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Death: its causes and phenomena. With special reference to immortality online

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of any law of logic leaves mankind absolutely dependent
upon the hope that is in him, that instinctive desire for
immortality, the arguments for which are so beautifully
summarised by Addison : —

^' Plato, thou reason'st well,
Else whence this pleasing hope^ this fond desire,
This longing after immortality ?
Or whence this secret dread, and inward horror
Of falling into naught ? Why shrinks the soul
Back on herself, and startles at destruction ?
'Tis the divinity that stirs within us ;
'Tis heaven itself that points out an hereafter,
And intimates eternity to man." ^

1 Cato.


True as these words may be, if we are to regard them
solely as a picture of man's protest against the doctrine
of extinction, they are not of the faintest evidential value
in support of the belief that life continues beyond the
grave. In fact, as Hudson has said : ^ —

" Natural theology stands precisely where it did when Thales
philosophised and Simonides sang ; and the arguments are iden-
tical with those which Socrates employed in his confutation of the
atheism of Aristodemus. Not one of the physical sciences in
which we excel the Idumeans has advanced us one step in solution
of the great problem propounded by Job, ' If a man die, shall he
live again 1 ' "

Professor Hammond mentions five traditional argu-
ments that have commonly been used to establish the
fact that death is not the end of conscious being. These
are : —

"(1) The ontological argument, which bases immortality on the
immateriality, simplicity, and irreducibility of the soul-substance ;
(2) The teleological argument, which employs the concept of man's
destiny and function, his disposition to free himself more and more
from the conditions of time and space, and to develop completely
his intellectual and moral potentialities, which development is
impossible under the conditions of earthly life ; (3) The theo-
logical argument : the wisdom and justice of God guarantee the
self-realisation of personal beings whom He has created ; (4) The
moral argument, i.e. the moral demand for the ultimate equival-
ence of personal deserts and rewards, which equivalence is not
found in life ; (5) The historical argument ; the fact that the
belief is widespread and ancient, showing it to be deep-seated in
human nature, and the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ
and the statements of the New Testament Scriptures."

As all of these arguments have already been con-
sidered in previous chapters, it is unnecessary to dwell
upon them further, except to the degree in which they

A Scientific Dernonstration of the Future Life, p. 27.


apply to the arguments that are in more common use
among men ; for while many of us may be unable to
follow the philosophers and logicians through the intri-
cate mazes of reasoning that lead to their ultimate
conclusions, there are certain arguments — more com-
mon-place, perhaps — that appeal to ordinary thinkers as
extremely convincing. As Hudson says in A Scientific
Demonstration of the Future Life : —

" It may sound very unscientific, but I must confess that I
attach more of scientific value to Emerson's dogmatic assertion
that ' man is to live hereafter ' than I do to the aggregate of
philosophical speculations known to the literature of the subject.
He was one of those pure, lofty, and poetic souls whose intuitive
perception and recognition of truth is oftentimes as perfect as a
mathematical demonstration."

And there are many individuals who, whether their
process of reasoning is scientific or not, will heartily
agree with this statement.

Of course, as a matter of fact, there are but two
methods of reason that can be applied logically to any
question. One is inductive reasoning — the reasoning
which begins with accepted facts, or particulars, and
from them argues up to the last logical conclusions.
The other is deductive reasoning, or the reasoning that
begins with conclusions, and from them argues down
to facts. Inductive reasoning, therefore, is a logical
appeal to fact ; whereas deductive reasoning takes the
facts that have been obtained more or less inductively,
and from them proceeds to calculate its logical par-
ticulars. While both methods of reasoning are perfectly
legitimate, therefore, both are liable to be mistaken in
their conclusions, for both depend upon the accuracy of
the facts, or observations, upon which these conclusions
are based.


As may easily be imagined, the exponents of the
doctrine of life after death have found it extremely
difficult to present a very conclusive inductive argument
in support of their theories, owing to the absence of
facts from which to approach the general conclusion.
Accordingly, the tendency shown by modern science —
both biology and physiology — has been to dismiss the
theory of the soul's existence as undemonstrable.

At the same time it must not be imagined that no
attempt has been made to adduce a sound and rational
argument based upon the accepted facts of science.
Thus, the relations existing between the molecular move-
ments of the brain and their manifestation in human
thoughts and feelings have been held to be evidence of
the fallacy of the materialistic theory. Professor James,
in Human Immortality, attempted to " draw the fangs of
cerebralistic materialism " by ascribing to the brain a
" transmissive " function, but many scientists have not
accepted his theory.

It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that, because
mental activity and molecular change always go hand
in hand, the one is not therefore producGcl by the other.
It is certainly true that for every thought we think,
there is a corresponding change in the brain substance ;
but this merely proves the coincidence to us, and does
nothing to solve the problem of causation. We know
that there is a definite activity of the brain during all
thinking processes, but tliat does not tell us what the
activity is. It is usually assumed that this is a causa-
tive function, but that is merely an assumption, as a
matter of fact ; and Professor William James and other
writers have shown us, and indeed insisted upon the
fact, that this function might be other than causal in
character — it might be coincidental, or even the result
of mental operations ! In his Human Immortality, Pro-


fessor James contended that this function of the brain
might be a transmissive function just as well as a causal
one ; and, on that theory, consciousness might exist apart
from the brain, and merely function throiigh it ; and such
an interpretation of the facts would leave us quite open
to believe anything we pleased regarding the possible
separate existence of consciousness. At all events, it
would appear that there is no valid reason, physio-
logically considered, for denying immortality ; it is
merely a question of interpretation of the observed
phenomena. Although certain facts would seem to tell
in favour of materialism at first glance, it will be seen
that this alternate explanation is ahvays open to us ;
and hence physiology is as helpless as philosophy
when it comes to this question of immortality — and
the possibility of solving the problem on a 'priori

In the Unseen Universe, by Stewart and Tait, an effort
was made to establish the existence of an unseen world
from which this world has come, and to which it is
connected by bonds of energy. These physicists believe
that their theory explains both the origin of molecules
and the force which animates them. They claim that
the idea that the visible universe has the power to
originate life is utterly contradictory to the facts of
observation and experiment ; and they assert that the
hypothesis of an eternal unseen universe is necessary if
we are to explain the law of evolution, the conservation
of mass and energy, the law of biogenesis (every living
being presupposing an antecedent life), the law of con-
tinuity (there being no break in reality, the universe
being of a piece), and other recognised phenomena of
life in the visible world.

Louis Elbe, who endeavours to explain existence, both
in this life and in a world to come, by means of scientific


facts, resorts to the etlioric hypothesis for some of his
most important arguments.^ He says : —

" Seeing tliat the pliysical sciences acquire paramount import-
ance in our inquiry, we turn to them . . . and discover the
fundamental law of indestructibility governing all the manifesta-
tions of matter and mechanical forces. We know that we are
impotent to create or to destroy the minutest material atom, and
we can induce no new manifestation of energy without at once
causing an equal quantity under another form to disappear. We
remarked that the law of indestructibility applied not only to
matter and energy, but also to all events of the past, which also
become indestructible when they have once been recorded in the
vibrations of the ether, and we have every reason to suppose that
the law holds good of phenomena purely immaterial in appear-
ance. . . . W^e recognise, in fine, that nothing whatsoever in the
universe can elude the inevitable operation of the incorruptible
law which eternally preserves the memory of the past ; and we
are hence justified in concluding that the living, and especially
the conscious, forces must also be amenable to the same law, for
it can scarcely have determined to preserve the memory of our
most insignificant acts and yet be unwilling to preserve the being
who is their author. -

" If we then proceed to inquire into the mode of action of the
physical forces, in the hope of thence drawing some important
deductions concerning the nature of conscious force, the existence
of which we are thus led to surmise, we find that all of them are
exercised through the agency of a hypothetical medium which we
term the ether, for it is to it that we trace back the most divergent
manifestations of energy. According to our conception the ether
effects the solidarity of all the elements of this immense universe,
which it entirely pervades ; it is capable of transmitting the effort,
almost immeasurably great, by which the planets are maintained
in their orbits, and at the same time the most minute of electric,
calorific, or luminous actions. It produces with equal fidelity each

1 FxUure Life, p. 370.

2 For the modern scientific objection to these theories see Mr. Header's
Theory of Death, pp. 207-26.


tremor of life, and it is the requisite agent in the production of all
phenomena. But the ether is even more than this, for we think
to discover it to-day in the very constitution of matter. The
atom, despite its infinitely small dimensions, appears to us to be a
kind of infinite world, formed by the union of etheric molecules,
the existence of which determines its fundamental properties.

" Thus, in order to explain the slightest material fact, we are
bound to fall back upon the hypothesis of an ether, which hence-
forth becomes for us the one reality, the hidden reason inspiring
matter ; as the ancients put it, ' Mens agitat molem.^ Are we not,
therefore, entitled to look to ether for an explanation of life itself ?
May we not consider life as depending upon the action of some
special immaterial aggregate, perhaps more subtile even than the
ether ? "

Convincing as such arguments may seem to those to
whom they appeal, the critical mind is compelled to
admit that their validity does not stand the test of the
infallible rules to which all such propositions must
logically submit. So, too, the analogical argument
inevitably falls when exposed to the analysis of the
rules of correct reasoning.

In presenting the details of the analogical argument
in support of a future life, it is impossible to summarise
such speculations more briefly and completely than by
quoting from Alger's Critical History of the Doctrine of a
Future Life : -^ —

" Man, holding his conscious being precious beyond all things,
and shrinking with pervasive anxieties from the moment of
destined dissolution, looks around through the realms of nature,
with thoughtful eye, in search of parallel phenomena further
developed, significant sequels in other creatures' fates, whose
evolution and fulfilment may haply throw light on his own.
With eager vision and heart-prompted imagination, he scrutinises
whatever appears related to his object. Seeing the snake cast its

1 Pp. 38, 39.


old slough and glide forth renewed, he conceives that in death man
but sheds his fleshly exuvias, while the spirit emerges regenerate.
He beholds the beetle break from its filthy sepulchre, and com-
mence its summer work ; and straightway he hangs a golden
scarabaeus in his temples as an emblem of a future life. After
vegetation's wintry deaths, hailing the returning spring that brings
resurrection and life to the graves of the sod, he dreams of some
far-off spring of humanity, yet to come, when the frosts of man's
untoward doom shall relent, and all the costly seed sown through
ages in the great earth- tomb shall shoot up in celestial shapes.
On the moaning seashore, weeping some dear friend, he perceives,
now ascending in the dawn, the planet which he lately saw
declining in the dusk ; and he is cheered by the thought that —

" * So sinks the day-star in the ocean-bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky :
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high.'

" Some traveller or poet tells him fabulous tales of a bird which,
grown aged, fills his nest with spices, and, spontaneously burning,
soars from the aromatic fire, rejuvenescent for a thousand years ;
and he cannot but take the phoenix for a miraculous type of his
own soul swinging, free and eternal, from the ashes of his corpse.
Having watched the silkworm, as it wove its cocoon and lay down
in its oblong grave apparently dead, until at length it struggles
forth, glittering with rainbow colours, a winged moth, endowed
with new faculties, and living a new life in a new sphere, he con-
ceives that so the human soul may, in the fulness of time,
disentangle itself from the imprisoning meshes of this world of
larvae, a thing of spirit beauty, to sail through heavenly airs ; and
henceforth he engraves a butterfly on the tombstone in vivid pro-
phecy of immortality. Thus a moralising observation of natural
similitudes teaches man to hope for an existence beyond death."

Butler, in the Analogy,^ presents a very similar argu-
ment, assuming that because the caterpillar is transformed

^ Part I. 0. i.


into the butterfly, and " worms into flies," we are to exist
hereafter " according to a natural order or appoint-
ment of the very same kind with that we have already
experienced " ; but, like Alger and other exponents of
analogical reasoning, he makes the mistake of trying
to adapt poetic figures of speech or fanciful comparisons
to questions that must be determined upon a purely
logical basis. To be legitimate, analogical reasoning
must justify itself by its conformity to all the conditions
of correct logical induction. Thus the field in which
analogical reasoning may be properly employed has very
decided limitations. It may be proper to employ it
when dealing with matters which are known to be
governed by the same or substantially the same laws ;
but never when instituting comparisons, either between
subjects which are known not to be governed by the
same laws, or between subjects which are not known to
be governed by the same laws. ... In all inductive
reasoning there is one proposition that is, or may be,
always assumed, namely, the constancy of nature. Thus,
by the observation of a series of phenomena, say the
rising and the setting of the sun, we are enabled to
predict with absolute confidence that it will on any
given day in the future rise in the east and set in the
west. Why? Because we have such confidence in the
immutability of the laws of nature that we may assume
that the order of the rising and the setting of the sun
will never be reversed. It is upon this assumption of
the constancy of nature, or rather upon the sublime
verity of this assumption, that all advancement in the
arts and sciences depends ; for if it were not true, we
would derive no certain information from our experience,
or from our observation of the phenomena of nature.
If gravity operated one day and on the next refrained
from operating, the whole human race would be instantly


put to confusion, and lose faith in the integrity of the
Creator. Inductive reasoning, therefore, could have no
possible value as a means of interpreting the laws of
nature but for the fact that we know that nature is ever

It is interesting to note, in this connection, that
Professor S. P. Langley did not believe that any
" LaAvs of Nature " exist at all, as a matter of fact,
but are merely mental conceptions ! Thus he believed
that Nature exists, and that her phenomena are uniform,
and from this uniformity we have constructed modern
science, and formulated what we choose to call " the laws
of nature." But these laws do not exist as absolute,
fixed realities, as a matter of fact ; they are merely
mental concepts. At any time new facts may come
upon the scene, which will make us alter our concep-
tion of the laws of nature, and extend them in a fashion
hitherto undreamed of. And yet the laws are not
really altered, in the old sense of the term ; the fact
was that no such laws existed as we had postulated,
and constant readjustment must be made to fit new facts.
Professor Langley insisted upon this over and over again,
and wrote in this connection : —

"The immensely greater number of things we know in almost
every department of science beyond those which were known
one hundred and fifty years ago has had an effect which
doubtless could have been anticipated, but which we may not
have wholly expected. (^It is, that the more we know the more
we recognise our ignorance, and the more we have a sense of
the mystery of the universe and the Hmitations of our know-
ledge, v. • Innumerable are the illusions of custom, but of all
these perhaps the cleverest is her knack of persuading us that
the miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be miraculous.
. . . Suppose that a century ago, in the year 1802, certain
French academicians, believing like every one else then in the


' laws of nature,' were invited, in the light of the best scientific
knowledge of the day, to name the most grotesque and outrage-
ous violation of them which the human mind could conceive.
I may suppose them to reply, ' If a cartload of black stones
were to tumble out of the blue sky above us before our eyes in
this very France, we should call that a violation of the laws of
nature, indeed.' Yet the next year, not one, but many cart-
loads of black stones did tumble out of the blue sky, not in
some far-off land, but in France itself.

" It is of interest to ask, what became of the ' laws of nature '
after such a terrible blow ? The ' laws of nature ' were adjusted,
and after being enlarged by a little patching, so as to take in
the new fact, were found to be just as good as ever. So it is
always ; when the miracle has happened, then and only then it
becomes most clear that it was no miracle at all, and that no
' law of nature ' had been broken.

" Applying the parable to ourselves, then, how shall we deal
with new facts which are on trial, things perhaps not wholly
demonstrated, yet partly plausible 1 During the very last
generation hypnotism was such a violation of natural law.
Now it is part of it. What shall we say, again, about telepathy,
which seemed so absurd to most of us a dozen years ago ? I do
not say there is such a thing now, but I would like to take the
occasion to express my feeling that Sir William Crookes, as
president of the British Association, took the right, as he took
the courageous course, in speaking of it in the terms he did.
. . . Though nature be external to ourselves, the so-called
' laws of nature ' are from within — laws of our own minds — and
a simple product of our human nature." ^

To return, however, we see that analogical reasoning
is a form of deductive reasoning, and it depends for its
validity upon the accuracy of the facts which it assumes.
Thus, when it begins to argue from one subject up to
an entirely different subject, or attempts to make con-
ditions existing in one class of phenomena apply to
phenomena that are entirely dissimilar in character, it

1 Smithsonian Report, pp. 545-52.


is trending upon dangerous ground. If the laAvs govern-
ing the subject-matter observed are not identical with
those of the subject-matter investigated, the analogical
argument must fall to the ground from sheer lack of
supporting facts.

Professor Chase, in his Bihliotlieca Saci^a article already
mentioned, objects to Bishop Butler's argument as being
" less fortunate than any other part of that great work."
In particularising, he said : " Both of the main arguments
employed by him are no less applicable to the lower animals
than to man, and just as much prove the immortality
of the living principle connected with the minutest
insect or humblest infusoria as of the human soul. It is
not a little remarkable that this fact, w^hich in reality
converts the attempted proof into a redtictio ad absurdum
of the principles from which it is drawn, should not have
awakened in the cautious mind of Butler a suspicion of
their soundness, and led him to seek other means of
establishing the truth in question. These he would have
found, and, as we think, far better suited to his purpose,
in the facts and principles so ably and so fully set forth
in his chapters on the moral government of God, and
on probation considered as a means of discipline and

In addition to the particulars to which Professor
Chase objects, there are other directions in w^hich these
analogical arguments fail to meet the test of criticism.
For example, if it had merely been inferred that because
a silkworm is metamorphosed into a butterfly, other
larvae were destined to be transformed into winged
insects, there might be a reasonably logical basis for
such an assumption, because the laws governing the one
case might reasonably be assumed to be applicable to all
other like cases. The laws governing man, and those
that apply to the life of insects, are, however, of an


entirely different class, and to attempt to make the
mortal life of one prove the immortal existence of the
other is certainly an illegitimate use of the principles of
analogy, especially in view of the fact that the changed
conditions of the life of this insect do not in any sense
present the elements of immortality, as the insect dies after
its transformation is concluded. Equally fallacious are
Butler's arguments based upon the hatching of the bird
from the egg, or the birth of man from the womb. In
no case do the same physical laws act as the governing
force. On the contrary, as several writers have said, the
presumptions from analogy, when they are legitimate, are
against rather than in favour of the continued existence
of man after death. If we take Nature as an illustration,
her phenomena would lead the logical mind to assume
that death is actually the end of the process of life.
Even the analogical argument drawn from the germina-
tion of the seed fails as ignobly to apply in the case of
continued existence, for the vegetable life that is derived
from the seed that has fallen to the ground and dis-
integrated is in no respect the same life as that which
existed in the plant from which the seed was produced,
and, if the analogy applies to man at all, it simply
bears out the theory of the materialistic scientists who
hold that man's only immortality is in his posterity.
If we believed, like the Saracens, that the individual
soul is instantaneously transferred to the universal
soul at death there might be some logical justification
for the assumption that an analogy exists " between
the gathering of the material of which the body of
man consists from the vast store of matter in nature
and its final restoration to that store, and the emana-
tion of the spirit of man from the universal intellect, the
Divinity, and its final reabsorption." ^ As here, also,

Online LibraryHereward CarringtonDeath: its causes and phenomena. With special reference to immortality → online text (page 22 of 44)