Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

rejoice if some second discovery could be made, which should enable them to hold the new without rejecting the old. We have, therefore, no right to represent men of science as the personal antagonists of the old faith, even where their opinions are diametrically opposed to that faith. Their opinions are, in most cases, the greatest burdens they have to bear, and they bear them as burdens. They are the victims to their own secret, the martyrs to the supposed discovery which they themselves have made. A light has broken over the fields of nature which seems to them incompatible with other lights, and in the spirit of stern duty they have left all and followed it. But they have not left all with joy; they have not abandoned the past without regret. They, like the Hebrew patriarch, may hope yet to find a land flowing with milk and honey, but they cannot forget that in exchange for that hope they are sacrificing what was once a possession.

It is then a mistaken view of the office of modern apologetics to regard it as an attack to be directed against men of science. We feel convinced that the most advanced evolutionists of the present day would hail the advent of any light which should reveal a place for the religious consciousness within that system of nature which they have been compelled to make their own. We feel convinced that by the large majority of such thinkers a

revelation of this sort would be regarded not as an antagonist but as an ally. There was a time, indeed, when men of science exhibited a personal hostility to the leaders of religious thought, but the fault lay with the religious leaders. Scholastic theology claimed the empire not only over the field of religion but over the field of nature, and every natural explorer who claimed to discover what the Church had not discovered was looked upon in the light of an usurper. That time has now passed away. The eyes of all men, whether in the world of religion or in the world of science, are directed with eager wistfulness towards the field of nature. No modern theologian would attempt to close his eyes to the fact, that the revelations made to the human mind from this quarter have been lately of the most startling kind. Whether he accepts or does not accept all the conclusions of the modern scientist, he feels himself bound to acknowledge that conclusions which have obtained the imprimatur of such distinguished names may at the very least possibly be true. He knows also that to prove them to be untrue would require long centuries. Under these circumstances, what is the true course for the modern theologian ? He sees prevailing in scientific circles a theory which he himself is neither able to affirm nor to deny. The facts at first hand are not before him ; he requires to take them on trust. The inferences from these facts may appear to him to be still awaiting some confirmatory link, but he knows that for that link he will probably have to wait long. The question is, What shall he do in the meantime? Shall he suspend his judgment on matters of previous faith until more scientific light shall manifest itself? That would in all probability be equivalent to suspending his religious judgment for ever. Is there no other course open to him ? Is there any means by which he may avoid a polemical attitude towards science on the one hand or an agnostic attitude towards religion on the other, whereby he may preserve at once his reverence for scientific research and his devotion to those doctrines which have constituted his religious faith ?

There is one such means available to the modern theologian. The personal determination of the truth or fallacy of scientific statements of facts is, as we have said, beyond him, and investigation in this sphere is therefore to him impossible. But let the theologian begin by taking for granted the inferences of science, by assuming that the conclusions at which he has arrived have become recognised laws of nature. He will then be in a position to consider the real question, and the only question with which in this matter he has any concernWhat effect will the establishment of these conclusions exert upon the old belief? to what extent will it modify, in what measure shall it overthrow, the religious conclusions of the past? This, we say, is the real attitude in which modern theology should approach modern science. Assuming for the sake of argument that its conclusions are true, it should limit itself to the inquiry what these conclusions amount to. In following such a line of investigation, theology will have on its side the sympathy of men of science. Its apologetic aspect will be completely separated from any polemical attitude. It will take its seat where men of science sit -'at the feet of nature. It will recognise its mission to be identical with the mission of science —that of an interpreter of nature. And if theology shall find that the conclusion to which nature is supposed to point would not, even if established, militate against her ancient faith, if she shall find that the need for a supernatural element in nature has not been lessened by the circuit of the suns, she will arrive at a peace and calm which will make waiting easy. She will be able to weigh impartially all announcements of scientific discovery, because she shall have already concluded that no amount of discovery in the field of natural Evolution can dispense with the necessity for a Presence and a Power which evolves.

Now we have said that in the view of our leading scientists there is a preliminary obstacle to the very attempt at such a reconciliation,—that the spirit of our age believes itself even against its will to be bound to oppose the spirit of past ages. The ground on which our age feels this necessity resting upon it is its belief that it has arrived at a truth to which other epochs were strangers. That truth is the universal and unqualified dominion of law throughout all phenomena of the visible and invisible universe. The history of the progress of science has been the history of the progress of man's ability to find the traces of law in nature. There was a time when man looked at the facts of nature as a series of isolated events without sequence and without connection; that was the time when he had found no trace of law. By-andby there broke upon him the conviction that there were certain departments of nature whose changes were not arbitrary but periodical, and whose manifestations must therefore be referred to the operation of some fixed principle. Even yet, however, it did not occur to him to include in this domain of law the great and startling events of nature; he limited its sphere to the things which he called commonplace. The rain and the sunshine might be linked to natural causes, but the thunderstorm, the hurricane, and the earthquake must still be regarded as preternatural influences. Then came a third stage in which these preternatural influences ceased to be preternatural,-in which thunder and hurricane and earthquake became themselves events whose causes could be

« AnteriorContinuar »