« PreviousContinue »
causation," "an hypothesis which is supposed to render the universe intelligible.” Now the best authorities on the History of Religion are agreed that when religions are classified “morphologically,”—that is, according to the manner in which the constituent factors of each are related to one another, they form as it were an elliptic area, whose two foci are “nature religion” and “ethical religion.”1 Spencer's observation is substantially true of nature religions : the gods and spirits with which they deal are before all things “theories of original causation,” ways of explaining the world; and, as they develop, their idea of God's relation to man is a resultant of their ideas of his relation to the world,-as in the ancient Vedic religion, and the Hellenic and Greco-Roman. But even in nature religions their development brings to light a fact which Spencer — at least when he is contrasting scientific and religious causation — appears to overlook. The causes which religion has in view are different in kind from those which science has in view. The objects with which science
1 These terms are preferred by Professor Tiele,
deals meet us in the course of outward experience; its facts and its causes are all in space and time; and all scientific theories of causation must be verifiable by reference to events in space and time. But the objects of religion are not mere events, — they are theories of the Ground and Meaning of events; hence the constant use of such terms as Infinite, Absolute, First Cause, Ultimate Cause, &c. In ethical religions the direct moral relation of the gods to men is the centre of all ideas and beliefs. Many theories of creation and world-government may be formed, but the motive of it all is the moral interaction between God and Man. God's relation to the world is so conceived as to develop and explain and justify his relation to man. Of this, the Hebrew religion is the best example. Hence science, which tries to understand physical nature, cannot touch the predominant motive in ethical religions — which is based on man's moral nature. The two can only conflict if there has been an illegitimate extension given to theory on one side or the other. As every one knows, this has largely taken place;
science has claimed to include man in its physical explanations of the world, and religion has insisted on retaining an obsolete theory of Nature. Hence “ Man's place in Nature” has been the scientific, philosophic, and religious cause célèbre during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Analysing in detail Spencer's difference from Comte, we come first to his protest against the extreme “phenomenalist” doctrine, that an Absolute Power beneath phenomena does not exist, for us.
Dr Martineau 1 has observed that “Spencer's testimony against the merely phenomenal doctrine is of high value; ... it betrays his appreciation of that outlook beyond the region of phenomena for the conditions of religion, which cannot, eventually, be content to gaze into an abyss without reply.” Spencer insists that the very conception of experience implies something of which there is experience; and that “it is rigorously impossible to conceive that our knowledge is a knowledge of appearances only, without at the same time conceiving a reality of which they are appearances ; for appearance without reality is unthinkable.” 1 There is no difficulty in granting that we are in the presence of a universal Power on which we and all things depend, but which is “absolute”—i.e., dependent on nothing beyond itself. Our difficulties all begin when we attempt to define this Power.
1 Dr Martineau's discussions of the systematic doctrine of Agnosticism, in his Essays on Mansel and Spencer, and in his Study of Religion, are among his most brilliant philosophical achievements.
Spencer's famous doctrine of the Unknowable may be briefly but accurately expressed thus : we can know that the Absolute Power is, but not what it is. Now observe that if this doctrine is understood strictly, it is selfcontradictory, for it forbids us to think what it is whose existence we affirm. If we can know that the Absolute exists, we can know it by thought only; and how can there be a thought with nothing thinkable-a thought of what is unthinkable ? Dr Martineau truly says :
By calling this existence a Power, Spencer surely removes it by one mark from the Unknown; but besides
1 First Principles, Part I. ch. iv. § 26 (3rd edition).
this, we are obliged, he says, to regard that Power as omnipresent, as eternal, as One, as Cause manifested in all phenomena: a list of predicates scanty indeed when measured by the requisites of religion, but too copious for the plea of nescience.
Too copious, in truth: as when, in an article published in the Nineteenth Century, Spencer indulges in a destructive analysis of the idea of God as a personal—i.e., conscious and self-conscious—Being, and then proceeds to say :
Among the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty, that we are ever in presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.
If we can know all this, surely we can know something more; and the declaration that Reality is unknowable must be given up. What can have led one who is after all a capable thinker, to such a palpably selfcontradictory conclusion? The answer is that all such conclusions depend on the view taken of the structure of Thought or Intelligence. When we are “thinking,” in the proper sense-going through a process of
? January 1884