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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

The Future Problem of Science

The Future Problem of Science.

As soon as science shall be completely set free from its lingering fears it must return, we may expect, as an inquirer and a learner, to the field of deductive speculation and hypothesis. Even now the old and inevitable questions "Whence" and "Why," the questions which every human intellect that really lives at some time puts to itself, and must either find some answer to them or perish in the attempt, again begin to be heard. Whence comes matter? And whence comes motion, or rather the force or forces which first originated, or which is, or which are, ever originating motion? And seeing that, as Sir John Herschel has observed, mere force may produce chaos, but never a cosmos, whence comes the ordered, regulated, directed force, which, never changing, never failing, has produced and still sustains the motions of the planets and all the complex phenomena of life upon this planet?

Such is the form which this Sphinx's riddle has now assumed, and science cannot rationally refuse either to accept the only hypothesis that has ever been proposed which pretends to explain all phenomena, or to suggest another equally comprehensive and equally consistent with ascertained facts. I mean the hypothesis which supposes that matter was originally created, and that every movement of every particle of matter has been in all time and now is impelled and directed by a supreme mind or will, ever and in every part of every natural phenomenon exerting a force analogous to that by which the derived mind in animals and man creates and directs motion in matter.

According to this ancient hypothesis;as applied to the facts of modern science, the world is but "manifested deity," or, as Agassiz has expressed it, "the whole creation is the expression of a thought, and not the product of physical agents;" every so-called "law of nature" is merely the continuous action of the page 14 Supreme Mind; every movement of matter is the act either of Deity or of some one of the infinite number of derived minds which have been invested with a delegated and like power; and evolution, of which progressive improvement is the unvarying mark and ideal perfection the ultimate end, is the visible operation of the Supreme invisible mind.

Nowhere has this hypothesis been more accurately or better stilted than by our English poet, Pope:—

"All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul;
That, changed through all, and yet in all the same,
Great in the earth as in the ethereal frame,
Glows in the stars, refreshes in the breeze,
Warms in the sun, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives through all life, extends through all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent;
To Him no high, no low, no great, no small;
He fills, He bounds, connects, and equals all."

This hypothesis has been declared by one acute thinker of the present day to be "unthinkable," and it cannot, of course, be entertained by those who so regard it. To my mind it appears to be as thinkable—not more so, and not less—as the fact, of which I am conscious, that my mind possesses the power of moving a finger or a limb. Each of us is conscious of this power, and he cannot rationally refuse to believe in the fact of its existence merely because he knows nothing either of the essential nature of the mind in which the power is lodged, or of the relations between the mind and the body on which the power is exerted.

To those minds that can apprehend it, this hypothesis yields the only satisfactory explanation of the innumerable and complex facts that go to make up "the burden and the mystery of this entire " (otherwise)" unintelligible world." It is the only hypothesis which even pretends to account for all phenomena, mental as well as physical. If it should ever become a theory or even a "working hypothesis "of science, in the same way that the purely hypothetical existence of ether is now necessarily assumed for the purpose of explaining gravity and light, and the nomenclature of science be varied and adjusted to the theory, it can hardly be doubted that the separation (not opposition) that now exists between religion and science will disappear, and that science and religion combined will exercise a most powerful and enduring, as well as beneficial, influence over all educated minds, and through them will transform the world.