Yes, for myself, not merely the rationalized forms of Christianity and Judaism, but religion itself, as it is popularly understood, does not give an absolutely sure basis on which to stand. Religion, in the popular sense, hinges on faith in God, Prayer, and Immortality. I do not indeed forget that there is a wider sense of the word religion, a sense that would give a place to Buddhism, which at its inception was without any of the beliefs already named, and would include any system which sets a supreme ideal before the human mind and prescribes a rule for its attainment; and further, I do not conceal my own faith that out of a fresh sense of the demands of morality upon us, out of a new contact with the higher ideal tendencies of the world, there will dawn upon us and burn into us a new conviction as to life, its meaning and its issue, a new sense of a world-purpose and a world-goal. But now, and at the start, our word is a simple one. We do not propound new views of the universe. We wish rather a new sense of duty; we wish to throw ourselves into the stream of moral progress. We need not ask how it is there ; we need not peer down along its course to catch a glimpse of the sea into which it flows. We want to throw ourselves into it and bathe in it, because we know it is good; because when we have so much as touched our feet or hands to it, we have experienced its sweetness and felt the life and quickness of its waters: we want to because we are parched and dry, and there is only an arid waste around us.
But if not the current religious doctrines,1 is it perhaps science, or that philosophic attitude of much of modern science known as agnosticism, which is to furnish a basis for the new movement ? This seems to be the impression of many; we will accept nothing, as they think, which we cannot scientifically demonstrate. There is a certain amount of truth in this impression. One should be hospitable to all the results of scientific demonstration ; one should cling to no old-time belief against which there is a balance of scientific evidence. I am myself in sympathy with the methods of modern science, and with agnosticism, which instead of affirming positive knowledge is a confession of what we do not and cannot know. Kant in the last century and Herbert Spencer in this were perhaps the first to draw the line clearly between the realm of the known and knowable and that of the unknowable. Knowledge is limited to experience : what is beyond experience may be guessed, imagined, or thought about; but in the nature of the case no guess or imagination or thought can be verified, and thus converted into scientific knowledge. This critical distinction has undermined the very foundations of theological dogmatism, and has taught to philosophers as well as theologians a long-needed lesson of modesty and humility.
1 It must not be understood that we thereby propose a negative dogmatism, and would exclude those who believe in the " current religious doctrines;" we differ from the churches simply in not requiring assent to them, in not putting them at the basis of the Ethical Movement.
All this, however, is very different from regarding agnosticism or positive science as the basis of our movement. In the new and clear atmosphere of modern thought, many of us have seen the old "castles in the air " vanish from our view; one by one they have seemed to lose their basis in this world of experience in which we live. But an atmosphere is hardly a thing on which to build, it is at best a transparent medium through which and by the light of which we may discover the real foundations. Agnosticism is no more than a confession of the limitations of our knowledge. But what we do not know is hardly a basis for action. Simply because men no longer believe in the old dogmas is no reason why they should form an Ethical Society. There are plenty of agnostics who have little sympathy with us, whose unbelief may perhaps extend to the foundations of morality as well as to those of theology, and who may live simply lives of supercilious and refined egotism. Agnosticism is but the dry light of the intellect, which may be used to the noblest ends, but may also be perverted to the meanest. Nor is science, teaching us positively what we do know, a sufficient guide for us. I will yield to none in my admiration and wonder before the world which science has revealed to us. How has space widened and time grown infinite, and how does one law seem to hold in its grasp the mighty movements of systems and the least tear that trickles down a child's face! It is a universe, majestic, solemn, in the midst of which we live, and it would seem to suggest to us great and solemn thoughts as to what our own lives should be. But when I turn from Nature to consider human life and the order of human society, my reverence in one way lessens rather than grows deeper. The science that reports faithfully, philosophically, the varied facts of our human existence is not altogether a pleasant page to read. History, which is one branch of the science of man, tells of animalism, of brutal selfishness, of towering wrongs, of slow-returning justice, often of a blind infuriated justice that punishes the innocent and leaves the guilty free. And observation statistics, which is nothing else than scientific observation reveals almost as many things that ought not to be as things which should be. Statistics of crime are just as much science as would be statistics of peace and order, statistics of prostitution as truly scientific as those of family purity, of poverty as truly as those of comfort and competence. What science teaches must invariably be accepted as fact, but it may none the less provoke moral repulsion and rebellion. We may say to some of the facts, "You have no right to be!" Yes, the very end of our scientific observation may sometimes be to render such observation in the future impossible, that is, to destroy the facts. Plainly, then, science is not ultimate. It tells us simply what is ; it tells us nothing of what ought to be. What ought to be,that is reported to us by a higher faculty than that of scientific observation; it is an assertion, a demand of the conscience.