Originating Will

The constitution of our minds is such as to prevent our resting satisfied with tracing events back to merely physical causes. However far back we return in the line of causation, our minds refuse to consider a physical cause as a true or real cause. Each physical antecedent requires another to precede it, and that again another; and as long as we continue in this line of physical events, each of which is in turn an effect and a cause, we feel that we have not reached a real origin.

An origin of a series must lie outside of the series; for if it lie within the series, and be one of its component parts, we immediately look beyond for a predecessor to it, and it ceases to be regarded as an origin. The true origin therefore of every succession of physical causes and effects must lie outside of the series, and within our experience there is nothing which realizes this condition except an act of Will. A volition is accepted by our minds as a true origin, a real cause; but we know of nothing else that can be placed in the same category. Every series of physical events which are able to trace back to an originating cause runs back into a volition. Where we cannot arrive at an originating volition, the series stretches back indefinitely, and so far as we can imagine, for ever. This conception of volition as the only real cause, this refusal to rest in any merely physical antecedent as a true origin, is a primary law of our thought. However it became impressed on our minds, there it certainly is; and when clearly set before us we cannot help thinking in accordance with it.

A murderer is held responsible because his will set in motion a train of physical causes, at the end of which is the resultant murder of the victim. The ineradicable idea of responsibility rests entirely on the conception of volition as the true cause of events. On no other basis can justice be administered, or moral blame or praise be bestowed. Let it be shown that a manslayer exercised no volition in his deed, but was coerced into doing it by a superior force, and he is held excused; in that case he was not the cause of the act but only one of its physical antecedents, and the inquiry for the true cause passes beyond him to seek a remoter origin of the action. Volition and responsibility are inseparably connected.

Will it be urged in objection that volition itself is not free, but as much necessitated by antecedent causes as physical events are, and is therefore no more a true origin than they are? If that be the case, responsibility is altogether at an end. The crime may be horrible, the judge corrupt, the witnesses perjured, the jury bribed; but it is all necessitated, and blame would be ridiculous. No, on the same line of denial of our primary consciousness, there would be no one to be blamed; criminal and victim, judge and counsel, witnesses and jury-men, would melt away into shadows, and human life and action be dissolved in a dream!

Now in the light of this instinctive belief of our reason, that volition alone really originates, we look out on the universe. We perceive it to be a vast assemblage of physical phenomena of the most complex kind. Now when we ask, as our minds compel us to ask, " Where did it come from?" science attempts to supply the answer. She points back to preceding phenomena, and to phenomena antecedent to that; and so leads us back through vast cycles of time, the complexity of it growing less the further we recede into the past until at last she lands us in a uniform "cosmic vapor". There is her limit. Having reached that she has done all that she can. If we Question her again she is dumb. Not being satisfied we continue to ask, "From where did the cosmic vapor come?" And science failing us, we look at it in the light of the basic instincts of our reason and try what we can to make of it. In doing so, two alternatives force themselves on our minds for choice; either it was from eternity, or it had a beginning. If it was from eternity, we cannot help thinking that it would never have ceased to be what it was, unless some external power had interfered with it; for if an eternal past had rolled over it without any change occurring, nothing more could be expected from an eternal future; all possibilities would have been already exhausted.

But as we see that this mysterious vapor did not continue to be a vapor, but that it at some definite moment in time began to organize itself into a magnificent orderly system, we are confined to the conclusion that even if it were eternal, some outside power must have taken it in hand, given it the impulse of change, and started it on the new function of organizing itself into a universe of complex being. If, on the other hand, it was not eternal, but had a beginning in time, then again, some external power must be conceived as originating it.

Look then at this primordial vapor as we may, whether we perceive it as eternal or beginning in time, our reason compels us to assume something else besides it; something which was not it or any part of it, as the necessary antecedent condition of its having begun to form itself into an organized universe.

The ultimate question, therefore, to which we are driven back, relates to the nature of this something, which must have stood at least outside, if not prior to, the cosmic vapor, to set it going on its tremendous function of giving birth to the physical universe. It could not have been a physical cause; for in the first place, science would then have led us beyond the vapor to that antecedent fact, and we would only have had to put our question a step back and ask "From where did that come?" Secondly, we can see that our minds cannot rest on a physical antecedent as its true cause or origin.

But if not a physical cause, then what ? Science and logic can make no reply; the case is beyond them. But out of our consciousness, developed in our experience of life and reality, an unmistakable answer comes, and that answer is: "A Volition!" We know of nothing else which can really originate a series of physical phenomena. We are confined to a volition as the cause unless we choose to deny the veracity of our consciousness and accept the alternative of absolute skepticism. However, a volition implies a personal agent, and so we bring our own experience of causation into contact with the universe, and we are led straight to the concept of a personal God as its originating cause.

As a matter of history, mankind generally in proportion to their light and knowledge have entertained this conviction, and been led instinctively to attribute personality to the power which lies behind the universe. Reflection shows the conviction to have its roots in the depths of the human consciousness, where all ultimate truths take their rise. Whence we draw the inference that belief in God as the originating Cause of the universe is one of those primary beliefs of the reason which justify themselves.