THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|SCIENCE AND IMMORTALITY.|
By Rev. T. W. FOWLE.
HE who pretends to have any thing new to say upon so old a subject as the immortality of the soul, must expect to arouse certainly opposition, and probably contempt. Nevertheless, this at least is certain, that the tendency of science, which has powerfully affected every domain of thought in new and unexpected ways, cannot but place the old doctrine of immortality under new and, it may be, unexpected lights, abolishing old arguments, and suggesting new ones that have not yet obtained the consideration they deserve. My object in this paper is to endeavor, by the aid of all victorious analysis, to throw some little light upon the relations of the belief in immortality with scientific thought; and, at the outset, I wish distinctly and positively to affirm that it is not my intention to construct any argument for the belief against science, but merely to explain the conditions under which, as it seems to me, the question must be debated. Those conditions, though in themselves plain and simple, are, I believe, very imperfectly understood, and much bewildering nonsense is talked upon both sides of the question by men who have not clearly realized the nature of evidence, the amount of proof required, or the sources from which that proof must be derived. I think it possible to lay down a series of propositions with which, in principle at any rate, most reasonable minds would agree, and which would have the effect of defining the area of debate and the true point of conflict. This may sound presumptuous; whether it be really so or not, the event alone can prove.
Now, the first demand of science is for an accurate definition of the object of discussion, that is, that both religious and scientific thinkers should be quite sure that they are discussing the same thing. Immortality is bound up in the minds of religious people with a vast amount of beautiful and endearing associations, which form no part of the hard, dry fact itself. The definition of immortality, viewed scientifically, is, I take it, something of this sort: the existence of a thinking, self conscious personality after death, that is, after the bodily functions have ceased to operate. This personality may or may not exist forever; it may or may not be responsible for the past; it may or may not be capable of rest, joy, and love; it may or may not be joined to its old body or to a new body. These, and a hundred similar beliefs with which religion has clothed the mere fact of existence after death, form no essential part, I must again affirm, of the fact itself. And throughout the argument, this, and no other than this, will be the sense in which I use the word immortality; because it is the only one that I have a right to expect that the scientific mind will accept.
It may be well, also, before going further, to make it clear to our-