You are here

Part I: The Transcendence of the Immanent

Lecture II: The Tension Between Philosophy and Religion

We have been led to conceive Natural Theology as that philosophical discipline which pursues enquiries into the true nature and general validity of Religion, making use of the actual religions of mankind to assist it in this enquiry, and setting Religion as a whole, and therefore also each religion in particular, in the context of our knowledge and understanding of the universe. The changed mental attitude which has been noticed and commended only affects this conception so far as it envisages Natural Theology as drawing on the contents of what purports to be Revealed Religion, and regarding these as an important part of the data into which enquiry must be made. There is no doubt, for example, that millions of human beings have believed the creed: “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the prophet of God”. Natural Theology does not say that this creed must therefore be accepted as true, or the whole fabric of philosophy so schemed as to include it and to be in harmony with it. But Natural Theology must say that here is one of the major facts in the actual religious history of mankind, and an enquiry into the nature of religion must take account of it, and of other similar beliefs.

But this closer relationship between Natural Theology and the actual religions of men does not of necessity lead to a greater friendliness. Closer intercourse may be a cause of greater friction. While actual Religion needs the services of Natural Theology for its purgation, it can hardly be expected to welcome them with cordiality.

So long as Natural Theology was concerned mainly with proofs of the Being of God, the devotees of Religion in its various forms could afford to pay scanty attention. The traditional proofs might be declared valid: well and good; Religion welcomed a new support. Or they might be declared invalid; less well, no doubt, but still well enough; for worshippers were not led to their belief or practice by any of those proofs. Nothing would be serious except a formal disproof of the Being of God, and that was not forthcoming. To deny the validity of an argument does not trouble any man unless in fact he had relied upon that argument.

But when secular thought began to offer an alternative account of facts for which any religion was supposed to offer an account of its own, a conflict between that religion and the secular thought of the day was inevitable. Thus it came about that Darwin’s alternative explanation of the Origin of Species stirred up a great deal of excitement in the religious world, while Hume’s fundamental scepticism had stirred but little. Darwin’s hypothesis was in fact compatible with all that is of religious importance in the Biblical account of Creation and of the Fall, whereas Hume’s philosophy is not compatible with any rational faith of any kind. But Hume’s scepticism touched faith at a point where faith knew that it was in origin non-rational, and it confined itself to agnosticism; it did not positively invade the sphere of faith, except so far as Miracles are within that sphere; and by a curious paradox the discounting of Hume on account of his general scepticism seems also to have been taken as discrediting his very formidable argument against Miracle. Darwin’s version of evolution, on the other hand, invaded a province which faith had until that time regarded as its own.

The same point may be made with reference to the recent developments of Psychology and of the Comparative Study of Religions. Here the beliefs and practices of the adherents of a particular religion, who hold those beliefs and follow those practices in obedience to a supposed Revelation, are accounted for by reference to general tendencies of the human mind and are set side by side with the beliefs and practices of others who have not received, or even have repudiated, that supposed Revelation. This at first is very disconcerting, and certainly calls for a rather fundamental readjustment of mental attitude. The impression is created that what had been regarded as the foundation of religious life was after all an unnecessary hypothesis. The attitude of non-religious thought ceases to be hostile to religion, and becomes contemptuously indifferent—a more insidious form of attack. The declaration of the young free-thinkers of the Congress of Liege in 1865 went to the heart of the matter: “Science does not deny God; she goes one better, she makes Him unnecessary.”1

Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century religious people in Western Europe had the feeling that this was happening over the whole area of religious interest. There had been no occasion to determine the proper relations between Religion and Science, and Science seemed to occupy one region after another. Was there any place left for God?

Now though the tension and friction arose through the impingement of particular sciences upon particular religious beliefs, yet the real ground for it lay in the very nature of Religion and Science themselves. It is necessary therefore to go back to those more general considerations about which there was less bitterness of controversy, because they underlie the questions on which bitter controversy has occurred.

There are two main factors in the tension between Philosophy and Religion: the first is the identity of the province in which each claims supremacy; the second is the complete opposition in their method of dealing with it resulting from a difference of aim. For Philosophy seeks knowledge for the sake of understanding, while Religion seeks knowledge for the sake of worship. The province claimed by both is the entire field of human experience. No one doubts this in the case of Philosophy; its attention may be directed at any one time to some one department of experience; but it always holds itself free to follow the argument into any other department where matter relevant to its enquiry may be found. And so far as philosophers aim at constructing philosophic systems, their aim is to include the governing principles of every department in one coherent synthesis.

In the case of Religion, universality of scope is not always recognised. This is due to the fact that the concern of Religion is different with different departments of experience, not because there are some with which it has no concern at all. No one in the modern western world disputes the proposition that Religion is concerned with Ethics. Here its concern is practical as well as, perhaps more than, theoretical. It sometimes purports to give direction to ethics; sometimes it provides added inducements for ethical behaviour; sometimes it offers actual power to respond to ethical obligation; or it may do all of these at once. The relation of Religion to Physics is totally different. Here it certainly does not offer direction or inducements, and can only be said to offer power so far as the peace of mind which it occasions may facilitate concentration and integrity of thought. Yet it insists that the Laws which physical science discovers are expressions of the mind of God, and is ready to offer resistance at once if, on the basis of Physics, a proposal is made to dispense with all reference to God in what claims to be a complete interpretation of the universe.

Between these two limiting instances fall various grades of concern on the part of Religion with aspects of the world as they are studied by the different sciences. Biology comes nearer to Religion than Physics comes; and there are ideas easily suggested by some biological theories which Religion would be bound to resist. But these do not lie within the field of Biology itself; they may be illustrated by a familiar version of Determinism often associated with the doctrine of Natural Selection in that neo-Darwinian form of it which is supported by Weissmann and his school. That, as a complete account of human nature, Religion would be bound to resist. Such resistance involves no claim to dictate conclusions to the science of Biology, for Determinism is a theory outside the limits of that science. Broadly speaking, the attitude of Religion to Biology is the same as to Physics. It has nothing to say to Biology that can affect the methods or conclusions of that science, but claims any established biological conclusions as added knowledge concerning the works of God. This is true also of its relation to Physiology.

When we pass to Psychology the question is complicated by the fact that the province of this science is not as yet clearly delimited. Sometimes it is treated as if it were identical with general Philosophy; in that case Religion has a great deal to say to it. If, for example, Psychology presumes to account for all experience in such a way as to class its religious content under the heading Illusory, it is clear that every form of Religion must resist. Again if Psychology be so reduced as to be almost indistinguishable from Physiology, with the strong implication that the material body as known to Physiology is the sole constituent of personality, Religion must insist that its own life is a denial of any such doctrine. If, however, Psychology takes for its field of study the actual processes of the human mind in its impulses, sentiments and emotions, its habits of thought, feeling and volition, then Religion has only to claim that the experience of devout persons shall be treated with as much seriousness as that of others. To do this will of itself prevent the psychologist from affirming (to take the same example again) any of the spiritually objectionable forms of Determinism. But here the contact is closer than in the case of Physics or Biology, just because Religion must demand of Psychology the serious study of its own manifestations, whereas it has no such demand to make of the physical sciences.

No doubt Psychology is liable to aberrations from which the physical sciences are safe; their dangers lie in other directions. Because Psychology studies mental processes, it is very liable to behave as if Logic (the study of the validity of mental processes) were one of its own subdivisions. But in fact Psychology, like every other science, must presuppose the autonomy of Logic; otherwise the writings of psychologists could be no more than their own autobiographies—not nearly so interesting or important as the autobiographies of statesmen, soldiers or artists. The interest which a psychologist claims for his theory is not that he happens to hold it, but that it is a true account of your experience and mine as well as of his own. But in this case he must have something to say in support of his theory over and above its psychological history. For every theory ever held has a psychological history. A theory which teaches that this is all that can be said about theories, condemns itself to the same futility as the rest. Psychology, like Physics or any other science, presupposes the existence, and some criterion, of truth: but that belongs to Logic.2 And the failure of many psychologists to do justice to Religion is rooted in their neglect, or inadequate comprehension, of Logic. To what is involved in an adequate comprehension of Logic we must return.

With Politics and Economics there is much dispute whether Religion has any direct concern or not. But this dispute really turns on the relation of these two sciences to Ethics, with which admittedly Religion has direct concern. If Economics is an “exact science” like Geometry or Physics, then the relation to it of both Ethics and Religion is limited to an exhortation that men should acknowledge its “laws” in their plans for society.

If on the other hand Economics is the study of a certain department of human conduct, which is itself at once dependent on, and productive of, moral character, then Ethics and Religion may have a far more extensive and penetrating relation to it. We are not now concerned with the definition of Economic Science, and it is sufficient for our purpose to observe the nature and source of the controversy concerning its relation to Religion. That Religion and Ethics are closely related is, as has been said, not open to dispute, at any rate in the Western world. But it is not here that any serious tension arises between Religion and Philosophy, so that we may conveniently leave the nature of their relationship to be discussed separately.

The rapid survey just completed has had only one aim in view, and, cursory as it has been, that aim is now achieved; for it is apparent that, so far as there is tension between Religion and either Science or Philosophy, this cannot be due to any of the actual conclusions reached by the several sciences within their own spheres. Some religions, and, most conspicuously among the great religions, Christianity, make assertions which deal with events apparently falling within the sphere of particular sciences; but those are hardly points for the consideration of Natural Theology, even as we have conceived it, except so far as Natural Theology takes note of the particular assertions and considers the principles involved both in the fact that they are put forward, and in their admissibility or inadmissibility. Professor A. E. Taylor has followed this method with great effectiveness in his most admirable Gifford Lectures, The Faith of a Moralist. But with the truth or falsity of the actual assertions now in question Natural Theology is not concerned.

The main type of that tension, then, which we have now to consider, is not caused by particular doctrines either of Religion or of Philosophy, but consists in a sharp difference in mental habit and outlook with reference to the same objects of attention. This may be briefly expressed by saying that the primary assurances of Religion are the ultimate questions of Philosophy. Religion finds its fullest expression in absolute surrender to the Object of its worship. But the very existence of that Object is a main theme of philosophical disputation. It is not possible to surrender one’s self to what is felt to be an unverified hypothesis; it is not possible to discuss impartially the existence of a Being to whom one is utterly self-surrendered. How then can a religious person be a true philosopher? Or how can a philosopher who has not yet solved the problems of existence permit himself the exercise of religion? And if he do not permit himself this exercise, how can he know Religion from within in such a fashion as to qualify himself to pronounce upon its validity and to place it rightly within, or exclude it justly from, his ultimate construction?

That these are grave questions no one who has seriously attempted to combine the two activities is likely to deny. Yet the difficulties are not insuperable in principle, and it seems to be the special duty of some persons at least to engage in the hazardous enterprise of overcoming them.

The divergence of view is specially evident in relation to three central convictions of Religion in its higher forms. These are perhaps different expressions of one truth, but as expressions of it they differ, and it is well to state them separately:

First is the conviction that Spirit is a true source of initiation of processes—a real ajrchv, a vera causa;

Second is the conviction that all existence finds its source (ajrchv vera causa) in a Supreme Reality of which the nature is Spirit;

Third is the conviction that between that Spirit and ourselves there can be, and to some extent already is, true fellowship, at least such as is involved in our conscious dependence on that Spirit.

The first of these convictions is, as stated, little more than the denial of materialism; but this denial carries positive implications of momentous import. The true nature of spiritual freedom must occupy our attention later; but some aspects of it concern us now. If it were true that by inspection of the Nebula, from which our solar system formed itself, an intelligence of sufficient scope could have predicted all the acts of moral choice that would ever be made by human beings living on this planet, then the whole aspiration and endeavour of Religion would be dismissible as part of the phantasmagoria of a consciousness which emerged only to take note of, never to direct, the process in which it was a transient and ineffectual episode.

Now the sense of the inherent determinism of the physical system, including our bodily organisms, is so strong that some great religions have to a certain extent made terms with it. The Hindu doctrine of Maya is such a compromise. It expresses despair of the spiritual domination of matter; but in order to safeguard both the reality and the supremacy of spirit, it dismisses the material as illusory; the great aim of life which it proposes, is to be delivered from the Wheel of Change (the figure of materialistic Determinism) so that the spiritual reality may exist in its own freedom. This attempt altogether to exclude matter from reality issues in a curiously uncontrolled empire of matter, so that Hinduism, which finds expression in some of the loftiest spiritual philosophy of the world, also makes room for obscenity in connexion with worship itself. You cannot regulate what you do not recognise. If matter is so unreal that spirit, which is real, has neither need for it nor control of it, then in its own sphere it will make havoc. The way to be spiritually effective is not to ignore matter but to use it.

Yet to deny the reality of matter in order to assert that of spirit is less disastrous to Religion than to let the spiritual be swallowed up in the material, as the West is always liable to do. The assertion of the reality and independence of Spirit in the Universe and in Man is a primary necessity for Religion. In the case of Man we may, for the moment, put this at the very lowest and be content to say that the causal process, as it affects human conduct, passes through consciousness and is modified by this passage. If preferred, the same thought may be expressed by saying that, attention having been attracted to the causal process, volition intervenes as an additional determinant of the result. The main point is that consciousness does affect the result, but this does not make the process leading to it other than causal, so that human beings act differently because they are conscious and self-conscious from the way in which they (or rather their bodies) would act if they had no consciousness and self-consciousness.

But while this alone is enough to break the chain of sheer materialistic Determinism, much more is required for the assertion that the Ultimate Ground of the Universe and all things in it is spiritual. This is a claim, not only for the independence of Spirit, but for the universal supremacy of Spirit. It is the claim that Spirit is not only a source of initiation, one ajrchv among others, but is the only ultimate source of the whole World-process. All the more developed religions, which do not deny the reality of matter, have advanced this claim. It is the doctrine of Creation. It is not of direct importance to Religion to assert a date for the act of Creation, or even to assert that it is an act having any date at all; it may be a never-beginning and never-ending activity. But it is of vital importance to Religion to assert that the existence of the world is due to the Will of God. This is the essential notion of Creation, and Religion dare not let it go, unless it is prepared to deny the real existence of the material world. For the only remaining alternative is the acceptance of limitation in the conception of the Supreme Spirit, not only in the sense of an actual finitude which none the less includes or controls all existence, but in the sense of leaving some part of existence outside its control. Such a dualism would be repudiated by Philosophy, which cannot rest in a multiplicity or duality of ultimate principles; and it is entirely fatal to Religion, because to a limited authority only a limited allegiance is due, and absoluteness of allegiance is the very life-breath of Religion.3

But this claim to absolute allegiance is one which Philosophy must investigate. Enquiry must be made into its precise meaning, and then into the relation of the claim so interpreted to the facts of common experience. If, for example, it is meant that all things exist only in dependence upon the Will of a Spiritual Being who is good and wise in the ordinary sense of those words, then there is a great deal of experience which cannot be treated as unreal and yet is very hard to appreciate as illustrating the goodness and wisdom of its Author. This is, of course, the familiar problem of Evil, which becomes acute in exact correspondence with the moral sensitiveness of the mind reflecting on it. A mind of low moral sensitiveness may be little troubled by this problem, for it will have a less exalted conception of the divine goodness, and will also be less afflicted by the evil elements in experience. As sensitiveness to moral issues develops, bewilderment before the problem of Evil deepens. It has found no more passionate expression than that given to it in many of the Hebrew Psalms.

That fact alone is sufficient evidence that this problem is not the creation of an alien criticism, but arises out of the heart of religious faith itself. Yet it is inevitable that when rationalising criticism sets to work, it should intensify the perplexity of religious people by seeming to exploit it in a hostile manner.

For the aim of the religious person is to stabilise and deepen his faith; the aim of the philosopher is to understand, to “follow the argument wherever it leads”, and to regard nothing as assured which is not supported by sufficient evidence. Between these two there is manifest tension; but no one is so intimately aware of that tension as a person who tries whole-heartedly to play both roles at once.

We have been considering the first two of those three central convictions of Religion which were mentioned a little earlier—the independent initiative of Spirit, and the spiritual nature of the ultimate initiative of the Universe. It is doubtful whether it would be possible in the long run to hold these two convictions with any assurance apart from the third, which presents itself rather as matter of direct experience than as an intellectual conviction; this is the reality of intercourse and fellowship between the spirit of Man and the supreme Spirit. Not once nor twice, but many times over has the assurance of the reality of that fellowship revived faith in the reality of the God who is one of the partners to the fellowship. One of the best expressions of this sequence of thought and moods is to be found in the Seventy-third Psalm.4 Here is a man who has just recovered his faith; he records, first the recovery:

Truly God is loving unto Israel,

Even to such as are of a clean heart; (v. 1)

then the nearness of the disaster escaped:

Nevertheless my feet were almost gone,

My treadings had well nigh slipped; (v. 2)

then what led him to the edge of the precipice—the problem of Evil in its familiar form of social injustice:

And why? I was grieved at the wicked,

I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity;

For they are in no peril of death

But are lusty and strong;

They come in no misfortune like other folk,

Neither are they plagued like other men; (vv. 3–5)

these wicked folk think they can presume on at least the indifference of the Almighty:

Tush! say they, how should God perceive it;

Is there knowledge in the Most High? (v. 11)

and experience seems to support them; and if so, what is the value of self-control and restraint or of respect for the requirements of morality:

Lo, these are the ungodly,

These prosper in the world and these have riches in possession;

And I said ‘Then have I cleansed my heart in vain

And washed my hands in innocency;

All the day long have I been punished

And chastened every morning. (vv. 12, 13)

So the Psalmist himself nearly took their side, but something stopped him; he remembered those who were loyal and he could not condemn their lives as based on a delusion:

Yea, and I had almost said even as they;

But lo, then I should have condemned the generation of thy children; (v. 14)

this leads him to reflect, and he finds his solution of the problem in two forms; the first is theoretical and false:

Then thought I to understand this,

But it was too hard for me

Until I went into the sanctuary of God;

Then understood I the end of these men—

Namely how thou dost set them in slippery places,

And castest them down and destroyest them.

O how suddenly do they consume,

Perish and come to a fearful end! (vv. 15–18)

the other is empirical and unassailable.

Whom have I in heaven but thee?

And there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee;

My flesh and my heart faileth,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. (vv. 24–25)

What is the attitude of the critical philosopher to such a record of experience? He will acknowledge the reality of the problem; he will recognise the cogency of the consideration which checked the writer’s progress towards infidelity, for saintliness exists and is itself an impressive phenomenon demanding both recognition and explanation; he will at once repudiate the first solution, termed above theoretic, for it is directly contrary to a large amount of experience; and he will recognise the final solution as something which commands his respect, but also as something which he cannot accept solely on the assurance of the writer. There are psychological processes for which allowance must first be made; the reality of this experience of assurance will not be questioned; but its interpretation will be regarded as doubtful until many questions have been asked and answered.

We have here a useful illustration of that tension which it is our present aim to appreciate and understand. If we take the Psalmist as representative of the religious attitude of mind and our imagined critic as representative of the philosophic, we find them agreed as regards the main fact under consideration, agreed again as to the reality and nature of the problem, disagreeing as regards one projected solution, differing with the difference between passionate assurance and detached suspense of judgement as regards the other. It is the closeness of their companionship which makes the tension so evident.

Even where there is agreement, the tension is already apparent. For to the believer, stating with passion a difficulty which threatens ruin to his faith, the calm observation of the philosopher, even if what he observes is identical, or perhaps all the more on that account, is offensive. The believer is not interested in solving a problem; he is interested in the reality and goodness of God; to agree with him dispassionately is to exhibit a greater divergence than hotly to deny his statement of the facts. If any one said to him, following the line of Job’s comforters, “The wicked do not flourish for long; your trouble is due to the shortness of your view”, he might have pointed to contrary instances, but would not have been conscious of alienation; indeed, after his recovery he relapses himself into precisely this form of dogmatism. But if any one said, “Your statement of the facts is quite correct, and we must take care that our general philosophy does justice to them”, he would feel that his fundamental concern was being ignored. For him the facts of observation derive their importance from a conviction which was formed apart from them and is now threatened by them; he does not want to frame a theory which does justice to them; he wants to re-establish in face of them the faith which they threaten.

When we come to the disagreements between the believer (as represented by the Psalmist) and the philosopher, we find illustrations both of the service which Philosophy may render to Religion and of the injury it may inflict upon it. For it was necessary that Religion should be purged of that easy dogmatism concerning observable facts which appears in what we have called the theoretical solution of the Psalmist. He here meets the challenge of social injustice and says that in the long run it does not exist; poetic justice ultimately appears, at least in the destruction of the wicked, if not in the prosperity of the righteous. The writer is not thinking of a rectification effected in another world than this; even if he were, it would be no solution of the real problem, as we shall see later;5 but as his reference is certainly to this world, we must say that he is dogmatising, from the vantage ground of his religious experience, about facts of common observation, and that his dogma is both false and even reprehensible. At a higher stage in the religious development of Israel the author of the Book of Job represents the Almighty Himself as pronouncing censure upon the three friends of Job for enunciating precisely this dogma.

Yet in that extremely human document which we are considering as an illustration of the main thesis, the enunciation of this dogma is dramatically in place. Psychologically regarded, it is seen to be merely a way of saying that the initial problem is solved; as the writer can only conceive one possible solution, he states that solution; but this is comparatively unimportant. What is important is the reality of the solution which he has found, not in any doctrine or generalisation, but in his own experience. In his fellowship with God he has found that nothing matters in comparison with that fellowship. He had been perplexed that the ungodly should prosper, and almost thought of throwing in his lot with them. But now he knows that however great their possessions they are truly destitute while the man who has found fellowship with God is rich though he possesses nothing. That is the real solution—not an answer to the riddle, but the attainment of a state of mind in which there is no desire to ask it.

And here the influence of a critical philosophy may be truly injurious, at least for a time. It is, indeed, not likely that such assurance as the Psalmist expresses would be disturbed by any amount of rationalistic questioning; the believer would merely say, if Christian language were his medium of expression,

Expertus potest credere

Quid sit Jesum diligere.6

“The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but who love Him know.”


But religious conviction may exist in varying degrees of intensity; and while it can, where it exists at all, carry the believer past doubts arising from extraneous causes, it needs to be very strong in its own nature if it is to resist doubts raised concerning its own validity. For this reason the psychological line of enquiry presents a more insidious peril to Religion than any other.

This reflection leads to a new consideration. The difference between Religion and scientific Philosophy7 in relation to the Object of attention is not only one of temper but also one of method. The latter results from the former. In temper the attitude of Religion is that of assurance; the attitude of Philosophy is that of enquiry. It is hard enough to combine these, and probably it can only be done by deliberate alternation. But to combine the resultant methods is harder still. Religion, of which the essence is assurance of fellowship with, or at least of dependence on, the Supreme Spirit, and therefore also of the existence of that Supreme Spirit, necessarily makes its start from that point, and, so far as it enters on the field of Philosophy, seeks to offer explanations of the facts of experience by reference to the character of the Supreme Spirit. This is Theological Philosophy, and I had better here confess my belief that it is in the end the only Philosophy which has any hope of being altogether satisfactory. But it is also most hazardous, and is certain to lead the mind that follows it into all manner of fantasies unless it is constantly checked by a purely critical Philosophy which makes its approach from the other end. In the Middle Ages the course was clear for Theological Philosophy, and the wonder is that it avoided the fantastic as much as it did; yet that element is present in it in sufficient quantity to show the danger.

Theology, which is the science of Religion, starts from the Supreme Spirit and explains the world by reference to Him. Philosophy starts from the detailed experience of men, and seeks to build up its understanding of that experience by reference to that experience alone. Its inevitable and wholesome kinship to Science inclines it to account for everything by the “lowest” category that will in fact account for it; Theology begins with the “highest” category of all and fits in the “lower” categories in the most orderly hierarchy that it can devise in subordination to that “highest” principle. And this difference is inevitable, though it has been exaggerated by the dominant tendencies of European thought from the time of Descartes onwards. With that exaggeration, its causes, and the way to correct it, we shall be concerned in later lectures. Our present concern is with the difference itself, which would still exist if there were no exaggeration at all. The source of the method of Theological Philosophy in the nature of Religion itself has already been made clear. But the method of critical Philosophy is equally inevitable.

This can perhaps be made plain by some reference to its early history. Its recent triumphs date from the sixteenth century and the subsequent period. Science was born long before that; yet till then its life was hardly vigorous; the general conditions were too unfavourable. In the ancient world, as among primitive races to-day, all change or motion was accounted for by direct reference to the principles of Life and Will. The sun rose and set because it was, or was indwelt by, a god. The fact that Apollo was endowed by the Greek imagination with attributes so glorious, seems to separate him by a great gulf from the crude conceptions of Animism; but behind that great poetic creation the principle of Animism is found to be at work. Part of the accusation for impiety which led to the banishment of Anaxagoras was that he declared the sun to be really a red-hot stone.

The fact is that the religious impulse, having its ultimate explanation always ready, is impatient of that search for proximate causes in which Science has its being. Science could hardly flourish, for example, among people like the ancient Hebrews, who were prepared to refer all occurrences not due to human volition to the direct action of Yahweh. Thus Meteorology would hardly thrive among people whose natural comment on a great storm was, “It is the glorious God that maketh the thunder”, however true that comment may be in itself. That, no doubt, is merely an instance of human frailty, and is not due to the essential principle of either Science or Religion. But it is in fact certain that Religion will, until challenged, apply its ultimate category to all phenomena calling for explanation in such a way as to make the reference of occurrences to “natural” causes have the appearance of impiety, and the challenge when presented will itself at first seem impious.

It is most worthy of notice that by the Teacher whom multitudes have acclaimed as supreme in the religious sphere, one special source of difficulty is avoided. It has ever been the common tendency of mankind to trace the activity of God in the unexpected or astonishing. It was not that other explanations of the normal were accepted, but that no explanation was sought at all. The normal was taken for granted; the astonishing and unpredictable was regarded as the act of God. The result of this has been that every new triumph of Science in accounting for phenomena has seemed to involve a curtailment of the sphere of God’s activity. But Jesus of Nazareth taught men to see the operation of God in the regular and normal—in the rising of the sun, the falling of the rain, the growth of the seed into the plant. If men had been ready to follow Him in this, much of the actual conflict between Religion and Science would have been avoided. But His wisdom remained high out of reach till Science itself supplied the ladder, and led us to see God at work, if at all, not only now and then, but everywhere and always.

Inasmuch as men could not rise to the level to which Christ had called them, but still let their minds be governed by the childish notions of the race’s infancy, Science has been bound for its very life’s sake to keep closely to its principle of employing always the lowest categories that are truly applicable. Nor is this only a principle of expediency in view of the opposing tendency of Theological Philosophy; it is the only way of establishing securely each advance as it is made. For progress in scientific knowledge it has been, and still is, necessary to refuse admittance to each “higher” category until it is really proved that the “lower” categories are inadequate. It is possible that on these grounds even the Pythagorean notion that the explanation of all things is to be found in Number can be justified as a necessary episode in the progress of Science. Number is applicable to all things; if they exist at all they can be counted. Nos numerus sumus,8 says Horace when he wishes to express the futility of the human race; we are only good for counting. This is the “lowest” of categories, and its capacity had to be tried out, though the effort to use it as a universal principle of explanation led to the wildest fantasies, and the end of the test could be expressed in Edward Caird’s dictum that “Number tells us something about everything, but very little about anything”.

The enormous influence of Mathematics (about which more must be said later) led to a desire at least to limit the area of scientific enquiry to what was Measurable. If Number or Measure itself was not the explanation of all things, let enquiry be made whether all things be not explicable in terms of what can be counted or measured. Thus arose the long endeavour to confine scientific procedure to the study of Mass and Motion—the “mechanical” era. And we must recognise how great was the success attained by this method. Physiology is a science well established and far advanced towards mastery of its subject; but it is only in very recent times that any general readiness has been apparent to recognise other than physical and chemical processes at work in the animal organism, even if it can be said to be general to-day. But at least in many quarters there is a conviction that the organic principle is itself incapable of exposition in physical or chemical terms; this principle may be roughly stated as the predominance of the unity of the organism such that the action and reaction of every part is controlled by that unity. And we are now witnessing the interesting endeavour to read back this principle from the sphere hitherto marked off as organic into the realm of Physics and into the very constitution of matter. The question then arises how far Life, and Mind, and the spiritual activities of Religion, Morality, Art and Science itself can be regarded as manifestations of the organic principle.

Now so long as scientific enquiry is limited to the physical, the physiological, and even the biological sphere, Religion has in principle no concern with it except to claim its results as added knowledge of the works of God; and no quarrel arises. There may be incidental friction, either because in the sacred books of a particular religion expression is given to the purely religious interest of such a kind as involves statements within the sphere of a departmental science, or else because scientists deny on purely scientific grounds facts which some religion asserts on grounds which are beyond the cognisance of Science. An illustration of the former is provided by the trouble about Darwinism in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Biology, advancing a theory of the Origin of Species, found the ground occupied by the first chapter of Genesis. But it did not take competent theologians long to appreciate the fact that the spiritual interest in the doctrine of Creation lies solely in the assertion of the dependence of all existence upon the Will of God,9 and that the first chapter of Genesis is a magnificent presentation of that truth; indeed the wonder is that the picture should be so close to the scientific account of the process,10 though this fact is of very small importance. An illustration of the latter type of friction would be a denial on physiological grounds alone of the Christian doctrine that Christ was born of a Virgin; for the Christian contention is that there was operative in that instance a cause with which the science of Physiology is not concerned. I have been told that some physiological-psychologists are of opinion that a singularly intense religious experience, such as is recorded in the story of the Annunciation, might of itself initiate conception. If so, it is open to the Christian to suppose that God made use of such a psycho-physical means to effect His purpose. But I cannot become greatly interested in reconciliations of Science and Religion along those lines. Such a reconciliation itself seems to me unimportant, and any emphasis upon it tends to obscure what is important. The harmonising of Science and Religion must be achieved, if at all, in principle and not piecemeal.

Apart from such relatively accidental occasions of friction it is not until the sphere of human conduct is reached that the tension develops on any considerable scale. But here the effort of Science to account for events by the “lowest” category must involve very serious tension, unless or until either Science admits the principle of free spiritual initiative or Religion surrenders its citadel. Yet Science is right to make the effort, provided it is true also to its other principle of recognising facts for what they are and never refusing evidence only because it conflicts with current theory. And it is right to carry this process forward into the region of religious experience itself. The phenomena of religious mania are a reminder of the need for a criterion external to religious experience by which its authenticity may be tested. While this scientific enquiry into Religion is going on, many theories will be propounded that are entirely fatal to Religion. It must be a long time yet before Psychology, as a science, can be so sure of having exhausted the possibilities of a purely psychological origin of religious convictions, that it can safely admit the hypothesis that they are due to the action of God (a Being necessarily unknown to Psychology) upon the human mind. Of course the man who is conducting the psychological enquiry may believe a great deal which lies outside the scope of that enquiry; and he may conciliate the feelings of religious people by adding an appendix to his exposition to say that in his private capacity he is of their number. But he must not admit into his scientific procedure the hypothesis of direct divine action until he has exhausted all other possibilities.

This must not be understood as suggesting that support for religion is to be drawn from the failure of scientific explanation. As we shall see more fully later, the religious explanation is equally necessary and satisfying when the scientific account, on its own plane, is also complete.11 But the method and aim are different; and this difference appears in the fact that Religion refers all things to God from the outset, while Science, including Psychology, only refers to Him at all if driven to desert its own method by failure to follow it to a satisfactory issue.

The inevitability of tension between Religion and Science or the Philosophy which is in line with the scientific impulse is now clear. The method of Natural Theology no doubt requires ideally that the validity of Religion itself should be established before we consider, even cursorily, how this tension may be relieved. For if one of the two parties to it has no real right to exist, the tension is only to be properly relieved by the abolition of that party. Yet for purposes of exposition it is convenient to deal with this whole question of tension together, and the principles to be observed with a view to reconciliation are easily stated, though their detailed application is difficult enough.

First, then, the adherents of Religion must be ready to distinguish between the elements or expressions of their faith which are of real spiritual importance, and those which have come to have sentimental value through association with the former. They will not be agreed among themselves about this distinction with regard to any point which is newly called in question. Some will be specially eager to say the point does not matter, so as to avoid the spiritual loss always involved in the tension between Religion and Science; these will be called Latitudinarians or Modernists, according to the fashion of the day; they will usually have intellectual clarity but little spiritual élan. Others will hold on till the last possible minute to every questioned phrase, lest what is lost be not only of sentimental but also of spiritual value. These will be called Traditionalists or Obscurantists; they will often have great spiritual force, and often, too, great learning, but as a rule, little intellectual enterprise. Between these two there will be others representing every possible gradation. But all may be loyal to the principle just stated, and may fulfil various necessary parts in winning for it a justly discriminating application. What must be excluded, and is very hard to exclude, is the element of purely personal sentiment. To cling to some belief, when it appears to have no inherent spiritual value and to be discredited by scientific advance, on the ground that it is bound up with what has spiritual value by ties of mere association, is a form of self-assertion which must be condemned by Science and Religion alike. But the nature of spiritual value is such that it is very hard to distinguish between it and personal attachment so that great sympathy is due to those who are perplexed by the need of making such a distinction at all.

The requirements to be made of scientific enquirers are different, though these too are largely various forms of the demand to avoid all self-assertion. Two are perhaps the most important. First it is to be remembered that Science, in following its method of using the “lowest” category applicable, is not entitled to deny the applicability of “higher” categories but is only seeing how far it can go without them. Even if it can cover all the facts and hold them together by means of “lower”, as for instance mechanical, categories, it does not necessarily follow that the “higher” categories, such as purpose, have no rightful application at all. Indeed, while an actual machine is an entity of which the unifying principle is mechanical, the natural inference from its existence is that a living intelligence designed and constructed it.12 And if that is true of a steam-engine, it is hard to see why it should not be true of the stellar system or of the cosmos generally. It would be hard to refute the argument which urges that the more perfect the universe is in itself as mechanism, the more forcibly does it suggest an intelligent Creator as its cause. But this carries us past the main point, which is that the positive work of Science, in giving an account of observable facts by its own method, never justifies Science in proceeding to negative inferences concerning other methods of interpretation, provided that these in their turn do not exclude the method of Science.

Secondly, it is to be remembered that there are spheres in which the most characteristic methods of Science are inapplicable. This is true in varying degrees of Ethics and of Art. Our appreciation of Right and Good is independent of argument and experiment. These may certainly affect our estimate of various actions or relationships; we may be persuaded that an action or a social order which we had thought good was in truth bad. But this never touches the ultimate objects of moral judgement. If a man tells me that he finds indulgence in cruelty one of the best things in life, I may try to make him contradict himself, as Socrates did with Callicles in a similar connexion,13 and so show that he did not really mean what he was saying; or I may try to have him shut up in a prison or an asylum; but I cannot directly attack his proposition by argument. “Our sense of value, and in the end for every man his own sense of value, is ultimate and final”.14

The realm of Art offers an illustration as clear as that of Ethics. In these days when our minds are chiefly influenced by scientific activity people are often inclined to say that they cannot believe where they have no proof; or at least they demand a balance of probability calculated by formulable laws of evidence. Yet they will without hesitation affirm and even passionately insist on (say) the superiority of Schubert to Mendelssohn, though it would puzzle them to prove it or show it to be manifestly probable.

But it is in personal relationships that the inadequacy of Science is most manifest. We should not recommend a pair of lovers to test the advisability of marriage by making each a psychological analysis of the other. We even use the word “understand” with a different sense in relation to other persons from that which it bears in relation to impersonal objects. To “understand” a person is to have that insight into his character and motives which is another aspect of what is also called sympathy. A wise scientist does not follow only scientific methods, as these are commonly understood, in choosing his wife or expressing his affection for his children.

The heart of Religion is not an opinion about God, such as Philosophy might reach as the conclusion of its argument; it is a personal relationship with God. Its closest analogy is not found in our study of astronomy or any other science, but in our relation to a person whom we trust and love. If Science is not the best of aids in helping the child to determine his relation to his father, no more is it—still less is it—the best of aids in determining the relation of a man to his God.

We have seen that tension between Philosophy and Religion is inevitable; and as both are here assumed to have a rightful place in life, this tension must even be regarded as good. We have seen ways in which it may be alleviated, through the recollection by the adherents of each, what is the real nature and concern of that activity to which they are committed. We may reasonably hope to find here the grounds for an ultimate reconciliation in principle; but that can only be when each is perfect in its own kind. Till then the tension will remain, to the special bewilderment of those who are conscious of an obligation to be loyal to both at once. Yet these may hope that through their travail the progress towards ultimate reconciliation is being made.

Prof. A. Wolf ends his admirable chapter on “Recent and Contemporary Philosophy” in An Outline of Modern Knowledge with a warning against the dangers involved in “the unusually friendly relationship which is loudly proclaimed to exist now between science and the Churches”; and he adds this paragraph:

“Contemporary philosophy likewise seems to stand in need of an analogous warning. Considering the fact that so many philosophers were formerly students of theology, the relations between philosophy and theology are naturally expected to be friendly. Among British philosophers, indeed, the number of defenders of the faith seems to be abnormally large. It may be that academic conditions, and institutions like the Gifford Trust, either encourage this tendency or give undue prominence to those who follow it. But philosophy will be in a healthier condition when it has entirely ceased to be a handmaid to theology, and pursues its cosmic problems as independently as possible of vested interests.”15

Prof. Wolf is more concerned with the welfare of Philosophy; I am, no doubt, more concerned with the welfare of Religion. Consequently my phraseology would differ from his. Yet I agree with him in substance. There not only is, but there ought to be, a tension between Philosophy and Religion. That tension is only relaxed when one of the two assimilates itself excessively to the other. The present atmosphere of friendliness may blunt the edge of philosophic criticism because there is an unwillingness to wound the feelings of religious people; it may also lead Religion to tone down its note of Authority because it does not wish to antagonise its philosophic friends. But the tension is not to be regretted; it is right in principle and stimulating in effect. And it can be delivered from the danger of doing harm if both parties respect the principle of Justice—to; ta; auJtou¤ pravttein. But let no one suppose that this principle is as easy to practice as it is to enunciate.

  • 1. See René Arnaud, The Second Empire and Napoleon III., p. 328.
  • 2. See the discussion of the nature and province of Logic below, pp. 103–108.
  • 3. Of course this does not mean that no one may properly be called religious who has not in practice attained to this absoluteness of allegiance; but it is essential to Religion in all its higher phases that the worshipper should regard his Deity as entitled to such allegiance and himself as under obligation to render it.
  • 4. I follow the Prayer Book rendering because of its familiarity to English readers.
  • 5. Cf. Lecture XX. pp. 507–511.
  • 6. S. Bernard. Caswall’s mistranslation of these lines in the well-known English hymn is most unfortunate. Jesus loves all men; but not all men love Him. The true rendering, however awkward in English, is:
  • 7. By the phrase “scientific Philosophy” I mean any philosophy which takes its start from the departmental sciences, ranging from Physics to Epistemology or Ethics, as distinct from a philosophy which takes its start from the deliverances of religious experience as formulated by Theology. Wherever I speak of “Philosophy” without any epithet it is to be understood as “scientific Philosophy” in this sense. Of course Theological Philosophy is no less scientific than this in its own procedure.
  • 8. Horace, Epistles, i. 2. 27.
  • 9. Cf. the following passages in the Bampton Lectures delivered by my father, Archbishop Frederick Temple, then Bishop of Exeter, on The Relations between Religion and Science, in 1884:

    “We all distinguish between the original creation of the material world and the history of it ever since. And we have, nay all men have, been accustomed to assign to the original creation a great deal that Science is now disposed to assign, to the history. But the distinction between the original creation and the subsequent history would still remain and for ever remain, although the portion assigned to the one may be less, and that assigned to the other larger, than was formerly supposed. However far back Science may be able to push its beginning, there still must be behind that beginning the original act of creation” (pp. 106–107).

    “Whatever may be said of the relation of the doctrine of Evolution to Revelation, it cannot be said that this doctrine is antagonistic to Religion in its essence. The progress of Science in this direction will assuredly end in helping men to believe with more assurance than ever that the Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth, by understanding hath He established the heavens” (p. 123).

    “We cannot find that Science, in teaching Evolution, has yet asserted anything that is inconsistent with Revelation, unless we assume that Revelation was intended not to teach spiritual truth only, but physical truth also. Here as in all similar cases, we find that the writer of the Book of Genesis, like all the other writers in the Bible, took nature as he saw it, and expressed his teaching in language corresponding to what he saw. And the doctrine of Evolution, in so far as it has been shewn to be true, does but fill out in detail the declaration that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well’” (p. 188).
  • 10. Sc. in presenting Light as the first form of physical existence; in the order of advance from inorganic, through vegetable and animal forms of life to Man; in the use of the word “created” (as distinct from “made”) at just those points where Science still fails to trace the transition from earlier and lower to later and higher—the beginning of all things, the appearance of Life, and the arrival of Man. It is worth while to remember that the treatment of this chapter as pictorial Myth is not a device of modern theologians due to a desire to escape from difficulties raised by Science, but was familiar to the ancient Church. St. Augustine regards it as ridiculous to think of the Days of Creation as periods of actual time, whether of twenty-four hours or of any other length.
  • 11. See Lecture XI.
  • 12. I.e. “living” when it so designed and constructed. All arguments of this type are open to Hume’s devastating suggestions in the Dialogue of which the following may be quoted: “This world, for aught (my man) knows, is very faulty and imperfect compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance”.
  • 13. Plato, Gorgias, 494–495.
  • 14. F. H. Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 132.
  • 15. Op. cit. p. 592.
From the book: