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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writer made use of a mode of teaching used commonly enough in the Bible.
The symbolical use of the number seven is common in other inspired
writers. The symbolical use of periods of time is not without example.
That the purpose of the account was not to teach great truths, but to
give men information upon scientific questions, is incredible. And, in
fact, if we look in this account for literal history, it becomes very
difficult to give any meaning to what is said of the seventh day, or to
reconcile the interpretation of it with our Lord's words concerning the
Sabbath, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.' There is no more
reason for setting aside Geology, because it does not agree in detail
with Genesis, than there is for setting aside Astronomy because all
through the Old Testament the sun is spoken of as going round the earth.

And when the writer of Genesis passes from creation in general to man
in particular, it is still clear that he has no mission to tell those
for whom he was writing by what processes man was formed, or how long
those processes lasted. This was as alien from his purpose as it would
have been to tell what every physiologist now knows of the processes by
which every individual man is developed from a small germ to a breathing
and living infant. He takes men - and he could not but take men as he
sees them - with their sinful nature, with their moral and spiritual
capacity, with their relations of sex, with their relations of family.
He has to teach the essential supremacy of man among creatures, the
subordination in position but equality in nature of woman to man, the
original declension of man's will from the divine path, the dim and
distant but sure hope of man's restoration. These are not, and cannot
be, lessons of science. They are worked out into the allegory of the
Garden of Eden. But in this allegory there is nothing whatever that
crosses the path of science, nor is it for reasons of science that so
many great Christian thinkers from the earliest age of the Church
downwards have pronounced it an allegory. The spiritual truth contained
in it is certainly the purpose for which it is told; and evolution such
as science has rendered probable had done its work in forming man such
as he is before the narrative begins.

It may be said that it seems inconsistent with the dignity of man's
nature as described in the Bible to believe that his formation was
effected by any process of evolution, still more by any such process of
evolution as would represent him to have been an animal before he became
a man.

But, in the first place, it is to be observed that Science does not yet
assert, and there is no reason to believe that it ever will assert, that
man became a fully developed animal, with the brute instincts and
inclinations, appetites and passions, fully formed, an animal such as we
see other animals now, before he passed on into a man such as man is
now. His body may have been developed according to the theory of
Evolution, yet along a parallel but independent line of its own; but at
any rate it branched off from other animals at a very early point in
the descent of animal life. And, further, as Science cannot yet assert
that life was not introduced into the world when made habitable by a
direct creative act, so too Science cannot yet assert, and it is
tolerably certain will never assert, that the higher and added life, the
spiritual faculty, which is man's characteristic prerogative, was not
given to man by a direct creative act as soon as the body which was to
be the seat and the instrument of that spiritual faculty had been
sufficiently developed to receive it. That the body should have been
first prepared, and that when it was prepared the soul should either
have been then given, or then first made to live in the image of
God, - this is a supposition which is inconsistent neither with what the
Bible tells nor with what Science has up to this time proved.

And to this must be added that it is out of place for us to define what
is consistent or inconsistent with the dignity of man in the process or
method by which he was created to be what he is. His dignity consists in
his possession of the spiritual faculty, and not in the method by which
he became possessed of it. We cannot tell, we never can tell, and the
Bible never professes to tell, what powers or gifts are wrapped up in
matter itself, or in that living matter of which we are made. How
absolutely nothing we know of the mode by which any single soul is
created! The germ which is to become a man can be traced by the
physiologist through all the changes that it has to undergo before it
comes to life. Is the future soul wrapped up in it from the first, and
dormant till the hour of awakening comes? or is it given at some moment
in the development? We see in the infant how its powers expand, and we
know that the spiritual faculty, the very essence of its being, has a
development like the other faculties. It has in it the gift of speech,
and yet it cannot speak. Judgment, and taste, and power of thought;
self-sacrifice and unswerving truth; science and art, and spiritual
understanding, all may be there in abundant measure and yet may show no
sign. All this we know; and because it is common and well known we see
nothing inconsistent with the dignity of our nature in this concealment
of all that dignity, helpless and powerless, within the form of an
infant in arms. With this before us it is impossible to say that
anything which Science has yet proved, or ever has any chance of
proving, is inconsistent with the place given to man in Creation by the
teaching of the Bible.

In conclusion, we cannot find that Science, in teaching Evolution, has
yet asserted anything that is inconsistent with Revelation, unless we
assume that Revelation was intended not to teach spiritual truth only,
but physical truth also. Here, as in all similar cases, we find that the
writer of the Book of Genesis, like all the other writers in the Bible,
took nature as he saw it, and expressed his teaching in language
corresponding to what he saw. And the doctrine of Evolution, in so far
as it has been shown to be true, does but fill out in detail the
declaration that we are 'fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are
Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.' There is nothing in all
that Science has yet taught, or is on the way to teach, which conflicts
with the doctrine that we are made in the Divine Image, rulers of the
creation around us by a Divine superiority, the recipients of a
Revelation from a Father in Heaven, and responsible to judgment by His
Law. We know not how the first human soul was made, just as we know not
how any human soul has been made since; but we know that we are, in a
sense in which no other creatures living with us are, the children of
His special care.



The claim to work miracles parallel to the freedom of the will. The
miracles of Revelation need not be miracles of Science. Our Lord's
Resurrection, and His miracles of healing, possibly not miraculous in
the scientific sense. Different aspect of miracles now and at the time
when the Revelation was given. Miracles attested by the Apostles, by our
Lord's character, by our Lord's power. Nature of evidence required to
prove miracles; not such as to put physical above spiritual evidence;
not such as to be unsuited to their own day. Impossibility of
demonstrating universal uniformity. Revelation no obstacle to the
progress of Science.



'Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else
believe Me for the very works' sake.' _St. John_ xiv. 11.

Science and Religion come into apparent collision on the question of the
freedom of the will. Science and Revelation come into a similar apparent
collision on the possibility of miracles. The cases are precisely
parallel. In each individual man the uniformity of nature is broken to
leave room for the moral force of the will to assert its independent
existence. This breach of uniformity is within very narrow limits, and
occurs much more rarely than appears at first sight. But the demand to
admit not only the possibility but the fact of this breach is
imperative, and to deny it is to turn the command of the Moral Law as
revealed in the conscience into a delusion. So, too, Revelation asserts
its right to set aside the uniformity of nature to leave room for a
direct communication from God to man. It is an essential part of the
Divine Moral Law to claim supremacy over the physical world. Unless
somehow or other the moral ultimately rules the physical, the Moral Law
cannot rightly claim our absolute obedience. Revelation as given to us
maintains that this superiority has been asserted in fact here in the
world of phenomena. To deny this is very nearly equivalent to denying
that any revelation has been made. In this way Revelation asserts, for
God's message to the human race precisely the same breach of uniformity
which every man's conscience claims for himself in regard to his own

It is, however, necessary to point out that when we speak of a breach of
uniformity we are never in a position to deny that the breach of
uniformity may be physical only and perhaps apparent only. It may be
found, it probably will be found, at last that the Moral Law has in
some way always maintained its own uniformity unbroken. The Moral Law
has in its essence an elasticity which the physical law has not. It
often takes the form, that, given certain conduct, there will follow
certain consequences; and the law is kept though the conduct is free. It
is further possible, and Revelation has no interest in denying it, that
the intervention which has apparently disturbed the sequence of
phenomena is, after all, that of a higher physical law as yet unknown.
For instance, the miraculous healing of the sick may be no miracle in
the strictest sense at all. It may be but an instance of the power of
mind over body, a power which is undeniably not yet brought within the
range of Science, and which nevertheless may be really within its
domain. In other ways what seems to be miraculous may be simply unusual.
And it must therefore be always remembered that Revelation is not bound
by the scientific definition of a miracle, and that if all the
miraculous events recorded in the Bible happened exactly as they are
told, and if Science were some day able to show that they could be
accounted for by natural causes working at the time in each case, this
would not in any way affect their character, as regards the Revelation
which they were worked to prove or of which they form a part. Revelation
uses these events for its own purposes. Some of these events are spoken
of as evidences of a divine mission. Some of them are substantive facts
embraced in the message delivered. And if for these purposes they have
served their turn, if they have arrested attention which would not
otherwise have been arrested, if they have overcome prejudices, if they
have compelled belief, the fact that they are afterwards discovered to
be no breach of the law of uniformity has no bearing at all on the
Revelation to which they belong. The miracle would in that case consist
in the precise coincidence in time with the purpose which they served,
or in the manner and degree in which they marked out the Man who wrought
them from all other men, or in the foreshadowing of events which are in
the distant future.

Thus, for instance, it is quite possible that our Lord's Resurrection
may be found hereafter to be no miracle at all in the scientific sense.
It foreshadows and begins the general Resurrection; when that general
Resurrection comes we may find that it is, after all, the natural issue
of physical laws always at work.

There is nothing at present to indicate anything of the sort; but a
general resurrection in itself implies not a special interference but a
general rule. If, when we rise again, we find that this resurrection is
and always was a part of the Divine purpose, and brought about at last
by machinery precisely the same in kind as that which has been used in
making and governing the world, we may also find that our Lord's
Resurrection was brought about by the operation of precisely the same
machinery. We may find that even in the language of strict science 'He
was the first fruits of them that slept,' and that His Resurrection was
not a miracle, but the first instance of the working of a law till the
last day quite unknown, but on that last day operative on all that ever

Let us compare the general resurrection with the first introduction of
life into the world. As far as scientific observation has yet gone that
first introduction of life was a miracle. No one has ever yet succeeded
in tracing it to the operation of any known laws. If it is a miracle it
is a miracle precisely similar in kind to the miracle which believers
are expecting at the last day. And assuredly if a miracle was once
worked to introduce life into this habitable world, there is very good
reason to expect that another miracle will be worked hereafter to
restore life to those that have lived. But there are scientific men who
think that the introduction of life was not a miracle, that it came at
the fitting moment by the working of natural laws; or, in other words,
that such properties are inherent in the elements of which protoplasm is
made that in certain special circumstances these elements will not only
combine but that the product of their combination will live. If this be
so, it is assuredly no such very strange supposition that there may be
such properties inherent in our bodies or in certain particles, whether
particles of matter or not, belonging to our bodies, that in certain
special circumstances these particles will return to life. And if this
be so the general resurrection may be no miracle, but the result of the
properties originally inherent in our bodies and of the working of the
laws of those properties. And as the general resurrection so our Lord's
Resurrection may in this way turn out to be no breach of the uniformity
of nature.

But this new discovery, if then made, would not affect the place which
our Lord's Resurrection holds in the records of Revelation. It is not
the purpose of Revelation to interfere with the course of nature; if
such interference be needless, and the work of revealing God to man can
be done without it, there is no reason whatever to believe that any such
interference would take place.

Or, take again any of our Lord's miracles of healing. There is no
question at all that the power of mind over body is exceedingly great,
and has never yet been thoroughly examined. We know almost nothing of
the extent of this power, of its laws, of its limits. Marvellous
recoveries often astonish the physician, and he cannot account for them
except by supposing that in some way the powers of the mind have been
roused to interfere with the working of the nervous system. And some
men, on the other hand, have died or their health has been shattered by
mere imaginations. Some men of note have attributed the recoveries
claimed for homoeopathy to this cause. Some have assigned to this
cause the extraordinary cures that have been undeniably wrought at the
shrines, or on sight or touch of the relics, of Roman Catholic saints.
The different impostures that have on many occasions prevailed for a
time and then lost their reputation and passed out of fashion, are
generally supposed to have owed their short-lived success to the same
obscure working of unknown natural laws. They have been tested by their
successes and their failures. They have succeeded, and for a time
continued to succeed; but at last they have ceased to work because faith
in them for some reason or other has been shaken down. Their falsehood
has thus been detected; but nevertheless their genuine success for a
time has been enough to show that they rested on a reality, and that
reality seems to have consisted in the strange power of mind over body.
In this region all is at present unexamined; and all operations are
tentative, and for that reason most are only successful for a time. Now
our Lord's miracles are never tentative; that is not the character given
to them either by friend or by foe. Nor is there any instance recorded
either by friend or by foe of an attempted miracle not accomplished.
Nowhere is there any record given us by the assailants of the Gospel of
any instance of His action parallel to the record given in the Acts of
the Apostles of the seven sons of Sceva the Jew. The accounts of his
enemies charge Him with deceit, which is identical with saying that they
did not believe Him. But they do not ever charge Him with failure.
Nevertheless it is quite conceivable that many of His miracles of
healing may have been the result of this power of mind over body which
we are now considering. It is possible that they may be due not to an
interference with the uniformity of nature, but to a superiority in His
mental power to the similar power possessed by other men. Men seem to
possess this power both over their own bodies and over the bodies of
others in different degrees. Some can influence other men's bodies
through their minds more; some less. Possibly He may have possessed this
power absolutely where others possessed it conditionally. He may have
possessed it without limit; others within limits. If this were so, these
acts of healing would not be miracles in the strictly scientific sense.
They would imply very great superiority in Him to other men. But they
would be in themselves under the law of uniformity. Now it is clear that
if this should turn out to be so, though these acts would not be
miracles for the purposes of Science, they would still be miracles for
the purposes of Revelation. They would do their work in arresting
attention, and still more in accrediting both the message and the
Messenger. They would separate Him from ordinary men. They would prove
Him to be possessed of credentials worth examining. To the believer it
would make no difference whether Science called them miracles or not. To
him it would still remain the fact that here was a Messenger whom God
had seen fit to endow with powers which no other man ever possessed in
such degree and such completeness, though others may have possessed some
touch of them greater or less.

Further, it is necessary to repeat what was briefly remarked in a
previous Lecture, that the position which miracles take as regards us
who read them many centuries after, and as regards those who witnessed
and recorded them at the time, is quite different. To them the miracles
were the first and often the chief proof that the man who wrought them
had been sent by God, and that His message was a revelation, not an
imposture; to us they are, if accepted at all, accepted as a part of the
revelation itself. There are no doubt a few minds that are convinced by
Paley's argument, and beginning with accepting the miracles as proved by
sufficient external evidence, go on to accept the conclusion that
therefore the teaching that was thus accompanied must be divine. But
most men are quite unable to take to pieces in this way the records in
which Revelation is contained, and to go from external evidence taken
alone to the messengers who thus proved their mission, and thence to the
substance of the message which they taught. To most of us, on the
contrary, the Revelation is a whole, capable of being looked at from
many sides, and found to be divine from whatever side it is seen; and
one of its aspects is this supernatural character by which it appears
to assert its identity with that Moral Law which claims absolute
supremacy over all the physical world. The main evidence of the
Revelation to us consists in its harmony with the voice of the spiritual
faculty within us; and the claim which it asserts to have come through
teachers endowed with supernatural power is so far corroborative
evidence as it falls in with the essential character of the Moral Law.
That eternal law claims supremacy over the physical world and actually
asserts it in the freedom of the human will; and a Revelation which
comes from Him Who in His own essential Being is that very law
personified, might be expected to exhibit the same claim in actual
manifestation in its approach to men.

Bearing these limitations and characteristics of the miraculous element
in the Bible in mind, let us ask how that miraculous element is therein

First, in the account of the creation, it is taught that the original
existence of all matter flows from a spiritual source. We do not define
God as the cause, meaning that that is His essence, and that except as
causing other things to exist He does not exist Himself. But we
describe Him as the Cause, meaning that all things exist by His Will,
and that without His Will nothing could ever have existed. And as the
Revelation tells us that He is the source of all existence, the Creator
of the substance of things, so too does it assert that He gave all
things their special properties and the laws of those properties, and
that not only the original creation, but all the subsequent history of
all things has been the outcome of His design, and that He has thus
prescribed the government of the whole universe. And yet again the
Revelation from the beginning to the end maintains His living Presence
in and over all things that He has thus formed, and denies that He has
parted with His power to do fresh acts of creation, fresh acts of
government, whenever and wherever He sees fit. For He is necessarily
free and cannot be restrained by anything but His own holiness. And
unless He expressly revealed to us that His own holiness prevented Him
from interfering with His own creation, we could not put limits to what
He could do. The Revelation that He has given us says just the contrary,
and from end to end implies that He is present in the government of the
creation which He has made.

What evidence, then, is there in the world of phenomena that He has ever
thus interfered? Putting aside as untenable all idea of _a priori_
impossibility, admitting that God can work a miracle if He will,
admitting that a miracle avowedly worked in the interest of a divine
revelation stands on a totally different footing from a miracle avowedly
worked in any other interest, putting the breach of the law of
uniformity made by a miracle on the same footing as the breach of the
same law made by a human will; we have to ask what evidence can be given
that any such miracles as are recorded in the Bible have ever been

It is plain at once that the answer must be given by the New Testament.
No _such_ evidence can now be produced on behalf of the miracles in the
Old Testament. The times are remote; the date and authorship of the
Books not established with certainty; the mixture of poetry with history
no longer capable of any sure separation into its parts; and, if the New
Testament did not exist, it would be impossible to show such a distinct
preponderance of probability as would justify us in calling on any to
accept the miraculous parts of the narrative as historically true.

But in the New Testament we stand on different ground. And we have here
first the evidence which Paley has put together to show that the early
Christians spent their lives and finally surrendered their lives as
witnesses to a Gospel which included miracles both among its evidences
and as part of its substance. It is not possible to get rid of miracles
nor the belief in miracles from the history of the Apostles. They
testify to our Lord's Resurrection as to an actual fact, and make it the
basis of all their preaching. They testify to our Lord's miracles as
part of the character of His life. It is necessary to maintain that they
were mere fanatics with no claim to respect but rather to the pity which
we feel for utterly ignorant goodness, if we are to hold that no miracle
was ever wrought by our Lord. It is difficult to maintain even their
honesty if they preached the Resurrection of our Lord without any basis
of fact to rest on. No man who is not determined to uphold an opinion
at all hazards can question that St. Paul and St. Peter believed that
our Lord rose from the dead, and that they died for and in that belief.

But, in the second place, behind the Apostles stands our Lord Himself,
and whatever may be said of the documents that compose the New

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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 9 of 11)