A review of God: Being an Introduction to the Science of Metabiology, by John Middleton Murry
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[ 7 A review of God: Being an Introduction to the Science of Metabiology, by John Middleton Murry London: Jonathan Cape, 1929. Pp. 320. The Criterion: A Literary Review, 9 (Jan 1930) 333-36 This book is a natural sequel to the author’s Life of Jesus.1 It is a more important book than its predecessor in that it not only generalizes the same problem into a form in which its relevancy to the modern world will be more easily recognized, but also has a more sustained clarity of expression than we are accustomed to expect from Mr. Murry. He has evidently worked hard not only to arrive at conclusions for himself, but to make them apprehensible to the reader. Thequestionatissuemaybesimplystated:Mr.Murryrejects“Humanism” in all of its forms. It is true that the philosophy or the philosophies of Humanism have not yet been fully developed; argument which may have force against Mr. Babbitt may not be applicable to Mr. Fernandez, or vice versa.2 Nevertheless, I believe that there is a fundamental separation between Mr. Murry and anyone who would ever call himself a humanist; that is, the framework of Mr. Murry’s construction is and must be definitely religious, the quality and the arrangement of his sensibility are and must be religious. Mr. Murry’s search therefore, is for a view of life which shall reject rationalism , or ordinary materialistic naturalism, and supernaturalism as well. It is by no means the first attempt to find a third view. Bergsonism was another. We must make clear that whereas Humanism is a compromise between imperfectly joined elements of the natural and the supernatural, a faith like Mr. Murry’s will probably turn out, if it is not a success, to be wholly a naturalism , or a supernaturalism, in disguise. The first part of the book is autobiographical. It seems to have served for the author the purpose of working his mind up to the proper point at which he was able to say what he wanted to say; and it will probably have the same use for many readers. For the purpose of a review which must limit itself, the first part may be disregarded. Its chief relevance to the central idea of the book is its repudiation, from the author’s experience, of the “mystical experience” by itself as religious evidence.3 But as every student of Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1930 8 ] mysticism should agree with that conclusion, and should feel no surprise at Mr. Murry’s experience, and as I am quite in accord that no mystical experience in and by itself can be for human beings the guarantee of anything, as it must itself be verified in daily life, I do not need to dwell upon this point. The interpretation of the life of Jesus is substantially the same as that put forward in the earlier book, and is open to the same objections.4 It involves a theory of Illusion which is to me impossible as a theory of knowledge, and which I believe can be assimilated to several varieties of pragmatism.5 The chief development of this book over its predecessor is the theory of metabiology, which is nothing less than what Mr. Murry calls a complete naturalism which at the same time preserves all spiritual values. Mr. Murry would, I suppose, call the naturalism of Bergson incomplete, and the naturalism of Mr. Russell more rationalism. One’s first enquiry about a theory of “metabiology” should not be whether it is false or true – for that is merely to jump for our prejudices – but whether it has any meaning, and why. At any epoch there will be a number of terms which tend to command popular assent. To find meaning in Mr. Murry’s terminology involves a modicum of what can only be called faith in certain current diction. If we are out of tune with our generation we cannot assent, not because we find the philosophy unreasonable or out of joint with the facts, but because it is meaningless to us. I find this difficulty with Mr. Murry. In order to swallow his philosophy, I suspect that I should have had to swallow a number of other things first, so as to accept a number of terms without requiring definition of them. Words like emergent, organism, biological unity of life, simply do not rouse the right “response” in my breast. They are terms which may have definite meanings within the restricted field of...


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