The War Between Science And Faith
Glancing over that page of the New York Times of Monday, October 13, 1930, which carries reports of “Sermons Preached Yesterday in the Metropolitan District,” my eye caught the headlines: “Science Found Void Compared to Faith — Dr. G.J. Russell Says It Will Never Dethrone God.”
What! Have I carelessly picked up a copy of the Log Cabin Democrat? — and am I reading a report of Elder Simpleton’s latest sermon preached to the peasants and possum-hunters of Podunk Hollow, sent in by Bud Bartlett, correspondent from that neck of the woods? Again I glance at the top of the sheet. No, it is the New York Times, and the sermon is one delivered in the metropolitan district of New York — in the Second Presbyterian Church. Central Park West and Ninety-sixth Street, to be exact.
“Science found void compared to faith.” Well, well, the report of a divine message headed like that should be worth looking into. I read on.
“It God should ever go out of style altogether and if the whole nation should succumb to the material progress of science. … America is doomed to meet the same fate as Sodom and old Rome.
“While there never has been a time when God was fully in style, the, great material progress of the country does not justify a certain belief that science has dethroned God and that people have no need for religion, for the creature of science can never replace God and the scientist lacks interest in the finer spiritual things.
“Sometimes the vice prevailing in this city is very discouraging to observe. Indifference, pleasure and materialism is [sic] prevalent here. Lack of faith in God is amazing. But the city is not the whole nation or the whole world. In the old days the city was the center of religion. The peasant, or, as the word meant then, the pagan, was the heathen. Today the peasant is more religious than the city dweller.
“Cynics with toothaches in their souls must note that today more attention is given to religion than ever before.
“What can science tell as to what will happen to us in the great unknown or where we shall go and what we shall do? The service science can do is to enhance the material side of our lives. It goes to pieces when it comes to God and things spiritual.”
Why, this is the same sort of mental pabulum that is regularly ladled out to village Fundamentalists down South! To what stratum of New York society do the members of Dr. Russell’s flock belong? Can It be that they are on the same intellectual level as that occupied by the village rustics of Arkansas? Apparently that is the case, if this sort of stuff is suited to their tastes. There is, perhaps, nothing remarkable in the fact that holy mountebanks, willing to supply such stuff for, say, five or ten thousand dollars, a year and a furnished home, are to be found in the metropolitan district of New York; but it is surprising that they can find enough customers there to make such business pay. Then, fortune-tellers and voodoo doctors should be able to get along very well there.
What do religionists like Dr. Russell think science is, anyway? — and what do they take the purpose and function of science to be? Do they think of science as simply a conglomerate of published guesses made by hardened, educated “old infidels” concerning things of which they are either wholly ignorant or only superficially informed? — and that its only usefulness and legitimate function is to minister to the “low”” base, and material wants of man? Evidently, this is the lease.
Of course it is not reasonable to expect the Fundamentalist mind to hold anything approaching a real and adequate conception of science; to have any knowledge of scientific methods of investigation; any understanding of the scientific attitude; any appreciation of the scientific spirit; or any respect for the integrity of the scientific mind. Indeed it is the inability to do these things that leaves the unfortunates exposed to the Fundamentalist blight. It is the ability to do these things that distinguishes intelligent persons from Fundamentalists.
Everybody, excepting the Fundamentalist, understands that science — and its application through the arts — has been the sole means of elevating a portion of the race from a primitive, universal state of savagery to its present stage of culture. Had all men relied on faith alone — using the term in its theological sense — the whole race would have remained fixed in a permanent condition of savagery.
Maybe, however, a savage who is filled with the “simple, trusting faith” is acceptable to Jehovah whereas a scientific- minded civilized person is not. Indeed, as I now recall, this to an acknowledged belief of the religionists.
A “worldly” faith founded on actual experience and observation — as faith in Nature and human nature — is, of course, a fine and sensible thing; but that is something vastly, I might say, diametrically, different from what the theologians mean by faith. What they mean by faith is that blind, unquestioning credulity which can swallow any imaginable tale of the supernatural; that pop-eyed, gaping credulity which, everywhere and always, finds it infinitely easter to accept the fantastically impossible than the natural and probable and takes to fetishism, incantations, “signs,” and the boom-a-lay of resounding tom-toms as naturally as a duck takes to water. Faith, in this sense, belongs to the arrested and static mentality — the type of mentality that delights in contemplating the unreal, the magical, and the fantastic; in a word, the “finer spiritual” things, the things not of “this world.” Science, on the other hand, appeals to the inquiring, developing, and dynamic mind — the type of mind that normally prefers to grapple with the real and the actual, the things of this world.
Take, to begin with, the body of knowledge embraced by cosmogony, cosmography, cosmic evolution, and astronomy. How much of it was given us by faith and how much by science? Faith gave us just what Jehovah knew when he submitted his well-known MSS. to the publishers and it has not given us a scrap of information since. All the rest of our knowledge of those subjects has been given us by science. Of course the Fundamentalist regards Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galilee, Copernicus, Newton, Laplace and all other scientists in that field as fakers; but worldly-minded persons are much inclined to accept their discoveries and conclusions, or at any rate, to take them seriously.
Consider our knowledge of biology. How much of such knowledge was given us by faith and how much by science? Faith has given us what we were able to derive from the published reports of Yahweh’s casual researches and not one bit more. All the rest of our knowledge of that subject has been given us by science. The true Christian, of course, who has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, regards Lamarck, Darwin, Huxley, and all other biologists as unscrupulous nature-fakers; but wicked worldlings treat them and their discoveries and arguments with profound respect.
Take pathology, pharmacology, and hygiene. How much of our knowledge of those subjects was given us by faith and how much by science? Through faith man learned that he was “Possessed” of devils and that the “cure” came from exorcism, incantation, and prayer. Not another iota of knowledge of these subjects has faith ever contributed. All the rest of our knowledge has been contributed by science.
But hold!, Here I must pause to confess that I was a bit hasty in saying that faith has made no progress in therapeutics; for I recall that, in addition to exorcism, incantation, and prayer, faith has discovered and made known to the world an impressive number and variety of “remedies” for diseases, many of which are successfully applied in Fundamentaldom today. But I have space to cite only a few. An Irish potato carried in the pocket will cure “rheumatiz,” Chicken feathers burnt under the child-birth bed will stop hemorrhage. “Thrash” may be cured by having one, who has never seen his father, blow his breath into the patient’s mouth. That dread disease known as hives can be cured by giving the patient a “solution” of buckshot. “Sheep-pill” tea is an unfailing remedy for measles. (My own life was saved by a timely administering of that great specific by one of my grandmothers when, as a paling infant, I had the measles, so I was Informed.) Rattlesnake oil, skunk oil, buzzard oil, and goose grease were found to be sure shots for many dangerous diseases. The seventh son of the seventh son of a Fundamentalist carried a mysterious assortment of specific remedies up his sleeve by means of which he could cure many of the worst diseases that flesh is heir to. Many “yarbs” — catnip, horehound, mullein, poke, etc. — when gathered on the dark of the moon find brewed with the proper mystic ceremony, were found to be sure cures for many maladies. And, moreover, candor compels one to go a step further and confess that faith made some progress in preventive therapeutics. A ball of asafetida, wrapped in a frog skin and suspended from the neck by an eel-skin string, rendered the wearer immune to contagious diseases. It was also good against fits. Fruit of the buckeye, carried in the pocket, would keep off malaria and rheumatism.
But to resume the argument. What has been remarked of the above-mentioned branches of science is equally applicable to all other branches.
Of course science doesn’t undertake to “tell as to what will happen to us in the great unknown or where we shall go and what we shall do.” Why should it — when theology itself has so thoroughly and authoritatively done all that?
“It [science] goes to pieces,” says Dr. Russel, “when it comes to God and things spiritual.” Just what the reverend doctor means by a statement like that I have no idea. What I should mean by such a statement is that if science were to undertake to do such a fatuous thing, it would instantly cease to be science at all and would degenerate into theology.
“In the old days,” the doctor reminds us, “the city was the center of religion,” whereas “today the peasant is more religious than the city dweller.” This statement is undoubtedly true, and, it may be added, religion will probably become the exclusive possession of the peasantry. Certainly, nearly all intelligent persons have become thoroughly ashamed of it.
The learned doctor admits “there never has been a time when God was fully in style” but if he will review the history of the Dark Ages, he should not fail to note that there was a time when God was perilously near “fully in style” which is precisely what made the Dark Ages so damned dark.
“Lack of faith in God is amazing,” says the reverend doctor. But this doesn’t seem to harmonize with his statement that “today more attention is given to religion than ever before”; since, clearly, he means favorable attention, for it is to this assumption that he so triumphantly calls the attention of “cynics with toothaches in their souls.” Lack of faith in God may be amazing to such as Dr. Russell, but to many others, equally as wise, it is the exact opposite that is so amazing. When, however, faith in God finally becomes the exclusive possession of the peasantry, the phenomenon will cease to be so amazing. In fact, abnormal psychology has pretty well explained it already.