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SCIENCE CONSIDERED IN ITS NFLUENCE ON RELIGION.
ANCILLATUR RELIGIONI PHILOSOPHIA. This is plainly not an age in which the pretensions of Science are to be contemned; at least, its claims may not be slighted with impunity. The most superficial observer of the present state and tendencies of society cannot fail to perceive how earnestly, effectively, and universally this mighty agency is at work, in purifying the tastes-re-modelling the habits-and promoting the physical comforts and mental culture of our race; and in a less, though still far from unimportant degree, elevating its moral character, and furthering its consequent happiness and peace. In addition to which the careful student of history will discover much that is calculated to excite his wonder and admiration in what has been already accomplished; and he will, perhaps, be curious to trace the individual steps by which mankind have advanced from the several starting-posts of barbarism to their present stage of comparative civilization and refinement. Nor will the philosophic mind rest satisfied with this, but rather love to contemplate the probable effects that existing influences will continue to produce on the future condition and progress of humanity, and to realize in idea the fond anticipations of philanthropic spirits, in relation to benefits that may hereafter result from the general application to human conduct of principles hitherto but imperfectly received, in developing the yet untried capabilities of the human constitution, and general scheme of which it is the head.
Such considerations would be, indeed, under any circumstances, suited to awaken, in a well-constituted mind, sentiments of mingled seriousness and joy—“ of hope, and fears that kindle hope”—but at this day are rendered peculiarly impressive by the important bearing and significant aspect of human affairs. Whoever will consider, with but a moderate degree of attention, the present state of parties and interests or even turn his eyes for a moment to the operations and prospects of any great “cause" of modern times will see at once that there is a new spirit of activity-a general force of antagonism, diffusing itself through every part of the social machine. In theology it is the antagonism of rationalism on the one hand, and dogmatism, * either scriptural, or traditional, on the other : in philosophy, of transcendentalism on the one side, and scientific induction on the other; while in politics we see a constant struggle maintained between the conflicting powers of liberalism and legitimacy; and even in poetry a general opposition between the florid freedoms of the romantic, and the chaste severities of the classic style. Of all these embattled powers, that of Christianity is undoubtedly supreme, as the interests of truth are ever paramount and unchangeable; and to Christianity alone must Science succumb, as the learning of man is inferior only to the teaching of God. To these two all the others seem destined eventually to become subordinate. Upon the extension or decline of these hang the future destinies of our world. Hence the investigation of their general and particular tendencies becomes an important branch of study, in which it would not be uninteresting to enquire into the manner and degree in which they may reciprocally affect each other's interests and advancement.
* Dogmatism-dogmatic. The reader will please to observe that these words are here employed in the confined, critical sense, as contradistinguished from induction and inductive.
Hitherto these great teachers of mankind have pursued different roads in the search of truth ; they have attained their objects by separate and independent methods. Christianity has been naturally dogmatic, * as Science, on the contrary, is necessarily inductive: the object of the one being to instruct us in the application of certain truths to the existing circumstances and coming destinies of our race ; that of the other, to reason from observed facts to the principles on which they rest. But if this were all that Science could effect, her researches would remain comparatively valueless to the majority of men ; if refined speculation were her final aim, the partial illumination of the few would serve only to render more apparent the total blindness of the many. With her, however, this is but “ the beginning of wisdom ;” and while her first and most palpable efforts are to enlarge the understanding, her ultimate object is, or at least should be, to bring the principles there learnt to bear upon the practical concerns and conduct of life. It will thus be perceived, that in the great work of educating the human mind, Science begins one step further back than her elder sister, Christianity; who, having in the word of her divine lord and master, all the requisite materials ready-formed to her hands—all the principles revealed on which she is to proceed-is under the necessity of adopting no preliminary measures, but may at once address her whole energies to the accomplishment of the task set before her: whereas Science, having no such prospective aid at her command, is compelled to gather materials, before she can use them; to provide herself with tools, before she can by any means apply them to meet the necessities, and ameliorate the condition of humanity. Being therefore employed, if we may so say, in the same school, although in separate departments, and operating upon the same mind to produce similar effects—or at least effects, differing only as consecutive parts of the same process-one would naturally suppose, that in accordance with the universal principles of harmony discoverable in the institutions of Providence, they were respectively intended by the one “omnific” mind, not to obstruct, but assist, one another; and that their constitutions were so framed in reference to the world and each other, as to subserve this useful design. Nor does it form any real objection to this view, that, generally speaking, there has not subsisted between the professors of science and religion that spirit of friendliness and cordiality, which was to have been expected in men devoted to congenial pursuits. This is with more reason attributed to their want of communication, and consequent ignorance of each other, which has led some of the most sincere adherents of both sides so far to mistake the true character of their respective professions, as to regard each other as natural foes, and those interests as opposed, which, in point of fact, are identical. The theologian, conscious of the superiour digdity of his office of the supremacy of his commission—and perceiving that the researches of Science were for the most part conducted without any definite recognition of his authority,—that her advancement was generally in a line parallel with his own endeavours,—that her operations now and then even trespassed upon ground preoccupied by himself,—that her inquiries sometimes extended to matters which he had been accustomed to consider as belonging to his exclusive jurisdiction,-has been perhaps too often, and too readily disposed to treat her indiscretions with undue severity, if not to look upon her as the rival of religion, and to view all her movements with suspicion and distrust :-while the man of science, becoming vain in his persuasion of the certainty and simplicity attending his method of investigation,- of the advantages of inductive demonstration over dogmatic instruction, and of the complete and satisfactory nature of the conclusions which it evolves, but overlooking the difference in the nature of the truths on which science and religion are respectively engaged, and the fact that the discoveries of the former are but steps in a preparatory process, the value of which consists mainly in its aiding to develope the practical fruits of the latter-has suffered his faculties to become so engrossed and confined in the narrow limits of sense, and the apprehension of objects within his immediate grasp, as not to recognise the existence of any creature beyond the confines of his own knowledge and experience, becoming, as it were, blind to the teeming millions that people the illimitable regions of space, expanding on every side, and amidst which his own insignificant acquirements are but as a sand-grain in the sea, a gasp of breath in the infinitude of eternity!
Happily, however, such examples are rare; and will doubtless become rarer still, as the proper positions of both parties are better understood : for surely never idea was more delusive than that Science and Religion are naturally hostile to each other. That “ignorance is the mother of devotion” is indeed so pitiful a thought, as we conceive but few can now entertain: it is such at least as none would venture to avow. But we apprehend that in many minds, whose piety demands our respect, and whose scrupulous concern for the interests of truth is to be commended, there still dwells a lingering consciousness of dread for the possible consequences of that bold and unflinching spirit of investigation and decision, which characterizes the scientific tendencies of the age. Knowledge, we know, is power; and like every other description of power, is capable of being converted to good or evil purposes. Science is now no longer content timidly to creep along the flowery, but narrow paths of childhood ; she no longer submits to be led by the tender, but steadfast hand of parental guidance, but with all the wild eagerness of youth, longs to stretch forth her arm—to pluck the goodliest of flowers—to roam the most inviting fields—to penetrate the most entangled forests—to dive the deepest valleys, and mount the highest alps, with no other spirit for her guide, than her own fearless recklessness of resolve—with no other law for her restraint or control, than the utter insatiableness of her own desire. But any fear on this point may be moderated by the consideration that imperfect science carries with it its own antidote, in the confusion and discomfiture ever attendant on ignorance and imposture; and that no legitimate interpretation of natural phenomena can by possibility be opposed to any correct exposition of scriptural revelation, seeing that both are equally enunciations of the same divine author ; and that if any discrepancy should appear between them, it must be because it is by human reason alone that the meaning of each is, and must after all be determined. Nor does Science occupy merely neutral ground: its results are often strongly corroborative of Scripture statement and truth. Respecting the creation the most extravagant and improbable conjectures were received as truth by the heathen philosophers; some of whom held, among other absurdities, that the world was formed by the spontaneous copulation, or cohesive attractions of atoms—which their own fancy created as occasion required ;-others, that it was a thinking animal, having a mind, which made-se et ipsam-both itself and it; and all, who were not professed atheists, believing it to be very God! Scripture, however, declares it to have been the work of God-to have been created “without form and void,” that is in a state widely different from the present—to have been subsequently made capable of supporting animal existence and finally made the abode of man himself, all which has been most strikingly and abundantly confirmed by the recent discoveries of Geological Science; it being now universally admitted as an established truth, capable of rigid demonstration, quite independently of Scripture testimony, that the world must have undergone all these several stages of progression before it became the seat of the human race. Equally satisfactory, and not less valuable, are the physical proofs of the deluge, which the same noble Science so plentifully supplies. To Science, too, we are indebted for those beautiful investigations, which have so triumphantly established the authority of revelation, by demonstrating the proud pyramids of Egypt to be themselves monuments to the veracity of the Hebrew record; and the statements of even heathen historians to be confirmatory of the prophecies and narratives of the sacred writers, whose language and dialect, philology further enables us to show are such as have been neither spoken nor written at any other periods than those at which the several works profess to have been composed;-all of these circumstances affording strong and scientific proofs of the genuineness, truth, and philosophical accuracy of their inspired productions.
Nor has Science vainly attempted to cope with superstition in proving the general course of providence to be in strict accordance with natural laws-neither the offspring of chance, nor the working of a blind and unmeaning necessity--but the intelligent government of a God! The doctrine, now generally received, that every event in the physical, organic, and moral worlds, takes place by virtue of such laws, operating with absolute uniformity in that particular department of nature, but with as perfect independence of the other two, is perhaps, when considered in all its bearings, and all the applications of which it is susceptible, the most important that the human mind, unaided by the light of inspiration, has ever attained. As connected with our present purpose, it may be sufficient to instance the happy solution which Science here gives of one of the most perplexing difficulties in the way of practical religion ;-viz., the apparent inequality of the divine dispensations, in not unfrequently afflicting the most pious and consistent Christians with the greatest amount of physical suffering and misfortune. Even to the eye of faith, this wears the appearance of “inscrutable mystery ;” while to that of scepticism it is positive injustice or cruel caprice. But when we learn that physical happiness is to be secured only by a corresponding conformity to physical laws, and that the most perfect obedience to moral requirements is of no avail, so long as this condition is unobserved, we see at once that our happiness or unhappiness, so far as it respects the present life, is determined chiefly by our own conduct in relation to the circumstances in which we are placed; and we are enabled to perceive the reason and the justice, though we cannot comprehend the motive, or the end of this arrangement :and all again seems equable and divine. Science, moreover, enables us in some measure to apprehend the theory of Christian duty, by demonstrating the course of conduct it prescribes to be precisely that which produces the greatest amount of happiness-here, as well as hereafter-a conclusion, which, it must be owned, is strongly in favour of its divine original—and that consequently the requirements of religion are not merely arbitrary exactions, but really wise and benevolent institutions, and not less conducive to our own true enjoyment, than to the honour of the Deity whom we profess to worship and obey. Such are a few of the special services which modern Science
has rendered to the cause of Christianity; although perhaps caltivated extensively with a view to very different results. Of how much more valae then may we suppose such an agency capable of becoming in the hands of men devoted to the interests of truth, and as earnestly intent on achieving that sublime of human lore
“To vindicate the ways of God to man!" But, irrespective of these particular adaptations of scientific truths to the purposes of religion, the general effects of Science on the minds and manners of men are such as to render its extensive diffusion a most important and powerful auxiliary to the direct inculcation of Christian doctrine and duty. Foremost among these beneficial influences, must be ranked its pacific tendency. Science and Christianity are indeed equally bound up in the cause of peace which they severally serve to promote and nourish, as by it they are protected and fostered in return. To the calm and contemplative pursuits of the one, or the mild and gracious precepts of the other, what can we conceive more hostile and destructive than contentiousness and . war? The Roman poet doubtless spoke the result both of his own experience and observation, when he said, that
“Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
Emollit mores; nec sinit esse feros." And if this were true of the scanty measure of Science possessed in his day, with what increased force does the observation apply to the present advanced state of every department of human knowledge? But an enlightened acquaintance with modern Science is capable of effecting much more than the mere refinement of manners. Civilized habits are indeed valuable for their own sake, but chiefly as indications of an educated mind; and this again is invariably accompanied by a corresponding improvement in the moral feelings, tastes, and dispositions. No man's mind can be made the receptacle of lofty and ennobling truths, without his heart becoming at the same time the depository of more pure and generous emotions. It is impossible for any one to become familiar with the many beautiful and instructive discoveries of Science, without having his conceptions of the power and wisdom of the Deity enlarged and refined; or without being led to perceive on every hand new and striking evidences of his benevolence in adapting the constitutions of his creatures to the circumstances in which they are to live, and in providing for their various necessities and wants, as well as of his perfect justice and fairness in administering the government of the universe at large. Nor can any one contemplate the various applications of these discoveries to purposes of usefulness and economy, or of sanitary protection, without being inclined to take brighter and more kindly views of life without feeling himself a happier, as well as wiser, man— without becoming conscious of a new source of sympathy with all ranks and classes of humanity. Look, for instance, at that unpretending, yet truly noble instrument--the miner's safety-lamp, carrying light and life, and industry, into the very bowels of the earth, and setting the most rebellious spirits of nature at defiance. Look at steam-generating itselfannihilating time and space-bringing seas and continents together-grinding rocks to powder, and even converting, with electric speed, water itself into fire-cvery way working wonders-and, Christianity alone excepted, operating as the most powerful means for the promotion of social progress and civilization that the world has ever witnessed. Next look at the