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THE UNKNOWABLE AND THE

UNKNOWN.

In the January number of this Review, Mr. Herbert Spencer published an article called Religion: a Retrospect and Prospect. In the March number Mr. Harrison made a variety of observations upon

it in an article called the “Ghost of Religion,' intended to point its practical moral' and 'to add to it a rider' of his own. I wish to her add some observations on their views.

Mr. Spencer's view is that religion began by dreams which suggested a belief in gbosts. This belief, compounding itself with other beliefs, became in course of time, and by steps still traceable, a belief in a pantheon of deities, which was gradually superseded by a belief in one God-a creature of the human imagination. This one God was at different times invested with characters varying according to the morality and philosophy of different times and places, but by degrees this process came to an end. As men considered more closely the God whom they had created, they discovered that it was, and is, impossible to make any intelligible assertion whatever about him, and in particular to ascribe to him, without falling into contradictions, either consciousness, will, or intelligence. This process must, in Mr. Spencer's opinion, go on. • The conception which has been enlarging from the beginning must go on enlarging, until, by disappearance of its limits, it becomes a consciousness, which transcends the forms of distinct thought, though it for ever remains a consciousness.'

The evidence to prove this theory seems to me weak, and, whatever is its value, the conclusion is not plain. I do not clearly understand what is meant by a consciousness,' or how a conception by disappearance of its limits' can become a consciousness; or how, if this takes place, it can be known that the state of things so created will remain for ever. I should have thought that, if the conception of God were proved to be an incoherent absurdity, the word God' would fall into disuse, and the belief in God cease to influence mankind.

Be this as it may, Mr. Spencer goes on to deal with an objection which he admits looks fatal. It is this : The ghost-theory of the savage being baseless, is not the developed and purified conception,

reached by pushing the process to its limits, a fiction also ? Mr. Spencer replies that the ghost-theory of the savage had in it a germ of truth, to wit, that the power which manifests itself in consciousness is but a differently-conditioned force of the power which manifests itself beyond consciousness. The primitive man did not indeed put this to himself in such an abstract way, but he thought that ghosts, being like himself, made efforts when they acted; when God was substituted for ghosts, it was supposed that God made efforts. Science at last discovered that when force is ascribed to natural objects this is a mere symbol, taken from our own consciousness of effort. When we speak of the force of lightning or the force of waves, we mean only that lightning or a wave is the cause of an effect which if a man produced it would require an effort. A man of science is compelled to symbolise objective force in terms of subjective force from lack of any other symbol.' Thus,

That internal energy which in the experiences of the primitive man was always the immediate antecedent of changes wrought by him . . . is the same energy which, freed from anthropomorphic accompaniments, is now figured as the cause of all external phenomena. The last stage reached is recognition of the truth that force, as it exists beyond consciousness, cannot be like what we know as force within consciousness; and that yet, as either is capable of generating the other, they must be different modes of the same. Consequently, the final outcome of that speculation commenced by the primitive man, is that the Power manifested throughout the Universe distinguished as material, is the same power which in ourselves wells

up

under the form of consciousness.

ever.

Upon this the following observations occur :

First, I agree that our only direct experience of force is of that internal energy which 'we are conscious of as muscular effort. When a man says the wave strikes the shore, the fire burns the stick, the lightning splits the oak, he personifies the wave, the fire, or the lightning to that extent, but this process pervades all language what

It bas no special connection with the primitive man's supposed theory about ghosts, and if the fact of the primitive man's ascription of effort to ghosts proves that there is a germ of truth in bis theory, it may be proved by the same argument that there is a germ of truth in everything everybody can be supposed to have ever said since language was invented.

Again, if force properly speaking means muscular or nervous effort, and if the application of that word to external nature is merely symbolical, and if all that we know of objective force so called is that it is unlike subjective force so called, it seems at least inconsecutive, if not contradictory, to go on to say that the two are both forms of one thing, which operates in nature as objective force, and “in ourselves wells up under the force of consciousness. To make this a little plainer take the three common words effort, force, and energy. Let effort mean that of which every man is conscious in himself, force that which he ascribes to material objects, and energy that of which both effort and force are said to be manifestations. Mr. Spencer's proposition will then stand thus. We know what effort is by direct experience. Of force we know nothing at all except that it is unlike effort, but we are obliged to use the word in order to describe the operations of external nature. Of energy we know still less if possible than we know of force; but this we can affirm, that, whatever force may be, it is one form of energy, whilst the other wells up in our consciousness ? as effort. Is not all this an unmeaning playing with words? The word · force' so used is a mere metaphor. Energy is a conjectural metaphor, a metaphor upon a metaphor, a something which possibly may be the meeting point of two different things, of one of which (force) we know only that it is unlike the other (effort), whilst of effort we know hardly anything, because each man's experience of it is confined to his own internal consciousness, so that he can neither compare it with other things nor with the experience of other people.

This intricate game of which words are the counters reminds me of Isaiah's description of the manufacture of idols. Effort and force and

energy are to Mr. Spencer what the cypress and the oak and the ash were to the artificers described by the prophet. He works his words about this way and that, he accounts with part for ghosts and dreams, and the residue thereof he maketh a god, and saith Aba, I am wise, I have seen the truth.

Such words as force are no doubt the instruments by which all our knowledge is gained, but in order that they may not become our masters we must remember that they are subservient to the senses and must be continually tested by them. For instance, when we speak of the force of gravitation, we mean no more than that, so far as our experience goes, all heavy bodies move in the same way in which they would move if they were all consciously pulling each other together with a certain degree of effort, but there is not the smallest reason to suppose that there is any such consciousness or effort anywhere. The only reason for using the expression is that it abridges, so as to present to our imaginations in a manageable form, the facts which we observe.

For these reasons the positive part of Mr. Spencer's article appears to me to be unfounded. I can see in it nothing but a series of metaphors built upon one another, and ending where they began. The whole theory is a castle in the air, unin habitable and destitute of foundations.

That which Mr. Spencer regards as the last result of his views in the religious direction displays its baseless and wholly unimportant character in a more striking light than the rest. The man of science is likely to be greatly impressed by the extent and complexity of the subjects which he studies, but amid the mysteries, which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that he is in presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed. This Mr. Harrison describes as a ghost of religion, a belief that can have no effect at all on any man. Putting Mr. Spencer's final result into simpler words, he says it comes to this: 'All observation and meditation, science and philosophy, bring us to the practical belief that man is ever in the presence of some energy or energies of which he knows nothing, and to which he would be wise to assign no limits, functions, or conditions. I

agree with this as far as it goes, but Mr. Harrison should have added that it is further to be observed that the word 'energy' itself is the name of nothing known to us. It is merely the symbol by which we express a sort of guess that perhaps there may be in nature something like the sense of muscular effort which man perceives in himself. The same remark applies to the expression in the presence of.' When we say of a man that something was done ' in his presence and hearing'we mean that the man was near enough to see and hear what was done ; but when we say we are in the presence of something of which you can say only that you commemorate your guess that it exists by a metaphor which is probably inappropriate, I do not know what you mean. In short, Mr. Spencer's conclusion appears to me to have absolutely no meaning at all. It is so abstract that it asserts nothing. It is like a gigantic soap-bubble not burst but blown thinner and thinner till it has become absolutely imperceptible. It seems to be matter of perfect indifference whether the man of science (rather of nescience) asserts, Of this at least I am sure: I am in “the presence of an Infinite Eternal Energy from which all things proceed," ' or 'I am not in the presence of an Infinite Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.' Suppose we knew by some means or other that there were many separate energies of various amounts, each of which would cease to act at a fixed period of some great number of years, what perceptible difference would this make to all or any of us in any respect whatever ? but if any such proposition were true, Mr. Spencer's one absolute certainty' would be untrue. This shows that its truth or falsehood is matter of absolute indifference.

If this is the prospect before religion, it would surely be simpler to say that the prospect before it is that of extinction, that men will soon come to see that nothing can be ascertained, or even regarded as moderately probable, about the various questions which are generally described collectively as religious.

There is much to be said for the conclusion that to think about anything which lies beyond the limits of this present life and of the things which we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, or infer therefrom by definite logical processes, is mere waste of time and labour ; but if this is the conclusion reached, why not say so plainly ?

So far I am happy to be supported by and to agree with Mr. Harrison, whose article, though at greater length and in a much more lively and interesting manner, says very much what I have said. I may add that Mr. Harrison's knowledge about remote times and places is so much greater than my own, and indeed than that of most other men,

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that it is doubly satisfactory to agree with him. For instance, he knows, or at least affirms, which he would hardly do unless he knew it, that "beyond all doubt the hypothesis of quasi-human immaterial spirits--spirits working within and behind familiar phenomena-did take its rise from the idea of the other-self ; ' also, beyond all doubt the phenomena of dreams and the gradual construction of a theory of ghosts is a very impressive and vivid form of the notion of the other-self;' and, again, he knows that nothing is more certain' (not even the multiplication table) than that man everywhere started with a simple worship of natural objects.' When a man so positive and well-informed applies to Mr. Spencer's religion the remark that

to make a religion out of the Unknowable' (which he bad previously derided for managing to get itself spelt with a capital U’j ‘is far more extravagant than to make it out of the Equator,' and when he suggests in a great variety of forms of speech that many of Mr. Spencer's abstractions are so very abstract that they border on being wholly unmeaning and sometimes even cross the border, he encourages those who are more sceptical or less well-informed to say that to them at least Mr. Spencer's theory appears to be that religion as commonly understood has got its death blow, that it has before it no prospect except that of speedy extinction, and that the sooner we get rid of the notion of raising some sort of ghost of it, the better it will be for us.

Having thus far agreed with Mr. Harrison, it is impossible not to ask oneself a question which is suggested by all the latter part of his article. It is in one word this—is not the question between the Unknowable and the unknown a question as to the comparative blackness of the pot and the kettle? Is not Mr. Harrison's own creed open to every objection which he urges against HIr. Spencer. He tells us that Mr. Spencer has effectually disposed of theology, but that his speculations do not affect religion. The essence of religion is to unite and govern men and societies by giving them common beliefs and duties.' When 6

When a basis of belief and duty has been found,' then, again, religion will succeed in governing and uniting men.' · The law, moral, mental, and social, is pre-eminently the field wherein men may be governed and united. Hence to the religion of Cause there succeeds the religion of Law. But the religion of Law or Science is Positivism.'

He gives an account of what he means by a religion, and tells us that Positivism is all that a religion ought to be, whereas the religion of the Unknowable fulfils none of the conditions on which religion is possible. I will for a moment compare the two. Mr. Harrison states the tests which a religion must fulfil, if it deserves the name, as follows:

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In any reasonable use of language religion implies some kind of belief in a Power outside ourselves, some kind of awe and gratitude selt for that Power, some kind of influence exerted by it over our lives. There are always in some sort these

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