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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in the uniformity of sequence of the conduct. But in far the largest
number of cases the struggle is very slight, and the difference between
the will and the inclination is not, taken alone, of grave importance in
the life. And in those instances in which the struggle is severe and
the resulting change is great, it is very often the case that the way
has been prepared, as it were in secret, by the quiet accumulation of
hidden forces of the strictly natural order ready to burst forth when
the fit opportunity came. In the great conversions which have sometimes
seemed by their suddenness and completeness to defy all possibility of
reduction to natural law, there are often nevertheless tokens of deep
dissatisfaction with the previous life having swelled up slowly within
the soul for some time, even for some long time beforehand. The
inclination to go on in evil courses has been broken down at last, not
merely by the action of the will, but by the working of the machinery of
the soul.

To this it must be added that the action of the will is such that it
very often happens that, having been exerted once, it need not be
exerted again for the same purpose. A custom is broken down, an
exceedingly strong temptation has been overpowered, and its strength so
destroyed that its return is without effect. Or sometimes the act of the
will takes the form of deliberately so arranging the circumstances of
life that a dreaded temptation cannot return, or if it return cannot
prevail; the right eye has been plucked out, the right hand cut off, and
the sin cannot be committed even if desired. While therefore the will is
always free, the actual interference of the will with the life is not so
frequent as to interfere with the broad general rule that the course of
human conduct is practically uniform. In fact the will, though always
free, only asserts its freedom by obeying duty in spite of inclination,
by disregarding the uniformity of nature in order to maintain the higher
uniformity of the Moral Law. The freedom of the human will is but the
assertion in particular of that universal supremacy of the moral over
the physical in the last resort, which is an essential part of the very
essence of the Moral Law. The freedom of the will is the Moral Law
breaking into the world of phenomena, and thus behind the free-will of
man stands the power of God.

When the real claim of the will for freedom has been clearly seized by
the mind, it becomes apparent that there is no real collision between
what Science asserts and what Religion requires us to believe. Science
asserts that there is evidence to show that an exceedingly large
proportion of human action is governed by fixed law. Religion requires
us to believe that the will is responsible for all this action, not
because it does, but because it might interfere. Science is not able,
and from the nature of the case never will be able to prove that the
range of this fixed law is universal, and that the will never does
interfere to vary the actions from what without the will they would have
been. Science will never be able to prove this, because it could not be
proved except by a universal induction, and a universal induction is
impossible. At present there is no approximation to such proof.
Religion, on the other hand, does not call on us to believe that the
will often interferes, but on the contrary is perpetually telling us
that it does not interfere as often as it ought. Revealed religion,
indeed, has always based its most earnest exhortations on the reluctance
of man to set his will to the difficult task of contending with the
forces of his nature, and on the weakness of the will in the presence of
those forces.

And when we pursue this thought further we see that for such creatures
as we are the subjection of a large part of our own nature to fixed laws
is as necessary for our dominion over ourselves as the fixity of
external nature is necessary for our dominion over the world around us.
The fixity of a large part of our nature - nay, of all but the whole of
it - is a moral and spiritual necessity. For it requires but a
superficial self-examination to discern the indications of what the
profoundest research still leaves a mystery - that we are not perfect
creatures of our own kind - that our nature does not spontaneously
conform to the Supreme Moral Law - that our highest and best consists not
in complete obedience to which we cannot attain, but in a perpetual
upward struggle. Now such a struggle demands for its indispensable
condition something fixed in our nature by which each step upwards shall
be made good as it is taken, and afford a firm footing for the next
ascent. If there were nothing in us fixed and firm, if the warfare with
evil impulses, wayward affections, overmastering appetites had to be
carried on through life without the possibility of making any victory
complete, the formation of a perpetually higher and nobler character
would be impossible; our main hope in this life, our best offering to
God would be taken away from us; we could never give our bodies to be a
living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God; we could give our separate
acts but not ourselves, for we should be utterly unable to form
ourselves into fitness for such a purpose. The task given to the will is
not only to govern the actions but to discipline the nature; but
discipline is impossible where there is no fixity in the thing to be

And this becomes still more important when we search more deeply and
perceive that not the nature only but the will itself is in some strange
way infected with evil. We can hardly imagine even a perfectly pure will
capable of continuing to the end a conflict in which no progress ever
was or could be made. The tremendous strain of fighting with an enemy
that might be defeated again and again for ever without ever suffering
any change or relaxing the violence of any attack or giving the
slightest hope of any relief, would seem too much for the most
unearthly, the most noble, the most godlike of human wills. But wills
such as ours, penetrated with weakness, perhaps with treachery to their
own best aspirations, how utterly impossible that they could persevere
through such a hopeless conflict.

It is the sustaining hope of the Christian that he shall be changed from
glory to glory into the image or likeness of His Lord, and that when all
is over for this life he shall be indeed like Him and see Him as He is.
But that hope is never presented as one to be realized by some sudden
stroke fashioning the soul anew and moulding it at once into heavenly
lineaments. It is by steady and sure degrees that the Christian believes
that he shall be thus blessed. And this progress rests on the fixed
rules by which his nature is governed, and which admit of the character
being gradually changed by the life. The Christian knows that God has so
made us that a temptation once overcome is permanently weakened, and
often overcome is at last altogether expelled; that appetites restrained
are in the end subdued and cost but little effort to keep down; that bad
thoughts perpetually put aside at last return no more; that a clearer
perception of duty and a more resolute obedience to its call makes duty
itself more attractive, fills us with enthusiasm for its fulfilment,
draws us as it were upwards, and ennobles the whole man. The Christian
knows that the thought of the Supreme Being, the contemplation of His
excellency, the recognition of Him as the source of spiritual life has a
strange power to transform, and evermore to transform the whole man. In
this knowledge the Christian lives his life and fights his battle. And
what is this but a knowledge that he has a nature subject to fixed laws,
which he can indeed interfere with, but without which his
self-discipline would be of little value, and assuredly could not long

And if the progress of Science and the examination of human nature
should eventually restrict more closely than we might have supposed the
length to which the interference of the will can go; if it should appear
that the changes which we can make at any one moment in ourselves are
within a very narrow range, this, too, will be knowledge that can be
used in our self-discipline and quite as much perhaps in our mutual
moral aid. It is conceivable that the branch of science which treats of
human nature may in the end profoundly modify our modes of education,
and our hopes of what can be effected by it. But if so the knowledge
will only add to the store of means put within our reach for the
elevation of our race. And we may be sure that nothing of this sort will
really affect the revelation that God has written in our souls that we
are free and responsible beings, and cannot get quit of our



Foundation of the doctrine of Evolution. Great development in recent
times. Objection felt by many religious men. Alleged to destroy argument
from design. Paley's argument examined. Doctrine of Evolution adds force
to the argument, and removes objections to it. Argument from progress;
from beauty; from unity. The conflict not real.



'For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are
clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even
His eternal power and Godhead.' _Romans_ i. 20.

The regularity of nature is the first postulate of Science; but it
requires the very slightest observation to show us that, along with this
regularity, there exists a vast irregularity which Science can only deal
with by exclusion from its province. The world as we see it is full of
changes; and these changes when patiently and perseveringly examined are
found to be subject to invariable or almost invariable laws. But the
things themselves which thus change are as multifarious as the changes
which they undergo. They vary infinitely in quantity, in qualities, in
arrangement throughout space, possibly in arrangement throughout time.
Take a single substance such, say, as gold. How much gold there is in
the whole universe, and where it is situated, we not only have no
knowledge, but can hardly be said to be on the way to have knowledge.
Why its qualities are what they are, and why it alone possesses all
these qualities; how long it has existed, and how long it will continue
to exist, these questions we are unable to answer. The existence of the
many forms of matter, the properties of each form, the distribution of
each: all this Science must in the last resort assume.

But I say in the last resort. For it is possible, and Science soon makes
it evident that it is true, that some forms of matter grow out of other
forms. There are endless combinations. And the growth of new out of old
forms is of necessity a sequence, and falls under the law of
invariability of sequences, and becomes the subject-matter of Science.
As in each separate case Science asserts each event of to-day to have
followed by a law of invariable sequence on the events of yesterday; the
earth has reached the precise point in its orbit now which was
determined by the law of gravitation as applied to its motion at the
point which it reached a moment ago; the weather of the present hour has
come by meteorological laws out of the weather of the last hour; the
crops and the flocks now found on the surface of the habitable earth are
the necessary outcome of preceding harvests and preceding flocks and of
all that has been done to maintain and increase them; so, too, if we
look at the universe as a whole, the present condition of that whole is,
if the scientific postulate of invariable sequence be admitted, and in
as far as it is admitted, the necessary outcome of its former condition;
and all the various forms of matter, whether living or inanimate, must
for the same reason and with the same limitation be the necessary
outcome of preceding forms of matter. This is the foundation of the
doctrine of Evolution.

Now stated in this abstract form this doctrine will be, and indeed if
Science be admitted at all must be, accepted by everybody. Even the
Roman Church, which holds that God is perpetually interfering with the
course of nature, either in the interests of religious truth or out of
loving kindness to His creatures, yet will acknowledge that the number
of such interferences almost disappears in comparison of the countless
millions of instances in which there is no reason to believe in any
interference at all. And if we look at the universe as a whole, the
general proposition as stated above is quite unaffected by the
infinitesimal exception which is to be made by a believer in frequent
miracles. But when this proposition is applied in detail it at once
introduces the possibility of an entirely new history of the material
universe. For this universe as we see it is almost entirely made up of
composite and not of simple substances. We have been able to analyse all
the substances that we know into a comparatively small number of simple
elements - some usually solid, some liquid, some gaseous. But these
simple elements are rarely found uncombined with others; most of those
which we meet with in a pure state have been taken out of combination
and reduced to simplicity by human agency. The various metals that we
ordinarily use are mostly found in a state of ore, and we do not
generally obtain them pure except by smelting. The air we breathe,
though not a compound, is a mixture. The water which is essential to our
life is a compound. And, if we pass from inorganic to organic
substances, all vegetables and animals are compound, sustained by
various articles of food which go to make up their frames. Now, how have
these compounds been formed? It is quite possible that some of them, or
all of them to some extent, may have been formed from the first. If
Science could go back to the beginning of all things, which it obviously
cannot, it might find the composition already accomplished, and be
compelled to start with it as a given fact - a fact as incapable of
scientific explanation as the existence of matter at all. But, on the
other hand, composition and decomposition is a matter of every-day
experience. Our very food could not nourish us except by passing through
these processes in our bodies; and by the same processes we prepare much
of our food before consuming it. May not Science go back to the time
when these processes had not yet begun? May not the starting-point of
the history of the universe be a condition in which the simple elements
were still uncombined? If Science could go back to the beginning of all
things, might we not find all the elements of material things ready
indeed for the action of the inherent forces which would presently unite
them in an infinite variety of combinations, but as yet still separate
from each other? Scattered through enormous regions of space, but drawn
together by the force of gravitation; their original heat, whatever it
may have been, increased by their mutual collision; made to act
chemically on one another by such increase or by subsequent decrease of
temperature; perpetually approaching nearer to the forms into which, by
the incessant action of the same forces, the present universe has grown;
these elements, and the working of the several laws of their own proper
nature, may be enough to account scientifically for all the phenomena
that we observe. We do not even then get back to regularity. Why these
elements, and no others; why in these precise quantities; why so
distributed in space; why endowed with these properties: still are
questions which Science cannot answer, and there seems no reason to
expect that any scientific answer will ever be possible. Nay, I know not
whether it may not be asserted that the impossibility of answering one
at least among these questions is capable of demonstration. For the
whole system of things, as far as we know it, depends on the perpetual
rotation of the heavenly bodies; and without original irregularity in
the distribution of matter no motion of rotation could ever have
spontaneously arisen. And if this irregularity be thus original, Science
can give no account of it. Science, therefore, will have to begin with
assuming certain facts for which it can never hope to account. But it
_may_ begin by assuming that, speaking roughly, the universe was always
very much what we see it now, and that composition and decomposition
have always nearly balanced each other, and that there have been from
the beginning the same sun and moon and planets and stars in the sky,
the same animals on the earth and in the seas, the same vegetation, the
same minerals; and that though there have been incessant changes, and
possibly all these changes in one general direction, yet these changes
have never amounted to what would furnish a scientific explanation of
the forms which matter has assumed. Or, on the other hand, Science _may_
assert the possibility of going back to a far earlier condition of our
material system; may assert that all the forms of matter have grown up
under the action of laws and forces still at work; may take as the
initial state of our universe one or many enormous clouds of gaseous
matter, and endeavour to trace with more or less exactness how these
gradually formed themselves into what we see. Science has lately leaned
to the latter alternative. To a believer the alternative may be stated
thus: We all distinguish between the original creation of the material
world and the history of it ever since. And we have, nay all men have,
been accustomed to assign to the original creation a great deal that
Science is now disposed to assign to the history. But the distinction
between the original creation and the subsequent history would still
remain, and for ever remain, although the portion assigned to the one
may be less, and that assigned to the other larger, than was formerly
supposed. However far back Science may be able to push its beginning,
there still must lie behind that beginning the original act of
creation - creation not of matter only, but of the various kinds of
matter, and of the laws governing all and each of those kinds, and of
the distribution of this matter in space.

This application of the abstract doctrine of Evolution gives it an
enormous and startling expansion: so enormous and so startling that the
doctrine itself seems absolutely new. To say that the present grows by
regular law out of the past is one thing; to say that it has grown out
of a distant past in which as yet the present forms of life upon the
earth, the present vegetation, the seas and islands and continents, the
very planet itself, the sun and moon, were not yet made - and all this
also by regular law - that is quite another thing. And the bearings of
this new application of Science deserve study.

Now it seems quite plain that this doctrine of Evolution is in no sense
whatever antagonistic to the teachings of Religion, though it may be,
and that we shall have to consider afterwards, to the teachings of
revelation. Why then should religious men independently of its relation
to revelation shrink from it, as very many unquestionably do? The reason
is that, whilst this doctrine leaves the truth of the existence and
supremacy of God exactly where it was, it cuts away, or appears to cut
away, some of the main arguments for that truth.

Now, in regard to the arguments whereby we have been accustomed to prove
or to corroborate the existence of a Supreme Being, it is plain that, to
take these arguments away or to make it impossible to use them, is not
to disprove or take away the truth itself. We find every day instances
of men resting their faith in a truth on some grounds which we know to
be untenable, and we see what a terrible trial it sometimes is when they
find out that this is so, and know not as yet on what other ground they
are to take their stand. And some men succumb in the trial and lose
their faith together with the argument which has hitherto supported it.
But the truth still stands in spite of the failure of some to keep their
belief in it, and in spite of the impossibility of supporting it by the
old arguments.

And when men have become accustomed to rest their belief on new grounds
the loss of the old arguments is never found to be a very serious
matter. Belief in revelation has been shaken again and again by this
very increase of knowledge. It was unquestionably a dreadful blow to
many in the days of Galileo to find that the language of the Bible in
regard to the movement of the earth and sun was not scientifically
correct. It was a dreadful blow to many in the days of the Reformation
to find that they had been misled by what they believed to be an
infallible Church.

Such shocks to faith try the mettle of men's moral and spiritual
conviction, and they often refuse altogether to hold what they can no
longer establish by the arguments which have hitherto been to them the
decisive, perhaps the sole decisive, proofs.

And yet in spite of these shocks belief in revelation is strong still in
men's souls, and is clearly not yet going to quit the world.

But let us go on to consider how far it is true that the arguments
which have hitherto been regarded as proving the existence of a Supreme
Creator are really affected very gravely by this doctrine of Evolution.

The main argument, which at first appears to be thus set aside, is that
which is founded on the marks of design, and which is worked out in his
own way with marvellous skill by Paley in his Natural Theology. Paley's
argument rests as is well known on the evidence of design in created
things, and these evidences he chiefly finds in the frame-work of
organised living creatures. He traces with much most interesting detail
the many marvellous contrivances by which animals of various kinds are
adapted to the circumstances in which they are to live, the mechanism
which enables them to obtain their food, to preserve their species, to
escape their enemies, to remove discomforts. All nature thus examined,
and particularly all animated nature, seems full of means towards ends,
and those ends invariably such as a beneficent Creator might well be
supposed to have in view. And whilst there is undeniably one great
objection to his whole argument, namely that the Creator is represented
as an Artificer rather than a Creator, as overcoming difficulties which
stood in His way rather than as an Almighty Being fashioning things
according to His Will, yet the argument thus drawn from evidence of
design remains exceedingly powerful, and it has always been considered a
strong corroboration of the voice within which bids us believe in a God.
Now it certainly seems at first as if this argument were altogether
destroyed. If animals were not made as we see them, but evolved by
natural law, still more if it appear that their wonderful adaptation to
their surroundings is due to the influence of those surroundings, it
might seem as if we could no longer speak of design as exhibited in
their various organs; the organs we might say grow of themselves, some
suitable, and some unsuitable to the life of the creatures to which they
belonged, and the unsuitable have perished and the suitable have

But Paley has supplied the clue to the answer. In his well-known
illustration of the watch picked up on the heath by the passing
traveller, he points out that the evidence of design is certainly not
lessened if it be found that the watch was so constructed that, in
course of time, it produced another watch like itself. He was thinking
not of Evolution, but of the ordinary production of each generation of
animals from the preceding. But his answer can be pushed a step further,
and we may with equal justice remark that we should certainly not
believe it a proof that the watch had come into existence without design
if we found that it produced in course of time not merely another watch
but a better. It would become more marvellous than ever if we found
provision thus made not merely for the continuance of the species but
for the perpetual improvement of the species. It is essential to animal
life that the animal should be adapted to its circumstances; if besides
provision for such adaptation in each generation we find provision for
still better adaptation in future generations, how can it be said that
the evidences of design are diminished? Or take any separate organ, such
as the eye. It is impossible not to believe until it be disproved that

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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 5 of 11)