DR. MARTINEAU'S " STUDY OF RELIGION."* [SECOND NOTICE.]
DR. MARTIN EAU has never written anything that is more effective for its purpose and more comprehensive in its grasp of modern criticisms and objections, than his treatment of the " argument from design " under the light of the newest knowledge. The whole of the latter part of his first volume is as masterly a piece of writing as we have read in our day ; nor can any one deny that he has come to his task with the fullest preparation not only in the form of a complete mastery of the Darwinian principles which have exerted so great an influence on the course of modern philosophy, but also in the form of a thorough study of the philosophy of Lange and .Hartmann, and those modern German systems which have attempted to bring up the methods of sceptical thought to the standards of modern science. Dr. Martineau's view evidently is that the newer science and the newer philosophy, so far from having in the least degree under- mined the grounds of Paley's argument in the Natural Theology, have really placed it on a broader and firmer basis than ever. And we should be surprised to learn that any one of real impartiality and knowledge had studied Dr. Martineau's volumes carefully without coming to the same conclusion. Let us take first Dr. Martineau's statement of Lange's objections, and his very powerful reply to it. Lange had stated his argument thus :— " We can no longer doubt,' says Lange, that Nature proceeds in a way which in no way resembles human design ; indeed, that her most essential means, if estimated by the rule of the human under- standing, must be regarded as equivalent to the blindeat accident. On this point, no farther proof is to be looked for; facts speak so plainly, and with such unbroken accord in the various provinces of Nature, that no view of the world is longer admissible which is at variance with these facts and their irresistible significance. If a man, in order to shoot a hare, fired off millions of gun-barrels in all random directions upon a great moor ; if, in order to get into a shut room, he brought ten thousand keys at haphazard, and tried them all ; if, in order to obtain a house, he built a city, and abandoned the superfluous houses to wind and weather,—no one, I suppose, would call such action an example of design, and much less should we suppose that in this procedure there lay any higher wisdom, recondite reasons, and superior skill.' "
To this Dr. Martineau replies, first, that the modern thinkers who, with Lange, reject contumeliously the argument from design, do not usually admit that the mode in which Nature works towards her ends are, properly speaking, fortuitous, and yet they want to get both the advantage of the fortuity so far as it is fatal to design, and of the determinate linking of means to ends so far as that rescues their philosophy from the absurdities of a theory of chance. For example, Professor Huxley has declared,—" I apprehend that the foundation of the theory of natural selection is the fact that living bodies tend incessantly to vary. This variation is neither indefinite nor fortuitous, nor does it take place in all directions in the strict sense of these words," and by guarding himself in this way, Professor Huxley hopes to get all the benefit of an almost illimitably tentative system for the refutation of the Design argument, and yet to avoid the intrinsic irrationality of the Chance doctrine as an explanation of the well-knit frame of Nature. Dr. Martineau replies that the tentative explanation of the universe, even within Professor Huxley's limits, will not be applicable at all in any sense in which Lange's description of that tentative system can be accepted as faithful
:- "Now the position which I will take up in answer to Lange is this : • A Study of Religion Sour... and Contents. By James Martineau, D.D., LL.D. 2 Tole. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
I will not dispute the Darwinian record of natural history ; yet shall decline to accept the description of it given in Lange's parables. The contrast between Nature's way of working out an end and Man's is said to consist in this, that, for want of any guiding idea, Nature makes millions of failures for one hit, whilst man follows his pre- conception straight to the mark. Take then any end which has at last been reached by Nature, say, the setting np of human kind : where are the millions of failures from the midst of which this
success has emerged With what facts, actual or supposed, of the earth's history are they identical ? Are the real steps of evolution that have now advanced to man, the intermediaries between the Ascidian and Shakespeare, to be regarded as missing shots ? That can hardly be, since they are the very means that have conducted to the end, and have not failed. Must we then turn to the other lines of pedigree, the variations which have resulted in the salmon, the pheasant, the elephant, the dog, the ape, and treat these as failures, because issuing in something other than human ? This would assume that living beings can have no worth except as means for the ulterior production of man ; whereas every surviving race con- tains and realises its own end, whether or not it plays a part in sub- sequently winning ours. Perhaps then we should search the ceme- teries of Nature for the vestiges of her mistakes, and class all extinct species as abortive, simply because they lost their footing in the world. Such a sentence, however, would condemn many of the pro- bable progenitors of the existing kinds, whose very presence vindicates their ancestors' archaic place in Nature. Nor is there any reason for setting up present survivorship as a test of success against past ; for all alike are but leaseholders on this planet ; and the fossiliferons rocks assign to the extinct races as large a share of geologic time as those which are now living can reasonably claim. We must then, it seems, go beyond the whole natural history record, past and present, to find these alleged miscarriages of the producing power, and seek them in some hypothetical region prefixed to the known flora and fauna of the globe ; and must excuse the non-appearance of these blundered forms, partly by 'the imperfection of the geologic record,' partly by their perishable character. On these terms, they pass into wholly imaginary beings, postulated by a theory, but unattested by a single fact; and there we may leave them. Unless everything is Lo- be condemned as abortive which, in leading to an ulterior nature, at present stops abort of it, though carrying in it its own minor end, there is not the slightest resemblance between the real process of the organic world and the senseless actions with which Lange compares it. Take the maximum of what he calls failure in Nature, and what does it amount to ? Simply this : that a variation of organ, occurring once, does not repeat itself, bat, like a personal peculiarity,—a mole- spot or a white lock of hair,—disappears with the individual; while other variations, chiming in with the present conditions of life, gain more or less persistence, and some embody themselves in permanent novelties of race. In all but the extreme case, we have here nothing but vitalities, longer or shorter; the extreme case, if useless, is harm- less ; and when regarded not in itself alone, but as part of a general provision for starting everywhere new possibilities of advance and enabling them to try their strength, its inutility at a particular con- juncture dissolves itself away in the beneficent intention of the com- prehensive law. Evolution, rightly interpreted, sustains rather than contradicts Aristotle's principle that ' Nature makes nothing in vain.' "
If there be a rejoinder to the argument contained in this passage it is beyond our power to discern it. Take, again, Dr. Mar- tineau's treatment of the well-known argument which Tennyson has embodied in In Memoriam, where the poet says that, ob- serving how of a very large number of seeds Nature brings but one to bear, he " falters where he firmly trod," and " lifts lame hands of faith," and " gropes " and " gathers dust and chaff,"— and, in a word, " faintly trusts " the larger hope. What can be more impressive than this treatment of the subject in Dr. Martineau's book ?-
"It is a mistake to treat as a failure every germ that misses its development into an adult specimen of its kind. This is no doubt the internal end towards which its own constitution tends. But it is not a solitary unrelated object, set up for itself alone ; and over and above its internal end, it has external subserviencies to the needs of surrounding forms of life. Every grain of wheat is a seed, capable of raising a new plant ; but who would be offended at the miscarriage by which it finds its way into a loaf of bread ? Does this frustrate, or does it execute, the purpose of Nature P It is plain that the pro- vinces of the organic world constitute a scheme of interdependencies, and that the measure of each is taken, not by any rule of self- sufficiency, but by reference to the equilibrium of the whole. The subsistence of animals hangs, directly or indirectly, on the vegetable kingdom ; and is simply contingent on the surplus of seeds and fruits beyond the requisites for reproduction ; so that the waste' of the plant-world is the economy of the sentient. The same law runs through the various groups of carnivorous creatures : each lives upon the surplus of some prolific race below, and for the life that is sacri- ficed there is substituted other that is saved. Whatever may be said, from considerations of humanity, against the system of prey (and of this we shall treat hereafter), it thus escapes the charge of breach of promise ; for, of two ends that are combined in the same nature, it disappoints the one only to fulfil the other. or should we entirely disregard yet a further end which is incidentally realised by this method ; viz, the investiture of the world with a glorious exuberance, furnishing it as a majestic palace with endless galleries of art and beauty, instead of as a cheap boarding-school, with bare benches and scant meals. How much of the splendour and significance of Nature depends upon its fulness,—upon the irrepressible rush of life into every open inlet and over every surface newly spread ! Would you have the teeming elements less hospitable ? The waters you could
not keep empty, unless you boiled them ; or the air silent, unless you froze it ; or the rock naked, unless, like Hannibal, you dosed it with vinegar : invisible candidates for growth and movement and voice will steal in and soon crowd the most guarded solitude. The gardener may be vexed with the indefatigable weeds upon his trim beds ; but were the wild plants fewer and less persevering, where would be the careless hedge-bank and the mossy wall ? He may vow vengeance upon the nests that harbour the pilferers of his fruits; but who would purchase the richest table at the cost of an air less musical ? On sultry days we are sometimes provoked by the vivacity of creation ; but he who would indulge his languid mood, and cannot throw his heart into the jubilee of the strong sunshine, should certainly not go abroad when summer is at full tide. Nature will be jealous, if, when pretending to seek her haunts, you after all want only to retire into yourself. When you bask in your boat upon the lake to compose a sonnet or work out a problem, she startles you with gleams of silver and golden scales that open the perspective of the waters on which you float. When, like Phaedra, you carry a book under your cloak as you stroll by the Hisses, and think to master it, cooling your feet in the brook and your head under the shade of a tall plane, you soon find, unless a Socrates is there to steady you, your philosophy chirruped away by the grasshopper, and your reverie exploded by the flash of the dragon-fly, with a thousand other peremptory hints to quit your own interior, and mingle with the glad- ness of the world. When the greedy axe has performed its massacre and left only the graveyard of a forest, and the tangle of brushwood has been consumed by fire, the industry of Nature begins again : new families of plants, never suspected to be there, seize upon their chance, and spring into the vacated place, quickly followed by the old ones, waking again into life at the competition. It is this vital elasticity of Nature that gives to even her untracked solitudes the double interest of a picture and a history ; and were its tension slackened, her communion with our inner life would lose its vivid charm, and her voices would speak to us in muffled tones."
Dr. Martineau is equally vigorous in his criticism on Darwin's law that unfavourable variations disappear because they are un- favourable to the stability of a race, while favourable variations persist and establish themselves. There is something, as he remarks, very singular in a law which first requires the principle of hereditary transmission to be broken through in all directions in order to get the requisite number of variations, and then puts the favourable variations,—directly they are hit upon,—at once under the protection of the law of hereditary transmission, and ossifies them into a permanent habit of the organism. "In order to get advantages for an organism, you break the law " [of hereditary transmission] ; "in order to keep them, you enforce it." Dr. Martinean insists that this accidental variation and the persistency which it is supposed to acquire constitute no explanation at all of the more important animal instincts which are absolutely essential to the existence of any type. Take the case of the many and very complex instincts which induce the mother to leave the eggs of her unborn progeny exactly in the place where the insects when developed will find their proper food. Nobody even maintains that the insect- mother knows what that food should be, and is strictly provident in the matter. The theory hostile to design has to maintain that she plants some of her eggs by accident in a favourable place, and that, too, without any knowledge of what she is doing. Why, then, should her offspring inherit the tendency to go to the same kind of localities ? The mother herself gains nothing by it. On the non-theistic theory, it is a pure lucky hit if she selects the right medium. Can her offspring inherit the art of making a lucky hit ? Of course, if they do not, the offspring will perish, and why not ? Yet, as a matter of fact, we see the most wonderful and minute adaptation between the habits of the mother and the wants of the offspring in all these cases ; the eggs which will be hatched in one month being planted precisely in those trees whose leaves will come out just before the eggs are hatched, while those which are hatched a month later are deposited in trees whose young leaves will come out a month later. Can anything be more incredible than that a habit of this kind, by which the mother does not profit at all, should be established by mere fortuitous persistence of the tendency to lay eggs in the only spots where the insect, when hatched, can find nourishment ? We cannot forbear extracting the following admirable criticism of Dr. Martineau's on Darwin's explanation of the curious habit of the English cuckoo of devolving her duties on a foster-mother of a different species :—
" In this deduction everything is derived from a perfectly transient act, a mere random dash of spontaneity ; it is not assumed that any sort of immediate good is felt to accrue from it, which could move the animal to by it again ; yet at the next step we find this action treated as a habit : it could become such only by an unaccountable and constant recurrence of the original accident. Even then it is a mere acquired and superficial way of movement, not modifying, like a congenital organ, the structure and constitution of the creature : it is moreover an individual peculiarity, which cannot be looked for in a second instance ; so that to suppose the descent to another genera. tion of such a freak is to put an excessive strain upon the doctrine
of inheritance. It is well known that our great naturalist explains on this principle the strange habit which distinguishes the English cuckoo from the American, namely, of depositing its eggs to be hatched in the nests of other birds. He supposes that this was originally done by some blundering British mother that had lost her way and had got into the wrong house ; and that, from similar dreaminess about locality, other birds now and then were betrayed into the same awk- ward liberty with a stranger's domestic arrangements. Some acci- dental advantage having accrued from this mistake, either to the bird herself or to the progeny she had put out to nurse, they enjoyed a more favourable chance in the struggle for life, survived in prefer- ence to their rivals, became the species, and communicated to it the eccentric blunder of their ancestor. If a casual slip, or trick of fanny, can be stereotyped and transmitted, and entered on the books at last as a law of nature, it certainly puts all awkward people under a more serious responsibility than they had suspected. A gentleman, knocking at the wrong door for a dinner engagement, and shown into the drawing-room, might become the founder of a new race with whom it would be a moral axiom to entertain everybody's guest but your own."
Certainly that appears to us the reductio ad absurdum of the theory of fortuitous variation.