Return of Science to Religion

It is true that science can do much to make the world more com­fortable and to fill it with an abundance of those materials that make for the welfare of mankind. But when science was adopted into the realm of philosophy and came near to being a religion, it utterly failed to live up to expectations.

By FREDERICK LEE, Associate Editor, Review and Herald

Everywhere today there is disil­lusionment. Only a few brave souls still hold to the former extreme claims and promises of science. It is true that science can do much to make the world more com­fortable and to fill it with an abundance of those materials that make for the welfare of mankind. But when science was adopted into the realm of philosophy and came near to being a religion, it utterly failed to live up to expectations. By exalting human works above divine guidance, it brought into being a wrong and debasing conception of the purpose of life.

The great machine which science has built up has begun to backfire, and men are becom­ing alarmed. In the early days of the nine­teenth century, Comte predicted, "When science has done its complete work, it will conduct God to the frontier of the universe and bow Him out with thanks for His pro­visional services," and men might innocently hail such boldness with acclaim. But today, few scientists are so daring. In fact, they are rather declaring that science can complete nothing without the help and guidance of God. Men are beginning to realize that something beyond and above science is needed in the world today. Sorokin states it in the follow­ing quotation:

"Life, in order to be decently possible, needs many other values besides science: for instance, the decent behavior of its members. . . . Good and bad, sacred and profane, sinful and virtuous, harmful and beneficial, these and similar categories are perfectly heterogeneous to it and are outside of it. . . . If, therefore, science drives out the other truths within which such categories are natural, the result may be amoralism, asociality, and similar phenomena which make decent social life impossible,"—"Cultural and Social Dynamics," Vol. 2, p. 120.

Carrying the domination of science to its logical conclusion, Mr. Sorokin suggests an imaginary experiment that might be finally made in order to prove certain conclusions of science:

"Suppose someone should discover a simple but terrific explosive which could easily destroy a con­siderable part of our planet. Scientifically, it would be the greatest discovery, but socially, the most dan­gerous for the very existence of mankind, because out of 1,800,000,000 human beings there certainly would be a few individuals who, being 'scientifically minded' would like to test the explosive and as a result would destroy our planet. Such an explosion would be a great triumph of science, but it would lead to the destruction of mankind."—Ibid.

Mr. Sorokin calls this a "half-fantastic example," but there are many, even among scien­tists, who are truly alarmed at present trends. At recent congresses of scientists, the matter of the use to which scientific discoveries have been put to the detriment of mankind was seriously discussed for the first time.

Five thousand scientists from all over the world met in Richmond, Virginia, in De­cember, 1938, to listen to 1,800 reports that were presented before members of the Ameri­can Association for the Advancement of Science. Concerning this meeting a corre­spondent of the New York Times wrote:

"Among the inner councils of the leading scientists gathered here on the eve of the meeting, there is an attitude of tenseness seldom observed among men of science. World events during the past few months and the ever-gathering clouds of international dis­cord have made scientific men realize as never before that the intellectual and moral forces of the world are faced with a race against time.

"They are aware that heroic measures must be taken by men of science, who, in their quest for the betterment of the human lot, have forged the very weapons that now threaten to destroy man and his civilization."—New York Times, Dec. 26, 1938.

Of this meeting, the magazine Life says:

"Because these 'supermen' fashion the tools with which the 'apemen' seek to destroy 5,000 years of civilization, the scientists decided at the meeting to abandon in part their traditional role as researchers in order to analyze scientifically the ills of the world and suggest remedies."—Jan. 1, 1939.

At a meeting of 1,20o scientists in Cam­bridge, England, in August, 1938, the Bishop of Winchester said in his address to the gathering: "Never in the whole history of the world have such great strides been made in knowledge in its practical applications as during the lives of most of us." He then asked: "What is going to be the outcome of all these discoveries? Are we better and happier men and women than those who lived in years of less of original thought?" The bishop, after quoting Aldous Huxley's observa­tion, "that technological knowledge has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backward," remarked:

Man's "advance in character has not kept pace with his advance in knowledge. His intellectual and technical development has far outstripped his moral progress."—New York Times, Aug. 22, 1938.

The president of the British Association of Science is quoted as saying at this same meet­ing:

"I myself and many others who have studied this subject [evolution] with amazing thoroughness have reached no agreement. There is no agreement among scholars now ; but certain interpretations and the hopes based upon them have been tried and found wanting. The belief in progress as it was understood in the latter decades of the nineteenth century has been abandoned, and a more sober concept is taking its place. We can scarcely modify the struggle for existence by our planning.' —Southern Baptist Home Mission, September, 1938.

Moral Barrenness in a Modern World

An article in Harper's Magazine on the sub­ject, "What and Where Are We?" by J. W. N. Sullivan, very pointedly refers to the lack in modern science. It states in part:

"The growing feeling, extending to all classes of the community, that life is purposeless is perhaps the most significant feature of our time. That a certain section of rich pleasure seekers should have arrived at this decision is perhaps not very surpris­ing nor very distressing. The same sort of people have made the same discovery in all ages. But speeches by educationists, sociologists, and religious teachers inform us that this feeling is creeping into an classes.

"The disillusionment has been brought about by the collapse of some of, our most cherished beliefs, and this collapse has been brought about as much by modern science as by the war."—June, 1937.

And the United Presbyterian of July 28, 1938, has this to say:

"The world recession of these days in reality is moral barrenness, a spiritual dearth, and that is why the modern world has become a madhouse and mon­strous happenings have become common history of the day. This bankrupt world is bankrupt spirit­ually, and that is why we have such an insecure world, such an insane, meaningless world, such a cruel; bard, tyrannous world. Our most tragic losses have not been material values, but spiritual; the, supreme thing needed is the rebirth of God in the soul of man : thus only may he escape a blighted, joyless life, and find the sweet treasures of heaven every day."

The book, "The Return to Religion," by Dr. Henry C. Link, has been widely read. The 'title suggests the new trend toward re­ligion—"back to God." Statesmen, newspaper­men; college professors, and liberal leaders of the Christian church all alike, declare that what the world needs today. is more religion, and not less. This is the opposite view of that held by leading men of the world a few short years ago. Woodrow Wilson's statement con­cerning the need of religion is often quoted. Only recently it was the portion of a back-page editorial in the United States News. The late President is there quoted as saying:

"The sum of the whole matter is this—that our civilization cannot survive materially unless it be redeemed spiritually. It can be saved only by be­coming permeated with the spirit of Christ and by being made free and happy by the practices which spring out of that Spirit"—Sept. 6, 1938.

Not so many were ready to agree with President Wilson when this statement was made in 1923. Modern men still felt sufficient unto themselves. But the statement of the President is being recalled with effectiveness, and many today are echoing the same plea. In this same United States News editorial, David Lawrence makes this significant statement:

"We must seek to establish God-control as the paramount influence of everyday existence." Many religious articles now appear in secu­lar magazines by prominent leaders and edu­cators, which explain why they believe in God, such as the one which recently appeared in a Sunday section of the Washington Star, by the scholar Dr. A. J. Cronin, who stated: "Rather than have no belief, I prefer to be­lieve in the value of believing."—This Week's Magazine, April 9, 19:39. Note also the statements of the well-known journalist, George E. Sokolsky, in the Commentator (October, 1938), in which he refers to the Bible background that built up a sturdy people in a past generation, and speaks of the need of such a religious background in our life today.

Time, referring to the President's message to Congress in January, 1939, states:

"Last week as Franklin Roosevelt delivered his message to the Seventy-sixth Congress, it was evident that he, like other liberals, had come to feel differ­ently about religion in the world about him. His opening words were texts for sermons which were sure to be voiced in thousands of U.S. pulpits."—Jan. 16, 1939.

In this message the President emphasized the need of the help of religion to save dem­ocracy. Commenting on his speech, Walter Lippmann, according to Time, said: "Though a typical agnostic moralist, found himself obliged to declare that 'to dissociate free institutions from religion and patriotism is to render them unworkable and in the last analysis defense­less.' "—Ibid.

Many similar statements recently made by leaders in the land might be cited. The world of thought has been awakened as never before to the need of religion in the life. The ques­tion, How are the churches preparing to meet this astonishing change of front in regard to the Christian religion? will be considered in the next article.


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By FREDERICK LEE, Associate Editor, Review and Herald

December 1939

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