Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/339

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
327
MR. BALFOUR'S DIALECTICS.
MR. BALFOUR'S DIALECTICS.

By HERBERT SPENCER.

IN early stages of progress gods, conceived as man-like in so many other respects, are conceived as man-like in their credulity: deceptions being consequently practiced upon them. Sometimes in place of a human being an animal dressed up as a human being is immolated. Among the ancient Mexicans effigies of men were subject to sacrificial ceremonies like those to which actual men had been subject. The Chinese carry the system of sham offerings very far; making paper-models of properties, utensils, and money, and burning them to propitiate the worshiped beings. And there are peoples among whom deceptions of this nature are practiced in the avowed belief that their gods are stupid. So that as the marauding Basuto expects by certain sounds to deceive the gods of the people he is robbing, so, in other cases, the semblance of an offering to a god is supposed to be mistaken by him for the reality.

What is the relevance of these facts? Well, I am reminded of them by observing how easily deluded is that many-headed god to whom in our day multitudinous sacrifices are made (especially of convictions), and before whom so much incense is burnt — the god Demos, I was about to say, but remembering the restricted meaning of the word, let me say instead the apotheosized Public, whose fiat, uttered through its delegates, is thought to be a final criterion of good and evil, right and wrong. For this modern deity is deluded with scarcely less ease than the year-god of the Chinese is supposed to be deluded by paper offerings. Similarly lacking in discrimination, it does not distinguish between a semblance and a reality; and when the process of destroying the semblance has been gone through, it shows, by demonstrations of delight, that it thinks the reality has been destroyed. A good illustration was furnished at the last meeting of the British Association by Lord Salisbury. Beginning his presidential address with the remark that he felt like "a colonel of volunteers" reviewing "an army corps at Aldershot," but shortly assuming the manner proper to a colonel of the guards reviewing the "awkward squad," he set forth what he professed to be the hypothesis of Natural Selection; and then, with an amusing simile, thrust it through, and, as it seemed to the onlooking public, let out its life-blood. Whereupon came through the press rounds of applause, and among readers much throwing up of caps and laughter at the fallacy detected: even comic verses, illustrative of the supposed absurdity, being published. Very curious was it to observe how a doctrine which Mr. Darwin had spent a life in