Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


An Episcopal Trilogy
by [?]

I do not see that the most convinced evolutionist could ask any one, whether cleric or layman, to say more than this; in fact, I do not think that any one has a right to say more, with respect to any question about which two opinions can he held, than that his mind is perfectly open to the force of evidence.

There is another portion of the Bishop of Bedford’s sermon which I think will be warmly appreciated by all honest and clear-headed men. He repudiates the views of those who say that theology and science

occupy wholly different spheres, and need in no way intermeddle with each other. They revolve, as it were, in different planes, and so never meet. Thus we may pursue scientific studies with the utmost freedom and, at the same time, may pay the most reverent regard to theology, having no fears of collision, because allowing no points of contact (p. 29).

Surely every unsophisticated mind will heartily concur with the Bishop’s remark upon this convenient refuge for the descendants of Mr. Facing-both-ways. “I have never been able to understand this position though I have often seen it assumed.” Nor can any demurrer be sustained when the Bishop proceeds to point out that there are, and must be, various points of contact between theological and natural science, and therefore that it is foolish to ignore or deny the existence of as many dangers of collision.

Finally, the Bishop of Manchester freely admits the force of the objections which have been raised, on scientific grounds, to prayer, and attempts to turn them by arguing that the proper objects of prayer are not physical but spiritual. He tells us that natural accidents and moral misfortunes are not to be taken for moral judgments of God; he admits the propriety of the application of scientific methods to the investigation of the origin and growth of religions; and he is as ready to recognise the process of evolution there, as in the physical world. Mark the following striking passage:–

And how utterly all the common objections to Divine revelation vanish away when they are set in the light of this theory of a spiritual progression. Are we reminded that there prevailed, in those earlier days, views of the nature of God and man, of human life and Divine Providence, which we now find to be untenable? That, we answer, is precisely what the theory of development presupposes. If early views of religion and morality had not been imperfect, where had been the development? If symbolical visions and mythical creations had found no place in the early Oriental expression of Divine truth, where had been the development? The sufficient answer to ninety-nine out of a hundred of the ordinary objections to the Bible, as the record of a divine education of our race, is asked in that one word–development. And to what are we indebted for that potent word, which, as with the wand of a magician, has at the same moment so completely transformed our knowledge and dispelled our difficulties? To modern science, resolutely pursuing its search for truth in spite of popular obloquy and–alas! that one should have to say it–in spite too often of theological denunciation (p. 53).

Apart from its general importance, I read this remarkable statement with the more pleasure, since, however imperfectly I may have endeavoured to illustrate the evolution of theology in a paper published in the Nineteenth Century last year,[29] it seems to me that in principle, at any rate, I may hereafter claim high theological sanction for the views there set forth.

If theologians are henceforward prepared to recognise the authority of secular science in the manner and to the extent indicated in the Manchester trilogy; if the distinguished prelates who offer these terms are really plenipotentiaries, then, so far as I may presume to speak on such a matter, there will be no difficulty about concluding a perpetual treaty of peace, and indeed of alliance, between the high contracting powers, whose history has hitherto been little more than a record of continual warfare. But if the great Chancellor’s maxim, “Do ut des,” is to form the basis of negotiation, I am afraid that secular science will be ruined; for it seems to me that theology, under the generous impulse of a sudden conversion, has given all that she hath; and indeed, on one point, has surrendered more than can reasonably be asked.