How greatly the conceptions of men as to the vastness of the universe, and how long existent, have been enlarged in our day, need not be said; and a like enlargement has taken place in our knowledge of the smallness of atoms, and the molecular constitution of material bodies. But we are here only concerned to ask: First, What is the bearing of this enlarged knowledge upon our faith in God as the Creator? Secondly, What its bearing upon our faith as to the place given in the Scriptures to the earth and to man, and particularly to the fact of the Incarnation? Thirdly, What is the effect of scientific study upon the mind as regards its reception of spiritual truth?
I. Its bearing upon our belief in the statements of the Scriptures respecting the creation of the world, and thus upon our conception of God.
So far as regards the vastneas of the universe, there seems to be no good reason why it should be harder for us to believe in the creation of many worlds than in the creation of a few, or even of one. The bringing of something into existence that did not exist before, is the proof of creative power put forth; and it is this which is in question, rather than its degree. Yet there is a vague feeling in many minds that the vast extent of the universe as now known to us, tends strongly to disprove the fact of a creation, and to confirm the idea of its eternal existence.
It may be admitted that if the universe were known to be absolutely limitless or infinite, the idea of a creation would be much harder to realize; but here Science is silent. It may, perhaps, be said that a limited or finite universe would tend to prove a creative act; and an unlimited or infinite one tend to prove its co-existence with God, and an unceasing manifestation of Him; and, therefore, uncreated and eternal. But our ignorance here is too great to furnish ground for any valid judgment.
The real difficulty which not a few have found in the Scripture doctrine of a creation, and in the faith of the Church respecting it, does not arise from any teachings of Science as to the immensity of the universe, or as to its origin, for of this origin it knows and can know nothing; but rests upon a meta physical ground — the inconceivability of creation. It is affirmed that we cannot think an absolute beginning, only a change in that which already exists. Nor can we think of an absolute end. This leads to the conclusion that the universe has always existed, and that any affirmation of its creation, or beginning, must be rejected. But this belief that creation is unthinkable, is held but by a few. It is said (J. S. Mill, "Examination of Hamilton's Philosophy " ): "We can conceive both a beginning and an end to all physical existence." But even if inconceivable, yet "there are many things inconceivable to us which not only may, but must, be true." The fact of a creation is not disproved, even if we are not able to think it; but if it were not a fact, this would vitally affect our conception of God. If the universe did not come into being by any act of His will, but was co-existent with Him, we must say with Hegel, that " God without the world would not be God." But this is to say that without the world He would be incomplete, imperfect. The world is necessary for His selfdevelopment, His self-perfecting. It follows that that without which He is not perfect God, is necessarily a part of Him. The universe co-eternal with Him is essentially one with Him and indivisible. Thus the dualism of God and nature is set aside, and we have unity; but the unity of Pantheism.*
If we now ask, what does the modern hypothesis of evolution say as to the matter of creation, we are told by Martineau (" Study of Religion ") that "we are passing over to the idea of evolution rather than of creation." But the most prominent evolutionists tell us that with the origin of the universe evolution has nothing to do. It deals only with the changes which take place among existing things, and does not concern itself with the question how or when these things began to be. Darwin affirms that " the beginning of the universe is an insoluble mystery." In like way Professor Tyndall says: "Evolution does not solve, does not profess to solve, the ultimate mystery of the universe." Professor Clifford bluntly says: "Of the beginning of the universe we know nothing at all." It need not be said that, as evolution is a process by which A becomes B, or one known thing becomes another known thing, to speak of an evolution of which we know neither the beginning nor end, or, in other words, of an eternal process, is absurd. It is a phrase without meaning. The mind demands a starting point and a goal; and any theory of the universe which does not present them, gives nothing for the mind to grasp.
* It was said by Qoethe: "Everything which exists necessarily pertains to the essence of God; therefore, God is the one being whose existence includes all things." He sings:
God dwells within, and moves the world and moulds,
Himself and nature in one form enfolds."
A recent writer, Rev. L. Abbott, says: "Creation will be recognized as a continuous process, eternal as God is eternal, and because God is eternal."
But, notwithstanding the declared ignorance of the evolutionists as to the beginning of the universe, or an act of creation, the general tendency is to deny it. It is said by Professor Huxley: "It is clear that the doctrine of evolution is directly antagonistic to that of creation. . . As applied to the formation of the world as a whole, it is opposed to that of direct creative volition." There are probably many who have a confused notion that evolution in some way takes the place of creation. As stated by Mr. H. Spencer, it has a marked affinity with pantheism. Pantheism begins with the Infinite which eternally determines itself in finite forms. In evolution the absolute Power works eternal " change from indeterminate uniformity to determinate multiformity." The Power which effects the change is a dynamic one, without consciousness, intelligence, or will, the law of its activity being "the continuous redistribution of matter and motion." As there is no Creator, there has been no creation, but an eternal becoming.*
*Mr. Spencer, who affirms a creation to be unthinkable, and yet must have a starting-point for his evolutionary process, finds an imaginary one in a primitive homogeneity or homogeneous mass, which becomes during the ages heterogeneous, and again in the succeeding ages becomes homogeneous. Thus, to avoid the difficulty of evolution in a straight line, or without any continuous movement, he chooses a circle which allows him to pass "in an endless cycle from indeterminate uniformity to determinate multiformity, and from multiformity to uniformity." All this gives no explanation of the origin of his homogeneous mass, atoms, ether, or what not; nor does it explain how Mr. Spencer came to the knowledge of it in its condition of uniformity, or how he knows what it will be when it comes into its condition of multiformity. A man who should walk a few rods on a railway of a thousand miles, of whose changing course and termini he knows nothing, and can tell us from his observation what the course and termini are, would be a wise man; but only a babe as compared with Mr. Spencer, who from the few years of man's existence on the earth is able to look backward and forward a few hundred millions of years and tell us the order of the ever-recurring cycles of the great universe.
It has been said (Draper, " Conflict between Religion and Science "), " Philosophy has never proposed but two hypotheses to explain the system of the world: first, a personal God existing apart, and a human soul called into existence or created, and thenceforth immortal; second, an impersonal intelligence, or indeterminate God, and a soul emerging from and returning to him. . . . The theory of creation belongs to the first of these hypotheses, that of evolution to the last."
Professor E. Haeckel, the chief representative of material Monism, finds his God in the Cosmic Ether: "All forces have foundations in a simple, primal principle pervading infinite space — the Cosmic Ether; we can regard this as all-comprehending Divinity; and thus belief in God is reconcilable with Science." There is no personal God or Creator. "This notion is rendered quite untenable by the advancement of monistic science. It is already antiquated, and is destined before the present century is ended to drop out of currency throughout the entire domain of purely scientific philosophy."If a creation by God is denied, can we find in the universe any intelligible purpose! If we reject the pantheistic theory that it is a part of God, and so coming under the law of His self-evolution, we can simply say that it exists. We can speak with certainty only of the present. But as we cannot believe that the universe brought itself into being, or can annihilate itself, we must affirm not only that it exists, but that it has always existed, and always will exist. There is thus an eternal series of changes, but is there also progress? Is there any goal to which they lead? If, as said by one of this school, "the present visible universe is a phase, only a phase, in the unrolling of an infinite panorama," what will be the next phase? There are many who talk of the teleology of evolution, and who find its final term and culmination in man. This is done by Professor John Fiske; and Darwin asserts that "in the distant future man will be a far more perfect creature than he now is." There is no ground for such assertions. Belief in progress through evolution can rest only on one's knowledge of the purpose of an intelligent and beneficent Being, who is also omnipotent and eternal, and who directs all the movements of nature. If there be no such Being and no purpose, the universe drifts forever aimlessly on. The brief limits of human life on earth furnish no sufficient data whereby to judge of the character of the future ages. We may believe that to-morrow will be as to-day, but this is only a blind belief of which we can give no account. What to-morrow will bring, only to-morrow can tell. It may be a partial repetition of the past, it may bring something absolutely new.*
* We may remark here the fallacy of much which is said of the reign of inflexible and unchangeable law. The only permanent law we know, is that of change — a perpetual flux. Of the universe at large we know neither what it has been nor what it will be; the blackness of darkness rests upon both its beginning and end. And of our earth, without revelation, we know only of a continued series of changes, of whose goal, if there be any, we are absolutely ignorant. Only through a Divine purpose can we find unity in these changes.
A personal Creator of the universe being thus, on one ground or another, set aside, the Christian can no longer say: "I believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth." He can no longer sing: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork." The earth is an infinitesimal part of a vast system of worlds, ever moving on without guide or lord. If the whole human race should at once cease to exist, it would not be an appreciable incident in the life of the universe. Science can with its telescopic eye fill the immensities of space with material orbs, and in an imperfect way compute their sizes and distances, and guess at the manner of their formation, and what forces are acting in them; but of all that has any high significance for us, — whether inhabited by rational beings or not, beings who stand, or ever will stand, in any moral relations to us, it can tell us nothing.
With the Father, the Creator, disappears also from the heavens the Son, the Word. According to the apostolic teaching, the Son. pre-existent, was the instrument of the Father in the creation of the worlds. "He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made." "In Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth . . all things have been created through Him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist," or, as in the margin, " hold together." It is His person which binds all worlds into unity. The universe is what it is because made for Him; and separated from the Divine purpose in Him, its history and destiny cannot be read aright. As seen by Science, we behold only immense masses of matter rolling through space; as seen by the eye of faith, we behold orbs preparing for the habitation of intelligent and spiritual beings made in the likeness of their glorified Lord; orbs into which sin and death can never enter, and from which holy worship, offered in the name of the Son, shall go up forever to the Father of all.
It is plain that the character of one thus looking upon the universe as without a Creator, a Ruler, or a purpose, must take upon itself a peculiar impress; and of this we shall soon speak.
II. The bearing of our enlarged knowledge of the Universe upon our faith as to the place given in the Scriptures to the earth and to man, and particularly to the fact of the Incarnation.
The opening sentence of the Bible is sublime in its brevity. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Nothing more is said of the formation of the heavens except incidentally; but that the Hebrew prophets and poets had noble conceptions of the greatness, and of the fixed order of the Universe, is abundantly evident. The formation of the earth is given in some detail. Its importance, however, is not physical but moral. It is the one among the worlds chosen by God to be the place of events which affect in their results ail intelligent creatures, and so are of universal significance. It is the moral centre of all worlds, because God has manifested here His moral character as nowhere else in the Universe. If the early generations of men, in their astronomical ignorance, made it the physical centre, this does not affect its real importance, which is in no way dependent upon material greatness. If, then, the recent revelations of astronomy show us the vastness of creation, the countless number and almost measureless size of its suns, making the earth in comparison to be most insignificant; this, in itself, gives us no sufficient ground for rejecting the statements of the Bible as to the great events which have taken place upon it. It is well for us to remember that in our own solar system the mighty sun has value only as ministering to the needs of those who dwell in the small and dark planets around it; and of these it is most probable that only our own is inhabited by intelligent and moral beings. And only the same value seems to belong to all the vastly larger suns which shine in space. The greater is for the less, the sun for the planet, the planet for man; the physical exists only for the moral.*
*It is very generally taken for granted that there is such likeness between the sun of our system and the solar suns, that we may legitimately infer that they also arc surrounded with opaque bodies, or planets, to which they give light and heat. But the later astronomers find so many points of unlikeness that this inference has little support. As such opaque orbs can never be seen, astronomy is unable to make any positive assertions respecting their existence. It may be, for aught that can be proved to the contrary, that our system is one unique in the Universe, and has its special character from the special part it plays in the Divine purpose of the Incarnation. When this purpose is accomplished here, other suns and worlds may be filled with the immortal and perfect form of life which now exists in the Son.
Accepting the truth taught in the Scriptures, that it was the purpose of God in creation to reveal Himself through the Incarnation of His Son in some form of creature being, this revelation must be, not only at some time, but also in some place. If the nature to be assumed by His Son is that of man, the inhabitant of the earth, here He must be born, and live, and die. Viewed in the light of His Incarnation as taking place here, the physical greatness of our orb has nothing to do with its real importance. The relative smallness of the earth may rather give us the reason for its choice, since for the purpose of human trial and redemption, a world where all the inhabitants may be brought into near intercourse, the gospel preached to all, the Church gathered from all, and a system of worship established for all, may better answer the Divine intent than one as large as our own sun, or as Sirius. But without doubt the material insignificance of the earth leads not a few to question whether anything that has taken place upon it can be a matter of real importance to the rest of the Universe.
As to the place of man in the Divine economy, the question is asked: Why should it be the human nature which the Son of God assumes? It is easier, many say, to believe that it was the ignorance and conceit of the Hebrew writers, not the Spirit of God, which declares the whole Universe to be interested through the Incarnation in the destiny of man. But one who believes that the Son of God was born here upon our earth, will have no difficulty in believing that humanity was constituted at the first for the very end of its assumption by Him; and that, therefore, man holds the highest place in the order of intelligent beings. The earth, as the place where the Word was made flesh, and lived, and died, and to which He is to return, is the moral centre of all the worlds. We may not infer from its physical insignificance that the Incarnation, as taking place upon it, was of little moment; but rather the religious importance of the earth as chosen to be the theatre of that event in view of which all worlds were made. We may in the choice of this orb see the first example of that principle of election so often afterward exhibited in the Divine actings. The earth was chosen from among all orbs, man from among all intelligent beings, the Jews from among the peoples, the tribe of Judah from among the tribes, the family of David from among the families, Mary from among all the royal daughters, the little city of Bethlehem from among all the cities. In all this there is nothing derogatory to the greatness of God. However vast the Universe, all the creatures in it must come under the limitations of time and space; and He deals with them as under these limitations.
If, as has been said, we put away from the Universe a Creator and a purpose, it can have no meaning for us, no intelligible history; so is it with our own earth, which is so small a part of the great whole. It may be said that we do know a progress here in the past, and may legitimately infer a progress in the future. A passing from a lower to a higher condition is taught us by Geology; and Biology assures us that from lowest beginnings man with his wonderful capacities has come. We may, therefore, rightly conclude that the earth will be better and better fitted for man's habitation, and he himself rise higher and higher in the scale of being. Having this testimony of experience, we may look forward with confidence to the future, and expect a steady and continuous progress of humanity.
It is not to be questioned that evolution as thus presented has great power over many. Here, they say, we are building upon facts, we are dealing with realities. It is better to rest upon the certainties of Science than upon the uncertainties of Revelation. Nature herself tells us of a great and glorious future for man, and this should fill us with courage and hope.
But this reasoning will not bear examination. The earth cannot be separated from the rest of the Universe, and be put under a law of its own. It moves on in the general movement. As a part of the great whole, it is under the law of perpetual change. Its present phase is simply the last of the numberless ones through which it has passed. How long will the present phase continue? How will it end? No one can say that the lifeless and desolate moon may not be a prophetic type of the earth's history. At what stage of the endless process we now are, Science cannot tell us. But seen in the light of God's purpose in His Son, we have the assurance of a future for the earth most glorious, and of which we know no end. "In the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory," it shall be made "new." It will be known and reverenced forever as the birthplace of the Lord of all, and the place of His triumph over sin and death, a place most holy.
III. We ask as to the effect of modern scientific culture upon the spiritual receptivity of the mind.
It is said by Martineau: "The general tendency in modern natural science is to foster habits of thought embarrassing to religious conviction." The reason for this is obvious. To live habitually in a region of thought where a personal God is not found, where physical law is supreme, a miracle impossible, prayer unheard, where sin is disobedience to a natural law, and repentance only the sense of pain, is to make such a chasm between Science and Christianity, that Christian truth becomes intellectually as well as morally unintelligible. The supersensible doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the gospel history with its miracles, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and His return to judge the world, all seem illusions,— the dreams of those who have not entered into the realm of scientific realities.
One who believes the Universe to be ruled by invariable law to which all men are subject, will naturally be disposed to apply this rule in all human affairs. Human conduct must be conformed to natural law. If there is a Power working through laws, and hidden behind them, as said by Professor Huxley, which stands to us as our moral governor, "the great chess-player of the Universe, who never makes a mistake or makes the slightest allowance for ignorance," the same habit of mind will be found in us. As the Power treats us, so may we treat our fellows. If the man who plays with this Player, and plays ill, "is checkmated without haste, but without remorse," he may bear his defeat with a stoical equanimity ; but his brethren who play with him the game of life will scarce expect any sympathy or compassion from him if they lose. It is shown very clearly by Professor Shairp ("A Scientific Theory of Culture") that selfishness would be ten-fold more concentrated if we believed ourselves to be under the rule of inflexible law only. There being no God to sympathize with us, why should we sympathize with one another? All things take place according to an eternal and inexorable order. He who sins must reap the full consequence of his sins; there is no forgiveness, no remission. Nothing can be changed. Let each man bear his own burden in silence.* Among the forces that rule the Universe is found no Divine will, but, it is said, we have suffered no loss. For a changeable personal will, is now substituted invariable sequence; and thus the knowledge of nature becomes to us the matter of chief interest and value.
It is impossible that men can live habitually in the contemplation of a universe governed by physical law, without their minds taking upon them a peculiar character. They are in a region where they see only the changes of nature through the action of eternal forces, with which no personal will ever interferes. The line separating the natural and the supernatural, creation and its Creator, is effaced. A Force rules the world. But man, thus dealing with natural things only, feels the superiority of his humanity. He knows that there is nothing really great but mind; and if he knows no God of whose will Law is the expression, he must look upon himself as the head of the world; the creature of nature, and yet its lord. For him there is no moral Governor, no Judge, no feeling of dependence, no sense of responsibility.
*It is said by J. C. Morison (" The Science of Man ") that "the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sins is most injurious to morality." The sinner must pay the uttermost farthing.
No Christian man can open his eyes and not see that a new class has sprung up, such as Christendom has never before seen; highly cultured men who explore the heights and depths of the Universe, seeking knowledge of its laws and forces, but who acknowledge no Divine will or purpose, contemptuous of theology, without any object of worship, confident in the boundless development of science, and boastful of the glorious future of humanity. These are preeminently "the children of pride," who say, "We have explored the Universe, and find neither God, nor angel, nor devil." In them we may find the realization of "the scoffers of the last days," as described by the prophetic Spirit. Of any purpose of God in the world as bearing on its origin or destiny, they take no account. Of Jesus Christ they know nothing, except as a religious teacher who died long ago, and whose ethical teachings are still to be mentioned with respect. But His atonement for sin, His resurrection, His ascension, His return to judge the world, these are beliefs which people fettered by tradition continue to cherish, but which will fade away with the growing light of the years.*
Need it be said that to men of this spirit the Gospel of the Cross is a sore offense; and the call to bow down before the Crucified One, and to cry, "Christ have mercy upon us," is heard by them with smiling indifference or contempt.
*It will be noted that what is here said applies only to a part, and, it is to be hoped, a very small part of the students of physical science. There is what some one has called an "atrophy of faith," through an all-absorbing study of nature and its laws, which seems to render it impossible for the mind to under. stand and appreciate higher spiritual truths. Of the moral character of this state of mind God alone is the Judge, but all can see how injurious are its effects upon the religious faith of the unscientific who look to Science for light.
Who is He, that we should bow down before Him? Sin and atonement, these are outgrown beliefs. All that has been said of Christ's coming to judgment must be put away as a Messianic error of His time, into which He fell, and not worthy of our thought. An Antichrist is a creature of pessimistic imagination, no more real or to be feared than the symbolic dragon of the Apocalypse. Thus, men of this class are pre-eminently fitted to become, first the votaries, and then the slaves of the lawless one. So far as this proud and unbelieving scientific spirit extends, and takes hold of men, is his way prepared.
It is becoming more and more evident that Science without Revelation is wholly unable to solve any of the great problems of life. It gives us no explanation of the origin of the Universe; it cannot find in it any purpose or ruling idea; all things are under an irresistible law of change, each step being determined by its immediate antecedent. The Universe is "a vast autocratic machine," in which we can find no assurance as to its future, or as to the future of man as a race, or as to his personal immortality. Science is essentially pessimistic, since it reaches no results which answer the questions and satisfy the higher longings and aspirations of the human soul, but rather leaves them in deeper darkness. Of the service of Science, so far as regards the material interests of man and the physical well-being of society, we have no occasion here to speak. All this only makes more striking the contrast between its material riches and its spiritual poverty.