Monday, 30 March 2015

SCIENCE AND SERMONS.(dec4)

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

Sir,—The letter of your correspondent, "Habitans in Cedar," demands attention in two points,—first, the charges made by certain persons against the truth of the Bible ; secondly, the conduct of the clergy with respect to those charges. These matters, though of very unequal importance, require each an answer, for which, I hope, you will be good enough to allow me space in your paper.     
As regards the first, men of science, in so far as they are scientific, assert over and over again that science is yet in its infancy ; that that which is known is as nothing compared with the vast fields of knowledge which begin to open on their view. They are, to use the language of one of their greatest, but " gathering a few pebbles on the shore of the ocean of knowledge." Science is in progress, and this progress, though often cumulative is not always so. It may be cumulative as regards facts ; it is often, very often, contradictory as regards theory. Galileo, when he discovered that the earth moved round the sun, did not add to the theory which had been maintained from Ptolemy to Descartes; he contradicted it. Hunter, when he discovered the circulation of the blood, did not add to the theory which had prevailed from Galen to his own time, he contradicted it. Those who maintain, and regard as established, that light is projected in waves, do not add to, they contradict, the Newtonian theory which was universally believed from the time it was propounded to the commencement of this century. Nay, whatever facts the latest of Lyells works may add to those mentioned in his earlier publications, his last theories are clearly contradictory of the first. Do I say these things in disparagement of science or scientific men ? Certainly not. They themselves are the first to proclaim that they are learners, both in discovering new truths and in getting rid of old errors. Individual conceit may be borne with in all societies and classes of men ; but the man would lose all claim to be called a philosopher, or to class himself as belonging to the lowest grade of the intellectual rulers of the age, who should be foolish enough to say or to imply, while on scientific subjects, that science had attained its maturity and its perfection—that there was no possibility that new truths might not call for the rectification of received theories, or the abandonment of many, an error now regarded as established verities, Science is avowedly and professedly in progress, not only in discovering now truths, but in discovering and correcting old errors. When, then, a certain class of philosophers (it is grossly and flagrantly untrue to say all men of science, or the most distinguished among them), turning to theological questions, assume that which they would not dare to assume on any scientific question, on pain of being laughed to scorn. When I say they assume that the theories of science are unchangeably and irrefragably true, they simply lay aside their character as philosophers, urged on by their theological fanaticism. In science they tell you that they are daily seeking, discovering, refuting, correcting, and daily finding that a truth seen in its fulness differs almost as widely from a truth half seen, as truth from error. In theology they assume that they know everything in nature, that their knowledge is perfect, and that no new discoveries can alter the premises from which they draw their conclusions. Are we Christians, then, to tremble because some men of science, leaving all the principles of science, present some half truths as whole truths, and certain theories as facts, and then say that truths and facts contradict the Bible, when we know that from the foundation of the world to the present hour, every fact, that is really a fact, and every truth seen in its integrity, goes to establish its unerring wisdom ?
We cannot take our illustrations from the present day, because the half truths, or rather the fragments of truth, paraded as opposed to the Bible, have not yet been fully developed; but we may take a familiar instance from the past. What exultation was there among the infidels who called themselves men of science, when it was discovered that the sun was motionless as regards the earth ; and what alarm, too, it must be added, among a certain class of believers ! And now it appears that the sun is moving rapidly through space, and consequently that the words, "Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon," involved a far greater miracle—was a greater manifestation of the superiority granted in the Divine mind to the moral over the physical creation, than was over dreamt of in either the philosophy or the theology of our forefathers. That the sun stood still relatively to the earth was a truth. That it stood still absolutely was an assumption triumphed in by the infidel, trembled at by the weak believer, and disproved by further knowledge.
When Science shall have completed her labours—when she can present us with fact; instead of theories, and with whole truths seen in their fulness, instead of glimpses of truth seen through a mist; then shall we admit that she understands creation, and be prepared to listen to her teaching concerning the Creator ; but till then we must reject the assumption of those who maintain her progressive and self-correcting character, while looking at her own work, and then claim for her a character of perfection and completeness while looking towards theology. The objections raised in past times against the Bible from science or from history, have all been found from advancing knowledge rather to exhibit its perfection, and the faith must be weak indeed which trembles now, because it is obliged to wait for the further development of scientific or historical discovery before it can give a technical answer to the more modern objector.

I am. Sir, your obedient servant,

HABITANS IN DESERTA.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

Sir,—I thank "Habitans in Cedar" for his kind expressions of respect for me. I hope I shall not altogether forfeit his good opinion by manifesting that I have some share of what he will doubtless consider the pertinacity of Goldsmith's wrangling schoolmaster.
It seems to me that the very quotation which your correspondent has cited from Dr. Hooker's Address, in which the president shows that he is seeking a basis of reconciliation between science and religion, proves my assertion that he does not regard that reconciliation as nearly or quite hopeless. If, as a contribution towards the formation of that basis, Dr. Hooker or any other man of science should "require the revision and restatement of the evidences of Christianity, " I imagine that theologians would readily grant this ; but I ask what is there in this that is antagonistic to Christianity? or what is there, I may go on to ask, that is even new in it? Dr. Arnold taught his Rugby boys that Butler's Analogy and Paley's Evidences, valuable as they are, are not sufficient to satisfy the demands of the present age. Every "professional teacher of religion" ought to know this ; and if he be ignorant of it, it will be forced upon his notice sooner or later.  I remember, some twenty years ago, meeting a rough bushman, who combated very acutely Paley's famous "design" argument. I must again take exception to your correspondent's representation of Professor Tyndall's paper. That it maintains the materialist's " methods" of research, and his position up to a certain point, I never denied ; but the assertion that the professor's paper is "a vindication of the materialist's conclusions," is in the very teeth of its last paragraphs, which treat of the limits of the materialist. Let me quote a few words :—" On both sides of the zone assigned to the materialist, he is equally helpless. If you ask him whence is this matter of which we have been discoursing, who or what divided it into molecules, who or what impressed upon them this necessity of running into organic forms, he has no answer. Science also is mute in reply to these questions."
"Habitans in Cedar" has misunderstood my use of Dr. Newman's words. I did not quote him as an authority, and I certainly never dragged in the Anglican Convocation to support my weakness. It is incorrect to represent me as leaning upon authority, as saying in effect Roma locuta, causa finita est, and so trying to shut up the discussion of the questions supposed to be at issue between the Christian Church and science. I thought it would have been evident that I simply used Dr. Newman's words as the best and briefest statement I know of the position which theologians assume with reference to modern science. Your correspondent alludes to Dr. Newman's career in order to show that he cannot receive him as a guide, which I never asked him to do. I am sorry that he will not deign to notice the point which Dr. Newman's words bring out, viz.—the position of the Christian Church towards science. Permit me, Sir, again to call attention to this. I maintain that the Christian Church is not pledged to any doctrines or to any interpretations of physical statements in Scripture, which have been proved to be contradictory to the acknowledged facts of science. I would ask your readers to remember the vast difference there is between the dicta of individuals, whether clergymen or laymen, and the pronounced judgments of the church speaking in her corporate capacity. It is too commonly the case that, those who wish to hold what the church teaches authoritatively, and nothing more, are told to receive theories of inspiration, and various interpretations of physical statements in Scripture which are put forth dogmatically by self-constituted spokesmen of the church to the present injury of religion, and to the ultimate confusion of those who am literally " wise beyond what is written ;" for they will discover that they have imposed a sense upon Scripture which has turned out to be incongruous with the conclusions of science. When Elliott defended the Rock of Gibraltar against Crillon, the French invader, he stuck to his rock, but left the neutral ground below the rock to the enemy, if he chose to occupy it. Let Christians ascertain what their position is, and maintain it, and it only. If there be any apparent contradiction between the authorised statements of the church and the voice of science, let them be content to wait, "resting"—to use Lord Bacon's words " upon true and sound interpretations of the Scriptures," and refraining from hard thoughts and bitter words against scientific men. Such is my advice ; and I ask whether there be not in this patient waiting something more akin to the truly scientific spirit than in the hasty assumption that reconciliation between science and revelation is hopeless.-I am, Sir, &c.,

Dec. 1.         J. H. GREGORY.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

Sir,—What does "Habitans in Cedar" want? In a recent number of Once a Week Charles Reade defends himself against what he calls the "sham sample swindle;" and I cannot help thinking that the letters of your correspondent are brilliant specimens of the sham challenge swindle—because he summons the clergy to reconcile two systems, which he at the same time declares to "stand towards each other in eternal and irreconcilable opposition ;" and he expects us to do this by " an outworn and powerless institution—the pulpit." And again, what can be the use of arguing with a man who holds himself absolved from the responsibility of showing reasons for differing from a writer who is no other than Dr. Newman, one of the most intellectual men of the day? Surely, then, I am justified in terming this a sham challenge, and in assuming the letters of "Habitans in Cedar" to be rather for the purpose of exhibiting the superiority of the lay over the clerical mind, than to serve any other intelligent object. But let me ask a question on my own account. Before we parsons are asked to reconcile science and revelation—two systems that we deny to be in opposition—may we not demand that science rest on proof and not on theory ? And at present is not the Pan-genesis doctrine of Darwin only the theory of a great mind ? Is Sir Charles Lyell quite satisfied that he has sufficient proofs of his pre-Adamite theories ? What have we clergy to do with that curious compound, the chemical-atheistical speculations of Moleschott? Will it not be time enough for us to stop in when Lubbock and Crawford are reconciled about the human species being derived from one type or many, or when Huxley and Owen have shaken hands over our new brethren, the monkeys? Religion and science opposed ! Eternal truth opposed to ever-shifting theory ! Absurd ! True science and true religion are but hand maids—glorious servants of the one living Creator ; and we may fairly hope that His other ministers—the clergy—will not be tempted aside from their true province into the deadly maze of so-called reconciliation, and that a few young Victorians may be spared to glorify their Maker by their lives, instead of making brutes of themselves from a belief in "Vogt's low principle of the identity of man's nature with that of the lower animals."

I am, Sir, yours obediently, 

E. DIGBY SMITH

the argus 4/12/1868

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