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NOTE XXIV., page 249.
The ATHEISM OF SECULARISM.
I have not dealt specially with the arguments employed by secularists in favour of atheism, because there is nothing special in these arguments.
Mr Holyoake's attempt to overthrow the design argument by extending it, is the most original and distinctive portion of his reasoning against theism. It will be found in his 'Paley Refuted,' “Trial of Theism,' 'Discussion with Townley,' &c. Conceding for his purpose that the design argument proves the personality of a Designer, he contends that all analogy and experience prove that every person is organised—that wherever there is intelligence there must be a brain, senses, and nerves—and concludes that the organisation of Deity must teem with marks of design, not less than other organisations, and consequently that Deity can only be thought of as a being who has had a maker. If the view I have given of the design argument be correct, such reasoning as this is obviously irrelevant. The design argument is from order to intelligence, and to intelligence only. Its inference is in no degree or respect to organisation—to brain, senses, and nerves.
Miss Collet, in the essay mentioned in the previous note, has some interesting remarks on Mr Holyoake's argument; and Dr J. Buchanan, in ‘Faith in God and Modern Atheism,' vol. ii. pp. 242-261, refutes it in a most elaborate manner.
This singular argument, which Mr Holyoake many years ago rendered familiar to English working men, has recently been reproduced by the late Prof. Clifford and the distinguished German physiologist Du Bois-Reymond, and addressed by them to scientifically educated persons. I quote the words of Du Bois-Reymond in order to have the pleasure of quoting also a part of the admirable reply given to them by Dr Martineau. Du Bois-Reymond's words are: “What can you say then to the student of nature if, before he allows a psychical principle to the universe, he asks to be shown, somewhere within it, embedded in neurine and fed with warm arterial blood under proper pressure, a convolution of ganglionic globules and nerve-tubes proportioned in size to the faculties of such a mind.” Dr Martineau's words are : "What can we say?' I say, first of all, that this demand for a Divine brain and nerves and arteries comes strangely from those who reproach the theist with 'anthropomorphism.' In order to believe in God, they must be assured that the plates in 'Quain's Anatomy' truly represent Him. If it be a disgrace to religion to take the human as measure of the Divine, what place in the scale of honour can we assign to this stipulation ? Next, I ask my questioner whether he suspends belief in his friends' mental powers till he has made sure of the contents of their crania ? and whether, in the case of ages beyond reach, there are no other adequate vestiges of intellectual and moral life in which he places a ready trust? Immediate knowledge of mind other than his own he can never have: its existence in other cases is gathered from the signs of its activity, whether in personal lineaments or in products stamped with thought : and to stop this process of inference with the discovery of human beings is altogether arbitrary, till it is shown that the grounds for extending it are inadequate. Further, I would submit that, in dealing with the problem of the Universal Mind, this demand for organic centralisation is strangely inappropriate. It is when mental power has to be localised, bounded, lent out to individual natures, and assigned to a scene of definite relations, that a focus must be found for it, and a molecular structure with determinate periphery be built for its lodgment. And were Du Bois - Reymond himself ever to alight on the portentous cerebrum which he imagines, I greatly doubt whether he would fulfil his promise and turn theist at the sight : that he had found the Cause of causes would be the last inference it would occur to him to draw : rather would he look round for some monstrous creature, some kosmic megatherium, born to float and pasture on the fields of space.... Quite in the sense of Du Bois-Reymond's objection was the saying of Laplace, that in scanning the whole heaven with the telescope he found no God; which again has its parallel in Lawrence's remark that the scalpel, in opening the brain, came upon no soul. Both are unquestionably true, and it is precisely the truth of the second which vitiates the intended inference from the first. Had the scalpel alighted on some perceptible yoxń, we might have required of the telescope to do the same; and, on its bringing in a dumb report, have concluded that there was only mechanism there. But, in spite of the knife's failure, we positively know that conscious thought and will were present, yet no more visible, yesterday : and so, that the telescope misses all but the bodies of the universe and their light, avails nothing to prove the absence of a Living Mind through all. If you take the wrong instruments, such quaesita may well evade you. The test-tube will not detect an insincerity, or the micro
scope analyse a grief. The organism of nature, like that of the brain, lies open, in its external features, to the scrutiny of science; but, on the inner side, the life of both is reserved for other modes of apprehension, of which the base is self-consciousness and the crown is religion.”—Modern Materialism, pp. 66-69.
The most distinctive and peculiar feature, perhaps, in the atheism of Mr Bradlaugh, is the extent to which it is rested on the notion of substance enunciated by Spinoza in the definition—“Substance is that which exists in itself, and is conceived per se; in other words, the conception of which does not require the conception of anything else antecedent to it.” It is strange that Mr Bradlaugh should not have seen that this notion, this definition, implies that we can have a priori and absolute knowledge, and is utterly incompatible with the doctrine that all our knowledge is relative and based on the senses. If he can conceive substance per se, and not merely through its qualities, effects, and relationships to his own faculties, he is logically bound to abandon sensationalism and all its consequences, and betake himself to absolute idealism or to mysticism. Indeed, following in the footsteps of Spinoza, he actually treads for a short distance the high a priori road, without apparently being aware that he is on it, and gets as far as the conclusion that there is only one substance. It is to be regretted that he should not have more carefully inquired whether there is even one. I have never seen it proved that there is even one substance in Spinoza's sense of the term. Defining substance in the way indicated, the creation or origination of substance is, of course, absolutely inconceivable to Mr Bradlaugh. If we mean by substance only what is self-existent, the creation of substance is a manifestly self-contradictory expression, equivalent to the origination of the unoriginated.
“Substance" is not the only metaphysical spectre which haunts the mind and disturbs the reasonings of Mr Bradlaugh. “Infinity” is nearly as bad. In fact, for a person possessed of a typically English intellect, Mr Bradlaugh shows, in dealing with theism, a curious predilection for metaphysical conundrums. As a good example of this, I may adduce the reasoning by which he endeavours, in a criticism of my volume on ‘Theism' (see 'National Reformer,' Dec. 23, 1877), to show that the universe cannot have been originated by God. “This new universe," he says, “was either better than God, or it was worse than God, or it was identical with God. But it could not have been better than the infinitely perfect. Nor can the infinitely good be conceived as capable of resulting in that which was a deterioration. Nor can the theory of absolute sameness be maintained, as this would render it impossible to distinguish between the creator and the created.” From this argument, it would appear that Mr Bradlaugh's idea of an infinitely perfect Being is that of a Being unable to produce any finite effect. According to his view, infinite perfection is equivalent to utter weakness. This rivals Hegel's * Being and Not-Being are the Same.' Mr Bradlaugh thus proceeds : “ This new universe must have been something added to that which existed prior to its origination, or it was nothing added. But the instant you conceive something added to God, you fatally impugn His infinity, or you succeed in affirming infinity and the new universe added to it—which is nonsense." Let Mr Bradlaugh try another application of this reasoning, and he will hardly fail to see that it is a mere metaphysical