Posts Tagged ‘Self Existence’

Self Existence – Defending Your Faith Part 20


God’s Eternality and Self Existence

April 2, 2014 1 comment

calvin.jpg_7MA21605611-0015The attributes of God as described by Moses, David, and Jeremiah. Explanation of the attributes. Summary. Uses of this knowledge.

2. There are certain passages which contain more vivid descriptions of the divine character, setting it before us as if his genuine countenance were visibly portrayed. Moses, indeed, seems to have intended briefly to comprehend whatever may be known of God by man, when he said, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation,” (Ex. 34:6, 7.) Here we may observe, firsts that his eternity and self existence are declared by his magnificent name twice repeated; and, secondly, that in the enumeration of his perfections, he is described not as he is in himself, but in relation to us, in order that our acknowledgment of him may be more a vivid actual impression than empty visionary speculation. Moreover, the perfections thus enumerated are just those which we saw shining in the heavens, and on the earth — compassion, goodness, mercy, justice, judgment, and truth. For power and energy are comprehended under the name Jehovah. Similar epithets are employed by the prophets when they would fully declare his sacred name. Not to collect a great number of passages, it may suffice at present to refer to one Psalm, (145) in which a summary of the divine perfections is so carefully given that not one seems to have been omitted. Still, however, every perfection there set down may be contemplated in creation; and, hence, such as we feel him to be when experience is our guide, such he declares himself to be by his word. In Jeremiah, where God proclaims the character in which he would have us to acknowledge him, though the description is not so full, it is substantially the same. “Let him that glorieth,” says he, “glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth,” (Jeremiah 9:24.) Assuredly, the attributes which it is most necessary for us to know are these three: Loving-kindness, on which alone our entire safety depends: Judgment, which is daily exercised on the wicked, and awaits them in a severer form, even for eternal destruction: Righteousness, by which the faithful are preserved, and most benignly cherished. The prophet declares, that when you understand these, you are amply furnished with the means of glorying in God. Nor is there here any omission of his truth, or power, or holiness, or goodness. For how could this knowledge of his loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, exist, if it were not founded on his inviolable truth? How, again, could it be believed that he governs the earth with judgment and righteousness, without presupposing his mighty power? Whence, too, his loving-kindness, but from his goodness? In fine, if all his ways are loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, his holiness also is thereby conspicuous. Moreover, the knowledge of God, which is set before us in the Scriptures, is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation, viz., that we may thereby learn to worship him with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, and also to depend entirely on his goodness.

John Calvin-Institutes of the Christian Religion-Book I-Chapter 10-Henry Beveridge Translation

Chapter 2-The Being of God-Pt 2

December 18, 2013 4 comments

Chapter 2-The Being of God-Pt 2



The theistic proofs have been divided into arguments a priori and a posteriori. This is a convenient division, although some of those a priori have in them some elements of a posteriori nature, and some of those a posteriori depend upon a priori principles. As to some of them, also, it is difficult to draw an exact line, and assign them to the one class or to the other.

An argument a priori is one to prove the existence of some effect, or fact, from the knowledge we have of an antecedent cause, or of some reason, or principle, in the nature of things, which necessarily involves the existence of a certain consequence.

1. Some of the arguments a priori in proof of God’s existence.

An argument a priori, for the Being of God, is one based upon some reason in the nature of things, or some principle cognized by the human mind, by which, independent of any examination of the works of God, we are led to infer his existence.

(1.) The most celebrated of all of these is that which argues the being of God from the idea we have of him in the mind. It is supposed to have been first presented Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, England, in his work called “Proslogium sen Allogium de Dei natura.” His form of the argument may be briefly stated thus. By definition God is a being such as that no greater can be conceived of. But we can conceive of a being whose non-existence is impossible. If God, then, does not necessarily exist, we can conceive of a greater than God, which is contrary to the definition. Therefore, God must exist. [See chapters 2, 3, 4.]

This argument, from the idea of God in the mind, was a favorite with the Schoolmen. It appears in various forms in the works of many of them. It has, however, been commonly called the Cartesian argument, having been set forth with signal ability by Des Cartes. One form in which he gives it is based upon the idea in the mind of supreme perfection. To this we attain, though ourselves only creatures of imperfection. Whence is it? It must come from the All Perfect, who has stamped it on our being, as the artificer sets his trade-mark on the work of his intelligence.

Des Cartes also presents, in the following syllogism, an argument more closely resembling that of Anselm.

“To affirm that any attribute is contained in the nature or conception of a thing, is to affirm that such a attribute is true of the thing, and that it is surely contained in it;

“But, necessary existence is contained in the nature and conception of the Deity;

“Therefore, necessary existence is a true attribute of the Deity; or God of necessity exists.”

[See Blunt’s Theological Dictionary, Art. Theism: in which are also more full statements of all the above mentioned forms of this argument.]

But the clearest and most complete presentation of this argument is given by Bishop Stilling fleet. Origins Sacral, vol. 1, pp. 484-492. The following is a mere statement of the syllogistic form presented without the arguments that support it.

That, which we do clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to the nature and essence of a thing, may be with truth affirmed of the thing; a clear and distinct perception in the mind being the greatest evidence we can have of its truth.

But we do have a clear and distinct perception that necessity of existence doth belong to the nature of God.

Therefore, he must exist.

This argument, from the idea of God, has been strenuously objected to. Kant opposed it on the ground that “the mere supposableness or logical possibility of a perfect being, is no proof of the objective or real possibility of such a being, and existence cannot be inferred from a mere idea.” Knapp’s ‘Theology, p. 86.

But, in reply to this objections it may be said that the argument against which it is prevented, does not prove the mere logical possibility, but the logical certainty, or necessity, for such a being. More over, it is not contended that every subjective conception must have an objective reality; but only that certain ones may have such a reality, and that this one, the idea of God, which itself involves the idea of necessary existence, must, in consequence of the idea thus involved, possess that reality.

Hodge objects that if it “has any validity it is unimportant. It is only saying that what must be, actually is.” But this is not merely such an abstract statement. It is a proof that something namely, the being of God, actually is, because of the proof of the correctness of our conception that necessary existence belongs to his nature.

It has also been objected to it that “it confounds ideal existence with real existence” [A. H. Strong’s Sys. Theol. p. 49.] But certainly there is no confounding of ideal existence and real existence, abstractedly, nor of forms of ideal and real existence, generally, but the arguments only show the actuality of a single form of ideal existence, because the very nature of the idea involves its correspondent reality.

(2.) A second a priori argument for the existence of God was devised by Moses Lowman, and is from the nature of existence, and the relation between necessary and contingent existence. The following is a still more brief statement than the points of the argument, given by Dr. J. Pye Smith, in his First Lines of Christian Theology, pp. 99-101.

1. Positive existence is possible, for it involves no contradiction.

2. All possible existence is either necessary, which must be, and in its own nature cannot but be, or contingent, which may be, or may not be.

3. Soul existence is necessary, for if all existence were contingent, all existence might not be, as well as might be; and that thing which might not be, never could be without some other thing as the prior cause of its existence, since every effect must have a cause. If, therefore, all possible existence were contingent, all existence would be impossible; because the idea or conception of it would be that of an effect without a cause, which involves a contradiction.

4. Necessary existence must be actual existence.

5. Necessary existence must be always.

6. Necessary existence must be wherever any existence is possible.

7. There can be but one necessarily existent being, for two could in no respect differ from each other; that is, they would be one and the same being.

8. The one necessarily existent being must have all possible perfections.

9. The one necessarily existent being must be a free agent.

10. Therefore, there in one necessarily existent being, the cause of all contingent existence, that is, of all other existences besides himself; and this being is eternal, infinite, possessed of all possible perfections, and is an intelligent free agent,-that is, this being is God.

(3.) A third argument a priori is that of Dr. Samuel Clarke, in the Boyle Lectures which he delivered. It may be briefly presented thus.

Something must have existed from all eternity, for since something now exists, it is evident that something always was,-otherwise the things which now are must have been produced out of nothing, absolutely, and without cause, which is absurd, for nothing can be produced, and yet be without cause.

But, now, if something has existed from all eternity, either there must always have been some unchangeable and infinite being, or else an infinite succession of changeable and dependent beings, without any original cause, which is absurd.

Dr. Clarke does not discuss the absurdity of an infinite series in the past.

The impossibility of such a series appears, however, from its very nature. There can be no past infinite series, because an infinite series is one, the last term of which can never be attained, or completed. But, in an infinite series going backward, the term now present is the first of the series, and not the last. The last term of the series is really the first in existence. But that first was complete before the second. It has already existed. The series, therefore, as now before us is one, all of whose terms have already appeared, and the series, therefore, however indefinite in the numbers of its terms, is still a completed, and, therefore, a finite series. [See this matter ably discussed by Rev. Joseph Tracy, in the Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 7, pp. 613-626. Also Turretine, Theol., Vol. I, Book 3, Ques. 1, par. 6, p. 154.]

The value of the arguments a priori has been questioned. But on the other hand they have seemed to some eminently satisfactory. To these, they have appeared to be clothed with the authority of God himself speaking through the constitution he has given to the mind, and its capacity for the intuitive conception of underlying principles. To those who perceive these principles, the proofs are as conclusive as the consciousness of their own existence, and as authoritative as the dictates of conscience. These principles are accepted, and arguments are formed upon them in the same way as in mathematical demonstrations, and afford those who perceive the truth of them actual demonstrations of the fact that God exists.

But many have thought them fallacious, and have denied the possibility of demonstrative proof that there is a God. To such the arguments a posteriors have alone seemed to be valuable. Whether or not this be true, they are certainly of much greater value in general, because much more simple, and better adapted to force conviction upon the minds of the masses of mankind.

2. The arguments a posteriori.

The value of these arguments has not been duly appreciated. Men have looked for that kind of demonstration of God’s existence, called mathematical, which can only arise from arguments based upon admitted axioms, and which proceed thence to their conclusions by invincible logical processes. Such arguments, if they exit, can only be of the nature of those a priori already considered.

But while no such demonstration is afforded by them, the arguments for God a posteriori are as conclusive as similar ones on any other subject. Their nature is precisely like that of those upon which all physical science is based, and upon which men act in all the affairs of life.

Physical science pursues the inductive method. It gathers all the facts in any matter. It recognizes that there are general laws which unite these facts in some one principle, and those who study them devise a theory to explain them. Such a theory must account for all the facts, and not be opposed by any one of them. If the series of facts can be traced very generally, and any theory an universally accounts for them, while no other can, that theory which at first in the presence of a few facts, was only probable, becomes more and more certain, and finally unquestionable.

Thus, the theory of gravitation has been accepted as a great law of the universe, binding it together, keeping all its parts in all their courses, and everywhere equally effective according to a fixed proportion of numbers, and yet seen only in its effects.

In like manner we arrive, according to the strictest scientific method of induction, at the existence of God. The only theory which accounts for the universe with all its phenomena is that which asserts that it has proceeded from him. This alone has been satisfactory in the eyes of most men, from the beginning of all historic records. Mankind have been incredulous as to the sanity or sincerity of those who have denied it. No scientific theory has ever been held about facts so universally existent and so generally known. None has dealt with matters of more vital importance or absorbing interest. None has been, as has this, an object of thought to every intelligent human being. None has so commended itself at once to practical men and philosophers. None, after having been so far forgotten, because of sin and ignorance, as to be remembered only in its name and its simplest facts, has risen to a beauty of conception which beyond all else constitutes the glory of Grecian philosophy; while at the same time its belief has been preserved in another race in its purity by a literature which, despite all tendencies to corrupt the theory, has maintained it in its purest form for generation after generation.

(1.) The first argument a posteriori to be considered is commonly called the cosmological, because it argues the existence of God, as a First Cause, from the effects seen in the world. It should, however, be named the argument from causation, to distinguish it from the teleological argument and others which are equally cosmological.

A very striking form of it was put forth by Bishop Berkeley and is quoted in Dwight’s Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 79 and 80:

“We acknowledge the existence of each other to be unquestionable. We say that we know this from our senses. Yet, after all, it is intuitively certain that what we see is not the living, thinking being which we call man. On the contrary, they are merely effects of which that living, acting thing is the cause. We conclude the existence of the cause from the effects.

“So in the universe around us we perceive a great variety of effects produced by some cause adequate to their production.

“This cause is God, or a being possessed of sufficient intelligence and power to contrive and bring them to pass.

“If it be said that these are only the effect of certain inherent powers of matter, and mind, and, therefore, demand no extrinsic agency, the answer is that this affects the conclusion only by removing it one step farther back in the course of reasoning.”

By this is meant that these inherent powers are only effects which themselves demand an adequate cause.

It will be seen that this argument is based upon the law of causality. Hence it should be called the argument from causation.

I proceed now to give this argument in another form, simpler indeed, but yet more complete.

It may be stated syllogistically thus:

A. Every fact or effect must have its adequate cause, either within or without itself.

B. There are effects in the universe which have no adequate cause, either in themselves or in the universe.

C. Therefore, there must be an adequate cause for their existence in some being without, which is the Supreme Being, the cause of all things.

We consider first the proof of the major premiss of the syllogism namely, A., that every effect must have its adequate cause, either within or without itself.

Objection 1. It has been objected to this that there is no such thing as causation, and that all of which we have any experience is mere antecedence and consequence.

But it may be replied that experience teaches us that there are effects in some consequents which are the result of relation to, and power in certain antecedents.

We admit the existence of many antecedents and consequents between which there is no relation of cause and effect, but experience plainly teaches that relation in others.

This has been so far admitted that Hume and Kant have simply attempted to confine the law of causation to our experience. But

(1.) It is evident that causes must exist independently of our experience, and that when we see an effect (namely, something evidently requiring some power for its production), we know that it has had its adequate cause, even though we have never had experience of its special cause. Indeed one of the most important branches of scientific inquiry is into the unknown causes of existing phenomena, which, without experience, we know must be effects, adequate causes. Thus Geology leads to inquiries into the cause of the original stratifications in the rocks, the existence of fossil remains, and the phenomena connected with the upheavals of rocks. So Astronomy presents its problems about the perturbations of the planets, the movements of stars and their dissappearances, the spot upon the sun, and the rugged volcanic condition of the moon. So also Medicine forces investigation into the origin of disease, as of yellow fever. Even Social Science seeks adequate physical causes for matters in which the human will or accident seems to have been most free from external influence, so as to establish that the number of marriages and murders, or railway accidents or suicides is governed by controlling law.

(2.) It might also he justly added that this point needs no proof, because the idea that every effect must have its cause is an intuitive conception of the human mind. It arises upon the first perception of what is meant by power. The conviction of its truth is seen in the very earliest stages of infancy.

Objection 2. It is again objected that we ought to carry this idea of causation farther hack and apply it to the great First Cause. If subsequent effects, or facts, or existences must have had a cause, why should not this being, whom we call God, and who is more wonderful in his nature than all others, be himself an effect and himself have a cause?

The reply to this is, that experience does not teach us that every thing has a cause without itself, but only every thing which has not its cause in itself.

Wherever there is the principle of life, there is, to a limited extent at least, self-causation in its development.

(1.) Thus the tree puts forth its own leaves, and flowers, and fruits. It is true that it needs to have had its seed planted in a favourable position and to be surrounded by favourable circumstances. Yet, despite this, even here, though in a very limited way, there is self-causation.

So with the motion in a watch, the cause of which is in its own mechanism.

(2.) This is more distinctly seen as we reach higher forms of life. Here the movement is self-caused. Such is the movement of a bird as it shoots into the air, or of a beast as it springs upon its prey. The higher form of this is apparent. The watch needed some action upon it from without, before its springs within would act, but in these living forms no outward impelling cause originates the power. This may be illustrated by the difference between a steam boat, moved by its machinery under the guidance of men, and the movement of a fish which by its own powers swims through the seas.

(3.) In a still higher degree is this seen in man. Here is found a self-determining will which puts forth effects which may be more confidently spoken of as self-originated. We have not here the mere instinct which perhaps blindly prompts the mere animal to act, but a will which acts as it pleases through liberty of choice, and is governed only by motives to which it yields of its own self-choice.

We do not presume to say that this explains to us God’s self-existence and independence, nor how he is self-caused, having the cause of causes in himself, but we simply assert that our experience of causes does not force us to find an outside cause for every effect, and, therefore, a cause for what we call the first or final cause, but simply a cause for every thing which has not its cause of existence and action in itself.

We may also claim from this that, if, between the lifeless clod and the man made from it, such difference exists, that the one is no cause at all in itself, and the other capable of such self-causation, then, when we rise to the Great Being, who has made the Universe, we have the right to expect such infinite superiority to man, that he should be, not only the cause of all things, but, being self-existent, should have within himself the cause or ground of his own existence.

The existence of such a Great First Cause is beyond the denial of any. That which satisfies our minds of that existence is, that we are so constituted that we cannot rest under this conviction of causation, until the idea is presented of a Great First Cause having self-existence or the cause of his own existence in himself.

If there is not such a self-existent and self-contained cause we are driven to adopt the idea of an infinite series of finite causes from Eternity, or an infinite succession of such series, each of which is both impossible and absurd.

B. There are effects in the Universe which have no adequate cause in themselves, nor in the Universe as a whole.

This may be argued from the Universe as a whole, as an existing substance (an entity), or from its component parts as existing substances (entities).

We have the phenomena of the material world about us.

As presented to our eyes, it is a wonderful mechanism, more so than the most perfect machinery man can devise, and presents an effect in itself, and in its parts, which demands a cause of more power and skill than we can conceive.

Was it made as it is? If so, how great the cause which will account for its phenomena!

But it is asserted that it was not thus made, but is a growth which has been reached by long ages of gradual development, accompanied by destruction, and renewal, and modification until it has attained its present form.

We shall not deny this, but admit the force of all the evidence which suggests it.

But, after all, this growth is also an effect. It has proceeded either from some inherent power of self-development, or has been produced by the power and will of some outward cause.

It is claimed by anti-theists that it is a self-development of matter which has taken upon itself form after form until this result has been attained.

This theory involves the idea that all growth, and life, and mind, are the outcome of original inorganic matter. It claims that in the ultimate analysis we reach simple molecules of matter, and that, from the development of these, we have this whole universal structure.

Admit now all that is thus claimed as a fact by anti-theists, even go so far as to suppose that there has been a time when nothing existed but molecules, even a few, even two only, even one, if it should be desired; reduce the whole material universe to a speck the one millionth part of a grain of sand,-and still we have in that molecule an effect entirely unaccounted for, except as it with all its vast possibilities was made by some creative energy. There is, therefore, even here a demand for the self-existent cause.

Yet, to admit all of the above, is to admit more than we ought, more than there is the slightest reason to suppose to be true; for there no evidence that any matter has been added to the universe since its creation. Matter is seen to expand and contract, to take on one form and then another, but there is evidence neither of diminution on the one hand, nor of increase on the other. But there must have been such increase of matter unless the world had in its molecule period as many molecules containing in themselves as much material as is now existent. Whatever growth or development, therefore, may be ascribed to the world, the whole of it has existed from the beginning, whether in an organized form or in simple molecule. It is, however, as difficult, without admitting a producing cause, to account for the world-mass of molecules, even for a single molecule, as for the universe created in the forms in which it appears today.

Let us now consider certain actual effects seen in the universe as farther proof of an external cause.

(1.) Motion. The principle of motion in the universe is beautifully developed. The universe is regular. It is governed by fixed laws. There is harmony in its movements. The principles of centripetal and centrifugal action governed by the law of gravitation, not only regulate this motion, but cause the universe to be self-balanced; so that we have a kind of mechanism not only impossible for man to imitate, but the principle of which he cannot comprehend, though he sees and acknowledges it as a fact.

Now whence this motion? Inert matter has no motion. A piece of rock, or a clod of soil, even a tree, remains always where it is unless moved by some outward power.

Our knowledge of this inertness in matter is such that we know that an infant’s ball will remain forever where it has been put, unless disturbed from without.

Whence, then, this motion of the universe which is not a simple movement, such as is given to a ball by striking it, but a complex motion, involving the description of circles and ellipses and parabolas, and so involving them as to keep each in its sphere without confusion or distraction?

Can any one persuade himself that ten thousand balls laid upon a plain surface will have any more power of motion than one, or that a universe of them created without motion, would not, unless influenced from without, remain utterly and forever at rest?

Something, therefore, must account for the motion.

Now our experience is that all motion primarily proceeds from mind or will. Thus I move a ball as the result of will influenced by my mind. Even if I accidentally kick it, not intending to do so, and even ignorant that I have done so, this is still true. I had willed to move my body and that body by its contact when in motion with the ball, has moved it.

Before motion then we have mind; before the motion of these atoms a directing mind; so that not only for the creation, but for the motion of molecules we must recognize God.

If it be said that this motion was caused by wind, we inquire whence came that wind? Was it not itself produced by motion? If so, it cannot have been the primary cause of motion. We are still forced to the supposition that motion has proceeded from God.

If it be claimed that it came from heat, whence was the heat? Heat is also the result of motion. What caused the movement which led to its existence?

If it be said that the motion was a matter of chance, we ask what is chance? Is there any such reality? We apply the name variously, but in all cases the thoughtful mind knows that there is no “chance” in the sense of uncaused, unwilled forces present.

Thus I place dice in a box and throw them. I say that the resultant numbers come by chance. But I know that that result has followed unerringly under law from the forces present. But law supposes the mind of the law-giver, and the results of his law are from purpose, not from chance. Hence the proverb: “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” Prov. 16:33.

So also when I meet in New York an acquaintance from Texas, I say, “We met by chance.” By this I mean that the meeting was not because of the purpose of either of us. But I do not deny the laws which have governed each of us, through which, guided by a higher power, we have met as he had purposed we should.

In no usage of the word chance, therefore, do we mean to assert absence of mental purpose. There is no such kind of chance, and by none such can we account for the existence of motion in the universe.

(2.) Form and life also appear among the effects of the universe.

Matter is not simply inorganic with the form and shape which might have been bestowed upon it by motion; but it takes special forms of life.

Between the inorganic and this organic life there is a wide interval. Even in the very lowest forms of vegetable life there is movement and growth and capacity to absorb and increase and give forth which shows a new kingdom in nature.

It is admitted that here the whole substance is material, and that the growth of vegetables is nothing more than the absorption into life of what has been already in inorganic nature.

But this power of taking on form and life is very striking. If the change could be made into a single form only, it would be still surprising. But the forms are innumerable. Not only this, but the specific form, having been once assumed, attains not only fixedness in the original, but power continuously in the species to reproduce its like. Yet, nevertheless, there is a certain power of adaptation by which, within fixed limits, there is variation.

This is the law of plants. In a still higher degree is it true of animals.

Now whence this change from inorganic to such organic matter?

Is it inherent in matter? Then matter would be constantly engaged in thus developing the organic from the inorganic. This is evident from what we see in crystallization. Here there is power in matter to assume special forms. The law under which this is done in each kind is known, and, in accordance with such law, and not otherwise, are the shapes in crystallization assumed. We can place the proper substances in their appropriate relations and produce the result. Why? Because here certain matter has inherent power to assume certain forms. But this matter cannot assume other forms. Other matter cannot assume these forms. And thus is it seen that matter, as such, has not the inherent power to assume form, but that such power has been bestowed only on certain kinds of matter under the action of specific law and not of its own prompting.

Yet from this power of crystallization has been argued the power of matter to produce both vegetable and animal life. The most that could be concluded is that some kinds of matter, (such as we now see to do so,) under circumstances, (under which they now so act,) are capable of producing vegetable and animal life. But we see this done only by propagation and generation from like to like. Therefore, only thus are we authorized to infer that such life and form has been heretofore produced from matter alone. This still leaves necessary the creation of the first forms through which matter has this power.

Various attempts have been made to produce animals and plants by spontaneous generation. But these attempts have thus far utterly failed.

Because of this inability to produce by any means the organic directly from the inorganic, anti-theists have been driven to adopt the idea, (a mere idea without proof,) that there is a substance which they call protoplasm, which common substance underlies all life-forms, vegetable or animal, and that, in its varied changes, ordinary inorganic matter finally attains to this protoplasm.

As to this we should remember:

(a) That protoplasm is not the name of a substance which has been found developed from inorganic matter. No such substance has as yet been discovered. This is only the name that would be given to it if it should be.

(b) That the name is applied to the earliest forms of organic life, as being what protoplasm would be if thus developed from inorganic matter. But the substance here found is really a part of organic life, produced by the process of propagation or generation through which matter of this kind becomes life and form.

The whole idea of protoplasm, therefore, is a figment, except within the limits of organic life.

But, admit this to be true, and that the first forms (the protoplasm) that we see, are the results, directly, of inorganic matter and not of organic, it must still be acknowledged that in all the protoplasm yet examined there is no variation, that all of it is exactly alike, there being but one kind of protoplastic germs so far as investigation can perceive or material elements indicate. Yet, from a number of specimens of this protoplasm, come several different kinds of life. It is as though from seed, precisely the same, should come wheat and barley, and rice, and rye, and maize. Now, what is here the directing power which, from the same substance, apparently, produces different forms of life, some vegetable and some animal, and various vegetables, as well as various animals, and which so produces them without variation that the protoplasm of one species of animals always produces that species and not another? This can be understood, if this be organic life which is acting, and acting under the laws which propagate species; but how explain it of mere matter which has become mere protoplasm-a substance whose forms and material have no difference in themselves, and which therefore must be indebted to some other directing power for the difference seen in its results.

It is evident, therefore, that in protoplasm we have matter not in a process of self-development, but matter already organized in organic forms, under a law for reproducing species; a law which can in no respect account for the origin of the species, and, therefore, forces us back to the idea of its direct creation.

But if this be true, the principle of form and life in the Universe speaks to us distinctly of a God.

(3.) Mind also appears among the effects in the Universe which can only be accounted for upon the supposition of a God.

The whole history of man teaches that the powers of the human mind are wonderful. Of this we are conscious in ourselves, and we are taught it by experience about others.

Instinct in plants and animals is itself incomprehensible. We cannot tell why the vine should put forth entwining tendrils, or the root of a plant seek a piece of bone, or push forward to a well of water, nor why the birds should fly southward, or a horse or dog should dread danger which man cannot perceive, or an ox should utter cries of distress at the smell of blood, or a bee construct its cells of the most economical shape. We account for it by saying, that God has so constituted irrational creatures for their protection and happiness. But an anti-theist would say, these are qualities inherent in matter, so that it is the matter that acts in the animal as it does in the vine.

But we have in mind something of which this cannot be said. Mind is not mere instinct. Indeed it differs widely from instinct. Thus:

(a) Mind is individual will or purpose; instinct is common to the whole species.

(b) The will or purpose is not a blind tendency, but is the result of mental perceptions, comprehensions of facts, logical reasoning, personal fancy, and other like causes.

(c) Its governing principle, being its prevailing motive, is the desire of the individual himself, not of another, not even of God, not even the dictate of conscience, nor of wisdom, but merely of self-choice.

(d) It often acts contrary to appetite, and desire, and passion. The will refuses to do that to which these prompt. This is a peculiar mark of excellence, not merely in the wise use of the power, but in the possession of the power itself. Its value in such exercise may be illustrated by the proverb of Solomon: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Prov. 16:32.

These are some of the most important particulars in which mind is seen to be far superior to instinct. They have been presented as though admitting that instinct is a quality of matter.

But there is no reason for such admission. Instinct is a governing power over animals. But whence comes it? Is it a growth in them, or is it something bestowed on them by God for their control, just as he gives man conscience; or for their guidance, as he gives man intuitive conceptions? It is doubtless not a growth; but, admit that it is, whence the power for such growth in some matter and not in all? If it is a property of some of these united molecules, or of these particles of protoplasm, and these are only matter self-developed, why has all matter not attained this growth? and why does not the growth develope itself alike in all?

No reason can be given for the phenomena of instinct which does not reject the idea of mere matter alone thus developing. Either

1. The power was first bestowed on some molecules to germinate this instinct, or

2. It was more directly given in connection with the development of the animal life, or

3. The animal was originally created with these functions, and they have continued by propagation to appear throughout the species.

If originating in either of these ways, the existence of the instinct proves that of a regulating, and originating, or creating mind.

But, as we have seen, mind is still higher than instinct, and, if instinct cannot be accounted for as a material growth, very much less so can mind. Even the most persistent advocates for the development of life from matter, admit that between the mind and the body which it inhabits there is a wide interval, and while they contend for the development of the latter through protoplasm as the work of unaided matter, they admit that they have never been able to discover anything which can account for the existence of mind.

But if mind has no cause for its existence in the material universe, it must be the direct product of the infinite mind, the intelligent, personal God. There is an old book of Jewish origin, called “Genesis” in which, long before the days of scientific inquiry into the origin of man, was given the only account which has ever satisfied or will ever satisfy the inquirer into that origin. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Gen. 2:7. This was in fulfilment of the divine counsels, “Let us make man it our image after our likeness,” Gen. 1:26. Strange that any writer of that day should have known that the body of man is of the same material as the inorganic matter of the earth, and stranger still that he should ascribe such origin to his mind and soul as fully accounts for the soul’s existence and its union with matter; and, strangest of all, that he should have put forth a theory such as the world, with all the wisdom of the intervening ages to this day, has not bettered, but which has forced acceptance of its truth on all. Is not this God telling us what God did, and informing us through his servant of the true origin of mind?

(4.) Among the many other phenomena of the world which might be selected, one other only, namely, conscience, need be mentioned.

Of what is this an effect? Is it the result of matter or of mind? What is it but a controlling power, located in each man, and made a part of his nature, which commands him to do the right and avoid the wrong, and reproves, rebukes, and punishes him for disobedience to its dictates?

Upon the theory that it is God-given, its presence and its phenomena may be explained, but upon no other.

If there is a God,

(a) There must be eternal principles of right and wrong which may form a foundation for conscience.

(b) There must be obligation to act in accordance with these principles, the non-fulfilment of which would involve punishment by God, and a reason for the apprehensions of conscience.

(c) If there is a God who has created man with his fellows, that God would seek the happiness of the race as such, which cannot be attained if moral obligations he ignored, and hence would place conscience in each man to enforce these obligations.

(d) If there is a God, he must love the right and hate the wrong. How naturally would he seek through conscience to have man do right and avoid wrong.

If, on the other hand, there is no God, then

(a) Is there any right and wrong as conscience teaches that there is?

(b) Are we under any obligation to our fellow-men? Have they any rights we should respect? Is our right to possess, to have any other limit than our power to attain?

(c) How can we account for the terror which strikes men for crimes which have been committed, terror not of punishment here, but hereafter?

Conscience, therefore, argues the existence of God perhaps even more wonderfully than mind; for conscience is the exponent of the law which keeps the moral universe in being and fixes the limits of its wanderings, as much and as truly as the law of gravitation does the material. Even the defeats of it in our race, caused by sin, only prove the more conclusively the power of its law and its necessity to human existence. While the understanding is the guide to what is right and wrong, conscience is the authority which enforces the right and forbids the wrong, and the avenging judge inflicting punishment on those who disobey. In the state of innocence it was perfect in its guidance, effective in its authority, and peaceful in its approval. In our present state, it is imperfect in its guidance and has only partial authority and limited punitive power. In the future it must be like the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.

Now whence this conscience, if it be not the messenger God sets in the heart, teaching man more plainly than the starry heavens show God’s glory that there is a God, that he rules over man and governs him by laws of right and wrong and punishes the sinful and disobedient, and rewards the righteous and obedient.

The four effects in the universe which have been mentioned, motion, form and life, mind, and conscience, prove this second point [B] of our syllogism, namely, that there are effects in the universe which have no adequate cause either in themselves or in the universe; and from A and B follows the conclusion C, that there must be an adequate cause for the existence of these effects in some being without, who must be the supreme being and the first cause of all things.

It can only be objected to this conclusion that the being who has made our universe may himself have been created by some other, and that he is not the supreme mind. But if this be so, then there must be some being who created him, and thus we are led to look one step further back until we reach an infinite being not created, but having self-existence, himself the cause of all other beings and things.

We are shut up by the argument from causation to this result, or to the adoption of the idea of an infinite succession of finite-beings, which is absurd and impossible.

The remaining a posteriori arguments may be more briefly presented than this first one from causation, for the principles involved in this to some extent underlie all the rest.

(2.) The second a posteriori argument is that from design, commonly called the teleological argument.

It may be expressed as a syllogism, thus:

A. Whatever gives proof of design must have had a designer.

B. The Universe gives proof of design.

C. Therefore, it must have had a designer.

Design may be seen either in arrangement or adaptation. In both these respects the Universe gives proof of design.

1. In its arrangement the specific purpose may not be evident as it is in special adaptation. But evidence is given in that arrangement of the unity and universality which mark design throughout the whole universe.

The syllogism of Principal Tulloch presents the argument in a convenient form. [Burnett Prize Essay on Theism, p. 147.]

I. Order universally proves mind.

II. The works of nature discover order.

III. The works of nature prove mind.

The point here to be proved is the major premise. There can be no question about the existence of order and arrangement throughout the universe. This is a matter of universal experience. It is also the testimony of all science.

But does order universally prove mind?

(1.) We shall ascertain that it does by noticing that order always proceeds from law by which arrangement occurs, or from direct arrangement. In either event mind is the cause of the order, and therefore, is proved by it. That the origin of order is in one of these ways, is a matter of universal experience, and we may from experience argue, at least, that such is everywhere true. There is no exception to the rule.

(2.) But, again, we may argue this to be true from the fact that such is the constitution of the human mind that “we cannot help apprehending everywhere in phenomena of order the operation of a rational will or mind, * * * the laws of our rational nature compel us to do so. These will not permit us to rest short of mind as an ultimate explanation of such phenomena.” Tulloch, Prize Essay, p. 50.

(3.) Having proved the existence of causation in the preceding argument we have also the right here to apply its principles. The order is an effect, and since every effect must have its adequate cause, so, because this is an effect of mind, we argue from it the existence of the supreme mind, which is alone sufficient to account for such harmony and arrangement.

(4.) Finally we may argue this from the very meaning of the word order. If order means arrangement, then it involves the existence of one who arranges. If order means plan, this demands mind to devise such plan. If order means laws or regulation, the word involves the idea of a lawgiver.

Thus is it that simply considering design as order or arrangement we prove from it the existence of mind.

2. But the proof is much stronger when we look at design as adaptation to the object in view.

The same arguments here as in the syllogism by Tulloch prove the major premise-whatever shows marks of design must have had a designer.

The illustrations of the minor premise are numerous and convincing:

(1.) In the vegetable world; in the structure and arrangement of plants, in their connection with soil, climate and atmosphere; is their relations to the necessities of surrounding animal life; and it their material structure, fitting them to receive and assimilate food, and to breathe the atmosphere and absorb its gases, and to reproduce themselves.

(2.) In the animal world; in adaptation to climate, vegetable productions for food, and all the circumstances which make life possible at various places for some animals and not for all, especially in the peculiarity that man is fitted for all climates, and that the animals necessary to be present with him are capable of equal variety of climate.

(3.) It is also seen in the formation of the various parts of the body, especially of the eye, which presents signal evidences of design, in its structure for seeing, in its capacity for motion, in it instinct against danger, and in its protective apparatus.

So also in the hand and foot, especially the thumb in man, which gives him such superiority over all other animals, in felling trees, chopping wood, sewing clothes, use of mechanic’s tools and nunberless other respects, intimately and essentially connected with a condition of high civilization, as well as of mere physical capacity to prevail over brute force.

So with a thousand times a thousand marks of special design in the forms of life in this world. All prove a designer, and that designer to be the Creator of the world and its forms of life.

It is vain to say that all these members of the body have been developed from inferior forms.

There is no evidence of any different structure in these particulars in the individuals of today than in those which earliest appear. Whatever changes have occurred in animal life have been within fixed limits and under the regulation of law. They have always been such as have preserved those characteristics of the animals upon which difference in species is based. There is in each individual a wonderful capacity to enlarge, by exercise, the powers both of mind and body. But this goes not beyond what, according to some law of its nature, is a common property of humanity.

(3.) Another argument a posteriori may be drawn from the evidences of God’s providential care and control of the world.

It may be thus stated:

Man perceives in his own life and in the lives of others, and in the history of nations and of the race, evidence of a superintending power, governing, guiding and protecting, and by means sometimes most insignificant or minute, accomplishing ends of greater or less magnitude. In the workings of this power there are traceable evidences of designing purpose which are so marked as to show it to be not mere blind force or established law, but an intelligent agent exercising such oversight as is rendered necessary by the presence of free will in man, which, but for such oversight, would prevent the accomplishment of ends, which would certainly be attained through mere laws alone, were the universe, with its inhabitants, a mere machine governed only by purely mechanical laws-and such oversight also as supplies to man the information and resources needed at particular stages in the world’s progress, and as preserves from excess or deficiency the equilibrium of food and work in the world and its various parts.

As none but the supreme mind, which is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, can exercise such care, the proof that this care is exercised is a proof of the existence of God.

It will be seen from this that all the proof which can be presented of providential care becomes a proof of a God. This is very strong and conclusive, and is to be found in the historical accounts of mankind, as well as in the constant testimony of individual men.

(4 ) The fourth argument a posteriori is from the miracles wrought by messengers from God.

A miracle is an extraordinary act performed, or event brought to pass by God, not through the established laws of nature, nor mere providential control, but by direct action without the use of efficient means.

The working of a miracle, therefore, shows the presence and act of a power superior to nature which can be no other than its creator and lawgiver.

A miracle is, therefore, evidence of the existence of God.

This argument rests upon the proof that miracles have been wrought. Of this fact it is universally acknowledged that we have abundant testimony. But the credibility of the testimony, as for example of the New Testament miracles, has been questioned. If it be credible then the fact has been proved.

1. It is charged that the witnesses are not credible, because they were not disinterested.

(a) But disinterestedness is not necessary in a witness. Formerly courts required this, but now, in the more civilized communities, all evidence is heard and due weight is given to each part of it in connection with all the other circumstances and facts testified to.

(b) None of the witnesses for miracles were interested except upon the supposition that the facts which they attested were true. They could have no purpose, therefore, in testifying falsely.

(c) They published their testimony at a time when multitudes were alive who had been present at the times and places when the miracles were said to have been wrought. Had the facts not been believed by all present on such occasions they would have been disputed and the witnesses exposed. This was especially true of the miracles wrought by Christ and his apostles.

(d) To the above may be added that the statements made about these miracles were such as to affect the character and position of men in public authority, and in some cases appealed to acts of the rulers in council, by whom the miracles were admitted. None could have dared to make such statement unless they knew they spoke the truth.

2. It is charged that the witnesses were themselves deceived.

But it was impossible that deception could take place in many of the miracles.

Could Israel be deceived about the plagues in Egypt, or the passage through the Red Sea, or that of the Jordan, or the fall of the walls of Jericho, or the guidance of the pillar of cloud and fire, &c., &c.

But the rationalist will say that the history of these events was not written at the same time with the events themselves, and that the people in the wilderness never saw nor heard the record.

While this is not admitted of the Old Testament it cannot he justly said of the New Testament histories. The statements are by eye-witnesses. Could they have been deceived about the stilling of the waves, the feeding of the five thousand on one occasion, and of the four thousand on another, about the raising from the dead of the daughter of Jairus, of the son of the widow of Nain, of Lazarus, and especially the self-resurrection of Christ himself. One who looks at these facts is obliged to deny that these witnesses were deceived. They have either knowingly stated what is false, or their testimony is true.

3. But it is maintained by Hume and others, that even if a miracle had been wrought it would be proof only to those who saw it. No testimony could convince others of the fact.

The argument is, that the uniformity of the laws of nature is a matter of universal experience, and that such is our knowledge of that uniformity that no testimony can convince us of the existence of a fact which is not consistent with it.

But the history of the world shows the contrary. Hume is actually presenting his argument, that no such proof could or would be accepted, to men who have already actually accepted it.

There are many events in the world which seem contrary to the uniformity of nature; as much so to the ignorant mind as the most wonderful miracle to the educated. Are such not accepted? What is more apparently opposed to the uniformity of nature, as perceived by ignorant men, than eclipses of the sun or moon, or, to those who have never seen the sea, the phenomenon of water running or swelling upwards in the tides.

Yet testimony of the facts is readily taken as evidence.

The truth is that men almost universally believe, when there is no apparent reason to the contrary, in the truthfulness of their fellows and their capacity to perceive what has happened. Even strangers are trusted to this extent. But when men of known probity, having no motive to deceive and who cannot be self-deceived, testify to any fact, however incredible, conviction of the truthfulness of such persons is stronger than belief in the uniformity of nature.

What would appear more wonderful than that a world, the greater part of the surface of which is water, should be burned up with fire? yet a whole audience, to nine-tenths of whom previously such a thing would have seemed incredible, has been known to accept it as a fact upon the mere statement of a single scientific man.

In this argument the statements of the Bible have been used not as inspired truth, but merely as containing human testimony. In like manner in the succeeding argument the Bible is treated merely upon its own apparent merits as a book, without reference to its divine character.

(5.) The fifth argument a posteriori is from the contents of a book we call the Bible, which claims to have come from God. If these contents show a supernatural origin they prove the existence of a mind supreme above nature

This proof may be presented:

1. With respect to the prophecies of the Bible. Events were predicted and recorded by its writers long periods, even centuries before they took place. Many of them were minutely described, as to their nature, locality, persons, times, circumstances and causes. Such descriptions show such knowledge as belongs only to one who uses no conjectural knowledge, but knows certainly what will come to pass. But such knowledge of the far future can arise not otherwise than from full knowledge of the eternal purpose of God.

2. It may be presented with reference to the great central figure of the Bible, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures taken as a whole is his biography. The causes of his existence as seen in the original and fallen state of man and in God’s mercy to our sinful race, the preparation for his coming, the gradual development of the doctrine of his person and work, the prophecy of his kingdom, his appearance, life, death, resurrection, the establishment of his throne in heaven upon his ascension from earth, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power and progress of his religion and its suitableness to our sinful race, all present a life of developed growth as plainly the result of a creative mind as the most wonderful creation of fiction. The unity of purpose is seen throughout. In the beginning we see but dimly what is taught and catch but feebly the outlines of the plot; but as we progress it grows upon us as a genuine creation. Whatever was at first dim is cleared up by the final record, and as we begin to read it over once more, its perfect unity, its exactness of detail without superfluity, its development in the far future of the importance of facts which at first were only casually stated, as though of no special importance, its skilful interweaving of the minor characters and events, and its use of them in all their fulness to bring on the final catastrophe and its results, the great power with which the theme is handled, the majestic simplicity which everywhere pervades it, all show a master artist creating a character and work, through the instrumentality of writers so numerous, of such different capacities, under such various circumstances, with such manifest unity, as proclaims the mind of God which alone could conceive of such a character and work, and alone could thus reveal it to man, as he alone could create the real persons and events which embody the idea presented.

3. A further proof from the Bible is suggested by Nitzsch: namely, the revelation which it makes of God in Christ.

He says, “The proof which is peculiar to Christianity, independent and historical, is not indeed, as some designate it, miracle, but the accomplishment of the passage in Isaiah 40:9. ‘Behold your God.’ It is revelation in an eminent sense, the existence of God in Christ, John 14:9.” [Nitzsch: System of Christian Doctrine, p. 140.]

This is not the same argument as the last. That was an argument from a development extending over so many thousand years, and proving the existence of one, who was contemporaneous with all those years, working out the character of Christ as the Saviour of mankind.

This is based upon the evidence of divine perfection seen in Christ while here on earth. “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” John 14:9.

The revelation of the nature of God seen in the universe commends to us the fact that he exists, for the nature indicated is one worthy of such a being. Hence the force of Paul’s language in Rom. 1:20. “For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his Everlasting power and Divinity.”

So also with equal self-recommendation comes the character of God set forth in the words of the Bible in which he tells us what he is, and commends his spiritual nature with its unspeakable holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, with its infinite power and wisdom, as the character alone worthy of a God, and which makes us say a once: This is the true character of God. If he exists he must be such as is thus described.

But in his incarnate Son we see the embodiment of that which before had appeared as but an ideal. Although appearing here on earth most obviously as a man, yet the divine attributes and character were so exhibited in him that we perceive the truthfulness with which Christ said to Philip: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” John 14:9.

(6.) The sixth argument a posteriori is the historical, based upon the fact that the records of history cover so brief a period of time. If man has lived forever, where is the record of that life? It is strange that we find no historical monuments which go beyond few thousand years.

(7.) Finally, an argument a posteriori may be drawn from geology. This science teaches:

(a) That there was a time when life, both vegetable and animal began upon this globe.

(b) That the remoteness of the period of that beginning even according to the wildest hypothesis, is capable of calculation.

(c) That, in both the vegetable and animal life, of which we have fossil remains, there have been distinct successive genera which began with small numbers, gradually increased to their culminating points and then as gradually decreased.

History and geology, therefore, furnish us conclusive proof against the eternity of form and life in the universe, and especially oppose the absurd idea of endless succession of finite objects or beings, in the past. Geology, indeed, seems also to give proof of an actual direct creation of the first beginnings of each of these genera.

Thus, through the proofs of the existence of God, derived from many sources, do we arrive at that certainty of the fact which confirms the teaching of tradition. In the a priori arguments we proceed from admitted first principles to the existence of God, through demonstration, and acknowledge that the arguments are inconclusive if they fail to secure such absolute conviction as do the problems of mathematics. But the arguments a posteriori do not belong to this class of proof, but to that which is the only one found in the accepted theories of science. Scientific proof is only inductive proof, and no induction of science is more certainly true than that God exists. No theory of science more fully answers all of the demands for the explanation of facts than does the theory that God exist respond to all the explanations required. None has been so universally, and so variously, and so successfully, tested. The theory of gravitation has been constantly becoming more acceptable until now it is held as scientifically certain, because of its success in accounting for all facts connected with it. In like manner has the theory that God exists been confirmed to almost universal satisfaction, by the fact that without it there is no explanation of the innumerable facts around us, while with it there is nothing lacking to account for the cause and origin of all things.

Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D.D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887 

Chapter 2-The Being of God-Pt 1

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Chapter 2-The Being of God-Pt 1


THE fundamental doctrine of Theology is that there is a God; for if this is not true, there can be no science of God.

The first duty of Theology, therefore, is to set forth the reasons men have for believing that such a being exists, and is a true object of dependence and worship.


1. It is objected, however, to any science of God, that, if there is a God, he cannot be so known and comprehended as to be a true object of worship.

(1) If by this is meant that we cannot know the essential nature of God, it proceeds upon a principle upon which we can know nothing, for we do not know the essential nature of anything. We know not even the nature of our own essence. We cannot know that of any existent being or substance, not indeed of the smallest atom of matter. We can only judge what it must be from the qualities it is perceived to possess, or from its outward manifestations. In like manner we can discover something of the nature of God from the different ways in which he has manifested himself in ourselves and in the universe.

(2.) If it is claimed that we cannot know him because his nature may be or must be wholly different from ours, the natural answer is that we do know many things which differ greatly from the mind which takes cognizance of them. Thus our own bodies, though purely material, are known through our mental faculties, and yet we believe mind and matter to be essentially diverse. We comprehend also our modes of existence, and those of other objects in time and space, though these modes are essentially different from the thing which exist in them.

Besides, until we know what God is, we cannot be sure that he is in all respects different from ourselves. If there are any points of similarity, we can know him so far as these exist; and, if it is true that we have been made, in any respect, in the likeness and image of God, our knowledge of God may approach at least to such completeness as to enable us to recognize his more manifest perfections, and to perceive that because of these he ought to be reverenced and worshipped.

Guided by the analogy of our own natures we expect to find it him a personal, conscious, intelligent, and moral being, and this expectation is confirmed by the manifestations of his presence, and operations in the universe. This teaching of analogy is not worthless because it has also led some to believe that God has a material body as has man. Analogy does not furnish proof, but only probability in some instances only possibilities. It does not show what God is, but what he may be. That which it suggests is confirmed or denied by other sources of knowledge. But we are so far taught through its aid that we learn that God must either be a Spirit, such as we are, or that he must have a higher nature to which belong all those attributes of spirit which constitute conscious personality and intelligent purpose.

(3.) Does the objection mean that we cannot know God because we cannot come in contact with him through the senses as we do with our fellow-men, and cannot learn his nature through his conduct and personal action as we do theirs? But it is not only through personal contact with men that we know that they are and what they are; we both know and judge of them by their works, though we have never seen nor known them personally. In like manner through our senses are we brought into contact with God, who though not material, is an artificer in material things, and has displayed before us, in the universe around, the evidences of his wisdom, power and goodness. Surely so great a structure as this, which manifests a grasp of thought, and a power of performance so wonderfully beyond that of any human being, and a minuteness of detail and execution and finish, the limitations of which defy discovery through the most powerful microscope that man can ever make, shows that it has been fashioned, if not created, by some being of personal purposing skill and power immeasurably beyond anything that we can possibly conceive.

(4.) Is it asserted that the outward phenomena of the universe cannot give such mental and spiritual knowledge of God as is essential to our apprehension and worship of him? Even were this true, we get that knowledge through our own spiritual and mental operations. We find in ourselves consciousness of existence, of thought and of purpose, and thus learn not only what these are in other intelligent beings, but that they must exist in every being whose nature is as high as, or higher than, that of man. We perceive that the mind is governed by laws no less binding and effective, no less regular and permanent, than those of matter. In the study of these we learn the nature of mind and spirit, not by direct apprehension of their essence, but, as in matter, by indirectly apprehending them through their phenomena. That nature we ascribe to the Divine Mind and Spirit. The differences of mental and spiritual capacities in men convince us that there are degrees of greater or less in mental and spiritual natures. Hence we assign to God mind and spirit in the highest degree, because as their author he must himself be greater than all his mental and spiritual creations.

But, in addition to this, we have a peculiar source of information. We find our minds capable of intuitive knowledge. Some abstract principles need only to be understood, and the conviction that they are true immediately follows. That “the whole is greater than an one of its parts” is perceived as soon as understood, as is likewise that “a thing cannot be, and not be, at the same time.” Whence is this knowledge? We say that the mind is so constituted that it cannot believe otherwise. Who has so constituted it? It must proceed from some one upon whose veracity we rely, when we accept what our nature teaches. But, if from any one, then there is a creating mind, and that mind operates directly upon mind without the intervention of matter, and thus teaches us truth. When, then, we find other convictions of like nature relative to our dependent upon a higher being, our obligations of duty to him, our sense of right, and wrong, and the duty to do the right, and not to do the wrong, we cannot avoid believing that these intuitions come from the same source, and are his instructions to us as to our moral relation and duties to him.

2. But it is further objected that, if there is a God we cannot know him because he must be the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned, and, therefore, cannot be an object of comprehension to us, whose nature is finite, and whose mode of existence is only relative, finite and conditioned.

But the objection itself presents its own refutation. How do we know that God must be such, if there is a God? In whatever way we know this, we know at least that much of God that he must be the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned. Even before we are supposed to know that he exists, therefore, we know this much of the nature which must be his, and upon the first evidence of his existence have the right to attribute to him all that is therein contained. The characteristics thus ascribed to him, reveal him, therefore, to us, as an infinite existence, without other limitations than are found in his own nature, or essence, who, as Absolute, cannot be dependent, but must be the source and Sovereign of all else; and, as the Unconditioned, cannot be subject to time, and space, and matter, and must therefore exist without possibility of growth, or increase, and without that succession of periods, such as yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow, and those measures of space, and location, which belong to matter. The God, therefore, who is thus proclaimed to be unknowable is at least known as a self-existent spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all the perfections that belong to his nature. Let but the least evidence appear that there is a God, and at once this nature may be ascribed to him.

The recognition and contemplation of such a being, though his other perfections are unknown, awaken the reverence and fear, and conviction of the littleness and dependence of man which enter so largely into the sense of the supernatural and lead men everywhere, when in danger or distress, to call upon God, though not moved to prayer by any promise of answers thereto.

3. Again, it is objected that though we should learn something of God, we can only attain partial knowledge of him. This is readily admitted. But partial knowledge is actual knowledge as far as it goes. We have complete knowledge of nothing. All our knowledge is partial. The child only partially knows its parent. The subject only partially knows his sovereign. Yet enough is known for the recognition of dependence, and of the duties of obedience and love. So, also, with the Heavenly Father, the King of Kings; although we can only know him in part, we know enough to lead us to revere his sovereign power, and gratefully adore his Fatherly affection. The Scripture teaching upon this subject is twofold.

(1) It agrees with Agnosticism in asserting that God cannot be fully known. The questions of Zophar have been, with full reverence for God, and earnest worship for such an one as it is believed that he must be, the language of the pious of all ages. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as Heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than Hell; what canst thou know?” Job 11:7-8. Elihu is represented as saying, “Behold, God is great and we know him not.” Job 36:26. And Job, after his description of God’s acts of power, declared, “Lo, these are but the outskirts of his ways; and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14. The Psalmist, referring to the Omniscience and omnipresence of God, cried out, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” Ps. 139:6.

(2) On the other hand, in opposition to Agnostics, the Bible declares that the partial knowledge of God attained by men is actual knowledge and not some inferior conception. God said through Jeremiah, “I will give them an heart to know me that I am the Lord” (Jer. 24:7), and again “they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them.” Jer. 25:34. Our Lord himself, in his prayer to the Father, referring to those given to him that to them he should give eternal life declares ” This is life eternal that they should know thee the only true God and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” John 17:3. The apostle who recorded this prayer uses this language, “He that knoweth God heareth us” (1 John 4:6), and also “He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” 1 John 4:8.

The Bible, therefore, plainly teaches that God may be known, and so known as to be truly worshipped.



Belief in the existence of God has been almost universal among men. The same ideal of perfection has not everywhere been found. Some have gone no farther than to be moved by the sense of the supernatural, and to believe in a power to which they are subject, and upon which they depend. But at least this much is to be found in the lowest, forms of fetish worshippers. Others have multiplied the numbers and forms of those towards whom they have felt this sense of dependence, and have accepted the existence of many gods. Yet, among these polytheists, the traces of the One God have not entirely disappeared, for they have referred the gods themselves to one originating source. Some, following too closely the analogy of man’s nature, have believed God to be the animating soul of the world. The highest spiritual conception of God has been found only in those nations which have been recipients of his revelation. But the most ancient records show that, in the earliest times, the knowledge possessed by all was comparatively simple and pure.

So universal has been this belief, that but very few of the millions of the race in all its ages have denied the existence of God. It has been questioned whether these few have been deceived as to their actual convictions, or have been insincere in their avowal of Atheism; because it has seemed so impossible for man not to believe in a God. A greater number still have been skeptical; sometimes led by wishes born of depravity and sin, but, also, sometimes misled by philosophical speculations, and apparently earnestly desirous to know the truth.

But the firm conviction of mankind in general that this belief is unavoidable in any man in his normal condition, and that its absence is due to some crushing out or erasure of his necessary moral capabilities, is seen, not only in the general horror which men have for those who profess Atheism, but in the denial to such men of the right to testify in the courts of justice.

1. This almost universal concurrence of men ought to be ascribe primarily to tradition.

Belief in God has been handed down from parent to child through out all past generations. Some theologians are unwilling to recognize this fact or to accept it as a cause of the universal belief in God. Some have sought that cause in the idea of God as innate in the mind. Others have simply rested upon other arguments be God’s existence, and taken the universal consent of mankind as evidence that this is not an idea unnatural to them, since they have yielded ready assent to the proofs of it commonly given. But a recognition of the traditional teaching will not weaken the argument. Even if it does, it is a fact which must be acknowledged.

In favour of this as the primary source of this general belief it may be said,

(1.) That this is the natural manner in which every child among us learns about God. Its own questionings, or its parent’s convictions of the importance of this knowledge cause it to be imparted at an early period, and by direct teaching of the fact alone without proof.

(2.) Information obtained by travellers, and especially by Christian missionaries, teaches that our own customs agree with those of heathen nations, as they also do with those of Christendom in general.

(3.) This accounts for the fact, that, while the belief has varied at different times and places, it is held in the same form by almost every one within a single nation at a single period.

(4.) The uniformity, too, in which it has continued among any one people for many generations, is also proof of traditional origin.

(5.) The general existence of it in a purer form the nearer we approach the origin of the race, shows that belief in a God was the primeval belief of man, and has thence been handed down from father to son, until it has reached our own age and ourselves.

(6.) This accounts also for the fact that, when that faith has been corrupted, it has continued in the corrupted form until some new mental or spiritual force has arisen to introduce change, and to give new shape to the belief for some time to come.

2. The belief thus dependent on this traditional teaching is of great value as proof of the truth of this doctrine.

(1.) Its general prevalence shows that this doctrine is suitable to all mankind. It is one that, though worthy of the wisest thought, is not dependent upon philosophical conceptions, or abstract, or logical reasoning for its acceptance. The most ignorant of men have been able to grasp it. It is like that teaching of the Great Master, whom “the common people heard gladly.” There has been something, in it, or connected with it, that has made all men believe it. What this is will be hereafter shown. But the fact that this simple teaching, from father to son, throughout all the ages, has been enough to make it dwell as a powerful and controlling influence in the hearts of the masses of mankind, is a strong proof not only of its truth, but also that it has come from God, whose universal gifts are of this simple nature, suitable to all.

(2.) That it has come down through all the ages, shows that it has come in contact with all the best thoughts of the wisest of mankind. That, in its study, the wisest and best, even among the heathen, have approached, in their noblest conceptions of it, to what we believe we have received through the revelation of God, affords a convincing argument, not only in favour of this noblest conception, but of the Divine Word which reveals it. The least that can be said is, that, after being subjected to every variety of thought, and philosophical speculation, this traditional belief has maintained itself as truth, and convincingly withstood every objection that has been brought against it.

(3.) The variety of forms in which it has appeared shows some universal cognition of some one or more fundamental truths which has led all men to believe in the existence of some kind of Divinity. It also teaches that, through the knowledge of no additional truth than such as is afforded by the light of nature only, some have attained more correct ideas approximating, though in very different degrees, that true knowledge which is attainable only through the revelations of Holy Scripture.

(4.) These simplest truths are seen to be a common possession of the higher heathen ideal, and of Divine revelation.

(5.) There is thus manifested, also, the existence of that knowledge of God in all men, which enforces the duty of worship and reverence, and causes accountability to him.

(6.) The continuance of this belief among those whose self-interest, because of sin, would naturally have led them to reject it, is a strong proof of the sincerity with which it has been held.



The knowledge of the insufficiency of mere tradition to prove the truth of any doctrine leads us to seek some other ground of this universal belief of mankind. Tradition has been pointed out as the primary source of this faith. But it is primary, in point of time only, not as the real cause of the general acceptance of the doctrine. Neither does the belief in a God arise from any of the various arguments which have been devised for its support. All men reach conviction on this subject before they ever hear any discussion about it. To the mass of men the arguments have been utterly unknown. While these arguments are, therefore, to be presented as confirmatory proof, we must seek some other cause for this continued general belief of man.

The true reason of it is that such is the constitution of the human mind that it naturally accepts as true the idea it has attained of God, and rests upon brief in his existence, as a fact that ought not to be doubted.

1. This is generally expressed by the statement that the idea of God is “innate.” But the expression seems to be unfortunate.

(1.) There are no innate truths in the ordinary acceptation of the word innate. The mind possesses no ideas independent of all suggestion, or inward contemplation. No truth becomes truth to the mind, until it is perceived to be truth.

(2.) If the idea of God were innate in the mind, as this word is commonly understood, that idea would be as perfect in one man as in another. But there are evidently various degrees of that perfection. These, therefore, must arise from the different measures of cultivation and thought, as well as from the different circumstances by which the elements which compose that idea in its perfection are suggested.

(3.) Inasmuch as the idea of God, possessed by most men in Christian lands, is the result of the teachings of the Scriptures, or at least of the philosophical studies of men of thought, and is therefore one of the loftier conceptions of God, when the innateness of such an idea is urged as a reason for belief in God, we are naturally met by the avowal, on the part of many, if not all, that they have no such innate idea.

(4.) Any idea of God which we have is not an idea of himself, but of certain relations existing between him, and man, or the universe, or of his relation to certain facts which we perceive in connection with these.

2. A better statement, therefore, is that the belief in God is based upon the intuitive perception by the mind of certain truths, which necessarily involve the existence of God, and of the verity of which it attains absolute conviction.

It has been already stated that man attains intuitive conceptions. He is not confined to a single method of obtaining knowledge. He arrives at truth through sensation. He is taught it by experience He believes testimony. He is conscious of himself. But he is also so constituted as to certain truths, that they are self-evident upon an intelligent conception of what is meant by them. No reasoning about them can make them, more convincing. No study of them, except as to the nature of the things affirmed, gives deeper conviction of their truth. No personal experience, nor testimony of others, gives stronger witness to their reliability. In each individual mind, according to its comprehension of what is meant by the things spoken of, there arises personal conviction of their indubitable truth. This is really what is meant, when it is affirmed that these ideas an innate in man.

All that is necessary, prior to such intuitive conception, is a knowledge of the meaning of the truth which is to be intuitively perceived. Take, for example, the mathematical axiom before quoted, “the whole is greater than any one of its parts.” Before the truth of this is perceived, it is necessary to know what is meant by ” whole,” and “part,” and “greater.” As soon as these are known, the truth of the affirmation at once appears. It is on this account that the term “God,” or the expression “the true idea of God,” cannot be a part of an intuitive conception. We cannot know “God.” We may know certain things about God. We have not “the true idea of God.” We only have some true idea of God. Hence our statement was limited to the assertion, that “such is the constitution of the human mind that it naturally accepts the idea it has attained of God as true.”

These intuitive conceptions are originally single. Sir William Hamilton makes simplicity a characteristic of intuitive truth. In opposition to this statement which he quotes, Dr. Charles Hodge contends that “all of the propositions of the First Book of Euclid were as plain at first sight to Newton as the axioms, and the same is true in our moral and religious nature. The more that nature is purified, and exalted, the clearer is its vision, and the wider the slope of its intuitions. * * * If a proposition be capable of resolution into simpler factors, it may still, to a powerful intellect, be seen as self-evidently true. What is seen immediately, without the intervention of proof, to be true, is, according to the common mode of expression, said to be seen intuitively.” (Sys. Theol. Vol. 1, p. 193). Both of these writers appear to be right, and both wrong. Hamilton is correct in stating that simplicity is a characteristic of intuitive truth, but incorrect in maintaining, as a consequence, that no complex truth can he intuitively perceived. For the mind, in perceiving separately the correctness of two intuitive truths, may, at the same time, combine them into a single conception, if they are homogeneous, just as we unite the different qualities of any object, as a table, or chair, and express them by a single term. But the mind apprehends these separately before it thus connects them. Indeed, it never so unites them as not still to preserve their separable character, and to cognize them as such. “The clearer is its vision,” and “the wider the slope of its intuitions,” to use the figurative language of Hodge, the more distinctly separate and the more plainly plural do these intuitions appear.

3. In seeking, therefore, for the intuitive conceptions which enter into the idea of God, we ought not to be surprised that they are simple, and yet that two or more of them may unite in the proof of his existence. Thus is it, that, so far as God is known, his existence is intuitively known, however few or many may be the intuitions involved; for the mind, while originally perceiving them separately, still combines them together, and, as the result of all, as of each, believes that God exists. But the meaning of what is thus affirmed, in relation to a single intuition only, is far less than in relation to two, or three, or all.

Of these intuitive conceptions we shall find that only the simpler are universally accepted. Greater intelligence, cultivation and thoughtfulness lead to the knowledge of others by some. Were these so stated to all as to be comprehended, they would be as fully acceptable to all as to any. They are limited as to their reception, not because they are less true, nor because the nature of one man accepts, while that of another rejects them, but because they have either not been suggested to the intellect, or, if suggested, their meaning has not been understood. The more of these that we know, and the higher the nature of the thought conveyed by them, the purer and the greater will be the meaning to us of the being of God.

4. Some of the more manifest of these may be taken as examples of their nature, and of their manner in which men arrive, through them, at the knowledge of God’s existence.

(1.) That which is dependent must have its final support in something purely independent.

(2.) Derived existence must have its ultimate origin in that which is self-existent.

(3.) Every effect must have its cause, either within, or without itself.

The truth of the above affirmations must be admitted as soon as their meaning is perceived. But, if the first be true, there is some being upon whom men depend, and to whom, therefore, they are under obligations of duty and obedience, whom they must fear, and whose protection they must seek. This is the most general idea of God. If the second be true, the being upon whom men depend is, also, the one through whom they exist; or there are two beings, the one the source of life, the other the cause of its preservation and support. One of these will be independent, and the other self-existent. That the uncultivated should not perceive that these two are necessarily one, is not a matter of surprise. The possibility of this has allowed the existence of polytheism. But when they are thus united, the idea of God has been that of an independent, self-existent being, which is a complex idea, and is consciously based upon, not one, but two intuitive conceptions, though they are now united together. In like manner the third of these is accepted as soon as comprehended. It is only necessary to know what is meant by the terms “effect,” and “cause within or without itself.” This is attained through observation and experience. The idea of cause and effect is found even in very young children, who cannot be persuaded that anything has happened without a cause. Nor is it difficult to teach what is meant by “having the cause within or without itself.” It may be illustrated by the difference between a clock moving its own hands because of its own mechanism, and the hands of the same clock moved by some person; or by that between a horse which has the power of self-motion, and the cart which moves only because he draws it. The meaning of the terms of this intuitive suggestion has not been difficult to comprehend, consequently the existence of God, as based upon it, has been generally accepted. To the common mind, especially, it has commended itself as teaching that God is the creator of the world, and thus accounting for the existence of all things that have been made. In this ease, also, men have not always associated the things which we see with the one God. In some forms of belief, they have divided the universe among more gods than one. In others, they have conceived of it as made by a god inferior to the Great Supreme, whom they recognized. But, in these varied ways, they have shown a universal acceptance of the idea of causality, and of the intuitive conception which arises upon its comprehension. The only objection made to it, is that of Hume and Kant, who have thought that the knowledge of causation must be limited by our experience. But this is an objection to the amount of evidence we have of the effects of causation, which truly is measured by experience only, but our knowledge of the universal nature of the law comes not from experience, but from intuitive conceptions based upon the knowledge of its meaning.

5. Other intuitive conceptions might be added which are not so simple, but which are as truly believed by those who comprehend them. Take for example some of those which enter into the idea of God as the perfect Being.

(1.) The distinctions of right and wrong must have some absolute standard, which is personal, conscious, unchangeable, and without limitations of time or space. But this is God.

(2.) Moral perfection cannot be merely ideal, but must have some real embodiment; else there could be no imperfection, and, especially, no, degrees of imperfection, since degrees imply the existence of that to which imperfection approaches, or from which it recedes, and this can only he absolute perfection. But absolute perfection is itself God.

Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D.D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887