Science’s Quarrel With The Bible, Part 3
Extracts from Lectures by Walter Rowton, Esq.
The most of us, in our innocence, have all along been believing in the beautiful lady who calls herself science, as “ the handmaid of religion;” so she at one time delighted in representing herself, and we ever took her at her word. Never dreaming of any unchristian motives underlying her fair professions, we hitherto have listened to her counsels and been gradually guided by them. When she explained that the Bible Astronomy, Geology, Geography, and so forth, were not true, nor intended to be true, though the bulk of us were not so educated as to be able to follow her through “ the experimental evidence,” yet, considering she spoke in the interest of that religion whose service she professed, we implicitly believed her, and, dupes as we were, gave them up. Having a wonderful opinion of her cleverness, and unbounded confidence in her rectitude, it never once entered our minds she had a disguise to abandon. But how— now she has succeeded as she thinks in committing us to theories we must follow to where she herself stands; now, “abandoning all disguise,” she exclaims, like Elihu of old, “I am full of matter’’ (Job xxxii. I8); not Elihu’s, however, but a very inferior matter. Elihu reads forward — his matter is God : she backward— her God is matter.
So far as Christians are concerned. Professor Tyndall, whether he intended it or not, has re-opened the whole scientific question : and should it be held a kind of Quixotism to tilt in these days against such stone-wall conclusions as those of Galileo and Newton, pray as Dr. Tyndall been guilty of a less Quixotism by his denial, in this the nineteenth century of Christianity, of the Bible’s God ?
The fashionable course, I am sure, is to doubt Scripture and believe science: to her our perpetual cry is for more; so far from questioning the truth of the incredible tales she tells; so far from treating her as she treats the Bible, we are agape for greater marvels; and we swallow them whole. But is this reasonable? Why should Scripture, without proper knowledge of it, be doubted? and why should science, with no knowledge of it, be believed. The doubting spirit is by no means a bad one; yet when our spirit doubts according to its prejudices—strains at a gnat and bolts camels by the dozen— then, its doubting, like its similar beliefs, are both foolish and mischievous. Instead of believing Scripture and doubting science, or believing science and doubting Scripture, for the sake of fairness, let us begin de novo, by doubting both, reserving belief till doubt is satisfied.
“But how is it possible,’’ you may ask, to doubt science’s proved facts? We would gladly accept the Bible cosmogony if we could, but how can we? The exact sciences shut us up to the conclusions that the Bible astronomy is wrong, that its geology is wrong, that the earth, so far from being the centre of the universe, is a mere speck in it; that the earth is not flat but round, that it is not move-less but moving.
“How is it possible to escape these impregnable facts?”
Our duty will be to inquire if these stated facts are impregnable. But, meantime, this also we must consider; if we continue one by one to desert the Bible positions, as we have been doing, if we associate with the holders of these views whenever they elect to take another step, as they say, in “advance,” the alarming likelihood is, that beginning with the received astronomy, we shall get gradually but surely on to Tyndallism, Spencerism, and Darwinism, and end by not apprehending a creating and controlling First Cause. Consent with the philosophers that the Bible speaks unreliably from its presumably Divine side upon scientific subjects, and what is in the way of its similarly speaking upon all others? Consent with the wisdom of this world, against which the Bible itself warns us, and your God may eventually become, like his whose words have been quoted, a may-be, rather than a must-be; a dim human possibility, rather than a divinely revealed fact.
“ And wherefore not, if that be really the truth?” Quite so; but is it? The philosophers having raised that question, and given their doubts in the form of beliefs ; now it devolves upon the other side to give facts and reasons for the contrary belief that is in them.
In the complicated quarrel before us, we indeed are deeply concerned, and had need be very careful lest direct personal interest in the issue should bias our judgment of its merits. We have looked at the no longer disguised leading of what is called Science, as she herself having invited, attention to them, it was fitting we should : let us now give to them their proper place and influence. All they should cause is this : they should stimulate to extra carefulness in the search we are making into the rights and wrongs of this contention. Those of us who are Christians must not remember we are so to the extent of allowing our Christianity to blind our judgment; neither must those who agree with science be men of already made-up minds.
If we should find that science, so called, has an unanswerable case, let us say so, and honestly cast in our lot with hers. But, on the other hand, if we should be of opinion that the Bible positions are good, let us back to our allegiance, and, if necessary, defend them like men.
Into the examination of these positions we cannot go now : the task is a very arduous one, and must be reserved for my next lecture.