Monday, 30 March 2015

SCIENCE AND SERMONS.(dec9)

 TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

Sir,—My purpose in this correspondence will be at once completed and vindicated if you will allow me to tax your courtesy so far as to ask space for this third and final letter. Under no circumstance will the present discussion be prolonged, so far as I am concerned, in your columns.

The London Spectator—in my estimate the ablest journal issued from the British press commenting on the Dean of Cork's great sermon at Norwich, remarked that the occasion was one when "weak men of one school would have vented vague denunciations of the aggressive and sceptical spirit of modern science, while still weaker men of another type would have flattered their hearers by making light of the conflict between science and religion, or by expressing a dim belief that a reconciliation between truth-seekers of all classes, and of opposite tendencies, was nigh at hand." Now, I suppose my several clerical respondents would feel somewhat hurt if I were to rank them in one or other of these two classes. Yet the classification would be exact enough. One at least of them might fairly be assigned to a third and still lower class ; and as to "B. R.," he stands alone, and unclassified. For him I have no rejoinder. When Bottom the Weaver appears on the scene, the only appropriate comments on his performance are such as those which are exchanged between the queenly Hippolyta and her high souled lover, the Duke Theseus, Or, as he steps forth from beneath the transforming hands of the frolicksome elfin of the woodlands, what spectator in his senses would essay to outbray Bottom ?

But, in truth, I have no further reply to make to any of my respondents. In no single instance have they risen to the level of their theme. I speak the language of simple sincerity, not that of adroit flattery, when I express my conviction that you yourself, Sir, struck an immeasurably higher and truer note in your admirably judicious leader of Saturday.

What I propose to do in this letter is to state, as succinctly as I can, the nature and the extent of the challenge which the science of the nineteenth century throws down before Christianity.

A rhapsodical respondent speaks scornfully in his letter of the "evershifting theories" of science. Now, any man who knows anything at all of the subject is aware that, in our times, science has passed—or at least claims to have passed—beyond the stage of theory, and to have arrived at the stage of doctrine of demonstrated fixed conclusions—in respect of most of its main fundamental principles. It claims for these principles the very title of eternal truths. It asserts that the ultimate cosmical facts and laws express the eternal and unchangeable foundations on which the whole vast universe rests. It was not Huxley, nor Comte, nor Büchner ; but it was Mrs. Somerville, the Christian Englishwoman, glory of her country and her sex, who summed up a masterly survey of the Connexion of the Physical Sciences in these memorable words :—"These formulæ, emblematic of Omniscience, condense into a few symbols the immutable laws of the Universe." It is scarcely to the purpose, then, I submit, to utter pious ejaculations contrasting Theology and Science in terms of infinite contempt.

The first of these eternal truths established by modern science is, that Matter, although infinitely variable in its forms, is indestructible in its substance. The second is, that Force is an inseparable and essential quality innate in Matter. The third truth is, that Force, although infinitely variable in its forms and conditions, is, like Matter, indestructible, and that thence results a correlation of the physical forces ; in other words, all the different modes of force merge in one great and universal power, which pervades the whole boundless creation. The fourth truth is, that life is a form of force in organised structures. The fifth, that the order of life on the globe, in all varieties of organised structures, proceeds by spontaneous evolution from one original type through, a continually-ascending scale of organisation. The sixth is, that species in organised nature are the result of a continuous accumulation, through indefinite spaces of time, of minute variations from the primal type. Seventhly, science affirms that man himself, the lord of creation, is included in the immutable conditions of all organised existence, And, lastly, science asserts that the order of revolutionary change in the physical universe has demonstrably proceeded through incalculable periods of time.

Such being the fundamental truths, what are the main inferences drawn from them by the disciples of science? They are such as these— First, that a special creation, in any meaning which these words will bear, is a proved impossibility ; secondly, that this globe we inhabit has existed for countless myriads of ages ; thirdly, that man (in the words of Mr. G.H. Lewes), is "simply the apex of the animal series ;" fourthly, that the idea of an Omnipotent Will operating without and above the immutable laws is a manifest incongruity ; and fifthly, that a revelation claiming to be divine, yet manifestly at variance in many points with the eternal truths of nature, is, upon its own showing, to be discredited as spurious.

The foregoing views are firmly held and openly avowed by most of the leading men of science both in England and Continental Europe. They are logically deducible from the addresses delivered by Dr. Hooker and Professor Tyndall before the British Association at Norwich. They are adopted, under the general name of the Positive Philosophy, and zealously inculcated, by many of the foremost thinkers in England, conspicuously by the men whose names have so often appeared in these letters, by Mr. G. H Lewes, and (in part, at least) by Mr. John Stuart Mill, who is an avowed disciple of Auguste Comte, the founder of the Positivist School. They are promulgated by some of the ablest journals that issue from the English press. In France the disciples of Positivism have gone the length of ultra-materialism ; and Moleschott has founded a school, including probably the bulk of the professional and scientific men of that country, which holds as its cardinal doctrines that Matter governs man, and that a personal God is an impossibility. In Germany the same doctrines are taught by Büchner (author of the famous treatise Kraft und Stoff) and his school, and they are spreading rapidly. These are the facts of the hour. Do they not, I ask once more, ring out in trumpet tones an alarm and a challenge to the professional advocates of Christianity ?

I am full well aware that science does not of necessity take the form of materialism. But that such is its tendency in our times, what man conversant with the subject can either doubt or deny ? And the materialist scheme—or call it Positivism if you will—so entirely covers the area of Christian belief as to meet and oppose it at every point. Let it but gain possession of the rising intellect of the time, and farewell to all hope of the coming generation maintaining faith in the Christian revelation. The world's future will be, in that event, dark indeed. Even now there are many gathering signs and premonitory indications abroad that this nineteenth century is about to close in Europe with an atheistical revolutionary convulsion still more terrible than that which shook the old world to its centre at the end of the eighteenth. Distant by half the circumference of the globe from the great centre of the intellectual movement, we here in Australia can still perceive the remote commotion, and catch the far-off echoes. The tidal wave of revolution, sweeping round the earth, will not leave firm and unmoved on any shore the fanes of the ancient faith.

In the Edinburgh Review for April last there is a very ably written article on the Positive Philosophy, from the pen of an eminent Christian writer. Towards the conclusion of that article occur the following words—words that convey so much of meaning for the professional teachers of religion :—"There is one Priest, and one alone, who lives for ever to bless mankind. There is one Authority, and one alone, that is imperishably good. But this priesthood and authority are neither after the mediæval nor the Comptean type. There is an ideal personal life depicted in the gospels, and more or less truly rendered by the Church during eighteen centuries, which has been powerful for good, and never for evil. But this power has been, according to its character, purely spiritual. Human priests of all kinds have as often marred as helped it. If they have sought to heighten the sense of its presence, they have never failed to destroy its perfection. The ideal has sunk beneath their touch."

Is it really so ? Is this witness a faithful one ? If he be, then is there an accusation charged upon the professional teachers of religion in every land and in all ages compared with which the mild implication contained in these letters fades away into nothing. Does this accusation, I ask of them, if my immeasurably lighter one does not, lie against the members of the clerical profession in Victoria here and now? Is it, indeed, true of them, also ? I dare them to the answer. For me, my self-imposed task is finished—my purpose accomplished.- I am. &c.

HABITANS IN CEDAR.

Dec. 7.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

Sir,—Your correspondent, "Habitans in Cedar," charges the clergy with cowardice or imbecility, for not having met and answered the attacks made upon the Bible by scientific infidels. On this subject, I beg, to present to your readers the following considerations.

1, If it be said that the arguments or assertions of modem infidels have not been grappled with by speakers and writers of intellectual powers fully equal to the objectors, the statement is untrue. The press teems with works of great ability in answer to each infidel argument as it is put forward ; but it is impossible to anticipate the objections that may be raised, or to give a calm reply to every sneer the moment it is uttered ; and I may add that objections utterly futile in themselves must obtain some importance from their diffusion or reception, before men can be expected to spend their time in answering them.

2. If, however, reference be made to the pulpit merely, and to this colony, I answer that the respected incumbent of St. Stephen's, Richmond, does not stand alone in, at fitting times, taking up his weapons against these errors ; but I also answer, that to make these topics the common subject of pulpit teaching would be to turn that great instrument from its proper object. Your correspondent very justly ridicules the occupying the time of constant worshippers with declaiming against the sin of those who are not in church ; and as those who attend church attend as Christians, though it may be necessary to warn them against those forms of infidelity and error which assume the Christian name, it would be regarded, and justly, as an utter waste of precious time to give them frequent dissertations on the proofs of the being of a Creator, or even on the elementary evidences of Christianity.

3. It is a great mistake, and, I regret to say, a mistake into which many good men have fallen, to suppose that new objections must be answered by new arguments. No labour is more unprofitable than the effort to adapt the language of the Bible to the varying scientific theories of each succeeding age. To do so, we must in one age prove that the Bible recognises only seven planets, must add the moons of Jupiter and Saturn in the next, the Georgium Sidus in the next, and so on, in the vain endeavour to adapt the perfect to the imperfect, the stable to the progressive, in all its stages. We may openly accuse the man who is always defending himself, of pride or self-love ; but in our secret hearts we despise him for his want of self-reliance and self-respect, and the clergyman whose pulpit always rings with arguments against this philosophy or that sneer, seems to show that he wants that fulness of reliance on the self-evidence and power of the Word of God which becomes an ambassador of Christ.

4. There may be a few reasoning infidels, but they are very few. The great bulk of mankind who embrace these opinions do so to silence the accusations of conscience. They are determined on certain indulgences—the Bible condemns them. They must either go about enduring the pangs of an accusing conscience, or persuade themselves that the Bible is untrue. It would be hard to find an argument too absurd to raise at least a doubt in a mind thus prepared. Many clergymen feel that they must deal rather with the diseased conscience than with the perplexed intellect assured that, like the compass, the last will point aright when the disturbing influences are removed.

5. People are apt to assume that what a man knows certainly he can prove readily, whereas the very reverse is the case. We can easily prove the correctness of a complicated sum in arithmetic, of the correctness of which we had no knowledge till we went through the proof ; but while there is no fact of which we are more certain than that of our own identity, the difficulty of establishing that fact is great indeed. One man, supported by considerable wealth and influence, has been for years endeavouring to prove that he is the son of an English baronet ; another, with equal advantages, to prove that he is the son of some one else, and to this day the matter remains in doubt. There is no external fact of which a man is more certain than that he is or is not married, and yet to prove the former fact many of us must await the return of the mail from Europe, dependent on many contingencies there ; and to prove the latter to one who chose to doubt, would be almost an impossibility. To charge, then, an individual with unfaithfulness or cowardice because he does not think it wise to enter the lists to prove what he never doubted, and what he knows others have proved in writings within every man's reach, shows but little of that fairness of which infidels talk so much and practise so little.

Who are these men whose trumpet calls us to combat ? All honour to the men whose surpassing genius has enabled them to look down into the bowels of the earth and to drag to light the secrets hidden there—to penetrate to the remotest regions of the heavens, and return with the wondrous tale of what is passing there—who can reveal to us the mysteries of all that surround us in their remotest particles and most intricate combinations ! But have they thus been enabled to help us to answer one of these all-important questions—What are we ? Whither are we going? To whom are we responsible? We are calmly told that they have not yet decided whether there is a Creator or not—consequently they have not decided whether man has or has not an account to give ; whether we are to live throughout eternity, or to die like the beasts that perish. Can anything show more fully man's utter inability of himself to " look through nature up to nature's God," or prove more clearly the necessity of a Divine revelation, if we poor creatures are not to be left in the blackness of darkness respecting all that really concerns us ? Like the Arab labourer that brings to light the records of ancient Nineveh, these men may show to us the records of nature, but, alas ! they cannot read them.

Let science go on her way, doing what she can do, and not attempting that for which she confesses herself to be utterly incompetent; and let the ministers of the Gospel, knowing and showing how often half knowledge has appeared to militate against revelation, while whole knowledge has invariably ministered to it, go on feeding their flocks with food convenient for them, conscious that the scorn of the infidel and the anger of the heretic are part of the portion which God has appointed His people to bear, remembering (and it is good to be reminded of the fact) that knowledge does not necessarily lead to godliness, or the sharpening of the intellect to sanctification of the heart.

I have to thank another correspondent for correcting me in having accidentally written Hunter for Harvey.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

HABITANS IN DESERTA.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.

Sir,—I see a letter in this day's issue of your paper in answer to "Habitans in Cedar," which, it appears to me, is quite sufficient to justify any strictures which may have appeared in the columns of the press on the matter and style of pulpit oratory. Mr. E. Digby Smith appears to be very indignant because your correspondent has presumed to ruffle the clerical feathers. He has dared to doubt the infallibility of clerical opinions ; and has even gone so far as to imagine that an educated layman, with larger opportunities for observation of various phases of life than can, under present arrangements, ever fall to the lot of a clergyman, may, perhaps, be capable of forming an opinion without the assistance of " the clerical mind."

But Mr. E. Digby Smith surely very much mistakes the people of this colony, if he imagines that a letter such as his will weigh one jot with the inhabitants, or settle one doubt, or solve one difficulty. Mr. Charles Reade and "sham sample swindles" have nothing to do with the question at issue, and, as far as I can see, there is not the slightest ground for charging "Habitans in Cedar" with having put forward a " sham challenge swindle." Is every man who seeks for truth to be put down as an impostor, because, forsooth, it does not suit Messrs. E, Digby Smith and Co. to have their opinions disturbed? He speaks of "an outworn and powerless institution—the pulpit," in a manner which we may imagine was intended to be ironical. Alas ! it is not powerless in this colony. It is the "head and front" of boredom. But if Mr. E. Digby Smith really wishes to ascertain what are the opinions of most people as to this "outworn and powerless institution—the pulpit," let him make inquiries, and then perhaps he will be ready to lower his tone.

But the utter incapability of the clerical mind to apprehend the questions which now agitate the public could not be better shown than in the following sentence:—" 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?" Let me ask Mr. E. Digby Smith a question in turn. Can he prove one single doctrine of the religion he teaches? When he can it will be sufficiently soon for him to cast the first stone at scientific men who, in their respective callings, are displaying an amount of patient and untiring industry which many members of his profession would do well to emulate. Were everything to be brought to the crucial test of mathematical proof it would be a bad day for the parsons. "Will it not be time enough for us to step 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?" This from a man who thinks himself fit to be the teacher and guide of his fellows is perfectly sublime. "Time enough to step in", forsooth ; when the whole matter has been settled beyond the possibility of doubt or difference. In a former part of his letter the rev. gentleman in effect says, that "Habitans in Cedar " expects the clergy to lead the thought of the day ; but if I read his remarks aright he expects no such thing, knowing from experience the futility of any such expectation. "Religion and science opposed ? Eternal truth opposed to ever-shifting theory ? Absurd !"

This rhapsody from one who wants everything proved to demonstration, is passing strange. I am not aware that Pilate's question, " What is Truth ?" has ever yet received a satisfactory answer. "Eternal truth,"' according to Mr. E. Digby Smith, may be one thing, and according to Lord Shaftesbury another.

It appears to me, Sir, that a great deal of harm is done to religion by letters such as that under review. The lay mind is already sufficiently disturbed without being irritated by being offered a stone or a stick in lieu of bread. We ask that those who profess to be our teachers should boldly and intelligently grapple with the leading questions of the day, for the consideration of which ample leisure is ungrudgingly afforded them, and in return we are too often treated to a lengthy dissertation on the supposed connexion between some obscure portion of prophecy and the Christian religion, or else we are put off with some ejaculatory remarks concerning "eternal truth," Your obedient servant,

Dec. 5.     S.   

The Argus 9 December 1868

No comments: