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The Divine Soil
by John Burroughs
How few persons can be convinced of the truth of that which is repugnant to their feelings! When Darwin published his conclusion that man was descended from an apelike ancestor who was again descended from a still lower type, most people were shocked by the thought; it was intensely repugnant to their feelings. Carlyle, for instance, treated the proposition with contempt. He called it the "gospel of dirt." "A good sort of man," he said, "is this Darwin, and well meaning, but with very little intellect." Huxley tells of seeing the old man one day upon the street, and of crossing over to greet him. Carlyle looked up and said, "You 're Huxley, aren't you, the man who says we are all descended from monkeys?" and went on his way.
It would be interesting to know just what Carlyle thought we were descended from. Could he, or did he, doubt at all that, if he were to go back a few thousand years over his own line of descent, he would come upon rude savage men, who used stone implements, and lived in caves or rude huts, who had neither letters nor arts, and with whom might did indeed make right, and that back of these he would find still more primitive races, and that these too had their still more savage and bestial forbears? When started on the back track of his own race, where could he stop? Could he stop anywhere? The neolithic man stands on the shoulders of the paleolithic, and he on a still lower human or semihuman form, till we come to a manlike ape or an apelike man, living in trees and subsisting on roots and nuts and wild fruits. Every child born to-day, by the grip of its hands, the strength of its arms, and the weakness of its legs, hints of those far-off arboreal ancestors. Carlyle must also have known that in his fetal or prenatal life there was a time when his embryo could not have been distinguished from that of a dog, much less of a monkey. Was this also intolerable to him?
It must be a bitter pill to persons of Carlyle's temperament to have to accept the account of their own human origin; that the stork legend of the baby is, after all, not good natural history. The humble beginning of each of us is not one that appeals to the imagination, or to the religious sentiment, or to our love of the mysterious and the remote, yet the evidence in favor of its truth is pretty strong.
In fact, the Darwinian theory of the origin of man differs from the popular one just as the natural history of babies, as we all know it, differs from the account in the nursery legends, and gives about the same shock to our sensibilities and our pride of origin.
One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand—to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. Carlyle's gospel of dirt, when examined closely, differs in no respect from a gospel of star-dust. Why, we have invented the whole machinery of the supernatural, with its unseen spirits and powers good and bad, to account for things, because we found the universal everyday nature too cheap, too common, too vulgar. We have had to cap the natural with the supernatural to satisfy our love for the marvelous and the inexplicable. As soon as a thing is brought within our ken, and the region of our experience, it seems to lose caste and be cheapened. I am at a loss how to account for this mytho-poetic tendency of ours, but what a part it has played in the history of mankind, and what a part it still plays—turning the light of day into a mysterious illusive and haunted twilight on every hand! It would seem that it must have served some good purpose in the development of the race; but what is not so easy to point out is the evil it has wrought, the mistakes and self-delusions to which it has given rise. One may say that in its healthy and legitimate action it has given rise to poetry and to art and to the many escapes which the imagination provides us from the hard and wearing realities of life. Its implacable foe is undoubtedly the scientific spirit—the spirit of the now and the here, that seeks proof and finds the marvelous and the divine in the ground underfoot; the spirit that animated Lyell and opened his eyes to the fact that the forces and agencies at work every day around us were adequate to account for the tremendous changes in the earth's surface in the past; that animated Darwin and led him to trace the footsteps of the creative energy in the natural life of plants and animals to-day; that animated Huxley and filled him with such righteous wrath at the credulity of his theological brethren; and that animates every one of us when we clinch a nail, or stop a leak, or turn a thing over and look on the otherside, and apply to practical affairs the touchstone of common sense.
That man is of divine origin in a sense that no other animal is, is a conviction dear to the common mind. It was dear to the mind of Carlyle, it chimed in well with his distrust of the present, his veneration of the past, and his Hebraic awe and reverential fear before the mysteries of the universe. While Darwin's attitude of mind toward outward things was one of inquiry and thirst for exact knowledge, Carlyle's was one of reverence and wonder. He was more inclined to worship where Darwin was moved to investigate. Darwin, too, felt the presence of the great unknown, but he sought solace in the knowable of the physical world about him, while Carlyle sought solace in the moral and intellectual world, where his great mytho-poetic faculty could have free swing.
We teach and we preach that God is in everything from the lowest to the highest, and that all things are possible with him, and yet practically we deny that he is in the brute and that it is possible man should have had his origin there.
I long ago convinced myself that whatever is on the earth and shares its life is of the earth, and, in some way not open to me, came out of the earth, the highest not less than the humblest creature at our feet. I like to think of the old weatherworn globe as the mother of us all. I like to think of the ground underfoot as plastic and responsive to the creative energy, vitally related to the great cosmic forces, a red corpuscle in the life-current of the Eternal, and that man, with all his highflying dreams and aspirations, his arts, his Bibles, his religions, his literatures, his philosophies—heroes, saints, martyrs, sages, poets, prophets—all lay folded there in the fiery mist out of which the planet came. I love to make Whitman's great lines my own:—
I am an acme of things accomplished, and I am
an encloser of things to be.
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger
bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel'd, and still I mount and mount.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know
I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.
Long I was hugged close—long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me;
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.
Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care.
All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.
The material, the carnal, the earthy, has been so long under the ban, so long associated in our minds with that which hinders and degrades, and with the source and province of evil, that it will take science a long time to redeem it and lift it again to its proper place.
It jars upon our sensibilities and disturbs our preconceived notions to be told that the spiritual has its root in the carnal and is as truly its product as the flower is the product of the roots and the stalk of the plant. The conception does not cheapen or degrade the spiritual, it elevates the carnal, the material. To regard the soul and body as one, or to ascribe to consciousness a physiological origin, is not detracting from its divinity, it is rather conferring divinity upon the body. One thing is inevitably linked with another, the higher forms with the lower forms, the butterfly with the grub, the flower with the root, the food we eat with the thought we think, the poem we write, or the picture we paint, with the processes of digestion and nutrition. How science has enlarged and ennobled and purified our conception of the universe; how it has cleaned out the evil spirits that have so long terrified mankind, and justified the verdict of the Creator: "and behold it was good." With its indestructibility of matter, its conservation of energy, its violability of cause and effect, its unity of force and elements throughout sidereal space, it has prepared the way for a conception of man, his origin, his development, and in a measure his destiny, that at last makes him at home in the universe.
How much more consistent it is with what we know of the unity of nature to believe that one species should have come through another, that man should have come through the brute rather than have been grafted upon him from without. Unfolding and ever unfolding, upward, and onward, from the lower to the higher, from the simple to the complex—that has been the course of organic evolution from the first.
One thinks of the creative energy as working along many lines, only one of which eventuated in man; all the others fell short or terminated in lower forms. Hence, while we think of man as capable of, and destined to, still higher development, we look upon the lower orders as having reached the end of their course, and conclude there is no to-morrow for them.
The anthropoid apes seem indeed like preliminary studies of man, or rejected models of the great inventor who was blindly groping his way to the higher form. The ape is probably our ancestor in no other sense than this. Nature seems to have had man in mind when she made him, but evidently she lost interest in him, humanly speaking, and tried some other combination. The ape must always remain an ape. Some collateral branch doubtless gave birth to a higher form, and this to a still higher, till we reach our preglacial forbears. Then some one branch or branches distanced all others, leaving rude tribes by the way in whom development seemed arrested, till we reach the dawn of history.
The creative energy seems ever to have been pushing out and on, and yet ever leaving a residue of forms behind. The reptiles did not all become birds, nor the invertebrates all become vertebrates, nor the apes all become men, nor the men all become Europeans. Every higher form has a base or background of kindred lower forms out of which it seems to have emerged, and to which it now and then shows a tendency to revert. And this is the order of nature everywhere, in our own physiology and psychology, not less than in the evolution of the forms of life. Do not our highest ideals have their rise and foundation in sensation and experience? There is no higher without first the lower, and the lower does not all become the higher.
The blood relationship between man and the anthropoid apes, as shown in the fact that human blood acts poisonously upon and decomposes the blood of the lower apes and other mammals, but is harmless to the blood of the anthropoid apes, and affiliates with it, is very significant. It convinces like a demonstration. Transfer the blood of the dog to the fox or the wolf, or vice versa, and all goes well; they are brothers. Transfer the blood of the dog to the rabbit, or vice versa, and a struggle for life immediately takes place. The serum of one blood destroys the cells of the other. This fact confirms Huxley's statement that the anatomical difference between man and the anthropoid apes is less than the corresponding difference between the latter and the lower apes.
One thing we may affirm about the universe—it is logical; the conclusion always follows from the premises.
The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is, "Look under foot." You are always nearer the divine and the sources of your power than you think. The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the centre of the world. Stand in your own dooryard and you have eight thousand miles of solid ground beneath you, and all the sidereal splendors overhead. The morning and the evening stars are no more in the heavens and no more obedient to the celestial impulses than the lonely and time-scarred world we inhabit. How the planet thrills and responds to the heavenly forces and occurrences we little know, but we get an inkling of it when we see the magnetic needle instantly affected by solar disturbances.
Look under foot. Gold and diamonds and all precious stones come out of the ground; they do not drop upon us from the stars, and our highest thoughts are in some way a transformation or a transmutation of the food we eat. The mean is the divine if we make it so. The child surely learns that its father and mother are the Santa Claus that brought the gifts, though the discovery may bring pain; and the man learns to see providence in the great universal forces of nature, in the winds and the rain, in the soil underfoot and in the cloud overhead. What these forces in their orderly rounds do not bring him, he does not expect. The farmer hangs up his stocking in the way of empty bins and barns, and he knows well who or what must fill them. The Santa Claus of the merchant, the manufacturer, the inventor, is the forces and conditions all about us in everyday operation. When the lightning strikes your building or the trees on your lawn, you are at least reminded that you do not live in a corner outside of Jove's dominions, you are in the circuit of the great forces. If you are eligible to bad fortune where you stand, you are equally eligible to good fortune there. The young man who went West did well, but the young man who had the western spirit and stayed at home did equally well. To evoke a spark of fire out of a flint with a bit of steel is the same thing as evoking beautiful thoughts from homely facts. How hard it is for us to see the heroic in an act of our neighbor!
What a burden science took upon itself when it sought to explain the origin of man! Religion or theology takes a short cut and makes quick work of it by regarding man as the result of the special creative act of a supernatural Being. But science takes a long and tedious and hazardous way around through the lowest primordial forms of life. It seeks to trace his germ through the abyss of geologic time where all is dim and mysterious, through countless cycles of waiting and preparation, where the slow, patient gods of evolution cherished it and passed it on, through the fetid carbon, through the birth and decay of continents, through countless interchanges and readjustments of sea and land, through the clash and warring of the cosmic forces, through good and evil report, through the fish and the reptile, through the ape and the orang up to man—from the slime at the bottom of the primordial ocean up to Jesus of Nazareth. Surely one may say with Whitman,
"Immense have been the preparations for me;
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me!"
It took about one hundred thousand feet of sedimentary rock, laid down through hundreds of millions of years in the bottom of the old seas, all probably the leavings of minute forms of life, to make a foundation upon which man could appear.
His origin as revealed by science fills and appalls the imagination; as revealed by theology it simply baffles and dumbfounds one. Science deepens the mystery while yet it gives the reason and the imagination something to go upon; it takes us beyond soundings, but not beyond the assurance that cause and effect are still continuous there beneath us. I like to think that man has traveled that long adventurous road, that the whole creation has pulled together to produce him. It is a road, of course, beset with pain and anguish, beset with ugly and repellent forms, beset with riot and slaughter; it leads through jungle and morass, through floods and cataclysms, through the hells of the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic periods, but it leads ever upward and onward.
The manward impulse in creation has doubtless been checked many times, but never lost; all forms conspired to further it, and it seemed to have taken the push and the aspiration out of each order as it passed on, dooming it henceforth to a round of life without change or hope of progress, leaving the fish to continue fish, the reptiles to continue reptiles, the apes to continue apes; it took all the heart and soul of each to feed and continue the central impulse that was to eventuate in man.
I fail to see why our religious brethren cannot find in this history or revelation as much room for creative energy, as large a factor of the mysterious and superhuman, as in the myth of Genesis. True it is that it fixes our attention upon this world and upon forces with which we are more or less familiar, but it implies an element or a power before which we stand helpless and dumb. What fathered this man-impulse, what launched this evolutionary process, what or who stamped upon the first protoplasm the aspiration to be man, and never let that aspiration sleep through all the tremendous changes of those incalculable geologic ages? What or who first planted the seed of the great biological tree and determined all its branchings and the fruit it should bear? If you must have a God, either apart from or immanent in creation, it seems to me that there is as much need of one here as in the Mosaic cosmology. The final mystery cannot be cleared up. We can only drive it to cover. How the universe came to be what it is, and how man came to be man, who can tell us?
That somewhere in my line of descent was an ancestor that lived in trees and had powerful arms and weaker legs, that his line began in a creature that lived on the ground, and his in one that lived in the mud, or in the sea, and his, or its, sprang from a germ at the bottom of the sea, but deepens the mystery of the being that is now here and can look back and speculate over the course he has probably come; it only directs attention to ugly facts, to material things, to the everyday process of evolution, instead of to the far away, the unknown, or the supernatural.
How the organic came to bud and grow from the inorganic, who knows? Yet it must have done so. We seem compelled to think of an ascending series from nebular matter up to the spirituality of man, each stage in the series resting upon or growing out of the one beneath it. Creation or development must be continuous. There are and can be no breaks. The inorganic is already endowed with chemical and molecular life. The whole universe is alive and vibrates with impulses too fine for our dull senses; but in chemical affinity, in crystallization, in the persistence of force, in electricity, we catch glimpses of a kind of vitality that is preliminary to all other. I never see fire burn, or water flow, or the frost-mark on the pane, that I am not reminded of something as mysterious as life. How alive the flame seems, how alive the water, how marvelous the arborescent etchings of the frost! Is there a principle of fire? Is there a principle of crystallization? Just as much as there is a principle of life. The mind, in each case, seems to require something to lay hold of as a cause. Why these wonderful star forms of the snowflake? Why these exact geometric forms of quartz crystals? The gulf between disorganized matter and the crystal seems to me as great as that between the organic and the inorganic. If we did not every day witness the passage, we could not believe it. The gulf between the crystal and the cell we have not seen cleared, and man has not yet been able to bridge it, and may never be, but it has been bridged, and I dare say without any more miracle than hourly goes on around us.
The production of water from two invisible gases is a miracle to me. When water appeared (what made it appear?) and the first cloud floated across the blue sky, life was not far off, if it was not already there. Some morning in spring, when the sun shone across the old Azoic hills, at some point where the land and sea met, life began—the first speck of protoplasm appeared. Call it the result of the throb or push of the creative energy that pervades all things, and whose action is continuous and not intermittent, since we are compelled to presuppose such energy to account for anything, even our own efforts to account for things. An ever active vital force pervades the universe, and is felt and seen in all things, from atomic attraction and repulsion up to wheeling suns and systems. The very processes of thought seem to require such premises to go upon. There is a reason for the universe as we find it, else man's reason is a delusion, and delusion itself is a meaningless term. The uncaused is unthinkable; thought can find neither beginning nor ending to the universe, because it cannot find the primal cause. Can we think of a stick with only one end? We have to if we compass time in thought, or in space, either.
Given atomic motion, chemical affinity—this hunger or love of the elements for one another—crystallization, electricity, radium, the raining upon us of solar and sidereal influences, the youth of the earth, and the whole universe vibrating with the cosmic creative energy, the beginning of life, the step from the inorganic to the organic, is not so hard to conceive. In a dead universe this would be hard, but we have a universe throbbing with cosmic life and passion to begin with. It is impossible for me to think of anything as uncaused, and in trying to figure to myself this beginning of life I have to postulate this universal creative energy that pervades the worlds as animating the atoms and causing them to combine so as to produce the primordial protoplasm. Then when the first cell divides and becomes two, I have to think of an inherent something that prompts the act, and so on all the way up.
I cannot conceive of crystallization, this precise and invariable arrangement of certain elements, nor of the invariable chemical compounds, without postulating some inner force or will or tendency that determines them. I cannot conceive of an atom of carbon, or oxygen, or hydrogen as doing anything of itself. It must be alive, and this life and purpose pervades the universe. This inability on my part may be only the limitation of thought. I know there are things I cannot conceive of that are yet true. I cannot conceive how the sky is still overhead at the South Pole as at the North, because one position to my senses is the reverse of the other and I am compelled to think of up and down as the same. I cannot think how anything can begin, because time, like matter, is infinitely divisible, and there always remains a mathematical fragment of time between the not beginning and the beginning. The conditions of thought are such that I do not see how one can think of one's self, that is, be object and subject at the same instant of time—jump down one's own throat, so to speak—and yet we seem to manage to do it.
If life can finally be explained in terms of physics and chemistry, that is, if the beginning of life on the globe was no new thing, the introduction of no new principle, but only the result of a vastly more complex and intimate play and interaction of the old physico-chemical forces of the inorganic world, then the gulf that is supposed to separate the two worlds of living and non-living matter virtually disappears: the two worlds meet and fuse. We shall probably in time have to come to accept this view—the view of the mechanico-chemical theory of life. It is in a line with the whole revelation of science, so far—the getting rid of the miraculous, the unknowable, the transcendentand find, and the enhancing of the potency the mystery of thing snear at hand we have always known in other for it is at first an unpalatable truth, like the discovery of the animal origin of man, or that consciousness and all our thoughts and aspirations are the result of molecular action in the brain; or like the experience of the child when it discsovers that its father or mother is the Santa Claus that filled its stockings. Science is constantly bringing us back to earth as to the ground underfoot. Our dream of something far-off, supernatural, vanishes. We lose the God of a far-off heaven and find a God in the common, the near always present, always active, always creating the world anew. Science thus corrects our delusions and vague superstitions, and brings us back near horn for the key we had sought afar. We shall probably be brought, sooner or later, to accept another unpalatable theory, that of the physical origin of the soul, that it is not of celestial birth except as the celestial and terrestrial are one. This is really only taking our religious teachers at their word, that God is here, as constant and as active in the commonest substance l know as in the highest heaven. Science finds the beginning of something like conscious intelligence in the first unicellular life, the first protozoön. When two more cells unite to form a metazoön, it finds a higher and more complex form of intelligence. In the brain of man, it finds a confraternity of millions of simple cells, each with a life and intelligence of its own, but when united and cooperating, the intelligence of all pooled, as it were, we have the mind and personality of man as the result. This fact leaves no room for the notion that the mind or soul is an entity apart from the organ which it uses. It seems, on the contrary, in some mysterious way, to be the result of the multicellular life of the nervous system. Thus we do not banish the mystery of the soul, we only bring it nearer home. We disprove a fable and are then confounded by the fact that lurks under it. And this proves true in all attempts at ultimate explanations of the phenomena of this world.
It seems as if we saw the hint of prophecy of the vegetable in the mineral—in this growth of crystals, in these arborescent forms of the frost on the pane or on the flagging-stones. One may see most wonderful tree and fern forms on the pavement, with clean open spaces between them, no less than in a wood—an endless variety of them. A French chemist has lately produced by inorganic compounds the growth of something like a plant, with roots, stem, branches, leaves, buds—a mineral plant, as if the type of the plant already existed in the soil. Yes, the inorganic is dreaming of the organic. And the plant in its cell structure, in its circulation, in its intelligence, or ingenious devices to get on in the world, is dreaming of the animal, and the animal is dreaming of the spiritual, and the spirituality of man touches the spirituality of the cosmos, and thus the circle is complete.
So far as science can find out, sentience is a property of matter which is evolved under certain conditions, and though science itself has not yet been able to reproduce these conditions, it still believes in the possibility. If life was not potential in the inorganic world, how is it possible to account for it? It is not a graft, it is more like a begetting. Nature does not work by prefixes and suffixes, but by unfolding and ever unfolding, or developing out of latent innate powers and possibilities—an inward necessity always working, but never an external maker. It is no help to fancy that life may have been brought to the earth by a falling meteorite from some other sphere. How did life originate upon that other sphere? It must have started here as surely as fire started here. We feign that Prometheus stole the first fire from heaven, but it sleeps here all about us, and can be evoked any time and anywhere. It sleeps in all forms of force. A falling avalanche of rocks turns to flame; the meteor in the air becomes a torch; the thunderbolt is a huge spark. So life, no doubt, slept in the inorganic, and was started by the reverse of friction, namely, by brooding.
When the earth becomes lifeless again, as it surely must in time, then the cycle will be repeated, a collision will develop new energy, and new worlds, and out of this newness will again come life.
It is highly probable that a million years elapsed between the time when the ancestor of man began to assume human form and the dawn of history. Try to think of that time and of the struggle of this creature upward: of the pain, the suffering, the low bestial life, the warrings, the defeats, the slow, infinitely slow gains, of his deadly enemies in other animals, of the repeated changes of climate of the northern hemisphere from subtropical to subarctic—the land at one time for thousands of years buried beneath an ice sheet a mile or more thick, followed by a cycle of years of almost tropical warmth even in Greenland—and all of this before man had yet got off of "all fours," and stood upright, and began to make rude tools and rude shelters from the storms.
The Tertiary period, early in which the first rude ancestor of man seems to have appeared, is less than one week of the great geologic year of the earth's history—a week of about five days. These days the geologists have named Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene, each one of these days covering, no doubt, a million years or more. The ancestor of man probably took on something like human form on the third, or Miocene, day. The other and earlier fifty or more weeks of the great geologic year gradually saw the development of the simpler forms of life, till we reach the earliest mammals and reptiles in the Permian, about the forty-eighth or forty-ninth week of the great year. The laying down of the coal measures, Huxley thinks, must have taken six millions of years. Well, the Lord allowed himself enough time. Evidently he was in no hurry to see man cutting his fantastic tricks here upon the surface of the planet. A hundred million years, more or less what of it? Did the globe have to ripen all those cycles upon cycles, like the apple on the tree? to bask in the sidereal currents, work and ferment in the sea of the hypothetical ether, before the gross matter could evolve higher forms of life? Probably every unicellular organism that lived and died in the old seas helped prepare the way for man, contributed something to the fund of vital energy of the globe upon which man was finally to draw. How life has had to adjust itself to the great cosmic changes! The delays must have been incalculable. The periodic refrigeration of the northern hemisphere, which brought on the ice age several times during each one of the Eocene and Miocene days, must have delayed the development of life, as we know it, enormously.
From nebula to nebula—these are the hours struck by the clock of eternity: from the dissipation of the solar systems into nebular gas by their falling together, to their condensation again into suns and worlds, by the action of physical laws—thousands of millions of years in each hour, and the hours infinite in number. This is a hint of eternity. How many times, then, there must have been a world like this evolved in the course of this running down and winding up of the great clock, with beings like these we now behold! how many such worlds and such beings there must now be in the universe, and have always been! Can you think of the number? Not till you can think of infinity. The duration of life upon the globe, to say nothing of man's little span, is hardly a tick of this clock of eternity, and the repetition of the birth and dissipations of systems is well symbolized by the endless striking or ticking of a clock.
Then, sooner or later, comes the thought, What is it all for? And from the great abysm comes the echo, “What for?” Is it our human limitations, discipline of this earthly life, when we have to count the cost and ask what it is for, that makes us put the question to Infinite? When the cosmic show is over, what is the gain? When our universe is again a blank, who or what will have reaped benefit? Will the moral order which has been so slowly and painfully evolved, and which so many souls have struggled to live up to, still go on? Where? with whom? I seem to see dimly that you cannot bring the Infinite to book, that you cannot ask, What for? of the All—of that which has neither beginning nor end, neither centre nor circumference, neither fulfillment nor design, which knows neither failure nor success, neither loss nor gain, and which is complete in and of itself.
We are tied to the sphere, its laws shape our minds, we cannot get from it and see it in perspective; away from it there is no direction; at either pole on its surface there is the contradiction of the sky being always overhead. We are tied to the Infinite in the same way. We are part of it but we may not measure it. Our boldest thought comes back like a projectile fired into the heavens—the curve of the infinite sphere holds us. I know I am trying to say the unsayable. I would fain indicate how human and how hopeless is our question "What for?" when asked of the totality of things. There is no totality of things. To say that there is, does not express it. To say that there is not, do not express it. To say that the universe was created, does not express the mystery; to say that it was not created, but always existed, does not express it any nearer. To say that the heavens are overhead is only half the truth; they are underfoot also. Down is toward the centre of the earth, but go on through I and come out at the surface on the other side, and which way is down then?
The Unspeakable will not be spoken.
In the light of science we must see that life and progress and evolution and the moral order must go on and on somewhere; that the birth of systems and the evolution of planets must and does continue, and always has continued; that if one sun fades, another blazes out; that as there must have been an infinite number (how can there be an infinite number? where is the end of the endless?) of worlds in the past, so there will be an infinite number in the future; that if the moral order and the mathematical order and the intellectual order disappear from one planet, they will appear in due time on another.
All that which in our limited view of nature we call waste and delay—how can such terms apply to the Infinite? Can we ever speak truly of the Infinite in terms of the finite? To be sure, we have no other terms, and can never have. Then let us be silent and—reverent.
Volume 101, No. 4, pp. 440–449