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XX; Natural Science and Theism

Natural Science and Theism

In describing the subject of which the Gifford Lecturers are to treat Lord Gifford spoke of it as:

the true knowledge of God that is of the Being Nature and Attributes of the Infinite of the All of the First and the Only Cause that is the One and Only Substance and Being and the true and felt knowledge (not merely nominal knowledge) of the relations of man and the universe to Him and of the true foundations of all ethics and morals...
Lord Gifford proceeded to make it clear that the most absolute freedom of opinion is to be accorded to the Lecturers; he said that:
they may be of any religion or way of thinking or as is sometimes said they may be of no religion or they may be so-called sceptics or agnostics or freethinkers provided only that the “patrons” will use diligence to secure that they be able reverent men true thinkers sincere lovers of and earnest enquirers after truth...
He says further:
I wish the Lecturers to treat their subject as a strictly natural science the greatest of all possible sciences indeed in one sense the only science that of Infinite Being without reference to or reliance upon any supposed exceptional or so-called miraculous revelation... The lecturers shall be under no restraint whatever in their treatment of their theme.
It is clearly in accord with the broad philosophic spirit in which these words are conceived and which I have quoted on account of their intrinsic interest that a particular Lecturer should be free to treat the subject of Theism from a special point of view which may lead up only to one special aspect of Theism. The particular point of view which I have chosen is the one which I conceive to be that of Natural Science. I have already given some indication of the existence of other points of view which may be of equal and some of them probably of greater importance than that of Natural Science from which the great central problem of reality may be regarded. The path has been prepared for the brief and fragmentary treatment of the subject which I here give by the discussions in the last lecture.
Besides the influence which may accrue to Natural Science in relation to theoretical Theism when existential assumptions are made which are not themselves any part of the necessary basis of Natural Science there is another kind of influence more of a practical kind which Natural Science exerts upon general views of the nature of reality. I have reterred to the manifold character of the influences which cause a predisposition to accept or reject ontological hypotheses or assumptions which form the bases of particular views of reality and have emphasized their a-logical character. The habits of mind induced by the study of Natural Science and even by acquaintance with the general character of the practical and other results of that study often play a large part in producing a selective predisposition to accept fundamental postulations of the kind to which I refer. Natural Science has in the past undoubtedly had the effect of producing in circles wider than those of scientific investigators a bias in favour of certain forms of realistic philosophy and even probably of some forms of theism as against other forms. I have maintained throughout that this is a bias or predisposing influence and not a logical consequence of the acceptance of Natural Science and its special results as possessing a certain kind of validity. In fact familiarity with Natural Science may be a cause of belief in the truth of certain premisses employed in philosophical schemes without providing in any proper sense a reason for such belief.
Theistic Philosophy is dependent upon the two concepts of existence and value since Theism in any ordinary sense of the term is not only concerned with the existence of God but with His relation to our conceptions of value and its conservation. The estimation of value is as we have seen not a matter with which Natural Science has any direct concern; any bearings which Natural Science may be thought to have upon the estimation of values can accordingly be chiefly in and through its bearings upon questions of existence.
Any general theory of reality must be expected to give some account of the origin of the phenomena with which Natural Science has to deal; of the relation of those phenomena with the real of whatever nature that real may be held to be. Since the real must be such as in some manner to give rise to the phenomena of which Natural Science has to give a conceptual description it would appear that the kind of knowledge to which Natural Science attains may lead to inferences as to some of the characteristics of the real.
No Theistic theory would be of the slightest value which failed to give some account of the relations of God with finite spirits and with the world of phenomena. Neither on the theoretical nor on the practical side could such a theory serve any useful function; it would set up a conception without any real content. The very various types of theism which exist and have existed are mainly differentiated from one another by the character of this relation and the modes in which it is conceived. At one extreme we have Pantheism in accordance with which God is the only existent the All who is identified with the world or at least with all that can be said to be real in the world. The world contains nothing that is existentially distinct from God and this statement must include all finite spirits. The great philosophical problem of the One and the Many pantheism attempts to solve by means of a suppression of the Many. Our actual experience of plurality being reduced to an illusory appearance the fundamental difficulty of pantheistic or absolutist systems of philosophy consists in their inability to provide a satisfactory account of the origin of this illusion; to account for the apparent differentiation of the One into an apparent multiplicity of phenomenal forms. Pantheistic theories have taken various forms; there exists spiritualistic Pantheism as for example in the system of Spinoza and materialistic Pantheism practically indistinguishable from Atheism; there exists also the absolutism of some forms of Idealistic Philosophy in which God is the Absolute.
At the other extreme of theistic theory is the view in accordance with which God is purely transcendental; a Being essentially external to although in relation with the world of which He may have been the Creator; such Creation being conceived as the calling into existence by His will of a world external to Himself existentially separate from Himself and subject to laws which He has prescribed but which render the world at least to a considerable extent autonomous. In its most pronounced form this view was that of the Deism implicit in the theology of the eighteenth century; it was held not only by some of the writers known as deists but in at least equal measure by many of their more orthodox opponents. The controversies of that time turned to a large extent upon the degree of autonomy which the Creator had granted to the world and on questions as to whether or not He had on specific occasions interfered with that autonomy. The analogy of the relation of a watchmaker to the watch he makes or of an artificer to a machine he constructs was often uncritically appealed to as illustrating the relation of the Creator to the world. The fact that the watchmaker or the artificer has to deal with materials which he does not make and with given material properties over which he has no complete control did not appear to be of sufficient significance to destroy the value of such analogies for exponents of this order of ideas.
Although there still remain in the popular mind distinct traces of this conception of a purely transcendental Deity conceptions intermediate between the two extremes of which I have spoken are probably dominant in the theistic thought of the present day. God is conceived of as immanent in the world and more especially in finite spirits which live and move and have their being in Him. He is also usually conceived to be transcendent but varying emphasis is placed by different thinkers upon the two elements of immanence and transcendence. All views of this species however wide their differences may be agree in the one respect in which they all differ from Pantheism in refusing to assert that God is the only reality; although they may regard reality other than that of God as derivative having its ultimate origin in Him and dependent upon Him for its continued existence but possessing at least in some degree a relative independence. The particular mode in which this kind of Theism is conceived depends to some considerable extent upon whether the general Philosophy adopted is conceived in accordance with a realistic or an idealistic attitude of mind. The theist who combines with his theism some form of realism naive physical or critical usually admits real existence to appertain to a domain which is not of a purely psychical character; for him there are real non-mental things which may manifest themselves as objects in the subject-object relations of psychical beings but they exist independently of being mere factors in those relations. For him there really exists besides God a world not wholly of a spiritual or mental character; reality consists of God and the world. This is not only the view of the great majority of theists who are not philosophers but it is also the view of some philosophical theists. On the other hand for the Idealist material objects and events have no existence independent of their forming a factor in the subject-object relations of a mind. All reality is taken to be essentially bound up with this form of relation and consists of minds for which alone objects exist. The existence of God the Universal Mind is frequently held to be a necessary inference from this view of the nature of existence. The fact that the objectivity of the world of things is for the single finite mind temporary and intermittent and that we are compelled to look back to a time when minds such as we know did not yet exist is held to lead to the conclusion that a Universal Mind exists for whom all objects are eternally present. The conception of the merely potential existence of objects which no one perceives and at times when there is no sentient being for whom they are objects as would have been the case when the earth was unfitted for the existence of living beings such as we know is regarded as inadmissible. It is held that for the complete objectivity of the world a Universal Mind is necessary. As Dr Rashdall has written:
We cannot understand the world of which we form a part except upon this assumption of a Universal Mind for which and in which all that is exists. Such is the line of thought which presents itself to some of us as the one absolutely convincing and logically irrefrageable argument for establishing the existence of God.
In accordance with this view the totality of existence consists of God the Universal Mind and derivatively of finite spirits; the world exists solely as eternal object or idea for the Universal Mind and as in some partial or fragmentary form it appears in the subject-object relations of finite minds.
The difficulty of Theism of these types whether combined with a realistic or an idealistic philosophy is in some sense the converse of that which presents itself in connection with Pantheism. Commencing with the Many these types of Theism attempt to provide adequately for the existence of the One whilst maintaining some degree of real independence for the Many whereas Pantheism commencing with the One finds its crucial difficulty in making any real provision for the appearance of multiplicity. Some of the adherents of Theistic systems which commence with and maintain the real existence of the Many do not hesitate to admit that to do this involves the recognition of some limitation in the Being of God. This limitation is often represented as being a willed self-limitation. The position of the world in relation to the Universal Mind is often held to be a necessary one since a subject without an object is as unthinkable as an object without a subject; it is conceived that it is only in connection with the subject-object relation that either subject or object has a meaning. It was in fact said by T. H. Green that “the world is as necessary to God as God is to the world.”
This mode of argument for the existence of God is of a purely metaphysical kind as indeed are all ontological arguments whether they rest upon an idealistic or a realistic basis; and this is the case in particular for the traditional “Ontological Proof” of the existence of God. It is clear that Natural Science has no bearings upon arguments of this kind the validity of which must be estimated upon metaphysical grounds alone. It is only when a theistic theory based upon such an argument passes to a later stage beyond that of the assertion of existence that the special characteristics of the world of phenomena become relevant in relation to the Nature of God; that the possibility can be contemplated that Natural Science may have a part in the development of Theism.
It may be remarked that for thinkers of the present day who hold the view that the Divine is immanent in the human spirit it is not so easy as it appeared to be to the older exponents of Natural Religion to draw a hard and fast line between revealed knowledge and such knowledge as may be obtained by the continued use of the rational faculty of man. For all knowledge obtained by the activities of human spirits in which the Divine Spirit is immanent may be regarded as in some sense a divine revelation; all the activities of finite spirits being conditioned by the immanent presence of the Divine Spirit. The quite sharp distinction between revealed knowledge and other knowledge would thus seem to be characteristic of that conception of a purely transcendental Deity which was commoner amongst the thinkers of the eighteenth century than it is in our time.
The three traditional proofs of the existence of God the ontological the cosmological and the teleological are since the famous destructive criticisms of them by Immanuel Kant no longer regarded as proofs in the sense that they consist of deductions in accordance with the canons of logic from premisses which no man can or does refuse to admit. They remain however in broadened and extended forms as lines of argument which are still employed rather inductively than deductively; but the validity of such lines of argument is dependent upon foundations which cannot escape the fullest scrutiny. The moral argument stated by Kant has in modified forms come to represent the line of thought which in its insistence upon the fundamental importance of that aspect of existence which we associate with the terms “value” and “valuation” is regarded by most Theists of the present day as outweighing in importance and cogency all other aspects of the subject. Theism is now very frequently regarded as finding its main support in the existence of the domain of moral standards; whereas in much of the thought of the eighteenth century and even later this relation of dependence was taken in the reverse order.
The cosmological proof adopted by Thomas Aquinas from Aristotle is founded upon the conception that the world is due to a sequence of causes which may be continued in the backward direction each cause of the sequence being taken to be the effect of the preceding cause. In accordance with this conception it is argued that we arrive at a first cause which is taken to be God for otherwise the causal sequence would constitute an indefinite regress in which case all explanation of the present existence of the world would be in default. It is accordingly assumed that in order that the world may be intelligible to us it must have commenced with a first cause. To this argument there is in point of logic a fatal objection. It is assumed as the law of the sequence that every cause is the effect of a preceding cause and thus the assumption that through the sequence we arrive at a member which is a cause but not an effect is a breach of the law of the sequence. Moreover the assumption that an indefinite regress is inconceivable or inconsistent with the existence of an intelligible world is groundless; in fact it is possible to define such sequences in accordance with an intelligible law. On these grounds the proof in its original form has been generally rejected as invalid; but as we shall see it is related with a line of argument which is still of importance and to which the results of Natural Science have made a contribution of great weight. There are two points to notice about the proof apart from the fatal contradiction which it involves. In the first place it assumes as perfectly definite the conception of causation without examination of the question whether the causes are to be considered as efficient causes or whether they are to be considered simply as denoting totalities of conditions which experience shows to precede certain effects. In either case an examination of the origin of the nexus between cause and effect would appear to be necessary before a proof could be accepted which professes to lead to an explanation of the existence of the world Again it takes in accordance with an uncritical notion of causation a temporal succession of causes and it professes to arrive at an explanation of the whole temporal series by means of a first cause but not of a law or final cause of the whole sequence which shall be operative or effective at all times. In fact it strongly suggests the conception of a purely transcendental Deity who as a first cause starts the whole sequence of causes but then leaves it to itself not being immanent as the ground of the world. Moreover the proof assumes the validity of the concept of the world as a whole which in our experience can never be a completed concept.
If we consider the perceptual world from the point of view of Natural Science we see that one fact about it has been established which may be made the basis of a cosmological argument free from the defects of the proof in its original form although the fact to which I allude is subject to limitations as to its scope which can only be removed by means of a postulation or assumption which may commend itself to the mind as appearing probable. The whole history of Natural Science tends to extend the scope of the ascertained fact that the perceptual domain is such that whole tracts of it and processes in it are capable of description by rational schemes. Whatever then be taken to be the nature of the reality which the perceptual world manifests or of the ground of phenomena that reality or ground must be of such a character that it has some correlation with the rational processes of our minds. This fact may have to be adapted in the precise form of its interpretation to whatever philosophical formulation may be adopted of the relation of phenomena with reality or with their ground. Whatever such formulation be employed whether of a realistic or idealistic type it will express the fact that the phenomena of perception have as their ground a reality mental or non-mental which is an ordered system apprehended by us as rational. This line of thought does not proceed by means of a principle of causation to the recognition of the existence of a first cause from which the world as we know it has originated but fixes attention upon the principle of rational order as in some sense immanent in the world not as an external cause but as the ground of the whole life and movement of a reality of which the phenomenal domain is the manifestation. This line of thought has led to the postulation that reality is fundamentally rational and unitary. It is rational as exhibited in its correlation with human reason and unitary as consisting of a completely interconnected system. The coincidence of this conception of a completely unified rational reality with the religious concept of God will require for its realization further elements outside the purview of Natural Science in which the conception of values will be the chief factor. It may be held that Natural Science provides a most important part of the justification for the ascription of complete rationality to the real ground of the phenomenal world. But the limitation must be fully recognized that this postulation of complete rationality of the real goes far beyond anything that has been or can be unimpeachably established by Natural Science. Apart altogether from the passage from the phenomenal domain to the real ground a passage outside the scope of Natural Science itself the evidence that phenomena can be described by and correlated with rational mental processes is incomplete; and thus the complete rationality of the Universe is an hypothesis not a known fact. It is the methodological axiom of Science that the correlation of phenomena with rational schemes can be carried out to an unlimited extent but the actual amount of verification which the axiom has received is at all times strictly limited. It cannot be demonstrated that no limits exist to which the procedure of Natural Science in accordance with this axiom may be subject. Accordingly what Natural Science provides is indicative evidence and not demonstrative proof of the unlimited accessibility of natural phenomena to rational schematization. But undoubtedly the actual achievements of Natural Science have been sufficient to cause in many minds a belief in the unlimited rationality of the ground of the real world. With the difficult questions which arise in connection with this line of thought especially as regards the relation of the wills of sentient beings with the real conceived as a unitary rational being or principle I cannot here deal; nor can I discuss the related question which arises as to the significance of what I have called in the last lecture the principle of individuality. I must be content with having briefly indicated a line of thought which has largely supplanted the older mode of thinking embodied in the traditional cosmological proof.
The foregoing discussion of the significance of order or uniformity in Nature as forming a part of the possible basis of a theistic Philosophy would be incomplete without some reference to the fact that it is historically far from true that the chief evidence of the existence of God derived from a contemplation of the phenomena of perception has always been found in the order and uniformity discernible therein. On the contrary the religious mind has very frequently fixed its attention not so much upon that order as upon the occurrence of supposed breaches of that order as exhibited in miracles. It is not too much to say that the evidences of divine Power have often been sought rather in miracles regarded as breaches of natural order than in the existence of that order itself. As Goethe has said: “Das Wunder ist des Glaubens liebstes Kind.” This view of the evidential value of miracles appears to be in close connection with the conception of God as transcendent as influencing the world not from within but from without. Just as the arbitrary and sporadic acts of an absolute sovereign appeal to many minds as more striking and more dramatic evidences of power than are exhibited in the more even course of the orderly working of a constitutional government the incalculable acts of a transcendental Deity conceived as a despotic personality appear to provide more cogent evidence of divine power than does the orderly and ubiquitous working of an immanent Deity. The decay of the belief in miracles which has taken place progressively in modern times is undoubtedly due in large part to the progress of Natural Science with the emphasis which it places upon order or uniformity in phenomena. It must however be distinctly recognized that there exists and can exist no a priori proof of the impossibility of what are called miracles. If that impossibility has been sometimes asserted by exponents of Natural Science the assertion is merely a piece of a priori dogmatism quite incapable of substantiation on scientific grounds. We have no a priori knowledge of what can and what cannot occur in Nature. We have only presumptions psychologically explicable as expectations due to habits of thought founded on our past experience. The decay of belief of which I have spoken depends in large part upon a change of attitude towards an unusual or unexpected occurrence and also consists in large part of a more critical attitude towards the evidence that such alleged events have actually occurred. To the modern man of science an event which does not appear to happen in accordance with known laws is an occurrence which suggests to him the inadequacy of those laws or the presence of some disregarded factor. He is incited to attempt by means of the extension of known laws to subsume the occurrence under a more complete set of laws or to determine the character of the particular disturbing factor which had in the first instance been left out of account. What would perhaps formerly have been regarded as a miracle is for the modern man not a case of breach of order but an occasion for extending his knowledge of it. We now know that the evidence of witnesses of miracles which took place in an uncritical age in which the belief in their actuality was dominant requires the most rigid scrutiny before it can be accepted as of any value. Such scrutiny is most difficult to apply in the case of events which happened in a remote age and in a distant country. We know how difficult it is to apply crucial tests to the evidence of alleged events of an abnormal kind in our own time. Miracles are always most plentiful at a time or in a community in which the belief in their occurrence is most prevalent. Moreover the possibility must be taken into account that superior knowledge of physical laws or exceptionally great powers normal in kind on the part of a supposed worker of miracles may account for the exceptional occurrences. This may particularly be the case in miracles of healing; in that matter the modern study of Psychotherapeutics may be relevant. There is a further question to be considered in this connection. Supposing it were assumed that a particular occurrence were a breach of natural order what would the miracle prove in relation to its assumed agent? Even in the ages of faith when miracles were commoner than anyone supposes them to be now this question was one of importance. Some scrutiny of the source of the miraculous intervention was required as it was by no means always assumed that a miracle was of divine origin. A person who appeared to have powers of influencing natural phenomena which we were wholly unable to bring into line with our scientific knowledge or with any readily conceivable extension of it would not now by any means necessarily be accepted as of infallible authority on other matters such as Philosophy and Theology.
The view of miracles in their relation to Religion and Natural Science which is widely held by modern thinkers is aptly and trenchantly expressed by the Danish Philosopher Höffding1 in the following passage in his Philosophy of Religion:
Even if in spite of all these circumstances we were to believe in any particular case that we had here before us a real miracle i.e. a deviation from the law-abiding order of nature the concept of God which could be based on this fact would necessarily bear the stamp of imperfection; for a miracle is a makeshift a way out something which has to make up for a want in the order of nature. The ordering of nature has not been so effected that by it all the divine ends can be attained. God encounters an obstacle within his own order of nature. It is as if there were two gods—one who is active during the ordinary course of things and another who in particular cases corrects the work of the former. Hence the concept of miracle is dangerous from the religious as well as from the scientific standpoint. It is a bastard which neither parent can afford to own. The Church is wise in not acceding to the re-awakened desire for miracles. It is true of increasingly large circles that miracles which in former times were a proof and support of religion are now rather a stumbling-block which its apologists have to defend and which in their hearts they must often wish themselves well rid of. The less we think of the relation between God and the world as a purely external one analogous to the relation between a clock-maker and his clock the less there is room for or possibility of miracles. The happenings of the world differ widely in value and excite our admiration in very differing degrees; the highest does not take place every day. But there is nothing to prevent all events being subject to the same great law. It is large enough to embrace an infinite number of things and of problems. May we not assume that that which is of highest value may be reconcilable with the principle of natural causation? The concept of miracle really arises from the negative answer to this question. From whence the right to negate is derived is not easy to discover. The fact that something is of the highest value does not preclude a purely natural origin. The concept of miracle rests on an identification of estimation with explanation an identification to which is largely due the confusion which at present characterises the religious problem.
Closely connected with the cosmological argument in favour of a theistic view of the Universe is the teleological argument which rests upon the fact that there is much in the world of phenomena which has at least the appearance of purposiveness or design. The older forms of this argument have consisted in tracing out in Nature special cases of adaptation taken as indicating the effects of design on the part of an intelligent Being. By such exponents of the teleological argument as Archdeacon Paley much emphasis was placed upon the existence in a great variety of special cases of intricate arrangements adapted to the attainment of useful ends; it was held that the existence of such contrivances could only be explained as due to intelligent design. The kind of purposiveness taken to be exhibited in such cases was in accordance with the prevailing view assumed to be analogous to that of the artificer who constructs a machine which shall fulfil some purpose which he has in view. The argument depended upon the idea that when we find such a machine actually working so as to attain an end we are entitled to infer that it has been constructed by an intelligent being who had that end in view. It must be observed that the purposiveness so conceived is not immanent in the machine but in its designer; the relation of the designer to the machine is conceived as an external relation. The designer works with given materials possessed of given properties; his intelligence is exhibited in the ingenuity with which he works under strictly limited conditions which are for him unalterable; he has to do the best he can with the materials at his disposal. The shortcomings of this line of argument are clear; it might with some plausibility be employed by a polytheist to infer the existence of a number of gods of considerable but limited power and intelligence operating in a world which they did not create. The inference to a God of unlimited power and intelligence would present greater difficulties. The very necessity for contrivance or ingenuity implies limitation of power.
The progress of Natural Science during the time that has elapsed since this form of the teleological argument was commonly employed and especially the great progress in Biological Science has resulted in a radical change of the mode in which teleology in relation to natural phenomena is conceived and in the whole aspect of the place which a teleological view of the world occupies in general Thought. By modern teleologists who regard the matter from the points of view of Natural Science and of Psychology purposiveness is regarded no longer as indicating a purely external relation but as in some sense immanent in living organisms and possibly in a wider sense in the phenomenal world generally. In this connection two questions are of fundamental importance; the question of the existence and scope of natural selection and the general question of the nature of vital processes and of the mode in which the relation of the physical with the psychical side of the living organism is to be conceived. As I have already pointed out in my lecture on Evolution the theory of Natural Selection is anti-teleological in its tendency. It is an attempt to give an account of what appears prima facie to be progressive adaptation in relation to ends by means of a scheme in which no teleological factor is admitted. As we have seen there is at the present time much difference of opinion as to the sufficiency and scope of this theory of Natural Selection so that it must be regarded as very far from having been established that it gives such an adequate account of the evolution of species and their adaptations to environment that a teleological factor can be dispensed with. When the theory is extended to mental evolution it seems to say the least extremely doubtful whether it can with any plausibility be appealed to as giving a credible account of the evolution of the higher mental and spiritual faculties of man; in default of any sufficient evidence that these faculties have survival value in the biological sense of the term. The view has been expressed and is held by many persons that the development of the higher faculties of man so far from being an evolution subject to the law of struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest in the biological sense involves really a reversal of that law. The difficult question as to the relations between the psychical and physical sides of living organisms I have already spoken of in an earlier lecture. I have contended that there is no sufficient ground for the assertion that what we believe to be our power of purposively influencing natural phenomena is an illusion. If this view be accepted it is difficult not to recognize a teleological factor as present in all higher organisms at least. But on this matter there is at present much diversity of opinion amongst those who are best able to form a judgment. Natural Science must therefore be taken to speak with an uncertain voice at the present time as regards the question whether it is compelled or not to recognize a teleological factor as a supplement to the physico-chemical categories in its efforts to give an account of vital processes. I think it may fairly be said that there exists no sufficient ground for negativing the hypothesis that something of the nature of entelechy is a necessary factor in all vital processes even if the positive arguments in its favour that have been given by Driesch and others are regarded as insufficient. But even on this side admitting the necessity of conceiving entelechy or purposive directivity as exhibited in all vital processes the teleological argument based upon such admission does not take us very far. It would be a long step to pass on to a unitary purposiveness which should be immanent in or associated with all natural phenomena; and indeed if the argument could be carried so far it might become pantheistic in its result. The independence of finite spirits which allows their purposiveness to exhibit its effect in the phenomenal domain would appear to be inconsistent with or at least very difficult to reconcile with the conception of a completely unified purposiveness which pervaded all natural phenomena. If purposiveness is not to be completely unified it is difficult without very arbitrary assumptions to trace limits to the degree of its diffusion.
I have already referred to the fact that the argument in favour of theism which is in our time generally regarded as the most important and most convincing is the Moral Argument which is based upon the human conception of moral values. In its earliest form this argument was developed by Kant who made the belief in the existence of God depend upon a postulation of the practical reason as distinct from the pure reason which he regarded as impotent to establish the truth of theism. In our day this argument has been developed by various exponents amongst whom I may allow myself to refer to Professor Sorley who in his Gifford Lectures on Moral Values and the Idea of God delivered here in Aberdeen has presented the argument with great force and admirable skill. Any general discussion of this argument would be quite outside the scope of these lectures even if time allowed me to attempt it. There is however one aspect of the argument to which I must refer because it is one in which facts of the phenomenal domain brought to light by Natural Science have significance. In dealing with the argument from design the older writers on Natural Religion laid great stress upon the beneficent results for man of many of the contrivances exhibited in Nature. The evidences of design which are discernible in natural phenomena were conceived to afford a proof not only of the intelligence and power of the Designer but also of His goodness as exhibited in the benevolence with which Nature has been adapted to serve the needs and further the well-being of the human race. The reverse side of this picture of Nature was referred to by Hume and has been strongly emphasized by later thinkers. J. S. Mill in his essay on “Nature” framed a terrible indictment against the callousness cruelty and injustice exhibited in the ordinary course of natural phenomena.
In sober truth (he writes) nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature's every day performances.... Nature impales men breaks them as if on the wheel casts them to be devoured by wild beasts burns them to death crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr starves them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations and has hundreds of other hideous deaths in reserve such as the ingenious cruelty of a Nabis or a Domitian never surpassed.
Mill drew the conclusion that the God who is responsible for Nature as he describes it cannot be a Being both of unlimited power and unlimited goodness. In a later essay Mill maintained that all the evidences from design and from the characteristics of Nature point to a Deity whom he describes as:
A Being of great but limited power how or by what limited we cannot even conjecture; of great and perhaps unlimited intelligence but perhaps also more narrowly limited than his power; who desires and pays some regard to the happiness of his creatures but who seems to have other motives of action which he cares more for and who can hardly be supposed to have created the universe for that purpose alone. Such is the Deity whom Natural Religion points to; and any idea of God more captivating than this comes only from human wishes or from the teaching of either real or imaginary Revelation.
The general picture of organic evolution painted by modern Biology is one in which the struggle for existence and nutriment involving pain and death is an important and possibly a dominant feature although its repulsive aspect may perhaps sometimes have been drawn in too lurid colours. The ruthless sacrifice of multitudes of individuals appears to be a feature of the ordinary course of evolution; it has been said that Nature cares nothing for the individual but much for the race. The facts brought to light by Bacteriology and Parasitology have disclosed the existence of many organisms and of what have the appearance of being most ingenious contrivances the apparent purpose of which is to inflict torture and death upon other and usually higher organisms. The result of modern knowledge of this kind has been to heighten the impression produced by the widespread and intricate character of what from our point of view we describe as physical evil. A consistent theist must regard as in some sense God's creatures those living organisms whose presence and activities condition the existence of tetanus cholera typhus and many other diseases. The contemplation of this aspect of phenomena gives rise to a very real problem not only for Theologians but for great numbers of thoughtful persons.
Of the problem presented by the existence of moral evil I cannot here speak but for modern theistic Philosophy in which the human spirit with its needs its rationality and above all its moral values constitutes the basic point of departure the existence of physical evil gives rise to difficulties which have never been overcome although many earnest attempts have been made to soften their asperity. Some of these attempts proceed in the direction of indicating the possibility of a resolution of the difficulties if they could be regarded from a point of view higher than that which the limitations of the human mind and of its knowledge of the circumstances of the Universe enable it to occupy. Some expositors lay great stress upon the necessity of an imperfect world as providing a field of activity such as is needed for the progressive perfectibility of free spirits. I must confess that many such attempts to cope with the difficulties of the kind I have indicated impress me as having the unsatisfying character of special pleading. However this may be it is I think admitted by candid exponents of Philosophical Theism that there do remain very real difficulties in reconciling Theism of a type such as will completely satisfy the religious consciousness with some aspects of the actual world of our experience. This does not by any means necessarily entail the consequence that the views of the philosophical theist must be rejected but it does I think necessitate a recognition of the fact that a complete synthesis of the conceptions of existence and of value in a unitary theistic view of the Universe has proved so far to be beyond the reach of the human mind. Many persons think it highly probable or even morally certain that such a unified view will prove unattainable so long as the present limitations of the human mind remain.
My main aim has been by means of a delineation of the domain of Natural Science to vindicate the perfect freedom of Religious and Philosophical thought from any fear of destructive interference from the side of Natural Science subject to the sole condition that no encroachment is made upon the autonomy of Natural Science in its own proper domain. It has been no part of my aim in these lectures to indicate the use which Religious and Philosophical Thought may make of this freedom or to state any results to which I might conceive it to lead. To have attempted to do this would have been to open out a field of discussion of an extent far beyond anything that could possibly have been joined on to the special subject of my course. Successful vindication of this freedom would serve to allay the fears often perhaps only half conscious of numbers of thinking men who intimidated by the striking triumphs of Natural Science in extending our knowledge of the order of phenomena and in turning that knowledge to practical account imagined that Natural Science as a rigidly deterministic world-philosophy was perhaps destined to exercise a complete domination over the spiritual domain and to leave no possibility of any real content being assignable to the conception of human freedom. I need hardly emphasize the fact that the removal of the destructive criticism which grounds itself upon Natural Science does not suffice to refute criticism which rests upon philosophical or psychological grounds.
There was a time when Theology claimed to occupy the whole territory of Natural Science and held it in complete thraldom. The history of the prolonged struggle of Science for autonomy on its own territory has been one in which Theology has lost every battle. Unfortunately Science has not always remained content with the vindication of its freedom but has attempted to extend its dominion into territory which is not its own. There are happily at the present time hopeful signs pointing to a cessation or at least a mitigation of the conflict. On both sides the prevailing temper is markedly different from what it has been within living memory. There is greater readiness than formerly to admit that the conditions of life as we experience it are such that different methods are requisite for dealing with differing aspects of our life and experience; and that this involves the necessity of granting freedom to those who pursue the different lines of thought and investigation appropriate to these different parts or aspects of our whole experience. The discursive modes of thinking to which the limitations of the human mind bind us compel us to treat in separation even on the purely intellectual side the different aspects of our experience with which Philosophical Theology and Natural Science are concerned. How much more is this seen to be the case when we consider how very different in kind are the needs which are to be satisfied by these two departments of thought. Religion which is very far from being the same thing as Theology always sooner or later feels the need of some support on the intellectual side from reasoned theological conceptions. Theology I refer to here on its philosophical side; the philosophical Theologian is simply a Philosopher who pays special attention to those aspects of Philosophy which have a specifically religious bearing. Theology as distinct from general Philosophy has as its function the provision of a cognitive basis for Religion of which the essence is not mainly cognitive but is mainly concerned with the moral and emotional sides of human nature. If we were in possession of and able to grasp a unified view of the Universe in which all the elements of existence and valuation were completely synthesized the division of labour of which I have spoken would be unnecessary; we should not require to mark out frontiers between Science and Philosophy or Theology; but of such a synthesis there is not the remotest prospect in view. The secret of the Universe has revealed itself neither to the Theologian nor to the Philosopher. The man of Science as such is not even concerned with that secret. The untrammelled freedom which must be allowed to workers in all departments of the great cultural work of humanity to Philosophers and Theologians to Historians to the cultivators not only of Natural Science but of Science of all kinds should not however involve the erection of rigid impassable barriers which shall mark off domains which hold no communication with one another. On the contrary workers in one department will often receive the most valuable enlightenment and most important suggestions from quarters outside their own special line.
The summary discussions in the present lecture and in the one immediately preceding it deal professedly only with partial aspects of the great central questions which have in all ages been the subject of unending scrutiny on the part of thinkers great and small; related as these questions are and always have been with the deepest thoughts hopes and feelings of multitudes of human beings. The tentative character of much of what I have said in this connection may appear to many persons so devoid of sharply defined results as to be eminently unsatisfactory. I can only plead that anything like a dogmatic statement of personal opinion on most weighty matters only a few partial aspects of which I have been able to discuss would have been irrelevant and inappropriate since it would have been foreign to what I placed before myself as the aim of these lectures.