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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

The Half-Way House of Intuitionalism

The Half-Way House of Intuitionalism.

The intuitional philosophy, which assumes God as a given fact, an original datum, a first principle-from which all religion is a deduction, marks the border-land between these two conflicting methods, page 6 It is the last refuge of dogmatism. Granted its one premise, intuitionalism obeys in all else the scientific method, or professes to. But this premise must not be questioned. If this is overthrown, it sees no escape from atheism. The being of God must be guaranteed to it by an immediate revelation, differing in kind not at all from the revelation claimed by the Church. The only difference is that this one, fundamental revelation is interior, made to the private soul by a transcendent or supernatural experience, rather than exterior, made to the whole world by a supernatural revealer. Thus the intuitional philosophy retains the Christian method in establishing its one great premise, and adopts the scientific method in all other respects. It is thus "a house divided against itself," and it must fall. That I am not unfair in this criticism, will be apparent to any one who reads carefully the remarkable article on "Theism—Desiderata in the Theistic Argument," contained in the British Quarterly Review for July last. I will quote some passages from this article, which I regard as the ablest and most philosophical defence of the intuitional philosophy that I have ever read:—

"Finally, there is the argument which, when philosophically unfolded, is the only unassailable stronghold of theism, its impregnable fortress, that of intuition. . . . It is simply the utterance or attestation of the soul in the presence of the Object which it does not so much discover by searching, as apprehend in the act of revealing itself. . . . It is nor an argument, an inference, a conclusion. It is an attestation, the glimpse of a reality which is apprehended by the instinct of the worshipper, and through the poet's vision as much as by the gaze of the speculative reason. . . . The object of which we are in search is not a blank, colorless abstraction, or necessary entity. Suppose that a supreme existence were demonstrable, that bare entity is not the God of theism, the infinite Intelligence and Personality, of whose existence the human spirit desires some assurance, if it can be had. . . . It [the condemned teleological argument] can never assure us that those traces of intelligence to which it invites our study proceeded from a constructive mind detached from the universe. [In this expression the old Christian idea of a God outside of or above Nature is clearly assumed, without which, indeed, there could be no idea of intuiting him as an isolated "object."] . . . . For the theist merely to proclaim, as an ultimate fact, that the human soul has an intuition of God that we are endowed with a faculty of apprehension of "which the correlative object is divine, will carry no conviction to the atheist. Suppose that he replies, 'This intuition may be valid evidence for you, but I have no such irrepressible instinct; I see no evidence of innate ideas in the soul, or of a substance underneath the phenomena of Nature of which we can have any adequate knowledge we may close the argument by simple re-assertion, and vindi-[unclear: And] page 7 principles there can be no farther proof. . . . The very existence of the intuition of which we speak is itself a revelation, because pointing to a Revealer within or behind itself. . . . . This, then, is the main characteristic of the theistic intuition. It proclaims a supreme Existence without and beyond the mind, which it apprehends in the act of revealing itself. . . . . The intuitionalist, on the other hand, perceives that a revelation has been made to him, descending as through an opened cloud, which closes again . . . . His knowledge is due not to the penetration of his own finite spirit, but to the condescension of the infinite. But we admit that this intuition is not naturally luminous. . . . When not lit up by light strictly supra-natural,—because emanating from the object it discerns,—it is dull and lustreless. . . . It will be found that all who deny the validity of our intuition either limit us to the knowledge of phenomena, or, while admitting that we have a certain knowledge of finite substance, adopt the cold theory of nescience. [This is untrue, and shows a total ignorance of the grounds of scientific theism.] . . . The assertion, therefore, that Nature, of which the physical sciences are the interpretation, does not reveal God by its phenomena, is as strongly asserted by the [intuitional] theist as by the positivist. . . . The God of [intuitional] theism is no inference from phenomena, but, if we may so speak, a postulate of intuition."

On these passages, I wish only to say here that I object chiefly to the method they illustrate, as entirely irreconcilable with the method of science. The writer has no conception of scientific theism. For one, I frankly admit that I have no such intuition as he (or she?) describes, as the subjective revelation of a supernatural object; yet I should be loth to possess a feebler religious sentiment. The difference, I think, lies in the intellectual analysis and interpretation of experiences by no means monopolized by in-tuitionalists, who usually express great respect for science, yet seem to feel that it would be a degradation to rest their belief in God on a scientific basis. They disparage "observation," forgetting that intuition is itself only another name for "observation," and that, if they have an intuition of God, they must observe" him. But a God that can be "observed," or (if the word is preferred) intuited, as an "object," must be an object of sense,—the internal sense, it is true, but none the less of sense. In what respect is the internal sense, or the supposed intuitive faculty, superior in dignity to the external senses or common perceptive faculties? If God is an "object" of intuition, he is by that very fact an object of sense. The special intuitive faculty, admitting it to exist, is of a lower grade than the' rational faculty by which scientific theism believes itself to know God. To me it seems a mere species of idolatry to worship a God that can[unclear: And] page 8 ous faculty, whether dignified by the name of" intuition" or disparaged by the name of "observation"—both names really signifying the same thing. The understanding is decried by intuitionalism as lower than the reason: but intuitionalism reduces the reason to the level of a passively receptive faculty, a mere capacity of receiving sensuous impressions, and thus puts it far beneath the understanding, which is the active faculty of intellectual comprehension, the manifestation of mental vitality, the power of pure-thought. I regard it as a nobler thing to comprehend than simply to behold,—a higher act to exercise-the pure intellect than to receive impressions by any intuitive faculty, whether of outward or inward' sense.

Is it possible that intuitionalism suffers itself to-fall into the perilous vanity which seems always to accompany the conceit of special private revelations? Not always, at least. But there is danger of it. The method is bad, radically bad; and it marks the confusion which now prevails between the Christian and the scientific method. Revelation has not yet given: place to reason, but in intuitionalism it has concluded a temporary compromise. In the end, however, this half-way house between the Christian method of supernatural revelation, and the scientific method of' natural reason will be deserted, and stand only as a monument of half-developed thought. I feel more and more convinced that modern religion must, with a courageous faith, throw itself into the arms of science. In fact, science itself is meeting religion half way, by the confession of some of its most distinguished promoters. For instance, Mr. Alfred R. Wallace, referring to certain organic characteristics which he holds could not have been produced by Natural Selection, and which he thinks point to "the-action of mind" among the forces which have produced them, says:—"I would further remark that this inquiry is as thoroughly scientific and legitimate-as that into the origin of species itself. It is an attempt to solve the inverse problem, to deduce the existence of a new power of a definite character, in order to account for facts which according to the theory of Natural Selection ought not to happen. Such problems are well known to science, and the search after their solution has often led to the most brilliant results. In the case of man there are facts of the nature above alluded to; and, in calling attention to them and in inferring a cause for them, I believe that page 9 I am as strictly0 within the bounds of scientific investigation as I have been in any other portion of my work." [Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, p. 335. Compare preface, p. viii.]

Without expressing an opinion on the particular cases referred to, I fully believe that Mr. Wallace-rightly includes such problems within the legitimate domain of scientific inquiry; and I rejoice in the fact. So also Prof. Huxley, in his admirable little work just reprinted by Appleton & Co. with the title" More Criticisms on Darwin, and Administrative Nihilism,"' says:—"By science. I understand all knowledge which rests upon evidence and reasoning of a like character to that which claims our assent to ordinary scientific propositions. And if any one is able to make good the assertion that his theology rests upon valid evidence and sound reasoning, then it appears to me that such theology will take its place as a part of science." [p. 25.] if faith in God is good for anything—if it is based on truth.—I fear no harm to it from the broad daylight of science. But if, like the owl, it is a night-bird, and can thrive only in the-gloom of a mystery that science cannot penetrate, then I want none of it. "The prayer of Ajax was-for light." I know no better prayer.