The Return of Foxy Grandpa. An unpublished review of Science and the Modern World and Religion in the Making, by Alfred North Whitehead
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[ 261 The Return of Foxy Grandpa “The Return of Foxy Grandpa,” Eliot’s unpublished review of Alfred North Whitehead’s successive Lowell Lectures at Harvard, Science and the Modern World (NY: Macmillan, 1925) and Religion in the Making (NY: Macmillan, 1926), was set in type for The Enemy, edited by Wyndham Lewis, for publication in the third issue, March 1927. See textual note at end. Foxy Grandpa was the title character of a popular American newspaper comic strip (1900-18), in which Grandpa consistently outwitted his two trickster grandsons. Professor Whitehead’s two recent books, Science and the Modern World and Religion in the Making, have been received with acclamation.1 Indeed they deserve it; Dr. Whitehead has a power of lucid exposition of the most difficult subjects, great historical knowledge and ability to generalise his knowledge.Hehasarareandremarkablecombinationofability.Itisremarkable that so eminent a mathematician and physicist should also have an historical mind. It would be still more remarkable to find that he had, in addition, a theological mind. His books have been received with jubilation by liberal Christians, and with great annoyance by atheists. But before we allowourselvestobegratifiedorvexed,asthecasemaybe,byDr.Whitehead’s rehabilitation of religion, it might be well to enquire what sort of religion his writings are likely to further, and whether that sort is intrinsically valuable . It is a matter which all earnest atheists and Christians should take to heart. Dr. Whitehead belongs to a generation which may be said to include within its limits elder statesmen such as the late William James, and younger statesmen such as Mr. Wells and Mr. Russell. Many of the eminent men of that generation conceal the tender heart of sentiment behind the brilliant emblems of authority. Mr. Shaw, after all his pamphlets, his economics, his Fabianismandmild ferocity, had nobettervision toofferusthan theearthly paradise of Back to Methuselah, to be staged by perspiring pupils of Miss MargaretMorris.2 Mr.Russell’slonelyPrometheusofthought,theundaunted hero of Liberalism, flourishes smirkingly the instruments of contraception in the faces of the clergy.3 Mr. Wells, with a tremendous machinery of comparative anatomy, evolves a Deity who is merely a celestial captain of industry .4 The disproportion between the elaborateness of the equipment and themediocrityoftheproductisstillmoreimpressiveintheworkofProfessor 1927 262 ] Whitehead. In every case the Father Christmas turns out to be merely our Sunday school superintendent in disguise. We might take warning at the outset from Whitehead’s use of the term “religion.” He says “The conflict between religion and science is what naturally occurs to our minds when we think of this subject.”5 This hoary old notion must have done duty, clothed in practically the same words, in score upon score of sermons in the last 75 years. Whether there is such a thing as “science” above the various sciences, is a question which I should not venture to contest with Professor Whitehead; but that there is such a thing as “religion” above the various particular religions, seems to me very doubtful. For the anthropologist, the student occupied with the “history of religions,” theterm“religion”isperfectlyvalid.Itisnotsufficientlyunderstood–though it is simple enough – that the point of view of the anthropologist and of the theologian are quite different. They are not opposed: they are merely different ; as different, and no more opposed, than the appearance of a house to someone who is inside and to someone who is outside it. The anthropologist is concerned with what has been believed; the theologian is concerned with what is true. So far as you are an anthropologist, you are not, in your professional capacity, the “believer” of any religion; you are occupied only withthephenomenaofall.Ontheotherhand,sofarasyouarethe“believer” ofanyreligion,then“religion”nolongerexistsforyou,orthecontrastbetween “religion and science”; you are concerned only with “conflicts” in the sense of conflicts between particular tenets of your religion and particular theories of science. The sincere Christian, or the sincere Moslem, or the sincere Buddhist, is quite unconcerned with conflicts between religion and science ; he can be concerned only with conflicts between particular beliefs which he holds qua Christian or Moslem or Buddhist, and particular scientific theories which also he believes. To the Christian, a conflict between Islam and science, or between Buddhism and science (and reciprocally in respect of the other religious beliefs) can give only a mild satisfaction. The conflict between religion and science is a conflict between two quite unreal phantoms – for I am so sure that “religion” in the abstract is a phantom, that I am inclined to believe that “science” in the abstract is a phantom...