When we consider what religion is for mankind and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them.364 (Alfred N. Whitehead)
As Whitehead goes on to say, these two influences, “the force of religious intuitions and the force of our impulse to accurate observation and logical deduction” are prone to conflict; “they seem to be set one against the other.” This conflict between science and religion is the most serious result of the fact that there has hitherto been no scientific metaphysics. Science has been unable to penetrate the region beyond space and time, and it has looked askance at those who claim to have acquired metaphysical knowledge by other means. In the words of Herbert Dingle, “The chief error of scientists has been to condemn as illusory all experience which is not useful for their own restricted purposes.”365 The findings of the preceding chapters, which have brought the metaphysical realm within the domain of science, have now provided a basis from which we can carry out a reassessment of the relationship between these two very important sectors of human activity.
Inasmuch as this is a scientific, rather than a religious, work, the discussion that follows will be directed to an examination of the effect of the new findings on the world outlook of the scientist—a typical scientist, let us say—but the conclusions that are reached apply with equal force to all those who are concerned with the place of religion in a rational universe. As brought out in the introductory chapter, the scientifically trained individual in modern society is faced with a very awkward dilemma, since much of that which he believes, or wishes to believe, with respect to the most important issues in his life (the assertions of religion) is incompatible with the implications of that which he knows from observation or reasoning by himself or his colleagues (the assertions of science). In the absence of any satisfactory way of reconciling the two conflicting viewpoints, most scientists have tried to keep them separated, so far as possible, and to avoid thinking scientifically about religious matters. Those who cannot see their way clear to evade the issue in this manner are likely to echo the sentiments of Harlow Shapley: “Should we not look deeply and sympathetically for religious beliefs that are founded on science, and that grow with science?”366 Or perhaps those of George R. Harrison: “There is great need in the world today for a new integration of religious belief, which will fill all the innate longings of man for spiritual solace, without doing too much violence to his intelligence.”367 But the inability of science to deal with metaphysical questions has caused this search for a scientific religion to bog down in a sterile materialism.
In the meantime, strenuous efforts have been made by some segments of the religious community to reconcile the religious and scientific viewpoints. Speaking of what he calls the “liberal church,” Reinhold Niebuhr has this to say:
Its energy for some decades has been devoted to the task of proving religion and science compatible, a purpose which it has sought to fulfill by disavowing the more incredible portions of its religious heritage and clothing the remainder in terms acceptable to the “modern mind.”368
If there were a definite conflict between religion-in-general and scientific knowledge, then any such reconciliation would obviously be impossible, but even though many scientists believe this to be true, it is actually not scientific knowledge but certain implications of the scientific knowledge heretofore available that are incompatible with the fundamental religious assertions. As pointed out in Chapter 2, an item of scientific knowledge, once established, is valid for all time, but the implications of that knowledge, the things that it suggests about related matters inside or outside the particular field involved, are subject to change whenever additional relevant items are added to the previously existing store of knowledge.
Prior to the development of the Reciprocal System of theory, scientists had assumed that all of the knowledge of the universe thus far accumulated was compatible with the traditional concept of space and time as the setting in which all else exists. On this basis, there can be no existence outside (that is, independent of) space and time. The implication of this previously existing scientific knowledge, therefore, was that metaphysical existence of any kind is impossible, an implication that is in direct conflict with the basic assertions of most religions. The findings of this present work did not, and could not, affect the established body of scientific knowledge in any way, but they demonstrated that the previous concept of the nature of space and time—a pure assumption—is erroneous. Since the conclusion as to the impossibility of metaphysical existence was based on that previous concept and not on established scientific knowledge, that conclusion is automatically invalidated by our findings. These findings not only overturn the reasoning on which the negative conclusion was based, thus reestablishing the possibility of a metaphysical existence, but go a step farther and show that such an existence is physically certain. The principal obstacle to a rapprochement between science and religion is thus completely demolished.
All justification for the scientists’ reluctance to concede the reality of religious revelation has similarly been swept away. The new findings make it clear not only that such revelations have been and are being received, but that revelation is merely one manifestation of a process of obtaining information from metaphysical sources that is widespread in human life and is in general use in the scientific fields. Then, too, we have established that the principles of morality do come to us from the metaphysical region through revelation, intuition, or insight, just as the religious organizations have always claimed.
Aside from some assertions as to the nature of the metaphysical existence which are outside the scope of this present investigation, the foregoing are the basic religious doctrines. To emphasize this point, let us consider the following list of the basic beliefs that the revealed religions have in common, condensed from one compiled by William E. Hocking:
On consideration of this list, it is evident that the adjective “divine” in items 3 and 5 should be replaced by some such word as “non-physical,” inasmuch as the intention of item 3 is only to assert that the agencies exist, and that of item 5 is to assert that there are ways of living approved by these agencies. The significance of these two statements is independent of the nature of the agencies, which is covered separately in item 4.
The sweeping character of the victory which the scientific findings of this work give to religion-in-general over humanism, materialism, naturalism, and other non-religious or anti-religious beliefs grounded on opinions as to the implications of the previously existing body of scientific knowledge, is demonstrated by the fact that if the foregoing change in wording is made, and some of the other language is given a reasonably broad interpretation, four of the six statements (1, 2, 3 and 5) have been definitely verified in the preceding pages, evidence confirming one more (number 6) will be presented later, and nothing adverse to the remaining unconfirmed statement (number 4) has been found.
With the benefit of the factual knowledge of metaphysical existence and phenomena that has been developed in this work, and the confirmation of the basic religious assertions, it is now possible for the scientist to accept religion-in-general on the same basis that he accepts scientific theories; that is, on the strength of reason applied to factual premises. He is no longer called upon to exercise a “faith,” a concept that to him has heretofore been essentially unintelligible and of very doubtful validity, in order to find something that will invest human existence with the sense of purpose that is lacking in purely mechanistic science.
Even faith itself can now be seen to have a rational basis, notwithstanding the fact that, in application, it is so vague and uncertain that the validity of any specific article of faith is open to question. Both religion and science have had a valid perception of certain metaphysical truths, but inasmuch as their knowledge of these truths has been received through intuitive processes, there has hitherto been no way in which their validity could be substantiated. Acceptance has had to be based either on each individual’s own intuitive perception of that validity, or on his conviction, intuitive or otherwise, that a revelation claimed to have been received by someone else was genuine. Such a conviction is called faith.
Our findings indicate that, in the absence of the kind of rational basis for religious beliefs that is being supplied by this work, the religious appeal to faith has been, to a considerable extent, justified. Religious revelations have been received, and in view of the extreme importance of the revealed truths, the recipients and their associates have considered themselves under an obligation to disseminate this knowledge as widely as possible. In the absence of any physical or intellectual way of demonstrating the validity of the revelations, there has been no option but to call upon individuals to accept them without proof. On first consideration, it may seem that this is totally unwarranted, but it should be realized that the persons to whom this exhortation is addressed are already intuitively prepared to accept it, in part, if not in its entirety. For instance, most people, including most scientists, have accepted the religious assertion (grounded in revelation) that the universe exists for a purpose, and have rejected the scientific assertion (grounded on inability to find any tangible evidence) that no such purpose exists, because they have intuitive knowledge that there is a purpose. Similarly, the religious assertion that there is an aspect of human life which transcends the limitations of physical existence falls upon ground already prepared for it by an intuitive realization that human life is, in some respects, basically different from all other kinds of biological life.
It should be understood, however, that the qualified justification which the present investigation finds for religious faith applies only to those items that the individual accepts of his own accord; that is, where he has an intuitive perception that the article of faith is valid. If he has any doubt (indicating that the intuition is not present, or even that there is an intuitive perception of the falsity of the religious assertion), then acceptance on the basis of faith is simply reliance on the pronouncement of authority, which has no scientific standing. The religious exhortations to “have faith” therefore have no genuine effect. Unless the faith already exists—that is, the intuition is present—it cannot be generated by persuasion. Missionary effort or proselytizing may succeed in modifying the form of the intuitive belief. It may substitute one god for another, or alter opinions as to how he should be worshipped. But the substance of such a belief is seldom changed.
Our finding that religious faith has more justification than science has hitherto been willing to concede does not imply that the beliefs to which that faith applies are necessarily valid. Religious intuition is subject to the same limitations as any other intuitive process. Its product is a probability, not a certainty, and the degree of probability is highly dependent on the kind of information that is involved. As emphasized earlier, present-day interpretations of religious revelations with respect to physical matters are generally wrong, either because the original recipients were not adequately prepared to receive the information correctly, or because the meaning of the original language is misunderstood. The new findings give no support to interpretations of religious literature or tradition that reach conclusions of this nature, conclusions that are in conflict with established scientific knowledge. The credibility of Archbishop Ussher’s assertion that the world was created in 4004 B.C. is not in the least enhanced by the fact that his calculations were based on data from Biblical sources.
The creation issue is one of the major bones of contention in the American religious scene at the moment. The battle is centered on the question of biological evolution, the contention of the “creation” forces being that evolution is incompatible with the religious account of the creation of the earth. The logic of this position is rather difficult to grasp. Just why the creation of an evolutionary universe, in which biological evolution was one of the things created, should be objectionable to those who champion the idea of creation is puzzling to a neutral observer. It is even more difficult to understand when we examine the Biblical account of the creation, on which the objections to evolution are purported to be based, and we find, as we did in Chapter 10, that it portrays the creation as sequential, and therefore by implication, evolutionary. Some of the confusion obviously results from reading things into the creation account that are not actually there. “According to this [creation] view,” says Titus, “all living species were created at one time and place.”370 But that is not the way the story is written. It describes the creation as a sequence of events taking place over a period of time, and with one minor exception, puts them all, including the pre-evolutionary events, in the proper order.
There is, it is true, considerable controversy as to how long a period of time is implied by the wording of the creation story. As pointed out in Chapter 10, the meaning of the language used in an account such as this, written long ago under circumstances much different from those that now exist, cannot be understood unless the general level of knowledge and the manner of expression of thought prevailing at that time and place are taken into consideration. Present-day science finds that millions of years were required for each of the major evolutionary stages, and billions of years for the events that preceded the origin of life on earth. The early Hebrews were not prepared to think in terms of long intervals of this nature even if the revelations contained all of the information, and it was therefore necessary for the author of the Genesis account to use some expression to indicated an indefinite period of time. He chose a word which has been translated as “day.” Obviously he did not mean an earth day, even though the words “morning” and “evening” are employed in elaborating the account. There was no earth during the first “days” of the creation story. It follows that the author could not have used the word “day” in the sense of “the period of the earth’s rotation on its axis,” the sense in which the “creationists” are interpreting it. He must have used it in a different sense. His use of the terms “morning” and “evening” in describing the events of the “days” before there was any morning or evening in the specific sense shows definitely that the language was intended to be interpreted broadly rather than specifically. The logical conclusion is that he used these terms in the general significance that has been attached to them throughout recorded history, even in our “day,” as indicated in the following definitions taken from a standard dictionary:
Morning: the first or early part of anything.
Evening: any later period or time of decline, as in the evening of his life.
Day: a period of time; age; era; as in days of old.
This present work has not uncovered enough evidence to determine as a matter of scientific fact whether the universe was brought into being by an act of creation. We find the Biblical account of the origin of the earth and of biological life to be an authentic revelation insofar as its account of what happened is concerned, subject to the limitations of the recipients’ knowledge of physical phenomena and processes. But the investigation has thus far located nothing that would either verify or disprove any religious assertion as to the cause of what happened. Similarly, we have confirmed the existence of metaphysical agencies, but we have not determined whether one or more of these agencies created the universe, or even whether such a thing as creation is possible. As matters now stand, therefore, both the Reciprocal System and conventional science are silent on the creation issue. Anyone who feels that he should arrive at a definite conclusion on the subject will have to determine whether he can accept on faith some one of the many pronouncements as to the origin of the universe that have been made by the various religious bodies.
Creation is by no means the only controversial metaphysical question on which this first scientific expedition into the region beyond space and time fails to shed much light. While this investigation has definitely established the most important fact, the reality of metaphysical existence, it has not produced much information as to the nature and characteristics (other than ethical) of the existences, a subject on which the religions have a great deal to say, and say it in a great many different, and contradictory, ways. However, the verification of the basic religious doctrines that has been accomplished is a big step forward. There are also some broad general principles underlying both science and religion that can now be regarded as firmly based, as it is now clear that the almost universal acceptance of these principles is evidence that they have been received by a process of intuitive insight, and their validity can be tested by application of the criteria that have been developed for judging the products of insight and revelation. All this definitely confirms Hocking’s assertion that “Its [religion’s] basis is more substantial and less vulnerable than the fabric of speculative ideas in which it seems to consist.”371
The question now arises as to whether a scientist can logically identify himself with any particular organized religion—with a specific set of those “speculative ideas”—without doing violence to his scientific reliance upon the processes of reason, or whether his reconciliation with religion is confined to agreement on generalities. Here some detailed consideration will be necessary. It is evident, to begin with, that a scientist, as a scientist, cannot accept all of the official doctrines of any of the organized religions. Many thoughtful individuals have, in fact, concluded that the unacceptable portions constitute so large a proportion of the whole that these organized religious bodies must be rejected summarily. P. W. Bridgman, for example, once asserted that “acceptance of any of the traditional or conventional religions seems to many incompatible with plain decent intellectual honesty.”372 Paul Dirac takes a similar stand. “If we are honest—and scientists have to be,” he says, “we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality.”373 Arthur Koestler expresses much the same sentiment in these words:
To the inquiring intellect, the established churches become venerable anachronisms—though still capable of giving sporadic uplift to a diminishing number of individuals at the price of splitting his mind into incompatible halves.374
Our analysis indicates, however, that these extreme views are not justified. It is true that the analysis does show that a very large part of the information purported to be received through revelation, insight, or equivalent means, is erroneous in whole or in part, and religious beliefs based on such information are spurious. Fully prepared recipients of inter-sector communications are extremely rare, and even though the message itself may be complete and correct (as we assume that it always is, since the Sector 3 intelligence presumably knows the truth), the interpretation that it is given by the recipient may be completely wrong. It is also true that the greater part of the doctrine of any of the religions of today consists of additions to or interpretations of the original revelations, and there is considerable doubt as to whether the originators of this additional material were qualified to perceive and to understand the full effect of the additions on the revealed information.
For centuries men had been indoctrinated in a complex system of myths, built on what had originally been a simple religion but had been embroidered through the years by tradition and the human tendency to elaborate and ornament.375 (Vannevar Bush)
Every great religion, when it spreads widely, becomes corrupted, and it is necessary to distinguish between the insights of the pioneers who founded it and the popular superstitions which arise through mingling their teachings with persistent primitive notions or through interpreting their basic ideas so as to satisfy childish demands on the part of their followers.376 (Edwin A. Burtt)
In this connection, it is significant that many—probably most—of the highly controversial religious tenets belong to this category of additions and interpretations rather than being part of the original doctrine. Some of the most controversial of all are assertions about the founder of the religion rather than about his teachings, and these are especially likely to become highly emotional issues. The particular target of ecclesiastical vindictiveness has always been the heretic, the individual who differs with the official doctrine in no more than a few of these very controversial points, perhaps only one, and a minor one at that. The infidel or atheist is attacked, verbally or, where circumstances permit, physically, but not with the same fervor that characterizes the assault upon the heretic. Meanwhile, the items included in this category of controversial additions and interpretations are continually being revised, even in the most inflexible and immovable religious organizations. The heresies for which men are imprisoned or executed in one era often become perfectly respectable beliefs a few centuries later.
The scientist cannot be expected to accept the transient and questionable items that make up such a large part of religious doctrine. In his own field, his aim is to accumulate a store of knowledge that is valid for all time, and he sets up some exacting requirements that must be met before any proposed addition to this accumulated knowledge is admitted. Religious doctrines are fully acceptable to him only if they are capable of meeting the same requirements, or other equally rigid criteria of validity. Those items that cannot stand up under critical scrutiny or conflict with established knowledge in any field must be rejected. But neither science nor religion can arrive at a definite and unequivocal decision on every issue, as matters now stand. In both the religious and the scientific fields, therefore, many doctrines (or theories, as they are called in science) are accepted on a tentative basis, pending further clarification. Much of the religious dogma that the scientist is somewhat reluctant to accept falls into this category. Since all that can reasonably be expected of him is that he accept these unproved ideas on a provisional basis, just as he might accept a somewhat questionable scientific theory as a working hypothesis in spite of a belief that it will ultimately be replaced by something better, they should not constitute a serious obstacle to his participation in a religious association of some kind.
Of course, if the requirements of a particular religious group in this respect are unreasonable, the situation is different. For example, the scientist cannot accept the “word of authority” in lieu of the standard proofs of validity, and hence he cannot, in his capacity as a scientist, adhere to any organized religion in which submission to the authority of the ecclesiastical leadership is mandatory. He can do so if he continues to follow the currently popular practice of leaving his scientific beliefs and practices behind him when he closes the door of his office or laboratory, but we are now considering the situation of the scientist (or any other person) who wants to eliminate this dichotomy and to govern all facets of his life by the same basic rules.
A scientist must reject any claim to the exclusive possession of the truth by any religion or creed, although he may legitimately conclude, after examining the various beliefs, that some one of them has a better perception of the truth than any other. Every major religion of the present day contains many elements that meet all of the requirements of validity; in fact, there is a basic framework of religious belief which is common to all. Furthermore, the evidence indicating that the earth is only one of a great many abodes of intelligent life in the physical universe is sufficient in itself to brand all claims of exclusive knowledge or special privilege as presumptuous.
But there is no general agreement on details. Even after the scientifically unacceptable items (mainly additions and interpretations by the priesthood) are eliminated, and we are down to the hard core of the doctrines of the various religions, there will still be major differences with respect to questions with which science is as yet unprepared to deal. All of the religions claim to be right about these matters, and any one of them could be, so far as we are able to determine at present. Thus there is no obstacle that would prevent a scientist from becoming an adherent of any one of the modern religions or their constituent organizations, providing that the governing regulations thereof are sufficiently flexible, or liberal, to permit him to disregard scientifically unacceptable items of dogma.
In an earlier era, it would have been difficult to find a Western religious organization with the necessary degree of flexibility. Some of the Eastern religions, particularly the major Hindu sects, have always taken the attitude that every religious view has some relevance to the truth, and that none is perfect. All are therefore entitled to respect and sympathetic consideration, even though, by accepting certain features of his own religion as authoritative, one automatically rejects the specific doctrines that are in direct conflict. Thus there is no problem here for the Hindu scientist. But for most of the readers of this work, the point at issue will be the justification for affiliation with a religion such as Christianity, which until recently has taken a rigid stand on the question of the validity of its doctrines.
There has been little or no relaxation of the official attitudes of many of the Western religious organizations thus far, and the governing bodies still take just as hard a line on the question of deviation from their theological positions as they did in past centuries (even though those positions have changed significantly in the meantime). But the membership at large no longer responds automatically to the directives of the leadership, and even the most authoritarian religious institutions have to recognize that there is now a considerable degree of de facto flexibility in the tenets of their respective creeds, regardless of the official pronouncements to the contrary. Indeed, the differences in viewpoint within a particular denomination of one the major religions are now usually greater than those between denominations. Hordern gives us this assessment of the situation:
A striking development of our century is that theoretical differences no longer follow denominational lines… . In a particular denomination, we may be somewhat more likely to find a particular type of theology, but in every case there are exceptions.377
While this relaxation of the earlier theological rigidity has been going on—a relaxation that Hordern attributes to the fact that theologians “are taking a more humble view of their abilities than often has been the case in the past”—the individual members of the religious organizations have been growing increasingly impatient with what they regard as theological hairsplitting, and are more and more inclined to dismiss theological issues as inconsequential. This is particularly true among the mainline Protestant denominations. Louis Cassels describes the existing situation in this manner:
Individuals and families shift their allegiance from one Protestant denomination to another as casually as they switch brands of toothpaste… . Today if a pastor refers to “our denominational heritage” he can be reasonably sure that one fourth of the congregation won’t know what he is talking about—and another fourth won’t care.378
Where the theological and organizational differences are greater, as between Catholic and Protestant, or between the Christian and Jewish religions, the interchange is not as casual, but even so, there is an increasing amount of switching from one affiliation to another for other-than-doctrinal reasons, mainly inter-faith marriages, which are becoming more common as the isolation of the various religious groups continues to break down under the influence of modern living conditions. Because of their vested interest in the prosperity of their individual organizations, the ecclesiastical authorities generally view with alarm the loss of members by reason of marriage to individuals of other faiths, and are inclined to predict emotional disturbances and other damaging consequences. The available evidence seems to indicate, however, that these gloomy views are unjustified. For instance, a recent survey reported by Andrew M. Greeley (himself a Catholic priest) reaches this conclusion:
By far the largest number of those who have disidentified from the Roman Catholic church have done so in association with religiously-mixed marriages. They are happily married, devoutly practicing, believing members of Protestant denominations. They may have gone through a crisis of institutional affiliation, but they do not seem to have suffered any acute crisis of religious convictions.379
All of the foregoing tends to show that, while basic religious convictions—beliefs about the assertions of religion-in-general—are the products of an intuitive understanding that is deeply imbedded in human nature and extremely resistant to change, each individual’s commitment to the doctrines of a particular religious organization is essentially accidental, and not a crucial factor in his life. The religious fervor that manifests itself in “holy wars” and bitter antagonism between neighboring groups of different faiths is mainly a matter of group solidarity rather than of intellectual or emotional attachment to specific religious doctrines. As Arnold Toynbee points out, most of the factors responsible for the present distribution of the higher religions are non-religious. “They derive from physical geography or from technology or from politics or war or economics, not from religion.”380 Recognition by the individual that his present religious affiliation is due to the accident of being born in a particular place and under particular social and economic conditions should make it easier for him to change that affiliation if this is necessary to harmonize his religious commitments with his intellectual convictions.
To the devout adherent of any particular faith, this suggestion that one’s religious affiliation should be changed if necessary in order to achieve harmony between intellect and intuition will no doubt appear as an utterly reprehensible attempt to subordinate religion to science: an effort to force religion into a scientific mold. But, in fact, the point that is being made is that a person’s religious commitments (that is, whatever he is required to assent to as a condition of affiliation with a specific religious organization) should be consistent with his religious beliefs, regardless of how those beliefs have originated. A scientist can accept what he now knows to be true, and anything further that he believes is true, and he can tentatively accept that which may be true. But being dedicated to the truth, he must reject that which is demonstrably false, even if this requires changing his religious affiliation.
On this basis, it should not be difficult for a scientist to find a religious organization with which he can feel at home, and certainly these religious groups would benefit by the acquisition of new members who are fully convinced of the validity of the most important doctrines of the organization on the strength of their own reasoning powers, without having to rely on a rather uncertain faith. This is especially true in a time like the present, when so many of the church members, even those—or, in the light of recent publications and opinion surveys, perhaps we should say particularly those—who have been the most active in church affairs, have lost confidence, not only in items belonging in the category of additions and interpretations, but also in certain of the basic doctrines of their church. An ironic sidelight is that some of the doctrinal assertions that have been under fire, and are now being rejected by a substantial percentage of the religious leaders, have been confirmed by the scientific investigation reported in these pages.
The full benefit of such rapprochement between science and religion will not be realized, however, unless there is some softening of the rigid attitudes that have prevailed on both sides. It will be necessary for the scientist to refrain from opposing religious or other non-scientific ideas simply because they do not fit neatly into the scientific framework as it happens to stand at the moment, an attitude that has been taken all too often with respect to matters that are outside the field that science is currently cultivating—the ESP phenomena, for instance. Fortunately, there is a growing awareness among scientists that the existing limits of scientific knowledge are not the boundaries of knowledge in general. The following recent statements on the subject illustrate the new scientific position:
A philosophy which sees the answers to all questions clearly implied in what is now called science is presumptuous and contrary to the spirit of science.57 (Henry Margenau)
The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite.381 (Werner Heisenberg)
The more realistic viewpoint that is reflected in these statements by Margenau and Heisenberg is an encouraging indication that enlightened scientific opinion is moving in this direction. What is needed is an open-minded and sympathetic appraisal of each of the assertions of the various religions, not in the light of existing scientific knowledge alone, but in the light of this knowledge plus careful reasoning with respect to what may lie beyond that which science has thus far established.
The sincere scientist certainly cannot be expected to accept assertions that are in conflict with well-established facts, and if a religious organization insists on acceptance of such doctrines as a condition of membership, he will have to forego that privilege. However, where the conflict is not with established fact, but with interpretations or extrapolations of those facts, with inferences drawn from them, or with unconfirmed theories or hypotheses, he should bear in mind that a careful scientific investigation has now demonstrated that religion has its own processes of ascertaining the truth, and while the nature of these processes is such that a great deal of error is inevitably mixed with the truth, it is neither logical nor scientific to assume that all non-scientific conclusions are erroneous. Where a religious assertion is neither demonstrably true nor demonstrably false, the proper course is to analyze the situation and arrive at a decision as to whether there is sufficient justification for accepting that assertion tentatively, pending further clarification.
On the other side of the picture, the most serious religious obstacle to harmonious relations with science and scientists is the tendency on the part of the religious organizations to regard their doctrine as fixed and not subject to change, something that was handed down to the founder of the religion in complete form and must persist in that form for all time. Adherence to this dogma in practice is, of course, impossible. The world moves on, and even religion must move with it or be left behind. But the ecclesiastical authorities continue to proclaim the timelessness of their doctrines in public, while behind the scenes they are doing what everyone else must do; they are continually discussing, debating, and making changes. That which was a sin yesterday is perfectly proper today, while that which was an important religious duty yesterday, persecution of the heretics, for example, is today regarded as contrary to religious ideals.
Perhaps the unyielding attitude of the religious leaders may have some merit where they are dealing with an uneducated and superstitious people, but it alienates those who are able to think for themselves. “The intransigence of religious authority,” says du Nouy, “tends to prejudice an independent mind in favor of positive materialistic rationalism.”382 It is possible that the religious authorities have no real choice in the matter, as it may well be that the great majority of the adherents of the major religions are still not emotionally prepared to accept the modifications of religious doctrine that are necessary to keep religion abreast of the advance of human knowledge. It may be necessary for the present to continue talking in terms of posthumous reward and punishment, for instance, simply because this is the only good hold that the religious organizations have on some segments of their membership. But if this is true, there should at least be some branches of some religions which can meet the scientist’s desire for a logical and rational religious viewpoint.
One of the essential requirements in this respect is a recognition of the fact that religion, like science, is a growing body of knowledge. Even if the revelation received by the founder of one of the major religions was correct in every detail, there are many reasons why the body of doctrine based on that revelation is not, as it now stands, adequate to serve as a continuing basis of religious thought and practice. In the first place, we do not know just what the revelation actually contained, since little or nothing comes to us first hand. In many cases, the Holy Books of the religious organizations purport to give the founder’s words, but we have only someone else’s testimony that these were his words, and since a long interval usually elapsed between the spoken word and the written record, it is inevitable that many statements were incorrectly reported.
Then, even if we assume that we have the correct wording of a particular statement, there is always a question as to just what these words mean. As pointed out earlier, each culture has its own manner of expression, and a literal interpretation of the words of a people far removed from us in time and in environment can be utterly misleading. Nor is this exclusively a phenomenon of the past. Anyone who attempts to interpret the idiomatic or colloquial language of the present day literally according to the wording would go just as far astray as those who insist on a similar literal interpretation of the allegory and imagery habitual with the population of earlier eras. The person who puts his foot in his mouth is not a contortionist. One of the important tasks of the religious community is to discover and correct the errors that have distorted the meaning of some features of the original revelations.
Beyond this, it should be recognized that however accurate the original revelation may have been, its scope was limited by the general level of knowledge at the time it was received. Only a relatively modest level of understanding needs to be reached in order to grasp the simple basic rules of ethical living, and it is not unlikely that the widespread attainment of such a level was the factor that resulted in the appearance of most of the great religions of the world within a period of time that was extremely short, not only in comparison to the million years or more of human existence, but also compared to the very much shorter period of recorded history. These simple truths are not adequate, however, to meet the more complex situations of the present day, and the attempts of the ecclesiastics to deny this fact are the root cause of much of the decline in religious influence that is now taking place at an accelerating rate. The revelations on which the modern religions are based are remarkable products, but they are neither infallible nor adequate. They provide good foundations on which to build, but the growing complexities of human existence call for purging the organized religions of the elements that thoughtful persons cannot accept, and for an advance in religious understanding comparable to that which is now under way in other fields, particularly in science.
The findings of this work will not only provide guidelines for the purging operation, but will furnish solid factual support for the sound portions of religious doctrine that remain intact, a support that should reinforce the faith in the basic assertions of religion that has been wavering in recent years. The positive verification of the reality of metaphysical existence in the preceding pages, and the clarification of the important role that this non-physical existence plays in human life, now constitutes a solid base from which it will be possible to make significant advances in religious knowledge, advances that will fulfill the prediction made by J. B. Rhine in this statement:
If… some kind of a world of independent spirit agency can be discovered, as there is reason to think may be possible, its establishment would manifestly bring to religious life an incomparably greater meaning and potency. The discovery would do for religion something like what the germ theory did for medicine. It would open the range of religious exploration to horizons beyond all present conceptions. It has always been so when new areas are discovered.383