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 truths of mathematics for their hold on our reason.

But as a matter of fact Religion has taken the form of a revelation. And
this introduces a new contact between Religion and Science, and of
necessity a new possibility of collision. There is not only possible
opposition or apparent opposition of Science in what is revealed, in
what we may call the actual substance of the revelation; but also in the
accessories and evidences of the revelation, which may be no actual part
of the revelation itself, but nevertheless are, to all appearance,
inseparably bound up with it. It is therefore no more than might have
been expected that the general postulate of the uniformity of nature
should appear to be contravened by the claim to supernatural power made
on behalf of revelation, and that the special, but just at present
leading scientific doctrine, the doctrine of Evolution, should be found
inconsistent with parts, or what appear to be parts, of the revelation
itself. And we have to consider the two questions, What has Revelation
to say concerning Evolution? and what has Science to say concerning

Concerning Evolution, we have first to consider how much in this
direction has been made fairly probable, and what still remains to be

It cannot then be well denied that the astronomers and geologists have
made it exceedingly probable that this earth on which we live has been
brought to its present condition by passing through a succession of
changes from an original state of great heat and fluidity, perhaps even
from a mixture mainly consisting of gases; that such a body as the
planet Jupiter represents one of the stages through which it has passed,
that such a body as the moon represents a stage toward which it is
tending; that it has shrunk as it cooled, and as it shrank has formed
the elevations which we call mountains, and the depressions which
contain the seas and oceans; that it has been worn by the action of heat
from within and water from without, and in consequence of this action
presents the appearance when examined below the surface of successive
strata or layers; that different kinds of animal and vegetable life have
followed one another on the surface, and that some of their remains are
found in these strata now; and that all this has taken enormous periods
of time. All this is exceedingly probable, because it is the way in
which, as Laplace first pointed out, under well-established scientific
laws of matter, particularly the law of gravitation and the law of the
radiation of heat, a great fluid mass would necessarily change. And the
whole solar system may and probably did come into its present condition
in this way. It certainly could have been so formed, and there is no
reason for supposing that it was formed in any other way.

Once more, if we begin, as it were, at the other end, and trace things
backwards from the present, instead of forwards from the remote past, it
cannot be denied that Darwin's investigations have made it exceedingly
probable that the vast variety of plants and animals have sprung from a
much smaller number of original forms.

In the first place, the unity of plan which can be found pervading any
great class of animals or plants seems to point to unity of ancestry.
Why, for instance, should the vertebrate animals be formed on a common
plan, the parts of the framework being varied from species to species,
but the framework as a whole always exhibiting the same fundamental
type? If they all descended from a common ancestor, and the variations
were introduced in the course of that descent, this remarkable fact is
at once accounted for. But, in the second place, observation shows that
slight variations ARE perpetually being introduced with every
successive generation, and many of these variations are transmitted to
the generations that follow. In the course of time, therefore, from any
one parent stock would descend a very large variety of kinds. But if, in
the third place, it be asked why this variety does not range by
imperceptible degrees from extreme forms in one direction to extreme
forms in the other, the answer is to be found in the enormous
prodigality and the equally enormous waste of life and living creatures.
Plants and animals produce far more descendants than ever come even to
such maturity as to reproduce their kind. And this is particularly the
case with the lower forms of life. Eggs and seeds and germs are
destroyed by millions, and so in a less but still enormous proportion
are the young that come from those that have not been destroyed. There
is no waste like the waste of life that is to be seen in nature. Living
creatures are destroyed by lack of fit nourishment, by lack of means of
reproduction, by accidents, by enemies. The inevitable operation of this
waste, as Darwin's investigation showed, has been to destroy all those
varieties which were not well fitted to their surroundings, and to keep
those that were. One species of animal has been preserved by length of
neck, which enabled it to reach high-growing fruits and leaves; another
by a thicker skin, which made it difficult for enemies to devour;
another by a colour which made it easier to hide. One plant has been
preserved by a bright flower which attracted insects to carry its pollen
to other flowers of its kind; another by a sweet fruit which attracted
birds to scatter its seed. Meanwhile other animals and plants that had
not these advantages perished for the lack of them. The result would be
to maintain, and perpetually, though with exceeding slowness, more and
more to adapt to the conditions of their life, those species whose
peculiarities gave them some advantage in the great struggle for

Here again we have the working of known laws of life, capable of
accounting for what we see. And the high probability cannot be denied
that by evolution of this kind the present races of living creatures
have been formed. And to these arguments the strongest corroboration is
given by the frequent occurrence, both in plants and animals, of useless
parts which still remain as indications of organs that once were useful
and have long become useless. Animals that now live permanently in the
dark have abortive eyes which cannot see, but indicate an ancestor with
eyes that could see. Animals that never walk have abortive legs hidden
under their skin, useless now but indicating what was useful once. Our
knowledge no doubt in this as in any other province of nature is but the
merest fraction of what may be known therein. But there is no evidence
whatever to show that what we have observed is not a fair sample of the
whole. And so taking it, we find that the mass of evidence in favour of
the evolution of plants and animals is enormously great and increasing

Granting then the high probability of the two theories of Evolution,
that which begins with Laplace and explains the way in which the earth
was fitted to be the habitation of living creatures, and that which owes
its name to Darwin and gives an account of the formation of the living
creatures now existing, we have to see what limitations and
modifications are necessarily attached to our complete acceptance of

First, then, at the very meeting point of these two evolutions we have
the important fact that all the evidence that we possess up to the
present day negatives the opinion that life is a mere evolution from
inorganic matter. We know perfectly well the constituents of all living
substances. We know that the fundamental material of all plants and all
animals is a compound called protoplasm, or that, in other words,
organic matter in all its immense variety of forms is nothing but
protoplasm variously modified. And we know the constituent elements of
this protoplasm, and their proportions, and the temperatures within
which protoplasm as such can exist. But we are quite powerless to make
it, or to show how it is made, or to detect nature in the act of making
it. All the evidence we have points to one conclusion only, that life is
the result of antecedent life, and is producible on no other conditions.
Repeatedly have scientific observers believed that they have come on
instances of spontaneous generation, but further examination has
invariably shown that they have been mistaken. We can put the necessary
elements together, but we cannot supply the necessary bond by which
they are to be made to live. Nay, we cannot even recall that bond when
it has once been dissolved. We can take living protoplasm and we can
kill it. It will be protoplasm still, so far as our best chemistry can
discover, but it will be dead protoplasm, and we cannot make it live
again; and as far as we know nature can no more make it live than we
can. It can be used as food for living creatures, animals or plants, and
so its substance can be taken up by living protoplasm and made to share
in the life which thus consumes it; but life of its own it cannot
obtain. Now here, as it seems, the acceptance of the two evolutions
lands us in acceptance of a miracle. The creation of life is unaccounted
for. And it much more exactly answers to what we mean by a miracle than
it did under the old theory of creation before Evolution was made a
scientific doctrine. For under that old theory the creation of living
creatures stood on the same footing as the creation of metals or other
inorganic substances. It was part of that beginning which had to be
taken for granted, and which for that reason lay outside of the domain
of Science altogether. But if we accept the two evolutions, the
creation of life, if unaccounted for, presents itself as a direct
interference in the actual history of the world. There could have been
no life when the earth was nothing but a mass of intensely heated fluid.
There came a time when the earth became ready for life to exist upon it.
And the life came, and no laws of inorganic matter can account for its
coming. As it stands this is a great miracle. And from this conclusion
the only escape that has been suggested is to suppose that life came in
on a meteoric stone from some already formed habitable world; a
supposition which transfers the miracle to another scene, but leaves it
as great a miracle as before.

Nor, if it was a miracle, can we deny that there was a purpose in it
worthy of miraculous interference. For what purpose can rank side by
side with the existence and development of life, the primary condition
of all moral and spiritual existence and action in this world? In the
introduction of life was wrapped up all that we value and all that we
venerate in the whole creation. The infinite superiority, not in degree
only, but in kind, of the living to the lifeless, of a man to a stone,
justifies us in believing that the main purpose of the creation that we
see was to supply a dwelling-place and a scene of action for living
beings. We cannot say that the dignity of the Moral Law requires that
creatures to be made partakers in the knowledge of it, and even
creatures of a lower nature but akin to them, must have been the results
of a separate and miraculous act of creation. But we can say that there
is a congruity in such a miracle, with the moral purpose of all the
world, of which we are a part, that removes all difficulty in believing
it. Science, as such, cannot admit a miracle, and can only say, 'Here is
a puzzle yet unsolved.' Nor can the most religious scientific man be
blamed as undutiful to religion if he persists in endeavouring to solve
the puzzle. But he has no right to insist beforehand that the puzzle is
certainly soluble; for that he cannot know, and the evidence is against

Secondly, if we look at the Darwinian theory by itself, we see at once
that it is incomplete, and the consideration of this incompleteness
gravely modifies the conclusion which would otherwise be rightly drawn
from it, and which, indeed, Darwin himself seems disposed to draw. For
the theory rests on two main pillars, the transmission of
characteristics from progenitor to progeny, and the introduction of
minute variations in the progeny with each successive generation. Now,
the former of these may be said to be well established, and we recognise
it as a law of life that all plants and animals propagate their own
kind. But the latter has, as yet, been hardly examined at all. Each new
generation shows special slight variations. But what causes these
variations? and what determines what they shall be? In Darwin's
investigations these questions are not touched. The variations are
treated as if they were quite indefinite in number and in nature. He
concerns himself only with the effect of these variations after they
have appeared. Some have the effect of giving the plant or animal an
advantage in the struggle of life; some give no such advantage; some are
hurtful. And hence follows the permanent preservation or speedy
destruction of the plants and animals themselves. But we are bound to
look not only to their effects but to their causes, if the theory is to
be completed. And then we cannot fail to see that these variations in
the progeny cannot be due to something in the progenitors, or otherwise
the variations would be all alike, which they certainly are not. They
must, therefore, be due to external circumstances. These slight
variations are produced by the action of the surroundings, by the food,
by the temperature, by the various accidents of life in the progenitors.
Now, when we see this, we see also how gravely it modifies the
conclusions which we have to draw concerning the ancestry of any species
now existing. Let us take, for instance, the great order of vertebrate
animals. At first sight the Darwinian theory seems to indicate that all
these animals are descended from one pair or one individual, and that
their unity of construction is due to that fact; but if we go back in
thought to the time at which the special peculiarities were introduced
which really constituted the order and separated it from other animals,
we see that it is by no means clear that it originated with one pair or
with one individual, and that, on the contrary, the probabilities are
the other way. Although the separation of this order from the rest must
have taken place very early, it cannot well have taken place until
millions of animals had already come into existence. The prodigality of
nature in multiplying animal life is fully acknowledged by Darwin, and
that prodigality is apparently greatest in the lowest and most formless
type of animal. There being, then, these many millions of living
creatures in existence, the external surroundings introduce into them
many variations, and among these the special variations to which the
vertebrate type is due. It is quite clear that wherever the external
surroundings were the same or nearly the same, the variations introduced
would be the same or nearly the same. Now, it is far more probable that
external surroundings should be the same or nearly the same in many
places than that each spot should be absolutely unlike every other spot
in these particulars. The beginnings of the vertebrate order would show
themselves simultaneously, or at any rate independently, in many places
wherever external conditions were sufficiently similar. And the unity of
the plan in the vertebrata would be due, not to absolute unity of
ancestry, but to unity of external conditions at a particular epoch in
the descent of life. Hence it follows that the separation of animals
into orders and genera and even into species took place, if not for the
most part yet very largely, at a very early period in the history of
organic evolution. Of course the descendants of any one of the original
vertebrata might, and probably in not a few cases did, branch off into
new subdivisions and yet again into further subdivisions, and we are
always justified in looking for unity of ancestry among all the species.
But it is also quite possible that any species may be regularly
descended, without branching off at all, from one of the originals, and
that other species that resemble it may owe the resemblance simply to
very great similarity of external conditions. To find, for instance, the
unity of ancestry between man and the other animals, it will certainly
be necessary to go back to a point in the history of life when living
creatures were as yet formless, undeveloped - the materials, as we may
call them, of the animal creation as we now see it, and not in any but a
strictly scientific sense, what we mean when we ordinarily speak of
animals. The true settlement of such questions as these can only be
obtained when long and patient study shall have completed Darwin's
investigations by determining under what laws and within what limits the
slight variations which characterise each individual animal or plant are
congenitally introduced into its structure. As things stand the
probabilities certainly are that a creature with such especial
characteristics as man has had a history altogether of his own, if not
from the beginning of all life upon the globe, yet from a very early
period in the development of that life. He resembles certain other
animals very closely in the structure of his body; but the part which
external conditions had to play in the earliest stages of evolution of
life must have been so exceedingly large that identity or close
similarity in these external conditions may well account for these
resemblances. And the enormous gap which separates his nature from that
of all other creatures known, indicates an exceedingly early difference
of origin.

Lastly, it is quite impossible to evolve the Moral Law out of anything
but itself. Attempts have been made, and many more will no doubt be
made, to trace the origin of the spiritual faculty to a development of
the other faculties. And it is to be expected that great success will
ultimately attend the endeavours to show the growth of all the
subordinate powers of the soul. That our emotions, that our impulses,
that our affections should have had a history, and that their present
working should be the result of that history, has nothing in it
improbable. There can be no question that we inherit these things very
largely, and that they are also very largely due to special
peculiarities of constitution in each individual. That large part of us
which is rightly assigned to our nature as distinct from our own will
and our own free action, it is perfectly reasonable to find subject to
laws of Evolution. Much of this nature, indeed, we share with the lower
animals. They, too, can love; can be angry or pleased; can put affection
above appetite; can show generosity and nobility of spirit; can be
patient, persevering, tender, self-sacrificing; can take delight in
society: and some can even organise it, and thus enter on a kind of
civilisation. The dog and the horse, man's faithful servants and
companions, show emotions and affections rising as far as mere emotions
and affections can rise to the human level. Ants show an advance in the
arts of life well comparable to our own. If the bare animal nature is
thus capable of such high attainments by the mere working of natural
forces, it is to be expected that similar forces in mankind should be
found to work under similar laws. We are not spiritual beings only, we
are animals, and whatever nature has done for other animals we may
expect it to have done and to be doing for us. And if their nature is
capable of evolution, so too should ours be. And the study of such
evolution of our own nature is likely to be of the greatest value. This
nature is the main instrument, put into the grasp as it were of that
spiritual faculty which is our inmost essence, to be used in making our
whole life an offering to God. It is good to know what can be done with
this instrument and what cannot; how it has been formed in the past, and
may be still further formed for the future. It is good to study the
evolution of humanity. But all this does not touch the spiritual faculty
itself, nor the Moral Law which that faculty proclaims to us. The
essence of that law is its universality; and out of all this
development, when carried to its very perfection, the conception of such
universality cannot be obtained. Nothing in this evolution ever rises to
the height of a law which shall bind even God Himself and enable Abraham
to say, 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' The very word
right in this, its fulness of meaning, cannot be used.

Evolution may lead the creature to say what is hateful and what is
loveable, what is painful and what is delightful, what is to be feared
and what is to be sought; it may develope the sentiment which comes
nearest of all to the sentiment of reverence, namely, the sentiment of
shame; but it cannot reveal the eternal character of the distinction
between right and wrong. Nay, there may be, as was pointed out in the
last Lecture, an evolution in our knowledge even of the Moral Law, just
as there is an evolution in our knowledge of mathematics. The fulness of
its meaning can become clearer and ever clearer as generation learns
from generation. But the principle of the Moral Law, its universality,
its supremacy, cannot come out of any development of human nature any
more than the necessity of mathematical truth can so come. It stands not
on experience, and is its own evidence. Nor indeed have any of the
attempts to show that everything in man (religion included) is the
product of Evolution ever touched the question how this conception of
universal supremacy comes in. It is treated as if it were an
unauthorised extension from our own experience to what lies beyond all
experience. This, however, is to deny the essence of the Moral Law
altogether: that Law is universal or it is nothing.

Now, when we compare the account of the creation and of man given by the
doctrine of Evolution with that given in the Bible, we see at once that
the two are in different regions. The purpose of giving the accounts is
different; the spirit and character of the accounts is different; the
details are altogether different. The comparison must take note of the
difference of spirit and aim before it can proceed at all.

It is then quite certain, and even those who contend for the literal
interpretation of this part of the Bible will generally admit, that the
purpose of the revelation is not to teach Science at all. It is to teach
great spiritual and moral lessons, and it takes the facts of nature as
they appear to ordinary people. When the creation of man is mentioned
there is clearly no intention to say by what processes this creation was
effected, or how much time it took to work out those processes. The
narrative is not touched by the question, Was this a single act done in
a moment, or a process lasting through millions of years? The writer of
the Book of Genesis sees the earth peopled, as we may say, by many
varieties of plants and animals. He asserts that God made them all, and
made them resemble each other and differ from each other. He knows
nothing and says nothing of the means used to produce their resemblances
or their differences. He takes them as he sees them, and speaks of their
creation as God's work. Had he been commissioned to teach his people the
science of the matter, he would have had to put a most serious obstacle
in the way of their faith. They would have found it almost impossible to
believe in a process of creation so utterly unlike all their own
experience. And it would have been quite useless to them besides, since
their science was not in such a condition as to enable them to
coordinate this doctrine with any other. As science it would have been
dead; and as spiritual truth it would have been a hindrance.

But he had, nevertheless, great ideas to communicate, and we can read
them still.

He had to teach that the world as we see it, and all therein contained,
was created out of nothing; and that the spiritual, and not the
material, was the source of all existence. He had to teach that the
creation was not merely orderly, but progressive; going from the
formless to the formed; from the orderless to the ordered; from the
inanimate to the animate; from the plant to the animal; from the lower
animal to the higher; from the beast to the man; ending with the rest of
the Sabbath, the type of the highest, the spiritual, life. Nothing,
certainly, could more exactly match the doctrine of Evolution than
this. It is, in fact, the same thing said from a different point of
view. All this is done by casting the account into the form of a week of
work with the Sabbath at the end. In so constructing his account, 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 8 of 11)