Butler observes that we often rely on probable evidence to make judgements in life. We use events and truths that are known to us, to make judgements about unknown events and truths which are like them. Butler observes that this reflection, analogical reasoning, is determinative in practical matters in life and there is no reason why it can’t apply decisively to questions about divine things (which he calls speculative knowledge).
According to Butler, we can reflect on the created world (Butler assumes the existence of a divine creator in this book) using our experience and reason and compare this to the system revealed in the Christian Scriptures. Our reflection of the created order must be based upon our experience of the how the world actually is, according to Butler, and not on preconceived speculations of how the world might of be better. We are in no position, he argues, with our limited capacities to determine how God might have created a world better suited for its purpose. That said, Butler believes that we can tell the ultimate purpose of creation from our natures: happiness and virtue.
It is Butler’s purpose in his Analogy to discern the nature of God’s government over us from what can be known from the created order – including our moral natures. If this appears to be similar to system of government Revelation reveals, and assuming we do admit the existence of a creator, this would give us good reasons to believe that the Scriptures are of divine origin too.
Butler admits that some parts of the analogy are weaker than others, while others give what he calls “a real practical proof” – by which he means a strong proof. However, the strength of Butler’s case rests in its cumulative strength when all the parts are added together. This case, says Butler, “will undeniably show…that the system of Religion, both natural and revealed, considered only as a system, and prior to the proof of it, is not a subject of ridicule, unless that of Nature be so too.”
Furthermore, Butler claims that his analogy “will afford an answer to almost all objections against the system both of natural and revealed Religion; though not perhaps an answer in so great a degree, yet in a very considerable degree an answer to the objections against the evidence of it: for objections against a proof, and objections against what is said to be proved, the reader will observe are different things.”
We can, therefore, divide Butler’s work into two main projects:
1. To give evidence for a system of Religion reveal through nature.
In Part 1, which consists of seven chapters, Butler aims to show that we are under a divine government. Among other things, it is a government where we are destined for a future life; a government under which we experience punishment and reward; where we know what is good or bad; and a government of which we have incomplete knowledge.
2. To defend the system of Religion revealed through the Christian Scriptures.
In Part 2, Butler defends the Christian faith from various objections by showing that many of the primary objections may also apply to the system of Religion that we can know from experience and reason. Butler defends a number of Christian beliefs including the rationality of miracles, the mediation of a divine person, and the fact that the Christian system is not universally known to mankind.
Furthermore, as intimated in the above quote, Butler also intends the Analogy to answer objections against the evidence for the Christian faith. Butler does this directly by briefly presenting historical arguments for the truth of Christianity, but he also defends the relative amount of evidence and certainty that these arguments provide.
And with that I finish my exposition of Butler’s introduction. There are, however, a number of epistemological loose ends I would like to unravel; yes unravel, not tie up! I think we can better understand Butler if we read a contemporary of Butler’s: John Locke. So next post, at least, will be about Locke work on empiricism, which made him a highly influential epistemologist.
What do you think of Butler’s projects?