theism or atheism the great alternative

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  • 8/9/2019 Theism or Atheism the Great Alternative


    Theism or Atheism

    The Great Alternative



    61, Farringdon Street,E.C.4


    [Pg v]



    Part I.


    Chapter I. What is God?

    Chapter II. The Origin ofthe Idea of God

    Chapter III. Have we a Religious Sense?

    Chapter IV. The Argument from Existence

    Chapter V. The Argument from Causation

    Chapter IV. The Argument from Design

    Chapter VII. The Disharmonies of Nature

    Chapter VIII. God and Evolution

    Chapter IX. The Problem of Pain

    Part II.


    Chapter X. A Question ofPrejudice

    Chapter XI. What is Atheism?

    Chapter XII. Spencer and the Unknowable

    Chapter XIII. Agnosticism

    Theism or Atheism 1

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    Chapter XIV. Atheism and Morals

    Chapter XV. Atheism Inevitable

    [Pg vi]

    Preface.Shrouded in the cloak of philosophy, the question of the existence of God continues to attract attention, and, I

    may add, to command more respect than it deserves. For it is only by a subterfuge that it assumes the rank of

    philosophy. "God" enters into philosophy only when it is beginning to lose caste in its proper home, and then

    in its new environment it undergoes such a transformation as to contain very little likeness to its former, and

    proper, self. It disowns its parentage and claims another origin, and, like so many genealogists devising

    pedigrees for the parvenu, certain philosophers attempt to map out for the newcomer an ancestry to which he

    can establish no valid claim. Nothing would, indeed, surprise the ancestor more than to be brought face to face

    with his descendant. He would not be more astonished than would the ancient Eohippus on meeting with a

    modern dray-horse. In anthropology or history the idea of God may fairly claim a place, but it has no place in

    philosophy on any sensible meaning of the word.

    The consequence of this transference of the idea of God to the sphere of philosophy is the curious position

    that the God in which people believe is not the God whose existence is made the product of an argument, and

    the God of the argument is not the God of belief. The theory and the fact have no more likeness to each other

    than a chestnut horse has to a horse-chestnut. A fallacy is perpetuated by appealing to a fact, but the fact

    immediately discredits the fallacy by disowning it in practice. The grounds upon which the belief in God is

    supposed to rest, the reasoning from which it springs, are seen to follow the belief instead of preceding it. The

    roots are in the air, and on closer[Pg vii] inspection are seen to be artificial adornments, so many imitations

    that have been hung there for the purpose of imposing on near-sighted or careless observers.

    The purpose of the following pages is to make clear the nature of this alliance and to expose the real character

    of what we are asked to worship. There are, of course, many on whose ears any amount of reasoning will fallwithout effect. To that class this book will not appeal; it may be questioned whether many will even read it.

    They will go on professing the belief they have always professed, and taking pride in the fact that they have

    an intellect which is superior to proof, and which disdains evidence when it runs contrary to "my belief."

    Others will, I expect, complain that the treatment of so solemn a subject is not "reverent" enough. But why

    any subject should be treated reverently, as a condition of examination, is more than I have ever been able to

    discover. It is asking the inquirer to commence his investigation with a half-promise to find something good

    in what he is about to examine. Whether a thing is worthy of reverence or not is a conclusion that must follow

    investigation, not precede it. And one does not observe any particular reverence shown by the religious person

    towards those beliefs in which he does not happen to believe.

    But there are some who will read thoughtfully an examination of so old a subject as Theism, and it is to thosethat these pages are addressed. One cannot hope to say anything that is strikingly new on so well worn a

    subject as the existence of God, but there are many who will read an old subject when presented in a new

    work, and even then there is also the possibility of presenting an old topic in a slightly new form. And I think

    these will find the main lines of the defence set up by the Goddite dealt with in a manner that should at least

    make the point at issue clear.

    [Pg viii]

    Finally, it is one aim of this book to press home the point that the logical issue is between Theism and

    Atheism. That there is no logical halting place between the two, and that any attempt to call a halt is little

    The Project Gutenberg eBook of Theism Or Atheism, by Chapman Cohen.


  • 8/9/2019 Theism or Atheism the Great Alternative


    more than a concession to a desire for mental or social convenience, seems to me as clear as anything can well

    be. And there is really nothing gained, ultimately, by the halt. Disinclination on the part of the non-Theist to

    push the issue to its logical conclusion is treated by the Theist as inability to do so, and is used as an argument

    in support of his own belief. In matters of the intellect, compromise is almost always a dangerous policy. It

    heartens one's enemies and disheartens one's friends. And there is really no adequate reason why those who

    have given up belief in deity should continue to treat this master superstition of the ages as though it were one

    of our most valuable inheritances, to be surrendered with lowered heads and sinking hearts. We who knowboth sides know that in giving up the belief in deity we have lost nothing of value, nothing that need cause us

    a single regret. And on that point we certainly can speak with authority; for we have been where the Theist is,

    he has not been where we are. Many of us know quite well all that is meant by the fear and trembling with

    which the believer looks upon a world without God. And we know how idle the fear isas idle as a child's

    fear of the dark. What the world is like with God, there is all the experience of history to inform us; and it

    would indeed be strange if love and brotherhood, armed with the weapons that science has given us, could not

    produce a better human society than has ever existed under the dominion of the Gods.

    Part I.


    [Pg 9]


    What is God?

    Soon after that famous Atheist, Charles Bradlaugh, entered the House of Commons, it is said that a fellow

    member approached him with the remark, "Good God, Bradlaugh, what does it matter whether there is a Godor not?" Bradlaugh's answer is not recorded, but one is impelled to open the present examination of the belief

    in God, by putting the same question in another form. Is the belief in God, as we are so often assured, one of

    the most important questions that can engage the attention of man? Under certain conditions one can conceive

    a rational answer in the affirmative. Where the mental and social conditions are such that men seriously

    believe the incidence of natural forces on mankind to be determined by the direct action of "God," one can

    appreciate right belief concerning him being treated as of first rate importance. In such circumstances wrong

    ideas are the equivalent of disaster. But we are not in that condition to-day. It is, indeed, common ground with

    all educated men and women that natural happenings are independent of divine control to at least the extent

    that natural forces affect all alike, and without the least reference to religious beliefs. Fire burns and water

    drowns, foods sustain and poisons kill, no matter what our opinions on theology may be. In an earthquake or a

    war there is no observable relation between casualties and religious opinions. We are, in fact, told bytheologians that it is folly to[Pg 10] expect that there should be. A particular providence is no longer in

    fashion; God, we are told, works only through general laws, and that is only another way of saying that our

    opinions about God have no direct or observable influence on our well-being. It is a tacit admission that

    human welfare depends upon our knowledge and manipulation of the forces by which we are surrounded.

    There may be a God behind these forces, but that neither determines the extent of our knowledge of them or

    our power to manipulate them. The belief in God becomes a matter of, at best, secondary importance, and

    quite probably of no importance whatever.

    But if that be so why bother about the belief? Is that not a reason for leaving it alone and turning our attention

    to other matters? The answer to that is that the belief in God is not of so detached a character as this advice

    The Project Gutenberg eBook of Theism Or Atheism, by Chapman Cohen.

    Preface. 3

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    assumes. In the course of ages the belief in God has acquired associations that give it the character of a highly

    obstructive force. It has become so entangled with inculcated notions of right and wrong that it is everywhere

    used as a buttress for institutions which have either outgrown their utility, or are in need of serious