Source: Sheed and Ward, Inc.1935;
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The Albany Hotel
October 15, 1931.
DEAR HALDANE, It has always seemed to me a pity that the Christians and anti-Christians so seldom engage in battle on the same ground. You inform the listening world through the medium of the B.B.C. that the "creeds are full of obsolete science" and that Christianity is dead, and the following Sunday a parson preaches a sermon on the wireless. The devout don't listen to you, or the undevout to the parson. You, I suppose, believe that your creed if generally adopted would increase the sum total of human happiness, and you would, I suppose, view with alarm any possibility of Christianity regaining its mediaeval hold on the human mind. But doubtless you consider that prospect remote. Now I have often wondered whether the kind of creed which you preach through the medium of the B.B.C. is ever intended to be anything more than the eclectic creed of a select minority of clever men with interesting work and interesting lives. Are you, in other words, in the least interested in converting the world to your point of view? I suspect not. Are you prepared to take real trouble to reach the unconverted, the victims of superstition? If you are, the proposal which I shall put forward will appeal to you. If, on the other hand, you are not quite so confident about your own philosophy as you would wish to be, and far from confident that it would prove of any value to the mass of your countrymen, you will refuse. Also you are a busy man and will be entitled to decline on that ground. Briefly, I suggest that you and I should collaborate in a book to consist in a series of informal letters in which you would defend your creed and attack mine and in which I should defend mine and attack yours. The advantage of this scheme is that you would reach the people that read my books, and I should reach the public that read your books. A book of this kind is rather fun. It is less formidable than sitting down to write a book by oneself. One dashes off a letter, and one is stimulated to continue by the other chap's reply. It is rather like playing correspondence chess. I can speak with experience, because I have just completed a book of this type with Ronald Knox on Roman Catholicism. May I quote a passage from Knox's last letter? "I am grateful to you for the spirit and vigour of your attack. It is very hard for the Catholic apologist to find a battle-ground where straight issues are to be fought; his opponents, that is those who count, are usually content with a sneer here, an undocumented charge there, in the course of some treatise which has nothing ostensibly to do with religion; they do not trail their coats as of old." And this is true of Christianity in general. It is very difficult for a Christian to persuade his opponents to meet him in open battle. But, though I am far from sanguine, I have a faint hope that this challenge may appeal to your combative instincts.
October 21, 1931.
DEAR LUNN, Your challenge displayed, I suspect, a considerable insight into my psychology. If you had said that I wrote or spoke unreasonably, ignorantly, or in bad faith, I should have been mildly amused and annoyed. But you wonder whether my creed is "intended to be anything more than the eclectic creed of a select minority of men with interesting work and interesting lives." Now I happen to regard it as likely that the present rather alarming condition of the human race is largely due to the fact that at present my creed (I object to this word, but we can thrash that out later) is only the creed of a minority, select perhaps, but with little direct influence on human affairs. The whole human race is affected by applied science. Only a very few of them even realize the nature of scientific thought. Much less do they practise it. I find it difficult to believe that the type of thinking which has given us so much power over nature would not enable us to solve a great many of our human problems. Perhaps you will induce me to alter my opinion. I will go further, and say that in my opinion a society in which a creed was held by a "select" minority, and kept from the vulgar herd, would inevitably become increasingly hypocritical, and probably grossly unjust. Here I am on less solid ground, and perhaps merely rationalizing my emotions. When, in the same paragraph, you suggest that I am not quite as confident about my own philosophy as I might wish to be, you leave me cold. I doubt whether the system of statements which I regard as probably true deserves the name of a philosophy. And I am more, not less, confident about it than I wish to be. I have not adequately examined the grounds on which I hold some of my opinions. Even had I done so to the best of my ability I have no doubt that I should be mistaken in many instances. However, in spite of this scepticism I think that I am probably nearer to the truth than you. Hence I accept your challenge. Our first difficulty will be to find out what the other believes, or at least regards as probable. My task will be the easier. You are a Christian, and I shall assume that, with perhaps minor reservations, you stand by the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. I will not add the Athanasian, which, in any case, has suffered seriously in translation. I also assume that you hold certain doctrines, such as the goodness of God and the wickedness of polygamy, which are not explicitly stated in the creeds (nor is the latter in the Bible), but which are generally held by Christians. You will find it much harder, I fear, to pin me down. I certainly do not believe all that Darwin wrote, all that Wells, Russell, or Hogben write. Worse still, I do not now believe all that I have myself written. And, on the whole, my beliefs are a good deal more provisional than I imagine yours to be. Before you have done with me you will regard me as a slippery customer, an unfair controversialist, and a nebulous thinker. This last I am because (as I am well aware) the verbal and other symbols which I employ in thinking are inadequate to describe the universe. You will look back with regret on the happy days when you engaged with Father Knox, who is bound to defend any statement found in the Penny Catechism, and who, I suppose, has spent as much time in controversy with his fellows as I have done in trying to discover new facts about the world. This demands a very different technique, because, when I frame a scientific hypothesis, my first task, if I am true to my own principles, is to try my hardest to disprove it. His task, which is both more congenial to most minds and a better preparation for controversy, has been to find further support for opinions of which he is already convinced. I shall therefore be fighting with one hand behind my back. But I shall have two advantages over you. In your correspondence with Knox you and he will have had a good deal of common ground. You both agree to many statements which I regard as probably false, and which, during the course of your argument, you have not examined closely; You will now have to turn round and fight in the opposite direction. In addition, I shall try my arguments on my wife before submitting them to your criticism. I suggest that in your reply you should both attack and defend. On the one hand I ask you to controvert some statement of mine; on the other to defend some theory which you regard as highly probable or certain, while I do not; for example, that the world was made by an almighty and perfectly good person. I should like, I must confess, to deal with the argument used, I think, by St. Thomas and Maimonides before him, which both you and Knox have adopted. This argument purports to prove the existence of a creator from the impossibility of an infinite regress. However, I must not dictate the course of the controversy. Your move, sir.
J. B. S. HALDANE.
October 30, 1931.
DEAR HALDANE, I shall not quarrel with you over your enthusiasm for scientific thought, for I agree with you that most of our secular troubles are due to lack of scientific thinking. The scientific method might, I suppose, be defined as the method which enables us to infer general laws from facts accurately observed and accurately recorded, and I imagine that you would be prepared to accept as a fair statement of the scientific ideal the following words of Thomas Huxley: "Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." There is nothing wrong with the scientific method; indeed, I should like to see it in more general use in the scientific world. My real quarrel with the majority of scientists is that they refuse to apply the scientific method to religion. You suggest that your beliefs are "a good deal more provisional" than mine. I am not so sure. In the first place, I think that both of us could describe ourselves as agnostics, had not that word acquired a purely sectarian meaning. The word "agnostic" should have been reserved not for those who reject the supernatural, but for any thinker, Christian or sceptic, who regards his solution to the great enigma as tentative and provisional rather than as final. Similarly, that useful word "gnostic," had it not been cornered by an early heresy, should have been used to describe those who believe that they have hit on a "gnosis," and who are confident that they have discovered the solution to the riddle of the universe. My brother, for instance, who writes under the name of Hugh Kingsmill is a gnostic, but not a Christian, and I am inclined to think that your father is also gnostic rather than agnostic by temperament. Here is a sentence from his last book: " It is not to the conception of a perfect God existing apart from what is clearly a very imperfect universe that philosophy leads us." An agnostic, in my sense of the word, would have concluded that sentence, "that my philosophy leads me." Moreover, an agnostic would probably have preferred as the title for these lectures, "The Philosophy of a Biologist," rather than "The Philosophical Basis of Biology." Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that we should use established words, such as "agnostic," in any but their established sense. An accurate and unambiguous terminology is, as Aquinas has realized and many of our modern thinkers do not realize, as valuable in religion as in science. The adoption of Julian Huxley's proposal, for instance, to use the word "God" to signify "No-God," would scarcely make for clear thinking. I am only concerned to emphasize the distinction between those who do, and those who do not, regard their own philosophy as tentative and provisional, and to draw attention to the fact that our present terminology does not provide appropriate terms for this dichotomy. You ask me to state my beliefs. I became an agnostic in the more usual sense of that word at the age of seventeen, as the result of reading Leslie Stephen's Agnostic's Apology. I waded conscientiously through the publications of the R.P.A., with the melancholy result that my faith in the rationalism of the Rationalists was gravely unsettled. I am sceptical by nature. I am convinced by evidence, not by assertion, and I could find no evidence for the great dogma of the Rationalists: "Miracles do not occur." Moreover, I soon discovered that whereas the code of the Christian is a logical deduction from the Christian's creed, there is no rational relationship between the faith and the code of a high-minded materialist. I was disappointed in my hope of building up a reasoned creed from Rationalism, so I re-examined the case for orthodoxy, with the result that I should be prepared to defend the first article in the Creed, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty." Again, I have devoted a good deal of time to the search for some natural explanation of the events of the first Easter Sunday, but have been driven back on the orthodox view as the only satisfactory solution of the greatest of all historical problems. I am therefore prepared to defend against your criticism the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. I should like to make it clear that my convictions are not the product of religious experience, for my religious experience is nil. The contrast between a living faith in Christ and an intellectual acceptance of the Resurrection is the contrast between a tropical forest and the stuffed exhibits in a natural history museum; but though I have no religious experience of my own, it would be as unscientific of me to deny the validity of religious experience as it would I be for a man who was born blind to deny the reality of colour. Our first task is, as you say, "to find out what the other believes." It is, however, equally important to analyse the process whereby we have arrived at our belief. I must therefore challenge your assumption that my approach to religious truth differs radically from your approach to scientific truth. You refer to Father Knox, and you state that his main interest is "to find further support for opinions of which he is already convinced." If this were really the case, he would clearly never have changed from a low churchman to an Anglo-Catholic, or from an Anglo-Catholic to a Roman Catholic. "When I frame a scientific hypothesis," you write, "my first task, if I am true to my own principles, is to try my hardest to disprove it." But why should this admirable method be confined to scientific hypotheses? Why not apply it to the religious hypothesis, which I imagine you have always held, that the Resurrection is a myth? Whether you have, in point of fact, applied this method to religious no less than to scientific hypotheses, is for you to say. So far as I am concerned, I know that I do not hold a single religious belief that I have not at some time or another made every effort to disprove. And to convince you that I am not merely trying to steal your thunder, let me quote from the proofs of my book with Father Knox, which lie before me as I write. After pointing out that no dogma "is regarded as sacrosanct in the scientific world," I continue: "Indeed the laws of religious research may be not dissimilar to the laws of scientific research. We have no more right to expect to be spoon-fed in religion than in science. Religious truth may be the reward of research as arduous as that which is the price paid for scientific discoveries. Truth in religion, like truth in science, may be separated from falsehood by a long process of trial and error. The experimental method may be the right method in religion no less than in science. I claim, therefore, that we agree so far as method is concerned, but I realize the difficulty of convincing you of this fact. Scientists have been amazingly successful in persuading both themselves and the general public that a man's attitude to truth is determined by the position of his collar-stud; in other words, that bishops who button their collars behind are biased, and that scientists who button their collars in front are always impartial. I should like, with your permission, to devote my next to letter to this important question, and I shall submit for your examination several instances, some from your own works, which seem to me to show that scientists are as strongly prejudiced as theologians against new facts or new arguments which conflict with their own a priori conceptions of the universe. Briefly, then, I am prepared not only to defend my creed and to criticize yours, but also to try to show that my method of arriving at my religious beliefs is more scientific than yours. I hope that the outline of your creed will appear in your next letter. Meanwhile there is a problem of terminology which you may be able to solve. You will not, I suppose, object to being described as a representative of a school of thought which disbelieves in a supernatural revelation and which bases its chief hopes for this world on the development of or the scientific spirit. These two beliefs, negative and positive, represent, as I think you will agree, the H.C.F. of yourself and men like H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and Julian Huxley. There is unfortunately no satisfactory label for this school. I won't call you a Rationalist, as this would in effect be tantamount to admitting that Christians are anti-rational; nor will I accept a label which would give colour to the error that there is any conflict between religion and science. Some scientists share your views and others do not. At the moment I can think of nothing better than secularist, but perhaps you can suggest something better.
July 23, 1932.
Your letter of October 30th suggests that we may, after all, arrive at some common ground. But before replying to it in general may I deal with some details. You suggest that the scientific method is "the method which enables us to infer general laws from facts accurately observed and accurately recorded." This is not what I mean by scientific method. It is only a small part of that method, and not, I think, the most characteristically scientific part. In the first place, it is incredibly difficult to observe some facts accurately, or to record them. To observe them we need a special technique; to record them, special symbols. I expect that Galileo spent far longer in making his telescope than in discovering Jupiter's satellites. Again, as a plant-breeder I can only record my flower-colours with the aid of a most elaborate set of colours called the "Code des Couleurs des Chrysanthemistes." Now, I do not think that on the whole religious literature abounds in accurate observations and records of fact. For example, assuming that the resurrection of Jesus was a fact, it was inaccurately, or at least very inadequately, recorded by at least three of the evangelists, since their accounts do not quite tally. A still more important part of scientific method is the devising of experiments or observations to test a hypothesis. I would go further and say that, from the scientific point of view, a hypothesis which cannot be tested by the fact that it enables us to predict a previously unpredictable phenomenon is a mere set of words. Some very great scientists, such as Faraday and Pasteur, have been predominantly experimenters rather than inferrers of general laws. For example, no one now takes Faraday's "tubes of force" between electrically charged bodies very seriously, but they enabled him to predict a mass of verifiable facts. So with Pasteur's views on alcoholic fermentation. They were right enough to guide him towards a host of facts, but I am quite prepared to believe that St. Thomas Aquinas would have drawn truer deductions than Pasteur from these facts. Your quotation from T. H. Huxley is interesting just because he was essentially an observer rather than an experimenter. Your experimenter does not "sit down before fact as a little child," or "follow humbly to whatever abysses nature leads." He does his best to take charge of the situation. Like a skilful barrister, he places nature in the witness-box and asks her simple questions, one at a time, being guided by his preconceived notions, but ready to give them up if they do not tally with the evidence. So much for scientific method. I agree with you that my father is willing to carry his argument rather further from observable facts than I am, and I note that, like Lepidus in Julius Caesar, you are willing to sacrifice your brother as a make-weight to him. I also agree that there is (at least in many cases) "no rational relationship between the faith and the code of a high-minded materialist." But I disagree with you as to the great dogma of the rationalists, "Miracles do not occur." My own intellectual attitude to miracles is much the same as Hume's. I will try to make it clear by considering an event which, so far from being miraculous, is quite possible. After the cards have been well shuffled a dealer at bridge may deal out one complete suit to each player. The odds against this event are, however (unless I have made a mistake, which is quite likely), about 4,470,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to one. Let us divide this figure by a billion to allow for inadequate shuffling. Now if in your next letter you tell me that you have twice observed this phenomenon I shall say, "I have a high regard for Lunn both as a truthful man and an accurate observer; but I think it much more likely that he is lying or mad, or that he was deliberately deceived, than that the events he described really occurred." So with most miracles. They are events which I judge to be highly improbable, though I cannot give a numerical estimate of the improbability. I shall only believe them if I judge that the improbability that their narrators were deceiving or deceived is still greater. Now with regard to two types of "miracle," I think that the probabilities are fairly even. One is the type in which a medium or other person becomes possessed of knowledge by abnormal channels. The other is the type of healing performed at Lourdes. Most of the Lourdes miracles could, I think, be paralleled in ordinary medical practice. Skin diseases suddenly clear up, often, I suspect, through the patient's faith in electrical apparatus. Cancers are alleged to do so, but post-mortem examination shows that about ten per cent of diagnoses of cancer are false. Still, one or two of the more surprising Lourdes miracles, such as the immediate healing of a suppurating fracture of eight years' standing, seem to me to be possibly true, and, if so, very remarkable and worth investigating, although if they were shown to be true they would not prove the particular theory of their origin current at Lourdes. But when we come to a really good miracle, involving not an unusual biological process, but a violation of those physical laws which hold both in living and non-living systems, I need much more convincing evidence. I agree that some mediums (or other beings acting through them) have done things which their audiences could not explain. But I have seen conjurers doing as much. And as I know that a great many mediums producing "physical phenomena" have been detected in fraud, I consider it more probable that the remainder are deceiving, deceived, or both, than that they are responsible for sudden breaks in the continuity of nature. I am quite willing to discuss any particular case that you like. But please do not ask me to investigate one. The average conjurer baffles me completely, and if I cannot detect a conjurer in bright light, I certainly should not detect a fraudulent medium in partial darkness. With regard to the miracles in the Bible, I should find them so much easier to believe were it not for Mark xvi. I verses 17 and 18: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall I speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." The preceding verse stated "He that believeth not shall be damned." Now here I have a statement on the same authority as that for Jesus' miracles. It is a statement that I can test. Do you honestly think that no believing Christian has ever been poisoned, and that every victim of poisoning in Europe to-day is damned? Of course not. But I shall be interested to hear just how you do get round that particular text. If it were not for a few statements of that character which one can test by the evidence of one's senses to-day, the Bible would be vastly more credible than it actually is. So much for miracles for the moment. You will doubtless be able to ask me why I consider a violation of certain physical laws improbable, and why I regard certain very surprising events, such as the descent of man from fish, as having probably happened. Now with regard to the Christian attitude. I am quite prepared to stick to my remark about Father Knox, unless he has changed his mind since writing the last of his theological books that I have read. He believes that reason will convince any right-thinking man of the existence of God; and a study of the Bible and perhaps other documents has further persuaded Father Knox that God was incarnate in Jesus, and founded an institution called the Catholic Church. This, he holds, is quite a sufficient reason for believing in its dogmas. But, like any other Catholic philosopher, he is quite willing to so his best to persuade himself and the world that these dogmas form a coherent system. He further holds, I take it, that faith is a virtue, and that the more firmly he believes in these dogmas the better a man he is. I take it that your attitude to faith is somewhat different, or you would not have tried your best to disprove your religious beliefs. It is, you see, very largely the Christian theory of faith which has made scientists and others believe that bishops are biased. After all, if you recite the Athanasian creed, which contains the statement that unless a person holds the Catholic faith as there defined "without doubt he shall perish everlastingly," it creates a certain presumption that you will try to avoid that fate, even at the expense of your intellectual integrity. If it were known that I thought that I should lose my job (a small matter compared with losing my soul) if I felt doubts on the efficacy of vaccination, natural selection, or Dumas' method of nitrogen determination, my statements on those topics would be received with less respect than they are now. The bishops cannot have it both ways. They use the theory that faith is a virtue as a method of propaganda, and expect us to believe that this theory does not affect their judgment. But in your next letter you are going to condemn me out of my own fountain-pen, and prove that my proper place is on the bishops' bench rather than in the professor's chair. So perhaps the less I say against bishops the better. However, in answering your letter, I have stated a part of my case against religions, and more particularly Christianity and Islam, which make faith a virtue. In the past millions of people have stifled their own reason, and hundreds of thousands have been killed and tortured because doubt was regarded as a sin. Today this attitude does not greatly affect your or my intellectual freedom. But it emphatically affects that of the average citizen. The ordinary child in England is taught a diluted Christianity and a vastly more diluted science. He or she never hears the scientific anti-religious view of people like myself, nor, I should suppose, the intellectual case for Christianity. He is not given the case for or against evolution, and I should like to see him given both (say a little book by me, with caustic foot-notes by you). It is the same when he grows up. Look at the B.B.C. talks on Science and Religion this spring. The case against religion was entrusted to Huxley, who thinks he is religious, and Malinowski, who would like to be, rather than to an outright opponent of religion, like Keith or Chalmers Mitchell. Hence when the average person drifts away from religion he finds no substitute for it, and makes himself and others miserable. I do not think the scientific attitude to those who attack what you might call the dogmas of science is quite so bigoted. For example, I admit to a certain exasperation when Mr. Joad attacks Darwinism with a sublime indifference to a mass of known facts, but I am delighted to read a really well-informed anti-Darwinian book like Berg's Nomogenesis, because the true theory of evolution, whatever it is, will have to explain a lot of Berg's facts. I doubt if a similar attitude is very common among professional religionists, simply because, as I think, they are biased by the theory that faith is a virtue, whereas I hold that clear thinking is a virtue, even if at first it leads to false conclusions. I hasten to add that I do not suppose that I always live up to my principles, and have no doubt that you will be able to catch me out in violating them. I shall not be too ashamed of a moderate number of such lapses. I am, after all, human. Similarly, I will forgive you for begging the question when you speak of having searched for a natural explanation of the events of the first Easter Sunday. The facts to be then explained are the existence of several accounts of these events, and of organizations inculcating a belief in them. You want to know what I believe, and how I came to believe it. I probably do not believe anything as firmly as you do. For example, I am prepared to admit the possibility that I am nothing but a biologically and socially convenient fiction, that some hundreds of millions of Buddhists, in fact, are correct in referring to "the illusion of personal identity." In any case, our words and other symbols are so inadequate to reality that it seems likely that any statement which can be made on any subject contains if at least an element of falsehood, unless, perhaps, it is a purely logical statement. Certainly our ordinary ideas about space, time, matter, and so on prove misleading when pressed too far. But, for all that, there are statements which are true enough for practical purposes. "My wife is in the next room," "I own a motor-car," and so on, the sort of statements on which an intelligent jury forms its opinion. I believe very strongly in the truth of a vast number of statements of this kind. Others, such as "Cerdic was a leader of a Saxon invasion of southern England," seem to me highly probable, but not certain. Others, again — for example, "Jesus changed water into wine" seem to me definitely improbable. Some propositions about the remote past — for example, the evolution of man from animal ancestors — seem to me rather more probable than the existence of Cerdic, but less so than that of Queen Anne. There are also some general truths of a timeless character — for example, "Twice two are four" — in which I believe pretty thoroughly. On the other hand, any general statements that I may make about the universe are likely to contain a large element of falsehood, because my words are not suited to such statements. I have certainly no clear beliefs about it to pit against your "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." I could, I think, give you fairly good reasons for my "belief" in all the statements which I regard as highly probable. You are interested in my reasons for regarding some statements, such as the truth of various miracles, as improbable. I think it is up to you to tell me why you believe in them, but if you ask me to I will take the contrary course. I acquired my more disputable beliefs in much the same way as you acquired your belief in Queen Anne or Kerguelen Island. I tested some of the relevant facts and took the rest on trust, believing that I could test most of the others if I took the trouble. I never believed in the major miracles, any more than (I suppose) you ever believed that Mars begat Romulus and Remus. I had plenty of Christian propaganda, and some for other beliefs, such as Judaism, materialism, and theosophy, pumped into me. None of it has convinced me. Now let me give you some points. I agree that there is often no rational relationship between the faith and (moral) code of a high-minded Rationalist. I, at any rate, do not claim to know enough about the universe to say what connexion there is between, say, the starry heavens and the moral law. You believe, I take it, that God made both. I am also willing to be called a secularist, though I don't much like the word. But provided you do not call me to account for all the remarks of other secularists, I accept the label, as conveying something more positive than the word "infidel." I feel, by the way, that I owe you a written apology for my delay of some eight months in answering your letter. I had to grapple with the proofs of two of my books, one in German, and some purely personal events threw a good deal of other extra work on me. I did not feel able to answer you until I had taken a holiday. But my conduct might legitimately serve to confirm your belief (if you hold it) that infidels are not to be trusted. I hope that in your reply you will not only expose my inconsistencies, but your own grounds for belief in statements which I find improbable.
J. B. S. HALDANE.
August 14, 1932.
DEAR HALDANE, Your controversial style is disarming after the invective of my friend Joad. Where he shouts Ecrasez l'infame you are content to insinuate doubt not only of God's existence but also of your own. A quarter of a century has passed since Mr. Chesterton foretold that suicide of thought which is the ultimate end of scepticism. The old sceptics began by doubting the existence of God. The modern sceptic ends by doubting his own existence. "We are on the road," wrote Mr. Chesterton, "to produce a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were blindly questioned, reason would be questioned first." I shall be interested to learn how you propose on the foundation of these delicate negations to erect an ethical system which shall remedy "the present alarming condition of the human race" which you deplore. But I have my doubts of the vitality of a crusade whose leader is prepared to admit that he is "nothing but a biologically and socially convenient fiction." It is certainly difficult to convince a man who is not sure that he exists that his Creator exists. Your amplification of my attempt to define the "scientific method" is very welcome, for the experimental method is not peculiar to science and should be applied to religion. I must defer for the moment any discussion of the reasons why Catholics consider that Faith is a virtue. I will content myself with stating that Catholics would not accept the distinction which you try to draw between faith and clear thinking. They hold that clear thinking leads to the Faith, and that thinking confused by defective education, sin, or conceit leads to heresy. You have defined in a clear and interesting fashion your attitude to the supernatural. I can sympathize with you because my own attitude was once very similar. It is very difficult for men of our generation to escape from the prison of our time. The mental fashion of the age is anti-supernatural. We start with the assumption that God, if he exists, would never dream of interfering with the routine of nature. The assumption, indeed, is so embedded in our thought that we do not even realize that we are guilty of assuming as true a theory which is against all the weight of historic evidence. It was some little time before I realized that this attitude was parochial in the extreme, for it is parochial to assume that we are in touch with no forms of consciousness higher than man. I say "in touch," for I am not concerned with the possibility that the planets may be inhabited by beings more intelligent than man. I cannot understand why it should be considered Scientific to assume that only the uneducated or old-fashioned could possibly believe in angels or evil spirits. As that distinguished French scientist Professor Richet remarks: "Why should there not be intelligent and puissant beings distinct from those perceptible to senses? By what right should we dare to affirm on the basis of our limited senses, our defective intellect, and our scientific past, as yet hardly three centuries old, that in the vast cosmos man is the sole intelligent being, and that all mental reality always depends upon nerve cells irrigated by oxygenated blood?" You scientists are always urging us to cultivate a sense of proportion and to realize that man is a native of a small planet attached to an insignificant star. You yourself have preached many sermons on this cheerful text. But surely it is no more conceited to believe that the earth is the centre of the universe than to assume that man represents the climax of the evolutionary process, and that in, all the vast Universe there are no beings of higher spiritual worth, (Incidentally, scientists are now inclined to think that this planet may, after all, be the sole abode of consciousness in the universe, so perhaps the mediaeval cosmogony was not quite so absurd after all.). For the life of me I cannot see any reason to suppose that we are not surrounded by a great company of invisible witnesses, and I shall continue to believe that we are until science provides me with something more than mere noisy assertions to set against the vast array of evidence for the supernatural which has been accumulated in every age and by every race from the dawn of recorded history.
The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
There is more sober scientific fact in those four lines than in half the papers read before the British Association. The "rationalist" who rejects the supernatural is always in danger of assuming the conclusion which he is required to prove. It is, for instance, a petitio principii to assume, as you have done, that because miracles are admittedly unusual therefore miracles are improbable. I maintain that we have every reason to expect that God should manifest himself by miracles, and further that we have no right to expect that these miracles should be matters of common occurrence. In other words, I shall try to show that miracles are probable and that it is probable that miracles should be unusual. The degree of evidence which we require in the case of a miracle is necessarily far stronger than the evidence which justifies a jury in bringing in a verdict of guilty in a capital charge, and I hope to satisfy you in later letters that the evidence for miracles satisfies this exacting test. Most rationalists, however, are not prepared to consider for a moment any evidence, however strong, for the miraculous. Zola, unable to explain a cure at Lourdes which he had investigated, added, "I don't believe in miracles: even if all the sick in Lourdes were cured in one moment I would not believe in them!" Clearly this attitude is founded not on reason but on faith — faith in the dogma that miracles do not occur. And indeed the inspiration of nineteenth-century rationalism was not reason but the determination to uphold a particular philosophy against the weight of historical and scientific evidence. Strauss, for instance, laid down as a canon of New Testament criticism the dogma, "In the person and acts of Jesus no supernaturalism shall be allowed to remain, and he accordingly dates the gospels on the assumption that miracles must be a later interpolation. If Strauss' principles were applied in our courts of law we should doubtless be favoured with some such exchange of remarks between judge and counsel as the following: Judge: "You propose to call this witness for the defence?" Counsel: "Yes, my Lord." Judge (with a slightly puzzled air): "But the witness for the defence believes in the prisoner's innocence." Counsel: "Yes, my Lord." Judge: "Then I rule that his evidence is inadmissible. In the person and acts of the prisoner no innocent motives shall be allowed to remain." Again, I have never been able to discover by what canon of criticism the rationalist selects his texts. Like the modernist, he assumes the accuracy of those texts which suit his particular theory, arid denies the reliability of texts which support the views which he combats. Nothing is more difficult than to report conversation accurately. Indeed, Boswell is one of the few people in history who have reported with accuracy the ipsissima verba of their heroes. In a police court a witness who was accepted as a reliable witness of a conversation would certainly be believed if he reported some striking incident. It is therefore difficult to understand why the hostile critic of the gospels assumes that the evangelists were more accurate than Boswell when they report words which the Christian may find some slight difficulty in explaining, and less accurate than a hysterical girl frightened by a ghost when they report incidents which the rationalist is anxious to explain away. And now for miracles. To clear the ground, let me state at the outset that I do not include under the term "miracle" any form of faith healing which might conceivably be explained by scientific laws not as yet fully understood. I mean events such as the feeding of the five thousand or the Resurrection, which suggest the modification of the laws of Nature by the intrusion of supernatural will. Please note that a miracle is neither the violation nor the suspension of a law of Nature. "When the human will," writes Dr. Harris, "acts upon the external world, and produces a sensible effect, it does not thereby violate any law of Nature. When, for instance, a man raises a stone weighing a hundredweight, and holds it in his hands he does not in so doing violate or suspend the law of gravitation. That law continues in full force, as is proved by the continuance of the sensation of weight; but the effect of the law is counteracted by the operation of the greater force of the human muscles, directed by the human will. Similarly, when God works a miracle, it is not supposed that any of the laws of Nature are suspended, but that God counteracts or modifies some of the effects which those laws would ordinarily produce, by a process analogous to that by which the human will acts upon and influences physical Nature. This is admitted by John Mill, who says: 'The interference of human will with the course of Nature is not an exception to law; and by the same rule interference by the divine will would not be an exception either. If God exists, and if he is in the least interested in the human beings that he has created, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he should give men some evidence of His existence. On the other hand, we need not be surprised that God is sparing of miracles. He does not coerce faith, for it would be inconsistent with his gift of free will to render it, humanly speaking, impossible for a man to reject God.' Very well then. I have tried to show first that the complete absence of miracles would be far more surprising than the occurrence of miracles, and secondly that we should expect miracles to be unusual occurrences, and we should expect, since God does not coerce faith, that the evidence for miracles, though strong enough to satisfy anybody who approached the subject with an open mind, would not be completely coercive for the world at large. I am surprised that you should describe your attitude to miracles as similar to that of Hume, for I thought Hume's fallacies had been pretty thoroughly exposed. Mill, a sceptic, but a logical sceptic, rejected his "argument" as unsound. "A miracle," says Hume, "is a violation of the laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established those laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can be." First, miracles are not "violations of the laws of Nature" (see above). Secondly, it is poor reasoning to assume what it is your business to prove. We maintain that so far from the case against miracles resting on "firm and unalterable experience," there is a vast amount of unimpeachab1e evidence in favour of miracles. The question, as Mill rightly said, "can only be stated fairly as depending on a balance of evidence: a certain amount of positive evidence in favour of miracles, and a negative presumption from the general course of human experience against them." And now for your bridge illustration. You tell me that if I stated that I had twice seen the distribution you name you would be inclined to doubt my veracity or my sanity, or both. I am grateful for the delicate compliment of the "twice." Will you think me very rude if I reply that I should not accept your statement if you had said that you had witnessed this distribution once? The odds against this distribution are even greater than you suppose. Inadequate shuffling does not, as you suggest, reduce, but increases, the odds against this distribution. The cards are stacked in tricks, and the majority of tricks are composed of cards of the same suit. Therefore if we re-dealt without shuffling, your distribution would be impossible, and is perhaps impossible without shuffling far more prolonged than is ever possible under the normal conditions in which bridge is played. In any case the odds against this distribution are so astronomically immense that if every member of the human race had been playing bridge for six hours a day from the dawn of the Stone Age down to modern times, the odds against this distribution having occurred once would still be many billions to one. Do you know of any well- authenticated case? I know of none, and I am inclined to suspect the reported cases of one suit being monopolized by one player are the result of a practical joke. If, then, you were to tell me that you had seen the four suits distributed, one suit to each player, I should believe that you had been deceived; whereas if, on returning from Lourdes, you told me that you had seen a completely fractured leg united in a second of time I should believe you. And I should believe you for the good reason that whereas I know of no evidence that this particular Bridge distribution has yet occurred, there is a constant stream of first-class evidence throughout the ages as to the occurrence of miracles such as those which are reported from Lourdes. I propose in later letters to summarize this evidence, and also to discuss your reasons for refusing to be impressed by "physical phenomena" as produced in seances, and I will confine myself for the moment to an attempt to show that l your arguments against New Testament miracles can be refuted. The example you give (Mark xvi, verses 17 and 18) is an interesting illustration of the ease with which even a clear thinker can miss the point of a passage if he reads that passage with a prejudiced mind. In the first place you have divorced the texts you quote from the context which explains them. Let me quote the passage in full. The passage contains Christ's final exhortation to the apostles, an exhortation delivered after the Resurrection: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen." You ask me, "Do you honestly believe that no believing Christian has been poisoned?" and I reply, "Do you honestly believe that the passage you have quoted suggests that believing Christians are immune from snake-bite?" Surely the passage is not a general statement applying to Christians as a whole, but a particular prophecy as to the miracles which would be associated with the missionary activities of the little group of apostles to whom Christ addressed these words: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel. ...And these signs shall follow them that believe. ... And they went forth. ..the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with the signs following." What could be plainer? It is, moreover, a matter of history that these signs did follow them that believed. The apostles "spoke with new tongues," and healed the sick; and at Melita a viper came out of the fire and fastened on St. Paul's hand, and St. Paul, to the amazement of the barbarians, received no hurt. The particular prophecy was fulfilled; but even had the prophecy been tolerant of your interpretation I should have had no difficulty in defending it. I do not believe that I every "believing Christian" is immune from snake-bite, but I do believe that it is impossible to set bounds to the powers of faith. Believing Christians vary enormously in the vigour of their faith. I am quite sure that I am not immune from snake-bite. I am equally convinced that many of the saints could have handled poisonous snakes with the same casual confidence that St. Paul displayed on the "island called Melita." You mention the discrepancies in the accounts of the Resurrection. No four witnesses reporting the same event will give exactly the same account. Had the four evangelists told the same story in identical words the hostile critic would have asserted that they had all copied the same account, and that the witnesses to the Resurrection were therefore reduced from four to one. Minor discrepancies do not invalidate the credibility of the main story in its main outlines, and may only legitimately be used, if at all, to impugn the theory that the Bible contains no error. But even this line of attack, as I found in my correspondence with Father Knox, is not particularly helpful. "The facts to be explained," you write, "are the existence of several accounts of these events, and of organizations inculcating a belief in them. I have explained the first point, and it is for you to explain the account of the Christian Church on the assumption that the Resurrection did not take place. The Church is no puzzle to those who believe in the Resurrection. I am impressed by the tone of your letters, reasonable and tentative both in what you affirm and in what you are inclined to deny and I am puzzled to account for the contrast between your letters to me and the curt dogmatism of your published references to Christianity. I should have been surprised had you made in this correspondence the remark which you broadcast over the wireless: "The creeds are full of obsolete science; but it does not seem to me quite fair that you should reserve these remarks for occasions when they cannot be challenged and for a public which accepts them at their face value and which does not realize the very tentative nature of your views. There is, of course no science new or obsolete in the creeds. The only thing that is full of obsolete science is science. I should be interested to learn how you would begin to justify your prophecy that the Christian Churches "if they maintain their influence will sterilize scientific thought, and I should be glad if you would name a single scientific fact which is at variance with a defined doctrine of the Catholic Church. There is an unending conflict between science and scientists for I need not remind you of all that scientific pioneers have had to suffer from the jealousy and obscurantism of organized science; but all this talk of the conflict between science and religion is very much beside the mark. There is I think one point on which we shall be in agreement. You will unite with me in regretting the wide-spread ignorance of that which should be regarded as an integral part of culture, a knowledge of the history and philosophy of a religion which for sixteen centuries influenced every aspect of European life. In your first letter you said that you would have been mildly amused or annoyed had I accused you of writing ignorantly or in bad faith. True, like Mr. Wells and others, you have confused the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth; even so I make no general accusation of ignorance or bad faith, for passages such as the following are rare in your works: "The old religions are full of obsolete science, including the astronomical theory of a solid heaven, the chemical theory that water, bread, books, and other objects can be rendered holy by special processes, and the physiological theory that a substance called a soul leaves the body at death." I will pay you the compliment of not asking you to defend this travesty of Catholic doctrine. There is not much in your work at which a Christian could legitimately take offence. Christians, by a process of natural selection, long ago developed very thick skins, and your satisfied statement that you do not "worship a biscuit" would be met by the mild rejoinder that it is unscientific to equate the small with the trivial, as Bethmann-Hollweg discovered when he referred to a "scrap of paper." A Christian would, I think, ignore your occasional contemptuous references to the Faith, and would be most disposed to quarrel with you for your tacit assumption that your reader has no right to demand definitions of your terms or a reasoned argument in defence of your particular brand of supernaturalism. St. Thomas Aquinas would have criticized severely your tendency to rely not on reason; but on faith. And he would condemn your habit of using nebulous phrases the meaning of which you have made no attempt to define. But he would make allowances for the age in which you live, an age which takes refuge from the discipline of exact thought in the mists of metaphor. "I believe," you write, "that the scientist is trying to express absolute truth and the artist absolute beauty." St. Thomas would never have used a phrase like "absolute truth" without defining what he meant by "absolute." All this modern talk about "values" is merely an attempt to admit the supernatural at the back door. Our generation suffers from what might be called logophobia, the fear of words. Certain words like "God" and "supernatural" are unfashionable, and so our moderns are reduced to talking about "absolute beauty" and the "realm of values." But all this is mere metaphor-mongering. How is it conceivable that eternal values can exist without an eternal God to conserve those values? You have recently affirmed your belief that "the meaning of the visible world is to be found in the invisible," and elsewhere you tell us that you have "not much use for people who are not in touch with the invisible world." What precise meaning do you attach to this phrase "invisible world"? Now, a thinker trained in the austere school of Christian rationalism will find this vague talk about the "invisible world" unsatisfying. The Christian, like St. Thomas, insists on proof before accepting the supernatural, even though it be disguised as "absolute beauty." Again, the Christian rationalist is perplexed by the modern attitude to immortality; for the modern sceptic does not begin by asking, as Socrates would have asked, whether life is good and therefore whether more life is better than less life. He assumes that man is mortal and proceeds to lecture those who disagree on their selfish interest in their own petty personalities. There is nothing selfish in desiring that the whole human race should possess immortal souls, for selfishness is the search for personal happiness at the expense of other people. It would be so much easier to understand modern theology if our modern theologians would consult a good dictionary. "I shall last out my time," you write, "and then finish. This prospect does not worry me, because some of my works will not die when I do." But your works will perish with the solar system, and if the individual is mortal his works are certainly not immortal. In the same paper you tell us that you are proud to be a citizen of the British Empire, because the expectation of life is greatest in New Zealand, and next greatest in Australia. "I am proud to belong to a Commonwealth which has won the first and second places in the great race against death." The Christian, then, may surely feel proud to belong to a Church which has left death standing at the post. You are thrilled to discover that the expectation of life in New Zealand is sixty years. Why is it important for Mr. Jones to die at sixty rather than fifty-five and unimportant for Mr. Jones to continue living indefinitely beyond sixty? It would seem that it is important for us to increase our expectation of life by 10 per cent, but selfish of us to desire to increase it by infinity per cent. I cannot quite follow the argument. Please enlighten me. In your Conway Memorial Lecture you write as follows: "Just as, according to the teachings of physiology, the unity of the body is not due to the soul superadded to the life of the cells." Would it not have been more accurate to write: "Just as, according to some physiologists"? I do not think it is legitimate to substitute phrases such as "Science teaches" or "Physiology teaches" when you are merely voicing your own personal opinion. The quotation continues: "So the superhuman, if it existed, would be nothing external to man, or even existing apart from human co-operation. But to my mind the teaching of science is very emphatic that such a Great Being may be a fact as real as the individual human consciousness, although, of course, there is no positive scientific evidence for the existence of such a Being. And it seems to me that everywhere ethical experience testifies to a super-individual reality of some kind. The good life, if not necessarily self-denial, is always self-transcendence." Your confession of faith is characteristic of our age. First, because you obliterate the frontiers between religion and science. It is theology, not science, which teaches us that a Great Being exists. We can prove that God exists by pure reason without entering a laboratory or consulting modern astronomers. Secondly, your confession is symptomatic of the growing realization that Naturalism is not enough. You have done your best to eliminate God, but-usque recurret. Will you forgive me if I seem to detect in this passage the evidence of an anima naturaliter Christiania, a soul unnaturally divorced by the infection of theophobia from that great religion which provides the only reasoned basis for that life of self-transcendence which you rightly admire? Thirdly, your confession of faith is interesting, because it is modern in the sense that the moderns are abandoning all effort to ground their beliefs on reason and on evidence. To conceive of God as related to man much as man is related to his cells is an ingenious fancy, a fancy which would have delighted Fechner; but it is nothing more than a fancy. It is neither probable nor plausible. By faith, and faith alone, can we even begin to believe in your synthetic God. I lack the requisite faith, for I am only a poor rationalist, a revenant from the greatest of all rationalistic centuries, the thirteenth, a century in which St. Thomas began, not with an ingenious fancy divorced from experience, but with the most obvious fact of experience, the fact that some things are in motion. And upon this irrefutable premise he proceeds to build the magnificent edifice of scholastic theology. Certum est enim, et sensu constat, aliqua moveri in hoc mundo. And upon this rock will I build my faith.
University of California, Berkeley, CA
November 10, 1932.
DEAR LUNN, Your letter of August 14th has now been sent on to me here. Before I answer your criticisms, let me correct what I think is an error on your part. To the best of my knowledge I have never confused the dogma of the immaculate conception (of Mary) with that of the virgin birth (of Jesus). If I ever refer to the former, I invariably receive indignant letters accusing me of this confusion. It does not always pay to assume that those who disagree with you are ignorant. However, if you can substantiate your accusation I apologize in advance. I must also warn you that I am not proposing "to erect an ethical system." I do not doubt that you could demolish any system that I might erect. I am prepared to defend certain ethical propositions, but that is all. Now for your other criticisms. You are inclined to suspect that there will be some difficulty in recruiting crusaders for a movement led by a prophet who is "prepared to admit that he is nothing but a biologically and socially convenient fiction." You may be right. History does not repeat itself exactly. But you will doubtless remember that such a movement, namely, Buddhism, met with some measure of success in the past. One of its prime dogmas (at least, in the Hinayana sect) is that personal identity is an illusion. Of course, however, Buddhism was not a crusade. The doctrine to which I refer was disseminated by argument rather than massacre. I would not go all the way with Gautama. I would have been well advised to style myself an abstraction rather than a fiction. But I think that the limits of human personality are so ill-defined that one may readily fall into error if one draws them at any particular place. Thus, a well-behaved child may get lethargic encephalitis, and henceforth behave very badly, stealing, quarrelling, lying, and so on. Are we to say that the child has become wicked? Or is the bad behaviour due to something external to the child, which is "really" as good as ever? In the first case we extend the idea of personality to include a microbe in the brain. In the second we admit that character and actions may be unrelated, a convenient doctrine for criminals. I try to escape from such dilemmas (they occur in connexion with matter as well as mind) by frankly admitting that our ideas about most, if not all, things are self-contradictory. We cannot as yet say where an individual ends or begins. And we may as well admit, as a preliminary to accuracy, that any boundaries which we may draw are fictitious. To put the matter rather differently, I admit that in all probability my words and thoughts do not correspond exactly with reality. This is what you call intellectual suicide, or the flight from reason. I should call it a flight from words. It is, as you later remark, characteristic of the age in which I am fortunate enough to live. We (for you have kindly given me the right to speak for my contemporaries) have lost the illusion that when we carefully define a word by means of other words we have necessarily made an important step towards the truth. On the contrary, we try to find out whether our words really stand for something definite. Thus it turns out that copper (an element) stands for something much more definite than bronze (a variable mixture), and water (a definite compound) than air (another variable mixture). These facts were discovered by careful experiment. As the result of this we can define air or water more exactly than our ancestors. No amount of reasoning, so far as I can see, could have taken the place of these experiments. Nor, of course, could the experiments have led anywhere without subsequent reasoning. But your mediaeval friends erected an elaborate structure of reasoning on a very inadequate foundation of facts, just as they built Winchester Cathedral on a foundation of beech logs, which our modern age has replaced with concrete. Moreover, as will appear when we examine their arguments, they reasoned pretty loosely at times. I fear that Mr. Chesterton is unduly optimistic in predicting a race too modest to believe in the multiplication table. Such a disbelief would only be temporary, I think, but it would be a very salutary phase. You will remember that Descartes claimed to have achieved it for a while. On the rebound from such scepticism he invented co-ordinate geometry, a much finer mathematical tool than the multiplication table, which, by the way, was not part of the general knowledge of "educated" men during the Middle Ages. Intellectual modesty may be carried too far, but I do not think most people carry it far enough. Now for your a priori arguments for miracles. I do not assume that we are in touch with minds higher than our own. I know of no adequate evidence for this theory, and wait for you to prove it. I also know that one can manage one's life fairly well without this belief. Also please note that "Why should there not..." is a poor beginning for an argument. Why should there not be a complete copy of the ten commandments, or a portrait of Lenin, on the back of the moon? If you succeed in proving the existence of one or more such superior beings you will undoubtedly have a good a priori argument for miracles, and against the scientific point of view. May I quote John of Arras, as rendered by his mediaeval English translator? "David the prophete saith, that the Juggements and punysshinges of god ben as abysmes without bottom and without ryvage. And he is not wyse that such things supposeth to comprehende in his wit and weneth that the meruaylles that ben through the urnuersalle world, may not be true, as it is said of the thinges that men call ffayrees, and as it is of many other thinges whereof we may not have the knowleche of all them. Then follows the story of the fairy Melusine, who was liable to become "fro the nauel downward in lyknes of a grete serpent, the tayll as grete and thykk as a barell." That is where, in the opinion of many mediaeval writers, who were not censured by the Church, your argument leads. If there are such superior beings (it remains for you to make this plausible) we might, as you say, expect them to intervene in the course of events as we do ourselves. Now when a man lifts a stone the energy employed comes from chemical processes going on in his body, which are not so very unlike those in a steam-engine. To be accurate, we can equate the man's output of energy with that available from the oxidation of his food with an accuracy of one part in two thousand. I do not suppose that you think that similar processes go on in God's body, or a spirit's body, when a miracle is performed. Unless this is so, there is no close analogy between a miracle and a voluntary act. I contend, therefore, that a miracle (unless it can be explained by an unusual natural occurrence, like some of the plagues of Egypt) is a violation or suspension of the laws of nature. If God made these laws, I can see nothing unlikely in His suspending them. In spite of your quotation from Hume, I think my attitude is similar to his. Hume did not take the evidence of the firmness of the laws of nature for granted. He analysed the evidence for their existence. He also discussed some alleged exceptions to them. So his statement was not a mere assumption. With regard to my bridge illustration, I do not agree with you about shuffling. One method of shuffling consists in allowing the two halves of a pack to interpenetrate. If, in a no-trump hand, the suits had been played out in turn, and all the players had followed suit in most of the tricks, two such shufflings in which a card from one half the pack was placed between every card of the other half, would tend to concentrate the cards of one suit in the first, fifth, ninth, etc., places in the pack, so that they would be dealt into one hand. Or so it seems to me. But perhaps I stated my case too modestly. Anyway, we agree on the fundamental point at issue. I certainly know of no well-authenticated case of that particular miracle. As to Mark xvi. 17, 18, I fear that I stick to my former opinion. The second sentence: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned," is usually taken as referring to people in general — myself, for example. The signs of belief (e.g. immunity to poison) are given in the next sentence. I had always assumed both sentences to have a general application. If the promise and threat of the second sentence only apply to the apostles' hearers, like the immunity to poison, then the modern Church has less to offer than is generally thought. And I contend that if you regard the two sentences as referring to different sets of people, it is you, not I, who reads that passage with a prejudiced mind. As regards the resurrection, I do not agree with you that the discrepancies are "minor" ones. It is quite possible to give four accounts of the same event in very different words which do not contradict one another: Read the accounts of the same football match in four different papers if you doubt this. Clearly we shall have to discuss the whole problem in detail later. Now for my "curt dogmatism." You quote some sentences from my broadcast address, but omit two which preceded them all. They read as follows: "But the intellectually honest man must realize the utterly provisional nature of his beliefs. So when I make an apparently definite statement, I must ask you to put before it some such words, as it seems to me very probable that if this is dogmatism you can lock me up in a padded room with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and Mr. Joseph McCabe! In the next paragraph I assert that the creeds are full of obsolete science. You then say that the public "does not realize the very tentative nature of my views." It would do so if it read or listened consecutively. I am inclined to think that it quite often does both. And I am beginning to wonder whether Zola and Strauss may not perhaps have qualified their apparently dogmatic remarks by statements which you omit. I still assert that the creeds are full of obsolete science. For example, the theory of a solid heaven, or firmament, is to be found in the book of Genesis, the book of Revelation, and here and there in the intermediate parts of Holy Writ. It was, of course, the usual scientific theory before the time of Copernicus. It was clearly in the minds of the framers of the creed who said, "He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." I should like to know your attitude to this statement. You agree, I take it, that Jesus rose from the earth's surface. If so, His body either came down again, reached a place called Heaven, is still moving, or was annihilated. Which alternative do you prefer? You would presumably regard the phrase about Jesus sitting as a metaphor. But the phrase about His resurrection is to be taken literally. So is that about His virgin birth — until a knowledge of genetics is as widespread as that of astronomy. I certainly regard the theory that bread can be altered by the action of a priest as chemical. If Jesus ascended into heaven that was an anomalous physical phenomenon. If bread is converted into His body and blood that is an anomalous chemical phenomenon. If bread is burnt it assumes, according to the scholastic philosophy, a new forma substantialis and new accidents. If it is consecrated by a priest it assumes a new substance, namely, that of the body and blood of Christ. Its accidents are unaltered but they become, it would seem, much more liable to alteration. In particular, consecrated hosts are said to be liable to bleed, as in the case of the miracle of Bolsena. Also the eating of one has (it is alleged) profound effects. If you say that a change of substance and a change of substantial form are so different that no one could classify them together, I shall be delighted to take up the point later. Personally I regard the theory of transubstantiation as a piece of pre-scientific chemistry, and shall continue to do so until you attack that view by argument rather than assertion. In the same way the theory that a substance called the soul leaves the body at death is widely held. I have never (to my knowledge) stated that it is Catholic doctrine. It is a physiological theory, because it is held that the presence of the soul in the body is responsible for some, if not all, of the phenomena of life. Again, the object which Catholics worship at mass is thought by them to be God. I think that it is a wafer. Not being addicted to masses, whether high or low, black or white, I admit that I may have been wrong in calling it a biscuit. But I am told that it is fiat and round, and made of the same materials as certain biscuits, so I do not think that I am very far out. You object to my not defining what I mean by "absolute" during half an hour's broadcast address. Had Sir John Reith seen fit to accord to persons who do not share his religious opinions one-tenth of the time that he allots to sermons by the clergy, I might have had the opportunity to do so, and your criticism would have been legitimate. By "absolute" I mean independent of circumstances, the opposite of contingent." Thus if say that 2 × 3=6, I mean something which is absolutely true, and would be so even if no example existed to demonstrate it, as no example, perhaps, exists to demonstrate that 10100 × 10100=10200. I further believe that it always was true, and always will be. On the other hand, the statement, "No men exceed twelve feet in height," though true at present, might be rendered false by the appearance of such a man. It is a contingent statement. I hope that I have made myself clear. As I said in my broadcast address, I think that the realities corresponding to certain statements (including 2 × 3 =6) constitute an invisible world. Such realities (as I think) do not alter with time, like the things in the visible world. When I used the phrase "invisible world" in the address in question, I was referring to the aggregate of those realities which do not change with time, and I am quite willing to give this as a definition. It corresponds, roughly at least, to what Plato meant by the world of ideas, but his account seems to me unduly metaphorical. As I understand that you believe in the multiplication table, I assume that you also believe in some such absolute and eternal facts. I suspect that this "world" includes moral facts as well as mathematical and physical. But why should you attack me for agreeing with St. Thomas? As I do not think that I have ever talked or written about a "realm of values," I am not called upon to define it. On the other hand, when I talk about the invisible world I do not, as you assume, mean a supernatural world. The timeless facts which are symbolized by the multiplication table are invisible, but hardly supernatural. And I confess that I do not see that 2 × 3 = 6 needs an eternal God to conserve it. No doubt a sufficiently powerful being could so affect my brain as to make me believe that 2 × 3=7, but that would not make the statement true. Nor is 2 × 3=6 liable to decay, like a house or a mountain, so as to need conservation. Similarly, if (as seems likely to me) there are eternal facts symbolized by "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour," or the score of "Die Zauberflöte," I do not see that they need any conservation. Nor did Plato or Aristotle, to go no further. As for my own opinion of death, I do not know if my works will perish with the solar system. Our descendants may migrate elsewhere. If they have the mathematical knowledge needed for this purpose they will almost certainly possess my solution of the equation d[P]/dt = kcat[ES] among other hoary intellectual relics of the past. I am not myself afraid of death, among other reasons because I have tasted life so fully that I expect to be fairly satisfied when I cease to live. On the other hand, I think most people's lives are too short to give them a chance to fulfill their possibilities as I hope to have done. That does not mean that if, by pressing a button, I could make everyone live a hundred thousand years, I should press it. Premature death is generally an evil. I am not sure that death is so. You see, I do not begin, as you think I should, by asking whether more life is better than less life, but how much more life, if any, is desirable. That is because I often think quantitatively, which Socrates did not. I claim that this habit (for which I deserve no credit, for I did not invent it) allows me sometimes to think more accurately than did Socrates or St. Thomas. But I will concede you a point. My interest in vital statistics is largely a sporting one. No amount of hygiene will make a man live for an infinite number of years, just as no amount of strength or skill could enable him to run an infinite number of yards in a minute. But I like to see records broken, whether in yards or years. As for the statement which you quote from me as to "the teaching of physiology," I admit that I was using a metaphor. It is physiologists, not physiology, who teach. But it would have been misleading to write "some physiologists" as you suggest. I cannot think of a single living physiologist for whose experimental work I have any great respect who holds the contrary opinion. I therefore think that my metaphor was legitimate. And though I will try to avoid metaphors in this correspondence, I do not promise to abjure them in my other writings, nor do I apologize for having used them in the past. Now for your last quotation about the "Great Being." I fear that when I wrote it I was thinking, not about God, but about two Great Beings (mortal gods, as Hobbes termed them) called England and Humanity, of which I am a member. They seem to me (perhaps wrongly) to possess a reality of somewhat the same kind that I do. They may be regarded as fictions or abstractions, but they are not, I think, quite unreal. They are not, I presume, conscious, but neither is a poplar tree, so far as I know. Yet the tree possesses a unity, although we can divide it, and grow the parts separately. There may be Great Beings including Humanity, but I do not know about them. The phrase "Great Being," due to Comte, was probably clearer to my audience than to you. Once again you are annoyed with me because I do not state my reasons for all my speculative opinions. Had I but world enough, and time I should be glad to do so, though I do not know how many listeners I should find. Perhaps some day I shall perpetrate a philosophical system. But I have a lot to do, and cannot work for more than ten hours daily. I think, moreover, that the reasoning embodied in some of my scientific and mathematical papers is more solid than any that I could offer on behalf of my philosophical views. If I do not defend these latter in any detail in these letters it will be because I think we had better concentrate on our differences rather than on our agreements. For, after all, you believe much more firmly than I both in the existence of an invisible world and of superhuman beings. But if you really want me to define any term that I have used I will, of course, either try to do so or admit that I was using a metaphor. Please, however, do me the justice to suppose that, at least nine times out of ten, I mean what I say. If you think that I have evaded any of your questions, tell me so, but I feel that we have already covered much paper with the discussion of trivialities, and had better get down to more fundamental issues, such as the existence of an almighty and morally perfect creator. Now for a spot of counter-attack. If I do not use as strong language as Mr. Joad, it does not follow that my feelings are any weaker than his. But I realize that if we are to argue (as opposed to slanging one another, which is much easier, and nearly as good fun) we had better avoid invectives. You are generally polite to me personally, but rude to my profession. You say that we make noisy assertions (to be compared with the still, small voices which issue weekly from some tens of thousands of parsons in their pulpits). And you refer to "all that scientific pioneers have had to suffer from the jealousy and obscurantism of organized science." In my opinion they have suffered very little. To begin with, they have not been burned alive by their colleagues, as some of them were at the instigation of the clergy. Sometimes their writings were ignored, as in the case of Mendel. This was generally due to a failure to recognize their importance, rather than to jealousy or obscurantism. Mendel's work did not contradict any firmly and generally held opinion, or cast doubt on the merit of any of his contemporaries. It was just so new that those who read it did not realize its importance. More rarely an important contribution has been refused publication, as in the case of Waterston's paper on the kinetic theory of gases. This contained several obvious errors, which gave the referee a chance to turn it down. I can sympathize with Waterston, as in two cases I was induced to refrain from publishing important and subsequently verified principles on the ground that my evidence was inadequate. In each case someone else later produced the same theory, based on much better evidence. But I also sympathize with Waterston's referee, because I have acted in this capacity for many scientific papers. And I have turned some of them down, not because they attacked current opinions, but because I thought the evidence in them inadequate to prove their conclusions, or even to make them plausible. I am sure that for every paper wrongly rejected on such grounds dozens are rightly refused, owing I to the smallness of the funds available for publication. No harm whatever came from the rejection of my conclusions referred to above. They were securely established within a few years on much surer foundations than my own. Perhaps you will care to substantiate your attack on my profession by some detailed examples. Such attacks are often made, and in the course of centuries are doubtless occasionally justified. For scientists are only human beings, and neither passionless nor infallible. But a general accusation of this kind is as ridiculous as Mr. Chesterton's defence of crusades and persecutions in your first paragraph. I wish that some day you would explain Mr. Chesterton to me. In a recent article he remarks: "All men of science have abandoned materialism." Do you think that this sort of statement is due to ignorance or mere laziness? Or is he, like his mediaeval friends, relying on "blind instinct"? In England to-day such a statement of materialism as Hogben's The Nature of Living Matter, finds wide acceptance among my colleagues. In Russia the upholders of the official dialectical materialism complain that many of the Russian scientists are too mechanistic. I often have to argue against what I consider the exaggerated materialism of my younger colleagues. And personally I am engaged in examining dialectical materialism as a possible philosophy, and so far find it intellectually attractive, though I have not gone so far as to adopt it. But I certainly think the physical discoveries of the last ten years have made materialism far more plausible than it was in the past. Now for your attacks on "modern sceptics." Zola and Strauss are not modern. I do not, however, propose to go on with this line of attack, and collect intemperate and inaccurate statements by Christian controversialists. It would be too easy. After all, it is possible that your methods of controversy may be unfair but your basic arguments correct. So I await your proofs of God's existence in your next letter.
J. B. S. HALDANE.
December 4, 1932.
DEAR HALDANE, I propose to divide this letter into three parts. In the first I shall take up a few minor points and reply to various challenges in your letter. In the second I shall discuss two fundamental issues — your defence of extreme scepticism and your attitude to death. In the third part of this letter I shall clear the ground by defining my real difficulty, the prejudice against which the Christian apologist has to contend and — more serious still — the fact that those who are most strongly biased are unaware of their bias. First as to the minor points. (a) As I have been at some pains to persuade you that the passage from St. Mark beginning with the operative words, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," was addressed to the apostles and referred to their missionary activities; it is rather hard that I should be accused of suggesting that the first and second verses of this passage refer "to different sets of people." (b) "You agree, I take it," you write, "that Jesus rose from the earth's surface. If so, His body either came down again, reached a place called Heaven, or is still moving, or was annihilated. Which alternative do you prefer?" I believe that the body of Jesus disappeared from the surface of the earth, but, as the Church has never defined the nature of Heaven, I do not feel called upon to supply geographical details. Heaven may be a place or a state. Nobody knows, nobody professes to know. Meanwhile let me remind you that the question as to what happened to the body of Christ is a greater difficulty for you than for me. You will have to supply, at a later stage of this correspondence, some theory to account for the empty tomb, and also some explanation of the absence of a shrine, for, if the body of Jesus did not leave the earth, the place where His body rested would probably have become a shrine. It is odd that you, who are so well read in Catholic theology, should betray no acquaintance with all that St. Thomas, among others, has to say on the characteristics of the risen body, and on its relations to time and space. (c) The question of moral responsibility which you raise in connexion with the child suffering from lethargic encephalitis requires a letter to itself. We can go into all that later, if you wish. (d) You challenge me to substantiate my charge that scientific pioneers have often had to suffer from the jealousy and obscurantism of organized science. I should like to devote my next letter to this theme. Meanwhile I will ask you to name a single scientist who has been burnt alive "at the instigation of the clergy." It is, of course, up to you to prove that such burnings, if they occurred, were due to the unpopularity of the victim's scientific theories. "You are generally polite to me," you write, "but rude to my profession." I respect both you and your profession. All I claim is that intolerance is not a vice from which scientists are immune. But do, please, believe me when I say that I am perplexed and puzzled by the recurrent suggestion that there can be any quarrel between the Church, which is concerned with supernatural truth, and science, which is concerned with natural truth. The Church of Copernicus, Vesalius, Stensen, Mendel, and Pasteur is only accused of hostility to science by people who are imperfectly informed of the facts. And now for fundamental issues. The opening pages of your letter confirm my belief that Mr. Chesterton is a true prophet. His wildest paradoxes are coming true. You, an eminent scientist, express your grave regret that "Mr. Chesterton was unduly optimistic in predicting a race too modest to believe in the multiplication table. Such a disbelief would only be temporary, I think, but it would be a very salutary phase. What does this mean? In what conceivable way would it help us to doubt those very truths which elsewhere in your letter you describe as "absolute"? For more than a century secularists have been contrasting the objective facts of science with the subjective superstitions of religion. "Back to facts" has been the slogan; "Back to truths which we can prove. Sit down before fact like a little child." And now we are gravely lectured on our faith, not in God this time, but in the multiplication table. Why bother to think at all if it is salutary to doubt the very foundations of thought? What precisely are you getting at? Is the reader expected to contrast the exaggerated humility of the man of science with the dogmatism of the Christian? True, the Englishman instinctively distrusts all dogmas save that corpus of sound doctrine which he imbibes at his public school, and you may be wise to exploit this prejudice, for the man who would be shocked by the heresy of wearing a black tie with tails is the first to condemn the Church for its intolerance of heresies more serious than these sartorial lapses. But only the unsophisticated will be impressed by this parade of sceptical humility, for modesty need not involve the suicide of thought. St. Thomas Aquinas, who filled volumes with the exposition of Catholic dogma, was one of the humblest of men, but humility is not the most marked characteristic of our modern secularists. I do not think you can fairly claim Descartes as the spiritual father of ultra-scepticism. You will find his real view of the multiplication table in his second rule. I do not believe he ever seriously doubted the absolute truth of arithmetic, and, if he did, subsequent philosophers have not been foolish enough to congratulate him on this feat. After all, Descartes said, "Cogito ergo sum." "I'm not quite certain that there is an 'I' to think," would seem to be your position. You prefer to style yourself an "abstraction." An abstraction of what? I do not think that either Comte or you have thought out what you mean by personality. Comte's "Great Being" is the result of realism gone mad — I am using "realism" in its philosophic, not its popular, sense. You deny the transubstantiation of the substance of bread, but expect us to accept by faith a "substance" called Humanity. Does "Humanity" mean all those who have existed and all those who still exist? And does it include the unborn? Has "Humanity" any real relation to human beings? What scientific facts have been discovered to justify your assertion that "Science is very emphatic that such a Great Being may be a fact as real as the individual consciousness"? Is Humanity a "particular" or a "universal"? I think your "Great Being" would have emerged rather the worse for wear after a debate on this bogus universal with Abelard. This blind faith in a "Great Being," for whose existence in any real sense of the term there is no scrap of evidence, scientific or otherwise, is one of the penalties which you pay for your excessive scepticism. You tell me that you feel as strongly as Mr. Joad on the subject of Christianity. But why should you entertain any feelings, strong or weak, until you have made up your mind that there is a "you" to feel strongly? Again, if it be true, which it certainly is not, that "our ideas about most, if not all, things are self-contradictory," why lecture the poor Christian on what you believe to be the inconsistencies of his position? Your own are admittedly no better. Indeed, why bother to discuss or to think at all if you have so poor an opinion of the possibilities of human thinking? Life is impossible, science is impossible, without an act of faith. What value can you attach to a scientific experiment if you really believe that most, if not all, of your ideas are self-contradictory? Science would be impossible unless men assumed that the universe was rational. Faith is the necessary prelude to all research. Your own career proves, that you do not take these delicate doubts very seriously. I entirely disagree with you that such doubts are salutary. Indeed, I regard this ultra-scepticism as the solvent not only of religion but of science, philosophy, and rational thought. A world which took you at your word would be a world which had condemned itself to extinction. And now for the second great issue which you raise in your letter — death and our attitude to death. It is not the disbelief in immortality that I criticize, but the conviction that it is "selfish" to desire immortality. Those who lecture us on desiring the survival of our petty personalities do not seem to be less interested in their own personalities than, say, St. Francis. You say that you are not afraid of death, and my belief that this statement is sincere is, like my belief in Christianity, the result of reasoned deduction from the evidence. But I still maintain that your attitude to immortality is irrational. Now for a spot of science. As an amateur psychologist I suggest that the process whereby you have convinced yourself that death does not matter is not a rational process, but the process which psychologists describe as "rationalization." You believe that you are mortal, and you have contrived to discover reasons to convince yourself that mortality does not matter. Your attempt to console yourself by the reflection that humanity is not necessarily mortal, and that our remote descendants, having emigrated to some other solar system, may still enjoy the fruits of your solution to the equation d[P]/dt = kcat[ES], is an example of the law of compensation, a law to which certain psychologists foolishly attribute the belief in heaven. Well, I am old-fashioned enough to believe that arguments must be met by arguments and not by an analysis of the motives which induce Smith to hold Smith's views; so I will cease trying to diagnose you, and will proceed to criticize the reasons you adduce to fortify your belief that death does not matter. You say that you expect to be fairly satisfied when you die because you have tasted life so fully. How odd! I have not had a dull life, and for that very reason I deplore the shortness of life. I have only scratched the surface of knowledge. If I lived to be a thousand I might find time to read all the books which are worth reading, all those that have so far been written, but I should still be haunted by the knowledge that I had only skimmed the cream off the good books which will be written in the next millennium. I have been looking at pictures all my life, and am only just beginning to appreciate the majesty of Michelangelo's line. If among a man's possibilities, which you seem to think can be satisfied in a normal life, you include the possibilities of aesthetic pleasure, how can you suggest that three score years and ten is long enough for their development? On the physical side I am already too old to climb a Himalayan giant. There are scores of great mountain ranges which I shall never see, much less explore; and if I lived to be a thousand I should not have exhausted the glories of the Alpine Spring. And, since to look at things in bloom Fifty years is little room, I should be glad of five thousand, nay, five million, years, sure in the knowledge that no repetition could possibly stale the miracle of May. I should indeed be depressed by the awful brevity of life, if I was not persuaded that death is nothing more than a bridge between two modes of existence. And surely if God offered you a thousand years of eager intellectual activity, you would not reject the boon on the ground that you are quite content to die at eighty because some part of your work would survive you? By way of preface to what follows a word of personal explanation is necessary. In this correspondence we are concerned with the fundamental differences between Christianity and secularism and not with the minor differences between various Christian Churches. In my correspondence with Mr. Joad I had the worst of both worlds, for I did not run away from the difficulties of the Catholic position, and consequently was not free to disown, say, the Inquisition. In addition I was expected to reply to Mr. Joad's animadversions on the Church of England. In this correspondence I propose to defend the Catholic interpretation of such doctrines as you may select for attack. I am not, as yet, a Catholic, or even "under instruction," and your arguments may keep me out of the Church. Whatever be the result, I do not think I shall alter my view that the difference between a Catholic and an Anglican who is orthodox on the Incarnation is unimportant compared to the difference between those who believe in the Incarnation and those who do not. And I hope that if I do become a Catholic I shall still be able to co-operate with all those who in this country and elsewhere are defending the basic doctrines of Christianity. And it is in defence of the beliefs which are common to all Christians that I have entered this discussion. Having defined my position, I will now return to my criticism of yours. I share your anxiety to prevent this correspondence from developing into a "slanging match," and I see no reason why it should. I propose to criticize your recent book, The Inequality of Man, which I have read with the liveliest of interest; but I do so, not because I am anxious to make debating points at your expense, but because your book is a useful peg on which to hang a general criticism of the attitude of secularists to the Church. Christians believe that the argument between the Christian and the non-Christian resolves itself into a duel between reason and prejudice. The case for the Church, we believe, is so strong that any man will be convinced who approaches this problem with an unprejudiced mind. But how few do! Many years ago I wrote a book called Roman Converts. I should have been irritated then, as you may, perhaps, be irritated now, to be accused of prejudice. I had taken a great deal of trouble to get my facts right. I was not accused of obvious mistakes about Catholic doctrines, and yet I missed the whole point, just as you seem to me to have missed the point. I admit that you are exceptionally placed to form an unbiased verdict. You have been trained in two great schools — philosophy and science. You have some acquaintance with Catholic literature, and you are not consciously unfair. Your failure, then, to understand the Christian point of view cannot be ascribed either to ignorance or to bad faith, and must therefore be attributed to ingrained prejudice. You seem to start from the premise that this great philosophy, which has attracted many of the master minds of our race, is a puerile collection of absurdities. Like most of your contemporaries, you approach this problem with a mind firmly closed to the possibility that Christianity may be true. Professor Whitehead is one of the few non-Catholic scientists in this country who have any sympathetic understanding of Catholic philosophy. I do not want to make capital out of small points. I will therefore mention only two minor errors on points of fact which could not, I think, have been made by anybody who understood the Catholic outlook. St. Ambrose "became" a bishop when he was consecrated, not when he was offered the bishopric. A Catholic would realize instinctively that an unbaptized bishop is an impossibility. Again, Catholics do not regard "celibacy" as a pre-requisite of sanctity, as you would know if you understood the Catholic view of sanctity. These are minor points. More interesting is your failure to understand the Catholic attitude to authority and to the interpretation of the Bible, and your inability to realize what Catholics believe about tran-substantiation. To begin with, the Church claims to found its case on reason. The Catholic believes that he can produce reasoned and convincing, if not coercive, arguments in support of his belief that God exists, that Christ was God, and that Christ founded a Church with authority to teach in His name. The Church also proposes for his acceptance certain truths, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, which unaided human reason could never have discovered. It is not, however, irrational to accept these truths on the authority of the Church, provided that you can prove by reason that the Church is infallible. The individual Catholic accepts as proven the doctrines which the Church has defined as true, but few non-Catholics realize how wide is the area open to discussion among Catholics. There is a far greater economy of definition in the Church than you seem to realize. When, for instance, the controversy about evolution broke over Europe, the Church maintained an attitude of cautious reserve. The Church has seen too many scientific fashions rise and disappear to allow the latest scientific hypothesis to be taught in her name before it has been thoroughly examined. The Church never condemned the theory of evolution, and to-day the theory of the evolution of lower animals may be taught as a "probable hypothesis." So far as the evolution of man's body is concerned, the Church says that nobody may teach this theory in her name, but that the individual Catholic is free to hold this belief and to work for its establishment, if he wishes, by discussion and research. There is an old saying that it is not the business of the Church to teach men how the heavens go, but to teach men how to go to heaven. The Church makes no claim to infallibility in scientific matters, but the views of churchmen on scientific matters naturally reflect those of their age. The Church is slow to define and slow to censure, and the fact that a particular statement has not been censured no more proves that the Church made that statement her own than the fact that a particular doctrine has not been defined proves that the doctrine in question is heretical. You quote some naive remarks by a mediaeval writer, and add a sentence which shows that you misconceive the Church's defining claims. "That is where," you write, "in the opinion of many mediaeval writers, who were not censured by the Church, your argument leads." You could produce a catena of statements by mediaeval writers who were not censured by the Church, but which no modern Catholic would accept. Your remarks about the Bible show a similar failure to appreciate the Catholic point of view. The Church claims that her credentials can be proved from certain books in the Bible, treating them as purely human documents. The Bible itself consists of a series of books selected by the Catholic Church-books which the Catholic Church claims the right to interpret. It is for the Church to say where the Bible records objective fact and where the Bible uses metaphor and allegory, and on such points theologians differ and will differ from age to age. When the Biblical Commission, for instance, lays down certain rules for the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, all we can say is that the views of that Commission represent the views which, in the opinion of the Church, may safely be taught at the present moment. A future commission may take a different line. And now for your remarks about the creeds. I read your statement about the provisional nature of your own beliefs as applying to your own confession of faith. I did not suppose that you intended these remarks to qualify your curt contempt for the creeds of other people. Nor do I think you can escape the charge of injustice to the Church merely because you began with a statement about the provisional character of your convictions. If, for instance, that statement had been followed by the assertion that the Wells-Huxley Science of Life was "full of obsolete science" — which of course it is not — I do not think that Mr. Wells would have been much consoled by the defence that the listeners — in to this broadcast talk had been warned that all your views were provisional, and consequently could not have been misled. Your defence of your attack on the creeds is unconvincing. Genesis is not a creed, and your allusions to Genesis have, therefore, strictly no relevance to the question as to whether the creeds are full of obsolete science. The problem as to how far Genesis is allegory, and how far fact, is still debated among Catholic theologians: there is no defined doctrine on this point. From the earliest of Christian times simple believers have thought of the heavens as solid, and have interpreted literally metaphorical statements, such as "at the right hand of God," but there have never lacked theologians to emphasize the difference between metaphor and fact. Thus St. Jerome, commenting on "foolish talking" (Ephes. v. 4), cites as an illustration of such nonsense the fact that some Christians are foolish enough to believe that "Heaven is curved like an arch and that a throne is placed in Heaven, and that God sits upon it, and that, as if he were a commander or judge, the angels stand round to obey his commands and to be sent on different missions." St. Thomas Aquinas underlines the warning. "When scripture speaks," he writes, "of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what he signifies by this member, namely operative power, the very hiding of truth in figures is useful for the exercise of thoughtful minds, and as a defence against the ridicule of the impious, according to the words give not that which is holy to the dogs. Controversy is tiresome if neither side is prepared to concede an obvious point. I therefore concede that Mr. Belloc was mistaken when he tentatively suggested that you had confused the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth, and that I should not have assumed that your failure to protest against this criticism justified me in repeating the charge. I expect in return that you will concede the point that you were wrong in stating that the creeds are full of obsolete science, a mistake which was an unconscious inheritance from your remote Protestant past. Literalism is a Protestant, not a Catholic, failing. One small point. Neither Strauss nor Zola, so far as I know, qualified their remarks by any operative sentence at the beginning of their books as an antidote to the dogmatism of their later expression. They were both prepared to stand firmly by what they wrote. They were not, as you correctly remark, modern sceptics. I am not particularly surprised by your failure to understand the Catholic attitude to the Bible, and, in particular, to "Literalism," for few non-Catholics are aware that these rather elementary problems have been discussed from the earliest times; but I am frankly puzzled by your remarks about transubstantiation. Surely the whole point about transubstantiation is that it is not a change of form but of substance. Why do you persist in maintaining that tran-substantiation is supposed to effect a chemical change? Surely a scientist who in certain moods affects such impressive humility can confess to an error in a branch of knowledge which is outside his normal line of research? You needn't worry. I dare say I shall make worse howlers when I begin to criticize Darwinism, though, in point of fact, at the time of writing no such patent howlers have been brought home to me. But as you apparently expect argument and resent assertion on what is, however, a simple question of fact, let me suggest that though Catholics attribute "profound effects to eating" a wafer, these effects are not, as you imply, ascribed to any chemical change in the consecrated elements. What do you make of this case? Two Catholics communicate. The first is in a state of mortal sin. The second has been absolved. The chemical constituents of the wafer are the same in both cases, and yet Catholics hold that the "profound effect of eating" the wafer are profoundly different in these two cases. As to "bleeding hosts," it is no part of defined doctrine to believe in bleeding hosts; but if some such case could be authenticated, what would it prove? That transubstantiation is a chemical process because the host sometimes bleeds? No, but that two miracles had taken place: first the non-chemical miracle of transubstantiation; secondly, a gratuitous and additional miracle which might or might not produce a chemical change in the consecrated wafer. But really you might allow the unfortunate Catholic to know what Catholics believe about transubstantiation. Whether transubstantiation takes place is a matter of opinion on which you are entitled to your view. Whether Catholics believe that transubstantiation involves a chemical change is a question of fact on which you are wrong and on which I am right. I shall only be prepared to qualify the curt dogmatism of this statement when you can produce in your support a recognized Catholic theologian who believes in a chemical change of accidents rather than in a non-chemical change of the substance. Freud, who hated Catholicism, had sufficient imagination to write an admirable essay on Catholic philosophy. You are content to poke fun at the sacraments, for I do not think that the following passage really represents your considered views. "If to-day," you write, "we find it difficult to imagine how so much emotion could gather round the act of eating, we must remember that the majority of Christians were so poor that they had first-hand experience of hunger. To most of them food must have presented itself, not as a source of mildly pleasant sensations, but vividly as a life-giver." Et adversum ecclesiam tu tam minute jacularis? You are an adept at representing men whom Catholics revere in a slightly ridiculous light. You do not allow your reader to suspect the grandeur of that great scene when St. Ambrose held the Arians at bay — the occasion to which we owe that noble hymn the Te Deum. St. Ambrose emerges without distinction from your slight sketch, though you salve your historical conscience by two compliments. St. Thomas Aquinas, again, is regarded as one of the greatest intellects and greatest saints in the Catholic Church. In a few deft touches you make him ridiculous. "St. Thomas, it is said, was one of the fattest men who ever lived, and in his latter years could carry out the ritual of the Mass only at a specially constructed concave altar." I do not know where you collected that legend, but one who is both a scientist and a mathematician should be able to calculate the waist measurement which would be necessary to prevent St. Thomas reaching the altar with his hands. Five seconds thought disposes of this legend. Perhaps you have read Peter Calo's life which appeared in 1300. He tells us that St. Thomas's features corresponded with the nobility of his soul, that he was tall and of heavy build, but straight and well proportioned. Francesca's portrait at Milan confirms this impression. Your remarks about St. Thomas occur in an essay on "god-making," an essay which is largely taken up with a discussion of transubstantiation. A reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement, in the course of a discerning and friendly criticism of this book, remarked that your "animadversions on religion will cause much pain." I was not pained, only puzzled that so much reading of Catholic literature could produce so little understanding of the Catholic point of view. And I think that the clue not only to your attitude, but also to that of the intelligentsia is to be found in one revealing sentence. "I find religions an absorbing topic," you write. "The intellectual side of this effort interests me mainly because of its fantastic character. The stories of how hundreds of millions of the people came to believe in the immaculate conception, the uncreated Koran, or the spiritual advantages of bathing in the Ganges are fascinating both as history and psychology." If your object be to suggest that Catholicism is only of interest to the psychologist, you have succeeded in conveying that impression of the learned man relaxing after a hard day's work in the laboratory. Feet on the fender, he dips into some weird Catholic work, and an indulgent smile steals over his lips as he muses on the rum beliefs of misguided men. Yes, you could not convey more cleverly that attitude of indulgent superiority which is so much more effective than mere argument. I pay you the compliment of assuming that there are moments when you suspect the true scale of Catholic philosophy. The mere fact that you, a busy man, have agreed to debate these great issues is proof that you consider them worth debating. And I should be only too happy if, as the result of this correspondence, I had contrived to persuade you that it shows a certain failure of perception to bracket in the same sentence the doctrines of Catholicism and Hinduism.
January 5, 1933.
DEAR LUNN, How unfortunate it is that a reading of The Inequality of Man has diverted you from your exposition of the arguments for the existence of God. I venture to suggest that some of the statements in that book to which you object, for example, the alleged corpulence of St. Thomas, are irrelevant to the large issues which (as I had hoped) we were going to discuss. So I shall not deal with them further unless you can show me their importance. But I must thank you for pointing out my mistake regarding St. Ambrose. He was offered a bishopric before he was baptized (a striking occurrence, as you will admit), but his baptism was doubtless a necessary preliminary to his consecration. The mistake is similar to that made when one describes a person as an M.P. after his election but before he has taken his seat. Worse mistakes have been made. Indeed, I have found some which seem to me quite as bad in your letters to Mr. Joad, for a copy of which I thank you. I must also thank you for withdrawing your accusation about the Immaculate Conception. I have no idea where Mr. Belloc made the statement to which you refer. I have never seen it. But I hope it will be a lesson to you not to take Mr. Belloc's statements any more seriously than I do. But whilst I thank you for a correction of one mistake and an admission of another, I must really protest when you say that I "approach the problem with a mind firmly closed to the possibility that Christianity may be true." What do you know about it? I want to suggest that assertions of this kind will serve no useful purpose. The statement quoted in my last letter about the provisional nature of my opinions does not suggest firm mental closure. The fact that Christians rarely, and the clergy, so far as I know, never, make statements of this kind suggests closure on their part. Actually I think that the logical scheme of official Catholic philosophy is a sound one in so far as it demands that the existence of God should be proved before the detailed evidence for the truth of Christianity is considered. I therefore confine my thought in the main to examining the former of these two hypotheses. I do not suppose that, on the average, I devote much more than half an hour per day to meditating on the structure of the universe (which includes, or does not include, a personal creator). Had I more faith in my logical powers I should devote more time. But I venture to doubt whether the average Christian devotes quite so much. If I became convinced of the existence of God I should then have to consider which, if any, of the theistic religions was true. I should very possibly plump for Judaism or Islam. I assume that you have not closed your mind firmly to the claims of Muhammad to be a messenger of God, and that you occasionally find time to read the propaganda of such bodies as the "Anjuman i isha'at i islam." But your remarks about Hinduism in the last paragraph might, to a superficial reader at least, suggest (if the idea were not absurd) a partial mental closure on your pact. For example, while I admire the scholastic philosophy as an intellectual effort, it appears to me to be on a lower intellectual level than either the Samkhya or the Advaita is. Vedanta philosophy as expounded by Isvarakrishna and Samkara Acharya respectively. I think that it would be a very high compliment to St. Thomas (or anyone else) to bracket him with Samkara Acharya. Doubtless, however, I am doing you an injustice, and you could give cogent reasons (for in the last sentence of your letter you speak of persuasion) for preferring Thomism to each of the astika schools of Indian philosophy, anyone of which may be regarded as a doctrine of Hinduism in the same way as (since Leo XIII's encyclical of 1879) Thomism may be regarded as Catholic doctrine. But you must not expect me — or our readers — to take these for granted. And please do not present me with an account of Hindu doctrine as compiled by a non-Hindu from an examination of Hindu villagers. After all, a Sicilian peasant, as reported by an intelligent Indian, might not give a very coherent or attractive account of Catholic belief. Seriously, would it not be better if you ceased to take things for granted, either about me or about non-Christian religions? You clearly object to my poking fun at Catholic dogmas, and are puzzled, so you write, at my misunderstanding the Catholic point of view. Has it not occurred to you that a person might understand it and still find it objectionable? I have made a certain study of the Catholic Church by discussion with Catholics, reading of Catholic literature, and observation of Catholic ceremonies and conduct, and have come to the conclusion that the Church is an evil. For this reason I consider it legitimate to use ridicule as a weapon against it. In this respect I am a humble follower of Voltaire. I cannot give all my reasons for objecting to the Church. Mr. Joad has given some of them. But why call this objection a prejudice? A prejudice is an objection not based on knowledge. My objection is so based, even if the knowledge (like all knowledge of concrete things) is incomplete. So much the worse for me if you are right. I am not likely to escape hell fire on a plea of invincible ignorance. In your correspondence with Joad you have given a summary of one of my grounds for objection. The Church, you say, is perpetually at war. Quite so. Like a warring State it uses violence when it can, atrocity stories, sobstuff, and threats when it can't. You must not expect non-members to feel the respect for it which they may feel for less warlike religious bodies such as the Society of Friends, or Jewry. Now for your main objections. You think that scepticism is a bad thing, and that it is rational to be afraid of death unless you think that you are going on to a happier life. I, on the other hand, think that it does help us to try to doubt truths which appear to us to be absolute. Sometimes the doubt is extremely fruitful, as when a refusal to believe in Euclid's parallel postulate led to the non-Euclidean geometries. Sometimes the doubt seems to lead nowhere. But very often it enables us to dig down a stage deeper in our examination of reality. If you think "the multiplication table is obviously true, and that's that," you are unlikely to go far in your examining the foundations of mathematics. If you think "the multiplication table is a complex theory which stands in need of justification" you may be able to lay bare unexpected assumptions. And this process may be of great value in dealing with mathematical problems of a more advanced kind, such as the properties of infinite classes (e.g. all numbers). These problems are of importance in such practical questions as the design of trans-continental telephones. If you honestly think that a critical examination of mathematical principles which are apparently obvious is "the suicide of thought," you might dip into Principia mathematica. As, however, you are so contemptuous of the sceptical method, which is part of the general method of science, let me try to make certain points clear. Doubt does not involve a suspension of action. Napoleon planned each of his battles on a certain hypothesis as to the enemy's dispositions. As he only regarded it as a hypothesis he was able to modify it, and his plan with it, in the light of later information. His opponents generally had more faith than he. In consequence they engaged their reserves prematurely, and were beaten. Doubt does not involve intellectual suicide, but intellectual modesty. Various propositions seem to me to be true, but I admit that I may be mistaken, and am almost certainly mistaken in part. This is mainly because propositions are made in words, and words are not things, but symbolize them more or less inadequately. Plato, Hegel, Marx, and Lenin, to mention no others, have held that our notions about things contain an element of self-contradiction. I happen to agree with them, and to hold that scientific and social progress depend to a large extent on our laying these contradictions bare, and transcending them. You will find a similar point of view, put less metaphysically, very ably developed in Levy's recent book The Universe of Science. Your views on feelings are curious. "But why, you ask, should you entertain feelings, strong or weak, until you have made up your mind that there is a 'you' to feel strongly?" Well, judging from my mother's account, I did entertain strong feelings, including stomach-aches, some time before I had begun to reflect on the nature of the soul. Actually I think "you" are something like London. Your boundaries are arbitrarily drawn and somewhat fictitious. For one purpose London is the City, for another the County, for yet another the Metropolitan police area, and so on. So with a man, as I pointed out in my last letter. Some feelings about the Catholic Church, a perception of this sheet of paper, and other facts of consciousness cohere in a rather inadequate manner in a "transitory and hazardous" system called J. B. S. Haldane. But are they part of the real "I," or are they objects of which "I" am conscious? Either view involves grave difficulties, which I certainly have not overcome. Meanwhile, however, one must use ordinary language, such as "I have feelings." I use it with the full knowledge that it will not bear complete analysis, but also in the hope that you will roughly understand what I mean, though my words symbolize it inadequately. You have joined the ranks of the outsiders who tell us scientists how we ought to do our jobs. You tell us that "faith is the necessary prelude to all research." It can equally well be said that doubt is the necessary prelude of all research. In the course of a research I may be deceived by the performance of my balance, my measure, my watch, my reagents, or my own reasoning powers. Of these the last is by far the hardest to check. No doubt in research one requires a certain amount of faith in these instruments, but it must not be a very strong faith. The problem is, as might be expected, a quantitative one. "How much faith and how much doubt do we need in a given piece of scientific work?" We should not test our balance between each weighing, but we should certainly , test it from time to time. We should not deny our reasoning powers, but we should check them by experiment whenever possible as well as utilizing the criticism of our colleagues. Certainly we should be very wary of erecting such vast intellectual structures unsupported by experimental tests as are to be seen in the great philosophies. Now I have some experience of research, and am not a complete fool in ordinary life. And I am convinced that a good deal more doubt, and less faith, is needed in research than in everyday affairs. You describe this attitude as exaggerated humility. I am guilty of it. Let me quote the concluding sentence of my last scientific paper (in the American Naturalist): "But just because the theories put forward are in some degree intellectually satisfying, it is important that they should not be accepted without stringent examination." You see, I distrust my reasoning powers because bitter experience has shown me that my most logical theories are often wrecked by horrid little facts. I want to make one matter clear. Scepticism about theories such as are embodied in ordinary language is a different thing from scepticism about the objects of religion. My fountain-pen may consist of particles, wave packets, ideas in the mind of God, elementary spiritual beings, embodied universals, or what not. But it is a reality. The phrase "my fountain-pen" symbolizes something. But I am unconvinced that the word "God" symbolizes anything. Not only are many statements about God self-contradictory, but they may not refer to anything but aspirations. One last point before we leave my scepticism. "Science," you say, "would be impossible unless men assumed that the universe was rational." What does this mean? I know what an irrational man is like. What would an irrational universe be like? Personally, I think that the universe is somewhat irrational. It includes irrational men and many things which are even less rational. What evidence have you that the whole is more rational than its parts? Actually, I think that your meaning could be put in the much more modest proposition: "science would be impossible unless men assumed that they can reason about what they perceive." I wish to caution you against the familiar theological trick of ascribing human characters to the universe. Now as to death. The theory which you criticize, that the desire for immortality is selfish, has a measure of truth. I am inclined to think that the average person is distinctly more worried by the thought of his or her own death than of that of others. Moreover, the less selfish you become — that is to say, the more you are interested in matters which will not necessarily end with your death — the less that event troubles you. Hence I am inclined to agree with those whom you criticize that the desire for immortality is mainly selfish, and with you that it is not wholly so. You suggest that the reasons I give for not being particularly afraid of death are rationalizations and describe the use of this word as "a spot of science." I do not think that psychoanalysis can be described as scientific. Its methods are not those of science. If Freud is right, he reached correct conclusions by insight and imagination, literary rather than scientific methods. And please note that in "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" he claims that we have a usually repressed longing for death. Perhaps the fear of death is partly a rationalization of the social pressure to overcome this longing. These psychological arguments are two-edged weapons! But, as you point out, they have no bearing on the question of human survival. Like so many Christian apologists, you are annoyed by infidels who do not think or act as badly as you suppose that they should, just as communists are said to be particularly worried by capitalists who actually treat their employees like human beings. Mr. Chesterton has admirably expressed his inability to understand those who do not have the faith, and will not have the fun, an inability which is natural enough in view of his other opinions. Fortunately for your peace of mind we modern infidels, unlike our grandparents, often go in unashamedly for a good deal of sexual fun which you can conscientiously condemn. But I quite see your point. Your religion, especially as expounded by St. Paul, is largely based on the fear of death, from which it delivers some (I think a minority) of its believers. If we are not afraid of death one great motive for adopting Christianity disappears. Now I think that my death will probably be the end of me, as an individual. If so, fear of death is, quite literally, fear of nothing. Alternatively, I shall continue to live, and, as I do not believe in your God, I do not believe in eternal hell, though my future life may contain a good deal of unpleasantness. But I am not particularly afraid of it, and the envisaged possibility of my survival will, I hope, add an interest to the process of dying which it would otherwise lack. In some primitive races the fear of death seems to be slight. During the last few thousand years it appears to have increased, perhaps with the growth of self-consciousness. Now I think that it is diminishing in individuals like myself, whose main interest is in co-operative work. I take no credit for my sentiments on the subject. They are largely due to my war experience. To enjoy any peace of mind at the front it was necessary to overcome the fear of death to a considerable extent. It was also possible, given my intellectual background, and the habit has stuck. Let us now consider my damnable errors concerning Catholic doctrine. I wrote that in the Catholic Church celibacy as long been considered a prerequisite of sanctity. I am quite aware that this is not a formal doctrine. But you will remember that the Council of Trent pronounced, "If anyone shall say that the state of marriage is to be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be joined in matrimony, let him be anathema. Since that time few, if any, married persons have become saints. Indeed, I should be glad if you would tell me of half a dozen persons living later than 1600 who have been canonized, and who were not living celibate lives at the time of their deaths. I cannot think of a single one, but I am no hagiologist. You will admit their extreme rarity. If none can be found, I shall have made my point. I am afraid that I still regard transubstantiation as a chemical doctrine. Thus sugar may be converted into alcohol by yeast or its enzymes. That is a matter of ordinary chemistry. Water may (it is alleged) be converted into wine. That is miraculous chemistry. A wafer is said to be converted into the body and blood of Christ. That is miraculous chemistry too. There is, in fact, a double miracle, because its accidents (appearance and so on) are not changed with its substance. I am perfectly aware that according to the philosophy of St. Thomas a chemical change is only a change of forma substantialis. But then I do not agree with his philosophy. And until you have convinced me of it I shall continue to hold my view. Again, the fact that a consecrated wafer is said to have different effects according as the eater is or is not in a state of mortal sin reminds me of the different effects of eating an egg according as the eater is or is not sensitized to egg albumen a matter of bio-chemistry. As far as I can make out (for I may have misunderstood you) you want me to take the statement that Jesus ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, as a metaphor. What a pity that this is not more clearly explained to most of the hundreds of millions who recite the creeds? And how careful one must be not to push the thing a little further, and regard the paternity of God and the virginity of Mary as metaphors, like God's arm. I append a nice creed for modernists constructed on these lines: "I rather feel that there is a First Cause of heaven and earth, and that Jesus Christ, our Example, was related to It in a special manner. He was conceived in holiness, born of Mary (a particularly pure woman), suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. On the third day, in spite of his death, his work was carried on. He became part of the cosmic scheme and was united with the First Cause. He is an example by which the quick and the dead may be judged. I believe in holiness of spirit, the holy universal church, the fellowship of good men, the forgiveness of mistakes, and the persistence of our ideals after our death." You are on a slippery slope. I am quite willing to concede the truth of the resurrection if I may interpret it as a metaphor, as some modernists do. For future argument, however, I should be glad to know just how much of the creeds are to be taken metaphorically in your opinion. This will save me from wasting much good ink. But please do not assume that I shall have to account for the "empty tomb" until you have proved its existence. Your remarks about Comte's "Great Being" are odd. I have no "blind" faith in it, nor have I asked anyone else to accept it by faith. I have suggested that it may possibly exist, as xenon fluoride or a virus responsible for cancer may exist. I have no faith, blind or otherwise, in any of the three, but regard them as possibilities. Your question as to scientific facts justifying my assertion about it would have been mainly answered had you quoted that assertion completely, as you did in an earlier letter. It would then have been plain that I emphasized no such facts. The main facts are briefly as follows. Cells from a brain can be grown in tissue culture where they live a Robinson Crusoe-like existence. Their life does not depend on their being part of a larger whole. When they are aggregated in a certain way, consciousness and integrated behaviour occur. Hence there is nothing (to my mind) unreasonable in the speculations of Comte or MacDougall that human individuals may be constitutive of a being of a higher order. But this is emphatically not part of my creed, and if it were disproved I do not see that it would at all weaken my case for secularism. So I am not going to state the arguments in its favour, suggestive but I think inconclusive, which may be found in such a book as MacDougall's The Group Mind. MacDougall believes in the immortality of the soul, which I don't, and if you were to succeed in proving that a belief in "Humanity" was the result of "realism gone mad," you would incidentally cast some doubt on certain of the mediaeval arguments concerning the individual soul. Now for two minor points. I did not, as you state, accuse you of suggesting that the two consecutive sentences from St. Mark referred to different sets of people. I gave you the choice between that and holding that they only referred to the apostles' audiences, and not to later generations. You apparently accept the view that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" has no validity except for the apostles' hearers. You are on another slippery slope here. How many more of Jesus' reported sayings were addressed only to His hearers and not to later generations? There are great opportunities for modernism along this line too! I hope that my next letter will be shorter, but I could hardly have shortened this one without appearing to give way on certain points.
J. B. S. HALDANE.
Palace Hotel Des Alpes
24 January, 1933.
DEAR HALDANE, I am not, as you seem to think, in the least perturbed by the jokes made against the Church, nor by the fun which you have poked at Catholic doctrine. You describe yourself as a humble follower of Voltaire. Follower perhaps; humble, hardly. Christians often complain that the church has no great enemy to-day of Voltaire's calibre. Certainly our own pinchbeck Voltaires have not produced one book between them which will live as Voltaire's Dictionary, best of bedside books, will live. Ridicule is, of course, a valuable and legitimate weapon, but a writer who uses no other weapon, and who makes no attempt to attack the Church where it is strongest, must not wonder if his less instructed readers come to the conclusion that he may find it easier to poke fun at St. Thomas's fatness than to refute his philosophy; easier to sneer at Mr. Belloc than to prove him wrong. I who know that you are itching to deal with the Aquinate proofs of God's existence — you shall have them in due course — I am under no such illusion. You object to my statement that your mind is closed to the possibility that Christianity may be true. But surely it is not unreasonable to suggest that a man who recalls with satisfaction the fact that he was not brought up in the tenets of any religion, and who admits that he regards the Church as an evil, has made up his mind that Christianity is false. If it is permissible for you to suggest, as you have done, that I take my beliefs for granted, why is it impolite for me to imply that you take your unbelief for granted? If I have imputed prejudice to you, you have imputed prejudice to me; see, for instance, your reference to Strauss on page 42. The superiority of the non-Christian creeds had to come into this discussion sooner or later. For myself, the more I study other religions the more I am impressed by the uniqueness of Christianity. I have read the Koran, a dreary, uninspiring work. As to Hinduism, I find it difficult to take Hinduism seriously, because I have an insular prejudice against that diet of cow-dung and urine which the pious Hindus regard as particularly holy. Hinduism, as you yourself remark, "has excused every kind of evil, from murder and the prostitution of young girls to self-mutilation and refusal to wash. It is, moreover, the chief prop of a system of hereditary class distinctions based in part on differences of colour, by contrast with which Louis XIV appears an equalitarian and Pizarro a champion of racial equality. And I find many of its myths disgusting." So if you accuse me of "a partial mental closure," so far as Hinduism is concerned, I shall not attack the statement as either reckless or impolite. On the contrary, I shall welcome it as a tribute to my common sense. In your eloquent defence of scepticism you are preaching to the converted. It is not the scepticism of the moderns which irritates me; it is their distressing credulity. It has been well said that the average Londoner of to-day believes far more things on authority than did any of his ancestors. I am bringing up my own children to doubt anything which they see in print, particularly all pronouncements of popular scientists. But although the habit of doubt was never more valuable than it is to-day, there are some things, such as the multiplication table, which it is idiotic to doubt. You mention Euclid's parallel postulate. That postulate remains as true to-day as when Euclid formulated it. Much loose nonsense has been written to the effect that Euclid has been superseded, and the man in the street is encouraged to believe that Einstein has shown up the great Greek. That is nonsense. Euclidean geometry remains absolutely true for Euclidean space. If, however, our space is curved, certain propositions of Euclid's would not apply to our space, as Euclid would have been the first to admit, but there is no more reason to-day than there was in Euclid's time to doubt the parallel postulate so far as Euclidean space is concerned. You refer to the "familiar theological trick" of ascribing human characters to the universe. You are mistaken. It is scientists, especially atheistic scientists, who personify nature, or who, like Mr. Wells and Mr. Joad, personify, "life." Why should you accuse me of ascribing "human characters" to the universe merely because I believe that the universe is rational? By a "rational universe" I mean very much what Newman meant when he said, "We are sure that there is an external world, that it is a system with parts and a whole, a universe carried out by laws." In spite of my impatience to get on with my job, there are several points in your last letter which I cannot leave unanswered. I repeat that it is for Catholics to define what Catholics believe, and for non-Catholics to argue that the belief in question is false. No Catholic theologian asserts that transubstantiation affects the accidents, which alone are capable of chemical change. I suggest that you apply the sceptical methods, which you value so highly, to the proposition "Professor Haldane alone knows what Catholic theologians believe." But perhaps the doubt which is so fruitful when applied to the multiplication table is dis-edifying when applied to your pronouncements on Catholic theology. In this connexion may I make a small protest? We Christians are rather fussy about terminology. Vagueness and slipshod definition are greater crimes in theology than in science, because theology is so much more important than science. The following sentence in your last letter jars on an ear tuned to the exact thought of St. Thomas Aquinas: "A wafer is said to be converted into the body and blood of Christ." You meant, of course, "The substance of the wafer is said to be transubstantiated into the substance of the body" (not the blood, please) "of Christ." Next point. From the earliest of times theologians have taught that phrases such as "the right hand of God" should be understood in a metaphorical sense. No Catholic who asserted that "the Resurrection" or "the paternity of God and the virginity of Mary" were metaphors could remain in communion with the Church. It is for the Church, not for you, to lay down what is fact and what is metaphor. We will, if you like, go into the whole question of the attitude of the Church to celibacy and sex in a later letter there are few subjects on which non-Catholics more often go wrong. And now for St. Mark once more. You people who are too modest to feel sure that you really exist are very difficult to convince of error. Let me repeat that Christ in this passage prophesies certain miracles, and also tells his disciples that those who remain unconverted by their preaching will be condemned, but not necessarily to eternal punishment. It is not unreasonable to deduce from this that those who reject Christianity in the twentieth century are running much the same risk as those who rejected it in the first century; but it is grotesque to deduce that all Christians are immune from snake-bite because Christ prophesied a particular incident on the island of Malta when St. Paul threw off a viper into the fire. With regard to your suggestion that I have joined the ranks of outsiders who tell scientists how to do their jobs, I have as much right to criticize scientists as you have to criticize theologians. More perhaps, since I have devoted more time to science than you have to theology, and I have yet to be convicted of travestying a scientific doctrine as you have travestied the doctrines of transubstantiation. The whole question of the relations between the Church and science is surrounded by a dense fog of prejudice and ignorance. Free-thinkers have been extremely clever at exploiting the tactical advantages of that foolish phrase, "the conflict between religion and science." There is no such conflict. There is, however, a very real conflict between the scientists who do, and the scientists who do not, believe in the supernatural. May I quote a passage from my Introduction to the new edition of The Flight from Reason? "There lies before me as I write a book called The Religion of Scientists, edited by C. L. Drawbridge, M.A. (Ernest Benn, Ltd.). Mr. Drawbridge circularized all the Fellows of the Royal Society to elicit their views on religion. In answer to the question, Do you think that Science negatives the idea of a personal god as taught by Jesus Christ? 26 Fellows of the Royal Society replied that science does negative this idea, 103 replied that natural science does not negative this idea, 47 expressed a definite belief in the survival of personality, and 41 expressed definite disbelief. In reply to the question, Do you think that the recent remarkable developments in scientific thought are favourable to religious belief? 27 replied in the negative and 99 replied in the affirmative. Making all allowance for those who did not reply to these questions, or who sent in replies too indefinite to be classified, I maintain that this symposium proves conclusively that only a small minority of scientists still persist in maintaining the quaint idea that science has disproved the existence of God or the immortality of the soul." The myth that the Church has any quarrel with science owes its origin to the Galileo blunder — a blunder which has been magnificently advertised. The real interest of the Galileo case is the fact that it is a theological "sport"; an unfortunate exception to the Church's normal policy of encouraging science and honouring scientists. The discovery that the world revolves round the sun was first published in a book which would never have seen the light of day but for the active interest of two cardinals, a book which was dedicated by its author, Canon Copernicus, to Pope Paul III. Neither Paul III nor any of the nine Popes who followed him protested against the Copernican doctrine. In 1596, thirty years before Galileo got into trouble, the Protestant biological faculty at the University of Tubingen censured Kepler for writing a book in support of the Copernican doctrine. They made things so unpleasant for Kepler that he fled. And to whom? To the Jesuits of Gratz, who welcomed him warmly. Both Luther and Melanchthon inveighed against the blasphemy of a moving earth long before Rome itself was infected by this general alarm. Had Galileo been content to maintain the Copernican theory as a convenient hypothesis which explains phenomena in a simpler manner than the Ptolemaic, he would have been left in peace. He got into trouble because he invaded the sphere of the theologian and maintained that scripture had blundered. The decree of the Holy Office which censured these views was, of course, a great blunder. But it must be remembered that, on the evidence available at the time, the case for the Copernican system was by no means overwhelming. Huxley, who looked into the matter, came to the conclusion that on the available evidence "the Pope and the Cardinals had rather the best of it." Directly after the trial of Galileo, Cardinal Bellarmine, perhaps the most influential of the cardinals, sent a letter to Foscarini in which he said that, had Galileo been content to show that his system explained celestial phenomena without denying the truth of scripture, all would have been well. He added that if it could really be proved that the sun was fixed, a possibility which he clearly contemplated, it would be necessary to consider carefully the passages in scripture which seemed to prove the contrary, and that it would then be necessary to admit that these passages had been misunderstood, "to pronounce that to be false which is demonstrated." So great was the respect of the Church for science that Galileo was treated with consideration far greater than that which would have probably been accorded to a priest who had sponsored his theories. "In the generation which saw the Thirty Years War," writes Professor Whitehead, "and remembered Alva in the Netherlands, the worst that happened to men of science was that Galileo suffered an honourable detention and a mild reproof before dying peacefully in his bed." Galileo, you will see, was censured for much the same reason that the Waters ton Paper, referred to in one of your recent letters, was refused publication, and for much the same reason which induced you to turn down two papers submitted to you, "not because they attacked current opinions," but because you thought the "evidence in them inadequate to make them plausible." Scientific pioneers, as I show later in this letter, have had to fear not the Church but organized scientific opinion. A man's foes are those of his own household and his own trade union. The real conflict is the conflict between science and the scientists, not the conflict between science and religion. In a recent letter you referred to the scientists who had been burnt alive "at the instigation of the clergy," a loose phrase which conjures up a picture of scientists being roasted alive because the Church objected to their scientific discoveries. Joad made a similar remark, and you had the advantage of reading my reply to Joad. You wisely retreat from an impossible position as adroitly as possible. You tell me that you did not mean that these scientists were burnt as scientists, which is precisely what nine hundred and ninety-nine readers out of a thousand would have deduced from the remark to which I have referred. They were burnt as heretics, you tell me. Well, so were a great many priests, soldiers, butchers, and candlestick-makers, — and their fate has therefore no bearing whatever on the general subject of the relations between the Church and science. Incidentally, would you please be good enough to name any scientists of European reputation who were burnt by the Catholic Church? You reply in effect that science is atheistic in detail, from which I am perhaps expected to deduce that the execution of an atheist is an attack on science. I deny that science is atheistic in detail, though I agree that the phenomena of disease and inheritance can largely be explained, without invoking the hypothesis that God exists. Largely is the operative word in this sentence. I am glad to note that you concede by implication that these phenomena cannot be entirely explained without assuming the existence of God. The ultimate explanation of everything that exists is God; science, which is concerned with secondary causes, need not normally invoke God as a solution for the immediate problem. As you have mentioned Pasteur, may I remind you of the famous saying of that eminent scientist to the effect that he believed everything that a Breton fisherman believed, and that if he were a better scientist he would probably believe everything that a Breton fisherman's wife believed. You imply that jealousy and obscurantism are uncommon in the scientific world. Thomas Huxley was less sanguine. He describes "pedantry and jealousy as the besetting sins of scientific men," but perhaps things have improved since Huxley's day, and no doubt you will tell me that the following letter of Huxley's is quite untrue so far as modern scientists are concerned: "You have no notion of the intrigues," wrote Huxley, "that go on in this blessed world of science. Science is, I fear, no purer than any other region of human activity; though it should be. Merit alone is very little good; it must be backed by tact and knowledge of the world to do very much. "For instance, I know that the paper I have just sent in is very original and of some importance, and I am equally sure that if it is referred to the judgment of my 'particular friend' that it will not be published. He won't be able to say a word against it, but he will pooh-pooh it to a dead certainty. "You will ask with some wonderment, Why? Because for the last twenty years has been regarded as the great authority on these matters, and has had no one to tread on his heels, until at last, I think, he has come to look upon the 'Natural world' as his special preserve, and no poachers allowed. So I must maneuvre a little to get my poor memoir kept out of his hands." Professor David Starr Jordan has summed up with great discernment the true nature of the alleged conflict between theologians and scientists. "The real essence of Conservatism," he writes, "lies not in theology. The whole conflict is a struggle in the mind of man. It exists in human psychology before it is wrought out in human history. It is the struggle of realities against tradition and suggestion. The progress of civilization would still have been just such a struggle had religion or theology or churches or worship never existed." I must now substantiate by a few instances, chosen at random, my statement that scientific pioneers have had much to suffer from organized scientific opinion. Galileo met with even greater opposition from contemporary scientists than from the misguided Pope whose attitude was such a contrast to that of his nine predecessors. He invented the telescope, and his first teacher at the University of Padua flatly refused to examine the planets or the moon through his telescope. Lord Bacon, whom foolish people credit with the invention of the experimental method, bitterly opposed the Copernican system. Harvey lost half his consulting practice because physicians believed that his famous theory of the circulation of the blood could only proceed from a man who was unbalanced. Stenson, who discovered that the heart was a muscle, found the scientists of the Netherlands so unsympathetic that he moved on to Italy, where he was so much impressed by the keen interest displayed by ecclesiastics towards new ideas that he joined the Catholic Church and entered the priesthood. Jenner's views on vaccination met with bitter opposition. Auenbrugger, who discovered the method of the percussion of the chest, had to confess that "envy and blame and even hatred and calumny have never failed to come to men who have illuminated art or science by their discoveries." Dr. Thomas Young, who promulgated the theory of light waves and of the ether, encountered tremendous opposition. As to Darwin. What precisely did Darwin do? As the pioneer of the evolutionary theory he was anticipated by Buffon, by Lamarck, and by Erasmus Darwin. The term "Darwinism" is often used as the equivalent for "evolution." Eminent scientists, such as Sir Arthur Keith, are guilty of this slovenly inaccuracy. Darwinism, properly speaking, means the theory that evolution can be explained by the sole agent of natural selection. This theory was first tentatively put forward in 1813 and later in 1831. Darwin cannot even be credited with being the first to propagate that famous superstition. Darwin achieved eminence because he had the amazingly good luck to ventilate other people's theories at a time when the world was ripe for the evolutionary theory. His book, The Origin of Species, is one of the worst-written books in the English language. Its obscurity is, perhaps, partly due to the fact that Darwin was more concerned to establish a claim to originality than to clarify his own ideas. "Exposition," says Thomas Huxley, was not Darwin's forte. His English is sometimes wonderful. But there is a marvellous dumb sagacity about him, and he gets to the truth by ways that are as dark as those of the heathen Chinee. What remains of Darwin's greatness if Darwinism is rejected? Is it unfair to describe Darwin as a mediocrity if the conclusion which he reached was wrong, if he reached that conclusion "by ways as dark as those of the heathen Chinee," and if, in the opinion of his warmest admirer, he wrote bad English and had no gift for exposition? Here is a passage from one of Darwin's works: "If an earthquake occurred in England, what would become of the lofty houses, thickly parked cities, great manufacturies [sic], the beautiful public and private edifices?" One need of not be a genius to answer this question. If the earthquake was severe "the beautiful public and private edifices" would depreciate in value. "The greatest of living men," as Darwin was described by an enthusiastic contemporary, then proceeds to explain that if the earthquake continued for some considerable time "England would be at once bankrupt," and that "all papers, records and accounts would from that moment be lost." There is a great deal more in this strain, and it is difficult to believe that a man who, at the age of thirty-three, could cover paper with these dreadful commonplaces was a genius. As a layman in scientific matters I have been both impressed and depressed by the flood of fulsome panegyric of which Darwin was the theme. "Newton and Darwin stand together," writes Professor Poulton," in the select company of the greatest men the world has ever seen. He combined, it would seem, the intellect of a Newton with the moral genius of a St. Francis. "Of Darwin's pure and exalted moral nature no Englishman of the present generation can trust himself to speak," writes Mr. Grant Allen. Nothing is more surprising than the lack of effective opposition to Darwinism when Darwin's book first appeared. Mivart wrote a first-rate criticism, but Mivart was ignored because Mivart was a Catholic. Perhaps the most gifted and the most persistent critic of Darwinism was Samuel Butler, but nobody took Butler seriously — till he died. Medicine provides many examples of heresy-hunting. The fact that Sir Herbert Barker has been knighted suggests that his work is not altogether valueless; yet Dr. Axham was struck off the Register for administering anaesthetics to Sir Herbert's patients. If people choose to consult the arch-heretic Barker, let them at least suffer as much physical pain as possible in the process. I leave you to supply the theological analogy. If this letter were not already too long I should conclude with quoting a series of examples to illustrate the obscurantist attitude of scientists to new facts. Again and again scientists have rejected the evidence for new facts, not because the evidence was unconvincing, but because the facts in question conflicted with their own narrow and a priori views as to how the universe should function. Planets were condemned by the scientific fashion of the day to move in perfect circular orbits, for an elliptical orbit was regarded with much the same horrified disgust as the phenomena of the seance room are regarded to-day. But the attitude of scientists to psychical research deserves, and will receive, a letter to itself.
Feb. 20, 1933.
DEAR LUNN, I note that you have not taken up the challenge which I put to you in my last letter about married saints. I take it therefore that you admit the points which those questions were designed to elucidate — that is to say, that celibacy is nowadays a prerequisite if one is to become a saint. You object to my statement "A wafer is said to be converted into the body and blood of Christ." And you tell me that I meant "the substance of the wafer is said to be transubstantiated into the substance of the body (not the blood, please) of Christ." You will excuse me, but I meant exactly what I said there and elsewhere. Your ear may, as you claim, be "attuned to the exact thought of St. Thomas Aquinas." But you do not appear to know what he wrote. In the Summa Theologica, Quaestio LXXV, Art. 8, you will find: "Respondeo dicendum quod haec conversio panis in corpus Christi quantum ad aliquid convenit cum creatione et cum transmutatione naturali, et quantum ad aliquid differert ab utraque" [answer that one should say that this conversion of the bread into the body of Christ agrees to some extent with creation and natural transmutation, and to some extent differs from both]. Later he makes a detailed comparison with the conversion of air into fire, a chemical process. In the next chapter (Quaestio LXXVI, Art. 2) he writes: "Nam sub specie bus panis est quidem corpus Christi ex vi sacramenti, sanguis autem ex reali concomitantia ..."-"For under the species of the bread the body of Christ is indeed [present] by the force of the sacrament, the blood on the other hand by real concomitance. .." St. Thomas further held the peculiar opinion that the whole Christ (totus Christus) is present in each species (bread and wine) of the sacrament, and in every particle of it. I can well understand your reluctance to believe in so absurd a doctrine. It was shared by the Calixtine heretics In Bohemia, and cost a very large number of them their lives at the hands of the champions of the Church. But I could wish that you were acquainted with the views to which you desire to convert me, and would not accuse me of travestying the doctrine of transubstantiation when I attempt to describe the opinions of the Angelic Doctor. It was another Balliol man, a sixteenth-century Catholic convert called Bagshaw, whom the Jesuits dubbed "Doctor erraticus." Perhaps you are trying to emulate him. I thought that you would quote my remarks on Hindu practice (which were not, by the way, all as unfavourable as those you cite) as a refutation of Hindu theory. And yet you might regard me as illogical if I stated that Torquemada's actions disproved Aquinas' philosophy. Fortunately a more direct refutation is possible. Nor can I agree with you that the Koran is dreary. I think that you will have to search the Bible rather thoroughly before you find a more memorable phrase about the last judgment than Muhammad's (or Gabriel's): "The day that shall turn little children grey-headed." The Koran, you must remember, is partially written in rhyme, and loses greatly by being rendered into prose by non-Islamic translators. When we next meet remind me to recite you the Surat-al-Fatiha. I doubt if even my execrable accent can completely ruin it. And I think that your possibly over-contemptuous attitude, which is widely shared in this country, may be responsible for a good deal of the present instability of the British Empire. If you merely mean by saying that the universe is rational that it has structure and a certain uniformity, it is a pity to use the same word which is employed when we say that man is a rational animal. And why, oh, why, do you call Mr. Joad a scientist? You might as well call him a bishop! His published work, and particularly The Meaning of Life, shows a very thoroughgoing refusal to accept well-established scientific facts. At last we have got your theory about that passage from St. Mark. It appears to you that the threats still hold good, but the promises are now obsolete. A convenient principle often acted upon by Christian governments! But I still feel that the Hopi Indians of Arizona (or is it New Mexico?), who habitually use live and active rattlesnakes in their religious dances, have, in view of this passage, a better claim to be called Christians than is commonly supposed. Now for Mr. Drawbridge: 129 out of 511 Fellows of the Royal Society answered him definitely as to the existence of God, and of these only 26 thought that it was disproved by science. But approximately three-quarters of the fellows did not answer. Clearly all those who approved of the Christian Evidence Society did so. So doubtless did the more ardent atheists. But the large majority did not. The average irreligious scientist presumably pitched Mr. Drawbridge's questionnaire into the waste-paper basket, probably after a rude remark about the ambiguity of some of his questions. If you maintain that a census of one-quarter, not taken at random, of one society proves anything conclusively (your expression) about scientists as a whole, you merely demonstrate the laxity of your canons of evidence. Your account of Copernicus and Galileo is quaint. The discovery that the earth revolves round the sun was first published, not as you state, by Canon Copernicus, but by Aristarchus, some centuries before there were any canons. To credit Copernicus with this discovery is like crediting Darwin with the theory of evolution. But the former, and not the latter, misstatement reflects credit on the Church, and is therefore so frequently made that you doubtless repeated it without thinking. I note with interest the parallelism between Galileo's treatment and my own: also the differences. If I was arrested and threatened with torture I have doubtless forgotten these incidents. All that happened to me or Waterston was that certain people would not publish our papers at their expense. But Galileo's books were put on the Index Expurgatorius and their circulation forbidden, whereas Waterston and I could have published our papers at our own cost. Galileo, you say, "got into trouble because he invaded the sphere of the theologians and maintained that Scripture had blundered." Exactly. When the Church had its way this is what happened. Theologians could invade anyone's sphere and make pronouncements on law, morals, politics, economics, and science. But if anyone invaded their sphere he was lucky if, like Galileo, he escaped with a mere threat of torture. When scientists begin to clamour for your arrest, or that of the Bishop of London, for talking what seems to them nonsense about science, you can begin to write about scientific intolerance. I am quite aware, by the way, that the Protestants were often just as intolerant as the Catholics. In the eyes of a secularist there are two main things to be said in favour of Protestantism as against Catholicism. The Reformation weakened Christianity, and the Protestant Churches were never so powerful as the Catholic. You ask me to name any scientists who were burnt by the Catholic Church. I take it that this was intended as a trap. When an ecclesiastical tribunal had found a man, woman, or child guilty of certain offences, the victim was handed over to the secular authority to be punished "without shedding of blood" (sine effusione sanguinis), and was then burned alive. On the basis of this subterfuge Catholic apologists have claimed that the Church does not persecute, and is not guilty of the death of these persons. On the other hand, most decent-minded people find it impossible to believe that an organization capable of such hypocrisy is the servant of a good God. If I had given you any names (e.g. Bruno) you might have caught me on this somewhat technical point. I don't think that you quite took my point about the atheistic character of science. I said that the phenomena of inheritance could be largely explained without bringing in God simply because a good deal still remains unexplained, and not because I can see the faintest scintilla of evidence that God is concerned in the matter any more than in the working of an automobile. There is, I admit, some very inadequate evidence, which we will discuss later, that He is concerned in both. Nor for your great attack on scientific intolerance. You state that "scientific pioneers have had much to suffer from organized scientific opinion." You give the following examples. A teacher at Padua would not look through Galileo's telescope. Francis Bacon bitterly opposed the Copernican method. Harvey lost half his practice because the physicians of his day did not agree with him. I should hesitate to call English physicians of the twentieth century a body of scientists. They were certainly not so in the seventeenth century. Stenson found Dutch scientists unsympathetic. Jenner and Aunbrugger also met with medical opposition. Young met with "tremendous opposition." You do not state that his main opponent was a politician, Lord Brougham. And that is all, till we come down to modern times. You have not produced a shadow of evidence that "organized scientific opinion" was arrayed against these men. Actually Harvey was elected Treasurer of the College of Physicians in 1618, the year of the publication of his work on the heart, and President in 1654. Jenner was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Only eight years after the publishing of his first book on vaccination the College of Physicians reported in favour of it. Young became a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of twenty-one, and Foreign Secretary of it at the age of twenty-nine. Such were some of the sufferings which your English examples underwent at the hands of organized English science. Of course they had to submit to a certain amount of criticism, and a good thing too. It doubtless induced them to clarify their expositions and confirm their observations. But if that sort of treatment is organized opposition, I only wish some organization would start opposing me. Mivart, you say, was ignored because he was a Catholic. In the sixth edition of The Origin of Species Darwin refers to him five times. The main discussion of his objections occupies twenty-seven pages (164-191) from which I proceed to quote: "A distinguished zoologist, Mr. St. George Mivart, has recently collected all the objections which have ever been advanced by myself or others against the theory of natural selection, as propounded by Mr. Wallace and myself, and has illustrated them with admirable art and force. All Mr. Mivart's objections will be, or have been considered in the present volume. Nevertheless I will consider in some detail several of the cases advanced by Mr. Mivart, selecting those which are most illustrative, as want of space prevents my considering them all. Do you think that Darwin ought to have devoted an entire book to answering Mivart, because he was a Catholic? Or that Huxley was boycotting him when he mentioned his name is only fifty-nine times in one essay in Darwiniana? Perhaps you will tell me in your next letter how many thousand words must be devoted to answering a person before you can escape the charge of ignoring him. You write: "I have yet to be convicted of travestying a scientific doctrine as you have travestied the doctrine of transubstantiation." I must leave our readers to decide the accuracy of your accusation of me. You will now be convicted. You make the ridiculous assertion that "Darwinism, properly speaking, means the theory that evolution can be explained by the sole agency of Natural Selection. I can only assume that you have not read The Origin of Species. Its first two chapters deal with variation as an essential condition for evolution. Here are some quotations from it (references to the sixth edition): He likewise assumes that I attribute nothing to variation, independently of natural selection, whereas in the work just referred to I have collected a greater number of well established cases than can be found in any other work known in to me; (p. 104). "...But many animals possess structures which can best be explained by the effects of disuse". (p. 100). "...These several considerations made me believe that in the wingless condition of so many Madeira beetles is mainly due to the action of natural selection, probably combined with disuse" (my italics; p. 101). "On the whole we may conclude that habit, or use and disuse, have, in some cases, played a considerable part in the modification of the constitution and structure, but that the effects have often been combined with, and sometimes overmastered by, the natural selection of innate variations" (p. 106). Do you want any more, or will you admit that Darwinism as defined by you is not the theory propounded by Darwin? You ask me, "What remains of Darwin's greatness if Darwinism be rejected?" I will give a short account of some of Darwin's main work apart from that bearing on evolution. He made a still unsurpassed survey of the variation of animals and plants under domestication. This book was published in 1868, and is still indispensable to geneticists. His studies on coral reefs and on the action of earthworms did much to make geology a living science. His work on self-fertilization and cross-fertilization, and on heterostylism, founded a whole branch of genetics. Unfortunately in this work he gave way to his one serious failing, namely, modesty. He found that the characters short style and long style in Primula obeyed what are now known as Mendel's laws. But while his own observations all agreed with the view that the short-styled condition is dominant (which we now know to be the case) he combined the records of one Hildebrand with his own. When an accurate technique is used, Darwin's results are confirmed, Hildebrand's are not. As he took Hildebrand seriously, he did not enunciate the very simple law which followed from his own observations. In order to become acquainted with the principles of zoological classification, he made a special study of barnacles, discovering, among other things, the microscopic males of many species. He did fundamental work on movement in plants, especially climbing and insectivorous species. No other scientist has done fundamental work in zoology, botany, geology, and genetics. I have so far said nothing about his work on evolution. In my opinion his theory of heredity was false, and he attached far too much importance to the inheritance of habit, in which Butler believed. But I believe that his main thesis regarding the effects of natural selection was substantially right. If you disagree you are at liberty to tell me why. But it would perhaps be advisable for you to find out what Darwin wrote before you refute him. You do not like his style. No wonder. He actually contrived to do two very difficult things. He did not say more than he meant, which involves the use of words like "probably" and "sometimes," and does not make for catchy phrases. And he attempted to consider all the objections to his theories, which makes for long-windedness. I can quite see why you prefer Samuel Butler, whose writings suffer from neither of these defects. You bring up the case of Sir Herbert Barker. What has this to do with science? Medical men form a closed corporation. So do lawyers, parsons, locomotive engineers, chartered accountants, and stockbrokers. Scientists do not. Or, if they do, please tell me about it. I agree that the medical profession copies the mediaeval gilds rather too closely. I take it that their attitude is that if they admitted Barker, they would have no logical or legal ground for keeping out other less desirable unqualified men. But what has this to do with science? Doctors apply science. So do motor-mechanics and seedsmen. If they also copied their exclusiveness from scientists I should have a case to answer. And I should answer it. Actually the medical profession is delighted to obtain help from outsiders if they do not act in such a way as to throw its members out of work as healers. For example, I have often lectured to medical audiences, and sometimes been well paid for it. But if I started taking money from patients they would object, and in my opinion, rightly. May I sum up your criticisms of my profession? We do not at once accept certain theories. This is "persecution" or "boycotting." We accept others. This is "the latest scientific fashion." Some professions which apply science adopt trade union principles. We expect our critics to take to cognizance of facts. These facts are called "our own narrow and a priori views."
Yours very truly,
J. B. S. HALDANE.
March 27, 1933.
DEAR HALDANE, I have delayed answering your letter until my return home, for my library does not include the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. I am sorry that I gave you the impression that I regard Joad as a scientist. The sentence in which I referred to him might perhaps have been more clearly expressed, but it was certainly not intended to convey that implication. Joad, I am sure, would be as anxious to disown, as I should be reluctant to make, any such insinuation. Again, you make a general accusation against the clergy of burning scientists alive. I ask for names. You produce Bruno. Now, Bruno had even less claims than Mr. Joad to be considered a scientist, and vastly less than Lord Bacon, for Bacon did at least devote considerable time to the formulation of a method which he believed, falsely as we agree, would facilitate scientific discovery. You deny that doctors are scientists. But surely the study of health belongs to science. Or are we to understand that it is scientific to study the skeletons of Neanderthal man and unscientific to study the living bodies of our contemporaries? I think I see your point. A man becomes a scientist when, like Bruno, he is burnt by the Church, and ceases to be a scientist when he belongs to a corporation which, like the B.M.A., indulges in heresy-hunting. You sweep aside as unimportant the cases which I have quoted of men who have suffered from the jealousy of their scientific colleagues; and very wisely you ignore my quotation from Thomas Huxley. Huxley, as you will reluctantly remember, describes jealousy and pedantry as "the two besetting sins of scientific men." You can only acquit scientific men of this charge by convicting Thomas Huxley of "making damaging assertions" against your profession. On the other hand, your case against the Church, so far as persecuting science is concerned, appears to boil down to the historic blunder of the Galileo trial. But one is blunder does not justify such sweeping accusations. Have you any evidence for suggesting that Galileo was threatened with torture? Please answer this question, and please reply to my challenge to name six scientists of European reputation who were burnt alive by the Church. I select the number "six" as a retort courteous to your challenge about celibate saints. Your attempt to evade my challenge to name scientific martyrs is amusing. You imply that you can produce a long list of names, but refrain from doing so because you believe me capable of taking refuge in a pitiful subterfuge; of defending the Church, that is, on the ground that the victims of the Inquisition were handed over to the secular power to execute. I do not know a single modern Catholic writer of any standing capable of putting forward so fatuous a defence. This is the only statement of yours which has nettled me. I cannot believe that you think so badly of my controversial ability; if you did you would surely not cross swords with me. I object, my dear Haldane, to your making damaging assertions against me unless you can substantiate them. Moreover, this particular assertion is not only unsubstantiated, but has been refuted in advance. You had only to look up Inquisition in the Index to my joint work with to Joad to save yourself from the controversial blunder of putting into my mouth a defence which I am incapable of employing. While we are on the subject of the Inquisition, let me say that Torquemada represents a real difficulty for the Catholic apologist, but your parallel between Torquemada and the beastliness of Hinduism in practice is inexact. Torquemada does not refute Catholic philosophy for two reasons. I say in the first place, the Inquisition represents, as all Catholics concede, a perversion of Christianity, whereas the more the loathsome features of Hinduism are still maintained with devotion as an integral part of that debased religion. In the second place, Catholicism in practice has such a vast accumulation of merit on the credit side that even Torquemada does not tip the scale. Hinduism, on the other hand, is uniformly beastly. Five hundred years hence, if the horrors of Hinduism are as obsolete as the Inquisition, if little girls of five are no longer reserved as prostitutes for the pleasure of the temple priests, it may be possible to consider the claims of Hindu philosophy with detachment. Meanwhile it is as foolish to compare Catholicism with Hinduism as to compare the altar-piece of a Bellini with the phallic designs, representing all stages of vice, natural and unnatural, which still adorn the temples of Hinduism. By the way, have you read Hindoo Holiday by J. Ackerley, a brilliant and entertaining picture of the most fatuous and most degraded of all conceivable religions? And now having dealt with the minor points in your letter, allow me to make one general observation about your letter as a whole. I contend that scientists, like other people, have no uniform measure by which to judge men, or beliefs. I shall show in later letters that scientists welcome evidence which confirms, and view with hostility evidence which conflicts with, their own a priori views of the universe. The evidence for evolution, for instance, is far weaker than the evidence for telepathy or for ectoplasm; but almost all scientists accept evolution, and, until recently, most scientists rejected telepathy. Again, you regard it as legitimate to ridicule the heroes of the Church but scandalous to criticize the saints of science. You think it amusing to poke fun at the fatness of St. Thomas, but you begin to bristle the moment I question the moral splendour of Darwin. The cases which I quoted in my last letter to convince you that heresy-hunting is not a monopoly of Churchmen were not, of course, intended to be a complete summary of all such cases, but merely a few outstanding examples. Incidentally, Dr. Young's chief opponent was not, as you say, a politician. Dr. Gould, one of his biographers, tells us that Young was inclined to publish his great work on the theory of light waves anonymously "to avoid persecution and deprivation of practice." Many years passed before the French Academy would permit the publication of Fresnel's papers on the subject of Young's theories; a quarter of a century elapsed before those who had endeavoured to silence Young were themselves silenced. But Young had been silenced too. His disgust was so great that he resigned from the Royal Society and devoted himself to his poor medical practice and to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not attempting to prove that scientists are more intolerant than other people. All I suggest is that if we are more interested in the facts than in propaganda, and if we approach the problems of social psychology in a scientific spirit rather than in the spirit of the militant secularist, we shall realize that heresy-hunting is one of the most universal of all human traits. It might have been possible in the Victorian age to believe that the world was growing steadily more tolerant, but to-day, when by far the larger part of the European political heresies are more ruthlessly and more successfully suppressed than religious heresy was ever suppressed in mediaeval Europe, even the most prejudiced secularist of your school must find it difficult to believe that the Europe which is beginning to worship science is more tolerant than the Europe which worshipped God. The fact that nobody has as yet been executed in the name of science is due to the historic accident that science, as you pointed out in your letter, is not yet organized for persecution. Consequently scientists have only been able to use such weapons as were in their power to make things uncomfortable for the heretic. I have pointed out that the B.M.A. does its best to make things uncomfortable for medical heretics. I am, not attacking their attitude to quacks, which is no doubt justified. "You do not seem to realize," a doctor once remarked to me, "that the B.M.A. are only concerned to protect people like you and me from malpractice." A good defence; no worse if no better than the arguments which have been advanced to justify religious persecution. For surely if the B.M.A. are justified, as they certainly are, in protecting the layman's bodily health from malpractice, the Catholic Church is equally justified in protecting the layman's spiritual health from spiritual quacks. Science, like the Church, invokes the secular arm of the State to impose justice. A few years ago the French Government during a smallpox scare refused to allow foreigners to land in France unless they could produce a certificate to the effect that they had recently been vaccinated. If Catholic Ireland refused to allow Englishmen to land unless a priest was prepared to certify that they had confessed and been absolved, and were not in a state of mortal sin, there would be a fine hullabaloo about persecution from those who, like yourself, can see nothing odd about the exclusion of the unvaccinated from France. And yet it is as logical for a Catholic country to exclude those who might infect the spiritual as for France to exclude those who might infect the bodily welfare of her citizens. There are many people who would agree with Mr. Bernard Shaw in his dread of organized science; many people who feel, as Mr. Bernard Shaw feels, that it would be more comfortable to live under the mediaeval rule of the Church than under the rule of organized science. If the sterilizers, eugenists, and other pseudo-scientific cranks have their way there would be far less freedom in the State of the future than in mediaeval Europe. I seem to remember, but cannot trace the passage, some mordant criticisms from your pen on the political results in America of certain pseudo-scientific theories, e.g. the alleged superiority of the Nordic race. In another passage you profess yourself "extremely suspicious" of most of the attempts to "apply scientific principles to man in non-medical fields. Much of what passes for scientific psychology seems to me profoundly unscientific. The same is true of eugenics, criminology, and many other ologies." For once we seem to be in agreement. To sum up. I contend that any body of men, organized for the furtherance of a common object, will, if they are sufficiently powerful, use their power to suppress opinions which they regard as dangerous or pernicious. In this respect I do not think that there is anything to choose between mediaeval Churchmen and modern Fascists, Communists or scientists, once they get into power. I did not answer your challenge about married saints because I was writing away from books, and hoped that you would spare me the trouble of proving you wrong. In your book you claim that Catholics regard celibacy as "a prerequisite of sanctity." Realizing that this statement as it stands cannot be defended, for one need not be a hagiographer to know that most of the apostles were married, you ingeniously attempt to retreat by naming an arbitrary date (1600), and by asking me to name half a dozen saints living later than 1600 who have been canonized. What an unscientific challenge! It is the century in out which the saint is canonized, not the century in which he lived, which is relevant as evidence of the attitude of the Church. Had the modern Church regarded celibacy as "a prerequisite of sanctity" it would clearly not have canonized a man whether he was born before or since 1600. I need not, of course, tell you that the Church officially recognizes outstanding sanctity either by beatification or by canonization. In many cases beatification is the prelude to canonization. At the present moment, for instance, Catholics are praying for the canonization of the Blessed Thomas More, who was beatified in 1886. The Blessed Thomas More was twice married. Here, are a few more examples of married men and women whose unusual sanctity has been officially recognized by the Church: St. Ferdinand III, King of Castile, was canonized in 1471; St. Catharine of Genoa was canonized in the eighteenth century; St. Isidore and his wife were both canonized, the former in 1622; St. Francis Borgia, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, and St. Frances de Chantal were all married, though they entered the religious state after the deaths of their wives; the Blessed Margaret Clitheroe was beatified. Anna Maria Taigi, who was born in 1769, remained with her husband and had charge of his household until her death in 1837. The husband survived her and gave evidence at the age of ninety at the process of beatification. She was beatified in 1920. The Blessed Paolo de Gambara Costa, who was beatified in 1845, spent most of her life with an unfaithful husband. The Blessed Humbert of Savoy was married at least three times; he was beatified in 1838. The Blessed Villana di Botti, also a married man, was beatified in 1824. Your quotation from the decrees of the Council of Trent only proves what nobody denies, that the Church maintains virginity as a higher state, that is, a state more free for occupation with God: Mary as against Martha. Only those who have a clear vocation should take vows of celibacy, and, for the rest, the Church teaches that it is perfectly possible for a married man or a married woman to live a life of most outstanding holiness while remaining in the world. And that will do. A hagiographer could doubtless provide you with many more examples. I have only quoted sufficient to prove that the statement which I originally criticized was inaccurate and unhistorical. I await your withdrawal. I have left to the last your comic attempt to refute the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation with the aid of St. Thomas Aquinas, for I fear that had this letter begun with the abstruse theological discussion which you provoke the average reader might have given it up in disgust. The average reader is hereby warned that what follows will be stiff reading, which he can leave unread if he is prepared to accept my statement that you have made a sad mess of St. Thomas. St. Thomas was one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Every century produces its shoddy crop of substitutes for the Catholic faith. How they date! Those predecessors of the Wellses and Bertrand Russells of our day. Thousands of years after the leaders of modern thought have been forgotten St. Thomas, I venture to prophesy, will still be regarded as one of the master minds of all time. Now your mistake is to assume that you can dip into St. Thomas with your feet on the fender. He deserves, and receives from the discerning reader, patient and careful study. If you thought of him as a mountain towering above your head rather than as a valley above which you, as a child of the twentieth century have climbed, you would be far more likely to grasp what he is driving at. Like most scientists you fail to realize that theology is a science which, like other sciences, has its own vocabulary. In the last century a certain Dr. Littledale attempted to attack the morality of certain of St. Liguori's teachings. The poor man did not realize that casuistry, like other branches of law, has its own technical vocabulary and, as a result, he made a very complete fool of himself. You go wrong for a similar reason. You have not taken the trouble either to master St. Thomas's philosophy or his terminology; you have not begun to understand what he means by "concomitance." Again, your first reference to St. Thomas in an earlier letter showed that you were guilty of that vulgar error which the Thomist has learned to greet with a weary yawn. St. Thomas, you tell us tries to prove the existence of a creator from the impossibility of an infinite regress. He does no such thing, as you will learn when it is my turn to defend my beliefs — and his. I have always contended that the modern secularists are completely reckless in their attacks on the Church, and I am glad that you dragged in St. Thomas to corroborate this theory. For you have advantages which most secularists do not possess. You have dipped into Catholic literature; you have heard of St. Thomas; you can quote Catholic writers. If, therefore, I can show, as I can, that you have made the most elementary blunder about Catholic doctrines, and that you have hopelessly misunderstood St. Thomas Aquinas, it follows, a fortiori, that the reader will be well advised to disregard as uninstructed and amateurish the sort of stuff which is inflicted on the public by other members of your school far less able than you, and even less instructed in Catholic matters than yourself. Your attempt to defend yourself by quoting from St. Thomas and mocking at my ignorance has, unfortunately for you, betrayed you completely into my hands. You profess superior knowledge. It would have been far better, I assure you, to have climbed down and admitted your mistakes. Frankly, your defence is shamefully bad. I corrected you on an acknowledged point of theology — to the effect that "the substance of bread is transubstantiated into the body of Christ," not the body and blood as you said. Instead of yielding, as anyone who knows the rudiments of the question would do, you produce triumphantly a passage which says, "Under the species of the bread the body of Christ is indeed present by the force of the Sacrament, the blood on the other hand by real concomitance." Precisely: the bread is transubstantiated into the body of Christ, not the blood; but as the body of Christ is a live body, the body which becomes present has in fact blood and soul and divinity. My correction was to enforce this distinction. You, evidently not knowing the meaning of the correction, quote my distinction to prove me wrong. Turn up the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, LXIV, if you wish to discover exactly what St. Thomas meant by "natural " concomitance. That is one blunder of yours, and it prepared me for the second, for you evidently do not fear to rush at a passage of technical theology and tell me what it means without taking any trouble to understand it. You claim that Article 8 in LXXV proves your point, and will not believe me when I try to teach you that it doesn't. I say, therefore, that no single Thomist theologian would dream of giving your interpretation. All are with me. And as you won't believe my word I have shown your argument to Father M. D'Arcy, and asked his opinion. Father D'Arcy has written what is, perhaps, the best modern study of St. Thomas. His other writings as a Catholic philosopher have won him the commendation of theologians far from sympathetic to Catholics, such as Dean Inge. In reply, Father D'Arcy writes as follows: "Of course there is no question that Haldane has misunderstood the article and, I suppose, the whole meaning of transubstantiation. It really is rather lamentable that he should write with such assurance and take such a high tone when he does not show the grasp of the subject even an amateur might be expected to have. His assurance casts a very ugly light on the subjects about which he writes with the same assurance. Anyone who knew anything about the history of the discussion round the Eucharist would have been able to avoid his mistakes. The discussion had been going on vigorously since Pascharius in the 9th century, and all sorts of views had been put forward. Any acquaintance with the nature of those views would have provided a background against which those which Haldane tried to foist on to St. Thomas would have looked ridiculous. But the very passage which he quotes gives the lie to his interpretation, and how he can have avoided seeing this beats me. Haldane says that because St. Thomas says that to some degree transubstantiation is like natural transmutation, and because he uses the comparison of air with fire, therefore transubstantiation is a chemical process and his interpretation is right. But what does St. Thomas say in this passage? He is trying to explain the nature of transubstantiation. It means that the whole and complete substance of bread is converted into the whole and complete already existing body of Christ without changing it. (Haldane does not seem to have realized that this is what it means, and that the body of Christ is already complete — not something new issuing from the bread — and that it remains unchanged save as to the mode of its presence. This is enough in itself to settle the question of chemical change of wafer into body.) He says it is unique, but can be compared both to creation and ordinary natural changes to this extent — that in all three there is an order of succession, (1) from non-being to being, (2) from bread to body, (3) from air to fire." Furthermore it is like creation because there is no common subject for the two terms (non-being-being; bread-Body). That also settles the question of chemical change. But transubstantiation is unlike creation and like to natural change in that it is not nothing but bread which is converted into the body of Christ and so secondly in transubstantiation the accidents of the bread remain common, i.e. the accidents of the bread show now the presence of the body of Christ. He is very careful, however, even when saying this, to emphasize the essential difference between this conversion and the change of, e.g., air into fire. How anyone at the end of this can calmly say that transubstantiation is likened to the change of air into fire, and that as this is a chemical change, therefore transubstantiation is also, completely baffles me, as I said. All that St. Thomas is saying, as I hope my short analysis proves, is to deny this. As the passage is very clear, and as I must acquit Haldane of intentional faking, he must have trusted to some obscure instinct which has led him wrong. Whether transubstantiation takes place is, as I have said, a question of opinion: whether the Catholic Church teaches that transubstantiation is a chemical process is a question of fact. You will not, I hope (the word "hope" is carefully chosen, for though hopeful I am not certain), pit your interpretation of St. Thomas against Father D' Arcy's or your view as to what Catholics believe about transubstantiation against the consensus of Catholic theologians. And if my hope is justified you will now admit that you have travestied a central doctrine of the Church.
16 PARK VILLAGE EAST.
April 10, 1933.
DEAR LUNN, Your defence of the theory that scientific pioneers have been persecuted by "organized science" reminds me of the taste of the snark, which, as the Bellman pointed out,
Is meagre and hollow, but crisp,
Like a coat that is slightly too tight in the waist
With a flavour of will-o'-the-wisp.
Your alleged atrocities in the past having been somewhat deflated you say, "Ah, but wait till science is organized and powerful, and you will see what dreadful things scientists will do, or words to that effect. Like your prediction that St. Thomas will enjoy a great reputation thousands of years hence, it has the immense merit that, even if it can't be proved, it can't be disproved in your lifetime. But the flavour of will-o'-the-wisp is undeniable. You support your dreadful prophecy by the authority of Mr. Shaw, and the examples of the British Medical Association and the French Government. You tell me that I deny that doctors are scientists, and then proceed to prove to me that some are so. But not all, or even the majority, are. For one thing they are much too busy. I also admit that some doctors have displayed excessive professional jealousy. But to argue from these premises to the conclusion that some scientists have displayed excessive professional jealousy is to fall into the fallacy of the undistributed middle. Before your remarks about the medical profession have the faintest relevance you must show that it is dominated by scientific men. Nor is the French Government (to the best of my knowledge) a body of organized scientists. It may for all I know have acted unjustly in the name of science. But a sane person would not contend that no unjust action has ever been done in the name of science. By the way, let me disagree profoundly with your description of eugenists as pseudo-scientific cranks. Some are. Some aren't. I can quite understand your position. A Bill to prohibit blasphemous teaching to children (i.e. teaching of a character offensive to Christians as such) has just passed its second reading, and you would like to be able to quote similar persecutions (or shall we say similarly excessive zeal) by organized scientists. You haven't done so. You need not assume, as you do, that all men are as intolerant as Catholics and Fascists. Liberals of the despised nineteenth century actually believed in freedom of speech for their opponents. Scientists, if they got the power to do so, would be less likely than Catholics to persecute, because they know that their opinions are not final, while Catholics hold the contrary view on many points. I like your wriggle about celibacy. The point which I tried to make is that the conditions for sanctity (by which I mean being a saint) have changed. In the primitive Church a bishop was supposed to be the husband of one wife. Now he must be celibate if a Roman Catholic. The qualification for sanctity has also changed in practice though not in theory. Your failure to produce even one married saint born since 1600 shows that a married man born in the last three centuries has about as much chance of becoming a saint as a Catholic bishop. There is no legal impediment to prevent a West Indian becoming a captain in the Coldstream Guards. But it hasn't happened and isn't likely to. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that "white" colour is a prerequisite to that position, even though I do not think this is mentioned in the King's Regulations. Your list of married saints of earlier birth, and of recent married promotions to what might be called the non-commissioned ranks of the Church triumphant, does not therefore impress me. (For the benefit of our irreligious readers I point out that beatification does not make one a saint.) All that your Thomistic excursus has done is to suggest to me that either St. Thomas or his interpreters contradict themselves. Father D' Arcy states that "the whole and complete substance of bread is converted into the whole and complete already existing Body of Christ without changing it." You state that "the body which becomes present has in fact blood and soul and divinity." As a body is not whole and complete without blood I fail to see that you were right in correcting me when I said that the bread was alleged to be changed into blood as well as body. I agree with you that the Church does not teach that transubstantiation is a chemical event. But then I never said it did. Chemistry as a science did not exist in St. Thomas's time. Even the word has been invented since. When St. Thomas dipped into chemistry he was often wrong. Hence I suggest that it is perfectly legitimate for a chemist like myself to say whether, in my opinion, a given alleged process is or is not chemical, provided that I have read the official Catholic account of the process. Perhaps, however, I am wrong, and Father D'Arcy, by virtue of his office, can decide the rather vexed question of the frontiers of chemistry. I notice that neither you nor he have yet defined "chemistry" or "chemical." You have merely told me that I am wrong, which is much easier. Until you give me reasons to the contrary I shall continue in the belief that chemistry is concerned, among other things, with the transformation of one sort of matter into another sort. I fear that we are not likely to agree on these two points, and further argument may be futile. I take it, however, that you no longer object to my statement that the wafer is said to be converted into the body. It is nice to find some point of agreement. My evidence that Galileo was threatened with torture is, from the nature of the case! Neither you nor I have had access to all the original documents. Among the authors who make the statement is Fahie, who states that he was threatened with "rigorous examination," a euphemism for torture. I do not know his source, though in view of the behaviour of the Inquisition in other trials it does not seem improbable. But I do not press the point, and if you produce strong evidence to the contrary, I will withdraw it. Fortunately it is easier to test the truth about Thomas Young. You assert that he resigned from the Royal Society. On the other hand, the present assistant secretary of that body tells me that Young was a secretary of it from 1804 up to the day of his death. Will you come with me to the Royal Society and let us examine the archives together to see whether this is correct? I may add that he discovered the law of interference of light in May 1801, and the criticism of him reached its height soon after. "His poor medical practice," by the way, was supplemented by £400 per year which he earned as superintendent of the Nautical Almanac, and secretary of the Board of Longitude; and he was not so completely silenced as to prevent him publishing work on polarized light, gravitation, coal gas explosions, life insurance, magnetism, and tides, as well as on hieroglyphics. In conclusion, let me quote from a letter written by this broken man, the victim of scientific intolerance, at the age of fifty-four: "I find that there has been a pretty general conversation about making me President of the Royal Society, and I really think if I were foolish enough to wish for the office, I am at this moment popular enough to obtain it; but you well know that nothing is further from my wishes." Unless you can convince me that this letter is a forgery you must excuse me if I do not take scientific intolerance quite as seriously as yourself, and retain a certain scepticism of your examples of it where I cannot check them. Now as to the burning question. Permit me to state my opinion that Bruno had a considerably better claim than Butler to be called a scientist. The fact that he was elected professor of astronomy at Toulouse proves little, I admit. But he carried on the work of Copernicus by showing that astronomy could do without the "eighth sphere" of the fixed stars, which Copernicus had retained from the Ptolemaic astronomy. He supported the view, now well established by spectroscopy, that the stars are made of mixed materials like the earth. Kepler, whom you will hardly accuse of anti-Christian prejudice, expressed his admiration of Bruno's work. His biological views were of considerable interest. In De Immenso he stressed the importance of the extinction of animals in determining their present geographical distribution, with special reference to the fauna of England. So far as I know this was an important and original contribution to the study of animal geography, which culminated in the work of Darwin, Wallace, and Willis. Your refusal to admit him as a scientist puts me in a quandary. He was going to have headed my list of scientific martyrs. And at the present moment I only have three he who were actually burned. You see I don't keep an anti-Christian card index. I could not name half a dozen Protestants burned under Mary, or atheists and Unitarians to burned under Elizabeth. So it is not worth my while to hunt up more names if you don't admit my first. I cannot deal with all your other statements, some of which I think fall by their own weight. But I will take up three minor points. Huxley said that the besetting sins of scientists were jealousy and pedantry. "Pedantry," by the way, is the term which we apply, in controversy, to the accuracy of our opponents. Now these are the besetting sins of all academic men and women. A life of research hardly attracts the votaries of avarice, sloth, murder, or of lechery. Instead of wading through slaughter to a throne we catch out our colleagues on errors of technique. If we cannot command the applause of listening senates while denouncing the government we may keep a scientific society from sleep by attacking the theories of the older generation. I think, however, that as regards jealousy and pedantry, scientists compare very well with such other academic professions as philologists, theologians, and philosophers. You will remember that the Baker in The Hunting of the Snark expressed the belief that, if he meet a Boojum, I shall softly and suddenly vanish away the notion I cannot endure. I sometimes feel that your views on personal survival may have been influenced by this passage. St. Paul, if I understand him, said that he could not endure the notion of death except when accompanied by
??? My repeated quotation from this immortal work calls for some excuse. I am irresistibly led to it by your apparent belief in the Bellman's Theorem "What I tell you three times must be true." If we admit the truth of this statement it follows that Darwinism is a discredited dogma and Thomism the crown of philosophy. If we do not, I suggest that some alternative proof of these assertions is desirable.
??? the promise of resurrection. Clearly, the more firmly you believe in resurrection the less courage you need to face the prospect of death. I have no intention of insulting St. Paul, who was a stout man, and (in spite of what he wrote) would very probably have faced death with equanimity even had he thought that it would be the end of him. But surely you will admit that much of the success of Christianity has been due to the fact that it promises a happy life after death to its believers, and that the more they fear annihilation the greater is the efficacy of this promise. Hinduism, you say, is altogether beastly. You cite the reservation of young girls for the pleasures of the priests. It is, I think, less than a century since the Vicar of Christ ceased to have young boys gelded for the pleasures of priests who admired the singing of castrati. His successor now fulminates against the idea that they should be submitted to a far less serious operation to prevent them from producing defective offspring. The "uniform beastliness" of Hinduism includes the practices of prayer, penance, and asceticism, the belief in heaven and hell, in the incarnation of the Creator in human form, in miracles, and in the infallibility of scripture. I am interested to learn that all these practices are beastly. Perhaps you will develop the point in your next letter.
Yours very truly,
J. B. S. HALDANE.
April 22, 1933.
DEAR HALDANE, Transubstantiation either takes place or it does not. If it does not take place, cadit quaestio. If it does, it is for the Church, to whom we owe our knowledge of the process, to define the nature of that process. Chemists are not unknown in the ranks of theologians, but there is no theologian, and indeed no Catholic chemist, who would not agree with Father D'Arcy that you have talked sad nonsense on this point. If you doubt me, ask Professor Whitehead, the only non-Catholic scientist who really understands, and who — because he understands — admires Catholic theology, whether you or Father D' Arcy are right. Your complete failure to grasp the point is once again demonstrated by your pious hope that I shall agree that the "wafer is said to be converted into the body." I am, however, consoled by the reflection that your chances of ultimate salvation will be improved by your remarks on this subject — remarks which prove that, so far as Catholic theology is concerned, your ignorance is literally invincible. The evidence that Galileo was threatened with torture is, as you say, weak. The available evidence on the subject of gelding contradicts the statement which you have made. You inform me that "it is less than a century since the Vicar of Christ ceased to have young boys gelded," a monstrous perversion of the true facts. It was, I imagine, the parents of the boys or, perhaps in some few cases, the boys themselves who took this step in the interests of their professional careers. I agree with you that it was unfortunate that such boys should have been admitted to church choirs. Benedict XIV condemned this practice in good round terms. Clement XIV, on discovering that some such boys had again found their way into the principal choirs, threatened the authors of this operation with excommunication. If you want to pursue the subject further we will, but it seems to be a rather foolish side-issue, and perhaps even you, much as you hate conceding a point, will accept the statement of Noldein, one of the chief authorities on moral theology, who writes: "The popes never approved of the gelding of boys nor said it was permissible. On the contrary, they declared that those who culpably made themselves and others eunuchs were 'irregular' (a technical term which I will not stop to explain). On the question of sanctity it is you, not I, who have "wriggled." Your statement that the Church had for long regarded celibacy as a prerequisite of sanctity would no doubt strengthen the average reader in that ignorant belief, common among the uninstructed, that the Church disapproves of sex as such. I have proved you wrong by quoting many examples of married people whose outstanding sanctity has been officially recognized by the Church. You attempt to evade the facts by a false distinction between the processes of beatification and canonization. These processes do not correspond, as you suggest, to different degrees of sanctity. Proof of outstanding sanctity is as necessary for beatification as for canonization. The question of sanctity is settled once and for all by the process of beatification, but clear evidence of miracles is required before the process of canonization can succeed. Is it fair to set traps for one's opponent? It may not be fair but it is certainly fun. My prophecies as to the attitude of science in the future were designed to elicit from you a protest against drawing a blank cheque on the future. You walked into the trap, and now perhaps you will understand why I do not take you very seriously when you tell the world that the Churches, "if they maintain their influence, will sterilize scientific thought and either slow down human progress or render their adherents as defenseless against non-Christian races armed with science as were the Asiatics against the Christian races during the nineteenth century." On the other hand, I do not regard as illegitimate all speculation as to the result in the future of certain tendencies in the present, but such speculation must be supported by evidence and argument. And, so far, you have produced nothing which could be dignified by the name of evidence in support of these gloomy prophecies. I am sorry you don't like my description of eugenists as pseudo-scientific cranks. I was under the illusion that I was in agreement with you. "Much of what passes as scientific psychology seems to me profoundly unscientific. The same is true of eugenics, criminology, and many other ologies." If this last sentence is supposed to be governed by the operative words "much of what passes," it is a pity that you did not state this fact more clearly. I am always getting into trouble because I assume you mean exactly what you say, e.g. that when you say "sanctity" you mean sanctity and not canonization. You must forgive me. I have been spoiled by my controversies with theologians like Father Knox. The facts which you produce about Young are impressive. As my tastes are theological rather than scientific, I do not regard my opinions as final, and do not therefore share your reluctance to modify them in accordance with new evidence. It is clear that Young's biographer exaggerated his grievances. And now let me sum up this part of our correspondence, before criticizing Darwinism. We claim that prejudice and ignorance are the two great enemies of the Church. Much of this prejudice is due to the illusion that the Church persecutes science. There is only one case, Galileo, of a scientist being put on trial because the Church objected to a scientific theory. You have entirely failed to substantiate or to withdraw your general charge that the clergy burnt scientists. You have failed to produce a single case of a genuine professional scientist who was burnt for heresy. Even if we admit the one name which you mention in support of your general indictment — Bruno, as a philosopher with an incidental interest in science rather than a scientist — you are still unable to show that the Church took exception to his scientific views. Those scientists and historians who are more concerned to get at the facts than to manufacture a case admit, as Professor Whitehead and Sir John Macdonell admit, that the Church "rarely threw itself across the path of physical science." And now for Darwinism. By way of preface let me state that throughout these letters I shall use the word "scientist" as an abbreviation for the cumbersome phrase, "the dominant scientific school of the age." I know no short, simple word to describe scientists of this school, and I hereby apologize to those scientists who, in the words of Napoleon, "have the brains to understand the faith of Charlemagne" for bracketing them by implication with their less far-seeing colleagues. The Darwinian controversy is important for the light which it throws on the mentality of scientists and, in particular, on their anti-supernatural bias. Darwinism in the proper sense of the term is a hypothesis, for which no real evidence has yet been produced. Scientists who rejected without examination the evidence for the supernatural, accepted with uncritical enthusiasm the unsupported hypothesis of Darwinism, and some, at least, accepted it because Darwinism seemed to provide a plausible alternative to the theistic explanation of the origin of species which their anti-supernatural bias led them to reject. Let me provide readers who are unversed in this controversy with an outline of Darwinism. Charles Darwin was not the pioneer of the evolutionary theory. Buffon (1708 to 1788) is described by the historian of evolution, Samuel Butler, as "the father of the modern doctrine of evolution." Erasmus Darwin (1731 to 1802) and Lamarck (1744 to 1829) elaborated in far greater detail the evolutionary theory. In October 1838 Darwin read Malthus's Essay on Population, and was much impressed by his presentment of the struggle for existence. It was in this struggle for existence that Darwin believed that he had discovered the eliminating agent which his theory required. The means of sustenance are limited, and the competition for these limited means is very severe. The successful competitors survive, the less successful tend to die out. Malthus had given the clue and Darwin deduced that favourable variations are preserved and unfavourable variations are destroyed. "The result would be," wrote Darwin, "the formation of a new species." Here we have in outline the famous theory of Natural Selection. The difference between Darwinism and Lamarckianism may be illustrated by the example of the giraffe. According to Darwin the long neck of this animal would be explained as follows: in times of drought or famine herbivorous animals with necks slightly longer than other individuals in that species would be able to reach the leaves of high branches which were out of reach of their less fortunate rivals. Consequently, animals with slightly longer necks have more chance of surviving than those with slightly shorter necks. The former would tend to survive and procreate offspring, and the latter to die. The process would be repeated in each generation, with the result that the average length of neck in each generation would tend to increase slightly, thus producing the giraffe in the course of geological ages. Lamarck, on the other hand, would explain the giraffe's neck partly as the result of "use," partly as the reward of effort. The giraffe that keeps on stretching its neck develops a long neck, much as a blacksmith develops muscles in his arm. The giraffe that refuses to be beaten, that persists in trying to get the foliage just beyond its reach, will be rewarded by the acquisition of a long neck. The great objection to Lamarckianism is the fact, if it be a fact, that acquired characteristics are not inherited. Use and disuse only affect the individual during his lifetime. The child of the blacksmith does not start life with an arm more developed than a child of yours or mine. The children of Jews whose ancestors have been circumcised for thousands of years are born without any inherited trace of this operation. Darwin's half-hearted attempt to buttress the theory of natural selection with the Lamarckian theory of the effects of use and disuse is therefore doomed to failure. According to Lamarck the more intelligent and the more persistent giraffes select themselves, so to speak, and survive as a reward of their efforts. According to Darwin, natural selection blindly selects in each generation the giraffes who happen to be endowed, not as the result of their efforts but by chance, with rather longer necks than their rivals. According to Lamarck, the long neck is the prize awarded to the best trier at the end of the race; according to Darwin, the long neck is the equivalent to, say, a start of fifty yards in a mile race, and it is pure chance which decides which competitors are to receive this start. "Stripped of detail," writes Samuel Butler, "the point at issue is this: Whether luck or cunning is the fitter to be insisted on as the main means of organic development." Darwin's famous book is usually referred to as The Origin of Species. Its argument may be summarized as follows: Individual members of a species vary. The variations may be slight, but they are none the less real, and moreover these variations affect the survival chances of particular individuals. Some individuals will be fleeter than others, and therefore better able to escape from their enemies. Other individuals will be slightly better protected against the cold, and will therefore have more chance of surviving an unusually cold winter. The progeny of favoured individuals will inherit the qualities which enable their parents to compete with success in the struggle for existence. The gradual and progressive accumulation of small variations would produce first a distinct variety, and secondly a distinct species — in other words, gradually transform one type of animal or plant into a totally different type of animal or plant. In each generation the individuals who are less fitted to survive will die off more rapidly and thus presumably leave fewer progeny, whereas their slightly more fortunate rivals will live longer and consequently presumably leave a larger progeny. Only a limited number in each generation will survive to procreate their offspring, and those which survive will perpetuate the advantages which enabled them to compete successfully. The gradual accumulation of infinitesimal differences will thus, in the course of geological time, produce all the varieties of living form. The pivot upon which the argument for evolution rested and by which it conquered men's minds, was a train of thought, a logical syllogism, rather than an observed sequence of events in the course of Nature. A mindless environment blindly selects by a mechanical process the mindless organism best fitted to survive. Intelligence, mind, and purpose are banished from the evolutionary process by this view. Darwinism makes greater demands on our credulity than the most fantastic stories of The Arabian Nights. We are asked to believe that the wing of an eagle, the brain of a Newton, or the smell of a skunk have all developed by pure chance from protoplasm. The blind action of nature blindly selecting advantageous variations has produced from the original protoplasm all the glorious varieties of life. Samuel Butler declared that he could no more believe that the adaptation of structures to needs throughout nature, adaptations of the most delicate ingenuity, were the result of gratuitous accumulation of favourable variations than he could believe that a mouse-trap or a steam-engine "is the result of the accumulation of blind minute fortuitous variations in a creature called man, which creature has never wanted either mouse-traps or steam-engines, but has had a sort of promiscuous tendency to make them, and was benefited by making them, so that those of the race who had a tendency to make them survived and left issue, which issue would thus naturally tend to make more mouse-traps and more steam-engines. In spite of this, if Darwinism were supported by overwhelming evidence, we should have to accept it, but this is not the case. For there is no real evidence in support of Darwinism. Again, Darwinism, even if we accept Darwin's contention, cannot properly be put forward as an explanation of natural selection, which, by definition, selects but cannot produce. Natural selection cannot produce favourable variations; at the best it can prune away unfavourable variations. The true explanation of the origin of species is to be sought in the origin of variation, and, as Butler remarks, a man who refuses to explain variation should not imply that he has explained species. "Natural Selection," as Mr. Harris remarks, "may explain the survival of the fittest, but cannot explain the arrival of the fittest." "In speaking of an 'explanation' of the origin of the living specific forms by natural selection," writes Professor Driesch, "one therefore confuses the sufficient reason for the non-existence of what there is not, with the sufficient reason for the existence of what there is. To say that a man has explained some organic character by natural selection is, in the words of Nageli, the same as if someone who is asked the question, 'Why is this tree covered with those leaves?' were to answer, 'Because the gardener did not cut them away.' Of course, that would explain why there are no more leaves than those actually there, but it would never account for the existence and nature of the existing leaves as such. Or do we understand in the least why there are white bears in the Polar regions if we are told that bears of other colours could not survive?" Or, again, as Butler puts it, "The survival of the fittest is no more a cause of modification, and hence can give no more explanation concerning the origin of species, than the fact of a number of competitors in a race failing to run the whole course or to run it as quickly as the winner, can explain how the winner came to have good legs and lungs. What we want to be told is, not that a runner will win the Prize if he can run 'ever such a little' faster than his fellows — we know this — but by what process he comes to be able to run ever such a little faster." You open your book on evolution with a fake quotation: "'Darwinism is dead.' Any sermon." You might just as well, as Mr. Heseltine remarks, have said, "Any scientist," for Darwinism in the proper sense of the term is dead. Nobody still believes that the origin of species can be explained by natural selection. All that neo-Darwinists seem to claim is that natural selection may have had some influence on evolution. My first question to you, therefore, is whether you do or do not agree that the title chosen for Darwin's book was unfortunate. Its full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In other words, Darwin, by this title, staked out a claim which he could not maintain; he claimed to have explained the origin of species by natural selection. The title is not On the Origin of Species MAINLY by Means of Natural Selection; in other words, the title goes far to justify what you described as my travesty of his position, my suggestion that Darwinism, properly speaking, means the theory that evolution can be explained by the sole agency of natural selection. Let me mention a few of the hundreds of objections which can be brought against Darwinism: (1) If Darwinism is true we should expect to find that the world was full of transitional forms; but the world is full of fixed types, and the five thousand years of recorded history are eloquent in their witness, not to transitional forms fading into each other, but to the stability of type. (2) Darwinism fails to explain the evolution of very complex organs such as the eye, which consists of several parts, parts which cannot function unless they are very accurately fitted into each other. "One might possibly imagine," writes Wolff, "the adaptation between one muscle cell and one nerve end through selection among innumerable variations, but that such should take place in a thousand cases in one organism is inconceivable." As Berg says: "The probability that all useful variations will simultaneously occur in all parts is the probability of a miracle. "Recalling Darwin's words, it might be said, 'To admit all this is, as it seems to me, to enter into the realms of miracle, and to leave those of science. We might just as well expect that if the wheels, screws and other component parts of the mechanism of a watch were to be put into a vessel we could, by the simple process of shaking, get them to combine in such a manner as to become a watch that would function as such.' "To admit all this is to enter into the realm of miracle." Precisely. The only miracle which the average Darwinist was prepared to swallow with enthusiasm was a miracle for which there was no shadow of proof. (3) Darwinism fails to explain the first origin and perpetuation of those slight variations which in their rudimentary stage are not advantageous. "How could any rudiment of an organism," asks Driesch," which is not functioning at all, not only be useful to its bearer, but be useful in such a degree as to decide about life and death?" (4) Darwinism fails to explain the marvels of animal instinct. Darwin believed that evolution was a very slow, gradual process, but some of the most valuable instincts cannot possibly have evolved gradually from small beginnings, for the good reason that many instincts, notably those of the predatory wasps, would have been useless in any but their most perfect form. "Instinct developed by degrees," said Fabre, with reference to the wasps," is flagrantly impossible. The art of preparing the larva's provisions allows none but masters and suffers no apprentices; the wasp must excel from the outset or leave the thing alone." (5) Selection, according to Korschinsky and others, so far from favouring the development of new characters, tends to eliminate aberrations which deviate from the norm. "Far from being an instrument for the evolution of species," writes Delage, "it [selection] guarantees their fixity," And that will do. I will not inflict on you and the reader any other arguments against Darwinism, those summarized in Berg's book, for instance. You who have read Berg's Nomogenesis are impressed by it. Moreover, there is no point in flogging a dead horse. Darwinism, in the proper sense of the term, is as dead for you as it is for me. Darwinism, as I have said, properly speaking, means, in so far as it means anything at all, the theory that evolution can be explained by the sole agency of natural selection. I have already quoted the title of Darwin's book, a title which implies that the origin of species is to be explained solely "by means of natural selection." Again, in the concluding sentences of his book 'The Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication' he elaborated a striking metaphor in which he compared natural selection to a human builder. Natural selection, Darwin argued, may be said to create new species out of fortuitous variations as truly as a man may be said to create a building out of the material provided by stones of various shapes. The human builder who uses stones of various shapes is solely responsible for the shape of the building. Natural selection, therefore, if Darwin meant anything by this analogy, is solely responsible for all new species. I maintain that this view is the essence of Darwinism. I agree that Darwin was inconsistent, and that it is, as Butler pointed out, easy to find in his works quotations in support of almost every theory of evolution. I was much amused by the quotation which you hurled at my head to prove that Darwin had been influenced by Lamarck. So far from denying this fact, I had explicitly asserted it elsewhere. I should be intrigued to discover how you could justify your own definition of Darwinism, the theory that evolution can be explained "largely as the result of natural selection." Why call this theory Darwinism? The older evolutionists allowed for the influence of natural selection. "The movement of Nature," writes Buffon, "turns upon two immovable pivots — one the illimitable fecundity which she gives to all species, the other the innumerable difficulties which reduce the results of that fecundity and leave throughout time nearly the same quantity of individuals in every species." Mr. Patrick Mayhew explicitly advanced the theory that evolution is largely due to natural selection. You objected, quite rightly, to my attributing to Copernicus the credit for the theory usually known as the Copernican theory. Why, then, do you describe as Darwinism the belief that natural selection has played an important role in evolution? Neither this belief, still less the theory of evolution itself, can be rightly described as Darwinism. Darwinism, if any intelligible sense can be given to that term, can only mean the theory that the origin of species can be explained, not mainly but, as the title of his book implied, solely by means of natural selection. However, I concede you a point. I should have written: Darwinism does not mean, as the vulgar assume and as that eminent scientist Sir Arthur Keith implies, the theory of evolution. It does not mean, as Professor Haldane implies, the theory that natural selection has played an important role in evolution, for there is nothing distinctively Darwinian in such a belief. No intelligible meaning can be attached to the many theories which Darwin put forward that evolution can be explained by the combined action of natural selection with use and disuse, for if the principle of use and disuse be adopted it is superfluous to invoke the aid of natural selection. It is true that Darwin, realizing the absurdity of Darwinism, was inclined to hedge, and never came down definitely in favour of the theory that natural selection is the sole agent of evolution. None the less, he approximated to this belief as close as he dared. He implied this belief in the title of his book and in the comparison between the work of natural selection and the work of a human architect, a comparison which would have been pointless had not Darwin believed that natural selection was as omnipotent as a human architect in the control of his creation. Finally, it was the hope of explaining away the evidence of design by natural selection, that is, by chance, rather than by means of the unpopular theistic hypothesis which transformed so many atheistic scientists into Darwinists more extreme and more logical than their hesitating leader. In any case, "travesty" is a strong word to describe the difference between "sole agent" and "most important agent." And if we poor laymen go wrong about Darwinism you must remember that it is the Darwinists that are to blame. It is impossible to extract from Darwin's own works or from the works of his admirers a simple intelligible definition of Darwinism. Sir Arthur Keith, for instance, has written a book on Darwinism, in the Forum Library, which I am sending you under a separate cover. In this book the word "Darwinism" is used throughout as the equivalent of "evolution." A small section is devoted to "Reasons for rejecting Darwinism." The reasons mentioned are reasons for supposing that man's mental achievements "cannot be explained in terms simply involving matter and energy," a problem which has no real bearing on the Darwinian controversy. Never once throughout the book is the reader allowed to suspect that the case for evolution might be proved without in the least affecting the case against Darwinism. Not one argument, not one, against Darwinism as such is dimly alluded to from one end of the book to the other. I wish you would explain Sir Arthur Keith to me. Frankly he puzzles me. He is, I believe, an eminent scientist. He is, I assume, a man of intellectual integrity. He would not willingly write what he knew to be false. He must know that Darwinism is not the same thing as evolution. He must have heard, however vaguely, of the arguments whereby eminent evolutionists have sought to disprove Darwinism. Once again I suppose it is a case of some "obscure instinct" which has led him wrong. A short section of his book is devoted to proving that the spirit and soul are manifestations of the living brain, just as the flame is the spirit of a burning candle, from which Sir Arthur deduces that the soul does not survive death. Surely even Sir Arthur Keith knows the answer to that jejune argument. Incidentally, is the flame "the manifest spirit" of a burning candle, and what precisely does Sir Arthur mean by "spirit" in this connexion? But perhaps it is unfair to expect the scientist to define the exact meaning of the terms which he employs in a philosophic excursus. I do not criticize Sir Arthur for putting forward an argument which, however stupid, has convinced him, but I do object to the pretence so common among popular scientists of parading private opinions as if they were the assured result of scientific research. Sir Arthur implies that "medical men" have gone into this business of the soul very carefully, and have been compelled by the facts to deny its survival. Does Sir Arthur really believe that there are no Christians in the B.M.A., and if he does not believe this, why does he imply that he does? This book from first to last is characteristic in its crude simplifications and in its refusal even to mention facts which contradict its main thesis, of the kind of stuff which is foisted on the credulous public in the name of science. Please try to forget that you are holding a brief for modern science, and do give me your real opinion. Do you or do you not agree that Sir Arthur Keith has travestied Darwinism — for it is a travesty to represent Darwinism as evolution? You mention Darwin's contributions to other sciences. It is not my business to arrange biologists in order of merit, nor do I possess the necessary knowledge to express an opinion on Darwin's contribution to botany and geology. I should be more impressed by your tribute to Darwin if I did not feel that you were restrained by pietas from realizing Darwin's weak points. One need not, however, be an expert to follow the Darwinian controversy. The main arguments on both sides can be grasped by the layman. Nor need one be a scientist to distinguish between good writing and bad, between arguments lucid and confused, logical and illogical. I do not recognize in Darwin a master mind. He does not impress me as Whitehead, Eddington, or Berg impress me, to name three modern scientists selected at random. He seems to me to belong to an entirely different order of ability. A good observer, no doubt, but a fact collector rather than a fact co-ordinator, a bad writer, and a weak reasoner. If he was, as you suggest, one of the most eminent of scientists I am forced to the reluctant conclusion that there is more justification than I had suspected for a passage in one of Mr. Belloc's books which reads as follows: "Anyone can, with patience, do scientific work. It demands no individual, still less any rare, talent." The result of this is that intellectual ability critical or creative will be at a discount among scientists, for fame is in every form of activity a criterion of success. To excel in playing the violin, or in majestic architecture, or in lovely painting, or in verse, you must possess exceptional qualities. ...But anyone of common mental and physical health can practise scientific research, whether in physics, or biology, or history, or literary documents. "Anyone can try by patient experiment what happens if this or that substance be mixed in this or that proportion with some other under this or that condition. Anyone can vary the experiment in any number of ways. He that hits in this fashion on something novel and of use will have fame. ...The fame will be the product of luck and industry. It will not be the product of special talent. "And there is another consequence of all this. Since the most famous scientist need not have any intellectual claim to fame, the chances are that he will be an ass like you and me. But, being famous, his opinion will be reverently sought on a host of matters where it is worthless, and especially on the nature of the universe, of morals, of society, where he has no sort of standing; and here he will challenge, in his innocence, such giants as Suarez and Aquinas whom he has never read." The longer that Darwin thought about it the less he liked the one feature in the theory of evolution which he believed to be original. You have only to read his laboured reply to Mivart's criticism to realize how ill at ease he was. He found it difficult to resist the attraction of the Lamarckian theory, and inclined to buttress the effects of natural selection with the effects of use and disuse and inherited habit; but he never did justice to Lamarck, for the good reason that, once he had come down boldly on the Lamarckian side of the fence it was all up with Darwinism as an epoch-making discovery. In moments of confidence he asserted that Lamarck was no good; at other moments his writing is definitely Lamarckian. One moment, for instance, he expresses surprise that the case of ants working by inherited instinct had not been brought as a demonstrative argument "against the well-known doctrine of inherited habit as advanced by Lamarck." At an earlier stage of his career he refers to nature as "making habit omnipotent and its effects hereditary" — pure Lamarckianism. The Lamarckian tendency is kept in its place throughout the body of The Origin of Species, but comes into its own in the last chapter. Darwin was uneasily conscious of the fact that a man who professes to explain the origin of species ought to explain the origin of those variations on which natural selection is supposed to act. But, though conscious of this fact, he never faces up to it. And the result is confusion. How do these variations arise? "In living bodies," writes Darwin, "variation will cause the slight alterations. " In other words, variation will cause variation. How illuminating! He continues: "Generation will multiply them almost infinitely and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement." How can the blind process of pure chance be described as picking out variations with unerring skill? Skill is the opposite of chance. Here we have a good example of Darwin's silly habit of personifying natural selection and of attributing to it the characteristics of the Creator. Samuel Butler selected from different editions of The Origin of Species the fortuitous variations of a sentence which indicates Darwin's hesitating advance towards the personification of natural selection. In the 1859 edition we read: "Further we must suppose that there is a power always intently watching each slight accidental alteration." In the 1861 edition natural selection makes its coy appearance between brackets, and the passage reads: "Further we must suppose that there is a power (natural selection)", etc. In the 1869 edition we read: "Further we must suppose that there is a power represented by natural selection," etc. As Butler says: "Mr. Darwin probably said 'a power represented by natural selection' instead of 'natural selection,' only because he saw that to talk too frequently about the fact that the most lucky live longest as 'intently watching something' was greater nonsense than would be prudent even for him to write, so he fogged it by making the intent watching done by 'a power represented by a fact' instead of by the fact itself. As the sentence stands it is just as great nonsense as it would have been if 'the survival of the fittest' had been allowed to do the watching instead of 'the power represented by' the survival of the fittest; but the nonsense is harder to dig up, and the reader is more likely to pass it over." As an example of Darwin's reasoning powers the following may be quoted: "Why, if species have descended from other species by fine gradations," Darwin asked, "do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all Nature in confusion, instead of the species being, as we see them, well-defined?" Darwin replies that nearly every species either preys on or serves as prey for other species. "In short, as each organic being is either directly or indirectly related in the most important manner to other organic beings — we see that the range of the inhabitants of any country by no means exclusively depends on insensibly changing physical conditions, but in a large part on the presence of other species, on which it lives, or by which it is destroyed, or with which it comes into competition; and as these species are already defined objects, not blending one into another by insensible gradations, the range of anyone species, depending as it does on the range of others, will tend to be sharply defined." "Here we have a petitio principii," remarks Professor Kellogg. "The sharp definition of species, that we started out to account for, is explained by the sharp definition of other species. Darwin's lack of logic is again evident in his remarks about if theism. He confesses that he is "impressed by the impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man, with his capacity for looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. Thus reflecting, I feel compelled to look to a first cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote The Origin of Species, and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt — Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted 'when it draws such grand conclusions' ...? But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lowest animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, and are there convictions in such a mind?" A clear thinker would never have been guilty of such inconsistent reasoning. If Darwin was not prepared to trust his mind when it drew the "grand conclusion" that God existed, why was he prepared to trust it when it drew the depressing conclusion that a mind of such bestial origin could not be trusted to draw any conclusion at all? Darwin's mind at different periods of his life led him to two firm convictions: (a) that God exists, and (b) that man is descended from the lower animals. If, as the result of (b), he lost confidence in his own mental processes, he might well have rejected both beliefs, but to retain the latter belief, which was the source of his scepticism, and to reject the former was illogical. It was, indeed, absurd to state on the same page that he "fully believed" in the bestial origin of his own mind, and that this same bestial origin did not entitle him "fully to believe" in anything. In your next letter I hope you will answer the following questions: 1. How would you define Darwinism? 2. Are you a Darwinist? 3. Is there any experimental evidence for the emergence of new characters as the result of natural selection? 4. Which would you prefer of two theses of which the first fitted every known scientific fact and of which the second fitted many scientific facts but was difficult to reconcile with other scientific facts?