This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two here.
In Goethe’s great poem, while Faust is walking with Margaret at eventide in the garden, she asks him questions about his religion. It is long since he has been shriven or attended mass; does he, then, believe in God?—a question easy to answer with a simple yes, were it not for the form in which it is put. The great scholar and subtle thinker, who has delved in the deepest mines of philosophy and come forth weary and heavy-laden with their boasted treasures, has framed a very different conception of God from that entertained by the priest at the confessional or the altar, and how is he to make this intelligible to the simple-minded girl that walks by his side? Who will make bold to declare that he can grasp an idea of such overwhelming vastness as the idea of God, yet who that bath the feelings of a man can bring himself to cast away a belief that is indispensable to the rational and healthful workings of the mind? So long as the tranquil dome of heaven is raised above our heads and the firm-set earth is spread forth beneath our feet; while the everlasting stars course in their mighty orbits and the lover gazes with ineffable tenderness into the eyes of her that loves him, — so long, says Faust, must our hearts go out toward Him that upholds and comprises all. Name or describe as we may the Sustainer of the world, the eternal fact remains there, far above our comprehension, yet clearest and most real of all facts. To name and describe it, to bring it within the formulas of theory or creed, is but to veil its glory, as when the brightness of heaven is enshrouded in mist and smoke. This has a pleasant sound to Margaret’s ears. It reminds her of what the parson sometimes says, although couched in very different phrases; and yet she remains uneasy and unsatisfied. Her mind is benumbed by the presence of an idea confessedly too great to he grasped. She feels the need of some concrete symbol that can be readily apprehended; and she hopes that her lover has riot been learning bad lessons from Mephistopheles.
The difficulty which here besets Margaret must doubtless have been felt by every one when confronted with the thoughts by which the highest human minds have endeavored to disclose the hidden life of the universe and interpret its meaning. It is a difficulty which baffles many, and they who surmount it are few indeed. Most people content themselves through life with a set of concrete formulas concerning Deity, and vituperate as atheistic all conceptions which refuse to be compressed within the narrow limits of their creed. For the great mass of men the idea of God is quite overlaid and obscured by innumerable symbolic rites and doctrines that have grown up in the course of the long historic development of religion. All such rites and doctrines had a meaning once, beautiful and inspiring or terrible and forbidding, and many of them still retain it. But whether meaningless or fraught with significance, men have wildly clung to them, as shipwrecked mariners cling to the drifting spars that alone give promise of rescue from threatening death. Such concrete symbols have in all ages been argued and fought for until they have come to seem the essentials of religion; and new moons and sabbaths, decrees of councils and articles of faith, have usurped the place of the living God. In every age the theory or discovery—however profoundly theistic in its real import—which has thrown discredit upon such symbols has been stigmatized as subversive of religion, and its adherents have been reviled and persecuted. It is, of course, inevitable that this should be so. To the half-educated mind a theory of divine action couched in the form of a legend, in which God is depicted as entertaining human purposes and swayed by human passions, is not only intelligible, but impressive. It awakens emotion, it speaks to the heart, it threatens the sinner with wrath to come or heals the wounded spirit with sweet whispers of consolation. However mythical the farm in which it is presented, however literally false the statements of which it is composed, it seems profoundly real and substantial. Just in so far as it is crudely concrete, just in so far as its terms can be vividly realized by the ordinary mind, does such a theological theory seem weighty and true. On the other hand, a theory of divine action which, discarding as far as possible the aid of concrete symbols, attempts to include within its range the endlessly complex operations that are forever going on throughout the length and breadth of the knowable universe, — such a theory is to the ordinary mind unintelligible. It awakens no emotion because it is not understood. Though it may be the nearest approximation to the truth of which the human intellect is at the present moment capable, though the statements of which it is composed may be firmly based upon demonstrated facts in nature, it will nevertheless seem eminently unreal and uninteresting. The dullest peasant can understand you when you tell him that honey is sweet, while a statement that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter may be expressed by the formula π = 3.14139 will sound as gibberish in his ears; yet the truth embodied in the latter statement is far more closely implicated with every act of the peasants life, if he only knew it, than the truth expressed in the former. So the merest child may know enough to marvel at the Hebrew legend of the burning bush, but only the ripest scholar can begin to understand the character of the mighty problems with which Spinoza was grappling when he had so much to say about natura naturans and natura naturata.
For these reasons all attempts to study God as revealed in the workings of the visible universe, and to characterize the divine activity in terms derived from such study, have met with discouragement, if not with obloquy. As substituting a less easily comprehensible formula for one that is more easily comprehensible, they seem to be frittering away the idea of God and reducing it to an empty abstraction. There is a further reason for the dread with which such studies are commonly regarded. The theories of divine action accepted as orthodox by the men of any age have been bequeathed to them by their forefathers of an earlier age. They were originally framed with reference to assumed facts of nature which advancing knowledge is continually discrediting and throwing aside. Each forward step in physical science obliges us to contemplate the universe from a somewhat altered point of view, so that the mutual relations of its parts keep changing as in an ever-shifting landscape. The notions of the world and its Maker with which we started by and by prove meagre and unsatisfying; they no longer fit in with the general scheme of our knowledge. Hence the men who are wedded to the old notions are quick to sound the alarm. They would fain deter us from taking the forward step which carries us to a new standpoint. Beware of science, they cry, lest with its dazzling discoveries and adventurous speculations it rob us of our soul’s comfort and leave us in a godless world. Such in every age has been the cry of the more timid and halting spirits; and their fears have found apparent confirmation in the behavior of a very different class of thinkers. As there are those who live in perpetual dread of the time when science shall banish God from the world, so, on the other hand, there are those who look forward with longing to such a time, and in their impatience are continually starting up and proclaiming that at last it has come. There are those who have indeed learned a lesson from Mephistopheles, the “spirit that forever denies.” These are they that say in their hearts, “There is no God,” and “congratulate themselves that they are going to die like the beasts.” Rushing into the holiest arcana of philosophy, even where angels fear to tread, they lay hold of each new discovery in science that modifies our view of the universe, and herald it as a crowning victory for the materialists, — a victory which is ushering in the happy day when atheism is to be the creed of all men. It is in view of such philosophizers that the astronomer, the chemist, or the anatomist, whose aim is the dispassionate examination of evidence and the unbiased study of phenomena, may fitly utter the prayer, “Lord, save me from my friends!”
Thus through age after age has it fared with men’s discoveries in science, and with their thoughts about God and the soul. It was so in the days of Galileo and Newton, and we have found it to be so in the days of Darwin and Spencer. The theologian exclaims, If planets are held in place by gravitation and tangential momentum, and if the highest forms of life have been developed by natural selection and direct adaptation, then the universe is swayed by blind forces, and nothing is left for God to do: how impious and terrible the thought! Even so, echoes the favorite atheist, the Lamettrie or Büchner, of the day; the universe, it seems, has always got on without a God, and accordingly there is none: how noble and cheering the thought! And as thus age after age they wrangle, with their eyes turned away from the light, the world goes on to larger and larger knowledge in spite of them, and does not lose its faith, for all these darkeners of counsel may say. As in the roaring loom of Time the endless web of events is woven, each strand shall make more and more clearly visible the living garment of God.
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At no time since men have dwelt upon the earth have their notions about the universe undergone so great a change as in the century of which we are now approaching the end. Never before has knowledge increased so rapidly; never before has philosophical speculation been so actively conducted, or its results so widely diffused. It is a characteristic of organic evolution that numerous progressive tendencies, for a long time inconspicuous, now and then unite to bring about a striking and apparently sudden change; or a set of forces, quietly accumulating in one direction, at length unlock some new reservoir of force, and abruptly inaugurate a new series of phenomena, as when water rises in a tank until its overflow sets whirling a system of toothed wheels. It may be that Nature makes no Ieaps, but in this way she now and then makes very long strides. It is in this way that the course of organic development is marked here and there by memorable epochs, which seem to open new chapters in the history of the universe. There was such an epoch when the common ancestor of ascidian and amphibious first showed rudimentary traces of a vertebral column. There was such an epoch when the air-bladder of early amphibians began to do duty as a lung. Greatest of all, since the epoch, still hidden from our ken, when organic life began upon the surface of the globe, was the birth of that new era when, through a wondrous change in the direction of the working of natural selection, Humanity appeared upon the scene. In the career of the human race we can likewise point to periods in which it has become apparent that an immense stride was taken. Such a period marks the dawning of human history, when, after countless ages of desultory tribal warfare, men succeeded in uniting into comparatively stable political societies, and through the medium of written language began handing down to posterity the record of their thoughts and deeds. Since that morning twilight of history there has been no era so strongly marked, no change so swift or so far-reaching in the conditions of human life, as that which began with the great maritime discoveries of the fifteenth century, and is approaching its culmination to-day. In its earlier stages this modern era was signalized by sporadic achievements of the human intellect, great in themselves, and leading to such stupendous results as the boldest dared not dream of. Such achievements were the invention of printing, the telescope and microscope, the geometry of Descartes, the astronomy of Newton, the physics of Huyghens, the physiology of Harvey. Man’s senses were thus indefinitely enlarged as his means of registration were perfected; he became capable of extending physical inferences from the earth to the heavens; and he made his first acquaintance with that luminiferous ether which was by and by to reveal the intimate structure of matter in regions far beyond the power of the microscope to penetrate.
It is only within the present century that the vastness of the changes thus beginning to be wrought has become apparent. The scientific achievements of the human intellect no longer occur sporadically; they follow one upon another, like the organized and systematic conquests of a resistless army. Each new discovery becomes at once a powerful implement in the hands of innumerable workers, and each year wins over fresh regions of the universe from the unknown to the known. Our own generation has become so wonted to this unresting march of discovery that we already take it as quite a matter of course. Our minds become easily deadened to its real import, and the examples we cite in illustration of it have an air of triteness. We scarcely need to be reminded that all the advances made in locomotion, from the days of Nebuchadnezzar to those of Andrew Jackson, were as nothing compared to the change that has been wrought within a few years by the introduction of railroads. In these times, when Puck has fulfilled his boast and put a girdle about the earth in forty minutes, we are not yet, perhaps, in danger of forgetting that a century has not elapsed since he who caught the lightning upon his kite was laid in the grave. Yet the lesson of these facts, as well as of the grandmother’s spinning-wheel that stands by the parlor fireside, is well to bear in mind. The change therein exemplified since Penelope plied her distaff is far less than that which has occurred within the memory of living men. The developments of machinery, which have worked such wonders, have greatly altered the political conditions of human society, so that a huge republic like the United States is now as snug and compact and easily manageable as was the tiny republic of Switzerland in the eighteenth century. The number of men that can live upon a given area of the earth’s surface has been multiplied manifold, and while the mass of human life has thus increased, its value has been at the same time enhanced.
In these various applications of physical theory to the industrial arts, countless minds, of a class that formerly were not reached by scientific reasoning at all, are now brought into daily contact with complex and subtle operations of matter, and their habits of thought are thus notably modified. Meanwhile, in the higher regions of chemistry and molecular physics the progress has been such that no description can do it justice. When we reflect that a fourth generation has barely had time to appear on the scene since Priestley discovered that there was such a thing as oxygen, we stand awestruck before the stupendous pile of chemical science which has been reared in this brief interval. Our knowledge thus gained of the molecular and atomic structure of matter has been alone sufficient to remodel our conceptions of the universe from beginning to end. The case of molecular physics is equally striking. The theory of the conservation of energy, and the discovery that light, heat, electricity, and magnetism are differently conditioned modes of undulatory motion transformable each into the other, are not yet fifty years old. In physical astronomy we remained until 1839 confined within the limits of the solar system, and even here the Newtonian theory had not yet won its crowning triumph in the discovery of the planet Neptune. To-day we not only measure the distances and movements of many stars, but by means of spectrum analysis are able to tell what they are made of. It is more than a century since the nebular hypothesis, by which we explain the development of stellar systems, was first propounded by Immanuel Kant; but it is only within thirty years that it has been generally adopted by astronomers, and among the outward illustrations of its essential soundness none is more remarkable than its surviving such an enlargement of our knowledge. Coming to the geologic study of the changes that have taken place on the earth’s surface, it was in 1830 that Sir Charles Lyell published the book which first placed this study upon a scientific basis. Cuvier’s classification of past and present forms of animal life, which laid the foundations alike of comparative anatomy and of palæontology, came but little earlier. The cell-doctrine of Schleiden and Schwann, prior to which modern biology can hardly be said to have existed, dates from 1839; and it was only ten years before that the scientific treatment of embryology began with Von Baer. At the present moment twenty-six years have not elapsed since the epoch-making work of Darwin first announced to the world the discovery of natural selection.
In the cycle of studies which are immediately concerned with the career of mankind, the rate of progress has been no less marvelous. The scientific study of human speech may be said to date from the flash of insight which led Friedrich Schlegel in 1808 to detect the kinship between the Aryan languages. From this beginning to the researches of Fick and Ascoli in our own time, the quantity of achievement rivals anything the physical sciences can show. The study of comparative mythology, which has thrown such light upon the primitive thoughts of mankind, is still younger, — is still, indeed, in its infancy. The application of the comparative method to the investigation of laws and customs, of political and ecclesiastical and industrial systems, has been carried on scarcely thirty years; yet the results already obtained are obliging us to rewrite the history of mankind in all its stages. The great achievements of archæogists—the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs and of cuneiform inscriptions in Assyria and Persia, the unearthing of ancient cities, the discovery and classification of primeval implements and works of art in all quarters of the globe—belong almost entirely to the nineteenth century. These discoveries, which have well-nigh doubled for us the length of the historic period, have united with the quite modern revelations of geology concerning the ancient glaciation of the temperate zones, to give us an approximate idea of the age of the human race and the circumstances attending its diffusion over the earth. It has thus at length become possible to obtain something like the outlines of a comprehensive view of the history of the creation, from the earliest stages of condensation of our solar nebula down to the very time in which we live, and to infer from the characteristics of this past evolution some of the most general tendencies of the future.
All this accumulation of physical and historical knowledge has not failed to re- act upon our study of the human mind itself. In books of logic the score of centuries between Aristotle and Whately saw less advance than the few years between Whately and Mill. In psychology the work of Fechner and Wundt and Spencer belongs to the age in which we are now living. When to all this variety of achievement we add what has been done in the critical study of literature and art, of classical and biblical philology, and of metaphysics and theology, illustrating from fresh points of view the history of the human mind, the sum total becomes almost too vast to be comprehended. This century, which some have called an age of iron, has been also an age of ideas, an era of seeking and finding the like of which was never known before. It is an epoch the grandeur of which dwarfs all others that can be named since the beginning of the historic period, if not since Man first became distinctively human. In their mental habits, in their methods of inquiry, and in the data at their command, “the men of the present day who have fully kept pace with the scientific movement are separated from the men whose education ended in 1830 by an immeasurably wider gulf than has ever before divided one progressive generation of men from their predecessors.” The intellectual development of the human race has been suddenly, almost abruptly, raised to a higher plane than that upon which it had proceeded from the days of the primitive troglodyte to the days of our great-grandfathers. It is characteristic of this higher plane of development that the progress which until lately was so slow must henceforth be rapid. Men’s minds are becoming more flexible, the resistance to innovation is weakening, and our intellectual demands are multiplying, while the means of satisfying them are increasing. Vast as are the achievements we have just passed in review, the gaps in our knowledge are immense, and every problem that is solved but opens a dozen new problems that await solution. Under such circumstances there is no likelihood that the last word will soon be said on any subject. In the eyes of the twenty-first century the science of the nineteenth will doubtless seem very fragmentary and crude. But the men of that day, and of all future time, will no doubt point back to the age just passing away as the opening of a new dispensation, the dawning of an era in which the intellectual development of mankind was raised to a higher plane than that upon which it had hitherto proceeded.
As the inevitable result of the thronging discoveries just enumerated, we find ourselves in the midst of a mighty revolution in human thought. Time-honored creeds are losing their hold upon men; ancient symbols are shorn of their value; everything is called in question. The controversies of the day are not like those of former times. It is no longer a question of hermeneutics, no longer a struggle between abstruse dogmas of rival churches. Religion itself is called upon to show why it should any longer claim our allegiance. There are those who deny the existence of God. There are those who would explain away the human soul as a mere group of fleeting phenomena attendant upon the collocation of sundry particles of matter. And there are many others who, without committing themselves to these positions of the atheist and the materialist, have nevertheless come to regard religion as practically ruled out from human affairs. No religious creed that man has ever devised can be made to harmonize in all its features with modern knowledge. All such creeds were constructed with reference to theories of the universe which are now utterly and hopelessly discredited. How, then, it is asked, amid the general wreck of old beliefs, can we hope that the religious attitude in which from time immemorial we have been wont to contemplate the universe can any longer be maintained? Is not the belief in God perhaps a dream of the childhood of our race, like the belief in elves and bogarts which once was no less universal? and is not modern science fast destroying the one as it has already destroyed the other?
Such are the questions which we daily hear asked, sometimes with flippant eagerness, but oftener with anxious dread. In view of them it is well worth while to examine the idea of God, as it has been entertained by mankind from the earliest ages, and as it is affected by the knowledge of the universe which we have acquired in recent times. If we find in that idea, as conceived by untaught thinkers in the twilight of antiquity, an element that still survives the widest and deepest generalizations of modern times, we have the strongest possible reason for believing that the idea is permanent and answers to an Eternal Reality. It was to be expected that conceptions of Deity handed down from primitive men should undergo serious modification. If it can be shown that the essential element in these conceptions must survive the enormous additions to our knowledge which have distinguished the present age above all others since man became man, then we may believe that it will endure so long as man endures; for it is not likely that it can ever be called upon to pass a severer ordeal.
All this will presently appear in a still stronger light, when we have set forth the common characteristic of the modifications which the idea of God has already undergone, and the nature of the opposition between the old and the new knowledge with which we are now confronted. Upon this discussion we have now to enter, and we shall find it leading us to the conclusion that throughout all possible advances in human knowledge, so far as we can see, the essential position of theism must remain unshaken.
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Our argument may fitly begin with an inquiry into the sources of the theistic idea and the shape which it has universally assumed among untutored men. The most primitive element which it contains is doubtless the notion of dependence upon something outside of ourselves. We are born into a world consisting of forces which sway our lives, and over which we can exercise no control. The individual man can indeed make his volition count for a very little in modifying the course of events, but this end necessitates strict and unceasing obedience to powers that cannot be tampered with. To the behavior of these external powers our actions must be adapted under penalty of death. And upon grounds no less firm than those on which we believe in any externality whatever, we recognize that these forces antedated our birth, and will endure after we have disappeared from the scene. No one supposes that he makes the world for himself, so that it is born and dies with him. Every one perforce contemplates the world as something existing independently of himself, — as something into which he has come, and from which he is to go; and for his coming and his going, as well as for what he does while part of the world, he is dependent upon something that is not himself.
Between ancient and modern man, as between the child and the adult, there can be no essential difference in the recognition of this fundamental fact of life. The primitive man could not, indeed, state the case in this generalized form, any more than a young child could state it, but the facts which the statement covers were as real to him as they are to us. The primitive man knew nothing of a world, in the modern sense of the word. The conception of that vast consensus of forces, which we call the world, or universe, is a somewhat late result of culture; it was reached only through ages of experience and reflection. Such an idea lay beyond the horizon of the primitive man. But while he knew not the world, he knew bits and pieces of it; or, to vary the expression, he had his little world, chaotic and fragmentary enough, but full of dread reality for him. He knew what it was to deal from birth until death with powers far mightier than himself. To explain these powers, to make their actions in any wise intelligible, he had but one available resource; and this was so obvious that he could not fail to employ it. The only source of action of which he knew anything, since it was the only source which lay within himself, was the human will; and in this respect, after all, the philosophy of the primeval savage was not so very far removed from that of the modern scientific thinker. The primitive man could see that his own actions were prompted by desire and guided by intelligence, and he supposed the same to be the case with the sun and the wind, the frost and the lightning. All the forces of outward nature, so far as they came into visible contact with his life, he personified as great beings which were to be contended with or placated. This primeval philosophy, once universal among men, has lasted far into the historic period, and it is only slowly and bit by bit that it has been outgrown by the most highly civilized races. Indeed, the half-civilized majority of mankind have by no means as yet cast it aside, and among savage tribes we may still see it persisting in all its original crudity. In the mythologies of all peoples, of the Greeks and Hindus and Norsemen as well as of the North American Indians and the dwellers in the South Sea islands, we find the sun personified as an archer or wanderer, the clouds as gigantic birds, the tempest as a devouring dragon; and the tales of gods and heroes, as well as of trolls and fairies, are made up of scattered and distorted fragments of nature-myths, of which the primitive meaning had long been forgotten when the ingenuity of modern scholarship laid it bare.
In all this personification of physical phenomena our prehistoric ancestors were greatly assisted by that theory of ghosts which was perhaps the earliest speculative effort of the human mind. Travelers have now and then reported the existence of races of men quite destitute of religion, or of what the observer has learned to recognize as religion; but no one has ever discovered a race of men devoid of a belief in ghosts. The mass of crude inference which makes up the savage’s philosophy of nature is largely based upon the hypothesis that every man has another self, a double, or wraith, or ghost. This “hypothesis of the other self, which serves to account for the savage’s wanderings during sleep in strange lands and among strange people, serves also to account for the presence in his dreams of parents, comrades, or enemies, known to be dead and buried. The other self of the dreamer meets and converses with the other selves of his dead brethren, joins with them in the hunt, or sits down with them to the wild cannibal banquet. Thus arises the belief in an ever-present world of ghosts, — a belief which the entire experience of uncivilized man goes to strengthen and expand.” Countless tales and superstitions of savage races show that the hypothesis of the other self is used to explain the phenomena of hysteria and epilepsy, of shadows, of echoes, and even of the reflection of face and gestures in still water. It is not only men, moreover, who are provided with other selves. Dumb beasts and plants, stone hatchets and arrows, articles of clothing and food, all have their ghosts; and when the dead chief is buried, his wives and servants, his dogs and horses, are slain to keep him company, and weapons and trinkets are placed in his tomb to be used in the spirit-land. Burial-places of primitive men, ages before the dawn of history, bear testimony to the immense antiquity of this savage philosophy. From this wholesale belief in ghosts to the interpretation of the wind or the lightning as a person animated by an indwelling soul and endowed with quasi-human passions and purposes, the step is not a long one. The latter notion grows almost inevitably out of the former, so that all races of men, without exception, have entertained it. That the mighty power which uproots trees and drives the storm-clouds across the sky should resemble a human soul is to the savage an unavoidable inference. “If the fire burns down his hut, it is because the fire is a person with a soul, and is angry with him, and needs to be coaxed into a kindlier mood by means of prayer or sacrifice.” He has no alternative but to regard fire-soul as something akin to human-soul; his philosophy makes no distinction between the human ghost and the elemental demon or deity.
It was in accordance with this primitive theory of things that the earliest form of religious worship was developed. In all races of men, so far as can be determined, this was the worship of ancestors. The other self of the dead chief tam continued after death to watch over the interests of the tribe, to defend it against the attacks of enemies, to reward brave warriors, and to punish traitors and cowards. His favor must be propitiated with ceremonies like those in which a subject does homage to a living ruler. If offended by neglect or irreverent treatment, defeat in battle, damage by flood or fire, visitations of famine or pestilence, were interpreted as marks of his anger. Thus the spirits animating the forces of nature were often identified with the ghosts of ancestors, and mythology is filled with traces of the confusion. In the Vedic religion the pitris, or “fathers,” live in the sky along with Yama, the original pitri of mankind. They are very busy with the weather; they send down rain to refresh the thirsty earth, or anon parch the fields till the crops perish of drought; and they rush along in the roaring tempest, like the weird host of the wild huntsman Wodan. To the ancient Greek the blue sky Uranos was the father of gods and men, and throughout antiquity this mingling of ancestor worship with nature-worship was general. With the systematic development of ethnic religions, in some instances ancestor-worship remained dominant, as with the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Romans; in others, a polytheism based upon nature-worship acquired supremacy, as with the Hindus and Greeks, and our own Teutonic forefathers. The great divinities of the Hellenic pantheon are all personifications of physical phenomena. At a comparatively late date the Roman adopted these divinities, and paid to them a fashionable and literary homage; but his solemn and heartfelt rites were those with which he worshiped the lares and penates in the privacy of his home. His hospitable treatment of the gods of a vanquished people was the symptom of a commingling of the various local religions of antiquity which insured their mutual destruction, and prepared the way for their absorption into a far grander and truer system.
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Such an allusion to the Romans, in an exposition like the present one, is not without its significance. It was partly through political circumstances that a truly theistic idea was developed out of the chaotic and fragmentary ghost theories and nature-worship of the primeval world. To the framing of the vastest of all possible conceptions, the idea of God, man came but slowly. This nature-worship and ancestor-worship of early times was scarcely theism. In their recognition of man’s utter dependence upon something outside of himself, which yet was not wholly unlike himself, these primitive religions contained the essential germ out of which theism was to grow; but it is a long way from the propitiation of ghosts and the adoration of the rising sun to the worship of the infinite and eternal God, the maker of heaven and earth, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Before men could arrive at such a conception, it was necessary for them to obtain some integral idea of the heaven and the earth; it was necessary for them to frame, however inadequately, the conception of a physical universe. Such a conception had been reached by civilized peoples before the Christian era, and by the Greeks a remarkable beginning had been made in the generalization and interpretation of physical phenomena. The intellectual atmosphere of Alexandria, for two centuries before and three centuries after the time of Christ, was more modern than anything that followed down to the days of Bacon and Descartes; and all the leaders of Greek thought since Anaxagoras had been virtually or avowedly monotheists. As the phenomena of nature were generalized, the deities or superhuman beings regarded as their sources were likewise generalized, until the conception of nature as a whole gave rise to the conception of a single Deity as the author and ruler of nature; and in accordance with the order of its genesis, this notion of Deity was still the notion of a Being possessed of psychical attributes, and in some way like unto Man.
But there was another cause, besides scientific generalization, which led men’s minds toward monotheism. The conception of tutelar deities, which was the most prominent practical feature of ancestor-worship, was directly affected by the political development of the peoples of antiquity. As tribes were consolidated into nations, the tutelar gods of the tribes became generalized, or the god of some leading tribe came to supersede his fellows, until the result was a single national deity, at first regarded as the greatest among gods, afterwards as the only God. The most striking instance of this method of development is afforded by the Hebrew conception of Jehovah. The most primitive form of Hebrew reunion discernible in the Old Testament is a fetichism, or very crude polytheism, in which ancestor-worship becomes more prominent than nature-worship. At first the teraphim, or tutelar household deities, play an important part, but nature-gods, such as Baal and Moloch and Astarte, are extensively worshiped. It is the plural elohim who create the earth, and whose sons visit the daughters of antediluvian men. The tutelar deity, Jehovah, is originally thought of as one of the elohim; then as chief among elohim, and Lord of the hosts of heaven. Through his favor his chosen prophet overcomes the prophets of Baal, he is greater than the deities of neighboring peoples, he is the only true god, and thus finally he is thought of as the only God, and his name becomes the symbol of monotheism. The Jews have always been one of the most highly gifted races in the world. In antiquity they developed an intense sentiment of nationality, and for earnest- ness and depth of ethical feeling they surpassed all other peoples. The conception of Jehovah set forth in the writings of the prophets was the loftiest conception of deity anywhere attained before the time of Christ; in ethical value it immeasurably surpassed anything to be found in the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. It was natural that such a conception of deity should be adopted throughout the Roman world. At the beginning of the Christian era the classic polytheism had well- nigh lost its hold upon men’s minds; its value had become chiefly literary, as a mere collection of pretty stories; it had begun its descent into the humble realm of folk-lore. For want of anything better, people had recourse to elaborate Eastern ceremonials, or contented them- selves with the time-honored domestic worship of the lares and penates. Yet their minds were ripe for some kind of monotheism, and in order that the Jewish conception should come to be generally adopted it was only necessary that it should be freed from its limitations of nationality, and that Jehovah should be set forth as Sustainer of the universe and Father of all mankind. This was done by Jesus and Paul. The theory of divine action implied throughout the gospels and the epistles was the first complete monotheism attained by mankind, or at least by that portion of it from which our modern civilization has descended. Here for the first time we have the idea of God dissociated from the limiting circumstances with which it had been entangled in all the ethnic religions of antiquity. Individual thinkers here and there had already, doubtless, reached an equally true conception, as was shown by Kleanthes in his sublime hymn to Zeus; but it was now for the first time set forth in such wise as to win assent from the common folk as well as the philosophers, and to make its way into the hearts of all men. Its acceptance was hastened, and its hold upon mankind immeasurably strengthened, by the divinely beautiful ethical teaching in which Jesus couched it, — that teaching, so often misunderstood, yet so profoundly true, which heralded the time when Man shall have thrown off the burden of his bestial inheritance, and strife and sorrow shall cease from the earth.
We shall presently see that in its fundamental features the theism of Jesus and Paul was so true that it must endure as long as man endures. Changes of statement may alter the outward appearance of it, but the kernel of truth will remain the same forever. But the shifting body of religious doctrine known as Christianity has at various times contained much that is unknown to this pure theism, and much that has shown itself to be ephemeral in its hold upon men. The change from polytheism to monotheism could not be thoroughly accomplished all at once. As Christianity spread over the Roman world it became incrusted with pagan notions and observances, and a similar process went on during the conversion of the Teutonic barbarians. Yuletide and Easter and other church holidays were directly adopted from the old nature-worship; the adoration of tutelar household deities survived in the homage paid to patron saints; and the worship of the Berecynthian Mother was continued in that of the Virgin Mary. Even the name God, applied to the Deity throughout Teutonic Christendom, seems to be neither more nor less than Wodan, the personification of the storm-wind, the supreme divinity of our pagan forefathers.
That Christianity should thus have retained names and symbols and rites belonging to heathen antiquity was inevitable. The system of Christian theism was the work of some of the loftiest minds that have ever appeared upon the earth; but it was adopted by millions of men and women, of all degrees of knowledge and ignorance, of keenness and dullness, of spirituality and grossness, and these brought to it their various inherited notions and habits of thought. In all its ages, therefore, Christian theism has meant one thing to one person, and another thing to another. While the highest Christian minds have always been monotheistic, the multitude have outgrown polytheism but slowly; and even the monotheism of the highest minds has been colored by notions ultimately derived from the primeval ghost-world, which have interfered with its purity, and have seriously hampered men in their search after truth.
In illustration of this point we have now to notice two strongly contrasted views of the divine nature which have been held by Christian theists, and to observe their bearings upon the scientific thought of modern times.
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We have seen that since the primitive savage philosophy did not distinguish between the human ghost and the elemental demon or deity, the religion of antiquity was an inextricable tangle of ancestor-worship with nature-worship. Nevertheless, among some peoples the one, among others the other, became predominant. I think it can hardly be an accidental coincidence that nature-worship predominated with the Greeks and Hindus, the only peoples of antiquity who accomplished anything in the exact sciences, or in metaphysics. The capacity for abstract thinking which led the Hindu to originate algebra, and the Greek to originate geometry, and both to attempt elaborate scientific theories of the universe, — this same capacity revealed itself in the manner in which they deified the powers of nature. They were able to imagine the indwelling spirit of the sun or the storm without help from the conception of an individual ghost. Such being the general capacity of the people, we can readily understand how, when it came to monotheism, their most eminent thinkers should have been able to frame the conception of God acting in and through the powers of nature, without the aid of any grossly anthropomorphic symbolism. In this connection it is interesting to observe the characteristics of the idea of God as conceived by the three greatest fathers of the Greek Church, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Athanasius. The philosophy of these profound and vigorous thinkers was in large measure derived from the Stoics. They regarded Deity as immanent in the universe, and eternally operating through natural laws. In their view, God is not a localizable personality, remote from the world, and acting upon it only by means of occasional portent and prodigy; nor is the world a lifeless machine, blindly working after some preordained method, and only feeling the presence of God in so far as he now and then sees fit to interfere with its normal course of procedure. On the contrary, God is the ever-present life of the world; it is through him that all things exist from moment to moment, and the natural sequence of events is a perpetual revelation of the divine wisdom and goodness. In accordance with this fundamental view, Clemant, for example, repudiated the Gnostic theory of the vileness of matter, condemned asceticism, and regarded the world as hallowed by the presence of indwelling Deity. Knowing no distinction “between what man discovers and what God reveals,” he explained Christianity as a natural development from the earlier religious thought of mankind. It was essential to his idea of the divine perfection that the past should contain within itself all the germs of the future; and accordingly he attached but slight value to tales of miracle, and looked upon salvation as the normal ripening of the higher spiritual qualities of man “under the guidance of immanent Deity.” The views of Clements disciple, Origen, are much like those of his master. Athanasius ventured much farther into the bewildering regions of metaphysics. Yet in his doctrine of the trinity, by which he overcame the visible tendency toward polytheism in the theories of Anus, and averted the threatened danger of a compromise between Christianity and Paganism, he proceeded upon the lines which Clement had marked out. In his very suggestive work on The Continuity of Christian Thought, Professor Alexander Allen thus sets forth the Athanasian point of view: “In the formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three distinct and coequal members in the one divine essence, there was the recognition and the reconciliation of the philosophical schools which had divided the ancient world. In the idea of the eternal Father the Oriental mind recognized what it liked to call the profound abyss of being, that which lies back of all phenomena, the hidden mystery which lends awe to human minds seeking to know the divine. In the doctrine of the eternal Son revealing the Father, immanent in nature and humanity as the life and light shining through all created things, the divine reason in which the human reason shares, there was the recognition of the truth after which Plato and Aristotle and the Stoics were struggling, — the tie which binds the creation to God in the closest organic relationship. In the doctrine of the Holy Spirit the church guarded against any pantheistic confusion of God with the world by upholding the life of the manifested Deity as essentially ethical or spiritual, revealing itself in humanity in its highest form only in so far as humanity recognized its calling, and through the Spirit entered into communion with the Father and the Son.”
Great as was the service which these views of Athanasius rendered in the fourth century of our era, they are scarcely to be regarded as a permanent or essential feature of Christian theism. The metaphysic in which they are couched is alien to the metaphysic of our time, yet through this vast difference it is all the more instructive to note how closely Athanasius approaches the confines of modern scientific thought, simply through his fundamental conception of God as the indwelling life of the universe. We shall he still more forcibly struck with this similarity when we come to consider the character impressed upon our idea of God by the modern doctrine of evolution.
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But this Greek conception of divine immanence did not find favor with the Latin-speaking world. There a very different notion prevailed, the origin of which may be traced to the mental habits attending the primitive ancestor-worship. Out of materials furnished by the ghost-world a crude kind of monotheism could be reached by simply carrying back the thought to a single ghost-deity as the original ancestor of all the others. Some barbarous races have gone as far as this, as for example the Zulus, who have developed the doctrine of divine ancestors so far as to recognize a first ancestor, the Great Father, Unkulunkulu, who created the world. The kind of theism reached by this process of thought differs essentially from the theism reached through the medium of nature-worship. For whereas in the latter case the god of the sky or the sea is regarded as a mysterious spirit acting in and through the phenomena, in the former case the phenomena are regarded as coerced into activity by some power existing outside of them, and this power is conceived as manlike in the crudest sense, having been originally thought of as the ghost of some man who once lived upon the earth. In the monotheism which is reached by thinking along these lines of inference, the universe is conceived as an inert lifeless machine, impelled by blind forces which have been set acting from without; and God is conceived as existing apart from the world in solitary, inaccessible majesty, — “an absentee God,” as Carlyle says, “sitting idle ever since the first Sabbath, at the outside of his universe, and ‘seeing it go.’” This conception demands less of the intellect than the conception of God as immanent in the universe. It requires less grasp of mind and less width of experience, and it has accordingly been much the more common conception. The idea of the indwelling God is an attempt to reach out toward the reality, and as such it taxes the powers of the finite mind. The idea of God external to the universe is a symbol which in no wise approaches the reality, and for that very reason it does not tax the mental powers; there is an aspect of finality about it, in which the ordinary mind rests content, and complains of whatever seeks to disturb its repose.
I must not be understood as ignoring the fact that this lower species of theism has been entertained by some of the loftiest minds of our race, both in ancient and in modern times. When once such an ever-present conception as the idea of God has become intertwined with the whole body of the thoughts of mankind, it is very difficult for the most powerful and subtle intelligence to change the form it has taken. It has become so far organized into the texture of the mind that it abides there unconsciously, like our fundamental axioms about number and magnitude; it sways our thought hither and thither without our knowing it. The two forms of theism here contrasted have slowly grown up under the myriad unassignable influences that in antiquity caused nature-worship to predominate among some people, and ancestor-worship among others; they have colored all the philosophizing that has been done for more than twenty centuries; and it is seldom that a thinker educated under the one form ever comes to adopt the other and habitually employ it, save under the mighty influence of modern science, the tendency of which, as we shall presently see, is all in one direction.
Among ancient thinkers the view of Deity as remote from the world prevailed with the followers of Epikuros, who held that the immortal gods could not be supposed to trouble themselves about the paltry affairs of men, but lived a blessed life of their own, undisturbed in the far-off empyrean. This left the world quite under the sway of blind forces, and thus we find it depicted in the marvelous poem of Lucretius, one of the loftiest monuments of Latin genius. It is to all appearance an atheistic world, albeit the author was perhaps more profoundly religious in spirit than any other Roman that ever lived, save Augustine; yet to his immediate scientific purpose this atheism was no draw- back. When we are investigating natural phenomena, with intent to explain them scientifically, our proper task is simply to ascertain the physical conditions under which they occur, and the less we meddle with metaphysics or theology the better. As Laplace said, the mathematician, in solving his equations, does not need “the hypothesis of God.” To the scientific investigator, as such, the forces of nature are doubtless blind, like the x and y in algebra, but this is only so long as he contents himself with describing their modes of operation when he undertakes to explain them philosophically, as we shall see, he can in no wise dispense with his theistic hypothesis. The Lucretian philosophy, therefore, admirable as a scientific coordination of such facts about the physical universe as were then known, goes but very little way as a philosophy. It is interesting to note that this atheism followed directly from that species of theism which placed God outside of his universe. We shall find the case of modern atheism to be quite similar. As soon as this crude and misleading conception of God is refuted, as the whole progress of scientific knowledge tends to refute it, the modern atheist or positivist falls back upon his universe of blind forces, and contents himself with it, while zealously shouting from the housetops that this is the whole story.
To one familiar with Christian ideas, the notion that Man is too insignificant a creature to be worth the notice of Deity seems at once pathetic and grotesque. In the view of Plato, by which all Christendom has been powerfully influenced, there is profound pathos. The wickedness arid misery of the world wrought so strongly upon Plato’s keen sympathies and delicate moral sense that he came to conclusions almost as gloomy as those of the Buddhist who regards existence as an evil. In the Timaios he depicts the material world as essentially vile; he is unable to think of the pure and holy Deity as manifested in it, and he accordingly separates the Creator from his creation by the whole breadth of infinitude. This view passed on to the Gnostics, for whom the puzzling problem of philosophy was how to explain the action of the spiritual God upon the material universe. Sometimes the interval was bridged by mediating æons or emanations, partly spiritual and partly material; sometimes the world was held to be the work of the devil, and in no sense divine. The Greek fathers, under the lead of Clement, espousing the higher theism, kept clear of this torrent of Gnostic thought; but upon Augustine it fell with full force, and he was carried away with it. In his earlier writings Augustine showed himself not incapable of comprehending the views of Clement and Athanasius; but his intense feeling of man’s wickedness dragged him irresistibly in the opposite direction. In his doctrine of original sin, he represents humanity as cut off from all relationship with God, who is depicted as a crudely anthropomorphic Being, far removed from the universe, and accessible only through the mediating offices of an organized church. Compared with the thoughts of the Greek fathers, this was a barbaric conception, but it was suited alike to the lower grade of culture in Western Europe and to the Latin political genius, which in the decline of the Empire was already occupying itself with its great and beneficent work of constructing an imperial Church. For these reasons the Augustinian theology prevailed, and in the Dark Ages which followed it became so deeply inwrought into the innermost fibres of Latin Christianity that it remains dominant to-day alike in Catholic and Protestant churches. With few exceptions, every child born of Christian parents in Western Europe or in America grows up with an idea of God the outlines of which were engraven upon men’s minds by Augustine fifteen centuries ago. Nay, more, it is hardly too much to say that three fourths of the body of doctrine currently known as Christianity, unwarranted by Scripture and never dreamed of by Christ or his apostles, first took coherent shape in the writings of this mighty Roman, who was separated from the apostolic age by an interval of time like that which separates us from the invention of printing and the discovery of America.
The idea of God upon which all this Augustinian doctrine is based is the idea of a Being actuated by human passions and purposes, localizable in space, and utterly remote from that inert machine, the universe in which we live, and upon which he acts intermittently through the suspension of what are called natural laws. So deeply has this conception penetrated the thought of Christendom that we continually find it at the bottom of the speculations and arguments of men who would warmly repudiate it as thus stated in its naked outlines. It dominates the reasonings alike of believers and skeptics, of theists and atheists; it underlies at once the objections raised by orthodoxy against each new step in science and the assaults made by materialism upon every religious conception of the world; and thus it is chiefly responsible for that complicated misunderstanding which, by a lamentable confusion of thought, is commonly called “the conflict between religion and science.”
In illustration of the mischief that has been wrought by the Augustinian conception of Deity, we may cite the theological objections urged against the Newtonian theory of gravitation and the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Leibnitz, who as a mathematician but little inferior to Newton himself might have been expected to be easily convinced of the truth of the theory of gravitation, was nevertheless deterred by theological scruples from accepting it. It appeared to him that it substituted the action of physical forces for the direct action of the Deity. Now the fallacy of this argument of Leibnitz is easy to detect. It lies in a metaphysical misconception of the meaning of the word “force.” “Force” is implicitly regarded as a sort of entity or demon, which has a mode of action distinguishable from that of Deity; otherwise it is meaningless to speak of substituting the one for the other. But such a personification of “force” is a remnant of barbaric thought, in no wise sanctioned by physical science. When astronomy speaks of two planets as attracting each other with a “force” which varies directly as their masses and inversely as the squares of their distances apart, it simply uses the phrase as a convenient metaphor by which to describe the manner in which the observed movements of the two bodies occur. It explains that in presence of each other the two bodies are observed to change their positions in a certain specified way, and this is all that it means. This is all that a strictly scientific hypothesis can possibly allege, and this is all that observation can possibly prove. Whatever goes beyond this, and imagines or asserts a kind of “pull” between the two bodies, is not science, but metaphysics. An atheistic metaphysics may imagine such a pull, and may interpret it as the action of something that is not Deity; but such a conclusion can find no support in the scientific theorem, which is simply a generalized description of phenomena. The general considerations upon which the belief in the existence and direct action of Deity is otherwise founded are in no wise disturbed by the establishment of any such scientific theorem. We are still perfectly free to maintain that it is the direct action of Deity which is manifested in the planetary movements; having done nothing more with our Newtonian hypothesis than to construct a happy formula for expressing the mode or order of the manifestation. We may have learned something new concerning the manner of divine action; we certainly have not substituted any other kind of action for it. And what is thus obvious in this simple astronomical example is equally true in principle in every case whatever in which one set of phenomena is interpreted by reference to another set. In no case whatever can science use the word “force” or “cause” except as metaphorically descriptive of some observed or observable sequence of phenomena. And consequently, at no imaginable future time, so long as the essential conditions of human thinking are maintained, can science even attempt to substitute the action of any other power for the direct action of Deity. The theological objection urged by Leibnitz against Newton was repeated word for word by Agassiz in his comments upon Darwin. He regarded it as a fatal objection to the Darwinian theory that it appeared to substitute the action of physical forces for the creative action of Deity. The fallacy here is precisely the same as in Leibnitz’s argument. Mr. Darwin has convinced us that the existence of highly complicated organisms is the result of an infinitely diversified aggregate of circumstances so minute as severally to seem trivial or accidental; yet the consistent theist will always occupy an impregnable position in maintaining that the entire series in each and every one of its incidents is an immediate manifestation of the creative action of God.
In this connection it is worth while to state explicitly what is the true province of scientific explanation. Is it not obvious that since a philosophical theism must regard divine power as the immediate source of all phenomena alike, therefore science cannot properly explain any particular group of phenomena by a direct reference to the action of Deity? Such a reference is not an explanation, since it adds nothing to our previous knowledge either of the phenomena or of the manner of divine action. The business of science is simply to ascertain in what manner phenomena coexist with each other or follow each other, and the only kind of explanation with which it can properly deal is that which refers one set of phenomena to another set. In pursuing this, its legitimate business, science does not touch on the province of theology in any way, and there is no conceivable occasion for any conflict between the two. From this and the previous considerations taken together it follows not only that such explanations as are contained in the Newtonian and Darwinian theories are entirely consistent with theism, but also that they are the only kind of explanations with which science can properly concern itself at all. To say that complex organisms were directly created by the Deity is to make an assertion which, however true in a theistic sense, is utterly barren. It is of no profit to theism, which must be taken for granted before the assertion can be made; and it is of no profit to science, which must still ask its question, “How?”
We are now prepared to see that the theological objection urged against the Newtonian and Darwinian theories has its roots in that imperfect kind of theism which Augustine did so much to fasten upon the western world. Obviously, if Leibnitz and Agassiz had been educated in that higher theism shared by Clement and Athanasius in ancient times with Spinoza and Goethe in later days; if they had been accustomed to conceive of God as immanent in the universe and eternally creative, then the argument which they urged with so much feeling would never have occurred to them. By no possibility could such an argument have entered their minds. To conceive of “physical forces” as powers of which the action could in any wise be “substituted” for the action of Deity would in such case have been absolutely impossible. Such a conception involves the idea of God as remote from the world and acting upon it from outside. The whole notion of what theological writers are fond of calling secondary causes involves such an idea of God. The higher or Athanasian theism knows nothing of secondary causes in a world where every event flows directly from the eternal First Cause. It knows nothing of physical forces save as immediate manifestations of the omnipresent creative power of God. In the personification of physical forces, and the implied contrast between their action and that of Deity, there is something very like a survival of the habits of thought which characterized ancient polytheism. What are these personified forces but little gods, who are supposed to be invading the sacred domain of the ruler Zeus? When one speaks of substituting the action of Gravitation for the direct action of Deity, does there not hover somewhere in the dim background of the conception a vague spectre of Gravitation in the guise of a rebellious Titan? Doubtless it would not be easy to bring any one to acknowledge such a charge, but the unseen and unacknowledged part of a fallacy is just that which is most persistent and mischievous. It is not so many generations, after all, since our ancestors were barbarians and polytheists; and fragments of their barbaric thinking are continually intruding unawares into the midst of our lately acquired scientific culture. In most philosophical discussions a great deal of loose phraseology is used, in order to find the proper connotations of which we must go back to primitive and untutored ages. Such is eminently the case with the phrases in which the forces of nature are personified and described as something else than manifestations of omnipresent Deity.
This subject is of such immense importance that I must illustrate it from yet another point of view. We must observe the manner in which, along with the progress of scientific discovery, theological arguments have come to be permeated by the strange assumption that the greater part of the universe is godless. Here again we must go back for a moment to the primeval world, and observe how behind every physical phenomenon there were supposed to be quasi-human passions and a quasi-human will. Now the phenomena which were first arranged and systematized in men’s thoughts, and thus made the subject of something like scientific generalization, were the simplest, the most accessible, and the most manageable phenomena; and from these the conception of a quasi-human will soonest faded away. There are savages who believe that hatchets and kettles have souls, but men unquestionably outgrew such a belief as this long before they outgrew the belief that there are ghost-like deities in the tempest, or in the sun and moon. After many ages of culture, men ceased to regard the familiar and regularly recurring phenomena of nature as immediate results of volition, and reserved this primeval explanation for unusual or terrible phenomena, such as comets and eclipses, or famines and plagues. As the result of these habits of thought, in course of time, Nature seemed to be divided into two antithetical provinces. On the one hand, there were the phenomena that occurred with a simple regularity which seemed to exclude the idea of capricious volition; and these were supposed to constitute the realm of natural law. On the other hand, there were the complex and irregular phenomena in which the presence of law could not so easily be detected; and these were supposed to constitute the realm of immediate divine action. This antithesis has forever haunted the minds of men imbued with the lower or Augustinian theism; and such have made up the larger part of the Christian world. It has tended to make the theologians hostile to science and the men of science hostile to theology. For as scientific generalization has steadily extended the region of natural law, the region which theology has assigned to divine action has steadily diminished. Every discovery in science has stripped off territory from the latter province, and added it to the former. Every such discovery has accordingly been promulgated and established in the teeth of bitter and violent opposition on the part of theologians. A desperate fight it has been for some centuries, in which science has won every disputed position, while theology, untaught by perennial defeat, still valiantly defends the little corner that is left it. Still as of old the ordinary theologian rests his case upon the assumption of disorder, caprice, and miraculous interference with the course of nature. He naively asks, “If plants and animals have been naturally originated, if the world as a whole has been evolved and not manufactured, and if human actions conform to law, what is there left for God to do? If not formally repudiated, is he not thrust back into the past eternity, as an unknowable source of things, which is postulated for form’s sake, but might as well, for all practical purposes, be omitted?”
The scientific inquirer may reply that the difficulty is one which theology has created for itself. It is certainly not science that has relegated the creative activity of God to some nameless moment in the bygone eternity, and left him without occupation in the present world. It is not science that is responsible for the mischievous distinction between divine action and natural law. That distinction is historically derived from a loose habit of philosophizing characteristic of ignorant ages, and was bequeathed to modern times by the theology of the Latin church. Small blame to the atheist who, starting upon such a basis, thinks he can interpret the universe without the idea of God! He is but doing as well as he knows how, with the materials given him. One has only, however, to adopt the higher theism of Clement and Athanasius, and this alleged antagonism between science and theology, by which so many hearts have been saddened, so many minds darkened, vanishes at once and forever. “Once really adopt the conception of an ever-present God, with- out whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, and it becomes self-evident that the law of gravitation is but an expression of a particular mode of divine action. And what is thus true of one law is true of all laws.” The thinker in whose mind divine action is thus identified with orderly action, and to whom a really irregular phenomenon would seem like a manifestation of sheer diabolism, foresees in every possible ex- tension of knowledge a fresh confirmation of his faith in God. From his point of view there can be no antagonism between our duty as inquirers and our duty as worshipers. To him no part of the universe is godless. In the swaying to and fro of molecules and the ceaseless pulsations of ether, in the secular shiftings of planetary orbits, in the busy work of frost and rain-drop, in the mysterious sprouting of the seed, in the ever-lasting tale of death and life renewed, in the dawning of the babe’s intelligence, in the varied deeds of men from age to age, he finds that which awakens the soul to reverential awe; and each act of scientific explanation but reveals an opening through which shines the glory of the Eternal Majesty.
This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two here.
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