Originally published by Thomas Amneus, Los Angeles, CA. Theosophical University Press electronic version ISBN 978-1-55700-156-6. This edition may be downloaded free of charge. For ease of searching, words are not accented.
In the following discussion the "Law of Cause and Effect" refers to the orderly processes which operate in nature according to which the same cause always produces the same effect. If this law operates in human affairs and we reap the effects of our own acts, our lives are governed by justice; if not, they are governed by chance.
Our observations of everyday life show that there is a great deal of injustice and a great deal of chance in the world. We see many instances where the innocent suffer while the guilty escape; where the honest fail while the dishonest prosper. We see many cases where the carelessness of some will cause accidents that may bring misfortune and death to innocent victims. We see a great injustice in the uneven distribution of wealth and the opportunities of life. We see some children born healthy while others are born invalids, some born to the most favorable circumstances, while others are born into wretched conditions. Is it any wonder, then, that we should ask ourselves the question: "Does Chance or justice rule our lives?"
If we turn to the Christian scriptures for an answer we find such statements as the following: "Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measures ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt. vii, 1, 2.) and " . . . all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Matt. xxvi, 52.) In Galatians vi, 7, St. Paul says: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Similar statements are also found in other great religions of the world. From such statements we are led to believe that men's lives are governed by justice. Man's intuitions and his sense of moral values also tell him that justice must rule, but our observations of life do not bear this out. On the contrary we see a contradiction, a clash, an unbridgeable gap between the reign of law and justice that ought to be on the one hand and the facts and experiences of every-day life on the other. This glaring contradiction of what is and what ought to be presents a problem that has puzzled thoughtful people in all ages, and many have dropped it, despairing of ever finding a solution.
Man's failure to demonstrate that justice rules in human affairs has led to very serious consequences. It has undermined man's faith in religion and removed an important incentive to right action: the assurance of reward. A disbelief in justice is a belief in chance and this gives encouragement to selfishness and all kinds of wrongdoing by holding out hope that the wrongdoer may escape the effect of his evil deeds.
The selfishness of the individual, reinforced by the belief that he may escape the effect of his evil doing, is the main cause of the disharmony, strife and warfare in the world today, for the action of the nation, the party, the small group is simply the collective action of individuals. The ideas that govern individual action will eventually govern national action, and as nations act they determine the fate of civilization. We see the truth of Plato's statement: "Ideas rule the world." The idea that we can escape the consequences of our acts has given free rein to selfishness, brutality and international lawlessness, which threaten to destroy our Western civilization. A solution of the problem of injustice, then, is vital to the world's welfare. As conditions in the world ultimately can be traced back to the thoughts and actions of individuals, let us study the effect that the unsolved problem of injustice has produced on the individual.
Let us take, for example, a young man who has finished his education and enters business life. We will assume that he has had a good home, where high ideals, right action and nobility of character have been emphasized. He has been told that honesty is the best policy and that it is more profitable than dishonesty. He has been taught to follow the Golden Rule in all his undertakings.
He now enters business life and tries to put his ideals into practice. He finds that in the world about him most people are striving to accumulate money as a means of satisfying their various needs and desires. After the necessities are supplied the surplus goes to secure various pleasures and comforts, leisure, travel, social position, power, etc. The more money, the more of these desires can be satisfied, hence everybody is working at top speed with this aim in view. It is a race to get rich and the quicker one reaches the goal, the better.
There are certain ethical principles that are supposed to govern in business as elsewhere, but as he looks about he finds that very few people follow a strict moral code; in fact, he has to compete with others who are tricky and dishonest. He also finds that selfishness and dishonesty often pay more than right action. He frequently sees the unscrupulous prosper while the honest man fails. In brief, he sees numberless instances where honesty does not pay while dishonesty does.
There is law and order throughout nature; his education has shown him that, and his sense of the "fitness of things" tells him that the same law and order should apply to all human dealings also. But he sees many instances where this is not the case. The facts and experiences of everyday life do not always bear out the teachings of religion. He recognizes the beautiful sentiment of the Golden Rule and other ethical teachings, but, also, that there are no means for enforcing these. He knows that man-made laws cannot be enforced unless they have "teeth"; that is, unless a violation of the law will be followed by a suitable punishment. But ethical laws evidently have no "teeth." We may follow these laws if we choose to, but there is nothing to compel us to follow them if we do not want to do so. The realization that honesty does not always pay, and sometimes may even be a hindrance to worldly success, is a handicap in his honest endeavors and may in time lead him into dishonesty.
There is in man an innate sense of right, a moral force that urges him to do his duty by his fellows, and it is indeed fortunate that so many follow this urge. Under normal conditions this may be sufficient to influence men to right action, but occasionally temptations will present themselves which may prove too strong. We know the old saying: "Everyone has his price," and while the price varies with different individuals, if it is really great enough we know that many would yield. There are those who would not lower their standards under any circumstances, but even these will pause and wonder why it is that justice often is so imperfect and how it can happen that the dishonesty of their competitor may bring him prosperity, while their own honesty actually retards their success. Is it strange, then, that many such good people in time give up their ideals and become cynical and indifferent and perhaps lower their standards and become dishonest?
The selfish man is found in all pursuits: in business, in politics, in finance, and in common crime. His methods may vary according to his situation, but his objective is the same in every case, namely to gain advantages for himself with little or no regard for the rights of others. How is such a man, who is not restrained by any moral considerations, affected by the apparent prevalence of chance in human life? He sees instances where others of his kind have enriched themselves by dishonest means without suffering any apparent evil consequences as a result. He figures that where they succeeded he can succeed. To him this seeming absence of justice is an invitation to try his luck. The usual aim is to get rich. If he could do this honestly it would be preferable, for it would involve less risk. But honest methods are often slow and require hard work. A dishonest method may offer a short-cut to wealth and require less labor. The only objection to the latter method is that he might get caught and punished. He knows the law will reach out its arm and try to get him, but he also knows that it is possible to "beat the law" and that this depends on good planning, luck, cleverness, daring, a position of power, money for bribery, etc. If he succeeds in beating the Law, he may win a great stake, and he will not have to suffer any evil effects. He weighs his chances of success and if they look favorable he goes ahead.
We see from the above how the unsolved problem of injustice has had an undermining influence on the individual's behavior and how it has encouraged selfishness and a disregard for the rights of others. Naturally, the effect will be the same on the social body and the various groups within it, and the same applies to whole nations. The motives, the ideologies of thousands and millions of individuals become the factors that determine the acts of nations. Is it any wonder, then, that selfishness and aggressiveness have become so powerful in the world that they threaten the existence of our entire civilization?
The seriousness of this situation is well recognized by leaders of church and state. We hear appeals from the pulpit, the lecture platform, from educators and from public officials. Here are a few taken at random from the public press:
"Put Christ in the marketplace." "How are we to evangelize economics?"
"Application of the Golden Rule would give the world international peace and individual well being. What a sad commentary on our rationality, that we have not attained the wit to apply the principle!"
A member of the British Parliament once said: "I believe that the British Parliament and the British nation, if they really believe in the Gospel and in doing to others as they would be done unto, could lead the world in a new campaign."
A ruler in India says: "Scientists, doctors, engineers, social reformers, religious seers, all are making things new, but selfishness, race hatred, narrow nationalism, and greed have thrown all into chaos. . . . Our economic and political problems are ethical and spiritual problems."
One churchman says: "Application of the principles of Christ by 'civilized' nations would end the existence of struggles with which we are now confronted." And another writes: "Until business is converted and conducted in the sight of God, . . . no change in technique will be of paramount value. . . . Moral standards everywhere have been challenged and sometimes discredited."
And what is the effect of these appeals?
We read on other pages of the same publications that crime is increasing. In the early thirties, the total cost of crime in the United States was estimated at 13 billion dollars per year. In 1940 the figure had risen to 15 billion. By way of contrast, the estimated total cost of all education from kindergarten through college, public and private, reported to the United States Office of Education in 1931-32 was approximately 3 billion. The cost of crime was five times that of education.
The means used to reform criminals have not been successful. A large percentage return to crime after release. One investigator reports that out of 923 boys, who had been given various kinds of reform treatment by juvenile courts, 88% had continued their delinquency during the first five years after treatment. In another case 510 men who had spent time in a reformatory were investigated and it was found that 80% of them were still continuing their criminal careers.
A professor of pediatrics at one of our large universities expresses the opinion that a criminal is very much like an ordinary individual, who strives to satisfy his comforts and desires, but, failing to achieve his purpose or to accept his limited circumstances, he resorts to aggressive methods. Many persons who are situated in high places would do the same were it not for their favored position which gives them, without the need for aggression, the comforts and pleasures that they desire.
It has been suggested that more education would solve our problems. Our public schools and colleges are making great efforts to prepare youth for honest and useful lives and if it were not for these efforts conditions in the world would undoubtedly be much worse than they are. But education has not solved our ethical problems and has not proved a guarantee against wrong action. The knowledge acquired through education can be used to promote selfishness as well as human welfare. The wrongdoer is not always stupid or ignorant; he often shows a great deal of intelligence and in some cases he has had a good education.
The appeal to follow religion, to apply the Golden Rule in daily life may have some effect on those who are naturally inclined to right action, but it is evident that it has little or no effect on the selfish type.
If these teachings had been effective, we would not have had a world war followed after a brief period by a second one.
Why then do ethical teachings have so little effect in the world? Surely, the fault cannot lie in the doctrines themselves for almost anyone will admit that the "Sermon on the Mount" and the "Golden Rule" contain teachings which would transform this earth into a paradise if they were only applied in daily life. Even a depraved nature would probably agree to this. Why is it, then, that in spite of the efforts continued throughout the centuries they are no nearer to a realization than they were 2000 years ago? Is it not precisely because of the unsolved problem of injustice? Is it not because men feel, when they notice the injustice in human life, that the ethical teachings of religion, although beautiful, are not true since they fail to work in practice? If a good man has the courage to apply them, a selfish man will take advantage of him. The unselfish will "sow good seeds" and the selfish will step in and reap a good harvest without any sowing and so it does not seem to be true that "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap," and therefore men lose faith and give up trying.
We notice that ethical teachings are often given in the form of injunctions or commands, encouraging unselfishness and right action. They seem to harmonize with the law of cause and effect, as for example the statement: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," but they are not backed by any philosophical explanation of how the reaping is done. A spiritual appeal may be sufficient for spiritually-minded people, yet the modern, inquisitive man wants to know the "why" and the "how" before he is willing to accept any idea and act upon it.
If we could only add to ethical teachings an explanation showing what they are based on, we would satisfy man's inquisitive mind and thus make the ideas acceptable to the skeptic. If we could show that man's actions are governed by laws that are just as sweeping and just as unerring as the laws that govern material nature; if we could show that ethics have a philosophical as well as a spiritual basis, then the appeal to man's spiritual nature would no longer be in vain, for it would also appeal to man's mind.
If justice governs human life we shall reap what we sow. If we shall reap what we sow it is to our own advantage to sow good seeds. The more good seeds we sow the greater will be our harvest of good. In due time our acts will return to us. If our acts are of a beneficial nature and helpful to others, the return that comes to us will be beneficial also. Under these conditions it is simply good business policy, plain common sense to practice altruism. It may seem that this is putting ethics on a very low plane, but it just cannot be helped that it "pays" to do right and that ethics and common sense coincide if justice governs our lives.
Again, if justice governs human life and we shall reap what we sow, it follows that selfishness or any kind of wrongdoing can never be to our own advantage, for the evil effects of such actions will in the course of time return to us and we ourselves shall have to experience the suffering we cause others. To do an injury to another under such conditions is to do an injury to oneself. If we defraud others, we shall become the victims of fraud. Whatever has been gained by such fraud must in the course of time be returned to the victim. If we use violence and bring injury and death to others, exactly the same will happen to us. We do not want to reap evil; no one in his right mind does. The only way to avoid reaping evil is to avoid sowing evil. Under such circumstances any wrong doing, any act that will bring injury and suffering on others, not only does not "pay," but is detrimental to our own self-interest. Any person capable of straight thinking would shun such actions as he would shun the fire. Here, then, is an appeal to the selfish man, which the selfish man can understand: "Do good: it is sure to bring dividends. Avoid evil and you will escape future trouble." Whatever push we give to the pendulum, the pendulum will return to us.
A burglar would not break into a house if he knew that a dozen policemen were on the inside waiting to catch him. A man would not try his luck at the gambling table if he knew that the roulette wheel was fixed so that he could not win. There would be nothing gained by trying in either case. A knowledge that we shall reap what we sow would have the same restraining effect and keep man from doing wrong for he would realize the folly of bringing trouble on himself.
Selfishness or any kind of wrongdoing can be profitable only if chance rules our lives; only if it is possible to sidestep and avoid the effects of such wrong doing. In that case it would be possible to take advantage of others and to reap benefits which we had not sown and to do harm to others without having to experience the evil effects of such action. It is not difficult to see that those who practice wrongdoing believe that chance rules their lives. A politician who betrays the trust placed in him, a business man or financier who defrauds others, a gangster who kills his rivals, a dictator who inflicts suffering on his fellow men, an aggressor nation that oppresses its weaker neighbors, one and all base their actions on a belief that they can escape the effects of their evil doing. If they realized that they would have to suffer as they had caused others to suffer, they would act differently, for they would not want to inflict this on themselves. Their actions are proof that they believe in chance and not in justice, no matter what they may say to the contrary.
If men were convinced that their lives are governed by justice and not by chance, then the appeals of ethics and religion urging men to altruistic action would no longer be in vain. Man's innate, better nature, which prompts him to unselfishness, would be reinforced by his knowledge that such action is to his own advantage and that selfishness is to his disadvantage. Only a person lacking intelligence and common sense would act selfishly under such circumstances.
It may now be seen how vital to man's welfare and the future of civilization is a solution of the problem of injustice, as all wrong-doing is based on a disbelief in justice. A belief in justice brings out the advantages of unselfishness and the disadvantages of selfishness so clearly that it becomes an incentive for right action, while at the same time it removes the incentive for wrongdoing. If then we can show that justice rules our lives, we shall have taken the first step towards a solution of the problem of selfishness and crime.
Let us now turn to the main question: "Does Chance or Justice rule our Lives?" and seek an answer by examining nature and man and by reasoning from such data as we may be able to gather.
From CHEMISTRY we learn that certain atoms of one element combined with a fixed number of atoms of another element will produce a molecule of a new substance in a fixed relation to the original elements. The same ingredients will produce the same result every time. The result never varies. The same causes always produce the same effects.
In PHYSICS we learn that if a body falls in space its velocity will increase with a uniform acceleration. After a certain number of seconds we will have a certain velocity and after so many more seconds another corresponding velocity, always the same for the same number of seconds. The force of gravity follows definite laws.
Many of the laws of ELECTRICITY are known and the electric current is always found to act the same way under the same circumstances. In other words, effect here also follows cause with absolute regularity.
Examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Heat, light, sound, all are governed by laws well known to any student of these subjects.
Turning to ASTRONOMY we find that the planets are moving in fixed orbits around the sun with such regularity that their positions can be calculated far in advance. The sun, again, with its family of planets moves in a greater orbit of its own, and further, our entire "home-universe," the Galaxy, seems to travel on a still grander pathway.
As far as we have been able to investigate we have found a reign of law, order and harmony among the stars and planets in space. They all move in accordance with the law of gravitation. What may at first appear as a departure from this law is found upon closer investigation to be in full accord with it. At one time, for instance, Uranus was considered the outermost planet in the solar system. By careful observations and calculations, astronomers found that Uranus did not strictly follow the path that it should have taken if influenced only by the sun and the other known planets. This aroused the suspicion that there might be another, unknown body in the solar system which caused the irregularities in Uranus' orbit. Calculations were then made to find the location and mass of a body which would produce such irregularities, and the planet Neptune was discovered. What at first looked like a defect in the operation of the gravitational force turned out to be a demonstration of its perfect dependability.
Astronomers tell us that gravitation acts throughout the whole of space, that every body in space exerts a pull on every other body, no matter how far apart they may be, and that its action is so perfect that we cannot move a finger but what this motion affects all the stars.
We are also told that the length of the day as determined from eclipse observations extending over some 3000 years has not varied as much as one one-hundredth of a second during this long period. There are many other interesting facts furnished us by Astronomy which demonstrate the extreme regularity with which the celestial bodies move in space and thus prove the reign of law in this department of Nature.
Wherever man has been able to subject Nature's forces to rigid tests he has found that these forces obey certain invariable laws and that under the same conditions they will always produce the same effect. It has often happened in early experiments that irregularities appeared in the results, but that later and more carefully conducted experiments showed that these irregularities were due to causes that were at first overlooked and that when all contributing causes were taken into account, there were no irregularities in the entire process.
There are of course many phenomena of Nature that are not yet understood, but past experience indicates that, as our knowledge increases it will be found that these phenomena are also governed by the law of cause and effect.
It is not easy for man to determine what thoughts are or how they operate, for they are not of a material nature and therefore cannot be examined by man's five senses. As a result our knowledge of the mental plane is very limited as compared to that of the physical plane. Certain mental processes, however, such as used in mathematical work, can be studied directly.
In GEOMETRY, for instance, by starting from a few axioms, or self-evident truths, we can demonstrate certain other truths that are not so self-evident. The mental process is one of placing together certain facts and showing that from these other facts must follow. In other words, the process is governed by a law of cause and effect. Who would know, for instance, by simply looking at the figure of a right angle triangle with squares drawn on its three sides, that the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides? Yet this has been demonstrated from a few simple axioms by such a step-by-step method of reasoning as above referred to. We are so sure of the absolute truth of this proposition that, if we measure the areas referred to and find a slight inequality, we know that this error is due to faulty measurements, and not to an error in the proposition. The latter is proved without a chance for an argument.
To use another illustration: when we sit down to play a game of chess, we reason about the various moves and the consequences that will follow from each. Every new move makes a new combination of causes and the possible effects are all in exact relation to the new set of causes. An experienced player will be able to trace in his mind the chain of cause and effect for several moves in advance. An inexperienced player will only see a few of the effects that follow from a certain move. The entire game might be said to be a mental exercise with the visible pieces simply aids to the memory of what has been done and furnishing starting points for the mind to work from. All the mental processes involved consist in tracing the relations between causes and their effects.
We can form some idea of the nature and operations of thoughts from the effects they produce on the material plane.
An inventor holds in his mind a certain idea and builds around it a mental picture of a machine that will make this idea workable. Then he proceeds to make drawings as the next step and finally he has experienced mechanics build the machine to these drawings. A change in the idea will result in a change in the machine. Here, then, there is an orderly sequence of events: a cause on the mental plane, a thought, expresses itself as an effect on the material plane, a machine.
Mathematics, or the science of numbers, is the basis of engineering, and engineering is the basis of construction. A bridge or a skyscraper cannot be built without mathematical analysis and calculations. Here it may be said that the physical forms are based on numbers.
The painting of the artist is but the physical effect of a thought or an image in the artist's mind.
In many instances we can trace relations between forms, sounds and other manifestations on one hand and numbers or mathematical expressions on the other. Every algebraic expression can be represented by a corresponding curve. A different expression will have a different curve, but each curve is invariably fixed and determined by its own equation.
The musical scale is built upon a series of numbers. The variations in sound depend on varying wave lengths and frequencies of vibrations. And again there is a relation between sounds and material forms. This may be seen if a thin metal disc, fixed at its center and sprinkled with fine sand, is caused to vibrate by the bow of a violin drawn against its edge. If two points on the edge are kept stationary, the sand will assume a certain pattern, a symmetrical and beautiful design. If the distance between the two stationary points is varied, the sand will assume a different pattern. Thus the form changes when the vibration varies. The change in the vibration is directly related to the number of vibrations per second. Here, then, is a relation between numbers or mental concepts and physical forms, the patterns in the sand.
The tones of an organ will cause vibrations in a building that can be plainly felt. Low notes will cause stronger vibrations than high ones. In the Alps, avalanches of snow have been started by the sound of a human voice. A steamer whistle blown in the neighborhood of a glacier will, by its vibrations, cause immense blocks of ice to break off and drop into the ocean. A shrill sound would not produce the same effect. In each of these instances a change in the number of vibrations produced a difference in the effect, showing that there is a relation between numbers and effects on the physical plane.
The illustrations given above show that there is a relation between the mental plane and the material plane and that phenomena on the material plane may be affected by causes on the mental plane. It seems that we are beginning to trace vaguely the "laws" that govern the material plane back to some underlying principles on the mental plane. Where we can make a theoretical calculation and check the result by corresponding measurements on the physical plane, we find a close agreement. If the calculation is based on a true theory we know that the calculated result is more accurate than the measured one.
If the material plane is governed by law, as scientific investigation indicates, is it not reasonable to assume that the mental plane, which seems to be the basis of the material plane, must also be governed by law?
The thought that the mental is the basis for the material has been held from remotest antiquity by some of the greatest intellects. Pythagoras taught that "the Universe is built on numbers." Plato said: "God geometrizes." Sir James Jeans, the modern astronomer, suggests that "the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician" and also that "the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine."
We know that our thoughts affect our emotions, and medical science tells us that the emotions have a powerful influence on the body. A person may die from an excessive grief or joy. Happiness or anger can be aroused by thinking of past events that were pleasant or unpleasant. These thoughts and emotions, if harbored continually, will in time affect the expression of a person's face. Grief and worry will lower the vitality and interfere with digestion.
In summarizing our observations on the mental plane, we find:
1st. — Those mental processes which can be checked directly, such as used in mathematics, show an absolute and most perfect relation between cause and effect.
2nd. — Those actions on the mental plane, which can be traced by their effect on the physical plane, show a distinct relation between physical effect and mental cause.
3rd. — Since theoretical calculations are known to be more exact than physical measurements, it seems reasonable to conclude that the laws that govern the mental plane are, if possible, still more rigid, or at any rate no less rigid than those which govern the material plane.
4th. — There are cases where we are unable to trace effects of mental causes either on the mental or material plane, on account of our limited knowledge. There is, however, nothing to prove that such effects do not follow, even if they may be long delayed. Such researches as we have been able to make show the mental plane to be governed by the Law of Cause and Effect.
So far we have built our reasoning on more or less direct observation. There is some indirect evidence which may be helpful to us.
Having found such wonderful reign of law and order in every field that we are capable of exploring, it is only natural that we should ask ourselves the question: Who or What laid down the "plan" or "framed the laws" or principles which seem to govern the processes of Nature? The orderly working of Nature could not have sprung into existence spontaneously or accidentally. There must have been someone or something, an intelligence or intelligences of a superior kind that did the planning, and formulated the laws according to which Nature operates. We seem justified in this assumption, because we know from our own experience on a small scale that even the simplest work requires planning. A heap of building materials will not turn into a house without an architect to draw a plan and experienced builders to shape the material and construct the building. On the contrary, we know for a fact that, if a beautiful building is to be erected, first the design must be beautiful and then the workmanship must be perfect. And we further know that if there is anything lacking in the plan or in the workmanship, the finished building will show it.
A railroad system could not operate successfully without a time-schedule, train dispatchers and a vast organization of cooperating officials and workers, and back of all this is a unified plan. This plan did not come into existence by itself. It was the product of some mind or some minds that formulated it and drew up the rules or "laws" of operation.
When we look at a building, the architect may not be on hand to answer our questions regarding it, but we can judge something about him from the building itself. When we travel on a train we do not see the operating staff, but we can judge something about this also by the service we receive. And so it is with the Universe; we dwell in it; we are "passengers" on one of its planets, but the Power that planned it is not on hand to answer our questions. However, if we could judge something about the architect by examining the house, and something about the railroad management by observing its operation, it should be possible for us to draw some conclusions regarding the Power back of the Universe by a study of that Universe, for "the work reveals its Creator." We have to admit our inability to get a full understanding of this Power or these Powers, for man's finite, limited mind cannot comprehend something so vastly superior to itself. This inability to get a full understanding should not, however, prevent man from using such powers of observation and reason as he may possess to gain at least such partial understanding as he is capable of. People of all ages have sensed the existence of such Power or Powers and referred to them under many different names. The Hindus call it BRAHMAN; Emerson called it the OVERSOUL. Ancient philosophies state that it is infinite and hence cannot be personified or limited by any human description. While there are probably no two human beings that would fully agree in their understanding of it, yet most people will in all likelihood grant that there must be such a Power or Powers. Agreeing to disagree as to its exact nature, let us for the purpose of this discussion refer to this power or these powers by the term: God.* Judging God,* then, by His work, we have seen that He was able to lay down a plan according to which all nature works, from the miniature universe of the atom to the star-clusters in space, millions of light-years distant. From the magnitude of the work, we cannot fail to recognize the infinite greatness and power of its Originator. We have further seen that God* formulated unvarying laws that govern the operations of Nature so that there is always an exact relation between cause and effect in these. From this we must conclude that order, law and harmony are attributes of God.*
*In the following discussion the asterisk (*) is used with the word God* in order to call attention to this footnote and to the fact that this word is not here used in any sectarian or limited sense or as referring to a personal God, but is used for want of a better word to allude to that Power or those Powers behind Time and Space, which man seems compelled to postulate as the unseen Cause of the Universe.
A Power that can construct such a marvelous Universe, could just as well destroy it with all the life that it contains, if it were so disposed. But the universe evidently has endured for countless ages — and Nature provides food and other necessities to sustain life. Therefore God* must be beneficent in His purposes. These are some of the conclusions we can draw about God* by observing His work which we see around us.
May we not by analogy draw some further conclusions regarding other attributes of God?*
A cell in our body is a living entity with evidently a certain kind of intelligence and a certain degree of free will, but in general regulating its life according to the laws that govern the body as a whole.
We can understand considerable about the cell, but the cell can know very little about us. The lesser cannot comprehend the greater in its fullness. Is it reasonable to assume that the cell possesses greater qualities than the man of whose body the cell is a part? Is it not more reasonable to conclude that any power which may be inherent in the cell will also be found in the man and found there in a much higher degree of perfection?
Man is but a cell, or less than a cell, in the great body of the Universe. Is it not reasonable then to assume that any faculty that exists in man must also exist in the "soul of the universe," in God*? And further, is it not reasonable to suppose that the degree of perfection of the qualities of God* must be as far superior to the degree of perfection of man's qualities as the "works" of God,* the Universe, are to the works of man? God* then must possess all human virtues in their highest degree of perfection. Among human beings we respect such qualities as intelligence, justice, and love. A man who lacked these characteristics would not be held in high esteem by his fellows. If these qualities are necessary in the make-up of a good man, must they not also be necessary in the make-up of God*? To assume otherwise would be to assume that man possessed qualities greater than God.*
For the purpose of the present discussion let us consider only one of these qualities — that of justice.
In all ages justice has been considered one of the great virtues. We cannot think highly of a man who is not just. From time immemorial all peoples have made laws and established courts for the administration of justice. Man-made laws are imperfect; frequently their administration has been imperfect also, but with all that, all men recognize justice as an ideal to be striven after.
If justice, then, is such a necessary quality in our ideal of a good man, is it not still more necessary to our conception of God*? To assume the contrary would be to place God* on a lower level than a good man.
Parents who love their children and desire their welfare, know how necessary it is to show justice and impartiality in training them. They know that training cannot be successful if inconsistent and contradictory methods are used. They know that certain rules of conduct, with suitable rewards and punishments affixed, must be set up and consistently adhered to, until the children learn by repeated experiences. They know that if they punished an act today and rewarded the same act tomorrow, the child would become confused. It would not know what was right or wrong and would soon give up all effort at self-improvement.
If this is true for the family, it is equally true for the human race as a whole. Absolute justice or a perfect reign of orderly laws of cause and effect are necessary for the growth and development of human character. If justice were imperfect, or if chance ruled in human affairs, men would become confused and discouraged. They would consider it useless to strive towards self-improvement if their efforts counted for nothing and they would sooner or later give up trying.
If then man recognizes the necessity for justice in character development, must not this necessity be still more fully recognized by God*? A God* without justice would be an absurdity, for it would indicate such a flaw in His nature that it would place Him below the ideal for a good man. As man is more perfect than the cell, so God* must be more perfect than man.
An assumption that God* might have wished to provide for justice in the world, but was unable to formulate and establish laws of cause and effect that would be workable and binding in all details of human life, is untenable. A God* that can lay down and enforce laws of cause and effect that operate unfailingly in the physical world has also the ability to lay down laws that will work unerringly in human life.
An assumption that justice rules in the world to a certain limited extent, but that it is not perfect in all details, is also untenable. Imperfect justice is after all not justice. If it is justice at all, it must be 100% perfect. This is man's ideal and nothing less can be the ideal of God.*
On the basis of this Universe being the result of intelligent planning, then, we are forced to the conclusion that justice must be a part of the Universal Plan.
We may not all agree that there must be some purpose in life, but probably most people feel that this is so. It does not make sense to assume that the only purpose of life is for man to spend a few score of years here on earth, pass through some commonplace experiences and perhaps a few odd ones, and then vanish without any permanent benefit resulting from the experience. Such performance would seem so futile, so useless that it would probably be rejected by most people, who feel that there must be some higher purpose in life. And what could such purpose be but growth, evolution, the gradual rising into some higher state of consciousness and life, a pilgrimage towards perfection?
If we are to become perfect, if we are to learn by experience, law and order in the universe around us are necessary for this purpose. We find that we are surrounded by law and order; but we are so accustomed to the orderly processes of Nature that we often overlook their existence. We take them for granted and do not recognize that life as we know it would be impossible if Nature did not operate according to law.
Suppose gravitation suddenly ceased to act. If we dropped a stone, instead of falling to the ground it might go up in the air, or remain suspended, or perhaps shoot off to one side, nobody knows in what direction. A railroad train might leave the track any minute and start off into space; water might run uphill; buildings would not stay on their foundations, in fact they could not be built for there would be no weight to keep one brick on top of the next. Complete chaos would result, for nothing would "stay put." It would be impossible to plan or provide ahead for anything, for no two times would the same effect follow from the same cause and there would be no experience to be guided by.
On the basis that life has a meaning, that it is a school, wherein man learns by experience, the existence of law and an orderly sequence of cause and effect are necessities.
Let us now turn our attention to the field of human relations; how men act towards one another and the effects that follow their actions. Also to those events and experiences that life deals out to us, and over which we have little or no control, such as circumstances of birth, inborn capacities, "luck," accidents, etc. — or what we might summarize under the term "Human Life."
Is there an orderly sequence of cause and effect here? Is there a reign of justice and law that governs our lives? Do men's actions always and unerringly bring to men their just deserts?
The most important parts of a man's life are not his physical actions and experiences, but his thought life, his aspirations and longings, feelings and emotions. None of these are directly visible to others, except occasionally in their effects. To trace a chain of cause and effect in human life is therefore very difficult, for men's motives and the links that connect causes with their effects are largely concealed from our view. Let us, however, consider some of the common experiences in life.
In certain cases of wrongdoing what would seem like appropriate effects follow, as when a person lives a life of dissipation, or otherwise breaks the laws of health, disease often results. But this is by no means always the case. It frequently happens that people violate many of the laws of health and abuse their bodies without apparently being much the worse for it; whereas it frequently happens that people who live with the most regular habits and take the best care of their bodies are overtaken by disease and suffering, for which we can find no cause.
We often see persons who work hard all their lives to provide for their families and lay up a little store for their old age. In many cases they are successful in their efforts, but they often meet unexpected reverses and the work of a lifetime is lost. Other people may be shiftless and irresponsible; in that case they usually do not get far, but it frequently happens that they have "good luck" and fare better than many who work hard and conscientiously.
Occasionally we see striking examples of "luck," good or bad, as the case may be. One person will be pursued by ill luck and will lose his fortune, perhaps accumulate another and then lose that also, seemingly through no fault of his own. Another person makes no great effort to accumulate wealth, but money seems to "fall into his lap." We have read of cases where the owner of some apparently worthless land became rich overnight when oil was discovered on his property.
Almost anyone can cite similar instances from his own knowledge.
Take the matter of acting according to one's conscience in, say, a case where a contrary action would promise a better material reward. Here the person who follows his conscience will have a certain satisfaction in the knowledge of having acted rightly, but the one who silenced his conscience and acted contrary to its dictates, may as a result have enjoyed a material advantage in gaining wealth, position or power. Here "luck" or chance seems to play a part, and if the wrong act is not found out, the actor may end his days in full enjoyment of the respect of his fellow men plus the added wealth and position that would never have come to him if he had obeyed his conscience.
Consider the life of a criminal. In some cases the first act of wrongdoing is discovered and the man is punished according to human law. Here again the personnel of the jury, the character of the judge, and the ability of the attorneys may have a great influence on the severity of the sentence and thus the punishment may be greater or less according to the court before which the prisoner happens to be tried.
Another criminal may commit many crimes before he is discovered; or if he is very "lucky," as we say, he may escape detection altogether and may end his days as a respected member of society.
In the illustrations given above it could be noticed that man's actions towards his fellows perhaps more often than not brought the results they merited, but it was equally noticeable that in many cases the appropriate effects did not follow. In fact, wrong could often be done without the wrong-doer suffering the consequences of his acts. From this it would seem quite possible at times to sow without having to reap.
The circumstances in which men are placed at birth certainly have a great influence on their lives. Some men are born into families where the moral atmosphere is of the best. The influence of the home tends to build up and strengthen a noble character in the child. The financial circumstances may be favorable and the child may receive a good education. Influential relations and friends will use their power to aid the individual and the combination of all these circumstances will certainly be a great help towards an honorable life later on.
Other men may be born in circumstances which are the opposite of those cited. In their case the home influence tends to degrade the character. The examples of the grownups may be an education in crime for the child. His direction is wrong from the start. The circumstances were against him; "he had no chance," we say.
It may be argued that a man's character is the greatest determining factor in his life, and that individuals with strong characters have been born in the most degrading circumstances, but in spite of all obstacles have lived noble lives and been of great service to their fellow men. But the fact remains that on less strong characters these unfavorable circumstances have a very detrimental effect. Hence the circumstances of birth constitute serious obstacles to faith in justice.
Children who are born and brought up under the same circumstances show great differences in health, character, disposition and natural talents or gifts. Some of these differences may be modified by education, but even education cannot greatly alter the dissimilarities that exist from birth. In some cases a child will be possessed of a healthy body, a strong character, an intelligent mind, and a pleasant, winning disposition which will prove a great aid on his path through life. Another child is born without these gifts and may indeed be burdened with a sickly body, a weak, vacillating character, a dull mind and a sullen, irritable disposition, all of which may be serious hindrances to a life of happiness and service.
The circumstances outlined above have perhaps been the extremes in both the favorable and unfavorable direction, but of course there are all grades and conditions between these two. Whether extreme or moderate, such differences all indicate an element of injustice.
Accidents have a way of striking right and left without any apparent cause. Sometimes a reckless person will meet with an accident, but very often the most cautious and careful individual will also be struck. One person may go on some wild adventure and return without a scratch. Another may stay at home, trip on a rug and break his neck. One person plans to take a trip on a certain steamer. There is a traffic jam on the way to the wharf which causes him to miss his connection. Another person had no intention of taking this boat, but by some unexpected turn of events was caused to take the trip. The steamer is wrecked and all on board are lost. Here chance seemed to be the deciding element.
Summarizing our observations of human life we note that whereas man's actions sometimes bring appropriate effects, they often do not.
Unless we choose to ignore the evidence, we must admit that within the span of one human life here on earth perfect justice simply does not exist, but chance and injustice do play a large part.
Let us now review our earlier observations and see how the evidence stands.
In the material world we found a most perfect reign of the Law of Cause and Effect.
On the mental plane we found a perfect reign of law wherever we were able to investigate.
We found that if there is a God* and an intelligent plan back of the Universe, justice and law must be parts of this plan.
We also found that if the purpose of life is evolution, growth and an advancement towards perfection, law and justice are necessary to achieve this end.
In addition to this our moral nature, our sense of "the fitness of things," tells us that there must be law and justice in the Universe.
When we consider human life we find on one hand that the majority of human actions are governed by justice, but also on the other hand that much chance and injustice seem to operate in human affairs.
To summarize: we find that the evidence in favor of law and justice is overwhelming, but it is not 100%.
The injustice apparent in human life, then, is the "fly in the ointment," the flaw in what otherwise seems such a perfect plan. It is this which undermines our faith in justice and in God.*
Two alternate theories present themselves in explanation of these injustices: either (1) these events actually do happen without due cause, or (2) they are effects of causes which we cannot see.
If the first proposition is true, then Human Life would be an exception to the general plan of Nature. Even though we human beings are a part of Nature, our actions would be outside of the law and order which governs the rest of Nature. Law, symmetry, harmony, order everywhere in Nature; but Human Life in contrast to all the rest subject to disorder, confusion, chance. This would mean that the laws of the Universe would not be universal; they would apply in spots but not everywhere.
Would we accept such a proposition in regard to other matters with which we are more familiar? Would we not, for instance, consider it absurd to claim that gravitation works in parts of the Universe, but breaks down and fails to operate in other parts?
When we turn the switch that controls the light in the ceiling we know that the electric current travels over wires concealed in the wall and reaches the bulb where the light appears. We know that there is no accident or chance connected with the entire operation. But suppose that a primitive man were suddenly transported from his obscure jungle and placed in our midst; how would he view the sudden appearance and disappearance of the light in the ceiling, especially if the switch were located in another room? He would know nothing about the electric current, or the wires concealed in the wall. He might think that the light came on or off by chance.
Not so long ago we too were ignorant of the laws governing electricity. How would the light phenomenon have appeared to us then? With our present knowledge we are unable to trace the connection between chance-events in Human Life and their causes, but shall we say that, because we are unable to trace the wires hidden in the wall that there are no such wires and that there can be none Are we justified in smiling at the ignorance and lack of logic on the part of our jungle man if we take a position similar to his? Would it not be more reasonable to take the stand that, since the Universe is governed by the law of cause and effect in other departments, human actions and experiences must also be governed by this law, and recognize that what to us appears as chance because we cannot see the hidden cause, must be the result of the thoughts and acts of individuals, who thereby reap what they have sown in the past? Let us then consider the second alternative and see if it is not more logical than the first.
A scientist, who is confronted with a phenomenon which he does not understand, will not accept chance as an explanation. Knowing that it must follow certain laws, he starts to investigate and experiment to discover these. If he is successful in his search he traces the event back to its cause. If he is not successful, he still does not believe that the phenomenon was the result of chance, but trusts that future research will reveal the underlying cause.
A few centuries back man knew very little of the law that governs gravitation, but Sir Isaac Newton's investigations resulted in his formulating this law. Of course this law existed from time immemorial and had been operating before it was discovered just as much as afterwards, but, as far as being recognized by man is concerned, it was non-existent until formulated by Newton.
Newton's third law of motion states that: "to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," and this statement has been tested experimentally and found to be a fact in regard to material bodies. In human affairs action and reaction would be equal and opposite if a man's acts returned to him, meanness for meanness, service for service, injury for injury, kindness for kindness. If it is true in material things that "action and reaction are equal and opposite," may not the same be true regarding human actions also, and how do we know but what some future "Isaac Newton" will find some way of demonstrating this experimentally?
Our astronomers tell us that the Universe (on its material side) is so marvelously balanced, that cause and effect are so delicately and accurately adjusted, that if we move a finger, the effect of this motion is felt on the farthest star in space.
If gravitation can bridge the inconceivable distances of space and, without visible connection, link a cause on our earth with an effect on the farthest star, why should it be any more unreasonable to assume that there is some other force or principle, attraction or repulsion, some invisible wiring that links our thoughts and our deeds with their effects? If gravitation operates unaffected across space, why should not this other force act independent of time and outward circumstances? Surely the latter assumption is no more unreasonable than the former, and if Nature can provide the mechanism in one case, it can also provide the mechanism in the other.
In human affairs we may have to leave the full explanation of how effect is linked to cause, the wire-tracing, to future research. But may it not be possible that an advancing science will some day trace the wires that are now concealed from us and solve this problem as it has solved so many others in the past?
Perhaps investigators of the future will have at their disposal more sensitive instruments than we have, or perhaps man will evolve faculties within his own nature that will enable him to see directly and without the need of any instruments the connection between cause and effect everywhere.
In our present state of ignorance we have to admit our inability to follow the chain of causation and to link the cause to the effect, but in view of all past experience is it not reasonable that we should recognize that such a chain must exist?
If, then, we accept the idea that such a chain of causation exists, and while we are waiting for a complete demonstration of how it operates, let us use the method of the scientist who seeks to solve his problem. He examines all the known facts before him and then casts about for a theory or a working hypothesis which fits these facts and also explains the phenomenon which he is investigating.
As new discoveries are made, the theory is checked with these and altered if it no longer fits the facts, or perhaps it is completely discarded for a new and better theory.
If, then, the law of cause and effect governs human affairs, it should be possible to find a theory which explains how it operates.
What are the requirements which such a theory must fulfill?
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