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JOSEPH SMITH AS SCIENTIST.
BY DR. JOHN A. WIDTSOE, DIRECTOR OF THE AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION, LOGAN, UTAH.
VI. THE LAW OF EVOLUTION.
To every intelligence the question concerning the purpose of all things must at some time present itself. Every philosophical system has for its ultimate problem the origin and the destiny of the universe. Whence? Where?-the queries which arise before every human soul, and which have stimulated the truth-seekers of every age in their wearisome task of searching out nature's laws. Intelligent man cannot rest satisfied with the recognition of the forces at work in the universe, and the nature of their actions; he must know, also, the resultant of the interaction of the forces, or how the whole universe is affected by them; in short, man seeks the law of laws, by the operation of which, things have become what they are, and by which their destiny is controlled. This law when once discovered, is the foundation of religion as well as of science, and would explain all phenomena.
It was well toward the beginning of the last century before philosophical doctrines rose above mere speculation, and were
based upon the actual observation of phenomena. As the scientific method of gathering facts and reasoning from them became established, it was observed that in all probability the great laws of nature were themselves controlled by some greater law. While many attempts have been made to formulate this law, yet it must be confessed, frankly, that only the faintest outline of it is possessed by the world of science.
The sanest of modern philosophers, and the one who most completely attempts to follow the method of science in philosophical writings, is Herbert Spencer. Early in his life, he set himself the task of constructing a system of philosophy which should be built upon man's reliable knowledge of nature. A long life permitted him to realize this ambition. Though his works are filled with conclusions which cannot be accepted by most men, yet the facts used in his reasoning are authentic. By the world at large, the philosophy of Herbert Spencer is considered the only philosophy that harmonizes with the knowledge of today.
After having discussed, with considerable fulness, the elements of natural phenomena, such as space, time, matter, motion and force, Mr. Spencer concludes that all evidence agrees in showing that "every object, no less than the aggregate of objects, undergoes from instant to instant some alteration of state."* That is to say that while the universe is one of system and order, yet no object remains exactly as it is, but changes every instant of time.
In two directions only can this ceaseless change affect an object: it either becomes more complex or more simple, it moves forward or backward, it grows or decays. In the words of Spencer, "All things are growing or decaying, accumulating matter or wearing away, integrating or disintegrating." This, then, is the greatest known fundamental law of the universe, and all things in it that nothing stands still, but either progresses (evolution), or retrogrades (dissolution). Now, it has been found that under normal conditions all things undergo a process of evolution; that is, become more complex, or advance. This, in its essence, is the law of evolution, about which so much has been said during the
*First Principles, p. 287. † Loc. cit., p. 292. Loc. cit., p. 337.
last forty-five years. Undoubtedly this law is correct, and in harmony with the known facts of the universe. It certainly throws a flood of light upon the phenomena of nature; though of itself, it telis little of the force behind it, in obedience to which it operates.
Spencer himself most clearly realized the insufficiency of the law of evolution alone, for he asks, "May we seek for some all-pervading principle which underlies this all pervading process?" and proceeds to search out this "all-pervading principle" which at last he determines to be the persistence of force-the operation of the universal, incomprehensible force, which appears as gravitation, light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and in other forms.†
A natural question now is, Is there any limit to the changes undergone by matter, and which we designate as evolution? "Will they go on forever? or will there be an end to them?" As far as our knowledge goes, there is an end to all things, a death which is the greatest known change, and as far as human experience goes, all things tend toward a death-like state of rest. That this rest is permanent is not possible under the law of evolution; for it teaches that an ulterior process initiates a new life; that there are alternate eras of evolution and dissolution. "And thus there is suggested the conception of a past during which there have been successive evolutions analogous to that which is now going on; and a future during which successive other such evolutions may go on ever the same in principle but never the same in concrete result." This is practically the same as admitting eternal growth.
The final conclusion is that "we can no longer contemplate the visible creation as having a definite beginning or end, or as being isolated. It becomes unified with all existence before and after; and the force which the universe presents falls into the same category with space and time, as admitting of no limitation in thought."||
It is interesting to note the conclusion concerning spirit and matter, to which Mr. Spencer is led by the law of evolution. "The
* First Principles, p. 408. † Loc. cit., p. 494. ‡ Loc. cit., p. 496. § Loc. cit., p. 550. || Loc. cit., p. 564.