IT had fallen to the lot of the Gadarene pigs to reduce the argument of the sanctity of the scriptural texts to the ridiculous. Orthodox and non-orthodox had come to see that the book that had so long served to negate reason and obstruct intellectual advance, that for nearly two thousand years had been the source of such bloodlettings, bonfires, imprisonments, tortures, persecutions, wars of 'conversion' and mad crusades as would have astonished a pagan people, was a collection of myths, anecdotes and genealogies, with but a few credible fragments of history interspersed, compiled in a grossly superstitious age and laden with the superstition of its time. It had been written not to edify historians of the future but to gain converts to the new faith or confirm the convictions of those already won. By current literary rules no moral compunctions had restrained its authors from presenting their work under the name of some distinguished character in history or legend, or from interpolating in the works of others. As literature, its best portions had been exceeded in quality, as Gibbon had emphasized, by much in the literature of the Greeks, and, as latterly was being discovered, at least equalled by the still more ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic, while many if not most of its estimable moral precepts were the heritage of pagan or Jewish thought.
Christianity was now faced with a question: without the Bible could there be religion of any sort? The situation for Catholicism was well summarized by John Henry Newman on the eve of his elevation to the College of Cardinals. Newman's religious life began when, at the age of fifteen, he experienced 'conversion,' an incident that he always regarded as 'more certain than that he had hands and feet.' As an evangelical Calvinist, he held that the pope was Antichrist. He attended Oxford, the redoubt of theology, and was ordained at nineteen. At twenty-two he quarreled with the college authorities over nonconformist practices and dissociated himself from the Low Church party, but at twenty-seven, after visiting Rome, he described the Roman Catholic religion as 'polytheistic, degrading and idolatrous.' Nevertheless, always moving toward the Anglican church as a via media between Protestantism and Catholicism, and defending the basic and seemingly necessary principle of apostolic succession, he was vigorously examining, in his Tracts for the Times, the applicability of this principle to the Anglican church itself. It seemed doubtful, in view of the history of the institution established by Henry VIII, that the Anglicans could by any deviously argued episcopal succession lay claim to the heritage which Jesus has transmitted to Peter. Retiring to monastic seclusion at thirty-seven, Newman published two years later a retraction of all the hard things he had said of Rome, and at forty was received into the Catholic Church, in which he was shortly ordained and awarded the degree of D.D. (1846) by the pope. At the age of seventy-four, when he was elevated to the rank of cardinal (1879), he looked back upon the serried history of fifty years with discouragement:
For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted, to the best of my powers, the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did the Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when alas! it is an error overspreading as a snare the whole earth .... Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another; and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with the teaching of any religion as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, as all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.
Religion is [now] in no sense the bond of society. Hitherto the civil power has been Christian .... Now everywhere that goodly frame of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone or is going everywhere, and by the end of the century, unless the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten. Hitherto it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure the submission of the mass of the population to law and order. Now, philosophers and politicians are bent on satisfying this problem without the aid of Christianity ....
The general character of this great apostasy is one and the same everywhere .... For myself, I would rather speak of it in my own country, which I know. There, I think, it threatens to have a formidable success, though it is not easy to see what will be its ultimate issue. At first sight it might be thought that Englishmen are too religious for a movement which on the Continent seems to be founded on infidelity; but the misfortune with us is that, though it ends in infidelity, as in other places, it does not necessarily arise out of infidelity.
Newman's faith has been summed up in the statement that he who lacks an interior and unmeasured conviction of the existence of God must remain agnostic; he who has the conviction has gripped the supreme truth and is bound by history and by reason to place himself in the Church of Rome. This flight from all that is meaningful, this pietistic effort to escape from an edifice crumbling under the impact of reason into a haven of blind faith, has been described by one critic as 'the second childhood of the religious temperament.' But in his retreat from the world he could neither understand nor face courageously, he had a prophetic moment when he foresaw a 'stern encounter when two real and living principles, simple, entire and consistent, one in the Church, the other out of it, at length rush upon one another, contending not for names and words and half-views, but for elementary notions and distinctive moral characters.' The two principles, he said, are 'Catholic truth and Rationalism.'
The case for Protestant orthodoxy was as well summarized by James Martineau, a Presbyterian divine who for many years as a professor of moral philosophy at Manchester New College had fended for Christianity against all dissolving ideas. In The Seat of Authority of Religion (1890) he thus summed up the position of the established creed:
As I look back on the foregoing discussion, a conclusion is forced upon me which I cannot dwell without pain and dismay; viz., that Christianity, as defined or understood in all the churches which formulate it, has been mainly evolved from that which is unhistorical and perishable in its sources; from what is unhistorical in its traditions, mythological in its preconceptions, and misapprehended in the oracles of its prophets. From the fable of Eden to the imagination of the last trumpet, the whole story of the divine order of the world is dislocated and deformed.
The blight of birth-sin with its involuntary perdition; the scheme of expiatory redemption with its vicarious salvation; the incarnation, with its low postulates of the relation between God and man, and the unworkable doctrines of two natures in one person ... the official transmission of grace ... the second coming ... all are the growth of a mythical literature, or Messianic dreams, or Pharisaic theology, sacramental superstition, or popular apotheosis. And so nearly do these vain imaginations preoccupy the creeds that not a moral or spiritual element finds entrance there except the forgiveness of sins.
To consecrate and diffuse, under the name of 'Christianity,' a theory of the world's economy thus made up of illusions from obsolete stages of civilization, immense resources, material and moral, are expended, with effect no less deplorable in the province of religion than would be, in that of science, hierarchies and missions for propagating the Ptolemaic astronomy, and inculcating the rules of necromancy and exorcism. The spreading alienation of the intellectual classes of European society from Christendom, and the detention of the rest in their spiritual culture at a level not much above that of the Salvation Army, are social phenomena which ought to bring home a very solemn appeal to the consciences of ordinary churches.
The single 'moral or spiritual' element in Martineau's creed, the 'forgiveness of sins,' was but an attempt to keep the creed alive by the ancient Memphite lucubration, 'Life is given to him who does what is loved [by the gods], death is given to him who does what is hated.' His summary, intended to be a challenge to the dogmatic faith, proved to be its epitaph.
In endeavoring to salvage some residue of belief, Martineau sought the usual compromise: 'I rest with peace and hope: viz., that Christianity, understood as the personal religion of Jesus Christ, stands clear of all the perishable elements, and realizes the true relation between man and God .... Religion is the right attitude of the soul to the Infinite.' In the conflicting morality of the gospels a precedent could be established for any course of conduct not actually prohibited by Jewish-Roman law, and for many courses that were prohibited. That modern civilization should depend for its ethics on the 'personal religion' of a man who had lived in times of deepest superstition and ignorance, if indeed he had lived at all, and not one of whose 'personal' teachings could be authenticated in the maze of gospel fabrications, represented the abandonment of reason. It had been to Martineau himself that William Knight, twenty years before, had pointed to the fact that throughout the gospels Jesus talks as a God, and that if he were not such he was 'unveracious, egotistic, domineering, vain toward his contemporaries, arrogant towards posterity. He is now unworthy of the respect of Christendom, if he is not worthy of its devotion.' 'Religion is the right attitude of the soul to the Infinite' -- the desperate, meaningless cry of a lost soul sinking into intellectual chaos. It was said facetiously of Spencer that he 'had a prodigious knowledge of the Unknowable,' but Spencer never proposed to construct a moral code upon it.
This countersense of 'abstract religion' upon which Martineau would have founded a new ethic had been tried long since by others. An essentially deskeletonized form of Christianity had arisen under the name of deism when, shortly after the Reformation, a few thinkers had rebelled against the multiplicity of sects which continuously fought with each other over fine points of dogma. The destruction of the Catholic faith had promoted the etherealization of the Christian deity, as the destruction of the Temple had etherealized Yahweh; the deists accepted that there was a God, that he was to be worshiped, and that worship consists of virtue and piety; they believed in sin and future rewards and punishments; but otherwise they rejected all Christian tenets pertaining to the supernatural, including the supernatural Christology. By slow degrees, marked chiefly by the abandonment of the theory of eternal punishment and of belief in the efficacy of prayer and ritual, deism moved toward the still more vague theism that accepted the existence of a God, but a God who was so remote as to be beyond human exploration, and who, having set the universe to spinning, had left it to run in a lawful manner and without his immediate attention or repeated interference.
As early as 1678, Cudworth, an English divine who would have built a fortress to protect Christianity against all dangerous theories, had argued the matter out in his Intellectual System of the Universe. Deity is either interested in the activity of the universe, or he is not; either he is immanent in nature and constantly engaged with its detailed sequences, or the process has been started and left to run in the wholly nonpersonal manner in which the planets wheel about the sun. To Cudworth it seemed that the notion of deity perpetually controlling nature in every detail and forever absorbed with its minutiae was not 'decorous,' as it 'would render divine Providence operose, solicitous and distractious.' He accordingly preferred the pagan view that deity had implanted in nature a nonpersonal power to run it without the aid of divine interference, a power that could commit 'errors and bungles' which Omnipotence would not permit.
Now, how much worse the problem when creation itself was continuous and involved an infinitude of 'divine natural selections' which, as judged by the standard of survival, led in the vast majority of the creative efforts only to failure. All fossil species and the lower animals, including the apes, were 'trial models' bespeaking in human terms very inept workmanship. For this and other reasons the theists elected the nonimmanent view, even though this demanded abandoning prayer and providence, since if deity is not present in nature and does not interfere in its operations prayer is useless and intervention impossible. The Reverend Ralph Cudworth himself had been charged with atheism because prayer to a nonpersonal mechanism was absurdity.
Some variety of theism had claimed many prominent men of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, among them, Erasmus Darwin and Robert Owen, the social reformer. In America, Franklin, Washington and Jefferson were all self-pronounced theists, and Madison, Wilson, and Monroe were probably not much more orthodox. Washington openly avoided church services and refused the Eucharist, while Jefferson made disbelief a fashionable heresy. Emerson abandoned the Unitarian pulpit in 1832 because he was deficient in the dogma of even that attenuated faith, and he dared tell a large audience in his essay on 'Self-Reliance' that 'As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.' If Voltaire could be classified, it would be among the theists, and his works were included, even if bound under false covers, in the library of most English clerics with literary tastes. The restoration of Catholicism among freethinking Frenchmen after the Revolution had in no small measure been a theistic compromise, rather than a victory of orthodoxy, and in both England and America the theistic trend had, in the first quarter of the century, sent increasing numbers into Unitarianism, the tenets of which were a compromise between liberal orthodoxy and theistic vagueness.
In the middle of the nineteenth century Auguste Comte, the author of positivism, would have abandoned all supernatural theology and in its place have erected a system in which humanity was conceived as a Great Being, a Superorganism or a Superpersonality to be worshiped with appropriate sacraments, prayers, and reverent signs, and even with the invocation of a New Trinity. The service was to be celebrated by the reading of texts from the French instead of the Hebrew prophets; in the church calendar the names of men who had made great contributions to human welfare were to take the places of many of the saints. The adoration of humanity evoked in Comte and his followers an emotional rapture not distantly removed from Christian ecstasy. On the warrant, perhaps justifiable, of history, philosophy and biology, positivism attributed to women a superior role in the new religion as mediators en rapport with the Great Being, giving them the veritable status of angelic beings, one of whom was assigned to every man as a moral guardian. 'This moral guardianship,' Comte wrote, 'may assume three types -- the mother, the wife and daughter; each having several modifications, as shown in the concluding volume. Together they form the three modes of solidarity, or unity with contemporaries -- obedience, union and protection -- as well as the three degrees of continuity between ages, by uniting us with the past, the present and the future. In accordance with my theory of the brain, each corresponds with one of our three altruistic instincts -- veneration, attachment and benevolence.'
Huxley called positivism 'Catholicism minus Christianity'; the positivists retorted that it was 'Catholicism plus Science.' The retort was unconvincing and the religion of Humanity drew few important followers.
Theism failed because, when followed through by the rules of consistency, the road led to Spencer's Unknowable or to Martineau's Infinite -- both, so far as theology was concerned, designating something without any ascertainable attributes and therefore nothing at all, a mere vacuum; or else it led back to the starting point, to the anthropomorphic god of Christianity, interfering constantly in the cosmic plan, creating and governing by a laborious trial and error method which, even if 'decorous,' was yet 'operose, solicitous and distractious.' Theism proved that man could not lose his god and keep him, too.
In the broader view, the failure of theism, the most attenuated form and the last outpost of theology, revealed that man was presented with the choice of two disciplines to guide him: either he could live by faith that had its roots in intuitive impulse and vested tradition, or he could plan his life in accordance with objective evidence and verifiable experience. As against Paul's vision of the cross as a supernatural token of life's meaning, he must weigh the empirical, naturalistic code of the astronomers, geologists and biologists, abandoning entirely all transcendental speculation.
It had been argued that a religious impulse of some sort is universally present in man, and that it must therefore be accredited as possessing significance and validity. The argument was, however, a misstatement of fact. Primitive cultures are generally in error in their interpretation of the sequence of cause and effect in nature, attributing all manner of events to invisible beings simply through ignorance of the more reliable and confirmable sequences which impersonal naturalism has supplied. The errors of untutored man cannot be advanced as evidence of anything other than his ignorance. At a more sophisticated level, the majority of individuals assessed by history as having possessed outstanding intellects were either irreligious by the current code or were endeavoring to correct one or another error engendered by that code. Examination of any period of history reveals that universality of religious 'impulse' is as much a fiction as universality of a hypothetical 'impulse to heresy.'
It had been argued that reason and intellect are imperfect instruments for the discovery of truth. Earl Balfour, in his Foundations of Belief (1895), contended that other sources of belief, such as feeling, na´ve conviction, impulse, intuition, must also be given weight. But Balfour's assumption reduced to the formula 'Your personal psychic craving shall be cosmic truth,' thus validating atheism and theism alike, as well as polytheism, animism, cannibalism and all other varieties of belief. Moreover Balfour assumed that the 'evidences' on which the naturalists based their conclusions were gained by the same intuitive process as afforded the religionist his convictions, ignoring the fact that the naturalists set as their first test the verifiability of their beliefs, intuitive and otherwise. Their conclusions were not 'founded on reason' (in the manner of medieval dialectic) but upon sequences and correspondences in nature; reason was for them only a method of utilizing the data which had been afforded by the senses through the systematic and unprejudiced examination of facts as they are, always supplemented by re-examination in order that errors arising from intuition or in other mental operations might be eliminated. The personal satisfaction afforded by a proposition was no evidence of its validity, nor was the intensity of feeling or conviction with which the proposition was personally held. Indeed, the naturalists held to no system of naturalism, but only to the belief that the empirical procedure of exploration and verification was the only known, reliable method of discovering truth. To form a belief concerning Earl Balfour, for example, by intuition must certainly lead to a different and less reliable opinion than to utilize the naturalists' critical and exploratory method.
It had been argued that fundamentally there was no true conflict between religion and the naturalistic code. The argument was true only in the sense of Gladstone's sardonic epigram: 'there are two sides to my house, and we will divide them: you shall take the outside.' Naturalism was not this or that special theory or petty principle; it was a belief in the uniformity of nature and in the unity of life as a part of nature -- call it materialism, mechanism, atomism, physicalism, naturalism, or what one will. Clifford had defined the 'inside of the house' when he said 'The subject of science is the human universe; that is to say, everything that is, or has been, or may be related to man.' Tyndall, in his 'Belfast Address' two years later, put it more succinctly: 'We claim, and we shall wrest from theology, the entire domain of cosmological theory.' Naturalism and religion were in every sense utterly irreconcilable: all history testified that the house could not be divided except as in Gladstone's epigram.
It was argued that the immutable laws of nature demonstrated the existence of a truth that lay beyond nature's flux. But truth itself needed to be redefined. Locke in his Essay on the Human Understanding (1690), asked, What is truth? and dissecting his own innermost thoughts and convictions, turned reason upon itself. He concluded that there is nothing in the mind except what is first in the senses; at birth the mind is a clean sheet, and then sensory experience writes upon it a manifold record the retention of which begets memory, and memory begets ideas. Hence mind is but the product of the subtle play of senses, nerves and brain. We can, therefore, know nothing but matter, and nothing about God except as he manifests himself in matter.
To which Bishop Berkeley replied that if all knowledge is derived from sensation, a 'thing' is merely a bundle of sensory perceptions, a condition or activity of the mind. All 'matter' is therefore a mental image and the only reality is mind itself. We create the world by seeing it.
Hume in his Treatise on Human Nature (1739) rebutted Berkeley with the argument that we know mind itself only as we perceive our subjective ideas, memories, feelings: what we call mind is not an entity, but only an abstract name for the series of ideas, memories and feelings which, occurring in close temporal association, give a false appearance of continuity, or of existing in a continuum. As Aristotle denied the reality of Platonic universals in favor of particular objects, so Hume denied the reality of mind as existing apart from individual sensations.
When Kant read Hume's works he was shocked and, he said, roused from the 'dogmatic slumber' in which he had previously accepted without question both the 'truths' of religion and of natural philosophy. Kant had so suffered from theology in his youth that he avoided church all through his adult life, but he remained a nonsubscribing mystic of the Neoplatonic mold. In his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) he attempted to refute Hume's materialism by asserting that some knowledge, the really important kind of knowledge, comes to man independently of any sensory experience: it is inherent in the nature of the mind. The mind is neither a blank tablet upon which sensation and experience make their important marks, nor yet a mere name for a series of mental impressions, but an 'organ' that creatively molds the raw materials afforded by the senses into sequences of space and time, and into such categories as 'relatedness,' 'unity,' 'cause and effect,' and 'necessity.' The world as we know it is a construction to which the mind has contributed as much as the organs of sense, and we know nothing certain about the world since we perceive only the finished product which the mind supplies us. The moon is real, yes, and exists independently of our seeing it, but for us the moon is at best merely our idea. Man can not perceive reality, or ever know its nature, but only its appearances.
The 'invisible' objects of faith -- the immortal soul, the benevolent creator -- are sheer fabrications of the mind and hence beyond proof or understanding, and to argue whether they are true or not is meaningless. Heine compared Kant to Robespierre, who had killed the king and a few thousand Frenchmen, with this difference, that Kant had killed God and all men's hopes that rested on theology.
Those features, Kant argued, which the mind imposes on sensory data represent 'principles' or a priori 'truths' which we must recognize as existing independently of our perceiving them; they are 'categories' of knowledge which are absolute and indestructible. Such absolute categories, for example, are represented by mathematical statements. Three times three will always be nine, whether we see nine objects before us or not, and indeed whether we know how to multiply or not. This truth is independent of all experience. Perhaps we must discover it through experience, but having once discovered it we recognize that it existed before we had experience of it, and that it will never cease to be true.
As mathematics represents one type of a priori truth, so do certain moral laws. A man can tell a lie, but he cannot will that lying shall become a universal law of behavior, for if this came to pass there would be no promises the fulfillment of which was to be expected, and hence there could be no lie. Hence there exist both an a priori appreciation that a lie is 'wrong,' since it is a mode of action unacceptable as a universal law of action, and an a priori impulse to avoid lying. Thus moral, like mathematical, truths are innate; Kant called them absolute or categorical imperatives. And thus did Kant prove the freedom of the will, for how could we ever imagine that we can make a choice between lying and not lying, unless we are free to choose our course of action? And thus did he prove immortality, for in a world where the wicked are rewarded as frequently, and sometimes more frequently, than the good, why should we feel impelled to obey the moral law unless it is to profit in another world? And thus did he prove the existence of God, since immortality itself requires the existence of a Cause adequate to such a transcendant effect.
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is historically important because it threw the philosophy of the nineteenth century into a state of temporary confusion. That it failed to prove its cardinal point, the existence of a priori truths, rapidly became clear. If there were no promises the fulfillment of which was to be expected, 'lying' would indeed be a universal law of action, and by Kant's own criterion lying would now be moral, and it would be truth that would be immoral.
Kant started from the postulate, as it were, of the absolute verity of certain types of knowledge, and to prove the postulate he argued the absolute verity of mathematics -- without, however, consulting the mathematicians. Regardless of whether or not a man knows how to multiply, he can demonstrate that the 'absolute truth' that three times three equals nine is a tautology, simply a statement in keeping with the rules by which nine objects are originally counted up to nine. A man need but count out 'nine' objects and divide them into 'three' groups each containing the same 'number' of objects, and then name them over again, to discover that whether he counts all the objects seriatim or counts anyone of the identical groups 'three' times, he will arrive at the same final word 'nine,' for no better reason than that he called the last in 'three' groups of 'three' objects each 'nine' in the initial process of counting. Nine is the formal (according-to-the-rules) product of the sequence of three objects counted three times, in exactly the same sense as 'toe' and 'go' are the formal products of the sequence that starts 'eeny, meeny, miny, moe.' No more does the statement three times three equals nine come from heaven than does the nursery rhyme.
It was after Kant's time that the formal nature of mathematics came to be fully realized. As late as 1870 Edward Everett could write: 'In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there, when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven.' This effulgent definition could, however, have come only from one who, like Kant, was not trained in mathematics, as other radiant conceptions of the mystical significance of numbers had been promulgated by persons who, however expert in other fields, knew so little of mathematics that they did not know how little they really knew.
In 1830 Peacock recognized that algebraic formulas are purely formal -- empty of everything but the rules according to which they are combined. David Hilbert later defined all mathematics as a game played according to certain simple rules with meaningless marks on paper. In every game the first rule of all is that the 'rules' must be observed, otherwise there would be no game, and the second is that none of the rules shall present internal contradictions, otherwise the game will end either in nonsensical futility or in self-paralysis. In mathematics the most fundamental rules are the so-called axioms (axioma, a necessary or self-evident truth) or postulates (postulatum, a basis of argument); Euclid believed that his geometric axioms were indeed self-evident truths, but when mathematicians discovered that they were neither self-evident nor necessarily true, they more properly identified them as postulates, i.e., rules which for the sake of the game are to be accepted without argument. In the game of chess it is a postulate that a knight can move in only such-and-such a manner, and it would be a very theologically-minded chess player who would argue that this postulate was a God-created truth, innately given to the mind, or impressing itself as a categorical necessity upon the chess player.
Mathematicians soon convinced themselves that they could never know whether a particular set of postulates were even self-consistent and free of contradiction, much less whether any one postulate in the set were true. Between the time of Everett and the turn of the century, Peacock, Hilbert, Gregory, Hamilton, Pierre de Morgan and others reduced the absolutism of mathematics to nihil; over two hundred systems of algebra, in addition to 'common algebra,' had been produced out of an alleged 'theoretical total of 1152 systems' (the figure 1152 has, however, no mystical significance); Lobachewsky had shown the arbitrary nature of the Euclidian postulate regarding parallel lines, while Cayley, Klein and Riemann had enlarged geometry from three dimensions to n dimensions, where n is any whole, positive, finite number; and others had resolved the geometry of an infinity of dimensions, which subsequently proved to be extremely useful in the study of the structure of the atom. 'Mathematicians are like lovers,' said Fontenelle, 'grant a mathematician the least principle, and he will draw from this consequence another.'
At the end of the century Bertrand Russell could say, 'mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true,' which is only a sardonic way of saying that the mathematician's 'meaningless marks on paper' represent a game which has not and can never have any metaphysical significance, no matter how great its practical usefulness as a form of intellectual shorthand.
So much for the 'absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together' -- and so much for Kant's a priori truths of space, time, necessity and the like, under the guidance of which the mind operates upon and molds sensory data; and so much, too, for the innate moral sense, the categorical imperative, the proofs of immortality, and of God. Not one of Kant's proofs but could be shown to rest upon an unproved postulate, including his distinction between the thing-in-itself and our perception of it.
After Locke, Hume and Kant, the theory of knowledge, or the relationship of the perceiving mind to the perceived cosmos, could never again be na´vely analytic. The mind versus body problem, as a problem, was well stated by the physicist, John Tyndall, who in his Belfast address (1874) constructed an imaginary conversation between Bishop Joseph Butler and a disciple of Lucretius, and put the following argument into the mouth of the prelate: ' "Thus far our way is clear, but now comes my difficulty. Your atoms are individually without sensation, much more are they without intelligence. May I ask you, then, to try your hand upon this problem. Take your dead hydrogen atoms, your dead oxygen atoms, your dead carbon atoms, your dead nitrogen atoms, your dead phosphorus atoms, and all the other atoms, dead as grains of shot, of which the brain is formed. Imagine them separate and sensationless; observe them running together and forming all imaginable combinations. This, as a purely mechanical process, is seeable by the mind. But can you see, or dream, or in any way imagine, how out of that mechanical act, and from these individually dead atoms, sensation, thought, and emotion are to rise? Are you likely to extract Homer out of the rattling of dice, or the Differential Calculus out of the clash of billiard balls? ... I can follow a particle of musk until it reaches the olfactory nerve; I can follow the waves of sound until their tremors reach the water of the labyrinth, and set the otoliths and Corti's fibres in motion; I can also visualise the waves of ether as they cross the eye and hit the retina. Nay, more, I am able to pursue to the central organ the motion thus imparted at the periphery, and to see in idea the very molecules of the brain thrown into tremors. My insight is not baffled by these physical processes. What baffles and bewilders me is the notion that from these physical tremors things so utterly incongruous with them as sensation, thought, and emotion can be derived." '
This direct approach to the heart of the problem did not, unfortunately, in TyndalI's time, characterize the general discussion on this problem. The incorruptible soul of theology had long given support to the belief in something which may be called mind, for practical purposes denoting consciousness or the capacity for consciousness, and conscious action was in turn deeply entangled in the theological doctrine of 'free will.' When Descartes first crudely formulated the interpretation, which from his time on came to be known as 'mechanism,' wherein causal sequences coupled by inevitability were taken to be the universal law throughout animate and inanimate nature, the force of theologic animus was such that he dared not apply the concept of determinism to the human intellect; he posited that thought is the essence of the soul and that the thinking substance is therefore wholly and generically different from that of the body; he coupled the immaterial soul to the body by means of the pineal gland, this organ having no other known function, and in this way made it possible for the soul to operate the body and to receive sensory impressions. Although Descartes was anathema to theology, his mechanistic conception of soul as something different from but functionally coupled with the body gave the theologians a vulgar victory and thenceforth all human behavior was attributed to a free will which not even the most liberal Christian would have attributed to a tiger or even to an amiable and intelligent chimpanzee.
The most astonishing logical paradox ever to be cherished by man is presented in the circumstance that the theologists, convinced that God in his omnipotence had predetermined the fate of every man, and in his omniscience had from the beginning of time foreseen that fate, should yet hold to the belief that he nevertheless holds every man responsible for his action, rewarding him either with eternal beatitude or eternal punishment. For theology the invention of free will to which culpability could be assigned only formalized the complete abandonment of reason in order to keep the system in operation.
To challenge 'free will' was to challenge the foundations not only of orthodox theology, but in large measure of all transcendentalism. If human decisions, however directly or deviously arrived at, were 'determined' solely by pre-existing knowledge, predilections, predispositions, emotions, memories, desires, by any or all of the multiplicity of mental images afforded to consciousness by the external and internal organs of sense, then it followed that an individual elects one course of action in preference to another, not by 'willful choice,' but simply because consciousness presents a balance positively weighted on the side of the selected action. Hence personal culpability would cease to exist, divine punishment and reward would be both monstrous and absurd, morality would be a convention, sin would be an arbitrary condemnation, the grace of the church would be superfluous and that institution could better devote itself to liberal education.
For the naturalists, free will was a countersense, a verbal contradiction. To 'will' is to choose a course of action in which more than one course is potentially presented, and to choose one course of action as opposed to another requires not only knowledge of alternatives, but reason for the choice. Decision (de + caedere, to cut off) without reference to cause or consequence of that which is rejected or accepted could only refer to an act occurring in a referential vacuum, and if such could be conceived it could only be designated as an action issuing from nothing at all, ab nihilo, from absolute ignorance. Since willing can never be free of knowledge of either cause or consequence, it can never be free at all. Spencer's definition of will as an abstract term indicating the sum of active impulses may be added to Hume's definition of mind as an abstract term indicating the series of ideas, memories and feelings which appear in consciousness, and both definitions merely supplement Locke's position, that we should not debate whether our 'will' is free but whether 'we' are free, since freedom is only the conscious recognition that in pursuing a certain course of action, we may, if we choose, elect a different one. This element of consciousness, the recognition of the power of election, is the capstone of the deterministic pattern of idea, memory and feeling which comprises mind. He who has realized it has touched the limits of his freedom.
When Huxley delivered his lecture 'On the Hypothesis that Animals Are Automata, and Its History,' at the Belfast meeting of the British Association in 1874, he rejected 'free will' as utterly senseless, but found himself reduced to the conclusion that consciousness is completely inefficacious as a determinant of willing, and hence of action. He likened consciousness to the whistle of a locomotive, the shriek of which is without influence on the machinery, or to the sound that a clock bell gives off when it is struck, which is without influence on the time-keeping mechanism. He stated that thought is similarly a byproduct of the brain and without influence on the brain's decisions. He turned for illustration to Cabanis, physician, psychologist and colleague of Laplace, misquoting this writer to the effect that the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile. Had he gone back and read Cabanis carefully, it is possible that he would not have come to this conclusion, for what that physician actually wrote was that 'impressions reaching the brain, set it into activity, as aliments reaching the stomach excite it to a more abundant secretion of gastric juice .... The function proper to the first is to perceive particular impressions, to attach to them signs, to combine different impressions, to separate them, to draw from them judgments and [new] determinations, as the function of the second is to act on nutritive substances.' Only after this definition does there come the disproportionally crude metaphor, 'The brain in a manner digests impressions and makes organically [dynamically?] the secretion [existence?] of thought.'
Cabanis's definition needs no qualification: to receive particular impressions from the senses, to attach to them signs of affective or other qualities, to combine impressions from different senses associated with a particular stimulus, to form judgments by integrating all the related records, past and present, and lastly to present in the finally integrated picture a 'determination,' either not to act, or to act in some now 'determined' manner, comprises an adequate definition of consciousness either as objectively studied or subjectively perceived; and thus defined, consciousness appears to be the determinant of behavior in the conscious animal. As the determinant of behavior it possesses supreme biological value, its superior acuity of focus and capacity for multiple integration in man distinguishing him from all other animals.
Huxley, in setting consciousness aside functionally as an 'epiphenomenon,' was moved to do so perhaps by the conflict between his warrantable conviction in the principle of causality and the, for him, inescapable implications of the term 'free will.' Tyndall sought another and, for its time, more satisfactory position. In the presidential address to the Mathematical and Physical section of the British Association, in 1868, an address entitled 'Scientific Materialism,' he had occasion to remark, 'I hardly imagine there exists a profound scientific thinker, who has reflected upon the subject, unwilling to admit the extreme probability of the hypothesis, that for every fact of consciousness, whether in the domain of sense, thought, or emotion, a definite molecular condition, of motion or structure, is set up in the brain; or who would be disposed even to deny that if the motion, or structure, be induced by internal causes instead of external, the effect on consciousness will be the same?' Consciousness and brain are linked together, but we do not know why. 'Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem.'
Tyndall's difficulty, 'that from these [atomic] physical tremors things so utterly incongruous with them as sensation, thought, and emotion can be derived,' could not be resolved in terms of nineteenth century physics, physiology or philosophy. But Tyndall was not too satisfied with nineteenth century atoms and molecules. 'Those who framed these definitions of matter,' he remarked in his Belfast lecture, 'were but partial students. They were not biologists, but mathematicians, whose labours referred only to such accidents and properties of matter as could be expressed in their formulae. Their science was mechanical science, not the science of life. With matter in its wholeness they never dealt; and, denuded by their imperfect definitions, "the gentle mother of all" becomes the object of her children's dread. Let us reverently, but honestly, look the question in the face. Divorced from matter, where is life? Whatever our faith may say, our knowledge shows them to be indissolubly joined .... By a necessity engendered and justified by science I cross the boundary of the experimental evidence [this mode of procedure was not invented in Belfast, Tyndall notes parenthetically], and discern in that Matter which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial Life.' And later, in replying to criticisms leveled against this lecture by Martineau, 'the Power whom Goethe does not dare to name, and whom Gassendi and Clerk Maxwell present to us under the guise of a "Manufacturer" of atoms, turns out annually, for England and Wales alone, a quarter of a million of new souls. Taken in connection with the dictum of Mr. Carlyle, that this annual increment to our population are "mostly fools," but little profit to the human heart seems derivable from this mode of regarding the Divine operations.' The alternative view is that the human egg, as 'matter,' when fertilized in the womb develops in nine months all the marvelous organs of the newborn child. 'Matter I define as that mysterious thing by which all this is accomplished. How it came to have this power is a question on which I never ventured an opinion. If, then Matter starts as "a beggar," it is in my view, because the Jacobs of theology have deprived it of its birthright. Mr. Martineau need fear no disenchantment. Theories of evolution go but a short way towards the explanation of this mystery; the ages, let us hope, will at length give us a Poet competent to deal with it aright .... I look, however, forward to the time when the strength, insight, and elevation which now visit us in mere hints and glimpses, during moments "of clearness and vigour," shall be the stable and permanent possession of purer and mightier minds than ours -- purer and mightier, partly because of their deeper knowledge of matter and their more faithful conformity to its laws.'
'Definitions,' said Holyoake, 'grow as the horizon of experience expands. They are not inventions, but descriptions of the state of a question.' Consciousness or mind could be only roughly defined in the nineteenth century, but the state of the question had been succinctly pointed a hundred years before by Bishop Butler who, clearly seeing that the best arguments in favor of the immateriality of the mind applied with equal force to brutes and men, boldly embraced the whole animal world in his scheme of immortality. He would have nought to do with a theory of the human mind that could not encompass all other sentient creatures.
Had Platonic idealism not been negated by innumerable other considerations, it would be rendered untenable by this principle of pan-psychology. In its fundamental meaning, reality (res, thing) consists of the truth of what we perceive, whether we be apes or men. No two men's realities are necessarily identical, yet they may be equally (if not absolutely) true. The 'reality' was 'true' before Galileo's time that the full moon was a silver disklike light in the dark blue sky; the 'reality' was equally 'true' through Galileo's telescope that the moon was a great spherical body shining by reflected light, marked by vast mountains and possessing a dark hemisphere which men had never seen; and the 'reality' was 'true' for the astronomers who followed Galileo that the moon was a cold, spherical satellite of earth, like earth composed of atomic rocks and minerals, and, in Laplace's terms, a product of cosmic evolution. Yet it has never been true for any generation of men that the moon is made of green cheese. In assessing the nature of the moon the standard of truth is verifiability in terms of total experience: truth is opinion demonstrated by test to correspond with nature. The disklike light, the dark and spherical body, the cold, atomistic satellite, are all equally true because they are all consonant with total available experience. Everything is at least what it is given in experience, though of course it may be, and probably generally is, much more than it is empirically found to be. To quote Clifford again, truth is 'not that which we can ideally contemplate without error, but that which we may act upon without fear.'
In his search for truth, for realia, man had come to accept some certitudes: that the moon moves around the earth, that the earth moves around the sun, and that all three bodies are of great antiquity; that Eve was not created from Adam's rib; that Hebrew was not the language of the first man and woman; that Noah did not take a pair of every kind of animal into the ark with him; that fossil fishes were not deposited on the mountains by the Flood; that there are people living at the antipodes walking heels over head, and that they have never heard Christ's message; that lightning is neither the wrath of God nor Satan's thunderbolt -- and there are many others.
The truth-of-correspondence code prided itself, not on making errors, but on the tentative nature of its conclusions, knowing that first conclusions are more apt than not to be in error, and confident that what is tentative and approximate today will be less tentative and less approximate tomorrow.
This truth had no all-containing gospel. There was infinitely less of it available than remained to be discovered. It had no infallible oracles, no hierophants pledged to guard it, no irrefragable canons. It was nonsectarian and was 'approximated to even on the side which it declaims as error -- that from men committed to grave error come truthful contributions.' It recognized but one authority -- in the words of Robertson, who was paraphrasing countless philosophers who through centuries had striven to increase its measure -- it was 'the code of minds which realize that truth is the outcome of the general deed of man, and not the discovery of any gifted egoist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke-wreaths and pretending to decide things out of his private dream.'