Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/February 1887/Science and Morals: A Reply
|SCIENCE AND MORALS: A REPLY.|
IN spite of long and, perhaps, not unjustifiable hesitation, I begin to think that there must be something in telepathy. For evidence, which I may not disregard, is furnished by the last number of the "Fortnightly Review," that, among the hitherto undiscovered endowments of the human species, there may be a power even more wonderful than the mystic faculty by which the esoterically Buddhistic sage "upon the farthest mountain in Cathay" reads the inmost thoughts of a dweller within the homely circuit of the London postal district. Great, indeed, is the insight of such a seer; but how much greater is his who combines the feat of reading, not merely the thoughts of which the thinker is aware, but those of which he knows nothing; who sees him unconsciously drawing the conclusions which he repudiates, and supporting the doctrines which he detests! To reflect upon the confusion which the working of such a power as this may introduce into one's ideas of personality and responsibility is perilous—madness lies that way. But truth is truth, and I am almost fain to believe in this magical visibility of the non-existent when the only alternative is the supposition that the writer of the article on "Materialism and Morality" in the current number of the "Fortnightly Review," in spite of his manifest ability and honesty, has pledged himself, so far as I am concerned, to what, if I may trust my own knowledge of my own thoughts, must be called a multitude of errors of the first magnitude.
I so much admire Mr. Lilly's outspokenness, I am so completely satisfied of the uprightness of his intentions, that it is repugnant to me to quarrel with anything he may say; and I sympathize so warmly with his manly scorn of the vileness of much that passes under the name of literature in these times, that I would willingly be silent under his by no means unkindly exposition of his theory of my own tenets, if I thought that such personal abnegation would serve the interest of the cause we both have at heart. But I can not think so. My creed may be an ill-favored thing, but it is mine own, as Touch-stone says of his lady-love, and I have so high an opinion of the solid virtues of the object of my affections that I can not calmly see her personated by a wench who is much uglier and has no virtue worth speaking of. I hope I should be ready to stand by a falling cause if I had ever adopted it; but suffering for a falling cause, which one has done one's best to bring to the ground, is a kind of martyrdom for which I have no taste. In my opinion, the philosophical theory which Mr. Lilly attributes to me—but which I have over and over again disclaimed—is untenable and destined to extinction; and I not unreasonably demur to being counted among its defenders.
After the manner of a mediæval disputant, Mr. Lilly posts up three theses, which, as he conceives, embody the chief heresies propagated by the late Professor Clifford, Mr. Herbert Spencer, and myself. He says that we agree "(1) in putting aside, as unverifiable, everything which the senses can not verify; (2) everything beyond the bounds of physical science; (3) everything which can not be brought into a laboratory and dealt with chemically" (page 477, preceding article).
My lamented young friend Clifford, sweetest of natures though keenest of disputants, is out of reach of our little controversies; but his works speak for him, and those who run may read a refutation of Mr. Lilly's assertions in them. Mr. Herbert Spencer hitherto has shown no lack either of ability or of inclination to speak for himself; and it would be a superfluity, not to say an impertinence, on my part to take up the cudgels for him. But for myself, if my knowledge of my own consciousness may be assumed to be adequate (and I make not the least pretension to acquaintance with what goes on in my "Unbewusstsein"), I may be permitted to observe that the first proposition appears to me to be not true; that the second is in the same case; and that, if there be gradations in untrueness, the third is so monstrously untrue that it hovers on the verge of absurdity, even if it does not actually flounder in that logical limbo. Thus to all three theses I reply in appropriate fashion, Nego—1 say No; and I proceed to state the grounds of that negation, which the proprieties do not permit me to make quite so emphatic as I could desire.
Let me begin with the first assertion, that I "put aside, as unverifiable, everything which the senses can not verify." Can such a statement as this be seriously made in respect of any human being? But I am not appointed apologist for mankind in general, and, confining my observations to myself, I beg leave to point out that, at this present moment, I entertain an unshakable conviction that Mr. Lilly is the victim of a patent and enormous misunderstanding, and that I have not the slightest intention of putting that conviction aside because I can not "verify" it either by touch, or taste, or smell, or hearing, or sight, which (in the absence of any trace of telepathic faculty) make up the totality of my senses.
Again, I may venture to admire the clear and vigorous English in which Mr, Lilly embodies his views; but the source of that admiration does not lie in anything which my five senses enable me to discover in the pages of his article, and of which an orang-outang might be just as acutely sensible. No, it lies in an appreciation of literary form and logical structure by æsthetic and intellectual faculties which are not senses, and which are not unfrequently sadly wanting where the senses are in full vigor. My poor relation may beat me in the matter of sensation; but I am quite confident that, when style and syllogisms are to be dealt with, he is nowhere.
If there is anything in the world which I do firmly believe in it is the universal validity of the law of causation; but that universality can not be proved by any amount of experience, let alone that which comes to us through the senses. And, when an effort of volition changes the current of my thoughts, or when an idea calls up another associated idea, I have not the slightest doubt that the process to which the first of the phenomena in each case is due, stands in the relation of cause to the second. Yet the attempt to verify this belief by sensation would be sheer lunacy. Now, I am quite sure that Mr. Lilly does not doubt my sanity, and the only alternative seems to be the admission that his first proposition is erroneous.
The second thesis charges me with putting aside "as unverifiable" "everything beyond the bounds of physical science." Again, I say No. Nobody, I imagine, will credit me with a desire to limit the empire of physical science; but I really feel bound to confess that a great many very familiar and, at the same time, extremely important phenomena lie quite beyond its legitimate limits. I can not conceive, for example, how the phenomena of consciousness as such, and apart from the physical process by which they are called into existence, are to be brought within the bounds of physical science. Take the simplest possible example, the feeling of redness. Physical science tells us that it commonly arises as a consequence of molecular changes propagated from the eye to a certain part of the substance of the brain, when vibrations of the luminiferous ether of a certain character fall upon the retina. Let us suppose the process of physical analysis pushed so far that one could view the last link of this chain of molecules, watch their movements as if they were billiard-balls, weigh them, measure them, and know all that is physically knowable about them. Well, even in that case we should be just as far from being able to include the resulting phenomenon of consciousness, the feeling of redness, within the bounds of physical science, as we are at present. It would remain as unlike the phenomena we know under the names of matter and motion as it is now. If there is any plain truth upon which I have made it my business to insist over and over again it is this; and, whether it is a truth or not, my insistence upon it leaves not a shadow of justification for Mr. Lilly's assertion.
But I ask in this case, also, how is it conceivable that any man in possession of all his natural faculties should hold such an opinion? I do not suppose that I am exceptionally endowed because I have all my life enjoyed a keen perception of the beauty offered us by nature and by art. Now, physical science may, and probably will, some day enable our posterity to set forth the exact physical concomitants and conditions of the strange rapture of beauty. But, if ever that day arrives, the rapture will remain, just as it is now, outside and beyond the physical world; and, even in the mental world, something superadded to mere sensation. I do not wish to crow unduly over my humble cousin the orang, but in the æsthetic province, as in that of the intellect, I am afraid he is nowhere. I doubt not he would detect a fruit amid a wilderness of leaves where I could see nothing; but I am tolerably confident that he has never been awe-struck, as I have been, by the dim religious gloom, as of a temple devoted to the earth-gods, of the tropical forest which he inhabits. Yet I doubt not that our poor long-armed and short-legged friend, as he sits meditatively munching his durian fruit, has something behind that sad Socratic face of his which is utterly "beyond the bounds of physical science." Physical science may know all about his clutching the fruit and munching it and digesting it, and how the physical titillation of his palate is transmitted to some microscopic cells of the gray matter of his brain; but the feelings of sweetness and of satisfaction which for a moment hang out their signal-lights in his melancholy eyes are as utterly outside the bounds of physics as is the "fine frenzy" of a human rhapsodist.
Does Mr. Lilly really believe that, putting me aside, there is any man with the feeling of music in him who disbelieves in the reality of the delight which he derives from it, because that delight lies outside the bounds of physical science, not less than outside the region of the mere sense of hearing? But, it may be, that he includes music, painting, and sculpture under the head of physical science, and in that case I can only regret I am unable to follow him in his ennoblement of my favorite pursuits.
The third thesis runs that I put aside as "unverifiable" "everything which can not be brought into a laboratory and dealt with chemically"; and once more, I say No. This wondrous allegation is no novelty; it has not unfrequently reached me from that region where gentle (or ungentle) dullness so often holds unchecked sway—the pulpit. But I marvel to find that a writer of Mr. Lilly's intelligence and good faith is willing to father such a wastrel. If I am to deal with the thing seriously, I find myself met by one of the two horns of a dilemma. Either some meaning, as unknown to usage as to the dictionaries, attaches to "laboratory" and "chemical," or the proposition is (what am I to say in my sore need for a gentle and yet appropriate word?)—well—unhistorical.
Does Mr. Lilly suppose that I put aside as "un verifiable" all the truths of mathematics, of philology, of history? And, if I do not, will he have the great goodness to say how the binomial theorem is to be dealt with "chemically," even in the best appointed "laboratory"; or where the balances and crucibles are kept by which the various theories of the nature of the Basque language may be tested; or what reagents will extract the truth from any given history of Rome, and leave the errors behind as a residual calx?
I really can not answer these questions, and unless Mr. Lilly can, I think he would do well hereafter to think more than twice before attributing such preposterous notions to his fellow-men, who, after all, as a learned counsel said, are vertebrated animals.
The whole thing perplexes me much; and I am sure there must be an explanation which will leave Mr. Lilly's reputation for common sense and fair dealing untouched. Can it be—I put this forward quite tentatively—that Mr. Lilly is the victim of a confusion, common enough among thoughtless people, and into which he has fallen unawares? Obviously, it is one thing to say that the logical methods of physical science are of universal applicability, and quite another to affirm that all subjects of thought lie within the province of physical science. I have often declared my conviction that there is only one method by which intellectual truth can be reached, whether the subject-matter of investigation belongs to the world of physics or to the world of consciousness; and one of the arguments in favor of the use of physical science as an instrument of education which I have oftenest used is that, in my opinion, it exercises young minds in the appreciation of inductive evidence better than any other study. But while I repeat my conviction that the physical sciences probably furnish the best and most easily appreciable illustrations of the one and indivisible mode of ascertaining truth by the use of reason, I beg leave to add that I have never thought of suggesting that other branches of knowledge may not afford the same discipline; and assuredly I have never given the slightest ground for the attribution to me of the ridiculous contention that there is nothing true outside the bounds of physical science. Doubtless people who wanted to say something damaging, without too nice a regard to its truth or falsehood, have often enough misrepresented my plain meaning. But Mr. Lilly is not one of these folks, at whom one looks and passes by, and I can but sorrowfully wonder at finding him in such company.
So much for the three theses which Mr. Lilly has nailed on to a page of this "Review." I think I have shown that the first is inaccurate, that the second is inaccurate, and that the third is inaccurate; and that these three inaccurates constitute one prodigious, though I doubt not unintentional, misrepresentation. If Mr. Lilly and I were dialectic gladiators, fighting in the arena of the "Fortnightly," under the eye of an editorial lanista, for the delectation of the public, my best tactics would now be to leave the field of battle. For the question whether I do, or do not, hold certain opinions is a matter of fact, with regard to which my evidence is likely to be regarded as conclusive—at least until such time as the telepathy of the unconscious is more generally recognized.
However, some other assertions are made by Mr. Lilly, which more or less involve matters of opinion whereof the rights and wrongs are less easily settled, but in respect of which he seems to me to err quite as seriously as about the topics we have been hitherto discussing. And the importance of these subjects leads me to venture upon saying something about them, even though I am thereby compelled to leave the safe ground of personal knowledge.
Before launching the three torpedoes which have so sadly exploded on board his own ship, Mr. Lilly says that with whatever "rhetorical ornaments I may gild my teaching," it is "materialism." Let me observe, in passing, that rhetorical ornament is not in my way, and that gilding refined gold would, to my mind, be less objectionable than varnishing the fair face of truth with that pestilent cosmetic, rhetoric. If I believed that I had any claim to the title of "materialist," as that term is understood in the language of philosophy and not in that of abuse, I should not attempt to hide it by any sort of gilding. I have not found reason to care much for hard names in the course of the last thirty years, and I am too old to develop a new sensitiveness. But, to repeat what I have more than once taken pains to say in the most unadorned of plain language, I repudiate, as philosophical error, the doctrine of materialism as I understand it, just as I repudiate the doctrine of spiritualism as Mr. Lilly presents it, and my reason for thus doing is, in both cases, the same; namely, that, whatever their differences, materialists and spiritualists agree in making very positive assertions about matters of which I am certain I know nothing, and about which I believe they are, in truth, just as ignorant. And further, that, even when their assertions are confined to topics which lie within the range of my faculties, they often appear to me to be in the wrong. And there is yet another reason for objecting to be identified with either of these sects; and that is that each is extremely fond of attributing to the other, by way of reproach, conclusions which are the property of neither, though they infallibly flow from the logical development of the first principles of both. Surely a prudent man is not to be reproached because he keeps clear of the squabbles of these philosophical Bianchi and Neri, by refusing to have anything to do with either?
I understand the main tenet of materialism to he that there is nothing in the universe but matter and force, and that all the phenomena of Nature are explicable by deduction from the properties assignable to these two primitive factors. That great champion of materialism whom Mr. Lilly appears to consider to be an authority in physical science, Dr. Büchner, embodies this article of faith on his title-page. Kraft und Stoff—force and matter—are paraded as the Alpha and Omega of existence. This I apprehend is the fundamental article of the faith materialistic; and whosoever does net hold it is condemned by the more zealous of the persuasion (as I have some reason to know) to the Inferno appointed for fools or hypocrites. But all this I heartily disbelieve; and, at the risk of being charged with wearisome repetition of an old story I will briefly give ray reasons for persisting in my infidelity. In the first place, as I have already hinted, it seems to me pretty plain that there is a third thing in the universe, to wit, consciousness, which, in the hardness of my heart or head, I can not see to be matter or force, or any conceivable modification of either, however intimately the manifestations of the phenomena of consciousness may be connected with the phenomena known as matter and force. In the second place, the arguments used by Descartes and Berkeley to show that our certain knowledge does not extend beyond our states of consciousness, appear to me to be as irrefragable now as they did when I first became acquainted with them some half-century ago. All the materialistic writers I know of who have tried to bite that file have simply broken their teeth. But, if this is true, our one certainty is the existence of the mental world, and that of Kraft und Stoff falls into the rank of, at best, a highly probable hypothesis.
Thirdly, when I was a mere boy, with a perverse tendency to think when I ought to have been playing, my mind was greatly exercised by this formidable problem. What would become of things if they lost their qualities? As the qualities had no objective existence and the thing without qualities was nothing, the solid world seemed whittled away—to my great horror. As I grew older, and learned to use the terms matter and force, the boyish problem was revived, mutato nomine. On the one hand, the notion of matter without force seemed to resolve the world into a set of geometrical ghosts, too dead even to jabber. On the other hand, Boscovich's hypothesis, by which matter was resolved into centers of force, was very attractive. But when one tried to think it out, what in the world became of force considered as an objective entity? Force, even the most materialistic of philosophers will agree with the most idealistic, is nothing but a name for the cause of motion. And if, with Boscovich, I resolved things into centers of force, then matter vanished altogether and left immaterial entities in its place. One might as well frankly accept idealism and have done with it.
I must make a confession, even if it be humiliating. I have never been able to form the slightest conception of those "forces" which the materialists talk about, as if they had samples of them many years in bottle. They tell me that matter consists of atoms, which are separated by mere space devoid of contents; and that, through this void, radiate the attractive and repulsive forces whereby the atoms affect one another. If anybody can clearly conceive the nature of these things which not only exist in nothingness, but pull and push there with great vigor, I envy him for the possession of an intellect of larger grasp, not only than mine, but than that of Leibnitz or of Newton. To me the "chimæra, bombinans in vacuo quia comedit secundas intentiones" of the schoolmen, is a familiar and domestic creature compared with such "forces." Besides, by the hypothesis, the forces are not matter; and thus all that is of any particular consequence in the world turns out to be not matter on the materialist's own showing. Let it not be supposed that I am casting a doubt upon the propriety of the employment of the terms "atom" and "force," as they stand among the working hypotheses of physical science. As formulæ which can be applied, with perfect precision and great convenience, in the interpretation of Nature, their value is incalculable; but, as real entities, having an objective existence, an indivisible particle which nevertheless occupies space, is surely inconceivable; and with respect to the operation of that atom, where it is not, by the aid of a "force" resident in nothingness, I am as little able to imagine it as I fancy any one else is.
Unless and until anybody will resolve all these doubts and difficulties for me, I think I have a right to hold aloof from materialism. As to spiritualism, it lands me in even greater difficulties when I want to get change for its notes-of-hand in the solid coin of reality. For the assumed substantial entity, spirit, which is supposed to underlie the phenomena of consciousness, as matter underlies those of physical nature, leaves not even a geometrical ghost when these phenomena are abstracted. And, even if we suppose the existence of such an entity apart from qualities—that is to say a bare existence—for mind, how does anybody know that it differs from that other entity, apart from qualities, which is the supposed substratum of matter? Spiritualism is, after all, little better than materialism turned upside down. And if I try to think of the "spirit" which a man, by this hypothesis, carries about under his hat, as something devoid of relation to space, and as something indivisible even in thought, while it is, at the same time, supposed to be in that place and to be possessed of half a dozen different faculties, I confess I get quite lost.
As I have said elsewhere, if I were forced to choose between materialism and idealism, I should elect for the latter; and I certainly would have nothing to do with the effete mythology of spiritualism. But I am not aware that I am under any compulsion to choose either the one or the other. I have always entertained a strong suspicion that the sage who maintained that man is the measure of the universe was sadly in the wrong, and age and experience have not weakened that conviction. In following these lines of speculation I am reminded of the quarter-deck walks of my youth. In taking that form of exercise, you may perambulate through all points of the compass with perfect safety, so long as you keep within certain limits: forget those limits, in your ardor, and mere smothering and spluttering, if not worse, await you. I stick by the deck, and throw a life-buoy now and then to the struggling folk who have gone overboard; and all I get for my humanity is the abuse of all whenever they leave off abusing one another.
Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to presume to go about unlabeled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control. I could find no label that would suit me, so, in my desire to range myself and be respectable, I invented one; and, as the chief thing I was sure of was that I did not know a great many things that the—ists and the—ites about me professed to be familiar with, I called myself an agnostic. Surely no denomination could be more modest or more appropriate; and I can not imagine why I should be every now and then haled out of my refuge and declared sometimes to be a materialist, sometimes an atheist, sometimes a positivist; and sometimes, alas and alack, a cowardly or reactionary obscurantist!
I trust that I have, at last, made my case clear, and that, henceforth, I shall be allowed to rest in peace—at least, after a further explanation or two, which Mr.Lilly proves to me may be necessary. It has been seen that my excellent critic has original ideas respecting the meaning of the words "laboratory" and "chemical"; and, as it appears to me, his definition of "materialist" is quite as much peculiar to himself. For, unless I misunderstand him, and I have taken pains not to do so, he puts me down as a materialist (over and above the grounds which I have shown to have no foundation); firstly, because I have said that consciousness is a function of the brain; and, secondly, because I hold by determinism. "With respect to the first point, I am not aware that there is any one who doubts that, in the proper physiological sense of the word function, consciousness, in certain forms at any rate, is a cerebral function. In physiology we call function that effect, or series of effects, which results from the activity of an organ. Thus, it is the function of muscle to give rise to motion; and the muscle gives rise to motion when the nerve which supplies it is stimulated. If one of the nerve-bundles in a man's arm is laid bare and a stimulus is applied to certain of the nervous filaments, the result will be production of motion in that arm. If others are stimulated, the result will be the production of the state of consciousness called pain. Now, if I trace these last nerve-filaments, I find them to be ultimately connected with part of the substance of the brain, just as the others turn out to be connected with musculai: substance. If the production of motion, in the one case, is properly said to be the function of the muscular substance, why is the production of a state of consciousness, in the other case, not to be called a function of the cerebral substance? Once upon a time, it is true, it was supposed that a certain "animal spirit" resided in muscle and was the real active agent. But we have done with that wholly superfluous fiction so far as the muscular organs are concerned. Why are we to retain a corresponding fiction for the nervous organs?
If it is replied that no physiologist, however spiritual his leanings, dreams of supposing that simple sensations require a "spirit" for their production, then I must point out that we are all agreed that consciousness is a function of matter, and that particular tenet must be given up as a mark of materialism. Any further argument will turn upon the question, not whether consciousness is a function of the brain, but whether all forms of consciousness are so. Again, I hold it would be quite correct to say that material changes are the causes of psychical phenomena (and, as a consequence, that the organs m which these changes take place have the production of such phenomena for their function), even if the spiritualistic hypothesis had any foundation. For nobody hesitates to say that an event A is the cause of an event Z, even if there are as many intermediate terms, known and unknown, in the chain of causation as there are letters between A and Z. The man who pulls the trigger of a loaded pistol placed close to another's head certainly is the cause of that other's death, though, in strictness, he "causes" nothing but the movement of the finger upon the trigger. And, in like manner, the molecular change which is brought about in a certain portion of the cerebral substance by the stimulation of a remote part of the body would be properly said to be the cause and the consequent feeling, whatever unknown terms were interposed between the physical agent and the actual psychical product. Therefore, unless materialism has the monopoly of the right use of language, I see nothing materialistic in the phraseology which I have employed.
The only remaining justification which Mr.Lilly offers for dubbing me a materialist, malgré moi, arises out of a passage which he quotes, in which I say that the progress of science means the extension of the province of what we call matter and force, and the concomitant gradual banishment from all regions of human thought of what we call spirit and spontaneity. I hold that opinion now, if anything, more firmly than I did when I gave utterance to it a score of years ago, for it has been justified by subsequent events. But what that opinion has to do with materialism I fail to discover. In my judgment it is consistent with the most thoroughgoing idealism, and the grounds of that judgment are really very plain and simple.
The growth of science, not merely of physical science, but of all science, means the demonstration of order and natural causation among phenomena which had not previously been brought under those conceptions. Nobody who is acquainted with the progress of scientific thinking in every department of human knowledge, in the course of the last two centuries, will be disposed to deny that immense provinces have been added to the realm of science; or to doubt, that the next two centuries will be witnesses of a vastly greater annexation. More particularly in the region of the physiology of the nervous system, is it justifiable to conclude from the progress that has been made in analyzing the relations between material and psychical phenomena, that vast further advances will be made; and that, sooner or later, all the so-called, spontaneous operations of the mind will have, not only their relations to one another, but their relations to physical phenomena, connected in natural series of causes and effects, strictly defined. In other words, while, at present, we know only the nearer moiety of the chain of causes and effects, by which the phenomena we call material give rise to those which we call mental; hereafter, we shall get to the further end of the series.
In my innocence, I have been in the habit of supposing that this is merely a statement of facts, and that the good Bishop Berkeley, if he were alive, would find such facts fit into his system without the least difficulty. That Mr. Lilly should play into the hands of his foes, by declaring that unmistakable facts make for them, is an exemplification of ways that are dark, quite unintelligible to me. Surely Mr.Lilly does not hold that the disbelief in spontaneity—which terra, if it has any meaning at all, means uncaused action—is a mark of the beast materialism? If so, he must be prepared to tackle many of the Cartesians (if not Descartes himself), Spinoza and Leibnitz among the philosophers, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin and his followers, among theologians, as materialists—and that surely is a sufficient reductio ad absurdum of such a classification.
The truth is, that in his zeal to paint "materialism," in large letters, on everything he dislikes, Mr.Lilly forgets a very important fact, which, however, must be patent to every one who has paid attention to the history of human thought; and that fact is, that every one of the speculative difficulties which beset Kant's three problems, the existence of a Deity, the freedom of the will, and immortality, existed ages before anything that can be called physical science, and would continue to exist if modern physical science were swept away. All that physical science has done has been to make, as it were, risible and tangible some difficulties that formerly were more hard of apprehension. Moreover these difficulties exist just as much on the hypothesis of idealism as on that of materialism.
The student of Nature who starts from the axiom of the universality of the law of causation can not refuse to admit an eternal existence; if he admits the conservation of energy, he can not deny the possibility of an eternal energy; if he admits the existence of immaterial phenomena in the form of consciousness, he must admit the possibility, at any rate, of an eternal series of such phenomena; and, if his studies have not been barren of the best fruit of the investigation of Nature, be will have enough sense to see that when Spinoza says "Per Deum intelligo ens absolute infinitum, hoc est substantiam constantem infinitis attributis," the God so conceived is one that only a very great fool would deny, even in his heart. Physical science is as little atheistic as it is materialistic.
So with respect to immortality. As physical science states this problem, it seems to stand thus: Is there any means of knowing whether the series of states of consciousness, which has been causally associated for threescore years and ten with the arrangement and movements of innumerable millions of successively different material molecules, can be continued, in like association, with some substance which has not the properties of "matter and force"? As Kant said, on a like occasion, if anybody can answer that question, he is just the man I want to see. If he says that consciousness can not exist except in relation of cause and effect with certain organic molecules, I must ask how he knows that; and if he says it can, I must put the same question. And I am afraid that, like jesting Pilate, I shall not think it worth while (having but little time before me) to wait for an answer.
Lastly, with respect to the old riddle of the freedom of the will. In the only sense in which the word freedom is intelligible to me—that is to say, the absence of any restraint upon doing what one likes within certain limits—physical science certainly gives no more ground for doubting it than the common sense of mankind does. And if physical science, in strengthening our belief in the universality of causation and abolishing chance as an absurdity, leads to the conclusions of determinism, it does no more than follow the track of consistent and logical thinkers in philosophy and in theology before it existed or was thought of. Whoever accepts the universality of the law of causation as a dogma of philosophy, denies the existence of uncaused phenomena. And the essence of that which is improperly called the free-will doctrine is that occasionally, at any rate, human volition is self caused, that is to say, not caused at all; for to cause one's self one must have anteceded one's self—which is, to say the least of it, difficult to imagine.
Whoever accepts the existence of an omniscient Deity as a dogma of theology, affirms that the order of things is fixed from eternity to eternity; for the foreknowledge of an occurrence means that the occurrence will certainly happen; and the certainty of an event happening is what is meant by its being fixed or fated. Whoever asserts the existence of an omnipotent Deity, and that he made and sustains all things, and is the causa causarum, can not, without a contradiction in terras, assert that there is any cause independent of him; and it is a mere subterfuge to assert that the cause of all things can "permit" one of these things to he an independent cause.
Whoever asserts the combination of omniscience and omnipotence as attributes of the Deity, does implicitly assert predestination. For he who knowingly makes a thing and places it in circumstances the operation of which on that thing he is perfectly acquainted with, does predestine that thing to whatever fate may befall it.
Thus, to come, at last, to the really important part of all this discussion, if the belief in a God is essential to morality, physical science offers no obstacle thereto; if the belief in immortality is essential to morality, physical science has no more to say against the probability of that doctrine than the most ordinary experience has, and it effectually closes the mouths of those who pretend to refute it by objections deduced from merely physical data. Finally, if the belief in the uncausedness of volition is essential to morality, the student of physical science has no more to say against that absurdity than the logical philosopher or theologian. Physical science, I repeat, did not invent determinism, and the deterministic doctrine would stand on just as firm a foundation as it does if there were no physical science. Let any one who doubts this read Jonathan Edwards, whose demonstrations are derived wholly from philosophy and theology.
Thus, when Mr.Lilly, like another Solomon Eagle, goes about proclaiming "Woe to this wicked city!" and denouncing physical science as the evil genius of modern days—mother of materialism, and fatalism, and all sorts of other condemnable isms—I venture to beg him to lay the blame on the right shoulders; or, at least, to put in the dock, along with Science, those sinful sisters of hers, Philosophy and Theology, who, being so much older, should have known better than the poor Cinderella of the schools and universities over which they have so long dominated. No doubt modern society is diseased enough; but then it does not differ from older civilizations in that respect.
Societies of men are fermenting masses, and as beer has what the Germans call "Oberhefe" and "Unterhefe," so every society that has existed has had its scum at the top and its dregs at the bottom; and I doubt if any of the "ages of faith" had less scum or less dregs, or even showed a proportionally greater quantity of sound wholesome stuff in the vat. I think it would puzzle Mr.Lilly or any one else to adduce convincing evidence that, at any period of the world's history, there was a more wide-spread sense of social duty, or a greater sense of justice, or of the obligation of mutual help, than in this England of ours. Ah! but, says Mr.Lilly, these are all products of our Christian inheritance; when Christian dogmas vanish, virtue will disappear too, and the ancestral ape and tiger will have full play. But there are a good many people who think it obvious that Christianity also inherited a good deal from paganism and from Judaism, and that if the Stoics and the Jews revoked their bequest the moral property of Christianity would realize very little. And, if morality has survived the stripping off of several sets of clothes which have been found to fit badly, why should it not be able to get on very well in the light and handy garments which Science is ready to provide?
But this by-the-way. If the diseases of society consist in the weakness of its faith in the existence of the God of the theologians, in a future state, and in uncaused volitions, the indication, as the doctors say, is to suppress theology and philosophy, whose bickerings about things of which they know nothing have been the prime cause and continual sustenance of that evil skepticism which is the Nemesis of meddling with the unknowable.
Cinderella is modestly conscious of her ignorance of these high matters. She lights the fire, sweeps the house, and provides the dinner, and is rewarded by being told that she is a base creature devoted to low and material interests; but in her garret she has fairy visions out of the ken of the pair of shrews who are quarreling down-stairs. She sees the order which pervades the seeming disorder of the world; the great drama of evolution with its full share of pity and terror, but also with abundant goodness and beauty, unrolls itself before her eyes; and she learns in her heart of hearts the lesson, that the foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.
She knows that the safety of morality lies neither in the adoption of this or that philosophical speculation, or this or that theological creed, but in a real and living belief in that fixed order of Nature which sends social disorganization upon the track of immorality as surely as it sends physical disease after physical trespasses; and of that firm and lively faith it is her high mission to be the priestess.—Fortnightly Review.
- See the famous "Collection of Papers," published by Clarke in 1717. Leibnitz says, "'Tis also a supernatural thing that bodies should attract one another at a distance without any intermediate means." And Clarke, on behalf of Newton, caps this as follows: "That one body should attract another without any intermediate means is, indeed, not a miracle, but a contradiction; for, 'tis supposing something to act where it is not."
- I may cite in support of this obvious conclusion of sound reasoning, two authorities who will certainly not be regarded lightly by Mr.Lilly. These are Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The former declares that "Fate" is only an ill-chosen name for Providence.
"Prorsus divina providentia regna constituuntur humana. Quæ si propterea quisquam fato tribuit, quia ipsam Dei voluntatem vel potestatem fati nomine appellat, sententiam tencat, linguam corrigat."'—Augustinus De Civitate Dei, V, c.i.
The other great doctor of the Catholic Church, "Divus Thomas," as Suarez calls him, whose marvelous grasp and subtilty of intellect seem to me to be almost without a parallel, puts the whole case into a nutshell, when he says that the ground for doing a thing in the mind of the doer is as it were the pre-existence of the thing done:
"Ratio autem aheujus fiendi in mente actoris existens est quædam præ-existentia rei fiendæ in eo" (Summa, Qu. xxiii.Art.i).
If this is not enough, I may further ask what "Materialist" has ever given a better statement of the case for determinism, on theistic grounds, than is to be found in the following passage of the Summa, Qu.xiv, Art.xiii:
"Omnia quæ sunt in tempore, sunt Deo ab æterno præsentia, non solum ca ex ratione quâ habet rationes rerum apud se presentes, ut quædam dicunt, sed quia ejus intuitus fertur ab æterno supra omnia, prout sunt in sua præscntialitate. Unde manifestum est quod continegentia infallibiliter a Deo cognoscuntur, in quantum subduntur divino conspectui secundum suam præsentialitatem; et tamen sunt futura contingentia, suis causis proximis comparata."