CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY - THE DOCTRINE OF GOD - by the Rt. Rev. ARTHUR C. HEADLAM C.H., D.D. Bishop of Gloucester ; Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford ; formerly Professor of Dogmatic Theology in King's College, London, and Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford. First Published: Oxford University Press, 1934. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.

CHAPTER VII: THE DOCTRINE OF GOD: ANTI-THEISTIC THEORIES

| HOME| << | Deism | Pantheism | Dualism | Materialism | Man's Knowledge of God :- The Higher anthromorphism - Calvin's conception of God | God and nature | God and Mankind :- Christian Science | God and free will | >> |


I PROPOSE now to contrast the Christian doctrine of God as the explanation of our experience with various rival forms of belief.
top

DEISM

We will begin with Deism. Deism as opposed to Theism is the technical name given to that belief which looks upon God as creator and first cause, but denies that he is in any way concerned with the government of the world. It would deny, therefore, revelation, miracle, and providence. The great period of Deism was that of the English philosophical movement of the eighteenth century which really represented a transitional point of view, a transition from the old mythological idea of the universe. According to the mythological conception everything that happened in the world of nature was the direct act of a spiritual being. When the belief in one God was substituted for the belief in many spiritual beings, each single happening was ascribed to his individual work. Gradually there grew up the scientific idea of the universe, and it was described as the substitution of the laws of nature for the work of God.

At first only certain departments of nature were brought under the name of law. The earliest laws of nature which were discovered were those which controlled or seemed to control the heavenly bodies, which regulated the motions of the sun, the planets, the earth, and the fixed stars. Then came the gradual discovery of the laws of physics and chemistry; and then ultimately living phenomena were brought under the same system of law. It therefore seemed as if this principle prevailed universally and that there was no place left for God in the world. There was the inherited belief that the world was created by God. This belief remained, but the realm in which God worked became smaller and smaller (so it seemed), and he might, therefore, be eliminated from the world.

The whole of this argument, however, is based upon a mistaken idea of what the term 'laws of nature' means. When we use the term law in its natural sense we mean a rule which is imposed by a superior authority on human action. When it was first applied to natural things, I suppose that the idea was present in people's minds that the laws of nature were rules or regulations imposed upon nature by an authority outside, that is God. Then somehow or other people came to think of these laws as if they were the cause in the real sense of the word of what happens in nature. It is necessary then to ask what science has discovered about things. Has it discovered a real cause, a force or power which may in any real way be considered to be the cause of what we see ? The answer is that it has not. All that science knows about nature is observed uniformities. It knows how things happen. It has not discovered in any way why things happen. When it uses such expressions as force, or power, or vital energy, its language is purely mythological. It is just as much mythology as Jupiter or Neptune were. Science knows nothing about force. It is only a picturesque way of describing the result of action. If you see water rushing down, you know that the water has power, but what the motive force is that makes the water run down hill you do not know. All that science knows is the way in which particles of water act under certain circumstances; having discovered that, it is able to apply what it has learnt to the benefit of mankind, but of the ultimate reason or cause it has no knowledge at all. It can only discover how it will act and under what circumstances.

Now let us examine what is meant by gravitation. Supposing that you are asked why an apple falls to the ground, you would probably answer because of gravitation, and that would be a quite correct way of speaking, if you knew exactly what it meant. When you say that an apple falls to the ground because of gravitation, all you are really saying is this, that it is an observed uniformity that masses move towards one another. If you try to go further back and ask why it is that masses should move towards one another in accordance with certain observed uniformities, the answer is that we do not know. And that is universal as regards science. What science proves is that if as the result of your observations you find that A and B produce C, owing to the uniformity of nature it will always happen. Oxygen and hydrogen combined in certain proportions make water. That we know. It is what is usually called a law of chemistry, but why it should be that oxygen and hydrogen produce water no one knows. It is simply part of the constitution of nature. Explanation in scientific phraseology does not mean getting at the original cause. It means making a wider generalization, bringing things under a higher law. What Newton discovered was that the same law which regulates the fall of an apple to the ground regulated also the movement of the planets. That is to say everywhere throughout the universe there was the same observed uniformity in the action of masses in relation to one another.

The point of all this is to prove that science by its discoveries does not really give any grounds for banishing God from the world. The theory of Deism was to contrast the action of God and the action of law. That was quite natural as a transitional point of view, because before the scientific conception of nature came into being the action of God was looked upon as something very different from the uniformity which science had discovered. Every particular act which happened was ascribed to the irregular and unexplained action of a personal being. So in contrast to that the idea of law seemed to banish the action of God. But when we have discovered the 'law' we are really no nearer explaining the cause or reason of things than we were before, that is, such a reason or cause of things as the action of God in the world means. There is no reason to think that because you have introduced the knowledge of scientific law, that you have, therefore, banished the action of God from the world. It is not that the world is governed by law and not by God, but that law is God. Law
is the way in which God works in the world. Law is the knowledge that we can get of the will of God.

It is considerations like these that have banished Deism from practical thought. I do not suppose that any one is a Deist now. He might be a materialist. But he would not be a Deist for he would feel that that particular form of philosophy was only a transitional point of view. It arose when science was beginning its career of conquest.
On Deism see Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the i8th Century 3 (1002); R. Flint, Anti-Theistic Theories (1879), p. 441 ff., and the article in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. iv, pp. 533-43.
top

PANTHEISM

I propose next to contrast Theism with Pantheism.

While Deism was the prevailing heresy of the eighteenth century, Pantheism represents a tendency of the present day. It says that the universe is God and that we as a part of the universe are ourselves part of God. So our individuality is lost in the universal mind. This is what many people mean when they speak of God as immanent as opposed to a transcendental God. Pantheism represents from one point of view the philosophic basis of polytheistic religions, and the moral and practical effect of Pantheism and Polytheism are very much the same.
In polytheistic religions you will find that there is a god for every form of natural phenomenon and for every human activity, good or bad. Thus for example there is a goddess of murder in India. Among the Romans there was a god of petty larceny. So in contrast to the austere and moral worship of Jehovah there were the naturalistic religions of the surrounding nations. Religions of nature do not put an ideal before mankind in opposition to the promptings of nature, but sanctify every human operation or desire. So prostitution and other immoral practices were and are looked upon as religious rites both in ancient Syria and in modern India. This results from the belief that the direct action of God may be seen in every form of human activity. When Pantheism takes the place of polytheism the religious and moral standpoint is the same.

Pantheism is polytheism philosophized. If all nature be divine and I am a part of nature, then I am divine. All that I do is divine and there is no distinction between good and bad, right and wrong. The logical result of Pantheism then is to weaken morality. Instead of a morality based on idealism and teaching (in any form) self-sacrifice, there is only the morality of experience. When there is a tendency towards Pantheism morality weakens. A religious doctrine then, which when logically carried out is injurious to a moral life, is probably sufficiently condemned on those grounds. Human well-being depends upon a moral life, and a religion which fosters immorality seems therefore untrue.

But there is also I think a fundamental philosophical objection to Pantheism. All our knowledge of the world starts from our own personality. The one thing that we do know is the existence of ourselves, of our ego. Our knowledge whether of the spiritual or the material is really a knowledge of our own experience. It is difficult therefore to see how a theory can be true which takes away the reality of the experiences upon which all our knowledge is built up.

The objections, therefore, to Pantheism are twofold. On the one side it weakens moral impulse, on the other it destroys the reality of the ego which is the source of our knowledge. While Deism puts before us a belief in a transcendent deity entirely removed from the ordinary life of the world and taking no part in that life, a mere rational first cause, Pantheism presents us with a God who is immanent in the world and has no transcendent existence outside it. As we proceed in our investigations we shall find that Christianity presents us with a God who is both transcendent and immanent, a God who is the first cause and Creator of all things, and also the sustainer of the universe who, as the Father of mankind, exhibits his providence in the care of the human race.
top

DUALISM

The third theory I would speak of is that of Dualism. Dualism is a form of belief for which many people think there is a good deal to be said. The earliest form in which it appears is Zoroastrianism, in which the world is explained as the battlefield of good and evil – Ormuzd and Ahriman. Perhaps owing to Persian influence there were dualistic tendencies in Greek philosophy. Dualism certainly appears in the Gnostic heresies of the second century. In these we find a distinction made between the first God and an inferior God, the Demiurge or Creator who is sometimes represented merely as an inferior God, sometimes as an entirely evil God. Still more important was Manicheism, which arose in Mesopotamia and represented an attempt at uniting Eastern speculation with Christianity. Its fundamental principle was a dualism. It became known to the world as it spread throughout the Roman Empire. Its most famous convert was St. Augustine, who passed through a phase of that belief. Even when the world had become Christian this heresy never died throughout the Middle Ages. The Paulicians, sometimes called the Bogomiles, were influenced by it. It was one of the charges brought against the Knights Templars when they were destroyed. They were accused of having learnt Manicheism in the East. The same charge was brought, probably incorrectly, against the Albigenses.

At the present day there have been from time to time suggestions for reviving it. The most famous instance was that of John Stuart Mill. In his posthumous Three Essays on Religion he suggested that a belief in some form of Dualism was the most rational explanation of things and wondered why people did not more easily adopt it. Something of the same sort is found in a book by Mr. H. G. Wells published under the name of God the Invisible King. There he states that a belief in a limited God explains so many difficulties that he wondered that the idea had not occurred to any one.

The moral results of dualistic teaching have been twofold. Sometimes they have resulted in an extreme asceticism. The tendency of any dualistic belief is to make a definite contrast between matter and spirit. The evil principle is identified with the material world and the created universe. In contrast with that is the spiritual world, which is the world of the good God. This may be worked out in different ways. There is the ascetic way. Morality means an escape from material surroundings which are evil. To do that a life of asceticism is recommended. Everything that is in any way material, food for example and all sensual pleasures, is what is really evil. A truly good man will be one who by a life of self-mortification overpowers and weakens all his natural and carnal affections. This tendency has existed in Christianity. Asceticism may indeed exist without any reference to Manicheism, yet from time to time a Manichean tendency may be detected behind the form of conventional Christianity. If you read the best ascetic theologians you will always find that they assert that things are not wrong in themselves, that they only urge the duty of living a higher type of life. Yet there is always a tendency to look on the natural instincts of mankind as wrong in themselves.

While there has been this ascetic tendency, there has also been a tendency to immorality, often a gross immorality. What is done in the flesh, that is in the material world, does not contaminate the soul. However great may be a man's immorality,, since only the carnal nature is gratified the soul remains un-corrupted. Some of the early Gnostics were on this ground immoral. Some of them argued that the God of the Jews represented the power of this world, and the superior character of Christianity ought to be shown by disregarding him, and the best way of doing so was to break all the Ten Commandments.

The accusation made against the Templars was that under the influence of teaching like this they led an immoral life. The spiritual man has nothing to do with material things, and therefore what he does with his body has nothing to do with his spiritual nature. Sin in the body does not count.

Let me turn to the theoretic basis of Dualism. John Stuart Mill wondered why Dualism was not universally accepted as the basis of religion. He pointed out how strong was the power of evil in the world. A dualistic religion therefore was an adequate explanation of the fact of experience.

The reasons for not accepting it are, I think, twofold. In the first place our intellectual nature is not satisfied with any theory which fails to give one first principle as the cause of the universe. The belief in one rational first cause seems to me at any rate satisfying. A theory which suggests that there has been a continuous and never-ending contest between the spirit of good and the spirit of evil hardly satisfies our intellectual demands. Then secondly we are not satisfied with any theory which tells us that the contest between good and evil will always be a drawn battle. We recognize the element of contest in life. We recognize the existence of evil. We believe that there will be a final victory for good. Therefore we cannot look on a pure dualism as satisfying.

We turn to Mr. Wells's idea of a limited God, a God who is not all powerful, and who is leader of the forces of good in their fight against evil. This is Dualism in another form. The philosophic objections to it are strong because it does not explain all our experience. It only explains one point. As a matter of fact you will find that Christianity does give all that is needed in relation to this problem, because it tells you that our Lord voluntarily limited himself in the Incarnation so that he might be himself our leader in the fight against evil.
It is, I think, interesting to notice how the conditions of life in different parts of the world and the difference of environment in which people have lived have caused fundamental differences in religious life. In hot fertile countries, where nature is luxuriant and the power of human self-restraint is weakened, the tendency is for nature religions to develop. In a country like Persia where there is so great a contrast between the eternal desert and stretches of fertile country, a country where hard toil is needed in the continuous effort to wrest territory from a desert which is unconquerable, it was natural that at a certain period in the history of human thought the idea of the eternal conflict between good and evil should become dominant. The wider experience of the world as a whole will correct the imperfect ideas which particular places and peoples have evolved.
top

MATERIALISM

Finally we contrast Theism with Materialism. Materialism means a belief in the ultimate reality of matter, and nothing but matter. This has been presented as the creed of modern science, and certainly science in some of its developments has seemed at any rate to be aiming at explaining all the facts of human experience as developed out of matter. Life is but a form of material activity, the human brain is material, so all the spiritual facts of life are derived from matter and have no reality of existence in themselves. The human consciousness has no real existence, it is something purely transitory. It passes away as the colours of the rainbow or the soap bubble. The aspirations and expectations of human nature are illusions.

From the time of the Greek Atomists a material explanation of things has continuously prevailed. It forms, for example, the creed of the great poem of Lucretius. It seemed at one time as if the speculations of modern science had strengthened and confirmed this belief. Few would I think claim that now. Science has been passing more and more from purely materialistic explanations of the universe. It seems to have explained away matter, and now force also. While it reveals the universe as more and more wonderful, it also tends to show the inadequacy of any purely physical explanation of even the physical facts of life. It is very difficult for us to understand the universe of Einstein, or Jeans, or Eddington, but it certainly does not appear to us as a materialistic universe.

If we approach the problem from the metaphysical point of view the main argument against materialism is that we have no knowledge at all of matter except through mind. When we come to analyse our knowledge we find that matter has no existence except as the hypothesis by which we explain our sensations and experience. Of matter itself we have no more direct knowledge than we have of God. Matter is only a cause, the creation of mind to explain the experience of mind, and it is difficult to explain the experience of mind by matter when we have no knowledge at all of the existence of matter except through mind. Mind comes first and is the necessary condition to each of us individually of all existence. That is the fundamental argument against explaining experience by any materialistic theory.

All materialistic and pantheistic theories may be grouped together under the name of Monism. They are alike in seeking to explain the universe by one principle whether by spirit or matter, and ultimately there is very little difference between a spiritual and material Monism. The analysis of matter by modern science has certainly taken away all its grossness. It is perhaps more attractive to think of the world as entirely spirit rather than entirely matter, but ethically and in relation to ourselves there is little difference. Both alike would deny the reality of human personality, both alike do away with the distinction of right and wrong, both alike are inconsistent with the fact that all our knowledge starts with our own individual experience, with the ego.

These then are the principle rival theories to Christian Theism, Deism, Pantheism, Dualism, Materialism. In opposition to all these I would suggest to you that the belief which has come to us through revelation, the belief in one living personal God is a far more satisfactory explanation of our individual experience and a far more rational explanation of the problems of the universe. Further, both history and personal experience show us that it forms a far better basis for morality and is far more conducive to human well-being than the other theories we have reviewed. As we advance further in our study of what Christianity means we shall find that the particular needs or problems which have led to this or that one-sided belief, whether dualistic or deistic, are really met by different aspects of the full Christian Theism which is very far removed from any cold, rationalistic Monotheism.
top

MAN'S KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

The next question that I propose to discuss is how far man can have a knowledge of God. I am not, of course, at present approaching it from the point of view of Christian revelation, but rather as a problem of philosophy. In revelation we believe direct knowledge has come to man.

How is it possible, it may be asked, for a being of such limited capacity and outlook as man to have any knowledge of that which transcends the world and human nature so much as God? It is often asserted that what we consider our knowledge of God is anthropomorphic, that is that man has created God in his own likeness. He has imagined a cause of the universe like himself. Such criticisms were first directed against polytheistic conceptions. The most famous perhaps is that of the Greek philosopher Xenophanes. He, speaking of the current belief of his time, said,

'Mortals think that gods are begotten, and have dress and voice and form like their own. But if oxen or lions had hands, and could draw with their hands, and make works of art as men do, horses would draw forms of God like horses, and oxen like oxen, giving them bodies after the fashion of their own.
'The Ethiopians represent their gods as flat-nosed and black: the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.'

This is the criticism of a Greek philosopher directed against the polytheistic worship of his own day. Statues of gods were made giving them the form and appearance of men, just as Homer ascribed to them all the characteristics of men, life and action, words and thought, only making them more powerful and often more violent. But the criticism is intended to be more far-reaching and not confined only to superficial characteristics. It is meant to imply that man's conception of God is really only a projection of his knowledge of himself. It is pointed out that the history of man's belief in God means the gradual elimination of these anthropomorphic elements from our conception of the nature of God. The process can be traced in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis we read of 'God walking in the garden in the cool of the day', and there are many other instances of God conceived in the likeness of man. In the prophets we find most of these elements eliminated. Under the influence of philosophers the conception of God has been developed until it has become something purely abstract. Greek philosophy came to look upon God as pure being, τὸ ὄν – that which exists but of which nothing else can be predicated. Early Christian heretics like the Gnostics, who had some claim to be philosophers, made a great distinction between the first or highest God and all other beings. Basilides tried to realize a conception of God which would be pure absolute. It is not possible he tells us to say of God either that he exists or that he does not exist. It is not possible to call him ineffable, for this is to make an assertion about him.

In modern times there has been the same tendency to attempt to arrive at a conception of the Absolute which would transcend all experience. Hegel would, I think, speak of it as that which both exists and does not exist. Of course if philosophers compel us to think about God in such a way and to eliminate the possibility of any assertion being made about him, we must arrive ultimately at a God who is completely unknowable. Is this process of eliminating every element which appears anthropomorphic necessary or legitimate?

Let us come back to our original reasons for believing in God. We believe in God because we feel that there must be a rational cause of the universe. If that is so, everything which we mean by reason must be a fundamental attribute of God. So also we believe in God because we wish to find an explanation of the moral facts of life. If that be so, righteousness must be a fundamental attribute of God. If God exists he must be both reason and righteousness.

This we may call the higher anthropomorphism, « See God in Christian Thought and Experience, by W. R. Matthews, pp. 34, 35; Reality, by Burnett Hillman Streeter, pp. 133, 134, 141. Dr. Matthews and ( anon Streeter coined the term quite independently, and my own argument (11 ir what it is worth) was developed many years before either of these works was published. a phrase invented by Dr. Matthews and Canon Streeter, and to justify it we may say that if our explanation of things is correct, it is not God who is created by us in the likeness of man, but man who has been created in the likeness of God. Then those highest attributes of man are legitimate means by which we can learn what God is like. The most God-like attributes of man are reflected by the reality which is in God. It is not that we have an anthropomorphic conception of God, but a theo-rnorphic conception of man.

When, therefore, we talk of God as reason or righteousness our language is real, and the attributes we apply to the Godhead are real, but it does not follow that therefore our language is adequate. Our mind cannot conceive fully what God must mean, nor can our language express it. In all language which we use about religion we have to recognize that the symbolical element is very large. Ultimately the language we use is almost always metaphorical. It is necessarily imperfect because it comes from human experience, and human experience is limited while God is unlimited. We express our religious ideas, which transcend experience, by a language which is necessarily limited. That does not mean that our ideas are not real, but that our ideas and language are imperfect. The conclusion that comes from this is, I think, important. It is not legitimate to argue against the belief in God because of the imperfect ideas people hold and the imperfect language which they use to express their beliefs. All human conceptions of the Godhead are imperfect, and sometimes when people who are approaching the subject from a different point of view are brought up against such imperfections, they begin to doubt the existence or goodness of God, not because of anything they know about him, but because men's conceptions of him are imperfect.

A good illustration of this would be Calvin's conception of God. He was carried away by one overpowering idea – the sovereignty of God – and he worked the implications of this out with great logical power. He was carried away by one overmastering conception, and did not perceive how this might conflict with man's sense of humanity and justice and mercy. The time came when Calvinism appeared to many strongly anti-religious, because it conflicted with other aspects of the Godhead. People have for this reason lost their faith.

We must not allow imperfect conceptions of the Godhead to turn us away from our belief in him.
The same reasons then which justify our belief in God, enable us to have a real knowledge of him. God is, as we shall realize more fully as we proceed, the highest reason and goodness and truth and love and beauty, but no conception which we have of him can be adequate, and many of those which have been put before us are defective and even harmful.
top

GOD AND NATURE

The next point that I would discuss is the relation of God to nature.

In the early part of the nineteenth century there was a considerable amount of controversy about the doctrine of special creation. It was held that God had separately created each particular species of living things and had fashioned, so to speak, the inorganic world. God was looked upon as the supreme artificer of the universe. This doctrine was defended partly on scientific, partly on theological grounds at a time when the wider conceptions of evolution first became prevalent.

We have already seen that the original conception of the work of God in nature was mythological. He was conceived of as working in every separate act. This from a higher point of view may still be held, but when the conception of law in nature first appeared it led to the idea that the belief in God was opposed to the scientific conception of law. The question was, and is asked, If the universe be as conceived by science, where does religion come in ? Where can I find the work of God? And an attempt was made to find the working of God in the gaps in our scientific knowledge. There was a famous sermon of Dr. Liddon's in which he drew attention to the two gaps between living and non-living things and between mind and not mind. It has been thought that here we may find the direct action of God in these new processes of creation. So strong has been this belief that when from time to time it has been rumoured (so far quite incorrectly) that living things have been created out of non-living, it has caused something like a panic among some religious people.

Now I do not think that it is ever a wise thing to build up your religious belief on the gaps of scientific knowledge, because as science advances many of the gaps which used to exist have been filled up. It is quite true that there is still a gap between living and non-living things. It is quite probable that it is a gap which may never be filled up. I mean that no one will discover how what is living may be produced from what is not living. But yet there is a very close analogy between what is living and what is not living. All the laws of chemistry and physics apply to both alike. The man of science thinks that if he cannot fill up the gap, it is only through the inadequacy of his present knowledge, and he is unwilling to bring in a religious hypothesis in order to explain something which ought to be the subject of scientific investigation.

Then again, we do not know how living beings come to have conscious minds, but yet we know that there is a continuous development between the most rudimentary living organisms and the fully developed human being. It is very difficult to draw the line between reason and instinct.

Now I do not say that a way will ever be found in which these two gaps are bridged in nature. I think it is quite possible that this may never happen. It does not, however, follow that the process has not been continuous, and I wish to state the problem now, not from the scientific but from the theological point of view. Which implies the highest conception of God or suggests the most wonderful idea of his workings?: the hypothesis that having made the world, he had to interfere from time to time by direct action in its development, so as to make up for defects in its early construction, or the hypothesis that he made the world from the beginning so perfect, that it would fulfil all his will and purpose by a continuous and uninterrupted process of development, so that this world, created as he created it, would be one which would produce ultimately by a process of normal development the highest moral and spiritual organisms?

Speaking then only from the theological point of view, I should hold this to be a higher and more satisfying conception than that which would find God in certain breaks in the continuity of existence. The conception of the unity of scientific knowledge affords a far higher testimony of God than anything based on imperfections in the scheme of things. The scientific view of the universe is really the most religious. It does not tell us anything about the cause or purpose or origin of things. It does tell us how the world works and has worked. Within that sphere science is absolutely supreme. To attempt to interfere with its working, or to make our religion depend on its presumed imperfections, is as great a mistake theologically as scientifically. Outside that sphere it is another question. Prior to our knowledge of sensible things is the knowledge of a self which can know about those things. We know ourselves as causes. That gives the mind the idea of cause, and we read this idea into the natural world. We know ourselves as reason, and reason as a cause, hence we read reason into the world as the cause of things. Thus our knowledge of our own mind teaches us to think of things in quite a different way from that in which the scientific man thinks of them. It leads us up to the idea of God, but of God, not as working in some particular points, but as working everywhere. If you ask where can I find God working in the world, you come back to a conception much more resembling that with which the human mind started, but with this great difference that the idea of law or uniform action has come in. The whole of the universe represents the working of God, and the laws of the universe represent the will of God.

In conclusion let me take an illustration. Supposing any one studies a complicated piece of machinery, he finds it exactly adjusted in all its parts to fulfil a certain purpose. If he studied only the machinery he would not be able to find any evidence of a directing power. But if that piece of machinery were well constructed, although everything in it happened inevitably as the result of something which had been previously ordered, this would not mean that it worked automatically but that it fulfilled the will of the maker and director. In the case of a motor-car, the more perfectly it is constructed the more fully does it carry out the will and purpose of the man who drives. The better the instrument the more inevitably does it respond to the will of the director. Therefore if the world be conceived as an absolutely perfect construction it must exhibit two characteristics – one that everything happens according to the law of its being, the other that everything represents the will or mind of the originator. If that be actually the characteristic of the world, and from a theological point of view we have every reason for thinking that it is, then the more perfect and the more inevitable the law of the universe as discovered by science, the more completely would it represent the perfection of divine action.

Now I do not know whether I have succeeded in making myself clear. I would suggest that the point of view that I have put forward is the most tenable, both scientifically and theologically. It is not a novel point of view, though it is one which many people have not grasped. You will find it quite clearly put forward, for example, by St. Thomas Aquinas. It has been the teaching of all wise theologians. It gives the right attitude for discussing the relations of science and religion – that religion has one sphere, science another, that they represent the world looked at from different standpoints, that any attempt to harmonize them by giving some things to science and some things to religion will always be precarious and unsound. The right view is to recognize that all things belong to science, and all things belong to religion.
top

GOD AND MANKIND

I now come to speak of the relations of God to mankind. I will begin with a story. Once when I was travelling in Brittany, I stopped at a place where there was a wonderworking image of the Virgin, and in the inn in which I was staying there was a series of pictures describing a reputed miracle. The first showed a child which had fallen into a mill-stream and was on the verge of drowning. The second represented the mother as praying. The third represented the Virgin Mary coming down from Heaven to rescue the child, seizing it by its arm and lifting it out of the water. The fourth showed the miller turning the water off higher up the stream. I suppose that the commonplace critic of the present day would remark on the extreme naivety of the representation and would say, here you have an admirable instance of what people think is an answer to prayer. The whole happens through natural causes. The child fell into the water. The miller turned off the water and the child was not drowned. Where did the answer to prayer come in ? What reason is there for thinking there was any divine providence in the event?

I venture to think that the naivety of the religious mind has a deeper insight into the causes of things than the mere commonplace critic who looks at things only from outside. What was the ultimate cause which resulted in the man turning off the water? Was it a mere accident or coincidence? Surely there is no reason for doubting, if you approach the whole question from the religious point of view, that God works through man just as he works through nature, and if that be the case the prayer of the woman may have played its right part as the ultimate spiritual cause of the miller's action.

If we believe in God we can see how prayer may be a great spiritual force behind all things. Whether as regards human beings or the natural world, God works in and through what we call natural laws, that is, he fulfils his will in the world through the ordinary action of mankind. If there is a definite purpose in the world, and if that purpose is being gradually worked out, it is wrought out, not through any action of God apart from mankind, but by God working in and through mankind. Most of us would believe that there is a divine purpose in history, that the course of the world shows clearly that everything is tending towards some goal, which we only very imperfectly understand. Now this purpose of God in history has come about, not by direct interference, as people fancied in the mythological age, but through God using human instruments to fulfil his will. Such would always be the conception of any great religious worker. He knows that he accomplishes nothing by himself, but simply as the instrument of God who has called him to his work. What the religious teacher with his deeper insight feels, is really happening in the case of all men. They are the unconscious instruments of God's will.

A study of Christian Science illustrates this argument. A Christian Scientist holds that it is wrong to have recourse to medical skill, and would rely only on prayer. If the above argument is correct he is wrong both theologically and scientifically. He is as wrong-headed as a farmer would be who thought it sufficient to go to Church and did not take the trouble to cultivate his land properly. Both alike are entirely ignoring what we are able to learn about God's work in the universe. It is only by studying God's laws in the universe that we are able, at first unconsciously and later consciously, to adapt the universe to our purpose. Health and disease are dependent upon scientific laws. If we wish to cure people we must study the scientific laws of health and disease, and work in accordance with them. There is much out of our control. The issue depends upon forces which are in the hand of God. We pray him to help us in our work, but it is blasphemous to pray if we have not ourselves acted in accordance with God's laws as revealed to us in science. The only reason why Christian Science has a certain speciousness to some people is that the influence of mind or spirit on the body is a definite factor in life, and that there has been a tendency on the part of many physicians to ignore it. The spiritual con- -dition of persons who are ill has an influence on their recovery, and on that the Christian Science builds up its erroneous creed. The good Christian knows that if he is to be cured he must do everything which science directs, but the ultimate result is in God's hands, and our prayers, as part of the spiritual cause of things in the world, may be part of the means through which God accomplishes his purpose.
I have found great help in obtaining clear ideas of the two aspects from which we may study nature in a little book by Dr. Lloyd Morgan on The Interpretation of Nature (London, 1905).
top

GOD AND FREE WILL

I come now to the final question under this heading of which I propose to treat – the relation of God to human free will. I have spoken of the work of God in all nature and in the history of the world as not interfering with but as working through human activity. How then are we to relate the work of God to human free will? Where can we find a place for human free will in the world?

Now if we approach this question of free will from what I have called a monistic standpoint, it is very hard to find a place for it. To the Pantheist, mind is a part of God and equally with the rest of nature represents his workings. So also from a materialistic standpoint free will must be a delusion. All our actions are the inevitable result of antecedent conditions. People who hold such a point of view will suggest to you reasons why you should deny human free will. They will point out to you, for example, that we know how a child reproduces the characteristics of its parents. They will suggest that the only reason why we cannot tell exactly what a child will be like in every detail is our imperfect knowledge. Human actions are, it is said, the product of two things, heredity and environment, and it is only the extremely complex character of the data that prevents us from being able to calculate the action of every human being as we can calculate the curve of a stone in the air. As a matter of fact we do calculate the way in which we may expect a person to act in any particular circumstances. We know that this man will get drunk if he is exposed to temptation. We know that we can trust another man in the same circumstances. We really do empirically just what science would do accurately if it had sufficient data. The appearance of free will is, we are told, a delusion.

Let us approach the question from a purely religious point of view. God, it is said, is omniscient, omnipresent, all powerful. Everything must be predestined by him from eternity. So again no freedom is possible for man.

But now let us approach the question from another point of view, our own personal experience. I suppose that the one thing of which we are quite certain is that we are free agents. We have a sense of right and wrong. We are conscious that we have done wrong and we feel that we are responsible for that wrong action. We think other persons who have done wrong are responsible for it. Our actions are based on the idea that man can exercise choice. Society is organized on the same supposition. Individual experience and social consciousness alike presuppose human freedom.

Or if we look at things from a religious point of view, we find that the belief that a man is responsible as to whether he does right or whether he does wrong is just as strongly engrained in us as the belief of God's omnipotence.

Now let us turn to the influence of science on man's relation to the world. Theoretically the progress of science has, at any rate until lately, strengthened the conviction that human action is controlled by scientific determinism. On the other hand the greater our scientific knowledge, the greater becomes the power of man in the world. In a rudimentary state of science man does not think his actions are controlled by nature, but he has very little power of making himself a cause in nature. As our knowledge advances our conception of the power of nature becomes far greater, but our knowledge of ourselves as sources and causes becomes greater too. So in relation to religion, if a man holds any form of predestinarian theology, if he is a pantheist or materialist, his moral sense has a tendency to decline. A man under such influence will consider that what is to happen to him is fate, and therefore he will not attempt to strive against it. Another man in a similar position who held a different creed would contend against his fate and so find that it was not his fate at all.

The result of all this is to emphasize to us the fact that the fabric of life is built up on the supposition that we are in a real sense free and that we assume free will in all our actions. How then do we account for the apparent contradiction ? Our mistake arises from building up our philosophy simply on a part of experience, and then trying to make the rest of life harmonize with our philosophy. I have pointed out that we build up our scientific view of the world on a part of our experience, on something which is clearly not the whole. We have a far wider experience than our scientific knowledge of nature. A system of philosophy constructed on an incomplete experience must be itself incomplete and imperfect. It is the natural tendency of the human mind to be too ready to make a system and then to try to fit the world into that system. Now I have pointed out to you that we ourselves are prior in thought to the world that we perceive. Any system of philosophy, therefore, or conception of the universe which does away with our ego, with our own individuality, must be unsound. The I of our consciousness is prior in thought to the conception of uniformity which is supposed to take away the autonomy of the I. Any philosophy, therefore, which is inconsistent with the whole experience of the I must be incomplete, and if as happens you find that the conviction of freedom is as much a part of your experience as is your conviction of the uniformity of nature, then your system of philosophy must be imperfect unless it explains both sets of experience. The two great truths of universal law and of free will are in fact not antagonistic but are two different aspects of the same problem. If you look at my actions from the point of view of science, you are able to describe the manner in which I must inevitably do things, but if you look at my actions from the side of my own experience you find that I am an originating cause. In exactly the same way we saw that nature looked at from one point of view seems to be the result of universal law, from the other side it is the expression of the will of God.

Now let us look at this problem of human freedom from the theological standpoint. It has been said, God is almighty therefore man cannot be free. Now when you say this, what you really mean is, I cannot understand how man can be free if God is almighty. From my human standpoint I cannot harmonize the two conceptions. What you are really doing is to limit the power of God by the limitations of your own understanding; you are making his omnipotence to be just the same sort of thing as your own power, but greater. You are saying that God is a being who can do much more than I can of the same sort of things that I do. But that is not what the idea of God really means. It means that he is so infinitely great, that it is not possible for a man to conceive what he can accomplish. If that be the case, while it may be difficult for you from your limited human standpoint to harmonize the two conceptions of foreknowledge and free will, of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, it does not follow that it is not possible from the divine standpoint. If you really mean what you say, when you say that God is almighty, you mean that it is possible for him to have full and complete knowledge of all human action, that he should have created man with full foreknowledge, and yet that man should be free to work out his own salvation. It is really a far higher conception of God as almighty, as sovereign, as omniscient, to say that man is free than to limit the divine power by our own inadequate mental capacity.

I should like to conclude by some extracts from the Summa contra Gentiles of St. Thomas Aquinas. The following is what he says about the relation of natural cause to the divine power:

'When the same effect is attributed to a natural cause and to the divine power, it is not as though the effect were produced partly by God and partly by the natural agent: but the whole effect is produced by both though in different ways, as the same effect is attributed wholly to the instrument, and wholly also to the principal agent.'
St. Thomas Aquinas, contra Gentiles, Book III, chap. Ixx, p. 243. These quotations are taken from the translation of the contra Gentiles by Father Rickaby, S.J., published under the title of God and His Creatures.

Then in discussing the question whether divine providence is inconsistent with the freedom of the will, his argument implies the same assumptions as I have suggested. The ideas of God and divine providence demand that man should be possessed of freedom:

'Providence', he writes, 'tends to multiply good things in the subjects of its government. But if free will were taken away, many good things would be withdrawn. The praise of human virtue would be taken away, which is nullified where good is not done freely: the justice of rewards and punishments would be taken away, if man did not do good and evil freely: wariness and circumspection in counsel would be taken away, as there would be no need of taking counsel about things done under necessity. It would be therefore contrary to the plan of providence to withdraw the liberty of the will.'
Book III, chap. Ixiii, p. 245.

The argument is like most of those of the Schoolmen a priori, but so is the argument which denies free will because of God's omnipotence. St. Thomas's point of view is that the idea of God in its completeness implies free will, although one aspect of it – the divine providence – seems to deny it.

But although he recognizes free will, he represents all actions as dependent on God:

'Nothing can act in its own strength unless it act also in the power of God; therefore man cannot use the will power given to him except in so far as he acts in the power of God. God is the cause of all action and works in every agent: therefore he is the cause of the motives of the will.'
Ibid., chap. Ixxix.

The position which St. Thomas puts before us is that which I have adopted. If we look at the relation of God to nature, the ultimate conclusion that we come to is that from one point of view all nature is the expression of law, from another point of view all nature can be studied as the expression of God's will, for law is God. If we look at human free will in relation to God, from one point of view man is free and responsible, but from another point of view our actions are God's actions. God is working in us always, and in every way. What we must always avoid thinking – it seems plausible but is quite erroneous – is that some things are done by law, and some by God. All our actions are part of the order of nature, the expression of law, but equally all our actions are free and we ourselves are originating causes.
<< | top | >>