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Fixed Laws the Proofs of Design.
The last remark leads us naturally to a more extended view of the evidence derived from the actual prevalence, so far as we can trace it, of one fixed system of physical laws.
We have already observed the importance of the testimony which all science gives to the invariable order and constant uniformity of the laws of the material world. From what we know, observe, and calculate, we are led to the inference of the perpetual and universal maintainance of this principle ; and it is upon the security of it that analogy becomes a safe guide in cases beyond the limits of actual experience.
This grand conclusion forms the solid basis on which we rest our convictions of the immutability of the Divine attributes and counsels. And this is, perhaps, of all others the reflection which, to a thinking and philosophic inquirer, tends most to exalt his ideas of the Divine perfections,—the regulation of all the varied and complicated actions of the material world by an unvarying system; the combination of a limited number of first principles producing all the variety and harmony of the creation; the sufficiency of a few simple laws to regulate the entire complexity of the vast mechanism; the first constitution of the world upon a principle which, without further interposition, contains within itself the means of perpetual renovation and stability.
Now, this conclusion rests (as we have said,) on the collective inferences of a real maintainance of inviolable order in the material world. It is evident, then, that any event occurring to interrupt the preservation of this order would be a serious exception and formidable difficulty in the way of our conclusion.
The only escape from it would be in supposing that the violation of order was only apparent and not real; that though seeming an exception, it was, in truth, not contrary to the rule,—though the rule in all its extent was unknown to us; that the circumstance, apparently anomalous, was still in accordance with some recondite system unperceived by us; that our view of the real law was not yet sufficiently extensive or complete. Our only course would then be to retrace our steps, and attempt the inquiry again on better grounds.
For once imagine that real design and a determinate law are not somewhere preserved, and we are involved in the anarchy of chaos and the darkness of atheism; or suppose that it is not traceable by us, and so far to us the proofs are defective; or admit the notion of the enthusiast that all physical conclusions of this sort are the mere offspring of proud and overweening human reason, and we are idolators worshipping a Deity who is the creature of our own imagination.
It may be desirable, therefore, to recur for a
moment to the consideration of inductive laws in general.
Of the extent to which that regularity may be consistent with occasional apparent anomaly, it is, perhaps, impossible to convey an adequate idea without referring to those astonishing instances which are afforded by mathematical formulas. But some illustrations of this kind are put in a very luminous and popular form by Mr. Babbage in a work already referred to. It is, for example, possible, in his calculating machine, to make such an adjustment that a series of numbers shall be produced in succession which are all complete squares ; at, a certain point, one number shall occur which is a cube; after this, the square numbers shall be resumed, and continue without limit. This exception might be deemed an anomaly, an interruption of the law imposed; but it is really a part and consequence of it. Indeed, the analytical mathematician can produce many instances of formulas which give rise to a series of quantities apparently following a certain regular order, but at particular points interrupted as it were; yet again resumed and continued; which are called discontinuous functions.' The original principle is in these cases more comprehensive than we should be led to suppose from a limited contemplation of its results*.”
The reflecting inquirer will perceive the value of
* See Babbage's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, p. 59 (note,) and 95.
such illustrations in guiding his views of the order of the natural world. Events apparently anomalous, and seeming like absolute interruptions of uniformity, may be only so because we have not attained a sufficiently extended view of the entire system to which they really are united as essential and harmonious parts.
And such considerations become of more special importance in reference to those sublime conclusions of natural theology to which we have just before referred. Those who admit them in general may not be prepared to perceive the full extent to which they hold good. Yet the consideration of apparent exceptions and seeming contradictions, and suggestions, by which to resolve the difficulties, are surely most important for vindicating our belief in an eternal Providence.
Examples : Gravitation.
LET us take as an example the system of universal gravitation. Newton, by establishing the observance of unvarying laws throughout the solar system as the necessary results of one grand principle, in fact established the only evidence we can attain of the Divine Intelligence ordaining and maintaining that system; the unaltered preservation of such laws, once imposed, being the secondary means in which alone we can recognise the operation of Divine power. Prior to these discoveries we might have
imagined immediate arbitrary intervention in every motion of the planetary bodies. And in any department of physical inquiry the same remark would apply. In the one case we might imagine such agency, but we could have no rational proof of it; in the other alone do we arrive at the sole means of proof of which our limited powers are capable.
Such has ever been the progress of physical science in all its departments; from confusion to order; from arbitrary influence to systematic arrangement; from capricious agency to overruling intelligence.
These remarks will prepare the reader to take in its correct sense an observation of Laplace, which has been much dwelt upon, and, as I think, unhappily misunderstood; owing, in no small degree, to that ambiguity which we before noticed in the use of the words “ final cause;" and which, in the sentence about to be quoted, are obviously employed as equivalent to the words “direct intervention.”
“Let us,” says Laplace, “run over the history of the progress of the human mind and its errors; we shall perpetually see 'final causes' pushed away to the bounds of its knowledge. These causes, which Newton removed to the limits of the solar system, were not long ago conceived to obtain in the atmosphere, and employed in explaining meteors; they are, therefore, in the eyes of the philosopher nothing more than the expression of the ignorance in which we are of the real causes."
After what has been said, it will be superfluous to