Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Belief in God a Matter of Intuition
By Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887)
 
[The Vitality of God’s Truth.—Evolution and Religion. 1885.]

TO-DAY there are great topics about which the minds of men are unsettled. I do not know that there ever was a period in which thinking, educated men were so unsettled as they are now concerning the nature and existence of God.
  1
  There is no use of hiding these things. It is of no use to say that a man must be a fool who does not believe in a God. I tell you that the question is a profound one. I have both sympathy and respect for any honest man whose mind labors on that question. When men say that you cannot prove the existence of God by science, I say “Amen,” and only subjoin that it never was pretended, either by prophet, by seer, by apostle, by the Saviour, or in the word of God, anywhere, that it could be proved in that way. God is a spirit. Science deals with matter. You cannot demonstrate the existence of God in any such way as you can demonstrate the existence of matter, or even the fruit of organized matter in human constructions. Who would ever undertake to demonstrate the quality of one of Raphael’s pictures by any scientific process, or in any court except the court of a man’s taste? You might scrape off the paint, and chemically separate it, and give the proportions of red and yellow, and blue, and green and gray, but all that would not come anywhere near to a demonstration of the superb artistic genius of Raphael or Titian; nor would any test, by alkali, by acid, by reagent, by measurement, by inches, by lines, or by any mechanical means, approach a proof. I should like to see an engineer’s report on Rubens’s pictures. An engineer can tell you everything that belongs to altitude, width, and extent. He can give you a picture of a fort, and tell you where its weakness is or where its strength lies. He can gauge a mountain; he can weigh it in every way; he can tell where to cut off and where to fill up; he can lay down beforehand the yet unaccomplished result in a picture that shall be as the thing is to be when it is really executed; but what would be an engineer’s report on John Milton’s poetry? I should like to see Mr. Huxley, Mr. Tyndall, or any other man, give a scientific account of King Lear, of Hamlet, or of Shylock. Yet the world does measure and appreciate these things. How? By a laboratory process that is more subtle and a great deal higher than any that deals with mere matter. The evidence of thought is before the tribunal of thought. The evidence of quality is in the presence of the tribunal of quality. A man standing before a magnificent scene, and not seeing anything in it, is not a judge of the man that stands before the scene and is thrilled in every faculty of his nature by it. I know that there is the existence of a God—well, not exactly as I know that it is summer because I feel it; yet that, perhaps, is as near an illustration of it as is possible, though it is not an analogy. I stand in the presence of God and of the facts that are poured in upon me. I do not undertake to say it is just so much; but I am in the presence of a power that is not represented by the air, the earth, the water, or any chemical elements. I am in the presence of a Spirit that encompasses me, that inspires me, that lifts me out of myself. No human being ever did it. Nature never did it. It is God; it is God. Moral intuition is the great evidence of the existence of God. Yet we are not to despise men who having had the ordinary and conventional teaching of the existence of God, look into it philosophically, or search it scientifically, and are overwhelmed with doubt. They are yet in the desert; but they are on the way to the promised land.  2
 
 
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