Frederick Temple.

The Relations Between Religion and Science Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1884 online

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But our present concern is not with Mathematics but with Physics. And
here Kant fails altogether to convince; for, taking Time and the
Perceptive Powers of the Understanding as parts of the human mind, he
shows, what indeed is clearer and clearer every day, that the principles
(so called) of Physics are indispensable Postulates, not indeed of
observing with the senses, but of comprehending with the understanding,
whatever happens. In order to give anything that can be called an
explanation of any event we must show that it falls under the general
rules which constitute the uniformity of Nature. We have no other
meaning for the words understanding or explaining an event. Thinking,
when analysed, is found to consist in bringing all that happens under
universal laws, and no phenomenon can be said to be explained in thought
except by being so related to all other phenomena. But it does not by
any means follow that events cannot happen or cannot affect our senses
without being susceptible of such explanation. To say that an event
cannot be understood, and to say either that it cannot happen or that it
cannot be observed by the senses, are two very different things. The
fact is that Mathematics and Physics do not, as Kant assumes, present
the same problem for solution, and do not therefore admit of one
solution applicable to both. It is not the case that there is a science
of abstract Physics corresponding to the science of Mathematics and
sharing in the same character of necessity. In Mathematics we have
truths which we cannot but accept, and accept as universal and
necessary: in Physics we have no such truths, nor has Kant even
endeavoured to prove that we have. The very question therefore that we
are asked to solve in regard to Mathematics does not present itself in
Physics. I am constrained to believe that two and two are four and not
five; I am not constrained to believe that if one event is followed by
another a great many times it will be so followed always. And the
question is, why, without any constraint, I nevertheless so far believe
it that I require special evidence in any given case to convince me to
the contrary. And Kant's answer is irrelevant. He says that we cannot
think the sequence of events unless they fall under the postulates of
thinking, that is, the postulates of science; but this is no answer to
the question. Why do we believe that, unless the contrary be proved,
everything that is observed by the senses is capable of being reduced
under these postulates of thinking? The sequence of things cannot
otherwise be explained; but why should the sequence of all things that
happen be capable of being explained? The question therefore still
remains unanswered. What right have we to assume this Uniformity in
Nature? or, in other words, what right have we to assume that all
phenomena in Nature, observed by our senses, are capable of being
brought within the domain of Science? And to answer this question we
must approach it from a different side.

And there is the more reason for this because it is undeniable that both
the definition and the universality of the relation of cause and effect,
as they were accepted by Hume and his followers, are not accepted by men
in general. In ordinary language something more is meant by cause and
effect than invariable sequence, and the common assumption is not that
all Nature obeys this rule with absolutely no variation, but that the
rule is sufficiently general for all practical purposes.

If then we begin by asking what is the process of Science in dealing
with all questions of causation, we find that this process when reduced
to its simplest elements always consists in referring every event as an
effect to some cause which we know or believe to have produced some
other and similar event. Newton is struck by a falling apple. His first
thought is, 'how hard the blow.' His second is wonder, 'how far the
earth's attraction, which has caused this hard blow, extends.' His
third, 'why not as far as the moon?' And he proceeds to assign the
motion of the moon to the same cause as that which produced the motion
of the apple. Taking this as a working hypothesis, he examines what
would be the motions of all the planets if this were true. And the
examination ends with establishing the high probability of the Law of

Now this being the invariable process of Science, it follows that our
conception of cause must come originally from that cause which we have
within ourselves and with which we cannot but begin, the action of the
human will. It is from this action that is obtained that conception
which underlies the ordinary conception of cause, namely, that of force
or power.

This conception of force or power is derived from the consciousness of
our own power to move our limbs, and perhaps too of passions,
temptations, sentiments to move or oppose our wills. This power is most
distinctly felt when it is resisted. The effort which is necessary when
we choose to do what we have barely strength to do, impresses on us more
clearly the sense of a force residing in ourselves capable of overcoming
resistance. Having the power to move our limbs, and that too against
some resistance, we explain, and in no other way can we explain, other
motions by the supposition of a similar power. In so doing we are
following strictly the scientific instinct and the scientific process.
We are putting into the same class the motions that we observe in other
things and the motions that we observe in ourselves; the latter are due
to acts of our own wills, the former are assigned to similar acts of
other wills. Hence in infancy, and in the infancy of mankind, the whole
world is peopled with persons because everything that we observe to move
is personified. A secret will moves the wind, the sun, the moon, the
stars, and each is independent of the others.

Soon a distinction grows up between the things that seem to have a
spontaneous motion and those that have not, and spontaneous motion is
taken as the sign of life. And all inanimate things, of whatever kind,
are held to be moved, if they move at all, by a force outside
themselves. Their own force is limited to that of resisting, and does
not include that of originating motion. But though they cannot originate
motion they are observed to be capable of transmitting it. And the
notion of force is expanded by the recognition that it can be
communicated from one thing to another and yet to another, and that we
may have to go back many steps before we arrive at the will from which
it originated. We began with the notion of a power the action of which
was or appeared to be self-originated: we come to the notion of a power
the action of which is nothing more than the continuance of preceding
action. And the special characteristic of the action of this force as
thus conceived, which we may call the derivative force, is seen to be
its regularity, just as the special characteristic of the
self-originating action was its spontaneity.

As experience increases the regularity of the action of the derivative
force is more and more observable, and then arises the notion of a law
or rule regulating the action of every such force. And a perpetually
increasing number of phenomena are brought under this head, and are
shown to be, not the immediate results of self-originating action, but
the more or less remote results of derivative action governed by laws.
And even a large number of those phenomena, which specially belong to
life and living creatures, in whom alone, if anywhere, the
self-originating action is to be found, are observed to be subject to
law and therefore to be the issue not of self-originating but of
derivative action. And this observed regularity it is found possible to
trace much more widely than it is possible to trace any clear evidence
of what we understand by force. And so, at last, we frequently use the
word force as it were by anticipation, not to express the cause of the
phenomena, which indeed we do not yet know, but as a convenient
abbreviation for a large number of facts classed under one head. And
this it is which enables Hume to maintain that we mean no more by a
cause than an event which is invariably followed by another event. We
discover invariability much faster than we can discover causation; and
having discovered invariability in any given case, we presume causation
even when we cannot yet show it, and use language in accordance with
that presumption. Thus, for instance, we speak of the force of
gravitation, although we cannot yet prove that there is any such force,
and all that we know is that material particles move as if such a force
were acting on them.

As Science advances it is seen that the regularity of phenomena is far
more important to us than their causes. And the attention of all
students of Nature is fixed on that rather than on causation. And this
regularity is seen to be more and more widely pervading all phenomena of
every class, until the mind is forced to conceive the possibility that
it may be absolutely universal, and that even will itself may come
within its supreme dominion.

But to the very last the idea of causation retains the traces of its
origin. For in the first place every step in this building up of science
assumes a permanence underlying all phenomena. We cannot believe that
the future will be like the past except because we believe that there is
something permanent which was in the past and will be in the future. And
this assumption of something permanent in things around us comes from
the consciousness of something permanent within us. We know our own
permanence. Whatever else we know or do not know about ourselves, we are
sure of our own personal identity through successive periods of life.
And as our explanation of things outside begins by classing them with
things inside we still continue to ascribe permanence to whatever
underlies phenomena even when we have long ceased to ascribe individual
wills to any except beings like ourselves. And without this assumption
of permanence our whole science would come to the ground.

And in the second place let it be remembered that we began with the will
causing the motions of the limbs. Now there is, as far as we know, no
other power in us to affect external nature than by setting something in
motion. We can move our limbs, and by so doing move other things, and by
so doing avail ourselves of the laws of Nature to produce remoter
effects. But, except by originating motion, we cannot act at all. And,
accordingly, throughout all science the attempt is made to reduce all
phenomena to motions. Sounds, colours, heat, chemical action,
electricity, we are perpetually endeavouring to reduce to vibrations or
undulations, that is, to motion of some sort or other. The mind seems to
find a satisfaction when a change of whatever kind is shown to be, or
possibly to be, the result of movement. And so too all laws of Nature
are then felt to be satisfactorily explained when they can be traced to
some force exhibited in the movement of material particles. The law of
Gravitation has an enormous evidence in support of it considered simply
as a fact. And yet how many attempts have been made to represent it as
the result of vortices or of particles streaming in all directions and
pressing any two bodies together that lie in their path! The facts which
establish it are enough. Why then these attempts? What is felt to be yet
wanting? What is felt to be wanting is something to show that it is the
result of some sort of general or universal motion, and that it thus
falls under the same head as other motions, either those which originate
in ourselves and are propagated from our bodies to external objects, or
those which, springing from an unknown beginning, are for ever
continuing as before.

This then is the answer to the question, Why do we believe in the
uniformity of Nature? We believe in it because we find it so. Millions
on millions of observations concur in exhibiting this uniformity. And
the longer our observation of Nature goes on, the greater do we find the
extent of it. Things that once seemed irregular are now known to be
regular. Things that seemed inexplicable on this hypothesis are now
explained. Every day seems to add not merely to the instances but to
the wide-ranging classes of phenomena that come under the rule. We had
reason long ago to hold that the quantity of matter was invariable. We
now have reason to think that the quantity of force acting on matter is
invariable. And to this is to be added the evidence of scientific
prediction, the range of which is perpetually increasing, and which
would be obviously impossible if Nature were not uniform. And yet again
to this is to be added that this uniformity does not consist in a vast
number of separate and independent laws, but that these laws already
form a system with one another, and that that system is daily becoming
more complete. We believe in the uniformity of Nature because, as far as
we can observe it, that is the character of Nature.

And I use the word character on purpose, because it indicates better
than any other word that I could find at once the nature and limitation
of our belief.

For, if the origin of this belief be what I have described, it is
perfectly clear that, however vast may be the evidence to prove this
uniformity, the conclusion can never go beyond the limits of this
evidence, and generality can never be confounded with universality. The
certainty that Nature is uniform is not at all, and never can be, a
certainty of the same kind as the certainty that four times five are

We can assert that the general character of Nature is uniformity, but we
cannot go beyond this. Every separate law of nature is established by
induction from the facts, and so too is the general uniformity. Every
separate law of Nature is a working hypothesis. So too is the uniformity
of Nature a working hypothesis, and it never can be more. It is true
that there is far more evidence for the uniformity of Nature as a whole
than for any one law of Nature; because a law of Nature is established
by the uniformity of sequences in those phenomena to which it applies;
whereas every uniformity of sequence, of whatever kind, is an evidence
of the general uniformity. The evidence for the uniformity of nature is
the accumulated evidence for all the separate uniformities. But, however
much greater the quantity of evidence, the kind ever remains the same.
There is no means by which we can demonstrate this uniformity. We can
only make it probable. We can say that in almost every case all the
evidence is one way; but whenever there is evidence to the contrary we
cannot refuse to examine it.

If a miracle were worked science could not prove that it was a miracle,
nor of course prove that it was not a miracle. To prove it to be a
miracle would require not a vast range of knowledge, but absolutely
universal knowledge, which it is entirely beyond our faculties to
attain. To say that any event was a miracle would be to say that we knew
that there was no higher law that could explain it, and this we could
not say unless we knew all laws: to say that it was not a miracle would
be _ex hypothesi_ to assert what was false. In fact, to assert the
occurrence of a miracle is simply to go back to the beginning of
science, and to say: Here is an event which we cannot assign to that
derivative action to which we have been led to assign the great body of
events; we cannot explain it except by referring it to direct and
spontaneous action, to a will like our own will. Science has shown that
the vast majority of events are due to derivative action regulated by
laws. Here is an event which cannot be so explained, any more than the
action of our own free will can be so explained. Science may fairly
claim to have shown that miracles, if they happen at all, are
exceedingly rare. To demonstrate that they never happen at all is
impossible, from the very nature of the evidence on which Science rests.
But for the same reason Science can never in its character of Science
admit that a miracle has happened. Science can only admit that, so far
as the evidence goes, an event has happened which lies outside its

To believers the progress of Science is a perpetual instruction in the
character which God has impressed on His works. That He has put Order in
the very first place may be a surprise to us; but it can only be a
surprise. In the great machinery of the Universe it constantly happens
to us to find that that which is made indispensable, is nevertheless not
the highest. The chosen people were not the highest in all moral or even
in all spiritual characteristics; if we refuse the explanation given by
Goethe that they were chosen for their toughness, yet we have no better
to give. The eternal moral law is of all we know the highest and
holiest. Yet the religious instinct seems to have been more
indispensable for the development of humanity according to the Divine
purpose than the observance of that moral law in all its fulness. It
would never have occurred to us beforehand to permit in Divine
legislation any concession to the hardness of men's hearts; yet we know
that it was done. Science now tells us that Order takes a rank in God's
work far above where we should have placed it. It is not the highest; it
is far from the highest: but it appears to be in some strange way the
most indispensable. God is teaching us that Order is far more universal,
far more penetrating than we should have supposed. But, nevertheless, it
is not itself God; nor the highest revelation of God. It is the stamp
which, for reasons higher than itself, He appears to have put on His
works. What is the limit to its application we do not know. There may be
instances where this Order is apparently broken, but really maintained,
because one physical law is absorbed in a higher; there may be instances
where the physical law is superseded by a moral law. But we shall
neither refuse to recognise that God has stamped this character on His
works, nor let it on the other hand come between us and Him. For we know
still that He is greater than all that He hath made, and He speaks to us
by another voice besides the voice of Science.



The voice within. The objection of the alleged relativity of knowledge.
Absolute knowledge of our own personal identity. Failure to show this to
be relative; in particular by Mr. Herbert Spencer. The Moral Law. The
command to live according to that Law; Duty. The command to believe in
the supremacy of that Law; the lower Faith. The Last Judgment. The hope
of Immortality. The personification of the Moral Law in Almighty God;
the higher Faith. The spiritual faculty the recipient of Revelation, if
any be made. The contrast between Religion and Science.



'So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created
He him.' _Genesis_ i. 27.

The order of phenomena is not the highest revelation of God, nor is the
voice of Science the only nor the most commanding voice that speaks to
us about Him. The belief in Him and in the character which we assign to
Him does not spring from any observation of phenomena, but from the
declaration made to us through the spiritual faculty.

There is within us a voice which tells of a supreme Law unchanged
throughout all space and all time; which speaks with an authority
entirely its own; which finds corroboration in the revelations of
Science, but which never relies on those revelations as its primary or
its ultimate sanction; which is no inference from observations by the
senses external or internal, but a direct communication from the
spiritual kingdom, the kingdom, as philosophers call it, of things in
themselves; which commands belief as a duty, and by necessary
consequence ever leaves it possible to disbelieve; and in listening to
which we are rightly said to walk not by sight but by faith.

Now, before going on to say anything more about the message thus given
to us from the spiritual world, it is necessary to consider an objection
that meets us on the threshold of all such doctrines, namely, that it is
simply impossible for us to know anything whatever of things in
themselves. Our knowledge, it is urged, is necessarily relative to
ourselves, whereas absolute as distinct from relative knowledge is for
ever beyond our reach. We can speak of what things appear to us to be;
we cannot speak of what they are. We know or may know whatever comes
under the observation of our senses as phenomena; we cannot know what
underlies these phenomena. And sometimes it has been maintained that we
not only cannot know what it is that underlies the phenomena, but cannot
even know whether anything at all underlies the phenomena, and that, for
aught we can tell, the whole world and all that exists or happens in it
may be nothing but a system of appearances with no substance whatever.
This doctrine of the relativity of all knowledge is not only applied to
things external but to our very selves. We know ourselves, it is
maintained, only through an internal sense which can only tell us how we
appear to ourselves, but cannot tell us in any the least degree what we
really are.

Now this contention is an instance of a tendency against which we are
required to be perpetually on our guard. The final aim of all science
and of all philosophy is to find some unity or unities that shall
co-ordinate the immense complexity of the world in which we live. Now
there is one and only one legitimate way of attaining this aim, and that
is by patient, persevering study of the facts. But the facts turn out to
be so numerous, so multifarious, that not one life nor one generation
but many lives and many generations will assuredly not co-ordinate them
sufficiently to bring this aim within probable reach. Hence the
incessant temptation, first, to supply by hypothesis what cannot yet be
obtained by observation, and, secondly, to bend facts to suit this
hypothesis; and, if the framing of such hypotheses be legitimate, the
distortion of facts is clearly not legitimate. It seems too long to wait
for future ages to complete the task. We must in some sort complete it
now; and for that purpose if the facts as we observe them will not suit,
we must substitute other facts that will. Accordingly every doctrine
must be made complete, and to make this doctrine of the relativity of
knowledge complete, we must get rid of all exceptions. But there is one
exception that we cannot get rid of, and that is the conviction of our
own identity through all changes through which we pass. Every man
amongst us passes through incessant changes. His body changes; he may
even lose parts of it altogether; he may lose all control over some of
his limbs, or over them all. And there are internal as well as external
changes in each man. His affections change, his practices, his passions,
his resolutions, his purposes, his judgments; everything possibly by
which he knows his own character. But through all these changes he is
conscious of being still one and the same self. And he knows this; and
knows it, not as an inference from any observation of sense external or
internal, but directly and intuitively. All other knowledge may
conceivably be relative, a knowledge of things as they appear, not of
things in themselves. But this is not; it is a knowledge of a thing as
it is in itself; for amidst all changes in the phenomena of each man's
nature, this still remains absolutely unchanged. We do speak of sameness
in application to phenomena; we say this is the same colour as that;
this is the same musical note as that; this is the same sensation as
that. But here we mean a different thing by the word same. We mean
indistinguishability. We mean that we cannot distinguish between the two
colours, the two notes, the two sensations. And this no doubt is a
relative knowledge, not a knowledge of things in themselves. But we do
not mean incapacity of being distinguished when we speak of our own
personal identity. When a man thinks to-day of his life of yesterday,
and regards himself as the same being through, all the time, he does
not simply mean that he cannot distinguish between the being that
existed yesterday according to his memory and the being that exists
to-day according to his present consciousness: he means that the being
is one and the same absolutely and in itself.

And this conviction of personal identity will presently be found to fall

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Online LibraryFrederick TempleThe Relations Between Religion and Science Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1884 → online text (page 2 of 11)