In Defence of the Faith
XV.—Nature and Personality
[The writer of this article, Dr. David Cairns, is a distinguished Scottish theologian. He has been Moderator of the Uitited Free Church and is Professor of Dogmatics and Apologetics in the United Free Church College, Aberdeen.—LED. Spectator.] FROM many quarters to-day we hear reports of the spread of the secular view of life. It is a little difficult to define this with precision. But, in general, it is the endeavour to explain and to carry on the business of life without taking any account of God and immortality. Sometimes it is purely naturalistic, a new version of the old materialism, and sometimes humanistic. Humanism is the endeavour to conserve as much as possible of the older world of spiritual values on a naturalistic basis. In a striking volume called A Preface to Mortals, which has had an immense circulation in America, the author, Mr. Lippmann, states the present position as he sees it. The old Christian faith is dying out ; the naturalistic view has triumphed. But with its triumph disillusionment has come. The old sanguine faith in science which animated T. H. Huxley in his crusade against Victorian orthodoxy bas faded. The world to-day looks very bleak to the Modern man, and society is in danger of disintegration. So the author sets himself to show how we may make the best of it, and to see what we can honestly say and do to prevent social disintegration and retain what we can of the great humari values. Save for a chapter on the family, this constructive endeavour is much weaker than the earlier part, and the solution, the cultivation of a high disinterestedness seems very thin and academic in view of the more recent naturalistic psychological theories of man. But the book as a whole is very well worth reading, partly for its own sake and partly because it expresses clearly and poignantly thoughts which are very widely held to-day by men and women whose earnest- ness and high intention no one can rightly question. They honestly believe that science has made an end of faith, and they are " disenchanted " and alarmed at the outlook.
The lameness of Mr. Lippmann's conclusions leads one to look into his premises, and here one is impressed by the inadequacy of the grounds given for the abandonment of belief. Belief in God, in the great Christian epic of Redemption, and in Immortality is held to be the creation of man's desires. But surely that is wellnigh as superficial a view as the rather naïve suggestion that the idea of a Sovereign God belongs to an obsolete political order and is incompatible with a democracy.
Something much more solid underlies the religious inter- pretation of life tliim the wish for hum' an happiness. The rock on which the new Secularism; like the old Naturalisin, irrevocably 'founder§ is the nature of man. Man baffles every attempt to explain him adequately in terms of those physical elemetts which are all that, in the last resort, the new Secularism, like the old Naturalism, has to work with.
The task of human thought is to explain human life and its environment. The causal explanation is only one half of that task. Thus, when we have traced the entire pedigree of man back to the fire-mist we have not really explained him, inasmuch as the human mind demands a purpose and meaning as well as a causal explanation. This is just as much and just as little an anthropomorphism as the idea of cansality. Both alike are obviously historically derived from, our consciousness of our own wills in their, causal and purposive functions. The great void which the triumph of the scientifielnter- pretation . has brought about, and of . which Mr. Lippmann speaks so poignantly is not only the emotional void of which he complains. It is an intellectual void which religion supplies, but which science cannot. Religion may have been wrong in the view of the purpose and end of all things, but at least it faced the issues, and this, apparently, science, as we have known it, is quite unable to do. In the absence of any such dis- cernible, purpose the whole vast movement of Nature becomes the mere drift of cosmic " weather," of which William James wrote, .". doing and . undoing ,without end."
. 'Where shall we -find anything that can satisfy this intellectual hunger ? It is not to be had in the starry heavens or the green earth. " The deep saith, It is not in me." There is only one place in the world where it can be found, and that is, as Kant said, "in the good will" and in the personalities which embody it. We strike here upon something different in kind from the world of mate- rial things and forces, something which we perceive to be of a different kind of value. Mr. Lippmann speaks of the whole world of values as if they were identical with desires, and arose simply from the subjective preferences of man. But this is certainly not true of justice, sincerity, and love. Their worth is intrinsic. They are good in them- selves, and not simply because of their consequences. Wherever they appear they, therefore, begin to -give a deeper meaning to the nature environment which it had not in, itself before. This thought has been finely expressed by a writer of genius of our own day. In his novel, Gallions Reach, Mr. Tomlinson describes how his hero escapes from a deep sense of the meaninglessness of life by a shipwreck, and by what he learned through it of the quality of ordinary seamen " His knowledge of Sinclair and that bunch of men of his old ship gave to an aimless and sprawling world the assurance of anonymous courage and faith waiting in the sordid muddle for a signal, ready when it came. There were men like that. You could never tell where they were. They were only the crowd. . . . But when they were wanted, there they were and when they had finished their task, they disappeared, leaving no sign save in the heart. Without the certainty of that artless and profitless fidelity of simple souls the great ocean would be as silly as the welter of doom undesigned, and the shining importance of the august affairs of flourishing cities of no more honour than the brickbats of Babylon. These people gave to God any countenance by which He could be known."
That this emphasis on the objective, intrinsic value of per- sonality, as distinct in kind from anything in the world of things or forces, is not a mere individual opinion but is a deep- rooted conviction of all progressive civilization, becomes clear from a fact that I take to be quite undeniable. I know of no progressive civilized country in which a com- petent speaker could not take for granted, with any audience of intelligent men and women, two propo- sitions.
-The first of these is that it is the duty of every civilized government to exploit the world of things and animals to the utmost for the advantage of mankind. The only restriction on this would be that the exploitation of animals should be carried on with humanity. But Carried on it must be, all the same.
The second is that the exploitation of human beings is something very much more than inexpe- - dient. It is morally wrong: . The most fanat- ically materialist Russian Communist would be as clear - on this point as the most philanthropic idealist.
In Other words, all alike, recognize a deep distinction in kind between persons and things, however earnestly some may maintain, that in the last resort persons are made up Of things. This practical --recognition of the intrinsic worth of human personalities is in• fact the very leaven and salt of society, and on its development the whole future of mankind depends.
But when we have reached this clear and objective distinction in kind between persons and things, is it possible to leave the matter there ? Thought cannot rest in a dualism under which realities so different lie, as it were, side by side. For, historically, it seems quite clear that in some way personalities emerge out of things, and that theydevelop through interaction with them. The whole world of things and persons is plainly one system. But if it be so, is there any real explanation which makes sense of it all, doing full justice to all the elements of the problem save that of Theism, which holds that God through the world of things is creating and disciplining Marian personalities in His own " image and likeness " ? " The world is not a vale of tears : it is a place of soul- making." The one great difficulty of Theism is the problem, of evil, the terrible cost of the great process, a process which everyone can verify for himself, a cost which we all sooner or later have to bear. Is it worth the while of either man or God ? Our answer to that will depend in large measure on our estimate of the EC ul that emerges from the process, its justice, and sincerity and love. What if we have here something which, apparently insignificant now, in the immensity of astronomical space and geological time, shall long outlast " the whole choir and furniture " through material things and develop after such a fashion that the great epic of Nature shall be seen to be but the prelude to the vaster drama of the eternal world of Spirit ?
D. S. CAIRNS.
[In view of the interest which has been aroused in ecclesiastical circles of every kind, we have arranged to publish two more articles " In Defence of the Faith," of which this, by Dr. David Cairns, is the first. Next week we shall publish an article on " What, is Sin ? " by Rev. H. Farmer. As from March 15th we shall publish six articles of another series, which will include contributions from Professor J. B. Haldane, Bishop Gore, and Father Steuart.]