The Philosophy of the Act

Essay 25 Science and Religion

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CHRISTIANITY has not been simply a religion, embracing a gospel of salvation of the human soul in this world and the next, and a theological account of God's creation and government of the world; its gospel and its theology have carried with them certain assumptions in regard to human society and in regard to man's place in the universe which have been of very great importance in the history of the Western world. They have been of more importance because the average man has incorporated them into his life without thinking about them or even recognizing them. One of these assumptions is that all men should belong to a universal society in which the interests of each would be the interest of all. This assumption Christianity has in common with the other universal religions. Christian doctrine assumes, to be sure, that because of human depravity such a society can be realized only in a world to come, not in this world. In certain experiences, however, we attain the attitudes which belong to such a society, and it belongs to the rationalistic character of Christian theology to assume that if men were entirely reasonable such a society would come inevitably into existence. The effect of this underlying assumption is not only to be found in social and political theory. In every great popular revolution in which the old and traditional social order has been attacked in the name of reason men have attempted to make a universal gospel out of the revolution. International propaganda has been a logical feature of both political and economic revolutionary theory. Furthermore, when men commenced to realize that the processes of trade and industry ran beyond the life of the self-contained communities of the medieval world, the Puritan found in the morale and discipline of business a behest of God. Again, it was the doctrine

(467) of the church that the world had been created by God to carry out his purposes. The world was, therefore, the expression of his divine intelligence. Whatever occurred in the world followed from the action of the divine will directed by the divine mind. When, with the science of the Renaissance, men began to interpret nature in terms of matter in motion, and read these in terms of mathematics, they commenced to think of the Creator as the great mechanician and of his intelligence as expressing Itself in the perfection of inviolable natural laws. There would seem to be no greater chasm than that lying between the popular view that every operation of nature-the rain that fell from heaven, a plentiful harvest or a famine, a plague or an earthquake or the advent of a comet-came as the direct action of a divine providence and the scientific conception of a nature governed by immutable laws. And yet they both had behind them the same thought of a supreme mind which ordered the world after the manner of its divine intelligence. What changed was the-idea of the manner and fashion of that supreme intelligence. Inevitably every perfection must be ascribed to that mind, and what could be more perfect than the skill which could achieve the infinite complexity of the world by the operation of those simple laws which by the same formula described the fall of the apple and the sweep of the planets and the stars in their orbits? The religious doctrine that the fall of the sparrow and the very number of hairs of our heads were ordered by God assumed that there was nothing, however minute, in the world which would not be intelligible to a mind that could follow the mind of the creator and governor of the universe. That our finite and fallible minds sank helpless before the task of reading God's purposes in no whit detracted from the necessary intelligibility of the world. That God rationally pursued his ends in every detail of the material universe was an assumption that lay in the back of every man's mind. Undoubtedly, the idea of that reason was vastly different in the mind of the yokel and in that of the theologian and in that of the scientist, but they all agreed in believing that God attained his ends in the smallest details of the

(468) world he had created as the theater in which were to be enacted his vast designs. just in so far as men could penetrate the manner in which God worked, the world must be intelligible.

There are two ways in which a great complex structure may be intelligible. It may be intelligible as a whole, a whole that is necessary to interpret its parts. So one must see the complete edifice to understand the parts in their relations. One must grasp the whole plot of a drama to comprehend the import of its details. And it is this type of intelligibility which theology has ascribed to the world. It must be intelligible, though we cannot grasp the whole infinite purpose which transcends our view and our comprehension. Some outline of this whole God has given through inspired monuments of the church, but the intelligibility of all the details in terms of the whole structure and outcome of things and events we must take upon the faith that sees through a glass darkly. Theology has been satisfied with this intelligibility of the world.

There is another type of intelligibility which is akin to that of the separate words in which the drama is written and read. It is the intelligibility of the medium of expression. So we may not as yet catch the meaning of a wall as a part of a whole cathedral whose plan we have not seen and cannot guess. We can, however, understand the courses of bricks and cut stone as they are put in place. We know their tensile strength and the binding power of the mortar. We understand the stresses and strains, the thrusts of arches, the resistance of the foundations reaching the solid strata below, and the crushing power of the ascending pile that it carries. A competent architect works in such an intelligible medium. The parts of his structure must not only have meaning in the perfection of the whole but they must also have meaning in the relations of each part to each other as they go into place, in accordance with the physical laws of masses in motion. It is this intelligibility that the science of the Renaissance period undertook to discover in the structure and operation of the physical universe. The architect was supremely intelligent not only in his design; he was equally su-

(469) -preme in his intelligence as a technician. He worked in a medium of his own creation which was understandable to all who had learned its language, and that language was the mathematics of the physical sciences. To assume less intelligibility in the processes of nature was to detract from the perfection of the Creator.

It is this belief in the intelligibility of the physical universe which has passed into the minds of men and appeared as the assumption of the uniformity of nature in the operation of natural laws. The assumption was brilliantly justified by the discoveries and inventions which have increasingly crowded the pages of the history of science and technology since the days of Galileo. It became the postulate even of the man upon the street that everything that happened was in this sense at least explicable. We speak of it as the passing of superstition and magic, and it has become the hall mark of the civilized mind of the age of the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century. It has reached beyond the theological mind out of which it sprang, especially in the fields of exact science and philosophy, but in the back of the mind of the average man it has never been at variance with his theology. The laws of nature were the laws of God. They were the orderly manner in which He operated, and order was heaven's first law.

It is difficult to estimate the import of such profound assumptions upon the minds of men, especially when they are taken imperceptibly and without debate, and the very progressive life of society justifies them. It was of the first importance that whatever conflicts arose between the findings and formulations of scientists and the theologians of the churches, this fundamental assumption accorded harmoniously with church doctrine, for this assumption, did not undertake to formulate the purposes of God but only reverently to follow his orderly procedure. The conflicts of science and religion grew out of historical criticism of the monuments of the church and the doctrine of evolution, especially in its application to the origin of man. To the mind of the average man the creation of the world and the beings that

(470) inhabited it and God's occasional miraculous interventions did not contravene the uniformity of natural law. This uniformity rather provided the appropriate background for the import of that creation and the miracles. We have to turn to unexpected recrudescences of magic and superstition, and the not so distant history of the burning of witches and the magic-ridden medicine of the Middle Ages, to realize how short a time ago it was that this view of the intelligibility of the world entered into the structure of men's ideas.

Stated as the mechanical view of the world it has had its detractors. And yet it is a period that has produced poetry and romance that has been more widely read and assimilated than in any previous period of the world's history. But what demands especial emphasis is the mind that it has created over against nature. The assumption that nature is intelligible has spread before men a book of knowledge with an incitement to learned and scientific curiosity that has given a new character to mind. It has carried the thought of the informed man into nature so as to make his thinking at home in the world. His own intelligent and mechanical control of his immediate environment is found to be of a piece with the processes of the heavens and the motion of molecules and electrons. Whatever other effects the reduction of nature to masses in motion may have had, it has stretched the operations of the workaday human intellect to the farthest confines of the universe that we have become acquainted with. If it has swept mythology out of the world, it is because man's instrumental mind has occupied its place. It is true that but relatively few have been possessed by this scientific curiosity, but practically all have realized that the book is there to be read by those who will acquire the language in which it is written.

The outstanding expression of this is found in the apothegm that knowledge is power. The Renaissance was the period not only of Galileo but also of Bacon, the author of the New Atlantis. Invention has gone on step by step with discovery in science. The intelligibility of the world to man means not only that he can comprehend it but that he can use it. The things

(471) around us no longer have metaphysical essences. Things are to be made out of the indifferent matter about us, as the divine Creator made them for his purposes, Man may change his world if he comprehends its laws. And this attitude has given another character to mind. We express it in the vague term "progress." It is not necessary to specify the motives that have driven men to completely reconstruct their habitats. They lie probably too far down in human nature to be as yet completely assessed, but what has opened the door to their operation is the power that has come to modern man through the intelligibility of natural processes. Men have set out upon this task of refashioning the world in which they live because of the analytical method of modern physical science. Unquestionably the most important results have been the enlarged societies and the increased interplay of social forces which these inventions of means of transportation and intercommunication have brought with them. We are too immediately in the midst of these social reconstructions and developments to estimate them, but we can estimate something of the mind that is the instrument of them.

I have presented one aspect of this mind, its assumption of the intelligibility of nature, and the consequent at-homeness of the human mind in the world, and the second assumption that this comprehensible world can therefore be controlled. Man is essentially a tool-using animal, and science has implemented him in an extraordinary degree. It is important to recognize that this change of mind has had directly to do with the way in which men accomplish their purposes and seek their values, not with the purposes and values themselves. It has given men entirely new tools and new ways of using them; it is only indirectly that it has changed their ends and values.

Certain of these indirect changes. can be recognized while they are taking place, notably in education and in public hygiene. It is within a century that it has been recognized that popular education is essential to the modern community. And it has come about not because there was an antecedent demand for it but because modern inventions have made it possible. Perhaps as yet no one could give a satisfactory statement of the social

(472) values which the newspaper has created and may create in the future. It has developed as a huge institution out of inventive genius and narrow-range curiosities and advertising possibilities. Whatever else it is, it is one of the greatest educational forces. We must find out what it is to use it. The changes that science has initiated have reconstructed our universities and created many other institutions of higher learning, and they are unable to keep up with the number of students either in their physical accommodations or in their methods of instruction. No one has an answer to the question: just what ought to be the training that should be given to those who enter any one of our schools, from the kindergarten to the graduate departments of our universities?

In hygiene we find certain definite values which science has given to us. We do know how to live healthfully, and we understand a great deal more about the values of infancy than we ever have before. We know that we can rid society of certain unquestioned evils in diseases and decreptitude and proceed here logically toward certain new ends that science has opened out before the community. But there are questions in regard to values which medical and biological science has presented to us that the community is by no means ready to answer. Shall we breed a human race with the same scientific intelligence that we use in breeding cattle? Shall we meet the problems of overpopulation by birth control? Science has put in our hands means of controlling life such as former generations never dreamed of; and the effect is to present values that have been enshrined in the family, the nation, and religion in such strange guises that we are embarrassed and are forced to face the problem of restating the values, and for this science presents us with no technique. In Industry, scientific Control of the means of production and distribution has produced its most outstanding result. We call it the Industrial Revolution. The inventive use of the control which science has given us over natural forces and materials has lifted production entirely out of its former place in society and given rise to self-conscious social groups with ends alien to the old society; and certainly political economy can in no way

(473) enable us to formulate what should be the values that should determine our economic processes.

In government the mechanisms of the modern world have made democratic control in some form a necessity of the state, but they have certainly not clarified for us the functions of government. Scientific control of our means has transformed efficient warfare into national or international suicide, but it has not shown us how we can surrender it and preserve the values that gather about the sovereign state.

In religion, health, and disease the loyalties that have gathered about the family and the state have always played a dominant part. The changes to which I have already referred are removing these values from the peculiar scope of religion; but, as we have seen, these changes have brought no adequate method for restating and controlling these values. Our approach to the control of crime through changed social conditions has so changed our views in regard to the deterrent effect of punishment that the conception of hell has largely disappeared; and the mystical experiences connected with heaven carry with them an appeal to relatively few in the community. In a word, the power of the world to come has to a great degree disappeared from religion, but the values which this has served in the community in the past have been but inadequately cared for. There remains the conception of a moral order in the universe which is fused with the relation of the personal self with God. As one writer has expressed it, religion is what we do with the solitariness of the human soul. The reply of the universal religions has been communion with God. But this has always been mediated through traditional cults which have been a part of the social control of the community, and the effect of the changes, we have been discussing has been to profoundly disintegrate these cults and their emotional responses; and yet the demand for the relation of the self to the universe remains unsatisfied and unmediated. The world has never been so intellectually intelligible as it is today. The human mind is more at home in the galaxies of the heavens and in the infinitesimal minutiae of its atoms than ever before, but this intellectual comprehension together with

(474) the enormously increased control over the physical and social environment has left society the task of stating definitely to itself what the ends are for which these means shall be used. These statements in the past have been given in traditional institutions and cults. The church, the state, the family, and the school have been felt to embody these values, and society has felt that in preserving these it has conserved the values which they have represented. The effect which scientific advance has had upon these institutions has been to vastly increase the facilities of operation, but for that very reason we find ourselves faced with the question of what the values are for which they stand. What is education? What should government accomplish? What is the function of the church It is such questions as these which the very triumphs of science are placing in front of us. The wealth of means to accomplish our ends is compelling us to ask ourselves the embarrassing question what those ends are. The old formulas are no longer adequate.

It is in no sense discouraging. It is, in fact, invigorating. Life is in no sense less interesting. Its values are there and are as precious as they ever were. But we are forced to redefine them if we arc to use our means to secure them.

Nor is it a theoretical problem. It is through the use of the means that we advance to the redefinition of the end. The school by the very facilities which are placed at its disposal is slowly enabling us to gain a new idea of the training of the child in terms of his own experience, but we must have that training in mind and not the formulas of an outworn institution. Self-control of the whole community can only be attained by the intelligent comprehension of the issues before it, and the wealth of means of comprehension and of publicity is setting that goal concretely before us. We are coming nearer than ever before to understanding what is involved in providing the community with the goods it needs for its life. In a word, science is enabling us to restate our ends by freeing us from slavery to the means and to traditional formulations of our ends.


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