DR. FLINT'S "THEISM."
ONE of the problems which perplex the thoughtful critic is to account for the dissatisfaction and disappointment he almost invariably feels on examining books which*profess to set forth the grounds of belief in Theism. The more profound and vital his belief in Theism is, the more intense is his disappointment. The question inevitably arises,—Is this all that can be said on behalf of a belief so deep and living, and which has laid so firm a grasp on all the springs of human life ? Are the strength and practical power of Theism to be measured by the validity of the proof and the cogency of the reasons which can be expressed in language, and cast in a logical form ? Is this book, for example, a fair and full statement of what can be said to-day on behalf of Theism ? For ourselves, we turn the dissatisfaction we have felt with Dr. Flint's book, and we must add, with most other similar books, to the advantage of the subject with which they deal. An argument almost irresistible may be drawn from the defects of the Theistic argument, as expressed in language. Are not all the various lines of proof by which men have tried to reach God simply so many attempts to justify to themselves a conclusion already inexpugnably fixed in the human mind? The strongest and surest grounds on which belief and action are based are often such as escape even the finest means of analysis at our command. Our deepest feelings, our surest beliefs, and even our highest thoughts, may lie far below, or ascend far above, the sphere of language and of logic. The deeper and more vital a belief is, the more difficult it is to express the manifold combinations of thought, feeling, and experience which justify and make it valid.
Nowhere is it more needful to bear this in mind than in reading a book which deals with the Theistic argument. The attempt to rise, by stress of argument, from man and nature to the Divine and Supernatural is, on the face of it, somewhat bold and hazardous. A due regard for the great issues involved ought to
lead any writer to begin with a caveat ; and a conviction of the necessary limits of logic should cause one to begin with a refusal, while doing the best he can, to peril belief in God on the con- clusiv eness of any argument, or series of arguments, he may be able to expound. Arguments, though formally invalid from a syllogistic point of view, may indeed have their value, as indicating the general starting-points for the development of the idea of God, primarily dwelling in the human mind. But it is a perilous thing for the conclusion to be staked altogether on the validity of an argument which may be syllogistically invalid. The reader ought also to be duly warned that no series of arguments yet formulated has adequately represented, or given full expression to, the many witnesses for God which lie about us on every side. These are indeed inexpressible. We have to say of the lectures of Dr. Flint, that in neither of these ways has he been sufficiently cautious in the treatment of his important theme. Ile is quite confident of the formal value of his arguments, as logically valid ; and he seems quite sure that he has expressed quite enough to bear the stress of the great conclusion. We are not quite so sure. We do not see how, as matter of logic, Dr. Flint reaches the conclusion that "Nature is but the name of an effect whose cause is God." He has led us back- ward from effect to cause, until we are brought face to face with a cause which is itself uncaused. But in all this, theology is on the same plane with science, and we are from end to end in the presence of power and necessity, and of nothing more. It is quite true that science has shown that the world has had a beginning, and will have an end ; that the present system of things is finite and temporal, and that there must be a sufficient came for this manifold world, and all that is therein ; but Dr. Flint has not indicated how we get outside of the world, above necessity and power, to a Being possessed of freedom and intelligence. Formally considered, this leads us only to universal being, which is power and necessity.
After a fashion precisely similar, Dr. Flint reasons from order
Theism: being The Baird Lecture for 1876. By Robert Flint, D.D., LL.D., Pro- kaiser of Divinity in the Univereity of Edinburgh. London aud Edinburgh; William Blackwood and Bons. 1877.
as manifested in the universe, but he has not shown us how to distinguish the spirit which dwells in, pervades, and informs the world from the teleological order of the world. He has evaded, or rather he has ignored, the Kantian analysis of the Theistic argu- ment. There is abundant evidence in these lectures, and specially in the notes, that he is well acquainted with the philosophy of Kant and the course of recent speculation, but nowhere does he man- fully grapple with the critical conclusions of the father of modern
philosophy. He has nowhere shown how the conclusions to be drawn from his arguments, considered simply as arguments, are necessarily Theistic, and are not fully satisfied with Pantheism. He has not led us to a God who can become an operative factor in human life. In fact, there is considerable confusion in Dr. Flint's method of conducting his argument. He has formally stated it, as if it were to lead us by logical steps up from man and nature to God. That is one method, and is conceivably com- petent, if it is possible. But we do not think that it is possible to reach the living God by that method. Another method, and it is that which Ukici—from whose work, Gott and die Natur, Dr. Flint quotes—employs, is to regard God as the necessary presup-
position for any reasoned view of the Universe. The existence of God being assumed, the Universe may be explained. On any other view, you have an inexplicable world. Starting with the thought of God, and sweeping downwards on man and on the world, we are able to give an explanation of the origin, growth, change, and progress of the whole. He who is immanent in the world also transcends the world, and with unchanging purpose creates, orders, and disposes all things. It seems to us that Dr. Flint sometimes reasons on the one view and sometimes on the other, and yet the two are radically different. We may not be able to prove the existence of God by any arguments which can be legitimately held to be proof, and yet we may be able to show how the conception of God makes the dark places of nature luminous with eternal light, makes the ideas of permanence and progress in nature and in history possible, and helps us to under- stand man and the world. Analogies are abundant in science and in theology. Many of the suppositions of science are capable of no proof, save that they give an adequate and suffi- cient explanation of all the phenomena. A luminiferous ether is as yet an unproved assumption, but all who are acquainted with the facts believe in its existence, simply on the ground that no other hypothesis can really account for the phenomena of light. It would be well for Dr. Flint to make up his mind as to which position he means to assume. We do not believe he will ever succeed in proving the existence of God, but we do believe, and we think he has already done much to establish, the other position. Starting from the conception of God, we can readily show how thought and purpose should have been in the world, for there were thought and purpose in the Maker of the world ; we can explain how personality and will should appear in man, for personality and will are in the Creator ; and we can show why moral life and social order, compassion and love should appear amongst men, for the supreme ideal of per- sonality, and of social union, and mutual love is realised in a God we can love and trust. But in the reverse order we can never get beyond the fatal chain of a necessary order, which binds to- gether into one the Creator and the creature. Were this the occasion, it might be shown from history that this has always been the result of every attempt to ascend from below upwards.
We were struck, as we turned the pages of Dr. Flint's volume, with the fact that his position was very similar to the position taken by both sides in the great Deistic controversy of the last century. To make our meaning plain, let us quote the following paragraph :—
" Surely belief without a reason must be arbitrary belief, and either to believe or act as if we knew what we do not know can never be conduct to be justified, much less commended. Faith which is not rational is faith which ought to be rejected. We cannot believe what we do not know, or think that we know. We have no right to believe more than we know. I know, for example, that the grass grows, and consequently I believe, and am justified in be- lieving that it grows. I do not know how the grass grows, and I do not believe how it grows ; I can justify my believing about its growth nothing beyond what I know to be true. This law of belief is as bind- ing for the highest as for the lowliest objects. If I have no reason for believing that there is a God, I have no right to believe that there is a God. If I do not know that God is infinite, I am bound not to believe that He is infinite. Belief is inseparable from knowledge, and ought to be precisely co-extensive with knowledge. Those who deny this funda- mental truth, will always be found employing the words 'knowledge' and ' belief ' in a capricious and misleading way." (pp. 85-86.) We do not animadvert at present on this illustration of a mis- chievous habit, too common among theologians, of fashioning
dilemmas, and, by forcing men to choose between the horns, of
compelling them to take up dangerous and untenable positions. We quote the paragraph to explain why Dr. Flint is compelled to lay SO much stress on arguments which, to many theologians and to us, seem quite inconclusive. Belief is to him precisely co-extensive with knowledge. We had thought that the old maxim, "Believe, that you may know," was true in philosophy and in theology. Does not every act of knowledge, every conclusion of the intelligence, rest on faith in the trustworthiness of our senses, on the continued order of the world, on the ultimate data of intelligence ? An old writer, whom Dr. Flint reverences as much as we do, once said that "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." Had he read the Baird lecture, he would hardly have written those words, for he would have learnt that belief is co-extensive with knowledge, and faith can be no evidence.
Dr. Flint's position is precisely the position of the voluminous evidence-writers of the last century, whose works now gather dust undisturbed on the shelves of our public libraries. With them and their opponents belief depended on knowledge, and a man's religious belief was a something which emerged at the end of an intellectual process. Natural reason and natural power were suffi- cient to prove the truths of natural religion. Both Deist and Christian could travel together in amity so far, but here they parted company, the Deist thinking what he had obtained a per- fect and sufficient religion, the Christian urging him onward undertaking to prove that the same natural powers were suffi- cient to establish the truth of the Christian religion. The religious life of the eighteenth century shows how powerless that belief is which is suspended on a process of reasoning. The stress of great emotions, and the deeper principles which come into view at the close of the century, were concomitants of another kind of belief, —a belief which did not come in at the end of a process of evidence, but which lifted men into living, personal contact with Him whom Christians profess to worship, though they had heaped between Him and them the huge mountain of the Evidences. The historical result of the favourite method of the last century, and of the view the writers held as regards the relation of belief to knowledge, is certainly not encouraging. It must not be supposed, however, that we are hostile to evidences, nor to Theistic arguments, as such, nor that we undervalue the work which Dr. Flint has done in these lectures. There is much in them of permanent value. While duly recognising the value of his work, we feel bound to dissent from the philosophical position which underlies the whole argument, from the undue stress he lays on these arguments, con- sidered simply as such, and from the unnecessary risk and danger to which he exposes the conclusion to which he desires to lead his readers. His procedure is dangerous, because men will be apt to measure the truth of the conclusion by the strength of the arguments on which it is based.