“A great many of our difficulties in the past have arisen because we have thought in accordance with the habit of mind of science to the exclusion of that which is induced by art. Religion is something that binds art, as meaning the outward expression of what is spiritually and emotionally vital, with science, as the impulse to ascertain the truth. Both are there, and we must allow quite as much for all those apprehensions which come to us through the world of art as for those which come through the world of science”.
This interesting historical comment was made by William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1927.
What do you think?
Arthur S Eddington
I have finally finished my little piece on Eddington, who famously tried to reconcile science and religion. Both were attempting to seek out the Inner Light of Truth (in Quaker terms). See what you think. Click on above for my Blog on my website dpcrook. wordpress. com.
“There is an hour of the Indian night, a little before the first glimmer of dawn, when the stars are unbelievably clear and close above, shining with a radiance beyond our belief in this foggy land. The trees stand silent around with a friendly presence… the whole world seems to be latent, alive, listening, eager. At such a moment the veil between the things that are seen and the things that are unseen becomes so thin as to interpose scarcely any barrier at all between the eternal beauty and truth and the soul which would comprehend them” [ J. S. Hoyland, 1928].
Einstein’s theory of relativity seemed to many to undermine ideas of absolutes, such as space and time. Did this undermine religion? The astrophysicist who popularised relativity to British audiences in the early 20th century, A. S. Eddington, didn’t think so. He argued that the laws of nature were essentially human constructs, in line with Einstein’s emphasis on the observer. Both religion and science depended upon human experience.
As Matthew Stanley puts it, Einstein helped destroy the model of a soulless mechanical universe. In 1925 Eddington said “the recent tendencies of scientific thought lead to the belief that mind is a greater instrument than was formerly recognized… In exploring his own territory the physicist comes up against the influence of that wider reality which he cannot altogether shut out”. Stanley summarises: “Our minds are creative instruments, sparks of the divine Logos that created the world as a whole. For Eddington, mind and consciousness were identical with spiritual values, and the recognition of the former was a recognition of the latter. In Quaker style, he suggested that the divine spark of human minds pointed to the presence of a greater Mind” [ Practical Mystic, 2007, p. 187].
British Quakers had long held pacifist views. They suffered terribly as conscientious objectors during WW1, many dying in solitary confinement in prison. As one wrote: “Things are coming near the end this morning. I was taken up to a quiet place and simply ‘pasted’ until I couldn’t stand and then they took me to hospital and forcibly fed me… The colonel was standing near me and thundered up and shouted ‘What! You won’t obey me?’ I quietly answered ‘ I must obey the commands of my God, Sir.’ ‘Damn your God!'”.
Those who generalise about history without actually knowing much about it often say that science and religion were enemies from the start. This is nonsense. A scientific genius like Newton e.g. was a man of deep faith. So too was the great astrophysicist A. S. Eddington (1882-1944). As a “modernist” Quaker he believed that religion had nothing to fear from modern science (including evolution). His whole theory was that both believers and scientists were “seekers” (a Quaker term) after the truth, wherever it be found. People had a deep need, a quest, for spiritual enlightenment, just as scientists explored the deeper meaning of nature and the universe. I will be saying more about ASE in future blogs.
The great Quaker thinker Rufus Jones favoured activist and engaged mystics, not the hermit types. He said of “practical mystics”: “They are very busy persons, overloaded with their own life work, their vocation, but that in no way prevents them from being transmitters of great moral and spiritual forces; quite the contrary they are all the better transmitters because they are steadied and stabilized with a weighty occupation”
[The New Quest, 1928]