The Dependence Of The Order Of Nature

(2 and 3). The "dependence" of all things is the second requirement of

religion, without which it is altogether inconceivable. We avoid the words

"creation" and "being created," because they involve anthropomorphic and

altogether insufficient modes of representation. But throughout we have in

mind, as suggested by Schleiermacher's expression already quoted, what all

religion means when it declares nature and the world to be creatur

The inalienable content of this idea is that deep and assured feeling that

our nature and all nature does not rest in its own strength and

self-sufficiency, that there must be more secure reasons for nature which

are absolutely outside of it, and that it is dependent upon, and

conditioned through and through by something above itself, independent,

and unconditioned. "I believe that God has created me together with all

creatures." (Luther.)

This faith seemed easier in earlier times, when men's eyes were not yet

opened to see the deep-lying connectedness of all phenomena, the

inexorableness of causal sequences, when it was believed that, in the

apparently numerous interruptions of the causal sequences, the frailty and

dependence of this world and its need for heavenly aid could be directly

observed, when, therefore, it was not difficult to believe that the world

was "nothing" and perishable, that it had been called forth out of

nothing, and that in its transient nature it carried for ever the traces

of this origin. But to-day it is not so easy to believe in this

dependence, for nature seems to show itself, in its inviolable laws and

unbroken sequences, as entirely sufficient unto itself, so that for every

phenomenon a sufficient cause is to be found within nature, that is, in

the sum of the antecedent states and conditions which, according to

inevitable laws, must result in and produce what follows.

We have already noted that this is most obviously discernible in the world

of the great masses, the heavenly bodies which pursue their courses from

everlasting to everlasting, mutually conditioning themselves and betraying

no need for or dependence upon anything outside of themselves. Everything,

even the smallest movement, is here determined strictly by the dependence

of each upon all and of all upon each. There is no variation, no change of

position for which an entirely satisfactory cause cannot be found in the

system as a whole, which works like an immense machine. Nothing indicates

dependence upon anything external. And as it is to-day so it was

yesterday, and a million years ago, and innumerable millions of years ago.

It seems quite gratuitous to suppose that something which does not occur

to-day was necessary at an earlier period, and that everything has not

been from all eternity just as it is now.

We saw that naturalism is attempting to extend this character of

independence and self-sufficiency from the astronomical world to the world

as a whole. Shall we attempt, then, to oppose it in this ambition, but

surrender the realm of the heavenly bodies as already conquered? By no

means. For religion cannot exclude the solar system from the dependence of

all being upon God. And this very example is the most conspicuous one, the

one in regard to which the whole problem can be most definitely


Astronomy teaches us that all cosmic processes are governed by a

marvellous far-reaching uniformity of law, which unites in strictest

harmony the nearest and the most remote. Has this fact any bearing upon

the problem of the dependence of the world? No. It surely cannot be that a

world without order could be brought under the religious point of view

more readily than one governed by law! Let us suppose for a moment that we

had to do with a world without strict nexus and definite order of

sequence, without law and without order, full of capricious phenomena,

unregulated associations, an inconstant play of causes. Such a world would

be to us unintelligible, strange, absurd. But it would not necessarily be

more "dependent," more "conditioned" than any other. Had I no other

reasons for looking beyond the world, and for regarding it as dependent on

something outside of itself, the absence of law and order would assuredly

furnish me with none. For, assuming that it is possible at all to conceive

of a world and its contents as independent, and as containing its own

sufficient cause within itself, it would be quite as easily thought of as

a confused lawless play of chances as a well-ordered Cosmos. Perhaps more

easily; for it goes without saying that such a conglomeration of

promiscuous chances could not possibly be thought of as a world of God.

Order and strict obedience to law, far from being excluded, are required

by faith in God, are indeed a direct and inevitable preliminary to

thinking of the world as dependent upon God. Thus we may state the

paradox, that only a Cosmos which, by its strict obedience to law, gives

us the impression of being sufficient unto itself, can be conceived of as

actually dependent upon God, as His creation. If any man desires to stop

short at the consideration of the apparent self-sufficiency of the Cosmos

and its obedience to law, and refuses to recognise any reasons outside of

the world for this, we should hardly be able, according to our own

proposition, to require him to go farther. For we maintained that God

could not be read out of nature, that the idea of God could never have

been gained in the first instance from a study of nature and the world.

The problem always before us is rather, whether, having gained the idea

from other sources, we can include the world within it. Our present

question is whether the world, as it is, and just because it is as it is,

can be conceived of as dependent upon God. And this question can only be

answered in the affirmative, and in the sense of Schiller's oft-quoted


The great Creator

We see not--He conceals himself within

His own eternal laws. The sceptic sees

Their operation, but beholds not Him,

"Wherefore a God!" he cries, "the world itself

Suffices for itself!" and Christian prayer

Ne'er praised him more, than does this blasphemy.

God's world could not possibly be a conglomeration of chances; it must be

orderly, and the fact that it is so proves its dependence.

But while we thus hold fast to our canon, we shall find that the assertion

of the world's dependence receives indirect corroboration even in regard

to the astronomical realm, from certain signs which it exhibits, from

certain suggestions which are implied in it. We must not wholly overlook

two facts which, to say the least, are difficult to fit in with the idea

of the independence and self-sufficiency of the world; these are, on the

one hand, the difficulties involved in the idea of an eternal machine, and

on the other the difficult fact of "entropy." We have already compared the

world to a mighty clock, or a machine which, as a whole, represents what

can never be found in one of its parts, a perpetuum mobile. Let us

however leave aside the idea of a perpetuum mobile, and dwell rather on

the comparison with a machine. It seems obvious that in order to be a

machine there must be a closed solidarity in the system. But how could a

machine have come into existence and become functional if it is driven by

wheels, which are driven by wheels, which are again driven by wheels ...

and so on unceasingly? It would not be a machine. The idea falls to pieces

in our hands. Yet our world is supposed to be just such an infinitely

continuous "system." How does it begin to depend upon and be sufficient

unto itself? But further. It is a clock, we are told, which ever winds

itself up anew, which, without fatigue and in ceaseless repetition,

adjusts the universal cycles of becoming, and disappearing, and becoming

again. It seems a corroboration of the old Heraclitian and Stoic

conception, that the eternal primitive fire brings forth all things out of

itself, and takes them back into itself to bring them forth anew. Even

to-day the conception is probably general that, out of the original states

of the world-matter, circling fiery nebulae form themselves and throw off

their rings, that the breaking up of these rings gives rise to planets

which circle in solar systems for many aeons through space, till, finally,

their energy lessened by friction with the ether, they plunge into their

suns again, that the increased heat restores the original state and the

whole play begins anew.

All this was well enough in the days of naively vitalistic ideas of the

world as having a life and soul. But not in these days of mechanics, the

strict calculation of the amount of energy used, and the mechanical theory

of heat. The world-clock cannot wind itself up. It, too, owes its activity

to the transformation of potential energy into kinetic energy. And, since

movement and work take place within it, there is in the clock as a whole

just as in every one of its parts, a mighty process of relaxation of an

originally tense spring, there is dissipation and transformation of the

stored potential energy into work and ultimately into heat. And with every

revolution of the earth and its moon the world is moving slowly but

inexorably towards a final stage of complete relaxation of her powers of

tension, a state in which all energy will be transformed into heat, in

which there will be no different states but only the most uniform

distribution, in which also all life and all movement will cease and the

world-clock itself will come to a standstill.

How does this fit in with the idea of independence and self-sufficiency?

How could the world-clock ever wind itself up again to the original state

of tension which was simply there as if shot from a pistol "in the

beginning"? Where is the everlasting impressive uniformity and constancy

of the world? How does it happen that the world-clock has not long ago

come to a standstill? For even if the original sum of potential energy is

postulated as infinite, the eternity that lies behind us is also infinite.

And so one infinity swallows another. And innumerable questions of a

similar kind are continually presenting themselves.