have just 32 objects in it, their characters being as in the following table:

Table I.

ABCDE AbCDE aBCDE abCDE
ABCDe AbCDe aBCDe abCDe
ABCdE AbCdE aBCDE abCdE
ABCde AbCde aBCde abCde
ABcDE AbcDE aBcDE abcDE
ABcDe ABcDe aBcDe abcDe
ABcdE AbcdE aBcdE abcdE
ABcde Abcde aBcde abcde
 

For example, if the five primary characters were hard, sweet, fragrant, green, bright, there would be one object which reunited all these qualities, one which was hard, sweet, fragrant, and green, but not bright; one which was hard, sweet, fragrant, and bright, but not green; one which was hard, sweet, and fragrant, but neither green nor bright; and so on through all the combinations.

This is what a thoroughly chance-world would be like, and certainly nothing could be imagined more systematic. When a quantity of letters are poured out of a bag, the appearance of disorder is due to the circumstance that the phenomena are only partly fortuitous. The laws of space are supposed, in that case, to be rigidly preserved, and there is also a certain amount of regularity in the formation of the letters, The result is that some elements are orderly and some are disorderly, which is precisely what we observe in the actual world. Tillotson, in the passage of which a part has been quoted, goes on to ask, "How long might 20,000 blind men, which should be sent out from the several remote parts of England, wander up and down before they would all meet upon Salisbury Plains, and fall into rank and file in the exact order of an army? And yet this is much more easy to be imagined than how the innumerable blind parts of matter should rendezvous themselves into a world." This is very true, but in the actual world the blind men are, as far as we can see, not drawn up in any particular order at all. And, in short, while a certain amount of order exists in the world, it would seem that the world is not so orderly as it might be, and, for instance, not so much so as a world of pure chance would be.

But we can never get to the bottom of this question until we take account of a highly-important logical principle[3] which I now proceed to enounce. This principle is that any plurality or lot of objects whatever have some character in common (no matter how insignificant) which is peculiar to them and not shared by anything else. The word "character" here is taken in such a sense as to include negative characters, such as incivility, inequality, etc., as well as their positives, civility, equality, etc. To prove the theorem, I will show what character any two things, A and B, have in common, not shared by anything else. The things, A and B, are each distinguished from all other things by the possession of certain characters which may be named A-ness and B-ness. Corresponding to these positive characters, are the negative characters un-A-ness, which is possessed by everything except A, and un-B-ness, which is possessed by everything except B. These two characters are united in everything except A and B; and this union of the characters un-A-ness and un-B-ness makes a compound character which may be termed A-B-lessness. This is not possessed by either A or B, but it is possessed by everything else. This character, like every other, has its corresponding negative un-A-B-lessness, and this last is the character possessed by both A and B, and by nothing else. It is obvious that what has thus been shown true of two things is, mutatis mutandis, true of any number of things. Q. E. D.

In any world whatever, then, there must be a character peculiar to each possible group of objects. If, as a matter of nomenclature, characters peculiar to the same group be regarded as only different aspects of the same character, then we may say that there will be precisely one character for each possible group of objects. Thus, suppose a world to contain five things, α, β, γ, δ, ε. Then it will have a separate character for each of the 31 groups (with non-existence making up 32 or 25) shown in the following table:

Table II.
αβ αβγ αβγδ αβγδε
α αγ αβδ αβγε
β αδ αβε αβδε
γ αε αγδ αγδε
δ βγ αγε βγδε
ε βδ αδε
βε βγδ
γδ βγε
γε βδε
δε γδε
 

This shows that a contradiction is involved in the very idea of a chance-world, for in a world of 32 things, instead of there being only 35 or 243 characters, as we have seen that the notion of a chance-world requires, there would, in fact, be no less than 232, or 4,294,967,296 characters, which would not be all independent, but would have all possible relations with one another.

We further see that so long as we regard characters abstractly, without regard to their relative importance, etc., there is no possibility of a more or less degree of orderliness in the world, the whole system of relationship between the different characters being given by mere logic; that is, being implied in those facts which are tacitly admitted as soon as we admit that there is any such thing as reasoning.

In order to descend from this abstract point of view, it is requisite to consider the characters of things as relative to the perceptions and active powers of living beings. Instead, then, of attempting to imagine a world in which there should be no uniformities, let us suppose one in which none of the uniformities should have reference to characters interesting or important to us. In the first place, there would be nothing to puzzle us in such a world. The small number of qualities which would directly meet the senses would be the ones which would afford the key to everything which could possibly interest us. The whole universe would have such an air of system and perfect regularity that there would be nothing to ask. In the next place, no action of ours, and no event of Nature, would have important consequences in such a world. We should be perfectly free from all responsibility, and there would be nothing to do but to enjoy or suffer whatever happened to come along. Thus there would be nothing to stimulate or develop either the mind or the will, and we consequently should neither act nor think. We should have no memory, because that depends on a law of our organization. Even if we had any senses, we should be situated toward such a world precisely as inanimate objects are toward the present one, provided we suppose that these objects have an absolutely transitory and instantaneous consciousness without memory—a supposition which is a mere mode of speech, for that would be no consciousness at all. We may, therefore, say that a world of chance is simply our actual world viewed from the standpoint of an animal at the very vanishing-point of intelligence. The actual world is almost a chance-medley to the mind of a polyp. The interest which the uniformities of Nature have for an animal measures his place in the scale of intelligence.

Thus, nothing can be made out from the orderliness of Nature in regard to the existence of a God, unless it be maintained that the existence of a finite mind proves the existence of an infinite one.

 
III.

In the last of these papers we examined the nature of inductive or synthetic reasoning. We found it to be a process of sampling. A number of specimens of a class are taken, not by selection within that class, but at random. These specimens will agree in a great number of respects. If, now, it were likely that a second lot would agree with the first in the majority of these respects, we might base on this consideration an inference in regard to any one of these characters. But such an inference would neither be of the nature of induction, nor would it (except in special cases) be valid, because the vast majority of points of agreement in the first sample drawn would generally be entirely accidental, as well as insignificant. To illustrate this, I take the ages at death of the first five poets given in Wheeler's "Biographical Dictionary." They are:

Aagard, 48.
Abeille, 70.
Abulola, 84.
Abunowas, 48.
Accords, 45.

These five ages have the following characters in common:

1. The difference of the two digits composing the number, divided by three, leaves a remainder of one.

2. The first digit raised to the power indicated by the second, and divided by three, leaves a remainder of one.

3. The sum of the prime factors of each age, including one, is divisible by three.

It is easy to see that the number of accidental agreements of this sort would be quite endless. But suppose that, instead of considering a character because of its prevalence in the sample, we designate a character before taking the sample, selecting it for its importance, obviousness, or other point of interest. Then two considerable samples drawn at random are extremely likely to agree approximately in regard to the proportion of occurrences of a character so chosen. The inference that a previously designated character has nearly the same frequency of occurrence in the whole of a class that it has in a sample drawn at random out of that class is induction. If the character be not previously designated, then a sample in which it is found to be prevalent can only serve to suggest that it may be prevalent in the whole class. We may consider this surmise as an inference if we please—an inference of possibility; but a second sample must be drawn to test the question of whether the character actually is prevalent. Instead of designating beforehand a single character in reference to which we will examine a sample, we may designate two, and use the same sample to determine the relative frequencies of both. This will be making two inductive inferences at once; and, of course, we are less certain that both will yield correct conclusions than we should be that either separately would do so. What is true of two characters is true of any limited number. Now, the number of characters which have any considerable interest for us in reference to any class of objects is more moderate than might be supposed. As we shall be sure to examine any sample with reference to these characters, they may be regarded not exactly as predesignated, but as predetermined (which amounts to the same thing); and we may infer that the sample represents the class in all these respects if we please, remembering only that this is not so secure an inference as if the particular quality to be looked for had been fixed upon beforehand.

The demonstration of this theory of induction rests upon principles and follows methods which are accepted by all those who display in other matters the particular knowledge and force of mind which qualify them to judge of this. The theory itself, however, quite unaccountably seems never to have occurred to any of the writers who have undertaken to explain synthetic reasoning. The most widely-spread opinion in the matter is one which was much promoted by Mr. John Stuart Mill—namely, that induction depends for its validity upon the uniformity of Nature—that is, on the principle that what happens once will, under a sufficient degree of similarity of circumstances, happen again as often as the same circumstances recur. The application is this: The fact that different things belong to the same class constitutes the similarity of circumstances, and the induction is good, provided this similarity is "sufficient." What happens once is, that a number of these things are found to have a certain character; what may be expected, then, to happen again as often as the circumstances recur consists in this, that all things belonging to the same class should have the same character.

This analysis of induction has, I venture to think, various imperfections, to some of which it may be useful to call attention. In the first place, when I put my hand in a bag and draw out a handful of beans, and, finding three-quarters of them black, infer that about three-quarters of all in the bag are black, my inference is obviously of the same kind as if I had found any larger proportion, or the whole, of the sample black, and had assumed that it represented in that respect the rest of the contents of the bag. But the analysis in question hardly seems adapted to the explanation of this proportionate induction, where the conclusion, instead of being that a certain event uniformly happens under certain circumstances, is precisely that it does not uniformly occur, but only happens in a certain proportion of cases. It is true that the whole sample may be regarded as a single object, and the inference may be brought under the formula proposed by considering the conclusion to be that any similar sample will show a similar proportion among its constituents. But this is to treat the induction as if it rested on a single instance, which gives a very false idea of its probability.

In the second place, if the uniformity of Nature were the sole warrant of induction, we should have no right to draw one in regard to a character whose constancy we knew nothing about. Accordingly, Mr. Mill says that, though none but white swans were known to Europeans for thousands of years, yet the inference that all swans were white was "not a good induction," because it was not known that color was a usual generic character (it, in fact, not being so by any means). But it is mathematically demonstrable that an inductive inference may have as high a degree of probability as you please independent of any antecedent knowledge of the constancy of the character inferred. Before it was known that color is not usually a character of genera, there was certainly a considerable probability that all swans were white. But the further study of the genera of animals led to the induction of their non-uniformity in regard to color. A deductive application of this general proposition would have gone far to overcome the probability of the universal whiteness of swans before the black species was discovered. When we do know anything in regard to the general constancy or inconstancy of a character, the application of that general knowledge to the particular class to which any induction relates, though it serves to increase or diminish the force of the induction, is, like every application of general knowledge to particular cases, deductive in its nature and not inductive.

In the third place, to say that inductions are true because similar events happen in similar circumstances—or, what is the same thing, because objects similar in some respects are likely to be similar in others—is to overlook those conditions which really are essential to the validity of inductions. When we take all the characters into account, any pair of objects resemble one another in just as many particulars as any other pair. If we limit ourselves to such characters as have for us any importance, interest, or obviousness, then a synthetic conclusion may be drawn, but only on condition that the specimens by which we judge have been taken at random from the class in regard to which we are to form a judgment, and not selected as belonging to any sub-class. The induction only has its full force when the character concerned has been designated before examining the sample. These are the essentials of induction, and they are not recognized in attributing the validity of induction to the uniformity of Nature. The explanation of induction by the doctrine of probabilities, given in the last of these papers, is not a mere metaphysical formula, but is one from which all the rules of synthetic reasoning can be deduced systematically and with mathematical cogency. But the account of the matter by a principle of Nature, even if it were in other respects satisfactory, presents the fatal disadvantage of leaving us quite as much afloat as before in regard to the proper method of induction. It does not surprise me, therefore, that those who adopt this theory have given erroneous rules for the conduct of reasoning, nor that the greater number of examples put forward by Mr. Mill in his first edition, as models of what inductions should be, proved in the light of further scientific progress so particularly unfortunate that they had to be replaced by others in later editions. One would have supposed that Mr. Mill might have based an induction on this circumstance, especially as it is his avowed principle that, if the conclusion of an induction turns out false, it cannot have been a good induction. Nevertheless, neither he nor any of his scholars seem to have been led to suspect, in the least, the perfect solidity of the framework which he devised for securely supporting the mind in its passage from the known to the unknown, although at its first trial it did not answer quite so well as had been expected.

 
IV.

When we have drawn any statistical induction—such, for instance, as that one-half of all births are of male children—it is always possible to discover, by investigation sufficiently prolonged, a class of which the same predicate may be affirmed universally; to find out, for instance, to what sort of births are of male children. The truth of this principle follows immediately from the theorem that there is a character peculiar to every possible group of objects. The form in which the principle is usually stated is, that every event must have a cause.

But, though there exists a cause for every event, and that of a kind which is capable of being discovered, yet if there be nothing to guide us to the discovery; if we have to hunt among all the events in the world without any scent; if, for instance, the sex of a child might equally be supposed to depend on the configuration of the planets, on what was going on at the antipodes, or on anything else—then the discovery would have no chance of ever getting made.

That we ever do discover the precise causes of things, that any induction whatever is absolutely without exception, is what we have no right to assume. On the contrary, it is an easy corollary, from the theorem just referred to, that every empirical rule has an exception. But there are certain of our inductions which present an approach to universality so extraordinary that, even if we are to suppose that they are not strictly universal truths, we cannot possibly think that they have been reached merely by accident. The most remarkable laws of this kind are those of time and space. With reference to space, Bishop Berkeley first showed, in a very conclusive manner, that it was not a thing seen, but a thing inferred. Berkeley chiefly insists on the impossibility of directly seeing the third dimension of space, since the retina of the eye is a surface. But, in point of fact, the retina is not even a surface; it is a conglomeration of nerve-needles directed toward the light and having only their extreme points sensitive, these points lying at considerable distances from one another compared with their areas. Now, of these points, certainly the excitation of no one singly can produce the perception of a surface, and consequently not the aggregate of all the sensations can amount to this. But certain relations subsist between the excitations of different nerve-points, and these constitute the premises upon which the hypothesis of space is founded, and from which it is inferred. That space is not immediately perceived is now universally admitted; and a mediate cognition is what is called an inference, and is subject to the criticism of logic. But what are we to say to the fact of every chicken as soon as it is hatched solving a problem whose data are of a complexity sufficient to try the greatest mathematical powers? It would be insane to deny that the tendency to light upon the conception of space is inborn in the mind of the chicken and of every animal. The same thing is equally true of time. That time is not directly perceived is evident, since no lapse of time is present, and we only perceive what is present. That, not having the idea of time, we should ever be able to perceive the flow in our sensations without some particular aptitude for it, will probably also be admitted. The idea of force—at least, in its rudiments—is another conception so early arrived at, and found in animals so low in the scale of intelligence, that it must be supposed innate. But the innateness of an idea admits of degree, for it consists in the tendency of that idea to present itself to the mind. Some ideas, like that of space, do so present themselves irresistibly at the very dawn of intelligence, and take possession of the mind on small provocation, while of other conceptions we are prepossessed, indeed, but not so strongly, down a scale which is greatly extended. The tendency to personify every thing, and to attribute human characters to it, may be said to be innate; but it is a tendency which is very soon overcome by civilized man in regard to the greater part of the objects about him. Take such a conception as that of gravitation varying inversely as the square of the distance. It is a very simple law. But to say that it is simple is merely to say that it is one which the mind is particularly adapted to apprehend with facility. Suppose the idea of a quantity multiplied into another had been no more easy to the mind than that of a quantity raised to the power indicated by itself—should we ever have discovered the law of the solar system?

It seems incontestable, therefore, that the mind of man is strongly adapted to the comprehension of the world; at least, so far as this goes, that certain conceptions, highly important for such a comprehension, naturally arise in his mind; and, without such a tendency, the mind could never have had any development at all.

How are we to explain this adaptation? The great utility and indispensableness of the conceptions of time, space, and force, even to the lowest intelligence, are such as to suggest that they are the results of natural selection. Without something like geometrical, kinetical, and mechanical conceptions, no animal could seize his food or do anything which might be necessary for the preservation of the species. He might, it is true, be provided with an instinct which would generally have the same effect; that is to say, he might have conceptions different from those of time, space, and force, but which coincided with them in regard to the ordinary cases of the animal's experience. But, as that animal would have an immense advantage in the struggle for life whose mechanical conceptions did not break down in a novel situation (such as development must bring about), there would be a constant selection in favor of more and more correct ideas of these matters. Thus would be attained the knowledge of that fundamental law upon which all science rolls; namely, that forces depend upon relations of time, space, and mass. When this idea was once sufficiently clear, it would require no more than a comprehensible degree of genius to discover the exact nature of these relations. Such an hypothesis naturally suggests itself but it must be admitted that it does not seem sufficient to account for the extraordinary accuracy with which these conceptions apply to the phenomena of Nature, and it is probable that there is some secret here which remains to be discovered.

 
V.

Some important questions of logic depend upon whether we are to consider the material universe as of limited extent and finite age, or quite boundless in space and in time. In the former case, it is conceivable that a general plan or design embracing the whole universe should be discovered, and it would be proper to be on the alert for some traces of such a unity. In the latter case, since the proportion of the world of which we can have any experience is less than the smallest assignable fraction, it follows that we never could discover any pattern in the universe except a repeating one; any design embracing the whole would be beyond our powers to discern, and beyond the united powers of all intellects during all time. Now, what is absolutely incapable of being known is, as we have seen in a former paper, not real at all. An absolutely incognizable existence is a nonsensical phrase. If, therefore, the universe is infinite, the attempt to find in it any design embracing it as a whole is futile, and involves a false way of looking at the subject. If the universe never had any beginning, and if in space world stretches beyond world without limit, there is no whole of material things, and consequently no general character to the universe, and no need or possibility of any governor for it. But if there was a time before which absolutely no matter existed, if there are certain absolute bounds to the region of things outside of which there is a mere void, then we naturally seek for an explanation of it, and, since we cannot look for it among material things, the hypothesis of a great disembodied animal, the creator and governor of the world, is natural enough.

The actual state of the evidence as to the limitation of the universe is as follows: As to time, we find on our earth a constant progress of development since the planet was a red-hot ball; the solar system seems to have resulted from the condensation of a nebula, and the process appears to be still going on. We sometimes see stars (presumably with systems of worlds) destroyed and apparently resolved back into the nebulous condition, but we have no evidence of any existence of the world previous to the nebulous stage from which it seems to have been evolved. All this rather favors the idea of a beginning than otherwise. As for limits in space, we cannot be sure that we see anything outside of the system of the milky-way. Minds of theological predilections have therefore no need of distorting the facts to reconcile them with their views.

But the only scientific presumption is, that the unknown parts of space and time are like the known parts, occupied; that, as we see cycles of life and death in all development which we can trace out to the end, the same holds good in regard to solar systems; that as enormous distances lie between the different planets of our solar system, relatively to their diameters, and as still more enormous distances lie between our system relatively to its diameter and other systems, so it may be supposed that other galactic clusters exist so remote from ours as not to be recognized as such with certainty. I do not say that these are strong inductions; I only say that they are the presumptions which, in our ignorance of the facts, should be preferred to hypotheses which involve conceptions of things and occurrences totally different in their character from any of which we have had any experience, such as disembodied spirits, the creation of matter, infringements of the laws of mechanics, etc.

The universe ought to be presumed too vast to have any character. When it is claimed that the arrangements of Nature are benevolent, or just, or wise, or of any other peculiar kind, we ought to be prejudiced against such opinions, as being the offspring of an ill-founded notion of the finitude of the world. And examination has hitherto shown that such beneficences, justice, etc., are of a most limited kind—limited in degree and limited in range.

In like manner, if any one claims to have discovered a plan in the structure of organized beings, or a scheme in their classification, or a regular arrangement among natural objects, or a system of proportionality in the human form, or an order of development, or a correspondence between conjunctions of the planets and human events, or a significance in numbers, or a key to dreams, the first thing we have to ask is whether such relations are susceptible of explanation on mechanical principles, and if not they should be looked upon with disfavor as having already a strong presumption against them; and examination has generally exploded all such theories.

There are minds to whom every prejudice, every presumption, seems unfair. It is easy to say what minds these are. They are those who never have known what it is to draw a well-grounded induction, and who imagine that other people's knowledge is as nebulous as their own. That all science rolls upon presumption (not of a formal but of a real kind) is no argument with them, because they cannot imagine that there is anything solid in human knowledge. These are the people who waste their time and money upon perpetual motions and other such rubbish.

But there are better minds who take up mystical theories (by which I mean all those which have no possibility of being mechanically explained). These are persons who are strongly prejudiced in favor of such theories. We all have natural tendencies to believe in such things; our education often strengthens this tendency; and the result is, that to many minds nothing seems so antecedently probable as a theory of this kind. Such persons find evidence enough in favor of their views, and in the absence of any recognized logic of induction they cannot be driven from their belief.

But to the mind of a physicist there ought to be a strong presumption against every mystical theory; and therefore it seems to me that those scientific men who have sought to make out that science was not hostile to theology have not been so clear-sighted as their opponents.

It would be extravagant to say that science can at present disprove religion; but it does seem to me that the spirit of science is hostile to any religion except such a one as that of M. Vacherot. Our appointed teachers inform us that Buddhism is a miserable and atheistical faith, shorn of the most glorious and needful attributes of a religion; that its priests can be of no use to agriculture by praying for rain, nor to war by commanding the sun to stand still. We also hear the remonstrances of those who warn us that to shake the general belief in the living God would be to shake the general morals, public and private. This, too, must be admitted; such a revolution of thought could no more be accomplished without waste and desolation than a plantation of trees could be transferred to new ground, however wholesome in itself, without all of them languishing for a time, and many of them dying. Nor is it, by-the-way, a thing to be presumed that a man would have taken part in a movement having a possible atheistical issue without having taken serious and adequate counsel in regard to that responsibility. But, let the consequences of such a belief be as dire as they may, one thing is certain: that the state of the facts, whatever it may be, will surely get found out, and no human prudence can long arrest the triumphal car of truth—no, not if the discovery were such as to drive every individual of our race to suicide!

But it would be folly to suppose that any metaphysical theory in regard to the mode of being of the perfect is to destroy that aspiration toward the perfect which constitutes the essence of religion. It is true that, if the priests of any particular form of religion succeed in making it generally believed that religion cannot exist without the acceptance of certain formulas, or if they succeed in so interweaving certain dogmas with the popular religion that the people can see no essential analogy between a religion which accepts these points of faith and one which rejects them, the result may very well be to render those who cannot believe these things irreligious. Nor can we ever hope that any body of priests should consider themselves more teachers of religion in general than of the particular system of theology advocated by their own party. But no man need be excluded from participation in the common feelings, nor from so much of the public expression of them as is open to all the laity, by the unphilosophical narrowness of those who guard the mysteries of worship. Am I to be prevented from joining in that common joy at the revelation of enlightened principles of religion, which we celebrate at Easter and Christmas, because I think that certain scientific, logical, and metaphysical ideas which have been mixed up with these principles are untenable? No; to do so would be to estimate those errors as of more consequence than the truth—an opinion which few would admit. People who do not believe what are really the fundamental principles of Christianity are rare to find, and all but these few ought to feel at home in the churches.

 
Rule Segment - Span - 40px.svg Rule Segment - Span - 40px.svg Rule Segment - Flare Left - 12px.svg Rule Segment - Span - 5px.svg Rule Segment - Circle - 6px.svg Rule Segment - Span - 5px.svg Rule Segment - Flare Right - 12px.svg Rule Segment - Span - 40px.svg Rule Segment - Span - 40px.svg
  1. For the present purpose, the negative of a character is to be considered as much a character as the positive, for a uniformity may either be affirmative or negative. I do not say that no distinction can be drawn between positive and negative uniformities.
  2. There being 5 simple characters, with their negatives, they could be compounded in various ways so as to make 241 characters in all, without counting the characters existence and non-existence, which make up 243 or 35.
  3. This principle was, I believe, first stated by Mr. De Morgan.