Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/November 1893/Immaterial Science
THE Material View of Life and its Relations to the Spiritual, by Prof. Graham Lusk, Assistant Professor of Physiology, Yale Medical School, in The Popular Science Monthly for August, 1893, presents to the mind of a layman a unique combination of facts and fancies, of scientific deductions and metaphysical assumptions. The professor's "material view" in the main finds adequate support in the domain of demonstrable knowledge, but his "reasoning" process in support of his spiritual view is distributed over a good deal of imaginative and unknown territory. The professor observes: "Matter is divided into ponderable and imponderable—ponderable, that which can be weighed; imponderable, that which can not be weighed." Some proof is certainly required in support of this statement. The conventional terms of speech employed in treating of matter admit of a division of matter within certain limitations, to more clearly establish the differences in material forms; but to boldly imply that a portion of the matter in existence has no weight—is imponderable—is to challenge the presentation of clearly defined evidence. The professor may be right, he may be wrong. He may believe he is right, yet belief in the absence of knowledge is mere belief, and one belief in the abstract is of about as much importance as any other belief, however ridiculous. Moreover, to assume to establish the existence of an "ether" as a means of explaining "something otherwise inexplicable," is a process of reasoning which may pass at par with very learned metaphysicians, but it can hardly claim the serious attention of thinking minds, particularly when the "something otherwise inexplicable" is something the existence of which is taken for granted. The professor continues his process of reasoning: "A man dies; the spirit passes from him; the flesh is left." The synthetical activities of the body which produced the phenomena of life have ceased; the analytical or destructive process is master of the situation; but "the spirit passes from him"! What passes from him? What is this spirit, professor? "Imponderable spirit" is it? I don't understand you, because I do not know what you are talking about. You may explain that the spirit is ethereal matter. Will I be informed as to what spirit may be or is, when I know nothing about imponderable matter? "And likewise may there not be a spiritual ether surrounding us, a medium through which impulses may come to the spirit from on high, and from the spirit be transmitted to the intellect? Such influences come to us strongly at times, as at the communion table." This may be so, but even your single illustration, as to causation, lacks confirmation. We have observed so-called evidences of "the spirit from on high" in the prostrate forms of persons at sacred altars, persons in a state of unconsciousness produced by brain acting upon brain. I know, if I know anything, that a certain amount of physical energy is involved in every instance of nervous excitation, and that the influence of this energy acting upon matter is easily communicated to, and will act upon, willing subjects. Still further: "Now, is it not conceivable that, in the spirit after its severance from the flesh, our present imperfect senses may become perfect, and the influence of other now unthought-of sensations become possible?" No, it is not conceivable, if the conception is to rest upon a rational basis—truths at this time demonstrable. The existence of "unthought-of sensations" is a bold assumption. The conception is not scientific, because our present "imperfect senses" are the outcome of purely physical (earthly) conditions, so far as science knows anything about the senses. What science does not know, or what science may know hereafter, has nothing to do and can have nothing to do with the professor's conception at present.
I concede to every man the right to formulate a belief that will afford him some needed consolation in his struggle for existence, so long as he is perfectly willing to allow other men to do likewise without let or hindrance, but no belief should be set forth in the name of science unless there be tangible evidence produced in support of it.
It is frequently observed that some scientists are loath to accept and to abide by the results obtained as the fruitage of their laborious investigations. They observe the operations of Nature, closely study causes and effects, discern principles of action, and thereupon formulate truths. Forthwith these truths must be utilized to bolster up preconceived notions which have no foundation in fact. Thus valuable time is wasted, and the progress of scientific research is retarded as well. No scientist should start out in search of nothing. He must have an object in view, and that object must in a measure be defined. Science has no business to halt by the wayside and inquire whether or not the truths found in the book of Nature will horrify those who are nursing some creed or dogma. Truth is truth, and an apology for its existence received from any quarter is quite superfluous. If the truths of science have terrors for a man's religion there must be something wrong and untrue in connection with his religion. If his religion be based upon knowledge, love, justice, and mercy, he will encounter no terrors in the realm of science; if his religion means a desire to know the why and wherefore of existences about him and the determination to add his mite of power in helping to ameliorate human conditions, the truths of science will serve as his handmaiden.
The assumed cleverness and wisdom attributed, in the professor's article, to certain thinkers may apply in some instances, but no one realizes more fully than the student of Nature himself the fact that he knows but little and can never know a great deal. But he finds in this reflection no reason why he should quit his labors or even turn aside to ingeniously weave an apologetic yarn, lest his conclusions unmixed with sophistry might possibly horrify some prejudiced minds.