I read Clarence Darrow when I was the age of fifteen.
I thought I may share with you his philosophy. Enjoy or be dismayed.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
Author: Clarence Darrow (1932)
Few debaters that I have ever met have had anything new to say about religion. Still fewer quibble a great deal about the meaning of the word “religion.” I am well aware that it has been given all sorts of meanings by all sorts of men and all sorts of faiths. This is true because men have been loath to give up the word “religion” after they have lost faith in every idea that has so long been associated with creeds. To the great majority of the people of the Western world, religion is associated with gods and devils and angels, with heaven and hell, with life and death, either through the existence of a soul or the resurrection of the body, or both.
If people wish to sense something of the change that has come over the world in religious beliefs they should remember that practically every Christian creed contains the words, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” and then ask themselves how many people that they know have faith in any such idea, which was specifically taught by St. Paul, and accepted by the Christian church.
But all of them talk of God as familiarly as though he lived in their apartment building, and they speak of the soul and spirit as if they knew what they were talking about.
To seem to be very rational, they always expatiate on the wonders of the universe; the infinite number of stars, the grains of sand upon the shore, the greatness of man’s intellect (without naming whose) and then, to cinch the audience and trap the agnostic, they ask, “Could all these produce themselves?” They implore the unbeliever please to explain how all this came to be; and after this, always meant to be startling and original thinking, they declare that it can be explained only by the existence of God, who must have made it all. And they look down upon the agnostic, or atheist, or infidel, or whatever they call him, with scorn and pity; but always with more scorn than pity.
Few of them seem to know that this argument was old two thousand years ago; that, in fact, so far as we can know, it may have always suggested itself to the mind of man. They ring in a few cryptic sentences from Eddington, Jeans, Millikan, and generally add that the best and biggest scientists now say that there is no such thing as matter.
I have just stopped to take a look at “The Stars in Their Courses,” by Sir James Jeans, a fascinating little book, one of the latest discussions issued from the press.
In it he gives the orthodox no ray of hope: The Earth was purely an accident, which may be over with soon; the old-time ideas of matter are changing; no one can tell how much more they will change; and no one knows very much about anything, and the little that is known is hardly worth knowing. All of which is probably true. Over and over he uses the word “matter” as it has always been used. I am inclined to think that no scientist disbelieves in matter, though we may revise, and no doubt have modified, some of the ideas that have been held concerning it.
I make no claim to being a physicist, although I have always been interested in physics. But whenever I go across a high trestle or a long span of steel and cement in Switzerland, or any other section of the Alps, and look down out of a car-window a thousand or more feet below, I am quite certain that I am sustained by something besides faith and by something that, whatever its form, has more substance than air or steam, or what we call a vacuum.
I am quite prepared to believe that the sustaining substance has no such density as it appears to have; that, in fact, it is very porous; but, it holds up the train. I once asked the eminent physicist, A. Michelson, how large the earth would be if it could be compressed into a solid mass. He answered, “O—perhaps about the size of a marble.” I did not ask how large a marble; it really made very little difference.
I presume solids are not so very solid; but, whatever it is that holds up a train over a chasm it is something that appears to have length, breadth, and thickness, and seems to be solid and hard, and keeps it from falling down into the depths below. If the scientists ever see fit to substitute some other word for “matter”—well, “it’ll be all right with me.” But I shall still trust the bridge and the chair I sit in.
None of these new discoveries seem to have any effect upon the seemingly important questions, “Is there a God?” and “if so, what is he like?” and “is a man alive when he is dead?” For any one interested in knowing just how religious are Mr. Jeans et al., he might do well to try and read his latest little book, “The Mysterious Universe.” I read it and found it decidedly illuminating, and some of it I understood.
It might be worth while to give a little attention to the old-time statement that there must be a God, for the universe could not make itself. When I am daringly asked if I can imagine the universe making itself I always frankly admit that I cannot imagine it; but still the question provokes some thought. If God made the universe, when did he make it? What did he make it of? Did he make it out of nothing? If so, can any one imagine something being made of nothing? It might be interesting to sit quietly down for a day or two, say, and try to imagine something being made of nothing.
If you cannot imagine this, then was there matter before God made the universe? If so, did that matter always exist? Did it come before God came, or after, or at the same time? And suppose that God did not make matter out of nothing? Then the matter must have existed independently of God, and, if so, in what form did it then exist? It must have had some shape of which we can conceive.
Can one conceive matter when ready for the hand of God? It is difficult to imagine anything in some other form or manner than the way it now is. If one should conclude to think about these things before undertaking to talk about them, it might delay the conversation.
Then what about God? Did he exist in all eternity? Or, can you imagine all eternity? Assuming that you might imagine all eternity, how long would you need in which to imagine it? Is God something, or is he nothing? If he is non-existing, then can you imagine nothing that is something? If he is something, then did he always exist, or did he create himself? Did God who was already nothing make himself into something? If God is something, and existed from eternity, then is he not a part of the universe? And are not God and the universe the same thing? Did the same God who made this universe make all the infinite stars in the heavens, and did he make the sun and moon and stars for the inhabitants of the earth, or doesn’t any one know anything about it?
And if no one knows, or can know anything about it, why not say so? How can any one say that there is a God simply because he cannot imagine a universe creating itself? How do we know that the universe could not create itself as well as a God could make himself or herself, or itself? How does any one know that the universe could not exist without a cause? Does not the believer mean that he cannot understand or imagine how the universe could exist without a cause?
If your senses prove to you that there is a universe, and your reason tells you that there must be a God who made it, or, that there must be a maker and you will call him a “God,” then, do you stop asking questions? There certainly is one obvious question, so obvious that even a fundamentalist could not avoid thinking of it, and that is,--Where did God come from? The maker is surely bigger than his creation. If not, then the universe may have made God! Is it any more logical for you to tell me that the universe must have had a maker than for me to reply that, by the same logic, God must have had a maker?
Isn’t it plain that an already serious question is complicated by bringing in a God? After all, when one is asked where the universe came from, isn’t it a bit more modest and less foolish to answer, as I do, that I know nothing about it, rather than to assert that God made it, and, then, when asked where God came from, to suggest that God made himself “in the image of man”? The inhabitant of one of the tiniest of all the numberless planets! To the question of who made God, one might answer that some super-God made God; but this only calls for further questions about who, then, made the super-God, and—but one has to stop somewhere!
If there is a God, is he a being? Has he limitations in time and space?--or do you know anything about time and space? Has he length and breadth, thickness, or whatever dimensions metaphysics teach? I am in no way denying that there may be other dimensions, but I know nothing about them, either because I have not had the opportunity to devote to them, or because I am not able to understand them, or both. Is God a personal God? Of course the God of the Jews was a personal God. Very personal.
If he is not personal, then does he pervade all space? Does he reach to every planet, and through The Milky Way, and out so far beyond, that The Milky Way would seem as though it were in your back-yard? Does he extend out into the Nebula M 31, which is so far off that it takes a hundred and forty million years for a ray of light to reach the earth, travelling all the time at the rate of 186,000 miles a second? Oh, pooh!--what does one know about it, anyhow, when he talks about God? Have you any conception of the being of whom you think you speak? Can one believe in a God without in some way forming an image of the entity of which he talks so much?
The response invariably hurled back has been standardized for years: does the doubter believe in electricity, in the telephone, and, now, in the radio? I may believe that electricity moves on a wire, by visualizing the wire and knowing that a force is sent across the wire. I have no conception of the force, but I do know how it behaves. I can form no image, because it is not a being, and not a subject for image.
I do believe that a voice of some one whose voice I know speaks to me out of a box; I can form an image of the speaker, but what I hear are electric waves conducted along a certain path; I may have no conception of how the force is transferred; it is not a being, a thing, or object; it is not possessed of length, breadth, and thickness. The phenomenon of the voice coming out of the box can be explained and comprehended, but it cannot be visualized; there is nothing to imagine. It is not a form like a human being or any other being in which one may be asked to believe.
The word “God” has come down through the ages as the name for a being who moves from place to place, who hears and sees and smells and feels, who has eyes and a nose; whom we address as “Our Father” because this word will the nearest express the attributes, the powers and purposes of this God to whom men are taught to pray. This God whom we ask to bring us what we need, to cure the sick, and heal the maimed, to defend the weak and vanquish the strong, whom men are urged to call upon in dire need, a real God whom the German asks to help kill Frenchmen and Englishmen, and whom the French and English besought to destroy Germans.
Since men have been taught to worship this being, man’s God is endowed with all the characteristics of man; he loves and hates, he destroys and saves, he smiles, he curses, he is gentle, kind, compassionate, he is vengeful, cruel, and jealous. All his traits are human traits, all feelings and passions are human emotions. From the time man first talked of him, and besought him, and prayed to him, and hoped to go to him, so long as he must die, he has been visualized in human form, as one going up and down the earth not only destroying men in his hatred and wrath, but laying waste great cities and entire kingdoms, and fighting with other gods.
Every one knows that through the ages this God has not been a force coming over a wire or a sound coming out of a box. To say that one can visualize a message or a wire or a voice coming through a radio is no sort of answer to the statement that one cannot believe in a being without forming a mental picture of the being. Before men pray in public with closed eyes and vacant stares, they must have a vision of the being to whom they speak, or else they are talking for the effect on the audience, which is probably the case.
Truth is, man has no conception of the origin of the universe.
He has no scrap of evidence that it was ever made, or not made; except on the presumption that goes with the knowledge that it was here yesterday and last week and last year, and millions of years before. From this might be drawn the presumption that it has been here forever, but, it is only a presumption that cannot be proven. Not only is it not necessary for man to know everything, but it is impossible for him to know but the smallest fraction of what there must be to know.
We gather knowledge by slow and patient labor, and there is little danger that we shall ever exhaust the unknown. No one should hesitate to admit that he does not know. Even the Christian world has gradually and markedly changed its idea of God. The flight of time and the growth of man have worn away some of the cruelty and barbarity of the Christian God. Probably few people of any sense or decent feeling would damn a race because an ancestor ate an apple when he was told that he should not. Such a God would be a devil, and could be worshipped only for fear. Neither could anything but a demon put a man to death for gathering sticks on Sunday, or drown all living things, or rain fire and brimstone on a city, or create a hell in which to torture human beings for all eternity.
If I were afraid of the wrath of God, I should fear his vengeance more for believing that he is such a monster than I would because I insisted on thinking that he must have some of the commonplace virtues of men, and therefore could not have committed the deeds that his disciples charged him with.
Life cannot be reconciled with the idea that back of the universe is a Supreme Being, all merciful and kind, and that he takes any account of the human beings and other forms of life that exist upon the earth. Whichever way man may look upon the earth, he is oppressed with the suffering incident to life. It would almost seem as though the earth had been created with malignity and hatred.
If we look at what we are pleased to call the lower animals, we behold a universal carnage. We speak of the seemingly peaceful woods, but we need only look beneath the surface to be horrified by the misery of that underworld. Hidden in the grass and watching for its prey is the crawling snake which swiftly darts upon the toad or mouse and gradually swallows it alive; the hapless animal is crushed by the jaws and covered with slime, to be slowly digested in furnishing a meal.
The snake knows nothing about sin or pain inflicted upon another; he automatically grabs insects and mice and frogs to preserve his life. The spider carefully weaves his web to catch the unwary fly, winds him into the fatal net until paralyzed and helpless, then drinks his blood and leaves him an empty shell. The hawk swoops down and snatches a chicken and carries it to its nest to feed its young.
The wolf pounces on the lamb and tears it to shreds. The cat watches at the hole of the mouse until the mouse cautiously comes out, then with seeming fiendish glee he plays with it until tired of the game, then crunches it to death in his jaws. The beasts of the jungle roam by day and night to find their prey; the lion is endowed with strength of limb and fang to destroy and devour almost any animal that it can surprise or overtake. There is no place in the woods or air or sea where all life is not a carnage of death in terror and agony.
Each animal is a hunter, and in turn is hunted, by day and night. No landscape is so beautiful or day so balmy but the cry of suffering and sacrifice rends the air. When night settles down over the earth the slaughter is not abated. Some creatures see best at night, and the outcry of the dying and terrified is always on the wind. Almost all animals meet death by violence and through the most agonizing pain. With the whole animal creation there is nothing like a peaceful death. Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.
Man furnishes no exception to the rule. He seems to add the treachery and deceit that the other animals in the main do not practice, to all the other cruelties that move his life. Man has made himself master of the animal world and he uses his power to serve only his own ends. Man, at least, kills helpless animals for the pleasure of killing, alone. He breeds horses and dogs, and fixes a gala day which is a society occasion when both men and women dress for the event, whereupon they turn loose a puny fox and set on its trail a pack of hounds trained for the chase. The noble men and women, riding at a mad pace, follow over hill and dale until, after hours of effort, the exhausted fox is unable longer to escape them, and with great glee they see it torn to pieces by the hounds.
Even intellectual men and presidents go to Africa for the purpose of hunting big game. They cannot run so fast as the deer and the giraffe, and they are no match for the lion, the panther, and the tiger. But they have invented a means where-by they can stand at a safe distance and kill them without giving them a chance of defense or escape. Man cares nothing for the pain of any animal when his pleasure is involved.
He plans and spreads nets for the unwary creatures passing through the fields. He sets traps in whose sharp teeth the unsuspecting fur-bearing kinds are caught; and after prolonged sufferings they die, and he takes the pelts off the wild animals’ carcasses and uses them to cover his own. He carefully raises herds of cattle, and at the allotted time takes the calf from its mother, cuts its throat for veal, and drinks the mother’s milk. He builds great slaughter-houses in which to kill animals by the million, that he may use them for food. He raises sheep that he shears in the spring to weave into cloth to cover himself, and then, according to his desires, kills them and eats their flesh. He makes a shambles of the earth in order to satisfy his appetites and give him joy.
Nowhere in the universe is there evidence of charity, of kindness, of mercy toward beasts or amongst them, and still less consideration amongst men. Man is only a part of nature, and his conduct is not substantially different from that of all animal life. But for man himself there is little joy.
Every child that is born upon the earth arrives through the agony of the mother. From childhood on, the life is full of pain and disappointment and sorrow. From beginning to end it is the prey of disease and misery; not a child is born that is not subject to disease. Parents, family, friends, and acquaintances, one after another die, and leave us bereft. The noble and the ignoble life meets the same fate. Nature knows nothing about right and wrong, good and evil, pleasure and pain; she simply acts. She creates a beautiful woman, and places a cancer on her cheek. She may create an idealist, and kill him with a germ.
She creates a fine mind, and then burdens it with a deformed body. And she will create a fine body, apparently for no use whatever. She may destroy the most wonderful life when its work has just commenced. She may scatter tubercular germs broadcast throughout the world. She seemingly works with no method, plan or purpose. She knows no mercy nor goodness.
Nothing is so cruel and abandoned as Nature. To call her tender or charitable is a travesty upon words and a stultification of intellect. No one can suggest these obvious facts without being told that he is not competent to judge Nature and the God behind Nature. If we must not judge God as evil, then we cannot judge God as good. In all the other affairs of life, man never hesitates to classify and judge, but when it comes to passing on life, and the responsibility of life, he is told that it must be good, although the opinion beggars reason and intelligence and is a denial of both.
Emotionally, I shall no doubt act as others do to the last moment of my existence. With my last breath I shall probably try to draw another, but, intellectually, I am satisfied that life is a serious burden, which no thinking, humane person would wantonly inflict on some one else. The strange part of the professional optimist’s creed lies in his assertion that if there is no future life then this experience is a martyrdom and a hideous sham.
"The greatest things on earth are us,supposedly.
Why don't we act accordingly, with humanity" Rizze
sometimes it seems, as though that, which we call existence (from ex - sistere = standing out from) is gracefull revealing itself in a way giving us the illusion that all happens as it wants and as it supposed to be. Thank you for your text, I enjoyed it very much. A good start in the day...
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