The Know-Nothing Position In Religion -- By: James T. Bixby
BSac 38:151 (July 1881) p. 437
The Know-Nothing Position In Religion
At the threshold of the investigation of the special problems presented by the relations of science to religion there lies the preliminary question: What can we know in religious things, and how?
This is properly a question of pure metaphysics, with which science has nothing to do, and there ought not to be upon this point any conflict between the scientific and the religious world. Science may properly declare what she has, learned and how she has learned it. But when she proceeds to determine what and how alone it is possible to know anything, and engages in analyses of consciousness, in investigations of the laws of thought, and clumsily would spin again, over the eyes of faith, the subtleties of Hume and Kant, then it is evident that science has strayed into the realm of metaphysics and is trying “her prentice hand” upon the problems of philosophy.
Nevertheless, though but an interloper and a neophyte herself in this field, or rather just for this reason, Science has of late assumed absolute authority in the domain of the knowable, and has summarily ordered religion into close confinement. The brilliant successes of modern science,—recalling all wonders of the romancers, seven-leagued boots, lamp of Aladdin, wand of fairy, or what not, — these marvellous achievements have made her believe that her favorite methods are the only ones by which anything is to be known. He who would build up solid structures of fact, not air-castles of thought, must work by observation, induction, and verification. He must concern himself, so science orders, only
BSac 38:151 (July 1881) p. 438
claim to be considered its best friend. As little claim has it to be founded on truth or clear ideas. It is true enough that no sense-observation can show us spiritual things. But neither does sense restrict itself to the horizon of the visible, the tangible, and the sensible. Tyndall justly speaks of “that region inaccessible to sense, which embraces so much of the intellectual life of the investigator.” When that which the microscope fails to see is regarded as non-existent, “then I think,” he says, “the microscope begins to play a mischievous part,” and he proceeds to point out many cases where structure and structural changes must be believed to exist although the microscope can make nothing of them.
As it is in mineralogy and biology, so is it in chemistry, thermo-dynamies, and optics. What is the whole of these, as systematized sciences, built upon? Upon the assumption of the existence of the molecule, the atom, and the ether. Yet of these units of matter how many have been isolated, separately weighed, measured, or touched? Of their ceaseless m...
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