You are here

Lecture 2. Causation Theistically Interpreted.

Does not reasonable life in the universe presuppose God or perfect Goodness finally at the root of things and persons?

RELIGIOUS life as it develops in the individual makes him personify, or recognise as moral spirit, the eternal moral obligation on which human conduct ought to turn. In this religious recognition of moral order one finds the germ of theistic faith. It is absolute trust in moral providence that seems to be, consciously or at least tacitly, at the bottom of that recognition of even physical trustworthiness in the universe of reality, which the daily actions of men, as well as their natural sciences, finally presuppose and depend upon. Must not even physical faith dissolve without an implied moral and religious trust? Unless men take for granted that natural order is a dependable reality, and neither a temporary accident, nor the capricious contrivance of a diabolical Power at the heart of the Whole, intent upon misleading sentient human intelligence in the end, they can neither interpret nature. nor employ natural things in their service, in the spirit of the Novum Organum. When I try to think out all ethically sceptical conception of the universe, I find myself becoming scientifically and practically paralysed. Intellectual system in the universe disappears in the dissolution of moral faith in it, with the consequent dissolution of all faith, even that without which a human understanding cannot be so applied to presented phenomena as that they may be recognised as things. Man is rescued from universal scepticism through trust finally in the divine synthesis. The individual ego and the outer world are unintelligible unless God is tacitly presupposed.

Is not religious faith reasonable faith?

But is this finally religious trust finally blind? Is it more than an irrational inclination? Is it not rather so charged with reason, or moral obligation, that one may even say that indulgence in it is the only finally reasonable attitude of the human mind in its relation to the infinite universe of reality; and that its decay would be the decay of what is highest in the ideal human being, the decay of that in which humanity culminates? Can man be acting reasonably, or doing justice to his highest self, when he tries to extinguish this final and unconditional moral trust, which seems to enter instinctively into his mental experience; or when lie tries to get rid of the theistic personification of the data of conscience, which makes him regard morally responsible Will as the only absolutely originative Cause of change that can be discerned, at the highest attainable human point for insight into the final principle of the universe?

Theistic or moral faith, like physical faith, presupposed in our reasonings about the changing universe, and not originally derived as a conclusion from mere phenomena.

These questions lead us into a fuller investigation of the reasonableness of moral and theistic trust, as the final rational attitude, at the different points at which its constituent elements and supposed supports have been looked at, in what are sometimes called “proofs” of the existence of God. But the word proof is used in a qualified meaning when it is so applied. Theistic faith, as the condition of all proof, is itself incapable of scientific proof. “Did you deduce your own being?” asks Coleridge. “Even this is less absurd than the conceit of deducing the Divine Being. Never would you have had the notion had you not had the idea—rather had not the idea worked in you like the memory of a name which we cannot recollect, yet feel that we have; which reveals its existence in the mind only by a restless anticipation; and proves its a priori actuality by the almost explosive instantaneity with which it is welcomed and recognised.” Theistic or moral trust is an existing fact in human consciousness that asks to have its possible consistency with reason shown. It is a state of which the human mind may try to rid itself only if the intellectual difficulties involved in its action as the final faith of man are found to be greater than the difficulties involved in its suspension. Anyway, in dealing with the rationale of religion we are dealing with the rationale of something that is found already in man's mental experience, manifesting itself in corresponding human feeling, human conduct, and human thought. We do not need to brim into existence by reasoned proofs the already operative faiths which sustain religious, moral, æsthetical, scientific life, or common working life—we cannot bring these into existence, in the form of conclusions logically evolved from premisses. They arise spontaneously in men's minds as the common root of their growing mental experience. Thus the daily physical experience of men, and the verified inductions of the natural sciences, show physical or cosmic faith in spontaneous exercise; and inquiry into the reasonableness of this inferior degree of faith in the universe is open to the philosophical analyst, who can interrogate reflectively what lie is actually living by. So is it with the moral or religious faith on which the physical trust itself in the end depends. It already operates, before it is reasoned out philosophically; and that not only in the attenuated form of trust in external uniformities, but in the deeper form of moral obligation, the implicate of personal remorse, and involved in the religious idea of eternally personified moral obligation or goodness. And, as in the former case, so here likewise, it is open to the philosophic critic to reduce to its elements the complex fact of religious reliance on the final principle of the universe, as we have this reliance exemplified in the ethical religions, above all, in Christianity. This may still be done with view to determine whether a faith deeper than the physical or non-moral is only an anachronism, ready to die out in the fuller evolution of humanity; or, on the contrary, an eternal human need, which becomes stronger and more enlightened, in the form of religions life, in proportion to the advance of mean in thoughtfulness and goodness.

Alleged cosmological, teleological, and ontological “proofs” of theism.

What are misleadingly called “demonstrations” and “logical arguments” that God exists are really more or less successful analyses of the rational constituents of a faith already in germ. In what is this faith faith in? and is it justified in reason in being faith in this? This is one form in which the analytical inquiry might be expressed. Or otherwise—What does the word “God” mean, and on what, round is one moved to believe that that meaning corresponds to the actual reality? These questions underlie the so-called theistic “proofs,” each of which takes its own point of view for recognising the validity of the faith, or for testing its reasonableness. Thus one way of seeing the reasonableness of the theistic postulate may be found in what is virtually philosophical analysis of the principle of causality—that principle on which man rests whenever lie contemplates the ever-changing universe: this is at the root of what is called the “cosmological proof” of theism. Another way, or rather a popular modification of the preceding way of showing the reasonableness of theism, is observation of natural adaptations of means to ends—especially ends that relate them selves to man—“final causes” as they are somewhat ambiguously called. Adaptations of this sort, whether or not they pervade the evolving universe universally and eternally, seemed at least to present themselves more particularly in the history of organised matter, animal and vegetable: the construction of the human eye was a favourite instance. The universe was accordingly reported to abound in curious and useful superhuman contrivances, many of them adapted to promote life and happiness, and in the long-run to improve man—towards whose physical evolution and education, in the larger light of recent science, the whole planetary evolution seems to conspire, as if the world were contrived for that end: the inference drawn from all this is, that men are reasonably justified in the faith that the universe is manifested intelligence: here you have the familiar “teleological” vindication of theistic faith. Then again there are thinkers of more daring speculative power who essay to translate moral and religious faith exhaustively into necessary intellectual forms; sublimating the temporal evolution in nature and spirit in a timeless dialectical evolution of universal Reason, into which all reality is supposed finally to resolve itself: this is what may be called the “ontological” method of vindicating or rationalising theology.

Kant's criticism of theistic logic.

These time-honoured “proofs” are commonly supposed to have encountered rough and damaging intellectual handling oil the part of Immanual Kant. Ever since he criticised them, they have been more or less discredited in scientific opinion. The discredit is probably not undeserved, if any one of these arguments, or even all collectively, is so misconceived as to be taken for the conscious source of man's moral and religious faith in the constituting principle of the universe. They are discredited when regarded as conclusive arguments that are able to determine a conclusion which, being infinite, is not in this way determinable. For either abstract reasoning or physical induction becomes a tissue of paralogisms, when it tries to bring the universe of reality, as a finite quantity, under logical conditions that are adapted only to what is finite, thus identifying scientific understanding with the larger reason that concerns itself with the final problem. Physical science and its argumentative proofs cannot be treated in this way as final philosophy. Yet theistic “proofs,” so-called, may each in its way uncover the speculative and practical principles which underlie theistic faith, and final faith thus finds that it has been tacitly sustained.

Is Theism finally involved in the Causal conception of the changing universe?

Take first the Principle of Causality, and estimate the strength of the cosmological proof. Consider whether the theistic interpretation of the universe is not just the idea of causality in its final form, and in its ultimate application. In assuming, as we must, the dependence of every change upon a cause, are we not virtually assuming its dependence at last on the only originating or uncaused cause that can enter into our thought—that is to say, its dependence on intending Will, recognised by and as active moral Reason? To answer this question we must try to make clear to ourselves what causality finally means and involves.

Causality as the supreme intellectual postulate concerning the changing universe.

We can easily see that men recognise the universal presence of causation in this ever-changing world: we all unavoidably proceed in life on the supposition that because we are living among changes, we must be living among; causes. The causal relation is of all relations the most universal, in a universe of ever-changing things and persons; and for exclusively natural science, natural causation seems to be final. It becomes the supreme category, which comprehends all change under itself. Latent intelligence in man awakes, and gives the first signs of its activity in craving vaguely for natural or perceptible “causes.”

Without causality in the universe there could be no science of its events or changes.

But what sets human intelligence agoing in search of cause; and what is meant by the word cause; when it signifies that of which intelligence is then in quest? In an immutable universe there would be no need for the craving, and no room for the idea, nor room therefore for a conscious life such as man's; for with us consciousness necessarily involves change of mental state and object. It is the actual metamorphosis, the continuous change to which all experienced things and all individual persons are subject, and in which things and persons reveal themselves, that raises in man the final question of intelligence, Why all this is so? Mind is awakened in this temporal procession, or causal evolution, in which we are each participating, and which, as far as we can see, is in process, if not in progressive amendment, from everlasting to everlasting. This is the universal fact, signified by Heraclitus of old in the formula πάντα ῥϵι̑—All things flow. The changeable describes the actual. Everything seems to be and yet not to be: it is at once being and becoming. By an irresistible intellectual necessity every event—every change—carries the thought of man beyond the event itself, into some preceding form of existence out of which the event has emerged, as the evolved transformation and equivalent of this its natural cause. For we have been gradually taught to believe in an exact equivalence or proportion between an event as an effect, and that event in the preceding form of its own natural cause; so that whatever appears in the new form must have its due corresponding phenomenon in another form—i.e., that phenomenon which physical science calls its cause. Natural science rests at last on the faith that this is so; for if this were not so, scientific proof, or verification by fact, would be impossible: the organised knowledge of change which is called science—which is itself an event or effect in its way—could not come into conscious existence in human Minds. Calculated comparisons of phenomena, with a view to inductive generalisations, would lose their indispensable working postulate. If this causal connection between new forms of existence and their old forms were not a real and dependable connection; if there were no natural causality immanent in the universe, no physical order, there could then be no physical science, and no experience available for the conduct of life. The indispensable director amidst otherwise chaotic changes would be wanting.

The immediate advantage of working knowledge of merely physical or provisional causes.

For consider what inquisitive intelligence and the practical needs of men have secured for themselves, when the discovery has been made that some new phenomenon, hitherto an orphan in the universe in the mind's eye, has found its parentage in other phenomena already dissolved, but of which the new phenomenon is proved to be the exact correlative, or natural effect—its proportional equivalent in the natural metamorphosis? Increased knowledge of those causal relations between new phenomena and their old equivalents is plainly useful to mankind—so far as human pains and pleasures are themselves effects, dependent on natural causes, first in the outside world, and then in individual organisms, by physical consequence; and so far as men are able to direct the current of natural changes into congenial channels, for “man as the servant of nature,” as Bacon advises us, can do so much, and so much only, as he has observed of the causal course of nature. Human knowledge of causal changes and human power meet in one. Where a presentable cause is not perceived, the natural effect cannot be secured by man: nature to be commanded must be obeyed: that which in our thought is the cause is transformed in active life into the rule. It is only by obedience to the rules thus formed that man can live at all, in a universe that is undergoing constant and continuous metamorphoses, on which human thoughts, sensibilities, and overt actions are themselves dependent. We are all without our leave entangled while we live in this universal web of natural causation.

Discovery of the “natural causes” of events leaves the events finally unexplained; because every natural cause must itself be caused.

Yet notwithstanding its obvious utility, the discovery of the natural causes of perceived changes leaves the causal craving of persistent intelligence as dissatisfied as it was before. For the predecessor out of which a change has naturally emerged, and of which the change is a metamorphosis, itself equally needs a causal predecessor. The discovered natural cause, being only a finite phenomenon, must itself too be only an effect to the eye of awakened intelligence. In seeking for a perceptible finite cause the mind is seeking for satisfaction in a necessarily unsatisfying universe of mutually dependent phenomena. The cause sought for, if it is to give absolute relief, must be other than the provisional causes registered in natural science; for each of these, as much as its effects, requires something beyond an imaginable finite into which it may be refunded. The scientific discovery that oxygen and hydrogen is the causal equivalent of water, or the discovery that heat is a conditional metamorphosis and causal equivalent of modes of motion, has brought the discoverer no nearer final satisfaction than he was before he reached them—notwithstanding the partial intellectual relief, and the increased command of nature, which growing knowledge of natural causes carries with it. The old form of each new phenomenon as much needs explanation as the new form itself did, and still when we have reached what physical science accepts as its cause, we have only enlarged our natural outlook by a wider empirical generalisation. The need for the final or absolutely originating cause, which call alone satisfy persistent causal craving, remains in other respects as urgent as before. The search for wholly natural causes is like the search for the source of a river that has no source. As in adding finite spaces to finite spaces, however vast the resulting space becomes, we are obliged to believe that we are no nearer Immensity or Boundlessness than we were when we began to add; or just as millions of years form a duration that is really no nearer than a single moment is to the unbeginning and unending, called Eternity,—so the endlessly regressive search for natural causes, with the discovery of more and more extensive physical laws, or customary uniformities in the natural procedure, leaves us still in want of the final or originative Cause of the natural network as a whole.

The humanly insoluble mystery of an unbeginning series of natural causes. Locke and Samuel Clarke.

Do we not find ourselves intellectually obliged to believe that, because Something is now undergoing changes, Something must exist eternally—either in the form of an unbeginning succession of causally equivalent changes, or in not less mysterious way of One unchanging unbeginning Something? “That Something has really existed from all eternity”—I use the words of Samuel Clarke, who, along with Locke, is a representative expositor of causality as the rationale of theistic faith—“is one of the certainest and most evident truths in the world, acknowledged by all men, and disputed by none. Yet as to the manner how this call be, there is nothing more difficult for the mind of man to conceive than this plain Self-evident truth. For how anything can have existed eternally—that is, how an eternal duration can be now actually past—is a thing utterly as impossible for our narrow understanding to comprehend as anything that is not an express contradiction. And yet to deny the truth of the proposition, that an eternal duration is now actually past, would be to assert something far more unintelligible, even an express and real contradiction,” Yet it is the mystery of infinite regress that science of nature has always to face; and this, without the theistic postulate in the background, makes it impossible to treat even external nature as trustworthy. For science advances in the discovery of natural causes in the moral trust that natural changes are orderly, and in the persistence of this order in continuous metamorphoses; but a wholly natural science proceeds only tacitly on this assurance, without analysis of its implicates, and not recognising the final guarantee for its own expectations. Why may not a natural cause some day issue in phenomena different from those into which it has hitherto been transformed? Or at least what security does the narrow experience that is open to man give against the practically chaotic interference of hitherto inexperienced natural causes, to the utter confusion of the expected succession? Does the inevitable demand for a cause on the part of human intelligence mean only demand for a natural or dependent finite cause, notwithstanding the ultimate unsatisfactoriness of such “causes,” in their being themselves as dependent on what is physically unknown as their effects were? If so, physical science lands us at last ill the infinitely mysterious alternatives of eternal Becoming, or eternal Being—eternal metamorphosis of imaginable phenomena, or the eternal unchanging unimaginable Something.

Natural causation, or evolutionary metamorphosis of phenomena, explains nothing.

In truth natural causes and the natural evolution of phenomena in themselves explain nothing. Response to the causal craving is not really provided by them, or only provisionally. They present an orderly procession of effects, not the agent in the whole dramatic performance. So they leave in the background the faith, necessarily postulated, that this performance on the part of the universe is more than a treacherous illusion.

But is our feeling of dissatisfaction with this provisional causation a reason for assuming the reality of supernatural Power, to relieve the feeling?

But in adopting this postulate are we not relieving in dogmatic fashion the discomfort occasioned by the discovery that natural causes are not all that the persistent causal craving needs? Is not this to indulge in a vague faith that since natural science cannot give what we want, a really restful cause is somehow innate in the Whole—seeing that without its immanence our discomfort must continue? Is not this to proceed upon the gratuitous hypothesis, that we cannot be living in a universe that is and must be constantly uncomfortable to us, or at least a constant source of intellectual uneasiness? Are men entitled to conclude that because nature presents to natural science only unbeginning and unending change, finally unexplained and inexplicable, there must, for our relief, be forth-coming an explanation of the Whole? Does it follow that because perceived things appear to the sensuous understanding to be naturally dependent on, or as we say caused by, one another, and so far not really caused at all, there must therefore exist uncaused morally perfect Will, for explanation of the Whole, only because it must not be supposed that men should be subject to the discomfort of baffled desire? But if something in my mind sets me in quest of causes, and if the sensuous understanding in its scientific exercises never reaches what I am in quest of, can I not refer to something in my spiritual constitution that makes me pause in the infinite scientific regress, and that puts me under an obligation to believe that I am living and moving and having my being under Power that is independent of the natural regress and progress, and on which all natural procedure is itself dependent,—the Cause which not only does not need, but which does not admit of being itself caused? If so, what is this something in reason and experience, which arrests the otherwise vain search for final cause within the temporal order of imaginable change, and directs us at last to the philosophically satisfying Cause?

Our feeling of restlessness, in the presence of a universe of provisional causes only, is in itself an insufficient reasons for concluding supernatural Power.

If all that could be found in this relation were only the uncomfortable feeling of continued casual dissatisfaction, it would be insufficient reasoning to conclude, as some seem to do—that because dissatisfaction is discomfort is a sufficient reason for making the still persistent casual craving a proof of the reality of supernatural Power. Of the seemingly unbeginning and unending evolution of changing phenomena called Nature, only an insignificant portion can come within the personal experience of each man, and a relatively insignificant portion within the collective experience even of the whole human race. To argue for more than this narrow experience presents, on the ground of uneasy feeling, looks like saying that there must be more than natural causation—that an empirical conception of the world must be fundamentally misleading—merely because the finally empirical supposition is uncomfortable when we try to think it out. If this uneasy feeling is the only ground in reason and experience for the hypothesis of supernatural and uncaused Power being immanent in the whole, we must be using empty words when we speak of this Power. And if the whole experience of man is and must be sensuous, or mechanically articulated, what meaning can be introduced into the words which pretend to signify glue true and resting Cause that does give satisfaction to the transcendental desire?

For this is only vague sense of dissatisfaction with a merely finite universe.

I do not see how these obstacles to the satisfaction of the causal craving can be met, or how any final interpretation can be put upon what is called natural causation, if the data to which an exclusively physical science confines itself exhaust man's resources. If this causality is the only causality, there is no room for final faith in the universe, or in any finally satisfying cause: we must at last face the infinite mystery of endless accidental change—that sceptical aspect of the Infinite, which dissolves all faith, in the idea of a capricious temporal process—an evolution without the supposition of a constant morally trustworthy Evolver—finally unintelligible motion. The supposed cosmological proof of the reality of the eternal Evolver or Mover becomes only one form of a vague dissatisfaction with the idea of the finite in quantity.

While natural or provisional causation, exclusively looked at, conceals God, Man reveals God, and super-naturalises natural causation.

But while natural causation, exclusively regarded, conceals God, man, as presenting more than natural causation, reveals God—in signally revealing final causality, or an uncaused cause that is alone and absolutely responsible for its effects. Yet I should rather say that external nature conceals God, only if God is not revealed through the moral and religious experience of man. After this revelation external nature itself becomes for man constantly symbolic of the divine: each fresh discovery of a natural cause is then interpretable as only a further and fuller revelation of the supernatural Power of which all natural “agency” is the effect and expression. After God has been found in the moral experience of man, which points irresistibly to intending Will as the only known Cause that is absolute, the discovery, that this is the natural or provisional cause of that, is recognised as the only discovery that this is the divinely constituted sign, or constant antecedent, of that. The whole natural succession becomes the manifestation of infinite Spiritual or Personal agency: the universe in its temporal process is seen to be reasonably interpretable as finally the constantly manifested moral activity of God, incarnate in the Whole and in every part; in a way to which some may think they find a faint analogy, when they contemplate their own bodily organism, in its dependence on their own governing and responsible will—this microcosm thus the symbol of the infinite Macrocosm.

For in our experience of persons as morally responsible, we find final or absolute Power.

But what is that in man, you ask, which explains or justifies this divine satisfaction of the causal demand, as the highest reasonableness that is within man's reach, when he asks for the cause of the natural universe, and seeks relief for a sense of absolute dependence that finds nothing to be absolutely depended on in what is finite and caused? The existence of the vague feeling of discomfort, as I have said, is not enough. But we find in man more than dissatisfaction with merely natural causes. We find an obligation of moral reason to recognise that he is himself, as a spiritual person, the absolute finally determining cause of all those changes in himself and in external nature for which he is morally responsible. This supernatural experience throws deeper meaning into Causation, derived from morally responsible intending Will, the only cause within human experience that is a finally satisfying, cause; a cause which not only does not need, but absolutely forbids us to go behind itself for the explanation of whatever it alone is morally answerable for. Herein man shows in his own personality what a cause is that is really a cause, or what cannot be in its turn an effect. This is found in his own supernaturalness, or ability to originate acts, so far as he can be rightly praised or blamed for them,—those acts on account of which lie may enjoy self-satisfaction, or have experience of remorse.

As physical organisms, men share in the causal evolution, which morally or spiritually they transcend.

Regarded as animal organisms, men form part of natural process, and they can neither be praised nor blamed for being what they are organically, or by heredity. Man does not, as a visible organism, create himself: he is evolved according to natural law, a procedure in that continuous process which we call “natural”: the cause of the natural processes being orderly is the fact that has ultimately to be explained. But although thus organised naturally, he is found, under the natural evolution, to contain what is more than finite nature; at least if lie is really justified in reason, in taking personal credit, or acknowledging personal blame, for determination to act, or to refrain from acting. Conscience, like a finger-post, points to the spiritual, personal, morally responsible agents of voluntary acts as, in their moral relation to those acts, examples, and the only examples, of causation proper, or supernatural agency, that man, when at his best, comes in sight of; and it assures us that when we come in sight of this, we have data which so far justify us in reading the universe in its continuous evolutionary process, morally and religiously, as well as physically and biologically.

In physical science the universe is interpreted with exclusive regard to the provisional causes which it contains.

Of course nature may be read only physically, or in terms of the wholly natural process—in terms exclusively of natural causation. It is possible, by abstraction from what is spiritual in man, to withdraw, as it were, all moral colouring from the natural procedure of events, and to treat the whole temporal succession as non-moral. Indeed, natural science has to make this abstraction of its attention, on the principle of divided intellectual labour; and because reduction of phenomena under the moral or supernatural conception would disturb that unbiassed search for physical causes, or established signs of changes, which is the chosen office of the naturalist. Natural science has to determine what are constant physical sequences in the universe, in terms of their natural causality only, without regard to the possible moral goodness or badness or their originating and responsible cause.

Sinners and saints alike, in the light of wholly physical science.

Thus the molecular changes which succeed one another in the brain, nerves, muscles, and external organs of a murderer, when he is engaged in a criminal act, and which in their successive metamorphoses issue in that act; and also the molecular changes which occur in the brain, nerves, muscles, and external organs of a saint, which issue in an overt act of piety or philanthropy, are, for natural science, alike non-moral phenomena: they may be contemplated out of relation to conscience and to the supernatural agency of the men. The series of sequences in the visible organism of the murderer is scientifically as admirable as those of which the visible organism of the saint is the theatre. They are both interpreted under the same conception of natural causality, and the natural causes which the organism of the murderer illustrates are neither more moral nor more immoral in themselves than those which lead up to the most signal overt act of what is now called “altruism,” or of religious devotion. The biology of the criminal makes natural science as well as the biology of the saint. Gravitation and natural evolution are neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy in themselves. They express methods that the universal Power follows in the natural procession of events.

So too is the whole universe of change, when only physically interpreted.

Now, just as the phenomena of natural growth and the overt change manifested in the organisms of criminals and saints, are in themselves indifferent to the moral conceptions under which they may be brought, in that deeper interpretation of the universe, into which the idea of moral obligation enters, with its implied postulate of supernaturalness, or freedom from physical necessity,—so too the continuous physical evolution of the whole universe of caused causes—which, for all we can tell, may be in an unbeginning and unending process—may in like manner be contemplated in abstraction from the final or supernatural Cause of the whole, and therefore in abstraction from its moral and religious meaning. In all natural sciences this abstraction is made, leaving for their appropriated share in the interpretation of the world, the duty of filling in hitherto undiscovered terms in their register of natural sequences, and the attainment of more and more extensive physical generalisations. Each discovery in science is the discovery of something perceptible in the mechanism of visible nature that was before concealed; with the often illustrated issue that the discoverer and others are able to live more happily within the naturally determined machine. To think of the world, including its human organisms individually, as an unbeginning and unending process of organisation and disorganisation—the terms of which men are bound, by regard for truth, and for their individual comfort, to interpret according to the established sequences of its natural causality,—this is to think of things as the wholly physical inquirer does. But unless proof is forthcoming that no higher conception than this physical one is consistent with reason, or can be applicable to the temporal process—over and above the physical conception; unless the intellectual difficulty of a moral or theistic interpretation of the Whole can be shown to be greater than a merely physical or atheistic interpretation involves; unless the homo mensura principle, upon which, in an attenuated form, natural science itself rests, forbids the spiritual interpretation, with its recognition of nature as essentially and finally spiritual,—unless proof of all this is forthcoming, what can be alleged in reason against the finally supernatural interpretation of the accumulating facts and laws which form the glory of modern science? To invest the discovered natural sequences with a moral and spiritual glory, by reading the whole, and in all its parts, in relation to the whole man—so including what is highest in man—and not merely in relation to his sensuous intelligence, and by doing so to merge physical or cosmic faith in the end in moral or theistic faith,—this is not to oppose science but to invest it with a new crown. “In the entrance of philosophy,” says Bacon, “when the second [or caused] causes, which are next unto the senses, do offer themselves to the mind of man, if it dwell and stay there, it may induce some oblivion of the Highest Cause; but when a man passeth on further, and seeth the dependence of causes and the works of Providence, then, according to the allegory of the poets, he will easily believe that the highest link of nature's chain must needs be tied to the foot of Jupiter's chair.”

If all natural or provisional causation is finally Divine Causation, natural science can not contradict Divine Science, but must form a part of it.

The natural and the theistic interpretations of the universe cannot conflict with one another, if each discovery of a natural cause is recognised as also a supernatural revelation, involving recognition of the final supernaturalness that continuously makes nature. Those who are educated in this conception can no longer see in the physical antecedent a usurper of the Divine Power, now superseded by natural law. What ground in reason is there for the assumption that the natural cause of an event rescues that event, as it were from divine agency; and that if the customary physical antecedents of all the changes that occur in nature could be detected by experiment, there would then be neither need nor room for God? The truth seems to be that the more successfully scientific inquiry is applied to the sequences presented in experience, the more fully God is revealed; and that if we could realise the scientific ideal of a reasoned knowledge of the natural cause of every sort of event, we should then be in possession of the entire self-revelation given in outward nature of the infinite moral Person, of whom the natural world is the symbol and adumbration.

Modern recognition of natural causation, instead of capricious agency, in the final interpretation of the universe.

Experimental search for the physical order of the different sorts of changes that are presented in human experience is claimed as a distinguishing character of modern progress. In the early ages of the world, and still among imperfectly educated races and individuals, natural appearances, ordinary as well as extraordinary, were referred to the capricious personal action of otherwise unknown spirits, so that fear was the foremost religious sentiment. All visible motions were supposed to be animated motions. Fire, air, earth, and water had each their separate spirits: thunder was singled out as emphatically the voice of God. The wayward agency of those incalculable forces then obscured the now developed conception of universal natural order. This supreme scientific conception now reacts against caprice in nature. For natural law is popularly supposed, not only to supersede the capricious forces of fetichism and polytheism, but to be inconsistent with the idea of the divine foundation of things, and of continuous divine agency, as the power really at work in all so-called natural agency. The arbitrary assumption is further made that causation can be only natural, and that a merely natural causation is finally intelligible. Accordingly, in proportion as natural causes are one by one discovered by science, God is supposed to be superfluous: natural causation, under the name of natural law, takes His place; so that if any room is left for God (which is doubtful), it must be somewhere in the far past, when the orderly process of this visible and tangible universe was supposed to be set agoing. And if scientific inquiry should ever be able to refer all events to their natural causes, it would, on this hypothesis, have then rid the world altogether of the theistic idea. Scientific and religious thought are thus made to pull in opposite directions. Theism, identified with the irregular action of a capricious spirit, looks like an anachronism, and divine action appears unnatural. The theistic interpretation of the universe looks like a retrograde movement, a relapse into the childish and savage condition of thought to which the idea of physical causes and universal order is foreign. It is supposed to mean surrender of the territory conquered by experiment and scientific reason, when they have substituted natural causes for the supernatural ones of superstition. Under those ideas of what causality means, and of what theism means, the religious interpretation of events seems only covert polytheism, or of like intent as a working hypothesis. Spinoza in the seventeenth century, David Hume and the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, reinforced now by a group of speculative naturalists, have warned the world of its intellectual danger, as long as personal agency—assumed to be capricious and irregular—is permitted to take the place of the persistent orderly agency of what is ambiguously called Nature, which, under what is really a metaphor, is supposed to rule the universe actively by its laws.

Moral or spiritual agency and natural order not necessarily inconsistent with one another.

But are spiritual agency in the Universal Power, and physical order in what is virtually constant creation, as the effect—are these necessarily inconsistent? On the contrary, each of the extremes—the spiritual arid the physical—seems to present one side of a truth common to both. The sense of dependence on persons more powerful than ourselves—agents in the meaning of agency that our moral experience makes intelligible—agents who exert rational will—seems to be recognition of the only satisfying sort of power of which man is aware: it finds unphilosophic expression in the cruder religions, and in the superstitions which still confuse the religious though of the unthinking. On the other hand, may not the modern scientific faith in natural causes be treated as the consequence of growing experience and apprehension of the fact, that the Power manifested to man's senses is a Power that continuously produces a cosmos, not a chaos—so that the natural effects of the constant agency are universally orderly, not chaotic? But the modern scientific faith may have to be purged of undue assumptions as well as the superstitious faith. Progressive substitution of natural order for capricious and meaningless interference, need not supersede final agency that is moral or personal, and which in a perfect personality must be the source and sustaining centre of perfectly rational order, however far that order may transcend man's limited opportunities in experience for fully interpreting it. It is when theistic superstition rises into the theism that treats all that is presented in the natural universe as finally one form of manifestation to man of perfect moral Spirit, and which sees at last, in all the physical conditions on which changes are made to depend, God operating in the various ways commonly called natural laws—it is then that religious thought and scientific thought approach, instead of moving in opposite directions. Then God becomes more fully known, as in other ways, so also through a fuller, scientific apprehension of the divinely ordered and maintained sequences, in their natural and therefore rational or divine concatenation. Neither the irregular agency of capricious Spirit, nor natural science, concerned only with the order and significance of the visible effects, and not with moral active agency at all—neither of these exhausts man's final relation to the universe; for this depends upon the reconciliation of these two conceptions under one that recognises the voice of Conscience inviting us to comprehend the whole natural evolution in its relation to moral order, moral growth, moral providence. There are signs, if I am not mistaken, that this idea of causality and power may enter more into the leading thought of the twentieth century than it has into the religious or the scientific thought of the past.

Theism as involved in the provisional causal regress, according to Locke and others.

This interpretation of all natural law and order as essentially divine is not to be confused with the causal inference of eternal Mind, that has been founded on the fact that finite mind, especially each person's own Mind, is now found in existence. Human minds, it is said, are insufficiently accounted for by physical causes; therefore there must be a hyperphysical cause for them. Mind exists, for I am, conscious: my mind must have been caused, for I have not existed always: the only sufficient cause of mind must be Mind: therefore God exists. This is what Locke calls a “demonstration” of Eternal Mind. “To be certain that there is a God,” he says, “I think we need go no further than to ourselves, and that undoubting knowledge we have of our own existence as conscious persons who had a beginning.” There must be a cause for this: every the cause sufficient cause, or adequate, to the effects produced, and as mind only is adequate to cause mind, my existence as a conscious person proves the existence of Eternal Mind.

They fail to recognise the causal significance of what is revealed in the moral consciousness of personal responsibility.

This reasoning makes the existence of Eternal Mind a physical inference from the present existence of a finite person. But the final and the infinite is not logically contained in the provisional: only a provisional and finite mental cause can be found in provisional and finite effects: inquiry as to the natural cause of their natural cause is still open; for the procedure is still under the pressure of a mechanical idea of causality, with its unbeginning and endless regress. Nothing is presented to arrest the ever-renewed question of the cause of the natural cause; unless Mind is found, or rationally postulated, to contain what makes it absolute or final;—leaving all so-called natural causes destitute of any evidence that they are properly causes at all, or more than signs of phenomena that are caused by the supreme Power to accompany them constantly in nature. “I ought, therefore I can,” points to spiritual or personal agency as the morally responsible, and necessarily absolute cause of action. It is the only index we have that points to originative power, and it reveals the ultimate meaning of Causality in the form of intending Will. We have no index that identifies any merely natural phenomenon as the necessarily exclusive and final source of what are called its natural effects; and therefore we have no reason for calling them its independent effects. The moral implicates of the reason in which I share, rather than the empirical fact of my existence as a thinking thing that appears in the temporal procession, seems to be what makes the universe, and my conscious life as part of it, that revelation of eternally active moral Reason which what is highest in me requires that I should spiritualise or personify.


The lesson of this lecture is that religious thought and physically scientific thought about the world, instead of destroying, really strengthen one another, in the recognition of continuous active divine activity, or endless creation, under the form of natural order. For the natural order of procedure may be interpreted as one form of the universal revelation of the perfectly reasonable Will. Thunder is no longer the voice of an interfering God, on account of its supposed physical inexplicability, or because it is a startling phenomenon; it is a revelation of God just because it is recognised as an event that makes its appearance under natural law, in the orderly evolution:—

“For if He thunder by law, the thunder is yet His Voice.”