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prove that there is no God; they have maintained that the existence of God cannot be established, but not that His non-existence can be established; they have tried to justify their unbelief, but they have not sought to lay a foundation for disbelief. And the reason is obvious. It is proverbially difficult to prove a negative, and there can be no negative so difficult to prove as that there is no God. Were a man to be landed on an unknown island, the print of a foot, a shell, a feather, a scratch on the bark of a tree, the perforation or indentation or upheaval of a little earth, would be sufficient to show him that some living creature had been there; but he would require to traverse the whole island, and examine every nook and corner, every object and every inch of space in it, before he was entitled to affirm that no living creature had been there. The larger the territory to be traversed and examined, the more difficult would it necessarily be to show that it had not a single animal inhabitant. So to show that there is a God may be very easy, but to prove that there is certainly none must be extremely difficult, if not impossible. There may be as many witnesses to God's existence as there are creatures in the whole compass of heaven and earth, but before we can be sure that nothing testifies to His existence, we must know all things. The territory which has in this case to be surveyed and investigated is the universe in all its length and breadth; it is eternal time and boundless space, with all the events which have occurred in time, and all the objects which occupy space. Before a man can be warranted to affirm that nowhere throughout all this territory is there any trace of God's existence, he must have seen it all and comprehended it all, which would require omnipresence and omniscience, or, in other words, would imply that he is himself God.
Foster and Chalmers have so admirably presented this argument in celebrated passages of their writings that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it further.1 It has only been attempted to be refuted by an author who has fallen into singular mistakes as to its nature. Mr Holyoake fancies that it turns upon an arbitrary use of the words "denial" and "knowledge." There is not the slightest foundation for such a notion. The word denial, and even all the sentences which contain it, might be deleted without the argument losing a particle of its force. The word knowledge is employed in its ordinary and most general signification. The knowledge of the eyesight is no more demanded of the atheist for his negation than it is alleged by the theist for his affirmation. The whole argument turns simply on the manifest and indubitable difference between proving an affirma1 See Appendix II.
tive and proving a negative. From that difference it follows necessarily that the inference that there is a God may be warranted by a very limited knowledge of nature, but that the inference that there is no God can only be warranted by a complete knowledge of nature. If the author mentioned had not thoroughly misconceived the character of the argument he would never have imagined that it could be thus refuted by inversion. "The wonder," he says, "turns on the great process by which a man could grow to the immense intelligence which can know that there is a God. What powers, what lights are requisite for this attainment! This intelligence involves the very attributes of Divinity, which must therefore be possessed by the theist while they are pretended to be sought. 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 nature independent of Deity, by which even he would be overpowered. If he does not know absolutely every agent in the universe, the one that he does not know may be the eternal source of all life. If he is not himself the chief agent in the universe, and does not know that God is so—that which is so may be the eternal and independent element which animates nature. If the theist is not in absolute possession of all the propositions which constitute universal truth, the one which he wants may be, that nature is the primordial and sole existence. If he cannot with certainty assign the cause of all that he perceives to exist, that cause may be nature. If he does not know everything that has been done in the immeasurable ages that are past, some things may have been done by nature. Thus, unless the theist knows all things — that is, precludes all other independent existence by being the infinite existence himself—he does not know that the nature whose supremacy he rejects, does not self-subsist and act on its own eternal essence." Foster's argument is here travestied, but certainly not answered. Where is the wonder that men should know that there is a God? Such knowledge must indeed be elevated and glorious, but it may well be within the reach of a feeble and limited intelligence. It implies a certain likeness to God, but none of the distinctive attributes of God. A single square foot of earth may contain numerous proofs that there is a God, but only the entire universe can furnish evidence that there is none. He who does not know absolutely every agent in the universe cannot be sure that the one of which he is ignorant may not be the eternal source of all life and thought, while the most familiar manifestations of life and thought may reasonably convince him that their eternal source cannot be dead and thoughtless matter. If the theist undertook to prove the non-existence of nature,—that there are no natural causes and no effects produced by them,—he would venture on the same kind of task as that of the atheist who attempts to establish that there is no God, and his audacity might then be rebuked and his want of wisdom evinced by the same kind of reasoning. In that case refutation by inversion would be legitimate and conclusive; but it is clearly inapplicable in any other case. Before it can be employed some one must be found to maintain that there is no nature, which is the only proposition corresponding to there is no God. But no theist maintains the non-existence of nature. What he maintains is that nature is an effect whose cause is God.
If the argument of Foster and Chalmers be well founded, atheism ought certainly not to be a selfconfident system. It can never be sure that there is no God, and can never have a right to deny that there is a God. It must simply affirm that theism has not been proved true, and must abandon the hope of ever proving it to be false. It must rest in a state of suspense and hesitation from which there is no probability of deliverance, unless by theism being proved true. It must never express itself more strongly than by such phrases as "there is no knowing whether there be a God or not,"—" there is no saying,"—" it doth not yet appear." Is this not a very strange and dreary condition for the human mind to be condemned