Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Cosmic Memory
GA 11

xx. Prejudices Arising from Alleged Science (1904)

It is certainly true that much in the intellectual life of the present makes it difficult for one who is seeking the truth to accept spiritual scientific (theosophical) insights. And what has been said in the essays on the Lebensfragen der theosophischen Bewegung (Vital Questions of the (Theosophical Movement) can be taken as an indication of the reasons which exist especially for the conscientious seeker of truth in this respect. Many statements of the scientist of the spirit must appear entirely fantastic to him who tests them against the certain conclusions which he feels obliged to draw from what he has encountered as the facts of the research of natural science. To this is added the fact that this research can point to the enormous blessings it has bestowed and continues to bestow on human progress. What an overwhelming effect is produced when a personality who wants to see a view of the world built exclusively on the results of this research, can utter the proud words: “For there lies an abyss between these two extreme conceptions of life: one for this world alone, the other for heaven. But up to the present day, traces of a paradise, of a life of the deceased, of a personal God, have nowhere been found by human science, by that inexorable science which probes into and dissects everything, which does not shrink back before any mystery, which explores heaven beyond the stars of the nebula, analyzes the infinitely small atoms of living cells as well as of chemical bodies, decomposes the substance of the sun, liquefies the air, which will soon telegraph by wireless transmission from one end of the earth to the other, and already today sees through opaque bodies, which introduces navigation under the water and in the air, and opens new horizons to us through radium and other discoveries; this science which, after having shown the true relationship of all living beings among themselves and their gradual changes in form, today draws the organ of the human soul, the brain, into the sphere of its penetrating research.” (Prof. August Forel, Leben und Tod (Life and Death) Munich, 1908, page 3). The certainty with which one thinks it possible to build on such a basis betrays itself in the words which Forel joins to the remarks quoted above: “In proceeding from a monistic conception of life, which alone takes all scientific facts into account, we leave the supernatural aside and turn to the book of nature.” Thus, the serious seeker after truth is confronted by two things which put considerable obstacles in the way of any inkling he may have of the truth of the communications of the science of the spirit. If a feeling for such communications lives in him, even if he also senses their inner well-founded-ness by means of a more delicate logic, he can be driven toward the suppression of such impulses when he has to tell himself two things. First of all, the authorities who know the cogency of positive facts consider that everything “supersensible” springs only from day-dreams and unscientific superstition. In the second place, by devoting myself to these transcendental matters, I run the risk of becoming an impractical person of no use in life. For everything which is accomplished in practical life must be firmly rooted in the “ground of reality.”

Not all of those who find themselves in such a dilemma will find it easy to work their way through to a realization of how matters really stand with respect to the two points we have cited. If they could do it, with respect to the first point they would, for instance, see the following: The results of the science of the spirit are nowhere in conflict with the factual research of natural science. Everywhere that one looks at the relation of the two in an unprejudiced manner, there something quite different becomes apparent for our time. It turns out that this factual research is steering toward a goal which in a by no means distant future, will bring it into full harmony with what spiritual research ascertains in certain areas from its supersensible sources. From hundreds of cases which could be adduced as proof for this assertion, we shall cite a characteristic one here.

In my lectures on the development of the earth and of mankind, it has been pointed out that the ancestors of the present-day civilized peoples lived in a land-area which at one time was situated in that part of the surface of the earth which today is occupied by a large portion of the Atlantic Ocean. In the essays, From the Akasha Chronicle, it is rather the soul-spiritual qualities of these Atlantean ancestors which have been indicated. In oral presentations also has often been described how the earth surface looked in the old Atlantean land. It was said that at that time the air was saturated with water mist vapors. Man lived in the water mist, which in certain regions never lifted to the point where the air was completely clear. Sun and moon could not be seen as they are today, but were surrounded by colored coronas. A distribution of rain and sunshine, such as occurs at present, did not exist at that time. One can clairvoyantly explore this old land; the phenomenon of the rainbow did not exist at that time. It only appeared in the post-Atlantean period. Our ancestors lived in a country of mist. These facts have been ascertained by purely supersensible observation, and it must even be said that the spiritual researcher does best to renounce all deductions based on his knowledge of natural science, for through such deductions his unprejudiced inner sense of spiritual research is easily misled. With such observations one should now compare certain ideas toward which some natural scientists feel themselves impelled at present. Today there are scientists who find themselves forced by facts to assume that at a certain period of its development the earth was enveloped in a cloud mass. They point out that at present also, clouded skies exceed the unclouded, so that life is still to a large extent under the influence of sunlight which is weakened by the formation of clouds, hence one cannot say that life could not have developed under the cloud cover of that Atlantean time. They further point out that those organisms which can be considered among the oldest of the plant world are of a kind which also develop without direct sunlight. Thus, among the forms of this older plant world those desert-type plants which need direct sunlight and dry air, are not present. And also with respect to the animal world, a scientist, Hilgard, has pointed out that the giant eyes of extinct animals, for instance, of the Ichthyosaurus, indicate that a dim illumination must have prevailed on the earth in their time. I do not mean to regard such views as not needing correction. They interest the spiritual researcher less through what they state than through the direction into which factual research finds itself forced. Even the periodical Kosmos, which has a more or less Haeckelian point of view, some time ago published an essay worthy of consideration which, because of certain facts of the plant and animal world, indicated the possibility of a former Atlantean Continent.

If one brought together a greater number of such matters one could easily show how true natural science is moving in a direction which in the future will cause it to join the stream which at present already carries the waters of the springs of spiritual research. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that spiritual research is nowhere in contradiction with the facts of natural science. Where its adversaries see such a contradiction, this does not relate to facts, but to the opinions which these adversaries have formed, and which they believe necessarily result from the facts. But in truth there is not the slightest connection between the opinion of Forel quoted above, for instance, and the facts of the stars of the nebulas, the nature of the cells, the liquefaction of the air, and so forth. This opinion represents nothing but a belief which many have formed out of a need for believing, which clings to the sensory-real, and which they place beside the facts. This belief is very dazzling for present-day man. It entices him to an inner intolerance of a quite special kind. Its adherents are blinded to the point where they consider their own opinion to be the only “scientific” one, and ascribe the views of others merely to prejudice and superstition. Thus it is really strange when one can read the following sentences in a newly-published book on the phenomena of the soul life [Hermann Ebbinghaus, Abriss der Psychologie (Outline of Psychology) ]: “As a help against the impenetrable darkness of the future and the insuperable might of inimical powers, the soul creates religion for itself. As in other experiences involving ignorance or incapacity, under the pressure of uncertainty and the terror of great dangers, ideas as to how help can be found here, are quite naturally forced upon man in the same way in which one thinks of water when in danger from fire, of the helpful comrade in the peril of combat.” “In the lower stages of civilization, where man still feels himself to be quite impotent and to be surrounded by sinister dangers at every step, the feeling of fear, and correspondingly, the belief in evil spirits and demons naturally entirely prevail. In higher stages on the other hand, where a more mature insight into the interconnection of things and a greater power over them produce a certain self-confidence and stronger hopes, a feeling of confidence in invisible powers comes to the fore and with it the belief in good and benevolent spirits. But on the whole, both fear and love, side by side, remain permanently characteristic of the feeling of man toward his gods, except that their relation to one another changes according to the circumstances.”—“These are the roots of religion . . . fear and need are its mothers, and although it is principally perpetuated by authority once it has come into existence, still it would have died out long since if it were not constantly being reborn out of these two.”

Everything in these assertions has been shifted and thrown into disorder, and this disorder is illuminated from the wrong points of view. Furthermore, he who maintains this opinion is firm in his conviction that his opinion must be a generally binding truth. First of all, the content of religious conceptions is confused with the nature of religious feelings. The content of religious conceptions is taken from the region of the supersensible worlds. The religious feeling, for example, fear and love of the supersensible entities, is made the creator of this content without further ado, and it is assumed without hesitation that nothing real corresponds to the religious conceptions. It is not even considered remotely possible that there could be a true experience of supersensible worlds, and that the feelings of fear and love then cling to the reality which is given by this experience, just as no one thinks of water when in danger from fire, of the helpful comrade in the peril of combat, if he has not known water and comrade previously. In this view, the science of the spirit is declared to be day-dreaming because one makes religious feeling the creator of entities which one simply regards as non-existent. This way of thinking totally lacks the consciousness that it is possible to experience the content of the supersensible world, just as it is possible for the external senses to experience the ordinary world of the senses.

The odd thing that often happens with such views is that they resort to the kind of deduction to support their belief which they represent as improper in their adversaries. For example, in the above-mentioned work of Forel the sentence appears, “Do we not live in a way a hundred times truer, warmer, and more interestingly when we base ourselves on the ego, and find ourselves again in the souls of our descendants, rather than in the cold and nebulous fata morgana of a hypothetical heaven among the equally hypothetical songs and trumpet soundings of supposed angels and archangels, which we cannot imagine, and which therefore mean nothing to us.” But what has that which “one” finds “warmer,” “more interesting,” to do with the truth? If it is true that one should not deduce a spiritual life from fear and hope, is it then right to deny this spiritual life because one finds it to be “cold” and “uninteresting”? With respect to those personalities who claim to stand on the “firm ground of scientific facts,” the spiritual researcher is in the following position. He says to them, Nothing of what you produce in the way of such facts from geology, paleontology, biology, physiology, and so forth is denied by me. It is true that many of your assertions are in need of correction through other facts. But such a correction will be brought about by natural science itself. Apart from that, I say “yes” to what you advance. It does not enter my mind to fight you when you advance facts. But your facts are only a part of reality. The other part are the spiritual facts, through which the occurrence of the sensory ones first becomes understandable. These facts are not hypotheses, not something which “one” cannot imagine, but something lived and experienced by spiritual research. What you advance beyond the facts you have observed is, without your realizing it, nothing other than the opinion that those spiritual facts cannot exist. As a matter of fact, you advance nothing as the proof of your assertion except that such spiritual facts are unknown to you. From this you deduce that they do not exist and that those who claim to know something of them are dreamers and visionaries. The spiritual researcher does not take even the smallest part of your world from you; he only adds his own to it. But you are not satisfied that he should act in this way; you say—although not always clearly—“‘One’ must not speak of anything except of that of which we speak; we demand not only that that be granted to us of which we know something, but we require that all that of which we know nothing be declared idle phantasms.” The person who wants to have anything to do with such “logic” cannot be helped for the time being. With this logic he may understand the sentence: “Our I has formerly lived directly in our human ancestors, and it will continue to live in our direct or indirect descendants.” (Forel, Leben und Tod (Life and Death), page 21.) Only he should not add, “Science proves it,” as is done in this work. For in this case science “proves” nothing, but a belief which is chained to the world of the senses sets up the dogma: That of which I can imagine nothing must be considered as delusion; and he who sins against my assertion offends against true science.

The one who knows the development of the human soul finds it quite understandable that men's minds are dazzled for the moment by the enormous progress of natural science and that today they cannot find their way among the forms in which great truths are traditionally transmitted. The science of the spirit gives such forms back to mankind. It shows for example how the Days of Creation of the Bible represent things which are unveiled to the clairvoyant eye.1Compare: Rudolf Steiner, Die Geheimnisse der biblischen Schopfungsgeschichte (The Secrets of the Biblical History of Creation), Freiburg i, Br., 1954. A mind chained to the world of the senses finds only that the Days of Creation contradict the results of geology and so forth. In understanding the deep truths of these Days of Creation, the science of the spirit is equally far removed from making them evaporate as a mere “poetry of myths,” and from employing any kind of allegorical or symbolical methods of explanation. How it proceeds is indeed quite unknown to those who still ramble on about the contradiction between these Days of Creation and science. Further, it must not be thought that spiritual research finds its knowledge in the Bible. It has its own methods, finds truths independently of all documents and then recognizes them in the latter. This way is necessary for many present-day seekers after truth. For they demand a spiritual research which bears within itself the same character as natural science. And only where the nature of this science of the spirit is not recognized does one become perplexed when it is a matter of protecting the facts of the supersensible world from opinions which appear to be founded on natural science. Such a state of mind was even anticipated by a man of warm soul, who however could not find the supersensible content of the science of the spirit. Almost eighty years ago this personality, Schleiermacher, wrote to the much younger Lücke: “When you consider the present state of natural science, how more and more it assumes the form of an encompassing account of the universe, what do you then feel the future will bring, I shall not even say for our theology, but for our evangelical Christianity? . . . I feel that we shall have to learn to do without much of what many are still accustomed to consider as being inseparably connected with the nature of Christianity. I shall not even speak of the Six Days' Work, but the concept of creation, as it is usually interpreted . . . How long will it be able to stand against the power of a world-outlook formed on the basis of scientific reasonings which nobody can ignore? . . . What is to happen, my dear friend? I shall not see this time, and can quietly lie down to sleep; but you, my friend, and your contemporaries, what do you intend to do?” (Theologische Studien und Kritiken von Ullmann und Umbreit (Theological Studies and Criticism by Ullmann and Umbreit), 1829, page 489). At the basis of this statement lies the opinion that the “scientific reasonings” are a necessary result of the facts. If this were so, then “nobody” could ignore them, and he whose feeling draws near the supersensible world can wish that he may be allowed “quietly to lie down to sleep” in the face of the assault of science against the supersensible world. The prediction of Schleiermacher has been realized, insofar as the “scientific reasonings” have established themselves in wide circles. But at the same time, today there exists a possibility of coming to know the supersensible world in just as “scientific” a manner as the interrelationships of sensory facts. The one who familiarizes himself with the science of the spirit in the way this is possible at present, will be preserved from many superstitions by it, and will become able to take the supersensible facts into his conceptual store, thereby divesting himself of the superstition that fear and need have created this supersensible world.

The one who is able to struggle through to this view will no longer be held back by the idea that he might be estranged from reality and practical life by occupying himself with the science of the spirit. He will then realize how the true science of the spirit does not make life poorer, but richer. It will certainly not mislead him into underestimating telephones, railroad technology, and aerial navigation; but in addition he will see many other practical things which remain neglected today, when one believes only in the world of the senses and therefore recognizes only a part of the truth rather than all of it.