SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION II - DOUBLE DETERMINATENESS

Chapter VII - A PARABLE


THE date of this story is in the far distant future. Space travel has been perfected and an adventurous party find themselves on a planet in some remote part of our galaxy. They land and explore the country, wondering what they may find there. They debate whether the planet is inhabited. But where they are, nothing suggests such a possibility. The prospect is bleak. They are surrounded by great boulders, jagged rocks and raging torrents which rush down deep gorges and then spread over immense wastes of sand and rubble in the lower plains. Of plants or animals there is not a trace.

Walking among all this desolation the adventurers round the foot of a hill. Here they suddenly light on something the like of which they have never seen before. A great structure towers above them, forming a queerly broken outline against the evening sky. It is made up of struts and rods supporting a complicated system of levers and pipes and a variety of strange devices of which the mode of working is not at once apparent. Parts move rhythmically and with a smooth precision. But, like the instruments of attack used by the Martians in Mr.Wells's romance, this queer thing contains no wheels. The adventurers decide to call it The Machine. They crowd round it and climb up it, examining every strange part minutely. Every moment they discover some new feature of interest. The Machine is found to be vastly intricate, full of the most elaborate and complicated devices. It proves an unending source of interest to everyone present.

During the busy examination and discussion of every part of The Machine there is also much talk concerning the inhabitants of this new planet. The adventurers debate the type of being which may have fashioned so ingenious a contrivance. Only one member of the party does not take part in this talk. He has done a course of a year or so in physics and chemistry at a good University and is an enthusiast for science. We will call him the Enthusiast. No other member of the party differs sufficiently from any common citizen to deserve a distinguishing name.

The Enthusiast becomes exasperated by all this talk about the inhabitants of the planet. At last he tells the others that there are no inhabitants. When asked why he thinks that, he replies that no one has seen any inhabitants, no one knows anything about them. "It is incompatible with the Principle of Economy of Hypotheses", he says, "to assume the existence of inhabitants." Someone says that he, too, had doubted if there were any inhabitants until he saw the Machine; but that surely such an elaborate, carefully-made device proves the planet to be inhabited.

This argument is not allowed by the Enthusiast. He asks what is known about the inhabitants. He asserts that if one has never seen them and knows nothing about them, it is pure mysticism to say that they exist. "Your mythical inhabitants do not form a suitable subject for scientific study," he tells the others, "therefore I refuse to beheve in them. The theory that this planet is inhabited is simply due to the prejudiced fantasy of those who like to believe such things."

Someone asks mildly: "If inhabitants of this planet did not make the Machine, who did?"

"Forces of Nature," is the reply. "There are the rocks, and the torrents, and the wind. There are many sorts of radiation and there are many other ways in which Matter influences Matter, as yet imperfectly understood. There are physical and chemical processes. Forces of Nature alone produce the smooth precision of the tides and the seasons. These forces made our own Solar System. Why should they not also have made the Machine? On this new planet many natural forces are in operation. They can easily produce a structure like this Machine. It is quite unnecessary to invoke anything in the nature of inhabitants."

The others, who have never before been told so much about science, are impressed, but not wholly convinced. They ask what proof there is that nothing but the unorganized forces of the material world have fashioned and assembled all the intricate parts of the Machine so accurately.

The Enthusiast tells them that he has overwhelming proof. The mere fact that the thing is a machine ought to be enough to convince anyone. Asked to explain his meaning, he shows that the Machine which is baffling them all so much behaves in many respects like his motor-cycle at home. He proves that fuel is burnt in the Machine in conformity to the laws of chemistry, that the working parts obey Newton's Laws of Motion, that the Principle of Conservation of Energy is observed, that in no part of its behaviour does it ever fail to conform to the laws of physics and chemistry. He then explains the purpose of many of the puzzling devices before them and shows that such purposes are often analogous to the purposes met by devices on his motor-cycle. Each time he has mastered some new piece of intricate mechanism the Enthusiast proclaims the discovery to his companions, sure that this time evidence of such complete adaptation of structure to function will convince all present that there are no inhabitants on the planet.

He cannot understand at all why those who first said there must be inhabitants go on saying it. He imagines it must be because some parts of the Machine are still left unexplained, so he tells the party that he will not be too dogmatic about these. He will admit the possibility that some device not yet completely understood will provide evidence of inhabitants. But he does not think this likely, as he can provide a more or less ingenious and plausible theory to show that these, too, work like his motor-cycle does.

As the rest of the party still fail to be convinced that Matter alone, uncontrolled and unaided, has produced the thing before them, the Enthusiast points to various means of controlling it. He shows that he has mastered a few of these. By turning handles and depressing levers he can make the Machine go faster or slower, turn right or left. He calls these performances its "behaviour". He demonstrates a whole series of ways in which the Machine responds with a specific behaviour to a specific manner of control.

He shows how the behaviour is changed by a change of fuel, or by some slight adjustment to a spring or a screw. Each time he has made some new permanent adjustment, he says that he has "conditioned" the Machine to a new mode of behaviour. He asks whether this does not prove the Machine on the planet to be much like his motor-cycle.

Someone points out that this resemblance is not under discussion. What they want to know is whether anything which is so much like a motor-cycle can be built by the random, uncontrolled forces operating on an uninhabited planet.

"That", says the Enthusiast, "is perfectly possible and easily explained by Science. Have you ever observed a crystal?"

Everyone has.

"Of course you realize that a crystal is formed by the operation of nothing but the uncontrolled Forces of Nature. You would not insist that this planet is inhabited merely because you found crystals on it."

This is agreed.

"Then, since the Machine is so much like a crystal, there is no reason for the fanciful view that the planet is inhabited because you found a machine on it. Why should the Machine not have come into existence in precisely the same way as a crystal does?"

A few are silenced by this argument. But someone ventures to say that he does not see much resemblance between the Machine and a crystal. He receives a stern look and is told that he would be able to see the resemblance if he had done a course of a year or so in physics and chemistry. The Enthusiast explains that the resemblance between the Machine and crystals is fundamental while any differences, though they may be conspicuous, only seem important to untutored minds.

In the face of so much scientific knowledge the various members of the party hardly like to say anything. There is silence for a while. Then someone points out that the fuel on which the Machine works has got into its tank somehow. He asks how it could have got there unless some inhabitant of the planet had introduced it.

The Enthusiast explains how the rivers on the planet are fed. He tells the others of the way the wind passing over the surface of the oceans gathers up water into clouds and carries these over the hilltops. He tells them that the mountains are cooler than the warm air rising from the plains and that consequently the moisture is condensed and falls as rain and mist, ever renewing the river's supply. The Machine, he tells his companions, obtains its fuel in a similar manner. "It is a a property of a magnet", he says, "to attract iron; a property of a cool mountain to attract water and a property of the Machine to attract fuel."

It occurs to someone that it is not a property of motor-cycles to attract petrol. But he keeps the thought to himself. The party remains secretly convinced that the planet is inhabited in spite of the "scientific" evidence against inhabitants, but they do not feel competent to argue further.

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