The Necessity of Atheism (Brooks)/Chapter VI

Science, then, commands our respect, not on the basis that its present assumptions and deductions are absolutely and for all time true, but on the ground that its method is for all time true the method of discovery, the method of observation, research, experimentation, comparison, examination, testing, analysis and synthesis. Maynard Shipley, "The War on Modern Science."

In the bare three and one-half centuries since modern science began, the churches had conducted an unremitting crusade against it. That much of this crusade had turned into a rear-guard action was due less to the weakness of the defenders of the faith than to the invulnerability of their non-resistant victim. Horace M. Kallen, "Why Religion?"

Some sixty years ago in the "Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith," the Church stated, "But never can reason be rendered capable of thoroughly understanding mysteries as it does those truths which form its proper subject. We, therefore, pronounce false every assertion which is contrary to the enlightened truth of faith ... Hence, all the Christian faithful are not only forbidden to defend as legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to te contrary to the doctrine of faith, especially when condemned by the Church, but are rather absolutely bound to hold them for errors wearing the deceitful appearance of truth. Let him be anathema ...

"Who shall say that human sciences ought to be pursued in such a spirit of freedom that one may be allowed to hold true their assertions even when opposed to revealed doctrine."

Can anything stronger be said to discourage research, investigation, experiment, and retard progress? And only sixty years ago! It is but the restatement of what the Church has uttered so many times and for so long that all knowledge, material as well as spiritual, is to be found in the Bible as interpreted by the Church. It was this myth which had stultified the mind of man for 1500 years (during the period in which the Church was dominant); it was this that had killed the urge to search and seek for the truth, which is the goal of all science, the means by which humanity is set on the road to progress. This was the damnable precept foisted on the minds of men which enslaved them throughout the ages, and from which we are just emerging. This was the precept that plunged the world into the Dark Ages, and retarded the advance of mankind for centuries.

This is the reason that it is utterly impossible for the intellectually honest scientist, and for that matter any individual, to reconcile science with religion. On the one hand, that of religion, we have the forces of intolerance, superstition, and the endeavor to besmirch, repress, and ridicule every advance favorable to mankind; to cloak with meaningless words obsolete rites, to stand in the way of human progress, because it does not permit men to think boldly and logically. Science, on the other hand, does not hesitate to tear down old conceptions, and has only one motive, the ultimate truth. Religion has the purpose of keeping the masses in the narrow and false path of only accepted doctrines. The true scientist is the man with the open mind, one who will discard the worthless and accept only the proven good. The religionist closes his mind to all facts which he is unwilling to believe, everything which will endanger his creed. Religion teaches the individual to place all hope, all desire, in a problematical hereafter. The stay on earth is so short compared to the everlasting life to come, that of what interest is this life; all things are vain. The misery, the suffering, of his fellow men leave him cold; he can only think of living in the light of his narrow creed so that he may gain his future reward. How well this philosophy has fitted in with the schemes of the select few for the control of the many!

Truth to the scientific mind is something provisional, a hypothesis that for the present moment best conforms to the recognized tests. It is an evolving conception in a constantly changing universe. It is not that science has attained true conclusions; not that the evidence at hand must remain immutable; but that the scientific method of analyzing and formulating assumptions on the basis of discovery, on ascertained facts, is a superior method to the closed "infallible" method of "revelation." These assumptions, based upon the known facts, lead to a working hypothesis which in turn develops into a theory. If the theory is adopted it must account for the facts known. But the theory is not held as final, it is always changed or abandoned if necessary to conform to the new discovered data. Science welcomes the critical attitude that leads to the refinement of its theories. There may be today various theories held by scientists in which they are mistaken, but the question of the method by which they arrive at conclusions can no longer be under consideration with regard to its validity.

To the scientific mind, knowledge is something to be arrived at by study and research. To the religionist, knowledge is something that is contained in an infallible and supernatural statement or insight. Religion exalts the transcendental; science manipulates only the material. To the consistent religionist, his belief, as such, determine the fact; to the scientist it is the evidence that establishes the fact. To the religionist truth is something that is unchanging, that is fixed, final, and heretical to question. Confronted with a constantly changing universe, he would delude himself that his inner convictions give him a finality concerning his evolving environment. It is therefore not so much Science that the religionist is fighting, but the scientific method. This scientific method of approach, he rightly perceives, has so pervaded our mode of thinking that it is the subtle and most disintegrating force that is shattering the religious foundations.

Dr. James T. Shotwell, speaking of the scientific method, concludes, "But whatever strictures philosophy may pass upon the conclusions of science, as merely, relative and provisional, there is no clearer fact in the history of thought, that its attitudes and methods have been at opposite poles from those of religion. It does no good to blink the fact, established as it is by the most positive proofs of history and psychology. Science has made headway by attempting to eliminate mystery so far as it can. Religion, on the other hand, has stressed mystery and accepted it in its own terms. Science is the product of bold adventure, pushing into the realm of the mysterious to interpret its phenomena in terms of the investigator; religion enters this same realm to give itself up to the emotional reactions. Science is the embodiment of the sense of control, religion yields the control to that power which moves in the shadow of the woods by night, and the glory of the morning hills ...

"Science does not justify by faith, but by works. It is the living denial of that age-long acceptance which we accord to the mystery—as such. It renounces authority, cuts athwart custom, violates the sacred, rejects the myths. It adjusts itself to the process of change whose creative impulse it itself supplies. Not semper idem but semper alterum is the keynote of science. Each discovery of something new involves the discarding of something old. Above all, it progresses by doubting rather than by believing." ( James T. Shotwell: "The Religious Revolution of To-day.")

There has never been an advance in science of widespread importance which in some manner or other endangered some mouldy religious concept, that the Church has not bitterly opposed; an advance which in time has proven of inestimable benefit for all mankind. A glance at the history of human progress will reveal scores of such instances.

The two rival divisions of the Christian Church, Protestant and Catholic, have always been in accord on one point, that is, to tolerate no science except such as they considered to be agreeable to the Scriptures. It was the decree of the Lateran Council of 1515 that ordered that no books should be .printed but such as had been inspected by the ecclesiastical censors, under pain of excommunication and fine.

It is easily understood that having declared the Bible to contain all knowledge both scientific and spiritual, and then passing a decree ordering no books to be printed which did not agree on all points with the Church's interpretation of the Bible, the Church was in absolute control of all thought, both written and spoken.

It was to no advantage for the scholar, to investigate any new fields, for all knowledge which was possible for the mind to discover had already been revealed in the Scriptures. Thus declared the Church. We understand why it was that Copernicus did not permit his book to be published until he was dying. We understand also that when Galileo and Bruno had the courage of their convictions, and gave voice to their beliefs, they were persecuted. Galileo was made to recant a discovery that the youngest of children now takes for granted. Bruno was burnt at the stake.

We know that astronomy was at a standstill under Church domination, chemistry was forbidden, and the study of natural philosophy was contradicted; while anthropology, which showed on what mythical foundations the story of the fall of man rests, was squelched. The attitude of the Church on geography was hostile to the truth, as witness the persecutions of those who dared to venture that the earth was round. Botany, mathematics, and geometry, as well as the natural sciences, slumbered. Geology, which proved that the earth was more than 6000 years old, was anathematized; archeologists had the greatest difficulty to expound the truth concerning the antiquity of the human race. In purely civil matters, the clergy opposed fire and marine insurance on the ground that it was a tempting of Providence. Life insurance was regarded as an act of interference with the consequence of God's will. Medicine met the most strenuous of opposition.

It is impossible in this short study to analyze the specific forms of retardation which the Church exhibited to all of these branches of learning, whose only endeavor it was to search for the truth, to state the facts, and to alleviate and make more bearable man's sojourn on this earth. However, a few of the many instances of retardation on the part of the Church will be pointed out.