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A Gentleman's Thoughts About Science And The Modern World (1925)

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Posted by Whittier on December 16, 2003 01:39:10 UTC

Excerpts from Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead:

“Science is even more changeable than theology…In both regions of thought, additions, distinctions and modifications have been introduced …When Darwin or Einstein proclaim theories which modify our ideas, it is a triumph for science. We do not go about saying that there is another defeat for science, because its old ideas have been abandoned. We know that another step of scientific insight has been gained.”

“Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development.”

(In some cases) “Religious appeal is directed partly to excite that instinctive fear of the WRATH OF A TYRANT which is inbred in the unhappy populations of the arbitrary empires of the ancient world, and in particular to excite that fear of an all-powerful arbitrary tyrant behind the unknown forces of nature. This appeal to the ready instinct of fear is losing its force. It lacks any directness of response because modern science and modern conditions of life have taught us to meet occasions of apprehension by a critical analysis of their causes.”
(Also) “Religion has been presented as valuable for the ordering of life. Its claims have been rested upon its function as a sanction to right conduct. Also the purpose of right conduct quickly degenerates into the formation of pleasing social relations. We have here a subtle degradation of religious ideas… Every great religious teacher has revolted against the presentation of religion as a mere sanction of rules of conduct.”

“The fact of the religious vision, and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience. The vision claims nothing but worship; and worship is a surrender to the claim for assimilation, urged with the motive force of mutual love.”

“In the seventeenth century a learned Jesuit, Father Petavius, showed that the theologians of the first three centuries of Christianity made use of phrases and statements which since the fifth century would be condemned as heretical.”

“A great English statesman once advised his countrymen to use large-scale maps, as a preservative against alarms, panics, and general misunderstanding of the true relations between nations. In the same way… it is well to map our history on a large scale, and to disengage ourselves from our immediate absorption in the present conflicts.”

( Excerpts from Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, with some rearrangements in order )

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