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1862.] Spencer's Reconciliation of Science and Religion. 337 & L. Joumant.
ART. II. SPENCER'S RECONCILIATION OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION.
First Principles. By HERBERT SPENCER, Author of "Social Statics"; "The Principles of Psychology"; "Essays: Scientific, Political, and Speculative." New York: D. Appleton & Co. Nos. I. IV. 1860-1861.
THE works of Herbert Spencer exhibit the latest form of the positive philosophy, and foreshadow its future development. Reverent and bold, - reverent for truth, though not for the forms of truth, and not for much that we hold true, bold in the destruction of error, though without that joy in destruction which often claims the name of boldness, these works are interesting in themselves and in their relation to the earnest thought of the time. They seem at the first sight to form the turning-point in the positive philosophy; but closer examination shows us that it is only a new and marked stage in a regular growth. It is the positive philosophy reaching the higher realities of our being, and establishing what before it ignored, because it had not reached, and by ignoring seemed to destroy. This system formerly excluded theology and pure psychology. In the works of Spencer we have the rudiments of a positive theology, and an immense step towards the perfection of the science of psychology.
In witnessing the increasing violence of any destructive power, it is hard to free ourselves from a certain shrinking terror, even if we know that there are barriers which this power cannot pass. When the tempest drives the flowing tide, with what seems irresistible might, against the shore, it is hard to keep wholly free from dread, even though we know that the "Thus far and no farther" has been written by the hand of God on the eternal rocks. So, many clear heads and trusting hearts felt a certain unacknowledged terror in the presence of that philosophy which seemed sweeping away what was dearest to their faith, even while they knew the limits which bound it.
Before considering the relation which the works of Spencer VOL. LXXII. — 5TH S. VOL. X. NO. III.
bear to our religious thought, let us look for a moment at those limitations which were imposed upon this positive philosophy by its very nature. We will not speak of the most obvious and real of these, - the fact that it left out of the account one whole department of our being, for this would be to assume the whole question. An argument drawn from this would affect only the man of religious faith, and it would affect him only so far as his faith was strong; that is, it would be strongest when it was least needed. The positive philosophy, positive towards the sciences, was merely negative towards theology. It did not directly attack it. It only tried to crowd it out. It attempted to do this in two ways: first, historically; secondly, demonstratively. The historical method was this. It showed how every science had passed through the three stages of theological, metaphysical, and positive. The first of these stages was still further subdivided into the periods of Fetichism, Polytheism, and Monotheism. All the sciences had passed through these forms except the new and incomplete science of sociology. The direct hand of God was acknowledged only in our human life, and, as it had been excluded from every other sphere, the inference was unavoidable that it would be from this. But to make the inference from it valid, these changes should have been complete and radical. If it is seen that each of these was only a matter of degree, that it was a right principle too far extended, then the inference is without logical foundation. Even Fetichism was only such an undue extension. Fetichism was simply ascribing to all the objects in nature what was due to some of them, viz. consciousness and volition akin to those of the beholder. The savage had not drawn the line between the animate and the inanimate. We still apply the principle of Fetichism to men and to animals. Still further, our most accurate science has hardly yet drawn the line where Fetichism should cease, that is, where animal life ends, and vegetable begins. The principle, then, is only modified and limited, not abandoned. It is sufficient to show this in regard to the first of this series of changes, to expose the fallacy of the argument drawn from them. Had we space, however, the process could be continued in regard to the others. What was essential in Polytheism is
retained by the monotheistic Trinitarianism, and no profound Monotheism can long be free from some form of Trinitarianism. Enough has been shown, however, to prove that these changes are merely limitations and modifications, and these can never pass into destruction and annihilation. Least of all could this destruction be argued from them.
A similar fallacy is found in the other method of crowding religion out of the world. This method is, by showing the presence of law everywhere, and the absence of all arbitrariness, to leave no place for the Divine will. But the same system, when it comes to speak of the human will, makes that regular and subject to law. If it seem capricious, it is only because the circumstances about it change. If this be so, then this regularity in the world is what we should expect from the working of an absolute will, which was master of its circumstances. The account that the positive philosophy gives of the world just fits the conception which it gives of will, and gives us just such a world as we should expect from a supreme will, as it defines will.
Many persons conceive of fallacies in a system as places to be attacked, just as a boy imagines the eyes of the cocoa-nut to be designed by nature as weak spots for the insertion of his gimlet. Both overlook the great principle of germination.
If any system have real vitality in it, its points of weakness are its points of growth. It cannot be destroyed from without; but by the process of its own nature it will itself break through its limitations, and transform itself into a more perfect form, or at least into one that shall supply what it before lacked. What we should expect from these points of germination in the positive philosophy would be, then, a theology so modified as to be free from all arbitrariness and caprice. In the works of Spencer we have indications of the beginning of this process. In the system of philosophy of which Mr. Spencer has commenced the serial publication, we have first, under the heading of "First Principles," two divisions, viz. Part First, "The Unknowable," and Part Second, "Laws of the Knowable." It is with the first of these parts that we concern ourselves at present. In this he brings together the ultimate facts of science and religion. He takes up three
forms of religious thought, the atheistic, the pantheistic, and one form of the theistic, and shows that each is inconceivable, and therefore idle. He then takes up, in like manner, the ultimate scientific ideas, such as space, time, and force, and shows that these are, in like manner, inconceivable, and consequently unknowable. He has thus shown that both religious thought and scientific thought lose themselves, if we trace them back far enough, in mystery. And when at last he seeks a reconciliation of the two, he finds it in this mystery, which is common to both. The mysteriousness of these ultimate facts is the one thing in common between all forms of religion, and between these and science. Yet it is not all mystery or uncertainty in either. The solid, central ground is the certainty of one omnipresent and incomprehensible power. We give the statement of this very important result in the words of the author.
"We are obliged to regard every phenomenon as a manifestation of some power, by which we are acted upon; phenomena being, so far as we can ascertain, unlimited on their diffusion, we are obliged to regard this power as omnipresent; and criticism teaches us that this power is wholly incomprehensible. In this consciousness of an incomprehensible, omnipresent power, we have just the consciousness on which religion dwells. And so we arrive at the point where religion and science coalesce."
Such is a brief and meagre sketch of a discussion which we would commend to be followed in detail by every mind interested in theological study. Herbert Spencer comes, in good faith, from what has been so long a hostile camp, bringing a flag of truce and proposing terms of agreement meant to be honorable to both parties. Let us give him a candid hearing, and perhaps the terms he offers, though we may not accept them in their first and full form, may lead to a better understanding, and open the way to a final adjustment. In suggesting a few thoughts designed to help forward this result, we shall avoid all mere verbal criticism; we shall resist the temptation to expose inconsistencies inevitable to a transition state, and shall confine ourselves to the broadest principles involved in the discussion.
Our first criticism is, that Spencer looks upon theology, or
tries to do so, too much from the theological stand-point. He confuses the subject by bringing in discussions which belong to theology, and with which positivism has nothing to do. It is like Lord Lyons interpreting the Constitution of the United States to Mr. Seward. Even with the distinctions of Atheism, Pantheism, and Theism, the positivist, as such, has nothing to do. He can, if we may be allowed the paradox, conceive of Theism only under the form of Atheism; that is to say, he must look at the whole circle of being as complete in itself, with nothing outside of it. If to this chain of causes there be a first cause, this must be taken with the rest as forming the sum of what is. The existence of God does not explain existence. It presupposes it. Even if this first cause be all-pervading and all-efficient, if it be the working power in each subordinate cause, whether it be a part of the whole, or whether it be the whole of which the others are parts, with them it makes up the sum of that which is. And that which is, a self-completing and self-sufficient circle, with nothing outside of it, is that with which the positivist has to do. The theology he has, if he have any, must be his own, and reached in his own way. The giving up of these cumbering remains of old discussions will lighten the whole controversy.
Our next point of objection is, that the terms of compromise he proposes are dishonorable to both parties, no less so to science than to theology. They are so because they do not involve the results achieved by either.
To illustrate clearly the method of reconciliation proposed, we will quote somewhat in detail.
"We have to discover some fundamental verity which religion will assert, with all possible emphasis, in the absence of science, and which science, with all possible emphasis, will assert in the absence of religion, some fundamental verity in the defence of which each will find the other its ally.
"Or, changing the point of view, our aim must be to co-ordinate the seemingly opposed convictions which religion and science embody. From the coalescence of antagonist ideas, each containing its portion of truth, there always arises a higher development. As in geology, when the igneous and aqueous hypotheses were united, a rapid advance took place; as in biology we are beginning to progress through the