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Scientific Essays and Lectures by Charles Kingsley

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And bear in mind, as I said just now, that this study of natural
history is the grammar of that very physical science which has
enabled England thus to replenish the earth and subdue it. Do you
not see, then, that by following these studies you are walking in
the very path to which England owes her wealth; that you are
training in yourselves that habit of mind which God has approved as
the one which He has ordained for Englishmen, and are doing what in
you lies toward carrying out, in after life, the glorious work which
God seems to have laid on the English race, to replenish the earth
and subdue it?

One word more, and I have done. Unless you are already tired of
hearing me, I would suggest a few practical hints before we part.
The best way of learning these matters is by classes, in which men
may combine and interchange their thoughts and observations. The
greatest savants find this; and have their Microscopic Society,
Linnaean, Royal, Geological Societies, British Associations, and
what not, in which all may know what each has done, and each share
in the learning of all; for as iron sharpeneth iron, so a man
sharpens the face of his friend. I have nothing to say against
debating societies: perhaps it was my own fault that whenever I
belonged to one as a young man, I found them inclined to make me
conceited, dictatorial, hasty in my judgments, trying to state a
case before I had investigated it, to teach others before I had
taught myself, to make a fine speech, not to find out the truth;
till in, I think, a wise moment for me, I vowed at twenty never to
set foot in one again, and kept my vow. Be that as it may, I wish
that side by side with the debating society, I could see young men
joining in natural history societies; going out in company on
pleasant evenings to search together after the hidden treasures of
God's world, and read the great green book which lies open alike to
peasant and to peer; and then meeting, say once a week, to debate,
not of opinions but of facts; to show each what they had found, to
classify and explain, to learn and to wonder together. In such a
class many appliances would be possible. A microscope, for
instance, or chemical apparatus, might belong to the society, which
each individual by himself would not be able to afford; while as for
books--books on these subjects are now published at a marvellous
cheapness, which puts them within the reach of every one, and of an
excellence which twenty years ago was impossible. Any working man
in this town might now, especially in a class, consult scientific
books, for which I, as a lad, twenty years ago, was sighing in vain;
nay, many of which, twenty years ago, the richest nobleman could not
have purchased; for the simple reason, that, dear or cheap, they did
not exist. Such classes, too, would be the easiest, cheapest, and
pleasantest way of establishing what ought to exist, I think, in
connection with every institution like this, namely, a museum. If
the young men were really ready and willing to collect objects of
interest, I doubt not that public-spirited men would be found, who
would undertake the expense of mounting them in a museum. And you
cannot imagine, I assure you, how large and how interesting a museum
might be formed of the natural curiosities of a neighbourhood like
this, I may say, indeed, of any neighbourhood or of any parish: but
your museum need not be confined to the neighbourhood. Societies
now exist in every part of England, who will be happy to exchange
their duplicates for yours. As your collection increased in
importance, old members abroad would gladly contribute foreign
curiosities to your stock. Neighbouring gentlemen would send you
valuable objects which had been lumbering their houses, uncared for,
because they stood alone, and formed no part of a collection; and I,
for one, would be happy to add something from the fauna and flora of
those moorlands, where I have so long enjoyed the wonders of nature;
never, I can honestly say, alone; because when man was not with me,
I had companions in every bee, and flower, and pebble; and never
idle, because I could not pass a swamp, or a tuft of heather,
without finding in it a fairy tale of which I could but decipher
here and there a line or two, and yet found them more interesting
than all the books, save one, which were ever written upon earth.


Read at Sion College, January 10th, 1871.

When I accepted the unexpected and undeserved honour of being
allowed to lecture here, the first subject which suggested itself to
me was Natural Theology.

It is one which has taken up much of my thought for some years past,
{313} which seems to me more and more important, and which is just
now somewhat forgotten; I therefore determined to say a few words on
it to-night. I do not pretend to teach but only to suggest; to
point out certain problems of Natural Theology, the further solution
of which ought, I think, to be soon attempted.

I wish to speak, remember, not on natural religion, but on natural
theology. By the first, I understand what can be learned from the
physical universe of man's duty to God and to his neighbour; by the
latter, I understand what can be learned concerning God Himself. Of
natural religion I shall say nothing. I do not even affirm that a
natural religion is possible: but I do very earnestly believe that
a natural theology is possible; and I earnestly believe also that it
is most important that natural theology should, in every age, keep
pace with doctrinal or ecclesiastical theology.

Bishop Butler certainly held this belief. His "Analogy of Religion,
Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature"--a
book for which I entertain the most profound respect--is based on a
belief that the God of Nature and the God of Grace are one; and
that, therefore, the God who satisfies our conscience ought more or
less to satisfy our reason also. To teach that was Butler's
mission, and he fulfilled it well. But it is a mission which has to
be re-filled again and again, as human thought changes and human
science develops; for if in any age or country the God who seems to
be revealed by Nature seems different from the God who is revealed
by the then popular religion, then that God, and the religion which
tells of that God, will gradually cease to be believed in.

For the demands of Reason (as none knew better than good Bishop
Butler) must be and ought to be satisfied. And when a popular war
arises between the reason of a generation and its theology, it
behoves the ministers of religion to inquire, with all humility and
godly fear, on which side lies the fault: whether the theology
which they expound is all that it should be, or whether the reason
of those who impugn it is all that it should be.

For me, as (I trust) an orthodox priest of the Church of England, I
believe the theology of the National Church of England, as by law
established, to be eminently rational as well as scriptural. It is
not, therefore, surprising to me that the clergy of the Church of
England, since the foundation of the Royal Society in the
seventeenth century, have done more for sound physical science than
the clergy of any other denomination; or that the three greatest
natural theologians with which I, at least, am acquainted--Berkeley,
Butler, and Paley--should have belonged to our Church. I am not
unaware of what the Germans of the eighteenth century have done. I
consider Goethe's claims to have advanced natural theology very much
over-rated: but I do recommend to young clergymen Herder's
"Outlines of the Philosophy of the History of Man" as a book (in
spite of certain defects) full of sound and precious wisdom. But it
seems to me that English natural theology in the eighteenth century
stood more secure than that of any other nation, on the foundation
which Berkeley, Butler, and Paley had laid; and that if our orthodox
thinkers for the last hundred years had followed steadily in their
steps, we should not be deploring now a wide, and as some think
increasing, divorce between Science and Christianity.

But it was not so to be. The impulse given by Wesley and Whitfield
turned (and not before it was needed) the earnest mind of England
almost exclusively to questions of personal religion; and that
impulse, under many unexpected forms, has continued ever since. I
only state the fact--I do not deplore it; God forbid! Wisdom is
justified of all her children, and as, according to the wise
American, "it takes all sorts to make a world," so it takes all
sorts to make a living Church. But that the religious temper of
England for the last two or three generations has been unfavourable
to a sound and scientific development of natural theology, there can
be no doubt.

We have only, if we need proof, to look at the hymns--many of them
very pure, pious, and beautiful--which are used at this day in
churches and chapels by persons of every shade of opinion. How
often is the tone in which they speak of the natural world one of
dissatisfaction, distrust, almost contempt. "Disease, decay, and
death around I see," is their key-note, rather than "O all ye works
of the Lord, bless Him, praise Him, and magnify Him together."
There lingers about them a savour of the old monastic theory, that
this earth is the devil's planet, fallen, accursed, goblin-haunted,
needing to be exorcised at every turn before it is useful or even
safe for man. An age which has adopted as its most popular hymn a
paraphrase of the mediaeval monk's "Hic breve vivitur," and in which
stalwart public-school boys are bidden in their chapel worship to
tell the Almighty God of Truth that they lie awake weeping at night
for joy at the thought that they will die and see Jerusalem the
Golden--is doubtless, a pious and devout age; but not--at least as
yet--an age in which natural theology is likely to attain a high, a
healthy, or a scriptural development.

Not a scriptural development. Let me press on you, my clerical
brethren, most earnestly this one point. It is time that we should
make up our minds what tone Scripture does take toward Nature,
natural science, natural theology. Most of you, I doubt not, have
made up your minds already, and in consequence have no fear of
natural science, no fear for natural theology. But I cannot deny
that I find still lingering here and there certain of the old views
of nature of which I used to hear but too much here in London some
five-and-thirty years ago; not from my own father, thank God! for
he, to his honour, was one of those few London clergy who then faced
and defended advanced physical science; but from others--better men
too than I shall ever hope to be--who used to consider natural
theology as useless, fallacious, impossible, on the ground that this
Earth did not reveal the will and character of God, because it was
cursed and fallen; and that its facts, in consequence, were not to
be respected or relied on. This, I was told, was the doctrine of
Scripture, and was therefore true. But when, longing to reconcile
my conscience and my reason on a question so awful to a young
student of natural science, I went to my Bible, what did I find? No
word of all this. Much--thank God, I may say one continuous
undercurrent--of the very opposite of all this. I pray you bear
with me, even though I may seem impertinent. But what do we find in
the Bible, with the exception of that first curse? That, remember,
cannot mean any alteration in the laws of nature by which man's
labour should only produce for him henceforth thorns and thistles.
For, in the first place, any such curse is formally abrogated in the
eighth chapter and twenty-first verse of the very same document--"I
will not again curse the earth any more for man's sake. While the
earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and
winter, day and night shall not cease." And next, the fact is not
so; for if you root up the thorns and thistles, and keep your land
clean, then assuredly you will grow fruit-trees and not thorns,
wheat and not thistles, according to those laws of Nature which are
the voice of God expressed in facts.

And yet the words are true. There is a curse upon the earth, though
not one which, by altering the laws of nature, has made natural
facts untrustworthy. There is a curse on the earth; such a curse as
is expressed, I believe, in the old Hebrew text, where the word
"adamah" (correctly translated in our version "the ground")
signifies, as I am told, not this planet; but simply the soil from
whence we get our food; such a curse as certainly is expressed by
the Septuagint and the Vulgate versions: "Cursed is the earth"--
[Greek]; "in opere tuo," as the Vulgate has it--"in thy works."
Man's work is too often the curse of the very planet which he
misuses. None should know that better than the botanist, who sees
whole regions desolate, and given up to sterility and literal thorns
and thistles, on account of man's sin and folly, ignorance and
greedy waste. Well said that veteran botanist, the venerable Elias
Fries, of Lund:

"A broad band of waste land follows gradually in the steps of
cultivation. If it expands, its centre and its cradle dies, and on
the outer borders only do we find green shoots. But it is not
impossible, only difficult, for man, without renouncing the
advantage of culture itself, one day to make reparation for the
injury which he has inflicted: he is appointed lord of creation.
True it is that thorns and thistles, ill-favoured and poisonous
plants, well named by botanists rubbish plants, mark the track which
man has proudly traversed through the earth. Before him lay
original Nature in her wild but sublime beauty. Behind him he
leaves the desert, a deformed and ruined land; for childish desire
of destruction, or thoughtless squandering of vegetable treasures,
has destroyed the character of nature; and, terrified, man himself
flies from the arena of his actions, leaving the impoverished earth
to barbarous races or to animals, so long as yet another spot in
virgin beauty smiles before him. Here again, in selfish pursuit of
profit, and consciously or unconsciously following the abominable
principle of the great moral vileness which one man has expressed--
'Apres nous le Deluge'--he begins anew the work of destruction.
Thus did cultivation, driven out, leave the East, and perhaps the
deserts formerly robbed of their coverings; like the wild hordes of
old over beautiful Greece, thus rolls this conquest with fearful
rapidity from East to West through America; and the planter now
often leaves the already exhausted land, and the eastern climate,
become infertile through the demolition of the forests, to introduce
a similar revolution into the Far West." {320}

As we proceed, we find nothing in the general tone of Scripture
which can hinder our natural theology being at once scriptural and

If it is to be scientific, it must begin by approaching Nature at
once with a cheerful and reverent spirit, as a noble, healthy, and
trustworthy thing: and what is that, save the spirit of those who
wrote the 104th, 147th, and 148th Psalms--the spirit, too, of him
who wrote that Song of the Three Children, which is, as it were, the
flower and crown of the Old Testament, the summing up of all that is
most true and eternal in the old Jewish faith; and which, as long as
it is sung in our churches, is the charter and title-deed of all
Christian students of those works of the Lord, which it calls on to
bless Him, praise Him, and magnify Him for ever?

What next will be demanded of us by physical science? Belief,
certainly, just now, in the permanence of natural laws. Why, that
is taken for granted, I hold, throughout the Bible. I cannot see
how our Lord's parables, drawn from the birds and the flowers, the
seasons and the weather, have any logical weight, or can be
considered as aught but capricious and fanciful illustrations--which
God forbid--unless we look at them as instances of laws of the
natural world, which find their analogues in the laws of the
spiritual world, the kingdom of God. I cannot conceive a man's
writing that 104th Psalm who had not the most deep, the most earnest
sense of the permanence of natural law. But more: the fact is
expressly asserted again and again. "They continue this day
according to Thine ordinance, for all things serve Thee." "Thou
hast made them fast for ever and ever. Thou hast given them a law
which shall not be broken--"

Let us pass on, gentlemen. There is no more to be said about this

But next, it will be demanded of us that natural theology shall set
forth a God whose character is consistent with all the facts of
nature, and not only with those which are pleasant and beautiful.
That challenge was accepted, and I think victoriously, by Bishop
Butler as far as the Christian religion is concerned. As far as the
Scripture is concerned, we may answer thus:

It is said to us--I know that it is said: You tell us of a God of
love, a God of flowers and sunshine, of singing birds and little
children. But there are more facts in nature than these. There is
premature death, pestilence, famine. And if you answer: Man has
control over these; they are caused by man's ignorance and sin, and
by his breaking of natural laws--what will you make of those
destructive powers over which he has no control; of the hurricane
and the earthquake; of poisons, vegetable and mineral; of those
parasitic Entozoa whose awful abundance, and awful destructiveness
in man and beast, science is just revealing--a new page of danger
and loathsomeness? How does that suit your conception of a God of

We can answer: Whether or not it suits our conception of a God of
love, it suits Scripture's conception of Him. For nothing is more
clear--nay, is it not urged again and again, as a blot on
Scripture?--that it reveals a God not merely of love, but of
sternness--a God in whose eyes physical pain is not the worst of
evils, nor animal life (too often miscalled human life) the most
precious of objects--a God who destroys, when it seems fit to Him,
and that wholesale, and seemingly without either pity or
discrimination, man, woman and child, visiting the sins of the
fathers on the children, making the land empty and bare, and
destroying from off it man and beast! This is the God of the Old
Testament. And if any say (as is often too rashly said): This is
not the God of the New: I answer, but have you read your New
Testament? Have you read the latter chapters of St. Matthew? Have
you read the opening of the Epistle to the Romans? Have you read
the Book of Revelations? If so, will you say that the God of the
New Testament is, compared with the God of the Old, less awful, less
destructive, and therefore less like the Being--granting always that
there is such a Being--who presides over nature and her destructive
powers? It is an awful problem. But the writers of the Bible have
faced it valiantly. Physical science is facing it valiantly now.
Therefore natural theology may face it likewise. Remember Carlyle's
great words about poor Francesca in the Inferno: "Infinite pity,
yet also infinite rigour of law. It is so Nature is made. It is so
Dante discerned that she was made."

There are two other points on which I must beg leave to say a few
words. Physical science will demand of our natural theologians that
they should be aware of their importance, and let (as Mr. Matthew
Arnold would say) their thoughts play freely round them. I mean
questions of Embryology and questions of Race.

On the first there may be much to be said, which is for the present
best left unsaid, even here. I only ask you to recollect how often
in Scripture those two plain old words, beget and bring forth,
occur, and in what important passages. And I ask you to remember
that marvellous essay on Natural Theology, if I may so call it in
all reverence, the 139th Psalm, and judge for yourself whether he
who wrote that did not consider the study of Embryology as
important, as significant, as worthy of his deepest attention, as an
Owen, a Huxley, or a Darwin. Nay, I will go farther still, and say,
that in those great words--"Thine eyes did see my substance, yet
being imperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which
in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them,"-
-in those words, I say, the Psalmist has anticipated that realistic
view of embryological questions to which our most modern
philosophers are, it seems to me, slowly, half unconsciously, but
still inevitably, returning.

Next, as to Race. Some persons now have a nervous fear of that
word, and of allowing any importance to difference of races. Some
dislike it, because they think that it endangers the modern notions
of democratic equality. Others because they fear that it may be
proved that the negro is not a man and a brother. I think the fears
of both parties groundless. As for the negro, I not only believe
him to be of the same race as myself, but that--if Mr. Darwin's
theories are true--science has proved that he must be such. I
should have thought, as a humble student of such questions, that the
one fact of the unique distribution of the hair in all races of
human beings, was full moral proof that they had all had one common
ancestor. But this is not matter of natural theology. What is
matter thereof, is this:

Physical science is proving more and more the immense importance of
Race; the importance of hereditary powers, hereditary organs,
hereditary habits, in all organised beings, from the lowest plant to
the highest animal. She is proving more and more the omnipresent
action of the differences between races; how the more favoured race
(she cannot avoid using the epithet) exterminates the less favoured,
or at least expels it, and forces it, under penalty of death, to
adapt itself to new circumstances; and, in a word, that competition
between every race and every individual of that race, and reward
according to deserts, is (as far as we can see) an universal law of
living things. And she says--for the facts of history prove it--
that as it is among the races of plants and animals, so it has been
unto this day among the races of men.

The natural theology of the future must take count of these
tremendous and even painful facts: and she may take count of them.
For Scripture has taken count of them already. It talks
continually--it has been blamed for talking so much--of races, of
families; of their wars, their struggles, their exterminations; of
races favoured, of races rejected, of remnants being saved to
continue the race; of hereditary tendencies, hereditary excellences,
hereditary guilt. Its sense of the reality and importance of
descent is so intense, that it speaks of a whole tribe or a whole
family by the name of its common ancestor, and the whole nation of
the Jews is Israel, to the end. And if I be told this is true of
the Old Testament, but not of the New, I must answer: What! does
not St. Paul hold the identity of the whole Jewish race with Israel
their forefather, as strongly as any prophet of the Old Testament?
And what is the central historic fact, save One, of the New
Testament, but the conquest of Jerusalem--the dispersion, all but
destruction of a race, not by miracle, but by invasion, because
found wanting when weighed in the stern balances of natural and
social law?

Gentlemen, think of this. I only suggest the thought; but I do not
suggest it in haste. Think over it--by the light which our Lord's
parables, His analogies between the physical and social constitution
of the world, afford--and consider whether those awful words,
fulfilled then and fulfilled so often since--"The kingdom of God
shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the
fruits hereof"--may not be the supreme instance, the most complex
development of a law which runs through all created things, down to
the moss which struggles for existence on the rock!

Do I say that this is all? That man is merely a part of Nature, the
puppet of circumstances and hereditary tendencies? That brute
competition is the one law of his life? That he is doomed for ever
to be the slave of his own needs, enforced by an internecine
struggle for existence? God forbid. I believe not only in Nature,
but in Grace. I believe that this is man's fate only as long as he
sows to the flesh, and of the flesh reaps corruption. I believe
that if he will

Strive upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die;

if he will be even as wise as the social animals; as the ant and the
bee, who have risen, if not to the virtue of all-embracing charity,
at least to the virtues of self-sacrifice and patriotism, {326} then
he will rise towards a higher sphere; toward that kingdom of God of
which it is written: "He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God,
and God in him."

Whether that be matter of natural theology, I cannot tell as yet.
But as for all the former questions--all that St. Paul means when he
talks of the law, and how the works of the flesh bring men under the
law, stern and terrible and destructive, though holy and just and
good,--they are matter of natural theology; and I believe that on
them, as elsewhere, Scripture and science will be ultimately found
to coincide.

But here we have to face an objection which you will often hear now
from scientific men, and still oftener from non-scientific men; who
will say: It matters not to us whether Scripture contradicts or
does not contradict a scientific natural theology; for we hold such
a science to be impossible and naught. The old Jews put a God into
Nature, and therefore of course they could see, as you see, what
they had already put there. But we see no God in Nature. We do not
deny the existence of a God; we merely say that scientific research
does not reveal Him to us. We see no marks of design in physical
phenomena. What used to be considered as marks of design can be
better explained by considering them as the results of evolution
according to necessary laws; and you and Scripture make a mere
assumption when you ascribe them to the operation of a mind like the
human mind.

Now, on this point I believe we may answer fearlessly: If you
cannot see it we cannot help you. If the heavens do not declare to
you the glory of God, nor the firmament show you His handy-work,
then our poor arguments about them will not show it. "The eye can
only see that which it brings with it the power of seeing." We can
only reassert that we see design everywhere, and that the vast
majority of the human race in every age and clime has seen it.
Analogy from experience, sound induction (as we hold) from the works
not only of men but of animals, has made it an all but self-evident
truth to us, that wherever there is arrangement, there must be an
arranger; wherever there is adaptation of means to an end, there
must be an adapter; wherever an organisation, there must be an
organiser. The existence of a designing God is no more demonstrable
from Nature than the existence of other human beings independent of
ourselves, or, indeed, the existence of our own bodies. But, like
the belief in them, the belief in Him has become an article of our
common sense. And that this designing mind is, in some respects,
similar to the human mind, is proved to us (as Sir John Herschel
well puts it) by the mere fact that we can discover and comprehend
the processes of Nature.

But here again, if we be contradicted, we can only reassert. If the
old words, "He that made the eye, shall He not see? He that planted
the ear, shall He not hear?" do not at once commend themselves to
the intellect of any person, we shall never convince that person by
any arguments drawn from the absurdity of conceiving the invention
of optics by a blind race, or of music by a deaf one.

So we will assert our own old-fashioned notion boldly; and more: we
will say, in spite of ridicule, that if such a God exists, final
causes must exist also. That the whole universe must be one chain
of final causes. That if there be a Supreme Reason, He must have a
reason, and that a good reason, for every physical phenomenon.

We will tell the modern scientific man--You are nervously afraid of
the mention of final causes. You quote against them Bacon's saying,
that they are barren virgins; that no physical fact was ever
discovered or explained by them. You are right as far as regards
yourselves; you have no business with final causes, because final
causes are moral causes, and you are physical students only. We,
the natural theologians, have business with them. Your duty is to
find out the How of things; ours, to find out the Why. If you
rejoin that we shall never find out the Why, unless we first learn
something of the How, we shall not deny that. It may be most
useful, I had almost said necessary, that the clergy should have
some scientific training. It may be most useful, I sometimes dream
of a day when it will be considered necessary, that every candidate
for ordination should be required to have passed creditably in at
least one branch of physical science, if it be only to teach him the
method of sound scientific thought. But our having learnt the How,
will not make it needless, much less impossible, for us to study the
Why. It will merely make more clear to us the things of which we
have to study the Why; and enable us to keep the How and the Why
more religiously apart from each other.

But if it be said: After all, there is no Why; the doctrine of
evolution, by doing away with the theory of creation, does away with
that of final causes--let us answer, boldly: Not in the least. We
might accept all that Mr. Darwin, all that Professor Huxley, has so
learnedly and so acutely written on physical science, and yet
preserve our natural theology on exactly the same basis as that on
which Butler and Paley left it. That we should have to develop it,
I do not deny. That we should have to relinquish it, I do.

Let me press this thought earnestly on you. I know that many wiser
and better men than I have fears on this point. I cannot share in

All, it seems to me, that the new doctrines of Evolution demand is
this. We all agree, for the fact is patent, that our own bodies,
and indeed the body of every living creature, are evolved from a
seemingly simple germ by natural laws, without visible action of any
designing will or mind, into the full organisation of a human or
other creature. Yet we do not say, on that account: God did not
create me; I only grew. We hold in this case to our old idea, and
say: If there be evolution, there must be an evolver. Now the new
physical theories only ask us, it seems to me, to extend this
conception to the whole universe: to believe that not individuals
merely, but whole varieties and races, the total organised life on
this planet, and it may be the total organisation of the universe,
have been evolved just as our bodies are, by natural laws acting
through circumstance. This may be true, or may be false. But all
its truth can do to the natural theologian will be to make him
believe that the Creator bears the same relation to the whole
universe as that Creator undeniably bears to every individual human

I entreat you to weigh these words, which have not been written in
haste; and I entreat you also, if you wish to see how little the new
theory, that species may have been gradually created by variation,
natural selection, and so forth, interferes with the old theory of
design, contrivance, and adaptation, nay, with the fullest admission
of benevolent final causes--I entreat you, I say, to study Darwin's
"Fertilisation of Orchids"--a book which (whether his main theory be
true or not) will still remain a most valuable addition to natural

For suppose, gentlemen, that all the species of Orchids, and not
only they, but their congeners--the Gingers, the Arrowroots, the
Bananas--are all the descendants of one original form, which was
most probably nearly allied to the Snowdrop and the Iris. What
then? Would that be one whit more wonderful, more unworthy of the
wisdom and power of God, than if they were, as most believe, created
each and all at once, with their minute and often imaginary shades
of difference? What would the natural theologian have to say, were
the first theory true, save that God's works are even more wonderful
than he always believed them to be? As for the theory being
impossible: we must leave the discussion of that to physical
students. It is not for us clergymen to limit the power of God.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" asked the prophet of old: and
we have a right to ask it as long as time shall last. If it be said
that natural selection is too simple a cause to produce such
fantastic variety: that, again, is a question to be settled
exclusively by physical students. All we have to say on the matter
is, that we always knew that God works by very simple, or seemingly
simple, means; that the whole universe, as far as we could discern
it, was one concatenation of the most simple means; that it was
wonderful, yea, miraculous in our eyes, that a child should resemble
its parents, that the raindrops should make the grass grow, that the
grass should become flesh, and the flesh sustenance for the thinking
brain of man. Ought God to seem less or more august in our eyes,
when we are told that His means are even more simple than we
supposed? We held Him to be Almighty and Allwise. Are we to
reverence Him less or more, if we hear that His might is greater,
His wisdom deeper, than we ever dreamed? We believed that His care
was over all His works; that His Providence watched perpetually over
the whole universe. We were taught--some of us at least--by Holy
Scripture, to believe that the whole history of the universe was
made up of special Providences. If, then, that should be true which
Mr. Darwin writes: "It may be metaphorically said that natural
selection is daily and hourly scrutinising throughout the world,
every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad,
preserving and adding up that which is good, silently and
incessantly working whenever and wherever opportunity offers at the
improvement of every organic being"--if that, I say, were proven to
be true, ought God's care and God's providence to seem less or more
magnificent in our eyes? Of old it was said by Him without whom
nothing is made: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Shall
we quarrel with Science if she should show how those words are true?
What, in one word, should we have to say but this?--We knew of old
that God was so wise that He could make all things; but behold, He
is so much wiser than even that, that He can make all things make

But it may be said: These notions are contrary to Scripture. I
must beg very humbly, but very firmly, to demur to that opinion.
Scripture says that God created. But it nowhere defines that term.
The means, the How of Creation, is nowhere specified. Scripture,
again, says that organised beings were produced each according to
their kind. But it nowhere defines that term. What a kind
includes, whether it includes or not the capacity of varying (which
is just the question in point), is nowhere specified. And I think
it a most important rule in scriptural exegesis, to be most cautious
as to limiting the meaning of any term which Scripture itself has
not limited, lest we find ourselves putting into the teaching of
Scripture our own human theories or prejudices. And consider, Is
not man a kind? And has not mankind varied, physically,
intellectually, spiritually? Is not the Bible, from beginning to
end, a history of the variations of mankind, for worse or for
better, from their original type?

Let us rather look with calmness, and even with hope and good will,
on these new theories; for, correct or incorrect, they surely mark a
tendency toward a more, not a less, scriptural view of nature. Are
they not attempts, whether successful or unsuccessful, to escape
from that shallow mechanical notion of the universe and its Creator
which was too much in vogue in the eighteenth century among divines
as well as philosophers; the theory which Goethe (to do him
justice), and after him Mr. Thomas Carlyle, have treated with such
noble scorn; the theory, I mean, that God has wound up the universe
like a clock, and left it to tick by itself till it runs down, never
troubling Himself with it, save possibly--for even that was only
half believed--by rare miraculous interferences with the laws which
He Himself had made? Out of that chilling dream of a dead universe
ungoverned by an absent God, the human mind, in Germany especially,
tried during the early part of this century to escape by strange
roads; roads by which there was no escape, because they were not
laid down on the firm ground of scientific facts. Then, in despair,
men turned to the facts which they had neglected, and said: We are
weary of philosophy; we will study you, and you alone. As for God,
who can find Him? And they have worked at the facts like gallant
and honest men; and their work, like all good work, has produced, in
the last fifty years, results more enormous than they even dreamed.
But what are they finding, more and more, below their facts, below
all phenomena which the scalpel and the microscope can show? A
something nameless, invisible, imponderable, yet seemingly
omnipresent and omnipotent, retreating before them deeper and
deeper, the deeper they delve: namely, the life which shapes and
makes--that which the old school-men called "forma formativa," which
they call vital force and what not--metaphors all, or rather
counters to mark an unknown quantity, as if they should call it x or
y. One says: It is all vibrations; but his reason, unsatisfied,
asks: And what makes the vibrations vibrate? Another: It is all
physiological units; but his reason asks: What is the "physis," the
nature and "innate tendency" of the units? A third: It may be all
caused by infinitely numerous "gemmules;" but his reason asks him:
What puts infinite order into those gemmules, instead of infinite
anarchy? I mention these theories not to laugh at them. No man has
a deeper respect for those who have put them forth. Nor would it
interfere with my theological creed, if any or all of them were
proven to be true to-morrow. I mention them only to show that
beneath all these theories--true or false--still lies the unknown x.
Scientific men are becoming more and more aware of it; I had almost
said ready to worship it. More and more the noblest-minded of them
are engrossed by the mystery of that unknown and truly miraculous
element in Nature, which is always escaping them, though they cannot
escape it. How should they escape it? Was it not written of old:
"Whither shall I go from Thy presence, or whither shall I flee from
Thy spirit?"

Ah that we clergy would summon up courage to tell them that!
Courage to tell them--what need not hamper for a moment the freedom
of their investigations, what will add to them a sanction, I may say
a sanctity--that the unknown x which lies below all phenomena, which
is for ever at work on all phenomena, on the whole and on every part
of the whole, down to the colouring of every leaf and the curdling
of every cell of protoplasm, is none other than that which the old
Hebrews called--(by a metaphor, no doubt--for how can man speak of
the unseen, save in metaphors drawn from the seen?--but by the only
metaphor adequate to express the perpetual and omnipresent miracle)-
-The Breath of God; The Spirit who is The Lord and Giver of Life.

In the rest, gentlemen, let us think, and let us observe. For if we
are ignorant, not merely of the results of experimental science, but
of the methods thereof, then we and the men of science shall have no
common ground whereon to stretch out kindly hands to each other.

But let us have patience and faith; and not suppose in haste, that
when those hands are stretched out it will be needful for us to
leave our standing-ground, or to cast ourselves down from the
pinnacle of the temple to earn popularity; above all, from earnest
students who are too high-minded to care for popularity themselves.

True, if we have an intelligent belief in those Creeds and those
Scriptures which are committed to our keeping, then our philosophy
cannot be that which is just now in vogue. But all we have to do, I
believe, is to wait. Nominalism, and that "Sensationalism" which
has sprung from nominalism, are running fast to seed; Comtism seems
to me its supreme effort: after which the whirligig of Time may
bring round its revenges; and Realism, and we who own the Realist
creeds, may have our turn. Only wait. When a grave, able, and
authoritative philosopher explains a mother's love of her newborn
babe, as Professor Bain has done, in a really eloquent passage of
his book on the "Emotions and the Will" (Second Edition, pp. 78,
79), then the end of that philosophy is very near; and an older,
simpler, more human, and, as I hold, more philosophic explanation of
that natural phenomenon, and of all others, may get a hearing.

Only wait; and fret not yourselves, else shall you be moved to do
evil. Remember the saying of the wise man: "Go not after the
world. She turns on her axis; and if thou stand still long enough
she will turn round to thee."


{0} The Macmillan and Co. book from which this eBook was
transcribed ("Scientific Lectures and Essays") also contains "Town
Geology". However, as Charles Kingsley published that as a separate
book it is not included here. It is available from Project

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