The Sceptical Objections to Enquiry in Religion Stated and Examined
In all secular matters we make the best use we can of the intelligence.
THE main purpose of our first lecture was to advocate enquiry in matters of religious faith and experience. In any other field of man's interests nothing could be less necessary. Whatever may be the relation between man's knowledge and conduct and between his conduct and his well-being enquiry is regarded as the way to knowledge in temporal matters. The nature and extent of man's knowledge is a clue to the range of his practical achievements and as a rule a necessary condition of his prosperity. In fact ignorance is a doubtful and insecure bliss and error a treacherous ally. It cannot be denied that with our best efforts we often fail to arrive at the truth. There seems to be in every least fact a baffling “beyond”; although in truth the “beyond” means room to press forward and is an invitation to come still nearer the fact. Nevertheless even if the findings of our intelligence are always incomplete and often insecure we do not condemn its activities as a whole nor do we subordinate it to any other authority. Its failures are turned into occasions for a more full and severe use of its methods. However defective our intellectual powers may be we deem it best to make the best use of them that we can.
I dare say you have observed in the next place that in every investigation of every kind—whether in our scientific laboratories or in our Courts of Law or in our commercial dealings or in our social activities—whenever we want the truth and nothing but the truth we endeavour to secure conditions under which the operations of the intelligence are not hindered. So far from appealing to feeling we desire a light that is “clear” and “calm.” We observe generalize judge reason; and however deeply our feelings may be disturbed or enlisted we try to prevent them from assuming the role of witnesses. Of course our emotions have their own place and value but we refrain from attributing to them the functions of the intelligence as well as their own.
The timid use of enquiry in religious matters on the part of believers.
Now the question arises and we cannot pass it by why is the attitude of many able sincere and even devout men different towards Religion? For you will I believe agree with me that there is no great practical interest where the uses of the intelligence are so little esteemed. The mind of these times it is true is not disturbed by Aggressive Scepticism as it was in the time of “Darwin and Huxley and other woodenheaded philosophers” as I heard an old Scottish parish minister call these splendid men. Agnosticism has also lost much of its charm now that Natural Science has recognized the limits of its task. Nor again is it a low estimate of Religion that arrests the agnostic's enquiry. It is the conviction that of Religion only one thing can be known namely that we cannot know whether the central articles of its faith are true or not. So even good and thoughtful men put the question on one side just as if the truth or falsity of religious faith were no very urgent matter. They assent to things they only half believe and reject things they have never earnestly examined. The attitude is that of relative indifference—the most dangerous of all I think; for it is the unlooked-for evils that always work most havoc.
On the other hand the trust in exceptional or miraculous Revelation at least in the Protestant world is far less strong and general than it was forty years ago. Intelligent people have begun to think that all human history or none of it is sacred—a revelation of a Will to Good that cannot fail; and they also believe that the unvarying and universal order of the world of things may be a more sure and inspiring Revelation than any occasional interruption of that order. Moreover the age is far less tolerant of dogma in every department of life—economic social political as well as religious—and often prefers to trust its own hasty ignorance. It welcomes the “Sciences” of these departments rickety as they often are. But while the very minds which are most thickly encrusted with the crass stupidity of a merely economic outlook and believe that lucre is wealth have discovered the profitable use of Natural Science; the need the use or even the possibility of a Science of Religion is doubted.
In the next place there are religious men who have lost much of their reverence for “ready-made” truths and in their assemblies would relax or multiply the meanings of the creeds—a thing not worthy of that noble class of men which the Scotch clergy is. But as yet they give too little evidence of a desire to make the Articles of their Creed starting-points of enquiry by the usual methods of growing knowledge. There is little enterprise in their theology and their science is the only one that has its face turned towards the past and whose doctrines must be static. They do not welcome the severe operations of the enquiring observing discriminating generalizing judging reasoning intellect after the manner of the sciences that grow. These laboursome operations by which mankind guides all the rest of life's experiments are held to have a secondary and even a doubtful value in religion. There are we are told easier means at the hands of the religious and these means are supposed to lead to results which cannot be questioned. For these results come of themselves “from above” while the believer is simply a passive and grateful recipient; or they come by way of the emotions; or again they issue from immediate labourless perception and are products of the power of “intuition” of which every individual has his own private stock and whose results however inconsistent are always true for him. If all this is so why should we turn to the toilsome methods of scientific enquiry or the still severer ways of philosophic reflection? Let us wait till the intuitive moment comes. Or if any tenets of our religion seem doubtful let us ask our “hearts”; and if the heart as well as the head doubts then we must resolve to believe the doctrines in spite of them both. The free use of the intellect—“free-thinking” as it was called—is perhaps not now a sin but one would certainly gather that fettered-thinking is devoutness. We do not use the same terms to-day: the “Rationalist” is now a person who may be respected. But his successor the “Intellectualist” is an object of scorn to those who I suppose are otherwise equipped.
Appeal from truths to values.
I must later examine the counter-claims of these substitutes for intelligence quite closely. At present I turn for a moment to another alleged characteristic of our times. According to a very charming repentant Rationalist the one marked advance of the new spirit of the times “is the substitution of emotional values for intellectualized ideals.” It is being discovered that “natural religion is emotional rather than intellectual in origin is based not on mistaken theory but on certain individual and especially social reactions; that the province of religion is in a word not truth or falsehood not mistaken ideals but values.” What the relation may be between truths and values is left somewhat obscure and it is not easy to suppress such questions as the following even though their origin be the intelligence. Does emotion originate anything? Or is it not itself an after-glow of right or wrong apprehension and of evaluation? Is the value of the emotions independent of their relation to facts? Does it not matter for religion whether in truth there is or there is not a God provided you feel as if there were a God? Is it of no consequence whether he is a God who loves or a God who hates provided you have certain emotions? Are some emotions to be approved and others condemned? If so on what grounds except that they are agreeable or disagreeable? Have any emotions any moral or spiritual value in themselves? What or who is to judge these matters and by what standard if you cast out reason and regard truth as irrelevant? Are religious emotions possible except in virtue of intellectual apprehension? And is there any apprehension except in virtue of all the powers of mind?
It is not meant by those who hold this view of value that religion is irrational or that its contents are not valid. But the cause and the proof of their validity and worth lie elsewhere. The ultimate appeal they say is to our sense of worth not to reason and its processes of observing conceiving judging and inferring. The satisfaction of reason is one thing to them the satisfaction of the self is another. Mere truth can satisfy the former. But that satisfaction is incomplete and superficial for truth is only one aspect of the good and consists of mere ideas. It is only “the good” real and concrete that can satisfy the self: and the heart is the essential self. They do not reckon that we have reached the man when only his intellect concurs. Nothing touches the self except that which penetrates and possesses the heart; and it is from the heart that man's volitions and character spring. They have thus no doubt as to which is the higher authority or whether it is the dictates of the reason or of feeling that good men will obey if they happen to disagree.
This view which subordinates the true to the Good (good consisting in the emotional satisfaction it brings) we find in Lotze. I refer to it because it is being revived more or less by some recent writers on philosophy. Lotze in his Preface to his Microcosmus says:
Lotze's view of truth.
“If the object of all human investigation were but to produce in cognition a reflection of the world as it exists1
of what value would be all its labour and pains which could result only in vain repetition in an imitation within the soul of that which exists without it? What significance could there be in this barren rehearsal?” “Taking truth as a whole we are not justified in regarding it as a mere self-centred splendour.” “Views must justify themselves by the permanent or increasing satisfaction which they are capable of affording to those spiritual demands which cannot be put off or ignored.”2
It does not seem to have occurred to Lotze that Good isolated from Truth would be just as empty and illusory. But I postpone at least for the present all criticism of this view—with one remark. Is there any other province of life in which you would make the validity of an idea depend on the satisfaction it brings?
Causes of the distrust of the intellect in religious matters.
I must now ask a more fundamental question and turn to the central issue. We must find if we can what the reason is for thus ascribing a subordinate part to the intellect in matters of religion and practically nowhere else. Let us state the case of those who hold this view as fairly as we can. They might say that it is because religion stands by itself as a human experience. The facts the data on which man employs his powers in religion are entirely different from all others. The central fact of religious experience is that it and it alone implies the direct relation of man to a divine being that is to say to an object that is in every sense perfect. And the intellect we are told can neither reach nor comprehend such an object. Religion reaches over to what is beyond the finite and secondary and temporal to that which is infinite and absolute. It occupies the region of the things that are unconditional i.e. of those whose value and validity lie in themselves alone. Everywhere else objects derive their meaning and their worth from their relations to one another. Their relations their interactions are their qualities. Hence neither the meaning nor the value of an object by itself—if you could find one—is ever complete and satisfying. To explain anything you say that it does this to or suffers this from other things. Man does well to deal with these things by means of his ratiocinating faculties creeping around from fact to fact. But in religion man must attain his object at first leap or not at all. The religion that comes by inference as a conclusion from finite premisses can have neither value nor validity beyond such premisses. It is based upon and therefore assimilated to and infected by the temporal interests of a limited life.
What shall we say to this? When the time comes I shall try to show that the “infinite” which is unintelligible is no true infinite but a thoroughly confused notion. Meantime one thing at least is clear. That for which Lord Gifford stipulated cannot be unreservedly granted. To accede at once to his wish “that the lecturers should treat their subject as a strictly natural Science…just as astronomy or chemistry is” were to proceed on assumptions that are admitted neither by Sceptics nor by Agnostics nor by many religious believers.
Modern science and its discovery of its own limitations.
Moreover the Science of to-day recognizes this. At least it does not show the same alacrity as formerly in applying uniform methods everywhere and to everything. Natural science has ceased to issue decrees on spiritual matters. It has recognized that its own domain as natural science is limited to natural facts. How far it is on the way to a further discovery that as natural science it is limited to natural facts minus their relations to man's mind and spirit is a bigger question and I venture to say a more vital one for both Science and Religion. At any rate so far from supporting the Agnosticism or Naturalism of last century Natural Science now leaves the spiritual field comparatively clear for the theologian and the philosopher.
Idealism and Mysticism.
It is philosophical Idealism
that mainly insists on the immanence
of spiritual principles in natural facts and therefore on the comprehensibility of religious truths. But it seems to bring some unexpected consequences. Professing to bring out more fully the spiritual implications—that is the deepest meaning—of natural facts Idealism has succeeded as some think only in rendering spiritual facts themselves mysterious and in once more exposing the limits of reason. Such Idealism we are told tends to Mysticism. “Mysticism in practice”we are told “is the necessary correlative of immanence in theology.” And “the mystic conception of religion” is said to appeal “more and more strongly to the younger generation.” “Most significant” (says a recent writer) “even among Anglicans who not so long ago boasted themselves Protestants sacraments are felt to be of more spiritual value than sermons; not I think because they embody any savage and obsolete magical efficacy but because they stand for a mystical communion.” And “the mystic feeling himself a part of his God is rid of all his asking.” Reason may come in but only “to analyse and confirm.” Even “great apostles of reason” such apparently as Mr. Bertrand Russell “plead for creative impulse as the supreme value.”3
And it is only a cynic who would reply that the distrust of reason on their part is not surprising.
The ambiguous position of Protestantism.
Now without pretending to agree in all respects with these estimates of our time I must admit that the issue between those who trust and those who deny or limit the uses of natural reason in religion is becoming more clear. The choice of those who are interested in religion must be decisive. In particular the ambiguous position which Protestantism has hitherto occupied is becoming more and more untenable. Protestantism generally must either follow the alleged example of Anglicanism or it must maintain unreservedly that religion not only cannot but ought not to satisfy the heart of man and control his emotions and will unless it also satisfies the intelligence. Protestantism has appealed to Caesar and to Caesar it must go. It has affirmed the Right of private Judgment in religion it must establish that right and satisfy the intelligence. And the intelligence cannot and ought not to be satisfied except by a faith whose truth is intrinsic and recognized as such. And the truth which is intrinsic is valid irrespective of when or how or by whom it is uttered. It is objective it is present in the facts as their meaning waiting there to be set free by the operations of reason ready to spring into existence in the form of convictions which are at once authoritative and free. It is not only objective but it is also universal. It is there for every mind that can seize it; and it satisfies every mind. And it is all the more satisfying to the individual's heart all the more powerful to inspire and guide his conduct all the more personal subjective and intimate in that it is necessarily true for every intelligence and an exposition of the actual reality of things.
The demands of the adventure of the religion of freedom.
Can the religious world rise to the height of this adventure of seeking it? On the answer to this question I believe depends all that is best for mankind. There is no other way to secure the fundamental condition of happiness and virtue. That condition is freedom. Man is not free if he acts in obedience to necessities which he does not value and choose and he cannot either value or choose except amongst things that he apprehends and in the degree in which he comprehends. The choice of the unknown is impossible and his obedience to it is not the obedience of a rational being. And it has no merit. He cannot fully obey he cannot dedicate himself to the service of the Best if he is not free. To give himself he must first own himself. Hence I make no apology for entering more fully into this question of the rights and the obligations of the intelligence in the domain of religion or in other words of the possibility and nature and value of a science of religion. Let us look yet more closely into the case of those who deny that possibility admitting every jot and tittle of truth it may contain.
Why the possibility of a science of religion is desired.
It must be admitted in the first place that the question of scientific method does depend as is maintained upon the nature of the facts to be comprehended. Hence if or in so far as religious facts differ from secular facts they must be treated in a different way. That the facts of a science determine the method of science we have been all too slow to learn and to take to heart: especially in its bearing upon the methods of the natural sciences and of the sciences of man—such as ethics politics logic. The sciences of man to-day are hindered by problems which not only seem but are insoluble and it has not been realized that they ought never to be asked and never would be asked if we did not bring to the field presuppositions and methods which belong to another field. The key that opens one lock will spoil another. Presuppositions which would be valid of a merely natural object will only distort the facts about objects which are natural and more. A merely physical chemical or physiological account of man might be admirable if he did not think fall into errors and arrive at truths do what is wrong and sometimes what is right. After all man somehow seems to be more than a collection of material particles or an ingenious machine or even an instinctive beast. And this “seeming” must be accounted for. The natural sciences need not be held as alien or even irrelevant to the enquiry as to the nature of man and the meaning of his life. On the contrary it is well to remember that however “spiritual” man's nature may be it appears to us to exist and act only in virtue of its relation to natural facts. Whatever more human nature may be it is one of these; but to ignore the fact that it is more is a ruinous error. However much modern science and philosophy may insist on the continuity of that which is real and deny any break between the physical and the mental or moral (or metaphysical) a living and a thinking thing seems to act in ways different from other material compounds.
Natural Science can at least deal with only the natural aspect of the real.
If it be true that “the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile and that poetry is a product of the smaller intestines” then we must change our notions of the brain and liver and intestines. They turn into thinkers and poets under our very hands if they do these things; and we must give them credit for it and not call them dead matter any more. So long as the ruling conceptions of the physical sciences retain their present limitations they cannot explain mental phenomena even if they are illusions. A complete mathematical account of man giving the sum of the atoms that make him up reducing his shape into geometrical figures and giving the theoretical mechanics of his muscular and nervous contortions would leave much out; and it would not give a complete or true account even of his physical changes. Would we know man at all if we only knew him as a physical apparatus or chemical compound?
It must either omit the spiritual aspect or discern that only what is spiritual can have spiritual functions.
The quantitative method has limits to its use beyond which it will not enlighten; so have the physical the chemical the biological the physiological and even the psychological. And that which imposes the limit is always the same. It is the abstraction of the sciences their dealing not with facts in their fulness but with selected aspects of them or (if this saying be hard) with facts some of whose relations have been omitted; and above all I believe their relation to the ultimate principle of what is real and true.
From Science to Philosophy.
One of the most striking and eventful characteristics of recent scientific thinkers is their discovery of and acquiescence in the limitations of their task. They do not pretend as they did in the last quarter of the last century to relate their facts to ultimate principles. That enterprise they leave to the philosopher who has no option but to seek THE True and THE Good—traveller as he is on an endless way. And the restraint of the natural sciences is bringing its rich reward as Kant indicated nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. They are now progressive. They are advancing steadily in the compass and in the security of their results. But philosophy is always turning back upon its own footsteps and quite rightly. Like religion it is at all times seeking to know and to apply the criterion of final truth and value. For the necessities of man as an intelligent being are the same as those of man as a moral and religious being in this respect: he can find rest only in the Whole. Nothing but the Infinite which illuminates every item of finitude can satisfy either his intelligence or his desires. And we do not arrive at Wholeness as that which is self-sufficient self-determining and self-explanatory till we arrive at the philosophy which is true and a religion which has valid worth.