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frequently exposed in the police-courts ; there is nothing very mysterious
in the way in which slight hints and clues are followed up by professional
mediums. And there is this conclusive consideration that the spirits
never say or know anything which has not passed through the mind of the
medium. If he is illiterate, the spirits would be plucked for their spell-
ing ; if he is weak in his h's, so are they ; if he makes a mistake or is en-
trapped into a contradiction, they follow suit In no single instance has
any communication of the slightest use or novelty been made by these
visitors from another world.

In short, the whole affair is obviously legerdemain in wrapping or writ-
ing on slates, answers to questions known to the medium, supplemented
by any hints or clues he may possess, and in the absence of these by such
commonplaces as "we are happy," "we are with you." I saw a con-
clusive proof of this in the only experience I ever had with a professional
medium, one of great repute. The question put was, "What was my
mother's Christian name ?" This was written on a slate out of sight of
the medium, and turned down, and apparently held by one of his hands
under a table, while the other hand was held by the questioner. Nothing
occurred for a while, but then began a series of groans and twistings by
the medium, which I took to be part of the usual conjuror's patter to
divert attention ; but looking closely, I distinctly saw a corner of the
slate reversed under the table, with the writing on it uppermost, followed
by the scratching of a pencil, after which the answer was produced,
alleged to have been written by the spirits. But mark what the answer
was ! The " m" of " mother" had been written not very legibly, with the
first stroke too long, so that at a hasty glance in a constrained position it
might be easily read as "brother." And sure enough the answer came,
"Your brother's spirit not being here we do not know his Christian name."
This was my first and last experience of omniscient spirits, and it was



no BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

perfectly apparent that it was only a piece of very simple and very clumsy
legerdemain. No doubt things more marvellous are done by superior
legerdemain, but nothing that I have ever heard of that is beyond the re-
sources of legerdemain, or which is so wonderful as the mango and other
tricks of Indian jugglers. No one who has not studied the art of leger-
demain can be aware how great its resources are, and how completely the
senses may be deceived by a skillful operator.

Nor is it at all difficult to understand how slight clues may be used by
an experienced operator, to give what are apparently astounding answers.
Thus if a medium happens to know that a death has at any time occurred
in the family of the questioner, the answer rapped or written out is sure to
profess to come from the spirit of the deceased relative.

If any doubt had remained as to the nature of these spiritualistic ex-
periences, it would have been removed by the report made in 1887 by the
Scybert Commission. In this case Mr. Scybert, an enthusiastic spiritualist
in the United States, bequeathed a considerable sum of money to the
University of Philadelphia, on the condition that it should appoint a
Commission to investigate modern spiritualism. Ten commissioners were
appointed, including several professors and well known men of science;
some of whom, including their chairman, Dr. Furness, confessed "to a
leaning in favor of the substantial truth of spiritualism." They took
great pains with the investigation, which was conducted with scrupulous
fairness, and examined many of the most famous mediums, among whom
was the well-known Dr. Slade. Their unanimous report was that the
whole thing was based on "gross, intentional fraud." They saw dis-
tinctly how the tricks were effected, and a professional conjuror, Mr.
Kellar, who had been at first baffled by the phenomena of slate-writing,
having turned his attention more closely to this branch of conjuring, was
able not only to repeat the processes of the best mediums, but to do so
with far greater skill, and produce effects which they could not imitate;
while he has given a challenge to the spiritualistic world that he will
reproduce by sleight-of-hand any alleged spiritualistic phenomena which
he has witnessed three times.

This report is so conclusive to any reasonable mind, that it is scarcely
necessary to refer to the mass of corroborative evidence to the same effect
such for instance as the confession of the Fox family, that the rappings, in
which the spiritualistic faith originated, were produced by a knack they
had of half-dislocating toe and knee joints, and replacing them with a
sudden snap, a knack which, singularly enough, is also possessed by
Professor Huxley; the confessions of Home and other exposed mediums;
and the experiences of Mr. Davy, Mrs. Sedgwick, and others, related in
the last volume of the Psychical Research Society.

Those who are not convinced by such proofs as these are impervious
to reason, and it would be a waste of words to argue the matter any
farther. It may be assumed as a demonstrated fact, that all the



PROBLEMS OF THE FUTURE. in

pkenomena which profess to be based on a communication with a spirit-
ual world are, in the words of the Scybert Report, simply instances of
vulgar legerdemain, and of human credulity.

It is only when we come to what may be called the tomfoolery of
spiritualism, such as unmeaning tricks of dancing chairs and tables, that
we are left in doubt how some of the appearances are produced. There
is a good deal of evidence from persons whose good faith cannot be
doubted, that they have seen pieces of furniture move at the end of a room,
without any contact or apparent cause, and that this took place in private
houses, where there was no possibility of prepared machinery.

The mediums say it is done by spirit-hands. This is obviously ab-
surd, for it is not a case which lies outside of known laws of Nature, but
one which radically conflicts with them. As long as the law of motion
holds " that action and reaction are equal and opposite," there can be no
action without a solid point of resistance. Archimedes said that he could
move the world if you gave him a xov tirao, or fulcrum, on which to rest
his machinery, and the ghost of Archimedes, if summoned from the Elys-
ian fields at the bidding of a seedy professional medium, could say no
more. Spirit-hands must be attached to a solid spirit body, standing on
solid feet on a solid floor, to lift a weight. And the same thing applies
to any supposed magnetic or psychic force enacted by the medium. If
the medium pulls the chair, the chair must pull the medium, and it be-
comes a case of ' ' pull devil, pull baker. " If a magnet lifts an iron bar,
it is because the magnet is fixed to some point of attachment.

The question therefore resolves itself into one either of hallucination
or legerdemain. Do the chairs and tables really move, or only seem to
move ? There seem no trustworthy evidence as to this fundamental
point, and yet it is one easily determined. Does the house-maid when
she comes into the room next morning, or any one who has not been un-
der the influence of the seance, find the furniture where it was originally,
or where it seemed to be ? If it was really moved, who moved it ? Here,
also, hallucination might come into play in another form for if, as de-
scribed in the experiment of Binet and Fe're', already mentioned, the
medium could release his hands without being perceived, and render
himself invisible by suggestion, or perform the trick in a dark room, he
could easily move the chairs himself without being seen. This seems the
more probable, as in all the accounts I have read, the articles moved do
not exceed the weight which the medium might move, either in his
natural condition, or with his muscular strength excited by hypnotism.
Assuming a state of hypnotism to be induced in the spectators, the ex-
planation would be easy, and, in fact, identical with many of the scien-
tifically recorded experiments of Binet and Fere. And it is remarkable
that the preliminary conditions of the seance, such as darkened rooms,
clasped hands, and strained attention, are identical with those employed,
from Mesmer downwards, in producing real hypnotism.



112 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

At the same time, it would seem that the hypnotism (if it be so) intro-
duced at seances differs from ordinary hypnotism. The subjects retain the
fullest convictions that they have been wide-awake all the time, and in
full possession of their ordinary senses. Can there be a state of semi-
hypnotism in which the brain, while retaining its full consciousness, is
rendered susceptible to suggested hallucinations? If so, the whole
matter is explained. If not, it is very singular that the same preliminary
operations which produce hypnotism, where hypnotism is expected,
should make chairs and tables dance, and bodies float in the air, where
that is what the spectators expect to see. But the problem could easily
be solved so far as the medium is concerned, by connecting him with an
electric current, which would be broken and ring a bell if he moved hand
or foot, and seeing whether, under such circumstances, the furniture
could be moved.

It is singular that the men of really scientific attainments who profess
a belief in spiritualism, such as Professor Crookes and Mr. Wallace, do
not seem to have proceeded in this way of accurate experiment pursued
by the French school of Salpetriere, even as regards the first rudimentary
alleged facts of moving heavy bodies at a distance without apparent con-
tact Nor do they seem to have thoroughly studied and mastered the
resources of legerdemain, which are obviously one of the principal, and
in many cases the sole cause of the so-called spiritualistic manifestations,
and without a knowledge of which no one is really competent to form an
opinion. Indeed, it is questionable whether, when all the more refined
tricks of spiritualistic mediums have been so thoroughly exposed, it is
worth while to seek for any other hypothesis than that of ordinary con-
juring, to account for those mere childish and unmeaning manifestations,
the modus operandi of which has not yet been fully explained.

It is evident, however, from the well-attested experiments of the French
school, that there really is opening up a most interesting field of inquiry
as to the relations of mind to matter under certain exceptional conditions,
and the extent to which illusions may appear as realities under the influ-
ence of excited imagination. Hypnotism, somnambulism, dreams, and
hallucinations are becoming exact sciences ; and researches pursued in
the same manner into the alleged phenomena of spiritualism and thought-
reading, would end either in exposing imposture, or in reducing such
residuum of truth as they may contain, to known laws analogous to those
which prevail in other branches of physiological and psychological inves-
tigation.

In the meantime, I conclude by saying that, so far as we have yet gone,
the whole of what is called "spiritualism " seems to be quite dreadfully
"materialistic." The one fact which comes out with demonstrated cer-
tainty is, that definite ideas are indissolubly connected with definite vibra-
tions of brain-cells ; and that however these vibrations are induced, the
corresponding ideas and perceptions inevitably follow. In the ordinary



PROBLEMS OF THE FUTURE. ^3

course of things these vibrations are induced by what are called realities
acting through the senses, and by the normal action of the brain-cells on
the perceptions thus received and stored up.

But this applies only to about two-thirds of our existence, viz., the
waking state. In sleep and dreams, the vibrations set up are from former
perceptions, photographed on the brain, and grouped together in unreal
and often fantastic pictures. In somnambulism this is carried to a further
point, and we act our dreams. In hypnotism it is carried still farther,
and the vibrations are excited by a foreign will, and by foreign sugges-
tions. In the ultimate state, madness, the hallucinations have become
permanent But what strange questions does it raise when we find that,
in certain abnormal conditions, all that is most intimately connected with
what we call soul, individuality and consciousness, can be annihilated, or
exchanged for those of another person, by the mechanical process of ex-
citing their corresponding brain-motions in another way. What are love
and hate, if a magnet applied to a hypnotized patient can transform one
into the other ? What is personal identity, if the suggestion of a third person
can make an hysterical girl forget it so completely, as to make her talk
of herself as a distant acquaintance " who is not over wise"? What is
the value of the evidence of the senses, if a similar suggestion can make
us see the hat, but not the man who wears it, or dance half the night with
an imaginary partner? Am I "I myself, I," or am I a barrel-organ,
playing " God save the Queen," if the stops are set in the normal fashion,
but the ' ' Marseillaise " if some cunning hand has altered them without
my knowledge ? These are questions which I cannot answer. All that
I can say is, that practically the wisest thing I can do is to keep myself,
as far as possible, in the sphere of normal conditions, and assume its con-
clusions to be real; avoiding, except as a matter for strict scientific investi-
gation, the various abnormal paths which, in one way or other, all con-
verge towards the ultimate end of insanity.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE RELIGION OF THE FUTURE. AGNOSTICISM AND
CHRISTIANITY.

PART L

IS Agnosticism reconcilable with Christianity, or are they hopelessly an-
tagonistic? That depends on the definition we give to the two
terms. That of Agnosticism is very simple. It is contained in the sen-
tence of Professor Huxley's, "That we know nothing of what maybe
beyond phenomena," and " that a man shall not say he knows or believes
that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe."
This is not a positive or aggressive creed, and is reconcilable with any
form of moral, intellectual, or religious belief which is not dogmatic
i. e., which does not attempt to impose on us some hard-and-fast theory of
the universe, based on attempts to define the indefinable and explain the
unknowable. The definition of Christianity is by no means so simple.
Practical Christianity resolves itself very much, and more and more every
day, into a sincere love and admiration of the life and teaching of Jesus, the
son of the carpenter of Nazareth, as depicted in the narratives which have
come down to us respecting them, mainly in the Synoptic Gospels. This
love and admiration translates itself into a desire to imitate as far as
possible this life and to act upon these precepts; to be good, pure, loving,
charitable, and unselfish even to the death.

With this form of Christianity the Agnostic has no quarrel; on the con-
trary, if he is not dwarfed and stunted in his faculties, if he has a heart to
feel and an imagination to conceive, he recognizes as fully as the most
devout Christian all that is good and beautiful in the true spirit of
Christianity and its author. Nay, more, he will not quarrel with the mass
of humble and simple-minded Christians who show their love and admi-
ration by piling up adjectives until they reach the supreme one of " divine,"
and who, in obedience to the ineradicable instinct of the human mind to
personify abstract ideas and emotions, make Jesus of Nazareth their
Ormuzd, or incarnation of the good principle, and author of all that is
pure, righteous, and lovely in the universe.

But there is another definition of Christianity of a totally different
character the dogmatic or theological definition, which, commencing
with St Paul and St John, and culminating in the Athanasian Creed, has

114



PROBLEMS OF THE FUTURE. 115

been accepted from the early ages of Christianity, almost until the present
day, as the miraculous revelation of the true theory of the universe. It
teaches how a personal God created the universe, how He deals with it
and sustains it, how He formed man in His own image, and what relations
He has with him. It professes to explain mysteries such as the origin of
evil, man's fall and redemption, his life beyond the grave, the conditions
of his salvation, and a variety of other matters which, to ordinary human
perception and human reason, are absolutely and certainly hidden "behind
the veil."

With this definition of Christianity Agnosticism has nothing in com-
mon. It cannot be both true that we know certain things and that we do
not and cannot know anything about them. Theology asserts that we
are quite capable of knowing the truth respecting these mysteries, and
that, in point of fact, we do know it, either by intuition or by historical
evidence. Philosophy traverses the assertion that we know it by intuition;
Science shatters into fragments the scheme assumed to be taught histor-
ically by a miraculous revelation.

To begin with intuition. It rests on Cardinal Newman's celebrated
theory of the "Illative sense," or a complete assent of all the faculties,
which gives a more absolute proof than any that can be attached to proofs
of science, which are only deductions from certain limited faculties, such
as experience and reason. This is very clearly put by Father Dalgairns
in a discussion on "The Uniformity of Laws of Nature" at the Meta-
physical Society. He says: " I believe in God in the same sense in which
I believe in pain and pleasure, in space and time, in right and wrong, in
myself. If I do not know God, then I know nothing whatever. " That
is, the idea of such a being as the God of theology, a personal creator of
the universe, with faculties like, though transcendently like, those of
man, appears to him a necessary postulate, or rather a fundamental
instinct or mould of thought, as universal and imperative as those of space
and time. Now is this so ? It is at once refuted by the fact that it is not
universal and not imperative. The immense majority of mankind, both
now and in all past ages, have had no such intuition. It is the refined
product of an advanced civilization, confined to a few exceptional minds
of high culture, acute intellect, and tender conscience. Even in Christian
countries it is an affair of education and authority, rather than of neces-
sary intuition; and even those who assert most loudly that it is a funda-
mental category of thought, complain that ninety-nine men out of every
hundred in modern England live practically as if there were no God. Not
so with the real categories of thought and perceptions. No man, past or
present, in Monotheistic, Pantheistic, or Polytheistic countries, has ever
lived practically as if there were no such things as space and time, or as if
such primary perceptions as those of pain and pleasure had no real ex-
istence. These have never deceived us; but the instances are innumer-
able in which the "illative sense," the complete, earnest, and conscien-



J10 BhALUN LIGHTS Ub

tious assent of all the faculties, has deceived us, and has led to conclusions
which a wider knowledge has shown to be not only erroneous, but, in
many cases, absurd and noxious.

When closely analyzed, the theological idea of God may be clearly
seen to be an attempt to define the indefinable. The primary idea is
that of a creator. But what is creation ? Making a thing, in the sense
in which alone man makes anything that is, transforming existing mat-
ter and energy into new forms we can understand. As we make a
watch or a steam-engine, we can conceive how a Being, with faculties like
our own, but indefinitely magnified, might make a universe out of atoms
and energies, and make it so perfectly that it would go for ever. But
how He could make something out of nothing, which is what creation
really implies, altogether passes our understanding. We have absolutely
no faculties which enable us to form even the remotest conception of
what those atoms and energies really are, how they came there, or what
will become of them.

The more closely we examine, the clearer it will appear that these
theological intuitions are, in effect, nothing but aspirations; or reflections,
like Brocken spectres, of our earnest longings, fears, and hopes on the
back-ground mists of the Unknowable; and that all the attempted defi-
nitions are mere juggles with words which convey no real meaning. We
talk of creation, but when it comes to the point we find that we really
mean transformation, and that of creation, properly speaking, we have no
more idea than the babe unborn. We talk of immortality, but what we
were before we were born, or what we shall be after we die, what soul,
consciousness, personal identity, really are, how they came to be indis-
solubly connected with matter, and what they will be when that union is
dissolved, are mysteries as to which we can only make guesses, like the
Brahmins and Buddhists, whose guess is transmigration, or the Red
Indians, whose guess is a happy hunting-ground beyond the setting
sun.

The greatest philosophers have come to this as the ultimate fact of their
metaphysical reasonings. Descartes says, "that by natural reason we
can make many conjectures about the soul, and have flattering hopes,
but no assurance." Kant confesses that reason can never prove the exist-
ence of a God. Even great theologians, in the midst of their dogmatic
definitions, let drop admissions which show that, at the bottom of their
hearts, they feel their ignorance of the high mysteries of which they talk
so confidently. The Athanasian Creed, the very essence and incarnation
of dogmatism, says " the Father incomprehensible " in the midst of a
long series of articles, every one of which is absolutely devoid of meaning
unless on the assumption that He is comprehensible, and that St Atha-
nasius rightly comprehended him. St. Augustine writes, "God is un-
speakable," and then proceeds, in a long treatise on " Christian Doctrine,"
to speak of Him as if he knew all about His personality, attributes, and



PROBLEMS OF THE FUTURE. 117

ways of dealing with the world and man. Even St Paul says, "O the
depths of God ! how unsearchable are His judgments, and how inscruta-
ble are His ways ! "

What more have Huxley and Herbert Spencer ever said ? Only they
have said it deliberately, consistently, and knowing the reason why; while
theologians, admitting the premises, have preferred to act and argue as if
a totally different set of premises were true. The cause is obvious: Reason
failing, they have fallen back on Revelation. They had an assured belief
that an inspired volume, attested by miracles, taught things respecting
these mysteries which otherwise must have remained unknown. Thus
Coleridge, who, of those who have attempted to base Christian theology
on abstract reason, occupies a foremost place, arrives at this conclusion,
that "a Christian philosophy or theology has its own assumptions, rest-
ing on three ultimate facts namely, the reality of the law of conscience,
the existence of a responsible will as the subject of that law, and, lastly,
the existence of God. The first is a fact of consciousness; the second, of
reason necessarily concluded from the first ; the third, a fact of history
interpreted by both." He clearly sees that any certain knowledge
respecting the existence of God, and the various conclusions deduced
from it by Christian theology (such as the creation of man, his fall and
redemption, the origin of sin and evil, atonement, grace, and predestina-
tion), if a fact at all, is kfact of history that is, depends on a conviction
that these mysteries were actually revealed as recorded by the Bible, and
that the Bible is an inspired book attested by historical facts; that it con-
tains prophecies which really were fulfilled, and describes miracles which
actually occurred.

This assumption has turned out to be a broken reed. In face of the
discoveries of recent science, no reasonable man doubts that, beautiful
and admirable as the Bible, and especially the New Testament, may be in
many parts, it is not a true, and therefore not a Divine, revelation of the
scheme of the universe. It is not true that the world was created as
described by Genesis; that man is a recent creation made in God's image,
who fell from his high estate by an act of disobedience; or that the course
of things is regulated by a special personal providence, frequently inter-



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