The prominence which that complex of knowledge and ideas which is denoted by the term Natural Science has attained in the thought and life of the modern world is undeniable and is indeed fully recognized by all thinking persons. But the question as to the exact position which what is often termed the scientific view of the world should rightly occupy in relation to the other factors of human experience with which Religion and Philosophy are concerned is one which gives rise to very divergent opinions amongst earnest thinkers. This is a matter which causes grave perplexity to the minds of great numbers of men and women. The question has been in various connections a subject of controversy for centuries and it has in our time become of inestimable importance in view of the effects which any generally accepted answer to it may have not only upon our theoretical views and mental life but also upon our attitude towards existence in its more practical aspects. My main object in preparing the lectures which are here published was to provide a reasoned contribution towards the clarification of ideas in relation to this fundamentally important question. In order to attain my object it was necessary to undertake an examination as close as the circumstances permitted of the historical development aims and true characteristics of various departments of Natural Science with a view to the characterization of the proper position of Natural Science in relation to Thought in general.
Based upon this examination of the leading features of scientific theories and laws I have advocated particular views of the essential characteristics of Natural Science the acceptance of which would imply that in our more general outlook upon the world a position of much less dependence upon Natural Science may rightly be taken up than has been supposed by many men of Science to be admissible. What is sometimes spoken of as the “descriptive view” of the functions of Natural Science is in its main outlines far from new and has received some measure of acceptance on the part of prominent men of Science and other thinkers. I have endeavoured to make this view more explicit and precise than in the forms often fragmentary in which it has previously been stated. That Natural Science is in no way concerned with questions as to the nature of reality or with efficient causation and that the edifice it has reared is independent of any special ontological assumptions and in particular of that set of assumptions known as physical realism are propositions which I have throughout the lectures illustrated and maintained. A position of detachment or neutrality as regards the ontological and other conceptions which divide various schools of Philosophy would entail as a consequence that the authority of Natural Science cannot properly be invoked as of decisive weight in favour of any assumptions which it does not need for its own purposes. The freedom which would thus accrue to Religion and Philosophy from any compelling influence due to Natural Science would be of course limited by the exigencies involved in the admission that all questions relating to the order of the world of physical percepts should be treated in accordance with the canons of Natural Science alone; a condition which has in the past by no means always been fulfilled. In the last two lectures I have given some consideration to the further question what influence Natural Science may exert upon our wider outlook on the world when it is supplemented by ontological assumptions which are extraneous to it.
Apart from slight emendations and a few short insertions the lectures are here published as they were delivered in Aberdeen.
In the preparation of those lectures in which the histories of special departments of Natural Science are sketched I have been dependent upon information obtained from a large number of sources. Of these I here mention only those of which I have made most use. In the lecture on Time and Space and in other lectures on departments of Physics I have utilized the works of H. Poincaré especially La Science et l'Hypothèse. In the lectures on Corpuscular théories of matter on Dynamics and on The conservation of matter and energy I have made considerable use of the historical information contained in the work of E. Myerson entitled Identité et Realite. In these and other lectures I have also utilized Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus. In the lecture on Electricity Magnetism and Light I have drawn much historical information from Prof. E. T. Whittaker's work entitled History of the théories of Aether and Electricity. In the lecture on The constitution of matter I have utilized the work by A. E. Garrett on The periodic law and also Prof. Soddy's lectures in Science and Life. In the lecture on Cosmical Theories I have drawn historical information from Miss Agnes M. Clerke's History of Astronomy in the nineteenth century and I have also utilized J. H. Jeans' work on Problems of Cosmogony and Stellar Physics.
In the part of the lecture on Biological Science which deals with a comparison of the living organism with a machine as regards relations of Energy I have utilized Prof. J. Johnstone's work on The Philosophy of Biology. In a portion of this lecture I have also made use of Merz's History of European thought. In the preparation of the lectures on The living organism on Heredity and on the Evolution of Species I have utilized the works of Prof. J. Arthur Thomson especially those entitled Heredity and The Science of Life. In these lectures I have also made much use of the historical information contained in E. S. Russell's work entitled Form and Function; and I have also drawn information from H. F. Osborn's work From the Greeks to Darwin.
Before I wrote the two final lectures I perused Prof. J. B. Baillie's Studies in Human Nature and was influenced in some points by his views.
To Dr F. H. A. Marshall F.R.S. and the Rev. F. R. Tennant D.D. each of whom read the type-scripts of some of the lectures I am indebted for advice on special points. To my friend Prof. James Ward F.B.A. I owe much. Without the stimulus received in the course of conversations carried on with him during many years I should probably never have ventured upon the task of writing upon a subject so much wider than my main subject of study.
E. W. H.
Christ's College Cambridge
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