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BEFORE BIRTH.

If we except the adherents of Positivism and some allied schools of thought, there is a pretty general belief in some conscious existence for each one of us after death. But speculation which ventures into the future rarely wanders into the dark realms of the past. There has been plenty of theorising as to the nature of the life to come, but the possibility of an antenatal existence gets far less attention and far less credit. It is natural, perbaps, that interest should centre chiefly in the hereafter, since we are more practically concerned with our future than our past. But there is no conclusive reason why the idea of previous existence should receive less credit. On the contrary, there is at least one weighty reason for accepting it. If we assume that that something in us which is to survive our bodily death came into existence for the first time with our bodily birth, we are confronted by the difficulty of a something which is eternal at one end only-the difficulty, in fact, of supposing that something which is to have no end in the future, has nevertheless had a beginning in the past. This difficulty may not be insuperable, but it is serious. If, on the other band, we incline to a belief in the pre-existence of the soul, we seem driven back upon some form of metempsychosis, with all its attendant difficulties. However, as a preliminary to all discussion, let us try to make out more clearly what we actually mean by our souls.'

At the first step we shall possibly be startled by the vagueness of our ideas on the subject. “Soul' is a counter of language which long custom allows us to handle freely, but only so long as we refrain from prying into its composition. The slightest examination reveals this vagueness at once.

We shall find soul to be variously identified with consciousness, spirit, and reason. Principal Tulloch' says, “Soul is only known to us in a brain, but the special note of soul is that it is capable of existing without a brain, or after death. This

This may be true enough, but it does not throw much more light on the soul's nature. The ordinary theology, avoiding the question of the soul's composition, is content to regard it as that something within us, or forming part of us, which is destined hereafter to eternal happiness or eternal perdition. If none of these views are completely satisfactory, they each contribute something, and we may gather from them that, whatever else our conception of the soul may include, we certainly conceive it as something conscious, rational, and, above all, personal. It is not like the spiritual monad of Buddhism, an impersonal individuality; nor is it merely an impersonal consciousness. Nor, again, is it merely an emanation from some Divine soul, which, though bound up during man's life with his personality, casts it off at death, and returns to the bosom of the Absolute. But, as most of us conceive it, it is something which is not only inseparable from, but which comprises the essence of, our personality; it is, in fact, the religious interpretation of the philosophical conception of the ego.' Accordingly, I do not think that I shall do violence to prevailing ideas on the subject if I define the soul to be that permanent something by which each individual's personality is constituted, and which we believe to persist after our present life and its transient attributes have disappeared.'

| Modern Theories in Philosophy and Religion, p. 328.

Having thus got our permanent soul or “ego, let us try to trace its history. Three questions confront us at the outset :

1. Does the soul spring into being for the first time with the birth of our physical body?

2. Has it existed before such birth, either from eternity, or as an antenatal creation ?

3. Assuming its pre-existence, under what conditions has it preexisted ?

It is obvious that in dealing with such problems as these certainty is out of the question, and probability is the utmost that we can hope to reach. We cannot know, we can only guess; and if we are to guess at the character of the unknown, it must be by inference from the character of the known.

Now, whatever the character and whatever the origin of the soul may be, it is at any rate a constituent part of the universe. Accordingly there is a prima-facie presumption that its growth and development will follow the same processes of growth and development which prevail, so far as we can see, throughout the cosmic system. Therefore, until the contrary is proven, it seems to me that we are entitled, if not bound, to regard the soul as a natural product-a natural product no more and no less than any other of God's works. In this case it may help us to guess what soul is if we look for guidance to the character and origin of the universe.

Speaking broadly, there are two views on this point :

1. The theological view, which insists on the miraculous character of the creation, and many, if not most, of God's dealings with the universe.

2

? Principal Tulloch repudiates this as the theological view, declaring that 'thcology knows nothing of a conflict between order and will. If there is a Divine Will at all, it must be a Will acting by general laws, by methods of which order is an invariable

2. The scientific view, which, whether accepting, or shelving, or denying the existence of a creating Deity, insists that the universe now is an orderly whole, whose processes exhibit inflexible law, and wherein no place for miracle can be found.

Each of these views is saddled with a special fallacious tendency. Theology is prone to explain what it cannot understand by a miracle. Science is apt to discredit what it cannot explain as miraculous, and therefore impossible. Miracle, in the sense of a violation of natural law, no doubt must be excluded from any rational account of the universe. But it need not follow that the unexplainable is in this sense miraculous. For, though 'natural law' is commonly described as an observed uniformity of process, it is at least possible that natural uniformities may exist which are not known to us, and these, though unknown, would be as actual as any others. Accordingly, in dealing with what may seem to be mysteries of nature, we are not entitled either to discredit them offhand as violations of natural law, or to account for their presence by the expedient of a miracle.

If miracle, however, be eliminated from the universe, it follows that all development must be an orderly evolution of its subjectmatter. Direct investigation of such evolution is necessarily confined to this earth of ours; but since the earth is hut a part of the universe, though the springs of its development be chiefly contained in itself, cosmic as well as mundane forces may help in the work.

What, then, is the subject-matter of the universe ? It is popularly said to consist of matter and force; and though this division will not really stand scrutiny, it furnishes a convenient working hypothesis, which it may be useful to accept for the present under protest.

Now force and matter show a development which proceeds on the strictest economical principles. Nothing is either lost or added, nothing is either created or destroyed. In this lies a serious objection to the theory of specially created souls, for if an entirely new soul is created for each child that is born, every birth witnesses a violation of natural law. Something has appeared on one side of the equation which is not accounted for on the other. Even if the presence of this something be due to extra-terrestrial energy, the difficulty still remains.

The soul that rises with us, our life's star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar. This in a sense is possible enough. I do not say that soul is merely an earth-product; I only insist that it is a product of some characteristic.' But with all the respect due to so high an authority, I am quite unable to adopt this explanation. Prayer for recovery from sickness, for change of the weather, and similar requests for Divine interposition usually encouraged by theologians, imply a belief in a breach of causation somewhere, which no ingenuity can get rid of, unless prayer be robbed of its voluntary character, and the Divine Will of its freedom.

sort, not a new creation, seeing that the whole testimony of nature is against such a conclusion.

Not so, may be the reply. Life presents just such another apparent anomaly. No doubt, according to the doctrine of Biogenesis, all life comes from some antecedent life, and so far the chain of causation is unbroken. But when research pushes back to the lowly organisms which fringe the brink of animate nature, it finds beyond them a great gulf fixed. On the hither side of this gulf appears the new presence, life; on the far side there is a realm of order, but it is a realm of the dead. All efforts to bridge the gap have failed. Up to a certain point matter may develop or differentiate under the impulse of molecular energy. But with animate existence, a new factor is added which cannot be evolved from the forms of force which we know in the organic world.

This may be true enough so far as it goes, but accuracy requires the addition of a single word which may prove fatal to the whole objection—now.

It may be perfectly true now that life springs only from antecedent life, and that the theory of spontaneous generation must yield to the triumph of Biogenesis. But in this case we cannot infer the past from our experience of the present, because the conditions have altered enormously. What is true of the earth of the nineteenth century need not by any means be true of the earth of, say, the Silurian age. The thermal conditions under which life first appeared upon the globe certainly differed widely from those of the present day, and this difference alone suffices to restore possibility to the evolution of life.

It will be necessary for my present purpose to go somewhat deeper into this question of the beginnings of life, for if soul be a natural product, soul life, like all other life, must conform to natural law.

The gap between dead and living nature is no doubt sharply defined, but the excessive stress sometimes laid upon this distinction gives rise to an impression that the two kingdoms differ toto cælo in their character and laws, and proceed upon different lines of develop ment. It would probably be more accurate to compare their development to a chain, one of the links of which is hidden or lost. By examining the frontier cliffs of the two countries, geologists are able to declare that England and France were once united, notwithstanding the sea that now flows between them. And in like manner, if we look honestly across the ancient gulf which severs dead from living matter, we may yet find evidence that this gulf represents not an original division, but a breach of original continuity. In both orders alike there appears an evolution from a low simplicity to a high, or comparatively bigb, complexity. But this by itself is insufficient to prove that the two orders form part of one continuous chain ; since such a similarity might belong to two distinct, though parallel, orders of development. We must look rather to the edges of the gap for evidence that once the two orders were connected. To pursue this investigation properly would require a knowledge of chemistry and physiology to which I cannot pretend, but I may mention a few cases which seem to point to some connection.

* This, however, can hardly be considered as completely proved.

• Dr. Temple (The Relations between Religion and Science, p. 198) seems inclined to admit as possible, what he quotes as a scientific belief, that such properties are inherent in the elements of which protoplasm is made, that in certain special circumstances these elements will not only combine, but that the product of their combination will live.'

The most highly fashioned product of dead matter is the crystal ; the lowest product of living matter is an apparently formless colloid (jellylike) lump. There seems little enough in common between these two stages, and throughout the earlier forms of life the dissimilarity remains. This might well be expected. Short of a certain degree of stability, the rigid processes which mould the crystal could not be utilised by life. But after this point has been reached, it seems more than doubtful whether such processes are rejected or excluded by vitality. Moreover the distinction between crystal and colloid is not so rigorous as at first appears. Even now some minerals appear both in colloid and crystalloid forms, and fint is a familiar instance of a crystal which has passed through a colloid stage. One of the chief characteristics of colloid as opposed to crystalloid matter is its mobility. But the stability of the crystal is by no means immutable. In some substances the forms of crystallisation vary under difference of conditions, especially conditions of temperature, and even the character of a crystal already formed may be so altered. But the analogies of crystal and colloid may be brought closer still. Dr. Hughes Bennett (quoted by Dr. Bastian) found cellular forms of crystalloid matter in the pellicle formed on the surface of lime water. Dr. Bastian himself found similar forms in a solution of ammonic sulphate with potassic bichromate;o and globular formations of carbonate of lime were found by Mr. Rainey where this substance had been introduced into a viscid solution. If we turn to the crystals of a simple substance like water, the patterns of frost on a window-pane often reveal, even to the naked eye, the closest resemblance to feathers, leaves, &c.; and under the microscope similar crystals display faithful, if too symmetrical, copies of the flowers and foliage of plants.8 Again compare with some of these crystals the star-shaped forms which the spores issuing from the Protomyxa aurantiaca sometimes assume;' the quasi-crystalline grouping of some of the organisms which appeared in a solution of iron and ammonic citrate,10 and the more perfect stellar forms of some monads from a Nitella."

5 Bastian, Beginnings of Life, vol. ii. p. 82. 6 Ibid. vol. ii. pp. 59, 60.

Ibid. vol. ii. p. 63. 8 See plate, Tyndall, Forms of water, p. 33. . Beginnings of Life, vol. i. p. 194. 10 Ilid. vol. i. p. 453.

1 Ibid. vol. ii. pp. 379, 403.

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