Luther A Fox.

Evidence of a future life : from reason and revelation online

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that region fully believe in the soul's continued
existence apart from the body, and they visit the
graves of relatives, making offerings of food, beer,
etc."* Kolben, quoted by Prichard and endorsed
by Quatrefages as above suspicion, writes of the:
Hottentots : "That they believe in the immortality
of the soul seems evident, i. They offer prayer to^
good Hottentots who have died. 2. They are
apprehensive of the return of departed spirits. 3.
They believe that witches have power to restrain

In Western Africa are the people of Guinea,
who are placed very low in the scale of intelli-
gence. Oldendorp, also quoted by Prichard, says:
"There is scarcely a nation in Guinea which
does not believe in the immortality of the soul,
and that after its separation from the body it has
certain necessities, performs actions, and especi-
ally is capable of happiness or misery. The
negroes believe almost universally that the souls
of good men after their separation from the body
go to God, and the wicked to the evil spirits." I

* Travels, p. 686.
' t Natural History of Man, Vol. II, p. 688.
JDo., p. 705.


Purches wrote in 1625, "We asked them what
became of the soul when the body dies. They
made answer that when they die they know that
they go into another world, and that therein they
differ from the brutes."

The Australians are exceedingly low, but
Quatrefages says that they ''believe in a kind
of immortality of the soul, which passes success-
ively from one body to another. But before
finding a new abode the spirit of the dead wanders
for a certain length of time in the forests, and the
natives very often affirm that they have been
seen and heard."* He says that the Tahitans
believed in rewards and punishments after death.
"The chiefs go to Paradise. The others go into
Po, where they have no very decided pleasure or
pain. But the guilty were condemned to un-
dergo a certain number of times a scratching of
flesh upon the bones. The sins expiated, they too
were admitted to Po." f

The Mincopies have been pronounced atheists,
but Symes and Day have shown that they do
worship certain deities, and believe in another
life. "They keep lighted fires under the plat-

* Human Species, p. 487.
t Human Species, p. 489.


form which bears the body of their chief, to
appease his powerful spirit." *

The people of Terra del Fuego did not seem to
Darwin to have any religion, yet they blow into
the air to keep away evil spirits.

This review of the evidence, limited only for
the want of space, is sufficient to prove beyond
question that the belief in a future life is part of
the universal faith of man. We have found it in
the very oldest, and in the most brutal and savage,
as well as in the most enlightened. It has ap-
peared in all ages and conditions. It was promi-
nent in the early dawnings of civilizations, and
asserted itself while men were maintaining the
fiercest struggles for a mere existence. It lingers
even in those people who have become so stupid
as to seem indifferent to it. The universality of
no subjective fact can be more fully established.

Universal beliefs have the guarantees of our
faculties. To discredit them sends us into Pyrrhon-
ism. If we reject one without showing clearly and
precisely the source of the error, we involve all the
others. Philosophers and philosophic thinkers of

* Human Species, p. 480.


all ages have attached a great deal of importance to
them. "What appears to all, that is to be be-
lieved, whereas what is presented to individual
minds is unworthy of belief ' ' (Heraclitus). ' ' What
appears to all, that we affirm to be; and he who
subverts this belief, will himself assuredly advance
nothing more deserving of credit'^ (Aristotle).
"The consent of all races must be regarded the law
of nature." "About that which the nature of all
agrees, it is necessary that it be true" (Cicero).
"It is better to trust all than a few. For individu-
als can be and are deceived. No one deceives all,
and all deceives no one" (Pliny, the younger).
"The common nature of man is neither itself void
of truth, nor is it the erring index of the 'true; in
virtue thereof all men are on certain points mutu-
ally agreed, those only excepted who through pre-
conceived opinions and a desire to follow them out
consistently find themselves compelled verbally to
dissent" (Alexander of Aphrodisias). To these
may be added a large number of other philosophers
of modern times. Adherence to the instinctive be-
liefs constitutes the strength of the Scottish philos-
ophy, and the abandonment of them the weakness
of the German. Kant, after well-nigh wrecking all
philosophy, was compelled to return to them.


Not only philosophers, but all men, hold as true
what has been universally approved. We have the
aphorism: ''The voice of the people is the voice of
God." Hesiod gave utterance to the common
judgment in the lines closing his Work and Days:

"The word proclaimed by the concordant voice
Of mankind fails not; for in man God speaks."

The universal beliefs are somewhat analogous to
instinct, and they have not unfrequently been
called instinctive. The instinct of the animal and
of man does not err, and on the ground of analogy
all the instinctive beliefs must be held as certain.

There are two kinds of universal beliefs. One
class is universal through self-evidence and neces-
sity. We are compelled to think them, to accept
them, whether we will or not. The other class
does not appear so imperiously in our conscious-
ness, and we may throw them off. To this class
belongs the belief in the existence of God and a
future life. We are not guilty of absurdity in deny-
ing the latter class, as in the former. We can
bring proofs for the one, but not for the other. But
as both grow spontaneously out of our nature, in
repudiating the last we in large measure discredit
the first.


This proof of a future existence has a force which
has been felt by those who have denied the doc-
trine, and they have attempted to evade it in two
general ways.

First, they have tried to disprove the fact of the
universality of the belief. The accumulated evi-
dence has put the fact beyond question, for it is
now known that if it is not absolutely universal,
the few exceptions which have appeared or may
hereafter appear are unimportant.

Secondly, they have attempted to prove that the
belief is not natural, but acquired. It has been said
that it originates in the instinctive desire for life.
For self-preservation God gave us a strong love of
life, and this begat and nurtures the belief in a
future life. But this desire is instinctive, and,
accompanied by a belief, becomes a pledge of the
fact. The desire is itself a proof of our immortality.

A far more plausible explanation has been found
in the dreams of the savage age. Our savage
ancestors mistook the vivid subjective realities of
dreams for objective facts, and when they dreamed
of their dead friends they supposed that those
friends really returned to them. Herbert Spencer
proposed this theory, and Mr. Tylor has ably sup-
ported it by facts which his extensive acquaintance


with savage life furnished him. He states the
theory in this way: "What then is this soul
which goes and comes in sleep, trance and death?
To the rude philosopher the question seems to be
answered by the very evidence of the senses.
When the sleeper awakens from dreams he believes
he has somehow really been away, or that other
people have come to him. As it is well known by
experience that men's bodies do not go on these
excursions, the natural explanation is that every
man's living self or soul is his phantom or image,
which can go out of his body and see and be seen
itself in dreams. Even w^aking men, in broad
day-light, see these human phantoms in what are
called visions or hallucinations. They are further
led to believe that the soul does not die with the
body, but lives on after quitting it; for although a
man may be dead and buried, his phantom figure
continues to appear to the survivors in dreams and
visions. That men have such unsubstantial images
belonging to them is familiar in other ways to the
savage philosopher, who has watched their reflec-
tions in still water or their shadows following them
about, fading out of sight to re-appear suddenly
somewhere else, while sometimes for a moment he
has seen their living breath as a faint cloud, van-


ishing though one can feel that it is still there.
Here, then, in few words, is the savage and bar-
baric theory of souls, where life, mind, breath,
shadow, reflection, dream, come together and ac-
count for one another in some such vague confused
way as satisfies the untaught reasoner."* As a
confirmation of this theory he appeals to language.
*'Bven among the most civilized nations language
plainly shows its traces, as when we speak of a
person being in an ecstacy or 'out of himself and
' coming back to himself,' or when the souls of the
dead are called shades (that is, shadows) or spirits
or ghosts (that, is breaths), terms which are relics of
men's earliest theories of life."t

This theory does not have direct proof, nor can
it be met by positive facts. It is possible that the
belief in a future life originated in that way, and if
man was originally a savage this is doubtless the
real genesis of it; but then it is not shown that it
did. On the other hand it is impossible, without
the Bible, to prove positively that it did not. It is
a question of fact which lies beyond the reach of
secular history.

The theory originates in the exigencies of a

* Anthropology, p. 343. f Do., p. 345.


materialistic philosophy. That philosophy, to
make good its claims, is bound to account by ex-
perience for every idea. It has been engaged a
long time with the task, which its opponents will
not suffer it to forget, but there are ideas that will
not submit to its laws. It cannot charm away,
among others, the idea of cause; and Hume has
shown beyond a doubt that this does not come from
experience. While the paternity of this theory
does not of itself condemn it, the source is sufficient
to put us on our guard until we have time to ex-
amine it.

The theory assumes the fact of evolution. But
the doctrine of evolution has not been clearly estab-
lished. It postulates, without scientific proof, not
merely spontaneous generation, but also the trans-
mutability of species. It is possible that species
may not only be variable, but also transmutable;
but science has not a single fact of it. It assumes
certain orders of beings as links, but it has not the
slio^hest trace in fact of their existence. It assumes
that the history of the missing links was lost in the
missing pages, but it takes no account whatever
of their absence from the pages where the records
are complete. It fails to explain all the facts — for
example, the eye, whose complexity required for its


evolution a great many ages, yet whose perfection
was necessary to give its possessor the slightest ad-
vantage in the struggle for life. It fails, too, as
many of its friends admit, to account for the mental
and moral nature of man. The doctrine of evolu-
tion has not attained that unquestioned authority
that makes this theory as to the belief in a future
life necessary.

This theory assumes, with evolution, that man
was originally a savage. This is far-from being an
established fact. The oldest man known to
geology was found in Europe; but all tradition and
all facts of science point to the interior of Asia as
the original home of the race. Science is not com-
petent to tell us whence we came or what was our
primal condition. No man is better authorized to
answer in its name upon this subject than Quatre-
fages. This is his answer with his own emphasis:
"To those who question me upon the problem of
our origin, I do not hesitate to answer in the name
of science, I do not know. ' ' * Man, as he appears
in the oldest traces of him in Egy^pt, Babylonia,
and Phcenecia, is far from being a savage. The
theor}' assiimes therefore as a fact that which all
accessible facts deny. Those who accept the Bible

* Human Species, p. 128.


have its high authority for believing that man did
not appear on earth as a savage.

Dreams may account for the belief in the fact of
a future existence, but they do not account for the
idea of a future retribution which so generally ac-
companied it. The idea of future rewards and
punishments grew out of our moral nature. The
theory of dreams must be supplemented by the
theory that man's moral nature was acquired. One
of the most stubborn facts the doctrine of evolution
has had to encounter, is the conscience. A theory
that must be bolstered up by a still more doubtful
theory, violates one of the canons of the hypothesis
and has very little scientific value.

The theory fails to explain, and is inconsistent
with, the fact of the persistence of the belief long
after the savage stage has been passed. The great
majority in every stage of culture, from the lowest
up to the very highest, believe in a future life.
Centuries after a people have learned to know the
nature of dreams and shadows, they look forward
to an existence after death. If the dreams were the
cause of the belief, the effect would cease with the
cause. There must be some principle in our
nature upon which the belief is based and even if
we could prove an original savage state, that prin-


ciple is necessary to account for the origin of this

The theory proposes to explain the belief in the
existence of God. It claims that the first religion
was Animism and next Polytheism. As a matter
of fact, the earliest religion was Monotheism, or as
Max Miiller calls it, Henotheism. If religion
originated in dreams, the religious nature remains
a fact, the influence of religion in human progress
unquestionable, and this acquired belief is proved
to have an objective reality. Some who are willing
to admit that religion started in Animism, believe
that it was God's way of leading men up to a
knowledge of himself ; and the belief in a future
life, starting in dreams, was only the first step in
learning the truth. But the theory is against the
facts, and this is a sufficient answer.

Mr. Tylor's proof from language has no force.
All our metaphysical terms are taken from sensible
objects. Those which have been most recently in-
troduced, as well as the oldest, are suggested by
physical analogies. Men had ceased to think that
the soul had eyes before they began to talk about
intuitions^ or that it had hands before they spoke
of apprehension.

The effort to prove the belief acquired has failed.


It is much less probable than that it is intuitive, a
belief which comes from immediate intuitions. It
seems to spring out of our nature and must be ac-
cepted as true, as we do all spontaneous belief.
Natural beliefs never deceive us. They are much
more to be trusted than the deductions of the
understanding. Philosophers have often erred, but
the universal faith never. We conclude with

** If then all souls both good and bad do teach,

With general voice that souls can never die,
'Tis not man's faltering gloss, but nature's speech,

Which like God's oracles can never lie.
But how can that be false which every tongue

Of every mortal man affirms for true ?
Which truth has in all ages stood so strong,

That loadstone-like, all hearts it ever drew. ' *



"\ /TAN'S moral nature has always been regarded
^^^ as one of the clearest indications of a future
life. Cicero, from the standpoint of ancient
philosophy, said, "It is something clinging to the
mind and is an augury of a life to come. It ex-
ists in the noblest minds and in the tnost exalted
spirits." Adam Smith, as a modern philosopher,
gave expression to the same opinion. "We are
led to the belief in a future state, not only by the
weakness, by the hopes and fears of human
nature, but by the noblest and best principles
which belong to it, by the love of virtue, and by
the abhorrence of vice and injustice."

The moral nature, which is called conscience,
consists of two elements. The one is rational
and the other is emotional. The rational is the
apprehension of the right in its principles and
facts. The emotional is the response of the
sensibilities to these apprehensions. The two do

not always exist together with equal strength.



There is no feeling without an intellectual act,
but it is conceivable that there may be intellect-
ual acts without feeling. Those who attempt to
reduce conscience to the emotional miss the most
essential part of it and mistake a variable adjunct
for the great factor.

The rational is partly intuitive and partly
reflective. The intuitive lays hold of the funda-
mental principles of duty. The function of
reason in the moral differs from that in mathe-
matics and philosophy only in respect to the char-
acter of the truths apprehended. In the one it
knows immediately fundamental laws of right;
in the other it knows immediately more general
axioms and primary principles. The reflective
faculties apply the laws furnished by reason to
the various conditions of human conduct, and
deduce other laws. As the conditions and rela-
tions of life are more fully understood, the laws reg-
ulating them are more clearly grasped. Casuistry
arises, not from any darkness of the first principles,
but from the difficulty of applying the law in
doubtful relations. The comparative faculty ap-
plies the rule as known to actions as understood,
and pronounces them right or wrong. Its judg-
ments may be mistaken when the law is badly


apprehended or the condition of the action

The sensibility gives a response to the law by
a sense of obligation, and to the judgment upon
actions by a feeling of approval or disapproval.

The correlative of the moral nature is the moral
law. The conscience presupposes this law as the
eye does light or as the reason does truth. The
law is objective, but reveals itself in our con-
science. It is not a mere necessity of thought.
It existed before we did, and doubtless holds in
worlds of which we know nothing. It does not
grow up in us, but stands ready to exercise its
authority over us as soon as expanding reason
is able to catch its voice. It is like reason in
respect to truth. Reason never creates truth, but
only apprehends it. Truth is universal, and we
can never appropriate it so as to say ' my truth. '
We do say 'my conscience,' speaking of our
faculty, but never 'my moral law.' The moral
law is simply truth embodying obligation. It is
truth with behests upon life. It is not all truth,
as Wollaston said, but truth of which the essen-
tial characteristic is ought. One may have no
impulse to obey, but in seeing the law, he must
have an apprehension of the obligation. The


intellectual factor remains as long as reason is re-
tained, but the emotional may be lost. The law
revealing itself intuitively to all men is what Paul
calls the law written upon the heart.

The fact of our moral nature cannot be denied,
but there is a question among philosophers as to its
origin. There are two great schools coming down^
from the Greeks, called then the Epicurean and'
Stoic, but known now as the Utilitarian and Intu-
itive. The Utilitarian holds that conscience has
been derived; the Intuitive, that it is original, or
innate. This question is of importance in the
proof of immortality drawn from the moral nature.

The Utilitarian resolves the moral element in us
into a more refined and intelligent love of pleasure.
*' Pleasure is the only good."* "Moral good and
evil are only a voluntary conformity to a law that
will bring pleasure and pain." t "Without pleas-
ure, justice, obligation, duty and virtue are empty
sounds."! Lecky closes a review of the principles
of this school with this remark: "We have seen
that the distinctive characteristic of the inductive
school of moralists is an absolute denial of the ex-
istence of any natural or innate moral sense or
faculty enabling us to distinguish between higher

* Hobbes. f Locke. % Bentham.



and lower parts of our nature, revealing to us either
the existence of a law of duty or the conduct which
it prescribes. We have seen that the only postu-
late of these writers is that happiness, being univer-
sally desired, is a desirable thing; that the only
merit they recognize in actions or feelings is their
tendency to promote human happiness, and that the
only motive to a virtuous act they conceive possible
is the real or supposed happiness of the agent.
The sanctions of morality thus constitute its obli-
gation, and apart from them the word 'ought'
is absolutely unmeaning."* Regarding the moral
law as only a sublimated rule of pleasure, and the
conscience as only a refined prudence, they were
confronted by the question: How was the transition
made? They have attempted to give the process.
The earliest men obeyed their passions, but experi-
ence taught them that there were certain immutable
laws with which an unbridled indulgence conflicted,
and that to secure happiness it was necessary to
avoid certain injurious things and to observe
prudence. They learned, too, that some painful
things were useful. They were taught by their
feelings to seek some objects and avoid others, and

* European Morals, Vol. I, p. 19.


to approve and blame themselves for their prudence
or imprudence. Sympathy brought them together,
and they obtained from each other the benefits of
individual experience. They began at length to
generalize and formulate principles of action, and
thus moral maxims were formed. These were
changed into more authoritative rules by society,
and became laws. The long continued habit under
the two-fold constraint of prudence and civil law,
became constitutional and was transmitted under
the natural law of heredity. The maxims appear
now as innate and self-evident principles. As all
men passed through similar experiences, the laws
are universal.

This historical theory itself has a history.
Hobbes recognized injustice, ingratitude, arro-
gance, pride, iniquity, as contrary to the eternal
and immutable laws of nature. All knowledge of
these laws has its origin in the sense, for there is
no conception which ''has not at first totally or by
parts been begotten upon the organs of sense."
Man in a savage state might adopt maxims, but
morality prior to civil law had no existence.
Mutual assistance is necessary to many pleasures,
and there must be organization. Laws are enacted
to secure the restraint required for association and


cooperation, and these laws were enforced by such
penalties as to make it the individual's advantage to
obey them. The legislators were the first moralists.
The civil law is not co-extensive in the sphere
of morals with the private life; and especially with
mere thoughts and feelings the law has nothing to
do. The penalties cannot reach a large part of
moral conduct. The theory of Hobbes was inade-
quate and was supplemented by a revival of the old
doctrine of the arbitrary will of God. It was re-
produced by the schoolman Occam, and defended
by Crusius, Pascal, Paley, and many others. The
motive was enlarged by the hopes of reward and
fears of punishment in another life. Locke con-
trasts this theory with that of Hobbes: "If a Chris-
tian be asked why a man must keep his word, he
will give as his reason, because God, who has the
power of eternal life and death, requires it of us.
But if a Hobbist be asked why, he will answer, be-
cause the public requires it; and the Leviathan will
punish you if you do not. ' ' * Paley, a distinguished
expounder of the theory, says, "Virtue is doing
good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God
and for the sake of everlasting happiness, "t

* Essay, i, 3. f Moral Philosophy, 7.


This theory made God's will neither holy nor un-
holy, power the source of right, and demanded a
revelation as a means of knowing God's commands.
It was a virtual abandonment of philosophic

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Online LibraryLuther A FoxEvidence of a future life : from reason and revelation → online text (page 4 of 19)