Are we, then, to fall back on the real or imagined revelations and traditions of the past, and to endeavor to find in them some foothold of assurance; or are we to wait till further progress in science may have cleared up some of the present mysteries? Whatever may be said of the former alternative, all honest students of science will unite with me in the admission that the latter is hopeless. We need not seek to belittle the magnificent triumphs of modern science. They have been real and stupendous. But it is of their very nature to conduct us to ultimate facts and laws of which science can give no explanation; and the further we push our inquiries the more insuperably does the wall of mystery rise before us. It is true we can furnish the materials for philosophical speculations which may be built on scientific facts and principles; but these are in their nature uncertain, and must constantly change as knowledge advances. They can not solve for us the great practical problems of our origin and destiny.
In these circumstances no apology is needed for a thorough and careful inquiry into those foundations of religious belief which rest on the idea of a revelation of origins and destinies made to man from without, and on which we may build the superstructure of a rational religion, giving guidance for the present and hope for the future. In the following pages I propose to enter upon so much of this subject as relates to the origin and earliest history of the world, in so far as these are treated of in the Bible and in the traditions of the more ancient nations; and this with reference to the present standpoint of science in relation to these questions.
All this is eminently applicable to science in its relation to agnostic speculations. The material of the physical and natural sciences consists of facts ascertained by the evidence of our senses, and for which we depend on the truthfulness of those senses and the stability of external nature. Science proceeds, by comparison of these facts and by inductive reasoning, to arrange them under certain general expressions or laws. So far all is merely physical, and need have no connection with our origin or destiny or relation to higher powers. But we ourselves are a part of the nature which we study; and we cannot study it without more or less thinking our own thoughts into it. Thus we naturally begin to inquire as to origins and first causes, and as to the source of the energy and order which we perceive; and to these questions the human mind demands some answer, either actual or speculative. But here we enter into the domain of religious thought, or that which relates to a power or powers beyond and above nature. Whatever forms our thoughts on such subjects may take, these depend, not directly on the facts of science, but on the reaction of our minds on these facts. They are truly anthropomorphic. It has been well said that it is as idle to inquire as to the origin of such religious ideas as to inquire as to the origin of hunger and thirst. Given the man, they must necessarily exist. Now, whatever form these philosophical or religious ideas may take—whether that of Agnosticism or Pantheism or Theism—science, properly so called, has no right to be either praised or blamed. Its material may be used, but the structure is the work of the artificer himself.