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cession of efficient acts throughout the physical world ; rather to simultaneous relation than to consecutive result. Expressions involving the idea of priority in time seem, then, calculated to convey erroneous impressions, at least in reference to the nature of physical laws or causes. And when we ascend to the contemplation of creative intelligence, the distinction is not between a prior and a subsequent train of material action, but between physical order and moral volition.
It will thus be apparent that the metaphor so often used of the chain of natural causes whose last and highest link is its immediate connexion with the Deity ;-the very phrase of a succession of secondary causes traced up to a first cause,—and the like, (so commonly employed,) are founded on a totally mistaken analogy. They refer to a mere succession of mechanical impulses, traced up to a first mechanical power; to a series of physical changes, referred successively to some more and more general physical principle. The adoption of such à mode of representation when extended to the Deity would seem to make the first cause but one of a continued series of physical causes, and differing from them only in order of priority or generality. It would confound the efficient intelligence with the mere material manifestation of it,—the Creator with the creation.
If we retain such metaphorical language at all, it would be a more just mode of speaking to describe the Deity as the Divine artificer of the whole chain, --not to connect him with its links ;-to represent the secondary causes as combined into joint operation by his power and will, but not to make Him one of them. to ascribe the other Divine attributes and perfections as centering in that independent Being. . Such probably would be the distribution of our thoughts as successively pursued, if we proceeded to any systematic analysis of our reasonings on the subject. It is not, perhaps, a species of examination to which many are inclined, even of those who take delight in the general contemplation of the truths with which they are impressed by the examination of the natural world.
But the common figures, besides their manifest impropriety, are singularly ill adapted to place before our view the most important part of the truth, nay, are even calculated to hide and disguise it. For by the familiar use of these phrases the mind is habitually diverted from the consideration that this “ chain,” a portion of which we can handle and examine, is to be so examined to teach us the skill of the artificer; and instead of this we are led away to the irrelevant consideration of where the end of it may be fixed.
It then surely will be allowed of no small importance to preserve carefully the distinction between moral and physical causation. It is by this distinction that we advance from mere physical relations to any inference of a higher order of things. It is this which elevates our ideas from the mere material elements to the recondite intelligence which pervades the harmonious arrangement of them.
If we require the aid of metaphor in attempting to give utterance to those vast conceptions with which the mind is overpowered, instead of speaking of the first and secondary links in a chain of causation, and the like, let us rather recur to the analogy of the arch (before introduced,) and we shall be adopting at once a more just and expressive figure,
and shall here run no risk of speaking as if we confounded the stones with the builder,--their mutually supporting force with the skill of the architect who adjusted them.
These considerations may enable us, then, to perceive the entire futility of those objections which are often urged against the study of secondary causes as being injurious to our due apprehension and acknowledgment of the first cause ;—so far from it they, in fact, furnish the sole rational or natural means of leading us to that apprehension and acknowledgment; and, in the language of Newton, (understood agreeably to the distinctions before laid down,) “though every true step made in this philosophy brings us not immediately to the knowledge of the first cause, yet it brings us nearer to it, and on that account is to be highly valued*.”
Argument from Design to Intelligence.
We have thus far referred only, in a very general: sense, to the notion we form of the great source of design and order in nature, or, in popular language, the First Cause, or Supreme Intelligence. In a more precise sense it may become a question, how far is this language and this inference borne out by any conclusions of our unaided reasoning powers ?
From the regularity, permanence, and universality
, * Opticks, Query 28, p. 345.
of physical causation, we conclude the existence of a moral causation; from the manifestations of order. and purpose, we infer an ordaining and designing mind. That these are natural inferences and ideas almost unavoidably occurring to us, is perfectly true ; but the very point of inquiry in natural theology is the ground of the inference and the analysis of the natural impression.
Now, it has been contended by some professed friends to religion, that beyond the bare fact of order and fitness we can really infer nothing by the mere powers of reason; and that the conclusion of an independent intelligent supreme existence, if it be anything more than a mere truism, is a vain presumption; that in one sense, it is mere tautology to say, that design implies a designer; or else, in another sense, idle to suppose that our finite reason can teach us anything of the purposes or nature of an Infinite Being*.
Now, the bare fact of order and arrangement is on all hands undisputed, though commonly most inadequately understood and appreciated.
The inference of design, intention, forethought, is something beyond the last mentioned truth, and not to be confounded with it. This implies intelligent agency, or moral causation. Hence again, we advance to the notion of distinct existence, or what is sometimes called personality; and thence proceed
* See Irons On Final Causes, p. 116, &c. ..
Yet a careful consideration of the orderly series of simple elements into which we can analyze our conceptions, is of eminent use (even though we do not practically and habitually go through such a process every time we think on the subject). It enables us as well to assure ourselves of the validity of our own conceptions, as to detect the fallacies of sceptical objections.
Now here I conceive we shall have no need to enter upon any abstruse or difficult discussion. I believe it will suffice to elucidate the subject, if we simply look to the use of language. In analyzing the train of inferences or ideas referred to, the consideration of the origin and precise meaning of the terms we employ appears to me most vitally essential, and yet most commonly overlooked; while, from the neglect of it, most of the misapprehensions which prevail on the subject take their rise.
We observe the indications of mind displayed in the works produced by the moral causation of volun