Modern Atheism under its forms of Pantheism, Materialism, Secularism, Development, and Natural Laws

Modern Atheism under its forms of Pantheism, Materialism, Secularism, Development, and Natural Laws

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INTRODUCTION.

A Treatise on the Being and Perfections of God, as the Creator and Governor of the world, can scarcely be adapted to the exigencies of modern society, unless it be framed with express reference to the existing forms of unbelief, and the prevailing tendencies both of philosophical thought and of popular opinion. It is quite possible, indeed, to construct a scheme of evidence on this subject out of the ample materials which the storehouse of nature affords, without entering into any discussion of the questions, whether Physical or Metaphysical, which have been raised respecting it. But this method, although it might be sufficient for many, perhaps for most, of our readers—for all, indeed, who come to the study of the subject with reflective but unsophisticated minds—could scarcely be expected to meet the case or to satisfy the wants of those who stand most in need of instruction; the men, and especially the young men, in all educated communities, who, imbued with the spirit of philosophical speculation, and instructed, more or less fully, in the principles of modern science, have been led, under the influence of certain celebrated names, to adopt opinions which prevent them from seriously considering any theological question, and to regard the whole subject of religion with indifference or contempt, as one that lies beyond the possible range of science,—the only legitimate domain of human thought. In such cases (and they are neither few nor unimportant), it may be useful and even necessary to neutralize those adverse presumptions or "prejudicate opinions," which prevent them from considering the evidence to which Theism appeals, and to review the various theories from which they spring, so as to show that they afford no valid reason for discarding the subject, and no ground for alleging that it is not fit to go to proof. It is true that we must ultimately rely, for the establishment of our main positions, on that body of natural and historical evidence, which depends little, if at all, on any of the Theories of Philosophical Speculation, or even on any of the discoveries of Physical Science; but it is equally true that the evidence, however conclusive in itself, cannot be expected to produce conviction unless it be candidly examined and weighed; and if there be anything in the existing state of public opinion which leads men to regard the whole subject with indifference or suspicion, to conceive of it as a problem insoluble by the human faculties, and to treat Theology as a fond fancy or a waking dream, it were surely well to examine the grounds of such opinions, to expose their fallacy so as to counteract their influence, and to refute those theories which prevent men from judging of the evidence as they would on any other topic of Inductive Inquiry. In adopting this course, we are only following the footsteps of the profound author of the "Analogy," who finding it, he knew not how, "to be taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry," set himself, in the first instance, to prove "that it is not, however, so clear a case that there is nothing in it;"—this preliminary proof being designed to neutralize objections, and to disburden the subject of all adverse presumptions, so as to be judged on its own proper and independent merits. We are imitating, too, the example of another sagacious writer on a kindred theme, who thought that "Apologists had paid too little attention to the prejudices of their opponents, and had been too confident of accomplishing their object at once, by an overpowering statement of the direct evidence, forgetting that the influence of prejudice renders the human mind very nearly inaccessible to both evidence and argument."

If this method was ever necessary or expedient, it is peculiarly so in the present age. Opinions are afloat in society, and are even avowed by men of high philosophical repute, which formally exclude Theology from the domain of human thought, and represent it as utterly inaccessible to the human faculties. They amount to a denial, not merely of its truth, but of its very possibility. They place it among the dreams of the past—with the fables of the Genii, or the follies of Alchemy, or the phantoms of Astrology. They intimate, in no ambiguous terms, not only that Catholicism is effete, and Christianity itself dead or dying, but that Theology of every kind, even the simplest and purest form of Theism, must speedily vanish from the earth....