Sunday, January 31, 2010

Relation of Science to Religion, Part 1 of 3

My next several posts will be extended excerpts from the concluding chapter of Charles Hodge's What Is Darwinism? published in 1874.

Relation of Darwinism to Religion

The consideration of that subject would lead into the wide field of the relation between science and religion. Into that field we lack competency and time to enter; a few remarks, however, on the subject may not be out of place. Those remarks, we would fain make in a humble way irenical. There is need of an Irenicum, for the fact is painfully notorious that there is an antagonism between scientific men as a class, and religious men as a class. Of course this opposition is neither felt nor expressed by all on either side. Nevertheless, whatever may be the cause of this antagonism, or whoever are to be blamed for it, there can be no doubt that it exists and that it is an evil.

First Cause
The two parties...adopt different rules of evidence, and thus can hardly avoid arriving at different conclusions

The first cause of the alienation in question is, that the two parties, so to speak, adopt different rules of evidence, and thus can hardly avoid arriving at different conclusions. To understand this we must determine what is meant by science, and by scientific evidence. Science, according to its etymology, is simply knowledge. But usage has limited its meaning, in the first place, not to the knowledge of facts or phenomena, merely, but to their causes and relations. It was said of old, "ὁτι scientiæ fundamentum, διὁτι fastigium." No amount of materials would constitute a building. They must be duly arranged so as to make a symmetrical whole. No amount of disconnected data can constitute a science. Those data must be systematized in their relation to each other and to other things. In the second place, the word is becoming more and more restricted to the knowledge of a particular class of facts, and of their relations, namely, the facts of nature or of the external world. This usage is not universal, nor is it fixed. In Germany, especially, the word Wissenschaft is used of all kinds of ordered knowledge, whether transcendental or empirical. So we are accustomed to speak of mental, moral, social, as well as of natural science. Nevertheless, the more restricted use of the word is very common and very influential. It is important that this fact should be recognized. In common usage, a scientific man is distinguished specially from a metaphysician. The one investigates the phenomena of matter, the other studies the phenomena of mind, according to the old distinction between physics and metaphysics. Science, therefore, is the ordered knowledge of the phenomena which we recognize through the senses. A scientific fact is a fact perceived by the senses. Scientific evidence is evidence addressed to the senses. At one of the meetings of the Victoria Institute, a visitor avowed his disbelief in the existence of God. When asked, what kind of evidence would satisfy him? he answered, Just such evidence as I have of the existence of this tumbler which I now hold in my hand. The Rev. Mr. Henslow says, "By science is meant the investigation of facts and phenomena recognizable by the senses, and of the causes which have brought them into existence."[40] This is the main root of the trouble. If science be the knowledge of the facts perceived by the senses, and scientific evidence, evidence addressed to the senses, then the senses are the only sources of knowledge. Any conviction resting on any other ground than the testimony of the senses, must be faith. Darwin admits that the contrivances in nature may be accounted for by assuming that they are due to design on the part of God. But, he says, that would not be science. Haeckel says that to science matter is eternal. If any man chooses to say, it was created, well and good; but that is a matter of faith, and faith is imagination. Ulrici quotes a distinguished German physiologist who believes in vital, as distinguished from physical forces; but he holds to spontaneous generation, not, as he admits, because it has been proved, but because the admission of any higher power than nature is unscientific.[41]

It is inevitable that minds addicted to scientific investigation should receive a strong bias to undervalue any other kind of evidence except that of the senses, i. e., scientific evidence. We have seen that those who give themselves up to this tendency come to deny God, to deny mind, to deny even self. It is true that the great majority of men, scientific as well as others, are so much under the control of the laws of their nature, that they cannot go to this extreme. The tendency, however, of a mind addicted to the consideration of one kind of evidence, to become more or less insensible to other kinds of proof, is undeniable. Thus even Agassiz, as a zoölogist and simply on zoölogical grounds, assumed that there were several zones between the Ganges and the Atlantic Ocean, each having its own flora and fauna, and inhabited by races of men, the same in kind, but of different origins. When told by the comparative philologists that this was impossible, because the languages spoken through that wide region, demonstrated that its inhabitants must have had a common descent, he could only answer that as ducks quack everywhere, he could not see why men should not everywhere speak the same language.

A still more striking illustration is furnished by Dr. Lionel Beale, the distinguished English physiologist. He has written a book of three hundred and eighty-eight pages for the express purpose of proving that the phenomena of life, instinct, and intellect cannot be referred to any known natural forces. He avows his belief that in nature "mind governs matter," and "in the existence of a never-changing, all-seeing, power-directing and matter-guiding Omnipotence." He avows his faith in miracles, and "those miracles on which Christianity is founded." Nevertheless, his faith in all these points is provisional. He says that a truly scientific man, "if the maintenance, continuity, and nature of life on our planet should at some future time be fully explained without supposing the existence of any such supernatural omnipotent influence, would be bound to receive the new explanation, and might abandon the old conviction."[42] That is, all evidence of the truths of religion not founded on nature and perceived by the senses, amounts to nothing.

Now as religion does not rest on the testimony of the senses, that is on scientific evidence, the tendency of scientific men is to ignore its claims. We speak only of tendency. We rejoice to know or believe that in hundreds or thousands of scientific men, this tendency is counteracted by their consciousness of manhood—the conviction that the body is not the man,—by the intuitions of the reason and the conscience, and by the grace of God. No class of men stands deservedly higher in public estimation than men of science, who, while remaining faithful to their higher nature, have enlarged our knowledge of the wonderful works of God.


[40] Science and Scripture not Antagonistic, because Distinct in their Spheres of Thought. A Lecture, by Rev. George Henslow, M. A., F. L. S., F. G. S. London, 1873, p. 1.

[41] Gott und Natur, p. 200.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Christopher Hitchens: Defender of Orthodoxy, Scourge of Liberalism

Seminary-trained Unitarian minister Marylin Sewell interviews Christopher Hitchens. An excerpt:

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Sewell: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

Friday, January 15, 2010

'tis a curiosity of capitalism...

...that I can buy a can of prunes with pits.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Scene From a Film

WALLY: Let's say: if I get a fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant, I mean, of course, even I have a tendency, I mean, you know, I mean, of course, I would hardly throw it out! I mean, I read it, I read it, and I just instinctively sort of, you know, if it says something like: "Conversation with a dark-haired man will be very important for you," well, I just instinctively think, you know, who do I know who has dark hair? Did we have a conversation? What did we talk about? In other words there's something in me that makes me read it, and I instinctively interpret it as if it were an omen of the future, but in my conscious opinion, which is so fundamental to my whole view of life, I mean, I would just have to change totally to not have this opinion, in my conscious opinion, this is simply something that was written in the cookie factory, several years ago, and in no way it refers to me! I mean, you know, the fact that I got--I mean, the man who wrote it did not know anything about me, I mean, he could not have known anything about me! There's no way that this cookie could actually have to do with me! And the fact that I've gotten it is just basically a joke! And I mean, if I were to go on a trip, on an airplane, and I got a fortune cookie that said "Don't go," I mean, of course, I admit I might feel a bit nervous for about one second, but in fact I would go, because, I mean, that trip is gonna be successful or unsuccessful based on the state of the airplane and the state of the pilot, and the cookie is in no position to know about that.

And I mean, you know, it's the same with any kind of prophecy or sign or an omen, because if you believe in omens, then that means that the universe--I mean, I don't even know how to begin to describe this. That means that the future is somehow sending messages backwards to the present! Which means that the future must exist in some sense already in order to be able to send these messages. And it also means that things in the universe are there for a purpose: to give us messages. Whereas I think that things in the universe are just there. I mean, they don't mean anything. I mean, you know, if the turtle's egg falls out of the tree and splashes on the paving stones, it's just because that turtle was clumsy, by accident. And to decide whether to send my ships off to war on the basis of that seems a big mistake to me.

ANDRE: Well, what information would you send your ships to war on? Because if it's all meaningless, what's the difference whether you accept the fortune cookie or the statistics of the Ford foundation? It doesn't seem to matter.

WALLY: Well, the meaningless fact of the fortune cookie or the turtle's egg can't possibly have any relevance to the subject you're analyzing. Whereas a group of meaningless facts that are collected and interpreted in a scientific way may quite possibly be relevant. Because the wonderful thing about scientific theories about things is that they're based on experiments that can be repeated! [Long pause while coffee is being served.]

ANDRE: Well, it's true, Wally. I mean, you know, following omens and so on is probably just a way of letting ourselves off the hook, so that we don't have to take individual responsibility for our own actions. I mean, giving yourself over to the unconscious can leave you vulnerable to all sorts of very frightening manipulation...

But I mean, the thing is, Wally, I think it's the exaggerated worship of science that has led us into this situation. I mean, science has been held up to us as a magical force that would somehow solve everything, but quite the contrary, it's done quite the contrary, it's destroyed everything. So, that is what has really led, I think, to this very strong, deep reaction against science that we're seeing now. Just as the Nazi demons that were released in the thirties in Germany were probably a reaction against a certain oppressive kind of knowledge and culture and rational thinking. So, I agree that we're talking about something potentially very dangerous, but modern science has not been particularly less dangerous.

WALLY: Right. Well, I agree with you, I completely agree. [Pause.] You know, the truth is, I think I do know what really disturbs me about the work you've described, and I don't even know if I can express it. But somehow it seems that the whole point of the work that you did in those workshops, when you get right down to it and you ask: what was it really about; the whole point really, I think, was to enable the people in the workshops, including yourself, to somehow sort of strip away every scrap of purposefulness from certain selected moments. And the point of it was so that you would then all be able to experience somehow just pure being. In other words you were trying to discover what it would be like to live for certain moments without having any particular thing that you were supposed to be doing. And I think I just simply object to that. I mean, I just don't think I accept the idea that there should be moments in which you're not trying to do anything! I think it's our nature to do things, I think we should do things, I think that purposefulness is part of our ineradicable, basic human structure, and to say that we ought to be able to live without it is like saying that a tree ought to be able to live without branches or roots, but actually, without branches or roots it wouldn't be a tree. I mean, it would just be a log. You see what I'm saying?