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ATHEISM


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ATHEISM


which could in any sense justify an atheistic position. But even materiahsm, however its advocates might dogmatize, could do no more than provide an inade- quate theoretic basis for a negative form of atheism. Pantheism, which must not be confused with ma- terialism, in some of its forms can be placed also in this division, as categorically denying the existence of a spiritual First Cause above or outside the world.

A second form in which atheism may be held and taught, as indeed it has been, is based either upon the lack of physical data for theism or upon the limited nature of the intelligence of man. This second form may be described as a negative theoretic atheism; and may be further viewed as cosmological or psy- chological, according as it is motived, on the one hand, by a consideration of the paucity of actual data available for the arguments proving the existence of a super-sensible and spiritual God, or, what amounts to the .same thing, the attributing of all cosmic change and development to the self-contained potentialities of an eternal matter; or, on the other hand, by an empiric or theoretic estimate of the powers of reason working upon the data furnished by sense-perception. From whichever cause this negative form of atheism proceeds, it issues in agnosticism or materialism; al- though the agnostic is, perhaps, better classed under this head than the materialist. For the former, professing a state of nescience, more properly belongs to a category under which those are placed who neglect, rather than explain, nature without a God. Moreover, the agnostic may be a theist, if he admits the existence of a being behind and beyond nature, even while he asserts that such a being is both un- provable and unknowable. The materialist belongs to this type so long as he merely neglects, and does not exclude from his system, the existence of God. So, too, does the positivist, regarding theological and metaphysical speculation as mere passing stages of thought through which the human mind has been journeying towards positive, or related empirical, knowledge. Indeed any system of thought or school of philosophy that simply omits the existence of God from the sum total of natural knowledge, whether the individual as a matter of fact believes in Him or not, can be classed in this division of atheism, in which, strictly speaking, no positive assertion or denial is made as to the ultimate fact of His being.

There are two systems of practical or moral atheism which call for attention. They are based upon the theoretic systems just expounded. One system of positive moral atheism, in which human actions would neither be right nor WTong, good nor evil, with reference to God, would naturally follow from the profession of positive theoretic atheism; and it is significant of those to whom such a form of theoretic atheism is sometimes attributed, that for the sanction of moral actions they introduce such abstract ideas as those of duty, the social instinct, or humanity. There seems to be no particular reason why they should have recourse to such sanctions, since the morality of an action can hardly be de- rived from its performance as a duty, which in turn can be called and known as a "duty" only because it refers to an action that is morally good. Indeed an analysis of the idea of duty leads to a refutation of the principle in whose support it is invoked, and points to the necessity of a theistic interpretation of nature for its own justification. The second system of negative practical or moral atheism may be referred to the second type of theoretic atheism. It is like the first in not relating human actions to an extra-mundane, spiritual, and personal lawgiver; but that, not because such a lawgiver does not exist, but because the human intelligence is incapable of so relating them. It must not be forgotten, however, that either negative theoretic atheism or negative practical atheism is, as a system, strictly speaking


compatible with belief in a God; and much confusion is often caused by the inaccurate use of the terms, belief, knowledge, opinion, etc.

Lastly, a third type is generally, though perhaps wrongly, included in moral atheism. " Practical athe- ism is not a kind of thought or opinion, but a mode of life" (R. Flint, Anti-theistic Theories, Lect. I). This is more correctly called, as it is described, godlessness in conduct, quite irrespective of any theory of philoso- phy, or morals, or of religious faith. It will be noticed that, although we have included agnosticism, materialism, and pantheism, among the types of atheism, strictly speaking this latter does not neces- sarily include any one of the former. A man may be an agnostic simply, or an agnostic who is also an atheist. He may be a scientific materialist and no more, or he may combine atheism with his ma- terialism. It does not necessarily follow, because the natural cognoscibility of a personal First Cause is denied, that His existence is called in question: nor, when matter is called upon to explain itself, that God is critically denied. On the other hand, pantheism, while destroying the extra-mundane character of God, does not necessarily deny the existence of a supreme entity, but rather affirms such as the sum of all existence and the cause of all phenomena whether of thought or of matter. Con- sequently, while it would be unjust to class agnostics, materialists, or pantheists as necessarily also atheists, it caimot be denied that atheism is clearly perceived to be implied in certain phases of all these systems. There are so many shades and gradations of thovight by which one form of a philosophy merges into another, so much that is opinionative and personal woven into the various individual expositions of systems, that, to be impartially fair, each individual must be classed by himself as atheist or theist. In- deed, more upon his own assertion or direct teach- ing than by reason of any supposed implication in the system he advocates must this classification be made. And if it is correct to consider the sub- ject from this point of view, it is surprising to find to what an exceedingly small number the supposed atheistic ranks dwindle. In company with Socrates, nearly all the reputed Greek atheists strenuously repudiated the charge of teaching that there were no gods. Even Bion, who, according to Diogenes Laertius (Life of Aristippus, XIII, Bohn's tr.), adopted the scandalous moral teaching of the atheist Theodorus, turned again to the gods whom he had insulted, and when he came to die demon- strated in practice what he had denied in theory. As Laertius says in his "Life of Bion", he "who never once said, 'I have sinned but spare me' —

Then did this atheist shrink and give his neck

To an old woman to hang charms upon;

And bound his arms with magic amulets;

With laurel branches blocked his doors and windows.

Ready to do and venture anything

Rather than die."

Epicurus, the founder of that school of physics which limited all causes to purely natural ones and consequently implied, if he did not actually assert, atheism, is spoken of as a man whose "piety towards the gods and (whose) affection for his country was quite unspeakable" (ib., Life of Epicurus, V). And though Lucretius Cams speaks of the downfall of popular religion which he wished to bring about (De Rerum Natura, I, 79-80), yet, in his own letter to Henaeceus (Laert., Life of Epicurus, XXVII), he states plainly a true theistic position: "For there are gods: for our knowledge of them is indistinct. But they are not of the character which people in general attribute to them." Indeed, this one citation perfectly illustrates the fundamental historic meaning of the term, atheism.