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THE WONDERS OF THE HEAVENS
WHERE are truths before which human thought feels itself hu1 miliated and perplexed, which it contemplates with fear, and
without the power to face them, although it understands their existence and necessity: such are those of the infinity of space and eternity of duration Impossible to define, for all definition could only darken the first idea which is in us,- these truths command and rule us. To try and explain them would be a barren hope; it suffices to keep them before our attention in order that they may reveal to us, at every instant, the immensity of their value. A thousand definitions have been given; we will, however, neither quote nor recall one of them. But we wish to open space before us and employ ourselves there, in trying to penetrate its depth. The velocity of a cannon ball from the mouth of the cannon makes swift way, 437 yards per second. But this would be still too slow for our journey through space, as our velocity would scarcely be goo miles an hour. This is too little. In nature there are movements incomparably more rapid, for instance, the velocity of light. This velocity is 186,000 miles per second. This will do better; thus we will take this means of transport. Allow me, then, by a figure of speech, to tell you that we will place ourselves on a ray of light and be carried away on its rapid course.
Taking the earth as our starting point, we will go in a straight line to any point of the heavens. We start. At the end of the first second we have already traversed 186,000 miles; at the end of the second, 372,000. We continue. Ten seconds, a minute, ten minutes have elapsed — 111,600,000 miles have been passed. Passing, during an hour, a day, a week, without ever slackening our pace, during whole months, and even a year, the time which we have traversed is already so long that, expressed in miles, the number of measurement exceeds our faculty of comprehension, and indicates nothing to our mind: they would be trillions, and millions of millions. But we will not interrupt our flight. Carried on without stopping by this same rapidity of 186,000 miles each second, let us penetrate the expanse in a straight line for whole years, fifty years, even a century. . . . Where are we? For a long time we have gone beyond the last starry regions which are seen from the earth, the last that the telescope has visited; for a long time we travel in other regions, unknown and unexplored. No mind is capable of following the road passed over; thousands of millions joined to thousands of millions express nothing: at the sight of this prodigious expanse the imagination is arrested, humbled. Well! this is the wonderful point of the problem: we have not advanced a single step in space. We are no nearer a limit than if we had remained in the same place; we should be able again to begin the same course starting from the point where we are, and add to our voyage a voyage of the same extent; we should be able to join centuries on centuries in the same itinerary, with the same velocity, to continue the voyage without end and without rest; we should be able to guide ourselves in any part of space, left, right, forward, backward, above, below, in every direction; and when, after centuries employed in this giddy course, we should stop ourselves, fascinated, or in despair before the immensity eternally open, eternally renewed, we should again understand that our secular flights had not measured for us the smallest part of space, and that we were not more advanced than at our starting point. in truth, it is the infinite which surrounds us, as we before expressed it, or the infinite number of worlds. We should be able to float for eternity without ever finding anything before us but an eternally open infinite.
Hence it follows that all our ideas on space have but a purely relative value. When we say, for instance, to ascend to the sky, to descend under the earth, these expressions are false in themselves, for being situated in the bosom of the Infinite, we can neither ascend nor descend: there is no above or below; these words have only an acceptation relative to the terrestrial surface on which we live.
The universe must, therefore, be represented as an expanse without limits, without shores, illimited, infinite, in the bosom of which float suns, like that which lights us, and earths like that which poises under our steps. Neither dome, nor vaults, nor limits of any kind; void in every direction, and in this infinite void an infinite number of worlds.
«The Wonders of the Heavens,»
Book I., Chap. ii.
XXNTONIO FOGAZZARO, the Italian poet and novelist, was deeply A moved by the poetry of the idea which inspired Evolution
as a scientific hypothesis. Like St. George Mivart, he acknowledged fully the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in matters spiritual, but he wrote a notable series of essays intended to demonstrate that the idea of perpetual improvement going on throughout all nature as a result of a supreme law of goodness, operating even through what appears to be evil, is in itself a necessary deduction from the fundamental ideas of Christianity. With Mivart and Drummond, he did much to allay the fear that religion is in any way threatened by the theory of a progressive natural evolution, governed by the inherent qualities of matter, and going on for the improvement of all nature. Fogazzaro was born at Vicenza, Italy, in 1842. His best-known poems are «Miranda” and “Valsonda,” - the latter a volume of lyrics published in 1876.
FOR THE BEAUTY OF AN IDEAL
I E NOW believe no longer that the universe was created VV solely for humanity; that sun, moon, and stars are set in
heaven only to give light to the earth; or that plants and animals exist for the sole purpose of being of service to man. We believe instead that within the ordering mind of the universe all things are directed, both in themselves and relatively to other things, toward infinitely diverse ends, very few of which are visible to us, very few of which with our intelligence we can apprehend. We believe that these infinitely numerous aims are arranged in accordance with greater designs, and that these are ordained to produce others still greater; and that these latter are in their turn but parts of one single immense design, of which it is hardly possible for human reason to know more than that in its general lines it ascends from the imperfect to the perfect. By these ideas we mean to raise, and not to lower human dignity. We shift the origin of man from the statue of clay to the first nebula; we confide the sublime task of preparing for Adam and for the birth of the personal and immortal spirit to millions of ages, to all the powers of nature, to myriads and myriads of living beings. Finally, in the name of the law which evolved it from primeval matter, we promise to our species an endless ascent toward the Infinite.
At the same time we raise the dignity of inferior nature, hitherto trodden down with proud, superstitious, and unjust contempt by its offspring, Man. We recognize the action of the om. nipotent Divine Will, constantly working for lofty ends, of which only those parts which concern our own species are even dimly visible to us; and to this lower nature also we promise a future unlimited Ascent of its own. Finally, our doctrine raises and enlarges the idea of the Divinity in the human intellect. Just as the entire absence or crude materialization of this idea belongs to the lowest intellectual conditions of the race, so, as culture becomes higher, the nobility and grandeur of the idea become more developed in the minds of more cultivated believers. There is no doubt that between scientific progress and the idea of God there is some spiritual correlation, similar to that mysterious correlation which we observe in the organic world, causing the development of one organ to correspond to the development of another, so that if the calyx of a flower grow deeper, there will be a corresponding growth in the length of the proboscis of the insect which depends on that flower for existence. Or, to use a still more material but more appropriate metaphor, I may say that there is a secret natural passage connecting the sources of human knowledge with the sources of the idea of God, by means of which, almost in accordance with the physical law of communicating vessels, the human spirit laboriously toiling at science must necessarily and spontaneously ascend to the conception of God. With each new step in scientific progress our mind is able to conceive God as greater, and, above all, as more unlike man. in his method of operation. The progress of astronomy, revealing the true order of the solar system and its probable subordination to other greater systems, has amplified and glorified our conception of the Creator, multiplying the designs and aims of his divine action, and carrying them into the remotest and most invisible realms of space. Once, as they gazed at the stars, believers fancied that they were upheld in space by God, who stood
like a magician, a man furnished with supernatural faculties, on the outside of things, compelling them against the laws of nature to obey him. Newton's discovery has shown us that God governs the stars and all the atoms in the world in a radically different way, just in the very way, that is to say, which we call the laws of nature. It is impossible to conceive a human being, however grand and noble he might be, operating thus. By these laws of universal attraction, the creation, immensely widened by previous discoveries, is brought back to a rigorous unity. All things are attracted and balanced according to weight, number, and measure; and the infinitely different, but contemporaneous manifestations of a single force resound in a harmony which is expressed by the mechanical order of the universe. For cultivated and believing minds this ideal and harmonious music of the spheres conveys immensely more of the grandeur of the idea of God than the sight of a starry sky, even though powerful telescopes assist the eye to penetrate the furthest solar nebulæ. Now the theory of Evolution presents to us, not a Deity who works intermittently, creating the world in separately finished pieces, and then putting them together like a man making a machine; but a God who is at work always and everywhere, within and without everything, producing the progressive variety of types from the original unity with such orderly and continuous action that it may be called by the names of Nature and Law; a God who works from an infinite number of partial designs which all converge to one single infinite design. And the order of the universe, which, according to the law of attraction, resounds contemporaneously in space like a marvelous harmony, by the law of Evolution, develops in time with the material and logical continuity of a spoken thought. It is like a marvelous melody, passing from grandiose movements to impassioned, from the splendors of light to the splendors of intellect and love; a melody truly divine because, though never completed, it never wanders, but with increasing magnificence gives expression to an idea which is for the human soul the highest ideal possible, not absolute perfection, that is to say, for to that it can never in all eternity at. tain, but a continuous and indefinite ascent toward it. Never has the human spirit been able so well to trace the sublimity of the Creator from the evidence of things of sense as in these visions.
It is true that every phase of scientific progress has been accompanied also by the denial of God, but all that this proves is