With increasing advance in scientific achievement and consequent increase of scientific authority in the world, some prominent scientists have themselves become alarmed at the lack of a corresponding development of human values, particularly in the field of morals. Dr. Compton, distinguished physicist, has stated:
The most fundamental values of morality and religion are ruthlessly shaken, with the implication that their value is negligible. It is just because so many scientific men seem blind to these human difficulties that one feels the greater concern lest in following science mankind may lose its soul.
The implication of Dr. Compton's words is clear. The question which he raises is: does science justify man in throwing over fundamental religious values? It boils down to the old so-called "conflict" between religion and science, the solution of which is even more imperative today as we stand on the threshold of the atomic age. It is a conflict which orthodox religions have failed to solve satisfactorily to scientific minds. It is a conflict which Unitarians, however, are well fitted to deal with, because on the one hand, having no dogmas, they can investigate science freely; while on the other hand, their greatest concern is the very "human difficulties" to which Dr. Compton believes many scientific men are blind.
As a contribution towards this end, we have started a Unitarian class to discuss the fundamental aspects of both science and religion. The first step in such a study is an adequate definition of religion, which each student must work out to his own satisfaction. The second step is the study of the fundamental facts and theories of science, attempting to fit them into the religious picture in a manner which will at least give us a scientific basis for morals. Dr. Moulton, a foremost American astronomer, believes the fundamental responsibility of science to society lies in "deriving from the laws of the animate and inanimate universe about us and within us a basis for ethics whose authority for acceptance shall be in our own hearts."
For the definition of religion the following ideas are merely offered as suggestions. We sometimes hear it stated that nature inspires a more profound worship than the confines of a church; that under the vault of the sky, that amidst the grandeur of hill and valley and rushing water, that in communion with the delicate poetry of tree and flower, man undergoes what is called a religious experience. In other words, he directly touches some reality with the tendrils of his consciousness and thereby senses directly (that is, intuitively) the harmony in nature and the universe. He senses the linkages and the intricate interworkings of the cosmic infinitude — harmonious throughout. The religious experience seems to be a direct contact of the consciousness with the harmony of the natural universe.
Likewise harmony is obviously the key to the moral law. The moral instinct is man's intuition or direct perception of what is harmonious in human conduct. It is his longing to co-operate with his fellows in a universal scheme. The feeling of compassion, the longing to serve, are real experiences closely kin to the feeling of the holy and sacred in nature. Both experiences are fundamental, not depending on religious dogma. Such experiences constitute what may be called religion in a fundamental sense.
Such a definition of religion makes man's conduct not something to be determined by mere convention or convenience, but it bases morals in the universe itself. This idea is not new. The ancient Oriental philosophies, in common with their modern representative Theosophy, emphasize the importance of man's co-operation with nature, making his own conduct a part of the harmony of the universal order. The origin of this harmony is said to be cosmic mind as a part of the universe itself. Perhaps we cannot prove scientifically to everyone's satisfaction that there is such a cosmic mind behind our little minds, though many scientists are thinking along these lines. Perhaps we cannot demonstrate the existence of the human soul in the scientific test tube, though a few scientists do even believe in the immortality of the soul on scientific grounds. But if, by our study of scientific facts as the second step in our undertaking, we can prove but one thing: the fundamental idea of harmony in the universe which the facts themselves follow, we will then at least have a scientific basis for the religious experience and above all for the moral law. That is, we will have a scientific basis for religion as above defined.
We can then say with scientific accuracy that the man who is living in harmony with his fellow men is following the fundamental law of the universe, while the man who acts for his puny self alone is working against the laws of nature and nature in due time will react against him. This idea is the very essence of the Christian teaching: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is likewise the basic idea of the Bhagavad-Gita, of ancient India and is well expressed by the single Sanskrit word "Karman," which may be translated "action and reaction in the universe."
Let man have no fear, then, of the punishment of some external vengeful God, nor let him sit around waiting for some future bliss. It is now that he must seek to become an ever more co-operative part of the universal order. For right now man is a part of the universe itself, whose scientific basis we believe is harmony itself — is ethics itself. Happy is the man who forgets himself in unselfish service. He has become a part of the harmonious whole.
1. Reprinted from Sioux City Unitarian, November, 1945. (return to text)
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