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we acquire. Human science, made up of demonstrations, can go no further back. It must rest on faith ; it must accept the Cartesian and Sensationalist and Idealist hypotheses, and work up from them. Reason and faith, as two principles of certainty, have sufficed man, and have sufficed him so well, that no sceptic has yet appeared who has not in common life, at every instant, practically contradicted his assumed disbelief. Pyrrho himself, in the abstraction of reason, denied all certainty, but when he entered into real life;"It is impossible,” said he,“ to shake off human nature.”
That reason and faith have a tendency to encroach on one another's domains, and to stand in antagonism, is matter of universal experience. Everything believed in is irrational and every demonstration destroys belief. When I believe something to be true, as that two triangles whose sides are equal have also equal angles, I accept the testimony of my eyes, or of some one else; but when I have worked out the problem, I no longer believe this, I know it. As faith thus disappears before knowledge in many cases, we rashly conclude that knowledge can destroy all faith. But, as has been already shewn, without faith, reason would be totally unable to act. Sentiment and reason have their respective lines, distinct always, divergent often, sometimes convergent, but never disappearing into one another. Under the most favourable circumstances, reason is the asymptote of sentiment, approaching it indefinitely, but never meeting it. Each has its special function, both are a first necessity. In that field which is peculiar to reason alone, or that specially appertaining to sentiment, there can be no antinomy. The delight I receive from a beautiful sunset, or from a strain of Mozart, is purely sentimental. Reason in no way participates in the pleasure of which I am conscious, for reason is no criterium of beauty.
In scientific analysis the process is strictly rational. Sentiment is no criterium of truth in mathematical or physical demonstration.
In art sentiment has the field to itself, in science reason is alone master of the situation. But when we come to ethics, politics, and religion, there is no such simplicity. They are mixed questions, in which both reason and sentiment intervene. As they lose simplicity they lose absolute certainty. Rational verities are indisputable. They are the same for all. Three angles of a triangle cannot be equal to two right angles to an Englishman and equal to four to a Caffre; but moral actions vary in their relative morality according to circumstances; and reason alone is no criterium of their morality; nor would a rational judgment be invariably just. Though reason can apply to moral verities an uniform measure up to a certain point, it has never been able to so formulate them as to make them of universal application. It follows, that if the principle of our duties be certain to ourselves, it is not so in the same degree to others. Moral acts are debateable; the judgment has often to decide between two principles really, or apparently conflicting, if it pretends to be just.
In politics the antinomy becomes more evident. Man as an individual has his rights, as a member of society he has his duties. As a rational being he has a right to absolute freedom, as a social being his liberty must be curtailed. Liberty is requisite for individual development, authority is necessary for social improvement. Right, as a personal faculty, is the manifestation of liberty in opposition to hostile wills which prevent its exercise; as a social requirement it is the erection of a wall of duties around the individual, limiting his freedom.
Thence a bitter, incessant feud between liberty and authority; liberty tending to burst away from all authority, and wreck all social organizations in its centrifugal violence; authority tending incessantly to encroach on the rights of man, to pare off all inequalities, to blunt all angularities, to flatten all originality, and by its strong centripetal power to absorb the individuality of men in order to destroy it.
Next in order to the verities of science, art, morals, and politics, follow the dogmas of Religion.
The existence of an eternal, infinite, all-powerful Being is believed in; but it cannot be proved. Reason can only start from hypotheses, and argue within the circle of things known. It may, by a series of inductions, shew that it is probable that there is a God, but it can never prove that there is one. As Kant has shewn, there is not a single demonstration of God which does not contain a contradiction.
The idea of the supernatural is not a rational verity. It belongs to the sentiment which is the faculty of perceiving the infinite, whereas the reason is, by its nature, finite. God is perceived by the heart, not concluded by the mind. Natural religion is, properly speaking, not a religion at all. It is deficient in a fixed principle, and halts at conjecture. It yields at the point where strength is required. It is nothing but a prolongation of science, necessarily incomplete, always unsatisfactory. Natural religion is based on induction founded on hypothesis. Starting from the reality of the conscious self, or of the exterior world, it is the result of an argument which concludes nothing but supposes something—the existence of a God to explain the enigma of the universe.
Revealed religion is deduced from the existence of God; from which the reality of our own existence and of the material universe and the world of ideas are demonstrated syllogistically.
Faith must be called into play to furnish the preliminary axiom or axioms, and as reason objects to what is not demonstrable, it at one time assails the basis of the induction, at another time it refuses the basis of the deduction.
Reason may justly ask why is the Cartesian or Sensationalist formula to be accepted ? Why is man to be certain that his conscience of his own existence, of the reality of his thoughts and of the world, is not delusive? To this, the only satisfactory answer is that furnished by religion,because God exists as the author of certainty, the beginning and the end of all created reason, the first and last word of all knowledge, the alpha and omega of everything.
Without axioms reason cannot operate. The question between natural religion and a positive religion is simply the question between induction and deduction. But there is this difference: the inductive process does not lead up to certainty, whereas the deductive process does. The inductive process dies away in conjecture, whereas the other provides a sound basis for action.
The idea of God, in the inductive process, is not more solid than the last term x in an indefinite progression of known terms. Does this last term exist, or is it only an ideal which we seek to approach, but which always escapes us ? This is a question natural religion can never answer. It accumulates proofs which are not proofs at all, but conjectures; as though a large number of probabilities would make up certainty.
When geometricians have once proved that the three angles of a triangle whose sides are equal are also equal, they pass on to another theorem, and with reason, for it would be waste of time to prove by additional demonstrations that the proposition once established is true.
The learned naturalist Kircher (d: 1680) calculated the number of proofs of the existence of God, and estimated them at 6561. Every department of natural philosophy has been ransacked for demonstrations. There has been an astrotheology, a lithotheology, a petinotheology, and an insectotheology. The different classes of animals have contributed their proofs. In 1748, vast swarms of locusts covered the land in Germany and France. Rathlef, pastor of Diepholz, profited by the occasion to fabricate an akritotheology; and among other demonstrations occurs the following, “God has organized their head in a marvellous manner, it is long and the mouth is below, so as to save them the trouble of bending to eat, and thus to enable them to eat faster and eat more.” But, as has been shewn repeatedly, such arguments from design are a begging of the whole question.
The argument has sometimes been put in another form. The universe has been likened to a clock, and it has been concluded because the clock has a maker that therefore the world has a Creator. But this argument is not more satisfactory than the other. There is this difference between the clock-maker and the Creator: the latter is supposed to be self-existent; whereas the former is an ordinary man, with father and mother, and is one of the links in the great chain of causes and effects. If, in shewing the clock, the philosopher were to say: There are only two things possible, either it was made by a clock-maker who was his own father and mother, or it made itself, it would not be at all evident which possibility was to be accepted; between two things equally hard to understand, the only situation possible would be one of doubt.
The demonstration of Descartes is no less unsatisfactory.
I have in myself the idea of God, that is to say, the idea of the infinite: how comes it to be there?