THEOSOPHY, Vol. 31, No. 4, February, 1943 (Pages 145-148; Size: 12K) (Part 1 of 2)
COMPROMISE IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
EVERY epoch of intellectual and moral history has its attempts at synthesis of the ideas of religion and the ideas of science. Some of these efforts attain a degree of plausibility which makes them acceptable to many, as was the "natural religion" of the liberal theologians of the early nineteenth century in England. But so soon as another great step in scientific progress is accomplished, new difficulties emerge, and the task of "reconciliation" has to be done again.
The impact of the Darwinian Theory of evolution presented the theological world with a vast amount of new facts, all of which had to be assimilated or explained away in terms of religious ideas -- an undertaking which met with little, or at best, indifferent, success. To date, it has always been religion that has given way before the facts, or supposed facts, of science. Christianity, in fact, today retains so little of its former complicated structure of doctrine, that a so-called "liberal" rendition of Christian truth would hardly be recognized by the Christians of a few centuries ago. All that is left of Christianity is a nebulous conception of God, the personal life of Jesus as an ethical paradigm, and the doctrine of divine love as the characteristic of both Father and Son. In all other respects, modern protestant Christianity accepts the authority of Science as final, and is even relieved to be free of the obligation of taking literally many of the Biblical absurdities that were once held to be infallible Truth.
Such concessions as have been made by science to religion are in the nature of a growing humanitarian spirit, and a more tolerant agnosticism, rather than any admissions of error. These concessions, moreover, are not in response to appeals from religionists, but spring from the perception that unless mankind develops into a less destructive species, it will destroy itself. Hence the strong social coloring in much of the scientific literature of the past decade. Hence, also, the serious searching of the possibilities of some sort of scientific religion by several of the leaders in scientific thought.
Occasionally, some scientist, like Arthur Holly Compton, will lean so far in the direction of religion as to accept the personal God, which rejoices the Christian community beyond words. But Dr. Compton has few converts among his more eminent colleagues, the viewpoint of real scientists having been forcefully expressed at the 1940 Conference of Science, Religion and Philosophy by Albert Einstein. The great physicist warned the shocked professors and preachers that the personal God idea is one of the most serious defects of our Western culture.
Certain religious leaders have lately become so "liberal" that they no longer seem to believe in much of anything except "goodness" and "love," with the result that they are neither scientific nor religious, having obtained by their compromise only the weaknesses of the two points of view. Nevertheless, the superficial appearance of unity between science and religion has for several years been complacently taken for genuine reconciliation by many wishful thinkers. Preachers have echoed the words of scientific leaders in the pretence or pious hope that their congregations would feel that no conflict exists between science and religion, and the less critical of the scientific fraternity have hoped to gain conventional acceptance and popularity by acknowledging the validity of religious doctrines in the field of "faith." The general result has been a popular assumption by the man in the street that he is under no necessity of choosing between science and religion -- the two are "complementary." This view is welcomed because it requires no thought on the part of the individual, but is simply a type of the many compromises human nature indulges in, given the slightest justification.
For a scientist to speak out against this false unity is, then, a service to society. In Fortune for December, 1942, Julian Huxley, grandson of Thomas Huxley and leading contemporary biologist, challenged the view, earlier set forth by Fortune contributors, that "the truth of God and the truth of the scientific world are complementary." He states the scientific view in three propositions:The supernatural is in part the region of the natural that has not yet been understood, in part an invention of human fantasy, in part the unknowable.The first two statements need to be further developed before they can be critically examined from the Theosophical point of view, but the meaning of the third is clear: Science can have naught to do with the concept of a personal God. "Outside powers" of the Jehovistic variety are absolutely incompatible with the scientific concept of impersonal law, and no real scientist will ever admit a personal creator into his cosmology.
Body and soul are not separate entities but two aspects of one organization. . . . Matter and mind are two aspects of one reality.
. . . we have no longer either the intellectual or the moral right to shift . . . responsibility from our own shoulders to those of God or any other outside power.
Thus a scientific religion, such as so many modern writers are demanding, will have to be founded on a pantheistic conception of Deity. This is the test of true religion from the scientific point of view. But what of science? What must science accept in order to participate in the religious spirit, honestly and effectively?
If we elucidate the other propositions offered by Mr. Huxley, in terms of his earlier writings, we find the assumption that chance plays a large part in the formation of human character. He disposes of reincarnation by arguing that the "shuffling" of the genes in the meiotic process which follows fertilization of the ovum is sufficient to account for the traits and endowments of the man to be. Thus immortality, as part of the "supernatural," is that part Huxley names "an invention of human fantasy."
Why are scientists so prejudiced against immortality? Actually, there is no scientific fact that can be arrayed against the idea of a life of soul, nor are there any implications in the teaching of reincarnation or any other concept of immortality that in any way threaten the progress of scientific inquiry. The real reason for this scientific opposition lies in the long association of the idea of soul with a personal god who was considered its creator. In other epochs, such as the period of the Orphic Mysteries, of Pythagoras and Plato, scientists took the existence of soul as seriously, or even more seriously, than the existence of matter. This historical fact may be taken as evidence of the prejudice of modern scientists, although the latter would simply claim that the ancient scientists were credulous believers.
Has scientific scepticism run its course? Is the experience of that "plane" or state of mind sufficiently exhausted, so that the minds of intelligent men may soon be raised to other possibilities? Are such minds now to become sceptical of their scepticism with a wise impartiality that will reject no reasonable avenue of inquiry? There have been other times when an approximation of the true union between science and religion was achieved. The German Transcendentalists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century joined scientific rigor in thought with a reverent pantheism, and these themes found still clearer expression for the common man of the New World in the works of Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott. What was lacking in this synthesis of a century ago? Reincarnation was implicit in these doctrines, Karma explicit, and the ethical quality of the transcendentalists left little to desire.
The rush of materialism which followed the Darwinian revelation in Biology, and the Marxian solution of social problems, soon made the vaulting idealism of Emerson appear as a species of poesy. It lacked, for the educated man, the substance of fact. Pre-occupied with the endless data of the growing science of biology, the nascent social sciences, and the impressive demonstrations of physics, the typical scholar, laboratory worker and technician could sense no reality in the fine-spun beauty of Transcendentalism. Lin Yutang, writing in the Atlantic, speaks of the importance of this transition:It would be interesting to study how the professors of the humanities started the rout from their moral fortress and fled in fear of any distinction of good and evil or even moral emotions of any kind; how they came to live in mortal terror of taking sides and trained their minds to see all things objectively as mechanical phenomena, to be analyzed and explained and compared; how they ultimately came to be moral bats, disclaiming all judgments of morals and fearing moral platitudes like poison, and eventually had an abhorrence of the human free will and successfully eliminated conscience from their scholarship. . . . Since there is no way of tackling the problems of good and evil by either percentages or statistical charts, the problem must remain unsolved and ignored.Had the pantheists of the nineteenth century possessed scientific facts such as those offered in The Secret Doctrine to buttress their idealistic teachings, and had the intellectual world possessed the open-mindedness to recognize the structural value of occult science in relation to ethics, the course of nineteenth century thought might have been radically different. As it was, the growing social injustices of the industrial revolution brought emotional support to the "scientific" socialism of Karl Marx, ending the epoch of idealism in historiography instituted by Hegel. There were too many gaps in speculative metaphysics between the ideal conception and everyday reality. So with the spiritual conceptions of the early evolutionists like Alfred Russel Wallace. The points where a spiritual system of evolution were tangent to the sphere of observed facts seemed too few; only an H.P.B. had the knowledge to write with a vision before her of both sides of the veil of matter, and to illustrate by almost countless specific examples the way in which the higher laws of causality are reflected in the phenomenal world.
(To be concluded)
Compromise in Science and Religion (Part 2 of 2)