IV. THE PERIOD FROM LAPLACE TO THE PRESENT
Idea of IN the age of Newton it may be truly said the gre
from the principle of cosinical order and unity of worlds coul
discoverim by no means be held to have been completely estab1i8hed or demonstrated, however perceptible to he eye of philosophical analogy. The broad idea might" have been seized upon by some few of great compre ~ hensive and contemplative genius; but the full de e , lopment and detailed proof of the truth could not be~ said to have been attained or accomplished, even in. regard to our system, till the researches of Clairault: had removed the obvious outstanding difficulties of the, lunax theory; and the grand truths deduced theoreti~" cally from one and the same great principle of gravi ~ Stability of tation, announced by Laplace and Lagrange, ha4; the plane reduced the planetary inequalities to fixed order; an
by demonstrating that they must be all periodic
FSSAY 1. tV.] S19CCFSSORS OF NEWTON. 143
assured the perpetual stability of the system, so that its very irregularities are all regular, its aberrations recur in successive cycles, its deviations are but oscillations, 11 Immense pendulums of eternity," says Pontecoulant, 11 which beat ages as ours beat seconds! "
The great importance of the discovery of the stability of the solar system " cannot be too highly estimated, whether in regard to its scientific magnitude and difficulty, or to its essential bearing on the principle of 11 Cosmos," from the disastrous consequences which would result from the accumulative effects of secular (or non periodic) irregulaxities. I cannot better sum up the subject than in the concluding words of a passage in which the first historian of astronomy in our age gives the most condensed, yet luminous, detailed and masterly, yet clear and popular, abstract of the entire investigation: 11 The laws which thus regulate the eccentricities and inclinations of the planetary orbits, combined with the invariability of the mean distances, secure the permanence of the solar system throughout an indeflnite lapse of ages, and offer to us an impressive indication of the supreme intelligence which presides
6~ ments." I
philosophy and scepticism.
over nature, and perpetuates her beneficent arrange;;"'
The great and rapid advances made in the mathe ', matical and physical sciences, in France, during the latter part of the eighteenth and beginning of the,, present century, have been universally acknowledge1 But it was also notoriously the fact 'that almost simultaneously an extensive profession of scepticism" in religion, and even of atheism, took place in that,"' country. It is, however, abundantly evident that the great majority of those writers who advocate& irreligious principles were not mathematicians 'or physical philosophers, but men of literature, metaphysiciani; and politicians. Nevertheless it has been the practice with some poxties indiscriminately to set down all the astronomers and men ~of science in France as Atheists, and to. allege as the ground that in their mathematical and scientific writings they' Omitted all reference to theological considerations, ',, a charge to which its absurdity affords a sufficient', reply.
I Grant's 11 History of Physical Astronomy," London, 1852, P. 56~, I am glad to take this opportunity of acknowledging how much I am' indebted to this masterly work in many parts of the present sketch.
ESSAY 1. § IV.] LAPLACE.
A scientific treatise on any branch, even if it be' one which affords the most striking evidences of order and design, is perfectly complete without alluding to that inference; and when the reader cannot but make that inference it is infinitely stronger in proportion as it does not appear to have been specially contemplated in the method of argument, or urged upon him by the author.
The French writers on science have been remarkable for preserving clearly and justly this division and distinction of departments. , And when we add the consideration that most of these works were produced under the profession of the Roman Catholic faith, which has always reposed on a basis independent of reasoning or evidence, which it even repudiates as inevitably leading to unbelief, we have a sufficient explanation (were it needed) of the omission of reflections or arguments of a theological kind in works devoted to mathematical and aafronomical calculation or physical research., It has been a peculiarly protestant prejudice to be everywhere looking for arguments and proofs in support of faith; and might easily be construed into a confession of its weakness.
0MINdon (if firw 9GUM no 4dw In 1"".
111STORICA.L SKETCH. [ESSAY T § TV
Views of To take a single instance: Laplace has been
commented on with a marked expression of re (in the review of his great work by Playfairl) be ill,
ounding the grand principle of the!'
cause in exp stability of the planetary system, and the remarkable combinations of conditions in the orbits and masses~,,~, on which it depends5 he did not make the slighte6.. ) reference to final causes; c the only blemish," thd~, critic observes 46 we have to remark in his admirable' work." The omission, he admits, might have arise from supposed irrelevancy to the immediate subjectil, or the like motives; but he adds his own convicti that it would have been but a legitimate subject inquiry, as to these conditions, 11 whether any planation of them can be given, and whether not referable to a mechanical cause, they may n be ascribed to intelligence." This sentence exhibits at once a proof of the depth," the impression alluded to even in such a mind as of Playfair; and an indication of the influence of w in the present state of the inquiry, must be see be merely the old and narrow prejudice of opp,
Playfair's Works, iv. 319 ; or Edinb. Rev. vol. xi. 1808.
Essay 1. § IV.] LAPLACE.
mechanical causes to intelligence. If the arrange. ments alluded to could be shown to be the results of sti 11 higher mechanical causes, it would but furnish a still higher proof of intelligence instead of being antagonistic to it; mechanism is the very exponent of mind. It has been so often repeated as to be generally believed that this omission of reference to Divine design in the work of Laplace was objected by Napoleon to the author; who simply replied, 11 1 had. no need to adopt that hypothesis; " in fact the most truly philosophical answer, since to adopt it would have been preposterously to found science on faith.
Laplace in his 11 Essai Philosophique sur les Probabilit6s" (1795) has entered at large into the disaw cussion of testimony as applied to extraordinary and supposed supernatural events. The calculation of the value of te stimany as an abstract point, is of course easily reducible to mathematical expressions. It is, however, only in reference to the consideration of alleged events so intrinsically improbable that Do testimony can counterbalance their abstraot incredibility, that he refers incidentally to the constancy of the laws of nature as a paramount law of belief.' ffi
and the Ow pernatuat
EssA,Y 1. § IV.] LAPLACE.
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [Es. . I. ~ ~
afterwards instances the miracles of the holy thorn at port Royal, a ad laments the credulity of such men as Racine and Pascal in asserting them; and o Locke in maintaining generally, supernatural interposition, when he believed the necessity for it would
render it credible.
He goes into some other considerations
as to the
necessary weakening of all testimony and destruction of records with the progress of time, and mentions the singular conclusion of the able but eccentric English mathematician Craig 1, who, in applying calculation to the evidences of Christianity, inferred that the world would end when the probability f the truth of Christianity should in this way become exhausted as it were by old age, a period which his calculation fixes in A.D. 3150.
In Laplace's views it is remarkable how entirely the calculating mind of the great mathematician fixes, itself almost exclusively on the value of testimony.,'~ He does not put forth in due prominence the broa& principle of universal order and physical constancy,` which afford so far higher a ground from whence to,!,,~,
I Essai, . &e. p. 85. His singular work is entitled "Theologim Christianx Principia, Mathernatica," 1699.
view the whole question; a principle which he had himself borne so conspicuous a share in establishing, and of which the same essay I contains some remark Nebwar able illustrations in sketches of his cosmical specula theory. tions. The motions of all the planets, rings, and satellites (those of Uranus being then undetermined), both orbital and rotatory, in one direction, and nearly in one plane, and with orbits of very small eccentricity, compared especially with the case of comets, where opposite conditions prevail, form a continuous system of effects, which could only be due to one distinct primitive cause.
Hence he reasoned, especially from the combined considerations of the nebulous zodiacal light mass, and the internal heat of the earth, to the conception of the nebular theory, and the idea that in the process of consolidation the common impulse may have been communicated. Such an hypothesis, however conjectural, was of course set down by many as nothing less than a deliberate system of atheism.
In like manner it has been generally stated that many of the other eminent French astronomers,
I Essai, &e. p. 118, ed. 1814; more fully in his "Expos. du Syst6rnr du Monde."
HISTORICAL SKETCH.[ESSAY 1. 1 1W.
mathematicians, and physicists, about the period in
question, adopted irreligious views; in many 'inA~
stances, on little evidence beyond such as has b
just described. Al k
Yet, in some cases, the charge was certainly better,"" justified. . The astronomer Lalande is ssaid ttoo hhav declared that W the heavens he could find no trace'.~, of a Deity; though this is after all no more than'o has been asserted by many theologians.'
Lalande was, however, undeniably the friend find associate of Voltaire; and with other men of science joined in the work of the celebrated "Encyclo.', pedia," among whom one of the most eminent was, D'Alembert.
The indications which this transcendent mathe,; matician gave of his sceptical views in religion,~ appear almost entirely in his correspondence; an they would seem to have been rather of that clast dependent on general estimation of moral evidene" than on any positive physical generalisation. R intimate friend, the Abb6 La Harpe, has describ his ideas summarily by saying, 11 He only thoug
I See 11 Oxford Essays," No. v. 1857
. ESSAY L § TV.] DALEMBERT.
41 the probabilities were in favour of theism, and 11 against revelation. . . . He tolerated all opinions; cc and this disposition made him think the intolerable
arrogance of the atheists odious and unbearable. I do not think he ever printed a sentence which marks either hatred or contempt of religion."
But we must fairly view the opinions of such men on theoloo, cal subjects as having been framed with
,reference to the narrow dogmatic creed professed
among their contemporaries, and under a dominant ecclesiastical system, against which they felt a not unreasonable hostility, and as having probably little (relation to any higher conceptions.
At this particulax conjuncture too there were
other and far more stirring causes in operation to produce a violent revulsion of opinions than those merely due to calm philosophical speculation, and
into the vortex of which men of science were sometimes drawn rather in spite of their philosophy than in consequence of it.
The indirect influence of advancing conceptions of Indirect influence
the,grand principle of the uniformity of nature, and of physical views.
the indissoluble chain of physical causes, has mani
fested itself occasionally inmore enlarged minds not
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSLY 1. 04
habitually directed to physical pursuits; and whe*
we find indications of such ideas in the writings a classical and philosophical historian, we In nevertheless regret a tendency not sufficiently' discriminate between the legitimate view of physicA, order and the independence of spiritual truth, whieLl
04 indeed, the accepted theology of past ages tended 41' confound together.
The following expressions of Gibbon will exempli this remark: 11 The laws of nature were frequentl suspended for the benefit of the Church." I He also,~, observes in another place, 11 In modern times a latent, 6' and even involuntary, scepticism adheres to the~ 11 most pious dispositions. Their admission of super : 11 natural truths is much less an active consent than a 11 cold and passive obedience. Accustomed long sinc 11 to observe and to respect the invariable order of,, 11 nature, our reason, or at least our imagination,
is" 11 not sufficiently prepared to sustain the visible actim, 11 of the Deity."' i
These expressions, while they convey philosophi convictions of physical causation, imply a want o
I Decline and Fall, ch. xv. vol. li. p. 194, ed. 1825. 2 Ibid. p. 147.
ESSAy xv.] PROGR
ESS OF COMICAL VIEWS. 153
clear discrimination between 11 supernatural truths?' of the spiritual world, and alleged supernatural events in the material, which are wholly distinct.
The beginning of the present century (as before Proveas of
cosmical noticed) witnessed the completion of the triumph of views.
the system of gravitation in solving and reconciling all the seeming anomalies and outstanding difficulties
of the lunar and planetary motions, consummated at the present day, in regard to those of Uranus, by the discovery of an exterior disturbing planet, predicted
by the calculations of Leverrier and Adams, and verified by the telescopes of GaIM and Challis. More minute supplementary enlargements in the details of mutual attractions axe still from time to time demanded, as new and minute inequalities axe
detected, and both observation and theory go on hand in hand continually increasing in precision of
detail and amplification of developement, in that perfect accordance which can alone spring from real sources profoundly seated in the nature of things.
To these riaust be added the extension of the order Extension of grsvitaof our system by the. discovery of new membersi all tion.
obedient to its one law, satellites of Neptune, Sattirn, and Uranus, observed by Lassell and Bond; the
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY 1. *i
whole ring of planetoids circulating in what nkaltl
truly be called a nebulous mass between h b t*~
t e 1T of Jupiter and Mars, all controlled by gravitatio: 7~j now also proved to extend even to the incalculably'~, remote systems of double and multiple stars; and, probably also influencing the motion of the com_",~, ponent parts of nebula , surriaised from their spiraL forms exhibited by the gigantic reflector of Lord, Rosse, and exemplified in our own region by motion of our sun with his attendant system, doubti', less orbital, among the fixed stars, the members of ', our cluster,. a revolution in which those other members all very probably partake.
On our own globe, again, that amid the imme so, complication of conditions which affect the tide. many local points in their theory are as yet inco plete, can neither excite surprise, nor sanction an doubt of the principle.
Besides these grand mechanical laws and theori there are wide fields of inquiry of a more pur physical kind, to which increasing attention is co tinually being devoted, giving rise to an imme multiplication of new investigations, and even,, entire new departments of experimental inquiry.
ESSAY 1. § IV.]
UNM OF NATURE.
The first positive physical evidence of the orbital motion of the earth (from which its rotation is a consequence), obtained from the discovery of the aberration of light of the stars (due to that motion combined with the progressive propagation of light) by Bradley (17271), has been followed out in our own day by the mechanical proofs of its rotation furnished by the ingenious experiments of Foucault (1850 54.)
But in a more extended degree it has been re Connection and conserved to our own times to connect the properly tinuity of sciences.
mechanical views, which reach to the remotest regions of the visible universe, with the study of the physical agencies at work within the range of our experimental knowledge; to prove the propagation of light from the depths of space to our organs by an unvaried succession of inconceivably minute vibrations with direct physical evidence of its velocity; the electricity of comets; the magnetic influence of the sun; to caxry out the vast range of investigations belonging to terrestrial and atmospheric physics, by which even storms are beginning to be reduced to law; above all, to evince the continuity of physical causes through the expanse of past time by geological
ESSAY, 1. § XV I CHEMISTRY. PRIESTLEY. 157
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY 1.
research ; as through the immensity of space by the
extension of stellar and nebular astronomy; throu94
the minutest forms of life by microscopic animalo*s
cular physiology; and through subdivisions infinitel
smaller in the system of atoms, invisible to any~'
microscope by following out the laws of chemidal,
Chemistry Chemistry undeniably took its rise out of thi
and alchemy. labours of the alchemists. Some very rational phil sophers have maintained, on sound principles, th possibility of a change of properties, when so close allied as those which distinguish the metals. B, alchemy was essentially mystical: and the objection it was not that (like the attempts at perpetual inotiow, it aimed at an object, in itself physically absurd impossible, but that it sought that object by mea alien from those of any sound principles of science, it looked to secrets hidden from all but favoure adepts; it appealed to means of success connect with the invisible and supernatural; it hoped accomplish the discovery of truths in nature talismanic agency beyond nature, and to acquAre dominion over matter by the interposition of spi
Hence the incompatibility of such pursuits with real physical progress.
But even after chemistry had emerged from the Phlogliton. dreams of the alchemists, and the ineffectual accumu1~66ns of the empirics, in one of its earlier phases, the theory of Phlogiston furnishes a further exemplification of the predominance of mysticism. . And when eminent men on either side disputed the question, the point peculiarly to be noticed was the fundamental deficiency of any idea of what Phlogiston was suppo8ed to be. We properly talk of electricity, of gravitation, or even of wther, as physical agents, whose nature is indeed unknown, but which are precisely definable in their effects; but Phlogiston, no one of its advocates could define even by its properties. It was simply an instance of the lingering dominion of mysticism over science, which the progress of induction was not yet sufficiently developed to cast off.
I In connection with chemistry, we cannot omit the Priestley. name of Priestley, who was at once one of the most distinguished extenders of the boundaries of the science, and also remarkable for the boldness of his theological opinions. His intellectual character was, however, marked by extraordinary singularity and
[EssAy 1. I'li.
inconsistency: " nemo unquam sic impax sibi"' ln4 with truth be applied to him. His science ap
to have been as little consistent with itself as bb
theology. He made the grandest advances in pn
matic chemistry, and may be said even to
created the science, yet he firmly believed ii
Phlogiston and upheld it against advancing eviden*
In theology, he attacked Gibbon, and denoun
Hume, with the most orthodox animosity as
champion of Christianity, while he disowned most
its received doctrines; he believed in propheci
but rejected mysteries; he saw in the events
modern Europe the fulfilment of the predictions
the Old Testament, yet explained away the doctf.
of the New; he rejected the divinity of Christ,
devoutly expected his real bodily return to reign
eaxth 1 ; such incoherencies of genius are, howe
Origin of We before noticed the degree to which the spe
geology. lations of antiquity, relative to geological or cos
gonical ques ons, were mixed up with mytholo
I See Lord Brougham's Is Lives of Men of Literature and Scie
pp. 413, 419, 42:3.
EssAy 1, § iv.] PROGRESS OF GEOLOGY.
visions. And it has been seen to how great an extent, even in more modern times, the whole progress of investigation on this subject has been beset by hindrances, arising out of theological views; rather, we might almost say, the science of geology has emanated out of certain points of theological belief, for which men thought they had found proofs in physical facts which, however, they had entirely misinterpreted. By slow degrees, and in full and constant antagonism to such prepossessions, has the free and real interpretation of those facts struggled and fought its way to acceptance.
In earlier times, the few bolder inquirers who mystical views.
ventured to use their own understanding, and to appeal independently to inductive evidence, yet always thought it necessary to pay homage to the prejudices of the day, by assuming a tone.of apologetic respect; while the many who pursued such speculations did so solely in a spirit of entire subserviency to the received creed, and on the avowed principle of valuing every discovery as it seemed to support that creed, and suppressing or distorting it if it seemed of contrary tendency. We have before adverted to some instances of this kind; but among
160 HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY L
these we have also acknowledged the more independent researches of a few. Thus, following in the steps', of Lister, Hooke, and Leibnitz, we find at a la*,1 period Michell, and some few others, but more pre o I
eminently Hutton, standing forth on the same high',,., philosophical ground. Such men, labouring on such,"' principles, could not fail to encounter the full force of hostile prejudice which was engendere y t
continual existence of the same bigoted s i t unde, Protestantism which had displayed itself uDd
Romanism; with only this difference, that in the' former case it is more inexcusable, as being more,!' preposterously inconsistent with a system wholly" founded on free inquiry. The Romanists oppose&, the motion of the earth as contrary to the dogma
an infallible Church; the Protestants denounced i antiquity as contrary to the infallibility of t,, Hebrew Scriptures. In neither case, however, coul these erroneous ideas be dispelled but by the ad vance of better perceptions of the distinct n
A + Of science and of Christia
provinces an Obi
of physical and of spiritual truth.
It is, however, undeniable that by fax the gre
geological body of English writers on these subjects, even do., writers.
ESSAi L § IV.] PROGRESS OF GEOLOGY. 16t
to our own times, when they did enter on any real physical investigation, evinced a complete subserviency to theological ideas, though framing hypotheses, or even professedly investigating. facts on principles supposed to be philosophical. They assumed the Scripture narrative as literal revealed truth, and then sought confirmation of it in natural facts; while yet they would only allow those facts to be interpreted in conformity to Scripture! Yet such has been the infatuation from the days of Whiston and Catcott down to. those who in more recent times have cultivated geology on principles which they founded on faith and yet called them science.
The evidence of the true influence and progress Pure in
ductivp of philosophical principles in this grand department principles
Of foreign of science grand in itself but more transcendently geologists so in relation to the 11 Cosmos," as carrying back the dominion of physical law through the abysses of past time, in its earlier stages, was found where perhaps we illight least have looked for it among the Italian writers. The mantle of Galileo descended in some measure on Vallisneri and Moro, and more amply on Ge nerelli, though a Carmelite monk. The two former adopted perfectly rational theories, as far as
I See Lyell's 11 Principles of GeologY," ch. ii
TITSTORICIL SKETCH. [EssAy L 1 *4
they went, of the causes of geological phenome:, then known (1721 1746). Yet Moro tried tc his views to the six days, but GenereWs " Illustr tions of Moro' (1749) display the true philosophil", spirit. He protests, in the first instance, against tIX4 introduction of supernatural agency, and undertak to explain the phenomena c, without violence, without fiction, without hypothesis, and witho miracles." How these Italian philosophers escaped the In sition it is difficult to imagine, especially as the far" less bold speculations of Buffon brought ddoown o him the visitation of the Sorbonne, and necessitated
Recent influence on the English school.
EssAx 1. 0.3 PROGRESS'OF GEOLOOY.
However, we here perceive perhaps the first gr4"" advance in true philosophical ideas of geology, an, the anticipation and prototype of the real inductiv independent views of Hutton, and Lyell, und the vivifying influence of whose principles the Engli school of geologists is but now beginning to cast the lingering remnants of its hereditary bondage, mystical paroxysms, occasional recurrences of ch
and creation, subversions and renewals of the order of nature, and miraculous originations of new species out of nothing: In a word, the spirit of invoking the supernatural to cover our ignorance of natural causes, and then ungratefully discarding its aid whenever natural causes are found sufficient.
Such tendencies in English cultivators of science their continental fellow labourers have been too polite to ridicule otherwise than by justly boasting their own freedom from 11 semitic influences."
But so wide has the diffusion of a knowledge of geology now become, that the juster view of the case is beginning to be extensively appreciated, and perhaps even more eagerly taken up among thinking and inquiring men, though not practical geologists, who have brought unprepossessed minds to the examination of the subject.
The advance of information on such points is forcibly illustrated in the deeply instructive narrative of Prof. F. W. Newman', who relates his surprise, at, an early stage of his progress, on hearing Dr. Arnold declare the narrative of the Deluge to be mythical,
I rbases of Faitb, p. 110, Ist ed.
HISTORICAL SKETCH. (ESSAY 1. 1 m
and the Mosaic cosmogony to be of no real impor~
tance to the Christian faith. Indeed in the existing;~,
state of opinions, from the extensive consequeneek,
entailed, affecting the entire popular conception
the design and application of Scripture, the diffusiorr
of such views must eventually create an epoch in
theology hardly less marked than that of the Refor
Cosmical The progress of cometary astronomy has been al ,
comets. ready noticed as destructive of the superstitious no.`~,
tions associated with those bodies in earlier times, and
even down to a later period; but at the present day.
more important are the contemplations opened to us
by the view of such vast aerial substances of a diffuse,
consistence, still retaining coherence and obeying the
law of planetary motion, when even far beyond the,
utmost limits of our system, where, nevertheless, sol
gravitation is thus proved to extend; many of the
being also drawn into our system from incalculabl",
depths of space: while, as to their vast number
(more than 200 having orbits calculated,) we m6#
well agoree with Kepler, that there are 11 as many
I See ~, Christianity without Judaism."
'ESSAY 1. § rV.] NE13ULAR THEORY.
the universe, as fishes in the sea." Such reflection$ cannot fail to exalt our conception of the enormous powers existing in nature, but in all their vastness still controlled by the supremacy of law, order, and mind.
The study of these remarkable bodies is not un connection with nebuconnected with more theoretical views of cosmical lar theory. arrangements. They have been regarded as the remaining representatives of the older nebulous state of things, which has passed away by the gradual condensation of matter originally in this form, into solid planets, from which these highly rarefied portions of the original mass have escaped. Yet these bodies, whose fittest terrestrial representation may be found in the assemblage of 11 gay motes which people the sunbeams," occupy vast spaces, the tails of some of them stretching over the whole extent of planetary distances: again, we observe the zodiacal light mass filling the entire area of the eartYs orbit:
the singular system of nebulous planetary comets of short periods, of which five members with aphelion distances ranging only a little beyond the orbit of Jupiter, have now been verified; and whose mean distance so remarkably coincides with that of the planetoids; of these latter probably vast numbers
HISTORICAL SKETCH. CEESAY 1.
exist; every successive application of higher We ', scopic power rendering more of them visible though,%
:T doubtless the mass are below all possible visibilityl,', we have also those innumerable multitudes of me~,',' teoric bodies, which axe so probably conceived to", revolve in rings aggregated in more truly nebulous masses, and yet regulax members of the cosmical:", group, occasionally attracted to the earth: phe v nomena which all tend to carry our thoughts back~'~ to the period when the solid planets the larger of them of so small density may have been consolidated out of the nebulous mass into which the primitive heat had vaporised all cosmical matter, in,", which all kinds of thermal and electric agencies
poducing opposing motions would by consequence, r generate rotations; a state of heat of which ourl~ , earth at least still exhibits the effects in its cooled',~ crust and its internal fusion, at such depths as freely admit of its occasional manifestation at, the surface.
Speculations founded on these principl ~s are of course hypothetical; but guided by just aualogies,~ theytend to connect ourview of the present with' the past, and afford a uniting link between urano " graphy and the past history of the earth disclosed by geology.
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