THERE are two subjects which above all others have a universal interest. One of them always concerns all sentient beings, but especially all persons or moral agents in all worlds. The other is more exclusively of human concern. The former relates to the moral meaning of the environment in which each person has to play his part as a rational and responsible being,—in other words, to the final moral trustworthiness of the universe in which he finds himself. It has to do with the character of the Universal Power, the Soul of the universe, into continuous intercourse with which each person is brought, in and through his ethical personality and environment, without his own leave too, by the bare fact of his existing under moral conditions. The other subject is the alternative of evanescence or permanence as characteristic of human persons. Do they all finally lose their self-conscious and percipient personality in physical death, at least subside at death into a supposed timeless state, unchanging and without duration—an empty abstraction; or do they still continue in self-conscious and percipient life, notwithstanding the dissolution of the present physical embodiment, it may be with added spiritual power and responsibility as a consequence of relief from its limiting conditions?
Is our environment essentially physical and non-moral, or is it ultimately moral, spiritual, and divine? Is the maintenance of the bodily organism the condition and measure of the continuance of each man's conscious and percipient moral personality? These two final questions underlie human life. Neither of them can be got rid of on the ground that it is interesting only speculatively, or that it is even practically indeterminable and has no relation to conduct and character.
Natural Theology, in the large philosophical meaning of this term, is face to face with both these questions. For the word “natural,” in the ancient and extended meaning of Nature, is applied not only to the world of material things in their continuous metamorphoses, but also to the world of persons or moral agents, and even to the whole sum of existence, temporal and timeless, finite and divine. To “follow nature” is accordingly to follow reason—including moral reason. The natural or philosophical theologian has then to consider whether men are doing this when they are proceeding upon the theistic or theological conception of the universe as its true final conception; or whether they are not rather required by reason to suppose that a wholly physical or non-moral conception is the highest attainable; nay, whether they do not after all need to withdraw from every endeavour to interpret themselves and their surroundings, even physically and in common life, and sub-side in speechless, motionless, agnostic despair. The philosopher, in his theological capacity, has to examine critically Seneca's thesis regarding Nature: Quid enim aliud est Natura quam Deus et Divina Ratio toti mundo et partibus ejus inserta.
It seems to be in this large meaning of Nature that the term Natural Theology is used in the Gifford Foundation, and therefore as directly comprehending a rational treatment of the two universally interesting enigmas at the foundation of human life, which have given rise to Philosophy, and which cannot be overlooked in a complete liberal education of human beings. Accordingly the two volumes of which this is the second proceed upon this philosophical conception of the task imposed upon the theologian.
Express consideration by one lecturer of the human rationale of the final problem of the universe or of man is, however, perfectly consistent with the large place that scientific interpretation of nature, in the narrower meaning of the word nature, as well as scientific criticism of the phenomena of religion in its ascending degrees of development in the history of mankind, ought also to take in the outcome of this remarkable Foundation, which admits of so many beneficial adaptations to the present transition state of thought on the ultimate questions in the civilised world.
That the design of these volumes is inadequately realised in them must be apparent to the thoughtful reader, who cannot fail to find postulates insufficiently criticised, conclusions sustained by reasonings that are not fully unfolded, and questions which may seem to deserve a prominent place either passed over or subjected to superficial treatment in an occasional reference. It is hoped, however, that the consecutive course of thought which I have tried to pursue may lead some who are disposed to reflect along a path where more abundant fruit may be gathered by their own hands. I venture only to ask that these two volumes of lectures may be looked at in their unity as a reasoned inquiry, not as a series of isolated discussions, still less as consciously associated with any interest that is at variance with what is eternally true or with the facts of the case. The short time for preparation that could be given by the academical authorities who honoured me by this appointment has not permitted me to explore as I could have wished the vast and ever-increasing library of books which represent the world's philosophical and theological thought. To escape the confusion of mind apt to be produced by further reading in these circumstances, I have confined myself to an honest exposition of results already reached in a life devoted to kindred pursuits, some of which had already found expression, in a less explicit form, chiefly in notes and dissertations included in editions of the works of Berkeley and Locke, and in the relative biographies.
The moral or theistic conception of the universe of reality is accepted in these lectures as the true final conception, on the around that, unless the Power universally and finally at work is morally perfect, as omnipotent goodness or love, there can be no valid intercourse with Nature, which instead has to be avoided as the revelation of a suspected Power. Philosophical Theism or Theistic Philosophy becomes accordingly the final Philosophy. As with Aristotle, but in a more human sense, philosophy and theology are at last one: philosophy becomes theology, or religion on its intellectual side—whether called natural or supernatural.
The history of mankind is in a manner a history of constant collision between men's sceptical distrust of themselves and their environment, as being only physical and finally uninterpretable, on the one side, and moral faith and hope in an environment that is trusted in as ultimately Divine, on the other side. It has been a competition between final Doubt and final Faith for the deepest place in human mind and character. In the first series of these lectures the voice of the Sceptic was prominent. In this second series Faith makes itself heard, as that which must at last underlie the deepest possible doubt, being the indispensable condition of any intercourse with the ever-changing universe of external nature and man. Tentative sceptical criticism, valuable for the intellectual improvement of the common faith, must not at last subvert moral or religious trust and hope, which is trust and hope in the perfect goodness of the Power universally at work as the infinite Soul of the world.
That the method I have adopted is what might be called anthropomorphic or anthropocentric is not, I think, a reasonable objection to it, if all man's intercourse with reality must be under human conditions, or is possible so far only as the changing universe is adapted to and adaptable by man;—not as it is at the divine centre itself in a humanly inaccessible Omniscience. The ultimate relations of men, in the fulness of their spiritual being, to the final realities among which they were involuntarily introduced at birth, under inevitable intellectual and moral postulates, and not the Universal Power, taken either in abstraction from, or in a complete comprehension of, the manifested universe—this is surely the sphere of the only philosophy and theology which man is able to entertain, or which is required to satisfy his spiritual necessities. This is Nature or the Universe in its full relation to him, when he is recognised as more than a sentient and intelligent automaton, and yet as less than omnipotent goodness. The difficulties found in this fundamental moral faith and hope seem to arise largely from ignorance of what a human knowledge of the universe in the end must be, and oversight of the impossibility that it can at last be other than a moral faith.
That a sort of combination of the abstract Spinozism which ignores change and philosophises sub specie eternitatis, with the empirical agnosticism attributed to David Hume, which reduces the realities to inexplicable successive changes in mere appearances, is in this century working in the main current of thought in Europe and America, in sympathy with analogous ideas in India and the East, is a consideration which was present to my mind; for Spinoza and Hume were seldom forgotten. Nor was their service to truth overlooked, in the way of deepening and vivifying the timid conventionalism which professional theology so often exemplifies. Perhaps some thought about this dynamical Spinozism, or dogmatic agnosticism, may have been at the foundation of the Gifford Trust.
It is difficult to discuss at all adequately the questions of man and the universe in their final relations without making a large and unacceptable demand upon the reflective power of the reader,—at any rate, without a greater demand than is made by a Society novel. Yet I am well aware that these volumes fall far short of what might well be reached in this respect, by a more powerful philosophical imagination and a more lucid and penetrating intelligence, directed by artistic literary faculty. The defect is largely supplied in more recent contributions. When these lectures were in course of delivery, English literature was enriched by a treatise on ‘The Foundations of Belief’ by Mr Balfour, the Chancellor of this University, in which the reader finds the basis of theology investigated in a manner that rivals Berkeley or Hume in luminous and beautiful expression of subtle thought. Without venturing to offer observations upon an argument conducted with a somewhat different design, I may express the satisfaction with which I have found a sanction in his reasonings for the equal final insolubility of modern science and theology, and for their common foundation in what might perhaps be called the “authority” of the collective moral reason of mankind, as distinguished front discursive reason and physical understanding—if I may so interpret Mr Balfour.
Two other eminent men of affairs since have further added to the debt which philosophy and religious thought owe to illustrious statesmen since Bacon and Leibniz set the example. The world may be grateful to Mr Gladstone for the critical expositions in which he has so powerfully recommended and reintroduced the chief work in the philosophy of religion of the eighteenth century, thus associating his name with that of Bishop Butler. And the Duke of Argyll, with characteristic argumentative strength and eloquence, has defended the teleological conception of the universe on scientific grounds in his ‘Philosophy of Belief.’ That in these closing years of the nineteenth century three of the most eminent leaders in public affairs should have thus placed themselves on the side of final Faith in the struggle with final Doubt, is no insignificant sign of the times in this country and in the world.
The first series of these lectures tends to show the magnitude and singularity of the philosophical or theological problem which the second series endeavours to dispose of in its final relations to man.
As regards their form, it is hoped that the marginal analyses in the two volumes may help the reader in retaining the continuity of the argument and its relation to the central idea. A synoptical outline of the whole is appended (pp. 267-283) to the last lecture in this volume, in which the first five lectures are concerned with the moral and intellectual rationale of Theism, and the other five with the chief enigma of theistic faith.
I have to thank Professor Andrew Seth for his kindness in reading the proofs, and Mr Charles Douglas for an excellent Index.