A Candid Examination of Theism
by George John Romanes
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BOSTON: HOUGHTON, OSGOOD, & COMPANY. 1878. [All rights reserved]

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The following essay was written several years ago; but I have hitherto refrained from publishing it, lest, after having done so, I should find that more mature thought had modified the conclusions which the essay sets forth. Judging, however, that it is now more than ever improbable that I shall myself be able to detect any errors in my reasoning, I feel that it is time to present the latter to the contemplation of other minds; and in doing so, I make this explanation only because I feel it desirable to state at the outset that the present treatise was written before the publication of Mr. Mill's treatise on the same subject. It is desirable to make this statement, first, because in several instances the trains of reasoning in the two essays are parallel, and next, because in other instances I have quoted passages from Mr. Mill's essay in connections which would be scarcely intelligible were it not understood that these passages are insertions made after the present essay had been completed. I have also added several supplementary essays which have been written since the main essay was finished.

It is desirable further to observe, that the only reason why I publish this edition anonymously is because I feel very strongly that, in matters of the kind with which the present essay deals, opinions and arguments should be allowed to produce the exact degree of influence to which as opinions and arguments they are entitled: they should be permitted to stand upon their own intrinsic merits alone, and quite beyond the shadow of that unfair prejudication which cannot but arise so soon as their author's authority, or absence of authority, becomes known. Notwithstanding this avowal, however, I fear that many who glance over the following pages will read in the "Physicus" of the first one a very different motive. There is at the present time a wonderfully wide-spread sentiment pervading all classes of society—a sentiment which it would not be easy to define, but the practical outcome of which is, that to discuss the question of which this essay treats is, in some way or other, morally wrong. Many, therefore, who share this sentiment will doubtless attribute my reticence to a puerile fear on my part to meet it. I can only say that such is not the case. Although I allude to this sentiment with all respect—believing as I do that it is an offshoot from the stock which contains all that is best and greatest in human nature—nevertheless it seems to me impossible to deny that the sentiment in question is as unreasonable as the frame of mind which harbours it must be unreasoning. If there is no God, where can be the harm in our examining the spurious evidence of his existence? If there is a God, surely our first duty towards him must be to exert to our utmost, in our attempts to find him, the most noble faculty with which he has endowed us—as carefully to investigate the evidence which he has seen fit to furnish of his own existence as we investigate the evidence of inferior things in his dependent creation. To say that there is one rule or method for ascertaining truth in the latter case, which it is not legitimate to apply in the former case, is merely a covert way of saying that the Deity, if he exists, has not supplied us with rational evidence of his existence. For my own part, I feel that such an assertion cannot but embody far more unworthy conceptions of a Personal God than are represented by any amount of earnest inquiry into whatever evidence of his existence there may be present; but, neglecting this reflection, if there is a God, it is certain that reason is the faculty by which he has enabled man to discover truth, and it is no less certain that the scientific methods have proved themselves by far the most trustworthy for reason to adopt. To my mind, therefore, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that, looking to this undoubted pre-eminence of the scientific methods as ways to truth, whether or not there is a God, the question as to his existence is both more morally and more reverently contemplated if we regard it purely as a problem for methodical analysis to solve, than if we regard it in any other light. Or, stating the case in other words, I believe that in whatever degree we intentionally abstain from using in this case what we know to be the most trustworthy methods of inquiry in other cases, in that degree are we either unworthily closing our eyes to a dreaded truth, or we are guilty of the worst among human sins—"Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." If it is said that, supposing man to be in a state of probation, faith, and not reason, must be the instrument of his trial, I am ready to admit the validity of the remark; but I must also ask it to be remembered, that unless faith has some basis of reason whereon to rest, it differs in nothing from superstition; and hence that it is still our duty to investigate the rational standing of the question before us by the scientific methods alone. And I may here observe parenthetically, that the same reasoning applies to all investigations concerning the reality of a supposed revelation. With such investigations, however, the present essay has nothing to do, although, I may remark that if there is any evidence of a Divine Mind discernible in the structure of a professing revelation, such evidence, in whatever degree present, would be of the best possible kind for substantiating the hypothesis of Theism.

Such being, then, what I conceive the only reasonable, as well as the most truly moral, way of regarding the question to be discussed in the following pages, even if the conclusions yielded by this discussion were more negative than they are, I should deem it culpable cowardice in me for this reason to publish anonymously. For even if an inquiry of the present kind could ever result in a final demonstration of Atheism, there might be much for its author to regret, but nothing for him to be ashamed of; and, by parity of reasoning, in whatever degree the result of such an inquiry is seen to have a tendency to negative the theistic theory, the author should not be ashamed candidly to acknowledge his conviction as to the degree of such tendency, provided only that his conviction is an honest one, and that he is conscious of its having been reached by using his faculties with the utmost care of which he is capable.

If it is retorted that the question to be dealt with is of so ultimate a character that even the scientific methods are here untrustworthy, I reply that they are nevertheless the best methods available, and hence that the retort is without pertinence: the question is still to be regarded as a scientific one, although we may perceive that neither an affirmative nor a negative answer can be given to it with any approach to a full demonstration. But if the question is thus conceded to be one falling within the legitimate scope of rational inquiry, it follows that the mere fact of demonstrative certainty being here antecedently impossible should not deter us from instituting the inquiry. It is a well-recognised principle of scientific research, that however difficult or impossible it may be to prove a given theory true or false, the theory should nevertheless be tested, so far as it admits of being tested, by the full rigour of the scientific methods. Where demonstration cannot be hoped for, it still remains desirable to reduce the question at issue to the last analysis of which it is capable.

Adopting these principles, therefore, I have endeavoured in the following analysis to fix the precise standing of the evidence in favour of the theory of Theism, when the latter is viewed in all the flood of light which the progress of modern science—physical and speculative—has shed upon it. And forasmuch as it is impossible that demonstrated truth can ever be shown untrue, and forasmuch as the demonstrated truths on which the present examination rests are the most fundamental which it is possible for the human mind to reach, I do not think it presumptuous to assert what appears to me a necessary deduction from these facts—namely, that, possible errors in reasoning apart, the rational position of Theism as here defined must remain without material modification as long as our intelligence remains human.

LONDON, 1878.

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1. Introductory.

2. Object of the chapter.

3. The Argument from the Inconceivability of Self-existence.

4. The Argument from the Desirability of there being a God.

5. The Argument from the Presence of Human Aspirations.

6. The Argument from Consciousness.

7. The Argument for a First Cause.



8. Introductory.

9. Examination of the Argument, and the independent coincidence of my views regarding it with those of Mr. Mill.

10. Locke's exposition of the Argument, and a re-enunciation of it in the form of a Syllogism.

11. The Syllogism defective in that it cannot explain Mind in the abstract. Mill quoted and answered. This defect in the Syllogism clearly defined.

12. The Syllogism further defective, in that it assumes Intelligence to be the only possible cause of Intelligence. This assumption amounts to begging the whole question as to the being of a God. Inconceivability of Matter thinking no proof that it may not think. Locke himself strangely concedes this. His fallacies and self-contradictions pointed out in an Appendix.

13. Objector to the Syllogism need not be a Materialist, but assuming that he is one, he is as much entitled to the hypothesis that Matter thinks as a Theist is to his hypothesis that it does not.

14. The two hypotheses are thus of exactly equivalent value, save that while Theism is arbitrary, Materialism has a certain basis of fact to rest upon. This basis defined in a footnote, where also Professor Clifford's essay on "Body and Mind" is briefly examined. Difficulty of estimating the worth of the Argument as to the most conceivable being most likely true.

15. Locke's comparison between certainty of the Inconceivability Argument as applied to Theism and to mathematics shown to contain a virtual though not a formal fallacy.

16. Summary of considerations as to the value of this Argument from Inconceivability.

17. Introductory to the other Arguments in favour of the conclusion that only Intelligence can have caused Intelligence.

18. Locke's presentation of the view that the cause must contain all that is contained in the effects. His statements contradicted. Mill quoted to show that the analogy of Nature is against the doctrine of higher perfections never growing out of lower ones.

19. Enunciation of the last of the Arguments in favour of the proposition that only Intelligence can cause Intelligence. Hamilton quoted to show that in his philosophy the entire question as to the being of a God hinges upon that as to whether or not human volitions are caused.

20. Absurdity of the old theory of Free-will. Hamilton erroneously identified this theory with the fact that we possess a moral sense. His resulting dilemma.

21. Although Hamilton was wrong in thus identifying genuine fact with spurious theory, yet his Argument from the fact of our having a moral sense remains to be considered.

22. The question here is merely as to whether or not the presence of the moral sense can be explained by natural causes. A priori probability of the moral sense having been evolved. A posteriori confirmation supplied by Utilitarianism, &c.

23. Mill's presentation of the Argument a resuscitation of Paley's. His criticism on Paley shown to be unfair.

24. The real fallacy of Paley's presentation pointed out.

25. The same fallacy pointed out in another way.

26. Paley's typical case quoted and examined, in order to illustrate the root fallacy of his Argument from Design. Mill's observations upon this Argument criticised.

27. Result yielded by the present analysis of the Argument from Design. The Argument shown to be a petitio principii.



28. My belief that no competent writer in favour of the Argument from Design could have written upon it at all, had it not been for his instinctive appreciation of the much more important Argument from General Laws. The nature of this Argument stated, and its cogency insisted upon.

29. The rational standing of the Argument from General Laws prior to the enunciation of the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy. The Rev. Baden Powell quoted.

30. The nature of General Laws when these are interpreted in terms of the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy. The word "Law" defined in terms of this doctrine.

31. The rational standing of the Argument from General Laws subsequent to the enunciation of the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy.

32. The self-evolution of General Laws, or the objective aspect of the question as to whether we may infer the presence of Mind in Nature because Nature admits of being intelligently interrogated.

33. The subjective aspect of this question, according to the data afforded by evolutionary psychology.

34. Correspondence between products due to human intelligence and products supposed due to Divine Intelligence, a correspondence which is only generic. Illustrations drawn from prodigality in Nature. Further illustrations. Illogical manner in which natural theologians deal with such difficulties. The generic resemblance contemplated is just what we should expect to find, if the doctrine of evolutionary psychology be true.

35. The last three sections parenthetical. Necessary nature of the conclusion which follows from the last five sections.



36. Emphatic re-statement of the conclusion reached in the previous chapter. This conclusion shown to be of merely scientific, and not of logical conclusiveness. Preparation for considering the question in its purely logical form.

37. The logic of probability in general explained, and canon of interpretation enunciated.

38. Application of this canon to the particular case of Theism.

39. Exposition of the logical state of the question.

40. Exposition continued.

41. Result of the exposition; "Suspended Judgment" the only logical attitude of mind with regard to the question of Theism.



42. Statement of the position to which the question of Theism has been reduced by the foregoing analysis.

43. Distinction between a scientific and a metaphysical teleology. Statement of the latter in legitimate terms. Criticism of this statement legitimately made on the side of Atheism as being gratuitous. Impartial judgment on this criticism.

44. Examination of the question as to whether the metaphysical system of teleology is really destitute of all rational support. Pleading of a supposed Theist in support of the system. The principle of correlation of general laws. The complexity of Nature.

45. Summary of the Theist's pleading, and judgment that it fairly removes from the hypothesis of metaphysical teleology the charge of the latter being gratuitous.

46. Examination of the degree of probability that is presented by the hypothesis of metaphysical teleology, comprising an examination of the Theistic objection to the scientific train of reasoning on account of its symbolism, and showing that a no less cogent objection lies against the metaphysical train of reasoning on account of its embodying the supposition of unknowable causes. Distinction between "inconceivability" in a formal or symbolical, and in a material or realisable sense. Reply of a supposed Atheist to the previous pleading of the supposed Theist. Herbert Spencer quoted on inconceivability of cosmic evolution as due to Mind.

47. Final judgment on the rational value of a metaphysical system of teleology. Distinction between "inconceivability" in an absolute and in a relative sense. Final judgment on the attitude of mind which it is rational to adopt towards the question of Theism. The desirability and the rationality of tolerance in this particular case.



48. General summary of the whole essay.

49. Concluding remarks.



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.


Examination of Mr. Herbert Spencer's Theistical Argument, and criticism to show that it is inadequate to sustain the doctrine of "Cosmic Theism" which Mr. Fiske endeavours to rear upon it.


A Critical Examination of the Rev. Professor Flint's work on "Theism".


On the Speculative Standing of Materialism.


On the Final Mystery of Things.

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Sec. 1. Few subjects have occupied so much attention among speculative thinkers as that which relates to the being of God. Notwithstanding, however, the great amount that has been written on this subject, I am not aware that any one has successfully endeavoured to approach it, on all its various sides, from the ground of pure reason alone, and thus to fix, as nearly as possible, the exact position which, in pure reason, this subject ought to occupy. Perhaps it will be thought that an exception to this statement ought to be made in favour of John Stuart Mill's posthumous essay on Theism; but from my great respect for this author, I should rather be inclined to regard that essay as a criticism on illogical arguments, than as a careful or matured attempt to formulate the strictly rational status of the question in all its bearings. Nevertheless, as this essay is in some respects the most scientific, just, and cogent, which has yet appeared on the subject of which it treats, and as anything which came from the pen of that great and accurate thinker is deserving of the most serious attention, I shall carefully consider his views throughout the course of the following pages.

Seeing then that, with this partial exception, no competent writer has hitherto endeavoured once for all to settle the long-standing question as to the rational probability of Theism, I cannot but feel that any attempt, however imperfect, to do this, will be welcome to thinkers of every school—the more so in view of the fact that the prodigious rapidity which of late years has marked the advance both of physical and of speculative science, has afforded highly valuable data for assisting us towards a reasonable and, I think, a final decision as to the strictly logical standing of this important matter. However, be my attempt welcome or no, I feel that it is my obvious duty to publish the results which have been yielded by an honest and careful analysis.

Sec. 2. I may most fitly begin this analysis by briefly disposing of such arguments in favour of Theism as are manifestly erroneous. And I do this the more willingly because, as these arguments are at the present time most in vogue, an exposure of their fallacies may perhaps deter our popular apologists of the future from drawing upon themselves the silent contempt of every reader whose intellect is not either prejudiced or imbecile.

Sec. 3. A favourite piece of apologetic juggling is that of first demolishing Atheism, Pantheism, Materialism, &c., by successively calling upon them to explain the mystery of self-existence, and then tacitly assuming that the need of such an explanation is absent in the case of Theism—as though the attribute in question were more conceivable when posited in a Deity than when posited elsewhere.

It is, I hope, unnecessary to observe that, so far as the ultimate mystery of existence is concerned, any and every theory of things is equally entitled to the inexplicable fact that something is; and that any endeavour on the part of the votaries of one theory to shift from themselves to the votaries of another theory the onus of explaining the necessarily inexplicable, is an instance of irrationality which borders on the ludicrous.

Sec. 4. Another argument, or semblance of an argument, is the very prevalent one, "Our heart requires a God; therefore it is probable that there is a God:" as though such a subjective necessity, even if made out, could ever prove an objective existence.[1]

Sec. 5. If it is said that the theistic aspirations of the human heart, by the mere fact of their presence, point to the existence of a God as to their explanatory cause, I answer that the argument would only be valid after the possibility of any more proximate causes having been in action has been excluded—else the theistic explanation violates the fundamental rule of science, the Law of Parcimony, or the law which forbids us to assume the action of more remote causes where more proximate ones are found sufficient to explain the effects. Consequently, the validity of the argument now under consideration is inversely proportional to the number of possibilities there are of the aspirations in question being due to the agency of physical causes; and forasmuch as our ignorance of psychological causation is well-nigh total, the Law of Parcimony forbids us to allow any determinate degree of logical value to the present argument. In other words, we must not use the absence of knowledge as equivalent to its presence—must not argue from our ignorance of psychological possibilities, as though this ignorance were knowledge of corresponding impossibilities. The burden of proof thus lies on the side of Theism, and from the nature of the case this burden cannot be discharged until the science of psychology shall have been fully perfected. I may add that, for my own part, I cannot help feeling that, even in the present embryonic condition of this science, we are not without some indications of the manner in which the aspirations in question arose; but even were this not so, the above considerations prove that the argument before us is invalid. If it is retorted that the fact of these aspirations having had proximate causes to account for their origin, even if made out, would not negative the inference of these being due to a Deity as to their ultimate cause; I answer that this is not to use the argument from the presence of these aspirations; it is merely to beg the question as to the being of a God.

Sec. 6. Next, we may consider the argument from consciousness. Many persons ground their belief in the existence of a Deity upon a real or supposed necessity of their own subjective thought. I say "real or supposed," because, in its bearing upon rational argument, it is of no consequence of which character the alleged necessity actually is. Even if the necessity of thought be real, all that the fact entitles the thinker to affirm is, that it is impossible for him, by any effort of thinking, to rid himself of the persuasion that God exists; he is not entitled to affirm that this persuasion is necessarily bound up with the constitution of the human mind. Or, as Mill puts it, "One man cannot by proclaiming with ever so much confidence that he perceives an object, convince other people that they see it too.... When no claim is set up to any peculiar gift, but we are told that all of us are as capable of seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels, nay, that we actually do so, and when the utmost effort of which we are capable fails to make us aware of what we are told, we perceive this supposed universal faculty of intuition is but

'The Dark Lantern of the Spirit Which none see by but those who bear it.'"

It is thus, I think, abundantly certain that the present argument must, from its very nature, be powerless as an argument to anyone save its assertor; as a matter of fact, the alleged necessity of thought is not universal; it is peculiar to those who employ the argument.

And now, it is but just to go one step further and to question whether the alleged necessity of thought is, in any case and properly speaking, a real necessity. Unless those who advance the present argument are the victims of some mental aberration, it is overwhelmingly improbable that their minds should differ in a fundamental and important attribute from the minds of the vast majority of their species. Or, to continue the above quotation, "They may fairly be asked to consider, whether it is not more likely that they are mistaken as to the origin of an impression in their minds, than that others are ignorant of the very existence of an impression in theirs." No doubt it is true that education and habits of thought may so stereotype the intellectual faculties, that at last what is conceivable to one man or generation may not be so to another;[2] but to adduce this consideration in this place would clearly be but to destroy the argument from the intuitive necessity of believing in a God.

Lastly, although superfluous, it may be well to point out that even if the impossibility of conceiving the negation of God were an universal law of human mind—which it certainly is not—the fact of his existence could not be thus proved. Doubtless it would be felt to be much more probable than it now is—as probable, for instance, if not more probable, than is the existence of an external world;—but still it would not be necessarily true.

Sec. 7. The argument from the general consent of mankind is so clearly fallacious, both as to facts and principles, that I shall pass it over and proceed at once to the last of the untenable arguments—that, namely, from the existence of a First Cause. And here I should like to express myself indebted to Mr. Mill for the following ideas:—"The cause of every change is a prior change; and such it cannot but be; for if there were no new antecedent, there would be no new consequent. If the state of facts which brings the phenomenon into existence, had existed always or for an indefinite duration, the effect also would have existed always or been produced an indefinite time ago. It is thus a necessary part of the fact of causation, within the sphere of experience, that the causes as well as the effects had a beginning in time, and were themselves caused. It would seem, therefore, that our experience, instead of furnishing an argument for a first cause, is repugnant to it; and that the very essence of causation, as it exists within the limits of our knowledge, is incompatible with a First Cause."

The rest of Mr. Mill's remarks upon the First Cause argument are tolerably obvious, and had occurred to me before the publication of his essay. I shall, however, adhere to his order of presenting them.

"But it is necessary to look more particularly into this matter, and analyse more closely the nature of the causes of which mankind have experience. For if it should turn out that though all causes have a beginning, there is in all of them a permanent element which had no beginning, this permanent element may with some justice be termed a first or universal cause, inasmuch as though not sufficient of itself to cause anything, it enters as a con-cause into all causation."

He then shows that the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy supplies us with such a datum, and thus the conclusion easily follows—"It would seem, then, that the only sense in which experience supports, in any shape, the doctrine of a First Cause, viz., as the primaeval and universal element of all causes, the First Cause can be no other than Force."

Still, however, it may be maintained that "all force is will-force." But "if there be any truth in the doctrine of Conservation of Force, ... this doctrine does not change from true to false when it reaches the field of voluntary agency. The will does not, any more than other agencies, create Force: granting that it originates motion, it has no means of doing so but by converting into that particular manifestation, a portion of Force which already existed in other forms. It is known that the source from which this portion of Force is derived, is chiefly, or entirely, the force evolved in the processes of chemical composition and decomposition which constitute the body of nutrition: the force so liberated becomes a fund upon which every muscular and every nervous action, as of a train of thought, is a draft. It is in this sense only that, according to the best lights of science, volition is an originating cause. Volition, therefore, does not answer to the idea of a First Cause; since Force must, in every instance, be assumed as prior to it; and there is not the slightest colour, derived from experience, for supposing Force itself to have been created by a volition. As far as anything can be concluded from human experience, Force has all the attributes of a thing eternal and uncreated....

"All that can be affirmed (even) by the strongest assertion of the Freedom of the Will, is that volitions are themselves uncaused and are, therefore, alone fit to be the first or universal cause. But, even assuming volitions to be uncaused, the properties of matter, so far as experience discloses, are uncaused also, and have the advantage over any particular volition, in being, so far as experience can show, eternal. Theism, therefore, in so far as it rests on the necessity of a First Cause, has no support from experience."

Such may be taken as a sufficient refutation of the argument that, as human volition is apparently a cause in nature, and moreover constitutes the basis of our conception of all causation, therefore all causation is probably volitional in character. But as this is a favourite argument with some theists, I shall introduce another quotation from Mr. Mill, which is taken from a different work.

"Volitions are not known to produce anything directly except nervous action, for the will influences even the muscles only through the nerves. Though it were granted, then, that every phenomenon has an efficient and not merely a phenomenal cause, and that volition, in the case of the particular phenomena which are known to be produced by it, is that cause; are we therefore to say with these writers that since we know of no other efficient cause, and ought not to assume one without evidence, there is no other, and volition is the direct cause of all phenomena? A more outrageous stretch of inference could hardly be made. Because among the infinite variety of the phenomena of nature there is one, namely, a particular mode of action of certain nerves which has for its cause and, as we are now supposing, for its efficient cause, a state of our mind; and because this is the only efficient cause of "which we are conscious, being the only one of which, in the nature of the case, we can be conscious, since it is the only one which exists within ourselves; does this justify us in concluding that all other phenomena must have the same kind of efficient cause with that one eminently special, narrow, and peculiarly human or animal phenomenon?" It is then shown that a logical parallel to this mode of inference is that of generalising from the one known instance of the earth being inhabited, to the conclusion that "every heavenly body without exception, sun, planet, satellite, comet, fixed star, or nebula, is inhabited, and must be so from the inherent constitution of things." After which the passage continues, "It is true there are cases in which, with acknowledged propriety, we generalise from a single instance to a multitude of instances. But they must be instances which resemble the one known instance, and not such as have no circumstance in common with it except that of being instances.... But the supporters of the volition theory ask us to infer that volition causes everything, for no other reason except that it causes one particular thing; although that one phenomenon, far from being a type of all natural phenomena, is eminently peculiar; its laws bearing scarcely any resemblance to those of any other phenomenon, whether of inorganic or of organic nature."[3]

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Sec. 8. Leaving now the obviously untenable arguments, we next come to those which, in my opinion, may properly be termed scientific.

It will be convenient to classify those as three in number; and under one or other of these heads nearly all the more intelligent advocates of Theism will be found to range themselves.

Sec. 9. We have first the argument drawn from the existence of the human mind. This is an argument which, for at least the last three centuries, and especially during the present one, has been more relied upon than any other by philosophical thinkers. It consists in the reflection that the being of our own subjective intelligence is the most certain fact which our experience supplies, that this fact demands an adequate cause for its explanation, and that the only adequate cause of our intelligence must be some other intelligence. Granting the existence of a conditioned intelligence (and no one could reasonably suppose his own intelligence to be otherwise), and the existence of an unconditioned intelligence becomes a logical necessity, unless we deny either the validity of the principle that every effect must have an adequate cause, or else that the only adequate cause of Mind is Mind.

It has been a great satisfaction to me to find that my examination of this argument—an examination which was undertaken and completed several months before Mr. Mill's essay appeared—has been minutely corroborated by that of our great logician. I mention this circumstance here, as on previous occasions, not for the petty motive of vindicating my own originality, but because in matters of this kind the accuracy of the reasoning employed, and therefore the logical validity of the conclusions attained, are guaranteed in the best possible manner, if the trains of thought have been independently pursued by different minds.

Sec. 10. Seeing that, among the advocates of this argument, Locke went so far as to maintain that by it alone he could render the existence of a Deity as certain as any mathematical demonstration, it is only fair, preparatory to our examining this argument, to present it in the words of this great thinker.

He says:—"There was a time when there was no knowing (i.e., conscious) being, and when knowledge began to be; or else there has been also a knowing being from all eternity. If it be said, there was a time when no being had any knowledge, when that eternal being was void of all understanding, I reply, that then it was impossible there should ever have been any knowledge: it being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without perception, should produce a knowing being, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones. For it is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself, sense, perception, and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle, that it should put into itself greater angles than two right ones."[4]

Now, although this argument has been more fully elaborated by other writers, the above presentation contains its whole essence. It will be seen that it has the great advantage of resting immediately upon the foundation from which all argument concerning this or any other matter, must necessarily arise, viz.,—upon the very existence of our argumentative faculty itself. For the sake of a critical examination, it is desirable to throw the argument before us into the syllogistic form. It will then stand thus:—

All known minds are caused by an unknown mind. Our mind is a known mind; therefore, our mind is caused by an unknown mind.

Sec. 11. Now the major premiss of this syllogism is inadmissible for two reasons: in the first place, it is assumed that known mind can only be caused by unknown mind; and, in the second place, even if this assumption were granted, it would not explain the existence of Mind as Mind. To take the last of these objections first, in the words of Mr. Mill, "If the mere existence of Mind is supposed to require, as a necessary antecedent, another Mind greater and more powerful, the difficulty is not removed by going one step back: the creating mind stands as much in need of another mind to be the source of its existence as the created mind. Be it remembered that we have no direct knowledge (at least apart from Revelation) of a mind which is even apparently eternal, as Force and Matter are: an eternal mind is, as far as the present argument is concerned, a simple hypothesis to account for the minds which we know to exist. Now it is essential to an hypothesis that, if admitted, it should at least remove the difficulty and account for the facts. But it does not account for mind to refer our mind to a prior mind for its origin. The problem remains unsolved, nay, rather increased."

Nevertheless, I think that it is open to a Theist to answer, "My object is not to explain the existence of Mind in the abstract, any more than it is my object to explain Existence itself in the abstract—to either of which absurd attempts Mr. Mill's reasoning would be equally applicable;—but I seek for an explanation of my own individual finite mind, which I know to have had a beginning in time, and which, therefore, in accordance with the widest and most complete analogy that experience supplies, I believe to have been caused. And if there is no other objection to my believing in Intelligence as the cause of my intelligence, than that I cannot prove my own intelligence caused, then I am satisfied to let the matter rest here; for as every argument must have some basis of assumption to stand upon, I am well pleased to find that the basis in this case is the most solid which experience can supply, viz.,—the law of causation. Fully admitting that it does not account for Mind (in the abstract) to refer one mind to a prior mind for its origin; yet my hypothesis, if admitted, does account for the fact that my mind exists; and this is all that my hypothesis is intended to cover. For to endeavour to explain the existence of an eternal mind, could only be done by those who do not understand the meaning of these words."

Now, I think that this reply to Mr. Mill, on the part of a theist, would so far be legitimate; the theistic hypothesis does supply a provisional explanation of the existence of known minds, and it is, therefore, an explanation which, in lieu of a better, a theist may be allowed to retain. But a theist may not be allowed to confuse this provisional explanation of his own mind's existence with that of the existence of Mind in the abstract; he must not be allowed to suppose that, by thus hypothetically explaining the existence of known minds, he is thereby establishing a probability in favour of that hypothetical cause, an Unknown Mind. Only if he has some independent reason to infer that such an Unknown Mind exists, could such a probability be made out, and his hypothetical explanation of known mind become of more value than a guess. In other words, although the theistic hypothesis supplies a possible explanation of known mind, we have no reason to conclude that it is the true explanation, unless other reasons can be shown to justify, on independent grounds, the validity of the theistic hypothesis. Hence it is manifestly absurd to adduce this explanation as evidence of the hypothesis on which it rests—to argue that Theism must therefore be true; because we assume it to be so, in order to explain known mind, as distinguished from Mind. If it be answered, We are justified in assuming Theism true, because we are justified in assuming that known mind can only have been caused by an unknown mind, and hence that Mind must somewhere be self-existing, then this is to lead us to the second objection to the above syllogism.

Sec. 12. And this second objection is of a most serious nature. "Mind can only be caused by Mind," and, therefore, Mind must either be uncaused, or caused by a Mind. What is our warrant for ranking this assertion? Where is the proof that nothing can have caused a mind except another mind? Answer to this question there is none. For aught that we can ever know to the contrary, anything within the whole range of the Possible may be competent to produce a self-conscious intelligence—and to assume that Mind is so far an entity sui generis, that it must either be self-existing, or derived from another mind which is self-existing, is merely to beg the whole question as to the being of a God. In other words, if we can prove that the order of existence to which Mind belongs, is so essentially different from that order, or those orders, to which all else belongs, as to render it abstractedly impossible that the latter can produce the former—if we can prove this, we have likewise proved the existence of a Deity. But this is just the point in dispute, and to set out with a bare affirmation of it is merely to beg the question and to abandon the discussion. Doubtless, by the mere act of consulting their own consciousness, the fact now in dispute appears to some persons self-evident. But in matters of such high abstraction as this, even the evidence of self-evidence must not be relied upon too implicitly. To the country boor it appears self-evident that wood is annihilated by combustion; and even to the mind of the greatest philosophers of antiquity it seemed impossible to doubt that the sun moved over a stationary earth. Much more, therefore, may our broad distinction between "cogitative and incogitative being"[5] not be a distinction which is "legitimated by the conditions of external reality."

Doubtless many will fall back upon the position already indicated, "It is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself sense, perception, and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle, that it should put into itself greater angles than two right ones." But, granting this, and also that conscious matter is the sole alternative, and what follows? Not surely that matter cannot perceive, and feel, and know, merely because it is repugnant to our idea of it that it should. Granting that there is no other alternative in the whole possibility of things, than that matter must be conscious, or that self-conscious Mind must somewhere be self-existing; and granting that it is quite "impossible for us to conceive" of consciousness as an attribute of matter; still surely it would be a prodigious leap to conclude that for this reason matter cannot possess this attribute. Indeed, Locke himself elsewhere strangely enough insists that thought may be a property of matter, if only the Deity chose to unite that attribute with that substance. Why it should be deemed abstractedly impossible for matter to think if there is no God, and yet abstractedly possible that it should think if there is a God, I confess myself quite unable to determine; but I conceive that it is very important clearly to point out this peculiarity in Locke's views, for he is a favourite authority with theists, and this peculiarity amounts to nothing less than a suicide of his entire argument. The mere circumstance that he assumed the Deity capable of endowing matter with the faculty of thinking, could not have enabled him to conceive of matter as thinking, any more than he could conceive of this in the absence of his assumption. Yet in the one case he recognises the possibility of matter thinking, and in the other case denies such possibility, and this on the sole ground of its being inconceivable! However, I am not here concerned with Locke's eccentricities:[6] I am merely engaged with the general principle, that a subjective inability to establish certain relations in thought is no sufficient warrant for concluding that corresponding objective relations may not obtain.

Sec. 13. Hence, an objector to the above syllogism need not be a materialist; it is not even necessary that he should hold any theory of things at all. Nevertheless, for the sake of definition, I shall assume that he is a materialist. As a materialist, then, he would appear to be as much entitled to his hypothesis as a theist is to his—in respect, I mean, of this particular argument. For although I think, as before shown, that in strict reasoning a theist might have taken exception to the last-quoted passage from Mill in its connection with the law of causation, that passage, if considered in the present connection, is certainly unanswerable. What is the state of the present argument as between a materialist and a theist? The mystery of existence and the inconceivability of matter thinking are their common data. Upon these data the materialist, justly arguing that he has no right to make his own conceptive faculty the unconditional test of objective possibility, is content to merge the mystery of his own mind's existence into that of Existence in general; while the theist, compelled to accept without explanation the mystery of Existence in general, nevertheless has recourse to inventing a wholly gratuitous hypothesis to explain one mode of existence in particular. If it is said that the latter hypothesis has the merit of causing the mystery of material existence and the mystery of mental existence to be united in a thinkable manner—viz., in a self-existing Mind,—I reply, It is not so; for in whatever degree it is unthinkable that Matter should be the cause of Mind, in that precise degree must it be unthinkable that Mind was ever the cause of Matter, the correlatives being in each case the same, and experience affording no evidence of causality in either.

Sec. 14. The two hypotheses, therefore, are of exactly equivalent value, save that while the one has a certain basis of fact to rest upon,[7] the other is wholly arbitrary. But it may still be retorted, 'Is not that which is most conceivable most likely to be true? and if it is more conceivable that my intelligence is caused by another Intelligence than that it is caused by Non-intelligence, may I not regard the more conceivable hypothesis as also the more probable one? It is somewhat difficult to say how far this argument is, in this case, valid; only I think it is quite evident that its validity is open to grave dispute. For nothing can be more evident to a philosophical thinker than that the substance of Mind must—so far at least as we can at present see—necessarily be unknowable; so that if Matter (and Force) be this substance, we should antecedently expect to find that the actual causal connection should, in this particular case, be more inconceivable than some imaginary one: it would be more natural for the mind to infer that something conceivably more akin to itself should be its cause, than that this cause should be the entity which really gives rise to the unthinkable connection. But even waiving this reflection, and granting that the above argument is valid, it is still to an indefinite degree valueless, seeing that we are unable to tell how much it is more likely that the more conceivable should here be true than that the less conceivable should be so.

Sec. 15. Returning then to Locke's comparison between the certainty of this argument and that which proves the sum of the angles of a triangle to be equal to two right-angles, I should say that there is a virtual, though not a formal, fallacy in his presentation. For mathematical science being confessedly but of relative significance, any comparison between the degree of certainty attained by reasoning upon so transcendental a subject as the present, and that of mathematical demonstrations regarding relative truth, must be misleading. In the present instance, the whole strain of the argument comes upon the adequacy of the proposed test of truth, viz., our being able to conceive it if true. Now, will any one undertake to say that this test of truth is of equivalent value when it is applied to a triangle and when it is applied to the Deity. In the one case we are dealing with a geometrical figure of an exceedingly simple type, with which our experience is well acquainted, and presenting a very limited number of relations for us to contemplate. In the other case we are endeavouring to deal with the summum genus of all mystery, with reference to which experience is quite impossible, and which in its mention contains all the relations that are to us unknown and unknowable. Here, then, is the oversight. Because men find conceivability a valid test of truth in the affairs of everyday life—as it is easy to show a priori that it must be, if our experience has been formed under a given code of constant and general laws—therefore they conclude that it must be equally valid wherever it is applied; forgetting that its validity must perforce decrease in proportion to the distance at which the test is applied from the sphere of experience.[8]

Sec. 16. Upon the whole, then, I think it is transparently obvious that the mere fact of our being unable to conceive, say, how any disposition of matter and motion could possibly give rise to a self-conscious intelligence, in no wise warrants us in concluding that for this reason no such disposition is possible. The only question would appear to be, whether the test which is here proposed as an unconditional criterion of truth should be allowed any the smallest degree of credit. Seeing, on the one hand, how very fallible the test in question is known to have proved itself in many cases of much less speculative difficulty—seeing, too, that even now "the philosophy of the condition proves that things there are which may, nay must, be true, of which nevertheless the mind is unable to construe to itself the possibility;"[9] and seeing, on the other hand, that the substance of Mind, whatever it is, must necessarily be unknowable;—seeing these things, if any question remains as to whether the test of inconceivability should in this case be regarded as having any degree of validity at all, there can, I think, be no reasonable doubt that such degree should be regarded as of the smallest.

Sec. 17. Let us then turn to the other considerations which have been supposed to justify the assertion that nothing can have caused our mind save another Mind. Neglecting the crushing fact that "it does not account for Mind to refer it to another Mind for its origin," let as see what positive reasons there are for concluding that no other influence than Intelligence can possibly have produced our intelligence.

Sec. 18. First we may notice the argument which is well and tersely presented by Locke, thus:—"Whatsoever is first of all things must necessarily contain in it, and actually have, at least, all the perfections that can ever after exist; nor can it ever give to another any perfection that it hath not actually in itself, or at least in a higher degree; it necessarily follows that the first eternal being cannot be Matter." Now, as this presentation is strictly formal, I shall first meet it with a formal reply, and this reply consists in a direct contradiction. It is simply untrue that "whatsoever is first of all things must necessarily contain in it, and actually have, at least, all the perfections that can after exist;" or that it can never "give to another any perfection that it hath not actually in itself." In a sense, no doubt, a cause contains all that is contained in its effects; the latter content being potentially present in the former. But to say that a cause already contains actually all that its effects may afterwards so contain, is a statement which logic and common sense alike condemn as absurd.

Nevertheless, although the argument now before us thus admits of a childishly easy refutation on strictly formal grounds, I suspect that in substance the argument in a general way is often relied upon as one of very considerable weight. Even though it is clearly illogical to say that causes cannot give to their effects any perfection which they themselves do not actually present, yet it seems in a general way incredible that gross matter could contain, even potentially, the faculty of thinking. Nevertheless, this is but to appeal to the argument from Inconceivability; to do which, even were it here legitimate, would, as we have seen, be unavailing. But to appeal to the argument from Inconceivability in this case would not be legitimate; for we are in possession of an abundant analogy to render the supposition in question, not only conceivable, but credible. In the words of Mr. Mill, "Apart from experience, and arguing on what is called reason, that is, on supposed self-evidence, the notion seems to be that no causes can give rise to products of a more precious or elevated kind than themselves. But this is at variance with the known analogies of nature. How vastly nobler and more precious, for instance, are the vegetables and animals than the soil and manure out of which, and by the properties of which, they are raised up! The tendency of all recent speculation is towards the opinion that the development of inferior orders of existence into superior, the substitution of greater elaboration, and higher organisation for lower, is the general rule of nature. Whether this is so or not, there are at least in nature a multitude of facts bearing that character, and this is sufficient for the argument."

Sec. 19. We now come to the last of the arguments which, so far as I know, have ever been adduced in support of the assertion that there can be no other cause of our intelligence than another and superior Intelligence. The argument is chiefly remarkable for the very great prominence which was given to it by Sir W. Hamilton.

This learned and able author says:—"The Deity is not an object of immediate contemplation; as existing and in himself, he is beyond our reach; we can know him only mediately through his works, and are only warranted in assuming his existence as a certain kind of cause necessary to account for a certain state of things, of whose reality our faculties are supposed to inform us. The affirmation of a God being thus a regressive inference from the existence of a special class of effects to the existence of a special character of cause, it is evident that the whole argument hinges on the fact,—Does a state of things really exist such as is only possible through the agency of a Divine Cause? For if it can be shown that such a state of things does not really exist, then our inference to the kind of cause requisite to account for it is necessarily null.

"This being understood, I now proceed to show you that the class of phaenomena which requires that kind of cause we denominate a Deity is exclusively given in the phaenomena of mind,—that the phaenomena of matter taken by themselves, (you will observe the qualification taken by themselves) so far from warranting any inference to the existence of a God, would, on the contrary, ground even an argument to his negation.

"If, in man, intelligence be a free power,—in so far as its liberty extends, intelligence must be independent of necessity and matter; and a power independent of matter necessarily implies the existence of an immaterial subject,—that is, a spirit. If, then, the original independence of intelligence on matter in the human constitution, in other words, if the spirituality of mind in man be supposed a datum of observation, in this datum is also given both the condition and the proof of a God. For we have only to infer, what analogy entitles us to do, that intelligence holds the same relative supremacy in the universe which it holds in us, and the first positive condition of a Deity is established in the establishment of the absolute priority of a free creative intelligence."[10]

Sec. 20. Thus, according to Sir W. Hamilton, the whole question as to the being of a God depends upon that as to whether our "intelligence be a free power,"—or, as he elsewhere states it himself, "Theology is wholly dependent upon Psychology, for with the proof of the moral nature of man stands or falls the proof of the existence of a Deity." It will be observed that I am not at present engaged with the legitimacy of this author's decision upon the comparative merits of the different arguments in favour of Theism: I am merely showing the high opinion he entertained of the particular argument before us. He positively affirms that, unless the freedom of the human will be a matter of experience, Atheism is the sole alternative. Doubtless most well-informed readers will feel that the solitary basis thus provided for Theism is a very insecure one, while many such readers will at once conclude that if this is the only basis which reason can provide for Theism to stand upon, Theism is without any rational basis to stand upon at all. I have no hesitation in saying that the last-mentioned opinion is the one to which I myself subscribe, for I am quite unable to understand how any one at the present day, and with the most moderate powers of abstract thinking, can possibly bring himself to embrace the theory of Free-will. I may add that I cannot but believe that those who do embrace this theory with an honest conviction, must have failed to understand the issue to which modern thought has reduced the question. Here, however, is not the place to discuss this question. It will be sufficient for my purpose to show that even Sir W. Hamilton himself considered it a very difficult one; and although he thought upon the whole that the will must be free, he nevertheless allowed—nay, insisted—that he was unable to conceive how it could be so. Such inability in itself does not of course show the Free-will theory to be untrue; and I merely point out the circumstance that Hamilton allowed the supposed fact unthinkable, in order to show how very precarious, even in his eyes, the argument which we are considering must have appeared. Let us then, for this purpose, contemplate his attitude with regard to it a little more closely. He says, "It would have been better to show articulately that Liberty and Necessity are both incomprehensible, as beyond the limits of legitimate thought; but that though the Free-agency of Man cannot be speculatively proved, so neither can it be speculatively disproved; while we may claim for it as a fact of real actuality, though of inconceivable possibility, the testimony of consciousness, that we are morally free, as we are morally accountable for our actions. In this manner the whole question of free- and bond-will is in theory abolished, leaving, however, practically our Liberty, and all the moral instincts of Man entire."[11]

From this passage it is clear that Sir W. Hamilton regarded these two counter-theories as of precisely equivalent value in everything save "the testimony of consciousness;" or, as he elsewhere states it, "as equally unthinkable, the two counter, the two one-sided, schemes are thus theoretically balanced. But, practically, our consciousness of the moral law ... gives a decisive preponderance to the doctrine of freedom over the doctrine of fate."

But the whole question concerning the freedom of the will has now come to be as to whether or not consciousness does give its verdict on the side of freedom. Supposing we grant that "we are warranted to rely on a deliverance of consciousness, when that deliverance is that a thing is, although we may be unable to think how it can be,"[12] in this case the question still remains, whether our opponents have rightly interpreted the deliverance of their consciousness. I, for one, am quite persuaded that I never perform any action without some appropriate motive, or set of motives, having induced me to perform it. However, I am not discussing this question, and I have merely made the above quotations for the purpose of showing that Sir W. Hamilton appears to identify the theory of Free-will with the fact that we possess a moral sense. He argues throughout as though the theory he advocates were the only one that can explain a given "fact of real actuality." But no one with whom we have to deal questions the fact of our having a moral sense; and to identify this "deliverance of consciousness" with belief in the theory that volitions are uncaused, is, or would now be, merely to abandon the only questions in dispute.

It is very instructive, from this point of view, to observe the dilemma into which Hamilton found himself driven by this identification of genuine fact with spurious theory. He believed that the fact of man possessing an ethical faculty could only be explained by the theory that man's will was not determined by motives; for otherwise man could not be the author of his own actions. But when he considered the matter in its other aspect, he found that his theory of Free-will was as little compatible with moral responsibility as was the opposing theory of "Bond-will;" for not only did he candidly confess that he could not conceive of will as acting without motives, but he further allowed the unquestionable truth "that, though inconceivable, a motiveless volition would, if conceived, be conceived as morally worthless."[13] I say this is very instructive, because it shows that in Hamilton's view each theory was alike irreconcilable with "the deliverance of consciousness," and that he only chose the one in preference to the other, because, although not any more conceivable a solution, it seemed to him a more possible one.[14]

Sec. 21. Such, then, is the speculative basis on which, according to Sir W. Hamilton, our belief in a Deity can alone be grounded.

Those who at the present day are still confused enough in their notions regarding the Free-will question to suppose that any further rational question remains, may here be left to ruminate over this bolus, and to draw from it such nourishment as they can in support of their belief in a God; but to those who can see as plainly as daylight that the doctrine of Determinism not only harmonises with all the facts of observation, but alone affords a possible condition for, and a satisfactory explanation of, the existence of our ethical faculty,—to such persons the question will naturally arise:—"Although Hamilton was wrong in identifying a known fact with a false theory, yet may he not have been right in the deductions which he drew from the fact?" In other words, granting that his theory of Free-will was wrong, does not his argument from the existence of a moral sense in man to the existence of a moral Governor of the Universe remain as intact as ever? Now, it is quite true that whatever degree of cogency the argument from the presence of the moral sense may at any time have had, this degree remains unaffected by the explosion of erroneous theories to account for such presence. We have, therefore, still to face the fact that the moral sense of man undoubtedly exists.

Sec. 22. The question we have to determine is, What evidence have we to show that the moral part of man was created in the image of God; and if there is any such evidence, what counter-existence is there to show that the moral existence of man may be due to natural causes? In deciding this question, just as in deciding any other question of a purely scientific character, we must be guided in our examination by the Law of Parcimony; we must not assume the agency of supernatural causes if we can discover the agency of natural causes; neither must we merge the supposed mystery directly into the highest mystery, until we are quite sure that it does not admit of being proximately explained by the action of proximate influences.

Now, whether or not Mr. Darwin's theory as to the origin and development of the moral sense be considered satisfactory, there can, I think, be very little doubt in any impartial mind which duly considers the subject, that in some way or other the moral sense has been evolved. The body of scientific evidence which has now been collected in favour of the general theory of evolution is simply overwhelming; and in the presence of so large an analogy, it would require a vast amount of contradictory evidence to remove the presumption that human conscience, like everything else, has been evolved. Now, for my own part, I am quite unable to distinguish any such evidence, while, on the other hand, in support of the a priori presumption that conscience has been evolved, I cannot conceal from myself that there is a large amount of a posteriori confirmation. I am quite unable to distinguish anything in my sense of right and wrong which I cannot easily conceive to have been brought about during the evolution of my intelligence from lower forms of psychical life. On the contrary, everything that I can find in my sense of right and wrong is precisely what I should expect to find on the supposition of this sense having been moulded by the progressive requirements of social development. Read in the light of evolution, Conscience, in its every detail, is deductively explained.

And, as though there were not sufficient evidence of this kind to justify the conclusion drawn from the theory of evolution, the doctrine of utilitarianism—separately conceived and separately worked out on altogether independent grounds—the doctrine of utilitarianism comes in with irresistible force to confirm that a priori conclusion by the widest and most unexceptionable of inductions.[15]

In the supernatural interpretation of the facts, the whole stress of the argument comes upon the character of conscience as a spontaneously admonishing influence which acts independently of our own volition. For it is from this character alone that the inference can arise that conscience is the delegate of the will of another. Thus, to render the whole argument in the singularly beautiful words of Dr. Newman:—"If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear. If, on doing wrong, we feel the same tearful, broken-hearted sorrow which overwhelms us on hurting a mother; if, on doing right, we enjoy the same seeming serenity of mind, the same soothing, satisfactory delight, which follows on one receiving praise from a father,—we certainly have within us the image of some person to whom our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we waste away. These feelings in us are such as require for their exciting cause an intelligent being; we are not affectionate towards a stone, nor do we feel shame before a horse or a dog; we have no remorse or compunction in breaking mere human law. Yet so it is; conscience emits all these painful emotions, confusion, foreboding, self-condemnation; and, on the other hand, it sheds upon us a deep peace, a sense of security, a resignation, and a hope which there is no sensible, no earthly object to elicit. 'The wicked flees when no one pursueth;' then why does he flee? whence his terror? Who is it that he sees in solitude, in darkness, in the hidden chambers of his heart? If the cause of these emotions does not belong to this visible world, the Object to which his perception is directed must be supernatural and divine; and thus the phenomena of conscience as a dictate avail to impress the imagination with the picture of a Supreme Governor, a Judge, holy, just, powerful, all-seeing, retributive."[16]

Now I have quoted this passage because it seems to me to convey in a concise form the whole of the argument from Conscience. But how tremendous are the inferences which are drawn from the facts! As the first step in our criticism, it is necessary to point out that two very different orders of feelings are here treated by Dr. Newman. There is first the pure or uncompounded ethical feelings, which spring directly from the moral sense alone, and which all men experience in varying degrees. And next there are what we may term the ethico-theological feelings, which can only spring from a blending of the moral sense with a belief in a personal God, or other supernatural agents. The former class of feelings, or the uncompounded ethical class, have exclusive reference to the moral obligations that subsist between ourselves and other human beings, or sentient organisms. The latter class of feelings, or the ethico-theological class, have reference to the moral obligations that are believed to subsist between ourselves and the Deity, or other supernatural beings. Now, in order not to lose sight of this all-important distinction, I shall criticise Dr. Newman's rendering of the ordinary argument from Conscience in each of these two points of views separately. To begin, then, with the uncompounded ethical feelings.

Such emotions as attend the operation of conscience in those who follow its light alone without any theories as to its supernatural origin, are all of the character of reasonable or explicable emotions. Granting that fellow-feeling has been for the benefit of the race, and therefore that it has been developed by natural causes, certainly there is nothing mysterious in the emotions that attend the violating or the following of the dictates of conscience. For conscience is, by this naturalistic supposition, nothing more than an organised body of certain psychological elements, which, by long inheritance, have come to inform us, by way of intuitive feeling, how we should act for the interests of society; so that, if this hypothesis is correct, there cannot be anything more mysterious or supernatural in the working of conscience than there is in the working of any of our other faculties. That the disagreeable feeling of self-reproach, as distinguished from religious feeling, should follow upon a violation of such an organized body of psychological elements, cannot be thought surprising, if it is remembered that one of these elements is natural fellow-feeling, and the others the elements which lead us to know directly that we have violated the interests of other persons. And as regards the mere fact that the working of conscience is independent of the will, surely this is not more than we find, in varying degrees, to be true of all our emotions; and conscience, according to the evolution theory, has its root in the emotions. Hence, it is no more an argument to say that the irrepressible character of conscience refers us to a God of morality, than it would be to say that the sometimes resistless force of the ludicrous refers us to a god of laughter. Love, again, is an emotion which cannot be subdued by volition, and in its tendency to persist bears just such a striking resemblance to the feelings of morality as we should expect to find on the supposition of the former having played an important part in the genesis of the latter. The dictating character of conscience, therefore, is clearly in itself of no avail as pointing to a superhuman Dictator. Thus, for example, to take Dr. Newman's own illustration, why should we feel such tearful, broken-hearted sorrow on intentionally or carelessly hurting a mother? We see no shadow of a reason for resorting to any supernatural hypothesis to explain the fact—love between mother and offspring being an essential condition to the existence of higher animals. Yet this is a simple case of truly conscientious feeling, where the thought of any personal cause of conscience need not be entertained, and is certainly not necessary to explain the effects. And similarly with all cases of conscientious feeling, except in cases where it refers directly to its supposed author. But these latter cases, or the ethico-theological class of feelings, are in no way surprising. If the moral sense has had a natural genesis in the actual relations between man and man, as soon as an ideal "image" of "a holy, just, powerful, all-seeing, retributive" God is firmly believed to have an objective existence, as a matter of course moral feelings must become transferred to the relations which are believed to obtain between ourselves and this most holy God. Indeed, it is these very feelings which, in the absence of any proof to the contrary, must be concluded, in accordance with the law of parcimony, to have generated this idea of God as "holy, just," and good. And the mere fact that, when the complex system of religious belief has once been built up, conscience is strongly wrought upon by that belief and its accompanying emotions, is surely a fact the very reverse of mysterious. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the moral sense has been evolved from the social feelings, and should we not certainly expect that, when the belief in a moral and all-seeing God is superadded, conscience should be distracted at the thought of offending him, and experience a "soothing, satisfactory delight" in the belief that we are pleasing him? And as to the argument, "Why does the wicked flee when none pursueth? whence his terror?" the question admits of only too easy an answer. Indeed, the form into which the question is thrown would almost seem—were it not written by Dr. Newman—to imply a sarcastic reference to the power of superstition. "Who is it that," not only Dr. Newman, but the haunted savage, the mediaeval sorcerer, or the frightened child, "sees in solitude, in darkness, in the hidden chambers of his heart?" Who but the "image" of his own thought? "If the cause of these emotions does not belong to this visible world, the Object to which his perception is directed must be supernatural and divine." Assuredly; but what an inference from what an assumption! Whether or not the moral sense has been developed by natural causes, "these emotions" of terror at the thought of offending beings "supernatural and divine" are not of such unique occurrence "in the visible world" as to give Dr. Newman the monopoly of his particular "Object." With a deeper meaning, therefore, than he intends may we repeat, "The phenomena of conscience as a dictate avail to impress the imagination with the picture of a Supreme Governor." But criticism here is positively painful. Let it be enough to say that those of us who do not already believe in any such particular "Object"—be it ghost, shape, demon, or deity—are strangers, utter and complete, to any such supernatural pursuers. The fact, therefore, of these various religious emotions being associated with conscience in the minds of theists, can in itself be no proof of Theism, seeing that it is the theory of Theism which itself engenders these emotions; those who do not believe in this theory experiencing none of these feelings of personal dread, responsibility to an unknown God, and the feelings of doing injury to, or of receiving praise from, a parent. To such of us the violation of conscience is its own punishment, as the pursuit of virtue is its own reward. For we know that not more certainly than fire will burn, any violation of the deeply-rooted feelings of our humanity will leave a gaping wound which even time may not always heal. And when it is shown us that our natural dread of fire is due to a supernatural cause, we may be prepared to entertain the argument that our natural dread of sin, as distinguished from our dread of God, is likewise due to such a cause. But until this can be done we must, as reasonable men, whose minds have been trained in the school of nature, forbear to allow that the one fact is of any greater cogency than the other, so far as the question of a supernatural cause of either is concerned. For, as we have already seen, the law of parcimony forbids us to ascribe "the phenomena of conscience as a dictate" to a supernatural cause, until the science of psychology shall have proved that they cannot have been due to natural causes. But, as we have also seen, the science of psychology is now beginning, as quick and thoroughly as can be expected, to prove the very converse; so that the probability is now overwhelming that our moral sense, like all our other faculties, has been evolved. Therefore, while the burden of proof really lies on the side of Theism—or with those who account for the natural phenomena of conscience by the hypothesis of a supernatural origin—this burden is now being rapidly discharged by the opposite side. That is to say, while the proofs which are now beginning to substantiate the naturalistic hypothesis are all in full accord with the ordinary lines of scientific explanations, the vague and feeble reflections of those who still maintain that Conscience is evidence of Deity, are all such as run counter to the very truisms of scientific method.

In the face of all the facts, therefore, I find it impossible to recognise as valid any inference which is drawn from the existence of our moral sense to the existence of a God; although, of course, all inferences drawn from the existence of our moral sense to the character of a God already believed to exist remain unaffected by the foregoing considerations.[17]

* * * * *



Sec. 23. The argument from Design, as presented by Mill, is merely a resuscitation of it as presented by Paley. True it is that the logical penetration of the former enabled him to perceive that the latter had "put the case much too strongly;" although, even here, he has failed to see wherein Paley's error consisted. He says:—"If I found a watch on an apparently desolate island, I should indeed infer that it had been left there by a human being; but the inference would not be from the marks of design, but because I already know by direct experience that watches are made by men." Now I submit that this misses the whole point of Paley's meaning; for it is evident that there would be no argument at all unless this author be understood to say what he clearly enough expresses, viz., that the evidence of design supposed to be afforded by the watch is supposed to be afforded by examination of its mechanism only, and not by any previous knowledge as to how that particular mechanism called a watch is made. Paley, I take it, only chose a watch for his example because he knew that no reader would dispute the fact that watches are constructed by design: except for the purpose of pointing out that mechanism is in some cases admitted to be due to intelligence, for all the other purposes of his argument he might as well have chosen for his illustration any case of mechanism occurring in nature. What the real fallacy in Paley's argument is, is another question, and this I shall now endeavour to answer; for, as Mill's argument is clearly the same in kind as that of Paley and his numberless followers, in examining the one I am also examining the other.

Sec. 24. In nature, then, we see innumerable examples of apparent design: are these of equal value in testifying to the presence of a designing intelligence as are similar examples of human contrivance, and if not, why not? The answer to the first of these questions is patent. If such examples were of the same value in the one case as they are in the other, the existence of a Deity would be, as Paley appears to have thought it was, demonstrated by the fact. A brief and yet satisfactory answer to the second question is not so easy, and we may best approach it by assuming the existence of a Deity. If, then, there is a God, it by no means follows that every apparent contrivance in nature is an actual contrivance, in the same sense as is any human contrivance. The eye of a vertebrated animal, for instance, exhibits as much apparent design as does a watch; but no one—at the present day, at least—will undertake to affirm that the evidence of divine thought furnished by one example is as conclusive as is the evidence of human thought furnished by the other—and this even assuming a Deity to exist. Why is this? The reason, I think, is, that we know by our personal experience what are our own relations to the material world, and to the laws which preside over the action of physical forces; while we can have no corresponding knowledge of the relations subsisting between the Deity and these same objects of our own experience. Hence, to suppose that the Deity constructed the eye by any such process of thought as we know that men construct watches, is to make an assumption not only incapable of proof, but destitute of any assignable degree of likelihood. Take an example. The relation in which a bee stands to the external world is to a large extent a matter of observation, and, therefore, no one imagines that the formation of its scientifically-constructed cells is due to any profound study on the bee's part. Whatever the origin of the cell-making instinct may have been, its nature is certainly not the same as it would have been in man, supposing him to have had occasion to construct honeycombs. It may be said that the requisite calculations have been made for the bees by the Deity; but, even if this assumption were true, it would be nothing to the point, which is merely that even within the limits of the animal kingdom the relations of intelligence to the external world are so diverse, that the same results may be accomplished by totally different intellectual processes. And as this example is parallel to the case on which we are engaged in everything save the observability of the relations involved, it supplies us with the exact measure of the probability we are trying to estimate. Hence it is evident that so long as we remain ignorant of the element essential to the argument from design in its Paleyerian form—viz., knowledge or presumption of the relations subsisting between an hypothetical Deity and his creation—so long must that argument remain, not only unassignably weak, but incapable of being strengthened by any number of examples similar in kind.

Sec. 25. To put the case in another way. The root fallacy in Paley's argument consisted in reasoning from a particular to an universal. Because he knew that design was the cause of adaptation in some cases, and because the phenomena of life exhibited more instances of adaptation than any other class of phenomena in nature, he pointed to these phenomena as affording an exceptional kind of proof of the presence in nature of intelligent agency. Yet, if it is admitted—and of this, even in Paley's days, there was a strong analogical presumption—that the phenomena of life are throughout their history as much subject to law as are any other phenomena whatsoever,—that the method of the divine government, supposing such to exist, is the same here as elsewhere; then nothing can be clearer than that any amount of observable adaptation of means to ends within this class of phenomena cannot afford any different kind of evidence of design than is afforded by any other class of phenomena whatsoever. Either we know the relations of the Deity to his creation, or we do not. If we do, then we must know whether or not every physical change which occurs in accordance with law—i.e., every change occurring within experience, and so, until contrary evidence is produced, presumably every change occurring beyond experience—was separately planned by the Deity. If we do not, then we have no more reason to suppose that any one set of physical changes rather than another has been separately planned by him, unless we could point (as Paley virtually pointed) to one particular set of changes and assert, These are not subject to the same method of divine government which we observe elsewhere, or, in other words, to law. If it is retorted that in some way or other all these wonderful adaptations must ultimately have been due to intelligence, this is merely to shift the argument to a ground which we shall presently have to consider: all we are now engaged upon is to show that we have no right to found arguments on the assumed mode, manner, or process by which the supposed intelligence is thought to have operated. We can here see, then, more clearly where Paley stumbled. He virtually assumed that the relations subsisting between the Deity and the universe were such, that the exceptional adaptations met with in the organised part of the latter cannot have been due to the same intellectual processes as was the rest of the universe—or that, if they were, still they yielded better evidence of having been due to these processes than does the rest of the universe. And it is easy to perceive that his error arose from his pre-formed belief in special creation. So long as a man regards every living organism which he sees as the lineal descendant of a precisely similar organism originally struck out by the immediate fiat of Deity, so long is he justified in holding his axiom, "Contrivance must have had a contriver." For "adaptation" then becomes to our minds the synonym of "contrivance"—it being utterly inconceivable that the numberless adaptations found in any living organism could have resulted in any other way than by intelligent contrivance, at the time when this organism was in the first instance suddenly introduced into its complex conditions of life. Still, as an argument, this is of course merely reasoning in a circle: we adopt a hypothesis which presupposes the existence of a Deity as the first step in the proof of his existence. I do not say that Paley committed this error expressly, but merely that if it had not been for his pre-formed conviction as to the truth of the special-creation theory, he would probably not have written his "Natural Theology."

Sec. 26. Thus let us take a case of his own choosing, and the one which is adduced by him as typical of "the application of the argument." "I know of no better method of introducing so large a subject than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it. They are both made upon the same principles, both being adjusted to the laws by which the transmission and refraction of rays of light are regulated. I speak not of the origin of the laws themselves; but these laws being fixed, the construction in both cases is adapted to them. For instance: these laws require, in order to produce the same effect, that the rays of light, in passing through water into the eye, should be refracted by a more convex surface than when it passes out of air into the eye. Accordingly we find that the eye of a fish, in that part of it called the crystalline lens, is much rounder than the eye of terrestrial animals. What plainer manifestation of design can there be than this difference?" But what, let us ask, is the proximate cause of this difference? 'The immediate volition of the Deity, manifested in special creation,' virtually answers Paley; while we of to-day are able to reply, 'The agency of natural laws, to wit, inheritance, variation, survival of the fittest, and probably of other laws as yet not discovered.' Now, of course, according to the former of these two premises, there can be no more legitimate conclusion than that the difference in question is due to intelligent and special design; but, according to the other premise, it is equally clear that no conclusion can be more unwarranted; for, under the latter view, the greater rotundity of the crystalline lens in a fish's eye no more exhibits the presence of any special design than does the adaptation of a river to the bed which it has itself been the means of excavating. When, therefore, Paley goes on to ask:—"How is it possible, under circumstances of such close affinity, and under the operation of equal evidence, to exclude contrivance from the case of the eye, yet to acknowledge the proof of contrivance having been employed, as the plainest and clearest of all propositions, in the case of the telescope?" the answer is sufficiently obvious, namely, that the "evidence" in the two cases is not "equal;"—any more than is the existence, say, of the Nile of equal value in point of evidence that it was designed for traffic, as is the existence of the Suez Canal that it was so designed. And the mere fact that the problem of achromatism was solved by "the mind of a sagacious optician inquiring how this matter was managed in the eye," no more proves that "this could not be in the eye without purpose, which suggested to the optician the only effectual means of attaining that purpose," than would the fact, say, of the winnowing of corn having suggested the fanning-machine prove that air currents were designed for the purpose of eliminating chaff from grain. In short, the real substance of the argument from Design must eventually merge into that which Paley, in the above-quoted passage, expressly passes over—viz., "the origin of the laws themselves;" for so long as there is any reason to suppose that any apparent "adaptation" to a certain set of "fixed laws" is itself due to the influence of other "fixed laws," so long have we as little right to say that the latter set of fixed laws exhibit any better indications of intelligent adaptation to the former set, than the former do to that of the latter—the eye to light, than light to the eye. Hence I conceive that Mill is entirely wrong when he says of Paley's argument, "It surpasses analogy exactly as induction surpasses it," because "the instances chosen are particular instances of a circumstance which experience shows to have a real connection with an intelligent origin—the fact of conspiring to an end." Experience shows as this, but it shows us more besides; it shows us that there is no necessary or uniform connection between an "intelligent origin" and the fact of apparent "means conspiring to an [apparent] end." If the reader will take the trouble to compare this quotation just made from Mill, and the long train of reasoning that follows, with an admirable illustration in Mr. Wallace's "Natural Selection," he will be well rewarded by finding all the steps in Mr. Mill's reasoning so closely paralleled by the caricature, that but for the respective dates of publication, one might have thought the latter had an express reference to the former.[18] True, Mr. Mill closes his argument with a brief allusion to the "principle of the survival of the fittest," observing that "creative forethought is not absolutely the only link by which the origin of the wonderful mechanism of the eye may be connected with the fact of sight." I am surprised, however, that a man of Mr. Mill's penetration did not see that whatever view we may take as to "the adequacy of this principle (i.e., Natural Selection) to account for such truly admirable combinations as some of those in nature," the argument from Design is not materially affected. So far as this argument is concerned, the issue is not Design versus Natural Selection, but it is Design versus Natural Law. By all means, "leaving this remarkable speculation (i.e., Mr. Darwin's) to whatever fate the progress of discovery may have in store for it," and it by no means follows that "in the present state of knowledge the adaptations in nature afford a large balance of probability in favour of creation by intelligence." For whatever we may think of this special theory as to the mode, there can be no longer any reasonable doubt, "in the present state of our knowledge," as to the truth of the general theory of Evolution; and the latter, if accepted, is as destructive to the argument from Design as would the former be if proved. In a word, it is the fact and not the method of Evolution which is subversive of Teleology in its Paleyerian form.

Sec. 27. We have come then to this:—Apparent intellectual adaptations are perfectly valid indications of design, so long as their authorship is known to be confined to human intelligence; for then we know from experience what are our relations to these laws, and so in any given case can argue a posteriori that such an adaptation to such a set of laws by such an intelligence can only have been due to such a process. But when we overstep the limits of experience, we are not entitled to argue anything a priori of any other intelligence in this respect, even supposing any such intelligence to exist. The analogy by which the unknown relations are inferred from the known is "infinitely precarious;" seeing that two of the analogous terms—to wit, the divine intelligence and the human—may differ to an immeasurable extent in their properties—nay, are supposed thus to differ, the one being supposed omniscient, omnipotent, &c., and the other not. And, as a final step, we may now see that the argument from Design, in its last resort, resolves itself into a petitio principii. For, ultimately, the only point which the analogical argument in question is adduced to prove is, that the relations subsisting between an Unknown Cause and certain physical forces are so far identical with the relations known to subsist between human intelligence and these same forces, that similar intellectual processes are required in the two cases to account for the production of similar effects—and hence that the Unknown Cause is intelligent. But it is evident that the analogy itself can have no existence, except upon the presupposition that these two sets of relations are thus identical. The point which the analogy is adduced to prove is therefore postulated by the fact of its being adduced at all, and the whole argument resolves itself into a case of petitio principii.

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