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The Relations between Religion and Science
Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1884

By the Right Reverend Frederick Temple
Lord Bishop of Exeter

On the Foundation of the late Rev. John Bampton, M.A.

London: Macmillan, 1884.

Lecture II. The Origin and Nature of Religious Belief.

'So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.' Genesis i. 27.

The order of phenomena is not the highest revelation of God, nor is the voice of Science the only nor the most commanding voice that speaks to us about Him. The belief in Him and in the character which we assign to Him does not spring from any observation of phenomena, but from the declaration made to us through the spiritual faculty.

There is within us a voice which tells of a supreme Law unchanged throughout all space and all time; which speaks with an authority entirely its own; which finds corroboration in the revelations of Science, but which never relies on those revelations as its primary or its ultimate sanction; which is no inference from observations by the senses external or internal, but a direct communication from the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom, as philosophers call it, of things in themselves; which commands belief as a duty, and by necessary consequence ever leaves it possible to disbelieve; and in listening to which we are rightly said to walk not by sight but by faith.

Now, before going on to say anything more about the message thus given to us from the spiritual world, it is necessary to consider an objection that meets us on the threshold of all such doctrines, namely, that it is simply impossible for us to know anything whatever of things in themselves. Our knowledge, it is urged, is necessarily relative to ourselves, whereas absolute as distinct from relative knowledge is for ever beyond our reach. We can speak of what things appear to us to be; we cannot speak of what they are. We know or may know whatever comes under the observation of our senses as phenomena; we cannot know what underlies these phenomena. And sometimes it has been maintained that we not only cannot know what it is that underlies the phenomena, but cannot even know whether anything at all underlies the phenomena, and that, for aught we can tell, the whole world and all that exists or happens in it may be nothing but a system of appearances with no substance whatever. This doctrine of the relativity of all knowledge is not only applied to things external but to our very selves. We know ourselves, it is maintained, only through an internal sense which can only tell us how we appear to ourselves, but cannot tell us in any the least degree what we really are.

Now this contention is an instance of a tendency against which we are required to be perpetually on our guard. The final aim of all science and of all philosophy is to find some unity or unities that shall co-ordinate the immense complexity of the world in which we live. Now there is one and only one legitimate way of attaining this aim, and that is by patient, persevering study of the facts. But the facts turn out to be so numerous, so multifarious, that not one life nor one generation but many lives and many generations will assuredly not co-ordinate them sufficiently to bring this aim within probable reach. Hence the incessant temptation, first, to supply by hypothesis what cannot yet be obtained by observation, and, secondly, to bend facts to suit this hypothesis; and, if the framing of such hypotheses be legitimate, the distortion of facts is clearly not legitimate. It seems too long to wait for future ages to complete the task. We must in some sort complete it now; and for that purpose if the facts as we observe them will not suit, we must substitute other facts that will. Accordingly every doctrine must be made complete, and to make this doctrine of the relativity of knowledge complete, we must get rid of all exceptions. But there is one exception that we cannot get rid of, and that is the conviction of our own identity through all changes through which we pass. Every man amongst us passes through incessant changes. His body changes; he may even lose parts of it altogether; he may lose all control over some of his limbs, or over them all. And there are internal as well as external changes in each man. His affections change, his practices, his passions, his resolutions, his purposes, his judgments; everything possibly by which he knows his own character. But through all these changes he is conscious of being still one and the same self. And he knows this; and knows it, not as an inference from any observation of sense external or internal, but directly and intuitively. All other knowledge may conceivably be relative, a knowledge of things as they appear, not of things in themselves. But this is not; it is a knowledge of a thing as it is in itself; for amidst all changes in the phenomena of each man's nature, this still remains absolutely unchanged. We do speak of sameness in application to phenomena; we say this is the same colour as that; this is the same musical note as that; this is the same sensation as that. But here we mean a different thing by the word same. We mean indistinguishability. We mean that we cannot distinguish between the two colours, the two notes, the two sensations. And this no doubt is a relative knowledge, not a knowledge of things in themselves. But we do not mean incapacity of being distinguished when we speak of our own personal identity. When a man thinks to-day of his life of yesterday, and regards himself as the same being through, all the time, he does not simply mean that he cannot distinguish between the being that existed yesterday according to his memory and the being that exists to-day according to his present consciousness: he means that the being is one and the same absolutely and in itself.

And this conviction of personal identity will presently be found to fall in with the revelation of the Moral Law, which is my subject in this Lecture. For it is by virtue of this personal identity that I become responsible for my actions. I am not merely the same thinking subject, I am the same moral agent all through my life. If I changed as fast as the phenomena of my being changed, my responsibility for any evil deed would cease the moment the deed was done. No punishment would be just, because it would not be just to punish one being for the faults of a totally different being. The Moral Law in its application to man requires as a basis the personal identity of each man with himself.

If corroboration were needed of the directness of the intuition by which we get this idea of our own personal identity, it would be found in the entire failure of all attempts to derive that idea from any other source. Comte, the founder of the Positive School, can do nothing with this idea but suggest that it is probably the result of some obscure synergy or co-operation of the faculties. John Stuart Mill passes it by altogether as lying outside the scope of his enquiries and of his doctrine. Mr. Herbert Spencer deals with it in a very weak chapter of his remarkable volume of First Principles. [The Data of Philosophy.] He divides all the manifestations made to our consciousness, or, as we commonly say, all our sensations, into two great classes. He selects as the main but not universal characteristic of the one class, vividness; of the other class, faintness; a distinction first insisted on, though somewhat differently applied, by Hume. He adds various other characteristics of each class, some of them implying very questionable propositions. And we come finally to the following astonishing result. Sensations are divided into two classes; each has seven main characteristics which distinguish it from the other. One of these classes make up the subject, that which I mean when I use the words I myself; the other the object or that which is not I. But there is absolutely nothing to determine which is which, which class is the subject and which is the object, which is I myself, and which is not I myself. Vividness and faintness plainly have nothing in them by which we can assign the one to that which is I, the other to that which is not I. If we were to conjecture, we should be disposed to say that surely the most vivid sensations must be the nearest and therefore must be part of that which is I; but we find it is quite the other way. The faint sensations are characteristic of that which is I, and the vivid of that which is not I. And the same remark applies to each pair of characteristics in succession. The fact is that Mr. Spencer has omitted what is essential to complete his argument; he has not shown, nor endeavoured to show, nor even thought of showing, how out of his seven characteristics of the subject the conception of a subject has grown. It is quite plain that he not only makes his classes first and finds his characteristics afterwards, which we may admit to have been inevitable; but he fails altogether to show how that by which we know the classes apart has grown out of the characteristics that he has given us. The characteristics which he assigns to that which is I, all added together, do not in the slightest degree account for that sense of permanent existence in spite of changes which lies at the root of my distinction of myself from other things. The very word same, in the sense in which I use it when speaking of myself, cannot be defined except by reference to my own sameness with myself. It is a simple idea incapable of analysis, and is indeed, as was pointed out in my last Lecture, the root of the character of permanence which we assign to things external. To say that this conception has been evolved from the characteristics that Mr. Spencer has enumerated is like saying that a cat has been evolved without any intermediate stages from a fish, or a smell from a colour.

But, if we now go a step further, and ask in what form this personal identity presents itself in the world of phenomena, the answer is clear: our personality while bound up with all our other faculties, so that we can speak of our understanding, our affections, our powers of perception and sensation, as parts of ourselves, yet is centred in one faculty which we call the will. 'If there be aught spiritual in man,' says Coleridge, 'the will must be such. If there be a will, there must be a spirituality in man.' The will is the man. It is the will that makes us responsible beings. It is for the action of our will, or the consent of our will, that we come to be called in question. It is by the will that we assert ourselves amidst the existences around us; and as the will is the man in relation to phenomena, so on the other side the will is the one and only force among the forces of this world which takes cognizance of principles and is capable of acting in pursuit of an aim not to be found among phenomena at all. The will is not the whole spiritual faculty. Besides the power of willing we have the power of recognising spiritual truth. And this power or faculty we commonly call the conscience. But the conscience is not a force. It has no power of acting except through the will. It receives and transmits the voice from the spiritual world, and the will is responsible so far as the conscience enlightens it. It is the will whereby the man takes his place in the world of phenomena.

It is then to the man, thus capable of appreciating a law superior in its nature to all phenomena and bearing within himself the conviction of a personal identity underlying all the changes that may be encountered and endured, that is revealed from within the command to live for a moral purpose and believe in the ultimate supremacy of the moral over the physical. The voice within gives this command in two forms; it commands our duty and it commands our faith. The voice gives no proof, appeals to no evidence, but speaks as having a right to command, and requires our obedience by virtue of its own inherent superiority.

Its first command we call duty. The voice within awakes a peculiar sentiment which, except towards its command, is never felt in our souls, the sentiment of reverence. And it commands the pursuit of that, whatever it may be, to which this sentiment of reverence attaches. This is the positive test by which we are to know what is ever to be our highest aim. And along with this there is a negative test by which we are perpetually to correct the other, namely, the test of universality. The moral law in its own nature admits of no exceptions. If a principle of action be derived from this law it has nothing to do with time, or place, or circumstances; it must hold good in the distant future, in planets or stars utterly remote, as fully as it holds good now and here.

This duty we can subdivide under four heads, accordingly as we apply it to our dealings with ourselves, with other moral and spiritual beings, with other creatures that can feel pleasure and pain, with things that are incapable of either. If we are thinking of ourselves only, duty consists in the pursuit of holiness, that is, in the absolute subjection of what does not demand reverence to that which does. It is plain that what deserves reverence in us is that which approaches most nearly to the moral law in character. The appetites, the affections, the passions, have each their own separate objects. They may be useful in the highest degree, but they cannot in themselves deserve reverence, for their objects are not the moral law; they must therefore be absolutely subordinated to the will and the conscience which have for their objects the very law itself. Holiness consists in the subjection of the whole being, not in act alone, but in feeling and desire as well, to the authority of conscience.

If we are thinking of other moral agents, duty prescribes strict and unfailing justice; and justice in its highest and purest form is love, the unfailing recognition of the fullest claims that can be made on us by all who share our own divine superiority: to love God above all else, and to love all spiritual beings as we love ourselves, this is duty in relation to other spiritual beings.

If we are thinking of creatures which, whether moral agents or not, are capable of pain and pleasure, our duty takes the form of goodness or tenderness. We have no right to inflict pain or even refuse pleasure unless, if the circumstances were reversed, we should be bound in conscience to be ready in our turn to bear the same infliction or refusal. The precept, Do as you would be done by, is here supreme, and it is to this class of duties that that precept applies, and the limits of our right to inflict pain on other creatures, whether rational or irrational, will be determined by this rule.

And, lower still, our duty to things that are incapable of all feeling is summed up in that knowledge of them and that use of them which makes them the fittest instruments of a moral life.

The sentiment of reverence is our guide in determining our duty, and the test of universality perpetually comes in to correct the commands of this sentiment and to clear and so to refine the sentiment itself.

As is the case in a certain degree with every other kind of knowledge or belief, so in a very special degree the Moral Law finds its place even in minds that have very little of thought or of cultivation. The most untutored is not insensible to the claim made on our respect by acts of courage, self-sacrifice, generosity, truth; or to the call upon us for reprobation at the sight of acts of falsehood, of meanness, of cruelty, of profligacy. Even in the most untutored there is a sense that these sentiments of respect and reprobation are quite different in kind from the other sentiments which stir the soul. And this is even more clear in condemnation than in approval. However perverted the conscience (the seat of these sentiments) may be, yet the pain of remorse, which is self-reprobation for having broken the moral law, is always, as has been well said, 'quite unlike any other pain we know,' and is felt in some form and measure by every soul that lives. And as the sentiment thus holds a special place in the most untutored, so too does the sense of universality by which we instinctively and invariably correct or defend that sentiment if it be challenged. The moment we are perplexed in regard to what we ought to do or what judgment we ought to pass on something already done, we instinctively, almost involuntarily, endeavour to disentangle the act from all attendant circumstances and to see whether our sentiment of approval or disapproval would still hold good in quite other surroundings. We try to get, at the principle involved and to ascertain whether that principle possesses the universality which is the sure characteristic of the Moral Law.

It will be matter of consideration in a future Lecture how our knowledge of the Eternal Law of the holy, the just, the good, and the right, is thus purified in the individual and in the race. At present it will be enough to have indicated the general principle of what may be called the evolution of the knowledge of morals.

But I now go on from the Moral Law as a duty to the Moral Law as a faith. For the inner voice is not content with commanding a course of conduct and requiring obedience of that kind. This is its first utterance, and the man who hears and obeys unquestionably has within him the true seed of all religion. But though the first utterance it is not the last. For the same voice goes on to require us to believe that this Moral Law which claims obedience from us, equally claims obedience from all else that exists. It is absolutely supreme or it is nothing.

Its title to our obedience is its supremacy, and it has no other title. If it depended on promises of reward or threats of punishment addressed to us, it might be considered as a law for us, but could be no law for others. It would in that case, indeed, be a mere physical law. Things are so arranged for you, and as far as you know for you only, that terrible pain will come to you if you disobey, and wonderful pleasure if you obey. Such a law as that might proceed from a tyrant possessed of absolute power over us and the things that concern us, and might be either good or bad as should happen. But such a law would not be able to claim our reverence. Nay, rather, as is the case with all merely physical laws, it might be our duty to disobey it. In claiming our reverence as well as our obedience, in making its sanction consist in nothing but the fact of its own inherent majesty, the Moral Law calls on us to believe in its supremacy. It claims that it is the last and highest of all laws. The world before us is governed by uniformities as far as we can judge, but above and behind all these uniformities is the supreme uniformity, the eternal law of right and wrong, and all other laws, of whatever kind, must ultimately be harmonised by it alone. The Moral Law would be itself unjust if it bade us disregard all physical laws, and yet was itself subordinate to those physical laws. It has a right to require us to disregard everything but itself, if it be itself supreme; if not, its claim would be unjust. We see here in things around us no demonstrative proof that it is supreme, except what may be summed up in saying that there is a power that makes for righteousness. Enlightened by the Moral Law we can see strongly marked traces of its working in all things. The beauty, the order, the general tendency of all creation accords with the supremacy of the Moral Law over it all. But that is by no means all. We see, and we know that we see, but an infinitesimal fraction of the whole. And the result of this partial vision is that, while there is much in things around us which asserts, there is also much which seems to deny altogether any supremacy whatever in the Moral Law. The universe, as we see it, is not holy, nor just, nor good, nor right. The music of creation is full of discords as yet altogether unresolved. And if we look to phenomena alone, there is no solution of the great riddle. But in spite of all imperfections and contradictions, the voice within, without vouchsafing to give us any solution of the perplexity, or any sanction but its own authoritative command, imperatively requires us to believe that holiness is supreme over unholiness, and justice over injustice, and goodness over evil, and righteousness over unrighteousness. To obey this command and to believe this truth is Faith.

This is the Faith which is perpetually presenting to the believer's mind the vision of a world in which all the inequalities of this present world shall be redressed, in which truth, justice, and love shall visibly reign, in which temptations shall cease and sin shall cease also; in which the upward strivings of noble souls shall find their end, and holiness shall supersede penitence, and hearts shall be pure of all defilement. This is the Faith which holds to the sure conviction that all things shall one day come to judgment; and whether by sudden catastrophe or by sure development, the physical system shall surrender to the moral. This is the Faith which supplies perpetual strength to the hope of immortality; for though it cannot be said that the immortality of the individual soul is of necessity involved in a belief in the supremacy of the Moral Law, yet there is a sense, never without witness in the soul, that all would not be according to justice if a being to whom the Moral Law has been revealed from within is nevertheless in no degree to share in the final revelation of the superiority of that Moral Law over what is without. We cannot say that it is a necessary part of the supremacy of the Moral Law that every one of those who know it should partake of its immortal nature. We cannot even say that it is a necessary part of the ultimate redressing of all injustice and resolution of all the discords of life that the hope of it should prove true in the individual as it will certainly prove true in the universe. For we are unable to weigh individual merit or demerit, and cannot assert for certain that the balance of justice is not maintained even in this present life. But nevertheless the hope that it must and will be so is inextinguishable, and Faith in an Eternal Law of Morals is inextricably bound up with hope of immortality for the being that is endowed with a moral and responsible nature.

Faith in the absolute supremacy of the Moral Law is the first, but this again is not the last step upwards in Faith. We are called upon, and still by the same imperative voice within, to carry our Faith still further, and to believe something yet higher.

For the supremacy of the Moral Law must be a moral, not merely a physical supremacy. In claiming supremacy at all the Moral Law does not assert that somehow by a happy accident, as it were, all things turn out at last in accordance with what is in the highest sense moral. The supremacy of the moral over the physical involves in its very nature an intention to be supreme. It is not the supremacy of justice, if justice is done as the blind result of the working of machinery, even if that be the machinery of the universe. In our very conception of a moral supremacy is involved the conception of an intended supremacy. And the Moral Law in its government of the world reveals itself as possessing the distinctive mark of personality, that is, a purpose and a will. And thus, as we ponder it, this Eternal Law is shown to be the very Eternal Himself, the Almighty God. There is a sense in which we cannot ascribe personality to the Unknown Absolute Being; for our personality is of necessity compassed with limitations, and from these limitations we find it impossible to separate our conception of a person. And it will ever remain true that our highest conceptions of God must fall altogether short of His true nature. When we speak of Him as infinite, we are but denying that He is restrained by limits of time and space as we are. When we speak of Him as absolute, we are but denying that He is subject to conditions as we are. So when we speak of Him as a person, we cannot but acknowledge that His personality far transcends our conceptions. But it still remains the truth that these descriptions of Him are the nearest that we can get, and that for all the moral purposes of life we can argue from these as if they were the full truth. If to deny personality to Him is to assimilate Him to a blind and dead rule, we cannot but repudiate such denial altogether. If to deny personality to Him is to assert His incomprehensibility, we are ready at once to acknowledge our weakness and incapacity. But we dare not let go the truth that the holiness, the justice, the goodness, the righteousness, which the Eternal Moral Law imposes on us as a supreme command, are identical in essential substance in our minds and in His. Indeed, the more we keep before us the true character of that law, the more clearly do we see that the Moral Law is not His command but His nature. He does not make that law. He is that law. Almighty God and the Moral Law are different aspects of what is in itself one and the same. To hold fast to this is the fullest form of Faith. To live by duty is in itself rudimentary religion. To believe that the rule of duty is supreme over all the universe, is the first stage of Faith. To believe in Almighty God is the last and highest.

It will be seen at once by those who have followed me that I am in this Lecture only working out to its logical conclusion what was said long ago by Bishop Butler in England and by Kant in Germany. Butler calls the spiritual faculty whose commands to us I have been examining by the name of conscience: Kant calls it the practical reason. But both alike insist on the ultimate basis of morality being found in the voice within the soul and not in the phenomena observed by the senses. Science by searching cannot find out God. To reduce all the phenomena of the universe to order will not, even if it could ever be completely done, tell us the highest truth that we can attain to concerning spiritual things.

Science may examine all the phases through which religions have passed and treating human beliefs as it treats all other phenomena it can give us a history of religion or of religions. But there is something underlying them all which it cannot treat, and which perpetually evades all attempts to bring it under physical laws. For just as all attempts to explain away our conviction of our own personal identity have invariably failed and will for ever fail to satisfy human consciousness, so too the strictly spiritual element in all religion cannot be got out of phenomena at all. No analysis succeeds in obliterating the fundamental distinction between moral and physical law; or in enabling us to escape the ever increasing sense of the dignity of the former, or in shutting our ears to the still small voice which is totally unlike every other voice within or without. To bring the Moral Law under the dominion of Science and to treat the belief in it as nothing more than one of the phenomena of human nature, it is necessary to treat the sentiment of reverence which it excites, the remorse which follows on disobedience to its commands, the sense of its supremacy, as delusions. It is always possible so to treat these things; but only at the cost of standing lower in the scale of being.

But we have one step further to take. For as the spiritual faculty is the recipient directly or indirectly of that original revelation which God has made of Himself to His rational creatures, so too this appears to be the only faculty which can take cognizance of any fresh revelation that it might please Him to make. If He commands still further duties than those commanded by the supreme Moral Law, if He bids us believe what our reason cannot deduce from the primal belief in that Law and in Himself, it is to that faculty that the command is issued. If over and above the original religion as we may call it there is a revealed religion, it is the spiritual faculty that can alone accept it. Such a revelation may be confirmed by signs or proofs in the world of phenomena. He who is absolute over all nature may compel nature to bear witness to His teaching. The spiritual may burst through the natural on occasion, and that supremacy, which underlies all nature and which is necessarily visible to intelligences that are capable of seeing things as they are in themselves, may force itself into the world of phenomena and show itself in that manner to us. But this always is and must be secondary. The spiritual faculty alone can receive and judge of spiritual truth, and if that faculty be not reached a truly religious belief is not yet attained.

External evidences of revealed religion must have a high place but cannot have the highest. A revealed religion must depend for its permanent hold on our obedience and our duty on its fastening upon our spiritual nature, and if it cannot do that no evidences can maintain it in its place.

This account of the fundamental beliefs of Religion when compared with the fundamental postulates of Science shows that the two begin with the same part of our nature but proceed by opposite methods. Both begin with the human will as possessing a permanent identity and exerting a force of its own. But from this point they separate. Science rests on phenomena observed by the senses; Religion on the voice that speaks directly from the other world. Science postulates uniformity and is excluded wherever uniformity can be denied, but compels conviction within the range of its own postulate. Religion demands the submission of a free conscience, and uses no compulsion but that imposed by its own inherent dignity. Science gives warnings, and if you are capable of understanding scientific argument, you will be incapable of disbelieving the warnings. Certain things will poison you; certain neglects will ruin your health; disregard of scientific construction will bring your roof down on your head; to enter a burning building will risk your life; some of these things you may learn by ordinary experience, some of them by that combination of experience which is called Science. But if you are capable of the necessary reasoning you cannot doubt, however much you may wish to do so. And yet to defy these warnings and take the inevitable consequences of that defiance may be your highest glory. Religion also gives warnings; it assures you that the Eternal Moral Law is supreme; that, sooner or later, those who disobey will find their disobedience is exactly and justly punished; that no appearance to the contrary presented by experience can be trusted. But Religion will not compel you to believe any more than Science will compel you to obey. Disbelieve if you choose and Religion will do nothing but perpetually repeat its warnings and add that your disbelief has lowered you in the scale of being. So too Science gives promises; it promises, to the race rather than to the individual, life on easier conditions, and of greater length; fewer pains, fewer diseases; perpetually increasing comforts; perpetually increasing power over nature. And Science is sure to keep the promises. And yet we may refuse to accept the promises, and it is conceivable that the refusal may be far nobler than the acceptance. And Religion promises also. It promises stainless purity in the soul; and truth and justice and unfailing love; and tenderness to every creature that can feel; and a government of all that is under our dominion with a single eye to the service of God. And we may refuse to believe these promises or to care whether they are kept or not. But the refusal or pursuit of such aims as these determines our position in the judgment of the Supreme and in the court of our own conscience.

God has made man in His own image: that is, He has given man power to understand His works and to acknowledge Himself. And it is in acknowledging God that man finds himself divine. He is a partaker of the divine nature in proportion as he recognises the Supreme Law and makes it the law of his own will. And therefore has his will been made free as well as his mind rational: he has the power to choose as well as the power to know. And our choice lays hold on God Himself and makes us one with Him.

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