Interes_espiritu cientifico y fe religiosa segun manuel garcia morente

Espíritu científico y fe religiosa según Manuel García Morente

The spirituality of the human being

Author: Sergio Sánchez-Migalló
Published in: Published in Rafael Fayos Febrer (ed.), Razón de la Universidad, CEU Ediciones, Madrid, 2015, pp. 77-89.
Date of publication: 2015

In the context of this work on the university, we could not fail to reflect on experimental science as part of the university and, therefore, its relationship with other forms of knowledge. Well, here we do so in the light of a lecture - entitled "The scientific spirit and religious faith" *(1)- by that great university student, humanist and Christian, Manuel García Morente*(2). As usual in his writings, García Morente takes occasion from the most circumstantial motifs to go straight to the heart of the problem in question and in a way that is always original. This makes it possible to prolong and extend a perennial thought, as will be attempted here.

1. The scientist in the face of religious faith

Already from entrance, the attitude that this disciple of Ortega emphasises -with a certain rhetorically polemical accent- in the scientist who is suspicious of religious faith (who naturally does not have to be, far from it, every scientist) is surely surprising. According to him, such a scientist is fundamentally afraid of faith. Not so much afraid of religion as such (which he probably regards with contempt or even with the compassion of someone who tolerates a naïve delusion), but that the acceptance of this faith will require him to give up his science. He fears that, if he believes, he must embrace a truth that will displace the truth of science and, with it, his prestige as an experimental researcher *(3).

Of course, Morente describes a very specific status : the status of a scientist who is already faced with faith, in the position of accepting - and without deciding to do so - a content of faith that is already known. But it can also be valid for those who are only distantly acquainted with Christian religious doctrine (we are not considering here the content of other religions), since it is enough for them to know that religion proposes a supernatural, meta-empirical truth. And it is also true, curiously enough, for the scientist who claims to believe without really believing. Indeed, the incoherent position of those who claim to believe in religious faith and at the same time hold the scientific truth, but without being concerned about its real compatibility, is not uncommon. Such a researcher supposedly does not enter, out of fear, into the problem of how to believe and do science at the same time. If he persists in Withdrawal to think this cognitive duality, he will end up leading a sort of double life; moreover, he will not really believe. And it is paradoxical - and sad for those of us who believe - that it is not uncommon to find that it is precisely some non-believers who have a better grasp of the demands of faith than many believers. For, certainly, religious faith is not a mere sentiment that refers to contents of dubious reality that are only effective as an occasional consolation. No; to embrace faith is to embrace knowledge, contents held to be real and true - even if such adherence is definitely moved by loving trust. To believe is to believe in a truth that is believed and that, therefore, cannot avoid the problem of other truths, in this case scientific truths. And neither would resource be valid to a kind of parallel truths, as if the truth of science and the truth of faith referred to spheres that do not touch each other, because this is not so. Faith speaks not only of the invisible, but also of realities that we know partially through sensible experience (the human being, his actions that we see, the spectacle of the world,...) and also that God can and does intervene in this material world. But, above all, what is decisive is that faith entails an attitude towards truth that is radically different from that of experimental science. Faith speaks of a truth that is not sensible -although it may affect, we insist, the sensible-, that cannot be experienced, that cannot be demonstrated in a laboratory; that is to say, the opposite of what a scientistic requires as true. And Morente is perfectly aware of the antinomy, he radically poses the problem of the civil service examination problem that can be seen between both kinds of truth.

So what are the roots or reasons for such a possible suspicious or suspicious attitude? Perhaps by tracing its origins we can gain clarity about its sometimes obscure and entrenched nature. Two motives can be discerned in the author's reflections. One is voluntary and the other intellectual, so to speak.

Firstly, a voluntary one. It is a mixture of fear and pride: the fear of losing the security and prestige achieved by experimental science; and the pride of not wanting to abandon the role of supreme social authority - of power, finally - when it comes to truth, as well as of resisting submit the verification of what is believed to an authority instead of verifying it in the first person. When this is the case, rational dialogue becomes almost impossible. Reasons no longer rule, but passions. It is well known that fear and pride (or lust for power) can trigger irrational reactions, in this case against religion. But it is precisely religion - specifically Christian religion - that has the capacity, not to repress and distort (as Nietzsche would have it) these emotions, which are otherwise so human, but to transform them in a beneficial way, to channel and sublimate them *(4).(4) This means treading a deeper and broader path than that of rational argumentation.

Secondly, an intellectual or rational motive, i.e. arguments. In each case it will be necessary to see the relationship between this type of motive and the previous one; in other words, if a voluntary position leads to a search for theoretical justifications or if, on the other hand, certain reasonings end up engendering vital and emotional attitudes. Both processes are possible and complementary, given the human psychological unity and the staff biography of each spirit. Be that as it may, Morente points out two intellectual or propositional arguments: one, that religion is anachronistic and that today, with the advance of history, it is of no use to us at all; and the other, that religion and science are totally different, opposed, incompatible and irreconcilable ways of thinking. Let's take a closer look at these two - from the hand of our author - thesis .

2. Religion and history; the question of values

According to the scientist suspicious of religion, religion does not advance with history. Religion may have been useful in the past, when other explanations were lacking. But now, with the answers we have at our disposal, those provided by religion are even ridiculous and in any case superfluous. However, Morente finds it easy to refute this thesis , because he sees in religion sufficient elements to elaborate a Philosophy of history and, thus, to enter with plenary session of the Executive Council right in the course of history while remaining always current *(5).

Firstly, religion has a coherent and complete outline of history, with a beginning, a development and an end, namely creation, redemption and recapitulation. Religion affirms history, it goes through it in full awareness of its development. It thus endows it with a teleological sense, the opposite of the mere becoming or eternal return typical of pre-Christian and often mythical paganism. Secondly, Christianity points to an ideal of human perfection, staff and collective, which is also characterised as a universal duty. Indeed, such an ideal, that of holiness - nothing less than being perfect "as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48) - is proposed as goal to be pursued without fainting or delay, confidently and perseveringly. And a yearning thus defined constitutes an authentic motor for improvement, for progress, for the perfection of oneself and of the community in which one lives; in other words, it becomes the motor of history. Finally, thirdly, Christian doctrine sees tradition as one of its pillars, that is, the living transmission of testimony and content. A mixture of continuity and renewal that allows it to maintain an identity and at the same time adapt to successive changing circumstances. Morente rightly sees here nothing less than the nerve of history itself. Only with tradition is there unity and the subject of history, at the same time as there is change and progress *(6). Religion is thus not only incorporated with plenary session of the Executive Council right into history, but even animates it from within. Without religion, history becomes a blind process.

Morente's ideas are enriched, moreover, if they are illuminated by a central thesis which is the backbone of another of his major writings, his well-known Essays on Progress *(7). One of the main ideas there is that the idea of progress is only possible and conceivable if it involves a notion core topic: value. Only with the idea of something that is in itself better can one speak of progress, which by definition is change for the better. That is to say, change in itself is only process. But process can be return or progress; and only by being clear that the goal or goal of change is good, valuable, will we generate progress and not return or regress. "Natural transformations not intervened by man are what we call processes. The transformations that deserve the name of progress are, on the other hand, those in which the efficient work of nature has been governed and directed by the human thought of 'finality', of the 'preferable' and 'desired' object" *(8) .Now, the very idea of value is an idea which cannot be given by modern experimental science. As will be seen later in more detail, it is based on sensible experience (more or less mediatised) and mathematical quantification, leaving no room for the non-sensible or the irreducibly qualitative dimension. But value is precisely a quality subject that is not sensible, but essentially qualitative: "To be good is, therefore, to be preferable. And to be preferable is to possess that special nimbus of attraction that some things have more than others. Well then, we shall call this quality of goodness, of preferability, of attractiveness, which distinguishes some things from others, value" *(9).

Therefore, only the Philosophy, and not modern experimental science, has access to this kind of qualities. And, furthermore, religion has access to value in an eminent way, because the source and fullness of all value, God, is revealed to it. So history, as modernity rightly understands it, not only does not surpass or corner religion, but must presuppose religion if it is to have a truly global meaning and plenary session of the Executive Council. What else but God and the perfection of resembling Him (and of resembling society to the kingdom of God, or of perfecting creation by cooperating with God) can move all history, all and every life with all its aspirations and projects, so much and tirelessly?

It may be said that the relationship between religion and history, between faith and progress, has not always been exemplary. And it is true. There have been times when religion has been used to hinder and slow down scientific progress. But, in the first place, there is no lack of examples to the contrary, where science has turned against man (in warfare, for example), without any transcendent reference letter . Secondly, this is more true of religions other than Christianity than of the latter, which encourages us to think and understand the world better, trusting in the God-given human capacity to do so. And, thirdly, it remains to be seen how many errors there are, and their precise nature. It is no secret that one of the cultural tasks pending today is a research and dissemination of the history of science that would undo gross misunderstandings or simply fill in large gaps of ignorance. It is indeed sad to note that the most widespread literature on the history of science - which tends to contrast religion and science - is either not very rigorous and even inaccurate, both scientifically and historically, or lacks a style that would allow it to be disseminated to a wide audience *(10).

3. Religion and Science; the Question of Reality

Morente devotes more attention to the second thesis with which the civil service examination between science and religion is intellectually argued, namely, the one that assumes that scientific and believing ways of thinking are totally different, and even incompatible. After exposing the thick clichés -well known- with which this antagonistic judgement is defended (objectivity of the things of the world versus subjectivity of the beyond; efficient and verifiable causality versus hidden intentions and purposes; freedom versus subjection; lucid and transparent reason versus submissive and blind faith...) *(11), and without stopping to refute them defensively, our author deals directly with the assumptions on the basis of which the scientific spirit rejects the religious spirit. There are four such assumptions: an objectivity in which, without any apriorism, things are given, either by physical experimentation or by mathematical intellectual intuition; the mathematical quantification of reality to achieve accuracy and measurement; exclusively efficient and mechanical causality; and the tendency for all knowledge to be translated into a technical application internship (although the attribution of the latter budget does not seem fair to us, since there is certainly truly theoretical and disinterested experimental science) *(12).

But before continuing, Morente warns of a paradoxical surprise: the world that science describes in this way, supposedly in such a way goal and real, is not the world that we actually live in everyday experience *(13). Man does not experience the world as a plexus of mathematical relations and quantitative measurements, but as a world permeated and enlivened by goods and values that move our spirit: "For the infusorian, perhaps the preferable things are reduced to a few pairs of opposite terms: light and darkness, the assimilable and the unassimilable. Man, on the other hand, perceives around him countless good and bad things, countless plausible and reprehensible acts, countless beautiful and ugly, grandiose and mean, noble and vulgar objects. Our world does not consist only, nor principally, of things, but of those attractions and repulsions which the surroundings exert on our soul. The real and concrete world, the world we actually live in, is not the one described to us by physics, Chemistry, mathematics, but an immense array of goods and evils with which we build our lives" *(14). The latter is the world we really live in, the world that science is supposed to explain. But science wants to convince us of the opposite: it wants to persuade us that what we live in and regard as real, in "reality", is not real (or at least not entirely as we live it), but only an illusion somehow elaborated from the only reality, namely the physical reality described by experimental science.

What then becomes apparent is that the scientific spirit has arrogated to itself, by changing their meaning, two fundamental concepts: that of reality and that of experience. This is the reason for the divergence between the scientific and the religious spirit in the notion of knowledge - from knowledge goal -.

In the first place, with respect to the notion of reality, Morente points out a clear cause of this reductive transformation of this notion: science understands being as strictly univocal *(15). For science, being in general - the way of being of everything that is - has a single meaning, it is of a single class. And that sense or subject is the quantitative, measurable, observable being: the being that experimental science can handle and control. Any other kind of being or reality (suprasensible or irreducibly qualitative) is directly declared unreal, non-existent, illusory. If at all, it is something tolerable for its sentimental or aesthetic utility, but by no means something real and therefore properly true.

Against this position, Morente warns that the univocity of being is not the only possible way of understanding being and that it is in fact understood in other ways. According to him, Aristotle has convincingly shown, first, that being can be understood in an analogical way (that is, in diverse but related senses) and, second, that reality thus exhibits or is sample according to these analogous senses of being *(16).Beings are, then, of different kinds. This is how they appear, and recognising this would be the best sample of an attitude - the scientific, the objective one - which aims to describe and study the observed reality without prejudice *(17). Our author is convinced that this Aristotelian doctrine is right in the face of the materialistic univocity of scientism. It is precisely on this basis that he understands that the world we truly live in is wider than the scientific one - as indicated above - so that the world of science is only a partial world derived from it. To use the famous expression of Husserl (an author well known to Morente), science is only something partial, secondary and posterior to the "world of life": "Science is a human spiritual production, which historically and also for scholars presupposes the departure from the surrounding world of life, intuited, pre-given in common as existing..." (18). *(18).

4. The Problem of the Unity of Experience and Truth

Secondly, the notion of experience is directly linked to the notion of truth. We saw earlier how the scientific spirit has appropriated, by misrepresenting it, the notion of experience (along with that of reality). And with regard to experience, we also noted the difference between the world of science and the wider world of life. On the other hand, as experience is the source and place of appearance of truth, it can be said that the contrast here is between scientific truth and the truth of life in general.

Well, on this point Morente makes an acute and, moreover, very opportune argument for his time *(19). This argument is that the modern Philosophy , already since Descartes, has identified being and truth *(20) .Thus, as truth is univocal, being should also be univocal. But, according to Morente - who certainly cannot be called pre-modern or anti-modern - such an identification is, once again, arbitrary and effectively false *(21). The facts and knowledge rather support the opposite, since two judgements about very different genres of being, such as the natural-scientific and the religious, can be equally true. Therefore, the scientific and religious knowledge are not incompatible; they refer to different spheres and types of being. The scientist, Morente concludes, should not be afraid of assenting to religious truths; this does not mean that he has to renounce his science.

For our part, we would add that the idea of the unity, and even univocity, of truth can lead us in another direction, namely, towards the idea of the coherence of experience. In fact, here we move in the play of three elements: truth, or the giving of something; experience, or the way in which something is given to us; and being, or the something that is given to us. So, as being is analogous or diverse, so is experience, that is, the way in which it is given to us. But the fact of being given, of a judgement being true (even if it is of different kinds -we insist-, and even if there are other ways of being given, such as, for example, evaluative feeling, in the Schelerian sense), is one and the same. And it is precisely this point that we wish to emphasise now.

Indeed, man deeply desires the unity of knowledge, to grasp a unity or coherence of meaning in what is given to him. The simple test is the strong tendency towards justification, both of the world as a whole and of one's own life. And the easy temptation is to directly unify or standardise the object of knowledge, as scientism - ultimately written request materialism - does. But reality, being, cannot be reduced to a single class; nor can experience (and we are not only talking about religious experience; there is also aesthetic, moral, contemplative experience...). And the problem then arises when trying to reconcile these different kinds of experience, what Scheler calls "the three facts" (the pure philosophical or phenomenological fact, the fact of the natural conception of the world and the fact of science) *(22).

This is, at final, the well-known but ever-present question of the unity of knowledge, which is so characteristic of the university and of every human being *(23), because the unity of knowledge shapes the unity of life. This is how the psychiatrist and philosopher - and great admirer of science and technology - Karl Jaspers saw it when speaking of the university: "When the spirit contemplates all-encompassing totalities in itself, when it founds existence on the unconditional, then reason becomes the medium of unlimited enlargement. It does not consent to the dispersion of isolation, but wants cohesion. That is why reason demands cohesion in thinking; it demands not to think this and that as totally independent things, but to relate them to each other, to resolve contradictions, not to let any thought or thing remain isolated. Our reason moves us to a comprehensive contact with all that is. It opens the way through every restriction, it frees us from every inhibition. Wherever it directs its gaze, it brings to the fore and brings to the rescue, so to speak, the core of the being" *(24). This concern is also shared by the Church itself, not in vain the creator and promoter of the university institution itself: "The sectoral aspect of knowledge, insofar as it entails a partial approach to the truth with the consequent fragmentation of meaning, impedes the inner unity of contemporary man. How could the Church not be concerned? *(25). For, in fact, one and the same is the man who does science and who lives and perhaps believes a faith; in other words, no scientist is only a scientist, no humanist or theologian believes or studies without the scientifically enriched world. This means that the question of the unity of knowledge is the responsibility of all: not only of scientists (as perhaps Morente occasionally suggests here), nor only of humanists or believers.

But the scientist - to whom Morente refers, we insist - will not only find this compatibility difficult or even impossible because of the diversity of genres of being and experiencing, but also because of the disconcerting spectacle of the history of thought. For, just as he sees that experimental science advances uniformly (at least within paradigms that only change from time to time), in religions and philosophies we find irreducible differences. In the latter, there is no linear cognitive progress or a general agreement , but irreconcilable, parallel doctrines and traditions. This seems to be the great scandal for modern scientists.

In the face of such strangeness, it should already be said from entrance that the difficulty of a problem does not justify its elimination as a problem itself; nothing would be more anti-scientific. But the fact of being scandalised by this status reveals something more profound, namely that we have not understood the difference we are talking about: the difference between scientific knowledge and religious or philosophical knowledge. For it is not true that the former is goal and absolute because of its exact (mathematical) universality, while the latter is relative and subjective. In fact, the opposite is true. This becomes clear if one notices that the limitation of science to the material dimension already supposes a partiality of the world (of the real world of life), relative moreover to the empirical conditions of the human being; whereas the globality of the vision that religion and Philosophy aim for - although it allows for a plurality of angles or perspectives that are by definition only partial (precisely that "scandalous" diversity of doctrines) - endows this knowledge with a genuinely absolute character, again both because of the object pursued and because of the depth from which the subject tries to understand it.

Referring to this contrast between experimental science and Philosophy, and in particular to the aforementioned scandal that the former sees in the latter, Max Scheler acutely says: "All these reproaches - which do not stem from this or that historical configuration of Philosophy but from its very essence - are, in fact, as much as its titles of nobility" *(26). Which, by the way and in any case, does not exempt us believers and philosophers from the blame for that part of the reason for this criticism, namely the truly scandalous disunity and confusion, both religious and philosophical. And this urgently calls us, then, to the task of permanent dialogue - where better than in the university - among ourselves and with contemporary science.


  1. lecture delivered in Pamplona on 12.X.1941: El espíritu científico y la fe religiosa, in M. García Morente. El ideal universitario y otros escritos, EUNSA, Pamplona, 2012, pp. 81-103. (In M. García Morente. Obras completas, publishing house Anthropos and Fundación Caja de Madrid, Barcelona-Madrid, 1996, volume II, vol. 2, pp. 173-187).
  2. M. García Morente was a lecturer at the School de Philosophy of the then University of Madrid, and Dean between 1932 and 1936.
  3. Cf. M. García Morente, El espíritu científico y la fe religiosa, in El ideal universitario y otros escritos, cit. pp. 82-83.
  4. I refer to a work of mine: Religión, verdad y violencia: la redención del miedo y del poder, in "Revista Miscelánea Comillas", (2015), in press.
  5. Cf. M. García Morente, El espíritu científico y la fe religiosa, in El ideal universitario y otros escritos, cit. pp. 85-86.
  6. This point, moreover with special reference letter to the university, is central to A. MacIntyre, Dios, Philosophy, Universidades: historia selectiva de la tradición filosófica católica, publishing house Nuevo Inicio, Granada, 2012; and also, in reference letter to this author, J. M. Giménez Amaya and S. Sánchez-Migallón, Diagnóstico de la Universidad en Alasdair MacIntyre. Génesis y development de un project antropológico, EUNSA, Pamplona, 2011.
  7. M. García Morente, Ensayos sobre el progreso (speech de ingreso en la Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas, 1932), Ediciones meeting, Madrid, 2002.
  8. Ibid, p. 45.
  9. Ibid, p. 50.
  10. Cf., for example, the interesting seminar by J. Meléndez Sánchez, graduate "Historia de la ciencia: ¿es posible ser pop sin ser whig?" (accessible at:, as well as his book De Tales a Newton, Ellago, Madrid, 2013.
  11. Cf. M. García Morente, El espíritu científico y la fe religiosa, in El ideal universitario y otros escritos, cit. pp. 87-88.
  12. Ibid., pp. 89-93.
  13. Ibid., pp. 94-95.
  14. M. García Morente, Ensayos sobre el progreso, p. 49.
  15. Cf. M. García Morente, El espíritu científico y la fe religiosa, in El ideal universitario y otros escritos, cit. pp. 95-97.
  16. Cf. M. García Morente, Lecciones preliminares de Philosophy, Ediciones meeting, Madrid, 2009, pp. 116-118. Morente was well acquainted with Aristotle's Philosophy , largely thanks to the study -and translations- of Franz Brentano, whose doctoral thesis , by the way, dealt with the analogy of being: F. Brentano, Sobre los múltiples significados del ente según Aristóteles, Ediciones meeting, Madrid, 2007.
  17. Cf. M. García Morente, El espíritu científico y la fe religiosa, in El ideal universitario y otros escritos, cit. pp. 98-100.
  18. E. Husserl, La crisis de las ciencias europeas y la fenomenología trascendental, Prometeo Libros, Buenos Aires, 2008, § 33, p. 163.
  19. It should not be forgotten that this philosopher enthusiastically absorbed with enthusiasm - under Ortega's guidance - the phenomenological thought of Brentano and Husserl, which developed largely as an energetic critique of the idealist thought of Kant and Hegel, as well as of positivism. Cf. M. García Morente, Lecciones preliminares de Philosophy, pp. 322-323 and 336-350.
  20. Cf. Ibid., pp. 149-150, and The Scientific Spirit and Religious Faith, in The University Ideal and Other Writings, cit.
  21. Morente does not go into more detail here, but it would be debatable whether truth is univocal without more; of course - and this seems to suffice for the author's reasoning here - the possible analogy of truth is certainly different from the obvious analogy of being.
  22. Cf. M. Scheler, La doctrina de los tres hechos, in La esencia de la Philosophy y la condición moral del conocer filosófico (con otros escritos sobre el método fenomenológico), Ediciones meeting, Madrid, 2011, pp. 149-212.
  23. Cf. El ideal universitario, in El ideal universitario y otros escritos, cit. pp. 11-38.
  24. K. Jaspers, La idea de la universidad, EUNSA, Pamplona, 2013, p. 57.
  25. S. John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et Ratio, n. 85.
  26. M. Scheler, Vorbilder und Führer, in Gesammelte Werke X, Francke Verlag, Bern 1957, p. 304. I have developed this idea in La conciencia moral y la "verdad staff" según Max Scheler, in "Pensamiento", no. 237 (2007), pp. 475-486.