Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/December 1886/Science and Theology
|←Notes||Popular Science Monthly Volume 30 December 1886 (1886)
Science and Theology
By John Burroughs
ONE of the latest phases of the religious thought of the times seems to be a desire to get rid of, or to explain away, the supernatural — at least to reclaim and domesticate it and convince mankind that it is not the irresponsible outlaw we have so long been led to suppose — a desire nearly as marked in the theology as in the science of the day. Thus, the Bishop of Exeter (Dr. Temple), in his Bampton Lectures of 1884, on the "Relations between Religion and Science," upholds the belief in miracles, without calling to his aid the belief in the supernatural as the word is. commonly used. A miracle, he urges, may be only some phase of the natural not yet understood; the turning of water into wine by word of command, or the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, may have been accomplished by the exercise of some power over Nature which is perfectly scientific, but of which man as yet has imperfect control.
And the Duke of Argyll, in his "Reign of Law," cautions us against assigning an event or a phenomenon to the agency of the supernatural until we are quite sure we understand the limits of the natural — the natural may reach far enough to include all that we have commonly called the supernatural. The latest considerable attempt in this direction is furnished by the work of Professor Henry Drummond on "Natural Law in the Spiritual World," a work which undertakes to demonstrate the naturalness of the supernatural, or the oneness of religion and biology.
Butler, in his "Analogy," says that there is no "absurdity in supposing that there may be beings in the universe whose capacity and knowledge and views may be so extensive as that the whole Christian dispensation may to them appear natural; that is, analogous or conformable to God's dealings with other parts of his creation; as natural as the visible known course of things appears to us."
Such a being seems actually to have appeared in the person of this Scotch professor. The "whole Christian dispensation" is to him little more than a question of experimental science; the conversion of Paul is as natural and explicable a process to him as the hatching of an egg, or the sprouting of a kernel of corn. "Religion," he says, "is no disheveled mass of aspiration, prayer, and faith. There is no more mystery in religion as to its process than in biology." The question of a future life is only a biological problem to him. He gives physiological tests by which a man may surely know whether or not he is a true Christian. The characteristics of life in the organic world, he argues, are four, namely, assimilation, waste, reproduction, and spontaneous action; the characteristics in the Christian world are the same, must be the same, else the law of continuity, upon which he has built, fails. But he wisely refrains from applying these tests in detail to the spiritual life of the Christian. He says: "The experiment would be a delicate one. It might not be open to every one to attempt it. This is a scientific question; and the experiment would have to be conducted under proper conditions and by competent persons."
There is little mystery in the universe to a mind like Drummond's; or, if there is any mystery, he knows exactly what and where it is; he has cornered and labeled it, so that it shall give him no further trouble.
We hardly need the confession which he makes in his preface, that his science and his religion have got so thoroughly mixed that either can be expressed in the terms of the other. For a time, he says (while he was teaching the two, one on week-days, the other on Sundays), he succeeded in keeping them shut off from one another in two separate "compartments" of his mind. "But gradually the wall of partition showed symptoms of giving way. The two fountains of knowledge also slowly began to overflow, and finally their waters met and mingled. The great change was in the compartment which held the religion. It was not that the well there was dried; still less that the fermenting waters were washed away by the flood of science. The actual contents remained the same. But the crystals of former doctrines were dissolved; and, as they precipitated themselves over more indefinite forms, I observed that the Crystalline System was changed. New channels for outward expression opened, and some of the old closed up; and I found the truth running out to my audience on Sundays by the week-day outlets."
It is but fair to say that this extract does not show our professor's style at its best, but rather at its worst. At its worst it is grossly materialistic, and goes in the leading-strings of a cheap and overwrought analogy. At its best it is often singularly clear and forcible, even flexible and buoyant, but it always wants delicacy and spirituality, and appeals to the scientific rather than to the religious sense. But a more confused mixture of science and theology probably the whole range of printed books does not afford. The positions and conclusions of the latter are constantly uttered as if they were the demonstrations of the former. And this is the obnoxious feature of the book. With Professor Drummond's theology, as such, I have nothing to do, having long ago made my peace with Calvinism. It is only because he utters his theology in the name of science, or as the result of a scientific demonstration, that I am occupied with him here.
When it is declared by a college Professor of Natural Science, as it virtually is in this book, that in the laws and processes of the physical universe that which is science at one end is Scotch Presbyterianism at the other, the proposition arrests attention by its novelty at least.
"The spiritual world as it stands," he declares, "is full of perplexity. One can escape doubt only by escaping thought.... The old ground of faith authority is given up; the new [ground] science has not taken its place." It is his purpose to give to faith this new ground of science. Up to this time, he says, the spiritual world has been looked upon as outside of natural law. Evolution and revelation have been at swords' points; he has not merely made peace between them, but he clearly believes himself to have enlisted the forces of the former under the banner of the latter. Science, he says, can hear nothing of a "Great Exception." The present decadence of religion is owing to the fact that it has been too long treated as the great exception—cut off by an insurmountable barrier from the natural order of things. It is now found by this Christian philosopher to be as completely under the dominion of natural law as any branch of physical science. What Jussieu and De Candolle did for botany in substituting the natural system for the artificial, what Lyell did for geology in getting rid of "catastrophism," what Newton did for astronomy by his law of gravitation, our Glasgow professor flatters himself (rather covertly, to be sure) he has done, or showed the way to do, for theology. He has introduced law and order where before were chaos and "perplexity."
All this sounds as promising to the man of science as it must sound bewildering and discouraging to the theologian—because, has not theology always maintained that revealed religion was superior to reason, and that the natural man, with his profane sciences, was at enmity with God?
Sir Thomas Browne speaks as a theologian when he says that reason is a rebel unto faith, and that "many things are true in divinity which are neither inducible by reason nor confirmable by sense"; but he spoke as a man of science when he said: "I can cure vices by physic when they remain incurable by divinity; and they shall obey my pills when they contemn their precepts." Indeed, science and divinity occupy essentially different points of view, in many respects antagonistic points of view.
Science, in the broadest sense, is simply that which may be verified; but how much of that which theology accepts and goes upon is verifiable by human reason or experience? The kind of evidence which theology accepts, or has accepted in the past is too much like that which led the old astrologer Nostradamus to predict the end of the world in 1886, because in this year Good-Friday falls upon St.George's day, and Easter upon St.Mark's day, the very latest date upon which Easter can happen.
Theology, for the most part, adopts the personal point of view—the point of view of our personal wants, fears, hopes, weaknesses, and shapes the universe with man as the center. It has no trouble to believe in miracles, because miracles show the triumph of the personal element over impersonal law. Its strongest hold upon the mind of the race was in the pre-scientific age. It is the daughter of mythology, and has made the relation of the unseen powers to man quite as intimate and personal. It looks upon this little corner of the universe as the special theatre of the celestial powers—powers to whom it has given the form and attributes of men, and to whom it ascribes curious plans and devices. Its point of view is more helpful and sustaining to the mass of mankind than that of science ever can be, because the mass of mankind are children, and are ruled by their affections and their emotions. Science chills and repels them, because it substitutes a world of force and law for a world of humanistic divinities.
Of all the great historical religions of the world, theology sees but one to be true and of divine origin: all the rest were of human invention, and for the most part mere masses of falsehood and superstition. Science recognizes the religious instinct in man as a permanent part of his nature, and looks upon the great systems of religion—Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, the polytheism of Greece, Rome, and Egypt, etc.—as its legitimate outgrowth and flowering, just as much as the different floras and faunas of the earth are the expression of one principle of organic life. All these religions may be treated as false, or all of them treated as true; what we can not say, speaking for science, is, that one is true and all the others are false. To it they are all false with reference to their machinery, but all true with reference to the need to which they administer. They are like the constellations of the astronomical maps, wherein the only things that are true and real are the stars; all the rest—Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, Orion, etc.—are the invention of the astronomers. The eternal truths of man's religious nature have lent themselves to many figures of polytheism as well as of Christianity; these figures pass away or become discredited, but the truths themselves—the recognition of a Power greater and wiser than ourselves, to the law of which it is necessary that our conduct in some measure conform—never pass away. Was not Egypt saved by her religion, and Greece by hers, as much as England is by hers?
Indeed, the question which it is not safe to ask of any religion is just the one we are prone to ask first, namely, Is it true? A much safer question is, Is it saving? That is, does it hold men up to a higher standard of life and duty than they were otherwise capable of? Does it cheer and sustain them in their journey through this world? Could the religion of Greece have faced the question. Is it true? And yet the German historian of Greece, Dr.Curtius, says that the religion of Apollo was nowhere introduced without taking hold of and transforming the whole life of the people. It liberated men from dark and groveling worship of Nature; it converted the worship of a god into the duty of moral elevation; it founded expiations for those oppressed with guilt, and for those astray, without guidance, sacred oracles." Can historical Christianity any better face the question, Is it true? Did all these events fall out as set down in the New Testament? Are they set in their true light? And yet who besides Professor Clifford dare say that Christianity has not been a tremendous power in elevating and civilizing the European nations?
Science affirms that every child born of woman since the world began belonged to the human species, and had an earthly father; theology affirms that this is true of every child but one: one child, born in Judea over eighteen hundred years ago, was an exception, was indeed very God himself. Theology makes a similar claim with regard to the Bible. It affirms that every book in the world was written by a human being, and is therefore more or less fallible and imperfect, with the exception of one—that one is the Bible. This is the great exception: the Bible is not the work of man, but is the word of God himself uttered through man, and is therefore infallible. Science simply sees in the Bible one of the sacred books of the nations—undoubtedly the greatest of them all—but still a book or a collection of books embodying the history, the ideas, the religious wants and yearnings of a very peculiar people—a people without a vestige of science, but with the tie of race and the aspiration after God stronger than in any other people—a people still wandering in the wilderness, and rejected by the nations to whom they gave Christianity. Science knows God, too, as law, or as the force and vitality which pervade and uphold all things; it knows Christ as a great teacher and prophet, and as the savior of men. How? By virtue of the contract made in the Council of the Trinity as set forth in the creed of Calvinism? No; but by his unique and tremendous announcement of the law of love, and the daily illustration of it in his life. Salvation by Christ is salvation by self-renunciation, and by gentleness, mercy, charity, purity, and by all the divine qualities he illustrated. He saves us when we are like him, as tender, as charitable, as unworldly, as devoted to principle, as self-sacrificing. His life and death do inspire in mankind these things; fill them with this noble ideal. He was a soul impressed, as perhaps no other soul ever had been, with the oneness of man with God, and that the kingdom of heaven is not a place, but a state of mind. Hence, coming to Christ is coming to our truer, better selves, and conforming our lives to the highest ideal. Was not Paul a savior of mankind also? Without Paul it is probable that Christianity would have cut but an insignificant figure in this world. He was its thunderbolt; his words still tingle in our ears.
I by no means say that this is the only view that can be taken of Christ as the Saviour of mankind; I say it is the only view science or reason can take—the only view which is in harmony with the rest of our knowledge of the world.
What can science, or, if you please, the human reason, in its quest of exact knowledge, make of the cardinal dogmas of the Christian Church—the plan of salvation, justification, the Trinity, or "saving grace," etc.? Simply nothing. These things were to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness, and to the man of science they are like an utterance in an unknown tongue. He has no means of verifying them; they lie in a region entirely beyond his ken.
Witness the efforts of the Andover professors, in their latest manifesto, "Progressive Orthodoxy," to give a basis of reason to the dogma of vicarious atonement. The result is mere verbal jugglery. To say that Christ, laying down his life, makes you or me, or any man, capable of repenting in a way or in a degree we were not capable of before, or that a man's capacity in any direction can be increased without effort on his part, and by an event of which he may never have heard, are assertions not credible, because they break completely with the whole system of natural knowledge.
In short, the truth of this whole controversy between science and theology seems to me to be this: If we take science as our sole guide, if we accept and hold fast that alone which is verifiable, the old theology, with all its miraculous machinery, must go. But if there is a higher principle by which we are to be guided in religious matters, if there is an eye of faith which is superior to the eye of reason—a proposition which I for one neither affirm nor deny—then the whole aspect of the question is changed, and it is science and not theology that is blocking the way.
But the attitude of Professor Drummond is, that there is nothing true in divinity that is not true in science, or at least in harmony with science, and the main purpose of his book is to demonstrate this fact.
The proof here offered is nothing more than the old argument from analogy, the analogy being drawn from the principles of biology instead of from the general course of nature, as with Butler. It is the assumption that these biological processes or laws are identical in the spiritual and physical spheres that furnishes the starting-point of the book. "The position we have been led to take up is not that the spiritual laws are analogous to the natural laws, but that they are the same laws. It is not a question of analogy, but of identity." Still, the identity is not proved; the analogy alone is apparent. In the physical sphere science often recognizes the same laws appearing under widely different conditions. For instance, the process by which animal life is kept up is no doubt a real combustion, identical in kind with that which takes place in the consumption of fuel by fire. Lavoisier and Laplace long ago taught us that there are not two chemistries—one for dead bodies and another for living—on the contrary, one system of laws, chemical, mechanical, physical, everywhere prevail. Again, there are few exact terms that we apply to objective nature that we do not apply upon the principle of analogy to subjective nature, as high and low, interior and exterior, flexible and inflexible, hard and soft, attraction and repulsion, etc. Indeed, our whole language, in its higher ranges, is a perpetual application of the principle of analogy. But to aver that physical laws are operative in the spiritual world, even in the spiritual world of Calvinistic theology, is quite another matter, and is to take a leap where science can not follow. Hard and inflexible as the Calvinistic heaven is, it is doubtful if the law of gravitation reaches so far, though our professor does not flinch at all at this assumption (see page 42).
"Nature," he again says, "is not a mere image or emblem of the spiritual. It is a working model of the spiritual. In the spiritual world the same wheels revolve, but without the iron" (page 27). It is something to be assured that the iron is left out; the wheels are enough. Though why not the iron also, since we are still within reach of the same physical laws?
There is nothing more taking than the argument from analogy, but probably no species of reasoning opens so wide a door for the admission of error. It is often a powerful instrument in leading and persuading the mind, because it awakens the fancy or stirs the imagination; but its real scientific value, or its value as an instrument for the discovery of truth, is very little, if it has any at all. The fact of the metamorphosis of the caterpillar after an apparent death into a winged insect may lend plausibility to the doctrine of the soul's immortality, but can it be said to furnish one iota of proof? Indeed, to a mind bent upon anything like scientific certitude in such matters, Butler's whole argument for a future life can hardly be of a feather's weight, because he seeks to prove by reason or comparison that which experience alone can settle.
Paul reasoned from analogy when he sought to prove the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. He appealed to a perfectly natural and familiar phenomenon, namely, the decay and transformation of a kernel of wheat in the ground before it gives birth to the stalk and the new grain. But see how the doctrine which he maintained so eloquently has faded, or is fading, from the mind of even orthodox Christendom! Analogy is valuable as rhetoric, but in the serious pursuit of truth it can be of little service to us. When employed for its argumentative force, it proceeds upon the theory that if two things be compared, a matter in question with a matter about which there can be no question, and the former be found to agree in its rationale with the latter, the presumption is that it is true as the latter is true. But this mode of reasoning is of no value in religious matters, because here we shape the unknown from our knowledge of the known, and the agreement between the two is already assured. The world of myth and fable bears a resemblance more or less striking to the real world, but does that afford any ground for our accepting the myths and fables as actual facts and occurrences?
Suppose the doctrine of Christian conversion, as expounded by Paul, is found, to agree with certain well-known and universal facts of human life, does that prove the doctrine to be true? Or does it prove that Paul predicated his doctrine upon the knowledge of these facts? Milton's rebellious angels in their warfare against the hosts of heaven may not violate one rule of good English military tactics, but that fact would hardly be counted sufficient evidence for our accepting the rebellion as an actual historical event. Indeed, when our theological friends ask us to accept their dogmas on the ground that they are no more unreasonble or inexplicable than many things which we do believe, and which all the world believes, they usually make the mistake of expecting us to award the same weight to the argument from analogy that we do to proof from experience.
That a thing is mysterious or inexplicable affords no grounds for our refusing to credit it. We can not explain the simplest facts of our lives; we are embosomed in mystery. We do not know how our food nourishes us, or how our sleep refreshes us, yet we know that they do nourish and refresh us, and that is enough. What a mystery that an ugly worm should become a gorgeous butterfly, or that from a little insensate egg should come a bird with all its powers of flight and song! How wonderful and inexplicable are the commonest facts and occurrences about us! Yet we know that things do turn out thus and thus and not otherwise, and we know it not from reason but by experience. We know that a man may survive the amputation of his arms and legs, but do we know that he can survive the amputation of his head? A tree or a cabbage survives the amputation of its head; the stump will sprout again, why not a man? It is not a matter of reason, I say again, but of experience. When the doctrine of the Trinity can be confirmed by the same test, then it will be just as easy to believe it true as it is that water flows or is solid according to the temperature. The difficulty with the theologians is that, while they so often appeal to our experience in establishing their premises, they at once go beyond our experience in drawing their conclusions.
The analogy upon which Professor Drummond builds so confidently will be found comforting and reassuring to those who are already of his creed, but to the disinterested inquirer, determined to hold fast alone to that which is verifiable, it is little more than a clever rhetorical flourish.
His argument in a nut-shell is this: There are three kingdoms—the inorganic, the organic, and the spiritual—each atop of the other,and carrying the same law into higher regions. There may be other kingdoms, he says, higher in the scale than the spiritual, or the kingdom of God, of which we as yet know nothing. But of these three we do know, and with these we have to deal. The law of evolution works in each one of these kingdoms up to a certain point, when there is a break and miracle, or an outside power steps in. There is no passage from the inorganic to the organic without a miracle, and no passage from the natural to the spiritual without a miracle. Evolution worked in the nebulous matter till the worlds were formed and ready for life: to introduce that life, God did directly step in by a creative act. This done, evolution went to work again and carried forward the process until the series of sentient beings was crowned by man. Then evolution came to the end of its tether again; to reach the spiritual kingdom the intervention of a miraculous power was again required. A man can no more become a Christian by his own will or act than the inorganic can become the organic. He can not—the thing is simply impossible; and our author brings Scriptural texts to support his position. This leads him into good old-fashioned Calvinism, and good old-fashioned Clavinism he advocates and seeks to clinch with his scientific hammer. Indeed, his aim is to lend the great authority of science to this all but outgrown creed, and he evidently flatters himself that he has established the truth of it beyond all question. The reader soon perceives that the spiritual world of which he is all the while talking is not the spiritual world of the rest of mankind—the world of spirit as opposed to that of matter, the world of mind and consciousness of which all men are more or less partakers by virtue of their humanity—but the spiritual world as interpreted by a certain Christian sect, a very limited and a very recent affair, of which the mass of mankind have never even heard, and in which the sages and prophets of antiquity have no part nor lot. The curious and astonishing thing about the argument is, not the bringing forward and the insisting upon this kind of a spiritual world, for theology has long ago made us familiar with this claim, but the bringing of it forward in the name of science and substituting it for the spiritual world which science really recognizes. In following his argument one constantly feels the ground disappearing beneath him, or before him. His spiritual kingdom does not belong to the same order of fact as the other two: it is not a link, or a step in a natural series, but a domain by itself entirely apart from human reason or experience. In clapping it on top of the physical universe in the way it has been done here, and claiming that its position there is logical or scientific, is to do violence to common sense. Its position there is forced and arbitrary. In the order of Nature what goes atop of the animal world is the world of consciousness, the world of mind and spirit which attains to its full flowering in man. This is no limited or accidental world, thrust upon the few, and denied to the many, but a world which belongs to the natural order of the universe. The passage to it from the animal is so gradual that science can not say where the one ends and the other begins. In the same manner the animal fades into the vegetable, and the vegetable into the mineral. There are no breaks, there are no gulfs fixed. "There exists no insurmountable chasm between organic and inorganic nature," says Hankel, speaking for the most thorough science of his times. Huxley and Tyndall and the leading French scientists have reached the same conclusion. The organic and the inorganic are composed of the same elements; their differences arise solely from the different chemical combination of these elements, a combination so peculiar and complex that Science has not yet been able to reproduce it in her laboratory. But the fact that spontaneous generation has not yet taken place under the highly artificial conditions imposed by experimental chemistry proves what? Proves only that it has not yet taken place, that science with its limited means and brief space of time has not yet accomplished that which must have occurred under vastly different conditions in the abysm of geological time, and in the depths of the primordial seas. Science starts with matter and with force; back of these it does not go; more than these it does not require. To account for them, or to seek to account for them, is unscientific, for the simple reason that no such accounting can be verified. Out of the potencies of matter itself science traces the evolution of the whole order of visible things. Theology may step in and assume to know all that Science leaves unsaid, but, in doing so, let it not assume to speak with the consent and the authority of its great rival.
In the light of the most advanced biological science, organic and inorganic appear but relative terms, like heat and cold. There are all degrees of heat, and there are probably all degrees of life. There are probably degrees of life too low in the scale for our discernment, just as there is heat where our senses report only cold. If there are degrees of consciousness, why may there not be degrees of life? The child grows gradually into consciousness, just as the race has grown gradually into consciousness. Dare we affirm that in either case the leap from the unconscious to the conscious was or is suddenly made? No more dare we affirm that the leap from the inorganic to the organic was suddenly made. Is the crystal absolutely dead? See it shape itself according to a special plan, see how sensitive it is to the surrounding medium; see it grow when the proper food is given it, so to speak. Pasteur has noted that it cicatrizes or repairs itself when wounded. When placed in the fluid of crystallization, as in the animal, the injured part sears over and gradually regains its original shape. The most advanced science of our time does not regard life as a special and separate principle, a real entity which has been added to matter, but as a mode in which certain physical forces manifest themselves, just as heat is not a thing of itself, but a mode of motion.
"Mechanical, chemical, and physical forces are the only efficient agents in the living organism," at least the only ones which science can recognize, and these forces are the same in both the organic and the inorganic worlds.
Behold a fire, a conflagration; see it leap and climb, witness its fierce activity, its all-devouring energies! How like a thing of life it is! Is there a unique and original principle at work here, the principle or spirit of fire, a thing apart from the intense chemical activity which it occasions? The ancient observers believed so, and it is a pretty fancy, but science recognizes in it only another of the protean forms in which force clothes itself. We can evoke fire without the aid of fire, but the fire called life man has not yet been able so to evoke—probably never will be able. The nearest he has as yet come to it is in producing many of the organic compounds synthetically from inorganic compounds—a triumph a few years ago thought to be impossible.
The barrier, then, between the organic and the inorganic, upon which the scheme of theology of Professor Drummond turns, is by no means a fixed conclusion of science. Science believes that the potencies or properties of life are on the inorganic side, and that the passage has actually taken place in the past or may still take place in the present. In working out his general thesis, our author takes courage from the example of Walter Bagehot, whose physical politic, he says, is but the extension of natural law to the political world; and from the example of Herbert Spencer, whose biological sociology is but the application of natural law to the social world. But the political world of Walter Bagehot and the social world of Herbert Spencer are worlds which science recognizes; they fall within its pale; their existence is never disputed. But the spiritual world of Professor Drummond is a world of which science can know nothing. It is to science just as fanciful or unreal as the spiritual world of Grecian or Scandinavian mythology, or as the fairy world of childhood.
It is true the world of art, the world of genius, the world of literature, is a very select and limited affair too; but does anybody ever call the reality of it in question? Do we want proof that Shakespeare and Milton are poets? But science does want proof, if the matter comes to that, that the typical Puritan has the favor of any spiritual powers not known to the rest of mankind—not known and equally accessible to Zeno, or Plutarch, or Virgil, or Marcus Aurelius.
It is just these exceptions, these departures from the established course of Nature, that the natural philosopher is skeptical about. If an obscure event, which happened in Judea over eighteen hundred years ago, added a new kingdom to Nature, or inaugurated a new or higher order of spiritual truths impossible before that time, impossible to Plato or Plutarch, he wants the fact put in harmony with the rest of our knowledge of the universe. It is commonly believed that the course of Nature is independent of historical events, and that the ways of God to man from the beginning have been just what they are to-day.
What perpetually irritates the disinterested reader of Drummond's book is the assumption everywhere met with that the author is speaking with the authority of science, when he is only echoing the conclusions of theology. Hear him on the differences between the Christian and the non-Christian:
"The distinction between them is the same as that between the organic and the inorganic, the living and the dead. What is the difference between a crystal and an organism, a stone and a plant? They have much in common. Both are made of the same atoms. Both display the same properties of matter. Both are subject to the same physical laws. Both may be very beautiful. But, besides possessing all that the crystal has, the plant possesses something more—a mysterious something called life. This life is not something which existed in the crystal only in a less developed form. There is nothing at all like it in the crystal.... When from vegetable life we rise to animal life, here again we find something original and unique—unique at least as compared with the animal. From animal life we ascend again to spiritual life. And here also is something new, something still more unique. He who lives the spiritual life has a distinct kind of life added to all the other phases of life which he manifests—a kind of life infinitely more distinct than is the active life of a plant from the inertia of a stone.... The natural man belongs essentially to this present order of things. He is endowed simply with a higher quality of the natural animal life. But it is life of so poor a quality that it is not life at all. 'He that hath not the Son hath not life; but he that hath the Son hath life'—a new and distinct and supernatural endowment. He is not of this world, he is of the timeless state of eternity. It doth not yet appear what he shall be."
In the chapter on classification this distinction is further elaborated, and a picture drawn of the merely moral or upright man, that leaves him very low down indeed in the scale of life, when contrasted with the Scotch Presbyterian. He is still a stone compared with the plant: "Here, for example, are two characters, pure and elevated, adorned with conspicuous virtues, stirred by lofty impulses, and commanding a spontaneous admiration from all who look upon them—may not this similarity of outward form be accompanied by a total dissimilarity of inward nature?" And he adds that the difference is really as profound and basal as that between the organic and the inorganic.
As rhetoric, or as theology, one need care little for all this; but when it is uttered as science, as it is here, it is quite another matter. When it is declared that a man, say like Emerson, when compared with the general of the Salvation Army, is a crystal compared to a flower, and the declaration is made in the name and with the authority of science, it is time to protest. In fact, to aver that the finest specimens of the race who lived before the advent of Christianity, or who have lived since, and honestly withheld their assent from the Calvinistic interpretation of it, came short of the higher life and the true destiny of man, as much as the stone comes short of the plant, may do as the personal opinion of a Scotch professor, but to announce such an opinion as the result of a scientific demonstration is an insult to science and an outrage upon human nature.
It is told of Dr.Johnson that he once silenced an old Billingsgate fish-wife by calling her a parallelogram. Professor Drummond calls the merely moral man a hexagon (see chapter on classification), and there is just as much science in the one case as in the other. It is a mere calling of names, and the retort in both cases is liable to be, "You're another!" That there is a fundamental difference between the crystal and the cell we all know, but to call Plato or Marcus Aurelius a crystal, and Luther or Calvin living organism, is purely gratuitous. To science Paul is no more alive than Plato. Both were master-spirits, both made a deep and lasting impression upon the world, both are still living forces in the world of mind to-day. Theology may see a fundamental difference between the two, but science does not. Theology may attach its own meanings to the terms life and death, but science can attach but one meaning to them, the meaning they have in the universal speech of mankind. Theology may say that "he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life"; but is the statement any more scientific than it would be to say, "He that hath Confucius hath life, and he that hath not Confucius hath not life"? If Christ was the life in a biological and verifiable sense, then the proposition would carry its own proof. But the kind of life here referred to is a kind entirely unknown to science. The language, like the language of so much else in the New Testament, is the language of mysticism, and is not capable of verification by any process known to science. The facts that confirm it, if facts there are, lie entirely outside of the domain of scientific inquiry, direct or indirect.
As a matter of fact, and within the range of scientific demonstration, the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, between the moral and the orthodox citizen, in our day, is as little as the difference between Whig and Tory, or Republican and Democrat—a difference of belief and of outward observance, and in no sense a fundamental difference of life and character. Is it probable that a scientific commission could establish any essential differences, say between Professor Tyndall and Professor Drummond, any differences which the latter owed to his orthodoxy that enhanced his worth as a man, as a citizen, as a father, as a husband, or as a man of trust and responsibility, over and above the former? It would probably be found that both possessed "that inbred loyalty unto virtue" of Sir Thomas Browne which certainly is the main matter in this world, and more's the pity if it is not the main matter in the next.
Our professor's argument from analogy breaks down on nearly every page by his confounding the particular with the universal, and substituting the exceptional, the hypothetical, for the natural and provable. The error is the same as if Bishop Butler had sought to prove from the general course of Nature, such as the changing of worms into flies, the hatching of eggs into birds, the passage of infancy into manhood, etc., that some particular men were endowed with immortal souls and lived after the dissolution of the body. But the bishop made the two sides of his equation equal; he started with the universal and he ended with the universal, and claimed immortality for all men. Drummond, on the other hand, seeks to prove a particular and exceptional fact by its analogy to a general law of Nature. In his chapter ou "Conformity to Type," the leading idea is that every kind of organism conforms to the type of that which begat it: the oak to the oak, the bird to the bird, etc. An incontrovertible statement, certainly. Now, what is the analogy? This, namely, that all Christians conform to the Christ-type, and are not begotten by themselves, but by Christ. Where is the force of the analogy? One fails to see it, because the argument proceeds from the universal to the particular again; a principle which is true of all birds, and all oaks, is true of only some men. All men are not Christians. Moreover, Professor Drummond urges that they can not all be Christians, and that the scheme of Christianity does not require or intend that they shall all be Christians.
To give the analogy force requires that the law be as general in the one case as in the other. Every bird is a bird unconditionally; it is born a bird and dies a bird, and can be nothing else but a bird; and to show the same universal law of conformity to type, working in both cases, every man must be a Christian on the same terms: it must be shown to be the law of his being from which there is no escape. If one man fails to become a Christian, the law is broken as truly as if a bird's egg were to hatch out a mouse, or an acorn to produce a cabbage. But, in the scientific Calvinism of Professor Drummond, every bird is not a bird; only one here and there has the bird-form thrust upon it. The number of Christians is of necessity very limited. Salvation, and hence immortality, are for the few, not for the many. Our Christian philosopher is actually driven by the necessities of his argument into maintaining the truth of a special and limited immortality. Immortality is not for the whole human race, any more than the principle of life is for the whole inorganic kingdom.
"Some mineral, but not all, become vegetable; some vegetable, but not all, become animal; some animal, but not all, become human; some human, but not all, become divine." But the principle is the same, as if all mineral did become vegetable, etc. It may become vegetable, probably in its turn will become vegetable; there is no partiality or preference on the part of Nature. The same in the higher spheres. All men are approximately divine, such men as Plato and Paul vastly more so, of course, than the great mass of men; but the difference is one of degree, not of kind, like the difference between the half-fliers and the perfect fliers among the birds. Yet Professor Drummond dare affirm that certain members of a species are endowed with a kind of life which is denied to certain other members of the same species, and he makes this declaration, not in the name of theology, but in the name of science!
Far be it from me to seek to belittle or discredit the true Christian life of any man or woman—the life that conforms, however imperfectly, to the example set by Jesus of Nazareth.
What I urge is, that the natural philosopher is bound to consider such a life as not contingent upon a certain belief, or the acceptance of certain dogmas, or upon any one historical event, but that it has been possible to man in all ages, and is more possible now than it was in the time of Socrates, only by virtue of the force of the teachings, and of the immortal example of the founder of Christianity.
To the impartial observer such a man as Julian the Apostate appears as about the best Christian of his time, although he utterly abjured Christianity, and was a pagan to the last drop of his blood. To be a Christian, in the higher sense, is to live a certain life, not to subscribe to a certain creed; or, in the words of Milton (though Milton would probably have repudiated this application of his words), it is to "dare to think, to speak, and to be that which the highest wisdom has in every age taught to be best."
It may not be amiss for me to supplement or qualify the foregoing pages with a page or two which have a different bearing. In the first place, let me say that I have not so much spoken for myself therein as I have spoken for that attitude of mind which makes science or exact knowledge possible—a state of mind which, in our time, I am aware, is carrying things with a high hand. I know full well that science does not make up the sum-total of life; that there are many things in this world that count for more than exact knowledge. A noble sentiment, an heroic impulse, courage, and self-sacrifice—how all your exact demonstrations pale before these things! But I recognize the fact that within its own sphere science is supreme, and its sphere is commensurate with human reason; and that, when an appeal is made to it, we must abide by the result. Theology assumes to be a science, the science of God, and as such the evidence, the proof upon which it relies, must stand the test of reason, or be capable of verification. Religion, as a sentiment, as an aspiration after the highest good, is one thing; but, formulated into a system of theology and assuming to rest upon exact demonstration, is quite another. As such it is exposed to the terrible question, Is it true? In other words, it comes within the range of science, and must stand its fire. When miracles are brought forward as an evidence of the truth of Christianity, the natural philosopher is bound to ask. Do miracles take place?
If our life were alone made up of reason or of exact knowledge, science would be all in all to us. So far as it is made up of these things, science must be our guide. But probably four fifths of life is quite outside of the sphere of science; four fifths of life is sentiment. The great ages of the world have been ages of sentiment; the great literatures are the embodiments of sentiment. Patriotism is a sentiment; love, benevolence, admiration, worship, are all sentiments.
Man is a creature of emotions, of attractions, and intuitions, as well as of reason and calculation. Science can not deepen your love of country, or of home and family, or of honor or purity, or enhance your enjoyment of a great poem or work of art, or of an heroic act, or of the beauty of Nature, or quicken your religious impulses. To know is less than to love; to know the reason of things is less than to be quick to the call of duty. Unless we approach the Bible, or any of the sacred books of antiquity, or the great poems, or Nature itself—a bird, a flower, a tree—in other than the scientific spirit, the spirit whose aim is to express all values in the terms of the reason or the understanding, we shall miss the greatest good they hold for us. We are not to approach them in a spirit hostile to science, but with a willingness to accept what science can give, but knowing full well that there is a joy in things and an insight into them which science can never give. There is probably nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that appeals to our scientific faculties, yet there are things here by reason of which the world is vastly the gainer. Indeed, nearly all the recorded utterances of Christ rise into regions where science can not follow. "Take no thought of the body." "He that would save his life shall lose it." "Except ye become as little children, ye can not enter the kingdom of heaven," etc. These things are in almost flat contradiction of the precepts of science.
It may be noted that Christ turned away from or rebuked the more exact, skeptical mind that asked for a sign, that wanted proof of everything, and that his appeal was to the more simple, credulous, and enthusiastic. He chose his disciples from among this class, men of faith and emotion, not too much given to reasoning about things. In keeping with this course of action, nearly all his teachings were by parables. In fact, Christ was the highest type of the mystical, parable-loving. Oriental mind, as distinguished from the exact, science-loving. Occidental mind.
Let us not make the mistake of supposing that all truth is scientific truth, or that only those things are true and valuable which are capable of verification by the reason or by experience. Truth has many phases, and reaches us through many channels. There is a phase of truth which is apprehended by what we call taste, as poetic truth, literary truth; another phase which is felt by the conscience, as moral truth; and still another, which addresses the soul as the highest spiritual and religious truths. All these are subjective truths, and may be said to be qualities of the mind, but they are just as real for all that as the objective truths of science. These latter are the result of a demonstration, but the former are a revelation in the strict sense. Such a poet as Words-worth, such a writer as Emerson, speaks to a certain order of minds. In each case there is a truth which is colored by, or rather is the product of the man's idiosyncrasy. In science we demand a perfectly colorless, transparent medium; the personality of the man must be kept out of the work, but in poetry and in general literature the personality of the man is the chief factor. The same is true of the great religious teachers; they give us themselves. They communicate to us, in a measure, their own exalted spirituality. The Pauline theology, or the theology which has been deduced from the teachings of Paul, may not be true as a proposition in Euclid is true, but the sentiment which animated Paul, his religious fervor, his heroic devotion to a worthy cause, were true, were real, and this is stimulating and helpful. Shall we make meat and drink of sacred things? Shall we value the Bible only for its literal, outward truth? Convince me that the historical part of the Bible is not true, that it is a mere tissue of myths and superstitions, that none of those things fell out as there recorded; and yet the vital, essential truth of the Bible is untouched. Its morals, its ethics, its poetry are forever true. Its cosmology may be entirely unscientific, probably is so, but its power over the human heart and soul remains. Indeed, the Bible is the great deep of the religious sentiment, the primordial ocean. All other expressions of this sentiment are shallow and tame compared with the briny deep of the Hebrew Scriptures. What storms of conscience sweep over it; what upreaching, what mutterings of wrath, what tenderness and sublimity, what darkness and terror are in this book! What pearls of wisdom it holds, what gems of poetry! Verily, the Spirit of the Eternal moves upon it. Whether, then, there be a personal God or not, whether our aspirations after immortality are well founded or not, yet the Bible is such an expression of the awe, and reverence, and yearning of the human soul in the presence of the facts of life and death, and of the power and mystery of the world, as pales all other expression of these things; not a cool, calculated expression of it, but an emotional, religious expression of it. To demonstrate its divergence from science is nothing; from the religious aspirations of the soul it does not diverge.
What I wish to say, therefore, is that we are conscious of emotions and promptings that are of deeper birth than the reason, that we are capable of a satisfaction in the universe quite apart from our exact knowledge of it, and that the religious sentiment of man belongs to this order of truths. This sentiment takes on various forms; the forms themselves are not true, but the sentiment is. To recur to my former illustration of the constellations—however fantastic the figures which the soul has pictured upon the fathomless dome, the stars are there; the religious impulse remains.
It is perhaps inevitable that systems should arise, that creeds should be formed, and that the name of science should be invoked in their behalf, but the wise man knows they are perishable, and that the instinct that gave them birth alone endures. What is the value of this instinct? It would be presumption for me to attempt to estimate it, or to hope to disclose its full significance. Its history is written in the various ethnic religions, often written in revolting forms and observances. But it tends more and more to purify itself, rises more and more toward the conception of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is within and not without; and this purification has, in our day, unquestionably been forwarded by what we call science.