Page images
PDF
EPUB

cation with that small portion of external nature which is before us, we have not seen or ascertained a God, must we therefore conclude of every unknown and untrodden vastness in this illimitable universe that no Divinity is there? Or because, through the brief successions of our little day, these heavens have not once broken silence, is it therefore for us to speak to all the periods of that eternity which is behind us, and to say that never hath a God come forth with the unequivocal tokens of his existence? Ere we can say that there is a God, we must have seen, on that portion of nature to which we have access, the print of His footsteps, or have had direct intimation from Himself, or been satisfied by the authentic memorials of His converse with our species in other days. But ere we can say that there is no God, we must have roamed over all nature, and seen that no mark of a Divine footstep was there; and we must have gotten intimacy with every existent spirit in the universe, and learned from each that never did a revelation of the Deity visit him; and we must have searched, not into the records of one solitary planet, but into the archives of all worlds, and thence gathered that, throughout the wide realms of immensity, not one exhibition of a reigning and living God ever has been made.... To make this out we should need to travel abroad over the surrounding universe till we had exhausted it, and to search backward through all the hidden recesses of eternity; to traverse in every direction the plains of infinitude, and sweep the outskirts of that space which is itself interminable; and then bring back to this little world of ours the report of a universal blank, wherein we had not 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.” — Natural Theology, vol. i. b. i. ch. ii.

Note III., page 19.

PHYSICUS.

In ‘A Candid Examination of Theism' by “Physicus,” the argumentation in my previous volume has been subjected to a lengthened examination (see “Supplementary Essay II.,” pp. 152-180). It is not, perhaps, very necessary, yet it may not be altogether undesirable, to make a few remarks on the criticisms with which I have been honoured.

Physicus has withdrawn his faith from theism and transferred it to the metaphysical physics expounded by Mr Herbert Spencer, but pronounced scientifically indefensible by such physicists as Sir W. Thomson, ClerkMaxwell, Balfour Stewart, Tait, &c. He manifestly desires to be impartial, but is far from very successful in this respect. Thus, at the very outset of his work he tells us that, “with the partial exception of Mr Mill, no competent writer has hitherto endeavoured, once for all, to settle the long-standing question of the rational probability of theism ;" that “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;” and that “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.'” The first of these statements virtually pronounces incompetent all writers on natural theology, except Mr Mill and Physicus; the second ascribes to theism a mode of reasoning which it has never employed; and the third travesties the argument which it declares to be prevalent. Such errors are extremely common in the pages of Physicus. He is, nevertheless, an interesting writer.

His objections to the reasoning by which I attempt to show that on no plausible theory of the nature of matter can it be concluded to be self-existent, or anything more than an effect, arise entirely from overlooking the hypothetical and disjunctive character of my argumentation. Thus, for example, he censures my having "adopted the absurd argument” by which Professor Clerk-Maxwell endeavours to show that atoms cannot have been made by any of the processes called natural, and thinks it relevant to assert that the atomic theory is probably not true. Why, my approval of Professor Clerk-Maxwell's argument is expressly stated to be conditioned by the supposition that the atomic theory of the ultimate nature of matter is true, while I have nowhere indicated that I myself adopt that theory or prefer it to others. The same remark applies to his criticism of the argument founded on the vortex-ring hypothesis of the origin of matter, as to which he has further failed to perceive that it rests on the idea of a

perfect fluid. His notion that the argument as to the non-eternal character of heat implies a knowledge of the universe as a whole, has not the slightest reason or relevancy. I have adopted none of the theories alluded to, as I should thereby have weakened my argument and represented theism as dependent on some particular speculation in physics, when in reality its evidence is greatly superior to what can be brought forward for the majority of scientific doctrines. I merely argued that, from any plausible theory of matter, it follows that matter is not to be regarded as self-existent; and that the reasoning by which it has been attempted to prove that heat is non-eternal, requires to be refuted by those who assert or assume that the world is eternal.

He passes from that part of my work which he has failed to understand, in consequence of disregarding the theory of disjunctive syllogisms and the principles of physics, to my treatment of the design argument. This he admits to have been quite conclusive against all opponents until he himself appeared. “For this argument assumes, rightly enough, that the only alternative we have in choosing our hypothesis concerning the final explanation of things, is either to regard that explanation as Intelligence or as Fortuity. This, I say, was a legitimate argument a few months ago, because, up to that time, no one had shown that strictly natural causes, as distinguished from chances, could conceivably be able to produce a cosmos; and although the several previous writers to whom Professor Flint alludes—and he might have alluded to others in this connection-entertained a dim anticipation of the fact that natural causes might alone be sufficient to produce the observed universe, still these dim anticipations were worthless as arguments so long as it remained impossible to suggest any natural principle whereby such a result could have been conceivably effected by such causes. But it is evident that Professor Flint's time-honoured argument is now completely overthrown, unless it can be proved that there is some radical error in the reasoning whereby I have endeavoured to show that natural causes not only may, but must, have produced existing order. The overthrow is complete, because the very groundwork of the argument in question is knocked away; a third possibility, of the nature of a necessity, is introduced, and therefore the alternative is no longer between Intelligence and Fortuity, but between Intelligence and Natural Causation.” From words like these one would suppose that Physicus had discovered a quite new explanation of the order of the universe. But no; when we turn to Chapters iv. and vi.—those to which he so triumphantly points uswe find that he has merely to tell us, what materialists have constantly told us, from Leucippus and Democritus downwards-namely, that “all and every law follows as a necessary consequence from the persistence of force and the primary qualities of matter," and that he presents to us a number of loose statements to this effect, singly as “illustrations," and collectively as a “demonstration," of it. If the design argument is not valid against the reasoning in these chapters it was never valid in any reference. Physicus produces no particle of evidence to show that force is a “self-existent substance" or "eternal substratum,” and explains in no single case how without law it should produce law, or how it should produce order, unless so defined as to quantity, so distributed, and otherwise so conditioned, as to presuppose intelligence. The root of a large amount of his con

« PreviousContinue »