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THE OLD GODS NOT ALMIGHTY.

103 spoke to the wise of the earth in the meteor and the eclipse. From this first rude notion of a supernatural ruler of the world, has grown the idea of an almighty creator of the universe; every great discovery in natural science has been a blow at the doctrine, and has been felt and acknowledged as such by the priesthood. The more wonderful the facts which we can refer to natural laws, the less reason is there to think of supernatural interference.

We have already examined the marks of ignorant and barbarous manufacture in the character of the God of the Bible, and we have seen the gradual growth of the modern God from the rudely-sketched Mosaic deity, a jealous, passionate, partial, and changeable being. In the oldest parts of the Bible, as in the existing records of all ancient nations, God is not represented as omnipotent. When Adam and Eve had obtained knowledge by eating the forbidden fruit, God is said to have been afraid lest they should become immortal like himself by eating of the tree of life (Genesis, chap. iii., verse 22). When men commenced building a tower to reach heaven, God is said to have feared that they would accomplish their purpose unless he interfered to prevent them-the writer's ignorance of nature, and limited estimate of his God's power, being displayed at once in this frivolous legend (Genesis, chap. xi., verse 6). We find the following passage in Judges, chap. i., verse 19:-" And the Lord was with Judah, and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron." Of course it is obvious that repentance, grief, and change of purpose are utterly incompatible with any notion of omnipotence. Deep thinking, careful reasoning, and that modicum of regard for truth which the civilised world possesses,have been of slow growth; our remote ancestors could not see, or cared not for, those inconsistencies and contradictions in the character of their God, which have been shrouded, but not annulled, by those figurative explanations and occasional judicious silence fell down in awe before as religion." Carlyle's Hero-worship, p. 26. "All Paganism is a recognition of the forces of nature as godlike, stupendous personal agencies-as gods and demons." Ditto, p. 30.

104

FOSTER'S ELOQUENT IRONY.

which have stripped the deity of his vulgar material terrors to invest him with a mysterious and incorporeal grandeur.

Theists sometimes say that man feels an intuitive awe, and has an instinctive faith in a God. Education will cause veneration and awe to be excited in human bosoms by meaner ideas than that of the God of the Bible, who is associated in Christian minds with all that is magnificent and sublime in nature, as the monarch and maker of all. But no awe can be felt when the being is seen to be imaginary: ghosts have long ceased to have terrors for educated people, and the once terrific Bogie is laughed at even in our nurseries.

(5.) "What a wonderful process," says John Foster, in his description of an atheist,* "must that have been by which a man could grow to the immense intelligence that there is no God! What ages and what lights are requisite for this attainment! This intelligence involves the very attributes of divinity while a God is denied. For unless this man is omnipresent, unless he is at this moment in every place in the universe, he cannot know but there may be in some place manifestations of a deity by which even he would be overpowered. If he does not know absolutely every agent in the universe, the one that he does not know may be God.

"If he is not himself the chief agent in the universe, and does not know what is, that which is so may be God. If he is not in possession of all the propositions that constitute universal truth, the one which he wants may be, that there is a God. If he cannot with certainty assign the cause of all that he perceives to exist, that cause may be a God. If he does not know everything that has been done in the immeasurable ages that are passed, some things may have been done by a God. Thus unless he knows all things-that is, precludes another Deity by being one himself he cannot know that the Being whose existence he rejects does not exist. But he must know that he does not exist, else he deserves equal contempt and compassion for the temerity with which he firmly avows his rejection and acts accordingly."

Foster's Essays. Essay I., Letter V.

NATURE TELLS THE TRUTH.

105

Perhaps the words "there may be a God after all," have never been expanded and amplified into a more eloquent passage; but it may be argued with equal reason, that unless a man knows all things, he cannot know that there is not a Bogie, an ogre, a dragon, a fairy, or a sea-serpent a hundred yards long. Perhaps the last-mentioned individual does exist: sceptical naturalists do not flatly deny the possibility, but only that we have no trustworthy evidence of its existence, and that the various accounts of the monster's appearance are either highly suspicious, or can be explained away. In the same way, the atheist does not attempt to prove that no invisible, superior powers and intelligences exist, but only that the various narratives of supernatural interferences with the course of Nature, and the numerous pretensions to revelation, are false and erroneous, and that there is no necessity or reason for supposing such a creating, adapting, guiding, or sustaining power. And that the idea of an Omnipotent Will negatives and contradicts all that we know of the inexorable facts and laws of the universe, and is in itself a contradiction.

CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH.

NATURAL THEOLOGY AND COSMOGONY.

66

How often and how triumphantly has a question been propounded which the undecided sceptic or the mere flippant scoffer finds it impossible to answer: How, if you reject the Mosaic History, and deny the very existence of a God, do you account for the creation of the world? Do you believe the universe was formed by chance ?" And yet what an unfair and impertinent question it is. I may reasonably decline to accept the Hebrew account of the Creation, and yet confess my inability to answer your question; my silence would be more rational than the blundering fictions of a barbarian priest. How can you expect me, an individual inhabitant of a third-rate world, to ac

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106

CONTRIVANCE AND ADAPTATION.

count for the stupendous planetary system, with the motions and laws of which our wisest astronomers are but imperfectly acquainted, and which forms but a speck among uncounted myriads of other and greater systems? I make no pretence to any superior knowledge. This might be my answer.

And why do you wish or expect any answer at all to such a question? What reason have you to imagine that the universe ever had an origin or a beginning?

When the natural theologian terms the universe " an effect," he begs the entire question; and a vast superfluity of words introduces his supernatural cause. When he applies the essentially human term "contrivance "to the phenomena of nature, or to the various parts of organised beings, he equally begs the question, and his argument is equally futile. The Gordian knot is not untied-the mystery is not explained by the invention of a still greater mystery, a creative Being, who makes matter out of nothing. He maintains that nothing can exist without a cause, but he contradicts himself when he arrives at his Great First Cause, whose existence I might as reasonably insist upon terming an effect, and might conjure up an imaginary contriver for his imaginary God. The writers of Bridgewater Treatises, and other works on natural theology, press upon us what they term the evidence of "adaptation," which is really nothing more than the argument of design under a different set of terms. Could anything exist if it were not adapted by its nature for the position which it occupies ? Its very existence involves its adaptation. In this matter-of-fact and inexorably-natural universe all things must shake themselves into their places according to the laws of nature. Rivers run in their beds to the sea, and not up hill; we see that those superficial excrescences, the mountains, have, for the most part, sloping sides. Now we do not say that certain mountains are beautifully adapted, by an express supernatural act, for human ascent and descent, or that rivers are beautifully adapted to run in beds to the sea instead of up hill; but we are content to know that large masses of earth naturally resolve themselves into slopes, and that water is obedient to certain wellknown laws. Nowhere do we perceive any supernatural inter

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ference, and it is not a whit more reasonable to apply the term "adaptation or "contrivance" to the more complicated phenomena of nature-a man for instance-than to the more simple, such as a river or a mountain. Granting the hypothesis that there once was a first man, his appearance in the universe is no more to be wondered at, or deemed a miraculous adaptation, than that of the appearance by birth of an infant to day, which most people will allow happened from natural causes, and without supernatural interference. So also a first plant, a first animal, or a first man may have been naturally produced in this earth under the right circumstances-circumstances which probably cannot occur in the present condition of our globe. The natural cause of the first man's existence is unknown; but is it therefore reasonable to conjure up a supernatural cause ?

*

Every day adds to our acquaintance with nature; we are constantly discovering her rarest phenomena to be periodical in their occurrence. Every operation, from the propagation of a plant or animal to the various motions of the planets, proceeds by certain and comprehensible laws, without any apparent necessity for supernatural interposition. A regular system of decomposition and reproduction, of propagation and death, is in progress, and philosophers have united in declaring the stability of the universe. "In the economy of the world," says Hutton, "I can find no traces of a beginning nor prospect of an end." And Playfair says, “In the planetary motions, where geometry has carried the mind so far, both into the future and the past, we discover no mark either of the commencement or of the termination of the present order."

The universe is stable, the motions of the planetary bodies are fixed and unvarying; where then are we to look for the constant sustaining cause of this permanency, for the ultimate moving power?

He who believes in a God finds no difficulty here; God is the sustaining power-God eternally labours at the winch, or periodically winds up the clockwork which moves his beautiful but

Comprehensible laws, although not all as yet comprehended.
Playfair's Works, vol. iv., page 55.

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