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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the eye was intended to see with. We cannot say that light was made for
the eye, because light subserves many other purposes besides that of
enabling eyes to see. But that the eye was intended for light there is
so strong a presumption that it cannot easily be rebutted. If indeed it
could be shown that eyes fulfilled several other functions, or that
species of animals which always lived in the dark still had fully-formed
eyes, then we might say that the connexion between the eye of an animal
and the light of heaven was accidental. But the contrary is notoriously
the case; so much the case that some philosophers have maintained that
the eye was formed by the need for seeing, a statement which I need take
no trouble to refute, just as those who make it take no trouble to
establish, I will not say its truth, but even its possibility. But the
fact, if it be a fact, that the eye was not originally as well adapted
to see with as it is now, and that the power of perceiving light and of
things in the light grew by degrees, does not show, nor even tend to
show, that the eye was not intended for seeing with.

The fact is that the doctrine of Evolution does not affect the substance
of Paley's argument at all. The marks of design which he has pointed out
remain marks of design still even if we accept the doctrine of
Evolution to the full. What is touched by this doctrine is not the
evidence of design but the mode in which the design was executed. Paley,
no doubt, wrote on the supposition (and at that time it was hardly
possible to admit any other supposition) that we must take animals to
have come into existence very nearly such as we now know them: and his
language, on the whole, was adapted to that supposition. But the
language would rather need supplementing than changing to make it
applicable to the supposition that animals were formed by Evolution. In
the one case the execution follows the design by the effect of a direct
act of creation; in the other case the design is worked out by a slow
process. In the one case the Creator made the animals at once such as
they now are; in the other case He impressed on certain particles of
matter which, either at the beginning or at some point in the history of
His creation He endowed with life, such inherent powers that in the
ordinary course of time living creatures such as the present were
developed. The creative power remains the same in either case; the
design with which that creative power was exercised remains the same.
He did not make the things, we may say; no, but He made them make
themselves. And surely this rather adds than withdraws force from the
great argument. It seems in itself something more majestic, something
more befitting Him to Whom a thousand years are as one day and one day
as a thousand years, thus to impress His Will once for all on His
creation, and provide for all its countless variety by this one original
impress, than by special acts of creation to be perpetually modifying
what He had previously made. It has often been objected to Paley's
argument, as I remarked before, that it represents the Almighty rather
as an artificer than a creator, a workman dealing with somewhat
intractable materials and showing marvellous skill in overcoming
difficulties rather than a beneficent Being making all things in
accordance with the purposes of His love. But this objection disappears
when we put the argument into the shape which the doctrine of Evolution
demands and look on the Almighty as creating the original elements of
matter, determining their number and their properties, creating the law
of gravitation whereby as seems probable the worlds have been formed,
creating the various laws of chemical and physical action, by which
inorganic substances have been combined, creating above all the law of
life, the mysterious law which plainly contains such wonderful
possibilities within itself, and thus providing for the ultimate
development of all the many wonders of nature.

What conception of foresight and purpose can rise above that which
imagines all history gathered as it were into one original creative act
from which the infinite variety of the Universe has come and more is
coming even yet?

And yet again, it is a common objection to Paley's and similar arguments
that, in spite of all the tokens of intelligence and beneficence in the
creation, there is so much of the contrary character. How much there is
of apparently needless pain and waste! And John Stuart Mill has urged
that either we must suppose the Creator wanting in omnipotence or
wanting in kindness to have left His creation so imperfect. The answer
usually given is that our knowledge is partial, and, could we see the
whole, the objection would probably disappear. But what force and
clearness is given to this answer by the doctrine of Evolution which
tells us that we are looking at a work which is not yet finished, and
that the imperfections are a necessary part of a large design the
general outlines of which we may already trace, but the ultimate issue
of which, with all its details, is still beyond our perception! The
imperfections are like the imperfections of a half-completed picture not
yet ready to be seen; they are like the bud which will presently be a
beautiful flower, or the larva of a beautiful and gorgeous insect; they
are like the imperfections in the moral character of a saint who
nevertheless is changing from glory to glory.

To the many partial designs which Paley's Natural Theology points out,
and which still remain what they were, the doctrine of Evolution adds
the design of a perpetual progress. Things are so arranged that animals
are perpetually better adapted to the life they have to live. The very
phrase which we commonly use to sum up Darwin's teaching, the survival
of the fittest, implies a perpetual diminution of pain and increase of
enjoyment for all creatures that can feel. If they are fitter for their
surroundings, most certainly they will find life easier to live. And, as
if to mark still more plainly the beneficence of the whole work, the
less developed creatures, as we have every reason to believe, are less
sensible of pain and pleasure; so that enjoyment appears to grow with
the capacity for enjoyment, and suffering diminishes as sensitivity to
suffering increases. And there can be no doubt that this is in many ways
the tendency of nature. Beasts of prey are diminishing; life is easier
for man and easier for all animals that are under his care: many species
of animals perish as man fills and subjugates the globe, but those that
remain have far greater happiness in their lives. In fact, all the
purposes which Paley traces in the formation of living creatures are not
only fulfilled by what the Creator has done, but are better fulfilled
from age to age. And though the progress may be exceedingly slow, the
nature of the progress cannot be mistaken.

If the Natural Theology were now to be written, the stress of the
argument would be put on a different place. Instead of insisting wholly
or mainly on the wonderful adaptation of means to ends in the structure
of living animals and plants, we should look rather to the original
properties impressed on matter from the beginning, and on the beneficent
consequences that have flowed from those properties. We should dwell on
the peculiar properties that must be inherent in the molecules of the
original elements to cause such results to follow from their action and
reaction on one another. We should dwell on the part played in the
Universe by the properties of oxygen, the great purifier, and one of the
great heat-givers; of carbon, the chief light-giver and heat-giver; of
water, the great solvent and the storehouse of heat; of the atmosphere
and the vapours in it, the protector of the earth which it surrounds. We
should trace the beneficent effects of pain and pleasure in their
subservience to the purification of life. The marks of a purpose
impressed from the first on all creation would be even more visible than
ever before.

And we could not overlook the beauty of Nature and of all created things
as part of that purpose coming in many cases out of that very survival
of the fittest of which Darwin has spoken, and yet a distinct object in
itself. For this beauty there is no need in the economy of nature
whatever. The beauty of the starry heavens, which so impressed the mind
of Kant that he put it by the side of the Moral Law as proving the
existence of a Creator, is not wanted either for the evolution of the
world or for the preservation of living creatures. Our enjoyment of it
is a super-added gift certainly not necessary for the existence or the
continuance of our species. The beauty of flowers, according to the
teaching of the doctrine of Evolution, has generally grown out of the
need which makes it good for plants to attract insects. The insects
carry the pollen from flower to flower, and thus as it were mix the
breed; and this produces the stronger plants which outlive the
competition of the rest. The plants, therefore, which are most
conspicuous gain an advantage by attracting insects most. That
successive generations of flowers should thus show brighter and brighter
colours is intelligible. But the beauty of flowers is far more than mere
conspicuousness of colours even though that be the main ingredient. Why
should the wonderful grace, and delicacy, and harmony of tint be added?
Is all this mere chance? Is all this superfluity pervading the whole
world and perpetually supplying to the highest of living creatures, and
that too in a real proportion to his superiority, the most refined and
elevating of pleasures, an accident without any purpose at all? If
Evolution has produced the world such as we see and all its endless
beauty, it has bestowed on our own dwelling-place in lavish abundance
and in marvellous perfection that on which men spend their substance
without stint, that which they value above all but downright
necessities, that which they admire beyond all except the Law of Duty
itself. We cannot think that this is not designed, nor that the Artist
who produced it was blind to what was coming out of His work.

Once more, the doctrine of Evolution restores to the science of Nature
the unity which we should expect in the creation of God. Paley's
argument proved design, but included the possibility of many designers.
Not one design, but many separate designs, all no doubt of the same
character, but all worked out independently of one another, is the
picture that he puts before us. But the doctrine of Evolution binds all
existing things on earth into one. Every mineral, every plant, every
animal has such properties that it benefits other things beside itself
and derives benefit in turn. The insect developes the plant, and the
plant the insect; the brute aids in the evolution of the man, and the
man in that of the brute. All things are embraced in one great design
beginning with the very creation. He who uses the doctrine of Evolution
to prove that no intelligence planned the world, is undertaking the
self-contradictory task of showing that a great machine has no purpose
by tracing in detail the marvellous complexity of its parts, and the
still more marvellous precision with which all work together to produce
a common result.

To conclude, the doctrine of Evolution leaves the argument for an
intelligent Creator and Governor of the world stronger than it was
before. There is still as much as ever the proof of an intelligent
purpose pervading all creation. The difference is that the execution of
that purpose belongs more to the original act of creation, less to acts
of government since. There is more divine foresight, there is less
divine interposition; and whatever has been taken from the latter has
been added to the former.

Some scientific students of Nature may fancy they can deduce in the
working out of the theory results inconsistent with religious belief;
and in a future Lecture these will have to be examined; and it is
possible that the theory may be so presented as to be inconsistent with
the teaching of Revelation. But whatever may be the relation of the
doctrine of Evolution to Revelation, it cannot be said that this
doctrine is antagonistic to Religion in its essence. The progress of
Science in this direction will assuredly end in helping men to believe
with more assurance than ever that the Lord by wisdom hath founded the
earth, by understanding hath He established the heavens.



The evolution of Knowledge. Does not affect the truth of Science. Nor of
Religion. Special characteristic of evolution of Religious Knowledge,
that it is due to Revelation. All higher Religions have claimed to be
Revelations. The evolution of Religious Knowledge in the Old Testament;
yet the Old Testament a Revelation. Still more the New Testament. The
miraculous element in Revelation. Its place and need. Harmony of this
mode of evolution with the teaching of the Spiritual Faculty.



'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past
to the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken to
us by His Son.' _Hebrews_ i. 1.

The doctrine of Evolution has been applied not only to the formation of
all created things, but to the development of human knowledge; and this
with perfect justice, though with some risk of misunderstanding. It is
certain, and, indeed, it is obvious, that knowledge grows. The ordinary
experience of mankind becomes larger and clearer in the course of time,
and the systematised experience which we call Science makes the same
progress in still greater measure and with more assurance.

Our Science has been built on the labours of scientific men in past
ages. New generalisations imagined by one thinker, new crucial
experiments devised by another, new instruments of observation invented
by another, - these have been the steps by which Science has grown and
established its authority and enlarged its dominion. When or by whom the
first steps were made we have no record. No mathematician that ever
lived showed greater natural power of intellect than he, whoever he was,
who first saw that the singular contained the universal; but we know
neither his name nor his age, nor his birthplace nor his race. But after
those first steps had been taken, we know who have been the leaders in
scientific advance. And we know what they have done, and what they are
doing; and we can conjecture the direction in which further advances
will be made. And so we can trace the development of this kind of
knowledge, and in a certain and very real sense this development may be
called an evolution.

But there is this difference between the evolution of nature and the
evolution of the science of nature. The evolution of nature results in
the existence of forms which did not exist before; the evolution of
knowledge results in the perception of laws which were already in

The knowledge grows, but the things known remain. The knowledge is not
treated as if independent of the things known or believed to be known,
as a phenomenon belonging merely to the human mind, with beginnings and
laws and consequences and history of its own. And, consequently, its
having a regular growth is not used as an argument against its
substantial truth.

The Science of Mathematics, for instance, has a history; but no
mathematician will admit that the fact that it has a history affects its
claims to acceptance as truth. We may ask, how men have been brought to
believe the deductions of the higher mathematics, and we may answer our
own question by tracing the steps; but our conviction is not shaken that
these deductions are true.

And so, too, we can trace the steps by which the great generalisations
of Science have been reached, and we may show that Kepler grew out of
Copernicus, and Newton out of Kepler; but the proof that the knowledge
of one truth has been evolved out of the knowledge of another, and that
out of the knowledge of another, is not used to show that all this
Science has nothing to do with truth at all, but is only a natural
growth of human thought. Science has grown through all manner of
mistakes - mistakes made by the greatest thinkers and observers, mistakes
which men ignorantly laugh at now, as their own mistakes will be no
doubt laughed at in turn hereafter. But we do not, therefore, treat
scientific thought as nothing more than one of the phenomena of
humanity; ways of thinking which necessarily grew out of the conditions
in which men have existed, but sufficiently accounted for by their
origin and mode of growth having been shown, and having no solidity of
their own.

What has been said of Science may be said also of Religion. Religion
also has had its development, and in some respects a development
parallel to that of Science.

It is possible to trace the steps by which men have obtained an ever
larger and fuller knowledge of the Supreme Law of Right, a clearer
perception of its application, of its logical results, of its relation
to life, to conduct, to belief. It has grown through mistakes as Science
has. There has been false Religion, as there has been false Science.
Unsound principles of conduct have been inculcated in Religion as
unsound generalisations have been set up in Science. There have been
improper objects of reverence in Religion, as there have been impossible
aims proposed for scientific investigation. Ezekiel rises above the
doctrine that the children are punished for the sins of their parents,
just as Galileo rises above the doctrine that nature abhors a vacuum.
The parallel is all the more complete in that in many cases false
religions have been also false sciences. The prayer to the fetish for
rain is as contrary to true religion as it is contrary to true science.
Many false religions are most easily overthrown by scientific
instruction. Many false sciences begin to totter when the believers in
them are taught true religion. The ordinary superstitions which have so
strong a hold on weak characters and uninstructed minds, are as
inconsistent with true faith in God as with reasonable knowledge of
nature. Science grows, but the facts, whether laws or instances of the
operations of those laws, are not affected by that growth. And Religion
grows, but the facts of which it takes cognisance are not affected by
that growth. Neither in the one case nor in the other is the fact that
there has been a development any argument to show that the belief thus
developed has no real foundation. The pure subjectivity of Religion, to
use technical language, is no more proved by this argument than the pure
subjectivity of Science.

But there is one most important particular in which the development of
Religion entirely differs from the development of Science. The leaders
of scientific thought, from the time that Science has been conscious of
itself, have never claimed direct divine instruction. For a long time,
indeed, scientific thought rested largely on tradition, and that
tradition was handed on from generation to generation without any
examination into its foundations. The stores of past observations seemed
so very much larger in quantity than any that men could add in their own
day, that it was natural to give more weight to what was received than
to what was newly observed. The experience of each generation in
succession seemed nothing in comparison with the accumulated experience
of all preceding generations. And in many cases old traditions stopped
the growth of Science by preventing the acceptance of observations
inconsistent with them. But such old traditions never claimed to rest on
a revelation from God; or, if such a claim was made here and there, it
never had strength enough to root itself in Science and form part of the
recognised authority on which Science stood.

Science, from the time when it recognised itself as Science, has owed
its development to observation of nature, and long before it shook off
the fetters of unexamined tradition it had disclaimed, even for that
tradition, any other basis than this. But not so Religion. Many
religions, and among them the purer and higher religions, in proportion
to their nearer approach to perfection, have claimed to rest on a Divine
Revelation, and to be something more than either speculations of
philosophic observers of nature, or deductions from innate principles of
reason or conscience. Not thinkers, but prophets, or men claiming to be
prophets, have given the purest religions to their disciples among
mankind. It has always been possible to bring all religious teaching to
the bar of conscience; it has been possible to put all religious
teaching to logical examination; to systematise its precepts, whether of
faith or conduct; to inquire into its fundamental principles, and to ask
for the authority on which the whole teaching rests. But these
applications of our intellectual faculties to Religion have always been
admitted as coming after, not as preceding, the teaching to which they
are made. The prophet does sometimes reason when he is deducing from
principles already accepted, new precepts, or new prohibitions; but he
does not confine himself to such reasoning in the fulfilment of his
mission. He professes to have a message to give. He will accredit it by
such means as He supplies Who has sent him with this message. He will,
in order to open the consciences of his hearers, appeal to past
revelations which they have already received, and with which his new
message is in thorough harmony; but he often appeals also to his power
over nature to bear witness that the Lord of nature has sent him. The
Hebrew prophet will appeal to the teaching of the Law, will repeat the
old revelation with its old unshaken and unshakeable precepts, but he
will not stop there: he will also give signs from the Lord to prove that
he has a right to the title of prophet which he claims. Armed with this
title, he will go on to predict the coming of the Great Restorer, the
Messiah; he will insist on the judgment of all things, sure to be passed
in its appointed day; he will hint at the immortality of the soul, and
the execution of the Almighty justice on every man that lives.

It is probable enough that many of the inferior religions have grown up
with no such claim at all. The worship of ancestors, where it has
prevailed, has very likely, as has been suggested, grown out of dreams,
in which loving memory has brought back in sleep vivid images of the
dead who were reverenced while they lived, and cannot be readily
forgotten after death. Such worship barely attains to what may be called
in strictness a religion. Its connexion with the spiritual faculty, the
true seat of religion, is weak and vague. It is like the honour paid to
a sovereign residing in a distant capital, with only the difference
that those who receive this worship are supposed to reside not in a
distant capital, but in another world. So, too, the worship of fetishes,
of trees, of serpents, of the heavenly bodies, while they have some of
the inferior elements of religion in them, yet hardly deserve to be
called religions. There is in them the sentiment of fear, the
acknowledgment of persons or some resemblance of persons imperceptible
by the senses; the acknowledgment of powers possessed by these persons.
But the central idea of a rule of holiness is either altogether wanting,
or so very feeble and indistinct as to contain no promise of developing
into ultimate supremacy. These religions do not often lay claim to a
revelation from a supreme authority. And they have withered away with
the growth of knowledge and with clearer perceptions of what Religion
must be if it is to exist at all.

All the higher religions have claimed to rest on a divine revelation,
and the Christian Religion on a series of such revelations. The
Christian Religion does not profess (as does for instance the
Mahommedan) to be wrapped up in one divine communication made to one
man and admitting thereafter of no modifications. Though resting on
divine revelation it is professedly a development, and is thus in
harmony with the Creator's operations in nature. Whether we consider
what is taught concerning the heavenly Moral Law, or concerning human
nature and its moral and spiritual needs, or concerning Almighty God and
His dealings with us His creatures, it is undeniable that the teaching
of the Bible is quite different at the end from what it is at the

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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 6 of 11)