The Faith of the Millions (2nd series)
by George Tyrrell
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Those who, influenced by such considerations, would have us extend our efforts from the narrowing circle of Anglo-Catholicism to the ever-widening circle of doubt and negation, are not always clear about the practically important distinction to be drawn between the active leaders of doubt, and those who are passively led; the more or less independent few, and the more or less dependent many; between the man of the study and the man of the street—a distinction analogous to that between the Ecclesia docens and Ecclesia discens, and which permeates every well-established school of belief, whether historical, ethical, political, or religious.

Dealing first with the latter, that is, with those who are led; we are becoming more explicitly conscious of the fact that in all departments of knowledge and opinion the beliefs of the many are not determined by reasoning from premisses, but by the authority of reputed specialists in the particular matter, or else by the force of the general consent of those with whom they dwell. There may be other non-rational causes of belief, but these are the principal and more universal. And when we say they are non-rational causes, we do not mean that they are non-reasonable or unreasonable. They provide such a generally trustworthy, though occasionally fallible, method of getting at truth, as is sufficient and possible for the practical needs of life—social, moral, and religious. There is an inborn instinct to think as the crowd does and to be swayed by the confident voice of authority. If at times it fail of its end, as do other instincts, yet it is so trustworthy in the main that to resist it in ordinary conditions is always imprudent. That our eyes sometimes deceive us would not justify us in always distrusting their evidence. If a child is deceived through instinctively trusting the word of its parents, the blame of its error rests with them, not with it. And so, whatever error the many are led into by obeying the instinct of submission to authority or to general consent, is their misfortune, not their fault. Of course there are higher criteria by which the general consent and the opinion of experts can be criticized and modified; but such criticism is not obligatory on the many who have neither leisure nor competence for the task. For here, as elsewhere, a certain diversity of gifts results in a natural division of labour in human society; those who have, giving to those who have not; some ministering spiritual, others temporal benefits to their neighbours. Not that a man can save another's soul for him any more than he can eat his dinner for him, but he can minister to him better food or worse.

The Mussulman child, then, may be bound, during his intellectual minority, to accept the religious teaching of its parents, just as is the Christian child. That one, in obeying this natural but fallible rule, is led into error, the other into, truth, only verifies the principle that right faith is a gift of God,—a grace, a bit of good fortune. None of those who are not professedly teachers of religion and experts, can be morally bound to a criticism above their competence, or to more than an obedience to those ordinary causes of assent to whose influence they are subjected by their circumstances. The ideal of a Catholic religion is to provide, by means of a divinely guided body of authorities and experts, an universal, international, inter-racial consensus regarding truths that are as obscure as they are vital to individual and social happiness; and thus to afford a means of sure and easy guidance to those uncritical multitudes whose necessary preoccupations forbid their engaging in theology and controversy. This ideal was sufficiently realized for practical purposes in the "ages of faith," when the whole public opinion of Europe, then believed to be coterminous with civilization, was Catholic; when dissent needed as much independence of character, as in so many places, profession does now. And surely it is a narrow-hearted criticism to prefer the primitive conditions in which none but those strong enough to face persecution could reap the benefits of Christianity. The weak and dependent are ever the majority, and if Christianity had been intended to pass them by or sift them out, "its province were not large," nor could it claim to be the religion of humanity. The Christian leaven was never meant to be kept apart, but to be hidden and lost in that unleavened mass which it seeks slowly to transform into its own nature. The majority, in respect to religion and civilization, are like unwilling school-boys who need to be coerced for their own benefit, to be kept to their work till they learn (if they ever do) to like it, and to need no more coercion. The support that Catholic surroundings give to numbers, who else were too weak to stand alone, cannot be overvalued, although it may weaken a few who else had exerted themselves more strenuously, or may foster hypocrisy in secret unbelievers who would like to, but dare not withstand public opinion.

Now it is the gradual decay of this support—of this non-rational yet most reasonable cause of belief, that is rendering the religious condition of the man in the street so increasingly unsatisfactory. Not only is there no longer an agreement of experts, and a consequent consensus of nations, touching the broad and fundamental truths of Christianity, but what is far more to the point, the knowledge of this Babylonian confusion has become a commonplace with the multitudes. No doubt there are yet some shaded patches where the dew still struggles with the desiccating sun—old-world sanctuaries of Catholicism whose dwellers hardly realize the existence of unbelief or heresy, or who give at best a lazy, notional assent to the fact. But there are few regions in so-called Christendom where the least educated are not now quite aware that Christianity is but one of many religions in a much larger world than their forefathers were aware of; that the intellect of modern, unlike that of mediaeval Europe, is largely hostile to its claims; that its defenders are infinitely at variance with one another; that there is no longer any social disgrace connected with a non-profession of Christianity; in a word, that the public opinion of the modern world has ceased to be Christian, and that the once all-dominating religion which blocked out the serious consideration of any other claimant, bids fair to be speedily reduced to its primitive helplessness and insignificance. The disintegrating effect of such knowledge on the faith of the masses must be, and manifestly is, simply enormous. Not that there is any rival consensus and authority to take the place of dethroned Catholicism. Even scepticism is too little organized and embodied, too chaotic in its infinite variety of contradictory positions, to create an influential consensus of any positive kind against faith. Its effect, as far as the unthinking masses are concerned, is simply to destroy the chief extrinsic support of their faith and to throw them back on the less regular, less reliable causes of belief. If in addition it teaches them a few catchwords of free-thought, a few smart blasphemies and syllogistic impertinences, this is of less consequence than at first sight appears, since these are attempted after-justifications, and no real causes of their unbelief. For they love the parade of formal reason, as they love big words or technical terms, or a smattering of French or Latin, with all the delight of a child in the mysterious and unfamiliar; but their pretence to be ruled by it is mere affectation, and the tenacity with which they cling to their arguments is rather the tenacity of blind faith in a dogma, than of clear insight into principles.

And this brings us to the problem which gave birth to the present essay.

The growing infection of the uneducated or slightly educated masses of the Catholic laity with the virus of prevalent unbelief is arousing the attention of a few of our clergy to the need of coping with what is to them a new kind of difficulty. Amongst other kindred suggestions, is that of providing tracts for the million dealing not as heretofore with the Protestant, but with the infidel controversy. While the danger was more limited and remote it was felt that, more harm than good would come of giving prominence in the popular mind to the fact and existence of so much unbelief; that in many minds doubts unfelt before would be awakened; that difficulties lay on the surface and were the progeny of shallow-mindedness, whereas the solutions lay deeper down than the vulgar mind could reasonably be expected to go; that on the whole it was better that the few should suffer, than that the many should be disturbed. The docile and obedient could be kept away from contagion, or if infected, could be easily cured by an act of blind confidence in the Church; while the disobedient would go their own way in any case. Hence the idea of entering into controversy with those incompetent to deal with such matters was wisely set aside. But now that the prevalence and growth of unbelief is as evident as the sun at noon—now that it is no longer only the recalcitrant and irreligious, but even the religious and docile-minded who are disturbed by the fact, it seems to some that, a policy of silence and inactivity may be far more fruitful in evil than in good, that reverent reserve must be laid aside and the pearls of truth cast into the trough of popular controversy.

But to this course an almost insuperable objection presents itself at first seeming. Seeing that, the true cause of doubt and unbelief in the uncritical, is to be sought for proximately in the decay of a popular consensus in favour of belief, and ultimately in the disagreements and negations of those who lead and form public opinion, and in no wise in the reasons which they allege when they attempt a criticism that is beyond them; what will it profit to deal with the apparent cause if we cannot strike at the real cause? In practical matters, the reasons men give for their conduct, to themselves as well as to others, are often untrue, never exhaustive. Hence to refute their reasons will not alter their intentions. To dispel the sophisms assigned by the uneducated as the basis of their unbelief, is not really to strike at the root of the matter at all. Besides which, the work is endless; for if they are released from one snare they will be as easily re-entangled in the next; and indeed what can such controversy do but foster in them the false notion that, belief in possession may be dispossessed by every passing difficulty, and that their faith is to be dependent on an intellectual completeness of which they are for ever incapable. Indeed the unavoidable amount of controversy of all kinds, dinned into the ears of the faithful in a country like this, favours a fallacy of intellectualism very prejudicial to the repose of a living faith founded on concrete reasons, more or less experimental.

As far as the many are concerned, much the same difficulty attends the preservation of their faith in these days, as attended its creation in the beginnings of Christianity, before the little flock had grown into a kingdom, when the intellect and power of the world was arrayed against it, when it had neither the force of a world-wide consensus nor the voice of public authority in its favour. In those days it was not by the "persuasive words of human wisdom" that the crowds were gained over to Christ, but by a certain ostensio virtutis, by an experimental and not merely by a rational proof of the Gospel—a proof which, if it admitted of any kind of formulation, did not compel them in virtue of the logicality of its form. Further, when the conditions and helps needed by the Church in her infancy, gave way to those belonging to her established strength, it was by her ascendency over the strong, the wealthy, and the learned, that she secured for the crowd,—for the weak and the poor and the ignorant,—the most necessary support of a Christianized, international public opinion, and thereby extended the benefit of her educative influence to those millions whom disinclination or weakness would otherwise have deterred from the profession and practice of the faith.

If the Church of to-day is to retain her hold of the crowd in modernized or modernizing countries, it must either be by renewing her ascendency over those who form and modify public opinion, who even in the purest democracy are ever the few and not the many; or else by a reversion to the methods of primitive times, by some palpable argument that speaks as clearly to the simplest as to the subtlest, if only the heart be right. An outburst of miracle-working and prophecy is hardly to be looked for; while the argument from the tree's fruits, or from the moral miracle, is at present weakened by the extent to which non-Christians put in practice the morality they have learnt from Christ. Other non-rational causes of belief draw individuals, but they do not draw crowds.

If we cannot see very clearly what is to supply for the support once given to the faith of the millions by public opinion, still their incapacity for dealing with the question on rational grounds will not justify us altogether in silence. For in the first place it is an incapacity of which they are not aware, or which at least they are very unwilling to admit. A candidate at the hustings would run a poor chance of a hearing who, instead of seeming to appeal to the reason of the mob should, in the truthfulness of his soul, try to convince them of their utter incompetence to judge the simplest political point. Again, though unable to decide between cause and cause, yet the rudest can often see that there is much to be said on both sides—though what, he does not understand; and if this fact weakens his confidence in the right, it also weakens it in the wrong; whereas had the right been silent, the wrong, in his judgment, would thereby have been proved victorious. This will justify us at times in talking over the heads of our readers and hearers, and in not sparing sonorous polysyllables, abstruse technicalities, or even the pompous parade of syllogistic arguments with all their unsightly joints sticking out for public admiration. Some hands may be too delicate for this coarse work; but there will always be those to whom it is easy and congenial; and its utility is too evident to allow a mere question of taste to stand in the way.

Moreover, it must be remembered that while many of the class referred to are glad to be free from the pressure of a Christianized public opinion, and are only too willing to grasp at any semblance of a reason for unbelief; others, more religiously disposed, are really troubled by these popular, anti-Christian difficulties, the more so as they are often infected with the fallacy, fostered by ceaseless controversy, which makes one's faith dependent on the formal reason one can give for it.

Though this is not so, yet moral truthfulness forbids us to assent to what we, however falsely, believe to be untrue. Hence while the virtue of faith remains untouched, its exercise with regard to particular points may be inculpably suspended through ignorance, stupidity, misinformation, and other causes.

In the interest of these well-disposed but easily puzzled believers of the ill-instructed and uncritical sort, a series of anti-agnostic tracts for the million would really seem to be called for. Yet never has the present writer felt more abjectly crushed with a sense of incompetence than when posed by the difficulties of a "hagnostic" greengrocer, or of a dressmaker fresh from the perusal of "Erbert" Spencer. Face to face with chaos, one knows not where to begin the work of building up an orderly mind; nor will the self-taught genius brook a hint of possible ignorance, or endure the discussion of dull presuppositions, without much pawing of the ground and champing on the bit: "What I want," he says, "is a plain answer to a plain question." And when you explain to him that for an answer he must go back very far and become a little child again, and must unravel his mind to the very beginning like an ill-knit stocking, he looks at once incredulous and triumphant as who should say: "There, I told you so!" Yet the same critical incompetence that makes these simple folk quite obtuse to the true and adequate solution of their problems (I am speaking of cases where such solutions are possible), makes them perfectly ready to accept any sort of counter-sophistry or paralogism. A most excellent and genuine "convert" of that class told me that he had stood out for years against the worship of the Blessed Virgin, till one day it had occurred to him that, as a cause equals or exceeds its effect, so the Mother must equal the Son. Another, equally genuine, professed to have been conquered by the reflection that he had all his life been saying: "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," and he could not see the use of believing in it if he didn't belong to it. If their faith in Catholicism or in any other religion depended on their logic, men of this widespread class were in a sorry plight. Like many of their betters, these two men probably imagined the assigned reasons to be the entire cause of their conversion, making no account of the many reasonable though non-logical motives by which the change was really brought about. Hence to have abruptly and incautiously corrected them, would perhaps but have been to reduce them to confusion and perplexity, and to "destroy with one's logic those for whom Christ died."

That we do not sufficiently realize the dialectical incompetence of the uneducated is partly to be explained by the fact that they often get bits of reasoning by rote, much as young boys learn their Euclid; and that they frequently seem to understand principles because they apply them in the right cases, just as we often quote a proverb appropriately without the slightest idea of its origin or meaning beyond that it is the right thing to say in a certain connection. As we ascend in the scale of education, there is more and more of this reasoning by rote, so that critical incompetence is more easily concealed and may lurk unsuspected even in the pulpit and the professorial chair, where logic alone seems paramount. The "hagnostic" greengrocer, in all the self-confidence of his ignorance, is but the lower extreme of a class that runs up much higher in the social scale and spreads out much wider in every direction.

But when we have realized more adequately how hopelessly incompetent the multitude must necessarily be in the problems of specialists, we shall also see that it is only by inadequate and even sophistical reasoning that most of their intellectual difficulties can be allayed; that the full truth (and the half-truth is mostly a lie) would be Greek to them. If, then, Tracts for the Million seem a necessity, they also seem an impossibility; for what self-respecting man will sit down to weave that tissue of sophistry, special-pleading, violence, and vulgarity, which alone will serve the practical purpose with those to whom trenchency is everything and subtlety nothing? Even though the means involve a violation of taste rather than of morals, yet can they be justified by the goodness of the end? Fortunately, however, the difficulty is met by a particular application of God's universal method in the education of mankind. In every grade of enlightenment there are found some who are sufficiently in advance of the rest to be able to help them, and not so far in advance as practically to speak a different language. What is a dazzling light for those just emerging from darkness, is darkness for those in a yet stronger light. A statement may be so much less false than another, as to be relatively true; so much less true than a third, as to be relatively false. For a mind wholly unprepared, the full truth is often a light that blinds and darkness; whereas the tempered half-truth prepares the way for a fuller disclosure in due time, even as the law and the prophets prepared the way for the Gospel and Christ, or as the enigmas of faith school us to bear that light which now no man can gaze on and live. Thus, though we may never use a lie in the interest of truth, or bring men from error by arguments we know to be sophistical, yet we have the warrant of Divine example, both in the natural and supernatural education of mankind, for the passive permission of error in the interest of truth, as also of evil in the interest of good. Since then there will ever be found those who in all good faith and sincerity can adapt themselves to the popular need and supply each level of intelligence with the medicine most suited to its digestion, all we ask is that a variety of standards in controversial writings be freely recognized; that each who feels called to such efforts should put forth his very best with a view to helping those minds which are likest his own; that none should deliberately condescend to the use of what from his point of view would be sophistries and vulgarities, remembering at the same time that the superiority of his own taste and judgment is more relative than absolute, and that in the eyes of those who come after, he himself may be but a Philistine.

We conclude then that all that can be done in the way of Tracts for the Million should be done; that seed of every kind should be scattered to the four winds, hoping that each may find some congenial soil.

But even when all that can be done in this way to save the masses from the contagion of unbelief has been done, we shall be as far as ever from having found a substitute for the support which formerly was lent to their faith by a Christianized public opinion. Can we hope for anything more than thus to retard the leakage? The answer to this would take us to the second of our proposed considerations, namely, our attitude towards those who form and modify that public opinion by which the masses are influenced for good or for evil. But it is an answer which for the present must be deferred. [1]

Nov. 1900.


[Footnote 1: The Introduction to the First Series of these essays attempts to deal with this further question.]



"A man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck-rake in his hand" and "did neither look up nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and the dust of the floor.... Then said Christiana, 'Oh, deliver me from this muck-rake.'"—Bunyan.

Naturalism includes various schools which agree in the first principle that nothing is true but what can be justified by those axiomatic truths which every-day experience forces upon our acceptance, not indeed as self-evident, but as inevitable, unless we are to be incapacitated for practical life. It is essentially the philosophy of the unphilosophical, that is, of those who believe what they are accustomed to believe, and because they are so accustomed; who are incapable of distinguishing between the subjective necessity imposed by habits and the objective necessity founded in the nature of things. It is no new philosophy, but as old as the first dawn of philosophic thought, for it is the form towards which the materialistic mind naturally gravitates. Given a population sufficiently educated to philosophize in any fashion, and of necessity the bent of the majority will be in the direction of some form of Naturalism. Hence we find that the "Agnosticism" of Professor Huxley is eminently suited to the capacity and taste of the semi-educated majorities in our large centres of civilization. Still it must not be supposed that the majority really philosophizes at all even to this extent. The pressure of life renders it morally impossible. But they like to think that they do so. The whole temper of mind, begotten and matured by the rationalistic school, is self-sufficient: every man his own prophet, priest, and king; every man his own philosopher. Hence, he who poses as a teacher of the people will not be tolerated. The theorist must come forward with an affectation of modesty, as into the presence of competent critics; he must only expose his wares, win for himself a hearing, and then humbly wait for the placet of the sovereign people. But plainly this is merely a conventional homage to a theory that no serious mind really believes in. We know well enough, that the opinions and beliefs of the multitude are formed almost entirely by tradition, imitation, interest, by in fact any influence rather than that of pure reason. Taught they are, and taught they must be, however they repudiate it. But the most successful teachers and leaders are those who contrive to wound their sense of intellectual self-sufficiency least, and to offer them the strong food of dogmatic assertion sugared over and sparkling with the show of wit and reason.

Philosophy for the million may be studied profitably in one of its popular exponents whose works have gained wide currency among the class referred to. Mr. S. Laing is a very fair type of the average mind-leader, owing his great success to his singular appreciation of the kind of treatment needed to secure a favourable hearing. We do not pretend to review Mr. Laing's writings for their own sake, but simply as good specimens of a class which is historically rather than philosophically interesting.

We have before us three of his most popular books: Modern Science and Modern Thought (nineteenth thousand), Problems of the Future (thirteenth thousand), Human Origins (twelfth thousand), to which we shall refer as M.S., P.F., H.O., in this essay; taking the responsibility of all italics on ourselves, unless otherwise notified.

Mr. Laing is not regretfully forced into materialism by some mental confusion or obscurity, but he revels in it, and invites all to taste and see how gracious a philosophy it is. There is an ill-concealed levity and coarseness in his handling of religious subjects which breaks,

At seasons, through the gilded pale,

and which warns us from casting reasons before those who would but trample them under foot. It is rather for the sake of those who read such literature, imprudently perhaps, but with no sympathy, and yet find their imagination perplexed and puzzled with a swarm of minute sophistries and difficulties, collectively bewildering, though contemptible singly, that we think it well to form some estimate of the philosophical value of such works.

Nothing in our study of Mr. Laing surprised us more than to discover [1] that he had lived for more than the Scriptural span of three-score and ten years, a life of varied fortunes and many experiences. It seems to us incredible that any man of even average thoughtfulness could, after so many years, find life without God, without immortality, without definite meaning or assignable goal, "worth living," and that "to be born in a civilized country in the nineteenth century is a boon for which a man can never be sufficiently thankful." [2] [Thankful to whom? one might ask parenthetically.] In other words, he is a bland optimist, and has nothing but vials of contempt to pour upon the pessimists, from Ecclesiastes down to Carlyle. Pessimism, we are told confidentially, is not an outcome of just reasoning on the miserable residue of hope which materialism leaves to us, but of the indisposition "of those digestive organs upon which the sensation of health and well-being so mainly depends." "It is among such men, with cultivated intellects, sensitive nerves, and bad digestion, that we find the prophets and disciples of pessimism." [3] The inference is, that men of uncultivated intellects, coarse nerves, and ostrich livers will coincide with Mr. Laing in his sanguine view of the ruins of religion. The sorrowing dyspeptic asks in despair: "Son of man, thinkest thou that these dry bones will live again?" "I'm cock-sure of it," answers Mr. Laing, and the ground of his assurance is the healthiness of his liver.

Carlyle, who in other matters is, according to Mr. Laing, a great genius, a more than prophet of the new religion, on this point suddenly collapses into "a dreadful croaker," styling his own age "barren, brainless, soulless, faithless." [4] But the reason is, of course, that "he suffered from chronic dyspepsia" and was unable "to eat his three square meals a day." A very consistent explanation for an avowed materialist, but slightly destructive to the value of his own conclusions, being a two-edged sword. Indeed he almost allows as much. "For such dyspeptic patients there is an excuse. Pessimism is probably as inevitably their creed, as optimism is for the more fortunate mortals who enjoy the mens sana in corpore sano." [5] However, there are some pessimists for whom indigestion can plead no excuse, [6] but for whose intellectual perversity some other cosmic influence must be sought "behind the veil, behind the veil,"—to borrow Mr. Laing's favourite line from his favourite poem. These are not only "social swells, would-be superior persons and orthodox theologians, but even a man of light and learning like Mr. F. Harrison." "Religion, they say, is becoming extinct.... Without a lively faith in such a personal, ever-present deity who listens to our prayers, ... there can be, they say, no religion; and they hold, and I think rightly hold, that the only support for such a religion is to be found in the assumed inspiration of the Bible and the Divinity of Christ." "Destroy these and they think the world will become vulgar and materialized, losing not only the surest sanction of morals, but ... the spiritual aspiration and tendencies," &c. [7] "To these gloomy forebodings I venture to return a positive and categorical denial ... Scepticism has been the great sweetener of modern life." [8] How he justifies his denial by maintaining that morality can hold its own when reduced to a physical science; that the "result of advancing civilization" and of the materialistic psychology is "a clearer recognition of the intrinsic sacredness and dignity of every human soul;" [9] that Christianity without dogma, without miracles [or, as he calls it, "Christian agnosticism"], shall retain the essential spirit, the pure morality, the consoling beliefs, and as far as possible even the venerable form and sacred associations of the old faith, may appear later. At present we are concerned directly with pointing out how Mr. Laing's optimism at once marks him off from those men who, whether believing or misbelieving or unbelieving, have thought deeply and felt deeply, who have seen clearly that materialism leaves nothing for man's soul but the husks of swine; who have therefore boldly faced the inevitable alternative between spiritualistic philosophy and hope, and materialism with its pessimistic corollary. That a man may be a materialist or atheist and enjoy life thoroughly, who does not know? but then it is just at the expense of his manhood, because he lives without thought, reflection, or aspiration, i.e., materialistically. Mr. Laing no doubt, as he confesses, has lived pleasantly enough. He has found in what he calls science an endless source of diversion, he betrays himself everywhere as a man of intense intellectual curiosity in every direction, and yet withal so little concerned with the roots of things, so easily satisfied with a little plausible coherence in a theory, as not to have found truth an apparently stern or exacting mistress, not to have felt the anguish of any deep mental conflict. His intellectual labours have been pleasurable because easy, and, in his own eyes, eminently fruitful and satisfactory. He has adopted an established cause, thrown himself into it heart and soul; others indeed had gone before him and laboured, and he has entered into their labours. Indeed, he is frank in disclaiming all originality of discovery or theory; [10] he has not risked the disappointment and anxiety of improving on the Evolution Gospel, but he has collected and sorted and arranged and published the evidence obtained by others. This has always furnished him with an interest in life; [11] but whether it be a rational interest or not depends entirely on the usefulness or hurtfulness of his work. He admits, however, that though life for him has been worth living, "some may find it otherwise from no fault of their own, more by their own fate." [12] But all can lead fairly happy lives by following his large-type platitudinous maxim, "Fear nothing, make the best of everything." [13] In other words, the large majority, who are not and never can be so easily and pleasantly circumstanced as Mr. Laing, are told calmly to make the best of it and to rejoice in the thought that their misery is a necessary factor in the evolution of their happier posterity. This is the new gospel: Pauperes evangelizantur—"Good news for the poor." [14] "Progress and not happiness" is the end we are told to make for, over and over again; but, progress towards what, is never explained, nor is any basis for this duty assigned. Indeed, duty means nothing for Mr. Laing but an inherited instinct, which if we choose to disobey or if we happen not to possess, who shall blame us or talk to us of "oughts"?

And now to consider more closely the grounds of Mr. Laing's very cheerful view of a world in which, for all we know, there is no soul, no God, and certainly no faith. Since of the two former we know and can know nothing, we must build our happiness, our morality, our "religion," on a basis whereof they form no part. He believes that morality will be able to hold its own distinct, not only from all belief in revelation, in a personal God, and in a spiritual soul, but in spite of a philosophy which by tracing the origin of moral judgments to mere physical laws of hereditary transmission of experienced utilities, robs them of all authority other than prudential, and convicts them of being illusory so far as they seem to be of higher than human origin.

Herein, as usual, he treads in the steps of Professor Huxley, "the greatest living master of English prose" (though why his mastery of prose should add to his weight as a philosopher, we fail to see). "Such ideas evidently come from education, and are not the results either of inherited instinct [15] or of supernatural gift.... Given a being with man's brain, man's hands, and erect stature, it is easy to see how ... rules of conduct ... must have been formed and fixed by successive generations, according to the Darwinian laws." [16]

He tells us: "We may read the Athanasian Creed less, but we practise Christian charity more in the present than in any former age." [17] "Faith has diminished, charity increased." [18]

Of moral principles, he says: "Why do we say that ... they carry conviction with them and prove themselves?... Still, there they are, and being what they are ... it requires no train of reasoning or laboured reflection to make us feel that 'right is right,' and that it is better for ourselves and others to act on such precepts ... rather than to reverse these rules and obey the selfish promptings of animal nature." [19] "It is clearly our highest wisdom to follow right, not from selfish calculation, ... but because 'right is right.' ... For practical purposes it is comparatively unimportant how this standard got there ... as an absolute imperative rule." [20] As to the apprehended ill effect of agnosticism on morals, he says: "The foundations of morals [21] are fortunately built on solid rock and not on shifting sand. It may truly be said in a great many cases that, as individuals and nations become more sceptical, they become more moral." [22] "If there is one thing more certain than another in the history of evolution, it is that morals have been evolved by the same laws as regulate the development of species." [23]

These citations embody Mr. Laing's opinions on this point, and show very clearly his utter incapacity for elementary philosophic thought. Here, as elsewhere, as soon as he leaves the bare record of facts and embarks in any kind of speculation, he shows himself helpless; however, he tries to fortify his own courage and that of his readers, with "it is clear," "it is evident," "it is certain."

To say that "right is right," sounds very oracular; but it either means that "right" is an ultimate spring of action, inexplicable on evolutionist principles, or that right is the will of the strongest, or an illusory inherited foreboding of pain, or a calculation of future pleasure and pain, or something which, in no sense, is a true account of what men do mean by right. To say that moral principles "carry conviction with them, and prove themselves" (i.e., are self-evident), unless, as we suspect, it is mere verbiage conveying nothing particular to Mr. Laing's brain, is to deny that right has reference to the consequences of action as bearing on human progress and evolution, which is to deny the very theory he wishes to uphold. No intuitionist could have spoken more strongly. Then we are assured that we "feel" rightness, or that "right is right"—apparently as a simple irresoluble quality of certain actions—and with same breath, that "it is better for ourselves and others to act on these rules," where he jumps off to utilitarianism again; and then we are forbidden to "obey the selfish impulses of our animal nature"—a strange prohibition for one who sees in us nothing but animal nature, who denies us any free power to withstand its impulses. Then it is "clearly our highest wisdom to follow right"—an appeal to prudential motives—"not from any selfish calculations"—a repudiation of prudential motives—"but because 'right is right'"—an appeal to a blind unreasoning instinct, and a prohibition to question its authority. We are told that for practical purposes it matters little whence this absolute imperative rule originates. Was there ever a more unpractical and short-sighted assertion! Convince men that the dictates of conscience are those of fear or selfishness, that they are all mere animal instincts, that they are anything less than divine, and who will care for Mr. Laing's appeal to blind faith in the "rightness of right"?

As long as Christian tradition lives on, as it will for years among the masses, the effects of materialist ethics will not be felt; but as these new theories filter down from the few to the many, they will inevitably produce their logical consequences in practical matters. No one with open eyes can fail to see how the leaven is spreading already. Still the majority act and speak to a great extent under the influence of the old belief, which they have repudiated, in the freedom of man's will and the Divine origin of right. It is quite plain that Mr. Laing has either never had patience to think the matter out, or has found it beyond his compass. Having thus established morality on a foundation independent of religion and of everything else, making "right" rest on "right," he assumes the prophetic robe, and on the strength of his seventy years of experience and philosophy poses as a Cato Major for the edification of the semi-scientific millions of young persons to whom he addresses his volumes. We have a whole chapter on Practical Life, [24] on self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, full of portentous platitudes and ancient saws; St. Paul's doctrine of charity, and all that is best in the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, is liberated from its degrading association with the belief in a God who rewards and punishes.[25] We are "to act strenuously in that direction which, after conscientious inquiry, seems the best, ... and trust to what religious men call Providence, and scientific men Evolution, for the result," and all this simply on the bold assertion of this sage whose sole aim is "to leave the world a little better rather than a little worse for my individual unit of existence." [26]

And here we may inquire parenthetically as to the motive which urges Mr. Laing to throw himself into the labours of the apostolate and to become such an active propagandist of agnosticism. We are told[27] that the enlightened should be "liberal and tolerant towards traditional opinions and traditional practices, and trust with cheerful faith to evolution to bring about gradually changes of form," &c.; that the influence of the clergy is "on the whole exerted for good," and it is frankly acknowledged that Christianity has been a potent factor in the evolution of modern civilization. It has, however, nearly run its course, and the old order must give place to the new, i.e., to agnosticism. But even allowing, what we dare say Mr. Laing would not ask, that the speculative side of the new religion is fully defined and worked out, and ready to displace the old dogmatic creeds, yet its practical aspect is so vague that he writes: "I think the time is come when the intellectual victory of agnosticism is so far assured, that it behoves thinking men to begin to consider what practical results are likely to follow from it." [28] In the face of this confession we find Mr. Laing industriously addressing himself to "those who lack time and opportunity for studying," [29] to the "minds of my younger readers, and of the working classes who are striving after culture," [30] "to what may be called the semi-scientific readers, ... who have already acquired some elementary ideas about science," "to the millions;" [31] and endeavouring by all means in his power to destroy the last vestige of their faith in that religion which alone provides for them a definite code of morality strengthened by apparent sanctions of the highest order, and venerable at least by its antiquity and universality. [32] And while he is thus busily pulling down the old scaffolding, he is calmly beginning to consider the practical results. This is his method of "leaving the world a little better than he found it." He professes to understand and appreciate "In Memoriam." Has he ever reflected on the lines: "O thou that after toil and storm," [33] when the practical conclusion is—

Leave thou thy sister, when she prays, Her early Heaven, her happy views; Nor thou with shadowed hint infuse A life that leads melodious days. Her faith through form is pure as thine, Her hands are quicker unto good; O sacred be the flesh and blood, To which she links a truth divine.

On his own principles he is convicted of being a lover of mischief. No, one is sorely tempted to think that these men are well aware that the moral sense which sound philosophy and Christian faith have developed, is still strong in the minds and deeper conscience of the English-speaking races, and that were they to present materialism in all its loathsome nudity to the public gaze, they would be hissed off the stage. And so they dress it up in the clothes of the old religion just for the present, with many a quiet wink between themselves at the expense of the "semi-scientific" reader.

We have already adverted to Mr. Laing's utter incapacity for anything like philosophy, except so far as that term can be applied to a power of raking together, selecting, and piling up into "a popular shape" the scraps of information which favour the view whose correctness he was convinced of ere he began. A few further remarks may justify this somewhat severe estimate. After stating that in the solution of life and soul problems, science stops short at germs and nucleated cells, he proceeds with the usual tirade against metaphysics: "Take Descartes' fundamental axiom: Cogito ergo sum.... Is it really an axiom?... If the fact that I am conscious of thinking proves the fact that I exist, is the converse true that whatever does not think does not exist?... Does a child only begin to exist when it begins to think? If Cogito ergo sum is an institution to which we can trust, why is not Non cogito ergo non sum?" [34] Here is a man posing before the gaping millions as a philosopher and a severe logician, who thinks that the proposition, "every cow is a quadruped," is disproved by the evident falsehood of, "what is not a cow is not a quadruped," which he calls "the converse." He sums up magnificently by saying: "These are questions to which no metaphysical system that I have ever seen, can return the semblance of an answer;" giving the impression of a life devoted to a deep and exhaustive study of all schools of philosophy. Mr. Laing here surely is addressing his "younger readers."

He tells us elsewhere [35] that, "when analyzed by science, spiritualism leads straight to materialism;" free-will "can be annihilated by the simple mechanical expedient of looking at a black wafer stuck on a white wall;" that if "Smith falls into a trance and believes himself to be Jones, he really is Jones, and Smith has become a stranger to him while the trance lasts.... I often ask myself the question, If he died during one of these trances, which would he be, Smith or Jones? and I confess it takes some one wiser than I am to answer it." Without pretending to be wiser than Mr. Laing, we hope it will not be too presumptuous for us to suggest that if Smith dies in a trance believing himself to be Jones, he is under a delusion, and that he really is Smith. Else it would be very awkward for poor Jones, who in nowise believes himself to be Smith. Mr. Laing would have to break it gently to Jones, that, "in fact, my dear sir, Smith borrowed your personality, and unfortunately died before returning it; and as to whether you are yourself or Smith, as to whether you are alive or dead, 'I confess it takes some one wiser than I am to decide.'" That a man's own name, own surroundings, own antecedents, are all objects of his thought, and distinguished from the self, ego, or subject which contemplates them, has never suggested itself to Mr. Laing. That though Smith may mistake every one of these, yet the term "I" necessarily and invariably means the same for him, the one central, constant unity to which every non-ego is opposed. And this from a man who elsewhere claims an easy familiarity with Kant. "Again what can be said of love and hate if under given circumstances they can be transformed into one another by a magnet?" What indeed? And how is it that the gold-fish make no difference in the weight of the globe of water?

His conclusion to these inquiries is: "When Shakespeare said, 'We are such stuff as dreams are made of,' he enumerates what has become a scientific fact. The 'stuff' is in all cases the same—vibratory motions of nerve particles." [36] Thus knowledge, self-consciousness, free-choice, is as much a function of matter as fermentation, or crystallisation—a mode of motion, not dissimilar from heat, perhaps transformable therewith.

Recapitulating this farrago of nonsense on p. 188, he adds a new difficulty which ought to make him pause in his wild career. "What is the value of the evidence of the senses if a suggestion can make us see the hat, but not the man who wears it; or dance half the night with an imaginary partner? Am I 'I myself, I,' or am I a barrel-organ playing 'God save the Queen,' if the stops are set in the normal fashion, but the 'Marseillaise' if some cunning hand has altered them without my knowledge? These are questions which I cannot answer." He cannot answer a question on which the value of his whole system of physical philosophy depends; uncertain about his own identity, about the evidence of his senses, he would make the latter the sole rule and measure of certitude, and deny to man any higher faculty by which alone he can justify his trust in his cognitive faculties. Another instance of his absolute ignorance of common philosophic terminology is when he asserts that according to theology we know the dogmas of religion by "intuition." [37]

This doctrine rests on Cardinal Newman's celebrated theory of the "Illative Sense." Surely a moment's reflection on the meaning of words, not to speak of a slight acquaintance with the book referred to, would have saved him from confounding two notions so sharply distinguished as "intuition" and "inference." Again, "There can be no doubt there are men often of great piety and excellence who have, or fancy they have, a sort of sixth sense, or, as Cardinal Newman calls it, an 'illative sense,' by which they see by intuition ... things unprovable or disprovable by ordinary reason." [38] Can a man who makes such reckless travesties of a view which he manifestly has never studied, be credited with intellectual honesty?

Doubtless, the semi-scientific millions will be much impressed by the wideness of Mr. Laing's reading and his profound grasp of all that he has read, when they are told casually that "space and time are, ... to use the phraseology of Kant, 'imperative categories;'" [39] but perhaps to other readers it may convey nothing more than that he has heard a dim something somewhere about Kant, about the categories, about space and time being schemata of sense, and about the categorical imperative. It is only one instance of the unscrupulous recklessness which shows itself everywhere. Akin to this is his absolute misapprehension of the Christian religion which he labours to refute. He never for a moment questions his perfect understanding of it, and of all it has got to say for itself. Brought up apparently among Protestants, who hold to a verbal inspiration [40] and literal interpretation of the Scriptures, who have no traditional or authoritative interpretation of it, he concludes at once that his own crude, boyish conception of Christianity is the genuine one, and that every deviation therefrom is a "climbing down," or a minimizing. He has no suspicion that the wider views of interpretation are as old as Christianity itself, and have always co-existed with the narrower.

He regards the Christian idea of God as essentially anthropomorphic. Indeed, whether in good faith or for the sake of effect, he brings forward the old difficulties which have been answered ad nauseam with an air of freshness, as though unearthed for the first time, and therefore as setting religion in new and unheard-of straits. So, at all events, it will seem to the millions of his young readers and to the working classes.

Let us follow him in some of his destructive criticism, or rather denunciations, in order to observe his mode of procedure. "The discoveries of science ... make it impossible for sincere men to retain the faith," &c., [41] therefore all who differ from Mr. Laing are insincere. "It is absolutely certain that portions of the Bible are not true; and those, important portions." [42] This is based on two premisses which are therefore absolutely certain, (i) Mr. Laing's conclusions about the antiquity of man—of which more anon; (43) his baldly literal interpretation of the Bible as delivered to him in his early "infancy. On p. 253, we have the ancient difficulty from the New Testament prophecy of the proximate end of the world, without the faintest indication that it was felt 1800 years ago, and has been dealt with over and over again. Papias [44] is lionized [45] in order to upset the antiquity of the four Gospels—which upsetting, however, depends on a dogmatic interpretation of an ambiguous phrase, and the absence of positive testimony. Here again there is no evidence that Mr. Laing has read any elementary text-book on the authenticity of the Gospels. He is "perfectly clear" as to the fourth Gospel being a forgery; again for reasons which he alone has discovered. [46] Paul is the first inventor of Christian dogma, without any doubt or hesitation. But the undoubted results of modern science ... shatter to pieces the whole fabric. It is as certain as that 2 + 2 = 4 that the world was not created in the manner described in Genesis."

As regards harmonistic difficulties of the Old and New Testaments, he assumes the same confident tone of bold assertion without feeling any obligation to notice the solutions that have been suggested. It makes for his purpose to represent the orthodox as suddenly struck dumb and confounded by these amazing discoveries of his. He sees discrepancies everywhere in the Gospel narrative, e.g.: [47]

"Judas' death is differently described." "Herod is introduced by Luke and not mentioned by the others." "Jesus carried His own Cross in one account, while Simon of Cyrene bore it in another. Jesus gave no answer to Pilate, says Matthew; He explains that His Kingdom was not of the world, says John. Mary His Mother sat (sic) at the foot of the Cross, according to St. John; it was not His Mother, but Mary the mother of Salome (sic) 'who beheld Him from afar,' according to Mark and Matthew. There was a guard set to watch the tomb, says Matthew; there is no mention of one by the others."

At first we thought Mr. Laing must have meant differences and not discrepancies; but the following paragraph forbade so lenient an interpretation. "The only other mention of Mary by St. John, who describes her as sitting (sic) by the foot of the Cross, is apocryphal, being directly contradicted by the very precise statement [48] in the three other Gospels, that the Mary who was present on that occasion was a different woman, the mother of Salome." Even his youngest readers ought to open their eyes at this. Similarly he thinks the omission of the Lord's Prayer by St. Mark tells strongly against its authenticity. [49]


We must now say something about the great facts of evolutionary philosophy which have shattered dogmatic Christianity to pieces, and have made it impossible for any sincere man to remain a Christian. To say that Mr. Laing is absolutely certain of the all-sufficiency of evolutionism to explain everything that is knowable to the human mind, that he does not hint for a moment that this philosophy is found by the "bell-wethers" of science to be every day less satisfactory as a complete rationale of the physical cosmos; is really to understate the case for sheer lack of words to express the intensity of his conviction. His fundamental fact is that, however theologians may shuffle out of the first chapter of Genesis by converting days into periods, when we come to the story of the Noachean Deluge, we are confronted with such a glaring absurdity that we must at once allow that the Bible is full of myths. For history and science show that man existed probably two hundred thousand years ago, at all events not less than twenty thousand; also that five thousand B.C., a highly organized civilization existed in Egypt, whose monuments of that date give evidence to the full development of racial and linguistic differences as now existing among men; that this plants the common stem from which these have branched off, in an indefinitely remote pre-historic period; that to suppose that the present races and tongues are all derived from one man (Noe), who lived only two thousand B.C., is a monstrous impossibility; still more so, to believe that the countless thousands of species of animals which populate the world were collected from the four quarters of the globe, were housed and fed in the Ark, landed on Mount Ararat, and thence spread themselves out over the world again regardless of interjacent seas. Hence the Bible story of human origins is a mere myth; man has not fallen, but has risen by slow evolution from some ancestor common to him and apes, at a remote period, long sons prior even to the miocene period, which shows man to have been then as obstinately differentiated from the apes as ever. Therefore "all did not die in Adam," and seeing this is the foundation of the dogmatic Christianity invented by Paul, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. [45]

And indeed, given that the Bible means what Mr. Laing says it means, and that science has proved what he says it has proved, that the two results are incompatible, few would care to deny. As regards the latter condition, let us see some of his reasonings. We are told that "modern science shows that uninterrupted historical records, confirmed by contemporary monuments, carry history back at least one thousand years before the supposed creation of man ... and show then no trace of a commencement, but populous cities, celebrated temples, great engineering works, and a high state of the arts and of civilization already existing." [46] Strange to say, Mr. Laing developes a sudden reverence for the testimony of priests at the outset of his historical inquiries, and finds that history begins with "priestly organizations;" [47] that the royal records are "made and preserved by special castes of priestly colleges and learned scribes, and that they are to a great extent precise in date and accurate in fact." Of course this does not include Christian priests, but the priests of barbarous cults of many thousand years ago, who, as well as their royal masters, are at once credited with all the delicacy of the accurate criticism which we boast of in these days—how vainly, God knows. We are told one moment that Herodotus "was credulous, and not very critical in distinguishing between fact and fable," that his "sources of information were often not much better than vague popular traditions, or the tales told by guides;" [48] and yet we are to lay great stress on his assertion that the Egyptian priests told him "that during the long succession of ages of the three hundred and forty-five high priests of Heliopolis, whose statues they showed him in the Temple of the Sun, there had been no change in the length of human life or the course of nature." [49] A valuable piece of evidence if Herodotus reports rightly, and if the priest was not like the average guide, and if the statues answered to real existences, and if each of the three hundred and forty-five high priests made a truthful assertion of the above to his successor for the benefit of posterity.

Manetho's History is, however, the chief source of our information as to the antiquity of Egyptian civilization. He was commissioned to compile this History by Ptolemy Philadelphus, "from the most authentic temple records and other sources of information," [50] whose infallibility is taken for granted. He was "eminently qualified for such a task, being," as Mr. Laing will vouch, [51] "a learned and judicious man, and a priest of Sebbenytus, one of the oldest and most famous temples." Let us by all means read Manetho's History; but where is it? It is "unfortunately lost, ... but fragments of it have been preserved in the works of Josephus, Eusebius, Julius Africanus, and Syncellus.... With the curious want of critical faculty of almost all the Christian Fathers" [52] (so different from the learned, judicious, upright priests of the sun), "these extracts, though professing to be quotations from the same book, contain many inconsistencies and in several instances they have been obviously tampered with, especially by Eusebius, in order to bring their chronology more in accordance with that of the Old Testament, ... but there can be no doubt that his original work assigned an antiquity to Menes of over 5500 B.C." [53] "On the whole, we have to fall back on Manetho as the only authority for anything like precise dates and connected history."

Manetho, however, needed confirmation against the aspersions of the orthodox, who thought he might be deficient in critical delicacy, and prone to exaggerate as even later historians had done. Their casuistic minds also suggested that his list comprised Kings who had ruled different provinces simultaneously. But this "effugium" was cut off by the witness of contemporary monuments and manuscripts. "This has now been done to such an extent that it may be fairly said that Manetho is confirmed, and it is fully established, as a fact acquired by science, that nearly all his Kings and dynasties are proved by monuments to have existed, and that, successively." [54]

What is needed for the validity of this argument is a concurrence, which could not possibly be fortuitous, between the clear and undoubted testimony of Manetho and of the monuments. But first of all, what sort of probability is there left of our possessing anything approximately like the results of Manetho: and if we had them, of their historical accuracy? Secondly, is it at all credible that so fragmentary and fortuitous a record as survives in monuments (allowing again their very dubious historical worth) should just happen to coincide with the surviving fragments of our patch-work Manetho, king for king and dynasty for dynasty, as Mr. Laing would have us believe? On the contrary, nothing would throw more suspicion on the interpretation of these monuments than the assertion of such an improbable coincidence. What, then, is the force of this argument from Egyptology? If the records from which Manetho compiled were historically accurate; if he was perfectly competent to understand them; if he was scrupulously honest and critical; if from the tampered-with fragments in the Christian Fathers we can arrive at a reliable and accurate knowledge of his results; and if the Bible in the original text—whatever that may be—undoubtedly asserts that man was not created till 4000 B.C., then according to certain Egyptologists (Boeck), Menes reigned fifteen hundred years previously, and according to others (Wilkinson), one thousand years subsequently. Similarly as to the argument from coincidence: if, as before, we possess Manetho's genuine list intact, and if we have the clear testimony of the monuments giving a precisely similar record, this coincidence, apart from all independent value to be given to Manetho or to the monuments, is an effect demanding a cause, for which the most probable is the objective truth from which both these veracious records have been copied. But the monuments are not written in plain English, and need a key; and we must be first assured that Manetho's list has not been used for this purpose. We are told; for example, [55] that the name "Snefura," deciphered on a tablet found at the copper-mines of Wady Magerah, is the name of a King of the third dynasty, who reigned about 4000 B.C. Now if there were no doubt about the reading of this name on the tablet, and if his date and dynasty were as plainly there recorded, and if all this tallies exactly with equally precise particulars in Manetho's list, it would indeed be a remarkable coincidence and would imply some common source, whether record or fact. But if having credited Manetho with the record of such a name and date, one tortures a hieroglyph into a faintly similar name, and concludes at once that the same name must be the same person, and that therefore this is the oldest record in the world, the confirmation is not so striking. That it is so in this instance we do not affirm; but we should need the assertion of a man of more intellectual sobriety than Mr. Laing to make it worth the trouble of investigating.

Passing over the confirmation which he draws from the "known rate of the deposit of Nile mud of about three inches a century," which would give a mild antiquity of twenty-six thousand years to pottery fished up from borings in the mud, since he admits that "borings are not very conclusive," we may notice how he deals with evidence from Chaldea on much the same principles. Here, again, the source had been till lately only "fragments quoted by later writers from the lost work of Berosus. Berosus was a learned priest of Babylon, who ... wrote in Greek a history of the country from the most ancient times, compiled from the annals preserved in the temples and from the oldest traditions." [56] Still this "learned priest," though antecedently as competent a critic as Manetho, is so portentously mythical in his accounts, that "no historical value can be attached to them," which must be regretted, since he pushes history back a quarter of a million years prior to the Deluge, and the Deluge itself to about half a million years ago. Here, therefore, we are thrown solely upon the independent value of the monumental evidence, and must drop the argument from coincidence. This evidence, we are told, "is not so conclusive as in the case of Egypt, where the lists of Manetho, &c.... The date of Sargon I. [57] (3800 B.C.) rests mainly on the authority of Nabonidus, who lived more than three thousand years later, and may have been mistaken." "The probability of such a remote date is enhanced by the certainty that a high civilization existed in Egypt as long ago as 5000 B.C." If the evidence for the antiquity of Chaldee civilization is "less conclusive" than that for Egyptian, and rests on it for an argument a pari, it cannot be said in any way to strengthen Mr. Laing's position.

These strictures are directed chiefly to showing Mr. Laing's incapacity for anything like coherent reasoning in historical matters. Subsequently he uses these most lame and impotent conclusions as demonstrated certainties, without the faintest qualification, and builds up on them his refutation of dogmatic Christianity.

However, it is only in his more recent work on Human Origins that he thus comes forward as an historian, in preparation for which he seems to have devoted himself to the study of cuneiform and hieroglyphs and mastered the subject thoroughly and exhaustively, before bursting forth from behind the clouds to flood the world with new-born light.

It is deep down in the bowels of the earth, at the bottom of a geological well, that he has found not only truth but, also man—among the monsters,

Dragons of the prime Who tare each other in their slime,

and has hauled him up for our inspection. Mr. Laing is before all else an evolutionist, with an unshaken belief in spontaneous generation. He is quite confident that force and atoms will explain everything. He seems to mean force, pure and simple, without any intelligent direction; atoms, ultimate, homogeneous, undifferentiated. No doubt, if the subsequent evolution depends on the kind and direction of force, or on the nature of the atoms; then there is a remoter question for physics to determine; but if, as he implies, force and atoms are simple and ultimate, then evolution is as fortuitous as a sand-storm, or more so. All prior to force and atoms is "behind the veil." "The material universe is composed of ether, matter, and energy." [58] Ether is a billion times more elastic than air, "almost infinitely rare," [59] its oscillations must be at least seven hundred billions per second, "it exerts no gravitating or retarding force;" in short, Mr. Laing has to confess some uncertainty about his original dogma as to the triple constituents of the universe, and say "that it may be almost doubted whether such an ether has any real material existence, and is anything more than a sort of mathematical [why 'mathematical'?] entity." [60] "It is clear that matter really does consist of minute particles which do not touch," and even these we must conceive of as "corks as it were floating in an ocean of ether, causing waves in it by their own proper movement," [61]—an explanation which loses some of its helpfulness when we remember that the ethereal ocean is only a mathematical entity. "A cubic centimetre contains 21,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules," "the number of impacts received by each molecule of air during one second will be 4,700 millions. The distance traversed between each impact averages 95/1000000 of a millimetre," and so on with lines of ciphers to overawe the gaping millions with Mr. Laing's minute certainty as to the ultimate constitution of matter. [62]

As to how atoms came into existence, he can only reply, "Behind the veil, behind the veil;" for it is at this point at last that he becomes agnostic.[63] The notion of creation is rejected (after Spencer) as inconceivable, because unimaginable, as though the origination of every change in the phenomenal world were not just as unimaginable; we see movement in process, and we see its results, but its inception is unimaginable, and its efficient cause still more so.

The evolution of man is practically taken for granted, the only question being the when.

We have the old argument from embryonic transformism brought forward without any hint that later investigation tends to show differentiation further and further back, prior to segmentation and, according to some, in the very protoplasm itself. Nothing could be more inaccurate than to say "every human being passes through the stage of fish and reptile before arriving at that of a mammal and finally of man." [64] All that can be truly said is that the embryonic man is at certain stages not superficially distinguishable from the embryonic fish—quite a different thing, and no more significant than that the adult man possesses organs and functions in common with other species of the animal genus.

Mr. Laing's own conclusions from skulls and human remains which he takes to be those of tertiary man, show man to be as obstinately unlike the "dryopithecus" as ever, in fact, the reputedly oldest skulls [65] are a decided improvement on the Carnstadt and Neanderthal type. Even then man seems to have been the same flint-chipping, tool-making, speaking animal as now. So convinced is he of this essential and ineradicable difference in his heart, that seeing traces of design in palaeolithic flint flakes, and so forth, he has "not the remotest doubt as to their being the work of human hands,"—"as impossible to doubt as it would be if we had found clasp-knives and carpenters adzes." [66] Perhaps Professor Boyd-Dawkins, who credits the "dryopithecus" with these productions, is a more consistent evolutionist; but at present Mr. Laing is defending a thesis as to man's antiquity. Yet he has just said that these flint instruments are "only one step in advance of the rude, natural stone which an intelligent orang or chimpanzee might pick up to crack a cocoa-nut with." Truly a very significant step, though it be only one. How hard this is to reconcile with what Mr. Laing ascribes to dogs and ants elsewhere, or with what he says on page 173, "These higher apes remain creatures of very considerable intelligence.... There is a chimpanzee now in the Zoological Gardens ... which can do all but speak" [either it speaks, or it does not. It is precisely a case of the "only one step" quoted above. Here if anywhere a "miss is as good as a mile"], "which understands almost every word the keeper says to it, and when told to sing will purse out its lips and try to utter connected notes." [How on earth do we know what it is trying to do?] "In their native state they (apes) form societies and obey a chief." [The old fallacy of metaphors adverted to in relation to ants and dogs.] Yet "no animal has ever learned to speak," "no chimpanzee or gorilla has ever been known to fashion any implement." [67] Their nearest approach to invention is in the building of huts or nests, in which they "are very inferior to most species of birds, to say nothing of insects." On the other hand, "as regards tool-making, no human race is known which has not shown some faculty in this direction." [68] "The difference is a very fundamental one," and "may be summed up in the words 'arrested development.'" Words, indeed! but what do they mean? They mean that these animals have not developed the faculties of speech and tool-making, which would have been most useful to them in the struggle for existence, the reason being that they did not; and this reason is exalted into a cause or law of "arrested development." Who or what arrested it? The advantage of the term is that it implies that they were on the point of developing, that they could "all but speak," were "trying to utter connected notes," were "but one step" behind flint axes, when some cosmic power said, "Hitherto shalt thou come and no further."

If the dog had organs of speech or an instrument like the hand by which to place himself in closer relation to the outer world, he would doubtless be on a footing of mental equality with man, according to Mr. Laing. [69] The elephant's trunk accounts for his superior sagacity, and the horse suffers by his hoof-enclosed forefoot. [70] "Given a being with man's brain, man's hand, and erect stature, it is easy to see how intelligence must have been gradually evolved." [71] Now honestly it seems to us that many animals are as well provided as man is with a variety of flexible organs of communication with the outward world (for example, the antennae of insects, the prehensile tails of some monkeys, whose hands are as lithe as man's and articulated bone for bone and joint for joint). But letting this pass, we thought evolutionists allowed that structure is determined by function, rather than the converse; and so the confession that "it is not so easy to see how this difference of the structure arose," [72] surprises us, coming from Mr. Laing; though why this difference should exist at all, on evolution principles, is a far greater difficulty. Yet he confesses that "the difference in structure between the lowest existing race of man and the highest existing ape, [73] is too great to admit of one being possibly the direct descendant of the other." The ape, then, is not a man whose development is arrested. "The negro in some respects makes a slight approximation, ... still he is essentially a man, and separated by a wide gulf from the chimpanzee or gorilla. Even the idiot is ... an arrested man and, not an ape." [74]

Nearly all these (higher intellectual and moral) faculties appear in a rudimentary state in animals.... Still there is this wide distinction that even in the highest animals these faculties remain rudimentary and seem incapable of progress, while even in the lowest races of man they have reached a much higher level [75] and seem capable of almost unlimited development. [76] Why does he not seek out the reason of this, or is he satisfied with the words "arrested development"? If I find a child who can repeat a poem of Tennyson's, am I to be puzzled because it cannot originate one as good, or go on even to something better? Am I to ascribe to it a rudimentary but arrested poetic faculty? Surely the same poem proceeding from the lips of the poet and of the child he has taught, are essentially different effects, though outwardly the same. If there were a true living germ, it would most certainly develope. If the savage developes through contact with the civilized man after centuries of degradation, why have not domesticated dogs, who are, according to Laing, their intellectual and moral equals, developed long ago?

However, as "evolution has become the axiom of science and is admitted by every one who has the slightest pretensions to be considered a competent authority," [77] it is preposterous to suppose man an exception, whatever be the difficulties. [78] And so Mr. Laing, assuming axiomatically that man and the ape have a common ancestor, is interested to make the differences between them deeply marked, and that, as far back as he can, for thereby "Human Origins" are pushed back by hundreds of thousands of years. If miocene man is as distinct from the ape as recent man, the inference is that we are then as far from the source as ever. Hence it is to geology he looks for the strongest basis of his position. One thought till lately that geology was a tentative science, hardly credited with the name of science, but Mr. Laing wisely and boldly classes it among the "exact sciences," whose subject-matter is "flint instruments, incised bones, and a few rare specimens of human skulls and skeletons, the meaning of which has to be deciphered by skilled experts." [79] "The conclusions of geology," up to the Silurian period, "are approximate facts, not theories." [80]

If he means that the only legitimate data of geologists are facts of observation, classified and recorded, well and good; but to deny that they deal largely in hypotheses, and use them constantly as the premisses for inferences which are equally hypothetical, is palpably absurd. First of all we are to "assume the principle of uniformity" which Lyell is said to have established on an unassailable basis and to have made the fundamental axiom of geological science. He "has shown conclusively that while causes identical with ... existing causes will, if given sufficient time, account for all the facts hitherto observed, there is not a single fact which proves the occurrence of a totally different order of causes." [81] This, however, is (1) limited to the period of geology which gives record of organic life, and not to the earlier astronomical period; nor (2) does it exclude changes in temperature, climate, distribution of seas and lands; nor (3) does it "affirm positively that there may not have been in past ages explosions more violent than that of Krakatoa; lava-streams more extensive than that of Skaptar-Jokul, and earthquakes more powerful than that which uplifted five or six hundred miles of the Pacific coast of South America six or seven feet." [82] Now, seeing that all these cataclysms have occurred within the brief limits of most recent time, compared with which the period of pretended uniformity is almost an eternity, what sort of presumption or probability is there that such occurrences should have been confined to historical times; and is not the presumption all the other way? Again, it is largely on the supposition of this antecedently unlikely uniformity, that Mr. Laing argues to the antiquity of life on earth; whereas Lyell's conclusion warrants nothing of the kind, being simply: that present causes, "given sufficient time," would produce the observed effects. [83]

Our tests of geologic time are denudation and deposition. We are told "the present rate of denudation of a continent is known with considerable accuracy from careful measurements of the quantity of solid matter carried down by rivers." [84] Now it is a considerable tax on our faith in science to believe that the debris of the Mississippi can be so accurately gauged as to give anything like approximate value to the result of one foot of continental denudation in 6,000 years. We cannot of course suppose this to be the result of 6,000 years registered observations, but an inference from the observations of some comparatively insignificant period; and we have also to suppose that the very few rivers which have been observed form a sufficient basis for a conclusion as to all rivers. In fact, a more feebly supported generalization from more insufficient data it is hard to conceive. To speak of it as "an approximation based on our knowledge of the time in which similar results on a smaller scale have been produced by existing natural laws within the historical period," [85] is a very inadequate qualification, especially when we have just been told that "here, at any rate, we are on comparatively certain ground, ... these are measurable facts which have been ascertained by competent observers." [86]

Assuming this rate of denudation as certain, and also the estimate of the known sedimentary strata as 177,000 feet in depth, we are to conclude that the formation took 56,000,000 years. A mountain mass which ought to answer to certain fault 15,000 high, and therefore is presumed to have vanished by denudation, points to a term of 90,000,000 years as required for the process. [87]

"Reasoning from these facts, assuming the rate of change in the forms of life to have been the same formerly, Lyell concludes that geological phenomena postulate 200,000,000 years at least," [88] "to account for the undoubted facts of geology since life began." [89] On the other hand, mathematical astronomy, [90] on theories which Mr. Laing complains of as wanting the solidity of geological calculations (yet which do not involve more, but fewer assumptions), cannot allow the sun a past existence of more than 15,000,000 years. [91] "It is evident that there must be some fundamental error on one side or the other," [92] "for the laws of nature are uniform, and there cannot be one code for astronomers, and one for geologists." But while modestly relegating this slight divergency among the "bell-wethers of science" (bell-wethers, I presume, because the crowd follow them like sheep), to the "problems of the future," Mr. Laing is quite confident that we should "distrust these mathematical calculations," and rely on conclusions based on ascertained facts and undoubted deductions from them, rather than on abstract and doubtful theories, "which would so reduce geological time as to negative the idea of uniformity of law and evolution, and introduce once more the chaos of catastrophes and supernatural interferences."[93] As regards the ice-age, Mr. Laing is professedly interested in putting it as far back as possible, since "a short date for that period shortens that for which we have positive proof of the existence of man, and ... a very short date ... brings us back to the old theories of repeated and recent acts of supernatural interference." [94] Strange, that in the same page he should refer to Sir J. Dawson as an "extreme instance" of one who approaches the question with "theological prepossessions;" and of course in complete ignorance of Mr. Laing's indubitable conclusions about the antiquity of Egyptian civilization. Unfortunately, even the best scientists have not that perfect freedom from bias, which gives Mr. Laing such a towering advantage over them all. "An authority like Prestwich," who "cannot be accused of theological bias," influenced, however, by a servile astronomical bias, "reduces to 20,000 years a period to which Lyell and modern geologists assign a duration of more than 200,000 years;" [95] which "shows in what a state of uncertainty we are as to this vitally important problem;" for this time assigned by Prestwich "would be clearly insufficient to allow for the development of Egyptian civilization, as it existed 5,000 years ago, from savage and semi-animal ancestors; as is proved to be the case with the horse, stag, elephant, ape," and so on. [96] Now Prestwich, we are told elsewhere, is "the first living authority on the tertiary and quaternary strata." [97] If, then, astronomical prepossession can reduce 200,000 to 20,000 years, the sin of theology, which reduces 20,000 to 7,000 is comparatively venial. Prestwich's two objections are (1) the data of astronomy, and (2) "the difficulty of conceiving that man could have existed for 80,000 or 100,000 years without change and without progress." The former is "only one degree less mischievous than the theological prepossession." However, Prestwich has some "facts" as well as prepossessions, such as "the rapid advance of the glaciers of Greenland,"[98] which does not accord with the generalization from the Swiss glaciers;[99] and the quicker erosion of river valleys, due to a greater rainfall; facts which, however, are met by "a minute description of the successive changes by which in post-glacial time the Mersey valley and estuary were brought into their present condition, with an estimate of the time they may have required;" which is "in round numbers 60,000 years," as opposed to Prestwich's 10,000 or 8,000. [100] The 200,000 years for the ice-age depends chiefly on Croll's theory of secular variation of the earth's orbitular eccentricity; but we are told it is open to the "objection that it requires us to assume a periodical succession of glacial epochs" of which two or three "must have occurred during each of the great geological epochs. [101] This is opposed to geological evidence." "'Not proven' is the verdict which most geologists would return." "The confidence with which Croll's theory was first received has been a good deal shaken." "We have to fall back, therefore, on the geological evidence of deposition and denudation ... in any attempt to decide between the 200,000 years of Lyell and the 20,000 years of Prestwich." [102]

As to his arguments based on ancient human remains, their value depends first on the accuracy of his geological conclusions, and then on preclusion of all possibility of the conveyance of the remains from upper strata to lower; on the certainty, moreover, of traces of design in many of the would-be miocene or tertiary flint instruments (which Prestwich is doubtful about).[103] He takes care not to tell us that the Carstadt skull which gives name to a race, is a very doubtfully genuine relic of one hundred and thirty years old, whose history is most dubious. His evidence for the absence of the slightest approximation to the simian type even in the oldest relics is cheering to the theologian, though it loses its value when we know it is in the interests of his foregone conclusions as to the unspeakable antiquity of man. The Nampe image, the oldest relic yet discovered, "revolutionizes our conception of this early palaeolithic age," being a "more artistic and better representation of the human form than the little idols of many comparatively modern and civilized people," very like those in Mexico, "believed to be not much older than the date of the Spanish conquest"—"and in truth, I believe, contemporaneous." [104]

As to his treatment of the Bible, it evinces everywhere the crudest anthropomorphic method of interpretation such as we should expect to find in a child or very ignorant person. In truth, Mr. Laing is in a perfectly childish state of mind both as regards the Christian religion and as regards philosophy, sciences, and all the subjects he dabbles with.

For our own part we have at most a general idea as to what exactly the Church does teach or may teach with regard to the interpretation of the Scripture. That she has so far acquiesced in the larger interpretation of Genesiacal cosmogony, that now the literal six-day theory would be very unsafe, forbids us to judge any present interpretation of other parts by the number, noise, or notoriety of its adherents. The universality of the Deluge is by no means the only tolerable interpretation now; though the doctrine of a partial deluge would have been most unsafe a century ago. All this does not mean giving up the inspiration of the record, but determining gradually what is meant by inspiration and the record. What could be less important to Christian dogma than the date of the Deluge or of Adam's creation? If it were proved that the original text in this point had been hopelessly corrupted, as the discrepancies between the LXX. numbers and the Hebrew hint to be true to some extent, it would not touch the guaranteed integrity of Christian dogma. If Christ is the "son" of David, and Zachaeus is "son" of Abraham, what period may not an apparent single generation stand for, especially in regard to the earlier Patriarchs? As far as the prophetic import of the Deluge is concerned, a very small local affair might be mystically large with foreshadowings, as we see with regard to the enacted prophecies of the later prophets. For the rest, we are quite weary of Mr. Laing, and are content to have shown that everywhere he is the same biassed, inconsequent, untrustworthy writer. His only power is a certain superficial clearness of diction and brilliancy of style, and this is brought to bear on a mass of information drawn confessedly from the labours of others, and selected in the interest of a foregone conclusion, without a single attempt at a fair presentment of the other side.

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