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Ch. 9: God the Unknown

The reader will already have felt that the panzoistic conception of God-the conception, that is to say, of God as comprising all living units in His own single person-does not help us to understand the origin of matter, nor yet that of the primordial cell which has grown and unfolded itself into the present life of the world. How was the world rendered fit for the habitation of the first germ of Life? How came it to have air and water, without which nothing that we know of as living can exist? Was the world fashioned and furnished with aqueous and atmospheric adjuncts with a view to the requirements of the infant monad, and to his due development? If so, we have evidence of design, and if so of a designer, and if so there must be Some far vaster Person who looms out behind our God, and who stands in the same relation to him as he to us. And behind this vaster and more unknown God there may be yet another, and another, and another.

It is certain that Life did not make the world with a view to its own future requirements. For the world was at one time red hot, and there can have been no living being upon it. Nor is it conceivable that matter in which there was no life-inasmuch as it was infinitely hotter than the hottest infusion which any living germ can support-could gradually come to be alive without impregnation from a living parent. All living things that we know of have come from other living things with bodies and souls, whose existence can be satisfactorily established in spite of their being often too small for our detection. Since, then, the world was once without life, and since no analogy points in the direction of thinking that life can spring up spontaneously, we are driven to suppose that it was introduced into this world from some other source extraneous to it altogether, and if so we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to the inquiry whether the source of the life that is in the world-the impregnator of this earth-may not also have prepared the earth for the reception of his offspring, as a hen makes an egg-shell or a peach a stone for the protection of the germ within it? Not only are we drawn to the inquiry, but we are drawn also to the answer that the earth was so prepared designedly by a Person with body and soul who knew beforehand the kind of thing he required, and who took the necessary steps to bring it about.

If this is so we are members indeed of the God of this world, but we are not his children; we are children of the Unknown and Vaster God who called him into existence; and this in a far more literal sense than we have been in the habit of realising to ourselves. For it may be doubted whether the monads are not as truly seminal in character as the procreative matter from which all animals spring.

It must be remembered that if there is any truth in the view put forward in "Life and Habit," and in "Evolution Old and New" (and I have met with no serious attempt to upset the line of argument taken in either of these books), then no complex animal or plant can reach its full development without having already gone through the stages of that development on an infinite number of past occasions. An egg makes itself into a hen because it knows the way to do so, having already made itself into a hen millions and millions of times over; the ease and unconsciousness with which it grows being in themselves sufficient demonstration of this fact. At each stage in its growth {he chicken is reminded, by a return of the associated ideas, of the next step that it should take, and it accordingly takes it.

But if this is so, and if also the congeries of all the living forms in the world must be regarded as a single person, throughout their long growth from the primordial cell onwards to the present day, then, by parity of reasoning, the person thus compounded-that is to say, Life or God-should have already passed through a growth analogous to that which we find he has taken upon this earth on an infinite number of past occasions; and the development of each class of life, with its culmination in the vertebrate animals and in man, should be due to recollection by God of his having passed through the same stages, or nearly so, in worlds and universes, which we know of from personal recollection, as evidenced in the growth and structure of our bodies, but concerning which we have no other knowledge whatsoever.

So small a space remains to me that I cannot pursue further the reflections which suggest themselves. A few concluding considerations are here alone possible.

We know of three great concentric phases of life, and we are not without reason to suspect a fourth. If there are so many there are very likely more, but we do not know whether there are or not. The innermost sphere of life we know of is that of our own cells. These people live in a world of their own, knowing nothing of us, nor being known by ourselves until very recently. Yet they can be seen under a microscope; they can be taken out of us, and may then be watched going here and there in perturbation of mind, endeavouring to find something in their new environment that will suit them, and then dying on finding how hopelessly different it is from any to which they have been accustomed. They live in us, and make us up into the single person which we conceive ourselves to form; we are to them a world comprising an organic and an inorganic kingdom, of which they consider themselves to be the organic, and whatever is not very like themselves to be the inorganic. Whether they are composed of subordinate personalities or not we do not know, but we have no reason to think that they are, and if we touch ground, so to speak, with life in the units of which our own bodies are composed, it is likely that there is a limit also in an upward direction, though we have nothing whatever to guide us as to where it is, nor any certainty that there is a limit at all.

We are ourselves the second concentric sphere of life, we being the constituent cells which unite to form the body of God. Of the third sphere we know a single member only-the God of this world; but we see also the stars in heaven, and know their multitude. Analogy points irresistibly in the direction of thinking that these other worlds are like our own, begodded and full of life; it also bids us believe that the God of their world is begotten of one more or less like himself, and that his growth has followed the same course as that of all other growths we know of.

If so, he is one of the constituent units of an unknown and vaster personality who is composed of Gods, as our God is composed of all the living forms on earth, and as all those living forms are composed of cells. This is the Unknown God. Beyond this second God we cannot at present go, nor should we wish to do so, if we are wise. It is no reproach to a system that it does not profess to give an account of the origin of things; the reproach rather should lie against a system which professed to explain it, for we may be well assured that such a profession would, for the present at any rate, be an empty boast. It is enough if a system is true as far as it goes; if it throws new light on old problems, and opens up vistas which reveal a hope of further addition to our knowledge, and this I believe may be fairly claimed for the theory of life put forward in "Life and Habit" and "Evolution, Old and New," and for the corollary insisted upon in these pages; a corollary which follows logically and irresistibly if the position I have taken in the above-named books is admitted.

Let us imagine that one of the cells of which we are composed could attain to a glimmering perception of the manner in which he unites with other cells, of whom he knows very little, so as to form a greater compound person of whom he has hitherto known nothing at all. Would he not do well to content himself with the mastering of this conception, at any rate for a considerable time? Would it be any just ground of complaint against him on the part of his brother cells, that he had failed to explain to them who made the man (or, as he would call it, the omnipotent deity) whose existence and relations to himself he had just caught sight of?

But if he were to argue further on the same lines as those on which he had travelled hitherto, and were to arrive at the conclusion that there might be other men in the world. besides the one whom he had just learnt to apprehend, it would be still no refutation or just ground of complaint against him that he had failed to show the manner in which his supposed human race had come into existence.

Here our cell would probably stop. He could hardly be expected to arrive at the existence of animals and plants differing from the human race, and uniting with that race to form a single Person or God, in the same way as he has himself united with other cells to form man. The existence, and much more the roundness of the earth itself, would be unknown to him, except by way of inference and deduction. The only universe which he could at all understand would be the body of the man of whom he was a component part.

How would not such a cell be astounded if all that we know ourselves could be suddenly revealed to him, so that not only should the vastness of this earth burst upon his dazzled view, but that of the sun and of his planets also, and not only these, but the countless other suns which we may see by night around us. Yet it is probable that an actual being is hidden from us, which no less transcends the wildest dream of our theologians than the existence of the heavenly bodies transcends the perception of our own constituent cells.


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Samuel Butler

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