Mystery : Dependence : Purpose

There is then a threefold religious interest, and there are three

corresponding points of contact between the religious and the naturalistic

interpretations of the world, where, as it appears, they are necessarily

antagonistic to one another. Arranging them in their proper order we find,

first, the interest, never to be relinquished, of experiencing and

acknowledging the world and existence to be a mystery, and regarding all
br /> that is known and manifested in things merely as the thin crust which

separates us from the uncomprehended and inexpressible. Secondly, there is

the desire on the part of religion to bring ourselves and all creatures

into the "feeling of absolute dependence," and, as the belief in creation

does, to subordinate ourselves and them to the Eternal Power that is not

of the world, but is above the world. Finally, there is the interest in a

teleological interpretation of the world as opposed to the purely causal

interpretation of natural science; that is to say, an interpretation of

the world according to eternal God-willed purposes, governing ideas, a

plan and aim. In all three respects, it is important to religion that it

should be able to maintain its validity and freedom as contrasted with


But while religion must inquire of itself into the reality of things, with

special regard to its own needs, there are two possibilities which may

serve to make peace between it and natural science. It may, for instance,

be possible that the mathematical-mechanical interpretation of things,

even if it be sufficient within its own domain, does not take away from

nature the characters which religion seeks and requires in it, namely,

purpose, dependence and mystery. Or it may be that nature itself does not

correspond at all to this ideal of mathematical explicability, that this

ideal may be well enough as a guide for investigation, but that it is not

a fundamental clue really applying to nature as a whole and in its

essence. It may be that nature as a whole cannot be scientifically summed

up without straining the mechanical categories. And this suggests another

possibility, namely, that the naturalistic method of interpretation cannot

be applied throughout the whole territory of nature, that it embraces

certain aspects but not others, and, finally, that it is distinctly

interrupted and held in abeyance at particular points by the

incommensurable which breaks forth spontaneously out of the depths of

phenomena, revealing a depth which is not to be explained away.

All these possibilities occur. And though they need not necessarily be

regarded as the key to our order of discussion, in what follows we shall

often meet them singly or together.