Front Page Titles (by Subject) Proposition II - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
Return to Title Page for The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Proposition II - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The existence of one infinitely powerful, wise and good mind, the Author, creator, upholder and governor of all things, is a truth that lies plain and obvious to all who will but think.
Many very evident arguments prove it, I shall only mention one, and illustrate it. “There must be in nature actually existing some being, the original fountain of all derived power, whose power is underived; or all power is derived from nothing. But an original, uncreated, independent mind, the author, upholder and ruler of that system, of which mankind make a part, must be perfectly wise and good; otherwise the order that prevails in the world, and our capacity of discerning it, and aptitude to delight in it, must either be blindly or maliciously produced. Both which suppositions are equally absurd.”
This argument consists of two parts, which must be considered separately.
I. There must be in nature actually existing some being, who is the primary or original fountain of derived power, whose power is underived, or all the power which operates in nature is derived from nothing.
That there is productive power in nature will not be denied; since we ourselves, who begin to exist, are the effect of such power; and many other things are daily brought into being, which did not exist before. But what is it that we call power, efficiency, or productive energy? Tho’ in common language, we speak of the powers of matter; yet not only do all philosophers know<22> and acknowledge that matter is absolutely inactive; but every one may perceive it. For did ever matter of itself change its state, whether of motion or rest, without some cause, to which the change is exactly proportioned? Space, in like manner, is clearly perceived, and therefore universally owned to be passive, inert and immoveable. All our ideas are also no less evidently quite passive perceptions, which have no activity, or can produce nothing. Indeed, properly speaking, what we call matter and space, are but certain orders of sensible ideas produced in us, according to established rules of nature by some external cause; for when we speak of material effects and of space, we only mean, and can indeed only mean, certain sensible perceptions excited in our mind according to a certain order, which are experienced to be absolutely inert and passive, and to have no productive force. But to wave all dispute about the existence of an external material world unperceived by us, and in itself absolutely unperceiveable, as all philosophers acknowledge, and with which of course we have nothing to do; it is obvious, that we have no notion, nor can have none by experience of any thing that is active, besides will. For when we experience ourselves to produce any effect, it is by a volition; i.e. by an exercise or act of our will to give it existence, that we do it. To produce, is to give being to a thing; and we can only bring things into being by our will to do it. It is therefore will alone that produces, hath power or productive energy. From which it plainly and necessarily follows, that whatever is produced, is produced by some being or principle capable of willing that effect to exist, and between whose volition that it should be produced, and its actual existence, there is a connexion. But there is, there can be no volition without consciousness. And therefore all power belongs to mind: or nothing is powerful but a mind, or a principle of intelligence capable of giving existence to certain effects,<23> by its volition that they should be produced. We ourselves have power, or call ourselves active in no other sense and we cannot pronounce any other being active, but in that sense alone. To speak of any other activity and power, is to speak without any meaning at all. Because experience, the only source of all our ideas, (the materials of our knowledge) does not, cannot lead us to any other conception or idea of power. Blind, unthinking, unintelligent, unconscious power, are terms which either have no signification at all; or include an express contradiction.
Thus therefore it is evident, “That whatever operates, acts, hath power, or produces in nature, is an intelligent conscious principle, capable of willing, and of giving existence to effects by willing their existence, which kind of principle we shall henceforth, for brevity’s sake, conformably to common language, call in one word, mind.”
II. But as we immediately feel and experience, that whatever we give existence to, we give it to it by an act of our will; so we no less immediately feel and experience that our power of producing is very limited, and that it is derived and dependent. We experience, that our existence and all our faculties are derived and dependent; and that the connexion between the existence of effects produced by our will, and our will to produce them, is not a connexion of our making, or any way subject to our power: it is therefore a connexion established, that is, willed by some other being, by some other mind; the same without all doubt to whom we owe our existence and all our faculties. For to suppose we have derived our faculty of willing from one mind; and that the connexion between our will, and certain effects made dependent on it, is established by some other distinct mind, is very absurd. ’Tis indeed to multiply causes, not only without any reason, but contrary<24> to all reason. For what can be more ridiculous or at least more unnecessary, than to attribute our faculty of willing to one cause, and its power or efficiency to another? But however that be, the connexion between our will, and the production of any effects whatsoever, which are found by experience to depend upon our will, as to their existence or non-existence, being evidently perceived to be an established, derived connexion, by no means of our own institution or making, because nowise subject to us, or dependent on us; it must have some institutor or establisher: it must be appointed and willed by some principle sufficient to produce and establish it; which principle, it is evident from what hath been just now laid down, must be a mind.
III. But now how far can we go on and say this and this power is derived; or the connexion between this and this willing principle and its effects is derived? Can we say so for ever or to infinity? Are all the connexions in nature between will and effects of this kind? Is every power and principle of power that operates a derived one? Can we say, we are arrived at a real source of derived power, till we are come to some principle, whose power is uncreated, underived, or which never began to be? If there be not really existing in nature some one really sufficient principle of derived power, then is all derived power derived from nothing. But what is derived cannot be an original source of power. There is therefore, in nature, actually existing a primary source or principle, whence derived power proceeds, and whose power is itself unproduced, necessarily existent, and absolutely independent: that is, a source of power between whose will to give existence to the effects brought into being by it, and their production or existence, there is a connexion that cannot but obtain; and therefore is as necessary as the connexion between one property of a triangle, and any<25> other of its essential, unalterable properties: a connexion, which it is as impossible should not take place, as it is impossible that all the angles of a triangle should not be equal to two right angles. ’Tis in vain to say, that because we experience no connexion between will and its effects, but a connexion derived, and consequently instituted by some mind different from ours, that therefore to speak of an underived connexion, is to utter words beyond our ideas, and without any meaning. For knowing what it is to be derived or established by some will, surely we can say with meaning, negatively, that a connexion is not such; knowing what it is to be impossible or contradictory, we can say with a meaning, not only that it is impossible or a contradiction to suppose all power derived; but likewise that there must be a principle of power in nature of such a kind, that there must necessarily be a contradiction in affirming that its efficiency is produced or established by any other mind; and no less a contradiction in affirming that the connexion between such will and its effects, is not as absolutely necessary in itself and of itself, that is, in the very nature of the thing, as the connexion between any two properties mutually involved in one another, or essentially and immutably connected together, is necessary.
“There is therefore, in nature, some one underived, unlimited, independent source of the derived powers in nature, which operate and produce by an established appointed connexion, independent of them.”
IV. Now how many such minds may exist in nature, is certainly a very idle question. But, which is of much greater consequence to us, it is a very clear point, that the author of the same system can be but one. We are evidently a part of a system related to our earth and all its other inhabitants, which earth is but one of several planets that revolve about the same central<26> sun, from which they all receive light and heat, according to the same laws, the same centripetal and centrifugal forces. But however large or small a system may be, it can have but one author, contriver, establisher, upholder and governor, because it is as such one effect, and one effect cannot be produced by several independent wills, each of which is sufficient to produce it, or between each of which and its existence there is a necessary connexion; for this plain reason, that the same effect cannot be produced twice totally and independently. If it is said, but may not two or more independent wills make in nature but one cause or producer? Should it not be replied, that this is a very unphilosophical question? For what can be more so, than to multiply causes without any reason, or when all may be accounted for by one? But which is more, two or more independent wills, which make in nature but one cause, are to all intents and purposes, in respect of the effects or system of effects produced by such wills, but one individual cause; for by the supposal, neither of them being separately sufficient to produce the effect; the sufficiency to produce it is really the result of the two concurring wills: or, in other words, it is the concurrence of such wills that constitutes the efficiency, and makes the cause.
And after all, what, if it be not a direct contradiction in terms, approaches nearer to one, than to speak of an efficiency to produce, resulting from the concurrence of two or more independent necessarily existent principles? For if a principle, having power, be independent, is not its power independent? And how can independent power depend as to its efficiency upon the concurrence of another distinct will in itself also independent of it?
“There is then of that system of which we are a part, one independent author.”
Now this being proved, it remains, in the second place, to confirm the truth of the other branch of our<27> argument; namely, “That an original independent mind cannot be void of all notions of general order and good, or having them, be malicious, otherwise the order that prevails in nature, and our capacity of perceiving order, and our aptitude to delight in it, are either blindly or maliciously produced.”
That there is order in nature, is not only acknowledged by philosophers, who all agree, that the more accurately we search into the government of all things with in our observation, the more and clearer proofs we find of good order, and wise benevolent administration: But it is evident to every one who can think at all. For do not the seasons, the sun, moon, and stars observe their regular courses appointed to them? Is not man fearfully and wonderfully made and preserved? Or what animal, or even vegetable, is not framed with marvellous skill, and does not shew counsel and design to bring about a very good end by most astonishing methods? In one word, the slightest review of the works of nature must convince every one, that there is design and order throughout all nature, good intention, and wise management to effectuate a generous purpose every where in the minutest as well the largest objects, which it is truly delightful to behold, observe, and contemplate. But whence this order, or whence is it that we are capable of discerning order and design, generous intention and good administration, or management, in bringing about a good end by the simplest methods; and of being so highly pleased with the contemplation of beauty, order, and benevolent design, that nothing almost is capable of taking us off from that pleasant reflexion, while our mind is intent upon it, or of giving us half so much satisfaction? Whence is this; or whence indeed can it be, but from our original make? No other answer can be given to this question; but that we are so framed, or that our Maker hath so constituted us and things. Now can we suppose our creator to have<28>so formed us either blindly or maliciously? To say, he hath so formed us and things, without having himself any ideas of order, design, good and simple, frugal, wise, generous management, is to assert he hath done it blindly. For could he be imagined to operate without consciousness or intelligence, if he so operates and produces any effect, he produces it without design, without any notion of it, i.e. blindly.
And to say, he hath done it with intelligence, not maliciously, is to assert, that the noblest, the most usefull, the most delightful faculty we have, or can have any notion of, that capacity and disposition from which we receive our highest and pleasantest entertainments, and without which we would be very low and groveling creatures, is implanted in our minds by a disposition quite opposite to such a make and temper, and which, where it takes place, naturally intends evil and misery, and not good and perfection.
To all this we may justly add, that a first independent mind cannot possibly have any interest distinct from, much less contrary to the general good of its creation; and therefore it cannot be evil, or be provoked to be such: it can have nothing to irritate, fret, disquiet, or discontent it: it can therefore have no malice; but must be in its temper as remote from all cruelty and barbarity, as it is with respect to its natural powers from all limitation, confinement, restraint, compulsion, or contradiction.
“There is therefore one universal independent mind, the author of mankind, and of the whole system of which man is a part, which mind, far from being ungenerously disposed, must be perfect in goodness as well as in intelligence and power.” His intelligence must reach as far as his power; for all power is intelligent; and his power being independent, his temper must be infinitely above all temptation to cruelty: it must therefore be perfectly benign and generous. And as for our capacity of perceiving order, general<29> laws, and publick good, and our natural disposition to rejoyce and delight in it, which is our great excellence, and the principal foundation of our happiness, as he could not have formed such a power and disposition in us blindly; so far less could he have done it maliciously, unless the best of gifts can come from malignity and bad-will.
“The original independent creator and governor of our system is therefore infinitely good.”
Now this is the very idea the sacred writings give us of God; and of the plain, full, and clear evidence, all that falls within our observation, if but attended to, carries with it, of the divine existence and perfection.
How well is all the preceeding reasoning about a first cause, its independent power, and its infinite benignity expressed in the book of wisdom,a “The Lord made all things by his word: therefore the whole world before him is as a little grain of the balance, yea as a drop of the morning dew. He can shew his great strength when he will, and who may withstand the power of his arm. But he hath mercy upon all, for he can do all things, and winketh at the sins of men, because they should amend. He loveth all the things that are, and abhorreth nothing that he hath made: for never would he have made any thing if he had hated it. And how could any thing have been or endured, if it had not been his will; or been preserved, if not by his word. But thou sparest all, O Lord: for they are thine, O thou lover of souls.” And how strongly doth he plead against those who are not able to discern the perfections of God in his works, but worship the works of his hands; or which is yet more absurd, of their own hands? “Surely vain are all men who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen, know him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the work-master.<30> But deemed either fire or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven to be the Gods which govern the world, with whose beauty, if they being delighted; took them to be gods; let them know how much better the Lord of them is: for the first author of beauty hath created them. But if they were astonished at their power and virtue, let them understand by them, how much mightier he is that made them. For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures, proportionally the Maker of them is seen.” What follows against idolatry, and the account of its rise and progress in the world, is exceeding remarkable.
St. Paul speaking of the heathen not favoured with revelation says, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; even his eternal power and God-head; so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened, professing themselves wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen.”a
The meaning of which reasoning is, that God hath every where given such a clear manifestation of his existence, perfections, and providence, that his divine<31> nature, eternal power, wisdom and goodness may be clearly discovered and understood from the visible beauty, order, and benevolence observable in the constitution and government of the universe, and in all the laws and causes by which all effects are produced in it, by all those who would turn and apply their minds attentively that way (νουμενα καθοραται, if they are minded they are seen) insomuch that every one who is ignorant of God, is absolutely without excuse. And much more are they so, who having such just notions of God as his works naturally lead to, yet glorified him not as God, or suitably to his excellency; nor with due thankfulness acknowledged him as the author of their being, and the giver of all the good they enjoyed; but following the foolish fancies of their own vain minds, set up to themselves fictitious gods, till by such absurd, superstitious practices their understandings were quite darkened. For vice long indulged, renders the understanding first unwilling, and then unable to behold the light. And their understandings being thus corrupted and perverted by evil affections and habits, assuming to themselves the opinion and name of being wise, they became fools; and quitting the incomprehensible majesty and glory of the eternal incorruptible Deity, set up to themselves the images of corruptible man, birds, beasts, and insects, as fit objects of their adoration and worship. Wherefore they, having forsaken God, the God within them, reason, the voice of the true God, that easily leads those who duly exercise and cultivate it to the knowledge of the true God, went from worse to worse, from one vice to another, till the grossest of crimes were no longer monstrous in their sight, but gave them pleasure. He who abandons reason, and consequently God, is precipitated from vice to vice, and soon becomes a reproach to human nature, made for moral perfection, because made capable of forming just notions of it, and of delighting in it, and pursuing<32> it by the proper means of right culture and exercise, by which alone it can be attained.
Need I stay to put those in mind who are acquainted with their bibles, that God, the creator of the universe, who is emphatically called in scripture the Father of rational beings or spirits, because for them chiefly was an inanimate world created, is said to be a spirit, and said to be omnipotent, all-powerful, and to have made and to govern all things with perfect wisdom and goodness, and therefore to be the only object of our adoration, and to be them odel of moral perfection, after which we ought to end eavour to perfect ourselves?a And what is it that proves and clearly manifests all this, according to the scripture, but his works? The heavens declare his glory; the firmament she weth forth his praise,b the earth is full of the works of his goodness; all things praise him. Man in particular, according to the sacred writings, being created after the image of God; crowned by him with glory and honour, and invested with a very considerable power and dominion by his reason, fully shews forth the perfection of him who made him.c The living God, said Paul and Barnabasd with a joint voice, who made heaven and earth, sea and all things therein, though he hath suffered the nations to walk in their own ways; nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
’Tis to the manifest tokens of perfect wisdom and goodness, as well as of power, clearly stamped upon all the works of creation, which must have a creator, and be the copy of his mind and character, that the appeal is solely and constantly made, in the sacred writings, to prove the providence of an all-perfect mind. To this purpose doth the holy scripture reason in several<33> places, “Understand ye brutish among the people: and ye fools when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear shall he not hear? He that formed the eye shall he not see?” He who endowed us with senses to discern good and evil, with reason, with benevolence, and generous affection, is he not intelligent, good, and benevolent? Whence else could he have copied those excellencies which being bestowed upon us by him, constitute the dignity of our nature, and render us indeed the image of a creator, who is perfect reason and virtue? This, I say, is the plain meaning of many places in holy writ, and therefore I shall only add a noble account given of God in the book of Ecclesiasticus,a “we may speak much and yet come short: wherefore in sum he is all. How shall we be able to magnify him? For he is great above all his works. The Lord is full of majesty, and very great and marvellous in his power. When you glorify the Lord, exalt as much as you can: for even yet will he far exceed: and when ye exalt him, put forth all your strength and be not weary, for you can never go far enough. Who hath seen him that he might tell us? And who can magnify him as he is? There are hid yet greater things than these be we see, for we have but seen a few of his works. For the Lord hath made all things, and to the godly hath he given wisdom.”
Before we leave this proposition, it is not improper to observe that nothing can be more absurd than the doctrine which has some times been advanced; that goodness in God is not the same as goodness in men, but something of quite another kind, and which we understand not. This is highly absurd: because were this true, it would plainly follow, we could have no notion, no knowledge of God at all: we should in that case, when we pronounce God wise, just and good,<34> only affirm we know not what, i.e. nothing at all. There must be indeed this difference, that goodness, even in the best of men, is short, imperfect, and mutable; whereas in God, and in him alone, it is essential, and incorruptibly or unchangeably perfect. But still the quality is every where of the same nature or kind, though not in the same degree or proportion. The true notion therefore of the divine benevolence must be learned by considering what it is in man. And by augmenting the idea of a good man to boundless perfection, we arrive at the nearest conception that is possible for us to frame of the goodness of an all-perfect mind. Thus our Saviour teaches us to argue and ascend in our notions of goodness. “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your father which is in heaven give good things to them who ask him.”a All the perfections of the Deity, i.e. all his moral perfections, may be reduced to this one, perfect benevolence; for it comprehends in it perfect wisdom and perfect justice, truth, and veracity, and every other moral excellence. And it is that beneficent disposition of the divine nature, which inclines and moves him to diffuse upon all his creatures, through the immense universe, and through a boundless eternity to the uttermost stretch of infinite power, every good thing that is proper for them; every thing that tends to their true happiness; every good, which either they are in their own nature capable of receiving, or which for him, in his all-wise administration of the whole for the greater good, is fit and reasonable to give. Accordingly St. John more than once comprehends all the divine perfections in this one comprehensive expression, God is love; and all the duties of man, conformably to this account of the divine excellence, in love or benevolence.b Nay, our Saviour himself often gives us this<35> concise character of God, “There is none good but one, that is God.”
[a. ]Chap. ix. x. xi. xiii.
[a. ]Rom. i. 19, &c.
[a. ]Matt. v. 48.
[b. ]Ps. xix.
[c. ]Ps. viii. 5, 6.
[d. ]Acts xiv. 15–17.
[a. ]Eccles. xliii. 29–37.
[a. ]Matt. vii. 11.
[b. ]2 John ver. 6.