« PreviousContinue »
“Hold thou the good! define it well ;
For fear divine Philosophy
Should push beyond her mark, and be
“In science we find people who can neither see nor hear through sheer learning and hypothesis. It is just because we carry about with us a great apparatus of philosophy and hypothesis that we spoil all.Goethe.
“The man of science ought to go on honestly, patiently, diffidently, observing and storing up his observations, and carrying his reasonings unflinchingly to their legitimate conclusions, convinced that it would be treason to the majesty at once of science and of religion if he sought to help either by swerving ever so little from the straight rule of truth."Archbishop Tait.
N studying the speculations of the most advanced
scientific men of the present day, it is remarkable how little we find that is new. Even in the most startling hypotheses which have been put forth there is a remarkable parallelism with the speculations of ancient times. Opinions, old as Poetry and Philosophy, are constantly reappearing, in association with modern ideas. And after their long slumber, when reproduced and clad in new forms, they are accepted by many as new. But, inasmuch as they profess to solve some of the great problems, which, in spite of the new light of Modern Science, remain insoluble still, they must not be accepted without challenge.
The longing for certitude, and the earnest desire to solve the great mysteries by which he is surrounded, is at bottom the cause of this constant and earnest striving in man.
And though the domain of Physical Science is boundless, and, by our improved methods of observation, there are discoveries to be made and new fields of inquiry to be explored, which require nothing but careful experiment and acuteness of reason to push investigations to their farthest limits; yet there is a certain fascination in plunging into those mysteries which transcend human reason, which only confuse and defy us at every step, and at last lead us into “a land of mists and shadows,” and too often into “a wilderness of perplexities and errors.” Thus we find that some of the greatest philosophers have also been the greatest dreamers, and, according to Lord Bacon, they have “invented more fables than the poets.” For when Reason does dream, her wild-eyed sister, Imagination, is calm and unpretentious in comparison.
Of late years we have, perhaps, seen the truth of this, for we have had theories propounded and questions proposed which have startled us by their audacity. A sensation-age must naturally produce sensation-science, as well as sensation-novels; sensation-philosophy, as well as sensation-poetry; and the fear is that some of our philosophers are losing that sense of reverence which is necessary to purify the mind from egotism, selfassertion, and pride of opinion, and to lead to that which Lord Bacon calls “a blessed humility of mind.” “ For,” says that great philosopher, “it is no less true in this human kingdom of knowledge than in God's kingdom of heaven, that no man shall enter it except he becomes first as a little child." For a right moral sense is as necessary as any mental quality for a clear perception of objective facts, and the laws and principles which inhere in them. “The human understanding'
says Bacon, “receives an infusion from the will and affections; so that what a man would most wish to be true, that he most readily believes.”
We hope to treat our subject in a Catholic spirit, as we have no predilections we would not willingly exchange for Truth. And all that we require for our present investigation is, not any special scientific knowledge, but only the application of these reasoning powers by which we are able to form a judgment from the evidence of facts before us; or, in other words, the common sense which guides us in the ordinary decisions of life. For if our scientific men give us the facts or data upon which they build an hypothesis, they only supply, as it were, the materials for reasoning; and they have themselves, as they confess, only arrived at a provisional judgment. The arrangement and generalisation of these facts must be verified and their causes determined. They must in truth be transplanted from the external to the intellectual sphere, and during the process care must be taken to keep the speculative assumption apart from the inductive conclusion. For there is a tendency in the present day to give to the mere tentative efforts of some of our philosophical speculatists a scientific weight and authority which they do not possess; and we must remember that true science does not deal with guesses : it asserts and maintains that which is capable of proof, and embraces such facts as can be co-ordinated into general formulæ; but an hypothesis, which is often based upon the generalisation of partial facts, and which carries with it only the weight of probability, should be carefully distinguished, and estimated for its real value. It can be used only for suggestion, not for demonstration. Now, an hypothesis is a thing we cannot well grapple with : it is not solid and substantial ; it is not wholly fact; it is not wholly fiction. It is a superstructure which is often fair to look at, and which may be admired for the ingenuity that has been displayed in the building (for the imagination is a good architect), but which is, after all, too often but a castle of air.
Now speculation within certain limits is perfectly legitimate and useful. We cannot wholly control the imagination, if we would ; and man's discourse of reason will look before and after. And even when the mind is striving after something that is unattainable, much may be acquired that is accessible; for out of Astrology arose Astronomy, out of Alchemy the modern science of Chemistry: and some of the most wonderful discoveries of the present century are but the realization of the dreams of our forefathers. Physical Science has, within the last century, wrought marvels—its discoveries form a new epoch in the world's history. “We are giants in physical power,” says Carlyle. “In a deeper than metaphorical sense, we are Titans, that strive, by heaping mountain on mountain, to conquer heaven also."
But, after all, the study of Physical Science is onesided ; and an exclusive devotion to physical pursuits, as Sir W. Hamilton has shown, exerts an evil influence upon the mind, and has a tendency to lead the student, if he speculates at all, to Materialism. “Any one study,” says Dr. Newman, “of whatever kind, exclusively pursued, deadens in the mind the interest, nay, the perception, of any other.” Thus, those who are working only in the visible, are in danger of losing their belief in the invisible.