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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 VII. Apparent Collision of Science with the Claim to Supernatural Power.

'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 conduct.

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 lived.

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 homopathy 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 presented.

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 worked?

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 Testament, they are at any rate sufficient to show that our Lord was universally believed by His disciples to have the power of working miracles and to have often worked them. There is no hesitation in regard to this; no hint of any doubt. But not only so, there is no hint of any disclaimer on His part. He must have known whether He could work miracles or not. He must have known that His disciples believed Him to possess the power. There is not the slightest trace of His ever having implied that this was a misconception. He did sometimes disclaim what was ascribed to Him, even when what was ascribed to Him was truly His, but was ascribed to Him without real knowledge of what it implied. 'Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but One, that is, God,' we do find. But 'Why askest thou Me to do this? There is none that can do this but One, that is God,' we do not find. It is plain that He accepted the belief that assigned Him powers above those of other men--powers given Him by His Father in heaven--and never discouraged it. Nay, He demanded it. Take the lowest ground, and admit for argument's sake that the New Testament contains a legendary element, and still you cannot cut the miracles out of the Gospels and Epistles without altering them beyond recognition. The Jesus Christ presented to us in the New Testament would become a different person if the miracles were removed. And if He claimed to possess and exercise this power, the evidence becomes the evidence of One Who must have known and Whom we cannot disbelieve.

And this claim, which He has thus made, and which was thus accepted by His disciples, is corroborated by the power, different in form but similar in kind, which He exerted then on the men of His own day, and has ever since continued to exert on all succeeding generations. The first disciples were under His absolute dominion. They preached Christ and not themselves. They referred everything to Him, and professed to have no power but from Him. St. Paul with all his genius and marvellous power of influence, yet professes to be nothing without Christ and to be everything in Christ. Our Lord left no writing behind Him, but committed His Revelation to His Apostles, and we only know Him through them. But they are not like ordinary disciples of a great teacher; philosophers succeeding a philosopher; prophets succeeding a prophet. To no one of them does it occur for a moment to teach anything except as from Him. St. Paul gives advice sometimes which he does not profess to be giving by our Lord's command, but when he does so, he puts the mark of his own inferiority on what he says, and claims for it no such authority as belongs to a word from Christ. A word from Christ was final on all subjects.

And this power over men has never weakened from that day to this. There is no other power like it in the world. Science proceeds in far the majority of cases by trial of some theory as a working hypothesis. Such too has been the procedure of Christian Faith. Trust Christ; stake your happiness on Him; stake your hope of satisfying all spiritual aspirations on Him; stake your power of winning the victory over temptation on Him--this is the exhortation of Apostle, and martyr, and saint, and evangelist, and pastor, and teacher. And those who have thus tried the strength of the Christian hypothesis have not failed. The Christian Church has been stained with many a blot. Ill deeds have been wrought in the name of Christ. Evil laws have been passed. Strange superstitions have prevailed. But no other body can show such saints, no other body can produce so great a cloud of witnesses. It is certain that the lives and the deaths, the characters and the aims, of those who have trusted their all to Christ have made them what He bade them be, the salt of the earth. And they testify with one voice that they know no other power which has upheld them but the power of Christ whom they have taken for their Lord. Others have sometimes been set up as in some sort rivals to Him as teachers or as examples; but here there is no rival even pretended. In no other man have men been called on to believe as a living present power, able to give strength and victory in the conflicts of the soul. The Church, too, has passed through times of spiritual depression, we may almost say of degradation. And in the worst of times within the Church there has always remained a wonderful recuperative power, which has shaken off inconsistencies and defects in the past, and will do so yet more in the future. But this recuperative power has always shown itself in one form, and in one form only, namely, a return to Christ and to trust in Him, a trust which has never been falsified.

The martyrdom of our Lord's disciples is enough to prove that belief in His supernatural powers and in His exercise of those powers was no gradual growth of later times, but from the very beginning rooted in the convictions of those who must have known the truth. The character of our Lord as revealed in the Gospels makes it impossible to disbelieve His claims whatever they may be. His power attested by generations of believers ever since corroborates those claims by the persistent evidence of eighteen centuries.

Against this evidence what is to be said?

It is said that the evidence for the uniformity of nature is so overwhelming that nothing can set it aside. And further it is said, that, even if it be conceded that it might be set aside, no evidence sufficient for the purpose has yet been produced.

Now to deal with this second assertion first, we must ask what is the nature of the evidence that would be deemed sufficient? If the inquirer does not believe that God created and still governs the world, assuredly no evidence will ever be sufficient to convince him that God has worked a miracle. The existence of God is certainly not to be proved by His interference with nature. Had He desired to reveal Himself to us primarily in that way, He would have wrought many more miracles than we now know of, and would have kept our faith alive by perpetual and unmistakeable manifestations of His presence and power. But He has not so willed. He has made our belief in Him rest mainly on the voice within ourselves, in order that we might walk by faith and not by sight. It will be a hopeless task to convince men that there is a God by pointing, not to His creation but to His interference with creation. But if a man do believe there is a God, what kind of evidence ought he to expect to show him that God has interfered in the course of the creation?

In the first place, he must not expect that the physical evidence, that is the miraculous evidence, for Revelation should be of such a character as to stand above the spiritual evidence. Just as the fundamental evidence for the existence of a God is to be found in the voice of conscience, and the arguments from design and from the order and beauty and visible purpose of the creation are secondary--corroborative not demonstrative--so too the primary evidence of a Revelation from God must be found in the harmony of that Revelation with the voice of conscience, and only the secondary and corroborative evidence is to be looked for in miracles. And in both cases the reason is the same. For it is not God's purpose to win the intellectually gifted, the wise, the cultivated, the clever, but to win the spiritually gifted, the humble, the tender-hearted, the souls that are discontented with their own shortcomings, the souls that have a capacity for finding happiness in self-sacrifice. It would defeat the purpose of the Revelation made to us if the hard-headed should have an advantage in accepting it over the humble-minded. The evidence must be such that spiritual character shall be an element in the acceptance of it. There would be a contradiction, if the faculty whereby we mainly recognised God were the spiritual faculty, and the faculty whereby we mainly recognised His Revelation were the scientific faculty.

And, in the second place, we have no right to expect that the evidence for miracles wrought in one age should be such evidence as properly belongs to another age. It is sometimes urged that the evidence supplied by the testimony of the early Christians is of little value because it was never cross-examined. No such precautions surrounded the evidence as would now be required to give any value to evidence of similar events. The witnesses gave up their lives to attest what they taught; but there was no one to scrutinise what they asserted. St. Paul's evidence on our Lord's Resurrection cannot now be put to the test of searching questions. But to make such objections as these is to make what is on the face of it an absurd demand. It is to ask that the scientific processes of the nineteenth century should have been anticipated in the first, that men should be miraculously guided to supply a kind of evidence which would be utterly superfluous at the time in order to be convincing eighteen hundred years afterwards. This would indeed have put the miraculous incidents in the New Testament narrative altogether out of place, and made the miracles more important than the Revelation which they were worked to introduce.

Now, if these two conditions are borne in mind, it is difficult to see what better evidence could be obtained of a miraculous life than we possess concerning the life of our Lord.

The moral and spiritual evidence is His own character which intentionally overshadows all the rest, and it is inconceivable that He should have made a false claim. And the material evidence is the testimony of men who freely gave their lives in proof of what they said. Nor has anything yet been said or written to shake Paley's argument on this point.

But, if we pass on to the other objection, that no evidence can ever be sufficient to prove a miracle because the evidence for the uniformity of nature is so overwhelming, we can only see in such an assertion an instance of that inability to get out of an accustomed groove against which Science has perpetually to guard. In Science the uniformity of nature is so indispensable a postulate, that without it we cannot stir a step. And if the student of Science is to admit a breach, it can only be by stepping outside of his science for the time and conceiving the possibility that there is some other truth beside scientific truth, and some other kind of evidence beside scientific evidence. We have all heard of the need of guarding against the bondage in which custom binds the mind. We have heard of the student who when first he saw a locomotive looked perseveringly for the horses that impelled it, because he had never known, and consequently could not imagine any other mode of producing such motion. But this danger attends not only the separate investigations which Science makes into phenomena; it attends Science as a whole. And it is necessary repeatedly to insist on the fact that Science has not proved and cannot prove that the scientific domain is co-extensive with nature itself.

The evidence for the uniformity of nature consists in the fact that from the beginning of Science the known reign of physical law has been steadily extending without a check; that instance after instance of apparent exception has been brought by further examination within its province; that the hypothesis of uniformity has now been long on trial and has never yet been found to fail; that no one who has so tried it has the slightest hesitation in trusting it for the future, as he has proved it in the past. But clearly as this evidence proves a general, it never gets beyond a general, uniformity. It has not succeeded in showing that the human will comes under the same rule. It has not succeeded in silencing the voice within us, which claims superiority for the moral over the physical. And when the utmost extent of human knowledge is compared with the vastness of nature, the claim to extend the induction from generality to universality is seen to be utterly untenable. So much as this, indeed, Science has rendered highly probable, that the uniformity of nature is never broken except for a moral purpose. It is only for such a purpose that the will is ever free. It is only for such a purpose that Revelation has ever claimed to be superior to nature. But beyond this Science cannot go. Let it be granted that the claim for freedom of the will has been often unduly pushed far beyond this limit, and let it be granted that religions professing to be revelations have included records of miracles which had no moral purpose. This does not affect the general conclusion that the evidence for uniformity has never succeeded, and can never succeed in showing, that the God who made and rules the universe never sets aside a physical law for a moral purpose, either by working through the human will or by direct action on external nature.

Science will continue its progress, and as the thoughts of men become clearer it will be perpetually more plainly seen that nothing in Revelation really interferes with that progress. It will be seen that devout believers can observe, can cross-question nature, can look for uniformity and find it, with as keen an eye, with as active an imagination, with as sure a reasoning, as those who deny entirely all possibility of miracles and reject all Revelation on that account. The belief that God can work miracles and has worked them, has never yet obstructed the path of a single student of Science; nor has any student who repudiated that belief found any aid in his study from that repudiation. The rush of Science of late years has for the time made many men fancy that Science is everything; and believers in Revelation have helped this fancy by insisting on their part that Revelation is everything; but such waves of opinion, resting really on feeling, are sure to pass away, and scientific men will learn that there are other kinds of knowledge besides scientific knowledge, as believers are already learning that God teaches us by other methods besides the method of Revelation. The students of the Bible will certainly learn that Revelation need not fear the discoveries of Science, not even such doctrines as that of Evolution. And the students of nature will certainly learn that Science has nothing to fear from the teaching of Revelation, not even from the claim to miraculous power. For most certainly both Science and Revelation come from one and the same God; 'the heavens declare His glory, and the firmament showeth His handywork; His law is perfect, converting the soul; His testimony is sure, making wise the simple.'

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