Wednesday, 20 February 2013

SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM. I.

THE DRIFT OF MODERN THOUGHT.

 SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM.
I.

It would be difficult to name two men who, in reference to the questions at issue between religion and science as to the limits of their respective domains, are better fitted adequately to represent the two sides than Professor Tyndall and the Rev. James Martineau. . . .
These two men, eminent each in his own sphere, have more than once crossed swords in argument.  When Professor Tyndall was venturous enough in his celebrated Belfast address, after asserting the independence of science from theological restraints, to make that memorable raid of his into the theologians own domain and to cross "the boundary of the experimental evidence" into the speculative region beyond, the ablest and most damaging reply to his arguments was that given by Mr. Martineau, in his capacity of principal of a theological college, the Manchester New College, London. His address was afterwards published under the title of "Religion as Affected by Modern Materialism." In a paper in which Professor Tyndall subsequently replied to his critics in the pages of the Fortnightly Review, he specially referred to this address as one to which his attention had been "directed by several estimable, and indeed eminent, persons as demanding serious consideration" at his hands. He then proceeded to give a definite reply to this address, and as he considered that Mr. Martineau had not distinctly and correctly apprehended the doctrines which he assailed, Dr. Tyndall sets out in his reply, with great vividness of illustration, the principle of scientific materialism as he holds it. The statement thus made has been commented upon by Mr. Martineau in two papers in successive issues of the Contemporary Review, entitled "Modern Materialism : Its Attitude towards Theology," and we cannot place before our readers the two sides of this important debate more thoroughly than by giving the leading points in the arguments of these two most capable disputants. We commence with the paper of Professor Tyndall as first in order of time, and shall deal similarly with that of his opponent in a future issue.

Professor Tyndall begins by some strictures on the cosmogonies still taught by the clergy, and the manner in which their teachings often either ignore the demonstrated facts of science or flatly contradict them. At the same time, he brings into prominence the utterances of several liberal men among the clergy who had given thorough and cordial recognition to the advanced conceptions that have been developed from recent researches in most important fields of scientific inquiry. But he reserves his strength for the discussion of the criticisms put forward by Mr. Martineau. He quotes some sentences in which Mr. Martineau states his position and observes, "Alpine summits must kindle above the mountaineer who reads these stirring words; I see their beauty and feel their life." Indeed, on some most important points, though he is compelled to disavow "knowledge," his "feelings" and those of Mr. Martineau are, he thinks, very much alike. But "when I attempt to give the Power which I see manifested in the Universe an objective form, personal or otherwise, it slips away from me, declining all intellectual manipulation. I dare not, save poetically, use the pronoun 'He' regarding it ; I dare not call it a 'Mind ;' I refuse to call it even a 'Cause.' Its mystery over shadows me ; but it remains a mystery, while the objective frames, which my neighbours try to make it fit, simply distort and desecrate it."

Farther on, he deals with the contention of Mr. Martineau that the materialist, in pretending to evolve the universe from mere matter, is always, as he proceeds, investing matter with new and needful attributes according to the exigencies of his theory, "It is easy travelling through the stages of such an hypothesis ; you deposit at your bank a round sum ere you start, and, drawing on it piecemeal at every pause, complete your grand tour without a debt"
In reply to this, Dr. Tyndall says :—
"Our first effort must be to understand each other, and this mutual understanding can only be ensured by beginning low down. Physically speaking, however, we need not go below the sea level. Let us then travel in company to the Caribbean Sea, and halt upon the heated water. What is that sea, and what is the sun which heats it! Answering for myself, I say that they are both matter. I fill a glass with the sea-water and expose it on the deck of the vessel ; after some time the liquid has all disappeared, and left a solid residue of salts in the glass behind. We have mobility, invisibility apparent annihilation. In virtue of
'Tho glad and secret aid 
The sun unto tho ocean paid'
the water has taken to itself wings and flown off as vapour. From the whole surface of the Caribbean Sea such vapour is rising : and now we most follow it—not upon our legs, however, nor in a ship, nor even in a balloon, but by the mind's eye—in other words, by that power of Vorstellung which Mr. Martineau knows so well, and which he so justly scorns when it indulges in loose practices.

"Compounding, then, the northward motion of the vapour with the earth's axial rotation, we track our fugitive through the higher atmospheric regions, obliquely across the Atlantic Ocean to Western Europe, and on to our familiar Alps. Here another wonderful metamorphosis occurs. Floating on the cold calm air, and in presence of the cold firmament, the vapour condenses, not only to particles of water, but to particles of crystalline water. These coalesce to stars of snow, which fall upon the mountains In forms so exquisite that, when first seen, they never fail to excite rapture. As to beauty, indeed, they put the work of the lapidary to shame, while as to accuracy they render concrete the abstractions of the geometer. Are these crystals 'matter ?' Without presuming to dogmatise, I answer for myself in the affirmative.
"Still, a formative power has obviously here come into play which did not manifest itself in either the liquid or the vapour. The question now is, Was not the power 'potential' in both of them, requiring only proper conditions of temperature to bring it into action? Again I answer for myself in the affirmative. .... I think it probable that, after a full discussion of the question, Mr. Martineau would agree with me in ascribing the building power displayed in the crystal to the bits of water themselves. .... But then what an astonishing addition is here made to tho powers of matter ! Who would have dreamt, without actually seeing its work, that such a power was locked up in a drop of water? All that we needed to make the action of the liquid intelligible was the assumption of Mr. Martineau's 'homogeneous extended atomic solids' smoothly gliding over one another. But had we supposed the water to be nothing more than this, we should have ignorantly defrauded it of an intrinsic architectural power, which the art of man, even when pushed to its utmost degree of refinement, is incompetent to imitate. I would invite Mr. Martineau to consider how inappropriate his figure of a fictitious bank deposit becomes under these circumstances."

Dr. Tyndall proceeds to examine the phenomena of vegetable life, and says :
"A Sunday or two ago I stood under an oak planted by Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna. On the ground near the tree little oaklets were successfully fighting for life with the surrounding vegetation. The acorns had dropped into the friendly soil, and this was the result of their interaction. What is the acorn ? what the earth ? and what the sun, without whose heat and light the tree could not become a tree, however rich the soil,and however healthy the seed? I answer for myself as before—all ' matter.' And the heat and light which here play so potent a part are acknowledged to be motions of matter. By taking something much lower down in the vegetable kingdom than the oak, we might approach much more nearly to the case of crystallisation already discussed, but this is not now necessary.
"If, instead of conceding the sufficiency of matter here, Mr. Martineau should fly to the hypothesis of a vegetative soul, all the questions before asked in relation to the snow star become pertinent. I would invite him to go over them one by one, and consider what replies he will make to them. He may retort by asking me 'Who infused the principle of life into the tree ?' I say in answer that our present question is not this, but another—not who made the tree, but what is it ? Is there anything besides matter in the tree? It so, what, and where? Mr. Martineau may have begun by this time to discern that it is not 'picturesqueness,' but cold precision, that my Vorstellungs-fahigkeit demands. How, I would ask, is this vegetative soul to be presented to the mind ; where did it flourish before the tree grew, and what will become of it when the tree is sawn into planks, or consumed in fire ?
" Possibly Mr. Martineau may consider the assumption of this soul to be as untenable and as useless as I do. But then if the power to build a tree be conceded to pure matter, what an amazing expansion of our notions of the 'potency of matter' is implied in the concession ! Think of the acorn, of the earth, and of the solar light and heat— was ever such necromancy dreamt of as the production of that massive trunk, those swaying boughs and whispering leaves, from the interaction of these three factors? In this interaction, moreover, consists what we call life. It will be seen that I am not in the least insensible to the wonder of the tree; nay, I should not be surprised if, in the presence of this wonder, I feel more perplexed and overwhelmed than Mr. Martineau himself.
"Consider it for a moment. There is an experiment, first made by Wheatstone, where the music of a piano is transferred from its sound-board, through a thin wooden rod, across several silent rooms in succession, and poured out at a distance from the instrument The strings of the piano vibrate, not singly, but ten at a time. Every string subdivides, yielding not one note, but a dozen. All these vibrations and subvibrations are crowded together into a bit of deal not more than a quarter of a square inch in section. Yet no note is lost. Each vibration asserts its individual rights; and all are, at last, shaken forth into the air by a second sound-board, against which the distant end of the rod presses. Thought ends in amazement when it seeks to realise the motions of that rod as the music flows through it I turn to my tree and observe its roots, its trunk, its branches, and its leaves. As the rod conveys the music, and yields it up to the distant air, so does the trunk convey the matter and the motion—the shocks and pulses and other vital actions—which eventually emerge in the umbrageous foliage of the tree. I went some time ago through the greenhouse of a friend. He had ferns from Ceylon, the branches of which were in some cases not much thicker than an ordinary pin—hard, smooth, and cylindrical—often leafless for a foot and more. But at the end of every one of them the unsightly twig unlocked the exuberant beauty hidden within it, and broke forth into a mass of fronds, almost large enough to fill the arms. We stand here upon a higher level of the wonderful : we are conscious of a music subtler than that of the piano, passing unheard through these tiny boughs, and issuing in what Mr. Martineau would opulently call the 'clustered magnificence' of the leaves. Does it lessen my amazement to know that every cluster, and every leaf—their form and texture—lie, like the music in the rod, in the molecular structure of these apparently insignificant stems? Not so. Mr. Martineau weeps for 'the beauty of the flower fading into a necessity.' I care not whether it comes to me through necessity or through freedom, my delight in it is all the same. I see what he sees with a wonder superadded. To me as to him—nay, to me more than to him—not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these."

The same reasoning is applied to the world of animal life, and our author proceeds :—

"From this point of view all three worlds would constitute a unity, in which I picture life as immanent everywhere. Nor am I anxious to shut out the idea that the life here spoken of may be but a subordinate part and function of a higher life, as the living, moving blood is subordinate to the living man. I resist no such idea as long as it is not dogmatically imposed. Left for the human mind freely to operate upon, the idea has ethical vitality; but stiffened into a dogma, the inner force disappears, and the outward yoke of a usurping hierarchy takes its place.
" The problem before us is, at all events, capable of definite statement. We have on the one hand strong grounds for concluding that the earth was once a molten mass. We now find it not only swathed by an atmosphere and covered by a sea, but also crowded with living things. The question is, how were they introduced? Certainty may be as unattainable here as Bishop Butler held it to be in matters of religion ; but in the contemplation of probabilities the thoughtful mind is forced to take a side. The conclusion of science, which recognises unbroken causal connexion between the past and the present, would undoubtedly be that the molten earth contained within it elements of life, which grouped themselves into their present forms as the planet cooled. The difficulty and reluctance encountered by this conception arise solely from the fact that the theologic conception obtained a prior footing in the human mind. Did the latter depend upon reasoning alone, it would not hold its ground for an hour against its rival. But it is warmed into life and strength by the emotions—by associated hopes, fears, and expectations—and not only by these, which are more or less mean, but by that loftiness of thought and feeling which lifts its possessor above the atmosphere of self, and which the theologic idea, in its nobler forms, has through ages engendered in noble minds."
"Were not," says Dr. Tyndall, "man's origin implicated, we should accept without a murmur the derivation of animal and vegetable life from what we call inorganic nature. The conclusion of pure intellect points this way and no other. But this purity is troubled by our interests in this life, and by our hopes and fears regarding the life to come." He concludes his article in the words, "the world will have religion of some kind, even though it should fly for it to the intellectual whoredom of 'spiritualism,' What is really wanted is the lifting power of an ideal element in human life. But the free play of this power must be preceded by its release from the torn swaddling bands of the past, and from the practical materialism of the present. It is now in danger of being strangled by the one, or stupefied by the other. I look, however, forward to a time when the strength, insight, and elevation which now visit us in mere hints and glimpses during moments of 'clearness and vigour' shall be the stable and permanent possessions of purer and mightier minds than ours—purer and mightier, partly because of their deeper knowledge of matter and their more faithful conformity to its laws."

The Argus 22 July 1876, 

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