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Francis Bowen.

Lowell lectures, on the application of metaphysical and ethical science to the evidence of religion; online

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FROM TIIK LIKKAKV OF

DR. FRANCIS LIEBER,

Professor of History :iml Law in Columbia Coll.-yro, Now York,

THK. (Ul T OF

MICHAEL REESE,

Of San Francisco.
1 M T :\ .



LOWELL LECTURES,



APPLICATION



OP



METAPHYSICAL AND ETHICAL SCIENCE



TO THE



EVIDENCES OF RELIGION;



DELIVERED BEFORE THE LOWELL INSTITUTE IN BOSTON,
IN THE WINTERS OF 1848-49.



BY



FRANCIS BOWEN.



BOSTON:

CHARLES C. LITTLE AND JAMES BROWN.
1849.



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1849, by

JOHN AMORY LOWELL,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.



CAMBRIDGE:
MKTCALF AND COMPANY

PRINTERS TO THE UNIVERSITY.



TO

ANDREWS NORTON,

IN TOKEN OF RESPECT
FOE HIS EMINENT SEEVICES TO THE CAUSE OF LETTERS, MORALS, AND RELIGION,

AND OF GRATITUDE

FOR MANY WORDS OF COUNSEL AND ACTS OF KINDNESS,
THESE LECTURES ARE INSCRIBED.



PREFACE.



THE substance of two of these Lectures, the second
and the twelfth of the Second Course, has already
appeared in print in the North American Review.
In a few other instances, also, a paragraph has been
borrowed from essays that have been for some time
before the world. Whenever I have had occasion to
adopt the language of others, the quotation has been
distinguished in the ordinary way, and referred to its
author.

Some apology may seem to be due from one who is
not a clergyman, and who has never been, in the tech-
nical meaning of the phrase, a student of theology,
for undertaking to lecture upon such a subject as the
Evidences of Religion. For the many imperfections
of my work, indeed, I am quite willing to plead the
want of professional training as an excuse. But I am
not sure that the public discussion of this subject
ought to be given up altogether to the professed teach-



VI PREFACE.



ers of Christianity. Religion is a matter of personal
interest and vital importance to every human being ;
the question respecting its truth or falsity is one that
he must investigate for himself, and determine upon
his own responsibility. The subject presents itself
under various aspects to different minds ; and though
the unprofessional student of it certainly labors under
a serious disadvantage, from the want of that com-
prehensive and exact information which systematic
instruction alone can give, he may deem that this
defect is in some measure compensated by the greater
freshness of the theme to him, and by the fact that he
approaches it from a different point of view, and that
his testimony is not exposed to the imputation of
professional bias. Most of the clergy, I am confi-
dent, will not harshly reject the proffered services of a
volunteer, who, though he may be unskilful in the
use of his arms, is perhaps better acquainted than
they, from their habits of professional seclusion, can
be expected to be, with the nature of the perils from
without with which their cause is threatened. One
who is not a theologian can best declare the nature of
the difficulties with which the subject is surrounded
in the minds of those the great majority of the
world who have had as little experience and in-
struction as himself.

Though so many volumes have been written upon



PREFACE. VU

&

the Evidences of Religion, it does not appear that the
subject is exhausted, or that the productions of a for-
mer age are in every respect suited to the exigencies
of our own times. There are peculiar forms of infi-
delity, or peculiar causes of latitudinarian opinions
in religion, which are more prevalent in one age than
another. I have endeavoured in these Lectures to
meet those objections and difficulties which are most
current in our own day; to meet them with that
course of argument and illustration which has seemed
most satisfactory to my own mind, and without fear
of incurring the charge of a want of originality on
the one hand, or of a fondness for novel and abstruse
speculations on the other. I have not been afraid,
either to follow in the footsteps of others, if their
arguments happened to be best adapted to my pur-
pose, or to strike off intd a new path, if I might
thereby more surely and safely attain the great
object in view. Those who find little that is new in
this book may be assured that it was not written for
them, but for a class of readers who are less ade-
quately informed upon the subject. Those who dis-
like abstract speculations may pass it over for a similar
reason ; if they have never been entangled in a web
of metaphysical subtilties, a clew to the labyrinth will
be of no service to them.

Some repetitions will be found in these Lectures,



V1U PREFACE.



of which they might have been cleared by a more
thorough revision than I have had time to make.
In general, I have been more willing to incur the
charge of prolixity and a frequent recurrence to the
same line of remark and argument, than of obscurity
or an affected abstruseness. The nature of the objec-
tions considered has unavoidably led me into some of
the dark corners of speculation; but I have honestly
tried to dissipate rather than increase the obscurity,
and for this purpose have often held up the same
subject in many different lights, and looked at it from
various points of view. A few additions have been
made while the work was passing through the press ;
but the Lectures are printed mainly as they were
delivered. To have elaborated them less carefully for
the lecture-room than for the press would have been
unpardonable disrespect to the audience who listened
with so much kindness and patience to the discussion
of themes which promised very little variety or en-
tertainment. Though the recapitulation, at the begin-
ning of one Lecture, of the argument in the preceding
one is not so useful for the reader as the hearer, I
have allowed it to remain as it was written, because
when an argument has been once explained at length
and with some minuteness, a brief summary of it often
makes the connection of its parts more obvious, and
the reasoning itself more clear and convincing,.



PREFACE. IX

In alluding to some of the novel opinions and theo-
ries in science and philosophy, which have gained a
little popularity of late both in England and America,
though their place of origin must be sought else-
where, it has not been my wish to provoke contro-
versy. Opinions may be freely discussed without
causing offence ; I have never referred to the individu-
als or sects who entertain and defend them. Some
of these opinions, I am well aware, are held by many
persons who unite with them a lively and steadfast
faith, a devotional spirit, and a religious life ; but
they have been stumbling-blocks to others, for whom
alone I have endeavoured to surmount or remove
them. The discussion of them has sometimes led
me farther into the territory of the natural sciences
than it was perhaps prudent for one to venture who
has only a general acquaintance with these subjects,
and has never made them objects of special pursuit.
But in these days, when knowledge is so widely dif-
fused that the latest theories and discoveries in science
are familiarly discussed in the newspapers, the bear-
ing of these theories upon the religious belief of the
multitude cannot be safely neglected. I have no
fears of any conflict between the truths of real science
and those either of natural or revealed religion. The
voice of nature, when rightly interpreted, never con-
tradicts itself, and the truth that is fully compre^
b



X PREFACE.

hended is always sufficient for its own defence. But
when sciolism is almost universal, speculations which
usurp the name and garb of science may often give
a rude shock to the convictions of a large class who
are not well instructed enough to be able to separate
hypotheses from established facts, and who can be
dazzled by the fluent use of scientific phraseology.
Such speculations are easily exposed in their true
character even by those whose studies have not gone .
beyond the limit which every educated person at the '
present day is supposed to have reached.

The business of a lecturer upon the Evidences is to
reason, and not to preach. I have endeavoured to
show, that the fundamental doctrines of religion rest
upon the same basis which supports all science, and
that they cannot be denied without rejecting also the
familiar truths which we adopt almost unconsciously,
and upon which we depend for the conduct of life and
the regulation of our ordinary concerns. The applica-
tion of these doctrines to the heart and the life is the
business of the professed teachers of Christianity, into
whose province I have not felt competent to intrude.
Some may think that I have been too cautious in this
respect, and have placed too little stress upon senti-
ment, and too much upon argument, as if religion were
less an affair of the heart than of the intellect. To
this objection it may be answered, that belief is one



PREFACE. xi

thing, and the regulation of conduct according to that
belief is another. A cold and passive assent to the
doctrines of Christianity is not enough to constitute a
religious life ; but no one will maintain that a Chris-
tian life is compatible with a denial of those. doctrines,
or with indifference upon the question whether they are
true or false. Emotion which is not directed towards
any object, nor excited by the contemplation of any
truth, may spring from a source as low as mere physi-
cal stimulus; it is then animal rather than spiritual
in its nature. Religious emotions must rest upon
religious ideas and convictions, or they will be as
transitory as they are vehement. The heart and the
intellect must move together and in concert, for noth-
ing can be more barren than their separate action, or
more pitiable than a conflict between them. If there
are any whose enjoyment of spiritual truth is never
darkened or perplexed by doubts and questionings,
they are those who have first acquired clear and dis-
tinct conceptions of what that truth is, and have
then satisfied themselves by study and experience that
it is founded upon a rock. It is doing no honor to
our religious faith to place it upon the footing of a
necessary prejudice.

But as this subject is considered at length in some
of the following Lectures, there is no occasion to pur-
sue it here. I wished only to express my earnest



Xll PBEFACE.

dissent from the doctrine which is now not infrequent-
ly avowed, even from the pulpit, that any study of the
Evidences of Religion is unprofitable and vain. On
the contrary, I believe that there has seldom been a
time when, such study has been more necessary than it
is at the present day. Religious fanaticism has given
way to religious indifference ; the strife of sects with
each other has somewhat cooled, but the strife of opin-
ions upon all the great subjects that are interesting
to humanity is more active and universal than ever.
The thirst for innovation has greatly increased, and
all restraint upon speculation in science, philoso-
phy, politics, and social economy is taken away. In
France and Germany, at this hour, we see the mourn-
ful consequences of this chaotic state of public opinion,
this upheaval of the foundations of belief. The best
minds of the former country are even now engaged
in an attempt to undo their own work, and to
resettle the belief of the people upon those subjects
in relation to which they had formerly conspired to
shake it. The philosophical party in the French
Institute, after being at open war with the clergy
for a century, are now zealously cooperating with
them in the endeavour to teach the fundamental truths
of religion to the deluded and exasperated people.
If society in our own country is not to experience
a similar crisis, it must be through the efforts of the



PREFACE. Xlll

educated laity, working in concert with the clergy, to
erect a barrier against the licentious and infidel specu-
lations which are pouring in upon us from Europe
like a flood. The time seems to have arrived for
a more practical and immediate verification than the
world has ever yet witnessed of the great truth, that
the civilization which is not based upon Christianity
is big with the elements of its own destruction.

CAMBRIDGE, August 12, 1849.



CONTENTS.



FIRST COURSE.

LECTURE I.

PAGE.

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL



SCIENCE,



LECTURE II.

' THIS DISTINCTION APPLIED TO PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY, 22



LECTURE III.

THE IDEA OF SELF, OR PERSONAL EXISTENCE, .... 44

LECTURE IV.

THE IDEA OF CAUSE, AND THE NATURE OF CAUSATION, . 68

LECTURE V.
FATALISM AND FREE-WILL, 90



XVI CONTENTS.

LECTURE VI.

THE ARGUMENT FOR FREE AGENCY CONTINUED : REASONING
FROM EFFECT TO CAUSE, 112

LECTURE VII.

ALL EVENTS IN THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE A PROOF OF THE
PRESENCE AND THE AGENCY OF GOD, 133

LECTURE VIII.

INFERENCES FROM THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE PHE-
NOMENA OF THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE, 155

LECTURE IX.
THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN, 177



SECOND COURSE.

LECTURE I.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SKEPTICISM OF OUR OWN DAY, . 201

LECTURE II.

THE HUMAN DISTINGUISHED FROM THE BRUTE MIND, . . 222



CONTENTS. XVU

LECTURE III.

THE PRINCIPLES OF ACTIVITY IN HUMAN NATURE, . . . 244

LECTURE IV.

THE NATURE AND FUNCTIONS OF CONSCIENCE, .... 266

LECTURE V.



THE NATURE OF MORAL GOVERNMENT, 288

LECTURE VI.

THE CONTENTS OF THE MORAL LAW A REVELATION OF
THE CHARACTER OF THE DEITY : THE ENFORCEMENT OF
THE MORAL LAW, 311

LECTURE VII.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD, 333

LECTURE VIII.
THE ORIGIN OF EVIL, 356

LECTURE IX.
THE UNITY OF GOD, 378

LECTURE X.

THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL CANNOT BE PROVED WITH-
OUT THE AID OF REVELATION, 401

c



XVU1 CONTENTS.

LECTURE XI.

THE RELATION OF NATURAL TO REVEALED RELIGION, . . 423

LECTURE XII.

THE NATURE OF THE EVIDENCE OF A REVEALED RELIGION, 444



FIRST COURSE



LECTURE I.



THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL
SCIENCE.

THE subject which I have undertaken to consider in these
lectures, not without a painful sense of my own incompetency
for the task, is the oldest, the most comprehensive, and the
most important, that has ever tasked the human faculties. Upon
the answers to the great questions that are involved in it depend
all our knowledge, all our duties, and all our hopes. In no age
of the world, of which we have any clear and trustworthy record,
in no condition of the human race, save that of the lowest forms
of barbarism, have these questions ceased to occupy, in a greater
or less degree, the attention of man, and to influence his con-
duct. In one point of view, they may be said to require the
most profound learning and the largest scope of intellectual
ability in him who would consider and discuss them to advan-
tage ; in another aspect, they seem to come within the sphere of
the narrowest intellect, and to offer the plainest and most prac-
tical considerations to every member of the human family. And
herein lies a sufficient apology for what might otherwise appear
an act of presumption, the attempt on the part of an individual,
however humble and unfitted for the task by the lack of profes-
sional training, not merely to form clear ideas for himself upon
these subjects, but also to endeavour to impress them upon others.
For they are matters of immediate and universal concern ; the
duty of examining our opinions respecting them is incumbent
i



2 PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE.

upon all, under an awful weight of responsibility, if not to the
full extent for the correctness of our conclusions, at any rate for
the diligence, earnestness, and fidelity with which we have
prosecuted the inquiry. The imposing names of Philosophy and
Theology do but cover up those direct and momentous questions,
which even the most incurious disposition at times must ask,
What must I believe, and upon what standard, or by what au-
thority, must I regulate my conduct ? All other things are of
temporary, these are of eternal interest.

And this duty of examination is one which is perpetually re-
newed, as from age to age the nature of the problem shifts, or
we encounter new difficulties in the way of the inquiry, proceed-
ing from new habits of thought, from the progress of science
and speculation, and from the altered relations of man to man
which spring from political changes and new forms of society.
The evidences of religious truth need to be constantly taken
up anew, and presented under a variety of aspects, to suit the
changing emergencies of the times. Political fanaticism some-
times turns its destructive rage against the institutions of our
faith ; new doctrines in philosophy, proposed at first as mere
exercises of fancy, gradually harden into fixed dogmas, and se-,
cretly undermine the foundations of belief ; and, lastly, the nat-
ural allies of religion, perverted by malign influences, sometimes
become its opponents, and the cause of divine truth suffers from
the fanaticism of philanthropy and reform. Against all these
enemies, which often carry on their warfare, not from without,
but in the silence of his own meditations, the believer needs to
be constantly armed, if he would not have his faith degenerate
into a mere prejudice, or shield itself under the hard covering of
a stern and irrational dogmatism.

According to the common notion, Philosophy and Theology
are sister sciences, so closely allied that it is often difficult to
make a distinction between them. Every person must hold some
opinions relative to each, and these opinions form two mutually
dependent creeds, which may be, in a greater or less degree,
peculiar to himself, and of which the action and reaction are so



PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE. 3

nearly equal that it is often difficult to determine which is the
parent of the other. Every theory respecting the origin and
first principles of human knowledge must bear a close relation to
that subject in regard to which knowledge is of the highest
value, the doctrine of God, duty, and immortality. The
religion of the Greeks and Romans, so far as it existed in a
definite and consistent form, that is, as it was conceived by
enlightened and thinking men among them, was wholly drawn
from their philosophical tenets, or, more properly speaking, it
was identical with those tenets. And so it has been in modern
times. Skepticism in philosophy and skepticism in religion, if
not the same thing, at least usually go together.

This, I say, is the common view of the subject ; and we might
therefore well expect, what often happens, that the claims of the
two sciences, so called, should seriously conflict. Men are
drawn different ways by opposite fears, by their dread on the
one hand of an irreligious philosophy, and on the other of an
unphilosophical religion. Loyalty to truth, which is the highest
claim that can be made upon human reason, is drawn into open
hostility with our sense of duty to God, which is the most awful
and imperative of all obligations. The course of the student of
science, the honest and sincere inquirer after knowledge, often
appears adverse or injurious to the feelings or the faith the
prejudices, if you like of the religious believer, the devout
worshipper of an Omnipotent Father and Friend. And even
where direct opposition is avoided, a disputed claim to prece-
dence is set up, and sometimes brings with it an intolerable
burden of anxiety and doubt. On the one hand, it is maintained
that every religious creed must be tried at the bar of human sci-
ence, and its doctrines accepted or rejected according to their
agreement with the speculative dogmas which the unaided reason
has evolved as the limits and criteria of truth ; on the other, the
sacredness of the subject is unwarily held up to shield it from all
investigation, and not infrequently discoveries in science are de-
nounced, if they are at variance with the supposed dictates of
revelation. If metaphysics are made a test of the truth of Chris-



4 PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE.

tianity, it seems but equal justice to make Christianity a test of
the correctness of metaphysics. Sometimes a compromise is
proposed, which is no less shocking to the feelings of the believer
than a contumelious rejection of his faith. Philosophy is repre-
sented as candid and liberal ; as superseding religion, it is true,
in the minds of the cultivated and reflecting classes, but continu-
ing to respect it as an imperfect likeness of itself in the bulk of
mankind. According to this theory, there are many stages of
progress for the human intellect, and men pass on from religion
to philosophy as they do from barbarism to civilization.

Now, before conflicting claims like these can be reconciled,
it is necessary to get clearer ideas of the subjects of dispute, to
determine their respective boundaries, to see how far, if at all,
they encroach upon each other, and, if possible, to settle the
logic of the inquiry. Perhaps it will be found, after all, that the
provinces of Philosophy and Theology are entirely distinct, so that
there is no proper interference, and no cause for controversy be-
tween them. To establish this point is the object of the present
lecture. We must begin with definitions, and if these appear
somewhat abstruse at first, I hope they will become clearer as
we go on.

The simplest as well as the most comprehensive classification
of all objects of knowledge is that which separates them into re-
lations of ideas and matters of fact. I borrow the language of
him who was at once the most subtile logician and the most con-
sistent skeptic of modern times : "All the objects of human
reason or inquiry," says Hume, " may naturally be dividend into
two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact."
This coincides very nearly with the familiar distinction between
physics and metaphysics, except that the meaning of the latter
must be so far extended as to embrace the cognate sciences of
grammar, logic, and mathematics. Stating the proposition in
other words, we say that all science may be reduced to two
branches: 1. The stuo'y of things physical, -or those which
exist distinct from our thoughts ; 2. The study of things meta-
physical, or those which do not exist apart from our thoughts.



PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE. 5

No one can fail to see an essential difference between a fact and
an abstraction, or a pure idea, like that of cause, goodness, power,
existence, and the like. The former is an object of sense, some-
thing which can be seen, heard, felt, or touched, whether we
have had sensible evidence of it ourselves, or rely upon the tes-
timony of others who have had such evidence, or infer its ex-
istence from inductive reasoning, or from the presence of its
effects. The latter is a pure mental conception, which has no
existence except in relation to the mind which forms it. Such
conceptions are called realities only by a figure of speech ; they
are so called to mark our strong sense of the correctness with
which a certain quality is attributed to a substance or an action.
Thus, virtue is said, figuratively, to be a reality", only to mark
our firm belief that there are such things as virtuous actions. In
this class must be ranked all the abstractions of the geometer and
the algebraist. There are no such things in nature as circles and
triangles ; the only proper realities are circular objects and tri-
angular objects.

But the nature of these abstractions may be most clearly ap-
prehended by considering, in the first place, what we mean by
matters of fact. These may be distinguished into things which
exist and events which take place. All the objects of natural
history and physical science stones, shells, plants, and ani-
mals are ranked in the former class; all the laws, so called,
of physical science, the laws of motion, for instance, all the
habits observed by the naturalist, such as the modes of growth
and reproduction of plants and animals, are comprehended in the
latter. Both alike are matters of fact. It is a fact that the earth
exists, or is ; it is equally a fact that the earth moves. That
there is a sun in the heavens is a fact of one order ; that this sun
illumines objects on the earth is a fact of a different order, it
is an event which takes place. We have sensible evidence of
both. '>

I am dwelling too long, perhaps, on a very familiar distinc-
tion ; but it is one that is fundamental to the present inquiry,
which cannot proceed without the fullest and clearest compre-



6 PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE.

hension of it. These two classes, which comprehend all objects



Online LibraryFrancis BowenLowell lectures, on the application of metaphysical and ethical science to the evidence of religion; → online text (page 1 of 43)