Historical Reprints Science Science and Hebrew Tradition

Science and Hebrew Tradition

Science and Hebrew Tradition
Catalog # SKU3759
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Thomas Henry Huxley
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


Science & Hebrew

Thomas Henry Huxley

FOR more than a thousand years, the great majority of the most highly civilised and instructed nations in the world have confidently believed and passionately maintained that certain writings, which they entitle sacred, occupy a unique position in literature, in that they possess an authority, different in kind, and immeasurably superior in weight, to that of all other books.

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Age after age, they have held it to be an indisputable truth that, whoever may be the ostensible writers of the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan scriptures, God Himself is their real author; and, since their conception of the attribues of the Deity excludes the possibility of error and at least in relation to this particular matter of wilful deception, they have drawn the logical conclusion that the denier of the accuracy of any statement, the questioner of the binding force of any command, to be found in these documents is not merely a fool, but a blasphemer. From the point of view of mere reason he grossly blunders; from that of religion he grievously sins.

But, if this dogma of Rabbinical invention is well founded; if, for example, every word in our Bible has been dictated by the Deity; 1 or even, if it be held to be the Divine purpose that every proposition should be understood by the hearer or reader in the plain sense of the words employed (and it seems impossible to reconcile the Divine attribute of truthfulness with any other intention), a serious strain upon faith must arise. Moreover, experience has proved that the severity of this strain tends to increase, and in an even more rapid ratio, with the growth in intelligence of mankind and with the enlargement of the sphere of assured knowledge among them.

It is becoming, if it has not become, impossible for men of clear intellect and adequate instruction to believe, and it has ceased, or is ceasing, to be possible for such men honestly to say they believe, that the universe came into being in the fashion described in the first chapter of Genesis; or to accept, as a literal truth, the story of the making of woman, with the account of the catastrophe Avhich followed hard upon it, in the second chapter; or to admit that the earth was repeopled with terrestrial inhabitants by migration from Armenia or Kurdistan, little more than 4,000 years ago, which is implied in the eighth chapter; or finally, to shape their conduct in accordance with the conviction that the world is haunted hy innumerable demons, who take possession of men and may be driven out of them by exorcistic adjurations, which pervades the Gospels.

Nevertheless, if there is any justification for the dogma of plenary inspiration, the damnatory prodigality of even the Athanasian Creed is still too sparing. " Whosoever will be saved " must believe, not only all these things, but a great many others of equal repugnancy to common sense and everyday knowledge.

The doctrine of biblical infallibility, which involves these remarkable consequences, was widely held by my countrymen within my recollection: I have reason to think that many persons of unimpeachable piety, a few of learning, and even some of intelligence, yet uphold it. But I venture to entertain a doubt whether it can produce any champion whose competency and authority would be recognised beyond the limits of the sect, or theological coterie, to which he belongs. On the contrary, apologetic effort, at present, appears to devote itself to the end of keeping the name of " Inspiration " to suggest the divine source, and consequent infallibility, of more or less of the biblical literature, while carefully emptying the term of any definite sense. For "plenary inspiration " we are asked to substitute a sort of " inspiration with limited liability" the limit being susceptible of indefinite fluctuation in correspondence with the demands of scientific criticism. Where this advances that at once retreats.

This Parthian policy is carried out with some dexterity; but, like other such manoeuvres in the face of a strong foe, it seems likely to end in disaster. It is easy to say, and sounds plausible, that the Bible was not meant to teach anything but ethics and religion, and that its utterances on other matters are mere obiter dicta; it is also a specious suggestion that inspiration, filtering through human brains, must undergo a kind of fallibility contamination; and that this human impurity is responsible for any errors, the existence of which has to be admitted, however unwillingly. But how does the apologist know what the biblical writers intended to teach, and what they did not intend to teach? And even if their authority is restricted to matters of faith and morals, who is prepared to deny that the story of the fabrication of Eve, that of the lapse from innocence effected by a talking snake, that of the Deluge and the demonological legends, have exercised, and still exercise, a profound influence on Christian theology and Christian ethics? The very apologists who put forth this plea are never weary of declaring that the Divine authority for the moral law is the only safe foundation of ethics. But if several of the most important Pentateuchal narratives prove to be utterly unworthy of credit, what pretence is there for accepting other uncorroborated stories of a no less improbable character? If the writers of the gospels have taken fiction for truth, the survivals of pagan superstition for religion, in one department of spiritual knowledge, what guarantee have we for their infallibility in other departments?

If the "human element" must be admitted to have already encroached so largely beyond the bounds, erstwhile thought to be set by Divine authority, what justification is there for imagining that any limit can be set to the discovery of further invasions? The truth is that the pretension to infallibility, by whomsoever made, has done endless mischief; with impartial malignity it has proved a curse, alike to those who have made it and those who have accepted it; and its most baneful shape is book infallibility. For sacerdotal corporations and schools of philosophy are able, under due compulsion of opinion, to retreat from positions that have become untenable; while the dead hand of a book sets and stiffens, amidst texts and formula, until it becomes a mere petrifaction, fit only for that function of stumbling block, which it so admirably performs.

Wherever bibliolatry has prevailed, bigotry and cruelty have accompanied it. It lies at the root of the deep-seated, sometimes disguised, but never absent, antagonism of all the varieties of ecclesiasticism to the freedom of thought and to the spirit of scientific investigation. For those who look upon ignorance as one of the chief sources of evil; and hold veracity, not merely in act, but in thought, to be the one condition of true progress, whether moral or intellectual, it is clear that the biblical idol must go the way of all other idols. Of infallibility, in all shapes, lay or clerical, it is needful to iterate with more than Catonic pertinacity, Delenda est.

The essays contained in the present and the following volume are, for the most part, intended to contribute, in however slight a degree, to this process of deletion. Unless I greatly err, the arguments adduced go a long way to prove that the accounts of the Creation and of the Deluge in the Hebrew scriptures are mere legends; and further, that the evidence for the existence and activity of a demonic world, implicitly and explicitly inculcated throughout the Christian scriptures, and universally held by the primitive Churches, is totally inadequate to justify the expression of belief in it.

268 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover

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