Copyright
Goldwin Smith.

In quest of light online

. (page 1 of 8)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithIn quest of light → online text (page 1 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


NYPL RESEARCH LIBRARIES



3 3433 068t§634 8



LIGHT

GOLDWIN

SMITH


i















IN QUEST OF LIGHT



OTHER BOOKS BY GOLDWIN SMITH



CANADA AND THE CANADIAN QUESTION. Price

$2.00 — Ss., net.

THE UNITED KINGDOM: A Political History. In
2 volumes. Price ^4.00 — 15^.

THE UNITED STATES: An Outline of Political His-
tory, 1492-1871. Price, $2.00 — %s. 6d.

ESSAYS ON QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, POLITICAL
AND SOCIAL. Second edition. Price $2.25 — 9^.

OXFORD AND HER COLLEGES. Illustrated. Price
j^i.50 — 6s.

GUESSES AT THE RIDDLE OF EXISTENCE. Price
$1.25—6^.

A TRIP TO ENGLAND. Price 75^. — 3^.

BAY LEAVES. Translations from the Latin Poets. Price
$1.25 — 5J.

SPECIMENS OF GREEK TRAGEDY. Translated.
Vol. I, yEscHYLUS AND SoPHOCLEs. Price, $1.25 — 5^.
Vol. 2, Euripides. Price $1.25 — 5^.

LIFE OF COWPER. Price 40^. — is. dd.

THE LIFE OF JANE AUSTEN. Price 40^. — ij. 60^.

MY MEMORY OF GLADSTONE. With Portrait. Lon-
don : T. Fisher Unwin. Price 2s. 6d.

SHAKESPEARE, THE MAN. Toronto: Morang & Co.
Price 75 f. — 2J. 6d.

THE FOUNDER OF CHRISTENDOM. Toronto: Morang
& Co. Price 40^., net.

COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. Price 60^., «^/— 2^. 6c/.

IN THE COURT OF HISTORY: An Apology for Cana-

DIANS WHO WERE OPPOSED TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR.

Toronto : William Tyrrell & Co.
IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION. Price

$1.50—55.



IN QUEST OF LIGHT



BY
GOLDWIN SMITH



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

LONDON : MACMILLAN & CO., Ltd.
1906

All rights reserved






Copyright, 1906,
By the MACMILLAN COMPANY.



Set up and clectrotyped. Published May, 1906.



J. 8. Gushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



PREFACE

A SECULAR journal in England received, in
the course of three months, nine thousand
communications from people seeking for light
on the religious question. The question, then,
is evidently practical.

Never before has there been such a crisis in
the history of belief. Never before has man,
enlightened as he now is by Science, faced
with a free mind the problem of his origin and
destiny.

The following papers were penned with the
same desire of light as those of the nine thou-
sand. They appeared in different forms, chiefly
as letters, in the New York Sun, to the cour-
tesy and courage of whose editor the best
thanks of the writer are due.

It seems that some of those who read them
have wished to refer to them again. They are
printed as they appeared, without attempt,
which would have been vain, to give the series
a literary form.



vi PREFACE

No theory is here propounded. The writer's
aim is to help, if he can, in clearing the posi-
tion, pointing to the right line of inquiry,
and guarding against false lures. To this end
inquiry and thought must be free. Reason
must rule. It is, as Bishop Butler frankly
says, " the only faculty we have wherewith to
judge concerning anything, even revelation
itself." Its voice, therefore, is that of our
Maker. Faith, which is an emotion, cannot
supersede or contradict reason, though it may
soar above sense. To know what remains to
us of our traditional belief we must frankly
resign that which, however cherished, the
progress of science and learning has taken
away. But destruction will not be found to
be the object of the writer. Nor, it is to be
hoped, will there be found in him any appear-
ance of irreverence. Nothing can be farther

from his heart.

G. S.

Toronto, March 20, 1906.



CONTENTS



Preface



LETTER

I. Church-going Scepticism

II. The Immortality of the Soul

III. The Immortality of the Soul

IV. Haeckel

V. Between two Fires

VI. A New Theory of Immortality

VII. The Bee versus Man .

VIII. The Immortality of the Soul

IX. The Immortality of the Soul

X. Easter

XI. Easter

XII. Is Religion Worthless?

XIII. The Crimes of Christendom .

XIV. Does Christianity fall with Dogma?
XV. Sabatier on Religions of Authority .

XVI. The Tendencies of Religious Thought

XVII. The Bible: its Critics and its Defenders

XVIII. Is Christianity Dead or Dying? .



PAGE
V



5

8
II
i6

19

27

37
42
48
54

59

62
68
73
83
88

94



viii CONTENTS

LETTER PAGE

XIX. The Two Theories of Life ... 98

XX. Telepathy 103

XXI. Spiritual versus Supernatural . .107

XXII. A Problem greater than Telepathy . no

XXIII. Dr. Osler on Science and Immortality. 114

XXIV. Dispensing with the Soul. . . .118
XXV. The Religious Situation . . . .121

XXVI. Is Materialism Advancing? . . .126

XXVII. Doubt and its Fruits 131

XXVIII. The Anglican Petition for Freedom . 136

XXIX. The Remedy for Religious Doubt . . 141

XXX. The Origin of Life 145

XXXI. Rational Christianity . . . .148

XXXII. Free Thought and Churchmanship . .151

XXXIII. Religion and Morality . . . .155

XXXIV. The Conference of the Churches . • i59
XXXV. What do We Owe to the Old Testament? 164

XXXVI. Justice Hereafter 170

XXXVII. Our Present Position . . . -173



IN QUEST OF LIGHT



IN QUEST OF LIGHT



CHURCH-GOING SCEPTICISM

One clergyman, it seems, denies the infallibility
of the Bible, and treats the Church as an asso-
ciation for general improvement. A second finds
in the Bible inaccuracy and worse. A third pro-
fesses to believe only so much of the Bible as com-
mends itself to his judgment. A correspondent
of the New York Sim rebukes one of them
for indiscretion in the publication of truth. At the
same time he says himself that the truth may be
rightly told in private conversation. For his own
part he regards church-going as a ^^ moral tonic,
and a mental bath," adding that ''it is often not
comfortable to get up and take a sponge bath
with cold water, in a cold room, but lacking better
facilities you must do it if you would be de-
cent among your friends and agreeable to your-
self." The eminent clergyman might perhaps be



2 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

justified in retorting on his critic the charge of
indiscreet disclosure.

How many church-goers are there to whom
church-going is merely a moral and mental sponge
bath, which they take without any definite belief
in the doctrine, that they may be decent among
their friends, and agreeable to themselves ? How
many are there who, dissembling in public, tell
the truth in private conversation? If the num-
ber is large, the end cannot be far off, and this
hollow crust of outward conformity may presently
fall in with a crash all the greater for delay.

A layman has only to sit and listen to the
sermon. But a clergyman has actively to pro-
fess and preach the doctrines. If he has ceased
to believe them, what is he to do? I never
could regard without entire aversion the notion
of certain illuminists that truth was the privilege
of the enlightened few while tradition was the
lot of the crowd. But the most fatal part of
the arrangement was that it dedicated the clergy
to falsehood.

Caution and tenderness are most necessary in
dealing with religious questions, seeing to how
great an extent religion has formed the basis of



CHURCH-GOING SCEPTICISM 3

morality. But scepticism has now spread so far,
not only among the learned, but among mechanics,
that the policy of silence or dissimulation, sup-
posing it were sound, is no longer possible. There
is nothing for it now but perfectly free inquiry
and frank acceptance of results. Caution and
tenderness will always be in order, but they are
not incompatible with sincerity.

What is the consequence of silence or dissimu-
lation on the part of earnest and reverent in-
quirers? It is the abandonment of free inquiry
to reckless and profane hands, with such results
as the ^' Comic Life of Christ," which I picked up
in an anti-clerical bookstore at Paris. I heard
Mr. Ingersoll lecture on Genesis. He was very
brilliant, and highly effective, but he destroyed
reverence as well as superstition.

^^Do not pull down, but build up," is the cry.
How can we build upon a site incumbered with
false tradition? All truth, negative as well as
positive, is constructive; no falsehood is. I see
Henry Newman preferred to his brother Francis
on the ground that Henry was organic, and
Francis was not. What did Henry organize?
A house of mediaeval dreams, in which he could



4 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

not force himself to believe without the help of
such an apparatus of self-obscuration as the
'^Grammar of Assent." The ^'Grammar of As-
sent" can only enhance scepticism by its inevitable
fall. Francis Newman, if he did nothing else,
cleared the ground for construction^ and he helped
to lay firmly the foundation of all genuine faith,
thorough-going confidence in Truth.

The three eminent clergymen, it is to be feared,
are sliding down a slippery incline, on which no
permanent foothold is to be found.

January, 1896.



II

THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL

The theological discussion carried on in the
Sun, apparently by practical men anxious to
arrive at truth, has been in that respect more
interesting than the discussions of professional
theologians. One of the subjects was the validity
of the evidence for a future life, which Johnson,
orthodox as he was, could not help feeling to be
defective. It is a question not only profoundly
interesting, but intensely practical, as well in its
social as in its religious bearing. Without a
belief in consequences of conduct beyond the
present life, moral responsibility in the full sense
of the term can hardly exist. Apart from indi-
vidual interest there can only be social respon-
sibility, which would hardly control the unsocial
and selfish natures, whereof there are not a few.
The cultivation of character, independently of
present social requirements, would lose its object,
since the best of characters formed by lifelong

5



6 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

effort and self-denial would, equally with that
formed by lifelong crime or sensuality, come to
dust. Interest in the future of our race would
lose its force; reason would bid each man aim
simply at a comfortable passage through this life.

It is not on the old ground that the doctrine
of a future life can be sustained. Theologians
in former days imagined that the soul was an
entity apart from our physical frame, inserted
into the body by a special act of divine power,
pent in it during life, and set free from it by death,
though still remaining its filmy counterpart.
Bishop Butler, who has said in the most effective
way all that there was to be said from his point
of view, argues that the soul, or as he calls it the
"conscious being," is indivisible, indiscerptible,
and, therefore, presumably uneffected by the dis-
solution of the body. But we have now learned
to believe that there is nothing in us which is not
the outcome of our general frame, and presumably
liable, with our general frame, to dissolution at
death.

Yet there is a voice within us which tells us
that in the sum of things it will be well with
virtue, and that the effort and self-denial expended



THE IMMORTALITY OF TflE SOUL ;r

in the promotion of a good and beautiful character
will not have been expended in vain. No man,
I suppose, at the end of life, whatever his course
and whatever his success had been, would not
wish that his life had been righteous. If you ask
me how this can be without the existence of the
soul as an entity separate from the body, the body
being liable to dissolution, my answer is that I
cannot tell. But I do not on that account refuse
to listen to a genuine prompting of my nature,
if this be one, merely because it is not confirmed
by the evidence of sense. Our whole being is a
mystery. Try to realize in thought eternity and
infinity, and you become conscious of that fact.
Our sense probably tells us Httle more of the uni-
verse in which we are than sense tells the pur-
blind mole, which no doubt thinks it sees all that
there is to be seen. We are happily casting off
superstition, but there may be still some scope
for faith. Not for the faith which would reject
or supplant reason, but for the faith which is
the evidence of things unseen.

September, 1899.



Ill

THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL

In using such a phrase as *^the immortality
of the soul" we put the question on a wrong
footing; for the phrase seems to imply that the
soul is an entity separate from our general frame,
and this can no longer be maintained.

But admitting that the soul is not a separate
entity, does it follow that any intimation in our
nature of accountability or hope extending beyond
our present life must be an illusion and ought to
be disregarded? I do not wish to dogmatize or
even to affirm, but simply to submit the question.

One of your correspondents holds that the
question is settled by physical science, which pro-
nounces that personal decease is final. All physi-
cal science rests upon the evidence of our bodily
senses, however systematized by our reason.
Have we ground for assuming that the evidence
of our bodily senses is exhaustive?

We recognize the immense revelations of science

8



THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL 9

in all their bearings, and especially in their bear-
ing on the origin and nature of man. But is
there not some danger of our being swept away
by a tidal wave? The doctrine of evolution has
been carried to the length of imagining an evolu-
tion of Revelation.

I am not aware that science has yet explained
conscious personality, or attempted to explain it,
otherwise than as a collection of memories. On
such collection there must surely be something
to reflect and operate.

Huxley at one time confidently maintained
that man was an automaton. But I believe he
afterward receded from that position.

Tyndall, with whom I was so happy as to be
very intimate, always avowed himself a materialist.
His was the formula that matter contained the
potentiality of all life. Yet he would have found
it difficult to account on merely material grounds
for some of his own sentiments and aspirations.

If all ends here, considering what an amount
of unmerited and uncompensated misery and
suffering there has been and still is, it would be
difficult to confute Schopenhauer, who tells us
that this is the worst, not of all conceivable, but



10 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

of all possible, worlds. It would be difficult also
to show that the individual has any inducement to
exert himself for the general and future good of
mankind, or that there is anything to restrain
him from doing whatever may tend to his own
profit or enjoyment without regard to the inter-
ests of humanity, provided he can keep clear of
the law. Moral responsibility in the true sense
of the term, as I said before, would apparently
cease. Belief in an all-powerful, all-wise, and
benevolent ruler of the universe, it would seem,
could no longer be maintained.

September, 1899.



IV

HAECKEL

It is not wonderful that the masterly account
of Haeckel's philosophy given by a well-known
writer in the Sun should have been read with
interest and set other pens at work. It may
confirm belief in Haeckel's creed, perhaps make
some converts to it. Physical science has been
achieving dazzling victories while theology and
philosophy are for the time at a discount. Ultra-
physicism is the ruling influence of the hour.

We heartily and gratefully accept the revela-
tions of physical science, casting away all tradi-
tions, cosmogonical, anthropological, or of any
other kind, which its discoveries have disproved.
But before we resign ourselves to its exclusive
dominion we may take time at least to look round.
One or two grounds for hesitation may be men-
tioned. It is not pretended here to do more.
The knowledge of the universe, or of the particle

of it which we inhabit, is that received through

II



12 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

our bodily senses. Is it certain that these are our
only trustworthy sources of knowledge? If our
moral perceptions are natural, ought they to be
put out of court? In approaching these ques-
tions we cannot help being filled with a sense of
our immense ignorance and of the possibilities
beyond our physical ken. This universe, as we
call it, which physical science observes, including
the remotest telescopic stars, is but an atom in in-
finity. It is less than an atom ; for an atom bears
some proportion to the mass, whDe our universe
can bear no proportion to infinity. What physi-
cal science calls laws and bids us venerate as
supreme, however they may bound and control
our lives, are not laws, but only phenomenal
uniformities, unless there is a Lawgiver; and if
there is a Lawgiver, who can say that his action
generally or in relation to us does not transcend
his physical laws? No one can be more strictly
scientific than Mr. Herbert Spencer ; yet he recog-
nizes the Unknown as an object of reverence,
and it is not through any physical organ that he
can perceive the existence of the Unknown.

The freedom of the human will in any degree and
however qualified by the influence of character



HAECKEL 13

and circumstance, would seem fatal to the mate-
rialist hypothesis as establishing the existence
of a force independent of physical causation.
It is, accordingly, altogether and peremptorily
denied. The powers of physical causation we
can inspect; we can see that there is nothing
between the impact and the shock, between the
composition of the ingredients and the compound.
The process of moral causation we cannot inspect.
Between the ascertainable determinants and the
result there is room for another factor. The
only appeal is to our consciousness; and our
consciousness tells us plainly that we are free.
Responsibility would otherwise be an illusion.
If we are really automata, how came we to fancy
ourselves free?

Against the belief in the immortality of the soul
it is said that eternity transcends thought, and
that the attempt to conceive it and identify our
conscious existence with it only produces mental
pain. This is true; but it is a merely psycho-
logical difficulty. Let us discard the word "im-
mortality," which connotes eternity, and ask only
whether we are sure that all ends here. If all
does end here, what a scene is human history!



14 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

What a scene is human life ! What can the
Power be under whose dominion we are? Hux-
ley wished, if nothing better was to come, that
the globe might be shattered by a comet. Can
we readily believe that when a man comes to die
it makes no difference to him whether his life has
been that of a benefactor of his kind or of a devil ?

Evolution is an immense discovery, the most
momentous probably ever made, though perhaps
it has hardly yet settled down into its final form
and limits. Yet may it not weigh on us too much ?
That we have been evolved from anthropoid apes
is the conclusion of science, and we accept it,
as once we believed that man had been made out
of the dust of the earth, it might be radium.
Still, we are what we are, not apes, but men.

Evolution itself seems to preclude finality.
Where physical selection ends, moral selection
may begin. Perfection and beauty of character,
which, we seem to feel, have a value apart from
their mere social usefulness, may also have ends
unseen.

These remarks, however, are merely a plea for
circumspection and against giving up ourselves
blindly to ultra-physicism while we fly from



HAECKEL 1 5

tradition and superstition. Such caution is spe-
cially to be desired, as ultra-physicism is evidently
beginning to affect morality, particularly in rela-
tion to the duty of strong nations and races
towards the weak.

April, 1901.



BETWEEN TWO FIRES

I FIND myself between two fires : the Darwinian
and the Dominican. But I fancy that my posi-
tion is that of a good many thoughtful men who
have renounced superstition but are not ready
to go the whole length of materialism without
further light. Even on social grounds the pros-
pect of a reign of commercialism without con-
science is enough to make us pause.

I have not asserted that the phenomena of
moral responsibility are incapable of physical
explanation. I have only said that they exist,
and that it is incumbent upon the materialist to
explain them. They are not explained by mere
reiteration, however vehement and positive, of
the necessarian hypothesis.

We are ready to accept heartily and gratefully,
if not always joyfully, whatever is proved by
physical science. It may be that the evidence

i6



BETWEEN TWO FIRES 1 7

of our consciousness is an illusion. Prove this,
and we will accept the fact.

Tyndall maintained that in matter was the
potentiality of all life. Of the existence, however,
of something beyond physical life his own charac-
ter and aspirations always seemed to me to be
a very striking indication.

To turn to my critics from the other side. I
do not entertain, and therefore I cannot have
shown, any bad feeling toward Roman Catholics,
among whom I have numbered some of my most
valued friends. I have admitted that truth
may conceivably be found with those whose faith
is based on Church authority and miracle. But
it would be absurd to number among rational-
ists any who believe in infallibility, ecclesiastical
miracles, and transubstantiation. If I were pressed
on the subject of the evidence for miracles, I
would direct the attention of ''Catholic Student"
to the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius,
which takes place annually almost under the eyes
of the Pope.

It could not be supposed that I intended to
accuse Cardinal Newman of unveracity or deceit.
His conduct as a convert to Catholicism at heart,



1 8 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

carrying on his movement in a Protestant church,
was perhaps not always perfectly ingenuous.
But all that I meant was that his aim as a specu-
lative theologian was rather religious system than
truth. He used his powers of persuasion to bend
your reason to that which he had made up his
mind was good for your soul. In the opening
of "Tracts for the Times" he lets you see that
in reviving the doctrines of apostolic succession
and the eucharistic real presence he was seeking
to furnish a fresh ground for clerical authority
when the support of the State was being with-
drawn. Nobody doubts the excellence of his
character or the purity of his spiritual aspirations
any more than his genius as a writer. Sophis-
tical reasoning has often been found compatible
with honesty of purpose and sincerity of belief.
It was so in the case of Cardinal Newman.

April, 1901.



VI

A NEW THEORY OF IMMORTALITY

The last attempt to make evolution, like the
fabled spear of Achilles, cure the wounds which
it has made in our religious faith is Dr. S. D.
McConnell's remarkable essay on ''The Evolution
of Immortality."

The faith in which most men now over middle
age grew up, and which churches still preach,
is that man is distinguished from all other animals
by the possession of a soul separate from his body
and generally antagonistic to the body and its
lusts; that at death the souls of all men alike are
parted from their bodies, but will be united to
them at the Day of Judgment, when there will
be a final division of the wicked from the good,
the good going to everlasting bliss, the wicked to
everlasting woe. To this rationalism now objects
at once on scientific and on moral grounds.
On scientific grounds, it denies that man is
essentially distinguished from the higher races

19



20 IN QUEST OF LIGHT

of animals; affirming that the soul, instead of
being separate from the body and introduced
into it by a special act of the Creator, is the out-
come of our general frame. On moral grounds
it objects to the utter disproportion of infinite
rewards and penalties to finite merits or demerits,
and to the assumption of a sharp distinction be-
tween the good and the wicked characters passing
by infinite gradations into each other.

The result is a growing tendency to disregard
anything beyond the present life, or at least to
agree with Horace Greeley in thinking that "those
who discharge promptly and faithfully all their
duties to those who still live in the flesh, can have
but little time left for prying into the life beyond
the grave ; and that it is better to deal with each
in its proper order." On the other hand, though
in the whirl of business or pleasure we may be
willing, like Macbeth, to ''jump the world to
come," in the hour of reflection we cannot help
shrinking from annihilation. To the Greek poet
it was a sad thought that while the lowliest herb
might have a second spring, man, the mighty and
the wise, must sleep forever in his cold, dark
grave. The strain might have been more melan-


1 3 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithIn quest of light → online text (page 1 of 8)