| HOME| << | The revelation of God in the Old Testament: - Development in the belief of Israel - The Greek development - The Old Testament prophets - The religious experience of Israel | Arguments for the belief in God | The cosmological argument: Aristotle - Aquinas - Descartes - Kant | The teleological argument: - Paley - Evolution | The ontological argument: Anselm - Descartes - Kant | The moral argument: - Moral development - The authority of the moral idea - Benevolence - Progress | Summary | >> |
THE Christian doctrine of God is stated for us in the Creed and the Articles. The belief as summed up in the Creed is as follows: 'I believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.' In the First Article it is defined: 'There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.'
We may sum up this teaching as follows:
(1) We believe in the unity of the Godhead as opposed to any form of polytheism;
(2) in God the creator of all things as opposed to any form of dualism;
(3) in the personality of God as opposed to any form of pantheism;
(4) in God as not only the creator but the sustainer of the world as opposed to deism;
and (5) in God as our Father, whose divine providence is exhibited in his care for mankind.
This belief has come to mankind through the revelation of the Old Testament, developed in the New Testament by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, expounded and taught to mankind by the Christian Church. I do not want to speak too positively, but I think we get little or no clear monotheism except in the Old Testament and in the religions derived directly from it, Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan. In Greek philosophy we get a speculative approach to it, but never I think a clear statement of religious belief until we find it in Neoplatonism, the indirect result of Christian influence. In other directions also there appear to be isolated instances of something approaching monotheism. In contrast to these imperfect and partial conceptions which seem to show glimpses of the truth rather than attainment, we find this belief in one God taught clearly and continuously in those religions and systems of thought which have their roots in the Old Testament. We find it there not as a philosophical speculation, but claiming to be a directly revealed truth. Nowadays we look upon it as the only possible or rational form of religion; it is instructive, therefore, to notice that as a matter of fact mankind does not seem to have attained this belief, except through revelation.
We begin then with the revelation of God in the Old Testament, and it is clear that monotheism is the creed there taught. It is summed up in the words 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord.' These words which come from the book of Deuteronomy are repeated in the daily service of the Jews and represent the only creed that Judaism ever had. Monotheism then is the final form which the religion of Israel took. It permeates the Old Testament, it is assumed in the New Testament. But when that has been said, there are two further questions which come before us. A careful study of the Old Testament from the point of view of modern scholarship has made it clear that this was not the original belief of the Hebrew people; there is evidence that originally they had what from our standpoint appear to be very imperfect beliefs. We have to consider what this implies, and then we have to ask how the Jewish people attained a higher belief.
The first point that we have to notice is that there is quite clear evidence that the religion of Israel in its earliest form was similar in character to that of the surrounding nations. They believed, as far back as we can go, in Jehovahthe God of Israel, but in the beginning they thought of him only as one among many gods. 'Among the gods there is none like unto thee, there is none that can do as thou doest.' Jehovah was the God of Israel, but other nations had their own gods. So when David flees to the Philistines, it is the God of the Philistines that he feels it his duty to worship, because it was only in the land of Israel that the God of Israel had authority and power. In the same way the conception of Jehovah was anthropomorphic as was that of other gods. Jehovah was the God of Israel, as Chemosh or Moloch were gods of the surrounding nations.
Now when these facts are pointed out, they give some people a considerable shock; they seem to take away the religious authority of the Old Testament. I think that if you will consider the matter carefully you will find that that is not the case. The reverse is indeed true. The more you accept the primitive character of the original religion of Israel, the greater the similarity between the worship of Jehovah and that of other gods, the more remarkable becomes the ultimate conception of God. The problem is this: Here were a people who in their original worship resembled in many ways the nations around them. I think as a matter of fact that from the time of Moses there was always a difference, but how soon a higher conception first came in is not the point. Somehow or other this nation learned a completely different conception of God, more elevated, more universal; and from Israel came the inspiration which passed on to other peoples. How did this higher form of religion arise?
Let us look for a moment at the development of religious ideas in Greece. Their religion was a polytheism – the best known, most highly developed, most typical polytheism that we are acquainted with. That polytheistic belief was gradually overthrown by philosophical speculation, and among philosophers like Plato and Aristotle we have a belief which could almost be described as monotheistic. Now that belief was attained as a scientific truth from the study of nature. It arose from the growing knowledge of the world, and the birth of the conception of natural causation. The knowledge of natural causes drove the old gods out of one corner of nature after another, till it finally banished them altogether. They ceased to have existence as cosmic powers. The Greek found that things happened by nature, not by the immediate intervention of many different unseen beings. The universe, they saw, must be explained as a single whole, with a single source. Then came the great induction of one supreme being, the first cause, the ground of all existence, the infinite intelligence which has ordered all things as they are. The old gods perished, a new God was discovered, a result due not to religious idealism, but to philosophic inquiry. The God thus conceived was a first cause. What Plato and Aristotle taught was not a religion but a philosophy, and the idea of God, the first cause, was not necessarily an object of worship and so not necessarily God. But the religious nature of man continued as insistent in its demands as before, and so long as the ultimate ground of reality was not believed to be material, there was always the possibility of taking up a religious attitude towards it. Hence we may speak of the new God as opposed to the old gods. The old polytheism could make but a poor appeal to the intellect, but it excelled in the satisfaction which it gave to the religious instinct. The old gods appeared to be founded on the basis of self-evident fact. The existence of the new God seemed open to question. So while intellectually this idea of a first cause was satisfying, it was quite incapable of responding to the demands of the religious instinct. Until the influence of Christianity came in, there was no religious monotheism in Greece. It is only in the second and third centuries of the Christian era that, inspired by Christianity, we find a reformed paganism which taught a religious monotheism.
The development of religion among the Jews was quite different. We find a succession of prophets proclaiming in a clear and definite way that Jehovah the God of Israel is the God of the whole earth. How did they arrive at this truth? Was it by the study of the facts of nature? Certainly not. Their conception of nature was just as unscientific as that of the polytheists around them. Did they arrive at it by a study of the history of Israel, and by deduction from the lesson it might teach them? Quite clearly that was not the case. The prophets, who proclaimed the power, the unity, the majesty of Jehovah, did so most definitely just at the time when the fortunes of Israel were lowest. For example, if you will study the book of Jeremiah, the natural and proper deduction from the destruction of Jerusalem was that Jehovah was a God who had failed. He had failed according to all the canons of criticism of that day, but just at that moment this firm belief in the power of God was more strongly taught than ever before. Perhaps the highest conception of God which the Old Testament gives us is that in the second part of the book of Isaiah, the work of an exile when the temple was in ruins.
Nor again was it a deduction from the moral facts of the world. The prophets of Isaiah did not teach any new morality, or study morality in any way. They claimed God as the righteous God, but not from any experience of the power of righteousness in the world. So far as their observations went, the facts were exactly contrary to any such idea. They were the defeated people. Their opponents in battle had been completely victorious. Every act which had been done by them, and there were many which we would think inconceivably unjust, had been apparently justified by success. This belief then did not come from observation or deduction from observed facts; it came as the result of religious experience.
It is assumed by them as a self-evident fact, It did not come as in the case of the Greeks by throwing over the old and creating a new belief. It came through the full realization of the God that they had previously worshipped. The relation of Jehovah to the world of nature was exactly the same as the polytheists of the day had conceived it. Jehovah was the God of Israel just as people had thought of him in the primitive days of the nation. They believed that he could be influenced by prayers and the acts of men, just as they had always believed. They had simply learned a higher conception of the national God. They believed in the continuity of his personality. Just as the most obvious fact about a human personality is its continuity and identity with itself, so the personality of Jehovah is the thought of the prophets. He is always the same, a definite, ever-present, real person throughout history. Just as in the old polytheism there was a feeling that there could be communion between God and man, so it existed also for the prophets in relation to Jehovah. They ascribed to him a consciousness like man. They looked upon him as the universal God, not indeed, as we might do, thinking that other nations were worshipping the one God in an imperfect way, but because they believed that the nations would acknowledge Jehovah. They had arrived at the belief that this particular divine person, Jehovah, the God of Israel, was creator and supreme governor of the world. Their belief had come as the result of religious consciousness and not of philosophical thought, and therefore it was through the Old Testament that the belief in one God has been taught as part of the religious possession of the human race.
Finally there is a proof of their belief of very great cogency. The anticipations of the prophets proved to be correct. They looked forward – we will not now go into detail as we are to consider this more closely later – to the coming of a Messiah, a Messiah through whom the worship of Jehovah was to be recognized as the worship of the whole earth. That belief and hope were fulfilled. They had an intuition, a revelation. Though a small persecuted minority they adhered to their belief in the face of every form of opposition. And now after all these years that belief of which they had such a vivid anticipation has come to be recognized as the only rational form in which religion can be believed. The more you ponder over this story of the development of human thought, the more cogent will the evidence for it appear to be.
The belief then in one God has come to be through the revelation of the Old Testament, corroborated and emphasized in the revelation through Christ.
But though a true religious monotheism has never been attained except through revelation, yet it represents what mankind was continually striving after and what would satisfy the highest needs of humanity. We come then to examine the arguments which have been put forward on the basis of what is called natural religion for belief in one God. Now I have already pointed out that a study of the limitations of the human mind would convince us that we cannot prove the existence of God as we can demonstrate a proposition of Euclid. In old theological books written under the influence of a deductive system of thought, you find demonstrative proof given you of the existence of God. Such arguments may appear to have a rhetorical value, but ultimately they will not appear to you to be sound. I have already suggested to you that the right method of argument is this – to show that the idea of one God is a satisfactory explanation of the facts of life in a way that no other theory is.
It is customary to put the arguments for the existence of
God under four headings: the cosmological argument, the
teleological argument, the ontological argument, and the
The right method of proof for belief in God, as I conceive it, may be illustrated from the history of the cosmological argument.
We begin with Plato and Aristotle. The main argument which they put forward is that of the primum mobile as it is called. The most universal characteristic of things is motion and change. Motions are of two kinds, original or spontaneous and impressed. Spontaneous movement is prior to impressed. We cannot regard all movement as impressed, as that would mean a regressus ad infinitum. The 'motion which moves itself is the motion of a soul. Souls are good and evil, but the motions of the heavenly bodies are good. Therefore they must be caused by a good soul. If God then be a perfectly good soul, all the motions of the heavenly bodies which are orderly must be caused by God. Aristotle eliminates from Plato's doctrine the ethical elements, and presents us with a God who is purely intellectual. The first Mover must himself be unmoved. 'Himself unmoved all motion's source.' He is a being eternal most excellent. He is eternal thought. The object of his contemplation is himself. 'He thinks himself and his thinking is a thinking of thinking.' As Professor Taylor sums it up, 'God in fact becomes in Aristotle what Aristotle himself would have liked to be, a mere magnified and non-natural scientific thinker.'
It is on the Cosmological argument that St. Thomas Aquinas lays the greatest stress. He begins by proving that it is possible to demonstrate the existence of God. He gives five proofs. The first is that which he took from Aristotle of the Primum Mobile. Things are moved in the world. Whatever is moved is moved by something else. And that must be moved by some other thing. And so it would go on to infinity. Therefore it is necessary to come to some first mover which is unmoved by anything; and this all understand to be God.
The second argument is that from a first cause. Everything has a cause, and that cause another cause, and so we go back to a first cause. It is not possible that this series can go back to infinity, for then there could never have been a cause and nothing can happen without a cause, therefore nothing would have happened, which is absurd. 'Therefore it is necessary to assume some efficient first cause, which is what all call God.'
The third argument is called that from contingency. Contingent things are those which can exist or not exist. If there were no things which must necessarily exist, there would have been a time when nothing existed. But in that case there could be nothing in existence now, for that which exists can only exist through something else which exists. Therefore there must be something which must necessarily exist, which will be the cause of existence in other things. Quod omnes dicunt Deum.
The same argument was put in another form by Descartes, 1596-1650. Descartes approached philosophy from a mathematical and deductive standpoint. His Meditations on First Philosophy were first published in 1641. His starting-point was a phrase which has become famous, cogito, ergo sum. T think, therefore I am.' Reality he could only find in the human mind. All other things were only passing objects. He then goes on to ask: Is there any other existence or co-existence? He answers that the only other thing of which you can say that it exists is the deity. There is nothing real to be found anywhere else in the regions of finite, or imperfect, or contingent things. Everywhere doubt is possible. It can only be in that which is perfect and infinite that there can be reality. The only possibility to him of finding anything other than his self which is real lies in going to his consciousness of the infinite and perfect. He puts his argument thus:
'There only remains, therefore, the idea of God, in which I must consider whether there is anything that cannot be supposed to originate with myself. By the name of God, I understand a substance infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created. But these properties are so great and excellent that the more attentively I consider them, the less I feel persuaded that the idea I have of them owes its origin to myself alone, and thus it is absolutely necessary to conclude from all that I have before said that God exists, for though the idea of substance be in my mind owing to this, that I myself am a substance, I should not ever have the idea of an infinite substance, seeing I am a finite being, unless it were given me by some substance in reality infinite.'
Let us try to understand this argument for what it is worth. Let us remember to begin with that substance does not mean what we normally mean by it, something that has material existence, but is the translation of the Greek word ovala, existence or reality. Descartes feels that reality of existence lies in his own mind. Here there is something which is real. The impressions made upon it by the things that appear are unreal. The only other thing which can really exist is a substance and existence, which is infinite and must include all finite existences. That is what he means by God, and that must exist. For how could such an idea come into the mind, if it did not come from one who was infinite? There is nothing in my experience or my environment which would make me think of, or conceive, the infinite. It must have come then because there is an infinite with which my mind has contact. That, as I understand it, is his argument.
Now against all such arguments must be put the criticisms of Kant, which were referred to in the first chapter of this work. The point of his criticism, as I understand it, is that the whole validity of these arguments lies in the assumption of the necessary existence of something corresponding to our mental conceptions. 'The existence of an absolutely necessary being is given in conceptions alone.' Therefore Kant argues that there is no proof that it exists. So he enumerates certain fallacies. 'Everything that is contingent must have a cause.' This principle is without significance except in a sensuous world. Again, 'From the impossibility of an infinite ascending series of causes in the world of sense a first cause is inferred: a conclusion which the principles of the employment of reason do not justify even in the sphere of experience, and still less when an attempt is made to pass the limits of this sphere'.
I do not think it necessary to pursue this further. The whole point of his criticism is that we cannot argue from ideas which are formed in relation to the world of experience to that which transcends experience. As I have already said I believe this criticism quite sound.
But I would quote the following also which forms a sufficient justification for the position taken up in this work:
'It is certainly allowable to admit the existence of an all-sufficient being – a cause of all possible effect, for the purpose of enabling reason to introduce unity into its mode and grounds of explanation with regard to phenomena. But to assert that such a being necessarily exists, is no longer the modest enunciation of an admissible hypothesis, but the boldest declaration of an apodeictic certainty; for the cognition of that which is absolutely necessary must itself possess that character.'
Now let us try and state this cosmological argument in the form in which it seems valid. It is based on the explanation of the existence of the world as it is. The human mind inevitably asks what is the cause of things, and looking from the analogy of the human will it seems to find the cause of the world in the idea of a supreme will. Before scientific study began it was natural to find the cause of all natural phenomena in a person, arguing from the analogy of the human person. Each of the phenomena of nature was caused by some particular being. As science advanced it was seen that these phenomena were not, as originally seemed to be the case, dependent on caprice or will, but were controlled by unchanging laws.The development of the older conception may be traced best in the history of Greek philosophy where the problems are all stated with great simplicity. A similar process went on, not so simply, in the growth of modern science.
We hold now that all the phenomena of nature are determined by what we call natural laws. These are the object of scientific research, and the success of science is shown in the discovery of them. But these natural laws are secondary, not final. They do not explain, nor do they claim to explain, the origin of things. Science leaves and must always leave the first cause untouched. It studies the actual process, not the origin. Therefore men ask to know what the first cause or origin is. The answer that Christianity gives is that there is one God almighty, the source of all things, the cause of everything that we see around us. Now clearly we cannot prove the existence of this first cause. We must recognize that the argument is one drawn from the conception of the human mind. We are transferring to a world beyond our experience thoughts and ideas which we have developed ourselves within the world of experience. There is here no demonstration possible. What we can say is this. If there be a God such as we are describing, and if he is the creator of the world, that solution satisfies our minds as nothing else could.
The Teleological Argument, that from design and purpose in the universe, might be looked upon as a particular form of
the one we have just stated. Put in a simple manner it probably appeals most widely to the ordinary person. It is ascribed by Xenophon and Plato to Socrates, and it is used by St. Thomas; but it will be best for our purpose to refer to the argument as stated by Paley, where it is put forward in what would be called a common sense way and the philosophical difficulties are ignored.
Paley pictures some one walking across a common and finding a watch or some other complicated piece of machinery. He examines it and finds that this piece of machinery is designed and planned to work to a particular end. He naturally and inevitably arrives at the conclusion that it was made by somebody. We equally naturally apply the same method in our study of the universe. It too shows or appears to show plan or purpose. Inevitably we ascribe that plan or purpose to a mind. The world must have been made by some one endowed with reason.
Now since Paley wrote a very profound change has arisen in human thought by the conception of what is called evolution. It is not possible any longer to argue quite in the same way that the universe must have a rational creator because there are signs of a plan. This, it is asserted, arises from a long process of evolution. Undoubtedly we everywhere find an adaptation of means to an end, but that has not arisen through any skilled planning, but because there has been a tendency in things to adapt themselves to their circumstances. For example in old days it would have been argued that the camel's capability of storing up means of subsistence so that it could endure a desert life, was a proof of the wisdom and goodness of God who fitted the camel for the life he had to lead. But evolution comes in and says, 'No, there is no evidence here of plan or design, but merely a gradual adaptation to circumstances by the laws of variation and heredity'. Why has a giraffe a long neck? In old days we should have said that it might be able to reach the branches of trees. But the newer way of explaining it would be this, that in times of famine when the water-courses were dried up, and grass and much other vegetation had perished, then the animals with the longest necks would survive, because they would be able to reach up to the branches of the trees. By the law of heredity some of their offspring would tend to have even longer necks, and in a waterless country subject to periods of dearth it would be always those with the longest necks that would survive. So the necks would grow longer and longer, and the giraffe would be evolved. The same argument would apply to the other varieties of animals, to all living things, even to the whole structure of the world.
Attempts are being made now to apply the same idea of evolution to the development not merely of living but even of material things. The different forms of matter have arisen because atoms fitted for certain circumstances have tended to group themselves, and these combinations have arisen when the whole universe was in a free, unstable condition. The chance combinations of atoms have gradually built up the material universe. We are here on very uncertain ground, and I do not think that I need follow this line of speculation further. I would only put before you the reasons why the doctrine of evolution in some form or other has been so widely accepted as a more adequate explanation of the facts of the world than the old doctrine of a special creation. The argument is a cumulative one. It is based on the observation of the variations in existing species, on the study of the development of the animal frame, on the facts of embryology, on the survival of organs for which there is no longer any use, on the geological history of the universe. The arguments are strong, and I believe that of the truth of evolution in some form or other there is no doubt at all.
But now assuming that to be the case, when you come to reflect on it you will find that it never gives any ultimate explanation of why things have come to be what they are. It explains in an ingenious and probable way the process by which the universe has come to be what it is, but the ultimate cause, the why, it does not explain. There are certain laws, we are told, of heredity, or variation, and so on. How does it happen that things should exist subject to those laws, with such a tendency to variation, and subject to those rules of heredity? How does it happen that living things were such that they should develop as they did in the circumstances in which they were, as the study of evolution tells us that they have developed. Ultimately, if you think things out, you will come to this. Is pure chance and accident a sufficient cause for the development of the world? Did atoms go on combining with one another for many myriads of years, until quite accidentally the combinations came which produced the world? Or is not the fact that a very wonderfully adjusted machine has been the result of this development, sufficient to make us believe that there is a mind behind? Ultimately we come to chance or God. There is from a human point of view no other alternative.
It is indeed boldly stated that all things are due to chance. Every possible experiment, every possible combination of atoms has been made, and the actual adjustment of things as they are is due to the survival of those combinations which were stable and successful. There have been hundreds of millions of unsuccessful combinations, but somehow or other a carefully fitted and adjusted machine has come into existence. At present we are trying to discover that theory which will satisfy our minds as to the coming into existence of the universe. The question that is put to us is this. Do we consider that the extraordinary and wonderful adjustment of things in the universe, in which the working of different parts quite independent of one another collaborate in the creation of the whole, is sufficiently explained by any theory of chance? If we cannot feel that, we can argue from the clear element of purpose in the world to a belief in God. At any rate we can argue from a belief in God, as I think Lord Balfour does, to the teleological character of the universe. If you as a Christian with your belief in God look out on the universe, and see how, in the result, what we call natural laws working through a long period of time have finally produced this very wonderfully constructed machine, you may legitimately find corroboration and truth of that belief which has come to you as a part of your religious revelation. If you cannot prove God by the phenomena of the world, you can quite legitimately find support for your belief.
Evolution then tells us the way in which the universe has come to be what it is, but it tells us nothing about the beginning of things. It tells us that the world, as it is, is the product of natural laws, working through immense stretches of time. It takes us back in thought to a period when the universe consisted of a mass of undifFerentiated nebulae which developed in accordance with the laws of matter, forming the stars, the planets, and the solar system. It is able, or thinks it is able, to work out by mathematical methods the manner in which this must have happened. It then depicts for us the gradual development of the world as we know it, the long period of geological ages, the coming of life on the earth, and its evolution through many millions of years, until finally man appears and then comes the succession of human history.
Now this picture thus presented to us is not anything scientifically proved. It is only a scientific hypothesis, and it gives no explanation of the origin of life and of mind. But suppose that it is true and does represent more or less adequately the development of the world, it gives no explanation of the problem of creation, nor of the existence of those observed uniformities which for convenience we designate natural laws. Science has unfolded to us the wonder of nature, and, so far from diminishing its significance, has increased it.
The Psalms speak of the wonderful works of God. The early development of science which produced the Bridgewater Treatises enhanced that wonder. But the picture of the development of the universe which modern evolutionary theories put before us makes the work of God even more wonderful. The world was so fashioned that it should be
capable of developing through a process extending overmillions of years into an adjusted and harmonized universe. If you will ponder over these things, I think you will feel that evolution, so far from making the belief in a Creator unnecessary, demands it, and so far from diminishing the wonder of creation, increases it.
We come now to what is called the ontological proof. I will first say something about the history of this argument.
We appear to owe it originally to St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury. He lived from the year 1033 to 1109, and in him medieval philosophy begins. We cannot quite call him one of the Schoolmen, because he is perhaps a little more under the influence of Plato than Aristotle. But he stands at the head of the great roll of medieval philosophers. We will give his argument in his own words taken from the Proslogium or Allocution on the existence of God.
This argument he tells us suddenly sprang upon him after years of painful thought.
'Our belief is this. Thou art a being than which no greater can be conceived, quo nihil maius cogitari potest. Even the foolish man is convinced that something, than which no greater can be conceived, is in his understanding; because when he hears this he understands it, and whatever is understood is in the understanding. Now certainly that, than which no greater can be conceived, cannot be in the understanding alone, for if it were only in the understanding, it could then be further conceived to be also in reality, which would be a greater thing. Therefore if that, than which no greater can be conceived, were only in the understanding, there would be something still greater than it, which assuredly is impossible. Something therefore without doubt exists, than which no greater can be conceived, and it is both in the understanding and in reality.'
There you have an argument in scholastic form. It will be convenient to attempt to understand what it implies. It implies three things. First, the necessity of the existence of the thought of a being so great that nothing can be conceived greater. It is a necessity, Anselm argues, of the mind. Secondly, this thing, which is so great that no greater can be conceived, he identifies with God. Thirdly, he argues that such a being must of necessity exist also in reality.
The Ontological argument is used also by Descartes. The following quotations will give sufficiently his method:
'But now, if just because I can draw the idea of something from my thought, it follows that all which I know clearly and distinctly as pertaining to this object does really belong to it, may I not derive from this an argument demonstrating the existence of God? It is certain that I no less find the idea of God, that is to say, the idea of a supremely perfect Being, in me, than that of any figure or number whatever it is; and I do not know any less clearly and distinctly that an [actual and] eternal existence pertains to this nature than I know that all that which I am able to demonstrate of some figure or number truly pertains to the nature of this figure or number, and therefore, although all that I concluded in the preceding Meditations were found to be false, the existence of God would pass with me as at least as certain as I have ever held the truths of mathematics (which concern only numbers and figures) to be. This indeed is not at first manifest, since it would seem to present some appearance of being a sophism. For being accustomed in all other things to make a distinction between existence and essence, I easily persuade myself that the existence can be separated from the essence of God, and that we can thus conceive God as not actually existing. But, nevertheless, when I think of it with more attention, I clearly see that existence can no more be separated from the essence of God than can its having its three angles equal to two right angles be separated from the essence of a (rectilinear) triangle, or the idea of a mountain from the idea of a valley; and so there is not any less repugnance to our conceiving a God (that is, a Being supremely perfect) to whom existence is lacking (that is to say, to whom a certain perfection is lacking), than to conceive of a mountain which has no valley.'
These two statements we can take as the most original and typical expositions of the ontological argument, and then
for a criticism of it we turn to Kant (1724-1804). With Kant comes the beginning of the critical philosophy. He argues with great definiteness that it is not possible to argue from an idea of the human mind to reality. The conception of an infinite being is only an idea of the mind, the objective reality of which is far from being established by the mere fact that it is an idea necessary for reason. The fact that such a necessary idea is in your mind is no argument at all for its reality. He concludes: 'We may as well hope to increase our stock of knowledge by the aid of mere ideas, as the merchant to increase his wealth by the addition of noughts to his cash account.'
As against the arguments of Anselm and Descartes the criticism is I think sound, but it is possible to state the argument in another and better way. This is the most typical illustration of a fallacy which I have pointed out already, namely how impossible it is to demonstrate the existence of that which transcends experience. It is not possible I think to argue about anything which is outside experience, that it must necessarily exist. But I think that there is underlying both these arguments something which is quite valid. Are we not bound to consider valid an idea which is bound up organically, so it seems, with the possibility of knowledge? The real problem is, how is knowledge possible? I want, if I may be allowed, to discuss a problem of metaphysics without making use of the technical language of the modern philosopher, and I hope that I may not be evading difficulties by trying to express the problem simply. At any rate I would put it in this way. How does it happen that there is an agreement between the ideal laws of our thought and the real laws of being? Why does the human mind and its workings correspond to the reality of things outside?
The answer that is made to such a question is that the correspondence would appear intelligible, if you presuppose a common source to both so that thought and being are radically one. There is a unity which manifests itself in objective existence and subjective thinking. That is to say, to put it quite simply, the world was created by God and my mind comes from God, therefore my mind is in contact with and can have a knowledge of created things.
These arguments then imply and justify the following beliefs.
The first is the belief in the reality of the human mind and consciousness – that the mind cannot be explained merely as a function of matter. It is, it seems to me, logically impossible to be satisfied with any theory which makes the mind a derivation from matter, for we only know matter through the mind. The basic fact behind our life and our knowledge is the reality of the human ego.
Then, secondly, there is the problem of knowledge. In what sense and how far is our knowledge real? You all of you know how Bishop Berkeley pointed out that we have no knowledge of the reality of things. We have certain sensations, and the world as we conceive it is a world constructed by our mind to explain our sensations. But we know that if we analyse our sensations they do not correspond to reality. Take something very simple such as colour. We say a thing is red. But if you will think a minute, it will become clear to you that the redness is not in the thing but in your mind. For what happens is that a certain amount of light is reflected by the thing we call red, the light strikes your eye, and the result is that your brain has a sensation of redness. The light we know is really a succession of waves, and the sensation in your brain is dependent on the length of those waves, and according to the character of the waves, so you see red or violet or blue. But the waves are not red or violet or blue. The object that you look at has apparently such a structure that it can only reflect such rays as produce redness in your brain, but there is no reason for thinking that the object is really red. So the wonderful picture of the world as you see it is really the creation of the seeing brain.
So again as regards space. Space is an ideal construction. You have gradually built it up to explain your muscular and other sensations. Some things you can see, some are, as you say, too far off to see. If you walk towards some things you have a different muscular reaction from what you have when you walk towards other things. What relation the real world bears to the world as you construct it you do not know. It is probable that the mental picture which your dog constructs of the world is quite different from that which you construct. To him the world is primarily a world of smells. I do not profess to understand these problems – I can only state them. But to me the best explanation which seems possible of the world and my knowledge of it, is that both I, that is my mind, and the world that seems to be outside me, are alike the product of one infinite spirit.
If then you try to state the ontological argument in a deductive way, if you attempt to prove the necessity of the existence of God, your argument is I think open to the criticism of Kant. But there is a definite problem of knowledge which has exercised the minds of philosophers since the days of Socrates, and has been stated in many different ways; and I would suggest to you that the belief in God, which comes to you from revelation, may be looked upon as the hypothesis which explains best to you the problem of knowledge. That I believe to be the truth which underlies the ontological argument.
We come now to the moral argument for theism. This argument is based on the fact that we have what we call moral ideas. When we try to analyse our experience, we find that there are certain experiences which are pleasant, and others that are painful. But that does not exhaust what we find. In some cases we find that there are things which are quite clearly painful, and yet somehow or other there is an obligation to do them. So too there are things which are pleasant, and yet we ought not (as we say) to do them. That is, the analysis of our experience shows us that we have an idea of right and wrong. That is what we mean by moral law. We have a sense of right and wrong and what we call a conscience, which seems to act as an authority and tells us that we ought to do certain things and ought not to do others. That is an entirely different idea from the ideas of pleasure and pain, or truth and error, or beauty and ugliness.
How does it come about that we have these ideas? The Christian answer is that they bring us back to the belief in God, not only as all powerful, as the source of truth and knowledge and reason, but as all righteous. We have these ideas of good and evil in our minds because we are dependent on a God who is righteous.
This argument was developed by Kant. After he had overthrown all the arguments in favour of the existence of God on the basis of the speculative reason, he brings back that belief as a postulate of the practical reason. It is necessary to believe in the existence of God to justify those ideas of morality which we have. We must postulate the existence of God as a necessary condition of the possibility of the summum bonum. The existence of a cause of all nature, distinct from nature itself and containing the principle of the exact harmony of happiness with morality, is postulated. The argument is based on the conviction that there are moral obligations which are inconsistent, in the world as it is at present, with human happiness. If this idea of moral obligation be real, then there must be a sphere and a being in whom moral obligation and happiness are united. For the individual there must be a hope of an immortality in which he can be both moral and happy, and that implies the existence of God, the source of nature, in whom happiness and morality are united.
Here also, as in other points of our argument, the right manner (as I believe) of stating the case is that the hypothesis which can best explain the existence of moral ideas in man and the world is the existence of God. A further difficulty that will be raised is the suggestion that our moral ideas are the result of evolution or development. But the fact that moral ideas have developed does not destroy their reality, any more than the fact
that there has been a development of scientific ideas make us doubt the truth of science. In fact there cannot be a development of morality unless the moral idea is presupposed. The moral idea itself has directed the process of development, and, as man has developed, the moral idea has become clearer.
Or you can put the argument in another way. Evolution arises from adaptation to our environment. Animals develop in this or that way because they adapt themselves to the conditions in which they find themselves. But if the development of human beings means a development in morality, that means human beings have become moral, or developed in morality, in order to harmonize with their surroundings, and therefore the environment in which we develop is moral. That means that morality is part of the natural order of the world, because, if it were not, human beings would not develop on moral lines. Therefore the revelation of conscience is a revelation of the purpose of the world as a whole.
I think we shall find, if we study in detail the relation of the moral idea to the world, that belief in God is the most adequate way of explaining a great deal connected with that idea. Take for example the authority of the moral idea. There can be no doubt at all that our moral ideas come to us with a certain sense of authority. There is a feeling of 'ought' about them. Now how can that sense of 'ought' come, if it is merely something which we have developed ourselves? If our moral idea is merely the result of an induction based upon the study of the world as it is, if morality in fact is only a higher sort of utility, where does the sense of obligation come in? If the idea comes to us from a spiritual being, above and beyond us, beyond the world, if it is part of the principle on which the world was created, then we can understand why we have so strong a sense of the obligation of doing what is right; for I suppose we all agree that whatever variation there may be as to what is right, there is an obligation to act rightly.
The same result follows from the consideration that this moral idea is something objective. We have indeed to comprehend it as individuals and make it our own, but there is among us a conviction that right and wrong are not merely something dependent upon circumstances, but are the result of ideas outside ourselves which condition our experience, of which we learn more and more during our life, which transcend ourselves. Now if it comes from God who transcends the temporal order, we can understand how the moral idea is objective, and objective as an ideal.
Or again let us look at some part of what we may call the content of our moral consciousness. An obvious part of it is benevolence. It is part of our moral feeling that it is reasonable to promote the good of all human beings. But why is it so? You can understand why people should think it reasonable to promote their own good, but why is it reasonable that you and I should consider the good not only of ourselves but of other people? I do not think that you can say that it is a self-evident proposition. In fact there are some people who doubt and deny it. Nietzsche for example has denied it. He considered that the promotion of other people's good is not a rational thing, and looked at purely from a utilitarian point of view I suppose it is not. Yet if we allow our conscience to direct us, we have a natural feeling that we must benefit other people. More than that, as human nature progresses there is a tendency for that feeling of benevolence, the desire to help other people as well as ourselves, to extend to a wider and wider circle.
Now I think that we can understand the existence of such a feeling in ourselves and in the world, if the world is dependent upon a righteous God; but I do not think that it is possible to explain such a feeling if the world is merely the result of a purely materialistic development. Moral principles such as benevolence cannot be deduced from a purely utilitarian and materialistic view of life.
Or let us take one more idea, the idea of rational progress, lit at is to say the idea that we should all work together for a common good. That has become a commonplace of political life. It is one of those things which are presupposed at the present day in all our writings and criticisms, and it is presupposed just as much by those who deny Christianity as by those who claim to be Christians. Somehow we have the idea in our mind, first of all that the world is progressive, and then that it is our duty as human beings to work for the common good. On what rational grounds however can we get any justification for that belief ? Clearly there is very little. Take one particular way in which men work for the common good, by being ready as patriots to die for their country. We recognize the paramount obligation of patriotism. We know how great masses of men in this country have held it as a fundamental principle, men of no great intelligence, who could not define or explain their mental attitude but who held it as an intuitive idea. Now from the point of view of a man's individual life in relation to the world that is an entirely irrational conception. A man is ready to go out and die for his country. He does it from faith in human nature and in human progress, from a feeling in himself that it is right, that there is a moral obligation upon him to make such a sacrifice. Now if we believe in the real progress of humanity, and that our moral obligation comes from a belief in God, and if we accept a a spiritual conception of the universe, then that idea is rational; but it is entirely irrational from an utilitarian point of view. It may be a rational one from the point of view of the well-being of the nation. It is entirely irrational from the point of view of the individual. He has given up everything for the sake of a moral obligation.
These points which we have discussed in detail are all illustrations of the larger proposition, that the belief in God is that hypothesis which is the best explanation of the facts of experience.
To sum up then this point of view. We as Christians have learnt through the Christian revelation to believe in God as
the creator and sustainer of the universe, and the source of life. We believe in a God who is not only of infinite power, but also of infinite goodness. Then we turn to the facts of life as they lie before us, and we find that there are three great problems: there is the problem of the world, how it came to be; there is the problem of truth and knowledge; and there is the problem of morality, of right and wrong. Under those headings you can sum up the facts of your experience. Our argument is that in relation to each of these problems the hypothesis which will best explain things is the belief in a righteous God as the source of all things. We have knowledge of a world, a world wonderfully adjusted, and also very beautiful. The most adequate explanation is that this world is the creation of a mind of infinite power. We believe in the reality of our knowledge of this world. The most adequate explanation is that we have a mind derived from the same source as the world we study. We believe in the reality of the distinction between right and wrong. The most adequate explanation is that the moral law is inherent in the reality of the world, and therefore if we are to be in harmony with that world we must accept the conditions which our conscience imposes on us.
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