« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
ARTICLE V.-UNBELIEF, HALF-BELIEF, AND A
PERSONS who are enthusiastic and successful in the pursuit of the natural sciences may appreciate them as a department of knowledge so much as in effect to undervalue other departments. And the theories of such persons will find favor with those of a larger class who are occupied especially in the practical application of material forces in the industrial arts.
In both these classes there are some who will look to nature's laws or the forces of nature for the solution of all phenomena. In as much as there has been a progressive discovery of those laws and forces; and as the primal cause of them seems to retreat before all attempts at analysis of it, they admit that they may not yet have found, and that possibly they may never find out the power that is fundamental ; or that if
perebance they should touch it at one or more points, they still may not comprehend it nor properly affirm that they know it in its entirety; its phases of development are so varied and so vast. They are not prepared to deny that there may be some force or power that is universal and supreme. Favoring the admission that there may be such a power and partially aiding an attempt to conceive it, they recognize for instance that electricity may be found to have identity or unity across a continent or around the world; and that the vehicle of light may pervade all space; and that volatile as it is, it is nevertheless an entity; and that its operation in infinite space does not interfere with its attendance and service upon the eye of an insect.
By such means and otherwise they are led to admit that there may be an infinite or all-pervading Power. This power they think constitutes the laws of nature, or is the force that operates through those laws as its channel.
They are disposed to accept the laws of nature complacently. They perceive that therein is a prevailing tendency toward the production and the conservation of that which by common consent is called good-the survival of the fittest—that an assurance is given that whatsoever has occurred will recur under the same conditions—that the assurance that benefits will follow compliance with the law, more than compensates for the dread and the endurance of the evils that follow transgression that the law's universal operation is equivalent to the publication of a just and consistent purpose—that its certainty makes it a prediction and directory to guide intelligent creatures, and is alto. gether beneficent. Although logic may find fatality in it, yet if the choice is between fate on one hand and caprice on the other, their experience leads them to fear the caprice and to trust the fate.
Wbile under an ingenuous and non-combative state of mind, they may see no objection to the application of some proper noun as the name of the power they find under the laws of nature. They may even consent that the name shall signify the Supreme Good. Possibly it may occur to them that they could not aver, all things being considered, that any better arrangements would have been made if intelligence had been at work producing them.
But they will deny that there is a personal Creator, having intelligence, purpose, and will; or that there can be such evi. dence of his existence as ought to satisfy scientific and reasonable men. Yet, the Power that operates through nature's laws to produce phenomena, must have within itself all that it finally exhibits in phenomena. All effects must have adequate causes. Nothing can come of nothing. No effect can be greater than its cause. Nothing can come from thence to hence that was not or is not thence. New relations do not create new forces. Nothing can be constituted above the sum of its constituents. Whatsoever comes out of potency into phenomena must have been within the potency. Distance, obscurity, and inscrutability do not annihilate facts, nor detach effects from their causes. The proof of power is not in the perception and comprehension of its source and methods only, but also in its results. If man has a mind it is constituted of that and by that which is at least a mind. If these are only variations of the form of an axiom, they lead to the conclusion that there is One that is all that can be expressed or suggested by the name
of God. This reasoning, however, is of no effect if there is no inind; and the fact of there being any is questioned and an attempt is made to dispose of the fact and of its implications, by showing that thought and volition are only the movements of the molecules of digested aliment.
It can be admitted that there is a power, that is omnipotent and omnipresent, but not that it is also omniscient.
The materialists and theists diverge at this point, the first having assumed that there inheres in matter a self-moving potentiality that it has not been proved to possess.
Is there anything in the common thought and expression of Christian people that may tend to confirm the atheist in his position, and which may be amended ?
Those who accept the Scripture revelation of God, have conceptions as varied as their individual experiences and characters; all possibly in some measure true, yet partial and leaving infinite truth before them unexplored. Throughout all this variety there appears at times more or less of instability and inconsistency. Those who have square and immovable convictions of the presence of the Creator in all his universe, are exceptions. Sincere Christians are often distressed at finding their faith in conflict with their every day mode of thinking and acting in practical life-apparently in conflict with their reason in so far as they adopt the scientific interpretations of nature. Their knowledge of natural laws is enough to supplant or to shake the simple faith induced by miraculous manifesta: tions in the past, and by such phases of truth as are adapted to a primitive or initiatory condition ; but it is not sufficient to supply or to strengthen a conviction from nature's resources of themselves, of the presence of God.
If successful in holding firmly a conviction of the fact of a Creator, they still see that man is in contact with various intermediate agents and secondary causes. Man's relation to materials things or to nature, is practical, real, present and tangible, whereas the Creator seems to be in the infinite distance as to space, and also as to time in the past and in the future, and inferentially is equally remote with regard to any positive influence or interest.
To nature's power they attribute the activities of material things. To God is assigned another sphere. Nature is near but he is afar. Nature may be treated with under certain conditions, with assured results, but he perchance may not be treated with at all, or if he may, as he has freedom he may have the capriciousness which our experience leads us to associate with the use of freedom. There is trust in the return of the seasons and in the fruitfulness of the earth; such trust that the conditions upon which a good harvest depends are cheerfully complied with. There is belief that they who sow may reap, and they who sow know the quality of the seeds they scatter, but in the field of religious life many tread the furrow with weak and measured pace while they plant unwinnowed seeds.
Under the habit of conceiving of two sources of power and of two spheres of their operation, nature is sometimes assumed to be in antagonism to God. It is the wicked and consenting material that forms the weapons with which scientists assail or seem to imply an assault upon his special revelation to man. Looking at nature as an efficient power, they admit that in some departments at least it is sufficient for the production of phenomena, and they practically admit and are not prepared theoretically to deny, that it embraces the promise and potency of all substantial things. While admitting that the Creator established the laws of nature, and the forces that work in their channels; they imagine he gave to them propulsion and has since left them to work out their inexorable results as a machine does its work, while he seldom or never touches them ---that they were all finished in the long-ago; and whereas there is now no necessity for his presence and activity, therefore he is not present and active--that his creative power has ceased even if it is not exhausted and his presence being superfluous is not to be expected unless exceptionally and at rare periods. As a consequence of such convictions "he is not in all their thoughts," or, in all their thoughts he is not. The doctrine of the omnipresence of God is accepted as a dogma that it is not expedient to deny, but being an incomprehensible fact it is permitted to be nearly as ineffectual as a rejected theory.
Devout teachers sometimes say of the Creator that he cannot do so and so, referring to the limitations “in the nature of things.” Such statements may express absolute truth. The opposite of them may be inconceivable. They seem to imply that he will be exalted by having his subjection to nature's laws proclaimed and proven, or at least that he will thus be made more acceptable to minds familiar with science. There seems to be an impression that nature or nature's laws were anterior and superior to God himself—that he made all things in conformity and in subordination to those laws—that he is environed by necessities and limitations. Probably there is often the confused process of an attempt to conceive of the contradictory condition of an existence prior to the First and of a power superior to the Almighty. All expressions intimating, or babits of thought admitting that truth or necessity or nature is in any wise prior or superior to him, suggest limitations upon him, and they imply that he is not supreme. By such processes in many minds the infinite and omnipresent One is superseded; and having no relish for atheism, such minds accept only an anthropomorphic deity, into whose presence they hope the future may lead them. Upon such an unstable foundation the superstructure of conviction and character is weak, and a comparison makes atheism tolerable.
How may the foundation be amended ?—At some point the mind must consent to surrender itself to the fact of an eternal and infinite being, though he is incomprehensible to finite facul. ties; and to abandon its pursuit of the beginning; for it can neither conceive of a beginning nor of no beginning.
Man with his highest endowment of moral freedom bas allowed his will and imagination to become subject to his animal nature; to multiply its requirements by complex contrivances and indulgencies, until it has obtained the mastery; and it keeps his perception and his freedom impaired. His moral nature may be emancipated and developed to a high degree of utility and felicity if he may be led to admire and to imitate a perfect character. But he is not inclined to do this; and gratitude is the only bond that will lead him and hold him to such a course; and none short of his Creator is entitled to the requisite degree of gratitude or admiration; and his Creator is an invisible spirit;—and alas, man can have no conception of a