« Prev Lecture III. The Theistic Postulate Of The… Next »

“For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Divinity, that they may be without excuse.”—Paul.

“Let us begin, then, by asking whether all this which they call the universe is left to this guidance of an irrational and random chance, or. on the contrary, as our fathers declared, is ordered and governed by a marvellous intelligence and wisdom. “—Plato.

“It is easy for the fool, especially the learned and scientific fool, to prove that there is no God, but, like the murmuring sea, which heeds not the scream of wandering birds, the soul of humanity murmurs for God, and confutes the erudite folly of the fool by disregarding it.”—J. Service.

“It is in the moments when we are best that we believe in God.”—Renan.

“Atheism is the most irrational form of theology.”—COMTE.

“I leave noticed, during years of self-observation, that it is not in hours of clearness and vigour that this doctrine (Material A theism) commends itself to my mind; that in the presence of stronger and healthier thought it ever dissolves and disappears, as affording no solution of the mystery in which we dwell, and of which we form a part.”—Tyndall.





In entering on the task of unfolding the Christian view of the world under its positive aspects, and of considering its relations to modern thought, I begin where religion itself begins, with the existence of God. Christianity is a theistic system; this is the first postulate—the personal, ethical, self-revealing God.

Volkmar has remarked that of monotheistic religions there are only three in the world—the Israelitish, the Christian, and the Mohammedan; and the last-named is derived from the other two. “So,” he adds, “is the ‘Israel of God’ the one truly religious, the religiously-elect, people of antiquity; and ancient Israel remains for each worshipper of the one, therefore of the true God, who alone is worthy of the name, the classical people. . . . Christianity is the blossom and fruit of the true worship of God in Israel, which has become such for all mankind.”115115Jesus Nazarenus, p. 5. This limitation of Monotheism in religion to the peoples who have benefited by the Biblical teaching on this subject, suggests its origin from a higher than human source; and refutes the contention of those who would persuade us that the monotheistic idea is the result of a long process of development through which the race necessarily passes, beginning with Fetishism, or perhaps Ghost-worship, mounting to Polytheism, and ultimately subsuming the multitude of Divine powers under one all-controlling will. It will be time enough to accept this theory when, outside the line of the Biblical development, a single nation can be pointed to which has gone through these stages, and reached this goal.116116See Note A.—Primitive Fetishism and Ghost-Worship.

I should like further at the outset to direct attention to the 76 fact that, in affirming the existence of God as Theism apprehends Him, we have already taken a great step into the supernatural, a step which should make many others easy. Many speak glibly of the denial of the supernatural, who never realise how much of the supernatural they have already admitted in affirming the existence of a personal, wise, holy, and beneficent Author of the universe. They may deny supernatural actions in the sense of miracles, but they have affirmed supernatural Being on a scale and in a degree which casts supernatural action quite into the shade. If God is a reality, the whole universe rests on a supernatural basis. A supernatural presence pervades it; a supernatural power sustains it; a supernatural will operates in its forces; a supernatural wisdom appoints its ends. The whole visible order of things rests on another, an unseen, spiritual, supernatural order,—and is the symbol, the manifestation, the revelation of it. It is therefore only to be expected that the feeling should grow increasingly in the minds of thoughtful men, float if this supernatural basis of the universe is to he acknowledged, a great deal more must be admitted besides. On the other hand, if the opposition to the supernatural is to be carried out to its logical issue, it must not stop with the denial of miracle, but must extend to the whole theistic conception. This is the secret of the intimate connection which I showed in last Lecture to exist between the idea of God and the idea of Revelation. A genuine Theism Can never long remain a bare Theism. At the height to which Christianity has raised our thoughts of God, it is becoming constantly more difficult for minds that reflect seriously to believe in a God who does not manifest Himself in word and deed. This is well brought out in a memorable conversation which Mr. Froude had with Mr. Carlyle in the last days of his life. “I once said to him,” says Mr. Froude, “not long before his death, that I could only believe in a God which did something. With a cry of pain, which I shall never forget, he said, ‘He does nothing.’”117117See the whole passage in Froude’s Carlyle, ii. pp. 258–263. This simply means that if we are to retain the idea of a hiving God, we must be in earnest with it. We must believe in a God who expresses Himself in hiving deeds in the history of mankind, who has a word and message for mankind, who, having the power and the will to bless man 77kind, does it. Theism, as I contended before, needs Revelation to complete it.

Here, accordingly, it is that the Christian view of God has ifs strength against any conception of God based on mere grounds of natural theology. It hinds together, in the closest reciprocal relations, the two ideas of God and Revelation. The Christian doctrine, while including all thief the word Theism ordinarily covers, is much more than a doctrine of simple Theism. God, in the Christian view, is a Being who enters into the history of the world in the most hiving way. He is not only actively present in the material universe,—ordering, guiding, controlling it.—but He enters also in the most direct way into the course of human history, working in it in His general and special providence, and by a gradual and progressive Revelation, which is, at flue same time, practical discipline and education, giving to man that knowledge of Himself by which he is enabled to attain the highest ends of his own existence, and to co-operate freely in the carrying out of Divine ends; above all, discovering Himself as the God of Redemption, who, full of long-suffering and mercy, executes in loving deeds, and at infinite sacrifice, His gracious purpose for the salvation of mankind. The Christian view of God is thus bound up with all the remaining elements of the Christian system,—with the idea of Revelation in Christ, with a kingdom of God to be realised through Christ, with Redemption from sin in Christ,—and it is inseparable from them. It is through these elements—not in its abstract character as Theism—that it takes the held it does on the living convictions of men, and is felt by them to be something real. If I undertake to defend Theism, it is not Theism in dissociation from Revelation, but Theism as completed in the entire Christian view.

It is scarcely necessary that I should prove that Christ’s teaching about God embraces all the affirmations commonly understood to be implied in a complete Theism. Christ’s doctrine of the Father is, indeed, entirely unmetaphysical. We meet with no terms such as absolute, infinite, unconditioned, first cause, etc., with which the student of philosophy is familiar. Yet all that these terms imply is undeniably recognised by Jesus in His teaching about God. He takes up into His teaching—as the apostles likewise do—all the natural 78 truth about God; He takes up all the truth about God’s being, character, perfections, and relations to the world and man, already given in the Old Testament. God, with Jesus, is unquestionably the sole and supreme source of existence; He by whom all things were created, and on whom all things depend; the Lord of heaven and earth, whose power and rule embrace the smallest as well as the greatest events of life; the Eternal One, who sees the end from the beginning, and whose vast counsels hold in their grasp the issues of all things. The attributes of God are similarly dealt with. They are never made by Christ the subject of formal discourse, are never treated of for their own sakes, or in their metaphysical relations. They come into view solely in their religious relations. Yet no one will dispute that all the attributes involved in the highest theistic conception—eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and the like—are implied in His teaching. God, in Christ’s view, is the all-wise, all-present, all-powerful Being, at once infinitely exalted above the world, and active in every part of it, from whose eyes, seeing in secret, nothing can be hid, laying His plans in eternity, and unerringly carrying them out. It is the peculiarity of Christ’s teaching, however, that the natural attributes are always viewed in subordination to the moral. In respect of these, Christ’s view of God resembles that of the Old Testament in its union of the two ideas of God’s unapproachable majesty and elevation above the world as the infinitely Holy One; and of His condescending grace and continued action in history for the salvation and good of men. The two poles in the ethical perfection of God’s character are with Him, as with the prophets of the old covenant, righteousness and love—the former embracing His truth, faithfulness, and justice; the latter His beneficence, compassion, long suffering, and mercy. Ritschl, indeed, in his treatment of this subject, will recognise no attribute but love, and makes all the others, even the so-called physical attributes, but aspects of love. Righteousness, e.g., is but the self-consistency of God in carrying out His purposes of love, and connotes nothing judicial.118118Cf. his Recht. und Ver. ii. pp. 102–112. Righteousness, however, has its relatively independent place as an attribute of God in both Old and New Testaments, and cannot thins be set aside. It has reference to indefeasible 79distinctions of right and wrong—to moral norms, which even love must respect. Out of righteousness and love in the character of God, again, issues wrath—another idea which modern thought tries to weaken, but which unquestionably holds an important place in the view of God given us by Christ. By wrath is meant the intense moral displeasure with which God regards sin—His holy abhorrence of it—and the punitive energy of His nature which He puts forth against it. So regarded, it is not opposed to love, but, on the contrary, derives its chief intensity from the presence of love, and is a necessary element in the character of an ethically perfect Being.119119Cf. on the Divine Wrath. Principal Simon. The Redemption of Men, ch. v.; Dale on The Atonement, Lecture VIII.; Lux Mundi, pp. 285 289. While, however, Christ’s teaching about the character of God is grounded on that of the Old Testament, yet in the purity and perfection with which He apprehends this ethical perfection of God,—above all, in the new light in which He places it by His transforming conception of the Divine Fatherhood, we feel that we are carried far beyond the stage of the Old Testament. God, as ethical Personality, is viewed by Christ, first, as in Himself the absolutely Good One—“There is none good but one, that is, God”;120120Mark x. 18. second, as the perfect Archetype of goodness for man a imitation—“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”;121121Matt. v. 48. third, as the moral Will binding the universe together, and proscribing the law of conduct—“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”;122122Matt. vi. 10. but, fourth, pre-eminently as the Father. It is in the name Father, as expressive of a special loving and gracious relation to the individual members of His kingdom, that Christ’s doctrine of God specially sums itself up. The Old Testament knew God as tire Father of the nation; Christ knew Him as tire Father of the individual soul, begotten by Him to a new life, and standing to Him in a new moral and spiritual relation, as a member of the kingdom of His Son.

This, then, without further delineation in detail, is the first postulate of Christianity—a God living, personal, ethnical, self-revealing, infinite. We have new to ask—How does this postulate of the Christian view stand related to modern thought, and no the general religious consciousness of mankind? How far is 80it corroborated or negated by modern thought? What is the nature of the corroboration, and what the worth of the negation? I shall consider the negation first.

I. The negation of the Christian view.

I. Dogmatic Atheism has not so many advocates—at least in this country—as at some former times ; but, instead, we have a wide prevalence of that new form of negation which is called Agnosticism. I have already referred to this as one of the alternatives to which the mind is driven in its denial of the supernatural view of Christ’s Person; but it is new necessary to consider it on its own merits. The thought may occur that this widespread phase of present-day unbelief is not properly described as “negation,” seeing that all it affirms is, that it “does not know.” It does not say, “There is no God,” but only that it does not know that there is one. Its ground is that of ignorance, lack of evidence, suspense of judgment—not positive denial. This plea, however, is on various grounds inadmissible. It is certainly not the case that thorough-going, reasoned-out Agnosticism, as we have it, for example, in the works of Mr. Spencer, is simply the modest assertion that it does not know whether there is a God or not. It is the dogmatic affirmation, based on an examination of the nature and limits of human intelligence, that God—or, in Mr. Spencer’s phrase, the Power which manifests itself in consciousness and in the outward universe—is unknowable.123123Prof. Huxley, the inventor of the term, has given us his explanation of it. ”Agnosticism,” he says, “in fact, is not a creed but a method, tins essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. . . . Positively, the principle may be thus expressed: in matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And, negatively, in matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are ant demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the Agnostic faith, which, if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.”—“Agnosticism,” in Nineteenth Century, Feb. 1889. This, however, us evidently not a “faith,” but, as he says, a “method,” which in its application may yield positive or negative results, as the ease may be. Behind it, at the same time, lies, in his ease, the conviction that real answers to the greater questions of religions are “not merely actually impossible, but theoretically inconceivable.”—Ibid. p. 182. But in all its forms, even the mildest, Agnosticism is entitled to be regarded as a negation of the Christian view, for two reasons. First, in affirming that God is not, or cannot be, known, it directly negates, not only the truths of God’s natural Revelation, which Christianity presupposes, 81but the specific Christian assertion that God can be and is known through the of His historical Revelations, and supremely through His Son Jesus Christ. “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”124124John i. 18. And, second, if God exists, it is impossible in the nature of things that there should not be evidence of His existence, and therefore the denial of such evidence is actually tantamount to the denial of His existence. Why do I say this? It is because the truths about God differs from every other truth in just this respect, that if it is truth it must be capable of a certain measure of rational demonstration. For God is not simply one Being among others. He is the necessary Being. He is the Being whose existence is necessarily involved in the existence of every other being. Thin whole universe, ourselves as part of it, stands in a relation of necessary dependence upon Him. God, therefore, is unlike every other being our thought can take account of. Oilier beings may exist, and we may have no evidence of their existence. But it is rationally inconceivable that such an all-comprehending Reality as we call God should exist, and that through Him the whole material and spiritual universe should come into being, arid yet no trace be found connecting this universe with its Author—so vast an effect with its cause. If even man, for however short a space of time, sets foot on an uninhabited island, we expect, if we visit his retreat, to find some traces of his occupation How much more, if this universe owes its existence to infinite wisdom and power, if God is unceasingly present and active in every part of it, must we expect to find evidence of thin fact? Therefore, I say that denial of all evidence for God’s existence is equivalent to the affirmation that there is no God. If God is, thought must be able, nay, is compelled, to take account of His existence. It must explore the relations in which He stands to us and to than world. An obligation rests on it to do so. To think of God is a duty of love, but it is also a task of science. Mr. Spencer is so far in agreement with the views just expressed, that he maintains that our thought is compelled to posit the existence of an absolute Being as the ground and cause of than universe, though of than nature of this ultimate reality he holds that we can form no conception. The reason given is, 82 that our minds, being finite and conditioned in their thinking, cannot form a conception of an existence which lies outside these conditions.125125Cf. First Principles, pp. 74, 75, 110. The question, however, is pertinent—If the mind is thus hemmed up within the limits of its finitude, how does it get to know even that an Absolute exists? Or if we can so far transcend the limits of our thought as to know that the Absolute exists—which is a disproof of the position that thought is restricted wholly to the finite—why may we not also have some knowledge of its nature? It is not difficult to show that, in his endeavours to extricate himself from these difficulties, Mr. Spencer involves himself in a mass of self-contradictions. He tells us, e.g., in every variety of phrase, that we cannot know the Absolute, but almost in the same breath he tells us that we have an idea of the Absolute which our minds are compelled to form,126126First Principles, p. 88.—that it is a positive, and not, as Sir William Hamilton and Mr. Mansel held, a merely negative conception,127127First Principles, pp. 87–92. “Still more manifest,” he says, “will this truth become when it is observed that our conception of the Relative itself disappears, if our conception of the Absolute is a pure negation. . . . What, then, becomes of the assertion that ‘the Absolute is conceived merely by a negation of conceivability,’ or as ‘the mere absence of the conditions under which consciousness is possible’? If the Non-relative or Absolute is present in thought only as a mere negation, then the relation between it and the Relative becomes unthinkable, because one of the terms of the relation is absent from consciousness. And if this relation is unthinkable, then is the Relative itself unthinkable, for want of its antithesis; whence results the disappearance of all thought whatever.”—P. 91.—nay, that we have not only a conception, but a direct and immediate consciousness of this Absolute, blending itself with all our thoughts and feelings, and recognisable by us as such.128128First Principles, pp. 89, 91, 94–97. Cf. Nineteenth Century, July 1884, p. 24. Again, if we ask, What is meant by the Absolute? it is defined as that which exists out of all relations, and for this reason the possibility of a knowledge of it is denied.129129First Principles, pp. 78, 79, 81. This is qualified in other places by such phrases as “possible existence out of all relation” (Mansel), and “of which no necessary relation can be predicted,” pp. 39, 81. But this qualification seems unnecessary, for it is only as out of relation that by definition it is the Absolute. But if we inquire further what ground we have for affirming the existence of such an Absolute, existing out of all relations, we find that the only ground alleged is the knowledge we have of it as standing in relations.130130Even in thus passage above quoted, we have the contradictio in adjecto of “the relation between it (i.e. the Non-Relative) and the Relative.”—P. 91. For this, which Mr. Spencer names the 83Absolute, is simply the Infinite Power which he elsewhere tells us manifests itself in all that is—in nature and in consciousness—and is a constituent element in every idea we can form. The Absolute, therefore, stands in relation to both matter and mind—has, so far as we can see, its very nature in that relation. It is not, it turns out, a Being which exists out of all relations, but rather, like the Christian God, a self-revealing Power, manifesting itself, if not directly yet indirectly, in its workings in the worlds of matter and of mind. How strange to speak of a Power thus continually manifesting itself in innumerable ways, the consciousness of which, on Mr. Spencer’s own showing,131131Eccles. Instit. p. 839. constantly wells up within us, as absolutely unknown or unknowable!

But, after all, as we by and by discover, this Inscrutable Power of Mr. Spencer’s is not absolutely unknowable. It soon becomes apparent that there are quite a number of affirmations we are able to make regarding it, some of them almost of a theistic character. They are made, I admit, generally under a kind of protest,132132E.g. Eccles. Instit. p. 843. yet it is difficult to see why, if they are not seriously meant—if they do not convey some modicum of knowledge—they should be made at all. According to Mr. Spencer, this ultimate reality is a Power: it is a force, the nearest analogue to which is our own will:133133First Principles, p. 189; cf. Eccles. Instit. p. 843. it is infinite, it is eternal, it is omnipresent;134134First Principles, p. 99. it is an infinite and eternal Energy from which all things proceed;135135Eccles. Instit. p. 843.—“But one truth,” he says, “must grow ever clearer —the truth that there is an Inscrutable Existence everywhere manifested, to which he can neither find nor conceive either beginning or end. Amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that he is ever in presence of one Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed.” it is the Cause of the universe, standing to it in a relation similar to that of the creative power of the Christian conception.136136“I held at the outset, and continue to hold, that this Inscrutable Existence which science, in the last resort, is compelled to recognise as unreached by its deepest analysis of matter, motion, thought, and feeling, stands towards our general conception of things in substantially the same relation as does this Creative Power asserted by Theology.”—Nineteenth Century, July 1884, p. 24. Mr. Spencer tells us that the words quoted in the last note were originally written—“one Infinite and Eternal Energy by which all things are treated and sustained.”—Ibid. p. 4. Numerous other statements might be quoted all more or less implying knowledge, 84 —as, e.g., that “the Power manifested throughout the Universe distinguished as material, is the same Power which in ourselves wells up under the form of consciousness “: while the necessity we are under to think of the external energy in terms of the internal energy gives rather a spiritualistic than a materialistic aspect to the Universe.”137137Eccles. Instit. pp. 839, 841. This I take leave to say, so far from being Agnosticism, would more correctly be described as a qualified Gnosticism.138138 Mr. Spencer, when pressed in controversy by Mr. Harrison, takes great pains to show how positive his conception of the “Unknowable” is. He is astonished that his opponent should assert that “none of the positive attributes which have ever been predicated of God can be used of this Energy”; maintains that, instead of being an Everlasting No, Agnosticism is “an Everlasting Yea”. denies that Agnosticism is “anything more than silent with respect to personality,” seeing that “duty requires us neither to affirm nor deny personality”; holds that the Unknowable is not an “All nothingness” but the “All- Being,” reiterates that this Reality “stands towards the universe and towards ourselves in the same relation as an anthropomorphic Creator was supposed to stand,” and “bears a like relation with it not only to human thought, but to human feeling,” etc.—Nineteenth Century, July 1884, pp. 5–7, 25. Mr. Harrison has no difficulty in showing in what contradictions Mr. Spencer entangles himself by the use of such language.—Ibid. Sept., pp. 358, 359. Mr. Spencer’s so-called Agnosticism is not an agnostic system at but a of non-material all, system or semi-spiritual Pantheism. If we know all that these statements imply about the Absolute, there is no bar in principle to our knowing a great deal more. A significant proof of this is the development which the system has received in the hands of one of Mr. Spencer’s disciples, Mr. Fiske, who in his Cosmic Philosophy, and still more in his book on The Idea of God, has wrought it out into a kind of Theism. He discards the term “Unknowable,” and writes: “It is enough to remind the reader that Deity is unknowable, just in so far as it is not manifested to consciousness through the phenomenal world; knowable, just in so far as it is thus manifested; unknowable, in so far as infinite and absolute; knowable, in the order of its phenomenal manifestations; knowable, in a symbolic way, as the Power which is disclosed in every throb of the mighty rhythmic life of the universe; knowable, as tire eternal Source of a Moral Law, which is implicated with each action of our lives, arid in obedience to which lies our only guaranty of the happiness which is incorruptible, and which neither inevitable misfortune nor unmerited obloquy can take away. Thus, though we may not by searching find out God, though we may not compass 85infinitude, or attain to absolute knowledge, we may at least know all that it concerns us to know, as intelligent and responsible beings.”139139Cosmic Philosophy, ii. p. 470: Idea. of God, Pref. p. 28.

It has riot been left for Mr. Spencer to discover that, in the depths of His absolute Being, as well as in the plenitude of the modes of His revealed Being, there is that in God which must always pass our comprehension,—that in the present state of existence it is only very dimly and distantly, and by large use of “symbolic conceptions,” that we can approximate to a right knowledge of God. This is affirmed in the Bible quite as strongly as it is by the agnostic philosophers. “Canst thou by searching find out God?”140140Job xi. 7. “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”141141Rom. xi. 33. “Now I know in part.”1421421 Cor. xiii. 12. In this sense we cant speak of a Christian Agnosticism.143143“God.” says Augustine. “is more truly thought than He is uttered and exists more truly than He is thought.”—De Trinitate. Book vii. ch. 4. “Not the definitely-known God, “ says Professor Veitch, “not the unknown God, is our last word, far less the unknowable God, but the ever-to-be-known God.”—Knowing and Being, p. 323. This incomprehensibility, however, is held in Scripture to arise, not from any inherent or incurable defect in the human faculties, but simply from the vastness of the object, in the knowledge of which, nevertheless, the mind may continually be growing. The universe itself in its immeasurable extent vastly transcends our present powers of knowledge . how much more the Author of the universe? This, accordingly, is not the point we have in dispute with Mr. Spencer. The point is not whether, in the depths of His absolute existence, there is much in God that must remain unknown to us; but whether He cannot be known by us in His revealed relations to ourselves, and to the world of which we form a part; whether these relations are not also in their measure a true expressions of His nature and character, so that through them we come to know something of Him, even of His absolute Being—though we cannot know all? When, now, the Agnostic tells us that knowledge of this kind is impossible to us, see in what contradiction he lands himself. Here is a man who says, “I know nothing of God; He is absolutely beyond my ken; I cannot form the faintest conception of what He is” And yet he 86knows so much about God as to be able to say beforehand that He cannot possibly enter into relations with human beings by which He might become known to them. This is a proposition of which the Agnostic, on his own showing, can never have any evidence. If God is unknowable, how can we know this much about Him—that He cannot in any mode or form enter into relations with us by which He might be known? Only on one supposition can this be maintained. If, indeed, as Mr. Spencer thinks, the nature of God and the intelligence of man are two things absolutely disparate—if, as Spinoza said, to speak of God taking on Him the nature of man is as absurd as to speak of a circle taking on it the nature of the square,144144Letter to Oldenburg, Epist. xxi.—then not only is God unknowable, but the whole Christian system is a priori ruled out of consideration. This, however, is a proposition which can never be proved, and we have seen that the attempt to prove and work with it only entangled Mr. Spencer in a mass of difficulties. There is really, on his own principles, no reason why he should not admit the possibility of a relative knowledge of God, as true in its way as the knowledge which we have of space, time, matter, force, or cause,—all which notions, as well as that of the Absolute, he tells us are prolific of intellectual contradictions.145145First Principles, pp. 159–171. Why, for instance, should we more hesitate to speak of God as Intelligence than to speak of Him as Power; why shrink from attributing to Him the attribute of Personality any more than that of Cause?146146Cf. Fiske, Idea of God, Pref. p. 15; and Chapman’s Pre-Organic Evolution, p. 254. The whole objection, therefore, falls to the ground with the intellectual theory on which it is founded. For once grant that the nature of God and the intelligence of man are not thus foreign to each other, as Spencer supposes; grant that man is made in time image of God, and bears in some measure His likeness—then man’s mind is not wholly shut up within the limits of the finite—there is an absolute element in it, kindred with the absolute reason of God, and real knowledge both of God and of the nature of things without us is possible.

II. Positive evidence for the Christian view.

II. The a priori bar with which Agnosticism would block the way to the knowledge of God being thus removed, we may 87proceed to inquire how it stands with the theistic postulate of the Christian view, in respect of the positive evidence in its behalf. It has been shown that, if the Christian view be true, it must, up to a certain point, admit of verification by reason. The doctrine of God’s existence must be shown to be in accord with reason, and to be in harmony with amid corroborated by the facts of science and of the religious history of mankind. Science, indeed, has not for its object the determination of anything supernatural. Yet in its inquiries—dealing as it does with laws and forces, and with the widest generalisations of experience—it must come to a point at which the questions with which religion and philosophy deal are forced upon it, and it has to take up some attitude to them. The facts which it brings to light, the interpretations which it gives of these facts, cannot but have some bearing on the hypotheses we form as to the ultimate cause of existence. If it does not cross the borderland, it at least brings us within sight of truths which do not lie within its proper sphere, and points the way to their acceptance.

1. I may begin with certain things in regard to which it is possible to claim a large measure of agreement. And—

(1) It may be assumed with little fear of contradiction, that if the idea of God is to be entertained, it can only be in the form of Monotheism. The Agnostic will grant us this much. Whatever the power is which works in the universe, it is one. “As for Polytheism,” says a writer in Lux Mundi, “it has ceased to exist in the civilised world. Every theist is, by a rational necessity, a monotheist.”147147Lux Mundi, p. 59. J. S. Mill has said: “The reason, then, why Monotheism may be accepted as the representative of Theism in the abstract is not so much because it is the Theism of all the more improved portions of the human race, as because it is the only Theism which can claim for itself any footing on a scientific ground. Every other theory of the government of the universe by supernatural beings is inconsistent either with the carrying on of that government through a continual series of natural antecedents, according to fixed laws, or with the interdependence of each of these series upon all the rest, which are two of the most general results of science.”—Three Essays on Religion, p. 133. The Christian assumption of the unity and absoluteness of God—of the dependence of the creamed universe upon Him—is thus confirmed. It is to be remembered that this truth, preached as a last result of science and of the philosophy of evolution, is a first truth of the Biblical religion. It is the Bible, and the Bible alone, which has made Monotheism the possession of the 88world. The unity of God was declared on the soil of Israel long before science or philosophy had the means of declaring it.148148See Note B.—Old Testament Monotheism. Through Christianity it has been made the possession of mankind. On the soil of paganism we see reason struggling towards this idea, striking out partial glimpses of it, sometimes making wonderful approximations to it, hut never in its own strength lifting itself clear away from Polytheism to the pure conception of the one spiritual God, such as we find it in Christianity, still less making this the foundation of a religion It is through Christianity, not through philosophical speculation, that this truth has become the support of faith, a light to which the investigations of science themselves owe much, and a sustaining principle and power in the lives of men.149149Cf. Naville’s Modern Physics—“The Philosophy of the Founders of Modern Physics,” pp. 151–243 (Eng. trans.); Fairbairn’s Studies in the Phil. of Rel. and Hist—” Theism and Scientific Speculationi,” pp. 66–71; and an article by Dr. Alex. Mair, on “The Contribution of Christianity to Science,” in Presbyterian Review, Jan. 1888.

(2) This Power which the evolutionist requires us to recognise as the origin of all things is the source of a rational order. This is a second fact about which there can be no dispute. There is a rational order and connection of things in the universe. Science is not only the means by which our knowledge of this order is extended, but it is itself a standing proof of the existence of this order. Science can only exist on the assumption that the world is not chaos, hut cosmos—that there is unity, order, law, in it—that it is a coherent and consistent whole of things, construable through our intelligence, and capable of being expressed in forms of human speech. And the more carefully we examine the universe, we find that this is really its character. It is an harmonious universe. There is orderly sequence in it. There is orderly connection of part and part. There is that determinable connection we call law. There is the harmonious adjustment of means to ends, which again are embraced in higher ends, till, in the nobler systems, the teleological idea is extended to the whole system.150150 So Mr. Spencer speaks of “the naturally-revealed end towards which the Power manifested throughout Evolution works.”—Data of Ethics, p. 171. In many ways does Mr. Spencer express in his writings his trust that this Power of which he speaks—inscrutable as he proclaims it to be—may be depended on not 89to put him, as the authors of the “Unseen Universe” phrase it, “to intellectual confusion.”151151Unseen Universe, 5th ed., p. 88. To give only one instance—he bids the man who has some highest truth to speak, not to be afraid to speak it out, on the ground that “it is not for nothing that lie has in him these sympathies with some principles, and repugnance to others. . . . He, like every other man,” he says, “may properly consider himself as one of the myriad agencies through whom works the Unknown Cause; and when the Unknown Cause produces in him a certain belief, he is thereby authorised to profess and act out that belief. For to render in their highest sense the words of the poet—

‘Nature is made better by no mean,
But Nature makes that mean; o’er that art
Which roll cay adds to Nature, is an art Which
Nature makes.’

Not as adventitious, therefore, will the wise man regard the faith that is in him.”152152First Principles, p. 123. Who does not see in these remarkable sentences that, notwithstanding his reiteration of the words “Unknown Cause,” “Unknowable,” Mr. Spencer’s latent faith is that this Power which works in the world and in men is a Power working according to rational laws and for rational ends—is on this account an object of trust—we might almost add, a source of inspiration? But now, if this is so, can the conclusion be avoided that the Power on which we thus depend rationally is itself rational? It is knowable at least thins far, that we know that it is the source of a rational order—of an order construable through our intelligence. If now it is asserted that the source of this rational order is not itself rational, surely the proof rests, not on him who affirms, but on him who denies.153153Cf. Chapman’s Pre-Organic Evolution, pp. 226, 227, 251, 282. If Mr. Spencer replies, as he does reply, that it is an “ erroneous assumption that the choice is between personality and something lower than personality, whereas the choice is rather between personality only something higher,” amid asks—“Is it not just possible that there is a mode of being as much transcending intelligence and will, as these transcend mechanical motion?”154154First Principles, p. 109—the answer (not to dwell on the utterly disparate character of the things compare d) is ready—this higher mode of being cannot at least be less than conscious. It may be a 90higher kind of consciousness, but it cannot be higher than consciousness. Nor is there the slightest ground for the assumption that there can be anything higher than self-conscious intelligence or reason.155155Prof. Seth has justly said: “Nothing can be more certain than that all philosophical explanation must be explanation of the lower by the higher, and not vice versa; and if self consciousness is the highest fact we know, then we are justified in using the conception of self-consciousness as our best key to the ultimate nature of existence as a whole.”—Hegelianism and Personality, p. 89. If we find in the universe an order congruous to the reason we have in ourselves, this is warranty sufficient for believing, till the contrary is proved, that the Power which gives rise to this order is not only Power, but Intelligence and Wisdom as well.

(3) Again, this Power which the evolutionist compels us to recognise is the source of a moral order. Butler, in his Analogy, undertook to prove that the constitution and course of things are on the side of virtue. His argument is sometimes spoken of as obsolete, but it is not so much obsolete as simply transformed. It is a new-fashioned phrase which Matthew Arnold uses when lie speaks of a “Power not ourselves that makes for righteousness,” but it means just what Butler meant, that the make and constitution of things in the universe are for righteousness, and not for its opposite. Right eons conduct works out good results for the individual and for society; vicious conduct works out bad results. But what I wish to point out at present is the new support which this view receives from the theory of agnostic evolution, which is supposed by many to overthrow it. No philosophy, which aims at completeness, can avoid the obligation resting on it of showing that it is capable of yielding a coherent theory of human life. The construction of a system of ethics, therefore, Mr. Spencer justly regards as that part of his work to which all the other parts are subsidiary. The theological basis of ethics is rejected; utilitarianism also is set aside as inadequate; and in room of these the attempt is made to establish the rules of right conduct on a scientific basis by deducing them from the general laws of evolution. You find a Power evolving itself in the universe. Study, says Mr. Spencer, the laws of its evolution: find “the naturally revealed end towards which the Power manifested throughout evolution works”; then, “since evolution has been, and is still, working towards the highest life, it 91 follows that conforming to these principles by which the higher life is achieved, is furthering that end.”156156Data of Ethics, p. 171. And when a system us constructed on this basis, what is the result? Why, that we are simply back to the old morality-to what Mr. Spencer himself calls “a rationalised version of the ethical principles” of the current creed.157157Data of Ethics, p. 257. The ethical laws which are deduced from the observations of the laws of evolution are identical with those which Christian ethics and the natural conscience of man in the higher stages of its development have always recognised.158158Cf. article by Professor Laidlaw on “Modern Thought in relation to Christianity and the Christian Church,” Presbyterian Review, 1885. p. 618. What is the inference? These principles were not originally gained by scientific induction. They were the expressions of the natural consciousness of mankind as to distinctions of right and wrong, or were promulgated by teachers who claimed to have received them from a higher source. In either case, they were recognised by man as principles independently affirmed by conscience to be right. And now that the process of evolution comes to be scientifically studied, we are told that the principles of conduct yielded by it, in light of the end to which evolution naturally works, absolutely coincide with those which spring from this “work of the law” written in men’s hearts. What else can we conclude, assuming that the evolutionist is right in his deduction, but that the universe is constructed in harmony with right; that the laws which we have already recognised as of binding authority in conscience are also laws of the objective world; that the principles of right discovered in conscience, and the moral order of society based on these principles, are productions of the one great evolutionary cause, which is the Force impelling and controlling the whole onward movement of humanity? There is certainly nothing lucre to conflict with, but everything to support the view that the Power which is above all, and through all, and in all things, is not only Intelligence and Wisdom, but also an Ethical Will. At least, to most persons who dispassionately study the subject, I think it will appear reasonable that a Power which has an ethical end must be an ethical Power. If, further, this ethical end embraces, as Mr. Spencer seems to believe, the highest perfection amid happiness of man,159159Data of Ethics, pp. 253–257. it is still more difficult to conceive how it 92should have a place in the nature of things unless the Supreme Power were itself benevolent and good. It is not, it should be remembered, as if this ethical end were an after-thought or accident. It is, according to the theory, the final and supreme goad to which the whole process of evolution for count- less millenniums has been working up, and only when it is reached will the ripest fruit of the whole development be gathered. But how is this possible, except on a teleological view of things; and what teleology can yield a moral result which does not postulate at the other end a moral cause? Mr. Spencer may deprecate as he will the imposing of moral ideas generated in our consciousness upon the Infinite which transcends consciousness. But it is only his own arbitrary denial of consciousness to the Absolute, and his arbitrary assumption that there can be no kindredship between that absolute consciousness and our own, which prevents him from drawing the natural conclusion from his own premises. But if to Mr. Spencer’s definition of the Absolute, as “an Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed,” we add, as I think we are entitled to do, the predicates of infinite Intelligence and of Wisdom, and of Ethical Will, we have all the fundamental theistic positions affirmed.

If the First Cause of the universe is proved by its manifestations to be at once rational Intelligence and Ethical Will, there should be no excess of scrupulosity in applying to it the term “Personal.” I have thus far reasoned on the assumptions of Mr. Spencer, and have spoken of his Ultimate Reality as he does himself, as “Power,” “Force,” “Cause,” etc. But I cannot leave this part of the subject without remarking that Mr. Spencer is far from having the field of thought all to himself on this question of the nature of the Ultimate Existence. It was shown in last Lecture how, starting from a different point of view, the higher philosophy of the century—the Neo-Kantian and Neo-Hegelian—reaches, with a very large degree of certainty, the conclusion that the ultimate principle of the universe must be self-conscious. It is well known that the Personality of God was a point left in very great doubt in the system of Hegel.160160On this ambiguity in Hegel’s doctrine, see Prof. Seth, Hegelianism and Personality, Lect. V.; and the criticism in Dorner, Person of Christ, v. pp 147–162 (Eng. trans.). 93God was conceived of as the Absolute Reason, but the drift of the system seemed to point rather to an impersonal Reason which first becomes conscious of itself ill man, than to a selfconsciousness complete and perfect from the beginning. Whatever its other defects, the later Hegelianism has shaken itself clear of this ambiguity, amid affirms with emphasis that the principle at the basis of the universe is self-conscious.161161See Lecture II. p. 59. The Neo-Hegelian theory, however, is far from satisfactory from the point of view of Theism in other respects. The other line of development—the Neo-Kantian—is, in the person of its chief representative, Hermann Lotze, explicitly theistic. I only notice here, that after a careful discussion of all the arguments against ascribing Personality to time Divine Being, on the ground that personality implies the limitation of the finite, Lotze arrives at this conclusion, diametrically the opposite of Mr. Spencer’s—“Perfect personality is reconcilable only with the conception of an infinite Being; for finite beings only an approximation to this is attainable.”162162Outlines of the Phil. of Religion, p. 69 (Eng. trans.). See the whole discussion (chap. iv.), and the fuller treatment in the Microcosmus, ii. pp. 659–688. Lotze’s closing words in the latter are: “Perfect Personality is in God only, to all finite minds there is allotted but a pale copy thereof: the finiteness of the finite is not a producing condition of this Personality, but a limit and a hindrance to its development.” Cf. Ritsclhl, Recht. und Ver. iii. pp. 220 ff. It is interesting, further, to notice that even Neo-Spencerianism—if I may coin such a term—has come round, in tire person of Mr. Fiske, to a similar affirmation. “The final conclusion,” he says, “is, that we must not say that ‘God is Force,’ since such a phrase inevitably calls up those pantheistic notions of blind necessity, which it is my express desire to avoid; but always bearing in mind the symbolic character of the words, we may say that ‘God is Spirit.’ How my belief in the personality of God could be more strongly affirmed without entirely deserting the language of modern philosophy and taking refuge in pure mythology, I am unable to see.”163163Idea of God, p. 117. Cf. the instructive treatment of this subject of Personality in Professor Iverach’s Is God Knowable? pp. 7, 12–37, 223, 233.

2. It is now necessary to come to closer quarters, arid to ask whether the ordinary proofs for the existence of God, which have been so much assailed since the time of Kant, still retain their old cogency, arid if not, what modifications require to be made on them. The time-honoured division of these proofs—which have recently received so able a re-handling at the 94instance of Dr. Hutchison Stirling in his “Gifford Lectures”—is into the cosmological, the teleological, and the ontological, to which, as belonging to another category, falls to be added the moral. Besides these, Kant thinks, there are no others.164164Kritik d. r. Vernunft, p. 416 (Eng. trans. p. 363). This, however, must be taken with qualification, if the remark is meant to apply to the old scholastic forms in which these proofs have customarily been put. Not only is there no necessity for the proofs being confined to these forms—some of which are clearly inadequate—hut they are capable of many extensions, and even transformations, as the result of advancing knowledge, and of the better insight of reason into its own nature. I may add that I do not attach much importance in this connection to objections to these proofs drawn from Kant’s peculiar theory of knowledge.165165See an acute criticism of Kant’s Theory of Knowledge in Stahlin’s Kant, Lotze, und Ritschl, pp. 6–83 (Eng. trans.). If it can be shown that in the exercise of our reason as directed on the world in which we live—or on its own nature—we are compelled either to cease to think, or to think in a particular way,—if we find that these necessities of thought are not peculiar to individuals here and there, but have been felt by the soundest thinkers in all ages, and among peoples widely separated from each other,—we may be justified in believing that our reason is not altogether an untrustworthy guide, but may be depended on with considerable confidence to direct us to the truth.

Neither shall I waste time at this stage by discussing in what sense it is permissible to speak of “proof” of so transcendent a reality as the Divine existence. We remember here the saying of Jacobi, that a God capable of proof would be no God at all; since this would mean that there is something higher than God from which His existence can be deduced. But this applies only to the ordinary reasoning of the deductive logic. It does not apply to that higher kind of proof which may be said to consist in the mind being guided back to the clear recognition of its own ultimate pre-suppositions. Proof in Theism certainly does not consist in deducing God’s existence as a lower from a higher; but rather in showing that God’s existence is itself the last postulate of reason—the ultimate basis on which all other knowledge, all other belief rests. What we mean by proof of 95God’s existence is simply that there are necessary acts of thought by which we rise from the finite to the infinite, from the caused to the uncaused, from the contingent to the necessary, from the reason involved in the structure of the universe to a universal and eternal Reason, which is the ground of all, from morality in conscience to a moral Lawgiver and Judge. In this connection the three theoretical proofs constitute an inseparable unity—“constitute together,” as Dr. Stirling finely declares, “but the three undulations of a single wave, which wave is but a natural rise and ascent to God, on the part of man s own thought, with man’s own experience and consciousness as the object before him.”166166Philosophy and Theology, p. 45. On the theistic proofs generally, and Kant’s criticism of them, cf. Dr. J. Caird’s Philosophy of Religion, pp. 133–159; Prof. E. Caird’s Philosophy of Kant, ii. pp. 102–129; and Dr. Stirling’s work cited above.

(1) The cosmological argument.

(1) Adopting the usual arrangement, I speak first of the cosmological proof, which, from the contingency and mutability of the world,—from its finite, dependent, changeful, multiple character,—concludes to an infinite and necessary Being as its ground and cause. That this movement of thought is necessary is shown by the whole history of philosophy and religion. Kant, who subjects the argument to a severe criticism, nevertheless admits—“It is something very remarkable that, on the supposition that something exists, I cannot avoid the inference that something exists necessarily.”167167Kritik, p. 431 (Eng. trans. p. 378). See Note C.—Kant on the Cosmological Argument. The question then arises—Is the world this necessary Being? The cosmological proof on its various sides is directed to showing that it is not,—that it is not sufficient for its own explanation,—that, therefore, it must have its ground and origin in some other being that is necessary. Whatever exists has either the reason of its existence in itself, or has it in something else. But that the world has not the reason of its existence in itself—is not, in Spinoza’s phrase, causa sui, is not a necessarily existing being—is shown in various ways.

i. By the contingency of its existence.—A necessary Being as Kant himself defines it, is one the necessity of whose existence is given through its possibility, i.e. the non-existence of which cannot be thought of as possible.168168Kritik, p. 102 (Eng. trans. p. 68). But the world is 96not an existence of this character. We can think of its non-existence without contradiction—as, e.g., we cannot think of the non-existence of space and time. We think away all the contents of space and time, but we cannot think away space and time themselves.

ii. By the dependency of its several parts.—It is made up of finite parts, each of which is dependent on the others, and sustains definite relations to them; its parts, therefore, have not the character of self-subsistence. But a world made up of parts, none of which is self-subsistent, cannot as a whole be self-subsistent, or the necessary Being.169169Cf. Dr. Stirling, in Phil. and Theol. p. 126.

iii. By its temporal succession of effects.—The world is in constant flux and change. Causes give birth to effects, and effects depend on causes. Each state into which it passes has determining conditions in some immediately preceding state. This fact, apart from the general proof of contingency, suggests the need of conceiving not only of a necessary ground, but likewise of a First Cause of the universe. The alternative supposition is that of an eternal series of causes and effects—a conception which is unthinkable, and affords no resting-place for reason. What can be more self-contradictory than the hypothesis of a chain of causes and effects, each link of which hangs on a preceding link, while yet the whole chain hangs on nothing?170170Dr. Stirling says, replying to Hume: “No multiplication of pacts will make a whole potent if each part is impotent. You will hardly reach a valid conclusion where your every step is invalid.It as-ill be vain to extract one necessity out of a whole infinitude of contingencies. Nor is it at all possible for such infinitude of contingencies to be even conceivable by reason. It each link of the chain hangs on another, the whole will hang, and only hang, even in eternity, unsupported, hike some stark serpent, unless you find a hook for it. Add weakness to weakness, in any quantity, you will never make strength.”—Phil. and Theol. p. 262. Reason, therefore, itself points us to the need of a First Cause of the universe, who is at the same time a self-existing, necessary, infinite Being.

It is, since Kant’s time, customarily made an objection to this argument, that it only takes us as far as some necessary being—it does not show us in the least degree what kind of a being this is—whether, e.g., in the world or out of it, whether the world soul of the Stoics, the pantheistic substance of Spinoza, the impersonal reason of Hegel, or the personal God of the theist. This may be, and therefore the cosmological 97argument may need the other arguments to complete it. It will be found, however, when we go more deeply (in the ontological argument) into the conception of necessary being, that there is only one kind of existence which answers to this description, and with this more perfect conception the cosmological argument will then connect itself.

As thus presented, the cosmological argument is a process of thought. I cannot leave it, however, without pointing out that it stands connected with a direct fact of consciousness, which, as entering into experience, changes this proof to some extent from a merely logical into a real one. Not to speak of the immediate impression of transitoriness, finitude, contingency, vanity, which, prior to all reasoning, one receives from the world,171171Cf. Caird, Phil. of Religion, p. 135. and which finds expression, more or less, in all religions, there is, at the very root of our religious consciousness, that “feeling of absolute dependence” which Schleiermacher fixes on as the very essence of religion:172172Der christ. Glaube, secs. 3 and 4. and which reappears in Mr. Spencer’s philosophy in a changed form as the immediate consciousness of an absolute Power on which we and our universe alike depend. This feeling of dependence, so natural to man, and interweaving itself with all his religious experiences, is the counterpart in the practical sphere of the cosmological argument in the logical. Both need their explanation in something deeper than themselves, namely, in the possession by man of a rational nature, which makes him capable of rising in thought and feeling above the finite. And as, in the theoretic sphere, the cosmological argument presses forward to its completion in another and a higher, so in the religious sphere the rational nature of man forbids that this sense of dependence should remain a mere feeling of dependency on a blind Power. Religion must free, bless, inspire, strengthen men. From the first, therefore, the soul is at work, seeking in its depths, and in obedience to its own laws, to change this relation of dependence into a free and personal one.

(2) The second argument for the Divine existence is the teleological,—better known simply as the design argument. Kant speaks of this oldest and most popular of the theistic 98arguments with great respect; and the objections which he makes to it affect more its adequacy to do all that is expected from it than its force so far as it goes. It does not, he thinks, prove a Creator, but only an Architect, of the world; it does not prove an infinite, but only a very great Intelligence, etc.173173See Note D.—Kant on the Teleological Argument. I may remark, however, that if it proves even this, it does a great deal; and from an intelligence so great as to hold in its ken the plan and direction of the universe, the step will not be found a great one to the Infinite Intelligence which we call God. But the argument, in the right conception of it, does more than Kant allows, and is a step of transition to the final one—the ontological.

A new argument against design in nature has been found in recent times in the doctrine of evolution. The proof we are considering turns, as every one knows, on the existence of ends in nature. In Kant’s words: “In the world we find everywhere clear signs of an order which can only spring from design—an order realised with the greatest wisdom, and in a universe which is indescribably varied in content, and in extent infinite.”174174Kritik, p. 436 (Eng. trans. 384). In organisms particularly we see the most extraordinary adaptations of means to ends—structures of almost infinite complexity and wonderful perfection—contrivances in which we have precisely the same evidence of the adjustment of the parts to produce the ends as in human works of art.175175No recent school has done more to elaborate the proof of teleology in Nature than that from which the opposite might have been expected—the pessimistic school. Cf. Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (Book ii. chap. 26, “On Teleology”), and Hartmann’s Phil. d. Unbewussten, dassim. From this the inference is drawn, that a world so full of evidences of rational purpose can only be the work of a wise and intelligent mind. But this argument is broken down if it can be shown that what look like ends in nature are not really such, but simply results—that the appearance of apparently designed arrangements to produce certain ends can be explained by the action of causes which do not imply intelligence. This is what evolution, in the hands of some of its expounders, undertakes to do. By showing how structures may have arisen through natural selection, operating to the preservation of favourable variations in the struggle for existence, it is thought that the aid of intelligence may be 99dispensed with, and that a deathblow is given to teleology.176176Thus, e.g., Strauss, Haeckel, Helmboltz, G. Romanes (“Physicus”). Helmboltz, as quoted by Strauss, says: “Darwin’s theory shows bony adaptation of structure in organisms can originate without any intermixture of intelligence, through the blind operation of a natural law.”—Der alte und der neue Glaube,p. 216. Mr. Romanes says: “If [plants and animals] were specially created, the evidence of supernatural design remains unrefuted and irrefutable, whereas if they were slowly evolved, that evidence has been utterly and for ever destroyed.”—Organic Evolution, p. 13. On the bearings of evolution on design, and on the design argument generally in its present relations to science see Janet’s Final Causes (Eng. trans.); Stirling’s Philosophy und Theology Kennedy’s Natural Theology and Modern Thought (1891); Row’s Christian Theism (1890); Martineau’s Study of Religion (i. pp. 270–333); Flint’s Theism; Mivart’s Lessons from Nature; Conder’s Basis of Faith; Murphy’s Habit und Intelligence; Ebrard’s Christian Apologetics, ii. pp. 1–56 (Eng. trans.); Argyll’s Reign of Law, etc. On Kant’s views on evolution and on final causes as connected therewith, cf. Caird’s Phil. of Kant, ii. 495–499. The eye, for example, may have resulted from the gradual accumulation of small variations, each of them accidental, and arising from unknown laws in the organism, but each, as it arises giving to its possessor some slight advantage in the struggle for existence. It is a simple case of the survival of the fittest. Instead of the advantage resulting from a designed arrangement, the appearance of arrangement results from the advantage. In reality, the facts of evolution do not weaken the proof from design, but rather immensely enlarge it by showing all things to be bound together in a vaster, grander plan than had been formerly conceived. Let us see how the matter precisely stands.

On the general hypothesis of evolution, as applied to the organic world, I have nothing to say, except that, within certain limits, it seems to me extremely probable, and supported by a large body of evidence. This, however, only refers to the fact of a genetic relationship of some kind between the different species of plants and animals, and does not affect the means by which this development may be supposed to be brought about. On this subject two views may be held.177177See Note E.—Schools of Evolutionists. The first is that evolution results from development from within; in which case, obviously, the argument from design stands precisely where it did, except that the sphere of its application is enormously extended. The second view is, that evolution has resulted from fortuitous variations, combined with action of natural selection, laying hold of and preserving the variations that were favourable. This is really, under a veil of words, to ask us to 100 believe that accident and fortuity have done the work of mind. But the facts are not in agreement with the hypothesis. The variations in organisms are net absolutely indefinite. In the evolution of an eye, for example, the variations are all more or less in the line of producing the eye. When the formation of an eye has begun, the organism keeps to that line in that place. It does not begin to sprout an ear where the eye is being developed. There is a ground plan that is adhered to in the midst of the variations. Could we collect the successive forms through which the eye is supposed to have passed in the course of its development, what we would see (I speak on the hypothesis of the theory) would be a succession of small increments of structure, all tending in the direction of greater complexity and perfection of the organ—the appearance of new muscles, new lenses, new arrangements for adjusting or perfecting the sight, etc. But the mere fact that these successive appearances could be put in a line, however extended, would throw no light on how the development took place, or how this marvellously complex organ came to build itself up precisely after this pattern.178178Cf. Jevons, Principles of Science, ii. p. 462; J. S. Mill, Three Essays on Religion, p. 171. Mill concludes that “the adaptations in Nature afford a large balance of probability in favour of creation by intelligence,”—Pg. 174. The cause invoked to explain this is natural selection. Now the action of natural selection is real, but its influence may be very easily overrated. It is never to be forgotten that natural selection produces nothing. It acts only on organisms already produced, weeding out the weakest, and the least fitted structurally to survive, and heaving the better adapted in possession of the field.179179See passages in Note E. It is altogether to exaggerate the influence of natural selection, to attribute to it a power to pick out infallibly on the first appearance the infinitesimal variations in an organism which are to form the foundations of future useful organs, though, in their initial stage, they cannot be shown to confer any benefit on their possessors, and may be balanced or neutralised by fifty or sixty other variations in an opposite direction, or by differences of size, strength, speed, etc., on the part of the competitors in the struggle; and still more a power to preserve each of these slight variations till another and yet another of a favourable kind is added to it after long intervals, 101in a contest in which numbers alone are overwhelmingly against the chance of its survival.180180Mr. Spencer shows that Natural Selection fails as an explanation in proportion as life grows complex. “As fast,” he says, “as the faculties are multiplied, so fast does it become possible for the several members of a species to have various kinds’ of superiority over one another. While one saves its life by higher speed, another does the like by clearer vision, another by keener scent, another by quicker bearing, another by greater strength, another by unusual power of enduring cold und hunger, another by special sagacity, another by special timidity, another by special courage, and others by other bodily and mental attributes. Now it is unquestionably true that, other things being equal, each of these attributes giving its possessor an extra chance of life, us likely to be transmitted to posterity. But there seems no reason to suppose that it will be increased in subsequent generations by natural selection. . . . If those members of the species which have but ordinary shares of it nevertheless survive by virtue of other superiorities which they severally possess, then it is not easy to see how this particular attribute can be developed by natural selection in subsequent generations,” etc.—Principles of Biology, sec. 166. Cf. Alfred W. Bennett in Martineau’s Study of Religion, i. 280–282. Taking the facts of evolution as they really stand, what they seem to point to is something hike the following:—

i. An inner power of development of organisms.

ii. A power of adjustment in organisms adapting them to environment.

iii. A weeding out of weak and unfit organisms by natural selection.

iv. Great differences in the rate of production of new species. Ordinarily, species seem to have nearly all the characters of fixity which the old view ascribed to them. Variation exists, but it is confined within comparatively narrow limits. The type persists through ages practically unchanged. At other periods in the geological history of the past there seems to be a breaking down of this fixity. The history of life is marked by a great inrush of new forms. New species crowd upon the scene. Plasticity seems the order of the day.181181Cf. Dawson, Modern Ideas of Evolution, pp. 106, 107; The Chain of Life in Geol. Time, p. 229. “The progress of life,” he says, “in geological time has not been uniform or uninterrupted. . . . Evolutionists themselves, those at least who are willing to allow their theory to be at all modified by facts, now perceive this; and hence we have the doctrine advanced by Mivart, Le Conte, and others, of ‘critical periods,’ or periods of rapid evolution alternating with others of greater quiescence.”—Mod. Ideas, pp. 106, 107. See in both works the examples given of this ‘apparition of species.’ We may call this evolution if we like, but it is none the less creation,—the production out of the old of something new and higher. All that we are called upon to notice here is that it in no way conflicts with design, but rather compels the acknowledgment of it.


The chief criticism I would be disposed to make upon the design argument, as an argument for intelligence in the cause of the universe, is that it is too narrow. It confines the argument to final causes—that is, to the particular case of the adaptation of means to ends. But the basis for the inference that the universe has a wise and intelligent Author is far wider than this. It is not the marks of purpose alone which necessitate this inference, but everything which bespeaks order, plan, arrangement, harmony, beauty, rationality in the connection and system of things. It is the proof of the presence of thought in the world—whatever shape that may take.182182Principal Shairp says: “To begin with the outward world, there is, I shall not say so much the mark of design on all outward things as an experience forced in upon the mind of the thoughtful naturalist that, penetrate unto nature wherever he may, thought has been there before him; that, to quote the words of one of the most distinguished, ‘there is really a plan, which may he read in the relations which you and I, and all his-lining beings scattered over the surface of our earth, hold to each other.’”—Studies ins Poetry and Philosophy, p. 367. Cf. also on this aspect of the subject, M’Cosh, Method of Divine Government, pp. 75–151; and on the argument from Beauty and Sublimity in Nature, Kennedy’s Natural Theology and Modern Thought, Lecture IV. (Donnellan Lectures). As we saw in a former part of the Lecture, the assumption on which the whole of science proceeds—and cannot but proceed—in its investigations is, that the system it is studying is intelligible,—that there is an intelligible unity of things. It admits of being reduced to terms of thought. There is a settled and established order on which the investigator can depend. Without this he could not advance one step. Even Kant’s objection, that this argument proved only an architect of the universe, but not a creator of its materials, is seen from this point of view to be invalid.183183Cf. Lecture IV. on Creation. It may be asked, besides, if it is so certain, as Kant assumes, that only a finite power is needed to create—I do not say a universe, but even an atom; whether there are not finite effects, such as creation, to which only Omnipotence is competent. The point is not that it is an atom, but that it is created. The very materials of the universe—the atoms which compose it—show by their structure, their uniformity, their properties, their mathematical relations, that they must have a Creator; that the Power which originated them, which weighed, measured, and numbered them, which stamped on them their common characters, and gave them their definite laws and relations, must have been intelligent. I admit, however, that as the design argument presupposes the cosmological, to give us the idea of an infinite and necessary Being at the basis of the 103universe, so both of these arguments need the ontological, to show us in the clearest and most convincing manner that this Being and Cause of the universe is infinite, self conscious Reason.

(3) I come, accordingly, in the third place, to the ontological argument—that which Kant, not without reason, affirms to beat the foundation of the other two, and to be the real ground on which the inference to the existence of a necessary and infinitely perfect Being rests. It is an argument which in these days, owing largely to his criticism upon it, has fallen much into disrepute, though a good deal has also been done by able thinkers to rehabilitate it, and to show its real bearings. It must further be admitted that in the form in which it was wont to be put in the schools, the strictures which Kant makes on it are in the main just.1184184Kritik, pp. 417–424 (Eng. trans. pp. 364–370). See Note F.—Kant on the Ontological Argument. In the earlier form, it is an argument from the idea of God as a necessary idea of the mind, to His real existence. I have, reasons Anselm, the idea of a most perfect Being. But this idea includes the attribute of existence. For if the most perfect Being did not exist, there could be conceived a greater than He,—one that did exist,—and therefore He would not be the most perfect. The most perfect Being, therefore, is one in the idea of whom existence is necessarily included. In this form the argument seems little better than a logical quibble, and so Kant has treated it. Kant grants the necessity of the idea—shows how it arises—names it The Ideal of Pure Reason—but argues with cogency that from an idea, purely as such, you cannot conclude to real existence. It would be strange, however, if an argument which has wielded such power over some of the strongest intellects were utterly baseless; and Dr. Hutchison Stirling has well shown that when we get to the kernel of Anselm’s thought, as he himself explains it, it has by no means the irrational character which might at first sight appear to belong to it.185185Phil. and Theol. pp. 182–193. Anselm’s form of the argument, however, it must now be observed, is neither the final nor the perfect one. Kant himself has given the impulse to a new development of it, which shows more clearly than ever that it is not baseless, but is really the deepest and most comprehensive 104of all arguments—the argument implied in both of the two preceding.

The kernel of the ontological argument, as we find it put, for example, by Prof. Green, is the assertion that thought is the necessary prius of all else that is—even of all possible or conceivable existence. This assertion is not arrived at in any a priori way, but by the strict and sober analysis of what is involved in such knowledge of existence as we have. If we analyse the act of knowledge, we find that in every form of it there are implied certain necessary and universal conditions, which, from the nature of the case, must be conditions of experience also, otherwise it could never be experience for us at all. Thus, any world we are capable of knowing with our present faculties must be a world in space and time,—a world subject to conditions of number and quantity,—a world apprehended in relations of substance and accident, cause and effect, etc. A world of any other kind—supposing it to exist—would be in relation to our thought or knowledge unthinkable. These conditions of knowledge, moreover, are not arbitrary and contingent, but universal and necessary. They spring from reason itself, and express its essential and immutable nature. Thus we feel sure that there is no world in space or time to which the laws of mathematics do not apply; no world possible in which events do not follow each other according to the law of cause and effect; no world in which the fundamental laws of thought and reasoning are different from what they are in our own. Mr. J. S. Mill, indeed, thought there might be worlds in which two and two do not make four; or in which events succeed each other without any causal relation. But in this he will get few to agree with him. In like manner, there are moral principles which our reason recognises as universally and unconditionally valid. We cannot conceive of a world in which falsehood would really be a virtue, and truth-speaking a vice. We hold it, therefore, for certain that reason is the source of universal and necessary principles which spring from its essence, and which are the conditions of all possible knowledge. But this, its own essential nature, reason finds reflected back from the world around it. A world does exist, constituted through these very principles which we find within ourselves,—in space and time, through number and quantity, substance and 105quality, cause and effect, etc.,—and therefore knowable by us, and capable of becoming an object of our experience. We arrive, therefore, at this—that the world is constituted through a reason similar to our own; that, in Mr. Green’s words, “the understanding which presents an order of nature to us is in principle one with an understanding which constitutes that order itself.”186186Prol. to Ethics, p. 23. And that such a reason not only does, but must exist, I see not simply by inference from the existence of the world, which is the higher form of the cosmological argument, but by reflection on the necessary character of the principles of reason themselves. For whence these laws of thought—these universal and necessary conditions of all truth and knowledge—which I discover in myself; which my own reason neither makes nor can unmake; which I recognise to be in me and yet not of me; which I know must belong to every rational being in every part of the universe? They are necessary and eternal in their nature, yet they have not the ground of their existence in my individual mind. Can I conclude otherwise than that they have their seat and ground in an eternal and absolute Reason—the absolute Prius of all that is, at once of thought and of existence? It is but a further extension of the same argument when I proceed to show that thought is only possible in relation to an I, to a central principle of self-consciousness, which unifies and connects all thinking and experience.

This argument, which has been called that of “Rational Realism,” is one which in varied forms has been accepted by the deepest thinkers, and finds widespread acknowledgment in literature.187187See Note G.—Rational Realism. It is not liable to the objection made to the Anselmic form, of involving an illicit inference from mere idea to real existence; but it has this in common with it, that the existence of an Eternal Reason is shown to be involved in the very thinking of this, or indeed of any thought. In the very act of thinking, thought affirms its own existence. But thought can perceive, not only its own existence, but the necessity of its existence—the necessity of its existence, even, as the prius of everything else. What is affirmed, therefore, is not simply my thought, but an Absolute Thought, and with this the existence of an Absolute Thinker; in the words of Dr. Harris, who has 106done much to give popular expression to this argument, of “an Absolute Reason energising in perfect wisdom and love” in the universe.188188The Phil. Basis of theism, p.3; cf. pp. 82, 146, 560, etc. I cannot but maintain, therefore, that the onto- logical argument, in the kernel and essence of it, is a sound one, and that in it the existence of God is really seen to be the first, the most certain, and the most indisputable of all truths.

We saw in connection with the cosmological argument that there was a direct fact of consciousness which turned the logical argument into a real one,—which translated, if I may so speak, the abstract proof into a living experience. It is worth our while to inquire, before leaving these theoretic proofs, whether there is anything of the same kind here; anything in actual religious consciousness which answers to that demonstration of a rational element in the world which is given in the two remaining arguments. I think there is. I refer to that very real perception which mankind have at all times manifested of a spiritual presence and power in nature, which is the effect of the total unanalysed impression which nature in its infinite variety and complexity, its wondrous grandeur, order, beauty, and fulness of life and power, makes upon the soul. The more carefully facts have been examined, the more narrowly the history of religions has been scrutinised, the clearer has it become that underlying all the particular ideas men have of their deities,—underlying their particular acts of worship to them,—there is always this sense of something mysterious, intangible, infinite—of an all-pervading supernatural Presence and Power,—which is not identified with any of the particular phenomena of nature, but is regarded rather as manifested through them.189189This is true of the lowest as well as of the highest religions,—cf. Waitz on The religion of the Negroes, in Max Muller’s Hibbert Lectures, pp. 106, 107,—but is much more conspicuous in the oldest forms of natural religion, e.g. in the Vedic, Babylonian, and Egyptian religions. On the general facts, cf. Max Muller’s works, Revelle’s Hist. of Religions, Sayce’s Hibbert Lectures on The Religion of Ancient Egypt, Fairbairn’s Studies, Loring Brace’s The Unknown God, Pressense’s The Ancient World and Christianity (Eng. trans.), etc.; and see Note F. to Lecture V. It is this which Paul speaks of when he says that “the Eternal Power and Divinity” of God are manifested since the creation of the world in the things that are made.190190Rom. i. 20. It 107is Max Muller’s “perception of the infinite,” Schleiermacher’s “consciousness of the infinite in the finite,” the sensus numinis of the older writers, Wordsworth’s “sense of something far more deeply interfused”—

“Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.”191191Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey.

Such a sense or perception of the Divine is the common sub- stratum of all religions, and the theory of religion which fails to take account of it is hike the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out.

But how is this sense of the Divine in nature—which is the stronghold of the theology of feeling—to be accounted for? It is certainly not the result of logical argument, and goes beyond anything that logical argument could yield. Yet it may easily be shown that rational elements are implicit in it, and that the rational elements involved are precisely those which the fore going arguments have sought explicitly to unfold. To understand the impression of the Divine which nature makes on man, we have to remember how much the mind of man has already to do with nature. We have to do here with nature, not primarily as an objectively existing system of laws and forces, but as it exists for man as an object of actual knowledge and experience. And how has it come to be this to him? Not without help from the thinking mind which collates and connects the separate impressions made on it through the senses, and gradually reads the riddle of the universe by the help of what it brings to it out of its own resources. We speak of the immaturity of the savage mind, but there is an intense mental activity in the simplest conception which the savage (or the child) can form of the existence of nature, or of a world around him. He sees changes, but he finds the interpretation of these changes in the idea of causality which he brings to it from his own mind. He groups attributes and forms objects, but he does this through the mental law of substance and accident. He perceives the operation of vast forces in nature, but whence does he get the idea of force? He gets it from the consciousness of power within himself, and through this puts meaning into the scene of change and movement which he finds around him. 108Is it wonderful, then, that man, who has put so much of himself into nature, even when constructing it as an object of thought, should again receive back the reflection of his own spiritual image from nature—receive it back on a grander, vastly enhanced scale, proportionate to the greatness and immensity of the universe on which he looks, and should be filled with awe and reverence in presence of this Other-Self, and Higher-than-Self, as that of a Reason, Power, and Will essentially akin to his own, though infinitely greater? Reason does not create this sense of the Divine; it can only follow in its train, and seek to lay bare and analyse—as is done in the theoretic proofs—the rational elements which it involves.

III. The moral argument—contrast with theoretic proofs.

III. There remains the moral argument, which deserves a place by itself, and which I must briefly consider before I close. The theoretic proofs, as Kant rightly said, can give us no knowledge of God as a moral Being—as a Being who sets before Him moral ends, and governs the world with reference to these ends. For this we are dependent on the Practical Reason, which shows us not what is, but what ought to be, and is the source of laws of moral conduct which we recognise as of binding force for every rational agent. The way in which Kant works out his argument from this point is one of the most interesting parts of his system. Nature in itself, he thinks, knows nothing of a highest end. This is given only in the Practical Reason, which sets before us ends of unconditioned worth, and requires us, if our view of the world is to be consistent, to regard these as supreme, i.e. to view the world as a moral system, in which natural ends are everywhere subordinated to moral. But such a moral teleology is only possible if there is one principle of the natural and of the moral order, and if nature is so arranged as to secure a final harmony of natural and moral conditions; in other words, if the world has a moral as well as an intelligent cause. God, therefore, is a postulate of the Practical Reason.192192Cf. Kritik d. r. Vernunft, pp. 548–557, on “The Ideal of the Highest Good as a Determining Ground of the last end of Pure Reason” (Eng. trans. pp. 487–496); and the Kritik d. praktischen Vernunft, Part II. 5—“The Being of God as a Postulate of the Pure Practical Reason.” I quote, in further illustration of this argument, Professor Caird’s fuller statement of it, in his excellent exposition of the Critique of Judgment, in which he follows 109Kant. “The principle of moral determination in man,” he says, “carries with it the idea of a highest end, after which he should strive; in other words, the idea of a system in which all rational beings realise their happiness through their moral perfection, and in proportion to it. But such realisation of happiness through morality is no natural sequence of effect on cause; for there is nothing in the connection of physical causes that has any relation to such an end. We are forced, therefore, by the same moral necessity which makes us set before us such an end, to postulate outside of nature a cause that determines nature, so as finally to secure this result: and from this follows necessarily the idea of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-righteous, all-merciful God. We have a ‘pure moral need’ for the existence of such a Being; and our moral needs differ from physical needs in that they have an absolute claim to satisfaction. . . . Furthermore, we are to remember that the principle which leads us to postulate God is a practical principle, which does not give us, strictly speaking, a knowledge of God, but only of a special relation in which He stands to us and to nature: while, therefore, in order to find in God the principle which realises the highest good, we are obliged to represent Him as a rational Being, who is guided by the idea of an end, and who uses nature as means to it, we are to remember that this conception is based on an imperfect analogy. . . . ‘All that we can say is that, consistently with the nature of our intelligence, we cannot make intelligible to ourselves the possibility of such an adaptation of nature to the moral law and its object as is involved in the final end which the moral law commands us to aim at, except by assuming the existence of a Creator and Governor of the world, who is also its moral Legislator.’”193193 Philosophy of Kant, ii. pp. 504, 505.

It is to this view of God as a postulate of the Practical Reason, and as satisfying a “pure moral need,” that the Ritschlian theology specially attaches itself; but-it must be remarked that such an origin of the idea of God, abstracted from direct experience of dependence on Him, would furnish no adequate explanation of the religious relation. We may, however, accept all that Kant says of God as a postulate of the moral consciousness, and yet carry the argument a good deal further than he does. God is not only a postulate of the moral nature in the sense that His 110existence is necessary to secure the final harmony of natural and moral conditions, but it may be held that His existence is implied in the very presence of a morally legislating and commanding Reason within us,—just as an eternal self-conscious Reason was seen to be implied in the universal and necessary principles of the theoretic consciousness. That moral law which appears in conscience—the “categorical imperative” of duty for which Kant himself has done so much to intensify our reverence —that ideal of unrealised goodness which hovers constantly above us, awakening in us a noble dissatisfaction with all past attainments,—these are not facts which explain themselves. Nor are they sufficiently explained as products of association and of social convention. Moral law is not comprehensible except as the expression of a will entitled to impose its commands upon us. The rules and ideals of conduct which conscience reveals to us, and which bind the will with such unconditional authority, point to a deeper source in an eternal moral Reason. The ethical ideal, if its absolute character is to be secured, points back to an eternal ground in the Absolute Being. It takes us back to the same conception of God as the ethically perfect Being, source and ground of moral truth fountain of moral law, which we found to be implied in Christianity.194194Cf. on the moral argument, Conder’s Basis of Faith, pp. 383–431; Martineau’s Study of Religion, ii. pp. 1–42; Kennedy’s Natural Theology and Modern Thought, Lecture VI., “Kant and the Moral Proof”; and M’Cosh’s Divine Government, Book i. chap. 3.

And let me observe, finally, that here also we have more than logical argument—we have experience. The moral consciousness is one of the most powerful direct sources of man’s knowledge of God. In the earliest stages in which we know anything about man, a moral element blends with his thought. There grows up within him—he knows not how—a sense of right and wrong, of a law making its presence felt in his life, prescribing to him moral duties, and speaking to him with a “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” in his soul which he dare not disregard. His thoughts, meanwhile, accuse or else excuse each other. This law, moreover, presents itself to him as something more than a mere idea of his own mind. It is a real judging power in his soul, an arbiter invested with legislative, but also with judicial functions. It has accordingly from the 111first a sacred character. It is a power not himself making for righteousness within him. He instinctively connects it with the Power be worships, whose existence is borne in on him from other sources. As conscience develops, his deities come to be more invested with a moral character, and are feared, honoured, or propitiated accordingly. It is the moral consciousness particularly which safeguards the personality of God—the Divine tending to sink back into identity with nature in proportion as the ethical idea is obscured.

The conclusion we reach from the various arguments and considerations advanced in this Lecture is, that the Christian view of a personal and holy God, as the Author of the universe, and its moral Legislator and Ruler, is the only one in which the reason and the heart of man can permanently rest. I do not say that reason could have reached the height of the Christian conception for itself; I do not even think it can hold to it unless it accepts the fact of Revelation and the other truths which Christianity associates with it. But I do say that, with this view as given, reason is able to bring to it abundant corroboration and verification. It is not one line of evidence only which establishes the theistic position, but the concurrent force of many,- starting from different and independent standpoints. And the voice of reason is confirmed by the soul’s direct experiences in religion . At the very least these considerations show—even if the force of demonstration is denied to them—that the Christian view of God is not unreasonable; that it is in accordance with the highest suggestions of reason applied to the facts of existence; that there is no bar in rational thought or in science to its full acceptance. And this is all that at present we need ask.

« Prev Lecture III. The Theistic Postulate Of The… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection