A society for investigating nature and ascertaining truth cannot celebrate its commemoration day more fittingly than by a discussion of its highest general problems. It must be regarded, therefore, with satisfaction that the speaker on such an august occasion as this—the seventy-fifth anniversary of your Society—has selected as the ...
A society for investigating nature and ascertaining truth cannot celebrate its commemoration day more fittingly than by a discussion of its highest general problems. It must be regarded, therefore, with satisfaction that the speaker on such an august occasion as this—the seventy-fifth anniversary of your Society—has selected as the subject of his address a theme of the highest general importance. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more the custom on such occasions, and even at the general meetings of the great “Association of German Naturalists and Physicians,” to take the subject of address from a narrow and specialised territory of restricted interest. If this growing custom is to be excused on the grounds of increasing division of labour and of diverging specialisation in all departments of work, it becomes all the more necessary that, on such anniversaries as the present, the attention of the audience should be invited to larger matters of common interest.
Such a topic, supreme in its importance, is that concerning “Scientific Articles of Faith,” upon which Professor Schlesinger has already expounded his views. I am glad to be able to agree with him in many important points, but as to others I should like to express some hesitation, and to ask consideration for some views which do not coincide with his. At the outset, I am entirely at one with him as to that unifying conception of nature as a whole which we designate in a single word as Monism. By this we unambiguously express our conviction that there lives “one spirit in all things,” and that the whole cognisable world is constituted, and has been developed, in accordance with one common fundamental law. We emphasise by it, in particular, the essential unity of inorganic and organic nature, the latter having been evolved from the former only at a relatively late period. We cannot draw a sharp line of distinction between these two great divisions of nature, any more than we can recognise an absolute distinction between the animal and the vegetable kingdom, or between the lower animals and man. Similarly, we regard the whole of human knowledge as a structural unity; in this sphere we refuse to accept the distinction usually drawn between the natural and the spiritual. The latter is only a part of the former (or vice versa); both are one. Our monistic view of the world belongs, therefore, to that group of philosophical systems which from other points of view have been designated also as mechanical or as pantheistic. However differently expressed in the philosophical systems of an Empedocles or a Lucretius, a Spinoza or a Giordano Bruno, a Lamarck or a David Strauss, the fundamental thought common to them all is ever that of the oneness of the cosmos, of the indissoluble connection between energy and matter, between mind and embodiment—or, as we may also say, between God and the world—to which Goethe, Germany's greatest poet and thinker, has given poetical expression in his Faust and in the wonderful series of poems entitled Gott und Welt.
 Scientific Articles of Faith.
In Professor Schlesinger's address (delivered on 9th October at Altenburg) on this subject he rightly called attention to the limits of knowledge of nature (in Kant's sense of the terms) imposed upon us by the imperfection of our perceptive organs. The gaps which the empirical investigation of nature must thus leave in science, can, however, be filled up by hypotheses, by conjectures of more or less probability. These we cannot indeed for the time establish on a secure basis; and yet we may make use of them in the way of explaining phenomena, in so far as they are not inconsistent with a rational knowledge of nature. Such rational hypotheses are scientific articles of faith, and therefore very different from ecclesiastical articles of faith or religious dogmas, which are either pure fictions (resting on no empirical evidence), or simply irrational (contradicting the law of causality). As instances of rational hypotheses of first-rate importance may be mentioned our belief in the oneness of matter (the building up of the elements from primary atoms), our belief in equivocal generation, our belief in the essential unity of all natural phenomena, as maintained by monism (on which compare my General Morphology, vol. i. pp. 105, 164, etc., also my Natural History of Creation, 8th ed., 1889, pp. 21, 360, 795). As the simpler occurrences of inorganic nature and the more complicated phenomena of organic life are alike reducible to the same natural forces, and as, further, these in their turn have their common foundation in a simple primal principle pervading infinite space, we can regard this last (the cosmic ether) as all-comprehending divinity, and upon this found the thesis: “Belief in God is reconcilable with science.”