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Good Words 1860
God's Glory in the Heavens


THE TEACHINGS OFF THE STARS.
No. I.
THE MOON—IS IT INHABITED?

In the survey which we mean to take of the heavens as illustrative of God's glory, we shall first direct our attention to the moon, our nearest neighbour. The moon will form the first step in the ladder by which we shall attempt to scale those heights from which we may command the widest range of the marvellous works of the Almighty. Although we cannot by searching find out God, although we are baffled in our attempts to comprehend the Absolute, still there are stepping-stones across the abyss of space, which enable us to enlarge our view, and to form a juster conception of the Infinite and the Eternal. From the satellite we step to the primary planet, from the planet to the centre of the system, from system to firmament, and while new firmaments stretch out before us in marvellous form and grouping, we feel that we are yet far from the throne of the Eternal. The dream of the poet has placed the special residence of the Godhead in some vast central body, round which all worlds, and systems, and firmaments, circulate in lowly homage. The graver thoughts of science have, in connexion with speculations about light, imagined a limit within which all the play of material action is confined—a vast globe of ethereal matter, within which all material bodies are confined, and without which the activities of light, heat, magnetism, and gravitation, could not exist. These, however, are but the feeble aspirations of humanity to grasp the incomprehensible. But why should we repine at our limited knowledge? would not knowledge cease to have charms if we knew all ? What is it that gives to profound study its fascinations? is it not that it brings us face to face with the unknown? If there was not still a beyond, our spirits would shrink within us, and we would feel as if our destiny were unfulfilled. The oft-quoted saying of Newton, that he felt he was only a child nicking up pebbles on the margin of the ocean, is usually taken merely as illustrative of the modesty of genius; but at the same time, no one can occupy a more enviable position than that which gives him an unobstructed view of the great ocean of the unknown. Few get down to its brink at all; the many are satisfied with the little they can understand, and rather shrink from what reveals their ignorance or conceit.

In most other sciences, the mind is frequently so lost in details that it is difficult to stand where you may gaze freely out upon the unknown. In astronomy, however, you are brought almost at once to stand face to face with the Infinite. No doubt you come at last to the unfathomable, when dealing with the molecular forces of matter, and the mind can be as much lost in atoms, as in suns and systems; but still the popular mind can more readily deal with the infinitely great than the infinitely little, and the foot stands more firmly on systems of worlds than groups of molecules. That the material universe presents no boundary-wall to limit inquiry, so far from being a ground for turning from astronomical inquiry, accounts for the charm which has ever surrounded this study.

The moon is by far our nearest neighbour. While Neptune is a mile distant, the moon is, on the same scale, only six inches. And man, even when he could form no idea of the real distance, ever looked to the moon with a familiarity which he could feel towards no other heavenly body. While man has bowed to the lordly sun in devout adoration, he has endowed the moon with the feminine attributes of gentleness, love, and weakness. This idea of tenderness and familiarity, is well expressed in the lines of Wordsworth:—

"Wanderer, that stoop'st so low and comest so near
To human life's unsettled atmosphere;
Who lovest with night and silence to partake,
So might it seem, the cares of them that wake.
The most rude,
Cut off from home and country, may have stood
Even till long gazing hath bedimm'd his eye,
Or the mute rapture ended in a sigh;
With some internal lights to memory dear,
Or fancies stealing forth to soothe the breast,
Tired with its daily share of earth's unrest.
Gentle awakenings, visitations meek,
A kindly influence whereof few will speak,
Though it can wet with tears the hardest cheek."

The charm of the moon over the infant mind is described by the same author in the following lines:—

"Oh, still beloved, (for thine meek power and charms
That fascinate the very babe in arms,
While he, uplifted towards thee, laughs outright,
Spreading his palms in his glad mother's sight.)
Oh, still beloved, once worshipp'd."

The aspect of the moon to the unaided eye of man presents a most tantalising appearance. We just see enough to assure us that there is something more to be seen. In the other heavenly bodies, we see only a uniform blaze of light, and there is little to tempt our curiosity. It is not so with the moon; there are diversities of shade which allure us to form conjectures about their significance. And in the crescent moon we can readily discover that the concave side presents a rugged edge. It can hardly be surprising, then, that the instincts of genius should in this, as in other departments, anticipate the discoveries of science. Democritus propounded the idea of the spots on the moon being diversities of surface, consisting of mountains and valleys, seas and rivers. The Orphic Hymns went further, by giving to the moon cities teeming with population. It required, however, the power of the telescope to bring out into relief, on the surface of the moon, the diversities of surface which make it the counterpart of our own globe.

To those who have not had the opportunity of examining the moon through a telescope, the stereoscopic pictures of Mr Warren de la Rue form an admirable substitute. Indeed, to the unpractised eye, the stereoscopic picture gives a much truer idea of the configuration of the body. The reason is simple. We have not, in looking through the telescope, the aids of perfection which we possess when looking at any terrestrial object; and, consequently, there is difficulty in bringing out in relief the mountain ranges, peaks, and rims of craters. Sometimes the moon, to the uninitiated eye, appears a uniform level; at others, the relief is reversed, the mountain sinks into a cavity, and the sharp peak into a perforation. The stereoscopic views of the moon, however, remedy all this; the moon is seen with all its natural roundness, and every mountain projects as in a model placed only a few inches from the eye. But how is it that a stereoscopic picture of the moon can be obtained? This, at first sight, appears impossible, as the moon always turns the same side to us. When a stereoscopic portrait is taken, two views of the party must be obtained, and this may be done in two ways. When one picture is taken, the camera is moved a little to one side and a second taken, the party sitting immovable all the time; or the camera may be fixed, and the party may turn his body a little round for the second picture. It is in this latter way a stereoscopic picture of the moon is obtained. The camera, of course, cannot be moved sufficiently aside to take a picture from a different point of view, and it is therefore stationary. The moon, however, effects the object required by turning her face a very little round, so that a somewhat different perspective is obtained. This small movement is called her librature, and, though small, is quite sufficient to give the required stereoscopic effect. The moon always presents the same aspect to us, as she rotates on her axis in the same time that she revolves round the earth ; but these two periods are not perfectly coincident, and we are therefore permitted to see round the moon a small way. It is from the circumstance of our being permitted to do so that the stereoscope gives us so perfect a representation of the moon. If the student's first acquaintance with the moon be made in this way, he will be able to understand much more readily the revelations of the telescope.

As soon as we get a glimpse of the mountain ranges, volcanic craters, and vast plains, the natural inquiry is—Is it inhabited? There is a sufficient general resemblance at the first glance to prompt the inquiry; but does minuter inspection countenance the hypothesis? We do not have the more obvious proofs of habitableness. We do not find cities with ramifying streets, or such diversities of colour as would indicate the cultivation of parts of the country; though we have telescopic power to discover such traces if they existed If peopled with beings like ourselves, we might naturally expect single buildings which would be quite discernible by the telescope; for in the moon blocks of stone could be raised by one man, that would require, in this globe, the united energies of five men. Here fabrics are limited by the crushing weight sustained by stone, but there the range would be much wider from the lightness of the materials. No such buildings, however, no traces of cities, no proof that the soil has been disturbed by the plough, or that yellow harvests alternate with green fields, has been discovered.

There is no necessity, however, that the inhabitants should be after the type of man's bodily constitution; we can conceive intellect united to a very different corporeal organisation; and we know that there is a very wide range, even in this globe, in the conditions necessary to sustain life. Still, we must start from some essential conditions of life in this globe, if we are to make our argument one of analogy. No doubt, it may be said that God could, in the case of the planetary bodies, make life dependent on totally different conditions. This is true, but it is a totally different question from that of analogy. The question is one, not of possibility, but of probability, and the probability is to be derived from the existence of conditions in the moon similar to those in the earth.

Let us take one of the most essential conditions of life on our globe, viz., the existence of air; air is less essential to some creatures than to others, but we have no reason to believe that any creature can exist in our globe under a total deprivation of it. It may be argued that God could create beings capable of existing without air, and that, even though no air should be discerned in the moon, it is still possible that living creatures may exist there. The question is, however, not, what is within the compass of God's power? but, What has likely been the exercise of His power in the moon, from our knowledge of His power in our globe? and, to have any ground of probability to stand upon, the astrono mical argument must prove that the conditions essential to life here are also found in the moon; or, at least, that the existence of such conditions is probable.

Every possible test has been applied, but no trace whatever of air has been found in the moon. Eclipses and occultations have been watched with the utmost care, but all in vain; some of the tests are so delicate, that if there was an atmosphere capable of raising the mercury one-sixteenth of an inch in the barometer, it would have been detected. If there is an atmosphere after all, how evanescent it must be compared with ours, which raises the mercury to about thirty inches. Could we conceive life to exist in the moon without air, how strange must the condition of life be there ! Let us only conceive that in the moon life moves on very much as it does here, with the only difference, that there is no air; we have only to conceive such a state of things to see how wondrously our nature is accommodated to the physical condition in which we are placed. Most people probably think little of the functions of the atmosphere, except when it is pressed on their attention by the danger of suffocation, or by witnessing the terrible mechanical effects of the storm. But think how strange life must be in the moon without an atmospheric medium! Eternal silence must reign there ! A huge rock may be precipitated from the lofty cliffs of the moon, but no noise is heard—it falls noiselessly as a flock of wool. The inhabitants can converse only by signs. The musician in vain attempts to elicit sweet music from his stringed instrument; no note ever reaches the ear. Armies in battle array do not hear the boom of the cannon, though rifled arms, from the low trajection of the ball, must acquire a fatal precision and range. No moving thing can live aloft; the eagle flaps its wings against the rocks in vain attempts to rise. The balloon, instead of raising the car, crushes it with the weight of its imprisoned gas.

Again, the inhabitants being deprived of an atmosphere to shelter them from the sun, and to stem all its heat, must recoil with terror from its fierce rays. During its long day, the ground must become as burning marl, from which the scorched feet shrink with pain. During the long night, the ground must be colder than frozen mercury. No fuel will burn to mitigate the rigour of the cold, and none but the electric light will avail to dispel the darkness.

Then as to light, how strange are the conditions ! At noon-day the sky is as black as pitch, except in the region of the sun; and the stars shine out as at midnight. When the sun disappears in the horizon, darkness is as sudden as the darkness of an eclipse, or the extinguishing of a candle in a room. The inhabitants on the shady side of a range of mountains must be in total darkness, though the sun is above the horizon; and a room lighted by windows in the roof, will be in the same predicament, except when the sun shines directly down. No clouds float overhead; and the murky atmosphere and the dense clouds of smoke hanging over our manufacturing towns must be to them incomprehensible, as they watch our globe making its fourteen revolutions on its axis before descending below the horizon. These are a few of the results involved in the loss of an atmosphere, apart altogether from the incompatibility of such loss with life. We are every moment bathed in this fluid, which ministers to our wants in a thousand ways; and yet how little are we conscious of its benefits! How seldom do we think of Him who has so wondrously adapted the medium in which we move to the necessities of our nature!

It will be then said, that the moon must be abandoned as an argument for the plurality of worlds, seeing that it fails to exhibit the prime condition of life. The advocate of this doctrine, after fruitless endeavour to educe an argument, gave it up in despair. A recent discovery has, however, entirely changed the aspect of matters; and the moon—our moon—may be appealed to as probably furnishing a theatre for the display of all the activities of animated and intelligent beings. This discovery, while curious in reference to its bearing on this question, also presents one of the most brilliant achievements of science in modern times.


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