The Religion Of Science
( Originally Published 1912 )
Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.—PAUL.
When one contemplates some great object in nature it is difficult to analyze and describe his emotions, but he realizes that he is brought into relation with something greater than himself and by this conta& he is drawn into a more exalted condition. Something like this ought to occur when religion is the object of meditation. The heart should be filled with exultation. That this effect may be produced, religion must be a thing of great power and beauty. It must be as sublime as mountain and ocean and charming as a rising or setting sun. Only thus can it pour a deeper meaning into life.
Being a product of the mind, it follows that religion will partake of the quality of the mind which forms it. Perhaps the intellect of mankind will never reach the absolute truth. It is certain it never has reached it. That which may seem to be very nearly a perfect conclusion for one age, for a subsequent age seems to be very inadequate. This does not warrant the thinkers of any period to become indifferent nor free them from attempting to find a better theory. The most any era can do is to discover all the truth possible and trust that future eras will improve upon its work. It is thus that government and science and art have been extended and refined. When Thales began to seek for the causes and laws of the world, by a study of phenomena, science was taking its first steps. Since then it has made a long journey. Many centuries and many incomplete theories lie between Archimedes and Newton, between Lucretius and Dar-win. Government and art have been subject to the same incompleteness. All progress has been made only as rapidly as human intelligence has advanced. No product of the mind can be greater than the mind which produces it.
This is no more true of government and science and art than it is of religion. The larger a soul becomes, the larger are its moral and spiritual truths. To a beauty-loving heart a deformed religion is intolerable. A rational mind will reject all irrational doctrines. One cannot be proud of his science and ashamed of his religion. He must be proud of both. To this end they should be equally great and equally true. It is told of Faraday that when he went into the laboratory he left his religion, and when he went into the church he left his science outside. There ought not to be any need of this kind. When science and religion cannot meet without a quarrel it shows that there is something wrong with one of them. A religion that accepts and loves all the discovered truths and principles of the world and a science which confesses that, so long as a finite mind is surrounded by an infinite universe there are and will ever be undiscovered and undiscoverable truths, can only be friends. In its love for all truth, religion should be scientific; and, in its reverence for the unknown, science should be religious.
In every other department of human thought our age has witnessed a marked advance. Small ideas and superstitions have been dropped by the way while large principles have moved steadily forward. For a long time religion resisted this advancing tendency. This seems very strange. Claiming that, by its very nature, it is nearer the source of truth than any of its companions it should have been first to note all signs of progress and have been nearest its divine leader. Instead of being a camp-follower it should have been the advance guard of the great marching host. As the mountain summits first catch the rays of the rising sun and announce to the valleys and plains that a new day has arrived, so religion, making good its claim that it reaches farthest toward the everlasting light, should be first to herald to the world that a new day has dawned demanding new thoughts, new emotions, and new deeds. The humiliating confession must be made that this has not been the case. Man as an art being, as a philosophy being, as a science being went on far in advance of man as a religious being.
We live in an age in which mankind can predict eclipses, send messages around the world outspeeding time, make steam engines and electric motors, write books on liberty, and build republics. It is an age of great education, great reasoning, great intellectual triumphs. Yet there are some theologians who seem to be partly unaware of this greatness. Many of them are educated, but their education has not made them see that a few universal religious principles are much more important than a multitude of small beliefs and ceremonies, Many of them are reasonable in every-thing except religion. They are singular compounds of rationalism and superstition. In politics, in education, in science they live in the twentieth, but in theology they live in the sixteenth century. Ovid tells of many metamorphoses. Arethusa was changed into a fountain; Daphne into a laurel; Calisto into a bear; Coronis into a crow; Aglauros into a statue. Such things did not belong to the mythology of his day or the Poet would have described the method by which a rational being is transformed into a theologian. Perhaps the heresy trials of these days will furnish a mythology for some future age.
The aim of science is truth. That is also the aim of religion. To this all agree. The only difference is concerning the method by which truth is acquired. Science is truth reached by a process of observation and reflection. But many churchmen have believed that religious truth is superior to this process. It was placed in a book thousands of years ago and all man needs is the possession of this volume and an understanding of its contents. In the field of science doubt is perfectly allowable. It is even beneficial and indispensable because it leads to renewed and more careful investigation. It is only in the department of relig ion that we are taught doubt is unlawful and sinful. As a motive for inquiry it is not needed, for inquiry itself is unnecessary. It cannot lead to new truth, because all truth is already in possession of mankind. Being free from error, it cannot be an object of criticism. He who rejects any of its assumed truths is regarded as an outcast and only worthy of punishment throughout all the future.
Gradually the conditions are changing. Nearly all churchmen are conceding the fallibility of the Bible. Like science, theology is a form of reasoned truth and is subject to all the errors of human thinking. Doubt is not necessarily evil. In many cases it is beneficial. The punishment given the heretic is very mild compared with former times. The greater number of churchmen are full of toleration for the doubter, while the outside world treats heresy hunting as a jest. It is reported that when Pope Leo was told of Renan's death, he asked: "How did he die?" Being answered: "Impenitent," he said: "That is well. He has proved that his doubt was sincere. He will be judged by that and it may absolve him." This shows an immense advance in religious toleration since the days when the inquisition was in good working order. All the sects are a little less certain that they possess all truth than they once were.
That realism which not long ago came into art and literature is at last invading our religion. It asks that nothing but facts and principles be included within it. This realism has erased many things that were once accepted as true. This has been done in the department of science as well as in the department of religion. Both have contained many errors. Often there has been great difficulty in reaching a rational conclusion, because the things introduced as evidence were not true or some principle bearing on the case was unknown. The effort to account for certain things is very difficult when the things themselves have no existence. The ancient philosophers were much puzzled in attempting to assign a reason for the perpetual spring of a country lying beyond the North Wind and the eternal youth of its inhabitants. It was the land of Hyperborea. Their energy was misspent for neither land nor people had any existence. In his his natural history Oliver Goldsmith says that Indians sometimes pass safely in their canoes over the falls of Niagara. Having seen the cataract and an Indian canoe one would not puzzle his mind very long as to how this feat could be accomplished. He would dismiss it as an absurdity. One is not obliged to find a reason for the impossible. Pliny stated that before engaging in battle with the elephant the rhinoceros always sharpens its tusks. The foresight and wisdom of the great beast were much admired until it was discovered it did no such thing. Still another writer tells of a great opening in the exact center of the earth into which every year immense droves of animals descended and were never seen again. Before speculating as to the use of such an opening, why animals entered it, and what became of them, the scientific method would first make an inquiry into the facts. Finding the whole story to be the product of imagination it would be dismissed.
It is this rational process that is freeing theology from many of its errors. The method of inquiry has been extended until it includes the sacred books. Until recently whatever was recorded in the Jewish and Christian writings was believed simply because it was found in them. Its reasonableness or its lack of reasonableness had nothing to do with its acceptance. The story of the Hyperboreans, of the cavern opening into the center of the earth, of Indians shooting Niagara in safety, of the rhinoceros whetting its tusks for battle, of Phaeton and his sun chariot are not found in the Bible, but, had they been found in that book, there was a time when we would all have believed them. We would have proceeded on the assumption that they were a part of the word of God and to doubt them would be sinful. Not being found in the Bible, to doubt them is an indication of good-sense. Now nearly all intelligent persons are applying the test of reason to the religious books. Many are asking how Moses could write an account of his own death and burial. In our youth we were told that such things were mysteries, but being found in the Bible it was our duty to believe them. Now such explanations are far from satisfactory. There is no use in assuming a miracle to account for something that never occurred. The human mind, in everything else, can distinguish between a mystery and a mistake. It is now learning how to do the same thing in religion. This does not indicate hostility to the Bible writers so much as it indicates friendship for a true religion. When students of science no longer think that the walls of a city fell at the blast of-trumpets, that an iron axe was brought from the bottom of a river when a stick of wood was cast over the place, that the waters of Jordan parted when Elijah struck them with his cloak, that a whole army was stricken with temporary blindness in answer to prayer, that sun and moon halted-at the command of a man, or that a prophet rose from the tomb to rebuke a king, they are only doing as they have done with stories of similar import in other books. They do not do this because they love the Bible less, but the truth more. It is not because they are enemies, but because they are friends of religion. Because they love it they wish to free it from errors of every kind. Like Caesar's household, they wish it to be above all suspicion.
In the change now taking place religion is following the same path art has followed. It is transferring its interest from imaginary to real objects. Sculpture no more fashions an Apollo or a Laocoon. -It chisels some real hero or some slave liberated from something more terrible than the serpents of Tenedos. No modern canvas contains a picture of Venus rising from the sea-waves or St. George and the Dragon or Sibyls or Cherubs. It contains the portrait of some one in history; or a meadow in which, not centaurs nor oxen of the sun are roaming, but real horses and cattle are seen; or a potato field in which a man and woman have turned for a moment from toil to prayer. Thus religion is passing from mythology into history, from the imaginary to the actual. The rational mind can no more be satisfied with an unreasonable religion than a musical heart can be satisfied with a discord. Our theology must become as reasonable as our science.
A religion of science is not necessarily hostile to religious sentiment. It only asks that sentiment be inspired by worthy things. A famous humorist represents some travelers in the Orient weeping over the grave of Adam. They are a fit subject for laughter. A religion of science would, indeed, bid those weepers dry their eyes, but it would show them things in the universe worthy of deep and holy emotion. There is nothing can so touch the heart as the contemplation of a great truth of nature. The astronomer is often overcome by the sublimity of the night sky, as he keeps watch in his lonely tower. Kepler broke into a cry of wonder and joy when a law of the stars was revealed to him. The Matterhorn filled Tyndall with an inexpressible sadness and longing. On Penikese island, before beginning a study of the mysterious forms of life cast up by the sea, Agassiz and his students bowed, their heads in prayer.
Thus the love of facts does not steal emotion from the heart. It only takes away fictions and gives realities. It says: Do not waste your tears over the grave of some mythical Adam. There are actual graves all around you demanding your sympathy. Do not wonder over the story of those people miraculously fed in their wilderness wanderings. Reserve it for this greater miracle,—that heaven and earth are feeding fifteen hundred millions of human beings during their seventy year journey across this planet. Do not puzzle yourself over the story that the Jordan once parted its waters at the command of a prophet. Look at the bridges which span the Mississippi. Do not wonder over the report that the sun and moon once halted that the slaughter of men might continue. Rather wonder that they do not halt; that century after century, age after age they keep on their way, warming earth by day, cheering it by night, giving life and not death to human multitudes. If you find it impossible to love 'a God who created a race and then damned a great part of it for his own glory; who ordered a man to be stoned to death for gathering wood on the seventh day of the week; who ordered all the men and women and children of a captured city to be slaughtered; who put lying spirits in the mouth of his prophets,--a partial and cruel and jealous God,—then cease trying to love him. Go out into the sun-shine and think of its cause; see the verdure of spring, the harvests of summer, the splendor of autumn; look upward and think of world upon world in which similar scenes appear and amid whose grass and flowers perhaps other and nobler races of beings are walking. Ask: Whence came all this? When the mind returns its answer, dull must the heart be, indeed if it is not overcome by emotion,--a sacred passion composed of equal parts of wonder, reverence and love.
No one need fear that a religion of science will be lacking in moral sanctions and moral warnings. It has its Sinai where the divine laws are issued to man-kind. They are not written on tables of stone alone, but are everywhere graven in the nature of things. Its irrevocable decree is: The wages of sin is death. It is as impossible to raise happiness after sowing vice as it is to gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles. Though the church might cease preaching self-restraint nature would continue. Jesus once said that if he should keep silent the very stones would cry out. Thus if the pulpit should cease to rebuke sin, nature would take up the task. If revival meetings should stop, the moral and physical laws would go on. An old reformer once reasoned of temperance and chastity and judgment so effectively that a Roman governor trembled. That old hero is now far away, but nature is still here and, speaking through human experience, its eloquence is no less persuasive, no less thrilling, no less authoritative. Hearing its voice there are times when we should all tremble. Science has not destroyed heaven and hell; it has only explained them. It does not postpone them to an indefinite future nor make them dependent upon belief or unbelief; it places them in the present and makes them depend upon conduct. Disobedience to law is hell; obedience to law is heaven.
Thus science, reason and religion are one in their 'demands. Taken together they are a force, constant and irresistible. They are a form of Providence. They are the action of a God. Theologies come and go, rites and emblems are passing shadows; but the laws of nature remain and are unchangeable. It is by these unchanging principles the planets were formed and sent on their amazing career; by them man appeared on earth; by them art and science and religion grew up from the human soul; by them the seasons come and go in their rich and varied beauty. So it is by law man comes to happiness. He comes as a loving and rational soul. In exchanging a religion of theology for a religion of science man loses no deterrent from vice and no aid to virtue.
Such a religion will not be devoid of beauty. The church has many times made its gorgeous pageantry the decoration of falsehood. It has waved its flags and sung its glorias over battle fields. Thousands of churchmen have assembled to decide questions of no importance. The beauty of a scientific religion will be the decoration of truth. Its Te Deums will be chanted to a God as loving as He is powerful. Being still in a world of marvelous forms, rich colors and sweet sounds, it will ask the assistance of painting and music and eloquence to express its great truths and holy sentiments. They will ornament a religion whose God is just; whose duty is divine; whose love is all-powerful and all inclusive; whose happiness is unending.
This religion will be universal. It will be no more sectarian than music, than sunshine is sectarian. Such terms as Jew and Christian, Catholic and Protestant will be absent. Sinking mere names and rites and opinions out of sight, it will make character the cause of salvation. Rejecting all Divine favoritism for race or sect, its benefits and losses will all be natural, its rewards irrevocably attached to personal virtue, its penalties irrevocably attached to personal vice. It will not be anxious concerning the authorship of the sacred books; it will make a wise selection from all their varied contents of those truths possessing power to in-spire the soul. It will touch civilization on each of its many sides. It will furnish an adequate motive for noble actions and will plead with man to seek for success only in the path of honor, for happiness only in the field of virtue. It will unveil the great duties and opportunities of the present; and will paint the future in colors richer than those which nature is now pouring over the October woods.