« ForrigeFortsæt »
instance, without a force of attraction or of repulsion, of cohesion or of affinity: the idea of matter itself would disappear, for it would then be impossible for it to be in any determinate state. Reciprocally what is a force without matter-electricity 、 without electrified particles, attraction without mutually attracting particles? "Can it be held," says Vogt, "that there is a secretory faculty apart from the gland, a contractile power independent of the muscular fiber?" These are pure abstractions. In a word, as a learned physiologist of Berlin, Mr. Raymond Dubois, ingeniously says: "Matter is not a coach to and from which, in the guise of horses, forces may be hitched and unhitched." Every material particle has inherent and eternal properties, and bears them everywhere with itself. "A particle of iron," says the same writer, "is and remains the same thing, whether it roam the universe in the aërolite, roll like thunder on the iron track of a locomotive, or circulate in a blood-globule through the temples of a poet." It follows from these principles that the idea of a creative force, of an absolute force, separate from matter, creating it, governing it by certain arbitrary laws, is a pure abstraction. It is an occult quality transformed into an absolute being.
Thus matter and force are inseparable, and both exist from eternity. Eternity of matter, eternity of force, such is the second principle of the philosophy we expound. The eternity of matter, long since suspected by science, has become a positive truth through the discoveries of chemistry. Chemistry has demonstrated that the same quantity of matter subsists always whatever may be the different combinations it enters: it is the scales that have secured to us this grand result. Burn a piece of wood, the scales of the chemist will inform you that not an atom of matter has been lost, and even that its weight has been increased through a loss suffered by the air. In all the compositions and decompositions of chemistry, there is always an equation between the elements and the products, and reciprocally. Chemistry demonstrates also that diverse substances continually preserve the same properties. Thus matter never perishes, but it is in perpetual movement; it is, as Heraclitus of Ephesus said, an ever-living play, a play which Jupiter plays eternally with himself. It is an incessant circulation of materials with which each combination begins
and ends, but these materials are found again under one form or another. "The body of the great Cesar," says Hamlet, may patch a wall.". Thus nothing comes from nothingness, and nothing returns to nothingness. The antique axiom of the atomist philosophy is demonstrated.
It is with force as it is with matter, it is eternal; it is transformed, it never perishes. "What disappears on one side," says the illustrious Faraday, "reappears necessarily upon the other." One of the most beautiful and striking applications of this principle is the transformation of heat into motion, and reciprocally. By friction we obtain fire; by steam we get motion. The quantity of motion lost is found again in the quantity of heat; the quantity of lost heat is found again in the quantity of motion. Thus force is conserved like matter, and it is easy to anticipate. From these considerations we may conclude that matter and force have not been created, for what cannot be annihilated cannot be created. Thus matter is eternal, but it alone is eternal; sprung from the dust we return to the dust. Matter is not only eternal, it is infinite. It is infinite in littleness and in grandeur. The microcosm and the macrocosm are both infinite. Here Mr. Büchner speaks like Pascal, though with less eloquence. Who does not recall that magnificent passage upon the two infinites, where Pascal has displayed all the wealth and all the grandeur of his marvelous eloquence? Who has not present to his thought on the one hand, that infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere, and on the other that circumference which contains infinite worlds. The new German philosophy is distinguished from the ancient materialism by admitting the infinite divisibility of matter. Neither observation nor reason can conduct us to the atom. This notion of an infinite division frightens our mind, but what can be done? We must resign ourselves to the incomprehensible.
Matter being eternal and infinite, it follows manifestly that its laws are universal and immutable. This is evident by what precedes, for the laws of matter result from its properties. "Laws are necessary relations derived from the nature of things." Now the properties of matter are as eternal as itself; thus its laws are immutable. If its laws changed, it would be because matter had changed its properties, or assumed proper
ties contrary to its essence; which is impossible. The rest is proved by experience. The laws of nature have never suffered the least change. Miracles take place only for the ignorant or before the ignorant. Savage hordes, mountaineers, ill-enlightened classes see miracles. Enlightened eyes, great cities, centers of civilization, and unbelief do not see them. Hence no supernatural intervention, no accidental and contingent action of a supreme cause.
I know not who has said, "The heavens no longer declare the glory of God; they declare only the glory of Newton and Laplace." Mr. Büchner would gladly accept this maxim; according to him the more the world's science has advanced, the more the idea of creative, supernatural, providential force has everywhere retreated into the sky. We see nothing to-day but a mathematic, mechanic law, a law resulting from the very nature of matter, and which explains all phenomena accordantly with the principles of geometry and mechanics.
From heaven let us pass to the earth. Here likewise is no immediate intervention of the Divinity; science tends to show more and more that the great revolutions which have agitated the globe were produced by causes similar to those with which we are to-day familiar. Time is here the great creator. We perceive that Dr. Büchner admits as perfectly demonstrated the geological system of Mr. Lyell, the system of gradual changes. The creative days are but the insensible evolutions of a continuous activity. At the utmost it might be allowed, that at certain moments the operation of forces that are known. to us has deployed itself with very great power. Now behold the great problem: has there not been upon the earth a moment when an absolutely new force has appeared, the force of life? How shall we explain the primitive generation? Everything combines to convince us that life is only a particular combination of matter, and that this combination took place as soon as favorable circumstances were produced. Indeed, as soon as the circumstances occur life appears, and to every change in condition corresponds an equivalent and proportional change in the forms of life. To every terrestrial stratum corresponds in gradation a living world: to the most ancient strata the most imperfect forms; to the most recent strata the most complicated forms. When the sea overspread all the con
tinents only fish and aquatic plants could exist. The continent, in proportion as it was formed, was covered with forests which absorbed the mass of carbonic acid, needful for plants, harmful to animals, that filled the air; the air robbed of this perfidious gas became fit for animal respiration. Thus everything seems to indicate that organic forms are results of the external media and conditions in which they are placed.
Dr. Büchner and the German school generally, therefore, admit unhesitatingly spontaneous generation. Where air, heat, and humidity combine their activity, is developed with a certain rapidity the infinite world of microscopic animalcules called infusoria. Yet Mr. Büchner is somewhat shaken by the many and strong reasons that war against spontaneous generation. He escapes by a hypothesis. According to him, we may suppose that the germs of all living beings exist from all eternity, and have awaited for their development favorable circumstances; that these germs, dispersed through space, descended to the earth after the formation of a solid stratum, and were hatched when they found the media which were necessary to them.
An ill-disguised. partisan, despite this hypothesis, of spontaneous generation, Dr. Büchner is equally so, as we might anticipate, of the transmutation of species; for whatever part we may be disposed to concede to the generative powers of matter, it is difficult to assert that nature has ever been able spontaneously to produce a man, a horse, or an elephant, especially when we declare that nature has ever employed only such forces as those of which we are witnesses. This is why, when we decide to expel the hypothesis of a creative force and a providential interposition, we are brought to suppose that all organic forms spring from each other by insensible modifications. The author reposes chiefly upon two facts: the germs of all species resemble each other, and the animal, in proportion as he is developed, passes through all the inferior forms of the animal kingdom, or, at least, represents at different stages of his development the chief types of the series; fossil animals seem to be naught but embryos of actual animals. Agassiz has shown this in regard to fish, and he conjectures the same truth respecting all other classes of animals. According to these facts, why may we not conjecture that the animal kingdom
began with the most general and embryonic forms, and that, little by little, under the influence of exterior circumstances, these general forms have been-modified and diversified ?
The book of Dr. Büchner is anterior to the famous book of Mr. Darwin upon the origin and transmutation of species, else he would not have failed to use it in defending his hypothesis; but he cites it with admiration in a note to his last edition, and tells us he did not surmise that science would so quickly come to confirm his conjectures, and bring most convincing proofs in support of his assertions. Darwin especially aids him in resolving the difficult problem of the adaptation of forms to their situation; in other terms, the problem of final causes.
We anticipate that modern, like ancient, materialism must rise up with great energy against final causes, against the hypothesis of a pretended design in nature. It is pretended that in nature everything was made for the use of man: but of what benefit are so many hurtful animals? Theologians of all ages have tortured their minds in the most comical manner to explain the existence of such beings. Of what use are sickness and physical evils generally? Theologians say that sickness is a result of sin; but this is an error caused by ignorance. Sickness is as old as organic life: paleontology shows us the bones of many animals changed by disease. The colors of flowers, say they, are meant to charm the eyes; but how many flowers have bloomed and will bloom without eye of man to see them? The utility of organs and their adaptation to an end are urged; but comparative anatomy makes known a great many useless and rudimentary organs, which, useful to one species, are wholly useless to other species; for example, the rudimentary mamma of men, the teeth in whales, etc. There are hermaphrodite animals, which possess the organs of both sexes, and yet cannot impregnate themselves. To what end this complication? Monstrosities are, moreover, a decisive proof against final causes. There are animals, perfectly formed otherwise, which are born without a head, and whose life is consequently impossible. Is it not absurd that nature should take pains to complete such forms, which are perfectly useless? The vis medicatrix is invoked, but why have doctors if nature alone heals? And how many times do not physicians see, in