Popular Science Monthly/Volume 26/January 1885/Last Words About Agnosticism
|←Agnostic Metaphysics||Popular Science Monthly Volume 26 January 1885 (1885)
Last Words About Agnosticism
By Herbert Spencer
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THOSE who expected from Mr. Harrison an interesting rejoinder to my reply, will not be disappointed. Those who looked for points skilfully made, which either are, or seem to be, telling, will be fully satisfied. Those who sought pleasure from witnessing a display of literary power, will close his article gratified with the hour they have spent over it. Those only will be not altogether contented who supposed that my outspoken criticism of Mi*. Harrison's statements and views, would excite him to an unusual display of that trenchant style for which he is famous; since he has, for the most part, continued the discussion with calmness. After saying thus much it may seem that some apology is needed for continuing a controversy of which many, if not most, readers, have by this time become weary. But gladly as I would leave the matter where it stands, alike to save my own time and others' attention, there are sundry motives which forbid me. Partly my excuse must be the profound importance and perennial interests of the questions raised. Partly I am prompted by the consideration that it is a pity to cease just when a few more pages will make clear sundry of the issues, and leave readers in a better position for deciding. Partly it seems to me wrong to leave grave misunderstandings unrectified. And partly I am reluctant on personal grounds to pass by some of Mr. Harrison's statements unnoticed.
One of these statements, indeed, it would be imperative on me to notice, since it reflects on me in a serious way. Speaking of the "Descriptive Sociology," which contains a large part (though by no means all) of the evidence used in the "Principles of Sociology," and referring to the compilers who, under my superintendence, selected the materials forming that work, Mr. Harrison says:—
Had Mr. Harrison observed the dates, he would have seen that since the compilation of the "Descriptive Sociology" was commenced in 1867 and the writing of the "Principles of Sociology" in 1874, the parallel he draws is not altogether applicable: the fact being that the "Descriptive Sociology" was commenced seven years in advance for the purpose (as stated in the preface) of obtaining adequate materials for generalizations: sundry of which, I may remark in passing, have been quite at variance with my pre-conceptions.  I think that on consideration, Mr. Harrison will regret having made so grave an insinuation without very good warrant; and he has no warrant. Charity would almost lead one to suppose that he was not fully conscious of its implications when he wrote the above passage; for he practically cancels them immediately afterwards. He says:—'"But of course one can find in this medley of tables almost any view. And I find facts which make for my view as often as any other." How this last statement consists with the insinuation that what Mr. Harrison calls a "medley" of tables contains evidence vitiated by special selection of facts, it is difficult to understand. If the purpose was to justify a foregone conclusion, how does it happen that there are (according to Mr. Harrison) as many facts which make against it as there are facts which make for it?
The question here incidentally raised concerns the primitive religious idea. Which is the original belief, fetichism or the ghost theory? The answer should profoundly interest all who care to understand the course of human thought; and I shall therefore not apologize for pursuing the question a little further.
Having had them counted, I find that in those four parts of the "Descriptive Sociology" which give accounts of the uncivilized races, there are 697 extracts which refer to the ghost-theory: illustrating the belief in a wandering double which goes away during sleep, or fainting, or other form of insensibility, and deserts the body for a longer period at death,—a double which can enter into and possess other persons, causing disease, epilepsy, insanity, etc., which gives rise to ideas of spirits, demons, etc., and which originates propitiation and worship of ghosts. On the other hand there are 87 extracts which refer to the worship of inanimate objects or belief in their supernatural powers. Now even did these 87 extracts support Mr. Harrison's view, this ratio of 8 to 1 would hardly justify his statement that the facts "make for my [his] view as often as any other." But these 87 extracts do not make for his view. To get proof that the inanimate objects are worshipped for themselves simply, instances must be found in which such objects are worshipped among peoples who have no ghost-theory; for wherever the ghost-theory exists it comes into play and originates those supernatural powers which certain objects are supposed to have. When by unrelated tribes scattered all over the world, we find it held that the souls of the dead are supposed to haunt the neighboring forests—when we learn that the Karen thinks "the spirits of the departed dead crowd around him;" that the Society Islanders imagined spirits "surrounded them night and day watching every action;" that the Nicobar people annually compel "all the bad spirits to leave the dwelling;" that an Arab never throws anything away without asking forgiveness of the Efrits he may strike;" and that the Jews thought it was because of the multitudes of spirits in synagogues that "the dress of the Rabbins become so soon old and torn through their rubbing;"—when we find the accompanying belief to be that ghosts or spirits are capable of going into, and emerging from, solid bodies in general, as well as the bodies of the quick and the dead; it becomes obvious that the presence of one of these spirits swarming around, and capable of injuring or benefiting living persons, becomes a sufficient reason for propitiating an object it is assumed to have entered: the most trivial peculiarity sufficing to suggest possession—such possession being, indeed, in some cases conceived as universal, as by the Eskimo, who think every object is ruled by "its or his inuk, which word signifies man, and also owner or habitant Such being the case, there can be no proof that the worship of the objects themselves was primordial, unless it is found to exist where the ghost-theory has not arisen; and I know no instance showing that it does so. But while those facts given in the "Descriptive Sociology" which imply worship of inanimate objects, or ascription of supernatural powers to them, fail to support Mr. Harrison's view, because always accompanied by the ghost-theory, sundry of them directly negative his view. There is the fact that an echo is regarded as the voice of the fetich; there is the fact that the inhabiting spirit of the fetich is supposed to "enjoy the savory smell" of meat roasted before it; and there is the fact that the fetich is supposed to die and may be revived. Further, there is the summarized statement made by Beecham, an observer of fetichism in the region where it is supposed to be specially exemplified, who says that:—
These statements are perfectly in harmony with the conclusion that fetichism is a development of the ghost-theory, and altogether incongruous with the interpretation of fetichism which Mr. Harrison accepts from Comte.
Already I have named the fact that Dr. Tylor, who has probably read more books about uncivilized peoples than any Englishman living or dead, has concluded that fetichism is a form of spirit-worship, and that (to give quotations relevant to the present issue)
. . . A further stretch of imagination enables the lower races to associate the souls of the dead with mere objects.. . . The spirits which enter or otherwise attach themselves to objects may be human souls. Indeed, one of the most natural cases of the fetish-theory is when a soul inhabits or haunts the relics of its former body.
Here I may add an opinion to like effect which Dr. Tylor quotes from the late Prof. Waitz, also an erudite anthropologist. He says:—
In respect of the fetichism distinguishable as nature-worship, Mr. Harrison relies much on the Chinese. He says:—
Had I sought for a case of "a religion of vast antiquity and extent, perfectly clear and well ascertained," which illustrates origin from the ghost-theory, I should have chosen that of China; where the State religion continues down to the present day to be an elaborate ancestor worship, where each man's chief thought in life is to secure the due making of sacrifices to his ghost after death, and where the failure of a first wife to bear a son who shall make these sacrifices, is held a legitimate reason for taking a second. But Mr. Harrison would, I suppose, say that I had selected facts to fit my hypothesis. I therefore give him, instead, the testimony of a bystander. Count D'Alviella has published a brochure concerning these questions on which Mr. Harrison and I disagree. In it he says on page 15:—
La thèse de M. Harrison, au contraire,—que l'homme aurait commencé par l'adoration d'objets matériels "franchement regardés comme tels,"—nous paraît absolument contraire au raisonnement et à l'observation. Il cite, à titre d'exemple, l'antique religion de la Chine, "entièrement basée sur la vénération de la Terre, du Ciel et des Ancêtres, considérés objectivement et non comme la résidence d'êtres immatériels." [This sentence is from Mr. Harrison's first article, not from his second.] C'est là jouer de malheur, car, sans même insister sur ce quo peuvent être des Ancêtres "considérés objectivement," il se trouve précisément que la religion de l'ancien empire Chinois est le type le plus parfait de l'animisme organisé et quelle regarde même les objets matériels, dont elle fait ses dieux, comme la manifestation inséparable, l'enveloppe ou même le corps d'esprits invisibles. [Here in a note Count D'Alviella refers to authorities, "notamment Tiele, 'Manuel de l'histoire des Religions,' traduit par M. Maurice Vernes, Liv. II, et dans la 'Revue de l'Histoire des Religions,' la 'Religion de l'ancien empire Chinois' par M. Julius Happel (t. IV, do. 6)"]
Whether Mr. Harrison's opinion is or is not changed by this array of counter-opinion, he may at any rate be led somewhat to qualify his original statement that "Nothing is more certain than that man everywhere started with a simple worship of natural objects."
I pass now to Mr. Harrison's endeavor to rebut my assertion that he had demolished a simulacrum and not the reality.
I pointed out that he had inverted my meaning by representing as negative that which I regarded as positive. What I have everywhere referred to as the All-Being, he named the All-Nothingness. What answer does he make when I show that my position is exactly the reverse of that alleged? He says that while I am "dealing with transcendental conceptions, intelligible only to certain trained metaphysicians," he is "dealing with religion as it affects the lives of men and women in the world;" that "to ordinary men and women, an unknowable and inconceivable Reality is practically an Unreality;" and that thus all he meant to say was that the "Everlasting Yes" of the "evolutionist," "is in effect on the public a mere Everlasting No" (p. 354). Now compare these passages in his last article with the following passages in his first article:—"One would like to know how much of the Evolutionist's day is consecrated to seeking the Unknowable in a devout way, and what the religious exercises might be. How does the man of science approach the All-Nothingness" (p. 502)? Thus we see that what was at first represented as the unfitness of the creed considered as offered to the select is now represented as its unfitness considered as offered to the masses. What were originally the "Evolutionist" and the "man of science" are now changed into "ordinary men and women" and "the public;" and what was originally called the All-Nothingness has become an "inconceivable Reality." The statement which was to be justified is not justified, but something else is justified in its stead.
Thus it is, too, with the paragraph in which Mr. Harrison seeks to disprove my assertion that he had exactly transposed the doctrines of Dean Mansel and myself, respecting our consciousness of that which transcends perception. He quotes his original words, which were, "there is a gulf which separates even his all-negative deity from Mr. Spencer's impersonal, unconscious, unthinkable Energy." And he then goes on to say: "I was speaking of Mansel's Theology, not of his Ontology. I said deity not the Absolute." Very well; now let us see what this implies. Mansel, as I was perfectly well aware, supplements his ontological nihilism with a theological realism. That which in his ontological argument he represents as a mere "negation of conceivability," he subsequently reasserts on grounds of faith, and clothes with the ordinarily ascribed divine attributes. Which of these did I suppose Mr. Harrison meant by "all-negative deity"? I was compelled to conclude he meant that which in the ontological argument was said to be a "negation of conceivability." How could I suppose that by "all-negative deity" Mr. Harrison meant the deity which Dean Mansel as a matter of "duty" rehabilitates and worships in his official capacity as priest? It was a considerable stretch of courage on the part of Mr. Harrison to call the deity of the established church an "all-negative deity." Yet in seeking to escape from the charge of misrepresenting me he inevitably does this by implication.
In his second article Mr. Harrison does not simply ascribe to me ideas which are wholly unlike those my words express, but he ascribes to me ideas I have intentionally excluded. When justifying my use of the word "proceed," as the most colorless word I could find to indicate the relation between the knowable manifestations present to perception and the Unknowable Reality which transcends perception, I incidentally mentioned, as showing that I wished to avoid those theological implications which Mr. Harrison said were suggested, that the words originally written were "created and sustained;" and that though in the sense in which I used them the meanings of these words did not exceed my thought, I had erased them because "the ideas associated with these words might mislead." Yet Mr. Harrison speaks of these erased words as though I had finally adopted them, and saddles me with the ordinary connotations. If Mr. Harrison defends himself by quoting my words to the effect that the Inscrutable Existence manifested through phenomena "stands towards our general conception of things in substantially the same relation as does the Creative Power asserted by Theology;" then I point to all my arguments as clearly meaning that when the attributes and the mode of operation ordinarily ascribed to "that which lies beyond the sphere of sense" cease to be ascribed, "that which lies beyond the sphere of sense" will bear the same relation as before to that which lies within it, in so far that it will occupy the same relative position in the totality of our consciousness: no assertion being made concerning the mode of connection of the one with the othei'. Surely when I had deliberately avoided the word "create" to express the connection between noumenal cause and the phenomenal effect, because it might suggest the ordinary idea of a creating power separate from the created thing, Mr. Harrison was not justified in basing arguments against me on the assumption that I had used it.
But the course in so many cases pursued by him of fathering upon me ideas incongruous with those I have expressed, and making me responsible for the resulting absurdities, is exhibited in the most extreme degree by the way in which he has built up for me a system of beliefs and practices. In his first article occur such passages as— "seeking the Unknowable in a devout way" (p. 502); can any one "hope anything of the Unknowable or find consolation therein?" (p. 503); and to a grieving mother he represents me as replying to assuage her grief, "Think on the Unknowable" (p. 503). Similarly in his second article he writes, "to tell them that they are to worship this Unknowable is equivalent to telling them to worship nothing" (p. 357); "the worship of the Unknowable is abhorrent to every instinct of genuine religion" (p. 360); "praying to the Unknowable at home" (p. 376); and having in these and kindred ways fashioned for me the observances of a religion which he represents me as "proposing," he calls it "one of the most gigantic paradoxes in the history of thought" (p. 355). So effectually has Mr. Harrison impressed everybody by these expressions and assertions, that I read in a newspaper —"Mr. Spencer speaks of the 'absurdities of the Comtean religion,' but what about his own peculiar cult?"
Now the whole of this is a fabric framed out of Mr. Harrison's imaginations. I have nowhere "proposed" any "object of religion." I have nowhere suggested that any one should "worship this Unknowable." No line of mine gives ground for inquiring how the Unknowable is to be sought "in a devout way," or for asking what are "the religious exercises;" nor have I suggested that any one may find "consolation therein." Observe the facts. At the close of my article "Religion; a Retrospect and Prospect," I pointed out to "those who think that science is dissipating religious beliefs and sentiments," "that whatever of mystery is taken from the old interpretation is added to the new;" increase rather than diminution being the result. I said that in perpetually extending our knowledge of the Universe, concrete science "enlarges the sphere for religious sentiment;" and that progressing knowledge is "accompanied by an increasing capacity for wonder." And in my second article, in further explanation, I have represented my thesis to be "that whatever components of this [the religious] sentiment disappear, there must ever survive those which are appropriate to the consciousness of a Mystery that can not be fathomed and a Power that is omnipresent." This is the sole thing for which I am responsible. I have advocated nothing; I have proposed no worship; I have said nothing about "devotion," or "prayer," or "religious exercises," or "hope," or "consolation." I have simply affirmed the permanence of certain components in the consciousness which "is concerned with that which lies beyond the sphere of sense." If Mr. Harrison says that this surviving sentiment is inadequate for what he thinks the purposes of religion, I simply reply—I have said nothing about its adequacy or inadequacy The assertion that the emotions of awe and wonder form but a fragment of religion, leaves me altogether unconcerned: I have said nothing to the contrary. If Mr. Harrison sees well to describe the emotions of awe and wonder as "some rags of religious sentiment surviving" (p. 358), it is not incumbent on me to disprove the fitness of his expression. I am respnsible for nothing whatever beyond the statement that these emotions will survive. If he shows this conclusion to be erroneous, then indeed he touches me. This, however, he does not attempt. Recognizing though he does that this is all I have asserted, and even exclaiming "is that all!" (p. 358), he nevertheless continues to father upon me a number of ideas quoted above, which I have neither expressed nor implied, and asks readers to observe how grotesque is the fabric formed of them.
I enter now on that portion of Mr. Harrison's last article to which is specially applicable its title "Agnostic Metaphysics." In this he recalls sundry of the insuperable difficulties set forth by Dean Mansel, in his "Bampton Lectures," as arising when we attempt to frame any conception of that which lies beyond the realm of sense. Accepting, as I did, Hamilton's general arguments which Mansel applied to theological conceptions, I contended in "First Principles" that their arguments are valid, only on condition that that which transcends the relative is regarded not as negative, but as positive; and that the relative itself becomes unthinkable as such in the absence of a postulated non-relative. Criticisms on my reasoning allied to those made by Mr. Harrison, have been made before, and have before been answered by me. To an able metaphysician, the Rev. James Martineau, I made a reply which I may be excused here for reproducing, as I can not improve upon it:
Always implying terms in relation, thought implies that both terms shall be more or less defined; and as fast as one of them becomes indefinite, the relation also becomes indefinite, and thought becomes indistinct. Take the case of magnitudes, I think of an inch; I think of a foot; and having tolerably definite ideas of the two, T have a tolerably definite idea of the relation between them. I substitute for the foot a mile; and being able to represent a mile much less definitely, I can not so definitely think of the relation between an inch and a mile—can not distinguish it in thought from the relation between an inch and two miles, as clearly as I can distinguish in thought the relation between an inch and one foot from the relation between an inch and two feet. And now if I endeavor to think of the relation between an inch and the 240,000 miles from here to the Moon, or the relation between an inch and the 92,000,000 miles from here to the Sun, I find that while these distances, practically inconceivable, have become little more than numbers to which I frame no answering ideas, so, too, has the relation between an inch and either of them become practically inconceivable. Now this partial failure in the process of forming thought-relations, which happens even with finite magnitudes when one of them is immense, passes into complete failure when one of them can not be brought within any limits. The relation itself becomes unrepresentable at the same time that one of its terms becomes unrepresentable. Nevertheless, in this case it is to be observed that the almost-blank form of relation preserves a certain qualitative character. It is still distinguishable as belonging to the consciousness of extensions, not to the consciousnesses of forces or durations; and in so far remains a vaguely-identifiable relation. But now suppose we ask what happens when one term of the relation not simply magnitude having no known limits, and duration of which neither beginning nor end is cognizable, but is also an existence not to be defined? In other words, what must happen if one terra of the relation is not only quantitatively but also qualitatively unrepresentable? Clearly in this case the relation does not simply cease to be thinkable except as a relation of a certain class, but it lapses completely. When one of the terms becomes wholly unknowable, the law of thought can no longer be conformed to; both because one term can not be present, and because relation itself can not be framed. . . . In brief then, to Mr. Martineau's objection I reply, that the insoluble difficulties he indicates arise here, as elsewhere, when thought is applied to that which transcends the sphere of thought; and that just as when we try to pass beyond phenomenal manifestations to the Ultimate Reality manifested, we have to symbolize it out of such materials as the phenomenal manifestations give us; so we have simultaneously to symbolize the connection between this Ultimate Reality and its manifestations, as somehow allied to the connections among the phenomenal manifestations themselves. The truth Mr. Martineau's criticism adumbrates, is that the law of thought fails where the elements of thought fail; and this is a conclusion quite conformable to the general view I defend. Still holding the validity of my argument against Hamilton and Mansel, that in pursuance of their own principle the Relative is not at all thinkable as such, unless in contradistinction to some existence posited, however vaguely, as the other term of a relation, conceived however indefinitely; it is consistent on my part to hold that in this effort which thought inevitably makes to pass beyond its sphere, not only does the product of thought become a dim symbol of a product, but the process of thought becomes a dim symbol of a process; and hence any predicament inferable from the law of thought can not be asserted.
Thus then criticisms like this of Mr. Martineau, often recurring in one shape or other, and now again made by Mr. Harrison, do not show the invalidity of my argument, but once more show the imbecility of human intelligence when brought to bear on the ultimate question. Phenomenon without noumenon is unthinkable; and yet noumenon can not be thought of in the true sense of thinking. We are at once obliged to be conscious of a reality behind appearance, and yet can neither bring this consciousness of reality into any shape, nor can bring into any shape its connection with appearance. The forms of our thought, moulded on experiences of phenomena, as well as the connotations of our words formed to express the relations of phenomena, involve us in contradictions when we try to think of that which is beyond phenomena; and yet the existence of that which is beyond phenomena is a necessary datum alike of our thoughts and our words. We have no choice but to accept a formless consciousness of the inscrutable.
I can not treat with fulness the many remaining issues. To Mr. Harrison's statement that it was uncandid in me to implicate him with the absurdities of the Comtean belief and ritual, notwithstanding his public utterances, I reply that whereas ten years ago I was led to think he gave but a qualified adhesion to Comte's religious doctrine, such public utterances of his as I have read of late years, fervid in their eloquence, persuaded me that he had become a much warmer adherent. On his summary mode of dealing with my criticism of the Comtean creed some comment is called for. He remarks that there are "good reasons for declining to discuss with Mr. Spencer the writings of Comte;" and names, as the first, "that he knows [I know] nothing whatever about them" (p. 365). Now as Mr. Harrison is fully aware that thirty years ago I reviewed the English version of those parts of the Positive Philosophy which treat of Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics; and as he has referred to the pamphlet in which, ten years later, I quoted a number of passages from the original to signalize my grounds of dissent from Comte's system; I am somewhat surprised by this statement, and by the still more emphatic statement that to me "the writings of Comte are, if not the Absolute Unknowable, at any rate the Absolute Unknown" (p. 365). Doubtless these assertions are effective; but like many effective assertions they do not sufficiently recognize the facts. The remaining statements in this division of Mr. Harrison's argument, I pass over: not because answers equally adequate with those I have thus far given do not exist, but because I can not give them without entering upon personal questions which I prefer to avoid.
On the closing part of "Agnostic Metaphysics" containing Mr. Harrison's own version of the Religion of Humanity, I have to remark, as I find others remarking, that it amounts, if not to an abandonment of his original position, still to an entire change of front. Anxious, as he has professed himself, to retain the "magnificent word Religion" (p. 504), it now appears that when "the Religion of Humanity" is spoken of, the usual connotations of the word are to be in large measure dropped: to give it these connotations is "to foist in theological ideas where none are suggested by us" (p. 369). While, in his first article, one of the objections raised to the "neo-theisms" as well as "the Unknowable," was that there is offered "no relation whatever between worshipper and worshipped" (p. 505) (an objection tacitly implying that Mr. Harrison's religion supplies this relation), it now appears that Humanity is not to be worshipped in any ordinary sense; but that by worship is simply meant "intelligent love and respect for our human brotherhood," and that "in plain words, the Religion of Humanity means recognizing your duty to your fellow-man on human grounds" (p. 369). Certainly this is much less than what I and others supposed to be included in Mr. Harrison's version of the Religion of Humanity. If he preaches nothing more than an ecstatic philanthropy, few will object; but most will say that his name for it conveyed to them a much wider meaning. Passing over all this, however, I am concerned chiefly to point out another extreme misrepresentation made by Mr. Harrison when discussing my criticism of Comte's assertion that "veneration and gratitude" are due to the Great Being Humanity. After showing why I conceive "veneration and gratitude" are not due to Humanity, I supposed an opponent to exclaim (putting the passage within quotation-marks), "But surely 'veneration and gratitude' are due somewhere," since civilized society with all its products "must be credited to some agency or other." [This apostrophe, imagined as coming from a disciple of Comte, Mr. Harrison, on p. 373, actually represents as made in my own person!] To this apostrophe I have replied (p. 22) that "if 'veneration and gratitude' are due at all, they are due to that Ultimate Cause from which Humanity, individually and as a whole, in common with all other things has proceeded." Whereupon Mr. Harrison changes my hypothetical statement into an actual statement. He drops the "if," and represents me as positively affirming that "veneration and gratitude" are due somewhere: saying that Mr. Spencer "lavishes his veneration and gratitude,' called out by the sum of human civilization, upon his Unknowable and Inconceivable Postulate" (p. 373). I should have thought that even the most ordinary reader, much more Mr, Harrison, would have seen that the argument is entirely an argument ad hominem. I deliberately and carefully guarded myself by the "if" against the ascription to me of any opinion, one way or the other: being perfectly conscious that much is to be said for and against. The optimist will unhesitatingly affirm that veneration and gratitude are due; while by the pessimist it will be contended that they are not due. One who dwells exclusively on what Emerson calls "the saccharine" principle in things, as illustrated for example in the adaptation of living beings to their conditions—the becoming callous to pains that have to be borne, and the acquirement of liking for labors that are necessary—may think there are good reasons for veneration and gratitude. Contrariwise, these sentiments may be thought inappropriate by one who contemplates the fact that there are some thirty species of parasites which prey upon man, possessing elaborate appliances for maintaining their hold on or within his body, and having enormous degrees of fertility proportionate to the small individual chances their germs have of getting into him and torturing him. Either view may be supported by masses of evidence; and knowing this I studiously avoided complicating the issue by taking either side. As any one may see who refers back, my sole purpose was that of showing the absurdity of thinking that "veneration and gratitude" are due to the product and not to the producer. Yet Mr. Harrison, having changed my proposition "if they are due, etc.," into the proposition "they are due, etc.," laughs over the contradictions in my views which he deduces, and to which he time after time recurs, commenting on my "astonishing perversity."
In this division of Mr. Harrison's article occur five other cases in which, after his manner, propositions are made to appear untenable or ludicrous; though any one who refers to them as expressed by me will find them neither the one nor the other. But to show all this would take much trouble to small purpose. Indeed, I must here close the discussion, so far as my own desistence enables me. It is a wearisome and profitless business, this of continually going back on the record, now to show that the ideas ascribed to me are not the ideas I expressed, and now to show that the statements my opponent defends are not the statements he originally made. A controversy always opens side issues. Each new issue becomes the parent of further ones. The original questions become obscured in a swarm of collateral questions; and energies, in my case ill-spared, are wasted to little purpose.
Before closing, however, let me again point out that nothing has been said which calls for change of the views expressed in my first article.
Setting out with the statement that "unlike the ordinary consciousness, the religious consciousness is concerned with that which lies beyond the sphere of sense," I went on to show that the rise of this consciousness begins among primitive men with the belief in a double belonging to each individual, which, capable of wandering away from him during life, becomes his ghost or spirit after death; and that from this idea of a being eventually distinguished as supernatural, there develop, in course of time, the ideas of supernatural beings of all orders up to the highest. Mr. Harrison has alleged that the primitive religion is not belief in, and propitiation of, the ghost, but is worship of "physical objects treated frankly as physical objects" (p. 498). That he has disproved the one view and proved the other, no one will, I think, assert. Contrariwise, he has given occasion for me to cite weighty authorities against him.
Next it was contended that in the assemblage of supernatural beings thus originating in each tribe, some, derived from chiefs, were superior to others; and that, as the compounding and re-compounding of tribes gave origin to societies having social grades and rulers of different orders, there resulted that conception of a hierarchy of ghosts or gods which polytheism shows us. Further it was argued that while, with the growth of civilization and knowledge, the minor supernatural agents became merged in the major supernatural agent, this single great supernatural agent, gradually losing the anthropomorphic attributes at first ascribed, has come in our days to retain but few of them; and, eventually losing these, will then merge into a consciousness of an omnipresent power to which no attributes can be ascribed. This proposition has not been contested.
In pursuance of the belief that the religious consciousness naturally arising, and thus gradually transformed, would not disappear wholly, but that "however much changed it must continue to exist," it was argued that the sentiments which had grown up around the conception of a personal God, though modified when that conception was modified into the conception of a power which can not be known or conceived, would not be destroyed. It was held that there would survive, and might even increase, the sentiments of wonder and awe in presence of a universe of which the origin and nature, meaning and destiny, can neither be known nor imagined; or that, to quote a statement afterwards employed, there must survive those emotions "which are appropriate to the consciousness of a mystery that can not be fathomed and a power that is omnipresent." This proposition has not been disproved; nor, indeed, has any attempt been made to disprove it.
Instead of assaults on these propositions to which alone I am committed, there have been assaults on various propositions gratuitously attached to them; and then the incongruities evolved have been represented as incongruities for which I am responsible.
I end by pointing out as I pointed out before, that "while the things I have said have not been disproved, the things which have been disproved are things I have not said."—Nineteenth Century.
- Elsewhere Mr. Harrison contemptuously refers to the "Descriptive Sociology" as "a pile of clippings made to order." While I have been writing, the original directions to compilers have been found by my present secretary, Mr. James Bridge; and he has drawn my attention to one of the "orders." It says that all works are "to be read not with a view to any particular class of facts but with a view to all classes of facts."
- "Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal," xxiv, part ii, p. 196.
- Ellis, "Polynesian Researches," vol. i, p. 626.
- "Journ. As. Soc. of Ben.,"xv, pp. 348, 349.
- Bastian, "Mensch," ii, 109, 113.
- "Supernatural Religion," 2d ed., vol. i, p. 112.
- Dr. Henry Rink, "Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo," p. 37.
- Tylor, "Primitive Culture," vol. ii, p. 133.
- Ibid., p. 139.
- # Ibid., p 137.
- Ibid., p. 144.
- "Harrison contre Spencer sur la Valeur Religieuse de L'Inconnaissable," par le Cte. Goblet D'Alviella. Paris, Ernest Leroux.
- "Essays," vol. iii, pp. 293-296