Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

suthing to it; id not thus chhe useless.

perfect and ignorant creatures through their prayers would be simply absurd. Leaving a child in charge of a steam-engine would be nothing to it.

But if the prayer did not thus change or determine the order of its twin event, it would evidently be useless. If it does change that order, God, “from all eternity," knew it, or he did not. If he did not know it, he was not omniscient and perfect. If he did know it, he must have ordered it, for all things must have been fore-ordained by himself in order to be knowable by him. But if he knew and ordained the result, he must be morally responsible for it; and if he is also perfect, the result ordained by him must be perfect. But it could be perfect in one order only; for there cannot be two perfect orders. Therefore, the actual order must have been eternally perfect and eternally ordained, and the prayer for any change must be useless and absurd. Prayeranswer could only lead to imperfections and the consequent inference of an imperfect God.

But, it is said, may not God, in some way, adjust his fixed laws so as to effect answers to prayer much as human beings do, or are supposed to do? The answer is, that scientific laws are unvariable, and therefore always unadjustable. They cannot be adjusted by either God or man. They can only be obeyed or fol. lowed. As Bacon taught, man conquers Nature only by obedience. Man may adjust matter, or phenomena, or himself, and events, so that these laws may come in play, as is the case in all scientific experiments. But to speak of man adjusting the laws of nature is a total misapprehension of them and of man's relation to them. Man modifies phenomena by bringing them under laws, but he never varies, or changes, or bends, or adjusts laws in any way whatsoever. Nor can God do it without violating his own attributes and committing logical suicide; for the law is the order which is the condition of his attributes and existence. But if any such thing could be done consistently with God's attributes, would it be less a violation of the law of correlation ? Certainly not. If prayer be of any value, it must cause God to vary the order of his correlates in some degree, or direction, or time. It matters not whether this variation from the fixed law is made at the time of the prayer, or years before or after. Whether at once, or gradually, it is a variation of the order which otherwise would have occurred if the prayer had not been offered. Laws, therefore, cannot be adjusted; but man and his affairs may be adjusted to them by his will and efforts. Thus he is said, by labor and prevision, to modify phenomena to his use, and to avoid the crushing weight of fatalism which the inexorable laws of nature would otherwise bring upon him. But the very possibility on the part of man of this power of modifying phenomena, and so of making his life tolerable, or glorious, depends upon the invariability of unadjustable laws. Let it be supposed for a moment that these laws could be changed or adjusted by prayer, or in any other way, then science and the certainty of life would be gone, and modern civilization would disappear.

But next, it may be said, why may not God, in a similar way to man, adjust and modify phenomena under these fixed laws, and so effect answers to prayer? If man can do this somewhat and beneficially for himself, why cannot God do it for him infinitely more? The answer is, that God must be just as perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent as to phenomena as he is as to their laws. As such, he has settled the phenomena and their order, including man's will and works, as well as all possible laws, perfectly and forever, from all eternity. Man is weak, imperfect, and ignorant, and therefore he has to change and adjust him. self according to his own will and imperfection. Man is thus subject to the "struggle for existence," and therefore has developed a will, and uses it to provide for his wants. But God is freed from ali strife; will and law are one with him, and cannot be otherwise. Man is a contestant; God is conceivable only and always as perfect. He exists only in perfect order. To suppose that he does not, is to involve the absurdities referred to above as to God's attributes and law.

Lastly, this anthropomorphic notion of God which we are considering makes him the reverse of worshipful. He becomes a limited, imperfect quasi human agent, morally responsible for the evils that exist and for all of the sufferings of his creatures. These moral consequences are too horrible to be more than referred to, nor is more than a reference necessary to any intelligent person. All personal Theism, therefore, in attempting to adjust or to escape the order of correlation falls into intellectual contradictions, and ends in making God a moral monster. Such attempts to make prayer-answers credible are hopeless.

But it is said, then let the appeal be to facts: if the case fails a priori, it may be proved a posteriori. Can it be possible that the almost numberless facts from sacred and profane records, detailing, even down to our own day, what have appeared to the relators to be answers to prayer, can be wholly mistaken or fraudulent?

To this the answer may seem rude or cruel; but to science, “facts” of this kind, related after the events, even by the observ.. ers, are only second-hand facts, and, when repeated by others, have no weight whatever. They simply are not facts to any scientific or intelligent person. Among the superstitious, or those who wish to believe, the eye “brings more than it sees." Such “facts” are illusions, common enough now in uncivilized countries and among the more ignorant Roman Catholic people. They merely prove the credulity of the people who assert them, and their incapacity to make and to cross-examine their observations. Anything desired may be proved to or by such individuals.

But, besides this, the ordinary conditions and “facts” of prayer are commonly not of a verifiable nature, as Professor Tyndall has fully pointed out in his well-known letter on prayergauge. No facts on this subject, unscrutinized by science, are of the slightest scientific value, and no such scrutiny has ever been applied. No advocate of prayer dares to imitate Elijah by an appeal to facts that could be known to be real and scientific. And this one fact outweighs all alleged "prayer-facts,” and is conclusive evidence that the confidence of prayer advocates is traditional and sentimental and not real.

The truth of this view was well illustrated in 1872, when Professor Tyndall and Sir Henry Thompson proposed, in the fairest and most candid manner, a practical trial, or prayer-gauge, referred to in the above paragraph, so that something might be done to verify this prayer-power, if it have any existence. What was the result? Instead of coöperation, these distinguished scientists were vociferously accused, in the Professor's words, of “insolence, outrage, profanity, and blasphemy"; to which he very appropriately replies: “They obviously lack the sobriety of mind necessary to give accuracy to their statements, or to render their charges worthy of serious refutation.” He had simply asked for one test under conditions that would enable prayer to be established. "A single experiment,” he said, " is frequently devised by which a theory must stand or fall”; as, for instance, the lesser velocity of light through liquids, shown at once, was a crucial test against Newton's emission theory of light.

But the crucial test which advocates of prayer in England would not furnish to the scientists was within ten years furnished to the world on the grandest scale (grander than that of Elijah) in America. In 1881, the prayers of fifty millions of people, indeed we may say of the prayer-makers of almost the whole world, went up for months, day and night, but they could not cause the change of a single pus-cell in the languishing form of our dying President. “It was not the Divine will,” we hear? Yes; but if the only prayer ever answered is “ Thy will be done,” why is it not a saving of time and dignity to let that will be done without the useless prayer?

Next, we are told that prayer has been a very general belief in all places and times, and among all religions. Must not the belief and the supposed need of it have some response or counterpart of fact in the order of nature? How else came it ever to exist? Science answers, No. The belief in a thing, and above all our feeling of a want of it, does not affect the external order of nature, nor prove in the slightest what it is or will be. Science has, on the contrary, reversed every important early belief of mankind, beginning with astronomy and ending with the scientific theory of the ego or selfhood. The presumption is, that all ancient beliefs are based upon imagination and illusions of the senses, and upon that ignorance of the meaning of facts which universally prevailed during the childhood of the race. It is the very business of science to reverse these beliefs. That the general want of a thing proves its existence is, if possible, still more absurd. The want is simply a counterpart of the belief, and when that is removed the want and practice die with it. Prayer is not only not wanted, but is disagreeable to those who have outgrown it. The existence of fairies, witches, angels, devils, demons, and ghosts can be readily proved by this method. Not solid facts, but illusions and delusions, are their creators.

The custom of prayer is simply evidence of man's weakness and needs, and of the childish views he once entertained of the world and of God. As far as the needs remain, science will supply them under intelligent human effort. Thus, as the light of law advances, the illusions of the old spiritual world, and prayer among them, will vanish like ghosts at dawn. They will be simply outgrown.

In this view, this prayer discussion is of great practical importance. This delusion, if it be one, needs to be removed from the popular mind with all convenient speed. For the sure foundation of practical life is the general belief in the invariable order of nature. If this order can be varied, adjusted, or broken by God, or by the prayer of a man, then science and civilization are all at sea. We are remanded back to the age and the methods of the rain-maker and the sorcerer. The foundation of the future welfare of our race rests on the public conviction of the impregnable immutability of laws, and of the almost infinite modifiability of phenomena under them through human will and effort. There is no reliable basis for individual character or for society if these scientific convictions are destroyed or weakened in the popular mind.

To be deprived of pleasant illusions, or to deprive others of them, may be painful, but all scientists should sustain the highest conceptions of nature, of law, and of God, knowing that they bring their compensations. Says Goethe:

Painful truth! Yet I prefer her to pleasant error,
For truth will heal the pain she may oft inflict.

What, then, are the remedies of truth for prayer? That they will all become apparent at once is not probable. We must outgrow the use of prayer as we do other limitations of childhood-gradually, and by the aid of truer conceptions, ideals, and habits.

The higher integration will present its compensations. Space permits only an intimation of these. Confidence in a firm world of law, modifiable practically without limit as to phenomena and events, by the will and efforts of man for the benefit of his race, becomes the true basis of nobility of character. The infinite, the cosmos, and man become the sources of feelings, thoughts, purposes, hopes, and duties which are found to be inspiring, consoling, practical, beneficent, and religious in the highest degree, and which open up a new world. Habitual physical rest, and times devoted to the cultivation of our highest ideals ana eelings, become a source of sweetness and light more sure than prayer or sacrifice. To these results, the lives of Spinoza, Goethe, Hume, Kant, Comte, Mill, Carlyle, Emerson, Harriet Martineau, George Eliot, and thousands who have discontinued the habit of prayer, bear abundant and practical witness.

« НазадПродовжити »