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Chapter 2

THE TELEOLOGY OF PALEY AND THE THEOLOGIANS.


Let us turn for a while to Paley, to whom Sir W. Thomson has referred us. His work should be so well known that an apology is almost due for quoting it, yet I think it likely that at least nine out of ten of my readers will (like myself till reminded of it by Sir W. Thomson's address) have forgotten its existence.

"In crossing a heath," says Paley, "suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given--that for anything I knew the watch might have been always there. Yet, why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day: that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none that would have answered the use which is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices all tending to one result: we see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavours to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure) communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels the teeth of which catch in, and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time by the size and shape of those wheels so regulating the motion as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed on no other part of the work, but in the room of which if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not have been observed without opening the case. This mechanism being observed, ... the inference, we think, is inevitable that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction and designed its use."[12]


"That an animal is a machine, is a proposition neither correctly true nor wholly false.... I contend that there is a mechanism in animals; that this mechanism is as properly such, as it is in machines made by art; that this mechanism is intelligible and certain; that it is not the less so because it often begins and terminates with something which is not mechanical; that wherever it is intelligible and certain, it demonstrates intention and contrivance, as well in the works of nature as in those of art; and that it is the best demonstration which either can afford."[13]

There is only one legitimate inference deducible from these premises if they are admitted as sound, namely, that there must have existed "at some time, and in some place, an artificer" who formed the animal mechanism after much the same mental processes of observation, endeavour, successful contrivance, and after a not wholly unlike succession of bodily actions, as those with which a watchmaker has made a watch. Otherwise the conclusion is impotent, and the whole argument becomes a mere juggle of words.

"Now, supposing or admitting," continues Paley, "that we know nothing of the proper internal constitution of a gland, or of the mode of its acting upon the blood; then our situation is precisely like that of an unmechanical looker-on who stands by a stocking loom, a corn mill, a carding machine, or a threshing machine, at work, the fabric and mechanism of which, as well as all that passes within, is hidden from his sight by the outside case; or if seen, would be too complicated for his uninformed, uninstructed understanding to comprehend. And what is that situation? This spectator, ignorant as he is, sees at one end a material enter the machine, as unground grain the mill, raw cotton the carding machine, sheaves of unthreshed corn the threshing machine, and when he casts his eye to the other end of the apparatus, he sees the material issuing from it in a new state and what is more, a state manifestly adapted for its future uses: the grain in meal fit for the making of bread, the wool in rovings fit for the spinning into threads, the sheaf in corn fit for the mill. Is it necessary that this man, in order to be convinced that design, that intention, that contrivance has been employed about the machine, should be allowed to pull it to pieces, should be enabled to examine the parts separately, explore their action upon one another, or their operation, whether simultaneous or successive, upon the material which is presented to them? He may long to do this to satisfy his curiosity; he may desire to do it to improve his theoretic knowledge; ... but for the purpose of ascertaining the existence of counsel and design in the formation of the machine, he wants no such intromission or privity. The effect upon the material, the change produced in it, the utility of the change for future applications, abundantly testify, be the concealed part of the machine, or of its construction, what it will, the hand and agency of a contriver."[14]

This is admirably put, but it will apply to the mechanism of animal and vegetable bodies only, if it is used to show that they too must have had a contriver who has a hand, or something tantamount to one; who does act; who, being a contriver, has what all other contrivers must have, if they are to be called contrivers--a body which can suffer more or less pain or chagrin if the contrivance is unsuccessful. If this is what Paley means, his argument is indeed irrefragable; but if he does not intend this, his words are frivolous, as so clear and acute a reasoner must have perfectly well known.

Whether Paley's argument will prove a source of lasting strength to himself or no, is a point which my readers will decide presently; but I am very clear about its usefulness to my own position. I know few writers whom I would willingly quote more largely, or from whom I find it harder to leave off quoting when I have once begun. A few more passages, however, must suffice.

"I challenge any man to produce in the joints and pivots of the most complicated or the most flexible machine that ever was contrived, a construction more artificial" (here we have it again), "or more evidently artificial than the human neck. Two things were to be done. The head was to have the power of bending forward and backward as in the act of nodding, stooping, looking upwards or downwards; and at the same time of turning itself round upon the body to a certain extent, the quadrant, we will say, or rather perhaps a hundred and twenty degrees of a circle. For these two purposes two distinct contrivances are employed. First the head rests immediately upon the uppermost part of the vertebra, and is united to it by a hinge-joint; upon this joint the head plays freely backward and forward as far either way as is necessary or as the ligaments allow, which was the first thing required.

"But then the rotatory motion is thus unprovided for; therefore, secondly, to make the head capable of this a further mechanism is introduced, not between the head and the uppermost bone of the neck, where the hinge is, but between that bone and the next underneath it. It is a mechanism resembling a tenon and mortise. This second or uppermost bone but one has what the anatomists call a process, viz. a projection somewhat similar in size and shape to a tooth, which tooth, entering a corresponding hollow socket in the bone above it, forms a pivot or axle, upon which that upper bone, together with the head which it supports, turns freely in a circle, and as far in the circle as the attached muscles permit the head to turn. Thus are both motions perfect without interfering with each other. When we nod the head we use the hinge-joint, which lies between the head and the first bone of the neck. When we turn the head round, we use the tenon and mortise, which runs between the first bone of the neck and the second. We see the same contrivance and the same principle employed in the frame or mounting of a telescope. It is occasionally requisite that the object end of the instrument be moved up and down as well as horizontally or equatorially. For the vertical motion there is a hinge upon which the telescope plays, for the horizontal or equatorial motion, an axis upon which the telescope and the hinge turn round together. And this is exactly the mechanism which is applied to the action of the head, nor will anyone here doubt of the existence of counsel and design, except it be by that debility of mind which can trust to its own reasonings in nothing."[15]


"The patella, or knee-pan, is a curious little bone; in its form and office unlike any other bone in the body. It is circular, the size of a crown-piece, pretty thick, a little convex on both sides, and covered with a smooth cartilage. It lies upon the front of the knee, and the powerful tendons by which the leg is brought forward pass through it (or rather make it a part of their continuation) from their origin in the thigh to their insertion in the tibia. It protects both the tendon and the joint from any injury which either might suffer by the rubbing of one against the other, or by the pressure of unequal surfaces. It also gives to the tendons a very considerable mechanical advantage by altering the line of their direction, and by advancing it farther out of the centre of motion; and this upon the principles of the resolution of force, upon which all machinery is founded. These are its uses. But what is most observable in it is that it appears to be supplemental, as it were, to the frame; added, as it should almost seem, afterwards; not quite necessary, but very convenient. It is separate from the other bones; that is, it is not connected with any other bones by the common mode of union. It is soft, or hardly formed in infancy; and is produced by an ossification, of the inception or progress of which no account can be given from the structure or exercise of the part."[16]

It is positively painful to me to pass over Paley's description of the joints, but I must content myself with a single passage from this admirable chapter.

"The joints, or rather the ends of the bones which form them, display also in their configuration another use. The nerves, blood-vessels, and tendons which are necessary to the life, or for the motion of the limbs, must, it is evident in their way from the trunk of the body to the place of their destination, travel over the moveable joints; and it is no less evident that in this part of their course they will have from sudden motions, and from abrupt changes of curvature, to encounter the danger of compression, attrition, or laceration. To guard fibres so tender against consequences so injurious, their path is in those parts protected with peculiar care; and that by a provision in the figure of the bones themselves. The nerves which supply the fore arm, especially the inferior cubital nerves, are at the elbow conducted by a kind of covered way, between the condyle, or rather under the inner extuberances, of the bone which composes the upper part of the arm. At the knee the extremity of the thigh-bone is divided by a sinus or cliff into two heads or protuberances; and these heads on the back part stand out beyond the cylinder of the bone. Through the hollow which lies between the hind parts of these two heads, that is to say, under the ham, between the ham strings, and within the concave recess of the bone formed by the extuberances on either side; in a word, along a defile between rocks pass the great vessels and nerves which go to the leg. Who led these vessels by a road so defended and secured? In the joint at the shoulder, in the edge of the cup which receives the head of the bone, is a notch which is covered at the top with a ligament. Through this hole thus guarded the blood-vessels steal to their destination in the arm instead of mounting over the edge of the concavity."[17]


"What contrivance can be more mechanical than the following, viz.: a slit in one tendon to let another tendon pass through it? This structure is found in the tendons which move the toes and fingers. The long tendon, as it is called in the foot, which bends the first joint of the toe, passes through the short tendon which bends the second joint; which course allows to the sinews more liberty and a more commodious action than it would otherwise have been capable of exerting. There is nothing, I believe, in a silk or cotton mill, in the belts or straps or ropes by which the motion is communicated from one part of the machine to another that is more artificial, or more evidently so, than this perforation.

"The next circumstance which I shall mention under this head of muscular arrangement, is so decidedly a mark of intention, that it always appeared to me to supersede in some measure the necessity of seeking for any other observation upon the subject; and that circumstance is the tendons which pass from the leg to the foot being bound down by a ligament at the ankle, the foot is placed at a considerable angle with the leg. It is manifest, therefore, that flexible strings passing along the interior of the angle, if left to themselves, would, when stretched, start from it. The obvious" (and it must not be forgotten that the preventive was obvious) "preventive is to tie them down. And this is done in fact. Across the instep, or rather just above it, the anatomist finds a strong ligament, under which the tendons pass to the foot. The effect of the ligament as a bandage can be made evident to the senses, for if it be cut the tendons start up. The simplicity, yet the clearness of this contrivance, its exact resemblance to established resources of art, place it amongst the most indubitable manifestations of design with which we are acquainted."

Then follows a passage which is interesting, as being the earliest attempt I know of to bring forward an argument against evolution, which was, even in Paley's day, called "Darwinism," after Dr. Erasmus Darwin its propounder.[18] The argument, I mean, which is drawn from the difficulty of accounting for the incipiency of complex structures. This has been used with greater force by the Rev. J. J. Murphy, Professor Mivart, and others, against that (as I believe) erroneous view of evolution which is now generally received as Darwinism.

"There is also a further use," says Paley, "to be made of this present example, and that is as it precisely contradicts the opinion, that the parts of animals may have been all formed by what is called appetency, i. e. endeavour, perpetuated and imperceptibly working its effect through an incalculable series of generations. We have here no endeavour, but the reverse of it; a constant resistency and reluctance. The endeavour is all the other way. The pressure of the ligament constrains the tendons; the tendons react upon the pressure of the ligament. It is impossible that the ligament should ever have been generated by the exercise of the tendons, or in the course of that exercise, forasmuch as the force of the tendon perpendicularly resists the fibre which confines it, and is constantly endeavouring not to form but to rupture and displace the threads of which the ligament is composed."[19]

This must suffice.

"True theories," says M. Flourens, inspired by a passage from Fontenelle, which he proceeds to quote, "true theories make themselves," they are not made, but are born and grow; they cannot be stopped from insisting upon their vitality by anything short of intellectual violence, nor will a little violence only suffice to kill them. "True theories," he continues, "are but the spontaneous mental coming together of facts, which have combined with one another by virtue only of their own natural affinity."[20]

When a number of isolated facts, says Fontenelle, take form, group themselves together coherently, and present the mind so vividly with an idea of their interdependence and mutual bearing upon each other, that no matter how violently we tear them asunder they insist on coming together again; then, and not till then, have we a theory.

Now I submit that there is hardly one of my readers who can be considered as free from bias or prejudice, who will not feel that the idea of design--or perception by an intelligent living being, of ends to be obtained and of the means of obtaining them--and the idea of the tendons of the foot and of the ligament which binds them down, come together so forcibly, that no matter how strongly Professors Haeckel and Clifford and Mr. Darwin may try to separate them, they are no sooner pulled asunder than they straightway fly together again of themselves.

I shall argue, therefore, no further upon this head, but shall assume it as settled, and shall proceed at once to the consideration that next suggests itself.


FOOTNOTES:

[12] 'Natural Theology,' ch. i. § 1.

[13] Ch. vii.

[14] Ch. vii.

[15] 'Natural Theology.' ch. viii.

[16] 'Natural Theology,' ch. viii.

[17] 'Natural Theology,' ch. viii.

[18] "What!" says Coleridge, in a note on Stillingfleet, to which Mr. Garnett, of the British Museum, has kindly called my attention, "Did Sir Walter Raleigh believe that a male and female ounce (and if so why not two tigers and lions, &c.?) would have produced in course of generations a cat, or a cat a lion? This is Darwinising with a vengeance."--See 'Athenæum,' March 27, 1875, p. 423.

[19] 'Natural Theology,' ch. ix.

[20] "La vraie théorie n'est que l'enchaînement naturel des faits, qui dès qu'ils sont assez nombreux, se touchent, et se lient, les uns aux autres par leur seule vertu propre."--Flourens, 'Buffon, Hist. de ses Travaux.' Paris, 1844, p. 82.


Samuel Butler

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