The method followed in this argument is that of consciousness as distinguished from that of logic; and the steps by which the theistic conclusion is reached are these: Through direct consciousness of himself man discovers that he has a permanent personality, is endowed with will, intelligence, moral tendencies, and spiritual affections.
Through consciousness, developed through observation and experience, he learns that he is surrounded by an external universe, and is related to other persons very much similar to, yet different from himself.
Through consciousness, further developed by reflection on himself and the universe, he attains the conviction that over all is a supreme being, having absolute will, infinite intelligence, perfect integrity, and flawless loving care.
It is contended that the results of consciousness rest on the same basis and stand or fall together. If the basic consciousness of ones human self is denied, all the rest vanish with it. If, on the other hand, it is accepted, it carries all the rest in its train. Therefore, it is from an awareness of himself and his surroundings that a man arises to the awareness of God. Belief in God is the fruit of belief in the humanity of man; Atheism and agnosticism are the virtual denial of his humanity.
The breadth of the method to be pursued in this inquiry, and of the field from which evidence is to be gathered, must be in due proportion to the magnitude of the subject. The unrivalled stupendousness and fruitfulness of the idea of God demands a treatment which shall embrace the whole nature, consciousness, and relations of mankind, and which can no more be contracted within the limits of mere logical demonstration, than Art can be dealt with by a carpenter's rule, or Morality by the science of number.
It is true, indeed, that a practical conviction of this kind may not be able to justify itself formally in the eyes of the mere logician, but at the bar of the higher reason it will be vindicated on the surer ground of experience. To the practical judgment of mankind the experience of supreme fitness, and of inexhaustible fertility in the production of beneficial results, is in general far more convincing than the formal demonstrations of argument; and from that judgment, at least in the moral and spiritual domain, there is no appeal. If thoughtful and earnest men come to feel that the idea of God is in harmony with all the higher aspirations and instincts of their nature, and exerts over the whole of human life an ennobling and cleansing influence, they will hold the idea as substantially verified, and make little account of any theoretical objections which may be urged against it, or any deficiencies that logical subtlety may discover in the structure of the arguments employed in its vindication.
In this view of the proper method to be followed in our inquiry there is, indeed, one obvious and momentous assumption, without which it would be untenable, - the assumption of our humanity. Were this denied, to discuss questions of truth, morality, or religion would be an absolute waste of time. To a creature which is nothing but a material organism, or animated automaton, without personality, will, moral consciousness, or spiritual intuition, such questions have no meaning and bear no relation. Call our higher nature by what name we will, mind or reason, soul or spirit, we must believe in it, and in its superiority to matter and animal existence, before it is possible for us to make a single step towards believing in eternal truth and goodness.
It is only from ourselves that we can rise to God. If our consciousness of personality and will, our intuitions of right and duty, our aspirations after purity and truth, are thrust aside as untrustworthy and illusive, there will remain absolutely nothing wherein the belief in God can root itself within us. The universe might throb and glow with his presence throughout all its provinces, but we would remain unconscious of him.
At the basis, then, of our inquiry lies the assumption that man is human; that is, a person, endowed with reason, will, moral and spiritual affections, whose consciousness of mysterious superiority to the physical world and its organisms represents a real and ultimate fact of being. With any one who refuses to admit this assumption, and denies the witness borne by his consciousness to his possession of human personality and reason, we do not pretend to argue.
Let us pause for a moment to inquire on which side the burden of proof may fairly be considered to lie. Naturally, one would at first reply, on the side of the theist. He asserts the fact of God's existence, and therefore is bound to furnish proof of his assertion; the practical atheist asserts nothing but his own ignorance, and waits to be convinced if possible. No doubt this would be a just and complete assignment of the burden of proof, if atheism had been in general possession of the field of thought, and theism were some novel theory started by individual minds to displace old and universal opinion. But the real position of the antagonistic views towards each other is exactly the reverse. Theism has been in general possession of the world; it is atheism which is the exceptional opinion, propounded here and there by individual minds to bring about a revolution in the established belief of mankind.
This undoubtedly in some measure shifts the burden of proof. A belief which antedates historical records, and in some form or other has reigned almost universally over human minds, and has been identified with almost all that has been most elevated in thought and most virtuous in practice, among all races and tribes of humanity, has on its side a fair presumption of truth.
The atheist or agnostic says, "You form an idea of God, but of any corresponding objective reality you confess yourselves unable to formulate a proof. Why not resign yourselves to the inevitable inference, that the God of your conception is nothing but the offspring of your idealizing faculty, without substance or independent existence; and that if there should chance to be any real God behind the universe, at least he lies altogether beyond the reach of your faculties, and outside the possibilities of human knowledge."
If this accusation were just, the controversy would be ended, and to try other methods of finding God, after failure of the logical and demonstrative methods, would be a waste of time and labor. To justify, therefore, our perseverance in the search, we must show that this view of the necessary limits of human knowledge is unsound, and contradicts both experience and reason. We affirm it to be so on this distinct ground, that the principle which it embodies would, if accepted, make a clean and absolute sweep of all human knowledge whatsoever. This statement we proceed to justify.
The principle against which we protest may be expressed as follows: "Knowledge must be based on logical proof; the knowable and the demonstrable are identical; whatever cannot be shown by strict inductive reasoning to exist must be dismissed from the region of science, and consigned to the dream-land of the speculative imagination." Our contention is that as soon as this principle, which is really the stronghold of agnosticism, is tried at the bar of the practical reason, and brought face to face with the realities of human life, it must be convicted of monstrous absurdity.
Nothing is more certain than that every train of reasoning must have some premise from which to start. Arguments cannot sustain themselves in the air, without any basis to rest upon, real or assumed. Logical processes without materials to work upon can no more bring forth results in the shape of knowledge, than a mill can grind out flour without being supplied with grist. We fetch the indispensable premises to set our arguments going from the primitive elements of thought, the starting points of knowledge, the foundation of all the science of which man is capable. And they were not the result of any sort of reasoning. If they are trustworthy and true, then we possess real knowledge which was not derived from reasoning, and is not capable of logical demonstration. If they are not trustworthy and true, then none of our pretended knowledge is trustworthy and true, for upon them every particle of it ultimately depends; in a word, it is not knowledge at all. So we are driven perforce to choose between these alternatives; either we know nothing at all, or we know more than we can prove.
We are human beings who have other inlets of knowledge than the logical understanding, and who certainly know more than we can rigorously prove. Our entire lives rest on principles and facts which come to us through no process of reasoning, but by intuition and perception, and the lessons of experience; on these we act without troubling ourselves about demonstrations and reasoned proofs, and it is only by accepting them as trustworthy and true that we live human lives, and escape herding with the beasts or the insane. Through the same inlets of knowledge, then, it may be that God will be revealed to us; and till we have sought him through these we should be less human if we abandoned the search for him, and resigned ourselves to drag on a dreary existence in the inhospitable deserts of atheism.
Prior to and beneath all our logical processes there are beliefs and convictions which spring up in the human consciousness, and are the only possible foundation of all our knowledge. They are felt to be true, though formally to prove them true is impossible. We take them on the veracity of our consciousness, and build our life upon them without hesitation or distrust. They may be called instinctive or intuitive, to indicate their being rooted in our mental constitution, and to distinguish them from beliefs which are attained through logical processes. Or they may be fitly called primary beliefs of the reason, as being convictions which approve themselves to the rational faculty of man in general by their own fitness, and are the basis on which it erects the superstructure of acquired knowledge.
Now these primary or instinctive beliefs must be held to be indisputable, because they form the only barrier between our minds and the bottomless gulf of absolute and universal skepticism. If then theism can establish its right to be considered one of their number, it will be proved in its only practicable sense, and will rest on the same foundation as the most certain parts of our knowledge.
The proof, therefore, which we shall endeavor to draw out on behalf of theism will consist of various arguments, all directed to show that belief in God is entitled to be considered one of the primary, instinctive or intuitive beliefs of the human reason. Our position therefore is this: that if the belief in God can be shown to be a primary, instinctive, and practically universal belief of the reason, - a belief growing up of itself, so to speak, in the consciousness, and continually deriving nourishment from experience and reflection, - it will need no further justification. Being such, it would justify itself.
Throughout the inquiry which we are about to make into the title of theistic belief to be ranked among the great primary beliefs of the reason, the importance of the fact will be manifest to which attention was directed at the outset; the fact that the idea of God is supreme in the whole field of thought, and touches human nature at every point with a unique and sovereign authority. For it follows that if the idea is a true one, and the being who is portrayed in it really exists and stands to mankind in this supreme and universal relation, every part of human nature and life will be affected by his existence, and may be expected to exhibit traces of his presence and action, and thus to bear witness that he really is.
We have accepted through observation and verification the law of gravitation as one of the most certain facts of the material universe. Though it cannot be seen, it can be aptly demonstrated to exist by virtue of its effects. Now let us conceive a similar method of verification applied to the idea of God. We possess the idea of God as with gravitation. And in consequence of its character of supremacy and universality, as with gravity, it is as applicable to every part of man's consciousness and experience, as the idea of gravitation is to every part of the substance of the material universe. Just then, as the influence and effect of gravitation are traceable everywhere in nature; so, if God be a fact, the impress and consequences of his being ought to be traceable in man, and each province of human thought and knowledge, emotion and action, should yield evidence of his sovereign presence and operation.
Hence in our search for tokens of God and evidences of his being, we are not limited to any one domain of experience, or any single province of human consciousness. Whatever man knows, whatever he perceives and feels, whatever experience the individual or the race has passed through - all is pertinent to the subject; in all, if God really is, we may hope to find some sign, more or less appreciable, of his existence.
As a preliminary to this search, it will be helpful if we can form some antecedent notion of the kinds of evidence we might expect to discover, supposing the existence of God to be a supreme fact. Given man on one side, and God on the other, of what character would the result in the human consciousness probably be? How would the fact of God's existence be likely to make itself felt by man? By what inlets might we expect that infinite spiritual reality to enter into human thought and experience?
We look into ourselves, and are in the first place conscious of an efficient Will. We originate volitions, and execute them; we are sensible of effort as a cause, and we observe effects following our efforts, trains of consequences originated and set in motion by them. Thus we learn that our will is a true cause, and that productive energy is an attribute of our personality.
Next we are conscious of Intelligence. We discern the difference between order and disorder, between chaos and cosmos, between haphazard and juxtaposition and methodical arrangement. We contrive and adapt; we design mechanical structures of which the several parts conspire to an end; we conceive purposes, and carry them out by appropriate means; we perceive fitnesses in the collocation of parts, and beauty in harmonies of form and color; we draw inferences, we comprehend and interpret. Thus we realize that to our personality belongs Mind, the faculty which foresees, purposes, and understands.
Further, we are conscious of a Moral element in our nature. Right and wrong are not unmeaning words to us, but express tense, commanding realities. The law of duty asserts its sovereign rights in our hearts, even when we disobey and defy it. We are not ignorant of the satisfactions of conscious rectitude, nor of the shame of self-reproach and guilt. We cannot rid ourselves of the sense of responsibility, without degrading ourselves below the level of humanity. In the midst of our passions sits consequence in mysterious supremacy, with the terrible scourge of remorse to avenge its slighted authority. We cannot refuse our approbation to truth and goodness, nor withhold our condemnation from meanness, falsehood, and injustice. Thus we know ourselves to be moral, responsible beings, with a moral law of supreme authority and sacredness impressed upon and energizing within our personality.
Lastly, we are conscious of an element in our nature which transcends even the moral element, and may be distinguished as Spiritual. It is this which soars highest, and reaches out farthest. It refuses to be satisfied with what is finite and transient, and strives to apprehend the infinite and the eternal. It is this which humanizes our affections, lifting them out of the sphere of instinct into the region of spirit. By this our emotions of hope and desire and love are purged from the grossness of the carnal, and transmuted into spiritual forces, the springs of purest and holiest action. It is this which is the seat of religion. It frames the idea of God, and prompts us to humbly adore him, and to seek in him the completion and repose of our being. Mysterious and undefinable, it pervades our nature, elevating our instincts, supplementing our intelligence, and touching our morality with the light and warmth of religion. It is that part of our being which most begets in us a vague sense of some divine kindred and everlasting destiny; and by our consciousness of it we complete the idea of our personality, and conceive ourselves to be spiritual beings.
Such is man, as discovered to himself by reflection on the several chief parts of his consciousness. Man finds himself to be a person, endowed with these four cardinal elements of being; an efficient Will, originating and acting; an intelligent Mind, comprehending, designing, and interpreting; a Morality, discerning between right and wrong, enforced by the sacred authority of conscience, and accompanied by a sense of responsibility; and a Spiritual faculty, which strives to apprehend the infinite, exalts the emotions and affections above the region of carnality and its instincts, and reaches out after an ideal perfection and satisfaction in God. Such is man, knit together in fellowship with his fellow men, and environed by the splendors and harmonies, the adaptations and utilities, of the physical universe.
Over against this portraiture of man we are now to set the accepted idea of God. Of this idea of God the first feature is omnipotent Will, energizing in production and government and accomplishment of purpose, throughout all the realms of the universe.
The next is infinite Intelligence, the principle of all order, the skill of all design, the perception of all existence and all possibility, the perfection of foresight, knowledge, and wisdom.
Thirdly comes Moral perfection; infinite righteousness, purity, and truth; unchangeable steadfastness of character, in which is no vacillation nor hint of reneging, absolute good, wherein is no evil at all.
Lastly, as the summit and crown of divine excellence, comes the attribute of Fatherliness; inexhaustible richness of goodness, tenderness, and loving care.
These four features or attributes, Will, Mind, Moral perfection, loving Fatherhood, in their highest conceivable development, centered in an infinite, eternal, spiritual Personality, make up the Christian idea of God. We are about to imagine this idea actually realized in a supreme being, and to consider in what ways the fact of his existence would, in that case, be likely to be borne in on the human consciousness.