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"A Scientific Faith's Absurd"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The concept of evolution was one of the burning issues on the Victorian mind. From those like Thomas Huxley to those like William Wilberforce, the factions took solid positions from which neither scientific evidence nor mystic revelation would shake them. And it was a time when compromise was a virtual impossibility–the world resulted either from God or from accident. Browning frequently touches upon this theme in his poetry. In "Caliban Upon Setebos," for instance, he depicts the kind of man who can and must accept the naturalist's position. Also, in "Easter-Day" he sets forth a spokesman who is being assailed for his position in faith. The speaker, who embodies Browning's philosophy that the efficacy of life is gained through the effort one expends in the inevitable struggles and conflicts, concludes that it is blessed to be "crossed and thwarted as a man,/ Not left in God's contempt apart,/ With ghastly smooth life, dead at heart,/ Tame in earth's paddock as her prize." He thanks God that he finds it "hard to be a Christian," for the activity of struggle is the essence of life itself. In the opening sections of the poem, the speaker confronts the conventional issue concerning the scientific proof of Christ and his teachings:

So, the old process, I conclude,
Goes on, the reasoning's pursued
Further, You own, "'Tis well averred,"
A scientific faith's absurd,
–Frustrates the very end 'twas meant
To serve. So, I would rest content
With a mere probability,
But, probable; the chance must lie,
Clear on one side,–lie all in rough,
So long as there be just enough
To pin my faith to, though it hap
Only at points: from gap to gap
One hangs up a huge curtain so,
Grandly, nor seeks to have it go
Foldless and flat along the wall.