Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Natural Theology of Kant by George Matheson 1876

THE NATURAL THEOLOGY OF KANT by George Matheson 1876

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REASON had claimed a perfect understanding of divine mysteries. Kant undertook to prove that, so far from grasping the mysteries of God, reason could not even establish His being. We proceed to exhibit in detail that process of refutation by which Kant overthrew on the very threshold the claims of Rationalism. In this and succeeding chapters we shall often find it convenient to exhibit the system of a writer as if it were unfolded by himself. Let the student understand that, in these cases, we shall not quote the words of the author, but merely paraphrase them—make him speak as we would imagine him to have spoken had he been an Englishman; in this way we shall best succeed in making our subject intelligible.

The student is probably aware that reason has devised three great arguments to establish the being of a God; these are called respectively the Ontological, the Cosmological, and the Teleological. Kant attacks them one by one; and we shall exhibit his reasoning in three corresponding sections.

Sect. I —Ontological Argument.

The ontological argument has various forms, which, as we are not discussing theology in general, we are not required to enumerate. It has, however, one aspect common to all the forms, in which it may be represented thus: 'We have an idea of God.' That idea does not come from nature, because nature cannot exhibit anything but the change of phenomena. It cannot come from our own souls, because we, who are naturally so imperfect, could not possibly of ourselves create the idea of a perfect being. There is only one remaining source from which it can come, and that is God Himself. Such is the ontological argument; it infers the existence of God in the universe from the idea of Him in our own minds. Kant says that this reasoning is not valid. What right have we to conclude that, because we have the idea of a perfect being, that idea must have an objective or outward existence? Have we not many conceptions within our minds which we cannot refer to any corresponding object in the outer world? The contact with a warm substance produces the sensation of heat; we may believe that this sensation is caused by some outward object, but have we any right to affirm that the object without has a resemblance to the sensation within? On the contrary, we know that it can have no such resemblance, any more than the cheerfulness awakened by the sunbeams can resemble the sunbeams which awakened it. Such is, in spirit, the reasoning of Kant. We think it valid, so far as it goes. We cannot prove the existence of an outward God from the mere idea of Him; but the question remains, Why should we seek a God out of the universe of thought? Such a God is the God of the deist, not of the Christian. Why did not Kant maintain that the idea of God is God Himself in the soul? Such a statement would at once have been a refutation of Rationalism and a corroboration of Scripture, for it is the express doctrine of Scripture that it is only in God's light that we see light.

But Kant left it for Hegel to say that. Kant was only a destroyer; and when the destruction was completed, his proper work was.done. Yet let us do him justice. The demolition of the ontological argument, while it is powerless against the God of Christianity, is omnipotent against the God of Rationalism. The Supreme Being whom the Rationalist professes to worship is a God dwelling afar off, outside of thought, beyond the universe, removed by an infinite distance both of space and time from all His works,—a Being who, at some remote era of antiquity, did indeed create the heavens and the earth, or at least fashioned the germs from which they sprang, but who has since vacated the reins of empire to the vicegerency of law, and, for all that we can know to the contrary, may have passed out of being altogether. Such is the God of Rationalism. Surely Kant did not overstep the mark when he said that such a Being was incapable either of being proved or known; surely he did not say too much when he characterized His existence as an idea, and nothing more. His penetrating intellect discerned that Deism had set up as an object of worship the offspring of its own imagination, and deified as an idol the image of human imperfection; and if he succeeded in dashing that idol to the ground, he has left a real and permanent contribution to the researches of theology and the advance of religious thought.

Sect. II.—Cosmological Argument.

The second argument by which reason has sought to establish the being of a God is called the cosmological, and is briefly the following syllogism: 'Every effect must have a cause; the universe is an effect, therefore the universe must have a cause.' Kant attacked this argument also, and in a totally different manner from that in which he had assailed the previous one. His reasoning amounts to this: It is equally impossible to conceive this world as an independent cause, or as the effect of an independent cause. On the one hand, we cannot imagine this world to have had no beginning, for in that case we would be obliged to suppose an infinite series of individuals going back into the past eternity; and as none of these individuals is self-supporting, we would never be able to account for this unbeginning life. On the other hand, it is equally difficult to imagine this world as the effect of an eternal First Cause, because the very expression 'eternal First Cause' seems to contradict the cosmological argument. That argument holds that every effect must have a cause; but an eternal First Cause is something which exists without any reason—which is at once its own cause and its own effect; it is, therefore, says Kant, equally impossible to conceive either that this world had or that it had not a beginning. Here, again, the argument is omnipotent against Rationalism, but powerless against Christianity, for in Christianity God is as much the First Cause now as He was at the beginning: preservation is an eternal creation. In Christianity, the beginning or the non-beginning of the world has nothing to do with the necessity for a God; God would be equally necessary though we had no record of a creation. Suppose we grant it, for the sake of argument, that this world might be eternal, what would be the consequence? Would the legitimate conclusion be Atheism? Assuredly not. We need a God to account for every present moment. We feel and see, that however eternal this world might be, it could never be anything but a contingent world, vanishing, changing, passing away; and if it could be proved that there never was a time when it was called into existence by the word of God, it would still require that word to explain the upholding of its existence; it could only be conceived as eternal if recognised as an eternal emanation of God. The cosmological argument, therefore, while it is broken in the hands of the Rationalists, stands stedfast in the grasp of Christianity, for here there is only one everlasting Cause— a perpetual Creator, in whose light alone all things appear, and in whose breath alone all things live. Here we stand every moment in the first morning of creation, and listen to the omnipotent fiat, 'Let there be light.' The creative power of God is not an attribute in search of which we must travel back over centuries and ages, for it is present with us every day and hour, and what we call the law of nature is the miracle of life.

Sect. III.—Teleological Argument.

The teleological argument is that which in our country is popularly known as the argument from design, and may be stated thus: Design implies a designer; the universe exhibits design, and therefore the universe implies a designer. Even Kant admits that this argument is the best of the three, and says that it should never be mentioned without respect. Nevertheless, he considers it invalid, and for this reason, that it will not yield God, but only a being great enough to make the universe. The most which the argument from design can yield is an architect of power so stupendous that he could create the whole mechanism of this world and of all worlds; but this, says Kant, is a finite power after all; we do not suppose the world to be infinite, and therefore its designer need not be infinite. Now here once more we have an argument omnipotent against Rationalism, because with Rationalism this world is indeed a finite thing; it is far removed from God. But it is not so with Christianity; here God is in His works, and therefore there is a sense in which this world is not finite, but infinite. That this world has an infinite side may be seen from the most commonplace illustrations. For example, a pebble on the beach is in one sense a finite thing, but in another sense it is infinite; it is infinitely divisible; you might break it up into an endless number of parts. We cannot conceive that any object in the universe could by division be reduced to vacuum. We can imagine that it could be rendered so small that its perception might require the aid of the microscope, or even to such an extent that the microscope itself would be powerless to detect it; but even in these cases we could never bring ourselves to believe that the object itself had been annihilated. It is thus that, in the most everyday appearances, we are confronted by the infinitude of this world, that in every finite phenomenon we discover an infinite possibility. It was this truth which in later years was so grandly observed and illustrated by the master mind of Hegel. It was he who recognised beneath all temporal appearances something which the temporal could not explain, which pointed onwards for its consummation, and which found its completeness only in the thought of the divine. With him this universe bursts out, as it were, into fresh glory, for it reveals itself in an aspect undiscovered before,—one half the product of earth, and the other the shadow of heaven; one pointing to the limited, the finite, the mutable, and the other to the universal, the infinite, the eternal; one bearing the impress of man, and the other the adumbration of God. Kant destroyed the temple; Hegel from its ruins built it up anew.

We have now, in these foregoing sections, tried to exhibit the effect of Kant's philosophy on the current systems of Rationalism. We have said that he was essentially a destroyer; that when the destruction was complete his proper work was done; and that it was reserved for Hegel to build up what he had destroyed. It must not be thought, however, that Kant arrogated to himself no higher distinction than that of an iconoclast; he, too, professed to reconstruct that which he had broken down. In this attempt at reconstruction we believe he transcended his mission, and are convinced that he signally failed; it is only fair, however, to examine his method. Kant had succeeded in demolishing the three arguments for the God of Rationalism; but having chased the enemy from the field, he is unwilling to leave it unoccupied. He professes to re-establish the demonstration of God's existence upon a new and higher basis—that of our moral nature. He says: 'We feel within our finite being something which seems to exist in spite of it; it is the sense of freedom.' 'There is something within us which tells us we are free.' 'Conscience says you ought, therefore you can.' 'The sense of responsibility necessitates our freedom.' 'Nevertheless, reason says we are not free, and experience confirms reason.' 'Our will is in a state of slavery; the evil which we would not, that we do; the good which we would, that we do not.'

How is this discrepancy to be reconciled? Can we at one moment be both free and slaves? Can the testimony of conscience contradict the testimony of fact? Kant professes to solve the contradiction by the doctrines of God and Immortality. Conscience says, 'You ought, therefore you can.' The chains of nature say, 'You are enslaved, therefore you cannot.' The chains of nature hold possession of the present, but the voice of conscience is the harbinger of the future. It tells us that we have on earth an unsupplied faculty of our nature, a sense without an object, an instinct which has found no temporal use or end; and therefore it points onward to the existence of a life beyond the temporal, and to the being of One in whose light the soul shall find its perfect freedom: the sense of human responsibility is the herald of God and immortality.

Such is Kant's argument for a natural theology. The thought is beautiful, sublime, suggestive, and spiritually true. But a thing may be spiritually true, and yet not a valid argument; argument belongs to the intellect, spiritual truth to the heart. Kant advances his thought as an argument, and therefore in this light it must be tested. And in this light we think it cannot stand. Might not the Rationalist throw back at Kant those very weapons which he had flung at himself? Might he not, with justice, retort upon him: 'You say that my notion of God may be a mere idea; granted, but so may your notion of freedom. How do you know that this grand sense of human responsibility is not a figment of your own brain, an imagination, a dream? You may appeal for its truth to the feelings of the heart, but in the very act of doing so you abandon your ground; feeling is not argument, and you have professed by argument to build up what you have destroyed. Prove that your reasoning is more valid than mine. Prove that the idea of freedom is more real than that of cause and effect, which latter you pronounce a mere form of human thought. When you have done so, you may claim the merit of reconstruction; until then, you must abide as a sceptic and destroyer.' Such we conceive to be the terms in which the Rationalist might retort on Kant, and we cannot say that such an answer would be either unjust or unreasonable. Conscience does not testify to. responsibility more clearly than intellect does to the necessity of a first cause and the principle of design in nature; if the latter be merely forms of thought, there is no reason why the former should be anything more. We are, therefore, reluctantly obliged to leave Kant in the position of a destroyer, and to regard his work as really accomplished when he broke the idols of Rationalism, and shattered the arguments in favour of an unknown God. Ere we part with him, however, we must take a glance at that method of interpretation by which he sought to attach his new system of natural theology to the facts and events of the Scripture narrative; and in the study of this we shall yet more amply see howhe realized his character of a destroyer, in obliterating from the sacred records all historical significance. We shall therefore, in the next chapter, give a thoughttranslation of Kant's system of doctrines—that is to say, we shall allow him to speak for himself, by rendering into English, not his language, indeed, but his ideas. The German spirit being thus clothed in the English form, the student will be able to arrive at a definite understanding of the Kantian Theology, and may afterwards, at a more advanced stage, verify the matter for himself.

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