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Chapter 3


Though the ideas of design, and of the foot, have come together in our minds with sufficient spontaneity, we yet feel that there is a difference--and a wide difference if we could only lay our hands upon it--between the design and manufacture of the ligament and tendons of the foot on the one hand, and on the other the design, manufacture, and combination of artificial strings, pieces of wood, and bandages, whereby a model of the foot might be constructed.

If we conceive of ourselves as looking simultaneously upon a real foot, and upon an admirably constructed artificial one, placed by the side of it, the idea of design, and design by an intelligent living being with a body and soul (without which, as has been already insisted on, the use of the word design is delusive), will present itself strongly to our minds in connection both with the true foot, and with the model; but we find another idea asserting itself with even greater strength, namely, that the design of the true foot is far more intricate, and yet is carried into execution in far more masterly manner than that of the model. We not only feel that there is a wider difference between the ability, time, and care which have been lavished on the real foot and upon the model, than there is between the skill and the time taken to produce Westminster Abbey, and that bestowed upon a gingerbread cake stuck with sugar plums so as to represent it, but also that these two objects must have been manufactured on different principles. We do not for a moment doubt that the real foot was designed, but we are so astonished at the dexterity of the designer that we are at a loss for some time to think who could have designed it, where he can live, in what manner he studied, for how long, and by what processes he carried out his design, when matured, into actual practice. Until recently it was thought that there was no answer to many of these questions, more especially to those which bear upon the mode of manufacture. For the last hundred years, however, the importance of a study has been recognized which does actually reveal to us in no small degree the processes by which the human foot is manufactured, so that in the endeavour to lay our hands upon the points of difference between the kind of design with which the foot itself is designed, and the design of the model, we turn naturally to the guidance of those who have made this study their specialty; and a very wide difference does this study, embryology, at once reveal to us.

Writing of the successive changes through which each embryo is forced to pass, the late Mr. G. H. Lewes says that "none of these phases have any adaptation to the future state of the animal, but are in positive contradiction to it or are simply purposeless; whereas all show stamped on them the unmistakable characters of ancestral adaptation, and the progressions of organic evolution. What does the fact imply? There is not a single known example of a complex organism which is not developed out of simpler forms. Before it can attain the complex structure which distinguishes it, there must be an evolution of forms similar to those which distinguish the structure of organisms lower in the series. On the hypothesis of a plan which prearranged the organic world, nothing could be more unworthy of a supreme intelligence than this inability to construct an organism at once, without making several previous tentative efforts, undoing to-day what was so carefully done yesterday, and repeating for centuries the same tentatives in the same succession. Do not let us blink this consideration. There is a traditional phrase much in vogue among the anthropomorphists, which arose naturally enough from a tendency to take human methods as an explanation of the Divine--a phrase which becomes a sort of argument--'The Great Architect.' But if we are to admit the human point of view, a glance at the facts of embryology must produce very uncomfortable reflections. For what should we say to an architect who was unable, or being able was obstinately unwilling, to erect a palace except by first using his materials in the shape of a hut, then pulling them down and rebuilding them as a cottage, then adding story to story and room to room, not with any reference to the ultimate purposes of the palace, but wholly with reference to the way in which houses were constructed in ancient times? What should we say to the architect who could not form a museum out of bricks and mortar, but was forced to begin as if going to construct a mansion, and after proceeding some way in this direction, altered his plan into a palace, and that again into a museum? Yet this is the sort of succession on which organisms are constructed. The fact has long been familiar; how has it been reconciled with infinite wisdom? Let the following passage answer for a thousand:--'The embryo is nothing like the miniature of the adult. For a long while the body in its entirety and in its details, presents the strangest of spectacles. Day by day and hour by hour, the aspect of the scene changes, and this instability is exhibited by the most essential parts no less than by the accessory parts. One would say that nature feels her way, and only reaches the goal after many times missing the path' (on dirait que la nature tâtonne et ne conduit son oeuvre à bon fin, qu'après s'être souvent trompée)."[21]

The above passage does not, I think, affect the evidence for design which we adduced in the preceding chapter. However strange the process of manufacture may appear, when the work comes to be turned out the design is too manifest to be doubted.

If the reader were to come upon some lawyer's deed which dealt with matters of such unspeakable intricacy, that it baffled his imagination to conceive how it could ever have been drafted, and if in spite of this he were to find the intricacy of the provisions to be made, exceeded only by the ease and simplicity with which the deed providing for them was found to work in practice; and after this, if he were to discover that the deed, by whomsoever drawn, had nevertheless been drafted upon principles which at first seemed very foreign to any according to which he was in the habit of drafting deeds himself, as for example, that the draftsman had begun to draft a will as a marriage settlement, and so forth--yet an observer would not, I take it, do either of two things. He would not in the face of the result deny the design, making himself judge rather of the method of procedure than of the achievement. Nor yet after insisting in the manner of Paley, on the wonderful proofs of intention and on the exquisite provisions which were to be found in every syllable--thus leading us up to the highest pitch of expectation--would he present us with such an impotent conclusion as that the designer, though a living person and a true designer, was yet immaterial and intangible, a something, in fact, which proves to be a nothing: an omniscient and omnipotent vacuum.

Our observer would feel he need not have been at such pains to establish his design if this was to be the upshot of his reasoning. He would therefore admit the design, and by consequence the designer, but would probably ask a little time for reflection before he ventured to say who, or what, or where the designer was. Then gaining some insight into the manner in which the deed had been drawn, he would conclude that the draftsman was a specialist who had had long practice in this particular kind of work, but who now worked almost as it might be said automatically and without consciousness, and found it difficult to depart from a habitual method of procedure.

We turn, then, on Paley, and say to him: "We have admitted your design and your designer. Where is he? Show him to us. If you cannot show him to us as flesh and blood, show him as flesh and sap; show him as a living cell; show him as protoplasm. Lower than this we should not fairly go; it is not in the bond or nexus of our ideas that something utterly inanimate and inorganic should scheme, design, contrive, and elaborate structures which can make mistakes: it may elaborate low unerring things, like crystals, but it cannot elaborate those which have the power to err. Nevertheless, we will commit such abuse with our understandings as to waive this point, and we will ask you to show him to us as air which, if it cannot be seen, yet can be felt, weighed, handled, transferred from place to place, be judged by its effects, and so forth; or if this may not be, give us half a grain of hydrogen, diffused through all space and invested with some of the minor attributes of matter; or if you cannot do this, give us an imponderable like electricity, or even the higher mathematics, but give us something or throw off the mask and tell us fairly out that it is your paid profession to hoodwink us on this matter if you can, and that you are but doing your best to earn an honest living."

We may fancy Paley as turning the tables upon us and as saying: "But you too have admitted a designer--you too then must mean a designer with a body and soul, who must be somewhere to be found in space, and who must live in time. Where is this your designer? Can you show him more than I can? Can you lay your finger on him and demonstrate him so that a child shall see him and know him, and find what was heretofore an isolated idea concerning him, combine itself instantaneously with the idea of the designer, we will say, of the human foot, so that no power on earth shall henceforth tear those two ideas asunder? Surely if you cannot do this, you too are trifling with words, and abusing your own mind and that of your reader. Where, then, is your designer of man? Who made him? And where, again, is your designer of beasts and birds, of fishes, and of plants?"

Our answer is simple enough; it is that we can and do point to a living tangible person with flesh, blood, eyes, nose, ears, organs, senses, dimensions, who did of his own cunning after infinite proof of every kind of hazard and experiment scheme out, and fashion each organ of the human body. This is the person whom we claim as the designer and artificer of that body, and he is the one of all others the best fitted for the task by his antecedents, and his practical knowledge of the requirements of the case--for he is man himself.

Not man, the individual of any given generation, but man in the entirety of his existence from the dawn of life onwards to the present moment. In like manner we say that the designer of all organisms is so incorporate with the organisms themselves--so lives, moves, and has its being in those organisms, and is so one with them--they in it, and it in them--that it is more consistent with reason and the common use of words to see the designer of each living form in the living form itself, than to look for its designer in some other place or person.

Thus we have a third alternative presented to us.

Mr. Charles Darwin and his followers deny design, as having any appreciable share in the formation of organism at all.

Paley and the theologians insist on design, but upon a designer outside the universe and the organism.

The third opinion is that suggested in the first instance, and carried out to a very high degree of development by Buffon. It was improved, and, indeed, made almost perfect by Dr. Erasmus Darwin, but too much neglected by him after he had put it forward. It was borrowed, as I think we may say with some confidence, from Dr. Darwin by Lamarck, and was followed up by him ardently thenceforth, during the remainder of his life, though somewhat less perfectly comprehended by him than it had been by Dr. Darwin. It is that the design which has designed organisms, has resided within, and been embodied in, the organisms themselves.

With but a very little change in the present signification of words, the question resolves itself into this.

Shall we see God henceforth as embodied in all living forms; as dwelling in them; as being that power in them whereby they have learnt to fashion themselves, each one according to its ideas of its own convenience, and to make itself not only a microcosm, or little world, but a little unwritten history of the universe from its own point of view into the bargain? From everlasting, in time past, only in so far as life has lasted; invisible, only in so far as the ultimate connection between the will to do and the thing which does is invisible; imperishable, only in so far as life as a whole is imperishable; omniscient and omnipotent, within the limits only of a very long and large experience, but ignorant and impotent in respect of all else--limited in all the above respects, yet even so incalculably vaster than anything that we can conceive?

Or shall we see God as we were taught to say we saw him when we were children--as an artificial and violent attempt to combine ideas which fly asunder and asunder, no matter how often we try to force them into combination?

"The true mainspring of our existence," says Buffon, "lies not in those muscles, veins, arteries, and nerves, which have been described with so much minuteness, it is to be found in the more hidden forces which are not bounden by the gross mechanical laws which we would fain set over them. Instead of trying to know these forces by their effects, we have endeavoured to uproot even their very idea, so as to banish them utterly from philosophy. But they return to us and with renewed vigour; they return to us in gravitation, in chemical affinity, in the phenomena of electricity, &c. Their existence rests upon the clearest evidence; the omnipresence of their action is indisputable, but that action is hidden away from our eyes, and is a matter of inference only; we cannot actually see them, therefore we find difficulty in admitting that they exist; we wish to judge of everything by its exterior; we imagine that the exterior is the whole, and deeming that it is not permitted us to go beyond it, we neglect all that may enable us to do so."[22]

Or may we not say that the unseen parts of God are those deep buried histories, the antiquity and the repeatedness of which go as far beyond that of any habit handed down to us from our earliest protoplasmic ancestor, as the distance of the remotest star in space transcends our distance from the sun?

By vivisection and painful introspection we can rediscover many a long buried history--rekindling that sense of novelty in respect of its action, whereby we can alone become aware of it. But there are other remoter histories, and more repeated thoughts and actions, before which we feel so powerless to reawaken fresh interest concerning them, that we give up the attempt in despair, and bow our heads, overpowered by the sense of their immensity. Thus our inability to comprehend God is coextensive with our difficulty in going back upon the past--and our sense of him is a dim perception of our own vast and now inconceivably remote history.


[21] Quatrefages, 'Metamorphoses de l'Homme et des Animaux,' 1862, p. 42; G. H. Lewes, 'Physical Basis of Mind,' 1877, p. 83.

[22] Tom. ii. p. 486, 1794.

Samuel Butler

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