Imatges de pàgina

Principle of Authority to Questions of Religion. The expression

principle of authority' is defined to mean the principle of adopting the belief of others on matters of opinion without reference to the grounds upon which the belief may rest.

The chapter begins with some introductory remarks, which Mr. Gladstone paraphrases in a manner which I have already observed appears to me unsatisfactory. This is so important a point that I exhibit the two passages side by side :



In the preceding chapter a descrip- The fourth chapter . . . begins with tion has been given of the process by a brief description, which seems to bewhich, in scientific matters, an agreement long to the general subject and thereof the competent judges, and conse- fore to all of the earlier chapters. In it quently a body of trustworthy authority, he shows how the authority of which has gradually been formed.

he treats is not that of individuals only. In each subject the first attempts at Traditive systems grow up in a course a scientific treatment are crude, imper- of generations, and by collection, purgafect, and alloyed with rash hypotheses, tion, adjustment, and enlargement or and there is much hasty induction from advance, acquire those kinds and degrees single facts or pastial phenomena. of adhesion according to which 'a trust Numerous discordant opinions thus worthy authority may at length be arise, and there are rival schools and formed, to which a person uninformed sects, each with its own set of distinctive

on the subject may reasonably defer.' tenets. But by degrees some system He proceeds: This description, howor body of doctrine acquires the ascend

ever, is not applicable to religion, or at ency—there is an approach to agreement least is only applicable to it within in important matters

-a progressive certain limits. improvement, a gradual advance are visible--the controversies begin to turn chiefly on subordinate points and peculiar opinions are no longer handed down in schools by a succession of masters and disciples. Certain doctrines cease to predominate in certain countries—they are no longer hereditary or local, but are common to the whole scientific world. They are diffused by the force of mere evidence and demonstration acting upon the reason of competent judges, not by persecution, or reward, or the influence of the civil government. A trustworthy authority is thus at length formed to which a person uninformed on the subject may reasonably defer, satisfied that he adopts those opinions which, so far as existing researches and reflection have gone, are the most deserving of credit.

This description, however, is not applicable to religion, or at least is only applicable to it within certain limits.

26 P. 66.

27 P. 7.

Mr. Gladstone's abridgment of Sir George Lewis appears to me not only to miss the point of the matter abridged, but to add to it matter inconsistent with other parts of the book. Sir George Lewis does not say or suggest that the mere gradual growth of traditive systems' invests them with trustworthy authority. I shall show immediately that he elsewhere says exactly the opposite in regard to the schoolmen, and that he regards the authority of such systems as dependent on the method pursued by their authors, and on the nature of the subject to which they refer. Not only, however, does the abridgment add to the matter abridged something not contained in it, but it seems to me to miss the point of what it does contain. As I read it, the passage draws a contrast between the history of the growth of scientific and the growth of religious opinion. Sir George Lewis's account of the growth of religious opinion is given in the latter part of the chapter. What he says of the growth of science is, that it advances from disagreement to agreement ; that the agreement is in important matters, the disagreement on subordinate points; that the doctrines common to the whole scientific world are diffused, not by mere tradition, but * by the force of mere evidence and demonstration acting upon the reason of competent persons, and also not by persecution, reward, or the influence of the civil government; and that it is for these reasons that the authority of scientific men may be regarded as trustworthy. He next proceeds to show that this description is not applicable to religion, or at least only within certain limits. He says that all mankind, at all times and in all countries, have agreed in recognising some form of religious belief, and that the argument of the consent of nations applies with peculiar force to the belief in a Divine Power; and he gives some quotations in support of this opinion. He then goes on to say that all the civilised nations of the present world, together with their colonies in all parts of the earth, agree in accepting some form of the Christian religion.

These passages are regarded by Mr. Gladstone as equivalent to the assertion of two principles—namely,28 first, that the consent of mankind binds us in reason to acknowledge the belief in God; secondly, the consent of civilised man similarly binds us to the acceptance of Christianity. On the next page 29 Mr. Gladstone speaks of the proposition of Sir George Lewis that the acceptance of Christianity is required of us by a scientific application of the principle of authority.'

It seems to me, upon comparing together the different parts of Sir George Lewis's work, that the true state of the case is this: The two passages quoted from Sir George Lewis by Mr. Gladstone do not state in terms the propositions to which Mr. Gladstone considers them to be equivalent, but they do hint at and suggest them. They are, however, if taken as asserting what they suggest, inconsistent with the general spirit of the book, and with many other passages contained in it. If, therefore, Mr. Gladstone wishes to follow Sir George Lewis, he ought to reject or at least to qualify these passages, instead of extending them to other subjects than those to which their author in terms applied them.

a P. 9.

2 P. 10.

In order to show this, it will be necessary to notice many passages in Sir George Lewis's book which are not referred to by Mr. Gladstone. After saying 30 that all nations have agreed in the existence of a Divine Power, superhuman and imperceptible to our senses, and that all the civilised nations of the modern world agree (in recognising some form of the Christian religion,' he says "I that no such agreement has existed throughout Christendom with respect to any particular form of Christianity; and he then proceeds to state the causes which have conspired to prevent it. They are as follows:

The Christian religion first assumed a dogmatic form in the hands of the later Greeks, who had received from their ancestors the inheritance of a subtle, refined, and abstruse metaphysical philosophy. This instrument of reasoning and exposition they applied to the Christian religion, and particularly its more mysterious portions.

At a later time the Christian theology, now reduced to a more systematic form, passed through the hands of the schoolmen, and was treated in the spirit of the scholastic philosophy. Afterwards the Reformation awakened new controversies, or gave increased importance to old ones.

These, combined with other questions, have served to divide Christians into numerous churches and sects, and to keep up continual controversies between their respective advocates. 32

He then proceeds to give a general reason for the interminable character of religious controversy, and the differences to which the interpretation of the Christian records has given rise:

It is that religion, as such, is conversant with matters which are neither the subjects of consciousness or intuition, nor within the range of the serses. This is necessarily the case with all questions concerning the nature of the Deity and his attributes and the state of human existence after death. Upon these subjects we have no experience, derived either from internal consciousness or external sensation, to guide us, and accordingly not only the abstract reasonings of natural religion, but the interpretation of the records of revealed religion, give rise to questions for the settlement of which it is difficult to find any decisive rule of judgment. 33

'Difficult,'I think, is merely a euphemism for impossible,' for in no part of the book is any method of removing the difficulty suggested or even hinted at.

He goes on to say:


Owing to the operation of these causes the various Christian bodies continue to exist side by side with each other, and show little or no tendency to coalesce into a common belief, or recognise a common organ of religious truth;

* P. 69.

3 P. 72.

31 Pp. 69–70.

32 P. 70. 34 P. 72.

and he says:

Opinions on scientific matters, although they may spring from different sources, and follow for a time distinct courses, at last flow together into one main stream; whereas the distinctive tenets of the several Christian Churches not only spring from different sources, but continue to run in different channels.

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We may discern a certain analogy between the perpetuation of a particular form of Christianity and the perpetuation of a particular language. Both belong to a class, of which the forms are various, but each variety having once arisen is unchanging, and when adopted by a nation remains.

He contrasts the diversity of Christian creeds with the nearly uniform standard of morality which prevails throughout the world.'

He observes that,

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Scientific opinions follow a certain law of progressive development. While error is gradually diminished, truth is established by a continually enlarging consensus, like the successive circles made upon the surface of the water. Opinion, however, in the several Christian Churches, on the subject of their distinctive tenets, is rather variable than progressive. It oscillates backwards and forwards, but does not tend to a joint action or a common centre. 37

He enlarges at considerable length upon the efforts which have been made to obtain agreement in matters of religious opinion.38 He explicitly states that such an agreement would be in the highest degree important.39

He declares that the attempts which have been made to reconcile existing differences are sincere; he also declares that they have absolutely failed.40

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There is no consent of competent judges over the civilised world. Inconsistent and opposite forms of Christianity continue to exist side by side. There is not any general agreement among divines of different Churches, as there is among men of science, as to their respective subjects in different countries, and scarcely even any tendency to such agreement. Attempts at mutual conversion on a large scale entirely fail, while those which are limited in their numbers give rise to questions as to the motives of the converts, and add but little strength to the Church which receives them.

I do not think that I misrepresent the view which Sir George Lewis partly suggests and partly expresses upon the whole of this subject by summing it up as follows.

The opinions of scientific men tend to converge, and the opinions of theologians tend to diverge, because the subject-matter to which the opinions of scientific men relate is one upon which we can exercise our senses, and on which a practically inexhaustible amount

35 P. 73. 39 P. 76.

36 Pp. 73-4.
40 P. 101.

37 P. 74.
41 P. 97

38 Pp. 75-100.

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of evidence is accessible to a diligent observer, whereas the subjectmatter of theological speculation is one in which we have no opportunity either of exercising our senses or of collecting information from those who have been able to exercise their senses. Therefore the differences between the opinions formed upon these subjects by inquirers who may be supposed to be candid and laborious are differences inseparable from the nature of the subject.

Other parts of the book seem to me to show that this must have been Sir George Lewis's view upon the subject.?

The sixth chapter, which relates to the number of persons competent to guide opinion upon any subject as compared with the number of the rest of the community, states in many places 13 that the number of such persons is exceedingly small, that opinions are to be weighed and not counted, and that the weight of any person's opinion upon any subject depends entirely upon the amount of original study which he has given to it, and upon the degree of his aptitude for that study. It refers to cases in which systems of opinion obviously false obtained a very general currency; as, for instance, "The belief in astrology and other mock sciences of divination, in the ominous nature of eclipses and comets, as well as in witchcraft, sorcery, and magic, prevailed in Europe for many centuries. 44

This view is summed up in the following remarkable passage:

So great is the influence of authority in matters of opinion, that the extensive diffusion of any belief does not prove that numerous persons have examined the question upon its own merits, and have founded their conclusion upon an independent investigation of the evidence. An opinion 'may be held by a large number of persons, but they may all have been misled by some erroneous authority—they may have all mechanically followed the same blind guide-so that their number has in fact no weight, and they are no more entitled to reckon as independent witnesses than the successive compilers who transcribe an historical error are entitled to reckon as independent witnesses.


The ninth chapter relates to the propagation of sound opinions by the creation of a trustworthy authority, and this may deserve some further attention.

Sir George Lewis refers to four kinds of bodies by which sound opinion may be diffused.46 These are the civil government of a country; the heads of an Established Church and other Churches or religious bodies; subordinate associations for political, scientific, literary, and other purposes (including universities and places of learning); and lastly, the press. .

42 The fifth chapter, which relates to the utility and providce of authority, does not appear to me to throw much light upon this particular question. I may say the same of the seventh (On the Applicability of the Pri of Authority to the Decisions of Political Bodies ') and of the eighth ("On the Relation of the Principle of Authority to the Democratic Principle').

4 P. 169.

45 P. 170. 4 E.g. pp. 160-7.

46 T. 187.

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