Modern Rationalism/Chapter V

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Chapter V.


RELIGION AND SCIENCE.


The conflict between scientists and theologians, which began with the very birth of scientific research, has culminated in an acute struggle, and practically ended in the nineteenth century. Outside the Church of Rome, which persists in ignoring or distorting, for the edification of its Index-bound laity, the stages of scientific progress, it is generally recognised in educated circles that the many controversies which have filled the scientific literature of the century are practically settled.

Correctly speaking, of course, the entire movement of the Rationalists is a scientific movement. Theology, ethics, history, and philosophy all fall into the category of sciences. However, the name has been so familiarly appropriated to the group of empirical sciences, in the narrow sense of the term (for all useful science must be empirical), that the "conflict between science and religion" has come to be specifically applied to the group of controversies we are about to describe. Neither term is quite accurate, for "religion" now frequently receives a much wider interpretation, in which it cannot conflict with science, but is bound to make harmonious progress with it; however, the phrase is too familiar to need explanation. Setting apart, therefore, the historical, ethical, and metaphysical sciences which have united in a radical criticism of that form of traditional theism which is currently known as "religion," we shall consider the progress of the physical sciences, and these only in so far as they have entered into conflict with religion. Few will dispute that the positions held by physicists, astronomers, geologists, biologists, and anthropologists against the fervid attack of theologians have now passed into established facts or theories, and are beyond all reasonable scepticism; theological opposition to science, the most pernicious hindrance to the advance of knowledge for many centuries, stands hopelessly discredited.

To appreciate fully the effect of scientific progress, it is necessary to discriminate between natural and supernatural, or revealed, or positive religion. The latter is contained in certain sacred documents; the former is understood to be the collection of statements concerning God and the soul and their ethical relationship to which "unaided" reason is capable of attaining. After the light which literary and historical criticism has shed upon the origin and value of Scripture, the twentieth century will probably think little of the conflict of theologians and scientists. Had the "higher criticism "been developed in the eighteenth century, the nineteenth could not have witnessed that conflict. No one is now surprised that the Old Testament is full of scientific errors. The error of their theological predecessors in opposing science in the interests of Genesis or Job is frankly recognised by latter-day apologists, and it is, therefore, trusted that the conflict is at an end, and that traditional religion is placed beyond the influence of science in thus abandoning the plenary inspiration of its Scriptures. A discussion of the effect of scientific progress upon even natural religion will probably unsettle that confidence. Meanwhile a brief sketch of the conflict of science with revelation will show that the struggle has ended through the abandonment of the theological positions.

It is a curious fact that astronomy numbers less religious sceptics among its great students than any of the other physical sciences. Nevertheless, for many centuries astronomy has been in acute conflict with theologians, and it was the first science to wrest from them a recognition of their errors. The Old Testament had naturally embodied the astronomical views of the Egyptians and Babylonians. Hence Christianity (with a few eminent exceptions) held it as a sacred doctrine that the earth was a flat, level plain, the firmament a solid vault that spanned it, and that light and darkness were positive entities equally created by God. The hard-fought progress of astronomy had dissipated these notions, and forced theologians to reinterpret their texts long before the present century. The struggles of Columbus, of Magellan, of Galileo, had gradually introduced a saner view of the universe. Magellan's famous voyage in 1519 settled for ever the question of the Antipodes and of the rotundity of the earth. The labours of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler destroyed one of the most vigorously defended points of theological astronomy—the geocentric doctrine; though the farce of theological opposition was sustained even until the year 1822, when the cardinals of the Holy Inquisition kindly permitted "the printing and publication of works treating of the motion of the earth and the stability of the sun, in accordance with the general opinion of modern astronomers." The religious notion of comets and meteors as fireballs flung from the hand of God to scare a wicked world was exploded by the labours of Tycho, Kepler, Newton, Halley, and Clairaut. The analogous notion that ascribed lightning and other meteorological phenomena to an arbitrary divine or diabolical influence had been completely destroyed; the discovery by Franklin in 1752 of the true nature of the lightning flash, that had been placed in the hands of Jupiter and of Jehovah, completely wrecked the traditional view, and rescued a vast territory for science from the province of theology. Medical science had fought with theologians over the bodies of witches and of the possessed, and had substituted humane and scientific treatment of epilepsy, dementia, etc., for the repulsive practices which religion had inspired; epidemics, also, had been wrested from theologians and received scientific study and treatment, and the value of sanitation had come to be understood. Even chemistry had collided with current theological views and profoundly modified them, shedding a new light on the phenomena of magic and witchcraft which the theologian had solemnly regarded as pertaining to his province from time immemorial. All this had been effected before the commencement of the present century, and one would expect to find a modesty and caution in the anti-scientific writings of the theologians of the century in some proportion to the universal overthrow of their predecessors. Such, however, is far from being the case: "the darkest hour is that before the dawn." Less equipped with social and physical penalties to inflict, the theologians of this century have been no less conspicuous than their brethren who broke the brave spirit of Galileo for reckless opposition, arrogant dogmatism, and ultimate collapse.

The fiercest struggles of the century have centred upon the description of the animate and inanimate universe contained in the first page of Genesis. In point of fact, there are two versions of the creation in Genesis, one of which represents the work as occupying the Creator six days, and the other one day only. The variation, however, offers little latitude; if the narrative is to be read in a natural sense, it compels the belief that the universe came from the hand of the Creator practically in its present form. The contrary theory of the gradual evolution of the universe from a chaotic condition had arisen in Greece, had been favoured by Scotus Erigena and Giordano Bruno, and came at length towards the close of the eighteenth century to be placed on a sound scientific basis. Starting from some rudimentary theories of Newton and Descartes, Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, presented to the scientific world what is now known as the "nebular hypothesis; J the hypothesis was at once adopted by Laplace, the eminent French astronomer, supported by physical and mathematical reasoning, and imposed upon the acceptance of scientific men as the most probable mode in which our solar system had originated. Contrary to the traditional view, the new theory taught that the formation of our solar system alone had occupied millions of years; that planets and satellites were annular fragments cast off by a vast condensing and rotating nebula, of which the sun is the actual nucleus, still in process of condensation. Such a theory was in diametrical opposition to the Genesiac version, and "throughout the theological world," says Dr. White, "there was an outcry at once against Atheism, and war raged fiercely." But the power of the Church had happily waned, and evidence was accumulated zealously by astronomers in favour of the new theory; to-day it is one of the most brilliant, instructive, and impregnable positions of astronomy. It has given physicists an admirable basis for an explanation of the solar expenditure of light and heat; it fully harmonizes with the movements, positions, configuration, and comparative consistency and temperature of the planets and their satellites; it is in perfect analogy with the nature of the stellar universe (to which it has been extended) which has been unveiled by more perfect telescopic and spectroscopic research. The discovery of true nebulae, in every stage of condensation, following upon Fraunhofer and Draper's perfection of spectral analysis, and the beautifully illustrative experiments of Plateau with rotating globules of oil, have closed the controversy.

A new science, which assumed a definite form only at the beginning of this century—the science of geology—at once entered into vigorous conflict with theology over the Genesiac legend. From time immemorial the fossils which are found in even the most superficial rocks had excited keen curiosity and much curious speculation: they were variously regarded as the product of "a stone-making force," a "formative influence," a "lapidific juice," a "fatty matter set into a fermentation by heat," a "seminal air," and other equally lucid causes—sometimes they were thought "sports of nature," sometimes (even by the great Chateaubriand, and in the face of the true version of their origin) sports of the Almighty. The true theory, that they were the petrified remains of animals and plants of previous ages, was, of course, suggested, but denounced as anti-scriptural. Even in the middle of the eighteenth century, in enlightened France, the great Buffon was forced to print an ignominious recantation of his geological teaching. Geology, however, gained in strength, and continued to reveal the secular evolution of the crust of the earth and the true nature of its fossil remains. Yet so great was the opposition that little more than half a century ago geology was still denounced by ecclesiastical writers as "not a subject of lawful inquiry," as "a dark art," a "for bidden province," an "infernal artillery," etc.; and Christian scholars who favoured it were assailed as "infidels" and "impugners of the sacred record." When the absurdity of the older views of the nature of fossils had gained recognition, the idea that they were traces of the great "Deluge" was generally defended by theologians. Dr. Buckland, an eminent Christian geologist, held the Deluge theory as late as 1823; but he at length yielded to the overwhelming evidence of his adversaries. In 1830 appeared Lyell's famous "Principles of Geology," and Lyell and William Smith succeeded in removing the old semi-religious theory from the path of progress. In 1856 it was quietly omitted from the new edition of Home's "Introduction to the Scriptures," which was the standard text-book of orthodoxy. In the Church of Rome and the Russo-Greek Church the diluvian theory persisted much longer (in perfect harmony with Catholic traditions); but no theologian now lends his support to it. The story of the six-days creation was simultaneously abandoned. The time which must have elapsed between the first descent of water upon the cooled film of the shrinking planet and the appearance of man in the upper strata of the crust (to confine ourselves to geology) is incalculable: the various estimates of scientists, both thermo-dynamicists and geologists, are widely divergent, but no authority claims less than 15,000,000 years for the formation of the earth alone. The days of Genesis, therefore, became the subject of further vigorous speculation and pseudo-scientific activity. The theory that a long period closed by a cataclysm must be placed between the first verse of Genesis and the commencement of the "days" was followed by a theory that the days were long periods of time; then by the admission that the periods were not strictly consecutive, or that they were visions of Adam or of Noah; and finally by the theory that the chapter was merely a religious poem or allegory. To day, after the floods of literature that have been poured out, and the fierce and prolonged resistance to the progress of a science which is of great service to humanity, it is quietly recognised that the famous first chapter of Genesis is an expurgated version, by the unknown Elohist, of a Babylonian myth with no title to respect.

But there was yet a third violent controversy over the Genesiac version of the origin of the universe. According to Genesis, God had created all animals and plants according to their kind. It became, therefore, the sacred belief of Christendom that God had immediately and distinctly created all the species of the animate world. St. Augustine, it is true, makes a vague suggestion of the opposite, the evolutionary, hypothesis, which had been clearly taught in more ancient philosophies and theologies. However that may be, the theological world was profoundly convinced of the immutability and distinct origin of species when Treviranus and Lamarck threw out the first scientific defences of the contrary hypothesis, to be followed immediately by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. At once biology was added to the number of the victims of theology. There was, how ever, a lull in the storm until Chambers published his semi-evolutionary "Vestiges of Creation" in 1844. Eight years afterwards Herbert Spencer published an essay in favour of evolution; and in 1858 Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace gave birth to a definite theory of evolution by natural selection. In 1859 Darwin published his "Origin of Species," and Spencer, Wallace, Huxley, Gallon, Tylor, Lubbock, and Lewes in England, and a large number of equally distinguished authorities in France and Germany, followed up the attack. A shower of theological diatribes followed, led by Wilberforce in the Quarterly Review and Manning in the Catholic Academia; it was called "a brutal philosophy," an "attempt to dethrone God," a "jungle of fanciful assumption," a "huge imposture"—an eminent French prelate, the amiable Mgr. Segur, said, referring to the doctrines of the Darwinists: "Their father is pride, their mother impurity, their offspring revolutions." From end to end of the Church (or Churches) the loudest artillery boomed. Science persevered: in 1864 Sir Charles Lyell, hitherto faithful, published his "Antiquity of Man," and seceded to the evolutionists; a few years later Huxley published his "Man's Place in Nature," and in 1871 appeared Darwin's "Descent of Man." The theological artillery continued, but a change of tactics was perceptible: a careful study of the Hebrew text was now supposed to permit a much broader interpretation than tradition had given. Darwinism was now rarely denounced as anti-scriptural, but as "an utterly unsupported hypo thesis," as "reckless and unscientific." Broad Churchmen, like Kingsley and Farrar, spoke in favour of Darwin; Bishop Temple and others began to accept Darwinism and give it a teleological consecration: Mivart did the same for Roman Catholics: Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey with a panegyric from Canon Farrar. There was still from time to time an erratic explosion in high circles: Carlyle, with his hybrid theism, railed at Darwin as an "apostle of dirt worship," and Whewell refused to admit a copy of "The Origin of Species" in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. But the opposition has now almost subsided; only third-rate theologians, decaying statesmen, and lady-novelists still echo the dying cry. The origin of species by evolution (whatever factors of that evolution may be ultimately assigned) is an accepted and a luminous theory of science; the doctrine of special creations is abandoned. In our own days we have heard an Anglican bishop, in an important ecclesiastical assembly, eulogizing Charles Darwin as a thinker who had rendered high service to theology by his famous theory.

"Per varies casus, per tot discrimina rerum."

The doctrine of the immediate creation of man was much more distinctly taught in Genesis, and has, therefore, been defended with a greater tenacity by theologians. Even here, however, time has brought about a general acceptance of the scientific theory. Many of the arguments which established the law of evolution in the animal world retain their force in application to man. Thus there are certain rudimentary organs found in the human organism (such as the appendix vermiformis and the glandula pinealis), and a number of atrophied muscles, which very clearly point to a pre-human ancestry; they are certainly unintelligible if we suppose the actual organism to be a divine chef d'oevre. The development of the impregnated human ovulum also follows the same course as that of the higher animals; it is a recapitulation of the course of the evolution of the animal kingdom. The evidence of ethnology, too, entirely points towards a continuity of development between anthropoid animals and the earliest men. Such facts, added to the natural presumption of man's origin, which is grounded on the already-proved universality of evolution, fully establish the theory of human evolution from a scientific point of view. Again, therefore, there has been a reform in hermeneutics, and it is generally admitted that Scripture places no obstacle in the way. The only serious opposition now is based on the wide psychological gulf which separates man from the "lower" animals; hence there is a tendency to admit that the body of man is the product of evolution, but the soul an immediate creation. Since, however, the systems of philosophy which are at present in vogue give little support (as we have seen) to the theory of a distinct and separate spiritual substance in man, the complete doctrine of man's evolution is now generally accepted as it is taught by the Rationalists.

With this controversy is naturally connected the question of the antiquity of the human race, on which also theologians have waged zealous war with ethnologists, archaeologists, and historians. That the Old Testament contained a chronology from which the antiquity of the human race was deducible was firmly held until the middle of the present century. There were wide discrepancies in the chronologies of interpreters, but the average opinion assigned to man an antiquity of about 4,000 years B.C., and none allowed more than 6,000 B.C. Dr. J. Lightfoot, a Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge and an erudite divine, definitely placed the creation of Adam on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C., at nine o clock in the morning. Scaliger in the sixteenth century, Sir W. Raleigh in the seventeenth, and others had protested in vain; when Young, Champollion, and Rosellini began a scientific study of the Egyptian monuments in the present century theologians were convinced that Scripture did not allow much more than 6,000 years for the antiquity of man. Egyptologists, Mariette, Brugsch, Meyer, Flinders Petrie, and Sayce are agreed that Mena or Menes, the first Egyptian king mentioned on the monuments, reigned at least more than 5,000 years ago. And the monuments further reveal the fact that Egypt had then already attained a high degree of civilization; its social, political, and military condition, its arts and sciences, its language, point indubitably to an immense period of earlier development. In the Nile Valley pottery has been dug out at such a depth that, calculating the annual deposit of the river, authorities place their date at 11,000 years B.C. Other researches in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, and the decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions, show that similar civilizations existed at Babylon and Assyria more than 6,000 years ago; their development must have taken many thousands of years of previous time. Archaeology took up the story where history and philology had been obliged to abandon it. In 1847 Boucher de Perthes initiated the serious study of the flint weapons and implements which had been discovered in great abundance. In 1864 appeared Lyell's "Antiquity of Man," and a great number of anthropologists were won over to the new view of man's great antiquity. A vigorous search was instituted in all parts of the world, and flint instruments and human remains were found in deposits of the whole of the Quaternary period, and, according to the majority of authorities, even in Tertiary deposits. However that may be, man was clearly proved to have existed during a period of which the Scriptural 6,000 or 7,000 years is but a fraction. There is no need to repeat the story. The "drum ecclesiastic" beat loudly until the evidence was overwhelming. To-day it is generally held that the Old Testament teaches nothing about the antiquity of the human race; and that, if it did, it has no scientific value.

Following the order of Genesis, we come next to the doctrine of the Fall of man, which has also been a stumbling-block in the path of science. In this case the obstinacy of theologians has been, and is, unusually stolid; the doctrine of the Fall is the logical foundation for the whole soteriology of the New Testament. The issue of the controversy is, therefore, less tangible. Broad Churchmen had, as we have seen, already practically abandoned the dogma; they, therefore, accept the statements of scientists unreservedly. In general it can only be said that there has been the usual blind and prejudiced opposition to scientific positions, and that theologians have been compelled finally to accept the statements they had combated, the dogma being vaguely safeguarded (to that feeble extent which a theologian requires) by its own retreat into the deepest mists of antiquity.

On the Genesiac version of the Fall we should have to admit that man commenced his career in a state of high perfection, from which he gradually degenerated, to rise again in modern civilization; also, that death, cruelty, suffering, etc., only entered into the universe at the Fall. The latter portion of the legend was too obviously discredited by the earliest evidence of palaeontology; it was quite clear from the animal remains found that fierce strife, keen suffering, painful disease, and death had not only existed throughout the millions of years before man appeared, but that they had been most important factors in the development of species. About the middle of the present century the first and more important part of the dogma—the early descent of man from a high civilization—received a severe blow from the combined researches of anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians. The examination of the flint instruments we have mentioned not only proved from their geological position the vast antiquity of the human race, but also the lowly condition of those primitive specimens of humanity. Then prehistoric skulls and bones were found at Cronstadt (in 1835), at Düsseldorf (1856), at Cro-Magnon, Solutré, Furfooz, Crenelle, etc., which were not only of a lowly type, but were of many different types and ages, and showed a clear upward tendency from the earlier to the later. The latter conclusion was confirmed by a chronological arrangement (on geological grounds) of the rude primitive implements; the earlier and deeper are proportionately ruder than the later. In the shell-beds of Denmark more polished instruments, and even the remains of domestic animals, appeared. In the peat beds of Scandinavia a transverse section revealed a picturesque proof of the gradual "ascent" of man; in the lowest layers, mingled with botanical remains of an extreme antiquity, were smooth stone implements; in the middle layer, also full of extinct botanical specimens, were bronze implements; in the upper strata were implements of iron.

In 1853 the lake-deposits of Switzerland yielded relics of a higher and later stage of development—leather, cloth, grains, etc. Here, too, a gradual improvement appears from the lower to the higher and later levels. It was noticed, too, that the earlier bronze implements imitated the later stone, a proof that the bronze followed the stone age. Similar proofs were discovered in all parts of the world. Mr. Southall had contended, in 1875, much to the gratification of timid consciences, that Egypt showed no traces of a development from a rude age. Its civilization had come immediately from God. In point of fact, flint instruments had already been discovered in Egypt in 1867 and 1872, and the later discoveries of '77, '78, and '81 put the evolution of Egyptian civilization beyond question. Ex uno disce omnes. At the same time, the researches of ethnologists were giving strong confirmation to the archaeologists. Ethnology proved that many races still existed in a low stage of development, and that an arrangement of the races of the earth would give a complete picture of the history of humanity. Whately led an attack, arguing that no rude race ever did or could emerge of itself from barbarism. Tylor, Lubbock, and others, crushed his contention. The Duke of Argyll led a new attack, contending that the lowly races had degenerated. It was abundantly proved that, against the local examples of decline, the vast majority of facts point to universal progress; that the conditions suggested by the Duke do not, of themselves, involve decline; that many of his conclusions were, scientifically, extremely improbable, if not impossible; and that simple facts could be opposed to a large number of his statements. Comparative philology and comparative mythology tell the same story of a general upward progress of humanity in its speech and legends and religions. History in all its branches confirmed the theory of the universal ascent of man. The history of art, of science, of social and political development, of ethics, of religion—all commence with the simple and proceed to the elaborate later forms. Thus a half-dozen sciences, all that could shed light on the past history of humanity, declared unequivocally that man had ascended from the rudest beginning, little removed from animal life, to the height of civilization. The record of the past which these sciences have composed is far from complete, yet it gives a clear account of the general course of development. There is no trace of an early civilization or a golden age; it is absolutely negatived. To suppose, as some still do, that every trace of the primitive "descent" of man has miraculously escaped notice, while traces of his "ascent" have been yielded so abundantly, is the reverse of scientific. And when we remember that the only authority on which such a theory is based is an antique cuneiform cylinder from which a Jewish writer copied the folk-lore of the Babylonians, its attractiveness is not enhanced. In any case, we have here another remarkable instance of a theological opposition to science ending in complete collapse.

Another controversy which has ended in the retreat of theologians is that of the universality of the Deluge. The puerility of the notion of housing representatives of all the species of the animal world in an ark of the dimensions of Noah's began to be recognised from the seventeenth century. The rude classification and narrow horizon of the early makers of the legend had naturally led them to think that the number of species was very limited. With the growth of zoology as a science, the number of species increased enormously. The ark which is described in Genesis would contain only a small fraction of the innumerable species known to modern science—to say nothing of the infinite difficulties of arrangement, provision, etc. The zoological distribution of animals presented a still more serious difficulty. With the limited geographical notions of former days, it was possible to imagine a diffusion of animal life after the deluge; but the voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Vespucci, and other navigators, and the discovery of the distribution of animal races over Australia, America, the islands of the Pacific, etc., made the theory of a dispersion from one centre (and at so recent a date) scientifically untenable. It has been shown, too, that the animals found to-day in any given locality have a genetic relation to the fossil forms that are entombed beneath their feet. Geology, also, entirely negatived the idea of a great deluge, and even astronomy raised insuperable objections. The result is well known. First, the universality of the deluge was sacrificed; then its extent was restricted more and more until it reached a vanishing point. It is now tacitly relegated to the region of Babylonian myths. The Genesiac account of the Flood is one of the clearest transcriptions from the cuneiform inscriptions.

Comparative philology is another science which shared the invectives of, and was grievously hindered by, theologians in its early years. From the story of the tower of Babel, Christianity felt bound to hold that Hebrew was the primitive language, and that all others were derived from it by a divine confusion at Babel. The notion that Hebrew was the primitive language had been virtually destroyed by Leibnitz, by the Jesuit Hernas in the eighteenth century, and by the works of Adelung: theologians, however, still clung to the Babel legend. In 1784 the Asiatic Society of Calcutta was founded, and the study of Sanscrit began. One by one languages fell into their places in an orderly scheme of development. Hebrew was assigned a subordinate place in the Semitic group: the idea of a "confusion" of tongues was shown to be a natural supposition of the primitive mind, but wholly unscientific. The languages of India, Persia, and of the greater part of Europe show a clear and orderly descent from a common ancestor: the same was proved for the Semitic and other groups. Both speech and writing are shown to have been gradually developed—not revealed to Adam; and the variety of languages is evidently the result of long development, just like the variety of races. Of course the new science was hampered and its scholars insulted. In 1788 James Beattie declared the new science "degrading to our nature;" in 1804 Dr. Adam Clarke made severe strictures upon it. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the new science was already accepted definitely in Germany, English theologians and theologasters continued to ridicule and denounce comparative philology. Even in these latter days Mr. Gladstone, so commanding a statesman, so pitifully feeble in religion, has made, says Dr. White, "an assertion regarding the results of philology which no philologist of any standing could admit, and then escapes in a cloud of rhetoric after his well-known fashion." It may be ranked with Lord Salisbury's pleasantries on biological evolution, Mr. Balfour on naturalistic ethics, the Duke of Argyll on ethnology, and Miss Marie Corelli on atomism. However, to-day the evolutionary theory of language is accepted; the Babel theory is as dead as the deluge. The last ironical page in this chapter of controversy is more pitiful than in the case of the other Judaeo-Babylonian myths. The translation of the original Babylonian myth by Oppert, Sayce, and Schrader, and its comparison with Genesis xi. 1-9, makes it clear that the "confusion of tongues" is not even Babylonian, but is due to a conscious or unconscious jeu de mots of the Hebrew transcriber. Bab-el means "Gate of God," and the tower of Babel would be so called as supporting an altar to the God (in the sky), besides serving astronomical purposes. But the Hebrew writer has mistaken it for the Hebrew word "to confound," and built his myth thereupon—with the help of a Hindu legend.

Finally, we must mention the struggle of science and theology over the Dead Sea. Scepticism with regard to the Scripture version of the fate of Lot's wife, and its explanation of the peculiar properties of the Dead Sea, had begun in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth travellers began to ridicule the salt statue which was pointed out by guides as the salicized relic of Lot's wife, and to tone down the exaggerated descriptions of the Dead Sea which were current in Europe. In 1806 Ulrich Seetzen began the serious investigation of the Dead Sea. The fruit of the region, which vast numbers of common Christians (and many of their pastors) still believe to be fair to look upon, but full of ashes and uneatable, he found to be like the same species in other parts of the world; the water was not "black and sticky," but blue and transparent; there was no smoke arising from it, and no statue of salt. Lynch made a bold investigation in 1848, and others followed. Before long it was made clear that all the features of the region, zoological, physical, chemical, and geological, are perfectly natural, and exclude the theory of a cataclysm. Lot's wife had elicited theories from well-meaning divines for centuries. Leclerc had suggested that the shock had made her "as rigid as a statue." Eichhorn suggested that she had fallen into a stream of bitumen; Michaelis that her relatives had raised a monument of rock-salt to her memory; Friedrich that she fell into the sea, and the salt stiffened round her clothing, etc., etc. To-day it is well known that the pillars of salt which men have regarded awe-stricken for ages as the remains of the unfortunate female are blocks of salt which the rain has detached from the main mass; on the very picture of it given by Lynch, still a treasured ornament of Sunday-schools and vicarages, there are in the back-ground a number of similar "statues" in process of formation. The whole myth is now generally recognised (outside the Church of Rome) to have grown out of the peculiar but perfectly natural features of the region.

Among practical sciences of great value to humanity, even medicine has incurred the hostility of theologians. The supernaturalistic air which has ever been thrown about disease and cure was always a hindrance to science, and there has been frequent ecclesiastical opposition to the progress of anatomy, medicine, and surgery; but after the fierce struggle of the anatomist, Vesalius, the opposition gradually languished. At the commencement of the present century the new practice of inoculation against small-pox was struggling with ecclesiastical prejudice; it was denounced as "an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah," as "a sinful practice," as "bidding defiance to Heaven." Several Primitive Methodist ministers of a later date have opposed compulsory vaccination on theological grounds, and in the Roman Church the opposition was long violently maintained. During the great outbreak of small-pox in Canada (Montreal) in 1885 hundreds of Catholic lives were lost through the opposition of their priests to vaccination; they declaimed against it from their pulpits in the midst of the plague, recommending, instead, rosaries and scapulars, and proclaiming that the hideous disease had been sent by Jehovah to punish them for their one glad, unecclesiastical festival—the Carnival. Happily, it is said that the episode has planted germs of scepticism in Catholic Canada which will never be eradicated. The theological opposition to the use of anaesthetics, especially in parturition, lasted until the middle of this century; women were denied the relief of anaesthetics in the awful pangs of child-birth (they were even burnt alive in olden days for having used them) because Genesis taught those pangs to be a legitimate curse from Jehovah. Hypnotism has met with keen theological opposition, for it has brought whole categories of "miracles" within the domain of science; it was violently denounced on that ground by the cathedral-preacher of Augsburg as late as 1888.

Lastly, we may instance the science of political economy as one that has been grievously hindered by Scriptural teaching. Both in the Old and New Testaments the loan of money at interest is condemned. On the other hand, it was soon discovered in the progress of commerce that such loans were not only a matter of great convenience, but of absolute necessity. For many centuries the commercial world was oppressed by this ecclesiastical stricture; fathers, popes, and councils sternly prohibiting all interest on money. The policy was firmly imbedded in canon law, and was vigorously followed out by clergy and authorities. The result was that, says Dr. White, "the whole evolution of European civilization was greatly hindered," and the practice of money-lending was confined to the Jews; being certainly damned already, the latter lost little by practising it—though, after driving the Jews from every other industry and restricting money-lending to them, it is hard that the Church should now inspire anti-Semitic movements. By the middle of the eighteenth century the ecclesiastical policy, certainly based on Scripture as it was, had become intolerable, and theologians began to retreat. Benedict XIV., in 1745, decreed that usury (which he took to be synonymous with interest) was a sin, but might be permissible in certain conditions; and in 1830 Mastrofini issued an authorized work in which he contended that the Church only condemned exorbitant interest. Yet, even in 1830, the Inquisition would not commit itself on the principle, and many priests and professors still hurled anathemas at the practice. In 1872 the Holy Office calmly sanctioned the practice; and, according to M. Zola, the present occupant of the Holy See derives a large income from the practice—a significant commentary on the stern denunciations of Leo the Great, Urban III., Alexander III., Gregory IX., Gregory X., Clement V., Leo X., and Innocent XL The ethical teaching of the Papacy is immutable indeed!

When we compare the present accepted view of the origin of Genesis with the fierce and prolonged resistance which theologians offered to scientific progress, a feeling of profound pity is inevitably experienced. On the authority of a collection of folk-stories, which Jewish writers translated into their own language and foisted upon Moses, the progress of modern science has been barred with preternatural hostility in every single direction. Not a line of inquiry into the nature of past or present has been started, but the way has been sternly blocked, "By Order, Moses," and scientists have had to waste valuable energy in repelling the ceaseless attacks of theologians with their little-understood legends. Men of high character and genius—Copernicus, Apion, Galileo, Newton, Linnseus, Buffon, Cuvier, Agassiz, Maillet, Gosse—have been forced into silence, inactivity, subterfuges, shameful withdrawals for the protection of those legends. Science and civilization, with their attendant blessings, have been hindered for centuries; scientists of noble and benevolent life have been persecuted, calumniated, accused of the basest possible motives; a vast fund of energy has been squandered and withdrawn from the service of humanity; the most useful discoveries and inventions—the lightning rod vaccination, anaesthetics, hypnotism, even railways and telegraphs, etc.—have been opposed and anathematized, all in virtue of the Jewish translation of certain Babylonian and other myths.

But it is hoped that the conflict is now ended for ever. The Protestant Church is generally convinced that no scientific statements must be sought in Scripture. The Church of Rome will express a like conviction as soon as its present despot, who is, like Gladstone or Manning, an eminent statesman, but an uncritical and impermeable scholar, has been replaced. The era of struggle will then be over, it is thought, and the provinces of science and of theology clearly distinguished. But it would seem that the significance of scientific teaching is felt, not only in connection with Scripture, but .in connection with pure theism or natural religion. The mere fact that science has come into violent conflict with the sacred books of Christianity, and proved them to be in error, does not help us to understand why most of the eminent scientists of this century have passed into utter religious scepticism. The rejection of the Bible leads logically only to Deism. Nineteenth-century science, it is proverbial, leads to Agnosticism—to a monistic and mechanical conception of the universe rather than the older dualism. Let us endeavour to show how the modern scientific view of the universe, based on the results of a hundred sciences, has had such influence in this dissolution of theism and spiritualism.

And first it is well to note how fully the old view of the macrocosm harmonized with ethico-theistic teaching. Even after the overthrow of geocentricism, although the arrangement of the heavenly bodies became a little less natural, still the earth was easily realized to be the true centre of the universe. It was still a narrow and well-ordered universe, limited in time and space. Within, all lines seem to converge to the earth; without, the illimitable void suggested an encircling Immensity; and, before and after, the mind could only place the eternal life of God. On earth, too, first the very presence of life, then the endless variety of living things, and finally the pre-eminent power and nobility of man, seemed to point to an extra-mundane Artificer. Thus the best conception of the cosmos obtainable before the nineteenth century was conspicuously incomplete. Its lacunae seemed to be harmoniously filled up by philosophy and religion. And, given the spirituality of man and the existence of God, the moral law, still veiled in mysticism, pointed naturally towards immortality. In a word, the revolution may be said to consist in this: that the limits of time and space have been swept away, the lacunae or gaps in the fabric of the universe have been almost filled up, the moral law has been scientifically studied and placed on a new foundation. Naturally the supplementary (as one may call them) hypotheses of spiritualism and theism have been proportionately superseded.

In the first place, the horizon of the human mind has receded with each successive generation. It was soon found that our solar system, instead of being the centre of a group of brilliant but comparatively insignificant stars, set like golden lamps in a firmament that hemmed in the narrow world, was merely one member of a vast cluster of solar systems. The solid firmament was a figment of imagination; the sphere of attenuated matter which casts the blue light upon the earth could, it is said, be conveniently packed in a hand-bag. The stars are not glowing particles of in corruptible matter, but huge incandescent suns, 3,000,000 or more miles in girth, disseminated throughout space at such unimaginable distances that only the faintest glimmering of their light falls upon our retina. More than 100,000,000 of them are revealed by the telescope, most of them larger than the sun (which is 130,000 times larger than the earth); and the photographic plate reveals further millions incalculable. Apparently void spaces in the heavens are shown, by a plate exposed ten or eleven hours, to be absolutely crowded with worlds. Trigonometry shows that they are at incalculable distances from us and from one another: the nearest is 25 billion miles away—Arcturus is at a distance of 1,500 billion miles. Indeed, since the spectroscope has revealed that they are rushing at terrific speed through space, some at 250 miles per second, their infinite dispersion is necessary. All these worlds form a vast annular system, of which our solar system is a modest member; though order is not perfect—Arcturus and others obey no law of harmonious motion, and collisions are not unknown. Nor is our idea of the vastness of the universe limited here. Other stellar universes are thought to be perceived—the great Andromeda nebula is probably one at a distance of six million billion miles at least. In fine, the old space-limits have entirely vanished; every increase of instrumental range reveals new worlds—we have no warrant for putting limits to the cosmos.

The more startling revelation is the discovery of the vast antiquity of the universe. Geology claims millions of years for the solidification of the earth; astronomy demands yet further millions for the evolution of the solar system from its primitive nebula. Nor is this all. Astronomy has discovered numerous extinct suns, much larger than ours—such as the satellite of Algol and stars of that type, the half-extinct companion of Sirius, etc. For their evolution a still longer period is necessary; the vista of time extends as in definitely as the vista of space. In fact, astronomy unveils this panorama to our gaze. The universe, as far as we see it, is a collection of vast masses of matter in every stage of condensation—from the dark solid Algol star to the flocculent nebula in Orion. Condensation implies age, for the more solid bodies are the result of a secular condensation of attenuated nebulas. Dark stars are numerous, how numerous it is impossible to say from the nature of the case; and nebulae are found in thousands. Hence we must think that the great universe lived, as it now lives, ages before our solar system was born, and will live on ages indefinite after our sun and all planetary life are extinct. It is a vast procession of worlds, a drama of birth and life and death, of which science sees no beginning and no end, and has not the slightest reason to suspect either. Take the nebula in Orion: in the triangular space apparently cut out of it is a cluster of stars. It is impossible to resist the inference that they have been formed by condensation from the nebula: the thought that the rest of the great nebula will similarly condense into worlds opens out a dazing vista of futurity. Take, again, the cluster of more than 2,000 stars, called the Pleiades—more than 1,000 billion miles away. The wisps and faint wreaths of nebulous matter that still enwrap the vast cluster make us think that the whole group is a crystallization of a vast primitive nebula, and thus open out an equally unimaginable vista of past time. Worlds are being born, are in the prime of life, are burning down, and are quite extinct everywhere around us. Our sun happens to have just passed its prime. It has no prerogatives in the vast host of the heavens. Thus have all limits of time and space been swept away, and the bases of that imaginative vision of an encircling Infinity and Eternity been destroyed. The world now points to no past, no future, and no infinity but its own.

In the third place, science has undermined the theory that it is necessary to postulate a supreme Architect who formed the actual cosmos from the primeval chaos. All the supposed proofs of a supreme wisdom in assigning the positions, regulating the motions, etc., of the heavenly bodies have entirely collapsed. Every feature of the actual orderly universe is a direct and inevitable result of the inherent properties of the original nebula. So far was "chaos" from needing a "Logos" to direct its growth into a "cosmos"—in other words, so little did the nebula need a Designer—that it could not have evolved in any other direction: the law of gravitation determined all in advance. The word "law" is but an abstract way of regarding the action of force, and science has every reason to think that force is only matter in motion. Thus science has beaten back the "watch-maker" argument until it simply implies that matter and motion must have had a creator—in other words, teleology, as such, has vanished, or is only tacked on as an appendix to the argument for a First Cause. And, as we saw in the preceding chapter, modern philosophy, both empirical and transcendental, entirely rejects the causation argument.

Then, when we come to the great breaches in the hierarchy of being as it was conceived a century ago, we find that they have already been almost entirely filled up. Until a few centuries ago the doctrine of the spontaneous generation of living beings (from non-living) was universally admitted. Scientists proved that the supposed cases of abiogenesis were fallacious, and that in no actual case is life born from non-life. The facile and erratic mind of the theologian immediately erected this empirical statement into an a priori dogma: it is still quite common to read in sacro-scientific literature that the researches of Pasteur, etc., have proved the impossibility of the birth of life from inanimate matter. Science, it need not be said, does not lay down a priori dogmas, and in this case it furnishes ample data for the opinion that life was evolved from non-life. The perfection of the microscope has opened out fields of living things which were hitherto undreamed of. Apart from Pasteur's experiments, any scientist would now hesitate about thinking that such highly-organized creatures as the Infusoria could arise by abiogenesis—to say nothing of bees, frogs, etc. But when we come to such monocellular organisms as the Amoeba, the case is very different. Little structureless atoms of protoplasm, there is little faith involved in thinking they arose spontaneously: put one side by side with a white corpuscle of the blood in the microscope, and one might almost lose their identity. We have no reason for thinking that they are ever produced by abiogenesis to-day; but to say that they could not be, and, especially, that they cannot have been so produced in the unimaginable physical conditions of the early palaeozoic period, would be absurd. In fact, there may have been yet simpler forms of life, and a substance or substances between ordinary matter and protoplasm—in the earliest strata all traces are naturally destroyed. Moreover, chemistry has succeeded in forming artificially a number of organic substances alcohol, indigo, uric acid, etc. In such favour able conditions, therefore, the law of evolution, uniform in action up to this point and beyond it, demands the admission of the commencement of life by abiogenesis: even Catholic scientists accept the position. Thus is the first great gulf bridged over.

With regard to the connection of the infinite variety of plant and animal forms which stood out as distinct creations a century ago, it is unnecessary to say much. Palaeontology has supplied valuable intermediate forms and linked disparate species, and has connected the species living in a given region with their fossil predecessors. Embryology has shown that each ovulum recapitulates in its development the history of the species to which the parent belongs. Anatomy has discovered rudimentary organs (like the teeth of the whale, etc.) that refer to former species. Zoology has added a mass of evidence which cannot here be condensed. However, the thesis that all the species have arisen by evolution is, as we have said, universally accepted, even blessed by ecclesiastics. This continuity is completely proved until we come to man, and science affords no basis for the theory of an extra-mundane and non-mechanical interference. As Caro politely expressed it: "Science has conducted God to its frontiers, and thanked him for his provisional services."

As we saw above, there has been a more ardent struggle against the extension of evolutionary principles to man. In accordance with traditional views, a distinction has been drawn between mind and body. With regard to his corporeal frame, there is no longer a serious resistance to the evolutionary doctrine. The evidence of embryology and of comparative anatomy is more than adequate for scientific proof that man has descended or ascended from another animal species. Then comparative psychology has done much towards bridging the gulf between the mind of man and that of other animals. The mental powers of the higher animals have been carefully studied (for the first time) on the one hand by Darwin, Romanes, Lubbock, etc., and the mental powers of the lowest races of men on the other; and a close rapprochement, if not satisfactory evidence of continuity, has been the result. In the mean time, the old psychology, the scholastic psychology, which mistook a superficial for a radical and specific difference, and thus erected an a priori barrier to the transition, has lost favour. Modern psychology is an empirical science that refuses to dogmatize about the "spirituality" of the soul. Hence no metaphysical objection can be raised to the development of man from another animal species, and the whole weight of the law of evolution, absolutely proved up to this point, and most strongly corroborated by anatomy, embryology, comparative psychology, and ethno logy, teaches that development. Only a vague mysticism, taking the form of certain "extra-rational" considerations, is opposed to the scientific view. The doctrine is strongly re-inforced by the discovery of the action of evolution in every department of human activity—in art, in science, in religion, in morality, in sociology, in language. At no point is there a breach of continuity by an extra-mundane intervention. All the alleged historical interventions have been dissolved into myths and legends.

It will be now apparent that science has a powerful influence upon religion[1] quite apart from its positive mythology. The cardinal points of every religious scheme are the existence of a personal God, and the distinctive spirituality of the human mind or soul. Science builds up such a conception of the universe and its contents as tends to exclude those beliefs. Any belief in things invisible, if it is more than a subjective illusion as vain as a dream, must be founded on things visible. It must have the character of an inference from the defects or deficiency of the scientific view of the universe. The modern scientific picture of the cosmos is too complete and too harmonious to justify such an inference. Human life is not now a field of light surrounded by an infinite mystery—a unique drama on the central stage of the universe. It is a bubble on the stream of time that flows on indefinitely before and after; a chance episode in the play of force on the bosom of a material immensity. A nebula, one of the countless myriads that people space, condensed and formed a sun with a retinue of planets. The planet Terra has reached that stage of consistency and temperature at which life is possible, and in the ceaseless play of force life expands and is perfected, and reaches the higher levels of human art and science and sociology. The conditions of life, water, atmosphere, etc., will gradually vanish, and the episode of human life be ended. The moon has undergone such an evolution. The Earth, Venus, and Mars appear to be at about the same stage of it; the larger planets are consider ably less advanced. It is a question of magnitude versus the inevitable force of gravitation. Myriads uncounted of similar histories are being enacted in every region of space. Extinct stars prolong the story deep into the unthinkable past, and giant nebulae point to its indefinite futurity. The cosmos is one vast self-containing mechanism, complete and self-sufficient, unaffected by any agency save its own physical interaction, with no suspicion of a beginning or an end. Unless ethics opens out, as Kant thought it did, a glimpse into another world, there is not only no basis for belief in such a world, but there is strong counter-proof. Once it is admitted that there is no tangible positive proof of the existence of God, there are certain features of life, hitherto considered a mystery, which tend to positively exclude that belief. The main instruments of the long evolution of life, the incessant conflict, the cruel and bloody struggle, the disease and pain and famine and suffering of every form, from the very dawn of consciousness; and the pitiful spectacle of human life in particular, the thousands of years of degradation, of misery, of hideous brutality and suffering, of stupid impotence, of the triumph of all that is evil and loathsome—all that Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann so eloquently pleaded—return in intenser force against the theistic hypothesis. It can no longer be said that theism is a purely open question like "lunar politics." We do but rid ourselves of a painful mystery in rejecting it.

That the mechanical theory of the universe is not free from mysteries only a too sanguine Materialist would deny. The formation of the first living organisms is yet beyond the reach of hypothesis, and the rise of consciousness and its relation to cerebral change is a still profounder mystery. To decline to accept the theory, however, on the ground that it does not explain everything, would be a surprising attitude for the adherents of a religious system which is conspicuous for the number and obscurity of its mysteries. The human race will await many ages longer, and, perhaps, never obtain an exhaustive theory of the universe. At the same time, the vast progress which science has already accomplished, and the number of obscurities it has already illumined since the days of Bacon and Galileo, give ample ground for hope. On the other hand, the very hypotheses which would be introduced by dualists really increase the mystery, while giving a superficial explanation. The notions of a spiritual soul, of a supreme Designer, and of a Moral Legislator, give no real explanation of the phenomena of thought, of cosmic order, and of morality: they are no more satisfactory than the "aquosity" that once explained the formation of water, or the "lapidific force" that explained fossils. We can conceive no way of connecting them with the phenomena they are introduced to explain; and they bring in additional mysteries in abundance. However that may be, it is not a question of calculating which system contains least mystery; it is a question of fact. That matter exists we know: the idealistic criticisms of Mr. Balfour and others may be safely disregarded, for the slightest serious concession to idealism at once paralyses and stultifies all philosophic discussion, and throws us into a Fichtean egoism. That spirit exists we have no further reason for thinking, now that science has embraced the whole cosmos in its mechanical and evolutionary scheme. Thus reasoned Dr. Tyndall, Dr. Clifford, and a large proportion of the most eminent scientists of the present century. Thus it is that science bears a direct relation to the permanent elements of religion, and not only to its sacred documents: the continued progress of science means an extension of its mechanical formulae, and the ultimate suppression of mysticism and spiritualism. In this way it reacts constantly on religious philosophy, and, through philosophy, on religion.

  1. We are aware that the term "religion" is retained by many Agnostics, who understand by that name the principle of reverence for all that is high and ideal in life. It is evident we are not using the term in that sense, but as an equivalent of theism or theology; and by "God" (theos) we mean exclusively the Personal God of Christianity and Judaism.