In periods of drastic social change, religions also change. An established religious tradition, which may have given clear meaning in a previous state of society, may at a later date become inadequate to make sense. At that time, the traditional religion comes under strong criticism, both from within and from without, by men we sometimes call prophets or reformers. The more radical the changes, the more it seems as though the older religion were about to fade away, and the death of its gods may be proclaimed along with the forthcoming demise of the establishment.
But history thus far bears witness to the phoenix-like rise of a reformed religion out of the ashes of the old. The central treasure or heart message remains, although cleansed of some of its impurities.
Our topic focuses attention on a critical contemporary issue. The power and weakness of organized religion, the relation of the religious traditions and institutions to the search for solutions to pressing human problems, and the radical criticism of all religion in the name of a secular hope are obvious aspects of our present situation. The terms priests, prophets, and establishment come out of the history of religion, particularly of Western religion. We are required, therefore, to analyze the traditional meanings of these terms, if we are to understand the issues concerning religious living which we face today.
A simple view of the matter would be that the establishment means the religious institutions with their organized power, their privileged status, their respectability as maintainers of the status quo. The establishment can be understood simply as the alliance of political power with religious prestige and organization. Priests are chaplains to the establishment, and the prophets, when they are not smothered by it, are the critics who set us free from its dead weight. This is a common view found among both liberal and radical critics of the religious tradition. Our topic calls to mind a saying of Walter Rauschenbusch, leader of the Social Gospel movement, The kingdom of God breeds prophets; the church breeds priests and theologians.¹
It will be a primary aim of this paper to show that this is too simple a view of religion in any culture, including our present culture. It is important, first of all, to treat these three elements as functions, not simply as offices. I shall consider the nature of the priestly and the prophetic functions, and the function of establishment as a social and political power. The interrelations of these three functions are complex. Drastic changes are taking place in our present society; but my thesis is that the functions of priesthood, prophecy, and establishment are perennial. The critical issues today concern the form and reform of these functions, not their elimination. …
¹ Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Macmillan Co., 1918), p. 137.
Daniel Day Williams is professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
Commentary on Priests, Prophets, and the Establishment by Sanborn C. Brown
From the point of view of a scientist interested in religion in an age of science, I will first comment on Dr. Williams statement that Past prophecy has moved at a profound moral level, but it has on the whole been separated from technical knowledge. It is possible that in our time the prophetic function will appear most powerfully where it joins an ultimate moral sensitivity to a technical grasp of the structures and dynamics of human existence.
I am persuaded that the present-day prophets (using the term as Williams has defined it) come from among the ranks of the scientists. Contrary to some of Williams remarks, I do not believe the scientists are priests and most emphatically doubt that they should be.
I am not so foolish as to contend that all scientists are prophets. But when, as I am about to do, I reproduce Williams characterization of prophets and ask you to use the word scientist for prophet, I mean an individual appearing as rarely as the prophets of the Old Testament and with an equal commitment to reality and credibility, but in a modern scientific manner. …
Sanborn C. Brown is professor of physics and associate dean of the Graduate School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
An Essay on Religion in an Age of Science: Reflections upon the Words Salvation, Fulfilment, and Success by Richard A. Underwood
Choosing to view them as entrees into more basic issues rather than as objects for specific investigation, I see two fundamental questions emerging from reflection upon the words salvation, fulfillment, and success.
The first question to be considered is that of language and world. This will be dealt with in Part I. As will become clear, my own approach to this question will be neither that of scientific linguistics nor that of linguistic analysis. Rather, it will be roughly phenomenological and existentialist.
The nature of the second question follows from the observation that the three words of the subtitle can be interpreted as representing a perspective on life and a discipline of thinking which either have had or do have considerable, if not overwhelming, cultural significance. Salvation represents the perspective of religion and theology; fulfillment represents the perspective of psychology; success represents the perspective of pragmatic philosophy and, by implication, the whole range of science. Here, it seems to me, will be found the most crucial issues with the most direct bearing on the over-all theme of religion in an age of science. Taken together, the rise, transformation, and interrelationship of these perspectives issue in what I am calling, in Part II, Western mans new experience. Part II of this essay, therefore, will attempt to delineate more specifically the aspects of this new experience.
Finally, in a concluding and anticipatory section, the essay will attempt to spell out some of the implications of both Part I and Part II for an appropriate contemporary understanding of the religio-theological enterprise in an age of science. …
Richard A. Underwood is associate professor of philosophy of religion at the Hartford Seminary Foundation.
Complementarity and Theological Paradox by William H. Austin
The dogmas of religion are the attempts to formulate in precise terms the truths disclosed in the religious experience of mankind. In exactly the same way the dogmas of physical science are the attempts to formulate in precise terms the truths disclosed in the sense-perception of mankind.¹
This dictum of Whiteheads suggests that theology, like physics, should be regarded as a sort of theoretical interpretation of experience and thus as a sort of science, albeit an odd one. Such a suggestion will at once call forth several objections, of which two of the more immediate are that theological statements are not falsifiable and that religious experience is an obscure and dubious concept. The present essay, however, is concerned with a third objection, and touches hardly at all on these two. Religious discourse, it is often remarked, abounds in paradoxes; if we are to grant it any sort of significance at all, therefore, we should regard theology as akin to poetry, rather than to science. Philip Wheelwright, for instance, sees paradox as one of the common characteristics of religious, mythic, and poetic discourse, which he groups together under the heading of depth language as opposed to the steno language of science and everyday practical literality.² Where Wheelwright says depth language, of course, some will say nonsense or emotive language, etc.
But is science free from paradoxes? We are often told that physicists, in order to give a full account of the experimental evidence pertaining to light and matter at the atomic order of magnitude, are constrained to use apparently incompatible concepts and pictures or models. Of the great historically rival accounts of the nature of light, the wave theory and the particle theory, both must be pressed into service to account for the phenomena. If we allow ourselves to be pressured into answering the question Which is it? we shall have to say Both—even though it evidently cannot be both. If such is the case in physics, why should it be surprising that theologians sometimes speak in paradoxical ways? Reality is too rich for our concepts. So runs a familiar line of argument.
In this paper, then, I attempt to investigate the validity of the proposed analogy between the wave-particle duality and the paradoxes of religious discourse. The program of the investigation has four stages. First, I will try to clarify the notion of paradox by means of a definition and some examples. In the second section, I give a brief indication of the grounds for speaking of a wave-particle duality in microphysics and propose an interpretation of the principle of complementarity, which Niels Bohr developed to account for the necessity of the duality. The heart of the proposal is a suggestion that complementarity be regarded as a particular relation between two models used in microphysical inquiry. But most theological traditions hold that the religious ultimate (God or Nirvana or Brahman-Atman) is a mystery beyond the reach of our inquiry, and indeed that it is because the theologian tries to talk about a mystery that he must stammer in paradoxes. If theology is paradoxical because it attempts to deal with mystery, then (one is tempted to argue) its paradoxes must not be amenable to a complementarist interpretation. In the third section of the essay, I develop this argument a bit and suggest reasons for regarding it as inconclusive. We are then left with the task of judging whether a complementary use of models lies behind at least some theological paradoxes; the essay concludes with some suggestions as to how that task might be tackled. …
¹ A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: Macmillan Co., 1926), p.58.
² Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1954), passim.
William H. Austin is assistant professor of philosophy at Rice University.
Complementarity without Paradox: A Physicists Reply to Professor Austin by James L. Park
Probably because of the spectacular achievements of physics within its own proper domain of competence, the great ideas underpinning that science have always tended to fascinate scholars in other, sometimes remote, academic fields. As a result, in a basically commendable interdisciplinary spirit, attempts have occasionally been made to adapt certain especially attractive physical principles to problems associated with areas as diverse as biology, psychology, law, economics, theology, and others. Unfortunately, scholarly projects in this vein have, perhaps more often than not, been characterized by flagrant misinterpretations and grotesque distortions of the very physics which presumably motivated such endeavors in the first place.
The nineteenth century saw attempts to relate the concept entropy to certain interpretations of the cryptic imagery of the biblical Book of Revelation. In this century the two great modern physical principles relativity and complementarity have regularly been invoked by advocates of verbally similar principles in non-physical fields. Consider, for example, the doctrines of cultural relativity, aesthetic relativity, and moral relativity. Are these ideas related to Einsteins physical relativity in any way more profound than identity of nomenclature? It seems doubtful. Similarly, but to a lesser extent than relativity, Bohrs complementarity has been extended in several directions by replacing its original technical meaning in quantum mechanics by vague notions which have all the logical value of mere puns on the word complementarity. …
James L. Park is assistant professor of physics at Washington State University.
On Lifes Purpose: Scientific Contributions and Religious Goals by Herbert H. Uhlig
Mans search for the meaning of life has been expressed since earliest times in his religious beliefs. The dramatic events of birth and death in an otherwise routine struggle to stay alive must particularly have awakened in him a primitive consciousness of pattern and plan. As he evolved into a more rational being, it was irrational that the coming and going of endless human generations, each facing similar problems and reaching anew for tenuous happiness, should have no significance. Somewhere in time, life presumably had a beginning and purpose, and somewhere there must be an end and a fulfillment of that purpose. Although this faith continues to be assailed by the skeptics, all religions of the world embrace it in some degree.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the faith that life has purpose is summarized in the Scriptures, combined with an extensive effort to document it in the record of the experiences and struggles of the Hebrew people. Throughout the various chapters, the Scriptures portray a developing purpose and meaning of life, synonymous with an evolving concept of God.
It was much later in the sequence of human progression that man systematically questioned and explored both himself and his surroundings and when the modern scientific point of view began to exert its effect on human consciousness. This new outlook brought many fundamental changes within a remarkably short time, considering that the scientific method was introduced not much earlier than the time of Galileo, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It brought the new point of view that philosophizing about God and nature, popularized by the Greeks, had its inconsistencies and hazards and that more was to be gained by probing nature and humbly seeking the answers with which nature responded. The emphasis was placed not so much on what was intuitively rational as on what actually happened. …
Herbert H. Uhlig is professor in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Believing Science and Unbelieving Science: Reflections on the Basic Conflict of Ancient and Modern Philosophy of Science by Harry Neumann
It is not belief that is opposed to science. Believing science stands opposed to unbelieving science.
There can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction of the existence of an Order of Things, and, in particular of an Order of Nature. … Some variant of Humes philosophy has generally prevailed among men of science. But scientific faith has risen to the occasion, and has tacitly removed the philosophic mountain.
[A. N. Whitehead]
As for philosophy, its profession of operating on the basis of the eternal and the immutable is what commits it to a function and a subject matter which, more than anything else, are the cause of the growing popular disesteem and distrust of its pretensions.
Faith is mans inescapable basic essence. Knowledge can never replace it.
One sometimes hears of a basic conflict between science or philosophy and religion. Science, it is claimed, discourages the recourse to faith on which religion is based. Scientific knowledge is said to arise from rational insight, while religious commitment is dependent upon a faith incapable of scientific verification. The present paper contends that modern notions of scientific cognition are not so antithetical to biblical faith as is the concept of science championed by Greek philosophy. The real enemies of a believing science (a science based on some hypothesis, faith, or opinion and not on infallible, rational insight) are Plato and Aristotle, not Bacon and Galileo, or even Nietzsche. …
Harry Neumann is associate professor of philosophy at Scripps College. This essay was assisted by a research grant from the Ford Foundation and Scripps College.
Religion: An Anthropological View by Anthony C. Wallace, reviewed by Margaret Mead
Neil R. Jordahl; Meadville Theological School
This section comments on Believing and Knowing: The Meaning of Truth in Biblical Religion and in Science by Emerson W. Shideler; The New Christianity: An Anthology of the Rise of Modern Religious Thought edited by William Robert Miller; and The Challenge of Science by George Boas.