Religion and the Modern Mind

by W.T. Stace


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Part 2: Section 2 - The Consequences for Religion

NEWTON WAS A VERY DEVOUT CHRISTIAN. HE TOOK HIS theology even more seriously than his science. He would have been horrified if he had thought that his lifework would result in a general undermining of religious faith. And his own opinion was that it should have exactly the opposite effect. He even suppposed that his system of celestial mechanics provided a proof of the existence of God. He wrote:

The motions which the planets now have could not spring from any natural cause alone, but were impressed by an intelliigent agent .... There is no natural cause which could determine all the planets, both primary and secondary, [this means the planets and their satellites] to move the same way in the same plane, without any considerable variation: this must have been the effect of counsel (i.e., planning) .... Had the planets been as swift as comets . . . or had the distances from the centres about which they move been greater or less ... or had the quantity of matter (i.e., mass) in the sun, or in Saturn, Jupiter, or the earth, and by consequence their gravitating power, been greater or less than it is; the primary planets would not have revolved round the sun, nor the secondary ones about Saturn, Jupiter, and the earth, in concentric circles as they do, but would have moved in hyperbolas or parabolas, or in ellipses very eccentric. To make this system, therefore, with all its motions, required a cause which understood and compared together the

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quantities of matter in the several bodies of the sun and planets, and the gravitating powers resulting from thence; the several distances of the primary planets from the sun, and of the secondary ones from Saturn, Jupiter, and the earth; and the velocities with which these planets could revolve ... ; and to compare and adjust these together in so great a variety of bodies, argues that cause to be not blind or fortuitous but very well skilled in mechanics and geometry.[1]

If the velocity of a planet were much greater than it is or if its distance from the sun were greater, the planet would fly off by centrifugal force into outer space. If the planet moved at a slower speed than it does, or if its distance from the sun were less than it. is, the planet would pass so near the sun that, if its speed or dIstance were sufficiently reduced, it would fall into the sun. Hence the velocity and the distance had to be exactly calculated for each and everyone of the numerous bodies which compose the solar system, and each had to be adjusted to all the others, to ensure the continuance of the system in a balanced state. Obviously dead matter could not itself make these calculations. The cause of this could not be "blind or fortuitous." A mind, and moreover a mind "very well skilled in mechanics and geometry" was therefore required to account for the facts. This all-governing mind could only be God.

Newton's argument is only a particular version, or example, of what philosophers call the "argument from design" for the existence of God. The essence of the argument is that nature shows examples of the adaptation of means to ends, in other words, of planning, and that this implies a planner. In Newton's example the end is the balanced running of the solar system, and the means are adjustments of the velocities and distances of the planets to one another. Thinkers, including Newton himself, have given many other instances of such apparent design in the universe. The human or animal eye is a favorite example, although any other organ of the body, or the body as a whole, would do as well. The eye is a mechanism composed of a great number of

(1) Quoted, A. E. Burtt, Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1925), p. 286.


part , such as the iris, the lens, the cornea, the retina. Each of these parts again has parts. All of these parts, great and small, have to be exactly adjusted to one another to produce vision. Vision is evidently the end aimed at, and the means are the elaborate and complicated adjustments of part to part. The argument is exactly the same as Newton's. If the lens were at a greater or less distance from the retina; if it were opaque, not transparent; if the pupil were much larger or smaller than it is; if any of the parts were not adjusted as they are to the other parts; in any such case the result would have been, not vision, but blindness, or vision too dim or blurred to be useful. This co-operation of part with part, this delicate adjustment of each part to every other, it is argued, shows design, the adaptation of the parts to the end of enabling the animal to see.

Thousands of other examples have been suggested. Thus the pollination of flowers by bees and other insects is often quoted. The bee carries pollen from flower to flower. Chance cannot account for this. Evidently there is a purpose in nature to produce flowers. That is the end, and nature has adopted a singularly ingenious set of means. The purpose, it is evident, is not in the mind of the bee. The only explanation is the purpose of a mind which controls nature.

A Belgian scientist, Lecomte du Noüy, recently produced a book called Human Destiny. In this he argues that the protein molecule, which is necessary for life, could not have been produced by chance, but must have been the result of design. For its chemical structure is so enormously complicated that even if chance should have produced one such molecule on the earth, it is inconceivable that it should have produced, during the relatively short astronomical period of the earth's existence, the milllions of such molecules which were necessary for the existence of races of living beings. Life, then, was the end; the adjustments of atom to atom in the molecule the means.

It is evident that all the cases cited—the solar system, the production of the eye, the pollination of flowers, the protein molecule—are merely different examples of one and the same argument,

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and that they all depend on the same logic. The logical examination of the argument as it appears in one example will therefore apply to all the others. I shall accordingly analyze Newton's argument from the solar system to see what, if anything, it actually proves.

Lest there should be any misunderstanding about the motive which leads me into this analysis, I will state it. I shall show that Newton's argument is entirely worthless, and therefore that the argument from design—whatever example is chosen—is worthless. The aim is not to produce skepticism regarding the existence of God. The problem of the truth of religion will in the end come up for discussion, but not now. The immediate aim is to show that no scientific argument—by which I mean an argument drawn from the phenomena of nature—can ever have the slightest tenddency either to prove or to disprove the existence of God, in short that science is irrelevant to religion. This aim evidently has two parts, first, to show that no argument from nature—such as the argument from design—has the slightest tendency to prove the existence of God; and second, that no argument from nature can disprove it. At present I am concerned with the first half of this argument.

It has to be admitted as a fact that the various masses, velociities, and distances of the planets, being what they are, have produced the effect that the planets move as they do round the sun; and that any other combination of masses, velocities, and disstances, would have produced some other effect. But how does this show that this effect, which was actually produced, was not merely an effect, but also an end? An end, in the sense in which the word is used here, means something which is aimed at, planned, or purposed, by a mind. And how does the argument show that the effect was an end in this sense?

The same question arises in regard to any alleged instance of design. In every case we have a certain set of causes which produces a certain set of effects. Various mechanisms in the eye produce vision. The peculiar anatomies of the bee and the flower, the search of the bee for honey, and other circumstances, produce

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pollination. A variey of forces and movements of atoms produces the protein molecule. The whole point of the argument lies in the assertion that these effects, the balance of the solar system, vision, pollination, the protein molecule, are not only effects produced by causes, but also ends aimed at. How is this known? That they are effects can be established by observation. But if something is an end, this can never be directly observed, and must accordingly be an inference of some kind. For we can observe only successions of events and things; we can observe colors, weights, shapes, measurements, and the like, but never the fact of a thing being purposed as an end. For instance, I receive a letter with my name on it. All I can observe is the paper and the ink. The fact that my receiving the letter was an end aimed at by a person who wrote the letter is inferred. Hence our question is: from what facts is it inferred in the argument from design that the various effects-solar system, pollination, etc.-were ends aimed at by a mind? Why is it said that they could not have been produced by "chance," that is to say, by the mere operation of the "blind" forces and laws of nature without any design?

We shall find that there are two grounds on which the inference is based. The first is the extreme complexity of the cause, the fact that a vast variety of causes have had to work together to produce the effect. Thus it is an essential part of Newton's arguument that the solar system is enormously complicated. There are a very large number of bodies in it. There are a large number of different masses, velocities, and distances to be adjusted to one another. The wonderful thing is that so many different things co-operate with one another to produce the balanced solar sysstem. "To compare and adjust these together in so great a variety of bodies [italics mine] argues that cause to be not blind or fortuitous, but ... " If there had been only two bodies in the solar system, the argument would not have been so impressive. There are in the sky examples of two bodies—binary stars—which revolve around one another. Does this show design? Might it not have been the result of chance? In all the examples of supposed design in nature, the fact that very great numbers of things have

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co-operated to produce the effect is stressed. The eye is a vastly complicated mechanism. How could all these thousands of parts have been exactly adjusted to one another to produce this one result, vision, unless by design? The complicated character of the protein molecule—the alleged fact that such a complicated structure of atoms could not have been produced by chance—is the very nerve of Lecomte du Noiiy's argument.

How does complexity of co-operating causes prove design?

Newton does not say, but Lecomte du Noiiy does. If chance alone had operated, any arrangement of atoms might have occurred. Their actual arrangement in the protein molecule is only one out of thousands of billions of possible arrangements which might have occurred. Therefore the chances against this particular arrangement occurring, rather than any other, had thousands of billions of chances against it, and was almost infinitely improbable .. We must therefore suppose that it was designed. Applying this line of thought to Newton's instance of the solar system we see that, in addition to the one pattern of paths which the planets actually do take, there is a practically infinite number of other patterns of paths which might have been taken if the masses, distances, and velocities had been different. The earth might have followed anyone of millions of more or less eccentric elliptical orbits, or anyone of millions of parabolic or hyperbolic orbits. Therefore the chances against the one orbit it does take were billions to one. Hence it was almost infinitely improbable that it should take its present path, if the matter had been left to chance. Therefore a special cause, a divine mind, must be postulated to account for its actual orbit.

In order to test this argument, let us suppose that the earth had actually taken some other path, for instance:

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The circle in the diagram represents the actual orbit of the earth. The dotted line represents some other path which it might have taken if, for example, it had been heavier and flown off by centrifugal force into outer space. Now what were the chances against the earth taking that particular path (the dotted line)? They were exactly the same as the chances against its present orbit. For there were exactly the same number of other paths which it might have taken. The same would be true whatever path the earth took, whether it had flown off into space or spiraled into the sun. Whatever path the planet had taken would have been equally improbable. Therefore the fact that it took the path it did is no argument in favor of its having been planned.

We now see what may at first appear to be a very curious fact.

Whatever happens in the world is almost infinitely improbable, for there are always an infinite number of other things which could have happened instead. A man walking along a street is killed by a tile blown off a roof by the wind. We attribute this to chance—that is, to the operation of blind natural laws and forces, without any special design on the part of anyone. Yet the chances against that event happening were almost infinite. The man might have been, at the moment the tile fell, a foot away from the spot on the sidewalk on which the tile fell, or two feet away, or twenty feet away, or a mile away. He might have been at a million other places on the surface of the earth. Or the tile might have fallen at a million other moments than the moment in which it did fall Yet in spite of the almost infinite improbability of that happening, we do not find it necessary to suppose that someone threw the tile down from the roof on purpose. We are quite satisfied to attribute the event to chance, that is, to the operation of natural forces.

The complexity of the causes which had to co-operate to prooduce the death of the man from the falling tile was incalculably great. The movements of all the molecules of air in the world were involved, for if the meteorological state of the atmosphere anywhere had been different, that gust of wind might not have come at that moment. One of the causes of the man's being killed

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was the discovery of America by Columbus. For if America had not been discovered, neither the man nor the tile would have been where they were. Indeed the whole complexity of the world's history was involved in that event. And this is true of every event which happens in nature. Whatever happens in the world, the complexity of the causes which must co-operate to produce that exact event is beyond all possible reckoning. Plainly therefore the argument that the extreme complexity of co-operating causes is evidence of design is wholly fallacious.

We must not, of course, be misled by the use which the argument makes of such words as "adjust" and "co-operate." The parts of the eye, and the masses, distances, and velocities in the solar system, are said to be adjusted to one another and to co-operate. If "adjusted" is understood to mean "consciously fitted together to produce an end," and if "co-operate" is understood to mean "consciously work together," then of course the words are question-begging. For whether the complex causes are adjusted to one another and co-operate to produce an end in this sense is the very question to be decided. But if the words are not used in this question-begging way, then they mean nothing except that as a matter of fact the many causes combine to produce the effects which they do produce. Whenever any complex combination of causes produces a certain effect they may be said to co-operate and be adjusted to one another. Thus billions of molecules of air may be said to co-operate to produce the whirlwind which wrecks the city. And co-operation in this sense is clearly no evidence of design.

Why then does the argument from design seem so persuasive? This is due, I believe, to the fact that there is a second ground—the first ground being the co-operation of a complexity of causes—on which the argument, secretly as it were, relies. It is usually hidden, or at least not explicitly stated. It will be noticed that the things or events which are chosen as instances of the adaptation of means to ends are never the kind of things which human beings consIder bad, evil, ignoble, ugly, or disadvantageous to human beings. They are always things which human beings consider

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good, or beautiful, or noble, or advantageous to themselves. Let us class all such things together under the label "valuable things." In order to show design the argument selects the balance of the solar system, which is advantageous to us because it renders life on the planet possible; or the pollination of flowers, because flowers are beautiful things; or the protein molecule which is necessary for life—and life is something which we consider good; or vision, which we think good for obvious reasons. The argument never selects as proving design those complicated trains of causes which produce blindness in some persons or animals; or the causes which produce, not life, but death. If a city is wrecked by a tidal wave and thousands of its inhabitants are drowned, or any other train of events produces a human disaster, such cases are never chosen as instances which prove design.

But it is obvious that the causes in such cases are just as complex as are the causes which produce valuable things, and that they co-operate with one another and are adjusted to one another to produce the effects which they do produce. Millions of causal conditions co-operate to produce the wreck of a city, just as millions of causes co-operate to produce the balanced solar sysstem or the eye. Why then are not the evil things chosen as showing design as well as the valuable things?

The answer is obvious. Valuable things are the kind of things which we, assuming that we are virtuous persons, would aim at producing if we were creating a world. We therefore think that, if there are valuable things in the world, they have probably been produced by a mind with purposes similar to our own. If we put this train of thought in its briefest form it amounts to this: in our experience virtuous minds produce, or tend to produce, valuable things; therefore the valuable things in the world must have been produced by a virtuous mind.

But if this is taken seriously as an argument, it will be seen that it has a fatal logical defect. Because X causes Y you cannot argue in reverse that Y must be caused by X. Lightning often causes houses to be set on fire. But if you see a house on fire, you cannot argue that the fire must have been caused by lightning.

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For there are many other causes which might have produced it—arson, a cigarette end carelessly dropped, and a thousand others. And just as you cannot argue from the fact that lightning causes fires to the conclusion that all fires are caused by lightning, so you cannot argue from the fact that minds, especially virtuous minds, produce valuable things, to the conclusion that valuable things must have been produced by a mind. Why should not natural causes produce them?

It may be suggested that although the existence of valuable things in the world does not prove the existence of God, yet the existence of God is at any rate an hypothesis which at least explains the existence of valuable things; and that this is some reason for believing it. This is true. But unfortunately if God is taken as an hypothesis in this way, although the hypothesis explains the existence of good things in the world, it does not explain the existence of bad things. In fact bad things conflict with and contradict the hypothesis. Also, although this may be a good hypothesis in so far as it explains some of the facts, namely, the valuable things, it is not so good as the hypothesis that "chance," i.e., the laws of nature operating without design, produces all the events and things in the world. For chance explains both the good and the bad things. For if the world is not ruled by a designing mind, but only by the blind laws of nature, then that the world would be an indiscriminate mixture of good and bad things—as it is—is precisely what we should expect. Thus if, as a matter of logic, we treat God as an hypothesis, we find that chance is a better hypothesis than God.

Thus from whatever point of view we regard it the argument from design turns out to be worthless.


We must now turn to the other side of the picture. If Newton's celestial mechanics did not prove the existence of God, they certainly did not disprove it. Not only this. It is very important to realize that, in the whole history of the seventeenth century scientific revolution, no single discovery was made, no idea was put forward which, from the point of view of logic, should have

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had the slightest effect in the way of destroying belief in God. And yet the scientific revolution actually did have such an effect. This is something which we have to try to understand. First, let us make sure that none of the discoveries of early science have any tendency to prove the non-existence of God. We may set the matter out in this way. Ignoring details, the essential discoveries were:

That the earth moves round the sun, not the sun round the earth (Copernicus).

That the planets move in ellipses, not circles (Kepler).

That moving bodies will continue moving at a uniform speed in a straight line, unless some force acts on them. They will not stop (Galileo).

The law of gravitation (Newton).

Now how can any of these physical truths have any bearing at all on the problem of the existence of God? How can they possibly provide any argument against it? Surely God can as well exist with the earth going round the sun as with the sun going round the earth? Or is the existence of God consistent with circles, but not with ellipses? Or can he not exist in a universe which follows Galileo's law of motion, but only in one which follows Aristotle's? Finally, is the law of gravitation atheistic or incompatible with belief in a divine being? What then was there in the scientific revolution which could be inimical to religion?

It is true that the Copernican system is inconsistent with the astronomy which the Christian Church at that time erroneously considered to be a necessary part of Christian faith; and that it produced, for that reason, a devastating shock in the theological system. Not only in the literal physical sense, but in a metaphoriical sense too, the universe had been believed to revolve round man and his home on this earth. Man was at the physical center of the universe, and also at the center of God's care and attention. In some way or other the whole creation centered round man. The sun, moon, and stars, the waters, the herbs, and the animals,

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had all been created for the sake of man. But this belief in the cosmic importance of man is much more difficult to hold if the earth is merely a speck of dust revolving, with other similar specks, round one out of billions of stars. Doubts began to haunt the minds of men, even of fervently religious men. Might there not be beings like men on millions of other little rotating bodies in the universe? Might they too not have sinned? And was one to supppose that God had sent his son to be crucified again and again on all these millions of centers of life? Was not the incarnation of God in Christ credible only if one believed that man is at the center of the cosmic drama?

All this is well known, and it is unnecessary to repeat here how in these ways the Copernican theory shook the Christian world. This was the first of the great clashes between particular discoveries of science and particular beliefs of the Church which were to occur in the modern world. But the real conflict between science and religion lay elsewhere. For the particular beliefs which the Church had thus to abandon one after another were none of them necessary to religion. What was necessary was a certain attitude, which I have called the religious view of the world. This has expressed itself in the western world in the form of three central beliefs—that there exists a divine being who creeated the universe, that there is a cosmic plan or purpose, and that the world is a moral order. And neither the Copernican astronomy nor any of the other discoveries of the early scientists—nor, for the matter of that, any discoveries of later science—are innconsistent with these religious beliefs. As for the particular beliefs which the Church has had to abandon, these could all be left behind without loss to the essential core of religion. Or at least they could be given an allegorical meaning when they could no longer be accepted in their literal interpretation. In this way reeligion could easily accommodate itself to the new discoveries of science. But if the three central beliefs should be lost, religion itself would be destroyed. Or so it would seem, at least on a first survey. Hence it is the effect of science on the central beliefs of religion that we have to study. And the conclusion which we have

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reached so far is that the discoveries of the scientific revolution neither supported nor tended to disprove them.

Certainly they had no bearing on the question of the existence of God. And yet—the scientific revolution did, actually and historically, profoundly undermine faith in God. It is a fact that the rise of science was immediately followed by a great wave of religious skepticism. On the heels of the seventeenth century came the most skeptical age of the modern world, the eighteenth cenntury. This was the age in which an English king could complain that half his bishops were atheists. This was the age which prooduced Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire. It is true that there is a sense in which it may be said that these men may have "believed in the existence of God." But they were religious skeptics nonetheless. They did not believe in anything like the medieval Christian God. And whatever belief in God they had was no more than a cold and dead intellectual abstraction utterly chilling to the religious mind. For religion, though it may always be accompanied by beliefs, is not itself a mere matter of the intellect.

This historical succession, the birth of science followed immmediately by a century of skepticism, is no mere coincidence. There is a connection. Our business is to discover this connection. And this may be thought to constitute something of a problem. For if seventeenth century science has no logical tendency at all to disprove the central beliefs of religion, how can it have produced the devastating effect upon them which it actually did?

The key to the solution of this problem lies in the consideration that men's minds do not usually work in the way that logicians say they should. Logic has very little to do with what men believe. Suppose that a man, holding a certain idea or belief, A, comes, as a result of it, to hold another idea or belief, B. There has been a transition of thought from A to B. It is possible that the passage from A to B may have been due to a logical connection between the two ideas; in other words it may be the case that B follows logically from A, and this may account for the fact that the man who believed A afterwards came to believe B. But logical transitions of this sort are the exception rather than the rule. More

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often the transitions are due to quite non-logical connections between ideas by way of association or suggestion. In the stream of human consciousness there are transitions from thought to thought continually going on. In this complex flow from idea to idea there are here and there tenuous threads of logical connection. But they tend to be far outnumbered by the non-logical transitions due to suggestion and association. We may use the label "psychological transitions" to describe these non-logical sequences and to distinguish them from logical sequences of ideas.

The solution of our problem why the scientific revolution produced an age of skepticism, when there was no logical reason why it should, is that there were profound psychological causes at work. This matter is, of course, very complicated, and from the skein of human thoughts in such a case we cannot hope to do more than pick out a few of the more obvious threads.

First of all, then, Newtonian science produced in men's minds an ever-growing sense, or feeling, of the remoteness of God. Any sort of living religion requires a God who is near us, who is all around us in the world now. In superstitious ages this sense of present nearness was produced by belief in miracles. God worked immediately in our lives by causing fire out of heaven to fall on our enemies, by sending food to us by ravens if we were hungry, or by sending manna down out of the sky for us to eat. These things did not of course happen to everyone. But they did happen to those men who, more conspicuously than others, followed God's commands. And this was sufficient to show that God is near at hand and is always helping those who love him and whom he loves. He is working in the world all the time. In an age which no longer hopes for divine interventions in the workings of outward nature a living religion at least requires a sense that God still works inwardly in the hearts of men, for instance when we pray. God, it is thought, may not now intervene in the physical world, but he does intervene in the psychological workings of the inward world of our minds. If he does not send us physical food by ravens, he does send us spiritual food by the sacraments and

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the means of grace. In one way or another religion—if it is not to be a mere intellectual abstraction—requires the sense of a God who is close to us and works in our lives.

But Newtonian science tended to dry up the springs of a living religion by pushing God back in time to the beginning of the world. Whether this was thousands, or millions, of years ago makes little difference. God created the world, and he also, in doing so, created the natural laws—for instance, the laws of motion and gravitation—by which it was to be run. God was thus the "first cause" of the world, but after he had once created it, natural law, which he had also created, took over the job of running it. After the original creation God did nothing. Gravitation and the laws of motion did everything. God was like a watchhmaker who, having once made and wound up his machine, left it to be moved by its own internal mechanism. God differed from the human mechanic only in that he had invented a perpetual motion machine which would go on working for ever by itself without any intervention on his part. Was not this precisely what Galileo's first law of motion implied?

Thus, so far as we are concerned, God is "far away and long ago," at the beginning of things, not acting now, remote from the actual happenings of our daily lives. But such an imaginative picture of a God far away and long ago is death to a living religion. God becomes then a mere intellectual belief, necessary perhaps as an "hypothesis" for explaining how the world originated, but of no importance in the daily affairs of our lives. This is what he actually became for the eighteenth century deists. And this consequence of Newtonian science—and the consequence is of course still with us—is only partly mitigated by the continuing belief that God can still work in the internal psychological world of our minds. We need not at this point comment on the obvious thought which presents itself here—that only our relative ignorance of the workings of that inner world allows us still to suppose that it is not wholly governed by law and that divine interventions are still possible in it. The historical fact is that the sense of the nearness of God all about us was once and for all destroyed by New-

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tonian science, and has departed from the modem world in general, though it remains doubtless for individual men.

There is evidence that Newton himself was worried by these thoughts. God, of course, created the world, but what is there left for him to do in it now? And Newton answered absurdly that God, after all, has still the function of intervening from time to time to correct the irregularities of the planets and of putting them back in their proper orbits when they have deviated from them.

In the Reader's Digest of January 1949 there appeared an article entitled God and the American People. It recorded the results of a nation-wide poll on religious questions. Asked whether they believed in the existence of God, ninety-five per cent answered yes. But asked why they tried to lead good lives, only twenty-five per cent gave religion as one of the considerations which counted with them. Asked whether religion in any way affected their politics or their business, fifty-four per cent said no. Analyzing the polls, the Reverend Dr. Greenberg observed: "Peoople do not apparently associate God directly with their own behavior.".

Why should they when, while subscribing to the conventional belief in the existence of God, they also believe that he has nothing whatever to do with the actual events going on all round them in their daily lives, all of which are fully explained by "natural causes"—including, of course, their own actions? This belief that all events are due to natural causes, and that God has nothing to do with them—whether we acknowledge it or not, and even if with our lips we deny it—is simply a part of what is taken for granted by the modem mind. It is a part of our imaginative world-picture, and is a heritage which we owe to seventeenth century science. We are accustomed to say that while the medieval period was an age of faith, our time is not. No doubt ninety-five per cent of the people say they believe in God. But this is not an evidence of religion. Such a belief is either a mere intellectual abstraction, inoperative in our behavior, or it is a conventional and barren verbal formula which people out of habit keep repeating because they are too unthinking or too lazy to change their

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habits. A God who "exists" but does nothing in the world, who in no way affects the outcome of events, is simply a God who does not matter. Of course most people do not say things like this, do not even think them in their minds. But this modern world-picture, consciously envisaged only by a few intellectuals, is neverrtheless the unconscious background of modem life. And we see now that when we speak of Newtonian science as having underrmined or even destroyed belief in God, it is not meant that it has resulted in people saying "There is no God," but in the draining of all life out of the assertion that there is.

This too is the significance of the work of Laplace which I mentioned in the last chapter. Newton had pushed God back to the beginning of the solar system. But Laplace pushed him back to the beginning of a pre-solar nebula. How far in terms of measurable time this may be does not matter. Imaginatively it is further and further away. And we see now too how irrelevant it is for the believer to answer Laplace by saying that all he did was to push the necessity of a creator one step back in time, and that this makes no difference to the necessity of postulating God as the first cause of the universe. Logically no doubt it makes no difference, but psychologically the difference is that it vastly increases the sense of God's remoteness. If God created the sun and the moon and the earth, and man on the earth, perhaps about six thousand years ago as suggested by Genesis, the period which has elapsed since God did anything is no doubt very great. But still it is at least within the human period, recorded in human documents. The memory of the race in some sense goes back to that time. That God personally and directly created our ancestor Adam means that he was interested in man, and this gives a glimmer of warmth even to our present relations with him. Perhaps this God, though he does not act now, is still looking at us and thinking of us. But if the race of men is only a by-product of natural laws set going millions of years ago, then—even if God created the natuural laws—what can man be to God, or God to man? And if we push God back through astronomical aeons to the beginning of a nebula which evolved into a solar system—the terrible gulfs of

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time which have elapsed since God made himself manifest in the world chill our minds and numb our hearts. This train of thought, of course, is not logic. But logic has little to do with human thinking.

Such was the imaginative importance of Laplace's nebula. The effect of his discovery that the irregularities of the planets are self-correcting and not cumulative is, of course, similar. Newton had thought that God does still, after all, act in the world by correcting the deviations of the planets. But Laplace showed that they correct themselves. Thus even the small corner which Newton had left for God's action in the world was eliminated and his place was taken by the laws of nature. Hence Laplace's remark that he had no need for God as an hypothesis.

We have spoken of the sense of the remoteness of God as the first of the psychological effects of Newtonian science which have tended to destroy the force of religion in men's minds. The second, to which we now turn, is perhaps no more than another way of expressing the same thing. Science has everywhere substituted natural causes of phenomena for the supernatural causes in which men formerly believed. Since the seventeenth century it has beecome a fixed maxim of science that no supernatural causes are to be admitted in the universe; that even if a natural phenomenon is at present unexplained, it must never be taken as a case of divine action, but always a natural cause must be assumed to exist and must be sought for. This, it will be noted, is not a particular discovery of any particular science—like the Copernican hypothhesis, the Darwinian theory of evolution, or the geological disscovery of the immense age of the earth. It is a basic assumption of science as a whole. It is part of the scientific view of the world. And it is this general scientific view of the world, and not any particular discovery, which has worked havoc with religion.

No doubt in pre-scientific times there was belief in a general regularity of nature, the recurrence of cycles of events in accorddance with a reign of law. The sun rises regularly every day. The seasons return regularly every year. But within these general

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cycles there was still plenty of room left for divine intervention in details. Hence the possibility of miracles which could very well be fitted into the picture of a world which was, in its larger feaatures, regular and orderly. The thought which was born into the world with the new science of the seventeenth century, and which has become a part of the world-picture of the modern mind, is that every small detail of the world's happenings is completely determined by inflexible laws of nature—that if a grain of sand, or a single molecule of a grain of sand, moves a thousandth of a millimetre, this movement is wholly a predictable effect of pre-existent natural causes. This basic assumption of science has become, since the seventeenth century, a part of the unconscious mentality of the modern man. And it leaves no room for divine action in the world.

Nor has the recent discovery that electrons and other basic particles of matter are "indeterminate" in their movements in any way altered the picture. For in the first place a habit of mind has been created which cannot be thus airily waved aside by some sudden new pronouncement of the physicists. And apart from this, it would surely be absurd to suggest that belief in the indeterminacy of the electron is a return to belief in the supernatural, or that the apparently unaccountable and irregular jumps which the electrons make are cases of divine intervention. Either there are natural causes of these movements which have not yet been discovered or, as physicists seem to think is the case, there are no causes at all. If the latter is true, then causal laws do not operate in the smallest parts of nature. But nature still remains nature, and does not become supernatural by being non-causal. It would be thought just as "unscientific" to attribute the movements of electrons to the immediate action of God, because they are at present unexplained, as it would be to suppose that, because the origin of cosmic rays is unknown, they must be emitted by God.

If one admits the scientific maxim that every event in nature has a natural cause, it is still, of course, possible to bring in God

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at the beginning as a first cause. But this leads to the conception of a God who, since he does nothing in the world now, is of no practical importance in our lives.

By a little logical ingenuity one can, no doubt, avoid this result. One can suppose that God is operating all the time, but that he operates only through and by means of natural laws. The force of gravitation does not act by itself. It is God who is acting in this force at every moment. And so with all other natural laws. If he were not continually thus working in nature, gravitation and the other forces of nature would cease to act and nature would colllapse. God is, as it were, continually creating and re-creating nature. This hypothesis did in fact suggest itself to a few philoosophic minds, but it had no influence with the masses of men who continued to feel that God could only have acted at the beginning.

It must not be thought, of course, that these thoughts and difficulties have been explicitly realized in the minds of the masses. of men. Intellectuals have realized them, and their influence has, through devious channels, seeped down to tlle masses. The concept of a world wholly governed by natural forces forms in their minds a vague background unconsciously assumed. And they instinctively sense, rather than argue, that this excludes the superrnatural.

It is instructive to note that the influence of the new worlddpicture has been steadily and progressively increasing since Newton's time. We see this if we look first at Newton himself, then at Berkeley, an eighteenth century philosopher intermediate beetween Newton's time and ours, and then finally at our own age. In spite of the fact that Newton was the creator of the modern world-view, its hold on his own mind was comparatively weak. This is shown by his way of dealing with the problem of the irregularities of the planetary motions. The concept of a world completely ruled by natural laws, admitting no capricious interventions of the Deity, was the basis of his own science. His celestial mechanics would not have worked if he had not assumed that the planets move under the influence of the law of gravitation

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alone. They would not have worked if unexpected interventions of God at any moment had been admitted. Nevertheless he was prepared to admit an exception in the matter of the irregularities of the planets.

Berkeley in the eighteenth century introduced into his philosophy the notion of the complete regularity of the order of nature. Although he accepted the conventional belief in miracles, Newton's idea of exceptions to the natural order plays no part in his system. To that extent, it may be said, the new world-picture has a greater hold on him than it had on Newton. Nevertheless, in a curious manner which is characteristic of him, he introduces God to fill up a gap which would otherwise have existed in his philosophy. Berkeley was the author of the famous idealistic theory according to which material objects can only exist when they are being perceived by a mind. Their existence consists in their being perceived. For what is a material object except a collection of qualities, such as color, hardness or softness, hotness or coldness, roughness or smoothness, scent, taste, sound, etc.? There is nothing else in the object beyond these qualities. If you say there is something else, point it out. Try the experiment. Take any material thing you like, say this piece of paper. It is white, smooth, soft, cool, oblong, etc. These are its qualities. Can you find anyything else in it? You can cut it up into small pieces, atoms if you like, and you can say that it consists of these atoms. But the atoms themselves will be nothing but collections of qualities, hardness, weight, roundness, etc. But these qualities which make up all objects turn out to be, when you examine them, nothing but sensations. The hardness of a thing is perceived, say, by pressing it with the finger or some other part of the body. What is it but a sensation in the finger or other part of the body? And this sensation, though, in one sense, we locate it in our finger, is, in another sense, in our mind, in our consciousness. For a sensation could not exist unless we were conscious of it. An unconscious man does not have sensations. The same is true of hotness and colddness. What is hotness except a sensation which we feel when we come near a fire? So, too, color is a visual sensation. It is per-

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ceived by the eye, no doubt. But it can only exist in a mind which is conscious of it. Thus all qualities are sensations which can exist only in minds when those minds perceive them. Therefore a material object, since it consists only of qualities, and these qualities are sensations in minds, can only exist when some mind perceives it. The whole world consists only of minds and the sensations which those minds have.

But there seems to be one obvious difficulty here. If the piece of paper exists only when it is being perceived, what happens to it when no one is perceiving it? While I am typing this page there is no one in the room except myself, and I am at this moment perceiving it. It exists accordingly as a set of sensations in my mmd. But what happens to it when I turn my back and no longer look at it? Or what happens to it if I go out of the room and leave it here? Must it not, on Berkeley's theory, cease to exist because it is no longer perceived? Of course when I turn round again or come back into the room I see it again. Am I then to suppose that, after ceasing to exist when I ceased to perceive it, it comes back into existence when I begin to perceive it again? Does not all this follow from Berkeley's theory that the existence of material objects consists in their being perceived, so that they do not exist except when they are being perceived? And are not these consequences plainly absurd?

But Berkeley has a ready answer. He never said that the existence of the object consists in our perceiving it. He said only that its existence consists in its being perceived by some mind. Thus when I am looking at the paper it exists as a collection of sensations in my mind. When you are looking at it, it still exists, even though I have turned my back, because there are the sensations of it in your mind. What then happens to it when no human mind is perceiving it? Is there not in the universe, asks Berkeley, a being, a mind, which never sleeps, which never turns its back, which, being omniscient, is always conscious of everything, the mind of God? Material objects then do not cease to exist when human beings cease to perceive them. They continue to exist as ideas or sensations in the mind of God. Thus Berkeley,

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though he does not introduce God into the world-scheme to explain any irregular motions of the lanets, introduces him to explain the continued existence of objects when men do not perceive them. And there is no reason to suppose that his eighteenth century readers, whether they happened to accept his idealistic philosophy or not, saw anything specially wrong with the way in which he introduced God into his system. Thus the exclusion of the supernatural by the concept of a world wholly governed by natural laws had not completely dominated the mentality of that time. We have in Berkeley a halfway house between Newton and the present day.

If we look, finally, at the present time, we note two things. First, Newton's way of explaining the planetary deviations would utterly scandalize even the most religious scientist today. The scientific dogma that no phenomenon whatever, however myssterious it may seem, is to be explained by supernatural causes, has hardened into an "absolute" since Newton's time. There must be no exceptions to natural law anywhere. It is the settled proceedure of science that if there is a phenomenon which we are at present unable to explain by natural causes, such causes must nevertheless exist and must be sought for. And even if a phenomenon is found for which it is believed that no cause can be assigned, such as the indeterminate movement of the electron, this is not then set down as caused by God, but rather as showing that the law of causation does not apply in the sub-atomic world.

The second thing to note is that the exclusion of God as a philosophical principle of explanation has also hardened since Berkeley's time. One must not have a deux ex machina in one's philosophy. If there is a gap or a hole in a system of philosophy, it must not be filled up by the "arbitrary" introduction of God. Why not? The only reason which can be given is that it is assumed, following the example of science, that the whole universe must be explained solely by natural causes, and that the introduction of a supernatural concept is illegitimate.

A curious piece of evidence can be given to show that this thought is not confined to professional philosophers or other

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intellectuals, but has also come to govern the minds of quite unlearned persons. Anyone who has had the experience of introducing Berkeley's philosophy to a miscellaneous group of freshman or sophomore students taking their first course in philosophy will know that, when they are told how Berkeley answered the objection that on his principles the piece of paper ought to cease to exist when we cease to perceive it, they instinctively revolt. They regard the fact that he could not explain this without introoducing God to keep the universe going as a glaring weakness in his system. They say that his philosophy would plainly fall to the ground unless it were "bolstered up" in this way.

What, however, is wrong with God as an hypothesis? Scientific procedure simply consists in introducing hypotheses (for which there is often no direct evidence) in order to "bolster up" the system of thought which science has developed. If the physicist finds that electrons and protons are insufficient to explain obbserved phenomena, he plugs the hole with new hypotheses, positrons, neutrons; mesons, etc. If it can be said that Berkeley "drags in" God to make his system work, then it may equally be said that the physicists of the nineteenth century "dragged in" the ether of space, and that the physicists of today "drag in" neutrons and mesons for the same reason—to make their systems work. It cannot be said that there is a difference because scientists always have independent evidence of the existence of the entities which they postulate. For this is simply not the case. For instance, there is no evidence of waves of any kind in space except that the supposition of their existence helps to explain the observed facts about light, heat, etc. No one has ever seen the waves themselves. Men have only observed the effects of which the waves are suppposed to be the causes. What then is the difference between waves as an hypothesis and God as an hypothesis? From a logical point of view there is none at all. And if the one hypothesis is logically respectable, so is the other.

Why then do students, why does the modern mind in general, object to Berkeley's procedure? Why is it plastered with smear

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phrases like "drag in," "bolster up," "deus ex machina"? Because, although it does not conflict with any principles of logic, it conflicts with the scientific maxim that all facts are to be accounted for by natural causes, and that God is never to be introduced as an explanation of anything. Beginning students do not, of course, argue the matter out. If you ask them why they revolt against Berkeley's hypothesis, they do not know. They simply feel that it is objectionable. And this shows that the scientific world-picture has penetrated the marrow of our minds. It has become an unconscious background of all human thinking. It is no longer the mere abstract theory of intellectuals. It has sunk into the depths of human personality.

We have studied so far the effects of the scientific revolution on the idea of God. This was the first of the three ideas which we saw to be essential parts of the pre-scientific world-view. The second idea to which we now turn, is that of the teleological character of the world. The third, the belief that the world is a moral order, will form the subject of the next chapter.

What was the effect of the rise of science on the belief that there is a world plan or purpose? It goes without saying that diminution of effective belief in God will be accompanied by diminution of effective belief in a world-purpose. For the two ideas are, of course, intimately connected. A divine being and a divine purpose seem to imply each other. Nevertheless they are two distinct ideas which it is better to keep separate. As we have seen, it is quite possible to believe, in some vague way, in a purpose of nature without any theistic implications.

Belief in a world-purpose was, we saw, a part of the intelllectual heritage of the western world for two thousand years, from the time of Socrates until the seventeenth century. What happened to it as a result of the birth of the scientific spirit? .

The comparison between Newton's solar system and a clock is an obvious one. The point about the clock is that once it has been wound up it runs itself because it is provided with its own

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force in the spring. The spring which runs the solar system is the force of gravitation. The planets too resemble wheels. The solar system not only resembles a clock; it is one, for it keeps perfect time.

Thus arose the idea of "Newton's world-machine." The thought that the universe is a machine spread like wildfire through Europe. Not only is the world as a whole a machine, but everything in it is mechanical. Hobbes compared the human body to a machine. "What," he wrote, "is the heart but a spring, and the nerves but so many strings, and the joints but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body?" Hobbes lived before Newton's discovery of gravitation, but the mechanical view of nature was already in the air, and Newton's solar clock merely clinched it. Hume in the eighteenth century wrote: "Look around the world. You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, sub-divided into an infinite number of lesser machines."

Now if everything in the world is a machine, then everything that happens in it can be explained mechanically, and teleological explanation is excluded, or at least becomes unnecessary. I have already shown that mechanical explanation does not really exclude teleology. That the man's climbing the hill is caused by nerve currents and muscle contractions does not render it untrue that he climbs in order to see the view from the top. That a watch's movements can all be explained as caused by its spring does not alter the fact that the watch exists for the purpose of telling the time. In the same way the world may be a machine, but it does not follow that it has no purpose.

This means that the jump from the mechanical conception of nature, which science has introduced, to a view of the world as having no purpose, is not a logical transition. It also means that however mechanistic science may be, the denial of a world-purpose does not follow from it. Science is logically irrelevant to the question of teleology. Nevertheless the modern mind has made the illogical jump. The conviction of the utter purposelessness of things is one of its main characteristics. I shall present some evidence of this in a moment. But first let us consider how

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the rise of science, by a process of psychological suggestion and not by logic could have brought about such a result.

Scientific explanation and mechanical explanation are one and the same thing. A fact is explained scientifically when its cause is given. It comes to the same thing to say that it is explained by being shown to be a particular case of a general principle or law. Science is thus wholly mechanistic. And this has not been altered by recent scientific advances. For any explanation is mechanical which is in terms of causes or laws and not in terms of purposes. And recent physics does not explain events by means of purposes.

We can see at once, then, one of the trains of thought which has led to the fading out of teleology from the modern mind. Any explanation, to be scientific, must be mechanical. For seventeenth century science, as we have seen, excluded teleology and decided to include in science only mechanical causation. Therefore a teleological explanation is "unscientific." Therefore it is bad, and not worthy of the modern mind. The absurdity of such a line of thought is, of course, obvious. Why should it be supposed that science has the key to everything? May there not be aspects of existence which lie outside science? But science is the idol of the modern world, blindly worshipped by the gaping hordes of the unscientific. This, one might say, is the general cause of the disrepute into which teleology has fallen. But there are more particular causes to which we must draw attention.

The tremendous importance given by the science of the seventeenth century to the concept of mechanism simply crowded out the concept of teleology from men's minds, caused it to be obliterated and forgotten. The enormous success of Newtonian science dazzled western man. Throughout the middle ages men talked of purposes, gave teleological explanations of eclipses, rainbows, and earthquakes, and got, scientifically, nowhere. Medieval science stagnated, or was practically non-existent. For a thousand years no scientific discoveries of importance were made. Why? Because men looked for God's purposes in things instead of for their causes. The new science came with its mechanical explanaations, and all became luminous and clear. Knowledge leapt for-

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ward. The sheer success of mechanical explanation from Newton's time to the present day has been spectacular. Why? Because scientIsts stopped thinking about purposes and concentrated on causes. Has not the whole of modern "progress" been due to this one fact alone? Is it any wonder then that the world abandoned teleology?

Another point deserves attention. We see that a mechanical explanation of a phenomenon is a complete explanation. It is not as if mechanism partly prevails in the world but there are gaps left in its explanations which have to be filled in by teleology. There are no gaps. The movements of the planets, for example, are entirely explained by gravitation and the laws of motion. To predict an eclipse of the sun, one does not need to know the purpose of eclipses in the plan of nature—if they have any. Indeed, to know the purpose would be useless. To predict a 'phenomenon, what one needs to know is its causes—that and nothing else. But if mechanical explanations are in this way complete explanations, what is the necessity or use of seeking some other kind of explanation as well? Thus teleological explanations, even if they exist, naturally fall into the background and are forgotten. And if this is true of the particular happenings, such as eclipses, which make up the world, will it not be true of the world as a whole? The very idea of a world-purpose ceases to be operative in an age dominated by the scientific spirit.

These then seem to be the basic psychological transitions which have led the modern mind to forget the concept of a world-purpose. Thus it came about that for the old imaginative picture of a world governed by divine purposes there gradually came to be substituted the imaginative picture of a purposeless world.

But has this really happened? Does the modern mind deny that there is any plan or purpose in things? Who denies it?

There are certainly plenty of intellectuals who deny it, or who would, if pressed, at least take up an agnostic position as regards it. For instance, Bertrand Russell, after giving some account of science, wrote in a famous passage: "Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which

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science presents for our belief."[2] The important question, however, is how far this conception of a purposeless world has passed down from the intellectuals to the masses of plain men. Regarding this, it is in the nature of the case difficult to find much positive evidence. Very few people, of course, make such explicit statements as "The world has no purpose," just as they do not make. such statements as "There is no God." No poll has been taken, so far as I know, in which people were asked: "Do you believe that the world has a purpose?" If such a poll were taken it would be surprising if at least ninety-five per cent did not reply yes. And no doubt vague thoughts of a purpose in things flit through almost everyone's mind at times. There must be very few people who, have not at some time stood out under the stars at night and wondered what is the purpose of all these wheeling orbs. Thus the idea of a world-purpose has not been eradicated wholly from the human mind. But how effective is it?

I suggest that current literature and art, which presumably reflect the general Weltanschauung of the age, are impregnated with a sense of the futility and senselessness of things. If the world as a whole is meaningless and purposeless, so also is human life, and that human life is thus meaningless seems to be the main message of much modern literature. There is a contrast here between the present and the past. To the great dramatists of all time human life has always appeared tragic. But some pattern—if only a pattern of Fate—could be traced in it. It has been left for the modern age to find life literally senseless. And does not the discordant character of modern music tell the same tale? Is it too far-fetched to suggest that the older more harmonious music reflected the idea of a world made harmonious by its obedience to a divine plan, while current music by its jarring discords sugggests the uselessness of all things and all life?

Of course, other explanations can be given of these facts. Two world wars caused widespread disillusionment and despair. For this reason alone the system of things seems senseless to many.

2 "A Free Man's Worship," in Mysticism and Logic (New York: Longmans, Green & Co.).

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It cannot be doubted that this diagnosis is true. Yet I cannot beelieve that there is not a deeper cause as well. And I find it in the scientific picture of a mechanical world. Certainly the idea of a purposeless world had infected philosophers before the First World War. Witness Bertrand Russell's remark which I quoted above. It was first printed in 1903.

Much of the darkness, perplexity, and loss of sanity in the modern world, perhaps even the vast increase in the number of neurotic individuals and nervous breakdowns in our time, can be traced back ultimately to that loss of faith in the existence of any purpose or plan in the world-process which has been one of the major results of the work of the mainly devout and pious men who were the founders of modern science. Sensitive scientific men may protest that not science, but misunderstandings of science, have been the source of the modern Weltanschauung. This is quite true. We have been at pains to insist that the conclusions which men have drawn from science do not follow from it by any correct logic. That many of those who have drawn these conclusions have themselves been men of science makes no difference. It is childish to ask whose fault it is. We are not concerned either with blaming science or with relieving it from blame. We have been concerned only with trying to describe what has happened.

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Next: The Consequences for Morals






W.T. Stace: Mysticism and Philosophy

W.T. Stace: Religion and the Modern Mind

W.T. Stace: Theory of Existence and Knowledge

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.
         ... W. T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind