Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/July 1895/Mr Balfour's Dialectics

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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 elaborating, and which had been under examination and discussion by the whole biological world for a generation, was thought to be thus readily disposed of by a scholar's mate. Very curious, too, was it to observe the different effects produced in the world of science and in the outer world. Neither in the recent controversy between Dr. Wallace and Professor Henslow, nor in the criticisms of Mr. Bateson's late work, nor in the discussion before the Royal Society on Professor Weldon's experiments and views—all of them concerned with aspects of Natural Selection—is there the slightest sign that Lord Salisbury's attack had produced any impression whatever: a serene disregard showing that its irrelevance was tacitly recognized by all. Meanwhile the extreme improbability that there could be achieved so easy a triumph being overlooked, there was great rejoicing among those who stand by the old; even to the extent that a bishop and a dissenting minister were heard exchanging congratulations on what they supposed to be a defeat of the common enemy!

And now I have to make a remark to which the foregoing illustration is preliminary—the remark that this slaying of effigies entails on those concerned a provoking choice of alternatives. Either the attack must be noticed for the purpose of showing that the thing disproved was not the thing said, in which case time and energy, often much wanted for other purposes, must be spent; or else the attack must be passed by in silence, in which case readers assume that nothing is said because there is nothing to say—that the misstated view is the actual view, and the criticism of it fatal. For it never occurs to them that silence may result from preoccupation or from the belief that controversy is futile, or from ill-health. Once more, after many repetitions, I have myself to choose between the two evils. As the issue raised by Mr. Balfour is important, I reluctantly decide to accept his challenge.


Limitations of time and space oblige me to leave some controverted views of mine undefended; as instance certain ethical and æsthetical ones. I must content myself with saying that those who turn to my own expositions of them will carry away different impressions from those given by Mr. Balfour's burlesques. But before entering on the essential question, something may fitly be said concerning Mr. Balfour's assumptions and his methods. Let us look first at one of his assumptions.

"What remedy remains?" he asks; referring to the inadequacy of reasoning "based upon ordinary experience" to "enable us to break out of the Naturalistic prison-house." "One such remedy consists in simply setting up side by side with the creed of natural science another and supplementary set of beliefs, which may minister to needs and aspirations which science can not meet."[1] And then, further on, respecting a certain "patchwork scheme of belief," he says—"If and in so far as it really meets their needs I have nothing to say against it, and can hold out small hope of bettering it. It is much more satisfactory as regards its content than Naturalism."[2]

Is there not in these passages an indirect begging of the question? The title of Mr. Balfour's work is The Foundations of Belief. Belief in what? Not in any of those doctrines which he groups together under the name of Naturalism; but in the opposed doctrine, Supernaturalism—belief in a Ruling Power such as that which the current creed asserts. If the existence of such a Power is tacitly assumed by the arguments urged in proof of it, the reasoning is circular. But unless the existence of such a Power is assumed, how can it be assumed that the constitution of things is one which "ministers" to men's "needs and aspirations," or provides a theory which is "satisfactory"? In the absence of the assumption that things have been by some agency prearranged for men's benefit, there seems no reason to expect the order of the Universe to be one which provides for men's mental "needs and aspirations"; and that the truth of a theory may be judged by the degree in which it conforms to such expectation.

Tests furnished by other creeds clearly show this. If a North American Indian, confidently looking forward to a "happy hunting-ground" after death, is told that there is no such place, is the fact that the creed offered to him negatives his hopes a reason for rejecting it? When the baselessness of his belief in an unlimited supply of houris to be hereafter provided, is shown to a Mahommedan, may he urge that his "needs and aspirations" can not be otherwise satisfied, and that therefore his faith must be true? Or once more, if to the half-starved and over-worked Hindoo, to whom it is a consolatory thought that by placing himself under the wheel of Juggernaut's car he may forthwith ascend to heaven, there comes the demonstration that he can not thus gain happiness, is the fact that the alternative belief is not "satisfactory" a sufficient ground for adhering to his superstition? Doubtless the needs and satisfactions which Mr. Balfour has in view are of a higher order than those instanced, but that does not alter the issue. The question is whether the comforting character of a belief is an adequate reason for entertaining it; and the answer to this question is not to be determined by the quality of the comfort looked for, as high or low.

The truth is that Mr. Balfour's view, here tacitly implied, is a more refined form of that primitive view which regards things as all arranged for human benefit—the Sun to rule the day, the Moon to rule the night, animals and plants provided for food, and the seasons beneficently adjusted to men's welfare. It is the anthropocentric view. But the anthropocentric view does not appear acceptable to one who contemplates things without foregone conclusions. When he learns that millions upon millions of years passed during which the Earth was peopled only by inferior brutes, and that even now three-fifths of its surface are occupied by an ocean-basin carpeted with low creatures which live in darkness, utterly useless to man and only lately known to him; and when he learns that of the remaining two-fifths, vast Arctic and Antarctic regions, and vast desert areas, are practically uninhabitable, while immense portions of the remainder, fever-breeding and swarming with insect pests, are unfit for comfortable existence; he does not recognize much adjustment to the wants of mankind. When he discovers that the human body is the habitat of thirty different species of parasites, which inflict in many cases great tortures; or, still worse, when he thinks of the numerous kinds of microbes, some producing ever-present diseases and consequent mortality, and others producing frightful epidemics, like the plague and the black death, carrying off hundreds of thousands or millions, he sees little ground for assuming that the order of Nature is devised to suit our needs and satisfactions. The truth which the facts force upon him is not that the surrounding world has been arranged to fit the physical nature of man, but that, conversely, the physical nature of man has been molded to fit the surrounding world; and that, by implication, the Theory of Things, justified by the evidence, may not be one which satisfies men's moral needs and yields them emotional satisfactions, but, conversely, is most likely one to which they have to mold their mental wants as well as they can. The opposite assumption, tacitly made by Mr. Balfour, obviously tends to vitiate his general argument.


I have sometimes contended, half in jest, half in earnest, that, having but a given endowment of any mental faculty, its possessor can not use it largely for one purpose without partially disabling it for other purposes; and that, conversely, great economy in one direction of expenditure makes possible an excess in some other direction. It seems to me that, in his manifestations of doubt and faith, Mr. Balfour affords some support to this hypothesis. Of his extreme economy of belief here is an illustration.

After first quoting from me the sentence:—"To ask whether science is substantially true is much like asking whether the sun gives light"; he goes on:—"It is, I admit, very much like it. But then, on Mr. Spencer's principles, does the sun give light? After due consideration we shall have to admit, I think, that it does not." And he then proceeds to argue that the proposition is doubtful, or indeed untrue, because I hold that certain elements of it—matter, space, time and force—are, when fundamentally considered, incomprehensible. Now this, which at first sight appears to be simply a vicarious skepticism, proves, on inquiry, to be a skepticism of Mr. Balfour himself. For since, as shown on p. 284, he holds the same view that I do respecting these "ultimate scientific ideas" what he calls my principles are, in this region, his principles. So that, making the substitution, the sentence should run:—"But then, on my principles, does the sun give light?" The statement that the sun gives light is in his view not a certainty but the contrary.

Turn now to Mr. Balfour's converse attitude. As a result of economies of belief, like the foregoing, he is able to regard as necessary certain assumptions which seem to me to have no warrant. The following passages from p. 302 supply an example:—

"The ordered system of phenomena asks for a cause; our knowledge of that system is inexplicable unless we assume for it a rational Author. . . . "We can not, for example, form, I will not say any adequate, but even any tolerable, idea of the mode in which God is related to, and acts on, the world of phenomena. That He created it, that He sustains it, we are driven to believe. How He created it, how He sustains it, it is impossible for us to imagine."

Here, then, is implied the belief, apparently regarded as unquestionable, that while one ultimate difficulty can not be allowed to remain without solution, another may be allowed so to remain. But why, if it must continue "impossible for us to imagine" the mode of operation of the cause behind "the ordered system of phenomena," may it not continue "impossible for us to imagine" the nature of that cause? If we are obliged to assume the cause to be "a rational Author," since otherwise our knowledge of "the ordered system of phenomena is inexplicable," why must we not assume a certain mode of action by which "He created" and "sustains" "the ordered system of phenomena," since otherwise the creation and sustentation of it are inexplicable? To me it seems an indefensible belief that while for one part of the Mystery of Things we must assign an explanation, all other parts may be left without explanation. If the constitution of matter defies all attempts to understand it, if it is impossible to understand in what way feeling is connected with nervous change, if wherever we analyze our knowledge to the bottom we come down to unanalyzable components which elude the grasp of thought, what ground is there for the belief that of one part of the mystery, and that the deepest part, we must and can reach an explanation? Surely there is a strange incongruity in holding that we have here a certainty while denying to be certain that the sun gives light.


A considerable portion of The Foundations of Belief is occupied by a discussion of the relative claims of Reason and Authority. Certainly, in whatever other ways Mr. Balfour's argument tends to discredit Reason, it does not here discredit it by example; for in general and in detail it is in this case characterized by philosophic grasp, clear discrimination, and unusual lucidity of statement. But while agreeing with him in his estimate of the relative shares of Authority and Reason in determining our beliefs, and while holding as he does that life would be impossible if all our beliefs had to be formed by Reason without the aid of Authority, I would emphasize the fact of which he is himself conscious, that it is impossible to go completely behind Reason; for if any other ruler is raised to the throne, in part or for a time, it is by Reason that this is done. Reason can not be essentially discredited by Reason: the attempt ends in suicide. In one case only—that, namely, in which the question is between the verdicts of Reason and those of simple Perception, chiefly of objective existence—may Reason, estimating its own powers, voluntarily abdicate; since critical examination of its processes shows that it can not take even a first step toward discrediting the intuitions which yield the consciousness of external existence without tacitly positing these intuitions as data, and connoting the coexistence of subject and object by all the words it uses;[3] and that, consequently, all it can do in this sphere is to explain incongruities so as to harmonize these intuitions with one another and with itself. But while this limitation holds where the opposition is between mediate and immediate knowledge, it does not hold where the opposition is between two kinds of mediate knowledge—the verdicts of Reason and those of Authority. Hence, in estimating the relative claims of Reason and Authority we have to bear in mind that the supremacy of Reason is exercised in the act of choosing the Authority. How, exercising this supremacy, does it make the choice? Clearly by comparing the degrees of trustworthiness of authorities as ascertained in experience. That we do this when the authorities are individual men is undeniable. We ask how often their respective statements have been verified, and how often the guidance they have severally yielded has proved good. If, looking back, we see that the statements made by the one have habitually corresponded with facts, and that the advice given by him has been shown by the result to be wise, while many statements of the other have been disproved at the same time that his suggestions have been misleading or impracticable, Reason obliges us to accept the first authority rather than the second. And if we have to select one of two conflicting masses of authority of the kind Mr. Balfour so well describes as largely influencing our beliefs apart from Reason, we must determine their respective claims to our confidence in a similar way. What are the authorities between which we have to choose? Briefly characterized, Mr. Balfour's book is a plea for Supernaturalism versus Naturalism, and unless his section insisting on the "beneficent part" which Authority plays in the production of beliefs is without any raison d'être, it is clear that the aggregate of influences composing the authority which supports Religion is set against the aggregate of influences by which Rationalism, considered by him as a form of authority, is supported. The authorities which uphold Theology and Science respectively are the two in question. Let us, then, observe what happens when we test their relative values as we test the relative values of individual authorities.

From the days when Chaldean priests began to record eclipses, and after a time partially discovered the cycle they follow, and were so enabled to foresee their recurrence with approximate truth, down to our own day, astronomical knowledge has been growing ever more exact and more extensive, until now the celestial motions are so perfectly known, that a transit of Venus or an occultation of Jupiter by the moon, fulfills expectation to the minute. So is it throughout: the previsions of the chemist having reached such a stage that, foreseeing the possibility of an unknown compound which must have certain properties, he proceeds to form it, and creates a substance which has never before existed, answering to his anticipations. If from this ever-increasing verification of scientific statements and inferences we turn to the guidance Science has afforded, allied evidence everywhere surrounds us. Led by Science mankind have progressed from boomerangs to 100-ton guns, from dug-out canoes to Atlantic liners, from picture-writing on skins to morning journals printed twenty thousand per hour; and that over all the developed arts of life Science now presides scarcely needs saying.

With the Authority of Science, thus daily becoming greater, contrast now the opposed Authority. Have the propositions constituting current Theology been rendered more certain with the passage of time and the advance of knowledge, or has the contrary happened? Assyrian and Egyptian records, discovered of late years, have, indeed, served to confirm certain statements contained in the Bible; and so have tended to verify the natural part of the Hebrew story. But this yields no more reason for accepting its supernatural part than does proof that there occurred the feuds and conquests described in the Norse sagas yield reason for believing in Thor and Odin. Add to which, that if these agreements with Assyrian and Egyptian records tend to verify the Hebrew religion, then, conversely, it might be held by Assyrian and Egyptian priests, did any now exist, that such agreements, verified their religions. Apart, however, from historic statements, thus proved true, investigations, scientific and literary, have served more and more to disprove, or to make doubtful, those parts of the biblical narrative which constitute its Theology. It needs but to contrast past confidence in them with present doubts and disbeliefs, to see that statements of this class have not, like those of Science, become gradually clearer and more certain, but the reverse.[4] Nor is confidence increased when we ask whether its guidance has been successful. After nearly two thousand years of Christian teaching and discipline, how near are we to that ideal life which Christian leading was to bring us to? What must we think of the sentiment implied in the saying of a glorified prince, repeated by a popular emperor, lauding "blood and iron—a remedy which never fails." Among the peoples who socially insist on duels, what advance do we see toward the practice of forgiving injuries? Or, turning from private to public transactions, what restraint do we find upon the passion of international revenge—revenge by the great mass insisted upon as a duty. How much moralization can we trace in the contrast between the practice of savages, whose maxim in their inter-tribal feuds is—"Life for life," and the practice of Christian nations, who in their dealings with weak peoples take as their maxim—"For one life many lives." Toward the foretold state when swords shall be beaten into plowshares, how much have we progressed, now that there exist bigger armies than ever existed before. And where are the indications of increased brotherly love in the doings of Christian nations in Africa, where, like hungry dogs round a carcass, they tear out piece after piece, pausing only to snarl and snap at one another.[5]

Clearly, then, by the never-ceasing verification of its dicta and by the increasing efficiency and wider range of its guidance, Science is gaining a greater and greater Authority; at the same time that the Authority of Theology is being decreased by the discrediting of its statements and by its unsuccessful regulation of conduct. Hence if Reason, whenever it abdicates in favor of Authority, has to choose between the two, it is compelled to accept the Authority of Science rather than that of Theology, where they are in conflict. So far from strengthening his own position by showing how large a share Authority has, and ought to have, in determining our beliefs, it seems to me that Mr. Balfour strengthens the position of his opponents.


Not unfitly introduced by the foregoing considerations, Mr. Balfour's assault on the fundamental position held by me may now be dealt with. He supposes that he has shown it to be untenable, and is thought to have done so by others. Here are the relevant passages. After describing me as holding that "beyond what we think we know, and in closest relationship with it, lies an infinite field which we do not know, and which with our present faculties we can never know, yet which can not be ignored without making what we do know unintelligible and meaningless," he proceeds:—

"But he has failed to see whither such speculations must inevitably lead him. He has failed to see that if the certitudes of science lose themselves in depths of unfathomable mystery, it may well be that out of these same depths there should emerge the certitudes of religion; and that if the dependence of the 'knowable' upon the 'unknowable' embarrasses us not in the one case, no reason can be assigned why it should embarrass us in the other.

"Mr. Spencer, in short, has avoided the error of dividing all reality into a Perceivable which concerns us, and an Unperceivable which, if it exists at all, concerns us not. Agnosticism so understood he explicitly repudiates by his theory, if not by his practice. But he has not seen that, if this simple-minded creed be once abandoned, there is no convenient halting-place till we have swung round to a theory of things which is its precise

opposite: a theory which, though it shrinks on its speculative side from no severity of critical analysis, yet on its practical side finds the source of its constructive energy in the deepest needs of man, and thus recognizes, alike in science, in ethics, in beauty, in religion, the halting expression of a reality beyond our reach, the half-seen vision of transcendent Truth." (p. 288-9.)

On these passages my first criticism is that they exemplify the process described at the outset—the spearing of an effigy which is alleged to be the reality. For when the doctrine represented as mine is compared with the doctrine which is actually mine, it becomes manifest that Mr. Balfour's spear does not touch it at all. Nowhere have I either directly or indirectly denied that out of the "depths of unfathomable mystery there may. . . emerge the certitudes of religion;" and it would be wholly inconsistent with my expressed views were I to deny that there may. The conclusion that by the nature of our intelligence, we are forever debarred from forming any conception of the Reality which lies behind Appearance, has the inevitable corollary that we can assign no limits to the possibilities within it. This I have not only implied, but long ago asserted. Witness the following passage:—

"Though I have argued that, in ascribing to the Unknowable Cause of things such human attributes as emotion, will, and intelligence, we are using words which, when thus applied, have no correspending ideas; yet I have also argued that we are just as much debarred from denying as we are from affirming such attributes; since, as ultimate analysis brings us everywhere to alternative impossibilities of thought, we are shown that beyond the phenomenal order of things, our ideas of possible and impossible are irrelevant."—Nineteenth Century, July, 1884.

After thus showing that I am unharmed, because untouched, by Mr. Balfour's thrust, I might leave the matter without further remark. But remembering that, much more important than the personal question is the impersonal question lying behind, it seems proper that I should make a counter-attack; for, in opposition to my supposed negation, Mr. Balfour places not only an affirmation but something more than an affirmation. Against my wrongly-assumed assertion that there may not emerge, he does not simply put the assertion that there may emerge, but he unobtrusively puts the assertion that there does emerge. This substituted statement, which he tacitly makes, is a totally different one; and while I admit the may I demur to the does. Without pausing to ask what is the evidence that there does, it will suffice if I examine the proposition itself, and see whether it is a thinkable one—whether the terms in which it is expressed have real meanings, or are merely symbols having no meanings corresponding to them.

Thinking, truly so called, implies mental representation of the things and processes named; and nearly all incorrect thinking is due to imperfect representation or to non-representation. This is so with thoughts about concrete things, and still more with thoughts about abstract things. If, to an inadequately instructed person, I show a hyperbola and a parabola, and tell him that the sides of the last will obviously meet sooner than the sides of the first, he will not improbably believe my erroneous statement; and, if he does so, it will be because he fails to figure in thought the characters of the two curves. Did he mentally represent them distinctly, he would see that the sides of neither can ever meet. Or if, to such a person I say that, linear dimensions being the same, an eight-sided cube contains more matter than a six-sided cube, he may vaguely think that I am right. If he accepts my false statement, why does he do so? Simply because he has not formed true mental images of the things named. Did he imagine them, or try to imagine them, he would discover that there exists no such thing as an eight-sided cube. Turning to statements about physical phenomena, we have a vivid illustration of sham thinking in the assertion, not unfrequently made concerning some remarkable phenomenon—"Oh, it is caused by electricity:" an assertion which, in both speaker and hearers, leaves a contented feeling that they understand the matter: the truth being that none of them have the remotest idea what electricity is, and none of them have the remotest idea how electricity, did they know its nature, could produce the effect observed. What they take to be their ideas are simply pseud-ideas. And if in the field of sensible experience there is a prevalence of these pseud-ideas, still more widely do they prevail in the fields of theology and metaphysics. Examples are not far to seek.

In Mr. Balfour's proposition that out of the "depths of unfathomable mystery" there "emerge the certitudes of religion," there are two essential elements—that which emerges, and the process of emergence. The primary religious certitude, as implied by his argument, is the existence of "a rational Author" for "the ordered system of phenomena"—an existence which he thinks more certain than the existence of an "independent material world" (p. 237). If, now, the thought of "a rational Author" has emerged out of the "depths of unfathomable mystery," it must, if it is distinguishable from the mere blank form of a thought, have some definable characters; and unless Mr. Balfour considers himself, and men who have similar thoughts, to be fundamentally different from men in general, we must say that thoughts having like characters have emerged into human consciousness at large. I will not ask what happens if we contemplate all the implications, and observe the multitudinous conceptions of gods which the multitudinous races of men have entertained. It will suffice if I take the conceptions which have arisen in races that have entertained the system of religious beliefs Mr. Balfour defends. Without dwelling on the contrasts between the conceptions of God current in early Hebrew times and those current in later Hebrew times, and without dwelling on the contrasts between the highly anthropomorphic ideas which prevailed in mediæval days throughout Europe and those less anthropomorphic ones which prevail in our days, it will suffice to name, side by side, the diverse conceptions existing among ourselves at present. There is the conceived divine character which most Protestants and all Catholics imply by the belief in an eternal hell; and there is that widely different one implied in the followers of Maurice, who reject that belief. There are the views of Trinitarians and Unitarians, so definitely unlike; and there are two other widely unlike views—that of the Quakers, and that of their fellow Christians who laugh at them for believing that the Christian ideal must be conformed to. Now, if from the "depths of unfathomable mystery" the conception of "a rational Author" of "the ordered system of phenomena" has emerged into human consciousness, there arises in the first place the question—How come there to have so emerged the different conceptions which men have entertained from early days when God was said to have appeared to various persons, down to our late days when theophany is nonsense? Then, seeing that many of these conceptions are in direct antagonism, there arises the question—How are we to decide which must be rejected? And once more, if out of all of them one only has truly emerged, in what manner shall we identify it? To all which unanswerable inquiries add one more. Assuming that the conception of "a rational Author," as existing in Mr. Balfour and those who are on the same high plane of thought, is the only true one, then, if possession of this conception is to be shown, it is requisite that there should be specified some mentally-representable traits which constitute it. And if the asserted traits are unrepresentable—if being, as they must be, abstractions of human attributes existing unlocalized and multiplied by infinity, they are unthinkable—then the assertion of their existence becomes nothing but the blank form of a thought—expresses a pseud-idea.

A kindred result is reached if, not content with the word "emerges," we try to imagine a process answering to that word. The word implies some medium out of which some existence previously concealed gradually appears—at first vaguely and at last distinctly. Can Mr. Balfour say that, apart from any impressions given to him in the course of education and subsequent culture, such a representable emergence has taken place in him? If so, one implication is that his mind differs, not in elevation only, but in nature, from certain minds which have been so placed as to prevent communication of theological ideas from without; for it has been shown that among deaf-mutes who have received no religious instruction, no idea of God exists.[6] Hence, in the absence of proof to the contrary, we must say that that high conception of a deity which exists in the minds of Mr. Balfour and others has had an historical origin. By what steps has it been reached? Beginning with the days when, as we are told, God walked in the garden of Eden, there has been a gradual falling away of human attributes—first of all the physical structure and accompanying needs, such as those which Abraham ministered to; then the lower desires and passions which later Hebrew books imply; until through many changes—now reactions toward cruder and coarser ideas, and now advances toward more refined ones—there has been formed the present conception, in which there remain only certain highest intellectual and moral traits, possessed in a degree transcending human imagination. So that, in fact, the movement of thought by which the existing consciousness has been reached is exactly the reverse of the movement alleged by Mr. Balfour. The word "emerges" implies progress from the imperceptible, through the vague, to the distinct; whereas the actual progress has been from the distinct, through the more and more vague, to the imperceptible, or rather to the scarcely conceivable, or literally inconceivable. So that when collated with the implied change, the word "emerges" is also found to stand for a pseud-idea.

The difference between Mr. Balfour's consciousness of that which lies behind Appearance, and the consciousness of those he opposes (or, at least, of such of them as do not assume that there can be Appearance without anything which appears), is that whereas he persists in supposing himself to have thoughts when, under close examination, all the components of thoughts have vanished, they candidly admit that with the vanishing of such components all thoughts have ceased; leaving only a consciousness which can not be put into any form. Not only have they dropped those early conceptions which imply that the Power manifested in thirty millions of suns made a bargain with Abraham not only have they ceased to believe that such inferior passions as jealousy, anger and revenge can be felt by an Energy which pervades infinity; but they have surrendered themselves to the final conclusion that not even the highest mental attributes conceivable by us, can be predicated of that Existence which fills all Space for all Time.

It is not that they wish to do this, but that they must: self-deception is the alternative. There is no pleasure in the consciousness of being an infinitesimal bubble on a globe that is itself infinitesimal compared with the totality of things.

Those on whom the unpitying rush of changes inflicts sufferings which are often without remedy, find no consolation in the thought that they are at the mercy of forces which cause, indifferently, now the destruction of a sun and now the death of an animalcule. Contemplation of a Universe which is without conceivable beginning or imaginable end and without intelligible purpose yields no satisfaction. The desire to know what it all means is no less strong in the agnostic than in others, and raises sympathy with them. Failing utterly to find any interpretation himself, he feels a regretful inability to accept the interpretation they offer.

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  1. The Foundations of Belief p. 186.
  2. Ibid., p. 187.
  3. Principles of Psychology, 388-412.
  4. Even while I write there comes to me, in The Academy, for April 2Vth, 1895, sufficient illustration in the following remarks, made by a learned biblical critic, the Rev. Prof. Cheyne:—"There is, indeed, no reason, since the Tell-el-Amarna discoveries, to doubt that religious myths of Babylonian origin found their way into Canaan long before the entrance of the Israelites, and were adopted by the Israelitish conquerors; but it may be reasonably held, (1) that the creation-myth in that early age was less developed than that which lies at the root of Gen. i.; (2) that some of its elements had lost much of their life by the time of Amos; (3) that renewed intercourse with Assyria and Babylonia resulted in the revival of the old myth, perhaps with new elements; and (4) that religious teachers in Judah adopted and adapted this and other myths."
  5. If it be complained that while emphasizing failures in guidance I have ignored successes, by omitting to name the good conduct in private life which has been fostered, I reply that, though unquestionably some effect has been produced, there is reason for doubting whether the effect has been great. I have to point out once more, what I have repeatedly pointed out (Principles of Sociology, 324, 327, 330-2, 437, 573-4; Principles of Ethics, 128, 141, 155, 159, 191), that if we wish to see exemplified in full measure-the virtues especially claimed as Christian, we must look among sundry uncivilized peoples classed as Heathens peoples who do exercise the virtue of forgiveness, whose truthfulness is a proverb, who are absolutely honest, whose goodness is such that in one case it is described as like a romance. The distinctive trait they have in common is that they are perfectly peaceful. We find among them no Christian creed, but only Christian conduct. They do not preach to neighboring tribes an impossible altruism and then treat them with unscrupulous egoism.
  6. Ecclesiastical Institutions, chapter i.