Science and Scripture

J. N. Darby.

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It is far happier to take the word of God simply as the word of God, and have nothing to do with the infidelity of man. When in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe: and that is the true ground for the soul. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made him a liar." If man does not bow to what God says now, God will shew he had enough evidence of the truth in Christ and His word, so that the rejection of it proves what he is, and he will have to bow to it in that day. "The word that I have spoken" says the Lord, "the same shall judge him in the last day."

But we all know that infidelity is rampant, and that numbers of young Christians, in houses of business and elsewhere, are beset by it; for "the unjust knoweth no shame." I send you therefore a few remarks, very brief, not going into the discussion of the subject, but merely some general principles which may help them when they have to do with it — principles which set its just limits to science.

Science is occupied in phenomena, what the perceptive mind of man can take cognisance of. It may search into these with the utmost minuteness; it may see that these are regularly governed by general laws, and from the universality of phenomena discover a general principle which acts in all of them. It sees too that certain phenomena are constantly consequences of other phenomena, so far as that, when certain phenomena occur, they are, if not hindered by some external power, followed by other phenomena which are their consequences. There are certain constant facts, and facts which flow from other facts, with (as a general rule) a regularity which constitutes a law of nature. All this science can investigate.

Doubtless there is a vast number of such facts and connections not yet discovered, and I know of no limit in principle to any discovery of the order of nature. But science can go no farther; it deals with phenomena (that is, the perceived course of nature), and cannot go beyond them. These, as ordinary and universal phenomena, can be (if science has gone so far) traced to causes which have produced them, and regularly produce them, or to some general uniform principle, such as what is called gravity; so that there are, as to the course of nature, general laws and productive causes. Still the way this is spoken of is very commonly incorrect; as if there were a succession of events. Now this is not the case in much referred to.

139 A general principle is discovered, as gravity, or the action of acids on certain other substances, or the laws of electricity. In these cases there is no succession or series of events, but either constancy in fact, as in the movements of the heavenly bodies, or, if certain substances are applied to others, uniform effects produced, and new combinations formed, and the like. This has nothing to do with a succession of productions. I do not say everything produced has proceeded from an antecedent, and this from another. It only proves that there are certain general laws which govern what exists, so that they as a rule act uniformly, or perhaps constantly. Adams or Leverrier could discover that there must be a planet in a certain place because of certain disturbances in the movements of Neptune, and there it was found.* So Kepler discovered elliptic orbits, and equal spaces in equal times, and the like: and chemistry ascertained the combination of elements in regular proportion. That is, regular and orderly (or, as they are called, general) laws of the operations of forces in what exists in the visible universe have been discovered constant in their nature. What exists moves in a regular way, or, when the occasion is there the same thing produces the same effects; not a succession of productive causes, but uniformity in the actions of each, so that we can calculate on effects if nothing hinders. But that is all. Science informs me of these general laws which govern what exists; but the things must already exist so to act.

{*Though, it seems, there is a satellite of Uranus which goes contrary to the uniform direction of the solar system; I am not aware that it has been accounted for; but if not, I dare say it may be.}

Science can go no farther than the phenomena, and consists in generalising them under a uniform law. But, before the course which existing things follow, the things must exist which follow that course, though that course may have begun with their existence; and no doubt they did. But that course only is the subject of science, its general principle as a fixed law. The existence, and probably the law it follows, is there before the researches of science can begin, and the laws of force and phenomena when they have begun; and these only are the subject of scientific generalisation. Of existence or the source of laws which govern force and produce effects, it can tell me absolutely nothing. They are not the subject of science at all. Many, very many, know a vast deal more of science than I do. It is not my occupation, and I am willing to learn many interesting facts from them; but they cannot tell me better than I can know myself what the domain and sphere of science is. I can judge of that as well as they — perhaps better, as it is not my idol.

140 Science is occupied with phenomena, and phenomena only, and that to discover the facts and the laws which govern them; but all they search into is only the actual uniform operation, where it exists, of that whose existence is there before the inquiry could arise. They must take that for granted when they search into the laws which govern its present phenomena. Science can discover the laws of what does exist, but there it must stop; its existence they have no law for. With all respect for their skill in what mentally is very interesting, if they go beyond it they are simply sutor ultra crepidam. I suppose for some I must translate the rebuke given by the Rhodian sculptor to the cobbler who could shew that the shoe on the statue was not rightly made, and, famous by correcting the work of a renowned artist, would go farther, and judge the work, but was only the cobbler beyond his last. With the existence of the creation, or of the laws which govern it, they have nothing to do. They may investigate those laws when they exist; if they go beyond, I say, Ne sutor ultra crepidam.

But what they have discovered leads me to another point which they have obscured by their studies and constant occupation with secondary causes, and which is much more simply and clearly apprehended by unscientific minds. If a man of science met a peasant with his cart, and tried to prove the cart had not been made, he would bring Bedlam, not science, into the poor man's mind. He might explain the curves produced by a fly on the periphery of the wheel as it turned, what the principles of the pressure of weight on the parts of the cart were, and the plane of draught, how far equal wheels affected the draught, and much more. Nay, he might explain to him how the stimulus of the whip applied to the horse behind set the centripetal nerves to produce an effect on the cells, or combination of cells, in the horse's brain, and by some unknown reflex action set the motor efferent fibres in activity, so as to act on his hind heels, and even his fore-legs, at the same time, to move the cart. Still my poor carter would believe his cart had a maker, and was made with a particular design to carry manure or corn, as the case might be; nay, perhaps, in his ignorance, that, though born of a cart mare, the horse was made too, and would fancy, poor ignorant man with a whip in his hand, that it was made for him to have dominion over; nor would he be much in the wrong.

141 But I must turn to the direct point. A succession of produced facts they have not. They have uniform and universal continuance of force, operating in a constant way as a general rule, though perhaps not absolutely universal, as gaseous molecules or the satellite of Uranus, but enough to give a general fixed phenomenal law, and uniform effects of certain chemical substances; but this knowledge of phenomena brings out the principle of causation. Thus Mr. Mill says, "All phenomena, without exception, which begin to exist, that is, all except primeval causes, are effects either immediate or remote of those primitive facts, or of some combination of them." This science has no right to say. It can only say, This is the case in all the course of material nature which we have examined; and, as an induction, we reckon on it elsewhere when the same cause is in operation, or from the same effect conclude to a similar cause. Nothing more.

But the principle of causation, intuitively believed in men's minds, so that he cannot think of beginning to be without it, is established scientifically as necessary to material existence, and the course of nature in what begins, by the infidel himself. He cannot think otherwise. As a scientific induction, then, it is necessary to the first existence of material existence and fixed laws. That is, I have a creative power. It is true that this leads me to self-existence, which, for the very same reason, I cannot understand, because it does exist without being caused. But this is merely saying man cannot understand what is beyond him. Of course he cannot, or he would not be man, that is, a finite creature.

That is, science must stop in — what belongs to it — the course and order of the kosmos, or ordered universe, and in its nature cannot go beyond it. It knows there must be a primeval or primitive cause for everything; for everything in its sphere is the effect of a cause, and, it asserts, must be. If so, material existence itself must be, and the fixed laws also. As to what and how that primeval cause is (which is not caused, or it is not primeval), it cannot tell. Of course it cannot; nor do I blame it. It is in the nature of things. But ignorance is no ground — I should say no valid ground; for ignorance is very fond of asserting — no valid ground of asserting. That is, science assures me from what it does know that there must be a primeval cause of the existence of what it searches into; but it is, and must be, wholly ignorant of that cause — cannot conceive it: it is not in its sphere of knowledge.

142 As to change of species, I must say, though I cannot enter into it here, there is no ground for asserting it. Mummies and geology all give us the same continuous species, as has been fully shewn, and no passing from one to another. Facts fail the assertors of it; and facts only are of any worth here. And as to evolutionism, while within the same species there is clearly development from the sperm to the plant, from the ovum to the full-grown creature, species appear perfect in starting, though in the kind of creature there is, as a general rule, progress up to man himself. And, so far from the stronger driving out the weaker during the subsistence of a race, the stronger are those that disappear.

Infidelity would exclude a Creator. Its will is in its thought. Mr. Mill talks of primeval causes, primitive facts, collocation of permanent causes;* but this only proves that he was forced to come to what was primitive and permanent, what exists of itself. Another tells us we are compelled to admit a primordial cause or causes, of whose nature logic and science can tell us nothing. "Thus we are conducted to a blank wall by a method which is wholly powerless to penetrate the mystery which lies behind." He adds, "This we may call logical or negative atheism." Now I understand this; for this author, though an evolutionist, does not deny revelation, but avows himself a Christian; but it is not correct, because it pretends to think of what is beyond the blank wall, when it knows and sees nothing. It has no negative right even, but only to say, I do not know — it is not in the sphere of my knowledge; I am simply ignorant, and leave it to intuition and revelation, where all is plain. Indeed we may go farther, because the mind of man does conclude there must be a cause, nature.

{*Afterwards in a wretched way he admitted one, and materials to hand, with a bungling result.}

143 It is a very simple principle, that the mind of man cannot go beyond the mind of man, or it ceases to be such; that it cannot reach God so as to know and grasp what He is. If he could, God is not God, or man not man. Cicero's subjecta veritas quasi materia can never take in God. It puts God and man wholly out of their place, and though in an innate sense there is a God remains, it is a fact that man by his own power has never known Him. His highest reach is an "unknown God." With conscience it is another matter; but that is not science. As to this it is clear, fixed laws cannot account for existence, for the things must exist to have the laws attached to them. They are forced to recognise causation; man does so necessarily, and that leads up to a first cause, but it is not science. This may occupy itself with fixed laws, but the laws were fixed somehow before it began its work. What they are when they exist, science may ascertain, but no more.