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A Candid Examination of Theism
by George John Romanes
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With this distinction clearly understood, I may now proceed to observe that in everyday life we constantly apply the test of relative inconceivability as a test of truth. And in the vast majority of cases this test of relative inconceivability is, for all practical purposes, as valid a test of truth as is the test of absolute conceivability. For as every man is more or less in harmony with his environment, his habits of thought with regard to his environment are for the most part stereotyped correctly; so that the most ready and the most trustworthy gauge of probability that he has is an immediate appeal to consciousness as to whether he feels the probability. Thus every man learns for himself to endow his own sense of probability with a certain undefined but massive weight of authority. Now it is this test of relative conceivability which all men apply in varying degrees to the question of Theism. For if, from education and organised habits of thought, the probability in this matter appears to a man to incline in a certain direction, when this probability is called in question, the whole body of this organised system of thought rises in opposition to the questioning, and being individually conscious of this strong feeling of subjective opposition, the man declares the sceptical propositions to be more inconceivable to him than are the counter-propositions. And in so saying he is, of course, perfectly right. Hence I conceive that the acceptance or the rejection of metaphysical teleology as probable will depend entirely upon individual habits of thought. The test of absolute inconceivability making equally for and against the doctrine of Theism, disputants are compelled to fall back on the test of relative inconceivability; and as the direction in which the more inconceivable proposition will here seem to lie will be determined by previous habits of thought, it follows that while to a theist metaphysical teleology will appear a probable argument, to an atheist it will appear an improbable one. Thus to a theist it will no doubt appear more conceivable that the Supreme Mind should be such that in some of its attributes it resembles the human mind, while in other of its attributes—among which he will place omnipresence, omnipotence, and directive agency—it transcends the human mind as greatly as the latter "transcends mechanical motion;" and therefore that although it is true, as a matter of logical terminology, that we ought to designate such an entity "Not mind" or "Blank," still, as a matter of psychology, we may come nearer to the truth by assimilating in thought this entity with the nearest analogies which experience supplies, than by assimilating it in thought with any other entity—such as force or matter—which are felt to be in all likelihood still more remote from it in nature. On the other hand, to an atheist it will no doubt appear more conceivable, because more simple, to accept the dogma of an eternal self-existence of something which we call force and matter, and with this dogma to accept the implication of a necessary self-evolution of cosmic harmony, than to resort to the additional and no less inconceivable supposition of a self-existing Agent which must be regarded both as Mind and as Not-mind at the same time. But in both cases, in whatever degree this test of relative inconceivability of a negative is held by the disputants to be valid in solving the problem of Theism, in that degree is each man entitled to his respective estimate of the probability in question. And thus we arrive at the judgment that the rational probability of Theism legitimately varies with the character of the mind which contemplates it. For, as the test of absolute inconceivability is equally annihilative in whichever direction it is applied, the test of relative inconceivability is the only one that remains; and as the formal conditions of a metaphysical teleology are undoubtedly present on the one hand, and the formal conditions of a physical explanation of cosmic harmony are no less undoubtedly present on the other hand, it follows that a theist and an atheist have an equal right to employ this test of relative inconceivability. And as there is no more ultimate court of appeal whereby to decide the question than the universe as a whole, each man has here an equal argumentative right to abide by the decision which that court awards to him individually—to accept whatever probability the sum-total of phenomena appears to present to his particular understanding. And it is needless to say that experience shows, even among well-informed and accurate reasoners, how large an allowance must thus be made for personal equations. To some men the facts of external nature seem to proclaim a God with clarion voice, while to other men the same facts bring no whisper of such a message. All, therefore, that a logician can here do is to remark, that the individuals in each class—provided they bear in mind the strictly relative character of their belief—have a similar right to be regarded as holding a rational creed: the grounds of belief in this case logically vary with the natural disposition and the subsequent training of different minds.[34]

It only remains to show that disputants on either side are apt to endow this test of relative inconceivability with far more than its real logical worth. Being accustomed to apply this test of truth in daily life, and there finding it a trustworthy test, most men are apt to forget that its value as a test must clearly diminish in proportion to the distance from experience at which it is applied. This, indeed, we saw to be the case even with the test of absolute inconceivability (see Chapter V.), but much more must it be the case with this test of relative inconceivability. For, without comment, it is manifest that our acquired sense of probability, as distinguished from our innate sense of possibility, with regard to any particular question of a transcendental nature, cannot be at all comparable with its value in the case of ordinary questions, with respect to which our sense of probability is being always rectified by external facts. Although, therefore, it is true that both those who reject and those who retain a belief in Theism on grounds of relative conceivability are equally entitled to be regarded as displaying a rational attitude of mind, in whatever degree either party considers their belief as of a higher validity than the grounds of psychology from which it takes its rise, in that degree must the members of that party be deemed irrational. In other words, not only must a man be careful not to confuse the test of relative inconceivability with that of absolute conceivability—not to suppose that his sense of probability in this matter is determined by an innate psychological inability to conceive a proposition, when in reality it is only determined by the difficulty of dissociating ideas which have long been habitually associated;—but he must also be careful to remember that the test of relative inconceivability in this matter is only valid as justifying a belief of the most diffident possible kind.

And from this the practical deduction is—tolerance. Let no man think that he has any argumentative right to expect that the mere subjective habit or tone of his own mind should exert any influence on that of his fellow; but rather let him always remember that the only legitimate weapons of his intellectual warfare are those the material of which is derived from the external world, and only the form of which is due to the forging process of his own mind. And if in battle such weapons seem to be unduly blunted on the hardened armoury of traditional beliefs, or on the no less hardened armoury of confirmed scepticism, let him remember further that he must not too confidently infer that the fault does not lie in the character of his own weapons. To drop the figure, let none of us forget in how much need we all stand of this caution:—Knowing how greatly the value of arguments is affected, even to the most impartial among us, by the frame of mind in which we regard them, let all of us be jealously careful not to over-estimate the certainty that our frame or habit of mind is actually superior to that of our neighbour. And, in conclusion, it is surely needless to insist on the yet greater need there is for most of us to bear in mind this further caution:—Knowing with what great subjective opposition arguments are met when they conflict with our established modes of thought, let us all be jealously careful to guard the sanctuary of our judgment from the polluting tyranny of habit.

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CHAPTER VII.

GENERAL SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS.

Sec. 48. Our analysis is now at an end, and a very few words will here suffice to convey an epitomised recollection of the numerous facts and conclusions which we have found it necessary to contemplate. We first disposed of the conspicuously absurd supposition that the origin of things, or the mystery of existence, admits of being explained by the theory of Theism in any further degree than by the theory of Atheism. Next it was shown that the argument "Our heart requires a God" is invalid, seeing that such a subjective necessity, even if made out, could not be sufficient to prove—or even to render probable—an objective existence. And with regard to the further argument that the fact of our theistic aspirations point to God as to their explanatory cause, it became necessary to observe that the argument could only be admissible after the possibility of the operation of natural causes had been excluded. Similarly the argument from the supposed intuitive necessity of individual thought was found to be untenable, first, because, even if the supposed necessity were a real one, it would only possess an individual applicability; and second, that, as a matter of fact, it is extremely improbable that the supposed necessity is a real necessity even for the individual who asserts it, while it is absolutely certain that it is not such to the vast majority of the race. The argument from the general consent of mankind, being so obviously fallacious both as to facts and principles, was passed over without comment; while the argument from a first cause was found to involve a logical suicide. Lastly, the argument that, as human volition is a cause in nature, therefore all causation is probably volitional in character, was shown to consist in a stretch of inference so outrageous that the argument had to be pronounced worthless.

Proceeding next to examine the less superficial arguments in favour of Theism, it was first shown that the syllogism, All known minds are caused by an unknown mind; our mind is a known mind; therefore our mind is caused by an unknown mind,—is a syllogism that is inadmissible for two reasons. In the first place, "it does not account for mind (in the abstract) to refer it to a prior mind for its origin;" and therefore, although the hypothesis, if admitted, would be an explanation of known mind, it is useless as an argument for the existence of the unknown mind, the assumption of which forms the basis of that explanation. Again, in the next place, if it be said that mind is so far an entity sui generis that it must be either self-existing or caused by another mind, there is no assignable warrant for the assertion. And this is the second objection to the above syllogism; for anything within the whole range of the possible may, for aught that we can tell, be competent to produce a self-conscious intelligence. Thus an objector to the above syllogism need not hold any theory of things at all; but even as opposed to the definite theory of materialism, the above syllogism has not so valid an argumentative basis to stand upon. We know that what we call matter and force are to all appearance eternal, while we have no corresponding evidence of a "mind that is even apparently eternal." Further, within experience mind is invariably associated with highly differentiated collocations of matter and distributions of force, and many facts go to prove, and none to negative, the conclusion that the grade of intelligence invariably depends upon, or at least is associated with, a corresponding grade of cerebral development. There is thus both a qualitative and a quantitative relation between intelligence and cerebral organisation. And if it is said that matter and motion cannot produce consciousness because it is inconceivable that they should, we have seen at some length that this is no conclusive consideration as applied to a subject of a confessedly transcendental nature, and that in the present case it is particularly inconclusive, because, as it is speculatively certain that the substance of mind must be unknowable, it seems a priori probable that, whatever is the cause of the unknowable reality, this cause should be more difficult to render into thought in that relation than would some other hypothetical substance which is imagined as more akin to mind. And if it is said that the more conceivable cause is the more probable cause, we have seen that it is in this case impossible to estimate the validity of the remark. Lastly, the statement that the cause must contain actually all that its effects can contain, was seen to be inadmissible in logic and contradicted by everyday experience; while the argument from the supposed freedom of the will and the existence of the moral sense was negatived both deductively by the theory of evolution, and inductively by the doctrine of utilitarianism. On the whole, then, with regard to the argument from the existence of the human mind, we were compelled to decide that it is destitute of any assignable weight, there being nothing more to lead to the conclusion that our mind has been caused by another mind, than to the conclusion that it has been caused by anything else whatsoever.

With regard to the argument from Design, it was observed that Mill's presentation of it is merely a resuscitation of the argument as presented by Paley, Bell, and Chalmers. And indeed we saw that the first-named writer treated this whole subject with a feebleness and inaccuracy very surprising in him; for while he has failed to assign anything like due weight to the inductive evidence of organic evolution, he did not hesitate to rush into a supernatural explanation of biological phenomena. Moreover, he has failed signally in his analysis of the Design argument, seeing that, in common with all previous writers, he failed to observe that it is utterly impossible for us to know the relations in which the supposed Designer stands to the Designed,—much less to argue from the fact that the Supreme Mind, even supposing it to exist, caused the observable products by any particular intellectual process. In other words, all advocates of the Design argument have failed to perceive that, even if we grant nature to be due to a creating Mind, still we have no shadow of a right to conclude that this Mind can only have exerted its creative power by means of such and such cogitative operations. How absurd, therefore, must it be to raise the supposed evidence of such cogitative operations into evidences of the existence of a creating Mind! If a theist retorts that it is, after all, of very little importance whether or not we are able to divine the methods of creation, so long as the facts are there to attest that, in some way or other, the observable phenomena of nature must be due to Intelligence of some kind as their ultimate cause, then I am the first to endorse this remark. It has always appeared to me one of the most unaccountable things in the history of speculation that so many competent writers can have insisted upon Design as an argument for Theism, when they must all have known perfectly well that they have no means of ascertaining the subjective psychology of that Supreme Mind whose existence the argument is adduced to demonstrate. The truth is, that the argument from teleology must, and can only, rest upon the observable facts of nature, without reference to the intellectual processes by which these facts may be supposed to have been accomplished. But, looking to the "present state of our knowledge," this is merely to change the teleological argument from its gross Paleyerian form, into the argument from the ubiquitous operation of general laws. And we saw that this transformation is now a rational necessity. How far the great principle of natural selection may have been instrumental in the evolution of organic forms, is not here, as Mill erroneously imagined, the question; the question is simply as to whether we are to accept the theory of special creation or the theory of organic evolution. And forasmuch as no competent judge at the present time can hesitate for one moment in answering this question, the argument from a proximate teleology must be regarded as no longer having any rational existence.

How then does it fare with the last of the arguments—the argument from an ultimate teleology? Doubtless at first sight this argument seems a very powerful one, inasmuch as it is a generic argument, which embraces not only biological phenomena, but all the phenomena of the universe. But nevertheless we are constrained to acknowledge that its apparent power dwindles to nothing in view of the indisputable fact that, if force and matter have been eternal, all and every natural law must have resulted by way of necessary consequence. It will be remembered that I dwelt at considerable length and with much earnestness upon this truth, not only because of its enormous importance in its bearing upon our subject, but also because no one has hitherto considered it in that relation.

The next step, however, was to mitigate the severity of the conclusion that was liable to be formed upon the utter and hopeless collapse of all the possible arguments in favour of Theism. Having fully demonstrated that there is no shadow of a positive argument in support of the theistic theory, there arose the danger that some persons might erroneously conclude that for this reason the theistic theory must be untrue. It therefore became necessary to point out, that although, as far as we can see, nature does not require an Intelligent Cause to account for any of her phenomena, yet it is possible that, if we could see farther, we should see that nature could not be what she is unless she had owed her existence to an Intelligent Cause. Or, in other words, the probability there is that an Intelligent Cause is unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of nature, is only equal to the probability there is that the doctrine of the persistence of force is everywhere and eternally true.

As a final step in our analysis, therefore, we altogether quitted the region of experience, and ignoring even the very foundations of science, and so all the most certain of relative truths, we carried the discussion into the transcendental region of purely formal considerations. And here we laid down the canon, "that the value of any probability, in its last analysis, is determined by the number, the importance, and the definiteness of the relations known, as compared with those of the relations unknown;" and, consequently, that in cases where the unknown relations are more numerous, more important, or more indefinite than are the known relations, the value of our inference varies inversely as the difference in these respects between the relations compared. From which canon it followed, that as the problem of Theism is the most ultimate of all problems, and so contains in its unknown relations all that is to man unknown and unknowable, these relations must be pronounced the most indefinite of all relations that it is possible for man to contemplate; and, consequently, that although we have here the entire range of experience from which to argue, we are unable to estimate the real value of any argument whatsoever. The unknown relations in our attempted induction being wholly indefinite, both in respect of their number and importance, as compared with the known relations, it is impossible for us to determine any definite probability either for or against the being of a God. Therefore, although it is true that, so far as human science can penetrate or human thought infer, we can perceive no evidence of God, yet we have no right on this account to conclude that there is no God. The probability, therefore, that nature is devoid of Deity, while it is of the strongest kind if regarded scientifically—amounting, in fact, to a scientific demonstration,—is nevertheless wholly worthless if regarded logically. Notwithstanding it is as true as is the fundamental basis of all science and of all experience that, if there is a God, his existence, considered as a cause of the universe, is superfluous, it may nevertheless be true that, if there had never been a God, the universe could never have existed.

Hence these formal considerations proved conclusively that, no matter how great the probability of Atheism might appear to be in a relative sense, we have no means of estimating such probability in an absolute sense. From which position there emerged the possibility of another argument in favour of Theism—or rather let us say, of a reappearance of the teleological argument in another form. For it may be said, seeing that these formal considerations exclude legitimate reasoning either for or against Deity in an absolute sense, while they do not exclude such reasoning in a relative sense, if there yet remain any theistic deductions which may properly be drawn from experience, these may now be adduced to balance the atheistic deductions from the persistence of force. For although the latter deductions have clearly shown the existence of Deity to be superfluous in a scientific sense, the formal considerations in question have no less clearly opened up beyond the sphere of science a possible locus for the existence of Deity; so that if there are any facts supplied by experience for which the atheistic deductions appear insufficient to account, we are still free to account for them in a relative sense by the hypothesis of Theism. And, it may be urged, we do find such an unexplained residuum in the correlation of general laws in the production of cosmic harmony. It signifies nothing, the argument may run, that we are unable to conceive the methods whereby the supposed Mind operates in producing cosmic harmony; nor does it signify that its operation must now be relegated to a super-scientific province. What does signify is that, taking a general view of nature, we find it impossible to conceive of the extent and variety of her harmonious processes as other than products of intelligent causation. Now this sublimated form of the teleological argument, it will be remembered, I denoted a metaphysical teleology, in order sharply to distinguish it from all previous forms of that argument, which, in contradistinction I denoted scientific teleologies. And the distinction, it will be remembered, consisted in this—that while all previous forms of teleology, by resting on a basis which was not beyond the possible reach of science, laid themselves open to the possibility of scientific refutation, the metaphysical system of teleology, by resting on a basis which is clearly beyond the possible reach of science, can never be susceptible of scientific refutation. And that this metaphysical system of teleology does rest on such a basis is indisputable; for while it accepts the most ultimate truths of which science can ever be cognisant—viz., the persistence of force and the consequently necessary genesis of natural law,—it nevertheless maintains that the necessity of regarding Mind as the ultimate cause of things is not on this account removed; and, therefore, that if science now requires the operation of a Supreme Mind to be posited in a super-scientific sphere, then in a super-scientific sphere it ought to be posited. No doubt this hypothesis at first sight seems gratuitous, seeing that, so far as science can penetrate, there is no need of any such hypothesis at all—cosmic harmony resulting as a physically necessary consequence from the combined action of natural laws, which in turn result as a physically necessary consequence of the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter. But although it is thus indisputably true that metaphysical teleology is wholly gratuitous if considered scientifically, it may not be true that it is wholly gratuitous if considered psychologically. In other words, if it is more conceivable that Mind should be the ultimate cause of cosmic harmony than that the persistence of force should be so, then it is not irrational to accept the more conceivable hypothesis in preference to the less conceivable one, provided that the choice is made with the diffidence which is required by the considerations adduced in Chapter V.

I conclude, therefore, that the hypothesis of metaphysical teleology, although in a physical sense gratuitous, may be in a psychological sense legitimate. But as against the fundamental position on which alone this argument can rest—viz., the position that the fundamental postulate of Atheism is more inconceivable than is the fundamental postulate of Theism—we have seen two important objections to lie.

For, in the first place, the sense in which the word "inconceivable" is here used is that of the impossibility of framing realisable relations in the thought; not that of the impossibility of framing abstract relations in thought. In the same sense, though in a lower degree, it is true that the complexity of the human organisation and its functions is inconceivable; but in this sense the word "inconceivable" has much less weight in an argument than it has in its true sense. And, without waiting again to dispute (as we did in the case of the speculative standing of Materialism) how far even the genuine test of inconceivability ought to be allowed to make against an inference which there is a body of scientific evidence to substantiate, we went on to the second objection against this fundamental position of metaphysical teleology. This objection, it will be remembered, was, that it is as impossible to conceive of cosmic harmony as an effect of Mind, as it is to conceive of it as an effect of mindless evolution. The argument from inconceivability, therefore, admits of being turned with quite as terrible an effect on Theism, as it can possibly be made to exert on Atheism.

Hence this more refined form of teleology which we are considering, and which we saw to be the last of the possible arguments in favour of Theism, is met on its own ground by a very crushing opposition: by its metaphysical character it has escaped the opposition of physical science, only to encounter a new opposition in the region of pure psychology to which it fled. As a conclusion to our whole inquiry, therefore, it devolved on us to determine the relative magnitudes of these opposing forces. And in doing this we first observed that, if the supporters of metaphysical teleology objected a priori to the method whereby the genesis of natural law was deduced from the datum of the persistence of force, in that this method involved an unrestricted use of illegitimate symbolic conceptions; then it is no less open to an atheist to object a priori to the method whereby a directing Mind was inferred from the datum of cosmic harmony, in that this method involved the population of an unknowable cause,—and this of a character which the whole history of human thought has proved the human mind to exhibit an overweening tendency to postulate as the cause of natural phenomena. On these grounds, therefore, I concluded that, so far as their respective standing a priori is concerned, both theories may be regarded as about equally suspicious. And similar with regard to their standing a posteriori; for as both theories require to embody at least one infinite term, they must each alike be pronounced absolutely inconceivable. But, finally, if the question were put to me which of the two theories I regarded as the more rational, I observed that this is a question which no one man can answer for another. For as the test of absolute inconceivability is equally destructive of both theories, if a man wishes to choose between them, his choice can only be determined by what I have designated relative inconceivability—i.e., in accordance with the verdict given by his individual sense of probability as determined by his previous habits of thought. And forasmuch as the test of relative inconceivability may be held in this matter legitimately to vary with the character of the mind which applies it, the strictly rational probability of the question to which it is applied varies in like manner. Or, otherwise presented, the only alternative for any man in this matter is either to discipline himself into an attitude of pure scepticism, and thus to refuse in thought to entertain either a probability or an improbability concerning the existence of a God; or else to incline in thought towards an affirmation or a negation of God, according as his previous habits of thought have rendered such an inclination more facile in the one direction than in the other. And although, under such circumstances, I should consider that man the more rational who carefully suspended his judgment, I conclude that if this course is departed from, neither the metaphysical teleologist nor the scientific atheist has any perceptible advantage over the other in respect of rationality. For as the formal conditions of a metaphysical teleology are undoubtedly present on the one hand, and the formal conditions of a speculative atheism are as undoubtedly present on the other, there is thus in both cases a logical vacuum supplied wherein the pendulum of thought is free to swing in whichever direction it may be made to swing by the momentum of preconceived ideas.

Such is the outcome of our investigation, and considering the abstract nature of the subject, the immense divergence of opinion which at the present time is manifested with regard to it, as well as the confusing amount of good, bad, and indifferent literature on both sides of the controversy which is extant;—considering these things, I do not think that the result of our inquiry can be justly complained of on the score of its lacking precision. At a time like the present, when traditional beliefs respecting Theism are so generally accepted and so commonly concluded, as a matter of course, to have a large and valid basis of induction whereon to rest, I cannot but feel that a perusal of this short essay, by showing how very concise the scientific status of the subject really is, will do more to settle the minds of most readers as to the exact standing at the present time of all the probabilities of the question, than could a perusal of all the rest of the literature upon this subject. And, looking to the present condition of speculative philosophy, I regard it as of the utmost importance to have clearly shown that the advance of science has now entitled us to assert, without the least hesitation, that the hypothesis of Mind in nature is as certainly superfluous to account for any of the phenomena of nature, as the scientific doctrine of the persistence of force and the indestructibility of matter is certainly true.

On the other hand, if any one is inclined to complain that the logical aspect of the question has not proved itself so unequivocally definite as has the scientific, I must ask him to consider that, in any matter which does not admit of actual demonstration, some margin must of necessity be left for variations of individual opinion. And, if he bears this consideration in mind, I feel sure that he cannot properly complain of my not having done my utmost in this case to define as sharply as possible the character and the limits of this margin.

Sec. 49. And now, in conclusion, I feel it is desirable to state that any antecedent bias with regard to Theism which I individually possess is unquestionably on the side of traditional beliefs. It is therefore with the utmost sorrow that I find myself compelled to accept the conclusions here worked out; and nothing would have induced me to publish them, save the strength of my conviction that it is the duty of every member of society to give his fellows the benefit of his labours for whatever they may he worth. Just as I am confident that truth must in the end be the most profitable for the race, so I am persuaded that every individual endeavour to attain it, provided only that such endeavour is unbiassed and sincere, ought without hesitation to be made the common property of all men, no matter in what direction the results of its promulgation may appear to tend. And so far as the ruination of individual happiness is concerned, no one can have a more lively perception than myself of the possibly disastrous tendency of my work. So far as I am individually concerned, the result of this analysis has been to show that, whether I regard the problem of Theism on the lower plane of strictly relative probability, or on the higher plane of purely formal considerations, it equally becomes my obvious duty to stifle all belief of the kind which I conceive to be the noblest, and to discipline my intellect with regard to this matter into an attitude of the purest scepticism. And forasmuch as I am far from being able to agree with those who affirm that the twilight doctrine of the "new faith" is a desirable substitute for the waning splendour of "the old," I am not ashamed to confess that with this virtual negation of God the universe to me has lost its soul of loveliness; and although from henceforth the precept to "work while it is day" will doubtless but gain an intensified force from the terribly intensified meaning of the words that "the night cometh when no man can work," yet when at times I think, as think at times I must, of the appalling contrast between the hallowed glory of that creed which once was mine, and the lonely mystery of existence as now I find it,—at such times I shall ever feel it impossible to avoid the sharpest pang of which my nature is susceptible. For whether it be due to my intelligence not being sufficiently advanced to meet the requirements of the age, or whether it be due to the memory of those sacred associations which to me at least were the sweetest that life has given, I cannot but feel that for me, and for others who think as I do, there is a dreadful truth in those words of Hamilton,—Philosophy having become a meditation, not merely of death, but of annihilation, the precept know thyself has become transformed into the terrific oracle to Oedipus—

"Mayest thou ne'er know the truth of what thou art."

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APPENDIX

AND

SUPPLEMENTARY ESSAYS.

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APPENDIX.

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A CRITICAL EXPOSITION OF A FALLACY IN LOCKE'S USE OF THE ARGUMENT AGAINST THE POSSIBILITY OF MATTER THINKING ON GROUNDS OF ITS BEING INCONCEIVABLE THAT IT SHOULD.

Lest it should be thought that I am doing injustice to the views of this illustrious theist, I here quote his own words:—"We have the ideas of matter and thinking, but possibly shall never be able to know whether any mere material being thinks or no, it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas, without revelation, to discover whether omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter fitly disposed a power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to matter so disposed a thinking immaterial substance; it being, in respect of our notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if He pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that He should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking; since we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort of substance the Almighty has been pleased to give that power, which cannot be in any created being, but merely by the good pleasure and bounty of the Creator. For I see no contradiction in it that the first eternal thinking being should, if he pleased, give to certain systems of created senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of sense, perception, and thought: though, as I think, I have proved, lib. iv., ch. 10 and 14, &c., it is no less than a contradiction to suppose matter (which is evidently in its own nature void of sense and thought) should be that eternal first-thinking being. What certainty of knowledge can any one have that some perceptions, such as, e.g., pleasure and pain, should not be in some bodies themselves, after a certain manner modified and moved, as well as that they should be in an immaterial substance upon the motion of the parts of body? Body, as far as we can conceive, being able only to strike and affect body; and motion, according to the utmost reach of our ideas, being able to produce nothing but motion: so that when we allow it to produce pleasure or pain, or the idea of a colour or sound, we are fain to quit our reason, go beyond our ideas, and attribute it wholly to the good pleasure of our Maker. For since we must allow He has annexed effects to motion which we can no way conceive motion able to produce, what reason have we to conclude that He could not order them as well to be produced in a subject we cannot conceive capable of them, as well as in a subject we cannot conceive the motion of matter can any way operate upon? I say not this, that I would any way lessen the belief of the soul's immateriality, &c.... It is a point which seems to me to be put out of the reach of our knowledge; and he who will give himself leave to consider freely, and look into the dark and intricate part of each hypothesis, will scarce find his reason able to determine him fixedly for or against the soul's materiality. Since on which side soever he views it, either as an unextended substance or as a thinking extended matter, the difficulty to conceive either will, whilst either alone is in his thoughts, still drive him to the contrary side. An unfair way which some men take with themselves, who, because of the inconceivableness of something they find in one, throw themselves violently into the contrary hypothesis, though altogether as unintelligible to an unbiassed understanding."

This passage, I do not hesitate to say, is one of the most remarkable in the whole range of philosophical literature, in respect of showing how even the strongest and most candid intellect may have its reasoning faculty impaired by the force of a preformed conviction. Here we have a mind of unsurpassed penetration and candour, which has left us side by side two parallel trains of reasoning. In the one, the object is to show that the author's preformed conviction as to the being of a God is justifiable on grounds of reason; in the other, the object is to show that, granting the existence of a God, and it is not impossible that he may have endowed matter with the faculty of thinking. Now, in the former train of reasoning, the whole proof rests entirely upon the fact that "it is impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being." Clearly, if this proposition is true, it must destroy one or other of the trains of reasoning; for it is common to them both, and in one of them it is made the sole ground for concluding that matter cannot think, while in the other it is made compatible with the supposition that matter may think. This extraordinary inconsistency no doubt arose from the fact that the author was antecedently persuaded of the existence of an Omnipotent Mind, and having been long accustomed in his intellectual symbols to regard it presumptuous in him to impose any limitations on this almighty power, when he asked himself whether it would be possible for this almighty power, if it so willed, to endow matter with the faculty of thinking, he argued that it might be possible, notwithstanding his being unable to conceive the possibility. But when he banished from his mind the idea of this personal and almighty power, and with that idea banished all its associations, he then felt that he had a right to argue more freely, and forthwith made his conceptive faculty a test of abstract possibility. Yet the sum total of abstract possibility, in relation to him, must have been the same in the two cases; so that in whichever of the two trains of reasoning his argument was sound, in the other it must certainly have been null.

We may well feel amazed that so able a thinker can have fallen into so obvious an error, and afterwards have persisted in it through pages and pages of his work. It will be instructive, however, to those who rely upon Locke's exposition of the argument from Inconceivability to see how effectually he has himself destroyed it. For this purpose, therefore, I shall make some further quotations from the same train of reasoning. The statement of Locke's opinion that the Almighty could endow matter with the faculty of thinking if He so willed, called down some remonstrances and rebukes from the then Bishop of Worcester. Locke's reply was a very lengthy one, and from it the following extracts are taken. I merely request the reader throughout to substitute for the words God, Creator, Almighty, Omipotency, &c., the words Summum genus of Possibility.

"But it is further urged that we cannot conceive how matter can think. I grant it, but to argue from thence that God therefore cannot give to matter a faculty of thinking is to say God's omnipotency is limited to a narrow compass because man's understanding is so, and brings down God's infinite power to the size of our capacities....

"If God can give no power to any parts of matter but what men can account for from the essence of matter in general; if all such qualities and properties must destroy the essence, or change the essential properties of matter, which are to our conceptions above it, and we cannot conceive to be the natural consequence of that essence; it is plain that the essence of matter is destroyed, and its essential properties changed, in most of the sensible parts of this our system. For it is visible that all the planets have revolutions about certain remote centres, which I would have any one explain or make conceivable by the bare essence, or natural powers depending on the essence of matter in general, without something added to that essence which we cannot conceive; for the moving of matter in a crooked line, or the attraction of matter by matter, is all that can be said in the case; either of which it is above our reach to derive from the essence of matter or body in general, though one of these two must unavoidably be allowed to be superadded, in this instance, to the essence of matter in general. The omnipotent Creator advised not with us in the making of the world, and His ways are not the less excellent because they are past finding out....

"In all such cases, the superinducement of greater perfections and nobler qualities destroys nothing of the essence or perfections that were there before, unless there can be showed a manifest repugnancy between them; but all the proof offered for that is only that we cannot conceive how matter, without such superadded perfections, can produce such effects; which is, in truth, no more than to say matter in general, or every part of matter, as matter, has them not, but is no reason to prove that God, if He pleases, cannot superadd them to some parts of matter, unless it can be proved to be a contradiction that God should give to some parts of matter qualities and perfections which matter in general has not, though we cannot conceive how matter is invested with them, or how it operates by virtue of those new endowments; nor is it to be wondered that we cannot, whilst we limit all its operations to those qualities it had before, and would explain them by the known properties of matter in general, without any such induced perfections. For if this be a right rule of reasoning, to deny a thing to be because we cannot conceive the manner how it comes to be, I shall desire them who use it to stick to this rule, and see what work it will make both in divinity as well as philosophy, and whether they can advance anything more in favour of scepticism.

"For to keep within the present subject of the power of thinking and self-motion bestowed by omnipotent power in some parts of matter: the objection to this is, I cannot conceive how matter should think. What is the consequence? Ergo, God cannot give it a power to think. Let this stand for a good reason, and then proceed in other cases by the same.

"You cannot conceive how matter can attract matter at any distance, much less at the distance of 1,000,000 miles; ergo, God cannot give it such a power: you cannot conceive how matter should feel or move itself, or affect any material being, or be moved by it; ergo, God cannot give it such powers: which is in effect to deny gravity, and the revolution of the planets about the sun; to make brutes mere machines, without sense or spontaneous motion; and to allow man neither sense nor voluntary motion.

"Let us apply this rule one degree farther. You cannot conceive how an extended solid substance should think, therefore God cannot make it think: can you conceive how your own soul or any substance thinks? You find, indeed, that you do think, and so do I; but I want to be told how the action of thinking is performed: this, I confess, is beyond my conception; and I would be glad any one who conceives it would explain it to me.

"God, I find, has given me this faculty; and since I cannot but be convinced of His power in this instance, which, though I every moment experience in myself, yet I cannot conceive the manner of, what would it be less than an insolent absurdity to deny His power in other like cases, only for this reason, because I cannot conceive the manner how?...

"That Omnipotency cannot make a substance to be solid and not solid at the same time, I think with due reverence [diffidence?[35]] we may say; but that a solid substance may not have qualities, perfections, and powers, which have no natural or visibly necessary connection with solidity and extension, is too much for us (who are but of yesterday, and know nothing) to be positive in.

"If God cannot join things together by connections inconceivable to us, we must deny even the consistency and being of matter itself; since every particle of it having some bulk, has its parts connected by ways inconceivable to us. So that all the difficulties that are raised against the thinking of matter, from our ignorance or narrow conceptions, stand not at all in the way of the power of God, if He pleases to ordain it so; nor prove anything against His having actually endowed some parcels of matter, so disposed as He thinks fit, with a faculty of thinking, till it can he shown that it contains a contradiction to suppose it.

"Though to me sensation be comprehended under thinking in general, in the foregoing discourse I have spoke of sense in brutes as distinct from thinking; because your lordship, as I remember, speaks of sense in brutes. But here I take liberty to observe, that if your lordship allows brutes to have sensation, it will follow, either that God can and doth give to some parcels of matter a power of perception and thinking, or that all animals have immaterial, and consequently, according to your lordship, immortal souls, as well as men; and to say that fleas and mites, &c., have immortal souls as well as men, will possibly be looked on as going a great way to serve an hypothesis....

"It is true, I say, 'That bodies operate by impulse, and nothing else,' and so I thought when I writ it, and can yet conceive no other way of their operation. But I am since convinced, by the judicious Mr. Newton's incomparable book, that it is too bold a presumption to limit God's power in this point by my narrow conceptions. The gravitation of matter towards matter, by way unconceivable to me, is not only a demonstration that God can, if He pleases, put into bodies powers and ways of operation above what can be derived from our idea of body, or can be explained by what we know of matter, but also an unquestionable and everywhere visible instance that He has done so. And therefore, in the next edition of my book, I will take care to have that passage rectified....

"As to self-consciousness, your lordship asks, 'What is there like self-consciousness in matter?' Nothing at all in matter as matter. But that God cannot bestow on some parcels of matter a power of thinking, and with it self-consciousness, will never be proved by asking how is it possible to apprehend that mere body should perceive that it doth perceive? The weakness of our apprehension I grant in the case: I confess as much as you please, that we cannot conceive how an unsolid created substance thinks; but this weakness of our apprehension reaches not the power of God, whose weakness is stronger than anything in man."

Lastly, Locke turns upon his opponent the power of the odium theologicum.

"Let it be as hard a matter as it will to give an account what it is that should keep the parts of a material soul together after it is separated from the body, yet it will be always as easy to give an account of it as to give an account what it is that shall keep together a material and immaterial substance. And yet the difficulty that there is to give an account of that, I hope, does not, with your lordship, weaken the credibility of the inseparable union of soul and body to eternity; and I persuade myself that the men of sense, to whom your lordship appeals in this case, do not find their belief of this fundamental point much weakened by that difficulty.... But you will say, you speak only of the soul; and your words are, that it is no easy matter to give an account how the soul should be capable of immortality unless it be a material substance. I grant it, but crave leave to say, that there is not any one of these difficulties that are or can be raised about the manner how a material soul can be immortal, which do not as well reach the immortality of the body....

"But your lordship, as I guess from your following words, would argue that a material substance cannot be a free agent; whereby I suppose you only mean that you cannot see or conceive how a solid substance should begin, stop, or change its own motion. To which give me leave to answer, that when you can make it conceivable how any created, finite, dependent substance can move itself, I suppose you will find it no harder for God to bestow this power on a solid than an unsolid created substance.... But though you cannot see how any created substance, solid or not solid, can be a free agent (pardon me, my lord, if I put in both, till your lordship please to explain it of either, and show the manner how either of them can of itself move itself or anything else), yet I do not think you will so far deny men to be free agents, from the difficulty there is to see how they are free agents, as to doubt whether there be foundation enough for the day of judgment."

Let us now, for the sake of contrast, turn to some passages which occur in the other train of reasoning.

"If we suppose only matter and motion first or eternal, thought can never begin to be. For it is impossible to conceive that matter, either with or without motion, could have originally in and from itself sense, perception, and knowledge; as is evident from hence, that then sense, perception, and knowledge must be a property eternally inseparable from matter and every particle of it." There is a double fallacy here. In the first place, conceivability is made the unconditional test of possibility; and, in the next place, it is asserted that unless every particle of matter can think, no collocation of such particles can possibly do so. This latter fallacy is further insisted upon thus:—"If they will not allow matter as matter, that is, every particle of matter, to be as well cogitative as extended, they will have as hard a task to make out to their own reasons a cogitative being out of incogitative particles, as an extended being out of unextended parts, if I may so speak.... Every particle of matter, as matter, is capable of all the same figures and motions of any other, and I challenge any one in his thoughts to add anything else to one above another." Now, as we have seen, Locke himself has shown in his other trains of argument that this challenge is thoroughly futile as a refutation of possibilities; but the point to which I now wish to draw attention is this—It does not follow because certain and highly complex collocations of material particles may be supposed capable of thinking, that therefore every particle of matter must be regarded as having this attribute. We have innumerable analogies in nature of a certain collocation of matter and force producing certain results which another somewhat similar collocation could not produce: in such cases we do not assume that all the resulting attributes of the one collocation must be presented also by the other—still less that these resulting attributes must belong to the primary qualities of matter and force. Hence, it is not fair to assume that thought must either be inherent in every particle of matter, or else not producible by any possible collocation of such particles, unless it has previously been shown that so to produce it by any possible collocation is in the nature of things impossible. But no one could refute this fallacy better than Locke himself has done in some of the passages already quoted from his other train of reasoning.

But to continue the quotation:—"If, therefore, it be evident that something necessarily must exist from eternity, it is also as evident that that something must necessarily be a cogitative being; for it is as impossible [inconceivable] that incogitative matter should produce a cogitative being, as that nothing, or the negation of all being, should produce a positive being or matter." Again,—"For unthinking particles of matter, however put together, can have [can be taught to have] nothing thereby added to them, but a new relation of position, which it is impossible [inconceivable] should give thought and knowledge to them."

It is unnecessary to multiply these quotations, for, in effect, they would all be merely repetitions of one another. It is enough to have seen that this able author undertakes to demonstrate the existence of a God, and that his whole demonstration resolves itself into the unwarrantable inference, that as we are unable to conceive how thought can be a property of matter, therefore a property of matter thought cannot be. That such an erroneous inference should occur in any writings of so old a date as those of Locke is not in itself surprising. What is surprising is the fact, that in the same writings, and in the course of the same discussion, the fallacy of this very inference is repeatedly pointed out and insisted upon in a great variety of ways; and it has been chiefly for the sake of showing the pernicious influence which preformed opinion may exert—viz., even to blinding the eyes of one of the most clear-sighted and thoughtful men that ever lived to a glaring contradiction repeated over and over again in the course of a few pages,—it has been chiefly for this reason that I have extended this Appendix to so great a length. I shall now conclude it by quoting some sentences which occur on the very next page after that from which the last quoted sentences were taken. Our author here again returns to his defence of the omnipotency of God; and as he now again thus personifies the sum total of possibility, his mind abruptly reverts to all its other class of associations. In this case the transition is particularly interesting, not only on account of its suddenness, but also because the correlations contemplated happen to be exactly the same in the two cases—viz., matter as the cause of mind, and mind as the cause of matter. Remember that on the last page this great philosopher supposed he had demonstrated the abstract impossibility of matter being the cause of mind on the ground of a causal connection being inconceivable, let us now observe what he says upon this page regarding the abstract possibility of mind being the cause of matter. "Nay, possibly, if we would emancipate ourselves from vulgar notions, and raise our thoughts as far as they would reach to a closer contemplation of things, we might be able to aim at some dim and seeming conception how matter might at first be made and begin to exist by the power of that eternal first being.... But you will say, Is it not impossible to admit of the making anything out of nothing, since we cannot possibly conceive it? I answer—No; because it is not reasonable to deny the power of an infinite being [this phrase, in the absence of hypothesis, i.e., in Locke's other train of reasoning, is of course equivalent to the sum-total of possibility] because we cannot comprehend its operations. We do not deny other effects upon this ground, because we cannot possibly conceive the manner of their production. We cannot conceive how anything but impulse of body can move body; and yet that is not a reason sufficient to make us deny it possible, against the constant experience we have of it in ourselves, in all our voluntary motions, which are produced in us only by the free action or thought of our minds, and are not, nor can be, the effects of the impulse or determination of the blind matter in or upon our own bodies; for then it could not be in our power or choice to alter it. For example, my right hand writes, whilst my left hand is still: what causes rest in one and motion in the other? Nothing but my will, a thought in my mind; my thought only changing, the right hand rests, and the left hands moves. This is matter of fact, which cannot be denied: explain this and make it intelligible, and then the next step will be to understand creation."[36]

* * * * *

SUPPLEMENTARY ESSAYS.

* * * * *

I.

COSMIC THEISM.[37]

Mr. Herbert Spencer's doctrine of the Unknowable is a doctrine of so much speculative importance, that it behoves all students of philosophy to have clear views respecting its character and implications. Mr. Spencer has himself so fully explained the character of this doctrine, that no attentive reader can fail to understand it; but concerning those of its implications which may be termed theological—as distinguished from religious—Mr. Spencer is silent. Within the last two or three years, however, there has appeared a valuable work by an able exponent of the new philosophy; and in this work the writer, adopting his master's teaching of the Unknowable, proceeds to develop it into a definite system of what may be termed scientific theology. And not only so, but he assures the world that this system of scientific theology is the highest, the purest, and the most ennobling form of religion that mankind has ever been privileged to know in the past, or, from the nature of the case, can ever be destined to know in the future. It is a system, we are told, wherein the most fundamental truths of Theism are taught as necessary deductions from the highest truths of Science; it is a system wherein no single doctrine appeals for its acceptance to any principle of blind or credulous faith, but wherein every doctrine can be fully justified by the searching light of reason; it is a system wherein the noblest of our aspirations and the most sublime of our emotions are able to find an object far more worthy and much more glorious than has ever been supplied to them by any of the older forms of Theism; and it is a system, therefore, in which, with a greatly enlarged and intensified meaning, we may worship God, and all that is within us bless His holy name. Assuredly a proclamation such as this, emanating from the most authoritative expounders of modern thought, as the highest and the greatest result to which a rigorous philosophic synthesis has led, is a proclamation which cannot fail to arrest our most serious attention. Nay, may it not do more than this? May it not appeal to hearts which long have ceased to worship? May it not once more revive a hope—long banished, perhaps, but still the dearest which our poor natures have experienced—that somewhere, sometime, or in some way, it may yet be possible to feel that God is not far from any one of us? For to those who have known the anguish of a shattered faith, it will not seem so childish that our hearts should beat the quicker when we once more hear a voice announcing to a world of superstitious idolaters—"Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." But if, when we have listened to the glad tidings of the new gospel, we find that the preacher, though apparently in earnest, is not worthy to be heard again on this matter; and if, as we turn away, our eyes grow dim with the memory of a vanished dream, surely we may feel that the preacher is deserving of our blame for obtruding thus upon the most sacred of our sorrows.

Mr. John Fiske is, as is well known, an author who unites in himself the qualities of a well-read student of philosophy, a clear and accurate thinker, a thorough master of the principles which in his recent work he undertakes to explain and to extend, and a writer gifted in a remarkable degree with the power of lucid exposition. Such being the intellectual calibre of the man who elaborates this new system of scientific theology, I confess that, on first seeing his work, I experienced a faint hope that, in the higher departments of the Philosophy of Evolution as conceived by Mr. Spencer and elaborated by his disciple, there might be found some rational justification for an attenuated form of Theism. But on examination I find that the bread which these fathers have offered us turns out to be a stone; and thinking that it is desirable to warn other of the children—whether of the family Philosophical or Theological—against swallowing on trust a morsel so injurious, I shall endeavour to point out what I conceive to be the true nature of "Cosmic Theism."

Starting from the doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge, Mr. Fiske, following Mr. Spencer, proceeds to show how the doctrine implies that there must be a mode of Being to which human knowledge is non-relative. Or, in other words, he shows that the postulation of phenomena necessitates the further postulation of noumena of which phenomena are the manifestations. Now what may we affirm of noumena without departing from a scientific or objective mode of philosophising? We may affirm at least this much of noumena, that they constitute a mode of existence which need not necessarily vanish were our consciousness to perish; and, therefore, that they now stand out of necessary relation to our consciousness. Or, in other words, so far as human consciousness is concerned, noumena must be regarded as absolute. "But now, what do we mean by this affirmation of absolute reality independent of the conditions of the process of knowing? Do we mean to ... affirm, in language savouring strongly of scholasticism, that beneath the phenomena which we call subjective there is an occult substratum Mind, and beneath the phenomena which we call objective there is an occult substratum Matter? Our conclusion cannot be stated in any such form.... Our conclusion is simply this, that no theory of phenomena, external or internal, can be framed without postulating an Absolute Existence of which phenomena are the manifestations. And now let us carefully note what follows. We cannot identify this Absolute Existence with Mind, since what we know as Mind is a series of phenomenal manifestations.... Nor can we identify this Absolute Existence with Matter, since what we know as Matter is a series of phenomenal manifestations.... Absolute Existence, therefore,—the Reality which persists independently of us, and of which Mind and Matter are the phenomenal manifestations,—cannot be identified either with Mind or with Matter. Thus is Materialism included in the same condemnation with Idealism.... See then how far we have travelled from the scholastic theory of occult substrata underlying each group of phenomena. These substrata were but the ghosts of the phenomena themselves; behind the tree or the mountain a sort of phantom tree or mountain, which persists after the body of perception has gone away with the departure of the percipient mind. Clearly this is no scientific interpretation of the facts, but is rather a specimen of naive barbaric thought surviving in metaphysics. The tree or mountain being groups of phenomena, what we assert as persisting independently of the percipient mind is a something which we are unable to condition either as tree or as mountain.

"And now we come down to the very bottom of the problem. Since we do postulate Absolute Existence, and do not postulate a particular occult substance underlying each group of phenomena, are we to be understood as implying that there is a single Being of which all phenomena, internal and external to consciousness, are manifestations? Such must seem to be the inevitable conclusion, since we are able to carry on thinking at all only under the relations of Difference and No-difference.... It may seem that, since we cannot attribute to the Absolute Reality any relations of Difference, we must positively ascribe to it No-difference. Or, what is the same thing, in refusing to predicate multiplicity of it, do we not virtually predicate of it unity? We do, simply because we cannot think without so doing."[38]

A single Absolute Reality being thus posited, our author proceeds, towards the close of his work, to argue that as this Reality cannot be conceived as limited either in space or time, it constitutes a Being which corresponds with our essential conception of Deity. True it is devoid of certain accessory attributes, such as personality, intelligence, and volition; but for this very reason, it is insisted, the theistic ideal as thus presented is a purer, and therefore a better, ideal than has ever been presented before. Nay, it is the highest possible form of this ideal, as the following considerations will show. In what has consisted that continuous purification of Theism which the history of thought shows to have been effected, from the grossest form of belief in supernatural agency as exhibited in Fetichism, through its more refined form as exhibited in Polytheism, to its still more refined form as exhibited in Monotheism? In nothing but in a continuous process of what Mr. Fiske calls "deanthropomorphisation." Consequently, must we not conclude that when we carry this process yet one step further, and divest our conception of Deity of all the yet lingering remnants of anthropomorphism which occur in the current conceptions of Deity, we are but still further purifying that conception? Assuredly, the attributes of personality, intelligence, and so forth, are only known as attributes of Humanity, and therefore to ascribe them to Deity is but to foster, in a more refined form, the anthropomorphic teachings of previous religions. But if we carefully refuse to limit Deity by the ascription of any human attributes whatever, and if the only attributes which we do ascribe are such as on grounds of pure reason alone we are compelled to ascribe, must we not conclude that the form of Theism which results is the purest and the most refined form in which it is possible for Theism to exist? "From the anthropomorphic point of view it will quite naturally be urged in objection, that this apparently desirable result is reached through the degradation of Deity from an 'intelligent personality' to a 'blind force,' and is therefore in reality an undesirable and perhaps quasi-atheistic result."[39] But the question which really presents itself is, "theologically phrased, whether the creature is to be taken as a measure of the Creator. Scientifically phrased, the question is whether the highest form of Being as yet suggested to one petty race of creatures by its ephemeral experience of what is going on in one tiny corner of the universe, is necessarily to be taken as the equivalent of that absolutely highest form of Being in which all the possibilities of existence are alike comprehended."[40] Therefore, in conclusion, "whether or not it is true that, within the bounds of the phenomenal universe the highest type of existence is that which we know as humanity, the conclusion is in every way forced upon us that, quite independently of limiting conditions in space or time, there is a form of Being which can neither be assimilated to humanity nor to any lower type of existence. We have no alternative, therefore, but to regard it as higher than humanity, even 'as the heavens are higher than the earth,' and except for the intellectual arrogance which the arguments of theologians show lurking beneath their expressions of humility, there is no reason why this admission should not be made unreservedly, without the anthropomorphic qualifications by which its effect is commonly nullified. The time is surely coming when the slowness of men in accepting such a conclusion will be marvelled at, and when the very inadequacy of human language to express Divinity will be regarded as a reason for a deeper faith and more solemn adoration."[41]

I have now sufficiently detailed the leading principles of Cosmic Theism to render a clear and just conception of those fundamental parts of the system which I am about to criticise; but it is needless to say that, for all minor details of this system, I must refer those who may not already have perused them to Mr. Fiske's somewhat elaborate essays. In now beginning my criticisms, it may be well to state at the outset, that they are to be restricted to the philosophical aspect of the subject. With matters of sentiment I do not intend to deal,—partly because to do so would be unduly to extend this essay, and partly also because I believe that, so far as the acceptance or the rejection of Cosmic Theism is to be determined by sentiment, much, if not all, will depend on individual habits of thought. For whether or not Cosmic Theism is to be regarded as a religion adapted to the needs of any individual man, will depend on what these needs are felt to be by that man himself: we cannot assert magisterially that this religion must be adapted to his needs because we have found it to be adapted to our own. And if it is retorted that, human nature being everywhere the same, a form of religion that is adapted to one man must on this account be adapted to another, I reply that it is not so. For if a man who is what Mr. Fiske calls an "Anthropomorphic Theist" finds from experience that his system of religion—say Christianity—creates and sustains a class of emotions and general habits of thought which he feels to be the highest and the best of which he is capable, it is useless for a "Cosmic Theist" to offer such a man another system of religion, in which the conditions essential to the existence of these particular emotions and habits of thought are manifestly absent. For such a man cannot but feel that the proffered substitution would be tantamount, if accepted, to an utter destruction of all that he regards as essentially religious. He will tell us that he finds it perfectly easy to understand and to appreciate those feelings of vague awe and "worship of the silent kind" which the Cosmic Theist declares to be fostered by Cosmic Theism; but he will also tell us that those feelings, which he has experienced with equal vividness under his own system of Anthropomorphic Theism, are to him but as non-religious dross compared with the unspeakable felicity of holding definite commune with the Almighty and Most Merciful, or of rendering worship that is a glad hosanna—a fearless shout of joy. On the other hand, I believe that it is possible for philosophic habits of thought so to discipline the mind that the feelings of vague awe and silent worship in the presence of an appalling Mystery become more deep and steady than a theist proper can well believe. It is therefore impossible that either party can fully appreciate those sentiments of the other which they have never fully experienced themselves; for even in those cases where an anthropomorphic theist has been compelled to abandon his creed, as the change must take place in mature life, his tone of mind has been determined before it does take place; and therefore in sentiment, though not in faith, he is more or less of a theist for the rest of his life: the only effect of the change is to create a troubled interference between his desires and his beliefs.

However, I do not intend to develop this branch of the subject further than thus to point out, in a general way, that religion-mongers as a class are apt to show too little regard for the sentiments, as distinguished from the beliefs, of those to whom they offer their wares. But although I do not intend to constitute myself a champion of theology by pointing out the defects of Cosmic Theism in the aspect which it presents to current modes of thought, there is one such defect which I must here dwell upon, because we shall afterwards have occasion to refer to it. A theologian may very naturally make this objection to Cosmic Theism as presented by Mr. Fiske—viz., that the argument on which this philosopher throughout relies as a self-evident demonstration that the new system of Theism is a further and a final improvement on all the previous systems of Theism, is a fallacious argument. As we have already seen, this argument is, that as the progress in the purification of Theism has throughout consisted in a process of "deanthropomorphisation," therefore the terminal phase in this process, which Cosmic Theism introduces, must be still in the direction of that progress. But to this argument a theologian may not unreasonably object, that this terminal phase differs from all the previous phases in one all-important feature—viz., in effecting a total abolition of the anthropomorphic element. Before, therefore, it can be shown that this terminal phase is a further development of Theism, it must he shown that Theism still remains Theism after this hitherto characteristic element has been removed. If it is true, as Mr. Fiske very properly insists, that all the various forms of belief in God have thus far had this as a common factor, that they ascribed to God the attributes of Man; it becomes a question whether we may properly abstract this hitherto invariable factor of a belief, and still call that belief by the same name. Or, to put the matter in another light, as cosmists maintain that Theism, in all the phases of its development, has been the product of a probably erroneous theory of personal agency in nature, when this theory is expressly discarded—as it is by the doctrine of the Unknowable—is it philosophically legitimate for cosmists to render their theory of things in terms which belong to the totally different theory which they discard? No doubt it is true that the progressive refinement of Theism has throughout consisted in a progressive discarding of anthropomorphic qualities; but this fact does not touch the consideration that, when we proceed to strip off the last remnants of these qualities, we are committing an act which differs toto coelo from all the previous acts which are cited as precedents; for by this terminal act we are not, as heretofore, refining the theory of Theism—we are completely transforming it by removing an element which, both genetically and historically, would seem to constitute the very essence of Theism.

Or the case may be presented in yet another light. The only use of terms, whether in daily talk or in philosophical disquisition, is that of designating certain things or attributes to which by general custom we agree to affix them; so that if anyone applies a term to some thing or attribute which general custom does not warrant him in so applying, he is merely laying himself open to the charge of abusing that term. Now apply these elementary principles to the case before us. We have but to think of the disgust with which the vast majority of living persons would regard the sense in which Mr. Fiske uses the term "Theism," to perceive how intimate is the association of that term with the idea of a Personal God. Such persons will feel strongly that, by this final act of purification, Mr. Fiske has simply purified the Deity altogether out of existence. And I scarcely think it is here competent to reply that all previous acts of purification were at first similarly regarded as destructive, because it is evident that none of these previous acts affected, as this one does, the central core of Theism. And, lastly, if it should be still further objected, that by declaring the theory of Personal Agency the central core of Theism, I am begging the question as to the appropriateness of Mr. Fiske's use of the word "Theism,"—seeing he appears to regard the essential meaning of this word to be that of a postulation of merely Causal Agency,—I answer, More of this anon; but meanwhile let it be observed that any charge of question-begging lies rather at the door of Mr. Fiske, in that he assumes, without any expressed justification, that the essence of Theism does consist in such a postulation and in nothing more. And as he unquestionably has against him the present world of theists no less than the history of Theism in the past, I do not see how he is to meet this charge except by confessing to an abuse of the term in question.

I will now proceed to examine the structure of Cosmic Theism. We are all, I suppose, at one in allowing that there are only three "verbally intelligible" theories of the universe,—viz., that it is self-existent, or that it is self-created, or that it has been created by some other and external Being. It is usual to call the first of these theories Atheism, the second Pantheism, and the third Theism. Now as there are here three distinct nameable theories, it is necessary, if the term "Cosmic Theism" is to be justified as an appropriate term, that the particular theory which it designates should be shown to be in its essence theistic—i.e., that the theory should present those distinguishing features in virtue of which Theism differs from Atheism on the one hand, and from Pantheism on the other. Now what are these features? The postulate of an Eternal Self-existing Something is common to Theism and to Atheism. Here Atheism ends. Theism, however, is generally said to assume Personality, Intelligence, and Creative Power as attributes of the single self-existing substance. Lastly, Pantheism assumes the Something now existing to have been self-created. To which, then, of these distinct theories is Cosmic Theism most nearly allied? For the purpose of answering this question, I shall render that theory in terms of a formula which Mr. Fiske presents as a full and complete statement of the theory:—"There exists a POWER, to which no limit in space or time is conceivable, of which all phenomena, as presented in consciousness, are manifestations, but which we can only know through these manifestations." But although the word "Power" is here so strongly emphasised, we are elsewhere told that it is not to be regarded as having more than a strictly relative or symbolic meaning; so that, in point of fact, some more neutral word, such as "Something," "Being," or "Substance," ought in strictness to be here substituted for the word "Power." Well, if this is done, we have the postulation of a Being which is self-existing, infinite, and eternal—relatively, at all events, to our powers of conception. Thus far, therefore, it would seem that we are still on the common standing-ground of Atheism, Pantheism, and Theism; for as it is not, so far as I can see, incumbent on Pantheism to affirm that "thought is a measure of things," the apparent or relative eternity which the Primal Something must be supposed to present may not be actual or absolute eternity. Nevertheless, as Mr. Fiske, by predicating Divinity of the Primal Something, implicitly attributes to it the quality of an eternal self-existence, I infer that Cosmic Theism may be concluded at this point to part company with Pantheism. There remain, then, Theism and Atheism.

Now undoubtedly, at first sight, Cosmic Theism appears to differ from Atheism in one all-important particular. For we have seen that, by means of a subtle though perfectly logical argument, Cosmic Philosophy has evolved this conclusion—that all phenomena as presented in consciousness are manifestations of a not improbable Single Self-existing Power, of whose existence these manifestations alone can make us cognisant. From which it apparently follows, that this hypothetical Power must be regarded as existing out of necessary relation to the phenomenal universe; that it is, therefore, beyond question "Absolute Being;" and that, as such, we are entitled to call it Deity. But in the train of reasoning of which this is a very condensed epitome, it is evident that the legitimacy of denominating this Absolute Being Deity, must depend on the exact meaning which we attach to the word "Absolute"—and this, be it observed, quite apart from the question, before touched upon, as to whether Personality and Intelligence are not to be considered as attributes essential to Deity. In what sense, then, is the word "Absolute" used? It is used in this sense. As from the relativity of knowledge we cannot know things in themselves, but only symbolical representations of such things, therefore things in themselves are absolute to consciousness: but analysis shows that we cannot conceivably predicate Difference among things in themselves, so that we are at liberty, with due diffidence, to predicate of them No-difference: hence the noumena of the schoolmen admit of being collected into a summum genus of noumenal existence; and since, before their colligation noumena were severally absolute, after their colligation they become collectively absolute: therefore it is legitimate to designate this sum-total of noumenal existence, "Absolute Being." Now there is clearly no exception to be taken to the formal accuracy of this reasoning; the only question is as to whether the "Absolute Being" which it evolves is absolute in the sense required by Theism. I confess that to me this Being appears to be absolute in a widely different sense from that in which Deity must be regarded as absolute. For this Being is thus seen to be absolute in no other sense than as holding—to quote from Mr. Fiske—"existence independent of the conditions of the process of knowing." In other words, it is absolute only as standing out of necessary relation to human consciousness. But Theism requires, as an essential feature, that Deity should be absolute as standing out of necessary relation to all else. Before, therefore, the Absolute Being of Cosmism can be shown, by the reasoning adopted, to deserve, even in part, the appellation of Deity, it must be shown that there is no other mode of Being in existence save our own subjective consciousness and the Absolute Reality which becomes objective to it through the world of phenomena. But any attempt to establish this position would involve a disregard of the doctrine that knowledge is relative; and to do this, it is needless to say, would be to destroy the basis of the argument whereby the Absolute Being of Cosmism was posited.

Or, to state this part of the criticism in other words, as the first step in justifying the predication of Deity, it must be shown that the Being of which the predication is made is absolute, and this not merely as independent of human consciousness, but as independent of the whole noumenal universe—Deity itself alone excepted. That is, the Being of which Deity is predicated must be Unconditioned. Hence it is incumbent on Cosmic Theism to prove, either that the Causal Agent which it denominates Deity is itself the whole noumenal universe, or that it created the rest of a noumenal universe; else there is nothing to show that this Causal Agent was not itself created—seeing that, even if we assume the existence of a God, there is nothing to indicate that the Causal Agent of Cosmism is that God.

It would appear therefore from this, that whatever else the Cosmist's theory of things may be, it certainly is not Theism; and I think that closer inspection will tend to confirm this judgment. To this then let us proceed.

Mr. Fiske is very hard on the atheists, and so will probably repudiate with scorn any insinuations to the effect that his theory of things is "quasi-atheistic." Nevertheless, it seems to me that he is very unjust to the atheists, in that while he spares no pains to "purify" and "refine" the theory of the theists, so as at last to leave nothing but what he regards as the distilled essence of Theism behind; he habitually leaves the theory of the atheists as he finds it, without making any attempt either to "purify" it by removing its weak and unnecessary ingredients, or to "refine" it by adding such sublimated ingredients as modern speculation has supplied. Thus, while he despises the atheists of the eighteenth century for their irrationality in believing in the self-existence of a phenomenal universe, and reviles them for their irreligion in denying that "the religious sentiment needed satisfaction;" he does not wait to inquire whether, in its essential substance, the theory of these men is not the one that has proved itself best able to withstand the grinding action of more recent thought. But let us in fairness ask, What was the essential substance of that theory? Apparently it was the bare statement of the unthinkable fact that Something Is. It therefore seems to me useless in Mr. Fiske to lay so much stress on the fact that this Something was originally identified by atheists with the phenomenal universe. It seems useless to do this, because such identification is clearly no part of the essence of Atheism, which, as just stated, I take to consist in the single dogma of self-existence as itself sufficient to constitute a theory of things. And, if so, it is a matter of scarcely any moment, as regards that theory, whether we are immediately cognisant of that which is self-existent, or only become so through the world of phenomena—the vital point of the theory being, that Self-existence, wherever posited, is itself the only admissible explanation of phenomena. Or, in other words, it does not seem that there is anything in the atheistic theory, as such, which is incompatible with the doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge; so that whatever cogency there may be in the train of reasoning whereby a single Causal Agent is deduced from that doctrine, it would seem that an atheist has as much right to the benefit of this reasoning as a theist; and there is thus no more apparent reason why this single Causal Agent should be appropriated as the God of Theism, than that it should be appropriated as the Self-existing X of Atheism. Indeed, there seems to be less reason. For an atheist of to-day may very properly argue:—'So far from beholding anything divine in this Single Being absolute to human consciousness, it is just precisely the form of Being which my theory postulates as the Self-existing All. In order to constitute such a Being God, it must be shown, as we have already seen, to be something more than a merely Causal Agent which is absolute in the grotesquely restricted sense of being independent of 'one petty race of creatures with an ephemeral experience of what is going on in one tiny corner of the universe;' it must be shown to be something more than absolute even in the wholly unrestricted sense of being Unconditioned; it must be shown to possess such other attributes as are distinctive of Deity. For I maintain that even Unconditioned Being, merely as such, would only then have a right to the name of God when it has been shown that the theory of Theism has a right to monopolise the doctrine of Relativity.'

In thus endeavouring to "purify" the theory of Atheism, by divesting it of all superfluous accessories, and laying bare what I conceive to be its essential substance; it may be well to state that, even apart from their irreligious character, I have no sympathy with the atheists of the past century. I mean, that these men do not seem to me to deserve any credit for advanced powers of speculation merely because they adopted a theory of things which in its essential features now promises to be the most enduring. For it is evident that the strength of this theory now lies in its simplicity,—in its undertaking to explain, so far as explanation is possible, the sum-total of phenomena by the single postulate of self-existence. But it seems to me that in the last century there were no sufficient data for rendering such a theory of things a rational theory; for so long as the quality of self-existence was supposed to reside in phenomena themselves, the very simplicity of the theory, as expressed in words, must have seemed to render it inapplicable as a reasonable theory of things. The astounding variety, complexity, and harmony which are everywhere so conspicuous in the world of phenomena must have seemed to necessitate as an explanation some one integrating cause; and it is impossible that in the eighteenth century any such integrating cause can have been conceivable other than Intelligence. Therefore I think, with Mr. Fiske, that the atheists of the eighteenth century were irrational in applying their single postulate of self-existence as alone a sufficient explanation of things. But of course the aspect of the case is now completely changed, when we regard it in all the flood of light which has been shed on it by recent science, physical and speculative. For the demonstration of the fact that energy is indestructible, coupled with the corollary that every so-called natural law is a physically necessary consequence of that fact, clearly supply us with a completely novel datum as the ultimate source of experience—and a datum, moreover, which is as different as can well be imagined from the ever-changing, ever-fleeting, world of phenomena. We have, therefore, but to apply the postulate of self-existence to this single ultimate datum, and we have a theory of things as rational as the Atheism of the last century was irrational. Nevertheless, that this theory is more akin to the Atheism of the last century than to any other theory of that time, is, I think, unquestionable; for while we retain the central doctrine of self-existence as alone a scientifically admissible, or non-gratuitous, explanation of things, we only change the original theory by transferring the application of this doctrine from the world of manifestations to that which causes the manifestations: we do not resort to any of the additional doctrines whereby the other theories of the universe were distinguished from the theory of Atheism in its original form. However, as by our recognition of the relativity of knowledge we are precluded from dogmatically denying any theory of the universe that may be proposed, it would clearly be erroneous to identify the doctrine of the Unknowable with the theory of Atheism: all we can say is, that, so far as speculative thought can soar, the permanent self-existence of an inconceivable Something, which manifests itself to consciousness as force and matter, constitutes the only datum that can be shown to be required for the purposes of a rational ontology.

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