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THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

By CHARLES SINGER

LONDON VICTOR GOLLANCZ LTD 14 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden 1943

Copyright 1943 by Charles Singer

Printed in Great Britain by ‘The Camelot Press Ltd., London and Southampton

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CONTENTS

PREFACE . . < . . . .

DAWN OF THE SCIENTIFIC AGE . . .

|. SCIENCE CONFRONTS RELIGION . . .

SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND LIMITATIONS . .

. CHARACTER AS MOULDED BY THE SCIENTIFIC

MOOD: So 5 sim ge) Ba ee THE RELIGION OF HUMANITY See Yay “ts CHRISTIANITY FACES THE “NEW PIIILOSOPHY” THE HISTORICAL RECORD—THE ROOT .. THE CHURGHES IN CRISIS—THE FRUIT. . THE CHRISTIAN FALLACY . . we

A PERSONAL NOTE . . . . .

PAGE

18

25

107

“Men have been created for the sake of one another, Injustice is therefore impiety.”— Marcus Aureus.

PREFACE

I wave felt impelled to write the things that are here set down, not because I wish to say them, but because it seems to me that some of them urgently need to be said, and because I cannot find that anyone is saying them. T have derived no pleasure or satisfaction from writing this book. I have done so simply because I must. The book has been written in haste—almost as fast as the pen will go— for the human tragedy now moves so rapidly that only what is published with speed can bear on the scene for which it is intended. I do not doubt that it shows all the marks of haste.

The book is based on two articles under a pen-name in the last two numbers of the Political Quarterly. I had intended to keep my anonymity here also, not because I desire to conceal my identity but because whatever reputation I have is in a field very different from that here treated. I am advised, however, that anonymity might prevent the little work from being read even by the minute public which, I am aware, is all that is likely to notice it. The book carries no authority and is purely an expression of personal opinion.

Like the articles on which it is based, the book divides itself naturally into two parts. The first, consisting of four chapters, is, as it seems to me, a necessary introduction to the remainder. Our civilisation and our humanity are so clearly and closely related to the rise of science and to the consequent industrialisation of our world, that the nature and bearing of this great movement must be carefully estimated in considering our spiritual state. I have dwelt on this movement at some length since important aspects of it seem to me to be commonly misunderstood. Some

8 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

may be glad to omit the first four chapters containing this discussion and to begin on page 45.

Christians do not, I think, hear too often how Christian standards appear to those without. But these pages contain so much criticism of Christian bearing in face of the world-crisis that I should grieve if they carried the impression that I am not fully aware and appreciative of the enormous efforts of small Christian groups to alleviate the appalling tide of human misery that has been gather- ing its woeful mass for the last ten years. I believe that Christendom as a whole will one day realise its debt to those few in every land who have, like the Bishop of Chichester, incessantly drawn attention to this awful claim on Christians. These things, however, do not dissuade me from my belief that Christianity is perilously placed and that the Western Churches are much weaker than they appear. Who can fail to be disturbed, too, by the memory of the fall of another Church. Before the Russian Revolution of 1917 we were ceaselessly assured that the scores of millions of the Russian people were utterly devoted to their Church with its ancient ritual. Yet it was but a fagade and it fell at a mere touch. How terrible if the Western Churches were to crash in like manner and bring our civilisation down with them. It would be little solace to know that they were still surviving in the catacombs.

It may be that some readers will regard much of what is written here as an attack on Christianity. They will be wrong. That is neither its nature nor its intention, nor will it be its effect, should it have any. The pages which follow are not about Christianity, but about Christians, Neither the basic doctrines nor the historic foundations of Christianity are considered. These have provided much of the foundations of Western civilisation which is now in danger. It is with that danger, and with the failure of the

PREFACE 9

Christian fellowship to meet it, and not with any discus- sion of Christianity that I am concerned. To me it seems that that which I call the Christian fallacy is a grave factor in the situation. It is a fallacy, not of doctrine —a theme not discussed here—but of human adjustment to a situation—that is, of conduct—and its foundation is, I suppose, that very captain of the seven sins, pride.

Most Christians are, I believe, uneasily aware of the maladjustment of some Christian teaching to the needs of the time and to modern philosophic views, but I do not believe that most Christians are adequately conscious of what vast wickedness has been perpetrated in the Christ- ian name, of what evil men and evil things have been and still are associated with the teaching of Christianity and with the Christian name, of how largely these matters are involved in the present crisis of civilisation, and of how little there has been of saintliness in many of the leaders of the Churches. Further, I do not believe that most Christians have yet even dimly realised how precarious is the position of Christianity, how inactive the Christian fellowship, how hesitating and dubious the Christian leading, and how rapidly Christianity itself is receding. To say that Christians have not faced their human duty is not to attack Christianity. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar” (1 John iv. 20).

CHRISTMAS DAY, 1942, BEING ALSO THE TERCENTENARY OF THE BIRTH OF NEWTON.

I DAWN OF THE SCIENTIFIC AGE

Few can now doubt that we have entered a crisis of our civilisation. The future is very dark, but at least we can discern that that which comes out of the furnace in which we are being re-wrought will be very different from that which is going into it.

The revolutionary situation that confronts us may be contemplated from many aspects, political, economic, moral, and the rest. All are so closely interrelated that none can be discussed without reference to the others. Yet basically the most intelligible way of approach is in the light of what may be called the religious situation, if we think of religion as the view that men take of their place and status in the universe. This basic religion is the effective motive for major actions after the animal needs have been satisfied. It is, in general, far different from the expressed, professed or formal religion by which, neverthe- less, it is often deeply influenced. During the last few centuries the basic religion has been much more pro- foundly affected than has the formal by all the great movements that have occupied men’s minds and have determined the form and direction of their thinking.

The most prominent and formidable of these movements that have left their mark on basic religion in modern times is that great forward sweep in knowledge of Nature, that has become known as Science.” We must needs, there- fore, consider in some detail the origin and character of this scientific movement, the forces behind it, and its general effects upon men’s minds. Unless we do this, we cannot hope to penetrate to the heart of our problem.

12 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

We live—or did until a generation ago—in a world of which the material framework had been outlined by Newton (1642-1727) two centuries earlier. The attitude of mind called “scientific determinism,” sometimes rashly equated with scientific materialism,” is not quite as old as that. Newton’s masterpiece, Principia Mathematica Naturalis Philosophiae, “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,” was published in 1687. It had little immediate effect on the general thought of the seventeenth or early eighteenth century. Newton had neither taste nor talent for popular exposition. His book could, at first, be read only with difficulty even by mathematicians. A mere handful of his contemporaries understood its demonstra- tions, and none of this select band was interested in introducing them to less scientific readers. Its real influence began to be felt after his death. The impact of Newtonism on general thought can be dated from the publication of Voltaire’s admirably clear essay on Newton’s system (1737).

Though Newton wrote what he called philosophy and habitually called himself a philosopher, he meant by those words just what we mean by science” and scientist.” The Royal Society, the great scientific body over which he presided, still publishes its Philosophical Transactions, but it has always taken special precautions to exclude therefrom anything of the nature of what we now understand by philosophy.” Newton himself was an irascible man and was especially angered by any misinterpretation of what he wrote, Had he been alive to-day and had he used the English of our time, he would have lost his always rather short temper if any of us had accused him of writing philosophy. That we may not vex his spirit, let us there- fore consistently render his philosophia by our word ‘* science ”’—a word which he does not use, but which is almost exactly what he meant.

DAWN OF THE SCIENTIFIC AGE 13

Newton left us in no doubt as to what he regarded as the principles of science and his hopes for it. All the diffi- culties of science,” he writes, seem to consist in this— from the phenomena of motions to investigate the forces of nature, and then, from [our knowledge of] these, to demonstrate other phenomena.” And he goes on: I wish T could derive all phenomena of nature by some kind of reasoning from mechanical principles; for I have many reasons to suspect that they all depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies are cither mutually attracted and cohere in regular figures or are repelled and recede from each other.” Thus he hoped to fit all physical and material events into a framework of relatively simple and mathematically expressible rules. That is what he regarded as the task of his philosophy,” and what many nowadays regard as the task of science.”

Now not only was Newton not given to what we call philosophising, but also his marvellous genius ran at its ease only along the line of demonstration to the senses, as the genius of a great man of science should run. It was as a means for demonstrating to the senses that his superb mathematical apparatus was expressly designed. Newton was much interested in theology and spent a good dea! of time on it, but for philosophy he had a distaste. If we seck to learn Newton’s philosophical views from his works, we shall find ourselves in great difficulties. Many volumes have been devoted to the discussion of his philosophy. None has yielded any very clear picture, to this writer at least. He derives comfort for his incapacity from the reflection that it is not altogether surprising that Newton did not express himself well on a subject for which he avowed an aversion! Newton’s greatness must be sought in an entirely different direction. The influence of his science on philosophy, and through it on religion, has mostly been unwitting on his part, though no less

14 THE CHRISTIAN FAEFLURE

important on that account. The direct influence of his own theological efforts may, however, safely be dismissed as negligible,

Newton was more gifted with the power of scientific demonstration than any man. He is rightly regarded as the very type of the modern man of science, and, in the pages which follow, he is treated as the scientific exemplar. Modern science, however, did not originate with him. It opened its triumphant course at least a century before he was born. Several of its most famous exponents had done their work before he saw the light. Nevertheless, Newton formulated, more clearly than any of his predecessors, those primary data on which others came to build that comprehensive philosophic system which later became known as scientific determinism.” The term was intro- duced about the middle of the nineteenth century but the passages just quoted from Newton’s Principia contain essential elements in the determinist faith. Some of the exponents of that faith have, however, extended the conception of ‘‘ phenomena far beyond anything that Newton intended. They have, for example, ranked as phenomena events within the mind itself, and they have treated them also as determinate.

The conception that mental events are determinate has been much more revolutionary for religion than anything in the Newtonian system proper. That man’s body works on ascertainable mechanical principles had indeed seemed obvious to Descartes (1596-1650) before Newton and as long ago as 1627. The followers of Descartes directed the thought of the age for about a century. All the Cartesians, however, recognised with their master that men are something more than mechanical systems. Man thinks as well as acts. Only if man’s entire nature, including his thinking, could be fitted as links into a long chain of causal development, could his actions and his

DAWN OF THE SCIENTIFIC AGE 15

mind be treated as truly determinate. It was in this very way that the conceptions of Descartes and Newton were extended in the mid- and later nineteenth century, especially after 1859, in which year appeared both Darwin's Origin of Species and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The former contains the germ of modern biological determinism, the latter of modern psychological deter- minism. Both are sources of the doctrine of social determinism.

Years before the Origin and the Communist Manifesto, the seer William Blake (1757-1827) had seized on the appar- ently unoffending figure of Newton as type of those who deny freewill—which in fact Newton did not. Blake could not read any part of Newton’s science, but echoes of the evolutionary rumours of his own age must have reached his very limited circle. Despite his misunder- standings, Blake had a remarkable vision of scientific determinism. But he was not the first. There were certain schools of thought in the eighteenth century that followed the determinist path. Such were the French Encyclo- pedists and some of the first English Utilitarians. With these may well be classed certain heretical groups during renaissance and medizval times. Behind these again were strains of Stoic and of Epicurean thought in classical antiquity. Further back, too, at the very dawn of philo- sophy, we see a cleavage on determinism between the thought of Socrates and that of his rival Anaxagoras. Rational religion, moreover, exhibited early a comparable antithesis as between freewill and predestination. The contrast is presented with all the simplicity of superbly sophisticated art in The Book of Job. Through all the ages to modern times, these attitudes have opposed each other. Neither had nor could then have demonstrational backing. It was Newton who first demonstrated a Law of physical movement the writ of which ran equally on

16 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

earth as in the heavens, a Law which seemed wholly unrelated to any spiritual order. This it was that gave to the conception of determinance an immediacy as well as @ practical workaday aspect that it had never previously worn and that it has never since lost.

Newton sought always to cast his scientific conclusions into a mathematical form. From the time of Galileo (1564-1642) many men of science have held that the scientific value of any collection of observations can be estimated by the degree to which they are susceptible of arrangement under mathematical formule. Were this the case, mathematics would be the yardstick by which alone the maturity of a science could be judged. Epigram- matically this has been expressed as “Science is Measure- ment.” This is widely held and even more widely accepted tacitly. We need not discuss the validity of the belief, for it is a fact that much science is not, or has not yet become, mathematical, while even more science is, at least, not highly mathematical. So far as the last century is concerned, it was the conclusions of certain non- mathematical sciences that impinged most directly on religious thought. As all know, it was the geologists and the evolutionary biologists that raised most acutely the issues primarily responsible for the collision familiarly known as the “conflict between religion and science.” It was the biologists and geologists who demonstrated that man’s place in nature is very different from that which has been taught by current religion. Evolutionary doctrine rapidly affected even historical and social studies. No line of scientific thought has ever so rapidly seized so many minds as that associated with the name of Darwin.

The critical year is 1859, eighty years ago. The thunders of the evolutionary conflict have in our day become rather distant. They rumble now only from the furthest

DAWN OF THE SCIENTIFIC AGE 17

frontiers of philosophical and theological discussion. The air has long cleared in the area of the original disturbance, Scientific men are still busy discussing the nature of the evolutionary process, but they do not spend time answer- ing such remote and ineffectual theologians as may deny the demonstrated evolutionary sequences. Biological evolution is a stricken field. The reaction to the word science of the ordinary man hardly arouses nowadays any evolutionary issue at all. General attention in our time is much more often directed to a quite other aspect of the knowledge of nature.

During the last generation, applications of the methods of certain of the mechanical sciences have come to affect almost every transaction of our daily life. These have altered our actual conditions of existence and our social system, and with them much of our thinking. It is the mechanical products of science that are nowadays most usually in mind when people speak of this as a scientific age.” The implications of the social dislocations, changes, and disturbances dependent on these mechanical achieve- ments occur immediately to most people nowadays when they think of the influence of science on religion. We must therefore make a little further analysis of these influences and we must consider them on a deeper level than their mere mechanical results. Especially we must consider them within the religious atmosphere of our time.

Ir SCIENCE CONFRONTS RELIGION

Examination of the records makes it clear that mis- interpretation of the nature of the impact of science and religion has commonly arisen, and still commonly arises, from two very different errors. First is the confusion between the pursuit of scientific knowledge, on the one hand, and the application of such knowledge as has been won, on the other. Second is the assumption of an in- herent and deliberate hostility or incompatibility between science and religion. We will begin with the first.

Science, like religion, is extremely difficult to define but, like religion, it involves simultaneously a ‘‘ mood,” an attitude of mind, and a method. The result of the concurrence of these and their combined action is a body of knowledge. It is characteristic of the body of scientific knowledge that it is necessarily growing. But science is no more scientific device than religion is theology. And science should no more be identified with scientific mechanisms or inventions—that is to say, with the application of the knowledge won by science—than should religion with either liturgy or ecclesiastical preferment. To ascribe to science the evils of modern warfare, for example, is as absurd as to treat the invention of the cutting edge in the Old Stone Age as the “‘ cause” of murder. That error should hardly need refutation outside the Fifth Form Debating Society.

The causa sine qua non, the indispensable condition of war, as of murder is, of course, the evil inclination of man, which uses the most effective instrument available to it. There is nothing so innocent that it may not be turned to

SCIENCE CONFRONTS RELIGION 19

an ill use, for you cannot have power for good without having also power for evil. Mother’s milk itself has been the first nourishment of every murderer. This power for evil, which is exactly the same as the power for good, is surely one of man’s chief prerogatives. To say this is the same as saying that it is one of his chief responsibilities. The point is fundamental for any understanding of either science or religion. It is more: it is fundamental for all thinking. For, if there is any significance at all in our activity—if and in so far as we are anything but mechan- isms—it must be an activity of choice; it must be a selec- tion of a course that is relatively good as against one that is relatively evil. In other words our activity must have some value.”

The very conception of value clearly involves the existence of evil as well as of good. There are various evasions of what is called the problem of evil” as, for example, the denial of the existence of evil; or the allegation that it is purely negative or privative—that is, that evil is the mere absence of good; or the complete separation of mind from matter—the old Nous and Hyle —the one good in essence and the other in essence evil. All in the end must involve an abandonment of the con- ception of value. But, properly speaking, there is no problem of evil and what goes under that name is rather the problem of existence which necessarily involves both good and evil. The problem of existence is insoluble. Surely on this the prophet has said the last and only word:

‘¢ My thoughts are not as your thoughts, Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord, For as the heavens Are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways, And my thoughts than your thoughts.”

20 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

Why should any man seek further? The meaning of existence is hidden from us by a veil that never can be rent. It is best not discussed, for the conventional theo- logical solutions are no more than verbal devices. But that there is such a thing as value we can hardly doubt, for the act of doubting itself implies it.

Acceptance of value involves the separation into two very different categories of the things called evil. On the one hand there are things evil in themselves, evil in- trinsically, evil in all their aspects. Such things, in the nature of the case, can only be things of the mind, mental states. On the other hand, there are things outside the mind which are evil in relation to mental states. For such things we need a suitable word; they may be called mis- fortunes or miseries. They are relative evils, relative, that is, to ourselves. Among them are, for example, those ills to which all flesh is heir. These are not evil in themselves. There is nothing intrinsically evil in the bacteria of disease, for example. The activities of bacteria may become misfortunes in relation to ourselves but, under certain other circumstances, they may be relatively good. Other such misfortunes which may also be relatively good are the cataclysms of Nature and all those miseries that arise from the determinate workings of Nature. Into the same category must go those activities which arise from the mental states of others. To ascribe any of these things to the action of a Devil, not only makes science meaningless, but must ultimately destroy the whole conception of value. Belief in a Devil is more than error; it amounts to denial of value to human personality. If the kingdom of God is within us, so also is the kingdom of Satan.

The power to choose between good and evil is not the only great human prerogative and responsibility. Another is the power of reason. However determinate the processes of man’s mind, whatever man’s origin, and whatever

SCIENCE CONFRONTS RELIGION ai

man’s lower manifestations in the idiot or lunatic, these two powers, to sin and to be foolish, separate him pretty clearly from the beasts. And it may be that, ultimately, these are not two powers, but one power. Such, at least, was the opinion of those who wrote the ‘“ Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Man may be foolish and sinful or may be wise and virtuous in employing scientific apparatus. For the moral character of those who employ its aids, science as such, and men of science as such can be neither praised nor blamed.

The point may be exemplified by a single illustration. It has been said that in the first forty years of the twentieth century a greater weight of minerals was won from the earth than in all the ages before. This might have been used for improving the human lot. The larger part was the immediate instrument of destruction, and much of it was hurled with murderous intent from one side to the other of a no-man’s-land. Shall we charge this evil and foolish use against the miner on the coal-face? Against the metallurgical chemist in his laboratory ? Against the professor of mathematics, geology or physics? Against the engineer improving the internal combustion engine ? Against the pathologist investigating the biology of gas- gangrene and trench-feet? Against the meteorologist predicting the weather for flying? Surely such charges could mean nothing unless we assume that these men—~ each living his own life, each with his own loves and duties, his own cares and joys—are, on the whole, worse than they would have been had science not shaped the pattern of their lives.

For such worsening of human nature there is no shadow of evidence. Men are not manifestly worse than they were; put also they are not manifestly better. There was no Golden Age. There was no primitive state when men lived in unspoiled mutual love and gentleness. And if

22 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

lives were then nasty, brutish, and short, they have, on the whole, and very very slowly, been getting a little less so for a good many thousands of years. But despite these changes men are still much what they were. For long ages—perhaps from the time when men first were men --they have been about as bad and about as good as they are in this year of grace. An ancient flint battle-axe may not have killed as many as a modern bomb, but its intention was the same. Pride, avarice, lust, hatred, greed, anger and sloth, the seven deadly states, have always been present to darken the human heart. But men in the Old Stone Age loved their children and their wives; they were sufficiently honest with each other for them to dwell together, at least in small communities, and to divide the spoils of the chase; they aspired to live after the onset of the appearance of death; they were united in war for what they regarded as their territory or their rights; in fear or want, or in desire for the products of their hunting, they conjured some higher power. All these things they still do about as intensely as they ever did. So far as we can judge, the springs of conduct have not varied very greatly in a hundred thousand years. Human charac- ter is slower to change than the everlasting hills. The very contours of the earth have altered, but men’s hearts have remained much the same. Man to-day is of his nature much what he was before the last glacial epoch.

What then has religion or science, or the two together changed in him ? If there be an answer to this question, it must be along the lines that there is something in man which is not wholly determinate, something which is not the product of his physical or physiological nature. This something, if it exists, must come to him neither from his ancestry, nor from his environment, nor from that most pervasive form of environment that is called civilisa- tion.” This something, if it exists, is indeterminate and is

SCIENCE CONFRONTS RELIGION 23

therefore insusceptible of scientific prediction. The some- thing is surely that essential matrix which shapes and in which is shaped his basic religion. One word for it is “soul.”

We now turn to the second error, which supposes an inherent hostility between science and religion.

Scientific knowledge differs from other knowledge not in itself, but in the way in which it is acquired or, rather, to speak more accurately, in the way in which information acquired is demonstrated to be real knowledge. In so far as the world is intelligible at all, how can any real know- ledge about it be opposed to any other real knowledge ? A very little reading of history will show that it is not possible to regard the mode of acquiring scientific knowledge as intrinsically opposed to religious belief. Multitudes of men of science, both before and after the famous Bridgewater Treatises (1833-40), have worked all their lives in the conviction that they were demonstrating “the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as mani- fested in the Creation.” And looking at the matter from the religious side, it is surely evident that if God fulfils himself in Nature, it must, in a Christian view, be at least worth learning about Nature.

That Nature is the Art of God seemed evident, ages before Sir Thomas Browne said it (1635). And if St. Augustine and all the SR centuries that followed

1 The semi-insane F1 ighth Earl of Bridgewater (1756-1829), ite nll aes to pay beast hs st work ‘“ on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God as manifested in the Creation.” The then President of the Royal Society divided it between eight authors, of whom Dean Buckland wrote on Geology (‘Some doubts were once expressed about the Flood; Buckland arose and all was clear as mud”); Sir Charles Beil wrote on the structure of the human hand, a work stl read and in some respects recalling views of the ancient teleologist, Gal en ; and Whewell wrote ‘on Astronomy, in the well-1 |-known vein of that positive’ thinker. The key to the whole serics is in the introductory volume by the theologian, Thomas Chalmers 370-847), 7 The Adoption of External Nature to the Moral and Tntellectual in 1839 and is perhaps the last important mene tof nee tric view of Nature.

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turned their faces the other way, the ancients did not, Seneca, Pliny, Galen, to say nothing of Aristotle and Plato, had no more doubts on the point than had Job and Amos before them and Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) and John Locke (1632-1704) after them. That Nature reveals the mind of God was the very foundation of cighteenth-century Deism and is put with embarrassing frankness by a bad poet, clerical, timid, and lugubrious, but living on the very crest of the deistic wave:

“* Naiure is Christian; preaches to mankind And bids dead matter aid us in our creed.”

Youne’s Night Thoughts, 1742.

And if, in the next century, Tennyson, the accepted poct of the age, in one mood saw Nature as red in tooth and claw,” he was ever more prone to feel that ‘‘ Nature, so far as in her lies, imitates God.” Nor did he find it hard to contain the first view within the second.

HI SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND LIMITATIONS

Surveyine our own situation, we observe: (1) that after some sixteen centuries of effective supremacy of Christian religious and ethical teaching, the power of the evil inclination is not manifestly or substantially dimin- ished; (2) that in the last centuries science has drawn men to it with a passion comparable to that roused by religion; and (3) that, like religion, science has produced character~ istic patterns of conduct. Some have suggested that in science a rival to Christianity has thus arisen. To follow a little more deeply the implications of this common misconception, further examination must be made of what we mean by science and scientific method.

Science never considers, and cannot consider, the world as a whole. It is essential to any science that it proceed by abstracting a part of the universe, to be considered by and for itself. This abstracting—‘ fragmentation is, in certain contexts, perhaps a better word—carries with it the secret of the scientific triumph. To most minds nowadays the first reaction to the word “science” is either than of the grander achievements of astronomy and cosmology or of the material devices of our immediate modern surroundings. Yet the essentials of the method are more vividly brought out by considering studies that elicit no great immediate emotions. Let us therefore take our illustrations from neutral ground. Let us select some department of science the achievements of which neither immediately overwhelm us with wonder, nor involve us in any of the political or economic or religious issues of our time.

But a perfectly innocent science is not so easily found as

Br

26 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

might be supposed. All the major departments of science have, at some time or other, been involved in some or other of the greater and more urgent human issues, and any minor department may, at some time or other, become similarly involved. The innocuous neutrality that we seek is not characteristic of any department of research. Knowledge is neutral” and fails to raise these issues only in so far as it cannot be seen to bear at the moment upon the human state. A science the advance of which is at one stage far removed from these dangerous fields, at another may cross and recross them. Historically the sciences that most disturbed thinking in the early seven- teenth century were mainly astronomical; in the later seventeenth they were mainly physiological; in the eighteenth, mathematical; in the early nineteenth, physical ; in the mid-nineteenth, geological and biological ; in the early twentieth, physical ; and in the mid-twentieth they are perhaps especially psychological. We must therefore avoid all the major departments of science and turn rather to some minor speciality.

For a science as neutral as any, there may serve the intensive study of some group of insects. We must be careful that it is not an economically significant group. Unfortunately insects are the prevalent creatures on this planet. In the evolutionary sense, they are marvellously successful. More species of insects have been recognised than of all other creatures put together. Many species exist in numbers of astronomical magnitude. Certain species not only deeply affect human habits, but even determine the possibilities of human life. Therefore, even among the insects, we cannot safely choose at random. Let us select for our example some group of beetles of no immediate or obvious economic importance. Having chosen our subject for scientific investigation, let us examine the implications.

SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND LIMITATIONS 27

First, if I decide to be a specialised entomologist, I must, by that very fact, abandon (in my entomological mood) all thought of animals other than insects. I must concentrate as much as possible on my own special group of beetles. While I am at work on these Coleoptera I must give up any consideration of other sciences, save for their bearing on beetles and their ways of life and relationships, to say nothing of all consideration of the great themes of religion, art, philosophy, literature and the rest. If I cannot put these things aside while at work in my laboratory, it is quite certain that my entomology will be ineffective. This is but to say that a science must work by abstraction. If it does not, it is not a science.

Changing a word or two, all this might be said of any other science. Perhaps, therefore, in the strictest sense, there is no such thing as setence, but only sciences, each of which has its own field. Insects are the field of entomology, minds of psychology, metals of metallurgy, and so on. Sometimes sciences may combine to form a new science with its own technique. Thus, combining two of our examples, there is a science of insect psychology. One science can use the results of another science, but each science can describe only its own little bit of the universe in its own terms. These terms are derived by a comparison’ of yet smaller bits of the universe with other smaller bits. Such terms have little or no application outside the particular science for which they were devised. The technical terms of the sciences have no universal applica- tion or value and their use outside the field for which they were invented is, in fact, a very frequent source of misunderstanding.

Much misunderstanding, even by scientific men, has arisen from such transference of scientific terms from their original field of reference. Consider, as examples, the mass of fruitless and futile disputation that has arisen in

28 THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

various scientific fields around the words evolution,”

instinct,” element,” function ”; or the employment of the words race,” tradition,” heredity,” nation- ality,” value to give a scientific appearance to pseudo- scientific twaddle; or, again, the endless confusion between the scientific, philosophic, and theological usages of such terms as “substance,” “theory,” “idea,” cause,” purpose,” “‘ function.” Indeed, a special department that should treat of the language of the sciences is long overdue. It is a peculiarly difficult subject, for language is a product of complex and ever-changing social conditions. Words cannot be fixed or stabilised, and they carry with them a history which needs to be traced right up to the moment of usage.

We must not enter here into the difficult and disputable region of definition of terms. This would take us right back to a discussion of the very nature of knowledge. It was, in fact, in discussion of the definition of terms that philosophy first took formal shape in the mind of Socrates. Here it must suffice to indicate that you cannot have a “science” of the whole universe. Specifically it is impossible to reach that end—or perhaps any end—by just adding the sciences together. Even apart from the many difficulties and objections intrinsic to such a process, there are vast regions of experience—those occupied, for example, by art, literature, and philosophy—that are refractory of scientific treatment. In any event, there is no such thing as a universal science as an integrated whole— that is to say, a scientific treatment of the entire universe. It is, moreover, certain that there never can be.

Nevertheless a science must not be mistaken for a mere fragmentation of knowledge. The necessary minuteness of scientific analysis may give those untrained in the sciences an impression of triviality. The restriction of the field of experience of scientific men is a favourite,

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legitimate, and highly praiseworthy theme for humorists. There are indeed many useful men of science who spend their lives absorbed in minute scientific details and who never learn the importance or significance of their own studies. But, of course, despite such dull, obstinate, timid, or temperamentally limited beings, science is a great deal more than exploration of ever minuter details. The objective of scientific analysis is to reach a series of points— a natural frontier—from which the mind can return along its tracks to arrange its findings into some pattern. Such patterns are scientific theories or generalisations. They frequently involve a reunion of the findings of workers in different departments. Often these findings become the starting-places for new analytic explorations and the bases of yet further generalisations and thus of new sciences. They are “hypotheses,” though not in Newton’s sense of the word (pp. 63-5). The fertility of its generali- sations in promoting new explorations is one measure of the success of a science, though it is not the only Measure.

The impressiveness of the great scientific generalisations must not, however, deceive us as to their essentially abstractive nature. Each science is as much a consideration of an artificially separated fragment of the universe as is the minutest entomological research. Whether we are discussing the galactic circle or the antenna of a beetle or the “expanding universe,” we are dealing with an artificially separated bit of the world. We often speak of the “field” of a science and the term is peculiarly applicable to such an area of experience. The essential character of a field is that it is separated from the surrounding country by a fence or hedge. It docs not make up the whole landscape, though it contributes to its character. A science, to be such, must have its set limita- tions; it cannot occupy the entire universe of thought.

go THE CHRISTIAN FAILURE

Each science develops a technique and a language which is valid only in its own field.

The term expanding universe” itself here merits a little consideration, since it is often the subject of a naive confusion between scientific, philosophic, and religious conceptions. The expanding universe of the relativists is, of course, not at all the universe of ordinary thought, put simply a technical term of astronomical and mathematico-physical science. It refers to something the existence of which must be assumed in order to fit together the mathematical deductions from certain physical measurements, For these deductions to fit each other, it is necessary to assume a field that is ever enlarging. This is the “expanding universe” of the astronomers. The “universe,” without an adjective, includes many things that are insusceptible not only of measurement, but of any sort of mathematical treatment or expression. To such things the term “‘ expanding is wholly inapplicable. Put in the form of a verbal, though not a real, paradox, we may say that the expanding universe is part of the universe.

There is an aspect of the necessary conditions of scientific observation that has forced itself upon the attention of men of science during the twentieth century. It became more apparent to them that their studies demand for their prosecution certain basic data, things given ”—things, that is to say, that are taken for granted. To express the same thought in other words, we say that physical science has its metaphysical foundations. There is a famous saying of Archimedes more than two thousand years ago which brings out this point. ‘‘ Give me a place on which to stand,” said he, “and I can move the world,” His difficulty was, of course, that there is no such place, unless it be, as he says, given ”—that is, taken for granted and imagined for the purpose of his discussion.

SCIENTIFIG METHODS AND LIMITATIONS 31

Men of science have now come to perceive, more clearly than before, that for scientific observation to have any meaning, certain things must be assumed, accepted, taken for granted, given. The point came into high relief early in this century in connection with the interpretation of certain observations of the behaviour of light from the stars. These observations formed the basis of the physical theory of relativity, the essence of which may be ex- pressed by saying that the very act of observation affects that which is observed. Within a few more years a similar point arose in connection with the intra-atomic physics. It was found that the more accurately the position of a particle could be specified, the less accurately could its velocity be predicted, and vice versa. This is the principle called “‘indeterminancy,” which, like relativ- ity, runs athwart the whole view of scientific determinism.

Relativity and indeterminancy are of the utmost importance not only in the specific fields in which they first came into view, but also for any consideration of the ultimate validity of scientific demonstration. In this connection, however, a serious misunderstanding has arisen. It has been assumed that because the most