I have been arguing that we can best make sense of things by thinking in terms of creation. If this be so, there are certain corollaries that call for attention.
To think in terms of creation is to seek for the explanation of whatever exists and happens by asking how it can be seen to fit in with, or, if necessary, be changed to be made to fit in with, the Creator's purpose. We have to observe and study what exists and happens in order to learn from the course of events what it has to teach us of the nature of that purpose. Looking back over the scene in the light of what we have learned of the purpose we gain a deeper understanding of its inner meaning. But whatever understanding we may arrive at, whether of the whole or of its parts in detail, so long as our ultimate explanation is sought for in terms of purpose, we are thinking of the Creator as personal. Let there be no mistake about this. The word ‘purpose’ has no meaning except what it derives from our experience of being able, as persons, to make up our minds and take decisions. How comes it that this is so often overlooked, with so much resulting confusion?
It is due to the combination of a number of factors. There is, first, the natural reluctance of our minds to accept the real existence of irrational elements in this world of space and time, to adjust our categories to deal with scientifically knowable change. We take it for granted that what is rational and dependable is ‘more real’ than what is wayward and chancy. Secondly, our direct experience of the personal is of persons in process of creation, at the stage of transition through freedom (a) and freedom (b) at which we are all still wayward and chancy. It is in two impersonal realms, in those of the ‘causal sequence of things’ and of the logical consistency exemplified in mathematics, that we seem to find the dependableness, the order, the rationality so woefully lacking in our own lives. It is an easy step to the assumption that one or other of these realms is ‘more real’ than the world of our consciously personal activities, ‘to speak as though what appears to be a man's own decisions and purposive acts are really effects of the interaction of ‘inhibitions’ and ‘complexes’ and other similar abstractions which we regard as more real than human volition’.1 As what appears to be a tailor's shop in Oxford or Glasgow may be an outlet for the sale of the wares of a manufacturer of cloth in Leeds, so what appears to be a man or a woman may be an outlet for eruptions from the system of complexes. So much for ourselves. Passing from the microcosm to the macrocosm it is again an easy step to assume that all our interplay of personal life is tragedy or comedy played by strolling players who come and go upon a stage provided by the interaction of more real impersonal forces.
But, thirdly, there is the discovery that, quite apart from conscious human volition, things happen which can only be understood in the light of the ends to which they contribute. Attempts to account for them by reference solely to the causal sequence of things are clearly inadequate: indeed, the causal sequence itself seems to be adapted to the achievement of ends. There must be a purposiveness working itself out both through the system of complexes which finds expression in human behaviour and in the principle of creativity which informs the evolutionary process.
Consider first the psychological form of this hypothesis. We come into existence as persons when we become conscious of ourselves as individuals endowed with freedom (a), when we know in ourselves what it is to be sources of purposive action. As we look back over the earlier history of what has gone to our making, we note the appearance of living creatures who as individuals respond to stimuli with varying degrees of approximation to our condition. When we see a dog showing evident signs of joy at the presence of his master and rendering an obedience that looks as though he felt honoured to receive his commands, we credit him with something more like our own purposive self-consciousness than we attribute to iron filings responding to the attraction of a magnet. As our mind travels down the scale of degrees from the dog who is a member of a human family, though the dogs of Pavlov's experiments and the bluebottle fly who can't rather than won't keep away from the joint of meat, to the iron filings, we attribute less and less of purposiveness to the creatures concerned: they become less and less analogous to ourselves, more and more analogous to the filings.
When we come into existence as persons we become conscious of ourselves as already going concerns, including the characteristics and powers of the preceding stages in our ancestry. What we feel as hunger and thirst and the desire for sexual satisfaction is the way in which we are conscious of physical relationships which at bottom are analogous to the attraction of the filings to the magnet. By the time we become aware of them they have become organized into a system of forces working in and through us, subject matter for the researches of psychologists.
We only really know by experience what is meant by purposive action in so far as we take all this as raw material for our creation and direct it in accordance with our ends. Since ‘nature is conquered by being obeyed’ the value of psychological research lies in the contribution it can make to the effective control of the material for the making of ourselves. When we use language which speaks of the behaviour of dogs, flies, or other creatures down to iron filings as being purposive, we are personifying them after the analogy of ourselves. In varying degrees there may be truth in this; but I find it hard to believe that anything like a system of psychological complexes can rightly be treated as more analogous to the dog or to ourselves than to the filings.
The puzzle presented to us by the universe is this. We only know purpose as originating in the will of a self-conscious person. Yet events which cannot be attributed to any known person happen in such a way as to look purposive to the observer. To my mind the attempt to solve this puzzle by invoking a generalized immanent spirit of purposiveness is as unconvincing a piece of mythology as the panpsychism which regards the universe as made up of a multitude of more or less personified monads.2
On the cosmic scale, those who put their faith in an immanent purposive spirit of creativity seem to me to manifest an essentially similar confusion of thought.3 I can understand the materialist for whom everything happens in a causal sequence in which consciousness and self-consciousness with their ideas of purposiveness occur as epiphenomena. I can understand the idealist for whom the sequence of events expresses the purpose of the eternal Absolute Being in process of self-realization. But the notion of an immanent impersonal purposiveness is a bastard mythology, the illicit offspring of a union between rationality and personality in which neither party has had the courage to get properly married to the other.
While frankly aware of its difficulties, I submit that a genuine doctrine of creation is more able than its rivals—whether materialist, idealist or purposive-impersonal—to assimilate the actual facts of our experience. For the psychologist it means that the forces at work in our personality at the subconscious and unconscious levels exhibit in their behaviour the habits given to them by their Creator as modified by the action of creatures to whom He has given freedom to work with or against Him. They are not to be revered as more real than the conscious personality of the man or woman in whom, by some such method as deep analysis, they are discovered. On the contrary. The ultimate reality is God, the Creator of the raw material out of which He is creating men and women into a community of fully self-conscious persons each perfected in the exercise of freedom. In so far as they grow towards this end, selecting, rejecting, disciplining and developing what is given in the available material and weaving it into the selfhood of their conscious personalities, they receive a fuller measure of the reality which God is giving them according to His method of creation.
If this be so, if all our being is what in less or greater degree we draw from God, then the perfection to which we aspire will be that in which we receive our fullest measure of reality. The more we become fully self-conscious persons, in conscious control of our thoughts, words and deeds, entering into and enjoying personal relations with others like ourselves, the more we approach the fullness of created reality. And God Himself, in so far as for natural theology He reveals Himself in His creation, reveals Himself as personal in that the more fully He gives of His reality to His creatures the more personal they become.
If ever there were a myth that needed to be exploded as not being ‘like the truth’ it is the myth that the impersonal is more real than the personal, that it is more philosophical to speak in impersonal terms, to speak of systems of complexes, of a spirit of creativity, of a deiform universe, of the trend of evolution, of nature with a capital N, than of God creating men and women to be in personal relations with one another and with Himself. Philosophy is the attempt to make sense of the universe of our experience by examining to the best of our ability what actually exists and happens. If as a result we find that the nearer we approach an apprehension of what is ultimately real, the more we need the language of persons and personal relationships to describe it, we must claim for philosophy the right to follow whither the argument leads. When the philosopher means God let him say God, and not go hunting about for some periphrastic impersonal phrase because he thinks it will sound more philosophical.
I am not, I repeat, unaware of the difficulties involved. These difficulties spring from the fundamental mystery of our being, and beset all attempts to make sense of our universe or describe the relation of time to eternity.4 It is true that to stop short at the thought of God creating the universe, to say that it is futile to attempt to go further and discover the metaphysical system in which creator and created are mutually related, that further inquiry must take the form of trying to enter into and understand the mind, will and purpose of the Creator—it is true that this involves what John Laird with apparent good reason has called an impossibility.
There is no possibility of effective partnership or of grounded dependence between a changeless and a changing existent. The implications of this statement are quite general and apply to the relation between a divine unchanging over-world and a secular changing under-world as much as to any other reputed instance.5
We are in a dilemma. On the one horn we can only achieve the logical neatness of a materialist or an idealist metaphysic either by pretending that things are not what they are or by the mythology of impersonal purposiveness. On the other, if we postulate an eternally perfect reality which somehow or other is in relation to a developing universe in process of creation, we have to accept Laird's challenge. In spite of the seriousness of this challenge I believe this second choice to be the right one because it is the more able to accept as being what they are the things and events which as philosophers we set out to try to understand. And if, as I have tried to show, the facts suggest that we should think of the eternal perfect reality as personal, as the Creator who abides unmoved while guiding His universe through its changes, this does somewhat ease the necessity of confessing that all our thinking has to end in the acknowledgment of mystery. It is when we think of God as God, instead of as some ‘power not ourselves’, that we can credibly think of Him as willing to express His omnipotence in giving to His creation an independence which involves for Himself a relative passibility. It is as philosophers philosophizing, not as turning aside to adopt some other role, that we are ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.
But if so, if the end of our natural theology is the acknowledgment of God as personal, then the door is opened to other elements in traditional Christian faith. So long as it was thought to be more philosophical to speak impersonally of powers not ourselves that make for righteousness than of God creating, calling, commanding, punishing and forgiving, to speak of angels seemed to betoken a naively mythological imagery: they, too, had to be depersonalized if a religious man wished to philosophize about his religion. But if men and women are more real than the psychological complexes which go to their making, if all that is sub-personal is created by God as material for the creation of persons, if in God Himself is eternally the fullness of personal life, then to think of the company of heaven as including created personal spirits is a mythology more ‘like the truth’ in the Platonic sense than to think of it as a ballet of bloodless categories or oilier impersonal abstractions. If I go on to think that my idea of angels is like the truth in a sense more than the Platonic, that it gives me a picture of them as they actually exist, I pass beyond what can claim the warrant of natural theology. But so long as I bear that in mind, it is with a clear conscience that as a philosopher I can keep the feast of Michaelmas and lift up my heart to join with angels and archangels in the worship of God. My imagination will be based on thinking in terms which are more like the truth than are any others that are open to me.
The second corollary follows from what was said in the seventh lecture about the meaning of the words material and spiritual.6 If this created universe has the reality which God gives it for the purpose of creating a community of finite good persons; if the material world (i.e., those elements in creation which constitute the causal sequence) be the matrix for the production of free persons and the continuing environment for their exercise of and growth in freedom; if man be not a composite being, a soul made of spirit-stuff encased in a body made of matter-stuff, but a growing unity of ensouled body or embodied soul, a creature growing in self-conscious, intelligent purposive selfhood as the subject of the experiences mediated through his bodily life, then true religion cannot be ‘escapist’ either in the intellectual sense of condemning matter as evil or explaining it away as unreal, or in the practical sense of attempting to ‘seek those things that are above’ by getting out of our bodily life.
I do not wish to deny that God calls some men and women to the ‘religious life’ in the narrower sense of those words, as members, for example, of a contemplative order. This is a special vocation. A healthy university can carry a certain proportion of athletes who ‘barely make the grade’ in their examinations, and of scholars who cannot tell one end of an oar from the other: their contribution to the common life keeps up the general standard both of work and play. So the presence among us of those who concentrate their attention on the life of prayer inspires and strengthens the prayer-life of us all.7 But for most of us the degree of our spirituality is not to be measured by the extent to which we extricate ourselves from our bodily life, but by that to which we make that bodily life the vehicle of our spiritual purpose.
We come into existence as self-conscious subjects of the experiences mediated through our bodily life. Our bodies are the media through which we not only become our individual selves, but also express ourselves. Through them, in this world of space and time, we play our part in the ongoing process of its creation. For our growth in true freedom we need opportunities to forget ourselves in the pursuit of ends that make self-authenticating claims on our devotion.8 If these ends may be summed up in the familiar triad: truth, beauty, goodness, we have to remember that in this world their pursuit must take the form of working for their actualization in things and events in space and time. Neither scholar nor scientist can effectively serve the cause of truth without uttering words in lectures or putting pen to paper for publication in pamphlets, periodicals or books. The artist must strive to embody what he has to express in colours, shapes or sounds. And since the aim of creation can only be fulfilled in a community of persons united through their common devotion to these ends, whatever makes for social welfare and the promotion of brotherhood among men will have its contribution to make. In the industrialized society of our present-day world, when the economic foundations of our common life can only be secured through methods of mass-production and conveyor-belts, the efficient conduct of such operations by men versed in their technicalities may be as spiritual an activity as teaching in a Sunday School.
To grow spiritually, to grow in freedom (b), is to grow in our power to make the material the vehicle and expression of our spiritual purpose. The degree of our spirituality is to be measured by the quality of our life in the flesh. Matter is to be wrestled with as matter, in order that its potentiality as vehicle of the spiritual may be realized. Scientific research, the pursuit of art and learning, industry, commerce, finance, politics and many other similar activities are to be viewed as occasions for the service of God in His creative purpose. In our thinking and teaching about religion we need to beware of the tendency to imagine that God is chiefly (if not only) interested in what a man does in his spare time.
Thirdly, there is something to be said on the difficult subject of providence. Its difficulty is well known. To speak of a situation as ‘providentially meant’ surely implies that it has been brought about by the overruling power of an omnipotent and omniscient God who ‘ordereth all things both in heaven and earth’. How, then, can there be any genuine contingency, any sphere of operation for created freedom?
Once again we are face to face with the fundamental mystery of our being, the mystery of the relation of time to eternity, the mystery which underlies Laird's challenge and produces an antinomy not only in any adequate doctrine of God but in any attempt to make sense of our experience which does not stop short of probing the ultimate questions.9 Once again, as we seek to peer into the baffling mystery, we must be guided by what rays of light shine forth from our study of God's actual revelation of His purpose and method in creation.
In any case the postulate of creation involves a limitation of God's impassibility. In relation to His creatures He can be spoken of in the passive voice, can be said to be obeyed or disobeyed, loved or hated, worshipped or blasphemed. What we have to try to discover from the evidence provided by the actual nature of His creation are the lines on which He has thought fit to assume this limitation. I have tried to show how this evidence favours the view that God's aim is the creation of finite beings endowed with freedom, and that He has given to the created universe the mode of reality required for this purpose. If it be argued that to admit the existence of this mode of reality would be inconsistent with His omniscience, it may be replied that to deny Him the power to create free finite beings would equally be inconsistent with His omnipotence. Confronted by this choice it seems to me reasonable to stand by the evidence and to hold that the limitations He assumes are those relevant to creating the conditions required by His central purpose.
Turning again to that evidence we may note three points: (i) the existence of an order of causal sequence in which whatever purposiveness there may be expresses the will of the Creator or of other personal beings, (ii) the existence of men and women whose decisions and actions constitute a purposive order maintaining itself in a world where their ignorance and inadequate control of the forces of nature involve an element of contingency, and (iii) the occurrence of irrationalities which have to be changed in order to become intelligible. I want to suggest two things. First, in thinking of God's providence in general we must think of Him as exercising His control over His universe in accordance with the ways in which He has actually revealed Himself as doing so. If it is His will to entrust certain of His creatures with responsibility for deciding the course of events in the history of His universe, we must think of Him as acting in ways which will respect their freedom and promote their growth in it.10 Secondly, when in particular we are inquiring whether any situation can usefully be described as ‘providentially meant’ we have to remember that in the first instance the meaning may be a meaning for action.11 It may be that the situation is an irrationality such that no intelligible explanation can be given of it as it stands. Only if the right action be taken will the result become transparent to thought.
This much, at any rate, is relevant to our present discussion as a corollary of the postulate of creation. What more I have to say on the subject of providence belongs to next year's series of lectures.12
The evidence suggests that the aim of the creative process is to be a community of persons perfected in that goodness which is the expression of perfect freedom. This aim is as yet very far from being attained. We may well ask what prospect there is of its ever being reached and, if so, whether from the actual nature of the universe we can gain any indication of when, where, or how.
These questions concern the destinies both of individual persons and of the universe as a whole. It follows from the argument of my seventh and eighth lectures that we cannot ignore the former and content ourselves with the vision of an earthly paradise to be enjoyed by our successors at some dim distant future date. At first sight such a prospect might seem to embody the Christian ideal of humility and self-abnegation: how, it might be asked, could this better be expressed than in the devoting of one's life to the attainment of a bliss which only others will enjoy?
We have already had occasion to notice that as a matter of fact practice based on this theory is most characteristic of those who have no faith in the Christian revelation of God's love and care for every individual man and woman.13 The point now to be stressed is that whether we are considering Christian theology or (as at present) natural theology in general, our primary task is to try to discover what God reveals Himself to be being and doing. Its effect upon ourselves is a secondary question: we start at the wrong end if we argue from what we think will be good for us.
Without drawing on the Christian revelation of God's loving care for His creatures, there is in the nature of the universe as we have been studying it evidence that its Creator must be thought of as having a care for the perfection of individual human selves. The evolutionary process, conditioned by its spatio-temporal character to be an individualizing process, issues in the production of individualized self-conscious persons growing in selfhood through the exercise of freedom. With this individuality of personal selfhood there comes a uniqueness of individual value. Whereas at the sub-human level the individual creature (unless adopted to share in human society) may be regarded as an interchangeable organ for keeping alive the species from generation to generation, a man has it in him to become a person whose value lies in the uniqueness of the combination of qualities in himself. Here in this life, from our experience of our imperfection, we gain some idea of what our perfection might be, and it is clear that if the whole process which has gone to our making is to come to a successful conclusion, this will mean the perfection of ourselves as ourselves and not as merging in a oneness in which our own selfhood is absorbed and lost. No one of us has as yet reached this perfection.
We are trying to make sense of what actually happens. It surely makes nonsense of the whole creative process if we think that through countless ages it moves towards the production of a certain kind of creature, and then, when at last such creatures appear, leaves the making of them incomplete. Some kind of belief in the continuance of personal life after death seems to me to be necessary to make sense of what in the past has gone to the production of us human beings in our present condition. It will not be on this earth in space and time that we shall know what it is to enjoy to the full the glorious liberty of the children of God.
We have pictured the evolutionary process as God communicating to His creation in increasing measure the fullness and richness of being which He wills to give it, and bringing it to the stage at which He is interested in the growth of individual persons. Now I am arguing that this interest must be thought of as continuing beyond their life in the sphere in which they are open to our observation as material which we are trying to understand. This raises a whole host of questions. Are all men and women to pass on through death to this further stage of growth? If not, on what grounds is the selection to be made? Is this world, this whole universe, only of importance as a crucible for the manufacture and extraction of immortal souls? Is it of no concern to God whether we make of the earth's surface a garden or leave it to be a squalid patch of weeds? Are all attempts to fashion our social life after the pattern of the City of God a Utopian distraction from our true task of preparing ourselves for the life of the world to come?
These are questions to which, in our present state of knowledge, it seems to me impossible to give an answer. There are, of course, those who, having no belief in God or life after death, pin their faith on the prospect of a far-off age when by progress in the sciences, the arts, and increasingly enlightened humanitarianism, peace and harmony will prevail among men and women enjoying a high degree of civilized culture in an earthly paradise. Their picture, as I have just tried to show, ignores the individualizing character of the evolutionary process. Moreover, so far as we can understand a world of space and time in which inevitably things change and pass, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine it reaching a state of perfection which will exhibit such self-authenticating goodness that in it we find the goal of our intellectual quest, that both of itself and of the process which has led up to it we shall cease to ask why they should be so. On the other hand, it is in and among the things of this world that we learn to discriminate between those of less and greater value. We may see this, perhaps, most clearly in the sphere of the arts, where things of eternal worth find embodiment in sounds and shapes and colours. But not only in the arts. Where a machine is intelligently designed and accurately and well made so as efficiently to perform a function useful to human civilization; where a school or a college, an industrial undertaking or a municipality is organized and conducted so as both to provide a good life for those within it and to work for the benefit of the larger community to which it belongs—here and elsewhere within creation we have to recognize things which cannot be treated merely as means towards the manufacture of immortal souls. They may have their part to play in that process, but meanwhile they demand our interest and respect as being good in themselves for what they are here and now. We cannot join the Utopians, but neither can we fly to the opposite pole and ally ourselves with those fanatics who care for none of these things. In increasing measure God is communicating to His creation fullness and richness of being: if here and there He enables it to produce, in such measure as is possible under conditions of space and time, things which embody and manifest eternal values, it is for us to share His interest and His delight in them.
Whatever there may be of this nature is seldom, if ever, free from imperfections of its own, and exists in a world in which there is much evil, much that God can take no delight in. What prospect is there of such growth in what is good at the expense of what is evil that the time will come when God shall look upon the whole of His creation and see that it is good? And what will it be like if it is still this spatio-temporal universe, with this world of men and women in it?
I can see no way of answering such questions. Responsible philosophers and theologians must leave them to the writers of science fiction. When we are dealing with events of the present and the past, observation and historical study can give us material for the exercise of our minds. We can reflect upon what has been and what is going on; we can try to discover whether there is any meaning or purpose in it. We may reasonably discuss what is likely to happen in what may be called the foreseeable future. But when we try to look ahead into the more distant reaches of things to come, we enter into the realm where Platonic myths are the order of the day. If the writers of Genesis had to deal in this way with the lost but potentially recoverable history of the past, how can we expect to be better placed in respect to the as yet undecided contingencies of the future? Those of us who have grown up in the apparently permanent security of the horse-drawn Victorian era, who have passed from a scientific outlook based on Newtonian physics through the relativity of Einstein to the dawning of the atomic age, will be the last to attempt dogmatically to define the limits of what changes may be ahead.
Once again we must take it that the immediate meaning of things as they are is a meaning for action, for action which must be taken if the pattern of things to come is to be disclosed. If we have discovered that we are made for growth in freedom, and that this growth comes by devotion to those ends of eternal value which can be embodied and expressed in things of earth, we have light enough to walk by, walking in the faith that by so doing we may be opening doors to fuller knowledge and deeper understanding for thinkers yet unborn.
In my third lecture I tried to set before you some of the puzzles which to my mind demand the attention of a Gifford lecturer. I mentioned (i) the apparent absence of logical consistency among principles of right action, (ii) the question of the ultimate destiny of those who live and die with no belief in God, (iii) the variety of moral codes acknowledged at different times and in different places, (iv) the difficulty of explaining one's acceptance of positions which, while coherent and intelligible in themselves, appear incompatible when looked at together, (v) speculation concerning the probable future history of this world, and (vi) the mystery of the relation of time to eternity. It is now time to look back over the course as a whole and ask whether I have been able to throw any light on these puzzles.
Already in this lecture I have said as much as I can about the last two of them. The first, third and fourth are variations on a single theme, the necessity of recognizing in this universe the existence of irrational elements which have to be changed in fact in order to become intelligible to thought. It is in order to make sense of a universe which contains these elements that I have been led to the postulate of a creative activity which demands for its study the methodology of a science of knowable change. When in this way we try to study the actual process of creation, observed (as I have put it) ‘at the receiving end’,14 we find that we ourselves are in the midst of it, that among the irrationalities are the various forms of evil, and that our creation into persons is coincident with the tackling of them as among the things which have to be changed. One form of evil is ignorance and error. I suggested in my fifth lecture that the history of human thought is the history of God making Himself known to man through minds conditioned by the outlook of their time and place.15 If we set this in the context of all that I have said later about the will to create genuinely free persons as being central to God's purpose, we can, I think, begin to see how the illogicalities we took note of may fall into place as incidental to that purpose.
There remains my second puzzle which was stated in the form of a question about the ultimate destiny of those who live and die with no belief in God. In so far as it questioned the consistency of traditional Christian teaching about the ground of our hope of a future life with God's revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ, it belongs to next year's course of lectures. But it will be in order here to say something on the general question whether different men and women may rightly be thought of as on the way to different destinies.
I have been arguing that our hope of a future life is grounded in the conviction that the creative process would make nonsense of itself if it stopped short of fulfilling the end for which it has been individualizing human beings as persons. Our individualization is due to our coming into existence as the self-conscious subjects of experiences mediated through particular bodies. When we are born, our individualization as persons is far from complete; indeed, it is only beginning. For a long time we are for the most part creatures moved by the inherited habits of the race working through us. We have to become persons by taking charge of the running of our own lives.
If we come into existence, and continue to exist, as the self-conscious subjects of the experiences mediated through our bodies, what ground have we for thinking that when these bodies perish we shall be able to go on existing without them, each of us as himself or herself? That is the form in which we have to pose the question of the possibility of continued life after death.
To begin with, the body is not only the means of our individualization; it is our bond of unity. As self-conscious subjects we find ourselves drawn in different directions by different instincts, passions, interests and ideals, so much so that sometimes (to quote what I have written before) ‘when the day is done, and we look back over it, and see this creature dragged hither and thither by this interest and that, we may well ask ‘Which of these things is the real I? Am I really anyone at all?’’16 The only bond of connection between the various selves that I have shown myself to be in the course of the day is the fact that in all of them I have been the subject of the experiences that have come to me through my body, and responsible for the actions done in that body. What ground can I have for hoping that with the disintegration of the body that holds together what there is of me on earth, I shall not be disintegrated with, it, shall be able to hold myself together as a self by some independent inner principle of coherence?
It seems to me reasonable to think of this life as giving us the opportunity to develop such an inner principle of coherence. Let it be granted that to begin with, as the self-conscious subjects of the experiences of our bodies, we are, each of us, an uncoordinated tangle of heterogeneous impulses, instincts, interests and what not. We are here for the purpose of growing in freedom, and this growth comes by devotion to those ends whose service brings increase of self-control. This achievement of self-control is a unifying activity. It involves the subordination of some of our passions, desires and interests to the requirements of those which we make central and dominant; it implies the development of a personality with a definite character of its own.
It is true of our bodies that their growth depends on their receiving sustenance from the world around. If we have good food and drink and breathe good air we are healthy; without these, or if they are bad, we are weakly, or sick, or we die. So, too, with the inner life of our self-conscious, personal selves. In literature and the other arts we are accustomed to discriminate between works of enduring value and what I may, perhaps, describe as ephemeral trash. If, as I have earlier suggested, the enduring works are the embodiment in things of earth of eternal values, is it fantastic to suppose that the man who nourishes his mind on what is of eternity thereby helps to create a self which is not entirely dependent on the body but shares to some extent in the eternity on which it feeds? If there is anything in this suggestion, it cannot be limited to the sphere of the arts, or of the things of the mind in the narrower sense of that phrase. It would clearly be absurd to regard immortality as a prerogative of aesthetic or intellectual prowess. In the whole conduct of life there is the same distinction to be recognized between what is ephemeral and what of eternal import. ‘There came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.’17 There, surely, we see a comparable laying hold on eternal life.
Here, then, are three grounds on which we may base the hope of a future life: the creative process requires it for its fulfilment and provides us with opportunities both for self-unification and for nourishing our growing selves on elements of eternal value. This suggests that all are not moving alike to the same destiny. If our hope depends on our making use of our opportunities, the more convinced we are that to make us genuinely free is at the heart of God's creative purpose, the more we have to reckon with the fact that we may throw away our opportunities, may either dissipate our selfhood in wayward pursuit of ephemeral trivialities or take some evil interest to be the principle of our self-unification.
This seems to me to be as far as we can get as a matter of natural theology, if that term is taken to mean the study of the universe in general without taking into account the evidence provided by the Christian revelation. But this use of the term, though taken for granted in the days when Lord Gifford made his will, is no longer adequate. I have argued in my fourth and fifth lectures that what I call the Christian revelation should not be thought of as a system of divinely communicated truths to be accepted on authority as a complement to what we can learn by our own study of what actually exists and happens. It comes by taking certain events in the history of the world as of unique and supreme significance for our understanding of all things. This involves, indeed, the seeing of these events with the eye of faith. But so do all attempts at making sense of the universe of our experience. For the Christian to try to interpret it with the historic Christ as his key to its understanding is as much a matter of natural theology as for a Marxist to take as his key the interplay of economic forces.
In my second lecture I spoke much of how human thought progresses by the interaction of categories and evidence. Sometimes the categories have to be revised; sometimes the evidence has to be reconsidered. If all goes well, the result is a gain on both sides: as the categories grow in comprehensiveness and accuracy there comes deeper insight into and fuller understanding of the reality underlying the evidence. If God reveals Himself both in general in His creative activity as a whole and in particular in His redemptive activity in Christ, then we may expect a similar mutual benefit to come from seeking to relate to one another the general and the particular. In this part of my course we have been studying the general. I have been trying to show that this study gives us reason to believe that the universe springs from and expresses the creative will of God, and that we can find a meaning and purpose for our own lives by thinking of them as given us for growth in freedom. This study of God's revelation of Himself in general gives us the categories with which in my second series of lectures we shall approach the evidence for what Christians believe to be His revelation of Himself in particular.
Towards a Christian Philosophy, p. 23.
Above, Lecture VII, p. 154.
E.g., Miss Jacquetta Hawkes, in the last chapter of her Man on Earth (London, 1954). Miss Hawkes' understanding of the evolutionary process as a whole is very much akin to my own, but we part company in our beliefs about what makes it move.
See above, Lectures III, p. 68; VI, pp. 133 ff.
Theism and Cosmology (London, 1940), p. 163.
Lecture VII, pp. 164 ff.
I have a vivid recollection of a discussion group in which one member was maintaining that contemplative orders were out of place in the Christian Church; true Christian faith must find expression in active benevolence. There was a pause, broken by the voice of Dr. Clement Webb: ‘I cannot believe that the world would have been better if Keats had been a philanthropist.’
Above, Lecture VIII, p. 203.
Above, Lecture VI, p. 133.
See above, Lecture VIII, p. 184.
See above, Lecture VIII, p. 181.
See also my Towards a Christian Philosophy, ch. vi.
Above, Lecture VIII, p. 184.
Lecture VII, p. 153.
Lecture V, p. 115.
The Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 184.
St. Mark xii. 42.