When a man contemplates his rather dependent, fragile, and short-lived self with the vast, powerful, and puzzling world in which he lives, he wonders why he exists, what is his destiny and his meaning.
To be sure, many men are not gifted or afflicted with such contemplations, and in large measure innate, instinctual mechanisms, together with the cultural traditions they have inherited, more or less automatically and unconsciously provide them with a reasonably satisfactory motivation by which they adapt themselves to the larger reality around them. For most people thus far in human development, life does not require any complicated intellectual analysis on their part. These preadapted men are in one sense fortunate. They are untroubled as long as their unexamined heritage is adequate for their thriving in the world in which they find themselves. Under such conditions, they flourish without worry for the morrow. However, in a world where cultural evolution is radically increasing its tempo, they may not find themselves viable in tomorrows world.
Evil, as seen by an individual, is a deeply unwanted interruption of his own preferred dynamic patterns of life and thought. This definition of evil is broad indeed. It must be so. It must include that which is merely a slightly irritating personal situation and that which is a nationwide calamity. The difference between these events, in terms of evil, is in the magnitude of the undesirability of the pattern interruption. But each individual embodies his hierarchy of magnitudes (as a result of many factors, of course). Consciously or not, he chooses his own borderline where discomfort blends into something more threatening: into what he calls evil. A barely discernible annoyance to a normal person is intensely foreboding to the paranoiac, while the destruction of an entire country—if it is the working of the Lord—may not be at all evil to an Amos. But we each partake of everyman. Evil is seen and defined by us as a serious, unwanted interruption of or threat to our own particular life patterns.
An automobile catastrophe, an undeserved demotion, the onset of cancer, a subtle verbal insult, or a robbery-each fits this description of evil befalling us. Such interruptions of our desired order amount to an unsettling randomization of our patterns. They may be temporary or prolonged. But they are each disordering. Slight or massive randomization can be caused by the incursion of violent events in nature, or by the physical crossing of others desired patterns with ours, or even from our learning of modes of belief and action that are contrary to what we believe to be most desirable for ourself and others.
But what of life in a disadvantaged environment without any possible escape? What of the death of a husband which may confine the young mother inexorably to a life of work until her children are grown? What of a Nazi tyranny which devises concentration camps for a race? These surely are varieties of evil. Yet the end results here are not a randomizing of life patterns or thought arrangements, Rather they typify the opposite extreme of crystallizing life into what can be a deadening subhuman order; the result more resembles the ceaseless and restricted vibrations of ions in a brittle salt crystal than the interplay of freedom and constraint in a living organism. This type of evil is excessive order—a crystallization into less mutable, less free patterns.
Randomization or crystallization, these are the immediate and opposite signs of evil in our lives: either too many unasked-for choices are thrust upon us or life is confined to what we see as a rigid and stifling order. …
Frank L. Lambert is professor of chemistry at Occidental College.
Dynamic Homeostasis: A Unifying Principle in Organic, Social, and Ethical Evolution by Alfred E. Emerson
Much controversy occurs concerning the application of methods and principles from the natural sciences to the humanities and social sciences. Although sciences are divided according to their subject matter, they all use a logical method for the attainment of self-correcting knowledge, and the method may be applied to a great variety of fields of inquiry. The essential principles of the scientific method are: observation by means of sensory perception, classification of related facts, determination of causes and effects, and the formulation of theoretical interpretations in conformity to the facts and their relations, the verification of relevant facts, and finally, the reporting of facts, relationships, and interpretations in order that others may criticize, modify, and correct the data and the conclusions. …
Alfred E. Emerson is professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Chicago.
This paper is an expansion and revision of chapter x in Goals of Economic Life (New York: Harper & Bros., 1953), reproduced here with the permission of the publisher. This book resulted from conferences of a study committee of the Federal Council of Churches under the chairmanship of A. D. Ward. I am obligated to this group for critical discussion and to the conference group on the Unified Theory of Human Nature under the chairmanship of Dr. Roy Grinker, Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago. I also owe much of my thinking on this subject to my long personal friendships with W. C. Allee and Ralph W. Gerard.—From Scientific Monthly footnote.
A Theology of the Meaning of Life by J. Edward Barrett
Anyone familiar with the history of Christian thought knows that theology does not so much solve its problems as get tired of them. Every new trend in theology has historical antecedents which have previously been explored and subsequently abandoned. Every old issue in theology was laid to rest with the weary certainty that some future theologian would resurrect it, enthusiastically proclaiming it to be the lost key to all of theologys puzzles.
The question of the meaning of life is one such never-quite-solved problem. Appearing with rhythmic regularity in the literature of theology, from Ecclesiastes to The Courage To Be, it has for more than fifty years been a central concern of our culture. It has been explored by contemporary psychoanalysis, explained by modern sociology, and given dramatic expression by twentieth-century literature. In existential philosophy, meaninglessness is a cornerstone. Protestant theology, from 1914 through the early 1960s, has acknowledged the problem as decisive.¹
It is just possible, however, that theology, as it prepares to enter the 1970s, has, predictably, become bored with the problem of meaninglessness and is about to put it out to pasture. This is partly because we understand the problem better after fifty years of theological and humanistic analysis and partly because we are exhausted by the contemplation of a question so immense that most of our answers seem to be but pale, fragmentary, and inconsequential responses.
The purpose of this paper is to determine what is at issue when the question concerning the meaning of life is asked; to define the essential content of an answer which is not pale, fragmentary, or inconsequential; and to suggest how such a theology of meaning implies a theology of discipleship, which will permit us to move beyond the problem of meaninglessness to less awesome but more concrete (dare we say meaningful?) problems in the 1970s. …
¹ Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952), p. 142.
J. Edward Barrett is assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Muskingum College.
Process and Purpose: Toward a Philosophy of Life by Kenneth Cauthen
The picture of the cosmos which emerges from the contemporary sciences is that of an evolutionary process, immense in both its temporal and spatial dimensions, which has gradually elaborated itself into billions of galaxies moving away from each other in such a way as to constitute an expanding universe.¹ On one planet circling around a star in one of these galaxies there has evolved a wide variety of living forms issuing at one level in the emergence of man, a self-conscious being who asks questions about the origin, meaning, and destiny of his existence and of all existence. This system of which we are a minute part has been described by some scientists as beginning in an explosion between ten and fifteen billion years ago and is pictured as apparently headed toward an ultimate heat death, However, no one knows now, and men may never know, the truth about ultimate beginnings or endings. Indeed, it is impossible to know whether there are unknowable realities which are associated with that part of the total process with which we are involved at this moment.² All we can do is reason on the basis of whatever sampling of the process we can make, given the limitations of our particular knowing apparatus. …
¹ See Milton K. Munitz (ed.), Theories of the Universe (New York: Free Press, 1957), pp. 271-482.
² See Stanley L. Jaki, The Relevance of Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 178-87.
Kenneth Cauthen is professor of Christian theology at Crozer Theological Seminary.
The Uses of Myth in an Age of Science by John F. Hayward
A basic theme of this paper is that the Western tradition has simultaneously encouraged and discouraged the use of mythical narratives and symbols. The method of the paper seeks to reveal some of the historical strands of this peculiarly Western ambivalence. The purpose of the paper is to point out certain implications for science and religion that might accrue from a clearer vision and freer appropriation of our mythological heritage.
David Bidney has stated the ambivalent role of myth in the modern world by reference to Bergson and to the later thoughts of Ernst Cassirer.¹ Bergson observes in his two-sources theory of religion and morality that religion is a defensive reaction of nature against the dissolvent power of intelligence. This, Bidney argues, appears to support a truth theory of myth as a process in which the Cosmos or the Society of Life projects into human consciousness images of its own power and value via the medium of myth. Bidney finds a similar point of view in Cassirers notion that the mythical consciousness is a distinct and creditable medium through which human experience expresses its own depths, ultimate values, and basic dependencies. On the other side of the coin, however, Bergson notes that rational and critical intelligence drives toward dissolving mythical images and loyalties into their component parts via empirical analysis. Critical intelligence stands outside the beliefs it examines and seeks to reduce them to the common coinage of non-mythical observation. In a like fashion, Cassirer, as Bidney observes, was attracted to a sociological theory of myth. According to this theory, myth expresses not the impact of cosmic process on human sensibilities but the effort of a given society to constitute itself as a unit. Myth is what society uses to symbolize its own center and the organization of its energies. The reality behind myth is social ritual and social behavior. The implication is that sooner or later societies will analyze their own forms consciously and critically; they will decide rationally for this or that structure or action; and they will gradually relegate into the background of history all mythical expression. …
¹ David Bidney, Myth, Symbolism, and Truth, in Myth: A Symposium, ed. T. A. Sebeck (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1958).
John F. Hayward is professor of theology at Meadville Theological School of Lombard College.
Social Behavior from Fish to Man by William Etkin with a chapter by Daniel G. Freedman, reviewed by John Paul Scott