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Tyndall And The Theologians
by [?]

The recent address delivered by Professor Tyndall before the British Association at Belfast, in which he “confessed” that he “prolonged the vision backward across the boundary of experimental evidence, and discerned in matter the promise and potency of every quality and form of life,” produced one by no means very surprising result. Dr. Watts, a professor of theology in the Presbyterian College in that city, was led by it to offer to read before the Biological Section of the Association a paper containing a plan of his own for the establishment of “peace and co-operation between science and religion.” The paper was, as might have been expected, declined. The author then read it before a large body of religious people, who apparently liked it, and they passed him a vote of thanks. The whole religious world, indeed, is greatly excited against both Tyndall and Huxley for their performances on this occasion, and papers by no means in sympathy with the religious world–the Pall Mall Gazette, for instance–are very severe on them for having “recourse to a style of oratory and disquisition more appropriate to the chapel than the lecture-room,” or, in other words, for using the meetings of the Association for a sort of propagandism not much superior in method to that of theological missionaries, and thus challenging the theologians to a conflict which may make it necessary, in the interest of fair play, to add a theological section to the Association. Of course, when Professor Tyndall passed “beyond the boundary of experimental evidence,” and began to see with his “mind’s eye” instead of with the microscope and telescope, he got into a region in which the theologian is not only more at home than he, but which theology claims as its exclusive domain, and in which ministers look on physicists as intruders.

But then, Dr. Watts’s “plea for peace and co-operation between science and religion” is one of many signs that theologians are, in spite of all that has as yet been said, hardly alive to the exact nature of the attitude they occupy toward science. They evidently look upon scientific men as they look on a hostile school of theologians–as the Princeton men look on the Yale men, for instance, or the New looked on the Old School Presbyterians, or the Calvinists on the Arminians–that is, as persons having a common standard of orthodoxy, but differing somewhat in their method of applying it, and who may, therefore, be induced from considerations of expediency to suppress all outward marks of divergence and work together harmoniously for the common end. All schools of theology seek the glory of God and salvation of souls, and, this being the case, differences on points of doctrine do seem trifling and capable of being put aside.

It is this way of regarding the matter which has led Dr. Watts to propose an alliance between religion and science, and which produces the arguments one sometimes sees in defence of Christianity against Positivism, drawn from a consideration of the services which Christianity has rendered to the race, and of the gloomy and desolate condition in which its disappearance would leave the world. Tyndall and Huxley do not, however, occupy the position of religious prophets or fathers. They preside over no church or other organization. They have no power or authority to draft any creed or articles which will bind anybody else, or which would have any claims on anybody’s reverence or adhesion. No person, in short, is authorized to bring science into an alliance with religion or with anything else. Such “peace and co-operation” as Dr. Watts proposed would be peace and co-operation between him and Professor Tyndall, or between the theologians and the British Association, but “peace and co-operation between science and religion” is a term which carries absurdity on its face. Science is simply a body of facts which lead people familiar with them to infer the existence of certain laws. How can it, therefore, be either at peace or war with anybody, or co-operate with anybody? What Professor Tyndall might promise would be either not to discover any more facts, or to discover only certain classes of facts, or to draw no inferences from facts which would be unfavorable to Dr. Watts’s theory of the universe; but the only result of this would be that Tyndall would lose his place as a scientific man, and others would go on discovering the facts and drawing the inferences.