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THE RELATION OF NATURAL THEOLOGY, AND OF PHYSICAL SCIENCE, TO
“Philosophia naturalis post verbum Dei, certissima superstitionis medicina est; eademque probatissimum fidei alimentum. Itaque, merito religioni donatur tanquam fidissima ancilla, cum altera voluntatem Dei, altera potestatem manifestat.”
“ Colum enim materiatum et terram, qui in Verbo Dei quæsiverit, (de quo dictum est coelum et terra pertransibunt, verbum autem meum non pertransibit,') is sanè transitoria inter æterna temerè persequitur. Quemadmodùm enim theologiam in philosophiâ quærere perinde est, ac si vivos quæras inter mortuos ; ita contrà philosophiam in theologiâ quærere non aliud est, quam mortuos quærere inter vivos.”
Bacon, (De Augm., ix.)
“ He that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both; and does much the same as if we should persuade a man to put out his eyes the better to receive the light of an invisible star by a telescope.”
Locke, (Essay, iv. 19, 4.)
WE have thus far been examining the principles by which our study of external nature can alone be safely and conclusively carried on, so as to lead us, by sure stages of reasoning, to the sublime inferences of all-pervading design, of infinite wisdom and power; to the elevated and elevating apprehension of the
Divinity, in whom all those perfections centre, and from whom the entire order of nature emanates. We have seen that a primary persuasion of uniformity in nature is the guide to all our inductive investigations, and is universally confirmed by the appeal to experimental evidence, from which we ascend to laws and principles of successively higher generality and comprehensiveness. From such successive generalizations we arrive at the idea of secondary (or properly) physical causes; and from the contemplation of their uninterrupted order arises our conviction of universal design and intelligence in the adjustment of the natural creation: whence again our belief in the existence and perfections of the Creator or First Cause: the great source of that moral causation in which all physical causation originates. We have noticed the importance of keeping the order of this train of reasoning steadily in view; that is, if we would have our belief regulated by any rational principles. We have seen that it is absolutely essential to commence with purely physical investigation by the sole method of induction; and that any departure from this method, any reference to other grounds of belief, any attachment to preconceived notions, any appeal to the dictation of authority, are totally inadmissible, if we would preserve unbroken the course of rational evidence and deduction in this most important argument.
I have said “rational” proof, because (as has been already remarked,) there are many who dispa
rage physical science, not only on general grounds, but particularly under the extraordinary miconception of thereby advancing the cause of religion, while, in truth, they are thus vitiating all rational evidence of religion.
Those who decry reason are not likely to be very logical in their own arguments. They do not perceive that, in discarding the proofs of reason, they are cutting away the pillars of the temple of faith. In censuring physical philosophy, they are vainly assaulting the bulwarks of natural religion, and are attacking their own allies in the dark. When on religious grounds they disparage and condemn the study of physical truth, they do not see that, in proportion as their arguments might be valid, would the proofs of their own religious principles be assailed. In rejecting the evidence of inductive science they are rejecting that of natural theology. And while they so vehemently declaim on the weakness and insufficiency of the powers of the human mind for investigating religious truth, they do not consider, that it is precisely on this ground that we would restrain its speculations to the plain and humble method of inductive research into the facts and laws of the natural world, and the sublime but insufficient deductions from them which lie properly within its province; thence to be prepared to advance towards those higher attainments of religious illumination which supply all the deficiencies of mere natural In pursuing the subject of the connexion between the truths of natural theology and those of revelation, and of the independence, on the one hand, of physical science as the basis of the evidence, and on the other, the mutual relations of these several great branches of the inquiry, I will commence with a few remarks on those primary doctrines which exercise so important an influence on the views taken of the authority and tenour of revelation, and on the extent to which natural reason alone can guide us in those inquiries; on the limit at which its own light fails us; yet the degree of illumination which we must possess, in order to find our way even to the point where we are to gain access to fuller disclosures.
Our Ideas of the Divine Attributes. SOME difference of opinion has prevailed as to the mode by which we arrive at our conclusions respecting the Divine Attributes. It has been maintained, on one side, that those conclusions are of the most limited nature. It has been contended (and with much appearance of reason,) that our inferences can only go to the extent of our evidence; that the ideas of the Divine Attributes which we acquire in natural theology can only be legitimately framed and recognised in the degree and character in which the facts of nature present the manifestations of them; that we can infer the Divine eternity and immensity only from those ideas of duration and extension which the conclusions of geology and
astronomy suggest; that we obtain our notion of the Divine Omnipotence only from those uniform laws and unchanging processes in which it is developed; that we arrive at our conception of the Divine beneficence only from the contemplation of good, mixed with evil; that, as far as natural theology is concerned, no adequate ideas of those attributes can be acquired, or are even adapted to our apprehensions, but those which the contemplation of physical analogies suggests. In all these particulars the conclusions of natural theology simply are extremely imperfect and insufficient. But we have no other ground on which to frame our apprehension of a Deity in the first instance. The deficiency can be supplied only by the subsequent reception of the doctrines of revelation.
To this reasoning it has been objected, that it would leave us with inferences of such attributes as not only fall short of any worthy notion of the Deity, but are even at variance with all idea of moral perfection; as, for instance, in the case of beneficence. Mere reasoning on natural phenomena would only give us an idea of the production of good, mixed with a considerable share of evil. It has, therefore, been contended, that we do not, in fact, form our conclusions without assuming the perfect and universal beneficence of the Deity as antecedently probable; and thus, guided by this idea, conclude from the manifestations of nature, which partially confirm it, the universality and infinity of the Divine