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Theories to account for the existence of the world—The atomic theory
The evolutive theory—The dualistic theory—The theory of Pyrrhonic idealism—The theory of Hegelian idealism—The theistic theory of creation—The phusitheistic theory of emanence and immanence.
THE world either exists, or it appears to exist.
If we suppose that our senses convey to us true impressions, we must hold that the world has being.
On the supposition that the world has a positive existence and is not a mere phantasm, the questions arise, For what purpose, and, By what means does it exist ?
The first of these questions we shall dismiss from consideration; it has been hotly debated over, but it has not formed the basis of religious teaching. The second question has given rise to religious and philosophic cosmogonies, which are endeavours more or less successful. Among all these hypotheses which we shall review in order, some are no longer tenable, but they have had their day; and as the scoria of speculative eruptions in past ages, they had an interest in our own.i
The first hypothesis is that the world is eternal, uncreate, and self-existent; that it is a fortuitous aggregation of as many different substances as there are different existences;
1 Essai sur la Philosophie, par Labruguière; Paris, 1862.
that these are held together in a certain order by physical affinities, inherent in their nature. Matter being from everlasting, the properties being fortuitous, and the arrangement of matter being accidental, there is, and can be, no God, for there is no purpose, no cause.
“The solar system has a sun and numerous planets; they are all distributed in a certain ratio of distance; they move round the sun with a certain velocity, always exactly proportionate to their distance from the sun: this holds good with regard to the nearest and the farthest. They move in paths of the saine form; they are ruled by the same laws of motion; they receive and emit light in the same way. The laws, which are the constant modes of planetary operation, when we come to study them are found to be exceedingly intricate; yet they are uniform, and the same for one planet as for another; the same for a satellite as for a planet. They are perfectly kept, and so uniform in action that if you go back to the time of Thales, five hundred years before Christ, you can calculate the eclipse of the moon, and find that it took place exactly as the historians of that day relate; or you may go forward five days, or five years, or five thousand years, and calculate with the same precision. So accurate are these laws, that an astronomer studying the perturbations of a remote planet, the phenomena of its economy not accounted for by the attraction of bodies known to be in existence, conjectures the existence of some other planet which causes the phenomena not accounted for. Nay, by mathematical science he determines its place and size, inferring the fact of a new planet outside of the uttermost ring of the solar system; at a certain minute he turns his telescope to the calculated spot, and, for the first time, the star of Leverrier springs before the eye of conscious man.”ı
i Parker: Works, vol. xi. p. 7.
This manifest order and perfection in the universe the atheist sets himself to account for thus.
True is it that as far as we know everything seems inimitably ordered, but that proves nothing but that we know of no other ordering. A disturbance of the present economy of nature would throw matter into an entirely different arrangement, and to those who did not know that with which we are acquainted the new system would seem perfect. Men suppose the world to be a machine, and then they require a constructor; they say a bird lifts or depresses its tail to regulate its flight, therefore the tail has been contrived for the purpose of facilitating the motions of the bird in the air. But this is begging the question. The bird employs its tail because it happens to have one. Man not being thus endowed, does not think a tail could advantage him. A bird can do no otherwise than fly; fly it must, because flight exhausts its power and expresses its nature, not, because it was created for the purpose of flying. A bird uses its wings and tail as a man uses a gun. A quadruped does not fly, because it has not the means of flying; it runs or leaps, precisely as a savage, not having firearms, makes the best use he can of bow and arrows.
Atheism, whether true or false, is repugnant to moral and political economy, for it necessarily destroys the idea of morality. If there is no law in the material physical world, there can be none in the social and the spiritual worlds. The desire of obtaining intense and permanent happiness, which is the motive force in ethics, is a delusion; every motive for self-restraint is removed, for the idea of an object for which to strive is rejected, and the notion of a retributive justice is derided.
According to the second hypothesis, the world is held to
be eternal and uncreate, but instead of its being regarded as an aggregate of diverse substances lumped together by chance, it is supposed to be a regular development of a primordial substance, in which the phenomena of nature are modes of expression. It is a natura naturans, a perpetual becoming, having a life which displays its energy
in exhibition; out of which all things flow, but into which they return. The world is a circle of existences ever revolving, bringing now some to the surface and then others, devoid of intelligence and self-consciousness. It is, in fact, material force.
The prime essence of the world is called God. He is the substance and link of cohesion of matter, the law of life. But He is immutable, fatal. He is not Creator, for creation implies will and intelligence, and these are denied Him. Out of Him the world emerged, and out of the world the various activities and objects filling it are developed by the life inherent in the substance, just as the herb puts forth bud and flower by virtue of its inherent vital force.
The great substance is being, absolute being, which is all being, and outside of which no being can be conceived. This substance has attributes which express the essence of substance. But as this essence is infinite, the attributes must also be infinite, not absolutely, but relatively. Thus, thought is an attribute of being: therefore, it is infinite. But thought is not extension, which is also a manifestation of being, and consequently an attribute of substance; therefore thought has only a relative infinity. As substance is infinite, the attributes must be numerically infinite. Infinite attributes have their necessary modes of expression. Extension is expressed by figures; thought by ideas. These modes are necessarily limited, or finite. Apply this
to the material universe. All its phenomena are the finite modes of the infinite attributes of infinite substance. This substance is the Absolute. It is without liberty, intelligence, and will. Modification it cannot desire; its modification is no act of will, but of inherent necessity. One of its developments may benefit man, another may hurt him ; but in the great Absolute there is no purpose of doing good or evil to man, who rejoices or suffers subject to the law of inevitable fate. This system oppresses man with fatalism. He has no liberty, no intelligence. His every act is an evolution of the motive force, in obedience to a law hidden from his eyes. He loses his individuality. Nature projects him into the world subject to conditions that he cannot evade, and when his little clockwork course is run, he sinks back into her womb, and merges his personality in the life of the το Πάν. . There is no more possibility of man overstepping the law of his life than there is of a beast resisting its instincts, and of a herb refusing to grow. He has no free will. The beast has a slight curve along which its will is suffered to vibrate; man has a more extended arc for his oscillations, that is all. Consequently, there is not such a thing as virtue or vice. Morality presupposes two conditions: first, that man is capable of regulating his life; secondly, that there exists a moral law to which man can conform his actions. Both these postulates are denied by the material pantheist. Consequently, morality is annihilated. Religion is also annihilated. For religion demands an object of worship, and a motive urging to worship. Even if we allow the absolute essence of matter to be an object, no possible motive can be assigned for inducing man to adore it; as it is unintelligible and fixed immutably, and can therefore neither will to assist him, nor had it the will could it leave the rut of necessity to help him.