Modern Pantheism

 

 

 

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 Modern Pantheism

Among the varied and heterogeneous forms which the spirit of mysticism assumes, none, perhaps, has been more imposing, as seeming to connect itself with philosophical views, than Pantheism. The opinions of Spinoza were, at least in part, probably derived from speculations of a far higher antiquity, which influenced not only the Greek philosophy (as before remarked) but the more ambitious and transcendental systems of the orientals. Thus, in modern times, there has been a strong leaning to such ideas on the part of men whose profound classical learning, and knowledge of the ancient philosophies was uncorrected by imbibing the more positive ideas and defining tendencies of modern physics [See Sewell's "Horae Platonicae," p. 312] : and even those who, on religious grounds, have strenuously rejected Pantheism, have yet been disposed to concede the high philosophical and transcendental character of a speculation so essentially visionary and full of moral contradictions.

But to return to the domains of real science, --to breathe the free air of philosophical truth, --we advance to a great modern epoch.

Sir H. Davy

His Physical Discoveries

Amid the grand scientific advances of our own times, no man has done more to give an entire new form to electro-chemical philosophy, by his splendid discoveries, or to crown abstract principles with invaluable practical inventions, than Sir Humphry Davy. Without dwelling on the vast range of new views opened by the decomposition of potash, and the various applications of galvanism, which prepared the way for the more extended discoveries of Faraday, it would be difficult to cite an instance of wider intellectual grasp than that by which he united tinder a single generalization such apparently remote facts as that red hot iron becomes dark by contact with cold bodies, and that flame surrounded by wire gauze is safe in an atmosphere of explosive gas.

His General Abilities

When we examine the records of his life and correspondence, and his various productions on subjects distinct from his own science, we cannot but acknowledge and admire his varied and high powers of eloquent discussion, his vivid imagination, and animated expression of feeling. And though his geology was of the catastrophic school, his metaphysics of a vague kind, and his political economy such as would now be rejected, yet these were the common opinions of his earlier days.

His Theological Views 

On higher subjects, if we take as the fundamental  exponent of his views the avowal that his entire belief in a Deity was founded on an instinctive internal feeling [Dr. Davy's Life of Sir H. Davy, vol. ii. p. 89] not farther to be analyzed, this might perhaps be supposed to dispense with all philosophical reasoning or speculations on the subject; and we need think little of an insinuation of Pantheism made by' one of his biographers [Dr. Davy's Life of Sir H. Davy, vol. i. p. 124], or of an early poem entitled "Spinozism," the tenor of which is wholly opposed to its title, and which contains merely devout reflections on the works of creation.

His grand argument was that the unerring innate instinct of animals is nothing else than the immediate influence of the Deity [ Dr. Davy's Life of Sir H. Davy, vol. ii. p. 73]. And it is on the analogy of this instinct extended to man that he professedly based all religious sentiment and belief in the Divine existence, as well as the idea of revelation from Him. But in pursuing this idea he puts forward some further speculations which perhaps some may consider as more open to question. Thus he observes:

Revelation and Miracles

"What is the instinct of animals but an immediate revelation? And they have more instinct in proportion as they have less reason. In the infancy of human society, man being a more perfect animal, required more moral instinct or revelations to preserve his social existence. Now even the rudest people are accessible to the more civilized; and special revelations are no longer necessary."

"It is quite certain that in these revelations no new ideas were given, and no new impressions received; even the supposed presence of Deity may have been an imagination of a human form, and the miracles delusions of the human mind, though clearly disposed to those delusions by the existence of the instinct; and this indeed is in accordance with the Divine wisdom and power, as it is much more easy for mind to produce an ideal conviction of satisfied appetite than to create a new quantity of matter, which must have been the case if the few small loaves and fishes bad been sufficient to satisfy the multitude in the wilderness [Dr. Davy's Life of Sir H. Davy, vol. ii, p. 75]."

Again: 

"The flight of the quail and the migration of the landrail are, in fact, miraculous. . . . The meteoric stones in our time are a miracle of nature."

Yet he says in another place,--

"The occasional miracles and gleams of prophecy seem intended to demonstrate Divine interference or power [Dr. Davy's Life of Sir H. Davy, vol. ii. p. 79]."I

Without going into minute criticisms, on these expressions we cannot fail to recognize in them the general result of the enlarged physical views of the philosopher, of a more comprehensive kind than were usually avowed at the time, though conceived in an entirely religious spirit.

From what we can collect in other respects, Sir Humphry Davy's view of Christianity would appear to have been rather of that cast which identifies it with assumed moral relations of man to his Creator and the aspirations of the soul to a reunion with Him based on metaphysical views of an immaterial principle, than on any precise interpretation of the New Testament.

In the general character of the expressions just quoted, we may recognize the commanding view of natural order which a just philosophy supports, while the difficulty felt in regard to alleged cases of interruption in the chain of physical causation led to the idea of accounting for them by particular suppositions of a nature more open to question. 

Rationalism

 

 

   

 

 


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Last modified: October 15, 2016.