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phenomena of the visible heavens are within the reach of human observation—yet, if we will not study them, we may still have a terrestrial geometry; but a celestial we altogether want, nay have wilfully put away from us. And so also, we may be capable of certain guesses and discoveries respecting God—yet, if we will not prosecute them, we may still have a terrestrial morals, and yet be in a state of practical atheism. The face of human society may occasionally brighten with the patriotism and the generosity and the honour which reciprocate from one to another amongst the members of the human family-and yet all may be immersed in deepest unconcern about their common Father who is in heaven—all may be living without God in the world.
On the Duty which is laid upon Men by the Probability or
even the Imagination of a God.
1. We have already seen that even though the objects of Theology lay under total obscurity, there might be a distinct and vigorous play of the Ethics notwithstanding—kept in actual exercise among those objects which are seen and terrestrial, and in readiness for eventual exercise on the revelation of unseen and celestial objects. This, however, does not accurately represent the real state of naturefor in no age or country of the world, we believe, did the objects of Theology lie hidden under an entire and unqualified darkness. There is, in reference to them, a sort of twilight glimmering, more or less, among all nations—and the question is, what sort of regimen or responsibility may that man be said to lie under, whose sole guidance in Theology is that which a very indistinct view of its objects, though with certainly a more distinct sense of its ethics, may suggest ?
2. This brings us to the consideration of the duty laid upon men by the probability or even the imagination of a God.
3. It must now be abundantly obvious, that along with nature's discernment of the ethics, she may labour at the same time under a comparative blindness as to the objects of Theological Science. On the hypothesis of an actually existent God, there may be an urgent sense in human consciences of the gratitude and the obedience which belong to him. But still while this ethical apprehension may be clear and vivid, there may be either a bright or a dull conviction in regard to the truth of the hypothesis itself. We should here distinguish the things which be distinct from each other; and carefully note that, along with a just discernment of the proprieties which belong to certain moral relations, the question may still be unresolved, whether these relations be in truth exemplified by any real and living beings in the universe. What is right under certain moral relations,' supposing them to be occupied, is one consideration. What exists in nature or in the universe to occupy these relations is another. It does not follow that though
nature should be able to pronounce clearly and confidently on the first of these topics—she can therefore pronounce alike confidently on the second of them. The two investigations are conducted on different principles; and the two respective sorts of evidence upon which they proceed are just as different, as is the light of a mathematical demonstration from that light of observation by which we apprehend a fact or an object in Natural Philosophy. We have already conceded to nature the possession of that moral light by which she can to a certain, and we think to a very considerable extent, take accurate cognizance of the ethics of our science. And we have now to inquire in how far she is competent to her own guidance in seeking after the objects of the science.
4. The main object of Theology is God.
5. Going back then to the very earliest of our mental conceptions on this subject, we advert first to the distinction in point of real and logical import, between unbelief and disbelief. There being no ground for affirming that there is a God is a different proposition, from there being ground for affirming that there is no God. The former we apprehend, to be the furthest amount of the atheistical verdict on the question of a God. The atheist does not labour to demonstrate that there is no God. But he labours to demonstrate that there is no adequate proof of there being one. He does not positively affirm the position, that God is not; but he affirms the lack of evidence for the position, that God is. Judging from the tendency and effect of his arguments, an atheist does not appear positively to refuse that a God may be—but he insists that He has not discovered Himself, whether by the utterance of His voice in audible revelation or by the impress of His hand upon visible nature. His verdict on the doctrine of a God is only that it is not proven. It is not that it is disproven. He is but an Atheist. He is not an Antitheist.
. 6. Now there is one consideration, which affords the inquirer a singularly clear and commanding position, at the outset of this great question. It is this. We cannot, without a glaring contravention to all the principles of the experimental philosophy, recede to a further distance from the doctrine of a God, than to the position of simple atheism. We do not need to take our departure from any point further back than this, in the region of antitheism ; for that region cannot possibly be entered by us but by an act of tremendous presumption, which it were premature to denounce as impious, but which we have the authority of all modern science for denouncing as unphilosophical. We can figure a rigidly Baconian mind, of a cast so slow and cautious and hesitating, as to demand more of proof ere it gave its conviction to the doctrine that there was absolutely and certainly a God. But, in virtue of these very attributes, would it, if a sincere and consistent mind, be at least equally slow in giving its conviction to the doctrine that there was absolutely and certainly not a God. Such a mind would be in a state neither for assertion nor for denial upon this subject. It would settle in ignorance or unbelief which is quite another thing from disbelief. The
met with one manifestation or one movement of a presiding God. For man not to know of a God, he has only to sink beneath the level of our common nature. But to deny him, he must be a God himself. He must arrogate the ubiquity and omniscience of the Godhead.* . 8. It affords a firm outset to this investigation, that we cannot recede a greater way from the doctrine to be investigated, than to the simple point of ignorance or unbelief. We cannot, without making inroad on the soundest principles of evidence, move one step back from this, to the region of disbelief. We can figure an inquirer taking up his position in midway atheism. But he cannot, without defiance to the whole principle and philosophy of evidence, make aggression thence on the side of antitheism. There is a clear intellectual
* This idea has been powerfully rendered by Foster in the following passage extracted from one of his essays:
• The wonder turns on the great process, by which a man could grow to the immense intelligence that can know there is no God. What ages and what lights are requisite for this attainment? This intelligence involves the very attributes of Divinity, while a God is denied. For unless this man is omnipresent, unless he is at this moment in every place in the Universe, he cannot know but there may be in some place manifestations of a Deity by which even he would be overpowered. If he does not absolutely know every agent in the Universe, the one that he does not know may be God. If he is not himself the chief agent in the universe, and does not know what is so, that which is so may be God. If he is not in absolute possession of all the propositions that constitute universal truth, the one which he wants may be that there is a God. If he cannot with certainty assign the cause of al] that he perceives to exist, that cause may be a God. If he does not know every thing that has been done in the immeasurable ages that are past, some things m
nat are past, some things may have been done by a God. Thus unless he knows all things, that
less he knows all things, that is, precludes another Deity being one himself, he cannot know that the Being whose existence be rejects, does not exist."