Pfleiderer argues against a belief that religion and morality share no common origin. Rather, he states that the two share a symbiotic interrelationship: religion represents the ‘ideal ground’ of morality and morality the actual manifestation of true religion. For this reason, a wholly secularised morality becomes stunted and fades, while a religion which sets aside morality as a core issue becomes redundant. As the root of religion rests in humankind’s pursuit of religion, so does science. Both science and religion pursue the ‘highest Ideas of Truth’. Science will never attain a realisation of this, which religion by its nature already does. However, religion lacks a conceptual understanding of this ‘truth’ and therefore must allow science, in its limited although increasing ability, to gradually reveal the complexities of the world. If treated as a ‘friend’ rather than a ‘foe’, science might facilitate a deepening and widening of our understanding of God’s revelation.
These two strands are again reflected in the human idea of God, which according to Pfleiderer is the synthesis of an understanding of the reality of this world and ‘the moral idea of the human heart’. Out of these two currents flows the human conception of God. He further argues that the failure of the finite intellect of humanity to conceive an omniscient God and to prove God’s existence is the root of agnosticism, which has resulted from an over emphasis on the miraculous. Theology has failed in its efforts to define God by the ‘occasional interruption and disturbances of the regulated order by individual miracles’, rather than in the order and consistency of nature as a revelation of divine design. He refers to this uniformity of order from ‘the lowest stages of existence up to the highest perfection of the spiritual life’ as revelatory of divine wisdom and argues for a teleological interpretation of the world which necessitates finding God’s revelation in the design, function and moral framework of both nature and history. This in turn necessitates defining humanity’s state and place in the world.
Fundamental to his understanding of the human nature is Pfleiderer’s definition of original sin, which he defines not as guilt but as a disease (he refers to both good germs and bad) manifested in various degrees through human society. Children are not born defiled by sin, but as a product of growing up in a sinful society, it takes root in their lives. Individuals have culpability for their contribution to the greater corporate sin, but ultimately, the teleological purpose of creation is for the fostering of ‘good germs’ in a ‘a moral community under the divine education of mankind as a historical inheritance from the past’ for the advancement of morality and ultimately a ‘victorious, world-conquering power’ which is transformative of all creation. The highest revelation of this divine purpose was in Jesus Christ, but that revelation did not represent the fruition of process, only the clearest expression of what the ultimate ends of God’s plan will bring forth.
Pfleiderer understands the working out of God’s purpose through the revelation of God in nature and history, which leads him to reject miracles and the supernatural intervention of God in the world. Instead, the process is the result of the design and unalterable laws of God’s teleological design of redemption. This should not be interpreted as an affirmation of Providence in a highly Calvinist or individualistic matter. Pfleiderer will only accept Providence if it is meant as ‘the whole natural and historical order of the world is the means for the realisation of the universal highest end—the ideal humanity’.