Monday, 30 March 2015

SCIENCE AND SERMONS (dec5)

 [Editorial]
Our correspondent, "Habitans in Cedar," has given vigorous expression to the feeling of dissatisfaction with which ninety-nine hundredths of the men of the highest culture in the present day regard the hostile, the apathetic, or the discreetly reticent attitude assumed by the teachers of religion towards the teachers of science. The paths of both run parallel, and the studies of both are directed to correlative objects. The minister of the Gospel occupies himself with the investigation and interpretation of those writings in which he believes the Supreme Being to have revealed His will, and to have recorded so much of the history of the human race, or of one small branch of it, as it concerns mankind to know. The man of science devotes himself to the examination and elucidation of the laws of nature, of the facts of the visible universe ; of that other revelation, in short, which is stamped with the indelible impress of its Divine origin, and which offers the most unequivocal testimony to the power, perfection, omniscience, and infallibility of its author. Science ought, therefore, to be the associate and ally of religion. If the truths of the latter rest upon an immutable and unassailable basis, they will only be render more luminous and more authoritatively the discoveries and deductions of science. Tracing the inspiration of the Sacred writings and the creation and maintenance of the world to the same source, it would be a derogation from the attributes of GOD to assume that there is, or can be, any conflict of statement or doctrine between them—that the book of Genesis speaks one language and the rocks another. If, by the infirmity or error of the sages and prophets who transcribed the Scriptures, their descriptions of natural phenomena, or explanations of physical facts, are obscure or inaccurate, science interposes to clear up the mystery and rectify the mistakes. The one revelation is supplemented and perfected by the other. Whatever scepticism may allege against the inspiration of the first, we have the admission of one of the most distinguished of the Apostles of Doubt, that as regards the second, if we were without any knowledge or tradition of the existence of a Supreme First Cause, it would be absolutely necessary to invent one. The authenticity, then, of the unwritten revelation which is presented to us in the material universe may be taken to be indisputable. It is acknowledged alike by the man of science and by the ministers of religion. Yet the latter, as a general rule, view it with fear or aversion. Their hostility towards, or their dread of it, could scarcely be greater if the world we inhabit and the systems by which we are surrounded were the work of an Evil Principle at war with the GOD of the Bible. It seems to be imagined that a belief in supernatural agencies and events is incompatible with a clear comprehension of the natural laws prescribed by Infinite Wisdom, and operating with undeviating uniformity for the government of matter. So, half in dread and half in dislike, the preacher averts his eyes from the professors of science, and closes his mind to the reception of new, truths, because, to admit them, would necessitate the revision of old opinions and might weaken that Bibliolatry which so many well-meaning people confound with a reverence for revealed religion.

But, in the meantime, no such timidity of, or antipathy towards, science and its teachings, and no such inaccessibility to new truths, are to be found among highly cultivated laymen. On the contrary there is a declining respect for rigid dogmas and narrow theologies, an eager casting about for a religious faith founded upon a more elevated conception of a spiritual life, its motives, and rewards and a spirit of inquiry, which springs quite as much from the thirst for truth as from the suggestions of incredulity. They follow the investigations of modern science with the liveliest interest, and experience no alarm when its discoveries appear to conflict with the statement or conclusions of Holy Writ. And if, at this point, they diverge into scepticism, the fault must be at the door of the ministers of religion, for their incapacity or their unwillingness to reconcile the teachings of the two revelations ; for their adherence to the theory—contradicted by all human experience—that religion is stationary ; and for their refusal or reluctance to acknowledge the legitimate and valuable functions of philosophy as the intellectual guide of the religious sentiment. If preachers and teachers frankly recognised the truth proclaimed in the writings they venerate, that religion is just as progressive as science, and the the utmost harmony must prevail, ex necessitate, between every spiritual and every physical law, our divines might take their place by the side of our great scientific discoverers in the vanguard of the army of progress. But if they elect to disown all association between religion and science, to remain where their predecessors were a century ago, and to cling to the doctrine of finality in matters of faith and knowledge, they must not be surprised to find themselves eventually isolated and deserted. Theology must suffer by denying human reason, and by the attempt to impose arbitrary limitations upon the popular conception of the Supreme Being as the moral governor of the universe, while the boundaries of our knowledge of them, as revealed to us in nature and its laws, are being rapidly enlarged. Comparatively few theologians, we imagine, would consent to accept the Old Testament idea of GOD in preference to that of the New, or can be inattentive to the surprising difference between the Jehovah of the Israelites and the Father of the Nazarene. Yet it will be universally conceded that GOD is unchangeable. It is the human mind, enlightened by knowledge and gradually purified of the mythical beliefs and gross traditions which darkened it during infancy, that has attained to a more elevated and elevating conception of the Almighty and His attributes. And in the rectification of venerable errors and dishonouring creeds, science has played, and will continue to play, an all-important part. It cannot, therefore, be ignored with safety by the ministers of religion. It is impossible to arrest its progress, and it would be folly to dispute the laws which it establishes. Pressed into the service of religion, it is capable of becoming an invaluable auxiliary ; but, treated as an enemy, it will prove a constant source of danger and alarm.

The Argus 5/12/1868

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