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Lecture III: Puzzles and Clues


Our fundamental act of faith is that the universe of our experience somehow or other makes sense. It is worth while trying to study it and think about it on the assumption that the clues to its puzzles coherently indicate the pattern of the whole. In this empirical age we do not proceed by assuming a theoretical pattern and trying to show how it can assimilate the facts. We begin by trying to observe and describe as accurately as possible the things which have to be accounted for. In other words, we start with the puzzles. We are not in the position of a man who is tackling a crossword puzzle, for he is confronted by a single puzzle for which he is provided with both diagram and clues. We are confronted by a multitude of puzzles in which we have to search for our own clues, and the trouble is that clues which seem to hold out hope of solving different particular puzzles often lead in different directions, making more and more difficult the puzzle of puzzles, the reconciliation of them all.

Our first task, then, is to survey the field and take note of the puzzles. Here must be made a preliminary disclaimer. In my second lecture I have spoken of how the advance of knowledge is by way of interaction between the objects of observation and the observer's categories of thought: sometimes categories have to be revised in the light of fresh observations, sometimes observations have to be discounted as untenable in the light of rational reflection.1 In all our observing, as well as in our thinking, our minds are conditioned by the presuppositions of our age and slime and personal upbringing. Of this I shall have more to say in the next lecture. I mention it now in order to disclaim any pretention to be free from these limitations. I can do no more than attempt to call attention to the puzzles as I see them, knowing that I see them with the eyes of a Christian theologian of twentieth-century western Europe, and that inevitably this must give some colouring to what I see. I make my contribution to what must be our joint quest for objectivity, the quest which will only reach its goal if all, by contributing their insights, correct what is distorted in the vision of each.2 This being understood, I will now try to put before you, as I see them, some of the puzzles which provoke the mind of one who is trying to make sense of his experience.

The first of these is that we live in a world which makes demands upon us that do not conform to the requirements of logical consistency. It is hard to think of any good principle of action which, if carried to its logical conclusion, will not land us in absurdity. My good parents brought me up on two excellent maxims: ‘Always finish the thing you are doing before you turn to another’, and ‘When your father or mother call you, stop whatever you are doing and come at once’. As a tiresome child I argued as though they were to be condemned for their inconsistency; in my riper years I have come to see that such inconsistency was the mark of their practical wisdom. It bore witness to the truth that the point at issue was one of the standing puzzles of our existence, not one to be easily resolved by reference to some aphorism about exceptions proving rules.

Take, for example, the principle ‘equal pay for equal work’. This so obviously just that we rightly seek to end the anomaly by which a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work. At the same time we are supplementing wages and salaries by the payment of children's allowances, a practice which involves the principle: ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. To follow either of these principles to its logical conclusion would prevent us from acting on the other, and that would be absurd.

Again, it is sometimes said, as though it were the whole truth, that we should consider persons before things, including among things not only worldly wealth and objects of sense-perception but such intangibles as laws and standards. In his Gifford Lectures Dr. Charles Raven has criticized Plato on these lines, denouncing as unchristian the idea that a man's performance of his ἔργον, his contribution to the good life of the community, should be taken into account for the measure of his world.3 This is one-sided. It is surely salutary for a man to reflect that he is only of importance in so far as he fulfils his vocation. Nor can one solve the puzzle by saying that while it may be good for a man thus to think about himself, he should adopt a different principle when thinking about others. An examiner, for example, may have the misfortune to know how much prospective happiness or misery, both for the candidate himself and for others, hangs upon his success or failure, and yet he must resolutely subordinate all such personal considerations to the impersonal standards which the examination exists to maintain.

Consideration of various instances of this kind of puzzle leads to the realization that we live in a world in which not only do ‘new occasions teach new duties’, but different occasions demand action on different, and sometimes logically inconsistent, principles. Circumstances alter cases to such an extent that logical inconsistency becomes the guide of life. This is one of our puzzles.

I have shown elsewhere how it affects our understanding of the relations of church and state.4 Other instances are provided by problems concerning censorship. On the one hand there is the good principle of respect for freedom of thought and speech; on the other that of the duty of the state to safeguard standards of life including, among others, that respect for freedom itself. In there never a danger that exclusive devotion to freedom of speech may be used to establish a regime which will proscribe it? There is also, for us Christians, our puzzlement over the question of war.

No thoughtful Christian, who is not a pacifist, can avoid being made uncomfortable by his sense of failure to accept the logical conclusions of certain principles involved in the life and teaching of Christ; of Him who said ‘Love your enemies’, and, so far from seeking to bring in the kingdom of God by force, followed the way of non-resistance to His death on the cross. How much simpler life would be if one could agree with those for whom this is the whole of the matter, for whom it provides the only principle of action of which account need be taken! But it is not so. To treat this one element in the example of Christ as though it were the whole is an undue simplification. In the years before 1939 many an English Christian was made acutely uncomfortable by the knowledge that the price of our avoidance of war was not being paid by ourselves but by Ethiopians and Czechoslovaks. As my one-time colleague Dr. Burton Easton used to put it: ‘Christ said, “him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also”;5 He did not say, “let him have also the widow's cloak and the orphan's coat”.’ It is not surprising that while most Christians are agreed that war is an evil and should be abolished, there is difference of opinion about the duty of the individual until this be done. This difference bears witness to the underlying conflict of principles inherent in the situation.

To speak of the conflict of principles as something inherent in the situation introduces a new point in the relation between evidence and categories, and in what we mean by logic and logical. Truth is a quality of statements, and if we say that in our quest for objectivity we are seeking to know the truth about things, we mean that we are seeking so to apprehend the things themselves so as to be able to discriminate between what is true and what false in statements about them. We only accept things as being what they appear to be in so far as they are such as to conform to the requirements of our categories of thought: if anyone tells us that he has seen a cow climbing a tree, we simply do not believe him. But whence do we get these categories of thought? For those which prevent us from believing in such things as tree-climbing cows the answer is fairly simple: they come as the result of observation of how things like cows behave. In so far as they govern our thinking they are the result of prior apprehensions of objects of thought. But what of those which are prior to all observation and apprehension whatever, of that law of contradiction, for instance, which makes us insist that we can only accept as true and real statements and things which are consistent with one another?

We need not enter into the classic dispute over whether they are derived from experience or are innate ideas. More important for our purpose is the Kantian question whether, if they originate within the mind, we have any grounds for holding that they must hold good of objective reality. It is tempting for any pupil of Cook Wilson to answer this question by saying that the so-called laws of thought are only laws of thought because they are laws of being: they are not creations of the mind but apprehensions of the nature of reality. This answer, I believe, indicates the lines along which we should look for the truth of the matter, but it is not in itself sufficient.

It is not sufficient because we have to distinguish between our capacity for apprehension and thought at our present stage in the process of interaction between categories and evidence and that to which we aspire as the goal of our philosophic quest. Our goal is such knowledge and understanding of things as they are that it will be otiose to raise the question whether the fact that we necessarily think them so has its roots in them or in us. If we are to justify time spent on scientific and philosophical inquiry, we must believe that we are on the way to this goal. Experience shows the way to be interaction between evidence and categories, and progress made to date encourages us to believe that some at least of our categories will need no further revision in order to be valid of the objects of our thought. Among them pride of place may be given to the so-called law of Contradiction, the demand that the objects of our thought shall fit together into a pattern that makes sense.

If, therefore, our ways of thinking are subject to revision in the light of growing apprehension of evidence, we cannot use the words logic and logical as though they qualified ways of thinking without reference to what our thought is about. If true thought is that which accurately grasps the nature of its objects, then whenever the thought is concerned with the relations between things, the truly logical thought will be that which accurately apprehends those relations. There is a sense in which the logic must be in the things if it is to be in the thoughts, a truth witnessed to in common speech by such a phrase as ‘the logic of the situation’. The statement that a good principle of action, if carried to its logical conclusion, will land one in absurdity is not, taken by itself, entirely satisfactory: this use of the phrase ‘carried to its logical conclusion’ suggests that logic is a matter of thought carried on in abstraction from things. But absurdity is a logical concept, and the absurdity is not produced by any tiling in our abstract thinking; it is due to the discrepancy between the logic of our thoughts and the logic of the differing demands made upon us by different situations.

We may describe our first puzzle as the discovery of illogicality in the world we are trying to understand.

We have made the discovery by reflecting upon the illogicality in the form in which it appears in common experience, in the fact that all men have to live by making decisions in situations demanding apparently inconsistent actions. We can only avoid it by becoming the kind of doctrinaire fanatic who in all circumstances, whatever they may be, insists on action in conformity with the conclusions of his one-sided logic. In all probability the great majority of men and women, like my good parents in the instance quoted, remain unaware of it: they go from situation to situation meeting each with the action it calls for without any sense of inconsistency. But this is just the kind of unexamined assumption which provokes the notice of the philosopher. What can philosophy make of it?

I have affirmed my fundamental act of philosophical faith, the belief that everything that exists or occurs somehow fits into a unifying pattern which makes sense, that when we know even as we are known we shall see that perfect knowledge of the whole is knowledge wherein the logic in the things known is one with the logic in the thought.6 I believe that this faith has always been the mainspring of philosophical endeavour, and that to see it as such explains both the course that philosophy has taken in the past, and its present condition.

Speaking generally, philosophical systems may be said to be of two kinds, idealist and materialist. While it is true to say that the idealist is more strongly moved by the demand that things shall fit in so as to make sense and the materialist by the demand that they shall be accurately observed and accounted for as they actually exist, this is not the whole of the truth. Both take for granted that whatever is real does so fit in: they differ in their conception of what is meant by ‘make sense’.

The idealist lays his stress on what conforms to the canons of the logic of the mind: his criticism of reality is logical consistency and self-authenticating goodness. From Socrates onwards idealists have tended to regard the factual illogicality presented by the things of this world as evidence that they cannot really be what they seem to be: they must be the mode in which what is really real appears to us in our finite experience. For the materialist the criterion of reality is the observed behaviour of the things of this world: his presupposition is the existence in the spatio-temporal order of things of a logic, a consistency which makes them patient of rewarding study by the natural sciences. We have seen one instance of this in the passage quoted from Freud, where he bases his thought on faith in the universal sway of ‘the causal sequence of things’.7

So far as I can understand from outside what is going on in the world of the natural sciences, there is combined a continuing sense of the worthwhileness of their study with a growing scepticism about the theoretical nature of the consistency which makes this possible, or the extent to which this possibility depends on the kind of consistency implied by such a phrase as ‘the causal sequence of things’. The kind of uniformity which those words would have described for our fathers half a century ago no longer obtain in a world where relativity makes it impossible to determine at the same time both the position and the mass of a moving object, where exponents of the quantum theory can speak of indeterminacy, where wave-theories and corpuscle-theories, inconsistent with one another, are both required to account for different phenomena in the realm of light. The illogicality in the nature of things which presents us with situations demanding actions based on inconsistent principles is paralleled in the phenomena which demand of scientists study based on inconsistent theories. To the doctrinaire fanatic corresponds the scientific crank. Yet neither in the conduct of life nor in scientific study is salvation to be found in indifference to logic, neglect of principle or random guesswork. Our puzzle is to find the pattern in which the wise man of action and the intelligent scientist can both find a place and prove themselves consistent in their inconsistencies.


I turn now to another set of puzzles, puzzles which beset the Christian believer as he tries to grasp the meaning of his faith. We will start with that presented by contemplation of the vast multitude of men and women on the face of the earth. Here, again, the difficulty arises in the attempt to reconcile convictions that belong to different circles of thought.

I picture to myself Cornmarket in Oxford on a Saturday afternoon, as I push my way through the crowds that overflow from the pavement into the roadway; or Oxford Street in London, as I look down from the top of a bus on the teeming mass of people. You can picture to yourselves similar scenes in this city of Glasgow. If we ask ourselves what proportion of these thronging multitudes consists of baptized members of the Church who live up to the obligations of their membership, who are regular in the practice of penitence and thanksgiving, of reading God's word and assembling together for His worship, the answer surely must be that it is very small. Even if we reduce our list of requirements, ignore church membership and church attendance and simply ask how many read their Bibles, say their prayers and live by faith in Christ, we have to admit that a very large number, if not the majority, do none of these things. Then if we look out from the cities of this island into all the world around, asking the same question about the inhabitants of Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australasia, will not the answer be much the same? What on earth, or in heaven, does God intend to do with so many such people? What is He now doing with all those of them who in recent years have perished in Indo-China and Korea?

I do not use the phrase ‘such people’ in any derogatory sense, but simply to refer collectively, without any attempt at appraisal or valuation, to all those in whose minds the faith and practice of the Christian Church are irrelevant to their lives. I have introduced the subject by picturing crowds with whom you and I are often in close personal contact because by putting it in this way I hope I may make it as clear to you as it is to me that it would drive any Christian clean out of his mind if he really believed that of those with whom he is rubbing shoulders all but the small minority of pious churchgoers were objects of God's displeasure and doomed to destruction. If God be the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, it cannot be so. But if not, what in the will and purpose of God is the object and purpose of their existence now, and what destiny hereafter?

This is a question which does not seem to have troubled our spiritual ancestors, a fact which in itself provides another puzzle of which we shall have to take account in these lectures later on. They apparently found no difficulty in holding that God's aim as His redemptive work has been and is the rescue for salvation if a select number of human beings while the rest—to use the only word that I can think of—can be scrapped. There is a collect in our Church of England service for the Burial of the Dead in winch we pray that God may accomplish the number of His elect and hasten His kingdom, language which takes our minds back to St. Augustine's exposition of the theory that the number of the saved is to be that which will restore the optimum population of heaven by filling the vacancies left by the fallen angels.8 Dante's Vergil had to be left in the Limbo prepared for the unbaptized heathen. There is plenty of evidence that these and others were concerned to show that such dispositions were in keeping with the justice and love of God, but they do not seem to have faced the question of their consistency with His love in the form in which it presents itself to our minds to-day. If Jesus Christ be indeed the revelation of God, if God's care for the men and women of His creation be of the same kind as that of the Lord who looked with compassion upon the multitude because He saw them as sheep who had no shepherd, how can He be content to let all these others be scrapped while He achieves His purpose of rescuing the chosen few?

But if now the Christian, turning his mind from this question and the circle of thought to which it belongs, reflects upon his own religious life in the fellowship of the Christian church, and confines his attention to the ideas germane to that circle of thought, he soon finds himself thinking in ways inconsistent with this generous attitude towards the heathen multitudes. He acknowledges that for himself his hope of rising from death to a blessed immortality is bound up with his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. It is not something which he has in virtue of being a man: it has come to him as a gift of God's grace, and he only looks forward to rising again through being incorporate into the continuing life of the body of his risen Lord. This faith is the ground of his own hope for himself, and the substance of the gospel which he preaches to others. But how can it be consistent with the belief that is necessary to his sanity on a Saturday afternoon in a crowded city street?

Later on we shall have to consider how many of the assumptions commonly taken for granted in traditional theology will have to be revised for the solution of this puzzle. My aim in this lecture is simply to set before you the puzzles which provide the programme for our thought in those which are to follow. My first puzzle was the discovery of the illogicality in the world we are trying to understand; my second is the discovery of illogicality in my own religious convictions.

But although my immediate aim is to expose the puzzles, it will not be out of place to mention clues which seem to me to indicate the direction in which we may look for light upon them. I would suggest that in the present instance it may be of help to realize that the religious life of a man is like the thought of a scientist or philosopher in that it is a process which develops by interaction between subject and object. We have seen how in his thinking the scientist or philosopher—or, indeed, any kind of scholar—is seeking to grasp with his finite mind the object he wants to know and understand. In his religion a Christian is not simply seeking to know God as a matter of intellectual achievement; he is drawn to respond to the love of God by the devotion of his whole self. There are thus the two sides to the process: in him subjectively his whole faith and love are deepened as from the objective side there comes to him the quickening love of God. Now the more a man grows in understanding what the Christian religion is from within, the more he comes to realize that while what he is and does is of importance as constituting him the man he is becoming, of infinitely greater importance is what God is doing, because it is from God that he is receiving all that he has or is or comes. At the heart of the Christian life is the puzzling paradox of St. Paul's: ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’.9

The curious thing is that in the minds of those for whom justification by faith is contrasted with justification by works, so that sola gratia is the essence of the Christian gospel, this truth often seems to be combined with the notion that the presence or absence of the faith is what marks the distinction between those who are and those who are not on the road to ultimate salvation. One can see how this comes about. The Christian knows within himself both that the faith through which he responds to the love of God is itself a gift of God, and also that his own hope of a future life comes to him out of this relationship to God. It is easy to confuse the subjective fact that those who are without the faith are without the hope with the objective statement that those without the faith are not on the way to receive that which the others hope for. But to do this is to transfer from the objective to the subjective, from God to man, the locus of the action which in effective for or against a man's salvation. The antipelagianism which produced the doctrine of justification by faith has issued in the pelagian assumption that those without consciousness of the faith are devoid of justification.

More than once in later lectures we shall find ourselves driven to investigate what is essentially the same confusion. It is involved, for example, in the question whether the validity of a sacrament depends upon what God is doing, whether the worshipper is aware of it or not, or is in any way dependent upon the state of mind of minister or congregation. For the moment we must be content to list among the puzzles which confront us the fact that so many Christians, from their experience of the ‘I, yet not I’ have been led into the illogicality of drawing pelagian conclusions from anti-pelagian premisses.

Further ramifications of this same puzzle are illustrated by Professor Paul Tillich's limitation of revelation to knowledge received ‘through ecstasy and miracle’10 and Dr. H. H. Farmer's limitation of religion to the experience of those who are conscious of being in personal relations with God.11 This latter limitation may only be a matter of the definition of terms; but Dr. Farmer's treatment of the subject needs to be supplemented by reference to the late Dr. Francis Underhill's penetrating account of the possibility of the practice of religion by those who are devoid of what he calls the ‘religious temperament’.12

More than once I have had occasion to refer to existentialism among current movements of thought. Existentialism calls attention to the importance of the subjective side of our development as persons, to the fact that both intellectually in our striving after growth in knowledge, and comprehensively in our seeking to find the fulfilment of our personality in communion with God, each of us has his apprehensions coloured and the character of his fulfilment conditioned by the circumstances of his birth, upbringing and status. Taken by itself, as though it covered the whole ground, it would involve denial of the possibility of apprehending any common truth or pursuing any common good: its value is its reminder to both philosophers and theologians that in attempting to make sense of the universe of our experience and to understand the way of God with His creation, we must take full account of the fact that we exist as individualized centres of consciousness, individualized in our approach both in thinking and living.

A further puzzle, suggested by the existentialist reminder, is that of the variety of moral codes acknowledged by different groups of men. We can no longer say with the confidence of John Ruskin in 1870: ‘There are many religions, but there is only one morality. There are moral and immoral religions, which differ as much in precept as emotion; but there is only one morality, which has been, is, and must be, tor ever, an instinct in the hearts of all civilized men, as certain and unalterable as their outward bodily form, and which receives from religion neither law place; but only hope and felicity’.13

In an interesting discussion of the underlying problems Mr. J. O. Urmson has written: ‘When we debate which of two moral codes is more enlightened there is no ultimate court of appeal, no umpire, unless some agreed religious code is treated as a deux ex machina.… We cannot, when debating what criterion to me for moral grading, grade the criteria morally. But we can grade them by enlightenment provided, of course, that the disputants have an agreed set of criteria of enlightenment.… If people have not agreed criteria for enlightenment, I do not know what one can do about it’.14

We western Europeans, born into the traditions of Hebrew-Christian teaching, may feel that we share a common outlook as contrasted, for example, with those for whom the political interests the state are the criteria of both truth and goodness.

But if we are tempted to think that the puzzle is solved for us by the deus ex machina of an agreed revealed religious code we are rudely reminded that among Christians there remain unsolved differences: while his disapproval of gambling leads the Protestant minister to forbid the holding of raffles at his church bazaar, the neighbouring Roman Catholic priest is raising funds by means of pools and lotteries.15

I come back to the point where we approached our second group of puzzles. These arose from the fact that the world contains a vast number of human beings whose existence must somehow be accounted for. We have seen reason to doubt that it is consistent with acceptance of the revelation of God in Christ to think of them as, so to speak, the chorus or supers on the stage of a divine drama which is solely concerned with the fortunes of the chosen few. In considering the fortunes of the chosen few we have found within Christian theology a puzzle provided by the question of the relation of the achievements in faith or morals to the objective activity of God the Disposer supreme. Whether we are thinking of Christians or Pagans, of the characters in the centre of the stage or the chorus and bystanders in the wings, we cannot be satisfied until we see how they all fit into the plot of a drama that will make sense.


As we look back over the puzzles we have been considering we can see their likeness to one another as variations on one theme. In different circumstances we have to act on principles that are logically inconsistent. Our conviction of God's love for all mankind is inconsistent with our belief about the grounds of our own hope of salvation, and for that hope we inconsistently combine the doctrine of sola gratia with an acknowledgment that our eternal destiny depends upon the manner of our life in this world of space and time. When we ask what that manner of life should be, we find, even among Christians, advocates of inconsistent moral codes. In every case the difficulty arises from the fact that while so long as we follow different lines of thought we can make sense of each taken by itself, when we try to put our various conclusions together, they will not agree.

To use a technical term, we live in a world of antinomies: that is to say, in circumstances in which over and over again we find ourselves unable to deny the truth of positions which, so far as we can see, are inconsistent with one another. I have begun by confessing the inconsistencies which I have to acknowledge in my own faith and practice, my inability, for example, to deny either the doctrine of sola gratia or the truth that I shall be held to account for how I have lived my life and be judged thereby. I must, of course, always carefully consider the question whether what I take to be an antinomy is indeed a genuine antinomy and not a case in which I really ought to choose between two alternatives. The antinomy is only to be accepted, the inconsistency tolerated, the mystery acknowledged when I have done my best to solve the puzzle and am convinced that to do otherwise would involve disloyalty to this or that aspect of truth.

While each of us has to face this issue for himself and achieve what consistency he may in his own life and thought, a Gifford lecturer, who by the terms of his trust is set to look out upon the whole universe and try to make sense of it, must take note of the fact that inconsistencies are not only uneasy companions in his own mind, but reappear, so to speak, in the large, possessing the allegiance of different groups of men, dividing them into groups. Just as in my own mind there are inconsistencies of which I am conscious and may be others of which I am unaware, so some of these groups are in conscious disagreement (as on the ethics of raffles and lotteries), while others may simply be unaware of their inconsistency by being out of touch with one another. Here, too, the parallel holds. I can remain unaware of my own inconsistencies so long as at different times I follow out different lines of thought and do not try to bring them together. So different groups of men, each bound together in pursuit of some particular line of truth and concentrating attention upon it, can be out of touch with one another and unaware of the puzzle presented to the Gifford lecturer who has to try to make sense of their various conclusions, inquiring whether a solution should be found in the acceptance of this and rejection of that, or whether he has to acknowledge the recognition of a genuine antinomy.

An instance of this kind of puzzle has been brought to my mind by reading Mr. E. I. Watkin's book Poets and Mystics. For the nourishment of his soul, for his training in devotion, for the deepening of his experience of the possibilities of prayer, a Christian turns to the works of the masters of the spiritual life: he reads Thomas à Kempis, Brother Lawrence, Lorenzo Scupoli, Madame Guyon, and their later successors down to Francis Paget's Spirit of Discipline and the Retreat Addresses of Edward Talbot. Behind all these, and looked up to by them as having penetrated even more deeply into the mysteries of communion with God, are the great Christian mystics, such as St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Theresa, and St. John of the Cross. Now, according to Mr. Watkin this whole tradition of the Christian life of prayer takes for granted an understanding of the human soul which he describes as follows:

The mystic's experience is an experience of union with God as He transcends all forms, whether images or concepts. This union is effected by, or rather is produced in, the central self, the root of intellect and will alike, though in this case more precisely as it is the root of the will, the fundamental orientation of the will. For the spirit is a spiritual energy, a radical volition. This centre is variously named synderesis, the fine point of the soul, its apex, its ground.…

The anima which is the subject of aesthetic-artistic intuition is deeper and more obscure than the animus which is the subject of discursive and scientific thinking and of the conceptual factor in poetry. The centre or apex on the other hand which is the subject of mystical union, the union of which mystical experience is the intuition, is at a still greater psychological depth. It is indeed the ultimate depth where the very being of the human spirit is grounded in God.16

To the Christian believer these masters of the spiritual life clearly speak from their experience, speak as those who know what they are talking about. While one is trying to follow in their footsteps, or to expound their teaching with a view to encouraging others to do the same, one proceeds on the assumption that within oneself there is a ‘depth of the soul’ where God is to be found: one presents this as the doctrine which shall inspire attempts to enter on the practice of the inner life.

There are times, however, when one is neither praying nor preaching, but trying to learn something of present-day psychological research, reading the works of Freud or Jung or Köhler. Here one is in an entirely different world. In so far as spatial metaphors are used of the human soul, and it is said to have higher or lower levels, there is no suggestion of its deepest depths being an apex or fine point where God is to be found. On the contrary. In the subliminal depths of a man's self his inherited urges are seeking to erupt and express themselves in his conscious life, and many of them are such that it would be blasphemous to describe their contemplation as an entering into the presence of God.

Whatever one may think of this or that element in the theory of this or that psychologist, one cannot sweep all this research away, dismissing it as having nothing of value to contribute to our understanding of the human soul. Psychologists, like mystics, speak out of their experience, speak as men who have made discoveries and have some knowledge of what they are talking about.

Academic and practising psychologists on the one hand, conductors of retreats and students of ascetic theology on the other, so long as each group confines itself to its own concerns, can go merrily along making sense of their material. But when a man is interested in the works of both he finds that he is behaving like the physicist who alternates between wave and corpuscular theories of light.

Wrestling with this puzzle in his Tarner lectures, Professor Ryle clears up a number of misunderstandings and gives a useful warning against seeking to evade it by the use of ‘Smother words’, like picture and description. It may be that in many cases the apparently inconsistent statements made by workers in different fields are to be understood on his analogy of the difference between the way in which books appear on the shelves of a library and in the librarian's account book. ‘It is not a question of two rival libraries, or of two rival descriptions of one library, but of two different but complementary ways of giving information of very different sorts about the one library’.17 But to assume that this is always so is only another way of expressing the conviction that all things that exist somehow fit in together so as to make sense, and the fact remains that often the information collected from different sources remains obstinately inconsistent.

In his lecture on Perception Mr. Ryle usefully pillories the notion that seeing and hearing are parts of an observable process which occupy a stretch of time.18 Let us grant that as activities they are sui generis, known to each one of us in the exercise of them and indescribable in terms of observable, time-occupying processes or, indeed, of anything other than themselves. In themselves they may be instantaneous activities. Yet in so far as I wish to use them to gain knowledge and understanding of the objective world I have to take account of the lapse of time in the processes which lead up to my acts of perceiving, of the fact, for example, that when I contemplate the starry heaven on a cloudless night I am seeing the stars at bygone dates differing proportionately to their distance from the earth. For most practical purposes of everyday life we can, and do, disregard this kind of consideration. Later we shall have to consider whether the fact that we can do this successfully gives a clue to the puzzle of the discrepancy between the worlds of physical theory and of everyday practice.

This living in different worlds, how puzzling it is! The world of everyday practice and the world of physical theory, the world of the mystic and the world of the psychologist, the world of Christian faith and the world of secular business. In this last contrast I am not thinking of the two as mutually hostile: I do not use the phrase ‘secular business’ to mean affairs which from the point of view of the Christian lie outside the range of his Christian interest, still less which all ‘lie in the evil one’. What I have in mind is this. While I am worshipping with fellow-Christians, or talking with fellow-theologians, I am in a world in which we all take for granted the truth that this universe is God's creation, that He is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, that both for individuals and for society the most important thing in life is to be conformed to His will, and that to this end the practice of prayer and the pursuit of holiness should have chief place in the attention of our thought and the use of our time. To this world belong such books as Dr. Farmer's Gifford Lectures, to which I have already referred. But when I go out and about, shopping in shops, discussing the needs of my car with the foreman at the garage or the needs of my house with builder and plumber, reading the newspaper and talking over the affairs of the day with friends and colleagues, taking part in College business, sitting on committees, examining theses for degrees or helping to govern a school, I am in a world to which it is often hard to believe that the considerations which are so vital to the worshipper and the theologian have any relevance at all. The various pies in which I have my fingers each has its own canons and standards which must receive understanding and respect. Plumbing and examining, research in any branch of learning, the election of a professor and the conduct of the business of a school require attention to multifarious details, in the discussion of which there is seldom any reference to the practice of prayer or the pursuit of holiness.

I find myself at home in both worlds, and so, I have no doubt, do many of my fellow Christians. But, unless I misunderstand and misjudge them, I cannot help thinking that many men and Women belong to one or the other, devout Christians and biblical theologians who do not know what it feels like to realize the mind-engrossing scope of secular culture, business men and politicians, scholars and men of science, for whom that engrossment leaves no time or energy to devote to the things of religious faith and practice. I find myself oscillating between this world and that, now at home in the one and now in the other, constantly tempted to seek peace of mind by enlisting in the one to the exclusion of the other, rescued from the temptation by the realization that to do so would be to deny undeniable truths, would be disloyalty to Him who if He is to be our Way and our Life must also be reverenced by the service of truth.

To find himself living in different worlds of thought is not a peculiarity of a Christian thinker. It is the form in which he experiences a prevailing characteristic of the present age, sharing the experience of all who are trying to understand the universe in the light of all that is being discovered about it in different fields of study. This has been well put by Dr. Emmet, for what she wrote in 1943 is no less true in 1955:

We are concerned… with the possibility of finding relations between diverse kinds of experience such that it may be possible to co-ordinate them into some pattern which makes sense. If experience is reflected through the medium of different minds, themselves part of a shifting process of change, is it possible to find such co-ordinating ideas as will be more than metaphors expressing private associations?… And there is the further doubt whether the different kinds of experience are capable of being co-ordinated with one another in any coherent pattern. Our elders were (and some of them still are) full of hopes and ambitions of achieving a ‘synthesis’ of knowledge; science, religion, art, the practice of personal and political life were to become an orderly pattern, dominated by an agreed philosophical outlook. But it looks as if we were becoming increasingly conscious of diversities and discontinuities in our worlds of thought and experience.… The real problem is that our diverse worlds of thought do not make sense as a coherent unity, and probably cannot and will not do so for some time to come. For the basic suppositions underlying them are in process of a drastic reconstruction of which it is not yet possible to see the outcome. We cannot yet determine clearly what are in fact the main ideas behind the new physics, let alone their relevance or irrelevance for a wider outlook. Nor has the real scope and contribution of psycho-analysis yet been determined; nor that of the new border-line sciences of life such as biochemistry and biophysics; nor is it clear what are the dominant ideas which are to express man's life in society. When we have reached a stage when Einstein, Freud, Marx, Barth, Wittgenstein are not names for partisans to conjure with, but the contributions which these may have made to our understanding of the nature of the human mind and its relation to its world, have been clarified, sifted and assimilated, then we may begin to look towards a new synthesis of knowledge. And it may well be that by then we shall have learnt that the old-style synthesis in the grand manner is impossible. Meanwhile, as long as different departments of thought are primarily concerned with rethinking their distinctive methods and presuppositions, they are likely to grow apart rather than grow together.19

It is indeed true that the time for synthesis is not yet, if by synthesis is meant a comprehensive statement which, with full understanding of them, shall relate and interpret the elements contributed by all our various worlds of thought. But the search for clues must go on, and in the circumstances of to-day I take it that it is to this search for clues that a Gifford lecturer is called by the terms of Lord Gifford's will.


Lastly, let me indicate two puzzles which press most insistently upon the Christian thinker.

1. Our aim is to know and understand the nature and history of this universe in such a way as to see that all that is and happens makes sense. For the Christian this may be put in the form of the question: ‘What is the will and purpose of God for His creation?’ Traditional Christianity has concentrated attention on the thought of God's ‘accomplishing the number of His elect’, treating the rest of creation as stage-setting for the divine drama of their redemption. If to-day, as I believe, we cannot be content with this, but must try to discover what positive ends God is working for in creation as a whole, we are faced by our ignorance of His will and purpose for the future of this world in space and time. It will not do to base our theory on the assumption that it will inevitably be brought to a state of perfection before the end of its history: our exploitation of the destructive possibilities of the energies latent in physical matter remind us that it may have no such future before it. Yet it may be that we shall be preserved from such cosmic catastrophe, and that God wills to crown His creative and redemptive activity with such perfection as is appropriate to spatio-temporal existence.20 This inability to forecast the future is an inescapable puzzle, a question to which no man knows the answer. The acceptance of this ignorance is a standing condition of all our attempts to ‘justify the ways of God to man’.

2. Underlying all other problems, the fundamental problem for all thinkers, whether Christians or not, is that of the relation of time to eternity. If the sequence of events in space and time be the whole of reality, we have no standard by which to determine what is better and what worse, what is progress and what retrogression. There is just one thing after another. If we postulate the existence of an eternally perfect being by reference to which (or to whom) we can judge the events of space and time, we are hard put to it to give any reasonable account of the existence of this universe at all.21 This insoluble problem is the background of the Christian doctrine of creation; from it comes the ultimate antinomy in the Christian doctrine of God.

These two puzzles will be much before us in later lectures, and I will say no more about them now. But before we go further in our search for clues we must consider to what extent, and in what way, we may look for help from the revelation which Christians believe God to have given of Himself.

  • 1.

    Above, Lecture II, pp. 34, 37.

  • 2.

    On this see my Towards a Christian Philosophy, pp. 33 ff.

  • 3.

    Experience and Interpretation (Cambridge, 1953), p. 199.

  • 4.

    The Doctrine of the Atonement (London, 1951), pp. 107 ff.

  • 5.

    St. Luke vi. 29.

  • 6.

    Above, Lecture II, pp. 28, 33.

  • 7.

    Above, Lecture II, p. 24.

  • 8.

    Encheiridion, ix. 29.

  • 9.

    Gal. ii. 20.

  • 10.

    P. Tillich: Systematic Theology, Vol. I (London, 1953), p. 143.

  • 11.

    H. H. Firmer: Revelation and Religion (London, 1954), passim.

  • 12.

    F. E. Underhill: The Young Englishman (London, 1927), pp. 187 ff.

  • 13.

    Quoted from Joan Evans' John Ruskin (London, 1954), p. 313.

  • 14.

    In Flew: Logic and Language, Second Series (Oxford, 1953), p. 185.

  • 15.

    See further below, Lecture VI, pp. 145 ff.

  • 16.

    E. I. Watkin: Poets and Mystics (London, 1953), p. 12. Cp. pp. 14, 15, 81, 86, 203, 265 ff.

  • 17.

    G. Ryle: Dilemmas (Cambridge, 1954), p. 78.

  • 18.

    Op. cit. pp. 102 ff.

  • 19.

    D. M. Emmet: The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (London, 1945), pp. 218–20.

  • 20.

    On this see below, Lecture X, and my The Doctrine of the Atonement (London, 1951), pp. 125 ff.

  • 21.

    On this see my Towards a Christian Philosophy, p. 155.