A Faith For Today

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 5



OURS has been called an age of science, and the reasons are obvious, whether we regard the world of knowledge or that of everyday life.

1. Modern science has not only brought a marvelous advance in every field of knowledge; it has given us a new world. It has shown us a universe of unimaginable size, stars so distant that it takes millions of years for the light by which we see them to reach our earth, although light travels so fast that a ray would move around our earth seven times in one second. It has taken the earth from the central place that our fathers gave it and made it a tiny bit of matter circling around a particular sun. It reveals our sun as but one of thousands of millions in the particular system to which we belong, and then declares that there are many millions of such systems. It has stretched the bounds of time so that our earth, though a late arrival on the scene, is a possible two thousand million years old. It has studied atom and living cc^ll and has shown us the world of the inconceivably small that surpasses, if possible, the wonders of the heavens above. It has banished forever the idea of dead, inert matter, and has given us a universe of throbbing energies. And this world of atom and chemical element, of living forms and starry systems has come to be by slow development through unnumbered ages and is in constant process of change. The old picture of a completed world, finished at a stroke, fixed in its forms alike of matter and life, is gone forever.

2. Science stands for a way of study and an attitude of mind. To leave theories and prejudices to one side, to bring an open mind and ask only for the truth, to study concrete facts with endless patience, to try to find an order of behavior in the world (natural law) as indicated by these facts, to test these findings by experiment and more facts—this is the spirit and method of science. And in this teachableness of spirit, this openness of mind and supreme devotion to truth, there is something truly religious.

3. Modern science has had immense practical results. It is this that has most impressed the common man. For the man on the street science means the automobile, the radio, telephone, telegraph, airplane, invention and machinery, chemistry in industry, mass production, and all the conveniences and luxuries of our day. It is science that has transformed modern life. It represents the knowledge by which we control the forces of our world and make them serve us. Science means power.


No one can question the immense service which science has rendered man. It has destroyed superstitions by showing that ours is a world of order. It has banished ancient fears: think of the panic caused by the eclipse of the sun or the approach of a comet, of the dread invoked by illusions like ghosts and witchcraft with the cruelties which the latter called forth, of the pall of helpless fear that came with the medieval plagues. Think of the sufferings it has removed through advance in medicine, surgery, sanitation, hygiene, and a sane treatment of mental illness. Consider how its machines have lightened human drudgery and lifted age-old burdens from the backs of men.

And science serves religion. Its spirit has helped to remove dogmatism, the closed mind that was content with the past, the fear of truth. It has aided in correcting wrong opinions in religion. Faith sees the world of the unseen, believes that it is good and trusts it; that is, it believes in God. But faith is not necessarily right in the forms in which it is expressed. It may take those forms from the science of its day, and a later science may be needed to correct them. So religious men once believed that the earth was flat and the center of the universe, that the universe was made at one time and was only six thousand years old, and that the various forms of life were all separately created at the same time. Part of this was due to a mistaken conception about the nature of the Bible. The new science corrected the mistakes of the old science which religion had used, and historical criticism helped to correct the wrong idea of the Bible. Religion gives us faith in a living God at work in the world; science helps us to understand how God works. The truth that it makes known is the truth of God, and the laws that it discloses are the ways of God. It is this kinship that Alfred Noyes suggests in his Watchers of the Skies:

"What Is all science, then,

But pure religion, seeking everywhere

The true commandments and through many forms

The eternal Power that binds all worlds in one?

It is man's age-long struggle to draw near

His Maker, learn his thoughts, discern his law."

We have been using the word "science" in its broader sense as meaning not merely natural science but all ordered knowledge. That includes history, psychology, sociology, economics. Religion is concerned with the whole man. The spiritual life is not a thing apart; it roots in our physical, mental, social, political, and economic life. Clearly, at all these points we must have help from science if life on earth is to be peaceful, wholesome, healthy, and complete. If there can be at one time five million youth in this country between fifteen and twenty-five who are neither at work nor in school, as was said to be the case in 1935, then clearly in such demoralizing conditions the religious welfare of these youth is involved as well as the economic. If there are more people in hospitals and institutions today because of mental disorders or difficulties than for all other reasons, then, though religion may have a large part to play here, it is highly probable that we need also a better knowledge of man's inner life and its ways. That is, religion needs economics and psychology. And it needs equally a better understanding of education and how to use it.


Impressed by what science has done, many have hailed it as the one thing needed, as a very messiah, while others have declared that in the light of science religion is not only useless but impossible, since science gives the only true knowledge and science knows nothing of God. So we must inquire more closely what science is and does, and how religion and science are related.

When these claims are made for science, men usually have natural science in mind, the science which deals with the world of things. But to assume that this is the only world is to beg the question. There is a world of the spirit as well as a world of sense. Natural science includes only a part of our world. It purposely leaves to one side the world of person and spirit, of meanings and values. It does not ask whence our world came, nor what the true goods are for which men should live, nor the end for which this world exists. And more and more the great scientists see that science cannot even tell us what the real nature of the material world is, but can only describe how it appears to us and how it behaves.

But while natural science does not deal with this world of the spirit, it rests back upon it, it points to it, and leads us to its very door. It reveals a beauty that is everywhere in nature. It assumes that nature is something that can be understood by the mind and expressed in terms of thought; that is, that it has a quality of reason to it. It has made possible for us a larger and nobler vision of God. Too often the God of the older faith was one who stood outside his world, who created and controlled by some easy word of power which secured its ends at once and without cost. The world that science shows us today is one that has come to be through the patient, toilsome, painful struggle of the ages. If there be a Creator God, if all this is no mere blind process but a Purpose working to high ends, then we must envisage a God who is present in the world's life, who shares its labor and suffering.

We must note too that there are other ways of knowing than that of science. These ways are not so easy. I can weigh a man on the scales more easily than I can discern the spirit that is in him; I can measure a country's crops more readily than I can appraise its character. A seismograph may register the tremors of an earthquake more quickly than a man can apprehend the voice of the Eternal. But we can know the spiritual world, and there are other roads to knowledge than the use of test tubes and scales. Meditation, spiritual insight, faith, love, sympathy, moral obedience—these are some ways by which we may know the world of the spirit in man and God. There are doors to high reality, closed to our weighing and dissecting and testing, which open when we come with a humble and contrite and yet aspiring spirit. To say that there is nothing but the world of things is like declaring that there is no light when your eyes are closed.


Our principal problem, however, when we talk of religion and science is not that of knowledge but of life. We have seen how great service science has rendered to man, but the idea that science is to be the saviour of men and that nothing else is needed has been pretty well destroyed by the World War and the following years, Never had science put such tools into the hands of men. There were the new marvels of communication, the modern press, telephone, telegraph, and radio; the governments of earth used them to deceive their own and other peoples, to conceal truth, to spread lies, to create suspicion, prejudice, hatred, and fear, just as they are being busily used for this purpose all over the world today. Chemistry had made incredible advance; the nations drafted the scientists to create ever more destructive explosives, and deadly gases with which to wipe out not only armies but whole cities with their noncombatant population. Man's last conquest had been that of the air and this achievement has served, in connection with explosives and gases, to give the last and most terrible threat to human security.

But war is not the only scene that shows how science may destroy as well as serve, create problems as well as solve them. That is equally clear in industry. There we see science giving rise to invention, machinery, engineering, mass production, transportation, and enormously increased power. Yet the final result of all this in America, the wealthiest land on the globe, was fourteen million workers shut off from a chance to work, widespread poverty joining with idleness and the dole to work demoralization, while machines stopped and crops were reduced in the midst of masses that suffered for want of housing, clothes, and food.

This is not an indictment of science; it is only pointing out that science alone cannot be the saviour of man. It is man that has failed, not science. Science can create power; it cannot tell us whether to use our machines to till the soil and produce goods, or to employ them to blow up ten millions of our fellows in a World War. It can help us to create wealth; it cannot tell us how to distribute it justly according to the needs of men. It can show us how to rule nature; it cannot tell us how to rule ourselves or how to live together in good will and peace. Science is a tool; how it shall be used is another matter. In terms of goods and power, humanity has advanced in these last generations with enormous strides; in terms of faith and moral insight and character, it has only crept along. It is like one of those unfortunate beings who has the years and strength and passions of a man, with the intelligence and character of a child. The result can only be tragedy.

What, then, is needed? Of course there are the social sciences which deal distinctly with man's life within himself and in relation to his fellows. But even the use of these sciences demands the drive of a high faith and the motivation of a right spirit. We need religion. Men need to be remade in spirit. They need remotivation, something to take the place of the old selfishness and fear and lust and hate. They need to have made clear to them the meaning of life and the goals for which to live. And all this means that they must have a vision of God and be brought into fellowship with him. Knowledge alone will not do, nor power, nor new plans for economic change and international relations, nor piecemeal efforts at individual reform. Only a supreme faith, a supreme goal for life, and a new spirit within will suffice. And that is religion. It is the expression of that faith, it supplies that goal, and it is the great dynamic for transforming men.


  • What are the principal changes that natural science has made in our world picture?
  • How has science changed our social environment?
  • What are the greatest services that modern science has rendered? How far can we hold it responsible for such evils as modern war, unemployment, and the like?
  • How do science and religion supplement each other in the service of men?
  • What has religious thought to learn from the spirit and method of science?
  • How are scientific knowledge and religious faith related to each other?


  • J. Y. Simpson: A Spiritual Interpretation of Nature; Nature, Cosmic, Human, and Divine
  • Julian Huxley, J. A. Thomson, and others: Science and Religion
  • E. H. Cotton, Editor: Has Science Discovered God?
  • J. A. Thomson: An Introduction to Science
  • A S. Eddington: Science and the Unseen World
  • K. F. Mather: Science in Search of God
  • William Dampier: A History of Science
  • A. N. Whitehead: Science and the Modern World; Religion in the Making
  • James Jeans: The Mysterious Universe
  • H. Spencer Jones: Worlds Without End
  • Joseph Needham, Editor: Science, Religion, and Reality, a symposium.
  • Bernhard Bavink: Science and God