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ART. IX.-Nalural Theology : or Essays on the Existence of
Deity, of Providence; on the Immortality of the Soul; and a Future State. By the Reverend Alexander Crombie, LL.D.,
F.R.S. 2 vols. 8vo. London. 1829. ON a recent occasion, we expressed our regret, that the parties
intrusted with the execution of Lord Bridgewater's testamentary disposition, should have mistaken the purpose which that nobleman had in view, and should have given us a series of detached and expensive treatises, inaccessible to the less wealthy classes of society, instead of one compendious publication on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in creation. The regret then experienced has been in some degree abated by the perusal of the work now before us. In these volumes, Dr. Crombie has presented, as we believe, the most comprehensive view of the whole science of natural theology that has hitherto appeared. He deduces the existence, the power, and the goodness of God from the phenomena of the universe; he examines and overthrows all the principal arguments which have been brought forward in support of Atheism ; and he points out those errors in reasoning, and in the philosophy of logic, which have hitherto retarded the progress of natural religion, considered as a science. This is the most original, and perhaps the most valuable, portion of the book. On many momentous questions, error has been mistaken for truth, because truth has appeared in the garb of error. The arguments of the Atheist have been admitted, because those of the Theist have been logically untenable. Religion has thus been endangered by the weapons wielded in her defence, fully as much as by those which have been employed against her. On these grounds, we are of opinion, that Dr. Crombie has rendered invaluable service to the cause of truth-by showing us the inconclusiveness and the inapplicability of certain mere metaphysical reasonings, and à priori arguments, which have been frequently and mischievously employed in support of Theism; and by applying to natural theology that inductive logic which has led to so many brilliant results in physical science. It is as necessary, to the full development and rapid reception of religious truth, that we should discard the à priori reasonings of Locke and Clarke, as it was necessary, in another field, to reject the fictitious principles and gratuitous assumptions by which Descartes and others endeavoured to guess at nature, and to anticipate the results of experience. A brief examination of the theological arguments of Locke and Clarke will be sufficient to show that they are calculated to confirm rather than to remove the doubts and difficulties of the honest sceptic.
Nothing, Nothing, indeed, can be more evident than that every question which comes under the scope of the rational faculty must be either a question of fact or a question of mere relation—a question of substantial existence, or one purely notional and abstract. Subjects of the latter kind, referring solely to the relations of our ideas, are in their very nature independent of facts. The deductions of the mathematician would be demonstrably certain, if there were not a circle or a triangle in existence. The converse position is equally true,—that questions of fact necessarily exclude abstract argumentation. And if Clarke had as clearly seen the inapplicability of all abstract reasoning to every question of fact, and therefore to the existence of Deity, as the great Bacon perceived the utter invalidity of all à priori reasoning in physical science, he never would have instituted an abstruse argument in defence of Theism. Of this error, indeed, he seems himself to have been partly aware, and his only apology is, what he offered to Whiston, when conversing with him on the subject in the garden of Peter-house,*—that, as Theism had been metaphysically assailed, he was anxious to show that it might be metaphysically defended. Let us look at their reasonings.
The argument of Locke amounts to this :- Nothing cannot produce something: therefore, something must have existed from eternity; that which is incogitative, therefore, cannot produce that which is cogitative ; that which has existed from eternity must be a cogitative being. To this argument for the existence of a God, the philosophic sceptic has an obvious reply. We have no knowledge of different causes : we cannot conceive how an incogitative substance should produce a cogitative ; but neither is it given for the human faculties to conceive how a cogitative being should produce an incogitative. That matter should produce mind, is wholly incomprehensible ; but not less incomprehensible is it, that mind should produce matter. How that which feels and thinks, should proceed from that which is extended and divisible, is to us absolutely inexplicable ; but then it is equally inexplicable to us, how that which is extended and divisible should proceed from that which feels and thinks. By no metaphysical and abstract reasoning from causation of the nature of which we are wholly ignorant-can we possibly discover whether that which has existed from eternity is matter or is mind.
The celebrated argument of Dr. Clarke is not more conclusive than that of Mr. Locke. The Atheist maintains, that there is no first cause, and that the universe is an infinite succession of causes
* Whiston, pointing to a nettle, told Clarke, it contained better evidence of the existence of Deity than all his metaphysics.
and effects. Dr. Clarke undertakes to demonstrate that there is a first cause, by showing that an infinite series involves the absurdity of an existence without a cause. His argument is this : If we consider endless progression as one series by itself, it is plainfirst, that it has no cause of existence, ab extra, because the series contains within itself everything that ever was; and, secondly, that it has no cause of existence within itself, because not an individual of the series is self-existent or necessary. And where no part is necessary, the whole cannot be necessary. Therefore it is without a cause of its existence. Now what does this vaunted demonstration really amount to ? Simply to this: the atheistical hypothesis of an infinite series implies an existence without a cause; therefore the hypothesis is false ; and there must be a first cause. Here we have a direct contradiction. It is self-evident, that a first cause cannot have had a previous cause. Dr. Clarke's demonstration, therefore, when strictly stated, is neither more nor less than this :—there can be no existence without a cause ; therefore, there must have been an existence without a cause. The fact is, that a finite mind can forin no adequate conception of infinite existence; and, so far from being capable of reasoning from it, is unable to comprehend the non-existence of a beginning. That which we call a first cause must be self-existent; for if brought into being by anything else, it could not be an original cause. Hence, our notion of a first cause necessarily involves the idea of an existence without a cause ; and it is impossible to confute the Atheist by arguments derived from abstract causation ; for, he answers, if the Deity can exist without a cause, the system of the universe may also exist without one.
Where principles, true in themselves, are received upon erroneous evidence, there is always some danger lest the inquiring mind should reject the conclusion upon discovering the falsehood of the premises. While its foundations are unsound, the temple will be insecure. When the intelligent student in moral science finds that Locke and Clarke pretend to demonstrate the existence aud attributes of God, by abstract arguments and à priori reasonings, he will naturally, and alınost necessarily infer, that these eminent Theists were ignorant of the principles of accurate and philosophic logic; or else, that the truths of natural religion are placed beyond the cognisance of the human faculties. But how few are competent to convict Locke and Clarke of errors in the conduct of the human understanding ? and how many will be ready to rest upon the authority of those celebrated names, and to conclude, without further inquiry, that the principles which such intellects failed to prove cannot in themselves be true? It was, therefore, of the last importance to the cause of religion, to point
out the erroneous and unphilosophical mode of investigation adopted by the metaphysical Theists,
• Who nobly take the high priori road,
And reason downward till we doubt of God.' Natural theology is an inductive science. Our knowledge of the existence and attributes of God, as far as that knowledge is traceable by the light of nature, is acquired by an intellectual process strictly analogous, and exactly similar, to the intellectual process by which we acquire our knowledge of the laws of the physical world; but if the inductive philosophy is to be applied to theology, all metaphysical arguments from first causes, and from the supposed nature of things, must be banished, as contrary to the rules of sound investigation, and all the principles from which we reason must themselves be facts, ascertained by experience, and true in all the actual circumstances to which they can be traced. By this reasoning, Newton discovered the true system of the heavens; and it is only by this reasoning that the theist can ascertain, from the light of Nature, the existence and the attributes of Him who made the heavens. The proof of a divine intelligence ruling over the universe, is as full and as perfect as the proof that gravitation extends throughout the planetary system. Newton found by experience, that on our globe all bodies approach towards the earth, according to a certain law. On observing the heavens, he perceived that the motions of the planets corresponded exactly with those which the law of attraction was calculated to occasion in bodies placed respectively as they are in space; and thus he discovered, by a full and complete induction, that the principle of attraction, experienced on our globe, extends throughout the universe, and regulates the planetary movements. The inductive reasoning of the theist is identical with this. Experience assures him of the general fact, that, in human affairs, intelligence produces regularity, order, and the aptitude of means to ends : he looks through nature, and observes, though in an intinitely higher degree, an order, a regularity, and a concurrence of means to ends, precisely similar in character to those which, in human affairs, he finds inseparably connected with intelligence; and hence, by an induction as full, and an analogy as conclusive as it is possible to conceive, he infers that intelligence pervades and governs the universe.
This argument for the existence of God is open to no objection. It proceeds in strict conformity with the rules of the inductive philosophy. The principle, that in human affairs, order, regularity, and the concurrence of means to ends, are the effects of intelligence, is not a fictitious principle assumed for the sake of accounting for facts: it is in itself a fact-a general fact, true in
all the individual cases which come within our experience, and therefore a principle, or law, as universal, wherever human agency extends, as is the law of gravitation experienced on the surface of our globe. If it be admitted that gravitation is the cause of the motions of the heavenly bodies, it cannot be consistently denied that intelligence is the cause of the regularity and order, and concurrence of means to ends, observable in the universe. If we apply to theology the inductive philosophy which Bacon directed to physics, it will be seen that the truths of natural religion rest on the same foundation as the truths of material science. When the philosophy of causes, and the metaphysical reasoning of the schools, shall be completely banished from theology, as they have already been from physical inquiry, the doctrine of theism will be consistently denied by those only who reject the · Principia' of Newton.
The present work of Dr. Crombie must be regarded as supplying an important desideratum in theological literature, inasmuch as in the popular and greatly celebrated treatise of Paley, the rules of logical investigation are not always strictly and consistently applied. Paley does not go to the bottom of his subject. His leading argument frequently involves a petitio principii. When he says, “there cannot be a design without a designer-contrivance without a contriver,' he takes for granted that which he should prove. The atheist affirms, that in the series of events which we observe in nature there is neither design nor contrivance; and this affirmation cannot be disproved by the contrary affirmation of the theist, that design and contrivance exist. It is self-evident that there cannot be contrivance without a contriver—design without a designer. But the question at issue between the atheist and the theist is this, - Is there contrivance? is there design ?-and no approach can be made towards the solution of this question by assuming that which is denied. Is the regular sequence of events observed in nature, the effect of contrivance, or of some other antecedent? This is the question.-How is it to be solved ? Our experience does not extend to the origin of natural phenomena, and therefore we can have no right, as far as our direct and immediate experience is concerned, either to affirm or to deny what the origin of such phenomena may have been. In human affairs, however, we have direct and immediate experience, that intelligence and design are the origin of order, regularity, and the concurrence of means to ends; and from this fact, which we know 10 be true in itself, we infer, according to the strict principles of inductive logic, that intelligence and design are the origin, antecedent, or cause of the order, regularity, and concurrence of Mieans to ends, which we perceive in nature. In this full develope