- • The Analo g y of liluturat and Resealed, to Th e
Constitution and Course of are certain perplexities arising from the fact that men should, as a. Nature. By Bishop Butler. THE CONSTITUTION AND COURSE OF NATURE.* IT appears to us that every review which aims at supplying readers with something more than a guide to the circulating library, ought from time to time to call attention to the thoughts of the past as they are illustrated by the present, and we propose to make the attempt with the thinkers of a time to which the pre- sent generation is inclined to do scant justice,—the eighteenth cen- tury. We have much to learn from "the bankrupt century," as Carlyle has unjustly called the period finding its term in the French Revolution. The horizon of eighteenth -century thought was a narrow one ; it would be mere affectation of candour to profess any doubt that ours is wider. But the men who have attended to few things have something to teach those who have attended to many, and we believe that the thinkers of our time might learn from their predecessors exactly those qualities in which they are themselves deficient. It may seem strange to those who recall the licence of abuse which the Hanoverian writers permitted themselves, to say that temperance is one of these qualities, and yet the assertion will not be thought unwarranted by any one who has studied what was once called by a wise man "the most modest book that ever was written."
Butler's "Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature" is a work which readers of our day would have peculiar difficulty in studying. A mental appetite stimulated by the rhetoric with which such a subject as Butler's would be treated now, recoils before his slow and careful reasoning, his anxious concession, his candid paring down to its uttermost tenuity the conclusion he asks his readers to accept, and his total absence of any glow of feeling ; and the work thus characterised, and hampered besides by the dialect of a superficial time, is known to our own chiefly at second-hand. In this form it is peculiarly liable to distortion. Butler never meant to say, as he has been supposed to say—" Because those who account for the rise of this present constitution of things on the Christian hypothesis are no worse off, as far as difficulties go, than those who account for it on any other, therefore you ought to believe in Christianity." He was not return- ing a poor tu quo quo to the objection against any difficulty in what he called the Christian scheme. He was dwelling on the fact that the world in which we live is an Order, and contending that this order is the ultimate object of our investigation. We have faculties to observe and compare, but not to judge, as we might judge arrangements for some end which we knew independently, the laws which regulate the world. Any criticism of a system of which we form a part is futile. Our first question with regard to such a system must be, "Is it probable that seventy years of life on this earth includes all that each individual can experi-
ence of its working?" Nature, Butler urges in reply, brings nothing to confute the anticipation of continuance which arises in the mind of one who is conscious of individual.
existence. If the old man on the verge of the grave is the same as the child within the womb, if the mutilated soldier is
conscious that no part of himself is gone, if to the very edge
of that change which we call death we have watched the force of mind and soul continued in all its- keenness, then the belief that what each man calls himself will be destroyed when the material surroundings which have been often changed without. affecting him are dissolved, is not justified by anything we see in the world around us. What, then, to judge from the analogy of all other changes, is to follow this event which we. call Death ? What follows every change of life ? Is not our whole career a subtly intermingled course of seed-time and.
harvest ? The idleness or folly of yesterday means the want or shame of to-day. Goodness is sometimes joined with pain, and
wickedness with pleasure, but it is not natural that they should. be so. In considering what is natural, we must watch, not events only, but tendencies ; if we are really under a Governor, we must observe not only whether the laws which express. his will may be sometimes set at naught by other agencies which for a time he sees good to leave un- restrained, but whether there are any laws at all. No doubt_ we must take some time for the discernment of these laws,. the tendencies we have to look for are unquestionable only on a very wide view. Goodness is in this world a thing so hidden that we can hardly discern its natural consequences, but it is not the less. true that they are natural. The case with regard to goodness is. somewhat as it would be with regard to reason, if reason alone, and. no difference of appearance or shape, distinguished man and the lower animals. Considering how large the disproportion between their number and ours, it may well be doubted whether in that case the advantages of reason would be apparent with anything like the clearness with which they are now. Something like this is true of the distinction between the good and bad in this world. The good. are vastly outnumbered, and that goodness which is a natural bond of union has hardly time to show itself. We are here (the. metaphor is ours and not Butler's, who, unless the above hypothesis can be called a metaphor, does not indulge in one throughout his. work) in the position of a man who has fallen asleep by daylight,. and waking in early dawn, asks, "Is this dim light a promise. of what is to come ?" It is quite conceivable that several minutes might pass before he could feel sure that the light was growing stronger, and if at the end of those few minutes he were to sink_ back into sleep, we can fancy that in remembering that brief awakening he might never be able to shake off some doubt as to whether it took place in the morning or evening twilight. Now- our whole sojourn in this world can be little more with reference to the purposes of God than those few minutes of morning awakening, and our reasonings as to any evidence of those pur- poses must rest on indications slight as those by which in such a case we should be convinced that the light was growing stronger. As in such a case we should, if a journey were imminent, rise andt set about our preparations before we felt absolute certainty that the growing clearness in the details of the room might not be the mere effect of our strained watchfulness, so, thinks Butler, the wise. man will act on the faint foreshadowings of government in this. order of nature, although they may not be of a kind which can be demonstrated to the understanding of one who knew nothing of the experiences through which they were discerned.
It is possible that in this meagre abstract of the portion of. Butler's work to which we desire to call attention, the effect of. reading a string of truisms, which is the first impression of the book to any but a patient student, may be somewhat exaggerated.- Though a dissertation on a "Future State" and a "State of Probation" belong to a set of notions that are now obsolete,. yet we are aware that every one speaks most truly in his own. dialect, and that there is a danger of leaving thought bare in the attempt to strip from it the costume of a particular age. The historical aspect of thought is quite as important in this case as in others. Every page of Butler reminds us, for instance,. that he wrote at a time when vice was fashionable. Considering the frequency with which the antithesis "Virtue and Vice" occurs. in his pages, it is extremely important to remember how differently those words were illustrated for his contemporaries and ours. There were probably at that time, as at all times, individuals who had no belief in any Governor of the Universe, and who were virtuous ; but, on the whole, it was not nearly so untrue then as it - would be now to say that all good men were Christians. There
body, teach and practice a high morality and oppose Christianity, which were quite out of sight for the thinkers of the eighteenth century, and we must not accuse them of want of subtlety, because they miss the inferences which we cannot help drawing from this fact. Again, we mast always remember that Butler wrote before that great protest in favour of the obscure multitudes, whose condition often seems so difficult to reconcile with any belief in a righteous ruler of this world, which we sum up as the French Revolution. The conditions of modern democracy force the claims of individuals on the attention in a way in which they were never forced on the attention of the men of the eighteenth century. When they took what they would have called a broad view, it seems to us a partial view. Those dames whose demands form now the most obvious objects in the world of duty were lost to their eyes in a dim haze. The attention of the earthly ruler was not fixed on the needs of the suffering masses as, what- ever his individual character, it must be now, and there was not the same demand for obvious sympathy in this care (to use the imperfect language we must use if we speak at all on such sub- jects) on the part of the heavenly ruler. To these substantial differences we must add the fact which, though apparently a mere matter of dialect, really indicates a revolution in thought since Butler's time, that he meant something different from what we do when we use the word "Nature." lie used the word in a sense familiar to all who know the writings of the Stoics (evidently well known to Butler), the sense which we only retain in the adjective when we speak of its being natural to do so and so. He did not in using it intend to exclude the world of inanimate being, but he was thinking of man. We invert this procedure, aware that in many respects that man has a place in Nature, we yet in using the word "Nature" to some degree exclude man. The difference expresses the wonderful influx of attention and interest which the material world has received since Butler's day, and the reflected light which Physical Science has shed in quarters its direct rays could never penetrate. It is one of the cardinal facts we have to keep in mind in judging all the writers of the eighteenth century ; we shall never be just to them or the richer for their bequest, if we forget that the study of Nature has received its most striking development since their day, and that something of what we have to learn from them is the value of the light which they lacked.
"Why, then," it may be asked, "call our attention to such books as you are criticising ? That we should, as students of English literature and English history, read the works which have influenced thought in past days, and investigate their influence on history, we readily grant. But the very changes which, as land- marks of the altered current of thought, give historical value to such a work as Butler's, deprive it of that kind of value which would justify comments upon it in a newspaper of the day. If we are to attend to it as a memorial of the low morals, the narrow sympathies, and the restricted intellectual range of the past, it can have no interest for any but students in the present."
Perhaps we must allow that so far as Butler is a mere speci- men of the eighteenth-century spirit he loses the kind of claim which we yet, on the whole, venture to make for him as a teacher for the present day. Nevertheless, the object of this notice is to urge that the change of thought in our day has done more to strengthen than to weaken Butler's position; that if he were to write now, since that change of feeling induced by the scientific ideas which form the atmo- sphere of this generation, and which finds its present consummation in the Darwinian theory of organic being, he could utter his pro- test against the refusal to hear any voice which addresses itself to the inward ear with all the weight of his own solemn thought, and with the added power of enlarged illustration and strengthened argument.
For what is that Darwinian view of Nature which we have been taught to accept as the starting-point of all future investigation? That nature is a unity in a sense in which our fathers could not so call it. While people thought that this frame-work of things in which we live originated on one principle and was kept up on another, all thought was inevitably moulded on this duality. Of course, good Christians believed that one Being was at the head of both systems, but the aspect he bore as regarded through either medium was so different that they were practically antagonistic. What did those who felt their need of a Redeemer care about the constitution and course of Nature? What did those who wanted to investigate Nature care about the " mediatorial scheme " ? This antithesis may be put more concisely in the dialect of the peat, but we are living still under the influence of this dislocation of our intellectual being. Only this inheritance of incoherence
left us by our fathers has changed its meaning. The triumphant force of our time is physical science, and all dominant ideas must take their colour from the speculations of those who deal with what can be weighed and measured. Now see how this duplicity of conception as to the origin of things affects those who under these altered circumstances study a constitution and course of Nature. They have drawn in with their mother's milk the convic- tion that all that they can make out about the world in which they live has nothing to do with what we call God ; that this. agency is manifested, indeed, solely by interfering with those sequences which they spend their lives in deciphering. No. man who has imbibed the true scientific spirit will deny any agency on the ground that he has never seen it at work, nor even on the stronger ground that all that he knows would., be interfered with by admitting it. But when men have devoted, their whole time and energy to the study of something in the order and harmony of which they find their exceeding great reward, and all they know of something else is that this second. entity is said to manifest itself in interruptions of this order and, harmony, what is likely to be their state of mind with regard to. it? "'When we see this constitution and course of Nature inter- fered with," they will say, "then we shall have to believe that such interference is possible. In the meantime, as it appears that the laws by which this constitution of Nature is governed do not hold good in the region from which this interference is said to emanate,. as all the ultimate decisions attainable by that study, the most insignificant fruit of which is the prosperity of a nation, are liable to be upset, and the fruit of a life-long patient investigation turns like fairy money to ashes when we enter on this region, you cannot wonder that we should trouble our head very little about it. While the natural world invites and rewards the devotion of any number of minds and any number of years, we must decline to invert all the habits of mind we have moulded on that. study for something of which all we know is the fact that it does need this inversion."
No, we cannot wonder at it. The state of mind of scientific men towards theology is the inevitable result of this duality it* men's conception of the laws which regulate Nature, and the- interruptions to law which are supposed to have originated Life, a result which, like every analogous product of a particular conception, long survives its parent. Darwin's Origin of Species gave the death- blow to that sickly and yet long-lived theory, but that theory haa fixed the attitude of scientific men towards theology, and we do. not anticipate any change in their attitude during our own genera- tion. And yet it is through their work that the argument on which we are dwelling has received its most forcible illustration and escaped its most formidable difficulty. For the great obstacle to any patient attention to such an argu- ment as Butler's, before the scientific development of our own. day, lay in this very theory. If the origin of all organised being lay wholly outside the constitution of Nature, it might seen doubtful logic to found arguments as to the ultimate destiny of individual beings on anything we could observe from this course, of Nature. If the whole machine had to be stopped that man might be introduced into it (and this is surely no unfair represen- tation of the old hypothesis of Creation), there must have been always a certain hesitation in applying any reasoning founded on the working of this machine to the purpose and destiny of man. But if it is by a perfectly natural process that we can trace out genealogy from the first germ of life on this earth, what an en- larged basis is immediately gained for any kind of inference drawn from the natural order in which we live.
When Butler wrote, for instance, the gradual process of develop- ment by which each one of us has emerged into conscious life had no parallel in the prevalent conception of Creation. The first man took his start from that eminence which all other men reach by long climbing. There was no homogeneity between the dawn of this life for each one of us and the dawn of this life for man- kind, and if any one sought to trace an analogy between the individual and the race, he found no help in any teaching con- cerning its origin. The links of the chain seemed fashioned within the kingdom of Nature, the chain itself rested on some support. belonging to the kingdom of the Supernatural. Therefore, what- ever vista might open for the race, analogy suggested no inference for every member of that race. Think how that fact bears on. Butler's reasonings concerning what he calls a Future Life, and. what we should call the permanence of this life. If any one had' asked while the old hypothesis of Creation lasted, "Everything in Nature suggests a beginning and not an end for man, and may it not be so for men ? " he would have provoked the response, "The two ideas have no connection, the origin of men is natural, and the origin of man was supernatural." But now is there no force in the question? Of course we do not put it forward as any proof of man's immortality. Proof from analogy is impossible, but is there not here exactly that kind of suggestion on which Butler dwells throughout his argument as to the attitude of expectation with which we are to approach certain ideas? And only those who declare that this kind of argument is futile (and they will not be the keenest observers of the process by which belief is actually generated) will deny that as far as the origin of the individual and the race have been assimilated by recent speculations, so, if the spirit of Butler's treatise is to hold good, will their duration be also.
It is, however, in the portion of Butler's work most liable to distortion that we discern a meaning which the doctrine of Natural Selection lights up most fully. His opinion that "probability is the guide of life," and the course of reasoning by which, starting from this, he attempts to prove that the preponderant evidence on the side of Christianity is sufficient to induce men to act on the hypothesis of its truth,—this belief, as it is often expressed, jars on all that is highest in the mind of our day. As people gene- rally take it—that one had better behave as if one believed some- thing, supposing there is any chance of being punished for not believing it—this view opposes our fundamental conception of -truth, as the ultimate object for the desires of man. It would be too much to say that there is nothing of this feeling in Butler. Nevertheless, we are sure that it is not from a patient study of his argument that any one will derive this impression, No one can follow the slow movement of his utterance, weighted with great thoughts, without feeling that truth Was to him more precious than anything which truth might bring as its conse- quence. To him, we believe, the question presented itself thus. Is there any medium through which we can discern Truth but that of experience ? Is it possible to test any hypothesis, other- wise than by acting upon it ? It is from a deeper thinker even than Butler that we must learn this lesson, in a form which it is impossible to confuse with this vulgar obliteration of truth by safety. Butler's dialect, we admit, lends itself to this distor- tion. Still it is a distortion, and had he lived when the wider view of nature open to our generation sheds light upon every neighbouring region, we believe he might have escaped it. At all events, we, following on his steps, and discerning in the Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature and the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, specimens of the same kind of patient thought working in regions so different that the workers could never have recognised each
• other as the intellectual kindred they are,—we may see that ac- cording to the teaching of both, the thought within and the world without are developed on the same principle. Certainty is the result of the same process which originates Being. As every organism tends to vary from its parent type, so every thought represents its object with a difference, and truth is attained by the survival of the thought strong enough to bear the strain of action. Experience, killing off all beliefs and theories that will not bear this strain, selects continually new convictions to meet the changed elements of the ages, developing truth exactly as we have learnt to believe that life is developed, by continually
pruning away all that is not fitted to endure. And if it seems strange to us that God should thus reveal Him- self to creatures so frail as we are,—that of lives so short, and so full of urgent need for faith in Him, a large portion should need to be spent in this blind groping after Him, may we not answer in Butler's words, but with a range of mean- ing unattainable by him, that it is not more strange than that "of the numerous seeds and bodies of animals which are adapted and put in the way to improve to such a point of natural maturity of perfection, we do not see perhaps that one in a million actually does "? (Anal. i. 5.) A world thus formed seems to us to answer -to a God thus revealed.