SCIENCE AND MIRACLE.
DROFESSOR HUXLEY, in the remarkable lecture on "improv- ing natural knowledge" delivered to the working classes at St. Martin's Hall, and since published in the Fortnightly Review, states with a candour and moderation worthy of all praise, certain no- tions destructive of all worship,—except that very impossible kind of worship recommended by Professor Huxley, worship of the Unknown and Unknowable,—which have been gaining more and more hold of merely scientific men for many generations, and which, we need not say, are absolutely inconsistent with admitting the activity of any supernatural will in the Universe, and still more the actual occurrence of miracle. Now it is a matter worth a little consideration how far men of pure science are trustworthy on matters of this kind, how far their evidence is what we should call on other subjects the evidence of experts, or not. On a medical subject, we should never think of adopting absolutely any theory rejected by a very large and, perhaps increasing, number of the most eminent men in the medical profession. On a historical subject, we should think it absurd to take up with a view against which every fresh historian of learning and eminence began with clearer and clearer convic- tion to protest. How far, then, even if it be true, as it possibly may be, that the tendency of the highest and calmest scientific thought is increasingly anti-supernatural, can we consider this the tendency of a class entitled to special intellectual deference, or the reverse? Mr. Brooke Foss Westcott, in a very thoughtful volume which he has just published on the Gospel of the Resurrec- tion,"* freely admits that " a belief in miracles decreases with the increase of civilization," but maintains, amidst other weaker and less defensible positions, that the accuracy of comprehensive views of nature as a whole, is not only not secured, but may be
even specially endangered, by too special and constant a study of given parts of nature. "The requirements," he says, " of exact science bind the attention of each student to some one small field, and this little fragment almost necessarily becomes for him the measure of the whole, if indeed he has ever leisure to lift his eyes to
whole at all." And undoubtedly the man who has been studying, say, for the sake of a definite example, the chemical effects of light all his life, and who knows that every different substance when burnt yields a different spectrum, so that you may know. by the number and situation of the dark lines exactly what sub- stance it is that is burning, might be inclined to look at the pos- sibility of miracle, and at faith in the supernatural will, from a narrow point of view. He will say to himself, If one of these spectra were suddenly to change its appearance, if such a dark line vanished, and such others appeared, should I not know with a certainty to me infallible,—a certainty on the absoluteness of which I should never hesitate to risk my own life or that of my family,—that some other element had been introduced into the burning substance ? Could anything persuade me that the change was due to divine volition apart from the presence of a new element or new elements in the burning substance ? Must not the Almighty himself, if He chose to make the change, make it by providing the characteristic element for the purpose,—just as if He chose to alter the moral traits of a human character, He could only do it by a process that would alter the character itnelf, and not by making a stupid and ignorant man give out all the char- acteristic signs of wisdom and learning, or a malignant and cruel man put forth all the moral symptoms of warm benevolence and charity.' So the scientific man would argue, and we are disposed to think would argue rightly. For, admitting that the physical qualities of things are realities at all, we should say that to make the physical qualities of one thing interchange with the physical • qualities of another, without interchanging the things, is, if it be logically and morally possible, as the 'Transubstantiationists believe and most other men disbelieve, a piece of divine magic or con- juring, and not a miracle. But then, do not many great scientific men like Professor Huxley really infer from such trains of reasoning far more than they will warrant ? All that such reasonings do tend to show, is, that if you truly conceive the natural constitutions of things, there are changes which you cannot make without de- stroying those very things altogether, and substituting new ones. As a miracle which should make two and two five is intrinsically impossible (Mr. Mill and the Saturday Review in anywise not- withstanding), so also (though less certainly) a miracle which should make oxygen a combustible gas instead of a supporter of com- bustion, and quite certainly a miracle which should make it right to do what is known to be wrong, or wrong to do what is known to be right, is intrinsically impossible. But the modern scientific inference goes much further than this, and immediately extends the conception of these inherent constitutions of certain things and qualities to the whole Universe,—assuming, for instance, that it is just as impossible, just as much a breach in the inherent constitu- tion of some one or more things, for one who has been dead to live again, for the phenomena of decomposition to be arrested, the heart once silent to begin to beat, as for oxygen itself to burn without ceasing to be oxygen. The way in which this view would be defended would be that all matter and all its qualities are now almost proved to be modes of force, and all force indestructible, so that any kind of supernatural change in the phenomena of matter would appear to be equivalent to the positive alteration in the essence of a mighty whole, as really astounding in itself as the change which could make oxygen burn (that is, oxidize) or two and two equal to five.
Now this is, we take it, something less than conjecture,—indeed demonstrable scientific error, if science be taken to include any- thing more than the laws of physical phenomena. It is probably true indeed that in some sense the physical forces of the Universe are an invariable quantity, which only alter their forms, and not their sum total. If I move my arm, the motion, says the physio- logist, is only the exact equivalent of a certain amount of heat which has disappeared and taken the form of that motion. If I do not move it, the heat remains for use in some other way. In either case the stock of force is unchanged. This is the convic- tion of almost all scientific men, and is probably true. But whether the stock of physical force is constant or not, the cer- tainty that human will can change its direction and application— can transfer it from one channel to another —is just the same. And what that really means, if Will be ever free and uncaused, though of course not unconditioned,—which is, we take it, as ultimate and scientific a certainty as any in the Universe,—is no less than this,— that a strictly supernatural power alters the order and constitution
of nature,—takes a stock of physical force lying in a reservoir here and transfers it to a stream of effort there,—in short, that the supernatural can change the order and constitution of the
natural,—in its essence pure miracle, though miracle of human, and not of divine origin. For example, almost every physiologist will admit the enormous power that pure Will has over the nervous system,—that it can prolong consciousness and even life itself for certain short spaces, by the mere exertion of vehement purpose. Physicians tell you constantly that such and such a patient may no doubt, if it be sufficiently important, by a great effort com- mand his mind sufficiently to settle his affairs, but that it will be at the expense of his animal force,—in short, that it will be a free transfer offorce from the digestive and so to say vegetating part of his system, to that part of his physical constitution, his nervous system, which lies closest, as it were, to the will. Nay, we have heard physicians say that patients, by a great effort of pure will, have, as they believe, prolonged their own life for a short space, that is, have imparted, we suppose, through the excitement produced by the will on the nervous ellitem and so downwards, a certain slight increase of capacity to assimilate food to the failing organic powers of the body. In other words, we con- clude, just as the organism is failing to draw supplies of physical force from the outward world, its power of doing so may be slightly prolonged, — the outward world drained of a small amount of force it would otherwise have kept in stock, and the organism compelled to absorb it—by a pure volition. Can there be a clearer case of action of the supernatural on the natural,—even granting that the sum total of physical force is not altered, but only its application changed ?
What more do we want to conceive clearly the room for Christian miracle, than the application of precisely the same con- ception to God and Christ? The students of the Universe appear to us to be in precisely the same condition with regard to the Universe, as a scientific observing mind secreted in some part of a human body (not the mind moving that body, but some other) would be in with relation to the structural, chemical, mechanical laws of that body. Suppose an atom of your blood able to retain its identity constantly in a human body, and to travel about it on a tour of scientific observation. It would very soon arrive at the conclusion that there were great laws of circula- tion of the blood and the fluids which supply it,—such as we see in nature in the astronomical laws,—great laws of force by which the legs and arms are moved, like the forces of tides or falling waters in the Universe,—great structural laws, by which different Missiles, like the hair, the skin, nails, the nervous and muscular tissues, grow up out of the nourishment supplied them, just as we notice the growth of trees and flowers out of the earth,—and great though somewhat uncertain laws of alternation between activity and repose,—like the laws of night and day ;—and such a scientific particle as we have supposed would undoubtedly soon begin to say that the more deeply it studied thee, things, the more the reign of pure law seemed 'to be extended in the universe of the body, so that all those uncertain and irregular phenomena (which we, however, really know to be due to the changes effected by our own free self- governing power), must be ascribed, it would say, not to any supernatural influence, but to its own imperfect knowledge of the more complex phenomena at work. And such a scientific particle would be perfectly justified in its inferences ; for we have sup- posed it only an intellectual observing machine, not a free will with knowledge of its own that there is a power which is not caused, and which can effect real modifications in the relation even of physical forces which never vary in amount. But nevertheless it would be wrong, and could never know the truth, namely, that the ordering of the succession in these physical forces,—the inter- changes between one and the other,—the physical influences over the body exerted by the command of the appetites and passions, were all of them really traceable in great part to supernatural power, though to supernatural power which does not either add to or subtract from the sum total of physical force present in the Universe. And we maintain that the men of pure science, as they are called,—the men who study everything but Will,—fall into precisely the same blunder as such a rationalizing particle of a human body, and for the same reason. They are quite right in their inferences from their premises, but their premises are radically defective.
In truth the room for miracle• remains as wide as ever. Admit all the discoveries of science, and still they only prove a certain con- stancy in the amount of physical force, and a certain invisible law of succession between the same phenomena. But just as a man who puts forth a great effort to retain his consciousness and reason or even life for a short time longer than he would otherwise do, may succeed,—succeed, that is, in pumping up the failing supply of physical force from the Universe to his system for a few minutes or hours, when without such an effort it would have fled from his body and passed away into other channels,—so miracle only assumes that a supernatural power infinitely greater than man's will might, on sufficient reason,--which every Christian believes to be far more than sufficient,—do the same thing in- finitely more effectually, and for a far longer time. Miracle is in essence only the directing supernatural influence of free mind over natural forces and substances, whatever these may be. In man we do not call this miracle, only because we are accustomed to it,—and in nature scientific men refuse to believe-that any such directing power exists at all. But nevertheless, every accurate thinker will see at once, that free will, Providence, and Miracle do not differ in principle at all, but are only less or more start- ling results of the same fact,—which true reason shows to be fact, —that above nature exist free wills, probably of all orders of power, which do not, indeed, ever break the order of nature, but can and do transform,—as regards man by very small driblets,—but as re- gards higher than human wills in degrees the extent of which • we cannot measure,—natural forces from one phase of activity into another, so as greatly to change the moral order and significance of the Universe in which we live.