Originally published in the Jewish Chronicle, 5th January 1962.
A Threefold Cord. By Viscount Samuel and Professor Herbert Dingle. Allen & Unwin. 25s.
This is an absorbing dialogue in which Lord Samuel adopts the role of the Platonist, emphasising the idea, and Professor Dingle that of the Aristotelian, stressing experience. Both participants believe in the need for greater association between philosophers, scientists, and men of religion.
It is somewhat of a pity, therefore, that no member of the third group was invited to form a trio, though the qualifications required would have proved formidable. To match the age of the two distinguished thinkers he would have had to have been at least eighty. To find someone capable of matching their remarkable ability to express the most difficult idea in sparkling prose would have been an even more serious obstacle. For all that, the third strand of the threefold cord is inevitably much weaker, now that philosophy and science are so strongly represented.
Jews, for example, will be disappointed that a book, the co-author of which is one of of Jewry’s most illustrious sons, contains only four references to Judaism, three of them by Professor Dingle, and all of them coupling Judaism with Christianity. Moreover, when a statement of enlightened religious opinion is quoted it is from a sermon by the Dean of Saint Paul’s. Perhaps Jewish religious thinkers ought to see in this a warning that their comparative silence on major theological issues may be construed as an admission—than which nothing could be further from the truth—that Judaism has little to say in these areas.
The reader is lost in admiration that two men of advanced age should have written a book so full of ripe wisdom, courageous thought, and hope for the future, expressed with a beautiful clarity many a younger writer might envy. Both writers are in the classic philosophical tradition. Contemporary thought is acknowledged but given rather cavalier treatment. The value of linguistic analysis as a tool is recognised, but the failure to use the tool for the questions with which we are all concerned is deplored. Existentialism receives even shorter thrift. It is mentioned only once, by Professor Dingle, who states frankly that he does not know what it means.
Both thinkers appear to be suspicious of formal creeds and theologies. Professor Dingle states that the religious body to which he belongs—the Society of Friends—has neither ethical system nor theology. He criticises those who took issue with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that it might be the will of God that the human race should perish and make room for some higher form of being (did the Archbishop quite say this?), comparing them to dinosaurs who happened to opine that perhaps the mammals might be intended by the Supreme Designer to supersede their kind.
Now questions as to what is the will of God, to what extent is it conveyed by the “Inner Light,” whether it has ever been conveyed to mankind in special revelations, are questions with which theologians have been, and are, very much concerned, and eventually their views, too, must be brought into the discussion.
It is hard to imagine, for instance, any representative Jewish expounder of his faith solemnly declaring that God may will mankind to perish to make way for higher forms. But, none the less, Jews who see their faith as not inhospitable to both science and philosophy will share the conviction of the two famous authors that a dialogue between the two and religion is both possible and desirable.