« PreviousContinue »
fusion is to be traced to his entertaining mythical and anti-scientific notions about "force" and "the persistence of force," which a deliberate and candid perusal of the chapters on "the varieties of energy" and "the conservation of energy" in any good treatise on Physics might possibly dissipate.
The criticisms on the evidence for the moral attributes of God entirely ignore its character and weight as a whole, and need no other answer than that the sentences objected to should be restored to their original connection and interpreted in relation to their context.
It is impossible to read the following passages from the work of Physicus without deeply deploring that a blunder in physics should have caused so much confusion in an interesting intellect, and inflicted so much pain on an apparently noble nature:—
"If it had been my lot to have lived in the last generation, I should certainly have rested in these 'sublime conceptions' as an argument supreme and irrefutable. I should have felt that the progress of physical knowledge could never exert any other influence on theism than that of ever tending more and more to confirm that magnificent belief, by continuously expanding our human thoughts into progressively advancing conceptions, ever grander and yet more grand, of that tremendous Origin of Things—the Mind of God. Such would have been my hope—such would have been my prayer. But now, how changed! Never in the history of man has so terrific a calamity befallen the race as that which all who look may now behold advancing as a deluge, black with destruction, resistless in might, uprooting our most cherished hopes, engulfing our most precious creed, and burying our highest life in mindless desolation. Science, whom erstwhile we thought a very Angel of God, pointing to that great barrier of Law, and proclaiming to the restless sea of changing doubt, 'Hitherto shall thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed,' — even Science has now herself thrown down this trusted barrier; the flood-gates of infidelity are open, and atheism overwhelming is upon us."—Pp. 51, 52.
"So far as the ruination of individual happiness is concerned, no one can have a more lively perception than myself of the possibly disastrous tendency of my work. So far as I am individually concerned, the result of this analysis has been to show that, whether I regard the problem of theism on the lower plane of strictly relative probability, or on the higher plane of purely formal considerations, it equally becomes my obvious duty to stifle all belief of the kind which I conceive to be the noblest, and to discipline my intellect with regard to this matter into an attitude of the purest scepticism. And forasmuch as I am far from being able to agree with those who affirm that the twilight doctrine of the 'new faith' is a desirable substitute for the waning splendour of 'the old,' I am not ashamed to confess that, with this virtual negation of God, the universe to me has lost its soul of loveliness; and although from henceforth the precept to 'work while it is day' will doubtless but gain an intensified force from the terribly intensified meaning of the words that 'the night cometh when no man can work,' yet when at times I think, as think at times I must, of the appalling contrast between the hallowed glory of that creed which once was mine, and the lonely mystery of existence as now I find it,—at such times I shall ever feel it impossible to avoid the sharpest pang of which my nature is susceptible. For whether it be due to my intelligence not being sufficiently advanced to meet the requirements of the age, or whether it be due to the memory of those sacred associations which to me, at least, were the sweetest that life has given, I cannot but feel that for me, and for others who think as I do, there is a dreadful truth in those words of Hamilton,—Philosophy having become a meditation, not merely of death, but of annihilation, the precept know thyself has become transformed into the terrific oracle to CEdipus—' Mayest thou ne'er know the truth of what thou art'"
Be not Martyrs by Mistake.
Note IV., page 38. History, Causes, And Consequences Of Atheism.
Few works were written expressly against atheism until the sixteenth century was considerably advanced. The 'Antiatheon' of Fr. Boria, published at Toulouse in 1561, the ' Atheomachie' of De Bourgeville, published at Paris in 1564, the 'Atheomachie' of Baruch Caneph, published at Geneva in 1581, and the 'Atheomastix' of G. Ab. Assonlevilla, published at Antwerp in 1598, were among the earliest specimens of the class.
Publications of this kind followed one another in rapid succession during the seventeenth century. Among those which appeared in English, the following may be specified: Martin Fotherby's 'Atheomastix' (1622); Walter Charleton's 'Darkness of Atheism expelled by the Light of Nature' (1652); Henry More's 'Antidote against Atheism' (1662); Sir Charles Wolseley's 'Unreasonableness of Atheism' (1669); J. M.'s 'Atheist Silenced' (1672); John Howe's 'Living Temple, against Atheism, or Epicurean Deism' (First Part, 1675); Ralph Cudworth's 'True Intellectual System of the Universe, wherein all the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is confuted, and its Impossibility demonstrated' (1678); Richard Bentley's 'Boyle Lecture: A Confutation of Atheism' (1692); J. Edwards's 'Thoughts on the Causes and Occasions of Atheism' (1695); and A. B.'s ' Mystery of Atheism, or the Devices to Propagate it' (1699).
A continuous stream of attacks on atheism flowed from the press all through the eighteenth century. A mere catalogue of them would fill many pages. It is a fact which merits to be carefully noted, that during the long period which intervened from about the middle of the sixteenth to about the middle of the eighteenth century, notwithstanding the multitude of books written against atheism, scarcely any—perhaps none—appeared in its defence. Its assailants were rather at war with a tendency or frame of spirit prevalent in society, than with definite forms of atheism, strictly so called. Their application of the terms atheism and atheist was generally very loose—often quite reckless. Epicureanism, even when combined with Deism, Hobbism, and Spinozism, were long treated as the chief manifestations of atheism. There were probably, however, in the period referred to, a large number of real atheists, although they did not consider it desirable to propagate their opinions through the printing-press.
Attempts were early made to sketch the history of atheism, as, e.g., by Niemann in 1668, Reiser in 1669, Jenkins Thomas in 1709 (1716), and Reimann in 1725. But there is even at present no general history of atheism of much value. One of the most ridiculous works of a historical character on atheism is the 'Dictionnaire des Athees' (1799), by the enthusiastic atheist, P. S. Mare'chal. Here Justin Martyr, Saint Augustine, Pascal, Bossuet, Leibnitz, and the most virtuous and pious men of all ages, are glorified as atheists. In partial excuse it must be remembered that Reimann, in the excess of his Protestant zeal, has enlarged his list of atheists with Roman Catholic divines, and that Roman Catholic writers have frequently relegated the reformers and other Protestant theologians to the same category.
From the very rise of a specifically anti-atheistical literature, the desire was manifested to trace the causes of atheism, but the harsh and illiberal mode of viewing differences of opinion so long and widely prevalent, had a very injurious effect on the investigation. Much that is excellent on this subject will be found vigorously stated by Prof. J. S. Blackie in his ' Natural History of Atheism' (1877)
The question, whether or not atheism is compatible with morality and with political security and prosperity, was keenly and fully discussed in numerous writings published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The history of this controversy, which is a remarkable testimony to the intellectual influence of Machiavelli and Bayle, deserves to be written. It seems quite forgotten and unknown at present.
In Note II. of Appendix to 'Theism,' I have indicated the works in which the relation of religion to morality seems to me to have been most thoughtfully discussed. Reference may also be made to the paper by W. H. Mallock on "Modern Atheism: its Attitude towards Morality," in the 'Contemporary Review,'Jan. 7, 1877.