« PreviousContinue »
To this great cause the writer of this admirable discourse is rendering the most important aid which it is in the power of an individual to confer. Having employed the powers of a strong intellect in its season of utmost vigor, on the noblest range of subjects which is presented to human speculation, he offers with frankness, and with that modesty which is the concomitant of eminent desert, the fruits of his labors, matured by reflection and arranged with grace. His views have obtained, as they richly deserve, the ptaise of originality: we hope and believe that the time is at hand when they will have become common, and when there will be a fair prospect of their universality. Yet never will due honor be withheld from the first percipients and promulgators of truth. Those who have witnessed the betrothment of philosophy with religion, and who keep their lamps burning for the marriage, shall be the first to join in the nuptial rejoicings, and to interpret the epithalamium, which, sung by the guardian spirits of humanity, shall echo from earth to heaven.
CROMBIE'S NATURAL THEOLOGY.*
It would be well for society if such philosophers as Dr. Crombie were more common than they are. He is a Joseph Hume in philosophy,
an acute detector of errors, a persevering rectifier of abuses. Highly as we respect his talents, we respect yet more the love of truth which has determined
* Natural Theology; or Essays on the Existence of Deity, and of Providence, on the Immateriality of the Soul, and a Future State. By the Rev. Alexander Crombie, LL. D., &c. 2 Vols. Hunter, and T. Hookham. 1829.
his choice of a field for their exercise. To apply the fruits of laborious research, and the powers of a discerning intellect, to other purposes than the increase of his own fame, argues no small self-denial; and less gifted inquirers after truth are not a little indebted to the friendly guide who is more careful to remove stumbling-blocks from their path, than to find a new one for himself where they might not be able to follow him. We know not whether most to admire the spirit of enterprise which prompted to such a task as the work before us, or the patience and fidelity with which it is executed. It is irksome enough to a Theist to go over, in conversation, the arguments for a belief which has long been the groundwork of all his other convictions, and of his whole course of action. It is painful enough to be occasionally reminded of the depths of absurdity and the heights of impiety which the human mind has reached, in the endeavour to compass the most stupendous object of human inquiry. How much more irksome and painful must it be to refute by so slow an instrument as the pen, arguments which have been already a thousand times refuted, and to bring together systems of false philosophy so absurd as to make it scarcely credible that they can have been so mischievous as it is well known they have been! How great must be the courage
and zeal of him who voluntarily engages in another struggle with the hydra-headed monster of Atheism! And what do we not owe him if he should succeed in showing that the world has beheld the upper parts of the monster through a multiplying glass ; or, at least, that many of the heads sprout from one neck, and may be struck off by a single blow! It has been a common error to suppose that there have been almost as many systems of Atheism, as there have been Atheists; and hence has arisen an excessive dread of the effects of the Atheistical philosophy, and an exaggerated estimate of its strength. Dr. Crombię has rendered an important service
by showing what the philosophy really is, and how its various forms may be referred to a very few false principles. Whether such a service is needed in the present state of society, may be questioned by some who, like ourselves, have never seen, or are not aware of having ever seen, an Atheist. To us, an Atheist is a pure abstraction. We even find it difficult to form a conception of such a being : but we are obliged to believe the word of Dr. Crombie and others who attest his existence; and, his existence being admitted, the utility of the work before us (if well executed) follows of course.
“ The work is offered to the public,” says the author in the preface, “under the persuasion that it may be useful in contributing somewhat to check the spread of the most baneful delusion that can darken the human mind - a delusion which, there is reason to apprehend, extends farther than is generally believed — much farther, certainly, than every friend to religion and humanity would wish. In this country, the degrading doctrine has, in some recent publications, been rather insinuated, than openly avowed. In a volume, entitled “ Academical Questions,' by the late Sir William Drummond, the hypothesis of Atheism has been advocated without disguisement, and with no reserve. On the continent, several works have lately appeared, by the authors of which it has been either openly inculcated, or insidiously recommended. Some of them being scientific productions, but with the poison covertly infused, find many readers who would shrink from the perusal of a book professing the advocacy of an infidelity so noxious and so debasing." If the race of Atheists was, however, extinct
if we could only infer their former existence from the scattered remnants of their works, as we argue concerning the lost species of antediluvian animals from their fossil remains, Dr. Crombie's book would still answer an important object, by its examination of the metaphysical arguments for the existence of the Deity. If this mode of argument be unsatisfactory and
inconclusive, it is most desirable that it should be shown to be so; Jest the champions of truth should be again sent forth in some future warfare, with brittle armor and untempered weapons. Metaphysical arguments have been used to prove that the Deity does not exist. Reasoners on the opposite side of the question have been anxious to meet their adversaries on their own ground, and have adopted the same method to establish a contrary position. The results have been far from satisfactory; and if the prevalence of error has been prolonged by the choice of an injudicious mode of defence, it can at no time be unimportant to expose the imprudence, and thus to guard against its recurrence.
The other objects of the work before us are to establish the doctrine of the Being of a God, by the argument from Design; to treat of the Attributes of the Deity; of his Providence; of the Immateriality of the Soul; and of the natural arguments for a future State.
After an introduction, in which the author recommends a calm discussion of disputed points, in preference to contempt and invective on the one side, and levity and presumption on the other, and adds his testimony to the value of Theism, he proceeds to display the causes of Atheism.
These causes are the tendency of philosophers to employ, and of their disciples to adopt, terms, without any accurate notion of the meaning of the sign, or any certainty of the existence of the thing signified; the habit of confining the attention to such views and speculations as have a tendency to confirm a sceptical disposition; overweening selfconfidence, and the contrary extreme of excessive deference for the opinions of others; the use of an inappropriate species of argument; degrading apprehensions of the nature of Deity; and finally, the carelessness and deadness which are apt to follow a familiarity with those appearances of nature which afford the best proof of the Being of a God.
From some of these causes may be traced the origin of every Atheistical system, from the atomic theory of Epicurus to Hume's medley of inconsistencies. The founders of each sect have been misled by inattention to the indispensable consideration, “Ad veritatem inveniendam, præcipuum est cavisse, ne voces male intellectæ nobis officiant, quod omnes fere monent philosophi, pauci observant.” Their disciples have been prejudiced by familiarity with only one side of the question, and by excessive deference to the authority of their teachers; while all have been encouraged and confirmed in mistakes by the injudicious modes of defence, and the imperfect conceptions, adopted by the advocates of Theism.
There is nothing Atheistical (however absurd) in the belief of the eternity of matter. No one of the ancient philosophers appears to have attained to so exalted a conception of the nature and attributes of God as Plato, who declares the world to be necessarily “an Eternal Resemblance of the eternal Idea.” Aristotle asserted the eternity of the world, not in opposition to the belief of the being, or of the power, wisdom and goodness of God, but because he fancied that an eternal Cause must produce an eternal Effect. The same doctrine was held by some of the primitive Christians; and Justin Martyr informs us that it generally prevailed in his time, quoting Moses as its original propounder. The belief arose, no doubt, from the impossibility of conceiving how matter could be created; men being ever prone to constitute their own conceptions the measure of possibility. It will be time enough, however, for us to assert the impossibility of the creation of matter when we know what matter is, and how it exists. In the mean time, if obliged to admit the eternity of an immaterial existence, it is clearly unphilosophical to assert two eternal existences, when one is sufficient to account for the origin of all others.