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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

The Nascent Monotheism of Science

The Nascent Monotheism of Science.

Out of this bewildering and baffling confusion of independent, unrelated, and ultimate properties of matter, which for long seemed the only alternative to Mosaic cosmogonies and arbitrary supernaturalisms, the great discovery of the persistence of force opened a door of escape. The properties of matter were metamorphosed into affections of matter, or "different modes of Motion," as Grove called them in 1842. All forces were resolved into one Force. A new view of matter itself was involved in this great change, which has been thus expressed by Alfred R. Wallace:—"It is surely a great step in advance to get rid of the notion that matter is a thing of itself . . . . that force or the forces of Nature are another thing, given or added to matter, or else its necessary properties . . . and to be able to substitute . . . the far simpler and more consistent belief that matter, as an entity distinct from force, does not exist." [Natural Selection, p. 369. I omit some parts of this passage which may admit of more doubt.] In the great principle of the conservation or persistence of force, and the consequent metamorphosis of the old-fashioned "properties of matter" into "modes of motion," I believe that modern science has laid the foundation for a natural idea of God. No longer will it be necessary to seek him outside of Nature, or above it; science itself, in this overpoweringly sublime conception of a unitary Power commensurate with time and space, is becoming our guide to him. Henceforth the study of Nature in its entirety must be that "searching of the scriptures" from which so much has been hitherto hoped in vain. A principle of unity has been discovered that links the pebble at your feet to the remotest nebula of the galaxy, and the beating of the human heart to the twinklings of the stars. I am very far from saying that the simple unity of force throughout the universe is enough to constitute the idea of God. But this I do say, that the discovery of this unity has first made possible the development of a monotheism based exclusively on scientific grounds. I cannot follow even so cautious a thinker as Dr. Carpenter when he says that the "sense of effort" is the "form of Force which may be taken as the type of all the page 17 rest;" for I hesitate to push human analogies too confidently. It is easy to frame plausible theories, but harder to discover truth. I can only say now that the great discovery of the unity of all forces as modes of one Force sweeps away the foundation of materialistic polytheism, and points the deeper scientific thought of the age in the direction of monotheism.