Monday, 30 March 2015

SCIENCE AND SERMONS.(dec1)

Sir,—I hold to my pledge to abstain from all discussion, in your columns, of the great questions now at issue between science and belief. Still, you will be good enough to allow me space for some comments on the letters of my two clerical respondents.

My first letter, I observe, has had the effect of putting good Mr. Perks into a condition of mild mental confusion. Now, to fix the charge conveyed in it against the professional teachers of religion generally upon the respected incumbent of St. Stephen's specifically, would be obviously unfair. Nor did I ever intend it. Mr. Perks is, in point of fact, the one creditable exception to the clerical rule of studied silence in the presence of an inconvenient and disturbing challenge. He speaks out, whilst the rest are dumb. With most commendable boldness, he faces the aggressive Hookers and Tyndalls, and fairly does (what Mark Twain would call) his "level" best to give them as good its they fetch. In this he sets a pattern to be followed to his more reticent, and possibly less gifted, professional brethren. From Mr. Perks, then, I did not expect a self-exculpatory reply. Rather, the personal feeling towards that gentleman with which I began my first letter had in it a touch of the pious gratitude that Sir Nathaniel expresses for Holofernes, the schoolmaster. To include him in the severe implications of my letter, I felt, would be simply imitating the illogical course taken by certain preachers I happen to know, who are in the habit of inflicting penal sermons for non-attendance at church on most excellent and assiduous church-goers, whose very presence at the penal sermons proves unanswerably that, for them, the infliction is alike gratuitous and undeserved. For the rest, I very heartily wish Mr. Perks all the success he merits in his entirely praiseworthy attempts to reconcile science and Scripture for the benefit of his parishioners at St. Stephen's. 

But the respondent who dates his communication from the Chapel-street parsonage, demands a reply of a different kind. Of the Rev. Mr. Gregory I know sufficient to hold towards him feelings alone of the truest and deepest respect. Nevertheless, in the intellectual arena no man can claim to be protagonist ; nor within its limits is there any recognised law of personal infallibility. Mr. Gregory's response consists mainly of a long quotation from a lecture of Dr. Newman's, which is, in substance, a declaration upon authority that the arena is cleared, the barriers closed, the conflict ended. Not so, I reply, with all due deference towards Dr. Newman, backed as he is by the whole college of cardinals, with the Anglican Convocation (sham college of cardinals !) as a further reserve of clerical force. The Rev. Mr. Gregory holds that Professor Tyndall's paper, read at the meeting of the British Association, conveys no challenge to the professional teachers of religion. He also thinks that Dr. Hooker, in his address, did not speak of the reconciliation of revelation with science as being quite or nearly hopeless. If he be right, then unquestionably my former letter was written under some singular mental delusion. But let us see.

If there were no such challenge as I affirm thrown out by the great scientific leaders on that occasion, then, let me ask, why was the immense area of Norwich Cathedral filled (as the report states) in every cranny on "Association Sunday," by an audience comprising the flower of the living intellect of England, to hear the dean of Cork's eloquent and masterly plea for Christianity against the aggressive assertions of the men of science ? What was the occasion, what the motive, for that magnificent discourse which lifted the preacher at a bound into a bishopric, if it were not an expected answer to an avowed challenge? And how comes it that every journal in England, competent to deal with the subject, openly declared its conviction that the evidences for Christianity certainly require revision and restatement, in view of Dr. Hooker's open and explicit impeachment of their value? If there were no challenge, the strange misconception of which I am the victim is shared by a very wide range of persons indeed, and those not the least intelligent or thoughtful section of English society.

In the final paragraph of his opening address, the president of the British Association quoted with emphatic approval the words of (as he styled him) " one of our deepest thinkers"—Mr. Herbert Spencer. They are these :—"If religion and science are to be reconciled, the basis of the reconciliation must be this deepest, widest, and most certain of facts, that the Power which the universe manifests to us is utterly inscrutable." These words it was that gave the impulse to the thoughts expressed in my previous letter. Do they, I ask, convey no challenge to the believer in a divinely-given revelation? Are they the language of a man who believes with Mr. Gregory and Dr. Newman, that this divinely-given revelation is the sole and exclusive basis on which the reconciliation between science and religion can be based ? And if they be not, and if their author and Dr. Newman differ—as most assuredly they do differ by the whole heaven—in their respective estimates of the value of that revelation, then did Dr. Hooker's deliberate appropriation of the words convey, and was designed to convey, a direct challenge to all who hold with Dr. Newman, and reject Mr. Herbert Spencer, as an infallible guide.

Next, as to Professor Tyndall. From first to last his address was an express vindication of the materialists' methods and conclusions. Now, Professor Tyndall is preeminently a man who has the courage of his opinions. No more outspoken, clear-minded, persuasive lecturer on science ever addressed an English audience. He never shrinks from pushing his conclusions to their very last limit. In his famous reply to Professor Mozley (the Bampton lecturer for 1866) on miracles, Professor Tyndall states with unhesitating frankness the position which the materialist philosopher is bound to take up in relation to the Christian revelation. No challenge ! Why, the mere mention of the term "materialism" is a summons to Christianity to come forward and make good its claim to be something more and better than a baseless theory, a spent force, and an exploded dogma. Not upon one small question alone, capable of being cleverly explained away by a professional artist in words, is the mighty conflict between materialism and Christianity now narrowed down. The two systems stand towards each other in eternal and irreconcilable opposition. The Rev. Mr. Gregory may rest well assured that if the rising generations of young Victorians shall become materialists of Professor Tyndall's school, they will never be Christian believers of any school.

The quotation from Dr. Newman in Mr. Gregory's letter, so strikingly illustrative as it is of that distinguished theologian's exquisitely casuistical and elusive style, I allow to pass quantum valeat. Of Dr. Newman all I have to say is, that ever since I first read the famous Tract 90, I have held myself entirely absolved from the responsibility of agreeing with any of his religious opinions, or even of showing reasons for my differing from him. And this conviction has lately been strengthened in me by a perusal of the fascinating Apologia pro Sua Vita. But even Dr. Newman does not go the length of affirming that the science of the nineteenth century throws down no challenge to Christianity. He affirms the reverse.

And now, to conclude this too long letter. There lies before me as I write a noble volume by a very eloquent and accomplished French writer. The title is—in English God in Nature; its author, Camille Flammarion ; its date, 1867. In this volume there is contained a minute and searching and very masterly review of modern science carried down to its very latest discoveries and conclusions. There is next an exposition of the tendencies, theological and spiritual, of modern science. Everything is fairly and fully stated, and sustained by actual quotations from the most recent scientific works published in France, in England, in Germany, even in America. Nothing is omitted, from the Darwin doctrine of Pangenesis down to the chemical-atheistical speculations of Moleschott ; from the reasoned materialism of Büchner up to the atomic theory of Dalton ; from the geological doctrines of Lyell, round to the pro-historic dogmas of Sir John Lubbock ; from Vogt's low principle of the identity of man's nature with that of the lower animals, up to Faraday's grand principle of the correlation of the physical forces, And what does this patient investigator testify as to the spirit and tendencies of modern science? His book is written expressly with the design of combating the avowedly atheistical views set forth by the leaders of science in the countries named above. "The question of the hour," he says, in his preface— " the question which so passionately possesses us, is no longer to determine what is the nature of the Creator, the character of the scheme of mediation, the influence of grace nor any like theological discussions. The real question is to determine whether God exists, or whether he does not exist." And he adds that the (second) of these two views is that generally held by the disciples of science in our times.         

This witness is true. I call, then, upon all the professional teachers of religion in this colony to confront these facts, and to make good their ground in face of them, if they can. Let them not fall back, in presence of such a summons, on the easy but cowardly policy of evasive silence. Let them not shirk a paramount and primary duty by a hypocritical pretence of ignorance. Else it may happen that, in a few years more, the whole adult population of Victoria may be found sitting at the feet of the Hookers and the Tyndalls, the Moleschotts and the Büchners and turning a contemptuous back upon that outworn and powerless institution—the pulpit.

I am, &c,   

HABITANS IN CEDAR

Nov. 28.
The Argus 1/12/1868

No comments: