John Macculloch.

Proofs and illustrations of the attributes of God : from the facts and laws of the physical universe : being the foundation of natural and revealed religion (Volume 1) online

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Theological Seminary,


BL 181 .M33 1843 v.l
Macculloch, John, 1773-1835.
Proofs and illustrations of
the attributes of God








F.R.S., F.L.S., F.G.S., &c. &c.

'The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,
being understood by the tilings that are made, even his eternal power and
Godhead."— Romans, i. 20.

Vol. I.







&C. &C. &f.

My Lord,

Though I had long intended to attempt
a work of this nature, I know not that I should have had
resolution to produce it, but for the encouragement and
approbation I received from Your Grace. To you, there-
fore, I beg to inscribe it, in testimony of my gratitude
for your friendship, and my respect for your high charac-
ter and station in the Church of England.

I have the honour to be,

Your Grace's obliged

and very faithful servant,

John Macculloch.

Add'm-ombe House. 1 830.

a -'-


The accomplished Author of these volumes was long
known to the public, hy the singular variety of his
acquirements, his profound researches in Natural
Science, and that purity and piety of mind, which
directed all his philosophical views to illustrate the
hand of Heaven.

It is due to his memory to say, that the present
performance, which may be regarded as the general
result of his principles, is wholly unindebted to the
series of works which have lately appeared on sub-
jects of a similar kind. It was completed in the
Spring of 1830, and was intended for publication in
the following year; when its appearance was delayed
by the announcement of the Bridgewater Treatises.

It is now published in obedience to the last desire
of its lamented Author, and with no other alter-


ations, than the introduction of a iew remarks made
by him, for that purpose, in the closing year of his

If occasional errors in the printing should be
found, the reader is requested to remember, that
the work has not had the important advantage of
the writer's revision in its passing through the press.
Yet no care has been omitted on this head, to do
justice to the last labour of his intelligence and
virtue, by those to whom his recollection is in-


If I had not known that Creation was still an unex-
hausted field, that it contained a wide range of matter
untouched by every writer on Natural Theology, I
should have been the last to attempt a new work on
this subject. It is not for me to ask why former writers
have taken so narrow a view of such ample materials.
Nearly all the knowledge of which I have here made
use, was accessible in their days : and the great book
of Nature ever lies open to him who will look on it,
and, observing, reason. Zoology and Botany have in-
deed improved their arrangements and increased their
objects ; but what is concluded from the whole, might
equally have been deduced from a much less number.
The objects of Astronomy are also multiplied since the
time of Newton, and the theory of the celestial mecha-
nism is perfected : yet almost every inference respect-
ing the Deity which it affords, might have been
made in his day. As regards light, no fact, of any
bearing on this subject, has been added since the labours
of that philosopher : while, under the other great powers
of Nature, and the abstruse properties of matter, every
deduction here made might have been drawn through



knowledge far less accurate than we now possess. If
Chemistry may indeed be termed a new science, still
the inferences to which it has here led might have
been made long ago. It is Geology alone that has
furnished what those writers could not have known.
The more recent ones have not even the shadow of an
excuse : while it is in this neglect, or narrowness of
views, or want of knowledge, that the apology for a new
work on Natural Theology must be sought.

As an apology for its length, it appears to me, not
simply needful that the evidences should be satisfactory,
but that they should be so varied and multiplied as to
meet the great variety of information, talents, feelings,
and affections, that must exist among readers. He who
is ignorant of anatomy, will find what he knows else-
where ; he who delights in the facts of zoology or bo-
tany, may feel no interest in chemistry or astronomy ;
as those sciences may exclusively attract others : while,
if the simpler facts of Nature may fix the attention of
the youthful, he who would turn from these with cold-
ness or contempt, may be interested in those more ab-
struse views and reasonings which the former might not
comprehend. It is important that such a work be po-
pular, or attractive: and to this end, variety is essential.
The great question is one which interests all mankind ;
and though logicians argue truly, that conviction cannot
be increased by superfluity of proofs, this is the objec-
tion which judges of human reason at large, by selected
examples of it. The value of appeals to pure reason is
extremelv narrowed in the mass of mankind : while


they have also but little effect on the feelings or the
conduct. To excite interest, to engage the affections,
and even to influence the imagination, is the wider and
surer road towards the effects which are desirable : to
that piety which, viewing the Creator in the Creation,
may become the basis of a warm, a firm, and a reason-
able religion. Under multiplication of evidence also, a
wider range is afforded for that contemplation. He
becomes present in every thing, in every place ; while
that impression is rendered as habitual as it is universal,
and we learn to feel that He is truly the ever-present,
ever -bountiful, and ever- watchful Protector, as He is
the Parent of the Universe ; the Governor, as He is the

Observing also, that former Avorks on this subject are
often read as if they were mere essays in natural history,
I have here intermixed those metaphysical views and
moral reasonings, which, while they are essential to the
questions treated under this high reference, may also
teach those who might have read from mere curiosity,
to reason on the similar facts of Creation before them,
and thus to form, in the mind, that union between
natural and moral science, without which the former
contributes but little to its improvement.

Thus ranging through the whole extent of Creation,
I have been necessarily obliged to choose and to reject
from this immensity of materials. And though the
task was far from easy, it seemed obvious to select what
was most likely to be understood, and what was most
easily rendered interesting : since the great mass must



be attracted by the facilities and the seductions of
knowledge. And if I have rejected what seemed too
abstruse, or of little general interest, so have I avoided,
in natural history, whatever was distasteful and what-
ever was unfit : regretting, at the same time, that
former writers had so little recollected what Avas due to
themselves and their readers, but, above all, to their
subject : sometimes adding even coarse language to
coarse objects, when there was a choice before them.

The scientific reader will ask reasons for an arrange-
ment which so often contravenes the order of science.
That order could not have been followed, where the
object was to prove and to illustrate the Deity in His
attributes. The same department, or the same general
facts, were sometimes required to prove different attri-
butes : and thus did even certain re-statements of those
become necessary: producing, however, the appear-
ance of repetition rather than the reality. And no
science could have had its separate place : the purpose
was a moral one ; and such was the division, since to
that must every fact have tended. The power of the
Deity is displayed in an insect ; and it is displayed in
the celestial system: it was necessary to approximate
the most remote branches of knowledge. And in a
single science, the generalizations were to be drawn
under moral, not scientific views: while to abandon
scientific generalization is to abandon science. But the
reader of this class can replace every thing : while he
who may gain nothing but disjointed information, will
perhaps be tempted to seek elsewhere, that which there


was no room to teach him here. Thus have I also been
compelled to refer to well-known books, respecting
well-known things : while if more full on some sub-
jects, it was because the facts or views were new, and
there was no such reference. And if there are striking
omissions of facts of high scientific interest, as in the
case of magnetism and much more, it was because they
could not be brought to bear on the moral purposes, as
evidences or illustrations. We cannot, for example, in
this last case, prove wisdom, because we as little can
comprehend the contrivance as the mode in which it
acts ; not even knowing all that it does effect.

It should be obvious why popular statements, like
popular facts, have been preferred to scientific ones;
and familiar, to technical language ; while that is also
more rich in the means of explaining science, than they
who indulge in the peculiar phraseology of the latter
imagine ; and who forget too, that it is the test of
their knowledge to be thus able to translate that lan-
guage. But if there is any one who does not know
that it is easier to write to philosophical than to general
readers, to write technically than to translate and re-
state to every comprehension, he has not made the
latter attempt ; and perhaps has not even discovered,
that the former is often but a rote, requiring little
thought : as, in the latter case, he must make every
thing his own, and under the most minute criticism,
before he can reproduce it in a new form.

Science may yet require another apology for the road
which I have sometimes taken respecting it. Its pur-



suit is that of secondary causes ; and, those being at-
tained, it rests : too often also forgetting that there is
still an ulterior one, and thus falling into that negli-
gence or oblivion respecting the First Cause, which
easily becomes a latent or negative atheism ; if not

Is it further true, or not, that an attempt like the
present is more especially called for at the present day ?
It is so believed by men not safely to be accused of ig-
norance or fanaticism. This is a suddenly risen age,
in which all are to be instructed in facts : while if the
instructors so teach, the instructed are scarcely to blame
in believing that such knowledge is philosophy, that it
is not merely the discipline of the mind, but that thus
are minds formed and abilities conferred. But if this
be so, were the result even better than a knowledge of
philosophy must infer, or than the facts prove, is not
the effect to separate God from His works, when He is
not associated with them? Is it not to generate that very
vanity, the vanity of new and of confined knowledge,
which has ever been accused, and with justice, of lead-
ing to infidelity, and to infidelity of the worst nature,
since it is that which, springing from conceit, will not
listen. Others shall j udge : but if it was the boast of an
ancient sage, that he had brought philosophy down from
heaven to dwell among men, the separation is a hazard-
ous one ; while if it has already been perniciously com-
plete, let it be our endeavour to re-unite what ought
never to have been dissevered, and in looking back to the
regions whence they have descended, to render science


and philosophy the handmaids to religion. And it is
in attempting to effect this, that I have ranged through
a space so much wider than my predecessors. With
science, however, I have traced secondary causes
wherever occasion offered ; not merely because this is
science, but because we thus perceive the wisdom under
which The Deity produces numerous or great ends,
through simple means, or " laws." But 1 have not
rested where it stops. Natural Theology steps the
interval from the last apparent cause to the First : still,
however, professing its anxiety to prolong the chain
towards Him ; as assured, that the more it is investi-
gated, the more will His wisdom appear.

It must not therefore be said, that this checks inves-
tigation. It but marks the boundary of our present
knowledge ; being, even in this, useful, since it is
the assumption of knowledge, not possessed, Avhich is
the great obstacle to its acquisition. Of this Cause,
too, we are sure : while if we can trace no other, it is
perfectly consistent Avith philosophy to point it out,
abstractedly from its moral purposes. The reference is
not that of mere piety, nor the utility directed to re-
ligion alone. The will of the Deity, depending on His
character, offers the solution of many difficulties, for
which science has never yet proposed one, and pro-
bably never will. Thus does the moral First Cause
become also the cause, in a scientific view : and hence
does Science deprive itself of its right hand, when,
under the influence of a false philosophy, it refuses to
turn to the Creator and to inquire of His purposes.


It is true, that the great step thus taken may be but
the step of ignorance : but the future discovery of a
secondary cause can never nullify the great conclu-
sion. The chain may be traced more accurately, but it
will never fail to end in God.

But should the assignment of secondary causes by
science be false, or imaginary, and if it is also the
purpose of this proceeding to exclude or remove the
Deity, the evil is double, affecting science as well as
religion ; while we cannot excuse philosophy from
improper motives in the latter case. Hence, where
opportunity offered, have I designedly exposed its
false pretensions and its ignorance, under whichever
of its hypotheses, and without respect to name or au-
thority. This was a duty to science itself: since, to
convict it of ignorance, may induce it to seek and learn
It was a far deeper moral duty : for thus it is that the
Deity is neglected or forgotten. Everything seems
easy, under the facility of phraseology in which hypo-
thesis deals. There is no display of power, none of
wisdom ; nothing : we need not admire what is so easy
of comprehension ; and do not perceive, till we are told
so, that we comprehend nothing, that we have been
deceived by those whose vanity or ignorance does
not always perhaps discover that they have deceived

After these needful explanations, I must advert to
the special purposes for which these evidences are
detailed. It would be much to mistake the nature of


this work, to suppose that the only object was to prove
the Existence of a Deity, or to display the evidences of
an Intelligent Designer of the Universe. That which
can be proved by one fact as well as a thousand, does
not demand volumes. Hence are the proofs most safely
restricted on this point : especially as former writers
have here taken so wide a scope. Reversely, they
ought to be expanded as they relate to His attri-
butes : since this is to prove God as He ought to be
believed and known, as this also is the basis of natural
religion : for it is not religion, simply to believe in
God. To display also the Divine Intelligence as it
reigns throughout creation, so that the universal pre-
sence of universal wisdom may be ever felt, is far
different from the attempts to prove the existence of
that intelligence. This is of His attributes ; those con-
stitute His character, and explain his conduct : and
thus it is we know Him, if we do not or will not know
Him through revelation. Hence does the great mass
of the following evidences consist in joint proof and
display of His attributes and His conduct : while if
they are not to all the only evidences of those, they
serve to confirm what may have been deduced, a priori,
through metaphysical reasoning or through the testi-
monies of revelation.

The first question, therefore, under such a plan,
relates to the nature, or character, of the Deity :
and as that must consist in qualities, to us who can
only judge through comparison with ourselves, the
fundamental inquiry here is, which of those inferred


qualities, or attributes, can be proved and illustrated
through the physical universe.

The scholastic theologians have here, as usual, re-
fined on words, and multiplied distinctions without
differences. The Attributes have been divided into
natural, intellectual, and moral ; and again, into com-
municable and incommunicable : nor has the most
popular writer on the present subject, corrected the
whole of this idle and useless phraseology. Eternity
and Self-existence are equivalent terms : Unity and
Personality have the same meaning ; Spirituality is
superfluous, since it is He Himself: and the whole are
one, as the proof of Him is the proof of all. The awk-
ward term Immensity is better expressed by Omnipre-
sence : and to name Life, as a communicable attribute,
is a puerility worthy only of the unoccupied minds
whence such distinctions proceeded. But I need not
pursue these idle refinements : suffice it to point out
those parts of the character of the Deity which can
receive proof or illustration from that universe to which
this inquiry is limited.

The illustrations of Intelligence through a Design,
for Ends, form the proof of a Divine Cause, and a Sole
Deity ; God. And though the mere proof is confined
within a small space, those illustrations form the first
division of this work. With this, His Knowledge is
intimately connected : but as the proofs of this occur
everywhere, that division, separated from His Wisdom,
in conformity to the usage of metaphysicians, contains
only a few simple illustrations of its extent. And as


the quality of Omnipresence is peculiarly connected with
that of Universal Knowledge, I have not made a sepa-
rate division for it ; especially as it stands in the same
predicament with respect to illustration. Under the
head of Wisdom, the illustrative facts might often
have found another place : the mere attempt marking
the futility of endeavouring thus to separate the Attri-
butes of The One. If unbounded Power required no
proof, the object, here, has been to make that power
felt : as this division has naturally also received all
those facts which science is as yet unable to explain.
It is Power exciting our admiration and reverence
when we can trace the manner in which it acts : it is
Power exciting our wonder, when its proceedings are

To recur to the scholastic division, these seem to be
the " natural and the intellectual" attributes which can
be illustrated through the physical Creation. The
intellectual character must be perfect, a priori: it de-
mands but illustration. But the moral character might
be good or evil ; as we view those, at least ; goodness
is not necessarily implied in intellectual perfection.
The a priori reasons of metaphysics attempt indeed to
infer the Goodness of the Deity, while they add to this,
Justice and Mercy : further superadding the scholastic
refinements of Holiness, Immutability, and Veracity.
Leaving all this to those who have thus undertaken it,
with whatever success, there is nothing but His Good-
ness which can be proved by facts; and this forms a
considerable division in the present work, as it is that


which former writers have, as far as I perceive, espe-
cially neglected ; though, as bearing on religion, it is
the most important of the whole.

Such are the first five divisions of this work : but
there remains an essential portion of the conduct of the
Deity, which implies His moral character even more than
His intellectual one. I allude to His personal Govern-
ment of the universe. Whether most of the writers on
this subject have disregarded and excluded it, because
it was not found in the scholastic catalogue of attributes,
or because they did not know where to seek for proofs
in physical facts, it is not for me to inquire. Christian
writers could not have been influenced by a Peripatetic
philosophy, at least in modern times ; though the habi-
tual influence of Greece and logic united, might have
caused the Schoolmen to neglect what Greece did not
believe, and what did not conform to the category of
an attribute. But viewing this as the most essential
subject of the whole, since I scarcely know how there
can be religion which does not acknowledge the per-
petual personal government of God, the attempts to
prove it, in a similar manner, form the last division of
this work.

If the wide, yet necessarily superficial views, here
taken of Creation, may invite to further contemplations
of that boundless variety and interest by which we are
surrounded, and thus become a source of rational
pleasure, while also cultivating the intellectual and the
moral faculties, it must never be forgotten, that the


chief object is Religion. To know God, is to have laid
the foundation of a firm and intelligent piety : to see
Him everywhere, to feel that we are for ever in His
presence and under His government, is to ensure the
equal foundation of right moral conduct. This is
religion ; theoretical and practical ; but it is Natural
religion only. Creation teaches nothing more ; but if
it can succeed in teaching this, it has taught much.

And that writer greatly errs, who attempts to pass
his defined limits ; since this is to confuse his cause, by
the mixture of discordant modes of evidence. Though
the Christian Revelation is fully proved, that must not
tempt me to transgress my rigid boundary : the evi-
dences of this belong to far other writings ; and the
proofs from testimony must not be mixed with the
proofs from facts, since bad logic never aided any cause.
Yet I may fairly and safely infer the probability, both
of this, and of prior revelations ; since this is the argu-
ment which is admitted by the strictest logic. And
I may thus also refer to the writers of either revelation,
as philosophers and moralists of the highest rank and
authority ; though I am precluded from quoting them
as authorities in evidence, from which there is no ap-
peal. Yet it will be for him, who, knowing all other
philosophy and all other philosophers, shall compare
them with these men, and their views or declarations,
to judge : as the decision might very safely be left to
him who is without prejudices.

If therefore to feel that they must not be freely
quoted is occasionally painful, there is more advantage


in the avoidance. Such quotation is so common a re-
source of poverty of ideas, that it gives an air of weak-
ness, instead of strength, to the writings with which it is
intermixed : while the habitual and often-heard expres-
sions of Scripture, especially fail of effect ; partly from
use, and partly because they have been heard from the
beginning, without feeling, and without attaching any
ideas to them. It is sufficient to translate any well-
known passage into other words, to be convinced of
this. But, from an abuse too common to require notice,
this usage is also apt to convey the impression of in-
sincerity : we more readily trust him who can find
words of his own, and thus prove that he writes from
conviction and feeling. Nor is there any cause why
these subjects should not be treated in the definite and
intelligible language of philosophy and reason ; since
all the great questions between the Deity and ourselves
are questions of reason and philosophy.

But there is an evil which no caution can avoid ;
because every judgment will differ, according to its
habitual or momentary feelings. The light use of the
Great Name is an admitted evil : and though the use
here is not a light one, its too frequent adoption is apt
to weaken the impression, as it is also often suspected of
insincerity, from the abuses to Avhich I have just alluded.
Yet it is unavoidable ; since the seductions of interest-
ing facts might otherwise often divert the reader's

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochProofs and illustrations of the attributes of God : from the facts and laws of the physical universe : being the foundation of natural and revealed religion (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 46)