First review of Religion and Science: A Philosophical Essay, by John Theodore Merz
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434 ] First review of Religion and Science: A Philosophical Essay, by John Theodore Merz Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915. Pp. xi + 192.1 The International Journal of Ethics, 27 (Oct 1916) 125-26 The learned historian of European thought has in this book three ideas. (1) Science deals only with an “external” world, which is a development of the world of common sense “with a still greater restriction of fundamental data” (107) out of an earlier and larger reality. (2) Science describes and explains, its terms consist of “spatial data and their connections” [67]. Interpretation, i.e. theassignmentofvalueandmeaning,isreservedforreligion.(3)Personality is that which is most real. The highest experience which we can have is the feeling of absolute dependence (Schleiermacher) which we trace to the influence of a Higher Power.2 Mr. Merz decides, first, that the external world is a construction, that conceptual thought abstracts and selects. The products of this selection are subject and object, “an altered and fuller conception of reality,” space, time, causality [124]. These entities are carved out of a “primordial stream of thought” [95] which apparently antedates thinking, which is a reality wider (though it is said to be less full) than the external world. This internal possession is the earlier and truer aspect of our personality–a period (as well as an aspect) when we looked upon everything as merely “internal happenings” [170].Weentertainedthishypothesisinourinfancy,andourageseesthe belief justified. But though this is the earlier and truer aspect of our personality, contact with other personalities leads us out of it. The first external object that the baby apprehends is its mother, not perhaps in her earlier and truer aspect, but as an influence, a spiritual pressure. Throughout our life we remain animists –the most real things are other personalities. The awareness of a group of personalities gives us law and morality. The awareness of a supreme spiritual pressure gives us religion. So far many of the orthodox idealistic phrases have answered the rollcall . One is, however, accustomed to find among idealists a clearer distinction [ 435 First review: Religion and Science between the point of view of genetic psychology and that of metaphysics. This is a form of anti-intellectualism which suggests Bergson. And idealists usually distinguish between immediate experience (which seems to correspond to Mr. Merz’s primordial consciousness) and the personality which is largely ideal construction. Mind, the author says, is as much an abstraction as is matter. “[T]he totality of any experience . . . is of more importance , being more truly real, than the particles into which we . . . dissect it” (74). Is personality equivalent to this totality of experience, or is it only a (very fiery) particle?3 The phrases “stream of thought” and “firmament of consciousness” recur many times. Those who feel that not only their own creed but religion itself stands in need of defence, should not neglect the aid which this book offers them. T. Stearns Eliot /london, england. Notes 1. The British chemist and intellectual historian John Theodore Merz (1840-1922) was the author of Leibniz (1884), which TSE used in his dissertation. His Religion and Science was to be reviewed again by TSE in the Monist in Apr 1918. 2.FriedrichSchleiermacher(1768-1834),Germanidealistknownforhisreligiousempiricism, argued in On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799) that religious beliefs emerge out of religious experience. In contrast to Kant, who associated religion with knowledge and morality, Schleiermacher associated it with intuition and feeling. TSE paraphrases Merz: “the greatest check of all that we experience as we increase in mental development is, as Schleiermacher put it, a feeling of absolute dependence. . . . The experience of this spiritual pressure . . . we trace to the influence of a Higher Power” (175-76). 3. Lord Byron: “John Keats . . . kill'd off by one critique . . . ’Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle, / Should let itself be snuff ’d out by an Article” (Don Juan XI.60). ...


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