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the joys that make life worth living, are, probably, in as small a minority as those who have never known the griefs that rob existence of its savour, and turn its richest fruits into mere dust and ashes.”
Writers like Paley and Dean Farrar remind us of Wm. Blake's lines beginning, “Little lamb, who made thee;” whereas Winwood Read and Sir S. Baker seem to be always chanting, “ Little wolf, who made thee.” I would follow Prof. Huxley in his opinion that the truth lies between the two views; that there is a great deal of happiness upon the earth, and also a great deal of misery, pain, and suffering. Any attempted solution of the problem of evil must therefore take account of both phases of the world's condition. This the hypothesis of a beneficent, omnipotent, and omniscient Creator fails to do, or else is bound either like Bishop Butler to fall back upon ignorance as an answer to objections, or to falsely assume, like Paley, that the theory of another life will rectify everything.
As Matthew Arnold points out, in his Literature and Dogma, what we mean by God is, in general, “ the best one knows;” and what the writer of the 1st Epistle of S. John meant by God was probably the best that anyone can know. With that conception, the powers that have created the world do not appear, in spite of the efforts of apologists to persuade us of the contrary, to have been in unison. There is no distinct explanation of the problem in the Jewish scriptures or the Christian gospels ; and I think it is quite permissible for a man to call himself a Christian, and yet either to confess his ignorance, like Arnobius, or to attempt to frame a theory which will satisfy the logic of his mind and his love of truth. But I do not think it permissible for any reasoning man to say that the God whom he worships is beneficent and at the same time the prime author of evil, pain, and suffering. If there is any meaning in words, a God of beneficence cannot create evil and pain, because it would be contrary to his own nature, and a self-contradictory God is unimaginable. But, as evil and pain are admitted to be present throughout the world known to us, and in such a way that they are interwoven with happiness and pleasure in the onward progress of the human race, as well as in the lives of the inferior animals and creatures, we must adopt some hypothesis that will account for their presence, or else, as Arnobius and Butler did, fall back on ignorance. It seems, however, to me that it is possible to find an escape from the dilemma by adopting one of two hypotheses, either of which will furnish some explanation of the difficulty.
The first is, that man is a being fallen from a higher state of existence, and that with that event his surroundings have been put out of harmony with him.
This hypothesis is almost in accordance with the account in Genesis, leaving out the mythological details. It is not, however, consistent with a belief in the theory of evolution. Still, that theory has not yet been proved in its entirety, and though it may be probably correct, is not certainly so.
The second hypothesis is, that the present state of the world is due to a contest between two great powers of good and of evil at the very time of creation, so that the works of nature are really the resultants of opposing forces. This hypothesis may be illustrated by the remark of Paley, that “general laws, however well set and constituted, often thwart and cross one another.” If “general laws" were laid down by one beneficent power, this statement of Paley would imply that God often thwarted and crossed himself. On the hypothesis before us the fact requires no further explanation. As, however, it may be concluded, both from the facts of nature and the history of man, that, on the whole, happiness prevails over misery, and that man's moral nature is advancing, we may also conclude that the spirit of good is in the ascendant, and will be the complete master in the end.
PostSCRIPT. In the discussion that followed on the reading of the above paper, certain criticisms were passed on the second part of it, which I think deserve to be noticed.
They were in brief the following :
(1) That a third hypothesis to account for the existence of evil, namely, that advocated by John Stuart Mill in his essay on Theism, is preferable to the two which I advance. This hypothesis supposes that the Deity had to work out his ends by combining materials of a given nature and properties, and that his powers were limited.
(2) That to discuss the questions of the origin of evil and the nature of the Deity is a waste of time. It is better to devote oneself to doing one's duty.
(3) That it is unfair to quote the arguments of Butler and Paley, as they are out of date, and their reasoning is “ futile.”
(4) That the God of the Psalmist was really the same as that of Abraham and of Jephthah; it was only the idea of his nature that had changed.
To which I would reply:
(1) Of all these the only serious argument is the first. But I feel strongly that the hypothesis of Mill is an impossible one, because it practically ignores and puts aside the human ideal of God. It supposes not only that the Deity is not omnipotent, but that his powers are very limited indeed, that the single end and aim of creation was not the happiness of his creatures, and that if we look for any other moral attribute in the Creator's character besides a limited benevolence, such as justice, “ we find a total blank.” Which is the more probable hypothesis, that the Deity who created the higher moral attributes is himself immeasurably superior to our highest ideals, or that his character presents " a total blank ?” I have no hesitation in choosing the former, but thereby bring myself face to face with the question which is the keynote of my paper, viz., if the highest human ideal of God, that contained in the definition of S. John, be correct, how can we account for the presence of sin and suffering in the world? Either of my two hypotheses is an attempt to answer this question, Mill's hypothesis is not. It does not deal with the condition attached to the question, and only attempts to account for the attributes of the Creator as revealed by physical nature, ignoring the evidence furnished by the heart and mind of man. At one part of his essay Mill discusses the hypothesis of the world being carried on under an arrangement between the powers of good and evil, but puts it on one side, in a somewhat ex cathedra fashion, as impossible of acceptation, his main reason being that “the imperfections in the attainment of the purposes which the appearances indicate, have not the air of having been designed.” It comes as a surprise to be informed in the concluding chapter (p. 256, 1st edit.) that a battle is constantly going on between the powers of good and evil, in which good “is gradually gaining ground from evil, yet gaining it so visibly at considerable intervals as to promise the very distant but not uncertain final victory of good.” One would have thought that he had forgotten his previous views about the imperfect and unmanageable materials that the Creator had to use, that his character (except a limited benevolence) was a perfect
blank to us, and that the imperfections of creation were undesigned. But we must remember that the essays were published after Mill's death, and might have been altered by him on revision.
(2) The second criticism that I have mentioned is based on a fallacy, viz.: that man's duty can be defined without reference to the supposed nature and attributes of the Deity. If we are undecided as to the attributes of the God that we worship, what is the foundation of our idea of duty ? It must resolve itself into expediency.
(3) I have quoted Butler and Paley because they are the only official exponents of Christian evidences with whom I am acquainted, and because their works are still in use in some of our universities in that capacity. When any one of these universities dethrones them and places a modern writer in their stead, it will be time to declare them out of date. It is not, of course, for me to deny that their arguments are “futile.” I must remind my critic that, so recently as 1896, Mr. Gladstone edited the new Clarendon Press edition of Butler's works, and that he had previously quoted from them in his Impregnable Rock of the Holy Scriptures.
(4) The statement composing the fourth criticism appears to me quite untenable. If a savage thinks that his god is of such a nature that the offering of a human being on his altar will please him, and still more so if the victim be a son or daughter of the worshipper; and if there be a true God, whose nature is pure beneficence, can the savage be said to worship the true God, whatever name he may use in his invocations ? Surely not.
When writing my paper I had not seen the anonymous work entitled Evil and Evolution (published by Macmillan and Co.). The author is a strong advocate of the view