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Natural philosophy is considered to engage the mind in the study of what are termed“ second causes:” such inquiries are supposed to have a direct tendency to withdraw the thoughts from the “ first cause.” It is, therefore, the business of natural theology to remedy this evil: though even natural theology is incompetent entirely to produce the desired effect; and the authority of Revelation must be called in to check the vain inquiries of reason; which, indeed, it is generally safer and better to avoid, and condemn altogether.
Such is the confusion of ideas very commonly prevalent; and which it is even considered impious to attempt to expose!
Yet, at the hazard of offending all such prejudices, I shall proceed to an unshrinking examination of the real order and connexion of the evidences of physical science, natural theology, and Revelation, as mutually dependent upon and affecting each other.
That illiterate fanatics should inveigh with all the bitterness of sincere bigotry against the cultivation of science, is less a matter of surprise than of pity. But to find a similar course pursued by those who are the professed disciples of a purer and more rational creed, must be a subject of deep regret to every friend of truth. To find sentiments derogatory to the use of reason and the cultivation of the intellect, coming from those who, by learning, station, and character, ought to be the friends and advocates of all sound and rational acquirements; to hear the
condemnation of physical research, as beset with danger to religion, from those who ought to know its value as the sole basis of natural theology, must, under any circumstances, be regretted, not only by the advocates of science as such, but above all, by the real friends of religion.
To that unfortunate deficiency in our systems of public education, by which physical science is practically excluded, or, at best, degraded to a very secondary rank, we must ascribe the deplorably low views of its nature and value which pervade the writings of many, who, in other respects, are among the brightest ornaments of the Church and the Universities. They are perpetually representing these pursuits as solely concerned with the dominion of man over the material elements, and solely applied, or applicable, to the arts of life. Thus incompetent to appreciate the high intellectual and moral influence of a devotion to the study of nature, they are sometimes led, not only to deny such influence, but even to accuse these pursuits of a tendency opposed to all religious impressions.
No effectual remedy for such a state of things will probably be found until physical science shall be duly recognised as an essential branch of a liberal education, especially in the Universities. So long as the public in general are unable to judge of scientific pretensions, philosophy will be degraded by the pretensions of quackery: and this will give a colour to the accusations of bigotry: the public mind will be
imposed upon by the misrepresentations of crafty Jesuitism, or the declamations of blind fanaticism. To expose such mischievous errors is one main object of the ensuing pages.
But it is to be hoped that this state of things may not continue. It is to be hoped on every account, for the sake of society itself, as well as of science; for the sake of the general intellectual improvement of mankind, as well as of the encouragement of research; and above all, for the sake of the moral and religious influence which true science never can fail to secure as affording the sole rational foundation of natural theology, and by consequence of all further religious truth.
And if, as indeed there seems abundant promise may before long be the case, the course of public opinion shall take a direction in accordance with the just claims of physical science, how infinitely more pernicious will it be that this absurd and unhappy hostility should be cherished and kept up, on the part of those who ought to be the ministers and disseminators of truth.
To expose, then, such mischievous errors as those just adverted to, to explain the real bearing of physical science, and vindicate its essential services to natural theology, and in its consequences to revealed religion also, forms a main object of my discussion. The attainment of this object requires a closer examination into some of the first principles of the subject, to which too little attention has hitherto been paid, and this brings us into close connexion with the essential nature of the great rules of induction, as established and explained by their illustrious propounder: and more especially as contrasted with the sources of false philosophy, and erroneous theory, which he has happily designated and classified under the name of “ Idola;” (the false divinities which the mind is apt to raise as the objects of its worship, and at whose shrine truth is often sacrificed ;)—a portion of his argument, which is found more full of valuable instruction, the more extensively it is examined and applied.