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THEISM ***




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Fraser-Cunliffe and the Online Distributed Proofreading
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THEISM

BEING

The Baird Lecture for 1876

BY

ROBERT FLINT, D.D., LL.D.

PROFESSOR OF DIVINITY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH AUTHOR OF 'THE
PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY IN EUROPE,' ETC.

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON MDCCCLXXVII




PREFATORY NOTE.


The Lectures in this volume have been delivered in Glasgow, St Andrews,
and Edinburgh, in connection with the Lectureship founded by the late
Mr James Baird of Auchmedden and Cambusdoon. They will be followed by a
volume on Anti-theistic Theories, containing the Baird Lectures for 1877.

The author has to thank the Baird Trustees for having twice appointed
him Lecturer, and for much indulgence extended to him during his tenure
of office. His special thanks are due to James A. Campbell, Esq.,
LL.D., of Stracathro, for kindly revising the sheets of this volume,
and for suggesting many corrections and improvements.

JOHNSTONE LODGE, CRAIGMILLAR PARK,
EDINBURGH, _22d August 1877_.




CONTENTS.


LECT. PAGE

I. ISSUES INVOLVED IN THE QUESTION TO BE DISCUSSED - WHENCE
AND HOW WE GET THE
IDEA OF GOD, 1

II. GENERAL IDEA OF RELIGION - COMPARISON OF
POLYTHEISM AND PANTHEISM WITH THEISM - THE
THREE GREAT THEISTIC RELIGIONS COMPARED - NO
RELIGIOUS PROGRESS BEYOND
THEISM, 30

III. THE NATURE, CONDITIONS, AND LIMITS OF THEISTIC
PROOF, 59

IV. NATURE IS BUT THE NAME FOR AN EFFECT
WHOSE CAUSE IS GOD, 96

V. THE ARGUMENT FROM ORDER, 131

VI. OBJECTIONS TO THE ARGUMENT FROM ORDER
EXAMINED, 169

VII. MORAL ARGUMENT - TESTIMONY OF CONSCIENCE
AND HISTORY, 210

VIII. CONSIDERATION OF OBJECTIONS TO THE DIVINE
WISDOM, BENEVOLENCE, AND JUSTICE, 233

IX. _A PRIORI_ THEISTIC PROOF, 264

X. MERE THEISM INSUFFICIENT, 302




APPENDIX.


NOTE PAGE

I. NATURAL AND REVEALED RELIGION, 323

II. INFLUENCE OF RELIGION ON MORALITY, 329

III. ETHICS OF RELIGIOUS INQUIRY, 335

IV. TRADITIVE THEORY OF RELIGION, 338

V. NORMAL DEVELOPMENT OF SOCIETY, 340

VI. DEFINITION AND CLASSIFICATION BY THE HIGHEST
TYPE, 342

VII. PSYCHOLOGICAL NATURE OF RELIGION, 343

VIII. ARGUMENT _E CONSENSU GENTIUM_, 348

IX. THE THEISTIC EVIDENCE COMPLEX AND COMPREHENSIVE, 350

X. INTUITION, FEELING, BELIEF, AND KNOWLEDGE IN
RELIGION, 355

XI. THE THEOLOGICAL INFERENCE FROM THE THEORY
OF ENERGY, 359

XII. THE HISTORY OF THE √ЖTIOLOGICAL ARGUMENT, 364

XIII. MATHEMATICS AND THE DESIGN ARGUMENT, 367

XIV. ASTRONOMY AND THE DESIGN ARGUMENT, 369

XV. CHEMISTRY AND THE DESIGN ARGUMENT, 373

XVI. GEOLOGY, GEOGRAPHY, ETC., AND THE DESIGN
ARGUMENT, 375

XVII. THE ORGANIC KINGDOM AND DESIGN, 378

XVIII. EVIDENCES OF DESIGN IN ORGANISMS, 380

XIX. PSYCHOLOGY AND DESIGN, 383

XX. HISTORY AND DESIGN, 386

XXI. HISTORY OF THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT, 387

XXII. CREATION AND EVOLUTION, 390

XXIII. THEOLOGICAL INFERENCES FROM THE DOCTRINE
OF SPONTANEOUS GENERATION, 394

XXIV. DARWIN AND PALEY, 396

XXV. KANT'S MORAL ARGUMENT, 397

XXVI. DR SCHENKEL'S VIEW OF CONSCIENCE AS THE
ORGAN OF RELIGION, 400

XXVII. CHALMERS AND ERSKINE ON THE ARGUMENT
FROM CONSCIENCE, 401

XXVIII. ASSOCIATIONIST THEORY OF THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIENCE, 403

XXIX. CHALMERS AND BAIN ON THE PLEASURE OF MALEVOLENCE, 403

XXX. HISTORY OF THE MORAL PROOF, 406

XXXI. DEFECTS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD, 413

XXXII. NO BEST POSSIBLE CREATED SYSTEM, 417

XXXIII. DEFECTS IN THE ORGANIC WORLD, 418

XXXIV. EPICUREAN DILEMMA, 420

XXXV. GOD AND DUTY, 422

XXXVI. HISTORIES OF THE THEISTIC PROOFS, 423

XXXVII. _A PRIORI_ PROOF NOT PROOF FROM A CAUSE, 424

XXXVIII. SOME _A PRIORI_ ARGUMENTS, 425




THEISM.




LECTURE I.

ISSUES INVOLVED IN THE QUESTION TO BE DISCUSSED - WHENCE AND HOW WE GET
THE IDEA OF GOD.


I.

Is belief in God a reasonable belief, or is it not? Have we sufficient
evidence for thinking that there is a self-existent, eternal Being,
infinite in power and wisdom, and perfect in holiness and goodness,
the Maker of heaven and earth, or have we not? Is theism true, or is
some antagonistic, some anti-theistic theory true? This is the question
which we have to discuss and to answer, and it seems desirable to
state briefly at the outset what issues are involved in answering it.
Obviously, the statement of these issues must not be so framed as
to create prejudice for or against any particular answer. Its only
legitimate purpose is to help us to realise aright our true relation
to the question. We can never in any investigation see too early or
too clearly the true and full significance, the general and special
bearings, of the question we intend to study; but the more important
and serious the question is, the more incumbent on us is it not to
prejudge what must be the answer.

* * * * *

It is obvious, then, in the first place, that the inquiry before us
is one as to whether or not religion has any reasonable ground, any
basis, in truth; and if so, what that ground or basis is. Religion,
in order to be reasonable, must rest on knowledge of its object. This
is not to say that it is exclusively knowledge, or that knowledge
is its one essential element. It is not to say that feeling and
will are not as important constituents in the religious life as
intellectual apprehension. Mere knowledge, however clear, profound,
and comprehensive it may be, can never be religion. There can be no
religion where feeling and affection are not added to knowledge. There
can be no religion in any mind devoid of reverence or love, hope or
fear, gratitude or desire - in any mind whose thinking is untouched,
uncoloured, uninspired by some pious emotion. And religion includes
more even than an apprehension of God supplemented by feeling - than the
love or fear of God based on knowledge. It is unrealised and incomplete
so long as there is no self-surrender of the soul to the object of its
knowledge and affection - so long as the will is unmoved, the character
and conduct unmodified. The importance of feeling and will in religion
is thus in no respect questioned or denied when it is maintained that
religion cannot be a reasonable process, a healthy condition of mind,
if constituted by either feeling or volition separate from knowledge.
Some have represented it as consisting essentially in the feeling of
dependence, others in that of love, and others in fear; but these are
all feelings which must be elicited by knowledge, and which must be
proportional to knowledge in every undisordered mind. We can neither
love nor fear what we know nothing about. We cannot love what we do
not think worthy of love, nor fear unless we think there is reason for
fear. We cannot feel our dependence upon what we do not know to exist.
We cannot feel trustful and confiding dependence on what we do not
suppose to have a character which merits trust and confidence. Then,
however true it may be that short of the action of the will in the
form of the self-surrender of the soul to the object of its worship
the religious process is essentially imperfect, this self-surrender
cannot be independent of reason and yet reasonable. In order to be
a legitimate act it must spring out of good affections, - and these
affections must be enlightened; they must rest on the knowledge of an
object worthy of them, and worthy of the self-sacrifice to which they
prompt. Unless there be such an object, and unless it can be known, all
the feeling and willing involved in religion must be delusive - must be
of a kind which reason and duty command us to resist and suppress.

But religion is certainly a very large phenomenon. It is practically
coextensive, indeed, with human life and history. It is doubtful if
any people, any age, has been without some religion. And religion has
not only in some form existed almost wherever man has existed, but
its existence has to a great extent influenced his whole existence.
The religion of a people colours its entire civilisation; its action
may be traced on industry, art, literature, science, and philosophy,
in all their stages. And the question whether there is a God or not,
whether God can be known or not, is, otherwise put, whether or not
religious history, and history so far as influenced by religion, have
had any root in reason, any ground in fact. If there be no God, or if
it be impossible to know whether there be a God or not, history, to
the whole extent of its being religious and influenced by religion,
must have been unreasonable. Perhaps religion might still be conceived
of, although it is difficult to see how it could be so conceived of on
consistent grounds, as having done some good: and one religion might
be regarded as better than another, in the sense of doing more good
or less evil than another; but no religion could be conceived of as
true, nor could one religion be conceived of as truer than another. If
there be no God to know, or if God cannot be known, religion is merely
a delusion or mental disease - its history is merely the history of a
delusion or disease, and any science of it possible is merely a part of
mental pathology.

Further, whether Christianity be a reasonable creed or not obviously
depends on whether or not certain beliefs regarding God are reasonable.
If there be no God, if there be more Gods than one, if God be not the
Creator and Upholder of the world and the Father of our spirits, if
God be not infinite in being and perfection, in power, wisdom, and
holiness, Christianity cannot possibly be a thing to be believed. It
professes to be a revelation from God, and consequently assumes that
there is a God. It demands our fullest confidence, on the ground of
being His word; and consequently assumes that He is "not a man that
He should lie," but One whose word may be trusted to the uttermost.
It professes to be a law of life, and therefore assumes the holiness
of its author; to be a plan of salvation, and therefore presupposes
His love; to be certain of final triumph, and so presupposes His
power. It presents itself to us as the completion of a progressive
process of positive revelation, and therefore presupposes a heavenly
Father, Judge, and King. The books in which we have the record of this
process - the books of the Old and New Testaments - therefore assume,
and could not but assume, that God is, and that He is all-powerful,
perfectly wise, and perfectly holy. They do not prove it, but refer us
to the world and our own hearts for the means and materials of proof.
They may draw away from nature, and from before the eyes of men, a veil
which covers and conceals the proof; they may be a record of facts
which powerfully confirm and largely supplement what proof there is in
the universe without and the mind within: but they must necessarily
imply, and do everywhere imply, that a real proof exists there. If what
they in this respect imply be untrue, all that they profess to tell us
of God, and as from God, must be rejected by us, if we are to judge and
act as reasonable beings.[1]

[1] See Appendix I.

For all men, then, who have religious beliefs, and especially for all
men who have Christian beliefs, these questions, What evidence is
there for God's existence? and, What is known of His nature? are of
primary importance. The answers given to them must determine whether
religion and Christianity ought to be received or rejected. There can
be no use in discussing other religious questions so long as these
fundamental questions have not been thoughtfully studied and distinctly
answered. It is only through their investigation that we can establish
a right to entertain any religious belief, to cherish any religious
feeling, to perform any religious act. And the result to which the
investigation leads us must largely decide what sort of a religious
theory we shall hold, and what sort of a religious life we shall lead.
Almost all religious differences of really serious import may be traced
back to differences in men's thoughts about God. The idea of God is
the generative and regulative idea in every great religious system and
every great religious movement. It is a true feeling which has led to
the inclusion of all religious doctrines whatever in a science which
bears the name of theology (discourse about God, [Greek: logos peri
tou theou]), for what is believed about God determines what will be
believed about everything else which is included either under natural
or revealed religion.

* * * * *

In the second place, the moral issues depending on the inquiry before
us are momentous. An erroneous result must, from the very nature of
the case, be of the most serious character. If there be no God, the
creeds and rites and precepts which have been imposed on humanity in
His name must all be regarded as a cruel and intolerable burden. The
indignation which atheists have so often expressed at the contemplation
of religious history is quite intelligible - quite natural; for to them
it can only appear as a long course of perversion of the conscience
and affections of mankind. If religion be in its essence, and in all
its forms and phases, false, the evils which have been associated with
it have been as much its legitimate effects as any good which can be
ascribed to it; and there can be no warrant for speaking of benefits
as its proper effects, or uses and mischiefs as merely occasioned by
it, or as its abuses. If in itself false, it must be credited with
the evil as well as with the good which has followed it; and all the
unprofitable sufferings and useless privations - all the undefined
terrors and degrading rites - all the corruptions of moral sentiment,
factitious antipathies, intolerance, and persecution - all the spiritual
despotism of the few, and the spiritual abjectness of the many - all
the aversion to improvement and opposition to science, &c., which
are usually referred to false religion and to superstition, - must be
attributed to religion in itself, if there be no distinction between
true and false in religion - between religion and superstition. In
that case, belief in God must be regarded as really the root of all
these evils. It is only if we can separate between religious truth
and religious error - only if we can distinguish religion itself from
the perversions of religion - that we can possibly maintain that the
evils which have flowed from religious error, from the perversions of
religion, are not to be traced to the religious principle itself.[2]

On the other hand, if there be a God, he who denies His existence,
and, in consequence, discards all religious motives, represses all
religious sentiments, and despises all religious practices, assuredly
goes morally far astray. If there be a God - all-mighty, all-wise, and
all-holy - the want of belief in Him must be in all circumstances a
great moral misfortune, and, wherever it arises from a want of desire
to know Him, a serious moral fault, necessarily involving, as it
does, indifference to one who deserves the highest love and deepest
reverence, ingratitude to a benefactor whose bounties have been
unspeakable, and the neglect of those habits of trust and prayer by
which men realise the presence of infinite sympathy and implore the
help of infinite strength. If there be a God, the virtue which takes
no account of Him, even if it were otherwise faultless, must be most
defective. The performance of personal and social duty can in that
case no more compensate for the want of piety than justice can excuse
intemperance or benevolence licentiousness.

[2] See Appendix II.

Besides, if God exist - if piety, therefore, ought also to exist - it
can scarcely be supposed that personal and social morality will not
suffer when the claims of religion are unheeded. It has seemed to
some that morality rests on religion, and cannot exist apart from it.
And almost all who believe that there are religious truths which men,
as reasonable beings, are bound to accept, will be found maintaining
that, although morality may be independent of religion for its mere
existence, a morality unsupported by religion would be insufficient to
satisfy the wants of the personal and social life. Without religion,
they maintain, man would not be able to resist the temptations and
support the trials of his lot, and would be cut off from the source
of his loftiest thoughts, his richest and purest enjoyments, and his
most heroic deeds. Without it nations, they further maintain, would
be unprogressive, selfish, diseased, corrupt, unworthy of life,
incapable of long life. They argue that they find in human nature and
in human history the most powerful reasons for thinking thus; and
so much depends upon whether they are right or wrong, that they are
obviously entitled to expect that these reasons, and also the grounds
of religious belief, will be impartially and carefully examined and
weighed.

It will be denied, indeed, by no one, that religious belief influences
moral practice. Both reason and history make doubt on this point
impossible. The convictions of a man's heart as to the supreme object
of his reverence, and as to the ways in which he ought to show his
reverence thereof, necessarily affect for good or ill his entire mind
and conduct. The whole moral life takes a different colour according
to the religious light which falls upon it. As the valley of the Rhone
presents a different aspect when seen from a summit of the Jura and
from a peak of the Alps, so the course of human existence appears very
different when looked at from different spiritual points of view.
Atheism, polytheism, pantheism, theism, cannot regard life and death
in the same way, and cannot solve in the same way the problems which
they present to the intellect and the heart. These different theories
naturally - yea, necessarily - yield different moral results. Now, doubt
may be entertained as to whether or not we can legitimately employ the
maxim, "By their fruits ye shall know them," in attempting to ascertain
the truth or falsity of a theory. The endeavour to support religion
by appealing to its utility has been denounced as "moral bribery and
subornation of the understanding."[3] But no man, I think, however
scrupulous or exacting, can doubt that when one theory bears different
moral and social fruits than another, that fact is a valid and weighty
reason for inquiring very carefully which of them is true and which
false. He who believes, for example, that there is a God, and he who
believes that there is no being in the universe higher than himself - he
who believes that material force is the source of all things, and he
who believes that nature originated in an intelligent, holy, and loving
Will, - must look upon the world, upon history, and upon themselves so
very differently - must think, feel, and act so very differently - that
for every man it must be of supreme importance to know which of these
beliefs he is bound in reason to accept and which to reject.

[3] By J. S. Mill, in the very essay in which he assailed religion by
trying to show that the world had outgrown the need of it.

* * * * *

Then, in the third place, the primary question in religion is
immediately and inseparably connected with the ultimate question of
science. Does the world explain itself, or does it lead the mind
above and beyond itself? Science cannot but suggest this question;
religion is an answer to it. When the phenomena of the world have
been classified, the connections between them traced, their laws
ascertained, science may, probably enough, have accomplished all that
it undertakes - all that it can perform; but is it certain that the
mind can ascend no further? Must it rest in the recognition of order,
for example, and reject the thought of an intelligence in which that
order has its source? Or, is this not to represent every science as
leading us into a darkness far greater than any from which it has
delivered us? Granting that no religious theory of the world can be
accepted which contradicts the results established by the sciences, are
we not free to ask, and even bound to ask - Do these results not, both
separately and collectively, imply a religious theory of the world, and
the particular religious theory, it may be, which is called theism? Are
these results not the expressions of a unity and order in the world
which can only be explained on the supposition that material nature,
organic existences, the mind and heart of man, society and its history,
have originated in a power, wisdom, and goodness not their own, which
still upholds them, and works in and through them? The question is one
which may be answered in various ways, and to which the answer may be
that it cannot be answered; but be the answer that or another - be the
answer what it may - obviously the question itself is a great one, - a
greater than any science has ever answered - one which all science
raises, and in the answering of which all science is deeply interested.

No scientific man can be credited with much insight who does not
perceive that religious theory has an intimate and influential bearing
on science. There are religious theories with which science cannot
consistently coexist at all. Where fetichism or polytheism prevails,
you cannot have science with its pursuit of general laws. A dualistic
religion must, with all the strength it possesses, oppose science
in the accomplishment of its task - the proof of unity and universal
order. Even when the conception of One Creative Being is reached, there
are ways of thinking of His character and agency which science must
challenge, since they imperil its life and retard its progress. The
medieval belief in miracles and the modern belief in law cannot be held
by the same mind, and still less by the same society.

We have no reason, however, to complain at present that our scientific
men are, as a class, wanting in the insight referred to, or that the
truth just indicated is imperfectly realised by them. Perhaps such
complaint was never less applicable. It is not long since it was the
fashion among men of science to avoid all reference to religion - to
treat religious theory and scientific theory as entirely separate
and unconnected. They either cared not or dared not to indicate how
their scientific findings were rationally related to current religious
beliefs. But within the last few years there has been a remarkable
change in this respect. The attitude of indifference formerly assumed
by so many of the representatives of science towards religion has been
very generally exchanged for one of aggression or defence. The number
of them who seem to think themselves bound to publish to the world
confessions of their faith, declarations of the religious conclusions
to which their scientific researches have led them, is great, perhaps,
beyond example in any age. They are manifesting unmistakably the most



Online LibraryRobert FlintTheism; being the Baird lecture for 1876 → online text (page 1 of 26)