Sunday, April 9, 2017

Procession of the Sciences

I've been getting to know the many books of Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prolific writer and founder of Riverside Church near Columbia University in NYC. He's a thoughtful guy who wrote insightfully about all facets of spirituality in the middle of the 20th Century. One of his many collections of sermons, Successful Christian Living (Harper, 1937), most famous for "The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism", also includes "When Each Man Cleans Up His Own Life". During the course of that sermon, he has this to say about science growing as mankind grows:

An interesting revelation of human nature is presented in the chronological order in which the great sciences developed. Which science came first? Astronomy. Our first scientific knowledge concerned the things farthest away. And after that came Geology, a little closer in, the story of the ancient background of our earth; and after that Biology, somewhat closer in, the story of the world of life which has preceded us; and after that Sociology -- in any scientific sense -- still closer in, the story of the human setting into which our lives are born. And, last of all, emerging only yesterday, postponed for centuries by our emotions and prejudices about ourselves, making us unable or unwilling honestly to face ourselves, came Psychology. The realm farthest off came first, the realm nearest at hand -- ourselves -- came last. It is as though even in science men for centuries had fought against coming to grips with themselves. Look inside your own life and see if this is not a true parable of human experience. The last man any of us wants to meet, so clairvoyantly seen that his real problems stand plainly out, is himself.

I like the flow of that. Speaking of science, a little bit from his autobiography mentions when Mr. and Mrs. Einstein  moved to the US, Fosdick toured them around the beaufiful new church he and Rockefeller had built which included a sculpture depicting Einstein who said upon seeing it: "That could not have happened anywhere except in America." Finishing with "I will have to be very careful for the rest of my life as to what I do and what I say."

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