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of the universe increases its material, and every old supposed fact exploded diminishes it.
Now, all the facts that any man can possibly know may best be divided, for our present purpose, into two classes, internal facts and external facts. By internal facts we mean the facts of one's own consciousness, and by external facts, all else that can be mentioned. The former are certain to one, the latter merely probable. Every man who constructs a botany, or a geology, or any other science, makes it out of probable facts only. Every man who writes a history states and explains nothing of which he can be more than probably certain. How evident it is, then, that he who seeks to give unity to all the sciences, to explain the universe in which the great mass of the facts are only probable, can never attain to more than a probable solution of the problem, and can never justly ask another to accept his conclusions on any other ground than the high degree of their probability.
Great thinkers, from Thales, Plato and Moses, have had their theologies—their explanations of the origin and nature of the universe, as they understood it, and many of these explanations have been of extraordinary merit; but even St. Paul himself could never have been certain that his explanation was more than a probably true one.
Three great systems of theology are presented in the New Testament. Some prefer that of St. Paul; some find the Petrine theology more to their mind; while others adhere to that of St. John. The Apostles' Creed contains, perhaps, the sum and substance of all three; but no assertion in it transcends the realm of the probable. A brief examination of the creed itself will make this apparent. It begins with the statement, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Now, the existence of the Absolute back of nature and all finite being, like one's own existence, is a matter of positive certainty; but any assertion concerning the nature of that Absolute, since it is an induction from probable facts, can never be more than probable. When we say, therefore, with the creed, that God is the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, we are asserting something about the nature of the Supreme Being of which no man can be more than probably certain. The degree of confidence we are justified in having in this statement depends on the degree of its probable truthfulness.
Take, again, the statement of the creed concerning the nature and mission of Jesus: "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
Whether there ever existed on the earth such a person as Jesus, and what He experienced, are purely matters of historical evidence. And as everything that is a matter of evidence is a matter of probability, this must be also. We can never be absolutely certain that those who wrote His history were really acquainted with the facts of His life, or have honestly represented them, or that their testimony, after being once recorded, has not been so frequently and radically altered as to give us today, in some respects, an erroneous conception of the truth. Even if we regard the record as it stands as veritable history, the doctrine of the actual divinity of Jesus, that He is in reality Son of God as well as Son of man, is an induction from certain alleged facts, and can, therefore, never be established beyond all possible doubt.
The creed closes with the affirmation: "I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting."
The writer of this passage, from the data that he had before him, simply drew the conclusion that the arguments in favor of these propositions were far stronger than those against them; and, accordingly, he was ready to say concerning them, as he does say in the statement itself, "I believe”-not "I am absolutely certain of their truthfulness."
But it makes no difference to the matter in hand from what source he obtained his information. Even if we allow that every word in Scripture came directly from the lips of the Almighty, no man could ever be more than probably certain that he correctly heard the words when they were uttered, or correctly wrote them down, or correctly understood them after they were written, either by themselves or in their mutual relations. There is always room for possible doubt concerning any of these assertions; and all that the profoundest thinker can do for them is to establish their probable truthfulness.
What we have said concerning the so-called Apostles' Creed applies with equal force and validity to every creed in Christendom and to every system of theology, however elaborately constructed or however dogmatically expressed. The most certain of their generalizations are probable, and probable only, and those who teach them are never justified in urging their acceptance upon others on any other ground. The only theology that has any basis for its existence is an inductive theology; and just as "all inductions in physical science are only probable," so they are in theological science also.
It is never necessary, in fact it is never possible, to do more for any doctrine in any department of inquiry than to show that the balance of probabilities is in its favor. When we have shown that, we have made the doctrine worthy of credence, we are entirely justified in accepting it as a truth and adopting it as a rule of conduct.
He who says of any generalization in any sphere of thought that he will not accept it as true until he is absolutely certain of it, literally does not know enough to eat when he is hungry, or to drink when he is thirsty. The conduct of an ordinary idiot would put him to the blush. As John Locke so tersely puts it, “He that will not stir until he infallibly knows that the business he goes about will succeed, will have but little else to do but to sit still and perish.”
Every man, because he is a man, is endowed with powers for forming judgments, and he is placed in this world to develop and apply those powers to all the objects with which he comes in contact. In every sphere of investigation he should begin with doubt, and the student will make the most rapid progress who has acquired the art of doubting well. But doubt is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. We begin with doubt in order that we may not end with it. To continue to doubt after the material for forming a judgment is before the mind, is a sign of weakness. The man who does so commits intellectual suicide. All you can do for him is to give him a decent burial and pass on.
We ask that every student of theology take up the subject precisely as he would any other science; that he begin with doubt, and carefully weigh the arguments for every doctrine, accepting or rejecting each assertion according as the balance of probabilities is for or against it. We demand that he thoroughly “test all things," and thus learn how to "hold fast that which is good.”
We believe that even the teachings of Jesus should be viewed from this standpoint, and should be accepted or rejected on the ground of their inherent reasonableness. But we also firmly believe that the probabilities that He spoke the truth are so high that they can never be made any higher; that, when His doctrines concerning God and man and nature are correctly apprehended, it will clearly be seen that they fully satisfy the demands of the intellect and the cravings of the heart. And we do not regard it as at all likely that any theology of the future will have much influence over the minds of the thoughtful, that does not draw its chief and most important data from that source.
Superficial critics call the age in which we live an age of novelreading and devotion to trifles; but the more thoughtful observer does not hesitate to affirm that it is unsurpassed in earnestness.
True, it is disinclined to acknowledge the supernatural. True, it is more inquiring than asserting, more doubting than believing. Yet, there probably never has been a time in our history when purely spiritual questions have been so widely and seriously discussed as at present. The creeds of the world, both Christian and un-Christian, have never before been studied with such universal interest, or criticised with such unsparing vigor.
In fact, the one pre-eminent demand of the present hour is a truly scientific theology-not a Chinese nor a Roman nor an Anglican theology, not a Baptist nor a Methodist nor a Presbyterian theology, not a Mosaic nor exclusively a Pauline theology, but a theology so cautiously constructed as to exclude all fiction, and so profound and comprehensive in its teachings as to include all the facts.
But this imperative need of the age will never be satisfied un· til every student of the subject clearly recognizes the fact, and
constantly applies it, that in theology, as in every other department of knowledge, all generalizations are matters of a high or a low degree of probability, to be accepted or rejected according as the balance of probabilities is for or against them; and that the degree of confidence we should have in such generalizations is to be determined by the degree of their probable truthfulness.
This position, it may be said, requires that all our theological
opinions should be very largely regarded as products of faith. We admit it at once, and we reply that this is true of all opinions. Faith lies at the basis of every science. So far from faith commencing where science ends, "there could no more be science without faith than there could be extension without space.”
What Professor Rice has so fittingly said in his "Twenty-five Years of Scientific Progress" about the physical sciences applies with equal relevancy here: “From the clear recognition of the extremely narrow limits within which certitude is attainable, we may learn the rationality and wisdom of acting upon beliefs which are probable, and acting with an earnestness proportionate to the importance of the interest involved. We may learn to walk by faith more steadily by perceiving that, in this universe in which we live, only he who is willing to walk by faith can walk at all."
FRANK SARGENT HOFFMAN.