Skip to main content

Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

See other formats

and the theologian used the old quip about a philosopher being like a
blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat—which wasn't
there. " That may be, "said the philosopher; " but a theologian would
have found it."
Even in material matters of science we must learn to ask the right
questions. It seemed an obvious question to ask how animals inherit
the result of their parents5 experience, and enormous amounts of time
and energy have been spent on trying to give an answer to it. It is,
however, no good asking the question, for the simple reason that no
such inheritance of acquired characters exists. The chemists of the
eighteenth century, because they asked themselves the question,
ce What substance is involved in the process of burning?5* became in-
volved in the mazes of the phlogiston theory: they had to ask "what
sort of process is burning?55 before they could see that it did not involve
a special substance but was merely a particular case of chemical
When we come to what are usually referred to as fundamentals,
the difficulty of not asking the wrong kind of question is much in-
creased. Among most African tribes, if a person dies, the only ques-
tion asked is, " Who caused his death, and by what form of magic?55;
the idea of death from natural causes is unknown. Indeed, the life of
the less-civilized half of mankind is largely based on trying to find an
answer to a wrong question: "What magical forces or powers are
responsible for good or bad fortune, and how can they be circum-
vented or propitiated?'5
I do not believe in the existence of a god or gods. The conception
of divinity seems to me, though built up out of a number of real
elements of experience, to be a false one, based on the quite unjustifi-
able postulate that there must be some more or less personal power in
control of the world. We are confronted with forces beyond our
control, with incomprehensible disasters, with death, and also with
ecstasy, with a mystical sense of union with something greater than
our ordinary selves, with sudden conversion to a new way of life, with
the burden of guilt and sin. In theistic religions all these elements of
actual experience have been woven into a unified body of belief and
practice in relation to the fundamental postulate of the existence of
a god or gods.
I believe this fundamental postulate to be nothing more than the
result of asking a wrong question: '' Who or what rules the universe? "
So far as we can see, it rules itself, and indeed the whole analogy with
a country and its ruler is false. Even if a god does exist behind or
above the universe as we experience it, we can have no knowledge of