The following debate was held at The Linwood Forum of Kansas City, Mo. -- in Dr. Jenkins' Linwood Boulevard Christian Church -- on Sunday evening, April 13, 1930. Rev. Burris A. Jenkins argued the affirmative and E. Haldeman-Julius argued the negative in this debate, which was stated in the following form: "Resolved, That Theism Is a Logical Philosophy." We publish herewith a verbatim report of the debate.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Permit me first of all to express, or try to express, my personal gratitude to Mr. E. Haldeman-Julius for coming up here tonight to debate with me, and incidentally to help The Linwood Forum out of the hole; and no doubt I may be permitted in your behalf to express your gratitude to him for this work of kindliness and charity.
I have debated with a good many brilliant men, here and elsewhere, such as our good old friend Clarence Darrow, a number of times, Judge Ben Lindsey, a number, and Harry Elmer Barnes; but I have never debated with a keener mind, crossed swords with a more brilliant rapier, than I shall be called upon to do tonight. And I must confess a great deal of timidity in going up against the power of this man's mind. There is no discount, too, on his courage. He maintains his view, whether it is popular or unpopular, whether the skies stand or whether they fall.
I should like the question to read -- and I think he gives his consent -- Resolved, that belief in God is a logical philosophy. Theism is a term that not everybody grasps, but belief in God everybody does. Of course the subject is a metaphysical one, a philosophical theme. Somebody has said that a metaphysician is a blind man groping around in a dark room after a black cat that is not there. A pretty fair definition of those who try to explore the ultimate sources of human knowledge and the ultimate basis of human thinking. And that is exactly what we are undertaking to do here tonight.
The interest that my opponent takes in life, the avidity with which he attacks his work -- he just now told me in my office that he was having a world of fun out of his business, his life; of course be is; you can see it shining in his face; and his actions speak louder than his words -- show that he believes in life. It seems to me that this thing which we call personality, contradictory as it is oftentimes, living differently from what it thinks and believes, this strange, queer thing we call I, Me, individuality, is the hardest thing for the atheist to get over, to account for. I do not See how he can reach any philosophy which will be final without explaining, to a degree at least, the existence of the Me, the I.
But Descartes starts out with this proposition: "I think. Therefore I am." And with that as a basis he builds up his entire system of philosophy. I think that he stands upon firm ground and that he starts from a good starting-point. When I realize that I am an entity, an individual, a personality, I think, there is no illusion about it, because I am sure. I think. Therefore I must exist. From that I pass on by graduated steps to the assurance that my neighbor exists. I meet and compare notes with my friend; I know that he exists; he gives me his ideas and I give him mine, for what they are worth. We interchange thoughts; and nothing can convince me that E. Haldeman-Julius does not live, He is very much alive.
From that we go on by steps building up a system that is logical and practicable and applicable to human life, which lands us at theism. As a matter of fact, it is a far easier thing to account for this universe on a theistic basis than it is on an atheistic one. I do not envy the man who tries to make some sort of logical and philosophical scheme which will account for all this without a great mind, a great soul, a great creative artist back of it all. It seeing to me there is no escape from the assumption that, unless there is such an individuality behind our personality and behind all this great system of whirling worlds, the whole thing is just chance, just chaos, just a happen-so: that is utterly inescapable. There is no philosophy that fits it except the philosophy of a creative mind and a purpose running through. Of our great scientists of today, most of them are driven by their researches beyond the limits of human knowledge to the belief that the origin of it all must be in another Great Scientist who built it, established its laws, set it going upon its way.
You may call the names of the leading scientists of today and most of them are theists, believers in God. On the other side of the water there are Sir Oliver Lodge and J.B.S. Haldane; on this side of the water, Michael Pupin, Robert Millikan, men of that stamp, experts in their field of scientific investigation. I know that Mr. Harry Elmer Barnes, in his The Twilight of Christianity, insists that these men all have compartmental minds, that they are all right enough in their own compartments of astronomy, or physics, but that they have no right at all to speculate as to ultimate things of philosophy, metaphysics. Mr. Barnes insists that he has that right because his science is anthropology and sociology, and that he can speculate as to all this, but all these other gentlemen are not sufficiently informed. And so he says there is a twilight.
Well, there are compartments and compartments; and these gentlemen, having demonstrated their ability in scientific realms, are surely justified in using the same brain power in speculating in metaphysical realms as well; and when we bear in mind that the greatest of the human intellects from the beginning clear down to the present time, so far as their thoughts are recorded, are driven to the conclusion that there must be a creative power back of it all and an increasing purpose running through it all, when we realize this fact, then we begin to appreciate that, unless the whole of the human race, with its past experience, is utterly illogical, then belief in God must be a logical position.
Now, I recognize the limitations of that philosophy. I know that it has been tried through a generation and has not been established as infallible and absolutely true in all particulars. Nevertheless, there is a modicum of truth in it, that that thing is likely to be true which works well in human life. If it functions serviceably for humanity, then the inference is that more than likely it is in harmony with the logic of affairs and of events.
Now, the theistic philosophy is the only thing that has worked in human society at all. There never has been any other philosophy tried out among men, either in a small way or in a large way, in social construction, except the theistic belief. Well, you say, there is an experiment going on right now over in Russia, in establishing an atheistic society. Once again, the actions of the Russians speak louder than their words, over and over. We all know of a Lenin cult. They are not very far from worshiping as their Messiah the founder of their republic, the Soviet Union, Lenin. And he is well worth believing in, for he was a very great and fearless man. But Russia, better than almost anybody else, is showing up the impossibility of the human mind resting in atheism. In Russia today there is an enthusiasm for the social program, for the communistic regime, that is nothing less than a worship, a devotion to the cause, that is profoundly theistic in its very spirit, a sacrificial devotion that amounts to worship.
Now, we see men acting as if they were theists, even while with their lives they express agnosticism and occasionally atheism; not often atheism, but usually agnosticism. My young son, fifteen years old, came home from high school one day -- he was then a sophomore -- and said, "I have got through with all this old stuff, I am an atheist." I didn't say anything then. Days passed on and weeks; when a favorable opportunity came and we were having a good chin-chin, I talked things all out with him. He said, "Maybe I am not an atheist after all. Maybe I am an agnostic." I said, "That indicates that you are growing, that you don't think you know it all. I thought you thought you knew it all; but if you have reached a position where you are doubtful about things, or you have reached a position where you call yourself an agnostic -- an honorable term -- you are growing." He has got over being a sophomore, and still he is an agnostic.
I see in people who claim agnosticism a great many who would like to see if there is any purpose behind the world, if life is going anywhere; and yet they all act all the time as though there were a purpose, as though law does reign and not chaos, as though something can be done to affect the machine for the good of the human being; so they set to work very vigorously and determinedly to make the machine work for their benefit.
Then I see men and women bearing life when it is scarcely to be borne. In the midst of weariness, pain, suffering, disillusionment, and lives wrecked and broken, I see them pulling their belts tighter and saying, "It is going to be better tomorrow. I will be better tomorrow. Things are going to be better with me after a little while." And they thrust out their jaws and clench their teeth and go ahead. I take off my hat to the courage of humanity that can endure so bravely and so well. They act as if they believe that there is an order in it all; that it is not a machine grinding us to powder, wrecking and destroying our poor, little lives; that nature is something else than red in tooth and claw; they anticipate something better to come tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Last night I saw Otis Skinner playing the part of a one- hundred-year-old man, and the most beautiful part in the play is when he sits and looks out musingly and says, "I have lived here so long because I liked it. Ahead of me was a little light burning. I looked forward to this day when my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren would be coming to celebrate my one- hundredth birthday." And then he says, "As this light has come, I look forward to another light, dimmer and farther off, that will keep me." He adds, "I want to see my great great grandchildren!" Here it is, human life looking forward, always something tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and it is going to be better and better. We believe in life, even when we think we do not. We believe in its logicality, in the reign of laws; we believe in its purpose, that it is going somewhere and getting somewhere.
We would not be able to lie down and sleep at night if we did not believe that there were an over-arching power, something I cannot define. I don't know what you call it. Call it the Over- soul, with Emerson, if you like; call it Father, as Jesus called it, and as most other nations and religions have called it; call it what you please, we could not sleep if we did not have an unconscious dependence upon that power. Suppose you did not believe that the sun would rise tomorrow morning; or suppose that you had grave doubts of it, or agreed that the probabilities were against its coming up tomorrow, or that there would be any tomorrow. You could not sleep any more than a man that was going to face the electric chair at seven o'clock in the morning; you would pace up and down your bedroom all night long, unable to rest. If you didn't believe that some-how some power would bring the sun back again over the eastern horizon -- I know that is not scientific; no, that the world would turn during the night toward the sun over on the east -- you could not sleep.
If we didn't believe that there was a great power directing eternal destiny, how should we even be able to stand by the side of those we love better than ourselves and see them slipping through our fingers, out into the unknown? Or how should we ever be able to recover after such a loss? Have you been through it? Something more precious than your own life ebbing away, and you clutch at it and try to hold it back, and you can't. And then you see the green door of the earth swinging over it and you say "Good-bye." How can you go on living, how is it possible to go on living? Why don't we destroy ourselves when losses like that come unless deep down in our life somewhere we have the consciousness that "it is not all of life to live nor all of death to die"; that back of it is beneficence, kindliness; that there is more of good than evil; that the problem of good is just as great as the problem of evil for us to solve. In our philosophy, consciously or unconsciously, that is what we believe, and we act as if we believed it, no matter what our words.
And so the purpose of all human thinking and all human knowledge is, I think, to bring the human mind at rest somewhere. I don't think the human mind can rest in an unexplained universe. The purpose of all life is to find equilibrium, rest. The psychologists now, in their most modern researches, are teaching us that this is the end and aim of existence: consciously or unconsciously to find rest, peace, confidence. Down in the lower strata of our nature sometimes we manifest very, very queer urges, such as the desire to go clear back to our mother's breast to rest again. And the psychologist tells that we go farther than that, that we yearn for the rest of the mother's womb, the prenatal rest, for the warmth and the repose and the unconsciousness that preceded birth.
Those are results of recent scientific investigation. And if that is true, then all of human kind, with all of its thinking, is seeking to find rest, equilibrium, calm. And I defy anybody to find rest in an unexplained and inexplicable universe. Now, maybe Mr. Haldeman-Julius can do it. Let us see.
I agree that an explanation of the universe is necessary for the satisfaction of the mind. But different minds demand different explanations. The realistic-minded individual seeks for proofs, for scientific tests, for reasonable conclusions, for merciless examination of all assumptions. He is willing to suspend judgment in those domains where he still lacks complete knowledge.
On the other hand, we find the so-called "spiritual"-minded individual who believes because he has been taught to accept certain notions about God, because he has grown accustomed to relying on his emotions for opinions instead of the full use of his rational faculties. Such tender-minded, non-realistic individuals usually seek out those domains of knowledge that are still unexplored and place their God in that environment of mystery and darkness.
Only a few centuries ago man knew little of the world in which he lived, so it was his habit to have his God right around the corner. As knowledge grew, God was sent farther and farther into space. Now it seems, with God driven from pillar to post until a new hiding place is desperately required, a few believers have resorted to invisible electrons. They have tucked their God away -- temporarily -- in that still uncharted world. But it is safe to predict that in another generation or two man will understand the electrons, and perhaps the ether beyond the electrons, and these will also show the operation of natural, mechanical processes that do not admit any agency outside and above matter. It is typical of the theological mind to claim as its sphere the outermost, receding points of darkness and ignorance. As knowledge grows, such centers of theism disappear.
Descartes also suggested that the mind is "spiritual" and the body material, and that God had decreed neither should be influenced by the other -- that they were separate entities. In this he lacked the knowledge given us later by psychologists, who have shown that mind is merely the function of the brain and that the brain is a material substance. One might as well argue that digestion is a separate reality, when the fact is that physiology corrects us so simply and shows that digestion is merely the stomach in action, a purely materialistic, physical function.
To hold that this non-material substance (as Descartes described the brain) comes from God, and that this substance's picture of a God must be based on a reality, is to utter the sheerest fancy of formless words. There must first be evidence that the brain is not a material thing.
Yes, chance, mechanism, naturalism, materialism do offer interesting grounds for the belief that there is nothing in matter that is above matter, that what we call power or force is the result of matter in motion -- that and nothing more -- and the further belief that the materials of our limitless, immeasurable universe perhaps always existed.
It seems more reasonable to picture something like ether always having been instead of imagining its creation out of nothing by something outside nature and matter. That this is still a mystery I do not deny. But I do insist that it is not solved by the theistic assumption that matter was created at the word or the will of a God or Gods. Such a belief implies a First Cause, which is a logical absurdity. For this notion has it that everything is the effect of some cause, that a cause is the effect of some other cause and that nature works back from effect to cause and from cause to effect until it rests upon a Prime Mover, a First Cause -- which, according to this peculiar logic, assumes that there can be a cause that was not caused, and that that First Cause was God. This brings up the logical question: Who made God? If everything must have a cause, then the First Cause must be caused. To say that this First Cause always existed is to deny the basic assumption of the theory and to provoke the rejoinder that if it is reasonable to assume a First Cause as having always existed, why is it unreasonable to assume that the materials of the universe always existed?
In passing, I want to add the thought that there is no basis in science for the notion that causes and effects can be traced backward to a simple First Cause. Each thing that seems to be an effect cannot be said to have a single cause, but the causes and the effects are so interrelated as to be beyond anyone's power to separate them. For example, let me stand in the center of a room and hear a telephone bell. I walk over, pick up the receiver, and say "Hello." What was the cause of that act? Was it the fact that I had ear drums, that I bad legs to carry me to that telephone, that I had fingers to pick up the receiver, that I had an apparatus for speaking that enabled me to say "Hello," that someone put the telephone there, that someone invented it, that someone rang the bell, that someone told someone to ring the bell? You see the complications. If we can't get at the immediate cause of my answering the telephone, how can we search back to a First Cause? The whole thing is an illogical fancy and has been rejected by thinkers for five hundred years. Even some theologians frequently annihilate this argument before presenting their own equally vulnerable arguments. The idea of the First Cause came originally from Aristotle and then through the Catholic Church, which found it necessary to buttress its faith with something akin to logic; this argument had the appearance of logic -- but on examination that poor semblance faded. My point is: We can conceive of an endless, eternal cycle of causes, but we cannot conceive of a First Cause.
Just how the stuff of the universe came into existence, if it ever "Came," I do not know. But that lack of knowledge should not be considered a good reason for imaginative flights, for baseless assumptions. We all recognize the factor of chance in many things. We are familiar with games of chance. Bertrand Russell tells in one of his lectures that double sixes in dice will come once in about thirty-six throws. That is a law of chance. When a thing acts mechanically, when it always does the same thing in nature, we have a different problem. If the forces of nature, acting through their material properties, always behave in a certain way, we are seeing a machine at work. If it were to be eccentric, or changeable, or whimsical -- then we could say, perhaps, that some mind had shown itself at work in nature.
It is for theism to bring out its proofs for a God, not for the atheist to prove that there is no God. If the theist has no valid arguments, the atheist rests his case. To illustrate this: Some man says that the earth is a hollow sphere and that at its heart is a strange world, which he may fantastically describe. I say that there are conclusive evidences in science that the center of the earth is solid. He then says: "Prove to me that the earth's center is not hollow and inhabited." And there you are. Proof -- disproof -- is a question of reason and evidence.
Dr. Jenkins is an evolutionary creationist, as I understand his argument. He believes with Descartes that God gave the universe a push and set it in motion, leaving it to finish itself and go eternally on its way. That, I claim, is a bold assumption. There is no evidence for that position. But you say: "Who made the world?" I answer: Prove your statement that the world was "made." Doubtless you will say: "Ah, it stands to reason -- it had to be made." But that is an assumption. Science does not know the meaning of the word "made." We know of things being fabricated, but not "made." And to trace the universe back, with a thin wavering line of rhetoric, to a First Cause is to evade the question.
If you believe in Creation, then you must believe the Creator was created, and then you get something out of nothing. And if you are going to prove that -- to attempt that amazing proof -- then you are going to have a pretty hard job.
I am an optimist. I believe that man will never again surrender to the forces of obscurantism. And this moving history of man -- his cultural, scientific and economic history -- proves one thing with bold significance: as man grows in intelligence, as he learns to think for himself, as he grasps newer and greater secrets from nature, his primitive fears disappear, his faith in supernaturalism declines, his belief in Gods dies down. There is more intelligence today than ever before in man's entire history. There is also less of God in man's mind. The lesson is a simple one. The growth of intelligence means the growth of skepticism.
It has been a slow evolution, but it has been a fairly steady one. The process is being accelerated today. Man's mind is achieving a quicker pace. Man's intellectual progress is a certain abandonment of myths about God and supernaturalism. In the evolution of mind I see the growth of skepticism; away from theism to a mild form of deism; away from deism to agnosticism; and now I see still greater progress -- the abandonment of all beliefs in supernaturalism. And if you will make an honest survey of history, you will be struck by the consistent fact that most of the world's progress can be traced to those individuals who were brave enough to defy conventional-minded religionists. The houses of God have never been hospitable to progress. They have always been centers of obscurantism, superstition and reaction.
The theistic philosophers have shown themselves to be wrong -- each succeeding philosopher disputing the arguments of those who went before, until we reach Kant, who killed off all their arguments, then became frightened at his temerity and forthwith invented an entirely new argument known as the Moral Law. If you want to become an atheist, read Kant thoroughly, and you will get rid of ninety percent of your theism; then read philosophers who came after Kant, and you will get rid of the other ten percent. Of course, this argument of Descartes' could not escape Kant's philosophical axe. He struck off its head neatly in his Critique of Pure Reason. Descartes' "ontological" proof never had any standing. As I understand him, existence is something that is perfection in itself, from which it must follow that God, being something completely perfect, must be a reality.
Descartes' argument is best answered by stating it -- for its absurdity is obvious. "I think, therefore I am," said Descartes. Thus it followed, in his reasoning, that as he thought of a God, therefore a God must exist. That can only mean one thing: that belief in an idea makes it true -- that an idea doesn't have to be proved, but all one needs is to have the concept. Of course, that is just as good a proof for atheism as it is for theism. It is just as good a proof for a personal God as for an abstract modernistic God. It is just as good a proof for a personal Devil, with horns, as for a personal God. And plainly, in the light of common sense, it isn't the shadow of a proof for anything.
Are all ideas that men have devoutly held, all notions in which men have believed and which men have even died for, therefore true? Surely not. What Descartes actually said, shorn of all its involved philosophical lingo, was this: "Whatever I think is true." Imagine it! What I think is true. What Dr. Jenkins thinks is true. What Mrs. Eddy thought was true. What John Wesley, who believed in witchcraft, thought was true. What everybody thinks is true -- which means that truth is equivalent to the sum of all absurdities.
I am sure that Dr. Jenkins does not believe in a hell; but, according to Descartes' logic, Dante's hell -- a vision as vivid as anyone ever had -- must be a reality. Dr. Jenkins doesn't believe this -- he can't really believe in this antiquated reasoning of Descartes -- no thinking man could believe it. Its only use, and what a Poor use it is, can be as a mere confusing trick of rhetoric. It is very sick logic, deformed logic, the sheer denial of logic.
Furthermore, this principle of Descartes plainly begs the question of the nature of ideas. it ignores the source of ideas in analogies from the world around us; the idea of perfection, for example, being, when all is said, merely a notion of something indefinitely and vaguely better than what we have. What is a perfect being? What is meant by a perfect life? What is meant by the idea of perfection? It is an idea which cannot possibly be stated in final, concrete, realizable terms. Some ideas are direct reflections of things visibly before us. They are ideas that can be tested. They are ideas that will work. Other ideas are indirect. Some ideas are so remote and vague that they can scarcely be called ideas and the God idea is a classic example of such remoteness. Many ideas are so tangled up with analogies, far-fetched inferences, repetitions and assumptions that to speak of them as clear (even though they may be stated in an orderly form of words) is to violate the meaning of language.
Even on the basis of Descartes' own argument, is it conceivable that he had a picture or a consciousness or an idea of a God that was even dimly comparable to the picture or consciousness or idea that he had of himself? Obviously not. His idea of God was an abstraction or it was a mere personal simile -- a God greater than a man, a God-mind greater than the human mind, and so on. To prove God's existence by his own -- in presuming to attempt that, Descartes shows the pit-fall which philosophy spreads for those who think in words and not in real images. If Descartes had any picture of a God in his mind, it was probably the picture of a being who had all the virtues and none of the defects of Descartes himself -- a bigger and better Descartes.
But let me, for the sake of Dr. Jenkins' argument, grant that belief in theism is universal. Is this to be accepted as a valid argument in favor of the existence of a God? I think not. The theists add that while error may be local and occasional, universal agreement is something altogether different; it is man in the mass using reason to discover some great truth, in this case the truth of the existence of a God. This argument, used in this late day, shows the poverty of intellect to be found among our theistic apologists. It is unworthy of serious consideration, except to remark that until man reaches a pretty far stage in history he is almost certain to be universally wrong on most subjects of an intellectual nature. According to this argument, we should have to believe today that the sun swings around the earth and that the earth is flat, for those were universal beliefs for thousands of years. Religion might take some comfort from this argument if the intelligence of the world today supported its position. But the opposite is the fact. Religion is dead at the top; it is dying rapidly at the bottom. The intelligence of the world is relentlessly -- and cheerfully -- deserting the God idea.
Dr. Jenkins argues that most great minds in history have embraced theism. This is not stating the case quite accurately. The history of man's intellect shows that with the development of reason and the spread of knowledge, he grows more skeptical; he works closer and closer to atheistic conclusions. Knowledge develops; it does not come with the climax of a Creator making a universe. Historical perspective is essential to grasp the picture. Great minds were convinced, even before modern science had discovered such a growing case for atheism, that the God idea was false. Almost without exception, the great minds have certainly rejected all the ideas which have been derived by religion from the idea of God. The great minds, again almost without exception, have denied the validity of the popular reasons and even of the best philosophical reasons for belief in a God. Great minds, let me add, have helped to build, from age to age, the knowledge which in a logical, steady, inexorable evolution of thought leads to atheism.
But Dr. Jenkins says that modern science is moving rather strongly in the direction of theism. This is not true, according to the figures quoted by Professor J.H. Leuba, in his study entitled Belief in God and Immortality, a most useful and important work. First Professor Leuba went to one thousand students with questions regarding their belief in a God and in immortality. He then put his questions to professors. Among one thousand students, Professor Leuba found eighty-two percent of the girl students and fifty-six percent of the boy students believing in a God; and among the professors he found only thirteen percent of the leading psychologists who would admit belief in a God. Education does not help theism.
But let us examine Leuba's figures more closely. Taking the greater scientists (more than a thousand in number), Leuba found the following believers in a God: physicists, 34 percent; historians, 32 percent; sociologists, 19 percent; biologists, 16 percent; and psychologists, 13 percent.
You will notice that our theists, in seeking support for their position among the scientists, usually draw on physicists like Millikan and Eddington. These men are not competent to render a conclusion with the same authority as a biologist or a psychologist. Theistic questions do not enter their sphere. At certain points, these questions do concern the psychologists. When the theist argues that man has a religious instinct, psychologists recognize that this argument is to be tested in their field of research. As students of the emotions and instincts, they seek for this "instinct" which theists attribute to man. But they cannot find it. And it is among these psychologists that we find only thirteen percent who accept theism. So that argument fails.
Since theism touches psychology at so many points, it follows that the observations of the important psychologists are more worthy of respect than arguments emanating from physicists whose training is limited exclusively to the study of matter. These few physicists who speak favorably of theism are -- in that respect -- eccentric. It is to be noted, furthermore, that these physicists do not offer any proof of theism and that their laboratory methods, which have resulted in such important knowledge of material things, have not produced the slightest evidence for a God. At the most, even a Millikan or an Eddington has only said that there is a good deal of the mystery of life which is yet unsolved. No intelligent man denies this. It is indeed a statement of the obvious. And when they talk about theism, about a God, Eddington and Millikan are only guessing. They are deserting the scientific method and taking refuge, at this outermost point, in mysticism.
Let me say this: the opinion of a scientist in favor of theism is worth nothing unless that scientist can offer scientific evidence in support of theism. Does Eddington offer any evidence of physics that there is a God? He does not. To the farthest point that science has reached, the case for atheism is strong -- it is the only satisfactory, sound explanation -- and the case for theism is very, very feeble. On the whole, the world of scientific thought is atheistic. The few whimsical scientists who use theistic language are seen plainly to be forgetting their character as scientists and behaving in a temper of quite common fallacy. When Eddington speaks of definite things in physics, for example, we follow him respectfully. He is talking about his special subject. He is offering facts, not fancies. But when he says that the inner conviction that a God exists is a proof of the reality of God -- then be is clumsily stepping into the domain of the psychologists, and I assure you that there isn't a first-rate psychologist who doesn't smile at this unoriginal and unscientific argument of Eddington.
It must be noted, however, as a curious and relevant circumstance, that Dr. Jenkins believes certainly in the existence of a being or a power of which he knows nothing certainly whatever. He waives details -- which means, after all, that he waives knowledge of God. Is God the reality -- the great and necessary and unshakable reality -- that Dr. Jenkins contends? Then surely a great deal should be known about God. The reality should have some features upon which men, who have claimed all these centuries to study God and his attributes, could reasonably and clearly agree. But no -- Dr. Jenkins knows there is a God, but he is singularly lacking in knowledge of this God. His knowledge is, we perceive, only a form of words.
I am not asking Dr. Jenkins to give me a complete description of God, but I think he should have something really definite and demonstrable in the way of knowledge about his God. If he replies that we see God in nature, I say that he is only calling nature by another name; he is using as proof of his theistic assumption that very assumption itself, alone and unsupported. No -- all of the fancy names men have for God are merely the names of forces or principles or realities which we recognize apart from the idea of God. They don't reveal God. God doesn't explain them. The moment a theologian tries to be definite about God, we find that he is simply fastening the name of God upon something else -- upon nature, upon life, upon the universe, upon the electron.
There is -- I make this statement carefully -- no such thing as a clear, independent idea of God. It is all reflection and analogy, it is all a super-fluity and mixture of terms, and its only result is confusion. Details? Oh, certainly, Dr. Jenkins is discreet in avoiding them. His God is an insubstantial mirage of "the infinites and the indefinites." It is a fact, again, that theism does not stand and never has stood as a solitary idea. It is the basis of innumerable dogmas and superstitions. It is the idea which has assuredly led men into the most fantastic tricks of thought and belief. It is the idea which has been most sadly and violently at war with the civilized effort to understand reality and to find light and progress in the world.
Theism, says Dr. Jenkins, is not to be confused with theology. But all that this means is that the theological idea of God does not necessarily include all other theological ideas. After all, theology is the deliberate and very ambitious effort to understand God. To speak of God, in the tone of serious belief, is to speak theologically -- only Dr. Jenkins, as a theologian, doesn't go as far as some others. His theology is less in quantity -- and it is just as vague, or rather it is more vague and fully as unreasonable. I ought to point out, too, that the arguments which Dr. Jenkins advances in behalf of theism are the identical arguments which theologians have advanced (after borrowing them from the philosophers); that they are arguments which come familiarly and quite as unconvincingly from the lips of men who believe in inspiration, revelation, immortality and all those details which Dr. Jenkins judiciously sets aside as unpromising. Theology depends upon theism. If theism is an unsupported theory, theology collapses. The two must share the same fate.
The fundamental error is found in the theist's habit of confusing a human law with a natural "law." A legislature passes a law saying that after a certain date it shall be illegal to behave in a certain way, to have liquor, for instance. If you break this law, and are not caught, nothing happens except the usual next morning headache. If you are caught, you may be sent to the penitentiary. Or let us say that the people make up their minds to break the law so flagrantly that enforcement falls down and the law is either ignored or repealed. That is a human law. That implies a lawmaker, of course.
But it is treacherous logic to say the "laws" of nature are the result of the will of a lawmaker. The scientific use of the word "law" as applied to nature means only this: things in nature act in certain ways -- their movements are Uniform -- and when you use the word "law" you merely describe how things are observed to conduct themselves. This does not mean that someone -- a God -- told them to act just that way. That is an assumption. Bertrand Russell gives serious consideration to this argument in one of his lectures, and after disposing of the claim of a lawgiver in nature along the lines I have just followed, this English philosopher adds: "Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others? If you say that he did it simply for his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others -- the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it -- if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You have really a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have."
Joseph McCabe says in one of his books: "The phrase, 'God has impressed his laws on the universe,' is one of the loosest conceivable. It is seen to be utterly unintelligible the moment you remember the unconsciousness of objects; there is not the remotest conceivable analogy with human legislation, as the argument implies. In fine, it is clear that if things acted irregularly there would be more reason to look for explanations. A thing acts according to its nature, and if its nature be relatively stable (like an atom). its action is consistent and regular."
There are many other theistic arguments, but all, on examination, are seen to be mere assumptions, bare sophistry, adroit evasion of obvious facts, the urging of metaphysical balderdash in an attempt to refute realistic approaches to life. The arguments for theism are heated and numerous, but the results are always the same -- they cannot show us the slightest evidence for the God idea. They cannot show us the finger of God in any period of man's history. They cannot show us their God in nature. They cannot show us that God exists, that there is any power interested in man or his problems, that there is any method for man to save himself except through his own efforts, through his own mental exertions. Man must fight with his own sweat, and blood, and tears. If he is winning a measure of joyousness and gladness and laughter out of life, it is because of his faith in his own powers and not in some mysterious entity beyond the clouds.
Mr. Haldeman-Julius draws a distinction between the spiritual mind and the scientific mind which does not seem to me valid; at least, in my own thinking it is not valid. It is a very common assumption that the spiritual has nothing to do with the real, with facts, with life as it is. That is the constant mistake that the pietistic world is making. I am surprised that Mr. Haldeman-Julius should be betrayed into making this distinction, because everything that has to do with truth, beauty, art, literature, science, is spiritually minded; and I maintain that he himself is a profoundly spiritually minded man because he is interested in all the beauties of the world. And I maintain that I am no less scientific in thinking if I have a little strain of spirituality in my own being.
He calls me an evolutionary creationist. Maybe that is what I am, but my idea was that I was a mystic and something of an agnostic -- pretty much of an agnostic. I have passed the sophomoric period when I could say things categorically. I don't know about this. I don't know about that. The mind is open. And I think that is true of the great mystics down through the ages, clear to the present time, including Buddha.
It is a mistake to call Buddha an atheist. One who is familiar with the Buddhist hymns and the Buddhistic philosophy which characterized the ancient Indian people, and Buddha in particular, mythical and mystic character as he is, coming out of the great past, would not call him an atheist. Buddha was a great humanist; he loved mankind; and he gave up a palace and a princess wife and all power to go into the highways and the byways, the dusty roads of India, to serve suffering humanity. Buddha was actuated in his humanism by his desire for some sort of contact with the Great Mystery. I claim some sort of kinship with Buddha. We are mutually mystic. I think that is true of the great philosophers and thinkers, religious and otherwise.
I admit that preachers have been awfully busy trying to raise budgets and build churches and make the mare go; and too often they have neglected to think. But even in odd moments thoughts have come out. There have been thoughts among the philosophers of Oxford and Cambridge; and the best book I know on this subject we have been debating is from a great theological, philosophical professor in Oxford, Dr. B.H. Streeter, a book called Reality. The profoundest thing I know, it gets right down to the roots of this difficult metaphysical question we have been trying to discuss,
I know that the argument from the first cause is no longer used. I never used it. I insist I never used the phrase or the idea throughout what I had to say, and if I implied a creator theory, I did not intend to do that. I may have spoken of the Creator, but I spoke of an Artist, the great Over-Us-All, Power, Mind, Spirit, what you will to call it, that is back of it all. I don't care whether you say matter was never created or not, or force was never created or not; that they always existed. Einstein has just knocked the spots out of the whole question of time and space, and it seems we didn't know anything about either -- and I am sure I am not one of the three men in America who understand Einstein. I don't know. I say I am agnostic as to creation, its time, and all that sort of thing.
Again, in speaking of Descartes, I don't think Mr. Haldeman- Julius was quite fair to Descartes. He would lead you to believe that Descartes said, "I think; therefore I am," and then right off said, "I think God; therefore God is." There was a long space of reasoning, careful building of his superstructure, step by step, stone by stone, from that foundation, "I think; therefore I am," convincing him of his own existence, before he finally reached the highest pinnacle of his philosophy, "I believe in God." You can't jump just from the bottom to the top and say, "Look how foolish he was, jumping at conclusions." There was long labor and a life of thought before Descartes finished his structure.
And Kant I know, with his categorical imperative, his appeal to the moral law in the universe. He looked at the starry heavens above and said, "These things fill me with awe, the stars above and the moral law within." That was his greatest argument, the moral law in the universe, for logic in its construction, for the creation of obligation and duty on the part of man.
Mr. Haldeman-Julius draws a distinction also between natural law and civil law, which I realize is a frequent source of confusion on the part of many religious thinkers; and I am glad he drew that distinction, so that we can get it clearly and sharply in mind. I will elaborate that point a little. Natural law, as I understand it, is something that man finds out about the constitution of the earth and the universe. He studies causes and effects, the results of certain conditions, and he writes them down in his laboratory notebook or in his astronomical notebook. When he finds a thousand or ten thousand times that, given certain situations, certain results follow, then he writes that down and calls it a law of nature. I make the bold assertion, and I think it will hold water, that moral law is discovered in the same way. It simply grows out of man's experience in all the events in this complicated thing we call society, rubbing shoulders, jamming and oftentimes stepping on each other. When, after long observation, we find that under certain circumstances men will act and react towards each other in certain ways which strike our sense of justice and right, then we put it down on the statute books and we say this is the law, it shall be so. Moral law, then, is the outgrowth of our knowledge of ourselves, just as natural law is the outgrowth of our knowledge of the material world. There is no real distinction between the two.
And here, if anywhere, Bertrand Russell slips up a little in his thinking. I tremble and catch my breath when I take the name of Bertrand Russell on my lips and venture to suggest the possibility that Jove has nodded in his philosophical thinking. I know he probably is the greatest thinker in England at the present time, without any doubt. When Bertrand Russell fails to perceive that the laws of the Being, of the Artist, the Over-Us-All, the Creator, may be just as truly laws of his nature as the laws of man proceed out of his being or as natural law proceeds out of the material world, it seems to me that he has lost a point.
Now, Mr. Haldeman-Julius says that I don't believe in hell. Well, I don't believe in certain kinds of hell. I believe in other kinds. I don't believe in a literal brimstone lake of fire. I remember that fifteen or twenty years ago when the papers got hold of an utterance of mine of that kind and printed it, and there was quite a good deal of discussion, a colored brother of mine, further north, a very fervent preacher, announced he was going to answer Burris Jenkins on this idea of hell. He said, "Now, that kind of gospel may do all right up there on them boulevards where Dr. Jenkins lives and preaches, but if I was to preach that kind of gospel there would be no clothes on the lines nor chickens in the coops of these same people up on the boulevards." That preacher was a pragmatist, you see. He felt that truth was that which functioned serviceably for his congregation, and that he would better preach the kind of truth that worked well in his environment.
Now, I am agreeing with what Mr. Haldeman-Julius says about pressing pragmatism to too great an extreme; I think there is a little modicum of truth in what he says. But what the experience of the race for thousands and thousands and thousands of years has tested and found valuable; and what has rung true to that mysterious thing within us which I call mysticism in myself, and religions thinkers in all the world have followed for two thousand years, I think there is likely to be a little something in.
I am sure of one thing: that at the end of this debate Dr. Jenkins won't get off of his knees and I won't get down on my knees. So I am sure that there will be no concessions at this end and I am not so sure about any concessions at the other. I don't think either one has been trying to win over any converts. I know that is my attitude. I just get a lot of fun out of it. I enjoy studying theologians, I think they are very amusing creatures, and I can't imagine anything funnier than a theologian in action. But instead of going to the circus, I read books on theism.
I am sure Dr. Jenkins does not get the scientific distinction between a mystic and a realist. An accurate definition of a mystic is one who believes that he can reach truth intuitively; that he can reach truth within himself without reference to man's experiences; that he has mystical power to reach in himself and achieve what he would call truth; while the realist, of course, follows the scientific method of laboratory tests, scrupulous regarding of every fact and very careful observation. They are two separate mentalities, two hopelessly different personalities, and I can't imagine a good scientist permitting himself to become a mystic, though there are a few, and the few mystical scientists are those who are giving such comfort to the theologians; men like Eddington and Millikan, who are very good physicists, who are men of science in their own laboratories, but when they step out in the arena of philosophical thought they utter ideas that would pass for pretty good coin among the fanatics in a Salvation Army band. I think I am speaking pretty literally, because some of their arguments are the same arguments used on the street corners. In Eddington's latest plea before the Society of Friends in London, just a few months ago, and of course for that reason more important than his book, 'The Nature of the Physical World,' that he wrote about three years ago, he says that the reason the religious idea is sound is because there is proof of it in man's experience, man has experienced religion, he has experienced God, therefore it is true. Well, according to that, same logic, the poor moron who gets up on the street corner and gives his testimonial is scientific and it is absolutely right and everything that he says is true, every philosophical point that he is bringing out must be so, because he says he has experienced it; and that, of course, is mysticism. Eddington does not reach that conclusion through scientific means. He does not take the same methods that he used in his laboratory, to bring out that idea. He just simply reaches down into his insides and intuitively reaches that opinion, and I leave it to any reasonable person that it is completely without validity.
Now, Dr. Jenkins mentions Kant's moral law. As I said before, I was surprised that he didn't bring up that argument. There are several other good arguments for theism that you have neglected, Doctor. I was looking for some of them. But this moral law also has gone through the storm and also has no standing. It takes the position, as I understand Kant, that because there is injustice and evil and unhappiness in this world, there must be some sort of balance, in the end there must be a balance. And so there must be immortality, there must be a God to 'right these wrongs and give us justice, love, righteousness and good for evil. I think that is expressing his moral law, isn't it?
DR. JENKINS: Pretty well.
MR. HALDEMAN-JULIUS: Well, that is based on such a flagrant assumption that it was soon laughed out of court. It could not be accepted. That appeared in one of Bertrand Russell's passages. I notice Dr. Jenkins refers to him as the most learned thinker in England today. He is, perhaps, the most learned philosopher in the world today; he is also an atheist. He says that this life is the only life we know anything about. And if this is a fair sample of life, and this life is unhappy and there is injustice in it, why isn't it safe to assume that the continuation of life is where it left off? It is just the same thing. Don't you see the point? The moral law. If we had a knowledge of any other life, we could then make comparisons, but if we say life is continued and then say at the end of our life there is a change, that is the assumption. The logical thing is to say it is a continuation and if there is another life it must have all the pains and unhappiness we have. That was Bertrand Russell's argument. He said, suppose you get a crate of oranges from California, you open it and find that all at the top are rotten. He says that, according to Kant's moral law, you, say that since the top layer is rotten it must follow that all the rest of the oranges are good. That is exactly what Kant taught, and it had no validity for that reason.
Now, as for beauty in nature, that, of course, is the argument for design. That argument was very good for a while. That argument was very good for a while until Darwinism appeared. The botanists gave us that idea. You find this flower, they say, it is wonderful --
DR. JENKINS: No, it was Paley, a theologian, an English preacher.
MR. HALDEMAN-JULIUS: I take that correction. But the botanists were fond of quoting it. They stole it from the theologians. It appears that one argument for theism did come from the theologians; and that, like the others, is very bad.
If there were proof of creation, then of course the created thing would have its beauty of design. No question about it. But life is an evolution and the ideas as propounded by Darwin are accepted -- and most intelligent people do accept them -- evolution is not a theory any more; it is a fact. We speak now of the truth of evolution, not of the theory. If organic matter is the product of its environment, in adjusting itself to its environment it takes on the shapes that are possible within its conditions, its fortuitous existence, the accidents of temperature, of soil, the general accidents; and immediately nature will produce an animal of one color here and of another color in another place; we will see the white polar bear in the arctic zone and a different animal at another place. Then of course it doesn't take into consideration all the things that are ugly. We consider a germ an ugly thing. Some people consider spiders ugly. I don't. Some people consider mice ugly. I don't, but I do consider rats ugly. We don't consider beauty to be an independent reality. Beauty is the effect that an object has on us. When we look at a sunset, we would not say that that sunset was beautiful, but we would say that the effect it has upon our aesthetic sense is pleasing, and therefore it is beautiful. And to get a God idea out of that is stretching it beyond all reason.
It seems to me what the religionists should do is to forget about all these arguments about God -- this effort to prove that their faith is founded on the rock of reason -- and go back to their original position that they have faith and it is not necessary for them to produce arguments for a God. And if they would take that position, we would just consider them a little psychopathic, and possibly humor them.
Search | Bookstore | What's new? | Send Feedback | Disclaimer | Support the Secular Web
Copyright ©Internet Infidels 1995-2000. All rights reserved.