« AnteriorContinuar »
stands that tendency as whose representative we have taken the English empiricist of the last century. If the Platonist sought communion with God by destroying the influence of nature, the empiricist of the last century sought communion with nature by excluding the idea of God. He proposed to regard nothing as scientific which was not material in character, to accept no object of knowledge which did not enter the mind through one or other of the five senses. He did not, indeed, deny the existence of a transcendental Power ; but then the transcendental meant to him the spatially high. He saw no Power within nature: nature was to him mechanical, not dynamical; it could only be influenced from without. That at certain periods of the far past it had been influenced from without, he felt bound to admit: the varieties of created species and the evidence of constructive design impelled him to the belief that there had been certain special occasions in which the transcendental Power of the universe had stooped from His transcendence to put forth a supernatural energy in the actual history of the world. But when once the empiricist had accounted for his variety of species, and explained by an original Divine act the appearances of design in nature, he did not trouble himself further to trace the subsequent movements of that creative Power. So far as he was concerned, it retired into the background when once it had framed the universe and called into being the various orders of its life. He thought of the Creator as one whose work was done, or as one whose future work was only that of the spectator. He believed that He dwelt still in some vastly remote region, elevated indefinitely above the most distant star, and was willing to allow that there, perhaps, He continued to exercise a certain lordly control over the united masses of creation. But he never admitted that even this general control was a matter of science ; he accepted it only as a matter of faith. The science which he acknowledged could tell him only of that which was intermediate between himself and the Creator—the world of physical law. He looked upon the laws of nature as the forms of existence that separated the being of man from the being of God. It never occurred to him that these laws of nature might themselves be that which bridged the gulf between the human and the Divine. He could think of his God as superintending nature, as regulating nature, as controlling nature; but the superintendence, regulation, and control were processes conducted from a height: the mechanism might be moved by God, but in itself it was a mechanism still, and as such it was an intermediate agency thrust between the human soul and the Being whom it essayed to worship.
which began to dominate the European intellect at the time of the Reformation, and reached its culminating force in the English and French empiricism of the eighteenth century. It was, as we have said, at the opposite remove from Platonism ; but it is a familiar adage that extremes meet. These extremes certainly meet in their practical issue. The Platonism of the fifth century before Christ, and the empiricism of the eighteenth century after Christ, extremely opposed as they are in standpoint, have yet one idea in common. They both assume that there is an antithesis between the natural and the supernatural, that physical nature is in itself distinct from the life of the Divine. Alike in Platonism and in empiricism, the idea of nature is contemplated as a barrier to the idea of God, and the difference between them lies in the relative degree of importance which they assign to these ideas. The Platonist looks upon the idea of God as more useful to man than the idea of nature, and therefore he proposes to crucify the latter ; the empiricist looks upon the idea of nature as more useful to man than the idea of God, and therefore he proposes to live only in the former. In either case, the thought of nature is regarded as something which has no natural connection with the thought of religion; and therefore, in both cases, the existence of the physical world is looked upon as a barrier to
man's cherishing the idea of communion with God.
Let us turn now to the modern doctrine of evolution as represented by Mr Herbert Spencer. Here we are introduced to a thought which is quite distinct in its nature either from Platonism or from the older scientific empiricism. In both of these systems the physical world was something which divided the life of the human soul from the presence of the creative Power. But in this modern system the physical world is brought before us in a new attitude-in the attitude of a medium through which the creative Power is present to the life of man. Nature here, instead of a barrier, becomes itself a revealer. In this new science, as represented by Mr Spencer, the transcendental no longer means the spatially high, but merely the intellectually inscrutable. There is an incomprehensible Force at the basis of all things—a Force whose nature is beyond the reach of human penetration. But it is not itself on that account outside the circle of nature, or separated from the life of man. Incomprehensible as it is, it is not uncomprehending. Incapable of being grasped by the human, it enfolds itself the human and all other things. It transcends physical nature, yet it dwells in that which it transcends—nay, is itself the cause of that which it transcends. Physical nature is one of its manifestations, as human life is another: neither of them can exhaust its meaning, yet each of them expresses a phase of its being. And this transcendental Force is not only present in nature, it is omnipresent. It not merely lies at the basis of great phenomena, it is the cause of all phenomena. To its action are to be referred all the forms of nature, all the modes of vitality, all the phases of evolution which the universe exhibits. The distinction is annihilated between great and small, for the great and the small alike have their origin in a source which transcends experience.
The bearings of this view on the doctrine of Divine communion will be at once apparent. It is true, if there were no other God than the Force postulated by Mr Herbert Spencer, the very idea of religious communion would be a contradiction in terms. Mr Spencer will not allow that we have any right to call his Force a person, or to endow it with the attributes of consciousness; and where there is no conscious personality, there can be no communion with other personalities. But Mr Spencer himself will not affirm that the prohibition to endow his Force with personality has come from the doctrine of evolution : he tells us in effect expressly the contrary. He says that the doctrine of evolution has no testimony to give upon the subject; and it is just on the ground of its silence that he professes himself a religious agnostic. The silence of evolution speaks in two voices; if it does