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In the course of lectures which I delivered last year, I endeavoured to show that theism was true; that there was an overwhelming weight of evidence in favour of the belief that the heavens and the earth and all that they contain owe their existence and continuance in existence to the wisdom and will of a supreme, self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, righteous, and benevolent Being, who is distinct from, and independent of, what He has created. In the course which I have undertaken to deliver this year, I wish to subject to examination the theories which are opposed to theism, and I hope to be able to prove that they are essentially irrational and erroneous. When
engaged in the attempt to establish that theism has a broad and solid foundation both in fact and reason, I contented myself with simply warding off the attacks of those who deny that it has such a foundation. But obviously more than this may and should be done. It is our right and our duty to inquire also if those who reject and assail theism are themselves standing on firm ground, and if the systems which have been raised in hostility to theism are as impregnable as we have found itself to be. It is this right which I intend to exercise; it is this duty which I shall endeavour to perform.
In dealing with theories which have nothing in common except that they are antagonistic to theism, it is necessary to have a general term to designate them. Anti-theism appears to be the appropriate word. It is, of course, much more comprehensive in meaning than the term atheism. It applies to all systems which are opposed to theism. It includes, therefore, atheism. No system is so opposed to theism as atheism ; it is the extreme form of opposition to it. But short of atheism there are anti - theistic theories. Polytheism is not atheism, for it does not deny that there is a Deity; but it is anti-theistic, since it denies that there is only one. Pantheism is not atheism, for it admits that there is a God; but it is anti-theism, for it denies that God is a Being distinct from creation and possessed of such attributes as wisdom, and holiness, and love. Every theory which refuses to ascribe to God an attribute which is essential to a worthy conception of His character is anti-theistic. Only those theories which refuse to acknowledge that there is evidence even for the existence of a God are atheistic.1
An examination of anti-theistic theories ought evidently to begin with atheism,—the complete negation of theism. The term atheism, although much less general in signification than anti-theism, includes a multitude of systems. Atheism has a great variety of forms. Its advocates are by no means agreed among themselves. On the contrary, if their comparatively small number be taken into account, they are far more divided into sects than theists. They are at one only in their utter rejection of theism. I am not aware of any positive distinctive principle which atheists hold in common. As soon as they attempt to state a doctrine which may fill the place of theism, dissension breaks out among them at all points. It is an obvious consequence of the fact that atheism is thus indefinite, divided, and varied, that its chief phases must be discussed separately. It cannot be treated fairly by being treated as what it is not,—a single, self-consistent system. It is really a series or aggregation of discordant and conflicting systems. At the same time, some 1 See Appendix I.