Mr. Balfour's Attack on Agnosticism I

The Nineteenth Century (March 1895)

[527] In the second century of the existence of Imperial Rome, anyone interested in the future of that vast and ancient society would have done well to take careful note of certain movements of thought and drifts of opinion which, however overlooked, perhaps despised, by the mere administrator, bent on the maintenance of civil order, or by the mere politician, thirsting for a profitable pro-consulship, might loom larger than patrician conspiracies, or the massing of barbarians on the frontier, to a statesman.

Generation after generation of hard-headed, hard-fisted, eminently practical Quirites had held together; and, by courage, intelligence, industry, frugality, force, fraud–whichever came handiest–had raised an aggregation of obscure hamlets on and about the Palatine hill by the Tiber, into the sovereign city of the largest and, in spite of all shortcomings, the best-organised, realm the world had ever known. It had been of immense service to these singular Romans that they held a common faith, which inspired them with both piety and enthusiasm. And though the piety was not incompatible with calculation, and the enthusiasm generally had an eye in business, these qualities were none the less efficient. Their religio really bound the individual lives into a common life, and subordinated personal interests to those of the community.

But, in the second century, this theory of the nature of the things and of the human obligations consequent upon it, was far advanced in a process of decay. It had long been difficult for reasonably honest people even to pretend to believe in the mythological fables held sacred by their forefathers; and, for a considerable time, the Augurs had been suspected of smiling, perhaps of winking, at one another during the performance of their sacred office. There was much refined depravity among the upper classes, much ignorance, suffering, and sheer brutality among the lower; though it is greatly to be doubted if the Rome of Hadrian was one whit worse than the Paris of Louis the Fifteenth, the London of George the Second, or the [528] Petersburg of Catherine the Second; to say nothing of the Papal Rome of thirteen centuries later.

As confidence in the old and somewhat cold, national religion had waned, foreign, chiefly Oriental, superstitions of a more emotional cast had found wide acceptance. From mystic, quasi-philosophical theosophies to the vulgarest corybantic revivalisms, there were creeds to suit every taste, and missionaries and ministers thereof to draw upon every believer's purse. Thiasoi and sodalities of Isis, of Mithra, of Serapis; Israelite synagogues, each with its gentile zone of half-proselyte 'fearers of God;' Christian ecclesiæ, Catholic, Schismatic, Gnostic; answered to the motley variety of churches and chapels with which we Britons have been said to compensate ourselves for the uniformitarianism of our cooks. Beside all these, more or less (too often less!) serious and respectable embodiments of the religious spirit, swarmed a wretched brood, full of superstitions and magical practices, many of them honest survivals of savagery; but many more gross and criminal impostures, analogous to so much of modern spirit-rapping and table-turning. Flourishing prototypes of our Cagliostros and Blavatskys abounded; while for these wolves and foxes, innumerable sheep and geese had been prepared by the over-civilisation which, then as now, sapped manhood and debased and distorted womanhood.

These were the highly cultivated of their age–the people who had read books without end, and who, nevertheless, were more profoundly ignorant of the realities of things than the slaves in their ergastula; human beings with their powers of observation withered by disuse, their powers of reasoning stunted by love of novelty and smartness and by devotion to forms of expression, instead of attention to the substance of that which is expressed. The man of letters was dying out; Gigadibsius,1 the littérateur , was taking his place, and nobody knew the difference.

Such half-cretinised products of over-civilisation; neurotics, exhausted by unceasing indulgence of the senses and the emotions, creatures flabby in body, with the acute sensibility of the weak mind in place of intelligence, are puppets in the hands of a really virile and able impostor. A rare combination of faculties, each good in itself–courage, resource, imagination, above all, force–is required for the making of a really great liar. No one attains that high position until he has reached the point of being able to believe his own fictions for so long as his interest require that prodigious effort.

The confident assertion of such a genius of fraud sweeps the neurotic and the Gigadibsii off their feet. The former are carried away, as it were, by a nervous avalanche; the latter because, never [529] having possessed any solid intellectual foundation, their feet go up and their heads down, like those of boys on a slide before the swoop of a burly man. It is these people who cannot be got to understand that the absence of proof against, is not the same thing as the presence of evidence for, an assertion; and that the occurrence of a certain form of the would-be miraculous in every age, and among all nations, is not the least reason for thinking that there must be 'something in it' beyond the folly, or the fraud, which competent investigation always shows to be the 'something.' That true man of letters, Lucian, had something to say about these people and their dupes which is well worthy of modern attention.

Amidst this seething multitude, the seeker after higher manifestations of human nature would hardly distinguish more than three. For the rarely counted, but by no means lowest, type, illustrated by those who strive to do the duty which lies before them to the best of their ability and with as little speculation as possible, usually remains invisible. The visible three, who possessed not only the will to act up to a standard of duty, but a theory of the nature of things more or less connected with their practice, were the Stoics (including the better class of Cynics), the Jews, and those ultra-liberal Jews by doctrinal filiation who were known as Christians.

The best men among the Roman upper classes were either professedly Stoics, or deeply tinged with Stoicism. That philosophy is the most thoroughly materialistic which has ever been promulgated; it is also essentially pantheistic, and logically committed to Determinism. At the same time, the Stoics held, as strongly as any modern orthodox professor of moral philosophy, by 'eternal and immutable' principles of morality. Cynicism was merely the rigorous carrying-out of the ascetic principles which all Stoics professed; just as Monachism is only the Sermon on the Mount reduced to practice. And, if the baser Cynicism led to the degradation of Stoicism, it did not sink it further than the baser Monachism was soon to sink Christianity.

The Jew was just what he is now. He occupied the same sort of position in Roman society as he did in English society a century ago. He was unenfranchised and despised, but influential; ridiculed, but courted. And he exhibited, as it seems to be his fate always to exhibit, human nature, here in its brightest and best, and there in its darkest and worst, colours.

The Christian societies, as yet in the independent stage of ecclesiastical evolution, were, socially, much in the position of our little local 'Salvation' conventicles before they were captured and 'generalled' by private enterprise. Authentic accounts of the practices and of the teaching current among them may be found in Justin Martyr and in the Didache . The curious, on the other hand, may easily acquaint themselves with the teaching which was not then 'current' by perusing the Nicene and Athanasian creeds, supple[530]mented by the Thirty-nine Articles, all of which, and the Catechism, were to be found, in my young days, in the Book of Common Prayer. I am still grateful to them for whiling away the tedium of many a dull sermon to which I was compelled to seem to listen.

If a looker-on had possessed an unusual share of sagacity–perhaps more than one has any right to expect of mortal man, he might have divined that the future of the Western world turned, not so much on the result of the coming death-grapple between the Empire and its neighbours, as on that of the struggle for supremacy of the theories of the nature of things and of the proper regulation of human action among them, held by these three sections of the community; little as the average Cæsar, or Præfectus Prætorii, might consider any of these minorities worthy of his attention, except as troublesome, impracticable people, with whom shortening by the head was probably the only effectual corrective of incomprehensible perversity and seditious obstinacy.

We are made wise by the events of nearly seventeen hundred years. The Barbarians have done exactly what it was to be expected they would do. The Roman Empire, and even the Holy Roman Empire, have distilled away into the limbo of nonentity; and only a caput mortuum remains, as that poor 'prisoner of the Vatican,' who fulfils the ideal of a prisoner, according to modern philanthropy, in so far as he lives in much more comfort and splendour than any honest labourer known to me. And, in all this time, the struggle for mastery between the scientific spirit of post-prophetic Judaism, and of that prophetic Judaism, already coloured by Hellenism, which bore the name of Christianity, has gone on, until, now, Judaism stands substantially where it did; while the simple Christian faith of the second century has been overlaid and transmuted by Hellenic speculation into the huge and complex dogmatic fabric of Ecclesiastical Christianity. Finally, the scientific spirit, freed from all its early wrappings, stands in independence of, and for the most part in antagonism to, its ancient rivals. Its cosmology, its anthropology, are incompatible with theirs; its ethics are independent of theirs.

That, if I mistake not, is in broad outline the state of affairs among us; and the future of our civilisation as certainly depends on the result of the contest between Science and Ecclesiasticism which is now afoot, as the present state of thing is the outcome of the former strife. To those who hold this view, the competency or incompetency of the 'shepherds of the people,' whether lay or clerical, will seem to be closely connected with their capacity to recognise these leading factors in the formation of opinion. For it is by opinion that men always have been, and always must be, [531] governed, since force, their obvious and immediate master, is but opinion's bully. Therefore it is eminently satisfactory to find that one, at any rate, of our political chiefs, already occupying a high place, and sure to go higher, not merely in official rank, but, if I may have an opinion on such a matter, in the estimation of his countrymen, whatever their politics, is fully awake to these facts; that he clearly sees the important consequences, both speculative and practical, which are likely to flow from an antagonism in the world of thought of a much sharper and more serious kind than has ever yet existed; and, perhaps, notes the significant circumstance, that force no longer waits upon the orders of only one of the combatants; that the heretofore weaker has become strong and is daily growing in power.

Mr. Balfour styles one of these protagonists 'Naturalism'; the other he is curiously shy of naming, except so far as the sadly vague appellation of 'current teaching'2 may be called a name. Since the purpose of his work is to set in order the 'Foundations of Belief,' and since that belief is, I apprehend, essentially theological, I might, perhaps, prefer 'Theologism' as an equivalent to 'current teaching.' But I live in due terror of the theologians. They might quarrel with me, and, as we shall see, not without some show of reason, on the ground that a theology with doctrines such as these set forth in this 'current teaching' does not exist. However, a name I must have for 'current teaching,' if only to avoid circumlocution, and I can hit upon nothing better than 'Demômism'; for Liddell and Scott say that the verb [ ] signifies to 'talk popularly;' and that, I suppose, is just what 'current teaching' comes to.

Readers of the Foundations of Belief must be very learned and very acute if they do not find much to instruct them; very dull, if enjoyment of dialectic fence is not largely mingled with their gratitude for that instruction; and, if they are not devoid of the literary sense, they must feel the charm of a style which flows like a smooth stream, sparkling with wit and rippling with sarcasms enough to take away any reproach of monotony. To devote more than a passing word to the glories of the shield, the weight of the spear, and the sharpness of the sword of Achilles, would be a sorry compliment to that hero. And, glad as I should be to linger over Mr. Balfour's merits as a literary artist, I may not stay to do more than hint my appreciation of the hue of scepticism which overspreads the Foundations so extensively, that a less sympathetic observer might easily fail to distinguish between what is rock and what is sand. But I must bethink me that contributors, at any rate, belong to the strictly conditioned world; and mindful of editorial space and readers' patience, hasten on to perform the business I had in mind when I set out. This is to discuss, assuredly in no controversial spirit, but solely with the desire to get things clear in my own and other minds, what appear to me to be the [532] fundamental positions of Mr. Balfour's attack upon Agnosticism, and how far that attack has succeeded; or, perhaps, not succeeded. In this frame of mind, I desire to make the most liberal allowance for the difficulties in which his plan of campaign has involved even so skilful a tactician. It is not always easy to state one's own opinions in an adequate manner; and when one attempt to set forth those of other people, a large experience, I think, justifies the opinion that the effort is rarely satisfactory–at least to the other people.

But Mr. Balfour has not merely undertaken to define the opinions of a school to which he professedly has an antipathy: he has been at the trouble to provide the scholars with a catechism; a sort of Delphin edition of Naturalism, in usum studiosæ juventutis.3 Now, I ask whether even such a moderate and judicial-minded person as Athanasius, who, as he was long since promoted to saintship, must doubtless have been as well aware as Mr. Balfour 'of the necessity of undertaking a work of this kind in an impartial spirit,' was likely to give still more to draw up a catechism which would prove acceptable to the congregations of the Goths who, unhappily, professed that heresy?

Thus the probabilities seem to be heavily against the success of Mr. Balfour's enterprise, so far as Naturalism is concerned; and yet failure on this point may involve total defeat. If 'Naturalism,' as defined and catechetically represented by him, is a body of doctrine which nobody holds; if 'Naturalistic' thinking and teachers are as devoid of real existence as Hippogriffs and Chimæras, the champion of Demômism is doing battle with the air. Of course I do not deny, indeed it is my purpose to affirm, that there is something else to which this 'Naturalism' stands in the relation of a mere distorted shadow, and which is very solid and stern reality.

As I have said, I have sought in vain for any precise definition (outside the catechism to be considered further on) of Demômism in Mr. Balfour's pages. But that it is put forward as substantially one with the 'current' theology and the 'current' religion is clear from a passage at p. 7, which states that 'Naturalism is in reality the only system which ultimately profits by any defeats which Theology may sustain, or which may be counted on to flood the spaces from which the tide of Religion has receded.' I shall have to differ so much from Mr. Balfour that I am glad to make my entire agreement with this statement, provided always that I may substitute Agnosticism, as I understand it, for Naturalism, as he defines it.

Naturalism, on the other hand, obtains the honour of a full description in limine (p. 6).

"Agnosticism, Positivism, Empiricism, have all been used, more or less correctly, to describe this scheme of thought; though, in the following pages, for reasons with [533] which it is not necessary to trouble the reader, the term which I shall commonly employ is Naturalism. [But whatever the name selected, the thing itself is sufficiently easy to describe. For its leading doctrines are that we may know 'phenomena,' and the laws by which they are connected, but nothing else. 'More, there may or may not be; but if it exists we can never apprehend it;] and whatever the World may be, "in its reality" (supposing such an expression to be other than meaningless),the World for us, the World with which alone we are concerned or of which we alone can have any cognisance, is that World which is revealed to us through perception, and which is the subject matter of the Natural Sciences."4

I must remark that "Naturalism" is a well-known and perfectly understood technical term of philosophy, and applies to all systems of speculation from which the supernatural is excluded, whether it be merely ignored or expressly denied. Naturalism proper has nothing to do with the specific doctrines of Materialism or of Idealism, of Determinism or Libertinism, but is compatible with any of these doctrines. So the professor of 'Naturalism' may be a pure empiric, or a believer in innate ideas; a Platonist or an Epicurean. Doctrines as widely different as the pantheism of Spinoza and the so-called atheism of the Buddhist are forms of 'Naturalism.' However, it is not necessary to do more than signalise the possibility and the probability that serious errors of connotation may arise from this novel use of old language, and to remark, in the interests of Agnosticism, that it has not, necessarily anything whatever to do with Naturalism properly so called. For one may surely hold that he knows nothing about any supernatural powers, and even is unacquainted with the means of knowing about them, and yet totally refuse to commit himself to the denial of their existence? The elementary consideration so often, but it would seem quite uselessly, urged, that a man may say he knows nothing of any Saturnians and does not believe we shall ever have the means of knowing, and yet leave the existence or non-existence of inhabitants in that planet quite open, is surely worth some attention. The choice of a term which is open to so much misunderstanding seems to me unfortunate, from all points of view, except, perhaps, that of the pure polemic. I object to making Agnosticism the scapegoat, on whose head the philosophic sins of the companions with whom it is improperly associated may be conveniently piled up.

Before now, I have had occasion to speak of the pedigree of Agnosticism; and I have vainly endeavoured to placate its enemies by showing that it is really no child of mine, but that it has a highly respectable lineage which can be traced back for centuries. I will not repeat anything I may have said elsewhere, but I think the opportunity fitting to set forth, for the first time, the particular passage in an essay by Sir William Hamilton, published in 1829, and [534] first read by me about the year 1840, which, so far as I am concerned, is the original spring of Agnosticism:

"Philosophy, if viewed as more than a science of the conditioned, is impossible. Departing from the particular, we admit that we can never, in our highest generalisations, rise above the finite; that our knowledge, whether of mind or matter, can be nothing more than a knowledge of the relative manifestations of an existence, which in itself it is our highest wisdom to recognise as beyond the reach of philosophy–in the language of St. Austin, ‘cognoscendo ignorari et ignorando cognosci.'5

When, long years after these words had made an indelible impression on my mind, I came across the Limits of Religious Thought (which I really did read, though the fact that I once unfortunately spelt Mansel with two l's has been held by a candid critic to be proof to the contrary), I said to myself 'Connu!'; and the thrill of pleasure with which I discovered that, in the matter of Agnosticism (not yet so christened), I was as orthodox as a dignitary of the Church, who might any day be made a bishop, may be left to the imagination.

Let me beg attention to a few more of the weighty words, which for some fifty-odd years have had their echo in my mind, and have determined the nature of the philosophy–be it good, bad, or indifferent–which, for me, is Agnosticism; which have led me to follow Socrates in the belief that the knowledge of what we do not know is, perhaps, the surest; and to hold that those who do not attain that knowledge, who presume beyond human limitations, are rightly visited with the punishment of becoming the slaves of their own delusions, the worshippers of idols, which are their own works as much as if they were hand-made.

"Loath to admit that our science is at best the reflection of a reality we cannot know, we strive to penetrate to existence in itself; and what we have laboured intensely to attain, we at last fondly believe we have accomplished. But, like Ixion, we embrace a cloud for a divinity. Conscious only of–conscious only in and through limitation, we think to comprehend the infinite; and dream even of establishing the science–the nescience of man on an identity with the omniscience of God. It is this powerful tendency of the most vigorous minds to transcend the sphere of our faculties, which makes a 'learned ignorance' the most difficult acquirement, perhaps, indeed, the consummation, of knowledge. In the words of a forgotten, but acute philosopher–Magna, immo maxima pars sapientiæ est – quœdam æquo animo nescire velle " (l.c. p. 36).

Suum6 cuique. Here is the cardinal proposition of Agnosticism, as I understand it, set forth, with a force and clearness that have never been surpassed, sixty-six years ago.

The discipline of natural science, however, is in no respect more important and more valuable than its constant practical admonitions [535] to swear by no master. After all this warning that the limits of our powers of conception are no measure of the possibilities of existence, and against our tendency to fancy 'the domain of knowledge as necessarily co-extensive with the horizon of our faith,' Hamilton forgets that, contrariwise, the domain of faith may extend so far outside the horizon of possible knowledge, that we have no right to speak of its objects in the language of cognition.

"By a wonderful revelation," he says:

"we are thus, in the very consciousness of our inability to conceive aught above the relative and finite, inspired with a belief in the existence of something unconditioned beyond the sphere of all comprehensible reality" (l. c. p. 15).

And a note added, after the mature reflection of twenty years, in the Discussions expands this passage:

"True, therefore, are the declarations of a pious philosophy–'A God understood would be no God at all.' 'To think that God is as we can think Him to be, is blasphemy.' The Divinity, in a certain sense, is revealed; in a certain sense is concealed. He is at once known and unknown. But the last and highest consecration of all true religion must be an altar–[...]–'To the unknown and unknowable God.’ In this consummation, nature and revelation, paganism and christianity, are at one; and from either source the testimonies are so numerous that I must refrain from quoting any. Am I wrong in thinking that M. Cousin would not repudiate this doctrine?"

There was a time, I confess, when this eloquent rhetoric attracted me. That deep-seated repugnance of the human mind, especially of the young mind, 'quœdam æquo animo nescire velle ,' was strong in me; and I was as ready as Hamilton himself, to forget his own warning, to confuse the necessities of thought with the obligations of things, and, hypostatising nescience, pretend, under the guise of Faith, to possession of Knowledge. But riper years have brought rooted dislike to the language, and distrust of the dialectic process, exemplified by the passage I have last cited. It seems to me that the admission of a state of mind intermediate between knowledge and no-knowledge is fatal to all clear thought, and holds the door open to the return of one or other of the many forms of the Absolute which Hamilton took so much trouble to expel. There is no intermediation between a straight line and a bent line: however slight may be the deviation of the latter, it is not straight. There is nothing intermediate between darkness and light: the merest glimmer of twilight is as much not-darkness as broad sunshine. If 'a God understood is no God at all,' a God of whom nothing can be predicated is, for us, a possibility to be borne in mind, but not a subject of knowledge. If 'to think that God is as we can think him to be, is blasphemy,' to think that he has no thinkable attributes easily runs into the thought that he has none which can affect us; in fact to the theology of Epicurus. Construed strictly, [536] therefore, this 'pious philosophy' comes to pretty much what 'current teaching' is fond of calling impiety. Is it not better to keep silence about matters which speech is incompetent to express; to be content with resolving in the deeps of the mind the infinite possibilities of the unknown?

It is a noteworthy circumstance that Hamilton, usually so accurate, has interpolated into his translation of [Greek] the words 'and unknowable,' which, I apprehend, have no sort of business there. For [the Greek word], so far as I can ascertain, always means 'unknown' (whether from ignorance or forgetfulness), and implies nothing about the possibility of being known. I am at this moment [unknowing] of what my gardener is doing, but it is certainly nothing unknowable. Moreover, as the Athenians used the word in the inscription which the Apostle read, they certainly did not mean to honour an 'unknowable' Deity, but simply any divine personage who by mischance had been overlooked. If our philosopher had contented himself with pointing out the indubitable fact that the limitation of human knowledge to the relative and the finite affords as little foundation for denial, as for affirmation, concerning that which lies beyond our cognisance; if, by way of counterpoise to the proposition that it is 'blasphemy to think that God is as we can think him to be,' he had added that it is preposterous to assert that there is no God, because he cannot be such as we can think him to be, I fancy he would have taken up a position of unassailable security, and might have done something to let the wind out of the bladder of dogmatic Atheism.

It may seem that we have strayed a long way from the discussion of the definitions of Naturalism and Demômism; but the excursion has been made with premeditation. For the passage which I have inclosed between brackets in that definition of 'Naturalism,' cited above, which is said to contain the leading doctrines and to be the equivalent of Agnosticism, Empiricism, and Positivism, would serve very well for a paraphrase of language employed not merely by Hamilton, but before him, by Kant, by Hume, by Berkeley, and by Locke: that is, by the philosophers who are generally accounted the heads of schools as widely different as the Critical, the Sceptical, the Idealist, and the Empirical. So far, therefore, Mr. Balfour's 'Naturalism' runs, not merely with Agnosticism and with Empiricism, but with much else. The doctrine that the subject-matter of knowledge is limited to phenomena (though I believe the term 'phenomenon' has come into general use only since Kant) is common to all I have mentioned. And it is as common to all of them to include mental as well as physical phenomena among the subject-matters of knowledge. So far as I can discover, there is no authority whatever for limiting the application of the word 'phenomena' to the [537] appearances which in ordinary language are ascribed to external objects.

I am loth to quote myself, but in a discussion about Agnosticism I hope I may be forgiven for doing so. Seventeen years ago I wrote thus:

"Observation of the mind makes us acquainted with nothing but certain events, facts, or phenomena (whichever name be preferred) . . . To all these mental phenomena, or states of our consciousness, Descartes gave the name of 'thoughts,' while Locke and Berkeley termed them 'ideas.' Hume, regarding this as an improper use of the word 'idea,' for which he purposes another employment, gives the general name of 'perceptions' to all states of consciousness."7

It really is not open to dispute that the sense here attached to the word 'phenomenon' is that which was, and is, universally recognised by philosophical writers. Mr. Balfour, on the other hand, seems to me to employ it in a sense peculiar to himself, if I may judge by what follows the bracketed sentence in the citation given above. He appears to restrict the term 'phenomena' to those which constitute the subject-matter of the Natural Sciences, mental states not being reckoned among them.

The explanatory and apologetic note which follows does not touch my difficulty; on the contrary, his explanation makes matters worse, and the apology appears to be due for another wrong.

"Roughly speaking, things and events, the general subject-matter of Natural Science, is what I endeavour to indicate by a term [i.e. phenomenon] for which, as thus used, there is unfortunately no substitute" (p.7.)

Thus it would appear that, not content with devising dogmatic definitions and catechisms for philosophers of another way of thinking, Mr. Balfour proposes, incidentally, to remodel their technical terminology, and to attach original and hitherto quite unheard-of signification to old-established terms. We have seen what has happened to 'Naturalism;' 'Phenomenon' comes even worse off. That which, as it was introduced into philosophical language, had the value of 'appearance' ('roughly speaking, things and events') or every description, has had a 'monstrous cantle' cut out of its patrimony, and is restricted to the general subject-matter of Natural Science.

I am afraid it must be admitted that the brilliancy which hovers over the pages of the Foundations of Belief is sometimes so vague and shifty that, like a hostile search-light, it often spreads confusion where it professes to illuminate. One thinks to seize something logically tangible, and lo! it is gone. Even now, I am not quite sure of Mr. Balfour's meaning. For it may be that 'Natural Science,' like 'Naturalism' and 'Phenomenon,' is used in a sense different from that employed by the rest of the world.

Let it not be suggested that this is mere carping, inasmuch as the [538] subject-matter of the Natural Sciences is clearly enough affirmed to be ‘that world which is revealed to us through perception.’ Alas! like the honest farmer in face of unwonted claret, I am, 'no forrarder' for those repeated draughts of definition. For what is meant by 'perception'? I think modern usage generally confines the application of the word to operations of the mind concerned with the phenomena of what is termed the external world. We are said to 'perceive' external objects and sensible phenomena generally. I do not think any one would say that we perceive love, or hatred, or mathematical axioms. On the other hand, as I have just pointed out, Hume (and I may add, Locke) set a precedent, which might be cited to justify the application of the term perception to the subject-matter of all knowledge.

I apprehend, however, that it cannot be Mr. Balfour's intention to take advantage of Hume's authority. For, in that case, the world 'revealed to us by perception' would be the totality of phenomena, both mental and bodily. And much as I might desire to do so, I am unable to imagine it is intended to pay the devotees of Natural Science the compliment of supposing that they may legitimately entertain the ambition of Bacon, and 'take all knowledge for their province.' In fact, this is just what Mr. Balfour objects to their doing.

Hence I feel shut up to the conclusion that 'perception,' for Mr. Balfour, means nothing more than 'perception through the senses'; and that the Natural Sciences of which he speaks are such as Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Mineralogy, and Botany. The following skimming appears to give us the cream of Mr. Balfour's view of Naturalism (and therefore of Agnosticism):

"Here, and here only [that is to say, among the objects of Natural Science], are we on firm ground. Here, and here only, can we discern anything which deserves to be described as Knowledge. Here, and here only, may we profitably exercise our reason or gather the fruits of Wisdom. Such, in rough outline, is Naturalism " (p. 7).

Unfortunately, the limitation of Natural Science to such branches as I have just mentioned, to the exclusion of Zoology and Physiology, would be as original an innovation, and even more startling and less justifiable, than those already discussed. Natural Science really must be admitted to include what all the world calls 'Natural History'; and, in Natural History, with all respect to my colleagues the Botanists, Zoology is the predominant partner.

Now, the study of animals involves that investigation of all the activities they manifest which is the province of the department called Physiology. From Haller, in the middle of the last century, down to the latest physiological birth of time, the right of the physiologists to deal with the animal mind, as well as with the animal body, has never been questioned. Since the Primæ Lineæ were published, no authoritative compendium of Physiological Science has [539] lacked its psychological section; sometimes its psychological treatise. Thus no conception of Natural Science which excludes Psychology can possibly be entertained. But, if Natural Science rightfully includes Psychology, the phenomena of Consciousness fall within its province. And if the physiologists had not too much to do at home already, and stretched forth their hands over the whole realm of mind, I know of no logical barrier strong enough to bar an indefinite extension of the dominion of Natural Science in this direction. Quieta non movere is an admirable maxim in many practical contingencies. It is really better to leave these Natural Science people alone; or the day may come when they will put forward a claim to History and Art, in both of which provinces Archæology has already planted their flag; to Ethics, where Evolution has even now something to say; nay, perhaps (horrible to reflect!), over Theology, where a close ally of Natural Science, the ‘Higher Criticism,' is already ravaging the hinterland. It may be good policy, therefore, not to stir ambitions hitherto dormant, by a fruitless attempt to deprive Natural Science of territory of which it has long had undisputed possession, and to restrict it to the world of material, even including purely vegetative, phenomena. There is no worse statesmanship than that which irritates those whom it is powerless to constrain.

But if the 'Natural Science' of Mr. Balfour is unlike anything known to men of science, it follows that the view of 'Naturalism' founded on it, and the conceptions of Empiricism and Agnosticism, which are counted among the forms of Naturalism, are equally non-existent.

For Empiricism, at any rate, this easy deduction is readily verified. I suppose I may assume that Locke, generally labelled the father of the experience philosophy, is a representative of Empiricism. Is he not known to all those who take their philosophy from text-books and compilations (that is, most people) as the author of the dictum, 'Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu ,' 'In the intellect there is nothing except that which has been sensation'? And do not these same sources of information usually celebrate the sagacity of Leibnitz in correcting Locke's error by the famous addition 'nisi intellectus ipse,’' except the intellect itself'?

But it will happen to anyone who, having been trained by Historical or Natural Science in the excellent practice of consulting original sources, attempts to verify these statements, to discover that Locke said nothing of the kind, either in Latin or in any other language; that Leibnitz does not attribute the saying to him, but ascribes it, vaguely, to 'les Philosophes'; and that, after stating his own opinion, he winds up with the declaration that 'Cela s'accorde assez avec Votre Auteur de l'Essai [to wit, Locke].'8 For, as [540] Leibnitz justly points out, Locke over and over again insists that we have not one source of knowledge, sense, but two, sense and reflection; nor, less frequently, that the additions to our knowledge obtained through the latter channel are the result of the activity of the mind itself. If Locke says that experience is the origin of all knowledge, we must bear in mind that he means internal experience as well as external. Therefore, if Locke is an 'Empiric,' so is Kant. In fact, I know not who can hope to escape the name, except the Fichtean idealist, for whom the activity of the Ego is the sole source of phenomena. Even Berkeley assumes sensation to have no external cause in God.

Positivism I leave to take care of itself. As to Agnosticism, as I am concerned only with looking after the interests of that form of it which I profess myself, the perusal of the preceding pages will probably suffice to indicate that I wholly repudiate Mr. Balfour's portrait of it. Nor is this repudiation based merely upon the Definition given in the 'Preliminary,' though I have hitherto gone no further for questionable matter. The catechism is open to equally serious objection. Moreover, I venture to doubt whether Demômism has been any better served; and whether the real 'current teaching'–that which Mr. Balfour and his political friends desire to force upon present and future generations of English school-children, has, so far as it covers philosophical ground, any resemblance to that elevated creed to which 'Naturalism' is made to play the part of a foil.

But justice could not be done to the discussion of these and various other interesting and important topics within the compass of a single article.

(To be concluded.)

1 'You Gigadibs, who, thirty years of age,

. . . . . .

Believe you see two points in Hamlet's soul

Unseized by the Germans yet–which view you'll print.'

Bishop Blougram's Apology , Browning's Works, vol. I.

2 The Foundations of Belief , p. 83.

3 Foundations of Belief , pp. 83-85.

4 The brackets are inserted for a purpose which will appear later on.

5 Discussions in Philosophy and Literature , by Sir W. Hamilton (1852), p. 14.

6 'Suum '–with so much right of property as is conferred by clear definition. Hamilton's profound acquaintance with the history of philosophy would, of course, have stopped him from claiming more.

7 Hume, Collected Addresses , vi. 73-74.

8 Nouveaux Essais. Tome second, chap. 1. I have given Leibnitz' version of the dictum. In others 'prius' or 'ante' comes after 'non.'

Mr. Balfour's Attack on Agnosticism-II

[Draft of galley proof]


[72] Before proceeding with the further consideration of the view of the relations between natural science and philosophy, and the accuracy of the portrait of Agnosticism presented in the Foundations of Belief , I think it desirable to deal with a passage in which Mr Balfour does me the honour to associate me with Mr J. S. Mill and Mr H. Spencer as one who has played "unconscious havoc with the most solid results which empirical methods have hitherto attained" (p. 124).

As I have much reason to doubt whether what Mr Balfour understands by 'empirical methods' has anything to do with scientific method, and as I have still more reason to think that he is extensively and profoundly unacquainted with what I have written, I am not disposed to dwell upon the substance of the charge.

But perhaps it is needful that I should repeat here the expression of profound obligation to the study of Mr Mill's Logic that I have published elsewhere, if only that my objection to be held responsible for any of Mr Mill's opinions to which I have not expressly assented should be deprived of any appearance of want of respect for a teacher to whom I owe much.

My relations with Mr Spencer's philosophy are of a totally different order. Thanks to Hamilton and Mill, the fundamental principles of what is now understood as Agnosticism were clearly fixed in my mind when, in 1850, I returned to England with a well-studied copy of Mill's Logic, which, along with Carlyle's Essays and some volumes of Goethe and Dante, had shared my little cabin for four years, in each of which many months were spent in almost entire isolation.

Consequently, when I had the pleasure of making Mr Spencer's acquaintance in 1852, it was with much satisfaction that I found we stood on common ground; and no one could have welcomed First Principles so far as its critical positions are concerned, more warmly than I did. But even then Mr Spencer appeared to me to be disposed to travel along the path–by which, as I conceive, Hamilton had been led astray–further than I was. And in the forty-three years which have elapsed the divergence of opinion thus marked has unfortunately become greater and greater, until now we are speculatively (I hope in no other way) poles asunder. It is impossible for me to approve the a priori method; to admit that Mr Spencer's form of the doctrine of evolution is well founded; or to accept the ethical and political deductions which he makes from that doctrine.

Though I have nothing to say to Cartesianism, I shall not be charged with any want of appreciation of the genius and merits of Descartes; and what I have felt bound to say in order to put an end to further confessions of this sort, does not appear to me to be inconsistent with that / a similar / high appreciation of Mr Spencer's abilities, and of the admirable courage and tenacity of purpose with which he carried out to completion the task he set himself when we two were young men with life all before us.

I now turn to the consideration of the two remarkable catechisms in which Mr Balfour has stated to his mind the leading doctrines of Demômism (A) and of Naturalism (B). They present five pairs of antinomies so bound together in their antagonism, that I must treat them as Siamese twins and take each pair together.

I. A. The Universe is the creation of Reason, and all things work together towards a reasonable end.

B. So far as we are concerned, reason is to be found neither in the beginning of things nor in their end; and though everything is predetermined nothing is fore-ordained.

I am really curious to know where Mr Balfour found his authority, either among agnostics or following natural science, for B. To me the former of the two propositions which it contains is absurd. If, according to natural science, reason is absent from the universe, how is it that men of science talk about, 'laws of nature' which are expressions in terms of reason of the order of nature? How is evolution conceivable, unless as the development of the energy of the cosmos according to fixed principles towards a definite result? Suppose, for a moment, that the whole solar system was once represented by an ocean of similar molecules, unless the energy which set these molecules in motion followed fixed rules of action–unless in that it operated rationally–the solar system could never come out of it. Unless the arrangement of the parts and the disposition of the latent forces of the germ of a frog were rational–nay, pitched in such a high key of rationality that human reason has not yet shown itself adequate to conceive them–no tadpole would ever emerge from the egg.

In these first articles of the catechism there appears to me to be the same tendency as elsewhere to employ terms of which the sense is left ambiguous. 'Reason' now, promoted to a capital R in A but reduced to the ranks in B–what does that much-misused word signify?

There is the grand sense of [nous], [logos] ,Vernunft, in English, Reason with a capital R. which means, so far as I can understand, the faculty of intuitive apprehension of being quite sure about things of which there is no scientific evidence. If Mr Balfour, by the help of this sublime faculty, tells me that it created the universe, I can only say that it may be so; but I do not see convincing evidence of the fact.

Ordinary usage spells reason with a little r, and denotes by it the mental process, of which the results are predication, induction, and deduction, and of which an account, usually supposed to be adequate, is found in the text-books of Logic. But I think these will be searched in vain to discover that reason, in this sense, is a source of energy–still less that predication, induction, and deduction, even if raised to the n th power, could create, I will not say the universe, but a three-legged stool. Moreover, from my point of view, there is another important consideration. So far as our knowledge goes, every state of consciousness has for its antecedent a state of nervous matter. The nature of the correlating bond is to me an insoluble riddle, and any transformation of modes of motion into consciousness inconceivable; but the fact remains. And granting this, it follows that the series of mental phenomena which represents a conscious ratiocination has for its necessary antecedent a parallel series of material phenomena; consequently, that the conscious ratiocinative process is but the expression of the order and nature of the series of changes in the material substratum of consciousness.

It is the physical powers which determine the psychical; the latter is merely the symbol of that which is the essential operation. Hence it comes about that among the lower animals generally and among ourselves so far as a large proportion of our lives is concerned, perfectly rational acts are performed without conscious ratiocination. Reason is there, but it does not ring the bell of consciousness to say so.

If this argumentation is sound, it follows that, so far from denying the existence of reason in the universe, natural science must regard it as reason in excelsis– a reason so far superior to that incarnate in man, that the profoundest philosopher stands to it in the relation of a schoolboy stumbling through his primer of arithmetic to an adept in the higher mathematics. The use of the word 'reason' in the sense here defined is no novelty, but has a very ancient precedent in Greek Philosophy. The universe conceived as a sphere of earth and water was invested with a coat of air, and outside that of aetherial fire. As Newton thought space to be the sensorium of the Deity, so the fiery AEther was conceived as the especial seat of the Reason or Logos–the primary source not only of thought but of energy–wherein, by the intermediation of the pneuma (a spirit that is subtlest air) diffused through all things and peculiarly resident in the human (especially the philosophic) mind, the rational order of things was maintained, and the cosmos pursued the necessary course of its evolution. It is not clear to me whether these great ancient thinkers held the operations of the Logos to be accompanied by its symbolic manifestation in terms of human consciousness. The gods themselves were products, not factors, in the evolution of the cosmos. There is no logical necessity for so doing. There may be endless other ways of arriving at the results which we attain through consciousness. And I should imagine that most sober thinkers will agree in the agnostic conclusion that this is one of the topics respecting which silence is better than speech. Certainly everything is predetermined. Whether it can be said to be fore-ordained depends on what is meant by 'foreordained.' If Mr Balfour intends to suggest that before the world began the cosmic process was talked over and settled after the manner described by Milton in Paradise Lost , I can only reply that I feel as unable to adopt as unwilling to discuss the suggestion.

Agnosticism has one advantage–that of allowing us to take refuge in silence, when speech drifts towards grotesque anthropomorphism. But, for my part, I have not the least objection to 'foreordained' if reason can be shown for preferring it to 'predetermined.'

Thus the first article of catechism B contains no tenet acknowledged by natural science or by Agnosticism. And the second is like unto it.

II. A. Creative reason is interfused with infinite love.

B. As reason is absent so also is love. The universal flux is ordered by blind causation alone.

I regret to say that I am not able to attach an intelligible signification to A. 'Reason' and 'love' are names for mental phenomena of totally distinct kinds.

It seems to me that if I were to say that algebra is interfused with infinite odours, I should make quite as comprehensible a statement.

I suppose, however, the intention is to affirm that the creative power (assumed to have given rise to the universe), reasoning in a manner analogous to human ratiocination, has been actuated by desires of emotions analogous to those which we denominate love.

For if the qualification 'infinite' destroys all analogy with the finite, then the use of the word becomes delusive.

Moreover there is a grievous hiatus. 'Infinite love'; but 'love' of what? Love implies an object of that emotion. In the present case the object may be the creative power itself–as some theologians have it that the object of creation was the glorification of the creator. If so, the demiurge might take pleasure in pain and inflict it to please himself.

On the other hand, this 'interfusing infinite love' may have for its object the whole universe or man alone, or an infinitely minute portion of mankind. Now this last is a favourite theological view. And I really am unable to reconcile it with the attribute of love–unless indeed the qualification 'infinite' means 'infinitely small.' And that I have no right to assume.

Let us turn to B. Agnosticism as strongly declines to assert the absence of love as the absence of reason. One agnostic, at any rate, has insisted, before now, on the amount of apparently gratuitous pleasure which human beings enjoy as a striking feature of the order of nature.

But it seems to me that a rational man should really think twice before he attributes human passions to this 'creative' power. If love, why not hate, envy, jealousy, and deceit? All which passions have been attributed to the creative power by both Gentile and Jewish piety.

I have heard a good deal about 'blind causation' in my time; but I have met with nobody who was able or willing to help me to the meaning of the phrase by defining its implied antithesis, 'seeing causation.' I suppose that, as here employed, the intention to charge Agnosticism with the denial of the existence anywhere in the endless worlds we know of, except among the grains of human dust on our speck of a planet, of mental phenomena of an order as much superior to man's as those of man are to those of a mouse; or at least with denying that there can be anywhere an analogue of the 'hegemonikon' of the Stoics, and thinking the thought of the cosmos in its own terms as our minds think the thought of / the / world in terms of our consciousness. If so, I can only say that neither of these denials would be uttered by a consistent agnostic, who might let his imagination wander freely among such possibilities and remain perfectly true to his principles, so long as he did not mistake his dreams for knowledge, or abuse other people because they dreamed dreams of another kind or refused to dream at all.

III. A. There is a moral law, immutable, eternal; in its governance all spirits find their true freedom and their most perfect realisation. Though it be adequate to infinite goodness and infinite intelligence, it may be understood even by man, sufficiently for his guidance.

B. Among the causes by which the course of organic and social development has been blindly determined are pains, pleasures, instincts, appetites, disgusts, religions, moralities, superstitions; the sentiment of what is noble and intrinsically worthy; the sentiment of what is ignoble and intrinsically worthless. From a purely scientific view these all stand on an equality; all are action-producing causes developed not to improve, but simply to perpetuate the species.

I apprehend that by 'moral law' we mean the rule or body of rules by which the conduct of men must be governed if it is to meet with moral approbation. Moral approbation is a feeling associated with certain mental conceptions. Whether that association is innate and instinctive (as the pleasure, or the disgust, associated with certain sensations is innate), whether it is acquired artificially (as likings and dislikings are acquired in other cases), or whether both of these conditions come into play, certain it is that the sentiment of moral approbation and disapprobation is extremely strong, and that the certainty that the one or the other will follow upon certain actions is the most powerful of all inducements to do them, or refrain from them.

Moreover, it is not to be doubted that so long as human nature and the conditions of human life remain the same, so long will the rules of conduct remain the same. If mankind are 'immutable and eternal' and live under immutable conditions, then assuredly the moral law is 'immutable and eternal.' Nor can there be a doubt, to my mind, that, in practical life, the truest freedom is to be found in servitude to a moral law, and in no more self-assertion than is permitted by it. No one has expressed this better than one Benedictus Spinoza, of whom Mr Balfour, I am sorry to see, entertains so poor an opinion.

So far, then, there is considerable verbal agreement between us. But I have a regretful suspicion that it is only verbal. For I confess that I fail to comprehend how a 'moral' law can be either 'adequate' or inadequate to 'infinite goodness' and 'infinite intelligence'–always supposing that the adjectives here prefixed to 'goodness' and 'intelligence' have not reduced the values of these terms to mere unknown quantities x and y. Perhaps I may avoid this difficulty by suggesting that 'goodness' and 'intelligence' of quite finite and conceivable extent would suffice to render a moral law a superfluity; that, in fact, such law would be a generalisation from actions carried out under their inspiration, not the regulation of those actions. It is putting the cart before the horse to say that the moral law makes goodness and intelligence; on the contrary it is they which make the moral law.

Still more am I at a loss to understand the concluding sentence. How could anything which was not understood by man 'sufficiently for his guidance' be a moral law, if morality is in its very essence a rule for the guidance of his conduct? Suppose there is an immutable eternal moral law for the angels: what is that to us who are not angels and do not live under heavenly conditions? Surely a farmer, who laid down rules for his horses and expected his pigs to obey them, would be a little unreasonable! The singular fancy for harnessing the horse behind the cart, which I think I have already noticed, pursues Mr Balfour through B.

According to the doctrine of Evolution there was a time when mother earth was the scene of no one of those groups of phenomena called 'pains, pleasures, instincts, appetites, disgusts, religions, superstitions,' &c.

They / These are every one products of the cosmic process, contained in it potentially up to the epoch of the appearance of certain forms of animal life, but not actually manifest until that epoch. These / Such phenomena are no more 'the causes of the course of organic and social development' than the performances of the famous town clock at Berne are the causes of its going.

From a 'purely scientific point of view' again, if I may presume to know what that is, I fail to see how the predicate of equality attaches to things so diverse; and why science should be accused of affirming that the object of the process marked by these phenomena is 'not to improve but simply to perpetuate the species,' when the progressive improvement is just what variation and natural selection are supposed to account for, passes my comprehension. I am afraid Mr Balfour has hardly given the Origin of Species the attention which that great little book really needs if one is to understand its teachings.

That painting is all one process, namely, that of dabbing colour on a surface, is a scientific verity. It does not follow that from a purely scientific point of view all paintings should be on an equality. For from such point of view it is an unquestionable truth that the inequality of a signboard and a Cuyp dealing with the same subject is very considerable.

IV. A. In the possession of reason and in the enjoyment of beauty, we in some remote way share the nature of that infinite Personality in whom we live and move and have our being.

B. (1) Reason is but the psychological expression of certain physiological processes in the cerebral hemispheres. (2) It is no more than an expedient among many expedients by which the individual and the race are preserved, (3) just as Beauty is no more than the name for such varying and accidental attributes of the material or moral worlds as may happen, for the moment, to stir our aesthetic feelings.

This article of B is so loaded with matter that I have been obliged to take it to pieces and deal with them one at a time.

When I read B (1), I rejoiced to meet at last with a proposition to which (leaving out the 'but,' which is both superfluous and misleading) I could fully assent, in the catechism prepared with so much care for my use. But any hope of continuing in the same light-hearted vein was effectually dissipated by B (2).

To say truth, an age ago, when I expounded the very view expressed in B (1) to Mr. Darwin, he pointed out that it was fatal to the application of natural selection in this region, inasmuch as consciousness becomes as it were a by-product. That which avails in the struggle for existence is the physical process. In fact the perfectly rational actions of the lower animals avail them just as much in the struggle for existence as if they were accompanied by conscious ratiocination.

Thus I must decline to have anything to do with B (2) on scientific grounds; B (3) I find equally repugnant to sound aesthetics and to common experience.

The aesthetic faculty, like every other endowment, from stature, muscular force, and digestion, to passion and intellect, is distributed to individual men in most unequal manner. It is hardly too much to say that the difference between a Peter Bell and the poet who created him is infinite–as great as that between the man who has never been able to get over the pons asinorum and a Laplace or a Helmholtz.

There are thousands of people who cannot follow a moderately complex argument, and thousands more to whom one tune is as good as another, and the Sistine Madonna nothing like so pleasant to look at as a gaudy Christmas chromolithograph.

But I do not know that the infinite diversity of opinions justifies us in saying that Truth is no more than a name for stirring of intellectual faculties, however varying and accidental. And I conceive there is as little justification for taking Beauty, to be just such stirring of all the world's aesthetic feelings.

If that is so, why are there certain works of art, certain natural objects, which will be as certainly accounted beautiful by all in whom the aesthetic faculty is normally developed, as certain propositions in science will be held true by all whose intellects are of normal capacity?

The qualities of the best parts of the Iliad or the Divina Commedia appeal to normally constituted men of the present day as strongly as they did to the Greeks of the eighth century B. C. or to the Italians of the fourteenth century A. D. So long as the aesthetic faculties exist in man, so long will the principles of aesthetics be as 'immutable' as those of morals. And it is as fortunate for mankind in matters of aesthetics, as in those of ethics, that they allow themselves to be governed by the minority. If science, art, and morality were ruled by universal suffrage, ugliness would soon be as rampant as vice, while dulness would be lord of all.

As with literature so with every form of art. That upon which the developed aesthetic sense has set the seal of its approbation will never appeal in vain to those who are similarly qualified; nor, so long as human nature endures, will there lack simple and untaught souls to whom the ever-varying aspects of nature–perhaps no more than the shadow of a cloud gliding over a plain, or the curve of a wave as the calm sea breaks lazily on a flat beach, or the weird light of a winter sunset athwart the western end of a London street–will be full of beauty. It is the nemesis of over-civilisation to cease to be affected by these things, and to be condemned to seek beauty without finding it in the varying and accidental combinations of jaded caprice, in the shams of dilettantism and the fads of fashion.

V. (A) Every human soul is of infinite value, eternal, free; no human being, therefore, is so placed as not to have within reach of himself and others, objects adequate to infinite endeavour.

(B) The individual perishes; the race itself does not endure. Few can flatter themselves that their conduct has any effect whatever upon its remoter destinies; and of those few, none can say with reasonable assurance that the effect which they are destined to produce is one which they desire. Even if we were free therefore, our ignorance would make us helpless; and it may be almost a consolation for us to reflect that our conduct was determined for us by the distribution of unthinking forces in pre-solar aeons, and that if we are impotent to foresee its consequences we were not less impotent to arrange its causes.

Certainly natural knowledge gives not the least foundation for the belief that either individual existence or that of the human race is other than limited. But I know not why this should be accounted a doctrine peculiar to, or characteristic of, Agnosticism.

Pre-exilic Israel was of the same mind in respect of the perishing of the individual; the Sadducees, whose orthodoxy was unimpeachable, held the same opinion down to the year 40 at least; while high ecclesiastical authority down to our own day has maintained that Christianity does not teach natural immortality. And I confess I do not see how an unbiased reader of the Pauline epistles can escape that conclusion. In the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, the resurrection is treated as a purely miraculous event. That which is vivified is not the natural body of the earth, earthy and corruptible, but a pneumatic body, heavenly and incorruptible.

So, under any theory of the nature of things, I am unable to discover that human vanity and ambition are better satisfied, or human ignorance better supplemented.

The 'current teaching' of my boyhood–nowise changed, I believe, down to the present time–insisted upon the fact that all things were ordered by God's providence before the world was–that, unless it pleased God to give us his grace, we were powerless to do any good thing and had nothing to expect but everlasting misery. So that, if we were 'free' we were certainly very helpless; and I do not see why we should find any consolation in reflecting that our conduct was determined for us ‘in pre-solar aeons' by the 'thinking' force of the Divinity.

It is really a profound mistake to suppose that Determinism is specially connected with natural science. Logically it is a tripod standing on three legs, one of which is the conception of futurity, another the conception of universal causation, and the third the conception of God.

In thinking of the future we imagine it to be indefinite and uncertain, simply so far as we know nothing about it. Yet a little consideration should produce the conviction that the future is as definite and fixed as the past. At this moment I am writing at a certain table in a certain room at 9.15 A. M. Yesterday this was part of the future, tomorrow it will be part of the fixed and unalterable past–becomes such in fact even as I write. Consequently any one who possessed the power of foreseeing the future yesterday or a thousand or a million years ago, must have seen me doing this exact thing at this very time and place. In fact it is not really in our power to conceive of futurity, however remote, as other than a definite series of events a,b,c, and no other. Only we do not know what a, b, and c are. Again, if the law of causation is absolute–that is to say, if nothing comes into being by chance–future events are the consequences of present events and therefore predetermined by the latter.

Finally, if there be an omnipotent and omniscient God, to whom the past and the future are alike present and on whom all things are dependent, who holds the world in the hollow of his hand, it is surely childish to pretend that any room is left for action independent of his will.

Natural science had no hand in producing the doctrine of predestination. It did not dictate sundry passages in the Epistle to the Romans, nor whisper in the ear of Augustine of Hippo.

Luther was assuredly not influenced by it when he expressed it in somewhat brutal fashion, by declaring that man is as a beast of burden who goes the way his rider wills. His rider is sometimes God and sometimes the devil, but the saddle is never empty.

What did Calvin or Jonathan Edwards know about natural science? Yet who has ever put the case of Determinism better or more unanswerably?

In fact I am 'wae to think' of what might have befallen Mr Balfour if he had happened to promulgate the doctrines contained in the last-cited article of the catechism of Demômism, within reach of the Genevan Reformer. There would have been another Servetus stain on the Protestant escutcheon.

'Every human soul of infinite value!' Perhaps the arrogance of the worm's estimate of itself might be excused on the ground of its value as material for infinite suffering. 'Eternal'; by the pleasure of God, surely not by its own nature.

But 'free'? City fathers, a strong stake and plenty of firewood! Man's "infinite endeavour?" "objects within reach of himself"? The creature able even to desire what is good without grace, without election? City fathers, let the wood be damp and the fire slow.

For anything I have to say to the contrary, the five (B) articles of the 'Naturalistic creed,' the examination of which I have now concluded, may be held by somebody. But I think I have succeeded in showing that they contain no single doctrine that Agnosticism recognised as peculiarly its own or that has a closer connection with the premises of natural science than with those of Demônism.

There remains a no less interesting question. Are the five (A) articles a more faithful representation of "current teaching"? I have already lamented the vagueness of this term; but I think I have ample justification for the assumption that it means Christian teaching, and that Mr. Balfour's object is to furnish a foundation for belief within the pale of Christianity, if only by that process of sapping the foundations of rival beliefs which it is the habit of the analogical mind to confuse with building its own.

It is notoriously difficult to define Christianity. Some there are who use the term "Christian" as if it applied only to the members of the Church of Rome; others who grant the name only to those who adhere to what they are pleased to call doctrines of the primitive church. The only point upon which all are agreed is that the creed held by James the brother of the Lord and the earliest church of Jerusalem is not Christian.

Therefore, what I am about to assume to be Christian doctrine will probably be denied to be such by the sects, as freely as they deny one another's Christianity. But I think that those who will look into the matter carefully will find my justification in history.

From this point of view I am bound to say that the articles of the (A) catechism appear to me to have their foundation not in Christianity but in pre-Christian Greek philosophy.

'That the universe is the creation of Reason, and all things work together towards a reasonable end,' is a popular statement of the especially Stoical doctrine of the Logos. If I do not greatly err, Christianity says that the universe is the creation of God's will, in accordance with purposes altogether past finding out by what we know as reason; that the universe was at first 'very good'; but that two works of the Divine Artificer, expressly said to be made in his own image, on most trifling temptation fell away from goodness; that in consequence not only they and all their progeny became very bad, but the world was cursed for their sake, and was given over to the enemy of God, the devil, so completely, that he was officially recognised as the Prince of this world. That this state of things continues: now, as eighteen hundred years ago, the whole creation travaileth and groaneth in the bonds of sin and misery; now, as ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, all but a mere fraction of the human race have lived sorrowfully and sinfully, and at death have passed to endless torment.

A mere fraction, on the other hand, not one in a million certainly, for no merit or good deed of their own, beyond taking advantage of the means of grace (inaccessible to the vast majority) offered them by the Creator who determined their nature and faculties, have passed or will pass, by a miraculous exertion of the Divine power, into a state of endless bliss.

And when the tale of God's elect is complete, the universe will be destroyed as the timbers of a booth in which strolling actors have played out the play are knocked to pieces and used for firewood.

If this is the end to which things work together, of course the universe is rationally disposed to bring about that end. If it were not, the end would be different. But, whether the nature of things as thus displayed is 'rational' in any other sense; whether the 'infinite love' which is thus compatible with the foreordained in pre-solar aeons of infinite misery on 999,999 out of every l,000,000 of human beings, has a resemblance to what we usually call 'love,' is, I think open to discussion. But perhaps 'love,' in Mr Balfour's language, has as special a sense as 'phenomenon' and 'naturalism.'

Again, the third article of catechism A breathes the purest spirit of pre-christian heathenism. I may be wrong, but I do not think there is anything about immutable and eternal principles of morality in either Law or Gospel. Judaism Nazarenism, primitive Christianity, I imagine, agree in the equation, the moral = the declared will of God, and in the assertion that it is our duty to do whatever God commands us to do without reference to the ethical prepossessions of our sinful nature. How, indeed, is the slightest confidence to be placed in them, when we know that the natural man is corrupt, body and soul?

To believe against the dictates of the carnal reason; to refuse to listen to the impulses of affection tainted by sin, and principles, the offspring of self-righteousness; to withdraw from all human interests, renounce volition, and sink into a quietistic machine driven by the Spirit–these are the counsels of perfection accepted in theory, though happily more or less ignored in practice, by the great majority of Christians.

The trail of Hellenism is even more evident in the fourth article. It is from a Stoical pantheist that Paul the apostle borrowed 'in whom we live and move and have our being.' The God whose nature we can be said to share is not the Jehovah of old Israel, on whom not even the friend of God could look face to face and live; and, on the other hand, the early Councils would not have had so much trouble about the union of the two natures in Christ, if they had known that natural man shares, in any way, 'the nature of the Divine Personality.' Indeed, Mr Balfour's conception of an 'infinite Personality' is Hellenic–was imported into Christianity with the other Hellenic philosophumena.

The second sentence of article 5 is one to which I heartily subscribe; he who refuses to do so may be a philosopher, but, in my judgment, is undeserving of the higher title of Man. But, really and truly, current teaching–that is, Christian teaching–has no exclusive claim to it–nay, it is doubtful whether it has any claim at all. It is the creed of the heroes of the Iliad and of the Norsemen of the Sagas; it has been, and is, consciously or unconsciously, the axiomatic foundation of all worthy human life.

The nobler men who have professed the Christian faith have always acted upon this expression of the best that is in human nature. But those who have most zealously professed and called themselves Christians–those who have assumed airs of superior sanctity in all ages–have not done so. They have recognised in themselves and others only one object–the salvation of their souls to attain that they have been as ready to trample down every consideration of patriotism or social welfare. The mad lust of self-reservation blinds the undisciplined sailors to all pity for the weak, all obligation of honour and duty.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University