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1841.] The A Priori Argument for the Being of God.
THE A PRIORI ARGUMENT FOR THE BEING OF GOD.
By Rev. L. P. Hickok, Prof. of Theol., West. Res. College, Ohio.
DIFFERENT methods of proof are applied to the great foundation of all religion, natural or revealed--the fact of the eristence of God. Among these are some of the noblest productions of the human intellect; while a large proportion of the whole subserve the cause of theological science, with more or less efficiency. The present age has somewhat abounded in works of this nature ; some of which will
go down through future generations, as monuments of the pious research and deep thinking of our times.
It is, however, no part of our present object to examine and decide upon the comparative merits of works on Natural Theology; nor to attempt any new form of argument; nor to adduce any
additional proof from new sources. An inquiry of greater importance and of a deeper nature is contemplated; and which, though essential to the soundness of all processes of proof, has very seldom received a distinct and formal investigation. Our design is to examine THE NATURE AND GROUND of all argumentation on the proof of the existence of God; that we may be able to estimate the force and conclusiveness of any process of demonstration, which shall be adduced by human reason. No argument is to be appreciated solely by its logical precision and exactness, but rather from the nature and ground of the argumentation itself; and to this last, far less than to the first, it is believed, has attention been directed in the various methods of proving the being of God. We assume to ourselves nothing but a capacity to see and feel the importance of such an investigation, while the merit and benefit of the attempt are left to be tested entirely by the issue.
Every proof of the being of God, aside from direct revelation,
a clear and full perception of the nature of the argument and the ground on which it stands. To aid in this last particular is the sole object here proposed. We shall confine our attention in this article to the a priori form of argument.
I. The nature of the “a priori" argument. In general, it is the process of deducing conclusions from original and direct intuitions.
In one branch, it includes objects of sense, or any existing thing, which, in its agency or influence, is a cause producing changes or effects; and the a priori method of reasoning, is the deduction of conclusions from the known inherent properties and powers of this given thing in itself. It is thus an argument from cause to effect; and is possible only as, by a direct knowledge of the inherent nature or power of the cause, we can see in the cause the specific effects, which must be produced in a given direction and manner of action. By one who knows directly all the inherent properties of heat, all the laws of combustion must be perfectly and a priori understood; and thus, antecedently to all experience, he may infallibly predict the effect of the application of flame to any combustible material. His conclusions are not at all empirical: in the very nature of the cause he sees the certainty and necessity of the effect.
It is important to discriminate the distinctions in the nature of all a priori from all inductive reasoning. Induction is the collection of many facts under one category, and from these facts deducing a general law or principle. For example, when heat is applied to a particular metal, as iron, we discover that the iron is expanded in bulk. It is again applied to silver, and we find that heat expands silver. It is successively applied to other metals as far as opportunity offers, and the same phenomenon occurs in all—the metals are expanded. By repeating the experiment on a great variety of metals, we feel warranted ultimately in deducing a general conclusion as a principle-heat expands all metals
. The experiment may extend to all the multiplied forms of matter; and since the application of heat to every variety of material organization produces the same result, we come at length, with the same confidence as before, to a still more general deduction-heat expands all bodies.
Now the inquiry, as the test of inductive reasoning, is: Why are we warranted to extend our general law beyond the specific cases of experiment? Why do we feel a confidence in the general principle that heat expands all bodies, when we have actually applied it to but very few of all the bodies of the material universe ? The answer is: Because we have carried our experiments far enough to create a conviction, that we have learned an inherent power or property of heat as a cause; and thus, from the uniformity of nature, or an intuition of the reason that like causes always produce like effects, we conclude that the application of heat to all bodies will invariably produce their expansion. This is safe reasoning for all practical and scientific purposes, after a sufficiently wide induction of facts; but it can never be absolutely conclusive, except within the very limits of the experiment. The next experiment might give a different fact, and thus utterly subvert our general principle; and the only ground of confidence that such will not be the case, is because, from our many experiments, we feel a strong conviction that we have found a real, permanent property of heat, inherent in its own nature, and that, as a cause, it will thus always produce the same effect when applied to any new bodies.
All our experiments have been directed solely to this end, that we might learn the power and properties of the thing as a cause; and as we were not competent to gain this knowledge by direct inspection of the thing itself, we have been obliged to seek for it through an induction of its many uniform effects. The process of inductive reasoning—on the use and successful recommendation, though not the invention of which, rests so much of the deserved fame and honor of Lord Bacon-is still only an expedient for relieving the weakness and darkness of the human mind. Instead of penetrating directly to the inherent properties of any thing as a cause, that we may foresee what, in given circumstances, it will effect—which our limited powers will not permit us to accomplish—we are forced to resort to a long and patient induction, and ultimately deduce our general law, with a confidence precisely proportioned to our conviction, that we have inferred from its many observed effects, the truth in relation to the permanent inherent properties of the cause. This is the nature of inductive reasoning in the case of efficient causes.
But suppose that, prior to this long experiment and induction of facts, there is, by direct and immediate inspection, a knowledge of all the powers and properties of heat: we are then ready, at once, and with a certainty infallible, to declare its general laws, and predict its specific effects in given conditions.
We need no experiment here, the use of which is to enable us to infer those very properties which we have much more perfectly obtained by direct knowledge. Before all experiment, out of the cause itself, by direct inspection and knowledge, we deduce the effect of its operation. The a priori form of argument from cause to effect demands, therefore, in its very nature, a direct knowledge of the inherent nature and properties of the cause; and in all cases of such knowledge, the conclusion to the effect is certain and infallible. When we know all that a cause is, we know all that a cause can do.
But in this aspect of the a priori argument, it is plain that there is nothing which can render it available to finite beings, as a method of proof for the existence of God. We never can, by direct inspection, thus infallibly know all the powers and properties of any cause, that we may a priori predict what effects it will produce. It is true we may, by our own consciousness, know much of our own minds as a cause, and can say in many things that intelligence and free-will have such a nature, and such powers; and we can, from direct consciousness of these powers, predict in many cases what the effect will be antecedently to experiment, or at least what may, and what may not be required of free beings; but we can never make the consciousness of our own powers as a cause, any ground for deducing the existence of other things, not the effect of our causation, and least of all, a ground for an a priori argument of the existence of God. And still more effectually are we precluded from any such use of the a priori argument in relation to the being of God, from the very nature of our idea of God. We can never take any original cause and see in its action the existence of God as a result; thus making God an effect, which is a subversion of the very idea of God. Nor can the ground of God's existence in himself be brought so completely under the cognizance of any finite mind, that in it, as an eternally efficient agency, he shall see the being of God necessarily and eternally sustained.
a priori, is the process of deducing conclusions from ultimate principles or absolute truths. Although an ultimate rinciple partakes in nothing of the nature of an efficient cause, by the knowledge of which we might also know the certainty of its effects; yet, our reason may perceive that a particular conclusion is true as a deduction from that ultimate principle, as clearly as if it were a literal effect, efficiently caused by the principle. A logical deduction from an ultimate truth is, therefore, as legitimate a form of reasoning, as that of deducing effects from efficient causes.
The nature of this branch of a priori reasoning, in distinction from the inductive, is seen in the following facts.
A person may, by actual experiment in mensuration, take the diagram of a triangle as drawn before him, and learn that the sum of its three angles equals the sum of two right angles. He may proceed to draw another triangle of different dimensions, and again, by actual measurement, find the same result; and thus, by going through this process with a great variety of triangles—rectangular, isoceles and scalene—and finding the facts the same in all, he will, as in the case of the application of heat to bodies, feel warranted ultimately in deducing a general principle, and say that this is the general law of all triangles—the sum of their three angles equals the sum of two right angles. And if we had no other ideas than those derived from sensation and from reflection upon the experience of sense, this would be the only method in which we could possibly reason in geometry. We must get our general principles in mathematics by induction, precisely as we do in natural science; and all a priori reasoning would be excluded, because of our inability to discover the inherent nature and properties of the triangle; as it is excluded from natural science, because we cannot know the inherent powers and properties of physical causes.
But it is not with man in relation to a triangle, as it is in reJation to heat, as a cause. He has the faculty of seeing in the very nature and properties of the triangle itself, that the sum of its angles equals the sum of two right angles; and from one triangle, he can demonstrate, without any experiment, that thus