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   Chapter 4 THAT MAN IS A FREE AND RESPONSIBLE BEING.

The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 29075

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


(A.) Man's Mental Attributes.

Man possesses a mind as well as a body; the opposite theory, materialism, has great difficulties.

(B.) Man's Moral Attributes.

(1.) Man possesses a will.

(2.) Man's acts are partly determined by his will.

(3.) Man's will is free.

(4.) Man knows that his will is free; and this enables him to design, and makes him a personal being.

(5.) Man's responsibility for his acts.

(6.) Man's moral sense of right and wrong; which enables him to distinguish the quality of acts, and makes him a moral being.

(7.) Man's conscience, by which he can judge of this quality in some cases.

(C.) Difference between Animals and Men.

There is a great mental difference, though probably only of degree; and entire moral difference, since animals, even if free, do not possess a known freedom, and are hence not personal beings.

(D.) Conclusion.

Man consists of three parts, body, mind, and spirit: his unique position.

Having decided on the Existence of God, which is the great truth of Natural Religion, the question now arises whether, if nature can lead us so far, there is no means of getting further. No one will deny that further knowledge is desirable, both as to God, ourselves, and our future destiny, and is there no means of obtaining it? And this brings us to the subject of Revealed Religion, that is to say, of God's making some Revelation to man. And the probability of this will depend partly on the character of man-is he a being at all worthy of a revelation; and partly on the Character of God-is He a Being at all likely to make one? The former question alone will be discussed in this chapter, and we will consider man's mental and moral attributes separately. Nothing need be said about his bodily or physical characteristics, as they have no bearing on the present argument.

(A.) Man's Mental Attributes.

By these are meant man's thoughts and feelings, and that they are different from the matter composing his body seems self-evident. Matter possesses size, weight, colour, shape, and hardness. Mind does not possess any of these. They have no conceivable meaning when applied to thoughts and feelings. Yet both mind and matter exist in man. We each feel conscious that we have something which thinks, and which we call mind; as well as something which moves, and which we call matter (i.e., our bodies); and that these are absolutely distinct from one another. And from the nature of the case this inherent conviction is all we can appeal to. For mind, if it exists at all, being different from matter, is beyond the reach of ordinary scientific discovery. We cannot however be more certain of anything than of these inherent convictions, which form the basis of all our knowledge. Even the propositions of Euclid are only deductions from some other of our convictions, such as that the whole is greater than its part.

Still the difficulty of understanding this compound nature in man, part mind and part body, has led some persons to adopt the theory of materialism. According to this there is no such thing as mind; what we call thoughts and feelings being merely complicated motions of the molecules of the brain. Now, that the mind and brain are closely associated together none will deny, but it does not follow that they are identical. The brain may be merely the instrument of the mind through which it acts. And though, as far as we know, the mind can never act without the brain, it may certainly have a separate existence, and possibly, under different conditions, may be able to act separately. It is in fact no more difficult to conceive of thought without a brain, than to conceive of thought with a brain. All we can say is, that within the range of our experience the two seem to be somehow connected together.

Recent investigations, however, in what is called telepathy (or thought-transference) seem to show that in some cases one mind can influence another at a distance, and without any material connection. And this (if admitted) proves that the mind is something more than a mere collection of particles of matter.

Moreover materialism, to be consistent, must deny not only that man has a mind, but that he has anything immaterial at all; he must be matter in motion, and nothing else. But this is disproved by our memory, which convinces us that we are the same persons now as we were ten years ago; yet we know that every particle of our bodies, including our brains, has changed in the interval. We must then have something immaterial which survives, in spite of everything material changing.

The case, it should be noticed, is not like that of a tree, which may be popularly said to be the same now as it was ten years ago, though every particle of it has changed in the interval. For as far as we know, the tree has nothing which connects its present state with its former state, it has no memory of what happened to it then. We have, that is just the difference. We can remember now what happened to us ten years ago, though our bodies now do not contain a single atom or molecule which they did then. We must, therefore, have something else besides atoms and molecules, in other words, something immaterial; and if so, there is an end of materialism in its only logical form.

This theory then cannot possibly be accepted, and we must abide by our inherent conviction that we have a mind as well as a body. This is an ultimate fact in human nature; and we are as certain of it as we are of anything, though like some other ultimate facts it has to be assumed, because it can be neither proved nor doubted.

(B.) Man's Moral Attributes.

We pass on now to man's moral attributes, which we will consider in detail.

(1.) Man possesses a will.

In the first place man possesses what, in common language, is called a will. Strictly speaking, of course, the will is not anything independent of the man, which he possesses, as he might possess a dog; it is the man himself who wills, or who possesses the power of willing. But the common language is so generally understood, that it will be used here. Now the chief reason for believing that man has a will is his own inherent conviction. He feels certain that he does possess a will which is distinct from his body and his mind, though closely associated with both, and apparently to some extent controlling both. For example, I may resolve to raise my hand, and then do it; or I may resolve to think out a problem, and then do it. In each case the will is felt to be something distinct from the subsequent bodily or mental action.

(2.) Man's acts are partly determined by his will.

In the next place, a man's acts (and also his thoughts) are partly determined by his will. By this is meant that a man's will is able to move his limbs, so that, for instance, he can raise his hand when he wishes, and this gives him the power of determining his acts. It is not meant that a man's will can move his limbs directly; his limbs are moved by his muscles, which are directed by his nerves, and these by certain motions in the brain. All that the will can do is to give a particular direction to these motions, which, combined with various other forces, brings about the observed result.

Now we have in favour of this action of the human will on the human body the universal experience of mankind, which is that a man can somehow or other move his limbs at pleasure. Indeed, the question whether a man can walk across the room when he wishes, seems to most people to admit of a convincing answer: solvitur ambulando. But still, the action of will on matter seems so improbable, and so difficult to understand, that attempts have naturally been made to find some other explanation.

But no satisfactory one can be suggested. For my wishing to move my body, is followed by my moving it so frequently and so universally, that there must be some connection between them. And though we cannot imagine how a mere wish can move particles of matter (in the brain or anywhere else), it is just as hard to imagine how the movement of particles of matter can produce a wish. The latter theory is no easier to understand than the other; and, as just said, it is opposed to the daily experience of mankind, which is that a man's will can, somehow or other, move his limbs, and hence determine his acts.

(3.) Man's will is free.

It must next be noticed that man's will is a free will, and this is a most important point. It is quite distinct from the previous question. Then we decided that a man's raising his hand, for instance, was the result of his wishing to do so. We have now to consider whether this wish was free on the man's part, or whether he could not help it; the latter view being called that of Necessity, or Determinism, and meaning that a man's acts are necessarily determined, and not free. Of course everyone admits that there are limits to human freedom. A man cannot always raise his hand when he likes, it may be paralyzed. The important point is whether he is ever free; and there are two main arguments on each side.

Now the great argument in favour of free will is, again, our own inherent conviction. It is one of the most universal, and one of the most certain, beliefs of mankind that he has free will. This belief is forced upon him by his own daily experience. He feels, for instance, that he is free to raise his hand or not. And what is more, he can verify the fact by actually raising it, whenever he likes; so it is literally true to say that the conviction rests on the daily experience of the human race. And to many, this argument alone seems conclusive.

But, as a matter of fact, it is fully confirmed by human conduct. For a man's conduct is variable and quite unlike the uniformity which we find in chemistry and physics, where there is no free force, and everything is brought about in accordance with fixed laws. So we seem to require some free force in man to account for his variable conduct. These, then, are the two arguments in favour of free will-man's inherent conviction, confirmed by his variable conduct; and no more powerful arguments can be imagined.

On the other hand, the chief argument against human freedom is that it would be an anomaly in nature; since natural forces always act in the same way, and any free force, able to act or not as it likes, is quite unknown. If, then, man possesses such a force, no matter how limited it may be, he is partly, at least, a supernatural being, not bound by fixed laws.

Now all this may be admitted, but what then? Why should not man be a partly supernatural being? God, Who has made man, is Supernatural; He possesses free will, and He might, if He thought fit, bestow some of this attribute on man, allowing him, that is to say, within certain limits, to act in one way or another. No doubt, to persons who study physical science alone, the existence of any free force in man seems most improbable. But, on the other hand, to those who study the actions of men, such as barristers, soldiers, or politicians, the idea that man is a mere machine seems equally improbable.

And does not the same principle apply in other cases? Suppose, for instance, that a man were to study inorganic chemistry alone, living on an island where vegetation was unknown, would not a tree be a complete anomaly to him? Yet trees exist and have to be allowed for. In the same way man's free will may be an anomaly, but the evidence for it is overwhelming.

Moreover, the anomaly is greatly lessened by the fact that man already occupies a very anomalous position. For as we have seen, his acts are often determined by his will, and this is utterly unlike anything that we find elsewhere in nature. Indeed the action of a will is as great an anomaly as its freedom; and with the possible exception of animals (see further on) we have no experience whatever of a will that can act and is not free. Therefore claiming freedom for a man, is not like claiming freedom for a mineral, or a plant. He is anyhow a unique being, by far the highest and most important on this planet; and that he should be partly supernatural as well does not seem so very unlikely after all.

We must also remember that we know more about ourselves where we are conscious of freedom, than we do about the surrounding universe, where we infer a rigid uniformity. Indeed, our own free will is the only force of which we have any direct knowledge, and the so-called forces of nature, such as gravity, are, strictly speaking, only assumptions which we make to account for observed facts. And, as we have shown, even these forces seem to have originated in the Free Will of the Creator; so as far as we can judge, free will, of some kind is the ultimate cause of all force.

The other important argument against free will is that it would be inconsistent with what is called the Conservation of Energy, since it is said any voluntary act would involve the creation of energy. But this is at least doubtful; for the will might be free as to its acts, were it only able to control energy without producing it. And it could do this if it possessed the power of altering either the time, or the direction of force; deciding, for instance, whether to raise my hand now, or a minute hence, or whether to raise my right hand or my left. And if it possessed either of these powers, it could turn the latent force, which a man possesses, into actual motion when and how it pleased. And it would thus be free as to its acts, without creating any energy at all.

We therefore decide on reviewing the whole subject, that man's will is free; since this alone agrees with his own inherent conviction, and fully accounts for his variable conduct. While, on the other hand, though an anomaly in nature, it is not on that account incredible; nor is it inconsistent with the conservation of energy.

(4.) Man knows that his will is free.

Having now decided that man's will is free, little need be said about the next point, which is that man knows that his will is free, since, as we have shown, this is the chief argument for admitting its freedom. There are, however, many other arguments for proving that man believes that he has a free will, for it is shown by his acts. It is this known freedom which enables a man to set before him an end, and deliberately work towards it; in other words, it enables him to design, and makes him a personal being, as we have used the term. And it is needless to point o

ut that the evidence of human design is universal. Again, human language affords a conclusive proof that man has always and everywhere believed himself to be free; for such terms as I will, I choose, I decide, exist in all languages. However, we need not pursue this subject, since it is undisputed that man believes that he has a free will; and it is taken for granted in all human affairs.

(5.) Man's responsibility for his acts.

By this is meant that a man is responsible for the way in which he uses his freedom; and this seems to follow at once from his knowing that he is free. Moreover, a sense of responsibility is among the inherent convictions of mankind. Of course, there may be exceptions to this as to most other rules; but taking mankind as a whole, he certainly believes in his own responsibility.

He also believes that this responsibility is in the first place to God, or some other supernatural Being. No doubt he is also responsible to his fellow-men, more especially to those among whom he is living; but a moment's reflection will show that this is not the leading idea. For a man must in the first place be responsible to his Maker rather than to his fellow-men. In the same way a child is first of all responsible to his parents, and then, secondly and consequently, to his brothers and sisters. Therefore, because God has made us, we are responsible to Him; and because He has placed us among other men, and presumably wishes us to take some part in human society, we are in a lesser degree responsible to them also. So the brotherhood of man, as it is called, naturally follows from the Fatherhood of God.

(6.) Man's moral sense of right and wrong.

In the next place, man has the remarkable faculty of distinguishing the quality of acts which are free, regarding some as right and others as wrong, the latter being called sins. And it may be noticed in passing, that the existence of moral evil or sin seems to many to be an additional argument in favour of man's freedom; otherwise God would be the sole author of man's misdeeds. Of course, in this case, they would not be really sins, for if man has no free will, he is a mere machine, and can no more sin against God (or man either) than a watch can sin against its maker. Such a man might be imperfect, and so might a watch, but he could not be wicked; yet few will say that there are no wicked men in the world. Now we will call a being who is thus able to distinguish the quality of acts a moral being. Man is therefore a moral being, having this moral sense, as it is called, of distinguishing right from wrong.

It will perhaps make the meaning of this moral sense plainer if we compare it with one of man's other senses, say that of sight. The one, then, distinguishes right from wrong, just as the other distinguishes red from yellow, or blue from green. And as man's sense of colours is not disproved by one man thinking a colour blue which another thinks green-or his sense of taste, by one man thinking a taste nice, which another thinks nasty-so his moral sense is not disproved by one man thinking an act right which another thinks wrong.

Moreover this sense of right and wrong is quite distinct from the pleasant or unpleasant consequences which are associated with certain acts. For instance, I may avoid putting my hand into hot water, because I remember having done so before, and it was painful; but this is quite different from avoiding an act because it is wrong. It is also quite distinct from expediency, or the idea of benefiting by an act. For an act may not benefit us at all, or may even injure us, and yet it may be right. In short, 'fifty experiences of what is pleasant or what is profitable do not, and cannot, make one conviction of what is right'; the ideas differ in kind; and not merely in degree.

(7.) Man's conscience.

Lastly, as to man's conscience. This is often confused with his moral sense, but a little reflection will show that the two are distinct. For a man might possess a moral sense, and be able to classify acts as right or wrong, yet have no direct means of knowing to which class any particular act belonged. He might have to work this out by reasoning; and in difficult cases we sometimes do so. But as a rule this is unnecessary. For mankind possesses a very remarkable something, called a conscience, which tells him at once, and without either argument or reasoning, that certain acts are right and others wrong. Conscience is thus like an organ of the moral sense, and may be compared to the eye or organ of sight; for just as the eye perceives that certain colours are red and others blue, so conscience perceives that certain acts are right and others wrong. In each case the perception is almost instantaneous, and quite distinct from any kind of reasoning.

Conscience, it will be noticed, does not make the act right or wrong, any more than the eye makes the colour red or blue; it merely tells us what acts are right and what wrong. It is thus an intermediary between Someone else and ourselves; and this Someone else can only be God, Who gave us our conscience, so that in popular language it may be called the Voice of God. And it tells us we ought to act right, because this is the way in which God wishes us to act.

Now that mankind possesses a conscience is indisputable. It is shared alike by young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. It has existed in all ages, countries and races. We all have it, and what is very remarkable it seems to be independent of our will, and not at our disposal. We do not correct it, but it corrects us; for it not only tells us what acts are right and what wrong, but it approves definitely of our doing the former, and disapproves just as definitely of our doing the latter. Indeed, one of the most striking effects of conscience is this feeling of remorse or self-condemnation after wrong-doing; and such a feeling is practically universal.

And if it be objected that one man's conscience may say that an act is right, which another man's conscience says is wrong, we must remember that the decision of a man's conscience, only refers to the man himself. It tells a man what is right for him, with his knowledge and surroundings, and it is quite possible that this may be wrong for another man.

These, then, are the moral attributes of the human race, and it follows at once that man is a free and responsible being. But as this conclusion is often disputed, because of the similarity between animals and men, and the difficulty of admitting that they also are free and responsible beings, or else of showing where the distinction lies, we must examine this subject.

(C.) Difference Between Animals and Men.

Now the bodily difference between certain animals and men is admittedly small; and though the accompanying mental difference is enormous, it is probably only one of degree; for all animals seem, to some slight extent, to possess a mind, which enables them at least to feel conscious of pleasure and pain. We must therefore pass on to the moral attributes of animals; and as we know nothing as to their feelings on the subject, it is difficult to say (referring to the first three points) whether they have a free will or not. Of course, if they have not, that would be a clear distinction between animals and men. But we have no right to assume this, and there is a good deal to be said on the other side, at least in regard to the higher animals, so the question had better be left open.

But with regard to the next point, that of known freedom, we are on surer ground; for the proof of man's believing himself to be free does not depend solely on his own feelings. It is shown by his acts, as it enables him to design, and it is doubtful if there is anything corresponding to this in animals. For though many of their works show design somewhere, it does not seem to be due to them. This kind of unconscious designing (which strange to say is most apparent in the lower forms of animal life) is called instinct, and there are at least three reasons for thinking that it differs from real design implying forethought.

The first is, that, if these works were due to the design of the animals themselves, they must possess intellectual powers of a very high order. Take, for instance, the well known example of the cells of bees. These are built on the most perfect mathematical principles, the three rhombs which close the hexagonal columns having the exact angles so as to contain the greatest amount of honey, with the least expenditure of wax. And as we require advanced mathematics and a book of logarithms to work out such problems, it is hard to see how the bees can do it. Nor is heredity of any use, for the bees which build cells are all workers (as they are called) and have no descendants; while those which have descendants are either drones or queens, and these do no building. Thus the cells are built by bees, none of whose ancestors have ever built cells; so the design cannot be ascribed to anything they have inherited from their parents.[3] Secondly, animals are only able to design in a few special cases, and in other respects they often act with the greatest stupidity. A bee, for example, with all its mathematics, cannot very often, if it has flown in through an open window, retrace its way, but will buzz helplessly against another which is shut.

[3] Encyc. Brit., 9th edit., vol. iii., pp. 490, 484. The angles are 109° 28' and 70° 32'.

Thirdly, the instincts of animals are practically the same, always and everywhere. They are not more advanced in some countries, than in others; or in some individuals, than in others. They are not even more advanced as time goes on. The last cell built by a bee is no better than the first, and no better, as far as we know, than cells built by bees thousands of years ago; while the young of animals, without any experience to guide them, have the same instincts as the old. Clearly, then, an animal's instinct is born with it, and not acquired; and therefore, any apparent design there may be in what is done by instinct cannot be attributed to the animal itself, any more than the design shown in its eyes, but to its Maker.

So far all is plain. It may, however, be urged that in some of the higher animals, especially those in contact with man, we do find certain acts which seem to imply forethought and design. A dog, for example, will bury a bone one day, and go and look for it the next. But when once it is admitted that what are apparently far more striking instances of design are to be explained by instinct, it seems better to explain them all in the same way.

And this is confirmed by the fact that even the higher animals do not appear to have any idea of responsibility, or any sense of right and wrong, which in man are the result of his known freedom. Of course, this also may be disputed, since as we punish a dog for doing what we dislike, it looks as if we held it responsible for the act. But this does not follow. We punish the dog to prevent its repeating the act. And it may avoid doing so, because its memory associates the act with pain, and not because it feels responsible for it, or considers it to be wrong. While in the vast majority of cases we never think of holding an animal responsible for its acts, or look upon its injuring anyone as a sin. We conclude, then, that moral attributes form the great distinction between animals and men; because though animals have, or may have, a free will, it is not a known freedom, so they are not able, like men, to design, and are hence not personal beings.

Two further remarks may be made before leaving this subject. The first is, that though there are difficulties in placing this known freedom as the difference between animals and men, there are as great, if not greater, difficulties in placing it anywhere else. If we say that an ape or a dog can design, the difficulty is not lessened; it is merely transferred lower down the scale. Can a jellyfish design? The momentous attribute of known freedom must begin somewhere; and it seems less difficult to place it between animals and men than anywhere else.

The second and more important point is, that our ignorance about animals is no reason for doubting what we do know about man. To do this would be most illogical. Indeed, we might as well deny that a man could see, or hear, because there are difficulties in deciding where sight and hearing commence in the scale of animal life.

(D.) Conclusion.

We may now conclude this chapter. With regard to man, it is clear that his bodily, mental, and moral attributes are quite distinct. A man may be strong in body, yet of weak intellectual power; or he may have a great intellect, yet be of weak moral character. This makes it probable that human nature consists of three parts-body, mind, and spirit; the mind corresponding to the mental reasoning part of man, and the spirit to the free moral part, the word soul being often used for either of these latter.

And the difference between animals and men is probably that the former have no spirits, but only bodies and (undeveloped) minds. All life on this planet would then form three great groups-vegetation, consisting of matter alone; animals, of matter and mind; man, of matter, mind, and spirit. And from this it seems to follow that while a man's body may (conceivably) have been evolved from any other form of matter, and his mind from any other form of mind, yet his spirit is essentially distinct, and cannot have been evolved from anything else.

Moreover, as a man's body and mind are both (to some extent) under the known control of his free will, or spirit, this latter must be looked upon as his real self. Thus he is not, strictly speaking, an organism at all, but a free being served by organs both of body and mind. They are his; they do not constitute him. He is the personal being, who controls both. In other words man is a spirit, and has a body and mind.

And our present conclusion is quite plain. We have shown that man is a free being, his freedom distinguishing him from natural forces, and making him in part supernatural. And he is a responsible being, his responsibility being due to his known freedom, and distinguishing him from animals. He has thus a unique position. Nothing else on this planet resembles him, and in his attribute of known freedom which enables him to design, and makes him a personal being, he resembles God alone.

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