To the present-day scientist, in his capacity as a scientist, the universe is simply a mechanism, a large-scale replica of the mechanical marvels that are such prominent features of our modern life, and he accords nothing but a summary dismissal to those ideas and those things which cannot be accommodated within his mechanistic framework. As expressed by Herbert J. Muller, “men of science, men given to ‘realism,’ are likely to make a clean sweep of old interests and sentiments as so much rubbish. They regard religion as superstition, metaphysics as moonshine, art as primitive pastime, and all ritual as monkey-business.” 4 It must be conceded that this disparagement of the non-scientific is not without some element of justification in view of the striking contrast between the spectacular progress of science and the relative backwardness of the non-scientific fields. Vannevar Bush states the case in this manner
The enthusiasm, the exuberance, that properly accompanies the great achievements of science, the thrill of at last beginning to understand nature and the universe about us, in all their awesome magnificence, continues to lead many men all over the world, especially young men, on to this new materialism. 5
Furthermore, the materialistically inclined scientist is actively supported and encouraged in this attitude by various modern philosophies that emphasize scientific findings and deny or belittle all claims that knowledge can be acquired by other means. Speaking particularly of logical positivism, one of the recent philosophies of this nature, C. E. M. Joad makes this comment:
Under its influence young men and women confidently affirm that there are no absolutes, that metaphysics is nonsense, that the scientific is the only method which reaches valid results and that the order of reality which science studies is the only order that there is.6
Of course, not all scientists go to these extremes, and even those who do share the definitely mechanistic viewpoint are seldom able to maintain this attitude twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Most of them lead a double life, thinking and reasoning scientifically in their offices, classrooms, and laboratories; and then, as the working day draws to a close, laying aside science and all that it implies. “At one hour scientists, at another they are Christians or common men,” says William James, “and, holding thus the two ends of the chain, they are careless of the intermediate connection.”
This divorce of the scientist’s working credo from the beliefs that govern his personal life is his way of escaping the dilemma that faces him because of the long-standing conflict between science and religion: a conflict which, in spite of all of the valiant efforts to downgrade it that have been, and are being, made by those who are distressed by the thought of having to choose between the two, grows ever sharper as the two viewpoints come more clearly into focus. “Ever since the seventeenth century,” reports Bertrand Russell, “those whom William James described as the ‘tender-minded’ have been engaged in a desperate struggle with the mechanical view of the course of nature which physical science seems to impose.”8 A. C. Benjamin expresses the same thought in these words: “One of the oldest conflicts in the history of thought is that between science and religion… the struggle… has been long and bitter.”9
The initial advantages in this long and bitter conflict were all on the side of the ecclesiastics. Thousands of years of undisputed sway over the minds of mankind had put them in an almost impregnable position, and in addition they had the enormous advantage of promulgating a doctrine which the human race wants to believe. Even the present-day scientists, with relatively few exceptions, prefer the non-scientific viewpoint, and this accounts for the fact that so many of them, not being able to reconcile religion with the scientific principles in accordance with which they carry on their daily work, evade the issue by keeping the two locked up in separate compartments of their lives.
Notwithstanding the strongly entrenched position occupied by the religious forces, the opposing scientific viewpoint has made, and is continuing to make, important gains. Like many another Great Power, the religions have overextended their positions and have come into conflict with science on the scientists’ own ground. As a result, the ecclesiastics have been forced into making a series of embarrassing—in some cases even humiliating—retreats. Even the most inflexible adherent of religious doctrine now admits that many of the religious pronouncements concerning the physical world that only a few centuries ago brought torture or death to those who dared to question them are totally false. On some other issues, such as the validity of the evolutionary theories, for example, the religious forces are themselves divided, and the viewpoint of science is rapidly gaining ground. Even more significant is the fact that there is a growing movement within religious circles to abandon the metaphysical aspects of religious doctrine and to define religious objectives in terms of human relationships.
A substantial segment of present-day theological thinking has even gone so far as to abandon reason to the scientists and to base religious doctrine on irrationality. “Religious faith,” contends Reinhold Niebuhr, “cannot be simply subordinated to reason or made to stand under its judgment,”10 and Hurlbutt reports
Wherever one looks in modern theology, there is found the constant rejection of the methods of science, of reason, whether inductive or deductive, as pathways… to the solution of man’s problems.11
Such a retreat from reason comes close to conceding defeat. Yet it would be rash to assert that the victories which science has gained in these initial skirmishes presage complete dominance in the long run. If we compare the ground that has been gained thus far with the extent of the metaphysical field as a whole, it is evident that science has thus far captured only a few outlying positions. The main bastions of religious strength have not yet been touched. There are aspects of existence which, so far as we can tell, are altogether irreconcilable with the well-disciplined universal mechanism that the scientist visualizes. As expressed by Richard Schlegel, “much of what is closest and most important to man’s interests is outside of science.” 12 The mere fact that the rank-and-file scientist still tends to leave his scientific convictions behind when he closes the door of his laboratory is sufficient evidence that the “official” position which science takes with respect to these matters is far from satisfactory even within its own ranks.
Of course, the scientist who thinks seriously about these problems is not satisfied with the religious answers either, particularly because religion furnishes none of the logical and mathematical proof that is so dear to his heart, but demands that its assertions be accepted on faith. Men of science have a strong distrust of any claim to validity that rests upon faith alone. Many of them are inclined to agree with the schoolboy quoted by William James, who defined the term in this fashion: “Faith is when you believe something that you know ain’t true.”13 Bertrand Russell is merely speaking a little more diplomatically when he defines faith as “a conviction which cannot be shaken by contrary evidence.”14 But when we dig a little deeper, we find that the scientific repudiation of faith is not nearly so definite and uncompromising as would appear on the surface.
The doctrines of the world’s great religions all rest upon a proposition which we may express in this fashion: There is an existence outside the physical universe. (This is true even where the religion is not theistic.) No proof of this assertion is offered—at least, no proof of a character acceptable to science—and we are told that it must be accepted on faith. Scientists look upon this very skeptically, and those who hold to the strictly scientific point of view reject the thesis on the ground that there is no competent evidence of such an outside existence. Every fact to which we have access, these dissenters say, can reasonably be explained in terms of the physical universe of science.
This conclusion is debatable, and will be discussed further in the subsequent pages, but in any event, even if the scientific skeptics were correct, this would not, in itself, constitute a refutation of the religious thesis. To complete the negative argument, the scientist must go a step farther and assert that there is no existence outside the physical universe. This is no more susceptible to proof than the converse proposition. The mere fact that the scientist sees nothing which he is willing to accept as evidence of such an existence does not prove anything. Hence the scientist’s acceptance of this negative proposition is another act of faith, not essentially different from the act of faith that religious belief requires.
A negative assumption has exactly the same logical standing as a positive assumption; it is only an assumption, nothing more. Thus, so far as the basic premises are concerned, the position of science with respect to metaphysical existence is not in any degree superior to that of religion. Science claims to have superior methods and procedures for treating factual matter, and has achieved some very impressive successes which tend to substantiate these claims, but these scientific methods and procedures cannot be put to use until there are some facts on which to operate, and in this instance, there has been nothing of a metaphysical nature that science would recognize as factual. It follows that no conclusion which science has heretofore reached in this area is actually scientific in the accepted sense of that term. The orthodox scientist’s conclusion that there is no metaphysical existence does not rest upon any scientific grounds; it rests solely upon the assumption that what science has not thus far been able to do—to find any factual evidence of such an existence—cannot be done: a highly presumptuous assertion that cannot be justified either on empirical or on theoretical grounds. If we look at this situation from a detached point of view, without any bias or prejudice, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that, as matters now stand, there is a stalemate. Religion cannot prove that there is a metaphysical existence, and science cannot disprove that existence.
When we pass from the general proposition of metaphysical existence to the details of that existence, the position of science becomes much stronger, in that even though it cannot prove that there is no such existence, or that such existence is improbable, it can prove that some of the specific contentions of the opposition are not valid. One serious weakness in religious dogma is that it portrays all of its tenets as emanations from the Supreme Authority and hence equally authoritative. The great multiplicity of religious beliefs with their bewildering variety of conflicting doctrines thus throws a dark cloud over religion in general. Where there is a definite conflict between two contentions, at least one of the contenders must be wrong, in part if not in total, and it is thus evident that the great majority of the world’s religions are wrong in many particulars. If all of their doctrines are equally authoritative, as most religious groups contend, then the obvious fact that errors exist in some of these doctrines leads to the conclusion that none of them is valid, at least for the reasons given.
However logical the foregoing analysis may be, it makes little impression on religious leaders or their dedicated followers, as they are not much interested in religion in general. Their vital interest is in their own particular doctrines, and here they have an invulnerable position. Each religious group simply contends that its tenets are correct and that the existence of conflicts merely shows that the beliefs held by others are wrong. As long as it is merely a question of one man’s faith against another’s, this confidence that it is everyone else who is out of step is sufficient to insulate religion against any shock due to the clash of discordant doctrines. For thousands of years, religions have assailed each other by every means at their command without in any way lessening the general conviction that some religion must be preaching the eternal truth.
The advent of science in the midst of this picture has introduced an altogether new element. Science does not say that certain religious assertions are wrong because they conflict with scientific principles; it says they are wrong because they conflict with the facts, and it is prepared to prove that point. The religious establishments have fought this proof every inch of the way, and more than one scientific “heretic” has lost his life in the combat; but neither force nor persuasion can hold the human mind captive forever, and the churches have had to concede defeat on one scientific issue after another. The claim of divine authority for all ecclesiastical pronouncements has now become a boomerang. As Whitehead puts it, “The result of the continued repetition of this undignified retreat, during many generations, has at last almost entirely destroyed the intellectual authority of religious thinkers.”15 If the most cherished tenets of religious belief have no more backing than these now discredited religious contentions, what credence can be given to any of them? Thus runs the thinking of an important segment of present-day thought, particularly among the youth who have been taught to draw their own conclusions rather than blindly accepting the word of authority.
But on sober reflection, we must recognize that there is a flaw in this argument. Religious doctrines do not emanate directly from the Higher Authority; they are promulgated by the ecclesiastical establishment ostensibly on the basis of written documents or oral traditions handed down from earlier times. Thus, all that the scientists have demonstrated by their iconoclastic victories is that the religious hierarchy was wrong in these specific instances and hence is not infallible, a point that the more “liberal” religious leaders are quite willing to concede. This being true, the hierarchy may likewise be wrong when they assert that all of the tenets of their faith emanate from the Deity and are therefore equally authoritative. Indeed, a very elementary knowledge of human nature is sufficient to suggest that the original religious doctrine, whatever it may be and however it may have originated, is likely to be liberally embroidered with additions and interpretations by the priesthood by the time it is officially promulgated to the laity.
The findings of science in this area, limited as they are to a relatively few rather peripheral sectors of religious thought, therefore do not preclude the existence of genuine metaphysical principles that are as authentic and as authoritative as the religious organizations claim. This is another of the many cases where the general tendency to find “guilt by association” is wholly unjustified. The scientist, or the college student, or the man-in-the-street who finds much of the religious doctrine with which he comes in contact unbelievable, distasteful, or even absurd, is making a serious mistake if he concludes that this invalidates all religious doctrine.
Summarizing the foregoing discussion, we may say that a careful and unbiased study of the present-day conflict between science and religion leads to the conclusion that, as matters now stand, religion is not able to demonstrate, in any factual way, the reality of any existence outside the physical universe known to the scientist. On the other hand, science is equally unable to prove that there is no such existence. Scientists have disproved some of the contentions of religious organizations, but they have no adequate grounds on which to deny the possibility that other religious assertions may be wholly or partially valid.
The thoughtful individual who tries to evaluate the realities of existence for himself can hardly be satisfied with either of these opposing positions. He cannot be satisfied with ex cathedra assertions that he is asked to accept “on faith,” which, in the present context, merely means “without proof.” But if he is unhappy about being expected to put his trust in unsupported assertions that certain metaphysical entities exist, he is likewise unhappy about being asked to believe the equally unsupported assertion that such entities do not exist—all the more so because he would very much prefer that they did exist.
He is willing to go along with the scientists’ basic premise that the universe is orderly and rational, and is sympathetic with their reluctance to concede the reality of anything of which there is no reliable physical evidence, but, at the same time, he has a strong conviction that there is an underlying purpose in man’s existence. He agrees with Fred Hoyle that “the emergence of intelligent life is not a meaningless accident.”16 He must turn, then, to religion, or at least to some form of metaphysics, as science is completely silent on this score. When we look at the situation from this viewpoint, the seemingly paradoxical behavior of the average scientist, who accepts the scientific thesis in his professional work and the religious thesis in his private life, is quite logical, after all. He does not want to give up either reason or purpose, and pending further clarification, he therefore recognizes each one in that aspect of his life in which it is most clearly applicable. Von Weizsacker, for example, tells us on page 121 of his book The Relevance of Science
Modern scientists in general find it very difficult to think of a religious interpretation of natural law as anything but an additional tenet, probably mythical and certainly not logically connected with the concept of laws of nature.17
Here he is speaking as a scientist, but on page 77 of the same book he lays his scientific convictions aside, disregards for the time being his concept of religious ideas as “probably mythical,” and states simply and unequivocally, “I am a Christian, or I should rather say: I try to be a Christian.”
For some, this has created a very difficult situation. As expressed by du Nouy
It cannot be contested that the heart of many men is the stage of a conflict between the strictly intellectual activity of the brain, based on the progress of science, and the intuitive, religious self. The greater the sincerity of the man, the more violent is the conflict.18
Edwin C. Kemble gives us this personal report
Throughout my life I have been subject to inner tension because science pulls one way, while my basic loyalty to the spirit and aspirations of Christianity pulls another. That tension is still with me.19
Others simply recognize that this is a problem that they will have to live with for the time being:
It is possible to accept the fundamentals both of science, and of religion, as enshrined in the form natural to each man, and wait patiently for time to resolve discrepancies. This attitude, held consciously or sub-consciously by more people than is generally realized, can be defended on logical and on historical grounds.20 (Sir William Dampier)
This is the situation as it stood prior to the development of the Reciprocal System of theory, the new general theory of the physical universe described in the previous scientific publications listed opposite the title page of this volume. The formulation of this comprehensive and far-reaching theory, and the demonstration that it is a true and accurate representation of the physical facts as they exist in the observable universe, now provides a much broader scientific base from which to survey the more general situation of existence as a whole. Space and time, in particular, have previously been beyond the reach of scientific techniques, and questions concerning their nature and relationship have by necessity been relegated to the metaphysical realm, in spite of the fact that they are the foundation stones upon which the physical structure stands. The development of the Reciprocal System has now brought these two basic entities within the boundaries of science. Space and time are as explicitly defined in this new theoretical system as any other physical entity; in fact, it is the explicit definition of space and time that defines the properties and relations of the entire physical universe. Hitherto, a consideration of space and time has been the first step into the great unknown beyond the reach of science. Now the definite and specific knowledge of the nature and properties of these two entities that is supplied by the Reciprocal System constitutes a solid and stable platform from which we can carry out a scientific exploration of some of the more accessible areas in the more distant realm: the regions beyond space and time.
The pages that follow present the results of such an exploration. By taking full advantage of the more advanced point of departure that is now available, it has been possible to apply scientific techniques to the resolution of a large number of metaphysical questions—a surprisingly large number, in fact. Not all of these are directly connected with religion, but previous ideas as to the reality of metaphysical existence, the characteristics of that existence, and the relations between the metaphysical existence and the physical world have come primarily from religious sources, and hence a scientific inquiry into the metaphysical field necessarily involves, among other things, a critical review of some of the most important religious doctrines. Indeed, the drastic modification of the present view of the relation between science and religion that is required by the findings of this investigation can be regarded as the most significant result of the work.
Inasmuch as religion is an emotion-charged subject, it is scarcely possible to subject religious doctrine to scientific scrutiny without arousing some intense antagonism. As James B. Conant puts it, “Any attempt to relate scientific thought to ‘the philosophical and religious ways of seeking truth’ is a perilous undertaking.”21 In order to minimize this emotional impact, at least to some degree, the presentation in this volume will be addressed specifically to scientists, more particularly those scientists who feel the need to reconcile the existing conflict between the scientific and religious influence affecting their daily lives. The conclusions reached in the study are, however, equally applicable to the human race in general.