Religion and Science: A Phantom Dilemma
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436 ] Religion and Science: A Phantom Dilemma The Listener, 7 (23 Mar 1932) 428-291 Last week I was concerned chiefly, in a general way, with the “dilemma” of Christianity and Communism. But the dilemma which presents itself to more people is the supposed dilemma of Religion versus Science. If my first dilemma, Christianity and Communism, is real – as I firmly believe it is – then it follows that the second dilemma, Religion and Science, is a phantom . For if the real dilemma is between one religion and another, we can hardly have, on top of that, another dilemma between religion and science. Too many dilemmas would certainly spoil my broth, and I hope at least to raise the question in your minds, whether the conundrum “Religion or Science?” has any more meaning than the famous riddle which vexed Alice: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”2 The immediate response will be, I dare say: “You are juggling with words. The sense in which you call Communism a religion, if justifiable at all, is not the sense in which Christianity is a religion . Science is only in conflict with the traditional religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and the sects of India; it is perfectly in accord with a religion (if you call it that) which denies the ‘supernatural.’ That is to say, it is perfectly in accord with Communism.” Well, to begin with – in the hope that I have put this reply to myself fairly – science can hardly be in accord with Communism until it is in accord with itself. Not only the various Christian divisions, but all of the great religions I have named, are in accord on something: they all accept what we call the supernatural. But nowadays science, by which we must mean various eminent scientists, does not seem to be in accord on any religious question. Two or three eminent mathematicians and physicists whom I have in mind hold widely divergent views; two or three psychologists, equally eminent in their own profession, differ just as widely from each other; and there is no manner of concord between the conclusions of physicists and psychologists. And secondly, if you say: “But if you call Communism a religion, it is a scientific religion in that it denies the supernatural and is solidly based upon what is observable in this world,” then I must say that the term “scientific religion” is just nonsense: the moment the emotions are engaged upon [ 437 Religion and Science a goal to be reached, an entity to be adored, we have leapt a chasm separating religion from science. What, for instance, is “propaganda” – something highly developed, I understand, in Soviet Russia, and also highly developed , though often for less creditable purposes, in Western Europe and America?3 It is merely the art of manipulating what we might call, in “scientific ” terminology, the “lower religious centres.” Once everybody has had a thorough grounding in “science,” it will become impossible to wheedle anybody into any course of action: for science can never tell us what is ultimately desirable. “The dictatorship of the proletariat” is a fine politicoreligious phrase.4 It seduces the multitude, because it persuades each, qua individual, that he or she will get something out of it. That is not a religious sentiment. It seduces the few to genuine sacrifice, by giving them religious satisfaction; for the proletariat becomes then a synonym for God. [And there are only two ultimate motive powers: the love of God and the hate of God; whichever you have, you are a believer.] To sum up: anything which requires genuine self-sacrifice tends toward a religion. [To many people, the “supernatural” means merely miracles. But when you see the meaning of “supernatural” more fully, you may still find it hard to believe, but you will see that there is nothing else in which to believe.] We have yet to attack the subject of the destructive influence of scientific enquiry upon religious belief. The influence of scientific advance upon the popular mind, in the last few hundred years, has undoubtedly been very great; but why and how this influence has been exerted is by no means asimpleproblem.Atendencytowardsbeliefinamechanistic,ascontrasted with a religious universe, is present in the work of two men who were certainly not aware of this implication of their thought. Francis Bacon and René Descartes in the seventeenth century were pious men, or at least assumed the appearance of piety; and they would have shrunk from...