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RELATIONS OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION.
CONDITIONS OF THE INQUIRY.
A MONG the many advantages enjoyed by the present generation, one of the most conspicuous is that arising from the large advance made in physical science. The high value of this is apparent from whatever standpoint it is regarded. The vastly wider range of knowledge, the increase of appliances for inquiry, the greater facilities for work of all kinds, the freer intercommunion of all the divisions of our race, and the greater altitude from which the whole realm of existence can be contemplated; all these involve an immense gain for the present century.
With these advantages, however, there comes the difficulty of using them aright, a difficulty which we may expect to be greater when we are dealing with wider and more general aspects of existence, than when we are concerned with more restricted ranges of knowledge. It may be a much easier thing to state precisely how recent advances have affected a particular branch of science, such as astronomy or geology, than to say how they bear upon the general conception of the universe. Yet, while the latter is the more difficult question, it is that with which men generally must be more concerned. Only a very limited number of men can belong to the ranks of specialists devoted to a single branch of science. All men, specialists as well as others, are concerned with the wider question as to the true conception of the universe, and the bearing it has on human life and destiny. It is impossible to imagine that marked advance can be made in any of the sciences, without its having some bearing on the more general problem in which all men are practically interested. Each specialist perceives this more or less clearly as he is working out the result of complicated observations or calculations. The public mind may be said rather to feel that some modification of common belief is taking place, while there is great uncertainty as to the actual change. What gives a sense of security to the general conviction of educated men is that all increase of knowledge is clear gain, and that all advance is secured on familiar and well-tried lines. Progress is transition, and in a sense unsettling; but it is also accumulation, and thus in a more enduring sense, consolidating. Fresh observation in some one department of research does not overthrow all that was credited previously. It extends the area of knowledge, or carries us into a more minute acquaintance with particulars, and only in a restricted way modifies accepted positions, by introducing relations formerly unrecognized. Thus, progress in a particular science does not unsettle scientific belief.
In a manner exactly analogous, because resting on the same intellectual conditions, the combined advance of the whole order of sciences does not unsettle the mass of conviction belonging to instructed and ordinarily reflective men. It must, indeed, modify the form of general conviction, as it quickens intellectual interest, for the public mind receives, not reluctantly but gladly, additional results gathered under carefully tested scientific methods. This is nothing more than saying, that love of truth, and submission to the laws of evidence, are characteristic of all disciplined intelligence. Scientific inquirers are the trained instructors of the race, and others receive what they communicate, with true sense of its abiding worth. At the same time, such inquirers work from an intellectual basis which is common to all, finding application in all fields of activity. Upon that basis all men lean as they shape and regulate their life, finding themselves involved in disaster, or confirmed in a wise course, according as they are partial or thorough in their adherence to the conditions of rational life. As the mass of human interests can not be isolated from the results discovered in the path of advancing science; so neither can any form of inquiry be separated from the conditions which are common to all intellectual life, including even the least cultivated. So it happens that the race as a whole has a clear share in all the products of science, such as it has not in the products of industry. Rational conditions provide for a community of interest in intellectual work and results, greater than can be approached by all the value of material production.
These few general and very obvious considerations bring us into direct line with the relations of religion and science. Religion has a rational basis, as the condition of its practical worth. It takes its start from that common intellectual basis, which affords to science its essential conditions. Religion and science are exactly alike in these respects, that both present a body of harmonized conceptions, a clearly defined circle of intelligible statements, and both have a definite bearing on human action. Their practical value depends upon conformity with the common requirements of intelligence, and harmony with recognized fact. I place this declaration in the foreground of the present discussion, not only as a clear avowal of the footing on which religion presents its claims to acceptance, but more especially as a distinct and broad acknowledgment that the whole range of tests afforded by the entire circle of the sciences is legitimately applied to religion, and is to be deliberately met.