In the first series of lectures, published as The Living Stream, Hardy aimed to show the ways in which religious experience fits into the background of ‘our knowledge of the evolution of life.’ (p. 9) This volume, the companion to the first, aims to construct a ‘natural theology on more scientific foundation that hitherto.’ (p. 10) However, confessing his relative ignorance of theology Hardy does not attempt to put forward any judgements on the relative merits of various doctrines but rather more fundamental issues. Firstly, the reasonableness of natural theology and its relation with science, and secondly that this kind of theology can, like psychology, become just as much a part of the sciences itself. In short, Hardy’s aim is ambitious – nothing less than the creation of the natural science spoken about by Lord Gifford in his will. The earlier sections of the book function as a kind of bridge between the first volume and this – lecture two covers the biological background which was expounded at great length in The Living Stream. The third lecture begins an outline of the natural history of religion by drawing on social anthropology, particularly Darwin, James Frazer and Durkheim — Hardy finds in the records of social anthropology ‘the over-riding impression’ that ‘primitive man from all over the world is conscious of being in touch with some Power which appears to be outside and beyond the individual self,’ (p. 80) From here Hardy moves on to consider a religious experience (a long-standing research interest) drawing on history and pragmatic investigations such as a the work of William James. From considering religious experience, Hardy moves to a discussion of religion and psychology – a crucial part of the lecture series. Whilst not denying the insights of psychology, (particularly the work of Jung and Freud) the psychoanalysts cannot give the whole story in explaining the nature of religious experience. IN psychoanalytic terms, Hardy places Christianity as a ‘religion in which the self, the ego, feels in touch with a God who is both loving and lovable and one also seen in the beauty of nature.’ (p. 149)
In the closing sections of the lecture series Hardy makes a plea for theology to be more natural (the title of lecture nine) He begins with reference to Karl Barth’s famous lecture (or perhaps more accurately confrontation!) with natural theology, given as the Gifford Lectures in 1937—8 where Barth argued that Natural theology was founded upon a radical error. Here Hardy attempts to reply, recapping the history of the debate in the twentieth century and draws a subtle distinction by way of analogy. While optics does not give us the experience of light, it certainly can tell us about the responses of objects to light. In short, natural theology ‘should be able to show that to believe in the existence of religious experience is reasonable.’ (p. 207-8) Boldly written, and serving as an excellent example of theological writing concerned with the actualities of lived experience, the volume makes a compelling case for a natural theology that dialogues with the sciences.