2 MAY 1891, Page 24

A THEOLOGICAL NOVEL—EDNOR WHITLOCK.* THE extraordinary success of _Robert Eismere

has given a certain impulse to the writing of religious or theological novels. But while we may truly say that Robert Elsmere was a true novel in the literary sense, though turning on religious subjects, and one which had hardly in it any theology at all, strictly so termed, this is hardly a novel in the literary sense, though it is a story not ill pieced together, and containing some bright sketches of French and English life, but owing its chief value to some very genuine natural theology embodied in its structure. Mrs. Humphry Ward's genius was literary, though her purpose was one bearing on religion. Mr. Hugh MacColl does not enter deeply enough into the heart and character of any of his figures to prove himself a novelist. He has a quick eye for the superficies of character, and does not describe badly; but his heart is rather in the argumentative portions of his book than in the literary portions. There is a good deal more genuine theology in his story than in Mrs. Humphry Ward's, but a good deal less insight into the relations between life and religion. Without depreciating the story. which is fairly interesting, this book will depend undoubtedly on its argument for any lasting value in which it may be held.

Mr. MacColl's main purpose is to show that the theory of evolution, instead of involving the conception that mind is an accident in creation, involves rather the conception that mind is the power which has prescribed the most definite limits to all that can fairly be called accident in creation. Of course "accident" is a word which merely expresses our ignorance of any real connection between deliberate purpose and the event which is said to be accidental. Two persons meet by accident, if neither of the persons who meet had any expectation or intention of meeting the other. We suffer from an accident, if the fall or the burn or the cut from which we suffer was brought about by causes entirely independent of any known person's purpose. Now, one of the principles of the evolutional theory is, that all variations in organic structure appear to be originally accidental,—in other words, that the variations which tend to injure or depress the vital elasticity and force of the organism are as frequent and as probable as those which have the opposite tendency, the difference being that those which tend to injure the organism tend also to obliterate it, and therefore to cause it to disappear ; while those which tend to improve or to protect it, tend also to increase its chance of surviving all the dangers which it has to incur. It is this fact which has appeared to give an atheistic drift to the evolutional theory. Why, it is asked, if the creative purpose is behind all the forms of life, are those variations which do not promote the benefit of the organism as common as those which do ? and why is it only the automatic tendency of prejudicial changes to extinguish themselves which virtually secures the ultimate waxing of the useful variations and the waning of the injurious ones? To this Mr. MacColl replies that it is not true that all organic variations are in any absolute sense acci- dental. They may appear random changes to us, but they are random only in the sense in which the drawings from a box containing a given number of differently coloured balls appear random. Ultimately you will find that the number of drawings of white, black, blue, green, yellow, and red balls, will tend to approach with more and more close- ness to the proportion between the numbers of white, black, blue, green, yellow, and red balls which the box actually con- tained, and so, too, the organic variations in Nature will all turn out to be strictly limited by the great guiding laws of that Nature on which they are variations. It will be like the process of tracing a curve of which the equation has been laid down. The specific values taken may be taken at random, but as the relations between the different elements of the curve, as defined by the equation, must be kept up, all the random points determined will more and more show a ten- dency to conform to some general law which will result at last in some harmonious and perhaps beautiful spiral or other

Bduor Whitlock. By Ilugh MeeColL London : Ohatto and Windas. figure where all the "accidents" are proved to have been limited by overruling design. This Mr. MacColl illustrates in the following manner :— "A certain tutor distinguished for his mathematical attain- ments, having learnt that his pupils, misreading the true significance of the theory of evolution, had become atheists, sum- moned them to him one day, and giving each a closed and sealed envelope, on the outside of which he had written a few mathe- matical symbols, thus addressed them —' Gentlemen, I want you to perform for me a most interesting and instructive experiment, which will show you how chance, or apparent chance, working under the restrictions of preassigned laws and limits, may be made to fulfil accurately, even to the smallest details, the deliberate purposes of a foreseeing and designing mind. The sealed envelopes before you contain each a curiously shaped and delicately shaded drawing, somewhat resembling the leaf of a certain tropical plant. You have never seen the drawing before, and you have not the remotest idea what it is like; yet I wish you one and all to make an accurate copy of it without once seeing it. You look astonished, and imagine, no doubt, that I demand an impossibility. Your astonishment will probably not be diminished when I tell you that I expect you to do this by taking a great number of points at random on your drawing-paper, the total assemblage of which random points will turn out to be the accurate copy which I require. But as pure chance of itself—absolutely unrestricted chance—never can produce anything but wild disorder and confusion, you must submit your random points—or rather the random variables which determine their positions—to certain laws and restrictions which you will find expressed in two or three simple algebraic formula on the outsides of your envelopes, rejecting all such as do not conform to the imposed conditions. When you have carried on this process long enough—and I warn you it will take a very long time—each of you will open his envelope and compare his chance-begotten figure with the drawing inside. The result of this comparison, I confidently predict to you, will be that he will find the latter in almost every detail a perfect duplicate of the former. Now, take your drawing-paper, mathematical instruments, and all the other materials necessary, and 'set at once to work.' His pupils thereupon, with very puzzled-looking faces, sat down and did as directed. When they had been at work for about an hour, their tutor summraied them again, and made them compare the results of their labour. Each paper contained a chaotic arrangement of small dark spots apparently following no law of distribution, and no two arrange- ments appeared to have the slightest resemblance to each other. He called their attention to this general dissimilarity, and then bade them put away their papers carefully till the morrow. The following day the random process was resumed, and after an hour's continuance, the results were again compared. This time the points seemed to have exhibited some slight tendency to con- centrate in certain places rather than in others, and, moreover, those places appeared to occupy pretty much the same relative positions on all the papers. The third day those curious phenomena were still more perceptible, and it also now became evident that the points were restrained by some mysterious cause (mysterious, at any rate, to the operators) from passing certain curvilinear but invisible boundaries. Numbers had dropped in the immediate vicinity of those untraced boundaries, but none beyond. Another noticeable circumstance was that these restraining 'though untraced and invisible) boundaries were nearly the same on all the papers.. Daily for an hour this process of random pointing was resumed, the randomly evolved figures, to the amazement of the youthful operators, slowly assuming clearer and clearer out- lines and more symmetrical distributions of shading as the points increased in numbers. After the third day, by their tutor's request, the pupils no longer compared papers ; each pointed away independently, and in ignorance of the results obtained by his fellows. At last, after the lapse of many days, their tutor, who had throughout silently watched the progress of their respective works, told them that their figures had now reached a sufficient approximation to perfection for his purpose, and he desired them to sign their names to them, and bring them to him for com- parison. This done, he collected their papers, and, arranging them in three separate rows, bade them examine them. If the pupils were astonished before, they were much more so now ; for they found that while figures belonging to different rows differed slightly, both in outline and shading, yet all those belonging to the same row appeared in every respect to be exact facsimiles of each other. Ordered next to open their envelopes and compare again, a fresh surprise awaited them. Each found inside his envelope a faithful duplicate, in outline and shading, of his own apparently chance- "begotten figure, as well as of every other figure in the row to which it belonged. Their tutor allowed them a few minutes to give vent to their admiration, and then again addressed them."

Finally, the mathematician draws his moral from the experi- ment thus

"If my finite and feeble intelligence was able to foresee not only the exact shape and shading, but even the small variations of shape and shading, which finally resulted from your apparently random process, why should it be thought improbable that the seemingly random events of the universe, including the wilful and too often sinful actions of mankind, should be controlled and .directed by an all-powerful and infinite Intelligence towards some wise ends which utterly surpass our comprehension P Do not the random points of the experiment which we have just brought to a close aptly typify the random, or apparently random, combina- tions of animate and inanimate nature P Are not the laws and limits of our variables suggestive, though in a very imperfect manner, of the mighty laws and limits imposed upon those com- binations by the supreme Ruler of the universe—such laws, for example, as the laws of gravitation, of light, of heat, of decay, and of death, and the numberless impassable limits—limits of form, limits of growth, and limits of age or duration—which inexorably shape the developments of the animal and vegetable creation P And may not the final geometrical figure fitly repre- sent or suggest the living plant, or animal, or complex consti- tution of society which the Almighty Designer had long foreseen and predetermined P" The only comment we should be inclined to make on this analogy is that, for the purposes of the theological application, the resulting figure should not have been one of complete and harmonious symmetry, but rather of spoilt symmetry, like a beautiful leaf or flower of which a portion had been torn off or otherwise injured. The variations permitted in the develop- ment of life are variations partly due to the self-will and evil passions of created beings, and though, as Mr. MacColl points out, strict limits are assigned by the creative purpose to the mischief which this self-will and these evil passions may effect, yet the result is not a perfect harmony, but a spoilt harmony, a harmony penetrated with discords. Mr. MacColl's thesis is, however, that the limits assigned to the variations which we call chance, are limits conceived, imposed, and strenuously enforced by the same infinite in- telligence which is reflected in what we call the ultimate laws of Nature. 'What men call chance is nothing but the painful groping of our intelligence towards the light, before we come upon the track of that higher and wider intelligence by which all our random shots are restrained and overruled, though not individually determined.

Mr. MacColl gives indications in the earlier part of his story of some intention of filling out his theistic argument into an argument for Christianity itself. From that inten. tion, however, he seems to have receded. For, except some thoughtful pages concerning the natural indications of a future life, there is nothing which even approaches the proper domain of Christian theology at all. The book, however, is a vigorous one, and well worth study on its theological side.