Relation Between Science, Philosophy And Religion
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"Science is exact knowledge of the facts of nature, classified and systematized."
"Philosophy is the conclusions which men, in their search for a knowledge of truth, have drawn from the facts of Science."
"Religion is the application of the facts of Science and the conclusions of Philosophy to individual life and conduct." —The Great Work, page 184.
Science, Philosophy and Religion ought to begin with the known facts of human life and its environment. They represent three attempts to explain the universe. Their mission is correlated, namely, to extend the limitations of knowledge, to cultivate devotion and obedience to Truth and Law, to include and comprehend man as he is with all that he is capable of becoming in one explanation of life or story of the process of evolution which shall be in harmony with the whole plan that apparently fills all time and space. (See Diagram No. 5.)
The evolution, growth and development of Science, Philosophy and Religion involve the whole history of man as differentiated from the animals. The progress which man has made in these departments measures his departure from the animal plane. The goal is ever-present and will, doubtless, always continue to be the next step. There is no zenith. There can be no conclusion. No doubt, the unknown will continue to exist, and thus provide materials and incentives for growth in knowledge, refinement and power.
The principle of gradual development, or evolution, seems to pervade and illumine every department of nature and every phase of human life and thought. This grand principle is clearly not dependent upon organic evolution of physical bodies. That is a minor theory which has too long obscured far more important facts and relations. These more important facts and relations are analyzed and synthesized in Science, Philosophy and Religion.
We have no knowledge of any beginnings but imperfect ones. We have no information regarding origins which do not indicate far less perfect conditions than are now visible. There is no reliable record of any Golden Age or any previous better condition. The theory called "the Fall of Man," based upon the first chapters of Genesis, does not give any particulars of a previous better state. That allegory does not picture anything in Adam's attainments prior to "the fall" which we would consider as satisfactory. If the Adamic state is considered satisfactory it is difficult to explain why Adam "fell."
However, there is very probably a dim record in every soul, of feelings and intuitions of what may have been the "Fall" or descent of spirit into matter. This may have given rise to the tradition, but it is merely speculative, in the absence of further knowledge. Nevertheless, there are some things which we may reasonably consider that we do know. For example:
We know that History begins with story, legend and tradition. It is the labor and difficulty of historians of every epoch, modern or ancient, to separate the facts from their associations.
We know that Science and Religion alike had their origin in myths. One had just as respectable a birth as the other. They have equally good, and bad, records. It is the proper business of every honest person to discriminate and to select what seems most reasonable while rejecting the explanations which seem unreasonable.
We know that great empires were established for centuries upon the theory of "the divine right of kings." The gradual increase of intelligence and independence has diminished the power of that theory to a considerable extent.
We know that many systems of laws were supposed to be of Divine gift. Only when the intellectual development of the people advanced beyond the limits allowed by the system, did they doubt its origin. When they were able to legislate improvements for themselves, they understood the necessary derivation of all laws from human insight and understanding.
Now, if History and Science, Empires and Legislations began in mythological beliefs, is there any reason for casting any reflection upon Religion for having a similar origin?
It is evident that the race has ascended to the degree of knowledge it has of every kind, through legend, myth and fable. Science, Philosophy and Religion have similar histories. All forms of government, Ecclesiastical, Military and Civil, have the same main features of historical development; nor can any man say which has the best record.
Therefore, representatives of any system or institution should be considerate with representatives of any other.
Science, Philosophy and Religion are all tainted with personal opinions, prejudices and ignorance. In fact, it would seem that to every individual clings more or less of tradition, superstition, imperfect intuitions, or the results of imagination. One of the greatest obstacles to adequate interpretations is a limited range of genuine knowledge. "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Intelligent and justly-famed Biologists endeavor to interpret higher ranges of nature's phenomena by the principles and laws they have discerned among the animals. On the other hand, men of deep personal piety and sterling character ignore the vast range of nature's phenomena and the great achievements of Science because these are outside of their religious interests as they understand them.
The tendency of Science and Religion to approach a unity in intelligence and reverence is one measure of their growth. The scientist needs the religious spirit in the true sense to appreciate the highest product of nature of which we are cognizant, which is the soul of man. The religious man needs Science to enable him to appreciate his own environment and the possibilities afforded thereby.
To many people the idea of a scientific Religion is unthinkable, preposterous, and even blasphemous. But patient thinking and correct Philosophy bave changed this attitude in many cases. True Religion and true Philosophy are both scientific. Devotion to Science should become part of Religion. Religion is applied Science and Philosophy.
As all our present institutions are products of the past, we have interest in everything that illumines the mental pathway of our ancestors. While learning from the past, we should resolve to make better records in every respect. We are animated with more intelligent and powerful life forces, especially on the mental and spiritual planes. Our facilities for accomplishing definite results are superior in numberless respects. We have greater opportunities than any preceding generation.
Science is being continually re-written, but it is not discredited thereby. Without having absolute confidence in the full correctness of any explanation of nature's phenomena and laws, we have working faith in all Science as it exists. We are not disabled by our consciousness of its limitations and its lack of certainty. On the contrary, we are assisted by the degree of knowledge which we have attained. Our cheerfulness is not founded upon presumption but upon a large degree of certainty.
Why not demand a pure Religion as well as a pure Science? Why not labor in the same spirit in both departments? The desire of human life for perfect correspondence with the highest possible environment demands a pure Science. The determination to conform one's life to knowledge makes true Religion possible.
Science, Philosophy and Religion are still in process. Their growth reflects the growth of mankind. In no one of them is man complete. Nevertheless, we must believe in our own possibilities and allow ourselves opportunity to grow. We must labor with the conscious and intelligent energies of Life's best and highest forces in order to deserve our own respect.
Nothing in nature is more fixed than the laws of change. This process includes evolution, development, progress; but it also includes the phases of decay, retrogression and death, where correspondence to environment is not maintained. It is a matter for individual choice whether the life will be conformed to nature's Constructive Principle or nature's Destructive Principle.
The opportunities of an individual may be summed up as consisting of his possibilities of making attainments in Science, Philosophy and Religion, as these are defined in the quotation from The Great Work at the beginning of this chapter. The Great Work itself is this personal attainment.
Science, Philosophy and Religion have complementary, supplementary and corrective relations to human development and to each other as departments of thought and knowledge. They are all necessary if we would gain and retain mental and spiritual healthfulness. A healthful soul can readily make the frequent re-adjustments which are made necessary by new knowledge. Neither the credulous attitude nor the sceptical attitude is correct. The questions which arise daily test the soul's integrity as between these two attitudes. Caution and courage, perseverance and willingness to change, are alike essential.
The mere fact that we have changed our opinions, that we have grown mentally, that we have abandoned error; all these should demonstrate that we cannot be certain of our present judgments. How often have we been positive of our so-called facts, of our opinions, of our judgments, and yet what slight changes have revealed their inadequacy or error ! The wise man has learned the necessity for caution and mental reservation. Firmness is entirely consistent with the quickest readiness to drop error for truth.
Through necessity we are compelled to accept partial knowledge. But when we have studied to know the truth, we may be satisfied as to our own conscientiousness and willingness, even though not satisfied with the degree of knowledge attained. The higher qualities of our natures are disciplined by just such imperfect conditions as we find existing in this world. Therefore, we have a right to be satisfied with the process, though not with the attainments. We need confidence that worthy results will finally be attained, based upon present ratios of progress.
Science, Philosophy and Religion are human institutions and reflect perfectly the status of achievement and development. Every intelligent person may find ample opportunity for worthy employment of his strongest and best faculties in one or more departments.
A Philosopher is "a spectator of all time and of all existence," and it is inconceivable that he or she should not also be obedient to Truth, Law and Beauty, and, therefore, religious. Philosophy is the individual's interpretation of Science. Philosophy is the individual's interpretation of Religion. Philosophy is the individual's interpretation of life and its opportunities. But the real philosophy of an individual is revealed by his life. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
The individual who feels a real need soon begins to think. New thought becomes active and potential as soon as assimilated. It begins to serve its purpose when it has been united with the previous attainments and when it can be used as a foundation for the next stage in development. Knowledge is not an end only, but is also a means of making greater attainments, toward infinity.
The development of human character would seem to be the highest purpose conserved by the plan of creation and evolution. Additional knowledge is needed for every degree of attainment. The individualization of universal intelligence appears to be part of the process of character building. The development of the inherent or embryonic possibilities of the ideal, the "Divine,". the "Godlike," seems to be the highest privilege of each individual entity or soul.
When an intelligent soul becomes aware of this possibility and this inherent responsibility, then, and not till then, does he recognize the necessity for definite, accurate, formulated Science, Philosophy and Religion. Knowledge in each of these departments then becomes more valuable than diamonds and gold.
While we search various Sciences for knowledge and unite them for a Philosophy of Life, while we establish obedience to Law and call it Religion, still there is a natural unity of all knowledge and life. This unity is found in and preserved by human beings. The reconciliation of Science and Religion in the abstract is a mythical ideal.
Each Science has the responsibility of its department. Philosophy correlates the facts into essential truth. Religion secures obedience and reverence. Yet human life alone makes Science, Philosophy and Religion valuable and potent. It is the quality of human life that determines the value of abstract truth. A human soul filled with Science, Philosophy and Religion is the noblest work of God and man.