THE AID GIVEN BY SCIENCE TO RELIGION
DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Rev. S. R. Calthrop
Acts XVII, 28: "In Him we live and move and have our being."
The nineteenth century has broadened and deepened the thoughts of mankind concerning the world and the universe they live in to an extent almost beyond belief. Only those who lived in the earlier part of the century, who shared in the ideas then almost universally prevalent, who have lived through the century and have at last witnessed its end, can have any adequate vital conception of the amazing difference between its first thoughts and its last.
My own youth goes far enough back into the earlier days to give me a sufficient vantage ground. I was born and brought up in a world that was created out of nothing a little less than 6000 years ago. Everyone of our reference Bibles dated that creation, with the utmost confidence, a confidence we all shared, at the exact year B. C. 4004. My reference Bible, published 1843, gives all the dates from Adam to Noah as if it were English history. It was made in six days of twenty-four hours each. The earth was made first, then three days after sun, moon, stars and all the host of heaven were added. Man was made last, at the close of the sixth day.
First one man, Adam, was
formed out of the dust of the ground. Then one of his ribs was taken out of his
side by the hand of God, and from it one woman was made. The first pair lived a
little while very happily in
But still men got worse and worse, and even the coming of Christ can save only a few. All the heathen, of course, who never heard of Christ, must perish everlastingly; all those who have not accepted him must also perish. The world itself will soon come to an end, probably in from fifty to possibly one thousand years at latest. Then it will be burned up and the last judgment will take place.
This was the actual scheme of things which the vast majority of Christian people believed well nigh through the first half of the century. So grotesque is it that the average man living at the end of the twentieth century will probably pronounce it a caricature. But to those living in the beginning of the nineteenth century it was sadly real. It dwarfed the intelligence of all who shared it, and lay like a nightmare on the hearts of all who longed to dream nobler dreams and think truer thoughts. It was false through and through. Its cosmogony was false, its astronomy was false, its geology was false, its physiology was false, its history was false, its prophecy was false, its eschatology was false. Its humanity was inhumane and its theology was godless. It travestied the beautiful poetic myths of the Eastern World preserved in the Bible, and transformed them into a hodge-podge of prosaic nonsense.
Now what were the forces which began to lift the weight of this heavy incubus from men's souls? Foremost among these we must place science, which began to bring the light of knowledge to bear upon many things hitherto hidden in darkness.
I often feel how misdirected are our longings for the coming of spring. We keep looking in the wrong direction; we want the warmth to come, and come quickly, and if it does come too soon there is sure to be a setback and the spring is sure to be late. What we should observe first, and observe joyfully and with sure hope, is the increase of light. With me December 21st is the beginning of the new year. From that very day the sun begins his northward journey, and from that day continues it without a single halt, even for a moment. At first the steadily increasing light has apparently no effect whatever upon the cold. Indeed, our rhyming proverb well says, "When the days begin to lengthen the cold begins to strengthen." But the fast increasing light is prophetic of the warmth to come.
It was just so with the advance of science in the nineteenth century. At first no increase in the warmth of religious devotion was caused by the discoveries of science. On the contrary, the average religious mind was chilled and benumbed, and shivered at each new scientific discovery, each of which seemed to threaten to rob mankind of God. But all along the century the light kept increasing.
Astronomy led the van. The
fruitful conjecture of Kant was fortified by the careful labors of Sir William
Herschel and the grand calculations of
All this, of course, was infidelity pure and mere to those who devoutly believed that sun and stars alike were formed on the fourth day 6,000 years ago. Indeed, it was supposed by the majority of religious minds to be actually atheistic; as, to them, it did away wholly with any necessity for a Creator. Gravitation and chemical affinity could in this way account for the whole starry heavens without the least need of God. And the majority was quite right -- provided that one single atom could possibly gravitate towards another atom or one single molecule combines with another molecule without the presence and the power of God. The new theory, then, was either absolutely atheistic or else pointed to a conception of God immeasurably grander than the church had hitherto conceived; a conception of a God filling all spaces with Himself; a God including all forces within Himself; force of gravitation, force of affinity and every other force.
Geology struck the next blow.
It soon established beyond a peradventure that not only the stars, but the
earth itself had existed for many millions of years. The kitchen clock
computation of 6,000 years had to go. Vast vistas of time suddenly opened up to
man's astonished sight. Miles of strata piled upon each other testified to the
lapse of millions of years. On the
For a time, indeed, it was claimed that vast cataclysms such as no force we can conceive of could produce, closed each great epoch at least; a feeble attempt to bring in an occasional divine and miraculous action in the midst of the immense array of "natural causes," but in the end the great dictum of Lyell prevailed. "The forces now acting on the earth's crust are sufficient to account for all the past changes in that crust; provided they have time enough in which to act." The advocates of miraculous creation naturally felt that this conclusion was atheistic; for, if it was true, the whole of the geological strata could have laid themselves, as it were, without the least interference from a divine source.
It is atheistic, provided that the forces now acting on the earth's crust are now acting without God! But what if each and every force now acting on the earth's crust is part of the immediate, present force of God himself? Once more science put the great dilemma to the minds of the nineteenth century, "Either no God at all or a present God." Force of wind and tide, force of raindrop and snowflake, force of rock falling on rock, force of water eroding the land, and carrying its particles to be deposited in the Ocean, force of heat and cold -- each and every force is part of the One Eternal Power from whom all power proceeds. Once more. Science is bringing man face to face with God, making man aware that in God he lives and moves and has his being.
The next great step taken was by physiology. Geology furnished to physiology an immense series of fossil life-forms, and thus every geologist became something of a physiologist. But these life-forms were not scattered haphazard among the strata. In the lower strata only the lower forms of life appeared. Mollusk and articulate abounded. Trilobites of many forms were the highest type of the latter. But only at the close of the Silurian epoch does a fish appear, the lowest division of the highest type -- the vertebrate. In the Devonian monstrous fishes rule the sea, but not till the close of the Devonian did the reptile appear -- the vertebrate walking on four legs, and able to inhabit the land. Soon monstrous reptiles dominate the land. But only in the Mesozoic period does the first feeble mammal appear; the tiny gate through which the grand procession of the master life of the world marched to its triumphant possession. Soon a mighty group of splendid forms appear. Elephant and horse, lion and tiger, wolf and bear. But all these develop four feet. They thus gain amazing swiftness, but only the apelike creature that develops the two front limbs into hands holds the key to the future. Lastly, man appears, a savage at first, but containing within him the germ of all civilizations, arts, sciences, religions.
The six days of creation were thus expanded by the study of the fossils hidden in the earth's crust into millions of years. Even now a last effort was made to save creation by fiat, by those geologists who held that God kept on through the ages specially creating the first pair of each new species, the multitudinous progeny of which came into being through "natural causes."
Once more, this thought also is atheistic, if the forces now acting on living beings -- time, space, climate, heat, cold, light, electricity, birth-succession, social environment, etc., are forces outside of and independent of the One Divine Force. Once more science declares, "No God or a present God;" a God whose life-force fills time and space, whose force is manifested in heat, light, electricity; in living beings and in social environment. Science, then, has led man to the mighty conception that it is the life-force of God that has caused all life to spring and develop; that not only the first pair of each species, animal or man, but every pair of every species, animal or man, derives life directly from the living God. But how vast, how far-reaching the conception. From the very morning of time the life-force of God has been impelling the whole race of animals to progress, inviting each to develop its nature to the uttermost, and so prepare, by a never-ending birth-succession, for higher and higher life, until at last the age long effort culminates in man, himself destined to produce, through the never-ceasing stimulus of the divine life-force higher and higher types, till at last Angelhood, that is the perfect man, shall be reached.
At last, then, the nineteenth
century has fought and conquered the hideous nightmares of its own early
beliefs; has rid itself of a six days' creation six thousand years ago; of its
rib, its apple of discord, its impossible deluge, its
In 1849 Joule perfected his calculation of the dynamical equivalent of heat, which is stated thus: The heat required to raise one pound of water at 60 degrees Fahrenheit one degree is competent to raise 772 pounds one foot high. Never, I suppose, was a theological proposition of such vast importance ever expressed in terms that sound so untheological, so purely mechanical as this. And yet this proposition is the very corner-stone of the great discovery which is generally styled the conservation and correlation of forces, or briefly, the conservation of energy. This stupendous generalization, which is the glory of the nineteenth century, declares that there is only one force, and that all so-called forces are only so many forms of that one force. Heat disappears, but it always reappears as work; motion stops, but its force reappears as heat. A train stops. Its motion disappears, but its exact equivalent instantly appears in the form of heat on the track, wheels and brakes. I turn on my electric light. It instantly takes away its exact equivalent of force from the power-house, and is represented by an added amount of coal burned to run the engine and dynamo.
The applications of this mighty principle are as endless as the objects in nature. Every sun and star, every planet and meteor, every wave of the ocean, every stone on the beach, every plant in every instant of its growth, from the violet to the oak; every animal in every pulse of its veins; each of us in every breath illustrate the law. I cannot lift a finger, I cannot even think a thought without illustrating the perfect law. It besets me behind and before and lays its hand upon me! The law can be stated in different ways. "Force can neither be created nor destroyed." "Force can neither be increased nor diminished." But word it as we may, it is the discovery of Omnipotence; that is, it is the discovery of God as far as power alone is concerned. But what a wonderful test of the divine nature as a whole it is! In every instance known to man or conceivable by man, omnipotence forever acts in strict and absolute accordance with perfect law. And yet more, God, as power, is at every instant in immediate communication with us. Our force of body or of mind is a portion of the divine force committed to our charge, to use or abuse as we will. But it is forever the force of the present God we are using for everyone of our life-purposes and in every one of our life-purposes. Each breath we draw draws power from Him. Each beat of our hearts derives its pulses from Him.
Finally, the nineteenth century has, as I devoutly believe, solved the final crucial difficulty which has beset and bewildered men's minds for ages -- the origin of matter. The materialist contended that if you granted him matter and motion he could solve the visible universe. He forgot one tremendous postulate -- space. But to him space was emptiness mere. He was quite sure of matter and motion and scorned those who ignored them.
The idealist, on the other hand, said: "I am much more sure of mind than I am of matter. I can easily believe that God may put me and all men under the beneficent illusion that matter really exists; but love and truth and right I know to be great realities. I believe, then, that spirit, and spirit only, is the foundation of all things."
Helmholtz and Thomson declared that if you grant that perfect fluid fills all space to the exclusion of everything else, and that innumerable vortices of that perfect fluid exist in that fluid, then those vortices will spin unchanged forever and ever, since perfect fluid has no friction; and the so-called atoms of matter are just those vortices. Only one fluid fills all space; matter is a special form of that one fluid, surrounded ever by that fluid, just as a piece of ice floating in the ocean is part of the water of the ocean, only existing in a different form from the rest of the ocean.
Helmholtz and Thomson are physicists, and suggested and worked out their theory mathematically simply as physicists. It was not their business to map out the vast consequences, both to philosophy and religion, which would follow if their theory was accepted. If perfect fluid fills all space to the exclusion of anything else, then perfect fluid is omnipresent and omnipotent. But these are attributes of God alone. Perfect fluid is the scientific definition of physical perfection. The term "perfect fluid," then, may be and perhaps is, the best possible scientific description of the physical side of the Divine Nature, but is no more complete a definition of the Infinite Perfection than an accurate and exhaustive account of the elements of my body would be of myself; for my will, my thought, my desires, my sense of right and truth and love would be left out.
Religion, then, must come to the aid of science in completing the glorious definition, and put in the adorable qualities of wisdom and righteousness and love, which are coextensive with that infinite space which is the fullness of God and coeternal with His infinite force. It sometimes seems to me incredible that this vast, this illimitable generalization should first have been seen by my own eyes. My own eyes, at least, were suddenly blest by the sight (in the to me memorable January of 1880), which seemed to fall direct from heaven into my mind, which it seemed to lift with an immeasurable exaltation. I wrote with my own hands this great key-thought: "Matter is a mode of motion of Spirit," "All space is spirit-space." Idealists, indeed, had already said: "Matter is spirit," had even said, perhaps, "Matter is a mode of spirit." But though this was poetic, was religious, it was not scientific, and did not touch in the least on the reality of matter, in which they did not believe. They said: "There is nothing but God, and therefore there is no such thing as matter," But this completer thought says: "There is nothing but God, and therefore matter is divine." This thought unites earth and heaven, stars and space into one universe, and ends forever the controversy between materialist and idealist. The materialist said: "Matter is real;" and he was right, though how that reality is founded on God, the supreme reality, he did not see. The idealist said: "Only God is real;" and he was right, though how divinely real matter is he could not see.
Matter is a supreme manifestation of the divine love and self-surrender. In matter God surrenders part of His own infinite freedom in order that we may be free; gives up the free control of a vast portion of His infinity in order that we ourselves may have a kingdom to direct – may be free to govern and subdue it according to the fixed and fated laws of its action.
The scheme of the universe which this all-inclusive thought presents is in outline as follows: Since one substance, and one only, absolutely fills the universe, all differences in that universe are differences of motion. All things, atoms, worlds, stars; all thoughts, feelings, beings, lives are so many varying modes of forceful motion of the one universal spirit-substance. The atom is the unit in the universe of matter. Each atom is a tiny vortex of spirit-substance spinning eternally in the infinite ocean of spirit-substance, differenced only from the rest of the universe by its interior and indestructible vortical motion.
Eternally it keeps on giving, receiving, transmitting or parting with vibrations of incredible power and speed to and from the surrounding universe, but its interior spin never varies to all eternity. That is its own, its identity, its guarantee of continued existence. Free finite spirit is the unit in the universe of mind. Each free finite spirit is a monad of spirit moving freely in the infinite ocean of spirit-substance, differenced from the rest of the spirit-universe by its interior and indestructible non-vortical free motion. It is differenced from matter by its capacity to direct its motion from within; whereas all motions of translation in matter are directed from without only. It keeps on giving, receiving, transmitting or parting with vibrations from both the world of matter and the world of spirit; but its inner self-directed motion is its own, its identity, its guarantee of continued existence. Thus, and thus only, I believe, can we build up in thought a consistent plan of the whole universe of matter and mind. All is of God. The eternal and infinite divine substance is the foundation on which all things rest. In God, from God and to God all things move and have their being!
If this mighty thought is mine in the sense that my eyes saw it first, I commend it to my brother-thinkers of the twentieth century to keep, to expand, to extend without limit. If some other eye saw it first, I rejoice with him in his discovery of a new world of thought and hope and faith and love, boundless as God, and rich with the promise of a future that shall never end!
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