BEFORE a congregation of about a thousand Oxford undergraduates, the late Archbishop Temple, twelve or thirteen years ago, argued out the evidence for a spiritual, or at least a qualitative, view of the universe as against a materialistic conception. The essence of his argument ran like this. Man can see the stars; the stars shine on man. But man knows he can see the stars, whereas the stars do not know they shine on man. That is, man beats the stars. This simple argument, couched in the language of popular philosophy to-day, would come fairly near the head of any argument for a religious view of nature. It asserts the superiority of quality over quantity but at the same time this primitive stage of an age-old argument does not proceed to differentiation between qualities or to the choice of quality, in short, to morality, or the distinction between good and evil.
This is relevant in the highest degree to the astonishing news of Tuesday's press that the Western Allies had teamed up the best scientists they could muster to smash the atom, and with it smash their enemies. After years of secret study a test bomb was constructed and placed on a steel tower in the desert of New Mexico. When it was exploded forest rangers more than one hundred and fifty miles away thought there had been an earthquake. A pilot flying three hundred and fifty miles away saw the flash, which to those ten miles away was more intense than daylight. An enormous cloud billowed 40,000 feet up to the stratosphere, and all that remained was a hole in the ground. The experiment, thus far successful, was then applied to the Japanese.
This application recalls the practice of vivisection on condemned prisoners at Alexandria in the early centuries of the Christian era and in the German concentration camps up till a few months ago. But there was a difference. Beforehand, the Japanese nation was given an ultimatum which it rejected. Accordingly a single atomic bomb, with a blasting power equal to that of two thousand of the eleven-ton bombs carried by the R.A.F., was dropped on the Honshu town of Hiroshima opposite Kure. Four square miles of the town were obliterated in an instant, and some two or three hundred thousand men, women and children were massacred in the explosion. Since then, Nagasaki has been hurled after Hiroshima into the pit of dissolution. Anglo-American destructiveness has certainly put Attila and Jenghiz Khan in the shade.
Mr. Churchill in inimitable language has pointed the moral. "This revelation of the secrets of nature,” he wrote while still in office, "long mercifully withheld from man, should arouse the most solemn reflections in the mind and conscience of every human being capable of comprehension. We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce to peace among the nations, and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe they may become a perpetual fountain of world prosperity.” In short, man beats the stars; man beats nature; but can man beat himself? The message of Jesus Christ is that only by the power of the Almighty, revealed first in nature, then by the prophets and finally in the Incarnation, can man beat himself, or, as the psychologist may prefer to put it, sublimate his immoralities. Meantime the atomic bomb should be outlawed as soon as possible by general agreement, like poison gas.