Professor Huxley on Canon Liddon

The Nineteenth Century March 1887

Duke of Argyll

[321] The article by Professor Huxley in the last number of this Review seems to me to challenge some notice both because of its occasion and because of its purport. As regards its occasion, it is avowedly in reply to a passage of a sermon delivered lately in St. Paul's Cathedral. The Pulpit has hitherto enjoyed, not perhaps an absolute, but at least a general and customary, immunity from controversy or reply. It is surely well that this custom should be respected. It is possible, indeed, that criticism from outside might sometimes make preachers more careful, especially in touching upon subjects in which they have no prescription. But considering that their work and calling debar them from pursuing disputation as others can, their immunity is more than counterbalanced by their disabilities in debate, and the presumption is all in favour of the customary abstention from adverse criticism.

In this case the temptation to attack seems to have arisen thus:–In an evening paper of December 8, 1885, there appeared some outline or abstract of a sermon delivered in St. Paul's by one whom, I think, it is not difficult to identify as the greatest living preacher in the Church of England. The passage quoted by Professor Huxley is one touching the old subject of the credibility of miracles. It re-states the argument, which has become familiar, that miracles do not necessarily presuppose any violation of the Laws of Nature. They may be due ‘to the suspension of a lower law by the intervention of a higher.' The Preacher says that ‘every time we lift our arms we defy the laws of gravitation,' and gives some other illustrations of the [322] same idea. He applies the same argument to ‘catastrophes' such as the Flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

This is the argument which has roused Professor Huxley to write an article under the formidable title of ‘Scientific and Pseudo-Scientific Realism,' in which he says a great many things of deep interest, and touches many questions going far beyond the matter in hand. As regards that matter in itself–viz. the credibility of miracles–he repudiates altogether the argument which the Preacher ascribes to Physicists. He denies that they withhold belief from miracles because they are in violation of natural law. He disclaims emphatically the assumption that we know the whole region of natural law, so as to be able to say that any given wonder cannot possibly be wrought by means of some law unknown to us. He rejects absolutely the whole of this line of argument. He rests the withholding or the suspension of belief in miracles wholly and solely on deficiency of evidence; and he even goes out of his way to show that science has now before it some hints, guesses, and surmises on the ultimate constitution of matter, which bring some miracles which are most hard of acceptation within the limits of conceivability and of physical causation.

On this question I believe Professor Huxley's denial to be well founded. The Preacher was answering an objection which has been now generally abandoned. But this abandonment has been the result of controversy and discussion, and is, moreover, of very recent date. Some thirty years ago, and even much more recently, I have seen and heard the old argument urged over and over again, that we do know enough of the laws of nature to be able to pronounce with certainty that the whole class of wonders which are commonly known as miracles are incredible, because they are physically impossible, and because they are such violations of the order of nature as to be not only incredible but even inconceivable. Professor Huxley himself, I can well believe, may never have held this view. His reasoning powers are so strong, and his knowledge is so wide, that in all his writings he indicates his consciousness of the unfathomable possibilities of the system under which we live. But I feel sure that the old fallacy, prevalent among scientific men for several generations, still survives among those whom he would relegate to the 'pseudo-Scientific,' and among others who do not even rise to that rank, but have only a superficial smattering of the doctrines of physical causation. I am sure it would not be safe for a great Preacher addressing popular audiences to treat this old argument with mere contempt. Moreover, the counter-argument which has overthrown it is in itself full of suggestiveness and rich in further applications. It is impossible to think too much of, or to dwell too much in preaching on, the ‘Ignorance of Man,’–on his consciousness of it, when lie is at his best and greatest,–and on all that it implies when contrasted and [323] confronted with his intense desire to know. Although, therefore, the great dome of St. Paul's may have echoed on that occasion with a few earnest sentences which are not applicable to the latest phases of philosophic doubt, such words will never sound in vain so long as they invite us to explore the mysteries of our own Will in contact with the forces which it can bend to Purpose.

Then there is another item in Professor Huxley's criticism to which a somewhat similar comment will apply. The Preacher is quoted as having combined ‘catastrophes' such as the Flood with miracles, as resting on the same basis of defence. Here again science has learned to be more modest, and the prevalent doctrine is less rigid than it was. Lyell's doctrine of ‘bit-by-bit’ action–of the extreme slowness and perfect continuity of all geological changes–is a doctrine which does not hold its head quite so high as it once did. Many years ago, when I had the honour of being President of the British Association,1 I ventured to point out, in the presence and in the hearing of that most distinguished man, that the doctrine of uniformity was not incompatible with great and sudden changes, since cycles of these, and other cycles of comparative rest, might well be constituent parts of that very uniformity which is asserted. Lyell did not object to this extended interpretation of his own doctrine, and indeed expressed to me his entire concurrence. Much more recently I have been led to argue that in denying the possibility of what used to be called ‘catastrophes' we are confounding two very different physical conceptions–one of these being the perfect continuity of causation, the other being a perfect uniformity of results. The first, when properly defined, is certainly true. The second is almost as certainly erroneous. The molecular changes of decay which may go on for centuries in some great structure are perfectly continuous in their operation. But there comes at last some one moment when they eat into the last buttress of support, and. then we have the catastrophe of some great collapse. It was thus that the tower of Chichester Cathedral fell, not many years ago, without any suspicion of the slightest earthquake shock, or of any other external cause, but solely from the effect of a long continuity of changes which had been going on in the supporting masonry during some five hundred years. So it is with the structure of everything which we see around us, and especially of the crust of our own globe. Against sudden subsidences of the surface and corresponding invasions of the sea, there is no presumption whatever arising from the doctrine of the perfect continuity of all physical causation. But I cannot help thinking that the admission of this truth, and the abandonment of extreme views in respect to Lyell's doctrines, has been due to discoveries and discussions comparatively recent.

Professor Huxley, again, does well to remind us that ‘catastrophe’ [324] is a relative conception,' and that it may mean and often does mean some change which, however terrible to us, and of however great apparent magnitude to us, may count in the universe, and even on our own globe, as nothing more than a change on a molecular, or even on an atomic, scale. A subsidence of our dry lands sufficient to submerge the whole habitable portions of them under the ocean would be a change absolutely imperceptible in the outline of our planet even to a very near observer standing on some other body. It is, perhaps, one of the most certain conclusions of Geology that the mountains of Wales and of Scotland have all been under the sea in very recent times–in times so recent that zoologically they belong to the same epoch as that in which we are now living. It seems to have been only one among many changes of level; and science is as yet quite helpless to explain the process, or to specify the cause. We do not know whether it extended beyond the British Islands, although there is strong evidence that it was vastly wider. Neither do we know how suddenly or how slowly it came, nor how suddenly or slowly it passed away. Yet we have evidence that it was very transitory, inasmuch as it clearly passed away before there was time for a marine fauna to establish itself and flourish on the deluged areas. All this would belong essentially to the category of catastrophes if it happened in our time, or even if it only began to happen with a very considerable degree of slowness. So far, therefore, the Preacher was strictly justified when he spoke of a Flood as a catastrophe ‘not violently contrary to our present experience, but only an extension of present (recent) facts.' I do not think the same words could with accuracy be applied to such a catastrophe as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That was more strictly miraculous in its character, because we do not know of any like physical causes operating to the same effect, although they are quite possible and conceivable, as connected with the phenomena of volcanic outbursts.2 However this may be, Professor Huxley disclaims the doctrine that catastrophes of any kind, whether called miraculous or not, are discredited by science merely because they involve a breach of the present order of nature. Science, he declares, ‘has never dreamed dreams of this sort.' On the contrary, he reminds us that science distinctly contemplates as more than possible the close of the existing order on which all life depends. He points out, moreover, and indicates in some detail, the recognised existence and continuous operation of physical causes which make it quite ‘conceivable that man and his works and all the higher forms of animal life should be utterly destroyed, and the earth [325] become a scene of horror which even the lurid fancy of the writer of the Apocalypse would fail to portray.'

So far, then, the Preacher and the Professor are at one, except in so far as the Preacher attributes to science adverse doctrines which one of its greatest exponents declares it never held. With this disclaimer, it would almost seem as if the calumet might have been produced, and the pipe of peace enjoyed. But the Professor is on the war path, and all his frank surrenders and overflowing admissions are made with something more than a touch of scorn. The Preacher may take them, and be welcome. They are offered not for the purpose of closing debate, but, on the contrary, for the purpose of reopening one of the oldest and deepest controversies of the world, in which the Preacher is told that he is taking a side long since supposed to be dead and buried. He talks of ‘laws'–evidently without the least knowledge of what the word means in the vocabulary of modern science. ‘Imagination inspired by scientific reason' is contrasted with imagination ‘merely assuming the airs thereof, as it unfortunately too often does in the pulpit.' The eloquent occupier of that pulpit in St. Paul's is told that ‘the fallacious employment of the names of scientific conceptions pervades his utterance,' and, as the climax of much more to the same effect, he is pelted with names which appear to be considered as more or less opprobrious. He is a ‘Realist.' His conceptions are those of ‘Scholastic Realism–Realism as intense and unmitigated as that of Scotus Erigena a thousand years ago.'

What is all this about? What is this terrible accusation grubbed up from the cobwebs and the dust of centuries? What is it that becomes so manifestly ridiculous and absurd when it is ticketed and labelled with a name almost forgotten for the last five hundred years? What is Realism? If we are to answer this question in the phraseology of the scholastic ages, we should probably answer it in some such words as these: Realism is the doctrine which affirms the ‘Reality of Universals.’ There is not much help here. If we were to answer the question in more modern terms, we might say that Realism is the doctrine that teaches the ‘Reality of Universal Ideas.'3 If we were to clothe our answer in the more cumbrous forms of modern metaphysics, as repeated by Professor Huxley himself, we should say that the ‘Realist holds that the phenomenal world has an objective existence.' But if this jargon strikes us as even less helpful than the older and simpler words, we have the resource afforded by a particular example. The Professor denounces the Preacher as a Realist, because he talks about the ‘Laws' of Nature as if they were' things,' or ‘beings,' or ‘entities.' A law, the Professor tells us, is not a ‘thing.' From this we may conclude that nothing is ‘real' which is not also a ‘thing.' When we push our [326] questions further, and ask what does the Professor mean by a ’thing,' we can come to no other conclusion than that by a ‘thing' he means some bit, or, as it may be, some lump of matter. The bit may be impalpably small like a molecule or an atom, or it may be immensely big like a planet or a sun. But it is a mortal heresy to attach the idea or the name of ‘thing,' or of 'being,' or of ‘entity,' to any abstract conception whatever; there is no reality except in concrete things; all general ideas are unreal. For example, the word ‘vegetable' represents an abstract idea, and therefore has no reality. But a potato is a reality–that is to say, an individual potato–not the idea of potato as a species, still less the botanical genus of which the potato is a species. There is no reality in a genus, nor even in a particular species–but only in the individual potato or onion, which we can handle, boil, and eat. On the same principle, there is no such thing as a Professor or a Preacher. Both of these words represent a general idea–an abstract idea–a Universal; they have no reality; there is only the man Professor Huxley, and the man Canon Liddon; and so, in like manner, I suppose there is no reality in the idea of a sermon from the Pulpit, or of a lecture from the Chair. The only reality, in the one case, is a certain agitation in the air which fills St. Paul's Cathedral when a particular man ascends by a wooden stair to a wooden box, and makes the vocal chords of his organism communicate a vibration to the previously stagnant atmosphere. In this method of representation we have the grand secret of modern science. Any disloyalty to this method, any forgetfulness of it, even for a moment, is mere rebellion against the higher mental achievements of our time. Well; one comfort is that the condemnation is far-reaching. The Preacher may feel sure that if he is to be condemned on this ground, all the world, and perhaps the Professor himself, will be found standing in the dock beside him. In the common use of language, the word ‘thing' in English, and the word ‘res’ in Latin, from which last the very word ‘reality’ comes, are words which the instincts of thought have universally associated both with material objects and with the intellectual conceptions from which they are inseparable. I have the smallest possible confidence in the metaphysical reasonings either of modern professors or of mediaeval scholastics. But I have immense confidence in the profound metaphysics of human speech. 'The unconscious recognitions of identity, of likeness, and of difference, in which that speech abounds, are among the surest of all guides to truth. When I find myself mentally saying to the Professor's axgument, ‘There is nothing in that,' and when I think of him making, perhaps, the same internal comment on my own argument, I cannot escape from the unquestionable fact that we both apply the word 'thing' and ‘nothing' to purely abstract or intellectual conceptions. So much, indeed, do we do so, that it is not without the greatest care [326] and trouble that we can avoid the use of the word, and that when we recognise some truthful idea in any reasoning we say instinctively 'There is something in that,' by which we mean not a physical substance like a potato–not a ‘thing,' like an onion–but some logical inference which is always an abstract idea, and which is emphatically real, not because it is an external object, but because it is a truth. If we are not to be allowed to speak of anything as real unless it has what the new Scholastics call ‘an objective existence,' our discourse will be poor indeed, and our minds will be despoiled of a good deal more than half their furniture. Under this system there is no such a ‘thing' as justice or injustice, cruelty or compassion, truth or falsehood, good or evil. All of these familiar names–representing, as hitherto we have fondly thought, not only realities, but the supreme realities of life and work–all of them are abstract ideas; and it is a mere revival of mysticism to think of them as realities. The words of scorn which are thrown at the head of the Preacher when he speaks of a law of nature as a reality, are equally applicable to every lawyer when he applies similar language to the laws of man. Acts of Parliament are nothing but sheets of paper with certain shapes upon them indicated by printer's ink. They are supposed in England to be read once, twice, thrice, by two separate assemblies of men, and a clerk in one of them speaks the words ‘La Reine le veut,' whereupon the sheet of paper is called a law. But this is a mere abstract idea, and we are all mere ignoramuses when we speak of it as a reality. A policeman is a reality because he has an objective existence, and a judge is a reality because he also is a substance, wears a wig, sits upon a chair, and by the breath of his mouth can get the policeman to carry off a criminal to a prison or the gallows. Out of these concrete things and realities the mind constructs an abstract idea to which it gives the name of law. But modern science knows that law is not a tbing, and not being a thing it can have no reality.

The thousands who crowd St. Paul's Cathedral to listen with instruction and delight to the teaching of its Pulpit need not be in the least disturbed by this far-off thunder from the Chair. On the contrary, it would perhaps be well if, when the sermon is over, they should spend a little time in criticising the lecture. They may do so with all the greater confidence, because, in this case, the Professor does not speak from a chair which is his own. To dispute with Professor Huxley on any question of Biology would, for most of us, be as presumptuous as to dispute with Sir Joshua Reynolds on a question of art, or with Sir Isaac Newton on a question of mathematics. But in problems of metaphysics or philosophy be speaks only with the authority which belongs to an acute and powerful mind when dealing with subjects in which other minds, equally powerful and equally acute, have differed, and do now differ widely. There [328] is no man living who is entitled to speak on behalf of modern science and to declare that it can take no cognisance of anything outside the beggarly elements of the Positive Philosophy. Modern science is a convenient phrase for a vast mass of research and of observation, of reasoning and of reflection, of proof and of speculation. It is preeminently an abstract,–a very abstract idea indeed–yet the Professor handles it as if it were a thing, a reality, a living Oracle, speaking with an audible voice, and speaking always one thing. No bolder exercise of Realism has ever been indulged in by any Schoolman. But if modern science could verily be thus incarnated–if it could be embodied in a person–and subjected to cross-examination in a court of justice, I doubt very much whether it would be able to defend itself against the terrible accusation of treating purely mental conceptions as ‘things,' or as realities. Abstractions such as ‘modern science,' when thus personified, are generally promoted to the dignity of the female sex. But no amount of tenderness or respect in our treatment of her would be of any avail to conceal the fact that she has not been always on her guard against the insidious approach of ‘Universals.' It is needless to ask her what she has made of the old and everlasting problems presented by our abstract conceptions of space and time–how far she has repelled them, how far she has admitted them to her constant society, and treated them as 'beings,' without whose companionship her own life would be a blank. Has she ever asked the question, or, if she has asked it, has she ever solved it–how far these conceptions have any ‘objective existence'? But, without pressing her too hard on this point, there are other questions which must be put, and which I am afraid would make poor modern science ‘tremble like a guilty thing surprised.' It may have been out of unavoidable necessity that she has consorted so much with the primal abstractions,

But what has she been doing more than this, and in the same direction? How has she been behaving towards a younger generation of abstractions? I am afraid it could not be denied that she has been giving birth to an immense family of Universals, each of them having all the features of its venerable parents. She has been herself busily and incessantly engaged in rearing and educating a perfect swarm of children of the same class and type.

Dropping the personification. of modern science, to which Professor Huxley resorts with such easy familiarity, and treating the phrase 'modern science' as simply a convenient abstraction for a vast multitude of men who for some two hundred years have been working at the problems presented by nature, on the methods prescribed by the inductive philosophy,–the very first fact that stares us in the face [329] is that abstract ideas have been constantly the first incentive to inquiry,–the principal instruments of investigation,–and, in the end, the highest triumphs of research. So far from keeping strictly to the substantial and the concrete, modern science has been dissolving into the purest abstractions almost everything that the ancient world considered most tangible and real. What has become of heat? Modern science tells us that the true conception of it is a ‘mode of motion.' What has become of light? That too is resolved into the same category–-so are magnetism and electricity. Colour, of course, follows suit, being only one of the phenomena of light. What can be more abstract than the new conception of force, and of energy, with its distinctions of ‘kinetic' and ‘potential'? What can be more abstract than the concepts of ‘conservation' and of dissipation as applied to energy? What more abstract than the idea of motion as separate, or ‘disparate' from the matter–-or the ‘mass'–to which it is imparted? Can any of these be called ‘things; ' and, if they cannot, are they, or are they not, unreal? Modern science is crammed full of the like results. Every year it is becoming more and more intensely metaphysical–presenting to us abstract conceptions of the mind as the very highest realities to which we can attain. Mechanics are full of them, chemistry lives upon them, demanding our belief not only in ‘atoms,' but in the mysterious ideas of ‘valency,' of ‘selective affinity' and many others. And even if the forms which these ideas take are temporary and provisional–even if they be in this respect the mere scaffoldings of thought–none the less are they the only steps by which the mind can climb the hills of knowledge; none the less surely do they point and lead the way, as indicative, of the processes by which alone the intellect can assimilate and appropriate the highest truths of nature.

And here we come upon a passage in Professor Huxley's article which reveals, I think, the central fallacy of his attack upon the Preacher. He says that the goal for the Schoolmen was ‘how far the universe is the manifestation of a rational order;' and he adds, ‘So far as I am aware, the object of modern science may be expressed in the same terms.' Nothing can be better, because nothing can be truer than this definition of all real science. But by a ‘rational order' we must understand an order which is perceivable and intelligible to all the faculties which make up the rational nature of man. Nobody has a right, in the name of modern science, to pick out a few of these faculties, and to exclude the rest. We have a faculty, for example, of bodily perception, by which we recognise differences of colour; and it is a rational order to this faculty when we arrange objects according to their likeness or contrasts of tint. It makes, no difference whatever in the perfect rationality of this arrangement that we may discover that the sense of colour is subjective, and is not in itself a 'thing.' There are men whose subjectivity in this [330] respect is faulty, and who cannot distinguish between the colour of a holly-leaf and the colour of a holly-berry, except, perhaps, as marked by different shades of green. But this defective vision imports no doubt into our minds as to the truth of our own perceptions, or of the reality of the distinctions which they indicate. The only effect of such abnormal facts is to indicate a larger and a higher truth in respect, to colour–namely this, that the word expresses not one thing, but a relation between several things. And this is a truth of profound significance, because the relation which is indicated is that kind of relation which we know as adaptation or adjustment. Colour, in the very process of being resolved into a group of sensations in us, is revealed, further, to be the result of an adjustment between certain qualities in external things and a very highly elaborated optic apparatus in ourselves. Professor Huxley is himself obliged to call in to his aid the faculty of 'belief' to account for the sensation of colour. He says that we ‘believe ' that sensation ‘to be caused by luminiferous vibrations.' But here, again, we see other long vistas of rational order opened out by this analysis of perception, of logic, and of belief. We cannot but observe that the least touch of colour-blindness incapacitates a man for some occupations in life; and this fact suggests to us farther that a very little aggravation of colour-blindness would extend the incapacity immensely, and that some easily conceivable degrees of it would make all work impossible. The same line of reflection–strictly rational–reveals the same principle in respect to other faculties. We have one faculty which is cognisant of the bigness or littleness of things–of the extent to which they occupy space, we have another which observes and distinguishes things according to their hardness or softness–their capacity of resistance to pressure or the application of force. Again, we have another which takes cognisance of structure–of crystallisation, for example, in the mineral kingdom, and of organisation in the animal world. So far, probably, there would be no dispute. The reduction of phenomena to a 'rational order' according to these several faculties of recognition would be admitted by all as the proper work of modern science. But then we come to other faculties of our rational nature, equally distinct, equally emphatic in their recognitions, equally cognisant of things, and of the relations between them. For example, we have faculties which take cognisance of the relations between structure and function. We see it in certain cases, and we do not see it in others, or we see it only doubtfully and obscurely. In crystals we do not generally see any relation between structure and utility. But in all organisms this relation is the prominent and governing relation which alone can translate the facts of nature into a rational order for us. Then, again, having in our own minds the faculties of design, of foresight, of mechanical invention, and having the power of combining all these [331] faculties to some speciality of purpose–we instantly and instinctively recognise this relation also between the facts of animal structure and the facts of animal function. Professor Huxley himself introduces us, in describing them, to a new and higher kind of rational order when be tells us that seeds and eggs ‘begin to perform actions which contribute towards a certain end.' It is true that the ends he specifies are proximate and not ulterior. None the less does the very word import the realistic presentation of a purely intellectual conception. We see the ‘ends towards which the egg begins to act namely, the maintenance of the individual in the first place, and of the species in the second.’ But the idea of ‘ends’ being once introduced, becomes in itself a germ, and a most fruitful seed. It develops in the rational humus of the mind,–strikes deep its roots, and pushes up into a tree with innumerable limbs, and boughs, and branches.

At this point, however, we hear some voices behind us calling on us to stop ‘Modern science,’ these voices tell us, ‘will not allow you to go so far.’ Your rational order must not aspire beyond the work done by those of your faculties which take cognisance only of ‘things,’ of realities–that is to say, of sensible qualities, of things having an ‘objective existence.’ To which voices our decided reply must be a desire that they should cease their clamour, and a farther remonstrance which might be expressed somewhat thus:–'We have got hold of the idea that the highest realities in nature are not things in themselves, but things in their relations with other things and with our own intellectual powers. Modem science itself admits this to be true, and has been teaching it more and more. It has been revealing to us abstractions, and nothing but abstractions, one rising above another, and it has been suggesting others which we have separate rational faculties enabling us to recognise at once. Your denunciation of these faculties as non-scientific, and of their rational work, rests on some dogma of your own which is more irrational than any that have ever emanated from Schoolmen or from Popes. Gentlemen, Professors, do go back to your chairs. Give us more facts–more! more! more! You can't give us too many. Let your facts be as transcendental as you like, as full as you please of the most subtle and abstract intellectual conceptions, of ‘valencies’ and ‘potencies’ and ‘homologies,’ of single bits of bone which are ‘representative’ of complicated structures, of organs which are, and which yet are not, which are ‘rudiments’ or ‘survivals,’ which are aborted or ‘incipient‘–tell us of all these ideas, as they may occur to you, and tell us that they are all ‘things ‘–all realities, all facts, in the sense of modem science. We shall accept them all, we shall swallow them all, we shall digest them all, assimilating whatever may be good and true in them into the substance and work of our intellectual nature. We shall object to none of them because of their pro[332]nounced Idealism–because of their purely mental texture. On the contrary, we know that we are living in a World of Mind, and that the only possible reduction of its facts to a ‘rational order’ must be a reduction effected in the light of Mind. The faculties with which you correlate the facts are high, but they are not the highest. You must not interfere with our further interpretations of them. Still less must you pretend to condemn these further interpretations as nonscientific because they are not the work of the particular faculties which you happen to like the best, or which it is your business to exercise the most. If you speak to us at all on this subject, you must speak to us with argument and with accurate reasoning, not pretending to authority; because in these matters you have none.

How little we can trust to this authority is well illustrated in some other parts of Professor Huxley's lecture on the sermon. Having found fault with the Preacher for using the word ‘law' as if it were a ‘thing,' he specifies the error, by further explaining it to consist in the idea that a law of nature is a ‘being endowed with certain powers, in virtue of which the phenomena expressed by that law are brought about.' In contrast with this erroneous and realistic view he explains that a law of nature, in the scientific sense, is the product of a mental operation upon the facts of nature which come under our observation, and has no more existence outside the mind than colour has.' The law of gravitation, the Professor further tells us, ‘is a statement of the manner in which experience shows that bodies which are free to move do in fact move towards each other.' Here we have what I conceive to be an extravagant representation of Idealism as a metaphysical doctrine in respect to physical facts, and an unphilosophical exclusion of some intellectual conceptions which must be noted and expressed in any adequate account of facts even under the idealistic system. It is quite true that the word ‘law' is often used in science for a mere observed order of facts, without any element of causation to which that order can be traced. But it is not true that this is the only sense in which ‘law' is used in modern science. Very often it is used not only as indicative of an observed order of facts, but also as indicative of some force which accounts for that order, and determines it. For example, Professor Huxley's definition will answer tolerably well for the famous ‘Three Laws of Kepler' in respect to the planetary motions. Those laws were an observed order of facts, and nothing more. But this definition does not apply to–at least it is not adequate or complete as a definition of the law on the same subject which was subsequently discovered by Sir Isaac Newton. That law indicated not only an observed order of facts, but it indicated a causal connection between the facts discovered by Kepler and some force to which that observed order had been really due, and of which the Kepler Laws had been a [333] necessary result. It is of course true that the law of gravitation is itself not an ultimate truth, and that, as it accounted for the Laws of Kepler, so itself also needs to be accounted for. But none the less is it clear that it contains an element which Kepler's Laws did not contain–even an element of causation, the recognition of which belongs to a higher category of intellectual conception than that which is concerned in the mere observation and record of separate and apparently unconnected facts.

And here again we encounter a criticism on the Preacher which is altogether unphilosophical and unjust. The Preacher spoke of the ‘suspension of a lower law by the intervention of a higher,' adding that ‘every time we lift our arms we defy the laws of gravitation.' On this (no doubt) somewhat metaphorical language the Professor pours supreme contempt. He denounces the idea of there being a ‘graduated hierarchy' in the Laws of Nature, and likens the lauguage of the Preacher to the notion that ‘high laws can suspend low laws, as a bishop may suspend a curate.' Nevertheless the Preacher was perfectly justified in assuming that there is a gradation of dignity and importance in what we call the Laws of Nature. In Professor Huxley's own special branch of knowledge there are well-known distinctions of structure to which the words ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ are habitually applied, and are capable of a strictly scientific explanation. Simple structures are considered the lower; more complex structures are considered and called the higher. Other phrases are in use to express the distinction under other aspects. The more ‘generalised’ structures are the lower; the more ‘specialised’ are the higher. The recognition of a mental element is involved throughout. Moreover, it is strange that the Professor does not see that this idea of rank and precedence among the Laws of Nature is directly connected with the prominence of that mental element in them which his own philosophy in some aspects seems to dwell most upon, and almost to exaggerate. The higher we place the mental element in our conception of natural laws, the more obvious is it that we have a scale by which to estimate their relative rank in the order of nature. Those are the lower laws which the lower and simpler faculties of our own minds are sufficient to reach, and in a measure to understand. Those, again, are the higher Laws of Nature which none but the higher faculties of our own intellectual organisation are competent to grasp or to comprehend. This competence depends on a relation between the law and the faculty which apprehends it. If the Professor denies that even in our own mental constitution there are any faculties which are lower or higher than another, we can only appeal to the universal instincts of human consciousness, and leave him to his paradox. This relation between the facts of Nature and the special faculties in ourselves which alone can deal with them, is one aspect of things in which a scale exists according [334] to which it involves no absurdity whatever to speak of one natural law being higher than another.

But this is not the only sense in which the Preacher's language is fully justified. The scale of mind is applicable not only to the perception, to the discovery, or to the comprehension of laws, in the sphere of contemplation, but also to the actual intervention of mind in the sphere of action. The law of gravitation, which pulls a man’s body to the ground, is unquestionably a much more simple and elementary law than that which is expressed in the energies of the human Will working through the wonderfully complicated machinery of his organic apparatus. Of course, in the strictest and most literal senses of the words, the forces of gravitation are not ‘defied' by the energies of the organism, because never even for a moment do the forces of gravitation cease to act, or to do in some measure their appropriate work. Gravity never ceases to pull a Balloon downwards, even when it is floating above the clouds. Gravity is not only always acting upon Birds when they seem to ‘defy' it, but–more than this it is one of the main agents in the working of the wonderful machinery of flight. But the Preacher must know this as well as the Professor, and there is an obvious popular sense, not scientifically erroneous, in which it may be said of one force that it is ‘defied' when the human Will brings in another force to counteract it. The truth is that the Preacher's language is defective, not in giving too much ‘reality' to a purely intellectual conception, but in failing to give to it half enough. The true reality in the case lies in an intellectual conception higher in the scale of rational order. Gravity is not defied. It is simply used. It is not treated as an enemy. But it is treated as a servant. It is harnessed and subordinated, and yoked to work. This is the highest generalisation–the most eminent reality. At all events, the Preacher's language is a far more complete and adequate statement of the phenomena than the formula which the Professor substitutes as the scientific method of describing them. He tells us that ‘the general store of energy in the universe is working doubtless to bring the man's arm down; but the particular fraction of that energy which is working through certain of his nervous and muscular organs is tending to drive it up; and more energy being expended on the arm in the upward than in the downward direction, the arm goes up accordingly.' This is a remarkable example of those formulae of the Positive Philosophy which seem expressly devised to cover up and conceal from our own sight some of the most salient of the phenomena we are pretending to describe. Dickens once ridiculed the red-tapist formulae under which administrative action was delayed–formulae under which men were taught 'how not to do it.' We need another Dickens to ridicule the formuae which paralyse our perceptions of intellectual truth by teaching men ‘how not to see it.' The Professor's [335] scientific description confounds under one common abstraction as abstract as the whole universe of space–the constant and purely physical force of gravitation with the intermittent, voluntary, and purely mental action of the human Will. And then, what are we to think of the consistency of a Professor who scolds a Preacher for assuming the reality of such an ‘Universal' as the idea of a law, and in the next breath talks to us of the ‘Store of energy in the Universe'? Was there ever such an abstraction as this idea? I am not denying its significance as such. It may even be a necessity of thought. But it is Realism with a vengeance to handle such a conception as the Professor handles it. What does he know about the Universe? Are all the necessities of our thought to be treated 'with such certainty as the highest expressions of reality in matters purely physical, and the next moment to be ridiculed in ‘inextinguishable laughter,' when they deal with conceptions related to faculties which are higher? Is it true science, is it true philosophy–does it reduce things to any rational order, to describe the movements of a meteor under the same phraseology as the movements of the human heart, intellect, and Will?

No one knows better than Professor Huxley that all this is a mere play on words, which pretends to bridge over the deepest gulf that exists in nature by the affectation of taking no notice of it. Modern science may say what it like–-if this be indeed its voice–but in the interpretation of nature there is no more mortal sin than the wilful confounding of her distinctions. In these lie her richest secrets–in our recognition of these lies all hope of reaching her greatest treasures. When we kneel down and put our ear to nature to listen to her divine music, we must try to catch not only every note, but every tone and semitone and overtone, and all the transitions between them, if we desire to enjoy and to understand her harmonies to the full. I recollect many years ago hearing one of Sir Richard Owen's lectures in the College of Surgeons–a lecture which dealt with some very Darwinian facts quite in the spirit of Darwin himself, although it was long before the publication of the Origin of Species. In that lecture of the great comparative anatomist these fine words occurred–'Nature never proclaims her secrets with a loud voice, but always whispers them.' If it be true, as it assuredly is, that in the very finest and most subtle of her distinctions the very deepest of her truths are to be detected, what shall we say of a philosophy which confounds the Organic with the Inorganic, and refusing to take note of a difference so profound, assumes to explain under one common abstraction the movements due to gravitation and the movements due to the mind of man? In his own special department of investigation no man knows this better, or attends to it more, faithfully, than Professor Huxley. In that highest branch of science which anatomises the phenomena of organic [336] structures, its professors have been compelled to invent a new and most complicated, nomenclature to enable them to follow or to indicate, even rudely, the almost infinite fineness of the distinctions on which their intelligibility depends. The questions which they put to nature, and to themselves, are in the highest degree metaphysical, resolving everything into the most purely intellectual conceptions, and handling familiarly, as if they were the most solid substances, subleties of relation which are far more difficult to grasp than the theological subtleties of Erigena or of Abelard, of Ockham or of Albert, of Duns Scotus or of Thomas Aquinas. Let us not complain of either, nor be impatient of them. In both regions of thought we are in the presence of a world of infinite complexity, and we are struggling to understand it with powers most inadequate to the work. What we should have a good right to complain of–what we ougbt to regard with jealousy and even with aversion–is any attempt to conceal from us the real difficulties of interpretation, and the minute differences of fact, by hiding them under empty and deceptive phrases.

Of this there cannot be a better example than the further attempt made by Professor Huxley in his article to expel from the language of philosophy all the forms of speech which express the grand distinction that obtains between the phenomena of life and the phenomena of pure physics. He falls foul of the well-known and familiar words–such as life, vitality, &c.–in which we group together and classify the first of these two great classes, and separate it from the other. He denounces, as so many disciples of the Positive Philosophy have done before, the conception embodied in the words ‘vital force.’ I have dealt elsewhere4 somewhat at length with this fallacy, and as yet I have seen no answer to the defence of words which cannot and ought not to be dispensed with. I can only repeat here that the rule which should govern the use of language in such matters seems to me to be very plain. Every phenomenon or group of phenomena which is clearly separable from all others, in conception, ought to have a name as separate and distinctive as itself. To speak of a ‘watch force' (which is the false analogy usually drawn) would be absurd, because the force by which a watch goes is not separable from the force by which many other mechanical movements are effected. That force is simply the elasticity of a coiled spring. But the phenomena of life are not due to any force which can be fully and definitely expressed in other words. It is not merely chemical, nor merely mechanical, nor merely electrical, nor reducible to any other rude, simple, or elementary conception. The popular use, therefore, which keeps up separate words to designate the distinctive phenomena of life, is a use which is correct. There is nothing more fallacious in philosophy than the endeavour by mere tricks of lan[337]guage to suppress and keep out of sight the distinctions which nature proclaims emphatically. And if anything could lead us to cling more closely to the forms of expression in which the peculiar facts of organic life have been clothed by the universal understanding of mankind, it would be the contrast presented by the other forms which the Professor puts before us as more consistent with anodern science. The true philosophy, he says, is to speak of ‘living bodies' as ‘exhibiting certain activities of a definite character.' Yes. But why should not this ‘definite character' have a definite name assigned to it? And what kind of science is it that calls upon us to classify together under the common name of an ‘activity' the prelections of the Professor and the effervescence of a soda-water bottle?

The truth is that the distinguished Professor has been amusing himself with a metaphysical exercitation, or logomachy. He stands, perhaps, foremost among our scientific men for minute accuracy of observation among the finest and the most purely intellectual distinctions which are involved, and as it were embodied, in the history and development of organic forms. If he were to catch anybody else confounding any of those distinctions, the Professor, I feel sure, would be down upon him at once. Yet he scolds the Preacher because he takes due notice of some of the profoundest differences which nature presents to the mind of man. If some young student in Biology were to blunder about ’the mutual relationships of the various vertebrate blastoderms'–if he were to bungle in his discriminations between ‘epiblast' and ‘hypoblast' and 'mesoblast,' or between the structures which are developed out of each, the Professor would probably scold such student as a dunce. But the Preacher who refuses to confound distinctions incomparably wider, the Professor denounces as exhibiting Knowledge is that which he promotes in his own department. But absolute, almost stupid, nescience is that which he would impose upon the Pulpit. This teaching would be of no greater moment than ten thousand other logomachies of a revived and a somewhat corrupted Scholasticism, were it not possible that thousands who have no time to study science or to follow its ultimate bearings on philosophy, may be troubled by the thought that one on whose lips they often hang has been deluding them with bad science and with false Philosophy. Let them be reassured. The mind of the Preacher is as acute as the mind of the Professor, and, on this occasion at least, the Pulpit has been far more philosophical than the Chair. It is quite certain that the philosophy of nescience has nothing to offer to mankind, unless it be some lessons of caution, which are hardly needed. Whatever may be its merits, it cannot be denied that it comes to us vacant-handed, offering to the world nothing but an empty house, and a deserted temple. And yet I would pour no scorn on the agnostic attitude least of all when it is represented by [338] such a mind as that of Professor Huxley. It may be the purest love of truth that is most tempted to ask for the light of demonstration, and to forget that in all the nearest and dearest concerns of life this is not the kind of evidence on which we have to think and feel, or to believe and act. The beginning of his recent article shows how open are his sympathies with other men and other minds, now comparatively forgotten, but whose names were once household words in Europe–the glories of the Cloister and the pillars of the Church. Well may he ridicule the idea that the Schoolmen were wholly concerned with pure emptiness, that they lived in nothing but a ‘millennium of moonshine.' It is somewhat disappointing, however, to find Professor Huxley, after such appreciative expressions, assigning to those men no higher function in the world than that ‘of grinding and sbarpening the dialectical, implements of our race.' It ought to be conceded that they did far more than this when we find that many of the noblest and profoundest passages–in one of the greatest poems,–if it be not the very greatest,–of all time, are passages taken directly by Dante from the philosophy of the great Dominican of Acquino. Professor Huxley speaks in gentler tones, and in a truer voice, when he tells us that, the Schoolmen ‘devoted their faculties to the elucidation of problems which were to them, and indeed are to us, the most serious which life has to offer.' 'Still more touching and instructive,–as coming from one of the foremost Professors of physical science in our day, are the words which follow. When speaking of the explorer of Nature now, as compared with the explorer then, the Professor says: ‘The hills he has to climb, the ravines he has to avoid, look very much the same; there is the same infinite space above and the same abyss of the unknown below; the means of travelling are the same; and the goal is the same.' More than this, Professor Huxley's own teaching has had in it generally a reserve, a caution, and a comparative reverence, which have been wanting in many others, and which are worthy of the profound science he has done so much to widen–the science that deals with the abodes of life. In the muddy torrent of bad physics and worse metaphysics which has been rushing past us under the name of Darwinism, Professor Huxley has kept his feet. In the fumes of worship and of incense raised before the fetish of a Phrase5 he has kept his head. What strength this may need can best be estimated by the fact that even a man so eminent as Mr. Herbert Spencer has lately been compelled to speak with bated breath in this Review,6when humbly venturing to suggest that possibly after all, natural selection 'is not a perfect or complete explanation of all the [339] wonders of organic life. It was high time indeed that some revolt should be raised against that Reign of Terror which had come to be established in the scientific world under the abuse of a great name. Professor Huxley has not joined this revolt openly, for as yet indeed it is only beginning to raise its head. But more than once–and very lately–he has uttered a warning voice against the shallow dogmatism which has provoked it. The time is coming when that revolt will be carried further. Higher interpretations will be established. Unless I am much mistaken, they are already coming into sight.

1 At Glasgow in 1836
2 Since these words were written we have an account of a volcanic outburst, very sudden and very violent, in the Trans-Caspian territories of the Russian Empire, which, so far as I know, have been wholly undisturbed by such forces in historic times. It seems as if any town or village situated near the vent would probably have been destroyed.
3 Hallam's Literature of Europe, vol. i. p. 13.
4 The Unity of Nature, chap. i. pp. 36-7.
5 ‘Natural selection:6
6 See the significant and instructive articles on ‘The Factors of Organic Evolution,’ by Mr. Herbert Spencer, published in the Nineteenth Century for the months of April and May 1886.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University