A candid examination of theism
The following essay was written several years ago; but I have hitherto refrained from publishing it, lest, after having done so, I should find that more mature thought had modified the conclusions which the essay sets forth. Judging, however, that it is now more than ever improbable that I shall myself be able to detect any errors in my reasoning, I feel that it is time to present the latter to the contemplation of other minds; and in doing so, I make this explanation only because I feel it desirable to state at the outset that the present treatise was written before the publication of Mr Mill's treatise on the same subject.
It is desirable to make this statement, first, because in several instances the trains of reasoning in the two essays are parallel, and next, because in other in- stances I have quoted passages from Mr Mill's essay in connections which would be scarcely intelligible were it not understood that these passages are insertions made after the present essay had been completed. I have also added several supplementary essays which have been written since the main essay was finished.
It is desirable further to observe, that the only reason why I publish this edition anonymously is that I feel very strongly that, in matters of the kind with which the present essay deals, opinions and arguments should be allowed to produce the exact degree of influence to which as opinions and arguments they are entitled: they should be permitted to stand upon their own intrinsic merits alone, and quite beyond the shadow of that unfair prejudication which cannot but arise so soon as their author's authority, or absence of authority, becomes known. Notwithstanding this avowal, however, I fear that many who glance over the following pages will read in the " Physicus " of the first one a very different motive.
There is at the present time a wonderfully wide-spread sentiment pervading all classes of society — a sentiment which it would not be easy to define, but the practical outcome of which is, that to discuss the question of which this essay treats is, in some way or other, morally wrong. Many, therefore, who share this sentiment will doubtless attribute my reticence to a puerile fear on my part to meet it. I can only say that such is not the case. Although I allude to this sentiment with all respect — believing as I do that it is an offshoot from the stock which contains all that is best and greatest in human nature — nevertheless it seems to me impossible to deny that the sentiment in question is as unreasonable as the frame of mind which harbours it must be un- reasoning.
If there is no God, where can be the harm in our examining the spurious evidence of his existence? If there is a God, surely our first duty towards him must be to exert to our utmost, in our attempts to find him, the noblest faculty with which he has endowed us — as carefully to investigate the evidence that he has seen fit to furnish of his own existence as we investigate the evidence of inferior things in his dependent creation. To say that there is one rule or method for ascertaining the truth in the latter case, it is not legitimate to apply in the former case, is merely a covert way of saying that the Deity, if he exists, has not supplied us with rational evidence of his existence.
For my own part, I feel that such an assertion cannot but embody far more unworthy conceptions of a Personal God than are represented by any amount of earnest inquiry into whatever evidence of his existence there may be present; but, neglecting this reflection, if there is a God, it is certain that reason is the faculty by which he has enabled man to discover the truth, and it is no less certain that the scientific methods have proved themselves by far the most trustworthy for a reason to adopt.
To my mind, therefore, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that, looking to this undoubted pre-eminence of the scientific methods as ways to truth, whether or not there is a God, the question as to his existence is both more morally and more reverently contemplated if we regard it purely as a problem for methodical analysis to solve than if we regard it in any other light.
EXAMINATION OF ILLOGICAL ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF THEISM.
1. Introductory i
2. Object of chapter 2
3. The Argument from the Inconceivability of Self-existence . 2
4. The Argument from the Desirability of there being a God. 3
5. The Argument from the Presence of Human Aspirations. 3
6. The Argument from Consciousness 4
7. The Argument for a First Cause . . . • . 6
THE ARGUMENT FROM THE EXISTENCE OF THE HUMAN MIND.
THE ARGUMENT FROM THE EXISTENCE OF THE HUMAN MIND.
8. Introductory 10
9. Examination of the Argument, and the independent coincidence of my views regarding it with those of Mr Mill. 10
10. Locke's exposition of the Argument, and a re-enunciation
of it in the form of a Syllogism 11
11. Syllogism is defective in that it cannot explain Mind in the abstract. Mill quoted and answered. This defect in the Syllogism clearly defined 12
12. Syllogism is further defective, in that it assumes Intelligence to be the only possible cause of Intelligence.
This assumption amounts to begging the whole question as to the being of a God. Inconceivability of Matter thinking no proof that it may not think. Locke himself strangely concedes this. His fallacies and self - contradictions are pointed out in Appendix 14
13. Objector to the Syllogism need not be a Materialist, but assuming that he is one, he is as much entitled to the hypothesis that Matter thinks as a Theist is to his hypothesis that it does not 16
14. The two hypotheses are thus of exactly equivalent value, save that while Theism is arbitrary, Materialism has a certain basis of fact to rest upon. This basis is defined in a footnote, where also Professor Clifford's essay on " Body and Mind " is briefly examined. The difficulty of estimating the worth of the Argument as to the most conceivable being most likely true 17
15. Locke's comparison between the certainty of the Inconceiv- ability Argument as applied to Theism and to mathematics shown to contain a virtual though not a formed fallacy 19
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