The death of God

Sir Richard Gregory, sometime Editor of Nature, was one of the unusual people who wrote his own epitaph. It ran like this:

My grandfather preached the gospel of Christ,

My father preached the gospel of Socialism,

I preach thc gospel of Science.

That attitude goes for an increasingly large proportion of mankind. The astonishing advances in technology, the breakthrough into the Atomic Era, the prospect of interplanetary travel have opened up unimagined vistas to the human spirit, and have induced such a feeling of selfconfidence in the boundless abilities of man that the God hypothesis seems strangely dated and unreal. In this age of scientific humanism Christians are ridiculed for their old-fashioned, unscientific ideas. With their talk of God and Satan, of heaven and hell, of salvation and loss they are not only hopelessly off target, not only burbling complete irrelevancies, but simply deluding themselves. The man in the street reckons that science has killed religion: a good deal of what he sees on the television confirms him in that view, and a glance at thc exterior of the church round the corner, its notice-board, its advertised activities and the people who go there, make it very clear to him that between scientific humanism and religion there is a yawning chasm: the one is modern and the other old-fashioned; the one works and the other manifestly does not. He knows where he is going to take his stand. And who can blame him ?

Naturally, few men in the street are as coherent on the subject as this. They simply assume that the day of religion is over. The process has been going on for a long time The free thinkers at the Congress of Liege in 1865 concluded, 'Science does not deny God:, she makes him unnecessary.' Half a century earlier the astronomer Laplace had been rebuked by Napoleon for not bringing God into his theory of the heavenly lilies, and had replied 'Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis'. Today, as Martin Heidegger acutely observed, 'God's absence is not even noticed.' God is dead, and the scientists have presided at his obsequies. When Christians persist in their beliefs, they are simply running away from science. That is the charge.

Christian origins of Science

Such an accusation would have sounded very strange to the scientific pioneers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For the truly remarkable thing about the growth of modern science is that it took place in a Christian civilisation, recently liberated from the shackles of authoritarianism by the Renaissance and the Reformation. Moreover, it was pioneered by Christian men. Francis Bacon saw God's works in nature and his words in the Bible as the twin facets of his self-disclosure. So did Kepler, who revolutionised the astronomical prejudice of his day, derived from Plato, that there are only circular movements among the heavenly bodies. When he did his scientific study, he felt himself to be 'thinking God's thoughts after him'; he was, he fat, 'a high priest in the book of nature, religiously bound to alter not one jot or tittle of what it had pleased God to write down in it.' That is why he took very seriously the 8' of divergence from the circular in Mars's orbit which he discovered by observation, and thereby paved the way for the reformation of astronomy. Galileo and Copernicus remained devout Christian men, convinced that their work glorified God, despite the provocation afforded them by the obscurantism of the Catholic church of the day. Newton wrote his Principia in the assurance that 'this world could originate from nothing but the perfectly free will of God'. He is said to have spent more time in Bible study than in scientific research.

Robert Boyle, one of the founders of the Royal Society, was a sincere Christian, and endowed a lectureship for 'proving the Christian religion against notorious infidels'. Many of the other founders of the Royal Society shared Boyle's faith, men like Ward, Wallis, Wilkins and Barrow. They saw no contradiction in directing their studies equally 'to the glory of God' and 'to the advantage of the human race'.They would assuredly have seen nothing incongrous in the inscription over the gateway of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge: 'The works of the Lord are great, sought out by all those who have pleasure therein.' Christianity was clearly not seen as escapism in those days.

But what of today? Is science still compatible with Christian faith?

Science, atheism and belief

It is a great mistake to suppose that scientists were believers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whereas they are an agnostic crowd nowadays. There have always been both atheists and Christians in the ranks of the sciences, as in other disciplines. There were many members of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century who combined their empirical approach to reality with contempt for God. Men like Hume, Spencer and John Stuart Mill are among the architects of the atheistic humanism of our own day.

So when the Russian authorities decreed, after the Revolution, that the last relics of religious faith must be wiped out by scientific propaganda, on 'the assumption that religious notions will disappear of themselves once the true light of science dawns on men's minds, they were not doing anything new. Bishop Butler in the eighteenth century wryly complained in his ‘Analogv’ that 'It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much as a subject of enquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. Accordingly they treated it as if in this present age this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.'

It is an interesting reflection that within a few years of Butler writing those words in 1736, a religious revival began to sweep over England through the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield; the whole country was profoundly affected within a generation. There are not lacking signs that something of the sort may be on the way today. In Russia, China and East Germany Christianity, so far from dying at the advent of the technological revolution, is growing in outreach, depth and influence. Be that as it may, it is certainly the case that the sciences have always included, and still do, both decided Christians and avowed atheists. One has only to point to the contemporary Christian men whom I shall be quoting in the following pages, Professors Coulson, MacKay and Boyd, all of whom have written extensively both on their professional scientific subjects and on the relation of science to Christianity, to make the point without the possibility of cavil that a man may with complete honesty be in the top rank of scientists and also a dedicated Christian. This does not involve a dichotomy in the personality: it integrates the personality, as we shall see below.

Pride and prejudice

Granted that it is perfectly possible to be a good scientist and a good Christian, the question remains, why has there been so much opposition between Christianity and science over the past century or so ? Why have relationships been bedevilled by so much misunderstanding and arrogance?

In its dealings with science, the Christian church has often adopted a dogmatic attitude which has brought its cause into disrepute. Its opposition to Copernicus's heliocentric theory of the nature of the universe is a typical example. But the Christian believes - or should believe - that the God of grace is the God of nature, and that the truth in whatever area it emerges is to be welcomed as part of God's self-disclosure. That was certainly the attitude taken by the earliest scientists, and in it lies the only hope for our world.

The Bible is not a book of science. It is a book which speaks of the total relationship of man to man, to the universe, and to God. In so far as it enters into scientific fields, it does so in ordinary everyday language which speaks of thc sun as 'rising' and the heavens as being 'up'. It is no part of the prerogative of the man of religion to prescribe to the scientist what he may believe about the physical universe on the grounds of a particular interpretation of the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible encourages us to believe that God meant man to be dominant over nature and to seek out the Creator's ways in his universe.

Accordingly, the Christian's proper attitude is to welcome the truth of God wherever it is displayed in his world. He will naturally expect it to cohere with the teaching of Scripture, because he is convinced that the one God of truth is the author of both; but if he finds real, rather than fancied discrepancies, he will do two things. He will, as a scientist, re-examine the implications he has drawn from his discovery; and he will, as a Christian, re-examine his own interpretation of Scripture.

Of course, the church has had no monopoly of arrogance and misunderstanding. The very success of the scientific method has so elated some of its practitioners that they have sometimes assumed that theirs was the only meaningful approach to reality, and anything that could not be measured or examined in a test tube was not real. Hence the widespread and boundless belief in the power of science to solve all our problems.

Bertrand Russell's approach is a good example of this sort of scientific arrogance. On the negative side, since science lends no support to the belief in God or immortality, these beliefs must be discarded, according to Russell, who prides himself on being the first to have introduced a really scientific philosophy. (He ought, with equal logic, to jettison all beliefs, values and intellectual reasonings. These things cannot be scientifically assessed - but this does not make them any the less real.) On the positive side, he has this to say of the power of science: 'Science can enable our grandchildren to live the good life, by giving them knowledge, self control, and characters productive of harmony rather than strife.'

Such a statement looks peculiarly dated in the aftermath of two world wars and in the midst of the crime wave that has for a decade and more been sweeping Western Europe. Over-confident scientific optimism of that sort is quite unjustified and has not the least shred of evidence to support it. By their technological achievements men have indeed been able to tame the physical world; but they have not begun to tame human nature. That is what makes the new powers we have discovered so terrifying.

The God of the gaps

If, then, mutual misunderstanding and arrogance on both sides constitute one of the factors that have gone far to wreck the relation of science to religion (for in reality these two are complementary and not contradictory approaches to the world), a second is the chronic tendency of Christians to claim room for God only in the areas where man's knowledge had not yet reached. This 'God of the gaps' is a pathetic travesty of the dynamic, infinite, all-pervasive God of the Bible, who is both immanent within every part of his universe ('in him all things hold together') and also immeasurably transcends our every conception ('dwelling in unapproachable light. No man has ever seen or ever can see him'). To shrink God until he is invoked only to cover the ever decreasing gaps in our knowledge is gravely misleading, indeed blasphemous. Such a God is too small.

One of the many strengths of Professor C.A.Coulson's splendid book ‘Science and Christian Belief’ is the crushing blow he delivers to this sort of theology. It has had a long and disastrous history. As he points out, Newton himself was guilty of it, when he wrote, 'the diurnal rotations of the planets could not be derived from gravity, but require a divine arm to impress it on them.' This, as Professor Coulson points out, 'is asking for trouble. For as soon as any one possible scheme is devised whereby the planets might conceivably have obtained their angular momentum, the "divine arm" ceases to be needed; science has asserted its ownership over that much new territory.'

Either God is there in the whole universe and in every part of it, or he is not there at all. It was the mistake of the Rationalists to suppose that God's existence hung on whether he could be discerned in some part or other of the world - a fallacy perpetuated when the Russian astronaut Gagarin claimed that Got is undoubtedly unreal because he was not to be seen during a journey round the world in space. It is a similar sort of mistake as to suppose that an artist is unreal unless room can be made for him somewhere in his canvas. The truth is rather that the canvas, though internally self-explanatory, would not be there at all but for the artist, who, moreover, gives some expression of himself in every detail of the picture.

The Bible has much to say about God's intimate relationship with the world. And it is not, as Professor MacKay has shown so clearly in ‘Science and Christian Faith today’, the relationship of mechanic to machine; God is rather the One who holds the whole universe in being. He upholds the whole universe 'by his word of power', says Hebrews l :3. 'In him we live and move and have our being' quotes Acts 17:28, 'since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything' (Acts 17.25). 'Every single thing was created through, and for, him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation' (Colossians I :16, 17, Phillips). That and nothing less is the Christian conception of God. He is at work in the natural processes of growth just as he is present in human personality - for 'we are indeed his offspring (Acts 17: 29). And this creating and sustaining God, who is not less than personal (however much beyond personality he may be), desires a personal relationship with every man, woman and child in this world, as the beings who most nearly reflect his own nature, and yet have the power of rejecting him.

Three ways of knowing

It should be clear, then, that there need be no conflict between scientific knowledge of the world and personal knowledge of God. Professor Boyd has pointed out with great clarity in ‘Can God be known?’ that we speak of 'knowledge' in at least three senses, mathematical, scientific and personal. He shows how each type of knowledge is similar in that it proceeds from presuppositions which are eminently sensible but cannot be demonstrated. Mathematical knowledge requires the assumption of axioms and of meaningfulness. Scientific knowledge requires the assumption of the existence of the external world and the uniformity of nature. Personal knowledge requires the assumption of other minds and personalities like our own. We are so accustomed to making the acts of faith which these assumptions demand that we do not even notice we are doing it.

Now whereas mathematical knowledge has no necessary relationship to the outside world, the other two types have. Scientific knowledge gives us an I-It relationship with the external world, while personal knowledge depends on an I-You encounter with other people. Fundamentally, science is concerned with description, and religion with encounter: science is concerned with the material aspect of things, but religion belongs to the world of personal relationships with the emphasis on the aspect of mind. Like all personal knowledge it is not merely encounter. It is encounter which issues in response - for without that response to the other person, you can never know him. Professor Boyd rightly shows that Christianity belongs to this third type of knowledge, personal relationship with, and personal response to, the Mind behind the universe.

God or chance?

It is precisely at this point that the atheist will feel that the whole question is being begged. Is there a Mind behind the universe? This is the nub of the problem; this is what divides Christian scientists from their agnostic or atheistic colleagues. Is there or is there not a universal Mind analogous to the human mind ? Is there a God ?

The question becomes most acute when we examine human nature. In a recent gathering of distinguished scientists and a few theologians at Windsor Castle to consider Science and Human Potentiality, it became very clear that the division did not run between the theologians and the scientists, but between those who saw man as the product of a personal Creator, and those who saw him as the product of an entirely random collocation of atoms, a giant fluke.

These are, in fact, ultimately the only two possibilities. Either the Impersonal, given a great deal of time and a great deal of luck, produced the personal; or both the impersonal and the personal in the world are alike the product of an infinite, personal Creator. We have a straight choice between the position of atheistic humanism or the theism of the Judaeo-Christian tradition: nowhere else do you find the conception of an infinite personal Creator. Eastern religions have been strong on the 'infinite' but weak on the 'personal', with the result that the ideal is seen in terms of suppressing the personal in man and having it absorbed in the infinite impersonal. Classical Western religions have been strong on the personal aspect of their deities, but they have never risen to the conception of an infinite God. The Jewish and Christian faiths see God as personal, and in that respect man, in contrast to the animals, shares God's nature; and also as infinite, and in that respect man, in common with the animal world, is distinguished sharply from God by being finite.

This, then, is the choice: between an infinite, personal Creator and blind chance. Both positions are held by intelligent people. Neither is conclusively demonstrable. How, then, are we to reach a decision ? Would we not be wise to consider the issue in a wider context, the areas of human value, human behaviour and human destiny, and see how the two notions fare then?


Christian and atheistic records

As the very name implies, most scientific humanists are extremely enthusiastic about man. Rightly so: homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum puto (I am a man: no human concern is irrelevant to me). Consequently humanists are keen on social and educational reform, on projects for the relief of need and the support of the aged, the hungry, the underprivileged and those suffering from war or racial discrimination. Recently, humanists have been in the van in matters of penal reform such as the death penalty, homosexuality and abortion. It must be freely admitted that sometimes the church has been on the side of the status quo, more sympathetic to the bosses than the workers, more concerned for social stability than humane policies. It is grievous to recall the wars waged in the past in the name of Christianity, the tortures of the Inquisition, and the gross injustices winked at by the church in the days of the Industrial Revolution.

Nevertheless, we must remember that not all men in power in professedly Christian States are Christian men, personally committed to the programme and the standards of Christ. Often the shameful things in church history have been perpetrated by bad men in high places in Christendom, not by genuine followers of Jesus Christ at all. It is, therefore, entirely unjust to say with Francis Williams in ‘The Humanist Frame’ that Christian history is 'sodden with blood, torture and warfare'. 'there is another side to the story. It includes the social work of a Shaftesbury and a Barnardo, of a Booth and a Wilson Carlile. It includes the emancipation of women and slaves, the pioneer work in education and medicine, the foundation of the Trade Unions, and a world-wide concern for underprivileged people and underdeveloped countries which has no parallel in history. This concern has involved not only the preaching of the gospel of peace, integration and forgiveness to people who would otherwise have known only fear, superstition and immorality; but also the provision of education, medical care, and agricultural training all over the emerging countries of the world.

What the church has done to shape Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries she did for Europe hundreds of years earlier. Where would our education be today without the Christian universities of Europe, founded in the Middle Ages? Where would our science be without the liberation of the mind and appreciation of God's world brought about by the Reformation? Would slavery ever have been abolished in Europe, let alone outside it, had it not been for the gospel of Jesus Christ which drove men like Wilberforce and Newton to battle against all the odds of conservatism and selfinterest until this ugly blot on our society was removed?

It is only fair to ask atheistic humanists what they have to show of similar worth in terms of true, all-round, human well-being, to compare with this record of the church. Where are the humanists who are prepared to sacrifice their careers and comfort to go and live among the Dyaks of Borneo? Yet that is where you will find the Christians at work - still.

Humanists talk a great deal about the value of individuals: but they seem to love people better in the mass and at a distance than they do individually and when it costs. Such, at least, is the impression I have formed, I hope I am wrong, and will gladly own I am when I see a tenth of the dedication, sacrifice and selfless care for others, to be found in Christian voluntary societies the world over, displayed by atheist organizations for human welfare.

But even suppose that such an atheistic concern for the physica1 well being of others, irrespective of age, race and usefulness for society, were incontrovertibly established, what of the other elements in human happiness? Do you go to Russia, China or East Germany today if you want to find free self-expression? Of course not. These are totalitarian regimes, and all opposition is ruthlessly quelled. Is that the highest way to show regard for human value - to shut men up in a cage? Christianity has always been implacably opposed to totalitarianism, because of its conviction that the State is accountable to God, and that men matter because they are made in the image of God. What comparable bastion can atheistic humanisrn offer against the stifling hand, the cruelty, the all-embracing demands of totalitarianism? If you don't believe me think of events in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The logic of the Christian value on man.

If you ask why the Christian values man so highly, the answer is very simple. It is because we believe man is made in the image of a personal God, the Creator both of the universe and of its inhabitants. Thus man's freedom, his self-consciousness, his sense of values, his creativity, his heroism, his conscience, his love all make sense; they derive from the personal God who is the source of our being. Similarly, our conceptions of truth, beauty, goodness and purpose derive from the God who enshrines them all. That is what makes man valuable; he is God's creation. That is why Christianity at its best has always cared passionately about all types and conditions of men. They matter to us, for they matter to God.

Christian philanthropy derives directly, of course,| from the teaching and practice of Jesus himself. It was he who cared so much for the lepers that he did the unthinkable - and touched them. It was he who took pains to understand and cure the schizophrenic of Gadara whom everybody else thought beyond the pale. It was because of his example that Paul could say that in Christ 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus'. It was Jesus who both taught and exemplified this quality of love for all me even his own murderers.

Nowhere does Jesus say a more emphatic 'yes' to every value put on man by the scientific humanist, than in the famous question: 'Are not sparrows two a penny? Yet without your Father's leave not one of them can fall to the ground. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So have no fear; you are worth more than any number of sparrows.' But those words contain also a sharp 'no' to scientific humanism; it lies in the phrase 'without your Father’s leave'. To Jesus the Fatherhood of God is the key to the whole question of personal value. People matter more than things because they are created and upheld by the Personal Source all life. Here is a satisfying account of the world; it may not be demonstrable, but it is both intelligent and humane. It makes sense.

The illogicality of the atheistic value on man

But when we turn to enquire on what grounds the atheist values man so highly, the answer does not make good sense. Jesus had set a high value on persons because they were made by a personal God; the atheist professes high respect for persons despite the fact that they are the products of a quite impassive and impersonal universe. That is the irreconcilable difference between the Christian and the atheistic position.

It has always seemed to me utterly absurd for atheist to profess such deep regard for the random products of a universe where chance is king. It is, I suppose, understandable enough to make this assumption in the Western world, which has been so moulded by Christian values; but it is none the less basically illogical. And it never surprises me to learn that atheistic humanism is utterly ruthless in torturing and eliminating unwanted people when it becomes the dominant philosophy in countries that have made a clean break with the Christian tradition, such as Hitler's Germany, Mao's China or Communist Russia. If man is the outcome of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, why on earth should you not manipulate him as you please, provided it is in your power to do so with impunity?

The credibility of the atheistic account of man

Let us look a little more closely at the credibility of the atheistic account of human nature and human origin. We are given to understand that life generated spontaneously as our earth cooled, and thus began the evolutionary process (subsequently advanced by chance and adaptation to environment) of which we are the end term so far. To quote Bertrand Russell's famow 'hymn' to atheism in A Free Man's Worship: 'That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving, that his origin, growth, hopes and fears, loves and beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism . . . can preserve an individual life beyond the grave . . . that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.'

In a recent paperback, ‘The Survival of God in the Scientific Age’, Dr Alan Isaacs wrote: 'the properties of the uItimate particles which constitute the material universe .... spontaneously interact in certain ways and organise themselves (without apparent intervention) into units of increasing complexity. Eventually after a sufficient number of stages of organisation, these attributes include those associated with life, thought and consciousness. This process appears to be self-actuating, self-perpetuating and reproducible. At no stage therefore, is it necessary to postulate a divine intelligence.’ In other words, look upon the world as a closed mechanistic system, and you will find no room for God in it. Precisely what Democritius said in the fifth century BC! He is certainly not to be boxed off in some small department. He is either the author and sustainer of the whole thing, or he is non-existent.

It seems to me that the position adopted by Dr Isaacs and those like him, though impressive at first sight, is none the less absurd, for the following three reasons.

In the first place, even granted the interaction between particles, their spontaneous organisation into more complex groups and so forth, we have still to answer the prior question, ‘How came they to be there at all? And how is it that they come to be charged with such remarkable possibilities?’ There is certainly no scientific evidence in favour of such materialism. At the conference on Science and Human Potentiality to which I referred above, none of the distinguised scientists present (mostly professors and Noble Prizewinners) argued for it in my hearing, though several, such as Sir Alistair Hardy, Sir Lawrence Bragg, Professors Thrope of Cambridge and Hindmarsh of Newcastle postulated a Mind behind the universe in addition to the matter of which it is composed. Only so was it possible to account adequately for human minds. I was reminded of Lord Kelvin’s shrew if over stated dictum, ‘If you think strongly enough, you will be forced by Science to believe in God.’

Second, the type of view advanced by Russell and Isaacs gives no satisfactory explanation of aesthetics, ethics or freedom, as Socrates said long ago about the atomic theory of Democritus. It comes back to the problem of how you get ethics out of an unfeeling concourse of atoms, how you get personal being out of the impersonal, how you get freedom, or at any rate the illusion of freedom (if all is mechanistically determined) in a determinist world. Capable perhaps of giving an account of the physical world, materialistic philosophy has failed completely to give a credible account of human nature. Man can make himself the object of his own reflection; he can communicate, love, think, pray. He is capable of the music of Beethoven, the painting of Rambrandt, the space-travel or heart transplantation of our own day. It requires considerable credulity to suppose that such a credulity to suppose that such a being arose by chance from a fortuitous concourse of atoms. The biologist Edward Conklin wrote not unfairly, ‘The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of a dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing works.’

My third difficulty about the view of this sort is a logical one. Even if it were true, there would be no reason to believe it to be true. In common with belief in God, this theory of the scientific humanist would be no more than the product of wandering atoms, as meaningless as everything else in a world devoid of meaning and purpose. Such a reductio ad absurdum is, surely, the desparate refuge of men determined to run away from the idea of God at any cost. It certainly cannot claim to be rational: indeed it destroys the very idea of rationality, while at the same time leading to utter agnosticism about the uniformity of nature and the power to observe it. Professor Paul Ramsey criticised this position acutely: ‘If any viewpoint is ever known to be true, then nothing be more certain than that man transcends nature apprehending the truth about nature.' This transcending of nature is what gives men their value. Perhaps Jesus being utterly realistic when he asserted that the value of a human being is in the last resort dependent upon being made in the image of a loving Creator. It is surely this, that gives men their dignity and worth. Once deny this, and the awful possibility opens up of reducing man to the level of a machine, of treating a person like a thing.


Love, the greatest thing in the world

The good life is of common concern both to Christians and to scientific humanists. This is, in fact, an area where both can co-operate most helpfully together. Although there are some humanists who are unashamedly selfish, there are many who are not. Indeed, they often put to shame the lives of professing Christians by their social involvement, their caring for those in need, and their concern to banish superstition, advance knowledge and forward freedom. In all these respects they are following ideals which Jesus taught. Unfortunately Christians have not always been conspicuous in following these principles. There has indeed been much running away from truth, from social concern and from freedom in different areas and in different periods of the Christian church. This is something of which Christians have every reason to be ashamed. But it has not been characteristic Christian attitude, and it was certainly not the attitude of Jesus. Whenever the church has been notable for its love of people, its love for truth and its concern for social freedom and welfare, it has been untrue to the charter qf its Founder.

New Testament Christianity has no time for the killjoy attitude, the suspicion of food, drink, marriage and enjoyment generally which has sometimes masqueraded as the Christian attitude to life. Jesus taught that so far from making men's lives miserable, he had come to give them abundant life. In contrast to John the Baptist, he was no ascetic (Luke 7:33); he not only graced a marriage reception with his presence but supplied them with fresh wine (John 2:1-11 ). Paul dismisses opposition to marriage as a 'devil-inspired doctrine’, and continues on this splendid positive note: 'God has made all these things to be received with gratitude by those who know the truth. For everything that God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected when it is taken with thanks giving, since it is hallowed by God’s own word and by prayer' (I Timothy 4: 3-5).

Again, love, the very corner-stone of humanist ethic, is equally the quintessence of the teaching of Jesus. 'Love your neighbour as yourself' is the necessary complement of ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart'. There is nothing romantic and escapist about such love. It is useless to say piously 'Lord, Lord’ - unless the fruit of genuine goodness to others (particularly these unable to repay it) is seen in Christian lives 'You will know them by their fruits.' What Jesus taught, he carried out in person. Never has anyone lived such a life of self sacrifice and practical goodness to other people as did Jesus of Nazareth. And unless his followers share his love for people, his hatred of poverty and disease and ignorance no less than sin, then their religion is not the religion of Jesus, whatever they may claim.

But whereas the Christian enthusiastically endorses the humanist's emphasis on love as the norm of proper human behaviour, there are at least three questions he would want to raise: the basic questions Why? What?


Love: why bother?

First, then, why should a man love others, on the humanist view? It is by no means self-evident that a man should be unselfish, loving, kind and truthful. No doubt some muting of the aggressive and selfish instinct is necessary if men are to live together in any sort of community. But why anything more than that? Humanists such as Mrs Margaret Knight tell us that love is a selfevident moral axiom - but is this not the old naturalistic fallacy all over again? How do you derive what ought to be from what is? How do you get moral axioms out of a mechanistic universe? If there is no God, if there is no future life, if our characters are not, as Christians claim, the only things we take out of this life with us, then why bother? Why should a man not act like a perfect swine if he thinks that will make him happy? Humanists are agreed that happiness is the most desirable human goal. Why should a man renounce his personal selfish pleasures for the supposed good of others, for the happiness of those he has never seen and never will see - the starving in India or the dying in Vietnam? Upon what self-consistent principle can Sartre and Russell invoke moral arguments about war in Vietnam? If man is but the product of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, why should he get excited about the destruction of other such beings?

Fortunately, a great many who hold this view of the world are good and generous men. They are much better men than their theory warrants! They do care for the state of affairs in Vietnam and in India, because these are human tragedies and their own human compassion is aroused. Their very action pours the gravest suspicion upon their theory. Their theory has nothing to counteract the tremendow claims of self-interest in individuals and nations. But their loving actions speak louder than their rationalistic words. When men turn their back on God's revelation in Scripture he still sets the truth of it in their hearts. They cannot live consistently on their own premisses: they have too much humanity about them. And Christianity explains why. The truth is, surely, that man is indeed made in God's image. And much as he spoils it, man cannot utterly uproot that image from his being: he loves because love is one of the constituents of God's universe. It is, as the song has it, 'love that makes the world go round'.

Not only do Christians have a reasonable explanation for the universal recognition of the value of love; they have also an exceedingly powerful motive for reaching out in love to others, however costly it may prove. For Christianity asserts that lasting love to your neighbour is grounded in the recognition of God's love for you. 'We love, because he first loved us.' The sense of having been loved by God, although such love is utterly undeserved, is the mainspring of Christian love to others, however unlovely they may be. The Christian imperative 'love your neighbour as yourself' is firmly grounded in the Christian indicative, 'The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me.' There is, therefore, nothing escapist or idealistic about Christian love. It is accounted for by the fact that, whether recognized or not, love is at the heart of the universe. And it is motivated by the fact that this love has loved us. Magnetized by this love, the Christian cannot but love others.

Love: what is it?

Second, I want to know what, on the humanist view, morality does in fact mean. In an impersonal and mechanistic world, all talk of love and morality is meaningless. There are no absolutes in such a world. All is relative. The good turns out to be what most people think to be desirable. The naturalistic fallacy which, as we saw above, derived what ought to be from what is, is increasingly evident in current sociological thinking and legislative proposals. What ought to be desired is discovered by examining what most people do in fact want. Moirality is thus dissolved. No longer prescriptive (telling us what we ought to do), it has degenerated into the merely descriptive (telling us what the majority desire). This ethics by head-count is the death knell of all that we have known by morality. It is a category confusion of the utmost gravity. Yet what else is possible on the atheistic theory of the world? Whence are you to derive a moral imperative?

The more one reflects on it, the more terrifying a concept of morality this is seen to be. Though concern for people is professed, in reality the individual ceases to matter. Society is manipulated in the way the majority think fit, or the rulers decree (because that is what it comes to). But quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will keep an eye on Big Brother ?

On the Christian view it is the individual who matters intensiely to God; and society is improved by changed individuals who have been reconciled with God and are imbued with a new attitude of love and service to their neighbours. But for scientific humanism it is the collective which is important; the idea is that if you improve society -its education, standards of living, cultural pursuits, and so forth - you will improve individuals within that society. Such a view is not only false, it is frightening. That was the doctrinaire attitude adopted by Nazi Germany, by Soviet Russia and by Communist China, with results we all know. The individual is sacrificed to the collective, and morality is jetisoned forthwith.

In point of fact, history shows us that morality does not long survive the decease of religion. Trotsky discovered this too late, when he was battered to death by those who pursued the amoral utilitarian principles he had himself inculcated. Lord Devlin spoke for many beside lawyers when he asserted, 'No society has been able to teach morality without religion.' Time and again throughout history the truth of this has been shown. Observe it in the history of both Greece and Rome. moral decline set in, despite the official advocacy of the brighest ideals, when the fires of religion died. Observe it in the history of the Israelites: they abandoned God, and their morals at once decayed as they gave themselves over to the licence of nature worship. Observe it in the French Revolution, or in British history. In England moral depravity has consistently gone hand in hand with rejection of God. It was so at the Restoration; it was so in the eighteenth century; it is so today. Many thoughtful Germans recognize it to be true of their country: they trace a causal link between the rejection of God in the thirties and the horrors of Auschwitz in the forties. Emil Brunner put it like this: 'The feeling for the personal and the human which is the fruit of faith may outlive for a time the death of the roots from which it has grown. But this cannot last very long. As a rule the decay of religion works out in the second generation as moral rigidity and in the third generation as the breakdown of all morality. Humanity without religion has never been a historical force capable of resistance. Dehumanisation results.' Is that not true? Does it not emphasize that morality without absolutes, morality without God, is impossible in the long run?

Love: how is it possible?

Third, we must ask, how, on the humanist view, is morality to be achieved? Education and effort is no doubt the answer. But will this do the trick? Is it true that if you educate a man you will necessarily make him a better man? May you not make him a far more dangerous crook? What are we to conclude from the fact that the last two world wars took place between the most highly educated countries in the world? Plato's illusion, that once a man knows the truth he will inevitably follow it, has had an unhealthy crop of gullible adherents. It is simply not true. Plato himself came to realize this, after ruefully attempting to instil virtue by means of knowledge into the intractable young tyrant of Syracuse. Professor Joad made the same discovery, after a lifetime of passionate advocacy of the humanist position. In late middle age he recognized that education could not erase the tendency to evil in human nature - in his oun nature -and he was honest enough to become a Christian on the strength of it. He says that those who, like himself; adhered to left-wing politics and rationalist philosophy had been mistaken in their shallow optimism about human nature, supposing that the millennium was just round the corner, waiting to be introduced by a society of adequately psycho-analysed, prosperous Socialists. It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disappointed; disappointed by the refusal of people to be reasonable, by the subservience of intellect to emotion, by the failure of true Socialism to arrive, by the behaviour of nations and politicians, by the preference of the masses for Hollywood to Shakespeare, and for Mr Sinatra to Beethoven; above all, by the recurrent fact of war.’ He tells us that he came to recognize that the evil in human nature could not be exorcized by a little more education or anything else. 'The more I knew of it, the more Christianity seemed to offer just that strength and assistance [I needed]. And with that, the rationalist-optimist philosophy, by the light of which I had hitherto done my best to live, came to seem intolerably trivial and superficial.... I abandoned it, and in abandoning it found myself a Christian.' Those were brave words by a man who had the courage to admit he had been running away from the truth for the best part of a lifetime.

If education will not deal with the evil in human nature, neither will effort: at least, not unaided effort. History is eloquent with the testimony of men who have tried to live the good life and have come to realize that it is beyond them. Herodotus admitted, ‘It is one of the greatest woes among mortal men that although we attempt so much that is good, we do not achieve it.' Ovid put the matter pungently in his celebrated aphorism: 'I see the better course, and I approve it: but I follow the worse.' That is just the trouble. Indeed, it is worse than this. For all too often we do not even make the effort. A very able South African humanist undergraduate has been corresponding with me for some time. After hearing and being attracted by the Christian message she set her face against it and determined to face life on the atheistic hypothesis. She wrote to me: Why do I need God to control or help me control my faults? Shouldn’t I rather strive to better myself? I’ve tried that for a year now and succeeded mostly, except during exams...... I have tried to excuse this as abnormal but I can’t. So l'll try harder. Honest and courageous, but it is not surprising that she wrote six months later, ‘I feel so selfish always working and slaving only for myself and even though I swore I could in the old days force myself to become a much nicer person, all through will power, I find I can’t. I’m too lazy and I never get around to it.

That is precisely what Rosalind Murray saw clearly in her book ‘The Good Pagan’s Failure.’ The apostle Paul crystallized the problem in these memorable words: “I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do.” The excellant advice of the moralist to love others is of course admirable and may help some people. But the trouble is we are self-centred by nature; we find that wrong comes more easily to us than right. What we need is not good advice but practical assistance. And that morality can never give.

But this is just where Christianity is so relevant. Jesus, of Nazareth both taught the highest standards and kept them. The ideal man has lived. And Jesus told his followers that he would die for them, and in so doing take responsibility for their failures. Nor was that all. He would also rise from the grave, and come by his Spirt and take up residence within their very personalities, so as to work out in Christian lives (with their co-operation) something of the quality of his own life of love. This was the dynamic of the early church. 'Christ lives in me,’ they claimed; and their behaviour did not belie the claim. The God of love who has made this world not only expects love from us, but came in the person of Jesus Christ, to show us how this works out in a human life and, as if that was not enough, he offers to enable me to reproduce something of Christ's own love in their lives if they will commit themselves to him. Is that not the answer to the perennial problem of human wicked ness? Is it not the key to achieving that love which we all, humanist and Christian alike, know to be the only hope for the world?


Ihe humanist dilemma

When it comes to gazing into the crystal ball, and prophesying about the future of man, a radical split emerges among scientific humanists.

Some, like Professors Ayer and Huxley, are so carried away by the fabulous advances of science that they, remain highly optimistic about the future. They recognize that all is not well with the human animal, but by improving the stock through the practice of eugenics and, perhaps, euthanasia, all may yet turn out for the best of all possible worlds. Such men have confidence in the ultimate good sense of human beings; surely manking will not do anything disastrous to the race, like engaging in cosmuc war. Rather they look to the day when the Welfare State will give way to the Fulfillment State, when mankind will have evolved into a global society, united, educated, prosperous and peaceful. Science, according to Alexander Comfort in ‘The Humanist Anthology’ is the key to making men good and bringing them to this desirable state ‘by relatively simple adjustments in ways of living’ - an astonishly niave hope! Presumably he refers to the efforts of the social scientists who may be expected to make great advances in the next half century. But as Martin Buber exclaimed in disillusionment at the end of his life, “Who can change the intractable thing, human nature? There is tradgey at the heart of things.” This observation of his leads us to consider the second attitiude towards the future to be found in the ranks of the scientific humanists - pessimisim.

This attitude is particularly common among those versed in the arts, the humanities and literature. Colin Wilson, for example, wrote a book, ‘The Outsider’ whose blurb tells us correctly, that it is a profound enquiry into sickness of mankind in the mid-twentieth century. And have you noticed how science fiction has changed it tune? No longer is it concerned optimistically with the possibility of human technical progress. That is now taken for granted. But it is concerned with the danger, the boredom, the sheer hell of the evolving human situation. Nobody writes Utopias any more. As literary men look into the future, they envisage something more along the lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The last of the long line of Utopia makers, which began with Plato in the fourth century BC, was H.G.Wells; but it is very interesting to note that at the end of his life he abandoned his expectations of a Utopia and threw up his hands in blank despair; for he saw the human race hell-bent on self-destruction. In his ‘Mind at the End of its Tether’ Wells, who all his life had been preaching the perfectibility of human nature, at length gave way to the great wave of modern despair when he concluded, 'There is no way out, or round, or through.'

It goes without saying that Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and the majority of the Existentialists, without doubt the most influential intellectual force in Europe today, have taken this attitude. Life is irrational, absurd, tragic; it is bound for chaos. That is their fundamental assumption. And there is plenty in the economic and political scene to justify it. But most of all, it is the enormous power for destruction, placed into human hands by scientific discovery, that makes so many thinking men very sceptical about man's chances of survival. When talking about the threatening 'cloud in the sky’ for which atomic physics is responsible, Martin D'Arc put the human predicament very clearly: 'The thought behind men's minds is that there is no future. In all past predicaments the worst conceivable was only a partial destruction or collapse, and human means could be thought of which could avert it. For the first time a monstrous weapon has been discovered which is not partial in its effects, nor can it be managed in the way past scientific discoveries could be turned to good.' He points out that a rnajor war will not be between, say, the Russians and the Americans, but will be waged by powers like them against a common foe, humanity itself. He concludes, 'If this be so then we are facing a situation which has no alternatives; there is no longer any solution within history. The secular hope comes to an end, and neither the rationalist nor the positive historian has anything to say. Only the religius mind can find an alternative and a hope by relying on the God who is above history.

The Christian answer

What does the Christian religion have to say to this wide split among the humanists as they think about the future? Jesus Christ said both 'yes' and 'no' to each position.

To be sure, he shared the optimism of the hopeful humanists. He taught extensively about the 'kingdom of God', which certainly had a future consummation to it, in which lust, oppression and the beastliness of man to man would be done away, and all injustices righted; a kingdom where love would be the universal language and where harmonious relationships would exist among all the inhabitants. The corporate future of the children of God plays a most important part in the New Testament. But Jesus differed sharply from the humanists in asserting that unaided man cannot produce this Utopia. He put his finger unerringly on the basic fallacy of this way of thinking, which neglects the wickedness of man and regards evil as external and extrinsic - something that education, evolution and common sense will eradicate. With sterner realism Jesus pointed out that 'It is what comes out of a man that defiles him. For from inside, out of a man's heart, come evil thoughts, acts of fornication, of theft, murder, adultery, ruthless greed . . . slander, arrogance and folly; these evil things all come from inside, and they defile the man' (Mark 7:20ff.). Human wickedness is the intractable surd that wrecks the humanist's ideal for the future. Some of them recognize as much. Julian Huxley's blueprint for the future is qualified by the significant proviso, 'if only mankind as a whole could be educated to use it'. It was because they found that ideologies did not alter human nature that Annie Besant abandoned the Rationalists after a lifetime in their cause, and Douglas Hyde left the ranks of the Communists after being on the editorial staff of the Daily Worker. Both were disillusioned on this very point, the intractable wickedness of human nature. Both came to assent to Jesus's estimate of human nature, and recognized that man is his own worst enemy.

But if Jesus Christ said both 'yes' and 'no' to the optimistic hopes of some humanists, he took precisely the same line towards the pessimistic estimate of human destiny adopted by others. He had no illusions about the destructive passions which lie caged, like wild animals, within a person. He knew that the logical outcome was ruin: indeed, he spoke more soberly and more frequently about the awful reality of hell than anyone else in the whole Bible. He had no misplaced faith in human nature. On the contrary we are told, 'Jesus did not trust himself to them, . . . for he himself knew what was in man' (John 2:24 f.). He unveiled the lust, squalor, greed and hypocrisy in the heart of Everyman as no teacher before or since has ever done.

Yet Jesus had to say an uncompromising 'no' to the pessimist. It is not true that ruin is inevitable, that there is 'no way out, or round, or through'. It is not true that human nature cannot be changed, that the power of evil habits cannot be snapped. Jesus did not merely assert these truths: he demonstrated them in the matchless life he lived in the face of grinding poverty, bitter and unprovoked opposition, deliberate misunderstanding, disloyalty, a mockery of a trial and a lingering, agonizing death. He endured the fiercest attacks of evil in his own person, and he overcame them, as on that cross he took responsibility for the guilt of a whole world at odds with its Maker.

The cross was not the end. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is as well attested as any event in history. I have examined some of the evidence in ‘Man Alive!’ This resurrection is the ground for Christian confidence that in paying our debts he did not, so to speak, become bankrupt himself; that in facing the world's evil he was not engulfed by it. The solid ground of the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that Christianity is not escapism, and that Christians are not indulging in wish-fulfilment when they believe that God's will shall ultimately be done in this world as it is in heaven. The Christian hope for the future has none of the facile shutting of the eyes to the ugly side of human nature which humanists are often capable of; it is based on looking evil squarely in the face, seeing that one Man has overcome it, and believing that this Man is the head of a new race, whose destiny is to share his future. In Christ's resurrection we see foreshadowed the destiny of redeemed mankind. It is the one sure basis for Christian optimism.

This hope cannot, on any showing, be dismissed as mere individualistic wish-fulfilment. Who ever wanted an endless quantity of life until, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the possibility of a new guality of living appeared ? He offered to give men here and now (as well as hereafter) what he called 'eternal life'. Our experience of sharing this new dimension of life with Christ now is the pledge that it will not end at death. No, this hope is no mere wish-fulfilment. Nor is it selfish individualism. Jesus spoke of a whole world of men whom God made with infinite care, whom God redeemed at immeasurable cost when they had wilfully strayed from him, whom God loves so much that he is willing to share all eternity with them. His plan is for a great new society made up of sinful men and women who have accepted his royal pardon, who have been adopted into his royal family, and who have progressively been made more like his Son in character.

This account of man's destiny is no more demonstrable than the picture painted by the scientific humanists. It cannot be proved, but it does make sense. It is utterly realistic, for it takes full account of the bad in man as well as the good. This, if you like, is Christian humanism; a view which sets a fantastic value on man as made by God to share life with God both here and hereafter, both personally and corporately. It gives a reasonable account of human morality, and, better still, it offers a new dynamic for keeping the standards which we recognise but, left to ourselves, so often fail to achieve. Finally, it gives a hope for human destiny which transcends disaster, a hope which is based on the solid assurance of the resurrection of Christ.

There is no escapism in such a creed. It is not the Chrishan humanists who have any cause to shut their eyes to uncomfortable facts either in the world around us or in human nature. But, convinced that both the world and mankind come from a loving Creator God, Christians believe that the supreme escapism is to attempt to live life on assumptions which leave him out.

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