Page images
PDF
EPUB

mind ought to arrive, as to whether there is a God or not. If I succeeded in doing so I must, of course, have refuted the atheism which rests on these objections, - the atheism which is purely critical. But whether I succeeded or not, it will be better now to offer some general considerations on atheism in its intellectual, emotional, and moral aspects, than to return on what has been already done, or at least, on what has been already tried to be done.1

How does atheism satisfy the intellect? There is around us a world of order and beauty; a world in which elements are wonderfully compounded and qualities wonderfully associated — in which there is at once an admirable regularity and an admirable diversity — in which all things work together. What explanation does atheism give of this world? There is an atheism which does not pretend to give any explanation; which tells us even that there is no explanation to be given, and that it is foolish to ask for any. This kind of atheism, to be consistent, ought to forbid all investigation whatever ; ought to lay an arrest on thought and research at the very outset of their course; ought to explain nothing; ought not to recognise that there is any such thing as law and

1 See Appendix III.

order. This kind of atheism is a direct and complete violation of the rational principle in man. The human intellect is by its very constitution compelled to seek first causes for events, and final causes for order and adaptation; and it has no right to stop short, as the atheist would have it, when it cannot advance farther without rising to the apprehension of a Creative Reason. If it will not go as far as its principles legitimately lead, it has no right to start at all; it must deny itself entirely; it must wholly renounce its own nature. In other words, a brute may, but a man cannot, be a consistent atheist of this class. Pure empiricism is so far beneath humanity as to be beyond its reach, and can support nothing either human or rational.

There is an atheism which teaches that the world is but the last effect of an eternal succession of causes and effects, and that there has been no first cause. The mind, however, rejects as absolutely absurd the notion of an eternal series of worlds which depends on no originating principle. It demands a first cause, a true and self-existent first cause. A series may be indefinitely extensible ; it cannot be infinitely extended. Where there is a last term there must have been a first term. If each of a series of effects be dependent, all the effects of that series must be dependent, and on a cause which precedes them. If the last link of a

chain be supported by the link above it, that by the third link, the third by the fourth, and so on, the entire chain cannot hang upon nothing. An endless adjournment of causes is a process which is meaningless and useless, and in which reason can never acquiesce. For reason to abandon belief in a self- existent eternal cause for belief in an eternal series, every part of which is the effect of an antecedent cause, while the whole is an effect without a cause, is a suicidal, a self-destructive act. Besides, the supposition of the eternity of the series of worlds obviously cannot free us from the necessity of believing in an eternally operative intelligence to account for the order, the mechanical and organic adjustments, the finite minds, &c., to be found in these worlds. The conviction which a man feels when looking at St Paul's that it must have had an architect of wonderful genius, is not disturbed or lessened by his knowledge that it was built two centuries ago. And in like manner, the inference that the world must have had an intelligent cause ought to be as legitimate and strong were it eternal, or the last of an eternal series, as if it were the only world and had been created four thousand years or four days ago. The inference from order and adjustment to intelligence is unaffected by the consideration of time; it is valid for all time, and for eternity as well as for time. The eternity of the series of worlds supposed can

be no evidence that it is uncaused by intelligence; it can only entitle us to affirm that if the series have a cause, the cause must be eternal, since the effect is eternal. The hypothesis of an eternal series of worlds is thus an utterly vain and unreasonable device; a most futile attempt to evade the obligation of belief in God.

There is an atheism which teaches us that matter and its laws account for all the harmonies and utilities of nature, for all the faculties and aspirations of the human soul, and for the progress of history. But this form of atheism also, popular although it be, fails to establish any of its pretensions. It neither accounts for matter and its laws nor shows that they do not require to be accounted for. It assumes the self-existence of matter and its laws, although theism founding on science undertakes to show that they must have had an origin. The basis of this atheism is therefore a manifest petitio principii. And, even with its initial assumption, it does not explain the harmonies of the physical universe, nor the properties of vegetable and animal life, nor the mind of man, nor his moral principles and religious convictions. It puts what is lowest and most imperfect first, what is highest and most perfect last. It regards this contradiction of all rational thinking as a grand achievement.

There is an atheism, incredible as it may sound, which teaches that the universe, with all its objects and laws, is the creation of the finite human mind. What we call outward things are, according to this hypothesis, but mental states. All that is is ego; is the self-acting of itself and limiting itself, and so producing the non-ego or universe. Such is the doctrine on which a kind of atheism has been founded, which has sometimes received the name of autotheism, seeing that it would make man his own God and the creator of the heavens and earth. The celebrated Fichte was, at a certain stage of his philosophical career, accused of atheism in this form. He was supposed to teach a purely subjective idealism which would have been irreconcilable with any worthier religious theory; to maintain that the moral order of the universe which he identified with God was, like the universe itself, the creation of the personal ego. But he indignantly repelled the charge and denied that he had ever confounded the personal with the absolute ego, or taught a purely subjective idealism, or overlooked that development is inexplicable without belief in an immutable Being; and although the view generally given of his philosophy is inconsistent with these exculpatory statements, I believe that they must be accepted. It is admitted on all hands that, later in life, this noble-minded man was neither subjective idealist nor autotheist. Schopenhauer and others do not hesitate to tell

« PreviousContinue »