MoboReader > Literature > Religion And Health

   Chapter 1 CAN WE STILL BELIEVE

Religion And Health By James J. Walsh Characters: 43748

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


There is no doubt that man's quite instinctive attitude toward the mystery which surrounds him, out of which he came and into which he goes, has always so influenced his attitude of mind toward his body and its processes as to affect them deeply. The medicine man with his appeal to the religious as well as the superstitious feelings of man always had a potent influence over the most primitive of mankind, but culture has not obliterated this source of special reaction in men. Even now, for the great majority of men it still remains true that no matter how vague their religious instinct may be, it continues to affect, to a notable extent, their physiological and psychological functions. An eclipse of the religious instinct is at the basis of the increase in suicide and also undoubtedly of insanity in our day. The lack of an abiding faith in Providence is the source of many dreads and worries that affect health. Every physician is sure to know of highly educated patients whose ills reflect their mental relation to the mystery of life and whose symptoms take on or lose significance, according to their religious feelings.

The question that in our time, however, is coming insistently into a great many minds is, Can we, as intelligent human beings, reasonably in touch with man's recent progress in science, be fair with ourselves and still continue {9} to believe in the great religious truths that affected our ancestors so deeply? While we may realize all the depth of the mystery in the midst of which we are, can we, with our little minds, hope to fathom any of it? This is the questioning feeling that will not down for a certain number of those who have had educational advantages. Must we not just confess our inability to, know anything definite in reality with regard to it, and feel that those who have thought that they held the key of the mystery were deluding themselves or allowing themselves to be caught by pseudo-knowledge, an inheritance from unthinking generations, instead of realities?

Has not the modern advance in science made it very clear to us that all we can hope to say of man's origin and man's destiny is that we do not know just what all this mystery that surrounds us is about? Will not this very rational attitude of mind preclude at least the educated intelligent people of our generation from having their health affected in any way by their religion? Above all, if religion is to influence health, must there not be some regular practice of it, and have not the scientists of the last generation made it quite clear that this is out of the question in any sincere and serious way for any one who knows enough of science and appreciates the present position of our knowledge of the facts of the relationship of man to the universe?

For a large and growing number of people, as the result of the prevalence of this impression, the practice of religion seems to be an interesting but entirely worn-out relic of an older generation when folk were more easily satisfied with regard to such things than we are in our enlightened scientific era. Religion is surely not something that our contemporaries, with their broader {10} outlook on the meaning of life, can be brought to conform to very readily. The question "Can We Still Believe?" would seem then to have for answer in our time at best, "Speculatively, perhaps yes! but practically, no!"

We may still feel the religious instinct, but we can scarcely be expected to acknowledge religious obligations in any such strictness as would demand in our already overstrenuous daily life with its many duties the devotion of time to religious exercises. We surely cannot be expected to assume any additional obligations or rebind ourselves to a divinity who seems to be getting farther away from us.

Almost needless to say, if all this be true, then religion can have, in our time, only a very slight and quite negligible influence on health. Men may be incurably religious in the mass, as yet, but this instinct is manifestly passing, for the educated at least, and for sensible people is now without any significance for physical processes, though it may at times even yet affect psychological states.

There is only one fair and practical way to reply to this question "Can We Still Believe?" especially for those who think that modern science has obscured the answer, and that is to turn to the lives of the men who made our modern science and see how they answered it in their definite relations to religion. The surprise is to find that while so many people, and not a few of them professors in colleges and even universities, are of the very often expressed opinion that science makes men irreligious or at least unreligious, that is not true at all of our greatest scientists. Most of the men who have done the great work of modern science have been deeply religious, and a great many of them have practiced their {11} religion very faithfully. It is true that not a few of the lesser lights in science have been carried away by the impression that science was just about to explain everything, and there was no longer any need of a creator or creation or of Providence, but that is only because of their own limitations. Francis Bacon, himself a distinguished thinker in science, declared some three hundred years ago that his own feeling was that a little philosophy takes men away from God, but a sufficiency of philosophy brings them back. His opinion has often been reached by our deepest thinkers in the modern time, and it is just as true for natural philosophy as it was for the metaphysical philosophy of the older time, for Bacon's aphorism had been more than once anticipated in the early days of Christianity, notably by St. Augustine, and it would not be hard to find quotations from Greek thinkers along the same line. The Scriptures said very emphatically, "Only the fool who thinketh not in his heart says there is no God."

While young scientists then are so prone to feel that science and religion are in opposition, and a certain number of scientific workers never seem to outgrow their youthfulness in this regard, it must not be forgotten that the greatest scientists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have practically all been firm believers in religion. Lord Kelvin, at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the moment when he was looked up to by all the world as the greatest of living physical scientists, did not hesitate to say that "science demonstrates the existence of a Creator." As president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science he declared: "But strong, overpowering proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie all around us; and if ever {12} perplexities, whether metaphysical or scientific occur, they turn us away with irresistible force, showing to us, through nature, the influence of free will, and teaching us that all living beings depend on one ever-acting Creator and Ruler."

Once when particularly disgusted with the materialistic views of those who, while denying the existence of the Creator, attributed the wonders of nature, animate and inanimate, to the potency of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, Lord Kelvin wrote to Liebig, the great chemist, asking him if a leaf or a flower could be formed or even made to grow by chemical forces, and received the emphatic reply, "I would more readily believe that a book on chemistry or on botany could grow out of dead matter by chemical processes."

Expressions similar to those of Lord Kelvin and Liebig are commonplaces in the history of science. Sir Humphry Davy declared, "The true chemist sees God in all the manifold forms of the external world." Linnaeus, to whom the modern world confesses that it owes so much in the organization of botanical science, once exclaimed in what has well been called a spirit of rapture:

"I have traced God's footprints in the works of His creation; and in all of them, even in the least, and in those that border on nothingness, what power, what wisdom, what ineffable perfection!"

It would be very easy to make a long list of extremely great scientists who were firm believers. Clerk Maxwell once said to a friend, "I have read up many queer religions; there is nothing like the old one after all; and I have looked into most philosophical systems, and I have seen that none will work without a God." Pasteur declared in his address before the French Academy, when {13} admitted as a member, "Blessed is the man who has an ideal of the virtues of the Gospel and obeys it." He had once said, impatient at the pretensions of pseudo-scientists: "Posterity will one day laugh at the sublime foolishness of the modern materialistic philosophy. The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. I pray while I am engaged at my work in the laboratory."

Kepler, the great astronomer to whom we owe so many significant basic discoveries, once said:

"The day is near at hand when one shall know the truth in the book of nature as in the Holy Scriptures, and when one shall rejoice in the harmony of both revelations."

Sir Isaac Newton, whose modesty was equaled only by the magnitude of his discoveries, was so impressed with his own littleness in the contemplation of the wonderful works of God that he declared, a short time before his death, "I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

Dumas, the great French chemist, for many years the secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, once suggested the great difference there is in the matter of religious belief between the original worker in science and those who know their science only at second-hand. Those who have acquired their knowledge of science easily have no idea of the difficulties which the original investigator had to encounter and how deep are the mysteries which he knows lie all around him. The second-hand scientist becomes conceited over his {14} knowledge, but the original investigator becomes humble. Dumas said:

"People who only exploit the discoveries of others, and who never make any themselves, greatly exaggerate their importance, because they have never run against the mysteries of science which have checked real savants. Hence their irreligion and their infatuation. It is quite different with people who have made discoveries themselves. They know by experience how limited their field is, and they find themselves at every step arrested by the incomprehensible. Hence their religion and their modesty. Faith and respect for mysteries is easy for them. The more progress they make in science, the more they are confounded by the infinite."

Professor P. G. Tait, professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh University for the last forty years of the nineteenth century, and who was the co-author with Lord Kelvin of Thomson's and Tait's "Natural Philosophy" (the well-known T+T) summed up the question of the supposed conflict of religion and science rather strikingly and in a way that makes it easy to comprehend many modern misunderstandings. He said:

"The assumed incompatibility of Religion and Science has been so often confidently asserted in recent times that it has come to be taken for granted by writers of leading articles, etc., and it is, of course, perpetually thrust by them broadcast before their too trusting readers.

"But the whole thing is a mistake, and a mistake so grave that no true scientific man (unless indeed he be literally a specialist-such as a pure mathematician, or a mycologist or entomologist) runs, in Britain at least, the smallest risk of making it.

"When we ask of any competent authority who are the {15} 'advanced', the best, and the ablest scientific thinkers of the immediate past (in Britain), we cannot but receive for answer such names as Brewster, Faraday, Forbes, Graham, Rowan Hamilton, Herschel, and Talbot. This must be the case unless we use the word 'science' in a perverted sense. Which of these great men gave up the idea that Nature evidences a Designing Mind?"

Lord Rayleigh, the physicist and mathematician, professor of experimental physics at Cambridge and then Tyndall's successor as professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution, who, after having been secretary of the Royal Society for some ten years, was elected to what has been called the highest official position in the scientific world-the presidency of the Royal Society-wrote in answer to a question: [Footnote 2] "I am not able to write you at length, but I may say that in my opinion true Science and true Religion neither are nor could be opposed.

"A large number of 'leading scientists' are not irreligious or anti-Christian. Witness: Faraday, Maxwell, Stokes, Kelvin, and a large number of others less distinguished."

[Footnote 2: I owe this and a number of other quotations in this chapter to Tabrum "Religious Beliefs of Scientists," London, 1911.]

Practically all the men whose names are connected with the evolution of electricity in the nineteenth century were thorough-going believers in revealed religion. Galvani, Volta, Coulomb, Ohm, Ampère, Oersted, Faraday, Sir Humphry Davy, and many others are among the believers. Faraday once declared when the dark shadow of death was creeping over him, "I bow before Him who is the Lord of all, and hope to be kept waiting patiently for His time and mode of releasing me, {16} according to His divine word and the great and precious promises whereby His people are made partakers of the divine nature."

Earlier in life, in the very maturity of the intellectual powers which made him immortal in science, lest perhaps some one should suggest that he had lost his mental grasp toward the end, he said: "When I consider the multitude of associate forces which are diffused through nature; when I think of that calm and tranquil balancing of their energies which enables elements, most powerful in themselves, most destructive to the world's creatures and economy, to dwell associated together and be made subservient to the wants of creation, I rise from the contemplation more than ever impressed with the wisdom, the beneficence, and grandeur beyond our language to express, of the Great Disposer of all!"

It would be easy to multiply quotations such as this from the great original workers in modern electricity. Hans Christian Oersted, for instance, the great Danish scientist, to whom we owe the discovery of the "magnetic effect" of the electric current, the demonstration of the intimate relationship between magnetism and electricity, whose name all Europe rang with in the early part of the nineteenth century, was a man of really great genius and scientific penetration and yet of deeply fervent piety. He did not hesitate to say that genuine knowledge of science necessarily produced a feeling of religious piety towards the Creator. Lord Kelvin once quoted some words of his in this regard on a memorable occasion, which are particularly to our purpose here:

"If my purpose here was merely to show that science necessarily engenders piety, I should appeal to the great truth everywhere recognized, that the essence of all {17} religion consists in love toward God. The conclusion would then be easy, that love of Him from whom all truth proceeds must create the desire to acknowledge truth in all her paths; but as we desire here to recognize science herself as a religious duty, it will be requisite for us to penetrate deeper into its nature. It is obvious, therefore, that the searching eye of man, whether he regards his own inward being or the creation surrounding him, is always led to the eternal source of all things. In all inquiry, the ultimate aim is to discover that which really exists and to contemplate it in its pure light apart from all that deceives the careless observer by only a seeming existence. The philosopher will then comprehend what, amidst ceaseless change, is the Constant and Uncreated, which is hidden behind unnumbered creations, the bond of union which keeps things together in spite of their manifold divisions and separations. He must soon acknowledge that the independent can only be the constant and the constant the independent, and that true unity is inseparable from either of these. And thus it is in the nature of thought that it finds no quiet resting place, no pause, except in the invariable, eternal, uncaused, all causing, all comprehensive Omniscience.

"But, if this one-sided view does not satisfy him, if he seeks to examine the world with the eye of experience, he perceives that all those things of whose reality the multitude feels most assured never have an enduring existence, but are always on the road between birth and death. If he now properly comprehends the whole array of nature, he perceives that it is not merely an idea of an abstract notion, as it is called; but that reason and the power to which everything is indebted for its essential nature are only the revelation of a self-sustained Being. How can {18} he, when he sees this, be otherwise animated than by the deepest feeling of humility, of devotion and of love? If any one has learned a different lesson from his observation of nature, it could only be because he lost his way amidst the dispersion and variety of creation and had not looked upwards to the eternal unity of truth."

The great contemporary and colleague of Oersted in the demonstration of the intimate relations between magnetism and electricity who was quite as outspoken as the Danish scientist in his recognition of the relations of science and religion, was the Frenchman Ampère, whose name was chosen as a term for one of the units of electrical science, because of his great original work in extending our knowledge of electricity. This choice of his name was made by an international congress of scientists who felt that he deserved this very great honor. Ozanam, to whose thoroughly practical Christianity while he was professor of foreign literatures at the University of Paris we owe the foundation of the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, which so long anticipated the "settlement work" of the modern time and have done so much for the poor in large cities ever since, who was very close to Ampère and indeed lived with him for a while, said that, no matter where conversations with him began, they always led up to God. The great French scientist and philosopher used to take his broad forehead between his hands after he had been discussing some specially deep question of science or philosophy and say: "How great is God, Ozanam; How great is God and how little is our knowledge." Of course this has been the feeling of most profound thinkers at all times. St. Augustine's famous vision of the angel standing by the sea emptying it out with a teaspoon, which has been rendered so living {19} for most of us by Botticelli's great picture, is but an earlier example of the same thing. One of Ampère's greatest contemporaries, Laplace, re?choed the same sentiment, perhaps in less striking terms, when he declared that "What we know is but little; while what we do not know is infinite."

Writing of Ampère after his death Ozanam, who knew him best, brought out this extremely interesting union of intellectual qualities, his science, his faith, his charity to the poor which was proverbial, and the charming geniality of his character, as well as his manifold human interests, in a passage that serves very well to sum up the meaning of the great Frenchman's life.

"In addition to his scientific achievements this brilliant genius has other claims upon our admiration and affection.... It was religion which guided the labors of his mind and illuminated his contemplations; he judged all things, science itself, by the exalted standard of religion.... This venerable head which was crowned by achievements and honors, bowed without reserve before the mysteries of faith, down even below the line which the Church has marked for us. He prayed before the same altars before which Descartes and Pascal had knelt; beside the poor widow and the small child who may have been less humble in mind than he was. Nobody observed the regulations of the Church more conscientiously, regulations which are so hard on nature and yet so sweet in the habit. Above all things, however, it is beautiful to see what sublime things Christianity wrought in his great soul; this admirable simplicity, the unassumingness of a mind that recognized everything except its own genius; this high rectitude in matters of science, now so rare, seeking nothing but the truth and never {20} rewards and distinction; the pleasant and ungrudging amiability; and lastly, the kindness with which he met every one, especially young people. I can say that those who know only the intelligence of the man, know only the less perfect part. If he thought much, he loved more."

Ohm, after whom another of the units of electricity is named, was another of the scientists who realized very clearly the existence of Providence and in one very disappointing circumstance in life, when he found that some of his work at which he had spent much time was completely anticipated by a Norwegian investigator, he said very simply, "Man proposes but God disposes"; and he chronicled the fact that without the bait of this discovery which he vaguely foresaw at the beginning he would not have taken up the work, and yet during the time when he was at it "A number of things of which I had no hint at all at the beginning of my researches have come to take the place of my original purpose and compensate for it." When he undertook his next work he foresaw that he might not be ab

le to finish it; he had hoped against hope that he would, and in the preface to the first volume he declared that he would devote himself to it at every possible opportunity and that he hoped and prayed that "God would spare him to complete it." This simplicity of confidence in the Almighty is indeed a striking characteristic of the man of whose discovery of the law of electricity Lord Kelvin declared that it was such an extremely simple expression of a great truth that its significance is probably not confined to that department of physical phenomena, but it is a law of nature in some much broader way. Professor George Chrystal of Edinburgh in his article on electricity in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" (IX Edition) says that {21} Ohm's law must now be allowed to rank with the law of gravitation and the elementary laws of statical electricity as a law of nature in the strictest sense.

Volta, whom the international congress of electricity so deservedly honored by giving his name to one of the units of electricity, is the genius who first constructed an instrument which would give a continuous flow of electricity. The Voltaic pile is a very great invention. Volta was much more, however, than merely an ingenious inventor. He was a great scientist who made discoveries not only in electricity but in various other branches of physical science. He was one of the eight foreign members of the French Institute, Knight Commander of the Legion of Honor, one of the first members of the Italian Academy and the gold medalist of the French Academy. There was nothing he touched in his work that he did not illuminate.

His was typically the mind of the genius, ever reaching out beyond the boundaries of the known,-an abundant source of leading and light for others. Far from being a doubter in matters religious, his scientific greatness seemed only to make him readier to submit to what are sometimes spoken of as the shackles of faith, though to him belief appealed as a completion of knowledge of things beyond the domain of sense or the ordinary powers of intellectual acquisition.

In Volta's time as in our own some of the less important workers in science had their faith disturbed by their knowledge of science and attributed that result to science rather than to the limitations of their own minds. One of them declared that though Volta continued to practice his religion, this was more because he did not want to offend friends and did not care to scandalize his {22} neighbors and especially the poor folk around him in his country home, whom he did not want to be led by his example into giving up what he knew to be the most fruitful source of consolation in the trials of life, rather than because of sincere conviction. Volta, having heard this report, deliberately wrote out his confession of faith, so that all the world of his own and the after time might know it. When he wrote it he was just approaching his sixtieth year and was in the full maturity of his powers. He lived for twelve years afterwards, looked up to as one of the great thinkers of Europe and as one of the most important men of Italy in his time.

"If some of my faults and negligences may have by chance given occasion to some one to suspect me of infidelity, I am ready, as some reparation for this and for any other good purpose, to declare to such a one and to every other person and on every occasion and under all circumstances that I have always held, and hold now, the Holy Catholic Religion as the only true and infallible one, thanking without end the good God for having gifted me with such a faith, in which I firmly propose to live and die, in the lively hope of attaining eternal life. I recognize my faith as a gift of God, a supernatural faith. I have not, on this account, however, neglected to use all human means that could confirm me more and more in it and that might drive away any doubt which could arise to tempt me in matters of faith. I have studied my faith with attention as to its foundations, reading for this purpose books of apologetics as well as those written with a contrary purpose, and trying to appreciate the arguments pro and contra. I have tried to realize from what sources spring the strongest arguments which render faith most credible to natural reason and such as cannot fail to make {23} every well-balanced mind which has not been perverted by vice or passion embrace it and love it. May this protest of mine, which I have deliberately drawn up and which I leave to posterity, subscribed with my own hand and which shows to all and every one that I do not blush at the Gospel-may it, as I have said, produce some good fruit.

"Signed at Milan, January 6, 1815, Alessandro Volta."

Silvio Pellico, whose volume, "My Ten Years' Imprisonment", is one of the precious little books of literature that seem destined to enduring interest, had doubted in the midst of his trials and hardships the presence of Providence in the world and the existence of a hereafter. In the midst of his doubts he turned to Volta.

"In thy old age, O Volta!" said Pellico, "the hand of Providence placed in thy pathway a young man gone astray. 'Oh! thou,' said I to the ancient seer, 'who hast plunged deeper than others into the secrets of the Creator, teach me the road that will lead me to the light.' And the old man made answer: 'I too have doubted, but I have sought. The great scandal of my youth was to behold the teachers of those days lay hold of science to combat religion. For me to-day I see only God everywhere.'"

In spite of traditions to the contrary great physicians in their relation to faith are like the great discoverers in electricity. As a rule the greater they are as original workers in the medical sciences the more emphatic their expressions of their belief in religion and its efficacy in the relief of human ills. The opinions of a few of our greatest physicians in the modern era of medicine are quoted here as examples of their attitude of mind.

Sir Richard Owen, probably the greatest anatomist of {24} the nineteenth century, was a convinced Christian and saw nothing in scientific truth inimical to the Christian faith. In an address before the Young Men's Christian Association, he asked his "fellow Christians":

"Has aught that is essentially Christian suffered-have its truths ceased to spread and operate in mankind-since physical doctrines, supposed or 'declared contrary to Holy Writ', have been established?

"Allay, then, your fears, and trust in the Author of all truth, who has decreed that it shall never perish; who has given a power to man to acquire that most precious of his possessions with an intellectual nature that will ultimately rest upon due demonstrative evidence."

Sir James Paget, sometime president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and vice-chancellor of London University, looked upon as one of the most distinguished of medical scientists in his time, after whom a special disease described by him has been named, in answer to the question as to the attitude of scientists toward religion said: "You will find among scientific men very few who attack either theology or religion. The attacks imputed to them are made, for the most part, by those who, with a very scanty knowledge of science, use, not its facts, but its most distant inferences, as they do whatever else they can get from any source, for the overthrow of religious beliefs."

Sir Samuel Wilks, another of the presidents of the Royal College of Physicians and distinguished in many other ways among the physicians of Great Britain, in his Harveian Oration expressed himself very definitely in this matter of the relations of science and religion, and his quotation from our own Oliver Wendell Holmes adds to the interest of what he has to say.

{25}

"Hear what a learned professor of anatomy, Wendell Holmes, can say: 'Science represents the thought of God discovered by man; by learning the natural laws he attaches effects to their first cause, the will of the Creator', or in the poetic language of Goethe: 'Nature is the living garment of God.'

"Science conducts us through infinite paths; it is a fruitful pursuit for the most poetic imagination. We take the world as we find it and endeavor to unravel its mysteries; but the Alpha and Omega we know not. Enough for us to look at what is lying around us; it is a part we see and not the whole, but we can say with the poet, 'We doubt not, through the ages one increasing purpose runs.'"

Professor Sims Woodhead, well known as one of the distinguished contributors to pathology in the nineteenth century and who was, before being professor of pathology at Cambridge the director of the Laboratories of the Conjoint Board of the Royal College of Physicians (London) and Surgeons (England) may very well be taken as a representative of the medical scientists of the last generation of the nineteenth century. It has been said that where there are three physicians there are two atheists, and perhaps this may be true among the smaller fry of the profession, but it certainly is not among the most distinguished members of it. Such men as Pasteur, Lord Lister, Robert Graves, Corrigan, La?nnec, Claude Bernard, Johannes Müller, are the outspoken contradiction of it. Pathology and anatomy, in both of which subjects Professor Woodhead was a teacher, are often said to be rather serious in their inroads on the faith of the men who pursue them closely. Professor Woodhead is on record categorically with regard to this subject of {26} the relations of the Bible and religion, and science and religion, and his words are well worth while quoting here.

"As regards the statement that 'recent scientific research has shown the Bible and Religion to be untrue', nothing is further from the real fact; the more the Bible is tested the more it is found to be made up of historical documents. Moreover, it is recognized that the Bible, as a record of truths, never falls foul of Science in its search after truth, and scientific men are too true to themselves to take the stand that they will not accept truth of any kind.

"I agree with you that certain theories put forward in the name of Science may be opposed to certain theological dogmas; but men are certainly coming to see that between the facts of Science and the essential teachings of the Christian religion there is never any real opposition; and by the 'Christian Religion' I mean the religion of Christ, not what some people have wished to read into it; and by 'science' I mean a search for truth and knowledge, and by 'men of science' I mean men engaged in that search."

Professor John W. Taylor, one of the distinguished physicians of Great Britain and president of the British Gynecological Society, summed up the answer to the question "Can We Still Believe?" in words that show how devout a great medical scientist can be:

"What can we 'hold by' as Christians? We can hold by the Faith of the early Apostles as enunciated in the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds, and plainly foreshadowed in 1 Cor. xv. This was written within thirty years of our Lord's crucifixion and must have been 'received' by St. Paul immediately on his conversion." Any one who will turn to that chapter of First Corinthians will {27} find that it contains all the essentials of Christian faith, yet here is a great modern physician finding in it the expression of his own mental attitude toward religion in our time.

Biologists, in spite of popular impressions to the contrary, have paralleled physicians in this regard. To cite but one or two:

Professor George Romanes, who was considered not alone one of the leaders of scientific thought in England, but one of the foremost naturalists of modern times, after expressions as a younger man that showed his deep and even devout belief in religion, wrote somewhat later a defense of atheism on scientific grounds. Some years afterwards, in the maturity of his powers, he prepared a thorough-going recantation of this in the shape of a work designed to show the fallacy of his former atheistic views, in which he said:

"It is a general, if not a universal rule that those who reject Christianity with contempt are those who care not for religion of any kind. 'Depart from me' has always been the sentiment of such. On the other hand, those in whom the religious sentiment is intact, but who have rejected Christianity on intellectual grounds, still almost deify Christ. These facts are remarkable."

"Unbelief," Professor Romanes concluded, "is usually due to indolence, often to prejudice, and never a thing to be proud of."

In every department of science one finds the representatives of the various branches of scientific study in harmony on this subject of religion and science. Professor George Boulger, whose work has been mainly done in botany and who was a fellow of a number of the scientific societies of England and vice-president of the Selborne {28} Society, has some very direct expressions in the matter that add to the significance of what has been said by others.

"In philosophy, in physics, and in astronomy I am content to place myself on the side of Bacon, of Newton, of Napoleon. I believe, with Bacon, that 'a little Philosophy inclineth Man's Minde to Atheisme; but depth in Philosophy bringeth Men's Mindes about to Religion.' With Newton I am content to 'seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.' With Napoleon-not a man of science but a man of the world, a man of action-I would say to our neo-Epicureans as he did to his sceptical officers, pointing to the stars, 'Gentlemen, you may talk all night, but who made all these?'"

He recognized how many difficulties there might be for the scientist, but felt, as Cardinal Newman once said, that hundreds of difficulties may not make a single doubt. Professor Boulger has dealt with some of these cruder difficulties with trenchant directness.

"I am perfectly aware of the temptation of the physiological laboratory, when one is face to face with the facts of the localisation of brain-functions and the influence of purely physical conditions upon mentality, until one is almost led to Buchner's gross misstatement that 'the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile'; but here, as ever, it is at the very base of the problem that the unsolved mystery shows itself insoluble. Force, Matter, Life, Thought, Will,-what are they, whence come they? Science deals with their phenomena, their manifestations. With John Ray I would term the study of nature a pious duty, one suited to a Sabbath day and not {29} improbably one of the main occupations of the endless Sabbaths hereafter.... But true science will never presume to say that it can deal with anything beyond these phenomena. As I am as convinced that the Christian Faith is a Divine revelation as I am that 'Nature' is the creation of the Divine First Cause, it is, of course, to me unthinkable that there could be any conflict between them."

Not only the scientists themselves but the philosophic students of the whole range of modern thought who took the information imparted by the specialists and coordinated it for the purpose of finding the philosophic conclusions to be drawn from it all as to man's life and destiny and the meaning of it all have recognized the place of religion in Life and its significance for humanity.

Mr. Frederic Harrison, the well-known English apostle of Comte, whose Positivism might possibly have been expected to lead him away from such ideas, did not hesitate in the midst of that wave of skepticism which spread over Europe shortly after the "silly seventies" when so many even of the well-informed thought that natural selection was going to explain everything for us and solve all the mysteries, to utter some very strong words on the subject that well deserve to be recalled. In his book, "The Creed of a Layman," he said, for instance:

"I believe that before all things, needful beyond all else, is true religion. This only can give wisdom, happiness and goodness to men and a nobler life to mankind. Nothing but this can sustain, guide and satisfy all lives, control all characters and unite all men. True religion must rule in every heart, brain and will, over every people of the whole earth; inspire every thought, hallow every emotion and be the guide of every act."

{30}

And by what he termed the true religion Mr. Harrison did not mean merely some vague deism or some shadowy belief in a vaguer power that made for righteousness, but a very definite personal relationship to a personal God who was not only to be looked up to and reverenced but who was to be loved.

"The paramount importance to Man of Religion-at once dominant over brain and heart-a living reality and working power-the necessity for this has not only never left me at any time but year by year has grown deeper as a conviction and more familiar as a rule of life. But as the indispensable need of true religion grew stronger in my mind, I more and more came to feel that religion would end in vague sentimentality unless it has an object of devotion distinctly grasped by the intellect and able to kindle ardent emotions. The nature-if not the name-of the Supreme Being is in truth decisive. Unless the Supreme Power be felt to be in sympathy with the believer, be akin to the believer, be in active touch with his life and heart, such a religion is merely a dogma; it cannot be a guide of life in the spring of action-the object of love."

Agnosticism, so fashionable in educational circles at the end of the nineteenth century, has practically disappeared, or at least has suffered such an eclipse that its adherents are comparatively few. There was a time in the generation that is still alive when a great many educators who felt that they were the leaders of thought in our time were quite sure that agnosticism would be the only mode of intellectual reaction which the educated man could possibly think of allowing to take place in him by the time the year of grace 1920 had come. Instead agnosticism, like so many other movements of similar {31} kind founded on human thinking, in accord with the fashion of the moment, has dwindled into insignificance. Fortunately there were some educators who even twenty-five years ago recognized the real portent of it and stated their opinions so emphatically as to keep the educational world of their time from being entirely run away with. President Schurman of Cornell said:

"Agnosticism is the apotheosis of skepticism. It is skepticism as a creed, as a system, as an ultimate resting-place. Those who proclaim it strangely misread the processes and the conditions of our spiritual life. They make the aimless gropings of the youthful intellect an ideal for the thinking of mature men. Only, instead of the awful earnestness of the inquiring youth, they often affect an indifference to the great problems which oppress him. As though we could be indifferent to the highest interests of the human spirit! So long as life lasts, so long must we strive to grasp the ultimate truth of things. To shut our eyes to problems is an ostrich policy. Man is called by an inner voice to strive, and strive, and strive, and not to yield. Agnosticism would eradicate this noble endeavor. Its only justification, so far as I can see, is that men never attain the absolute truth, but only make successive approximations to it."

Such men seem to forget the great lesson that the differential calculus has taught us. It represents one of the greatest developments of modern mathematics. It does not solve problems by absolute solutions but by such approximations as make the answer which cannot be reached very clear. It has been of immense value in adding to the knowledge of mankind and in giving science particularly a command over principles that would otherwise seem impossible. Religion requires {32} faith to complete it. Knowledge can never more than approximate conclusions with regard to many religious questions. Such approximations, however, like the answers in differential calculus, represent real advances on the road to knowledge that are of great value in directing men toward what is best in life.

Mr. Frederic Harrison has answered this question "Can We Still Believe?" by insisting that belief in the hereafter is the most precious heritage that man has, to be fostered above all else. He said:

"The great truth of a life beyond the grave is indeed one of the best possessions of Man, the fondest of all noble, living and working doctrines on earth. When Paul first preached it in that sublime song of triumph over death, which has so often thrilled us to the marrow as we stood round the coffined dead, he gave the human race a new and imperishable hope to last while the planet endures.... Let us cherish and hold fast this glad tiding of good things."

Any one who faces the question of religion seriously realizes that not only it is not a thing of the past but that the rationalistic tendencies of the later nineteenth century have had their usual inevitable reaction emphasized by the Great War, so that men are readier to be swayed by religious influences than ever before. The more one studies the problems of health of mind and of body connected with religion, and the strong factor that it is for the making of character, the shaping of destiny and the cultivation of happiness, the more one realizes the truth of Napoleon's expression that if religion were to disappear we should have to reinvent it, because of the immense benefit that it represents for mankind.

{33}

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares