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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

"Science Has No God

page 2

"Science Has No God.

The first thought, perhaps, that may occur to you in connection with this question may be that science teaches nothing whatever about God. Scores of scientific men and hundreds of dabblers in science will vehemently assert this. Multitudes of Christian clergymen will echo the assertion, and add that the Divine light shines only from the sacred pages of the Bible. I do not at all dispute the truth of these assertions, taken in the sense in which they are made. If there is no God but that preached in the majority of Christian pulpits even at the present day, I admit unreservedly at the outset that science knows nothing, and will know nothing, of any such God as that. Thousands affirm him, believing themselves to be theists. Other thousands deny him, believing themselves to be atheists. But in all ages and lands there have been men whose ideas of God have been as high above the popular ideas of him as the Alps are high above the flats of France. Socrates, you remember, was arraigned before the Athenian dikasts for atheism, but he replied:—"Should I by my entreaties persuade or force you to break your oath of impartiality, I should teach you to believe there are no gods, and, even while making my defence, should accuse myself of not believing in the gods. But this is far from the truth, for I believe, O Athenians, as none of my accusers believes." Philosophy has long cherished thoughts about the Divine by the side of which the teachings of Christian theology stand no higher than the barbarian notions of which Sir John Lubbock gives an account:—"When Burton spoke to the Eastern Negroes about the Deity, they eagerly asked where he was to be found, in order that they might kill him; for they said, 'Who but he lays waste our homes, and kills our wives and cattle?' . . . . An old woman, belonging to that Arab tribe [Eesa,] having a toothache, offered up the following prayer: 'Oh, Allah, may thy teeth ache like mine! Oh, Allah, may thy gums be as sore as mine!'" [The Origin of Civilization, p. 131.]

When, therefore, narrow-minded people blame me for using the word God in a higher than the popular sense, and attribute it to an unworthy desire of evading the reproach of atheism, I reply that I judge it right to let the great philosophical believers or all ages define it for me, rather than the little clerical believers of the day,—just as I let the great savans define the meaning of the word sun, rather than the page 3 ignorant people who know nothing of the revelations of science concerning its true physical nature. If the word God represented to my thought nothing that is really existent, I would discard it; and if the word sun represented nothing that is really existent, I would discard it also. But so long as both words stand for what I believe to be great and glorious realities, I must retain them both, and not permit the ignorance of the many to extinguish the knowledge of the few.

Scientific men, it is true, are very shy of the word God, and usually turn it over to the Church as exclusively ecclesiastical property. The Church has so long claimed a monopoly of religious ideas, and made such a bad use of them too, that scientific men have-hitherto been nearly unanimous in declaring that, they find no place in science. When, therefore, I speak of "the God of science," I would be understood distinctly as not meaning "the God of scientific men." Each of these must speak for himself, or, if he prefers, keep silence for himself. I intend only to draw forth from the great treasury of scientific truth a few gold coins which have been strangely mistaken for copper—to show, if I can, that science itself has already made discoveries which possess an unadmitted religious value, and to point out that the present tendencies of science are in the direction, not of atheism, but of an enlightened theism.