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This position he seeks to maintain for the express object of showing the necessity and all-sufficiency of revelation. He pursues the argument by entering largely into the discussion of the nature of causes, examining the opinions, both ancient and modern, on the subject; and after considering the nature of final causes, he at length endeavours to show (upon his previous notion of causes in general,) that the argument from final causes is altogether fallacious and illusory. Hence he proceeds to contend for revelation as the only source of our knowledge, even of the existence of a Deity. A work of such pretensions, supported by at least the appearance of extensive research and erudition, has naturally demanded attention. The greater part of these pages was written before I had seen Mr. Irons's publication. However, some parts, as they then stood, I found related so closely to certain portions of that author's argument, that they were already sufficient to explain the grounds of my entire dissent from him. In a few places, as they fell in with the line of my observations, I have since introduced some remarks which will be found to bear on other points of his reasoning.
I must here also add a passing reference to Mr. Babbage's “fragment,” The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. To some of the philosophical views developed and illustrated in it, I shall have occasion to refer particularly in the course of the ensuing pages; at present, I merely wish to express my conviction of its general value, especially as suggesting rich materials for thought, to every reader capable of turning them to account. I am the more induced
to offer this remark, because I am aware that the originality and novelty of the illustrations derived from an abstruse branch of science have not been generally appreciated; and somewhat of singularity in the whole manner and appearance of the volume, has tended, perhaps, to indispose some readers from doing justice to its real excellencies, and even to doubt its tendency.
To return to the general subject: Upon long continued consideration, it has appeared to me that much was still wanting to its complete and satisfactory elucidation, and that several important points relative to the analysis of the argument and nature of the reasoning, remained untouched, or very imperfectly explained, even by those who have professedly entered more largely upon a discussion of principles. If then the argument has seemed to me to call for such further extension and explanation as in the ensuing pages it is my endeavour to supply, it has been with the fullest appreciation of the numerous excellencies of the writers alluded to that I have engaged in the attempt to supply some of the deficiencies. On points where I feel obliged to differ from them, I have in general avoided specific controversy or criticism, and have usually stated my own views and arguments simply as they arose out of the course of the main discussion, accompanied by a reference which would sufficiently lead those readers who might be interested in it to the comparison of what I have advanced with the views, more or less opposite, of the writers referred to.
My main object is to examine the connexion and relation between the several great branches of the inquiry ;-between physical science and natural theology, as also between this and revealed religion; each in succession furnishing the necessary basis of evidence to the next; and again, the independence of each with respect to the succeeding, as essential to the order and force of the reasoning, whilst they yet maintain a close connection with, and reaction upon each other.
Thus, from the very nature of the case it will be apparent to what extent the present publication can have any claims to novelty in its topics. Among the various writers on kindred subjects I have met with none taking precisely the same line, or embracing exactly the same range of subject as that which is proposed to be pursued in the ensuing treatise. Yet almost every one of the different branches of my subject has been more or less discussed by some of the authors alluded to. In many cases my statements are, in fact, no more than an elementary exposition of a particular branch of the subject often treated before by others. Yet I conceive I have best consulted perspicuity and brevity in laying down the principles, as if delivering what was new to the reader, without formally referring him to authors who have treated of it before.
It may perhaps be right to state, that a great part of the argument in the fourth section runs nearly parallel with that of a discourse which I some time since published, intitled, Revelation and Science ; Oxford, 1833. Also the introductory portion of the first section is a reprint (with a few alterations,) of a paper which I contributed to some early numbers of the Magazine of Popular Science, vol. i. 1836.
In the details of examples adduced from different branches of physical science, I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to avoid technicalities, or at least to explain the scientific terms referred to, in the most popular form of illustration of which they appeared susceptible. Indeed throughout in the exposition of the argument, it has all along been made an object to elucidate the principles in the most perspicuous manner which the nature of the subject would admit, and to carry on the discussion in such a form as would be suitable to the general reader.
One further remark must be added. In some of the late critical discussions on natural theology, great stress has been laid (as appears to me very unfairly,) on the omissions of certain writers. No author ought fairly to be subject to animadversion for not discussing what the peculiar line of argument he has selected does not lead him to discuss. I am therefore particularly desirous of stating that the present work has no pretensions whatever to include a complete or systematic treatise on natural theology. Its outline embraces only certain particular questions connected with that science; of a nature, indeed, preliminary and general in one part, and in another supplementary and discursive; but in neither instance having any claim to be regarded as treating every point belonging to the subject. In a word, I wish to be judged of, not by what I do not say, but by what I do.