« PreviousContinue »
religion thereby, it seems to me that light will be thrown where there is now much darkness, and a unifying principle be discovered for resolving certain antagonisms in religious thinking, and for bringing discords into harmonies. There is, for instance, the old idea of God as a being external to the universe, making and ruling it from his seat above the heavens, and communicating his will to man by supernatural inspiration and miraculous. agencies, an idea that has become thoroughly discredited by science, and finds little support among philosophical thinkers to-day, but which keeps its hold, though a hold becoming more and more precarious, among the mass of uncultivated people, if they have any religious beliefs at all. On the other hand, there is the wide-spread disbelief in this kind of Deity, both among cultivated and uncultivated people, combined with a professed incapacity as yet to attain to any other and rational conception of God; and this kind of denial calls. itself atheism. And, again, there is another type of belief about Deity which denies the old theological conception of a God outside the world, making the world in six days, and ruling it from a throne of sovereignty above the heavens, but which yet recognizes, within and behind all the changing activities and phenomena of the world, some power from which all things proceed or depend, - a power, however, which it declares an inscrutable mystery: this is the agnostic position, a mental position frankly confessed by a large class of
people at the present day, and the penumbra of whose doubts overlaps a very much larger class, including a multitude of persons who still keep their connection with churches. Now, to what does science lead us for belief on this great primal question of Deity? Of course, science-physical science does not profess to have the problem of Deity for its object. It is investigating the forces, forms, organisms, creatures of the finite world. But, in pursuing this investigation, it has necessarily come into contact and conflict with the old religious conception of the creation and government of the universe. And it has not done this without furnishing materials for at least a partial new conception of a Power corresponding to and taking the place of that Sovereignty to which the old theologies gave the name of God. If science has not made this new conception so complete in particulars and so definite to the human understanding as was the old, this is not because the scientific conception is smaller than that of the ancient theologies, but because it is vastly larger and more truly infinite in its comprehension.
Now, keeping within the limits of scientific allowance, what kind of conception of Supreme and Divine Being is permitted to us? Herbert Spencer answers for agnosticism thus: "There remains the one absolute certainty, that man is ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed." That gives us the essential and original idea under the Hebrew Je
hovah-conception, "The I-am-that-I-am," or underived Eternal Being and Power. But, through the doctrine of the gradual evolution of the worlds and all their forms of life, combined with the doctrine of the conservation and correlation of forces, we are scientifically permitted to clothe this Infinite and Eternal Energy, in whose presence we ever are, and from which we ourselves proceed, with a certain history and attributes. In this part of the universe with which we are acquainted, we know that this Eternal Energy has manifested itself in the orderly development of finite forces, structures, organisms, and life; and on this planet, in the gradual ascent of life from the lowest and simplest forms of sensation to organisms more and more complex and expressive, until finally man appeared, and the Infinite and Eternal Energy in him broke into self-reflective thought and moral sensation, into speech and song and free co-operative volition for furthering the Eternal aim and process. Keeping strictly in the pathway through which science. leads us, where could these human faculties of reason, of moral sense, and of moral volition, have had their source, and whence can they derive their continual being and validity but in that Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed? We can scientifically give no other account of them than that they are finite manifestations, vital organic forms and expressions, of that Eternal Energy itself. But what is this Eternal Energy but the scientific name for the Power which religion
has called God, or Jehovah, or Brahm, or Deity? The name matters little: each nation or language has its own. But they are all attempts to denote the one Great Reality, the one absolute certainty" of a Power eternal, in whose presence we ever are, and that not only comprehends but penetrates us every moment with its law and life, and is the substance of our mental, moral, and affectional being. If science tells us truly of the orderly sequences of life through which the Eternal Energy travelled until it appeared in the human consciousness, what escape is there from the conclusion that those inward perceptions of truth and rectitude and disinterested love that manifest themselves in the human consciousness are part and parcel of the very substance of that Eternal Power? or, in more religious phrase, are the manifestation and life of God in human nature?
And, to my mind, it appears both reasonable and credible that all thoughtful minds now holding the various and antagonistic beliefs to which I have referred should come gradually into accord on this central truth, the resultant of science, that the Infinite and Eternal Energy, or God, has its embodiment and revelation in human nature, and that ultimately it should become a generally accepted fundamental principle that religion is the affirmation of the Eternal Divine Law, Purpose, and Life in the intellectual and moral nature of man. The traditional adherent of the old theological conceptions would come to see that he has not thereby
lost his God, as he may now fear, but that, in lieu of his localized distant Deity, he has found an infinitely larger and grander conception of God, bringing him infinitely nearer, a literally omnipresent and vital Helper in every act and moment of life. The sceptic and atheist, seeing that the ecclesiastical types of Deity had become obsolete and were relegated with their kindred to the shadow-land of mythology, could bring no logical objections to a conception of Deity suggested and substantiated by the science which they profess to take for a guide. They would see that their criticisms, many of them just, have been directed, not against this eternal root of the Deity-conception, from which there is no logical escape, but against the superstitious fancies which man's infantile imagination. had fastened upon it. And the Agnostic, while still holding that the Infinite and Eternal Energy cannot be absolutely comprehended by man, and that it is vain that the human mind, by its metaphysical theologies, should attempt to analyze and elucidate all the attributes of Supreme Power, would nevertheless be logically compelled to confess that the being and character of a Power, whose gradual unfolding in nature and humanity is the one field where all our science makes its researches and discoveries, cannot possibly remain a wholly unknowable and inscrutable mystery. Why should not the agnostic, the sceptic, the atheist, the theist of all types, Christian and other, come thus to unite in the reverent paan, which even the