Privy Huxley

T. H. H. in Privy Councillor Court Dress

Appleton ed., Vol V frontispiece

Preface V

Science and Christian Tradition

Hodeslea, Eastbourne
December 4th, 1893

[v] "For close upon forty years I have been writing with one purpose; from time to time, I have fought for that which seemed to me the truth, perhaps still more, against that which I have thought error; and in this way, I have reached, indeed over-stepped, the threshold of old age. There, every earnest man has to listen to the voice within: 'Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.'

"That I have been an unjust steward my conscience does not bear witness. At times blundering, at times negligent, Heaven knows: but, on the whole, I have done that which I felt able and called upon to do: and I have done it without looking to the right or to the left; seeking no man's favour, fearing no man's disfavour.

"But what is it that I have been doing? In the end one's conceptions should form a whole, though only parts may have found utterance, as occasion arose; now do these exhibit harmony and mutual connexion? In one's zeal much of the old gets broken to pieces; but has one made ready something new, fit to be set in the place of the old?

"That they merely destroy without reconstructing, is the especial charge, with which those who work in this direction are constantly reproached. In a certain sense I do not defend myself against the charge; but I deny that any reproach is deserved.

"I have never proposed to myself to begin outward construction; because I do not believe that the time has come for it. Our present business is with inward preparation, especially the [vi] preparation of those who have ceased to be content with the old, and find no satisfaction in half measures. I have wished, and I still wish, to disturb no man's peace of mind, no man's beliefs; but only to point out to those in whom they are already shattered, the direction in which, in my conviction, firmer ground lies."1

So wrote one of the protagonists of the New Reformation–and a well-abused man if ever there was one–a score of years since, in the remarkable book in which he discusses the negative and the positive results of the rigorous application of scientific method to the investigation of the higher problems of human life.

Recent experience leads me to imagine that there may be a good many countrymen of my own, even at this time, to whom it may be profitable to read, mark and inwardly digest, the weighty words of the author of that "Leben Jesu," which, half a century ago, stirred the religious world so seriously that it has never settled down again quite on the old foundations; indeed, some think it never will. I have a personal interest in the carrying out of the recommendation I venture to make. It may enable many worthy persons, in whose estimation I should really be glad to stand higher than I do, to become aware of the possibility that my motives in writing the essays, contained in this and the preceding volume, were not exactly those that they ascribe to me.

[vii] I too have reached the term at which the still, small voice, more audible than any other to the dulled ear of age, makes its demand; and I have found that it is of no sort of use to try to cook the accounts rendered. Nevertheless, I distinctly decline to admit some of the items charged; more particularly that of having "gone out of my way" to attack the Bible; and I as steadfastly deny that "hatred of Christianity" is a feeling with which I have any acquaintance. There are very few things which I find it permissible to hate; and though, it may be, that some of the organisations, which arrogate to themselves the Christian name, have richly earned a place in the category of hateful things, that ought to have nothing to do with one's estimation of the religion, which they have perverted and disfigured out of all likeness to the original.

The simple fact is that, as I have already more than once hinted, my story is that of the wolf and the lamb over again. I have never "gone out of my way" to attack the Bible, or anything else: it was the dominant ecclesiasticism of my early days, which, as I believe, without any warrant from the Bible itself, thrust the book in my way.

I had set out on a journey, with no other purpose than that of exploring a certain province of natural knowledge; I strayed no hair's breadth from the course which it was my right and my duty to pursue; and yet I found that, whatever [viii] route I took, before long, I came to a tall and formidable-looking fence. Confident as I might be in the existence of an ancient and indefeasible right of way, before me stood the thorny barrier with its comminatory notice-board–"No Thoroughfare. By order. Moses." There seemed no way over; nor did the prospect of creeping round, as I saw some do, attract me. True there was no longer any cause to fear the spring guns and man-traps set by former lords of the manor; but one is apt to get very dirty going on all-fours. The only alternatives were either to give up my journey–which I was not minded to do–or to break the fence down and go through it.

Now I was and am, by nature, a law-abiding person, ready and willing to submit to all legitimate authority. But I also had and have a rooted conviction, that reasonable assurance of the legitimacy should precede the submission; so I made it my business to look up the manorial title-deeds. The pretensions of the ecclesiastical "Moses" to exercise a control over the operations of the reasoning faculty in the search after truth, thirty centuries after his age, might be justifiable; but, assuredly, the credentials produced in justification of claims so large required careful scrutiny.

Singular discoveries rewarded my industry. The ecclesiastical "Moses" proved to be a mere traditional mask, behind which, no doubt, lay the features of the historical Moses–just as many a [ix] mediæval fresco has been hidden by the whitewash of Georgian churchwardens. And as the æsthetic rector too often scrapes away the defacement, only to find blurred, parti-colored patches, in which the original design is no longer to be traced; so, when the successive layers of Jewish and Christian traditional pigment, laid on, at intervals, for near three thousand years, had been removed, by even the tenderest critical operations, there was not much to be discerned of the leader of the Exodus.

Only one point became perfectly clear to me, namely, that Moses is not responsible for nine-tenths of the Pentateuch; certainly not for the legends which had been made the bugbears of science. In fact, the fence turned out to be a mere heap of dry sticks and brushwood, and one might walk through it with impunity: the which I did. But I was still young, when I thus ventured to assert my liberty; and young people are apt to be filled with a kind of sæva indignatio, when they discover the wide discrepancies between things as they seem and things as they are. It hurts their vanity to feel that they have prepared themselves for a mighty struggle to climb over, or break their way through, a rampart, which turns out, on close approach, to be a mere heap of ruins; venerable, indeed, and archæologically interesting, but of no other moment. And some fragment of the superfluous energy accumulated is apt to find vent in strong language.

[x] Such, I suppose, was my case, when I wrote some passages which occur in an essay reprinted among "Darwiniana."2 But when, not long ago "the voice" put it to me, whether I had better not expunge, or modify, these passages; whether, really, they were not a little too strong; I had to reply, with all deference, that while, from a merely literary point of view, I might admit them to be rather crude, I must stand by the substance of these items of my expenditure. I further ventured to express the conviction that scientific criticism of the Old Testament, since 1860, has justified every word of the estimate of the authority of the ecclesiastical "Moses" written at that time. And, carried away by the heat of self-justification, I even ventured to add, that the desperate attempt now set afoot to force biblical and post-biblical mythology into elementary instruction, renders it useful and necessary to go on making a considerable outlay in the same direction. Not yet, has "the cosmogony of the semi-barbarous Hebrew" ceased to be the "incubus of the philosopher, and the opprobrium of the orthodox;" not yet, has "the zeal of the Bibliolater" ceased from troubling; not yet, are the weaker sort, even of the instructed, at rest from their fruitless toil "to harmonise impossibilities," and "to force the generous new wine of science into the old bottles of Judaism."

But I am aware that the head and front of my [xi] offending lies not now where it formerly lay. Thirty years ago, criticism of "Moses" was held by most respectable people to be deadly sin; now it has sunk to the rank of a mere peccadillo; at least, if it stops short of the history of Abraham. Destroy the foundation of most forms of dogmatic Christianity contained in the second chapter of Genesis, if you will; the new ecclesiasticism undertakes to underpin the superstructure and make it, at any rate to the eye, as firm as ever: but let him be anathema who applies exactly the same canons of criticism to the opening chapters of "Matthew" or of "Luke." School-children may be told that the world was by no means made in six days, and that implicit belief in the story of Noah's Ark is permissible only, as a matter of business, to their toy-makers; but they are to hold for the certainest of truths, to be doubted only at peril of their salvation, that their Galilean fellow-child Jesus, nineteen centuries ago, had no human father.

Well, we will pass the item of 1860, said "the voice." But why all this more recent coil about the Gadarene swine and the like? Do you pretend that these poor animals got in your way, years and years after the "Mosaic" fences were down, at any rate so far as you are concerned?

Got in my way? Why, my good "voice," they were driven in my way. I had happened to make a statement, than which, so far as I have [xii] ever been able to see, nothing can be more modest or inoffensive; to wit, that I am convinced of my own utter ignorance about a great number of things, respecting which the great majority of my neighbours (not only those of adult years, but children repeating their catechisms) affirm themselves to possess full information. I ask any candid and impartial judge, Is that attacking anybody or anything?

Yet, if I had made the most wanton and arrogant onslaught on the honest convictions of other people, I could not have been more hardly dealt with. The pentecostal charism, I believe, exhausted itself amongst the earliest disciples. Yet any one who has had to attend, as I have done, to copious objurgations, strewn with such appellations as "infidel" and "coward," must be a hardened sceptic indeed if he doubts the existence of a "gift of tongues" in the Churches of our time; unless, indeed, it should occur to him that some of these outpourings may have taken place after "the third hour of the day." I am far from thinking that it is worth while to give much attention to these inevitable incidents of all controversies, in which one party has acquired the mental peculiarities which are generated by the habit of much talking, with immunity from criticism. But as a rule, they are the sauce of dishes of misrepresentations and inaccuracies which it may be a duty, nay, even an innocent pleasure, [xiv] to expose. In the particular case of which I am thinking, I felt, as Strauss says, "able and called upon" to undertake the business: and it is no responsibility of mine, if I found the Gospels, with their miraculous stories, of which the Gadarene is a typical example, blocking my way, as heretofore, the Pentateuch had done.

I was challenged to question the authority for the theory of "the spiritual world," and the practical consequences deducible from human relations to it, contained in these documents.

In my judgment, the actuality of this spiritual world–the value of the evidence for its objective existence and its influence upon the course of things–are matters, which lie as much within the province of science, as any other question about the existence and powers of the varied forms of living and conscious activity.

It really is my strong conviction that a man has no more right to say he believes this world is haunted by swarms of evil spirits, without being able to produce satisfactory evidence of the fact, than he has a right to say, without adducing adequate proof, that the circumpolar antarctic ice swarms with sea-serpents. I should not like to assert positively that it does not. I imagine that no cautious biologist would say as much; but while quite open to conviction, he might properly decline to waste time upon the consideration of talk, no better accredited than forecastle "yarns," about such monsters of the deep. And if the interests of ordinary veracity dictate this course, in relation to a matter of so little consequence as this, what must be our obligations in respect of the treatment of a question which is fundamental alike for science and for ethics? For not only does our general theory of the universe and of the nature of the order which pervades it, hang upon the answer; but the rules of practical life must be deeply affected by it.

The belief in a demonic world is inculcated throughout the Gospels and the rest of the books of the New Testament; it pervades the whole patristic literature; it colours the theory and the practice of every Christian church down to modern times. Indeed, I doubt, if even now, there is any church which, officially, departs from such a fundamental doctrine of primitive Christianity as the existence, in addition to the Cosmos with which natural knowledge is conversant, of a world of spirits; that is to say, of intelligent agents, not subject to the physical or mental limitations of humanity, but nevertheless competent to interfere, to an undefined extent, with the ordinary course of both physical and mental phenomena.

More especially is this conception fundamental for the authors of the Gospels. Without the belief that the present world, and particularly that part of it which is constituted by human society, has been given over, since the Fall, to the influence [xv] of wicked and malignant spiritual beings, governed and directed by a supreme devil–the moral antithesis and enemy of the supreme God–their theory of salvation by the Messiah falls to pieces, "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."3

The half-hearted religiosity of latter-day Christianity may choose to ignore the fact; but it remains none the less true, that he who refuses to accept the demonology of the Gospels rejects the revelation of a spiritual world, made in them, as much as if he denied the existence of such a person as Jesus of Nazareth; and deserves, as much as any one can do, to be ear-marked "infidel" by our gentle shepherds.

Now that which I thought it, desirable to make perfectly clear, on my own account, and for the sake of those who find their capacity of belief in the Gospel theory of the universe failing them, is the fact, that, in my judgment, the demonology of primitive Christianity is totally devoid of foundation; and that no man, who is guided by the rules of investigation which are found to lead to the discovery of truth in other matters, not merely of science, but in the everyday affairs of life, will arrive at any other conclusion. To those who profess to be otherwise guided, I have nothing [xvi] to say; but to beg them to go their own way and leave me to mine.

I think it may be as well to repeat what I have said, over and over again, elsewhere, that a priori notions, about the possibility, or the impossibility, of the existence of a world of spirits, such as that presupposed by genuine Christianity, have no influence on my mind. The question for me is purely one of evidence: is the evidence adequate to bear out the theory, or is it not? In my judgment it is not only inadequate, but quite absurdly insufficient. And on that ground, I should feel compelled to reject the theory; even if there were no positive grounds for adopting a totally different conception of the Cosmos.

For most people, the question of the evidence of the existence of a demonic world, in the long run, resolves itself into that of the trustworthiness of the Gospels; first, as to the objective truth of that which they narrate on this topic; second, as to the accuracy of the interpretation which their authors put upon these objective facts. For example, with respect to the Gadarene miracle, it is one question whether, at a certain time and place, a raving madman became sane, and a herd of swine rushed into the lake of Tiberias; and quite another, whether the cause of these occurrences was the transmigration of certain devils from the man into the pigs. And again, it is one question whether Jesus made a long oration on a [xvii] certain occasion, mentioned in the first Gospel; altogether another, whether more or fewer of the propositions contained in the "Sermon on the Mount" were uttered on that occasion. One may give an affirmative answer to one of each of these pairs of questions and a negative to the other: one may affirm all, or deny all.

In considering the historical value of any four documents, proof when they were written and who wrote them is, no doubt, highly important. For if proof exists, that A B C and D wrote them, and that they were intelligent persons, writing independently and without prejudice, about facts within their own knowledge–their statements must need be worthy of the most attentive consideration.4 But, even ecclesiastical tradition does not assert that either "Mark" or "Luke" wrote from his own knowledge–indeed "Luke" expressly asserts he did not. I cannot discover that any competent authority now maintains that the apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel which passes under his name. And whether the apostle John had, or had not, anything to do with the fourth Gospel; and if he had, what his share amounted to; are, as everybody who has attended to these matters knows, questions still hotly disputed, and with regard to which the extant evidence can [xviii] hardly carry no impartial judge beyond the admission of a possibility this way or that.

Thus, nothing but a balancing of very dubious probabilities is to be attained by approaching the question from this side. It is otherwise if we make the documents tell their own story: if we study them, as we study fossils, to discover internal evidence of when they arose, and how they have come to be. That really fruitful line of inquiry has led to the statement and the discussion of what is known as the Synoptic Problem.

In the Essays (VII.–XI.) which deal with the consequences of the application of the agnostic principle to Christian Evidences, contained in this volume, there are several references to the results of the attempts which have been made, during the last hundred years, to solve this problem. And, though it has been clearly stated and discussed, in works accessible to, and intelligible by, every English reader,5 it may be well that I should here set forth a very brief exposition of the matters of fact out of which the problem has arisen; and of some consequences, which, as I conceive, must be admitted if the facts are accepted.

These undisputed and, apparently, indisputable data may be thus stated:

I. The three books of which an ancient, but [xix] very questionable, ecclesiastical tradition asserts Matthew, Mark, and Luke to be the authors, agree, not only in presenting the same general view, or Synopsis, of the nature and the order of the events narrated; but, to a remarkable extent, the very words which they employ coincide.

II. Nevertheless, there are many equally marked, and some irreconcilable, differences between them. Narratives, verbally identical in some portions, diverge more or less in others. The order in which they occur in one, or in two, Gospels may be changed in another. In "Matthew" and in "Luke" events of great importance make their appearance, where the story of "Mark" seems to leave no place for them; and, at the beginning and the end of the two former Gospels, there is a great amount of matter of which there is no trace in "Mark."

III. Obvious and highly important differences, in style and substance, separate the three "Synoptics," taken together, from the fourth Gospel, connected, by ecclesiastical tradition, with the name of the apostle John. In its philosophical proemium; in the conspicuous absence of exorcistic miracles; in the self-assertive theosophy of the long and diffuse monologues, which are so utterly unlike the brief and pregnant utterances of Jesus recorded in the Synoptics; in the assertion that the crucifixion took place before the Passover, which involves the denial, by implication, of the truth of the Synoptic story–to mention only a few particulars–the "Johannine" Gospel presents a wide divergence from the other three.

IV. If the mutual resemblances and differences of the Synoptic Gospels are closely considered, a curious result comes out; namely, that each may be analyzed into four components. The first of these consists of passages, to a greater or less extent verbally identical, which occur in all three Gospels. If this triple tradition is separated from the rest it will be found to comprise:

a. A narrative, of a somewhat broken and anecdotic aspect, which covers the period from the appearance of John the Baptist to the discovery of the emptiness of the tomb, on the first day of the week, some six-and-thirty hours after the crucifixion.

b. An apocalyptic address.

c. Parables and brief discourses, or rather centos of religious and ethical exhortations and injunctions.

The second and the third set of components of each Gospel present equally close resemblances to passages, which are found in only one of the other Gospels; therefore it may be said that, for them, the tradition is double. The fourth component is peculiar to each Gospel; it is a single tradition and has no representative in the others.

To put the facts in another way: each Gospel [xxi] is composed of a threefold tradition, two twofold traditions, and one peculiar tradition. If the Gospels were the work of totally independent writers, it would follow that there are three witnesses for the statements in the first tradition; two for each of those in the second, and only one for those in the third.

V. If the reader will now take up that extremely instructive little book, Abbott and Rushbrooke's "Common Tradition" he will easily satisfy himself that "Mark" has the remarkable structure just described. Almost the whole of this Gospel consists of the first component; namely, the threefold tradition. But in chap. i. 23-28 he will discover an exorcistic story, not to be found in "Matthew," but repeated, often word for word, in "Luke." This, therefore, belongs to one of the twofold traditions. In chap. viii 1-10, on the other hand, there is a detailed account of the miracle of feeding the four thousand; which is closely repeated in "Matthew" xv. 32-39, but is not to be found in "Luke." This is an example of the other twofold tradition, possible in "Mark." Finally, the story of the blind man of Bethsaida, "Mark" viii. 22-26, is peculiar to "Mark."

VI. Suppose that, A standing for the threefold tradition, or the matter common to all three Gospels; we call the matter common to "Mark" [xxii] and "Matthew" only–B; that common to "Mark" and "Luke" only–C; that common to "Matthew" and "Luke" only–D; while the peculiar components of "Mark," "Matthew," and "Luke" are severally indicated by E, F, G; then the structure of the Gospels may be represented thus:

Components of"Mark"= A + B + C + E.
""Matthew"= A + B + D + F.
""Luke"= A + C + D + G.

VII. The analysis of the Synoptic documents need be carried no further than this point, in order to suggest one extremely important, and, apparently unavoidable conclusion; and that is, that their authors were neither three independent witnesses of the things narrated; nor, for the parts of the narrative about which all agree, that is to say, the threefold tradition, did they employ independent sources of information. It is simply incredible that each of three independent witnesses of any series of occurrences should tell a story so similar, not only in arrangement and in small details, but in words, to that of each of the others.

Hence it follows, either that the Synoptic writers have, mediately or immediately, copied one from the other: or that the three have drawn from a common source; that is to say, from one arrangement of similar traditions (whether oral or written); though that arrangement may have [xxiii] been extant in three or more, somewhat different versions.

VIII. The suppositions (a) that "Mark" had "Matthew" and "Luke" before him; and (b) that either of the two latter was acquainted with the work of the other, would seem to involve some singular consequences.

a. The second Gospel is saturated with the lowest supernaturalism. Jesus is exhibited as a wonder-worker and exorcist of the first rank. The earliest public recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus comes from an "unclean spirit"; he himself is made to testify to the occurrence of the miraculous feeding twice over.

The purpose with which "Mark" sets out is to show forth Jesus as the Son of God, and it is suggested, if not distinctly stated, that he acquired this character at his baptism by John. The absence of any reference to the miraculous events of the infancy, detailed by "Matthew" and "Luke;" or to the appearances after the discovery of the emptiness of the tomb; is unintelligible, if "Mark" knew anything about them, or believed in the miraculous conception. The second Gospel is no summary: "Mark" can find room for the detailed story, irrelevant to his main purpose, of the beheading of John the Baptist, and his miraculous narrations are crowded with minute particulars. Is it to be imagined that, with the supposed apostolic authority of Matthew [xxiv] before him, he could leave out the miraculous conception of Jesus and the ascension? Further ecclesiastical tradition would have us believe that Mark wrote down his recollections of what Peter taught. Did Peter then omit to mention these matters? Did the fact testified by the oldest authority extant, that the first appearance of the risen Jesus was to himself seem not worth mentioning? Did he really fail to speak of the great position in the Church solemnly assigned to him by Jesus? The alternative would seem to be the impeachment either of Mark's memory, or of his judgment. But Mark's memory, is so good that he can recollect how, on the occasion of the stilling of the waves, Jesus was asleep "on the cushion," he remembers that the woman with the issue had "spent all she had" on her physicians; that there was not room "even about the door" on a certain occasion at Capernaum. And it is surely hard to believe that "Mark" should have failed to recollect occurrences of infinitely greater moment, or that he should have deliberately left them out, as things not worthy of mention.

b. The supposition that "Matthew" was acquainted with "Luke," or "Luke" with "Matthew" has equally grave implications. If that be so, the one who used the other could have had but a poor opinion of his predecessor's historical veracity. If, as most experts agree, "Luke" is later than "Matthew," it is clear that he does [xxv] not credit "Matthew's" account of the infancy; does not believe the "Sermon on the Mount" as given by Matthew was preached; does not believe in the two feeding miracles, to which Jesus himself is made to refer; wholly discredits "Matthew's" account of the events after the crucifixion; and thinks it not worth while to notice "Matthew's" grave admission that "some doubted."

IX. None of these troublesome consequences pursue the hypothesis that the threefold tradition, in one, or more, Greek versions, was extant before either of the canonical Synoptic Gospels; and that it furnished the fundamental framework of their several narratives. Where and when the threefold narrative arose, there is no positive evidence; though it is obviously probable that the traditions it embodies, and perhaps many others, took their rise in Palestine and spread thence to Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt and Italy, in the track of the early missionaries. Nor is it less likely that they formed part of the "didaskalia" of the primitive Nazarene and Christian communities.6

X. The interest which attaches to "Mark" arises from the fact that it seems to present this [xxvi] early, probably earliest, Greek Gospel narrative, with least addition, or modification. If, as appears likely from some internal evidences, it was compiled for the use of the Christian sodalities in Rome; and that it was accepted by them as an adequate account of the life and work of Jesus, it is evidence of the most valuable kind respecting their beliefs and the limits of dogma, as conceived by them.

In such case, a good Roman Christian of that epoch might know nothing of the doctrine of the incarnation, as taught by "Matthew" and "Luke"; still less of the "logos" doctrine of "John"; neither need he have believed anything more than the simple fact of the resurrection. It was open to him to believe it either corporeal, or spiritual. He would never have heard of the power of the keys bestowed upon Peter; nor have had brought to his mind so much as a suggestion of trinitarian doctrine. He might be a rigidly monotheistic Judeo-Christian, and consider himself bound by the law: he might be a Gentile Pauline convert, neither knowing of nor caring for such restrictions. In neither case would he find in "Mark" any serious stumbling-block. In fact, persons of all the categories admitted to salvation by Justin, in the middle of the second century,7 could accept "Mark" from beginning to end. It may well be, that, in this wide adaptability, backed by [xxvii] the authority of the metropolitan church, there lies the reason for the fact of the preservation of "Mark," notwithstanding its limited and dogmatically colourless character, as compared with the Gospels of "Luke" and "Matthew."

XI. "Mark," as we have seen, contains a relatively small body of ethical and religious instruction and only a few parables. Were these all that existed in the primitive threefold tradition? Were none others current in the Roman communities, at the time "Mark" wrote, supposing he wrote in Rome? Or, on the other hand, was there extant, as early as the time at which "Mark" composed his Greek edition of the primitive Evangel, one or more collections of parables and teachings, such as those which form the bulk of the twofold tradition, common exclusively to "Matthew" and "Luke," and are also found in their single traditions? Many have assumed this, or these, collections to be identical with, or at any rate based upon, the "logia," of which ecclesiastical tradition says, that they were written in Aramaic by Matthew, and that everybody translated them as he could.

Here is the old difficulty again. If such materials were known to "Mark," what imaginable reason could he have for not using them? Surely displacement of the long episode of John the Baptist–even perhaps of the story of the Gadarene swine–by portions of the Sermon on the Mount or [xxviii] by one or two of the beautiful parables in the twofold and single traditions would have been great improvements; and might have been effected, even though "Mark" was as much pressed for space as some have imagined. But there is no ground for that imagination; Mark has actually found room for four or five parables; why should he not have given the best, if he had known of them? Admitting he was the mere pedissequus et breviator of Matthew, that even Augustine supposed him to be, what could induce him to omit the Lord's Prayer?

Whether more or less of the materials of the twofold tradition D, and of the peculiar traditions F and G, were or were not current in some of the communities, as early as, or perhaps earlier than, the triple tradition, it is not necessary for me to discuss; nor to consider those solutions of the Synoptic problem which assume that it existed earlier, and was already combined with more or less narrative. Those who are working out the final solution of the Synoptic problem are taking into account, more than hitherto, the possibility that the widely separated Christian communities of Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Italy, especially after the Jewish war of A.D. 66-70, may have found themselves in possession of very different traditional materials. Many circumstances tend to the conclusion that, in Asia Minor, even the narrative part of the threefold tradition had a formidable [xxix] rival; and that, around this second narrative, teaching traditions of a totally different order from those in the Synoptics, grouped themselves; and, under the influence of converts imbued more or less with the philosophical speculations of the time, eventually took shape in the fourth Gospel and its associated literature.

XII. But it is unnecessary, and it would be out of place, for me to attempt to do more than indicate the existence of these complex and difficult questions. My purpose has been to make it clear that the Synoptic problem must force itself upon every one who studies the Gospels with attention; that the broad facts of the case, and some of the consequences deducible from these facts, are just as plain to the simple English reader as they are to the profoundest scholar.

One of these consequences is that the threefold tradition presents us with a narrative believed to be historically true, in all particulars, by the major part, if not the whole, of the Christian communities. That narrative is penetrated, from beginning to end, by the demonological beliefs of which the Gadarene story is a specimen; and, if the fourth Gospel indicates the existence of another and, in some respects, irreconcilably divergent narrative, in which the demonology retires into the background, it is none the less there.

Therefore, the demonology is an integral and inseparable component of primitive Christianity. [xxx] The farther back the origin of the gospels is dated, the stronger does the certainty of this conclusion grow; and the more difficult it becomes to suppose that Jesus himself may not have shared the superstitious beliefs of his disciples.

It further follows that those who accept devils, possession, and exorcism as essential elements of their conception of the spiritual world may consistently consider the testimony of the Gospels to be unimpeachable in respect of the information they give us respecting other matters which appertain to that world.

Those who reject the gospel demonology, on the other hand, would seem to be as completely barred, as I feel myself to be, from professing to take the accuracy of that information for granted. If the threefold tradition is wrong about one fundamental topic, it may be wrong about another, while the authority of the single traditions, often mutually contradictory as they are, becomes a vanishing quantity.

It really is unreasonable to ask any rejector of the demonology to say more with respect to those other matters, than that the statements regarding them may be true, or may be false; and that the ultimate decision, if it is to be favourable, must depend on the production of testimony of a very different character from that of the writers of the four gospels. Until such evidence is brought forward, that refusal of assent, with willingness to [xxxi] re-open the question, on cause shown, which is what I mean by Agnosticism, is, for me the only course open.

A verdict of "not proven" is undoubtedly unsatisfactory and essentially provisional, so far forth as the subject of the trial is capable of being dealt with by due process of reason.

Those who are of opinion that the historical realities at the root of Christianity, lie beyond the jurisdiction of science, need not be considered. Those who are convinced that the evidence is, and must always remain, insufficient to support any definite conclusion, are justified in ignoring the subject. They must be content to put up with that reproach of being mere destroyers, of which Strauss speaks. They may say that there are so many problems which are and must remain insoluble, that the "burden of the mystery" "of all this unintelligible world" is not appreciably affected by one more or less.

For myself, I must confess that the problem of the origin of such very remarkable historical phenomena as the doctrines, and the social organization, which, in their broad features certainly existed, and were in a state of rapid development, within a hundred years of the crucifixion of Jesus; and which have steadily prevailed against all rivals, among the most intelligent and civilized nations in the world ever since, [xxxii] is, and always has been, profoundly interesting; and, considering how recent the really scientific study of that problem, and how great the progress made during the last half century in supplying the conditions for a positive solution of the problem, I cannot doubt that the attainment of such a solution is a mere question of time.

I am well aware that it has lain far beyond my powers to take any share in this great undertaking. All that I can hope is to have done somewhat towards "the preparation of those who have ceased to be contented with the old and find no satisfaction in half measures": perhaps, also, something towards the lessening of that great proportion of my countrymen, whose eminent characteristic it is that they find full "full satisfaction in half measures."

1 D. F. Strauss, Der alte und der neue Glaube, (1872), pp. 9-10.

2 Collected Essays, vol. ii., "On the Origin of Species" (1860).

3 1 John iii. 8.

4 Not necessarily of more than this. A few centuries ago the twelve most intelligent and impartial men to be found in England, would have independently testified that the sun moves, from east to west, across the heavens every day.

5 Nowhere more concisely and clearly than in Dr. Sutherland Black's article "Gospels" in Chambers's Encyclopædia . References are given to the more elaborate discussions of the problem.

6 Those who regard the Apocalyptic discourse as a "vaticination after the event" may draw conclusions therefrom as to the date of the Gospels in which its several forms occur. But the assumption is surely dangerous, from an apologetlc point of view, since it begs the question as to the unhistorical character of this solemn prophecy.

7 See p. 287 of this volume.


I Prologue [Controverted Questions, 1892] 1
II Scientific and Pseudo-Scientific Realism [1887] 59
III Science and Pseudo-Science [1887] 90
IV An Episcopal Trilogy [1887] 126
V The Value of Witness to the Miraculous [1889] 160
VI Possibilities and Impossibilities [1891] 192
VII Agnosticism [1889] 209
VIII Agnosticism: A Rejoinder [1889] 263
IX Agnosticism and Christianity [1889] 309
X The Keepers of the Herd of Swine [1890] 366
XI Illustrations of Mr. Gladstone's Controversial Methods [1891] 393

Huxley's Collected Essays.

Volume I, Method and Results
Volume II, Darwiniana
Volume III, Science & Education
Volume IV, Science and Hebrew Tradition
Volume V, Science and Christian Tradition
Volume VI, Hume: With Helps to the Study of Berkeley
Volume VII, Man's Place in Nature
Volume VIII, Discourses: Biological & Geological
Volume IX, Evolution & Ethics and Other Essays



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden