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THE PRESENT RELATIONS OF SCIENCE
REV. FREDERICK TEMPLE, D.D.,
HEAD-MASTER OF RUGBY SCHOOL.
ECCLESIASTES i. 17: “I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”
The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that he made it his business to inquire into all that went out upon the earth, in the hope that he might find “what was that good for the sons of men which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.” His inquiry led him, in every instance, to the same conclusion, that all was vanity. The word “vanity” here, however, plainly does not mean an absolute, but only a relative, condemnation. The preacher does not mean to say that human pursuits contain absolutely nothing in them that is good, nor does he wish to exhort his hearers to quit altogether what he has condemned. On the contrary, pok abounds with the fullest acknowledgments of the excellence of each human occupation and enjoyment in its turn. There is much in the praise of pleasure: “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor.” There is much in praise of labor : “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” There is much in praise of wisdom:
“ Wisdom is better than strength;” “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance ;” “Wisdom is profitable to direct.” There is much in praise of upright conduct: “God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he giveth travail.” There is much in praise of the happy heart of youth : “Let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes.” And all these praises, and the exhortations that go along with them to enjoy the good that God hath given, are not ironical, but seriously meant. But, notwithstanding, one after another, all human pursuits, all human gifts, all human enjoyments, are branded with the same mark of deficiency; all, even the most excellent, are still vanity and vexation of spirit. Not wisdom only, and labor, and youth, and pleasure, but even the upright walk and the keeping of the ordinances of religion, even they too are in the same sense vanity. “There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked, to the clean and to the unclean, to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good so is the sinner, and he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath.”
* A Sermon preached on Act Sunday, July 1, 1860, before the University of Oxford, during the Meeting of the British Association.
It is plain that the sense in which all these things are vanity is, that they cannot satisfy. They are all, without exception, shadows and not substance. They all, without exception, promise what they cannot perform. Each in its turn promises to fill the whole man and give him all that he wants. There are excellent enjoyments which, some for a shorter, some for a longer time, seem to be all that the soul desires. There are occupations and labors which aim at so worthy an end, and are rewarded by so noble an appreciation, that for a time the soul believes them equal to all its needs. The fire of youthful happiness burns so brightly, and so warmly, and so purely, that we are tempted to declare it the one best gift of God. There is a path of life so honored by men, so approved by conscience, namely, the path of duty, that in it surely might well seem to be comprised all that man can possibly require. And yet each one of these will be found wanting: good as far as it goes, but not the whole ; promising to satisfy, and never fulfilling its promise; in fact, only then fulfilling its function when it proclaims its own vanity, and bids the seeker seek further still. The very ex
cellence of the most excellent of all these will the more emphatically condemn it, for that excellence is the false light which allures men to believe in its perfection, and to fancy that all that is wanted shall here be found.
So we are led to the conclusion of the whole matter. “ Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man.” Not in pleasure, however pure and however heavenly; not in wisdom, however searching; not in labor, however successful ; not in worldly duty, however self-denying ; but in God shall we find the true substance of all that is done under the sun, the reality of which all else is the image, the brightness of which all else is the reflection.
This conclusion has been in the minds of the vast majority of thinkers ever since. It is possible to forget God altogether in the whirl of pleasure, in the absorbing interests of business or of ambition. But the student cannot well forget the question which underlies all other questions :“ What is it that gives any unity or consistency to all these studies ? What is the relation between our knowledge and the source of all knowledge? What can human science tell me of divine nature ?" And those who have been more than students, who have been Christians in heart as well as searchers after truth, have sought for an answer to this question, not as the solution of an intellectual puzzle, but as the true end of all their studies. The desire to find God in all his works is certainly not rare, the desire to clear up the relation between faith and science is almost universal in those who devote themselves to scientific investigation. Hence no sooner is any physical theory or hypothesis proposed which in the remotest way can affect the belief of Christians, than its bearings on every article of the Christian faith, and even on every detail of the commonly received religious opinions, are discussed at the fullest length, and not unfrequently with an eager anxiety to identify faith and science which overshoots the mark, by attempting to decide before there is evidence enough for a decision.
On the present occasion it seems to be not unfitting to examine some of the leading relations between religion and science, especially with a view to point out some of the changes which the progress of science is producing in them.
Science has been called the handmaid of theology, and theology has often had recourse to science for arguments to prove or confirm her fundamental propositions. But it is remarkable that theology has almost always for this purpose dwelt chiefly, not on the scientific, but on the unscientific statements of science. Arguments have been commonly extracted, not from the revelations of science, but from her confessions ; and theology has begun where science has ended. It has been common to trace the power of God, not in that which is universal, but in that which is individual; not in the laws of nature, but in any apparent interference with those laws ; not in the maintenance, but in the creation, of the uni
And sometimes such stress has been laid upon these arguments, that to deny them was held to be a denial of their conclusions; and men were thought impious who attempted to represent the present order of the solar system or the existence of animal life as the work of natural causes, and not the direct handiwork of God himself. And yet spontaneous generation was long believed in by the most religious men, and there seems no more reason why the solar system should not have been brought into its present form by the slow working of natural causes than the surface of the earth, about whose gradual formation most students are now agreed. The fact is, that one idea is now emerging into supremacy in science, a supremacy which it never possessed before, and for which it still has to fight a battle ; and that is the idea of law. Different orders of natural phenomena have in time past been held to be exempt from that idea, either tacitly or avowedly. The weather, the thunder and lightning, the crops of the earth, the progress of disease, whether over a country or in an individual, these have been considered as regulated by some special interference, even when it was already known that the recurrence of the seasons, the motions of the planets, the periodic winds, and other phenomena of the same kind, were subject to invariable laws. But the steady march of science has now reached the point when men are tempted, or rather compelled, to jump at once to a universal conclusion : all analogy points one way, and none another. And the student of science is learning to look upon fixed laws as universal, and many of the old arguments which science once supplied to religion are in consequence rapidly disappearing. How strikingly altered is our view from that of a few centuries ago is shown by the fact that the miracles recorded in the Bible, which once were looked on as the bulwarks of the faith, are now felt by very many to be difficulties in their way; and commentators endeavor to represent them, not as mere interferences with the laws of nature, but as the natural action of still higher laws belonging to a world whose phenomena are only half revealed to us.
It is evident that this change in science necessitates a change in its relation to faith. If law be either almost or altogether universal, we must look for the finger of God in that law: we must expect to find him manifesting his love, his wisdom, his infinity, not in individual acts of will, but in a perfection of legislation rendering all individual action needless ; we must find his providence in that perfect adaptation of all the parts of the machine to one another which shall have the effect of tender care, though it proceed by an invariable action. The vast consequences which flow from a few simple properties of matter, the profusion of combinations, the beauty, the order, the happiness which abound in the creation in consequence of these, such must be now the teachers of the man of science to make him feel that God is with him in all his studies.
It may be, indeed, that the scientific student is every day less and less driven to confession of the narrowness of his knowledge: he has less occasion for the humility which once allowed vast realms of nature to lie out of the domain of science, and was wont to say, when baffled, “ Here human powers can go no further; this knowledge God has reserved for himself.” On the contrary, he is now inclined to think that, if only time