PROFESSOR TYNDAL ON SCIENCE AND PRAYER.
THE Pall Mall Gazette has recently contained a very interest- ing controversy on a subject raised by the recent prayer for -relief from the Cattle Plague, in which Professor Tyndal has most ably represented the side proper to a professed student of merely physical science,—that all prayer for divine intervention in, or modification of, events due to physical laws is absurd. Nay, we think his argument implies, if it dots not assert, that all terrestrial laws are, if not dependent upon, still like physical laws in their ultimate structure, that, considered philosophically, the universe has no niche for prayer at all, since God always links fixed ante- cedents with fixed consequents in all those provinces of His universe which we are able to explore. Professor Tyndal maintains that "in cases of national supplications the antecedents are often very clear to one class of the community, though very dark to another and a larger class. This explains the fact that while the latter are ready to resort to prayer, the former decline doing so. The difference between both classes is one of knowledge, not of religious feeling." And he points out with perfect propriety that while the English people would not think of praying that the sun might not rise to-morrow, or even that the weight of the atmosphere might support more or leas than the appointed weight of water, there is no objection to praying for rain, because the laws which determine weather are as yet to the mass of men entirely unknown. "The absence or presence of rain depends upon laws of gaseous pressure which are just as immutable as those of water pressure, and the only reason that I can see for the assumption that the one is the object of divine interference and the other not, is that one of them is 770 times heavier than the other." We rather think Professor Tyndal has here misrepre- sented the writer in the Pall Mall Gazette, and if so he will doubt- less be put right there,—but whether this be so or not, we are clear that to pray for any phenomenon regulated by purely physical laws is a presumptuous absurdity ; and that it is quite as great an absurdity to pray that a straw may not fall as that the sun may not rise. But Professor Tyndal should not ignore the fact how very few events in human life are solely de- pendent on purely physical laws. He tries to exaggerate the imaginative effect of these laws by multiplying the trains of necessary consequences which radiate from, and the trains of necessary antecedents which converge in, each physical fact. "The external motion of your arm," he says, "is derived immediately from a motion within your arm,—it is in fact this motion in another shape. While you were pushing your ink- stand a certain amount of oxidation occurred in the muscles of your arm, which oxidation, under normal circumstances, produces a certain definite amount of heat. To move the inkstand, a cer- tain quantity of that heat has been consumed which is the exact demand of the work done. You could do the same work with the same amount of heat from an ordinary fire. The force employed is the force of your food which is stored up in your muscles. The motor nerves pull the trigger and discharge this force. You have here a series of transformations of purely physical energy, with one critical point involved in the question, "What causes the motor nerves to pull the trigger?" Is the cause physical or super-physical? Is it a sound or a gleam, or an external prick or purpose, or some internal uneasiness that stimulates the nerves to unlock the mus- cular force,—or is it free will ? Whatever the true answer to the question maybe, your safety consists in affirming boldly that free will must be the cause of the nervous action." Professor Tyndal should rather say "may be" than "must be." No thinking man doubts that a large class of moral actions are as much the links in a ne- cessary chain of moral causation as the transformation of heat into motion itself. But we agree with him that the whole meaning of prayer,—the room for it in the philosophy of the universe,—does depend upon there being both a free centre of volition in human nature, and an infinite reserve of free spiritual life not pledged to the existing network of divine laws predetermined from eternity, in God. If either or both of these freedoms does not exist, prayer loses all its rational justification. If neither God nor man is free, then all that can be said of it is, that prayer has been and remains an impressive mode of giving vent to strong social feeling, but that it is founded upon an erroneous conception of the relation of man to the universe, and will give way therefore to other modes of expression not liable to the same criticism, so soon as the develop- ment of the great machine has eliminated these errors from the constituent agencies at work,—a process in effecting which Pro- fessor Tyndal may very likely be an essential though involuntary link. If, again, God is free, but man not, precisely the same criti- cism may be made,—the only difference being that in this case there might be some justification for those Calvinistic creeds which represent God as freely pulling the strings which make one human puppet pray, and as freely pulling those other strings which make another human puppet forbear to pray ; but to man, prayer is as before, either a necessity which effects nothing, being a mere effect itself, or an impossibility. Finally, if man be free and God not, — an almost inconceivable supposition, but yet one towards whirl the language of scientific men, in its reverence for universal law and its contempt for the arbitrary phenomena of human will, often appears to incline, —then human prayer is natural but misdirected, being as intrinsically futile as would be prayer to the solar system. But grant what all men, except in their philosophizings, often in spite of their philosophizings, habitually assume, that there is an inner area of free- dom in man within that composite fabric of circumstance and inheri- ted nature called his character, and an inner universe of unpledged power in God besides that engaged in sustaining those chains of uniform antecedents and consequents called physical laws, and it is easy to show that though prayer for the reversal of physical law is both silly and arrogant, there are few even physical calamities besetting human life against which wemay not reasonably pray, with the proper Christian reserve, "not our will, but God's be done,"—and few blessings for which we may not, under like conditions, reasonably pray. A remarkable letter, which we print elsewhere, seems to us, in maintaining the true spiritual function of prayer, to miss, or at least to omit, the necessary relation between God's power to give spiritual aid and that function of Providence in also overruling our external lot, without which spiritual aid would often be inadequate to its divine ends.
Professor Tyndal asks "if the suppliant voice of a whole nation would have altere I the laws of hy frantic pressure in the cm; of the Bradfield reservoir." No; but the suppliant voice of a whole nation, or even of a single man, might have male all the difference in the thoroughness either of the original construction or of the subsequent inspection of the Bradfield reservoir, and so prevented the calamity. It is at the point at which human freedom inter- laces with physical law that prayer enters to influence physical events. A man prays to be eniblel to do his duty thoroughly and in no perfunctory way ; the answer comes in that moral candour of vision, that lingering of the mind on the knotty points of duty, which so often opens the eyes to a danger nearly over- looked, or a mode of operation more efficient. Take the ease of President Lincoln and the Anti-Slavery policy. He said, when urged to the emancipation policy, "I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed He would reveal it directly to me ; for unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter." "I assure you," he repeated, "that the matter is on my mind, day and night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do." Now who can deny that here was a case of the meeting of a gigantic number of even purely physical laws in the moral problem of duty as presented to a single man, and that the light which God gradually, and only gradually, gave him, on this subject, as he believed, and we also profoundly believe, affected not only the direct political and moral problem at issue, but the lives, the hearts, the general destinies of millions? Had that emancipation proclamation come a year sooner, or a year later, or never come at all, it might have been that all American history would have taken a different shape, —it must have been that different troops would have fought, different battle-fields been chosen, differ- ent parks of artillery discharged, different results achieved for the fortunes of multitudes. Had it come a year sooner, before the slow- minded nation was ripe for it, it may be the Administration would have been overturned, the support to the war refused, the tempo- rary independence of the South achieved, the lives of thousands altered, the fate of slavery postponed. And the same might have been the case,—many great and vast differences must have resulted —from a year's delay in the choice of that policy. A conscientious ruler at a critical moment in a nation's history is with regard to the divine government like a delicate instrument to a divine musician ; while a wilful man in the same position is like a dull and obtuse instrument in the hands of the same musician ;—i. e., far greater immediate results, and very different results both immediate and ultimate, will be achieved through the one, from those that would be achieved through the other. Nor will the only difference ba in the degree to which the particular divine purpose presented to the instrumental mind is carried out. Infinite other and secondary results are doubtless foreseen by Providence as diverging from the special alternatives to be chosen by human free will. As a great general may turn even the errors
of subordinates into elements of success, so in an infinitely deeper way doubtless Providence does turn even human wilfulness to His own ends,—bat still the fact remains that a different world emerges, if one choice is made, from what would have emerged if the other choice had been made. And so wherever you find a human con- science engaged in a problem as to its own immediate duties, there you have a free will certain to influence all future history, and though not changing any physical laws themselves, yet changing the actual range of those physical laws, and determining the beings on whom those physical laws shall take effect. Had not President Lin- coln believed it to be God's will that he should issue the emancipa- tion proclamation in 1863, negro soldiers would not have been em- ployed at Port Hudson in thesummer and autumn of that year, white soldiers would have been employed in their place, different cannon- balls would have struck different files of men,—thousauds of lives would havebeen differently ended, thousands of thousands of private histories would have been wholly different, —men might have been killed whose inventions will change the physical progress of the age, or spared whose inventions are now lost to us, and in this way it is easy to see how a thousand such calamities as the Bradfield reservoir might be either prevented or precipitated by the prayer of a single man to see and obey duly the perfect will of God. And when we remember what millions of moral crises happen every week to the human race, —there is no difficulty in seeing how prayer and the answer to prayer may change the -whole course of the human lot with regard to physical events, -without interfering with a single scientific law. The room for an infinite special Providence in short remains, even to those who admit in the strongest way the immutable character of purely physical law.
Still, to pray for rain is to pray for a change in A. physical series of antecedents and consequents of which all the generating ante- cedents are already given? Probably that is so ; and in the present state of science we doubt if any scientific man could heartily pray for rain. It is not quite certainly so, for no one knows how far meteorological phenomena are influenced by strictly contingent events. It is generally asserted, for instance, that cutting down forests in any part of the world does alter the rainfall materially there, and if there, then certainly all over the world in some degree. It is possible that cutting the Isthmus of Panama might so alter the currents of the ocean and air as to change the meteor- ology of the next thousand years. It is barely possible that the -cannonade of a great battle might alter the atmospheric currents sufficiently to change the fate of a harvest. Still we admit that .all these contingencies are scientifically so remote,—since in all probability the laws of meteorology do not interlace with the contingent acts of human life much more than the astronomi- cal laws of planetary systems themselves,—that we only men- tion these fanciful suggestions to point our assertion that the -effect and range even of the most purely physical laws are of ten determined by free human actions, which, again, must be influenced by prayer, or the neglect of prayer. But to pray "for the kindly fruits of the earth, that in due time we may enjoy them," or against "plague, pestilence, and famine, battle and murder," and (if we -think it an evil) "sudden death," is in no way liable to this criticism. All these, events, even the good harvest, depend in a hundred ways on the actual influence of God over human wills, on acts of -duty done or resisted and their infinite consequences, on the woof of freedom as well as on the warp of necessity. If man is to pour cut his soul freely to God at all, we see but two classes of prayers which he is in reverence bound absolutely to abstain from,—prayers that God will change any course of action once fixed by Him as a law of nature, which would be presumptuous and irreverent,—or prayers that can only be accomplished through human evil, or sin, which would-be prayers for evil.