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Every science has its own method, determined by its peculiar nature. This is a matter of so much importance that it has been erected into a distinct department. Modern literature abounds in works on Methodology, i.e., on the science of method. They are designed to determine the principles which should control scientific investigations. If a man adopts a false method, he is like one who takes a wrong road which will never lead him to his destination. The two great comprehensive methods are the à priori and the à posteriori. The one argues from cause to effect, the other from effect to cause. The former was for ages applied even to the investigation of nature. Men sought to determine what the facts of nature must be from the laws of mind or assumed necessary laws. Even in our own day, we have had Rational Cosmogonies, which undertake to construct a theory of the universe from the nature of absolute being and its necessary modes of development. Everyone knows how much it costs to establish the induction method on a firm basis and to secure a general recognition of its authority. According to this method, we begin by collecting well-established facts and infer the general laws that determine their occurrence from them. From the fact that bodies fall toward the center of the earth, the general law of gravitation has been inferred, which we are authorized to apply far beyond the limits of actual experience. This inductive method is founded upon two principles: First, that there are laws of nature (forces) that are the proximate causes of natural phenomena. Secondly, that those laws are uniform; so that we are certain that the same causes, under the same circumstances, will produce the same effects. There may be a diversity of opinion as to the nature of these laws. They may be assumed to be forces inherent in matter, or they may be regarded as uniform modes of divine operation, but in any event there must be some cause for the phenomena which we perceive around us, and that cause must be uniform and permanent. On these principles, all the inductive sciences are founded; by them, natural philosophers’ investigations are guided.
The same principle applies to metaphysics as to physics, to psychology, as well as to natural science. The mind has its laws as well as matter, and those laws, although of a different kind, are as permanent as those of the external world.
Speculation assumes, in an à priori manner, certain principles and, from them, undertakes to determine what is and what must be. It decides on all truth or determines on what is true from the laws of the mind or from axioms involved in the constitution of the thinking principle within us. To this head must be referred all those systems which are founded on any à priori philosophical assumptions. There are three general forms in which this speculative method has been applied to theology.
Deistic and Rationalistic Form
The first is that which rejects any other source of knowledge of divine things than what is found in nature and the constitution of the human mind. It assumes certain metaphysical and moral axioms and from them, evolves all the truths that it is willing to admit. To this class belong the Deistical and strictly Rationalistical writers of the past and present generations.
The second is the method adopted by those who admit a supernatural divine revelation and concede that such a revelation is contained in the Christian Scriptures, but who reduce all the doctrines thus revealed to the forms of some philosophical system. This was done by many of the fathers who endeavored to exalt πίστις into γνῶσις, i.e., the faith of the common people into philosophy for the learned. This was also, to a greater or less degree the method of the schoolmen and finds an illustration even in the “Cur Deus Homo” of Anselm, the father of scholastic theology. In later times, Wolf applied Leibnitz’s philosophy to explaining and demonstrating the doctrines of revelation. He says, “Scripture serves as an aid to natural theology. It furnishes natural theology with propositions which ought to be demonstrated; consequently, the philosopher is bound not to invent but to demonstrate.” This method is still in vogue. Men lay down certain principles, called axioms, or first truths of reason, and from them deduce the doctrines of religion by a course of argument as rigid and remorseless as that of Euclid. This is sometimes done to the entire overthrow of the doctrines of the Bible and of the most intimate moral convictions not only of Christians but of the mass of mankind. Conscience is not allowed to mutter in the presence of the lordly understanding. In the spirit of the same method, the old scholastic doctrine of realism is made the basis of the Scriptural doctrines of original sin and redemption. To this method, the somewhat ambiguous term Dogmatism has been applied because it attempts to reconcile the doctrines of Scripture with reason, and to rest their authority on rational evidence. The result of this method has always been to transmute, as far as it succeeded, faith into knowledge, and to attain this end the teachings of the Bible have been indefinitely modified. Men are expected to believe not on the authority of God but on that of reason.
Thirdly, and preeminently, modern Transcendentalists are addicted to the speculative method. In the wide sense of the word they are Rationalists, as they admit of no higher source of truth than Reason. But as they make reason to be something very different from what it is regarded as being by ordinary Rationalists, the two classes are practically very far apart. The Transcendentalists also differ essentially from the Dogmatists. The latter admit an external, supernatural, and authoritative revelation. They acknowledge that truths not discoverable by human reason are thereby made known. But they maintain that those doctrines, when known, may be shown to be true on the principles of reason. They undertake to give a demonstration independent of Scripture of the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, as well as of the immortality of the soul and a future state of retribution. Transcendentalists admit of no authoritative revelation other than that which is found in man and in the historical development of the race. All truth is to be discovered and established by a process of thought. If it be conceded that the Bible contains truth, it is only so far as it coincides with the teachings of philosophy. The same concession is freely made concerning the writings of the heathen sages. The theology of Daub, for example, is nothing more than the philosophy of Schelling. That is, it teaches just what that philosophy teaches concerning God, man, sin, redemption, and the future state. Marheinecke and Strauss find Hegelianism in the Bible, and they therefore admit that so far the Bible teaches truth. Rosenkranz, a philosopher of the same school, says Christianity is the absolute religion, because its fundamental principle, namely, the oneness of God and man, is the fundamental principle of his philosophy. In his “Encyklopädie” (p. 3) he says: “The only religion which conforms to reason is Christianity, because it regards man as the form in which God has revealed himself. Its theology is, therefore, anthropology, and its anthropology is theology. The idea of (Gottmenschheit) the godhead of man is the key to Christianity, in which, as Lessing says, lies its rationality.”
By Charles Hodge