THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 9, July, 1940
(Pages 408-414; Size: 22K)
(Number 84 of a 103-part series)



AN odd reluctance characterized the opening of the present European war, giving the impression of masses on both sides which have been forced into hell, not of their own usual eager will, but by causes unthinkingly set in motion and now mutually regretted. But it shows more than that. There are some signs that not only can the masses learn -- even though too late -- but that even some use of past experience can be made by scientists and preachers. In the past, the facility with which science has turned from Minerva's feet to embrace the bloody greaves of Mars has been equalled only by the facility of the church's abandonment of Christ for Jehovah.

This time the enthusiasm of both turncoats is dim. The church seems in some doubt as to just what to pray for, or, in fact, whether to pray at all; and finally ends in safely praying for peace -- without too closely specifying what sort. Cassandra has been crying through the pages of the scientific journals for months, and at times has even almost forgotten the conventional apologetics.

The possibility of international co-ordination of scientific efforts for peace has been in the air for some time. Such a proposal was made to the British Association in 1937, and this year was again stirred up by a letter addressed to that body by a journalist. The New York Times of Oct. 17, 1938, called for organization which shall indicate how the objective attitude of the laboratory may be applied in governing a people, in breaking down prejudices, in preventing war, in solving problems that mean progress not in one country alone but the world over.
The Baltimore Sun received the proposal coolly:
It remains to be seen whether, with the best will in the world, even the scientists, who, after all, are citizens, too, will be able not only to pool their intellectual resources but agree upon how these resources are to be used, and who is to use them and for what ends.
This argument is not new. In 1650, when war was already being defined in modern terms as "measures reluctantly undertaken to compel friendly relations,"
...the commander-in-chief of the Polish army, Colonel-General Kasimir Siemienowicz, even evolved a philosophy of chemical warfare. He related that in his time it was a custom that "all those who wished to practice the art of pyrotechny were required to swear an oath that they would never manufacture any globes containing poison -- and never make use of such for the slaughter of men." But, he continued: "It is nevertheless quite right and reasonable and proper for the most pious Christians among us to use these projectiles, not, indeed, against other Christians, but against Turks, Tartars, and other infidels."
Noble as were those sentiments, a keen student might detect therein a certain hiatus of ethical continuity which may have been somewhat indicative of the then future of Europe. In 1670, Father Francesco Lana had some concerns over his invention of an airship, credited with being the first. He wrote:
Other Difficulties I see not, which may be objected against this Invention, besides one which to me seems greater than all the rest, and that is, That it may be thought, that God will never suffer this Invention to take effect, because of the many consequences which may disturb the Civil Government of men. For who sees not, that no City can be secure against attack, since our Ship may at any time be placed directly over it, and descending down may discharge Souldiers; the same would happen to private Houses, and Ships on the Sea: for our Ship descending out of the Air to the sails of Sea-Ships, it may cut their Ropes, yea without descending by casting Grapples it may over-set them, kill their men, burn their Ships by artificial Fire works and Fire-balls. And this they may do not only to Ships but to great Buildings, Castles, Cities, with such security that they which cast these things down from a height out of Gun-shot, cannot on the other side be offended by those below.(1)
About 1500 Leonardo Da Vinci, inventor of the first submarine, wrote:
How by an appliance many are able to remain for some time under water. How and why I do not describe my method of remaining under water for as long a time as I can remain without food; and this I do not publish or divulge on account of the evil nature of men who would practice assassination at the bottom of the seas, by breaking the ships in their lowest parts and sinking them together with the crews who are in them; and although I will furnish particulars of others they are such as are not dangerous, for above the surface of the water emerges the mouth of the tube by which they draw in breath, supported upon wine-skins or pieces of cork.(2)
Would that modern scientists had that much responsibility! In 1937, the retiring President of the American Association said:
I know of no matter of greater concern to men of science and the general public than science in its relation to ethics. I know full well that there are many scientific specialists who maintain that science has no concern with ethics, its sole function being to seek the truth concerning nature irrespective of how this truth may affect the weal or woe of mankind. They may recognize that the use of science for evil threatens peace and progress, but they feel no responsibility to help avert disaster.(3)
Science approvingly prints a 1938 editorial from the Washington Post, which runs in part:
For science has made an enormous contribution to the forces that today are threatening to wreck our civilization. Men in laboratories have unloosed powers that mankind is not yet able to control intelligently. New inventions intended to relieve drudgery and toil have been perverted into instruments of destruction. Our greater facilities for the production of goods have, paradoxically, accentuated the problem of economic instability for millions of families.... It is not enough for the world's leading thinkers to provide the tools of progress. A much bigger task is to teach mankind to use those tools.

There is a growing awareness in the world that the successful search for truth does not assure the advance of civilization. If the findings of science should lead only to economic changes, without any comparable development of social, cultural and spiritual qualities, the ultimate result might be only disillusionment and chaos.(4)

The Post thinks that proper control can be acquired only by the co-operation of other enlightened interests.

Dr. Harold G. Moulton muses over the worries of Carrel and Fosdick:

The enormous advance gained by the sciences of inanimate matter over those of living things is one of the greatest catastrophes ever suffered by humanity. The environment born of our intelligence and our inventions is adjusted neither to our stature nor to our shape. We are unhappy. We degenerate morally and mentally. The groups and the nations in which industrial civilisation has attained its highest development are precisely those which are becoming weaker. And whose return to barbarism is the most rapid. But they do not realize it. They are without protection against the hostile surroundings that science has built about them....

This is the supreme question before us. All other problems that confront us are merely its corollaries. And the necessity of a right answer is perhaps more immediate than we realize. For science is not standing still.... There lies in full view before us a realm of discovery in physical science till now untrodden by mortals even in their dreams.(5)

"Even in their nightmares" would have been still better.

An engineer's misgivings are pronounced by Prof. R. V. Southwell, though his conscience does not seem to hurt quite as much as some of the others, and he ends up with the ancient, comforting orthodox ending: "after all, there are no ghosts!"(6) ("It really isn't our fault.")

Dr. Wesley Mitchell enumerates at length the woes brought on by uncontrolled science, laying the trouble to the greater difficulty and hence lack of development of the social sciences.(7)

Another adverse opinion is worth quoting because it is exactly the same as our own and that of H. P. Blavatsky -- except for the dubious meaning of the word "God":

It is a clever, cynical and hard-bitten world that science is making, one in which the idealistic and the spiritual are bound to have a diminishing place. Viewed against a background of classical education science has been a disadvantage to our society. If the most important questions of mankind are those concerning spiritual relations with one another and with God, then science is not to be taken seriously. Through dazzling discovery and successful practical application science gives a sense of power that is both demoralizing and dangerous. We are given an enormous driving force that does not permit us to be as bad or as foolish as we could be with impunity down to the middle of the eighteenth century. The impact of science on our morality, individual and national, is evil unless we rise successfully to the test of our character and moral traditions. Science has taught us analysis, but we have had as yet no large-scale and equally successful synthetic constructions that bear on human conduct. The mass mind seizes and acts upon perverted ideas of scientific generalization. Darwin's "survival of the fittest" encourages men to be brutal; Freud's "don't repress," to indulge their passions; Einstein's "relativity," to think that truth doesn't exist and doesn't matter.(8)
Dr. Harlan True Stetson thinks that "Science finds itself in a strange dilemma. It has made life easier and added to man's happiness and at the same time, in the event of war, it clouds the future with unspeakable horrors."(9) He concludes with the suggestion that the American Association for the Advancement of Science may be the proper body to inaugurate a scientific control of science. Frederick Osborn asks how far a "science of man" is "possible" -- a significant question, since all the others will agree that it is essential. He thinks, not too positively, that it may be possible, given certain conditions, but also thinks religion is essential along with it.(10) Dr. Karl T. Compton deals with the role of religion in a scientific world. His views may be summed up in the following:
All the preceding remarks bear on the much-discussed question: "Is there a conflict between science and religion?" I believe it may be helpful to point out that the answer to this question depends upon the claims of the religion. If a religion essays to make pronouncements regarding the materials, laws and forces of nature, whether laws of physics or astronomy in the inanimate world or laws of biology or heredity in the animate world, then the religion will certainly come sooner or later into conflict with advancing knowledge of science, and will certainly be the loser in the conflict.(11)
In other words, religion does not conflict with science so long as it avoids anything rational, and religion must always lose when it does deal with anything rational. Without question, Dr. Compton would call Theosophy a "religion," and its unbroken series of victories over mistaken scientific ideas for the past twenty-five years would not bother him because he has not read about them. He closes with a remark which leaves us -- as is usual with such pronouncements -- thoroughly in the dark as to just what he means by "religion":
Science has therefore had tremendous influence in shifting the emphasis of religion from the physical to the spiritual world and we must not shut our eyes to the possibility of still further powerful influence of this sort.

Science has thus contributed to the making of religion into a developing, dynamic spiritual force. I believe that the principal influence of science upon religion has been along the following lines. First, to break down "authority" and substitute reason based upon facts of observation. Second, to eliminate superstition and chicanery from religion. Third, to doom any religion of the static type and emphasize the necessity of a continual development of religious thought to keep pace with and interpret the increasing knowledge regarding all matters which pertain to man's activities and environment.

This is sheer gibbering, with all respects to a man who knows well enough how to express himself intelligently in his own field. How can the complete emasculation of religion, to the point where it has lost all practical influence on human conduct, be "making it into a developing dynamic, spiritual force"? If it is the legitimate role of religion to "keep pace with and interpret the increasing knowledge regarding all matters which pertain to man's activities and environment," and if religion must always come into conflict with and lose to science whenever it "essays to make pronouncements regarding the materials, laws, and forces of nature ... biology or heredity in the animate world," then we had better forget religion altogether, for such religion could be nothing but a servile reflector of scientific speculation.

None of this discussion makes sense, because it postulates conditions in the scientific world which have never existed and never can exist. It assumes that a substantial majority of scientists shall, first, be willing to put humanity before their personal interests, and second, that those upon whom they depend for their livings and laboratories shall do the same things. Few scientists meet the first qualification; none can assure the second. And almost all are victims of the complete paralysis of the spiritual will which follows upon the adoption of a fundamentally materialistic viewpoint. Not in a single one of the foregoing discussions appears the faintest suspicion of a higher destiny or higher nature in man than the material -- unless Compton's obfuscations can be counted as such; nowhere appears any idea that man can have any higher destiny than to be a successful animal, his supreme practical achievement to "eat, drink, and be merry," his ultimate ethical achievement to do this without harming others.

So long as that is all the scientist has to offer, the mass mind of man -- ten per cent outright criminal and eighty per cent irresponsible on its own record -- will continue to use the scientist to suit its own animal will. The science of the only bygone age which paralleled our own development solved its problem by the complete reduction of itself and its civilization to a faint traditional echo. Knowledge survived and its "practical" applications have ever since been held closely guarded from human lunacy, up to this our present day when the modern intellectual burglar is succeeding in jimmying once more Nature's lethal safes.

The scientific dilemma is not academic to the theosophists of the coming generation, who may find themselves in the scientific ranks in ever-increasing numbers, and will, on the material side, find themselves as subject to economic necessities as any of the quoted unfortunates. But they can bore within as did the theosophists of the Dark Ages, who so often found shelter under the very aegis of churchly orders. This helpless unrest in the scientific world shows that when true leaders with knowledge appear, they may, if they walk circumspectly, find surprising welcome. There is an unconscious call for them in the following:

And, if, further, the scientist, the moralist, the philosopher and the mystic can together search out the heights to which man is capable of climbing, the task of mapping out the path by which the toilsome and laborious ascent may be made is not beyond the power of science, in its wider sense, to perform.... In this matter we are in grave danger. One contemplates with disquiet and apprehension the increasing stream of narrow specialists who issue from the institutions of learning into a world that is seeking for other counsel than they can give. We need the men who are imbued with the scientific spirit and who have access to the inner courts of the temple of the mind and the spirit of man. That kind of man must be cultivated in our halls of learning. Can it be that we are failing in our task?(12)
This writer, unknown to himself, is asking for what only Theosophical education can supply. Can Theosophical educators supply it? That is our problem.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


Precisely in that period of our own intellectual evolution when faith in a personal God is passing away -- when the belief in an individual soul is becoming impossible -- when the most religious minds shrink from everything that we have been calling religion -- when the universal doubt is an ever-growing weight upon ethical aspiration -- light is offered from the East. There we find ourselves in presence of an older and vaster faith -- holding no gross anthropomorphic conceptions of the immeasurable Reality, and denying the existence of soul, but nevertheless inculcating a system of morals superior to any other, and maintaining a hope which no possible future form of positive knowledge can destroy. Re-enforced by the teaching of science, the teaching of this ancient faith is that for thousands of years we have been thinking inside-out and upside down. The only reality is One; -- all that we have taken for Substance is only Shadow; -- the physical is the unreal; and the outer-man is the ghost.


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(1) Science, August 25, 1939.
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(2) Science, December 22, 1939.
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(3) Science, December 31, 1937.
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(4) Science, February 4, 1938.
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(5) Science, February 25, 1938.
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(6) Science, July 14, 1939.
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(7) Science, December 25, 1939.
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(8) Science, October 6, 1939.
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(9) Scientific Monthly, January, 1939.
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(10) Scientific Monthly, November, 1939.
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(11) Scientific Monthly, January, 1940.
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(12) Science, September 23, 1938.
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