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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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The Intellectual Position of Christians pt 3

by E. M. Caillard
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 203-208


V.--THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECT OF NATURE AND THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION.

This word "Science" is often spoken in these days with bated breath, as though it represented some occult object of worship not to be laid bare to the vulgar mind, which is all the more impressed in consequence. What "Science" says is regarded as ultimate, and no appeal is allowed either from her approval or condemnation, while to label a belief or a judgment as "unscientific" is, in most cases, to pass its sentence of death. This is all very well in its way. To be unscientific is doubtless a mistake and a calamity, but it is a calamity for which the remedy is easy, and no one need suffer under it any longer than he or she chooses. For what, after all, is science? Not as too many people appear to suppose,--a body of knowledge, independent of and even in opposition to the knowledge of daily life and common sense, but simply that ordinary knowledge itself, verified, organized, extended, understood. "We have all been learning science,--that is, organized common sense,"--says W. K. Clifford in one of his brilliant Essays, "at school for some centuries, and did not know what it was."1 And another thinker bids us recollect that "the same principles which underlie the ordinary consciousness of the world when carried a little further, enable us to correct it and raise it into science. The simplest human consciousness also contains more than sensation,--it contains a reference to sensation to objects; the simplest human consciousness also contains some conception of the unity of all objects in one world, (were it but that it represents them all as existing in one space and time) . . . . . . Between this first form of experience and the most developed scientific view of the world, there is only a distinction of degree.2

When, therefore, we speak of the scientific aspect of nature, we do not mean nature regarded from some point of view to which only a few specially qualified experts can attain, but such a view as is within the reach of every man if he will but use his own powers of observation and reflexion, aided by the studies and investigations of his fellows; for what does "common" knowledge mean, but knowledge which is not only shared in, but contributed to by all?

It is true that "of recent times our science has received enormous additions partly new sense, partly fresh organized,"3 but the "enormous additions" are not in contradiction to the "organized common sense" of former generations any more than the developing plant is in contradiction to the seed. In each case the one is the outcome of the other. To regard nature in its scientific aspect is therefore simply to regard it in the way that the most highly organized common sense of mankind has learned to do,--that is, in the way implied though not understood by common sense from the beginning. This, as we saw in Art. II., is (1) as an Order, (2) of which man is the outcome, (3) which is intelligible to him, (4) into the constitution of which, therefore, intelligence enters. We further saw that this order bears the marks of being the result of evolution, and that its highest known expression is man himself, a self-conscious, intelligent, volitional being.

The Christian Revelation, no less than Science, presents us with an Order of Nature,--an Order expressing the Will of One "with Whom is no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning."4 and "Who upholds all things by the word of His power";5 an Order, therefore, which is necessarily uniform, and whose observed sequences equally with (to uninstructed eyes) its unforeseen catastrophes, result from the ceaseless action of an immanent, self-consistent and intelligent Will. Within the domain of inorganic nature, this is at least as adequate an interpretation of the facts at present known to science, and as capable of indefinite expansion and inclusion as the mechanical theory in its ordinary connotation, viz., as bound up with a "materialistic" hypothesis. That it is not so bound up is becoming more and more clearly recognized by the deeper thinkers among scientific men; and the fact that we must combine it with some form of evolution theory in order to obtain a coherent conception of the universe as it now exists, militates strongly against the use of the "dead matter" and "brute force" statements at one time so much in vogue.

It will be thought by many, however, that the evolution theory, at any rate as now understood, is hardly less, perhaps in some respects even more, incompatible with the view which the Christian Revelation would have us take of the Order of Nature, than the mechanical materialistic theory itself. The very word which in the preceding essay was freely used to designate that Order, creation, is supposed to show this. What right, it is asked, have we to use such a word at all if self-development be the true expression to designate the process by which the universe has become what we now behold it? In replying to this question we have to notice in the first place that no special or detailed explanation of God's method of working in nature forms part of the Christian revelation; and, in the second place, that what we are given to understand respecting it, is distinctly more in harmony with the theory of evolution than with any other. In the New Testament the organic unity of nature is both implicitly and explicitly acknowledged, man being represented as the spiritual head of a spiritual Order, sharing in his sonship and redemption.6 Besides this we are told that its origin is divine,7 that its goal is divine,8 and that its environment is divine.9 Over this last point we shall do well to pause. Evolution, the process of self-development, is not dependent on the developing organism alone, but also on the external conditions to which that organism is subjected. Were it not so we should find that food, climate, social surroundings, which play so large a part in modifying organic life, would be entirely devoid of any such effect, and the only variations which could ever arise would be in the most unqualified sense of the term, spontaneous, i.e., they would be determined wholly from within and not from without. As the case actually stands, the entire surrounding conditions, technically known as the environment, play an extremely important part in determining what any form of organic life shall be. We may say in a certain sense that they pre-determine it, because if the environment had been originally other than it was, the organisms which are fitted to it, and to which it is fitted, would be other also. For instance, were our earth unprovided with an atmosphere, no such function as respiration could ever have arisen in the living creatures it supports. Not only, therefore, would no specialized organs of respiration ever have appeared in any one of these creatures, but the processes of digestion and circulation,--in fact all the organic functions,--would have been so profoundly different from what they now are, that we may quite confidently assert they would have been unrecognizable. If, therefore, we believe in the organic unity of the Cosmos,--in other words, that it is a mighty organism,--instead of regarding self-development as the best way of interpreting that process of evolution by which it has become what it now is, and will become whatever it may be in the future, we should be compelled to join with it that of self-adaptation to some external conditions.

What now are those external conditions? What is the environment of all Nature? Science and the Christian Revelation, each after its own manner, answers GOD. We will consider the manner of Science first. In speaking of the answer of Science, it must be borne in mind that we do not mean to assert that every scientific student, or every writer on every branch of science, would agree that the environment of nature is God. Very many would certainly not use the name of God in this connexion at all; or if they did use it would carefully guard against any such "anthropomorphic" connotation as they believe to be inseparable from its Christian significance. Others, again, would refuse to allow that anything beyond "nature" exists. They would say with Professor Huxley, that this term covers "the totality of that which is." Of these last we will not for the moment speak. They are in a minority, and, in many cases, their ill-considered assertion probably arises from the curious confusion prevailing in the use of the word nature, the latter being at one moment regarded as an independent agent to which "a certain completeness and self-contained ness are ascribed," and at another moment as merely the world of phenonmena.10 Our meaning in saying that the answer of science to the question, What is the environment of nature? is God, is simply that the inevitable pre-supposition and the inevitable conclusion of all scientific enquiry is, that the world of phenomena (which is what we ought to intend when we speak of nature) is not all: that beyond this world which includes within itself all the physical and psychical manifestations which we know now, or which we ever shall know, we are compelled to recognize the existence of a Power inscrutable, unnameable, which is necessary to all phenomena, yet identifiable with none. When this Power is described,--as by some who specially regard themselves as the exponents of the scientific thought of the age it is described,--as "unknowable just in so far as it is not manifested to consciousness through the phenomenal world,--knowable just in so far as it is thus manifested; unknowable in so far as it is infinite and absolute,--knowable in the order of its phenomenal manifestations; knowable in a symbolic way, as the Power which is disclosed in every throb of the mighty rhythmic life of the universe: knowable as the eternal Source of a Moral Law which is implicated with each action of our lives, and in obedience to which lies the only guaranty of the happiness which is incorruptible, and which neither inevitable misfortune nor unmerited obloquy can take away,"11--it will be confessed that whether or not the name of God be present, the idea is there. Nor is the name refused, provided every possible "anthropomorphic" signification is detached from it. Thus the writer who has just been quoted tells us in a later passage of the same work that "the ultimate salvation of mankind is to be wrought out solely by obedience to that religious instinct which . . . . urges the individual, irrespective of utilitarian considerations, to live in conformity to nature's requirements. `Nearer, my God, to Thee,' is the prayer dictated by the religious faith of past ages, to which the deepest scientific analysis of the future may add new meanings, but of which it can never impair the primary significance,"12 the God to whom we are to grow nearer being the "Unknown Reality," the "unconditioned source of the phenomena which we distinguish as psychical, and of the phenomena which we distinguish as material," but itself not to be "legitimately formulated in terms of either aspect"; though in so far as "the exigencies of finite thinking require us to symbolize the Infinite Power manifested in the world of phenomena, we are clearly bound to symbolize it as quasi-psychical, rather than as quasi- material."13

It is hardly necessary to observe that not a single word of what has here been quoted is in opposition to the Christian revelation. The philosophy of the Unknowable undoubtedly represents one side of the truth, and as such deserves its due place and its due recognition; but when the part is taken for the whole, it becomes false because of its incompleteness. That man cannot by searching find out God, that the creature cannot be taken as the measure of the Creator, nor "the highest form of Being as yet suggested to one petty race of creatures by its ephemeral experience of what is going on in one tiny corner of the universe, be necessarily taken as the equivalent of that absolutely highest form of Being in which all the possibilities of existence are alike comprehended," 14 is no new discovery of the latest form of scientific enquiry. It was not a "cosmic philosopher" of the 19th century, but a Christian Apostle who spoke of Deity as "dwelling in the light unapproachable, whom no man hath seen nor can see,"15 whose "judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out,"16 thus continuing the teaching of the prophets of his nation who had ever maintained the same truth. 17 The element of agnosticism thus borne witness to, and which all true religion must contain, has been carefully indicated in the two preceding Essays as entering into the Christian Revelation, while at the same time the latter was set forth as what it claims to be,-an actual unveiling of that which in so far as it is unveiled, man can truly know. It now remains to show that such a revelation is not only compatible with the result at which "a purely scientific enquiry" arrives but is its rational and necessary complement. In course of this demonstration we shall find ourselves answering the question,--What, according to the Christian Revelation, is meant by the environment of Nature being God?

1 Lectures and Essays, Vol. II., p. 200.
2 "Critical Philosophy of Kant" (Prof. E. Caird), p. 203.
3 W. K. Clifford, Lectures and Essays, Vol. II., p. 201.
4 James i:17.
5 Heb. i:3.;
6 Rom.viii.19-24; Acts iii.21; Rev. xxi.1, 5; 2 Peter iii.13.
7 John i.1-4; Heb. i.1-3; I Cor. Viii.6; Col. i.16.
8 Col. i.16: Rom. xi.36: Rev. i.8.
9 Acts xvii.28: Col. i.17.
10 See T. H. Green, "Prolegomena to Ethics," § 54.
11 Fiske. "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," Vol. II., p. 470.
12 Ibid. p. 502.
13 "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," p. 449.
14 Ibid. p. 431.
15 I Tim. vi. 16.
16 Rom. xi. 33.
17 See I Kings viii. 27; Psalm cxiv.3; Isaiah iv. 8, 9.