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sistance of those senses which it has had the art to procure, should have been enabled to observe the whole system of worlds to which its own belongs; the changes of place of the immense globes which compose it; and with such accuracy, as to mark out beforehand, the situation in the heavens in which they will be found at any future point of time; and that these bodies, after sailing through regions of void and trackless space,
should arrive at the place where they were expected, not within a minute, but within a few seconds of a minute, of the time prefixed and predicted: all this is wonderful, whether we refer our admiration to the constancy of the heavenly motions themselves, or to the perspicacity and precision with which they have been noticed by mankind. Nor is this the whole, nor indeed the chief part of what astronomy teaches. By bringing reason to bear upon observation (the acutest reasoning upon the exactest observation), the astronomer has been able, out of the “ mystic dance," and the confusion (for such it is) under which the motions of the heavenly bodies present themselves to the eye of a mere gazer upon the skies, to elicit their order and their real paths.
Our knowledge therefore of astronomy is
admirable, though imperfect: and, amidst the confessed desiderata 'and desideranda, which impede our investigation of the wisdom of the Deity, in these the grandest of his works, there are to be found, in the phænomena, ascertained circumstances and laws, sufficient to indicate an intellectual agency in three of its principal operations, viz. in choosing, in determining, in regulating ; in choosing, out of a boundless variety of
suppositions which were equally possible, that which is beneficial ; in determining, what, left to itself, had a thousand chances against conveniency, for one in its favour; in regulating subjects, as to quantity and degree, which, by their nature, were unlimited with respect to either. It will be our business to offer, under each of these heads, a few instances, such as best admit of a popular explication.
I. Amongst proofs of choice, one is, fixing the source of light and heat in the centre of the system.
The sun is ignited and luminous; the planets, which move round him, cold and dark. There seems to be no antecedent necessity for this order. The sun might have been an opaque mass; some one, or two, or more, or any, or all, the planets, globes of fire. There is nothing in the nature
of the heavenly bodies, which requires that those which are stationary should be on fire, that those which move should be cold: for, in fact, comets are bodies on fire, or at least capable of the most intense heat, yet revolve round a centre: nor does this order obtain between the primary planets and their secondaries, which are all opaque. When we consider, therefore, that the sun is one; that the planets going round it are, at least, seven; that it is indifferent to their nature, which are luminous and which are opaque; and also, in what order, with respect to each other, these two kinds of bodies are disposed; we may judge of the improbability of the present arrangement taking place by chance.
If, by way of accounting for the state in which we find the solar system, it be alleged (and this is one amongst the guesses
of those who reject an intelligent Creator), that the planets themselves are only cooled or cooling masses, and were once, like the sun, many thousand times hotter than red-hot iron'; then it follows, that the sun also himself must be in his progress towards growing cold; which puts an end to the possibility of his having existed, as he is, from eternity. This consequence arises out of the hypothesis with still more certainty, if we make a part of it,
what the philosophers who maintain it have
other mode of distributing luminous and opaque bodies I take to be evident. It requires more astronomy than I am able to lay before the reader, to show, in its particulars, what would be the effect to the system, of a dark body at the centre, and of one of the planets being luminous: but I think it manifest, without either plates or calculation, first, that supposing the necessary proportion of magnitude between the central and the revolving bodies to be preserved, the ignited planet would not be sufficient to illuminate and warm the rest of the system ; secondly, that its light and heat would be imparted to the other planets much
more irregularly than light and heat are now received from the sun.
(*) II. Another thing, in which a choice appears to be exercised, and in which, amongst the possibilities out of which the choice was to be made, the number of those which were wrong,
bore an infinite
proportion to the number of those which were right, is in what geometricians call the axis of rotation. This matter I will endeavour to explain. The earth, it is well known, is not an exact globe, but an oblate spheroïd, something like an orange. Now the axes of rotation, or the diameters
be made to turn round, are as many as can be drawn through its centre to opposite points upon its whole surface: but of these axes none are permanent, except either its shortest diameter, i. e. that which passes through the heart of the orange from the place where the stalk is inserted into it, and which is but one; or its longest diameters, at right angles with the former, which must all terminate in the single circumference which goes round the thickest part of the orange. The shortest diameter is that upon which in fact the earth turns; and it is, as the reader sees, what it ought to be, a permanent axis ; whereas, had blind chance, had a casual impulse, had a