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Lecture 8. God in Nature.

David Hume's faith in a pre-established harmony.

IN last lecture we found David Hume emerging out of universal nescience, not by means of reasoning, but through faith in the supposition of an intelligible harmony between our ideas and the succession of events in sense. The long experienced custom of events, in presenting themselves in an interpretable way in human experience, seemed to him to occasion, and also to justify, this faith in a correspondence between them, as at least a working hypothesis. Without faith in this “correspondence,” human beings could not adjust means to any ends they might have in view, or use their natural powers in procuring good and avoiding evil. The harmony, too, he seems to allow, wears the aspect of what, according to the analogies of human experience, we should call a designed arrangement. It looks as if the course of nature—that is to say, the temporal succession of events, in the midst of which we find ourselves, and in which we must take our respective parts—were thus far like a constant manifestation of contrivance on our behalf, and that it may even be so conceived when man tries to form his final conception.

How to interpret this harmony.

May we then interpret the harmonious correlation, between the succession of changes in the universe as it appears in sense, and our faith in their orderliness,—as the manifestation of persisting purpose in the Supreme Power? And if so, must we also suppose that this temporal succession, with its supposed order and semblance of purpose on the whole and in special details, had an absolute beginning in time? Have we reason to believe that there was a time in which there was no cosmos—no orderly course of nature—no universe proceeding as the physical universe seems now to proceed, in a course of natural evolution, including cycles of integration and dissolution? And must we believe that, when there was no cosmos, the ordering or designing Power existed unmanifested in any form of natural manifestation; so that at a particular date nature, or the finite universe, was ushered into existence by a sudden creative act? And if there actually has been a time in which there was neither cosmical evolution nor dissolution going on as now, did there then exist stuff or material out of which the ordering and designing Power fashioned the cosmos, and set its evolutions agoing, charged with “powers” which enable the natural successions and their cycles to persist without further “interference” by the designer? Or was this cosmos, of which men have some experience, originated without pre-existing material—there being in that case no primordial chaos out of which the earliest cosmos could have issued in any imaginable sort of way; so that, according to the theological formula, it must have come “out of nothing,” not out of chaotic material. Yet again, is it a more reasonable supposition than either of these two, that cosmical evolution and disintegration has been going on always—that it is an unbeginning succession, and may be expected to be an endless process? This third supposition may seem to imply that the idea of cause and effect is capable of being exemplified only by the changes that occur within the supposed natural or orderly system, but not ab extra, as explanation of the existence of the system, or of a succession of cosmical systems. For it may be argued that the fact of the cosmos being a cosmos cannot in any manner be an effect of something beyond itself—that this would even involve the contradiction that its supposed cause must be at once a part of the cosmos yet wholly external to the cosmos. May not the universe in which I now find myself, in the deepest interpretation which I can put upon my present experience of it, be just this unbeginning and unending succession of orderly or significant, and therefore interpretable, changes, in the midst of which I am living and moving and having my being, and of which I and other human beings are parts, even if their significance in it is only trivial. May not this now experienced universe, in its eternal natural or orderly evolution, be the final reality?

The faith that is accepted, and the faith that is rejected by the scientific agnostic.

It is questions of this sort, charged with infinity, that the agnostic naturalist puts aside as unanswerable. He does so on the ground that answers to them must be answers that come from a faith which is irrational, because it does not admit of being verified by experience; whereas, on the contrary, answers to questions about the finite causes of events within the temporal succession of the natural evolution may be accepted in a faith that is assumed to be sufficiently enlightened by verification. Now, if the faith is reasonable which supports the presupposition of natural order, on which all scientific verification depends without previous proof from experience,—why must the teleological interpretation of nature be rejected, on the ground that its only support is faith? The scientific trust in cosmical order, on which all inductive verification depends, cannot itself be proved by experience, because no interpretation of experience is possible unless this faith is accepted without proof. The religious trust in the immanence of design, in the universe as a whole, as well as in the narrow portion of it which passes through human experience, seems to stand on the same footing. If it is not unreasonable to assume natural law as a constructive principle in the interpretation of sensuous experience, why is it unreasonable to assume design, if the facts may be read in harmony with this other and deeper assumption? Order means reason, and this for us means conscious reason or living mind. Purpose brings the mind thus immanent in the scientific order into analogy with human intending will; and the circumstance that we bring the idea of purpose to the facts to enable us to interpret them, instead of receiving it from them as a necessary conclusion, seems in itself to be no more a reason for arresting religious faith in God as immanent purpose, than for arresting scientific faith in God as immanent physical order.

Immanence of order and purpose in nature does not determine what the term “God” morally means.

When I speak of order in nature as the expression of objective intelligence, and of purpose in nature as the expression of objective intending will, I do not mean to foreclose questions which meet us later on, regarding the Orderer or the Designer, named God in the religious interpretation of the universe. Recognition of order and design that is sufficient for the mechanical and even the teleological interpretation of nature, does not settle what is meant by the Divine Orderer or Designer. It does not tell us fully what God is.

Nor does it determine that the natural universe ever began to be.

Further, the fact that I take for granted that I am living in a cosmos, and in a cosmos charged with purpose, in the sense that it presents innumerable examples of means naturally adapted to secure human and other ends—this fact does not necessarily settle what I may call the historical question of the origin and final outcome of the system of natural changes now in course of evolution.

Is there proof that the cosmos had a beginning, or that it was “specially created.”

I do not find that the presence of order and design within the cosmos necessarily means that the cosmos must have had a beginning. The eternity of the universe in its natural succession, the alternative to the contrary hypothesis, must be proved to be inconsistent with the interpretable order and perfect adaptations with which it is now apparently charged: those who assume that it had a beginning must prove, and not assume. They are bound to find evidence of what, if true, would be a historical fact. Now, historical proof that the presently manifested cosmical order and purpose long ago began for the first time to be manifested is not only difficult to find, but seems to involve contradiction.

Unbeginning natural metamorphoses may be really and constantly supernatural, instead of superseding God.

Is there evidence that the existing natural universe of matter and mind had a beginning? Can facts be brought to show that the subject of the natural succession of metamorphoses, in their periodical cycles of integration and disintegration, was absolutely brought into existence, at a particular date, by a Mind that had no beginning, and which existed before this date without any cosmical manifestation? What proof is there that the universe made its first appearance as a sudden supernatural effect, and that it has not existed without beginning, as a succession of essentially supernatural changes, similar in the “naturalness” of their appearances to those changes in which we all find ourselves and all things participating to-day? May not the actual matter of fact have been, that the unbeginning past has been the scene of an endless succession of orderly evolutions and dissolutions—ordered cycles or natural economies—in which the existing material has been undergoing constant metamorphoses; that human beings are living in one of these cycles, which had its natural beginning in a remote past, and is naturally destined to end, and pass into another economy in some remote future, followed by other universes (if we choose to call each cycle a new “universe”) in an unending future? Is not this an eternal natural succession that may be essentially supernatural, and that may be conceived of as unbeginning expression of eternal intending Will? Is it not a more reasonable supposition than the idea of special creation, which seems to mean that the material now in natural course of metamorphosis was once non-existent, and did absolutely enter into existence, as an effect of the Will of solitary Mind existing antecedently? Moreover, if the actual state of the universe, at any given moment after its original creation in time, must be accounted for, or naturally refunded into, its state in the preceding moment; and if the “special creation” is a refunding of the whole, at a particular period, into “creative” Mind, does not this logic of causation demand a still remoter antecedent cause of the solitary creative Mind itself, which in this reasoning is inferred only under the ordinary postulate of natural science, by which changes are physically identified with antecedent conditions on which they depend? What is meant by the “supernatural” act, in which nature is supposed absolutely to begin, at some remote era in the past, unless it means an antecedent mental process, which itself needs a cause as much as any other process in the succession?

A question put by David Hume.

This last question was suggested by David Hume. Self-conscious mind, so far as civil or natural history informs us, first made its appearance at a comparatively late date,—in the form of human conscious life on this planet. This, we are told, was preceded by ages of merely sentient matter: before that there was only insentient matter. It is therefore with a material cosmos only that we are supposed to have to do, in the earlier stages of the history of the universe, if we confine our regard to the only cosmical economy of which man has any authentic record—either documentary or in the form of geological phenomena. Hume suggests that, for aught we can know a priori, matter may contain the source or spring of order originally within itself as well as mind does; and that there is no more difficulty in conceiving that the several elements or molecules of matter, from an internal unknown cause, may fall into the most exquisite arrangement, than to conceive that their ideas in the supposed Universal Mind, also from an internal unknown cause, have fallen into that arrangement which forms the succession of ideas in the mind of God. If the material world is caused by an ideal world in a universal Mind, this ideal world must in its turn rest upon some other; and so on without end. “It were better, therefore,” the sceptic conjectures, “never to look beyond the present material world, and to suppose a natural succession of unbeginning and unending changes in it. By supposing Matter to contain the principle of order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that Divine Being so much the better. A mental world, or universe of Divine Ideas, requires a cause as much as does a material world, or universe of visible and tangible objects.” So that, if the principle of merely natural or caused causality is taken as the one ultimate category, and if this requires us to presuppose Mind to account naturally for the beginning of nature, the same principle of natural causality seems to require us to presuppose some natural antecedent to account for the existence of the ideas of this Mind.

The common “proof” that the cosmos is not eternal.

An argument of natural theologians has been, that there is evidence, supplied by civil and natural history, that the presented universe was created “out of nothing” at a particular time, but that there is no similar evidence that Mind had a beginning, or that Mind needed to be created by an antecedently existing Power. This argument is pressed by Dr Chalmers, in his interesting and eloquent book on Natural Theology. “The precise difference between the two,” he says, “is, that we have proof of a commencement to our present material economy, but we have no such proof of a commencement to the mental economy—i.e., the Divine Mind—which may have preceded it. There is room for the question, How came the material system of things into its present order? because we have reason to believe that it has not subsisted in that order from eternity. There is no such room for the question, Why might not the material have fallen into its present order of itself, as well as the mental which is conceived to have gone before it, in the form of a Divine Mind? We have no reason to believe that this mental economy ever was otherwise than it now is. The latter question presumes that the mental did begin to enter into order of itself, or, which is the same thing, that God had a commencement. In the material economy, we have the vestiges before our eyes of its having had an origin—or in other words, of its being a consequent; and we have furthermore the experience that in every instance which comes under full observation of a similar consequent—that is, of a consequent which involved, as the mundane order of things does so amply, the adaptation of parts to an end—the antecedent was a purposing mind, which descried the end, and devised the means for its accomplishment. We might not have been called upon to make even a single ascent in the path of causation, had the world stood forth to view in the character or aspect of immutability. But, instead of this, both history and observation tell of a definite commencement to the present order; and we therefore just follow the lights of experience when we move upward from the world to an intelligent mind that ordained it. It is this which carries us backward one step from the world to God; and the reason why we do not continue the retrogression beyond God is, that we have not met with an indication that He has had a commencement. In the one case there is a beginning of the present material system forced upon our convictions [by the evidence of natural vestiges in geology, and also by the testimony of historic records]. In the other case, the case of the antecedent Mind, there is no such beginning forced upon our convictions by experience. We have therefore ample reason, for regarding the world as a posterior term, and seeking after its antecedent. But we have no such reason for treating this antecedent as also a posterior term, and seeking for its prior term in a higher antecedent. The one we see to be a changeable and a recent world. The other, for aught we know, may be an unchangeable and everlasting God. The one order, the material, we know not to have been from everlasting. The other, the mental, which by all experience and analogy must have preceded the material, bears no symptoms which we can discover of its ever having required any remoter economy to call it into being.”

A “catastrophe” may itself have been a natural sequence, not an absolute cosmic beginning.

What is here alleged to be proved by the records of history, contained in Hebrew and other literatures, and by the physical vestiges discovered by geology, seems to be only this—that the metamorphoses which this planet of ours has passed through include a succession of catastrophes; and that these can be explained only by what is called supernatural “interference,” particularly those economies which contain living matter, and, above all, the organisms with which, as in human organisms, self-conscious life is somehow associated. An economy into which life, and emphatically self-conscious life, has for the first time entered, is one, it is argued, which needs interference with a natural economy that is supposed, on account of its naturalness, to be itself empty of the supernatural. But the antecedent creative Mind is presumed to be a Mind that itself had no beginning; inasmuch as neither the records of history, nor geological phenomena, afford any evidence that the living Mind which suddenly created matter, and introduced life on this globe, was itself a caused cause.

Empirical evidence of the noneternity of the cosmos inadequate in two respects.

This argument scarcely touches some important previous questions regarding theological inference from facts of experience recorded in history, and the nature of the causal judgment which we are obliged to presuppose in our interpretation of change. In the first place, it leaves the perpetual presence in nature of an absolutely independent and therefore eternal Mind so far an open question, that it has to be determined, and can be determined, by documentary records of what has happened; instead of accepting theistic faith, as well as faith in physical law, as a postulate—unless it can be disproved—on the ground that it enables man more adequately or deeply to interpret his surroundings than faith in natural uniformity taken alone does. The postulated eternal presence of providential Mind, immanent in nature, is reduced to a contingency dependent on the records of history, like the existence of any particular dependent cause among the physical sequences in nature. In the next place, it seems to foreclose discoveries in natural science, which are continually revealing natural causes of changes that were formerly presumed to be independent of the natural order, and as such called supernatural, as if the natural succession was undivine.

Significant metamorphosis of phenomena is not causality in its full Aristotelian meaning.

How can natural causation with its dependent causes be thus final? It is always sending us in quest of a cause that is not itself caused. One thus finds at last in natural causation the demand for a self-determined or supernatural, not merely for a caused cause,—this last being the sign of the approach of its invariable or natural successor, rather than the really originating cause. A God that might conceivably have had a beginning, and is thus essentially dependent; or who is inferred to be unbeginning, only because we have no historical proof that God ever began, is really thought of only as a part of physical nature,—an antecedent that happens to be eternal because it does not seem to have any natural predecessor. But are we not obliged to bring to the consideration of change the conviction that natural change as such is, now and always, dependent upon a Power that is independent of change, or an uncaused cause? Is not this conviction independent, too, of any evidence which history or external nature might present, in regard to the question about the beginningness or the unbeginningness of the now manifested natural order? That order may, it seems to me, be unbeginning, and yet throughout for ever dependent—an eternally dependent cosmos—an eternally supernatural evolution. The fact that men have risen into individual self-consciousness in an eternal course of nature does not necessarily mean that the eternal natural succession is the whole; or indeed that succession, if unbeginning, can be thought of as a “whole” for what is infinite, as argued in a former lecture, is not in subjection to the category of quantity.

The possibility of reading an unbeginning and unending succession of cosmic changes in terms of natural causation, does not exhaust the demand for Infinite Reality.

Again, the progress of scientific interpretation of external nature is continually extending our information about what is natural, and, as natural, imaginable, in the form of the temporal process of phenomena. Scientific inquiry discovers natural processes, which can be presented to the senses or represented in the sensuous imagination, to fill gaps in the physical succession that were before conceived to be bridged over by a supernatural agency that was somehow opposed to the “causes” presentable in sense, which alone interest natural science. The continuity of natural change becomes less and less interrupted, as science advances in its unravelling of the intricate web of natural causation: with each advance the need is lessened for interpolating divine acts merely to bridge over the interval. But under the conception of nature as causally supernatural, what forbids an unbeginning history of this planet, through all its changes, inorganic and organic, and especially the evolution of its human organisms, being read throughout in terms of divinely dependent natural causes, most of which, indeed, have still to be discovered? And as these changes in our planet are only a very few of the changes in the material universe, of which this planet is an insignificant part, what forbids that—if not in the progress of human discovery, yet to the mind's eye of higher intelligence—the eternal natural, yet supernatural, succession may arrange itself in an intellectual view of the infinite system of caused causes, in which every change, whether in the history of extended things or in the history of conscious lives, has its correlative natural cause? This would be the infinite universe read in terms of natural science. Yet, while true to the facts, as far as it goes, would not this reading of it, exclusively in terms of mechanical causality, be after all inadequate to the demands of the higher homo mensura criterion, and therefore, even for man, an insufficient answer to the final question—In what, or in whom, am I, now and always, living and moving and having my being? Do I not still find myself obliged to deepen this mechanical interpretation of the universe by a teleological interpretation, and to see that in and through the natural world itself, even if it is an unbeginning and unending world, I am really living in what is finally a supernatural universe?

The “course of nature” may be only a system of significant appearances, which, as significant, are more or less interpretable by man.

The natural history of the material world, so read, is a history of instrumental, subordinate, or secondary causes, which are only metaphorically called agents. They are virtually signs of their so-called effects,—signs in which the Divine Reality is continually revealing order, meaning, and purpose to the percipient beings that have risen into conscious perception, on this planet, in the course of the natural evolution. At this point of view, sensible signs, not ultimate causes, make up the whole visible course in nature. Natural causation is really sense symbolism. Without natural causes, one may say, “there could be no calculable course of nature. And without a calculable course, nature could never be understood; mankind must always be at a loss, not knowing what to expect, or how to govern themselves. Therefore, in the government of the world, physical agents, improperly called agents—that is to say, mechanical second causes—are necessary to assist, not indeed the governor, but the governed. Yet if the explaining of a phenomenon be to assign its proper, efficient, and final cause, it should seem that natural science never explains anything, its province being only to discover the laws of nature.”

Natural causation is a term expressive of the interpretability of the world in which we find ourselves; and the interpretation of nature implies interpreting mind dependent on correlation of that mind with Mind immanent in Nature.

Natural causation does not supersede the divine power that is always latent in the natural universe, if God is the ultimate cause of all natural causation. The discovery of a previously unknown physical cause is then only the discovery of one additional significant expression of the universal fact that we are living and moving and having our being in an interpretable world; which, although by us interpretable only in part, yet can so far appeal to a human intelligence that is practically in analogy with itself. There is presupposed a microcosmic and a macrocosmic intelligence—the one in each of us, the other immanent in the world. The elaborate order of nature is God continually speaking to us; and its elaborate web of natural connection is a means to the end of its being a revelation of God. Living in and through this order, we are living in and through what is virtually a perpetual creation; which may have been going on without beginning, and without end in prospect—at once natural and supernatural—a nature significant of the supernature with which it is constantly charged. So far pantheism seems in harmony with theism. A constant divine determination of nature is the share of truth which theism may be said to have received from pantheism. “Men,” says Spinoza, “have been wont to call only that whereof the natural cause is unknown the work of God. For people in general think that the power or providence of God is then most plainly manifested, when they perceive something to happen in the course of nature which is uncommon, or contrary to the opinion which they have formed from custom concerning what the course of nature actually is. And in no way do they think that the existence of God may be more clearly proved than from this—that nature doth not keep her order. Wherefore they deem that all those set aside God who explain events by natural causes, or try to understand the conditions on which they depend. For they suppose that God is doing nothing, as long as nature is moving on in her accustomed order; and on the other hand, that the powers of nature and natural causes are idle so long as God is acting. They imagine therefore two powers, distinct from each other, to wit, the power of God, and the powers of natural things; which last they suppose to have been at first determined by God, or, as most nowadays express themselves, to have been created by Him. But what they mean by nature, and what by God, they know not; except that they suppose the power of God to be a sort of regal government, and that they attribute a mechanical force all its own to nature. The common herd, therefore, call unusual works of nature miracles, or works of God; and partly out of devotion, partly out of desire to oppose those devoted to natural science, even wish to be ignorant of the natural causes of things, and delight only to hear of those things which they are least able to interpret, and are therefore most apt to admire.”

Does “natural causation” explain anything finally?

The question at the heart of all this is, Whether what are commonly called natural causes can otherwise than metaphorically be called causes, if cause means that the final human conception is of Reason ever active in the universe. The point to be kept in view seems to be, that natural causation, with the alleged equivalence between effects and its causes, presents only a system of interpretable signs, which, because a system, is found charged throughout with order and purpose. Natural science unfolds the uniformities, and can give a provisional interpretation of nature; each genuine scientific discovery is an illustration. The theologian may suggest particular examples of purpose, or what is analogous to purpose, gathered with more or less skill from appearances presented in the inorganic world, particularly in living organisms. But the perpetual existence of the cosmos, charged throughout with natural order, and with means that lead to ends, is the constant miracle of God in nature. Order and end may be each presumed in faith to be latent in all the phenomena and events of inorganic and organised nature. Indeed the special instances of each, in the form of discovered law and discovered purpose, embrace only an insignificant proportion of the illimitable number of special laws and special ends. The complexity of the phenomena obscures their actual order in regions still closed against confident scientific inference; the astronomer, for example, has been more successful than the meteorologist. And examples of adaptation of means to ends are more abundant and impressive to a human mind in the appearances presented by living organisms than in those of inorganic nature. But withal are we not intellectually obliged, or at least at liberty intellectually, to read experience in the faith that it is experience of a cosmos in which providential law and purpose are always immanent, throughout, and even in events which seem to us insignificant?

The question of the eternity or non-eternity of the cosmic revelation of God seems insoluble.

To determine between the alternative mysteries of a sudden creation of cosmos at some period in the past, and the mystery of an eternal natural and yet divine cosmical evolution, is a task that perhaps transcends understanding, for without doubt it transcends sensuous experience. We have no reason to suppose that the ever-changing cosmical growth may not have proceeded always, in absolute or constant dependence on the principle that makes us now try to construe any of its phenomena in terms of order and of purpose. We are born into what may be unbeginning and unending natural evolution; but the world into which we are born is, we find as a fact, an interpretable world, which even for the limited intelligence and experience of man is more or less successfully the subject of tentative interpretations. Men are inevitably dependent on the contingencies of a narrow and broken experience, for their scientific understanding of the qualities and behaviour of the unconscious things, and the conscious persons, of which the universe is found to consist. Each finite thing and person is so connected with every other, in the past and in the distant, that a complete knowledge of each is possible only to omniscient intelligence. Accordingly, unconditional certainty, or an absolute knowledge of the natural causes and ends of the things that are presented in our experience, is unattainable. Yet human life rests on the faith, that a working intelligence on our part of the Intelligence that is expressed in the orderly sequences and adaptations of nature is within our reach; so that in intellectual intercourse with the Intellect that is latent in Nature our human intellect will not in the end be put to confusion. When we try to interpret nature as sense symbolism, we often find our hypothetical interpretations verified by the event, and although there is for us no demonstrable certainty that, with innumerable unknown causes in existence, what has been now verified will be undisturbed, this faith sufficiently sustains us. This is that faith in the harmony between the course of nature and the thought of man which, as we found, was the last word even with Hume. The mathematical, mechanical, chemical, and vital causal relations of things presented to our senses may be treated as an intelligible language. And that this natural language can in some measure be interpreted by man, the gradual growth of his sciences of nature is a practical proof. May we not therefore assert that, in our surrounding universe, we are continually in the presence of a Power that reveals itself in articulate language of law and purpose? Are we not, when in the presence of external nature, in a condition which is in analogy to that in which we are when beside a human being who is speaking to us, or otherwise making signs that enable us to enter in some degree into his thought? The natural order and natural ends of the economy into which we enter at birth may be the visible expression of a Power which uses, and perhaps has always used, the visible universe for self-revelation; even as men use their bodily organs in communicating to one another the invisible contents of their respective minds—with this signal difference, that nature, like the Power at work in and through it, may be an unbeginning and unending process, while the words of men are transitory conventional signs.

Natural causation admits of a spiritual interpretation.

This difference need not hinder, as far as I can see, recognition of special design any more than of special law, in particular examples of natural causation; and that whether the end recognised is found in a natural catastrophe, or in the slowly reached products of long series of natural metamorphoses. The spiritual interpretation of all natural causation is equally valid, or equally incapable of disproof, however complex the natural links may be, and whatever obstacles are thus offered to the scientific knowledge of the observer. If natural causation is all ultimately supernatural, no increase in our physical science of the special causes in the visible succession can dissolve the spiritual significance that is immanent in each caused cause and in the whole.

The complexity of the cosmos an education of intelligence and character.

Perhaps, too, the very complexity of the web of natural causation, which man finds that he is able in some degree to unravel scientifically, so as to live within it, may itself be regarded rightly as an example of adaptation of ends to means, when this complexity is considered in relation to man. The complex constitution of the cosmos seems to be fitted by its elaborateness for educating our latent intelligence, and for the moral discipline involved in a laborious mastery of the causal secrets of nature. It may even suggest with more emphasis than a simpler constitution, the constant presence of Active Reason in nature; expressed more impressively, and in a way more apt to induce reverence, when the natural language costs us time and labour to interpret, or when it is interpretable only tentatively and to a small extent, for the operative purposes of men.

The cardinal fact is, that the universe into which we awake in becoming conscious is interpretable and not chaotic, not when or whether it began to be.

The basis of human life is surely found in the faith that the ever-evolving universe is charged with meaning and purpose. It does not depend on the transcendent alternative of whether the natural signs, with their divine meanings and adaptations, had an absolute beginning, or are, on the contrary, an unbeginning and unending revelation of eternal Spirit We still presume that we are living and moving and having our being in the midst of intelligible relations, out of which human sciences of nature gradually construct themselves. As relations of natural causality express thought, while they are independent of individual human thinkers, true science of nature, so far from contradicting the supposition that one entered at birth into an essentially intelligible universe, proceeds unconsciously throughout all its inquiries, experiments, and verifications, upon this very assumption, as its ultimate and indispensable working, hypothesis. Natural science is a product which depends for its existence upon the fact of intellectual affinity between man and his surroundings.

Two ultimate alternatives.

This fact, which is suggested by every circumstance and event in life, seems to bring light to us in dealing with the final inquiry regarding the sort of existence or universe in which we are having our being. The phenomena, of which we have experience, are either extended and unconscious, or unextended and conscious—matter or spirit,—with unconscious life, as in vegetable organisms, intermediate between the two. The history of the universe, as far as it discovers itself to man, is a history of action and reaction among these beings. If we are to form any conception of the substance or supreme principle of the whole, it must be the conception either of substance that is unconscious and extended, or of substance that is intelligent and foreign to extension. The alternatives for us are a materialist or a spiritual conception of the Power finally at work in nature.

The need which impels us to one or other of these alternatives, instead of resting in the fact we fact that we find ourselves in a physical cosmos, not in a physical chaos.

Some one may ask indeed whether there is need for having recourse to either of those alternatives. Can man proceed further than to recognise that he is living in an interpretable universe, so far as scientific interpretation of its sense signs implies thus? I do not find that I can arrest inquiry at this point. For I have found that what are called natural “causes,” so far as my knowledge of them can go, are not causes and effects in, their own right. They are causes and effects that are brought into, and kept in, this relation, by some principle that is superior to themselves, and to which they are in subordinate dependence. I find no evidence that unconscious things originate change in one another; nor is the term “agent” intelligible till one has experience, of a self-conscious being, or more definitely of the self-conscious being that each one calls “myself,” and of self in the exercise of morally responsible activity. I touched on this in the lectures on materialism and egoism, when it appeared that the hypothesis of an evolution of inorganic and organic things throws no light upon the reason that awakens in consciousness, to be appealed to as finally in the heart of things. To find with the biologist what the external conditions are under which a human being enters on his life of intelligence, is not to resolve the final problems of which intelligence becomes aware: these must be determined, if at all, by spiritual data contained within invisible intelligence itself; not by external data in the material world. Matter, as we perceive it, explains nothing in the way of ultimate explanation; nor does it, as I think can be shown, afford even the deepest and truest explanation that is within man's reach. Motion of molecules can only explain motion in other molecules, and not even this finally; for there is no necessary connection perceptible in sense between contact of moving masses in space, and the motion of other masses which follows the impact. What one can say is, that we are accustomed to expect the latter when we see the former. The former is thus to us the intelligible sign, and so the foundation of a natural prophecy, upon which we proceed in faith.

Lotze on the materialistic alternative.

Self-consistent materialism is an impossible, because self-contradictory, position, and the tacit assumptions of the materialist alone conceal its absurdity. “The materialistic assumption,” as Lotze says, “takes upon itself to show how, from bare properties of space filling divisibility, inertia, and mobility, the whole universe, and therefore its spiritual constituents, could be naturally developed, without admixture of any other principle or cause whatever. Now, psychology compels us to see that states of motion in matter, or in material organisms, are only the occasions upon which there arise in us spiritual processes, such as sensations or other feelings and thoughts. But why these occasions are followed by those spiritual states is not only not a subject of possible empirical knowledge, but it is even possible to see that man can never reach the point where it could be seen that a mode of motion in a mass of molecules, however curiously elaborated, would have to cease to remain a mode of motion, and would be under an absolute necessity to transform itself into a process of thought, or even of sensation. According to all ascertainable principles, from motions alone nothing but a new distribution, propagation, or arrest of motions can follow. A spiritual sequence can be attached to them only indirectly—that is to say, through their natural relation to another substance which in its own nature possesses a capacity for the manifestation of spiritual processes; in which capacity the mere motions themselves, as such, as perceived by us are wanting. So that in each particular instance, as well as in the totality of the universe, with a barely material ultimate principle, in which matter is endowed only with those characteristics which are in science assumed to be essential to it, it is incapable of originating the world of spiritual processes.” In short, the acknowledged interpretability or divinity which appears in the significant relations of natural things, to which I have been asking your consideration in this lecture, can make no appeal to, or receive no response from, a universe that consists ultimately only of atoms in continuous motion. The conception of existence as absolutely or ultimately spiritual is therefore deeper than the conception of it as ultimately an evolution of atoms in infinite space and time—scientifically true, so far as it goes, as this last conception of it may possibly be. For there is no inconsistency between theism and the hypothesis that fire-mist was the physical beginning of our world.

The revelation of God in and through what is highest in man.

It is the revelation that is involved in the self-consciousness of man that supplies the key to this deeper or spiritual interpretation of nature. Apart from this, the outer world, with all its laws and ends, is darkness; for external nature in itself, or apart from the contents of moral life in man, conceals the God whom it nevertheless reveals when it is looked at in the light of spiritual consciousness.

In next lecture we shall look for some light, through this opening, into the mystery of existence.

From the book: