Second of Two Parts

The Harvard astronomer Shapely sees us as now living in our “fourth adjustment” of cosmic perspective: the shifts have been from an anthropomorphic universe to a geocentric universe to a heliocentric universe to a galactocentric universe to an agonizing realization that man is very likely not the highest form of life. This is a moving description, for it speaks to our condition. But in reality, Christian man has known all along that man was not the highest form of life in the universe, for his life is derived from a Source above all other sources. With the psalmist he looks up at this juncture and confesses, “In thy light we shall see light.”

It was Newton more than any other scientist in the seventeenth century who helped shape the new astronomy. Laplace reminds us that Newton was “not only the greatest genius that ever had existed but also the most fortunate, inasmuch as there is but one universe and it can therefore happen to but one man in the world’s history to be the interpreter of its laws.” This is perhaps excessive praise, but Laplace, like a good umpire, was calling it as he saw it.

Actually, Newton believed the laws he had discovered were God’s way of maintaining the stability of the universe. He felt that continued divine activity was necessary to avoid collapse. Surely here is robust, admirable faith in a God who continues to work in his world. After allowances are made for the difference of the time in which he lived, we still find Newton anchored in the concept of a living God who cares about his creatures.

The words of Laplace are valuable for another reason. In them we see a tendency to regard the scientific model of a particular epoch as virtually final and literally true. This, from the side of the scientists, was the main reason for such tension over the apparent inconsistencies between theology and natural science.

In his Pensées, Pascal complains that Descartes made God seem superfluous. Descartes needed him to “press a button” and start the world moving, but after that was done, he dismissed God as no longer necessary. This is a kind of ballistic theology. The temptation for the educated mind is ever the same: to use learning as a screen for shutting out the ever-present Lord.

In biology, too, we see attrition of true faith as the direct damage of the demonic presupposition that science renders Christian faith obsolete. What can the nomad patriarch, it is asked, possibly have in common with the clean, white-robed, objective scientist who probes the secrets of the world in behalf of truth? Could any calling be higher?

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The conflict here is not so much with biology as with evolutionary theories of the universe. If “evolutionism” is a new faith, its first prophet and high priest appears to be Julian Huxley. In New Bottles for Old Wine Huxley asserts that “the human species is now the spearhead of the evolutionary process on the earth, the only portion of the stuff of which our planet is made which is capable of further progress.”

More recently, in a letter to the editors of a magazine, Huxley expanded his views:

Of course, too, Humanism requires an act of faith, maybe … a more strenuous one than that required by religious systems.… But in this, it can rely on entirely new knowledge of facts and new organizations of knowledge in the shape of concepts and ideas—most notably the fact and ideas of evolution, with all its implications. Chief among these is the fact that we, the human species, through no merit of our own, have become responsible for the entire future of ourselves and the planet we inhabit.… It can only discharge this responsibility by a faith in the vast and as yet almost untapped resources of human nature.… On the basis of our knowledge of history and comparative religion, he is convinced that the idea of a god as a supernatural but somehow personal being, capable of influencing nature and human life, is a hypothesis, set up to account for various awe-inspiring and mysterious phenomena in man’s experience which do not seem to have any natural explanation.… It took time and hard thinking to make the necessary change-over from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the solar system. We must now be prepared to abandon the god hypothesis and its corollaries like divine revelation of unchanging truths, and to change over from a supernaturalist to a naturalistic view of human destiny [Fortune Magazine, Feb., 1965, p. 101].

But, as an editor of the magazine answered him in a footnote, “it can well be argued … that ‘knowledge about human nature’ is what drives men to God.”

Emphasis upon the religious possibilities in evolutionism leads directly to the naturalizing of religion itself—another case in which the camel pushes his nose into the tent and finally takes over.

The Psychological Yardstick

As Darwin has left his stamp on the biological world, so Freud has left his on the psychological. But the importance assigned to his dicta about another field—religion—is undeserved. People who are not acquainted with the claims of Christ upon a man’s life and who have not even read Freud’s works often assume that religion must be an illusion because Freud said so. Religion is not so much attacked frontally or ridiculed or criticized destructively as it is simply explained away. Of course; men have always tried to shake off the responsibility of answering God’s call; but Freud’s effort to free men of “religious shackles,” as he would view it, seems to have met with a more enthusiastic response than did previous efforts using psychology.

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Just prior to Freud, Feuerbach, often called the classical skeptic in theology, had tried to translate theology in such a way as to show that God was simply a reflection of man himself. This was another example of the “reductive fallacy” at work: making religion nothing more than the projection of human hopes and desires. Such projections, like mathematical projections, always lose something in the process. It is like moving about on a plane instead of in three-dimensional space; much is recognizably the same, but a dimension has been lost. When the lost dimension is one as essential as the spiritual, the truth projected becomes falsehood, for it destroys the totality of the perspective, which is the essence of the theological dimension.

Freud assumed that psychoanalytic categories applied to all religious phenomena whenever and wherever they occurred. This assumption cuts the supernatural nerve at the root, making it impossible for man to acknowledge God as the Source of certain of his experiences. Freud’s application of psychology to religion was not a mere passing fancy. His writings on Moses—all his writings, in fact—show that problems of religious faith in the widest sense preoccupied him throughout his life. As more than one psychoanalyst since then has observed, however, Freud’s atheism is not a necessary condition for the practice of good psychoanalysis.

Unfortunately for both Freud and religion, he turned his study of religious and moral issues into an attack. His reasoning was as follows: “Since religion is not scientific, it is fantasy, an illusion; but we are men of science, devoted to its canons of clarity and explanation. Hence we must somehow explain religion, using the categories of science.

So strong has been this point of view that a modern follower of Freud, Erich Fromm, finds it necessary to “analyze the character structure of Luther and Calvin to find out what trends in their personality made them arrive at certain conclusions and formulate certain doctrines” (The Fear of Freedom). The categories he uses for the explanation are purely psychological. Luther is found to have been a compulsively authoritarian person whose life continually revealed radical masochistic tendencies. Fromm shows no interest in what Luther meant or even in what Luther thought he meant. His possible sincerity and his possible accuracy are completely set aside. Luther’s writings are made out to be one long symptom of an unconscious authoritarian compulsion. Lewis Mumford pushes the conversion of Augustine through the same psychological grid and comes up with this explanation: Augustine desires to regain the devotion of his mother, Monica, which he had lost because of his wild youth. Even Jesus’ divine personality is reduced to terms of human psychology. The suffering of early Christians is explained as an “intensive expression of social masochism” and thus loses its power to inspire and to become the “seed of the Church.” In our generation, we are witnesses of a new martyrdom of the saints, this time by psychological swords.

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Historians of a hundred years hence will surely record as one of the great myths of our time the attempt to measure religious truth by the yardstick of psychological mechanism. Is poetry grasped by the identification of its meter? Even men who apparently want to remain in the bosom of the Christian Church feel the compulsion to readjust their views of Christian faith à la Freud. E. R. Goodenough, professor of history of religion at Yale, is among those who believe that Freud’s theories have convinced all intelligent people, whether “consciously or unconsciously,” that the supernatural construction we impose upon reality (including belief in God, the actuality of angels, the value of Jesus for us, and all the rest), acquired during and since childhood, is but wish-projection. All fantasies! Yet he wants to preserve these fantasies, because they contain an element of truth.

There is but a short step between this kind of adjustment to Freud and the final one of rejecting religion because it is mere wish. Thus the Viennese doctor provides the rebellious with just the necessary equipment for cleverly escaping the pertinence of the Gospel: simply write off the Gospel as a convenient human scheme that has been uncritically auctioned from one generation to the next until its worn-down condition makes it worthless.

This is but another case of resisting the Gospel and the ever-gentle pressure of God. For the Apostle Paul, that Gospel was both a gracious offer and an implied judgment to come. He spent a considerable part of his time as missionary in exposing the shallowness of man’s resistance, especially that of the worldly wise and the philosophically wise. “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

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The Limits of Vision

Our intellectual inheritance from the nineteenth century has had a consistently deterministic flavor blended from three potent ingredients: Darwinism, Freudianism, and Marxism. All three have stressed factors outside man’s control, forces that have helped to make him, his human nature, and his society so many prisons. Modern man, particularly modern man, feels the relentlessness of these forces and, most keenly of all, his inability to escape.

The casting of a die is one of the most appropriate symbols of the mood of our generation. The world itself is just Las Vegas writ large: from game table to sex to the bar to the hangover to whatever else comes along—without meaning, without purpose, without hope. And so it always is with the man who tries to regenerate himself. But as dismal as this picture is, I am convinced that the only real difference between our world and that of the Apostle Paul is the explicitness with which the various unbelieving presuppositions are identified. Things seem to be more out in the open today. Paul was quite aware of the thought-world of his day and imbued with a strong tincture of Jewish background. But the glory of his life was that when the Holy Spirit showed him his error, he repented. Paul’s life was remade and he went out a new man, truly to serve the God of his fathers.

Today we seem to be at another impasse in science. Some think it is a final one; others see it a fresh opportunity to advance. P. W. Bridgman describes this impasse:

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There can be no difference of opinion with regard to the dilemma that now confronts us in the direction of the very small. We are now approaching a bound beyond which we are forever stopped from pushing our inquiries, not by the construction of the world, but by the construction of ourselves. The world fades out and becomes meaningless. We cannot even express this in the way we would like. We cannot say that there exists a world beyond any knowledge possible to us because of the nature of knowledge. The very concept of existence becomes meaningless. It is literally true that the only way of reacting to this is to shut up. We are confronted with something truly ineffable. We have reached the limit of vision of the great pioneers of science, the vision, namely, that we live in a sympathetic world, in that it is comprehensible by our minds [Bulletin of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Feb., 1950].

This view will startle some. Let us not forget, however, that if we can proceed no further in describing the world in the direction of the atomic, there still remain other directions to explore. And the Christian, of course, is not dependent upon detailed knowledge of the structure of physical reality for his conviction that the world has meaning and purpose; these, after all, are part of God’s gift in revelation to us. It is the centrality, the preeminence, of Christ that gives the spiritual context to human existence. In whatever way the story of the universe ends, we may be sure that its author is God and that he will vindicate our faith in his own time. And when we look back upon our little visit to this planet—physical nature, science, belief, presuppositions, and all—we shall yet praise Him who is all in all.

Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

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