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THE VENTURE

OF

RATIONAL FAITH



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO
ATLANTA SAN FRANCISCO

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.

TORONTO



THE VENTURE



OF



RATIONAL FAITH



BY

MARGARET BENSON



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

1908



PREFACE

FIFTEEN years ago I began to write a book of
Christian apologetics, intending, with the sanguine
impulse of my age, to meet and answer the his-
torical, scientific, and philosophic difficulties in
the way of belief. The first difficulty which met
me was the necessity of knowing something about
these subjects.

Thus life destroys many of our hopeful anti-
cipations, but even in soberer middle age the
germ of the intention is still alive, for Christianity
makes no claim to be the religion of the expert
only ; it cannot be necessary, if Christianity is in
any way what it professes to be, to wait until
historical criticism has uttered its last word, or
science tried its last experiment, before trusting to
the truth of sayings whose authenticity is ques-
tioned, or to the power of a life whose uniqueness
is challenged.

Yet merely to refer those who make such a



vi RATIONAL FAITH

plea to " faith " as opposed to " reason " would be
a superficial solution of the problem. Reason
means no more than logic and faith no more than
instinct, if they are mutually exclusive. We are
rightly not content to be relegated to the guidance
of instinct only in the practical concerns of life,
why then should we be content in that which
concerns us most deeply, our religious belief?

The aim of this book then is to show the
reason of faith, not necessarily to find out a new
reason, but to make clear if possible an implicit
reason. And those to whom it is addressed are
neither the experts on one side, nor on the other
those who live by instinct, but average people of
educated intelligence. The claim to be average
is not an arrogant claim, like the claim to be the
plain man, or the man in the street. The plain
man insists on being plain ; the man in the street
rollicks down the street and looks at himself in
the plate-glass windows. 1 But none of us wants
to be average. That we are so is a melancholy
fact borne in upon us in middle life, and we do
not always relish it. But at any rate good
sense is expected of average people ; and those
among them who are continually meeting certain

1 Cf. God and my Neighbour, by Robert Blatchford.



PREFACE



VH



" obstinate questionings," while realising that they
cannot answer them in a comprehensive fashion
upon purely intellectual grounds, must yet claim
for their religion some reasonable basis.

What I have therefore attempted to do is not
to meet and solve difficulties for the solution of
a difficulty is a matter for the expert but while
recording difficulties to examine the basis on
which belief actually rests or may rest, in order
to find what reason is implied in it. Then having
reached this point to turn round and see what
proportion in view of the reason for faith, the
reasons for doubt seem to have assumed.

If we have gained a standing-ground on
some shore is the tide-mark above or below us ?
Though we see the waves lapping at our feet,
rising, threatening, are we secure within that
invisible barrier which holds back the waters ?

In every province into which faith enters, not
only in the belief in God, but the trust in our
friends and in our own business in life, when once
standing - ground has been attained, difficulties
which threatened break like waves on a rock and
are given back in vapour to the air.

But the power of popular doubts can hardly be
compared to the strength of waters ; they are



viii RATIONAL FAITH

mists of doubt, phantoms of cross lights and
shadows which gain their force only from the
lightness or the cowardice which arrests enquiry.
Reasonless as much of our faith often is, the
popular difficulties which assail it are yet more
irrational ; least reasonable of all is the position
of those who will study neither the difficulties of
faith nor the grounds of belief, but let a vague
faith be assailed by a yet vaguer doubt, and hardly
wait to fight with shadows before they fall or flee.
The simplest touch of reality may dispel such
doubt. I once encountered a nursery-maid who
rejoiced in grave suspicions of the Pentateuch on
the ground that Moses could not write ; the sight
of an Egyptian eighteenth-dynasty scarab quite
unreasonably dispelled a groundless doubt. A
voyage to the Holy Land and the apprehension
of its geographical reality similarly restored a
young sailor to a complete belief in the historical
character of all events alleged to have happened
there, and he exhorted his mother not to follow
his earlier example of disbelief in the curate's
sermons. The cause of this is not far to seek,
nor does it affect the uneducated only ; we cannot
believe in anything however true, which has no
connection with what we know to be real.



PREFACE ix

The most fruitful cause of unbelief is not that
faith conflicts with what we have learnt to be
true, but that it seems to have no connection with
what we know to be real, and thus many avoid-
able as well as unavoidable defects of education
have their part in weakening faith. It is unavoid-
able that we should be taught some fundamental
religious doctrines before we have enough experi-
ence of life to be capable of testing them ; but we
are often unnecessarily taught the historical side
of our religion apart from its historical setting ;
not as if it was an integral part of the world's
history, with contemporary events and historical
antecedents, but as if the events had taken place
in a little world apart from our own, in that small
alien universe where the sailor had no doubt
located the land of Israel side by side with the
Garden of Eden. If historical and scientific diffi-
culties are presented to a mind thus nurtured,
religious belief is apt to give way for it is felt to
be unreal ; whereas the objections to it involve
facts of that real world of science and history
which touches our daily life.

Moreover minds so developed are more open
to suspicion than to study. " There is no reason,"
such an one might argue, " for teaching me the



x RATIONAL FAITH

geography of South America, except that it
happens to exist ; but I might have been taught
the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and
final judgment to keep me happy and straight in
this life even if no one were sure they were true."
Thus the extreme importance of belief becomes
a reason against acceptance to an honest mind.
Indeed the best counteractive to the secularisation
of education would be the secularisation of reli-
gion its connection with the world and with life.
For it is not education only which affects the
reality of religion ; the positive reasons for belief
must be found somehow in the hold on life, and
as life grows easier to the educated class (where
ideas, beliefs, and doubts take their rise and flow
down to the less educated), they are apt to lose
some hold on reality. "All things are lawful,"
and recreation is certainly expedient, but it needs
a very profound mind not to lose some sense of
reality when attention is much centred on a golf-
ball. It is an old truth that the harder realities
of life, restoring, as they do, a sense of proportion,
bring back religion.

Almost every one, when age,
Disease or sorrow strike him,
Inclines to think there is a God
Or something very like Him.



PREFACE xi

I will not pretend to examine religious belief
with an "unbiassed" mind. If any one is able to
look even on his father and mother with an
"unbiassed " mind, it argues less the brilliancy of
his intellect than the deficiency of his sonship.
A " bias " here would be both the cause and the
result of truer perception. Still more impossible
is it to look " unbiassed " on one's own faith. We
cannot divest ourselves of faith like a dress and
put it upon a stand for inspection. I f we believe
in a gospel at all, we believe in a power which has
made us what we are and will mould us to what
we shall be ; we believe in something which intel-
lect can only try to apprehend in a glass darkly,
but which we know to be the core and heart of
our life.

But if one cannot be unbiassed one is bound
to be fair ; the bias must not allow us to close our
eyes to difficulties or to determine a question
by a foregone conclusion. Above all, we must
remember that our own conviction is not in itself
a reason for another person's belief.

On the other hand, the attitude of the enquirer
or the sceptic is essentially unbiassed, so we may
claim that he also should never arrest the course
of reasoning by an a priori conclusion ; and that



xii RATIONAL FAITH

he should endeavour so to apprehend any rational
position as to see what belief its reasonableness
implies.

The book naturally divides itself into four
parts :

First, an Introduction, dealing with the nature
of reasonable belief in general, and showing the
failure of the a priori argument against the
possibility of religion.

Secondly, an examination of the chief difficulties
in the way of belief in Christianity.

Thirdly, an examination of the reasons for faith
which is implied in any reality of rational life.

The last part deals with the comparison of the
position thus reached with the main standpoint of
Christianity, and the Epilogue aims at showing
the possible realisation in Christian faith of the
conditions of reasonable belief in general.

This book does not pretend to any originality
of thought ; if there are fewer references to
authorities than might have been expected it is
for one of two reasons. As this attempt has
lasted over a considerable space of time, many
ideas which one has derived from books or from
people have passed unconsciously into one's own
thought ; and further, most of the ideas are



PREFACE xiii

common property which can be assigned to no
one author. Thus my only excuse for writing
must be the attempt to take, from the inside, a
comprehensive view of the position of the average
person, to see its necessary limitations as well as
its possibilities in the way of knowledge and
experience, and to decide how far, in these cir-
cumstances, a rational life involves a reasonable

faith.

MARGARET BENSON.

1907.

[The author having been prevented by recent
severe illness from correcting the proofs of this
book, I have, at her request, seen it through the
press ; thus it has not had the advantage of her
own final supervision. Sincerest thanks are due
to those who have given valuable help in revision

and verification.

JANET GOURLAY.]

1908.



CONTENTS

PART I. INTRODUCTORY

PAGE

CHAP. I. THE CONDITIONS AND NATURE OF REASON-
ABLE BELIEF ....... 3

I. Fundamental principles of thought. 2. Beliefs re-
ceived on authority. 3. Principles of practical action.
4. Irresistible conviction. 5. Knowledge derived from
(a) simple, (3) scientific experience. 6. Verification.
7. Analogical religious beliefs. 8. Relation of religious
belief to belief in general.

CHAP. II. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF PHILOSOPHIC MATER-
IALISM ........ 20

i. Scientific materialism. 2. Philosophic considera-
tion of scientific terms. 3. Ethereal forms of materialism.

PART II. CRITICAL

A. THE DIFFICULTIES OF SCIENCE
CHAP. I. DEFINITION OF SCIENTIFIC DIFFICULTIES . 39

i. The relation of God to the world. 2. Different
aspects of religion and science.



xvi RATIONAL FAITH



PAGE



CHAP. II. SCIENCE AND MIRACLES .... 49

I. Divine action through known law. 2. Divine
action through unknown law. 3. Divine action in
' contradiction to known law. " 4. Divine providence
through all events.



CHAP. III. SCIENCE AND MIRACLES . . . .58

i. Meaning of "opposition." 2. Absence of con-
tinuity of causation. 3. Arbitrary and unique events.
4. Connection of ideal and material. 5. Connection
of divine idea with the material.



CHAP. IV. SCIENCE AND PERSONALITY . . .67

I. Personality and law. 2. Scientific conclusions
and rational belief.



B. THE UNCERTAINTIES OF HISTORY
CHAP. V. THE RECORDS OF CHRISTIANITY. . . 77
Definition of uncertainties.

CHAP. VI. SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY AND ARTISTIC TRUTH 84

i. Contrast of attitude. 2. The aspect of the his-
torian.

CHAP. VII. EVIDENCE FROM RECORDS ... 95

i. Suitability of evidence. 2. St. Paul's evidence.
3. The synoptic gospels. 4. The Fourth Gospel. 5.
Other evidence.

CHAP. VIII. ESTIMATION OF EVIDENCE . . .120

i. The complexity of personality. 2. The idealising
tendency. 3. Summary of the question.



CONTENTS xvii

PAGE

CHAP. IX. (TRANSITION TO C.) THE GENESIS OF

RELIGIOUS IDEAS 136

Relation of evidence from records to evidence of results.
Christianity and natural religion.



C. PARALLELISM OF CHRISTIANITY AND OTHER
RELIGIONS

CHAP. X. RESEMBLANCES OF DOCTRINES, RITES, NAR-
RATIVES 142

CHAP. XL EVOLUTION OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS . . 154
CHAP. XII. EVOLUTION AND REVELATION . . .161

CHAP. XIII. TRANSITION TO PART III. . . . 168

i. Review of scientific and historic difficulties. 2.
Popular solution. 3. Necessity of special evidence.

PART III. CONSTRUCTIVE

CHAP. I. INTRODUCTORY THE NATURE OF POSITIVE

EVIDENCE . . . -, . . . .179

A. THE MORAL DEMAND
CHAP. II. THE MORAL IDEAL AND MORAL OBLIGATION 184

CHAP. III. ARGUMENT FROM ACTUAL IMPERFECTION . 190

i. Sin and suffering. 2. Time and the end. 3.
The object of philosophy.



xviii RATIONAL FAITH



PAGE



CHAP. IV. EXISTENCES IMPLIED IN MORALITY . .209

i. Wisdom in the universe. 2. Objection The
evolution of morality. 3. The belief in spiritual power.
4. The necessity of redemptive action. 5. Choice as
an element in rational belief.



B. THE SPIRITUAL REALITIES
CHAP. V. TESTS OF SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE . .225

I. Experience, delusion, mistake. 2. The corre-
spondence to moral demand. 3. Spiritual experience
and ethical experience.

CHAP. VI. EVIDENCE OF SPIRITUAL REALITIES . . 238

i. Conversion and its interpretation. 2. Thought,
emotion, perception only forms of manifestation. 3.
Rationality of belief in spiritual power. 4. Power and
personality.



PART IV. THE MYSTERY OF PERSONALITY

A, VERIFICATION OF PRINCIPLES IMPLIED
IN HIGHER EXPERIENCES

CHAP. 1 253

i. Actual and ideal world. 2. Verification by historic
manifestation. 3. Unity of Christian doctrines and
ethics.

^.EXAMINATION OF THREE FUNDAMENTAL
CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES

CHAP. II. THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD . . . 264

i. The idea of Providence. 2. The doctrine of
"adoption." 3. Revelation through the Son.



CONTENTS xix



PAGE



CHAP. III. THE REDEMPTION THROUGH THE SON . 274

I. Metaphor in religion. 2. Sacrifice in nature, life,
and rite. 3. Conditions of redemptive sacrifice. 4.
Communion and will-sacrifice. 5. Propitiation.



CHAP. IV. THE SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH . . . 297

I. Social relation of the spiritual being. 2. The
spiritual community. 3. The Christian Church.



C CONCLUSION
CHAP. V. THE VENTURE OF RATIONAL FAITH . . 307

i. Christianity and personality. 2. The inadequacy
of difficulties.

EPILOGUE

THE CONDITIONS OF REASONABLE BELIEF IN RELATION

TO FAITH 313



PART I
INTRODUCTORY



CHAPTER I

THE CONDITIONS AND NATURE OF REASONABLE
BELIEF

i. BEFORE we are in a position to judge
whether our religious beliefs are reasonable, it is
evident that we must first form some idea of the
nature of reasonable belief in general.

We often speak as if we could only hold a
rational belief about matters which we had tested
by such proofs as would seem conclusive to the
scientific man or the lawyer ; but reflection will
show that the things we believe on well-tested
evidence form a very small part of the things
which we may, indeed which we must, believe
if we are to live like rational beings in the
world. For if we want to consider rational
belief in its largest sense, we must include the
principles which guide our action rightly and
help us to extend our knowledge. We must
include therefore, not only those beliefs which
are tested by reason, but those that are in
accordance with it or serviceable to it. Let us

3



4 RATIONAL FAITH PART i

begin by distinguishing five possible kinds of
rational belief.

In the first class we include the principles of
thought which are implied in perception and
processes of reasoning : such principles are prior
to evidence because they are implied in the very
existence of evidence. Even in observation
some principles and arrangement of thought are
necessary, otherwise impressions would flash upon
our eye and ear and vanish, timeless, formless,
orderless, as we can imagine they must slide un-
noticed across the mind of an imbecile. Further
principles are implied in all our reasoning ; and the
whole structure of science rests upon the assump-
tion that every event has a cause, and that the
same cause always produces the same effect.
Yet this fundamental principle on which all
scientific reasoning is based, cannot be logically
proved. We may indeed have arrived at the
Law of Causation through the association of
cause and effect in simple cases : we are not long
in discovering that fire always burns and water
invariably wets, and our sensations in such cases
do not allow us to forget the result. But simple
association is not proof; and in complicated
instances we are continually confronted with cases
in which things happen without an apparent
cause, or in which the same cause does not seem
to produce the same effect. We are all familiar
with the experiments of youthful students of



CHAP, i REASONABLE BELIEF 5

chemistry, where everything was done right and
the wrong result followed ; or the domestic ex-
perience of housemaids, who took up the china
as they had always done, and it " flew to pieces
in their hands." Thus we cannot prove the
uniformity of nature by invariable experience of
uniformity ; and every other method of logical
proof implies that we already believe in it.

The only true proof of the uniformity of nature
is that whenever we take for granted that it is
true, it ultimately proves itself to be so ; for it is
the re-assertion of this discriminating principle
which enables us again to corroborate it in the
face of contradictory experience, which induces
the operator to repeat his experiment more care-
fully, and persuades the housemaid that some
unnoticed circumstance must have induced the
plate " to fly." It is this which, when a planet
persistently refuses to obey the law of gravitation,
directs the telescope to the path of its new lord
or unseen master ; and through all apparent con-
tradiction the course of experience will testify
again and again to the truth of its fundamental
and formative principle the Uniformity of
Nature. But it will only confirm the faith we
have held through apparent contradiction, and
only confirm it because we have held it.

If this is true with regard to our scientific
beliefs, it is possible that we may find something
analogous in the case of religious beliefs ; that
some part of our religious beliefs may consist of



6 RATIONAL FAITH PART i

fundamental principles without which we could
have no religious experience.

Thus it has always been urged by those who
believe in the love of God that this belief forms
and moulds all spiritual experience ; that it cannot
be proved by purely external observation, for he
who does not believe in it lacks the discriminat-
ing element in observation and the transforming
element in experience ; but that the man who
holds it in the face of apparent contradiction
finds these contradictions but the road to new
laws and new truth, and discovers that the evil
chances of this life open to his vision new depths
of God's love.

If such an argument appears to be illogical in
religious matters, we must remember that the
whole basis of our science is illogical in the same
way.

2. But if any one will examine himself, he
will find that by far the greater part of the
knowledge which he calls his own rests upon
authority.

What do most educated people know about
history or about science ?

The greater part of our education implies that
we know a little of what has been said about a
subject ; we accept our history, and our science
we take on the authority of others. And the
background to our knowledge is a sense of the
general agreement of opinion.



CHAP, i REASONABLE BELIEF 7

This is quite a sound basis in reality, but it is
plain that evidence is not here the foundation of
our belief, but only one test of it. Now and
then we handle a historic monument which
others indeed must interpret for us ; here and
there we confirm our scientific principles by a
domestic experiment. We know the power of a
vacuum as shown in the common pump, though
we vaguely understand its mechanism ; we know
the electric bells ring when the man has put them
right. Yet the conviction of the truth of science
is none the less sure because it consists in the
link between the vague feeling of the general
consensus of opinion and the tag end of reality
held in our hands, which converts by magic touch
the theory into conviction. The electric bell does
ring, the common pump is working in the yard.

All this indeed stretches far beyond us, but it
also comes close to us ; the backgrounds of our
various "subjects" seem harmonious; the pump
man for instance has no scientific quarrel with
the electric bell man. Thus, until we begin to
examine the foundation of belief, it does not
occur to us that the grounds of such knowledge
do not really rest on evidence tested by ourselves
at all. Yet the man who rejected this body of
knowledge because he was not able to test it
would not be the more rational but the less
rational man. Even those who by careful sifting
of evidence add to knowledge must first take
their stand on authority ; and the scientific expert



8 RATIONAL FAITH PARTI

himself can test but a small part of the know-
ledge which forms the basis for his original
research ; his very discoveries are based on what
he has received on authority. The whole body
of knowledge indeed is a corporate possession of
which the individual can assimilate but a small
part.

It may be said that all progress in knowledge
takes place through the correction of that which
has been received on authority, and this is true; but
without the huge body of traditional knowledge,
accurate and inaccurate together, there would be
nothing even to correct. Progress is not made
in spite of authority, but by means of it.

If, then, the largest part of our rational beliefs
in general rests on authority, there is no a priori
reason why our religious beliefs should not rest
on authority.

But here we should be met by the objection
that there is not a general consensus of opinion in
religious matters. We can only comment briefly
on the objection here and point out that the
difference between the two cases may easily be
exaggerated : the savage races of the world prob-
ably agree quite as little with our science as with
our religion; and when we speak of the general con-
sensus of opinion, we mean merely the consensus
of the most expert opinion, and the possibility
of thereby convincing any sufficiently intelligent
disciple. But even the consensus of educated
opinion in science has sometimes been proved to



CHAP, i REASONABLE BELIEF 9

be opposed to the truth. Galileo has been contra
mundum as well as Athanasius. We are slower
to recognise the place of the expert in religion,
and indeed in this region he is usually called a
fanatic ; but it would be difficult to support the
position that here alone attention to the subject
is a disadvantage. Moreover we are not cut off
from testing in our own experience the religious
truths which we receive on authority, exactly as
we test the scientific truths. It is sometimes for-
gotten that this test alone can give reality to our
beliefs in either case.

3. In the third place, our practical actions
imply certain principles of which we only become
conscious by analysis ; but in so far as these
principles lead us to correct conclusions and
rational actions, we must call them, in the largest
sense, rational beliefs.

The observation of animals helps to show us
how we may act on such rational principles before
they have emerged into full consciousness. We
have some common octaves of thought with many
animals, we have the same keynote ; their intel-
lect, conscious and instinctive, is based on the


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