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§ I—CHAPTER IV.

THEISTIC CONCLUSION. (GENERAL LAWS.)

THE major premiss of our theistic syllogism has been made good, according to the validity of our previous reasoning. More than this, the theistic conclusion itself, in its primary and most naked form, has been made good along with it. In the very nature of the case, the question passed over from its initiative and abstract, to its direct and conclusive statement. The minor premiss was held as implied; and the essential question came to be whether a mode of conception, valid in certain human applications, was valid in reference to nature at large—whether, in short, Mind, admitted to be to man the only efficient cause, was yet entitled to be considered the only efficient cause and final explanation of the universe.

We have claimed this position for Mind in virtue of a rational necessity, which will not allow us to rest short of such a conclusion. More particularly, we have endeavoured to vindicate it by determining the true nature of causation, which we find to be always a relation of efficiency, and which, therefore, at the very first, carried us beyond 62the mere range of physical sequences to some Power in which they originate. This Power can be nothing else than a Mind, as it is only in the fact and conscious operation of our own minds that we have the conception of power at all. The rational necessity on which the argument thus rests can only be consistently set aside by denying the veracity of our rational being altogether, and so destroying the foundations of all science and philosophy whatever. Mind is found in nature as a whole, and held to be its only ultimate explanation on the very same grounds on which we apply to nature the forms of our mental life at all. The theistic conclusion is only the fair result of the rational interpretation of nature carried out.

The conclusive sum of our previous argument gives us, then, when fully expressed, an Intelligent First Cause of nature. The root of this conclusion, however, is not in external nature, but in our rational consciousness. Nay, it emerges in what is distinctively called our moral consciousness. It starts from this as its special source. But, inasmuch as our spiritual life is a unity, this distinctive origin of the theistic conception does not affect, as some would seem to think, the appropriate significance and validity of the general argument from design. It only points to the deep harmony which underlies the whole of the theistic evidence. It only indicates where the links of that evidence gather up into a final and irrefragable postulate of our spiritual being.

Before passing from this branch of our subject, there is a relation of it which it may be well to consider,—with such 63perverseness has it been misinterpreted and misapplied. It has been held that our conclusion is at variance with the results of Science. Science gives us, as the final expression of phenomena everywhere, general laws, to which the phenomena may all be traced back, and upon which they seem to depend. It is simply the aim of Science to discover these laws in every department of nature, and so to give to man a greater mastery over its multiplied resources. It is not, perhaps, much to be wondered at that, in the proud and continued triumph with which Science has pursued her course, there should have been some of her votaries who believed themselves not only exposing the domain of nature, but revealing the last truths which it concerns man to learn. And while the great conclusion of Theism has been thus deliberately discarded by certain minds, it has been felt by many more as if that conclusion were somehow dangerously affected by the discoveries of Science.

It will afterwards be our aim, in a more special way, to show how little the theistic position is affected by the most notable of these discoveries; how little, in truth, we can rest in even the most signal of general laws as self-explanatory,—as furnishing the last expression of truth for the human mind. The fact is, that any such law, instead of explaining the phenomena which seem to issue from it, is merely the general condition in which these phenomena express themselves, and apart from which it has no existence. Instead of the law explaining the phenomena, therefore, it might be more truly said that the phenomena explain the law, just as a sum in arithmetic gives 64the answer rather than the answer the sum. The true realities are the separate facts. The law is only the summary expression by which we hold these facts before our mind.

In the mean time it concerns us to show how finely and truly, in a right point of view, the highest conceptions of Science harmonise with the theistic conclusion. It is only an unworthy and absurd representation of either that leaves any ground for hostility between them.

It has been presumed, for example, that there is an inconsistency between a self-acting power and that invariable uniformity which is seen to characterise the operations of nature. The order which Science discovers everywhere is supposed, in its silent and undeviating march, to exclude any personal agency. This agency is apprehended as something necessarily arbitrary, and hence as conflicting with general laws. Volition, in short, and law or order, are conceived of as incompatible realities; and the idea of any directing Volition is held as dispelled by the knowledge which Science enables us to acquire of natural phenomena, so that we can foretell and even control them.3333   The following quotation will show that we do not misrepresent the doctrine of Positivism: “The fundamental character of all Theological Philosophy is the conceiving of phenomena as subjected to Supernatural Volition, and consequently (!!) as eminently and irregularly variable. Now, these Theological conceptions can only be subverted finally by means of these two general processes, whose popular success is infallible in the long run—(1) the exact and rational prevision of phenomena, and (2) the possibility of modifying them, so as to promote our own ends and advantages. The former immediately dispels the idea of any ‘Directing Volition;’ and the latter tends to the same result, under another point of view, by making us regard this power as subordinate to our own.”—COMTE’S Philosophy of the Sciences, by LEWES, pp. 102, 103. Now, 65nothing can well be imagined more absurd and unphilosophical than such a notion of volition applied to the Supreme Being. The only valid presumption in the case would be of a totally different character. Instead of regularity being supposed inconsistent with the agency of such a Being, it would be held as only its appropriate expression. It is only the most vicious idea of will, as divorced from reason, that could for a moment give rise to a different apprehension. A Supreme Will, which is at the same time Supreme Wisdom, we can only think of as manifesting itself in order. The actual order of nature, therefore, so far from affording a ground of objection to the fact of superintending Volition, is just the very form in which we should rationally conceive that Volition to express itself. And the mastery which, by the help of Science, we acquire over the resources of nature, instead of destroying the notion of such Volition, only serves to bring into clearer view the wonderful means by which it works, and through which it provides for human happiness. The scientific prevision of phenomena is simply the interpretation of the plans of the Divine Reason by that human reason which is allied to it, and which only finds in the Divine plans the realisation of its own highest conceptions of order.

The same fundamental prejudice, strange as it may seem, is found even to pervade the language of Theology. Looking upon general laws more as vast mechanisms than living forces, the theologian too has been apt to consider them as inconsistent with the idea of directing Volition, or special Providence. They have seemed to him to destroy 66that living guardian presence of God in nature which the heart instinctively cherishes: and he has, accordingly, sometimes spoken of them with a sort of jealousy. But, according to their right conception, they are very far from thus displacing and putting out of view the Divine Agency. So very far from doing this, they are truly nothing else than the expression of that Agency—the continual going forth of the Divine Efficiency. Instead, therefore, of postponing or removing to a distance the Divine Presence, they are everywhere simply the manifestations of that Presence. To suppose that, because the order of nature is fixed to us, the Divine Father cannot exercise through that order a special providence towards His children, is simply a presumptuous imagination of the most unworthy kind. For to the great Source of Being, who “seeth in all His works the end from the beginning,” these only are at any moment, in all their endless intricacy of action and reaction, even as He appoints. The truer view, therefore, would be to regard the whole course of Providence, the whole order of nature, as special, in the sense of proceeding directly every moment from the awful abysses of Creative Power.

Certainly, if there is any correction needed in our theological conceptions and nomenclature on this subject, it is in reference to the supposition of a, general rather than of a special Providence—of the former as in any true or intelligible sense distinguished from the latter. For surely, to conceive of any order of events, or any facts of nature, as less directly connected than others with their Divine Author, is an absurdity. And what, save this, can be distinctively meant by a general 67Providence, we are at a loss to imagine. Only suppose the Deity equally present in all His works, equally active in all, and Providence no longer admits of a twofold apprehension. It is simply, in every possible mode of its conception, the Agency of God; equally mediate in all cases as expressing itself by some means, but also in all cases equally immediate as no less truly expressed in one species of means as in another. According to this higher and comprehensive view, the Divine Presence lives alike in all the Divine works. God is everywhere in nature, speaking to us the same language. He is equally near to us in all its more ordinary and more striking aspects; in the glad sunshine or the gentle shower, as in the boding darkness and the dreadful storm; in the fall of the leaf amid the fields of autumn, as in the waste of the whirlwind on the desolated plains of winter.

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