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ceases to possess its old power, the negations which have always been latent in its affirmations will tend to assume greater prominence. They must, in fact, become more distinctly operative. The creed is depressing when it restrains more frequently than it impels. But the tendency is obscured by the habit of using the old forms; and the creed which is most sceptical in this sense---most incapable, that is, of suggesting powerful motives and efficient restraints—may still express itself in the positive language. We must decide upon its real tendency, not by simply examining the form of its utterance, nor by asking how many beliefs it expresses, but by inquiring, as well as we can, which side of the creed is most important in relation to the conditions of the sense. Such an inquiry will be facilitated by bringing into distinct light those implicit denials which are overlooked in the ordinary statements. If we thus ask what it is that the Christian faith, as now existing, actually denies, we may possibly find some explanation of its failure to meet the unbeliever.
One or two familiar arguments from the evidence writers may give a clue to the inquiry. A man believes in the Immaculate Conception. He denies, then, that a certain event took place in accordance with laws exemplified in all similar cases. He impugns in this instance the validity of that inductive process upon which he counts at every step in daily life. He is a scientific sceptic in the strictest sense, for he is throwing doubt upon the trustworthiness of one of the primary ratiocinative processes. The same is true, whenever an event, admitted by all parties to have occurred, is ascribed by one party to supernatural interference. An amiable apologist expressed his surprise the other day that men of science should take into account such trifles as the existence of flint implements, and refuse to take into account the existence of the Bible and Christianity. Surely he never heard of the men of science who denied the existence of the Bible and of Christianity. Which man really declines “to take a fact into account”?—the man who declares it to be altogether exceptional and supernatural, or the man who regards it as a result of the normal operation of recognised forces ? Which implies the greatest “scepticism ” ?—the assertion that somebody wrote the Book of Genesis by faculties similar to those which enabled another to write Homer, or the assertion that it is utterly impossible that anybody would have written down the legends of the Garden of Eden and the Ark, without the direct assistance of God Almighty? If it is sceptical to deny one agency, it is equally sceptical to deny the other. What is given to Jehovah is taken from Moses.
In the more common case of miracles, the fact is denied as well as the explanation. The “sceptic” refuses to believe the myth of the Magi, because the story involves impossibilities and rests upon no evidence. Somebody-we known not who—wrote—we know not when—on some authority-we know not what—a story which involves a belief in doctrines shown to be false, and showed, by ignoring all difficulties, his entire innocence of critical principles. TO disbelieve the story is called sceptical. Why? The disbelief implies the assumption that evidence is fallible, and that, in particular, unfounded stories may obtain currency in a sect when they tend to honour its founder. Does any human being deny those assumptions? Nay, does not every one who asserts the truth of this particular legend, implicitly assert them in regard to every other creed but his own ? The so-called sceptic does not differ from the believer in regard to any general principles of evidence. He merely asserts the evidence to be non-existent in this particular case, and refuses to believe without evidence. The phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is the existence of a certain narrative. One thinker classes it with authentic history; the other classes it with a wellknown variety of popular legend. Neither denies the existence of much authentic history or of much groundless legend. If we accept as the measure of the “scepticism ”involved the weight of evidence resisted, he is most sceptical who is most illogical; and it is as sceptical in one man to deny the capacity of the human imagination, as in the other to deny the intervention of a supernatural agent.
It is of course open to the believer to show that the rejection of this particular story involves the rejection of a whole narrative resting upon sufficient evidence. The argument is of the less importance, because miracles in this sense are now seldom alleged as evidence. People have become sensitive to the inconsistency involved in basing a theory of the universe upon the alleged exceptions to the general order. But another argument, now put forward with more confidence, illustrates in a more important case the scepticism of believers. The character of Christ, we are told, is absolutely perfect. The moral code which he preached is equally perfect. The spiritual force which he revealed is the only one capable of swaying human nature. The appearance of such a teacher, the promulgation of such a code, and the revelation of such truths, constitute an event in history so unique that it can be explained by nothing short of a divine intervention. Nay, the discontinuity implied is of so vast an order that nothing can explain the facts short of the stupendous miracle of the incarnation of the ruler of the universe. If the unbeliever grants substantially the facts alleged, he has still to discuss the real problem. Grant Christ to be perfect—is the difference between him and the best of his race such that it must correspond to the difference between man and infinity ? Grant his teaching to be of flawless purity and unrivalled power—are we to infer that nothing but the inconceivable catastrophe suggested can
explain the knowledge and the power displayed by the founder of Christianity ?
The question is, briefly, whether the facts thus assumed are exceptional or miraculous. Every fact that ever did or will exist is in some sense exceptional ; that is to say, it exemplifies the working of certain invariable laws under conditions not elsewhere precisely realised. Given the necessary conditions, we must always obtain extreme cases, which do not contradict, but confirm, the general law. One comet has the most eccentric orbit; one man the most gigantic stature; one artist the loftiest and finest genius. But the comet obeys the laws of gravitation as rigorously as the most domestic planet ; the giant is a physiological curiosity, but does not imply any exception to physiological rules; and we admit that the genius of a Phidias implies, not the incarnation of a god, but the occurrence of a special set of social and other conditions.
A giant one thousand feet in height, made of ordinary flesh and blood, would be an impossibility, or, in other words, his existence would be miraculous; but giants of eight or nine feet have existed, and may therefore exist, without implying any breach of natural law. The question of their possibility must be decided by our knowledge, derived by ordinary scientific processes, of the nature of flesh and blood and the limits of the variability of the species. Similarly, to prove the divinity of Christ by such reasoning, we must prove the superiority of Christ and of Christian morality to be not simply unmistakable, but to be so great that it is beyond the reach of the most exceptional nature placed under the most exceptional circumstances; and, further, if the divinity of the Teacher is to be established, this superiority must be so great as to be fairly called infinite. Briefly, then, the believer denies, whilst the unbeliever asserts, that under appropriate conditions human nature may produce a Christ without any breach of the ordinary laws, though it may be that we are in presence of an extreme case of those laws. The test by which the validity of either conclusion must be established is the correspondence of the rival theories with our independent knowledge of mankind. Hence it is easy to note the assumptions involved. The unbeliever, basing his judgment upon experience, has formed his estimate of human nature from the facts before him. He sees that the race has produced many great religious teachers, amongst whom he may (or may not) reckon Christ to be the foremost. He believes that his creed can produce a Christ, because it has produced a Christ. It might conceivably appear that the classification of Christ as a man was erroneous, and that there was an insuperable gulf between him and all who externally resembled him. The unbeliever denies the existence of this discrepancy, and holds that, though Christ may exceed the ordinary stature even more distinctly
than Phidias exceeded the average sculptor or Shakspeare the average poet, the excess does not exceed the recognised limits of variability of the race, as inferred from observation. Genius exists, and Christ was (on this hypothesis) the greatest of moral geniuses. The procedure of the believer is different. He has assumed, more or less explicitly, that all virtue is supernatural; that Christianity and Judaism represent the true light which comes from God, of which a few scattered beams alone have fallen upon other creeds. Human nature, then, is merely the residuum left, when all good impulses are assumed to come from without. Our nature, in this pure phrase, is corrupt; our heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. From ourselves comes nothing but lust, hatred, and the love of darkness. It is only consistent to infer, when this has been assumed, that human nature cannot produce a Christ. But, when this has been assumed, the question has been begged. Instead of framing our theory from instances actually observed, including Christ, it has been framed by summarily excluding all great teachers as either the direct or indirect channels of a supernatural impulse. Christ must be God, because all men are devils.
The scepticism involved in such“ belief” is obvious. It implies a denial of the natural goodness of man-a refusal to believe that purity, love, and heroism of a certain order can spring spontaneously in the soil of human nature. Where such growths are to be found, they must be taken to have been transplanted from a supernatural paradise. They are the sporadic plants which have strayed beyond the guarded walls of Eden, and can only struggle against the foul indigenous products by the constant care of the Divine Gardener. Every living theology is saturated with such scepticism; for our conviction of the necessity of supernatural aid is measured by our sense of human impotence. The doctrine of the corruption of human nature is the central doctrine of all vigorous theological creeds. The belief in God is, in this sense, simply the opposite pole of disbelief in man. They are reciprocal dogmas, allied as the light and the shadow. The doctrines of redemption and the atonement are realised in proportion as this need is felt, and die away or are rationalized into sheer no-meaning wherever it becomes faint. And therefore the belief in the supernatural character of a religion is but the other side of a scepticism as to human virtue, when not reposing upon a supernatural basis, enlightened by supernatural revelation, and stimulated by hopes and fears of a supernatural world.
This brings us in sight of that ground of hostility to “unbelief” which has the greatest weight with a very large class of believers. A legitimate objection to part with the ancient creed may rest upon philosophical, or moral, or æsthetic grounds. Ultimately, it may be said, the questions are all one. The true, the good, and the beautiful
are, we may admit, in some sense, identical. The one final question is, therefore, What is the truth? The æsthetic objection to change becomes contemptible when it admits as a possibility that a belief known to be false may still be beautiful. The moral objection becomes at best a respectable prejudice when it implies a reluctance to press philosophical doubts to their ultimate issue. But, whilst accepting this most emphatically, it may be worth while to point out what are the assumptions involved in the moral objection without examining their ultimate validity. It is asserted, in a great variety of forms, that the sense of duty is based upon some kind of belief in theology. Whether embodied in the blunt assertion that men would be murderers, liars, and adulterers but for hell-fire, or diluted into the more abstract theory that we cannot preserve our loftiest ethical conceptions without preserving our belief in the divine order of the universe, this doctrine is not merely proclaimed by mere bullies of the pulpit, but is expounded by serious thinkers worthy of all respect, and therefore represents a force with which we clearly have to reckon. Let us endeavour to draw out in articulate shape the positions tacitly assumed by its defenders.
Perhaps the most important task for philosophers at the present day is that of placing morality upon a scientific basis. We cannot expect that any moral theory will yet deserve the name of a science. But we may hope to prepare the way. We may confirm principles already established by empirical methods, show in what direction and in what sense they are capable of modification, and save them from a dangerous association with the decaying and inconsistent theories of theological metaphysics. The first condition of success is the rejection of the main contention of the theologian. We must get rid of the whole scheme of thought which asserts, more or less explicitly, the necessity of a supernatural basis for moral beliefs. If morality is to be scientific in method, though not a completely co-ordinated body of scientific truths, we must find our data within nature, that is to say, within the sphere accessible to the ordinary methods of investigation. Morality, that is, like political or sanitary sciences, must be placed upon a sound inductive basis, if we admit, as most serious thinkers virtually admit, that no other basis is trustworthy.
The constructive method follows from this primary assumption. Morality must rest upon the truths which, if fully ascertained, would form the science of “sociology." We can, it is assumed, determine with sufficient accuracy what are the laws which regulate the development of the social organism, and what are the conditions imposed upon it by its environment. We can infer what are the individual instincts which contribute to its growth and stability; and what, consequently, are the laws, a recognition and acceptance of which would be favourable to its healthy development. Laying them